Category Archives: Useful Info

liveBooks Update

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Last month I mentioned that I was making the switch to liveBooks. In that post I outlined my reasons for choosing liveBooks, if you’re considering a new portfolio I encourage you to read that post to see if liveBooks is a fit for you.

Several people on Twitter have asked me how the switch was going and if I would give a short update on the process so far.

Note: You can follow liveBooks on Twitter: @liveBooks

In a nutshell: the process is great. The liveBooks staff has been terrific and I’m well on my way to having a new portfolio up and running. After my initial consultation with Cory, my sales rep, I was sent en e-mail with the entire process that we’d follow:

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Within minutes of signing up for liveBooks I was sent my welcome package. It contained all the information I needed to get started with my new liveBooks site, detailed information about the design process, a User Guide, and specific instructions for preparing my images.

Welcome

The welcome package is pretty cool because it not only outlines everything that I get with my site but it has tons of tutorials and information about how to use the site once it goes live. I’ve been optimizing photos, preparing videos, talking to my designer, and getting very excited about my new site.

The first thing they asked me to do was tell them everything I wanted out of my site. The fonts, the colors, the look and feel, sites that I like, sites I hate, inspirations, information about me, what I do, where I’m going, how I do business, the name of my dog. These guys use every bit of information to create something unique.

Starter Site

The design coordinator took all of my information and assigned a person to work with me to design my site. The wait was a couple of weeks since the liveBooks staff is pretty busy right now. The cool thing was I didn’t have to sit on my hands during that time. Taylor, the Production Coordinator, set me up with a starter site. It’s a fully functional liveBooks site that allows me to upload photos and learn all about the editSuite. I’ve been working on my images and portfolio since day one.

Design Preferences

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Brandi Mata

Last week I got an e-mail from Brandi Mata, my Designer. She told me she’d read all of the information I’d submitted in my design preferences and set up a phone consultation (I requested this). Before the phone call she sent me a clear agenda of what we’d talk about:

  • Overview of the entire design process.
  • Expectations.
  • Review Design Preferences.
  • Questions.
  • Next Steps.

When she called I was very happy to hear that she’d not only read all of the information I’d sent her but she’d also done some research on her own to figure out who I was. She’d watched my videos, looked at my current portfolio, surfed our blog, and even looked at Diane’s work as well. She wasn’t just prepared for our meeting, she was well prepared. Bonus points to Brandi!

Brandi asked me clarifying questions, offered suggestions, and then told me she was ready to get to work. She is now working her magic and creating a design just for me. She’ll have that ready in a few days. This is considered the “Design Concept”. I’m allowed four “revisions” before the site goes live. After the initial concept is ready I’ll take a look, offer suggestions, and then Brandi will go for round two. Once everything is locked in the site will be built and then we’ll go live.

That’s where I am in the process today. I’ll keep you posted as things progress.

As I noted in my last post, Corey Miller at liveBooks helped me with all of the information and spent a lot of time answering my questions. If you’d like to know more about liveBooks I suggest you give him a call: 714-408-4543 or send him an e-mail: corey@livebooks.com

Trustworthy Online Stores

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My iPhone shot of B&H Photo in New York City.

I don’t think a day goes by without someone asking me where I buy my equipment. I buy a lot of it locally at Photomark and the rest I buy online. Here are my favorite places to buy on the Internet. I’ve purchased a lot of gear from each of these stores and can tell you they are trustworthy.

  • Canoga Camera – A great shop in southern California. Shipping is very fast and the staff is awesome. I usually check here first because the service is top notch. One of my favorites.
  • B&H Photo Video – a HUGE store in New York City. The king of online stores.
  • Adorama – Another big store in New York City. Great deals, solid service.
  • Roberts – The place I go when I can’t find it anywhere else. This store saved me a lot of money a few years ago.
  • Calumet Photographic – Another big store with a great selection. They make their own lighting equipment – great stuff. I usually go here for reflectors, flags, etc.
  • Lastolite – They’ve got some great reflectors, stands and background systems. If you need portable backgrounds or shoot on location a lot make sure you check out their gear.

Do you have any local or online stores you want to add to the list? Just leave a comment if you have a favorite that you think others should know about.

Cool New Pocket Wizard stuff.

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Pocket Wizard just announced some very cool new features for the MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 transceivers. The big announcement has to be the new ability to adjust the manual power settings of your remote Canon Speedlites directly from the flash mounted on your on-camera MiniTT1 or FlexTT5.

