Monday, May 28, 2007

Cannes wrap-up

Cannes- The core of the Cannes Film Festival is about buying and selling films. The red carpet, the lavish parties, and the photocalls get all the attention. The real business of movie making is when producers and distributors get together and make deals.

At Cannes, buyers and seller from all over the world convene in a marketplace that help facilate transactions. Everyone in the world needs to fill up their programming schedule. If you have a film, there is someone who will be buy it, at the right price. Cannes is the two-week Wall Street of the film world.

Most of the public really doesn't care about deals. They want the inside info on the movie stars. Some of the stars understand Cannes as the marketplace and come to promote their project. Others think Cannes is one huge party. Those are the ones that get in trouble with photographers and gossip mongers.

The photographic landscape that is Cannes is broken up into several areas if your looking to take photos of celebs. First and foremost is the official premieres and photocalls that Cannes organizes. Photographers are required black-tie apparel to shoot the premieres on the steps of the Festival des Palais. Usually in the morning of the premiere the festival organizes a photocall, a less formal event with casual attire. At night, there is an after-party for the film that is also black-tie. That gives official press photographers three chances to shoot the stars of a film. With over 200 photographers at each event, the film and its actors get a lot of carefully controlled exposure.

The real photos are taken at the other, unofficial areas of Cannes that make up the paparazzi landscape. First there is the street. Many times an actor has to run through a gauntlet of photographers and fans to go from their car to a party. Anything can happen and photographers hope something will. Sometimes you'll see a less well known celeb walking the streets unnoticed. Somewhat easier is the yacht parties. Multi-million dollar yachts are docked right next to the Palais and every night someone hosts a party the celebs go to. Some are easy to spot. Robert Cavalli had his yacht with his intials on the bow where Sharon Stone stayed while she was in Cannes. You could see here on deck from the dock. Jessica Simpson went to a yacht party sponsored by Budweiser. The pier where all these yachts are docked are in public areas where anyone can walk and rub elbows with celebs. The thing is that most of the public was unaware of it and hung out at the big premieres on the steps of the Palais.

Another watering hole for celebs were the nightclubs that spring up during the festival. They are situated in Palm Beach, about 2km from the Palais. The VIP Room is a loud tecno disco where a few celebs like Kylie Minogue and Dita Von Teese hung out into the wee hours of the morning. The cast of Oceans 13 and the fashion house of Dolce & Gabbana held parties at Baole in the area. Celebs flocked to the D&G party as they were giving out free sunglasses, which retail in the $400 range. I saw Edge from U2, Naomi Campbell, Robert Rodriguez and his new girlfriend, Rose McGowan, Michelle Rodriguez and Jay Z among others leaving that party.

The photographers who were looking for the big score rented boats or sat on a jetty overlooking the Hotel du Cap in Eden Roc. The hotel is where the cast of Oceans 13 stayed. So if you wanted photos of Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, George Clooney, Andy Garcia, Don Cheadle, Ellen Barkin or Matt Damon, you had to stake the place out. The place is pretty well known by the paparazzi and they are in plain site so when a celeb gets there photo taken on the beach there, they are either really naive because its there first time there or hoping someone will take their photo and gain some publicity. I think its mostly the latter.

A few more random things about Cannes. An Amercain sandwich has french fries in it. Why do the French think Americans love french fries so much that we put them in out sandwich? We of course don't. McDonalds is so anti-french in its food philosophy but hordes of kids flock to it at Cannes. The food there is not the same in the states, the meat patty is smaller, the bun has herbs, the mustard is dijon. Even though its called fast-food, everyone in France doesn't work fast, expect a little longer for everything. The supermarket in France has a whole aisle devoted to yogurt. I guess the French love yogurt. You can't get cheddar cheese in France, so don't ask. In a restaurant, the bottled water cost as much or more than anything else, about 6 eur or about $8 for a liter of Evian, more expensive than the beer or wine. They will ask if you want water, you think you are getting regular tap water, but you getting the most expensive water in the world. You can ask for tap water, sometimes they will give you it, sometimes they will not understand, or pretend not to understand. Tap water is drinkable in France. In general the food is much better than in the US but because of the weak dollar, you will pay for it. The thing that surprised me the most was how backwards technological France is. The internet is really slow, I have yet to pass by a store that sold computers and plasma TV's. Maybe things are different in a big city like Paris, by Cannes is like the US in 1998. Its not that they don't have anything you can get in the US, it is just not as widespread. You see people with digital cameras, ipods and laptops, but only rarely. I guess they are too busy smoking cigarettes and hanging out in cafes, which is a stereotype but somewhat based in fact.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Cannes Day 4-5

Cannes - Owning a yacht at the Cannes Film Festival is key to meeting people. You can attract everyone from a major movie star to a horde of photographers. Italian fashion designer Robert Cavalli uses his to entertain his Hollywood clients.

Sunday night Sharon Stone, Gong Li and Mischa Barton came by to say hello to Cavalli.

It doesn't matter who you are in Cannes, everyone must remove their shoes while boarding, the teak on deck must be protected.

The deck of a private yacht is also the best way to watch the fireworks at midnight.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Cannes Day 2-3

Cannes- A few impressions if you ever plan on attending the Cannes Film Festival.

First get a local mobile phone. If you don't have a phone, you are SOL on the party scene. There are literally hundreds of parties every night. An invite is just a phone call away. You can't network without a phone. A phone in Cannes is easy. I bought an unlocked GSM phone off eBay for $30.00, make sure it has 900-1800 mhz, and then you just have to buy a French SIM card and your all set. The Orange phone company was selling pay-as-you-go phones with a starter card for about 40 euros. Then you just buy recharges to top off the phone for more time.

Second thing is the internet. Make sure the place your staying has an internet connection. France is lagging behind and it's not common. The flat I'm staying doesn't have broadband and I tried sniffing a WiFi connection in my neighborhood but is nothing was available. So I'm stuck dragging my laptop to an internet cafe every day.

A car is pretty useless during the festival because many roads are closed and the traffic is gridlocked. But a bicycle or Vespa maybe an option. If you wait until you get to Cannes, its already too late, everything will be booked. I found that out the hard way. The bigger problem is that the rental places are not online, you have to call them directly.

Do you have to speak French in Cannes? No problem. Everybody here seems to understand English. You can just point at menu items. Hollywood doesn't speak French. You don't have to either.

Cannes is like Hollywood. The bigger, the more expensive, the glitzier, the better. Multi-million dollar yachts, Ferrari's, Arab sheiks, are commonplace.

Last night, Jessica Simpson had a party on a yacht and then walked two yachts down to party with Kid Rock.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Cannes Day 1

Cannes, France - The Cannes Film Festival is the Cirque du Soleil of Hollywood. All the glitz of Hollywood, with a French twist.

I landed Wednesday and by evening I was photographing Elizabeth Hurley on the Croisette. Which is hard to do when you have nine hours of jet lag. Hopefully I can get my bearings and try to get a handle on Cannes. Which may be impossible.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Concert Photography

Hollywood - Shooting a concert sounds like a great gig. Getting paid to shoot legendary artists from the front row. It's not bad, but there are a few caveats.

Saturday I was at the Henry Fonda Music Box Theater in Hollywood to shoot Hullabaloo, a benefit concert featuring Edder Vedder of Pearl Jam fame and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Any photographer who shoots concerts knows the drill. First you can't shoot the whole concert. Back in the day, early 1980's you could hang out and shoot and watch the whole show. Now you can shoot certain songs. Some artists allow you to shoot the first two or three songs. Some stipulate an odd arrangement of songs in the middle.

Eddie Vedder only wanted photographers to shoot the fourth song. The Red Hot Chili Peppers wanted only the first two songs to be shot. I have shot U2, and they allowed the first five songs. A couple of weeks ago at the Ricky Martin concert at the Staples Center, you were allowed the first two. The other thing during the performance, is no flash photography. Available darkness only.

