Archive for the 'process' Category

Jan 02 2010

why all this talk about diabetes & what’s a knol?

Published by under diabetes,healthcare,process

Update: Is your resolution is to treat your diabetes better this year? I have great a place to start. My wife wrote an excellent primer on how to treat Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. More on her background and the Google Knols can be found below. Happy New Year!

This is normally the time of year (originally published on June, 6, 2009) that I attend the American Diabetes Association Convention. It is a great opportunity to network, check out the convention displays and visit agencies in the host city.

You may have noticed that a number of my posts (like the recent one on Charlie Kimball) have references to diabetes. Its not that I have diabetes – my connection comes from being married to Anne Peters, a leading diabetes doctor. We met on assignment. I was asked to take a clinical research photo for UCLA Medical Center. The photo illustrated how the patient data was entered into a laptop and uploaded to the drug company from all the different research sites every night. It was used in a big fund-raising brochure that helped raise money to fund the new UCLA hospital.

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The first clinical research photo and Anne's book cover

That first photo eventually led to a Las Vegas based Elvis wedding and working together on her “Conquering Diabetes” book. I shot the cover and a number patient portraits that were paired with their stories throughout the book as well as overseeing the development of the promotional website.

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Patient portrait of Olympic sprinter Gary Hall, Jr.

This experience opened the door with Abbott Diabetes Care where I initially was asked about taking photos for the website that would announce the launch of their Navigator Continuous Glucose Monitor. A lunch meeting at the 2006 ADA Convention began with the usual discussions about what to shoot and budget and then spun-off into the territory of developing concepts. After an interesting brainstorming session back in their Alameda headquarters the project took a surprise turn. Instead of taking photos for the Navigator project I was asked to put together a team to convert an existing brochure to a website!

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The home page of the Navigator website

There was the expectation that the Navigator would soon be approved by the FDA and a launch site was urgent. I had a resident expert in my wife (who was conducting clinical trials with the device) and I assembled the experienced team of copywriter, Roger Poirier and art director, Lon Davis. I suddenly became a creative director interacting with my wonderful client Steve Bubrick and extrapolating from my years of communication experience to steer the web project, a direct mail piece and bike rider cars for Team Type 1 (I finally was able to take some photos for those).

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Ballerina Zippora Karz demonstrating drawing insulin into a syringe

In 2008 Anne was asked to be one of the charter contributor to the Google Knol project. The original seeding of the Knols came from experts in their field to differentiate them from Wikipedia. They have since become more broad based and similar to Squidoo Lenses. Both her Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes Knols were given the Top Pick Knol Award.

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Video blogs produced for Medscape on diabetes topics

The most recent project with Anne has been producing video blogs for Medscape that have become popular in the professional community. These were supposed to be easy to produce reports and we were given Flip cams to shoot the spots. After I managed to get one of the early Canon 5D MKII cameras that also shoots HD quality video, we switched over to create the 35mm film look that the camera gives. A recent episode on “Treating Diabetes During the Economic Crunch” (free registration required) has content that crosses over to the general public as well.

I recently completed a test using this camera to work out the kinks to use it in a daytime TV promotion, but I’ll save that for a future post.

Mark Harmel


2 responses so far

Dec 19 2009

the story behind the living joshua tree holiday card

Almost exactly one year ago a Winter storm came rolling through Southern California. This normally just means rain here in the Los Angeles basin, but we do get snow in the high mountains – and on special occasions the snow level drops down low enough to deposit snow in the high desert area of Joshua Tree National Park. Visiting the snow covered desert is one of the real treats of living out here and my excursion out there last year became this year’s Holiday card.

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The snow covered Joshua Tree that became a card

The printing of my cards is done in-house on my own printer using a card stock that I get at Red River Paper. In the middle of printing my Epson 2400 suddenly stopped printing without warning!  Instead of having a “Check Engine” light like we have on our cars now, this printer simply shuts down when it’s time for service. A late night trip to the electronic store to update the printer got me back in business to finish the rest of the cards.

