Organized in the Mess

                                            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.

FILE STORAGE

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. 

 

NAMING CONVENTION

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.

 

METADATA

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. 

(Source: ianspanier.com)

(Source: ianspanier.com)

Lessons learned from the speed dating of portfolio reviews.

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! 

(Source: ianspanier.com)

5 Bags for 5 Different Shoots

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.

DRYZONE 200

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.

THE COMBO

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.

TOPLOADER 70AW

 

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  

S&F SERIES

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.

(Source: ianspanier.com)

Papa’s got a brand new 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:

Inside is:

  • Canon Mark III 1Ds 
  • Canon 5D Mark II 
  • Canon 50mm 1.2 
  • Canon 85mm 1.8 
  • Canon 24-105mm 
  • Canon 70-300mm 
  • 5 Gepe card cases 
  • SanDisk card reader 
  • 15’ tether cord 
  • 6’ tether cord 
  • Sekonic Flash Meter 
  • Canon cord lock 
  • Canon batteries for both cameras 
  • Canon battery chargers for both cameras 
  • Air Rocket blower -spare AAs 
  • Laptop power cords 
  • 3-Prong Power Splitter 
  • business cards, promo cards and band aids 
  • Laptop 
  • ColorMunki Monitor Calibrator
  • iPod
  • portable hard drive
  • Wacom Bamboo Tablet

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:

  • Canon Mark III 1Ds 
  • Canon 5D Mark II 
  • Canon 50mm 1.2 
  • Canon 85mm 1.8 
  • Canon 24-105mm 
  • 5 Gepe card Cases
  • SanDisk Card Reader
  • Batteries for both cameras, chargers incl.
  • Air Rocket Blower
  • Portable hard drive
  • Snack
  • Long Sleeve shirt or lightweight Rain Jacket
  • Laptop and power cords
  • Wacom Bamboo Tablet
  • iPod
  • iPad (if desired)
  • Spare batts, chargers, etc
  • (I’d probably be able to get one or two more lenses in there as well if necessary, all depends on the needs of the job) 
I really like how Lowepro combined the best of what they have done with their backpacks now with what they had created with the SlingShots. What I’ve always loved about the SlingShot was that I could swing it around and grab whatever camera, cord, card case or lens I needed, what I found I didn’t like was that after some of the 12 hour days, my back would be sore from the bag only being able to be worn to one side. The Fastpack has the same side access as the SlingShot, but with the dual shoulder straps I know that issue will not be at hand. I also like how Lowepro throws in a removable accessory pouch, it shows they really understand photographers. I use the other accessory pouches from other Lowepro bags that I have on all my jobs no matter what bag I’m using, being able to separate my various items is so convenient, and getting through airport security is so much easier not having loose cords all over the bag. I am certain I would not have gotten my passport taken from me at the Security Checkpoint in Cuba had all my cords been stored better, but that’s another story.
I’m really looking forward to putting this bag thru the ringer, I’m sure it will be a workhorse for me.

(Source: ianspanier.com)

Being an Artist and a Business Person

                                                     ©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.

(Source: ianspanier.com)

Limited equipment, rain, group shots and dinosaur mosquitoes

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

(Source: ianspanier.com)

Long Beach, NY

Long Beach, NY

How I got started

Every so often I get asked about my path as a commercial photographer, so I thought I’d share the story with you all. 

I went to college having the thought in my mind that I wanted to be a trainer for a pro sports team. I had a large number of injuries in High School sports and coming back from all of them through training, I was really into how to sports medicine worked. My best friend was surprised I didn’t want to do something in the arts, as I was always drawing, painting or making pictures, but I was convinced I knew my path. Oddly enough, he predicted I’d change my mind.

I also went to school planning to play soccer for four more years. The first trimester I had an awful advisor who despite my busy soccer schedule put me in an 8am bio class and two other classes that fell right before meals and just barely around soccer practice, combined with volunteering at the training room, I basically missed eating normal meals for 10 weeks. I went from 155lbs to 140lbs when everyone else was putting on the “freshman 15” I was wasting away. As well, my grades suffered. Going into the second trimester, I decided to take a drawing class, figuring that I would make an A, and that began my path of always taking an art class. 

