Pittsburgh advertising photography

X Marks the Spot

I need to give a big shout out to two outstanding people who recently helped save the day, and my bacon. Amy Maki and Stacey Moore work for Fuji and are my heroes. They didn't know me but came to the rescue when I needed to get two of my cameras repaired. They didn't have to reach out and help, but they did. Thank you so much.

I've been an evangelist for Fuji for some time. I'm not paid by them or anything like that; I use their gear. And when I find something that works, I tell people. Loudly. Let me explain why.

First, the files I get out of these cameras are outstanding. The image quality, color rendition, and file size work for all the professional applications I need. 

Next, Fuji cameras are a joy to use. The size, weight, and operation of the cameras are as close to that of a film camera as I've ever found in the digital realm. To me, that matters. There is more of a spiritual connection. It's a mind, body flow of creativity that is not interrupted by the awkward feel of my tools. It's is not the first time I've had such a connection. The Nikon F and Leica M cameras provided me the same experience. Not surprising, Nikon consulted a Zen master on the design of their first flagship SLR. 

The weight of the camera is perfect. I usually work with three bodies and lenses at a time. Fuji is not too big, not too small, just right to be carried all day without the typical fatigue associated with lugging multiple DSLRs around. I've worked this way for decades. It's incredible I can now do it without exhaustion or an aching back.

Fuji makes some of the best glass in the industry. Their large format lenses are legendary. They have taken that knowledge and transferred it to the digital side. As a result, the lenses are so sharp many have compared them to those created by a certain German company, especially in their f/2 line-up lovingly nicknamed "Fuji-crons."

A large number of naysayers point to what they believe is one of Fuji's major shortcoming – the APS sensor size. For those pixel peepers, all I can do is shrug my shoulders and ask, why? I've made prints up to 4x6 feet that are so vivid and tight you seem to walk into the image. I've shot billboards, annual reports, magazine covers, and dozens of other types of assignments. In each case the image quality, sharpness, and dynamic range exceeded expectations. For what I need, Fuji works.

While they are a relatively young entry into the digital market, they're growing, expanding their lens range, and best of all, they keep improving their cameras via firmware updates. Kaizen – continuous improvement, a long-term approach to work that systematically seeks to achieve small, incremental changes in processes to improve efficiency and quality. Fuji has embraced this philosophy with open arms to the benefit of consumers, amateur and professional alike. 

But, the bottom line is this; pick the camera that fits you and produces the images you demand. You can have all the gear in the world, but if you don't have a vision, you have nothing but a fancy camera. A pinprick in the bottom of an oatmeal box can produce a work of art in the hands of an artist.

 All I'm saying is Fuji fits my work, my style, and my heart. And maybe yours, too. And it doesn't hurt to have heroes out there watching your back, either. 

Fuji X-E2 | 18-55mm "kit" lens. How much sharper does this need to be?

Fuji X-E2 | 18-55mm "kit" lens. How much sharper does this need to be?

Fuji X-Pro2 | 18mm f/2 lens. Advertising photograph, color grading in post.

Fuji X-Pro2 | 18mm f/2 lens. Advertising photograph, color grading in post.

How I did it: Bethel Bakery

Happy Pi(e) Day!

Lighting in layers is how I approached the picture of Bethel Bakery president John Walsh. The agency needed a simple but somewhat dramatic portrait of the owner for an ad campaign. We started assembling the photo with the props, trays of pie, then rolled in the bakery rack. When the art director and I had a basic framework for the image, my assistant and I started working on the technical aspects.

For this shot, I needed enough depth of field to keep John and the foreground pies sharp, but fading off in the background. Not fading off to total mush, I just wanted it slightly soft, it still needed to read well at a glance. An aperture of f/6.3 did the trick.

My lens would be between 35mm and 24mm. Starting at 35mm, I would slowly get wider and closer as I built a rapport with the subject. I didn't want to charge in and immediately stick the camera in his face, even though I expected the 24mm would create the best picture.

The primary light needed to be directional but not super harsh. We used an Elinchrom 39" deep octa box, feathered, so the light fell just on John and the foreground objects.

The next layer I lit was the background. The oven and pies needed to be seen well but not overpower the primary subject. A 4'x6' softbox set using a C-stand far to camera left at about 45º angle. The light was adjusted to -1 from the primary using a Sekonic flash meter.

Finally, I wanted a slight rim light on John, so we set another flash, far to camera right, hid behind the baker's rack. We used a small Chimera, feathered away from the subject until it just kissed the edge of his face with about a -2 exposure.

We checked and double checked the lighting with a stand-in subject. Never waste your subjects time making adjustments. Have everything nailed down, then call in the talent.

The success of this picture is the result of a team effort starting with a great art director who carefully selected the pies based on size and texture. She then went on to the far background to clean up and rearrange the papers on the wall making the whole image orderly, but not sanitized. My assistant was outstanding, knew my gear well and how I worked through a picture. An extra set of skilled hands and sharp eyes is invaluable in shoots involving lighting. A good assistant is worth their weight in gold. Treat them as such.

