14Aug

My Photo of the Month

Just wanted to share an image I recently shot while on assignment. I was hired to capture an image of Lombard Street in San Francisco – best known for its one-way section on Russian Hill (between Hyde & Leavenworth Streets)- eight sharp turns (or switchbacks) that have earned Lombard the distinction of being “the crookedest street in world (part of The Presidio and Cow Hollow neighborhoods).

I traveled to the city one day after scouting some locations on Google Earth (that’s right, sign of the modern age) and spent an afternoon picking the best spot to shoot from. Knowing the light could look nice at sunrise yet most likely devoid of vehicles, I choose to shoot in the late afternoon – not only to catch the hill in shade, slightly backlit, but also hoping the sun would reflect off of the street to help it stand out.

I shot from a few locations, one close to the actual street, others miles away. Using a 300mm lens with a 1.4 teleconverter and my digital 35mm SLR, I was able to crop the street nicely from one of my vantage points on Telegraph Hill. Although I mounted my lens on a large Gitzo tripod, I still set the mirror lock feature and shutter timer to keep the camera as steady as possible – afternoon winds blowing atop the hill made me worry about camera shake.

I shot all the way until twilight, finally documenting this scene below – the perfect time to capture a long exposure of the moving cars combined with the waning light of the day – which turned out to be my favorite. No filter was used and the final exposure turned out to be: f/11 @ 30 seconds using ISO 100

The magazine didn’t end up using this image, and picked another I photographed during the afternoon. Although I’m partial to this capture, an old editor of mine sent me an email after seeing my image in the magazine – he wrote: Your picture of Lombard St in VIA is probably the best I’ve seen. It’s so difficult to make a different shot of a famous place, and yours gave a new perspective. I can’t imagine how you got it without cars, and of course a nice touch with the cable car at the top.”

Once again proving photography, as all art, is subjective.


30Jul

Taking a break from photography


As I was on a run this evening listening to John Mayer’s “Into Your Atmosphere”, I thought I’d write to all of you to talk a bit about taking a break from photography. This may mean a few days to some, it may mean a few months to others- it all depends on your personality and what’s going on in your life. Sometimes this simple act can work as a catalyst helping you push forward into projects you’ve been holding off on, or help you create new images you might not have thought of in the past.


As a person who’s captured images since I picked up my first camera at the age of 11 (now 41), I’ve been deeply engulfed in photography in every way possible – from planning and shooting my assignments around the world, to holding gallery shows displaying my fine art prints – writing a 50,000 word book on exposure, to organizing industry events for ASMP – dealing with all that goes into a photo business, to all the self-educating needed to keep up with the latest and greatest in gear and software – and now attempting to create tv show and be the Photoguru to the general public – it’s a lot to do on a regular basis.

And even though I love my career, a few years ago I began to burn out on it a bit. I was always aware of this happening and knew to get away and take breaks from it when I had to, but at that point I realized I needed to slow down on my shooting to find that hunger again. Photography tends to ground me from time to time and has brought a lot of peace to my life, but doing it as a full-time job is whole other ball of wax.

People often think having a career as a photographer is this great job where you travel and get paid for a living – piece of cake right? Far from it. Capturing great shots is a blast, but working on deadline, tight budgets, lots of pressure sometimes, all kinds of weather issues, as well as all the other major and minor details that goes into every shoot is tough. When I get just a one-day assignment, I have to plan that day out, make sure I produce the work needed within the budget allocated, and although some think “hey, if you don’t get the shot, you can always go back the next day”, that just ain’t the case. Your profits drop, expenses increase, and it ends up being an expensive hobby and not your main source of income.


After a few year of shooting less (finding bigger clients, more commercial jobs, and diversifying my business some to maintain the level of income I was earning) my excitement for photography came back 100%. I never stopped shooting, but I definitely cut back on the frequency. I’ve never been one to take a camera everywhere I go, and that too I feel has helped me stay fresh in my outlook of the art, carrying that jubilation of capturing a great shot whenever I do so.


And whether it’s jammin’ to Kanye while ridin’ my mountain bike, or leaving my cameras at home while visiting Lake Tahoe for the weekend, I believe these mental breaks have played just as big of a role in my photography as did the times where I had all my gear- where I may have worked 20 hours in a day to complete a job, or been two weeks away from home on assignment. Photography may be my job, and yes I love making images, but it doesn’t rule my life- the constant search for happiness – contentment – peace – laughter – that does.

