Archive for 'Shop Talk':

Photography Critique :: Episode 14

March 28, 2011 | • Critique

We are back with another photography critique! It has been far too long since Meg and I have done one of these. We are getting back into it now and we still have to find our stride. If you are new to this blog you can view the past 13 episodes here.

Let’s refresh the rules that we go by here. Also, after the jump there are a few announcements.

1. Don’t take this personally. We aren’t critiquing you as a person, we are critiquing your work. If you take this personally then you have a long road ahead of you in this industry. A long and rocky one.

2. Whatever we say here is exactly what we would say in person. We don’t hide behind the Internets. If we laugh at a photo it’s because something about it is funny. We aren’t making fun of you and we aren’t making fun of the person in the photo. We’re giving you honest feedback as to how strangers view your work. 

3. Anytime I am saying someone could improve on something in particular it also means I could improve on that as well. This is to say, I ain’t perfect either. My work has flaws and I seek critique from photographers I trust as well.

4. I’m critiquing you from a photographer’s perspective. Meghan is critiquing you from a non-photographer perspective. I’m a “peer” and she’s a “client”.

5. If you want to get in on this, email your site, blog, flickr, whatever to critique@zackarias.com. We do not do drive-by critiques of randomly found web sites. We also do not give hot links on this blog to those who we critique so that this critique of someone’s work will not find it’s way into google results.

This is also sort of an official launch of the new site despite the fact that it isn’t finished. The galleries are still being worked. The edits are still getting moved around. The about, bio, resources, etc still has to be populated but if I wait to get blog posts going again until it is finished, it won’t ever happen. :) Big thanks to Timothy Young for working with us on the new branding and design and Alex Morrison for working his web ninja skills into making this thing happen.

So, don’t mind the dust. We’re still working around here.

Coming up on the blog are some more critiques, some recent work we’ve been doing, the studio tour, the grip video, the color video, and our new creativeLIVE class outline. I’ll be doing another three day live weekend April 29th – May 1st. That’s two months of teaching! ;)

Cheers, Zack

Microstock :: SIM Cards in Cameras & Big Foam Fingers

November 23, 2010 | Shop Talk • Discussion

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.

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OneLight Field Guide Launch ::

The OneLight Field Guide is finally out! It only took 11 months and that many redesigns but it was worth it. Looking at the state of the guide now compared to where it started I’m glad that it’s late. It’s better than the first few editions.

The guide showcases more than 50 images ranging from bands to models to brides. Mostly bands and models. For the first half of the guide I explain the gear and the settings used to create the image. For the second half I showcase images using the same gear and approximate settings. You’ll find tips and tricks throughout the guide that go beyond the scope of apertures, shutter speeds, and modifiers. I walk you through single light sources and then introduce you to multiple lights and how to deal with that. It’s made for folks who would like to keep a cookbook of scenarios on hand while out shooting.

Everything is straightforward and easy to grasp. It is made to complement the OneLight DVD and/or workshop so it isn’t supposed to be a step by step by step guide on how to use flash. That’s covered at length in the DVD and workshop. If you are comfortable with the basic principles of off camera lighting, but you have not been to a OneLight workshop or have not seen the OneLight DVD, then you will still enjoy this guide.

I developed this guide for people who came to the 2010 OneLight workshops. Enough folks heard about it and asked if I would release it for sale. I went back and forth on that for awhile and was not going to do it because I felt the cost of doing so wasn’t worth it. Then I started reworking it through MagCloud and I was able to get the cost of the guide under $30. If you were a participant at a OneLight this year then you should have gotten an email from Meg already. If you did not, check the email address that you signed up for the workshop with or check your spam filter. You have to reply to her through that email address to get this shipped to you at no charge. For those that have replied, your order has been placed and will be shipped to the address you provided.

I know what many of you are going to ask… Why in print? Why not a PDF download for $5 or something? I’ve gone back and forth about that a number of times and I will most likely revisit my thoughts on this at some point… but for now… it is in print and print only.

