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SmugMug Films: Mastering Illusions with Joel Grimes

April 23, 2014 1 comment

This week we’re debuting Joel Grimes as our next SmugMug Films subject. As commercial pro and Photoshop wizard, Joel has found great success following his creative dreams and leading workshops worldwide on how he plans, shoots, and polishes those incredible images. Watch the film now and don’t forget to subscribe to the channel to see each new episode as we post them.

When it comes to creating masterful illusions, Joel Grimes is happy to share what it takes to succeed in the art and photography world: hard work and passion. The bravery to be yourself at all times doesn’t hurt, either. Learn how he applied these truths to his own path into commercial photography.

Tell us a bit about how you got started with art and photography.

I’ve always had that side to me, even when I was a little kid. In grade school, we’d have art projects, and I would be in heaven. Then in seventh grade, I think it was, I had my first official art class. That was the ultimate. I was like, “Wow, every day I get to do art and actually receive a grade.”

When I got to high school, we had a program where you could do photography. I just thought, “This is really cool.” I ended up staying in the program my sophomore year, and then my junior and senior years. By the time I was a senior, I was the photo teacher’s assistant. But I still didn’t understand starting it as a career.

When I got out of high school, I ended up working for an outdoor store downtown. One day a man came in looking for a waterproof container. I asked what it was for, and he said it was for transporting film. I said, “I’m a photographer, too!” I had just spent every dime I had on this new black-body camera, which was the first: the Canon EF. At the time, I thought it was like buying a ferrari. It was just so amazing.

Turns out he was the head professor of photography at Pima Community College and asked if I’d thought about taking any photography classes. They had just started a new semester at the college, and he said if I really wanted to get in his class, he could pull some strings. I said yes!

What I didn’t know is he had a waiting list of 80 students for that class. His name was Lou Bernal, and he was the most inspiring educator I’ve ever been around. He really launched me into thinking about photography, not only as a possible career but as an art form. From that point on, photography really became an all-consuming passion.

But I still didn’t understand photography as a career. Like, do I do weddings? Do I do editorial? After college I ended up sharing a studio with a guy who was a natural at marketing. He really taught me a lot about selling myself. With his guidance, I ended up going after the commercial advertising arena. And I’ve been doing it ever since.

I look back and never thought I’d get to where I am. It’s just amazing. I feel very blessed.

What inspires you first when you go about creating an image? Do you see the full concept or does a background or subject inspire you first?

In songwriting, people ask, “What comes first: the melody or the lyrics?” It’s the same with photography. For some people the melody comes first. Some people get an idea and put it into lyrics. It’s really a mixture of both.

I think about an idea, but most of the time it’s kind of a discovery process—it’s found moments. Found ideas that aren’t too thought-out, meaning I don’t create a plan for what I want to end up with. I have an idea stylistically, but it’s not as scripted as people think.

Photo courtesy of Joel Grimes

Photo courtesy of Joel Grimes

I always tell people there’s two things I’m not and two things I believe I am. I’m not brilliant and I’m not a creative genius. I do have a passion for the creative process, and I work really hard at it. I put in the time.

You can be brilliant and a creative genius and produce nothing in your lifetime. But if you have a passion for the creative process and you work very hard, great things follow.

When we’re in school learning photography, many people think, “I’m not brilliant at it. I’m not as talented as my friend or my classmates.” That’s what I thought when I was in school. But in the end, having a passion for the creative process will out-trump or outwork and outperform the brilliant creative geniuses. Don’t worry about if you feel like you don’t quite get it. Just keep practicing. Keep working at it. Keep putting in the time. And then explore.

What gets you up at 4:30 in the morning to photograph the sunrise? Being brilliant? Being a creative genius? No. It’s passion. I can’t wait to see what this morning will bring. And those are the people who achieve great things.

Your process relies more on finding the right feel for the moment and less on the technical, but do you have go-to light setup—somewhere you start before tweaking?

You have to, especially when you do commercial shoots. You have to know the basics of achieving a soft light or a harsh light. How to light one person or ten people. It’s all about solving problems.

When you’re in a commercial scenario, you can’t just play and hope it will all come together. I’ve walked into a room with a client standing over me, and I’ll say we’re going to shoot from this angle with lights here and our subject here. Within 4 minutes I have it figured out. And they ask, “Are you sure? Can we try over here?” And I say that won’t work because there’s cross light and you have a big pipe in the background. That comes from just having walked into a room a thousand times. Time and practice.

I can teach everything I know about lighting in 30 minutes, but it takes 20 years of practice to understand how to apply that lighting. Unless you practice it over and over again, you’ll never be able to walk into a situation and build the shot.

I try to create light that could be a real-life scenario. So I use cross-light, like Rembrandt did, which is a simulation of what could be a true environment. I can simulate sunlight with one big light source. I can do a three-light approach with two edge lights and one overhead light, like if I had two windows to each side of me and a little bit of fill in the middle. That’s a pretty rare scenario, but it’s true. It can happen. I actually like to do that three-light approach because it builds depth and it looks a bit gritty.

Photo courtesy of Joel Grimes

Photo courtesy of Joel Grimes

I use my light to create a certain feel. It is a representation of what could be real and true, but it’s really about creating the mood.

How do you coax your subject to deliver the shot you’re looking for?

Personality plays a role in how I approach my subjects. Some photographers are animated, coaxing their subject to crack up and smile and do all sorts of crazy things. Others will walk over and move the subject’s arm, their chin, their hand. My personality is to watch the subject as I ask them to try different things. Suddenly they’ll do something and I’ll say, “Oh! Can you do that again?”

Photo courtesy of Joel Grimes

Photo courtesy of Joel Grimes

I’ll give an example. There’s a shot I took of the rapper Mustafa. He’s got his shirt off underneath a leather coat, he’s in a tunnel, and he’s right in your face. The light’s perfect on his face and his hands and he’s coming right at you. He was actually a bit reserved when he came in. As we started to work, he was standing there, and it wasn’t really working. As I watched him, he started pulling on the jacket. I said, “That’s cool, what if you spun and held your jacket out like that?” He did, and that’s our shot. I had no idea that’s where we were going to end up. But because I saw him tugging on the jacket while I was moving lights, I thought it might be a cool shot.

That’s how the process works for me. I don’t overscript or overthink it. I let everything take its course.

Within this commercial realm, do you have a favorite type of shoot you like to do?

Sports figures make unbelievable subjects because they’re superheroes. They make great subjects. But I also like photographing real people. I love faces. I love personalities. I love characters.

Photo courtesy of Joel Grimes

Photo courtesy of Joel Grimes

For example, I met a guy named Steve Stevens in New Orleans. He’s got these really cool sunglasses on and he’s kind of looking off to the side with New Orleans in the background. He was my ride from the airport to the college where I was speaking. While he was driving, I was thinking, “This guy is perfect!” So I asked if I could bring him in to do a portrait during my demo. I end up getting this great shot and everyone thinks I cast this guy from hundreds of people. But it’s an everyday person. I just make them look larger than life.

