Saturday, December 29, 2012

Sounds Overheard: Alcatraz Listens To Freedom


After rowing around Alcatraz Island for sport, two athletes return to the freedom of downtown San Francisco.  

The long concrete cell blocks rose three stories high above the prison floor, their steel doors permanently open and silent. Even though hundreds of visitors passed where nearly 1,500 of the country's most dangerous prisoners spent years of their lives, including Al Capone and Robert "The Birdman" Stroud, only a quiet murmur floated about the concrete and steel.

Listen to the sound of footsteps recorded in The Hole contrast with birds, waves and far off bell, sounds of freedom wafting into Alcatraz. iPhone & iPad friendly version.

Last November I was visiting Alcatraz Island, one of the Golden Gate National Parks, a rocky outcrop in San Francisco and a scant 1.5 miles from the downtown skyline. 

Inside the notorious D-block, also known as The Hole, where the worst of the worst were housed for bad behavior, I entered an eight by eight foot all steel cell. My steps thumped from the floor, off the  walls and bounced from the ceiling. I paced back and forth between the to close walls. Was this what a prisoner heard while isolated in near darkness?

Now a National Park, the federal prison on Alcatraz Island housed the USAs toughest convicts, from 1934 through 1963.

Outside the cell house and along a cliff side trail, my attention was drawn to the sound of waves lapping the shoreline, and the sound of birds nesting along the rocky cliffs. The low drone of an unseen airplane passed overhead. I wondered if these sounds of the outside world ever reached the confined convicts ... maybe on a very still day.

As I explored the walled recreation yard where prisoners could see the blue sky and breathe fresh air, work out or play a game of baseball, I could not see San Francisco Bay, but I could hear it as a navigational buoy bell clanged every few seconds.

Wild flowers grow through concrete of the high walled recreation yard, one of the few places prisoners could enjoy the out doors. It is within earshot of crashing waves and a buoy bell along the island's rocky shore.

What was it like for prisoners, confined in the toughest federal prison in the country, to hear these sounds from the outside world, the sounds of freedom drifting into their grim world?

During my assignments and travels I've been recording the sounds I overhear, and many don't have supporting photographs or stories. This occasional series will be my excuse to share my audio orphans, these Sounds Overheard. Please also visit my Miami commercial photography portfolio.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Photographing Revolver That Killed JFK Assassin

Holding the snub nosed .38 caliber Colt Cobra revolver in my hand, I expected to feel the weight of history slam down hard. This weapon was used to murder the assassin that shot JFK. Gripping it’s handle firmly, resting my finger on the trigger, sighting down it’s short barrel,  the gun didn’t seem all that special. At first I felt nothing exceptional.

Real estate developer and memorabilia collector Anthony Pugliese holds the snub nosed .38 revolver that Jack Ruby used to kill JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald. Photographed in 1993 for Newsweek. Notations scratched onto weapon by Dallas police detective.

It’s flat black finish was worn away on the edges. Crude numbers and letters scratched onto the flat metal near the chamber scared the handgun.

The letters were initials, I began to remember, the initials of the Dallas police detective investigating a shooting. The detective placed his notation on this revolver himself,  days after the nation reeled from the killing of President John F Kennedy. This very weapon I now held was connected to one of the greatest chapters of United States history.

Finally the weight of history caught up with me ... cringing, I set the infamous item down gently onto the conference table.

November 22, 1963, the President is shot while riding in his open top limousine, dying in his wife’s arms. Hours later a suspect is arrested, Lee Harvey Oswald, and booked into the Dallas police headquarters. Two days later, a local night club owner, Jack Ruby, freely walks up to Oswald, pulls this .38 caliber Colt Cobra revolver from his pocket and shoots Oswald in the abdomen, killing him.

Like most Americans alive at the time, I remember where I was when I heard of JFK's death. Seventh grade class, Mountain Home, Idaho, the announcement crackled across the loud speakers. As school closed early, my classmates and I were stunned, not really understanding what the news meant. I remember flickering black and white television images of the Oswald shooting and from JFK's funeral. Holding Jack Ruby's revolver I shivered as it physically connected me to this awful history.

Wearing this hat, holding this revolver loaded with these bullets, Jack Ruby was photographed the split second he shot Lee Harvey Oswald on November 24, 1963. 

History and childhood memories were on my mind in the conference room of South Florida real estate developer and memorabilia collector Anthony Pugliese in the Fall of 1993. I was on assignment for Newsweek to photograph Jack Ruby’s gun, the hat and shoes he was wearing during the shooting, bullets from the revolver and telegrams sent to Dallas police supporting Ruby.

Mr. Pugliese simply handed my assistant and me a box with the items, told us to take our time, and left us alone in the room. As alone as one could be with the full weight of this terrible history bearing down. The photos ran on the 30th anniversary of the assassination.

