Wednesday, May 18, 2016

How we shot some of the best BBQ in the world

Well, if you're a fan of BBQ anywhere in the world, you've most likely heard of the" World Famous" Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que. They've gotten rave reviews from Presidents, sports stars, celebrities, foodies, and of course by yours truly.

We had the privilege of being asked to shoot their food for the new website.  Joe's Kansas City is now selling their world famous Bar-B-Que all over the USA from the website.  Now, if you're in Memphis or Seattle and need a great BBQ fix, all you need to do is order it.

This was an especially gratifying project since it's a locally owned company and we're big fans!

Joe's KC came to us and said we want some great photography,
but we don't want our photography to look like all the other companies selling BBQ on the web.  We want the photos to capture the authentic and real look and feel of our product. The shots should look as if the pit master just took it out of the hot smoker.   We don't want it to look perfect.  We want it to look authentic with some meat drippings on the surface, the utensils to be a little messy.  We were fortunate to find a hundred year old butcher block table for our background. It is 12"thick and three and a half foot in diameter and made out of one solid walnut log.  It set the tone for the whole shoot with it's authentic wear and cracked surface.  To finish out the authentic and real look, we shot with all natural light and let the shadows go a little dark.

Here are a few fun images from behind the scenes, along with a few of our favorite final shots.    

Food Stylist prepping the brisket for it's close-up.

David about to get slapped for moving the styled food.

Clients and crew taking a well deserved lunch break.

Final image

Yummy Ribs

My favorite burnt ends!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

2016 Food Reel

We recently released our 2016 Food Reel.  It's a compilation of a number of projects I've directed and help produce. Food photography and motion are much the same, in that you are striving to get the attention of the viewer with mouth watering visuals to make them desire the product.  I've included a few behind the scenes photos of one of the shoots. 

To see more of our videos visit:

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Influencers and Mentors

Most photographers have people that have influenced their careers.  Randy and Jeri Masoner were a big influence in my photo career.

Many years ago I met Randy at McClue studios here in Kansas City.  Randy was the studio manager and let me hang out and watch his photographers shoot while I was still going to school.  Fast forward a few years and Randy opened his own studio where he hired me as a freelance photographer to come in from time to time to help photograph product when they didn't have enough staff photographers to finish a project on time.  At that time Jeri had her own interior design firm she ran out of the same building.  A few years later, Randy and Jeri shut down their KC studio and moved to Dallas.  Randy was hired by Omega studio's to be the studio manager and Jeri was the head set designer.  Omega studios was a 250,000 square foot studio with a huge staff. They shot room sets, product, and apparel for some of the largest big name retailers in the business.  Retailers like J.C. Penneys, Neiman Marcus, Dillards, Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue were some of their clients.  A few years later Randy and Jeri opened their own 23,000 square foot Dallas studio, R&J Creative Images.

From the beginning I always felt like one of the family.  Randy was always so patient teaching me how to photograph and light. He also taught me to be an efficient shooter and manage time.  Jeri was like the studio mom.  Always caring and kind and would often cook a huge pot of food for all the employees for lunch.  My favorite was her gumbo!  Jeri would always make you feel special and appreciated and that's so rare in a work environment.

Before Randy left for Dallas he asked if I wanted to buy some of his equipment.  I explained I would love to but didn't have the money at the time.  Randy said no problem, just send me $100.00 a month until it's paid off.  He left me with the equipment and we shook hands on the deal.  Randy's trust in me and that equipment deal was one of the biggest aids to get me going in business.  Oh, by the way, I did pay it off and I'm still using that equipment today.

From time to time the Kansas City market would die and there would be no work for months.  I'd call Randy up and see if he would need any freelance help in Dallas.  Somehow every time I called he would find me work.  I'd go to Dallas and work for 2 to 3 weeks or until it got busy back in KC.  Being able to work in Dallas when the Kansas City market was slow was invaluable. This allowed me to keep my doors open and opened my eyes to different styles of lighting and big productions.   Any time I would have a question about photography or lighting, Randy was more than happy to stop what he was doing and help me solve the problem.

