Simplicity

Sometimes--most times--simplicity is key.  This portrait was shot in the side courtyard between two buildings; it was an overcast day and I thought the light was even enough for a nice shot.  But the sun came out and created bothersome shadows and highlights.  Geez, it was supposed to be a quick and easy shot.

Final image, 85mm lens, f2.8 at 1/100th sec. ISO 400

Final image, 85mm lens, f2.8 at 1/100th sec. ISO 400

I could have pulled out a strobe and popped a nice soft umbrella light in this gentleman's face, but that would diminish the natural feel of the shot and location.  As simplicity is my first go-to in most situations, I opted for a simple white diffuser panel placed just out of frame over his head. The light is natural, believable and soft enough to even out the shadows and remove the hot spot on his forehead.  This simple fix helped me keep the shoot on schedule with a quick, easy, and beautiful image.

Location Basics

Shooting people on location is my joy, but it's not without its challenges.  I like to keep it real, as well as simple, when faced with location shots because I want to maintain the "feeling" of the light that is already there.  This image, of a Duke University graduate working with elementary school children, was shot to a very specific dimension to fit the layout designed by the art director.  By strategically adding light to the existing light, I could control the overall look inside the frame while letting the subjects interact and forget that I was even shooting, my favorite way of capturing "real" moments, even if they are set up and controlled.

Canon 5D Mark II, ISO 125, f5.6 at 1/100 sec. 24mm lens.

Canon 5D Mark II, ISO 125, f5.6 at 1/100 sec. 24mm lens.

Snapshot, Headshot, Portrait

To most people, a snapshot, headshot or portrait are all pretty much the same, but to a portrait photographer, there is a vast difference; understanding that difference is critical to getting the best image for its intended use.  I've written before about how we all need a good headshot, but depending on your needs, you may actually need more, or less, than a good headshot.   Let me explain.  In some way we are all promoting ourselves, in fact, we are each our own "Brand" and we are constantly promoting our Brand. Whether looking for a new friend, new job, or new customers, we need to be promoting ourselves, our Brand. Make no mistake, even the profile picture you post on Facebook is a way of communicating your Brand and for many people, a simple snapshot picture will suffice for this use.  An example of a corporate use for a snapshot would be from a shoot I worked on a few years ago where, for security purposes, 3,000 attendees of a corporate conference needed to be photographed for security badges. We had a team of 5 photographers tethered to workstations that spit out badges; each person stood in a pre-marked spot in one of five sets and had one snapshot photo taken--it was like herding cattle through a gate in order to get everyone cleared and secure to enter the meeting hall.   

Headshots are another level up the ladder of people photography.  Most often associated with actors, whose headshot is in front of some random casting director for 3 seconds and needs to capture their attention immediately, headshots are also necessary in the corporate world where they are used for any number of purposes. In the past, business headshots were kept as "file photos" for PR use or to accompany bios for speaking engagements. Today, headshots are a must for corporate web use and for social media. Because corporations are so Brand-conscious, it's wise to create a Brand strategy for producing corporate headshots, even for simple uses like LinkedIn.  I believe it's wise for any Brand-conscious person to think seriously about the type and quality of headshots they have out in public. Where snapshots are snapping a quick picture, headshots take a bit more time and effort, making sure the light is appropriate for each person while staying within the bounds of the Brand look. The limitations of headshots are that they reveal little more than the façade of a person; the serious look of a lawyer, the confidence of a physician, the friendliness of a salesperson, the headshot is where you show the world what you want them to see.

A portrait, on the other hand, is much more revealing and strives to break through the façade to capture who a person really is, often telling a complete story in a single frame. Portraits are much more involved, sometimes requiring research into the person, precisely crafted lighting and time to get the subject comfortable, relaxed and real. A true portrait is not necessarily flattering but, when done well, can be powerful. In my work, I've identified a hybrid type of portrait called the corporate portrait.  This hybrid combines a simple headshot with a classic portrait and is most often created for the CEO and Executive Team.  The same care is taken in crafting the image and lighting the scene, the only difference is you rarely pierce the façade of what the executive wants to show the world on behalf of and representing the company.

