Category Archives Guest Blogger

Commercial and travel photographer Nick Onken! I (Brad) met Nick when I was in New York for Photo Plus Expo a few months ago. We were hanging out with some mutual friends, and we were able to talk a bit.  I checked out his website as soon as I got the chance and really liked his style.

He’ll talk a bit more about it tomorrow, but he just launched a brand new website and has a book on travel photography coming out next month called Photo Trekking!  Nick sent us an advance copy of his book, and I have to say it looks really nice.  It has some cool photography and tons of helpful tips and advice on what it takes to be a travel photographer.

In his blog for tomorrow, he talks about his journey into commercial and travel photography and shares his thoughts on the key things it takes to become successful.  And they don’t just apply to the travel/commercial photography world, but just about any sort of business you might be in.  So come back and check it out!

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Photo by Christi Martin

I want to thank Brad and Scott for giving me the opportunity to express myself on a stage of this level.  I have to be honest, when Brad emailed me yesterday it caught me off guard.  What do I say?  What do people want to read?  Anything I want?  Wow.

But there is only one thing on my mind lately – my new career move.  I read, or heard once (who knows?) that the higher up you get in advertising, the younger you die.  Well, I guess I just signed my death certificate.  My name is Matt Lange, professional photographer, and now the Creative Director at The Fletcher Group Advertising.  The clock is ticking…

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Endure

…the clock is ticking… Literally.  I have less than 5 hours to put my thoughts down collectively for you all to see.  The clock is ticking to make a splash in my new world/career.  No pressure.

So where do I start?

I’ve come full circle.   I’m typing this blog entry from the exact same room I sat in 4 short years ago at The Fletcher Group.  TFG was owned by a friend of mine, Lee Fletcher, who was a great man with a tremendous heart. But anyone who knew him, knew how hard it was to get along with him. This was, ironically, the exact same room in which I picked up a camera again for the first time and started my path to being a professional photographer (I had always taken pictures as far as I could remember).

At the time I was a young, know-it-all designer just a year out of Louisiana Tech University.  Needless to say, this forced my boss and I to butt heads constantly, resulting in my desire to leave.  Now I’m a know it all photographer/designer, right?  Wrong.  In the past 4 years I have come to realize that there is so much to learn.  Something new every single day.  I’m more mature at this point.

I moved to Baton Rouge, LA a year later to work full-time and pursue my passion of being a photographer.  This would be the part when most people would say, ‘and everything was awesome,’ ‘everyone I met was amazing,’ and, ‘I make a living shooting amazing pictures.’

Well that’s partly true.  But why sugar coat it?  This is hard.  Being a photographer is hard hard work.  Getting to be a photographer full-time is even harder.

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If you were to ask me what my goal as a photographer was, or what my dreams would be, I would tell you, ‘I want to be a sports portrait photographer.’  That’s it.  I wanted to wake up everyday and be called on assignment to shoot either a) the standout quarterback for such and such cover, b) the national championship team for a piece by Sports Illustrated, c) the Heisman Trophy winner, d) well, you get the point.

But that’s not the case.  The average photographer knows what it is that we really shoot.  It’s weddings, babies, seniors, birthday parties so on and so forth.

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I did catch a break however, when I got a call from a small media agency called Southcreek Global Media.  I felt as if fate was knocking and it was time to answer.  Through my work with Southcreek, I found myself field side for the New Orleans Saints, LSU Football, LSU Baseball and courtside to the New Orleans Hornets and LSU Tigers Basketball.

Progress.

But, as any sports photographer can vouch, the money simply isn’t there.  So I saved my pennies, as did my wife.  I got to the point where my day job was doing nothing but making me miserable, day in and day out.  So I watched Consequences of Creativity by Chase Jarvis, listened to a lot of inspirational rap music, I talked to my wife and we agreed… It was time to take a chance.

Bye bye day job, hello fulltime photographer dream job.  Knock knock.  Who’s there?  Hello Mr. Recession! It’s never easy right?

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They say it’s not the destination, it’s the journey. For me I guess the journey will never end.  And when I think about it, I don’t want it to.

When I quit my job, things got exponentially harder, but I liked it.  I thrive off of challenge.  I began shooting like a man possessed.  I called all of my athlete friends and posed fake photo shoots.  Anytime I had something new, I sent my work to ad firms and businesses around town to try to improve the work for their sites. Anything I could to keep the lights on.