Come the spring trimester the next class was intro to photography. I again figured I could ace the class having shot with cameras since I was six years old. I immediately fell back into line with the love of the darkroom, and found myself spending more time in there than in the training room. I changed advisors and was fortunate to have the head of the art department as a leader, he recommended me for a school program in NY where I would work for two photographers in NYC for a trimester and get school credit.  That summer I worked for a photography agent, and as good as an experience as it was, I didn’t want to be an agent.  I did however, get to learn about the agent’s position in the game, and she had me arranging portfolios for the various clients, something that later was extremely valuable.

I got into the NY Arts Program my junior year, and it changed my life. I got back to school knowing that I wanted to work in the photography field, and to a degree, felt that school was a bit of a waste of time…the real world was where it was at. However, I gained so many additional credits, that finishing school seemed the right thing to do.

That next summer I got an internship at Condenast, working at GQ Magazine. This was an amazing experience, and made me realize how having a good amount of photography knowledge, and a good sense for business, I could do well there. I also believed at the time that I would rather direct photographers then be one full-time. I would always have photography and could shoot my “art” on the side…I’m sure many of you know that desire to be more of an artist than a commercial photographer.

 

During that tenure, they threw me a bone and I shot a book for a book review for an issue the night before the issue was to ship. I volunteered even tough all I had for lights was a Canon 480 Speedlight. I didn’t even own a stand. I hand-held the light and flashed it closing my eyes just after to get a sense of where the shadow was going to fall. I repeated this till I got the shadow to fall right, and there was my first professional magazine shoot, and the start of a six and a half year still-life photography career. I freelanced at GQ that following winter break and really enjoyed it, and despite my desire to be just be an editor, the still life shoots came in and I continued to shoot for GQ as well as other titles I eventually worked for.

 

After I graduated, GQ didn’t have a position for me, so I worked at Condenast’s archive separating Irving Penn’s and Elliot Erwitt’s pictures for House & Garden from their earlier days. All the while, GQ worked to open a space for me. By the fall I was full-time freelance at GQ, rising to the Associate Photo Editor within a year and then over to Esquire, ESPN the Magazine, Blaze (Vibe spin-off), Men’s Health Teen, Men’s Journal, US Weekly, and Marie Claire. As time progressed I met many of the great magazine photographers out there, some of the legends, and always shot on the side.  I directed these photographers and often was on set, where I witnessed their lighting first-hand.

 

I rose to Director of Photography by 26, and sort of hit the wall. I enjoyed editing, but began to shoot so much combined with realizing much of what I was assigning I could shoot. I had shed much of the still life shoots for portraits and did a bit of self-assigning, which included the shot of Walt shown above. I was getting some decent assignments here and there then I caught a big break when a story with Heather Graham came up at Marie Claire, and the Creative Director and Publicity Director wanted me to go to India to document the actress’s journey for a feature article. After that, I knew I was done at the desk. I just felt more at home on location, and realized that I could handle the stories myself, but I was still afraid of leaving editing all together.

 

In New York, once you are known for one thing it’s hard to be thought of as anything else. Many of my peers knew me as a photo editor, so getting work, as a photographer was sometimes easy, but often difficult. I decided I needed to leave NY for a while, get people to forget about me as an editor. I was able to take a job as the photo editor of Muscle & Fitness Magazine in LA with a deal where I would shoot for them as well. They got a great deal from me, and I would get my opportunities to shoot as well as leave NY. This was a great move except I just didn’t like life in LA; the traffic drove me away in less than two years. I was offered an editing job for a small publisher but turned it down, as I’d made up in my mind I wanted to shoot more than edit. The Creative Director then came back to me with an offer to be their Chief Photographer for them, assigning other photographers if I needed to, as well as run the department’s budget as I wanted. I took the job.

 

Upon my return to NY, a friend said he thought I came back too soon, that I should have held out longer. We happened to go to a networking party that evening and let me tell you, I think two weeks out of NY would have been enough. All my peers who I had not stayed in touch with asked what I was up to and I told them I was shooting now. It was the truth, albeit stretched a bit, but I was able to say it since the job I took had a lot of liberties on time, and when I was shooting for them, I was booked…something that came into play fantastically as I positioned myself as a wanted man. Photo editors in general want to work with working photographers. And I should mentioned, I think two weeks would have been enough to be out of NY for people to forget about me!

 

I stayed as the Chief Photographer for the media company for three years till they went Chapter 7.  Two of my assistants joined the department and we were a pretty solid department. Shooting 85% of the then five titles artwork, and I can proudly say, always under budget.