When I realized another anniversary would be arriving next Thursday, the 49th since President Kennedy’s death, I recalled the Newsweek assignment and found the original color transparencies. Shot on my beloved Mamiya RZ67 medium format camera, the 6X7 format transparencies were in an envelop unceremoniously labeled “Ruby Gun”.  As I laid the ‘chromes down on my light table, I realized I had forgotten the tactile feel of film. The images were three inches wide and sharp as a tack, their colors glowing back up at me. We shot the portrait with a 180 mm tele, wide open, and the still life with my favorite lens, a 50 mm wide angle, lighting with several tight grid spots.

History Update - Jack Ruby, whose conviction for murdering Oswald was overturned,  died of cancer in prison awaiting a new trial in 1967. So technically, he is innocent. The Warren Commission concluded both Oswald and Ruby acted alone, but conspiracy theories persist to this day. The snub nosed .38 caliber Colt Cobra revolver was put up for auction in 2008, but prices did not reach expectations and it did not sell.  The sale was to help finance memorabilia collector Anthony Pugliese’s plan to turn Florida scrub land into an Eco-sustainable city. The Destiny project vaporized with the real estate crash. This October Pugliese was charged with money laundering and fraud in that development plan.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Sounds Overheard: Chants At Rebuilt Monastery

Incense wafts on late afternoon sunlight at Reting Monastery North of Lhasa, Tibet. 

The Reting Monastery’s 11th century walls were freshly painted bright white, deep orange and dusty red. Gilded deities kept an eye on me from their perches atop cracked timbers supporting the roof. I felt I could reach up to touch the brilliant blue sky, as I was standing extra close at over 13, 000 feet. It was completely quiet. No breeze rustled the fall leaves, no birds chirped, no footsteps distracted me.

Listen to 1:22 recording of two Tibetan Buddhist monks chanting and playing drum and cymbals. Try headphones to hear stereo effect. iPhone & iPad link.

Suddenly two young monks rushed across the temple courtyard and disappeared through a narrow stone doorway, their red robes a quick flash of color. Soon a loud drum shattered the silence, boom, boom, boom. Then brass cymbals crashed. I followed the rhythm through the doorway and into a narrow room, a sliver of stony space with candle soot blackened walls rising two stories to an open window high above. 

The two monks began chanting in Tibetan, rapid fire fast, their voices drawn up and out the window and over the hillside temple complex, calling their brother Buddhist monks to evening prayers.

During China’s chaotic Cultural Revolution, this magnificent monastery North of Tibet’s capital Lhasa was nearly destroyed, stones and timbers torn down and salvaged for building projects, it’s monks harassed and disbanded. Since Reform and Opening of the late 1970’s, China has slowly become an economic power house tolerant of religion and money making, as long as the Communist Party is not threatened. Government and private funds are rebuilding many cultural sites, and Reting’s former splendor is slowly rising from the large piles of rubble awaiting rebirth.

During my assignments and travels I've been recording the sounds I overhear, and many don't have supporting photographs or stories. This occasional series will be my excuse to share my audio orphans, these Sounds Overheard. Please also visit my Miami commercial photography portfolio.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

These Wheels Are Walking Wheels: Disabled Teen

When Laterence was just three days old, his mother realized that because of his disability she could not care for him, and straight from the hospital placed him in state custody. Now a teenager, he has been living in Florida's foster care system all his life, with families and in group homes, all the while hoping he would be permanently adopted by a loving family.

This multimedia piece incorporates video, still photos, interview and field-recorded natural sound. iPhone & iPad friendly link.

Four years running his photograph has been in the Heart Gallery of Broward County (FL), a traveling photo exhibit of foster children available for adoption. Hoping to spark frank discussions around adopting children with disabilities, the Heart Gallery commissioned this multimedia audio slide show. The show will be utilized by social service agencies charged with recruiting and training adoptive parents.

Laterence - he prefers LT - is now a very articulate 15-year-old, and in this three minute story he narrates his emotional journey and has advise for prospective adoptive parents.

Does LT ever find his "forever family"?

 From left, LT gets to know Jennifer and Brad during visit to South Florida in July.

This multimedia piece could not of been created without collaboration with colleagues, as there are just to many moving parts for one photographer to keep track of when video is incorporated into narrative story telling.

My hands were more than full with recording the audio while conducting the interview, so Paul Morris helped me by recording the A roll on two video cameras, then picking up B roll afterward. Heart Gallery Executive Director Barbara Schechter helped me plan the coverage, conduct the interview and shape the editing of the piece. Miami video journalist Chuck Fadely gave me invaluable feedback. And of course we would be unable to tell this story without LT, Brad and Jennifer.

