24 Hours in San Francisco – What should you photograph?

9 12 2008

Recently, I had to go to San Francisco for less than 24 hours.  I was flying in at 3 in the afternoon and had to catch a flight back to Seattle at 1 pm the next afternoon.  With a city as great as San Francisco and with thousands of photo opportunities, finding the right mix was not going to be easy.

Think about it.  If you had 24 hours in a city how would you prioritize what to shoot, and at what time?  Even if you come up with the perfect game plan weather, traffic, and any other myriad of unforeseen obstacles can put the brakes on everything.

So what do I recommend?  DON’T HAVE A PLAN AND BE FLEXIBLE!!!

When my plane approached San Fran, I immediately scanned the horizon to see if I had any weather to contend with.  Even if the skies were clear it did not mean that a fog bank could suddenly develop and move in.  The skies for the most part looked pretty clear.  I could see there were some low level clouds, but nothing too ominous.

I scrambled to get my rental car as I juggled tripod, laptop, and camera equipment.  My body looked like a walking, drooling, spastic cramp.  My trail of tears ended with a huge surprise.  My friends had rented me a convertible… something I would have never done, but as you will see it made for a magical trip.  I hopped into the car and was soon off to my 4:00 o’clock appointment.

An hour later I was done and free to explore… the fo… the fog… THE GREAT WALL OF FOG THAT JUST MOVED IN.  You have got to be kidding me!  Mother Nature is constantly toying with my emotions and has sent me on many a fruitless goose chases. Nothing can screw up a shot more than fog, especially San Fran Fog.  “I call this picture “Cloudy Nothing”… yeah just give me a thousand bucks and it’s yours.”.

Plan B came to mind… but that’s right I had no plan.  What the hell was I going to do?!?!

I through an internal tantrum as I tried desperately to look cool in my perv-mobile.  I decided to just drive around and see if any inspiration could penetrate my creative fog. 

I headed towards the Golden Gate Bridge.  With the top down, Sirius pumping, and the heat on full blast, I cruised through San Fran like a mid-life crisis in training.  My hair blew in the wind… causing some major afro-ization which soon morphed into a  troll-like existence as it formed and aerodynamic point.  As I glanced in the mirror I could not help think I looked like the Unabomber… great!

After a few u-turns and a couple flips of the bird I was found myself crossing the Golden Gate.    My face was wind burned and my body was now hypothermic, and worst of all, I had to pee.  Doubts about the trip and my ability to get some good shots started filling my brain. 

Then out of nowhere the sun came out!!!  Of course, this caused instant blindness, yet I became overcome with joy.  I tried to look around to see what might pique my interest but everything I looked at now had purple dots masking it.  White-knuckling the steering wheel became a side effect of trying desperately not to get killed by the California enduro-racers that raced and zig-zagged over the bridge.  It seemed inevitable that I would cause an accident or in the least the evacuation of an unsuspecting tourist’s bowels.

 As I approached the end of the bridge I was spying for a parking spot when I became horrified by what I saw, a “Tourist Infestation”.  A photographers worst nightmare.  These blind, mindless pests are constantly bumping into equipment, running in front of shots, and generally suffer from head-in-butt syndrome. Their offspring are even worse.  They are usually screaming and have no problem with wiggling in front of what would be a masterpiece.   THE HELL WITH THAT!

My mind began to scatter as I rifled through the possibilities and trade-offs of where I should shoot.  It’s Friday afternoon and the traffic is horrible and I want to be in position for the sunset.  This whole situations has the potential to suck.  Then a moment of pure genius hit me.  I thought “where could I drive that will provide a constant stream of beautiful sites to choose from and not have to worry about traffic??? PACIFIC COAST HIGHWAY BABY!!!”.

I jumped off the highway and followed the signs for Stinson Beach and Muir Woods.  I was soon at the top of a bluff overlooking the stunning coast.  My best view was towards the sun.  My eyes burned and spots once again began dancing around what was left of my vision as a I struggled to compose the shot.   I opted for black and white as all the color, much like my retinas, would be completely burned out of the picture.  The subtle shades of the cliffs and the shimmering ocean in gray scale worked out.

PCH and I are old friends and I have been to this part of her once before.  I was lucky enough to drive the majority of this coast into Oregon.  The next 1000 miles north of here are arguably the most beautiful coasts on earth.  Everyone should go once in a lifetime… or seven times should you be so lucky.  The northern part of PCH is profoundly un-Californian in its pristine nature and raw beauty.  Long gone are the traffic jams and the canterlevering of hundreds homes off of unstable mountain sides.  Don’t get me wrong, there are towns along the way that epitomize tourist traps of Cali, but nothing like crawling down PCH in Santa Monica., or worse, Long Beach.

