Category "Photographers"

Clint Clemens Interview

- - Photographers

Clint Clemens is a pioneer in the world of commercial photography. His book is a who’s who of high end automotive and commercial clients containing many memorable campaigns from the 80’s and 90’s. I had the chance to interview him a few weeks back and I think you will find his thoughts on the state of the industry fascinating.

APE: Let’s talk about the current state of photography. What do you think has happened to the industry recently?

Clint: The photography space, as you know, has been flooded with imagery because the barrier to entry for photography has dropped so dramatically. Previously, you had to know how to focus, you had to know how to expose, you had to know how to color correct. All that’s now gone, and it’s largely an automatic function. And, I think that there is an iTunes effect that’s happening in the market place. What iTunes did is they said, “Look, we’re going to sell data for a very small amount of money to a very large number of people.” And what that has done, is dropped the value of data in general. So if you’re selling photographs, which are generally in the form of data, the value is dropping because everybody’s expecting it to be less expensive.

APE: Ok, but in the high end commercial market that you are involved in, do you still see that sort of trend? I understand with stock photography that maybe the value was artificially inflated, because of the technical aspects of photography and I can see that dropping off a cliff. But with the higher end stuff, it seems that there’s so much more involved and there’s the need for some level of originality.

Clint: Well, yes there’s always going to be that but if you look at photography as a spectrum, it’s stock on one end and high end work on the other and there can’t be a complete disconnect between the two. One’s white and one’s black and there has to be shades of grey in the middle. So which is more dominant in forcing the shade? Is it the white area, which would be stock? Or is the black area that would be the high end photography?

My sense is that there’s always going to be a need for high end photography. High end marketing will always have a look and a desire and there will always be a drive to figure out what’s new. But what’s happening is the… how do you say this? The goal line is moving faster.

APE: Is it a trickle up effect?

Clint: Yeah, I would say it’s a bit of a trickle up effect. In the world of print publication, they were very planned and periodic events that took place. But what you’re seeing now is the change in the rapidity at which you need to be able to replace your imagery. When everyone has a camera and everyone is able to rapidly change and create new looks and companies need photography and they need to change more often due to the influence of the web, does that lead to an increase in value or a decrease in value of the imagery? My sense is that probably it leads to decrease in value of the imagery. Because the shelf life is, out of necessity, shorter.


APE: How did that effect your thinking on what you’re doing with your career?

Clint: In 2004, I saw a lot of this stuff coming and so I got involved in High Dynamic Range Imaging. But not so much for the pictorial display of the imaging, but its ability to do image based lighting and rendering. I was trying to figure out what was going to be the next great change in photography or imaging. And, with movement towards the web, people more and more, want their information interactively. So if you’re a photographer you need to understand how your component becomes interactive, because the still image, while it may have impact, has a lot shorter shelf live, if only because there’s more imagery out in the world.

So, I thought, “where is the next threshold of imaging?” And my sense was that it’s a combination of interactivity and CGI.

APE: You were shooting some location car photography weren’t you and CGI has revolutionized that industry hasn’t it?

Clint: Yes, exactly. So, in ’04 we started a company called And what that is, is back plates with the accompanying sphere High Dynamic Range Image.

So in other words, I looked at the world and said, “Everybody’s got a lot of back plates, but they can’t use any of it for rendering because you need to be able to use image based lighting with a wire frame.”

APE: So you started Good Stock, how’s that working out for you?

Clint: Oh, it’s great, we got into that and then started another company that’s connected to a real high end post-production house on the CGI end. And so that company then does the post-production of it. We take the High Dynamic Range Image with the client’s wire frame and render it.

APE: Nice.

Clint: Now, going beyond that I tried to figure out how to create a three-dimensional photograph? If you go to a website called, that’s where we get into a lot of three-dimensional imaging.

APE: Is this scanning the environment?

Clint: Well, it’s scanning but also product visualization of which car photography with CGI is a branch of. So what’s happening is clients are demanding the more rapid pictorial representation of their product. In the case of a car client, for instance, they want to be able to visualize their car during the design phase. And then they also want to be able to have the brochure of images ready when the first car rolls off the production line.

APE: Right.

Clint: So how do you speed up the production process and then how do you wring cost out of the production process of photography? The only answer to that is CGI.

APE: So, is this only happening in car photography because of the cost?

Clint: Yes, because of the cost. We also do visualization in the marine industries. A boat is really expensive to build. But the true, accurate visualization of it for a client is really important. You get into textures of interiors, and some of the interiors of these high-end yachts, really, they’re quite elaborate.

But let’s back up to the bigger picture here. So what’s happening is that you have a world in which the supply of photography is much, much greater than it ever was. You’ve got the concept that data, because it’s ones and zeros and it’s not a physical asset, has less value. And that’s driven by what I call the iTunes blow-back effect. How do you sit at home and download music for 99 cents and then go to work and pay $5,000 for a data set?