A series of headshots created for a Wall Street firm for use as LinkedIn profile pictures.

A series of headshots created for a Wall Street firm for use as LinkedIn profile pictures.

A good example of a "Corporate Portrait", a Wall Street executive photographed for a marketing brochure.

A good example of a "Corporate Portrait", a Wall Street executive photographed for a marketing brochure.

Who Took That?

There are certain photographs that are nothing short of iconic, images that are so well known--and so well done--that we can see them in our mind's eye.  But rarely do we have any clue as to who the photographer is behind those famous images. Well, I ran across one man who started a personal project to change that and in the process amassed a beautiful collection of portraits. Tim Mantoani is a San Diego based sports and advertising shooter; in 2006 he started photographing famous photographers holding their most famous photo and the results is a book titled, "Behind Photographs"; do yourself a favor and check out some of his work featured in this PetaPixel article:  http://petapixel.com/2015/02/12/portraits-famous-photographers-iconic-photographs/ .

One of the images by Tim Mantoani in his book "BEHIND PHOTOGRAPHS"

One of the images by Tim Mantoani in his book "BEHIND PHOTOGRAPHS"

Rarely do I wish I had done something already photographed by another shooter, but I wish I had thought of this project before Tim did. Great job, Tim!  Great images!

The Blizzard of 2015

The forecast was dire; The Weather Channel was calling for an historic 2-3 feet of snow in NYC.

Reports like that excite me.  To get unique pictures  you have to take advantage of unique opportunities and do things others don't do. Let's face it, most people don't want to go outside in a blizzard -- I love the idea!  I was like a kid knowing that school was cancelled and I could play in the snow. The heaviest snow fall was supposed to be between 2:00 and 5:00 in the morning, perfect timing for capturing early morning light and untracked powder. So as the snow fell and the winds picked up the night before, I readied my gear and went to bed early. I awoke at 4am and dressed in layers, first the silk long underwear, followed by the Marino wool long-johns; next came a pair of jeans and a pair of ski pants.  On top I had the same two layers of long underwear, a turtleneck, a heavy wool shirt, a fleece jacket and my Antarctica Parka.  I was set for the worst. I kept the gear light: camera, one lens, cable release, extra battery, two lens cloths, mini flashlight and my Gitzo tripod.

I love shooting Central Park in the snow when no one has been there yet, so I trudged off in the darkness; it was 4:40am.  Unfortunately, the subways were shut down and I had to walk uptown for 3 miles.  When I got to Columbus Circle the Park entrances were gated with signs posted saying "Park Closed".  How could they close Central Park?  The Mayor thought the heavy snow might bring down trees and kill park-goers so he closed the park.  While I'm not usually an unlawful person, I figured this was a time for exceptions and when I got to the 72nd Street entrance I hopped the fence and scurried quickly away from the main road.  Central Park is beautiful, even more so when blanketed in fresh snow.  I did encounter two other people but the park was mostly empty, which lent a strange feeling of isolation and solitude considering about 5 million people live in a 5 mile radius of the park.

Working in the Bethesda Terrace area, I photographed a number of scenes, including the plaza, the fountain and even the Bow Bridge.  I did a few miscellaneous shots, as well.  I only saw a total of 5 people the whole time.  After about an hour of shooting I was getting hungry and decided to leave; just then the cops drove by and yelled at me on their loudspeaker, I waved to them and packed up my tripod.

So while the big "Blizzard of 2015" only amounted to about 8 inches of snow, I still got some great shots and had a blast.  I look forward to the next big snowstorm.

The Angel of the Waters statue of Bethesda Fountain through the arches of the terrace.                                                               ISO 400, 2.5 sec. f11, 62mm lens.

The Angel of the Waters statue of Bethesda Fountain through the arches of the terrace.                                                               ISO 400, 2.5 sec. f11, 62mm lens.

