May 09 2012

I’m Feeling More Glamourous Already

Update: A new session of my favorite Finding and Creating Great Portrait Lighting class was just announced for the weekend of August 11th & 12th. Disney Hall is my all-time favorite urban location that is a perfect laboratory for learning how to see light and make compelling compositions. You will come out as a changed photographer with some great photos.

It’s all because I now have Virginia Postrel as a new Twitter follower and Facebook friend. The glamour rubs off from from Virginia being the Editor-in-Cheif of DeepGlamour.net. We met back in 2004 when I was asked to create a portrait of her for a Research Magazine article where she was stressing the economic importance of design on a city. The new Frank Gehry designed Walt Disney Concert Hall had just opened and it seemed like the perfect place to highlight the style of Los Angeles.

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Opening night lighting on the Walt Disney Concert Hall

It was scouting for the portrait session that I learned that much of the grounds and building are considered public property and are open for public use. I now use it as a location to a teach a portrait lighting class through the Julia Dean Photo Workshop. The next meeting of my Finding and Creating Great Portrait Lighting class is coming up soon on the weekend of August 11th & 12th.

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My portrait of the glamourous Virginia Postrel

Unlike basic square buildings that simply have a sunny and shady side, the Gehry building is full of curves and reflections. This makes the background and the lighting formula change every time you walk around the corner. There are also some great views of the city from some of the balconies.

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Actor/model Michael Pierce surveying his city empire

The last time we held the class it actually rained in LA and just like a real photo shoot we improvised by jumping in and out of the building as the weather changed. This allowed us to explore the building interior more and the students ended up shooting some of their best photos of our models in the underground parking garage.

Mark Harmel

harmelphoto.com

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Jan 18 2011

Happy 80th Birthday Jay

In the photography world the name Jay is synonymous the legendary photographer Jay Maisel.

He’s influenced generations of photographers and my turn came in 2003 right at the time that serious digital cameras entered the market. He was in Los Angeles to give one of his inspiring presentations and his photos of course impressed me, yet at the same time I was confused.

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Jay Maisel making a gesture about color and light

Many of the shots were taken for clients, but some of the best had no reason to be shot – except for the simple fact that they were great pictures. It was at that moment that I realized that I had witness similar scenes before, but I was self-censoring myself into only taking pictures that I thought could sell.

I lamented all the photos I’d been missing and at the same time recognized the economic equation had just changed.  Instead of buying what is now a relatively cheap camera and spending thousands of dollars a year in film. I had just purchased a $7,000 digital camera where the film was “free”.

I was inspired to catch up for years of lost images and discovered that Jay was teaching a class at the Santa Fe Photo Workshops the following week. I packed my bags and was on my way.

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I couldn't make out of the driveway without being stopped in my tracks

The class was inspiring for the extended viewing of Jay’s work and to witness how his critiques of student’s work were all teaching moments instead an opportunity to pass judgment. I began to see differently. There were days that I couldn’t get out of the driveway without being stopped in my tracks by amazing light hitting the purple flowers of a sage plant.

The week went by in a blur. We shot, edited, talked and shot some more – and somehow the universe bent light differently so that interesting photos were all around. Even the weather cooperated to make great photos, as I was lucky enough to get caught in a dust storm on my drive home.

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Even the weather changed to inspire me to shoot

You can find evidence of Jay’s influence by exploring my Visual Concepts category. That is really just a fancy way of saying these are photos that are a cheap imitation of anything that Jay Maisel could shoot on his 80th birthday or any day and a tribute to his influence.  May you have another 80 years of producing great work.

I found a wonderful video made by The Big Picture in 2008 on Ed Broberg’s blog tribute. It’s a great introduction or reminder of the genius of the man.

Be sure to visit Jay’s blog to read more tributes to Jay’s birthday.

Mark Harmel

harmelphoto.com

On Twitter:

@HarmelPhoto

@MarkHarmel

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Oct 08 2010

The New Look of FedEx Office

Update: FedEx Office continue to evolve and is adding free Wi-Fi to many of their locations. This gives road warriors another location option to Starbucks to conduct business. Even before the free Wi-Fi I would use the FedEx locations on my portfolio trips as places to charge up and and park before my next appointment.

I made a trip to my local FedEx/Kinko’s shop back in the summer and found a new sign on the door. Shortly after I received a call from a client asking for an estimate to do a series of photos at that same shop! It turned out that this was one of the first FedEx/Kinko’s outlets that would be transformed into a FedEx Office location.

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Delivery driver at one of the first FedEx Office locations

After landing the job it was so convenient to have one of the first locations converted down the street from me in Manhattan Beach. This made it easy to check the construction progress and to send back update snapshots to the art director back in Minnesota. I could also combine early morning airport runs to LAX with my morning coffee to precisely plot the timing and effect of the sunrise.

The client remembered me from a shoot I did for her way back in the film days, but we had never met. One month earlier, I did get to meet with the producer, who ventured out early to check out the progress of the transition. This helped to build rapport when I met the rest of the production team the day before the shoot.