Could you tell us a bit about a shoot that’s most memorable to you to date?

Before digital, I was doing commercial ad work and some corporate work and shooting with a large-format, 4×5 camera and sheet film. Very slow and very meticulous. A large power utilities company was doing an annual report and I was called in to the creative pow-wow meeting with the CEO, art director, and everybody. They wanted to do something different that year, so I pitched the idea of doing a series of portraits of the customers—the end users of electricity—in black-and-white large format. I knew I was really pushing it, but they let me put some samples together and come back. And they ended up going for it. I went to 24 countries with that 4×5 camera. China, Brazil, Argentina, Kazakhstan. It was just heaven.

We can really hear the joy and passion in your voice, and you obviously have a lot of fun doing this. Do you have any challenges?

Generally, as human beings, we tend to want to follow, not lead. If someone paves the way for us, we’ll follow that path. The hardest thing for me, and I think for most people, is that we get inspired by others’ work and we think we want to be someone else. We want to be that photographer, we want to follow their lead. The problem is if you follow others, you always blend with the masses. But if you follow your uniqueness and stick with what you do best, you’ll stand out.

It’s scary to hang your hat on something that’s just you. It opens the door to criticism, and nobody likes to be criticized. So we avoid criticism at all costs, and we follow others. The hardest thing for me is to stay true to who I am. Yes, we need to be inspired by others, but every day I have to wake up and be Joel Grimes, not somebody else. When I teach, I always tell people, “Be yourself.” You’re unique. One of a kind. There’s no one on the planet just like you. And when you work from your uniqueness, you’ll rock the world.

What do you love most about being an illusionist?

Taking something that is everyday and adding excitement. For the most part we tend to go to work, get a coffee, go to our desk, do our task, go home. We want to experience something that’s outside the everyday mundane. My job as a photographer—as an artist—is to create things that take people out of the everyday and submerge them in something that’s a bit of a fantasy.

Photo courtesy of Joel Grimes

Photo courtesy of Joel Grimes

Being an illusionist is really being an artist and honing that craft to a point where people believe it. They believe that girl is that beautiful. That guy is that strong. They look amazing. Larger than life. Lighting and Photoshop play into that formula. Some people say that’s not right, but every photograph is a manipulation because you choose the lens, you choose when to take the picture—when to create that moment. Everything’s a representation of reality. It’s my job as an artist to take that representation and make it even more fantastic. That’s fun. To me, that’s part of being an artist.

Could you talk about how you refine the illusion in post-process?

It’s part of the creative process. You take the picture and then you have to finish creating it. Some people think Photoshop is cheating. But as an artist, it doesn’t matter how much I create in camera or in Photoshop. In the end, when I present that image, does it work? Is it a reflection of my artistic vision? That’s what’s most important.

So I blend the two together. I solve some problems in Photoshop that I couldn’t do in camera, using blending modes, working on multiple layers, masking, all that. When I’m teaching, some people say, you know, if you lift your left leg and put your finger on the Alt key, there’s a shortcut. And I say, okay, but right now that’s not important. What’s important is I’m getting to where I need to to be.

Photo Courtesy of Joel Grimes

Photo Courtesy of Joel Grimes

Over time I’ll learn that working with smart objects is a better way to work than not. And adjustment layers are less destructive. I learn all those little things as I go. There are people who can run circles around me in Photoshop, but in the end, people really like the end result I achieve.

Any favorite tools in Photoshop?

One of the things I teach a lot is to work from a RAW image, bring it into the RAW converter, manipulate it there, and then open it as a smart object in Photoshop. This way, when the image comes over, it’s still tied to RAW. That gives me very little destruction.

The problem most people face when they start in Photoshop is they destroy their image. There’s a thousand ways to destroy your image, lose bit depth, lose pixels, lose tones, detail, all that. The number-one rule: minimize destruction. Smart objects and adjustment layers are the single two most important things to have in your workflow to minimize destruction.

Any advice for those looking to get into creative photography?

To be an artist, you have to put your neck on a chopping block. It’s impossible to survive as an artist in this industry if you can’t overcome rejection. The biggest thing that keeps us from moving forward is fear of rejection. You may get lots of praises, but you’re not always going to get a good critique. And a negative critique is like a knife stabbing you in the back, with an added twist. It hits right in your heart.

As human beings, we don’t like to be criticized. It hurts. And it keeps us from moving forward and taking risks. But you can’t let one person steal your dream. That person may not have any authority whatsoever in truly understanding what you’re doing, but it still derails you as an artist.

It’s like country western versus rap. If you’re a country western singer and you present your demo to a rap record-label company, they’re going to wonder what the heck you’re doing there. They’re going to boot you out the back door as quickly as they can, right? And you feel rejected.

But were you really rejected? No, because you gave them something they don’t have any interest in. As artists, we present our work to people who sometimes have no interest in what we’re doing. And when they say they aren’t interested, we take it personally. It’s like selling country western to a rap label.

Criticism will come. It’s guaranteed! Don’t take it personally.

Anything we didn’t ask that you’d like us to know?

Hard work will outperform talent any day of the week. Put in more hours than the person you’re competing against. Practice, practice, practice, and great things will follow.

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Find Joel online:

 

Categories: Art, photography, Tips, Users

SmugMug’s Brand New Refer-a-Friend Program

April 21, 2014 Leave a comment

When we started SmugMug 12 years ago, it was a labor of love created between father and son and shared by word of mouth among family, friends, and neighbors. Through the years, photo lovers have touted SmugMug’s great features through conversation and email, creating a trail of beautiful websites that bridge one family to the next.

We knew it was time to make some big changes so we could better say “Thanks!” to all of you who’ve shared SmugMug with those you love.

“What’s the new Refer-a-Friend program?”

When you refer someone to SmugMug, you’ll earn 20% of their account value and your friend gets 20% off their first year. You’re basically splitting a 40% discount two ways. Just be sure they use your unique referral code at signup.

The referral credit you earn will automagically be applied towards your next SmugMug renewal, or credited towards your next Gift of SmugMug.

You can always see how much credit you’ve earned in your Account Settings, under the Stats tab.

“What does that  mean for me?”

Your friend must use your unique referral code for you to get credit. To find yours, log in and visit your Account Settings > Stats tab to see your personalized referral details, and your credit balance. Copy the link and pass that along to your friends, or you can just grab the code itself and ask them to paste that in when they sign up for their new account.

Math example: Say your friend signs up for a full SmugMug Business account, which is normally $300/year.

  • You’ll get 20% – or $60 – of that amount put on your account to apply towards your next renewal or your next Gift of SmugMug.
  • Your friend also gets $60 off their first year at SmugMug, dropping their signup cost to only $240.

“But I don’t have any pro photographer friends!”

SmugMug is not just for full-time photographers! Photos are a part of all of our lives, no matter what type of camera you have and how often you’re taking pictures. Whether you’re a wedding pro, a business owner, a family guy, a world traveler, a writer, a student or if you just love life in any way at all, you’d probably appreciate a safe, beautiful place to keep (and archive) your photos online.