So if you take a deep breath or sigh when you pick up your camera, find yourself getting extra frustrated when you miss a shot, or think you’ve reached a plateau in the images you’re creating, consider the option of back burnering your photography. Go for a ride, get back into running, or wait a while until a little dust collects on your camera. You might be thinking “What Sean? Stop shooting photos? Didn’t think that would come from you.” To quote Chris Rock in his last HBO special “That’s right, I SAID it! And I’m looking straight at cha!” 🙂

Remember, you’re not alone in feeling that way, and your passion for the medium will never go away. Happy humpday photo-geeks and geekettes.

16Jul

How to Survive the Credit Crunch

This economic year is affecting everyone, not only in the U.S. and U.K., but as well around the globe. Budgets are tighter for companies small and large, resulting in less advertising, affecting ad agencies and magazines – this trickles down to photographers through fewer assignments, smaller stock sales, and less work. As for the public market, individuals are just as concerned and have less disposable income, resulting in fewer purchases of books, fine art prints, lower workshop numbers, as well as tighter budgets for wedding and family portraits.


So what to do? How do you keep your business going during these times? Here are a few ways to keep the ball rolling – some are tangible steps, and others can’t be measured – but they’ve worked for me the past 20 years as a full-time pro.

1) Keep yourself busy, very busy – although it’s not a tangible thing you can keep track of, I believe the more energy you put out there, the more comes your way. I’ve noticed when I’m busy, I’m not all that motivated to get to extra work since my schedule is packed and free time is limited. It’s not the best way to run your business since you should always be marketing, but it’s reality. Yet when times are slow, it’s easy to get depressed and lose confidence. So instead, use that hunger to motivate you.
By keeping yourself busy and always have things to work on, whether capturing new images for your portfolio, cataloging your work, taking advantage of the time to connect with new clients, or starting new projects you’ve had on the back burner, time will pass and opportunities will arise from the positive effort.

2) Partner up with others. I also believe in synergy. I’m not big on trades since they don’t pay the bills, but if you need a designer for some promotional materials, and a designer needs a photographer for their specific need, making a trade can save both sides money – and the collaboration of creative people can often lead to new opportunities.

3) Reorganize: Take time to reorganize your business and hone your skills- we rarely have time to do this, so no better time than the slow present. Whether captioning and organizing your images, cleaning out your computer, or re-packing your photo bags- when I’m swamped I rarely have time to do any of this, so I use my slower times for these tasks. I call it investment toward future earnings. How so? I’ll give you an example. When a request comes across my desk for Yellowstone images and my client needs to review some asap, I’m able to build a lightbox immediately and throw it up on the web due to captioning them a year earlier during a slow week. That quick response, in turn, leads to more sales.

4) Cut your overhead: Whether you have to rent a smaller office space or studio, or simply not purchase that new laptop or 35mm dSLR you’ve wanted, one way most companies survive the tough times is by cutting costs. It’s hard to do, but sometimes you have to rent out your studio, sell some gear you rarely use, or cut out services you don’t need. Less overhead means less pressure to make ends meet.

5) School yourself: Brush up on all the new software you may have in your computer – whether being Photoshop CS4, Lightroom, Aperture, or even Excel and Word hone your skills to tighten your workflow. A few years ago when I had a slow month, I transferred all my presentations from Powerpoint to Keynote, learned the application well, and when the next workshop date arrived, I was ready with a solid lecture.

6) Diversify: Diversifying your business is important in general, but critical during these times. When I started my business, I landed a stock agency and a job capturing production photography three days a week in a studio. As my business grew, I added editorial assignments, then workshops, more ad and corporate work, and slowly expanded my photo business. By putting “20 eggs in the basket”, and hoping a few came through, I was able to always have a check coming from somewhere.

7) Work on personal projects. Personal projects can not only be rewarding, but often bring new assignments – all the while allowing you to shoot exactly what you are most interested in. I’m currently working on two new projects – a book I hope to publish, and another a studio project capturing a subject I’ve been interested in for years- both of which I can do from my home or office.

8) Delve into the realm of social sites and email marketing. When you market your photography through emails, costs can be drastically lower than snail mail, and you can hit thousands of clients on a tight budget. Just remember though, respect client requested to be removed from lists, and be considerate of no-email requests.

