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If you know my work you probably also know I photograph a lot of kids in my commercial work. You can’t ask for better subjects. Kids are, well – real. Sincere and pure emotion. Raw life in the moment. Either you create great shots that capture their essence – or they skipped a nap and you get what you get. (More likely you go to the backup model kid – cold as it may seem . . . . ) And if you know me you understand that I like working with kids. Ok, I have patience too. So here’s the funny thing. All this has gradually led me to also do a whole other kind of photography work as well. Not commercial, but certainly drawing on that for my “look” I also now have a business working with families creating a different kind of portrait.
More like the stuff I shoot for tourism accounts or insurance ads – very active but clean lifestyle imagery. I get commissioned by discerning families to photograph them in “my” way at their homes, on vacation, the boat, etc always trying to capture more “real” images than posed. I also built a pretty impressive studio and gallery to not only photograph in but to display all the print options. Pretty cool stuff. I call this business Big Fish Studios and have a dedicated website and a brand new Facebook Fan Page for it. I really enjoy it. It’s a very nice fit with my ad photography. And much more personal too. It’s very relationship based and after living in the same town for 15 years, I finally feel more a part of it. But the amazing thing is the new life it’s breathing into my commercial work. Working with real kids – not model kids – has forced me to develop quick, pure and simple approaches to get the images I’m looking for. I was always a KISS (keep it simple stupid) kind of photographer anyway. This is reinforcing that approach. No lighting. Not even reflectors. Just working with what each situation offers. Reminds me of my early work when I’d run off to some country for weeks at a time – or shoot on the fly for Newsweek Magazine. Just cleaner. It’s making me a better photographer too. No crews or extensive gear on most shoots – just me. Almost like personal work at times.
It has taken some time to shoot a whole new portfolio for that business as well as learn about the fine art display options, working with the public and more. Very exciting. I’ve even been referred by some of my family / child work to commercial jobs. Now that is weird – but in a good way! So, I’ll try to not mix my audiences too much with blog posts etc but I just had to share at least this much . . . Change is good. Or, as my friend creative consultant Ian Summers says “Grow or Die”.
Some people just have something. Indefinable sometimes – but they have it. Whether walking into a room, or being in a photo – they add something special to it simply with their presence. That’s Mary. Even clients say it. I’ve photographed her long before we both lived in the same town and she never fails to bring an amazing attitude and smile. No complaining about a crazy idea I dream up. Down to earth. Even (sometimes) laughs at my jokes. It’s good to know people like this (especially if they’re models – and you photograph . . . ) These were from a recent test shoot for me. Click on the gallery shots below for a large view – then return to the post with the back button or arrow.
Maybe a better description is “shooting around the water” but that’s a clunky title. It’s always been a specialty or sideline of my photography. And I’ve been interviewed no less than three times the last month re photo techniques so I figured, time for an article. The most recent magazine was Mad Mariner with an article by Lindsey Johnson: “Picture Perfect: Marine Photography Professionals Share their Expert Advice for Taking Quality Photos.” How did I get started? Oddly. I grew up around boats and yachts on Sanibel Island, enjoyed the water and then studied biology and marine science at the University of Miami. Strangely, all this helped prepare me for a photography career rather than one in science. Who knew? My early interest was underwater photography at a time few were doing it. That grew into photographing all kinds of stuff around the water from boats to people and travel/resorts. I’ve shot from a zooming helicopter skid just feet over the water, tied to a boat hull, been trolled behind a fishing boat as bait, jumped from an aircraft onto a moving boat – all in pursuit of images. I guess that’s really what I’m writing about – getting images in an environment some might call harsh or unforgiving at times. You don’t need Deadliest Catch conditions to make it tough. Lets talk about making it easier.
