Richie Sambora for Marie Claire Magazine © Ian Spanier Photography
My uncle is moving out of his house this summer and asked me to get the last of my boxes I’d been storing there out of his attic. Sometimes we forget about the little hidden gems we so lightly toss into boxes. In one such box was a bunch of my shoots from when I was really making the move to being a full time photographer. I recall that period of mostly testing and waiting for paying jobs to toss a few rolls of film in so I didn’t have to eat the costs on my lighting tests. I was never taught lighting per se, I observed some great photographers in my time, and I would study the catch lights in subject’s eyes in magazines to figure out how the photographer lit them. I also walked around looking at the sun, in or out, all times of day, all to see what it was doing straight up, bouncing off this object or that, and imagining how I could replicate that in studio or on location. That was my classroom.
In 2002 I was lucky to have what I can call nothing less than a “fan” of my work (or at least of the idea of my work) and she happened to be the talent coordinator for Marie Claire by the name of Tracy Taylor. When a shoot came up with Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora she pushed for me to shoot him. When the PR agent for Sambora said she hadn’t heard of me Tracy replied, “you haven’t heard of Ian Spanier?!? He’s the hottest up and coming photographer in NYC,” or something to that effect…Whatever it was, it worked, and off to LA I went for my first celebrity shoot. I was thinking if I had an assistant on the shoot or not, and I honestly can’t recall! I must have, but as always, I was all over the lighting, and went in with a plan. I figured I’d have a few minutes to do one or two set-ups. As it turned out, Richie was happy with the first shot, and said let’s keep going. Five or so outfit and lighting changes later we’d had an amazing day. Everything was so easy, and I knew this is what I wanted to be doing more of.
Lesson learned? Maybe it’s good to live in the past sometimes, view your older images not just to see your progress, but also to see the reason you became a photographer in the first place. I’m certainly glad I did.
Thanks Tracy wherever you are these days!
Detroit junk yard © Ian Spanier Photography
LA Photographer Sam Frost,(http://samfroststudio.com) recently asked me how I label my images, organize my storage, and what drives I use for my storage.
Although my desk generally looks like someone locked a rabid raccoon in my office and let them run wild, I do pride myself on an organized library of images and a good back up system.
When I was starting to make the slow transition from film to digital I began by having my film scanned at my labs. At the same time, I was shooting a bit of digital here and there, but ultimately waiting for Canon to come out with a full size sensor before buying a digital camera. My negs and chromes were stored in ph-balanced sleeves organized by job name, separated into clamshell boxes by client. Figuring out a good system for digital files had its share of failures, but ultimately I came up with a pretty good system.
Initially I used a program called iView to catalog the images. This allowed me to assign keywords, client names, subject names and pretty much any other markers that would allow me to look up images at any time, with little or a lot of information. Keeping all the files on a computer was not going to work, so I stored all the files in individual job folders that were copied onto CDs, (yes CDs). I would name the CDs is-00001… then copy the same amount of information to an external hard drive. The CDs were stored in a 3-ring binder and the hard drive I kept hooked up to the computer. I had a separate portable drive to bring with me to jobs and on the road. CDs were pushed aside for DVDs, and as external drives got less expensive, I would move on to larger drives. The downside here was there was a ton of time being spent on making the DVDs, and the drives were not well protected. I primarily worked off the drives, and then went to the DVDs or CDs if there were any problems.
Then Drobo came out. Drobo is a self-replicating hard drive system, essentially a RAID system, which can easily handle up to 16TB of data. This means that if one of the 4 (or now up to 8) drives crashed, the other drives would protect the data and you’d only loose the drive itself. I now have two Drobo units, one with data from 2008-2011, and the other with 2012-13. The Drobos use Western Digital Enterprise class internal drives. I purchased for about $25 a SATA dock that accepts the same drives, and using them, about every 3-6 months I backup my latest work, store those drives in static bags, placed inside a Tupperware case and stored in my storage unit in NYC. Seems a bit extreme, but what this essentially does is creates a system where my files are always backed up, and should there be any problems in my office, I have files on drives in a completely separate location. All the current jobs I am working on, (jobs that clients have yet to make final image orders), also live on 2 portable hard drives that travel with me to jobs. That way, the files are always accessible, and to be even more anal, the current jobs are in three separate locations at most times.
