COVID 19 has brought unprecedented challenges to many areas of the economy in the past few months. As we emerge from lockdown situations, businesses will continue to have a need for fresh commercial photography, whether it is for new marketing efforts, making portraits of new faces as leadership and staff undergo changes, documenting new facilities and infrastructure projects, or communicating with stakeholders about your company’s efforts to keep workers safe and healthy during this ongoing crisis.
After years of working with some of the world’s biggest brands in the industrial, oil and gas, and healthcare segments, working safely is part of our DNA. Careful preparation and proper wearing and use of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) is something we’ve always done. However with this new challenge, and with the guidance of the CDC, and OSHA, we are modifying our practices in some ways to still get the job done while keeping our photographic subjects, clients, and crew members safe.
Some of these new practices:
-Using minimal crew.
-No carpooling. Crew members and clients will arrive to the shoot location in their own vehicles.
-Social distancing, both between crew members and clients/subjects.
-Minimizing the number of people on set.
-Scouting/preparing lighting ahead of time to minimize subject time on the set.
-New remote digital tech solutions for client review from a distance.
-employing the use of digital composites when photographing groups.
-Wearing masks, and when appropriate, gloves/safety glasses, and other PPE as well.
-Frequent cleaning of equipment and hands with disinfecting/sanitizing wipes.
-Delineation of duties between crew members so that specific equipment is only handled by one person.
-If using a makeup artist on set, setting forth procedures for sanitizing equipment or using new supplies and application tools.
-Minimizing air travel, utilizing “road trips” over longer distances when required.
-Beginning each job with a JSA (Job Safety Analysis) meeting or Toolbox Talk to plan the shoot and discuss all safety hazards, as well as specific COVID 19 mitigation procedures.
Many of the things we do, like shooting outside in an industrial plant, will be largely unchanged, except perhaps for the wearing of masks. In other cases, particularly in more populated interior shoots, we will have to find ways to be creative. In most cases, most shoots can be completed in a touch-less way, with proper social distancing and minimal time on set for all involved.
As we adjust to this “new normal”, most corporations and ad agencies will still need great imagery and video footage to communicate with their customers and shareholders. New advertising will need to be created. Annual Reports will still need to be produced. Websites will need to be redesigned and updated. Companies will be selling new products and services. Executives and boards will change and new portraits will need to be made. When it’s time to communicate, don’t hesitate to call on us to provide your visual needs in a safe and professional manner.
(UPDATED 12/19/2018 – originally published March 31, 2014)
I get a call almost every week from various photographers who are interested in starting a successful photography business. Many are old photojournalism colleagues leaving their newspaper staff jobs (sometimes voluntarily, sometimes not…), some are college students nearing graduation, others are assistants who are ready to strike out on their own, and sometimes, they are advanced amateurs in other careers who I’ve met at a workshop. All of them want the same thing….”I want to do what you’re doing….you know, work full-time as a commercial photographer.”
It happens often enough, and I’ve given the same advice so many times, that I thought it might be helpful to write it all down in one place, and along the way, dispel some misconceptions about what it’s really like to be a professional commercial photographer. I don’t mean for this to sound condescending in any way. What follows is legitimate info for many who are just starting out, and if you find that any of it is below your experience or skill level, then feel free to move on.
Starting a photography business is tough. When I speak to college students, I’ve told them not to pursue this if it’s only a passing interest, or something they think would be a cool job. I tell them to pursue photography ONLY if you can’t imagine yourself doing anything else. It sounds corny, but I often compare being a professional photographer to becoming an actor, a professional musician, or a priest… LOTS of people want to do this, and only a handful with total commitment make it in any successful way.
Ok, let’s assume the commitment level is there. What is it really like to be a professional photographer in today’s world?
First, let’s dispel the notion that commercial photographers have a camera in their hands every day. This will vary for individuals, and by season, but I would guess that I spend a good 75-80% of my working hours in front of a computer – not out shooting. I consider that to be a pretty successful ratio. No one starting out really thinks about it, but digital workflow, retouching, billing, marketing, pre-production, post-production, accounting, taxes, etc… and the plethora of general business paperwork takes up a ton of time.
Second, some basic economics about working for yourself in this business. Let’s say you have a staff job at a newspaper, university, or company that pays you 65K a year, with company camera gear and computers, vacation time, insurance and 401K benefits. You might want to seriously consider keeping that job. You’ll need to more than double that figure in revenue to maintain that level of income for yourself. Those with full time jobs who think this is just a fun, easy career often don’t consider all the various ways you’ll spend money as a commercial photographer. It’s not just cameras and computers… you’ll need insurance (healthcare, liability insurance, and equipment insurance to name a few), retirement SEP contributions, accounting and legal fees, marketing expenses, website expenses, advertising expenses, digital storage expenses, office supplies, mobile and office phones, high speed internet, software upgrades (legitimate software… you can’t just steal it from the newspaper or university anymore), really nice custom made portfolios, assistants, retouchers, sales tax, franchise tax, and enough reserve/cash flow to take jobs, pay everybody, and keep the place running while you wait around to get paid – sometimes for several months.
