Saturday, November 1, 2008

Red Square Photography Turns 10

This month marks the 10-year anniversary of Red Square Photography. Just writing that sentence feels strange since I still consider photography my "new" career.

Back in November 1998, I had grown tired of the advertising business. As any ad agency staff can attest to, burnout is easy when you're overworked, underpaid and spend your days (plus some nights, weekends and holidays) surrounded by the wittiest, most intelligent, manipulative, fun and narcissistic people. I fell in love with TV and print advertising at a very young age and always thought I belonged in that industry. But after eight years in agency account management, I became depressed with the realization that the more brilliant our ideas, the more tumultuous the process of getting them approved and produced.

Finally, at famed Miami design firm Pinkhaus it was Joel Fuller who pulled the plug. He told me, "Corey, you're not the guy I heard about before we hired you" and he was absolutely right. He also said, "All the clients think you hate them" and he was right about that too. I agreed with Joel on all accounts, made a sincere apology and left that Friday with my final paycheck.

The very next morning, I got a call from Palm Beach interior designer Annick Presles who does very opulent residential work in South Florida and the Caribbean. My in-laws hired Annick to decorate their home and she had seen some snapshots I took around the house just for fun. She told me they were very good shots and that she would pay me to shoot her projects. I asked her if this type of photography was a real job and she replied in her very French accent, "Oh yes, I pay architectural photographers thousands of dollars."

That was all I needed to hear. I shot the job for Annick and began assisting Dan Forer, a veteran architectural photographer based in Miami. I told him that I had just given up my $70,000/year advertising job, my wife is three months pregnant and I wanted to be his assistant. Dan said, "Great, you can start at $5 per hour."

Lucky for me, I was also starting to shoot real estate for a Sotheby's affialiate in Boca Raton called Premier Estate Properties. Premier had three marketing-savvy partners who wanted to build their brand with the distinctive look of super high quality architectural images. They saw the value of good photography in not only selling properties but wowing a homeowner into giving them the listing to start. Over the next six years, I would shoot hundreds of homes for Premier, most of them massive estates which not only built my architectural portfolio but gave my client editorial coverage they would not have received with the typical low quality images like the rest of their industry.

That was how Red Square started. As of today, total company sales during the last 10 years have been $1,760,465.78 with the bulk of that from the last six years. While I do work from home in a mostly fee-based business, this number still includes travel expenses, employee payroll, equipment and other outside costs so it's not my personal income. But, what that number represents to me is the total value of my work to all of my clients. That's what they have given me to create marketing tools to help sell their products. In a way, I'm still in advertising.

Behind the scenes there are a few people who have been with me since Day 1 and they must be acknowledged. First is Lauren White who for 10 years has kept my books in order, taxes paid, forms filed and QuickBooks running. This is one job that I could not do.

The other person I have to thank is my wife Katia who was only supportive when I decided to change careers. Since then, she has spent many dusks and dawns alone with our kids so I can travel. She never gets to come with me when I work in amazing places like China, Bali or some island in the Caribbean. And now that I'm doing more resort lifestyle, I'm coming home with shots of models running on the beach or half-naked on a massage table. How many wives would put up with that? She knows she can trust me and she's right because I am doing this job for my family. I remember Addie Lorber (wife of photographer Peter Lorber) once told me, "We aren't 'photo wives' we are 'photo widows.'"

As for the future, I can see three things on the horizon (not including a painful recession): video, a new website and more photo products.

First, I've been experimenting with architectural timelapse HD video which I find a beautiful and natural progression from still images. I'm teaching myself Final Cut but have yet to find a commercial client willing to pay for this type of moving imagery. For the website, I have contracted with famed Belgian web designers Group94 for a complete re-design of the portfolio site which will launch next month. Last, Red Square's sister company Kamra will continue to make photo-based decorative and food service items for hotels and restaurants. It's been a slow start but I still believe the idea has potential. We will see.