One day I got home and a friend told me about a blog post on someone named Scott Kelby’s site.  The post, in short, was about a contest Scott held for an amateur photographer to win a pass to shoot on the sideline of a Florida State game.  Well, the amazing world of sports photographers decided, for some reason, that this was a bad, no, horrible idea, and thus the person who won, Alex, had his pass revoked.  Awesome right?

So I emailed in and offered my services to have Alex shoot on the sideline with me at Louisiana Tech.  Needless to say, Alex landed a pass to shoot the Bears, and who could blame him?  However, I got a call from Scott himself.  He wanted to come to Ruston and shoot alongside me.  Wow.  What do you say to that?  Well, when one of the biggest names in the photo industry calls you, wants to meet you, and you can barely afford Ramen noodles, my friends, you say yes.

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So Scott came down, shot the game with me, then at dinner after the game, recommended (or insisted I should say) that I go to New York for PPE.  It was 4 days away.

So I flew to NYC, crashed in Scott’s room, and during the brief 24 hours I was there I had my mind transformed.  I was around the best of the best photographers in the industry, or at least a lot of them. I told Scott at one point that I couldn’t get home fast enough to simply create.

I will say that I wanted to meet Vincent LaForet, but alas, I did not.  His presentation blew my mind and I will always have that.  Perhaps one day I will meet him.  I made a good friend in Scott that day.  The entire time he was in Ruston he had nothing but great things to say about me and my work.  He says I’m entirely too modest about the work I create, but I like to think that I’m just driven for perfection.  But I stray…

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My friend Lee Fletcher was diagnosed with cancer over a year ago, and in September Lee lost his fight.  Lee was the first person to tell me I was on my way to great things, outside of my family.  When he passed, I felt a void that I hadn’t felt in a very long time, even though Lee and I hadn’t talked in over a year.  I felt at this point, it was very important for me to do something great.  I felt it was no longer about me and being successful, it was time for me to do great for Lee too.  Am I great?  Put up or shut up.

A few weeks later I got a call from Amanda McMullen, the new owner of The Fletcher Group, asking me if I would be interested in returning. Except this time to have full creative control.  Just when my photography was picking up steam.

I ask the photography public, what would you do?

Well, this guy packed up the car and drove to Monroe, LA and is now typing a blog entry from the TFG studio telling you my story.  My goal is to turn an ad firm located in Monroe, LA, into a nationally known agency doing work across the world.  Through some blood sweat and tears, and with the help of Scott Kelby, we will get there.

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I just wanted to tell how it’s not easy to be successful in this industry.  It’s definitely not the destination but the journey.  You can meet amazing people and do amazing things.  But a lot of stress and hard work has to go into it.  Chase Jarvis was absolutely correct when he said, ‘you can do it but you have to sustain.’

YOU HAVE TO SUSTAIN.

I think it’s easy to look at other people’s work and say that you want to do that.  But a lot of the time you don’t see the sacrifice that they put in behind the scenes.  I may not be able to continue my photography career at this point, due to The Fletcher Group.  But that is a sacrifice I have chosen to make.  I will pour every ounce of my creative energy into this company to see that it succeeds.  I will also use my photography skill to add to the services we offer here.  After all, my degree and training is as a graphic designer, video editor and director.  Photography was just something I was good at. I still want to shoot sports portraits for the cover of Sports Illustrated, but for now it’s back to work.  Back to the grind.

Thank you for reading my story and to Scott and Brad for allowing me to share.  Did I just talk in circles?

Also, thank you to Christi Martin for taking a picture of my ugly mug on such short notice.  You’re the best.  I owe you.

You can see more of Matt’s work at his website, mattlange.com.

Matt Lange!  Matt and Scott met when they shot a football game together a few months ago and have been buds ever since.

I (Brad) think that a lot of you will really be able to relate to Matt’s post for tomorrow.  He talks about starting out as a designer/photographer a few years ago, and all the struggles he’s gone through to make it to where he is today.

I have to give it up to Matt for pulling his post together so quickly and doing such a great job with it.  Our originally scheduled guest blogger called (well, emailed) in sick at the last minute, so Matt really came through to save the day.

