John Early Blog bio picture
  • Welcome to my blog!

    I know you're time is valuable so thanks for taking the time to visit. Here you'll find irregularly-timed irregular posts about what I've been up to or about topics that interest me or I think might interest others. Mostly the content will be about photography, cinematography and the such, but I'll also occasionally diverge into my personal life and share slices what I do in my spare time.

The Ultimate Digital Tech’s Back-Up Workflow Plan

Just read the most detailed digital back-up workflow plan I’ve seen in quite some time. Digital Eagle Scout “Dartanyon” contributed the very informative piece to Chase Jarvis’ blog.

“…Reconciling these pros and cons, I have finally come to my perfect solution, a hybrid drive. Two partitions, the first a clone of our Road Warrior, the second filled to the brim with custom made disk images that have the installers as well as the serial numbers. This allows me to properly install the software if I have the time, or go into emergency mode [the cloned partition – option C] if I don’t…”

Take a few minutes and check out this critical digital workflow information over on Chase Jarvis’s blog. Thanks for posting!

12 Photographers – Two Questions, Part 3

Continuing our discussion with 12 photographers and two questions. This time they answer the question: “What is the best moment or time in your photographic career and what did you learn from it?
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Blake Wöken

The Best

On assignment in the wilderness of Alaska for over a month sounds, to most, like a romantic, dream job. It did to me when I got that phone call asking if I was interested in being in on the project. I quickly jumped at the opportunity to be the one to bring the concepts to life. Preparation was vital. In order to make this four week shoot work the way it was supposed to, a team of individuals would have to coordinate and plan for any and all contingencies. There would be no running to town to restock or replace. There wouldn’t be a place to rent a damaged piece of equipment. Our contact with the outside world would consist of an occasional jet trail going 25,000 feet above us, and a two hour bush pilot ride to our “location”.

The summer days in Northern Alaska,  are long.  Sunrise, sunset, sunrise, sunset, separated by a momentary period of total darkness, interspersed with the thin gray overcast of passing Pacific storms. This makes for a blurry eyed, challenging, yet spectacular, opportunity to create vibrant,exciting images. The initial excitement of being dumped into the Alaskan wilderness with an art director and an assistant, along with our cache of supplies quickly began to turn to apprehension as the weight of a large budget and uncertain circumstances settled on my shoulders. The sight of the 1200 pound Alaskan brown bear in the brush didn’t help either!

Now, let’s just say the next 20 days were not easy. Lot’s of rain and sitting in a tent with an AD whose shots just were not coming as fast as he would like. A food supply depleting by the minute ( Sitting in a tent for 20 hours while it downpours tends to make the provisions rapidly disappear), and the constant visits of Mr 1200 pounds and his friends, made us all a bit on edge.

As fortunes might have it, clearing skies and warming temps made for a productive last week. The smells , the sounds, the views!  All spectacular!  The beauty of a 4 hour sunset, followed by the twinkling, dancing skies of the Northern Lights, followed by a three hours sunrise…WHAT A TREAT!

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Hunter Freeman

One Of The Best

As part of a larger project, I had the opportunity to photograph a four year old cutting his own hair.  Makes me smile just to think about it, and I think I smiled my way through the entire project.  The little guy was to hack away in the kitchen of the location, and it was a delight to behold.  He had no plan, and certainly no hairstyle in mind, and he was happy just to keep whacking away at his little head-hedge.  He was having a great time, and so was I, when his little sister, a two and a half year old, could no longer restrain herself:  SHE had to cut her brother’s hair HERSELF!  “Okay, okay,” I said, “Don’t worry, let’s get you something to stand on.”  An assistant whips an apple box onto the floor, pushes it next to the brother, I hand the scissors to the sister – yikes, be careful, those things are sharp! –  and away she goes, like she’d worked in salon for all 2.5 years of her life.  Her concentration was phenomenal!  The house could have been on fire, and she would never have noticed.  Now, the brother, who initially didn’t care how the heck his hair looked, is covering his face, dismayed at what his sis might be doing to his “masterpiece”, and I can hardly keep from laughing.  I took a ton of shots, and I was just besides myself with laughter and gratitude.  I love my job.  Where else could I get this kind of opportunity?  The occasion was so joyful, so filled with fun and wacky-ness, that I would be hard pressed to organize something like it again.  I learned, I hope, that opportunities like this are rare, and that I need to seek them out, and embrace them and make every moment count.  And guess what?  I was asked another time to photograph a kid cutting his own hair!  Ain’t life grand?

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Bob Stevens

The Best Moment

In the Spring of 2007, I received a call from an art buyer I had known for some time who had a ‘pro-bono’ shoot to discuss with me. As it turned out, the creative was amazing and although there was little money, I shot three ads which turned out beautifully. I submitted the images to the CA Photo Annual competition and not one but ALL THREE were accepted and as a result, I had two pages in the prestigious publication all to myself that August.

In September, I received one of those ‘calls out of the blue’ from another art buyer, this time from an agency in Toronto I had never heard of. It turned out to be Juniper Park, a newly formed shop which had this little bitty piece of business called Frito- Lay!

The Creative Director had seen my work in the CA Photo Annual, visited my web site, and decided that I was THE ONE to photograph his substantial re-branding campaign consisting of 10 ads. He also noted my humor and landscape work, both of which had been created on personal self-assigned projects. We created 10 ads which appeared in every major publication in the US.

