The Definitive Guide to Starting a Successful Photography Business

Glamorous job?  Not really...most of my days are spent sitting in front of a computer, not frolicking in the pool shooting Miss USA.

Glamorous job? Not always…most of my days are spent sitting in front of a computer, not frolicking in the pool shooting Miss USA.

I get a call almost every week from various photographers:  old photojournalism colleagues leaving their newspaper staff jobs (sometimes voluntarily, sometimes not…), college students nearing graduation, assistants who are ready to strike out on their own, and sometimes, advanced amateurs in other careers who I’ve met at a workshop.  All of them want the same thing….”we want to do what you’re doing….you know, work full time as a commercial photographer.”

It happens often enough, and I’ve given the same advice so many times, that I thought it might be helpful to write it all down in one place, and along the way, dispel some misconceptions about what it’s really like to be a professional commercial photographer. I don’t mean for this to sound condescending in any way.  What follows is legitimate info for many who are just starting out, and if you find that any of it is below your experience or skill level, then feel free to move on.

Starting a photography business is tough.  When I’ve spoken with college students, I’ve told them not to pursue this if it’s only a passing interest, or something they think would be a cool job.  I tell them to pursue photography ONLY if you can’t imagine yourself doing anything else.  It sounds corny, but I often compare being a professional photographer to becoming an actor, or professional musician… LOTS of people want to do this, and only a handful make it in any successful way.

Ok, let’s assume the commitment level is there.  What is it really like to be a professional photographer in today’s world?

First, let’s dispel the notion that commercial photographers have a camera in their hands every day.  This will vary for individuals, and by season, but I would guess that I spend a good 75-80% of my working hours in front of a computer – not out shooting.  I consider that to be a pretty successful ratio.  No one starting out really thinks about it, but digital workflow, retouching, billing, marketing, pre-production, post-production, accounting, taxes, etc… and the plethora of general business paperwork takes up a ton of time.

Second, some basic economics about working for yourself in this business.  Let’s say you have a staff job at a newspaper, university, or company that pays you 65K a year, with company camera gear and computers, vacation time, insurance and 401K benefits.  You might want to seriously consider keeping that job.  You’ll need to more than double that figure in revenue to maintain that level of income for yourself.  Those with full time jobs who think this is just a fun, easy career often don’t consider all the various ways you’ll spend money as a commercial photographer.  It’s not just cameras and computers… you’ll need insurance (healthcare, liability insurance, and equipment insurance to name a few), retirement SEP contributions, accounting and legal fees, marketing expenses, website expenses, advertising expenses, digital storage expenses, office supplies, mobile and office phones, high speed internet, software upgrades (legitimate software… you can’t just steal it from the newspaper  or university anymore), really nice custom made portfolios, assistants, retouchers, sales tax, franchise tax, and enough reserve/cash flow to take jobs, pay everybody, and keep the place running while you wait around to get paid – sometimes for several months.

And, oh yeah, I’m not mentioning the fact that when working for yourself, you can kiss that 2-4 week paid vacation goodbye, and that you will spend every spare minute after hours, on your weekends, in your sleep, etc. obsessing about your business and thinking constantly about how to make it better.  A staffer can go home at 5 or on a weekend, disconnect, and enjoy their time off.  When you work for yourself – there is no time off… and every minute will be filled with worry.

Negative enough for you?  Sorry.  This stuff needs to be said… I’ll brighten up and get all cheery in a moment.

One of the biggest mistakes I see new freelancers making, particularly the former newspaper guys, is unrealistic gear purchases.  Many shooters, particularly those that spent a lot of time doing sports think they need to start their business with 3 of the fastest professional bodies (usually 6-7K a piece), a 400/2.8 (9-11K), a 300/2.8 (6-7K), all three zooms , 16-35/2.8, 24-70/2.8, and 70-200/2.8 (roughly 5K), and a new Mac laptop (3K).  After all, that’s what you used at the newspaper or university you worked for, right?  This is what the well-equipped photojournalist needs, right?

Ok, let’s think about this for a second.  That’s roughly 45,000 dollars – just for camera gear.  We haven’t even mentioned lighting, grip, cases, desktop computer, storage, printers, etc.  You haven’t designed a website yet, or paid for insurance, or any of the other previously mentioned things.  What kind of assignments will you do with said gear?  Shoot some football or basketball games?  For whom?

“I’ll just work for my local paper or an agency or a wire service…”    Think carefully about it.  There are predators out there waiting to take advantage of people who just want to go to games, news events, and be in on the action.  Their business models are built around having an endless supply of newbies to provide free (or almost free) content that they can turn around and sell.  If you’re one of the lucky ones, you’ll make 125.00 to 250.00 bucks for your effort (in many markets, there are people lining up to shoot games on spec/and/or for free).  When you do the math on how long a sporting event takes, getting there early, parking, shooting, editing, captioning and sending a ton of photos, leaving late, driving home, you’ll quickly see that the average fast food employee is pretty much kicking your ass. …and they didn’t have to invest 45K to buy their own French fry fryers, stoves, or spatulas.  They don’t have to wear a ridiculous fanny pack either.

Speaking of capital investment – that 45K in gear you bought can’t be amortized over 10-20 years like capital expenditures in some other business… it will need to all be replaced in 3-4 years, just like your computers… and as technology advances that cycle will continue for years to come.

This is tough for many former photojournalists to reconcile. Many have made their living this way forever, being at all the big news or sporting events, hanging out with their colleagues all carrying big giant lenses on monopods, credentials around their neck, etc.  To many, it becomes their identity, and it is difficult to reconcile that despite your years of experience, no one is going to pay you to go to the Super Bowl this year, or the Republican convention, or to the earthquake in Haiti.  It’s tough to tell someone who worked at a sports magazine, or a big metro newspaper that, yes, you can still make a good living in photography – it just may not be doing what you used to do.  Letting go of that identity is tough.  I know… it’s something I experienced myself.

The best piece of photo gear you'll ever buy.

The best piece of photo gear you’ll ever buy.

There are a few prerequisites to starting a successful photo business:  You need great, original pictures with a consistent vision ;  You need some serious money, as it is very expensive to start a photography business; You need a healthy knowledge about how to run a photography business.

(A client or two would help, too, but we’ll get to that later.)

The Top 5 Photography Books That You MUST Own

I can’t help with the first two… You’re really on your own there, but I’ve read a lot of business books, and several specifically about the photography business, self promotion, marketing for photographers, etc.,  so I can make these recommendations comfortably.

I’ve sent this list around to various friends in transition, students, and former assistants, and I can promise you, if you read all of these cover to cover, you’ll have a firm grasp on how your photography business should work, and a really good introduction to usage-based pricing, which is the cornerstone of what we do. (If you click on the titles below I have linked them to Amazon for you.)

The Real Business of Photography1.  The Real Business of Photography, Richard Weisgrau ; Allworth Press

One of the best books about photography business I’ve ever read, and really should be the first thing you read if you’re thinking about doing this for a living.  Weisgrau is a former ASMP (American Society of Media Photographers) executive director and he speaks intelligently about licensing photography, doing estimates, managing finances, etc.  A really great book.

Best Business Practices for Photographers2.  Best Business Practices for Photographers, John Harrington ; Course Technology

John runs the Photo Business News and Forum blog (www.photobusinessforum.blogspot.com) and has been a respected voice and frequent speaker in our industry.  If you’ve ever watched him dissect an estimate, and show how he turns a simple 500.00 job into a multi-thousand dollar job just by asking the right questions, it’s truly a thing of beauty.  His book has lots of actual examples of job estimates and email trails that show his process.  Very valuable stuff that few people are willing to share with their peers.