With the top down, I snaked my way down the bluff to Stinson Beach.  The last time I was here I ate at one of the only places open.  The food was great, but the gas station situation was pathetic… well non existent.  In short, it was the beginning of a slow and sometimes redundant crawl up the highway as my car and my mental stability crumbled beneath me.  The highlights included begging for gas from the sheriffs department, a murder at Goat Head Beach (not involved), and the leaving of 7 memory cards including pictures of Yosemite National Park and Sequoia National Park on top of my car (directly responsible).

This time was completely different, my head was completely removed from my butt cheeks for one, and it was late summer.  I am glad that I came back.  The ocean air was invigorating and the views of the bird-laden marshes were beautiful.  Soon my negative associations from my previously tormented past were permanently replaced.

I was in a race to see how far I could get up PCH before the sun set.  The road twisted and turned and rose and fell as I weaved through patches of forest segmented by golden hills shining brightly in the soon-to-be-setting sun.  Surprisingly, there were park rangers with radar guns all over the road. This had no effect on me because I am stuck behind the remake of “Driving Miss Daisy”. The other problem is that there is no place to pass Speedy Gonzales due to the hundreds of curves in the road and lack of anything consiedered a straight away. Fortunately for Mr. Gonzales the fact the Sirius Satelite radio kept on cutting out proved more infuriating then his attempt at breaking the record for at the slowest speed possible with a foot placed on the gas.

I got as far as the Point Reyes turnoff when I decided to go back.  I knew I couldn’t make it to the next beach, nor the 28 mile journey to Pt. Reyes before sunset.  After all, I had plenty more shooting back in San Francisco.  I reluctantly turned around in order to insure good positioning for what could be a good sunset.  The truth is though, I would love nothing more than driving straight back to Seattle on this road… maybe next year!

On my way back a fawn jumped out in front of the car trying to show off some new dance moves.  It kicked and pranced across the road and then suddenly stopped. I slowed the car hoping to capture it in silhouette.  Right when I got the car stopped, the little deer continued his dance back up the hillside.  Oh well, this isn’t the first time an epic shot came so close to happening and then disappeared.

Instead I settled for some burned out branches on a cliff.  The cloud line was going to quickly swallow the sun.  I only had but a few minutes before the sunset potential was all but wiped out.

I was pretty hungry by now and wanted to grab some grub.  My stomach grumbled the whole way back on the roller coaster of a road called Pacific Coast Highway.  I decided to treat myself to a nice dinner in Sausalito.  This little town boasts dozens of great restaurants, charming architecture, pricey shops, and million dollar views.

It might have been the miles of ocean or the formation of what could be  “budding man-boobs” on my chest, but I decided on having fish. As I strolled aimlessly around the town a sign that said “Fresh Sand Dabs” piqued my interest.  I guess it’s San Fran’s signature fish.  It is supposedly a little flounder-looking fish with tons of bones.  As I scanned the menu I considered the bones, and then the recent oil spill here… a cargo ship scraped the side of pylon at the Golden Gate bridge dumping tens of thousands of gallons of oil.  That’s when I decided to forget about the Petroleum-encrusted Sand Dabs and decided to go with the mercury poisoning instead.  “I’ll have the Ahi Tuna!”, I exclaimed starvingly. 

 The service was quick, almost rushed.  The tuna hit my table just as the last bit of salad left my fork.  Normally I might be put off by this, but eating at that point was a necessary inconvenience.  All I really wanted to do was take some more pictures.

I was soon out the door and heading back to get the car.  To my relief nothing was stolen out of the trunk and my photographic adventure could continue.  I may have driven a quarter mile before I saw my next subject.  The city from across the water.

I set up my tripod, 70mm – 200mm, and my cable release and began experimenting with the different apertures and exposures.  After a couple horrible shots I was dialed in.  I took a few more shots and new that it was time to look for some better shots.

My buddies have always talked about the great times in Golden Gate State park.  I had driven by it a half a dozen times, but always feared the Tourist Infestations.  After wasting an hour driving past the exit, getting lost, and turning around totaling 3,600 degrees I was finally here.  I entered the long dark road back lit by the  Golden Gate bridge.  Despite it being after 9:00 there was still a good amount of lovers “enjoying the view” aka watching submarine races.  Despite the automobile-based procreation, parking was easy to find.  I pulled up to the first spot I saw and started my picture taking ritual all over again.

This place is beautiful.  The darkness of the park made the Golden Gate bridge seem as if it were on fire.  While I was up there several ships arrived providing for a hauntingly ghost like image as it passed slowly under the bridge.  Seeing how wide the bridge is made me wonder how in the hell could you actually hit a pylon.  Sure dense fog might be a good excuse, but I am pretty sure the Golden Gate bridge might be large enough to show up on radar.

I spent almost an hour and a half moving up the road.  The further up the road I traveled, the more isolated I became…  HEAVEN!  With each bend in the road came a new perspective of the Golden Gate bridge and San Francisco.  The only thing missing was a full moon or even better a meteorite streaking across the sky.

