Yearly Archives 2011

As always, it’s an honor to contribute to Scott’s blog.

Photogs. We’re storytellers, right? So, if you will, permit me a story. (It’s occasionally been a saga, and maybe, every once in a while, an opera.)

Like many New York based shooters, I had a bit of a love fest with the World Trade Centers. What was not to like? These twin exclamation points at the southern tip of Manhattan provided a sense of place, majesty, and graphic balance to your snaps, all at once.

In a moment of youthful exuberance, I climbed the antenna on the north tower, and became instantly and forever intoxicated with the notion of obtaining unique, not to be repeated vantage points on one of the most photographed places on earth, New York City.

Get your camera in a different place. I think some photog wrote that once, but he could well be a lunatic.

I’ve climbed to the top of the antenna on the Empire State Building, driven by the notion that I could impart a different spin on the mundane task of changing a light bulb. But do you know via this pic that you are absolutely on the Empire State Building? Is there anything utterly, definably New York in the cityscape? Not really. Not till you get to—you guessed it—the Twin Towers, way far away, but still absolutely recognizable.

And then, they were gone.

The aftermath of 911 was rough for everyone. Like most, I paced, thought, raged, anguished and prayed. I was at home, with the kids, and the irrational photog part of me was screaming inside my head: Get your gear and go.

Truth was, there were already hundreds of shooters down there, documenting events with astonishing courage, tenacity and integrity. I could contribute nothing significant, or different, beyond what they were doing.

Instead, I pondered. I had, at that time, one shooting experience with the world’s only Giant Polaroid camera. I had become intrigued with this balky, cumbersome, historically important camera that lived at that time on the lower east side of NY. I gave myself the assignment to shoot with the camera, and I asked Jenny Ringer, one of the truly amazing principal dancers with the New York City ballet to pose. She remains, I believe, most likely the only ballerina to ever be photographed in this format.

The camera at its’ core is a Polaroid. Make an exposure, 90 seconds later, you have a positive image. But it’s a Polaroid the size of a one car garage. While you direct the picture outside the camera, there are two people physically inside of it, working the guts of it. To make an image, you have to shuffle your subject delicately into a plane of focus that is only half an inch deep, and ask them to stay there, very still, while the camera is spooled up and ready to make a shot.

Not easy to do. But very worth the degree of difficulty. What results after the 90 second chemical processing is a life size, virtually grain-less image of your subject that, when framed, is 4’x9’. When you confront the picture, it’s very akin to actually meeting that person. And the cumbersome, formal nature of the process imparts to the subject a certain stature, dignity, and presence. They literally have to stand for their portrait, much as they did in the old days of flash powder and glass plates.

I shot 246 Giant Polaroids, all done within 5 weeks of 911. I lived at the studio, sleeping in a loft bed over the camera, rarely venturing very far from it, as we took crews from the pit at 2am, 9am, 10pm—in short, whenever they showed up. The result was a traveling show, and a book. These efforts combined with others made by Time Warner, the principal sponsor of the project, and helped raise about $2 million dollars for the relief effort. Then, these behemoth images went into storage, and have been barely viewed for ten years.

They’re back.

Last week, we put them on the floor of the Time Warner Center, with the help of 25 off duty NYC firefighters, all of whom volunteered to come in and help out. The building is amazing. 75,000 people go through it every day, and the show is drawing in additional folks, so once again, during its’ nearly 20 day run, 1.5 million plus people will pass by these images. Related, the company that owns the building, stepped up big time and offered to host the show, which was amazingly generous.

The thing about this edition is that 24 of the original Polaroid portraits have been updated with new portraits, shot in the last 3 months, on D3X cameras, and video interviews shot on D7000. This show is very much about the photo community at work. Nikon is the major sponsor, pitching in with funding and gear. Adorama donated the prints. Johnson & Johnson came on board as a corporate sponsor as well. J&J was very much an unsung hero back in 2001, working behind the scenes, donating equipment, medical supplies, corporate support and funds. They have stepped forward again, a decade later, on behalf of this group of pictures.

(But you know, I kind of regard J&J support as photo related, really. It was my bud, fellow photog, Mark Krajnak, the original K-Man, from Jersey, who appealed to his management to assist us. He got it done.)

We have other assistance, such as JP Morgan Chase, our friends Marea and Marlan Downey, and others, all of whom chipped in with an assemblage of small gifts. But our major corporate sponsors walked. Go figure, but more on that definitely tk.