Lesson : Personal work + Pro Bono work =  $$ and the largest print assignment of my career! That’s what I’m talkin’ about!

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James Quantz Jr.

The Best

One of the best moments would have to be when I first had my daughter in the studio.  Being a specialist with compositing images, my wife and I always try and plan some sort of fun holiday card each year.  Our daughter, being nine months old at the time, was sure to be the center of the photograph as she is in our lives.  So we dressed her up, plopped her in a chair, and she was the perfect model.  Not that she understood what was going, but she was such a sport and we all had a blast making the image.

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Kevin Steele

The Best

My first shoot for a commercial client wherein I had no idea what to charge and the AD guided me to a rate that set me on the path to shooting full time.

I was still working full time and shooting on the side.  By word of mouth an AD asked me to shoot a series of corporate ads that required “someone who could be comfortable hanging from a rope”.   I had no idea about usage nor commercial rates.  In my head I had a number but the AD was helpful in guiding me to a number that was many times the number I had and opened my eyes to the possibilities of making my passion a livelihood.  From that point forward I learned all I could about the business of licensing and usage while also building the skills I then lacked in lighting.  I was driven and loving it and soon transitioned to full time. What I learned was best phrased by what Dick Durrance told me last year:  If you have a gift and an opportunity to act on then you honor the gift of life.

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Rhea Anna

One Of The Best

One of the loveliest times in my photo career was pretty early in the game. I was on a trip to NYC and hanging in the windows of HSBC branches was a three image series I done earlier that year. On that same trip, I went into Tower Records and a bunch of images I had shot for an Ani DiFranco record were hanging throughout the store. It was so cool to see the work hanging large in stores in Manhattan.

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Darryl Bernstein

The Best

Many memories come to mind when I think of game-changing moments in my career as a photographer. Some are photographic — like the first time I saw a shot unfold in my studio exactly the way I had envisioned it in my mind. Others are people-related — like realizing I could make a client comfortable, however nervous I might have been (I’m talking a long time ago, I’m totally cool now…). But the really great moments that stand out the most involve collaborations with truly creative minds.

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John Early

The Best

One of the most exciting times for me was the time just after the new millennium. I was busy shooting alot of QuickTime VR for car maker websites. Business was booming.

However, I wanted to push the limits and boundaries in the VR/internet world and the time was right. I pitched some (at the time) far-fetched ideas of shooting 360-walkarounds of cars on location to Toyota. And we weren’t just talking shooting on level ground. That had been done. I wanted to shoot a 360-spin in rugged terrain, and a frozen moment (ala The Matrix) of a vehicle crossing a river or something similarly dynamic. I wanted to do things no one had done before while keeping the image quality very high and consistent. This wouldn’t be easy, or cheap. It would be risky and expensive. I wasn’t 100% sure if these concepts/practices would work because they’d never been done! Both the client and I took huge risks.

Toyota trusted me, and awarded the project with it’s sizable companion budget. We got to shoot their full line of trucks on location for VR including the initial launch of the Sequoia. For the 4Runner we built a 100’ diameter circular dolly track around the vehicle as it sat perched on The Rubicon Trail in the Sierra Nevada mountains with a commanding view of the valley below. It looked like a version of Thunder Mountain Railroad at Disneyland. Then we shot multiple passes of 36 frames (every 10 degrees) around the vehicle. We had to complete shooting this “circle” in as little time as possible so the light didn’t change too much from start to finish. The complexity and logistics to get the track and construction materials to the site was daunting. All the equipment, lumber, scaffolding had to be shuttled from the grip trucks about a 1/2 mile to location on a 6-wheel drive Unimog. And to watch the grips build it was stunning. I remember they ended up working into the night and staying over on location at night to be ready for shooting the next day. The shots turned out fantastic, showing off the 4Runner in it’s rugged element. The client was thrilled.

After that location we moved to a river location where we worked with a camera supplier to set up an array of 30 cameras around the river crossing. When the Sequoia came through at-speed, all the cameras fired. I later turned this into an QuickTime VR object movie so the user could spin around the car all at that one frozen moment in time. Very cool. The first of it’s kind for a car on the internet. The client loved it.

The shoot continued on to the southern Sierra Nevada, then on to Las Vegas and Southern California for about another week. It was an awesome trip with outstanding agency creatives and crew that yielded outstanding results that benefitted the client and my career.

Lesson: Don’t be afraid to break boundaries and push for what YOU want to shoot! Know it’s not always possible with every job though. Opportunities are rare, or at least they are for me. You may have to ask many different clients many different times, but if you push consistently and aren’t afraid to risk as much or more than your client, the rewards can be huge.

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Wendi Nordeck

The Best

I had a chocolate shoot scheduled for 2 days during an unusual heat wave in SF. My studio was on the second floor in an old warehouse with terrible insulation, and a black tar roof in the Mission District. I knew the chocolate would melt and sweat on set if I didn’t figure something out. I looked into renting and or buying a commercial air conditioner but had no luck finding anyone who would install it before the shoot. I only had three days to do something before the shoot. After much research I bought two 5 gallon buckets of specialty silver reflective roof paint and painted to tar roof above my space. I bought 12 fans and put one in every window and skylight in the studio. Then I built a two layer shooting table and put trays of dry ice on the lower level and the chocolates on the top table. It took some testing to figure out the perfect distance to keep the chocolates cool enough without freezing the table and chocolate. With all the fans going at the same time it sounded like the studio might take off, but we just turned up the stereo and had a great shoot. Not a single chocolate melted, the client was thrilled with the results and we collaborated for several years.