I must have stopped at seven different spots in the park before deciding that my photography marathon must end.  Reluctantly, I packed up my equipment and concluded what was a great session.  Looking back, I covered a lot considering the impossibly short amount of time.  Plus, I will use this experience to help plan for my return to San Francisco… whenever that may be.


The Trip of a Lifetime – A Dad and Son Take to the Road

13 09 2008

I moved to Seattle not too long ago. Leaving behind half of my family, great friends, and a condo in need of a new roof in Tempe, Arizona. As luck would have it, Mother Nature decided to rehydrate much of the West this winter forcing my hand… literally to repair the roof. As much as having to shell out a few grand for a “not so fun expense” I was going to make the best of the trip down. The ride from Seattle to Phoenix is breathtaking regardless of your route and I cannot say that I did not choose to live in these two places specifically for this reason. The way I see it, driving back and forth is a photographer’s dream with countless routes and seasonal beauty.

My recently retired father called and I told him of my plans. You could hear his excitement in his voice when I described the trip. I knew he would want to go and to be honest, I would love to have him. As you grow older you cannot help but contemplate tomorrow and what it may or may not bring. My dad’s health has been challenged lately and his daily regiment of cigarettes and diet coke has yet to be endorsed by the surgeon general for its life-extending properties. He began quizzing me on exact dates of departures, arrival times to Arizona, and how long I had planned to stay. He didn’t ask to go right then, but I knew it would be coming.

A few hours later he called back and quickly muttered “So do have room for one more in the car?”. We both knew the answer. He reconfirmed the dates and off to he computer he went to look for flights. It seemed like seconds later he called back with his itinerary. He was coming out on Valentines Day!!! My girlfriend was going to LOVE that! Fortunately the damage was going to be minimal as she had to work anyway… dodged a bullet there!

My Dad arrived and we decided to take a nice “Romantic dinner cruise” on the Royal Argosy. With Seattle being one of the most gay-friendly cities in America, we had a snowballs chance in hell of convincing anyone that we were anything other than a gay couple. I envisioned trying to explain to people the guy I was with on Valentines Day on a cruise was my Dad and having the reply “Yeah Sugar Daddy!”. The funny part is when they took our picture neither of us realized the buoy said “Valentine’s Day Cruise”. We laughed so hard when we got our pictures! We ended up having a great time and the laughs we shared made it one of my best Valentine’s day.

The next day we drove around a bit and ran some last-minute errands. I knew we were in for a great trip when we caught the sunset of Mount Rainier from my porch. We snapped several dozen photos as the sky got increasingly red.

We left early the next morning and made a B-line towards Moab, Utah. I knew we would never make it, but my goal was to get as far a possible. We made it through Snolquamie Pass which had been closed several times that month due to avalanches caused by the 45 feet of natural snowfall. As we were making our way through Oregon towards Idaho, this beautiful sunset was forming. We spent 45 minutes in some of the coldest weather I had experienced in years. Arizona had completely depleted my “New Englander” status as I shivered and convulsed uncontrollably.

We got as far a Twin Falls Idaho and decided to call it a night. The next day we woke up early and drove out in a complete fog bank. It lasted until just before Salt Lake city where it ended abruptly. Our goal was to get to Arches National Park for sunset. There we would begin our three-day exploration of Moab, Utah. The other great part was that we would have a full moon. Below is a picture of Courthouse Rock in Arches National Park.

We made it Arches in time for the sunset and stopped to take these pictures. The moon had already risen, so we just made the best of it. Below is a picture of petrified sand dunes found in Arches National Park with the La Sal Mountains in the back ground.

I had never been to Moab, with this much snow so it was a welcomed surprise. The moon was fairly high in the sky but I still wanted to capture it in the pictures.

As we made our way to Window Arches we stopped and snapped some pictures in “The Garden of Eden”. Arches National Park is not overly large, but it could take you a week to see everything. Even then, you could easily miss some arches.

Parking is sometimes tough at in the park so keep an eye out for little areas to pull of. Be sure not to drive aimlessly on undisturbed areas.

Window Arche is one of my favorite places to shoot. Unfortunately, it is everyone else’s too. The great part about going to Moab in the winter is that you pretty much have the place to yourself.

The sunset at Arches did not amount to much. We left and got some much needed dinner. We still had a bit of driving to do as we needed to make our way to my favorite place to stay when going to Moab. There are a couple of cabins you can rent that are half-way up the La Sal loop road. The elevation up there is close to 7500 ft. and it gives you breath taking views of the peaks of the La Sal mountains as well a view of Canyonlands National Park. I shot the above picture at night and you can see the stars glistening in the background.

The next morning looked very promising. We had blue skies painted with some high clouds. I decided to take my dad to a place that I always have loved, despite the awful name, Negro Bill Canyon. Named after a famous resident of the canyon, the true name N***** Bill Canyon is equally appalling. Some locals try to justify the name by professing that Bill actually preferred it. As mind-blowing as it is in this day and age, if you were to ask a local how to get here they refer to this part of Canyonlands National Park with the above stated racial insult.