Very sweet. Now we have the option of full TTL or shooting manually and making adjustments remotely. It sounds a lot like some of the features of the Profoto Air Remote I shot with last month. Being able to remotely control lights is nice if you are short an assistant or have lights mounted out of reach (10 feet of the ground on a stand, etc).

Another new feature is the Basic Trigger Mode. This allows the MiniTT1 and FlextTT5 to work as a normal PocketWizard transmitteron any camera that they will fit (this means you Nikon). Although this doesn’t give Nikon and other cameras the fancy TTL features it does allow everyone the small form factor of the MiniTT1. And since the MiniTT1 works with all of your other PocketWizards you’ll be set to go.

So when is PocketWizard going to release a Nikon version of the MiniTT1 and FlexTT5? I don’t know. I do know they are working on it and I’d be surprised if we didn’t see some Nikon compatible units in a few months.

There are many other features that PocketWizard announced this morning. Here’s the official release:

South Burlington, VT – In addition to the previously announced new features and updates to the ControlTL firmware, PocketWizard has added a new feature and this one’s a biggie. Now you can adjust the manual power settings of your remote Canon Speedlites directly from the flash mounted on your on-camera MiniTT1™ or FlexTT5™.

Working with a Canon 580EXII in the shoe of the MiniTT1 or FlexTT5, you can independently control the power output of up to three groups of lights (you can have as many lights in each group as you want) from full power down to the lowest setting simply through the user interface on the back of the 580EXII. Now you can work with total control with your remote lights, without leaving your shooting position.

Another new feature is Basic Trigger Mode. When enabled, it allows the MiniTT1 or FlexTT5 to work as a transmitter on ANY camera it will fit. Now those looking for the new small form factor of the MiniTT1 can use it on other DSLR’s, SLR’s or even medium format cameras with standard hot shoes. The MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 are completely reverse compatible with all previous PocketWizards so they will work with whatever PocketWizards already owned.

These two features join several others that were pre-announced in March. Other new features are:

  • High Speed Sync (HSS or FP Sync) Disable Mode. Now you can select either HSS Sync or HyperSync™ at shutter speeds at or over 1/640. This allows you to use HyperSync and the benefit of full power flash all the way up to 1/8000 with certain flash systems.
  • Remote flash compatibility for the Canon 550EX, 420EX and 220EX on the FlexTT5.
  • Automatic HSS Trigger Timing for Manual Flash. This allows you to mix a manual flash with an E-TTL II flash in HSS/FP Sync shots at 1/640 and above with certain flash systems.
  • Auto Trigger Select for ControlTL. The hot shoe on both the MiniTT1 and Flex TT5 will now trigger just about any hot shoe flash placed into it in addition to the Canon Speedlite’s it is designed for. Yes, you can now fire just about any hot shoe flash including Vivatar, Nikon, etc., in manual mode (max trigger voltage < 50V, use P2 port for up to 200V)
  • Continuous Remote Camera Triggering (FlexTT5 only). This allows for triggering a continuous motor drive burst of a camera connected to the P1 port on a remote FlexTT5.
  • Transmitter Only Mode (FlexTT5 only). This prevents triggering of a flash mounted on a FlexTT5 used as a transmitter by other photographers in the area using PocketWizard radios

* Please read the Release Notes (Manual Addendum) for details concerning these new features.

In addition, bugs in the first release of the firmware were corrected including:

  • 430EX full operation.
  • 580EX (both I & II) full compatibility with custom functions.
  • Shutter speed limiting has been corrected.
  • Auto-relay mode working properly.
  • FlexTT5 P2 port triggering working properly.
  • FlexTT5 test button trigger time delay corrected.

To support the new features the PocketWizard Utility has also been updated. New product shipments with the latest firmware and utility will begin next week. Current owners should visit www.pocketwizard.com/support/downloads/ to download both the new utility (v1.18) and the firmware (v4.10).

PocketWizard products are made by LPA Design, based in South Burlington, Vermont and sold by distributors around the world including the MAC Group in the USA.

For more information: email info@pocketwizard.com.

Making the switch to liveBooks

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Earlier this week I mentioned on Twitter that I was making the switch to a liveBooks Professional Unlimited portfolio. I had a lot of responses from people telling me about alternatives, many photographers believe that liveBooks is overpriced. So why would I spend thousands of dollars on a web portfolio? A lot of reasons, let me break it down for you.