It was a good day. We made a series of excellent pictures, had fun and left with a bag of donuts. It doesn't get much better.

John Walsh, President of Bethel Bakery

John Walsh, President of Bethel Bakery

How I did it: City Blur

All great commercial jobs start with a meeting. It’s an opportunity to hear the creative brief and brainstorm solutions and methods to execute the project. People I’ve worked with for years are used to me visualizing on the fly. I’ll sometimes toss out ideas left and right as they come to me. There are no bad ideas in brainstorming sessions. 

On this job, the client wanted something in the city that depicted movement. It had to be fast-paced, action-filled motion. It was conceptual, illustrating an idea, not necessarily reality. 

I had an idea. I could anchor a camera on my car, drive around the city and take pictures. The images would have a sense of motion by using a slow shutter speed. All agreed it was worth a try. 

With a green light, I set to work figuring out the technical and logistical aspects of the job. Logistically the project was simple. So as not to create a distraction for other drivers, and to minimize the number of cars on the road, I would shoot when traffic was light. That meant Sunday morning. 

The technical side was reasonably straightforward. I would mount one of my Canon 5D Mark II bodies via ball head, extension arm and super clamp on the roof rack of my SUV. On the camera, I would use a 24mm tilt-shift lens with just enough rise to clear the front of the vehicle. To achieve the right amount of blur, I would have to vary the shutter speed so I would use aperture priority. To obtain the maximum depth of field, and to allow the most range in exposure, I set the lens at f/22. My ISO was 50. 

Because I was going to be driving while shooting, and still needed to see what the camera saw, I tethered the camera to a small portable DVD player. I used that device because all I wanted was a way to view through the lens. Recording of the images would be on a CF card. A remote release cable, along with the tether cable, was dropped through the sunroof. 

Once in place, I secured the camera rig first with a steel cable, wrapping it around the car’s roof rack. Next came gaffer tape. I needed everything to stay in place, so I was very liberal with the tape. I wore a hard hat while driving in case the camera rig did come loose and fall through the sunroof. Luckily, it held in place.

Now came the moment of truth. 

Even though I had been driving around Pittsburgh for 20 years, I had never bothered to look at it this way. I needed a specific composition to make the idea work. Driving up and down the streets in town shooting frame after frame trying to see something I liked proved frustrating at first. It wasn’t coming together as I had in my mind’s eye. The only thing to do was break for coffee and think. Finally, it occurred to me what road I needed. The roadway that had the curve I saw in my mind with skyscrapers behind. And so the chase began in earnest. Around and around and around we went. Frame after frame after frame until I saw the right car in front of me. The elements all fell into place. The picture in its raw form was in the can. 

Back at the office, I downloaded my card, edited my selects and processed the RAW files. On the frame I liked most I decided I would take it to the next level. The client would have been happy with the pictures as shot, but I wouldn’t. I wanted to make sure to show what my vision was for the job. So from a 16-bit processed file, I color graded the image through trial and error, removed two of the vehicles in the frame, added some additional motion blur, adjusted the contrast and dodged and burned the image in multiple areas. The picture I had in my mind while in the first meeting was realized at last.

The client was happy with the results of my labor and used my rendition in the campaign for billboards, bus posters and in print advertising.

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Sister of Mercy

Once upon a time, I did a lot of work at Mercy Hospital. It was long before there were HIPAA Laws and long before UPMC took over. Back then the Sister’s of Mercy ran the hospital.

On one assignment I was given the freedom just to wander, explore and see what pictures I could find. Sometimes I would stroll the halls and floors, and sometimes I would have a target person, like the Sister here. 

I followed the Nun on her rounds visiting patients. Before I made pictures, one of us would explain to the patient what I was doing. Most times nobody cared because I was working for the Sisters of Mercy. If I got the green light, I would just disappear into the background and watch for interactions. I wanted moments of tenderness and connection. I remember it was effortless with this Sister as she had a way to connect with everyone. She would talk and pray with the patients, as she is here. 

The most challenging task was to find a clean and powerful composition. In this room, I positioned myself to use the vertical lines in the curtain and the bar on the bed as compositional aids. The cross she wore was the perfect counterpoint to these lines and provided the first triangle of the image. As she leaned forward, she gently touched the woman’s head. With my second and third triangle now complete, I squeezed off a frame with my Leica M3 and 50mm lens. 

Early on I learned to work a scene hard. I was taught to shoot different angles, use all my lenses, and adjust composition. Give the editor choice. On this job, I followed those rules if it made sense. In this situation, it did not. I needed to be quiet and not disturb the scene. So, I picked my angle, my lens, and waited for the right frame to appear, one to show the love and humanity of this beautiful Sister of Mercy.

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