I've grown up around racing. Every weekend my brother, dad and I were either at the track or watching whatever racing was in season on TV. I'm not the biggest race fan... maybe I'm jaded from being around it so much my whole life. But I do have a soft spot in my heart for the sport. And I will almost never turn down an offer to spend a day at the track.
Recently my work had presented me the opportunity to spend the day at Pomona Raceway with an All Access Pass to take photos of Angie and Matt Smith, some long time dear friends of our brand. I couldn't say no.
I don't do much press photography nowa days. Most of my shooting is in a controlled environment where I can manipulate the lighting however I'd like, so this day was a bit more difficult than I imagined, mostly because they didn't hit the track until high noon. Which most photographers will agree is the most dreadful time to shoot. And I was a bit out of practice. But unfortunately the NHRA doesn't schedule their races around the best times to take pictures. So I had to make do.
The key here was trying to be mindful of where the light was coming from and positioning myself accordingly. But at high noon, this means the light is coming from almost directly overhead which means that no matter where you shoot from, its going to be awful. And unfortunately I don't have any neutral density filters for the lens I was using. Luckily, drag racing looks cool no matter what time of day it is. So thankfully, although they may not be perfect, I'm still pretty stoked on how the photos came out.
Some of the perks of working from a big name brand is getting to do things like this. I've grown up watching these events from way up in the grand stands or on TV. But the Smith team treated me and my co worker like family from the second we stepped foot in their pit until the minute we left. They showed us around, gave us the grand tour of their trailer, and let us sit there and watch them take apart and rebuild two bikes in less than an hour. And then walked us right up to the start line while they raced.
Ill tell you this, watching racing on TV can be brutally boring. Especially if you don't have any idea whats going on. But standing ten feet from a dragster when it takes off is an experience I will not soon forget.
Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8
Recently, Michelle and I had our first anniversary. We decided that renting a little A-Frame cabin up in Big Bear for the weekend would be the best way to celebrate. For the three days we were there, we turned our phones to airplane mode and isolated ourselves from the interwebz so that we could take in every moment. And it was wonderful. We hiked with my dear old friend Lucas to the top of Castle Rock. Michelle took me to a rock formation near her old family cabin where she used to sit all the time. We even did some long exposures over the lake. Here are some photos that I took both with my Nikon D4s (Digital) and my Nikon FA (35mm film) inside the cabin, and out on our adventures.
Ahhhhh.... Retouching and editing. The age old topic. Do you edit in Photoshop or Lightroom? What filters do you use? Where do you get your presets? How many actions do you use? How do you get your images to be so clear? What camera and lens do you use? JPEG or RAW? Blah blah blah. To get all of those questions out of the way here are my answers:
- I use both Photoshop and Lightroom on almost all of my photos. There are things that one can do or does better than the other and vice versa.
- I don't use filters or presets or actions. If it appears that there is a filter, it is a combination of different layers of settings being changed; exposures, contrasts, colors, gradients, blurs, and so on. In other words... All of my 'filters' are done manually, varying based on the individual photos needs.
- My photos are clear because I have an awesome camera and an array of carefully selected awesome lenses based on my needs.
- I use a Nikon D600 and a Nikon D4s with a Nikkor 50mm f1.4, Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8, Nikkor 105mm f2.8, and a Nikkor 85mm f2.8.
- I shoot RAW and only RAW. If you're not shooting RAW than you need to start.
Recently I traded some screen cap videos with a dear friend of mine to learn more about each other's editing practices and it sparked an idea. Well, more of a change in mentality. So I decided I would share the video I made for him with you all.
It seems that over the course of my photo career I have found that most of my peers are very secretive about how they edit their photos. I was for a while too... you know... trade secrets and what-have-you. But I came to the realization that it doesn't matter. Sharing my methods helps my peers to learn and get better, and hopefully get better than me so that I can eventually learn from them. And hopefully it encourages people who are better than me to share their methods so that I can get better, much like my dear friend did for me recently.
But first, my philosophy on retouching and editing.
I try to do as little retouching as I can on any given subject. Not only to save time, but to keep the photo as close the original as possible, unless of course, I meant for it to be more manipulated when I took it. Sometimes I take photos with the intention of them being heavily edited.
Over the course of my career, and even on a project to project basis, my editing style changes drastically. I am constantly learning and changing and trying new things and trying to get better.
That being said, here are a few examples of my editing and a step by step video of my Photoshop retouching process.
For those of you who are just starting out and looking for some advice, my advice would be do your own thing. Find your style and grow from there. Take some techniques that methods and make them your own. Everyone shoots differently so there is no guarantee that things that you find on the internet or from your peers will work for your shooting style. But the thing I cannot stress enough is that you can always be better. Never settle. Never let yourself believe that you are as good as your are going to get. You can always grow and change and get better if you let yourself. Stay humble my friends. I hope you enjoy.
We woke up early yet again on the third day. And again, watched a breathtaking sun rise from the break wall in front of Matt and Lauren's house. This was one of the days I was most looking forward to. We were to visit Pearl Harbor. A place I have always wanted to see.
I have had a strange fascination with war ever since high school. Not necessarily in the sense of "GO AMERICA! KILL EVERYONE THAT DOESN'T LIKE DEMOCRACY!!" but more so just in that the politics and tactics of war and the military are infinitely fascinating. Especially WWII. An entire nation's stance on The United States involvement in a war that did not concern us - swayed in a matter of a couple of hours. How the government used the anger and hate towards our enemies to build the ultimate war machine out of a rag-tag outdated and under trained military force... Oh how history repeats...
December 7th, 1941 was indeed a day that has lived in infamy. It was a day that changed America's view on war forever.
We dropped the Wheatons off at a resort beach and Michelle, Randy, Cathy (Michelle's parents) and I headed towards the harbor. I was looking forward to spending some quality time with them and having the chance to get to know them better. We stopped at a little Schooner restaurant that overlooked the harbor for lunch before we headed in.
I knew this experience would be heavy. I have spent far more time than I care to admit studying war so I knew that actually seeing this place with my own eyes would be a heavy emotional punch... But I was not expecting it to hit me as hard as it did.