I don't really know what changed in the mid-80's. But it became standard for concert photographers.

Here are some tips on shooting concerts.

First bring ear protection. You could be shooting right next to a stack of speakers and the last thing you want is to lose hearing on the job.

Second, bring a flashlight. When the performance starts, its pitch black, a flashlight comes in handy if you have to fiddle with camera equipment or just find your way when your escorted out after the shooting time expires.

The third thing is to make sure you have the right lens in advance of the concert. A small club venue like the Music Box Theater, a wide-angle and a medium telephoto lens is all you need. But at the Staples Center and other 20,000 seat arenas, they might put you back behind the sound board, which could be 200 feet away from the stage. You better have a fast 400mm lens or you will basically shooting wide shots of the whole stage instead of dramatic shots of the lead singer.

The last bit of advice is understand that you will have a very limited time shooting so have a plan of action in place. If you need shots of the drummer or bassist, make a mental note before the concert. Plan on shooting some wider shoots along with tighter shots, two or three cameras make sense, you don't want to waste time changing lenses. Shoot very heavy, the lighting changes a lot during most concerts and you want to get as many photos as possible in that short amount of time.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Do Ethics Exist in Photojournalism?

The ideal situation for journalists would to be totally independent and non-partisan and just record and report the news.

In the real world that almost never happens.

One of my first jobs I was reminded by the editor-in-chief that a newspapers was a business and the our number one job was to sell newspapers. My idealistic view of the journalists being integral to a free society, the fourth estate, freedom of speech, voice of the people, was shattered.

How do the demands of fair and balanced reporting relate to the business side of selling newspapers? There is supposed to be this imaginary wall dividing the editorial side and the business side of things in journalism. The problem is the wall is like the emperor's new clothes, and not all that well built.

I have worked at small, medium and large newspapers. The one thing I was never handed was any thing relating to ethics. Nothing on what you could do or not do. Actually, I never held a job where ethics were spelled out. What are the rules? Are there no rules?

There is a telling scene in the first episode of "The Sopranos" this season. Tony Soprano, his sister and brother-in-law are playing Monopoly. All of sudden new rules are implemented. Tony's brother-in-law objects, citing the official rules in his protest, but to no avail. I remember the exact same thing happening when I was in the fourth grade. My friend made up the rules as we went along, eventually I learned what the rules were. I have had similar experiences in journalism.

One of the first rules of a newsphotographer is that you never manipulate people for photos. You are supposed to capture what is in front of you and by doing so, have truthful images. When I was a young teenage photographer shooting for my college student newspaper, "The Spectrum" in Buffalo, NY, that's what I did. I was so shy I couldn't do anything else. I didn't know how to direct someone to do something to make a photograph more interesting.

Then one day I covered an event that the mainstream press covered. The veteran newspaper photographer who showed up probably didn't even know I existed. He staged and directed people and was in and out of the event in no time. Was he unethical? His boss wouldn't have thought so. This is how things were done. And in most cases still done at big and small newspapers and other news organizations across the country. I have seen it first hand.

The second rule is that you don't manipulate the image after the fact. You know, photoshop it. It's funny that a software program is now a verb in the mainstream.

Back in the day of no computers, we made black and white prints. We darkened and lightened selected areas of the print in the darkroom. We rubbed ear wax on the negative to get rid of scratches. We used bleach to whiten someone's eyes or open up shadows.

Some photographers went a little too far. They had hockey pucks and balls that could be placed in a photo. They combined negatives. They darkened areas from pure white to pure black. It was called "hand of God" printing. The practice not only was accepted, it was encouraged, many award-winning photo used its methods.

Photographers tried to grandfather techniques from the old days, stating that Photoshop could only be used to replicate a darkroom print. Really?

It's pretty easy to change a photograph. Clone out something. Add something. A photographer who grew up learning from the veteran shooters who rules were that they were no rules, not only be tempted to change things radically to make a perfect photo, it would be like leaving the cars to the Porsche on the kitchen counter while you left on a two week vacation with your teenagers in charge. Wanna bet the Porsche has some uneven wear on the tires when you come back?

This is a typical day for a working photographer on a small to mid-size newspaper. Four to six assignments ranging from a feature portrait, a sporting event, a craft fair and a couple shots of features of people doing stuff that can be used anywhere in the newspaper. Some newspapers call it "wild art", enterprise feature, a standalone, and I even heard the term "rope" a take on the acronym ROP which means run of press. Pretty boring stuff. From this you have to make photos that make readers want to read the stories. For a photographer you also want to make photos that will be in your portfolio so you can land that bigger and hopefully higher paying job.

My first full-time job paid $280 a week. I worked 6 days a week and 14 hours a day. The minimum wage at the time was $4.00 an hour. The newspaper did not pay overtime. So basically the guy at the local fast-food joint was making more money and he didn't have to own expensive camera equipment, drive his own car or have a college degree. I had to fill a whole newspaper with photos. Front page, sports page, feature pages, local pages, special sections, a couple of photo pages a week, plus process and print all the reporters photos, and make prints for the public who saw their photo in the newspaper and wanted copies. Oh and by the way I was also in charge of ordering photo supplies, fixing and maintaining all photo equipment and trouble shooting the computer equipment at the newspaper.

With all that on tap, do you think ethics was a topic of discussion in the newsroom. Most reporters had a bottle of booze in their desk drawer and you couldn't see the other end of the newsroom because of the haze from cigarette smoke. That was 20 years ago. Okay, they banned drinking and smoking in the newsroom, but have things really changed? I know of one reporter who works out of a bar to circumvent the drinking and smoking rules. Ethics? This guy works out of a bar, so I guess bar rules apply.

There are some great photographers who have the backing of there news organization to put in the long hours to document incredible story-telling photos. Unfortunately with the down-sizing of newspapers and other new gathering operations, that has become a luxury. It's very difficult and expensive to cover stories that are important. The pressure to get those same photos in a few hours or minutes that should take days or months has lead to questionable means to get them.

Editors never ask how? They ask why not? Like, why did you not get that shot? The other newspaper has it. Why is that photo so boring? They never ask, did you manipulate the subject to get that great photo? It's the don't ask, don't tell policy. Editors don't really want to know.

Here is some of the answers they would get from some photographers if they were given truth serum.

  • I drove two hours looking for a feature and I saw these kids playing and they stopped when I got out of the car so I told them to redo the thing so I could get a photo. The last time I didn't get the feature, you yelled at me so I took things into my own hands.

  • I had two minutes for the photo and I missed the distracting thing in the background so I cloned it out.

  • I was told to get a picture of holiday traffic, but I couldn't find any so I used a long lens to make it look a lot worse that it really was.

  • The only place there was flooding was in this one area so I went there and got a low angle to make it more dramatic, plus the story was on how bad the flooding was.

  • I was late for the event with all the other assignments, so I had them re-create the event.

You get the idea.

So why are ethics important? A news photograph represents truth. Do you want a lie? Are you happy to pay for a premium product and to later find out it's a knock-off, a fake? The box shows a photograph of a mouth-watering steak dinner, inside it's a frozen mass of brown. Mission Accomplished? Jessica Lynch a hero? We make life changing decisions based on photos. The photo of that cute person you met online, it has been retouched. That beautiful house you saw on the internet, they didn't show you the termites in the basement? The elected official doing....oh forget it, it was a photo-op. Jaded, cynical? Men didn't land on the moon? The Holocaust didn't happen? Every photo is a fake? What and whom are we to believe?

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Sons of Hollywood

Hollywood - A&E is launching their new show, "Sons of Hollywood". They hosted a party at Les Deux. The show is about three kids, Sean Stewart, son of rocker Rod Stewart, Randy Spelling, son of Aaron and Candy Spelling, and David Weintraub, son of movie producer Jerry Weintraub.

They are part of a gang of Hollywood rich kids with famous last names that frequent L.A.'s clubs on a nightly basis. You can add a lot of names to that list. The trust funders tend to travel in packs using their blackberrys and sidekicks to set up rendezvous points throughout the night.

