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November 18th, 2013

PDN Video: Bil Zelman on How to Shoot Ads That Look Real (Not Staged)

Photographer Bil Zelman specializes in shooting lifestyle advertising for top brands such as Coke, Apple and Budweiser that looks real, not staged. Getting natural, emotionally genuine performances out of talent is one of the biggest challenges for advertising photographers, but Zelman has spent his career honing his skill. In this video, he describes how he saved one shoot that was spiraling out of control, and he shares some tips and tricks he uses to coax the performances he’s looking for.

Photographer Bil Zelman: How to Get Genuine Emotion from Non-Professional Talent from PDNOnline on Vimeo.

 

Zelman uses non-professional talent almost exclusively. He explains, “They don’t know what’s expected of them. Usually they show up a little bit nervous and it’s easier for me to relax them, rather than pro talent that shows up feeling like they’re going to act it out. I hate acting. that’s the bottom line.

“You know, people are laughing in [advertising] scenes all over the place, and so good talent will simply guffaw the entire time, and it looks so fake. So I would much rather have somebody uncomfortable in front of the camera, and then do something stupid to make them laugh, than hire somebody’s who’s basically a somewhat attractive professional laugher.

“Whatever city we’re flying to, I’ll fly my casting director (Heather Smith) there ahead of time and she’ll go to bars, and Craigslist, and hit all the social media and we’ll just find people. if I need bikers she goes to motorcycle gangs and if I need twenty five-year-old college kids she goes to the colleges, not to talent agencies.

“I try to go to casting calls whenever possible. Depending on the mood of our desired performance I might yell at [the people answering the casting call] or throw something at them. I’ll see if they can cry, [and see] what their eyes do when they genuinely laugh verses faking it with just their mouth. Perhaps I’ll ask them to dance with no music going. It all depends on the job but I’m looking hard to flush out any overacting, self-consciousness or catolog-like contrapposto or gestures and such.

“I’m often looking for big, extroverted personalities as well- A person who you can throw into a group of strangers and get them all roiled up regardless of the fact that it might be 6 am.”

Related:
PPE 2013: Tips for Shooting Ads That Viewers Believe And Clients Like
A Hands-Off Approach to Real People Shoots

November 6th, 2013

PDNVideo: Olivia Bee Talks About Instagram, iPhones, Expectations, and Envy

PDN Video: Olivia Bee on Instagram, iPhones, Expectations, and Envy from PDNOnline on Vimeo.

PDN’s 30 photographer Olivia Bee started her professional career at the age of 15, after a Converse design director saw her Flickr feed and hired her to shoot a campaign in the same style as her personal work. Bee is self-taught and highly driven. Now 19, she has shot editorial and advertising work for clients including The New York Times, Vice, Hermes, Fiat USA, and Levis. She recently sat down with PDN to talk about a variety of topics, ranging from her skepticism about Instagram and what she’s learned by shooting with an iPhone, to how she manages expectations (her own and everyone else’s) and the reaction she gets from other photographers because of her success at such an early age.

Related:
PDN’s 30: Olivia Bee

November 5th, 2013

Profoto Announces Powerful but Portable B1, a Battery-Powered, Cordless Flash with TTL Functionality

Profoto-B1Profoto has just unveiled a very interesting new concept in portable lighting: a powerful, battery powered flash with TTL functionality.  Called the B1, the folks from Profoto described it to me as an “off-camera flash,” during an NDA meeting I had on the new product at PhotoPlus Expo. But that description doesn’t quite sum the B1 up, since it’s not a speedlight nor a monolight, but a new lighting product that combines some of the attributes of the two.

Along with its cordless portability, the B1 gives you TTL control thanks to a patent-pending invention from Profoto designed to integrate the flash with your camera. It works by attaching Profoto’s Air Remote TTL-C to the hotshoe of your camera. When you photograph your subject, the B1 will automatically adjust the blast of light to optimize exposure. If you want more control, you can switch to full manual control with the press of a button on the B1.

Read more of this Profoto B1 news story and see another image of the product here.