Despite the name it is a wonderfully beautiful place and I highly recommend that you go here. Especially if you want to feel small. The 1000-foot Navajo sandstone walls will dwarf the biggest of egos. The most amazing part is the deafening silence. Your new found solitude will make you appreciate the fact that the developers have not ruined the pristine beauty.

The weather began to change and the light at high noon was not going to do any justice for beauty of this area. My father and I went back as far a my Rav4 would take me. This area is extremely rugged and you should take every precaution before venturing out here. This includes several gallons of water, food, sleeping bags, and any other survival gear needed to prepare for the worst of the elements. This the same area in which Aaron Ralston had to cut off his arm after being trapped for five days in Blue John Canyon.

The above picture was take at Dead Horse Point. This Utah state park is a must see. Make sure you have warm clothes because this wide open area will wind-blast you.

My dad, with cigarette in hand points to a salt mine located in the bottom of the canyon. It is difficult to decide which way to shoot. Every angle is completely beautiful.

At Dead Horse Point you can walk to the edge and look straight down the 1000-foot cliff. This area is not meant for those of you whom have a fear of heights. There are small walls separating the walk way from the edge, but you can easily hop over the side. Take precaution and do not think that you will never fall. I have personally witnessed a person fall off the edge of the Grand Canyon and I can say with certainty if you fall off the edge here, you are not going to live.

The high clouds continued into the night and I was able to capture this shot of the full moon over the La Sal mountains. I love shooting during the full moon. The moon creates a completely different environment and provides a unique perspective.

The next morning my father woke me up to tell me about the “Vultures” walking around the cabins. These four scavengers were actually pretty good looking Turkeys. They obviously ate pretty well and I suspect that they have been fed by previous visitors. Every time I have gone turkey hunting, I generally only see their back sides. These four turkeys were certainly not afraid of me and seemed almost put off that I did not offer some food.

Caste Valley

Most of the morning was cloudy and drab. We took the La Sal Loop road from our cabin North towards Castle Valley. The road is full of steep switch backs that are often iced over. The north side of the mountain gets little direct sun so it is not uncommon for the road to remain frozen all winter long. We slid our way down to the bottom while taking every opportunity to see the landscape before us as we made our decent. Eventually we made it to Castle Valley.

You will eventually run into the Colorado River. The ride along the river is a must see and take your time to see the mighty Colorado.

As a storm approached our picture taking opportunities soon became limited. We went back into Moab for dinner and decided that it was best to get back to the cabin before the snow prevented us from making it up the hill.

We awoke the next morning to deep snow. We had to dig the ca out before packing it up. The ride down the hill was treacherous to say the least. On our way to the Needles district of Canyonland we encountered several severe accidents being cleaned up. One rollover in particular looked especially deadly. After several delays we finally made it to the entrance of the park. The mountains were misty and hid the true majesty of the canyon walls that surrounded us.

We came upon Newspaper Rock, an ancient petroglyph covered wall containing a wide variety of figures and symbols from inhabitants of long ago. Unfortunately it also contains some etchings from the morons that plague us today. Drawing peace symbols and initials of people compelled to inscribe their love, you can only hope that these individuals did not procreate damning our world with another generation of half-brained offspring.

The frozen landscape is in complete contrast to what you would normally see in this high desert environment. I have been to this area many times before, yet today it seems if this is a whole new world. I guess that is what is so great about this area. You can never accurately remember the majesty of Canyonlands and with each season comes new and completely different appearance.

As we made our way towards the visitors center the sun began to burn through the clouds and highlighting the gorgeous red cliffs.

As the snow began to melt puddles formed throughout the park. I took the opportunity to capture another form of my favorite photography, shooting reflections off of puddles. There are some major trade-offs with shooting these photographs. First of all, you need to lie on your stomach to get low enough, which can be very wet and muddy. The second problem with this is you often carry the mud right into your car, which can make picking up dates in your car somewhat embarrassing. Fortunately, my girlfriend sees past my Pig-Pen like existence. Even better, she owns an Audi!!!

The Needles district was pretty much a mud bog so we decided to head out a little early and try to catch the sunset at Monument Valley. The snow had melted and there was pretty much open road from Canyonlands to Monument Valley. There wasn’t much that could stop us now… WRONG!

I started thinking to myself, “This is Bull S***”. What you do not see is that we had already passed through a gauntlet of these moronic animals and their steaming landmines. Personally, I have almost been killed at least a half a dozen times by these drooling idiots. I get angry when I hear how the ranchers in Idaho and Wyoming want to kill 300 of the 1200 grey wolves in order to protect their cattle. How about you start breeding smarter cows?!?! Let’s face it, these fart machines contribute more green house gasses to our atmosphere per year than automobiles and the idea of me being killed by these 1 ton imbeciles is slightly frustrating.

