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September 11th, 2015

Marcus Smith on Navigating the Photography Business as an African-American

Marcus Smith. ©Paul Elledge

Marcus Smith. ©Paul Elledge

Women have “made huge headway” toward equality with white men in the photo industry, photojournalist Maggie Steber says in an interview in the September issue of PDN. “Now we have to make sure minorities are making more headway.” For minorities, she explained, there’s still “a lot of benign racism.” Marcus Smith, a successful advertising photographer, told us during an interview in 2013 that he worried about race at the the start of his career. In this excerpt from that interview, he describes what he experienced, and offers advice about confronting racism–benign or otherwise–to young African-Americans aspiring to launch careers in photography.

PDN: Are there particular challenges to being an African-American commercial photographer, because of race?
Marcus Smith: Going into it, I thought there would be. I would talk to my mom about it and say, “I don’t know if this is going to work the way I think it is because so much of this industry is about networking and personal relationships. And I wonder if I’m going to be able to relate to people.” I’m a lot younger than a lot of people in the industry, and also, my background and where I come from is a lot different, too. I thought about whether I would have a level playing field. But the less I thought about it, the less of a problem it was–when I was, “OK, whatever. It is what it is. I’m going to be who I am and find the people who accept that.” And those are the people I’m looking to work with.

I had an agent tell me that I needed to have more white people in my portfolio, and I thought that was the craziest thing ever. There’s a lot of Caucasian photographers who shoot lifestyle, fashion, whatever–and they have a book full of white people. And nobody’s telling them, “Hey you need to shoot more black people or you need to shoot more Asian people or Hispanic people or whatever.”

So I was like, OK, I’m not going to listen to you [the agent] because that doesn’t make sense to me. People should be able to see what they want and see what you’re capable of, regardless of whatever race [the subjects are] in front of the lens. So I was going to keep doing what I do, and photograph what interests me, and I’m going to show people. I wanted to take what’s “lifestyle” to me and “culture” to me, and present that to people, and hopefully they see my passion for that and respond to it. And they did. It doesn’t matter to me what color my subject is.

PDN: What advice would you give to other aspiring African-American photographers who might feel daunted being in a minority in the photo industry?
MS: My advice would be to be yourself. People are a lot more alike than you think they are. And people like a lot more of the same things than you think they do. Just because you may have grown up in the inner city, or whatever, and somebody else may have grown up in the suburbs, doesn’t mean that you can’t find a common ground to stand on. It doesn’t mean you don’t possibly listen to the same music, or that you don’t both hate the San Antonio Spurs, or something like that. You never know what kind of random common thread you might find. And you could become the best of friends on the basis of that commonality. And then you have someone you could be different with. I think that’s what makes all of us so interesting: you come from this background, I come from that background. You could have these interesting dialogues [because of that].

PDN: What advice would you give those photographers who may fear overt racism in the industry?
MS: You shouldn’t have fear of that, because you would never know where it comes from. When you can’t pinpoint it, it can paralyze you if you let it become a part of your thinking. You have to have faith that people are not going to do that to you, and if they are, then those are not the kind of people you want to work with anyway. I can be a testament that most people in the industry are not like that. I’m not saying everybody [in the industry] is past [racism], but I can say a big majority of people I’ve come into contact with haven’t responded that way.

Photographer Maggie Steber on Women, Minorities, and How to Nurture Talent
PDN Video: Marcus Smith on How to Attract the Clients You Want
PDN’s 30 2014: Marcus Smith

July 22nd, 2015

PDN Video Pick: Casey Brooks and Acre Creative for Aéropostale

In a new 30-second spot for Aéropostale set to appear on a video billboard in Manhattan’s Times Square, Casey Brooks directs a squad of midriff-baring female dancers to illustrate the extreme elasticity of the brand’s new jeans. Creative director Brad Shaffer at the agency Acre Creative brought in Brooks to make the spot for Aéro, giving her a brief to capture an “appropriately sexy” vibe, evidenced by sweeping steadicam closeups of the stretchy jeans hugging the dancers’ curves.