We’ve shared some beautiful examples here.

Let’s not forget that everyone on SmugMug gets 24/7 white-glove support by our team of amazing Support Heroes (who are everyday people just like you), so there’s no excuse. And whether you’re Regular Joe or a Smokin’ Hot Pro, every print order that comes from our labs is covered by our 100% money-back guarantee.

Your life is worth sharing. Take pictures of it!

“How do I know how much credit I’ve earned?”

You can check to see your referral credit balance at any time in your Account Settings, then click on the Stats tab.

Check out the full Refer-a-Friend program terms and conditions, as well as our updated help page.

To everyone who’s referred people to our family and helped us grow: Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts. We literally could not have come this far without you!

You Can Win a Slice of the SmugLife

To celebrate today’s announcement, we’re giving our U.S. friends a chance to come on down and be a SmugMug VIP:

GRAND PRIZE. In December 2014, we’ll choose one lucky, random SmugMug referrer to come visit SmugMug HQ and get the full VIP treatment. (Max 100 entries per person.)

Monthly prizes. Every friend you refer to SmugMug enters you into a monthly drawing for a sexy, slow-mo capable GoPro Hero3+ Black Edition, or a $400 Amazon Gift Card. Drawings occur at the end of each month from May through November. (Max 10 entries per person.)

What does it mean to be “VIP?”

  • Airfare and 2 nights hotel accommodation in San Francisco, CA
  • A tour of our print-covered global headquarters in Mountain View, CA
  • Your favorite meal cooked by our in-house chef (touted as the best in Silicon Valley)
  • A chance to talk with the people who built the features you know and love
  • A full face-painting session where you’ll become the superhero of your dreams (like these)
  • Your portrait taken by our President and Co-founder, Baldy (and a big print to keep)
  • A helicopter tour and photowalk around San Francisco with Baldy & friends

Check out the official promotion rules for the full terms and details. We can’t wait to have you over!

* Unfortunately due to international contest rules, this contest is only open to U.S. residents.

Essential Underwater Photography Tips from Sarah Lee

March 26, 2014 2 comments

Water photographer Sarah Lee (recently featured in a behind-the-scenes artist profile for our SmugMug Film series) grew up in Hawaii, surfing and swimming competitively. One day, while at a swimming competition, she was handed a camera and hasn’t looked back since. She finds inspiration in the unpredictability of nature, creates art that captures the interplay of people, water, and light, and uses photography to find beauty in the chaos. If you want to take the plunge into underwater photography, check out Sarah Lee’s essential underwater photography tips below, plus get a close look at her underwater photography gear kit.

Underwater Photo Tip #1: Ask your models to channel their inner ballerina or yogi and trust them. Open body posture is key. This photograph was taken of adventure model and soul surfer, Alison Teal, somewhere in the warm waters of Fiji.

Photo Credit: Sarah Lee

 

Underwater Photo Tip #2: I find it ideal to photograph people underwater in the late morning between 8-11am because you’re going to need a lot of natural light being underwater. Though, on occasion it’s fun to experiment with different times of day. This photograph was taken during the last hour of the day, probably in the presence of a few sharks too shy to make themselves known.

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Photo Credit: Sarah Lee

 

Underwater Photo Tip #3: Skin tones look the best within 1-5 feet of the surface. Beyond that, you start to lose the warmth and reds in their skin tone.

Photo Credit: Sarah Lee

 

Underwater Photo Tip #4: Lately I’ve been using an Outex, which is a silicone water cover. It’s rad because you can use different lenses in it, and it has a tripod neck strap. It’s worked really well underwater in lots of different situations.

Photo Credit: Mark Tipple

 

Underwater Photo Tip #5: You don’t always need a fancy camera or underwater setup to take a good photo. This photograph was taken on a GoPro. Read more about shooting with a GoPro on my blog.

Photo Credit: Sarah Lee

 

Underwater Photo Tip #6: Working with props and clothes can be challenging underwater but worth the effort! In this shoot, I created a jellyfish from an umbrella, ribbons, and beaded curtains. Just be careful you don’t lose anything in the process!

Photo Credit: Sarah Lee

 

Underwater Photo Tip #7: Within the realm of underwater photography, there’s not much in your control. It’s all about being in the moment and finding the composition within the “chaos.” Most of my favorite photographs were taken when I just let things “be” and used my camera as a way to interpret what is happening at the present moment, rather than trying to orchestrate and control any of it.

Photo Credit: Lucia Griggi

 

Underwater Photo Tip #8. Protect your gear. I alternate between surf housng and water covers depending on the conditions I shoot in.

sarahlee-watergear (2)

Photo Credit: Sarah Lee

 

Want more?

Read our exclusive interview with Sarah Lee. You can also check out the SmugMug Films artist profile of Sarah Lee below. Thanks for the tips, Sarah!

Find Sarah online:

Categories: photography, Tips, Users, video

SmugMug Films: Riding Under the Waves with Sarah Lee

The next episode in the SmugMug Films series focuses on water photographer Sarah Lee.  Subscribe to the channel now to watch and see future installments as soon as we set them free.

When not finishing up her film-production degree on the coast of California, Sarah Lee spends as much time as she can in the water. Be it Hawaii, Australia, or any coastal beach, she loves diving in to see what photos can be captured beneath the waves. Her natural love of swimming led to photographing swim meets, and her interest in photography grew until she started taking her camera in and under the water to photograph other swimmers, surfers, and good friends. Sarah’s passion has led to her work being featured in Italian fashion magazines and for adventure companies in Australia and New Zealand.

How long have you been a photographer?

I started taking pictures in high school, and I never thought I’d do it professionally. I grew up surfing for fun and swimming competitively. Someone handed me a camera during a swim meet one day, so I started taking pictures. When I started shooting, I really enjoyed the way it allowed me to interact with people and capture what was happening. And it evolved from there.

How would you describe your specialty?

What I do is 90 percent focused around the water and ocean. I grew up around it—and in it—and it’s very important to me. I would describe what I do as water and lifestyle photography. It’s people interacting with nature, in water.

My approach to photography is more spontaneous, because, for me, it’s more about capturing what’s actually happening than trying to make something happen. With water, many things are out of your control, and I love that. Whatever the water and light decide to do, you have to adapt to capture it.

Have you worked on a lot of surf photography?

Probably my favorite thing to do is surf photography, but I approach it more as something to do for fun. I was in Fiji two years ago during one of the surf contests, with 15- to 20-foot waves. I just love swimming and shooting in huge waves!

Is that the coolest place you’ve traveled for a shoot?

Actually, there’s this spot in New Zealand called Blue Duck Station. I traveled there with the Alison’s Adventures series I was working on. It was this amazing farm filled with sheep and horses and rivers—just the most majestic place. Imagine riding horses up the tallest mountain at sunrise to watch the fog separate over the mountains. It was incredible.

Are there any other shoots that are particularly memorable for you?