They mostly shop during the day on Robertson and then hit the clubs hard at night. Sometimes too hard. Paris Hilton might be looking at jail time after she violated probation on her DUI.

The parking lot at Les Deux looks like an auto show. Rolls Royce, Aston Martin, Bentley's, Porshe, Land Rovers and $100,000 Mercedes-Benz's litter the area. Pity the few who have to valet their entry-level BMW.

Rod Stewart took time off from his tour to jet and limo into to see his son's new venture. Which is better than his old venture, which according to is none. Rod must had an awkward moment showing up at the club with his new love-interest, the leggy model, Penny Lancaster, while his ex-wife, Alana also in attendance. He left the club with a big smile on his face, a proud papa.

Late night at a Hollywood club is very "Blade Runner" like. Valets running around trying to park cars and entourages arriving trying to get past huge bouncers. Rod Stewart's daughter, Kimberly Stewart who was there supporting her brother, had a scary moment when one of her friend's boyfriend punched the lead bouncer in the face. The puncher ,who himself had a group of bodyguards, ran off in his Rolls-Royce Phantom (base price $350,000 USD) before the cops could come and arrest him.

That was the beginning of the end of the party at Les Deux. Shortly afterward they found the next spot.

Jason Davis, grandson of the late oil tycoon Marvin Davis, left the club in an incoherent daze. When I asked him where his more famous brother, Brandon "Firecrotch" Davis is, he blurted out you would never see a picture of him and his brother posing together. He later handed me his business card with his new venture as a record producer.

Other guests that night included Tina Sinatra, a women who knows a thing a two about famous parents, Brittny Gastineau, whose dad played for the New York Jets, and Deep Roy, the actor who played Oompa Loompa in Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Also on the guest list was a Playmate, Shauna Sand, and Girls Gone Wild's Joe Francis. Just add free booze and you have a Hollywood party.

Monday, March 26, 2007

The $1.5 million Cra$h

Irwindale, CA - Actor Eddie Griffin took a very expensive ride when he totaled a $1.5 million Enzo Ferrari at the Irwindale Speedway on Monday night.

Griffin was lucky he was able to walk away. Both airbags deployed and unlike other celebrities that were driving exotic cars around the race track, he wasn't wearing a helmet.

The event was to promote "Redline the Movie" which is opening nationwide on April 13th. The spectacular crash did make a dramatic impact, but I don't think the owner of the Enzo, Daniel Sadek, who wrote and produced the movie, had that in mind.

I got a sequence of photos of the Enzo hitting a concrete barrier and anyone who wants to buy a license for the photos can contact my photo agency, Landov in NYC.

The only reason I even came to the event because I really wanted some photos that were a little different and thought celebs and exotic cars would be a good mix. When Griffin took a couple of practice laps before the crash, I knew something might happen as he knocked over quite a few orange traffic cones that were laid out on the track.

My first reaction was shock. I knew he was in trouble right before the crash and held down the button on my camera and my newly purchased Canon 28-300mm lens. Later when I reviewed the photos on the LCD on the back of my camera, I was relieved that I actually captured the sequence. When something like this happens, you wonder if you mind and body actually coordinated together to take the photos.

I left immediately left the track to try to make sales of the photograph to publications on the East Coast. If Annie Nicole Smith autopsy report wasn't released on Monday, the papers could of found space for the photos, but their news hole was tight and it was too late. Hopefully publications in Europe will want the photos. Eddie Griffin isn't an A-lister but the last time an Enzo was wrecked on California's PCH in Malibu, it was a world-wide story.

You can see a video of the crash here.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Perez meets Paris

West Hollywood - The internet is the great equalizer. In the past there were hurdles and gatekeepers for most people to have their words and photos published. Not anymore.

A once obscure blogger named Mario Lavandeira, Jr. has a website called That site has garnered a lot of attention lately and according to him has had traffic in excess of 4 million visitors in a day.

His website is so popular that even the celebrities he writes about came to his 29th birthday party he hosted at the Roxy in West Hollywood on Friday. Perez Hilton is an obvious play on Paris Hilton's name. Both Paris and Perez were at the party, which is kind of ironic considering they both attained fame via the internet.

Paris was not the only bold-faced guest. John Stamos, Dave Navarro, Dita Von Teese, Kelly Osbourne and Amy Winehouse showed up too. That is a testament of the power of his blog.

This party wasn't for Perez's fans. It was a media event where sponsors advertised their goods and publicists tried to push their clients into the limelight. It may have been called a party, but in reality it was work for most of the attendees.

Usually a party with Paris Hilton's name would attract more than a handful of photographers that were at the red carpet on Friday night. What made many photographers basically boycott the event was the fact that Perez Hilton uses many photographs on his blog without attribution or payment. All in the name of fair use. He has even used my Britney Spears photos. A lot of bloggers are using photos that they haven't purchased any rights to.

Well it's one thing when a blogger uses art to illustrate a story that they are writing about. Perez Hilton is not any old blogger. He is profiting significantly from his blog. Paid national ads for movies are regularly on his blog. Consider that the average cable news show gets less than a million viewers a segment, actually gets more eyeballs. But the mainstream media outlets actually pay for their content. If CNN wants to use my photos, they better be paying me.

A segment on the "View" discussed Perez Hilton's website. One of the hosts mentioned that Perez gets paid in excess of a million dollars a year. I'm not to sure of that, but I think he has the money to pay for photos. Perez was paid for appearing on the cable drama "Dirt", playing himself. Could you imagine if they used his likeness or website on the show without compensating him? He wouldn't be too happy.

So if Perez is exploiting photographers, why cover his event? I'm a journalist first, and you can't report on something without first hand knowledge. I might have some bias about him because he has used my photos, but in the larger scheme of things, he is a story and a story worth covering.

The LA Times reported about how photo agencies are suing Perez.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Environmental Portrait

One mainstay of editorial photography is the environmental portrait. A writer is assigned a story and after doing some reporting, they contact the photo editor to set up a time for a photographer to take a photo of the subject. You seen the results a million times in newspapers and magazines.

It's not really a news photo. What the writer has written about on the subject has happened a while ago and you, the photographer are there to illustrate the story. Sometimes you are given some kind of back story from the editor, sometimes not.

I received an assignment this week to take a portrait of women that runs a non-profit center that is helping people who have been enslaved by nefarious traffickers in the U.S. It's hard to imagine that slavery in America still exists, but it does, often exploiting illegal aliens.

Part two of the assignment was to take a photo of a women who was enslaved. The publication stated in their assignment request was that they wanted to have "Maria", the former slave, photographed outdoors in the neighborhood, showing off the area. They wanted a photo of the director, but "closer on the face".

A pretty interesting story, for the writer at least, but I have to create something that already happened and that will satisfy the layout of the publication and website.

When I arrived at the job, my first priority was to get a decent photo of the director that had a clean background with some nice lighting. She told me that she didn't want to reveal the location of where she lived and a photo of "Maria" shouldn't show any landmarks either. Part of shooting a environmental portrait is to show something that links the subject. So now I had to show something, but not too much.

I asked the director if she had a home office from where she worked from. She said she worked form the dining room with her laptop. I was hoping she had an office that may had artwork or signage that could be used. Her dining room wasn't bad. It had a nice wall that could be used as a clean background, a table and laptop with a bouquet of flowers that was used in the photo.

One of the first thing I ask my subject is what kind of time frame are we dealing with? Do they have some other appointment they have to go to next? She had to leave for work in less than an hour, and "Maria" wasn't there yet, but on the way. So I had to work fast.

The day before I thought about the assignment and decided that I wanted to be very mobile and not bogged down with too much equipment. I have a case with battery operated strobes that I use for that along with some light stands and a backpack with two cameras and two lenses, my 24-105 zoom and 50mm f1.4 lenses.