We shoot with digital cameras. We look at our images on a computer. We read blogs. We look at more digital photos than we can count. For this project, and the next, I wanted it to be in print. Something you can hold on to that doesn’t also check email. To be very honest with you, it would be MUCH easier to just release this as a PDF. It would also be more profitable to sell. It costs me more and makes me less to make it available in print but it has more value in print so I’m going with that right now.

Plus… This is a dry run for a new project that has been kicking around in my head for over a year. I’ve been wanting to launch a photography magazine for awhile now and this is the “first issue” of that magazine. Now, the magazine in my head looks completely different than this field guide. The field guide is just a taste. A scratch on the surface of what I’m planning. DEDPXL is the name and it will be a semi-annual to quarterly magazine launching in January. It will be print on demand like this guide and it will be an organic publication that starts with people I know who have a lot to offer.

It will be independent as f#*%. Meaning, we will not be accepting advertising or sponsorships for this magazine. You can not buy advertising space. You just can’t. There won’t be gear reviews so don’t send your stuff. It will be a showcase of emerging work, insights into the running of a business and the photo industry as a whole, how to’s on the technical, and a sounding board for a number of voices in the industry… both positive and negative. Business & Craft.

I will not be taking submissions for articles right now. It is a “don’t call us, we’ll call you” kind of a thing and my list is already full for 2 or 3 issues. (Not that I’ve gotten in touch with all of you on that list.) There will be a call for certain things here and there. You’ll see. I think it’s going to be pretty awesome and there isn’t anything quite like it on the shelves today.

Lastly, I’m not doing this as a new business venture. It’s a personal project. I can’t wait to get it off the ground. Since I can’t find a hobby, I’m going to start a photography magazine. :)

Until then, have a look at the OneLight Field Guide. I hope you enjoy it. It is available on MagCloud for $28 + shipping.

Cheers, Zack

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. :)

Cheap Photographers Only Kill Themselves, Not The Industry.

October 2, 2010 | • Philosophy • Resources

First, thanks for all of your input on the first blog post of this series. As usual, your comments are far more interesting, entertaining, and thought provoking than anything I write here. If you haven’t read through those yet, you should. What’s interesting to note in the comments there is how the tone of comments changes through the 100+ of them. They start off friendly enough and then somewhere in the middle a few feathers begin to get ruffled. That’s fine. That’s welcomed. It’s a very interesting time in our industry right now and it’s good to have passionate discussion about it. The smart photographers will sit with open minds and get a bit introspective and take a look at their own business practices. The stupid photographers will sit from on high and just point fingers OR sit at the bottom and think, “I’m banking an extra $1,000 a month that I don’t claim with my $800 camera!”

Anyway. Check out that photo above. It’s some stop light advertising for a wedding photographer advertising weddings starting at $350. Man… that’s cheap. Is this person part of the problem in our industry? Absolutely not. I admire the hustle. I admire the fact that they are trying. Now –  if you are the type of pro photographer that looks at that and says, “This is everything that is wrong with this damn industry! You can’t be a pro charging $350 for a wedding! What an A-hole!” Yeah, if you’re that photographer let me challenge you.

Think of the brides out there who don’t have a budget but want some photos of their weddings. Maybe there are young couples getting married who don’t have the parents to pay for a big event or they don’t want to start their young family in debt but they would like someone to come take some pictures. Are you saying that if they can’t afford a $3,000+ photographer then they don’t deserve photos? Are you saying that if they can’t afford a Mercedes then they shouldn’t be allowed to drive? Shame on you. Not everyone can afford pro level prices. That doesn’t mean they can’t have some level of photographic services available to them.

Let me tell you a little something about my journey being the cheap photographer after the jump…

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Over Saturated Market You Say? You Can Blame Me.

September 22, 2010 | • Philosophy

Everyone wants to be a photographer these days.

Let me warn you now that this blog post is currently in it’s third state of revisions. It’s a real rambler. If you’re up for it, I’m up for it. More after the jump.

