Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Not Such A Bad Day

The morning started with the usual end of the month paperwork to complete, bills to pay, taxes to file and pay. Good news is that there's still some cash left over.

Then, just before the close of business, an email arrives from my resort client... the one with the lifestyle & architectural project tentatively scheduled for mid-august. Budget approved... no questions asked! Talent approved! Project has the green light! Stylist is booked, assistant is scheduled, preproduction commences in the morning with the booking of airline flights & rental cars for stylist & one of the models.

What a nice way to end the day!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


There are few tasks related to this business that I dread more than casting talent for projects. The casting process ranks up there with paying bills and taxes in my hierarchy of loathsome activities. 

For the past three days I have been up to my armpits in trying to find talent for a resort lifestyle project booked for mid next month. Calling agencies.... leaving messages (does anyone maintain regular office hours in that side of the industry?) ... waiting for call-backs... waiting for email headshots and zed cards... negotiating rates... waiting to hear if the talent is even available... trying the convince the client that they are worth the fees they demand... hoping, praying that they are good, experienced and professional, show up on time looking fresh and excited about the shoot... all in all an unpleasant experience, not to mention the introduction of an unknown (in most cases) variable that is often beyond my control.

Talent is quite often an essential part of the shoot and REAL talent can enhance the resulting images. Good attitudes on set and willingness to work as part of the project's team help in making the flow of each shoot day go smoothly, aids in raising my excitement and enthusiasm throughout the scope of the project. Unfortunately, as often as not, talent sometimes arrives with the attitude that they are the "hired gun", have little interest in the overall project and simply want to step in when needed.

All this is further complicated by the fact that the local talent pool here on island is very limited and the bulk of the available models are very inexperienced, or... if experienced and talented, are often overexposed because they are in demand for so many projects. With air travel between islands being what it is these days, many clients are reluctant to fly in more experienced models due to the added costs of travel, lodging, ground transportation all added on top of the talent & agency 20% fee.

Then there are the agents (with all apologies to Doug at Premier Talent, and Angela at Hawaii Sports Models).  'Nuff said here I think...

So, here I am... waiting and waiting for all the pieces to come together, for all the agents to respond with the necessary info so that all can be forwarded to the client for final approval. What to do when waiting? Why, try to firm up other aspects of the assignment and make blog entries of course.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Free Portfolio Review

Well... not exactly... but, a couple of days ago, I posted a link to Leslie Burns-Dell'Acqua's outstanding Burns Auto Parts website. You may remember that Leslie is a high-power photographer's consultant and blogger. A couple of days before that, another link was posted to freelance art buyer Caitlin Ravin's An Art Producer's Perspective blog.

Today, checking in at Caitlin's site, I find this link to the website for Photo District News. If you follow the link, it leads you to a series of three short videos where PDN "listens in" on a portfolio consultation between Leslie and photographer Jamie Kripke. In this video, Leslie discusses with Jamie how to best tune up his marketing efforts by critiquing and offering suggestions on how to improve the presentations of his portfolio, website and his work in general.

So... not exactly a free portfolio consultation tailored to you or I, it's quite interesting nonetheless and worth having a look at for any of us interested in stepping up our game and attracting better assignments.

I Love Type 55

Of all the Black & White Films available to work with, my hands-down favorite is Polaroid Type 55 4x5 Sheets. Back in the day when most of my work was large format film-based capture, Type 55 was an indispensible tool for proofing, lighting & composition checks prior to committing the shot to color transparency film. Even though the final shot would be captured in it's full color glory, I found that the black & white polaroid proof was far better for advance  evaluation of contrast & composition. Color Polaroids would often have a ghastly greenish cast to  the print and the inclusion of all of the information in an off-color rendering I found to be distracting, preferring the black & white proof for this purpose. The beauty of the Type 55 film was that, in addition the to proof print, a black & white negative with superb tonal range was also produced with each shot. Not only are these negatives incredibly beautiful and full of tone when printed, but they were really excellent for checking focus when used to proof an image before committing to transparency film.