Battery operated strobes are great when shooting outside. My case includes a Norman 400b, 3 Vivitar 283's and a set of PocketWizards radio slaves. I have a mini 19 inch octo-type light modifier by Norman that fits on the 400b that gives out a beauty-dish light. It works like a shoot-thru umbrella with a diffusing panel on it.

When shooting a portrait I try to balance the really complicated lighting schemes with simpler ones where the subject is more important than the technique. This time I wanted simple lighting that looked good but was worry free and allowed me to focus on the subject.

The first subject was easy. Director with office-like setting, hint of laptop, some flowers in foreground, splash of light in background wall for interest.

"Maria" was a little more complicated. How do you show someone that has been enslaved? The publication wanted outside shots. I could of made some cheesy photos entailing bars or fencing. I wanted something more subtle. I noticed a wall of hedging across the street. I thought that would make a clean background and symbolize a barrier. Luckily it was an overcast day in Southern California making my strobes the principal lighting for the photograph.

What really made the photo was "Maria". Her face belied a history of rough times and more trying times to come. It was just me and the subject on the street with one light. No assistants. No writer. Sometimes simple is best.

For a link to the story on "Maria" click here.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Making the Best in Bad Light

This weekend I was assigned to shoot high school basketball. It doesn't have the glamor of the NBA, but it is less restrictive and you are more likely to get a great photo than from a pro game.

The first thing was to plan on what gear to bring. I usually bring a couple of camera bodies with a 70-200mm 2.8 lens, 16-35mm 2.8 zoom and my 300mm f2.8 lens and call it a day. But that's for a professional or major college team in a well-lit arena. High school is a different manner. Most high school games are played in dark dingy gyms. So my first thought was to bring in some portable strobes with wireless pocket wizards to trigger them.

Then I realized since this was a regional final game to played at Cal State Fullerton, a college gym, I didn't think I needed to bring in additional lighting. I needed just a few action photos and some reaction photos of players either celebrating or sitting on the bench in dejection if they lose.

I brought a couple of fast primes, my 50mm f1.4 and my 85mm f1.8 lens just in case the light was bad.

The first thing I realized when I stepped into the gym was that it was dark. Very dark. At that point I second guessed not bringing in some strobes. My camera exposure said f1.8 at 1/500th of second at iso 1600 under the basket. You need to shoot at least 1/500th of second to stop basketball action and iso 1600 is the highest my camera will shoot at, the 3200 setting is unusable. The 1600 setting is really pushing it.

For reaction shots 1/250th second shutter speed would be okay with my f2.8 lenses. So I decided my 16-35mm and 70-200mm lenses would be for post-game shots. And try to get some action on the 85mm f1.8 lens during the game.

I noticed there was an area high up on the second level where I could also take some photos. Might as well walk around the gym and try to get some different angles, something that isn't allowed in an NBA game. Shooting overhead also allows you to shoot with a better exposure as the light is reflected directly back to you, giving you about a 1/3 stop of light. So why not?

Both the teams I was covering lost, giving me only the opportunity to shoot photos of crying kids at the end. Emotions run very high during a high school play-off game, another thing you won't typically get during an NBA game.

In the end, my client got a range of photos in different shapes to fit their layouts and made a very short deadline. I got them photos in less than ten minutes after the game ended.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Back In The Saddle: UFC 68

Columbus, OH - Randy Couture proved Saturday night that age is just a number.

As Aerosmith's "Back in the Saddle" rocked 19,000 fans at the Nationwide Arena, Couture entered the octagon in his UFC heavyweight title shot as a 3-1 underdog against the younger, taller, and heavier Tim Sylvia.

The forty-three year old Couture didn't waste time coming out of retirement when in the opening seconds of his fight, he caught Sylvia with a punch that sent the champion reeling toward the canvas. Sylvia never recovered. Five rounds later , a battered and bruised Sylvia had to give up his UFC belt to Couture.

Couture did what Jeff Monson couldn't do, bring Sylvia to the mat. The quicker Couture dominated Sylvia while on the ground where Sylvia's reach and height advantage was nullified. Bobbing and weaving, Couture also beat Sylvia in the striking department. It was a classic match of Brain vs. Brawn, the smarter, craftier and wiser Couture showing why he has won five MMA titles with the UFC.

Sylvia didn't help himself in the fan department. He was repeatedly booed this weekend, during the weigh-in and the fight. And after his loss, he attributed his defeat to a back injury. He was fighting one of the most popular fighter's in MMA history and gathered no support or sympathy from the crowd, getting another round of boos in the post-fight interview.

Couture may have been called a "freak of nature" by UFC president Dana White, but that is not going to be enough when he faces Mirko "Crop Cop" Filipovic in his next bout. He will have to be able to withstand the onslaught of kicks that the Croatian fighter is know for. I'm sure Couture will be watching carefully Filipovic's next fight in Manchester, England.

Baseball player Ken Griffey, Jr. watched UFC 68 from his octagonside seat, instead of training with his team in Florida. Ironically, the reason why he was at the fight was because of his broken hand, which he sustained wrestling with his kids. Maybe he got some pointers.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

UFC 68 pre-fight weigh-in

Columbus, OH- I took the Delta red-eye from LAX to Columbus with Joe Rogan. Rogan was in first class, I in coach. We both are here in Columbus for UFC 68, the so-called "The Uprising".

Why Columbus? The UFC has a tie-in with the body-building show this week, "The Arnold", and is hoping to give mid-westerners a up, close view of their brand of mixed martial arts. It turned out to be a good decision. The Friday weigh-in at the Nationwide Arena was open to the public and over 2,000 people showed up. Saturday's event is sold out and it will be the highest grossing event at the Nationwide Arena, even topping a Rolling Stones concert, according to the local paper, the Columbus Dispatch.

The fight everyone wants to see is the main event, Randy Couture vs. Tim Sylvia. The last time Sylvia defended his title, he wasn't to impressive trying to avoid the mat with Jeff Monson in UFC 65. Sylvia was greeted by boos at the weigh-in. Couture probably watched that fight and decided that he could come out of retirement and regain his title.

Whatever happens in the Couture-Sylvia bout, the winner will have to face Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic. Even though Mirko will be considered a challenger, he will be the odds on-favorite. But let's just enjoy Saturday first.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Oscar Wrap-up

This year's Academy Awards was the return of Old-Skool.

It was the anti-American Idol. The public doesn't vote, the clubby Academy votes. Instead of trying to get any younger viewers, it went straight for the middle-aged core audience. And the big winner was the sixty-four year old Martin Scorsese. The only bright spot was American Idol cast-off Jennifer Hudson, who looked very out of place.

The Red Carpet, as usual was chaos. The big problem was that some of Hollywood's biggest stars didn't bother walking the Red Carpet because of the danger of bumping into an old flame. Ben Affleck didn't want to be seen in any photos with Jennifer Lopez. Tom Cruise wanted to avoid Penelope Cruz and Nicole Kidman. Publicists had to make sure that Jennifer Biel and Cameron Diaz, both who dated Justin Timberlake, didn't have a cat fight. Kidman walked the red carpet with a pregnant Naomi Watts, shedding their significant others.

This was supposedly a "green" awards show. I did not see any evidence of that. No carpeting made of recycled materials. The limos burnt gas. No solar powered Klieg ligts. If anything it only pushed the stereotype of Hollywood being an out-of-touch radical left-wing crazed cabal.
You had the openly gay Ellen DeGeneres hosting the show. The "married" Melissa Etheridge winning the best song. Vice-President Al Gore got the loudest applause when an "Inconvenient Truth" won best documentary. Prius driving Leonardo DiCarprio, Cameron Diaz and Larry David were in full force, not to mention the king of conservation, Ed Begley Jr. You come to an Awards Show and the Democratic National Convention broke out.

Hey, I'm a liberal who grew up in New York, but do we really have to wear our politics on our tuxs? Let's save it for the Global Green Awards party.

