The Other Side of the Tracks

        Last night I had a wedding to go to. But this wedding was different… I was not the photographer and my wife was with me to enjoy it. After going to so many weddings as one of the vendors, my perception of a wedding as a guest is completely changed. What I see and what I do is not the same as when I went to a wedding before I was a photographer. I do remember the last wedding I went to before becoming a photographer (my cousin Lisa’s with my wife who at that point was just my girlfriend) and it was a completely different experience.
        The absolute first thing I noticed as we walked into the wonderful country barn wedding site five minutes before the ceremony (not three hours before the ceremony), was the photo and video equipment that was set up. This wedding actually had quite extensive setups for preserving the memories of the day; boom stands with remote operated cameras, light modifiers on stands in different positions blocking or reflecting sunlight, and a four person staff. It was much more that I bring or setup for my wedding jobs, not better or worse just different work styles. However, the whole evening I couldn’t help notice the photographers working. Because of the extensive amount of equipment staged around the ceremony, I don’t know if it was that or me being a photographer that had my attention on them so much, but before photographing wedding I never noticed the photographer at the wedding.
        A rustic barn, an old Ford truck, handmade programs, family keepsakes… All things that I notice when photographing a wedding, however, I enjoy them in a much different way without my camera at my hip. This wedding had a wonderful theme and many Pinterest worthy ideas. The way everything came together was spectacular. Old bottles and jars for flowers on the table as well as down the aisle, burlap table runners, handmade programs and napkins, lots of old furniture, and an Arnold Palmer bar served with sugar rimmed mason jars all pulled together in this rustically contemporary cowboy theme. Yes I would SEE these things when photographing, but I was able to experience them as a guest.
        When I went to my last wedding as a non-photographer, I was able to spend time socializing. And though I didn’t know very many people at the wedding last night, I was with my wonderful wife and the kids were at the babysitters. As much as I love my job taking pictures for so many different people, it was great to experience the other side of it… and with the one person I wouldn’t want to be there without!

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The Calm Before The Storm

It’s not like I do not like being busy with photography, but I’ve had two weeks off to enjoy with my wife, newborn son, and 2.5 yo boy and now have one of the busiest week(-and-a-half)’s ahead of me.  I love photography and anything photography related but I don’t enjoy the calm before the storm.

Today is the day that I get to pack everything I need for a week of leadership conferences for a quite large company , and a wedding the Saturday directly after.  Tomorrow is the day I get to drive for four hours thinking about what I have forgotten to pack!  I always second guess what I may or may not need for these multiple day photography jobs, and nine times out of ten it turns out fine.  However, I don’t enjoy the preparation (and transportation and setup of equipment) as much as I enjoy the work.

That being said…  Bring it!

One Drop, One Pop, One Shot

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I have loved skateboarding since I first stepped foot on one almost 20 years ago.  When life took over and I no longer had time to progress at the sport, I turned to photographing it to keep a hold of something so dear to me.  The problem with that is that if you don’t know anyone that skates, it is a little difficult to photograph it.  I still have friends in San Diego that skate and when I get down there we sometimes meet up, but where I am currently living I do not know anyone that skates.  Because I have a past involvement in skateboarding I do know what to look for in a skate spot so when I spot one I will mark it on a map.

For this shot, however, I did not need to search for spots; this was taken in San Francisco at a spot that has been frequented for many years and, coincidentally, was just downstairs from the hotel I was put up in for a job in The City.  This brings me to why it is one of my favorite shots.

I was photographing a week long conference for a large company that put me and a fellow colleague in a hotel in San Francisco for a week.  The first night I was there (eager to photograph something) I noticed the popular skate spot easily; I had been through that area many times and had seen skateboarders there 99% of the times I had driven past.  As soon as I was checked in and dinner was comfortably in my belly I made a beeline in hopes to get some fun shots.