This week Randy and Jeri stopped by the studio on their way through town.
We were able to have lunch and catch up on old times.  If you don't have a mentor or someone you can trust to tell you the truth reach out and find one.  They are invaluable.  Thanks Randy and Jeri for all the help and encouragement over the years.  It was so good to have your influence in my life and career.

Monday, January 25, 2016

The changing market place.

Last week I was going through some old job files to make room for 2015’s records.

It gave me a moment to pause and observe how the state of the advertising and photography industries has changed.

Before you make any assumptions that this is a rant about the good old days, its not.  It’s only to make some observations and let you draw your own conclusions.

One of the consistent observations I made was that there are significantly fewer photography projects, photographers are being asked to shoot.  Here is one example of a simple shot of a newspaper clipping on white with a drop shadow.  About a third of what I shot in years past were C.O.B.’s of simple things on white.  Now these shots rarely exist.   These are now mostly computer generated or shot in house by an art director.

I’ve included the invoice for this shot and blacked out any names of people or agencies.  Observe the limited usage licensing and the price we were regularly getting for a shot like this.

COB of a newspaper clipping with a drop shadow.

Invoice and licensing for the Newspaper clipping photo

I found another classic invoice for a few food shots we did in one day for a national client.

Invoice for a couple simple food shots that took a day to shoot.

My observation is that in today’s marketplace photographers are getting around the same price, as we did 20 years ago, but in order to get the project you will need to do twice as many shots in the same amount of time.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t allow for much creativity when you’re pushing every second of the day to rush threw the shot list.

So what’s changed?  Well for starters here are some observations:

When these projects were shot, photographers would buy one pro camera ($650.00) and some lenses every 10 or so years and just kept loading film in it.  If you shot with 4x5 or 8x10 then you would have to spend ($3000.00 to $5000.00) once in your career.  Today, one needs to purchase a new pro DSLR camera ($3000.00), if you shoot with a large megapixel back you’ll be spending ( $10,000.00 to $25,000.00), plus a good computer ($2000.00 to $4000.00), plus software ($1200.00), plus, plus, plus.  All of these will need to be up graded or purchased new every 3 years to keep up with the technology changes.

Today, gas, utilities, insurance, cost of rent, food, cars, housing, crew, models, stylist, etc have all doubled or tripled in cost yet photographers, in general, still charge about the same or less than they did 15 to 20 years ago.

Ten years ago P.O.’s were simple, non-confrontational, and easily negotiated. Our terms and conditions were 5 to 6 items (less than a page).  Now, terms and conditions are 15 to18 items and 2 to 3 pages long.  This is to counter act current P.O.’s that attempt to take away creative’s ability to make a living. 

One observation that seems to have stayed the same over the years is what I call, “The grass is always greener over there” syndrome.   It’s when a local client has a good budget and a cool project they tend to go out of town to shoot.  I know, this is painting with a broad brush and not every client does this, but many times it’s true.

My observation is that this is short sighted.  It takes tax dollars out of the local community that provide better schools, roads, and infrastructure.  I’ve seen this happen in years past and the result is a reduced high quality talent pool in the local market.

My final observation is this:  In general, photographer’s costs have increased, and our client base has decrease. Corporate consolidation and changes in the market place has led to (few if any catalog, annual reports, print campaigns, etc.) more video and still shoots are being done in house, and budgets have been cut.  Along with this, photographers have started to take a piece of the video pie, which dilutes the viability of talented video and production companies.  Agency’s art directors and designers are swamped, portfolios are mostly viewed on line.  This rarely allows for the personal interaction that builds beneficial relationships.  This historically leads to a vendor – product relationship instead of a mutually beneficial creative partnership.

I wonder how long our current commercial photography business model will support a creative and high quality photo industry in the mid-west.  This isn’t good for either the advertising industry or the photography industries futures.