ASMP Professional Business Practices in Photography3. ASMP Professional Business Practices in Photography, American Society of Media Photographers – edited by Susan Carr (Seventh Edition) ; Allworth Press

Edited by the late Susan Carr, who really did so many things to educate and help her fellow photographers, this is the latest edition of ASMP’s business bible.  There are chapters on licensing, copyright, releases, paperwork, marketing, you name it.  A good overview of the commercial photography business.  I believe you still get one of these included in your membership when you join ASMP.

The Photographer’s Guide to Negotiating4. The Photographer’s Guide to Negotiating, Richard Weisgrau ; Allworth Press

Another book by Weisgrau, and really my favorite.  (You still have to read ALL of these, though – no shortcuts!).  He talks about negotiating tactics, how to present offers and counter offers, psychology, dealing with contracts, negotiating strategy, and includes some interviews with real world professionals who have been in business for years.

The Photographer’s Survival Guide5.  The Photographer’s Survival Guide, Suzane Sease and Amanda Sosa Stone; Amphoto Books

I’ve read a lot of books about marketing and self promotion, but this is easily the best and most useful.  Sease and Sosa Stone are both former art buyers, reps, and now consultants, who provide a ton of real world expertise to photography marketing and brand building.  They also discuss presentation, portfolios, promos, and even include a handy disc in the book with essential business and estimating forms you can use.

I can’t emphasize how important it is to study these books.  It amazes me how many people will invest 100k in their business buying the latest cameras and computers, but won’t take the time to study up on how the business works.  Don’t be the dork out there charging by the hour and giving away your copyright on every assignment.  It’s not supposed to work that way, and you’ll be doing all your colleagues a disservice if you fly blind into our chosen field.

All together, these books cost maybe 130 bucks…they really might be the most important pieces of equipment you ever buy.

Without a smart roadmap, your photography business could end up as roadkill.  (Photo by Chip Litherland)

Without a smart roadmap, your photography business could end up as roadkill. (Photo by Chip Litherland)

I have a note on my desk that I wrote down at an ASMP business seminar several years ago.  Detroit photographer Blake Discher, a super savvy business guy, was our speaker, and he said something incredibly simple that I’ll never forget.

“There are three steps to running a successful business:

  1. Create a unique value proposition.
  2. Ensure that you have a large enough addressable market.
  3. Make more money than you spend.”

Sounds simple right?  It is, but you would be shocked how many people don’t think about these simple steps.

Think about number one… What’s unique that separates you from all the other photographers in your market?  What skill or know-how do you have that’s totally you?  If you live in Denver, and you want to shoot outdoor/adventure sports, what makes you different?  There are 50 people already doing what you want to do in that market.  How will you stand out from the crowd?

Think about number two… Do you have a large enough addressable market to survive where you are?  I would love to shoot movie posters or fashion, but guess what – I live in Houston, and we don’t have any movie studios or fashion magazines here.  So that’s probably not a wise niche for me to choose.

You should really think about these first two, analyze your local market and competition, and consider your options carefully before hanging out your shingle.  Are you putting yourself in a realistic position to succeed?  If there’s a specific genre you want to shoot, and it doesn’t exist where you are, you may want to consider moving.

Number three is pretty obvious.

Anyway….those are the really simple steps.  Now I’m going to write about the nuts and bolts of starting up a photo business.  A lot of this is common sense and has been covered before.  Some of these are no brainers, but I’m going to throw them in anyway, just to be thorough.The

21 Tips for Starting your Photo Business

DISCLAIMER:  It would we wise to consult with your attorney or financial advisor:  I’m definitely not a lawyer or CPA, and I can’t even claim I stayed in a Holiday Inn Express last night either.

1.  SAVE A BOATLOAD OF CASH – Super important.  At a previous photo seminar I attended, the speaker said that you should have at least 6 months salary reserved before embarking on your own.  I think that’s a good guide, but bear in mind that your money isn’t just to buy cameras, computers, etc…You’ll need operating cash to do jobs, run the business and pay assistants while you’re getting off the ground.

2.  SET UP AN LLC OR S-CORP – Talk to your accountant about what makes the most sense for you in your state, but you definitely should be incorporated as soon as possible.  This will help you liability wise, and although you’ll have more paperwork to deal with, you’ll likely get to keep more of the money you make versus being just a sole proprietor.

3.  ENLIST PROFESSIONALS TO HELP YOU – You should have a CPA, a financial advisor, and a lawyer.  You will likely have the CPA on speed dial, contacting them throughout the year to file quarterly reports, sales tax, and pay estimated taxes.  Don’t be cheap and try to do this yourself.

4.  GET A SALES TAX NUMBER – State laws vary, and not all photo jobs are subject to sales tax, but in many states, you’ll be dealing with this all the time.  Don’t be the loser who tries to fly under the radar on this.  Operate your business like a grown up.  You might get wacked 5 years from now and find you owe your state a couple hundred thousand dollars.  That would suck.

5.  SEPARATE PERSONAL AND BUSINESS FINANCES – The first step here, after your corporation is set up, is to run to the bank and set up a business checking account.  Don’t operate your business out of your personal funds….you’ll be confused, and so will the IRS.

6.  BUY INSURANCE – If you’re lucky, you’ll have a spouse with healthcare insurance.  If not, that should be your first step.  Next, you need insurance for your business.  Make sure the policy is by a company that is used to dealing with professional photographers and their unique needs.  It should cover cameras and gear, rental gear, computers, provide shoot insurance for reshoots on botched jobs, rental studio coverage, lost portfolio coverage, and liability coverage.  Many buildings won’t let you set foot inside to do a shoot without proof of liability coverage.  ASMP is a good resource for this type of insurance.

7.  GET A BUSINESS CREDIT CARD – Another part of separating your personal and business finances.  This makes it much easier at the end of the year to see what you spent on gear, hotels, airline tickets, etc.  I recommend a business Amex, as the Membership Rewards program gives you points you can use toward all sorts of things, but any card where you can get points toward future spending will work well.

8.  ONLY BUY GEAR THAT MAKES YOU MONEY -  I mentioned the gear hoarding syndrome that many of us have a couple of posts back.  This is one of the areas that really sinks many photographers starting out.  It might be great to have a 600mm/f4 and 12 bodies, but you could probably do 85% of your jobs with one body and a 24-105mm lens and a small lighting kit.  Think before you buy.  Rent if you can, and ask yourself this question before giving B&H your Amex number:  “Will this piece of gear make me more money?”

9.  WORK ON YOUR WORKFLOW – Think about your archive 1, 5, even 10-20 years down the road and start with good workflow habits.  Learn to properly use Lightroom or Aperture and the correct file naming, organization, and back up system to protect your work.  Have a good computer system in place, with plenty of backup drives, and be disciplined.  If you’re new to Lightroom, Seth Resnick’s D-65 workshop is excellent.

10.  CREATE A WEBSITE AND EDIT RUTHLESSLY – This applies particularly to students and veteran newspaper guys in transition.  What you learned about portfolios up till now doesn’t really apply anymore.  In most cases, no one cares about your spot news or your sports action photos.  Figure out what you’re going after in your market, and edit down to a couple of niches.  Be ruthless in your edit.  No excuses.  Hire a consultant if you have to.

