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Well this one was a relief when I knew we had it!  Nothing obviously complex.  The hardest thing was the doubt and the second-guessing BEFORE the shoot.  The subjects made it easy and fun, plus they are a good looking bunch.  But they came from their office (about 40 minutes away) just for the photo so I REALLY wanted it to work out smoothly.  I am pretty good with groups, but there are so many things that can go wrong on location shoots like this, and you try to have contingency plans in place, but some things just can’t be planned for.  For example, you technically need a permit anywhere in the GGNRA to take commercial photos, although this is very arbitrarily enforced.  One of the ways to avoid a hassle is to avoid using too much gear, so I took one small light with me, and made sure that my assistant could hold it.  Thus no lightstand, or tripod necessary.  In the van was a large battery pack that can run my Dynalite 1000 packs, but that would open up a bunch of issues, so it was there only as a backup.  I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of this light (Quantum Q-flash), and I think it has to do with the shape and quality of the reflector/flashtube.  I am so used to the Canon flash with a rectangular shape, and a small horizontal flash tube.  This Quantum looks much more like my old Norman 200B, and it made me consider working with the Norman again (a couple new batteries, and it would be good to go).  I had just enough power to feel comfortable and shoot this at 1/125 @5.6 at ISO 200 with a polarizer (sorry to go all teknickel on you) and not have to wait too long for the recycle.  The reason I don’t pop out and buy one of these is that the cost with the necessary Quantum Turbo battery is in the $1200 range.  I think I will stick with that 200 B.  But we were lucky (and prepared).  I scouted this two times at the exact hour of the photo shoot on previous days, and then, on the day of the shoot came from the Marin side to SF (after having shot another outdoor group photo on the steps of the Capitol in Sacramento), and saw with dismay that the haze was TERRIBLE.  Luckily, once on the South side looking North, with my trusty polarizer, it all fell into place.  It was ironic that I had two outdoor shoots on one day, a day where rain was predicted until 24 hours before.  And both shoots required some permitting or dodging of a permit.  I like to go by the book when p0ssible, but there seems to be no recognition on the part of many agencies that a still photographer is NOT a full-on film crew with Hollywood budgets.  The permit and the application fee for the permit in this case would have been an additional 70% of the total invoice.  And the Sacramento permit was necessary because the last time I photographed some legislators on the steps of the Capitol, an officer came by and harrassed me, although he let us slide when he saw my subjects.  It is ironic, because every TV crew in California sets up on the steps without a permit, but the minute a STILL photographer plops down a lightstand, all hell breaks loose.  So my client very helpfully negotiated a permit in a very interesting way.  No one asked to see it.  Also typical.  I guess I am boring anyone reading this, but it was one of those funny days that all photographers would recognize.   I guess the lesson here is that preparation helps, but so does luck!  It is not a portfolio piece, but still the result was quite satisfying, and full of relief.  I was SO happy to have this one in the bag.  Too many things could have gone wrong, and none of them did.  And sadly, I am paid partly for my ability to think of what CAN go wrong, and to prevent it or provide alternatives.  I hate worrying about things that I cannot control, but by worrying, I think I am practicing some special brand of voodoo that will protect me from the things I am confronting.

Squished Flowers

Well, I have hit the old scanner again.  Actually it is a new scanner, albeit a cheap one.  Cheap does not mean bad though.  It works quite well.  I am toying with obtaining another one before the end of the year though, one that has a transparency attachment.  It is just nice to have that flexibility.  The only real comment I have about this specific image pertains to DUST.  Not the Philip Pullman brand of dust, but normal dust that floats around us all the time, and dust (or pollen or whatever) that falls off dying flowers.  I was able to use the Photoshop “dust and scratches” filter to save me a bit of tedium, but were I to print this much larger, I would have to do it by hand.    This is one of those images that gains a lot from size, so at some point I will have to deal with the dust.  For now, printed at about 12×15 inches, it is fine.  It will be on the wall at the APA “Something Personal” Show tomorrow in San Francisco,  and I am interested to see how it framed (no mat).  Living on the edge.

