“Toying” around with new gear

Recently I was looking for a way to use large flash equipment outside while at high shutter speeds…like 1000th of a second or 2000 or even faster. Really can’t find a way. But in my search I heard about a newer mirrorless camera that might allow it. Turns out it didn’t but in researching I learned a lot about mirrorless cameras. For some time I’ve also considered buying a tele-extender, either the Canon 1.4X or 2X but just didn’t want to lose the aperture ‘speed’.  I ended up looking at mirrorless cameras again. I didn’t want to invest in a new system. I couldn’t be happier with my Canon gear.Image

 

I saw the Canon EOS-M mirrorless as a way to keep a ‘pocket’ camera with me all the time and, if needed, press into service to ‘extend’ the length of a few fast lenses without giving up the wide aperture. Of course every photographer loves his toys and maybe the whole argument is just justification for a new toy.  The camera cost less than the extenders…or did until I bought the lens adaptor too. Ended up a wash but I got a sweet small ‘everywhere’ camera as well. I’ve been playing with it since I got it this week. I still have a lot of the menus to figure out but it’s pretty easy. Good 18 meg chip and moderately low noise. Here’s a sample shot of Annie in the window. I shot it with my 100 2.8 macro. ISO 160 @ 160th sec at 2.8Image

And here’s one of Ellie with the same lens at 50th sec at 6400. It’s cropped to about half the frame. A little noisy and shaky at that shutter speed. Image

Here’s the camera with a 50mm 1.2 on it and one with the 5D Mk III by it’s side.  It’s kind of like shooting with a lens and almost no body. It’ll take some getting used to. It looks like a toy and my hands are struggling to get comfy with it but it’s hardly a ‘toy’. At 18 megs it really looks great and has a solid feel. The only real drawback for me so far is my eyes. I find myself holding it at arms length to be able to focus on the big 3″ screen on back. The 22mm lens it came with is a very crisp 35mm equivalent. My 50 becomes an 80 F1.2 and that macro became a 160mm 2.8 macro. The final shot is one I tried at macro. Needed a tripod for that. The lens adaptor has a mount. If and when I try it my 70-200 2.8 will become a 112-320 2.8. But I’d probably get laughed off any sideline where I pulled it out.

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ImagePhotographers specialize. There are food shooters and interior specialists, sports shooters and portrait talents. Those that specialize develop deeper and richer talents and knowledge in their chosen area and are worth every penny it takes to hire. Don’t hire a food shooter to do a wedding or a wedding photographer to shoot the super bowl.

I know and have had the pleasure of working with some amazing talented shooters who knew food or gardens, architecture and sports, music or interiors as good as anyone. I have also known some wonderful photographers who, like me, are specialist at being generalists…shooters like my friend Gary Clark and the great Joe McNally.

So yes, I think of myself as a generalist. Most travel photographers become very solid at portraits and architecture, gardens and interiors and food and drink and lifestyle activities and so much more. 

When I began my freelance career a year ago after shooting travel for almost 25 years I wasn’t sure where my work would come from going forward. I initially guessed from the travel arena. But being off the road for the first time in so long has left me more content being home than I would have guessed. I expected after a few weeks at home I’d get a ‘jones’ to travel. It hasn’t happened. Not that I would object to a good travel assignment, just that I’m enjoying a more stationary way of living.
But if I’m shooting mostly near the home what work is there? So far this year has been busy. I’m blessed to have so many good friends and contacts who’ve put their faith in me. My goal when I started freelance was to build up the number of days a week I was working. I started with every other week and finally got to where I had a shoot every week. Lately it’s been two or three a week and I’m very happy about it. And the variety has been exciting too, playing to my versatility.
In the last few weeks I’ve shot:

  • bankers for a business magazine
  • A country store
  • A BBQ restaurant for a book
  • A Doctor doing medical research into concussions
  • A magazine ad for a stationary company
  • A Beard Award winning chef, his restaurants and food
  • A nursery plant collection for print advertising

And before this week is out I’ll have added

  • architectural shots for an engineering company
  • an attorney for a business magazine
  • an indie movie set
  • a story on repairing a marriage for a women’s magazine

And I’ve committed to teaching a week-long workshop on Travel in Charleston, spoken to a graphic design class at a college and started shooting a book on BBQ.

I’m trying to keep all the plates spinning and I’m having fun. 

 

Creating my ‘brand’ and some Rock ‘n Roll for 2014.

