Category Archives: Frequently Asked Questions

Working Hard, or Hardly Working?

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If you had asked me, even a few months ago, how I felt about the state of my photography career, I would’ve given you the same answer I’d been using for years: “I’m still in my start-up phase.”

I like to think of myself as a newbie in photography. And, taking a long view, I suppose that’s still true. I expect to be shooting for at least another 30 years (hopefully much more), and the paltry amount of time I have under my belt right now will ultimately represent a small percentage of what I hope will be the total. The depth of my photographic ignorance is profound, and I will never have enough time on this earth to learn what I want, and need, to know about making photographs.

But lately, I’ve settled into an uneasy acceptance that in fact, I’ve “made it”, at least in financial terms. For the past several years, I’ve had enough money to do pretty much what I want; and my business grows year over year in pleasing amounts. It’s been a long time since I worried about having enough money next week (as I once did), or next month, or even next year. Better still, I’m getting the kind of work I really want to get; I find most of my shoots to be very fulfilling. I’m doing fine; I’ve “made it” as a photographer. Things could certainly go awry, and there is plenty of uncharted territory ahead; but I can no longer pretend that I’m a start-up.

So, yay! for me…but that’s caused me to think a lot about how exactly this has happened. How did I come to this place, where no rational person would have predicted I’d be? I occasionally get asked to speak on this topic, and I’ve always struggled to identify the characteristics and habits etc. that I felt were important…..other than to say that luck had absolutely NOTHING to do with it (on that score I’m quite sure).

I was frankly lucky to have gotten out of high school, though, and I literally flunked out of college (cumulative GPA: 1.8). When I “became” a photographer, I did not have the first clue about what I was getting into. I took no photography classes, read precious few books, did zero assisting. I had never actually met a professional photographer. The odds were so high against me that if I’d had any inkling of what my prospects were, I’d have been too scared to try. But, I didn’t know any better.

So what was the magic ingredient? Long-winded answer, after the jump

Photo Assisting

Alan Vance lugs my camera Pelican (with maybe $15,000 of glass & cameras in it) up a ladder to the rooftop.

If you work with me on location, there’s pretty much a constant refrain of me shouting, “Alan!”

“Alan, can I get my 1.4x extender?”   “Alan, I need the power cable for the laptop.”   “Alan, can we get a head with an umbrella out that window, and then flag it so the reflection doesn’t show in the glass tile behind the stove?”

A good Photo Assistant (“PA”) can absolutely make or break a shoot, so today we’re going to hear from mine: Alan Vance. I get emails every week from people offering to assist me for free, but they don’t always realize just what a skilled position they’re asking for. Carrying gear around is only a tiny, tiny piece of the puzzle. A good PA can work very closely with the photographer, and handle complex technical tasks with a huge variety of equipment.

You wanna be a photo assistant? You’d better be intimately familiar with equipment from Broncolor, Elinchrom, ProPhoto, Dynalite, Arri, Lowell, Photek, Matthews, Manfrotto, Arca, Westcott, Canon, Nikon, Hasselblad, Phase One, Lee, and more. You’d better be able to troubleshoot Capture One, Lightroom, or Canon Digital  Photo Pro. You’d better be able to use a light meter – preferably your own. You’d better know how to assemble any model of softbox, and in a hurry. You’d better know what I mean when I say, “Get two Inkies with baby plates and light this to f/13, and gel them with a half cut of minus green. Then get a head with a shoot-through and put it down at the end of that hallway. Have some CTO ready for that one. Might have to flag it off the ceiling. And we’re going to put some SB-80s over the valence, there. See that little shadow? I want you to kill it.” And then make it all happen. Yeah, it’s a big job, and not just anyone can do it.

Read Alan’s article, and see tons of BTS photos, click here!

Why Light Interiors?

My friends at The Camera Store, in Calgary, asked me to write a short article for their newsletter, so in the interests of international cooperation, I did.

The Camera Store is sponsoring 3 days of workshops in about three weeks: there’s a “beginner” class for folks just getting started with lights and interiors, and a truly cool two-day “advanced” class that’s designed to kick your butt and drive your photography to another level altogether. Check ’em out!

Q&A With Daminion Software

I was interviewed this week by Daminion Software, a Russian “DAM” software company (Digital Asset Management) that caters to photographers, architects, and designers.

Read the interview HERE. And thanks to Murat Korkmazov for coming through with some insightful questions!

Do You Like Me?

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Click Me, Like Me

I’m getting organized….and making Facebook my “ground zero” for workshop information. Updates on current and future workshops will appear on this new page, so “Like” it and stay up-to-date with what’s happening! Click the image above, and you’ll be there!

And…write something pithy on my wall while you’re there!

Composition For Interiors

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I get asked to review a lot of photographers’ portfolios. Usually they’re asking me for advice on lighting, but I find that I usually have more to say about the compositions than anything else. And generally, it’s the composition of the photo that drives the other factors, especially the lighting.