Water (and sand) have been culprits of mine for a long time. Keeping things dry is a drag. Trying to figure out the right combination of weather predicting and proper gear can be an art form at times too. But what’s the biggest asset in marine work? I think it’s familiarity and preparedness – knowing what to expect and being ready. If you’re several miles off shore (let alone in the middle of the ocean or on a remote island) and you can’t work with what you brought . . . . uh-oh. Been there, missed that shot. Sometimes it’s as simple of as a towel. Or a bracelet. Really. I shot an ad campaign, catalog, posters and billboards last year for Everglades Boats ad agency Anson-Stoner ( just won a Silver national Addy actually . . . ) The creative director wanted rough seas, menacing conditions but two dimensional images always seem to “flatten out” water. We were in big seas – I mean hang on or you’ll fly overboard big in the Gulf Stream – but you’d never know by the shots. In order to get the occasional “rouge” wave in the situation we needed it meant we were out a long time. In those kind of seas. With people not used to it. Talk about your guilt . . . . That’s where the towel and pill came in. Seasick bracelet for when the pills wore off. Extra towels for the seemingly endless chore of drying the lens of wave spray. Sometimes it’s the little things – actually, I guess it’s knowing when they matter. Be prepared for whatever may get thrown your way. (And try not to let the client see you sick . . . .)
Gear. Let me set you straight here. Most photographers will tell you how important the “right” camera is. How critical mega this and that is. Not me. Sure, I need a certain level of gear for what I do but it does not “make” the picture. It just makes it look good when going on a billboard – which i’ve done with the 8 meg Canon 1D II. What do I think about gear? It’s about the image – not the gear. I’m a proponent of having a camera with you all the time. A little, in your pocket, easy and quick to shoot with camera. Make it a water resistant one like Olympus or other makes and you’ve got no worries. If you need a more pro oriented solution look for the higher end cameras like Canon’s D series. Not because of megapixel – because of sealed parts. All their moving parts have gaskets that keep light rain and splash out (one reason they cost more). Keeping the lens front dry is up to you though . . .
Learn about the rules in photography. Basic composition, shutter / aperture correlation, ISO, focal length, etc. Yes, learn all the rules – and then break them. Why? Why not? The world is full of “perfect” pictures. Give it your pictures. Worry about the moment, the feeling, the wave hitting you in the face – and shoot it. Experiment. Take – or put a camera where someone else would not. Use a lens that may go against convention. Push the rules to the edge of making sense. I like shooting well past sunset. That’s tough on the water (can’t use a tripod on a rocking boat) but there are approaches. I recently jumped in the water so I could shoot longer. The water suppressed my shaking hands and absorbed movement, allowing me to shoot seascapes well after sunset and at 1/4 second shutter speed. That’s the shot below.
If you do what i just described you’ll be well on your way to developing a vision or style. Stay with it. Shoot what you’re interested in. Make it yours. Sometimes it not about simply getting a shot of something, it’s about conveying a feeling or documenting a future memory. Remember how you “think” you remember your early childhood? More than likely what you remember is seeing the images of that childhood in a scrapbook. What do you want to remember about your life? If you’re reading this then you’re probably a lover of all things water, beach and island. Document it. Sometimes it’s the sunset or a group smiling for the camera – but more often it should probably be the grains of sand stuck to your daughters eye lashes after an unforgettable day.
We’re all either doing it – or trying to figure out how. Maybe trying to figure out how much is a better description. Some people have figured it out it seems. Chase Jarvis was a successful photographer I’d not discovered – until I started hearing about his active online persona. Now I hear about him everywhere. This guy is wired. If I accidently discovered him, think how many art directors have. Stock photographer extraordinaire Jack Hollingsworth is aggressively exploring all social media and doing what he calls “Toginars” – weekly podcasts with subscribing photographers. Former news photographer Jim MacMillan has 46,000 twitter followers. David Hobby has a great educational / technical site called Strobist and makes a six figure income from it with 350,000 readers.
Maybe the most interesting approach to me is wedding photographer Christopher Becker. He’s booked work from his Facebook account and has a plan for doing so. He also has an online wedding photography site called [b] school, aimed at pro photographers who pay $10 dollars a month. So far he has 1600 subscribers. Do the math. It’s clear some photographers have made social networking and their internet alter egos profitable. Some very profitable. Photo District News has an article with what they call the Five Biggest Photographers on the Internet. I think Chase and Jack should be in there too.
Me? I dabble. Facebook and Linkedin for the past year, this blog, but that’s about it. (Feel free to friend / connect) I can see youtube working. flickr scares me because you pretty much give up rights to your photos there. Then I discovered clients had set up accounts for their clients – using my photos. The art directors are pretty good about warning me. I appreciate it and just ask for proper photo credit and hopefully copyright notice. Twitter. Not sure what to say about that. I see myself possibly using it for part of my business. Maybe – we’ll see. I did set up an account. The surprising thing is I get nearly daily notices that I’m being followed. I’ve never made a single post. Go figure. Maybe getting to 46,000 is not as amazing as I thought. And if it seems like the future in photography is not in creating images – but rather in creating things of interest for other photographers – it may just be. Yuck.