It's always fun when to watch what Hollywood actors, most of whom live inside a bubble of yes people, think of what to wear to basically the ultimate fashion show, the Oscars. I think some people come to the Oscars just so they can get their photograph into a magazine's worst dressed list. Sally Kirkland wears the most hideous things every year. Jennifer Hudson got Vogue magazine editor-at-large Leon Talley to pick out a dress. Big mistake on the weird Star Trek inspired shrug. Meryl Streep and Faye Dunaway have let their subscriptions to fashion magazines lapse. I'm no fashion expert, using instead as my rule of thumb "the what were they thinking" acid test.

For any photographer covering the Oscars, it truly a day that never ends.

I got up at around 9:00 a.m. at the Roosevelt Hotel. I went through an equipment check, made a few phone calls to my editors, and then walked down to the Kodak Theater to check the strobes in the press room. From 11:00 a.m. to 2 p.m. the press room is closed for a security sweep, so if you want to check your lights you have to be there at around 10:30 a.m. After the lighting check I went to meet my runners who would be walking my digital cards from my spot on the red carpet to the hotel room where an editor was stationed.

I gave them a tour of the complex and told them the ground rules. Runners can't take photos, can't loiter and watch, and had to stay within a marked path. They do have a pass that give them access to all the regular media areas, which is great.

Around noon I walked a couple of blocks to get a quick lunch at a local fast food joint and then back to the Red Carpet where I tried to make a few feature photos before the big event. That lasts until about 2 p.m. From 2 until 5:30 the stars walk the red carpet. The last hour is non-stop shooting. I burnt up one flash, which I quickly replaced with a back-up, and went through a couple of Turbo batteries. After about 2,000 shots and 10 digital cards with a half-dozen trips by a messenger to an editor, the Red Carpet was done.

Part 2 was the Awards Room, where the winners and some presenters go back and get their photo taken. They changed things this year and only announced the big winners in the last hour of the show. That meant waiting around and shooting meaningless photos of obscure categories winners for 3 hours until someone the magazines cared about showed up.

Around 10 p.m. I started packing up all my equipment and headed back to the hotel for some editing. My editor pumped out around 300 photos while I was shooting. I then spent the next nine hours pushing out another 500 or so photos. I was up for 23 hours, slept for 3 hours and then drove home. Until next September, Awards Season is officially over.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Getty Buys Wireimage: An Analysis

Today, Getty Images announced that they are buying the celebrity photo agency Wireimage for $202 million.

The rumors about Wireimage selling out has been around for a while. Mediavast, the parent company of Wireimage, is made up investors who raised many rounds of venture capital to create a large entertainment and sports photo agency. The conventional thinking was that the investors would finally realize a profit by cashing in.

How much profit will the founders of Wireimage get? $202 million sounds like a lot of money to split up 8-10 ways. But first they have to pay off the money they borrowed to get the company off the ground.

There was talk of Wireimage filing for chapter 11 bankruptcy. Was that the motivation for Wireimage to finally sell out to their rival? And if Wireimage was doing so well in the business why would they sell?

The Wireimage photo credit and its sister service, Film Magic, dominate magazines. The only problem is that doesn't mean you are making money. Wireimage had a very high overhead. Over 200 employees, offices in New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Atlanta, Miami, London, Sydney, Tokyo, Germany, Spain, The Netherlands and even Shanghai. Add to that expensive band-width and computer server costs.

Wireimage was known to gain market share by heavily discounting the price of photos. You have to sell a lot of photos at discount prices to recoup the high overhead. All in a time period where publications are retrenching, not expanding.

With all the focus on celebrity magazines, the irony is that the celebrity photo business is very fragile. There are many forces that are putting pressure on photo agencies. First and foremost is the internet. Why wait around for your favorite magazine to publish when you can read about it online today? Photo prices for the web are half to one-third of print prices. And that's if people actually download and pay for the photos, most celebrity bloggers are stealing photos.

Wireimage core business was shooting celebrities at official red carpet events that are star-friendly. The public likes those photos but has even a greater appetite for street photography of celebs, which the paparazzi have fulfilled. More and more of celebrity driven magazines and even mainstream media are using photos from the paparazzi. Which photo will drive more newsstand sales, Britney Spears shaving her head or Britney on the red carpet? The public votes everyday with web traffic.

What is Getty getting out of the deal? The elimination of their largest competitor, like Microsoft buying Apple. Wireimage has been a thorn in Getty's side for the past few years as they both bid on league contracts for major sports like the NFL and PGA Golf tours. Now they can own that market.

Getty has similar problems as Wireimage. They too have a high overhead and the added pressure of being a publicly traded company who shareholders demand profits. Most of their profits have come from licensing commercial images for advertising use. Their editorial side of things has a lot of prestige but doesn't generate the same revenue. Editorial prices for images have been on a downward spiral. Buying Wireimage, which is basically an editorial service, is an attempt to shore up Getty's weakness.

I don't think Getty really will increase their market share significantly to make up for the price they paid. Magazines like to have an array of photos from different agencies. They are not going to put out a publication full of photos from one agency, otherwise they lose any exclusivity factor. Why buy People when US Weekly has the same photos?

Most photo agencies will look at this buyout as an opportunity to fill a large void that Wireimage has left. The only problem is that for now, it will be Getty and a lot of niche players.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Rolling out the Red Carpet

Los Angeles - When the Academy rolls out their Red Carpet, it's the big one.

Hollywood Blvd. is shut down this week in preparation for Sunday's Oscars. It takes a year of planning and at least a week just to set-up the stage for the stars for their long walk to the Kodak Theater.

Wednesday for photographers is the "walk-through" day when the Academy gives us the details on what to expect. You don't just show up on Sunday.

There is numerous credentials to get, different ones allowing you access to different areas on Sunday. I'm cleared for the very important arrivals area, the so-called Red Carpet where the celebs show off one of a kind fashions to the world. The second area I'm shooting on Sunday is the Press Room, a little room packed with photographers where the Oscar winners pose with their trophy.

The photography is the easy part. The hard part is after the shutter is depressed. What makes a successful day of shooting is how much play your photos get, or in layman's terms, who many photos are published in newspapers, magazines and website throughout the world. My digital card will be picked up my a messenger who will bring it to the Hotel Roosevelt where an editor will pick out and transmit the photos to clients around the world. How fast, and how relevant the photos will be are crucial factors on its usage.

The Academy does provide you with an option of transmitting on site at the Renaissance Hotel, but you are limited to the room's use until two hours after the show is over. I plan an all night editing and transmitting session, hence the need for a hotel room close by.

How many photos will I take? How many photos will I transmit? As many I can pump out. The needs of photo editors for Oscar photos are vast. You never know what they need or want. So you shoot everything. And I mean everything. Full-length. Check. Head shot. Check. Waist up. Check. Close-up of shoes. Check. Close-up of jewelery. Check. Actor with spouse, or "two-shot". Check. Singles of each. Check. The list is endless.
Add in the factor of shots of the celeb looking left, right, center, and even from behind, and you have greatly increased your workload.

Why? You might ask? Because readers want to see all the details. That strange tattoo. That backless dress. That diamond encrusted necklace and earrings. The latest hair style. The plunging necklines. "Who are you wearing?" will be the most asked question on Sunday.

Hey, America doesn't have a Royal Family, but we sure got our celebs. And Sunday will be our version of a coronation.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Looking at the Light

Los Angeles - One of the most difficult things for photographers is to figure out the lighting.

For the beginner, its a moot point. Just set the camera to program and the camera will set the exposure and either utilize it's flash or not. The resulting photographs are hit or miss, usually miss.

Later as you learn more and more, flash and other artificial light sources are introduced to make a technically good photographs. A great blog to learn about using small strobes is the Strobist.

The trap in using artificial light sources is that it provides an easy solution but you tend to use it as a crutch and overlook the great available light.

Standard operating procedure for covering red carpet events in Hollywood is to use flash on a bracket. It provides even, shadow free lighting that most magazines like. The problem is that all the photographs look the same, which is good for the magazines as it provides a consistent look on a page.