“It’s not provocative, more positive,” Brooks says. She credits choreographer Mishay Petronelli with bringing an abundance of energy to the screen, choreographing seven different 30- to 45-second routines to seven different songs for Brooks to choose from when assembling the final cut with editor Manuel Barenboim. “It’s better for editing,” Brooks says of the music selection. “It gives you different energies to pull from.” The final spot features the Angel Haze track “New York.”

The dancers rehearsed for three days for the two-day location shoot in New York City. One took place on a rooftop in Brooklyn, and another in a warehouse in the Bronx. Petronelli, who has served as Beyonce’s stand-in on a recent world tour and will tour with Janet Jackson later this year, also appears in the video (you can catch her freestyling in front of a giant window). Brendan Stumpf was director of photography, and Ruy Sánchez Blanco the post producer.

The spot will run online as well as on a video billboard.

June 23rd, 2015

Court Rejects Rentmeester’s Infringement Claim Over Nike “Jumpman” Logo

© Jacobus "Co" Rentmeester

Rentmeester’s 1984 photograph of Michael Jordan for Life magazine. © Jacobus “Co” Rentmeester

A federal court in Portland, Oregon has dismissed photographer Jacobus “Co” Rentmeester’s copyright infringement claim against Nike for the same reason so many “copycat” infringement claims fail: Copyright law doesn’t protect ideas, only the expression of those ideas. And Nike’s expression was not “substantially similar” to Rentmeester’s, the court ruled.

“Mr. Rentmeester has failed to show that he can satisfy the requisite objective test for copyright infringement,” US District Judge Michael W. Mosman wrote in his decision last week to dismiss the case. Rentmeester has filed papers announcing his intent to appeal the decision to the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. (more…)

April 3rd, 2015

Photographer Openly Ridicules Band’s Request For Free Images

Portrait photographer Pat Pope, who has worked with many top musicians during his 20-year career, has published a snarky open letter to alternative rock band Garbage criticizing their attempt to gain free use of his images for their book.

Among Pope’s pointed questions: “Do you think ‘content providers,’ whatever the hell that means, deserve to be paid for their work, or is that a special category for musicians?”

Garbage was formed in 1993 and has sold more than 17 million records worldwide. (more…)

March 18th, 2015

Nike Seeks Dismissal of Photog Rentmeester’s Copyright Claim over “Air Jordan” Logo

© Jacobus "Co" Rentmeester

Co Rentmeester sued Nike in January for unauthorized use of this 1984 image to create the “Jumpman” logo used for decades to promote Nike’s Jordan brand.  © Jacobus “Co” Rentmeester

The Nike shoe company has asked a federal court to dismiss photographer Co Rentmeester’s copyright claim over the iconic logo used on Jordan brand sneakers and clothing, on the grounds that the Nike logo is substantially different from Rentmeester’s photo of former basketball star Michael Jordan.

Rentmeester says the company illegally created its so-called “Jumpman” logo from a photograph Rentmeester shot in 1984. Nike, which has used the logo for more than 25 years, called Rentmeester’s claim “baseless.” The company is accusing Rentmeester of trying to claim a monopoly on images of Jordan’s trademark slam-dunk move. And Nike argues that its iconic logo copied none of the “protectable” elements of the Rentmeester photograph–ie, camera angle, lighting, background and other elements of expression that are protected by US Copyright law.

The alleged "Nike copy" of Rentmeester's 1984 image.

The alleged “Nike copy” of Rentmeester’s 1984 image.

Rentmeester filed his copyright infringement claim in January in US district court in Portland, Oregon. He alleged that Nike had based its “Jumpman” logo on an image made by the company that illegally copied Rentmeester’s 1984 photo. Rentmeester had made his image for Life magazine. His image, the Nike “copy” image and the Nike logo all depict Jordan in a move for which he was famous: sailing through the air on his way to slam dunking a basketball.

