Tag Archives: photography

6 Tips from a Corporate Photography Problem Solver

Do you know what it takes to get a finished picture that meets corporate standards?

I thought it might be fun to show you what goes into a final image. For example, one primary task an experienced commercial photographer can deliver is the ability to solve a visual problem.

Let’s take a look at a recent annual report portrait I produced for my good client, Steve Croxson of Croxson Design and his client, Cabot Oil & Gas.

For over 21 years, Steve has produced Cabot’s annual report. As he puts it, “This longevity is an amazing accomplishment in this day and age but, I feel – in part – it’s due to our great working relationship with great shooters like Michael Hart.”

1. Scope the Location: Lighting, Competing Elements

Since I specialize in photography of the executive suite, Steve and I did a walk through a week before our scheduled shoot. We decided on a new location that has never been used before and made assumptions of the final image production.

I pre-visualized the lighting that would be best for the shot, and what post-production tasks were needed to minimize the elements competing for our eye’s attention.

2. Client Comfort & Efficient Work

Cabot Oil & Gas Chairman and CEO Dan Dinges and EVP/CFO Scott Schroeder are a delight to work with, and there is usually much levity when we are together – making my job very easy.

3. OnSite Analysis

We did a significant number of exposures, with minor position tweaks, all visible to Steve on our iPad as we shot photos until we were confident that we had enough options.

Dan O. Dinges, Chairman, President, and CEO, and Scott C. Schroeder, EVP and Chief Financial Officer, Cabot Oil & Gas, Houston, Texas

4. Conduct Due Diligence of Set without Subjects

After the Cabot Oil & Gas executives had left the location, I took a series of exposures of the environment without the lighting used on the subjects. This photoshoot eliminated any light casts and highlights on the ground and ceiling and gave me a clean background image in which to place them digitally.

5. Perfect the Art of PostProduction Editing

The skillful blending of the two image sets, one with subjects and one of the locations alone, helped me lose apparent and unappealing lighting spill captured in the images.

I then removed distracting elements on the ceiling, manipulated the window shades in the background, and added highlights in the railing, which, with its curves leading up to the subjects, helped direct the eye to our guys.

Dan O. Dinges, Chairman, President, and CEO, and Scott C. Schroeder, EVP and Chief Financial Officer, Cabot Oil & Gas, Houston, Texas

6. Continuity is Key

As the photographer, I am the one who has visualized the final image, much like a creative or art director. This ownership makes it easy for me to quickly and precisely make post-production edits.

Knowing Photoshop at an advanced level allows me to control as many elements (if not more) than in the B&W darkroom.

I’m happy to report that my clients are pleased with the results, and I have recently sent this image to current and prospective customers as part of an email marketing campaign.

You’re Going To Get A Tattoo?

No no, what I SAID was, “I’m going to THE Tattoo!” OK, I’ll explain…

The word “Tattoo,” is derived from “Doe den tap toe”, or just “tap toe” (“toe” is pronounced “too”), Dutch for “Last Orders”. Translated literally, it means: “close the (beer) tap”. It started when the British Army was quartered in “the low countries” during the Austrian War of Succession, and was the cry that accompanied the beat of the drums as the pipe and drum corps marched through town, and was a signal to “turn off the taps,” it’s time for the soldiers to return to their barracks.

It evolved over the years to become a form of evening entertainment performed by the various military musicians, but primarily the pipes and drums.

In 1950, the military decided to take part in The Edinburgh Festival, an annual celebration of the arts that transforms Edinburgh, Scotland for the month of August. Erecting grandstands around three sides of the castle esplanade, and with the castle itself as an imposing backdrop, the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo has grown into a spectacular event that sells out its three-week run of performances, every night but Sunday, and with two on Saturday. It is also televised all over Europe, which further enhances its reputation as a “must see” event.

I attended my first Tattoo in 1998, and it literally brought me to tears. This August marked my fifth time to attend, and it was as spectacular as ever. With new grandstands in place since 2011, the seats are more comfortable and, while not generous, more spacious than the previous ones.

I have always attended the late Saturday show, as the darkness that has finally fallen at that late hour allows the full impact of the incredible lighting of the performance, and graphics that are projected on the castle facade. The fireworks that cap the show off are an added bonus.

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, 2013

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, 2013

But it’s not just pipes and drums. They bring in guest artists from all over the world. This year, for instance, there were performers from South Korea (in observance of the 60th anniversary of the Korean Truce), Mexico, and Mongolia, as well as the military band from New Zealand, which absolutely stole the show! And as all the performers take the esplanade for the grand finale, the lights dim, a solitary spotlight illuminates a lone piper, high on the castle battlements, and upon completion of his solo, the massed bands play “Auld Lang Syne,” as the 8,500 spectators in attendance join hands and sing along.

Massed bands, the finale of The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

Massed bands, the finale of The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

Corny? Maybe. But it was, as always, extremely moving. The atmosphere is like nothing else I have ever attended. But then again, I am a fan of the pipes, and, indeed, most things Scottish. I’ve already ruminated on the lure of Single Malt Scotch, and I even like Haggis. So am I Scottish? No, seems I’m Irish, with a little bit of English thrown in, although I hope the Scots will forgive me that.