We walked through the security stand at the entrance and I was expecting a zoo of tourists, but being that It was a weekday in the middle of winter we pretty much had the place to ourselves.
We walked up to the ticket booth to see if we could get a few tickets to board the USS Arizona Memorial and the girl behind the counter told us there were a few tickets left and that the movie we had to watch before heading over was going to start in about 20 minutes. This gave us some time to roam around.
I had a weird sense of excitement walking in. I felt like I was a kid at my favorite museum. I quickly walked to a display of torpedoes and missiles to the right and made my way to the submarine that was sitting idle in the water. If you wanted you could pay money to board and explore. Being claustrophobic - no thanks. I've been on a submarine before... Not for me. It was cool to look at though. There were plaques along the shore that told the heroic battles that this sub had endured.
As I looked around trying to take everything in, I noticed the famous anchor that was on display. The anchor that was recovered from the USS Arizona after it had sank. When I walked up to it there was a family of about 6 (4 young children) climbing all over the anchor and laughing and posing for pictures. It infuriated me. I'm standing there - reading the plaques and waiting to take my own picture and they are treating this iconic memorial of the deaths of hundreds of people as a playground. I don't know why it bothered me so much but it did. Mom and dad got a stern glare or two from me before they finally went on their way.
After I had gotten my fill at the anchor I walked down the shore line that overlooked the water. I was littered with different informational and memorial plaques. Most of them telling me things I already knew - but for some reason I still read every word I could find. Taking in the information in the exact place where it happened is a different feeling.
I sat down on a bench near by to change my film and when I looked up I saw in front of me a plaque bolted to a concrete retainer. It read - "Few islanders slept that night... Outdoors there was silence... Shortly before midnight, the moon began to rise, and a vivid lunar rainbow, the old Hawaiian omen for victory arched over the dark city."
This is the moment that everything sank in.
I was sitting in the exact spot where the United States entered one of the most famous wars in world history. A war that has fascinated me for the majority of my intellectual life. I have read countless accounts and watched countless documentaries reliving this event and finally found myself overlooking the very waters where it all took place. A powerful sadness overwhelmed me and it took me a minute or two to shake it.
The time finally came for us to enter the theatre and watch the short documentary before we boarded the ferry that would take us to the USS Arizona. Like I said, I've seen dozens and dozens for documentaries reliving this historic day. But for some reason this one hit hard and I found myself holding back tears towards the end.
After the video was over we boarded our ferry and putted our way across the harbor to the USS Arizona memorial that sat on top of the remains of the sunken battleship.
Once we got to the memorial yet another powerful sadness swept through me. I waited my turn to stand at the railing and look down at the sunken ship. Usually in these situations I am the only one in my party that is fascinated by this kind of stuff. But it was nice to have Michelle's dad there for a change - someone to share my fascination with.
It was hard to stomach. Knowing the bodies of a lot of the sailors were still down there. Trapped in the ship that took their lives.
The guide told us that some of the sailers lived up to six days trapped in the submerged ship because of air pockets. But they eventually ran out of air. She told us that every attempt to rescue them was futile because of how mangled the ship was. Divers would go down and never come back. Heartbreaking to hear while you're standing over their tomb.
At the end of the memorial was a room with a wall dedicated to the names of every sailor that died on the ship. It was a dark room and hard to stand in for very long. I took a few photos, tipped my hat and walked back out to the main area.
Shortly after we all got our fill of the USS Arizona it was time to board our ferry and head back.
We still had some time left before we had to go pick up The Wheaton's from their resort day so we decided to go see the USS Missouri, where the Japanese Instrument of Surrender was signed in 1945. Being that this ship was used in active duty until 1992, a lot of the stuff on this ship was a little more modern than a ship that would have been used in WWII. But it was still awesome to walk around and nerd out with Michelle's dad.
They all but kicked us off the boat. We stayed on, walking around all the small hallways and bunk rooms until the ship closed to visitors.
It was an emotionally treacherous day. The excitement of visiting a place I had only seen in books and on TV, getting to stand in the very place where our nation entered one of the worlds most famous and deadly wars in history. And feeling an unexpected sorrow and heaviness at the same time. But being a war nerd, this was a day that I will not soon forget. Learning so much about how unprepared we were to go to war, but how the nation rose to the occasion as we have so many times in our history.
If you ever have the opportunity to see this place with your own eyes, I highly recommend it. It truly puts modern war into perspective. It's powerful stuff.
The other day Michelle and I were looking for something to do to try to help get rid of a sickness she was feeling coming on. We thought it would be fun to hit this trail 10 minutes from her house that she had always passed by but never cared to venture out to. It was perfect.
We went right as the sun was starting to go down so there was a nice breeze and an even better view. The trail all in all (we didn't do the whole thing) took us about 20 minutes. We went as far as we wanted to go before it got to dark and then we headed back to the car. It was and fun little thing to do to enjoy a beautiful California sunset just before the rain hit to get out of the house for a bit. Sometimes we take for granted what's in our own backyards.
In the early 60's a Greek freight liner named The SS Dominator ran ashore on the Pales Verdes Peninsula while lost in thick fog on it's way to The Port of Los Angeles. After two days of the Coast Guard trying to recover the ship the crew abandoned it and let the heavy seas and wind push the ship further and further up onto shore. Over time the tides and rocks broke up the ship leaving only twisted heaps of rusty metal scattered along the peninsula shore. So we decided to go check it out.
Nothing like an early sunrise hike. No matter where you are, or what hike you are doing, doing it as the sun comes up can make it a most beautiful journey.
This particular hike was relatively easy. Hard to find, but it was short and easy. The majority of the trek was just a long a rocky beach. We found ourselves more focused on being mindful of our footing than the view around us. But with our eyes to the ground we noticed the ungodly amount of trash scattered along the beach.
Being so wrapped up in my Orange County bubble I had always heard about the trash pollution in the ocean. But my local beaches have always put a lot of effort into keeping the beaches clean so I've never really seen it with my own eyes. It's truly heartbreaking.
