Archive for '• Discussion':

Anatomy of an Editorial Shoot :: Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent

I was hired by Harvard Business Review to photograph Muhtar Kent who is the CEO of The Coca-Cola company . I thought I’d post about the process of an editorial shoot from start to finish instead of just showing the photos.

The art direction for the shoot was to photograph Mr. Kent at the headquarters building in Atlanta. The editor asked for two portraits. One was to show some architectural details of the building. “Maybe with a bank of windows or something in the background.” The other shot was to incorporate something with Coca-Cola branding. The name, the Coca-Cola red, a bottle, etc. After that I was free to grab anything else I had time to which, on a job like this, means anything I can grab with the extra thirty seconds I have to work with. An editorial shoot is usually a few hours of standing around and a few minutes of taking pictures. You’ll regularly spend more time emailing with the editor then you will clicking the shutter release of your camera. I was also instructed that while they wanted a mix of vertical and horizontal images, they used a lot of square crops as well so the images needed to work well 1:1. The full process after the jump.


Wedding Photographers Deserve Our Respect.

I put a call out a few weeks ago to see if anyone would let me shoot their wedding in any way that I wished to. There’s a reason I want to shoot a wedding or two this year as an experiment. I’ll get into that in a bit but this blog post is more about several conversations this request sparked, both online and offline.

No. I’m not starting a wedding business. Just doing an experiment and having a bit of fun.

Let’s get in the WayBack machine and go ALL the way to 1999’ish. Digital was coming of age. DSLRs were now hitting the $5k and below mark on pricing and a number of photographers were jumping out of the film ship and into the binary seas. The photojournalism scene back then was dying and many daily paper jobs were being cut. Day rates for the wires were less than I was making as an assistant. Photojournalists were looking to the editorial world but rates there sucked as well. They still do. Anyway…


Street Photography :: Photography Is An Enigma

This week Complex Magazine named me as one of the top 50 street photographers right now. I’m part honored and part embarrassed by this. Part of it has confirmed something inside of me. Part of this has depressed the hell out of me. On one hand I feel empowered to go deeper and on the other hand I feel I owe a lot of street photographers an apology. If I had a third hand I owe some photographers a big thank you. Let’s see. Can I be more random? How about this. This post is best read late at night while listening to “Last Confession” by Hilltop Hoods.


Editing Your Portfolio

I’m currently in the process of updating and printing a new portfolio and I thought I would take a moment half day to talk about the process.

My dear friend, Marc, has said of editing, “It’s like lining up your children and deciding which ones you’re going to shoot.” That quote isn’t going to end up on the front of a greeting card anytime soon but it does get to the heart of the matter. Andy Lee rephrased it to, “…deciding which ones you love more.” Either way, the process can suck but it is a process you need to go through on a regular basis. At least twice a year. Minimum.

I know many of you are wondering why I’m working on a print portfolio. What about web sites, PDFs, iPhones, thumb drives, laptops, etc, etc? Are printed portfolios still relevant? In my opinion they are. That opinion also is held by many in the editorial and advertising world. I know of two leading Ad agencies that won’t meet with you if you walk in with only an electronic portfolio. They want to see your book. The printed output of your work. Anything can look good on an iPad. Can it print? Can it run larger? The devil, and the jobs, are in the details. Wedding photographers know this all too well. Do you want to deliver a disk of zeros and ones or would you rather deliver a beautifully printed album? What is going to live in plain sight? A thumb drive or a book? Which one will be cherished? Which one has lasting value? Which one makes you more excited to deliver? Which one is instant? The book. That’s which one.

A printed book is a thing to take pride in. There’s something tangible about it that holding an iPad doesn’t compare to. Note that I’m a big believer in electronic forms of showing your work. I walk into every meeting with a print book AND an iPad. The book is the best representation I have of the work I do. The iPad holds expanded galleries of work that support the book and hold other galleries of work that don’t find their way into the main book. Things like personal projects, travel photography, video, etc. Eventually I want to have a series of print books that show a range of the work I do.

I’ve lived as a photographer for some time without a book. I wanted a book but didn’t have the time, money, discipline, etc to get it done. Going from having no book to having a book you’re ready to show is a pretty large mountain to climb. Choosing the physical book and making the prints are the easier parts. It’s editing the book that will make you cry and leave you feeling completely inadequate as a photographer. You’ll pray for your strengths while constantly focusing on your weakness through the process but I can’t stress enough how invaluable the process is. For me it’s more about the process of building a book than actually having a physical book to show. Let’s talk through the physical process.

