Subway Assignment

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

No telephones anymore!


I got an email in the middle of the night from half way around the world. Lonely Planet, the travel book company, has been handling my travel stock for the last several years, ever since I published "travel+PHOTOGRAPHY: Off the Charts". Now they were soliciting me to cover my hometown, Boston, for one of their upcoming guidebooks. I have relied on their publications myself. But shooting brought up a lot of new age issues.


Lonely Planet represents some of the best travel photographers in the world & their hard cover books are very impressive, but I have never been all that enthusiastic about the ubiquitous handbooks that you see every awkward tourist carrying in their hands while crawling over the globe. But being assigned to do the whole thing was a “horse of a different color”. I have shot for many travel magazines & advertisements but this had potential.

Firstly, the budget was an obstacle because they “pay by the pound”. Fortunately (or unfortunately) the list of locations was long…over 75. Because money was finite I was, at first not all that interested. But my studio manager enticed me with an idea. Since I knew so many people in Boston or two phone calls away, we could ostensibly get access to anything & improve the level of photography with every institution, large or small.

Secondly, that did not solve the production costs. Architectural or documentary shots of famous Boston landmarks were not enough. Lonely Planet wanted examples of the places being experienced in some way. This was a problem. They use stock photography so often because too much of travel photography is chance.

This past weekend I taught a workshop on Cape Cod. I arranged two dawn shoots. For the first one we had “pea soup” fog. It made for great pictures but it might not be useful for the “always-sunny-while-on-vacation” photography needed in table top books. The second day was glorious but the weatherman predicted it would be bad.

We did not have time to repeat anything with such an extensive undertaking. So we had to stack the deck. After much discussion we decided to enlist the technology of new social media. We sent out calls for models & assistants through Facebook, Twitter & Craig’s List. And we called the placement directors at a bunch of photography schools in the surrounding area.

The response was overwhelming. People of every ilk volunteered to lug equipment in one shot, only to be used as “tourists” in the background of another. However, it was a logistic nightmare; coordinating schedules, shooting before & after many places were closed getting corporate permissions & the right people to sign off.

I was flabbergasted that we only had to tell the managers & owners it was for a guidebook & everyone (eventually) capitulated. Only one school required to see proof.
We were allowed backstage at the symphony, dress rehearsals, sound checks, into the bowels & surrounded by dinosaurs.

Rather than drag big studio strobes everywhere, we shot the whole project with 3 Nikon SB800’s. I recently published a book titled Speedlights & Speedlites: Creative Flash Photography at Lightspeed” (Focal Press ISBN: 978-0-240-81207-6). I have used them extensively in the past few years, but I really discovered how to utilize them to instantaneously “relight” every frame until I got something appropriate. I was able to play them like a piano & fine tune every shot. We photographed voluminous museums, bustling restaurants, dark, crowded clubs & tight fitting retails stores.

As the deadline drew near we became more & more anxious cramming three & four locations into a day, from 7:00am in the morning for union-controlled theaters to after midnight at jazz clubs. My studio hopes to benefit from the residual sales for years to come. Watch for it in the fall of 2009.



All three Photos Shot while on assignment for Lonely Planets

5 comments:

Anonymous,  August 11, 2009 at 10:29 AM  

Good to see you writing lou. Look forward to seeing more.

Naveed Nour August 15, 2009 at 5:17 AM  

Hi Lou,
Thanks for sending me the link. I am so glad to see your blog. This is excellent and shows the true Lou Jones that I know. I will start following you blogs, and one of these days I will come to see and chat with you at your new studio.
Bravo.

Srfotog August 15, 2009 at 9:59 PM  

Lou, You leave me absolutely flabbergasted! Your facility with words as finely tuned as your photographs. Like Miles Davis or Henry Miller making beautiful paintings as well as their day jobs. Artists are multi-talented, switching between the arts like a chameleon.

Christina Allensworth Hays,  August 19, 2009 at 6:09 PM  

Lou, I love the blog! Thanks for letting me know about it.
You are truly an inspiration and I adore you! Your words and imagines make me fall in love with our planet, quit my job and run away watching you work. I only hope you know how blessed we all are to have your gift shared here.
Thank you,Christina

Tom Markham September 2, 2009 at 7:18 PM  

Hi Lou,

I just read your blog and I always love the way you write. Travel photography truly requires just plain common sense. I used to put black tape over the word Nikon on my camera as I was told kids in some countries were trained to look for the word Canon or Nikon as targeted cameras. I spent a week in Paris 17 years ago in the worst coldest damp weather in February of 1991. (No lines at the Eiffel Tower)I wore a black overcoat with a collapsible tripod hidden underneath. I tried to blend in as a local or maybe a Brit. The gulf war had just started and the last thing I wanted was to be picked out as an American. I was always very aware of my surroundings and discretely only carried only one Nikon body and a 24mm f2.8 lens. I shot mostly Fuji velvia 50 and T-Max 100.
PS I bought your Speedlight book a few weeks ago.
Hope to catch up to you in person one of these days.
Tom Markham
www.tommarkhamphoto.com

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About This Blog

blog (blŏg, bläg) n. 1. short for Weblog 2. online personal journal with reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks provided by the writer 3. diary that is posted on the Internet 4. an experiment to verbalize my observations about the status of photography. It will be eclectic & deal with philosophy & practice of this universal art form. It will strive for periodic commentary about issues many photographers face, like ownership and the economy. It will also talk about pictures and what makes good ones and how to get them. No hardware. No software. No recycled clichés. No whining.