The hike is only about 2 miles long. Its mostly in the shade if you go in the early morning. The ship is cool. Or whats left of it. It's mostly unrecognizable twisted heaps of metal. The real pay off is the cove just past the wreckage.
All in all, a great way to start a beautiful Sunday.
We woke up early. We were still on L.A. time and we had gone to bed unusually early the night before. Also, the rooster next door was kind enough to provide a wake up call. I looked out the window to find that the sun had not yet risen. The sky still had that dark grey tint that it gets right before the sun peaks over the horizon. I popped out of bed and threw on some shorts, grabbed a Red Bull out of the fridge and hustled down to the break wall to watch the sun come up.
I grew up on the west coast so breathtaking sunsets are nothing new to me. But I've never actually gotten the chance to watch a real sunrise. Not only am I not all that fond of being up before the sun, I've never been to a place were watching the sun come up over the horizon was worth the trouble, or even possible.
It was peaceful. Sitting on a stone break wall, the waves hitting the rocks 5 feet from me. A light mist on my bare legs and feet. The sky gradually changing from grey to pink to yellow to blue as the sun peaks up over Diamond Head and Honolulu in the distance. I sat quietly sipping my Red Bull and pondering the week ahead of me. Incredibly thankful for the chance to escape the stress of work and music and everyday monotony. Michelle eventually joined me and we gawked at the view for a few minutes before we went back inside to get ready for the day.
We were to hike to The Makapu'u Lighthouse that day with the family. I was particularly excited for this venture. I have a weird obsession with lighthouses. I blame my father.
When we arrived at the trail head I don't remember paying particularly close attention to what was going on. I just remember Matt, Lauren, Michelle and I splitting off from the rest of the family and walking to a part of the park that didn't have many people around. We hopped a short railing and started heading up a trail that didn't seem to be very popular. From the bottom it looked pretty simple. Straight up with a few twists and turns here and there. I was sadly mistaken.
Matt and Lauren explained that this way was not exactly the "right" way to go but it was much more fun of a hike with a much better view. The way the rest of the family went was the right way, but it was a paved road with a view of the ocean and that's about it.
We stopped periodically on the way up to take pictures and so that I could catch my breath. A straight trail may be simple, but it's not necessarily easy. Especially for a smoker that spends very little time engaging in physical activity.
There were a handful of poorly graffitied abandoned pill boxes along the way. We stopped at the first one so that we could poke around and rest for a bit. These old pill boxes and bunkers have always fascinated me. As early as 50 years ago, our military inhabited these old death traps. Now they are just old claustrophobic concrete holes in the ground covered in terrible tagging.
Once the lighthouse was in sight I made Michelle stop and wait for me while I moved to the edge of the cliff to get a better shot. When I got to the edge I looked down to find a beautifully terrifying sight. A jaggedly textured cliff leading 400 or so feet down to the crystal clear water with rocks that blanked the ocean floor. I'm not normally afraid of heights, but something about sitting on the edge of a cliff with the wind ripping and nothing but a wing and a prayer between me and a horrible death is a bit unsettling.
We climbed a bit more to another pill box on the very top of the mountain. We enjoyed the view all the way around us for a few minutes and passed around a water bottle before walking down a few hundred yards to meet with the rest of the family at the lookout right above the lighthouse.
The view was unbelievable. Michelle is well aware of my obsession with lighthouses so she let me run around like a kid at Disneyland for a bit and take photos of this magnificent scene.
After we had all gotten our fill we headed back down the mountain the easy way. I took the opportunity to enjoy the company of my better half and her family with a view that will be hard to forget.
We went to a small ramen spot in Hanalulu for lunch. Not my thing. But it was nice to experience a little Hawaiian culture and eats. After that we walked to an apparently famous Hawaiian Shave Ice spot down the street. I thought I had a experienced the best shave ice in existence at Snow-On-The-Go by Michelle's house in South County. WRONG. Real Hawaiian Shave Ice is unbelievable. I didn't even know ice could be shaved that fine. It was a beautiful thing. I took pictures but apparently I lost that roll of film.
So before I dive into my wonderful trip to Hawaii, I'll give you a little back story:
Growing up I didn't travel much. My dad is a workaholic single father of two that owns his own business so time for vacations and travel was hard to come by. The most traveling I ever did was for hockey which consisted of a few days at a time in suburban cities in states no one cares about where the team was not allowed to leave the hotel without supervision. And we never really left the hotels except to go to the rinks, the gym, and to eat.
Every so often we would take my dad's old Benz up to Northern California to visit is girlfriend at the time but again, we very rarely left her property. Though, there wasn't much need - she lived on two acres of land deep in Simi Vally. But at the time I was too young to appreciate the view.
The longest vacation we ever went on as a family was to Daytona, Florida for NASCAR's Speed Week which was a 10 day trip. I don't know if any of you have ever been to Daytona, Florida but there is not much to do there other than hang out at the track. It was a great time... Being that I was raised on racing, but it's not much of a vacation destination.
My point is that my dad has never been one for grand vacations. He has always told me stories about hitchhiking to Canada when he was younger but he's never been to Europe (to my knowledge) and has never seen New York. He travels a lot for work but this normally consists of getting a cheap but comfortable hotel for a night or two and doing his job and going home. His idea of a vacation is taking his girlfriend to his favorite villa in San Diego or taking my grandpa to a big race in Indianapolis. We are not the conventional suburban family taking summer vacations at the river or winter vacations to Mammoth. When I was younger we would share a cabin with The Harringtons up in Big Bear for the weekend once a year but that tradition was ended around age 15 after a few major snowboarding injuries.
I have always wanted to travel. But like... really travel. Backpack through Europe. Iceland. Spend a week or two in New York. Hike and camp my way through Zion. I have had the privilege of seeing most of the west coast and a lot of our beautiful country through touring. But the problem with touring is that you seldom spend more than 24 hours in one place at a time. So while you do get to see a lot of amazing places, it is only at a glance.
A few months before Christmas Michelle told me that this year for everyones Christmas presents, her parents got everyone plane tickets to Hawaii to visit her brother and sister in law. And to my pleasant surprise they were nice enough to invite me to come along with them. And with Hawaii being one of those bucket list destinations, I decided to bring my cameras and document the trip.