Two people trudge through the snow at Bethesda Terrace in Central Park.                ISO 400, 1 sec. f5.6, 24mm lens.

Two people trudge through the snow at Bethesda Terrace in Central Park.                ISO 400, 1 sec. f5.6, 24mm lens.

The Bow Bridge, considered one of the most romantic spots in NYC and usually busy with people is only covered in snow this blizzard morning.     ISO 400, 1/4 sec. f11, 24mm lens.

The Bow Bridge, considered one of the most romantic spots in NYC and usually busy with people is only covered in snow this blizzard morning.     ISO 400, 1/4 sec. f11, 24mm lens.

Glorified Selfie

On a recent portrait shoot for a University client in New Jersey, I found myself with no one around to help me shoot test shots.  It was a small editorial job with a simple one light setup in a gorgeous atrium setting and instead of having my assistant along, I was flying solo.  Usually I'll ask some passer-by to pose for me for a lighting test--it only takes a few seconds--and then I'm ready to shoot when the subject shows up. With no one around, I had to improvise.  Yep, I put the camera on my tripod and used the self-timer!  While not ideal, it got the job done and I was ready to roll when the first subject showed up.

Not an ideal test "model", but he'll do in a pinch.  LOL.       ISO 125, 1/40th sec. f4, 24mm lens.

Not an ideal test "model", but he'll do in a pinch.  LOL.       ISO 125, 1/40th sec. f4, 24mm lens.

The Cornerstone of Business

"What's it really take to run a photography business"?  The question came from a student in one of my recent classes that I teach for NYC Digital Photography Workshops; a young man wanting to make a living doing what is currently his hobby and passion.

My mind instantly flooded with answers: it's about being creative on demand, being able to reproduce a look, follow a storyboard, communicating your client's message; it's more about business than photography and it's most certainly a juggling act. That you take good--if not great--pictures is a given. I started down this line of explanation but stopped myself. Yes, all of those things are true, but what is the real cornerstone of being in the photography business--or any business for that matter?

 The number one overriding principle for my 30 years in business has been this, "Business is an excuse to have relationships". Yep, simple and straight-forward; everything else builds from that credo. Sure, you have to be super creative, a technical master, a marketing fool and a production pro, but none of that matters if you can't (or don't) form relationships. Think about it, you need other people to help you accomplish your goals and the best way to reach your goals is to help others reach their goals. By forming relationships you are in essence building a team that will help all of you succeed; and as the saying goes, "there is no “I” in Team".

 As a "people photographer", I have placed even more emphasis on building relationships, be they life-long, or for the 10 minutes I might have with a subject for a magazine assignment. That instant rapport is crucial to getting a great shot when time is short and it's a skill I've worked hard to master.

 My greatest successes have come directly from building relationships and I'm proud to say that I have more than a few clients that have been working with me for 20 years or more; others have become good friends and even if the work flow has stopped, they have remained in my inner circle of trusted critics and advisors.

 Ultimately, building great relationships leads directly to shooting better work because trust is involved. My clients trust me and know that I'll do everything possible to get great shots; they are often willing to listen to my ideas and creative input because they know my main focus is to serve them in the best way possible. With that trust, magic happens.

 So master your craft, find your style, market like a madman, but remember, business is an excuse to have relationships.

Everyone Needs One

Portraits are as important today as ever, whether it's a selfie for Facebook, a casual shot for Match.com, a business portrait for LinkedIn or something more formal for your company's Annual Report, a good portrait helps show the world who you are.  My key to a great portrait--after getting the lighting just right, of course--is  to help the person relax and be natural in front of the camera.  Sometimes it's easier to do than others but it's always worth the effort.

CEO Executive headshot portrait on location.jpg

Rain, Rain, Go Away...