 

Unfortunately the rest of the company wasn’t as efficient. The company was having problems for a while, and I contemplated leaving to shoot full-time as I was very busy freelancing on the side, but the Chapter 7 announcement came a bit out of nowhere.

 

I was pretty scared to leave; I had recently bought a house, and now had two young sons. All the reasons I had talked myself out of leaving the security of the full-time job. The very next day I sold two images from a story I shot for Muscle & Fitness to an ad firm for $5000, and I was safe for a few months. Things took off very quickly from there, and I found the freedom of time that I now had, not having to report to an office for someone else, led to so much more time to concentrate on my photography business.

 

So that was how it began, definitely not the conventional path. I’ve mentioned in many of my lectures and blogs that the experiences I had in college and as an editor certainly helped form how I run my business, so if you are in a full-time position and looking to make the move, take stock in what experiences you have now and think about how they can help you run your photography business. I don’t believe photographers in general realize how much of this career is about business and not about the art of being a photographer. If you haven’t heard my lecture on the Business of Photography yet, please check out the webinar at http://www.lowepro.com/ask-the-pro it’s available to view anytime. If you only take one piece of advice from it, that’s one more piece of knowledge you didn’t have yesterday.

(Source: ianspanier.com)

Gotta work solo but want a nice light? This may help.

I got a call from the editor of Muscular Development to see if I would be interested in shooting a day in the life of champion pro bodybuilder Jay Cutler, a four-time Mr. Olympia and fan favorite. Hell yes! 

The editor was introducing me to the magazine as a new photographer, and he’d nicely laid his reputation out on them hiring me. Like many magazines these days, budget was a concern, and I would have to do this one sans assistant. 

I’ve shot these kind of stories before, and many times I will just go available light, to be able to get closer, and more “fly-on-the wall” with the subject. We all learn from our best shoots and our worst shoots, and although the available light thing worked for me on a few of these kinds of stories, it failed however whenever I found myself in situations of extreme exposures. Cutler’s home base of Vegas is all about that. It’s bright as hell outside and inversely dark inside. Balancing that would be easy if I had my assistant and time to make adjustments, so how could I solve this without? I needed to be able to move fast, anticipate things and not interrupt the natural flow of the story. Of course I knew I could just do flash on camera, I have a few modifiers that would make it at least a little more interesting. Or Flash on a cord, but that has seemingly gone out of style with digital and the telephoto lenses that are more popular than fixed lenses, and more versatile on stories like this. Or of course I could use a Stroboframe, or even a magic arm I have with a camera mount. But weight and limitations from past assignments were turning me off to that,  I would have liked to had an assistant with a light on a stick ala Larry Fink, but instead it would be on my shoulders to do something more than just shoot available light. So I decided to do just that…

I thought if I could rig a Photoflex OctoDome nxt extra small light modifier with a Canon 580ex flash to a hiking backpack I’d have more freedom to shoot without being cord-tangled. The frames are light, usually hollow aluminum, so I was thinking with a superclamp and pin, or a magic arm, I could rig the light above me, maybe hang it out to the side.

I was in Minneapolis that week for a shoot, and just happened by a camping store, so I checked out what they had, $150+ or more was certainly not worth it for a backpack with or without a frame, and something I’d likely not use again but once in a blue moon. I checked online with some army-navy surplus, and they had some nice options for $35 or so for just a frame, but then I realized that I’d need to be able to carry some gear, and although I could probably get away with a couple LowePro S&F Series Pouches on a belt for that, maybe there was a better way.

I then jumped on the LowePro site, and almost immediately found the Scope Porter 200 AW. Made primarily for bird-watchers who want to carry a scope and fully opened tripod out into the field with ease this could be modified to be the perfect bag. I called up a contact of mine there, and mentioned what I was thinking…prefacing that it was a bit odd…he laughed, and said, “yes I think that could work…let me see what the guys think.” Within a matter of minutes I had a text message with a picture of the guys in California with a stand rigged to the bag, and that same Photoflex OctoDome attached. Lock it in.  