We found ourselves out in the breeze, so there was nothing to do but keep plunging in. Really, really proud of my small studio.

Ellen Price, the non-stop curator of the collection, who has worked on it largely pro-bono for nine years, marshaled every resource she could find.

Lynn DelMastro, our studio manager, kept things spinning, handling the phone, the invitations, and the myriad of details launching a show of this size in NYC incurs.

Drew, Cali and Grippi built websites and videos.

And Lynda Peckham poured her formidable attention to detail, and her video virtuosity into the preparations. It turned out to be a family operation, as her brother Russell edited the video. Lots of late nights.

And, just when we would get to a point where we thought it was over, and we were out of oxygen, and just had to abandon this, someone would step up with another gift, another reason to keep going. Which we did. The show is on the floor. In a video interview the other day, Chief Jay Jonas of FDNY, called me “a pit bull.” I believe he meant that in the best possible way.

Here’s the reason we kept pushing. At the end of the day, this is simply a collection of pictures of some very good people. Many of them I count as friends. The folks in these pictures saved many people on that day, and in a very real way, they also saved all of us. In a very dark hour, they reminded us all of the decency of the human spirit.

Mike Wernick. He survived, despite being blown out of the building and out onto West St. Mike also worked and survived the ’93 bombing attempt at WTC. His look at the camera reflected what he had been through that day.

I’ve stayed in touch with Mike, and his wife, Nuri. They are amazing people. The pictures I’ve made of them as a couple are among the favorite pictures I’ve ever shot, because they’re pictures of two people who strongly, deeply, love each other.

John Baldassarre. Referred to around the firehouse as “Baldy,” John was the first person to step in front of the Giant Polaroid. In 2001, he was a firefighter with Ladder Nine, Engine 33 on Great Jones St., a house that lost ten men on 911. I walked into the house to ask them to come over to the camera, and I had nothing to show them except a huge picture of a ballerina in a tutu, which I rolled out onto the floor, to, well, predictable commentary. Still, they came to the studio, and the project was started.

Ten years later, John is a lieutenant with FDNY.

Recently, I asked Jenny to come to the house and pose with the guys. She never really knew her picture, rolled out on that firehouse floor, got all this started a decade ago.

Louie. I photographed him in the immediate aftermath of 911. As he stood there in the lights, you could see WTC dust floating off his bunker gear with every move he made, however slight.

Ten years later, he could and should run for mayor of NYC, as I have said many times. We’d all be better for it. His gregarious nature and embracing personality are testaments to the resilience of the human spirit.

Here’s the thing about being a photog, which we sometimes forget when we get too involved counting pixels. When someone agrees to have you make their picture, even a quick snap, there’s an exchange, or the beginnings of a relationship, however cursory or fleeting. The subject is out there, in front of a lens, which is a very vulnerable place to be. Effectively, they give you, at the camera, a gift. It’s up to us as photographers to take care of it.

When someone comes to your studio during a time such as 911, everything ratchets upwards. Their vulnerability. The amount of trust they place in you. Your responsibility to them.

The flash of the light speaks a language beyond simple exposure. You trip the shutter (or, as with the Giant Polaroid, you pull the cap off the lens) and you have made a pact with that person out there on the seamless. You are effectively saying, I will do my best to make this a good photo. I will do my best to try to make sure you don’t regret coming here. And, just as importantly, you are promising to be the good shepherd of your image.

Ten years ago, when someone came to the camera, I made a picture and a promise. This show, ten years on, is part of that promise.

The show is at the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle in NYC, and is free and open to the public from 10am to 9pm daily, through Sept. 12th. There is more info at

Should anyone care to contribute to the ongoing maintenance and costs of the Giant Polaroids, you can do so by logging onto

The collection is under the auspices of the New York Foundation for the Arts. The Artspire link above is their donation mechanism. All donations are tax deductible, and will go to cover and reimburse the costs of the show and the collection, the transfer of the Giant Polaroids to the 911 Museum, as well as framing, maintenance, staging and transit.

More tk…

You can see more of Joe’s work at, follow him on Twitter, and find him on Facebook

I know a lot of photographers are struggling with photo composition, and over the past year I’ve had dozens of people send me emails and comments asking when I was going to do a class on photo composition.

