Saturday, December 26, 2009


With all the news about closing Guantonamo, I thought this might be topical. I don’t know how I feel personally. At this point, it seems like an empty gesture… Most of the detainees are going to be relocated to another prison facility where they will continue to be held indefinitely without trial. It’s a messy situation. I don’t believe the ends justify the means. I’m sure some innocent people got swept up post 9/11. People will say anything under duress. At heart, I am an idealist and what the previous administration did is definitely wrong. But, I don’t necessarily want suspected terrorists released into my neighborhood because they were tortured or improperly held. They might just be guilty.

Here are some shots of AVAAZ’s recent campaign against torture in the DC subways.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The State of the Industry

I don't want to be one of these photography bloggers that only complains about the business side of things. I mean when it comes down to it, I get paid to do what I love. Nothing could be better than that. But, certain things do need to be said. And, at a time, when so many of us are sitting at home desperately waiting for the phone to ring, it's important to remind ourselves that certain jobs should be turned down. Case in point: I received the following from a reputable magazine in London (all identifying info removed):

I have seen your website and wanted to get in touch with regards to possibly shooting for us.

We are about to update our guide to Washington and need to photograph a selection of 80 places (restaurants, shops, hotels and some sights) for our new edition. The places featured will be chosen by our editor and we will also want to photograph 2 areas outside of Washington which visitor could do as a day trip. We would provide you with a shoot list by August 14th and would need the photos by September 18th. The overall fee is £2400, and an additional £200 if you are also happy to photograph the 2 trips.

Our photographers have to be "good all rounders" as we need pretty much everything photographed across a guide: interiors, exteriors, sights, people, details, nightlife etc. We require a choice of 10-15 images per place (different angles, exteriors, interiors, details etc). Most photographers take around 2 weeks for this but you would have up to 4 weeks (we pay a set fee so it's up to the photographer how they work).

I should also say that Foo Magazine Company retains the copyright to the images, which is mainly as some of our magazines sometimes need to re-use the photos or we may also need to re-use some in other guides. If this all sounds interesting to you, I'd love to hear from you!

Many thanks,
Some Photo Editor

So, let's recap here. Converting from pounds to dollars, this comes to $3966.24, divided by 80, means they are paying $49.58 per location. That barely covers mileage and parking (remember these are locations in DC). And, they want us to do this in two weeks. Well, if we include weekends, 80 divided by 14, means we have to shoot about 6 locations per day! That might be OK, if they didn't want us to shoot "pretty much everything... interiors, exteriors, sights, people, details, nightlife, etc." Oh, and one more minor detail, they want the copyright! OK, I know this is editorial. And, we photographers are used to being told what the rates are in these cases. But, this is ridiculous. And, an even sadder fact is that they will find someone to do it, further dragging down the market.

I implore all photographers to think twice before taking jobs like these, even if tough times, because once we do, there is no going back.

Friday, June 12, 2009

65th Anniversary of D-Day

This may be old news by now, but here are some good shots by a familiar photog: faces of d-day

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Vendor Client Relationship

All of us photographers that frequently feel guilty and back down on our pricing should watch this:

Vendor Client Relationship

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

NY Times Photoblog

For those of you who live under a rock, the New York Times has just launched a new photoblog called lens. Not only is it pretty impressive to view in full-screen mode, but the pictures aren't bad either. Definitely, check it out!

Monday, April 20, 2009

No Second Chances...

There is an interesting article and comment thread on "A Photo Editor," about the harsh world of editorial photography. The gist is the main reason to not get a call back is a screw up and once you're done, your done. That is probably true with a given client, and especially with higher end clients. But, I don't think one screwed up job ends your days as a photographer. And, I would like to meet the photographer that has never screwed up. Of course, the best way to get a call back is consistent good work, but it takes practice to get there... A wise man once told me, never believe anyone that always tells you your pictures are awful, and never believe anyone that always tells you your pictures are great.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Non-profit Newspapers?