In most commercial assignment scenarios, we would toss the negative and save the print for client approval purposes and to mark our film holders to identify which holders contained which shots. In retrospect, this was such a waste because the these negatives print like a dream once you get them to the darkroom. There have been many times, however, when getting a good "55" negative was actually the goal. I have used this film for mostly personal projects and the occasional commissioned assignment when something "different" or a little more "quirky" was called for. Unfortunately, Hawaii assignments are most often all about saturated color and the opportunities to capture black & white images were/are few and far between.

One of the drawbacks to using this film was it's incredible fragility and the need to keep it moist and scratch free until you could get it back to the darkroom for clearing in a solution of sodium sulfite and then fixing, washing & drying. Until the film was dried and the emulsion hardened, these negative were very, very "soft" and easily damaged. When using this film on location, I would carry a large tupperware container and then layer each negative produced between several sheets very damp paper towels stored in the tupperware. Even this was no guarantee that the negatives were safe and would be damage free before we got back to work with them in the studio darkroom. Sometimes, the damage to the emulsions that ensued could actually be happy accidents that added to the resulting image in some way.

Now that Polaroid has discontinued the manufacture of most of it's proofing films and no company that I know of has yet stepped up to the plate to license the technology and produce new versions of these emulsions. The polaroid negative, for the time being at least, is a thing of past. While several large photographic suppliers still have some stock of this film available, it's getting harder to find and is often beyond the expiration date if you do find some. Let's hope someone takes over the recipe and begins production of new "55" stock sometime soon. I really miss it.

Both of the images above were captured on Polaroid Type 55. I have made beautiful silver gelatin prints of these two images, but for blogging purposes, these negatives were scanned on a Epson Perfection V750 Pro Scanner.

The top image was a promotional photo to be used for tour posters, etc. for the Mick Fleetwood Blues band. In our preproduction meetings prior to the shoot, Mick had mentioned seeing Irving Penn's series of tribesmen from Papua New Guinea and suggested using that work as a jumping off point for our photo session. Being a huge Penn fan, I was game, but felt we needed to twist things a bit. I suggested using Type 55 and printing the images with all the border info left intact for the quirky & retro feeling. If you look closely, you also see that I left showing the C-stands & clamps supporting the backdrop... just to twist & demystify the image a bit more.

The second image was also a commissioned assignment for a big commercial luau venture. The concept was to create menus that looked more like very old passports from different islands around Pacifica. Each passport would have the menu, program listing of the evening's performance and a very retro looking "passport photo"  of polynesian performers from the show. Again, I chose the Type 55 for the retro look, as well as the distressed look that slight damage to the negative would help achieve. As it turns out, I returned to the darkroom after the shoot only to find that I was out of sodium sulfite and could not get any shipped for three days or more. I stored the negatives between damp paper towels sealed in tupperware as described above. By the time the the chemicals arrived and I retrieved the negatives for clearing, I was horrified to find that the prolonged soaking had caused the emulsions to begin dissolving and bits of emulsion were literally peeling of the film substrate as I removed them from the container. I was horrified and extremely thankful that I had the foresight to back up all the shots on TMax Sheet Film in addition to the Polaroid film.

Still... I went about clearing and fixing these damaged negatives. When I attempted to print them, I was elated to find that the damaged emulsions had bubbled up, peeled away and added a new dimension of texture to each image which further enhanced the "ancient" feel they were intended to have in the first place. That;'s what we call in this business a "happy accident".

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Words Of Wisdom

Leslie Burns-Del'Acqua is a well-known and well respected photographer's consultant, writer, free advice-giver on a number of professional photography forums and speaker at ASMP and APA events. Most recently, she is also a blogger and her Burns Auto Parts website contains links to not only her outstanding "Super Premium"  blog, but lot's of other timely and really excellent advice & resources.