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Laura Crosta was unable to meet the deadline so my good friend and über-talented photographer Eric Hameister stepped up to fill the 12th photographer spot. Thanks Eric!

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Eric Hameister

The Best

“I am Jesse James.” Coffee table book

The book entered #9 on the New York Times best seller list the first week out. A rare accomplishment for a picture style book. Now, it appears, I am a best-selling author.

It began with me showing a portfolio to Jesse. I started out working for Jesse, spending time hanging around West Coast Choppers for a number of years during the return of the chopper boom. I kept busy setting up shots for advertising purposes, as well as documenting bike builds, crew working etc. This lead to a meeting where I proposed the idea of a coffee table book idea. Jesse liked it. We went straight to Penguin Putnam Publishing in N.Y.

To be Honest. It was easy for me as I got to follow my passion of motosports. How can you NOT get a great photograph of machines like that… being around a West Coast Chopper? It made for powerful eye catching photographs.

Also, as a result of tooling around and shooting for Jesse, I had the opportunity to shoot a number of celebrities and events that were associated with Jesse James. That opened the door to many other subjects other than just motosports… I was getting hired for my photographic style and not so much of what I shoot. This is something that always mattered to me.

What I’ve learned?

Passion always wins! Follow your passions… by doing what I love, and enjoying it, what came to me was the nod that took me to a best selling author… Actually, I like to think of it as a rewarded photographer.

I know that I have chased many things, but what seems to come to me and works best for me is when I am pursuing my passion! I am amazed that photo assignments continue to filter in as a result of all this… All from just doing what I felt I wanted to shoot.

The Worst

Working with a team, as a 1st assistant, on a site shoot, we packed up to make a 6-8 hour trip away from the big city. Somewhere about 4pm  prior to a sunrise location shoot I realized… O.M.G. “I FORGOT THE FILM”… ALL OF IT!!! 8X10 TRANSPARENCY TOO… (no chance of finding that at a gas station!!!)

Frantic and embarrased, I told the 2nd assistant what I did… We started making phone calls on these brand new things, at the time, called cell phones.

We had 12 hours to make something happen, or I would have to tell the photographer, art director, car prep, assistants, talent-models that we can’t shoot because the photographic experts didn’t have any film… I still get sick to my stomach when I think of it…

We started the phone calls to the photo lab… assistants… airlines cargo departments…

Here is how it went down…

1) An assistant in L.A. dropped everthing to make it to the photo store within 27 mins of closing.

2) Purchased the film and put it on the photographer’s account.

3) Rented 8×10 film holders on the photographers account too. (lots of trust those days… that seems to be all gone)

4) After the stop at the photo store made a stop to the local K-mart… purchased two ice chest coolers. Put the film and holders into the coolers…

5) Drove to LAX Delta Airlines…

6) Put the coolers on an airplane for a flight that was leaving in an hour or so… Those pre-911 days you could do that!…

MEANWHILE… BACK AT THE RANCH…

7) Assistant drove from the hotel to the local airport to greet the luggage with out a passenger… (about one hour away)

8) Picked up the coolers at baggage claim…

9) Drove back to the hotel arriving about 12 midnight…

10) Met with the assistant to turn the hotel bathroom into a dark room with gaffers tape and duvetyne…

11) Proceeded to load 100+ sheets of 8×10 film finishing about 2am… Remember we had a 4 am call time?

12) After 2 hours of sleep, we made it to the location…

We got all this done thanks to cell phones and a strong crew base.

The lead photographer never knew a thing.

To the best of my recollection, this was a $200k production! Talk about stress!

What I’ve learned?

Check lists are really…really…really important… as well as back-up plans… Always have a way out of each and every thing your producing… i.e. need a camera for the shoot? got a back up? need a stand? got a back up? need a flash card? got a back up?

12 Photographers – Two Questions, Part 2

Continuing on with my interview of 12 photographers and two questions. Here they describe their worst moment or time in their career and what they might have learned from it.

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Darryl Bernstein

The Worst With a Good Ending

My rude awakening happened pretty early in my career. In fact, I was still at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, but was taking commercial assignments in my tiny basement studio off Colorado Avenue. A designer I had worked with previously approached me with a great project for MCA Records — a poster that would be seen nationwide in record stores. It was right up my alley…cool, conceptual photo illustration. But before I could call it mine, I had to meet the Creative Director at MCA. No problem! I had a decent book (at least that’s what Art Center told me), so I made my appointment. The book showing was classic — the CD reviewed my work (8×10 transparencies), two at a time, while on the phone. He held them up to the fluorescent lights in his office. To say it went fast is an understatement. The mount boards never stopped moving. He flew through them like he was an animator flipping through a sequence. The elevator ride up to his office was longer! But, in the end, he trusted his designer and we began the project.