An interesting article in the Boston Globe on the future of dying newspaper industry.

Get out and shoot!

Occasionally, I start to feel complacent, thinking I'm doing a good job, making a decent living, taking nice pictures. Then, I come across someone with really powerful work and I doubt myself. I remember my journalistic roots, and my dreams of shooting something really meaningful. This happened recently when someone forwarded me a link to Aperture's "Photography with Purpose." In particular, I was moved by a story on Rwandan children born of rape (follow the link below to see some of the photos).

The photographer -- Jonathan Torgovnik -- is very, very good. Every time I see images that affect me on such a visceral level, I feel like I just need to get out and shoot, and not worry so much about making a living.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Just the facts Ma'am...

The story you are about to read is true; the names have been changed to protect the innocent (and the guilty)...

Recently a photo assistant, let's call him Adam, was contacted by a well known photographer, let's call him Ted. Ted had heard good things about Adam and needed an assistant for several days in an upcoming week. He asked Adam to tentatively pencil it in to his calendar.

Time went by and Adam started getting calls from other photographers requesting those same days. Adam called Ted and asked if the dates had been confirmed. Ted told Adam to hold Tuesday and Wednesday as definites. Adam agreed, and turned down jobs from other photographers for both of the confirmed dates.

Just 24 hours before the first shoot, Adam received an email from Ted that said "Looks like the only day that's confirmed is Wednesday... The other shoot will have to be rescheduled." Adam was not sure what to do. He had turned down work for Tuesday, and felt entitled to a cancellation fee. But, he had not discussed that with Ted. He also figured he would still get the job at a later date. In order to keep a good working relationship with Ted, he decided not to charge him, or even to mention the issue.

Tuesday came around, and Adam had no work. At the end of the day he got a call from a friend and fellow assistant, Pam. Pam told Adam about the cool assisting job she had that day with a guy named Ted. It turned out, Ted's job was not canceled after all. He had just used a different assistant. Adam was understandable very upset.

The next day (Wednesday) Adam assisted Ted. He asked Ted if Tuesday's job had been rescheduled yet, knowing full well that it had actually happened. Ted said, "Oh I ended up shooting it without an assistant, because of security issues." Adam knew that Ted had just lied right to his face.

Adam did not mind that Ted had hired Pam, just that Ted had canceled on him first, and that Ted had lied to him. Moreover, Adam was upset because he had gone out of his way to be nice to Ted, not even charging him a cancellation fee.

The moral of the story: Adam mishandled the situation from the beginning. He should have been clear about his policies. And, he should have charged Ted for the cancellation. It would have been different if Adam had a well established "give and take" relationship with Ted. But, since he did not know Ted and had not worked with him before, he should not have gone out of his way to be nice.

As business people, whether photographers or assistants, we have to stand up for ourselves. Otherwise, our clients will walk all over us.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A diversion of sorts

This blob (terminology stolen from David Burnett ;) was intended to be purely about the biz... I was only to write about my experiences as a young emerging photographer. Not my personal life. Today, however, is such a momentous occasion, that I have to let my personal life creep in. Today, I turn 30. What a scary thought! And, while everyone keeps telling me it's just a number, it does seem slightly more significant than that.

Why is 30 such a milestone? Because, I think, it's a checkpoint. We all remember having thoughts as kids, "where will I be when I'm older." At the time, "older" was anyone over 30, you know those people Bob Dylan said not to trust. It seemed so distant then. And, while I certainly don't feel like it has been ten years since I was 20, it does seem like ages ago. So, I guess, turning 30, is a chance to reexamine our lives and see if they measure up to our childhood dreams. Well, here goes...

At age 12, I wanted to be an Astronaut. I planned to one day marry Lea Thompson (Back to the Future, SpaceCamp), I hoped to save the world with my superb computer hacking skills (ala War Games), I wanted to be a worldwide karate champion, and of course to become a great explorer, like Lewis and Clark. All the while, I loved taking pictures of anything and everything, and playing with my Dad's Nikon F2. But that was just a hobby.