October 29th, 2013

The Best Photo Gear at PhotoPlus Expo 2013

PhotoPlus Expo 2013 took over Jacob Javits Center in New York City last week and, as Senior Technology Editor for PDN and Rangefinder magazines, I spent a lot of time visiting with photo manufacturers at the show to check out the latest photo gear. There were, of course, tons of cool new photo gadgets to touch and try, not the least of which were all the new cameras unveiled in the days leading up to PPE 2013.

I covered those cameras in stories on Sony, Canon, Nikon, Fuji, and Panasonic, prior to PhotoPlus, so at the show I decided to focus mostly on photo accessories with a couple of new cameras thrown in for good measure.

To read my round-up of some of my favorite photo gear from PhotoPlus Expo 2013, click here.

October 29th, 2013

PPE 2103: Inside the Mind of a Photo Editor

Have you ever wondered what a photo editor actually does? At the 2013 PhotoPlus Expo panel “Photo Editing: A to Z” attendees got an inside look courtesy of two speakers: Elizabeth Krist of National Geographic and Bronwen Latimer of The Washington Post.

The panel was broken up into short-form and long-form journalism topics, as the two have widely different lead times. Latimer, the deputy director of photography at The Washington Post, noted that the lead-time for an article in the newspaper is anywhere from two to eight hours. She added that the lead-time is even shorter on the Web. Krist said National Geographic has a minimum lead-time of six months, and that they are already working on stories for 2015.

Latimer said she’s constantly looking at photo sources, including blogs, websites and galleries, for work that provides a fresh perspective on a subject. Her presentation included examples of photos from promos, e-mails, and websites that she has hung on to because she either likes the image or may have an article in the future on a topic that the image illustrates. Latimer gave the following advice to photographers interested in catching the eye of newspaper photo editors: always keep your website up to date so editors can see what you’re working on; show the work you want to be shooting; and pitch ideas to the digital extensions of newspapers because they are always looking for new content to post on their blogs and websites.

To discuss long-form journalism, Krist, the senior photo editor at National Geographic, showed David Guttenfelder’s work that was featured in the October issue for an article about North Korea. She shared the edit of images that she pitched to Editor-in-Chief Chris Johns and noted that she likes to have a rhythm to a layout so she often organizes work by different themes, in this case by categories like city life, the countryside, propaganda, etc. (These categories helped to avoid repetition in the layout so there was enough variety to warrant the 20 pages, including a gatefold, that National Geographic dedicated to the story.) Krist also briefly spoke about the exhibition “Women of Vision: National Geographic Photographers on Assignment,” which she curated.

Both Latimer and Krist mentioned that they appreciate photographers who explore a topic in depth. Krist added that she likes to see a whole body of work when photographers show her their portfolios.

When asked what they look for when choosing a layout’s opening image, Krist said she likes an image to be unexpected and draw the viewer in. Latimer noted the photo should grab a reader’s attention, and be the photographic equivalent of a gut punch. This advice seems as applicable to portfolio and presentations as it is for publications.

October 28th, 2013

PPE 2013: Tips for Shooting Ads That Viewers Believe and Clients Like

Facing an increasingly media-savvy audience who tend to “ignore advertising completely or don’t believe it,” said PDN senior editor Conor Risch, advertising clients are clamoring for campaigns that look believable and “authentic.” At the PhotoPlus Expo panel “How to Make Advertising that Doesn’t Look Like Advertising,” photographers Olivia Bee, Christa Renee and Bil Zelman shared a wealth of tips on everything from casting real people to managing client expectations to their techniques for post-production in order to create ads that look natural and spontaneous.  They also explained why, when photographing real people, they are not so much directing the talent as they are misdirecting them.

“I like to keep the talent in the dark,” said Zelman, who doesn’t explain to his models what he needs to photograph. “If they don’t know what I’m looking for, they can’t fake it for me.”  Renee said, “I’m telling them stupid things and they’re so confused, it’s after that that I shoot.” She often tells talent she needs them to run around: “People are better to shoot when they’re tired,” she said. Renee said she never lets the talent see the shots on the monitor, and will block it off with foamcore panels if needed.