Then came the daunting task of creating a bid for such an assignment. First, there was the size of the client, national exposure and usage, plus a fairly complex production. As a student, the opportunity had value for me, but I still wanted to charge appropriately. We agreed on a price. A very low price. But great for me at that point in my career. It was by far the biggest quote I had ever done. It was accepted and we were off and running. We had a hollywood prop shop build a custom prop that was the hero of this image. I needed to shoot it in studio and light it in a monumental way and create the illusion of steam as if this thing was cooling in a cave somewhere. We did it! The shot looked great with glowing blue light in the background and steam trails rising against into the darkness from a stone surface. Perfect! The image looked just like the comp. The designer, who had worked with the CD for years, was happy. Job well done!

Not so fast! A week later I get a call from the CD at MCA. He tells me there’s a problem. They have decided they don’t like their idea anymore and need to alter the photograph to fit a different concept. Instead of a scene where this thing is cooling, they want to make it hot. This would now require purchasing a stock photo (back when that cost something) and they needed to take money from my fees to cover it! Excuse me? He went on to assure me that their own vast experience would allow them to fix “my” mistake! UNBELIEVABLE! Given my lack of resources — and a pricey bill from the prop shop — I had very little choice but to settle the matter and move on. The designer promised that I’d make it up on future jobs, but those never happened.

This experience forced a new perspective about the commerce of art and my abilities to participate in that commerce. I needed capital. At that time, I needed to be paid and couldn’t prolong the matter. My interests were not protected legally, and I didn’t have the resources to pursue a better settlement. And I’m sure they knew that. Not long after that, I graduated and closed my studio in Pasadena. I took a staff position at Hallmark Cards where I could build that capital and start my own studio another day. As it turned out, the job at Hallmark enabled me to dive into the emerging world of digital photography and computer manipulation (pre-Photoshop), and enhance my skill set for the marketplace. Five years later, Darryl Bernstein Studios re-opened in an above-ground studio in Kansas City, MO.

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Blake Wöken

The Worst

I had a feeling that when the offer of an assignment came through for a large European luxury bus manufacturer came through, it would end up being a memorable project.

The initial call was actually an offer of the job from an advertising agency I had worked with on many occasions, for other clients. When the phrase ” we don’t have a very big budget on this one” came across the phone line, I should have hung up and blamed it on AT&T. Instead, I continued to help develop the plan.

The next day I found myself on a conference call with a couple of agency people and a French accented client based in Ontario, Canada. We discussed the shots they wanted, we discussed the logistics of getting the shots and we discussed the budget, or should I say the lack of much of one.

The concepts were great and the potential for some great “book” shots put me over the edge.  I’d do it, even though the pay wasn’t great and it could be a logistical mess.

They had no budget for a location scout, OK I know Southern California pretty well, and in mid February this would be the place that would provide us with the best weather and access to the greatest variety of unique geographical features. A bus rolling down the road in cool places!  How hard could it be?  Normally, not too tough. Somehow this would not be normal.

First of all, the client was providing the bus and driver. A blue and purple specimen, worthy of being featured in a “B” movie about the hair bands of the 80’s. Add to that the fact that they wanted to shoot in three days…in six different locations! And oh, by the way, we have no time to secure permits. At this point, I went against my best judgement and after voicing my opinion to the client and AD, gave in. After all, I had TRIED to educate the client on the difference between shooting in Quebec City and Los Angeles.

Nonetheless, I soon found myself in the wandering Southern California photographing this big monster from as many angles as possible, in as many situations as possible, under some of the ugliest light you could imagine. I forgot to mention, by this point they had “asked” for as many PR shots , in addition to the ad shots, as possible. All in all, the shoot was progressing as smoothly as possible, until the second day. We had no trouble getting our shots and all had gone smoothly.  Until, that is, we made it to Mojave National Preserve.  As I photographed the bus traveling up and down the lone two lane highway that crosses the preserve, I made sure to point out to the bus driver that once he passes our shooting spot, he needs to continue down the road about a mile to a large turnout to turn around.  Lots of loose desert sand in that area!  As the bus passed camera and dipped out of sight beyond the hill I changed camera angles and waited…..and waited….and waited. Finally , a crackled response over the walkie talkie suggested there might be a “problem”.  I jumped in my Suburban and rolled down the road. Right beyond the first hill, about a quarter of a mile from our camera position, was a large, ugly bus, sitting perpendicular across the highway, rear wheels spinning in loose sand.

After watching the panicked 70-year old driver about to go into cardiac arrest, I decided to refrain from making any comment to him about his lack of judgement. Instead a course of action was needed, and rapidly.  Luckily, that particular spot , had a bit of an area where my assistant could direct a single row of cars around the bus. He took that duty while the AD and myself grabbed shovels and started to dig. No luck! we had to get that thing out of there before a Park Service Ranger or a Highway Patrol happened by. Fines are huge for shooting without a permit. And, for turning your bus around across a highway! When all the digging and piling rocks under the tires failed to budge the beast , I came up with a last ditch plan before calling out a tow truck (which, by the way, would be over two hours away!).  I took my trusty dual sided, twelve foot ladder and busted it into two pieces. This created a “Ramp” which we filled with rocks and road debris in hope of getting enough traction to get the behemoth out of it’s sandpit.

With this improvised ramp, and a tug from the rented suburban, the beast lurched onto the paved portion of the highway and down the road. A stern command over the radio told the driver to keep going until we caught up with him. As we loaded the last of the now shattered ladder into the suburban, dusted ourselves off and prepared to catch up to the bus, a CHP officer pulled up to ask if we had seen a stuck bus out here. “No sir, we’re just out here taking some pictures in the desert!”….and off we went.