Nike had temporarily licensed the Rentmeester image in 1984. Rentmeester alleges that Nike copied the image while it was in the company’s possession. He also says Nike paid him $15,000 in 1985, after he complained Nike was infringing his photograph by plastering the “Jumpman” logo all over billboards and posters promoting Air Jordan sneakers. The payment allowed for use of the image for two years in North American markets only, according to Rentmeester’s claim, but Nike has continued to use it ever since. (more…)

December 23rd, 2014

PDNPulse: Top Stories of 2014

As another fascinating year in the world of professional photography comes to a close, we look back on the stories that drew the most interest from PDNPulse readers this year.

From manipulated news photos, to photographers arrested for doing their jobs, to collaborative efforts between photographers and an interview with one of photography’s most influential star makers, these stories capture some of the highs and lows of the photography business today.

1: George Steinmetz Wonders: Was It Worth Getting Arrested for National Geographic Cover Story Photos

2: 2014 Winter Olympics Op-Ed: Everything You’ve Read About Problems for Photographers in Sochi is True

3: PDN Video: Lens Blog’s James Estrin’s Career Tips for Photojournalists

4: Photographers Share Intimate Images of Loved Ones for Curated Photo Website

5: AP Severs Ties With Photographer Narciso Contreras Over Photoshopped Image
5a: Photographer Fired by AP Says Decision Was Fair, But Process Wasn’t

6: How Much Do Editorial Clients Pay? “Wiki” Gives Names and Fees

7: If that Kim Kardashian Photo Looks Familiar…

8: Calumet Photographic to Liquidate, Closes U.S. Stores

9: Photographer Creates Free iPhone App for His Signature Style

10: Wal-mart Sues Photographer’s Widow Claiming Copyright for Decades of Portraits of Walton Family

11: Suffolk County Pays $200K to Settle News Photographer’s Unlawful Arrest Claim

12: How Should Clients React to Sexual Coercion Allegations Against Terry Richardson?

13: AP Photographer Anja Niedringhaus Killed in Afghanistan

14: Cowboy Lifestyle Photographer David Stoecklein Dies, 65

15: Photojournalist Camille Lapage, 26, “Murdered” in Central African Republic

October 27th, 2014

PDN Video: Marcus Smith on How to Develop Your Brand Identity

Marcus Smith, Part 2: How to Develop Your Brand Identity from PDNOnline on Vimeo.

In a previous PDN Video, advertising photographer Marcus Smith explained how he used personal work to land his dream clients. After winning his first few commercial assignments, though, Smith decided he needed a stronger brand identity to maintain momentum. In this video, he explains how he figured out the right brand message for his business, communicated it to a designer, and got a professional-looking brand identity on a tight budget.

Smith will speak at Photo Plus Expo on a panel called “PDN’s 30: Strategies for Young Working Photographers” on Saturday, November 1 at the Javits Convention Center in New York City. Others speaking on the panel include Dina Litovsky, Greer Muldowney, Keren Sachs, and Tony Gale. For complete details about Photo Plus Expo seminars and events, see the Photo Plus Expo website.

PDN Video: Marcus Smith on How to Attract the Clients You Want

October 2nd, 2014

“How Come This Stuff Isn’t Animated?” The Story of Mr. GIF

Pop star Miley Cyrus and the rapper 2 Chainz backstage at Jeremy Scott's S/S 2015 show at New York fashion week. © Mr. GIF

Pop star Miley Cyrus and the rapper 2 Chainz backstage at Jeremy Scott’s S/S 2015 show at New York fashion week. © Mr. GIF for Milk Made

Mr. GIF wants to animate the Internet. The creative duo has made photographing and illustrating GIFs—the 27-year-old bitmap image format that supports crude animation—their calling card. They’re the team that Marc Ecko, Evian and Transamerica tap when they need to quickly make strong, easily shareable moving images for whatever they’re selling. In just a few short years, they evolved from a pair of daydreaming MTV plebes to shooting Miley Cyrus and 2Chainz backstage at fashion week. To them, still images that move were obviously taylor-made for the Internet and its thousands of screens. But can you really make a career of making GIFs?

