In the event you were not up at 6am Saturday, check out our interview on Fox Good Day Street Talk about Local Heroes Fire Fighter book:
This past week I attended the ASMP NY Chapter sponsored portfolio review. I have been to the last four of these events, and have picked up a few things along the way. I thought it would be helpful to share five points of advice:
1. Bring your best, show the least.
The biggest mistake I have made in the past was to bring far too many portfolios with me. It’s overwhelming to the reviewers who are seeing as many as 15 photographers in the evening to see too much from just one person. iPad’s have compounded this issue, where you can easily have all your work loaded on the tablet. Although I have all my work loaded on it, I don’t even give the reviewer the chance to see it all. You can always say, “I have a portfolio of this or that kind of work…” and ask to email it to them. This not only wets their appetite, but also opens to door for future correspondence.
This review I decided to bring my printed portfolio of my Sport & Fitness work, which over the course of meetings and reviews this year I’ve found to receive the best response from the majority. Along with this, I brought my iPad with my Portrait work, and a copy of my personal project, a new book called Local Heroes: Portraits of American Volunteer Firefighters.
I began each review with the printed Sport & Fitness portfolio and always mentioned my other work is primarily portrait work, which includes everything from celebrity to business. This I have on the iPad ready to go if they want to see that, and I mention that I finished a personal project and the book just came out. Each reviewer wanted to see the book, and that brings up the next point.
2. Personal Work
You must have some personal work with you. It’s a very difficult position to be in as a reviewee with 10 min to impress someone. It’s basically speed dating for new clients. Truth be told, most of the time you have been judged in the first minute and/or first few images you show. I found myself in the past trying to show reviewers how I should fit their list of photographers because LOOK I have all this commercial work that I do. Reality is a slap in the face, and the hit comes that thousands of photographers can do what you do. The real point of the meeting is that the reviewer wants to know who YOU are. It’s selfish, they want to know for themselves, you know why? Simple, THEY want to know if they can stand being next to you on a shoot for a day, a week or a month. Showing personal work, and talking about yourself is more important to all the commercial work you do. They can easily see if you have the talent to do the commercial work, so your time is best spent showing them who YOU are.
3. Go in with a plan, but be flexible
Before the review you will get a list of the reviewers. From there, make your hit list, who fits (as best as you can tell) the kind of work you do and more importantly, make sure what you are planning to show fits their magazine, ad agency, etc. I see many photographers clammer to get on certain lines to meet the reviewer because it’s a big title or ad agency, and they in no way fit the kind of work that reviewer does. We are all in it to try to get more clients and more work- so plan your time out well, just going to the see the NY Times because you like the NY Times, does not mean it’s a good use of your time.
I put my hit list in a notebook and when I arrive at the location I make notes of where each of the reviewers I want to meet are sitting, and I prioritize where I will go once the reviews start. No plan and you will waste time, but you have to be flexible, and maximize your time. The popular reviewers will have a line, because it’s inevitable that the 10 minutes/review will not coincide, you can end up standing on line and waiting for up to an hour. This is a big mistake. I don’t get on any line more than 2 people, and if I am last on line, and see an open spot for one of the reviewers who is lower on my list, I’ll take the open chair. You are there to meet those top priorities, however, you are also there to show your work to potential clients, standing on line the bulk of the evening, you will fail at that task.
4. Presentation, as always, is EVERYTHING
That’s the golden rule. iPad’s have taken over of course, for their size, ease of use and memory to hold all you like. However, I may be old school, but I believe it’s important to show a print book. The majority of my work ends up in print, so showing how I take the image from start to print I believe is important. Everything looks good on an iPad, the backlight is a wonderful thing, and I do hear the horror stories from many art directors and photo editors who made the mistake of relying on judging a photographer only from an iPad or website. It’s also a part of my personality, to show them that I am hands-on, I produce, I light, I retouch and I print. I like to show them that.
I am amazed that I still see photographers who show a stack of prints. It says volumes about those photographers, nothing positive in my mind. You could be a great photographer, but if you present your work like a slob, then you are a just a great slob of a photographer. At the very least, mount them, put them in a nice box, something- but don’t pull them out of a plastic bag and expect to be viewed in a positive light.