So come back by tomorrow and see what Matt has for us!

Entertainment photographer Art Streiber! I (Brad) have been a huge fan of Mr. Streiber’s work for a long time.  He’s a regular contributor to Vanity Fair, Entertainment Weekly, Esquire, Wired, many other magazines, and also shoots artwork for movies and TV shows.  So if you’ve looked at a magazine rack or been to the movies in the past few years, you’ve probably seen his work on a cover or a poster.

I had the opportunity to go to Mr. Streiber’s class at Photo Plus Expo last year.  I can’t begin to tell you how much I learned in just a few hours of listening to him talk about his work.  Everything from pre-production, to shooting, to post production, and even billing and inventory.  Everyone else I talked to who was in his class (including Jeremy Cowart and Dustin Snipes) was absolutely pumped when it was over too.

I’ve asked him to try and turn his class into a blog, so hopefully he’s been able to do just that.  Come back tomorrow and check it out!

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Photo by Andrew Allen Morton

For 5 years, I have worked behind the scenes as a photographer’s assistant. This is (or can be) an illusive job.  In short, I get paid to be surrounded by celebrities while they are being photographed for print advertisements, music packaging, world-wide publicity uses, book covers, movie posters and television shows.

I got into this occupation in  an unusual way. Although I had done photography as a hobby since I was 15, I had no idea what the business was like. Since moving to Nashville, I had started shooting live music shows as well as live burlesque performances for fun. I received a Nikon point-and-shoot digital camera for my 24th birthday and started taking it everywhere I went. Since I am also a performing singer-songwriter, I  knew a lot of peer musicians that were more than happy to let me take photographs of them at their shows. Before getting that first digital P&S camera, I had only used 35mm film, in fully manual SLR cameras, so the new convenience was astounding.

I was introduced to professional commercial photographer Tony Baker around this time. While working on his house, I started asking him questions about his photography and his shoots.  I had been a fan of his music photography work for some time but didn’t know much about how he made those photographs, including the team of people that assist him in the process. Since I had a background in construction, he asked me to build a set for a CD packaging job he had coming up.  The shoot took place in the beautiful gardens of the Opryland Hotel and Convention Center, and my job that day was to build an underwater platform that the artist would stand on to appear to be floating on water. The set also involved large, fake trees, a sod-laid grass surround, and a 20’x40′ scenic background.  There were two other guys that showed up with a huge grip truck full of photography equipment. After I finished building the set, I volunteered to help the other guys with their jobs. There was a lot of equipment I didn’t know the names of, and a lot of terminology I had never heard, but that didn’t stop me from asking “what can I do?” and “how can I help?”

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The shoot lasted at least 14 hours. Maybe longer. Without a hitch.

Tony Baker appreciated my willingness to help the production, and my ability to “jump right in” and soon I was on almost all of his local jobs. In a few short months, I learned the names of the photography equipment used, how it works, and the right way to operate them. I also built friendships and working relationships with the photographer’s assistants who  I worked with, and assured them of my ability to help them do their jobs, all the while learning every lesson I could to be a better photographer. Since the main reason I started assisting was to, in fact, become a photographer.

Through other assistants, I was called by other photographers and producers to help on their productions. I soon learned that EVERYONE is different in their behavior, work ethics, production etiquette, and lighting style. What one photographer ALWAYS does, another photographer NEVER does. What didn’t change was my willingness to work as hard as I could, safely, for as long as it took. I ALWAYS asked questions, and still do, in regards to personal technique and creative lighting. Although at times I CAN offer my professional opinions regarding lighting and possible shot ideas, often times it is my job to create the desired look for the photographer, and HIS/HER client.

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Photo by Joshua Black Wilkins

I became  aware of Jeremy Cowart’s work in the spring of 2007. At the time, he was the “new” guy on the scene and quickly gaining popularity in the music industry for his dynamic photography. Nashville buzzed with talk of his talent and everyone took notice. One assistant who I had worked with a lot was working with him, and it wasn’t long before I approached his producer to offer my assistance.

Nashville is a big city with small circles. In any given industry, you’re 3 degrees of separation from just about anyone.