As I was complaining about the printer to my friend Chuck Chugumlung and showed him a video version of the scene on my iPhone. He said, “You should just do an interactive version of the card”. It never occurred to me, but Chuck is an interactive designer that does this sort of animation all the time. I sent him the movie and he came back with this wonderful interactive version of a Holiday card. If you haven’t seen it yet, click on the link. Go ahead. I’ll wait. You can even play it more than once.

The original clip is a full HD video version of the snow falling. I had received one of the first Canon 5D MkII cameras, but really hadn’t done much with the video capability beyond learning how to push the record button. So after trudging out through the snow to the tree I set up for a still photo, took my shots and after seeing clumps of snow falling around me, I decided that I would try to catch the action of the melting snow. At the time, I was proud and showed it to my TV friends. The reaction? “That’s nice, where are you going to show it?” With the traditional TV frame being a horizontal rectangle, he had a point. But since then I’ve seen some interesting work with what some call “living one-sheets”. This is where a movie ad comes to life. Here’s one for Marley & Me from last Christmas. These are often shown in shopping malls that have HD TV sets turned vertically.

Here is the original video version – only four seconds.

Snow drop – Joshua Tree National Park from Mark Harmel on Vimeo.

On that same day I also shot another horizontal variation I liked. I sent both versions off to the Photo District News and this one was chose to be one of their first’ “Photo of the Day“.

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This version became the PDN Photo of the Day

Mark Harmel


 the story behind the living joshua tree holiday card

2 responses so far

Nov 09 2009

the best iPhone photography app

Much of the talk about using the iPhone camera surrounds additional apps that you can use to tint, crop, zoom or selectively focus your photos. There are titles that bounce around the internet like Must-have apps for iPhone photographersThe Five Best iPhone Apps For Travel Photography and The Best Camera “ecosystem”.

I find some of the apps useful for making it easier to crop, adjust the exposure and upload to a photo sharing site; but I find that most of the tinting and special effects features to be cheap tricks. Most of the time the app will simply transform a bad photo into a bad photo with a blue tint.

To me, the most most important app is the person taking the photo.

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Surfer on the Venice Beach boardwalk

The beauty of the iPhone is that it’s always with you. The camera function is both very easy to use and at the same time very hard because it’s such a simple camera. The camera works great for basic snapshots of friends, but I wanted to see how it would perform in the stress test of the Venice Beach boardwalk.

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Beach visiter taking a cool drink by the iconic wooden umbrella clusters

The boardwalk is both a target rich environment with a collection of colorful characters, and a very challenging place to shoot. The light is harsh and the action is quick.

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The palm reader's sign blocked the sun creating a perfect north light studio

You have to look for the places that either have good light already or find a simple way to control the light. There isn’t an app made yet that will help you identify ways to control light by shooting your subject in front of a backdrop, or moving them in front of the sun.

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I moved the stilt-walker in front of the sun and palm trees

Since we use the iPhone’s screen to preview the photo, shooting into the sun is even harder. Unlike looking through a camera viewfinder, on the iPhone you have the confusion of the reflection on the screen and the glare behind the phone. Half the time it seems like I’m guessing at the composition. The shooting is similar to using the cheap plastic Diana camera where the joy come from the surprises created by the lack of control.

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Catching action is an advanced skill

The other issue with the camera is the shutter lag. Venice Beach is full of action and all good street shooters pride themselves at being able to capture the “decisive moment“, but with the time delay you have to press the shutter button a half second before you think something may happen. (You can control this a bit by being aware that the shutter is actually activated by releasing, instead of pressing the shutter button.)

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Quick movements often produce a warped effect

There is also a odd warping effect that’s created by the iPhone using a rolling shutter. Instead of the exposure being created all at once by the aperture effect you see on the screen, the scene is being quickly scanned. In the shot above, the head section was scanned first and the legs moved to the right by the time the scan made it down to the bottom.