headshots in small foyer

Although this is not the most flattering angle and lens selection for my incredibly handsome face, I wanted to show the space where I worked last week to photograph 9 headshots for one of my good corporate clients.  Although many other photographers dislike this constrained format, I have always found a good deal of craft satisfaction in headshots.  I also recognize that the box of the headshot is a refuge from choice.  I won’t expound upon that at the moment, but it is worth thinking about as we wander the world as photographers.    Oh, all right…I WILL go there. 
I REALLY like to deal with reality in photography.  I am not a conceptual photographer who assembles multiple images into one final piece.  And sometimes, the boxes that we deal with are welcome constraints.   But having said that, I do accept that what I do is NOT reality, and I admire those who think conceptually on a regular basis (see Thomas Broening for example).  They do not put limits on themselves, utilizing digital technology to create images that are difficult or impossible (or perhaps more crucially, too expensive) to generate in one capture or piece of film.  And this is recognized by clients who desire to manipulate reality in order to communicate.  Advertising clients are among those that have adopted this approach to great effect.  It is perfect for them, as it allows for pinpoint precision of message.   Now where the heck was I?
Headshots in small spaces.  The fisheye makes this place look large, and it was just large enough to do the job pretty much unhindered, which means it is easy to duplicate, and looks just like headshots in larger spaces.  It is a bit of an ananchronimsm though, the standard headshot on a neutral backdrop.  In this case, the seamless looks better than usual (I HATE seamless), and may not require as much digital work as usual.  I end up replacing the seamless in post at least 75% of the time.   I sometimes think we should just shoot them against green as a matter of course, and then extract the subject for dropping on any background.  
But back to the size of the studio.  It was strange to be set up and realize that it was EXACTLY the minimum size to make headshots workable according to my standards.  The standards are sort of hysterical, and they never occur to most people unless they do a lot of these kinds of photos.  It is just not that simple, even though these are not the most complicated images imagineable.  It is that funny paradox where simple is anything but.  Sort of like good lifestyle photography (when you have an actual assignment and can’t just hang out and shoot your great looking youthful beautiful friends for your portfolio anymore).
I do hundreds of these photos each year, and I am always frustrated by the box of the headshot.  This is ironic and futile  since the formula and lack of surprise are their raison d’etre:  here is a pleasant record shot that gives you a glimpse of the good personality attributes of the subject.  I sometimes get wacky and shoot these on white seamless, but corporate styles and sensibility oftentimes prevent that extreme step.  Gray is just the most flexible.  Darn it.  It is a strange love/hate thing that goes on with the boxes in life.  The craft of the headshot would not be as necessary if there were more flexibility in the form.  But with the limits come an understanding of the importance of the subtleties, and the freedom to examine and pursue something that cannot rely upon environment or eye candy to bury the whispers. 

Soyoung Scanlan, Andanate Dairy[Soyoung Scanlan, Andante Dairy]

Well, every now and then I forget why I became so attracted to editorial photography in the first place. The last decade has not been kind to editorial photographers, or to the magazines themselves. The consolidation in the publishing industry, the digital revolution, the incessant redistribution of wealth and power towards owners rather than workers (sorry…can’t resist the accurate diagnosis) have all lessened the possibilty of making a living doing magazine photography. Thus I have shifted more to the corporate world, and to certain niche editorial clients who still need a trustworthy and reliable communicator who can get good images under almost any circumstances.

The practice of the craft and the act of creation is ALWAYS a pleasure, but sometimes you are given such gifts from the magazine gods that you are reminded of why you got into this in the first place. These images are from one of those photo sessions.

This is one of those clients whose magazine is a labor of love, and it’s subject, the world of food and wine, is a favorite of mine. So when I got called to do this job, I was just happy to go and do the job, even though the money is not quite what I need to keep the massive photo operation going. And happily, as always seems to work with this client, I get lucky and they run more photos than anticipated, and I make a bit more money. But the REAL reason I am writing this, is because of the EXPERIENCE that I invariably have when working for this publication. And this day was no exception. I got to go someplace I had never been before, see new things, meet interesting and engaged people, and even walk away with some INCREDIBLE CHEESE. What could be better?

