Archive for 'Photography'

One stock photo and some bad judgement add up to a PR disaster with this 9/11 ad

Truth be told, he was NOT there.
Truth be told, he was NOT there.

The ad shown here suddenly turned into one huge PR disaster for New York ad agency Barker/DZP and it all could have been avoided had they just ponied up to hire a professional photographer to create an original image for the ad.

Released last week, the ad depicts a New York City Firefighter holding a photo from the 9/11 disaster along with a statement, “I WAS THERE”. Nevermind the fact that the ad itself was in poor taste from the start using 9/11 visuals to promote the commercial interests of a New York City law firm. The ad agency chose to buy stock photography to illustrate the ad and that is where the campaign blew up in their faces.

The model in the stock photo they chose turned out to be an actual New York City Firefighter however, he wasn’t on the force at the time of 9/11 not having joined the FDNY until 2004. Further, in the original photo the model had been holding a Firefighter’s helmet which the ad agency replaced with a photo of the 9/11 tragedy. More poor judgement aimed at tugging the heartstrings and leveraging the 9/11 disaster.

After outrage from many who saw the ad and a threatened lawsuit from the model in the photo Barker/DZP pulled the ad and has voluntarily withdrawn from the assignment. That is one huge price to pay in bad PR, lost future business, damaged reputation and just plain old public embarrassment not only for the ad agency but for the client as well.

The sad thing is that the entire expensive PR bungle could have been avoided if only they had hired a professional photographer to create an original and authentic image for the ad.

If the ad agency had expended a bit more energy and budget on finding an actual 9/11 responder for their model (maybe one of the law firms clients?) then hired a photographer to create the photo the ad might have succeeded for their client. At the very least it would not have created this quagmire of public embarrassment and the damage that will certainly linger as a result.

In the end the little bit of money (and effort) saved by the ad agency through purchasing stock photography instead of creating original art is probably looking mighty expensive to them about now. Sometimes, you get what you pay for…

Why that fabulous $1 microstock photo you just bought isn't such a great deal after all…

Stock image of business peopleSo how easy was that? You found just the right photo to put the finishing touch on your current project, but was it really a wise choice? Who can resist the allure of $1 stock photos you can buy from the comfort of your office? Well maybe you should. Maybe you really, really should because with that pocket change price and royalty free agreement comes some other costs you may not be thinking of.

Here is a list of some things the hired professional photographer brings to the table but you toss out the door when purchasing microstock.

  • Exclusivity
  • Community recognition
  • Photo quality
  • Campaign building
  • Unique style
  • Branding opportunity

Over used photo, example #1Over used photo, example #2Over used photo, example #3Over used photo, example #4Over used photo, example #5Over used photo, example #6Over used photo, example #7Over used photo, example #8Over used photo, example #9Each of these concessions from using stock photography could easily be a discussion on their own but here I want to focus on the most obvious from that list, exclusivity. Say goodbye to your campaign or promotion carrying any feel of exclusivity. Let me give you an example.

The image shown at the top of this post is a microstock photo. Yes, I bought it and have legal right to use it as I see fit. It is a nice image that could have many uses. The subjects are young, warm, friendly, professional, attractive etc. It might be just perfect for the ad or website you are working on and just a buck to boot! However…

Using an online image search tool I was able to find that this exact image is in use on nearly 300 websites right NOW! These aren’t little sidebar thumbnails either but featured visuals. Not so special now is it? All of a sudden your project is headed towards the ordinary, looking like everyone elses.

The screen shots shown running down the right side of this post are all real and currently live websites using this photo. They are not mock-ups or fakes for the sake of this post. They only took a few minutes to find.

Add to this the fact that in large part stock photography is general. By that I mean, the less specific an image is the more potential it has for sales. So, the most successful stock images are frequently those which are most ordinary. The location could be anywhere. The people could be anyone. The industry could be anything. In the end, the image you convey just isn’t all that special. Will that speak to your target audience? Will it instill confidence when they see the same photo in another place for something completely different? Maybe even something you would NOT want to be associated with even by accident?

All too often I feel as though the viewing (buying) public is not given the credit they are due. I believe that most people have a innate sense of when something is genuine or not. It doesn’t matter if they’ve seen the stock image repeated in other places or not they simply know it isn’t original or organic if you will. Beyond the question of exclusivity, it sends a message that just might not be the message you really want them to get.

As a commercial photographer you might assume it is natural for me to condemn microstock (unless I am participating, which is another discussion all together). But you might be surprised to hear that I actually have purchased microstock photography. It is a valuable and strong industry that can not be ignored. The product it offers does have a place.