And, oh yeah, I’m not mentioning the fact that when working for yourself, you can kiss that 2-4 week paid vacation goodbye, and that you will spend every spare minute after hours, on your weekends, in your sleep, etc. obsessing about your business and thinking constantly about how to make it better. A staffer can go home at 5 or on a weekend, disconnect, and enjoy their time off. When you work for yourself – there is no time off… and every minute will be filled with worry.
Sorry to be negative, but I want to prepare you for the reality of working in this business, and I don’t want to sugar-coat what the day-to-day routine is actually like.
One of the biggest mistakes I see new freelancers making, particularly the former newspaper guys, is unrealistic gear purchases. Many shooters, particularly those that spent a lot of time doing sports think they need to start their business with 3 of the fastest professional bodies (usually 6K a piece), a 400/2.8 (12K), a 300/2.8 (6K), all three zooms , 16-35/2.8, 24-70/2.8, and 70-200/2.8 (roughly 6K), and a new Mac laptop (3.5K). After all, that’s what you used at the newspaper or university you worked for, right? This is what the well-equipped photojournalist needs, right?
Ok, let’s think about this for a second. That’s roughly 40,000 dollars – just for camera gear. We haven’t even mentioned lighting, grip, cases, desktop computer, storage, printers, etc. You haven’t designed a website yet, or paid for insurance, or any of the other previously mentioned things. What kind of assignments will you do with said gear? Shoot some football or basketball games? For whom?
“I’ll just work for my local paper or an agency or a wire service…” Think carefully about it. There are predators out there waiting to take advantage of people who just want to go to games, news events, and be in on the action. Their business models are built around having an endless supply of newbies to provide free (or almost free) content that they can turn around and sell. If you’re one of the lucky ones, you’ll make 125.00 to 250.00 bucks for your effort (in many markets, there are people lining up to shoot games on spec/and/or for free). When you do the math on how long a sporting event takes, getting there early, parking, shooting, editing, captioning and sending a ton of photos, leaving late, driving home, you’ll quickly see that the average fast food employee is pretty much kicking your ass. …and they didn’t have to invest 40K to buy their own French fry fryers, stoves, or spatulas. They don’t have to wear a ridiculous fanny pack either.
Speaking of capital investment – that 40K in gear you bought can’t be amortized over 10-20 years like capital expenditures in some other business… it will need to all be replaced in 3-4 years, just like your computers… and as technology advances that cycle will continue for years to come.
This is tough for many former photojournalists to reconcile. Many have made their living this way forever, being at all the big news or sporting events, hanging out with their colleagues all carrying big giant lenses on monopods, credentials around their neck, etc. To many, it becomes their identity, and it is difficult to reconcile that despite your years of experience, no one is going to pay you to go to the Super Bowl this year, or the Republican convention, or to the earthquake in Haiti. It’s tough to tell someone who worked at a sports magazine, or a big metro newspaper that, yes, you can still make a good living in photography – it just may not be doing what you used to do. Letting go of that identity is tough. I know… it’s something I experienced myself.
There are a few prerequisites to starting a successful photography business:
You need great, original pictures with a consistent vision
You need some serious money, as it is very expensive to start a photography business
You need a healthy knowledge about LICENSING PHOTOGRAPHS and how to successfully run a photography business.
(A client or two would help, too, but we’ll get to that later.)
The Top 5 Photography Books That You MUST Own
I can’t help with the first two… You’re really on your own there, but I’ve read a lot of business books, and several specifically about the photography business, self promotion, marketing for photographers, etc., so I can make these recommendations comfortably.
I’ve sent this list around to various friends in transition, students, and former assistants, and I can promise you, if you read all of these cover to cover, you’ll have a firm grasp on how your photography business should work, and a really good introduction to usage-based pricing, which is the cornerstone of what we do. (If you click on the titles below I have linked them to Amazon for you.)
One of the best books about photography business I’ve ever read, and really should be the first thing you read if you’re thinking about doing this for a living. Weisgrau is a former ASMP (American Society of Media Photographers) executive director and he speaks intelligently about licensing photography, doing estimates, managing finances, etc. A really great book.
John runs the Photo Business News and Forum blog (www.photobusinessforum.blogspot.com) and has been a respected voice and frequent speaker in our industry. If you’ve ever watched him dissect an estimate, and show how he turns a simple 500.00 job into a multi-thousand dollar job just by asking the right questions, it’s truly a thing of beauty. His book has lots of actual examples of job estimates and email trails that show his process. Very valuable stuff that few people are willing to share with their peers.
Edited by the late Susan Carr, who really did so many things to educate and help her fellow photographers, this is the latest edition of ASMP’s business bible. There are chapters on licensing, copyright, releases, paperwork, marketing, you name it. A good overview of the commercial photography business. I believe you still get one of these included in your membership when you join ASMP.
Another book by Weisgrau, and really my favorite. (You still have to read ALL of these, though – no shortcuts!). He talks about negotiating tactics, how to present offers and counter offers, psychology, dealing with contracts, negotiating strategy, and includes some interviews with real world professionals who have been in business for years.
I’ve read a lot of books about marketing and self promotion, but this is easily the best and most useful. Sease and Sosa Stone are both former art buyers, reps, and now consultants, who provide a ton of real world expertise to photography marketing and brand building. They also discuss presentation, portfolios, promos, and even include a handy disc in the book with essential business and estimating forms you can use.