11.  CREATE A PHYSICAL PORTFOLIO – Depending on your market, showing up for a meeting with just an Ipad may not be enough.  There are ad agencies and design firms out there that are used to being blown away by incredible, expensive, custom made books.  We’re talking ink jet paper made from the saliva of free range fair trade South American wasps, and embossed leather from humpback whale foreskins.  Think about what your portfolio should look like, the market you’re after, and make sure it is consistent with the rest of your branding.  In short, it needs to be perfect.

12.  SETTLE ON YOUR BRANDING – Do you see IBM or Coca-Cola changing their logo every couple of weeks?  No.  You shouldn’t either.  Settle on a look, work with a good designer and make sure your branding is consistent across all platforms:  website, business cards, stationary, invoices, portfolios, promo cards, etc….and yes, you need all those things.

13.  NAME YOUR BUSINESS CORRECTLY -  My personal opinion -  but I think photographers should use their own name in the title of their business.  If you want to add “Photography” or “Images” or “Visuals”  or “Productions” to the official name, knock yourself out.  Know this though:  No client out there is going to remember “Hot-Shotz” or “Extreme Images” or “Ginger Snaps”  (I swear, this is not a joke….I met someone at a workshop who used that one – and you guessed it…..her name was Ginger).  They will remember you, Bob Smith, or whatever the hell your name is.  Then they’ll start googling you to look you up one day, because they’ve thrown all your promo cards in the trash without looking at them, and they won’t be able to find you.  Why?…..Because you named your business something generic.  Have you ever seen a coffee table book in the photo section of a bookstore with “Hot-Shotz” or something dorky like that?  No….you see Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Herb Ritts, Patrick Demarchelier, etc…see my point?

14. WORK ON YOUR EMAIL ETIQUETTE – Being able to write well is as important than being able to take great pictures.  As a professional photographer, email may be the primary way that you interact with your clients.  You should project a friendly, easygoing but professional personality.  You should address every email to the person you’re writing (Don’t just send one word responses), and sign every email with your name.  Think about how irritated you get when a potential client emails you with one line that says, “what do you charge?”….and then signs the email with their first name, and no contact info because they haven’t bothered to set up their email signature properly.  Be a professional.  Set up a complete email signature that goes on every email (even on your phone) with your name, business name, phone numbers, website, and your email address listed in type that someone can click on (not an image file).  If a client is in their car, and their contacts are inaccessible, and hey have to search old emails to find you, you want to have all your information easily available for them to click on.

15.  JOIN ASMP – The American Society of Media Photographers provides education, guidance, lobbying, and business resources for commercial photographers.  You owe it to yourself and your colleagues to join.  You can also be listed on the ASMP Find a Photographer website, which is helpful, and probably the cheapest listing website for photographers out there.  You might also consider APA.

16.  EDUCATE YOURSELF ABOUT USAGE AND LICENSING -  You CAN do copyright buyouts, burn discs of entire shoots and hand over all your raws to the client, and you might survive for a little while this way, but you WON’T be in business for long.  This is not how professional photographers conduct business.  Read the books I mentioned earlier.  They will give you a good overview of usage based licensing.  Join ASMP, go to seminars, study online resources for estimating jobs and writing licenses, learn about contracts, talk to colleagues.  Learn about licensing and how it works in the different fields of editorial, corporate, and advertising.  Learn the language and key terms.  Learn the right questions to ask your clients before giving them estimates.  Run your business the right way, the ethical way, and don’t give away the store and sell out your colleagues.

17.  SET UP A PHOTOSHELTER ACCOUNT – This isn’t just for archiving, although it’s great for off-site backup that you can access through the web anywhere.  I handle all my client deliveries through Photoshelter.  You can give download access to specific people, and track what they’ve downloaded.  It’s much safer than using ftp.  You can also set up stock licensing and print sales. If you want to get an account, this link will take you there.

18.  USE INVOICING/ACCOUNTING SOFTWARE – I use BlinkBid, but some people get by with Quickbooks.  Others use custom Filemaker or Excel solutions.

19.  CREATE SOME GREAT “LEAVE BEHINDS” – Starting out, you may not have the funds for a full color, 48 page booklet, but you can easily print up some small runs of well designed postcards.  After you’ve shown your book to a potential client, it’s good to hand them a “leave behind” card with one of your signature photos to remember you by.

20.  NETWORK WITH OTHER PHOTOGRAPHERS IN YOUR MARKET  – Don’t operate in a vacuum.  This is where the ASMP membership comes in handy.  Social gatherings of photo organizations, or events like workshops, or Photo Expo are a great way to meet colleagues, develop friendships, and ask questions.  You might find out about a deadbeat client to avoid, or you might get an estimating or pricing question answered.  Not everyone will be as candid, but personally, I would rather help someone than have them underprice a valuable job because they are new to the game and screw it up for everyone.  You should always keep growing and keep learning.

21.  READ NUMBER 1 ON THIS LIST AGAIN.

If you are thinking of starting a successful photography business, know that it’s a tough road filled with long days of hard work and you’ll be up against ridiculously good competition.  Remember what I said earlier, only tackle this if you really can’t imagine yourself doing anything else.   I probably can’t change the way you see things, or change the work you produce, but if you have the goods, do your homework, and put these steps into place, you’ll be in a good position for your business to succeed.

Advertising Photography Concepts for Huntsman Corporation

Advertisement by Houston Texas advertising photographer Robert Seale for Huntsman insulation products.

Advertisement for Huntsman insulation products.

We’ve been fortunate to work on an ongoing advertising campaign for the Huntsman Corporation (HUN), a very large differentiated products company.  Huntsman doesn’t make products that you or I can buy in the store, but their products are everywhere…the foam in auto seats, insulation in buildings, even the soles of athletic shoes.

The challenge for Huntsman then, is showing what they do, without “selling” a specific product.  Their advertising is often BTB in trades within the industrial world, and the theme/concept for their ongoing campaign is collaboration between Huntsman and the partners who use Huntsman materials in their products.

To that end, I’ve done a few shoots for them, always collaborating with the incredible Chris Pearson, a British designer who really knows his stuff.  I’ll break down a few of the recent shoots I’ve done for them below:

In advertising photography, unlike corporate or editorial photography, you often get a very specific comp or brief.  In the old days, designers would draw the concept on paper, and after these were presented to the client, the advertising photographer was brought in to execute the idea.  These days, the comps are often “theme boards”, or “mood books” – multi page PDF presentations with a mixture of drawings, existing stock (to show mood or lighting style), and sometimes, full-on Photoshop illustrations made up of 10 or more individual photo elements….a background from here, a person from there, etc…with color changed to suit the designer’s vision of the final piece.  Sometimes there is room for collaboration and interpretation, and a good photographer always tries to give the designer what they want, but improve on the concept if at all possible.

For the first shoot, we needed to show a builder and a client looking at plans within an unfinished home highlighting a spray foam insulation product.   We used Plume Wafer 100’s with Lighttools grids on each person, lighting each model’s face.  We used a large softbox to fill the scene (very slightly) from above the camera, and a low shutter speed on a floor level tripod to open up the ambient light coming in from the window.  I used the new Canon 24 Tilt shift on this shot. (If you would like to see more lighting scenarios from previous shoots, you can find them here.)

Advertisement by Houston Texas advertising photographer Robert Seale for Grocery store shoot for Huntsman freezer insulation products.

Grocery store shoot for Huntsman freezer insulation products.

