Daniel, thanks for your willingness to talk about this image.
Please tell us some about what this image is, and why you made it.
Ross, it's an honor to have my image on this blog along side such
talented photographers. Thank you!
Joe Phillips, an aspiring actor and friend, hired my business partner and I,
Nicole Truax, to do a character shoot for his portfolio. Instead of the usual
straightforward headshot, we opted to go all out for a full character study.
This better shows the actor's potential to portray a certain look. Character
shoots offer actors the ability to create a body of work in a short
period of time that they can then pair with their film work to show
greater versatility; something very valuable in the entertainment industry.
So… a bottle of lighter fluid, several arrows, a bow, and 36 military-grade
smoke grenades later this is what we came up with. One of Joe's
skill sets is archery; he also has a British accent. So creating the
character of a warrior/archer was something that came natural, and
also a role he would enjoy playing.
We're going to include a number of images from the shoot to give
people an idea of how this developed. It's interesting to hear your
thoughts, though, from the beginning. Can you talk about how you
mentally prepared for this?
The idea for this started off very simple. Joe needed a shoot, and he
gave us a list of looks that he wanted. Nicole and I began to talk
about what we wanted and the first idea was very simple: take Joe
up a mountain and photograph him with a bow and arrow. At some
point Nicole said, "I wish we could light the arrow on fire."
"Well why can't we?" I said. "I know a way to rip up a shirt, tie it in a ball,
and light it on fire so it burns for a long time but burns relatively cool so
it's not dangerous."
"Really?" she asked me. "Let's do that," she said.
Then, of course, once we had a flaming arrow involved, we wanted to
put him in a swamp, make a ton of smoke, cover him with muck, and
give him a giant knife. I mean, isn't that the obvious progression of
thoughts? One thing may not have worked without the other, but with
everything together it becomes "cinematic." That is, as long as you get the
lighting and atmosphere right. I think we get bored easily and always
want to do something exciting and different. So it's natural for us to
get inspired by something and run with it.
To prepare, we also looked through thousands of photos and drawings
of warriors/archers on the Internet, and could barely find anything that
really helped. Often we make a folder of images that inspire us that we
find online. This usually helps give us an idea of good ways to light a
certain subject. Obviously we don't copy the images, but it helps to see
how other photographers have solved similar problems and it gets your
own mental gears turning. There was a serious lack of high quality
"Warrior/Archer photography." I wonder why? Maybe we can fill that void.
For the location we chose to meet at my parents' house in upstate New
York (about an hour and a half away from Nicole and I, a three hour trip for
Joe, and an hour trip for Colin, who also helped.) This was the best place I
could think of that we would have access to, and not get arrested. My
parents own three acres, and there are miles of woods behind their house.
Colin (a long-time friend/Army captain/weapons specialist) and I had played
paintball throughout high school in those woods and I immediately thought
of a swampy area for the location. I knew we had to do it there. We had
staged our own battles there for years, it just made sense to go back there.
It's weird, creatively I always find myself going back to shoot at strange
places I've been. It just seems right. If you visit enough areas, eventually
you'll have somewhere to go for anything I suppose.
Once you began the shoot, can you walk us through the next step?
Basically, we first had Joe walk around wearing a green shirt and we lit
an arrow on fire to add drama. At first the photos didn't look believable to
me, they looked more like we were "pretending." I was worried that the
photos wouldn't resonate the way I wanted them to. I'm sure every
photographer can relate to starting a shoot you're really excited and anxious
about, and looking down at your first images on your camera's LED screen
and having a mini panic attack because everything just looks wrong --
nothing like you had imagined them to look in your head.
I'm a big fan of problem solving, so in this case, how did you
solve the problem of “pretending?"
It looked like "pretending" because 1) that's what we were doing, and 2)
we didn't have the lighting figured out yet. Lighting is everything. So we
decided to see how things looked out in a more open, swampy area with
more sunlight pouring in. I had Colin McNulty assist with the shoot, and
you can see him placing some smoke grenades in one of the images.