Just to tell you how amazing this subject is, I was photographing her in a full length photo, and I commented on her apron and how it looked like a gown to me, at which point she mentioned that she had made it, because she did not like the materials or cut of other aprons. Well, if that is not the DIY ethic that I so admire, I don’t know what is.

And, she gave great photo (as you can see) and gave both me and my assistant a bunch (a BUNCH!) of her incredible cheese. Wow. It was one of those perfect days. And as we were leaving, I stopped to take some photos of some large excavation equipment on the ranch that was rusting very artistically.

I apologize for the gushing and the lack of sarcasm or snark. But sometimes, the cosmos works as intended, or at least as desired. So when the editorial stars align, this is what you can get.

Chuck Thacker, Microsoft

Chuck Thacker of Microsoft

I thought I would show this as an example of clean design that really makes the photographer happy. In the commercial world, our work is there for a purpose, and although as photographers we think that showing our work beautifully to the world is the main goal, we are usually mistaken.

This is one of the cases where all the good stuff coincided. Both the AD and the client flew out for a scout and the shoot, which REALLY helps when they know what they are looking for. I would not have done this photo this way without their input, although I used to do images like this all the time. It is interesting to realize that you are being somewhat handcuffed by styles of the times. I really like little bits of light, and even though this one was set up really quickly with only a couple of lights, it is quite contrary to the lifestyle openness of light and the fantasy assembly that are stylistically popular right now.

I admit that I like a very artificial look in these images…and I like lighting things. I was on a panel with some really good photographers a couple of weeks ago (Bob Houser, Martin Klimek and moderator Bob Adler) and Martin looked at what I was showing and told me that it looked really different than what I used to shoot, and I realized how much I have been influenced by what I THINK people want to see. I just don’t think of doing this kind of image that much any more, and I self-edit away from this direction when I have the thought.

I suppose it is a fine line (still!) between style and rut. And when is a style “old school” in a good way? What is classic? What is trendy? What will we look at and laugh at in 5 years? I guess I don’t often miss cross-processing, but every now and then I come across an old one and it looks really great to me. Does the style negate a good image?

I used to have the “three trick” rule, which I think I have mentioned before. If an image had three tricks, it was almost automatically good eye candy as it would likely get people to stop and look. Now I avoid most of those tricks like the plague.

Hmmm….maybe artificially avoiding a look or technique is no different than blindly following a popular new trend. I remember reading about Avedon making a conscious decision to pare down images to the essentials without adding unnecessary artifice. In my personal work I often do this, especially since I can select who and what I photograph, and can let the person, object or environment speak for itself. But in the editorial/commercial realm, we do not get to choose our subjects or locations, and sometimes they need some good editing or an amplification…thus the security blanket reliance on tricks etc.

I am always impressed when I see photographers who can get pure and strong images in all situations, without resorting to tricks. A worthy goal.

Shark with seat belt

Shark with seat belt


Yesterday I was shooting a portrait in LA for one of my favorite clients. Due to the nature of their interviews and articles, it can be hard to make those visual connections that photographers love. But this time, the subject told a story that involved an experience with some sharks. The shark came from Bischoff’s in Burbank which is an incredible source for animal props…I want one of these for my wall.

Moldy Citrus

I do think the flatbed scanner is dying…but that is not what I want to blather on about right now.  As a photographer of “reality” for most of my jobs, I make that reality work for my clients. 

Sometimes an object or a person just makes a you want to photograph it, and the quality of that subject makes the photo.  This is one of those examples.  Sure, I took a bunch of shots of this.  But the object was so good, that it was just a matter of finding the right approach to let the object sing its own tune.  Nothing fancy.  No tricks.  Try a few things, and see which one best represents your vision of the object.  

I LOVE reality.  I love real people.  And I do a good job at optimizing what they have.  But boy is it easier to start with something special like this moldy citrus.  That must sound funny, but I think you get it. 