I'm no Gene Kelly, singing and dancing in the rain, but I do like shooting in the rain.  The world looks different when wet and with a little awareness and creativity, the inclement weather can provide outstanding photo possibilities.  I like how light reflects off of wet surfaces and often shoot in ways to use color and light to enhance a scene.  Sure, you have to be careful with your gear when it's raining and be particularly aware of raindrops on your lens, but simple precautions and a clean, dry cloth are all you need unless it's a downpour.  Like the cold weather I talked about last month, most people don't like to go out in the rain; if you get out there and explore you'll be ahead of the game from the get go!

The Waverly Diner  is a classic New York City diner and has colorful neon signs that reflect beautifully on the wet pavement.   ISO 1000, 1/30 sec. f2.8, 28mm lens.

The Waverly Diner is a classic New York City diner and has colorful neon signs that reflect beautifully on the wet pavement.   ISO 1000, 1/30 sec. f2.8, 28mm lens.

Keep It Simple

Ahhh, the old K.I.S.S. rule; we all know it and we all forget it.  But simple is one of the secrets to powerful photos.  Keep simplicity in mind when you're shooting, have a simple subject, simple lighting and simple composition. By keeping your images simple you leave little to distract your viewer and your images will stand out from the rest.

In this shot, actress/dancer Laura Volpaccio takes a simple, relaxed pose near a big row of windows, a 4'x8' white foam core reflector bounces light back onto the shadow side of her body.  ISO 320, 1/125 sec. at f5.6, 50mm lens.

In this shot, actress/dancer Laura Volpaccio takes a simple, relaxed pose near a big row of windows, a 4'x8' white foam core reflector bounces light back onto the shadow side of her body.  ISO 320, 1/125 sec. at f5.6, 50mm lens.

Be Honest With Yourself

 My Mom thinks every picture I take is great; showing her my latest work is always an ego boost.  The problem is, my Mom doesn't know squat about photography; she may know what she likes, but she doesn't have the expertise or ability to show me what I'm missing or how to make my images better. For me to grow, I have to seek out the opinions of others more knowledgeable about photography.

That's why I'm a big fan of having my work critiqued.

But let me add an important caveat:  critiqued by knowledgeable people whom I respect and trust to be constructive and supportive.

You see, it's easy to be critical of someone and it seems almost human nature to cut others down.  Don't ever expose yourself to those type of critiques, they are detrimental to your growth as a photographer. 

I recently saw an on-line critique session and thought that very little of what was said was helpful, in fact, some of it was even belittling; the critique session was more entertainment than learning.

So why am I such a fan of critiques?  Seeking help from others is the only way I'll ever see my blind spots.  You can never know something you don't even know you don't know, that's why it's a blind spot.  Until someone points out your blind spots you'll never get past them. 

So any time you have the chance to have your work reviewed by someone experienced, knowledgeable, honest, kind and respectful, jump at the chance.

One final--but very important--point:  be true and honest with yourself, too.  In the end, it's your photo, your artwork; your own opinion is what matters most.  No one has the vision you have for your work, so don't let anyone critique you out of your own vision, but always be open to seeing other points of view, that's how you grow.

With all that said, and being secure in my own artwork, what do you think of this image below?  Go ahead, critique me!

Critique sessions with trusted friends and mentors helped shape one of my first artistic series, showing me ways to "fine-tune" my images to make them more successful.

Critique sessions with trusted friends and mentors helped shape one of my first artistic series, showing me ways to "fine-tune" my images to make them more successful.

 

 

 

Cool Tool

Here's a fascinating tool from our world-wide overseers at Google.  www.Sightsmap.com is a graphic representation of all the photos taken in the world and uploaded to the Google photo sharing site Panoramio.

How cool to see where in the world the most photos are taken!  Now, these are only the photos uploaded to Google, but still it's an interesting representation of all the photos taken.  You can also zoom in on specific areas, like New York City; this is where I think Sightsmap might be a useful tool and not just an interesting time waster.

You can zoom tighter, all the way down to specific areas and even see some of the photos that have been taken. The ability to zoom in and explore may be helpful to travel photographers looking for ideas of what to shoot when visiting new places. Doing research about your travel destination in advance will help you get better shots while traveling.

