This year marks my 23rd year as a professional photographer – exactly half of my life on Earth. In 1991, at the age of 23, I graduated Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, receiving my Bachelor of Arts in Commercial Photography, young and enthusiast, eager to set the photo world on fire…at least I hoped.  

A month later, after sending out 150 resumés around the West with no job offers in return, I figured I might as well start my own business. I pounded the payment, shot self-assignments and had a number of images published from those shoots, and through it all my business slowly grew. There were many months where I wondered how I’d cover my expenses, pay my bills, yet somehow I was able to.

 
Many over glamorize professional photography, especially travel, assuming you trek the globe simply clicking away with ease while clients pay you. Far from the truth. You suffer, sacrifice, struggle, have successes, disappointments, moments of amazement, times of loneliness, all the while wondering where your next paycheck will come from.  Doing this for over twenty years can wear on any person.  Sure you attempt to diversify your business, obtain regular clientele, and place as many proverbial eggs in the basket as you can, but with staff turnover prevalent in our industry and an over-saturated market, you consistently fight the battle to be remembered when a photographer or photograph is needed.


Through all of this, I still can’t see myself doing anything else. My hopes were always to lead an extraordinary life, and this goal continues to drive me today. I can’t wait to capture the next image, yet I’m willing to take breaks between shoots to keep myself fresh and hungry. I continue to love photography, whether I’m taking shots with my iPhone and funkifying them to share online, or produce a commercial shoot with lights, models, and a crew for a high-end client.  I’m extremely proud of the collection of work I have; to be able to look back at my career in a tangible way is rare. These days I feel I’m at my best, combining my knowledge and experience to handle any job thrown my way, and hope to build on my collection to create some of my best images in the years to come; to use the skills I’ve acquired to be even more creative and to grow as an artist, writer, teacher and businessperson.
 
As for highlights, well I’ve been lucky enough to be published thousands of times around the world on coves of magazines, books, ads, CD covers and websites. I’ve done segments on tv, captured images with Nikon’s first DSLR way back in 1995, hung out of helicopters, finished two successful books, fought for better rates and contracts for photographers, met many amazing athletes, and had numerous articles appear in most of the major photography magazines.  As exciting as these moments were, they don’t show the countless hours of planning, preparation, and execution that went in to making them happen; the stress involved or the responsibility I carried. But no career shows this, it’s part of the deal.  

Today, I received a review of my business from a recent client that hit the nail on the head as far as what I try to provide each and every customer.  It was a nice reminder of how hard work, honesty, and pride of ownership can pay off:
 
Sean is a true professional with a great photographic eye. You can’t go wrong using him for any of your photography needs. He immediately contacted me to work out a plan for our photo shoot. He is a great listener and took copious notes so that he fully understood what I was looking for with photographer services. He also interjected his professional opinion when asked, which was a big help because I was relying on his significant expertise. On the day of the shoot, he arrived promptly, set up his equipment and proceeded to execute on every shot on my shot list. Sean was able to shoot both indoor studio shot for my barbecue grill but also outdoor “glamour” shots that had a high degree of commercial appeal. Sean will travel to you, be forth coming about his services, and is very reasonably priced given his decades of experience in photography. Cannot recommend him highly enough.

I can only wonder what the next twenty three years will bring.  At that point I’ll be 68, with any luck going strong and sharing my love for the visual world with many. I’m sure there’ll be some suffering, sacrifice, struggles, and success.  Hopefully some of that success will come in the form of a great big giant lottery ticket.  🙂  But if it doesn’t, at least I’ll have something money can’t buy- a life well lived.