I can’t emphasize how important it is to study these books. It amazes me how many people will invest 100k in their business buying the latest cameras and computers, but won’t take the time to study up on how the business works. Don’t be the dork out there charging by the hour and giving away your copyright on every assignment. It’s not supposed to work that way, and you’ll be doing all your colleagues a disservice if you fly blind into our chosen field.
All together, these books cost maybe 130 bucks…they really might be the most important pieces of equipment you ever buy.
I have a note on my desk that I wrote down at an ASMP business seminar several years ago. Detroit photographer Blake Discher, a super savvy business guy, was our speaker, and he said something incredibly simple that I’ll never forget.
“There are three steps to running a successful business:
Create a unique value proposition.
Ensure that you have a large enough addressable market.
Make more money than you spend.”
Sounds simple right? It is, but you would be shocked how many people don’t think about these simple steps.
Think about number one… What’s unique that separates you from all the other photographers in your market? What skill or know-how do you have that’s totally you? If you live in Denver, and you want to shoot outdoor/adventure sports, what makes you different? There are 50 people already doing what you want to do in that market. How will you stand out from the crowd?
Think about number two… Do you have a large enough addressable market to survive where you are? I would love to shoot movie posters or fashion, but guess what – I live in Houston, and we don’t have any movie studios or fashion magazines here. So that’s probably not a wise niche for me to choose.
You should really think about these first two, analyze your local market and competition, and consider your options carefully before hanging out your shingle. Are you putting yourself in a realistic position to succeed? If there’s a specific genre you want to shoot, and it doesn’t exist where you are, you may want to consider moving.
Number three is pretty obvious.
Anyway….those are the really simple steps. Now I’m going to write about the nuts and bolts of starting up a photo business. A lot of this is common sense and has been covered before. Some of these are no brainers, but I’m going to throw them in anyway, just to be thorough.The
21 Tips for Starting your Photo Business
DISCLAIMER: It would we wise to consult with your attorney or financial advisor: I’m definitely not a lawyer or CPA, and I can’t even claim I stayed in a Holiday Inn Express last night either.
1. SAVE A BOATLOAD OF CASH – Super important. At a previous photo seminar I attended, the speaker said that you should have at least 6 months salary reserved before embarking on your own. I think that’s a good guide, but bear in mind that your money isn’t just to buy cameras, computers, etc…You’ll need operating cash to do jobs, run the business and pay assistants while you’re getting off the ground.
2. SET UP AN LLC OR S-CORP – Talk to your accountant about what makes the most sense for you in your state, but you definitely should be incorporated as soon as possible. This will help you liability wise, and although you’ll have more paperwork to deal with, you’ll likely get to keep more of the money you make versus being just a sole proprietor. This is particularly important with new post 2018 tax rules.
3. ENLIST PROFESSIONALS TO HELP YOU – You should have a CPA, a financial advisor, and a lawyer. You will likely have the CPA on speed dial, contacting them throughout the year to file quarterly reports, sales tax, and pay estimated taxes. Don’t be cheap and try to do this yourself.
4. GET A SALES TAX NUMBER – State laws vary, and not all photo jobs are subject to sales tax, but in many states, you’ll be dealing with this all the time. Don’t be the loser who tries to fly under the radar on this. Operate your business like a grown up. You might get wacked 5 years from now and find you owe your state a couple hundred thousand dollars. That would suck.
5. SEPARATE PERSONAL AND BUSINESS FINANCES – The first step here, after your corporation is set up, is to run to the bank and set up a business checking account. Don’t operate your business out of your personal funds….you’ll be confused, and so will the IRS.
6. BUY INSURANCE – If you’re lucky, you’ll have a spouse with healthcare insurance. If not, that should be your first step. Next, you need insurance for your business. Make sure the policy is by a company that is used to dealing with professional photographers and their unique needs. It should cover cameras and gear, rental gear, computers, provide shoot insurance for reshoots on botched jobs, rental studio coverage, lost portfolio coverage, and liability coverage. Many buildings won’t let you set foot inside to do a shoot without proof of liability coverage. ASMP is a good resource for this type of insurance.
7. GET A BUSINESS CREDIT CARD – Another part of separating your personal and business finances. This makes it much easier at the end of the year to see what you spent on gear, hotels, airline tickets, etc. I recommend a business Amex, as the Membership Rewards program gives you points you can use toward all sorts of things, but any card where you can get points toward future spending will work well.
8. ONLY BUY GEAR THAT MAKES YOU MONEY – I mentioned the gear hoarding syndrome that many of us have a couple of posts back. This is one of the areas that really sinks many photographers starting out. It might be great to have a 600mm/f4 and 12 bodies, but you could probably do 85% of your jobs with one body and a 24-105mm lens and a small lighting kit. Think before you buy. Rent if you can, and ask yourself this question before giving B&H your Amex number: “Will this piece of gear make me more money?”
9. WORK ON YOUR WORKFLOW – Think about your archive 1, 5, even 10-20 years down the road and start with good workflow habits. Learn to properly use Lightroom or Aperture and the correct file naming, organization, and back up system to protect your work. Have a good computer system in place, with plenty of backup drives, and be disciplined. If you’re new to Lightroom, Seth Resnick’s D-65 workshop is excellent.