For the grocery store shoot, which was to highlight the insulation products Huntsman makes for commercial freezers, , we had to rent a large grocery store location after hours (the middle of the night!), and balance our strobes to the existing banks of fluorescents overhead.  It was a tough lighting situation, as the lights couldn’t show in the final picture.  We ended up using two large rectangular softboxes high above the camera on either side of the camera, feathered up slightly above level, and two Canon 580 speedlights inside the glass freezer cases on each side to pop a little fill on each model’s face.  A retoucher removed signage on the back wall in post.

Advertisement by Houston Texas advertising photographer Robert Seale for Stadium shoot with two soccer players for Huntsman products in athletic shoes.

Stadium shoot with two soccer players for Huntsman products in athletic shoes.

For the third shoot, we rented a large Texas high school football stadium to highlight Huntsman’s products used to create Adidas soccer shoes.  Since the theme, was one of Huntsman working together with other companies, the decision was made to show a couple of soccer players doing pre-game drills….working together on the soccer field.

Finding soccer players that looked realistic was a tall order for casting, but eventually, we found models with soccer experience, and we shot a series of drills that players might do together on the field – running, stretching, warming up, kicking a ball back and forth, and heading the ball back to each other.  Again, the emphasis was on teamwork – not competition, hence the identical uniforms.

This shoot was the most elaborate in terms of lighting.  We brought in three assistants for the shoot, and used Profoto 7A’s with Bi-tube heads and Magnum reflectors from behind the subject on high-rollers, 2 more 7A’s with large Plume 140 strip banks with grids from a slightly closer to side angle (still slightly from behind though), and a Plume Wafer Hexoval 180 feathered up slightly from high above camera.  We shot throughout sunset, and did enough takes to make the models really, really sore the next day!  A retoucher was able to duplicate the edge of the high school stands in the background and create a mirror image that made the stadium seem larger than it actually was.

In the end, the client was very happy, and we had a great time creating images for some hard to illustrate concepts.

High-tech engineering schematic of the set.....drawn with pinpoint laser accuracy.

High-tech engineering schematic of the set…..drawn with pinpoint laser accuracy.

Behind the scenes set shot, showing assistant Andrew Loehman with the 5 light setup.

Behind the scenes set shot from the soccer shoot, showing assistant Andrew Loehman with the 5 light setup.

 

 

Eddie Adams Workshop 26: An Amazing Experience

Al Schaben, Adrees Latif, and Robert Seale, EAW 6, October 1993.

Al Schaben, Adrees Latif, and Robert Seale, EAW 6, October 1993.

Adrees Latif, and me, EAW 26, October 2013.

Adrees Latif, and me, EAW 26, October 2013.

Last week, I had the incredible honor of returning to speak at the 26th annual Eddie Adams Workshop in Jeffersonville, NY.   Eddie Adams was an incredible photographer, and although he was most well known to the general public as the Pulitzer-winning war photographer who took one of the most famous photographs of the Vietnam War, he was also a very successful commercial photographer, and had a long standing partnership with Parade magazine as their cover photographer for many years.

Twenty six years ago, with the help of his friends, all heavyweights in the photography world, he established the Eddie Adams Workshop, a tuition free workshop for the 100 best young photographers in the country at his farm on the edge of the Catskills in New York.  The students were either college students, or professionals with less than two years of experience, and Eddie’s vision was to give them the chance of a lifetime:  a weekend shooting and working with the best photographers and editors from the likes of Time, LIFE, National Geographic, etc.  His hope was for he and his peers to pass along their collective knowledge and to help students fast forward their careers several years by introducing them to a who’s who of the industry.

I was fortunate enough to attend the 6th EAW in 1993.  It was a formative experience for me, and it’s been incredible to watch my fellow students from that year grow and prosper in their careers.  Among my classmates, were great photographers like Alex Garcia, Adrees Latif, Allison Smith,  Chang Lee, Ami Vitale, Jay Janner, Chris Assaf, David Bergman, and the late Chris Hondros.  I wrote a little remembrance of that 6th workshop on Chicago Tribune staff photographer and EAW 6 classmate Alex Garcia’s great photography blog.

Twenty years later, I was invited back last week to speak and show my work.  It was an incredible honor, a very humbling experience, that left me nervous and intimidated.  It was incredible to hang out with many photographers who I still look up to, hang out with many talented colleagues, and to get a glimpse of our future through the eyes of this year’s students.  Eddie is gone now, but his wife Alyssa keeps inviting everyone back, opening her home to a cast of characters each year, and the great people at Nikon continue to generously fund this incredible experience.  Over the years, it really has become a family.  Some of the faculty, like the great SI editor and former Newsweek DOP Jimmy Colton, have been to virtually all the workshops, and many members of the black team (volunteers) come back year after year.

One of the things that Eddie did really well, and what really sets this workshop apart from all other photojournalism workshops and seminars, was the fact that he always wanted students to be exposed to all types of photography.  Instead of it just being a love fest among hardcore photojournalists and newspaper photographers, Eddie liked to cross pollinate with different visual genres and get your mind working.  When I was a student, we were exposed to Gordon Parks, Joyce Tenneson, and Pete Turner.  Last week, we were treated to fine art photographer Robin Schwartz, Josh Weaver from Google, advertising and fine art genius Stephen Wilkes, legendary portrait photographer Gregory Heisler, and Marco Grob, a multi-talented guy who recently added video to his repertoire of elegant portraits and still life.  You never know where your photography career will take you, and it’s great to see people communicating with photography in different ways.

 

Sport Illustrated DOP Brad Smith and former Newsweek DOP and SI photo editor Jimmy Colton getting a big welcome hug from SI staffer Robert Beck.

Sports Illustrated DOP Brad Smith and former Newsweek DOP and SI photo editor Jimmy Colton getting a big welcome hug from SI staffer Robert Beck.

Idol worship:  Me with portrait badass Gregory Heisler.

Idol worship: Me with portrait badass Gregory Heisler.

Among my favorite memories from this year:

-Being back at the farm with my old Houston Post colleague and EAW 6 classmate Adrees Latif, now a Pulitzer winner at Reuters, who was working as a team leader.

-Seeing my good friends from Sports Illustrated: DOP Brad Smith, staff photographer Robert Beck, and former editor Jimmy Colton, who makes one helluva MC/Scout leader.  I’m forever grateful for his kind words and encouragement, and for making this workshop less like a classroom seminar, and more like an intimate family gathering.

-Meeting some incredible photographers and editors for the first time:  Mary Calvert, Maura Foley, Elizabeth Krist, Bruce Strong, Gerd Ludwig, Patrick Witty,  as well as seeing some great old friends like Deanne Fitzmaurice, Tim Rasmussen, Nick Ut, and John White.

-Getting to break bread and share drinks with my ASMP colleagues Shawn Henry and Ed Mcdonald.  Their generous invitation brought me back.

-Meeting Mirjam Evers in person. She did an incredible job of producing a huge and complicated event, and graciously handled being bombarded with questions from students (and instructors!).  She is a class act.

-Watching the students trying to channel Gerd Ludwig’s scarf wearing prowess.

-Chatting with, and watching the presentation from one of my all time lighting idols, the great Gregory Heisler.

-Meeting some of the best photographers in our military, who volunteer to work on the black team: Super cool and talented  people like Jeremy Lock, Bennie Davis, Annie Berlin Elis, Etta Smith, and former military photographers like Stacy Pearsall and Bob Houlihan.

-The emotional ceremony for fallen war photographers, which now includes my EAW 6 classmate Chris Hondros, who died in Libya.

