10Sep

Time flies & love blooms when you haven’t blogged


Seconds turned into days turned into weeks- I haven’t blogged for almost a month- crazy.


The past month I shot a few assignments (built an on-location studio for a company in the North Bay of the San Francisco Bay Area, capturing 40 food & wine displays), taught an exposure course with a book signing at Book Passage in Corte Madera (a great bookstore in the Marin/ Mill Valley area), licensed some images to a few magazines and clients (a nice double-page spread of a Half Dome image which you’ll see in a few months), worked on two new books which I’m very excited about (out in 2010-2011), and sold five 30×50 prints to recruiting company. All while my girls started school- a busy August.

But what I wanted to write about was something I found out while lecturing at Book Passage. Two past workshop students came to take the class, told me they met at my weekend workshop two years earlier at Pt Reyes, and ended up falling in love- now married- they said, I could add ‘match-maker’ to my list of accomplishments. I was tickled pink (when was the last time you heard that term?!). Actually, it really was a cool thing to hear. As we all go through our daily grinds, move through our busy lives, setting up events, meetings, goals, we rarely consider how it might affect other lives.

When I plan my workshop presentations, I think of all the experience and knowledge I’ve gained through my 19-year career, and how I can add specific images and information into my lectures and field notes to help photographic enthusiasts improve their skills – to help them learn how to communicate with their cameras better. But I don’t think I ever imagined two people meeting at one of my events and deciding to spend the rest of their lives together. It doesn’t seem far fetched, but I just never thought of it.

So here’s to photography bringing more love to the world – in the day and age of glorifying ridiculous rude behavior on tv, where wars continue to tear lives apart, where corporate greed runs rampant, and where a wealthy country like the US can’t find a way to take care of its own, I seems like we could use a bit more love.

eHarmony, eat your heart out.

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!


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.

17Apr

Want to become a pro photographer?


I want to have a career as a professional photographer.

I hear this from so many people whether through email, at live lectures and events, or from my students at various workshops. But I must admit, in all, it’s a very tough competitive industry where the money is even harder to come by than it was 20 years ago-not to mention the oversaturation of the stock licensing market – can something be oversaturated? Is that an oxymoron? Can’t find it in my dictionary. I digress.


Back to the industry, from 1991 (when I graduated college) to today, the changes have been dramatic, some positive, some negative (I remember when my stock agency contract went from 7 pages to 27 pages in a matter of 6 years). As always, you must have so much more than a good portfolio to make it- and no one or company will do it for you- you have to do it all yourself. It ain’t easy, and sacrifices, luck, hearing “no” over and over, as well as risk are all part of the game. But more importantly, you need to be professional- and that means learning business (more an that later).

In 1995, I used the first digital SLR Nikon put out, the E2s, and could see the changes coming down the pike (there I am at the Eco-Challenge adventure race in ’95 using the camera above the Colorado River). And although some say digital has been a big positive to the industry (exact copies of image files instead of poor-quality dupes, fixing mistakes post-capture, and the famous cloning tool to add that third eye to your friend’s head), I would say that it too has it’s pros and cons – one of which being the fact that you have to buy new gear all the time, new software, and new computers- it’s an expense, not an investment everyone.

Plus, I carry more gear than ever these days in the post 9/11 hell that is airport travel – ugh- someone buy me a new shoulder and a couple of knees please – and a whiffle-ball bat to beat on the seven TSA agents when they decide to test every roll of film – all 150 rolls at midnight (true story in Las Vegas in 2004 after catchin’ six other flights where they didn’t do this).

I was asked recently what it is to be a professional photographer. If it was someone who made over 50% of their income from photography, or just someone who gets published from time to time. As a full-time commercial travel photographer for 19 years, I’d say a pro photographer is someone who not only makes a living from photography, but one who charges appropriate fees, is technically sound with their equipment and craft, respectful and professional with his/her subjects, and one who uses proper business practices. That, to me, is what this job is about.


Another example of this is learning the art of negotiating, and realizing that if you want to do this for a living, you have to go back and forth with clients about contracts, rates, and rights. I recently had a client want to license an image, trying to pay rates half of what we normally charge (rates that really fit into 1989 and not 2009). We respectfully declined when they said they wouldn’t pay higher fees than theirs- the excuse was the economy (as if to say my business is not affected by the economy – I love that new argument – “our tight budget” has always been a staple for low rates). The following day the client came back and licensed rights to the image at our quoted rate. If photographers don’t learn how to value their image and determine specific fees for their services, they won’t survive in the industry.

More to learn more? My Business of Photography workshop isn’t scheduled yet for 2009, but does run from time to time, and we hope to have a date in place soon. I also offer personal consultations where I can focus on your goals and interests, as well as discussing specific industry information. I can discuss some aspects of being a pro at other workshops (such as the one coming up in June in Seattle, or Santa Fe in July), although my time during these courses is usually dedicated to the topic at hand. Here’s our main workshop page for more info.

In all, becoming a pro photographer is possible. Here’s to your dreams and ambitions- make ’em happen, it’s worth it. Enjoy your week everyone!


02Apr

Nevada 50


Old West Highway, desolate road, traveled one summer week,
Blue sky days, sagebrush seas, mirages from asphalt heat


Mining towns far apart, dreams of prosperity gone so fast,
Jets thunder over petroglyphs, native hunters present and past


Countless characters with tall tales, life engraved throughout their face,
From Austin, Stagecoach, Middlegate, Cold Springs, & Majors Place


I drive the waves of mountain ranges, ridgelines of Pinõn pine,
The type of scenery to help the thoughts depart a cluttered mind


This desert is often branded as a vast and wasted land,
I see its stark and wild beauty touched by a higher hand


2002 poem by Sean Arbabi while on assignment capturing Nevada’s desolate Highway 50

13Mar

My images in Via magazine & Nat Geo Traveler this month


Check out some of my photographs in the current issues of a number of publications:


National Geographic Traveler’s March 2009 issue ran one small image on page 88 for an article entitled “Good As Gold”, originally captured in Downieville, California. It’s no cover shot, but it makes my Mom happy.