10. CREATE A WEBSITE AND EDIT RUTHLESSLY – This applies particularly to students and veteran newspaper guys in transition. What you learned about portfolios up till now doesn’t really apply anymore. In most cases, no one cares about your spot news or your sports action photos. Figure out what you’re going after in your market, and edit down to a couple of niches. Be ruthless in your edit. No excuses. Hire a consultant if you have to. I use Rob Haggart’s excellent APhotoFolio platform, but there are other excellent choices including Photoshelter and Sitewelder, or just having someone build you custom solution.
11. CREATE A PHYSICAL PORTFOLIO – Depending on your market, showing up for a meeting with just an Ipad may not be enough. There are ad agencies and design firms out there that are used to being blown away by incredible, expensive, custom made books. We’re talking ink jet paper made from the saliva of free-range fair-trade South American wasps, and embossed leather from humpback whale foreskins. Think about what your portfolio should look like, the market you’re after, and make sure it is consistent with the rest of your branding. In short, it needs to be perfect.
12. SETTLE ON YOUR BRANDING – Do you see IBM or Coca-Cola changing their logo every couple of weeks? No. You shouldn’t either. Settle on a look, work with a good designer and make sure your branding is consistent across all platforms: website, business cards, stationary, invoices, portfolios, promo cards, etc….and yes, you need all those things.
13. NAME YOUR BUSINESS CORRECTLY – My personal opinion – but I think photographers should use their own name in the title of their business. If you want to add “Photography” or “Images” or “Visuals” or “Productions” to the official name, knock yourself out. Know this though: No client out there is going to remember “Hot-Shotz” or “Extreme Images” or “Ginger Snaps” (I swear, this is not a joke….I met someone at a workshop who used that one – and you guessed it…..her name was Ginger). They will remember you, Bob Smith, or whatever the hell your name is. Then they’ll start googling you to look you up one day, because they’ve thrown all your promo cards in the trash without looking at them, and they won’t be able to find you. Why?…..Because you named your business something generic. Have you ever seen a coffee table book in the photo section of a bookstore with “Hot-Shotz” or something dorky like that? No….you see Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Herb Ritts, Patrick Demarchelier, etc…see my point?
14. WORK ON YOUR EMAIL ETIQUETTE – Being able to write well is as important than being able to take great pictures. As a professional photographer, email may be the primary way that you interact with your clients. You should project a friendly, easygoing but professional personality. You should address every email to the person you’re writing (Don’t just send one word responses), and sign every email with your name. Think about how irritated you get when a potential client emails you with one line that says, “what do you charge?”….and then signs the email with their first name, and no contact info because they haven’t bothered to set up their email signature properly. Be a professional. Set up a complete email signature that goes on every email (even on your phone) with your name, business name, phone numbers, website, and your email address listed in type that someone can click on (not an image file). If a client is in their car, and their contacts are inaccessible, and hey have to search old emails to find you, you want to have all your information easily available for them to click on.
15. JOIN (AND PARTICIPATE IN) PHOTO PROFESSIONAL ORGANIZATIONS– My belief is that you should support as many of these organizations as you can afford. They all help with lobbying efforts off photographic industry issues like copyright legislation. They all have valuable education programs and resources. They all have “Find a Photographer” type listings for members. All have discounts for members. You owe it to yourself and your colleagues to join and support our industry.
16. EDUCATE YOURSELF ABOUT USAGE AND LICENSING – You CAN do copyright buyouts, burn discs of entire shoots and hand over all your raws to the client, and you might survive for a little while this way, but you WON’T be in business for long. This is not how professional photographers conduct business. Read the books I mentioned earlier. They will give you a good overview of usage based licensing. Join ASMP, or APA, go to seminars, read PDN, read the pricing and negotiating blog from APhotoEditor, study online resources for estimating jobs and writing licenses, learn about contracts, talk to colleagues, attend a photo business workshop. Learn about licensing and how it works in the different fields of editorial, corporate, and advertising. Learn the language and key terms. Learn the right questions to ask your clients before giving them estimates. Run your business the right way, the ethical way, and don’t give away the store and sell out your colleagues.
17. SET UP A PHOTOSHELTER ACCOUNT – This isn’t just for archiving, although it’s great for off-site backup that you can access through the web anywhere. I handle all my client deliveries through Photoshelter. You can give download access to specific people, and track what they’ve downloaded. It’s much safer than using ftp. You can also set up stock licensing and print sales. If you want to get an account, this link will take you there.
18. USE INVOICING/ACCOUNTING SOFTWARE – I use Fotobiz, but some people get by with Quickbooks. Others use custom Filemaker or Excel solutions. I can no longer recommend BlinkBid due to lack of customer service support.
19. CREATE SOME GREAT “LEAVE BEHINDS” – Starting out, you may not have the funds for a full color, 48 page booklet, but you can easily print up some small runs of well designed postcards. After you’ve shown your book to a potential client, it’s good to hand them a “leave behind” card with one of your signature photos to remember you by.