I had Colin set off smoke grenades while I would shoot and relight the arrow
with Kerosene. Nicole and I often switch back and forth while shooting,
one working lighting and talking to the client while the other shoots. This
helps because when you're working lighting you're often closer to the subject
and can notice certain things that you might not from behind the camera and
vice/versa. I had started shooting in the woods, then had Nicole shoot in the
swamp at first. I handed off the camera to her and started to use an umbrella
to create diffused side lighting. After some trial and error, we moved back
into the woods and Nicole suggested we use side/back lighting with a bare
flash. This is where we finally got the lighting the way we wanted. I also had
a better understanding of how the light effected the smoke because I could
see it happening up close. Something I wouldn't have arrived at if we didn't
switch spots and jobs.
One of the major problems was with lighting the smoke. We had to figure
out an angle to illuminate the smoke without blowing it out, so we couldn't
have the light source in front or else it looked too fake. Again, we had to
overcome this to make the scene work.
The image became more believable at this point. We asked Joe to lose the
shirt and dirtied him up with mud and water; this made him look more like
a warrior and less the part of the actor playing the warrior. At the beginning
of the shoot, the shots kept reminding me of B movie stills and I hated them.
Everything changed once we got the lighting figured out (how to illuminate
Joe dramatically while also illuminating the smoke so it didn't become too
bright or dark.) We decided to move back into the swamp area and use the
same lighting techniques we had figured out while using more smoke grenades.
I crouched low and had Joe walk towards me while Colin set off more smoke
grenades in locations both up and down wind. I had him repeat this walk
several times to get different looks. Nicole walked slightly behind him while
he walked so the light source moved with him. The main image being
featured in this post happened at that time. This is where everything really
fell into place. At this point Joe was covered in mud, wet, relaxed and
shirtless in 40-degree weather. I think he finally felt the part.
Nicole and I would often stop to look at the photos on the screen and
collaborate on lighting, angle and composition. This is usually how we
work, passing the camera back and forth, throwing new ideas to each other.
You said you collaborated with Nicole on this shoot. In what ways do
you collaborate mentally?
Nicole and I collaborate on every project. It's one thing that I think has
led so much to our growth. With two minds working on something it's
always easier to keep things fresh. We both have a similar view of what we
think looks good and our style has evolved together. Prior to the shoot, we
often bounce ideas off of each other, and are very honest if we think
something won't work.
The fact that we are both equal photographers in the business also helps
when managing people during a shoot. Sometimes as an assistant you
aren't really even allowed to interact with the clients. When we work
together we feel completely comfortable directing/talking to the subject
while the other person is focusing on technical aspects. So instead of just
having to isolate yourself for a minute in thought, which can be awkward
for a subject, one of us can always take point. In short, we do everything
as a team. I've worked with other photographers, and there's never the
same synchronicity unless it's with Nicole.
One of the reasons I admire this image so much is that too often we wait for
someone to give us an opportunity to be creative, or conversely, critique
others for our lack of opportunity. Can you tell us how old you are and how
long you've been shooting? I think it's insightful for people to know this.
I'm 24, Nicole will be 24 this week. I started shooting in fall of 2006 when
I took my first B&W photography class at the Hartford Art School. Nicole
has been taking classes since she was very young; she was actually eight when
she took her first photo darkroom class. Professionally we have been
shooting since May of 2009, the month we graduated from college. We tried
to find jobs in the photography world, and actually applied to more than 300
of them in a four month period, went on two interviews, but were rejected due
to lack of experience. So since we couldn't find anything else, and rejected the
idea of finding a job in any other field, we started our own business in
September of '09, Linked Ring Photography. We've both interned for other
photographers, but came to the realization that you learn a lot more from
doing than watching.
For Joe's shoot, it really started out as simple head shots, which he's hired us
to do in the past. But as we sat and thought about it, we wanted to make this
particular shoot different. Take it to the next level. Something we could all
be proud of. When we shoot a job the way we've seen other people
do it, it just doesn't stand out as much to us. When we go the extra mile to
make something "crazy," it stands out.
What were some other problems you faced, and how did
you deal with them?
As with any shoot, nothing works perfectly. The first problem was we
didn't have a generator or external power for our strobes. Our 500+ feet
of extension cord was short by 100 ft of where we wanted to shoot. So
we opted to use external flashes, which we would have eventually used
anyway due to their mobility and what we needed the light for.