2013 was a year of learning how to develop a freelance business. There are endless things to learn and do and I feel like I barely scratched the surface. Figuring out the business side, the in’s and out’s of insurance, taxes, accounting, building a website, creating estimates and billing has been daunting. Even more daunting is figuring out how to promote my name and work.. I’m incredibly fortunate that I have a lot of great friends and contacts who’ve generously shared time and hard-earned knowledge. I’m also lucky I have a body of work to start with.

I’ve always been goal oriented even if in an informal way. I’m not someone who makes New Year’s Resolutions. The problem with resolutions is that they’re always broken.  Goals are a good way to measure growth but not necessarily success or failure.  One goal I want to complete early this year is developing promotional material, both electronic and printed. It is so HARD!

I want to get the size, the paper and the printing just right.  But oh-so-much harder is selecting the images that will represent my personality and skill set as well as my future work aspirations. These photos will have to speak to art and creative directors. I want them to be something they keep and pin to a board, something that keeps my name in front of them.

I’m fortunate to know some of the very best creatives and graphic designers in the business and they’re right here in town.  This morning I met again with the wonderful Susan Dendy who designed my logo and business cards. She did a fantastic job on those and is designing my promo pieces to keep a consistent look and feel. We finalized most of the choices on printer, paper size and design. Now all I have to do is pick a handful of images to represent me. I had been anxious and a little stressed about making these choices until my wonderful wife reminded me that these won’t be the last ones I ever do and you can’t be all things to all people. Suddenly it became a bit easier.

Another nice surprise!

More than a year ago the wonderful people at Rock Paper Photo asked me to submit some of my classic concert photos for possible inclusion on their site.  They represent of the greatest concert photographers of the Rock and Roll era; people like Astrid Kirchherr, Deborah Feingold, Kevin Mazur, Baron Wolman and Henry Grossman.  Even being under consideration was enough to make me feel proud. After submitting the requested eight images they accepted those and asked for 40 more. I’m proud to say that I’m now represented by Rock Paper Photo and couldn’t be happier.

http://www.rockpaperphoto.com/art-meripol

From their site’s home page, here’s who they are…

“Rock Paper Photo is the definitive place to discover and collect iconic photography. With access that fans can only dream of, the photographers we represent have captured unforgettable moments and the legendary personalities who defined them.

We live to uncover rare and never-before-seen images, so you can collect them as beautiful Fine Art photographs. For those who never want the show to end, a Rock Photo Print is more than a unique and museum-quality piece of art – it lets you own the moment”.

They do extremely fine museum quality signed and framed prints. They also do all of the fine art printing for Rolling Stone Magazine. I hope you’ll check out my page on their site and the many greats there as well.

So, new promo pieces and new representation. Good start to the year.

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Willie Nelson at the first Farm Aid ConcertSept 22, 1985

Wrapping up 2013 and looking forward.

In two weeks it will have been a year since I was laid off at Southern Living Magazine. Not being clairvoyant I couldn’t have imagined this past year. I lost my job and only a couple weeks later our beloved dog Henry died at 14. There were other major stress points in life at that time. And now, a year in, I couldn’t be happier. We’ll miss Henry forever. But I have a new career freelancing, some great clients and we have two new canine family members sharing my day and office space.

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As much as it might have made me anxious for the future it wasn’t all that upsetting to be laid off. In fact there was s sense of relief. I’d been on the road for almost 25 years traveling every week. After 3 million air miles, some 3000 nights in hotels and who knows how many Hertz-Avis road miles I was tired…of the grind….of being physically banged up…of the constant motion…of being gone from home. No complaints though. For some 160 plus days and nights a year I was witness to the best the South has to offer. I worked in an office full of bright creative inventive hard-working curious passionate professionals. We all leaned on each other for help in work and support in life. There could be no better world for a creative to be immersed. 

Looking back now in life’s rear view mirror I have come to recognize what was likely the single best part of my career at the magazine. I traveled week-in and week-out meeting and photographed people with a real passion in their life. They were involved in their community, their art, their craft or business in a way that was inspirational to others and elevated lives around them. It was humbling to try to visually honor what they were doing, to share their life and their story with millions of readers.

I was fairly convinced that after being off the road for a few months I’d get a ‘jones‘ to go, the road would call me. After all, it was all I knew for almost half my life. Hasn’t happened. In fact I’m fighting the urge to be more and more reclusive.  I’m willing but love being home and in my own bed every night. I need to go see family in other states but don’t even want to contemplate getting on a plane.