Today's entry is no exception. You can find it here.

We Have Readers

That's right Chase the Lighter's... this blog is being read by discriminating photographers across this great land. And... while none of them appear to be hot gals with studly pool boys, I have received a flurry of emails from several readers inquiring about the possibilities of moving to and establishing photographic careers in paradise. All have so far offered their services as assistants, certainly a well-trod and respectable way of getting a foot in the door. Still... the reality remains that Hawaii, like everywhere else these days, is in the grip of an economic downturn. You regular readers will know that I have been lamenting this sad state of affairs since the closure of Aloha Airlines. 

And... while I hate to crush anyones dreams of leaving it all behind to go troppo, the first thing one must consider when pondering the pursuit of such a dream is that moving to the islands is first and foremost a lifestyle choice... certainly not a career decision. Given the limited marketplace here, the overabundance of both skilled photographers and entry level GWC's (Guys With Cameras), the lack of photographic resources (equipment supply houses, labs, service bureaus, etc.) and cost of living, one's ability to establish themselves as commercial and/or editorial photographers in Hawaii often means working other jobs and doing whatever is possible just to hold on for the minimum 3-5 years it takes to build industry relationships that eventually lead to sustaining assignments.

Anyone in this business knows well that our major US markets lie in places like NY, LA, Chicago and other urban cities far removed from the islands. That said, it doesn't mean that establishing a photographic career here is impossible. Hawaii does hold many opportunities for us. For one... we have a HUGE publishing industry directed at island visitors. There are island guides for dining & for activities both in print & online and all in need of imagery. There are city Magazines like Honolulu and Modern Luxury Hawaii, Airline In-Flight Magazines... there is always a need for good stock imagery for mainland publishing art buyers. There are also annual reports as well as a limited amount of catalog work for Hawaii based companies. And, as in all locales, new publishing and marketing strategies needing quality images are constantly emerging.

Still, building relationships is the key to survival here. Building these relationships takes time & money to market yourself. Anyone planning on arriving here with the intent of immediately thriving as a photographer had better plan on arriving with a return ticket home.

OK... now that I have dashed your dreams, let me take a moment to thank all the readers out there... those who have contacted me as a result of stumbling across this blog and those of you that read & lurk. It's nice to know you're out there.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

New Business

Caitlin Ravin is an experienced freelance art buyer/art producer living in the northeast having worked on accounts like MacDonalds, Merrill Lynch, New Balance and others. Caitlin publishes a really excellent blog titled An Art Producer's Perspective.

Yesterday, Caitlin made an optimistic entry about how photographers and agency creatives might collaborate together in producing down & dirty, low-production images for these creatives to, in turn, use as comps for the purpose of pitching both new & established agency clients on potential new campaigns. Caitlin reasons that such a collaboration would result in a pitch more tailor made to the individual client's advertising and positioning needs rather than relying on generic stock images for FPO's & comps when putting together those pitches. She then goes on the discuss how working in such a relationship can ultimately be beneficial to all involved... the agency gets the new account and in turn, remembers well the photographer that worked with them with no budget to produce the images used in the successful pitch and will ultimately assign that photographer when the high production value campaign comes up to be photographed.

Caitlin makes some good points in this blog entry about building relationships with clients. The path she suggests certainly looks good on paper and I have little doubt that when she is the art buyer on such a campaign, she does take into consideration those that assisted her in putting together that account landing pitch. Just the same, my experience has been, on most occasions... not all, just the opposite. More often, it seems, you're remembered as the guy/gal that does the down & dirty work for cheap, the ultimate result being that the client only contacts you for those types of assignments that have very limited budgets and lower image quality requirements. 

All this does not mean that Caitlin's suggestions have little or no merit when it comes to making the connection with or firming up relationships with art buyers in hopes of raising their awareness of you as an art producer or helping you land those bigger & better assignments. What it does mean is that there is no hard and fast rule for how to handle these types of situations and that each and every one needs to be weighed carefully for both the potential upsides and downsides.