I try to have one camera with flash and one I use for available light. I can usually shoot all the photos with one camera with a flash and 24-105mm lens. The second camera has a 70-200mm lens for available light shots.

Last Sunday's Grammy Awards was a perfect situation for shooting available light. Because of the threat of rain, the red carpet area was tented which blocked out any exterior light, making the lights they set up very consistent. If the event was held outdoors in bright sun, it would be a challenge to balance flash to fill in harsh shadows cast by the sun. And that sun would be constantly changing in exposure and color temperature as it got closer to sundown.

The one thing to consider when shooting available light is not only the exposure, but the color temperature or white balance. Most modern digital cameras have a few standard settings like sun, shadow, flash, fluorescent, tungsten (it's symbol is a light bulb) and auto white balance. People who shoot video really key on the white balance as they know if they screw that up the video will be unusable.

For still cameras, white balance range from bluish-ness of daylight to orangey-ness of tungsten to green cast of fluorescent. You can manually put a Kelvin number in your digital camera to match the available light. Most of the time Auto White Balance works, but with some cameras, like my Canon's, shooting in tungsten lighting will give you poor results.

At the Grammy's they had the ideal lights, which were daylight-balanced movie lights. They were mounted very high on light stands which gave even, shadow free lighting. They were also really bright, I shot at ASA 400 at 1/500th at f2.8. The beauty of shooting available light is that I can shoot at f2.8 and blur out the distracting background. I also didn't have to worry about my flash recycling.

Photos of, from top to bottom, Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake, Hilary Duff and Scarlett Johansson.

Monday, February 5, 2007

UFC 67

Las Vegas - Is mixed-martial arts just a passing fad? Is the UFC the XFL of today? From Saturday's UFC 67 at the Mandalay Bay Event Center, you gotta wonder.

Last month's event was clearly a success. It was the highest grossing pay-per-view TV event of the year. The Los Angeles Times did a two-part series on MMA. 60 Minutes had a story. A sell out crowd at the MGM Grand. Celebs like Leonardo DiCaprio were in attendance.

Then Saturday happened. The main event was a Brazilian fighter named Anderson Silva, who speaks no English, against a guy who's reputation is made from a Spike TV reality show. And to top it off, the fighter, Travis Lutter failed to make weight, rendering the fight an exhibition contest. No offense to Silva, who is a great fighter and is well known in MMA circles, but you can't put fannies in the seats with a guy with a personality of a soccer ball.

The other attraction was this guy Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic from Croatia. If there were good guys and bad guys in MMA, this guy would be wearing a black hat. He is best described as looking like an ex-KGB henchman from the former Soviet Republic. One with the weird speedo-type swim trunks. Dana White, the president of the UFC, paid him like $300,000 to show up and he didn't do any press, whatsoever. Oh, by the way, his music on entrance to the octagon, was the theme from the competing MMA group, Pride. Nice touch.

The UFC bought up the World Fighting Alliance and closed its operations. They got from the WFA Quinton "Rampage" Jackson. He was one of the few bright spots on Saturday's card. Jackson is a pit-bull of a man whose trademark is a huge chain he wears around his neck. He dominated the post-fight press conference with his energy and probably because he was one of the few who actually spoke English. But his fight was pretty unremarkable, both he and Filipovic were given relatively easy opponents that they could dispatch for their debut at a UFC show.

Actually there wasn't much for fans to cheer about. One fan favorite, Georges St. Pierre, was scheduled to fight but had to withdraw because of a knee injury suffered during training.

Dana White was visibly upset after Saturday night. All the traction that UFC gained in the last month came to a grinding halt. All the equity spent and nothing to show for it. He has dragged out Randy Couture out of retirement for a fight next month in Columbus, Ohio. St. Pierre is headlining a card in Houston the month after that.

The die-hard MMA fan is going to watch UFC and the other leagues, no matter what. To lure the mainstream public is going to be a lot harder. The one thing they have failed to focus on is story line. The guy on the street needs that to get interested in the fighter and root for them. Most of the public know very little about the fighters except for their nicknames.

The reputation of the UFC is of a renegade band of "cage" fighters with no rules. When fans show up and there is little or no action, like in many of Saturday's fight, they boo. They want to see blood. The UFC has little promos up on the jumbotron before matches of the fighters wearing Roman gladiators garb. Well if you advertise it, you have to deliver. Currently MMA is relying on the dissatisfaction of boxing fans to convert. It's not enough to bash boxing to lure fans.

Has MMA reached a critical mass and plateaued? Will it just be a peripheral sport like hockey and the NHL?

UFC 67:All or Nothing? Well it wasn't all.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Covering The SAGs

Covering last weekend's Screen Actor's Guild Award (SAG) show at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles took a lot of careful planning and work.

It starts with trying to get access for the show.

Every show has a different criteria for who they allow to cover their event. There is an application process which every media outlet has to go through. It details what kind of access is needed and in what role each member has in covering the event.

Each news agency that wants to cover an Award Show must submit an application and carefully fill them out with an awareness for the deadlines for different shows. The Award Show organizers don't contact you to cover their event, you have to be proactive and find out when the show is, what are deadlines and how to cover them.

For a TV production, it can be an immense affair with talent, camera people, sound technicians, lighting grips, and carpenters building sets at different locations. The print wire services like the Associated Press, a team of editors, messengers and photographers descend on the day of the event.

For me, I'm it. I shoot, edit and transmit my photos which in turn are sent by my agency to publications around the world.

After your get an approval email, you can then start thinking how to cover the event.

One thing that is important if your a still photographer working for the magazines is what day the event is on. The SAGs was held on a Sunday. Many magazines finish editing or "close" on Monday. Sometimes if the event is huge, like the Oscars, they start editing the magazine that night and have editors laying out pages as soon as they get photos. That means you have to get your photos in front of those editors eyes ASAP or you won't see your photographs published that week. Different magazines close at different days of the week, so knowing what day is crucial to a photographer's success.

Luckily for me, the magazines did not have people working on Sunday so I sent my photos after the event and didn't have to worry about arranging for an on-site editor plus messenger to get my digital card to and from that editor from my shooting spots.

Photographers are granted access three areas for shooting at the SAG's. The Red Carpet, which is called arrivals, the press room, where winners of the awards pose after they win, and the show itself.

Most of what is televised of photographers are images of the Red Carpet where photographers are seen shouting at the stars trying to get their attention and pose in a certain way. The biggest reason why you see that is because for the most part video and still photography is mostly segregated except on the Red Capet. Plus it makes for good TV with all the photographer's flashes going off. At some awards shows and movie premieres, there is disco strobes installed to simulate photographer's flashes going off to give the Red Carpet the atmosphere of a big Hollywood spectacle.

There is a Red Carpet Protocol. It's the order of when and how movie stars walk down the Red Carpet. The Red Carpet "opens" for celebs about 2 hours before a show. First to walk down the Red Carpet are correspondents for the entertainment networks. They do the carpet first because it really the only time they have to get their photo taken as they will later have to interview the celebs. Next in line are minor actors, usually in supporting roles, or people that have to get into the theater early for the show because they have some kind of role during the show. Somewhere in the mix is a sponsor or in the case of the Oscars, guys from the accounting firm that counts the ballots with handcuffed suitcases attached. (Insert Big Corporate Logo)

Then around 30 minutes at the end, the big stars come out. Rapid fire, sometimes there is star grid-lock and if the star is big enough, they just get frustrated and avoid the press line and walk straight into the theater. The worst thing for a mid to low level celebrity is to walk near a big celeb and be totally ignored. If they are shrewd, they will come early and avoid that pitfall.

The SAGs and most shows are televised live, so stars have to be in their seats by a certain time. But their is always a few stragglers. They don't care, there whole purpose is to get photographed and interviewed, the show is secondary especially if they are not presenters or nominees. At the Emmys in September, they closed the Red Carpet and told photographers that no one else was coming and the show was starting and all photographers had to go inside. Well, I did, and the photographers who dragged their feet got to shoot some really big stars that came very late.