What I hope to help you see here is that there is more to consider than simply the fact that you saved a few bucks on the photo. With that savings come a variety of things you are giving up and maybe, just maybe, that is NOT the best choice for your business or that of your clients.

Shooting from 50' above, no medical professionals were hurt in the making of these photos!

UHS_Circles_for_blogThe call from my client asked if I could help photograph a large group of people from a high angle. It wasn’t until a deeper conversation that I understood the high angle was to be from directly overhead and the group was to be 30 people!

As you can see from the resulting image here, when all was said and done we wound up with 26 people and we did indeed photograph them from directly overhead. Considering my stomach generally turns back-flips when faced with heights it turned out to be a project with interesting challenges to overcome.

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How you can make better photographs of snowy scenes!

It is mid-February and it seems there is one snow storm after another in the news lately. So it seemed a good time to offer some tips that might help you to get better photos in snowy scenes.

Don’t trust your camera’s exposure meter!

The one thing that can help your snowy scene photos more than anything else is to override your camera’s exposure setting. It might help to understand that your camera’s exposure meter is programmed to do one thing, determine the proper exposure settings to give your image a medium tone result. Specifically, exposure meters attempt to make everything neutral 18% grey. When you are photographing a snowy scene, you do not want that! So, what do you do?

Camera automatic setting results in underexposure.

Camera automatic setting results in underexposure.

Here is an example which shows the result you would get by letting your camera simply choose the exposure settings for you (auto exposure). As you can see, the photo looks dark and grey. Sort of “murky”. This is because the camera meter analyzes the scene and sets an exposure to make everything the average medium tone I referred to earlier. In a scene full of bright white snow, the camera makes the image darker than it should be. The meter is fooled by the scene and mistakenly underexposes the image. So how do we go about fixing this?

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Why Your "We Were Here" Travel Photos Fall Short

We all have the best of intentions in taking photos as we travel the country or even our own neighborhood. You just want to grab a photo of family or friends in front of a significant landmark, something we want to remember fondly in the coming years. Unfortunately, in a great majority of these situations the photos people take could very easily be much better and with very little effort to do so.

Here is a great example I created while on a recent family vacation to the Kennedy Space Center on Florida’s Atlantic coast. One highlight of our visit to the Space Center was seeing the Apollo/Saturn V rocket up close. It was natural to want to get a few photos to remember the visit and to share with friends. All too often I see people taking photos of this type and making some unfortunate mistakes as they do so.

Mistake #1This photo is an example of the most common error I see people make time and time again. This is a picture of my son standing in front of the Saturn V rocket’s Service Module, or is it? You can see the Service Module of course, but can you actually see my son? He’s there with a beaming smile on his face, but you cannot really tell that from this photo.

The mistake we’ve made here is that he is standing too close to the landmark element of the photo and gets lost in the photo. You would find yourself explaining this photo to your family or friends. I’m sure it would go something like, “Here is my son when we visited the Saturn V rocket. That small blob is him. He was very excited, trust me.”

Mistake #2Here is a photo which does make some improvement, but still misses the mark by quite a bit in my opinion. Some might actually argue that this picture is even worse depending on what you would rather see in the photo, my son or the rocket. Here you can certainly see the enthusiasm on my son’s face, but can you tell that is part of a Saturn V rocket behind him? Not really, it could be almost anything to be honest.

So this picture like the first, still does not tell the story very well. Now you would be explaining this photo by swearing that it really was a Saturn V rocket in the background, really. On the plus side for this photo, I’ve come in close enough that you can see my son in the photo and actually recognize him. On the minus side, the background could be anything at all.

Now let’s make a much improved photo. It is really very simple and requires only a wee bit of thought and a slight change of camera angle to create a vastly superior photo. Below is the photo as I would much rather see it done. I think you can see that this is a great improvement.

Nice camera angle and result

I made two simple changes to get this greatly improved photo and it took only a few seconds to do so. First, I had my son step away from the background subject. It only required moving 20 feet, that’s all. This is a mistake that I see people make probably 90% of the time when making photos of this type. I don’t really know why, but as soon as someone decides to get a picture taken in front of some notable subject, they walk right up to it where they will be dwarfed in the resulting photo.

Get away from the background subject! The larger your “landmark” background element is, the farther away from it you should be to get a great photo. If this were a picture of my son in front of the Lincoln Memorial for example, we probably would have been a good 50-100 yards away from the steps of the memorial.

Second, I moved the camera closer to my son which brings his happy face more into the foreground of the photo. Again a very simple adjustment to make when setting up the photograph and it takes but a few seconds. Bringing the person in the photo closer to camera really forces them into the foreground of the picture and separates them from the background behind them.