APE: Yeah. I get it, it’s the same with newspapers, obviously. The written word, it’s all been rendered electronically now, virtually worthless. And the distribution is nearing zero as far as moving this stuff around or making copies.

Clint: Yeah, it is.

APE: So, basically, you looked at the world of photography and you thought, “What’s going to be the highest end?” or “What’s going to be the most technical?” and you went for it. You created these companies that can provide these services for car companies and anybody who can afford it. But it’s very much the tip of the spear, right? This is high-end stuff.

Clint: Here’s the overall concept. When you look at a marketplace and when you look at your business, you have to figure out, “How can I maintain a barrier to entry?” Barriers to entry can be cost, they can be complexity they can be access. I can’t photograph the president of the United States but some people can.

So, how do you build a wall around yourself? It used to be your ability to focus, process, expose, etc. and that whole wall has completely fallen down. So, that’s what everybody’s trying to figure out, and that’s why I went in this direction, because the barrier to entry is so high.

APE: Is this your main focus with the photography now? CGI and creating companies that can service the high end aspect of that.

Clint: Yeah. To the extent that I stay involved with them is lesser or greater depending on what it is. One of them requires hourly maintenance. I’ve done so many things in my life and my career and the fun part of it is to try to figure out, what’s happening next, because you see patterns from perspective. The longer you’re in an industry you begin to recognize that things are going to move in a certain direction.

Here’s the other thing that happens, and anybody in the high-end spectrum will tell you this, that an economy is not a constant, it moves up and down. I’ve probably been through seven or eight recessions now in my career and you always see cycles and you begin to see patterns that emerge from those. So the point of a recession is to wring inefficiency out of the system. OK now, it’s a blunt instrument, no doubt about it, but that’s the point of a recession. In a capitalist economy, it treats it like a wet towel and it wrings it as tight as it possibly can.

So every time you go into a recession, the business that comes out of it is much more efficient than it ever was. And the other thing that you notice is it never goes back to what it was. It never reverts back, it always moves forward.

What we’re seeing now in this recession are two major effects, we’re seeing inefficiency getting wrung out of the system. And we’re also seeing a fundamental transformation of imagery itself, which is the digital image. We’re starting to see the full impact of what’s going to happen here. When digital first came out, it was like, “Oh, this is great. We can make all kinds of stock pictures.” Well, now, guess what happened: stock is now worthless.

The other thing that happens, in an economy like this that all the high-end manufacturers get the rug pulled out from underneath them. They’re the first ones on the chopping block, all the high-end clients. And those are the only people that really had money to pay. So you’ve got to ask yourself, where is the profit in photography? And my sense is that the real profit in photography is coming through people that are essentially teaching.

It’s the blog posts, the people that are blogging constantly, who are able to sell space on their blog and all the rest of the sort of stuff that goes on. And that’s really where it is. Yes, there is occasional work that’s out there, but it’s never going to return to the real, high-end numbers that you saw before.

APE: I’m looking at some of your advertising work here. There’s still a barrier to entry to the work that you were doing. But now, are you telling me that you’re not taking pictures anymore?

Clint: No, no, no. I go out and shoot.

APE: For clients or just for pleasure?

Clint: Well, both. The client work has definitely slowed down. When you’re shooting for Chris Craft, Net Jets, Indian Motorcycle, all these guys got hammered. If that’s your client base, instead of shooting for them two, three times a year, you’re doing it once every 18 months or something.

But that’s fine. I have no problem with that. I’m having a really good time figuring out what’s coming next and working in the 3D space.

Chancellor and interpreter

APE: I want to talk to you about China, because the email that you sent, one thing that really stood out is how they honor photography culturally, it’s a big deal. And they have the status of a doctor there. Can you go into that a little bit?

Clint: Sure. You saw the photographs, right?

APE: Yeah.

Clint: Yeah. I mean, where in the Western world are you greeted like that as a photographer?

APE: [laughs] It’s pretty awesome, right?

Clint: It’s crazy, it’s a complete cultural 180 from what we see here.

APE: And why is that?

Clint: My sense is that there’s a cultural bias towards imagery, pictograms, murals, translation of heritage and culture through drawings, very detailed drawings, a sense of artistry in the line. There is a very high level honor of the photographic process way up into the cultural ministries.

Now, here’s the flip side of the equation. China, like everyone else, has a million people taking pictures. So, back to that same argument. If everybody has a camera or everybody has a pen and can write, where do you find the value?

APE: That’s interesting because they’re able to maintain this respect for photographers at the same time many of them are able to, you know, take pictures, take probably pretty decent photographs anymore.