Here is my story... *KONG KONG*
We woke up at the ass crack of dawn to catch our flight on saturday morning. I had preloaded my iPad with the first season of Falling Skies hoping to pass the time on the plane. I hate flying. Not because I'm afraid of crashing, more-so because I don't like having to sit (without smoking) for long periods of time. I've never had to pleasure of sitting next to a pretty girl on a flight before though. Turned out to be surprisingly comforting.
We landed at Honolulu International in the late morning and walked out to the curb with all of our luggage. The rest of Michelle's family left to get their rental car while we stayed behind to wait for her brother to come pick us up.
After a few minutes of sitting, taking in the humidity and interesting decor of the airport, her brother pulled up with his wife and we scurried to his truck to meet them. After some awkward hellos (I had only met them once before... at a bar) we hopped in and off we went. We were to settle in at their house and then meet the rest of her family at Zippy's for lunch. Zippy's was described to us as the Hawaiian Denny's.
Driving through Honolulu for the first time was breathtaking. I'm sure I looked like a little kid at Disneyland for the first time. I didn't even take any pictures because I was too busy trying to pick my jaw up off the floor. I spent many weeks before the trip looking at photos on the internet and getting excited, but just like in every other distention, theres nothing quite like seeing it with your own eyes.
I love culture shock. Going to new places and seeing how culture and life for locals is different than mine. It's so fascinating to me. This is one thing I was not expecting to find in Hawaii being that it is such a popular vacation destination within the United States. I figured it would be just like Southern California. I was VERY wrong.
First thing I noticed: You can't smoke ANYWHERE! There are no smoking signs everywhere you look. The few places you can smoke are small little areas far, far away from humanity. Unfortunate for a chain smoker like me.
We arrived at Matt and Lauren's house and much to my surprise is was a cozy little beach flat on the second story of a 2 unit building overlooking the water in Ewa Beach. We grabbed all of our crap out of his truck with their help and made our way to what we would call home for the next 8 days.
After we settled in and spent a little time breaking the ice with our wonderful hosts, we made our way to the Zippy's down the street to meet with the rest of her family for a late lunch.
While I grew up on high quality food and would never tell my dad that my first Hawaiian meal was at a place referred to as the Hawaiian Denny's, I was very surprised by how good my meal was. I'm sure some of that had the do with the fact that I hadn't eaten since the night before, but in any case it was still a good meal for what it was. While browsing through the menu I came across a waffle that was covered with fudge, caramel, and ice-cream... I swore to myself that I would find a way at some point in the trip to come back and devour this beautiful creation.
After we ate we went back to Matt and Lauren's to enjoy the sunset from the brake wall and swiftly passed the hell out after a long day of travel. We planned to wake up early and hike the next day so we wanted to make sure we had plenty of rest. Michelle and I both had the same feeling of urgency though. We wanted to do all the things all at once. See Pearl Harbor, hike the hikes, see the beaches, snorkel with the turtles, and we felt like we didn't have enough time to do them all. It hadn't quite sank in that we were going to be enjoying the fruits of Oahu for 8 beautiful days.
I had the pleasure of touring with these hooligans a while back. So every time they come to town I make an effort to go see them. This time they were coming through my neck of the woods with a band called Affiance. They were playing at a little club called White Oak. Pretty rad little spot. Mike Karle and I made the hour and a half (two hours in traffic) hike up to Van Nuys, California to hang and catch up with the boys.
It had been a while since I had seen them play and recently they signed a deal with InVogue Records so I wanted to congratulate them in person on their signing and recent release of the their second full length record.
As usual, epic hangs with the dudes. And of course, they absolutely destroyed it. Especially Red, their lead guitarist. It was almost like he was a machine or a computer because he was absolutely flawless all night. Incredible.
I started listening to Emarosa when I was about 16. It was right around the time their first EP was released and I loved it. Of course, I was young and listening to a lot of bands in the same vein. But once Johnny joined the band... Well... let's just say I moved on. Didn't care much for his voice or him as a person.
Over the years I didn't follow much of Emarosa's activity, other than the various headlines that Mr. Creig would make from time to time. So when Alt Press asked me to help interview the new vocalist along side the great Matty Mullins, the 16 year old me decided to give them a second chance. I was not disappointed.
These dudes put on a hell of a show. Being an opener on such a diverse lineup can be tough for a band still finding it's legs after a frontman change. But these dudes killed it. Arguably put on the best show of the night. And contrary to my every interaction with Mr. Creig, Bradley was a very humble and genuine dude. I didn't run out and buy their new album, but I will be keeping my ear to the ground with these dudes and maybe they will win back my affections.
Here are some of my favorite shots from that night at Club Nokia in Los Angeles, CA.
Through my work, and a dear friend of mine I was fortunate enough to be invited to shoot Atreyu's 10 year Anniversary show for their hit record 'The Curse'. The 14 year old inside me was so incredibly stoked.
I have always been a sucker for film photography. I used to sit on the internet for hours looking through hundreds and hundreds of battlefield photos from WWII. I have a borderline unhealthy fascination with war and guns. But film photography is expensive and very difficult. And in this day and age, excruciatingly under appreciated.
Being a broke musician and photographer, I can't afford to blow through rolls and rolls of film. So I pick my shots very, very carefully. Which means it takes a minute to a minute and a half for me to set up a shot. This is not ideal for lifestyle photography. So I try to limit my film shooting to situations that I can control. Like a style blog set with my beautiful better half. She's so pretty.
Anyways, I recently went down to a camera swap meet with a dear friend of mine and fellow photographer by the name of Austin Locke. He told me that this little meet was a gold mine for cheap film cameras. So I went along with him, intentionally leaving all my cash at home. A place like this was surely trouble for me. Sure enough... We walk through the door and the first thing I see is a 1940's era German Welta pop out camera in just about mint condition. JACKPOT.
I ran to the gas station across the street, grabbed some money out of the ATM and bought the beautiful thing.
