Blog

  • Images Made to Last

    When a new website goes up it's expected the images will last a while.  However, when it comes to restaurants in San Francisco menus change frequently and restaurants want images on a site that won't feel outdated with the change of the seasons.  In the case of working on the website redesign for Boulevard in San Francisco with designer Jon Michaelsen we made images of plated dishes, but also added more timeless shots like a pasta prep image, Mise en Place, and a detail of fresh mushrooms.  Not only did it give us variety in the imagery, but also gave us the opportunity to peak inside the kitchen of one of San Francisco's top restaurants.

  • Black & White Food Inspirations

    I often have so many ideas going through my head of personal projects I want to work on.  One of my latest inspirations is the b&w video titled "Fall In Love" by the band Phantogram.  Besides being blown away by the striking video projections it encouraged me to bring together the worlds of food and black and white.  

    As we all know food and b&w don't necessarily go together, so it proposed a bit of a challenge to figure out what foods would go well in the shot.  The most obvious was that of squid ink pasta, and food stylist Amanda Anselmino proposed a nice variety of foods to go with it including seaweed, olives, cauliflower, sesame seeds, squid ink polenta, & feta cheese.  We had a mixture of props we sourced that ranged from the Black on White Splatterware plate from March to the Eddie Money record from Community Thrift.  We didn't hesitate to add little hints of color, including a necklace from HYBYCOZO.

  • How Many Images in a Day? The question of Quality vs. Quantity

    One key question when working on a shoot is "how many images can we get done in a day?"  What is realistic to deliver the best quality possible and balance the needs of the client?  I'm constantly using the words quality and quantity in my discussions and making sure my clients understand the potential results of spending more time on each shot vs. less time.  

    Some shoots I can produce anywhere between 2-4 shots in a day depending upon how much styling and attention to detail is involved whereas some shoots I can promise 25 images if there is a lot less involved.  Many of my clients like to be provided with as much variety for each shot as possible.  That requires potentially changing the lighting around and shooting from different perspectives like up above, down below, or closer and pulled away.  Other factors include the time it takes to move from set to set, moving props around, and swapping props to see what looks best.

    On a recent shoot for Fiji Water with Fire Station Agency I was asked to shoot their bottles with new labels in different locations of the Mondrian Hotel in Los Angeles.  I had the help of a great team including LA-based prop stylist, Kate Martindale, and digital tech, Running Pixels.  We had a staging room filled with props and gave prop variations on each shot.  Each set had a different lighting setup ranging from soft to moody.  We also photographed different parts of the bottle with different lighting and bracketed focus with a retoucher on-set to consult. When all was said and done we completed 8 shots in two days.  Not bad for a larger production, thanks to our talented crew of 10 people.

  • Tourist In My Own City

    I recently had a fun time working on a series of images for the San Francisco Travel association.  I grew up in the Bay Area and don't do tourism related activities so it was nice to get acquainted again.  It's been a long time since I've been on a cable car or visited Fisherman's Wharf.  I honestly didn't even know the exact routes of the cable cars.  But now I do.  

    SF Travel Creative Director Ron Shapiro, myself, and an assistant spent two days hitting different spots around the city photographing everything from food and drinks at The Slanted Door and Absinthe, shopping in Hayes Valley, Cafe Trieste and Al's Attire in North Beach, cable cars and seafood in Fisherman's Wharf, and bikers and surfers at the Golden Gate Bridge and Ocean Beach.

    When it came to logistics I decided not to rent a car and used Uber to get from place to place as hailing a cab in this town can be quite hard in many parts.  Also, deciding on which locations to shoot at required some scouting as some places didn't have as nice of views or nice lighting indoors.  

    The amount of time you can spend on something like this is endless and SF Travel association has a long wishlist of photography they need.  It was definitely a reminder that there's so much to do and see in our big little city by the Bay.  

  • Communication - OpenTable Shoot

    When I get a call for a job you might think I just show up the day of the shoot, right?  Well, I could do that, but the outcome probably won't reach it's best potential.  When one looks at an image they might not have any idea of the communication and planning it took to get the shot.  I'm going to talk about how I communicate by referencing a shoot I did recently for OpenTable's new website that took place at Foreign Cinema in San Francisco.  Here are my top tips:

    Meet with the ClientIt's part of taking pre-production to the next level and allows us to go more in-depth on many subjects.  Besides having phone conversations we had two meetings at OpenTable's offices before the shoot.  We were able to see and talk about details relating to the different aspect ratios necessary for the new site.  And that led to having the conversation about shooting tethered on-set so we could plug images into layout.  We also looked at different existing imagery and shared what we liked and didn't like about it.  