If you hang out on Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and the like enough you can “stumble upon” some trends without even trying to. Lately I have seen a number of articles flying around about the over saturation of the photography industry, the unsustainability of the microstock market, and the pros and cons of working for “free”. The “abuse” we photographers receive at the hands of our clients and totally absurd Craig’s List postings of people wanting work for free or photographers giving away the farm for nothing.

Here are a few of the articles that most people are talking about these days.

• Photo business guru John Harrington over at Black Star Rising talking about the 12 excuses for shooting for free. This article is the one that got me thinking about doing this blog post.

• Don Giannatti (Wizwow) has this article on shooting for free, and this article on getting experience. Great reads here.

• David Hobby (Strobist) about working for free. Another must read.

• Rob Haggart (A Photo Editor) about the unsustainability of the micro stock industry. Canary in the coal mine?

Let’s start with the “over saturated” market premise.

I, Zack Arias, am part of the over saturated market. I am one of the many who are filling the waters of this industry. Every job I take is a job off of the table of another photographer. I am a working photographer in large part due to the prevalence of affordable DSLRs, the expense of film and development being removed from my up front overhead, and the Internet.

I’ll be so bold to say that if you have entered this industry in the last ten years then you too are part of the over saturation equation. If you are thinking about becoming a pro photographer, whether part time or full time, then you are over saturating the market as well. I would say the “standard saturation” photographers are the ones who have been in the game, full time, without gaps, for more than ten years.

Let’s break this thing down.

In the days of Kodachrome and dinosaurs there were some pretty set rules of engagement and paths of entrance into the photography industry. You usually started by going to photography school or you started working in a lab. You had to get your feet wet somewhere and school and photo labs were a good place to get started. Once you were ready to move forward you started assisting working photographers. Many times you would have done this for free. I have assisted and interned for free many times and I have met countless photographers who started by schlepping bags and fetching coffee for nothing or next to nothing in pay. It’s what you did. It’s how you got to see how a “real” photographer worked. It was called… get this… “paying your dues.”

These days those paths aren’t so clearly defined. You can go to school via blogs, workshops, YouTube, and DVD’s. You can upload pictures to flickr and suddenly get a message from an art director wanting you to shoot a job. You can be a kid from Canada, travel the world, shoot some bands and end up shooting campaigns for a company you aren’t even old enough to buy their product. You can be inspired by your own wedding photographer, buy a camera, a fast lens, and rise to the top of your zip code within a year. You can go to Wal Mart, buy a cheap DSLR, shoot your friends and family, shoot their friends and families, put a blog together, and start a business. There are so many easy entry points into the market now. There is an abundance of inexpensive cameras, free learning portals, and free advertising routes that allows just about anyone with a camera to get out there and make a little or a lot of money with it.

The worst part about all of this is you don’t even have to be all that good of a photographer to get into the game. That really is the worst part about it all but hang out at enough photography water coolers and you’ll hear stories from “back in the day” about the same damn things. Being a crappy photographer with a profitable business is nothing new. There were just more up front costs to deal with back then. Now it’s just easier to be a crappy sucksessful photographer. Add insult to injury… You can be a fairly mediocre photographer these days and have a workshop teaching others how to be just as mediocre as you are. Meh. Whatever. It is what it is.

Add to all of this the deteriorating morale in the corporate workplace, the need of many to make an extra $100 here and there, unemployment, the recession, blah blah blah, and the fact that a lot of people find it a whole lot cooler to say “I’m a photographer” at social gatherings instead of saying “I’m a systems analyst at a health care company.” Bring this all together into the perfect shit storm of an industry filled to the gills with Joe and Jane Photographers trying to do something cool with their lives AND make some money doing it. I mean, Quicken and Quickbooks didn’t really over saturate the accounting market did it? Maybe I’m wrong.

I’m right here part of it all. I’m part of the over saturated market. You’re part of the over saturated market. Don’t bitch and moan and complain about it because you’re in it with the rest of us.