Time

I’m pretty tech savvy; I know C#, javascript, CSS, SEO, Ajax, SQL, ActionScript, etc. I used to work for Intel as a Senior Application Developer and I know my way around IIS. And because of that experience and training I know that building a solid web presence takes skill and time. I’ve built all of our current sites and even created a flash site for my portfolio to emulate liveBooks. But my version needs a lot of work to optimize it for speed, it needs more features, it needs to be updated for SEO. All of this takes time that I don’t have.

Speed

liveBooks is fast. The large images are served up quickly. They have web servers that are optimized for their software. I don’t have to worry about administering permissions and patches and everything else that comes with hosting your own site. It also has a complete back-end for managing content. With many portfolio packages you have to worry about sending files via FTP and some even require that you create thumbnails manually and fiddle with XML files for content structure. I don’t have time for that.

Search Engine Optimization

liveBooks has automated tools to help me reach my audience. Metadata is uploaded automatically. An HTML page is automatically created “behind” the flash site so Google and other search engines can index my content. I can add keywords and more. This is a huge advantage over other flash portfolio sites. If customers can’t find you then what good is having an awesome site?

Note: for a great presentation about SEO by Matt Hill click here.

Shopping Cart

I shoot fine art photos that I sell in galleries. I’d like to offer those prints to customers online. liveBooks has an integrated Shopping Cart feature that will allow me to do just that. It’s even integrated with PayPal so I don’t have to do any extra work to handle the transactions.

Password protected client areas

I am regularly creating content for projects that I don’t want the world to see. Ideas for sets, locations, model proofs, etc. Currently I have a way to manually create password protected areas on our site, but it’s not fast or easy. liveBooks allows you to create content, upload via the editSuite, and password protect that content just for clients. It’s the perfect companion to my pre-production and post-production workflow.

Comp Card and PDF portfolio

Two other great features are the ability for clients to print a comp card right from my liveBooks site. Clients can also download a PDF of my portfolio to keep on their hard drive. These are just two more ways the site will allow me to attract customers.

Data, data, and more data

At SnapFactory we track everything using Google Analytics. This is terrific on our normal HTML pages but we can’t really track details on our portfolios. liveBooks has support for page-by-page tracking so we can measure what people are looking at and what we need to update.

The editSuite

One of the biggest issues I have with my current portfolio is that it’s a pain to update. I have to size the image, create a thumbnail manually, open a connection via FTP, change my XML files (and hope I don’t fat finger something or my whole portfolio dies), and then upload all my content to the site. Vertical images (the bulk of my work) take an entire slide unless I manually combine two vertical images in Photoshop. If I want to change the order of my images I’ll need to open the XML file and do it all manually. There’s no 5 minute update on my current site.

In liveBooks they’ve created the editSuite to handle most of this work for you. I’ll still have to size the image in Photoshop* but the rest is butter. I can bulk upload images or upload them one at a time. I can rename menu items, drag and drop to rearrange my images, and vertical files will show up side by side with no Photoshop work. Yes!

I can create custom pages and upload via the editSuite. I can even upload video content. Now that’s what I’m talking about! Just let me create and post. I don’t want to spend time acting like a web administrator – I’m a photographer.

*liveBooks will actually resize images for you, but it’s not recommended.

It looks great

The liveBooks team is currently working with me on my site design. I’ve answered a few questions and told them exactly what I want my site to do. Now they are taking all of that information and cooking up a new design just for me. With all of the features I’ve mentioned earlier this translates into a great looking site that will remain fresh.

It’s more than a portfolio

As you can see liveBooks is more than a simple portfolio. It’s a tool for conducting business and driving sales. After looking very closely at many different packages I thought that liveBooks was the best for me. I did a lot of reading a talked to other photographers who use liveBooks to make sure I’d get a return on my investment.

Corey Miller at liveBooks helped me with all of the information and spent a lot of time answering my questions. If you’d like to know more about liveBooks I suggest you give him a call: 714-408-4543 or send him an e-mail: corey@livebooks.com

Update: liveBooks does work on iPhones and other non-flash devices. If you have an iPhone and surf to a liveBooks page it will ask you to click for the HTML version. It’s a bit clunky but it works just fine.

PocketWizard MiniTT1 & FlexTT5: My Experience

Late last year I got an e-mail asking if I wanted to play with a super secret PocketWizard toy. I’m a huge PocketWizard fan and so of course I said, “bring it on!” In January I was given a couple of MiniTT1 and FlexTT5’s to play with.

I’m an avid PocketWizard user, I’ve even created videos about them. I’m also a long time Canon shooter. So when the new toys arrived it was almost as good as Christmas. I hired a model for a day and hit the street.