Caitlin's post is especially relevant to me today as I have just received a request to shoot multiple images of a new resort spa that the resort's GM plans to use in a presentation at the chain's corporate mainland offices.  And... while I am more than happy to take on such an assignment in the spirit of just the type of relationship building that Caitlin describes, further email discussions with the client revealed that the GM wanted to allot no more than a couple of hours time to produce what amounted to 4-5 interior images of the spa facilities and up to 2 exterior images. 

Quite frankly, my decision to decline such an assignment had almost nothing to do with the lack of budget and everything to do with the potential negative branding my reputation might suffer should the corporate powers that be get exposed to anything less than images representing my best efforts. Already this resort's corporate offices fly in photographers from the mainland to produce much of the imaging needed for their  national and international marketing and editorial needs. Were I to agree to produce lower quality work only for the use of this corporate presentation, I still would run the high risk of reinforcing the corporate idea that local talent can't hack it... can't produce the quality they require. 

Friday, July 11, 2008

Friday Update

Excerpt from an email I received yesterday from a new photo editor:

"So coming from a photographers standpoint...that's why I value your
attention to detail and the craft. In the month I've been here I've been
amazed at some of the laziness of photographers who've been seduced by
shooting digital. They feel that lighting is no longer necessary and
everything can be fixed in post. While I embrace new technology...the
underlying eye still needs to be there."

Well, AMEN to that. I can't count the number of times I've been told by colleagues that they don't need to light rooms in architectural shoots to achieve that difficult indoor/outdoor lighting balance. Yeah... they say stuff like "I just make one exposure of the ambient interior light, another exposure of the outdoor ambient light for the windows and doors and then just merge them using the HDR or Highlight/Shadow tools in Photoshop..." Alrighty then... and if it looks like crap, so what? Those mid-tone contrast levels get awfully strange looking. While that technique works sometimes on the mainland where window and door views are less important and can be allowed to blow out, here in Hawaii those balanced views of green & blue are most important in most, if not all interior photography assignments. Sure... it's a drag to haul around 4 or 5 cases of lights, dozens of stands, scrims, gels... tedious and time consuming (it cuts into our beach & surf time) to set up 6-10 (sometimes even more) lights per room, gel and diffuse them to control shadows and color balance, test, modify, test and modify some more until that critical and natural looking balance is finally achieved. But in the end, it's worth it to me to make the effort. The final results are better looking, there's no weird digital noise and contrast artifacts left behind to muck up the image and I don't have to spend an hour or more on each image in post to get a passable image. I am a photographer and I "paint with light". I don't have any desire to spend any more time than is absolutely necessary fixing stuff in photoshop. I want to get it as close as possible in camera.

OK... enough of that... and many thanks to that PE (you know who you are) for recognizing and acknowledging the effort and result we put into our work.

Kudos to Maui's own surf and water-sport photographer Erik Aeder. Erik makes the short list of Hawaii go-to guys for outdoor sports images in today's entry over at Rob Haggart's A Photo Editor blog.

The new issue of 35mm Magazine is up and online now. Find it here.

If you're a fan of Celtic Music, be sure to tune in Sunday morning from 8-10am Central Pacific Time to Manao Radio. You can listen in from anywhere in the world with free online live streaming audio as I cover the shift and play Celtic Music both traditional and modern on the Sunday Solstice program, a show I gave birth to nearly five years ago and which remains one of the most popular program offerings at the station still. I had to give up the regular slot a little over a year ago. Hamish Burgess, an amazing resource of all things celtic stepped in and took over, doing an incredible job far beyond anything I could have ever achieved. Hamish is traveling on the mainland & Canada for the next 3 weeks so I will be filling his enormous (if a little stinky) shoes for the next three sunday mornings.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

What A Day!