It was raining on and off. Thunderstorms were set to come in during
the early afternoon so we had to shoot in the morning, both for light
It was cold, there was poison ivy everywhere, and Joe had only slept three
hours the night before in order to travel for the shoot.
Smoke grenades are extremely difficult to control as the wind changes, etc.
Apparently it's not, "Hey, let's light an arrow on fire and throw some smoke
grenades and everything will be great." It's "Oh my God, how are we going
to do this now that everyone is suffocating and we can't see?" I'm exaggerating,
but it was a learning process and we literally used about 25 grenades
before we understood the wind currents, the way the light would interact
with them, as well as where Joe needed to be.
What did you learn about yourself during the making of the image?
That in order to be as good as we want to be, we need to treat all shoots
like this. We need to always use our creativity and put in that extra
mile to make things complete. We need to put an emphasis on concept,
location, and props.
In the end, what did you take away from this experience,
and what advice do you have for photographers?
Don't settle or cut corners to make something easier. Being a photographer
is hard. You owe it to yourself, and the people who believe enough in you to
pay you, to do everything you can to make your work the best it can be.
Linked Ring Photography is a Greenwich, CT based commercial photography studio that consists of Hartford Art School graduates Nicole Truax and Daniel M. Kennedy. Like the original members of the Linked Ring Brotherhood, we believe that photography in itself is capable of the highest forms of art. Our mission is to create a new and exciting experience in each and every project through our concept-driven ideas and lighting techniques.
Next week we'll learn what happens when dogs attack, take over
the world, force us to wear cones and play fetch.
It's actually an image by Matt Roth, who specializes in creative portraiture.
I really love his work and he'll offer a lot of wonderful insight.
As always, if you have a suggestion of someone, or an image you
want to know more about, contact Ross Taylor or Logan Mock-Bunting:
For FAQ about the blog go to:
Sol, thanks very much for participating in this blog. It's great
to look into the unique world in which you work, rooted in weird
sports, and we thought this picture was a great example.
Can you set the stage for this image?
Thanks, Ross, for asking me to participate in such a cool photo
series. It's an honor. I'm sharing with you an image from Bring
Your Own Big Wheel, a fun bike race that happens in San Francisco
every Easter. It used to take place on Lombard, but the event has grown
so big, they now host it on Vermont Street.
Before we get too much into the image, let's back up and talk
about your path in photography. You seem to have found a
niche in your work for which you are known. Can you
tell us about your path to this?
Well, I've always loved sports. Not that I was ever any
good at them. But I grew up as an only child with a
single mom. Sports was a language I could use to
communicate with other guys, to have something in
common with them.
My family has always been travelers. I went around the
world when I was 4. So I always knew I could travel and
I love to have new experiences and meet new people.
I stumbled onto photography in junior high school. One
of my best friends was in a photography class and I
wanted to do the same. Never thought I had found a
career there, but as I got older, the only thing that
interested me professionally was photography. It allowed
me to travel and to attend sporting events. And, believe
it or not, I was also pretty shy, so photography gave me
an excuse to be outgoing.
Around 2005, a colleague in the business asked me what
I love. It was a simple question, but one I hadn't really
given much thought to. I was so focused on working at
The Oregonian, doing the daily grind of Photo-J. I had
gotten a little sidetracked over the years. I told her I loved
sports, photography, travel and weird shit. And things clicked.
That same year, I attended Geekfest in Austin, a photo
retreat organized by aphotoaday.org founder Melissa Lyttle.
That was the first time I really shot for myself, not worrying
about what would run in print. And I had a blast. When I
returned home to Oregon, I made a point to search out fun
sporting events to photograph for myself. The first one was
roller derby, which was just starting to blow up again. From
there, I kept going.
I had also been working at the paper with Bruce Ely on his
brilliant photo column, Sidelines. We'd go to high school
events and look for photographic moments anywhere but
in the field of play. That approach to sports photography
had a profound impact on me. No longer was I trying to
make soul-less photos with long glass. I was trying to capture
honest, intimate, storytelling moments with a wide angle
lens. At one point, I told Bruce that I wanted to take Sidelines
and make it international. Along the way, it's evolved into
focusing primarily on weird and unique sporting events.
Regarding the image, how did you hear about it, and
what made you decide to cover it?