I actually had no plans to teach one. Ever.
But a few weeks ago, I came up with an idea about teaching photo composition that’s radically different from anything I’ve ever seen on the topic. My first thought was to write a book about it, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the way I plan to teach this, doesn’t require a whole book. In fact, it wouldn’t even make a good long chapter, because I think I can make people really, finally, and fully “get it” in just about an hour.

I think if it’s presented like I have imagined it in my mind, (and we dispense with all that “rule of thirds,” and “leading lines,” and all that stuff in every class ever taught on the topic), I could finally make that light bulb come on for the participants on such a level that from that day forward, their photography would be dramatically better. I could see the whole class in my mind, and exactly how I would present it, and I got really excited about the about the whole concept.

Here’s where you come in
Now I really wanted to teach this new class and have our video crew produce it as an online class for Kelby Training, but the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to present it to a live audience. A class like this needs a live audience, but I wanted to be to more intimate than when I present to 600 people in my seminar tours. I even know where and when I want to present it; I want to do it at night, under the stars, at an very cool outdoor amphitheater. I want candles and acoustic guitar music, and an atmosphere made for a night of creativity and learning.

Well, that’s exactly what we have planned, and you’re invited to be there in person for this very special evening, that I hope will change the way you create images, and at the same time will benefit the Springs of Hope Orphanage in Kenya.

Here are the details:

When: Tuesday evening, September 13, 2011 from 8:00 pm to 9:00-ish

Where: The Amphitheater at Curtis Hixon Park in Downtown Tampa, on the Hillsborough River

Cost: A $10 donation; all of which goes directly to the Springs of Hope Orphanage in Kenya

Sign Up: At this link right here.

We only have seating for 150 people at the amphitheater, and the seats will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis (and of course, all of this is weather permitting, since it’s an outdoor event).

I think this is going to be a very fun, unique, and informative night, and if you can make it, you’ll see and hear some concepts, ideas, and techniques that I’ve never seen anyone talking about anywhere. If you can’t make it that night, that evening’s presentation will become an online class on, but probably not until after the first of the year (we have a huge backlog of classes already taped for this year).

This could be your night
If you’ve ever struggled with photo composition, this could be the night where you totally “get it”—one filled with smiles, nods, and “ah-ha” moments that can help you create the type of photos you’ve always wanted to make. The shots that you know are in you, but you just need the key to unlock them. I think I can give you that, and I hope I’ll meet you in person that very night to put a key in your hand. See you there.

Hi gang: Unfortunately, the video about my new book is not quite finished yet (sorry about that), so we’re scheduling it for this coming Tuesday (Remember: Monday is our special Guest Blog with Joe McNally).

Once again, sorry for the delay, thanks for understanding, and I hope you’ll stop back again on Tuesday morning for the full scoop on my soon to be released Light It, Shoot It, Retouch It book, which makes it debut at Photoshop World in Las Vegas this coming week, and will be in bookstores just a few days later.

Wow, what an honor to be guest blogging for Scott Kelby! When Brad called me up to see if I would like to fill this Wednesday’s guest spot, it was a no brainer – Of course I would! Later as I reread the posts of previous contributors it started to sink in, this talent pool ran deep, one could easily drown in there. As anyone who has read a guest post on Scott’s blog before will attest, it is not the usual cut and dry photo or lighting shtick. People really bare it all here. On top of that I’m following Dave Black whom I’d only just met earlier this year, but who had me on the verge of tears while telling his life’s story of toil and triumph at the Photoshop World closing ceremonies. (Does anyone have that on video somewhere?!)

This is really just a round about way to describe a feeling most photographers encounter a lot. Or maybe it’s just me, but I’ve heard the sentiment whispered in the halls before. It can be downright awe inspiring, intimidating and depressing at times to look around at the raw talent in this big & small photo community of ours.

Just browse a few websites or a couple magazines and you’re bombarded with some awesome imagery. It’s daunting to think that that’s the level your competition is at. It could be enough to make you think about throwing in the towel some times. Once we overcome that though, our peers quickly become our greatest assets in this life behind the lens. Every one of these guys has a history of bad images behind them and are still making more everyday; everyone has to put in their 10,000 hours of sweat equity.