The most wonderful thing about being laid off, besides being home of course, is that I discovered how many people around me respected me enough to assign me work.  There are no words to express how much their faith and support has meant to me.  Those first few shoots gave me hope that I could survive as a freelancer. I met new people, saw new places and made new friends all here in Birmingham, a town I never really got to know. 

I won’t list all of their names or publications but you have left me smiling more than I have in years. Thank you all. 

I want to share a few photos from the year. They may not be the ‘best’ or most visual but in some way they were significant to me. Learning to shoot for new publications, to shoot something other than ‘Travel Photography’ made me push harder to learn new ways of looking and lighting.  I wish I could say every effort was a success. I can say every one taught me something, whether it was a software technique, lighting or just dealing with life with patience and a smile.

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like shooting sparks in fog

My phone rang on Friday a week ago. A book publisher wanted to know if I could get to Colonial Williamsburg to shoot the annual Christmas Grand Illumination events that Sunday. After some back and forth about costs and logistics, needs and art direction it was all set. I would have to leave the next day, Saturday to be there  Sunday. I was already committed to two local shoots Saturday, one at 7am and another at 2:30. That left me very little to work with flight-wise. I got lucky and found one flight left that landed at Reagan in DC at midnight.

After a night’s restless sleep at an airport hotel I got up early and drove down to Williamsburg. The drive took a little longer since it was in the middle of a winter storm named Dion. I drove through rain, sleet and snow all the way. Fortunately on a Sunday with bad weather the traffic was light. unfortunately I was afraid all the events would be canceled after I got there. 

After checking into my hotel room and dressing in more layers than an onion I headed over to meet a PR person on site. It was still raining and  33 degrees. We met up and walked over to the site of the events. Last year they reportedly had some 45,000 people there for the annual event. The biggest attraction, what I was told way my ‘hero’ shot, was fireworks in front of the Governor’s Palace. There is a lovely green the size of a football field in front of the Palace where the crowd gathers early. Today it was a sloppy soggy mess. At least the fireworks weren’t canceled. 

With little to do and hours to go I needed to feel like I was accomplishing something. All the doors of Colonial Williamsburg were decorated with wreaths. So I started doing doorways and then tight square shots of the wreaths. It was still raining, still freezing. I shot 8-10 doorways and a few costumed interpreters along the way. Image

Tired now I found a covered place out of the rain to sit and wait. It was covered but open on all sides. As dark approached and people gathered for the events my little covered spot became “the” spot for some 80 more people, a few in revolutionary garb. I chatted with people who came every year from Maryland and Ohio. I also had  a woman chastise me for taking up too much room with my cameras and tripod. Oye!

After dark, still raining, things got going on a small stage in front of the Palace. There were fife and drum corps, bagpipers, choirs from William and Mary and other musicians. They were truly dedicated performers to play in freezing temps and rain. I don’t know how they managed to keep their fingers nimble enough to sound so amazing.  The big crowds of 2012 didn’t arrive. There weren’t more than a couple hundred people there, lit only by two baskets of burning wood on six foot poles and two small lights on the stage. Image

I had a great time shooting the stage and musicians. The light, low as it was had a magical quality to it. Finally it came time for the fireworks and my ‘hero’ or ‘money’ shot. I had the camera set on the tripod and ready. This fireworks show is really special since the bursts are so close to the ground and crowd, they feel like they’re really in your face unlike the higher soaring bursts at Fourth of July celebrations. The first burst was right in front of me in the courtyard of the Governor’s Palace and the smoke from it immediately obscured the scene and continued to hang in place as each successive fireworks went up. ImageI guess it was something about the weather, the rain and temps but the smoke just hung there. I was a little freaked. It was like shooting sparks in fog. I’d been wet and cold for hours and this was the money shot? Not knowing what else to do I continued to concentrate on just getting some nice bursts. ImageIt really was a pretty and special show but hard to enjoy for me. After it ended and the crowd began to fade into the night I decided to stay and wait for the smoke to fade away too. It took about 10 minutes. I shot a few frames without having moved the camera.Image

I hoped to get home and make it work with a little photoshop. I’m not a photoshop guru but I figured out how to take two different frames and combine them to best effect so I used my ‘smokeless’ shot and tried different versions of fireworks. I think I got away with it. And just maybe I even enjoyed it.