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The first thing I tried was shooting with my flash “hidden” from my camera. In the first setup there was an umbrella and a column between the flash and camera. I had a MiniTT1 on the camera and a FlexTT5 on the flash. This challenge was so simple that I think the PocketWizards actually laughed at me. “Is that all ya got??” The system executed flawlessly.

My next test was to try adjust the flash exposure compensation from the camera. The new PocketWizards make the camera think the flash is actually sitting on top of the camera itself. So I ran the flash through a series of tests playing with my under and over exposure compensation settings. The PW shrugged this challenge off too. It worked perfectly.

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Left: proper exposure. Right: Flash set to +1 exposure compensation.

To really try some groovy tests I slid a Canon ST-E2 on top of the MiniTT1. I added another flash to the mix and was very happy to see that I could adjust the lighting ratios with the ST-E2 just like it was operating normally. The PocketWizards are essentially invisible to the system. Spectacular! It’s the best of both worlds. The ease of use of the Canon system we all know and love and the security of a radio trigger from the best in the business.

Ok, so now I knew the system could see through walls, worked flawlessly with the Canon gear I already owned, and was smaller than the other PocketWizards I had in my bag. Now it was time for some more difficult tests.

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The next tests were designed to see if I could shoot at a distance and in bright sunlight. Here in Phoenix the sun can be a major challenge. We rarely see clouds in the sky. This bright sunlight can really destroy a line-of-sight system. The sun just washes out the signals from the transmitter. The first test was moderately easy. I shot in the shade at a distance of about 20 feet from the flash. Not a problem at all.

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My model, Sarah Coggin, smiles as I shoot away.

The moderate light and distance test was easy for the PW system. We decided to put the system to the ultimate test – direct Phoenix sunlight. We headed to Papago Park and shot in nasty 2:00 direct sunlight. This light was brutal; a true line-of-sight killer.

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Yeah, we were melting.

We shot a few tests in this location. I really wanted to see how the system would hold up shooting in a rugged area. Again, I had no issues. The flash behaved just as if it were sitting on top of my camera. I could adjust flash exposure compensation, turn the flash on and off, and do anything I wanted all from a distance from the flash.

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Left: flash turned off. Right: fill flash added.

The new PocketWizards had passed the field tests with flying colors. The following day I did a few tests in the studio just to see if they would feel at home.

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Canon 430 EXII mounted to a PocketWizard FlexTT5.

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A couple of Canon 430’s with FlexTT5 units. On Camera: MiniTT1 and Canon ST-E2

In the studio the units continued to behave as expected. By mounting a ST-E2 to the top of the MiniTT1 on my camera I was able to control light ratios right at my camera. I did a quick technical test: shoot, adjust, shoot. Repeat. Using the ST-E2 this was a breeze.

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Shifting light from left to right – all from my camera.

The last test was to shoot as the sun was going down. I wanted to see if the TTL would behave as expected with quickly changing lighting conditions. My model and I drove down the road to a local park and I shot almost directly into the sun allowing the flash to fill her face.

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Again, the PocketWizards behaved just fine and we were able to grab a few great shots before we lost our light.

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While I had my test units I tried a few other things. Will they trigger a PocketWizard Plus or Plus II? Yes, they are fully compatible. Will they trigger your Profoto equipment with the PocketWizard built in? Absolutely. Are they small and easy to pack? Yes. Can you buy replacement CR2354 batteries at Walgreens? I did, however David Hobby found them a bit harder to find than I did. I guess my Walgreens rocks.

Speaking of batteries you’ll need to keep them fresh in your flash units. The TTL accuracy declines as battery power declines. For best results use an external battery pack. I use Quantum Turbo packs.

Another feature that’s really amazing is the ability to upgrade and tweak the units via a normal USB interface and the PocketWizard Utility software (included in the box). As new cameras are rolled out and things are improved you simply plug your PW into your laptop and do a quick upgrade. How cool is that?

I tested the units on Canon 420 EX, 550 EX, 430 EX II, and 580 EX II units. I did experience some minor issues with RF interference caused by the 550 and 580 EX II units. PocketWizard addresses this on their website:

RF noise emitted by the 430EX, 580EX and 580EX II flash units limits the reception range of FlexTT5 to approximately 50 feet when flash is normally mounted. Reception can be increased using steps described in the Instruction manual. It can be greatly improved by separating the flash from the FlexTT5 by using the Canon OC-E3 cord.