Near Mexican Hat, the desert stats taking on strange geographic patterns and shapes. Orange zig zags sandwiched between the the layers of sediments will make your nose bleed as you try desperately to ponder how in the world that happened. I am sure there is a perfectly good explanation, but since I did not take an “earthen zigzag” course in high school, I cannot explain it. My father can, but like much of his “Cliff Claven-like knowledge”, he pulled it straight from his butt cheeks.

We arrived at Monument Valley and raced up the road to get into position for what should be a great sunset. As we approached the entrance we were waved down by a Native American guide. He explained that the park was closed, but if we wanted to ride with him we could pay $50 for a tour. I was a little hesitant due to the shake down tactics he was using, but my dad had never been to Monument Valley. We ultimately decided to pay.

I was happy that we decided to go and was able to capture some shots that we never got before. This reflection off of the puddle was one of them. Like many places, you need to go there several times in order to increase your odds of getting some great shots. I have been to petty much all the places we have covered in this blog atleast once and some I have visited five times. You are always dealt a different hand, you just need to play it to the best of your ability.

The Dating Scene – It’s Even Tough for a Moose

26 04 2008

We have all been there. You are out with some friends and you see a girl that you are instantly attracted to. Most males pride themselves on their ability to approach a beautiful female, engage her in seductive conversation, and if we are lucky, it becomes the beginning of a wonderful night and possibly a great relationship.

However, we have all been shot down and sometimes shot down badly. I remember countless times cruising the bars in Tempe Arizona and seeing the girl of my momentary dreams and you are instantly compelled to talk to her.  It’s an impossible situation. You have no rapport established, you are going to be judged in seconds, and one wrong move will seal your fate as you crash and burn in front of countless observers. Often I was able to get a few sentences in before figuring out she was not interested. Eye contact was rarely established for more than a few seconds, she begins looking around you… maybe for a friend, or a possible escape route.  Her one word answers usually are a billboard-size sign that you best move on. More often than not they were extremely polite about it. With any luck it is not infront of your buddies who will surely use it as fodder for at least the night if not for half a decade.

I was on a Nature and wildlife photography shoot in Grand Teton National Park when I witnessed and photographed the best example of being shot down by a female in arguably all of Natural history.

Oxbow Bend is known for its romantic settings, great tasting swamp grass, some of the best river water this side of the Mississipp, and best of all, females out number males 4 to 1. In short, this place is a moose’s equivalent of a meat market.

With number’s like that the choice is pretty much yours. All you have to do is walk up, show the female the size of your rack and she is all yours, RIGHT?

I think their are some valuable lessons to be learned here. First of all, we have all been rejected in the dating scene. You could have the biggest rack, a custom radio tracking collar made by Gucci, and the largest muscles in the park, but if she is not interested, there is nothing you can do about it. Simply cut your losses and move on. Why? Because there are many more moose in the swamp. You can never take someone elses reaction to you and internalize it as a problem with you. She simply never knew you to begin with, and never took the time to know what a great moose you really are. Lastly, more likely than not, your buddies did not capture it on camera and will not post it on their blog for the enitre world to see. So get out there and have some fun in the dating scene and never take someone’s rejection of you to heart!!!

Real Estate Photography – When Mother Nature is Your Biggest Visual Asset

1 04 2008

bellvuesm.jpg As a real estate photographer you are always looking for something that will give a house a competitive advantage while trying to capture it photographically in a manner that highlights the home’s selling points. You will never, however, anticipate the magnitude of how much Mother Nature can help you.

Bellevue Washington, is much like her big sister Seattle, often cloudy during the winter and only providing glimpses of the natural treasures around you.

I was contacted by Ardell BellaLaggio of Brio Realty to come and shoot a home that she would soon be listing. It was a beautifully renovated historical home on the western side of Lake Washington. The weather was terrible yet typical, 45 – degrees, wet, and windy. My years of being a New Englander were squandered during the last decade as the dry heat of Arizona afforded me a new perspective on weather and a pathetic tolerance for low pressure systems. I jumped puddles, avoided the micro-mudslides that painted the side walk, and put my head down as I scampered up the never ending maze of steps and landings.

I approached the summit of the stair-mountain and finally the porch was within reach. Ardell peaked heroffice_smaller.jpg head out of the window and I was greeted by a half dozen people and the strong scent of paint thinner. I looked around and could see they were scrambling to put the last-minute touches on the house. Clearly we would not be shooting everything today.

We quickly began discussing the process and strategies we would use to photograph the home. The lake, which was barely visible was going to be the center of attention. I asked if there were mountains that may play well. Ardell and her partner Kim knew there were some mountains around but none close enough to help. We agreed that I would come back following night and shoot. I took a few shots that I knew were not dependent upon the view and headed out.