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James Quantz Jr.

The Worst

The worst time in my photography career(and life in general) would have to be following the death of my father in November 2008.  I had just returned from a fantastic ten day photographic journey through the Southwest, had some big time agencies knocking on my door for bids, and was really feeling some positive momentum.  Then one Monday morning all of that was jerked away when my Dad’s heart suddenly stopped.  It was an event that was entirely unexpected and the ground still shakes for me when I allow into my conscious the memory of the stone-faced, doctor coming into our small waiting room to break the news.  Dad was gone.  It was a scene played many times in the movies and on tv but you could never be prepared for your own life to take such a stage.  To add insult to injury, the next week my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer and would have to begin treatment almost immediately.  Things had changed and little did I know was just how much.  The task at hand was daunting and I had never experienced something along the lines of the stormy waters filled with lawyers and accountants that waited for me.

My photography business basically had to be shuttered and I found myself actually turning down bids and other work in order to get the bigger picture in order.  There was also the inner panic of emotional stress and what impact  it would have on my creativity.  For me at least, since I rarely shoot (settle for) straight-forward photography, there is always the pressure of always coming up with the golden concept or technical solution for solving the image in front of me.  Adding the anxiety of the current state of affairs became too much and many times I wondered if it would ever dissipate.  The result was a crippling of my creativity and I was forced to step out of the “box” for awhile.  In time, when things began to clear a bit I was left with a sense of perspective and appreciation I never had before.  Don’t get me wrong, it was always fun and exhilarating but I don’t think I really appreciated the process like I do now.  Now I view my photographic intuition as more of a gift and calling than before when it was just “something I did”.  I can’t say I’m completely free from the bouts of anxiety but I’m finding that occurs less frequently as my grip on things becomes stronger every day away from what was a traumatic 2009.  As we enter into 2011 I’ve come to realize I was just as broken by the events as my business.  Now, two years later, I’ve got hope and a different perspective than before and as I put one foot in front of the other I’ve got my eyes wide open for my next photographic inspiration.

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Rhea Anna

The Worst

The worst time in my career happens to coincide with the best time in my personal life. I was expecting my second baby, and about half way through the pregnancy I had to stop taking on new work. Marketing and self promotions were completely out of the question. I simply wasn’t able to keep up with the demands of my work, a 1 year old baby, and another on the way in 6 months. By the time I was ready to get back to work, I had a lot of rebuilding to do in my business. I discovered (the hard way) the importance of a steady and consistent stream of communication with existing and potential clients. This business is so competitive; to get art buyers thinking of you at the right time, you have to remind them often what you do best. If you fall off the radar and don’t keep your work in front of them, someone else most certainly will.

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John Early

The Worst

One of the worst times was many years ago when I was shooting for a car manufacturer. We were in-studio shooting a 360-degree 36-frame object movie of the car on a turntable. This movie would be used on the manufacturers website so users can virtually walk around the car. It wasn’t my first walk in the park by any means, but the process was still relatively new, complicated and evolving. We were trying out a new sunken turntable (flush with floor.) This new turntable would make life easier for us. It had a cool remote control that would automatically rotate the table 10 degrees at a time so we would end up with 36 frames. We would move the turntable, shoot, move, shoot, etc. Great! It saved us the time and drudgery of measuring and thinking about the turntable movements.

After shooting we did our usual back-up and test but somehow we didn’t notice a BIG problem. I only found the problem days later when I started post production.

Oh crap! There are only 35 frames here and I need 36! I searched and searched. Checked the back-ups. I wasn’t missing any files, that one position just hadn’t been shot! Suddenly I felt like I needed to barf. This was going to be my first reshoot, and a costly one too!

Not one to give up easily, I continued to look at other options. When I looked closer I found that the missing shot was the one 10 degrees off profile. My Photoshop wheels were spinning. Compared to the profile angle this one would be the easiest to flop. So, I did. I took the shot from the other side, flopped it, removed the gas tank, and switched things around (even lighting) in such a way as to create frame #36! It wasn’t easy but I pulled it off and no one ever knew any different.

I haven’t used the “automatic” feature of that turntable since.

Lessons: Don’t get lazy and trust automation too much. Check, double-check and triple-check your files and if possible get another set of eyes to do the same. Be skillful in Photoshop or at least know what can be done. It is a powerful creative tool but can also save your butt!

[…] the link to part one of his three part post. And Part 2.  And Part […]

Dave Block - February 9, 2011 - 8:17 am

Great to hear the highs and lows from such an accomplished group of people. Love the ugly bus story, reminds me of events I’ve been involved in where things don’t go bad suddenly, but rather things turn sour in small increments until you’re in a nearly unrecoverable situation.

12 Photographers – Two Questions

There seems to be an endless stream of bad news in the US commercial photo industry these days. I read and hear about it all the time – photographers working for less, even being asked to work for free in some cases. Microstock, Flickr, CGI, you name it – all are taking jobs away from photographers. Many photographers have had to give up their studios and some have even had to take on other non-photography jobs or leave the profession altogether. But I found when I started researching this phenomenon a little closer I found photographers who were adapting to the new business of photography climate and some were even thriving. What I’ve also noticed is there is more of a brotherhood mentality amongst many professional photographers. What was once, and still sometimes is an industry of closely held secrets and techniques, pricing, etc., is opening up a bit. People are sharing more. Photographers are helping other photographers.