-Seeing National Geographic photographer Jodi Cobb’s autobiographical show, which encompassed her incredible globe-trotting career.

-The contagious passion of Marco Grob and John White.  I feel like I need to ramp it up after watching those two speak so passionately about the craft they love.

And my favorite part?  Helping out with portfolio reviews until the wee hours at the 11:30 club, back at the hotel.  I’m most inspired by seeing and hearing about what the latest class of EAW students are up to.  It’s fascinating to think about what they’ll be able to accomplish in the next 20 years.

(Major thanks to Eugene Mopsik, Shawn Henry, and Ed McDonald for inviting me to attend on behalf of ASMP, and to Alyssa Adams, Mirjam Evers, and Mark Kettenhofen from Nikon for graciously continuing the fine tradition of the workshop. )

Former ASMP president Shawn Henry with SF State classmate and Pulitzer winner Mary Calvert.

Former ASMP president Shawn Henry with SF State classmate and Pulitzer winner Mary Calvert.

Jimmy Colton running the proceedings at the barn.

Jimmy Colton running the proceedings at the barn.

Eddie Adams Workshop

The back porch at Eddie's barn in beautiful Jeffersonville, NY.

The back porch at Eddie’s barn in beautiful Jeffersonville, NY.

The fantastic bonfire Sunday night.

The fantastic bonfire Sunday night.

Eddie Adams Workshop

Two views of the touching ceremony for Eddie's fallen war photography colleagues.

Two views of the touching ceremony for Eddie’s fallen war photography colleagues.

 

 

 

 

Houston advertising photographer Robert Seale announces launch of new portfolio website

Check out the new Robert Seale Photography website.

Check out the new Robert Seale Photography website.

After several years with another company, I recently made the change to an HTML 5 site from Rob Haggart’s APhotoFolio.   I wanted a clean, customizable design that performed very fast, and APhotoFolio fit the bill.  My blog will still remain here (with links of course on the new site), and my archive will remain with Photoshelter, and I hope to focus on making more stock available there in the near future.

The biggest change you’ll notice, right away on the new Robert Seale Photography site, is the scalable HTML 5 design.  You can literally grab the bottom right hand corner of the web browser window, and drag it to fill your screen on any device, from a laptop to a 30 inch monitor, and the photographs will scale to that size.  This is an incredible improvement over the old site, and I’m very excited about it.  It works well on Ipads and Iphones as well, but hopefully, you’re viewing it on a big monitor!

Security is still a bit of a concern, as we’re now uploading bigger and bigger photos onto photographer’s websites these days.  I’m happy to have people link to the actual articles, and I always appreciate those that ask for permission first, but sites that just screen grab stuff with no attribution – that’s a no-no.  None of the photos published on the site are in the public domain, by the way.  Anyway, the photos are registered with the US Copyright office, so if anyone is stealing stuff or publishing my photos without permission, I’ll chase them back to their caves in Afghanistan (or wherever it is that copyright infringing losers hang out these days…a dorm room in Baton Rouge?), and shoot them in their kneecaps before I sic the attorneys on them.

I’ve refined the categories somewhat and added a ton of new work.  I kind of have my feet in two worlds:  Sports Portrait photography that I do for both advertising clients and magazines (Sports Illustrated, etc.), and Corporate Annual Report Photography which I do for Fortune 500 corporations, design firms, and ad agencies.  If you’re a Houston photographer, a lot of the annual report and corporate photography is of course geared toward the oil and gas industry.

Here’s how I’ve organized the portfolio section on the new site:

Under the Advertising and Editorial Photography category, we have several sub-category portfolios:

SPORTS ACTION PHOTOGRAPHY - This features not in-game, traditional long-lens sports action photography, which I used to do a lot of, but instead, sports portraits featuring athletes in action or motion, or photographs that emphasize movement.  I find that 9 times out of 10, this type of photography involves me laying on the ground in goose poop or mud, destroying my clothes, and getting covered in chigger bites, but that’s usually what it takes to make players look like they’re levitating.

SPORTS PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHY – This category features more traditional static portraits of athletes, including many high profile celebrity sports figures.  I’ve been able to photograph many athletes over the years like LeBron James, LaDainian Tomlinson, and Alex Rodriguez, although considering the trouble he’s in this week, it may be a while before Arod agrees to any photo shoots any time soon.

AVIATION AND SPACE PHOTOGRAPHY – As part of an ongoing personal project, I’ve been trying to make memorable portrait photographs of notable pilots, both civilians and famous military aviators.  I’ve also had the awesome opportunity to expand this body of work into working for several aviation magazines and aviation photography clients.  As a Houston photographer, I’ve also been fortunate enough to do several shoots with NASA astronauts including a series on the end of the Space Shuttle program.

REAL PEOPLE PHOTOGRAPHY – Although I tend to concentrate on annual report photographs and sports advertising , I don’t just limit my work to those two categories.  I often have opportunities to make environmental portraits of Texas musicians, Houston celebrities, sports celebrities, cowboys, barbeque pitmasters and just eccentric characters from all walks of life, and this category is a catch all for some of my other portraits that don’t fit these other main categories.

Within the Corporate  Annual Report Photography section, we have a few more portfolios:

OIL AND GAS-ENERGY PHOTOGRAPHY – Most photographers who live in Houston do their share of work in this area, and I enjoy this work very much.  The first photographers I admired were guys like Pete Turner, Jay Maisel, and Arthur Meyerson, and in corporate annual report assignments you kind of get to indulge that colorful and graphic inspiration first brought forth by these masters of the medium.  I also love challenges and problem solving, so for me, it’s really fun to be sent to a fluorescent-lit lab full of lighting challenges, an industrial factory setting, chemical plant, or refinery, and be forced to make good, interesting, well-lit, and well designed photographs out of something that looks unattractive to most people.  I’m fascinated by light/shadow, and good design, and man-made structures often have their own inherent beauty – you just to have to find it and make the proper composition in the right light.  This category focuses on photographs of people working within the oil and gas industry, some at-work portraits, offshore oil and gas drilling and production platforms, and aerial photography, which are all part of the job of an annual report photographer.

INDUSTRIAL LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHY – Over the years, I’ve been asked to do “beauty shots” or landscape photos – wide overall views of industrial refineries, chemical plants, oil wells, and other oil and gas facilities and details.  With the right time of day and long exposures, these can often be interesting and beautiful.  That, and I get to wear cool Nomex coveralls and safety glasses, too.

EXECUTIVE PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHY – Dealing with athletes and sports celebrities for years has prepared me well for photographing busy CEO’s and other executives.  In most portraits of professional athletes, you have 5-15 minutes to get the job done, so preparation is key, and the same goes for corporate executive portraits.  Like the annual report stuff, finding an interesting background or setting to photograph an executive within the confines of an office building is an interesting lighting and logistical challenge.  We often scout ahead of time, show up super early, and have multiple lighting set ups ready to go and pre-tested in different locations throughout the building, so we can quickly walk from one setup to another and finish quickly to minimize the executive’s time commitment on set.

There are also sections for Press, which feature links and other news about me from other photography sites and blogs, a link to my Blog (robertsealeblog.com), which features behind the scenes info, lighting diagrams, and problem solving stories behind the photographs, and of course, the all important Bio page, where you get to read boring stuff about me.

I’m excited about the new site and I hope you’ll take a few minutes to check it out.

Sports Illustrated cover shoot with San Antonio Spurs “Big Three”

The final cover treatment, designed by SI Creative director Chris Hercik.