This blog post officially concludes the first 10 years of Red Square Photography. Next update: November 2018.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

End of the line for Digital Railroad

Well, after signing up with Digital Railroad for distribution of my stock images and regretting it soon thereafter due to their inferior product, the company has just announced an immediate cessation of all business operations. Photographers using DRR's services are at risk of permanently losing their images unless they have them backed up (as mine are). So, I am sitting in my hotel room in China, trying to migrate 1,500 images over to PhotoShelter (who, incidentally, is also facing tough times).

This makes the stock photography market feel more like that other stock market, doesn't it?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Bank of China at 6:15pm

This IM Pei landmark lights up the Hong Kong skyline at 6:15pm every
night. I snapped this while my big camera was doing a timelapse video.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Live From Kowloon!

It's 5:30pm at Victoria Harbour and while my auto exposures are going, here's a live iPhone dispatch from the Star Ferry Terminal. You can see my most valuable piece of equipment is an old ferry cleat and a new Novoflex MiniPod.

These shots will be part of my redesigned portfolio site which is set to launch in December.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Hi, Hyatt

At this very moment I'm sitting in Continental's Newark lounge, testing my iPhone's direct-to-Blogger posting abilities which are, so
far, impressive. And, as I flip through this month's in-flight
magazine, I recognize one of my shots.

Back in 2004, we went to the Hyatt Regency Kauai and cleared a
restaurant of its tables, brought in lounge chairs and wet the floors
in order to make it look like a private waterfront cabana (they pay
us to think of these things).

One thing we did not plan is the tiny sparrow on the left, who landed
just as I snapped this exposure. He quickly left as the strobes
popped so I was unable to get him to sign a release.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Please Prepare For Takeoff

I know my last blog post was a while ago but I've been preparing for two big, long trips. The first is to China where I will be shooting in Hong Kong and then attending a trade show in Guangzhou (the trade show is to meet suppliers for Kamra). Then, I'm home for three days to participate in Florida's second presidential election debacle before heading down to the Caribbean for another shoot.

Despite the economy, current bookings seem to be good through 4Q/2008 and 1Q/2009 (if I can offer myself as an economic indicator). The other purpose of this post is to test the direct email-to-blog posting system which I plan to use while traveling.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Fresh Cut Shoes

A few years ago, I was on a shoot in Orlando when I came across a patch of wheat grass. It looked thin, tall and green so it caught my eye and I shot it.

A few days ago, Zazzle launched a custom shoe program. Now, the boring white shoe and the tall green grass can live together in harmony. And, for $67.50 plus shipping, your feet can join the love fest.


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Fromage du jour

My two good friends, Claude and Jacques, are obsessed with an old radio antenna. And they've expressed their unrequited love by writing the sappiest poem, set to the cheesiest music. Feeling sorry for those two quiche-eaters, I allowed them to use my images in their video.

If you like cheese...bon appétit!


Friday, August 8, 2008

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

But What I Really Want To Do Is Direct

It seems a few of my photo colleagues have diversified into moving pictures.  As photographers, they should already know something about lighting and composition.  Combine that with the relative ease of editing through free software like iMovie and just about any geek can become Steven Spielberg.

The other side of the coin is that with both visual and audible creativity comes the ability to seriously annoy viewers if things aren't handled with taste.  (Anyone who doesn't understand this should watch a few minutes of cable TV advertising.)

I have had a few clients inquire about producing videos and figure it's a perfect time to see if I know a good movie from a hole in the ground.  With this in mind, I've been up late, experimenting with iMovie.

If you have eight minutes, please watch my first iMovie, a montage of still images from our recent shoot in Mexico.  There's a music track so make sure your volume isn't too high or too low.

Any feedback is appreciated.  Since each of my blog posts usually produces an emailed comment or two, I'm sure someone can tell me if I've acheived cinematic greatness or just another screen saver.


