In the first of our visual essays exploring the dynamic of “Hard and Soft” as an idea and an aesthetic in pictures, we take a journey through Transformation
The promise of Transformation is the message of so much advertising, its driving logic, from basic car ads pithing the car as the transformational object that can open a different world of urban and natural landscapes, to health and wellness products, that we thought we’d begin our series of visual essays exploring Hard and Soft, guided by the theme of Transformation.
There’s travel photography, taking a selfie in front of a landmark, then there’s Travel photography as discussed between photographers Matt Dutile and Philip Lee Harvey. Everything you thought you wanted to know about travel photography but were afraid to ask.
In the following interview Matt Dutile downloads the the Philip Lee Harvey’s Travel photography brain – discover prep techniques, best time to shoot and how to deliver for clients.
Matt Dutile: When it comes to an assignment whether it’s a travel editorial or an advertising shoot, what’s your preparation for that. I am sure each one’s going to have something a little different. But do you have some basic things, like how do you figure out what’s going to work on a location?
Philip Lee Harvey: As far as the preparation for the shoot, if it’s an advertising shoot I’ll do a lot of moodboards so that the Art Director and I are in the same train of thought and they get what we are trying to achieve – that is usually a mood rather than a particular picture. In editorial I am very much concerned with the overall emotion that I want to create from a shoot. You can’t pre-plan them too much because you don’t know if that priest is going to be at that mountain-top at that sunrise. You know the emotion you want, that gives you a lot of opportunity to pre-plan it. I take a lot of visual research with me of the destinations so that I can show a guide or an interpreter, this is the kind of thing to go after, and visually is much better than verbally. Quite often I will say I am looking for this church or this mountain top and if I use a name it may not be the local dialect name or it may be something different. If it’s visual I can show them and they can show their colleagues and we can find where we want to go. I try to look at everything that has been done there before. You should never be so proud that you think you will just find a brilliant location somewhere. There are people who live there who know it better. We always start by finding out what other people have done and that’s a good starting point. If there is a certain mountain-top and you’ve never see a good picture from it chances are it may not exist. Especially now with the internet and Google earth you can actually plan a lot of your journey through things like Google earth.
Matt Dutile: Location work is at the whim of the weather. What do you do if it’s not great?
Philip Lee Harvey: It’s the one thing you cannot change so the important thing is to not go crazy about it. But make sure you give yourself the best odds so you’re only there when it is supposed to be good. If it’s only sunny during the middle of the day you have to be strict and if the light isn’t good enough you keep going back at sunrise and sunset in the time frame we have and hopefully we’ll get it. The secret, if there is one is Know when you are lucky and maximise that opportunity. If the weather is going to be bad you almost want it very bad at least there’s a narrative there.
Matt Dutile: Let’s talk a bit more about the craft of the travel photographer and what is it that separates someone who works specifically in travel and location work versus another photographer who may have great work in fashion, and then just travels with their camera, what makes this niche of travel photographers?
Philip Lee Harvey: The main difference between us and people who are going on holiday and taking their own photographs that we’ll put the effort in every possible minute of the day until we are on the plane on the way home to get what we need. We are addicted to what we do. We keep attacking the location until we get it. It take’s a certain personality to do it. What makes the photographer good in that genre I think is bringing in other influences, crossovers. For example I might use a fashion lighting technique, for a picture of Masai tribeswoman.
It’s really important not to pigeonhole yourself mentally, to say I am a travel photographer so therefore I only ever look at travel photography that’s been done before. Because it’s been done before there’s no point in taking that avenue. It’s much better to say “where’s my influence here?” It might be a film, it might be a painting, it might be music. We’ve used music just to give us continuity throughout the whole shoot – and a mood. It’s not just about creating a strong image. It’s got to have emotion otherwise you are just a guidebook photographer.
I don’t want to say this is exactly what Djenne market in Mali West Africa looks like. I want to say this is what it smells like, this is what it feels like, this is the dust. Try to bring in as much of that emotion as you can. It’s often a case of getting the picture you think you’ve got to get, get that first. Then throw it away. Then look for more interesting things. Otherwise there’s a danger you will stamp-collect destinations.
Matt Dutile: Each location can have many different stories so the question is what the one you want to craft from?