The duo, Jimmy Repeat and Mark Portillo, are college buddies. They studied advertising design together at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Their studies were almost irrelevant—Portillo didn’t even finish—but the renowned art and design school is where the two would meet. Less than seven years later, they would quit their jobs to make GIFs—the full-time for clients like and others. Even an insurance company.

Having gone their separate ways after school, Repeat and Portillo reconnected under the umbrella of Viacom, at MTV’s “Geek” vertical, which covers cartoons, comics and videogames. Doing research for work, they devoured the same comics, but were struck by the format’s limitations.

Maria Sharapova for Evian at the U.S. Open © Mr. GIF

Maria Sharapova for Evian at the U.S. Open © Mr. GIF

“We were like, ‘How come this stuff isn’t animated yet?’” Portillo remembers. “We read Akira and we were like, “If this background was giving me seizures, it would be so much better.’”

So they dreamed up a GIF comic over smoke breaks outside Viacom’s Times Square HQ, and quickly learned why animation was so expensive (it’s a lot of work!). They abandoned the book idea, throwing the frames they’d finished up on Tumblr. But they were having fun. Illustrations gave way to photos, and a thought: “How is the GIF better than the JPEG?”

“We saw the potential,” Repeat says. “Everywhere you look, there’s a screen.”

As relative neophytes—Repeat especially—they were intrigued by the technology of photography. They experimented with odd cameras well-suited to the medium; at first, digital models like the Fujifilm FinePix Real3D W3, but they would later become obsessed with the aesthetics of analog. Toy cameras like Lomography’s Pop 9 (a nine-lens camera that makes nine exposures at once) and ActionSampler (four lenses, four consecutive frames), even 3D film cameras like the Nimslo 3D. The multi-exposure cameras helped streamline their workflow—helpful, as they had to develop and scan each frame to animate their GIFs. They found creative ways to merge digital and analog, using a DSLR to make time-lapse clips of instant film as it developed. They have a lot of cameras.

Marc Ecko, founder of Eckō Enterprises, Mr. GIF’s first big client. © Mr. GIF

They spent their nights and weekends making GIFs and posting them to Tumblr for free. It wasn’t long before Mark Ecko came calling (tweeting, actually) with their first paid gig, animating his upcoming TEDx presentation. They powered through it in three days. “I think we made 200-300 GIFs in one night,” Portillo says. “It was intense.”

“That was the beginning of the end for our day jobs,” Repeat says. “Like, ‘Oh, this is what a good client’s like?” Ecko dug the work, and they started to get more gigs. They GIF’d the U.S. Open for Evian, and fashion week for Tumblr. By 2013, they had quit MTV, and would soon score a huge project: a year-long Tumblr promoting the San Francisco-based insurance company Transamerica’s “Transform Tomorrow” campaign.

The pair convinced Transamerica to send them across the country making GIFs of America’s cities. They flew drones over rooftop gardens in Detroit, Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota and, of course, San Francisco and the iconic Transamerica building. They booked a room at a luxury hotel with the perfect view for a 24-hour time-lapse of the skyline. Transamerica was skeptical of the format—until they saw the popularity of the first clip they posted. Now, when you go to, their fancy hotel view of San Francisco graces the background, the current time of day reflected by the time of day in the 24-hour time-lapse they made.