This shows that Bethesda Terrace, in Central Park, is one of the hottest areas in New York City for taking photos.

This shows that Bethesda Terrace, in Central Park, is one of the hottest areas in New York City for taking photos.

Cold & Crisp, Clean & Clear

The weather rarely bothers me; in fact, I love shooting on cold, crisp nights.  When most people would rather be bundled up inside, you'll find me out in the clean, clear air searching for beautiful scenic photos.  When it's cold and crisp, the air is generally clean and clear, which makes for images that "snap".  When there is humidity in the air or that haze that comes with summer heat, your photos can look fuzzy or even out of focus.  Certainly, you can take beautiful images in any conditions, but I really love the clarity that comes from shooting in the cold and I never mind throwing on another layer to prepare for the elements.

Lower Manhattan photographed from Brooklyn Heights.  ISO 200, 15 sec. at f16, 35mm lens

Lower Manhattan photographed from Brooklyn Heights.  ISO 200, 15 sec. at f16, 35mm lens

Be Prepared

The Boy Scout motto serves photographers well.  By always having a camera with you and always being ready to shoot whatever strikes your fancy, you will inevitably capture some gems.  I was walking down lower Broadway when I saw these tourists "holding up" the Red Cube, a sculpture created in 1968 by artist Isamu Noguchi.  It's a fun picture and it was gone in a moment.  The best camera is the one that is with you, just be prepared to use it.

The "Red Cube" is located on the plaza at 140 Broadway.  ISO 400, 1/60th sec. at f5.6, 20mm lens.

The "Red Cube" is located on the plaza at 140 Broadway.  ISO 400, 1/60th sec. at f5.6, 20mm lens.

The Most Beautiful Building in New York

Grand Central Terminal is one of the most beautiful building in New York, steeped in history and bustling with activity, it's a source of never-ending images.  From the grand beauty of the main concourse to the old fashioned details of the ticket booths, from the priceless clocks to the harried commuters, Grand Central is a photographers dream. 

taken with a fisheye lens on my phone.

taken with a fisheye lens on my phone.

Thirty five years ago I was poking around the terminal and somehow found myself up in the catwalk of the big window on the west end of the concourse; I found that the windows were hinged and I could swing certain panes open and take pictures.  It was dark in the terminal back then because the big Kodak Colorama mural covered the east windows (those panorama images were 18x60 feet).  Unfortunately, I can't seem to find those negatives and in today's post 9/11 world, there is little chance to get back up on the catwalk.  Luckily, there is plenty to shoot at ground level!

Commuter rushing to catch his train.

Commuter rushing to catch his train.

Inspiration is Everywhere

One of the great things about living in New York is that there is so much here that serves as inspiration.  I live in Chelsea and there are literally hundreds of art galleries within a three block radius of my home; great museums are nearby and the streets themselves constantly inspire me.  Some of the greatest creative talent in the world live and work here and if that doesn't inspire you to be on top of your game, nothing will!  When I first moved to the city 15 years ago, Annie Leibovitz lived across the street from me and I'd see her all the time; just having her so close inspired me to push harder and shoot the best work I've ever done and since you're only as good as your latest work, I continue to push hard.

So what's my latest work, you ask?  Well, two weeks ago I shot some fantastic portraits, images I'm really proud of, but because I always let clients publish the images first, I won't show them just yet (don't worry, you'll see them in the future).  But I can share a photo I did just yesterday of actor Andy Mizerek.  I like this shot and I'm sure he'll be pleased when I send it to him tonight.

This photo of actor Andy Mizerek is exactly what I like, simple and beautiful. I have Andy standing near a window with sheer white curtains; the light was amazing and his expression is timeless.  Fujifilm X-T1, ISO 3200, 1/30th sec at f4.0, 50mm lens.

This photo of actor Andy Mizerek is exactly what I like, simple and beautiful. I have Andy standing near a window with sheer white curtains; the light was amazing and his expression is timeless.  Fujifilm X-T1, ISO 3200, 1/30th sec at f4.0, 50mm lens.