Philip Lee Harvey: Knowing what being on-brand and is about, knowing the people you are working for, knowing the things they like, and then being strict with yourself – if it’s not part of the story don’t waste to much time on it. Let’s say you are doing a piece about spirituality in Burma. You’ve already got your vision, it’s about spirituality and the environment, how it effects people. Don’t go off shooting beautiful landscapes if it’s not relevant. You want a complete package for a good story not one-off great pictures, on their own they don’t really work.
Matt Dutile: You mentioned different kinds of inspiration, music, paintings, are there any ‘go-to’ photographers you went to when starting out or even now that you go to for inspiration.
Philip Lee Harvey: Yes and they change I have a big library of books and DVDs, things that have been useful, like a notepad I have jotted something down on. When I first started I was interested in the early travel photographers people like Frank Hurley who was with Shackleton who was on the Endurance expedition in Antarctica. And then painters like Turner. Turner was a fantastic, if you like, Travel painter who really got the essence and the mood of a place. Caravaggio, great for that chiaroscuro lighting, Monet and the Impressionists, Monet was great at simplifying a scene down and giving you a mood.
Then through photographic history different photogrpahers have brought something new. George Rodger one of the founder members of Magnum, he did brilliant work in Southern Sudan in the Nuba tribe, people like Ersnt Haas one of the first people to really understand colour and colour theory. Then modern day inspirations are people such as Salgado, his professionalism and his eye is unique and his dedication is incredible. I might look at fashion photographer Carter Smith, or listen to music. If I’m doing something in the US I might listen to Ry Cooder, or jazz or blues – to give you an idea of the emotion in your mind. I remember doing a shoot in California about surfing and I remember listening to surf music from the 50s and 60s and a film called Endless Summer by Bruce Brown – we used that a lot to influence what we were doing.
Matt Dutile: I want to ask about what looks like some really fantastic work for Lonely Planet Travel, in particular a story on Ethiopia which echoes some of the topics we have been talking about. How did you prepare? Searching for locations did you have a guide? How many days?
Philip Lee Harvey: I’d been to Ethiopia once before, about 10 years ago, I’d been all over the country but mainly in the South photographing in the Omo Valley. But I knew of these rock churches up in the North, I’d been to Lalibella before one of the centres of these amazing 6th- 7th century churches carved out of rock.
The concept there was how do we make a story about religion run over 10-12 pages, keep it colourful in a very dry place, keep it interesting and keep it current. Not make it look like it’s a historical piece. You still have pilgrims going there everyday from all over the world. But it should be interesting to people who aren’t necessarily interested in the religious aspect.
It started as a conversation between the writer and myself, we talked about the ideal places we’d like to go, we then contacted different tour companies in Ethiopia to see which one would be the right one for us to work with, they then put an itinerary together. We looked at it and juggled it and said ok. Some of it is a wishlist and some of it is due to the logistics and restraints of the time that you’ve got. One of the things I was told by my Art Director at the magazine was just be careful it doesn’t look too dusty, because people’s view of Ethiopia is a very dated one, rooted in the 1980s view of famine and war. And it’s not. It’s colourful and it has this biblical history and we wanted to bring that together in a lively way. We talked about what destinations would be good for people, what destinations would be good for landscapes
We discussed how to bring scale into the picture. Because when you have a church carved out of solid rock, you have no idea of the scale or how epic it is – we worked very hard on making it work. Then you treat day one like it’s your last day! You never know! You try everything you can. On a shoot you are learning a lot, you’re learning the way to do the shoot, you are learning the way to shoot the churches, you are taking the knowledge from one that didn’t work that well to the next one, then trying to make it work.
Having been to some of the churches before, I knew it was going to be technically tricky, it was going to be dark. I didn’t want to light it with flash, I didn’t want to kill the mood. I had a whole bag of different colour temperature torches with me.
I used LED lights I used maglites, different things that would give me different colours and then in very long exposures I would paint the light that I wanted into the roof scene.
I don’t tend to go back that much and look at everything though. I know instinctively if I’ve got it, and I like to think that I haven’t. There’s a danger you think, “yeah, I have that opening spread, that I’ve got the double page spread,” and you don’t try hard the next day. It’s better to think I have something in reserve and can do better tomorrow.
Matt Dutile: Getting up for every sunrise and being there for very sunset is something you beat into to me on our last talk! Before then I had been building in the travel work, but doing it as a photographer who was travelling rather than as a travel photographer. I don’t know why that mental click hadn’t been there before because know it seems so obvious.
Philip Lee Harvey: Once you’ve seen that early morning light, or that late evening light when most people have gone to the bar, once you’ve seen it you’re addicted, and you know that’s your benchmark. That’s when you must work.