What do we do with that information? Here we all are. Up to our necks in each other. We watch ten leave because they can’t take the pressure and twenty more take their place. It all gets just a little tighter around here. The last thing in the world you need to do is complain about the situation… unless of course, you’ve been at this for twenty or more years. In that case, my apologies to you. I know you’re feeling the pressure of all of us new kids in the pool but here we are and it’s the only pool in town for us. Complaining about us isn’t making us leave and don’t think for a second that I didn’t just notice the water around me get a lot warmer. :)

Blah blah blah. Metaphor upon metaphor.

So it’s competitive. Guess what? Photography has always been competitive. I don’t know of any other time in this industry when it wasn’t competitive. The nice thing about the industry these days is it seems that most of us are now open to share our experiences with others. Gone are the days of everyone playing with their cards close to their chests. If you are still trying to stay in this industry with that sort of attitude your days are numbered. It’s a real hippy love fest around here these days and we young punk kids ain’t got no time for your old ways of doing things.

Us young punk kids actually really need you to stick around. We need the long established pros to help us out. I know you want us out of your pool but that isn’t happening any time soon. The better you can adapt the better you can survive. Part of adapting is now requiring you to kind of be a life gaurd even though  you’d probably just be as happy to watch us all drown. :)

So. Yeah. Over saturated. Your attitude should shift from “This sucks.” to “So what?”. Big Deal. More at the party dude!

How can I run a business will all these $500 wedding photographers in my town?

That’s the next thing we are going to look at. I’ll let you in on this… I’m all for $500 wedding photographers. For many different and sometimes conflicting reasons. Then we’ll look at the micro stock situation. Is it the canary in the coal mine? Then let’s have a conversation about what it all means at the end of the day and will the industry adjust and what will that look like?

The dog days are over The dog days are done The horses are coming So you better run*

*I actually like to listen to the song above as “The dark days are over” and the horses coming aren’t here for destruction. :)

Cheers, Zack

Sharing :: David E. Jackson :: The Thought Process

September 21, 2010 | • Philosophy • Resources

Friend and colleague, David E Jackson, has recently published this video on his blog about his thought process behind a recent conceptual shoot.

As you are starting on your photographic journey many of your questions will be dealing with cameras and lenses and their settings. What lights were used and with what modifiers. What photoshop actions were used. Etc. Then the day will come when cameras, lenses, lights and all of their settings don’t mean a damn thing to you any more. What you want to know from other photographers is what was the thought process behind a certain photo or series of photos. Dave does a good job breaking that down. Watch the video to hear how he thinks… not which aperture he used.

I’ve been saying for a long time that Dave is “one to watch” and this recent shoot of his only confirms that. Check out his blog for photos and more BTS action for this shoot. Great jorb homestar!

Cheers, Zack

Oi! London!

Oi! Man, are we ever having a jolly good time in London right now! I love this city. Why have I never been here before?

This is Carl Spring. He was attending today’s OneLight. He’s an amazingly good dude.

Cheers, Zack

Studio Tour Coming Up… Sometime. :)

September 7, 2010 | • creativeLIVE

Just wanted to update you on a few videos and blogs posts we are working on.

I promised a studio tour of our place here in Atlanta and that will be coming up. Currently we have a large job in house and we’re under a pretty tight NDA. In order to do the studio tour we would have to clear the entire space of our client’s merch and that’s just something we can’t pull off right now. We will most likely have some down time in October to get that finished up. Sorry for the delay.

The photo above is our cyc wall. It’s about 12 feet tall, 19.5 feet wide, and has a 3 foot radius. From the cyc wall to the other end of the studio is 64 feet. We’ll show you all that in the video along with grip, carts, workspaces, storage, deals we found on furniture, set pieces, etc, etc.

When we get the studio cleared out again we’ll knock out the color worflow video as well as the grip video. We’ll drop them all at once most likely.

Cheers, Zack


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