So next time you are out and about and setting up a photo to show family or friends in front of some notable background subject, remember two things.

  • Move the person in your photo away from the background subject
  • Bring the camera closer to the person in your photo

With these two things in mind you can come home with some really great travel photos. Photos you will be proud to show off to family and friends, and you’ll have a lot less s’plainin’ to do!

How to Avoid Getting Your Photography Gear Stolen

You’ve spent countless hours finding just the right photography equipment. You’ve researched online, you’ve visited your local photo shops and found just the right mix of cameras, lenses, strobes, tripod and all the accessories. Now, you wouldn’t want to see all of that work turn into a payday for your local thief would you?

Here are some tips and ideas that just might pay off in keeping your latest and greatest photo gear purchases under the radar and off the thieves target list.

vanity-license-plateVanity plates, do you REALLY need that? – This is like a big bold invitation to any thief. You might as well leave a note on your car saying, “Here’s your next payday! Rob me!” If the owner of this vehicle winds up the victim of a break-in, I must admit I will have no sympathy for them. They’ve invited it.

UglifiedCameraMake it look worthless – A thief doesn’t want to waste their time on stealing something they cannot turn around and sell for cash. If your equipment appears old or undesirable, it is of little interest to the thief. So how do you go about doing this? Here is an interesting approach someone used to make their digital camera look like an older film camera, he uglified it.

Make it look like something else – Maybe we can take a tip from our military here. When they do not want their airplanes shot out of the sky what do they do? They make them invisible, they make them stealth. You may be able to do the same with your photo equipment. Make it look like it isn’t even there. Instead of carrying your gear in an expensive camera bag, try something else. Consider a students book bag/backpack, a duffle bag or even a diaper bag. What thief would steal a diaper bag?!

Keep it hidden – Generally speaking, it is a good idea to carry as little as possible. The more gear you’re lugging around, the more likely you are to become a target. With so many very capable consumer level digital cameras on the market today, it is a very easy task to find a camera capable of offering great results which is also small enough to slip into a shirt or pants pocket. Check out ScotteVest for some great garments designed to carry all of your portable technology without looking like it!

When it comes down to it, if you just use a little common sense about when, where and how you use your photo gear, you won’t have any trouble keeping it all out of the greedy hands of your local thief. Keep shooting!

Did You Call Me a Professional Fraud? Cheers!

I’ve been accused in the past by loving family members (who will remain nameless here) of being a “Professional Fraud”. And while there could be some elements of truth in that moniker, I none-the-less actually take this name-calling as a compliment to my imaging skills rather than an accusation of wrongdoing!

This project is a good case in point of exactly how I’ve come to earn the title of Professional Fraud. My approach champagne-glassto digital imaging work has always been based on the goal of fooling the audience. My goal is to create an illusion that is so convincing that the viewer of the image will not be able to tell exactly what I did to the image. I like to say, “My best work is the work that no one ever spots!”

Which brings us to the champagne glass you see here. I’d not be so brass as to suggest that an experienced eye would not be able to see what I’ve done to this image from within Photoshop. But I would venture to bet that the casual viewer would not have a clue as to the true extent of the retouching that has been done.

So…what exactly was done? Let’s see, there are probably some obvious things… I dropped in a gradient background, cleaned up and smoothed out highlights and lighting on the glass and seen through the champagne. Sure those would be obvious. But not exactly right.

Truth be told, this glass of champagne never existed. Every pixel of this image was created from within Photoshop without the benefit of any original photography or other source artwork. I started quite literally from a blank white canvas. From there, step-by-step I created this glass of champagne using a laundry list of tools available in Photoshop.

Why did I do this rather than make an original photo or (perish the thought) just buy a stock photo that can be found online royalty-free and dirt cheap? Let me tackle the stock photo issue first. Why not just buy a stock shot? Well… I am a professional photographer! It would be hard for me to conceive of a good reason I should ever buy stock photography when I could create the image myself.

That of course leads directly to the second question. Why on earth, as a professional photographer, did I not simply capture the image I need rather than build it in Photoshop? Well, I considered this but there were two reasons why I did not create my own original photo.

First, I had a tight deadline (2 or 3 hours), which didn’t allow the time I would have needed to gather all of the elements, set up the shot and shoot it. There just wasn’t time. Second, I really felt that I could produce the image I wanted more quickly by building it from scratch in Photoshop. I felt that the result from Photoshop was going to be superior in the end anyway. I had control over literally every single pixel that made up the image. Every bubble in the champagne could be what and where I wanted. The color of the beverage, the shape of the glass, the visibility of the background… all completely under my control. In the end it seemed the most efficient route with the greatest control.