Matt Dutile: It’s always a little rough when your climbing 1600 steps up a temple at 4 in the morning. But then the sun comes up and it’s worth it!
Philip Lee Harvey: The feeling of satisfaction when you get that light beats anything.
Matt Dutile: For people who want to get into travel photography, what kind of images do you want to see in their portfolio? How do you build to attract clients in this industry?
It does take a long time. When I see aspiring location photographers’ work, editorially it must have a story. Having one cracking picture means nothing. It’s the same in advertising as well, it’s all about the narrative. If you’re going to Marrakesh, or Fez, or anywhere In Morocco, then you must know what you are going to achieve.
There needs to be the narrative, then the page-layout story, the art director needs to see an opener, with space for type and an understanding of its final use. The Art Director needs to see detail, interiors, lively pictures, unexpected pictures of people, people that invite you to want to go there. And a good colour palette throughout. You may use the same colour palate throughout for consistency or you may use opposite colours. For example if you have a lot of green in your story it’s going to start getting boring. Put a bit of red in one of those pictures and suddenly it comes alive.
On shot is not enough. What’s the story? It’s the same in advertising, there will be a brand strategy, there will be a demographic they are aiming at, there will be a colour palette they will want to use because of their branding – it’s never as simple as one straight picture. Think what the story is, think the emotion, and then work back. Having a brief is vitally important, even if you write it yourself.
Matt Dutile: How important is it today to diversify, to work with multiple clients, to do advertising and editorial and stock?
Philip Lee Harvey: It’s up to the individual, some people do very well by having a niche, by having something special that they do, and they are called by time and time again to do that same thing. Personality-wise I would go crazy, I like new challenges, and I like taking some of the things I might learn doing safari shoot, taking that into an ad shoot for a large bank or something. I’m always being educated by something I’m doing and can take it on to another client. It’s also a tricky one, if you diversify too much no one knows what you do. You do need a brand, to say this is a ‘Philip Lee Harvey’ image. Other wise you end up with mediocre in everything.
Matt Dutile: Let’s jump to ”Why should they still hire us?” With the continuing rise of microstock, shoot budgets shrinking, editorial budgets vanishing, why is more important than ever for companies to work with professional photographers and what is it we are bringing to the table?
Philip Lee Harvey: You said it there, we are professional photographers it is what we are bringing to the table that counts. Digital photography is available to everyone now, but photography has never really been about cameras. It’s been about an attitude, and a way of thinking, and the ability to perform every time. To give your clients what they want and to give them an individual look. Clients want a reliability and a freshness. Nobody wants to keep using the same imagery all the time.
Travel magazines are changing, they are diversifying they are more web-based, there’s more video content now, they will diversify even more, they will have to to survive and we as photographers need to do the same, we need to be open to what clients want. It wasn’t that long ago we would spend four days getting one shot on a large-plate camera for a 48 sheet advertising campaign. That final usage doesn’t exist anymore. They want it to run on the web for a month, they want a thin banner, they want to put it into apps, we have to accommodate that or we are going to be dinosaurs. But the actual process of taking pictures is still there. There is still a need for visual people. Now whether you are actually directing video or shooting video or taking stills you are bringing something new to the table as a visual person that they can’t do.
To see more of Philip Lee Harvey’s work click here
Art Director Tom Laybourne takes us through the creative journey on set with photographer Sofie Delauw in Florence
A series of lifestyle shoots with a focus on beautifully honest moments of real life. Styled with vintage touches and a warm analogue feel. The key here was to pick up on the wonderful Italian way of life with subtle references that would allow the images produced to be globally appealing whilst retaining identity. Inspiration came from a fantastic set of tearsheets Sofie had collected and from sites/publications/photographers such as Kinfolk, VSCO, h-o-r-n-g-r-y.tumblr.com and We Are The Rhoads…
Still buzzing from the Image Source Milan photographer workshop, I arrived in Florence by train and found my accommodation which also happened to be the first location we were shooting in… The Box House. Then straight into pre-production. A whirlwind tour of Florence visiting shoot locations, picking up props, selecting styling and refining shot lists. Always a great opportunity to brainstorm on the move and collaborate over new ideas with a photographer. Refreshing for me to get an insight into someones life and where they’re working, it really helps when I make shoot suggestions from my desk in London!