New media sources such Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Word Press, MySpace, RedRoom, as well as blogging can also expand your web coverage and bring new business. These websites are the rage with many photographers jumping in, but if you haven’t, consider these social sites as potential marketing tools. After my first book came out, I joined a site where people can connect with authors and over a period of a few months, had roughly 2000 people visit my pages. By marketing my book through these sites, I believe I was able to keep it in the top 50 photo books for the first six months of 2009, an incredibly difficult year where sales are down- my publisher was very happy with the numbers, which hopefully will lead to more distribution and sales, as well as future book projects.

Just remember, you want to be unique, a bit different from the other million photographers doing the same thing – so pick an agenda or a style and run with it. Blogging about random thoughts not related to photography probably won’t get you new work. I personally have a page on Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, MySpace, and YouTube, and my blog appears on all the top blog sites – which has lead to thousands of hits for my business.

Sure it takes some work to keep these up-to-date, but it pays off in both tangible and intangible ways. This year I sold two gallery prints, made a stock sale, sold a number of copies my exposure book, had a few people sign up for my workshops, did a consultation for a photographer, and landed a big corporate shoot – all through my presence on these sites.

9) Create a dream client list: One way to market yourself is to go after a certain type of client you are most interested in, and one that fits the type of work you like to capture. Whether you obtain your list through a mailing list company (Ad Base, Fresh Lists, etc), or simply locate the information online, this exercise can not only help you focus on the type of imagery you want to market, and the type of work you want to do, but could also help you land that dream client you always wanted. I always said, someone has to shoot for the National Geographic– why can’t it be me? By focusing on that top 10 list of clients, you pay more attention to them, may get to know the principals, and since it often about who you know instead of what you can do, you may just land that client.

10) Brainstorm: Often during hard times, people come up with new ways to promote or sell a product or service- this usually occurs simply through brainstorming for better ideas. I’ve been a photographer more than half my life, but it doesn’t mean I’ve thought of everything- in fact quite the opposite. So remember, you may come up with an idea that saves your business – one that’s not even on this list.

Good luck and happy shooting!


14Jul

Fuji’s 3D camera coming soon

Too busy to write much this week, but do check out Fuji’s potential 3D camera to launch this September – story on Engadget.com (a great tech blog I love to read): http://www.engadget.com/2009/07/12/fuljfilms-finepix-real-3d-camera-to-launch-in-september-cost-a/



07Jul

My 2nd segment on The View From the Bay coming this July 14th


Next Tuesday I’ll be back on The View From the Bay, a great afternoon lifestyle show on ABC Channel 7 KGO-TV in the San Francisco Bay Area. I’m looking forward to seeing Janelle Wang and Spencer Christian again, the two great hosts, as well as the whole production staff.


Continuing my goal to be the Photoguru, a commercial pro and photo expert with my own tv show, I’ll be going on to promote my book and talk about five cool compact cameras to check out for the summer season. No side-by-side comparison deal- just cameras that are different in the features they have, price points, and functionality.

The five point-and-shoots I’m testing out and reviewing are:

GoPro’s Helmet HERO Wide: I’ve had a blast with this 5 mega-pixel “point of view” camera, attaching it to my bicycle helmet, my bike, strapping it around my waist, and even on my car for great shots you couldn’t otherwise get in a system under $200.

If you looking for top quality and price isn’t an issue, this compact comes with the Leica name and quality (their lenses are known as the best in the biz-nas), full control of functions, and made for the serious amateur interested in creating high-quality shots in an easy-to-carry system.


Nikon’s Coolpix S60: A 10 mega-pixel p&s offers a great touch screen, – I went with Arctic White, the color of my old ’86 VW Golf (see it at the start of this blog)

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX 150: A great compact has the highest mega-pixels in the group at 14.7 million, with manual functions and a Leica lens packed into a sleek body. I personally own this model.

FujiFilm Z33WP: A great 10 mega-pixel waterproof compact camera with a flash, LCD screen, and a cool strap that floats. I’ve enjoyed using it in the swimming pool with my daughters as well at in a river in the Sierras. Fuji sent me the bright pink model- that’s right, I’m Mr. Fancy Pants.

I’ll also show off Joby’s line of cool bendable tripods- fun, functional, and they come in cool colors like blue, green, and pink! Use it for self-portaits, attach it to a tree branch or a pole, and pack it anywhere in your suitcase.


Canon never sent me a camera to review and I was a bit disappointed since they own the point-and-shoot market and have a great line of small digital cameras. But the ones I have are top-notch and would rate high in any comparison so I’m good to go.