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Scouting confirmed that there would be great Northern light mid-day

I knew that we had a busy shoot day planned and proposed doing a quick walk-though of the long shot list. This was designed to get a feel for the style of photo that the art director wanted and to get the simple blocking down. This way we could have a starting point that I could refine and light the next day. We used the basic back of the camera digital preview method. I would do option A, B and C and the art director would pick one, or suggest something else. I saved the favorites and printed out a reference contact sheet for the team.

I originally thought of these as simple starting sketches that would be improved the next day, but they created more of an expectation then I planned. Many times I ended up copying the scouting shot from the previous day. Perhaps it’s a sign to trust my first instincts more when I’m free from the technical constraints of lighting and worrying about the background.

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The store was open for business the day of the shoot

We had cast models and had our crew of stylists, make-up artists and photo assistants moving around lights – but we were shooting this big production in a working store. If a customer had a lifetime of photos to copy (which happened) at the duplicating machine we changed our shot or location instead of asking her to move. Some of the employees were also available to serve as models and we often used them as they served their customers.

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Our footprint needed to be small

With the shop open for business we needed to have a light footprint. Instead of overpowering the store with strobes, I opted for using continuous light sources that I blended with the existing lights. We even had one of our packs on battery power to remove the risk of tripping on a power cord.

The clients were very happy with the results and the photos seeded a new photo library. Keep an eye out for these shots. They will be making their way into the FedEx Office print and web marketing materials. I know that I will never see my local FedEx Office shop in the same way ever again.

Mark Harmel

harmelphoto.com

@MarkHarmel

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Feb 25 2010

documentary photograph & photoshop

Update: New York Time tech writer David Pogue raised the question of Photoshop and Photography: When is it Real? The subject came up when two winners in Popular Photography’s annual Reader’s Photos Contest had two winners that clearly were Photoshop compositions.

The question is when does manipulation take an image beyond a photograph? Next year the magazine handles the issue by having a separate category for Photoshop creations?

What do you think about that and the questions raised by my examples below?

One way that I describe the way I work is that I’m a documentary photographer that both knows how to find and see great light, and knows how to make it great when its not.

When I doing a commercial job part of the process is going into a real situation and making it look better. If that involves doing a head transplant from one frame to another or cleaning up a distracting background in Photoshop – that’s just part of the service that’s offered.

But what about when I head back out into the streets? What sort of alteration is fair game? Most serious journalistic publications only allow what could be traditionally done in a darkroom. Perhaps there is a vigorous discussion that is raging in the fine arts world about this issue that I’m not following.

What do you think is fair game from the two examples below and an earlier post about a Moulin Rouge photo?

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An altered documentary photo of an Upper Eastside socialite walking her poodle

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The grate was behind her foot and the sprinkler sign was removed

This Upper Eastside photo of a society women taking her poodle out for a walk was only slightly altered. The red sign above the fire-hose plug and the sidewalk grate were removed to cut down on the visual distraction. I personally only have a slight problem with this one. Would it be better if the alterations were indicated similar to what I did with these photos?

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A subway mime preparing for her performance

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One frame has the great reflection in the mirror.....and the other has the reaction of the passengers

The subway mime is more of a stretch. Instead of just cleaning up stray distractions this is a blend of two moments where the charm comes from actually being there and capturing the moment. I could say that I indeed captured the moment and the convergence just happened a different times. In my heart I feel its cheating. But is a much better photo as the combination than either one is alone.

What do you think? Where would you draw the line?

Mark Harmel

harmelphoto.com

@MarkHarmel

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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

harmelphoto.com

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Apr 16 2009

most photographed places-washington d.c.

I recently returned from a trip to Washington D.C. to visit colleges and in-laws. I go there often enough, but I’m normally not in either a tourist or shooting mode and I end up squeezing in some shots in-between other activities. Even with those restrictions the freshness of the city allows me to see the Capitol in ways that haven’t been recorded before. As an example the mystery to me is why no one else has taken this photo already? All the way over from the Jefferson Memorial I spotted the flags surrounding the Washington Monument and I knew that I want a wide angle shot from the ground. To me that was the shot.

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Flags surrounding the Washington Monument

I had two reasons to visit the National Gallery of Art. One was to see the Robert Frank’s Americans exhibit. and the other was to see the East Wing designed by I.M. Pei. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet both artists and do a formal portrait of I. M. Pei when he was working with his sons on the new UCLA hospital.

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Lobby of the National Gallery of Art designed by I. M. Pei

Sometimes the surprise seeing a familiar landmark from a view that you have never seen before – and wondering why this view hasn’t shown up in a movie or TV show yet. On a Christmas visit years ago I was shocked to see a greenhouse so close to the Capitol Building. It is a great visual and could be used to talk about government transparency.