I had the bag a few days later, and it could not have been more perfect. Ergonomic as it gets, which means the comfort level would be high, and the accessory pockets on the side would hold all my extras, batteries, cards, lenses, and slap on the S&F Water Bottle Pouch and Cell Phone case attached to the waist straps, and I had everything within reach. I was pleasantly surprised to find the bottom of the center tunnel has a velcro-adjustable flap, (my guess it to be able to store something under the scope one would normally carry there), but for me, that meant I could avoid an unnecessary stand, which was my original plan to use. Now I could put a simple floor plate at anywhere from bottom to about 1-5” off the bottom of the bag, attach a Photoflex Extension arm, (actually it’s a LiteStand without the base), instead of a stand with cumbersome legs and now travel even lighter. The ability to move that velcro pad turned out to be crucial, as I could keep a few things under it, but also use it to raise the floor plate up a little, giving me a little more options with the height of the extension arm. As well, the coincidentally perfectly placed opening to the bag was just the right spot for my Turbo battery. The top of the bag had a sliplock strap (again, perfectly placed as if I had asked for one there), and I used that to help keep the extension arm perpendicular to the ground. 

From there I attached a Photoflex Umbrella Bracket and with the OctoDome’s adjustable shoemount hardware, I slid on a Pocket Wizard TT5 unit and my 580EX. Note I have the TT5 and flash facing backwards, this I had to do as the TT5 is too large, and I wanted the 580EX inside the dome. I could have used a regular Pocket Wizard and show mount, but the advantage with the TT5 when coupled with the Mini tt1 unit is that I could now shoot TTL! Showing up to Jay’s door looking like an idiot with an octabank hovering over my head would surely be, well, interesting…

Freedom is an understatement, I could shoot vertical and horizontal without any cords getting in the way, any brackets to flip, and within minutes, I even knew how to twist my back a little bit when I was juxtaposing my subject to the left or right, but still wanted that light coming from straight on. The height of the dome, about 3-5” above my noggin was perfect. Jay has deep-set eyes, and with the double baffles in the OctoDome I was able to keep the shadows to a minimum, but still get really nice shape to the light, as well as consistency through the use of the TTL feature of the tt1-TT5 units. As well, for a few shots, I wanted to get the key light off my back and I was able to quickly remove the Extension arm and have someone hold it then pop it right back into place in the bag. Very little effort to do so, meant I could be quick. We were moving to many locations, and I got a lot of looks and a few chuckles, but didn’t matter to me, I was comfortable and knew I was getting great shots with the added light.


Here I am doing that twist to keep the light on Jay. (photo by Sean Andros/Muscular Development)


Stay tuned for the June issue of Muscular Development for the Day in the Life Feature with Jay Cutler.

Special thanks on this one to Josh Semolik/Lowepro, Sean Andros/Muscular Development, and Photoflex

(Source: ianspanier.com)

Check out a behind the scenes look at my shoot with Pauly D and his crew for the upcoming Pauly D Project on MTV.

(Source: ianspanier.com)

Why Production Matters

Whether it’s a quick portrait with one subject or a huge set with live animals, fireworks and stunt doubles, production can make or break your shoot. There’s so many great producers out there, but what do you do when it’s on your shoulders. With today’s budgets, often it is, follow the old Boy Scout Motto- be prepared.

If you are a photographer that doesn’t know how to produce your own shoots, how can you possibly deal with problems? When you are working with a producer, how can you direct them so that the shoot goes off as intended? These are things that are a part of running your business, and you need these skills,  here’s some advice and some stories behind three very different productions of mine. 


The Jersey Shore Season 5


This was a fun challenge, I had been traveling for almost two weeks when I got the call from MTV that our shoot date would be moving up, and could I get back in time to shoot the cast of The Jersey Shore on the boardwalk in Seaside Heights, NJ. I was on the west coast at the time, so first and foremost, I needed to change a flight and my first assistant and I would have to get from Las Vegas to NY. While this went on, the decision came down that we’d be shooting overnight as opposed to during the day. Our call time would be 2:30am, and the cast would show up at about 4am. From Las Vegas, we’d be on a morning flight, swing past my house for a minute to pick up some additional equipment, then drive to the Jersey Shore, marathon day to say the least. Loosing production time on the plane would be annoying, but thankfully I had the Photo Director at MTV working out the details on getting all the cast and crew necessary to be on set, hotel reservations, security, permits, schedules, catering and so on. Not having that on my shoulder was a huge help. On my side, I got three additional assistants in NY to pick up a rental van and fill it with my pre-arranged rental lighting equipment, drive it down to the shore and wait for us to arrive. Having great crew on hand is huge, and to be honest, we could easily have used one or two more assistants!  I set up the guys, the van and got the equipment squared away boarded a plan and tried in vain to get some sleep. The comfort of knowing the Photo Director had things on her plate taken care of, I need only worry about my guys making it to NJ and getting myself and my first assistant there. Along the way, I made sure that I had sketched out my lighting plan in my sketch book. I stress the importance of this to assistants and young photographers all the time. Having a history of your shoots is a great resource, and being able to show your assistants a birds-eye view of the set is a huge time-saver on set, especially when you have your client and subject(s) to entertain.