And in Via magazine’s March/ April 2009 issue published numerous images from Angel Island State Park, Death Valley National Park, and Yellowstone National Park (a full page, a spread, and a few smaller shots inside).

I’ve shot over 100 assignments with Via magazine, a publication for AAA (Automobile Association of America) – great editorial staff and one of the biggest travel magazines in the US (not on newstands, but over 2 million circulation). Support these people – not only will you get a jammin’ travel mag, but they’ll tow you in a pitch.

I’ve also been published in the past numerous times with National Geographic in their books, calendars, and magazines including Traveler and Adventure. I hope to do more for the iconic photo-driven publication in the future, including feature assignments if given the chance. We’ll see- I’ve have to send ’em a nice fruit cake this holiday season.

Also on Sunday, March 1st, most of the San Francisco East Bay newspapers (including the Oakland Tribune, San Jose Mercury News, and Contra Costa Times) ran a feature Q&A piece on my work, career, and new book in their “Career Path” section. Sure my chicken-mcnugget head in the opening spread isn’t pretty to look at, but I’m thankful for the wonderful publicity and hope the article inspires many.

Enjoy Photoguru-heads!


03Feb

Photo Potpourri

A few fun february facts, images to check out, and items to think about in the photo world. By the way, here’s a fun image of the Na Pali coast in Kauai, I captured from a helicopter a few years ago while on assignment.


A piece of news I got from Calypso Imaging‘s newsletter (a great printer in the San Francisco Bay Area, although I personally use West Coast Imaging– awesome printer)- 18 years ago this month, Adobe shipped Photoshop 1.0. That was the first year of my career, but in February I was a few months away from graduating college at Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara. So although I had learned a ton about photography in college, by the time I graduated, a whole new world of digital was emerging – an aspect I had to educate myself on to keep up with the times. How Photoshop opened so many doors toward quality imagery. Now in the 11th version of the program (Photoshop 1-7, then the CS series, now at CS4), the software has morphed into something amazing and unreal – congrats Adobe.


Wanna see how unreal digital photography HAS become? Check out this 1,474 Megapixel shot of the
President Obama’s inaugural address, created by David Bregman, combining 220 images together in a process / robotic camera mount called Gigapan. The final image size was 59,783 X 24,658 pixels or 1,474 megapixels. Nice shot David. Wow- I’ve gotta try it soon! (click on David’s name to review the shot)

A hundred and seven year ago this month, Ansel Adams was born (in 1902),

and although he past away 25 years ago, the impact he had on photography is not only beyond measure, but well beyond what any other photographer has done to date. I never had the chance to meet him, but I feel what he feels about image-making. Here’s a wonderful photo of Ansel, taken by an amazing photographer Jim Alinder (with permission – © Jim Alinder) – to see his work and gallery, go to: http://www.alindergallery.com/

Have a wonderful February all – keep an eye out for me on “The View From the Bay” in a week or so, Feb 23rd, at 3pm on ABC’s San Francisco TV station, KGO channel 7. Then my first book signing event in Clayton CA February 15th.

23Jan

Photo of the Week

I’m starting a “Photo of the Week” section of my blog, to display an image, describe how I shot it, and what my thought process start to finish – here’s my first:


USA: Nevada: Clark County: Las Vegas: Visitors watch the amazing Bellagio water show at night along Las Vegas Boulevard

This image was part of a week-long assignment to capture Las Vegas for a photo essay for Endless Vacation magazine.  I prepared the job by contacting dozens of casinos and resorts, acquiring permission to photograph on various properties, submitting my million dollar liability insurance (which is required for many different types of photo shoots, especially resorts, casinos, and large corporations), then driving from the San Francisco Bay Area to Las Vegas (just to lug more gear without the airport hassle since I was on my own for the week).

This evening I went out with my Fuji 680 III camera, a bulky medium format beast that I love, with a large tripod and walked along the Strip.  I shot many angles of the Bellagio water show but this one was one of my favorites.  The first thought I had while finding a spot to shoot was incorporating all the elements of the show- the water, the glow at night, Bellagio Hotel and Casino, and the visitors gathering around to watch it.  I backlit the entire scene using the tree to help frame my composition hoping it would be outlined by some of the high shooting water.  I metered the front facade of the building to get a reference, took other meter readings around the scene, and used my best guestimate for the shot (shooting film, I wouldn’t see my results until a week later). The lights on the tree and the nice spacing of the people was a nice small addition.

Once I received my film and picked the top selects, I scanned them in with my Nikon CoolScan 8000 (not available anymore- today Nikon makes the CoolScan 9000, they turned digital in a 300MB file, and a tiny bit more detail was pulled out to stretch the contrast ratio to fit what I saw – for the most part, 99% of what you see is in the film.

My editors thankfully loved the shots I captured that week.  It ran as a cover story and feature spread, and some of the work now rests in my files as well as my stock agency’s files.  I’ll be back in Vegas in March to capture new images of the ever-changing resort city.

When it comes to digital photography, exposure, technical details, and photographer theories, many feel you simply can’t lose your highlights in the shot – you can’t cut them off on your histogram, have ‘blinkies’ (showing you in your digital image where the detail is lost) etc, etc.  I don’t necessarily believe for all instances.  To me, photography is also about capturing mood, a feel, a glow, a moment, the heart of something – that’s when technical aspects are important but throw out a bit- it’s about the final image.