Friday, August 1, 2008

It's A Small Worldnik After All

It was interesting when I was hired by Moscow-based real estate developer Mirax to shoot one of their projects in Miami. Not only was the location interesting but so was seeing the long reach of Russian wealth and business interests.

It got even more interesting two weeks ago, during a lunch in Gent, Belgium with local web design firm Group94. Project manager Tamara Schauvliege casually mentioned a client of theirs, "Mirax" and my ears perked up. Could this be the same Mirax that I know from Russia?

As it turns out, it was the exact same company. Not only that, but I remembered during the processing phase of the shoot, my client rushed me to finish the images because they had to "get them to the web design firm." I never asked who the design firm was and like so many of my delivered projects, it was deleted from my cerebral hard drive to make room for new projects. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Group94, they were using some of my images to launch the project's new website.

It must be nice to be headquartered in Russia, manage projects in Miami and choose a web design firm in Belgium. Then, at a chance lunch, it all comes full circle. The world is certainly getting smaller by the minute.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Accept No Imitations

When I started my photography business back in 1999, I searched for a name that was simple to say and easy to spell. Most of my fellow photographers use their own names like "Joe Smith Studio," and this being a very personal business, it makes sense for the craftsman to have his name on the door.

But, my name is "Weiner," a name I hate to hear, spell or speak. So, my business name was to be my departure from my ancestors who came from Austrian Galicia in the 1880s. Maybe Weiner was a wonderful-sounding name back then but today, it's either pronounced "whiner" (a complainer) or "wiener" (a hotdog...or worse).

One day, my wife just said, "How about Red Square?"

Without any thought, I filed for the S-corp "Red Square, Inc." (d/b/a Red Square Photography) and designed a logo with, you guessed it, a four-sided shape in the color of red. At the time, I knew there was a very famous Red Square in Moscow and a Red Square nightclub in Miami Beach. I knew the nightclub wouldn't last and I figured the one in Moscow was too far away to be a factor.

What I didn't realize is how many other people loved the red square idea and how the internet would soon make any physical distance irrelevant. Hundreds of companies from all over the world in all different industries use a red square in their identity. It must be a trend because Wikipedia shows nine different "red squares." Even a fellow Florida photographer offered the sincerest form of flatulence.

The best example is another company actually named Red Square Photography in Derbyshire, England. They started about five years after me (which makes me wonder why they didn't just choose some other name) and they shoot weddings, kids and animals. Not exactly competition, except maybe at domain registration time.

So, here I am in an industry that lives by serving the newest, freshest and most creative ideas. We're supposed to help clients stand out from the crowd, build unique identities and other things like that. I'm going to stop whining and design a new logo.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Yo, Airtaxi!

A few months ago, I got a call from Stanford Magazine, the alumni publication of yes, that university in California. In typical photo editor fashion, the voice on the other end asked if I was "available for a shoot tomorrow" and of course, on a limited budget.

Normally, I would just politely hang up the phone at this point but realizing this could be the closest I might ever get to a fine educational institution like Stanford, I had to at least find out what they needed.

Apparently, two of the engineers behind the "on-demand" jet charter company DayJet were going to be at Boca Raton airport for just a few hours and the publication needed a quick portrait for an upcoming profile on these guys. They did a Google search for photographers closest to the airport and since I live about 3 minutes away, I guess I won the contest.

I immediately thought of that great portrait of actor Morgan Freeman standing on the wing of his jet. Another image that popped into my head was Sir Richard Branson in the Samsonite ad. Aviation is filled with interesting visuals, if only we had time to set something up.

The best we could do was open the hangar at dusk and position a few aircraft for the shot. (Luckily, DayJet's rocket of choice is the very light Eclipse 500 which the average photographer can lift and maneuver for good prop placement.)