With the NBA Conference playoffs nearing completion and the Spurs already a lock for the Finals, I got a call from Brad Smith, the Director of Photography at Sports Illustrated, asking if I could quickly get to San Antonio.   Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker rarely if ever pose together, but had reluctantly agreed to pose for an SI cover which would come out a couple of days later, to coordinate with the beginning of the finals.

Andrew Loehman, a great digital tech/assistant from Austin agreed to sacrifice his Sunday and help us out, and gathered additional gear from Taylor Jones of Texas Grip in Austin.  Loaded for bear, Andrew and his wife Chrissy met me in Austin early on a Sunday morning before Spurs practice to scout potential locations.

We knew we would have a mere 5 minutes with the Spurs “Big Three” so we wanted a location from which we could coax multiple looks.  Unfortunately, the Spurs Sunday practice was slated for their practice facility, not the arena where they normally play.  At the arena, setting up multiple backdrops and lights would be no problem, as there is ample space off the court, under the stands, in high bay loading docks, etc.

The practice facility, though very nice for basketball operations, had no such wide open spaces, and network crews had already commandeered the limited available real estate to shoot their NBA Finals introductions and promo spots for the upcoming TV broadcasts.

The original plan - note: we changed the V-flats out and just used the strips.

It had rained heavily that morning, so outside was not ideal either, although we had a cool corrugated metal wall picked out that would have worked well.  Then we saw it…next door to the facility, across a parking lot, was the world’s greatest parking garage!  It was the world’s greatest because it was empty and had a 12-14 foot high ceiling – which I’ve never seen before.  It would make a great studio.  With the help of Spurs PR man Tom James and Facility supervisor Julio Rodriguez, we were able to set up in the garage and prep for the shoot.  Power was at a premium, but Julio saved the day (and our bacon) by finding additional avenues and helping us run long cables across the parking lot.  We were all set.

Our lovely parking garage studio.....

Brad had mentioned how much they wanted a white background for the shot, so we elected to set up a big Matthews 12 x 12 as our backdrop.   We did this instead of just seamless, because it was much more stable in case a gust of wind came through the open garage.  We used the seamless for a white floor, and rolled it back to where the silk began.  It would require a minor retouch if we shot full length, but it was the safest solution.

Giving the art director options is always a good thing, so we set up our lights so that they could serve dual purposes.  Normally, we would set up large foamcore V-flats and stands with regular reflectors bounced into them to light the white background.  We decided instead to use two Plume Wafer 140 Medium strip banks to light the white silk from each side.  If I turned them off, we would get the same shot with a medium gray background.  Then, if they were turned back toward the subjects with Lighttools grids inside, we would get a rimlit version with a black background.  Andrew, with the generous help of his lovely wife Chrissy, would drop in a black 8 x 8 Westcott Scrim Jim to make sure the background went black.

So essentially, without moving our subjects, we got six different setups:

1. Boomed key, rimlit, gray background

2. Boomed key, rimlit, black background

3. Boomed key, rimlights off, white background

(reposition players in a row)

4. side key, white background

5. side key, gray background

6. side key, black background

We used two different key lights:  A Plume Wafer Hexoval 140 on a boom for most of the shoot, and then a Wafer Hexoval 180 on camera right for the final photo.  All of the lights were Profoto:  7A 2400’s for all but one light, which we had to substitute a 7B for when we ran out of power.

Chrissy filling in while we were testing our backlights.

We practiced several times and made careful calculations to determine the number of apple boxes each player would have to stand on to be in the appropriate position. We then choreographed the shoot, making several dry runs in sequence so we would be smooth when the players arrived.  We would start with the rimlit gray, then add the black 8 x 8 solid for the rimlit black, then flip the strips around 90 degrees and remove the grids for the all white background, and finishing with the sidelit big Hexoval shot…..all in five minutes!

The players arrived after practice and we actually got a rare smile out of Duncan, who is normally quite reserved.   His kids came with him, and after sharing photos with them on the camera lcd screen, they climbed on my back and were making bunny ears behind my head to get their dad to crack a smile.  It was a blast, although tough to keep horizons level when you’re being climbed like a tree.

I rushed back to Houston to file, (you know you’re in a serious rush when you pass both Bucee’s AND Luling City Market BBQ without stopping!)  SI Creative Director Chris Hercik whipped up an awesome cover within a few minutes of receiving the photos, using a cool spot-color silver treatment which went great with the black and silver unis.

The black background shot with rim lights.

The white background setup with a smiling Duncan.

Manu goofing off.......

The last shot with a Wafer Hex 180. We shot this with white, gray, and black backgrounds.

Houston Art Car Parade legend Mark “Scrapdaddy” Bradford

 

Mark “Scrapdaddy” Bradford with his 2012 Art Car “Mr. Green.”

Art Cars are a unique Houston institution, and I was fortunate during a recent assignment for Texas Co-Op Power to work on a story featuring the Houston Art Car Museum, and a colorful character named “Scrapdaddy.”

Mark “Scrapdaddy” Bradford is the Leonardo da Vinci of the Art Car world.  Not merely content to cover classic cars with hot glue gun affixed collections of things, Bradford actually is a unique combination of artist, welder, and engineer.  His outdoor studio, near the railroad tracks in the Rice Military area, looks like Fred Sanford’s house.  His studio may look like a scrapyard, littered with projects past and present, but recycling old metal is the lifeblood of Bradford’s sculptures.

If you’ve lived in Houston for any period of time, you’ve probably seen Bradford’s creations around town:  Giant 20 foot armor plated Armadillos, lizards made of airline galley spoons, fire breathing creatures with legs that move, and multi-legged creatures torn from the pages of a 1950′s science fiction movie.  His creations, really more moving sculpture than car, not only look fascinating, they have to work.

After photographing several of his creations in the Art Car Museum for the story, I just had to meet him.  Reluctantly, he agreed to a short portrait.  You get the impression he would much rather be welding his next piece together than stopping to pose for pictures with something from his past.

As the annual Art Car Parade rolls around this weekend, there will be around 200,000 people on hand who can’t wait to see what kind of contraption he’s cooked up this year.

Bradford with “Azaba” at his workshop in Houston.

“Spoonazoid”, made up of over 6000 discarded American Airlines spoons.

A detail of “Spoonazoid.”

 

Don’t mess up my abs: NFL Draft portrait shoot with DJ Hayden

UH cornerback DJ Hayden, the 12th pick in the NFL draft.

I recently photographed DJ Hayden, a cornerback from the University of Houston, who surprised many by being selected number 12 by the Oakland Raiders in the first round of Thursday night’s 2013 NFL Draft.  Hayden survived a freak injury: a November 2012 collision with a teammate in practice that ruptured his inferior vena cava, which is fatal 95% of the time, and normally only seen in serious car injuries.  Medical personnel rushed him to the hospital and saved his life, but his stock in the draft dropped with the uncertainty about his condition, with many pundits not even picking him in the first round.

I photographed DJ for a story leading up to the draft in Sports Illustrated, and of course we wanted to make a telling picture that spoke to the seriousness of his injury.  Normally, we might have scrubbed the shoot due to the rain and dreary weather, but we decided to press on, as the moody sky sort of went with the tone of the story.  DJ posed shirtless, baring a scar that went completely down the center of his abdomen. ( His last words to doctors before they split him open to repair his torn vein were, “Ok, just don’t mess up my abs…”)

We used two Profoto 7B’s on the UH practice field late in the day.  We decided to use a Plume Wafer 75 with a Lighttools grid from the right side, to just barely light the edge of DJ’s face, with a little bit of spill highlighting the scar on his wrist from the many needles and transfusions he endured during his hospital stay.  We used a regular 7″ reflector with a 3-degree grid with a Cinefoil snoot to highlight the scar on the chest and abdomen.  Andres Quintero, my assistant on the shoot, operated the 3-degree grid by hand to make sure it stayed in the optimum position as we shot.