On the positive side, digital has opened up a whole new realm of creativity, the internet has made the world our market place, and for some clients your IPhone and a GoPro is all you need to shoot a project.   Wait, is that positive?

The market place is what it is.  It always changes.  I thought it would be interesting to reflect on a few of the market place changes in the past 20 years from someone that has lived it.

Do you have a different point of view?

Thursday, September 17, 2015

BBQ Pulled Pork Heaven

We recently had the pleasure of shooting for our friends at the Golden Arches again. Over the years, we've shot a number of projects for them and this happened to be the second new product launch we've worked on. Back in the day, we shot a new sandwich called the jalapeno burger. It was spicy!

This recent shoot was a little different from what we'd done in the past as we were asked to capture stills and video of the new BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich. The client also wanted us to create a more relaxed, real environment for this project.

To keep the project streamlined and consistent, David chose to shoot the stills and video with the same lighting. He didn't want to change from strobes to continuous lighting, and we were able to accomplish this by using some brighter lights and a shallow depth of field.
In addition to ensuring the lighting was consistent, another challenge we were presented with was to show the product steaming hot in the video. We discussed a variety of ways to do this, but in the end, we just used real steam.  

The end results – another successful shoot and happy clients. What more could we ask for?!?

We created a Kansas City looking BBQ joint in the studio!

Shooting handheld stills to add to a more "real" feel to the imagery.

Piping steam in from the back of the sandwich.

Steam, steam, steam!

Our Food Stylist putting the final touches on the product before we start shooting video.

Using our skater to capture nice, smooth moves.

Checking the focus.

The client, Food Stylist and David examining the details on the large monitor.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Finding Your Unique Visual Language

Early in my photographic career, two of my photographer friends were out on a fine art photo trip and I suggested we all take a photo from the same tripod holes.  I wanted to experiment and see if we all saw the world in the same way.

To my surprise, all of our photographs looked completely different.  We all have, what I call our own "Visual Language".  Everyone sees the world in their own unique way.

I recently took this a step further and looked to see if there were any similarities between my personal fine art photography and my commercial photography.

What do you think?

For those of you just getting started, the process of finding your personal "Visual Language" will take some time.
The best way I know to figure this out is to shoot, shoot, shoot!

The other advice I have that has helped me figure this out is, print out little thumbnail prints (no more than 2x3 inches ) of your favorite images.  Lay them out on the floor and start putting the images together that look and feel similar.  This will help you start seeing your own "Visual Language".

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Details, Details. It's All About the Details.

When you shoot commercial and advertising photography, it is all about the details. One needs to pay attention to the little things to produce an outstanding image.

Although it isn't evident to most people at first glance, you can tell the difference between an image where the details were focused on and one where they weren't when you view them side by side. 

Why is focusing on the details important you ask?
1. In many cases, an expert eye up front will save time on back-end post production.
2. Details can help showcase the quality of a product.
3. Details play a part to help differentiate one brand from another.

Some of the details we pay attention to when food is involved are:  
1.  Ensuring the background and serving ware are clean. No dust, drips, spills, etc.
2.  Making sure the design of the food is pleasing. No faces in the food, no tangents, etc.  
3.  Confirming the correct number of food items called for in the serving size.

If you're wondering about detail number three above, you wouldn't believe how many consumers count every single piece of food in a photo and complain if they don't get that many pieces!

Having emphasized the importance of details, you must remember to have some fun on set too.

David with his magnifiers ensuring the gumbo mac & cheese dish is spotless.

Is David making sure the plate is clean or David mooning the crew? You decide!

Our Food Stylist topping a shake with whipped cream. A little photo bombing by the Chef, too.

The sushi is on set and ready for its close up!

Cheesy biscuits. Nom nom nom.

David working with our Photo Assistant while focusing on the lighting details.
Crew & clients on set.

David and the Art Director getting photo bombed by our Photo Assistant!

Looks like the Art Director is brewing up something new for the shot.

You can tell it's the last shot of a project when the wine glasses and beer start appearing.
A toast to a great shoot!