The first shoot I worked on with Jeremy was for a Fox TV show that was to be called “Nashville.”  I was given the wrong call time and showed up late. Usually this is a death card. I wasn’t nervous to meet him, but quite embarrassed about my 1 hour tardiness. I showed up at a Nashville studio surrounded by 50+ people I didn’t know, including a full TV film crew.  Other than apologizing for being late, I wasn’t able to talk to him much that first day. We had 5 locations to shoot, 5 assistants, two grip trucks, a full blown digital rig, and the sun set at 8pm.  That job was 18 hours long, lasting well into the night .

Shortly after, I was called again to work with Jeremy and have been with him since.  I’ve traveled with him to remote locations without a GPS unit. We’ve worked in the August heat of Savannah, Georgia, and the snow-covered deserts outside Santa  Fe, New Mexico.  And many places in between.

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As his 1st assistant, a title I don’t take lightly, my primary responsibilities are to show up on time, discuss the shots for the day (if they have been decided yet), plan the lighting for those shots, help organize the production and flow for the day, and generally be available to help make the shoot a success. One thing special on his shoots is that everyone helps everyone else.  It takes a team of people, working together.  No matter how hectic the day becomes, the atmosphere around him is fun, happy and creative. We almost always have other assistants on Jeremy Cowart shoots. Again, we keep this circle small.  Egos have no place in Jeremy’s world and the people hired to create his shoots are friendly, helpful and fun to be around.
I could list the artists we have worked with, but chances are you already know them through Jeremy’s work.

In contrast to MANY other photographers I’ve known and worked with, Jeremy has an amazing ability to keep his cool.  In the most stressful situations, Jeremy maintains a professional and easygoing attitude.  In situations where most of us would have a complete meltdown, Jeremy does not.  One of the many things that has inspired me about him over the years is his never-ending quest to create “different” photographs on a daily basis. And it doesn’t stop at photography. He is ALWAYS creating.  When he gets bored with something, he might paint. I hear he also plays guitar. When he is troubled about a social tragedy, he looks for ways that he can HELP people. He doesn’t do this for his ego, Jeremy truly GIVES his talent and heart to those he feels deserves a little help from a friend.

This brings me to something I am most proud of in my life.  HELP Portrait Project was something Jeremy HAD to do.  He’ll tell you that. The compassion in his heart for those less fortunate was so great that by mid-2009 he came up with an organization that he felt could help people.  The basis of HELP Portrait was to make, and give photographs to people that have lived through, and continue to struggle with social and personal downfalls.  This includes the homeless, battered and abused women, orphans, ex-gang members, foreign refugees, the disabled, the elderly and alone, as well as anyone that needs a little boost in respect and love.  Needless to say, I signed on before he finished his proposal.

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The idea was simple.  Gather groups of photographers, assistants, hair and makeup professionals, producers, catering companies, camera stores, printing services, video crews, grip houses, studios, civil organizations, church groups and ANYONE that wanted to help people.  Assemble all these people together for one day, arrange for those in need to come to this temporary studio,  take their photographs, and give the photographs to each person .   Okay, it wasn’t that simple.  There were blogs involved, and online commercials, and TV stations, and websites, and coffee shop conversations and many sleepless nights making sure he was doing the right thing. Brainstorming phone calls at 11:30pm were not unusual. On top of that, there was no money to play with. The idea was to give. And we did. And he did. And he continues to, at any cost.

As I write this, Jeremy is in Haiti (you can see some of the shots from his project if you look through his tweets from the past few days).  He is doing whatever needs to be done to help the people who need it most. The celebrities can wait. The movie posters can wait. The CD packages can wait. His family will wait, knowing that he is doing what he HAS to do, all in the name of love.  If that isn’t inspiration for us all, than we have no heart.

You can see more of Joshua’s work at flickr.com/joshuablackwilkins, and hear some of his music on MySpace

Jeremy Cowart’s first assistant, Joshua Black Wilkins.  Joshua is continuing our ongoing assistants guest blog series with a look into his world.  He shares his story of how he came to know and work with Jeremy, and gives a bit of insight into working in what seems to be one of the new photography hotbeds (in my, Brad’s, opinion), Nashville.

Personally, I think it’s very interesting to see how each assistant has their own unique story of how they’ve come to where they are in life and their career.  So come back tomorrow to see how Joshua went from being a construction worker to assisting a celebrity photographer!

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