If you’d like more information on the Tattoo ( it really SHOULD be on your bucket list, you know),you can find it here: http://www.edintattoo.co.uk

Of course, we spent many more days in Scotland, and had the good fortune to run in to Mr. Neil Clark, a champion piper, as he played on the grounds of Urquhart Castle, overlooking fabled Loch Ness.

To borrow a phrase from Spinal Tap: “‘Tis a magic place!”

Neil Clark, Champion Piper

Neil Clark, Champion Piper

 

The Dog Days of Summer

Since the phrase “The Dog Days of Summer” refers, at least in the Northern Hemisphere, to the hottest months of the year, namely July and August, we are definitely there. Here in Houston, after a rather mild, at least for us, spring, we hit the highest temperature ever recorded in June, and the second hottest on record, when the thermometer hit 107 a little over a week ago. And that was out north at Bush Intercontinental Airport; down here on the ground, I had a reading of 127-degrees on my car thermometer after it roasted on the cement in front of the studio. Now, I know it pales in comparison to places like Death Valley, and even Las Vegas, but it’s still damn hot.

So it seems an appropriate time to resurrect the phrase, connect a personal image to it, and give you the story behind its creation.

A quick trip to reference materials reveals that the aforementioned phrase originated with the Romans, who associated the appearance of the “dog star” Sirius in the summer sky with the period of hottest weather, as it is the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major, or Large Dog.

But my story begins in February, 2 years ago, when my better half, Sharon, lost her father after a prolonged illness. Her mother had cared for him throughout the period, and she took some time to decompress once her husband was gone.

Sharon noted that her mother had always been thrifty, watching the family budget judiciously, and she had never known her to spend a reckless penny. So it came as quite a shock to her to have her mother tell her about the recent trip to the pet store for her beloved Boston Terrier, Buddy. What started out as a practical visit for food and the like, took an unexpected twist when she eyed some goggles made for canines called “Doggles.”

She could not resist the impulse and brought them home, probably without thinking exactly how and when they would be used. But when Sharon’s brother heard about the purchase, he decided that Buddy and HIS Boston Terrier, Lucille (did I mention that Sharon also has a Boston?) would look great in a child’s pool, Buddy with his Doggles, and Lucille as a water companion.

On his next trip to his mother’s home in Nederland (part of “The Golden Triangle” area of SE Texas, about 85 miles east of Houston, an area which gave us, among other notables, Janis Joplin, Johnny and Edgar Winter, and Robert Rauschenberg) he stopped and bought said pool, and they eagerly awaited the splashing and frolicking about in it of the two dogs.

Buddy and Lucille, however, were less than thrilled, evidently equating the wet immersion with bath time, as they just stood there with a “What do you want us to do NOW?” look on their faces.

When we heard the story, I told Sharon that we had to do a photo of this, so on her mother’s next trip to Houston she brought Buddy, the pool, and the Doggles, and left them with us to do what we could do.

We put the pool in the front yard, filled it with a decent level of water, and I set up the camera and a few strobes. We put Lucille and Buddy in the pool to test the waters, so to speak, and of course they did the same thing as before;

Hart_111017_0101

But we were determined, so out came the Doggles, the camera angle went low, and after about 20 minutes, I felt like we had our photo:

Hart_111007_0064

For the technically minded among you; Yes, I dropped Buddy and the pool out, replacing the wooden fence behind him with a stock blue sky I have in my files, creating a copywriter’s dream; lots of room for copy!

So there is our not-so-shaggy dog story, along with my best wishes for the rest of the summer.

A Proclivity For Single Malt

As I am going to The Scotch Malt Whisky Society Extravaganza here in Houston tonight, I thought it an appropriate time to mention my love of Scotland, along with its premiere export, Single Malt Scotch Whisky. Yes, that is how they spell it, no “e” as we do.

Growing up, I would occasionally get a taste of the blended Scotch whiskey that my parents would drink, and generally always wondered how they could stand that stuff. But, as we mature, so do our taste buds, and as I found myself appreciating foods that were hitherto out of favor with my palate, so too did I come around to an appreciation of Scotch.

But it wasn’t until my late friend Richard High gifted me with a bottle of Laphroaig that the epiphany came. This was something I had never tasted; the incredible flavors, capped off with the smokiness that come from malting the barley with the local peat, were a revelation, and started me on a journey that continues to this day.

Made from only three ingredients, malted barley, yeast, and water, the single malts are distilled a batch at a time in copper pot stills. The varieties of flavor come from the water source, the size and shape of the stills, the kind of wood used in the barrels for maturation, and even the air around the distillery, as the wood breathes during the years of aging, and imparts flavor as well as color. For instance, the granite-fed water and crisp air of the Highlands will impart a different character than the water and air of the Island of Islay (eye-luh), as the water runs over peaty soil, and the air is full of the brine of the sea, as all the distilleries there are right on the water. Coupled with the varying degrees of phenolic flavors imparted by the different amounts of peat used in the malting, Islay is known for the smokiness of its whiskies, which have become a favorite of mine.