Clint: Well, you know, taking a decent photograph is a moving definition. I mean, who’s to say what’s good and what’s bad? And what happens is with photographs is that the idea of what is current and communicates is always changing. It’s never really a static goal line. So, if somebody takes a bad picture in our eyes, is it really a bad picture if it communicates?

APE: Oh, boy that’s a whole conversation in itself.

Clint: The Chinese love taking pictures and the way they in which they view photographers is a very high art form. Whether you can sell it is another issue. Because the sale of an image is really a function of all those global forces, everybody’s got a camera, a million photographers in the world, and imagery is distributed electronically around the world in a heartbeat.

APE: So, if you already have the status, in the west, in China you’re somewhat of a superstar.

Clint: Absolutely. And some of that is due to the access to the money to buy the camera. There were probably 50,000 students from this art and design college and so, you know, there’s always a “college town” that’s attached to a school, right. So I’m walking around. First of all, everybody’s staring at me because I’m over six feet tall. And I’ve got light hair. But the other thing is, I said to my interpreter, “Why is everybody staring at me?” and she said, “You have a very expensive camera.” So, the mass of people, still haven’t seen really high end cameras when you get out into the country.

APE: It was like you’re driving a Ferrari around town or something.

Clint: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, it’s like you’re on another planet.

So, China’s interesting, you really palpably feel the desire to get with the Western world in terms of capitalism and commerce. OK. Ten years ago, it was a very different place. And it’s moving dramatically, very quickly. And they want what we have. I mean, it’s plain and simple. And part of that is the gadgetry that they see all over the Internet. The kids see this stuff constantly, anytime they’re on the Internet. They’re rapidly moving into a consumer conscious society. And one of those things is the camera. So, you’re looking at a confluence of wanting to have a really, highly advanced technical object, and at the same time, a very high honor for the art form. So, it’s the second one that distinguishes China.

Every time you lift your camera to shoot something, there are people taking pictures of you.

APE: [laughs] Of you taking a picture?

Clint: Yeah. Go figure. It’s really weird. [laughs]

APE: This has just happened in the last few years, right? You are seeing a lot of your fellow photographers going over on the speaking circuit in China now?

Clint: Not too many, not too many. It all happens through the Culture Ministry.

APE: So they arrange everything, the Culture Ministry?

Clint: Yeah, and they pay for everything.

APE: And what about the language barrier? Do you just have a translator with you?

Clint: Yeah, you have a translator with you at all times. So what happens is I’ll speak for three hours. An hour and a half of that is content, the other half of that is translation. But it happens really well. The other thing is a lot of them speak English. Or they really want to speak English, and they’re learning it. This is a country that is bound and determined to catch up with the Western world. That’s what you really notice when you’re over there.

APE: And they will.

Clint: Yeah. The other thing that’s going to happen is, if we think there are a lot of people competing for photography space now, what’s going to happen when the Chinese enter the market and it’s a free-for-all? So what they’re doing is they’re building photographers, if you will. They’re educating photographers.

APE: Ok, wow that doesn’t sound good.

Clint: Well, it just gets more competitive. It gets more interesting. So we’re seeing a world that is devouring photography.

APE: Can’t get enough, yeah. And like you were saying, the people who are teaching or blogging about photography, they are going to see great success. There’s a lot of money to be made off of people who are just interested in the process, not necessarily buying photographs, right?

Clint: Bingo. So in other words, you will have great photographers out there. For instance, I looked at [redacted]’s site, excellent photography. There is no reason why 15 years ago he couldn’t have made a really good living as a photographer. Maybe he did, I don’t know. But you have to ask yourself, why is it that somebody of that caliber can’t or doesn’t choose to go into a lucrative career in photography.

APE: Yeah. Because it’s a pain in the ass. [laughs]

Clint: It’s a pain in the ass. It’s a hit-and-miss, you’re hanging by a thread all your life. There’s a lot of stuff going on. Now the competition I’m talking… I’m not sure the demand is there to satisfy the competition. So think about it. What’s happening is the world wants a lot of photography, but it doesn’t want to pay a lot of money for it. And you have this endless supply of photographers and as the quality of cameras has gone up, the resolution needed to reproduce photographs has gone down. So virtually every single camera is capable of taking that kind of image.

APE: Right, but you have seen seven different ups and downs in the world of photography and the economy and each one didn’t destroy the industry. It changed it. It changed the role of the photographer, it changed how they could make a living with photography but didn’t destroy it.

Clint: Each one introduced some level of greater efficiency into the system. So it’s the introduction of efficiency. Think of the economy that goes into its inflationary cycle, or into its expansion cycle, and you end up with a lot of bloated processes out there. Inefficiency. If all of a sudden the economy crashes, businesses still have to do business, but they need to get it done really efficiently. So instead of hiring a photographer, for instance, they’ll say, “Oh, this guy Joe Schmoe that works in the marketing department, he has a camera, he can go shoot it for us.” Or they say, “We’ve got this product that we’ve been designing in CAD. Why do we actually have to shoot it. Why don’t we just render it out?”

