Late last year, I was commissioned by long-time client Jennifer Weiss Architecture to shoot a recent renovation project in Golden Gate Heights in San Francisco. The project drew attraction from Dwell and was eventually published in the Dwell Special Issue Renovate Today published March 28th, 2013, story by Zahid Sardar.
I love the photos from military projects but man, are they a pain in the ass to plan and execute! I’ve worked with Frankfurt-Short + Bruza architects on four military shoots beginning 2006 in Travis, CA, then Fort Lewis, WA and Buckley AFB in Aurora, CO last year and most recently, Fort Dix/McGuire AFB, NJ. The toughest aspect of planning a shoot on a base is the communication with your POC’s. Typically, they’re medium to high ranking officers – a base commander with this last project – so you can imagine that they’ve got a million other things to worry about than providing information to a visiting photographer. This last shoot took two full months to properly plan however, sometimes when you think you’re ready and received your clearances, you’re still going to run into problems when you arrive. It’s really not the fault of anyone, that’s just what happens when you bring a camera to a very restricted military installation. There’s a lot of paperwork but no matter what, you must be prepared to wait and the possibility of being sent home without shots is always a danger. You must have very clear cancellation terms in your contract and document everything. It’s better to be overprepared than underprepared when working in restricted areas. You might think that you’re being somewhat annoying to the client or POC with respect to your preparations but it’s all for a good reason.
Despite some serious setbacks, I was able to gain access to the hangar as requested by the client and spent my authorized one hour to work fast and document as much as I could. It’s quite a rush walking around with a camera in a highly-restricted installation – such a feeling of accomplishment when you’ve got some great shots in the can after so much preparation!
This was one of my favorite projects this year. I was commissioned by long-time client, William Duff Architects to document their recent restaurant project opening at the Metreon in San Francisco. We began the exterior shots around 5am in order to finish the exteriors and interiors by 11am when the staff arrived. I was worried about the lack of warm light on the facade from the tall buildings across the street blocking the AM sun as well as fog however, this time the cool light conditions added a crisp, classic look to the overall shots. I’m very pleased with how this assignment turned out.
Sometimes the timing of the shoot – in this case, it had to be very early morning before the staff was in – can make or break the series. Given the right circumstances, I think that this project could have been an incredible space to showcase; however, due to the cool morning light and overwhelming fog, it was very difficult to produce the kind of interior light that I think could have been possible given the right conditions. I pushed the images as far as I could tailoring them to the client’s (William Duff Architects) requirements.
A couple more before and after images to illustrate the post-production process of this project. The weather was supposed to be fog early clearing by 8am and clear, zero percent chance of precipitation. However, my early AM shoot to capture the warm, morning light was seriously compromised by dense fog until almost 1:00pm. I had to make due with the conditions that were presented and let Photoshop compensate where I was not able to on location.
Last week, I received word from my largest hotel client that they’ve signed a blanket agreement across the board with a photography services company in Canada. Their rate quote for a photographic overhaul of their entire hotel including evening exteriors, all interiors and food shots was half my rate and would take half the time required to shoot; and I must clarify, my rates are very competitive and within the norm among professionals here in the Bay Area. I worked for another Canadian mega-vendor like this one in the past (with a strikingly similar name) when I was just getting started. To maximize profits, they paid me very little to photograph an entire hotel inside and out and outsourced all my RAW files to India for post-production. There was no incentive for me to do a good job considering I had already been paid and that I would not have any involvement in the process after making the images.
The hotel for which I was set to photograph this spring – who signed a contract with me and had already sent my retainer payment – informed me that they did not yet know about this new agreement between corporate and the mega-vendor and were now being pressured from corporate to fulfill some photo-necessities that were not on the contractual shot list. I amended the shot list and was able to meet their needs and I reminded them of the personal service that they’ve been receiving from me and how that will most likely change by working with a mega-vendor. But it’s not my client’s fault who their superiors elect to entrust their creative marketing needs to but it is my responsibility as a small business owner to remind them of the differences. As I communicated my personalized services for which they had been accustomed to, they again reminded me that I was twice as expensive as the other guys. When everything rests on a thin bottom line, it is difficult to support ingenuity.
This morning I opened my email box and in it was a message from a company who specializes in photo-editing. This is what the email read:
To Mr. Fladzinski. Dear Lucas, Good Morning! I’m Jean & I represent Blahblahblah Inc, based out of Wilmington, DE with delivery centers in Bangalore, India. I’ve heard good things about your work and so have gone through your work in your website and it is highly commendable. I am writing this email to request a call with you to discuss about the services we offer which are related to digital photo editing. We are one of the first to start and are market leaders in terms of providing digital photo editing services, people working under us are all certified professionals and so we guarantee high quality outcome with consistency. We work with similar photographers like you and we know that your photographic services cover large number of areas. We are interested in doing business with you so that we can help you in the back end photo editing work and to assist you in saving lot of time, money and give more time for what you love doing.
And my reply:
Jean, so sorry, but I believe in stimulating the local economy and do not outsource any aspect of my services. Lately, I’ve lost a lot of clients due to vendors who do not follow industry standard pricing undercutting professionals with inexpensive outsourcing. My customers appreciate and depend upon the hands-on quality that I provide personally. Thank you.
I typically receive at least one of these emails a week from similar vendors with the same intentions. Companies established so that a few individuals collect the profits while the work is funneled through the appropriate channels until it lands in lap of someone who’s completely removed from the process and equally removed from the client / photography / photographer relationship.
May 5th 2012 marked my seventh anniversary as a professional photographer. I’m now in my mid-thirties but when I started, I was one of the youngest in this area within this particular field working professionally. I would like to retire one day from doing what I love doing but the only way that this industry will survive is by careful maneuvering among one another, adhering to industry pricing standards, continually educating our clients and reassuring them of our commitment to them and collectively addressing all of those who outsource and undercut. Trends are progress at the local level, not the bottom line. If you feel as strongly about these issues as I do, please reply to those offering to save you or your clients money with outsourcing and continue to educate your clients. This industry’s future depends upon the collective ingenuity and talent of its members.
MARCH 31 – JULY 29, 2012
The Bay Area has long attracted dreamers, progressives, nonconformists, and designers. Buckminster Fuller was all of these, and although he never lived in San Francisco, his ideas have spawned many local experiments in technology, design, and sustainability. The first to consider Fuller’s Bay Area legacy, this exhibition features some of his most iconic projects as represented in a print portfolio recently acquired by SFMOMA, Inventions: Twelve Around One. Along with Fuller inventions like the 4D House, Geodesic Dome, World Game, and Dymaxion car, the exhibition presents Bay Area endeavors — from Ant Farm’s 1972 domed Convention City proposal to a North Face tent, and from The Plastiki boat to One Laptop Per Child — inspired by Fuller’s radical idealism and his visionary designs informed by technology, ecology, and social responsibility.