The next day I came over the top of Capitol Hill and thought I had seen a white mountain. Looking like a bobble-head driving a car, I bobbed and weaved desperately trying to see if it were true. Then, absolute proof, I was staring at the single biggest overlooked visual asset… “WE HAVE SNOW CAPS!!!”. An instant rush filled my head and I began day dreaming about the shoot to come. I found myself speeding through the Arboretum as my power-steering lake_washington_smaller.jpgsquealed in pain. As I approached the final hill I stared left desperately trying to take it all in.

With new found super human strength, I man-handled my strobes… like the Delta-Male that I am, and ran all the way back up those damn stairs. The forty feet above sea level started to cause some major respiratory distress. I managed to barely fight off altitude sickness but knew that a nose bleed would likely set in. With only the porch left to conquer I looked up to see the contractor waving at me… telling me… tell… te… TELLING ME TO GO AROUND TO THE SIDE DOOR?!?!? BUDDY!!! Are you kidding me?!?!?, I screamed silently. I just sherpa-ed 80 pounds worth of unrelenting awkwardness up a stair-master of a yard. Please tell me I am at least the butt of some joke. I would simply hate to waste this perfectly aggravating moment on misery alone.

Finally back inside, I can already see that we are going to have a great shoot. I needed to calm myself down and get back to the game plan. If you get too overwhelmed you will lose your methodology and make critical mistakes. The light wasn’t quite perfect yet, so I took my time setting up the strobes and triple-checked the camera settings. I didn’t want to go for too big of a shot. I had some time and startedcorner_final_smaller.jpg out with the smallest view. It was small both in terms of scale and importance. It was a view shot, but it was not the money shot.

This shot of the corner was the perfect warm up. The view was my priority because it was the most dramatic aspect of the shot. The furniture is nice enough, but it was not the best that the house offered. The view is spectacular and contemplating what the summer brings is equally magnificent. All I knew is that I would need to charge a hell of a lot more to be able to afford this house.

I took 20 or so pictures looking for perfect representation for both the inside of the house and the view. When I got what I thought would make the perfect combination I started contemplating the next shot. With a situation like this you need to be running both inside and outside constantly monitoring Mother Nature and being on the lookout for any surprises. Ideally you want to have two cameras ready to go. One paired with your interior wide angle lens and the second with a telephoto lens. Having to switch lenses for every shot will waste valuable time. You are doing double-duty and I have been known to run in order to capture a series of shotsmt_rainier_smaller2.jpg.

Photographing Nature requires a conservation mindset in that you are given a certain amount beauty over a finite amount of time and your job is to make sure you use as much of the beauty as possible with out wasting any of it. Its funny how Nature repeats itself.

Stepping out onto the porch this red glow caught my eye. I turned right and was blown away by what I saw. Mt. Rainier was visible and it happened to be pinks. I quickly grabbed my 70mm to 200mm lens and mounted it on to my tripod and began snapping. The whole drive up the hill I was looking left and never saw what was dead in front of me. I probably passed a family of Sasquatch too.

Could this get any better? I think not! Today was such a gift. I could not paint, let alone contemplate, a better showing than what we were given. Then I started thinking about the entire conversation I had with the real estate broker about not having any mountains. Ardell was going to be floored by these. I rushed back inside and new I had to get some more interior view shots before I ran out of day light.bedroom_fina-smaller.jpg

The bedroom was going to be a tough call. Generally, I like shooting them at night, but when you have a view you have more liberty. The sun is not shining directly on the lake which provides balance between the intimate settings of the bedroom and the smooth and soothing blues of the shadowed lake. Having a harshly lit exterior is sort of a mood killer and would be too distracting.

Looking into the LCD on the camera I liked what I saw. The soft interior of the room was complemented well by the architecture of the ceilings and the views from out side. This is the exact moment when I noticed something I had not planned on. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Behind the mountains outside rose a bright light. It was a full moon rising over the Cascade mountains!!!

Imoon_rise.jpg instantly switched game plans and knew I need to capture this moment. The moon rises surprisingly fast and I knew I less than 2 minute before the shot was lost. Furiously I removed my lens and switched to my 70 to 200mm lens so that I could get a more “real life” perspective. The tripod was set up and ready to go as I got my target in sight. I fired my first shot and checked to see how it looked. “Too Dark!!! You have got to be kidding me”. Fumbling some more, I was finally able to turn on the light to the display so that I could make my adjustments.

With my camera dialed in I turned for another round and BINGO! we got it. The moon was half exposed adding to the drama of the moment. I can’t tell you how many times I had been out on the trail and had scrambled for a similar shot and was always too late. My positioning was not right, or my tripod was back in the car, or I just fumbled around too much. This was just a great shoot that was only getting better.

Now that I had my shot it was time to get back to business. With the full moon helping me out I changed my game plan slightly. Lake Washington was going to reflect the moonlight and I new that there was anliving_room_final_sm.jpg opportunity to capture it through the windows in the dining room. There was not enough time to get the moon directly in the picture. More likely than not, the moon would be too small in the composition of the picture to even matter anyways. I decided to line the camera up in a way that would capture the reflection off of the lake and Bellevue, Washington’s city lights in the background. It came out exactly as I had hoped for!