When I dropped the DVDs I realized that naming the job folders should change as well. The sheer volume made it just too difficult to use the same system. Instead, jobs became separated by the best unique naming convention I could figure out, the shoot date. I use this system for everything now, which you will read more about below.
This is my regular workflow that I use on every shoot, whether I am shooting to CF card, tethered to Adobe Lightroom or Capture One. I have to say first off that I owe a lot to Scott Kelby’s Lightroom book; he is worth following for all his tips and knowledge, @ScottKelby
I start by naming each shoot with the shoot date, like 041213 then a “_” and some abbreviation of the client/subject. This is arbitrary and is just an easy method for me. So if my client is Danskin the job folder would read, 041213_dsk. Images would be named the exact same unless the client needs the files to be named specifically something else- like in the case of a clothing catalog where the style number is preferred. Either way, the files are numbered sequentially, with either four or five digits.
On the shoot, files are shot into the Pictures folder on the laptop’s or tower’s hard drive. I label this folder RED to signify it’s the only folder and it needs to be backed up. During and after the shoot, the files are backed up to the portable drives. Once all the files are copied, I change the RED folder to ORANGE to signify that it has been backed up to an external drive. On the external drive I have a folder for new files which is labeled RED, one labeled BLUE for folders that I have moved to the Drobo, GREEN for lores files for clients, a second RED for files to retouch (as they are not backed up in that state), and finally a GREY folder for folders that are backed up to the Drobo and cataloged.
When I return to the office after the shoot, I copy the folder from the external drive to the Drobo, and change the folder to BLUE moving it into the BLUE folder then import it into my Lightroom catalog on my office desktop. Once I have finished, I change the folder on the Drobo to GREY.
I create a new Lightroom Catalog by calendar year to keep the catalog working efficiently.
Screen shot of my portable drive color coding system.
I keep these folders on the portable hard drive until the job is completely closed. I mirror that portable drive with my other portable drive- just to be safe when I am on the road.
I cannot stress the importance of metadata enough. When I am creating or my digital tech is created a new catalog or session, my information is immediately being embedded into the files. The job name and key wording are all being done on set. This includes the client’s name, subject’s name, gender, ethnicity, location and so on. Many of my clients take the RAW files right from set, or I send a drive with images to them soon after the shoot, so this is not only important for the client then has files with this same information, but also for myself the future.
Do you really think you will remember every subject’s name? What if you get a call and someone wants to buy an image from two years ago and you have to go through thousands of images to find the subject of the photo? Time will be drastically saved if you can filter more specifically to the images you need. Recently I was asked to pull three years of images from six separate countries that needed to be separated by specific locations. Thankfully because I had the embedded metadata I was able to do this in no time at all.
As photographers, we often get caught in a routine where we are doing the same basic lighting set ups for different shoots. I’ve never been a fan of the same old formula every day. As a result, I do try to vary my lighting, matching whatever the subject is to my choice for lighting. Telling a story with your lighting is as important as how the subject is composed in the frame.
Every so often, there are those really fun challenges to overcome. You might think this involves having to hang backwards off a cliff to get the right angle (did it), paraglide off a mountain tandem (that was sick), or fly backwards and blind to land on an aircraft carrier in the middle of the ocean (that was crazy!). However, I am talking more about the lighting challenges to overcome. This is where we make the mistakes that make us stronger as photographers.
When I can, I do like to do tests on my ideas prior to a shoot, but there are times or conditions when this isn’t possible. As I always preach, drawing up a plan will always make your life easier. When I am sketching up my plan for the shoot, I’ll have a loose idea of what I am theorizing will work. Much of this of course comes with experience, but unchartered waters are often ahead.
Being a hands-on photographer it helps to have good assistants with you, but the job is on my shoulders, so I feel obligated to come up with a good plan. Here’s how I made this one work:
For this assignment, the Creative Director, Chris Hobrecker (http://thescribblefactory.com) wanted to showcase the 3-4 movements within each of these exercises, all in one shot! I felt the best way to show our model’s different positions would be to shoot on a dark background. In an ideal world, we would shoot in a studio, where we could control the environment.