I did a shoot for a high-fashion design company, forte_forte. This Italian clothing company found me online, and they sent me their capsule collection that they wanted to have photographed underwater. They were these gorgeous, expensive gowns, and I told them, “You know they’re going to get destroyed, right?” They didn’t blink.

For that commission, I got some of my friends together—swimmers and surfers—and we swam under really big waves with these really heavy, long dresses, and it was an incredible feat, especially for the models. forte_forte loved it. It got published in Marie Claire Italy, too, and all over the Internet.

Did the models have to change in the water?

Yes. I swam with a huge backpack filled with the dresses, and the models had to change in the water between waves. That’s also why I use only experienced swimmers and girls whose swimming abilities I am familiar with.

It sounds challenging!

It’s extremely challenging! Especially for the models since they have to swim in the dresses, too, without fins. It can be really tiring for them.

Have you done any more fashion shoots?

I did one a couple months ago for another Italian company’s swimwear line. They had these expensive Italian leather boots they wanted shot underwater, as well as purses and jackets with bikinis. Styling is a bit impossible, but there are approaches to having a purse underwater and having clothes in motion.

And the model—huge props to that girl. She had to wear high heels and a jacket while holding a purse under the waves, and she was amazing. I tried to put on one of the shoes just to see what it was like, and it was a disaster.

How do you find models for your underwater shoots?

Mostly it’s people I meet surfing or swimming. I’ve never really used a professional model before. Because water is such a difficult element to deal with, it’s important the models are strong swimmers and are aware of what the ocean can do—and be able to hold their breath well. It takes a really special person to do that.

Do you have signals to direct the models while underwater?

We actually wait to surface to give direction. It’s all about timing so we can talk above the water and give direction, then go back underwater to continue shooting.

What kind of conditions do you look for when you go out for a shoot?

It depends what kind of shoot it is. My favorite kind of shoot is early in the morning or sunset underwater—just like any photographer’s ideal timing. Condition-wise, it depends on the spot and if it will be high tide or low tide. Each spot is different in terms of when water clarity is best. There are so many elements to consider, like surf size, tide, wind, and weather.

For shooting underwater, you want bright sun and less cloudy weather. But above the water, like for surfing, I love cloudier, darker skies with light—like when a storm has cleared and the clouds are dark but there’s so much light. That’s the best.

How far do you usually have to swim out?

It depends on the spot. For some places it’s 50 feet off shore, and others it’s a couple hundred feet. Lighting for underwater is best between 1 to 8 feet from the surface. Too deep and you lose a lot of light and clarity, and it affects skin tone.

Is everything you shoot natural light only?

Ninety-nine percent of what I do is all natural light. I’ve tried flashes underwater, but I haven’t really gotten into it. Lately I’ve been shooting underwater at sunrise or sunset to experiment with natural lighting.

Have you ever used props other than dresses and other items your models wear?

For one shoot, I really wanted to build something that looked like a jellyfish. We found a plastic umbrella, bought some beaded chandeliers that go over windows, took them apart, then stitched them onto the umbrella and added ribbons. That was really intense to deal with in the water.

Was the umbrella easily tossed around by the waves?

We didn’t take it into the waves because of the risks of having a huge umbrella underwater, so we took it out into deeper water for that shoot. It worked out pretty well—and no plastic pieces were lost in the process!

What gear could you not live without?

If I could just have one lens and body to walk around with, it would be my Nikkor 50/1.2 and 5d MkIII.

Lately I’ve been using an Outex, which is a silicone camera cover. It’s rad because you can use different lenses in it and it has a tripod neck strap. It’s worked really well underwater in lots of situations.

And of course fins—and goggles, sometimes.

Do you have to decide on which body and lens you’re using before you swim out for a shoot, or do you ever swim back to shore for a lens change?

I have to choose one and go out for the entire shoot so no; I have to make a choice and stick with it and shoot it all on manual, adjusting aperture and shutter speed as I go. I’ve done it enough that, based on the conditions, I know what’ll work best. For anything underwater, you’re usually shooting fisheye or wide angle.

It must be like manual zoom, too, but instead of walking you’re using your fins.

Totally! It’s cool because you can just be underwater, floating and swimming. It’s not always just a “walk in the park,” and that’s what I love most.

Any advice for an aspiring photographer?

I like to approach every photo session as an experiment. Be open to whatever nature and the elements give you, and work with it. Take it easy, and adapt to whatever happens. So far that approach has worked out for me.

Find Sarah online:

Categories: photography, SmugMug, Users

SmugMug Films: Extreme Filmmaking by Devin Graham

February 20, 2014 2 comments

Today we proudly release the third episode of SmugMug Films featuring YouTube superstar and extreme sports videographer Devin GrahamWatch it now and subscribe to see future installments as soon as they’re live.

Devin Graham has always loved adventure. From traveling with his father to snowboarding with his friends, he’s enjoyed experiencing all life has to offer. Even after two severe injuries, Devin didn’t lose his love for extreme sports; instead, he decided to keep experiencing them–only now from behind the lens, sharing through YouTube the unique, wild, and extreme adventures he discovers all over the world.

Portrait of Devin by Jarvie Digital

How did you get started in film?

I started making videos when I was a little kid. My dad had this huge camera that used VHS tapes that I would borrow, and he was always hesitant about letting me take it because it was the only one we had. I would break them from time to time, but it allowed me learn.

I used Legos to make little stop-motion movies essentially–I hit record really fast and took a picture of a couple things, then I’d stop tape, move the pieces, and take a couple more shots. I’d also make music videos with my siblings.

Once I got to Boy Scouts, I was able to get the cinematography merit badge. We learned how to edit on a turntable, which was very slow editing. Later I volunteered at a cable access studio. After that, my senior high school project required us to make a creative video, so I made a snowboarding video with my friends, and that’s where I learned linear editing, how it’s done today.

If you were filming snowboarding in high school, your interest in extreme and unique adventures must have started early!

Definitely. I got a lot of that from my dad, who was a big outdoors person. He loved camping. He loved hiking. And I’ve always loved extreme sports, especially snowboarding, which I did constantly. I’d go out with all my friends and film us all snowboarding together. Then I’d come home to edit on the computer, so I taught myself how to edit digitally that way–back when computers were really slow and it’d take weeks to put together a 30-second clip.

Scenes from Devin’s adventurous youth

With your love of extreme sports, do you participate in any of the adventures you film today?

When I was filming my snowboarding videos, I actually broke my back and then my leg, and I was told I would never be able to do that kind of stuff again. But I loved it, and I was able to figure out how to stay involved through filming. I pretty much stay behind the camera now. Occasionally I’ll participate in something that won’t hurt my back. Generally, I come up with ideas and then let my friends, who are the professionals, handle the action so I don’t chance popping my back out of place.

Goodness! May we ask how you injured yourself?

I broke my back and leg in two different trips, a year apart. My back injury happened during a snowboarding jump on a tabletop I was trying to clear. It was 70- or 80-feet long, and I didn’t go fast enough. I spun and landed from high up–it would be like falling from a couple stories and landing on flat ground. My vertebrae squished in an L2 compression fracture.