So tune in Tuesday, July 14th, from 3-4pm for my segment- it will be fun, informative, and entertaining! And if you’re not in the area, the segment will post on the web at KGO’s site (as did my February spot on Great Family Vacation Photos): http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=view_from_the_bay/everything_else&id=6674127

03Jul

You say Lacie, I say Lacie……rocks!


People often ask me what type of gear I use – whether in the field or at my desk. Today, with digital dominating the photo industry, I’m often asked how I back up or store the hundreds of thousands of photos I’ve acquired and store in my image collection.

Besides backing up a number of images on gold archival DVDs, I currently have seven Lacie hard drives – a 2TB, 1.5TB, 1TB, two 500GB, 250GB desktop, and a 250GB mobile HD (to backup memory cards while on shoots). I love Lacie, they have been fast and reliable for me ever since I started buying external hard drives, they work on Mac or PC easily, and their customer service is good- that’s hard to say in the days of crappy customer service.

So when Lacie came along and asked if I’d join there website as a pro who could recommend their drives, I said ‘you bet’. They provided me with a number of questions, and I’ve listed some of my answers below.

Provide a quote:
Being a photographer doesn’t mean just taking good photographs- you need to be a well-organized, reliable, likable person who connects well with others- and one who can be uniquely creative in a moment’s notice.

How did you your start as a commercial photography?
I picked up a camera at 11, always knew I’ be a photographer. Received a “F” in photography in high school, but didn’t let it deter me. In 1988 I enrolled at Brooks Institute of Photography where I received my Bachelor of Arts in Commercial photography in 1991. That summer I sent out 150 resumés with no job offers, so I started my own business combining outdoor, on-location, & studio photography- 19 years later, I’ve traveled the world capturing images for hundreds of clients, published thousands of times in numerous countries.

What have been some of your favorite events to photograph?
I enjoy a mix of subjects, all challenging in unique ways – from adventure sports to environmental portraits, from culture to landscapes, from wildlife to studio still lifes. One of the most amazing experiences I had was traveling through Borneo photographing an adventure race and subsequently capturing images of the Penan and jungles of Sarawak.

How has LaCie made your life as a photographer easier?
I always know my digital images and business files are backed up on fast reliable drive, easily accessible. Plus, I can get to large files quickly on any computer I own, as well as set up new hard LaCie drives easily.

Where have you been with your LaCie drives?
I travel with my LaCie rugged 250GB hard drive everywhere my photo assignments take me – from Los Angeles to Chicago, Seattle to Las Vegas – anywhere I go on assignment today, my LaCie portable drives goes with me. If I have a one-day shoot with a budget of $15,000, I must back up my images.

How do you see the world of digital storage developing and how will it make your job easier?

If Hard Drives last longer with more storage space – that is having a longer life (more than 3-5 years), allowing you to store more images (as it has over the past 10 years going from 160MBs to 2TB as digital files get larger and larger) safely.

How long have you been a user of LaCie products?
I picked up my first LaCie HD, 200GB model a number of years ago from the
Apple Store (after reading a number of reviews about the best hard drive). I’ve bought and own 7-8 since.

Describe an experience with your LaCie drive where our product greatly enabled your workflow:

Hard to describe one- my LaCie drives help my workflow everyday, accessing files from Adobe Photoshop and Bridge, adding images to my Extensis Portfolio database to track and reference thousands of images, and open original files hundreds of megabytes large straight from the drives. Backing them up is also very easy and simple, whether using software or dragging and dropping folders into a backup disk.

As the Photoguru, I want to recommend products I use and believe in – Lacie HDs are one of those products. I’ll soon add an article to Photoguru.tv as well reviewing my Lacie rugged portable hard drive. Happy Summer folks- use sunblock & wear a hat.


27May

Signed copies of my book, The BetterPhoto Guide to Exposure

For anyone interested in improving their photographic skill and learning more about exposure, you can order a signed copy of my book directly through us by going to this link:


Click on the “Buy Now” link and pay using any credit card through PayPal. We’ll mail out a signed copy, and if you’d like me to sign anything specific besides my name, let us know.

The book remains in the top 50 photo books since January, has received a number of great reviews on Amazon as well as other websites, is packed with solid info, over 250 images, fun assignments, and more.


20May

A great deal for Photoshop lite

Love me some Costco – great deals, yummy food, quality products. While shopping there with my daughters last weekend, I couldn’t help but notice the great deal Costco has for Adobe’s Photoshop Elements.


Most list the product for $139 (including Adobe), maybe as low as $99, but Costco has it for $79.99.