I threw a roll of test film in it (expired Walmart brand 400) and took it to my shoot with Michelle, not knowing if the thing even worked. Much to my surprise, it was in perfect working condition. The beauty of 100% mechanical cameras. 70 years later, they still work like they're brand new.
I was more than thrilled when I got my exposures back from Bill's Camera and most of them had come out awesome! ...I need some practice focusing and framing it.
Good film photography is so beautiful because you know a lot of thought and care went into the shot. Nowadays, you can pick up a digital camera, set it to auto and snap away. And chances are you're going to get a decent shot.
But with film, every aspect of the shot has to be thought out. There is no tiny computer that is going to do it for you. You have to see every obstacle and asset and set your shot before you take it. Because you won't know if you got it right until you get your exposures back from the film lab. Which makes it so much more of an emotional investment. There is no immediate gratification. And it costs money to develop film. So you take the shot and you hope like hell you got it right. It's exciting, really.
Because of the hard work that goes into every shot, it makes getting your exposures back from the lab so much more fun. It's like opening a present or getting a test score back. You almost don't want to look because you don't want all your hard work to be in vein, but at the same time you can't wait to rip that package open and see how well your meticulous shots turned out.
In the end, when you get your 36 exposures back and only 5 of them turned out, it's a bummer, but at the same time those 5 exposures mean the world to you. Because you know what you put into it. And it's warm and grainy and dull and beautiful. And no one can take that from you. Because you created it with your heart, soul, and a little bit of luck.
I recently reached out to a small company called Ha'andah Products because a dear friend of mine was trying to help them build their marketing platforms and strategy a bit and asked me for some advice. Being an enthusiastic beardsman, I took a gander through their website and facebook and noticed that they had some pretty.... no so great product shots. So of course, I recommended they immediately invest in some decent photography.
I offered them my services free of charge mostly because I love to help out small businesses, and product photography is a lot of fun for me. And my best friend was trying to help them out with marketing and branding. So in classic Spencer fashion, I jumped right in... I wonder if that ever bothers people. Probably. Oh well.
Anyways, long story short, I took the shots for them and sent them over and they were ecstatic. What small business wouldn't love free work that they didn't ask for?
There is something so satisfying about a well taken product shot. It's so simple, and with the right gear, so easy. But for some reason I find the result just as satisfying as a great concert photo, which is miles more difficult to capture. Product photography is still art in its own right. And believe me, not everyone can do it. The concept of studio - or any artificial lighting comes as a foreign language to a lot - if not most photographers these days. Which is kind of funny because the art of photography revolves around light - natural AND artificial.
A good clean product shot can be the difference between converting an online sale and not. I think a lot of small businesses overlook this aspect of e-commerce, which can be detrimental to the business' success. I don't know any exact numbers, but I do know that in today's world the majority of shopping is done online. So why wouldn't you present your product the best you can?
But enough of my rambling about how to run a small business. I don't have one, so I can't say anything.
I make my living in e-commerce photography. In fact, I work full time as an in-house photographer for a clothing company. So I'm sure I know more about product photography than anyone would ever care about. No aspiring photographer is looking at webstore photos and going "Wow! What an inspiring image! I hope I'm that good someday!"
But the reality is that product photography is very lucrative and in high demand. What company doesn't want sweet professional studio photos of their products? So if you plan to make money as a photographer, you might want to learn the ins and outs of studio (and natural) lighting. There is no shortage of style "photographers" or concert and lifestyle photographers. And unfortunately there is not a lot of money in any of it because there are so many photographers that are willing to do it cheap or free.
It may not be the most glorious field of photography. But it does take a keen eye and a lot of knowledge and skill. Anyone can point a camera at a hot chick with a cool background and click the shutter. Not everyone is good at it, but anyone can do it. Not everyone can walk into a studio full of gear and know what to do. Much less where to start.
Anyways, I feel like I'm kind of rambling. But my initial point was that I do get a lot of satisfaction out of creating a nice set of product shots for small brands and businesses. I'm a sucker for symmetry and simplicity which I convey prominently in my product photography and it's beautiful to me. And of course, there is no better satisfaction than seeing the look on the face of the business owner who loves their product more than anything on earth after I give them their shots.
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I met Devin a few years ago. He was friends with a dear friend of mine by the name of Kobi. I was just starting out with audio engineering and had just started up a little recording studio at my house. Kobi was a locally known hip hop artist and quite a popular figure at our high school where he played football with Devin. They struck up their friendship when they discovered a common liking for pop punk music. Devin being a talented guitar player and Kobi being an aspiring singer, they met up after school a few times to jam some cover songs and found that they didn’t sound half bad.
I came home from work one day to find Kobi sitting on my driveway with this pale, lanky kid and an acoustic guitar. As soon as I pulled in they started playing a cover of a song by Hit The Lights. I was pretty impressed, as Kobi had never mentioned to me that he could sing, and I had no idea who this other kid was. I asked them if they wanted to come upstairs and record a quick demo and they eagerly agreed.
At first, Devin and I didn’t get along. I had an ego, and he was younger and much less experienced in music than I was. But Kobi swore up and down that this kid was awesome, so I continued to work with them. I gave them a band name and helped them start up what would soon after become a semi successful band called Meaning In Masterpiece.
Fast forward a couple years…
After recording their first full length, I had all but lost touch with the MIM boys as they had grown past the point of my aid and experience. Kobi was a dear, childhood friend so he and I continued to hang out. He would call me for relationship and music advice often but I rarely talked to the rest of the band, including Devin. But Kobi’s priorities were all kinds of out of whack to say the least, and the band decided to part ways with him. It broke my heart to see Kobi split with the band after so much hard work had gone into making that band what it was. But being a musician myself, I understood the bands reasoning behind their decision and I told Kobi that if he wanted back in, he would need to make some serious lifestyle changes.
A few months later, Kobi passed away.
It was devastating to everyone. Devin was no exception.
I reached out to Devin because I was having a hard time dealing with the loss, and I figured that if I was having a hard time, Devin was having a hell of a time. We met up a few times in my favorite 711 parking lot just to vent. Talk about life, where we were going, what we were doing, and just be someone to not be alone with. We became very close. Funny how grief can do that.