Only a small handful of people are allowed to shoot the show itself. There is little space for photographers inside and they don't want a bunch of photographers shooting away, possibly making a disturbance. At the Golden Globes, only one photographer from NBC is allowed in, at the SAGs and Oscars, about six.

Ten to fifteen minutes into the show, the first awards are given out, and after they get their award, they are escorted backstage to get photographed and interviewed at various locales.
The entertainment TV shows produce elaborate sets where winners are interviewed. People Magazine, a sponsor of the SAGs sets up a make-shift studio with huge studio strobes and a back drop for portraits of the winners.

Then there is the press room for photographers. A little stage with taped areas where the winners are supposed to stand along with a long back drop, also called a "step and repeat" because celebs walk, stop, pose, and repeat. The winners pose with their trophy and photographers shout. Its a little noisy because it's indoors and the sound of 50-60 photographers shouting to look their way can be deafening. Not to mention the strobes of 50-60 cameras going off continually. You wonder how any hasn't gone into an epileptic fit.

A lot of photographers use an on camera strobe for the press room, but a light bar in the back of the room is set up for photographers to hang studio strobes. There is a huge difference in quality using the studio strobes. I mount two Dyna-Lite Uni 400 mono-lights that are plugged in and are triggered by Pocket Wizards. Doing so also means that I have to lug a lot more equipment to the show and show up extra early to mount and test them and stay late to take them down and pack them.

At the Oscars, photographers will come a day early to mount their strobes in the press room as light bar gets filled very quickly and room for more strobe heads are gone.

The most secure way is to have all your strobes hardwired and to have the packs under your seat at the press room. That way if there is a problem, the packs are right next to your and your sync cord is short. I try to keep it simple with the small self-contained flashes and the radio Pocket Wizards. I can leave my seat if I have to and if I'm using multiple cameras, at the SAGs I used three, there is no wires to tangle up.

The SAGS are a good show to shoot. You get to shoot stars from both TV and Film. The show itself is short. No long parade of winners of obscure awards.

It may have been a short show of only two hours, but is was a long day for me. I started my day at 8:00 a.m. Got my tuxedo in order, the show is black-tie, packed one rolling bag full of equipment with three cameras, three lenses and five Pocket-Wizards, one hard Pelican case with my Dyna-Lites, and another bag with my laptop and other computer equipment. Loaded the car and drove to the Shrine, set up the strobes and tested them, and then staked out my spot on the Red Carpet. At the press room I did a preliminary edit on my computer of arrivals, then after the show changed into jeans and a sweatshirt and drove two blocks to the local Starbucks, where I transmitted photos until they closed at 1 a.m. Drove home and then did a second edit and transmitted more photos until 5:30 a.m. That's over 21 hours of work for the day.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

One Step Closer to the Prize

Beverly Hills- The race starts today.

The morning the Academy Awards announce their nominations is when the fog of early Awards Season is lifted and the contenders are thrust into focus.

Reading between the lines of the announcement, the media looks for what is called the "snub". Who got snubbed and whogot a nod? Dreamgirls got snubbed because they didn't get nominated for Best Picture. I guess if you get eight nominations and not the top one, its a snub.

The nominations made it clear that the Best Actor Oscar will go to Forest Whitaker and Best Actress to Helen Mirren. Consensus has it that Martin Scoresese will finally get a Director Oscar.

A nomination can change a career. Jennifer Hudson, nominated for Best Supporting Actress in Dreamgirls, has come from nowhere reality television star to center stage in Hollywood. Eddie Murphy can now get some respect for acting, not just playing a clown. Sasha Baron Cohen, whose Borat is considered in the low-brow comedy genre, is taken seriously with a nomination for best adapted screenplay.

The actual nominations event is run like a CIA clandestine project. A lot of employees at the Academy know who the actual nominees are before they are announced and the Academy takes every effort to keep the knowledge from getting out prematurely. Cellphones, cameras, Blackberrys and other communication devices are not allowed on the upper floors of the Academy building where the information is processed. The media arrives in the middle of the night to set-up for the 5:38:30 a.m. PST live announcement. They shut down the theater from 3:30 a.m. to 5:15 a.m. to have rehearsals and everyone must vacate the area with all TV cameras pointed down and all microphones turned off. A security force checks all bags and all attendees are issued badges that you have to get photographed for in advance, yet no photo is actually placed on the badge itself.

After the announcements, all hell breaks loose. Publicists call their clients. The actor that reads the nominees, in this case Salma Hayek, is mobbed by media to comment on what she just read. TV shows, print, radio and photographers jockey for position.

Ms. Hayek was very accomodating. Her friend, Penelope Cruz, was nominated for Best Actress for her role in Volver, and she pumped her fist on live television when it was announced. She later said to the media that she thought is was a great day for Hispanics with Cruz, Adriana Barraza, and Alejandro González Iñárritu getting nods from the Academy. One television interviewer asked what she was wearing, and Hayek put her hands up to the camera lenses in a mock protest.

For a photographer, covering the event, which is pretty much the same every year, is a challenge. The whole thing is over in less than five minutes. The president of the Academy, Sid Ganis, walks out to the podium, introduces Salma Hayek, and they both read off from a teleprompter as five panels behind them show the nominees. The theater is small and well lit.

You pretty much have to shoot from the center if you want a photo of the announcers with all five panels shown behind them.

I used three cameras, one with a wide-angle 16mm-35mm lens for an overall shot, a medium-range 70mm-200mm zoom lens to get a variety of photos during the event and the third body with a 24mm-105mm lens with a flash for post-announcement photos. I brought a fourth body along to set-up a remote camera, but wasn't allowed to set it up. (No unmanned cameras).

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Fear and Loathing in Hollywoood

Hollywood- There are two kinds of people in Hollywood. The famous and those who want to be famous.

The ironic thing is that the famous say they don't want the attention and those who want to be famous will do anything to get it.

Everyone knows who the A-listers are. Those are the ones who get invites to the Golden Globes. The others, who are working their way up the list, have to go to the endless promotional parties that their publicists set up and hope they can get some ink in Page Six.

This week I got to see the whole gamut.

Monday was another Award Show, the Golden Globes. It's less like an award show and more like a free-wheeling party in the ballroom of the Beverly Hilton. There is dinner and drinks. Celebs sit at tables and mingle. Everyone goes home happy.

If you saw the show, you know who won. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which gives out the awards, have plenty of categories for both film and television including drama and comedy, where everyone goes away happy.

The whole event is a barometer of who's in and who's out in Hollywood. Who gets to arrive in a limo, and who arrives on a bus. The media parking lot was in Century City via a shuttle bus. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were not on that bus.

A party for Donald Trump's Vodka on Wednesday was another story. This is more of the down and dirty Hollywood.

Les Deux, a night club off Hollywood Blvd. was location for this little event.

These promotional events serve many purposes. The main mission if to promote a product or service. In this case, Trump Vodka. The other benefits are self-promotion, which come hopefully when you photo is published in a magazine or you get interviewed by television.

The Hollywood clubs also serve as a meeting ground where a group of trust-fund babies hang out nightly. Some of the names you know, Paris Hilton, whose great-grandfather, Conrad Hilton, started the Hilton Hotel chain. Others include Kimberly Stewart, daughter of rocker Rod Stewart, her brother, Sean, Kim Kardashian, daughter of O.J. Simpson attorney Robert Kardashian, Brandon Davis, who late grandfather is billionaire Marvin Davis, Brittny Gastineau, whose father, Mark, played pro football for the New York Jets, and even the DJ at the party, Steve Aoki, whose father is Rocky Aoki of Benihana fame.

Absent from this particular party was Lindsey Lohan who just checked into rehab after a particularly rough night at some Golden Globes after-parties. But Jessica Simpson and her sister, Ashlee, made an appearance, trying to evade photographers.