The full discussion can be found after the jump…


My Interview on TWiT Photo :: Video

August 17, 2011 | • Discussion Shop Talk

I recently had the pleasure of being a guest on the TWiT Photo podcast with hosts Catherine Hall and Leo Laporte. I suppose with a name like TWiT I was the obvious choice to be a guest. I’m hoping to get to California at some point to see their brand new studio. Check out their weekly podcast here. Also, I’ll be part of a panel discussing photo sharing on the web. That will be live today. I’m sure it will be recorded for future viewing.


Catherine is hosting a webcast tomorrow (Thurs. 8/18) at 3pm EST. I’ll be joining the panel discussing copyright and sharing photography on the web. The panel is full of some amazing folks like photographers and bloggers Trey Ratcliff, Frederick Van, and Nicole Young. We’ll also be joined by Mike Linksvayer (VP of creative Commons), Christa Laser (specialist in copyright law), and Brian Rose who is the photos community manager over at Google+. I’m sure we’ll be discussing, among other things, the hotly debated G+ TOS that have divided opinions from many in the photography industry. It’s going to be good to hear from a manager of the community there.

You can watch the live broadcast here today (Thursday 8/18) –




Microstock :: SIM Cards in Cameras & Big Foam Fingers

November 23, 2010 | • Discussion Shop Talk

Ahhhh. The ubiquitous image. What is it saying? Peace? Thoughtfulness? No. It is saying frustration. Or is it peaceful frustration while being thoughtful? Girl. Hair. Flipping. Black clothes. Chain. Dreds. I don’t know. #whatev.

So, to continue on with the talks about the photo business we’ve been having around here let’s talk about stock photography.

Previous discussions :: “Oversaturated market you say?” and “Cheap photographers only kill themselves, not the industry.”

As per usual, this post is going to sort of banter on in one direction for awhile. I’ll bring it back home near the end. There’s lots of words and stuff in this one. Snooze. Fest. More after the jump.


Top 10 Ways To Become A Professional Photographer ::

November 4, 2010 | • Discussion

Or… Why does this photographer have to be so cynical?

I’m having “one of those days”. I’m stressed. I have more on my plate than I know what to do with. End of year means taxes and accounting which means I’m ready to find that short pier to take a long walk on. I saw a “Top 10 ways to become a pro photographer” link on Twitter this morning. Those are becoming more and more popular these days. And, IMHO, they are becoming more lame. Things like “Order business cards!” or “Put your images on a website!”. Another fun one is “Play with different lighting!” and those are followed by three or four vauge sentences that have zero value to them. More noise. Less signal.

Being a professional photographer can never be summed up in any sort of “top 10” list. I could make a top 10 list of why an 85mm 1.8 lens is a good lens. I could also make a top 10 list as to why an 85mm 1.8 lens is not a good lens. There are 20 list items right there and it only scratches the surface of a single lens. If you have to add “put images on a web site” as a top 10 list of things to do then who in the hell is your target audience? Infants? And I’m not talking metaphorical infants. Order business cards? Note to bloggers… if you have to state the bare bones minimum obvious… don’t bother.

Why am I so stressed out today? Because being a professional photographer, or rather, being a small business owner is a hard effing job. Last night Meg and I were sitting at our dining room table. The kids were in bed. The kitchen was a wreck. Laundry is coming out of our ears. The dog needs a bath. She has a migraine. I have muscle spasms in my back and we were in a pretty heated discussion about taxes, accounting, bank statements, expenses, budgets, and the like. We were two team members of the same team having it out in our own locker room. She was stressed. I was stressed. Running a business and being a photographer is amazing but it takes a toll on you at times.

Last night I sat down at the dining room table and announced that I’m ready to throw in the towel. I want my job back at Kinko’s. I want to go to work, drone on for someone else, and come home and turn it off. I want someone else to worry about taxes. I want to look forward to always having two days off a week. I want to go back to being anonymous and useless and overlooked. That’s how I felt at Kinko’s and last night it was the greenest grass I’ve seen on the other side of the fence in a long time. This is coming off the heels of hosting Joe Effing McNally in my studio just the night before. One of my heros was in MY studio and the very next day I’m ready to take a match to the whole damn thing and walk away. Note that I don’t want to throw it in because I’m comparing myself to others. It’s just hard sometimes to be a husband and father, run a business, and engage with people. Sometimes, no matter how many good things are going on, sometimes… you just want to give up.

ETA – I am in no way going to do this of course. By God’s good grace I’ll be doing this till I die.