Zelman showed an image from a Bud Light campaign in which he photographed several people clowning in the snow. It was a particularly awkward shoot, he said: None of the talent who were supposed to act like friends knew each other, and a snow machine had to be brought in to fake the snow. At one point, he had his assistant pelt the talent with potatoes. They turned to the camera and laughed in surprise. Zelman explained, “I have many things to get reaction, and one is I bring potatoes.” Bee added, “Shitty, loud music is good to get people moving and laughing.”

Bee, whose personal work photographing her teenage friends landed her jobs from Converse, Fiat USA and other ad clients, says her goal is to recreate a similarly friendly and relaxed atmosphere on set even when she’s working with professional models. “If you can recreate that atmosphere and be a fly on the wall, I think you’ll get the same pictures. They won’t be as special but it’ll be close.” She and the other photographers try to bond with the talent before the shoot.

The photographers said that  the subjects feel more at ease without the clients hovering. Zelman said, “Not every client is comfortable handing you a big bag of money and then leaving the room.” He recommends giving the client a detailed treatment that explains why a closed set will produce better photos. Renee said she offers to set clients up in a separate room with iPads so they can preview the shots from a distance.

All the photographers said that when it comes to finding energetic, charismatic talent, video casting works better than looking through head shots.  Said Bee, “I ask them questions like: ‘What’s your favorite thing to do?’ And, ‘Have you ever been in love?’ to see the sparkle in their eye.” Zelman noted, “It’s important to have a couple of extroverts, because I know that if I give them a little caffeine they’ll lift the energy of the group.” When a shoot calls for a couple  or a family, the photographers strive to hire people who are married or related in real life. Zelman said that on a shoot for Microsoft,  he hired a band to play during a party scene, then photographed the fans who showed up. (“I had some hero talent sprinkled throughout,” he explained.)

While Bee prefers to shoot in natural light, Zelman said, “I like the paparazzi flash. I’ll take a real, touching moment in crappy lighting over a fake moment with blank faces in beautiful light.” Renee said she’s often shooting libraries of images that call for both interiors and exteriors, so she relies on lighting to give the images a consistent look—and, at times, compensate for bad weather on location.  She’ll light a large area in which the talent can move. Her budgets don’t often allow her to use continuous lights, so instead, “I use a lot of broad sources,” she says. When photographing kids, popping strobes can be distracting. “You just have to get them to the point where they’re focused on your little dance, not on the lights.”

The photographers keep retouching to a minimum. Zelman often adds grain during post, to compensate for the crisp perfection of modern digital cameras, but tries to follow a five-minute rule: “If I have to work on it for more than five minutes, I picked the wrong picture.”

And how did these photographers land so many advertising assignments? By constantly shooting personal work and then sharing it. “I try to shoot as much as possible when I’m not working,” says Renee. “I think you have to be constantly shooting and put your work on the internet across all social platforms,” said Bee. “Promote the shit out of yourself. No one else is going to do it for you. “

October 26th, 2013

PPE 2013: NASA Astronaut Don Pettit on Photographing in Space

© NASA

© NASA

NASA astronaut Don Pettit offered unique perspectives on photographic technology and the beauty and challenges of space photography in his keynote address at PhotoPlus Expo on October 24. Pettit, who has spent more than a year in space as part of three missions to the international space station, shared a few of the thousands of images he has taken from above the earth’s atmosphere, including breathtaking time-lapse images of the aurora borealis and other natural and manmade phenomena. He also described some of the ways he’s had to adapt to the unique challenges of shooting in what he calls “a frontier environment.”

On earth, for example, photographers don’t have to worry about “cosmic ray damage” to the CMOS chips in their cameras causing noise and spots in their images. Photographers on earth don’t have to account for the shift and speed of a spacecraft that completes an orbit of the earth every 90 minutes. When shooting through one of the windows on the space station’s cupola, Pettit has to deal with multiple reflections, because each window is made up of four panes of glass several inches thick. To block the reflections of the “nasty blinking things” on the control panels, he has created what he calls “my turtleneck.” He drapes a large black cloth over all the control panels. The cloth has a hole in the middle that’s big enough for him to poke his head through. He noted that the lavatory is located near the cupola; if the light is turned on, it’ll ruin a long night-time exposure. “I’ve trained the crew to pee in the dark.”