The first half hour I was wondering around the area I did not see anyone trying anything that I was interested in photographing; there is a certain line in skate photography of the difficulty of the trick relating to the excitement drawn from the photo.  If the trick is nothing too special, the photograph will mirror that.  There was one guy I saw skating smooth, fast, and with a good array of tricks.  Before I approached him I wanted to make sure I had an idea of where and how I wanted to take a shot…  That is, if he even obliged.  I finally had an idea that I approached him with (something he was already trying of course, and close by) and with my luck of course he was exhausted and ready to leave.

So this is where the business side of my business came in handy.  I have talked with many different clients, from social to commercial, and I felt I was pretty good at conveying my ideas in a way that got others on board.  He didn’t seem too into it, but saw that I had my gear all ready to go and set up of lights would only take a minute, so he said yes.  I got everything up, popped off a shot or two to adjust exposure, and gave him the ok.  He dropped his board, popped his trick, and I shot the shutter…  DONE!

One try for the skater, only one shot taken by me, and this is the result.  Because of the circumstances, this is one of my favorite skateboarding photographs I have taken to date.  No more than three minutes before this was taken all of my equipment was in my camera bag, and no more than two minutes following it we were each going our separate ways!  I really feel the story behind this one gives a new intrigue to all who view it.

Enjoy!

Do You Have Backup Equipment?

I know it may be common sense for a professional photographer to have backup equipment be a high priority on their must have list, but you would be surprised how many shoot events with only one camera…  Even if they have more than one in their arsenal.  All photographers will always say backups are a must.  Not just for cameras but for memory cards, lenses, batteries, etc.  Not one will say “you don’t really NEED a backup” even if they never have backups.  However, even a casual shooter should have some kind of backup unless they are not worried about missing the photo opportunity due to broken / malfunctioning equipment.

Now, I am not just writing about this topic to have something to write about.  I have been photographing weddings, events, portraits, and more for about six years and not once have I had a major camera malfunction…  Until a couple weeks ago.  Not only did I have a camera failure, but it wasn’t at a lesser important job like a family portrait shoot, it was at a wedding!  Talk about needing to remain calm and composed; this was the epitome of needing to stay calm.

While at a wedding, right at the end of the ceremony (after the kiss thank god), my Canon 5D locked up and would not continue to shoot.  No error message, no reasoning, just gave up.  I always use two cameras simultaneously at weddings so I continued with the other until I had a chance to check out the issue.  When I had a minute (and you rarely have that much time to stop at a wedding), I looked over my 5D and found that the mirror had detached itself and lodged into the lens track.  I managed to get the lens off, get the mirror out, and secure all the pieces.  Then finished the wedding with one camera.

Everything the rest of the day went smooth, but my main concern was that I was leaving for an out of town job a day and a half later and kind of needed two cameras; that was what was nagging at me the rest of the day.  I was racking my brain of what to do.  Risk shooting with only one camera body, rent another body and cut into my profits, find a fellow photographer to borrow a body from?  Luckily, my answer was simple.

I had just upgraded my old Canon 20D to the newer 50D and sold the 20D to my parents who had wanted something better than a point and shoot.  The wedding I was at was 3 hours from my house, but partially on the way to my parents house who lived 6 hours from me.  I called them up and explained the situation, and they drove to meet me half way to deliver the old 20D.  That camera body has been through a lot with me being my first professional camera so it was only fitting that it was the camera to save me.  Now with sufficient backup, I felt a little more at ease leaving town for the job.

Now, this situation played out and resulted in no major business repercussions.  But needless to say, it could have been a lot worse.  I have great parents, I have great colleagues, and I have a great camera system in Canon (who reattached the mirror at no charge).  But not everyone has the same at their disposal.  Which brings me back to the topic of saying ALWAYS HAVE BACKUP EQUIPMENT!  No excuses…  Always!

The final verdict on the 5D camera body (which hasn’t come back from Canon yet) was not only the detached mirror but the shutter was way over it’s maximum shot count and had to be replaced.  That could have been the reason for the mirror detaching.  Until then, my old, trusty 20D is getting me through the jobs I have lined up currently.  So, do I need to say it again?  ALWAYS HAVE BACKUP EQUIPMENT!  No excuses…  Always!