Sometimes it really helps being in new surroundings to pick up some new visual stimulus, the Italian’s national pride and rustic charm was clear everywhere. There may have also been the odd break for chantilly cream filled mille-feuille (Sofie’s excellent recommendation)… not exactly an Italian classic but something that stuck in my mind…
DAY 1: The Box House
Before heading to the first location, we took advantage of a quick trip to the local market and picked up some additional shots. The main location was The Box House, an architects city centre home that featured an incredible collection of vintage objects and over 300 wooden ballot boxes that have been turned into storage units, shelving, seating etc in the house.
The perfect backdrop for the young attractive couple we were shooting and ideal for our brief. You can see from the production shot (attached) the large windows allowing natural light to flood in and lift the dark wood tones that could have been a little oppressive if there was less light available.
DAY 2: Earthy Tones
Start the day and we had heavy rain… fortunately we were well prepared and adapted the ideas. Making the most of the bad weather and turning it to our advantage to create a set of images where there is a strong connection between the models and a moody atmosphere. The models here were really well cast, urban sophisticates, styled with earthy tones.
The colour palette was complimented by the models red hair and was a perfect fit for the Wintery feel. We wanted to tie in elements of nature so started off in a park by the river and later moved into Florence city centre for lunch, fortunately the weather picked up and we covered a series of tourist ideas. Styling was changed to a smarter feel that was suitable for a trend-conscious urban couple or creative business colleagues whist retaining the warm, natural tones.
DAY 3 Connection and Emotional Honesty
We cast a real mother/daughter to make sure we had no problems getting a perfectly genuine interaction between the two. It was vital that there was an honesty in their behaviour and relationship. To broaden the shoot, we covered the relationship between them but also their life as individuals.
The mother had a natural warmth and sophistication that suited our shoot idea perfectly. Splitting the day with half at a local meadow and half in an apartment, we set up scenes then allowed them to play out naturally between the mother and daughter.
DAY 4 Love, Selfies and Beards
Sofie did a fantastic job casting a real family who worked as artists and had a baby boy. We were able to shoot them at their home and make the most of the great location.
It was an incredible insight into this family’s life in the countryside near Florence. There was such a clear loving relationship between them all and a great insight into this prior to shooting was their facebook photos which included selfies, an idea we were keen to reproduce in the shoot. This great situation meant that the instinctive loving moments between the three were there and that we could almost document their normal lives.
Styling this shoot was lots of fun as the family had a large selection of vintage clothes and loved getting dressed up together. Something we had picked up on from their facebook photos was the matching striped tops which we incorporated into some of our shots and created a strong visual bond between them all. The vintage vibe was carried on using their beautifully restored old white Lancia. It was an incredible shoot to be part of and left me utterly jealous of the life they have… I hope the images convey that.
To see this shoot and other work by Sofie Delauw click here
Travel imagery offers a variety of advertising metaphors. This month’s Best-Selling photo on Image Source by Gary John Norman finds stillness in the rush
Travel is one part geography and one part psychology, it’s why imagery is so useful in advertising, tapping into our strangely deep expectations of what Travel can deliver. In pre-modern times there was the pilgrimage, Travel as religious journey to the Holy Land or shrines, pilgrims seeking forgiveness, repentance, a change in their lives. In the 18th Century there was the Grand Tour, the upper classes travelling to cities such as Venice, on an educational, cultural pilgrimage. And while contemporary Travel may actually be about ‘Escape’ – weekend break/stag or hen weekend/ chilling by the beach – we still mentally file ‘Travel’ and its imagery under ‘Experience’ and ‘Discovery’.
So this month’s Image Source best-seller by Gary John Norman potentially ticks off a range of general ideas associated with travel, but Norman’s photo delivers some very specific visual cues for advertisers. Such as: ‘Touch’, as the hand glides over the surface of the water: or ‘Flow’ in the blur of the water; and most of all ‘Balance’ which really focuses the eye in this image.
We can now add ‘geometry’ to the list of things Travel ticks off. Norman’s shot and crop provides a perfect symmetry, two triangles divide the image diagonally, either side of the arm bisecting the photo, the viewer drawn to identifying with the woman in the boat, leaning over. The foreground is all movement in the blurring of the water, rushing towards us, the background is the horizon the straight lines of the boat and arm. There’s order and balance in this vision of movement. It’s why this would be a highly effective Business or Financial Services image pitching stability. Or the business person or organisation being ‘in-the-zone’ the calm in the chaos, in the moment. Equally it could work in the technology sector with metaphors around touch and flow.