In that vein, I felt I wanted to somehow help other professional photographers and up-and-coming photographers. I knew that sometimes stories are often a good way to entertain folks while at the same time offering up a lesson or some good advice. So one night, while sipping a Velvet Merlin the idea came to me. Why not entertain and try to help other photographers by asking successful, veteran photographers about their experiences that might also translate into valuable lessons? Hmmmm I thought. Some might be lessons in photography and some might be lessons in life. This could be fun and an interesting read too.

So I formalized the questions:

#1 What is the worst moment or time in your photo career and what did you learn from it?
#2 What is the best moment or time in your photo career and what did you learn from it?

Then I set out to contact a variety of photographers to solicit their help in this little blog project. A great bunch of photographers responded. In this segment you will see stories from: Rhea Anna, Darryl Bernstein, Luke CoppingEric Hameister, Hunter Freeman, Lou Lesko, Wendi Nordeck, James Quantz, Jr., Kevin Steele, Bob Stevens, Blake Wøken and yours truly. Below are their responses in random order. Starting with question #1. Since some of the responses are long I will be publishing this blog piece in three parts over the next few days. Thank you to all the photographers who took some of their valuable time to share their experiences with us.

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Bob Stevens

The Worst:

I was on an assignment for Acura and had chosen a location on the Palos Verdes Peninsula in a residential neighborhood. My in-house producer had procured all the necessary permits and permissions….or so I thought. We began to set up a fairly large production. I had a Fisher Productions light box (10×40 feet) suspended from a crane, with power provided by a large cinema-type generator parked nearby. I had two policemen for traffic control and they had the street legally closed to traffic. I had not only agency people there, but because it was a Friday afternoon quite a few onlookers from Honda corporate located in nearby Gardena.

Suddenly, a plain-clothes police car pulled up and as the officer stepped out, obviously perturbed said “who’s in charge here?”. I stepped aside and let my producer huddle with the officer who was the watch commander on duty for that shift. As I saw my producer’s face turn ashen, I walked up and asked what was going on. The officer informed me that because we had the generator on set, we were required to have a fireman and because we did not, he was giving us an hour to vacate the area. As it turns out, a neighbor had called the police department to complain about the fumes from the generator drifting into her house. My producer complained that she had not been told about the required fireman, and I protested as well but to no avail. In fact, he threatened to arrest ME if we were not gone when he returned.

We “pulled the plug” on the shoot and had to schedule a “re-shoot”, the only one of my career actually. It cost me almost $10,000 and I did not work again for that client for quite some time. I later found out that the Palos Verdes area was infamous for this sort of thing and have not shot anywhere near there since.

Lesson : Make sure to research the location and pitfalls of a given area you recommend to your clients thoroughly before proposing it!

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Kevin Steele

The Worst

There are two themes I’ve learned here.  First: being a professional means still nailing it when gear fails and second: losing a big bid can throw you in the ditch for days. Hold fast and keep going.

Stupid mistakes and gear: The first was when I tied rolls of priceless film with bungee to the back of the motorcycle on the way to the lab – gone forever on the side of the highway.  But more often it is the gear that I neglected to back up that created exciting moments.  Aside from my normal work I shoot a lot of prominent Republicans that come to visit the Reagan Ranch. Early on I used speedlights and a wireless commander that went south in the middle of working with Karl Rove under a pretty tight schedule.  Without a backup and without cords I resorted to on-camera flash and the results showed.  Since then I spare no expense when the images need to be nailed under pressure.  Shooting Sarah Palin this past weekend I brought in a Profoto kit with backups and alweays pay attention to the details when it needs to be fast, flexible and perfect.

Losing bids: It will always happen but one particular moment stung and I learned a lot from it.  It was client-direct and they were not familiar with usage and the production levels needed for what they really wanted.  My bid was far higher than others but fair. When they told me the levels of other bids I cut my estimate too deeply and this backfired: although I cut line items that others likely did not include they saw a response that they read as either initial price gouging or worse – desperation.   Lesson learned: know who you are talking to, gather as much information as possible and stay at your level while aiming higher – sometimes you are just not the right guy and if it is for reasons of price you just found the reason to court better clients.

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Wendi Nordeck

The Worst

Forgetting the tripod mount. I was shooting 4×5 on location and forgot the mount that attaches the 4×5 rail to the tripod. Luckily I had lots of gaffers tape and extra c-stands. We used almost half a roll of gaffers tape but managed to stabilize the camera in time to get the shot right when the sun came up. The client showed up a half hour later and luckily we had the shot in the bag and the set already broken down.