So this morning when I see this insane, stupid, “captain obvious”, top 10 things to be a professional photographer list I wanted to scream at the internet web site page I was reading. It might as well have been a top 10 list on how to fly a 1980’s era Soviet fighter plane that goes like this…

#10 – Climb into the cockpit. #9 – Familiarize yourself with all the dials and stuff. #8 – Learn about how jet engines work and why they are used on air-eee-o-planes. #7 – Go forward real fast and when you’re at that good speed make the plane go up in the air. …

Do you see how absolutely useless this list is to someone who would actually want to fly an 80’s era Soviet fighter plane? So a “how to be a professional photographer” list that includes things like “make a portfolio” or “try different lighting and stuff” is an exercise in being useless. It’s an exercise in making more noise than signal.

So in my typical “escape reality and do something fun instead of something important” I thought I would come up with a quick top 10 list to becoming a pro photographer. Let’s see if we can make so much noise it actually becomes a signal.

#10 – Breathe! – I can’t tell you how important it is to constantly breathe when you are professional photographer. Not only does it help you make great photos but if you can keep breathing long enough after a photoshoot then you’ll be able to collect the check from the client. Try different kinds of breathing too! In through the nose and out the mouth. Or in and out of the mouth. Talk to your customers about how you like it in and out of the mouth.

#9 – Try out a digital camera! – Boy howdy! Digital cameras are becoming all the rage in 2010! For only a few hundred dollars or a few thousand dollars you can take photos that don’t need film!  Digital photography allows you to take pictures and see them as soon as they are downloaded on a computer! It’s almost instant!  The Russians have now developed computer tools to work on your digital photographs! Check out this internet web site with all the details! If you buy a digital camera make sure you get a good one like a Nikon, Canon, Pentax, Olympus, or iPhone.

#8 – Everytime you see a tree… take a photo of it! – Have you ever thought about how important trees are in the world? They help us achieve number 10 on this list! Everyone loves trees and if you have a lot of pictures of trees everyone will love you. When showing your photos of trees to people talk about how you were thinking about the innocence of that tree at the moment of capture. Or point out the transcendental qualities of light and form as the moon beams of uranus waft through the branches. People will think you’re quite the artist.

#7 – Make a portfolio! – Take two or three hundred of your best photographs and make a portfolio! You need this to show to people how good of a photographer you are! I like to make mine out of half inch galvanized steel because it’s really impressive and useful for many other things in life!

#6 – Take pictures of kids! – Parents love their kids and they love photos of their kids! If you don’t have kids then go to your local park and take lots of photos of children. Try shooting from different angles like from inside the bushes, behind trees, or from your parked car for really “exciting opportunities.” You’ll soon meet all of the parents of the kids you are taking photos of as well as lots of local law enforcement officers who, lots of times, have kids too! If they come up to you with baseball bats in hand be sure to have your portfolio from #7 with you. That steel cover is going to be useful to protect yourself. Drop a few of your business cards as you run away. Always market yourself!

#5 – Move to New York City! – Lots and lots of photographers are in New York City. Lots of people who love photography are in New York City. It only makes perfect sense to grab your camera bag and move there to open as big of a photo studio as you can find! Fill that studio with things like backgrounds, lighting, and tripods of different sizes and colors and you’ll be on your way to the bank! I’m not sure what you’ll be doing once you get to the bank but it might involve a ski mask and a paper bag with a note attached to it. Ask the teller if they have kids.

#4 – Join the social media revolution! – With internet web sites like myspace and friendster becoming so popular these days you’ll need to be on there to meet people. You’ll also find many opportunities to win free stuff for all of the online surveys these internet web sites have to offer! Add lots of spinning cameras that make noises to your internet web site pages because you want people to notice you and nothing is better than animated gifs of cameras. Also try out Xanga. Check out another awesome version of my blog to see what I’m talking about!

#3 – Make your own lenses! – Did you know that professional lenses can cost up to $189? As you are getting started you might need to save some money and one way to do that is to make your own lenses. The most important thing to remember is the convex lens curves outward; a biconvex lens curves outward on both sides, and a plano-convex lens is flat on one side and outwardly curved on the other. There are also concave lenes, biconcave, and plano-concave lenses. The elements are not necessarily symmetrical and can curve more on one side than the other. Thickening the middle of the lens relative to its edges causes light rays to converge or focus. Lenses with thick edges and thin middles make light rays disperse.