What a week... make that the past two weeks actually! Work, work and more work! Oddly enough, I've been shooting more editorial for Honolulu based magazines the past two weeks than anything else. And I love to shoot editorial... an opportunity to be a little more creative than the standard advertising product shot or corporate head shot. In the past two weeks, I've shot stories for Honolulu Magazine, Hana Hou - the in-flight 'zine of Hawaiian Airlines, Island Scene -HMSA's community relations magazine and Modern Luxury Hawaii.

Speaking of Modern Luxury Hawaii, we bid a fond aloha to former editor-in-chief, Margie Jacinto, who has packed her bags and relocated to Dallas. At the same time, we offer warm aloha and welcome to new editor-in-chief Emmy Kasten as she makes the permanent move to Honolulu to oversee MLH. WE also offer aloha and welcome to new MLH photo editor, Jeff Millies. Jeff will remain in Chicago at the main corporate offices of ML and overseeing the photo-editing duties for ML's Dallas, DC and Hawaii publications. Jeff and I have been having a conversation by email today and I have learned that he is also a commercial photographer, but decided to give the photo editing gig a shot as it allows him time in the evenings and weekends to continue pursuing his freelance photography gigs. It appears we share a similar aesthetic in terms of editorial photography and I really look forward to future assignments and opportunities to work with him. Welcome aboard Jeff.

Today, I also discovered that an extravagant kitchen I shot several months ago for Wolf Appliances has finally been published in Great American Kitchens magazine. You can find the online edition of the article here. Can't wait to get the tear sheets to add to my portfolio.

And, if all the above wasn't enough to put a smile on the face, this morning's first email was from a client agreeing to license a single image for a fee of $2k.

All this seems a little funny in retrospect, seeing how in previous entries to this blog, I've been worried about the downturn in both the local and global economies and the impact on my business. For now, all seems well in paradise. This business can be like a severe case of manic depression... feast or famine. One day you're wondering where the next assignment, the next studio rent check, the next mortgage payment will come from... the next day your swamped with great assignments and wondering how you're going to find the time to meet the deadlines and still turn in work with some creativity & technical competence. All that I can say is... for now... it's CR city for me. (With all apologies and thanks to Bay Area photog Thomas Broening for introducing me to and allowing me to steal the use of his term.)

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Things To Do On A Hot Summer Night

We've managed to survive the Fourth of July holiday weekend and it appears our fingers and toes remain intact. Actually, the long weekend was quite peaceful with minimal fireworks exploding in my neighborhood, which is a relief because my trusty canine friend Max has a mortal fear of the sounds of explosions and gunshots and most July 4th's and New Years celebrations are spent watching him cower and shake until the doggie downers take hold and send him off to dreamland. Then... it's just a matter of watching him closely to make sure he doesn't roll off the bed and crack his skull. This year was an exception and no tranquilizers were required (for the dog, at least). We were blessed with a brief but much needed rain at about the 9:00 pm hour which helped in keeping the explosive revelry to a minimum.

Now that the 4th has passed, we are firmly in the grip of mid summer. This past week has been absolutely beautiful... picture postcard days with very light winds, glassy seas, blue skies, an abundance of sun and hot, hot, hot. The mercury hit 91 degrees on Maui on the 4th.

One of the great ways to spend a hot summer evening in Hawaii is to attend one of the many Obon Festivals that take place at most of the Buddhist temples around the islands this time of year in honor of the departed ancestral spirits. These festivals are usually held over three days at each temple and culminate with the Bon Odori or dance. These dances are festive, colorful community events, often feeling more like a summer fair than a somber religious tradition. All members of the community are welcome to join in and participate in the fun as dancers circle around a brightly lit and gaily decorated tower, performing the steps to music. The dance is quite simple to pick up for the uninitiated simply by watching for a few moments. Buddhist members of the hosting temple are often dressed in brightly colored kimono and most are eager to show newcomers how to perform the dance.  There are often food booths set up around the perimeter of the dance area and offering many choices of local flavors. You don't have to be Buddhist, so check the schedule in the link below and head out to one of the Obon Festivals in your community one night this summer. This is truly one of the must-do's for those of us living in or even visiting the islands.