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The light weight of the iPhone makes it easy to shoot down

One of my big shooting surprises is that now I’m often holding the camera straight out and shooting down. Instead of having my face up to the view-finder, the iPhone already starts away from my face and it’s a quick movement to point the iPhone down. Instead of the normal Hail Mary Shot that photojournalists use in a crowd to get the camera higher. I’m finding that I do the same thing shooting down. I simply guess at the framing and swing with the action.

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There's a whole new world down below

For most people, I suspect the hardest part about doing iPhonetography is using the moderate wide-angle lens. The view is similar to what you would get on a full frame 35mm camera using a 35mm lens. Our minds are very good at zooming into a scene to examine the front wheel pattern above, but we’re less well trained to see the wider view while being aware of all the action that’s shown below.

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Learning to see all the elements in the wide view is an acquired skill

I’m constantly working at striking the balance between simplifying and getting something interesting in the frame. When I first arrived at the beach I noticed a large sailboat on the horizon. But it was too small in the frame by itself, so I chased it down the beach while searching for something to place in the foreground. First there was a volleyball game, then a life-guard stand and finally I spotted a surfer balancing a board on his head to change his shirt.

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A balance between a simple background and a foreground surfer to fill the frame

Years of experience and learning to see like the iPhone camera is the real secret app in iPhonetography.

None of these photos required any special app filters or effects. I did use my normal workflow of opening the photos in Photoshop CS4 Camera Raw (even jpgs from the iPhone can be processed this way) and making some simple exposure adjustments and clean-up.

I took these shots in preparation of teaching an iPhonetograpy class at the Julia Dean Photo Workshops. The class is scheduled for December 6th. I hope to see you there.

Mark Harmel


10 responses so far

Oct 01 2009

the heart valve race

Published by under healthcare,press,process

UPDATE: 10/1/09

The New York Times today has a business feature on the race between Edwards and Medtronic to develop a replacement heart valve. the original post ran on March, 28, 2008.

I tend to be attracted to more free-range photographic subjects that live out in the real world rather than shooting in a studio. But with all photography the interplay of message, light and design still come into play.

Such was the case when I had the opportunity to shoot a transcathether heart valve. This is a device that serves as an artificial heart valve that could potentially be a significant advancement because it can be easily placed into the heart by threading it up through the groin instead of more invasive open heart surgery

One of the clinical trial sites is at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center where I have been shooting for their research magazine. This was an issue devoted to surgical advances and the hearh valve won out as the story to be featured on the cover. I was able to read a feature on the procedure that was published in the Cleveland Clinic Magazine and see some sample photos technical photos of the device and view a video of the insertion process.

The first approach was to attend a surgical insertion of the device and show the valve being placed by shooting real time view the surgeon sees on the angiogram monitor.

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The transcathether heart valve being inserted in a patient shown on an angiogram monitor

This had the potential to create an abstract art feel to a medical procedure where a trained eye could also see the mesh of the new heart valve and the shadow of the balloon being used to expand the valve. The attempt was a success, but the angiogram screen is still in the low definition phase and the editorial team decided that we wanted more detail and dimension that would be possible shooting the real valve.

Fortunately Edwards Lifesciences is in nearby Irvine, CA and I was able to pick up the valve and insertion device. I was attracted by both the balloon and the mesh around the valve and thought that I could make it come to life by getting very close and shining some light through the balloon and using the pattern of the mesh.

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Still life version showing the replacement valve on the insertion balloon

A version of this was on the cover of the Cedars-Sinai Discoveries magazine.

Mark Harmel

No responses yet

Sep 01 2009

dual portrait 2 – a transition

Another example of an environmental portrait that can also serve as a headshot. This time a simple hallway serves as our background and a blend of natural daylight and warm tungsten light on our subject provides the color variation. Similar to the HHMI fellows, this portrait can be cropped as a headshot as well as serve as a consistent portrait  location for the Cancer Care Associates team.