Hopefully newer versions of the units will eliminate this issue altogether.

A few other folks had the opportunity to play with these units prior to public release. Please take some time and read what they had to say as well:

The Bottom Line

If you’re a Canon shooter and a strobist this is a no-brainer. The MiniTT1 (for your camera) and the FlexTT5 (for your flashes) just makes sense. They are compatible with other PocketWizards and are small enough to throw in just about any camera bag.

If you’re a Nikon shooter be patient. Although I’ve not been given any information I’ll take a wild guess and say that a Nikon version has to be coming in the future. How soon? I have no idea, but I do know PocketWizard is always eager to be the best in every market.

If you’re a studio shooter, like me, who primarily shoots with studio strobes and an existing PocketWizard set up I think the MiniTT1 is a perfect choice. It has such a small profile that you’ll forget it’s on your camera. Chase Jarvis had some interesting thoughts on this subject.

For all the details and specs on the products check out the PocketWizard site:

And finally, here’s a groovy video to play us out.

How to make the doctor wait for you.

I received a quick call from a client on Wednesday asking me if I could squeeze in a short shoot Thursday morning. The shoot was simple, some head shots of a few doctors shot to match some of their older headshots. Two softboxes, a muslin background, very straightforward and quick. Easy, right?

Doctors tend to be pretty busy and my client made sure to tell me that we were on a very tight schedule. One of the doctors had a speaking engagement at a different location at 12:00 and so we agreed that I’d arrive at 10:30 have everything set up by 10:45 and we’d be done with the first doctor by 10:50. We’d shoot everyone else after he was done.

This shoot was simple so I just jotted the time down on my calendar and then called my assistant to give her an update on the schedule change for Thursday. Since the shoot was close to the studio we’d just meet there and drive to the location together.

I usually send an e-mail confirmation to the client with the time and location and copy assistants, MUA, AD, or anyone else involved in the shoot. Since this shoot was so simple I skipped this step which would turn out to be a big mistake.

Somehow in the rush of the day I entered the information in my calendar one hour later than we’d agreed. When I called my assistant to go over schedule we agreed to meet at the studio at 11:00 and be on location by 11:30. Since the location was only 10 minutes from the studio I thought we’d be early…

Yesterday at 10:45 I got a call from my client asking me where I was. “You’re 15 minutes late and the doctor needs to be leaving soon. Are you close?” After realizing my mistake I quickly loaded all the equipment in my Xterra and drove like a mad-man to the location. I called my assistant on the way and told her to meet me at the location.

The problem was that my assistant didn’t know the location since I hadn’t sent her a confirmation e-mail. This easy step would have also let my client know that I’d scheduled the shoot incorrectly and allowed us to painlessly fix the mistake.

Lesson #1: Always send a confirmation e-mail.

When I arrived at the location, a large medical building, I realized that I had no assistant and less than 10 minutes to set everything up. My first challenge was trying to haul all the equipment by myself through the building and up the elevator to a conference room. I was hauling:

  • 1 Profoto Pro-8
  • 2 Heads
  • 2 Softboxes
  • 2 Speed rings
  • 1 Background support system
  • 1 Muslin background
  • 2 C stands
  • 2 sandbags
  • An extension cord
  • One rolling camera case fully loaded
  • My MacBook Pro in a Crumpler bag

Luckily I have a dolly and I was able to put almost everything on the dolly and roll it with one hand while rolling my camera bag with the other. My laptop bag was slung over my shoulder.

After negotiating the elevator (it took three times to get the door to stay open long enough to roll everything in) I made it to the conference room.

The conference room was very small and had a large table with chairs around it. There was no room for anything. I only had about 30 seconds to figure out a solution. I quickly grabbed the chairs and started stacking them on the table (throwing might be a better way to describe it). That gave me just enough room to put up the background on one side of the table and the lights on the other.

Since the room was so small I actually had to stand in the hallway and shoot through the doorway.

Lesson #2: Maintain and inspect your equipment on a regular basis to avoid failure.

Once the background was up I started putting the lights together. The c-stands and the heads went up in seconds and then I started to put the softboxes together. While putting the second softbox together the speed ring popped into two pieces. The screws that hold the outside ring had come loose over time and allowed the speed ring to come apart. This was something I could fix in 5 minutes, but I didn’t have 5 minutes to spare.

The solution was to have my client hold the softbox in place while I shot the first doctor. He was in place and ready for his headshot. I quickly metered the light and thought the worst was over.

