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.
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.
Over a year ago when my oldest child was completing college applications (and was completely stressed) I saw a common sense type article describing ways to take better control of your life. The part that had an impact on me described “controlling the controllables”. Basically, don’t stress over things you have little or no control over and concentrate on the things you do control. This is so true in photography (and applying to college I think). Things like weather, budget, fickle subjects, etc are out of my control. Sure I have to be prepared as best I can for unforeseen situations but you get the idea. So what are the controllables? Lets use this race car image as an example. I knew time and access could be an issue on this shoot. The ad agency Propeller Branding’s racing team client Primetime Race Group had rented Road Atlanta Raceway for a day to shoot a commercial, do stills, and test cars for the upcoming race season. I could see who might get the short stick here . . . So, we controlled the controllables. I arranged for a camera car to work from so I could get the angles I wanted quickly. I discussed options with a retoucher before shooting. I booked extra crew. We had scout time in advance. I convinced the ad agency we needed it all. And boy did we. A car crash, hot hazy mid-day light, and drivers more into testing cars than completing shoots (can’t blame them !) meant we had one third of the time we were promised. The first image shows one of the completed, retouched shots. The second is the same image with processing only – no retouching. I like control. And my son? Just successfully completed his first year of college. Guess he’s figured it out too.
Update: Propeller Branding is in the process of, well, disappearing. Got those nasty creditor papers from a bankruptcy court the other day. I’m a creditor! Cool. Wait a minute . . . .
Did this shoot the other day for my 2009 Workbook ad. Like how it turned out. All I kept repeating to the guys was “determination”. That’s the feel I wanted. Sometimes I like being part of the shot on stuff like this – so for many of the action shots I was running and jumping with them, firing the camera with remotes. No small feat since they’ve got a few years on me . . . Let me know what you think.
Hard to believe there’s still water seemingly everywhere here. Tropical storm Fay appeared to hang around a long time. At least we found a way to have a little fun. Most of my other hurricane photos over the years have been more on the destruction, wreckage, etc – and not fun. Some did win Communication Arts recognition and others – well, they’re just interesting to look at. Here’s an excerpt from editorial coverage (writer Bill Pike) of a recent hurricane season and the actual forecast I took off the weather radio. It was almost comical listening to it from that computerized voice: Hurricane season was bad this year… real bad. I know, and so does Robert Holland, who shot these photographs, because we’re both Floridians. Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne made landfall near Holland’s home in Stuart, and my home in the Panhandle was in the paths of Bonnie, Frances, and Ivan. Both of our homes survived without much damage, and our boats made it through as well. As you see from the photos, thousands were not so fortunate.
NOAA Marine Forecast for Hurricane Frances “A hurricane warning is in effect. Cloudy with squalls of rain coming ashore at times with strong gusts of wind. Wind northeast 30 to 60 knots today with higher gusts and waves 15 to 25 feet nearshore. Intracoastal waters five to ten feet. Wind tonight northeast 50 to 100 knots with gusts up to 120 knots. Waves 18 to 30 feet. Visibility near zero.”
And some of the shots from that storm season. Never planned to be a storm chaser. In fact I think they’re chasing me sometimes. I like the fun stuff (images) more.
Sometimes you do just have to shoot. To create. No other way to describe it. I’m sure its much the same no matter what the medium or artist. You just need to create – with no direction or goal. Play. I’ve found its not even so much about what you produce – its the process. And it works better if you don’t think or plan too much. Just let it happen and go with the flow. A writer I worked with at Smithsonian Magazine called it ” the gun slinger ” mentality. The need to encounter a situation, breathe it all in and then conquer it by creating something out of it (and then usually get the heck out of town . . . he said) But I really have to credit Suzanne Sease for the concept of creative play. She’s taught me a lot about the idea of shoot first, judge later. These shots are just that – play – created in two hours last week a couple miles from my front door. Called my friend Billy (single guy – knows lots of people) and said lets find anyone that can do this now. Ended up being fun for everyone and I met some new people too. And I’m not sure what – if anything – will become of the shots. Not the point. I even learned some cool stuff I’m not sure I knew. Like foamy white surf acts as amazing reflector fill. That one specific focal length of my lens that day did something very cool with the sun flare. And that Billy has some fun loving friends.
Creativity comes in many forms and Kevin Clash has developed one of the most unique – and universal. Elmo. Try photographing this guy with puppet on display and you quickly realize that he draws kids like candy. They cry, they scream, they freak out. They just plain love Elmo. Clash is a very talented guy that benefited from a tremendous amount of support as a youth – both from family and the community. My Life as a Furry Red Monster:What Being Elmo Has Taught Me About Life, Love and Laughing Out Loud is his book from 2006 and covers a lot of how he got started, mentors and more. A good read – and inspiring whether child or adult. Even my teenager loved it. Photo: Robert Holland