Man, my memory is horrible. Somehow it had been on my radar
for a couple of years, most likely a tip from a friend. I had seen
some videos online, which showed its potential. I didn't realize
it'd be as great as it was.
An advantage of being freelance is I have tons of free time. So
I loaded up the car and drove down to SF.
Now I never thought I'd have a photo book published from
my weird sports, but that was definitely becoming a goal.
Ironically, this photo is on the cover of my new book, which
was just published by Kehrer Verlag in Germany.
How do you make the decision that the sport is "weird"
enough to cover? What is your criteria?
It's got to be fun. First and foremost. And photogenic. Yeah,
fun and photogenic. And with some level of athleticism and/or
competition. If it's a spin-off of traditional sports, even better.
I know many times folks have looked at my photos and questioned
whether it's a sport or not. That's cool. But what's great about
this being my project is I get to define it and make the final call.
Lets talk about the image now. Talk about your
mental preparation for this picture.
My mental preparation? Try not to fuck it up.
One thing I love about weird sports is that it's usually pretty
photogenic, lots of low-hanging fruit to pick. I'm sure you
could argue that the events I find are more interesting than
the images I make. My goal is to simply capture the feel and
the atmosphere. And not to fuck it up.
I'm also looking for layers, which is a reason why I prefer
using a 35mm f1.4 rather than a 400mm lens. I want more
information, not less. I want more intimacy, not less.
One thing I've learned about making photos is that oftentimes,
if you see a moment, it'll repeat itself, you just need
to watch for it and be ready. I had seen waves upon waves
of dressed-up bikers go down this hill. I chose a spot that
had nice lines and layers. At the bend, folks usually had a
HOLY SHIT!/Come to Jesus moment. It was also near enough
to the starting line that the pack was still pretty dense. I
wanted a congested image full of crazy riders having fun,
perhaps in a mild wipeout. I knew this spot had the potential.
I did move around a bit to mix things up for the 2-3 hours
of racing, but I kept coming back to this spot because I felt
it had what I was looking for.
What surprised you about this experience?
Well, at first, that anyone showed up. I arrived an hour or
two early and found rock star parking in SF, which never
happens. There was hardly anyone there. The rain was starting
to come down and I was worried that folks might not show up.
A few of the early birds there told me not to worry. And sure
enough, tons of riders dressed in costumes arrived right before
I was also a little surprised at how many fans showed up. For
an off-the-grid event like this, it had a strong turnout. I know
the organizers were complaining aloud that it was getting too
big - and mainstream. That's what usually happens with
these weird sports: they either blow up or they die on the vine
too quickly. If there's something I want to photograph that
might not last another year, I try to hit it up right away.
Slamball, I'm thinking of you.
Was there something you wish you had done
that you didn't do?
Honestly - and hopefully without sounding arrogant - no.
I'm not saying I couldn't have made better photos. Or done
things differently, because I could have. Over the years,
I've come to peace with the way I shoot photos. I'll miss
things and others will capture better frames. But in order for
me to be the best I can, I can only be myself. That make sense?
A pet peeve of mine has always been picture editors that
say, "You should have shot it this way." or "Too bad you
didn't get this." There are really no rules in photography.
And I look at my photography as an evolution. I may want
to reshoot something because I didn't get what I wanted,
but I don't look at it ever with regret. My only regret would
be not showing up and taking photos in the first place.
What advice do you have for photographers
who try to carve out their own niche in
There's really only one thing:
Don't take "no" for an answer.
I have 68 images in my book and only 2 were ever
published in print, despite my best efforts. Almost
all of the photos were taken on my own time and dime.
Don't think I haven't pitched being a weird sports
photographer to magazines, because I have. But I
refuse to let any lack of interest from others deter
me from what I want to do.
Back in the day, many folks like myself signed up for
newspapers with the hope of being assigned killer
stories at home and abroad. Budgets and priorities
being what they are today, that's not really feasible.
It's one of the reasons why I left the newspaper world.
I wanted more ownership of my career.
If you start taking photos of what's important to you,
that's all that really matters. Eventually, if you do it
long enough, that's how people will start to identify
you. Being my own assignment editor is pretty cool.
I always say yes to fun photo ops.
What have you learned about yourself
that you didn't know at the beginning
of your path in photography?