A time-lapse GIF of the San Francisco skyline, that Mr. GIF made for Transamerica, prominently featuring their iconic headquarters. © Mr. GIF

A time-lapse GIF of the San Francisco skyline, that Mr. GIF made for Transamerica, prominently featuring their iconic headquarters. © Mr. GIF

Now certified pros, they’re still almost instinctively inventive with their resources. When a client that was supposed to fly them out and put them up in Austin, TX, to shoot a SXSW panel told them that they had to pay their own way, they got their drive down to Texas sponsored. Their friends at Tumblr would connect them with Transamerica, but it was the GIFs they shot on the trip to Austin that would help them land the gig. When a job for St. Ives took them to Hawaii, they stayed an extra week and shot Honolulu for Transamerica. Since they like to shoot film (which is expensive to buy and process), rather than go to a professional processing house, they trained the local CVS employees how to prep and cut their negatives, adding a healthy tip for their trouble.

One thing they learned early on is that new work leads to new work. They needed to show clients they could make the work, so before they had paid work to show, they just did it for free, and for fun. The fun shows up in the work, and it works.

September 24th, 2014

PDN Video: Marcus Smith on How to Attract the Clients You Want

Marcus Smith: How to Get Hired by the Clients You Want from PDNOnline on Vimeo.

When photographer (and sports fan) Marcus Smith stopped assisting to go out on his own, he wanted to shoot for Nike and other national athletic brands. But he was an unknown photographer with almost no sports photography in his portfolio. So he took some wise advice that his mother gave him about how to succeed in business, started a personal project, and soon had assignments from Nike and its subsidiary Jordan Brand. Busy with advertising assignments ever since, Smith explains how he got the attention of the clients he wanted.

Personal Work That Lands Assignments: Marcus Smith (for PDN subscribers)

August 4th, 2014

In Image Library for American Airlines, Erik Almås Discovers His Other Style

It’s a challenge for photographers to evolve creatively and keep up with the changing tastes and expectations of the market, while maintaining their brand identity. But photographer Erik Almås happened upon a new style while shooting for American Airlines, and he’s now using it to reposition himself.

Over the past 18 months, he has shot a number of assignments for the airline’s print campaigns and corporate image library, photographing everything from interiors to runway and in-flight beauty shots of jets. The shoots included two days with a Boeing 777-200. It was a big deal for the airline to take the plane out of service, Almås says, so he took advantage of it. “I had the camera going whenever I had the chance,” he tells PDN through his rep, Bennie de Grasse at Vaughan Hannigan.

An image for American Airlines' branding campaign. ©Erik Almås

An image for American Airlines branding campaign. ©Erik Almås

The images he produced for AA campaigns are tightly controlled, and reflect the hyper-real style for which he’s known. But while he was re-visiting his AA archive in search of images for his portfolio, he discovered that he had two separate bodies of work: the “studied” work used for the AA branding, and “more random shots” that amounted to unintentional personal work. The latter are quiet, contemplative images that Almås recently described in his blog as “the moment between the moment[s]” that comprise an “alternative narrative” to the campaign images. They were “somewhat unexpected for my style of image making,” he wrote.

He’s been posting those images on his Instagram feed every time he boards a flight to an assignment, which is frequently–he traveled 270 days last year. “Instead of posting the classic pictures of clouds out of the plane window with the wing in the corner on social media I would go through the American Airlines images and post some of those instead,” he tells PDN.

©Erik Almås

©Erik Almås

The process of reviewing his files with Instagram in mind “has brought a great awareness to how I edit,” he says. And Almås and his agent are now capitalizing on his more personal style.

The interest among advertisers in an “amateur” (i.e. “snapshot”) style “is accelerating due to the advancing of smartphone and camera technology,” de Grasse explains in an e-mail. “People are beginning to get used to this look and feel,  which creates a growing need for more images for more platforms.”

Almås adds that clients now expect photographers to shoot motion, behind the scenes images, and social media content–in addition to images for print campaigns. “If I can [let clients know] that I can give them all of this as a content provider I’m in a good place for the changes we already see happening,” he says.

©Erik Almås

©Erik Almås

©Erik Almås

©Erik Almås