5. Thank you
During each meeting, I make a note of what image(s) the reviewer reacts to most, and that will be the image I email to the reviewer as a epromo card post meeting. As well, in the email thanking the reviewer, I mentioned something specific we speak about, and I include links to my website, as well as both my portfolios which I have on issue.com as you can see from the portfolio links above. Failing to contact the reviewers after the meeting seems like a no-brainer, but I know for a fact many photographers do not do this.
Hope this helps some of you out there, please feel free to email any questions!
Nowadays you can pretty much get a bag for each and every situation you as a photographer may face, and you should. Although it would be perfectly acceptable to have just one camera bag, why not customize to your assignment and utilize the technology that’s available today?
I thought it would be interesting to show you five of the bags I use on a fairly regular basis alongside the images that were created using the bags to get where I needed to go. I use some of these bags more often than others, and yet each is undeniably a valuable asset.
Ultimately, the point here is that an organized and useful bag system is incredibly important in keeping your mind where it should be, on the assignment.
PRO ROLLER x200
Steven Tyler shot on location in Norwood, Mass. Rolling into a location with the Pro Roller is always smooth © Ian Spanier Photography 2012
This is probably my most used bag, whether it’s navigating airports, flights, city streets, taxis, rental cars, or just hotel lobbies, this bag has become a go-to piece of equipment for me.
This is typically how it’s packed. Not shown are my 15” MacBook, external battery and book of notes.
The Pro Roller packed for a job, 2 bodies, 4 lenses, batteries, memory cards, light meter, chargers, laptop, and all necessary cords © Ian Spanier Photography 2012
I use this bag for all my studio shoots, and any location shoot that I know I’ll be rolling into.
What really sold me on this bag was when I had injured my neck and at the time could not easily carry a backpack. This bag saved me, a few months of rehabbing was not stifled by assignments, and I healed quickly.
The summer I got the bag, was a particularly hot one, and I remember just before getting the bag, I had taken a backpack to a shoot at a law firm where I had to dress up, my shirt was soaked. This is easily avoided with the Roller. Even running for a flight is that much easier with up to 50lbs of gear rolling behind me as opposed to it on my back.
One of my favorite features is the built in lock, on the occasions I have no choice but to put the bag under a plane, I know it’s locked and secure.
The Dryzone in use while shooting a story on a sailboat, one less thing to worry about was that my gear would be dry inside the bag no matter what the conditions. Photo by Christopher Parker
When I got the assignment to shoot Fly Fishermen on the Margaree River in Nova Scotia I was told we’d be given all the waterproofing the fishermen would have, waders, and whatnot. We’d be walking regularly through chest deep water. Honestly, I don’t care if I get wet, but what was I going to do with my cameras and lenses? The Dryzone was NECESSARY. It’s kind of hard to trust any waterproof bag when you are about to walk into that river with $15k-20k worth of equipment inside.
Fly Fisherman Charles Gaines on the Margaree River, the rain kept us all wet, but everything inside the Dryzone remained clean and dry. © Ian Spanier Photography 2012
At the first deep crossing I had no choice but to go for it. I took a breath and stepped in. The water was just below my chin, (not saying much as I am only 5’5”), but the bag was totally solid. Not a drop of water entered the bag, and my gear was completely dry. I had no more fears when my gear was inside the bag, outside was another story; we had four solid days of rain on the shoot.
As I mentioned, for most of my shoots I use the Pro Roller to carry my gear. On shoots where I will not be tethered to a computer or standing in one place I’ll carry the SlingShot 200aw as my personal item on domestic flights, or internationally where you can’t always use a personal item, I’ll stow it in my checked luggage to use on location.
When I arrive to the hotel or location, I download what I need into the SlingShot and I am off.
A typical example of how I transport my gear in the Pro Roller x200 and download and repack what I need on set with the SlingShot 200aw at the hotel or in the trunk of the car. The Pro Roller also has a tripod mount when inspiration calls and your tripod isn’t accessible. © Ian Spanier Photography 2012
On location in Greenland’s polar ice cap.
I love the built in lens cloth, and the outer pockets really allow for storing the little items that help throughout a location shoot- mini flashlight, filters, hand-warmers, pens, batteries etc. – all accessible without taking off the bag. It’s also great when it’s slung around to the front to use it as additional support, giving me just a little more of a solid position when shooting hand-held in low-light conditions.