With that in mind, I asked videographer (and photographer) Malia Campbell to help me record a quick video outlining some of my thoughts on composing for residential interiors. Malia takes you right inside my camera, so you can see exactly what I’m seeing as I compose shots!

Malia did a fantastic job on this – so be sure to click the HD button and see it large. We shot this in one long day, at a house in Oakland California. It’s my first attempt at a true instructional video, let me know what you think!

More on composition, and a photo breakdown, after the jump.

The Essential Guide to Lighting Interiors

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It’s official – you can buy my book HERE.

I average about an email a day asking me for advice, coaching, or inquiring about a book, DVD, pamphlet, or other resource on lighting interiors. This book is the answer to all that. I didn’t hold back – this is the technique I employ every day on shoots. I tried to lay out as clearly as possible the theory and practical solutions that go into my photos. We’ll go into big, spacious living rooms, small bathrooms, and even into a pitch-dark, cramped little attic together, figuring out how to light them all from start to finish.

Sample page from Lighting Interiors – Click it to see it full-size.

If you shoot real estate — this is your book. It’s written with small flash (and the need to move quickly) in mind. Photographers who shoot interiors for other types of clients will find that the techniques described “scale up” perfectly well – I spent today shooting with a combination of speedlights and a more powerful pack-and-head system for a kitchen remodeling company, and the fundamentals I was relying on are the ones I put in the book.

Let me know what you think! Since it’s an “eBook”, there will be updates periodically, and you’ll get every one of them for free, automatically. Hit THIS LINK to get to the ‘order page’ — you’ll be able to download the PDF immediately.

Many thanks to the list of people who supported this project. I’ve listed many of them in the introduction, but I have to mention Larry Lohrman and Malia Campbell here. Larry for publishing, editing, and being incredibly patient with me as I tried to write while juggling a crazy travel and shoot schedule (and never complaining even when I made nit-pick after nit-pick over the many drafts we went through). And Mia for being endlessly forgiving while I slowly went crazy on this project. It kind of took over my life during the past two months especially.

Hit the comments – let me know if this is a hit, or a miss!

Live From the Inbox

I get a fair bit of email asking me for advice, explanations, etc., and while I try to keep up with it, I have to admit that sometimes I get pretty much overwhelmed and give up on it. Having emailed photographers myself, asking for help, I know it sucks to get no reply, but the truth is that I average around 30+ emails a day, and at least that many phone calls and text messages, between clients, friends, a lover, and of course other photographers. And I spam-blocked my own Flickr-mail account long ago, when I was getting inundated with “so-and-so made you a Contact!” emails. So if you’re Flickr-mailing me, don’t expect a response anytime soon – I check it (maybe) once a month, if I’m not too busy.

Anyway, what I’m getting to here is that I thought this might be an opportunity to start a new series: Live From the Inbox. Why waste a good response to a great question on just one person? So below are a sample of questions that have come in lately, in the hopes that there might be a gem or two of information that more than one person can use.

read more after the jump

Interview on Real Estate Photography Podcast

Mike Miriello asked me to record an audio interview for his blog, Real Estate Photography Podcast a couple weeks ago. It’s up now, and if you can stand the thought of listening to me ramble incoherently for an hour, you can take a listen. Mike also shows three photos of mine and asks me to talk through the creative process on them – that occurs about 30 minutes in.

I would embed the video here, but I’m damned if I can figure out how to do it.

Update: Smart Friend ™ rescued me again!

Updated update: My Girlfriend ™ rescued me again!  (note to self: do not refer to “gf” as “sf”. Doubleplus ungood.)

Thanks, Mike – it was fun!

The Gear Bag Video Tour

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First, has anyone noticed the new, wider, format of this blog? I figured out how to do that all by myself! The reason I wanted a wider column was that I’m planning to include much more video going forward, and this will allow you to view it without using a magnifying glass. Of course, you could also just click the “Full Screen” button at the bottom of the video window.

There’ll be a sequel to my “Correcting Verticals” video coming out pretty soon, and I have a couple of other video projects in the works, which will be WAY cool if they work, so stay tuned. And the list of “regular” blog topics keeps growing, so don’t worry, this won’t become YouTube anytime soon.

Today’s topic, though, is yet another in my “Frequently Asked Questions” series. “What kind of camera do you shoot with?”, “What lens do you use?” “What kind of umbrella should I buy?”, etc. etc. etc. I get emails like these almost every day, and while I try to answer them as quick as I can, here’s a pro-active response: I’m going to pull every piece of equipment out of the camera bags and show it to you.

It’s about 11 minutes long, so get a beer, sit back and enjoy. This was shot in the kitchen of a house I was about to shoot, because I had my personal videographer with me and the stager’s crew wasn’t ready for us yet. Not shown is all the crap I use on more involved shoots; that’ll have to be another video.

And why the hell do I keep smacking my gear around?!