The Art of Food Photography

I recently received a call to do photography for the menu of a local Mexican restaurant.  It’s interesting that they found me because I have no food images on my website.  I don’t do much food photography.  Actually, besides a few shots that I did in school and some quick portfolio shots I did for myself, I don’t do any food photography.  However, it was something that I was always interested in and quite a bit of my photography in college was geared around small product and artistic shots of small trinkets of sorts, which is kind of the same technique.

Anyway, they did find me and I had enough samples to show them to get me the job.  I had eaten at the restaurant a few times (as I love Mexican food and it is close to my house) and even remember commenting to my wife on the pictures in the menu “These are pretty bad.  I can take way better pictures.”  So it is a fun coincidence that I was called to do the photography for the new menu images.

I had some idea of what they wanted.  How hard could it be?  This wasn’t a full day shoot for a high end cooking magazine to showcase the restaurants chef, it was menu shots.  I compared it to the difference between white background clothing catalog shots and a high fashion Vouge photo spread.  Worlds of differences.  I was given no direction or input as to what exactly they wanted except the phrase “You’re the professional.  Whatever you think looks good.”  So that’s exactly what I did; I shot how I thought would look good and show customers looking at the menu what they are going to get from ordering said meal.

I felt I went above the call of duty photographing more meals than we had talked about originally, two angles of each meal that gave a little bit different lighting on the table, and even took shots of the inside of the place when asked as I was packing up my equipment.  I got the final retouched shots back to them in about ten days, which is what I had told them.  I was happy.

Then I received a call saying the owner was unhappy with the shots and needed them all to be reshot.  That really broke my spirits.  I didn’t know what she didn’t like, what she wanted instead, or any insight as to what she wanted in the first place.  After the initial disappointment in myself, I began to get a little angry.  The owner had the opportunity to be there for the entire shoot and chose not to.  I did meet her at the end of the shoot and it was her that asked me to take a couple inside shots of the restaurant bar.  She even questioned the way one of the plates looked and asked to see one of the shots on the camera screen, which I showed her, and she said it looked fine.

I am going back to reshoot for no charge.  The only request I made was to get with the owner and talk about the shots I took, the shots she wants, and ultimately break down everything that can possibly be a factor with the photography.  There is a lot going through my head.  I know I can take creative, artistic, shots of the food; I even shot a couple of the meals in a more creative way while waiting for the next meal to come out.  But with the low end charge for the shoot, how much should I be expected to do?  It was something I had mentioned when talking with the manager of the location I photographed at.  He was, after all, the only person I had contact with.  When you add more meal props (ie. multiple meals, background accessories, drinks, placemats, candles, etc) the production goes up, the time commitment goes up, which means the cost goes up.  There was also the mention of food stylists whose job it is to make the food look its best in order to transfer to photos the best.  None of this was needed, he said, just straight forward shots of the meals.

Now this brings up the question of how to move forward, and how any photographer should deal with unhappy clients.  How far do you go to make the client happy?  There are really just two paths to choose.  You can reshoot, and if they don’t like it again, reshoot again, and if they don’t like it again, reshoot again, and…  You get the picture.  Keep going until the client is happy or walks away from you.  Or, you reshoot, and if they don’t like it again, you yourself walk away.  The risks involved are your reputation.  With either option there is the risk of their word of mouth stopping not only future work from them, but anyone else they may talk to.  There is also the chance that they respect your work and realize that each of you are on different pages and respectfully part ways.  There is no way to know how it will turn out and that is the reality of having a business; it’s true with any business no matter the scale.  How will I handle this?  I am going in to the reshoot with a smile on my face, camera in hand, and a willingness to discuss their needs.  Where it goes from that point…  we will find out!

Below are some shots from the day.  The first two are the standard retouched shots that I delivered to them (there were 18 meals in total) and the next two were a couple more creative shots I took spur of the moment while waiting for the next meal.  They did receive those shots too, but on the disc of secondary angle, unretouched images.