I guess what I want to write about is community, and how it is especially necessary for a creative. As romantic the notion is of the isolated artist toiling away in obscurity, I don’t think I could live like that for longer than a short weekend. It’s awesome to be able to look to our massive online community of photographers from around the globe and to be inspired by how much great work is being created everyday.

I’m entirely self taught as a photographer. By that I just mean I didn’t have a scholastic community to help rear me, but rather a tight knit community of friends and family. They posed for me endlessly, helped me lug light stands and weren’t afraid to share with me what did and didn’t work for them as subjects. Then there was my small ragtag group of photographer friends, without which my photography might not have developed from avid curiosity into the obsessive pursuit of learning and taming light that it did. I’m a people shooter after all, and I can only talk to and about a still-life for so long before losing interest.

There have been two moves in my life where the need for a community really hit home, and it snuck up unexpectedly the first time. I had just moved back to the beaches after a number of years away and was experiencing my first bout of creative isolation. I didn’t know any other shooters in town that I could call up on a random afternoon to try out a new piece of gear with, or talk shop, or borrow a light stand from – it sucked! So when I heard about the Help Portrait event happening at a location down the road I figured it would be a great way to spend the weekend, giving back and possibly meeting some like minded photographers. (Help Portrait is an event where for one day a year photographers find someone in need and give a portrait rather than take one. By the way it’s coming up soon so check it out).

Just as I had finished setting up my lights one of the other guys grabs me and asks if I can lend a hand in bringing up some more gear that had just arrived. I said sure thing and headed down to grab what I thought would be couple more umbrellas and some background paper. In the door walks Scott, Matt, Corey, Brad and the whole Kelby crew. Plus they had brought an entire office & studio worth of gear with them. A weekend charity shoot turned into a high production event and our awesome subjects that day got the royal treatment, after all THEY were the reason we were there. Once the last lady’s portrait had been made, we all went down the road to grab a burrito and that guy who had asked my for a hand earlier turned out to be RC, who I count today among my best of friends. Plus it was pretty cool realizing that the the Kelby HQ was in my backyard all along and getting to watch those guys retouch in realtime is pretty darn impressive.

The following week RC invites me out to Tampa to meetup with his friend Kathy and their massive Strobist group. It was a blast flooding the streets with photographers and over the course of that week I went from flying solo to having a large creative community to call friends. Those friends have helped to challenge, inspire, push and prod me into becoming a better photographer and person. That’s what friends do, so thank you guys.

The second more recent move occurred when I relocated from sunny Florida to Detroit, MI‚ during the “Snowpocalypse” earlier this year. I did prepare myself for two things before the move and have been working through them daily. First, rather than wait around for serendipity to strike again, I immediately struck out to get engaged in the photo community here.

With sites like Twitter,, and the awesome NAPP community it’s not hard to get out there… like actually out there. I really dig the online conversations and tweet too much sometimes, but my goal was to get together in person, shake a hand, share a drink, and go shoot something. I took this same approach in establishing my business locally as well. Let’s just say the coffee shops and restaurants are loving me!

The second being a glaringly obvious issue once I walked out the door of my new home. Detroit is different. Different from what I’ve known as a shooter thus far. Gone are the sunny scenes ready-made to drop a model into. It’s been like an extended case of that traveler’s high you get when on the road; your brain is busy trying to process a new place and the possibilities are endless. Of course old habits die hard and I still love the light and colorful imagery that came naturally when working in Florida. It’ll continue to be interesting as my style evolves and I adapt.

I am a creature of habit though and have enjoyed lighting a scene to create whats there in my mind. I’ll be writing every month for the new Light It Magazine that just launched, and a lot of the techniques and tips I’ll be covering come from experiences and obstacles I’ve overcome while shooting up here this year. It’s amazing how with a couple lights and a gel you can turn a gloomy snowy day into a warm inviting afternoon, at least in camera anyway. The snow can’t keep this Florida boy down and all of the new friends and photographers up here go the extra mile to help each other get that next shot and succeed. It’s all about being there for one another with a helping hand, recommendation or referral. It takes a village.

That’s what I really love about Scott and the rest of his gang. They don’t just produce educational material.They develop and nurture a community of creatives around learning. I wish college had been more like that, I may have gone on and gotten a real job! Then again probably not :)

Thanks Scott and Brad for having me on the blog! I hope to keep shooting and sharing with you all for many years to come.

You can see more of Erik’s work at, keep up with him on Twitter, and find him on Facebook