My leg broke during snowboard camp. I was on a trampoline of all things, and I landed on a spring. It popped the bone out of my leg. They had to stick a rod down my leg, and I had to go through surgery, but it never stopped me. When I recovered, I went right back into filming extreme sports.

Scenes from Devin’s adventurous youth

Wow. Seeing your behind-the-scenes videos you’d never know. You’re running and jumping along with these folks!

Yeah, my original goal was to tell feature film stories for Hollywood on the big screen. Then I made the decision to create wedding videos on the side to help with finances. When I started studying other wedding videos, I realized they all used static shots. I wanted my wedding videos to look like something out of a movie. And with movies, the camera is always moving.

I heard about Steadicams and things that allowed you to get those moving shots. After lots of research, I bought a GlideCam and started using it on everything I did, including the fun things I did with my friends. That led to using the GlideCam for the extreme sports videos, which require me to always keep moving!

You make it sound simple, going from weddings to extreme sports, but it sounds like quite a transition!

It definitely was a transition. I was filming weddings on the side while I was going to college for film. While I was working on my studies, I discovered the power of social media and YouTube. I was able to transition at the right time and find my niche with extreme sports, which people would share. Then companies around the world started asking to hire me to do bigger and better projects for television. YouTube opened the door to all these opportunities, and it’s been great ever since.

How do you handle lighting while you’re doing all this running around?

For me, there’s no science behind it. I just film what I feel looks good. Since we’re a one- or two-man team at most, we don’t have time to light things. That’s one of the reasons I shoot outside: you don’t need a whole crew to light things. But we do time all our shoots around the sunlight, filming during the golden hour when the sunlight’s looking its best.

Behind-the-scenes photo by Dustin Bess Photography

With such a small team, do you use additional cameras, or are you just running around everywhere to get all those angles?

We’re literally just getting every shot we can think of, running from one thing to the next. Especially when we have only an hour of sunrise or sunset. In addition to the GlideCam shots, we’re also using GoPros now since the quality has gotten so amazing. With those we use a GoScope, which is basically a pole we can hook the GoPro on to. We’re all about making people feel like they’re part of the action, and the GoScope allows us to put the viewer in the position of the athlete.

Any other essential gear?

We use two cameras as our main cameras: a Canon 5D MkIII and a Canon EOS-1D C. Ninety-five percent of our shots are with those and 5% are from the GoPro cameras. For lenses, the majority of our shots are done with the Canon 16-35/f2.8 L series. The rest of the time we use a Canon 70-200/f2.8. With the 16-35, we can be everywhere. We’re always choosing epic or amazing locations, and the wide-angle shots make the viewer feel as if they’re there.

We’re curious about your settings since you’re moving around so much. Do you shoot any of this manually?

We’re working on new videos once a week, which doesn’t allow a lot of time to edit, so we try to do everything in camera. Generally we’re shooting everything at 2.8 with ISO around 100 and shutter speed around 4000. We also use a B+W polarizer, which makes the skies super blue and the greens super vibrant as well.

As far as focus goes, we do everything manually. When shooting video, you can’t do automatic focus because the focus will be pulled all over the place. So we set the focus and then try to keep our subjects the same distance from us. If we move in close, we just change the focus.

Scenes from Devin’s adventurous youth

What are vital things you look for when framing a shot?

I try to have movement in the foreground as well as in the background because it gives the shot more life. If nothing is going on in the background, I’ll have someone run by or shoot a water gun so it feels like there’s as much action going on as possible. Then I’ll look for good lighting that makes the person or location pop the best.

How do you maintain your framing so well while you’re running along with the action?

Years of practice! When I started I wasn’t very good with the GlideCam, but now that I’ve done it so much I don’t have to look at the camera anymore. I can instead look where I’m going and get a good sense of what I’m filming.

What do you feel is important for telling a great story in film?

I always try to create mystery in the first 15 seconds of any video I do. This involves close-ups so we don’t reveal exactly what the viewer is going to see. For example, in the rope-swing video, you see someone walking in a close shot, then you see them setting up something, and it makes you wonder what they’re doing. Then, at that point, it’s all about making the viewer feel like they’re a part of the action and showing them something they’ve never seen before.

I feel so many people are stuck in their office space looking out the window, and they want to experience life, so we try to give people experiences they potentially would never have.

Could you walk us through your editing process after a shoot?

We’ll spend a day shooting and then it usually takes a week to edit the video with music and sound. The music I use is stuff my friends compose. And our sound design is done by a guy in England. It’s really just straight-up editing.

We always have an idea of how we want a video to play out, but once we start editing we get a better scope for it. We lay out everything on a timeline and go through every shot one by one–it’s a discovery process all over again. Then we’ll spend a couple of days fine-tuning and putting sound in.

Often we’re editing on the plane when we’re coming back from a shoot. The world is my office.

Scenes from Devin’s adventurous youth

That sounds like it can be tiring. How do you keep going?

It is definitely tiring, which is why we’re super selective about our projects. We don’t do anything that we’re not going to be passionate about. And that’s the only reason we can do what we’re doing–when we travel it’s almost a vacation because we love it so much. We’re hanging out and making a video with friends, and we’re just having fun. We get to see the world doing that.

Any advice you’d give to someone who’s looking to get started with filmmaking?

Go out and constantly shoot and constantly learn. A lot of people wait to get accepted on projects, so they never end up shooting. But what I discovered is by doing a video once a week, we’re constantly growing as filmmakers. It’s okay to fail as a filmmaker. Make a lot of mistakes and learn from them. And content is more important than any gear you can or cannot afford.

What do you love most about what you do?

It gives me amazing opportunities to work with amazing people. I get e-mail from people around the world thanking me because it’s given them a reason to go outside and do things they’re passionate about. I once got a letter from someone who said they were going to commit suicide but then remembered my videos; he said the videos gave him a reason to be alive because these were all things he’d be missing out on. For me, more than anything, the reason I do what I do is it gives me an opportunity to give back to the world and show how amazing life really is.

Portrait by Jarvie Digital

Find Devin online:

Categories: SmugMug, Sports, Users, video

How To Avoid Leaking Sensitive Photos

February 7, 2014 19 comments

Stories are breaking on sites like Fstoppers and Brandsmash about private Boudoir photos that appeared on a creepy voyeur forum.  It’s hard to imagine a more humiliating nightmare for a photographer or their clients.

Photo Used With Permission From Je Revele Photography 

Photos came from several sites, including SmugMug, and we paid extreme attention over the last two days to how it happened.  We tried to take some comfort in observing that in every instance, it came down to passwords that were guessable in just a few tries.

The question for us was what could we do that we weren’t already?  Over the past year, we’ve done considerable work around this problem, but yesterday we decided to expose some of the alerts our systems generate to our customers.

When our systems see several password attempts on a gallery or folder, they now send an email to the owner of the SmugMug site.  It identifies the gallery, gives the first few digits of each password attempt with asterisks for the rest (bou***), and adds info like time of day and geographic location the request may be coming from.

Today our Support Heroes are receiving thank-yous from people whose family members couldn’t get in because they left the caps lock key on or forgot some aspect of the password “it’s a cap O (oh), not a 0 (zero)”.

And we read two help tickets from photographers who discovered that their boudoir galleries had password guessers.  Fortunately, they had long passwords that were too hard to guess, but they are still making changes like removing the word Boudoir from the title, and making the gallery Unlisted so only people who obtain the link can know of its existence.

One of the security upgrades that came with New SmugMug is we don’t store passwords in a form that could leak in any way, including a systems breach, a bug, or a disgruntled employee. We use an industrial grade, Cryptographic hash function.

The breaking stories are about Boudoir photos, but we host incredibly sensitive photos (all cloud services do) of unannounced products and even, we remember, photos of an upcoming TIME Person of the Year.

Best Practices:

1.  Set a good gallery password before uploading photos!

2.  Set galleries and folders to Unlisted.  Unlisted means means no one can see them unless they have somehow been given a link.  They cannot guess the link because it has a random string added to its URL.  The combination of strong password + Unlisted is extremely secure.

You can learn more about how to protect your SmugMug galleries here.

We hope this helps, and thanks for being part of the SmugMug family!

Chris & Don MacAskill

Founders

SmugMug Films: Air-to-Air Photography by Jessica Ambats

January 28, 2014 2 comments

Today we’re joyously announcing the second installment of SmugMug Films with a spotlight on heart-racing aviation photographer Jessica Ambats. Watch it now and subscribe to get first access to future episodes.

A love of flying led Jessica Ambats to an editorial job with an aviation magazine, Pilot Getaways. The publication required air-to-air shoots, and after tagging along a few times, she was hooked. Jessica learned how to direct her own air-to-air shoots and eventually became a pilot herself, sharing her love of the sky and everything that flies through it with fellow aviators and friends. She also works as editor of Plane & Pilot magazine.

Starting with air-to-air photography seems like a big leap to take.

I’ve always been fascinated by photography for as long as I can remember, but I never had any formal training. My first official introduction to aviation photography was through the International Society for Aviation Photography. They have a meeting every year, and I was able to attend one. I’d always been interested in photography and aviation, but it hadn’t really occurred to me to put the two together. Listening to speakers at the meeting was an eye-opener for me. I then worked at Pilot Getaways magazine, where I got to join their shoots and learn the ropes that way. I’ve also been fortunate to have a great mentor, photographer Russell Munson, who has encouraged me every step of the way.

Has your process changed much since then?

Over the years I’ve refined how I do things. I’ve learned how to be more directive, because you need to constantly give the pilots positioning instructions. And I’ve gotten a lot pickier about everything: the timing of the shoot, the background, and so on. Whereas in the very beginning, I was just excited to go up in an airplane and take pictures, and I didn’t focus on the small—but important—details.

Has your own training as a pilot helped improve your ability to direct in-flight composition?

Being a pilot and taking a formation-flying course helps because it gives me a firsthand understanding of the flight dynamics. This is useful when positioning my subject planes. Also, when planning the shoot, it gives greater understanding of the logistics, such as airspace restrictions, appropriate altitudes, and ATC [air-traffic control] coordination.

How do you position the subject planes?

I talk to them directly over the radio, or I relay my instructions through my pilot via the intercom. My positioning instructions are measured in feet, such as “ten feet higher” or “twenty feet back.” Sometimes I’ll also use hand signals, but in general I prefer to keep my hands steady on the camera.

You’re telling pilots to fly ten feet one way or another, which is probably very tough to do.

A movement of ten feet exactly is really hard to judge. So what I’ll do is give the first command: ten feet higher. And then I’ll watch what they do. Whatever they do, I make a mental note of what they are using as ten feet. Then I calibrate based on that.

The pilots I work with are highly experienced in formation flying, so they’re used to small adjustments. They can focus on a particular part of the photoship (the plane I shoot from) and then move their line of sight relative to that.

Air-to-air photography is a team effort and the pilots make all the difference in a safe and successful shoot.

How close do the planes fly?

Distances range from around 20 to 150 feet. I’ll move the subject planes farther out or closer in depending on the composition I’m trying to create.

You’ve got all this coordination between pilots, planes, and air-traffic control. Do you also have to coordinate with the Federal Aviation Administration?

No. And depending on the airspace, we may not even need to talk to ATC. There’s no special clearance required for a photo flight. You fly within the same regulations as a standard flight.

In congested areas with controlled airspace, like Las Vegas, we coordinate in advance with ATC. We’ll also give a head’s up to local helicopter companies as well as law enforcement. They’ve gotten calls saying, “Hey, two planes are chasing each other over the Strip.” We want to do as much advance coordination as possible before shooting in a high-visibility area.

Could you walk us through your typical shoot process?

I’ll first pick a location. For the SmugMug shoot in the SmugMug Film video, it was the Bay Area. Then, I’ll plan a flight route. In the Bay Area, you can make a nice loop over Alcatraz Island, the San Francisco skyline, and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Next is the hardest part of everything: scheduling a date that works for everyone. Coordinating multiple pilots, airplanes, and the weather is not easy!

Once a date is set, I’ll calculate the exact timing for everything. I’ll look up sunset times and work backward from there: What time do we want to be over the bridge? What time do we need to depart our airport to be there? What time do we need to arrive at the airport to brief and set up cameras?

As the shoot gets closer, I’ll start checking the weather forecast constantly. The day prior to the morning of, we’ll make a final go/no-go decision. If the weather looks iffy or bad, we’ll postpone it. If it looks good, that’s a go, and we’ll all meet for a pilot brief.

During the brief, we’ll cover the specifics of the flight, including takeoff/landing procedures, frequencies, altitudes, airspeeds, photo maneuvers, and emergency procedures. I’ll discuss the shots I’d like to get and review my positioning terminology.

On the ramp, we’ll configure the photoship. My pilot will remove the doors, and I’ll set up my gear. I’ll put my harness on, and we’ll launch.

In the footage you had a spare camera in your lap. You don’t try to change lenses once you’re up in the air, right?

No, that would be a bad idea. You don’t want anything loose. I would not want to drop a lens for sure! And there’s so much airflow that it can’t be good for the camera sensor. I’ll take two cameras, with two different lenses.

On photo flights, do you use any cameras besides your Canon DSLRs?

In addition to my beloved GoPros (which I mount in various spots on each airplane), I’ve been wearing Google Glass while on photo flights. I record video and take photos with Glass, but I would like to find a way to do live hangouts during photo flights so others can join in on the experience!

Do you have any tips or tricks for how you maintain your focus in such a chaotic, loud environment?

My mental focus, or the camera focus?

Both!

Mental focus comes instinctively. It’s a very intense environment. Everything happens quickly, so there’s a lot going on. You’re sitting in an open door, which can be pretty uncomfortable, cold, noisy, and bumpy.

For example, I did a shoot over the Hollywood sign with three jets that was very challenging. We flew orbits in front of the sign, and I only had a small amount of time during each orbit to get the shot. In that time I had to position three airplanes relative to each other, and then line them up with the sign, too. I have to be entirely focused on what I’m doing during the flight or I will miss the shot.

With the camera itself, I try to be really, really steady holding it. I stay out of the airstream and focus on the subject. I also use image-stabilized lenses, like Canon’s 24-105 and 70-200.

The flights are pretty intense. I’m usually completely exhausted afterward. Mentally and physically exhausted.

Are there any flights that are particularly memorable for you?

One that comes to mind was over New York City, where I’m from. It was a complicated shoot of four privately owned Citation jets and a P-51 Mustang warbird from WWII. So we had six airplanes, including the photoship I was in, flying down the Hudson, circling over the Statue of Liberty and other landmarks. As a kid growing up in Manhattan, I always looked up at airplanes as they were flying and never imagined that I’d be in one taking photos.

You mentioned that you prefer sunset flights to sunrise. Any reason why?

I’m not a morning person! And sunrise shoots in general are harder on everyone. I want to be shooting over the location at the very first light, so that means getting up way before sunrise to meet, brief, get the airplanes ready, set up my gear, take off, and fly to the location. And then the sun comes up. It can be a little brutal when I have a sunrise photo flight the morning after a sunset shoot.

But the main reason I like sunset better is that, as I usually launch an hour before sunset, the light just keeps getting better and better. You’re working into the good light. Everything gets more tuned. But at sunrise, the very start of the shoot is the best light, and it just gets worse from there. I always feel like I run out of good light really quickly in the mornings.

That said, the air is usually so calm in the mornings, and you have a great feeling that you’ve got the whole sky to yourself. It’s always worth the effort.

Do you have a favorite aircraft to shoot?

I like them all! I do. It was a real treat when I shot the Blue Angels from one of their F-18 fighter jets, but I love shooting everything from a little Piper Cub, which is a two-seat light aircraft, to a larger business jet. They all have different challenges.

For example?

On one of my Blue Angels shoots, I was in their two-seat F-18 for formation aerobatics. Their routines are intense with strong, sustained G-forces. It can be physically hard to hold the camera up while pulling Gs. I learned pretty quickly to position my camera before each maneuver started. It’s also challenging to shoot through a canopy, which may have scratches, reflections, and glare.

Any advice for those who might want to pursue a similar path?

Safety, safety, safety. Make sure you’re with experienced formation pilots; otherwise, don’t do it. It’s not the kind of shooting I would encourage anyone to just wake up one day and go do. Spend time in aviation environments first. A good place to start is at an airshow where you’ll have lots of great ground-to-air photo ops and you’ll meet other aviation photographers.

What do you love most about what you do?

I love to be in the air! There’s a great saying: “To most people, the sky is the limit. To those that love aviation, the sky is home.”

Find Jessica online:


Photo credit: David Farr

Categories: Current Events, SmugMug, Users

Vote for SmugMug: Best Bootstrapped Startup

January 15, 2014 3 comments

Holy moly, SmugMug fans! Because of your amazing support, SmugMug’s been picked as a finalist for the 2013 Crunchies Awards.

Pinch us, it’s real!

We’ve been bootstrapped for 11 years with millions of customers and billions of happy photos. Would you help us take it all the way and become the “Best Bootstrapped Startup” of 2013? If you think we are and want to make your photos proud, we’d love to have your votes again.

  • Simply visit the Crunchies site and start voting now! You can vote once a day through 11:59pm PST, Sunday, January 26, 2014.

SmugMug’s always been known for support, but your votes have shown us what “support” really means. Thank you for all that you’ve given us over the years: your comments, your shares, your likes, your stories, your ideas, and above all the glaring hard truth when we needed it most. We’d never have made it this far without you. :)

Exhilarating photo of SmugMug Support Hero Ana Pogačar taken by… Ana Pogačar!

Categories: business, Contest, SmugMug, Users

SmugMug Films: Fantasy Storytelling by Ben Von Wong

January 13, 2014 10 comments

Today marks the release of our first installment of SmugMug Films with a spotlight on creative portrait photographer Benjamin Von Wong. Watch it now and subscribe to get first access to future episodes:

Two years ago, Montreal/Toronto-based photographer Benjamin Wong was a mining engineer who took pictures on the side. In 2012, he quit his engineering career and threw himself into photography full time. He’s now an award-winning photographer admired for his “epic, surreal, fantasy storytelling.” Today with the official launch of Ben’s spotlight in SmugMug Films, he’s shared more details about himself, his background, and exactly how he crafted those exquisite angel wings.

1. How did you get your start in photography?

I had a job at a mine in Nevada (USA) when my girlfriend at the time broke up with me. I figured if I didn’t find a hobby, I’d go crazy. The idea to take pictures of the stars came to me, so I went to Walmart and bought my first point-and-shoot camera. I didn’t do very well, so the next chance I had, I drove to the next city over and bought my first DSLR.

I brought that camera around to everything. But the first time I got paid to shoot an event was a very significant part of my mentality shift.

Another photographer asked whether I would be interested in shooting an event for pharmaceutical students. It was $250 for five hours of shooting. At the time, I wasn’t actually geared up for shooting events. I had an 18-200. I borrowed a flash from a friend. I basically had a flash, a slow zoom lens, and a model clause to make myself look more professional.

At the end of the day, what was special about this event was my realization that I could earn money doing what I love. And that’s when I really got into it. I bought a bunch of new equipment. Got business cards made right away.

Shooting events was fun, but it wasn’t a passion, so I quit the events business and launched myself into creative portraiture. My creative portraiture grew, and I started the Von Wong brand in 2010. The next biggest transition was when I quit my day job. I woke up one morning and said I know I’m not going to do engineering for the rest of my life. So in 2012, I quit. Having the financial support of my mining engineering career helped me make that leap.

2. How has your photography changed since you first started?

Shortly after I picked up my first camera, I started a 365 project and planned to take a picture a day for an entire year. But instead of doing self-portraits, I wanted to take portraits of other people. The motivation behind the project was to grow and learn, but I soon realized I didn’t have time. I was working 10 hours a day at my engineering job. Every day I’d get up, go to work, spend the day thinking about a concept, get home, set up my lights, eat, shoot the concept, edit it, and post it. I’d be up until 2 or 3 in the morning, then I’d have to go to work the next day. It was exhausting. I set a milestone for myself of 100 days, and when I hit it, I shifted gears toward doing larger productions. I started putting more emphasis into cool locations and people, and making each shoot really count.

3. How do you choose your locations and find help for these large productions?

I travel for people, not places. I stay on people’s sofas and do what they do, so I connect with the people.

And I pull together resources significantly from social media. As I’ve invested in meeting my fans and giving back to them, that’s grown into a powerhouse in the sense that I can go to any country in the world, say, “Hey guys, I’m in town, let’s hang out,” and most of the time someone replies.

I usually go to a place with a certain intention or starting point, and it grows. I have a spark of inspiration—location, a model, a cool studio, a performer — there’s always one single point around which everything ignites and from that point forward, everything else needs to be found. Someone knows some place who knows something. It’s about staying open to possibilities and opportunities.

The fallen angel shoot I did with you guys is a great example of this. I was actually looking for an opportunity to go on vacation, and Kelly Zak had reached out to me through Facebook for a critique — and we ended up chatting about shoot ideas. I said I’ve always wanted to create a fallen angel, and she said, “If you come to Florida, there’s fallen angels for you!” I figured I better get on a flight.

Right before Florida, I’d been traveling around a lot. Kelly was caught up with school work. So when I landed, we didn’t have much planned, so we went scouting right away. The first place she drove me to was this amazing, magical-looking forest. Which is funny because for the Floridians it’s probably the most common tree they have, a Spanish oak tree, I think. For me, it was so magical.

Given the beauty of the location, I thought, “Why don’t we increase the concept?” Have two fallen angels, and a bunch of mystical creatures. One thing led to another, and Kelly started enlisting classmates in the film school. We had costume designers, makeup artists. I started asking fans through social media if they’d like to be a part of it. And the whole thing took off from there.

We pulled this entire shoot together in about eight days. We had a good time, and we basically became a family for about a week.

4. How did you make those fantastic wings in so short a time?

The wings were made out of a type of plastic you use for packaging. We just cut it up and layered it. The broken wings were filed down using razor blades. Then we took charcoal and blackened the edges, each wing tip individually. The whole thing was put together using hot glue. Kelly did the research, looking up cosplay tutorials on how people would strap on wings. Since I wanted the angels to be topless, this meant they couldn’t wear a harness or anything. So they had to come up with a creative solution, which ended up being clear bra straps.

5. What are some of your best in-front-of-the-lens tips for special effects?

Birthday sparklers for light trails. Flour for snow. Smoke bombs for portable smoke. Cloth/Vaseline on the lens to create foreground texture in your image. Water guns for portable rain. That’s all I can think of off the top of my head!

6. You attribute a lot of your success to having a great social network and being able to find what you need within it. How were you able to build such a vast network?

Slowly but surely. That’s really what I did. There’s no big success trick other than continuously uploading content.

Before I was doing behind-the-scenes blog posts, I was posting a new photo every day while I had my day job. Day after day of putting out new content. And my shoots are extremely social in the sense that people like to hang out and be a part of them. So at the end of the day, I would always tag all the people who got involved, which helped disseminate information. Then add on the behind-the-scenes videos and that’s ongoing social-media exposure. After I quit my job and traveled for a couple months, I started building my international exposure, which allowed me to start feeding my blog. Every week I would put out a new blog post. Lots and lots of work. I started doing workshops and speaking engagements. Any time somebody asked to do an interview, I would do it. Really just nonstop trying to build this network.

There was no massive unannounced peak—no surprise where it felt like okay, I’ve made it, and it started snowballing. It’s always been very consistent growth. And the minute I stop posting, the minute I stop sharing, then everything stops.

7. What social channels have been the most successful for you?

Facebook, hands down. I use Twitter. YouTube is the best for videos. I’ve used Flickr. I’ve used all of those, but I don’t think anything’s really come out of those channels. It’s really been Facebook for me.

8. You are very involved with all aspects of your shoots. How do you find time to do all the social outreach as well?

I think people overestimate the amount of time I spend on the computer editing. I think I spend on average only ten to twenty hours of editing a week. A bulk of the effort that’s allocated to a shoot really takes place in the preproduction, production and social aspects of it. The actual shoot and postproduction becomes just a single step on the way.I work so much through collaborations, and I came to the conclusion that if I wasn’t going to be making a video, if I wasn’t going to be making a blog post, then I wouldn’t be giving back what people were giving to me. If I wanted people to look at that work and broaden its reach, it was worth it to do big, elaborate projects but fewer of them as opposed to many small projects that wouldn’t have all that extra media support. A lot of effort goes into making an interesting blog post or following up with the creative content.

9. Has the social reach of your shoots ever surprised you?

Yes, a shoot that I did last year. In September, my agent, Suzy Johnston + Associates, received an e-mail from a woman who was terminally ill, asking if there was any possibility of getting a photoshoot and if I’d be able to photograph her in a way that made her feel beautiful and healthy.

I was leaving in a few weeks to go to Seattle for creativeLive, and she was on a time clock because with each passing week she was getting weaker and more frail. We had to make it work quickly. I gave her a call the next day, and in about 10 days we got makeup, hair, and location together. It was her first photoshoot ever.

Afterward, I wrote a blog post about it. I really wrote it more for her than for anybody else. I wanted to create a nice little memory for her. The Internet picked it up, and it became one of my more popular posts of the year, which was, for me, a very big surprise.

Through this experience, what really struck me was that I could not only inspire, and teach about the process, but on top of that, I could create images that matter, that can touch people. These images were created to bring my fan’s dreams to life, but I felt so alive, too. Doing something that matters makes all the difference. That’s something I would like to incorporate more in my work this year.

10. Have you ever been stumped for inspiration?

It happens to me just as much as it happens to anyone. You can’t always be inspired. You have to keep growing and putting things together even when not inspired, so make plans and follow through with them. Do I always feel inspired? No, but setting the wheels in motion and filling the time when nothing is happening, that’s important. Give yourself something to do.

11. What advice would you give to a photographer who was just getting started?

In the artistic and creative world, the biggest thing you have to fear is yourself. If you stop feeling inspired or you stop feeling motivated to do whatever it is you’ve decided to do, then you’re going to lose ground, you’re going to lose traction. No matter how great your business plan is, if you don’t want to do it anymore, everything will come crashing down.

My relative success has been a combination of the journey, the sharing, the inspiration, and the work, but not any one thing would have made it go as far as it has. You really have to make sure you love what you do. No one wants “mediocre.” They don’t want a Jack of all trades. They want “special.” They want the “best” at one single thing. And the only way you can be the best is to love what you do.

You only have one life. Make the most of it.

Find Ben online:

Categories: Art, photography, SmugMug, Users

Spooky Storytelling by Todd Atteberry

October 31, 2013 Leave a comment

Halloween is upon us! What better time to announce our latest inspiring Success Story with Todd Atteberry from History Trekker? Todd’s beautiful, haunting photos of historic northeast locations echo classic, timeless Dutch paintings. He talked to us about how he got into the art of photographing haunted buildings and how his SmugMug website helped him find a firm foothold in the historic community.

SmugMug inspiration: History Trekker

Todd is also the man behind Green Man Studio, one of SmugMug’s Certified Customizers. You can tell that his creative skills reach well beyond simply digital art in his beautiful and thoughtful website designs.

SmugMug inspiration: Photos by History Trekker

SmugMug inspiration by History Trekker

Read the full interview with Todd, and don’t be surprised if you hear something go bump in the night. ;)

Have a safe, happy and haunting Halloween!

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