Pettit, a self described “uber geek,” showed a photo of the dozen or so cameras set up within the cupola. In the weightless environment, he can also attach the cameras to his clothes with Velcro. The cameras are always on, he said, because when a crew member sees something to photograph, the camera has to be ready or the moment is gone until the space craft returns to the same orbit track 11 days later.

While he favors wide-angle lenses when shooting the interior of the space station, telephoto lenses allow him to photograph areas on earth with far greater detail and fidelity than found in satellite images, which are typically stitched together from several images. From the space station, Pettit has been able to get “a continent-long perspective” on both natural and manmade phenomena. He has captured the lights of cities, for example, from Boston to Washington, and along the length of the Nile River. When he showed an image of New York City with a bright spot glowing like an ember in Manhattan, he said, “There are people in midtown who never sleep.” The images were made possible, he notes, by improvements in cameras that work at far higher ISO ranges than in years past. He showed a device he fashioned from several parts, including a handle that allows him to control the shift and compensate for the movement of the spacecraft during long exposures.

In some photos that were shot on minute-long exposures, glowing white spots appear on the earth below. These were thunderstorms, Pettit explains;  at a recent talk, an audience member told him he was using lightning as fill flash. Pettit has used the same long-exposure techniques that amateur photographers use to capture trails of stars as the earth spins; in Pettit’s space photos, however, the stars trace concentric circles in the top of the frame while the bottom of the frame is filled with colorful ribbons of light made by city lights. He also captured air trails from jets, which look, he said, “like the trails snails leave in your garden.”

Pettit ended his talk with a series of time-lapse videos that a colleague made for him by putting together thousands of images shot a second apart. These images show the mysterious green lights of the aurora borealis whirling and swirling near the arctic as the earth rushes by below the space station.

Pettit told the audience that he often faces “the photographer’s dilemma”: whether to shoot photos that will appeal to “earth-centric people” or to show the environment as it really is. He showed, for example, a posed group shot of Pettit and his crewmembers taken at the request of NASA. With the crew seated in two rows, only the floating ponytail of a female astronaut indicates that they are in a weightless environment. In reality, Pettit said, “you have people working around you oriented at all angles.” In his talk, Pettit demonstrated that he has been able to resolve the dilemma by showing earth-bound people things they will never see in a way that is both beautiful and awe-inspiring.

 

 

October 25th, 2013

PPE 2013: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Social Media

The theme of Thursday’s PhotoPlus Expo panel “Practicing Safe Social Media” seemed to be that social media is a necessary evil in today’s photography industry so photographers need to be smart about how they use it. The ASMP-sponsored panel had a variety of speakers who each brought a unique viewpoint to the discussion. Covering the legal ramifications was attorney Ross Buntrock; giving the media’s perspective was AOL/Huffington Post Photography Director Anna Dickson; representing the photo industry was photographer Richard Kelly; EyeEm CEO Florian Meissner provided a social-media company’s viewpoint.

Buntrock and moderator Peter Krogh broke down the terms of service agreements for four popular social-media sites, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter, and the news was pretty bleak. All four TOS agreements are essentially broad licenses that allow the companies to provide the images and data from their sites to third parties. This doesn’t mean that they own the copyright to any work you post on their networks. The panelists illustrated that point by briefly discussing the case of Daniel Morel, the photojournalist who successfully sued AFP, the Washington Post and Getty for using images from the Haiti earthquake that he posted on Twitter without his permission. However, it does mean that these platforms can let advertisers use your image in sponsored posts without your permission and without compensation. (Buntrock noted that adding a copyright symbol to your image before posting it to these social networks doesn’t impact the TOS at all.)