Notes for still photographers beginning to work with motion capture ... it’s not rocket science nor do you need a ton of expensive gear. First, you need a great story, and then you must shape a compelling narrative arch that captivates your audience.

- Video cameras, Canon 5DMarkII & Canon 7D (no rigs, EVFs, focus assist)
- Video camera rolling wheels in mall, Canon s100 point ‘n shoot
- Still cameras, Nikon D300
- Interview Mics, Tram 50 lavalier & Sennheiser ME 64 cardioid; wild sound, Giant Squid
- Sound Devices MixPre D field mixer & Tascam DR 100 recorder
- Adobe CS 5.5 Premier Pro, Audition & touch of After Effects

 Please visit my Miami commercial photography portfolio.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Roaring Chinese Children Sweep Photo Cobwebs

I had just flown and sat around in airports for nearly 30 hours to reach Chengdu from Miami, and by my first morning I needed to stretch my legs, get some fresh air and make some photographs. As I entered Wenhua Park, just a few steps from my hotel, I could feel the cobwebs tugging at the corners of my tired brain.

I love wandering Chinese urban parks, especially early in the morning while millions head off to work through honking traffic and yellow smog. I find open spaces, greenery, even chirping birds. And parks provide lots of people enjoying themselves outdoors, easy to approach and photograph.

Kindergarten-age children roar like lions during school outing in Wenhua Park, Chengdu.

I’ve been invited to China several times to attend photographic festivals, and once to lecture at a trade school, and my eager hosts booked my days with activities they thought a photographer would enjoy. Visiting the ethnic village and puppet factory made photos. The trip to the electrical cord factory and municipal museum, not really. But by getting up early and skipping breakfast, I could fast walk to the closest park and find people I would shoot on my own terms.

And skipping a breakfast of cold noodles with super spicy meat sauce, watery oatmeal or pickled shredded vegetables would keep my mind on the pancake house back home give me time to shoot.

 Children race to picnic area in Wenhua Park last October.

On this weekday in Wenhua Park I found children flowing past the usual seniors tango dancing and performing tai chi with swords. The young, brightly dressed elementary aged students were on school sponsored outings with teachers and parent volunteers.

As about three dozen kids sat in tiny plastic chairs, their teacher read them an adventure story while encouraging them to vocalize the animal’s roars and growls.

As I plopped down nearby on the pavement and began making photos, the children cheered, laughed and howled at the top of their lungs. I shot wide, then closer, then super tight, picture after picture, the children’s expressions were terrific. Before I knew it, their roaring and blown away my cobwebs and I was ready for the coming three weeks traveling in China.

Wearing the red scarf uniform, a member of the Young Pioneers is curious about my 
cameras in Wenhua Park, Chengdu, China.

To see more photography from China, please visit my Miami editorial photography portfolio site.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Sounds Overheard: Seeing Tibet With Closed Eyes

Pilgrims worship at the Jokhang Temple, Tibetan Buddhism's holiest site.

Exploring Lhasa on my first day in Tibet was so overwhelming that I was having trouble seeing photographs. Crowds of Buddhist pilgrims dressed in regional costumes streamed down every street, Han Chinese merchants in Barkhor Square sold everything from prayer wheels to yak butter and the occupying Chinese army marched with assault rifles at the ready.

I was gasping in the thin air at 12,000 feet altitude. My stomach was deciding if it liked my yak stew lunch. Colors were way to saturated, the blue sky, the monk’s saffron robes and the rooftop golden lambs.

So I closed my eyes and started listening for pictures.

Close your eyes, listen to the sounds around the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, and tell me what you see. iPhone & iPad link to 1:48 long MP3.

The first sound I heard was a far off rhythmic slapping and chanting.  I discovered over a dozen workers, men and women, building a traditional aga earthen roof atop the Jokhang Temple. They were on their hands and knees with hand held wooden paddles compacting the mix of gravel, dirt and water infused with willow tree bark.

I recorded the sound of wooden and leather hand protectors scraping on the cobble stone temple square as the pilgrims prostrated them selves in repetitive prayer. They stood with their hands together above their heads, then down on their knees, then on their stomachs with arms out stretched.

My ears discovered a man singing prayers from a well worn book of Tibetan script, his voice competing with the thousands of pilgrims circumambulating the mile-long circuit around the temple.

Slowly the sounds awakened the visual corners of my brain, I opened my eyes  and began making photographs.

Editors note: If you visit the "aga earthen roof" link above, poke around the site a little and see how the Chinese government views the Tibetan people.