20. C.O.D.B. ISN’T EVERYTHING – Many other photo business resources will mention that you should know your CODB (Cost Of Doing Business). There is even a calculator available from the NPPA to add up your monthly list of overhead expenses: mobile phone bill, studio rent, insurance costs, fuel, advertising/promotion, website costs, internet, etc. In some circles, we call this OVERHEAD. This is great information to have because it is a great reminder not to leave your home or studio for a job that pays less than your daily CODB number. HOWEVER, it’s not everything. Run your business purely based on your CODB plus your desired profit, and you could be seriously leaving money on the table. You have to have an understanding of your market, the usage and value of your photos, and know what the market will bear for a given assignment in your market. Don’t be the lowballer in town because you met your CODB plus a modest 1000.00 profit on a given assignment, when it could be the case that a given job routinely pays 10’s of thousands for a particular usage.
21. NETWORK WITH OTHER PHOTOGRAPHERS IN YOUR MARKET – Don’t operate in a vacuum. This is where the ASMP or APA membership comes in handy. Social gatherings of photo organizations, or events like workshops, or Photo Expo are a great way to meet colleagues, develop friendships, and ask questions. You might find out about a deadbeat client to avoid, or you might get an estimating or pricing question answered. Not everyone will be as candid, but personally, I would rather help someone than have them underprice a valuable job because they are new to the game and screw it up for everyone. You should always keep growing and keep learning.
IN SUMMARY: If you are thinking of starting a successful photography business, know that it’s a tough road filled with long days of hard work and you’ll be up against ridiculously good competition. Remember what I said earlier, only tackle this if you really can’t imagine yourself doing anything else. I probably can’t change the way you see things, or change the work you produce, but if you have the goods, do your homework (including reading the books I’ve outlined here), and put these steps into place, you’ll be in a good position for your business to succeed.
Earlier this year, we worked on a very cool project for the Memorial Hermann Foundation. Memorial Hermann is one of the largest healthcare providers in the area, and they pioneered the use of helicopters in emergency medicine. “Life Flight” as it became known, was the brainchild of the Dr. “Red” Duke of the Memorial Hermann/UT Health Science Center. I had the honor of photographing him with a Life Flight helicopter a few years before he passed away for an editorial assignment.
Sometimes editorial assignment lead to commercial gigs, and it when it came time for a fundraiser for the Memorial Hermann Foundation, I was lucky enough to get the call to recreate the feel of that photo, albeit with a much larger group of people.
We worked with a stellar team of creatives at Pennebaker, including Halina Dodd and Stacey Hodge. Many ideas were tossed around during the planning stages, among them: taking a group shot on the helipad of the entire Life Flight team (over 100 people!), helicopters parked, a helicopter hovering in air over their shoulder, among other ideas. In the end, we opted for a representative sample of members of the Life Flight team: a nurse, a pilot, an ER trauma doc, etc….to show all the different folks that make the program work. The goal was to make a “Heroic portrait” ,movie poster-style featuring a selection of the Life Flight team.
If you’ve ever been around helicopter operations, you know that taking a group shot of one person, let alone 13 people, can present quite a challenge on a helipad with the rotor wash of helicopter blades. Add to that, uncertain winter weather, uncertain helicopter schedules (they can be called away on a real mission at any moment), and a windy helipad located many floors up on top of a high-rise hospital and you’ve got a very high possibility of failure.
Despite my desire to “nail it in camera” in one shot and avoid composites, it was obvious that this was not a plausible or safe scenario in which to photograph a large group of people with a ton of lighting equipment.
The solution: A 6am group shot inside the hospital combined with plates of the helipad, helicopter, and sky. John Lewis, Travis Schiebel, and Michael Klein agreed to help us on the shoot day with a ridiculously early 4:30am call time. I bribed them with promises of a giant diner breakfast after the shoot.
We knew one of the final uses of the photo was going to be a poster, so we wanted a super high resolution image. We used the 50 MP Canon EOS 5DS for the job. After nailing the arrangement in one frame (mostly as a reference frame for the retoucher), we kept the camera in the exact same position, then turned the camera vertically, zoomed in, and photographed the group in smaller pieces of 3-4 people at a time. The lighting setup (We used Profoto B-4 packs and heads, and a Plume Wafer Hexoval 180 as the main light source), and 20×20 white background were both rolled on large high-roller stands left to right in front of each smaller group of 3-4 subjects to maintain the same lighting look on everyone. When pieced together with the background elements, this yielded a huge final file size.
We also used a rental special effects wind machine to blow the subject’s hair and lab coats to make it look as if they were really on top of the rooftop helipad. In reality, the rotor wash would have caused hair to go everywhere and for everyone to freak out rather than holding a steady hero pose.
I went back on a separate day to photograph a helicopter hovering on the helipad at dawn, and the concrete helipad. We used an existing photo I had of a stormy gray sky as the background plate. All of these elements were brilliantly fused together into a believable final composite image by Craig Roberts and his team at Avenue Sixty7 in the UK. I love the foreground/background scale of the different subjects. We really wanted that look, with some of the subjects much closer to camera and Craig made it look great.
I’ve been really fortunate to work with ExxonMobil on their annual report photography and other corporate photography for the last ten years or so. It’s a great gig, and I’ve been able to document photographs of people and assets for their shareholders all over the world. I’m particularly proud of the work we did on this year’s version.
