Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Ten minutes

It was a typical Washington shoot - the subject is running late (more than an hour), the subject needs to get to his next appointment, we need to try to do this right here in these offices.

But that's fine. You pick several spots to work in, so the designer will have some choices, figure out the lighting for each, and then walk your subject through them. And when the subject is Justin Smith, president of Atlantic Media Company (publishers of The Atlantic, which overall is doing quite well despite being in the hard-hit media sector), you end up with multiple choices for a good-looking cover.

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Luck on Location

It's usually a big challenge, going into a typical DC office needing to come up with a really interesting photo, often for a cover. I may be misled by other photographers' images, but I get the impression that in Silicon Valley, everybody works in high-tech spaces with lots of glass and metal. In New York, company digs are pricey and elegant with somehow a bit of a gritty urban feel thrown in. And in Washington .... Well, there's often not much to work with here (especially since so many of the photo subjects are lawyers).

There's the conference room, with the maximum-sized conference table shoehorned in, leaving little space to maneuver. The room with the view - but each view overlooks either the White House or the Capitol. And the company logo, usually bolted to a wall in the elevator lobby.

I usually avoid them all. But sometimes you arrive on location and realize you lucked out. Such was the case a few days ago with a cover shoot at the National Alliance on Mental Illness. They had a great logo, punched out of the sort of corrugated tin you'd expect to find sheltering a tequila bar in Tijuana (or a Chipotle in Bethesda). Combine that with the paintings decorating their suite and you feel this group definitely cares about its space.

The logo was fun to work with, as were my two subjects, Don and Katrina. And maybe the next time someone tells me over the phone, "Well, we have a nice sign out front," I'll put my skepticism on temporary hold.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Moving around

I've mentioned the "light(weight) light movement," photographers who are working with much smaller lights than were deemed necessary in the past (See "Visual Borrowing").

A big advantage when it's appropriate to use these lights is that I can work quickly, in a small area. That's a positive because "quickly" and "small area" define a good part of editorial photography in Washington. But another advantage is that a photographer can move around easily and try different setups. To someone who's not familiar with this kind of work that may not sound like a big deal. In comparison, though, when using traditional lights with big stands, power packs and lots of extension cords, once you set up to photograph your subject you — and they — are pretty much locked in place. Even moving to the right 12 inches can be a major engineering challenge.

But in situations where I can use the lightweight battery-powered strobes, I often just scoop them up and move to another location. That was the case recently when I was photographing Dr. Mary Wakefield, a nurse and PhD who is the new head of the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration. In just over half an hour we were able to shoot in three different locations, giving the magazine editors a nice choice of images to work with for their cover layout. And everybody, particularly editors, likes choices.

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Revenuers

Every once in a while I get to photograph someone with the IRS, even the IRS commissioner. And it's always a good experience - nice subjects who are interesting to talk with and photograph. Once, trying to work quickly at a House hearing, I jokingly asked an IRS commissioner "to gesture early and often." And he did!

But they also sometimes seem a bit apologetic, as if accustomed to getting teased, at the least, about their jobs.

So let me say: All the IRS folks I've met seemed thoughtful, interested in their work and with a good sense of humor too. If the tax code is impenetrable, blame Congress - and Congress' constituents (that would be us), so many of whom lobby for specialized tax breaks.

The cover shoot above of IRS official Lois Lerner, by the way, was for a story on a report that the average CEO at a nonprofit hospital earns $490,431 annually.

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Monday, August 25, 2008

Definitely headed to Hollywood

August can be a slow time in Washington (though a great time to go to the beach or climbing). But there was still one particularly fun job this month.

Rachel, a friend's daughter, apparently had an "in" to try out for a movie role. The understanding was that it would help if she looked a bit like Ellen Page, the star of 2007's Oscar-winning "Juno," only maybe even a bit younger. So Rachel (and her hopeful stage-mom, Dede) came over and we did some photos.

Rachel looked great throughout the shoot. The fun part was watching the mood change. She started out looking like a young teen, a la Ellen, then - through a simple borrowed shirt and combed hair - slowly morphing into a much more sophisticated young woman.

Good luck with the role, Rachel. And remember: tickets for me and my Dad!

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Monday, July 28, 2008

In the woods, downtown

Occasionally we fantasize about moving to a place where the outdoors is closer and the snow guaranteed. But the truth is that Washington has amazing access to all sorts of outdoors possibilities. Take Mather Gorge in Great Falls Park - just 10-15 minutes from the Beltway, but it offers a spectacular vista, challenging hiking, some mountain biking, Olympic-class kayaking, and lots and lots of rock-climbing.

So when a magazine this month asked for a cover shoot of two staffers who work for a nonprofit that deals with conservation issues, it made sense to do it somewhere other than the nonprofit's Crystal City offices. Rachel, one of my two subjects, mentioned the group is involved with deforestation, and said she lives in Dupont Circle, right by the heart of downtown DC.

Bingo - that's also a couple of blocks from Rock Creek Park, a giant green swath of national parkland that cuts through DC. A short walk and she and her colleague Vinnie had left the city and were seated on a log in a lovely piece of woods. The trail was a little steep for Rachel's platform shoes, but the photos looked great.

Now, if we could just do something about the lack of snow around here...

Update: Outside magazine's August issues lists its picks of "The 20 Best Towns in America." Coming in at #1: Washington, DC. I wonder who "outed" us?

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Thursday, July 10, 2008


It's nice to work on lighting when it's not really critical. Some photographers, like mad scientists, experiment on their family members. (Ok, I've certainly done that, see for instance the bicycle photo in "Graduation.") Others use their friends.

But in Washington, we have a whole different category of unwitting subjects available for tests: People speaking at press conferences.

Earlier this week I was finishing photographing some furniture for a long-time and much-valued client when I got a call to shoot a press conference with Chris Cox, chairman of the SEC. (A long-time and valued subject.) I had lighting gear with me, and thought, "Why not?" Such events at the SEC are usually held in a weirdly shaped, dimly lit corner of their basement meeting rooms. I added just three lights, and suddenly everything looked much better.