APE: Obviously there are new opportunities for photographers in teaching and writing about photography, but what about motion. I see that as photographers moving into a space that exists and being able to do it cheaper than other motion crews are able to.

Clint: That’s exactly what’s going to go on. So it’s the democratization of motion. What’s going to happen is exactly what happened to stock photography. But Motion has another layer that I don’t think you’re going to be able to automate. Essentially what we’re seeing is the automation of photography with all these new cameras. So Motion has two other layers. It has editing and it has the sound component. And, you can’t cut perfectly to a sound beat the way a human can.

APE: So there’s that nice barrier to entry you’re talking about that exists in Motion.

Clint: Bingo.

APE: So, it’s good for photographers to move into that.

Clint: Ah. Only if you edit and you know sound. You need to have all three, because shooting Motion in itself is going to be just like photography; it gets cheaper and cheaper and everybody’s got one. So it’s the other two components that are very important. Photographers need to look for those barriers to entry, it’s their only hope.


Budget Promo Mailer

Greenville, SC photographer Clint Davis used to be an Art Director at a national magazine and having been on the receiving end of photographer promos figured he needed to create something that would stand out. His budget was $800 for 40 pieces. Here’s what he came up with:

Here is everything involved in 1 mailer before any folding, gluing, plucking, sticking and stamping.

β€œWithout advertising, something terrible happens… nothing.” Once this famous statement became rooted into my brain I started my project. Creativity, personalization, and budget-friendly were key in building these mailers. Each mailer has a different message along with a different set of cards to view. A small idea turned into a 3-month long project. Now I feel confident with what I’ve sent out to my prospective clients, and hopefully, they give me a shot!

Using Photography To Create Tipping Points Around Conservation

- - Events, Photographers

One of the highlights of last weekend’s Telluride Photography Festival was seeing the work of Robert Glenn Ketchum and learning about the International League of Conservation Photographers. If your photography had the kind of impact Robert’s has just once in your career you would die happy. He does it over and over again with a multitude of grants from people who understand the impact photography can have in changing peoples minds. What really brought this idea home for me was watching the presentation by Christina Mittermeier, president of the iLCP, where she said the goal of their RAVE (rapid assessment visual expedition) projects was to “create tipping points around conservation issues using the power of photography.” Seeing the successes of both Robert and the iLCP emboldened my thoughts about the vast power of photography and its place in our future. Not just for conservation, but as a tool for reaching people in an increasingly crowded media space.

A Photographer’s Life Is A Juggling Act

- - Photographers

Photographer Ken Jarecke has a guest column over on the blog Tiffinbox where he gives us a brutally honest look into the life of an editorial photographer. His lack of motivation for making pictures over the last couple years stemmed from the constant worry and struggle to pay the bills.

It’s sad, because I didn’t become a photojournalist to get rich (I was never that crazy or misguided). I’m ashamed because much of my money problems were the direct result of poor or stubborn decisions that are completely my fault.

[…] Over the past few years, we’ve cut expenses, and eliminated most of the extras that come with family life, in my vain attempt to reinvent the editorial market and make things right.

A medical emergency with one of his children snapped him back to reality:

Ironically, being in this powerless situation has seemed to heal me also. I have no cares about my reputation, or my standing in the photography world. I should be totally freaked about the medical bills (on top of everything else), but instead they just don’t seem important. I just want to be a better dad and husband (I thought I always was, but I didn’t give any thought to the huge burden I had placed on my family).

Strangest of all, I also want to make some really good pictures. Go figure.

Read the whole thing (here). If you want to lend a hand and buy a print go (here).

There’s still a giant smoldering crater where editorial photography used to exist. And, while I’m still optimistic about the future need for high quality editorial photography this serves as a gut check for the difficult road ahead.

VII Magazine – On The Line

- - Photographers

According to a recent estimate by the C.D.C. an average of eighteen American veterans kill themselves every day. That number accounts for 1/5th of all of suicides in the United States.

Photographer Ashley Gilbertson goes inside the Department of Veteran Affairs in Canandaigua, NY where the Veteran Crisis Hotline is located (here).


I am floored by the dedication Ashley has shown to this subject. Bravo man, bravo.

500 Photographers

- - Photographers

Here’s a great resource many creatives will want to bookmark:

Most of the photographers will be familiar to everyone but it’s still a great place to go poke around and run into work you were only vaguely familiar with. Plus they’re only on #88 so there’s lots more to come.

500 photographers is a weblog that posts 5 active photographers a week for 100 weeks. The photographers can be from any discipline within the photographic range, but they have to be worth looking at and have a certain level of quality. When we get to number 500, we will have a deep database of great photographers.