    Take Notes - Write down thoughts before calling or meeting with the client.  It's a great opportunity to ask questions and think of ideas.  Don't be afraid to write things down even if they sound obvious.  It helps the mind have a steady flow of ideas. When I do this it most often leads to a great phone conversation or meeting.  And when you're in a meeting take notes on your computer or iPad.  It makes it easier to copy and paste things onto your shot list, etc.

    Talk about Direction - Ask clients questions and get an idea of what direction they are going toward and what they want to say with the images.  Make up a mood board or ask them to make one.  In this case OpenTable wanted to show people having a good time, but also pull back a little and shoot it wide so as to make it less personal.  The food couldn't look overly styled or too unique because the image would be seen worldwide.

    As Detailed as Possible - On the shot list spell things out as much as possible.  In the case of shooting in a live restaurant it's crucial to know which tables you want to shoot at and have them reserved.  During the day of scouting decide on which food you want to shoot along with certain dishes and glassware.  Ask the restaurant to swap if necessary.  Make someone responsible for ordering the food and drinks 20-30 minutes before the actual time you're scheduled to shoot it on the shot list.   These things are easily overlooked, but crucial if you want to be prepared.  

  • Luck = Preparation + Opportunity

    I've always loved the saying "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity".  We surely had some great luck on a shoot last month at the Russian River thanks to some good preparation.  I collaborated with stylists James Whitney, Kelsey Furtado, and Whittany Robinson on an "Indian Summer Day at the River" shoot where our goal was to set our models up to have as much as fun as possible.

    James and I went up for a scouting day and discovered a great bridge in Forestville that would make a perfect backdrop for the shoot.  We did extensive mood boarding and planned to give the models as much to do as possible; take a walk across the bridge in Forestville and hang out underneath it, swimming, football, frisbee, food and beverages, guitar, an 80's style boom box, and canoeing.  Our models completely played the part and brought great enthusiasm and wit for many of the activities we had on hand.  Although they had just met, Georgia Smith and Conor Carroll did a great job of making me believe they were boyfriend and girlfriend in some scenes.  Another model, Marco Rodriguez, got so excited he randomly did a backflip during the picnic scene (see second to last image in series).  

    It wasn't all luck though.  I accidentally forgot a number of props and Kelsey had to backtrack in SF to pick them up, we weren't able to connect with one of the models because of terrible phone service, and we weren't able to shoot with canoes because we ran out of time.  Lessons learned.  But, challenges are inevitable.  I always say, "It's not about whether or not things happen to us, it's more about how we deal with things when they do."

  • The New Local Ingredients

    I loved the idea for the story I worked on for the July/August 7x7 magazine feature titled "Ground Swell" by Stacy Adimando.  It's about five different restaurants who have brought ingredients from other countries and started to grow them in the Bay Area.  Working with prop stylist James Whitney we sourced most of our props from Carol Hacker's prop rental studio.  Since we were shooting on-location at all five restaurants I wanted to make sure we had consistency with the lighting while also having a soft, attractive shadow for everything by using the same large softbox.  

    Here are the ingredients in order of appearance and the restaurants/chefs we worked with:

    - Lollipop Kale from Britain at 1760, Chef Adam Tortosa

    - Espelette Pepper from Basque at Rich Table, Chef Evan Rich

    - Sweet Woodruff from North Africa/West Asia at The Square, Chefs Matt McNamara and Teague Moriarty

    - Ice Lettuce from Europe at SPQR, Chef Matt Accarrino

    - Myrtle Leaf (not pictured) from Sardinia at Camino, Chef Russell Moore

  • Let Real Life Influence the Shoot

    I used to joke with my colleagues when I was a photojournalist, "How can you already know what the story is about when you haven't even started reporting on it?"  The angle of the story almost always changed once we got out into the field to interview and observe the story.  I apply the same approach to my commercial career.  

    Whenever I work with a client I make every effort to do some scouting before the shoot happens.  That way I can let what's happening in real life help guide the shoot.  Through observing the nature of the subject matter I can more offer a distinct approach to the shoot.  

    For my shoot at the newly remodeled Schroeder's in SF it was crucial to get a great hero shot of beer since it's been known as a beer hall for the past 120 years.  When I showed up for scouting I took my usual look at some of the dishes we would be shooting and also decided to observe the after-work happy hour crowd as they drank beers.  I immediately noticed the different sizes of beer glasses and the staggered nature of the beers lined up on their communal table (see last picture in series below). It was the inspiration for my beer shot (see first picture below).