During my assignments and travels I've been recording the sounds I overhear, and many don't have supporting photographs or stories. This occasional series will be my excuse to share my audio orphans, these Sounds Overheard. Please also visit my Miami editorial photographer portfolio.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Seat Of Your Pants Location Lighting

Lighting environmental portraits on location is always challenging for me. I have to find and light a great composition, coax compelling expressions from my subjects and tell my magazine’s story, all as quickly as possible.  For a while I just plain go nuts with all the moving parts of the photograph tugging for my attention. But once I start flying by the seat of my pants, I’m able to relax and my image comes to life.

Lighting formulas usually don’t work for me. The physical layout of locations vary, every portrait subject is different, and, well, I never learned many formulas while earning my BS in Electrical Engineering. I meet the subject, recall the art director’s brief and adapt the basic lighting gear I own to tell my story.
Posed in a closet with computer are Goldstein Schechter Kock's, from left, Zvi Gold, Amelia Regalado and Alan Kirzner. Three grid spots for faces, forth spot on floor lights computer, a bare tube with blue jell behind rack is light number five. 

In May I flew by the seat of my pants on an assignment for Source Media's Accounting Today. I was tasked with creating two environmental portraits of three accounting firm principals, one with a tech theme for the tabloid style cover, one for the inside profile. The partners were only available at 10 AM, and the very earliest I could get into their offices was 830 AM. An hour and a half for two portraits, for me, is tight, especially without scouting ahead of time.

Assistant Jonathan Rios with computer and closet before we began setting lights.

I began my going nuts phase when I decided the best idea available would be to cram three adults into the former coat closet that now housed their computer server. Arghhh, what have I got myself into, I wondered. We quickly set up,  jammed, really, three grid spots into the doorway, one clamped onto the door with a magic arm and super clamp, with a small spot open for me to insert my 18mm wide angle lens. A forth grid was mounted on the floor facing up to catch the equipment, and flash number five, a bare pencil light with blue jell, went into the back of the closet.
I barely had room to insert my camera between two light stands and super clamp plus magic arm attached to open closet door.

With two power packs and five flash heads spoken for, I only had one pack and two heads left to light the secondary portrait. I popped open a  60 inch soft box over my shoulder to light the thee subjects, dragged the shutter to bring in the window light. But how was I going to light the the background white boards and wall with my one remaining light?  Arghhh. 
Paper sheets torn from presentation easel become my background light. 
I grabbed several sheets of the presentation paper off it’s easel, laid them on the carpet, and pointed my last flash head directly down at them, bouncing a broad and soft light onto my background. A quick chimp at the histogram, and I was good to go.

Were my solutions contest winners or fine art? No. But flying by the seat of my pants allowed me to adapt to difficult locations and pull of another successful assignment.

To see more environmental portraits visit my Miami commercial photography portfolio site.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Sounds Overheard: Tibetan Monks' Spirited Debate

Spirited debate between Tibetan Buddhist monks at the Drigung Thel Monastery, Lhasa.

While traveling in Tibet last October, Tibetan Buddhist monasteries were not only locations to create some great photographs, but were also sources of terrific natural sound.

Today's post is short and sweet, three photos of debating monks from three monasteries, and a short recording of natural sound from one of them.

Listen to this 1:13 field-recorded natural sound of Tibetan Buddhist monks debating at the Sera Monastery.  iPhone & iPad friendly version.

Monk debates at the Sera Monastery, Lhasa.

From an earlier post on this blog, a little background on the debates:
Debate is an important part of a Tibetan monk's training, and is said to help expand the mind, increase mental sharpness, develop analytical skills and help gain mental clarity. The debates follow a strict form, with the standing questioner challenging the thesis of the humbly sitting defender. As the questioner raises doubts, the exchange becomes increasingly animated, with exaggerated body language, lunging, hand slapping and loud shouting. The defender mostly sits quietly and looks away, occasionally making a counter point by waving his arm.
As one monk, left, encourages the defender, right, the challenger, center, claps and lunges to make his point at the Reting Monastery.

During my assignments and travels I've been recording the sounds I overhear, and many don't have supporting photographs or stories. This occasional series will be my excuse to share my audio orphans, these Sounds Overheard. Please also visit my Miami commercial photography portfolio.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Magic Dust Not Just For Professional Photographers

This week I'm giving two presentations about photography and multimedia production to advancement and marketing professionals representing educational institutions from around the USA. As most of them will be executives with basic hand's on experience shooting or working with multimedia, I hope to help them improve their own skills, and learn when to call in a pro.

The idea for the Multimedia For Small Shops workshop in Naples, FL, April 30 and May 1, is that with today's digital cameras and recorders, and with the development of user friendly video and audio editing software, successfully multimedia can be created by non-specialists. Not every piece for social media outlets needs to have top production values as long a a good story is told.