Over that time, the books have been fairly consistent, with a vertical format layout, and often featuring traditional spreads of sprawling petrochemical complexes at dusk or at night. Although there’s always been quite a few people photos as well, this year was quite a departure in that the focus was completely on employee portraits. The marching orders were to create panoramic portraits of employees utilizing technology in their work environment. We’ve all seen the typical oil and gas photography, and it was fun to take it in a different direction and focus on the super smart people that make the company work.
The format of the book was horizontal this time, to maximize the effect of the panoramic photos over a full two page horizontal format spread. The layouts were also adorned with quotes from the employees and helpful stats about the company. In the end, they used a mix of traditional environmental portraits, and some reportage working shots.
During our travels, we created most of the photographs with the 50 megapixel Canon EOS 5DS, and in several instances, we composited several frames to create the panos. We carried Profoto lighting, using the B-2 and the B-4 extensively. We also used some LED light panels on some of the photos. The cover shots and spreads I photographed were taken at sites in Texas, New Mexico, Louisiana, Belgium, and Angola.
It was a break from the usual approach honed over many years, and was both a challenge and an honor to work on. I ended up with both covers (Both the Summary Annual Report, and the F&O), and a number of spreads. Hoping to do some more great content for them in the future.
(Ed. note: although it says “2017 Annual Report”, it is actually released around May of the following year (2018) with figures from 2017, so it’s really not as old as it looks…).
Like most commercial photographers, we do a lot of work that is not necessarily viewable by the general public. Even though the work might be viewed by thousands of people, it’s not something you might see on a billboard or on the magazine rack at Barnes and Noble. This B2B corporate photography work can take many forms: a multimedia presentation within a corporation, an annual report to a corporation’s shareholders, a sales brochure, or in some cases a specifically targeted magazine with a carefully chosen audience. These are called “trade magazines” in the photography business, and they often lead to fun and interesting assignments.
CDW has been producing a group of these magazines for quite some time, and I’ve been fortunate to shoot for them quite a bit. Their technology solutions business is targeted to education, business, government, and healthcare customers, so they have a magazine for each industry titled (logically enough) EdTech, BizTech, StateTech, and HealthTech.
Over the years, I’ve been able to create cool environmental portraits of doctors, cops, and business executives. I wanted to share a couple of covers from some recent issues of the magazines.
For BizTech, we photographed a high tech DNA testing facility. The place was just as you would expect, a slightly mundane lab with lots of test tube vials being sorted by techs in lab coats, but with few good photo opportunities, as most of the techs were working at tables facing a wall. Ugh! I became fascinated by a large machine on one end of the lab…..it was a big blocky thing, but had a window looking through to either side. Inside were vials in banks on both sides, and in the center was a little robot arm, doing it’s thing – retrieving vials according to an automated program and moving them to be tested. I decided it would make a cool photo if we could get some light inside, but it proved fairly difficult. We ended up placing the subject on one side of the machine, booming a small strip bank above the machine, and then cross lighting the vials from each side in VERY tight quarters (with a slight green gel added), which also outlined the subject from behind. It was really tricky, since I was shooting through a window on the other side and trying to avoid window fog and condensation on the glass.
For the StateTech cover, we photographed local constable Alan Rosen for a story on body cameras. (It just so happened that our PR guy for the job was a former colleague, the famous Houston Chronicle political writer and generally great guy Alan Bernstein!) We picked an abandoned building with lots of character not far from my studio in downtown Houston and shot several setups with Rosen and a group of his deputies all showcasing their new body cameras. Most of the shots were horizontals and intended for an inside spread, but towards the end of the shoot, I remembered one of my old editor’s mantras: “No matter what you’re doing, no matter what the assignment is, ALWAYS GET A HEADSHOT!” That voice haunts me some days, but it’s really good advice. Your assignment might be to shoot a panoramic cityscape with an architect in the foreground, or an athlete in his home, or whatever – but remember that you’ll be the designer’s best friend if you give them a tight portrait they can run on page 3 or 4 of an article, or on a table of contents page, or in this case, if the story budget changes and your story ends up on the cover!
When the Boogeyman goes to sleep at night, he checks his closet for Chuck Norris.
There is no theory of evolution. Just a list of animals Chuck Norris allows to live.
Chuck Norris has counted to infinity – twice.
There is no chin behind Chuck Norris’ beard. There is only another fist.
I’ve loved reading these “Chuck Norris Facts” for years. It was pretty awesome when we actually got to meet the man in person recently when we photographed Norris and his lovely wife Gena for Houstonia magazine.
Part of the hook for the story was that Gena had recently fired up a full blown water bottling plant on their giant ranch property near Navasota to bottle water from the natural aquifer they found on their property. The plant is a state of the art facility and there is a charity component to their H2O endeavor. You can read more about it in the Houstonia story here.
Since we were there in sort of the middle of the afternoon on a sunlit partly cloudy day, we needed a big light and lots of power for the outdoor shots. We used a Profoto B-4 and a Plume Hexoval 180 for most of the outdoor shots.