The stars aligned and we made it in time to do a quick scout, lay down for maybe 45min then get rolling. The adrenaline surge I get shooting was enough to keep things moving, and we knocked out four group sets, and individual and pairs of the cast, wrapping at a record pace. 

Despite the challenges with travel and coordinating so many people, this is an example of a fairly easy production. I say this because although there are so many moving parts, there was a good budget, enough to get the right crew, the right equipment, and accommodate the difficulties with getting from Las Vegas to NY, then NJ and get the shoot done. 

Ky-Mani Marley 

This is an example of a medium level production. Jamrock Magazine hired me to shoot Hip-Hop artist Ky-Mani Marley (one of Bob’s sons), for their cover. Not a huge budget, but it was decent enough to hire an assistant and rent a room at the Chelsea Hotel for the shoot location. I was able to rent some of my lighting equipment to them as well, but I don’t have a ton of lights, so I had to work minimally, no more than two lights were used in any set up, and much of the shoot was done with the original light, the sun.

I had to produce this one, which was cool as I had the idea to shoot at the hotel, and knew exactly what I wanted. I tried to get the hotel to work with me in return for credit in the magazine, but being a landmark, and home to many photo shoots, they knew they could get some money out of this. I explained it was a low budget, and they agreed to “rent” the room as if we were staying there, and as well let us have access to the hallways and the rooftop. I think because I was fair to them about the room, the manager would be fair about giving me a variety of locations. If you don’t ask, you don’t get, worse case- they say no. 

The magazine had a stylist- which is huge when you want to do a few different looks, so I was thankful for that. There are many cases though where I will call in a favor from stylists I know, especially if there’s something they could benefit from for their portfolio. If you are just starting out, befriend makeup artists and stylists, we are all artists after all, and collaborating with or without a budget is a part of what we do.

As always, I had sketched up a plan before, not knowing if I would have 2 minutes or 2 hours with Ky-Mani. As it turned out- he was amazing, loved the idea of shooting in the same room as a famous Bob Dylan shoot, so he was game for anything and gave me plenty of time. 

NFL Punter


This is an interesting one. I actually got the assignment on Facebook of all places. A “friend” of a client I have shot for in New Zealand who is “friends” with me posted that he needed a NY or NJ based photographer for a shoot a day away. I replied and asked what they needed, pleasantly finding out that it was a portrait for a feature story on a former Australian Rules Football Player who was in training camp with the NY Giants. I emailed a few times with the art director-who was in Australia, and the writer, who was in NY and pretty quickly realized the Giants PR was only going to give me access to the press pit on press day. This means that I would have to shoot with a long lens and get nothing much different than any other reporter there. I couldn’t rely on the Art Director to call the Giants and sort it out since the shoot was the next day. I was able to get a contact number for the subject and the Giants PR from the writer, it was clear I needed to take the reigns.

First I called the subject, and asked if he was available another day, knowing he wanted this press, so he would help. Next I called the Giants PR contact and explained that this was a feature story for a magazine that’s more like a GQ or Esquire and I’d need to get access with the subject to do portraits and more artistic shots, as opposed to straight-up action.  He was surprisingly accommodating, and he said as long as the subject was available, we could have the newly renovated stadium to ourselves! What?!? OK by me! We made arrangements, and I was able to get a completely empty stadium and as well shots outside the stadium after. 

This was a very small production, small budget, no room for rental equipment. At the time, all I owned was a Profoto 7b and a Q Flash. Thankfully, I had just bought the Pocket Wizard Flex tt5 and Mini tt1. This allowed me to override normal sync limitations with the Q Flash and shoot at 1/500” to make this image. 

On shoots like this, it certainly helps to own some lights, but that aside I try to minimize my expenses so I can maximize my take home. So again, pretty simple lighting, this shot is only one artificial light and the sun, and the other portraits we used one 7b with 2 heads. I brought only what I needed, no more. I did have an assistant, but he thankfully worked with me at a slightly lower rate. There was no other crew, and I of course filled up the tank in NJ to get the cheaper gas. 