On the surface, it would seem, I have utterly failed at achieving my goals. But, let's take a closer look. OK, so I'm no astronaut. But, the draw at the time was to do something exciting and active and not have a desk job. I think I've achieved that. And, while I'm not married to Lea Thompson, settling down and having a family is very important to me. OK, so I haven't hacked into NORAD, but technology has always fascinated me. And, even though I'm not pursuing a career in computer science, I do love the toys I get to play with in my job. Alright, alright. I'm not a great explorer and I'm not quite Bruce Lee. But, traveling the world, discovering the unknown, and being physically active are still all very important to me. Wait there was another thing right?

Oh yeah, the taking pictures bit. For as long as I can remember I've been fascinated with photography. But, I never really thought I could make a career out of it. Then, about a year and a half ago, I decided to take leap of faith. I quit my job, started assisting and started getting published. I'm not exactly the likes of my photographic idols. But, I am making a living doing what I love. So, maybe at 30, I'm not so far off from where I wanted to be afterall.

Friday, February 13, 2009

You are seller; they are buyer

"If the agency provides its own contract, I cross everything out that is duplicated in my agreement, only letting stand things that are not covered in my agreement. As the photographer, you are the seller; they are the buyer. The idea that they should dictate the terms by which you run your business is ridiculous. However, so many photographers have given in to this practice that it has set a terrible precedent. Don't perpetuate this practice by allowing it." --Ira Gostin

As an emerging photographer and an experienced assistant, I still struggle with pricing, standing up for myself, and asking for what's fair. But, imagine walking into Kmart and saying "I don't really want to pay $40 for these pants; I only have $15... Oh, and if you could gift wrap that for me at no extra cost, that would be swell."

It's a hard lesson to learn, especially for those of us early in our careers. We're so eager to land a job that we're willing to work for pennies. But, as we get more experienced and realize that those pennies don't go very far, we start to curse the next round of newbies doing the same thing.

We should ask ourselves if doing the job for less than the more experienced photographer means the client will accept crummy pictures. I don't think so. If they expect a high quality result, they should pay for it, no matter how many years the photographer has under his belt. We should also ask ourselves how we'll feel in ten years when we see that image that we gave away still being used by some company, that paid us nothing to make it.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The best shot you never took.

"I can't tell you how many pictures I've missed, ignored, trampled, or otherwise lost just 'cause I've been so hell bent on getting the shot I THINK I want." -- Joe McNalley

I recently bought Joe McNalley's "The Moment it Clicks." This book has inspired me more than any other photography book has in a while. As photographers, we often get so caught up in just getting something, completing the job, pleasing the client, that we forget what got us doing this stuff in the first place. The excitement of finding something you didn't expect and could not have planned for. The surprises. Above, Joe is talking about a job where he was dragging heavy equipment along the Savannah River in the early morning hours. Tired and overthinking things, he turned around and saw a magnificent sight. A Baptist march heading for the river in the misty dawn. He threw up a tripod and took a shot in the dark (no pun intended). The tungsten film in his camera gave the image a gorgeous blue tone and the slow shutter speed made the figures glimmer. As he puts it, "It was the picture of the day, and the day hadn't even started."

A couple weeks ago I had a job for a national publication I've never worked for before. I was terrified. When the time came, I was so nervous I could barely breath. And, all I kept thinking was how am I going to make this amazing. I over thought how to light it, where to put the subject, what to have her do. I over thought everything. In the end, I came away with a usable picture, but nothing spectacular. I don't expect a call back. Later when lamenting to a colleague and showing my images, he pointed out how nice it would have been if I had just shot it natural light. It had never even occurred to me. I never really stopped to see what was around me.

Maybe this is why for so many photographers, their personal work is their best work. Because they just do what they do, without over thinking things. Of course for the best of the best, their daily work is their personal work.