By the next day, I electronically transfered the high-res file to California and they went to press. The online article can be found here. As a side note to photo geeks: See how the website's version of the image has dropped the color profile versus the sRGB-tagged example above. I guess Stanford could use a lesson in digital!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Florida Builder Crushed By Giant Snowball

Liz Ordoñez-Dawes is a fellow photographer and a friend of mine. She's based in South Florida so technically, she's my competition. But, since both of us share an open attitude towards the photo community, we have each benefited by sharing ideas as well as the frustrations of our industry. I met Liz over 20 years ago when we both attended the same accounting class at our very non-Ivy League university.

Hopefully Liz remembered something from that class because she just won a copyright infringement case with an award of over $12 million.

The case involves a residential real estate developer who hired Liz to shoot his properties a few years ago. Liz granted his firm an unlimited, non-transferable license to use the images to promote his building company, excluding usage by third parties. (This happens to be my standard license as well.)

When the builder ignored the license and the additional usage was discovered, the builder refused to acknowledge Liz and instead, let the problem snowball into a Federal lawsuit. The defendant then let said snowball grow by refusing to show up for trial (which the judge didn't really appreciate) so the entire amount of the suit was awarded to Liz. Apparently the judgment will stick, even if the defendant files for bankruptcy.

To some, this large amount of money might seem disproportionate to the value of a few house photos. But, our copyright laws award large statutory damages of $150,000 for each work willfully infringed. So, a few stolen photos can cost a few million bucks if the infringer is aware of the copyright but chooses to ignore it, as in this case.

I've had a few of my own infringement cases over the past 10 years and even when I was awarded a judgment, I was never "made whole" again after the battle. But in each case, I was able to make enough of an impression on the defendant that would certainly cause him to think twice about stealing my work again. I also learned some important lessons:

Our legal system is not based on truth. Seemingly good people will certainly lie in order to suppress the truth and when confronted with hard evidence, these liars will change their story in order to minimize the damage they've done to themselves by offering a settlement that should have been offered on Day One. When it's all said and done, the defendant will always see the plaintiff as the bad guy.

Nevertheless, I congratulate Liz on her victory and hope the news deters people from stealing property for commercial gain. With today's anti-copyright culture, it will certainly remain an uphill battle.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Photographic Plates

These aren't your grandfather's photographic plates. They're actually 8" (20cm) porcelain appetizer plates with green nature images I shot in Miami, Orlando and Lake Tahoe and orange images shot in Miami, Kauai and Puerto Rico.

They're part of my side-project Kamra, a product design firm where we create custom photo-design items for hotel, restaurant, spa and retail. We also make glassware, serving trays, votives and other items out of handmade glass, crystal and melamine.

Above are the porcelain plates left in inventory and we need to make room for a shipment of new products coming in (yeah, sounds a little Ronco-esque but it's true). So, if you act now, you'll get the green porcelain plate collection for one easy payment of just $39.99. Or, you can have both collections—that's eight plates in total—for just $79.98. U.S. shipping is always free so order your's today!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Live From Cancun

This is our first remote blog post, directly from Cancun, Mexico.

No, we're not here to parasail, drink tequila or jump from one hotel balcony to another. We're actually on day six of a 14-day shoot for a major resort company.

After four days of thunderstorms and schedule revisions, we're now back on track. It's 12:07pm and we've come inside to download about eight gigabytes of raw captures shot from 6am to 10am this morning.

The weather is spectacular and as proof, I shot the above image about 5 minutes ago. While I did use a polarizer filter, I promise that this color was not enhanced in any manner.



Sunday, June 1, 2008

Let Them Eat Nikon!

I haven't been this excited about a Nikon since I bought an F3 back in 1997. When the quality of digital SLRs overtook film around 2003, I sold everything Nikon and switched to everything Canon. Most of my colleagues did the same, all with no regrets.

So, why does this new Nikon make my mouth water?

First, it's actually a cake in the shape of a camera. Second, it's red velvet cake with vanilla buttercream and fondant. Third, it was created by Lise Ode, a good friend of mine who recently launched a gourmet custom bakery in Delray Beach, Florida. Lise (pronounced "Leeza") bakes cakes in the shape of books, dolls, flipflops and lots of other things (gift-wrapping available upon request).