I took a quick test shot to show my client (who was still holding the softbox) just to make sure the cropping was what she needed. That’s when my CF Card failed. I had a doctor who would wait about 30 more seconds, my client holding my softbox, and a dead CF card.

Lesson #3: Always bring a backup.

Luckily I had another card in my pocket. I quickly swapped the cards, took the test shot, got the OK from my client and took the photos of the doctor before he dashed out of the room for his next appointment.

We had about 10 minutes until the next doctor was going to arrive so I called my assistant and gave her the exact location. She’d figured out which building we were in but had been waiting in the lobby for me to text or call her.

I also did a quick repair of the speed ring. I always have a Leatherman with me so it was easy to fix things up.

After the initial rush things settled down and we were able to get all of the photos with no further issues. The bottom line is that all of the chaos could have been avoided with one simple e-mail. No matter how simple the session you should always follow up with the client. Lesson learned.

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Get Closer…

Yesterday was a tough day for Luka, our dog. He’s had a two small growths on his legs for a few weeks that we’ve been watching closely. Our vet, Dr. McComb, had examined the growths when we first noticed them and decided it would be best to monitor closely and take action only if necessary.

Yesterday morning Luka was to limping slightly and we decided enough was enough. We took him to the vet right away. Dr. McComb decided that we needed to be a bit more aggressive and so Luka was sedated and the growths removed.

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Dr. McComb working on Luka.

Dr. McComb invited us to come back to see Luka after he had removed the growths. Luka was still sedated and Dr. McComb walked us through what he had done and what we should expect.

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Dr. McComb and assistant Lisa treating Luka.

Seeing Luka passed out on the table was a frightening sight, and yet, I found myself with my camera in hand taking pictures. I explained this to Dr. McComb and team by simply saying, “I’m a photographer”.

Later I began to reflect on experience of seeing my pet, who I love, in such a frightening situation. My reaction was to take out my camera and start taking photos. Why?

I’m not sure there is a simple answer to that question, but I believe it’s because photography is an extension of who I am. Photography is a way for me to document, remember, share, and quantify my experiences. It’s the way I tell my version of the story.

“If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough” – Robert Capa

Robert Capa’s famous quote is usually interpreted as the distance from camera to subject. I also think you can interpret his statement as emotional distance. I believe in putting myself close to my subject physically, and in some instances emotionally as well.

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I love to travel and I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to India on a couple of occasions, both times for extended periods. India is not a place that is easy to understand. It’s so rich with tradition, beauty, wealth – and poverty. How do you capture such a place in still images?

I found that I could only begin to understand India by physically walking the streets of the towns and cities, and talking to as many people as I could. I also discovered that my photos were much richer when taken after I’d spent time getting to know my subject, even if for a few moments.

The photo of the girl above was taken after I’d had a conversation with her for a few minutes. Her face tells so many stories; the contrast between her decaying teeth (poverty) and her purple scarf (the color of royalty), the contrast of her youth and her tired eyes and skin. She’s begging and yet she has a smile behind her eyes – all things that would have been missed at a distance.

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I met this man in Bangalore, India. I was walking the streets and saw the lines in his face and thought, “I have to photograph this man.” I introduced myself and we began to talk. After a few minutes I asked him if I could take a few pictures. He gladly posed as I took several photos. Could I have captured his eyes looking straight into the lens if I’d simply shot from a distance with a long lens? I doubt it. I think the interaction paid off.

Later in the trip I asked a friend of mine to come with me as I walked through some of the impoverished areas of town. At first he balked because he thought it would be too dangerous. I told him I’d spotted a large group of kids from my hotel window, 6 stories up, and I wanted to meet them. He decided to come along.

I’ll admit I was nervous as well, but I wanted to push myself and get out of my “comfort zone”. I needed to explore this new world and to do that I’d need to push myself to do things outside of my normal routine.

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The kids coming out to greet us.

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The greeting.

We spent a few hours with these kids. It is one of my best memories of India. Although these families were living in shacks with dirt floors they had dignity and joy that I rarely see in the kids in my upper middle class neighborhood here in the US. I wanted to capture that on film and so I laughed, talked, and took pictures – all at very close range.

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Later we walked through some of the other streets and found other equally amazing people.

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It was a little intimidating to walk through some of these areas. But I think you have to put yourself out there and take some risks to grow as an artist. Putting myself physically close to my subjects and becoming involved with them through conversation resulted in some great results.