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The Duchess !

Just weeks after I left the magazine in January a good friend and former co-worker Morgan Murphy called and asked me if I’d consider shooting ‘a car’ for him. He explained this was a Top-Secret shoot, one that would be embargoed until he was ready to share it with the world. Morgan is a great collector and restorer of classic Cadillacs so I knew it would be a special car. But only after I was sworn to secrecy and agreed to do the shoot would he share the story of the car. 

The car is known as “the Duchess”. It’s a 1941, one-of-a-kind, custom built limousine made for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor as England’s King Edward the VIII and Wallis Simpson were known after he abdicated the throne.  “The Duchess,” built in the Harley Earl era, is a fully unique, one-off commission by General Motors’ legendary leader for the cream of 1940s society. It’s ….

  • A one-of-one custom creation, designed for royalty
  • Built under the supervision of Alfred P. Sloan Jr., for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor
  • Dozens of completely bespoke features
  • A New York society mainstay for a decade

You can read it’s amazing story here. http://www.rmauctions.com/lots/lot.cfm?lot_id=1063841

The car will be sold in Manhattan by Sotheby’s in their Art of the Automobile auction November 21st

Morgan tracked this most famous of all Cadillac’s for several years before finding it. Then spent more years convincing the owner to sell it and yet more years and likely too many dollars lovingly giving it the restoration it deserved.  

Once Morgan told me what the car was my immediate concern was my lack of experience in shooting something like this. We talked about what he wanted in the way of images. He needed images for brochures, the web and for the eventual auction where he would sell it. I’m not a studio shooter but this needed to be done in a studio. Morgan had already found a local studio and rented it for the shoot. I agreed to do it figuring I could pull it off somehow.  We visited the studio, Leo Ticheli Productions and met with the great crew there. They were very supportive and suggested which lighting in the studio to include in our day-long shoot. I was fortunate they had a moveable overhead soft box as large as the car. One shot Morgan wanted to recreate was an historic view of the car parked on Fifth Avenue in NY in 1941. The softbox allowed me to recreate that lighting. 

A few weeks later we met early in the morning at the studio and got started. It was a fun long 10 hour shoot. I got my confidence as the day progressed. Leo came in off and on to see how things were going and was a huge help with lighting tips. Others came in out of curiosity, watched and left. Everyone who came in left deeply impressed by the car. And the more I shot the car the more impressed I became too. Morgan thought of so much. He had boxes of jewelry brought in to shoot in the jewelry cabinet in the back seat and pipes for the Dukes humidor. He even had a wonderful model come in to ‘be’ the Duchess. 

It’s been hard not to share the photos for the last eight plus months but Morgan just called and, with the listing in the auction the embargo has ended. He says the Associated Press is coming out with the story today. 

If you have a spare million or two you should head to the auction. You could drive off into history ImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImage

catching my breath

Going freelance was never my plan. But some things aren’t planned. Now that I am freelance I’m pretty darn happy. It’s hard getting used to the roller coaster of too much to do and then very little and then suddenly busy again after so many years of just busy busy busy. I’ve slept more nights at home this year than in the past three or four and I’m loving it.  And Annie our dog is loving it too. 

I worried about where the work will come from and friends said not to worry, that I’ll do great. I deeply appreciated their confidence but had my own insecurities and doubts. But they have, so far and happily, been correct. The phone has sounded enough to keep me busy. I’ve made good inroads on making a living. Though I’ll always have fears and doubts I also know I’ll be ok. 

I’m especially happy to have had three different magazines use my work on their cover in the last three months. That’s been a very nice kick. Though I can’t expect that all the time I’m going to hope it happens again. 

I have a shoot for a favorite client this Saturday. It’s always good when they call back. Next week I’ll do my third shoot for another client. My work is on their current cover and hope I can get another for them on this shoot. 

I’ve had so much to learn and have learned so much…about creating new kinds of images and photographing things I haven’t, about promotion and about the business. I have done some studio work photographing Christmas packages, an historic car and beautiful hand-made violins. I’ve done a lot location portrait work and active shots of people working in the dark at 5am.

This week I joined Wonderful Machine and hope that exposure will help put my name in front of new clients. I just printed a second portfolio to accompany my main ‘book’. I still need to develop  promotional materials, both print and electronic. And I need to pay my county business taxes and renew my business license. It’s always something. 

 

Now if the phone would just ring  …