As I tended to favor Lagavulin for a while (and White Horse, a blended Scotch with Lagavulin as its base, is still my favorite of that genre), I decided I should marry my interests with my work, and I contacted Lagavulin, and the their parent company, which at the time was United Distillers, and was granted full access to the distillery for a comprehensive shoot. I spent about 5 days on Islay, and the weather was wonderful. They actually credited me with bringing it from Texas!

Here is one of my favorites from that trip, shot on good old Kodachrome.

Warehouse # 1, Lagavulin Distillery, Islay, Scotland

It was eventually used by The British Tourist Authority in a newspaper campaign in the USA, back in the days when stock photography was still viable.

I also had fun giving presentations to my clients, usually on a Friday afternoon, as I would do a slide show (yes, remember those?) on the process of making Single Malt Scotch Whisky, and on  The Island of Islay, complete with a bottle of Lagavulin so the participants could get a first hand experience of the fruits of the gentlemen’s labors.

We’ll be going back to Scotland this August, and although we won’t make it to Islay, I will be touring a couple of distilleries that I have not yet visited. I look forward to sharing the results with you at a later date.

Meanwhile, if you are so inclined, visit The Scotch Malt Whisky Society web site to learn more about the society, which buys select casks from the various distilleries and bottles the contents themselves, non-chill filtered and at cask strength. And I’d love to give you a referral for membership should you decide this might be something you’d like to explore further.

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pro-Bono Shoot at Fort Hood, Texas

In December I was able to take part in a wonderful program underwritten by The Photo Imaging Manufacturers and Distribution Association (PMDA), called “Portraits of Love.” Photographers across the country volunteer to spend time, either at a base, or opening up their studios, to do family sittings for military families. Sometimes it is the whole family, other times maybe just mom and the kids, as dad is deployed overseas. We post the galleries of images through Shutterfly, the families get a code for 2 free 5X7″ prints, and can of course order more as they desire. Fort Hood is of course the site of the massacre two years ago, so it is kind of a special place to be able to go and provide some measure of comfort for the personnel. As a matter of fact, the building we were in was the actual site of the shooting, so there was an extra bit of gravity we felt just being there.

While our subjects ran the gamut, from eager to shy, and maybe a few little ones who were downright cranky, we were invariably thanked for doing it, and some even mentioned it was the first time they had been able to get the whole family together for a professional photo.

But I want to share the result of working with one delightful couple, who came prepared to play and have a good time. They brought props and fun clothes, and really turned their sitting into a great experience for me and my assistant.

We had so much fun, that, although I uploaded the basic files to Shutterfly, I couldn’t help doing a little more work on one of my favorites, and making a a good sized print to send to them.

Here it is…..

Hart_121208_0780

Although we photographed 29 different families on that Saturday, this was hands down the most rewarding, as they had really put some thought into what they wanted to do, and their planning gave us multiple setups to work with in the time we had with them.

Most photographers I know give back to the community in any number of projects like this one. “Flashes of Hope” is another worthy cause that I will highlight in another post soon.

Meanwhile, all of us involved that weekend in December are planning our return next year.

The Ad That Never Was

A number of years ago, The Art Director’s Club of Houston had a show that was not judged; you just submitted and up it went. The theme of the show (can’t remember the official title) was work that never saw the light of day. Your best work that never got used. Maybe the concept got killed, the company went out of business, whatever. It was an opportunity to show work that you felt was good, but for whatever reason, it was never used.

That show came to mind recently after I completed an assignment for my good friend Don Goodell, at Edge Creative here in Houston.

While I am generally know as a people/location photographer, Don entrusted me with what was basically a tabletop, product-type of image, albeit with at least one person in there.

I thought it was a pretty clever concept, and I loved the challenge of putting the pieces   together.

Here is the original layout, with the client information “redacted,” as they say in Washington.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So I went to my bank and got $300.00 in various denominations, and went about putting together folded groups of bill, with different bills on the outside, and folded them in different thicknesses, taping them together on the interior, and photographed them at various angles. After processing in Lightroom, I opened them in Photoshop and made selections. I then started picking individual elements and arranged them as I went, trying to piece together shots that would fit together. When I found I was missing a crucial angle, I photographed more elements. The finished Photoshop document had more than 60 layers, and there were highlight and shadow adjustments to be made, color desaturation and adjusting, and of course my figure of Don, with his shadow added. Here is the finished product.

 

I thought we had done a pretty reasonable job, and Don seemed please, and presented the final comp to the client.  So, what happened?

Well, although a representative of the company had signed off on the creative, it ended up being presented to multiple people, and the “management by committee” process reared its ugly head. And the thought process that a CPA firm could never hint at “shades of gray,” having to instead present a message of “black and white, no ambiguity,” eventually won out. So although I was paid, what I thought was a pretty creative business-to-business ad has never been seen. Until now, of course. At the very least it was a great exercise for me, and required me to step outside of my comfort zone and tackle a project normally outside my realm. And I will leave it to you to judge the results.  Thanks for looking…..