In Lahaina, on Maui's west side, the Jodo Mission near Mala Wharf holds my favorite of the Obon Festivals. Just after services, as the sun is setting and just before the dancing begins, this temple holds a floating lantern ceremony where hundreds of paper lanterns are placed on small rafts and illuminated with a single candle each. Small groups of men then wade chest deep out into the lagoon, eventually setting the individual lanterns afloat to drift out to sea. As far as I know, Lahaina's Jodo Mission is the only Maui temple that performs the lantern ceremony (there are other Oahu temples that also float lanterns). It is a beautifull thing to see hundreds of glowing paper lanterns adrift with the tide as they strech out along the coast line.

Unfortunately, the Jodo Mission held it's Obon last weekend. Still, there are plenty of other dances still scheduled throughout the remaining summer months. You can find a schedule here.

The photos above were taken during previous Jodo Mission ceremonies. The top image is the complex's main shrine, captured with Kodak HEI High-Speed Infrared Film. The following images are of the dance and lantern ceremony in 2005.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Independence Day

Happy Fourth of July to all of the CTL readers. I've got back to back assignments this afternoon & evening then taking tomorrow off. It's a long holiday weekend for most, so enjoy.

See you back here next week...

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Food For Thought

For many years as a photographer, I made much of my living photographing food. In fact... my mentor when I first entered the industry was, perhaps, the first real photographer focused (pun intended) on food in the state. This was back in the late 1980's when the "Hawaiian Regional Cuisine" movement was just beginning, there was a new emphasis on both food as "art" and on chefs as artists. At the forefront of the movement were 12 local island chefs blending french cooking technique with asian and pacific rim flavors and emphasizing the use of locally grown and caught ingredients. For several years these guys were media darlings, gathering world-wide attention and accolades for their inventive, artistic and flavorful creations. The attention focused on these chefs and this movement in some ways revolutionized the commercial advertising & editorial photographic industry in the islands, opening up many new opportunities for photographers to gain exposure outside of Hawaii by creating a new demand for high-quality and creative food images. 

Back in  those days, there were very few photographers, my mentor being one of the best, shooting beautiful food. I had always loved to cook, had worked previously in the food & beverage industry and immediately recognized a photographic niche that was both potentially profitable, had little competition and was a great avenue for broad reaching exposure. The rise of the Hawaiian Regional Cuisine Movement also gave rise to a new niche within the local publishing industry with the launching of several publications focused on the restaurant industry in the form of dining guides. Maui alone has 5 0r 6 of these publications.

Food photography, at that time, involved making very glamorous, idealized, highly styled and extensively propped table-top sets. The propping was often used to accentuate the exotic  combinations of flavors & ingredients and the almost fantasy nature of such a dining experience. And... as with all trends, this style of photography, at least editorially speaking, has fallen by the wayside for a new, more simplistic, food-in-your-face, stripped down approach. I have to admit, I rebelled against the trend in the beginning. I had a hard time seeing the art in what was beginning to pass for food photography. It was grungy, unglamorous, real & earthy. I have come to embrace this trend, loving the clean simplicity of the resulting images along with the challenge of making the food the hero rather than distracting from it with artisic and elaborate propping and set styling.

For the past 3-4 years, I have been shooting less food. The international focus on the Hawaii food scene has faded from it's heyday in the late 80's and 90's and as a result, my work has evolved more towards architectural and lifestyle images for the resort & travel industries. Still, I love to shoot food and last week provided a bounty of food assignments, both for editorial features and for a resort advertising client. The above image is an out take from one of those sessions... clean, simple, colorful. 

Are you hungry yet?