Part of any Hollywood event is the parade of starlets and young actors that walk the red carpet. The amazing thing is that every now and then a few get plucked from obscurity and flung into super stardom. A couple years back Scarlett Johansson was an actress that photographers had to ask each other who that was. Before "Desperate Housewives" became a hit, Eva Longoria dutiful walked down every carpet indistinguishable from the rest.

First, some rules on who gets picked. Generally, you have to be young and pretty. Over 25? Forgetaboutit. You also need a vehicle for stardom. That vehicle can be a movie, a hit TV show, a hit record, even a porn video (Paris Hilton). Or you can be somebody's famous best friend or lover (K-Fed anyone?).

You can't be boring. Drug rehab, arrests, marriages, divorces, babies, affairs, all contribute to the mix.

So what's a pre-stardom star like? That person could be a waitress like Julianne Moore or sleeping in their car like Hilary Swank. On a soap opera like General Hospital in the case of Demi Moore.

And no one can predict the future. So photographers snap everyone that comes down the red carpet. Maybe one day that person will be in the spotlight and that photograph becomes valuable. It's like investing in penny stocks, even Microsoft started small.

Pity the photographer who doesn't take at least one photograph of someone because they think that person isn't worthwhile.

Everyone who shoots a lot of celebs knows of a guy who didn't bother shooting an ex-football player whose days were long gone at a movie premiere with his family. That player was O.J. Simpson with his wife, Nicole and kids, the last time they were photographed publicly before Nicole was murdered. I'm sure everyday that photographer wished he had just taken a few frames, not that he could of retired on the money, but because missed opportunities are a photographer's bane.

I got a lot of photographs of obscure people that will never see the light of day. Somewhere in that batch are a few diamonds, waiting to be mined.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

How To Get Your Photos in the Tabloids

Most people who read a celebrity magazine don't have a clue how they get their photos. They think a bunch of paparazzi stalk celebs by hiding in the bushes and then sell them to the tabloids. Its not that simple.

A lot of the most valuable photos come from regular folks who stumble upon a picture that makes its way into a magazine.

A simple snapshot of Sen. Gary Hart and his girlfriend, Donna Rice on the aptly named boat "Monkey Business" makes it way to the cover of the National Inquirer and history is changed. Sen. Hart drops out of the 1988 presidential race.

So what should you do when you have that valuable photo? Who do you call? How much is that photo worth? It's something they don't teach in any photography class.

  • First a few questions about the photo. Is the photo exclusive? If not, who else has similar photos. A hundred people could have shot similar photos but if your the only one marketing them, it might as well be exclusive. A lot of people have cell phone cameras but they don't know how to actually sell the photograph.

  • The second question is content. Is the photograph newsworthy? What makes a photograph valuable is the storyline. If a writer is doing a story about something it usually needs some kind of photography to illustrate it. The more important the story, the more money a magazine will pay. Its not always how famous the person is that sells a photo. A picture of a famous person walking out of Starbucks with a latte is of little value, a snapshot of Elizabeth Smart with the people that kidnapped her, much more interest.

  • The third question is the photo real? Verification is important. Your cat just had a kitten with one eye, can you prove you didn't Photoshop one eye out? Can you back the photo up with several other pictures and witnesses? Tabloids and magazines do get sued and they want to be safe, especially if they receive a photo from an unknown source. Professionals who shoot for the magazines on a regular basis are trusted more than a guy off the street.

Okay, your photo passed all three tests. The clock is ticking. Every minute that passes means the photo is worth less and less. A magazine somewhere in the world might be finishing up their layouts and your photo is not in their hands.

The first thing you might think of doing is try to get your photo to biggest possible magazine and hopefully make the most amount of money. Wishful thinking.

I don't recommend you try to market your photos yourself. Unless you do this sort of stuff everyday, you will get taken and basically ripped-off. No contest. You are a guppy with the sharks.

The most important thing is to have a photo agency sell the photo for you. They deal with editors everyday and they know the value of a photo in the marketplace. Agencies usually get a 50/50 split of the gross sales. The more they sale, the more you make. You get paid after the publication pays them. They issue you a statement of how much a photo sold and to whom.

The agency I use is Landov in New York. The reason why I use them is because the market a wide range of photos from news to sports to travel along with celebs. You can use any agency you want, but not all agencies understand how to sell all kinds of photos. Some agencies only sell celebrity candid photos taken on stake-outs, others only at red-carpet events. You might have a newsy photo that is not celebrity related.

You can get an idea of photo agencies from looking at the photo credits of magazines. Unfortunately, some photo agencies have relationships with the actual celebrities and don't sell photos that are unflattering to the stars. Those agencies may or may not be right for you.

The photos that get the most money are the ones where an agency gets the magazines to bid for it. An auction with phone bidders. The deepest pocket wins.

To get the most mileage out of a photo, a photo has to be sold to different markets. The first market in the U.S. is the New York City tabloid market. The New York Post and the New York Daily News will bid on photos depending on value. I remember ten years ago in 1997 when I worked at the New York Post when they bought a photo of Bill Cosby with his son, Ennis, who was just murdered, from a photographer for $10,000. They used that photo on the front page.

Was the photo worth that much? The deadline for the next day's paper was drawing near and that was the only photo they could get their hands on. There might have been a few snapshots of the two in someone's album, but whoever had them wasn't calling the Post or the Daily News.

Did that sale kill other sales? No, because that sale was just for usage rights for newspapers in the U.S. The photographer then sold a similar photo to Time magazine. Time magazine doesn't care if a New York City newspaper used that photo, the magazine sells all over the country and readers in Peoria haven't seen the photo. Actually the sale of the photo to the New York Post increased its value. Every major magazine in America has offices in New York and every photo editor reads the New York Post and the Daily News. When they see the credit for a photo with the photographer's and agency's name on it, they know who to call to acquire rights for it. Photo agencies love when the New York tabloids run their photos, it is like a free ad.

The London tabloids are even more rabid than the New York tabloids. They invented the tabloid. They too bid crazy money for photos. Photo agencies make sure what time it is in London, and try to make their deadlines too.

A valuable photo can be sold to every country on Earth. Certain photos may not have a lot of value in the U.S. could be big in Germany, huge in Japan. A street-wise photographer and editor knows each market. David Hasselhoff and Heidi Klum, small celebs in the U.S., huge in Germany.

Here is a real-life case study. I shot a few photos of Britney Spears two weeks ago on the red carpet on New Year's Eve at the nightclub PURE in Las Vegas. She posed quickly and left. My photos sucked. I thought maybe I could get a few photos of her outside when maybe she was on the club's balcony during the fireworks they have on the Vegas Strip. Got a few photos of her on the balcony and left. I figured it was a wasted night. Sent the photos to my agency in New York anyway.

Next morning Robin Leach writes in his blog about how Britney passed out. I call my agency to tell the story. They call the New York Post and Daily News to see if they want the photos. The Post uses a photo shot by a photographer paid by the club. The Daily News uses my photos of a very unflattering Britney. The London Sun sees my photos in the News and contacts my agency to buy them. Other publications around the world contact my agency to buy the photos. This week the National Inquirer writes a cover story about Britney and runs the photo on the cover and big inside. Star magazine runs my photo this week inside small.

What made the photo valuable? First, it was Britney Spears, the magazines run a story on Britney every week.

Secondly, there was news value, Britney having an incident.

Was it exclusive? Nope. They could of been other photos from the party. I bet every person at the party had a cellphone that could of taken a photo of the incident. A professional photographer was there but he can't release any unflattering photos because he basically works for the club.

That basically leaves my photo, which is not the best quality, but it illustrates the story and it was shot very close to the time frame when she supposedly collapsed.

Can I verify the photos? Yes, I have a whole series of photos of her and I just happen to get some business cards of people that attended the party that the tabloids can call to verify the story.

Am I going to get rich off the photos? Nope. But because I understand how the system works, I can maximize the value of the photographs and any other photographs I take.