Photography 101 will contain samples shot for the presentation at Miami's Barry University. Thanks to subject and assistant Silvia Arbelaez

My audience will be members of CASE, an international association of educational institutions:
The Council for Advancement and Support of Education is a professional association serving educational institutions and the advancement professionals who work on their behalf in alumni relations, communications, development, marketing and allied areas. CASE helps its members build stronger relationships with their alumni and donors, raise funds for campus projects, produce recruitment materials, market their institutions to prospective students, diversify the profession, and foster public support of education.

My first talk will be Photography 101 where I will be presenting tips on how non- professional photographers can improve their photography and how to recognize good photography they may be commissioning by others. I'll cover the basics, such as treat your viewfinder as you canvas, the rule of thirds, change your perspective, be aware of light and show a sense of place.

I also want attendees to not worry about being laymen taking photographs:

The most important tip I can give you is, use your eyes to carefully observe your world. Then apply your unique life experiences - who you are, what you’re curious about - to how you want to capture your photographs.  You get to choose the story you want to tell. Use the skills you possess to capture the scene in front of you.

It’s all about how you use the building blocks of good photography - composition, moment, light - not the latest giga megapixel camera, carbon fiber tripod nor trendy software technique. It’s your “eye” or “vision” that makes you a great story telling photographer.
 Successful photography also relies on your people skills, patience, insight and resourcefulness, all skills you already have.
Yes, the professional photographer has mastered a lot of craft, the nuts and bolts of f-stops and lighting ratios, and this mumbo jumbo can help them pull off very demanding shots. But what makes a professional photographer unique you can have too, your own magic dust: your ability to see and tell a story. Pick up a camera and get out and create come photographs!

Basic off camera flash demo shot for Photography 101 presentation. Thank you assistant Jonathan Rios, far right.

I will segue to when you should call in a professional photographer, how to find one and evaluate if their skills matches your project, and what a commissioning party should think about before they call. I'll cover how a photographer will describe the shoot's treatment, and how creative fees and expenses can be discussed. I'll also discuss how photographs are licensed and how licensing protects the client and accommodates value.

I recommend down loading the PDF file for Photography 101 (link at bottom), as it contains extensive resources of how to work with a professional photographer, and has web links to several colleagues who have graciously allowed me to refer to their work, and to the American Society of Media Photographers.

  • 10 reasons to hirer a professional photographer P 19
  • How to find a  photographer P 21
  • How to evaluate a photographer P 22
  • Stuff to think about when you want a quote P 24, 25
  • How a photographer will present an assignment estimate p 26
  • Why license photography P 29
I will write about the second CASE presentation, Audio Photography,  in another post.

CASE attendees PDF downloads:

Friday, March 30, 2012

Video Stories With Vision & Collaboration

As a group still photographers are creative, independent and stubborn as we’ve relied primarily on ourselves in pulling successful photos from challenging assignments while at the same time embracing the digital information age.  But as we’re being asked to add video to our story telling tool set, we’re being forced to - gasp - learn new skills and - double gasp - collaborate with others.

Four still photographers collaborated in producing a web video promoting Nancy Brown’s photography book “Simply China”. Paul Morris with video, lighting and studio space. Tom Salyer recorded sound and edited. Jonathan Rios as production assistant. Nancy Brown, on camera talent and stills.

On my section of the long tail of photography the four-year economic crisis has reduced my assignment budgets to hiring an assistant to very rare. I’m producing my shoots, setting up my lights and processing my own files. That’s were stubbornness comes in for us, we can do it ourselves doggone it.

I’ve heard wondrous stories of colleagues working on high budget advertising shoots with a producer, hair and makeup, assistants and digital tech. And a lunch budget, oh my! 

OK, I agree, the idea of every photographer being a lone wolf working completely on their own is not completely accurate, at least in the commercial photography field. We all have colleagues we can call for advise and insight with projects, our art directors give us direction, and most still shoots are not overly complicated.

Working either on our own or with a small crew, our independence drives our ability to visualize our images in advance and make them happen. Our “eye” is our strongest asset, and can be transferred to another medium.

By comparison, with motion projects the nuts and bolts of producing technically successful video is very complex and has a steep learning curve. You thought learning about color spaces and layer masks were hard? Try mastering Final Cut Pro, motion graphics and compression codices.

Video requires many jobs: director, producer, director of photography, camera operator, lighting grip, sound recordist, and editor. On simpler shoots a person can handle multiple jobs, but there are to many moving parts for one transitioning still photographer to handle them all. The story line will be jumbled, the picture overexposed, the sound levels low.

NFL St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher is interviewed last weekend by Paul Morris, far left, and Orlando Noah, left center, at The Breakers, Palm Beach, FL. Photo by Tom Salyer.

Photographers need to collaborate with the people who already have these skills, and our unique vision is the key to success. We already approach image making with our life time of experience as visual story tellers. We already know how to compose a great image, capture a decisive moment, and creative lighting is a piece of cake.