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These images and hundreds of others like them have helped me share the experiences I’ve had while traveling. It’s not something I do only while traveling, I try to practice this at home as well, and that brings me back to Luka and our other dog, Sammy.

We adopted Sammy about a month before Luka. Sammy came from a very abusive background and gaining her trust was not something that was easy to come by. I made a decision I’d document our journey with Sammy and Luka in order to share it with others.

I specifically wanted to document our story with Sammy and Luka to share with the workers at Arizona Rescue who had saved Sammy from certain death and honor their gift. I would document Sam’s life with us.

I documented Sam’s life from the first day we took her home, through all of the amazing breakthroughs, and I was finally faced with a difficult decision.

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In 2006 Sammy suddenly became very ill. It was a very difficult time and I had to ask myself, would I continue to tell our story through photography? I decided I would, I wanted to document her life – even to the end.

And so through Sammy’s days fighting cancer I continued to shoot. It was something that allowed me to preserve precious moments and it was cathartic. I was able to share with friends and family, who also cared about Sammy, what we were experiencing.

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This is the last photo I took of Sammy, about an hour before her death.

In all of these photos I had an intent; to tell a story. Sammy’s story is of a little dog who overcame her hardships to show a grown man a few things about living. It’s a rich story and one day I’ll be happy to share it with you through my library of photos.

Take some time to forget about aperture values, shutter speeds, lens specifications, and techno babble. Your equipment is simply a tool that will allow you to capture something. The subject is what matters, not the tool you use.

What stories are you telling with your photos? How are you approaching your story? Are you challenging yourself to try new things? Are you close enough?

Sadly in August of 2009 Luka became very ill with cancer and passed away. We miss him every day. We are glad to have many photos and videos to remind us of what a wonderful companion he was. It’s a reminder to cherish every moment with loved ones and the real value of getting closer.

Everything is inspiration: Part One

There are times when I’m in the zone, you’ve been there too. You’re brain is cracking at a million miles an hour, ideas are flowing and creativity is second nature. And then there are those times when my brain is just a dusty cobweb. When my brain becomes a barren land I need inspiration. Luckily everything is inspiration if you know how to mine it for good thoughts.

Through all of the 90’s I was part of a creative team that had to create a high volume of quality ideas and then turn those ideas into something that could survive on a stage with a live audience. On our team we had actors, writers, video editors, camera operators, musicians, and producers. It was my job to figure out a way to get all of these people in synch.

I’d love to tell you that I discovered a way to make everyone creative and brilliant every moment of every day. I didn’t. But as a team we did discover a few things. One of the best things was Doug Hall’s book, “Jump Start Your Brain.” If you can bear with the silliness you’ll find gold in this book.

Hall asserts that “wicked ideas” are born by using things all around us as “stimuli” to feed our creative selves. He gives some practical methods of working in groups to take a new and unpolished idea, an “ugly baby”, and nourish it until it grows into a beautiful thing.

I’ve taken Hall’s methods and fine tuned them for my brain and work habits over the past 19 years. I’ve discovered that a few things work very well for me.

I agree with Hall that everything is inspiration and so I look at a wide range of things over a wide range of topics. Everything you do (or know) informs everything else you do (or know). Here are some of my regular mental exercises:

Reading

I read magazines, blogs, and newspapers when I have a spare moment and I budget time every day for books. I usually read for at least an hour a day. I believe that reading is one of my most important mental exercises because it allows me to experience things not possible by any other means.

If you are finding it difficult to find time to read I have one suggestion: TURN OFF YOUR TV. Do you want to crank up your creative prowess instantly, just turn off the boob tube. You won’t miss it.

Writing

Writing forces you to think. And thinking is what makes our brain stronger. You can write a blog or scribble in a journal. It doesn’t matter, just write. If you’re not sure how to write then head down to your local bookstore and buy some books about writing. I suggest Steven King’s book, “On Writing”.

Conversation

I’ve been accused of loving coffee a bit too much. It’s true, I love my coffee, but there is another component that I love even more – conversation. I rarely drink coffee by myself, I’m usually meeting someone to have a conversation over coffee. I don’t think a week goes by without me meeting a friend or student at the coffee shop for a good conversation.

Sharing your thoughts with someone gives them feet. You may discover your ideas aren’t as easy to quantify as you thought, you’re friend will help you get your ugly baby back on solid ground by asking questions and helping you feed the idea. When you speak something it becomes real.

Music

I’ve discovered that I can create best when I have music to help me along. I have a modest collection of music and it’s constantly growing. I tap into classical or instrumental music while writing and working on thought rich processes. I crank up Radiohead when I need some extra adrenaline to make it through a long shoot.