Sometimes you meet people in surprising ways. I was recently at an awards and graduation ceremony for my daughter Emily. She had completed a community leadership program – not bad for a sixteen year old but also not surprising if you know my daughter ( fair chance she’ll rule the world someday . . . ) What was surprising was the speaker that the rather conservative county where I live brought in to speak to the kids and their proud parents : Kirk Nugent. He calls himself “the people’s poet” but I’d describe him as a cross between rapper, performance poet, and motivational speaker. – and he was fantastic. His message was strong. The delivery riveting. And the audience response priceless. Almost everyone was captivated. The few that were not are probably still trying to right their eyeballs in their head.
This video is worth the look. Watch here.
The new Workbook directory of creative talent is out and this is my ad. Always a struggle to decide what to show. I’ve been advertising in this book for exactly 20 years as well as Blackbook and others less consistently. It could be my last Workbook though. So much is online now. I’m on several portals or portfolio sites including Workbook Portfolios which is probably the best and one I’m sure many of you use. This is my WB online portfolio. So, if you’re an art director, etc and want to share if and how you still use print directories, shoot me an email or post here. Many, many photographers have stopped advertising in print annuals. Love to get your input. Knowledge is good. All of these shots were retouched by Michael Jordan, one from a portfolio shoot and the other two from jobs.
This just went out today from my Rep as an emailer to promote their photographers. You can see the other two photographers on the promotion Jennifer Pottheiser and James Quantz here in the WM Blog. Their work is excellent. It feels like there’s suddenly more activity the last couple weeks – estimate and portfolio requests are up. Anheuser Busch and Gatorade jobs – maybe people are just thirsty . . . . Or maybe things are turning around(?) We’ll see.
Either way, I like working with Wonderful Machine. There’s a lot of trust involved in a Rep / Photographer relationship though – I may not select these shots or that copy (although I am a cloud freak as my kids will attest) but sometimes its good to have other people making the decisions and doing the work. Peter Clark designs the emailers. He’s working on new ones for me too. The shots below are from a Cigna health care shoot, editorial for Power & Motoryacht, personal work in the Bahamas and a test shot for my portfolio.
New portfolio work. Tried out a new retoucher with this shoot as well: Emily Von Fange I like her work – easy to deal with too. My goal with a test or portfolio shoot like this is to get a great shot or two, I usually end up with a bunch of selects that eventually edit down to a few or one – or sometimes – none. This is what made the last edit along with the two finals. I can always convince myself that I like nothing. And if I ask ten different people for input I can get well, weird results so, I’ve learned to go with my gut. I like these. And if I liked none? I go shoot it again.
What is Wonderful Machine? It’s a web portal & photographers representative that according to them is “dedicated to connecting the world’s most talented photographers with the industry’s most discerning clients”. They’re also my new rep and I couldn’t be more excited. Great, talented group of people that run WM (including producers, retouchers, marketing). Excellent photographers represented. Creatives looking for photographers can search by city and any of a number of photo specialties. The portal then links with the photographers website. Very cool. They currently have just over 150 photographers in the US as well as others around the world. They have me in the categories: lifestyle, kids, travel, action/adventure and sports/fitness. They also have a great blog (which, like mine you can subscribe to . . . . hint, hint).
WM is the creation of photographer Bill Cramer. I asked him how he chose the name: “I was reading Little House on the Prairie to my daughters one night three years ago. We came to a chapter called Wonderful Machine, about a mechanical wheat thrasher that allowed Pa to clear his whole field in two days when it used to take two weeks. I thought it was a perfect name for the company that we had just created. At that time, I had been a photographer for 20 years and over that time I had worked with several different picture agencies and all the major marketing portals. Though they all have their place, I thought it would be more useful for photographers if there was a portal that had a limited number of photographers, was actively promoted, and offered production support as well as marketing. So that’s what I built (with a lot of help from Marketing Director Neil Binkley, who has worked with me for about 5 years).”
Sounds wonderful to me.