One big point I want to make here is that the pictures are what they are, the quality should be as good regardless of the budget. Being able to control the production variables is paramount to succeeding. 

More TK!

(Source: ianspanier.com)

Changing Things Up

Each December, many of the year-end contests put out their calls for annual competitions. I was going through my Lightroom database and taking stock in what my year looked like through the images I made throughout the year. As many photographers do, and despite having a great year of challenging and fun assignments, I began to wonder what I did this year that would help me move forward in 2012. As well, I have hit a bit of a creative wall, where I feel my portfolios need work, and my website needed updating. Ever get that feeling you are sick of your own work?

Editing your own work is one of the most difficult things photographers face. Many of us can edit each other’s work easily, but the emotional connection we have with our own images prevents our abilities as editors. We think because we were there, outsiders may not understand what makes a particular image so unique. Truth is, if it doesn’t speak out to those who don’t know the story behind the image, then it’s not a successful image. What to do? How can I make things feel fresh, and how can I, in particular, wrangle in my wide variety of work?  I have always shot a wide variety of subject matter, and face the constant challenge of presenting one vision despite such a mixture. Some days I am shooting a businessman in an office, the next is a bodybuilder going through a workout in a gym or a ballet shoot in a dance studio, and another the cast of MTV’s Jersey Shore. Of course my lighting should tell the viewer it’s the same photographer, but does it? I change my lighting to fit the story, or the assignment. I believe lighting tells as much of a story as the image itself, so I am rarely repeating the exact set up. Time certainly flies, and telling my current and hopefully future clients what I accomplished this year through this wide variety can be a daunting task. How can I do this? Answer is, I couldn’t. I needed help, and despite the advice of my close circle, which is to a degree helpful, I needed an outsider’s view, because really that’s who I am trying to appeal to, someone who doesn’t know me, and they would have to make their own assessment of my images. Essentially, that’s what I am asking of those potential clients.

Initially, I thought to meet with some people I know and get their advice. I hit up a few agents and producers I know, and whether they do or they don’t like my work, often the message in return, it needs to be edited. Funny thing is, they are not even seeing HALF the work I have shot as I edited out those things I didn’t feel fit in with what I am showing them. I can see in their faces when they “get” me, but really do they? Some do for sure- but I’d like them all to understand me. Not as much from an egotistical point, but more so just so they comprehend who I am as a photographer, whether or not that means they will hire me. I want people to “get” that I am as comfortable in the studio as I am hanging backwards off a cliff to make an image of my subject, to know I can shoot the delicate dancer, the hard nosed businessman, the surreally large bodybuilder, the golf course, the celebrity and so on. I’d been reading a few articles in the trade about the rise of photography consultants, and spoke with a few photographer friends that have been working with consultants, and all have been happy with the results. In part, I have been advised by a few “consultants” in the past, but nothing came of it. Everyone has an opinion about your work, that happens when you put your work out there, but separating the opinion about your work, and actually helping you see how to put your work together in a concise manner is another story. 

I found Suzanne Sease (www.suzannesease.com) through a combination of seeing her articles in a few magazines, and reading her column on former Photo Editor Rob Haggart’s website (www.aphotoeditor.com). Suzanne very clearly understood my problems when we first spoke, as she was clicking through my website and talking to me about what she saw. I liked that she understood many of my problems just seeing what was up online, once I sent her a collection of more of my images, she formed a more full opinion of my body of work. When she sent me her edit of my work, I certainly would say I was uncomfortable, how did this image go with that image? Wow, that’s an odd choice… what is going on here? Then I stepped back and looked, all of a sudden things started to make sense. In the portfolios the variety of work is being shown, and in reserve I have the images that can be used in their individual collections, (on my site and on my iPad). I would show the portfolios as a representation of all the work, and yet not throw away the other images that are a part of my body of work, nice!

About a month and a half in now, and my site has been re-launched, and I have two new portfolios. I have just started showing the books at meeting and the response has been positive, the website has also been well received thus far. The proof of course is in the pudding, and assignments will be the proof I need. However, what I can say for sure, is that I do like what I see, and that initial discomfort was a necessary thing, things don’t change if you go through life with blinders. 

Please check it out for yourself! www.ianspanier.com

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