The first hurdle would be that we needed to shoot on location at a gym. There was some specific equipment we’d need and getting it all to a studio would be too difficult. I asked all I could about the ceiling height, amount of space in the gym, etc. We’d definitely have space issues, and much of the gym had large windows or mirrors around. Ceiling height wasn’t great, but it was an open ceiling, so that at least helped a bit.
I got five 12x12’ black duvet, plenty of C-Stands, Medium Rollers and enough 6’ crossbars to make a wall of black fabric. As it turned out, we could only use 12’ of pipe on c-stands, mostly because of space. In some cases we just draped the fabric over machines that were in the way. I actually have a few pieces of black velvet around quite often at gym shoots, as there’s nothing more annoying than a white or silver machine that is catching a little bit of light that distracts from my subject. Giving my client a cleaner image is always for the best. I knew that I would intentionally burn in the bottom of the frame to keep the light focused on the model. This also applied to any light that spilled on the duvet. More ideal would be to have it further from my subject- or have black velvet that tends to eat up more light.
The next hurdle would be dealing with a long exposure but a short flash duration. I needed the quick flash duration to freeze the action, whereas the long exposure would allow for the model’s movement to “drag” across the frame. Shooting on black would help this, and we used a Profoto 8a packs, a bi-tube head to get power and a fast flash duration on the key light. We removed the pyrex on the strobe to get a bit more power out of the light. This was inside a Photoflex Medium Octadome, with power set to f22 at iso 50 warmed up with a 1/4 CTO gel. Our highlight light was a Profoto Head inside a regular zoom reflector, set to f22.3. We also used a continuous 1000w light to help create the drag effect. This also gave me a good focus light.
All shots were exposed from 2-6 seconds depending on the exercise, and camera set to f18 at iso 50. We assumed we would have some issued when the model had to move a decent distance, like the shot at the start of this post, but rather than changing the settings mid shot (as if there was time), we decided to live with it, and I could always add a little light in post. Using a PocketWizard Transceiver I fired the strobes at the points of each sequence that needed to be highlighted, essentially position A,B,C and when needed D.
All in all, things went smoothly, and something that could have taken a long time to get right was accomplished in a few hours. Seeing the images on the computer as we shot, the writer/tech advisor was able to approve images right away, so we shot each sequence a few times just to be safe.
I can’t say this is one that will apply again anytime soon, but it was a great challenge and a fun day.
Anonymous asked: Dear Ian, I am a beginner photographer who has been asked to shoot the photos for a running book. It is a very intimidating thing for me since I do photography as a hobby, nevertheless, I see this as an opportunity to help me get better and let me decide if photography is for me. So the question I have for you is, what would be the lighting setup I should be looking to put together? The photos will be printed in black and white and will not be very large.
This is really a question for yourself. There’s no answer I can give you that is truly correct. What I can tell is to discuss with your client about what they are looking for. If all you can find out is that they want B&W then you need to prod them for more direction. Ask if they can show you examples of what they are looking for- OR -they hired you for your look. Perhaps you have a style that they like and that’s what they called you in to do. The best piece of advise I can give you is to go in with a plan, don’t think you can just show up and take pictures. Plan it out, know where you are shooting, what the model is wearing, who the model is, how it’s going to be lit, or if natural light, what time of day you are shooting. If you go in thinking it’s just about showing up with a camera and shooting, it will remain just a hobby for you. If you want to be a professional, then treat the job as a job, not just an opportunity to take some pictures because you have a camera. Good luck!
Anonymous asked: Why Canon instead of using Nikon?
If I had willing clients I would still shoot film. I always shot a lot of different cameras, Rollei, Mamiya, various 4x5s, and I had a Canon Eos camera from college. When I finally made the move to digital, (which I didn’t do until the Mark II came out), I wanted a full frame camera. I had tested the early Leaf backs on my rz67 and hated the cropping. My mind “thought” in the fixed lenses, so cutting them down was not something I wanted to do. Now it’s different obviously, but I already had a few lenses, and then over the years accumulated a good amount of Canon gear. I considered switching last year to Nikon, as I was having issues with Canon’s focus abilities for over a year. I still am not 100% thrilled, as I am and always was very critical about focus. I have moved back as much as possible to fixed lenses, and find they are much sharper. I actually just got on loan the new 24-70II to test out to see if there are any improvements. Hope that helps!