Last month my older brother and I planned a long overdue backpacking weekend up in Yosemite, to retrace some of the steps we took 19 years ago in Tenaya Canyon.  It was a fun badly-needed three days of nothing but hiking, camping, and photographing amongst granite and pines.We spent the first afternoon in thick fog, backpacking our way up a steep granite dome near Olmsted Point, the second day cross-country backpacking down its wide, long arête then navigating down another steep granite wall into Tenaya Canyon.  We sat and ate lunch on a granite slope dipping our feet in a small pool of rainwater, and as the afternoon light began to fade, we set off searching for a campsite for our second night out.  Working our way through a dense forest and criss-crossing the almost dry Tenaya Creek, we decided to each take a side and see who might find the optimal location to set up camp.  After a few minutes my brother yelled out, “this looks like a nice spot”, and I meandered over to inspect it.  The campsite was perfect – just 25 feet or so from Tenaya Creek, one flat area next to some pines perfect for a tent, a few logs positioned nicely as chairs, and a round glacial erratic granite boulder with a small fire ring built into the side- ironically the only evidence of a past campsite we found in the canyon, yet easy to overlook.

After setting up camp, building a fire, shooting sunset over Half Dome, and cooking dinner, the stars began to appear at twilight.  As we sat cooking apple sausage over the first, I broke out my gear again to see what I might capture that evening.  I soon realized the scene I wanted was to include the campfire, the granite boulder, and the stars, but I wasn’t sure which angle would work best.  After setting up a few shots moving around the erratic, and settled in on a view that would include the campfire.  Understanding exposure well (having written a book on the subject), I knew I’d have to wait for the fire to dwindle down to a small glow in order to have its exposure match the faint glow of ambient light from the stars above.  

When that moment came, I mounted my Nikon D800E DSLR onto my Gitzo carbon fiber tripod and Acratech GP ballhead, attached my 12-24mm lens, framed a vertical composition, and began shooting, alternating between ISO 800 all the way up to ISO 3200.  The campfire was still too bright, so while waiting patiently I thought of another idea – to use the light from my headlamp to illuminate the area surrounding the boulder, to add depth and dimension to the foreground.  Firing my shutter for the long exposure, I would move to the right of the boulder, turn on my headlamp, “paint” the area quickly with light, shut it off, then wait for the exposure to complete.  With each frame, I fine-tuned my light painting to make it look as natural and subtle as possible.  This was the result:

 

The orange glow of a campfire blazing against the granite boulder glacier erratic, below the star-filled night sky including The Milky Way, Pleiades (bottom right- also known as Seven Sisters, Messier object 45 or M45, an open star cluster), Cassiopeia (upper middle left –  a constellation in the northern sky), and the Andromeda Galaxy (upper right – a spiral galaxy approximately 2.5 million light-years from Earth, also known as Messier 31, M31, or NGC 224).  I exposed this scene with my lens set at 18mm, in manual mode, spot metering, for 15.0 seconds using f/4.0 at ISO 1600.

Granite is my all-time favorite type of rock.  There is an energy it gives off that makes me feel so happy.  If I had a previous life, I must have slept on it staring up at the stars because it always feels like home.  Fittingly, granite is an igneous rock, which means “born from fire”, red hot fluid rock that cooled slowly allowing crystals to form within it. So maybe a mimicked nature’s creation with my own creation.


I call this image my ode to Stephen Lyman.  Stephen was a painter who works I greatly admire.  I recall falling in love with his romantic rugged scenes of the Sierra, small campfires glowing at twilight surrounded by granite landscapes.  Sadly he died what he loved doing, off on another trek to find new inspiration, his body recovered from a rocky ledge near the Cathedral Rocks area of Yosemite National Park in 1996.  An experienced outdoorsman, he was only 38.  If you’d like to view some of his great works of art, visit: http://lymanprints.com/

 
I look forward to making a very large print and matting and framing it for our living room.  Hopefully the photo will sell well in my image library, maybe as a magazine cover someday, definitely as a fine art print.  Regardless, it’s one I’m proud to have captured, and a memory with my brother I’ll never forget.
 