To Plan or Not To Plan…

The question I propose is “Is planning for specific shots on a photoshoot worth all the trouble?”  Now, first off, you should always plan or have ideas of what or how or where you are going to shoot at a specific location.  However, does it always pay off?  Do you end up spending more time and effort in planning something that gets thwarted once you arrive?  How often do you go to your Plan B, or even Plan C?  You can spend ample amounts of time preparing for a shoot and have to resort to your Plan X, Plan Y, or Plan Z; that’s just the way it is.

I recently photographed a model for portfolio shots for the both of us and even though I had one specific shot idea that I wanted to get (and another semi-specific shot idea), I ended up more satisfied with a different shot.  I am attaching a handful of the photos that I came out with, but I am not going to say which was the shot that I underwent the most planning for (or the secondary shot idea); I am leaving that for you to figure out.  Though I ended the day with shots that I and she were more than happy with, it just goes to show that the planning process does not always pay out.

The location, Slick Rock Recreation Area near Three Rivers, CA, is a place that I have been to many times.  I have photographed families there and have always wanted to take modeling shots there as well.  It’s a tricky place to plan for.  In the summer when the weather is nice and warm, the run off from the snow in the mountains makes the area completely flooded and more of a lake up to the parking lot and almost to the main road.  In the winter when it is pretty cold to say the least, the water is very low opening up many options to shoot.  Light river rapids, large trees which are completely underwater during the summer (yes…  it floods that much), nice large boulder type rocks, and wide open grassy fields are much of the landscape you can expect.  Being winter time, the temperature was quite uncomfortable for me as well as for the model when in some outfits or changing between them.  But if you have a good model, which I did, it shouldn’t affect how they work.

Needless to say, my knowledge of the location, a good model to work with, and plenty of creative and technical planning couldn’t make what I envisioned in my head become a reality in camera.  Since I am used to going with the flow, however, we brainstormed together and shot what was the closest to what I was trying to get.  So in this case the planning did not work to my advantage.  See if you can guess which shots were the ones I planned and which were a result of our on location brainstorming.  For fun, keep in mind that the temperature dropped as low as 44˚ when it got dark and every spot we photographed would have been under water in the summertime, including the road!

The New Backyard Wedding

The backyard wedding:  Everyone has been to one, been in one, or knows someone that was married in their (or someones) backyard.  My parents were married in the backyard of my grandparents house.  For a long time, the backyard wedding was used as a way to cut expenses or to hold a more low key celebration than a traditional wedding.  But times have changed and trends have come and gone and the backyard wedding is being popularized more and more as a mainstream wedding venue.

It doesn’t seem to matter whether a couple is wealthy and holding the most extravagant event ever seen or penny pinching to make the most of their budget, using a backyard as a wedding venue is becoming a very popular trend.  Hell even Kendra & Hank Baskett were married on their reality show in a backyard…  granted, it was Hugh Hefner’s mansion backyard, but still my point being made.  There are pros and cons to the backyard venue, however, I will find pros and cons of every venue; and every couple looking for a venue for their wedding should look to find the pros and (especially) the cons before booking.  It is just good practice.  Not to disregard anyplace that has something wrong or a little off, but so you know what you are getting before hand rather than finding out on your wedding day.

I love backyard weddings personally.  They are challenging to work, they make me think more creatively, and they have some of the most fun environments.  All of which make me strive to produce the best possible images I can.  It is difficult most of the time (mainly for portraits) but just like anything that I do, I don’t want to be able to fly through it with ease.  That’s when you get sloppy or bored or lazy.  Why are puzzles so popular for kids?  Because they have a challenge and give great satisfaction when completed.  So yes, in a way, backyard weddings are like the puzzles of wedding venues… as weird as that sounds.

You don’t need to be on a budget and be forced into having a backyard as your venue (you should never be forced to do anything for your wedding, always make it a choice), and even if you have a ridiculously high budget you can consider a backyard venue.  It just works.  Below are a few images from various backyard weddings.  Some with higher budgets than the others, but all unique and wonderful in their own way.  And because of the great time I had at each one, I know the brides and grooms will remember their day maybe even more than if they were married at any other “traditional” venue.