Although we shot the bottling plant and did lots of still life shots of water bottles, the highlight for me was getting to make a cool environmental portrait of the former Walker Texas Ranger star and Gena on his awesome Texas ranch. We also shot in their horse stables, which had amazing light. Gena was a professional model, and the two of them together have a lifetime of experience in front of the camera and were just wonderful subjects to photograph. I don’t think I’ve ever dealt with two nicer, more accommodating people.
As we were loading the gear back into our vehicle, he came back out of the house and gave everyone in the crew a paperback copy of a Chuck Norris Facts book. I think he gets a big kick out of the cult hero status from all these “facts.”
Before we departed, Norris was telling us a story about going to Iraq to visit troops there. He was standing at the front of a long line of soldiers eager to meet him, shaking hands, posing for photos, signing autographs and such. When one of the soldiers (who was a particularly big strong guy) got to the front for his turn, the conversation went like this:
Soldier: “Ok, kick me in the chest!”
Chuck: “I’m not going to kick you in the chest…”
Soldier: “No, really, I want you to roundhouse kick me in the chest!”
Chuck: “Come on, I’m not going to kick you in the chest.”
The soldier wouldn’t let up, and was just dying to go back to the barracks and tell all his buddies that he survived a Chuck Norris roundhouse kick to the chest…..the line was starting to grumble from the delay.
Finally, Norris quickly grabbed the soldier, and in one quick motion the (at the time) 70 year old martial arts veteran spun him around backwards and put him in a choke hold and dropped the big guy to the floor like a sack of potatoes.
At this point all the other military guys standing in the autograph line, full grown men trained in combat, were yelling like little kids, “Put me in a choke hold too! Put me in a choke hold too!”
Of course….after hearing this story, what do you think I did?
We recently did an editorial shoot for Scuba Diving magazine for a special issue they put together on the “Dirtiest Jobs” in the SCUBA diving industry. The photographs were commissioned in various parts of the country by different photographers: a salvage diver, a diver from a nuclear reactor facility, a police investigator, an underwater logger, a croc-wrangler, and our cool assignment: an “industrial deepwater saturation diver.”
Our diver was a nice gentleman named Brian Lacey, and he travels all over the world diving deep underwater for the oil and gas industry, repairing rigs, working on pipelines, etc. He spends up to a month on the job, living like an astronaut in a small pressurized chamber. He’s been as far down as 900 feet, but on average works at around 300 feet below the surface.
I’ve taken many oil and gas portraits, but this was my first chance to photograph an industrial diver, and I was pretty stoked.
Photo assistant Michael Klein and I photographed Brian on a dock in Galveston with his super heavy deepwater dive gear. We used two Profoto B-4’s and one Profoto Acute 600B. I scouted the location previously, and due to the recent downturn in oil prices, several offshore rigs were parked in port, which provided us with a great background normally not seen next to shore. It worked perfectly for the story, and the photo gods blessed us with a wonderful colorful sunset to complete the assignment.
I recently had the opportunity to create some executive portraits for Barron’s magazine. Barron’s, founded in 1921 is a weekly publication published by Dow Jones, and each issue features a profile of a mutual fund manager. We’re pushed to shoot these fund manager portraits in an interesting way, often with an environmental portrait link to their hobbies or interests…something more creative than a person at their desk.
Our feature subject for the issue, Juliet Ellis, the Portfolio Manager of Invesco’s Small Cap Equity Fund, suggested a great location for her portrait, the Houston Methodist Hospital Research Institute, where she serves as a board member. I was already familiar with the space and the personnel there, having photographed healthcare annual reports in the past for the hospital. In the morning, we knew that it would make a fantastic “light and bright” portrait location….definitely a welcome departure from the average trading desk photo.
Although we had fantastic natural light for most of the shoot, we supplemented the ambient with just a low power “kiss” of light from a Profoto B4 with a Plume Wafer 100. We didn’t want to disturb any of the cool natural shadows around her in the background on these, so we stuck with the small source and even added a Lighttools grid in some of these to focus our light and keep it from spreading everywhere.
We couldn’t have asked for a more lovely and patient subject, and our friends at Barron’s of course created a fantastic layout with excellent display.
Houston lost one of it’s most iconic characters this week. Dr. James H. “Red” Duke passed away at 86. Dr. Duke was a true medical pioneer, founding the Hermann Hospital (now Memorial Hermann) “Life Flight” air ambulance service during the 1970’s. He was one of the first faculty members of the UT Health Science Center at Houston (now known as UT Health), where he taught several generations of medical students the intricacies of trauma surgery.
Dr. Red Duke was instantly recognizable to millions of people through his television health reports, which were syndicated on stations all over the country in the 70’s and 80’s. He was known for his signature signoff, “I’m Doctor Red Duke,” delivered in a frontier Texas drawl that was more Texas cowboy than brilliant trauma surgeon.
Dr. Duke often masked his considerable intellect with folksy country humor, and a friendly bedside manner, which gave comfort to his trauma patients and their families during difficult times.
In addition to his many medical laurels, he also was an Eagle Scout, received a divinity degree, served as a tank commander in the US Army, was a yell leader at Texas A&M, rode horses, created western art, and grew up with Willie Nelson.
Early in his medical career, he was one of the emergency room doctors at Parkland Hospital in Dallas responding to the assassination of President Kennedy, and was widely credited with saving the life of then Texas Governor John Connally who was wounded while riding with the president.