Look up any quotation site and there’s a hugely rich set of reflections around the meaning, purpose and value of travel. Our idea, our vision of Travel has long survived the often grim reality of it, not least because no matter how unglamorous modern travel is, it still gives us a useful and productive sense of dislocation, of leaving something of ourselves behind. It’s why my favourite Travel insight comes from Canadian author Douglas Coupland’s novel Player One, where he mashes together the modern and the old in an ironic and true observation on contemporary travel, “..a plane trip exposes you to situations and landscapes unthinkable until recent history, moments of magnificence and banality that dissolve what few itty-bitty molecules of individuality you possess. After a plane trip, you need to rebuild your ego, to shore up your sense of being unique. That’s why religions target airports to find new recruits…”. I might just rediscover my balance with a quick peek at Gary John Norman’s photo.
Click here to see more of Gary John Norman’s work on Image Source
Image Source Art Director Tom Laybourne gives his essential insight on gaining access to off-limit locations, why shoot-planning is crucial and working with Sardinia-based photographer Antonio Saba.
How long have you been working with Antonio Saba?
It’s been about 2 years now. We met at our Milan photographer workshop in 2011. Antonio is based in Sardinia which would usually rule out on-set art direction but when he gains access to such great locations like the main airport in Cagliari and prepares three days of shoots, it makes a very strong business case for us to provide on-set direction.
Is getting access to difficult places a particular skill of Antonio’s?
I don’t think there’s anywhere in Sardinia (if not the world!) that Antonio couldn’t get access to, his exceptional level of professionalism and likeable character make it difficult for people to refuse. I’m sure he’ll have some tips and tricks but that’s for him to share. Also being one of a very small group of official photographers for the Cern large hadron collider, only highlights his ability to gain great access.
What kinds of permission did you need to get on this shoot?
There was a huge amount of work behind the scenes by Antonio and Cagliari airport to approve all the crew months in advance of the shoot. On the two days we shot there, we had a chaperone with us the whole time who was fantastic and very patient with us. He took us through security and liaised with all staff at the airport who we were interacting with.
Security must still have been a hassle?
Yes but we tried to keep it to an absolute minimum and planned around it. We all know the frustration of emptying your pockets, taking off belts etc… try doing that along with a full crew of models, make-up/styling, assistants and all the kit. It does slow things down a little. Saying that we did get lucky with some unexpected access to a plane which I understood would be off limits for this shoot but it turned out that we bumped into the perfect person. One of the cabin crew from an airline there had been to a mini workshop I ran in Cagliari the day before as she was a semi-pro photographer and she just offered to let us shoot on a plane, I obviously jumped at the chance and we had access to the whole plane including the cockpit, amazing!
What was the most challenging moment on the shoot?
To be honest, it was surprisingly straight forward and the only trouble was trying to cover everything in the time. We knew we couldn’t do it all but built a good relationship with the airport staff and discussed the opportunity to shoot on the tarmac and in the control tower in future. Again this is down to Antonio’s outstanding professionalism that means we are more than welcome to shoot there again.
Tough call, when you art direct a shoot you’re so closely attached to the images produced and the process of creating them that you can become attached to specific shots for all sorts of reasons. Taking a step back, I think the light and mood to this image is stunning…
In regards to getting access and releases from the staff, this shot highlights what was achieved. Saying that there’s so many more! You can have a look at the gallery here.
Image Source’s Art Director and Head of Science Lee Wheatley on shooting Industrial imagery, having guns held to his head and kids tantrums.
In the second of our series looking at Art Director’s creative processes, Lee Wheatley gives us the insider’s insight on the inspiration, planning and photographers behind his stunning industrial shoots.
What originally drove you to art directing industrial imagery?
I like shooting all kinds of things, kids playing musical instruments in a comedic way, portraits, business etc. Food also, you can make it look beautiful or graphic in a rock n roll way. However, when it comes to shooting science, industry, and nature, it takes you out of your comfort zone. All of a sudden you’re playing with things on a vast scale. That can be otherworldly. Certainly in terms of how small and insignificant we are compared to weather or huge mammals such as whales, but also the grand scale we have created for ourselves. For example building vast objects like ocean tankers which we construct from mining ore in the ground, and our research and understanding through medicine. I find all this inspiring in a ‘boys own’ kind of way.
How do you choose what to shoot?