With the under-exposed gray stormy sky, the result was a dramatic portrait that told the story of what DJ Hayden had been through en route to the 2013 draft.

Inspirational bracelets made for DJ during his hospital ordeal.

UH cornerback DJ Hayden, who survived a ruptured vein to be the 12th pick in the NFL draft.

Portrait shoot with former POW Col. Bud Day

The March cover of Air & Space, with Col Bud Day on the cover.

I’ve had a keen interest in military aviation since childhood…when other kids were reading Curious George and other children’s books, I was reading military biographies and books about World War II and Vietnam.  I remember one summer day, when I was in about 3rd or 4th grade, while returning books to our local public library, one of the elderly librarians tried to usher me from the “grown up books” to the “kid’s section” on the other side of the building.  One of the other librarians quickly corrected her, “He’s ok, Mabel….he just returned a book titled Guerilla Warfare and Terrorism. ” After that, Mabel left me alone.  (I actually can’t remember what her name was…… Mabel just seems like the perfect name for an old lady librarian).

I thought being a fighter pilot would be cool, I even requested info on the Air Force Academy at one point during junior high or early high school.  20/400 vision, however, and projectile vomiting during a simple Cessna 172 plane ride with a friend conspired to keep me out of the ejection seat.

After photographing the Doolittle Raiders a few years ago, one of my friends from the assignment, Matt Jolley, of Warbird Radio recommended me to some of the nice folks at Wings over Houston, the annual airshow here in the Houston area. I had mentioned to him an idea about a personal project, trying to photograph environmental portraits of notable pilots.  The people with the autograph tent at WoH were nice enough to let me set up in their area and shoot simple, white background portraits of the pilots who were there signing autographs.  I was able to photograph Col. Bud Anderson (a triple ace in the P-51 during WWII), Col. Dick Cole (Doolitle’s co-pilot on the WWII Doolittle Raid on Tokyo), Gen. Boots Blesse (a famous Sabre jet ace from the Korean war) and several others during my weekend there.  I was also lucky enough to meet and photograph former POW and Medal of Honor recipient Col. Bud Day.

The photos were interesting facial studies, but I lamented the limitations of the white background.  I would have loved to have captured each of them with their respective airplanes, but during mid-day sun at a packed airshow, it was just not in the cards.

The first shot we took, before sunrise on the field at Ellington.

Several months later, John Simmons, one of my buddies from the WoH event sent me an incredible video of Bud Day, eagerly climbing into the cockpit of an F-100 Super Sabre just like the one he had flown in Vietnam and going up for a flight!  The video was from the Collings Foundation, a non-profit foundation that owns and maintains not just World War II era prop planes, but also several Vietnam era jets, at….get this…..Ellington Field in Houston, Texas.  The F-100, painted just like Bud’s Misty 1 Vietnam bird is one of two in the world in flying condition.

John went to work, getting us permission from Rick Harris of the Collings Foundation to use the airplane.  We made arrangements to photograph Bud, who lives in Florida, during a visit to see his son George, a former F-16 pilot, who now works as a SWA captain in Houston.

A few months later, there we were before sunrise on a warm summer morning in Houston, pulling the F-100 out of the hangar and towing it to the proper spot on the taxiway.  We had scouted a few days before, using the iphone app LightTrac to position the plane.

Bud showed up in his flight suit, with his boots and Nomex gloves on – he was definitely ready to fly the plane if necessary!  His son George also wore his flight suit.  Part of my plan was to do a nice group shot of the father and son fighter pilots together.

We started shooting before dawn – long exposures on a tripod with battery powered strobes.  Nathan Lindstrom assisted on the shoot and did a great job.  We used a Profoto 7B with a  Plume Wafer Hexoval 180 on the side, and a Wafer 100 on another 7B boomed in front of the face as a fill.

The second shot, with a Wafer Hexoval 180 and a Wafer 100 as the sun rises in the background.

We next moved onto the backlit side of the plane, and photographed the Col.’s Day together and also the elder Col. Day alone, again using the same lighting setup.  Fortunately, the sun came out for a few minutes before going back under a layer of clouds. The sunrise was beautiful!

Col. Day with Col. Day…two generations of fighter pilots.

We next moved to a shot with a long lens looking at the signature angle of the F-100 – straight up the open nose air intake.  We carefully framed Col. Day in the foreground and backlit him from each side with a Profoto 7B and a Wafer 100 on each side.  We then boomed in a  Chimera small strip bank powered by an Acute 600.   Although 87 years old, and with his body ravaged by years of torture and POW abuse, in this pose, with this light, in front of the F-100, Bud Day looked like he could still kick some serious ass.

The shot that made the cover, Col. Day still formidable at 87.

We finished with a 3/4 side lit portrait, with his glasses off, which showed off the MISTY patch on his flight suit.

The 3/4 lit portrait with “The Hun” front view in the background.

We did some group shots with the Collings Foundation folks who had so generously donated their time and effort to showcase the plane, and some USAF U-2 pilots, who had gathered during the shoot.  All USAF pilots go through survival training at the AF Survival School at Fairchild AFB, named in Col. Day’s honor.  It was like watching a bunch of NBA rookies meeting Michael Jordan for the first time.

After packing up, the whole crew adjourned to a nearby Ihop for a truly memorable breakfast.  I could literally sit and listen to George and his dad tell flying stories for hours.  It was a fantastic experience.

After the shoot, I sent a few of the photos to my editor at Air & Space magazine, just on the off chance that they might be working on a story related to Col. Day, MISTY, or the F-100.  Several months later, as it turns out, there was a story on the MISTY program in the works.  They eventually decided to use one of the photographs of Col. Day on the cover of the issue, with another one running inside.

I didn’t want to jinx anything, so I didn’t mention it to Bud or George until the cover was posted online.  I’ve worked for many magazines, and covers often get pulled or changed at the 11th hour.

It was really an honor and a highlight to finally be able to make the call to Col. Day and let him know that not only was there a story on MISTY in the current issue of Air & Space, but that he had made the cover!  This was truly one of the coolest things I’ve been able to work on, and I’m grateful to A&S, the Day family, Rick Harris and John Simmons for making this happen.

Col. Day and Col. Day reviewing some of the photos with the me.

A little background on Col. George “Bud” Day:  He joined the Marines and fought in World War II just after high school.  He came back to the US and earned a law degree, then continued in the Air Force flying fighter jets in Korea and eventually Vietnam.   He miraculously survived a no-chute ejection the 1950′s.   At an age and mission count when other pilots were retiring, he volunteered for another tour and came up with the MISTY Fast Forward Air Control (Fast FAC) program, of which he was the commander.  MISTY pilots flew low and fast over North Vietnam, marking targets including SAM missile sites for other aircraft to attack.  It was so dangerous that it was an all volunteer squadron.