It's taken a long time, but I've come to terms with my
unique, random path as a photographer. There's a
misconception that there's a single formula to success.
There's not. All the steps - and missteps - I've made
along the way helped bring me to this point. There is
more that I want from my career, but if I look at what
I have, I'm very thankful.
You said: "There's a misconception that there's
a single formula to success." I think that's even
more important these days for people to hear.
Can you expand on this?
Sure. I'm going to embarrass my good friend Matt Eich,
because he's a great example of what I'm talking about.
I love Eich. I love his work. You can never say enough great
things about Eich. Never.
I think the kid just turned 25.
I've talked with many young photographers who tend to
compare their careers to Eich's. "If he's 25 and killing it,
why am I not taking pictures like that and I'm 30?" (Imagine
if you're 40, like me.) Comments like that are not fair to
Everyone has a path, a unique path, and life experiences that
drive their passions and pursuits. Some, like Eich, figure
their shit out earlier than others. We don't expect any two
people to be identical. Why would we assume the same
about career paths?
I've met photographers who kill it now who didn't get into
it until after trying other career paths. Former law student,
ambulance driver and forest firefighter turned badass
photographer Matt Slaby is one who comes to mind.
Back in the day, a common experience for editorial
photographers starting out was to 1) go to a college for
photojournalism; 2) intern at a small paper; 3) intern at
a larger paper; 4) graduate and work for a small paper
for 1-2 years; 5) leave your small paper for a larger paper
after 3-5 years; 6) leave that large paper for your dream
newspaper job; 7) retire in your velvet coffin.
One step was supposed to lead to the next step. It didn't
always work that way then, and it's definitely less so now
since all papers are struggling. In many ways, that's exciting
because you can create your own formula to success.
What have you learned about others?
You know, I can really identify with those who do weird
sports. There's no fame or glory in it. They do it strictly
because it's fun and allows them to be silly. That's what
I think photography has afforded me as well, the ability
to have fun and be silly.
I had a friend look over your interview, and
they asked me to include this question:
"What would be your dream weird sports
assignment, and how would you like to cover it?"
Well, what we really need is a Weird Sports Olympics. Two
weeks of nothing but photogenic silliness and all-access
for the press photographers. We could have one for summer
sports, another for winter. Honestly, I'm surprised this hasn't
What would really be my dream is to have a regular photo
column for a magazine (I miss others paying my expenses.)
I've already shot a lot of the more celebrated weird sports.
What I'd really like to do is go further off the grid and find
some sporting gems outside of Europe and the U.S. Do you
have any influential people who read this column?
Thanks, Sol. In conclusion, you recently published
a book of your work, how can people buy it if they're
People interested in the book can go to:
If folks want to see my latest adventures working on the
next volume of Weird Sports, they can check out my blog at:
Sol Neelman spent from 1997-2007 as a newspaper photojournalist.
The final 7 years were spent documenting his home state as a staffer
for The (Portland) Oregonian. Yep, an Oregonian at The Oregonian. He
has placed in the Pictures of the Year International (POYi) competition
for Best Sports Portfolio and Best Action. His mom is most proud of the
2007 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Reporting, which he won with a
team of staffers from The Oregonian for coverage of a missing family
in southern Oregon.
His work has appeared in National Geographic, ESPN the Magazine, Sports
Illustrated, Rolling Stone, People, Newsweek, TIME and The New York Times
among others. Commercial clients include Nike, eBay and ACE Hardware (The
Next week we'll discuss this self-portrait of Ross Taylor and how you,
too, can get into monster shape by just reading The Image, Deconstructed
and eating kale.
It's actually a striking image made by Daniel Kennedy. He'll discuss the
creation of the picture, and how he problem-solved to make it happen.
As always, if you have a suggestion of someone, or an image you
want to know more about, contact Ross Taylor or Logan Mock-Bunting:
For FAQ about the blog go to:
Thanks, Jay, for speaking about this image and your experience.
Please tell us a little bit about your role at your newspaper.
I'm a staff photographer at the L.A. Times, with the majority of
my assignments being portraits and a large number of those
being celebrity portraits. This particular assignment was for a
portrait of U2 front man, Bono, for our award-season insert section
"The Envelope." Bono had written the song "Winter" for the movie
Brothers, and I was tasked with making a cover image, and at least
one other scenario/look for inside. I also have to thank fellow staffer
Liz O. Baylen for NOT being available to shoot this, so that I got the call...