No, the camera cake was not for me. It was a custom order for a photographer who was getting married last week. Lise studied Nikon's actual D300 product shots in recreating the menu buttons, hot shoe and eyecup. She cut the logo by hand and just about matched the font. She even remembered the little red triangle (what's that thing for, anyway?). She left out the small lens detach button but if someone wants to remove that lens, they can just use a fork and knife.

So, how many photo geeks does it take to make a camera cake? One to order it, one to bake it and one to write about it.


Friday, May 30, 2008

What's Your Vector, Victor?

When I was 17, I had saved up some money working as a busboy to spend six weeks backpacking through western Europe. It was the most liberating experience, much needed at the time. I took tons of pictures and kept a written journal through nine countries (which might get its own blog someday).

I've always felt the ultimate luxury was being able to transport yourself to some far off place to taste the food, see the art, meet the locals and feel like a foreigner. Lucky for me, my job takes me to places where I get to do just that.

Work-related travel for photographers is much different than travel for most people with real jobs. We're not traveling to open a new branch, source suppliers or close any deals. We are traveling because some client feels there is no one in that particular spot who can do the job better than we can. That's a serious validation of the service we provide. And in the internet age, when it's fairly simple to hire any photographer in any locale, I hope clients opting to send "their photographer" overseas continues.

A traveling photographer knows his job is not as glamorous as his friends think. Convincing a flight attendant that your carry-on is not actually 3x the weight limit, watching a clueless TSA agent smear his greasy fingerprints over your $2,000 lens and waiting in the baggage claim area with your fingers crossed is certainly no way to commute to work. One time, my assistant asked an American Airlines flight attendant for a pillow and she barked, "We have no pillows!" and once I was told, "since 9/11, we have no more magazines."

Did bin Laden plot to take away my in-flight reading material?

To keep a running documentation of these glamorous trips, I'm using a custom Google map of our work locations (not personal trips but places where clients have actually paid us to create images). The map will be continually updated as new travel is completed.

Once in a while, I am asked by a new client if I can work somewhere like...Ft. Lauderdale (about 15 minutes from my house). Now, I can just email a link to this map and they will see that my love for travel knows no boundaries.

Monday, May 19, 2008

My Images Are Not Orphans

Imagine a large company using a photograph of you, without your knowledge, to sell their products. It's your face, your expression, choice in hairstyle, clothes and identity working hard to put money into some stranger's pocket without any compensation to you. After the steam clears from your head, you would probably call your lawyer.

Now imagine your lawyer saying you had no case because the company is protected by a law that entitles them to use your likeness since... well... they just couldn't find you to ask your approval.

This scenario is what all photographers, writers, musicians, illustrators and filmmakers grapple with every day, especially with the proliferation of digital technology and along with it, the ease of copying, distributing and profiting from other people's work. And it's about to get a whole lot worse if certain interest groups have their way with the Senate.

At this very moment, lobbyists representing the publishing industry and other sectors are working to persuade our Congress to adopt S.2913, the Shawn Bentley Orphan Works Act of 2008. If this law passes in its current form, it will make it fairly easy for all companies to steal someone's creative work, for profit.

If you ask the proponents of this bill, they will argue that large amounts of historic images go unpublished because their photographers are unknown and probably deceased (hence the term "Orphan Works"). This is a legitimate concern since schools, public libraries, museums and other institutions cannot afford to be sued for copyright infringement by a surprise claimant. These images can be useful for any application for "the public good" where there is little or no commercial profit. And, if these were the only applications for Orphan Works, most photographers (including me) would wholeheartedly support this bill. Too bad the bill suspiciously omits any protections from large, for-profit companies who will certainly use it to their advantage.

If you think this is just a problem for photographers, think again. The same problem could eventually extend to architects, interior designers and many other industries reliant on innovation and protection for their original ideas.