During one of these MISTY missions in 1967, Col. Day was shot down and captured.  Badly hurt and barefoot, he escaped after a few days and evaded the enemy for 12-15 days, subsisting on frogs and berries, traversing miles of enemy territory and crossing the river into South Vietnam.  He was within a mile or two of an American base when he was shot twice and recaptured.  He spent the next 5 years 7 months in the “Hanoi Hilton” being tortured along with other notable POW pilots like Sen. John McCain and Admiral James Stockdale.  For his valor, he was awarded the Air Force Cross and the Congressional Medal of HonorToday he is the most decorated living service member.  After returning from Vietnam, he received 13 medical waivers and continued flying.  He eventually amassed over 8000 hours – nearly 5000 of those in fighter aircraft.    As if that weren’t enough, he retired and went to work as an attorney, eventually suing the US Government on behalf of veterans who were not getting promised medical benefits and won.  As a result, millions of veterans (my late mother-in-law among them), have benefitted from the program, called Tri-Care for Life.

 

Here’s a cool behind the scenes video my friend John Simmons put together of the shoot:

Advertising Photography for ExxonMobil Chemical

I recently photographed a series of advertisements for ExxonMobil Chemical at one of their technology centers.  We worked with a fantastic team from McCann Erickson in New York, and they did a great job of conceptualizing the final ads.  The comp we were presented with showed a black and white image of an ExxonMobil scientist working in a lab environment with a detail breakout photo of a macro subject from their lab.

The labs were very tight and cluttered spaces – lots of scientific equipment everywhere, lots of hoses and pipes, and very few clean simple backgrounds.  We decided to shoot several different lab techs and scientists working with their respective equipment on white.  This was a serious challenge, as there was not ample room to do a normally lit white background.  We settled on placing a 6 x 6 scrim jim behind the subjects, just to de-clutter the room, and give the retoucher clean images of the subject and foreground equipment to work with.  This worked well, but it was a very tight squeeze all day.  To look good in B&W, the light needed to be fairly dramatic and contrast-y.  We used gridded softboxes, a Wafer 100 and a Wafer 75 in some cases, both with Lighttools 30 degree grids.

We also had great fun creating the macro images.  Kelly Clark, our art director, would work with us to pick out various interesting pieces of scientific equipment, and we would then set up lighting and photograph details, often with the Canon 100mm macro, which is just an incredibly sharp piece of glass.  It was interesting to create tight abstract views of everyday science equipment.

One of the cool shots we did, came about during the scouting trip.  We noticed that several of the scientists would write in wax pencil on the plexiglas cover of their lab enclosures….math formulas, notes, etc.  We decided it looked pretty interesting, and ran out to Home Depot to get a clean new piece of plexi to recreate the same look on white in the lab.  (Apologies to Neil Leifer and his iconic Bear Bryant portrait. )

Andrew Loehman did a great job digital teching for the day, and Nathan Lindstrom assisted.  Juan Guadiana, a stellar Houston-based retoucher did a masterful job of cutting out our subjects with their equipment for the final ads.  These were not easy to do.  Andrea Kaye, the art buyer at McCann Erickson, Valerie Sena, the account manager, and Kelly Clark, the art director were wonderful to work with, and we were able to enjoy a fantastic Tex-Mex meal with our ExxonMobil client at El Real, a cool new restaurant in the former Tower Theater during their brief visit to Houston.

Here’s the “before” photo in color…

One of the other ads….we created four of these.

 

 

Photo Shoot with Heisman winner “Johnny Football” Manziel at Texas A&M

The shot that ran in the magazine: “Johnny Football” centered on the 50 yard line at Kyle Field.

Last week, in preparation for the upcoming Heisman Trophy announcement, Sports Illustrated sent four photographers out to shoot portraits of the four leading Heisman candidates.  My sports portrait photographer colleagues all made great images, and SI published a multi-page story on the Heisman frontrunners just three days before the announcement.  Peter Read Miller photographed USC WR Marqise Lee, Darren Carroll photographed Kansas State QB Collin Klein, and Todd Rosenberg photographed Notre Dame LB Manti Te’o, while I got the call to shoot Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, known more commonly here in Texas by his nickname:  “Johnny Football.”

Manziel, a redshirt freshman sensation, was sequestered from the press by his coaches until the week before the big announcement.  When he finally spoke, the country heard from a charming, positive young kid who was enthusiastic and enjoying every minute of his journey.  I’ve shot a ton of athletes, and normally we do a few “tough guy” or heroic poses, and we tried a few with Johnny, but he literally couldn’t stop laughing and smiling.  The best shots were the ones where he was grinning from ear to ear.  That’s truly him – just a bubbly kid who’s happy to be here – overflowing with excitement that he gets to wake up each day and play QB for the Aggies…..and that was BEFORE he won!

For the shoot, due to newfound demands on his time and a TON of media interest, we had a shoot time of 2pm, which is not the most flattering light to photograph in.  Actually, we were overjoyed to have any time with him at all, and Texas A&M SID Alan Cannon, who’s a really great guy I’ve known for many years, made it all happen.  We had a 30 minute slot (really only 25 minutes, because SI was also doing a quick video interview for the website in the last 5 minutes).  We had to really plan all our shots in advance and have everything tested and set up ahead of time in order to maximize our time with him.

We really wanted a dramatic stadium tunnel look, with Johnny lit from above and the background blown out.  I had done a similar shot of Jason White at Oklahoma years earlier, and the editor had mentioned using a tunnel if possible.  We scouted the stadium for a couple of hours before the shoot, and didn’t find any suitable tunnels.  At A&M, many of the tunnels were narrow with chain link gates/fences in them, and it wasn’t clean enough in my opinion to pull off the shot we had in mind.

I also knew that the photo was probably running as a square in the magazine so I shot most of the shots loose enough so that they could be cropped in that shape.  There was also some discussion of converting all four players to sepia (which they decided not to do) so I tried to shoot with contrast in mind.

The sun was high and blistering, there was no shade to work with, so for the first shot, we planned to place the sun behind him and use it to our advantage.  By placing the sun behind his head and underexposing the scene, we silhouetted the stadium (and Johnny).  We added a Hexoval 180 from the left and made a dramatic portrait with a darkened Kyle Field behind him.

For the next setup, I wanted to emphasize the large “Home of the 12th Man” sign on the student side of the stadium.  We were able to find a small tunnel entrance on the 50 yard line, where I shot from, and then we backlit Johnny from each side with Wafer 100′s.  Assistant Nathan Lindstrom then used a long boom to place a Hexoval 140 directly in front of Johnny’s face, centered right over the camera, while Butch Ireland ( a longtime and very talented photographer colleague from College Station) manned an 8 x 8 Westcott ScrimJim to keep the harsh sun out of the scene.  We also ditched the backlights and did a few dramatic shots with the Hexoval boomed to the right side.

We then walked Johnny over to a corner tunnel, which had a really interesting pattern in the poured concrete wall.  It almost looked like a hand painted muslin fabric.  We set up two other lighting setups there.  The first one was a raw reflector head, which cast a shadow of Johnny on the wall.  The idea was to replicate the look that stadium lights would have in the tunnel if you were about to take the field at night.  The other setup was just a Wafer Hexoval 180, which we used to do some classic 3/4 shots of Johnny from the waist up and tight on his face.  I wanted some simple shots with a big light source that would capture his ebullient personality.

When we stopped, I looked down at my watch – we had done 6 different setups in three locations around the field in 21 minutes!  Johnny sat down for his interview – and then…oh Lord, the video shooter, Dan Blust, a talented videographer from Houston, interviewed me about the shoot.  SI did this at each location and put together a nice behind the scenes video which you can see here.

(All photos ©2012 Robert Seale/All rights Reserved).