Our subject is Dr. David Chan, an excellent oncologist in the South Bay area of Los Angeles and a family friend (he and my wife trained together at Stanford).

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Oncologist David Chan, M.D.

I recently spent a couple of days in his busy office creating images of patient care and research for his website and stock use. Look for those photos in my next post.

Mark Harmel

2 responses so far

Aug 31 2009

dual use portraits of hhmi gilliam fellows – the smart approach?

I enjoy the challenge of shooting portraits of young medical researchers that need to serve a dual purpose. When Howard Hughes Medical Institute announces their new Gilliam Fellowship recipients they only run one very small headshot version on their website. But they often have other uses when they can run a full photo that includes more environment.

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Angelica Riestra, HHMI Gilliam Fellow at UCLA

Here are two recent examples of this year’s recipients that were shot at UCLA. The portrait of Angelica Riestra shows how the same photo with a clean background can work successfully for a small headshot and yet has enough interesting information to be used in a larger feature format like the example of Ryan Dosumu-Johnson below.

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Ryan Dosumu-Johnson, HHMI Gilliam Fellow at UCLA

I’ve since applied the style to corporate and academic leaders as well. I prefer the result better than the standard portrait in front of a studio background. What do you think – is it a smarter approach?

Mark Harmel

No responses yet

Jul 29 2009

feeding frenzy at the flat creek ranch

There is this esoteric part of fly-fishing where it is important to match your fly with the current hatch of bugs on the stream. With a mix of skill and luck the goal is to toss out bomb-pops just as the trout are running up to the ice cream truck. I witnessed this amazing feeding frenzy for the first time on this trip. Rather than casting a fly to where a fish should be swimming it was possible to be standing a few feet away as the fish were leaping for the current hatch of flies.

The same spot at a different time of day only revealed flowing water. When I’m shooting for myself I go through similar periods of feeding frenzy mixed into periods of stillness.

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The mountain lake at the ranch

On trips to exotic locations I want to shoot up a storm and have to work to balance being social and being a photographer. On shorter trips I give myself permission to keep the cameras in the bag and take a break.

Over the 4th of July weekend Anne and I visited the Flat Creek dude ranch outside Jackson, WY. This was exotic enough to haul my camera bag and computer on the plane, yet the location was familiar enough to make shooting optional. It was also far enough off the grid to ignore any work and just read, ride and fish at the ranch.

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Carved door and porch at the main lodge

I admit to being a bit disappointed that there wasn’t the inspiring views of the Grand Teton peaks that could always be seen on a previous trip. They could be viewed though after hiking through mosquito infested forests. (Some people consider this to be fun.)

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Classic bathtub in our cabin

But in the middle of the night a simpler vision of the beauty that did surround me came to mind and I crawled out of bed early and fired off this series of photos of our cabin and the near-by lake.

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The amazingly well-trained ranch dog at the lake

That was it. One early morning flurry and then back to searching for the cut-throat and brook trout churning in their own feeding frenzy at a new hatch of flies. I returned to my vacation, relaxing, and waiting for the next idea to hatch.

Mark Harmel

One response so far

Jul 17 2009

“and that’s the way it is”

Published by under news,portraits,press,process,teaching

I can’t say that I knew Walter Cronkite any better than any other regular viewer, but I did as a college student manage to ask him a question at one of these University journalist all-star talks. I presumptuous asked if it was a bit presumptuous of him to conclude the program with his famous sign-off, “And that’s the way it is.” He graciously explained that when the news show expanded from 15 to 30 minutes there were plans on including a quirky item at the end of the show and the sign-off would be ironic or humorous.

The news hole soon filled up with major events of the day and Cronkite wrote that he “was too stubborn to drop it”

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Walter Cronkite signing off on his final CBS Evening News broadcast

The picture above came about after experimenting with documenting scenes off the TV one freezing Michigan winter. This photo is somewhat historic by being taken right after he signed-off for the last time.