If you think this is just a problem for professionals, think again. There are a lot of very talented amateur photographers showing their high-res images on photo sharing sites like Flickr. If I was a publisher under Orphan Works protection, this is the first place I would go to right-click a free stock image library for my advertising campaigns.

For those who are not in creative industries, just simply imagine doing your current job for free. Or, maybe just 2 weeks per month free. Or every Tuesday, for free. Would you accept any of those scenarios?

If you are a creator who opposes the Orphan Works bill and wants to join the cause, you can find your senators by searching for them here and write them using this template from photographers, rewording it for your particular industry.

If you're actually a supporter of this bill, feel free to leave any comments below.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Have A Cow

I know we're making Wal-Mart nervous. As of today, we are what business professors call "horizontally integrated," with solid footings in both the photography and farm animal t-shirt sectors.

The Six Angry Cows t-shirt uses an image I shot on a farm in Damme, Belgium back in 2000 when I was experimenting with Kodak's EIR infrared film. Photo geeks older than 30 might remember that anyone loading, focusing, exposing and developing this invisible light-sensitive film resembled James Bond diffusing a doomsday bomb. The film was so sensitive that you had to load your camera in 100% darkness. But, the grainy, glowing look was really beautiful and even under/over exposures had completely different and usable results. Kodak discontinued EIR film last year and I felt sad to hear the news, even though I went completely digital in 2004.

I had fun with Zazzle's custom apparel website and the interface is wonderfully intuitive. Other e-businesses have a lot to learn from them since they're one of the few who work hard on the front-end design so the consumer can quickly order what they want, minus their money. No "Want to take a survey?" popups or other annoying things that degrade the user experience. Within a few days, the order comes well-packaged and everyone is happy.

For $25 plus shipping, you can wear a piece of bovine beauty and halide history.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Addison Mizner's Latest Project

Anyone who has ever been to South Florida knows the name Addison Mizner. Mr. Mizner, who died in 1933, is the only architect to complete more projects in death than in life. If he could Google himself from the heavens, he would be proud to find over 30,000 results... or, maybe he'd sue for misappropriation of his name.

Today, just about every developer of apartment complexes, shopping centers and country clubs "borrows" Mizner's name, along with a gross bastardization of the great architect's design elements. One offender is Mizner's best-known project, The Boca Raton Club (as it was named in 1925). While being passed around various real estate investors, this once charming lakeside hotel erected an ominous pink skyscraper in the late 1960s. Retained are still some of the original charming areas like the mosaic fountain garden just beneath the tower but even that area is adorned with a large green vinyl awning.

So, imagine my expression when I was hired to shoot the new Grand Del Mar resort near San Diego, arriving to find a familiar "Mizneresque" style of architecture. This Mizner project, however, seemed much different than the others.

As we went through our shoot days, I noticed that despite the large scale of the resort, none of the individual areas seemed too big. Intimate living room spaces, hallways that lead to special views, staircases that wind down underneath spectacular chandeliers... someone actually thought through these things. The Moorish archways, pinkish exterior, Spanish tile roofs and an elegant motorcourt all made me feel like I was in Florida circa 1925. (The only difference was seeing the California mountains and not having to eat mosquitoes during dusk and dawn shots).

The Grand Del Mar is Mizner's best work in 75 years.

The actual project architect is Robert Altevers who, according to his wife Lyla, studied Mizner's style from old project plans and photographs. As I told Lyla, her husband did a great job of interpreting Mizner's style and design elements. It really feels like Mizner, who appreciated the warmth of Spanish villas and Mediterranean patios. Sure, there are some modern elements that take away a bit of the charm but I'm probably too idealistic to be objective about the technical requirements of a modern resort facility. Anything short of actual time travel is just not good enough.

That's probably why I take pictures for a living.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Weekend Update

It has been a while since my last post. We have been busy shooting in San Diego, Miami and Trinidad. I have about 200 RAW files to process (taking 1-3 hours per file) and I'm about to take a 4-day workflow seminar with the famed Seth Resnik at d-65.