Before we start talking about the featured image, tell us a little
more about what it's like for you to photograph famous people.
It's been a long and winding road BACK to my hometown of L.A.
I always had an affection for Hollywood and the ability to create
illusions - and now that's the majority of the work I do. Portraits
have always been a favorite challenge of mine in photography.
During my time at the Hartford Courant (just under four years), my
first newspaper job after college, I covered everything. It was around
2000 that my editor at the time, Bruce Moyer, re-introduced me to
the 4x5 camera, and encouraged me to take his camera out and shoot
feature section assignments with it. I was hooked.
It made me slow down. No motordrive. I had to interact more with
my subject and direct them. There were very few opportunities for
"found" moments since I had to TELL a subject they couldn't move after
I focused the camera.
I began focusing on portraiture and after leaving the Courant for New
York City, then some time in Washington, D.C. covering politics, I made
it known that I was interested in portrait assignments. When I began
talking to the L.A. Times in the spring of 2007, they were interested
in my feature projects and portraits, which is the majority of what I
Please tell us how you prepared for the assignment.
I approach all my portraits with the same commitment to
not make someone look bad (attempting to take into account
their insecurities or privacy issues), but I will say I am less tolerant
of impatient/rude/demanding "celebrity" subjects than of non-
celebrities. When someone crosses over that line of obscurity and
become "famous," they become a professional in our/their world
When someone from the L.A. Times, or any media outlet, is coming to
take their picture, I see this as two professionals working together to make a
picture. Sometimes my vision and the celebrity's, or more often the
celeb's publicist's vision, can be in great contrast with each other,
which leads to the sociological aspect of doing portraiture. I always try
to look up a subject's history (www.imdb.com) and scan their shows
and awards to see if there are any bad subjects to bring up, things I
With Bono, since I am a huge fan of U2, I was pretty confident I could go
the safe route and just ask him about his music. My celebrity shoots are
usually completed under 10 minutes. While I will talk a little while
shooting, the longest exchange is often the introduction, when I try to
analyze their greeting and our first couple exchanges to see if I'm able to
break the ice (and possibly convince them of an idea I have.)
With Bono, my number one challenge/goal, was to get a shot of him
without the famous glasses. This was MY goal, as a creative artist. My
editors rarely give direction for these shoots, other than to remind me
to leave room for type, etc. In researching him, I knew there were few
pictures of him without the amber glasses, so that was at the top of my list.
Ok, now onto the image. Describe what happened when you
first met him and how you handled the beginning of the shoot?
I arrived about two hours early to his hotel to feel out the publicist
and approach the subject of no glasses. I was immediately shut down.
She was adamant that the "story" I was there to shoot for was about
his song for the movie, not a "Bono revealed," piece. With that in my
head, we headed to the room and I began my set-up which took about
45 minutes. During that time, an army of people were on hand for
clothing, make-up, assistance... which added chaos. He walked in and
was incredibly sweet and humble, immediately making his way to me
and reaching out to shake hand, ahead of the usual publicist introduction.
He asked me what I wanted to do, and I described my ideas: fairly moody
lighting because it was a somber movie/theme, a couple scenarios, and a
couple clothing options if possible. He gave me a nod of approval and we
started. That's when the trouble began.
I learned that at one point he looked at what you
were shooting and he didn't like it. How did you handle
that, and how did you move forward?
YES! I shot about 10 frames in my first lighting scenario and he
asked to see them. He looked and then made a sound of disapproval,
"Hmmm." I started to sweat. "I don't like it. I don't like it at all." My
heart sank and panic set in. I've had publicists kill an idea before, but
to have a subject not like what I was doing - especially someone I admire
so much - I felt defeated. I started to pick up the pieces, and then said,
"OK. What did you have in mind?" From that point on, we worked as a team.