I also have a collection of guitars. I’m not beyond pulling out my Fender and strumming a few chords when I need to get my brain in gear. Learning how to play an instrument is a terrific exercise because it teaches us patience and persistence.

Live music is incredible inspiring as well. Get out and go see a band. Even if they aren’t famous you’ll have a blast and come home happier.

People

I study the lives of people who inspire me. How did they become who they are? What did they do? Where did they live? The questions go on and on. I try to learn everything I can about people I find inspirational so I can emulate the good and avoid the bad.

I love meeting new people and learning about them. When I travel I try to talk to as many people as I can. It helps me understand that the United States isn’t the center of the world – and I’m not either.

Elderly people are gold. Sit down and talk with someone who’s over 80 years old. Ask them to tell you their life story. Sip your coffee and learn.

Travel

I believe that you don’t know who you really are unless you’ve travelled. Get out of your town. Get out of your state. Leave your country. Go see the world. You’ll be amazed at what lies beyond your borders.

For years I wanted to visit India. I studied the history of India. I watched movies. I talked to anyone who was from or had been to India. I looked at thousands of photos. I studied maps. I thought I knew India until I walked out of the New Delhi airport and smelled India for the first time.

If you want to know a place go see it for yourself. It will change your perceptions of the place you call home because you’ll return changed.

Movies

I’m a movie addict. It’s true, I watch two or three movies every week. Sometimes more. I love foreign films and documentaries and comedies and movies of all types. But I’ve also studied how movies are made and visited sets and studied acting, writing, and directing. I’ve been involved in short films and editing.

When I watch a movie I pay attention to camera angles, color, DOF, blocking, editing, acting, etc. Sometimes I’ll watch a movie several times in a row. If I want to get a better feel of the camera moves I’ll watch a movie with the sound off. I’ll pause and rewind and replay.

Then I’ll watch it again with the commentary. Sometimes this drives Diane nuts. But I am a bit nuts.

Art Galleries

Go to every gallery you can. Look at painting, sculpture, photography, film, and every artistic discipline available to you. Travel and see the famous galleries.

Practice

That’s right, practice. The more you do something the better you become at that thing. If you’re a photographer you’ll become a better photographer with more confidence. That confidence will allow you to try new things which will in turn make you more creative.

Rest

There are times when I’m just beat and nothing I do will produce the results that I want or need. Sometimes that means I need to work harder, dig deeper, push my limits, or get help. Sometimes it just means I need some rest. Don’t be afraid to take a day off and do nothing. You need it.

Fun

I always try to have fun when I’m working. Ask any of my students, I’m a bit of a wacky guy. I’m more motivated to continue working when things are enjoyable. Laughter is a great source of inspiration. And it’s contagious. Once I start laughing I usually feel relaxed enough to throw out ideas that are just dumb and sometimes those become a reality.

The name of our business was created when Diane and I were laughing our heads off talking about my finger snapping abilities. I was making a bunch of dumb jokes about how my snaps were going to change the world or something silly. At some point one of us said we were going to create a snap factory to manufacture cool finger snaps. We then realized that we had the name of our business.

Keeping an open mind

You never know when a good idea is going to hit you. If you keep your mind open and always looking for ideas you’ll find them much more frequently. Diane and I had been looking for a studio name for weeks when SnapFactory came from a joke.

A few months ago I was stuck at a red light when I saw a girl on a tandem bike ride across the road by herself. Why was she riding alone? Was there someone else in her past? Was the bike new? I scribbled down this experience and am now using it as the basis for a short film.

To Be Continued…

Now that I’ve described a few of the things that help me in my creative life I’ll take a break. In Part Two I’ll give you some specific examples of people, places, and things I find incredibly inspirational. I’ll name the books, magazines, papers, blogs, and more.

Stay tuned…

New… Threaded Discussions!

Disqus

I’m happy to announce a new feature of our web site: threaded discussions.  You’ve always been able to post comments on our blog, but now you can post comments and discuss those comments with others.  You can even start your own thread (topic) and get input from others.  It’s the lite version of an online community.

So how does it work? Easy, to comment on something you see on the blog, just click “comment” and type away. Want to reply to someone’s comment? Just click “reply” under the comment. Want more? No problem, just head over to our Disqus community: http://snapfactoryblog.disqus.com/

Use the comments and threads to ask us questions, make suggestions, and grow as an artist.

Happy commenting!