I still recommend shooting off a TV screen as a beginning photo exercise. It is the best opportunity I know to have experiences flow in front of you where you can concentrate on simply pressing the shutter at the right moment. It is harder than it looks.

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Jul 14 2009

how internet dating can help you find a job

It’s not the long walks on the beach or the candle-light dinners that made the difference – the big lesson I learned was to not spend too much time on-line before meeting. The same is true when you’re looking for that dream-date of a job.

I found some women that were engaging writers and I would spends hours reading and writing emails that continued for days only to have my hopes and dreams shattered in 60 seconds after meeting. It wasn’t always just physical appearance either. Its that we can convey so much essential information with our physical presence. The way we walk and talk all contribute to the equation.

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A "dream" putt-putt golf date created for a long forgotten TV show

My old dating rule quickly became to schedule a low stress coffee or drink date as soon as possible. I find the same rule holds true to make your presence known in the communications world as well.

On a simple level when I interview a new photo assistant I at very least want to see a photo and prefer to meet them in person. This is because I’m often in medical and corporate environments and a talented assistant with dreadlocks and tattoos that may be great on a fashion or entertainment set wouldn’t work with my clients.

This means that you need to have a physical portfolio to show. Yes a website is important as well, but you need a reason to have that meeting. There may be an electronic component to your portfolio, but if all you have to show is on the web there won’t be a reason to meet. I do all the usual routine of sending our emails, printed promos and have both a blog and portfolio website – and sometimes they are enough – but the real connection happens in the face to face meeting.

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Seal the deal with a corn dog toast

All the other marketing that I do also works better as a reminder of our meeting than it does as an introduction. This is most clear in my email response stats where I see who opens my email and continues on to my website or blog post.

So there may be work to do to format and edit a book. Marketing yourself could become your full-time job interspersed with some paying gigs.

The the good news comes from internet dating as well. Like the date – going on the interview is about you sizing up the company as much as it is about you being judged. I recall being saved from having to live in Buffalo, NY after visiting a graduate program on Creative Problem Solving that wasn’t as creative as my undergraduate schools.

Perhaps you’re wondering? Did the internet dating work? Yes, but not in the way that the ads portray. I ended up meeting my wife on an assignment. She was just another doctor to shoot. This time it was to show an example of clinical research. Then we met again in the hall – and she needed a photo for her talks. The multiple internet dates helped to train me out of my natural shyness and allowed me to ask her on a simple date. If it wasn’t for all of those bad dates when the woman wasn’t right for me or the where I wasn’t right for them I may not be married now.

So make a book, work your personal contacts and go out there and book some dates.

Mark Harmel

One response so far

Jul 11 2009

what’s my motivation? – how do i respond to an assignment call

When I talk with a client about an assignment I’m most interested in knowing all that I can about the project. I particularly interested in the end audience. To me they are always the client.

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The more information the better - telephone lines receding into mountain range during a rain storm

Assignment shooters are always working at pleasing multiple interests. There is the person that is ultimately paying the bill and often one or more people in-between. That is either an art director, designer, photo-editor or editor. And often the person in front of the camera gets thrown into the mix as well. My job is to produce a photo that pleases them all (and on good days me as well) – but the most important person in the process is the person that is looking at the photo in the finished context.

Since I live in the Hollywood area, my questions really all revolve around the old actor’s cliche. “What’s my motivation?” I want to understand the context of the communication. What’s the message? Is it an ad, a magazine cover or part of a larger story?

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What's my motivation? - Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe impersonators on Hollywood Boulevard

Is there a story (or draft) that has been written already – any other background material about the person or the subject matter? I also want to know if this is a free standing photo or is my mission to make the photo similar or different that the other images in the group?

All of this information goes into the visual blend-o-matic that helps to guide me in crafting the location and my approach to the subject. Some of the structure is very planned and logical and other part come from those magical unconscious connections…and that’s part of the fun.

Mark Harmel

One response so far

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