I shot a few frames and we looked at the pictures together, changing his
position, adjusting the lighting. I would say all my portrait shoots are a
collaboration, but this time I was definitely being guided more than I was
It's always a delicate dance creating portraits, because subjects always
have a reason for wanting their picture taken, but we have to come
to a common ground on WHAT picture we make together. The more
well-known a subject, often the more control they exert over their image,
which can differ from the image I was hoping to make in our 10 minutes
After going back-and-forth with Bono, he suggested we do some without
his glasses. I fought the urge to celebrate! "Sure," I said, "We could try that,
if you want..." After a couple digital frames, I grabbed my 4x5 (a zone VI
field camera) and loaded my last frame of color polaroid. I was psyched
because I was able to get a clean polaroid, my LAST polaroid, of the scenario
I had hoped for. It ended up being our inside lead image.
I want to mention that I feel like having my 4x5 in the room, within view when
the subject walks in, has usually benefitted me by adding a couple extra
minutes to the shoot. Subjects seem to appreciate the "art" of shooting the
"old-fashioned" camera and film, when there isn't the typical instant
gratification. The mystery has an excitement to it, but for me, I love slowing
down the process of making an image. There is much more interaction
with the subject. I concentrate more on the frame and the moment than
I think I do with the motor drive (5D MKII.. What, 3 frames in a burst?)
I'm curious about the periphery of the shoot. I'm assuming
a lot of people, some handlers of Bono, were around. How
do you handle working with them as well?
The Bono shoot wasn't as crazy as some shoots, in terms of other
people in the room. As I mentioned, because they were performing
in town a couple days later, there was extra chaos, with a couple
clothing racks and stylists on hand, but they were all very respectful
of my time with him. Once we started shooting, everyone disappeared
with only the publicists staying within ear-shot. That was actually
a rarity, in my experience. I think it says something about Bono.
Most publicists stand nearby, if not right behind me, so they can
give their "input" during the shoot.
My impression is Bono knows exactly what HE is willing to give for each
photo shoot and he can be (and was) direct in his opinions. A good
publicist knows they're not going to speak over him, and so she let me
have my time with him alone. If anything, on this shoot, I might have been
trying to win the publicist to MY side if things hadn't smoothed over when
he said he didn't like what I was doing!
You don't have a lot of time with people like Bono. How do you
mentally prepare to make a good image in such a short time.
It's true. Even at the L.A. Times, we only get about 10 minutes to make
our pictures. In fact, I will often get cut short of my allotted time, where
as a writer is rarely (never?!) cut short during an interview. I find this
hilarious, considering a picture on the cover of a section is what gets the
To answer the question, I don't know if I'm actually mentally prepared
when I go into my assignment. I try not to think about anything more than
assuming I'll only get 10 minutes to work. I usually think about making a
picture with strobes and another with ambient light. I try to imagine two
scenarios, knowing I can usually make 20-30 frames of a scenario (with
a willing subject). It's become a bit of a reflex. When I get a portrait
assignment, Bono included, beyond an IMDB check, I usually check
google images to see what's out there, so I don't repeat something. That's
NOT to say I won't try to "improve upon" an image I find! Lighting becomes
the biggest weight on my mind. Because I'm shooting primarily portraits,
I feel pressure to mix up my lighting and space out similar lighting scenarios.
(This is a 4x5 image, shot with my favorite film, the now extinct, Polaroid
Type-55. The "spots" across the image are caused by the drying up of the
chemicals and the uneven application across the piece of film. I've been
milking my last couple boxes, with the film used on this shoot being about
1.5 years past it's expiration date!)
What surprised you about working with Bono?
Bono was surprisingly sweet and easy to work with. As I've said in the
past, it was a sure highlight of my career so far. I've shot a fair number
of subjects who would be considered "A-list," but with that categorization
can come a list of issues. People often flex a tighter grip on their image,
publicists are more demanding and everyone is usually late!
NONE of that was the case with Bono, it was all easy and enjoyable.
What did you learn that you didn't know before?
Hmm. Well, I think getting him to the point where HE suggested
trying a shot without his glasses, highlighted for me the idea that
you shouldn't completely give up on an idea just because a publicist
tries to squash it! The dance I do with publicists, trying to remind them
that I'm here for the L.A. Times and not shooting their publicity photo,
is a delicate one, with lots of smiling and agreement. In the end,
I really want the subject to hear my idea and decide if they want to try
it or not. My idea is the EXACT reason a publicist is there - to keep their
client from doing anything THEY don't think is good for their image.
But my name goes under the subject's face, I don't
want something that looks bad either.