The doctor ordered a CT scan of the brain and in order for the child to lie quietly and motionless, it was necessary to apply Valium that would allow the procedure to be done. Learn more at website https://tysonmutrux.com/valium-online/. The child fell asleep, woke up two hours later. The first hour after waking up he was sluggish and sleepy. It was very nervous for me. An hour later I fed him a bit. Three hours later the child returned to his former state, walked and ate as before.
I grew up watching Dr. Duke on TV, and in 2008, I was lucky enough to photograph him on the helipad at Memorial Hermann. We had no guarantees that there would be a helicopter for our background, as the aircraft were out and about, delivering critical patients to the hospital. When the doctor arrived a little later than our optimal sunset time, he apologized: “Sorry – I was in surgery….had to fix up a guy up who decided to wrap his car around a pole.”(or something to that effect).
I think he was 79 at the time, and still working every day.
Building roofs are windy anyway, doubly so with helicopter rotor wash all over the place as you’re trying to shoot photos. I’m sure it was equally difficult for Dr. Duke but he was unfazed. We had several volunteers helping out the assistants to keep the lights safe and secure. My favorite moment with him came at the end of our photo shoot….he had been very patient with us, and as we were starting to pack up, two rather attractive young women from the hospital (who had been graciously helping us out), asked to have their photo taken with Dr. Duke. As he stood in the middle and posed with his arms around both of them (in heels they were both quite taller than him…), he looked down at me and said, “You can take as long as you want to now…”
Sometimes we head into an assignment with preconceived notions and expectations, and it’s always interesting when those stereotypes we carry in our brain are challenged.
I recently visited the lovely little town of Jasper, Alabama to photograph Eric “Butterbean” Esch on a feature assignment for Sports illustrated. The magazine runs an annual “Where are they now?” issue, and revisiting these once famous athletes usually makes for great pictures and fun assignments.
The story brief was to visit with Butterbean in his home town of Jasper, Alabama. He had risen to fame in the early 90’s by winning Toughman competitions, later becoming a heavyweight boxer, then a pro wrestler, and later an MMA fighter. He was often called “King of the Four Rounders”, and he ended most of his fights by knocking his opponent out cold. He was not, however, a svelte guy known for his bobbing and weaving. Butterbean was a brute – a massive, huge fire plug of a guy – under 6’ tall and nearly 500 lbs at one time . He was down to a svelte 450 or so when we met last year.
He had briefly been on a reality show where he worked as a small town deputy, and I had seen clips of him in the first Jackass movie, where he dispatched Johnny Knoxville in the middle of a clothing store. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a clip worth watching.
I was fully expecting a tough, redneck, barbeque eating, southern, he-man figure. I had visions of him in full on Boss-Hog deputy mode standing in front of a police car. Of course my expectations were wrong. He had only been involved with law enforcement for a short time, and I think mostly for the benefit of the reality show.
Well, ok, if nothing else, we’ll eat well in this little Alabama town – perhaps we’ll have a great plate of ribs somewhere. That was not to be, either.
“Do you guys like sushi?” he asked me and the writer, SI’s Lars Anderson.
Lars and I looked at each other with the same puzzled look, “…uh, yeah….sure.” We DID both like sushi (very much) – we just didn’t expect to find good sushi in a landlocked town in the middle of Alabama. It actually wasn’t bad.
Butterbean was a soft spoken, genuinely nice guy, living the quiet life in his hometown where, people for the most part leave him alone. He was now a grandfather, and we saw him hug and squeeze his grandkids.
He had owned a restaurant, next door to his house for a while. A lot of his old memorabilia – pictures of him in his American flag shorts in Vegas with Cindy Crawford, Sylvester Stallone, and basically every 90’s celebrity you can imagine, signed gloves, championship belts, etc were scattered throughout the now defacto storage building.
After shuttering the restaurant, he had taken up many hobbies, among them woodworking, making turkey calls, and even winemaking. He gave me a bottle of port as we toured his property – a sweet gesture.
Another way to use Xanax pills is to treat seizures. In general, this drug is one of the most popular psychoactive substances. That’s why Xanax is so popular with addicts. It has a very fast effect, calms down, and when the dosage is exceeded, it gives a completely different effect, which is so popular with people with drug addiction. But if you do not calculate the dose, the Xanax effect can lead to very serious consequences, including death.
Despite all the good reportage from around his town, I knew that he would be immediately recognizable in his signature red white and blue boxing shorts. It rained both days we were there, but I really wanted to photograph him in his old fighting outfit. It would make a great opener before showing the other pictures of his current reality. For the full first day, he put me off, claiming he didn’t even know where his shorts were… “those are packed up in a box somewhere….” He said.
I pressed on, gently. When we arrived for his portrait on the second day, he had found the shorts and reluctantly agreed to don them for us. We went to a neighbor’s property (his was heavily wooded and surrounded by fences), for the shoot. He immediately turned into his old persona and gave us the crazy Butterbean poses and faces he was once known for.
As we were leaving and heading back to Birmingham, he shook my hand while departing….”be sure to let me know how you like the wine, ok?”
Lars Anderson, an excellent SI staff writer wrote a great piece, where he provides more background on the origins of Butterbean’s awesome nickname.