Rolling a case on this surface would never work, and I am sure a big pack would slow me down, the SlingShot had plenty of room for what I’d need for the time we had on the ice cap. This shot became the opener for the feature story. © Ian Spanier Photography 2012
The Pro Roller gets me there, and I’m more mobile with the SlingShot.
Just before the first flight. We had to run off the cliff to launch, so I’d put the camera in the Toploader and run. It was easy pull the camera out as soon as we took flight and put it away for landing. Even though I had cargo pants on, I felt more secure keeping memory cards in the Toploader. Having everything under my chin was far easier than digging into my pockets.
This is a specialty bag for sure, it’s actually great for everyday use, and I will switch it from chest harness to a regular shoulder strap when I am just carrying a camera, lens, batteries and some cards.
When I got an assignment to shoot paragliding in Switzerland and France it was a no-brainer to bring this bag. The top load style allows you to set the camera in the case as if it was sitting securely on a table.
I had never paraglided before, and the guide was quite impressed when after jumping off Mount Saleve I not only changed memory cards, but also changed lenses hundreds of feet in the air as the wind was whipping.
The last shot of the day, I joined one of the guides half way up Mont Blanc in France. It would have been impossible to do this job without the Toploader. © Ian Spanier Photography 2012
This is the truly the most modifiable bag system I have ever seen. There are so many combinations you can create for most any shoot. Last year I was given an assignment to shoot five Reality-TV stars for A&E’s Shipping Wars in five remote locations.
The budget wouldn’t allow us to travel with larger lights, and picking up rentals in the various cities would not work in each of the locations. We needed a consistent look, so we had to light it. I had just started using Photoflex’s Triton lights, and the small 300-watt monoblocks could do the trick, so long as we could carry them on the flights.
Fearing any lost luggage issues, we fit 2 heads, 2 batteries with backup batteries, pocket wizards, speed rings, an extension arm, modifiers and any additional accessories in the s&f duffle bag, combined with the Pro Roller, it was considered my “personal item.”
An entire light kit in one carry-on bag, organized so that the TSA didn’t question a thing. © Ian Spanier Photography 2012
We checked stands on the flights, and if they didn’t make it, we could hand hold. As it turned out in Colorado, a winter storm negated using our lightweight stands and my assistant became a sturdier stand.
On set with trucker Marc Singer from A&E’s Shipping Wars. My assistant Zach Bako served as light stand. We not only zipped through the shots, but had the ability to do three set-ups in less than 30 min. © Ian Spanier Photography 2012
On set, I also shot behind the scenes, and using the Pro Lens Exchange, and two accessory cases, I had all I needed attached to my belt and could work alongside the videographers without being limited in movement whatsoever.
Two added favorites, the cell phone case is amazing and my iPhone is easily accessible with one hand from whatever it’s attached to. The water bottle holder is with me on nearly all travel shoots, I’ve found freeing up my hands in the airport is fantastic, and on the shoot, having water bottles on me when I’m shooting documentary style allows me to keep working without a break…especially in cases where breaks are few and far between.
The final shot used by A&E to promote the show. © Ian Spanier Photography 2012
The result was, I hope you agree, a professional quality shoot packed into a carry-on bag.
Nearly 85% of my jobs I use my Lowepro Pro Roller x200. This has been my bag of choice for a while now, it allows me to carry everything I need and then some. Generally, here’s how it’s packed:
When I have a shoot that requires me to be mobile and I’m not using my laptop on set, I’ll download to a Lowepro SlingShot 202aw. This has worked well for me for the most part, but I was looking for something in the middle. Sometimes I just don’t need all the above, and the SlingShot 202aw is a bit too small, and even if it manages my cameras, lenses and accessories, it doesn’t hold a laptop. I usually get a lot of work done on the plane, and other clients don’t walk away from their needs just because I’m in another city, so I need it with me.
ALWAYS keeping an eye on the new gear out there, I came across Lowepro’s Fastpack 350, and it is a great solution to this middle ground. Here it is packed for a typical assignment where I don’t need the full kit, and need to be mobile over any terrain.
It’s got enough room for all of this:
©Ian Spanier Photography 2012 for Danskin
A few weeks ago I shot another installment of the Danskin clothing line’s marketing images.. Despite shooting for Danskin now for two years, we’d not really shot much ballet, a few images here and there, but mostly we’ve shot their fashion and sport imagery. Then a few weeks ago, the Creative Director called and said we’d be shooting ballet only, and they had secured a stage in an old theater in NJ. Once I saw some of the inspiration shots from her, it brought me back to college, back when shooting was about art, and not about a product.
When I do my lecture on the business of photography, I discuss how crucial it is to recognize you are running a business not just being an artist. I cover the many aspects that allow one to be a business, from insurance, taxes, invoicing the right way and marketing oneself, and so on. I end the lecture with a role call of things we all should be doing as a part of running our businesses and discuss the inevitable question, how can you be an artist and a business person?
No doubt it’s hard to do that when you are bogged down with the boring “desk” tasks, chasing invoices, paying crew, filing, producing and on and on. My directive is that if we can run our businesses well, then we can be artists, and not just robots who set up lights and press a shutter when told. A good part of it is management, free up your mind of the crucial business aspects and you are available to think about the kinds of images you can really bring to the table.
Back to the shoot.
First shot of the day (above) was options on one to three dancers waiting to hit the stage. The creative inspiration came from an image of a dancer going through a doorway, but from it, I interpreted aspiration, eagerness, and poise alongside perhaps a little stage fright from the young dancer. I then recalled the image of the woman backstage that I’d shot so many years before, a caught moment as she took a deep breath before heading onto stage for her performance. I didn’t look at it till today, but here it is:
The Nutcracker, Schenectady, NY 1994
©Ian Spanier Photography 1994
Funny how when you have the control to create the image vs. just capture the image it’s a different mind set. Now I am directing and controlling the light, subject and even the position of the curtain. As well, I’m now in the business of selling a product, and I’d argue the commercial aspects are evident in my more recent shot. Back in ‘94 it was pure instinct, and the rawness I think it what ultimately made me make the images I made. There was no 128,000 iso with little noise, tethered shooting, no strobes I could modify to my liking, and certainly no fucking Instagram. You did what you could with what you had. At the time for me, it was a (one) camera, available light, a few lenses and Kodak P3200 film. Now I look at this image and think how I could have had a little fill behind her, a softer front light to get more detail out of the dress and not be stuck squeezing everything out of the film to expose for her face despite the 2-3 stop brighter dress. Get rid of that bench in front of her and the rope that was hanging in front partially blocking my frame. But I can appreciate it’s pureness, it was a moment, not about perfection, maybe more about the emotion.
©Ian Spanier Photography 2012 for Danskin
Another direction came from images of ballet students from the 40s and 50s, shot in places like Paris and New York, at dance studios with huge arched windows and beautiful diffused light.
To recreate that I wanted a big source, and soft, so we went with two large softboxes behind a 12x12 silk and a large Octabank along the side of it to give a sense of a large series of windows and perhaps a corner with another couple windows to wrap the light a bit. We kept the lights close to keep the light soft, and used bi-tube heads so we could freeze action better when needed. We shot much of this at 1/200” at f7.1. We metered at f8, but I always open up a bit OR purposely set the lights about 3/10ths more than my aperture setting. Off set, behind the curtain ropes is a bare reflector firing back at camera, something that helps with separation of the background since it was black back there. That was a last minute addition.
You can see the set-up from the first shot (1) as I sketched it out and (2) the large source set up. Then you can see a bts view here as we prepped for the final shot, an overhead view of the dancers:
overhead sketches I make for my scrapbook prior to the shoot. ©Ian Spanier Photography
behind the scenes, and the final shot:
©Ian Spanier Photography 2012 for Danskin
I was shooting the dance company in ‘94 for a project my junior year of college, and the Nutcracker shoot was actually an assignment for the company. Back then though I, like many photographers today, (young AND old), had no idea about how I was running Ian Spanier Photography. I shot from the hip, and was more pure. Assignment or not, I was there to make good images as an artist, and I didn’t think about how I’d be taking care of my invoice when I was hanging sideways off the catwalk to get that shot. Being naive, how would I know different? Sadly, that’s what I am seeing on many of these lecture trips. Photographers think they can just go out and make pictures as artists and the business will take care of itself because they can have a talent for taking pictures. They couldn’t be more wrong, talent will only get you so far. Take care of the business as a business person, so that you the photographer can be an artist.
special thanks to: Danskin, Lauren Gonzalez and Michelle Cicenia, and a great team: Cam Camarena, Lee Morgan, Laura Dee Shelley and Sacred Schneidmiller.
This past May I got the call from MTV to go to St. Thomas to photograph the cast of season 27 (amazing it’s been on that long huh?!?) of the original reality series, MTV’s The Real World. Head to St. Thomas in May? AWESOME! what a way to get the summer started right? Not so fast…
Challenge Numero Uno.
Since we’d be traveling out of the country, we’d of course be facing airline limitations, baggage fees, coupled with the fact that this season’s house was located not on St. Thomas, but rather just across the bay on Hassel Island. This meant we’d only be able to reach the location by boat, thus limiting how much equipment we could bring.
Normally I work with Profoto lights, occasionally with Broncolor- neither which are lightweight, even when going the portable route, which I often choose when working on locations where power could be an issue and/or when I know I need to do a lot of shots in one day. I prefer the mobility of portable units to avoid the excess of stingers, and the freedom of not relying solely on electricity. There was one assignment years ago in Scotland where we brought Profoto Acute 2400s with us to cut cost, and not only had one shot outside where we ran 500 feet of extension cables- literally to full extension, but blew a bunch of fuses in the 200 year old distillery we shot at. Lessons learned.
With these limits though, no way could we travel with the Profotos and have enough lights to accommodate a group shot. Now, I’m a big believer in the ideology that you can make do with one light, after all the sun is only one source right? But I am a proponent that you need to be prepared, there’s always variables on shoots, little did I know how true that would come to be.
Originally, I thought to go with Profoto Acute B’s. 600 w/s and the reliability of Profoto. I had used them once for a cover shoot in Majorca with a Heavyweight Boxer. They worked well, but I was staring down a tight budget, renting six with at least two additional batteries, extension cables, etc, would mean two cases at least. Then I had an idea, I own two Photoflex Tritons, their newer mono-block portable flash units, highly versatile, lightweight, and batteries that often seem to have no end. Add four more and I’d have six lights, all that would fit in the Tenba hard case that normally houses my Profoto 7b, with triple batteries, chargers, reflectors, speed rings, Flashfires (their transmitters), cords, accessories, and woah, still more room for some of my other gear, all UNDER 50lbs, the airline baggage weight limit. Oh Hell yes. Why six? Well, my thought was to get a Photoflex 39”x72” White Translucent fabric and place four units behind it. That would be enough to make a main source equate to 1200 w/s that should be enough to equal a Profoto 7b, and the two additional units could be backup and/or used for hair lights, fill lights or anything of the sort. I am not a proponent of bringing everything and the kitchen sink, but an extra head never hurts. Lights solved.
(As an added measure, we carried on one pair of the lights, batteries and accessories. If our bags didn’t make it we’d at least have something in terms of lights….that’s just me being extra cautious).
St. Thomas = Sunshine and Blue Skies Right?
Think again, we arrived to a misty humid rain, and the forecast called for ten days of cloudy skies and/or rain. Throw in some mega humidity and mosquitos that look and sting like something out of Jurassic Park. Needless to say the first addition to the supply list was plastic bags to cover the lights, second was bug spray.
Of course there was some talk of postponing and what do we do, but in the world of tight budgets, we’d have to make it work. Already we knew we’d try to avoid the worst light of the day since we had no scrims, so on our scout we chose areas that we’d avoid the direct sun, (or direct rain), but word came that THE shot we needed to come back to NY with was the cast on the boat they use to get to St. Thomas proper, blue skies and sunshine. Did I mention the forecast of ten days of rain?
The First Shot of the Day
One of my assistants, Lee Morgan, fixing the Photoflex Tritons for the first shot.
Sure enough, it was raining when we woke. We covered ourselves in bug repellant, and jumped on the boat to Hassel Island. First shot would be under a gazebo, thankfully, but as we set up, I had eyes in the back of my head watching for any piece of sunlight and blue sky I could use later in post should the skies not clear. I don’t like to disappoint, so I needed to be prepared to make the boat shot happen. I was able to get about six minutes of sun and a few scrapes of clear sky, and I was even able to grab a couple shots of the sea planes that take off from across the bay, this would be a nice addition to the boat shot- assuming I pulled it off.