I'm assuming things sometimes go wrong. How
do you problem solve on short notice?
Yes! I've had several close calls with disaster. I think the most
important thing to remember is showing confidence when the
sh@t hits the fan. Whether it means moving on quickly to your
other idea when you explode a neon peacock while shooting in
the office of an NBC executive (yes, it happened), or suggesting a
different body position when your first idea nearly sends Tom
Cruise out a second-story window (that dude has superhuman
speed!). Staying calm and giving the impression that all is going
as you planned, will help keep everyone on your side.
Making a face at the back of the camera when you don't like
something or taking too long to compose, gives the impression
that you aren't sure of your idea, or worse, yourself. I always
want everyone in the room to think I've done this 1,000 times,
and there is no reason to doubt me, so that when something
LOOKS like it is going wrong, I can re-direct their attention to
That's the mental stuff. I also think it's really important to have a
checklist that I'm reviewing in my head. I go over my camera
gear, review what i'm thinking about for lighting and figure out what
film and holders I may need. When I get to the hotel/location I'll be
shooting, I do the same review as I'm loading my cart. In my experience,
most problems, beyond something having to do with the actual location of
the shoot, have to do with not having some piece of gear. Be it extension
cords (I have 1-100ft, 2-25ft, 2-splitters) or lights (5 heads total, 3 Canon
strobes) or pocket wizards (5 total), or my trusty canon 45mm TS lens.
I take everything in with me. I also make a point to see what lighting
options I have when I enter a location. It may be arranged that
we're in a hotel room, but I always survey the lobby and any outdoor
spaces, hallways and the room, all while paying attention to what
available light there is and where my power outlets might be.
Moving forward, how do you see your work evolving?
Wow, that's DEEP! Look, I am psyched knowing that I get paid to make
pictures and lucky enough to be at a place that lets me concentrate on the
work I like doing. I hope our industry can continue to flex and bend and
my job will still be around in the distant future. Every day I get a new
subject and share a new experience, not just with the subject I work with,
but with a pretty big audience that I wouldn't have if it weren't for the LAT.
I'm definitely excited by the idea that technology is changing the way we
deliver what we do at the newspaper. I haven't tackled much motion yet,
but I am constantly amazed by my co-worker Liz Baylen and the pieces she
produces using stills, audio and video. Hopefully I can get her to teach me
some of her magic in the coming year?!
In conclusion, what advice do you have for photographers?
As I look back on where I've been and what I've been lucky enough to
shoot since leaving San Jose State in '98, I think I would say, be honest
with yourself about the type of photographer you want to be. It sounds
hokey, but it's something I think is really important in growing as a
photographer and in turn, as a person. In my 20s, I wanted to "do it
all," including running off to cover war and hoping to be a James
Nachtwey. But time passed, and after shooting a little bit of everything,
(minus war/foreign strife), I realized I really liked portraiture and
working one-on-one with people in an environment where I had some
Even after leaving a newspaper and freelancing for anyone who would
hire me, I came back to mostly editorial work, because there is always
a variety of subjects and assignments, and the historical aspect of our
documentation is so stimulating. There was definitely a time when
jealousy would creep up inside me when someone around me flew off
for a cool assignment in a remote corner of the world, but that is long
gone. I feel like I've found my niche and I'm very happy to focus on that
exclusively. I'm confident that I am capable of doing just about any
assignment out there, but I don't feel the need to "prove" it any more.
I think people should be confident in what they choose to pursue, but be
self-aware and mindful of opinions from others they trust.
Today, one of the most valuable aspects of my job is that it allows me
to be done with work and home almost every night in time to tuck
my daughter into bed. I've come to realize as I've gotten older (matured?
never!) that my priorities have changed. Competing for awards is a great
way to mark the years of my career, but sharing life-experiences with my
wife and daughter far outweigh a collection of trophy boxes gathering dust
in the garage.
All Bono photos are copyright of Los Angeles Times.
Jay L. Clendenin has been a staff photographer at the L.A. Times since October, 2007. To see more of Jay's work:
Next week we'll take a look at the weird world of Sol Neelman:
As always, if you have a suggestion of someone, or an image you
want to know more about, contact Ross Taylor or Logan Mock-Bunting:
For FAQ about the blog go to: