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15 Tips for Creatives to Get the Most Legal Bang for Your Legal Buck

Contracts can be a nightmare. I’ve never loved contracts even for a hot second, but fortunately I’ve surrounded myself with an awesome Executive Producer who really likes them — Kate (she’s also my wife), and a great lawyer or two. We know what a pain point this can be for creatives everywhere, so we sat down and pulled together a series of 15 tips aimed to help you navigate these messy waters. We know legal advice can be ridiculously expensive and is often hard to afford/want to pay for, however, in order to run a successful biz, the need for some legal work is inevitable… The trick is to find a balance between spending and managing risk.

To help strike that balance, here the list we use to keep our bills as low as possible and still meet that baseline of comfort.

1. Find a lawyer before you need a lawyer. While the task may sound daunting, it is way, way, way better to make the time early so you don’t feel rushed in an already stressful situation. Start by asking for recommendations from friends, industry acquaintances and local professional organizations and develop a short list of options. Then meet with a few attorneys to find the best fit. Take advantage of this initial meeting time to share your philosophy and get on the same page. This will save you time and money later. If at all possible, try working on a few projects together to see how it goes.

2. Find a lawyer that is a good match for your personality and your needs. When we were on the hunt for legal counsel, here was our list of wants:

_understands copyright, intellectual property and contract law,
_great at explaining law in layman’s terms,
_understands our business, budget and goals,
_has the necessary technology to work together (document compatibility),
_has time for us, and
_is pleasant to work with.

3. Understand how lawyers bill. Most lawyers bill in 15 minute increments, so keep your eye on the clock! This includes any and all time working for you, so that means reading email, phone calls or working on your project. Being prepared and organized will save you money. You will also be charged for miscellaneous items like making copies, sending faxes, editing documents, etc, so you may want to take over some of those tasks if it makes sense.

Some firms want you to pay an advance fee or retainer, where you pay a certain amount in advance and then are billed against that amount as work is completed. These types of agreements are common and pretty fair, but if you can avoid paying in advance, that is always preferred. If not, negotiate any prepayment as low as possible and never sign up for more time than you think you will use from the firm in a reasonable amount of time – these fees are nonrefundable.

4. Manage costs. Since writing legal documents is an art, there is no one definitive way to express an idea. That said, you can get in editing loops that could go on and on. To avoid this, it is really important to communicate clearly about your needs for every project.

Some other tips:

_provide a per project budget,
_ask for notification if your monthly bill exceeds a certain amount and
_provide some direction on the type of feedback you want

For example, some standard agreements are just that… standard, so I instruct our legal to look for red flags only (after I have read it). In other instances, we may be entering into a very unique type of deal, so we may need more customization. Even in the latter case, you should keep track of time to keep a pulse on the budget.

5. Take advantage of the resources offered by professional organizations. I especially love the American Society of Media Photographers. Among other great member benefits, they offer a wealth of helpful legal information including:
tutorials on bad contracts, copyright, releases, licensing, and more and sample forms like releases, contracts, etc. granted, you will want to customize/localize with your lawyer if at all possible, but it’s a great starting place that will save you time, money and headaches.

6. Create templates when possible. You will find that you use the same documents over and over and you should have solid versions/template of each that can be customized as needed. Start with standardized documents from your professional organization or law firm and work with your lawyer to make them appropriate to your business. Here’s a list of standard documents that would be helpful to have at your fingertips and customize:

_photographer agreement
_estimate, delivery memo, change order and invoice
_model release
_property release
_contractor agreement (for individuals you are hiring)
_non-disclosure agreement

7. Create systems. Whenever you find yourself encountering they same types of legal requests, see if there is a way to standardize or at least create a system for vetting the document so you don’t start from scratch each time. For example, we are often asked to signed Non-Disclosure Agreements before hearing about projects. Every client has their standard document, so I worked with our counsel to create a way for me to vet each before going to our legal. See our earlier post about NDAs HERE.

8. Use a term sheet. A term sheet is a short, bullet-point document, usually one-page, that summarizes the project and specifies the essential terms of your forthcoming agreement. This is a great way to go because it gets all parties on the same page in plain English… and FAST. This ‘cheat sheet’ is a guide to help the legal team translate the project into a formal legal format. Term sheets can be binding or non-binding… that means, enforceable by law or just clarifying. Either can work, it just depends on your needs.

9. Embrace the process. The longer I’m at it, the more I see the process around most legal issues as an opportunity to build a strong relationships with those we want to do biz with. The process gives both sides a chance –through good communication– to really understand the terms and expectations and avoid surprises later. If done well, everyone walks away feeling like they they are winning. And that’s a great way to start a relationship.

10. Understand your lawyers limitations. A lawyer only is as good as the information you provide them with and you know your business way better than your lawyer does. So, you have to work together to end up with a great contract. Think about the deal and make sure you have addressed everything you think is important. I always explain the project and ask myself: what is missing? I always ask my lawyer: what should I be asking?

11. Unravel the mystery of ‘boilerplate.’ Boilerplate is the standard parts of a contract that you almost always need, like confidentiality, severability, assignment, relationship of the parties, governing law and so on. It’s a great idea to work with your lawyer to understand these kinds of standard sections…AND you still need to read them every time! Seemingly small changes can have big impacts.

12. Take advantage of redlining. In word processing, you can track any changes made by either party as you are editing, suggesting changes and making comments. This redline shows up in a different color the document with a note of who made the change so that others can see the changes that have been made. It makes going back and forth on documents so much easier!

13. Ask questions/do the research. Use your lawyer, resources online and the process to educate yourself. As you start to understand more, you will be able to ask better questions and avoid pitfalls before you get too far down the line in the legal process. For example, you don’t want to wait until the contract phase of the process to find out that the client wants to hire you to do work for hire (they own the copyright) if you prefer to license your work (you own the copyright).

14. Evaluate risk. All deals have some amount of risk and and you want to mitigate as much as possible. A good lawyer excels at helping you understand your risk so you can make the best decisions… it’s up to you to make the call on what your are willing to sign up for.

15. Read and understand anything + everything you sign. This seem obvious, is essential and yet way too often does not happen. All deals have some risk and you must understand how much risk you are assuming. A lawyer is great for highlighting where you are exposed so that you can make an informed decision. I always pay special, bonus attention to certain sections, like warranties, representation, indemnification and copyright sections.

Bonus: A good thing to remember is that contracts are a good sign… it means that you have new business opportunities and that is exciting.

Hope this list helps you navigate around a few headaches and onto the creative stuff you really want to be doing. Good luck.

chasejarvisRAW: Sea to Sky Photo Shoot in Belize [Plus How to Pull This Off Like a Pro]

Quick share here….. a short while back I took my very first trip to Belize for what turned into a really, really (2 reallys – or now that’s three) high value, pain-free shoot. I’ve been so very lucky to have shot in some of the most spectacular places in the world — and just added Belize to that list.

We banged out a fun BTS vid to share some of the splendor, but also to give you a peek into some additional forthcoming BTS/helpful vids we’ll spin out that will add value to your future visits here, including aerial, underwater, and gear-packing / travel hacks. And if you’re thinking “Belize is so damn far away”…it’s not really. For USA’ers it’s closer than you think – only 5 hours SEA to Belize city (same as NYC), so every other desitnation in the USA, save AK + HI are even closer, and it transports you to a whole new world of blue green water, endless tiny white sand islands, and some of the most famous dive destinations on the planet. Our plane tix were pretty reasonable and lodging even moreso.

Enjoy the vid. If you missed earlier BTS snapshots from the trip and want to circle back there’s some here. And for those who are curious about how best to pull off the logistics of a trip/job like this, here’s a 4-part series on how to travel for photo + video shoots like a boss….

Part 1 – 10 Mission Critical Tips for Booking Photo and Video Travel – getting there
Part 2 – 12 Mission Critical Tips for Pre-Production – tips BEFORE traveling
Part 3 – 12 Tips for Travel Packing – tips on what to take
Part 4 – 8 Mission Critical Tips for Being on the Road

More soon – be creative until then. Happy to answer questions if you got ‘em.

How to Shoot [photograph] Fireworks

Happy Birthday USA!
Quick and Dirty Tips for Shooting Fireworks:

[If you want an in-depth step by step check out the video above from creativeLIVE]

1. Use a Tripod
You’ll want to make sure your camera is stable and secure. Check out some support systems here.

2. Remote Release
Invest in a remote release device. You can also use the timer shutter release function – but a remote release is the best option.

3. ISO
Shoot a low ISO. I recommend 100.

4. Focal Length
Timing is key with fireworks. You’re going to have to anticipate where the action is happening before it happens. This can be tricky if you’re shooting with a longer focal length and trying to stay tight. A wider focal length makes this easier, but experiment a bit. Zoom in and see if you get lucky. If you shoot wide, you can always go back and crop for the desired effect as well.

5. Aperture
Fireworks are BRIGHT. You dont need a really fast lens and the general consensus is that somewhere between f/8 to f/16 will work.

6. Shutter Speed
Shutter speed is going to be the most important aspect of your fireworks capture. A long exposure is what you’re going to want to go for. Shooting “bulb” with a remote release is the best technique. Hit the shutter as the firework is about to explode and hold it down until it’s finished. This could be a few seconds. At the same time,
don’t keep your shutter open too long. Remember: Fireworks are BRIGHT. Just because its dark doesnt mean that you wont completely blow out your photos if you keep the shutter open too long.

7. Framing
Get to your location a bit early. What’s in the foreground and background? Try to figure our where the fireworks are being set up and where they will end up in they sky. You will have to aim before the fireworks go off. If you are really on it – ask the folks coordinating the display for some advance information. This will be a big help. Consider your lens selection before the show start. Are you going to shoot horizontal or vertical? Dont forget how you’ve framed it up because when you’re in the dark, you might spend a lot of time looking directly at the fireworks display rather than through the viewfinder.

8. “No flash photography”
A flash will do nothing but crush your photos and leave you with smoke…turn it off or leave it at home.

Have a great Fourth of July and share some of these photos in the comments section for Thursday morning!

Super Camera — Arri Alexa is the Pro’s Best Friend [plus how I shot the Samsung video ]

You may recall a few weeks back I released a video of the behind-the-scenes action for a cool gig I was asked to create for Samsung around their Series 9 Color Premium monitors. It was a dream job in a lot of ways. For one, I got to literally photograph a re-creation of my dreams; for two, on jobs like that I get the opportunity to rub elbows with the best crew —cinematographers, editors, filmers, sound technicians, art directors, stylists, producers and beyond — PLUS the best gear too.

When I laid out the earlier blog post detailing everything about my Samsung shoot I took a question from a guy named “Ben” off the ol’ innernets:

“Great cinematic look in your Samsung behind-the-scenes vid, Chase. What camera did you shoot it with?”

So I thought I would take this opportunity to a)highlight our primary cine camera on this shoot– the Arri Alexa; b)introduce my fav DP, Chris Bell, who shot that camera on my Samsung job (and a lot of my other stuff); and c) refresh that Samsung video in case you missed it the first go round.

So in reverse order, here’s the Samsung vid shot primarily with the Arri Alexa (below). And then – in addition to our video review (above) I asked him to share some more knowledge & opinion and he breaks it down quite nicely… all of which you’ll find after the Samsung vid here. Thanks Chris!

First of all, Chris, thanks for slaying it for me on the Samsung gig. Second, thanks for the quick interview – really appreciate the time discussing the Arri Alexa. When did you first pick up the Arri Alexa and what were you using previously that it replaced?

The Alexa replaced a lot of cameras. My background is as a film shooter (16-35 mm). And we had various cameras to get a particular look. Panasonic had various cameras. The HBX200. There were cameras like the Canon 5D and even the Red One. I had a shop full of cameras and each was there to satisfy a specific client’s need. Alexa came along and, in a way, became the swiss army knife of cameras. It replaced a lot of those cameras. Everyone [clients] wanted the big chip look. Everyone wanted the shallow depth of field look. For one reason or another the cameras that I mentioned could not satisfy all parts of the workflow in a consistent way. Red was a raw camera – which is nice, but it needs tons of post production attention. That’s a challenge. And no one wanted to shoot tape anymore.

arri alexa chase jarvis blogThe Alexa came along and answered a lot of producers, editors and cinematographers desires – all at the same time. It does a great job emulating film…and film is still state of the art in many ways. It is still the benchmark that cinematographers use to compare against. The Alexa was really the first to mimic the dyanamic range of film. It appeals to so many because it has a look clients love – that filmic “look”.

Prior to the Alexa someone in the workflow — the cinematographer, the editor or the producer, had to compromise on something. These other cameras, while amazing in some way, had very limtited range. They had lots of compression issues and color source issues. They had very challenging workflow issues. Then the Alexa comes along and all of a sudden – the cinematographer is happy, the producer and editor are happy. That it shoots files that are ready to edit right out of the camera –and require no conversion–makes workflow a snap.

arri alexa chase jarvis blog 2And it’s super simple in lots of other ways too…It has great time coding for instance. These are little things. But on big productions – on the big budget work that demands reliability, it is the little things that add up for the professional. And ultimately, this camera can be relied upon. It’s been used on major Hollywood productions like Skyfall and Life of Pi. It’s increasingly found on the set for TV commercials worldwide. It’s being used for wildlife docs. For me, I work on a lot of different types of productions – from commercials to sport, to big brands like Microsoft and Samsung–and beyond, and it always does me right. In short, I think that Arri has done a magnificent job listening to its users when developing the product.

What is your favorite piece of completed work (–ahem besides our Samsung video–) using the Alexa, that you could show off with?
Here are two:
12th Ave Iron Film:
National TV Spot for Acer

What’s the best thing about the Alexa from a usage standpoint?
The best thing is that its a camera that makes a beautiful image without compromise – for anyone involved with the workflow. It’s a swiss army knife that works on any type job. ESPN shooters are buying Alexa. The networks love it because the files are immediately edit-ready. It’s SO easy to use. And it has become a standard. I figured I’d get a three year usage (digital has a short shelf life), but I’ll get at least five years out of this camera. Arri has these very long product cycles. That’s very important. It means I can go on a shoot and no matter who’s shooting – we are all shooting the same quality image. This is super important from the business standpoint. We need to have time to recoup investment – b/c its not a cheap camera [$90,000]. My criticism of digital is that it all turns over too fast. It’s getting silly. Every six months there is a new “must have” camera.

arri alexa chase jarvis blog 3How does the average joe get to play with one of these bad boys? Or do they…
The average Joe could go to the Arri website – there is a simulator. They update it every time there is a software update. You can learn the menu system online. If you want to see it in person – call local rental houses and ask if there is a good time to come in and look at the camera and play with it. They might be up for that to get a new customer. Some rental houses have workshops too. You could go to the trade shows. There are lots of ways to do it without dropping the $90,000 cold turkey. Most rental houses are open to educating people.

What’s coming next in this class of camera in your opinion? How can it get even better?

Moore’s law is always in effect. Digital imaging tech is moving very quickly – there is going to be a day where there is a base camera with ISO 5000 and it will shoot 5000fps and it will cost $5000. On your very high end – everyone is going to continue to attempt to emulate the benchmark: motion film. Dynamic range, how they handle highlights, lights and dark and how accurately they are able to reproduce color space. These are the Model T’s of digital cameras. There is a big revolution coming with color and contrast. We’re getting away from a lot of the compromise. Heavy compression, limited colorspace, limited dynamic range. Manufacturers are hearing it and producing new cameras. But I really wish they would slow down a bit and not reinvent the wheel every nine months. Having a standard is important too. It’s rather dizzying.

Thanks Chris! More details on the Arri Alexa here via the Arri Group.

How to Make Money Selling Drugs — A Public Service Announcement


Just a personal note to YOU from my homie, actor Adrian Grenier [Entourage]… He is stoked to announce the LA, NY, Seattle, Portland & Atlanta theatrical opening for his latest documentary film How to Make Money Selling Drugs. I have seen the movie – it’s fantastic. An interesting twisted approach to awareness around the causes and effects of the whole drug war enchilada…

If you’ve ever wondered about the failed, resource-sucking drug war (or you thought we were “doing the right thing”), do yourself a favor buy a ticket for this weekend’s theatrical opening here in the USA. Or, if you’re not in one of these locations (or not in the USA), it’s available for streaming/download on iTunes HERE.

From the IFC: “Subversive and satirical, this documentary offers a fresh take on a serious subject. Through investigative reporting and surprising interviews with subjects ranging from Susan Sarandon to Eminem and Russell Simmons, it illustrates step-by-step how to create a drug empire, from dealing on the corner to running a major cartel. Laying bare the inequities in the legal system and the ways that criminalization breeds violence, the film builds a powerful case for radically rethinking drug policy.” This fresh look explores the rise of actual drug dealers and exposes a $400 billion dollar industry that our government [and many governments worldwide] is happy to keep intact.

For detailed theater and show time info, go HERE.

Thanks for spreading the word for Adrian and yours truly. Any word of mouth/posts/social is greatly appreciated. Together we can shed some light on a dark corner of the world.

[You might remember Adrian's guest appearance on cjLIVE last April. Some great insight into the entertainment industry and what it means to be a creative in Hollywood. Well worth the [re]watch —> HERE]

What I’ve Learned in The Trenches– MY 5 Step Guide to Street + Snapshot Photography

A couple years ago, you may recall, during a month-long artist-in-residency at the Ace Hotel in NYC I took the opportunity to celebrate the snapshot — quintessential street photography — and I called the exhibit Dasein: Invitation to Hang. ['Dasein' is a German word used by philosophers to refer to raw human experience or the fundamental mode of "being there." I found that when applied to photography, the snapshot was the ultimate photographic expression of us simply, authentically being in the world / caught on film. ] The exhibit featured an ever-changing wall of snapshots, both my own and selections chosen from nearly 15,000 submissions across the globe.

At the core of the work what I found was my own sense of street photography – regardless of whether it was on the street, on a train, or backstage with the band. Point being that street photograhy – the art of the snapshot if you will – is about the moment. It’s about choosing to take the photograph. It’s about mood, and –quite often–it is about talking to strangers.

I was reflecting on that project this morning and wanted to share a bullet point list of things I learned that could be easily applied to anyone’s work.

chase jarvis dasein1. The Law vs Respect. When it comes to street photography, there is the law, and then there is etiquette. The laws permit us to take pictures of anyone in a public space [for which thousands of paparazzi thank the gods every day], even taking pictures of private property from a public space is fair game. But let’s face it. Do you really want to be ‘that guy’? Etiquette is an entirely different matter. And note that while it’s ok to take the photo – USING or displaying the photo later is an entirely different manner protected by laws, permissions, likeness, etc. But that’s another post.

2. Discrete but not creepy. While some photographers live by the “If you see a good picture, you take it” rule. I do not because I’ve decided that my role in life is to evoke the messages and emotions and thoughts that I want to evoke – not to simply document. This isn’t for everyone, but here’s how it translates into my work… I am discrete but not creepy. I often connect with my subjects. Your style will vary. Aside from the rare times I shoot candidly, my general mode of being is two fold. I either (a) quietly and quickly snap the photo; or (b) I say “hey, can I take your picture?!” with the camera pressed to my face OR simply a wave to get someone’s attention with the camera snugged up to my face. I click the shutter when they look up.

3. It’s all about the aftermath. Nine times outta ten when using the above techniques, my snapshot subjects either don’t know I’ve shot a photo or don’t care. But here’s the critical point IMHO – if they do care, or even if they lock on to you, take proactive action. Introduce yourself and say thank you. It’s almost entirely about the interaction AFTER you shoot the photo. And this is where non experienced photographers blow it. Sure it takes vision to get the shot – no questions there. But in keeping the shot and keeping your integrity as an artist operating in a grey space…. It’s 10% being before 80% after…. People will either warm up or blow you off and it’s your job to read them. How do you get good at reading this? Experience. You will quickly be able to read if someone is aloof and doesn’t care that you’ve snapped their photo, or if you’ve ticked somebody off. Moreover, connecting with subjects after the fact is often an amazingly insightful part of the process. I’ve heard amazing stories, been inspired, been awakened, and felt more human after talking with unknown photo subjects on hundreds of occasions.

4. When things go south. Rarely, after engaging with someone in number 3 above, the unknowing subject will react negatively. In that case, cut your losses. I always prefer to be a good human than to be unpleasant. On just a handful of occasions in my entire career (I can think of 2 in this sitting…) has anyone asked me to delete a snapshot of them. In this case – despite it being my right to have ‘taken’ the photo (NOTE – ok to ‘take’ the photo in a public space but not ok to later USE or display the photo by law without proper permissions…), I have–during both those rare occasions–deleted it with a smile and a shrug as I showed it to them.

chase jarvis gasmask bong nyc dasein

5. Some recommended don’ts…
–I don’t photograph the homeless or downtrodden without their permission or even better only after a long conversation where it becomes clear that a photograph is on the up-and-up.
–I don’t photograph young kids in the street that I don’t know without first connecting (eyes, nod, hand wave, etc) with their parent or guardian. Just don’t do it. Otherwise, you’re creepy.
–Don’t try to use snapshots commercially. Ever. You will get caught and you will be breaking laws.
–Don’t take your gigantic camera on the streets. It will wreck your chances at getting good imagery. If a Dslr is all you have, take a small, short lens and that’s it. Even better, consider being discrete with a point and shoot – or my favorite – the new mirrorless camera platforms. There are lots of reviews and stories about those here on my blog. Feel free to search for them.

Above all, IMHO use common sense and common courtesy as your guide. Sure – get sneeky, get gangster, get ‘the shot’, but you can do it without being a nut job. Plenty of other photographers have done amazing projects in the streets that are in your face, against people’s will and without warrant. My suggestion? Leave that to somebody else and focus on the pictures that you want to make through respect and hard work. You’ll thank me later.

[Here are some of my favorites from my NYC project. Got a street photography tale to share? Sound off below. Success stories and disasters both welcomed. Will try to get to any questions if you've got em.]

[Here are some of my favorites from my NYC project. Got a street photography tale to share? Sound off below. Success stories and disasters both welcomed. Will try to get to any questions if you've got em.]

What Sustains Creativity? [Plus a 24-hour Photo Marathon]


My friends at the Photo Center NW are always showcasing new work and ideas that help progress the craft of photography. I’m a huge fan (and an honorary board member) of PCNW and this is a cool event they are putting on that I wanted y’all to know about… and it’s happening THIS WEEK. A 24-hour photo marathon going down on the longest day of the year June 21 (that’s in 3 days). Rafael Soldi from the PCNW explains more and interviews two wildly creative photographers about what sustains their creativity. Take it away Rafael.

Thanks Chase. There is an oft-quoted line, supposedly from Pablo Picasso: “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” In two recent lectures hosted at Photo Center NW, we heard from two very different photographers who shared commanding stories about finding their creative force. And sometimes, as we learned, a creative force needs to be defended from external pressures to follow a prescribed route.

What sustains creativity? What are the forces that keep artists creating, and photographers inspired to share their work? We were compelled to learn more about what experiences had shaped the creative work of these two artists: Diana Markosian is a documentary photographer who at age 22 earned the Reuters photo of the year award; Grace Weston is an accomplished artist who creates constructed narrative images in elaborate studio scenes. Their stories of “un-learning” traditional modes of producing artwork, or rejecting values associated with their field demonstrated that creative hurdles are ever-present, and that they can come from personal choices and external forces alike.

As the Photo Center embarks on Long Shot, a 24-hour photo marathon, we share these stories of personal growth, in hopes that other photographers will join us and share their perspective with the world. Long Shot invites hundreds of photographers to participate by photographing anywhere they are in the world on June 21, the longest day of the year.

Tell us more about how you evolved your work beyond what was “expected” from a photographic project to what you really were passionate about?

Grace Weston: It was not a fast transition. I got to a point where my more formal, out in the field, black & white work was no longer fulfilling me. I felt uninspired and had no idea what to do next. Suddenly embarking on studio work turned everything upside down and put me back at square one. I had a lot to learn, and STILL had no idea what I wanted to shoot. I headed into still life, and made some “romantic” looking pieces, which were sort of “in style” at the time. But beauty has never been enough for me in a piece. I wanted to tell something, and found myself drawn to narrative. Magritte inspired my first successful narrative piece. I always loved the narrative found in surrealism, with its nod to dream life and the subconscious. That first piece excited me and I knew I was on the right path.

Diana Markosian: I isolate myself by traveling to some of the most remote corners of the world, immersing myself in a world that is often foreign to me. I stay in these regions for long enough to become almost invisible to my subjects. I try to push myself to find projects, which I can follow through different stages. On a personal level, I try to surround myself by other photographers, artists and people who I admire creatively. This has been the best thing for growth, just always looking for smarter and more creative people to spend time with.

Could you address the kind of “re-education” that you underwent about your process?

Grace Weston: After years of more formal black and white photography in the field I had the opportunity to assist a studio photographer. It was daunting, but also thrilling to start with a “blank canvas” instead of the “treasure hunting” of my previous work in the field.

I didn’t really know if my work would fit in the fine art arena or the commercial arena. I greatly admired the work I saw in Communication Arts Photography Annuals and often I saw no reason why the work (especially the “personal work”) was not considered fine art. I found the rhetoric around the divisions between fine art and commercial work confusing, and unhelpful. I decided to ignore it, and do what I felt drawn to, what felt authentic to me, and see where it fit later.



Do you have advice for photographers who are struggling with the pressures of how to create work that resonates, and that is fulfilling artistically?

Diana Markosian: You have to photograph things you really care about, things that really interest you, not things you feel you ought to do. I don’t believe in waiting for assignments. Most of my work has been self-assigned. If you want to see the world, do it. When rejection happens (which is inevitable), don’t be turned off by it. There are editors out there who will love your work. Your job is to find them. In the end, everything has a purpose. Trust your life and believe in the work you do.
Grace Weston: Forget about the end result while in the creative phase. Please yourself. Do work that satisfies you, and addresses your own questions about the world, life, and expresses your viewpoint. At that point don’t worry about how it will be received, or if it resonates with others. If you are making work that is authentic to who you are, it’s likely it will strike chords with others. The LAST thing you should be doing while in the creative mode is thinking about others’ approval. Later on, you can reflect on what the work is about, where does it fit, who is your target audience. These are two different parts of the brain. The creative, right side of the brain does not need interference from the analytical left side while you are trying to cultivate your own voice.

Join Grace and Diana this summer for the Long Shot photo marathon on June 21. Anyone anywhere can participate, and at least one image from every participant will be exhibited online and at the Photo Center gallery on July 27. This marathon raises funds for our non-profit programs, including lectures and presentations from today’s photographers like Grace and Diana. Registration and participation is free (and so is creativity).

ChaseJarvis_DianaMarkosian

Photo: Diana Markosian

ChaseJarvis_GraceWeston

Photo: Grace Weston

ChaseJarvis_DianaMarkosian

Photo: DianaMarkosian

ChaseJarvis_GraceWeston01

Photo: GraceWeston

Photographs Have Been Lying To You All Along — The Sordid History of Image Manipulation

With Adobe Photoshop looking ahead to its 25th anniversary, a handful of clever advertising pranks, and the recent exhibit at the National Gallery of Art on the history of photo manipulation [deets below], I thought we’d wax nostalgic for a hot minute on how far photography has come — and hasn’t come — from those pre-school days of cutting, coloring and pasting.

For those of us who love to wrench around in Photoshop on a good photograph…give it that extra somethin sometin…This is not news. But the fact IS that nowadays we inherently question the authority and authenticity of every photograph. This speaks to the ease with which any photographer today — professional or otherwise — can enhance, alter and outright mislead for fun or nefarious purposes through the use of the most simple digital tools. Those of us more savvy consumers + even the critics living in this digital world occasionally team up to provide the push back on the topic and identifying where have been crossed [see last month's post on the "un-airbrush photoshop hack"]. It’s a healthy and ongoing debate and a reminder to consider “truth” or “fiction” before adding that filter…

But that debate always gets a little tired for me, and as it does, I like to remind haters and lovers alike that image manipulation and other crazy shiz like this has been around since long before Photoshop. The visual past is still sordid, indeed. For example:

Photo via of click.si.edu


This portrait of Lincoln (arguably the most iconic Abraham Lincoln image we have) isn’t even Abraham Lincoln. It’s just his head, placed on Southern politician John Calhoun’s body. Apparently he didn’t have any “heroic” looking pictures, so they just stuck his head on Calhoun’s body, who, ironically was an ardent supporter of things Lincoln was ardently opposed to…

And if that’s not a guffaw, a simple search reveals a huge pile of examples like this or much worse. In the early part of the 1900′s, Stalin would have his political enemies air-brushed out of official photographs they had taken with him. If there wasn’t any photographic proof, then it didn’t happen.

Photo via of neatorama.com

As hacked press can be powerful tool for media’s manipulation of the public, the June 27, 1994 covers of Newsweek AND Time had two different versions of the same mug shot of O. J. Simpson. The Time cover makes Simpson look the part of a murderer — his face darkened and slightly out of focus, roughened to make him look more unshaven. The color saturation was also removed, making O.J.’s skin look darker. Matt Mahurin, the illustrator at Time Magazine who manipulated the photo of O. J., said he wanted the image to look “more artful, more compelling.” Looking at the images side by side, it’s not hard to see why many claimed Mahurin was using photoshop to make O.J. appear evil and threatening. In a word, guilty.

Photo courtesy of tc.umn.edu

There are also images like the one below, released in the weeks following the attacks on September 11th. It ended up hitting the public hard, even though it was a fairly obvious fake (the weather was wrong in the photo, the observation deck of the WTC wasn’t open when the planes hit, the plane in the picture is the wrong type). Most people were too pissed to look too closely and this picture stirred up a lot of sentiment on the web. Still makes me feel really yucky which helps underscores the point of my article here….

Photo via of urbanlegends.about.com

There are hundreds of examples of big time photographs that have been hacked into. And I’m guessing you can show me a few more of your faves (hit me w a link or two below if you care).

But if all that makes you feel uneasy…just take a deep breath. You’ve been looking at manipulated imagery your entire life. To grab some perspective that’ll chill you out, check out the online remnants of a recent exhibit at Washington, D.C.’s National Gallery of Art featuring some 200 works showing how today’s digitally altered photographs are just a long line of manipulation from the 1840′s to the present era. And, if you happen to be passing thru Houston before August 25th, you can check it out at The Museum of Fine Arts.

Falcon Chasing A Downhill Mountain Biker — Behind-the-Scenes on the Photoshoot That Captured It

Been shooting some freeride mountain biking lately and was poking around the web when I stumbled on this yesterday…behind the scenes on how this crew filmed a peregrine falcon chasing (and grabbing at) professional downhill mountain biker Gee Atherton over bumps, jumps and at insane speeds.

Love the The Earth Unplugged crew’s approach and patience, plus the ingenuity that thy used in a)the concept; and b)the filming techiques. #muchrespect

I’m not a gear guy, but wondering if you caught the equipment they were using? None of this would have been possible just 5 years ago, or it certainly would have cost 50x what this probably cost to make today.

Here’s the finished product:

The Fuji X100s Review: Brutally Simple & Highly Effective (Even If You Didn’t Want to Admit It)

I was onto the rush of mirrorless cameras pretty early – mostly from manufacturers sharing with me what was “coming soon”, but I admit that I didn’t really “get” it, until I started receiving early versions, prototypes and demos from the marketing folks at all your fav manufactures. Only then did I truly understand the punch that these little cameras pack – because they’re good. I loved the concept, but hated the tiny sensors and the poor performance. Well, those days are gone, and now these cameras are really good. I’ve highlighted mirrorless a bunch in the past, but those were just my initial impressions… In this post, I tapped my tech homie Sohail to sound off on a proper camera review for the Fuji X100s. He’s tackled the Nikon D7100 in a past review that received high marks from this community, so we’re gonna keep it rolling. The dominant view is that this camera is pretty hot. So hot in fact it’s a wonder Fuji kept the name X100 name because it’s so amped up from it’s predecessors. You’ll find a better autofocus, improved manual focus, and a number of other upgrades that suggest Fuji is intent on keeping the pace. But alas, I’ll let Sohail take it from here.

Thanks, Chase.

The Fuji X100s has been my main carry-around camera for almost a month now, during which time I’ve used it for a number of shoots, ranging from a test with studio lights to simply pointing it out of my car window and hitting the shutter release. Truth is, it’s brutally simple and highly effective.

During this time, I’ve had the opportunity to put this little thing through its paces, and I’ve come out quite impressed. Fuji has come a very, very long way from the days when it produced cheap point-and-shoot cameras from the consumer crowd. Chase’s pal, photographer and educator Zack Arias sees Fuji gunning for the Leica crown, although that may be a little far reaching. But certainly Fuji are giving them a run for their money at a fraction of the cost.

In the beginning

Fuji’s first attempt at a large-sensor compact was the X100, a camera that received glowing reviews that were punctuated by incessant complaints about the camera’s quirks. Slow autofocus, an almost unusable manual focus system, and other quirks made it a difficult camera to wield. Despite those quirks, it gained a die-hard following of photographers who loved the images coming out of it.

The X100, the camera that started it all for Fuji.

The X100, the camera that started it all for Fuji.

Fuji followed the X100 up with the X-Pro and X-E1, both of which shared some of the quirks of the X100, but have upgraded sensors that, to be perfectly honest, are flat-out amazing. Those sensors did away with the Optical Low-Pass Filter most digital cameras come with these days and they featured a new array of the pixels on the sensor that randomizes the location of the red, green, and blue pixels.

The result is that images are sharper since there’s no low-pass filter in front of the sensor, and moiré is minimized thanks to the random array. Fuji says this arrangement is inspired by the natural random arrangement of the fine grains of silver halide film which is a nice bit of marketing-speak. To their credit, whatever they’ve done to this sensor was definitely cool. When the X-Pro1 was released, it had the best low-light performance of any crop-sensor camera I’d ever seen. That camera had incredibly clean images at ISO 3200, and the noise present at that and at higher ISOs was gorgeous and film-like.

Fast-forward to today

When they came up with the X100s, Fuji basically took the sensor and graphics processor from the X-Pro1, vastly — by an order of magnitude, actually — improved the autofocus, added in a few key features to aid in manual focusing, changed a few other things and put out an update that is far, far more usable and powerful than its predecessor.

The Fuji X100s. Better, Faster, Stronger.

The Fuji X100s. Better, Faster, Stronger.

Where the X100 was a quirky camera that took a number of firmware updates to get to a point where it was reasonably reliable, the X100s was a well-oiled machine right out of the box. The difference between versions is surprisingly vast, and that’s to Fuji’s credit as well.

Appearance and Form Factor

Looked at from a distance, the X100s is almost indistinguishable from its predecessor. It has the same look and feel, right down to its dimpled faux leather wrapping.

Close up, there are a few things that set it apart, and one of those things is a long-requested feature: The “Q” button.

This button is a carryover from the X-Pro1, and pops up a quick menu screen where you can adjust a number of things, from ISO to Dynamic Range, to film emulation choice, and more. X100 users have been pretty envious of this feature, and speaking as one, I’m really glad to have it.

There are other small improvements, too. The button to activate the Auto Focus point selector mode has now been moved from the left of the LCD to the 4-way rocker/scroll wheel, making it easier to shoot one-handed with this camera. Also, the knob to set exposure compensation is a lot stiffer, and therefore harder to move accidentally.

X100 on the left, X100s on the right.

X100 on the left, X100s on the right.

Handling

The X100 takes a very manual/mechanical approach to shooting. Aperture, shutter speed, focus mode, viewfinder mode, and exposure compensation are all adjusted via hardware dials and switches. In this regard, the retro design draws heavily from film rangefinders of the past, and that’s a really, really good thing.

In my hands, the X100s (and this is true for the X100 as well) has the feel of a rangefinder. It’s solidly-built; no squeaks or creaks in the manufacturing are evident. The dials have been somewhat reinforced and are therefore (thankfully) stiffer than those on the X100, and the slightly changed layout of the buttons makes it easier to get to the some of the most important functions one-handed.

The X100s, like its predecessor, is also equipped with a threaded shutter release that takes an old plunger-style release cable. This is both good and bad — good, because those releases are ridiculously cheap, and bad because that precludes using the X100s for time-lapse photography (if anyone knows of electronic cable releases for the X100s, please sound off in the comments).

One slightly major quibble I have is about the location of the screw for tripod plates. Mounting a tripod plate on the X100s still partially blocks the battery and SD card slot door, which is a pain. I have to take the tripod plate off every time I need to dump the card, which is, to say the least, not ideal.

Performance

Autofocus

The one bit of performance information that everyone is looking for with this camera is this: How fast is the autofocus?

The thing that everyone who got the X100 complained about so darn much was the terrible autofocus performance of that camera. Sure, it took great pictures, but only if the autofocus worked. Which it didn’t more often than it did. And forget about achieving focus in dark areas; it would hunt and hunt for several seconds before it would just fail to lock on.

Worse was the fact that manual focus on the X100 was simply unusable. The flat, pancake nature of of the 23mm f/2 lens meant that the focusing right was pretty thin to begin with. Manually focusing that lens would involve spinning that ring through what seemed like an eternity of revolutions before you could get it in the ballpark of your subject.

Subsequent firmware updates improved focusing on the X100 a lot, to where it’s actually usable now. Manual focusing is still a pain, but at least the AF is far better than it was at launch.

So how good is the AF on the X100s? Much, much, much better than the X100’s AF. On par with most mirorless/Compact System Cameras out there, in fact. The only one that I’d confidently say is way better is the Olympus OM-D E-M5’s AF, which is just plain scary-fast.

The X100s' AF had no problems keeping up with dark situations. DNG processed with VSCO Film. © Sohail Mamdani

The X100s' AF had no problems keeping up with dark situations. DNG processed with VSCO Film. © Sohail Mamdani

Even better is the fact that the X100s will achieve focus in some pretty dark conditions. I haven’t yet found a reasonable situation where it wouldn’t lock on at all, though sometimes it does take a second try in some really dark and low-contrast areas.

Manual focusing is a pleasure as well. The X100s includes two focus-assist modes for manual focusing, a “peaking” mode, which outlines areas in focus with a white highlight, as well as a digital “split image” mode, which is reminiscent of the old split-image focusing screens used in film SLRs.

I didn’t spend a lot of time doing manual focus with the X100s, as the AF was dead-on for me almost all the time. In the few minutes I spent in manual focus, I noticed two things: the focus ring has a much shorter throw (i.e., you don’t have to spin it as much) and the focus peaking highlights could be a bit stronger. Sometimes, they’re a hair too subtle.

Image Quality

The X-Trans sensor from the X-Pro1 is an awesome bit of technology, and in combination with the X100s’ gorgeous 23mm f/2 lens, produces some impressive shots with deep detail.

Flesh tones and colors are rendered beautifully, with no nasty color casts or any other such problems. The camera does have a tendency to over-expose images, so I normally shoot with the exposure compensation dialed in at about −1/3 to −2/3rd’s of a stop. This tends to still keep shadow detail while preventing highlights from blowing out.

The camera just kills it when it comes to high-ISO performance. Like the X-Pro1, this thing will give you more-than-usable shots at ISO 6400 (see below). Noise reduction for in-camera JPEGs can be a bit overdone, but the RAW files hold a surprising amount of detail at ISO 6400. I’m confident enough of the X100s’ capability in that regard that my camera is set to Auto ISO with an upper limit of 6400 all the time.

Transamerica Pyramid Building. JPG shot in B&W straight out of camera at ISO 6400. © Sohail Mamdani

Transamerica Pyramid Building. JPG shot in B&W straight out of camera at ISO 6400. © Sohail Mamdani

Dynamic range is also better than I expected. I was, in a crunch, able to push my exposure by as much as 3 stops to retrieve detail in shadows. There was some loss of detail as well as some luminance noise when I did that, but it was more than I had thought I’d get out of a compact camera.

Highlights retained detail and color pretty well too; I think there’s a latitude of about 3–4 stops in the highlights. In the image below, the sky totally blown out (as shown by the red clipping warning) till I did a global adjustment of about −2 stops to pull some blue out of it; at −4, the blue is a nice, deep color that I can bring back selectively with a brush later on.

The X100s holds details in the highlights pretty well. Image on the right has a global exposure adjustment of -4 in Lightroom.

The X100s holds details in the highlights pretty well. Image on the right has a global exposure adjustment of -4 in Lightroom.

All said and done, there’s really nothing to complain about with this camera’s image quality. I don’t even feel like quibbling over its tendency towards overexposure, as most of that highlight detail is retrievable in post.

Conclusion

I’m off to Hawaii in June for a vacation, and the X100s is the only camera I’m taking with me. With all the gear at my disposal, this is the only thing I feel like I need. I will, no doubt, occasionally wish for a telephoto lens, or a super-wide, or some other bit of kit, but despite that, this is the camera I’m taking.

What the X100s excels at doing is helping me distill the process and experience of photography down to its barest essentials. For someone used to lugging three bags worth of gear to every other shoot, moving and shooting with the Fuji is like shedding several pounds of dead weight; it’s just you, the camera, and your subject. I won’t be shucking my DSLR and assortment of lenses, mind you, but I also won’t be carrying them around with me all the time.

The X100s is all the camera I need for everyday shooting.

PS from Chase: There’s a gallery of cityscape shots Sohail has taken with his X100s on his 500px page. Some are straight out-of-camera B&W others were treated with VSCO Film.

Gear provided by BorrowLenses.com - where still photographers and videographers can rent virtually everything.

How To Reboot, Refresh & Refocus Your Creativity — The Fine Art of the Sabbatical

Photo by Chase Jarvis.

Many of us have …ahem…fantasies about shutting down the laptop and closing up the studio for an extended period to go try something different. Pick up horseback riding. Learn a new language. Fly a plane. We all know our creative souls need it, but making the move is frightening. A couple months ago my writer friend Ben dropped in to share his thoughts on strategic renewal and scheduling breaks throughout the work day. His post about doing more by doing less was a hit with many of you. Well he’s back, and he’s talking about breaks again. Big breaks. Weeks, months, even…um…a year. Read on to find out how a sabbatical may help you keep that love feeling fresh. Take it away, Ben.

Thanks, Chase.

My second love is soccer. I play it, I coach it and I follow it. (And for those of you who didn’t know it, Chase went to college on a soccer scholarship and loves the game too…) As a US citizen, I am a passionate supporter of the US National Team, which is currently in the middle of qualifications for the 2014 World Cup. Anyone who gives a damn about US soccer will know the name Landon Donovan. Easily one of our nation’s best players ever, Landon announced last December that he was taking a 4-month break from the sport following the title-winning Championship match for his MLS club team, the LA Galaxy.

In the middle of World Cup Qualifiers and at the top of his game, our nation’s best player decides to take a sabbatical. “What the F?” said half the US soccer nation, instantly polarized. On the one side were the haters who called the act the epitome of selfishness and narcism. On the other, less-populated side were those who got it. Dude needed a break. He’s burnt out. He’s been the poster boy of the entire sport in the States for as long as he’s been representing the country on the field. Let him surf. Or snorkel. Or learn tennis. Or whatever it is he needs to do.

I thought about this for another hot minute. My Father is a professor at a University. I learned the meaning of the word “passion” by watching him devote his life to his students and to his discipline. But I don’t remember anyone calling him “passionless” for taking a sabbatical. So given Donovan’s moves, learning from my Dad, and some conversation with Chase, I’ve asked the “when do you know you need a break?” question. This is not the definitive list, but it’s a start to some answers:

_All your work starts to look the same
_You dread getting out of bed in the morning [not just once in a while, but routinely]
_You haven’t had an original, “eureka”-moment idea in weeks
_You spend a good portion of your waking day fantasizing about travel, learning a new skill or craft, or marking a bucket list item off the list
_You truthfully answer “nothing much” to the frequently-asked question “what have you been up to lately?”
_You feel like your passion for something is waning
_The things in your routine that used to be easy and fun seem hard and annoying

But don’t feel like you’re alone in these feelings or “getting soft”. History is full of amazing creatives who take time off… Up high on the list are:

Daniel Day-Lewis. Master of the Sabbatical. Photo from Wikipedia.

Daniel Day-Lewis — arguable the greatest actor of our time — routinely takes breaks for as long as 5 years between his [award-winning] roles. In fact, it’s been rumored that he is planning another 5 year break to focus on family and learning “rural skills” like stonemasonry. Director Terrence Malick famously took a 20-year sabbatical between the critically-acclaimed “Badlands” (1978) and the thought-provoking “Thin Red Line” (1998).

Alternatively, check out this TED talk below by renowned NYC designer Stefan Sagmeister, who closes his studio doors once every seven years to take a full year extended break from work.

And then there are some companies that support this…. Greeting card giant Hallmark — which employs a staff of over 700 writers, illustrators and designers — owns a 180,000 square foot “innovation facility” where staff can pursue myriad artistic endeavors, from stitching and woodworking to ceramics and leather tooling. Hallmark’s renewal program sends employees to the innovation facility for up to four months at a time to learn a new skill or craft and get a much needed break from the computer screen. The company also owns a farmhouse retreat on 172 acres, which it uses for similar employee getaway purposes. This sort of forced creative renewal keeps workers inspired and prevents burn-out and creative drought.

Not all employers are as cool as Hallmark. And we’re not all university professors who get a year off every 7. Some of you are wondering how you can afford to take extended time off from your work. If you are currently ‘stuck’ in a corporate job and looking for a way to take a strategic job pause without losing your job, take a look at YourSabbatical.com. The company helps employees put together convincing proposals to negotiate a career break with the bosses. If you’re short on ideas for ways to spend your sabbatical, the site put together a top 100 list. Some of the gems include:

_Circuit Iceland by car
_Tackle Kilimanjaro [Chase would attest to this being a having climbed Kili in January]
_Travel without an itinerary
_Trap and track puma in Argentina’s pampas grass
_Raft the Zambezi with your dad
…and you get the picture…

The company draws an important distinction between a vacation and a sabbatical. The former, for example, is often not goal-oriented and pays little mind to enhancing one’s life or career. The sabbatical, on the other hand, is designed to restore creative juices, enable the attainment of personal goals and achieve greater career success.

It’s a daunting step to take. Unknowns and what-ifs abound. Great security probably lays with the status quo. But status quo is creeping death to the creative. So take a moment and ask yourself if you’re creative side would benefit from a planned sabbatical. Then start planning.

60 Second Portrait – Ishmael Butler

Shabazz Palaces front-man Ishmael Butler was gracious enough to pose for this 60 Second Portrait back when he was on set for the cjLIVE episode with Ian Ruhter. Ishmael was one of the subjects of our massive tintype portraits along with Chris Ballew. Enjoy!

chasejarvisTECH: How To Build a Pro Cine-Boom on a Shoestring [literally]

In my last chasejarvisTECH piece you got a peek at the gear I packed away for the 19,000 foot climb up Kilimanjaro for the Summit on the Summit. There were more than a few comments on how much “stuff” went with me. It’s all relative I suppose, but when you get down to it that was a fairly bare-bone operation for a job that still yielded high-end results.

As you see in this next installment, we had to make do without some of the other gear that we would have loved to have had along the way but left out for obvious reasons. I’m talking about cranes, jibs, dollies and the like. So sometimes you have to get creative.

My man Chris did just that, by lashing some cordelette climbing rope to a tripod to create a makeshift cinema boom. As the footage at the end proves, you can’t tell the difference.

Here’s what went into this fine piece of jury-rigging:

_Manfrotto Support
_Canon 5D Mark III
_Cordelette [Find it at most outdoor gear stores or online -- often listed under "Accessory cords."]

If you’re swinging that camera out over an edge (like Chris does), make sure you’re on solid footing and keep a tight grip on that cordelette.

And that’s it. Super-cheap, super-effective boom solution done at altitude.

Music: Small Face – Heavy Cloud

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