When it comes to things to shoot, I have a list of subjects as long as my arm. It tends to be the harder to get stuff which is usually down to access, health and safety, secrecy, or the owners lack of appreciation that what they have is of commercial interest – certainly to clients looking for a balance of visual documentation and easily identifiable concepts. Mainly, and despite time spent cajoling and persuading these parties to give you access, a lot of them don’t come through. However, when they do, and you get a great shoot out of it, it tastes all the sweeter.
Which photographers do you work with and why?
Monty Rakusen is an obvious choice as he is a brilliant commercial photographer with his own style. What I particularly like about working with Monty is his ability to build a narrative into all his pictures, that and his openness to art direction, meaning he’ll quite gladly scale a 40ft gantry to get the picture. A special mention should also go to his wife, Liz. Those fantastic locations we shoot at are down to Liz’s ability to get her foot in the door. Rafe Swan is also a great photographer. He is fastidious about his lighting, which is always immense, as is his attention to detail. Rafe’s series of conceptual images on stem cell research in 2012 were probably my favourite of the year. Another is Philippe Roy, who even though he is new to me, has already developed a rapport and understanding, despite being half a world away in China. Asia is big growth area for us, as is science and industry, so its very exciting for me to see these global themes being taken on and localised by Philippe, who gets the rationale completely.
What kind of research and inspiration do you look to for these shoots?
All kinds of things! It could be something that I’ve read, or learnt from one of my contacts in the science community. For example last year I heard about a new form of cell repair that is done by nanotech which is injected into the person. It sounded like something out of the film Innerspace! Still figuring out where to take that one… A lot of research also comes from trend analysis, and deconstructing repeat sellers to understand exactly what it is in that image that makes it so saleable. It could be a completely mundane image, certainly nothing to do with science, but the skill is then extracting that element and implanting it into the new shoot you’re going to do. This is quite a big part of what we do as Art Directors.
I’ve had gun put against my head at 4am, because someone thought i was part of a mafia hit squad, and been involved in a high speed car chase across a city, all in the name of getting pictures. Most science and industry shoots are difficult, especially if you’re trying to avoid something that’s on fire and in your locale, but to be honest, the most challenging shoot i’ve ever done was the one with the kids and musical instruments previously mentioned. It was an incredibly hot August day, and in hindsight we’d probably booked too many kids for the shoot. This meant that each set up we did, involved six children twiddling their thumbs or running round, while another two were being photographed. All of this in two very hot studio locations. By the afternoon, tempers were frayed and many tears were shed over the fact that they hadn’t had a go on the drums, guitar, trombone etc, and that was just the photographer and art director! To be honest, all things considered, the kids were great, and the photographer, Phil Fisk, got some fantastic images, so it was worth it. I slept well that night though!
Image Source Art Director Christina Dittmar on shooting in LA – on why she’s drawn to the photographers, the variety of locations and a pool of quality models to tap into
In the first of our series exploring the creative decision-making process of the Art Director, Christina Dittmar talks us through the thinking, the inspiration and the photographers behind her recent shoots in Los Angeles
1. What makes LA an appealing shoot location?
I have had photo shoots in various places in the United States, South America and overseas and Los Angeles is my favorite place to shoot. The photographers, weather, talent, crew, locations and inspiration that L.A. offers is a perfect fit for me and the way that I work.
The weather is pretty much something you can always count on. If it does rain – it will not be all day and it will not be pouring. I have shot in the rain in LA a few times and have still come out of it with great images …and it is never freezing cold there either!
I produce a bunch of shoots in a small amount of time. The variety of shoots that I can get accomplished in L.A. is awesome and crucial to what I do. I can shoot in the mountains, at a beach, in a desert, in a suburban or urban setting – all within 1-2 hours of driving. The talent in L.A. is amazing and abundant. There is a plethora of seasoned actors and good-looking talent. It is helpful to have an actor in our photos instead of a model so the interaction amongst the talent will feel real and believable.
I’m also drawn to L.A. photographers. Not that they are all the same, but in general there is an ease they have without sacrificing hardwork, talent and creativity. They do not get hung up on the details and just make it happen. These attributes tend to reflect in their work. There is a lightness and energy in their well-crafted images that make it look effortless. I also have always been impressed with how close Los Angeles photographers are with each other. They’re supportive toward each other and are more than happy to help one another out. It seems to be an amazing and rare community and I am grateful to experience it.