As a real estate photographer you can only be as good as the home you are photographing will allow you to be. On a rare occasion, Nature will step in and help you with a dramatic sunset or a perfect moment when a bird or butterfly adds something fun to the foreground. On this night, Nature stole the show completely!

And what did Ardell have to say? Fabulous! Simply Mahvelous!!! as Billy Crystal would say. Kim and I are very, very pleased!”. I wish I could take all of the credit…

Harley Lever


Real Estate Photography – What you need to know to sell your home.

27 12 2007
Luxury Home Photographer by Harley Lever www.HarleysEye.comReal Estate Photography: putting the odds in your favor.
Yeah, you have heard it a thousand times “A picture is worth a thousand words”, but it can also be worth a thousand potential customers. With today’s depressed real estate market you need to take every opportunity to create “Cyber-Curb Appeal”.

The Internet has become the first choice for many potential home buyers, real estate investors, and sellers looking to find out what homes similar to their own are selling for. Simply look through your local MLS service and you will see thousands of terrible home photos. Real estate agents and homes sellers must come to terms with the fact that the days of listing your home and receiving a dozen offers are now long gone.

In today’s market, getting back to the fundamentals of marketing is important. Seattle real estate broker, Lynn Robertson has seen the power of professional photography first hand. “Professional real estate photography has several effects; it drives more home buyers to our listings and website, it attracts new home sellers to my agency by demonstrating that we know how to professionally market our client’s home , and it helps boost our property management services too.”.

Steve Glover, a Seattle property manager, attracts both tenantsLuxury Home Photographer by Harley Lever www.HarleysEye.com and landlords through the use of professional photography. Steve specializes in leasing luxury view condos in Seattle and requires a photographer who can capture the beauty of the interior with the spectacular views Seattle offers all in one picture. “Landlords benefit greatly from professional real estate photography because we need to attract as many qualified tenants as possible to avoid months with no rental income. The other key aspect is that we eventually will need to re-list the property after a tenant’s lease has expired and having high quality pictures often shortens the time between leases.” Another benefit Steve finds is that he acquires new listings every week because a property investors and landlords have seen his listings and want their properties marketed in the same high-quality manner.

Not all real estate photographers are the same. Many work for larger companies and get paid by the number of houses photographed. As you can imagine, their motivation is not to capture and set up an image that will best market your house. They are simply looking to shoot and move on.The time of day can be equally important. Sunrise and sunset often provide the best natural lighting. Depending on which direction your home faces it may be important to schedule a specific time. For example, if your home faces east it will be best photographed in the morning. With larger companies this luxury may not be available so make sure you ask.What to look for in a professional real estate photographer:

  • Use photographer that has a professional real estate photography gallery.
  • Good photographers use professional lighting systems to create a perfectly illuminated rooms.
  • Often professional photographers will only shoot during the best times so that they can use Nature’s lighting to highlight your home or property. Make sure you are able to request a specific time.
  • Beware of photography assistants taking the photographs and not the company’s best photographer. Sometimes you are sold on the “A-Team’s” work and are given the “C-Team” to photograph your home.
  • Ask to speak with clients. If they refuse ask yourself why not?
  • Look for photographers who can provide quick turnarounds. Most properties should require 1-2 days of processing. Larger more complicated shoots could require longer, but make sure you ask and get it in writing.
  • Work with photographers who guarantee the quality of their photographs and would be willing to re-shoot a property if the pictures are not up to par. Often professional photographers are more picky about their work than you will be, but it is nice to know they will take them again if things don’t work out the first time.

How much should I pay?

Real Estate Photography varies in price and often is dependent on the size of your home, where the property will be marketed (magazine vs. fliers), and the “visual assets” such as views, unique landscaping or other features that would require more photographic time to capture properly. Generally speaking, the bigger the house the more work and lighting a photographer will need to create great images.

Beware of companies that charge a flat rate or a one house fits all mentality. If you have an 8000 square foot house with panoramic views selling for $1.6 million and the company charges $150 for all houses you will likely receive images that will not market your house properly. Likely, you will be advertising this listing in real estate magazines with strict editing guidelines. This means if your photographs do not meet the photo-editors standards you may be denied publication. However, if you have an 750 square foot condo and are only posting the pictures on fliers and the MLS (Multiple Listing Service) this might be a perfect fit.

A good rule of thumb is between 5 – 10 cents per square foot. This means for an 8000 square foot house you should expect to pay between $400-$800 and for a 1500 square foot home between $75-$150. Again, if your home has spectacular views you may need to pay more in order to capture the true value of your property.

Harley Lever

Restaurant Photography – We eat first with our eyes!!!

27 12 2007

Everyone has seen it before, you walk up to a restaurant with dozens of pictures in front depicting the food and the beef is a deathly gray, the refried beans look old and crusty, and the vegetables look as if grandma had cooked them for several decades before blessing your plate with the vitamin-depleted mush. I am sure many brave patrons were forgiving of the poor quality pictures, but as a restaurateur, do you really want pictures of that quality representing your food?