While I am not the world’s biggest Avedon fan, I really appreciate his conscious effort to isolate subjects against simple backgrounds with simple lighting (well, PRETTY simple).   Start with a visually strong subject, and the greater challenge is to NOT screw it up.  I know I have walked into situations before (not that frequently) where the options and the situation were SO good that you KNEW you were going to miss the best shots.  They were camouflaged by all the good stuff. 

I guess it all comes down to communicating the essence of your subject. This can be maddeningly difficult in the visual world, especially when the essence is so easily obscured.

Celery After Guillotine

I have been working on a series of “simple” still lifes for several years now, and they have mostly been done on a flatbed scanner. I am intrigued by the scanner for many reasons, although as with all tools, when you ask it to perform outside of its intended purpose, the results can be difficult to control and thus frustrating. Scanners seem to be designed to be simple and not too flexible. Their operating parameters are very narrow. They strip the object from its surrounding in a quick and convenient way. They also see the object in a way that is unlike most other forms of capture, while doing so in a very small “studio.” And they surprise frequently. This shot though, pushed me away from the scanner, and I actually got out the lights cameras action. In some ways, the old school way (albeit with a digital camera) is MUCH simpler because the tools are more straightforward AND they are performing their assigned jobs.  Scanners are just not made to photograph 3D objects, although in this case it was not the 3D that was the problem, but a host of other issues.  Still, one of the attractions to the scanner is that you can let it chug merrily away while you put out office brush fires.  Of course, you end up scanning multiple times and ways, but there is something nice about the surprise that awaits each time…almost like the old film days when you had that great moment of anticipation before placing the film on the lightbox.  Ironically, this object, while excellent with the digital camera capture, also looked great (and VERY different) with the scanner capture, but the image was marred by some unwanted digital artifacts.  It might be time for a new scanner.  Maybe I will figure out a way to put this one on the back of an 8×10….something I have been joking about for years…


Greenbox Collages

Greenbox Collages

Well, as it so frequently happens in the magazine world, these collages were shot months before theyfinally ran.  They were originally envisioned as running together on one page, but that also changed….they ran quite nicely thanks to the photo and art departments, but I sort of liked the one page concept. These were shot specifically to illustrate energy consuming sources in the home.  The subjects all founded or work for Greenbox, a company which is applying energy management technologies to the home and small business.

I am still in love with collages, and am always looking for ways to apply them.    

My son was playing/working at the kitchen table the other rainy afternoon, and when he migrated elsewhere in the house (ok…the FLAT), my very independent daughter got a snack and sat down to read.  This freed up the objects that an 8 year old boy gathers and combines, and I was motivated enough visually to go grab my camera.  I am enthralled with little biographical snippets of life.  I am also having fun with things up close.  But the strange thing is that the minute I start photographing one of the objects, I am excited by the look, and at the same time, am hearing loud internal voices that are denigrating the images.  They are not polished enough…they are silly little record shots, if I put them up on my website people will think I am a hack without an ounce of self-knowledge, they’ve been done before, what is the point and so on and so forth.  Wow.

I immediately went from the fun of the moment, and the pretty result, to some place far down a road which practically puts out the fire.  I think this is one of those major struggles for me.  The bar for success is set so high, that I cannot explore

Peg game up close

Peg game up close

by doing because the doing is interrupted so quickly.  It is not enough to explore.  It has to be ready for the gallery wall.  I think that pretty much dooms any chances of getting on the gallery wall.

I think this is one of the dilemmas for those of us with busy lives that don’t allow for enough shooting.  There is ALWAYS something that SHOULD be done, and I forget to use that camera.  I don’t carry it, I don’t set up enough shoots (digital is free…what is stopping me?), and I just don’t take enough photos.  Leaving the 8×10 sitting on the shelf is understandable at the moment (although I do love it, but probably for a bunch of the wrong reasons).  But this pressure (all from inside) to be “special” all the time, is quite destructive.  The most fun I have when shooting is when I play.  And the pictures are better when I play.  And play is fun.  So why not play more?

Good question.