Clients are beginning to come to still photographers asking to add on motion for web sites and social media because they trust their eye and ability to successfully complete jobs. Don't worry big video production companies, most of us aren't competing with you. Yet.


- Minneapolis based Ryan Siemers has been expanding his architectural photography business by adding motion, interviews and animations.

- Jeffery Salter, a Miami portrait and fine art photographer, collaborated with videographers on stories for Readers Digest: Richard Patterson on former football player Keith Fitzhugh, and with Chuck Fadely on long distance swimmer Diane Nyad.

- Miami commercial photographer Paul Morris has added video to two still photography assignments in the past months: executive interviews for farm equipment trade association American Equipment Manufacturers, and National Football League head coaches for New Era head wear suppler. I was sound recordist on both, and Orlando Noah and Meine Smith of Digital Decaf provided video and digital services on the latter.

Please see example of my Miami multimedia photography portfolio.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Photographic Environmental Portraits Step By Step

I've just returned from giving a location lighting demonstration at the Art Institute in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, where I introduced the photography students to making interesting environmental portraits out of just about any drab location that assignments can throw at them. They've learned formulas for light placement and lighting ratios by working in the blank slate environment of a photography studio, but are just beginning to venture into the real world with their cameras.

They peppered me with detailed questions about my "work flow" for creating an environmental portrait on assignment for magazines and corporations, so I've decided to write my answers down for the next class ... I'll just have their teacher, Steven Nestler, share this blog link and I can stay home next time. ( Insert smiley face here. )

Veterinarian Dr. Albert Williams of the Arch Creek Animal Center, North Miami Beach, FL, an environmental portrait for credit card processioning services advertisement in "Costco Connection" magazine, to be published in March.

- After receiving an assignment via email or telephone, I ask my client what look and feel they are after, do they see examples on my web site, do they have any layouts for art direction?

- What is your deadline? Do you want to select from web galleries, deliver master files to your FTP site or mine? File size, format, color space?

- We discuss budget and the usage they wish to license. Confirmation emails or written contracts are exchanged.

- For future marketing, I'll find out how they found me, internet search, portfolio portal, or email promotion.

- I'll research my subject's company by visiting their web site, view photos of my subject, their facilities, read enough so I have a working knowledge of their business.

Assistant Steven Morse holds an invisible dog and sits in for vet. Main light for environmental portrait is 60 inch PhotoTek umbrella with front cover, set to underexpose white lab coat about 1.5 stops. Far left is 5 degree grid spot opening up Dr. Williams' face. Upper right corner, Chimera strip light rims Dr. Williams' face and shoulder. Behind Steven is a floor light, aimed straight up far wall. And slow shutter exposes for two operating room spots.

- Then I'll telephone my subject or their assistant, introduce myself, enthusiastically describe the project, get them invested in the photo shoot. We will discuss potential locations, what they look like, how the sun falls, do we need to reserve the board room.

- Details are important. Who has the keys to the roof? What time do the lawn sprinklers come on? Where is the fuse box? Where can I park?  Phone number of person who authorized this? Do they need a certificate of insurance?

- We're discuss the subject's wardrobe. Avoid stripes and polka dots, white shirts, Grateful Dead t-shirts. Women usually know how to do their own hair and makeup, but I suggest men wash their faces for shine and freshen up their shave.

- I rarely scout a location in advance, as budgets are so tight that I can't afford the time.

- I'll pack up my cameras and lighting gear, and brief my assistant on the job in the car.

- No, since the recession hit I rarely have the budget to work with an assistant. Yes, I work with students who will work for free in exchange for the learning experience and a cheeseburger. I'll explain I can't offer an internship due to strict enforcement of labor laws.

Dr. William's operating room awaits photographer's lighting magic, while I get distracted with newly developed no-feed pet.

- I arrive on location around two hours in advance, less if I can drive right up and work out of the back of my SUV, such as an outdoor portrait, or a little more if I have to look at multiple potential locations spread around a large facility.

- I introduce my self, get a quick peak at my subject or ask for a photo, determine if they have hair, are bald, how tall are they, do they wear glasses, all factors in how I set up my lights.

- I'll compose my portrait around a story telling element if I can, a soaring land fill behind a civil engineer, eye catching green oxygen bottles for a story on home medical equipment. With lawyers and business managers, I'll find interesting light from a large window, an architectural detail to anchor the photo. Sometimes, I create interest in a blank hallway or room with dramatic lighting alone.

- Almost all my portraits are shot between 28mm and 85mm equivalent on APS sensor Nikon D300s, and lit with four or five Dyna-Lite heads and about 1000 watt seconds or less.