#2 – Wear socks! On your feet! – I’ve met a lot of professional photographers in my life and one thing that they all have in common is almost all of them, with few exceptions, wear socks… on their feet. I notice this because I’m a photographer and I’m supposed to notice the details in life and find beauty in those details. The next time you meet a professional photographer ask them to take their pants off and see if they are wearing socks. You’ll be shocked at how they react to your noticing details like this and they will know that you are a lot like themselves. You will now have friends in “the industry”! Talk about the moon beams from uranus with your new friends.

#1 – Try to get people to comment on your blog by asking them what the #1 way to become a professional photographer is….

Cheers, Zack

Imperfect Work :: Blowing It On Purpose

Question… Does it have to be perfect? Can the best image for the job sometimes be blown technically but executed perfectly for the job at hand?

Wrong exposure.

Wrong focus.

Wrong shutter speed.

Wrong light.

Wrong composition.

Just right photograph.

As technically strong as I try to be I’m always drawn to the work of others and myself that blows “technical perfection” out the window in lieu of “emotion” “movement” etc. Thoughts? Each photo above is technically wrong. They should be dumped yet they are in the first edit of my new portfolio.

I wouldn’t want to buy an “imperfect” house. Why do I like “imperfect” photography? Thoughts?

Cheers, Zack

PS – More on the business coming up. Just needed a break from all that. :)

I Saw This Five Miles Away ::

June 23, 2010 | • Discussion • Workshop

I saw this picture five miles away. I knew exactly what it would look like…

Five miles away.

Tonight we had what we have been referring to as the “OneGuy” workshop. Some of you may remember that Meg and I got stuck in Italy thanks to the Ksadf;ljasdflkjsdikill volcano in Iceland. Because we were stranded there for an extra six days we had to cancel a OneLight workshop. That was a mess.

One of the guys who signed up for that workshop wrote to us and said that if he could just come in for an evening one on one session that would be good. He needed some specific answers to some specific questions. Since we had to cancel the workshop we were willing to do whatever we could to accommodate his request. So tonight, we had a OneGuy workshop. Well, that’s not completely true, OneLight alum Perry came by to hang out as well. Perry brought Lauren. Lauren was our subject for the evening.

So we worked inside a bit and then got in a few cars to head out on location. I had one specific spot in mind with a great east facing shooting position with a nice big view of the sky. I love sky shots. I just do. Anyway… As we pulled out I looked to the West and the most brilliant cloud formations were popping up. The sky to the East was blank. Nothing. Not a single cloud. My mind started going through all the west facing locations that I knew of that were in close proximity to the studio because we were losing light and I had to get those clouds.

My mind was racing and as cliché as it may seem for Atlanta, the only spot I knew where I could get those clouds in a shot and get there in time was the Jackson St. bridge. It is “the” ATL skyline shooting position. I can’t tell you how many hip hop videos have been shot on that bridge or how many photo shoots you can see on any given day happening there. Heck, when we rolled up there was an engagement session being shot there.

… But I saw this picture. I looked at the clouds. I saw the frame they were making in the sky. I knew if I dropped down a bit with my 35mm lens I could place Lauren right smack dab in the middle of them and the exposure of the sky was to the point that I should be able to pull this off at f2.8 and a decent shutter of 250th or 125th. I knew I wanted f2.8 so that the clouds would go out of focus. I knew my 35mm lens would hold enough depth of field to see the texture of the clouds but not be too sharp. I knew the location and I knew I could not only frame her within the clouds but within a few buildings in the skyline. I knew exactly what this frame was going to look like while I was still driving down the street.

I’m not trying to show off. I’m not trying to act like a photo ninja. I’m trying to drive home the point that IF you know your gear you can pre-visualize the pictures you want to make. You can be driving to a location knowing exactly which lens you are going to grab, which modifier you want, and what the basic idea of exposure should be. How do you come to this intimate knowledge of your gear, your light, and your exposure? How?

By shooting, shooting, shooting, shooting, shooting, shooting, shooting, shooting, shooting, and shooting some more.

If you aren’t actively working with your gear and shooting pictures on a regular basis then you aren’t learning and you aren’t growing and you’ll never get very far with your craft. Plain and simple.

I quit my day job 6.5 years ago to become a full time photographer. I’d say I hit this level of comfort with my gear, my light, and my exposure in the last year or so. Let’s just say it took five years of shooting two to four jobs a week to get there.

The photo above isn’t the best shot I’ve ever taken but it is exactly how I knew it would look when I was still five miles away from the spot.

How much are you shooting? Enough or do you need to be getting out there some more? I’m not shooting enough. Yes I can nail this shot but the next shots in my mind… I don’t know how I’m going to approach those yet. I still have a lot to learn.

Cheers, Zack