The band continued to record, but after Kobi passed, they decided to change the name of the band. Most of the original members left the band over the course of the 2 years it took to finish the production of the record, including the drummer Aaron. At the time, I was playing for a band called Taylor Collins, so I had no interest in joining the band, nor did I get an invite.
But then my band broke up, and my girlfriend of 5 years left me. Back to pit of devastation and despair I went.
I had no idea what to do with myself. I had never been through a breakup like that and I didn’t have my one crutch that I always relied on to get me through emotional turmoil - music. I pushed away a lot of my friends and started to let myself drown in depression. It felt like I had nothing left.
I got a call from Devin. He just wanted to check and make sure I was okay. So I headed down to my favorite 711 parking lot and sat in my car with him and vented.
He asked me to join the band. At first I refused. I just wanted to sit in my sorrows and let my life swallow me up. I was in a lot of pain and struggling to just get up and go to work. The last thing I wanted to do was join a band. We hung out several times after that, just the two of us at 711. We got closer and closer with each congregation. Eventually, I realized I needed to do something with myself if I was ever going to get out of the slump and move on. So I reluctantly agreed to join the band.
Over the proceeding months, I dumped everything I had into this new band. I had nothing else to put my energy into and it felt good to get out a lot of my built up anger and aggression. We worked tirelessly to put together Moderne. And with the help of Devin and many other dear friends, I finally jumped the hurdled and moved on.
I’m sure that in those horrible months I was not good company. And I’m sure I damaged, and even ruined a few valuable friendships. But there was Devin, and a few others that stuck around. They cared enough, they knew that wasn’t me, and they knew that the storm would eventually pass. If it weren’t for Devin and his garage, and endless nights in the 711 parking lot, I’m not sure were I would be right now. He believed in me. He knew that I had something to offer and he wanted to give me the chance to share it. He never gave up on me. He stuck by my side and helped pull me from the depths of hell. And for that I will be forever grateful and I will never forget.
I met Kevin 5 or 6 years ago. He was in a band called The Messenger and I was friends with his drummer Zack. They were in need of some cheap demos at the time and I was in need of some clients with a name for themselves. So I agreed to record the pre-production for their sophomore release for next to nothing. When he showed up at my studio for the first time he gave off a… not so humble vibe. So right off the bat, we did not get along one bit. He was the guy in the band that wrote all the music and recorded all the parts. He had to be in control of everything and it drove me insane. At the time I was a young producer and engineer who thought he knew everything there was to know about producing a record, so when Kevin came along and basically said “thanks for opening the door, I’ll take it from here” it did not go over well.
Long story short - we never finished the pre-production and they ended up recording somewhere else. The sad part was that the songs were actually sounding pretty good being that they were just demos essentially. Kevin and I naturally did not keep in touch, but over the next couple of years he and a few mutual friends of ours developed what would become This Wild Life. Since I didn’t much care for Kevin, I didn’t really follow the band much other than what I heard through the grape vine. I know this story is kind of a downer so far - I promise it gets better. I’m starting to realize actually that a lot of my closest friendships started off with bitter hatred. Fascinating….
I don’t remember exactly what brought Kevin and I to a reconciliation point. But I’m sure it had something to do with video or photo. The earliest I remember having a civil interaction with him was when we filmed their cover of California. Which I remember being really awkward for me.
Shortly after that Kevin asked me to show him some basics on video editing because they were about to head out to Florida to record Clouded and they wanted to film some stuff while they were there. So I met him at a Starbucks to give him some quick tips and pointers and chat over a cup o’ joe. A liaison I thought would last no more than an hour.
We ended up sitting at that Starbucks until they closed and long after, sharing music, and talking music business and his plans for This Wild Life. I remember him being pretty unsure of the future of the band and kind of putting all of his eggs in Clouded’s basket. They had already been turned down by a handful of labels and their booking agent and management were not really working out. But his advice to me in my career’s journey, and secrets of the trade that he shared with me that day are still things I lean on today. To me, he was just another dude in a local band, just like me. With high hopes and brilliant strategies.
Since then, Kevin and I have been very close. He went off to record Clouded and they got their offer from Epitaph and off they went. I’m not sure what it was that humbled him up. Or what humbled me up. But he was not the same person that day that I knew years before.
He was there for me in some of my darkest times during the following year or so. He had gone through similar things, and had a lot of valuable advice to lend. And surprisingly, never lost interest in our friendship.
I thought with Kevin’s new found success he would leave me in the dust, like so many of my other friends had done in the past. But he didn’t. We remain very close still to this day. Every time he is home from tour he takes the time to grab lunch with me and shoot the shit. He continues to be a genuine friend.
Being in local music for so long, I’ve grown accustomed to making friends in the infant stages of their career. I do everything I can to help them along the way. And then they get their big break and all of the sudden they don’t need me around anymore. I’ve lost quite a few friends this way. And I thought for sure Kevin would be no different. But I was wrong, thankfully.
There is something to be said for someone who can stick by the people that were there when he was nothing. Stay loyal to his roots and the people that will be there if he falls back down to the bottom again.
The things I have learned from Kevin and the times that we have had together will be held dear to me for years to come. I am proud of his accomplishments and his humility. And I am of course proud to call him a dear, dear friend. See you at the top buddy.