2. How did you choose what to shoot?
A lot of the time we have guidelines of what themes we need to concentrate on each quarter, and I work with the photographers to reach that goal. It is good for them to diversify their portfolios and have images that have an array of subjects and can be distributed in the various collections. The first quarter of 2013 we concentrated on Business, this quarter we’re focusing on Family. I also propose additional commercial concepts to photographers that make sense for them and they also propose ideas to me. We develop them together and it becomes a collaborative effort.
3. Which photographers did you work with and why?
I worked with Sean Murphy, Raphye Alexius, Natalie Young, Robyn Breen Shinn, David Jakle and Christin Rose. I work with them because they are all so talented, fun, a bit crazy, hardworking and I adore them all. They kind of feel like family to me.
4. What kind of research and inspiration did you look to for these shoots?
I look at their portfolios and try to develop something for them that they can be successful with and that will add value to their portfolio with us and for them. Something that is relevant and commercial and fits with the style they are building on. Then we talk about it and I do my research. I mostly find inspiration from the location that we will be shooting at. It is the most helpful tool for me because then I can imagine what can happen in that space. I also find tearsheets in magazines, on websites and start a shot list that is relevant to the shoot. At first my research is a bit all over the place because many things inspire me but then I narrow down to the specifics and what can be accomplished.
5. Which image was the most challenging?
It would be this one of the older couple from the Sean Murphy shoot. It was a challenging day. We were shooting at El Matador Beach – which is a major hike up and down with equipment, clothing & props, etc. It was raining and cold and just before the sun was about the set. We wanted an image of the couple dancing together in the water but ocean was freezing. The photographer had been in and out of the water with his wetsuit on and had an underwater housing on his camera. I was afraid to ask them to go into the water with bare feet, but they were troopers! After the whole production; hiking up and down the cliffs, the rain, the cold, the freezing water….we had a model go rogue and their model release was incomplete. All the efforts of that photo shoot seemed moot for weeks while we tried to locate them. Then the photographer gave one last push and it was signed! Thank goodness.
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In the first of our series looking at creative improvisation, photographer Raphye Alexius discovers an ingenious solution to poor ambient light on a “Retail Therapy” shoot
I had the best team I could ask for. Our location was gorgeous. The models were collaborative, creative, and outgoing partners. The stylist and the hair and make-up person were flawless and efficient. We started at 11 am and finished indoors at 2:30, then moved outside for another couple of hours.
This shoot did provide one interesting problem. Even at a high ISO, I could not get a good ambient-light photo from inside the location unless a light was very near. Normally I would bounce a head off the ceiling, but it as turns out, the ceiling was brown; a detail I will not miss again. I wrapped a head in tons of diffusion and created a shape that was like a florescent tube, but it was still too hard and the shadows were unforgiving. Shooting in the back part of the store proved to be a challenge, but I did get a few gems. If I encounter this situation again, I will put a bounce board against the ceiling and pop the light into that, and/or bring brighter bulbs to replace the ones at the location.
That said, the wrapped single head worked okay for the following photo. I think I will recreate this one though when I find a colorful dressing room door that has a gap beneath. We held this curtain up by hand.
On a journey round China, Art Director Tom Laybourne discovered a camera facility that highlighted a country that sets different expectations around technology and service – business in the new China.
According to Market Research group Gfk, due to market competition smartphones in China are markedly cheaper than compact cameras. It’s why so few buy them and yet sales of higher end SLRs are buoyant, “in China,” a recent report noted, “single lens reflex cameras have a share of 18 percent, while by comparison in Japan, their share is 10 percent and worldwide (excluding North America) 12 percent.”
So I shouldn’t have been surprised by a discovery I made in downtown Guangzhou. All was going well with with my Canon 5D (mk1) until CLUNK! I couldn’t see anything through the viewfinder…. I guessed It was the ‘known fault’ where the mirror on the 5D mk1 detaches (more info here ). It was kind of obvious after removing the lens and seeing the mirror falling all over the place. Being in Guangzhou, it was very apparent that I’d most likely not going to be shooting anything else (unless it was on my iPhone!).
Considering I’d only had the camera back from a UK Canon service centre a couple of weeks before, I was particularly disgruntled! Anyway rather than venting my anger and depositing the camera into the third longest river in China, the Pearl River, I opted to gently pop it back in my camera bag and continue trotting round the city. By complete fluke, I managed to stumble across a Canon quick repair centre, I’d never even heard of one, considering that in London you have to send your camera off to Herefordshire for weeks at a time!