On the stock photo sales front, despite my 1,000-image library with Digital Railroad, I have yet to receive my first sale (I did get excited to provide a quotation for one image to be used at a trade show in Ghana but they decided not to invest the $99). I am beginning to question DRR's interface and wondering if PhotoShelter might have been a better solution for me.

In other news, the German photography website Inpholio has featured our recent Ritz-Carlton Palm Beach spa shoot, along with some great advertising images from other photographers around the world. Once you're on the site, make sure you click on my image to see the others from the shoot.

More news later...

Friday, February 8, 2008

I'm Window Dressing My Stock Portfolio

My portfolio has tripled in the last year. Wait...let me correct that...tripled in the last week. As of now, I've got 527 stock images available for license.

While I'm not generally an obsessive person, I have been obsessing about uploading, keywording and monetizing my intellectual property. It's not that my kids are starving but more my pent up frustration with the lack of entrepreneurial options for photographers who want to license their images.

Most photographers using the traditional routes to image licensing like Getty and Corbis are keeping roughly 30-50% of the sale (details of which are kept from the photographer). If the sale is sub-licensed through some other agency, the photographer makes an even smaller percentage and has less control over the license and is paid anywhere from 60 days to one year. With Digital Railroad, I keep 80% of the sale, set my own pricing with complete knowledge of the details and paid in 15 days. Granted, agents like Getty reach millions of buyers a day but I'd rather keep my images rarely licensed at a premium than often licensed at a substantial discount.

There's a great interview with the legendary Tony Stone in this month's PDN magazine. In it, he discusses the royalty-free movement and the nature of photographers to be independent in all aspects of their careers. I think if Digital Railroad stays true to it's current path of empowering photographers to make a living with licensing, they are certain to succeed.

That being said, I'm going to get back to keywording and uploading. So far, all of my best images are included. If you don't believe me, just enter the word "beef" in the searchbox:


Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Moscow to Miami, Non-Stop

In October 1962, President Kennedy went ballistic when he heard the Russians were in Cuba. How would he feel now about the Russians in Miami?

A Moscow-based real estate investor recently hired us to shoot 13 units at Miami's Aqua development. (For those who don't know, Aqua is the brainchild of visionary Craig Robins who developed a mini-utopia of residential tributes to Miami's architecture over the years.) The private island neighborhood is a real masterpiece and an educational pleasure to shoot.

The Russian firm hired a local interior designer to fill the units with only the most high-end modernist furniture, art and electronic gadgetry, all on spec. (Are these guys stuck in the pre-dot-com bubble or do they know something we don't?) They're confident they will sell all of the units not to New Yorkers or Chicagoans but...fellow Russians. It seems that Miami has great appeal to the Muscovites who battle winters that make Wisconsin seem like the tropics.

I'm hearing more of the Russian language in Miami these days so maybe it'll be the new Spanish one day. In the meantime, I'm happy to work with them and glad President Bush isn't feeling threatened.

Friday, February 1, 2008

The Stock Market

I'll admit that while I've picked some good stocks like (AAPL) purchased at $30, I've also picked some dogs (EBAY) and (YHOO). Fully aware of my abilities (or lack thereof), I am more the hunter/gatherer type of nuts for the winter...make money the old fashioned way...time value...

With this in mind, I've never made full use of my library of stock photography. But without much of an effort, I have managed to license a few images with the biggest single license to Merrill Lynch for over $5,000 for one year of advertising.

I think it's time I jumped into the stock photography market head first.

I recently signed with Digital Railroad's system of online archiving and distribution. I spoke with a few of DR's current members and was impressed with their interface. So, starting with about 160 images in my little 'stock market,' we'll see how it goes. There are probably another 2,000 stock-worthy images I could license if these first few are successful over the next few months.