500 photographers is done by Pieter Wisse, a photographer himself based in Rotterdam, NL and owner of Four Eyes Photography & Art


pint of Guinness in one hand, camera in the other

- - Photographers

Stephen McLaren’s:


“Another drink-related shot I’m afraid. I love this corner. It stands on the boundary between the street market of Brick Lane and London’s financial district. The corner gets good light, a wide range of people passing by and it also happens to have a quirky pub on the corner which lets you take your drinks outside and watch the world go by. One busy Sunday afternoon I was standing there pint of Guinness in one hand, camera in the other, not really expecting anything out of the ordinary to happen. Well obviously something did and I just happened to be standing next to the man who ended up falling on the tarmac. I don’t think anyone who has seen this shot has correctly guessed the chain of events and yes I have several shots of the drama as it unfolded so I could show you the whole narrative, but where’s the fun in that? I’m loathe to say precisely what happened other than to confirm that the lampost did not fall down of it owns volition. I like this shot so much because of its ambiguity. Much street photography can be very explicit but I like people to spend as much time as possible trying to work out of a very human puzzle. I was obviously thrilled that the guy’s girlfirend in a pretty blue dress came to his aid and that too red-clad cyclists were lurking ominously in the background. Needless to say, I have a hard job convincing anyone that this was set-up. Pure mindless reaction and getting my glass out of my hand so I could focus properly was the key here.”

More of these fantastic stories behind the image over on B (here).

Double Exposure – Klinko and Indrani

- - Photographers

I missed the premiere of this new Bravo show on photographers Markus Klinko and Indrani last night but if this review and these cringe worthy clips are any indication I don’t think I’ll be watching any of it.

Markus Klinko, the celebrity photographer who is one of its two stars, comes across as so genuinely appalling that he becomes appealing. The best actor would have a hard time faking such consistent neediness and narcissism. His partner and former girlfriend, Indrani, wins us over by exhibiting superhuman amounts of patience in dealing with him.

As long as viewers don’t ask themselves if they have anything better to do, they should have fun watching.

Markus is a skinny, very blond child-man who defers all adult decisions to Indrani and then second-guesses her choices. Though he’s extraordinarily fussy, he’s less a control freak than an out-of-control freak.

Indrani occasionally fights back but generally lets him get away with murder. Since she’s a former model, her equanimity is astonishing.

Making The Break: Kevin Arnold

Here’s another entry from my series on photographers talking about how they made the break to go pro. I thought you might enjoy hearing about Kevin Arnold because his transition was from writer to photographer so he’s got an interesting perspective on the whole thing. I met Kevin when I was working at Men’s Journal where despite the fact that I rarely allowed writers to shoot stories I made an exception for him because he totally got it.

I asked Kevin to take us down his path as a writer and talk about where photographer entered the picture then how he found his groove and what steps made this a viable career for him. Here’s the story:

KA_bio5My interest in photography began when I was studying philosophy at the University of British Columbia. At the time, I was heavily involved in climbing and was going on a lot of mountaineering expeditions to South America, the North Cascades, and the Canadian Rockies. For me, these trips were as much about the beautiful places we would travel through to get to the climbing, as the climbing itself. In Peru, for example, we hiked for days to get to remote mountain ranges. The people and landscapes we passed through on the way were stunning and unusual because there was no real reason to go there unless you were on your way somewhere else. At the time, I was reading a lot of outdoor and climbing publications, and I was inspired by the imagery and stories. I was inspired to bring back my own images and words, so I weaseled my way into getting a few stories and photos published. Luckily, there was a local magazine in Vancouver called Coast that was desperate for content. I used them to hone my craft and gather tear sheets, and eventually started writing for larger national publications in Canada.

I had absolutely no training in photography, but people seemed to respond to my images and they were good enough to convince a few editors to hire me as a writer and shooter. I did this fairly extensively for the travel section of the Globe and Mail, Canada’s national newspaper. My focus, though was on creating a career as a writer and editor. To be honest, I had no exposure to professional photographers and I never really considered it as a career option. When I think back, I’m not even sure why. I obviously had a general awareness that people shot for Nat Geo and for the climbing magazines that I read, but it just never occurred to that it would be a viable career option. I suppose I was good at writing and had some training in it, and therefore it was the obvious path. Anyway, I eventually became the editor of Coast when it expanded to become a national magazine, and I went on to at-large editing positions at other magazines, including Explore and Adbusters.

At some point, I was offered an editing position at a large national magazine in the US. This should have been the pinnacle for someone looking for a career in outdoor publishing. But it wasn’t. It was then that I realized that I didn’t get into the field to sit at a desk while all the freelancers reported back to me on the amazing trips they were assigned to do. So I broke free and began freelancing full time. I started to get sent on better trips for bigger magazines in Canada and the US. I still had a keen interest in photography, but was focusing my career on the written word.