A few days prior to this photo being taken, I asked my dear friends in The Wild Life if they wanted to do a quick promo shoot. I hadn't taken any creative photos in a while and I had an itch. We planned for a Saturday, but Anthony had work at around 11am or so if I remember correctly, so we decided to do a sunrise shoot in downtown Long Beach. I don't often wake up early enough to watch the sun rise. But the idea of catching a few shots as the sun came up sounded like fun so I went with the idea of a way-to-early-to-be-awake meet time. I got to the docks in downtown Long Beach a few minutes before the sun began to rise. I wandered around the area looking for potential spots to shoot and found myself at the foot of a hill that lead to The Long Beach Lighthouse. I had never been there before. I had seen it in pictures but never looked at it with my own eyes. I grew up with a strong appreciation for lighthouses as they are one of my dad's favorite things, so I sat there for a while in the morning cold and silence while I waited for Kevin and Anthony to arrive. But the longer I sat there, and the more the sun started to peak up from behind the hill, the deeper into thought I fell. I don't remember how long exactly that I sat there, sipping my Redbull and smoking my cigarettes. But I remember thinking that I wished it would never end. I started to notice the little things around me. The sound of the boats rubbing up against their respective docks. The birds chirping. The light morning haze hovering over the grass. A man at the base of the lighthouse enjoying the morning view of the port and the Queen Marry. It was breathtaking. It felt like I sat there forever. Pondering my life's decisions and the hardships I had overcome, and the ones I was in the process of overcoming. I was lost in thought, half asleep and completely dazzled by what was in front of me. I noticed the sun perfectly sitting behind a tree in front of me silhouetting everything and I remember thinking wow, that would be a great photo, not realizing I had two cameras sitting right in front of me. Again, it was early. Kevin called me and told me that he had arrived so I picked up my cameras, one a 35mm film camera, and the other my dslr. I took a couple quick shots, not expecting much but hoping for the best as my landscape game needs some serious work, and I went to grab the boys. We went about our shoot for a couple hours, Kevin and I went and got some lunch and I went home.
When I got home I started scrolling through the photos from the day, picking the ones that I liked and stumbled on the shot of the lighthouse. I was amazed at how beautiful it was. I tried to edit it but everything I was doing was taking away from the shot. So left the shot how it was taken. Completely raw. And now it's one of my favorite shots I have ever taken. I had it printed and framed and gave it to my dad and now it sits right above the living room TV for all the world to see.
I met Kingdom Of Giants while I was on The Final Chapter Tour with Dayseeker. Right off the bat we hit it off. I knew very early on that these dudes would be close friends for a long time. After a few nights of getting to know each other they asked me what I was doing on tour with Dayseeker. I told them I was just helping out with my van, running merch if I was needed, and taking some photos here and there. I showed them some of my work and they asked me to film a live video over the course of the next few shows. So I did. Free of charge of course, because these dudes rule. They were stoked when they saw the result. So very little gear and even worse filming environments, and they still got a halfway decent live video out of it. When we parted ways at the end of the tour they asked what it would take to get me up to their home town of Sutter Creek, CA. to film a music video. I halfway jokingly replied with "gas money and Redbull" which is usually my answer for questions like that from dear friends. Little did I know that they would take me up on my offer. At first I was hesitant. Like most musicians and artists, money is scarce for me, and taking time off work is never a good idea. But they happened to catch me at a time in my life when money was not as much of a priority to me as my emotional stability. Coming off of a month long tour and being out of work, I was not in a very good financial state, but sometimes you have to suffer in order to reap reward. And I desperately needed something to help me clear my head.
Red (lead guitar) and I Facetimed back and forth for a few weeks, going over some ideas for the video but were not very happy with what we were coming up with. That, and some of the ideas were just plain impossible to pull off with no budget. So, in classic artist fashion, I scooped up my dear friend Paul Rhoda, packed my gear with no money and no plan, and headed for the creek. A seven hour journey from Orange County.
We arrived in Sacramento just in time to watch the boys play at Ace Of Spades with For Today, Like Moths To Flames and a few others, and then head back to their house (where most of the members live) in Sutter Creek. I didn't know what to expect of this town. But upon arrival, I was pleasantly surprised. For those of you who have never been there... I think it's safe to assume none of you have ever been there... Sutter Creek is a beautiful little town. Secluded from any significant civilization. Quiet and calm. Surrounded by gorgeous wineries and vineyards. It kind of reminded me of something out of a cheesy small town based romantic comedy. However, they have quite possibly the best pizza joint I have ever been to in my life... bold statement, I know.
The next morning we gathered everyone in the backyard and starting drawing up some ideas for a story line. We quickly settled on a direction and begun preparing the sets and props. Being so unprepared for this production, Paul and I sat in the backyard while the guys cleared out their rehearsal space/Red's bedroom/garage and figured out a production plan. I was overwhelmed and a bit uncomfortable with the idea of going into this video so blind and unprepared, and even after a little bit of planning I was still a bit flustered. But at that time, I was in kind of a "I don't give a fuck let's just make this happen" mode because I didn't feel like I really had anything to lose. And Paul has always been great at keeping me grounded in times like this. Helping me guide my chaotic thought process and keeping me organized.
We covered the back wall of the garage/rehearsal space/Red's room with black fabric and pinned up a couple scrims that the guys had made for a tour, but were unnoticeably defective. After the set was set up I started lighting it. I didn't bring much lighting, two soft boxes with some underpowered white lights. But after we had settled on the type of look we wanted, I realized I had too much lighting. the room was small, and the shot was even smaller. I needed a tight directional light to achieve the side lighting we were looking for. I didn't bring any barn doors so Paul and I started looking for a make shift hood for the light. One of the guys, I believe it was Levi (bass) handed me an empty Bud Light 12 pack box. Genius. We taped it around the light and wa-la. Perfect. This proved to be a very useful light rig throughout the shoot. We appropriately dubbed this probably very dangerous light rig "The Bud Light Light."
After the first set of performance shots were finished, we brought in an old desk from Dana's (vocals) room and made it up to look like a fancy office. If you look closely on the desk in a few of the shots of Dana, you can see my Baldwin Media business cards in the holder. The desk sequence is supposed to be Dana reading the lyrics of the song to himself. Kind of like an internal conflict between the desire for fortune and fame and the desire to stay true to the integrity of his music. (In most cases these days, it is a near impossible feat to accomplish both). But unfortunately we only had one Dana. Se we dressed up Levi to be his double while we filmed Dana in a suit in tie as the 'fortune and fame' side.
We finished the desk sequence and filmed a few other things that didn't make the cut. We tied up each member and filmed them struggling to get free, being pulled from either side. Apparently this was very painful for them. And unfortunately their pain would be in vein. Only one of these shots would make the cut, and only for a couple frames. I won't tell you were it is, we'll see if you can find it. ;) I really liked how these shots looked cosmetically, so I was kinda bummed that we didn't end up using more of them.