- No client has ever asked what brand of gear I use, they just want great images. Frankly my clients don't pay enough for me to spend top dollar for high end gear, and the web, magazines nor annual reports can reproduce the difference.

- My assistant, the PR representative or an officer worker will sit in as I finalize my light and test my concept.

- With my subject on set, I explain my concept, take several test frames or two so I can quickly adjust my lighting. I will share the image on the back of my camera with the subject only if necessary to sell my idea or settle their nerves.

- I can shoot from 10 minutes to over half an hour, depending on the number of variations I need and the subjects's mood.

- Once complete, I thank them for their extra effort, assure them they look will look great in print, and start packing up.

- After delivering master files, I follow up three or four days later by email to make sure my client received everything they expected. If they are happy, great. If some detail got overlooked, I immediately address their concern head on.

- Following up a couple of weeks later with a hand written thank you note on a custom greeting card
featuring your persoanal work is priceless.

Students, that's all the wisdom I've got for you today, so now it's your turn to go out there and create some killer portraits! 

Examples of Miami corporate photography can be viewed on my portfolio site.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Sounds Overheard: Key West Sunset Celebration

Sky high street performer entertains last month at Key West's Sunset Celebration.

If you visit Key West, or the Florida Keys, or Florida, or for that matter, the USA, and haven't attended the eclectic daily celebration of the sun sinking into the brilliant blue Gulf of Mexico, you are missing an amazing experience.

Somehow the official description from the Sunset Celebration organizing committee doesn't capture all the flavor and quirkiness:
Sunset Celebration is a nightly arts festival at Mallory Square Dock in Key West, Florida. The participants of this Key West attraction consist of arts and crafts exhibitors, street performers, food carts, psychics and of course the thousands of tourists from around the world who visit this Key West art show. Each night around two hours before sunset masses of people, both locals and tourists alike, flock to the water's edge to experience a multicultural happening and to watch the sun sink into the Gulf of Mexico.

So I've stuffed some of that Key West fun into a glass bottle for you, and thrown it into the sea in hopes of your finding it washed ashore on a deserted beach. The two minutes of field-recorded natural sound includes:

0:00  bag piper
0:23  escape artist schmoozes for tips
0:47  banjo player
1:13  pop corn pops
1:20  one-man band plays harmonica, guitar, drums and more
1:46  crowd applauds

Here is an iPhone & iPad version.

During my assignments and travels I've been recording the sounds I overhear, and many don't have supporting photographs or stories. This occasional series will be my excuse to share my audio orphans, these Sounds Overheard. Please also visit my Miami commercial photography portfolio.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Not So Picturesque Chinese Village Yields Photos

When “Mike” promised to take me to a quaint little village - “many good pictures you like for sure” - situated on the outskirts of the crowded, polluted and generally not quaint provincial capital of Sichuan Province, Chengdu, I said yes.

I met Mike while I was soaking in the peace and quiet of the Wenshu Monastery, an oasis within a metropolitan area of 14 million Chinese. He was there trolling for a days work as a tour guide. After nearly three weeks of travel in China and Tibet, I was pretty worn out with photography, but was game for one more day.

Last October, baby boy rides in his Grandfather's basket through Saturday Market.

Like many Chinese, Mike has adopted an “English name” for the sake of us visitors who are unable to get our Western tongues around Chinese names. He was 40 ish, wore thick glasses and scuffed shoes, and presented a hand written then Xeroxed business card listing about a dozen talents. But he was charming and full of stories of all the photographers he had escorted into hidden Chengdu. Back stage at the Sichuan opera, he suggested. Sorry, I’ve done that. Visit a religious person in their private quarters, thanks, I’ve had tea with a monk and cookies with a nun. Visit a picturesque farming village untouched by urban sprawl?

Ok, why not? I really didn’t expect a People’s Paradise, but I’ve made interesting photographs all over China in pretty drab surroundings. Safety, going off with a stranger? No problem, I was traveling with three women friends, they would protect me.

As the next day dawned with a drizzle washing the pollution from sky to street, a tiny rattle trap van wheezed up to the hotel, our private car with driver for the day. Mike was riding shotgun. No seat belts, but they would of just transmitted more discomfort from the vehicle’s frame, which had no springs nor shocks.

Seniors in old style Mao jackets smoke and play cards in tea house outside Chengdu.

We drove over an hour, past the modern skyscraper skyline, down the eight lane highway, then way out two lane roads through farm fields being bulldozed for housing. A dirt track led to an old stone bridge spanning a muddy brown river. As we pulled into the village, a woman pitched a bucket of kitchen scraps into the waterway from a house overlooking green fields.