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Hunter Freeman

The Worst

It’s difficult for me to say “worst” or “best” about any single day, because it’s measured on such an amorphous scale.  One day you could be happy-go-lucky and nothing would bother you, and then, on another day, the same situation would make you completely nuts.  That said, here is one of the worst, and one of the best moments of my career…

– One Of The Worst

It was a lovely year, and I was having a fairly busy summer, when a new client called to see if I was available for a shoot on the following Friday.  Even though the layout was, IMHO, atrocious (unclear conceptually, boring design to the layout, unrealistic POV, etc.), I wasn’t busy that day, and so I said sure, I’d be happy to help.  Just so you know, I’ve always thought that part of my job is to help my clients, in whatever way I can.  I figured that, somehow, I could transform the idea into something interesting, better, perhaps even compelling, and make the ad work better.  Hope springs eternal, right?  However, every suggestion about props, wardrobe, location, and talent were turned down.  The clients were all happy as clams with what was coming down the pike, and there seemed to be no way to stop this particular juggernaut.  The shoot day arrives, we get to the downtown rooftop location, and I try once again to add to what is coming, but to no avail.  The sun is slowly setting, and I’m getting the shot that they want, but I end up with one of the WORST photos I have ever taken, and believe me, I’ve shot some stinkers.  I’m just sort of stunned at this point.  Maybe, I think to myself, the film will look better when I get it back from the lab.  No such luck.  It looked even worse than when I shot it.  Good exposure, good focus was the best I could say about it.  Embarrassing would be an understatement.  I do not want ANYONE EVER to see this photograph.  I should have been fined by the photographic community.  There is an old saying that says, “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”  I learned firsthand how true that saying is, and as a result of this “education”, I have since declined a number of jobs.  It is true, of course, that not every “bad” layout is a sow’s ear, but sometimes that ear truly is part of a big ol’ pig.

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Lou Lesko

The Best and The Worst

It is a dreadful feeling being an veteran photographer.  Because you’ve evolved to a level where you can’t actually take a bad picture.  The technical aspects of shooting become a part of your DNA.  With the ease that anyone can pick up a pen and sign their signature, we veteran shooters can pick up any camera and shoot an image that will be technically good.

But technically good isn’t really good enough when you’re a professional.  The only thing that matters is making sure your work is leagues better than the masses of amateurs, and keeping it on a par with your peers.  And that level of creativity isn’t always at your beck and call. Is it?

Somewhere around 1999 I was having a great year of work.  Jobs were plenty, clients were paying reasonably quickly and far off in the distance some fool was suggesting that I should start directing commercials.  I was clucking around cocky as hell.  I felt like I could do no wrong.  So when my friend Frank asked if I would shoot pictures of his cousin’s new baby, I didn’t give it second thought.  The pictures were “fine” according to the mother.  “Fine” is a four letter word to photographers.  I don’t shoot “fine” work, I shoot brilliant work.  So I took another look at the images of the little kid.  The mother was being kind.  I promised a re-shoot one day soon and starting dwelling on the fact that I might have lost my talent.

Soon after I was approached by a working actor to shoot his head shots.  The actor wasn’t a name yet, but his face was very recognizable. He had seen an editorial that I had shot and liked my style. He was also willing to pay me a nice chunk of cash for my time.  We shot, and the pictures came out “fine.” I apologized and tore up his check.

I was in a bona fide rut. And unlike the nascent years of my career where I could improve my middling work by becoming more technically proficient and practicing more with the camera, this was purely visceral. I had lost my eye.

The following months, I avoided any friend requests for pictures because I was mortified of embarrassing myself to the group of people who thought my career was totally cool. The assignments I was shooting were so heavily laden with art director input that I was essentially getting paid to be a technician. But somewhere around the corner was a job that was going to require some true artistic input and my creative mojo had abandoned me.

I tried drinking less. Then I tried drinking more. No coffee after 6 PM, espressos at 9 PM. Nothing was working. It was time to admit that perhaps my last really fabulous image was in fact my swan song photograph on the way to descending into the depths of mediocrity.

One morning at breakfast in Manhattan Beach, in a desperate act of contrition, I admitted my situation to my friend Jenny.  Jenny was the very first real model I ever shot back in 1984.  She is also a shoot from the hip woman with a stellar modeling career in New York.  I finished my confession and she looked at me like a girl looks at a guy who is having sexual disfunction.  Then she laughed and said, “you’re being your own worst enemy genius.”  She continued, “no one suddenly loses their creative abilities.  You probably just cooked the right side of your brain with all the work you’ve had lately.”

She made me grab my camera and shoot a portrait of her underneath the Manhattan Beach Pier.  There is a significant familiarity to working with her.  Since the first pictures we did together fifteen years earlier we had probably shot about twenty or thirty times together over the years. We moved quickly to get the shot; no make up, lights or crew.  Just me, Jenny and a camera.  I didn’t have time to think about anything, I only had time to react.

The thinking, as it turns out, was my enemy.  Somewhere along the way I spun a bad shoot with my friend’s cousin’s kid into a harbinger of my future and then began to dwell on that.  The truth was that it was just an off shoot which can happen when you do this for a living.

Since then I’ve run into a fare share of creative blocks.  I’ve also learned how to get around them.  When you feel uninspired, getting out of your own way can usually be accomplished by getting out of your familiar environment.  Get on a train, get in your car or get on a plane and go some place you don’t usually go.  The more you take in the unfamiliar surroundings the less time you’ll have to think about why your creative faculties have frozen up. Eventually something you see will knock an idea loose in your head which will have the same effect of pulling out a keystone at the base of a rock wall. Your creativity never abandons you, it just needs to be shaken up every once in a while.

The next time I saw Jenny she was in front of the camera of a breast cancer public service announcement for my directorial debut.  She came up to me when she arrived on the set.  “Looks like you got your creative mojo back huh.”  I looked at her with deadpan expression, “whatever are you be talking about?”  Then I winked, and I smiled a smile of gratitude.