They only have it for Windows (didn’t see a Mac version there), but so many of you are on PCs, and it’s a great program to own. A must have piece of software for many photo enthusiasts wanting to get into Photoshop, but not interested in shelling out a ton for the full CS4 version -a version where they may only use a small percentage of the amazing functions available.


Click this link to see the software on Costco’s site: Costco-Adobe PS Elements

Enjoy Photogurus and Photoguruesses….

13May

Stick to acting Ashton

Let me start off by saying, I like Ashton Kutcher– enjoy ‘Punked’, like many of the movies he does, and think it’s impressive to have the resumé he does at his age – nothing personal toward him.


And maybe he’s making a lot of money for Nikon, but come on- what’s with all the camera ads done by an actor who knows very little about photography? It would be like a fake doctor telling you what drugs to take. Or a lizard telling you what insurance to order, while tens of thousands of lizards sadly die every year, all without insurance…. a horrible but true fact.

🙂

I mean come on – all the women are following you ’cause you have that cool point-and-shoot? Yeah, right. I wish. If that was the case I would have been beatin’ ’em off with a stick over the years (actually I got a pretty hot one for my wife, holding on to her for 16 years so maybe Ashton has a point). Hotties everywhere would have been chasing my rear all around Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, Southeast Asia, or Mexico.

“Hey Sean, whatcha got there? Ouuuu that’s a big lens – do you know how to use it?” Yeah, I know how to use it- thanks for the compliments too- would you like me to teach you how to take great photos? Wait WAIT! What am I doing?! Back off before my wife opens a can of whoop-ass. Sorry, temporary man disease.

When it comes to lookin’ pretty and acting, maybe you’ve got one on me Kutch. But when it comes to apertures and shutter speeds, flash and natural light, and just plain ol’ having a killer eye to capture great shots, Ashton, you are out of your league my friend.

Sound like a jealous photographer? Not at all. He got where he got with hard work, and probably signed a lucrative contract to promote a product. I would have done the same thing. It’s typical of Nikon to do this- to place no trust in their pros being able to sell their product, and instead grab a hip celeb and make some flashy ads. Shoot, I’ve used their gear since I was 11, believe in the product, been on the cover of the calendars, in their product guides (this year again), Nikon World magazine, their trade shows, and so on, but they’ve never been nothing but rude and condescending to me. It’s why I dropped my NPS membership (Nikon Professional Services) after 17 years – nothing but arrogant people who don’t want to help their pros- all of this while Canon pros go on and on about how great Canon treats them and takes care of their needs. Hmmm, I’ve always liked Canon gear.

As I said I would have done the same thing as A.K., but with a small difference. I’ve been published all over the world, captured images for hundreds of clients ranging from National Geographic to Timex, and proud to bring a solid portfolio to the table – a collection of images at 40 years young I challenge any photographer to rival.

So here’s my pitch to all the companies out there directly and indirectly involved in photography. Apple, Canon, Epson, Fuji, Kodak, Nikon, Minolta, Olympus, Promaster, Sigma, Tamron, and many many more – if you want a spokeman to promote your gear, if I were you I’d picked me, the Photoguru- but hell, don’t even pick me – just pick someone with genuine clout in the industry.

Someone the pubic can say “Wow, that photographer knows how a capture amazing images – maybe they DO know something I don’t”. And Ashton, I ain’t got nuthin’ but love for yah baby – and if you need to brush up on your photo-knowledge, I offer workshops every month.

08May

The White Whale


Although I’ve never had the chance to own a German-made rangefinder Leica camera (always wanted to – one of my dream cameras), I just wanted to share this dope Special Edition All-White Leica M8.


Sure it’s around $8500 (ouch), the black and silver versions listing around $6500 (what a deal!) and the Safari camouflage version at ten grand, but at least you can tip your nose up as other peasant photographers capture images around you with their American and Japanese counterparts.


In all seriousness, Leica makes an amazing product, simple, clean, durable, and unassuming (I know, that’s a bit ironic with the price tag, but most who aren’t into photography don’t realize the price or quality of it).


Made famous by photographers such as Henri Cartier Bresson and Diane Arbus, their lenses have been top-notch for years, and past models dating back to the 50s are always in demand (just type in Leica on eBay and see for yourself).


If you just received your bail-out check or play shortstop for the Yankees, you can call Leica at 800-222-0118 in inquire about adding this cool 10.3 megapixel gem for your collection. Don’t forget to go back to Congress when you need to buy a few lenses for it.


And when Leica sends me a free one, I’ll test it out and add more info. 🙂