We were in luck, it had rained all night, so the village wasn’t the least bit dusty, only muddy, and it was Saturday morning, market day! We plunged into the crowd and worked our way along the single street running above the river. Everything was for sale, onions, nuts, pet fish, clothing, live ducks and cheap electronics. Between vendors, customers and strollers, the entire town had turned out this morning. Coffee shops were full of mahjong players, smokers in blue Mao jackets puffed on hand rolled cigarettes stuck in long pipes, and mothers carried their “one child policy” children dressed in their cutest outfits.

Mike knew everyone, or at least he let on that he did. We were introduced to the smokers, the barber, the old lady crocheting in her kitchen goods stall, Mike was best friends with them all. It was fun watching him act important, and it helped to have someone breaking the ice with each group of new faces around the next corner.

Market day brings man in for head shave, while his warm cap awaits his departure.

And around those corners the drab little village yielded photographs, slowly, one by one. I kept an open mind, smiled and interacted, caught those passing moments that told a story of this village on this market day under this gray sky.

Lunch at the open-onto-the street kitchen was Mike’s triumph. With great flourish, insight and experience he ordered dish after dish for our group. Spicy noodles, tangy chicken, steamed vegetables, cold beer bottle after bottle, all witnessed by the market visitors with sufficient money to dine at neighboring tables. The rest of the market streamed by to check us out. (Editors note, the driver only had one beer, Mike saw to that.)

As the dishes arrived, one by one he educated us on their ingredients and flavors, and eloquently complimented the restaurant’s owner and her chefs. So much food, we worried! No worry, Mike and the driver set to work, clicking chopsticks and slurping soups, they kept going long after we were full. Obviously this was a banquet for the two of them, a tour guide perk, even though it only cost the four of us about $ 6 each.

Mike peppered us with questions about current events in the United States, and was obviously well informed. What did we think about the log jam in Congress? European debt crisis? President Obama’s relationship with President Hu? Between flying noodle and rice, “what you think about” ... sports, popular music, social media. Whew!

It was quite a day, our “picturesque” little village and our new best friend, “Mike”.

The last I saw Mike, he had just peeled off several large Yuan notes for the driver, and was walking off through Chengdu’s pedestrian crowd counting his money with a big smile on his face.

To see multimedia audio slide shows about travel in China, please visit my Miami multimedia photography portfolio site and click through to "Chinese Stories". Please also visit my Miami commercial photography portfolio.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Sounds Overheard: Yaks & Pilgrims Ring Bells

Moving shaft of sunlight warms young Buddhist Tibetan Monk studying at temple entrance, Thasilhunpo Monastery, Shigatse, Tibet.

Traveling requires all of your senses to fully experience your surroundings, whether they are in exotic Tibet or some place closer to home, like the dusty strip of sprawling gas stations, fast food joints and mini marts you've stumbled upon after getting off the interstate highway.

Listen to one minute recording as birds chirp and large brass temple bell rings, then to nomad yak herders in outdoor market shopping for bells to hang around their livestock. 

Stand still for a moment in front of that mini mart and listen ... traffic and horns assault you, sure. Wait a moment, between traffic lights, those little chirping birds, probably sparrows, hopping around the trash filled hedge. Gee, they are pretty sounding. Hear the salsa music wafting out of that bodega over there, that sound adds some more color. A nice gentle breeze rustles the tree leaves above your head, a bossy black crow barks down from atop the power pole.

Listening to the details, sometimes loud, sometimes subtle, makes this place, this very moment in time, much richer to you. OK, I know, the light has changed and this spot is getting just plain loud, so lets relocate to Tibet. Poof!

Now we're standing under a foot tall brass bell, green with age, hanging from colorful braided cords from the hand hewn rafters of one of the Tibetan Buddhist temples in the Thasilhunpo Monastery. Founded in 1447 in Shigatse, Tibet's second largest city, the monastery is both very quiet and very full of sound. Pilgrims jump with outreached finger tips to ring the bell hanging just out of reach, rich tones reverberating and fading into background sound of happy birds chirping in the sunny courtyard.

An hour later we're visiting the outdoor market in busy downtown Shigatse, and are eavesdropping on two men dressed with red cloth braided into their long hair, silver jewelry around their necks and on their fingers, staying warm in sheep skin jackets.They are test ringing inexpensive bells to hang around the necks of their livestock, some as big as their fists for yaks, some walnut sized for sheep.

Listening carefully can enrich our travel experiences no matter where we are. Now let me decide, do I stay in Tibet, or Poof, I teleport back and dig into a lime green Double Big Gulp at the mini mart?

During my assignments and travels I've been recording the sounds I overhear, and many don't have supporting photographs or stories. This occasional series will be my excuse to share my audio orphans, these Sounds Overheard.  

More stories from Tibet are elsewhere on this blog, and more examples of field-recorded natural sound are at my Miami multimedia production portfolio site.