A business executive arrives on set. I say hello and reach out my hand. He says three words, and I look at him and say, “I’m guessing you grew up two miles from Revere Beach (outside Boston). Shocked, he looks up, thinks for a moment, and says, “That’s about right, maybe two and a half.” Connection formed. Shooting begins, smooth and personable.

I was doing an editorial assignment for an IT magazine and I had to photograph a young woman (less than 30) who was the head of IT for a university. The piece was about IT security of educational institutions. There are very few women in this type of position and certainly few under age 30, so it was understandable that she didn’t want to appear flippant or cavalier. It was a very serious topic and she wanted to gain the respect of her peers, so when she arrived stone faced with arms tightly crossed in the setting, I got it. Problem was, my editor specifically asked me to photograph her smiling and no crossed arms. After a few frames, her expression wasn’t changing, you could see the concern in her eyes about her appearance. As much as I understood the root of her stiffness, I had to find some way to change things.

I stopped, held the camera to the side and paused for a moment. I then asked, “By any chance are the paintings on the floor downstairs in the IT department yours?” She looked at me as though I had just pulled a rabbit out of a hat, saying, “Well yes, how do you know?” As we scouted on the various floors a 12×12 painting caught my eye. It was four squares of color – earth tones. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, just admired the painting. But standing in front of her, straining to figure out how I was going to break the shell she was wearing, I noticed her bracelet. That was what I was staring at when I paused. “Your bracelet,” I told her. “It has squares of the same four colors as the painting downstairs.” She uncrossed her arms to look at her bracelet. I said nothing while she paused, just raised my camera. When she looked up, she smiled. Ice melted, instantly. We moved on, continuing to shoot.

In that one sentence I had managed to do a number of things – first, I brought her away from where she works, away from IT, away from hackers and viruses. I brought her to her pastime, her hobby – collecting art. Her pleasures, her preferences. At the same time, I acknowledged something about her, her tastes. Let’s remember this is an IT office, not the center of the guys-who-notice-things-about-women world. Especially when that woman is their boss.

An intern who was working with me at the time later asked, “How did you know that?” I didn’t, I responded, I just notice stuff.

Take people out of their norm – make them feel at ease.

I put John Chambers, CEO of Cisco Systems, in a small cube with a phone.

I put John Chambers, CEO of Cisco Systems, in a small cube with a phone.

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1998 business magazine portraiture, san francisco = computer people, dot-coms. At the outset of every shoot, we were usually met by a 24 year old working in PR. “I know you’re here to shoot for Wired-Business Week-Red Herring-The Industry Standard-Information Week today, but we we need pictures of our people for our website, can you do that?” It was a common ask. Half the time I brought a background and extra lights with me just in case they asked. Headshots – I did a lot of them. During the dot com days it was a great source of extra money, we were busy, it was fun.

After a while it started to feel like, same picture different head. I started thinking maybe I should pass on these for a while, stay with the more creative stuff. Right about that time I was asked by E-Loan to photograph huge numbers of their employees – 40-60 in a day. I had to work fast, and I had to stay fresh. The crazy thing about the client was no one was the same. It wasn’t like going into some San Francisco office and shooting 5 white engineering guys. These folks were from all over the world, different backgrounds, different ethnicities. I’d photograph someone who said they were Persian, the next person grew up in West Oakland, followed by a Palestinian woman. Every shoot was like this and I started thinking of the client as the United Colors of Benetton ads of the 80’s.

Doing about a half dozen days like this, I started to think of head shots in a new way. These five minute experiences with people from all over was a creative exercise, not creative in regard to the composition of the pictures we were making, but an exercise in dealing with people, getting them at ease, quickly. We spent five minutes each with these people and I had to get something in 20-30 frames.

In retrospect, I look at the headshot jobs I did as a sideline as my wax on, wax off work. An exercise, and eduction, a honing of my talents with people. But, it’s also part of my internal cataloging – experiences shooting more people. I may do 100 creative portraits in a year, but if you can double that number in a few days, that’s a ton off interaction experience. Wax on, wax off. And Mr. Miyagi walks off muttering those words again and again.

corporate executive portrait

corporate executive portrait

For the current issue of WebMD, I was asked to do a magazine profile on Kerri Walsh Jennings, three-time, Olympic Gold medal winner in beach volleyball. The piece focuses on her being pregnant with her third child during last summer’s Olympic games. I photographed her on location at her home in Southern California and at the beach where she trains.

Kerri Walsh - 3 time Olympic gold medal winner

Kerri Walsh – 3 time Olympic gold medal winner

Portrait of Kerri Walsh - Beach Volleyball gold medalist - pregnant with her thrid child

Portrait of Kerri Walsh - Beach Volleyball gold medalist - pregnant with her thrid child

The Dailey Method exercise studios around the country are now featuring advertising images we shot for them this past fall. Jill Dailey, in green, started the regimen in 2000 and they now have 40+ studios in 3 countries. Check out their home page featuring videos we shot for them including one that went viral amongst their clients.

Jill Dailey from the Dailey Method

Jill Dailey from the Dailey MethodJill Dailey from the Dailey Method


A studio owner demonstrates on a stall bar at The Dailey Method studio in San Francisco

A studio owner demonstrates on a stall bar at The Dailey Method studio in San Francisco


At the bar in the downtown San Francisco studio of The Dailey Method

At the bar in the downtown San Francisco studio of The Dailey Method