For more on experiences in Tenaya Canyon, check out my September blog post talking about our trip 19 years ago: http://www.the-photoguru.blogspot.com/#!http://the-photoguru.blogspot.com/2012/09/into-tenaya-canyons-abyss.html

I just had to share a photo I captured yesterday while teaching a photo workshop on flowers at Calumet and the Conservatory of Flowers in San Francisco.  Sharing not so much to show the image I captured, yet more so the detail I’ve loving in my new Nikon D800E 36MP DSLR (and no, Nikon doesn’t pay or sponsor me).In a garden of dahlia flowers, I captured this scene with my 70-200mm f/2.8 Tamron lens – not a macro lens.  Take into account this bumblebee was visiting various flowers, buzzing in and out of each one, constantly on the move, so I wasn’t dealing with a still subject, nor was I using a tripod.  Even outside the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park, on the edge of the coastal fog rolling in, the flowers were catching some wind and moving themselves.

As far as my DSLR goes, yeah, I love it- it’s the camera I’ve always wanted.  The image sensor ranks even higher than the D4 (in fact DxO Labs rated it the highest DSLR on the market), and that’s a big part of why I bought it.  It’s also about the engine of this beast – 36 megapixels, which for an outdoor/ landscape/commercial photographer provides huge files to blow up nicely, tons of intricate detail, and minimal noise in a top-notch full-frame image sensor.  There’s lots of extra bells and whistles – cool new LiveView functions, an incredibly fast auto-focus (although I still manual focus a ton), and a sturdy well-built frame.

This image was captured at 1/400 sec, using f/2.8 and ISO 100 in manual exposure mode while spot metering.  You can see the detail of the bee here in a close-up.

It’s rare that a piece of equipment gets me excited about photography – usually it’s my subject, the location, the moment, the light.  This Nikon camera has energized me about the images I hope to capture in the near future!


12Nov

My Hoodman gear


Just tweeted about some Hoodman gear I picked up last weeText Colork. One of the reasons for doing my tv show is to talk about a mix of photo gear, and one of the reasons for my blogs (and tweets) is to mention the products I use and believe in- I like finding great gear, and my simple test is if I use it for years then I know it’s good.


Love Hoodman. I first picked up their loupe a few years back for my Nikon D200 and on every workshop I did, my students realized they were missing out – to review your LCD screen without any outdoor light was just fantastic- and besides that, the product is well made, tough, durable, and sharp.

I also use their UDMA RAW memory cards (fast speed memory cards), Right-angle viewfinder (great for macro work), eye cups (great to shoot with, to block out side light when you’re looking through your viewfinder, and LCD Safe Cleaners.

I recently picked up their new loupe (the Hoodman 3.0 Glare Free LCD Viewing Loupe – Model H-LPP3) last week – used it on assignment and I dig it! Covers the whole 3″ LCD screen, sharp as can be blocking out 99% of the light, allowing me to review my images fast without the influence of the ambient light. I also grabbed a MacBook Laptop hood (I should be using on photo shoots, with and without clients, on my MacBook Pro, allowing us both the ability to see the screen better in bright light), and a few LCD screen cleaners.

Anyway, that’s my gear of the week- and no, they don’t pay me to say this (at least not yet!). Check ’em out- solidly-made gear, quality, at a decent price, made by good people: http://hoodmanusa.com/

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

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.

27Apr

What’s in a digital camera name?


Okay, I have to address this – can’t keep quiet anymore- need to blow a stack- alright, maybe just vent a tiny little bit on a completely useless photo topic that’s filling my mental database.


As a pro photographer knee-deep in gear, I must say it is impossible to keep up with camera names these days. I’ve included photos here of the Canon EOS 5D Mark II, Nikon D5000, FujiFilm FinePix s8000fd, Sony’s Cybershot DSC-T2 (sah-weet Lime color by the way Sony, and cool sleek look), and the Olympus Evolt E-410. What’s in a digital camera name? Confusion I say! Name insanity. Insane in the name brain.

When are camera manufacturers going to make it easier to understand their line of camera systems? “Hey, that’s a nice camera ya got, what’s the model?” “Oh it’s the Casio 54-XYZ-Mark 8 DMC-Fx 9000. You should look it up and get one”. “Ya gotta notepad I could jot that down on?”.