Simply look to “Iron Chef” or other food competitions and you will realize that food presentation is as important as taste. Today food must be presented artistically and chefs go out of their way to “Out Picasso” the competition. The Internet has changed the game. As a restaurant owner you must expect that diners who have never eaten at your restaurant will visit your website before making a reservation. Your pictures will be your customer’s “first taste” of your cuisine.

Food photography and food styling are becoming extremely popular services sought out by restaurateurs, bar owners, wine makers, and others in the food and beverage industry. Jan Jongkol co-owner of Opal, one of Seattle’s newest and most popular restaurants explains that “Restaurant marketing has changed drastically… your photography, web site, and print advertising must be impeccable in order to attract increasingly more sophisticated diners”. Their web site, redesigned by restaurant marketing firm WeSprout Solutions, experienced a 650% gain in traffic in just one month and translated to 35% increase in reservations. Food photography was a key aspect in attracting new customers. “We can have the highest ranking site on the Internet, but the photography of our food is the final selling point” she explains.

However, when seeking a photographer food photos should not be your only concern. Restaurants require photographers with several skill sets. The ambiance and decor often help shape a visitors experience. Capturing romantic settings on film can be challenging and using a photographer experienced in architectural photography is important. In addition, photos of patrons, wait staff, chefs and others individuals may require a photo journalistic style.

How to choose a restaurant photographer
Here is a quick guide to choosing a photographer for your restaurant.

  • Choose a photographer with a varied skill sets to best capture your restaurant’s “Visual Assets” including Food, Architectural, and Photo journalistic experience.
  • Check out their galleries and look for consistency, style, and how many other restaurants use their service.
  • Ask to speak with their clients. Great photographers will also have great business relationships. Speak with other restaurateurs who have used their services. This will help you avoid the “One-time Wonders”, those photographers who market their best shot ever, but can never replicate it.
  • Beware of photographers who offer to come by and shoot your food or restaurant for what seems to be “free”. Likely, they will provide you with the photography and once you use their photography they will ask you for “Usage and copyright fees”. All too often I hear stories about restaurant owners who are taken to court for photography used in print advertising. The other costly side effect is that you will need to pay your web designer $50+/per hour to take down the photographs and post new ones. My best advice: Get your usage rights in writing!!!!
  • Use a photographer that has professional lighting systems and equipment. Everyone owns a camera, but that does not mean they are professionals. The best equipment combined with the best skill sets usually will provide the best results.
  • Ask for guarantees. Every photographer has bad days and sometimes pictures do not come out as well as they hoped. Work with photographers willing to re-shoot the food free of charge. Great photographers never want their poor images on the market and should be willing to guarantee their work.
  • Lastly, work with a photographer who is willing to collaborate and incorporate your ideas. Ultimately, you need to be proud of every aspect of your marketing and if you do not have the pictures that convey your restaurant in the way in which you want, you will never be happy.

What should you pay for Restaurant Photography?
Well that is certainly the million dollar question and hopefully will not cost you as much. The first step is to know what you want to have photographed and then develop a coordination strategy. Some shots are best taken when the business is closed or when there are no customers. The last thing you want is to have strobe lights, extension cords, and tripods in the middle of your dining room at seven o’clock on a Friday night. Plan your photography shoots for before you open or just before you close. This will help maximize everyone’s time, keep your labor costs down, and most importantly have little to no impact on your customer’s dining experience. This will also reduce the likelihood that the photographer will have to return for other shots later.

Photographers generally offer hourly, half-day, and full-day rates. Their rate usually includes post-processing work needed to fine-tune the picture, but make sure you ask. The last thing you want is to hire a photographer for $150/hour and find that the post processing time was not included in the rate for the shoot times. Often post processing time will require more time than the shoot itself so be aware!

Generally speaking photographers will charge between $75 – $500 per hour. With the higher end of the scale, you start paying for the “Photographer’s Name” as much as their skill. Half-day rates will run between $300 – $2500 and full-day rates run $600 – $5,000. I know many of you just lost your appetite reading these rates, but the truth is that you will find many more photographers on the lower end of the scale. The other point to consider is that these images are the ones you will be using on your website, print advertising, email marketing, magazines, and more, so taking the low-cost route may be a lot more costly in the end. If you pay $2,000 for your website and $500/week for print advertising it is a good idea to use pictures that will induce “crave-ability”.

Always ask for a package pricing and inquire about any discounts for repeat business. For many restaurant’s the food changes with the season and because of this it is important to have photography that is up-to-date. Featuring a hearty beef stew during a summer heat wave will not convey the refreshing appeal of your cuisine. The photographer has a vested interest in repeat business too. The photography market is saturated, so finding and keeping good customers is also of high importance to the photographer.

Harley Lever