It would be easy to just say, “Forget, I’m not going to use social media.” Except Dickson made an interesting point that the reason she’s on Instagram is because that is where everyone else is—both photographers and photo editors like herself. Whereas five years ago she would’ve followed photographers on Flickr, now it’s Instagram. She also said the “look” of Instagram photos is popular now, so many websites, including AOL/Huffington Post, use the site to find images for articles and slide shows.

So herein lies the rub: You want your work to be followed and found by potential clients, but you don’t want to give it away for free. Meissner’s company, EyeEm, is trying to eradicate this issue by providing the same social features as Instagram but including a notification system that alerts photographers when a third party wants to use their image, and offers compensation for that use. Other sites and services were mentioned as also having some sort of permission or compensation model, including Stipple, Scoopshot, SmugMug and PhotoShelter.

However, until one of these sites has the same massive user base as Instagram or Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest, they don’t solve the immediate problem of how to get exposure while also protecting your work on social media. Kelly’s strategy for dealing with this issue is simple: Know what your message is on social media before you start posting on these sites. For example, he uses his accounts to keep followers up to date on what he’s working on, advocacy issues for photographers and his teaching gigs. That’s it. He doesn’t use the tools to post new work or market himself. And Dickson, to a certain extent, supported Kelly’s idea by noting that she loves it when photographers post behind-the-scenes images so she can see what they are up to as well as get a peek at their personality.

At its core, this is what social media was originally intended for—sharing who you are and what you are up to. Though you can use these tools to market your work, it would be wise to think of how you can do that without actually posting the finished image since it can easily spread around the Web without your attribution and without you ever seeing a penny of compensation.

Related Articles
In TwitPic Copyright Claim, Daniel Morel Seeks $13.2 Million from AFP, Getty

AFP, Washington Post Violated Daniel Morel’s Copyrights, Judge Rules

October 24th, 2013

PPE 2013: Photography & The Law: Access, Copyright and Social Media Issues

During a talk at PhotoPlus Expo 2013, sponsored by the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA), attorneys Mickey Osterreicher and Alicia Wagner Calzada provided tips for how photographers can protect their First Amendment rights and control the copyright and distribution of their work.

Tips On the Right to Photograph in Public

Osterreicher, who is the general counsel for the NPPA and was a working photographer for 40 years before he became a lawyer, offered advice for news photographers in dealing with police.

He noted that photographers or videographers are never arrested for documenting a news event in public. Instead they are arrested for “discretionary charges,” what he termed “catch and release” charges, which can include disorderly conduct, disturbing the peace and loitering.

If a police officer orders a photographer to stop taking pictures in public, they are violating the rights of that photographer, Osterreicher said. Photographers can avoid being accused of interfering with or obstructing police officers by following reasonable directions from police when they’re given. He also mentioned that it’s prudent to be aware that officers are concerned with things like weapon retention, making sure nobody is close enough to them to reach for their gun. If a photographer is in an officer’s face with a camera, the officer can reasonably claim that photographer is interfering or obstructing their work. (more…)

October 22nd, 2013

PDN Video: Gregory Heisler on His New Book and Best Portraits

Master portrait photographer Gregory Heisler has just released a book that is both a retrospective of his work, and a guidebook on the art and craft of portraiture. Heisler says it is the kind of book he always wanted to buy as an up-and-coming photographer. “What I wanted to know about was sort of the creative process, what went into each picture. Not how you took it, particularly, but why you made the decisions you made.”

In an excerpt of the book published this month in PDN, Heisler describes how he photographed Hugh Grant, Muhammed Ali and other subjects. He also sat down for a video interview to talk about his work and career. In this clip, he explains how he thought through an assignment to photograph former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani for the TIME Person of the Year cover in 2001. Later this week, we will post clips of Heisler discussing his lighting technique, how to connect with subjects, and how clients choose photographers.

Heisler will hold a seminar called The Evocative Portrait at Photo Plus Expo this Friday, October 25, from 8:45 to 11:45 a.m.

Creative Tips from Portrait Photographer Gregory Heisler from PDNOnline on Vimeo.

Related:Gregory Heisler Shares the Techniques That Go Into His Portraiture