I get the “D” part – The 5D, the D300, etc. I assume it’s for “digital” (although you’d think as film fades, so would the “F” and “D” designation- plus, Nikon, from what I can remember, is the only company that uses the “F” in the name – Nikon F100, F3, and my original 35mm camera, the FE – just to give some examples). But even I, the PhotoGuru expert that I am, can’t think quickly when I see DMC – does it mean Digital Media Camera? One camera made by Fuji, puts “F” and “D” into the name- that can’t mean film and digital (although that would be jammin’ huh?).

Even the file names I see every day in my computers, which start with DSC, elude me right off the back. Again, I assume it stands for Digital Still Camera, but who knows…and who cares. It took me two weeks before I realized that my point-and-shoot digital image files, which start with “PANA_” stood for Panasonic. I know, I’m slow. But ya have to give it to me – there’s panorama, Pana Illinois, the Pennsylvania Association of Nurse Anesthetists….okay, bad example.

Today, with cameras coming out every month and a mix of manufacturers from Canon to Sony, Fuji to Nikon, Panasonic to Olympus, Casio to GoPro, who can keep up with the medley of letters and numbers? Why not just describe the product in the name? Where am I goin’ with this? I’ll expand on my thoughts. Get ready to get your brain on.

Canon has the EOS 5D Mark II– tight camera too – 21 megapixel, full frame image sensor packed into a well-made system. I assume EOS means “Electronic Operating System”, could refer to the Greek Goddess of Dawn- I could be wrong, I have no idea, I’m not Googlin’ it! But the name?? There’s a five in there, then a two, and Mark and an Eos – does the Mark II mean it’s the next versions of the Mark systems? And what is the Mark system anyway? Does 5D mean it’s the best in their line or the lower amateur model? I personally know it’s one of their top cameras, but there’s one high that’s the 1D (what will happen when they make a better one than that?) and below the 5D is the 50D – so you’d think the numbers are getting higher as the quality and price goes down. But then below the 50D is the 40D. Ugh squared.

Let me solve this. Let’s make a name system based on the year, the camera’s quality, and it’s details. How ’bout….blblblblblb….that’s a blogger drum roll……blblblblblbbblblb….are ya ready? The:

Canon 2009 P21
Olympus 2008 A12
Sony 2007 N8

Wait. Don’t judge. Let’s me explain.

First the name of the company. Easy-peasy.

Then the year it was made (tough titties camera companies, if car companies can do it, so can you- plus, yer makin’ new cameras so often, it’s not going to hurt any on the marketing side).

Then if it’s a camera for a Pro (P), an amateur (A), or a Novice (N). Three easy levels – everyone would get it over time.

Then the Megapixel (I know I know, megapixel isn’t everything so many say, but ya gotta pick one feature and I’m picking it! Describe the rest in the top features section).

If camera manufacturers wants to add some pizzazz (nice 70s bedazzled term huh), then they can put in the “Rebel” name or the “Cybershot” or the “FinePix” in front of that. But that’s it! Year Who it’s forFeature….done dealio.

Canon Rebel 2009 A12 (a 12 megapixel for the amateur market- did you get it fast?)
Fuji FinePix 2007 P15 (a 15 megapixel for the pro, made in 2007- pretty easy huh?)
Sony Cybershot 2010 N20 (that’s next year’s model, a 20 megapixel point-and-shoot for the Novice – sweet name if I do say so myself)

Whaddaya think Sony? Come on Canon. Nikon, well Nikon never listens to anything I say anyway. Cool system huh? If “yes all mighty PhotoGuru, you’ve done it again!”, then that’s all I need. If “Mr. PG, you are out-choh-mind!” then come up with a better system.

But I like mine…thought of it in 5 minutes…yes, I graduated college. Will it be implemented? Who knows if anyone will read this and react. Maybe technology is just moving too fast. Besides, my head hurts now (and maybe your too). I’m out – it’s Sunday, I’ve got the flu, allergies, and I’m hungry. Off to watch Quantum of Solace on the 47″.

yours truly,
Sean “TGP P-40M II” Arbabi

(that’s “TPG” for The PhotoGuru, “P” for Photographer, 40 being my age, and M for Male, and II for two eyes…duh)