Located on the 4th floor of a rather non-descript office block (kindly pointed out by a nearby Canon retailer), I hesitantly walked in to be greeted by a bank of helpful staff who politely sat me down to find out the problem. Expecting the news that it would have to be sent away etc., it was a massive surprise, the kind lady serving me apologised for the fault, offered to fix it for free and told me to come back in half an hour… What can I say? I was blown away, along with the two friends with me who are now converted Canon-buyers for life – the value and commercial payoff of investing in good service. I picked up the camera 30 minutes later and was told to keep it flat and still for 20 hours for the adhesive to set properly, which was absolutely fine, considering I thought it was out of action for the trip. Everything worked perfectly and I was able to carry on shooting the following day…
An anecdote that makes a good case for always carrying a spare and highlights the need for a similar Quick Repair Centre in London. And a reminder of how as China evolves, we will be taking a lead from their new practices.
Social media is a massively underused tool by Photographers. Alex Jordan explains the benefits of being a social butterfly and how to negotiate that tricky balance of self-promotion vs copyright concerns
Social media is an essential tool in developing reputation and gaining exposure. Unfortunately, for many of the photographers I’ve spoken to, social media is not a high priority and is even, for some, the subject of much concern.
There have been many passionate debates in the photographer community surrounding image sharing, crediting and income generated by others through social sharing – this much read article on A Photo Editor around Pinterest is one such example. But despite these concerns, there are clear SEO benefits to social sharing.
I appreciate that managing social media profiles isn’t for everyone, so instead of encouraging you to open Facebook and twitter accounts (by the way, you should), I’m going to talk about how you can encourage social sharing from your website or blog and how you can address copyright concerns.
Why should photographers encourage sharing
Most of the photographers I speak to understand the benefits of allowing their photos to be shared. For starters, encouraging sharing is a great way to build backlinks which will positively impact search engine rankings. Increased links and people talking about content will also increase traffic to the website where the content is featured.
Search engines will monitor social signals and if they see a lot of activity on a particular website they will assume the content is relevant and appealing, thus giving it weight over others in search results. Sharing also presents the opportunity for your content to go viral, reaching potentially thousands and even millions of people in a short space of time.
How to make your website social
If there’s one thing photographers have in their favour it’s that they have access to stunning content and have great stories to tell. This is perfect because people love sharing great images and interesting or unusual stories. I’m not going to go into too much detail about what content you should produce, but as a general rule if it is unique, interesting and informative, with a need-to-know quality, then people will likely want to share it.
As a photographer, or anyone wanting to share content, you should ensure you have the tools installed to enable sharing. By far the most popular independent provider is AddThis, but individual social networks will offer their own share buttons too.
I recommend you add AddThis to your site and enable sharing through Facebook, twitter and Google+. For images, I also recommend encouraging sharing through Pinterest. This can be achieved by selecting the relevant social networks in AddThis, or by downloading the individual sharing tools from each social network.
Here at Image Source we encourage sharing through social media because of the SEO benefits sharing brings. This is also the case for many of the other leading image libraries. If you check out any of our product pages on you’ll see sharing options for each of these social networks, with AddThis installed at the top of every blog post on IMSO.
One issue that keeps coming up again and again is the issue of copyright. Some photographers are reluctant to encourage sharing because they see it as unlicensed replication, or stealing. The reality is that most of the people who share content do not feel that they are stealing it. Most will share to talk about it because they find it interesting; they wouldn’t otherwise have any use for it and probably wouldn’t seek to benefit financially from it.
When I talk about the benefits of sharing, I do appreciate the negative effects of copying too. I therefore suggest that photographers should also take measures to protect their work. For example, something I mentioned in an earlier tutorial, make sure your web images are of a low resolution. This means that you’ll never have to worry about high quality images being copied. By encouraging the sharing of lower resolution images, you’ll likely gain exposure which could lead to demand for higher resolutions.
Another thing you can do is to add watermarks. Watermarks do discourage sharing, but when correctly implemented in a way that is not too intrusive they will provide a good reference and will ensure that end users are not publishing unlicensed work as their own.
This is obviously a contentious issue so why not share your thoughts and feelings? What are your experiences with social sharing?
I hope this series has helped you make changes to optimise your web images and increase exposure. If it has, why not share it? I could go into so much more detail and talk about much more, but I wanted to keep this series basic so that the foundations could be set. If you have any questions about any of my posts or about SEO in general, feel free to comment or contact me directly.
This session is part of my image optimisation series. For more information about the series please see my introduction.
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