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Luke Copping

The Ups and The Downs

The time a client and I walked off with each other’s identical messenger bags…

My first magazine cover…

Showing up twelve hours early for a shoot after an AM/PM clerical error…

Plenty of wrap dinners and outings with the great talents and crew members I have gotten to work with over the years…

Having an enormous and sudden political demonstration form outside and trap me and my crew in a studio for hours…

Ups… downs… goods… bads… the idea of a best and worst moment in one’s career or life are so subjective. Every experience is a lesson, every lesson is just the next step on the journey. Good can come out of bad and just as often the opposite is true. One of the worst moments in my career as a photographer ended up being one of the most important and beneficial to my development as an artist and a person.

Near the end of 2003 I decided to leave the photography business. I had graduated from the photography program at the Rochester Institute of Technology earlier in the year and had been doing what I could to find work; assisting, shooting products, helping out on food shoots, and doing some styling. I was treading water at best and burnt out. I never picked up my camera to shoot anything unless it was for a job and I found myself caring less and less. I found what I was shooting to be boring, pointless, and unfulfilling. Looking back now I realize that I felt this way because I had completely disconnected the personal and professional elements of creativity from each other. I treated what I did as a purely mechanical exercise and had become nothing more than an uncreative technician that was capable of taking very well exposed and very boring images that were completely devoid of passion. I thought maybe I had made the wrong choice and decided that I needed a change.

I took a job with a manufacturing firm, starting out in their signage department. I spent my days engraving industrial signage, making vinyl decals, and doing the occasional bit of graphic design work. Not the most exciting job, but it was stable and I eventually advanced into a more important position in the marketing department over a few years. At the same time I still has this nagging feeling that I was just running in place. I wasn’t happy, and I knew I wasn’t doing what I wanted to be doing.

Suddenly the relationship I was in self-destructed, and one of the things that helped me get through some major changes and upsets was to start taking pictures again. I picked the camera back up and suddenly found that a switch has been flipped. I loved taking pictures again. I had an enormous hunger for it and I was so excited to be able to explore it all over again from the beginning. I was grateful for the technical education I got at school, but I started my creative re-education over from scratch from this point on.  I pored over articles and books and started to shoot every second that I wasn’t at work, to the point that my images were better than they had ever been before. I had completely re-discovered and re-defined my passion for photography and my goals for my own future.

I had started making plans to transition back to photography as a career when the rug got pulled out from me again. The economy had begun to change and the job that was once stable was no more. I was basically in a position where I needed to reboot my photography career from scratch, and rapidly. I was lucky enough to be able to assist some amazing photographers who served as major mentors and influences to me while I began building a client base and earning recognition as I started to grow my business to where it is today.

I don’t think I would have the same outlook and passion for what I do if It weren’t for the temporary exile I had from the photography world. In many regards these negative situations are responsible for my desire to work so hard and passionately at what I do. I learned the hard way to appreciate the second chance I got to do what I love.
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Please check back tomorrow and Thursday for Parts Two and Three of the “Best and Worst” stories.

[…] more than anything. (You can read the full version of this story on John Early’s blog ( http://johnearly2.com/blog/?p=848 […]

[…] the link to part one of his three part post. And Part 2.  And Part […]

[…] can check out part one here and part two […]

[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by The Click, Luke Copping. Luke Copping said: Check out my contribution to John Early's new post. Talking about my best/worst times – 12 Photographers 2 Questions – http://ow.ly/3SyGS […]

[…] via  John Early Blog. […]

12 photographers 2 questions : Lou Lesko - February 8, 2011 - 11:16 am

[…] car shooter John Early has put together an amazing post entitled 12 Photographers – Two Questions. He was kind enough to ask me to contribute to the piece. It is a dreadful feeling being an veteran […]

“Start Up 2011″ Self-Promo

On a recent business trip to San Francisco, my rep Lenlee came up with a great promo idea. We were at ATTIK and were in the middle of a portfolio show when co-founder Simon Needham came rushing by in conversation with another guy. Lenlee and I were both eager to introduce ourselves. But it wasn’t our day. He was too busy and was going from one meeting to another. So Lenlee came up with the idea of sending him a unique thumb drive later with my “show” on it. Sure thumb drives are nothing new, but this one in the shape of a key was cool! The idea evolved and we decided to do a limited run of about 100 keys to hand-picked creatives.

We’ll be shipping it in a plain white cardboard box with my branded label on it.

The recipient will open the box to reveal a nice little metal tin the size of an Altoids box with my logo on it.

When the recipient opens that they will see my business card. You’ll notice I went real minimalist on the business card. I don’t usually use business cards anyway but decided this promo needed something visual and informative before the prize.

When they remove the business card they will see a nice shiny chrome 4 Gb thumb drive in the shape of a key. The front side is laser-etched with my logo and the backside with my URL johnearly.com.

I pre-loaded the key with a tongue-in-cheek PDF résumé loaded with hotlinks, my print portfolios as well as a few VR and multimedia teasers and a behind the scenes video. To peak the recipient’s interest I put this all in a folder called “Start Up 2011.” I am hoping no one can resist seeing what’s inside?

admin - February 7, 2011 - 7:43 pm

Thanks Luke!

Luke Copping - February 2, 2011 - 9:14 am

Brilliant promo piece John. I love the clean, simple, and elegant concept.