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Capital dome behind the greenhouse windows of United States Botanical Garden Conservatory

Much of the time I’m simply a tourist as well viewing the sights. I just have a bigger camera and a trained eye and and see to shoot above the crowd for a classic view of Abraham Lincoln.

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Lincoln Monument with classic window lighting

Washington D. C. is full of statute and domes, yet I had never seen this configuration until I took the shot.

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What every Capitol needs domes and statutes

One more time looking into the sun at the Washington Monument experimenting with the video capabilities of my new camera.

Click here for other examples of photos from other “most photographed places” – Moulin Rouge, Joshua Tree National Park, Angkor Wat, New York’s Central Park, Monument Valley,Taj Mahal, Eiffel Tower.

Mark Harmel

harmelphoto.com

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Apr 09 2009

up in the air with the iPhone

Published by under iPhone,process,travel

I’ve been pondering when to use my iPhone to take a snapshot and when to use my real camera. This photo taken on my flight back from Washington D.C. yesterday is an example of of good time to use the iPhone.

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757 with plane reflected in engine housing

As we were flying into the sunset our plane was illuminated but the back side of the engine housing was not. That lighting condition made  the engine a perfect mirror to reflect the plane. I could see this because I had the window seat, which also meant that there were two people between me and my camera bag in the overhead storage compartment. All that sunlight also was highlighting the dirt on the window which meant it would never be a great picture, but it was at least an idea worth filing away.

The iPhone camera was a perfect compromise. No one had to move and I’m now able to share a memory.

Mark Harmel
harmelphoto.com

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Mar 29 2009

forgot my camera – shot with my iPhone instead

Benjamin Franklin taught us that: “In this world nothing is certain than death and taxes.” In the photography world the other certainty is the need to do marketing. With that in mind I just returned from my annual “Marketing and Taxes” visit to San Francisco. (My tax attorney is in SF.)

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Checkerboard building in Oakland

In my rush to gather up all of my tax info and marketing materials I left my camera back at home. This made me a bad student of Jay Maisel who advises photographers to always carry a camera(there is a great video of him talking by following the link with his name) – until I realized that I had my little used iPhone camera with me.

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Emerging from the BART station on Market Street

I have been a fan of plastic Diana cameras in the past and know that its better to have a good eye behind a simple camera than a have an untrained eye behind a professional camera, and I enjoyed the freedom of simply playing and recording some the new sights I was experiencing.

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Water delivery truck

There best part about the camera on the iPhone is that it is always with me and it will make a photo in just about any quantity of light.

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After an appointment in Foster City

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Shooting through a dust barrier at a construction site

And unlike the Diana where the viewfinder was more of a guess, the iPhones displays a video preview. It is still hard to be precise with the framing since the shutter release button in on the front of the camera and not the top of the frame.

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Stoplight shadow

It has an amazing ability to shoot in very low levels of light. The photos have digital noise in them, but I find it amazing that it is possible to hand hold the camera and still record anything.

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Couple walking past the Old Federal Reserve building

And it still has good color.

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The red cover of the pool table is still vibrant

After doing my iPhone exercise I read that there is a new camera/phone called a Pixon that is more of a camera with a phone added than the iPhone. Samsung sent a photographer around the world to take picture with this devise. Hey – my passport is current. I’m ready to take my close-ups.

Mark Harmel
harmelphoto.com

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Mar 15 2009

photography with a friend

The Salton Sea trip was triggered by great desert spring weather and a blog post by John Paul Caponigro where he shared his enjoyment with shooting with Vincent Versace.

I’ve done this before with my friend Josh Mitchell – most recently as we were chasing a snow storm in the high desert.

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Josh after we were turned back by a snow storm in Yucca Valley

Not only do we end up shooting in very different directions in the same location we respect each other’s signature work and serve as scouts for each other.  At the Salton Sea my traveling partner Martin Trailer, not surprisingly has a thing for old trailers. I left him to shoot his decaying Airstream at Bombay Beach and went for the afterglow at the ruins of a old dock.

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I went for the dock and Martin went for the trailer

The astute viewers will notice that there is some mystery light on the pier posts. They came from a truck turning around during my long exposure.

Mark Harmel
harmelphoto.com

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Mar 14 2009

“I’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers.”

Published by under portraits,travel,visual concepts

I always like surprises. Once again on the Salton Sea trip we came upon a brand new truck stop in what was a desolate intersection coming out of the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. I was first attracted by the bright primary colors of the red signage, yellow construction tape and the blue sky. And then I saw her….

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The primary colors attracted me to this new truck stop

It was almost too good to be true. A matching vision wearing a yellow blouse with a red hat and matching shoes jumped out of the corner of my eye. I first thought that it must be a mirage. Did she dress to match the station?

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A mirage of matching colors

Using mostly sign language I implored her to move from under the overhang in front of the “Diesel #2″ sign. It turned out that she was there with her husband, who helped to translate my direction into Spanish. He was installing the pumps at the truck stop and she was there either to help or keep him company. Either way it was my lucky day!

Mark Harmel
harmelphoto.com

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