When I did travel on assignment, I almost always traveled with photographers and I started to meet a lot of pro shooters. This is when the door opened for me to photography. I wanted to do what these guys were doing. It was more compelling for me. Plus, to be honest, their job paid better and seemed a lot more fun. During the trip, they were able to be physically more active because they were out getting images, rather than doing interviews. And after the trip, they would head home, edit the images, send them off, and then start on the next project. Meanwhile, I would have weeks of writing work ahead of me when I got home. I’m a decent writer and I believe strongly in the power of the (well) written word, but writing itself never came easy for me. Writing on deadline was torturous for me. Shooting, on the other hand, was pure joy. I’m a very visual person and shooting came very naturally to me, unlike writing. I was always shooting on my trips when I had spare time – which in retrospect I can imagine only drove photographers nuts. But eventually a couple of guys, Tyler Stableford and Steve Casimiro, looked at what I was shooting and encouraged me to pursue it. Traveling with these guys also made me realize how much I wanted to be doing their job rather than mine

This was 2004, and I decided to develop a plan to make a transition from writing to shooting. I knew I couldn’t just jump into photography and abandon writing, because I had to still pay the bills. More importantly, I knew that my writing and editing gigs open a lot of doors for me that would help fast-track my photography career. At this point, I had a lot of great contacts in various editorial departments, and I was also invited on a lot of press trips to test various outdoor gear (this is one of the things I wrote about). Between assignments and these trips, I was able to travel to unusual places like Iceland, New Zealand and the Canary Island on someone else’s dime. Places I would have never been able to afford on my own. I would always make sure I had a few extra days to focus on shooting once I finished my assignment, and in this way I developed a portfolio of travel and outdoor images. When I was home, I started taking night classes to learn about lighting and some of the technical sides of shooting. Eventually, I managed to start getting assignments from national magazines to write and shoot stories (e.g. Men’s Journal, etc).

It’s funny because once I got to this level, my background as a writer actually started to work against me. One of the most challenging things for young photographers is figuring out the business side of things. How to get your images in front of the right people. How to bring back the right mix of images that a magazine editor needs to run the story. These are hard lessons to figure out, and being on the inside as a writer and editor gave me a huge lead. I was traveling a lot and meeting a lot of photo editors. But on the flip side, I was also pigeonholed. Photo editors don’t like hire writers to shoot and vice versa. It’s very territorial. I found that people assumed that if I could write, then I couldn’t also be a good photographer. To be fair, it is very difficult to do both well on the same trip, and it is also rare to find people who do both well. Writers and photographers are also paid differently – photogs in general make quite a bit more – and I found that the different departments, especially photo departments, needed to justify this. So, while I was assuming the would be happy to save money by having the same person do both, this wasn’t always the case. I think a lot of photo editors didn’t want to go down that road because they didn’t want their publishers to then start pressuring them to hire writer/photographers for the precise reason that there aren’t very many who are good.

Overall, it was frustrating for me to come against that wall after such a great start. I eventually started separating the two crafts, pitching stories as a writer or as a photographer. I also started to focus my shooting more on commercial photography. I did this for a couple of reasons: the more I learned about the business of photography, the more I realized that the money is better in commercial work and there is greater freedom to go with those budgets. I still really enjoyed editorial photography, but I figured that if I could make more from commercial work, then I could pick and choose my editorial projects based on interest rather than financial need.

I believe strongly in the value of personal projects. As a commercial photographer, I get to do some great work on assignment, but the fact is that a lot of that work ends up getting watered down in terms of creativity. Even clients who appreciate good imagery have to cover their basis. They are usually spending a lot of money and need to make sure they tick off all the boxes – having the right product used by the right demographic in the right environment. In the end, the imagery can be good, but it is rarely something the pushes your creative boundaries. I find that clients will hire you to do the work you love, but they need to see it first. Convincing a potential client to shoot in a particular style or to shoot particular subjects is hard. But if they see the work and it is good, they respond.

ka1This was certainly the case with the ski patrol project I did last year. I’d been wanting to shoot a project like that for a couple of years, but it took some time to find the right subjects and to make everything happen logistically. Eventually, I shot the project on Whistler-Blackcomb Mountain focusing on the avalanche patrollers on Blackcomb Mountain. I know a few of the guys personally, so this helped me get in the door with the people in charge. Safety is the primary concern here, and these guys aren’t exactly keen to have a photographer tagging along while they travel over dangerous avalanche-prone terrain throwing explosives. One of the things I love about this project, and one of the things that makes the imagery unique I believe, is that shooting it took a variety of skills, both technical and physical. As a photographer, of course, I had to have the technical skills to capture the images as I imaged them. But equally as important in this case were my physical abilities as a skier. Without the ability to ski and travel safely with these guys in the mountains, I just wouldn’t have been welcome. I had to actually prove my skiing and avalanche safety skills in order to get the green light from the team leaders.