The next day, we made arrangements to film a second sequence of performance shots on an Indian reservation near by. I wanted to do this at night and take advantage of the open space and lack of noise laws. So we borrowed a few generators and headed down to the reservation when the sun went down. I set up my lights after the guys finished setting up their gear. At first I wasn't too stoked on how the shot looked, so I moved some of my lights around to hopefully get some lens flairs going or something to spice up the shot a bit. We decided to place a few work lights on top of the guitar amps just to see how it would look, which I would normally never use because they are usually hideous looking on film. But, to my surprise, it was exactly what I needed to spice my shots up the way I wanted. It's amazing what you can do with absolutely no money and an open mind. It was blistering cold that night, so we left the cars running with the heaters on full blast so that we could warm up in between takes. Nothing worse that trying to play guitar with frozen fingers. Miserable.
We wrapped that night relatively quickly I think and headed back to the house. We were all exhausted, but still found a way to crank up some Architects and enjoy ourselves for a few hours before hitting the hey. We had one day of filming left, and we were pretty close to be done. So we had cause to celebrate. Or are least it seemed like it at the time.
The only shots left to film were the shots of Dana at the desk and the desk being lit on fire. Which I wanted to film at night on the reservation. So we spent the next day exploring their town and hanging out. It was a relaxing day. I finally found some time to settle my mind and reflect on the things that were troubling me in my life. It is quite humbling to spend quality time in a place you have never been, hundreds of miles from home, with people that you love.
That night we made arrangements to have the reservation's fire department stand by while we lit the desk on fire. So when we arrived there were 2 fire trucks and an ambulance waiting for us. We thought it was a bit excessive, but we weren't complaining. We set up the desk like it was the in previous shots inside the garage. This sequence was supposed to be Dana waking up from this internal conflict and making the choice to stay true to the integrity of his music. You can't read it in these shots, but his hat that he picks up and puts on says 'LIVE FREE'. It was supposed to be symbolic and kind of tie the whole scene together. But I didn't quite light the shot right and it didn't come out the way I wanted it to. Can't win em' all I suppose. We expected the desk light and the picture frame (which was just a picture of one of their t-shirts) to break on the first take of Dana throwing everything off the desk. But to our pleasant surprise, nothing broke. So, after a lot of joking about how much of a vagina Dana was, we reset the desk and I filmed the same shot again from a little bit closer of an angle.
After Dana spray painted their symbol on the desk, we told the firemen that we were ready to light the desk on fire. Apparently they were expecting us to blow it up, which explained the excessiveness. One of them walked over with a fire extinguisher and stood next to me while Red and Dana pored lighter fluid all over the desk and dropped a match on it. Nothing happened. After a bit of laughing, we heard a voice from one of the fire trucks yell "why the hell aren't you using gasoline?!?" We all kind of looked at each other, almost to confirm that we actually just heard that coming from a fireman, and then Dana grabbed the extra gas we had brought for the generators and pored in on the desk. Dropped the match and up it went. It was beautiful. Unfortunately I had never filmed a fire before, so the shot didn't quite do the fire justice. But it got the point across.
The next day Paul and I said our goodbyes and began our long journey home. I will never forget that weekend in Sutter Creek. And I don't know that I will ever have as much fun making a music video as I did that weekend. The boys in Kingdom Of Giants reminded me what its like to let go. Helped me remember that good people do exist. And I came home refreshed and driven to push myself to be the best that I can be. I didn't make a single dollar on this video. In fact, I'm pretty sure I lost money. But I would do it all again with these dudes in a heartbeat.
The music video for This Wild Life's "History" came about quite accidentally actually. Anthony and Kevin asked me to take along with them to the Vans Warped Tour Kick Off Party as they planned to announce that they had signed a deal with Epitaph Records and they wanted me to film their announcement so that they could announce it on the internet as well. They were set the be the opening act for the night. I had no plans to film anything other than their set. Simple enough day I suppose. However it turned out to be quite the contrary. We were driving down the 710 freeway on our way to Club Nokia in Downtown Los Angeles, jammin' some tunes and talking about what the future holds for them when suddenly the right front of the van slammed to the ground. Being in front passenger seat, this scared the hell out of me. My first thought was the the tire had blown but when we got out of the van on the side of this very busy freeway, we found that the right front suspension was obliterated. I picked up my camera and started filming right away, as this was documentary gold. I didn't have any plans for the footage at the time, but I was sure it would come in handy at some point. I was right. Kevin and I then ventured through a not-so-great part of town in search of a Uhaul (that Siri claimed was there, but was not) so that we could hopefully make it to the venue in time for soundcheck. We got hungry. We stopped at Mcdonalds. After several wrong turns and a very friendly Lyft driver, we finally made it to the Uhaul and made our way back to Anthony and the broken down van. We loaded all of the gear and merch into the Uhaul and were finally back on the road. We made it to the venue just in time for soundcheck. Surprisingly, all the staff was very understanding and helpful. Usually in these ordeals, being late for check-in and such, stage managers and promoters are not so light hearted. The dudes played their set and we spent the rest of the night hanging out with the other bands. I filmed as much as I could, but I also wanted to take some photos of the other bands so I eventually parted ways with the boys and spent the rest of my time in my photo frenzy. (If you have ever seen me shooting at a show, you know what this is).
A few days later, I was on the set of a music video doing grip work and helping out a friend of mine when I got a call from Kevin. I had sent him their announcement video compiled of random footage from that day, and apparently their management really liked it. They were having trouble meeting their deadline for the release of their music video for "History" so he asked if he could come over and throw something together with the footage I had from that day. I was an hour and a half from my house, it was 8PM and I had work in the morning. Naturally, I agreed. He came over, we ordered pizza, and we sat at my desk and banged out what is now the official music video for their single "History". It was released the next day. And has been quite successful.
I live for these kinds of things. Flying by the seat of your pants and living in the moment. Not letting a shitty situation ruin your day and making the best of everything.
These dudes rule. You can order their debut full length "Clouded" here: http://kingsroadmerch.com/thiswildlife