Posts By Brad Moore

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!

What Is Photographic Reality?

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I’ve just returned from an expedition to Antarctica where the landscapes and wildlife simply blew my mind. Towering snow-covered peaks dropping vertically into tormented, white-capped seas; tens of thousands of penguins crowded onto small islets surrounded by icebergs; and the deepest, richest ultramarine blue you can imagine locked under tons of glacial snow. It was a reality far stronger than anything I have seen before.

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The passengers on board had a wide variety of backgrounds, from photographers to artists, naturalists to scientists, doctors to lawyers. On the voyage south, I showed them my photography. The images were taken with a camera, but created in Photoshop. Some passengers loved them. Others did not, concerned that my photographs were not true reflections of reality. Indeed, they asked if they were really ‘photographs’.

Here’s an example of what I showed them

Most readers of this blog will be pretty comfortable with what can be achieved in Photoshop. We think nothing of adding in a new sky or taking out an unwanted lamp post, yet this is probably the exception rather than the rule. Most of my images only had subtle adjustments using curves or hue/saturation, but they were applied in a way that transformed the original capture. The base subject matter was the same, but light and colour were applied to create added drama, atmosphere and impact.

Is this wrong?

It seems that many people who are not photographers are concerned about how easily we can change a camera’s definition of reality. Why this is a concern intrigues me. I mean, photographers have been dropping in better skies and removing unwanted lamp posts for over one hundred years. Frank Hurley is famous for his black and white Antarctica photographs taken in the early 1900s on glass plates, but few know that he was also the master of double exposures and image manipulation far more extensive than the examples of my work shown on board ship.

Frank Hurley created his images in a darkroom, away from prying eyes, and people didn’t know that changes had been made. Few understood the process and most just accepted the images as they were. Today, those same processes when done with Photoshop are being questioned by the masses who now understand how easy it is to manipulate a photograph. To manipulate reality.

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In some contexts, it’s important to know this is a straight shot; in an art context whether it is or isn’t doesn’t really come into it.

For a news, documentary or nature photographer, this is an important issue. If we tell people our photographs are true records, then it isn’t right to move things around or change the reality that was recorded because people have an expectation that what they are seeing is real. I could understand the naturalists on board ship worrying that I might exercise digital skulduggery.

But I wasn’t making penguins fly or giving an orca three eyes. All I was doing was recreating what I experienced.

So what is photographic reality? Is the exposure we make in our camera more ‘accurate’ than an image we have worked upon in Photoshop?

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The ice is amazing, but the straight capture in flat light struggles to show the texture which can be clearly seen with the naked eye. A little invisible Photoshop helps.

I can remember clearly the aquamarine blues of the icebergs as we cruised around them in our zodiacs, looking for the best angles, yet these same colours were not seen in my raw files using the default settings. My memory of what I saw is different to the electronically captured image recorded by my camera, but by increasing the contrast in my files using Photoshop I was able to better reproduce what I saw. Is this okay? Is it still reality?

Some passengers were doubtful, yet if I changed their cameras to capture a higher contrast JPEG, they felt this would be acceptable because the image came directly from the camera. Does this mean the camera manufacturers are the arbiters of ‘correct reality’?

As photographers, we know the limitations of our cameras. Issues like dynamic range and colour spaces have a huge impact on the camera’s ability to accurately record a scene. We also know that different cameras record tones and colour differently – just compare the high quality captures of the current generation of digital cameras with older cameras and you’ll know what I mean.

And non-photographers are forgetting or don’t know that in the days of film a photo lab carefully adjusted the density and colour balance of their negatives before producing a print.

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The deep blues below the surface of the water were wonderful to behold – no colour adjustment needed for this photo, just an increase in contrast to bring out the blues.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing and because everyone knows how powerful Photoshop and other editing programs can be, there is a fear that any use of Photoshop in some way affects the reality of the image. The problem is that they don’t really know how much Photoshop manipulation is okay. When do you cross the line between reality and interpretation? Most people can’t answer this question, so they say if the image comes directly out of the camera, then it must be okay.

The mountains in Antarctica are high. Very high, but if you use a wide-angle lens they lose height in the resulting photograph. I find that a little upward stretching in Photoshop can better show exactly how high the mountains appear when you’re standing there, but this would be unacceptable. So what happens if I attach Canon’s 17mm TSE perspective control lens, shift the lens down and point it upwards. Now my mountains are towering over my head and the effect is optical. Is this okay?

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South Georgia Island is amazing, but I needed to use the Canon 17mm TSE shift lens to accentuate the height of the peaks.

Of course not! One form of distortion is just as bad as another, yet the very act of taking a photograph distorts reality. Your choice of lens focal length, which direction you point your camera and when you choose to press the shutter button all distort reality because we limit the record to 1/125 of a second.

Photography is not a perfect representation of reality, rather a means of communication or a form of expression.

Today, Photoshop is such an integral part of photography that I can no longer separate the processes. Capture and post-production are two parts of a single process that turns an idea into a photograph. And personally I think post-production is essential because no matter how good cameras become, they can’t create. Someone needs to point the camera and press the shutter, and after capture, that same someone can choose to enhance or modify the result in any way he or she pleases. It is a choice.

I like to think of my post-production technique as being ‘invisible Photoshop’. The trained eye will know the image has been enhanced, but it should not be obvious exactly how or where. It should bear a strong resemblance to reality, strong enough to fool people into believing it is reality.

How much post-production you apply to your images depends on the context in which you wish to show them. For news and nature photography, less Photoshop is allowed, but for art or pictorial photography, why should there be any limits?

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Wildlife photographs of these orca are true in all senses, except the colour has been enhanced a little closer to what I remember.

There are always debates in photography and I find it interesting that now it is the non-photographers who are the most conservative. Yet it is far too late to be concerned because photography has never been a true representation of reality anyway!

Peter Eastway is an Australian professional photographer, an AIPP Grand Master of Photography, and the co-publisher of several Australian photography magazines including Better Photography, Better Photoshop Techniques and Better Digital Camera. You can see his portfolio at petereastway.com.au and more about his Photoshop technique at betterphotography.com.

Australian photographer, Peter Eastway! We got an email from James, one of our Australian readers, suggesting we give Peter’s work a look.  When I (Brad) did, I was quite impressed and immediately contacted him about doing a guest blog!

Peter is the editor of Better Photography Magazine and is a great teacher and photographer.  Come back tomorrow to see some of his beautiful images from a recent expedition to Antarctica, and hear his intriguing thoughts on post processing landscape images!

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