ka3A year after starting the process of getting official and unofficial permission, I ended up shooting the project just by luck during some incredible storm weather. During my first day of shooting, it has snowed heavily overnight and was still dumping furiously in the morning as the team headed out. I quickly abandoned the idea of changing lenses – doing so without getting snow in the camera was impossible. Because of the deep snow, the going was tough, so I quickly also realized that I had to travel as light as possible if I was going to keep up and be allowed back to shoot more days. I ended up doing the whole project with one lens and one camera, which was an enlightening experience after years of packing tons of gear around. Within an hour, my autofocus quit working as well, so I had to focus manually on the fly through a fogged up viewfinder. At the end of the day, I quite honestly had no idea if I had anything good. There hadn’t been time to even glance at the back of the camera for exposure, let alone content. In the end, some of the best images were from that day. I shot two more days after that, and was lucky to nail some heavy avalanche conditions both days, which meant the patrollers were working hard and doing stuff that sometimes only happens a few times a year (e.g. Heli-bombing).

In terms of marketing, that project has been a revelation. Clients and potential clients have responded incredibly well the imagery. The fact is that no one would have hired me to shoot something so raw and un-produced. Yet, almost everyone comments on how much they like the reality, the raw editorial feel of the imagery. Some clients have gone so far as to actually reference the material in designing their own upcoming shoots. It’s amazing how many times in the last six months I’ve heard people say something like, β€œthis is exactly the type of imagery we’ve been talking about creating for our upcoming project,” or β€œ this is exactly the style we’ve been talking about moving towards.” It’s funny because I didn’t think about any of this when I envisioned the project. I just went out and shot it how I wanted to shoot it. Somehow that has ended up matching up with the direction that a lot of people are looking to take their outdoor imagery. I don’t know if this is just lucky timing, or if the project itself has created some of this momentum. But it is certainly interesting. In some ways, it makes planning my current personal project harder. Because once you’ve had such a strong reaction to a project, it’s hard not to let expectations come into play as you plan the next one. It’s hard to just focus on creating what I want to create again, while completely ignoring the commercial potential for the work.

If you want to speak in terms of direct results. And to be clear, I don’t think a personal project has to or even should garner any concrete results for it to be worth doing. For me, though, this project opened a lot of doors. Creatively, it is a culmination of where I’ve been taking my imagery, both commercial and personal, in that it is embodies a certain unstaged reality that I love. I think it added a uniqueness to my portfolio that wasn’t necessarily quite there yet. I’ve just signed with a rep in New York (Robert Bacall Representatives), and if you ask him, I think he would say that this project contributed to him signing me. As I mentioned, it has also garnered a lot of interest from potential clients, some of which is starting to turn into actual work. And even more directly, I ended up licensing some of the images to two companies for ad campaigns, The North Face and Gore-Tex. Both company’s products are used by the patrollers and are therefore all over the images. I certainly didn’t plan this when shooting the project (in fact, when I began planning the project a year in advance, they were wearing different uniforms). But I did show these companies the images once they started to receive a lot of attention. The fact is, the cost to license these images, while good for my business, is far lower than what it would cost to plan and produce a shoot like this. And even if you did spend the money, it would be hard, if not impossible, to create the kind of authenticity I was able to capture in this real-life scenario.

Once I started down the commercial photography road, I quickly realized that I wasn’t satisfied to just settle for local clients. A lot of Canadian photographers (I’ve worked out of Vancouver in the past and now in Whistler), tend to focus on the local market. The problem with this as I see it, and this was the same when I worked in editorial as a writer, is that our market is incredibly small compared to the US market. As a result, I’ve always focused on the larger North American market. The way I see it is that just because I live here, I don’t have to work here. Obviously, this is different for a studio photographer. I like to shoot on location, and while my back yard is beautiful – after all, this is why I live here – I get inspired by new locations. When I was writing, I actively marketed myself to North American and global publications and had good success. When I decided to focus on commercial photographer, I took the same no-borders approach. I had been shooting for a while and getting good editorial work, but I realized that to have success in the commercial photography world would require a lot more knowledge and experience than I had at the time. Knowing this I decided two things: to find a business mentor who had that experience, and to work with the same photography consultants as more established shooters.