I had a thought about how the light would look through the translucent fabric and the Tritons did not disappoint. We placed four of them behind the frame added a little bit of 1/4 CTO gel for warmth, one fill (-2 stops) inside a Photoflex Medium Softbox as a fill opposite the key source, and our last light clamped to the interior of the gazebo roof with a Photoflex Small Softbox as a hair light (-1/3 stop). We shot at 200 iso, knowing that we needed a little extra to open up the background as well. Recycle was a little slow, but what I found was unlike some of the other group shots, where I was using big studio packs, or quick recycling Broncolor packs, this was like shooting 4x5, I could coax the subjects a bit more, and elicit the personalities to come out.
Now, the lights were working great the only thing that was useless was the bug repellent, the mosquitos were brutal. The Director of Photography actually had a bite that looked like something from Aliens.
The first group shot, Real World St. Thomas.
Second Group Shot, then singles.
Shot two was also inside, taking advantage of the threatening skies, and the same set up proved itself again. The house was surprisingly small given the show includes seven subjects and two to three cameras following them around. We chose their pool room, and composed them around the table. We lifted the frame above a doorway and again placed the four heads behind it. One -2 stop fill under camera and bam. We’d have faced some major problems trying to get an Octabank in this positions, and same for most soft boxes.
Group shot two. Real World St. Thomas.
After this, we did a series of individual portraits and here’s where the Tritons again proved their value. We took our two additional heads and put a Photoflex Small Octobank as the key and the Photoflex Mini Octodome NXT as the -2 stop fill. We moved around the house with ease. We took a moment to check where the batteries were at, and after two group shots, seven individual portraits, and about ten couples and triple shots, the majority of the batteries hadn’t used 50% of the capacity yet! We actually didn’t change a battery on the lights all day. I can’t recall that ever being the case with Profoto 7b’s.
The Client ALWAYS comes first.
How many times have you heard this? Well, there’s a reason it’s repeated. It’s fucking true. You make it happen for them, they will remember it. I’m a believer in cautiously advising my clients when they ask for the world, I don’t like to disappoint, and at the same time, I don’t want them to believe everything under the sun is possible each and every time. I do my best, and so long as they see it, they will see you are honest in your efforts.
Given the limitations with equipment and all the weather issues, expectations were a bit lower, and when I saw the opening to succeed I go for it. Time for the boat shot.
Assistants Cam Camarena and Lee Morgan set the lights one more time, our biggest challenge, now we are outside. (Of course when we set up, the sun peaked out for a bit, then we could see a storm coming toward us). Time to get it done.
First test frame of the boat shot, look at those lovely clouds. No fill on this one, just the one source.
The final version, (note the sea plane on the right). Cast of MTV’s The Real World St. Thomas, 2012*
*special thanks to Photoflex for helping make this possible
I got a call late last night from a friend that LeRoy Neiman passed away yesterday at age 91. For those of you that don’t know Neiman, look him up. He’s a legend.
I was fortunate to meet LeRoy while working on a cigar book for Playboy. Neiman had agreed to write the book’s foreword, and allow us to come photograph him at his NYC studio. A long-time contributor to Playboy as well as a long-time cigar smoker, no doubt was a good match for the book, which was a historic guide to cigar manufacturing as well as the history of cigars in the world of Playboy.
We had been told his health was not great, but his presence showed everything but, and he gladly lit up a cigar for our shot. We worked quickly, maybe shot for six minutes or so.
While we were breaking down the set, LeRoy noticed my sketch book on the table. Inside, I keep notes on the shoots I do, including birds-eye views of the sets, and often ideas I sketched out, something I do on all my shoots. I usually print out an image or five after the shoot to show the finished product and tape that into the book as well. LeRoy asked if he could look at it, and he literally looked at every page, asking me question after question not only about the images but my sketching. I don’t even know what I said, all I could think about was this great Artist was looking at my beat-up Moleskin book of notes, and talking about it like we were at a salon in Europe. I was honored to be able to just meet him, let alone photograph him, but this put things over the top. As photographers, we can do a ton of forgettable jobs, but every so often we get these beautiful moments that you treasure.
My friend, Aaron Sigmond, the author of that book, put it poignantly last night that he regrets he never got to have a last cigar with Neiman, I felt bad that I did, and will never forget it.