Next Generation of Artists

The Matisse "Cut Outs" exhibit currently at the MOMA in New York is a beautiful and inspirational show, but the biggest thrill I had while there today was seeing the parents & kids art classes in a couple of the rooms of this major exhibition.  What a gift these thoughtful parents are giving their children by enrolling them in a class that lets them explore their creative side.  The participants hear about the work and then sketch their own drawings on pads of paper.  I could only smile and wish that I was exposed to such great art when I was a child.  Luckily, I took an interest in art early enough in life to still be thrilled by the beauty that can be produce out of sheer creativity.  Who knows, there may be a future Matisse sitting cross-legged in this crowd.

Photo taken with my phone as the guard told me, "no pictures".  LOL.

Photo taken with my phone as the guard told me, "no pictures".  LOL.

Rocky Mountain High

With the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado, "Rocky Mountain High" probably means something different today then it did to John Denver back in his prime.  But I understand his reverence and was recently reminded of how majestic the high mountains can be as I did some hiking in the Maroon Bells Scenic Area outside of Aspen.

Pyramid Peak and the Maroon Bells are reflected in Maroon Lake.  Even if all of the elements are less than perfect, take the shot anyway as the weather may deteriorate later, or worse, you may never get to that spot again.

Pyramid Peak and the Maroon Bells are reflected in Maroon Lake.  Even if all of the elements are less than perfect, take the shot anyway as the weather may deteriorate later, or worse, you may never get to that spot again.

This was not a serious landscape shoot, but I couldn't pass up taking this shot anyway; yes, I would have loved to have a blue-sky day, but Mother Nature doesn't always cooperate.  And even if you're taking a simple "snapshot" while on vacation, put in the effort to find a nice composition. 

Fall Favorites

I love the Fall, it's my favorite time of year.  The air is crisp and clean, which makes shooting scenic photos nicer.  And of course, the fall colors come out.  We all love seeing the grand scenic in beautiful colors, but don't forget to photograph the details, too.  Look for individual leaves or even patterns of leaves on the ground; the already fallen leaves can be beautiful, too.      

Back lighting colorful Fall leaves can make a beautiful shot and creating a "sunburst" in the background adds an interesting element.        ISO 320, 1/500 sec at f11, 18mm lens.

Back lighting colorful Fall leaves can make a beautiful shot and creating a "sunburst" in the background adds an interesting element.        ISO 320, 1/500 sec at f11, 18mm lens.

I like looking for interesting patterns made by fallen leaves.  There was something about these dead oak leaves laying on the moss that grabbed my attention; Fall is not only about vibrant colors!   

I like looking for interesting patterns made by fallen leaves.  There was something about these dead oak leaves laying on the moss that grabbed my attention; Fall is not only about vibrant colors!   

Street Portraits

Street portraits differ from street photography; in one you are capturing a "decisive moment" and in the other you stop the moment, take charge and get the shot you want.  As a portrait photographer I like to take control; I want the light a certain way, the pose a certain way, the look a certain way.  To keep things natural and realistic, I will often leave things pretty much as they are, especially with street portraits, but I always like the light to be nice.  Whether using natural light only or adding a reflector or fill flash, the light has to be nice.

These tourists from Germany were taking a pedi-cab ride near Bethesda Plaza in Central Park and I asked to take their picture; this was for an assignment to capture "typical" tourist things to do in New York City.  Filtered sunlight was coming through the trees and I popped an off-camera flash into their faces to clean up any shadows.      ISO 125, 1/160 sec. at f6.3. 18mm lens.

These tourists from Germany were taking a pedi-cab ride near Bethesda Plaza in Central Park and I asked to take their picture; this was for an assignment to capture "typical" tourist things to do in New York City.  Filtered sunlight was coming through the trees and I popped an off-camera flash into their faces to clean up any shadows.      ISO 125, 1/160 sec. at f6.3. 18mm lens.