That was two and a half years ago, and both of these things have been invaluable in getting my career to where it is today. I’d say that the most valuable β€œbig idea” that helped me along the way was the idea that one needed a vision as a photographer. When I started to work with consultants, I had a lot of good images in my portfolio, but there was no clear vision that differentiated my work from the next outdoor shooter. Selina Maitreya, in particular, was key in helping me find my vision in the work I’d already shot. I think that one of hardest thing as a commercial photographer is to choose what images you are going to show the world. Heck, this is true even for fine art shooters. If you show everyone everything, even if all of the images are amazing, no one knows who you are or what makes your vision unique. Through many stages of editing and much talk of what inspired me, Selina really helped me hone in on what made my work unique. This not only helped me in creating a portfolio that left an impression on potential clients, but perhaps more importantly helped cement that vision in my head so that I could focus my own projects on what I wanted to be shooting. It’s a bit of a clichΓ©, but you really do have to show people what you want to shoot, not necessarily what you have shot or can shoot (the patrol project only solidified this for me).

Since then, I have relied on my own vision to further hone my portfolio (and now my reps input also). I guess a good analogy was that at the beginning of the process I was in a round-a-bout with all kinds of avenues open to me – all kinds of avenues that interested me. Working with an outside person helped me to pick a road and say, β€œthis is the road that is for me. The road I’m going to go down with my brand of imagery.” This isn’t to say that I don’t shoot unrelated projects, but I don’t necessarily show them to the same audience. At first, I was pretty strict about this. My commercial portfolio online was restricted to just that imagery. Now that more people know my style, I find that adding some outside projects helps keep them interested and doesn’t necessarily water down my portfolio. But to be honest, this isn’t something that I’ve methodically researched. Just a gut feeling and a reaction to various comments.

On the business side, having a mentor was equally important during that junction in my career. It’s one thing to develop a good portfolio and the production skills required for large-scale shoots, but you have to also learn how to run a business. I had to learn what financial risks were worth taking (when money is well spent on gear or marketing, and when it’s not, for example), how to quote fairly, how to price stock, and how to bring in consistent income. If you don’t nail this part, you can’t stay in business long enough to keep shooting. In the short time I’ve been doing this I’ve seen a number of photographers quit the business or fail to stay in business. And these were people who I considered well-established, people I looked up to when I started my own career.

Smoke Bath

Smoke Bath is a collection of photographs and art work loosely based on the theme of camping/ nature/ exploring. The Fresh Air Fund is an independent, not-for-profit agency that provides free summer vacations to New York City children from low-income communities. The goal of smoke bath is to showcase the work of artists that are inspired by nature and raise money for in the process.

This is one of those cool projects where there are lots of names you’ve heard of and many that you haven’t. You can click around and check out work until you find something you like then visit their website and add them to your list (if you’re the sort of person who keeps lists of photographers for a living). Very Cool.

Picture 2

How Do You Go About Looking For Work Shooting Annual Reports?

- - Photographers

I received the following question from one of my readers:

I have a question for you. I got hired to photograph an annual report for a nonprofit company called [Redacted]. I got the gig through an organization called Taproot Foundation which is an organization whose goal is to link up creative professional with non-profits and such to work on pro-bono projects. This is going to be my first annual report shoot and I am very excited about it. I think that this may be a career path that I would like to pursue. Do you have any idea how to go about looking for work shooting annual reports? I haven’t the slightest idea where to start. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thank you so much.

I noticed a few weeks back that Michael Edwards published images from an Annual Review shoot on his blog, so I put the question to him.


Here’s what he had to say about it:

I can tell you that my experience shooting the Annual Review for Highbridge Capitol Management was very rewarding. I was able to participate from the very beginning, working closely with the designers, writers, and the marketing department. Together we came up with a visual concept that would illustrate what the firm is all about. This is unusual for me, as I’m often hired for editorial work based on my photographic style. With this project, I actually adjusted my style to suit their needs, so it was fresh for me and I think the results were pleasantly different from other annuals.

The client is absolutely thrilled with the final product and has been showing it off to others in their industry. So hopefully I will be shooting the next one, and perhaps pick up some new clients along the way.

This is the interesting part. I actually first came in touch with Highbridge through an editorial assignment for Institutional Investor Magazine. The budgets are tight there, but they have given me interesting assignments, so I always try to make it work. Once I was up at Highbridge, I got to know the folks there and they got to know me. Since hedge funds don’t typically produce annuals, they did not have a lot of experience with photographers. This gave me an opportunity to let them know what I could do for them, and the timing worked out perfectly.

As for advice to your readers questions, I would say a few things. First off, you have to look for opportunities wherever you can. Six magazines that I shot for regularly closed last year. The industry is going through some painful changes right now and one has to be resourceful. Also, once I had the job, it was great to push things in a new direction…”off brand” if you will. I put away the lights and took a new approach that I had been shooting a lot of personal work with, but had not fully realized with my commercial work. This kept the shoot very new and exciting for both me and the client. Word of mouth will be your best friend in this realm, so if you nail one annual, chances are you will have an opportunity to do another.