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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Saturday, November 14, 2009


A long-time and favorite client of mine is Barry Remley, of Salvations Architectural Furnishings. Barry and her painters and blacksmiths design and build beautiful tables and other furniture, sometimes starting with found objects like heating registers salvaged from old homes and buildings.

From the designs to the welding to the last touches of paint, these pieces are just perfect. This month, I realized, marks the 10-year anniversary of when I began photographing them digitally. This meant the dropped backgrounds, perspective correction and other effects that normally wouldn't be affordable for a small business became something I could do for Barry's images. So the images became perfect too (at least more perfect than much of my other work, where dealing with real people and real situations means the images have that real -- and less-than-perfect-- edge to them!).

To celebrate the 10-year mark I used my library of images to create a short film of the Salvations works, and the people who make them. I hope you can take a minute to check it out.

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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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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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Wednesday, May 28, 2008


A magazine client, seeking to illustrate a story on banning the media from certain types of hearings, asked me recently to come up with a photo of a classic stakeout, preferably one outdoors. "No problem," I said. "We get them all the time. I'll send you something next week."

Well, it's been a slow week in Washington, what with Memorial Day and everything, and I was running out of time. But yesterday I was assigned to photograph a speech by Czech Republic President Vaclav Klaus, and there were at least a few cameras there, even if this was in the dim ballroom of the National Press Club rather than outside some hearing room. (I actually remember talking to Klaus in 1989 during the Velvet Revolution, when he was a dissident economist working as a bank teller. You never know...)
So I decided to do what I could. I placed a single strobe in the balcony, illuminating not the speaker, but the media. And once I shot and saw how this videographer's face was illuminated, I knew I had something worthwhile. (I was reminded of the classic, high-contrast black and white of a photographer holding a rangefinder.)
Someone could print this and some similar photos and hand them out to new members of congress, world bank presidents, and others in authority here in DC, and say: "Remember, if you don't behave yourself, this is what you'll find outside your front door one morning."

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Visual borrowing

Recently I had the chance to talk with photographer Bert Stephani, based in Belgium. Bert has become something of a YouTube star, posting videos of his working methods on the video-sharing service. His father criticized him for this, complaining his son was giving away his secrets! (You can search for Bert by name on YouTube, or see his site at

In any case, before talking with him I needed to check out a couple of the videos. And like any working photographer, I'm always looking for ideas to "borrow" - whether from other photographers, painters, designers, or just about any other type of artist that may give me a different approach to use on the next assignment.

Bert photographs people outdoors, with a simple strobe on a stand, the background often a dark tunnel or passage that puts a splash of color or light behind his subject. That was the perfect approach today when I needed to photograph environmentalist Dan Becker in the yard of his Chevy Chase home. For an environmentalist I wanted green. The shady passage by the side of Dan's house made the ideal background. And traveling by bike (appropriate when photographing an environmentalist!), I was using a single, small strobe.
Thanks for the help on this, Bert!!

By the way, Bert's work is typical of what you could call the "light(weight) light movement" - photographers who are doing sophisticated location lighting using simple lightweight strobes. Perhaps the dean of this movement is known as The Strobist, It's an appealing approach for me, a photographer who often gets around by bicycle - and who recently had a bunch of equipment (including a big monolight) stolen!

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