I think it worked. Call me a Professional Fraud. I’ll take it well. In the end I got the image I needed with minimum fuss or hassle, met my deadline and spent precious little budget to do so.

If you are interested in learning more about how I created this image in Photoshop, leave your comments and express your interest. I may pull together an overview/tutorial on it if there is interest.

Oh, and before you go there. I do know the image is not flawless. There are some elements that should be in the image that I just did not have the time to get to. (Remember the deadline I mentioned above.) I won’t name the flaws here, but if you do I’ll give you kudos for your sharp eye!

Photographing an Artist, Capturing a Legacy

B.C. comic strip cartoonist Mason Mastroianni, surrounded by his Grandfather's artwork.

B.C. comic strip cartoonist Mason Mastroianni, surrounded by his Grandfather's artwork.

A recent project for me that was both fun and interesting was that of photographing local cartoonist and artist Mason Mastroianni, grandson of Johnny Hart, the original artist and creator of the nationally famous comic strip “B.C.”. After his grandfather’s passing in 2007, Mason took over at the drawing board and he and his family now perpetuate his grandfathers legacy.

Stay Healthy cover photoI was contracted by United Health Services (UHS) and charged with the task of photographing Mason in his art studio for an article in the Spring 2009 issue of Stay Healthy magazine, which is produced by UHS. The images would be used as art for the magazine cover (shown at right) and would also be included in the content of the article itself. But first, I had to get there, to the art studio that is.

Making my way to the shoot location in rural upstate NY, my instructions were to call when I arrived at the driveway entrance. I quickly understood why as I was guided into the property on the phone. On a sprawling parcel of land, the studio itself was nestled near the back of the property surrounded by beautiful mature trees and at least one large pond.

Mason had cleared his entire afternoon for the purposes of our photo shoot. After a tour of the various studio settings available for our photography we settled on two or three scenes to work from. At least one of these scenes allowed me to photograph Mason at the very same art table where his grandfather had crafted the B.C. comic strip over the preceding decades. It would be one of the images captured at his grandfathers art table which would eventually make it to the cover of the Stay Healthy magazine issue, as shown above.

While there at the John Hart Studios it was also my pleasure to meet more of the team, all family members, who work together to keep the B.C. strip in newspaper comics nationwide. Mason’s mother, Patti Pomeroy, and his brother, Mick Mastroianni, made my job easy and kept the mood light as good natured ribbing seemed to be the order of the day. As best I could tell, the teasing, often at each others expense, seemed to be pretty evenly distributed among the three of them.

Mastroianni self-portrait

Mason working on a self portrait.

When all was said and done, we had created a great selection of images for UHS and the Stay Healthy magazine to choose from. It was a pleasure to meet Mason and his family and get a glimpse at the inner workings of a nationally syndicated cartoonists art studio. And as cold as this winter day was, the warmth of this group of creatives more than compensated. My thanks to everyone at John Hart Studios for an enjoyable afternoon!

Zooming Hi-Res Images from Any Web Site

Zooming Flower imageYou can now deliver hi-resolution images from virtually any web site, with NO SLOW DOWNLOAD TIMES! These images are interactive and impressive. Through a very intuitive interface your site visitors can zoom into the on-screen image to see the finest details. All without any special software or plug-ins and, most importantly, NO slow downloads. This level of image detail can change the way you think about your web site and lends itself to many applications such as:

  • Hi resolution product images
  • Detailed real estate site views
  • Detailed electronics/components
  • Hi-res scanned documents
  • Much, much more…

The images are stored on your own web server and delivered to the viewer as needed. This allows the download time to be minimal while offering the image viewer an extraordinary level of detail for viewing. As the viewer zooms in on the image the online system delivers only that part of the image which is needed, leaving the remaining hi-resolution image data on the server but ready for retrieval on demand.

It has to be said that although you may not have seen this technology in action before now, it is not new. It has changed over the years making this visual image presentation tool more and more user friendly. There is no need for any plug-in downloads or unique software for your site visitors. The presentation platform is Flash based, a mechanism that is now very much the norm and not the exception. Any typical modern web browser application should be able to deliver these incredible images to site visitors without any troubles at all.

SteadmanTech has numerous image samples you are invited to view from our web site. The samples are generated from original images ranging from 50MB – 140MB in size. This technique can however be applied to images much much larger, hundreds of megs and even multiple gigs in size! The possibilities are endless.

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