Its also been a journey back in time for me to keyword and upload some of the first shots I ever took as a new photographer. One early project had me wandering around Miami Beach's art deco district with my recently-acquired Hasselblad (and my recently-acquired wife as my assistant), shooting hotel facades on b/w Polaroid 665 film. I would peel and wash the negatives in my car as it accumulated parking tickets on Collins. Another time, I was on a cruise ship shoot as we docked in the port of Cadiz, Spain (some guy named Columbus used to dock his yacht there). When I carefully leaned over the balcony, I could see a warmly lit cathedral at sunrise and snapped a nice shot. So far it's been licensed by travel magazines based in Russia and the UK.

Most photographers wait until they're semi-retired before fully monetizing their stock library. Luckily, I've been too busy shooting to really take advantage of licensing and now plan to have both shooting and licensing as parallel businesses. With the small sales I've had, it looks encouraging. But as the stock market teaches us, past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Dead Photographer's Society

Can inspiration come from the other side?

Once in a while, a client will ask us to reference an old, yellowy photograph of some historic property and re-create the exact shot to emphasize the change over a period of time, usually between 80-100 years.

I really have fun doing forensic photography because it's like solving a puzzle with a mini-trip through time. In fact, if you're good at this sort of thing, you can find out where the photographer stood with his camera, the focal length of his lens, aperture, brand of camera, type of film, tripod height, time of year he shot and what the weather was like on that day. If the shot includes any moving objects (cars, people, etc.), you could also guess the shutter speed and therefore, if he used a tripod or just held the camera in his hands. (Sure, I'm assuming the original photographer was male. He could have been a she but most likely he was the photographer and she was at home. Things have changed, thank heavens.)

Using perspective is the key to finding the exact angle the dearly-departed photographer used. Keeping an eye on the shape of the facade, walk left and right until the sides of the structure line up with the old shot (if there are adjacent structures, use those facades as an additional reference). Then, to find the exact spot where the photographer stood, walk forward and backward until the roofline is the same exact shape (keeping an eye out for the 6-lane highway that might have been built in the interim).

Our first forensic shoot was for Terra, the Miami developer who asked us to fully document the Freedom Tower on Biscayne Boulevard. Built in 1925 by Schultze & Weaver Architects, the building originally housed the newsroom and presses of the Miami News & Metropolis. I took the above shot with the Bayside mall signage right behind me. When I looked down, trying to find the old photographer's footprints, all I could see was fresh cut grass.

More recently, a shoot in Chicago included the Butler Brothers old warehouse building (now high-end residential lofts with steel balconies overlooking the river). The original shot was done on an overcast day in 1928 and while I think we replicated the weather, shadows and angle of the roofline, we couldn't back up to the original photographer's spot because there's now a traffic signal in the way. As I'm standing there on Canal Street, coughing from the bus fumes, I can hear a bygone photographer's voice telling me, "at least you don't have to smell the horse fumes."

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Lofty Ideas

Break out the champagne. I have finally had a positive book publishing experience.

Last month, BridgeHouse Publishing launched the hardcover coffee table book Urban Loft: How Chicago Redefined the Architecture, a book about—you guessed it—lofts in the city of Chicago. The principal developer, MCZ/Centrum converted all of the lofts from old factories and warehouses in former industrial areas around the city.

We went to Chicago last summer for flaky pizza, peppery hot dogs and long days of shooting for this book. We had a great time and learned first hand why Chicagoans love their city. (We weren't there in December when their love is put to the test.) The property on the cover, the Clinton Street Lofts, had a surly property manager who didn't feel like letting us inside to shoot the lobby. So, we went across the street and did a nice exterior at dusk. Now it's a cover story...ha!

Congratulations to Marisa, Chris, Cristine, and Christina on a job well done. The book just went on sale at Amazon so we'll see how it does. There's also a book signing with author Christina Noelle at Books & Books in Coral Gables, Florida on Wednesday, February 20th at 8pm.

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