Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Wolverine | X-Men Origins Premiere

You know the state of the economy and that Swine Flu is the next thing to fear. But There is some good news to be had. The newest installment of the X-Men series premiered in Tempe, Arizona today. And of course I went.

Here's the cool part: I had a client, but no credential. Quicker than you can say Huge Ackman, I was credentialed and in!

I just buzzed the Arizona Republic's site. I can hardly believe they sent five photographers to compete against me! Ha! They had a couple of images that I didn't get — but you had better be getting those pictures when you send five credentialed shooters.

Click here to check out what I did!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Take Me Out To The Ball Game!

I had a great time yesterday. I had coffee, painted a wall (a pipe burst inside my wall a few weeks ago and it has been an adventure that will finally be over in about two weeks), and took the train into Phoenix to watch a Diamondbacks game. We lost but it was nice to be in a different part of the world.

I have a hard time just going to a game and just sitting there. I often find my mind straying from the game's action and from there, my eye begins to wander. At a baseball park with a pool, there is often a lot to see. So I thought I would play my game that I call, "Find The Picture." If you've been following me for any length of time, you know the drill. I go out with a camera a lens and that's it. It's just a personal project/challenge to find out what I can do under extreme circumstances. Did I mention that I don't take a tripod?

I'm continually working on new things. (Seriously, whether you are a photographer, a writer or a nuclear physicist, you need to always be moving your art forward (not that nuclear physics is an art, but you know what I mean). Don't just be satisfied with where you are.) Right now I'm inspired by High Dynamic Range photography. I'm taking multiple images at different exposures and blending them so that I can get the highest range of colors and tones. HDR is sometimes kind of squirrelly, and isn't right for all applications, but it really is beautiful.

In the scheme of HDR, a tripod is a key element. But unfortunately a tripod can hinder spontaneity. So, on this journey into town I left it at home. All of my HDR images were hand held. It was a lot of fun shooting them. I pland to go out soon and shoot more — and I might even try it with a tripod.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Big Project is Nearly Complete!

About a year ago I began interviewing photo consultants. It was a big task. There are many wonderful people who know a lot about the photographic industry. I wanted to ensure that I was seen for who I was as a photographer and that the consultant would give me sound advice. It was important to be able to reach an audience that I was previously missing.

My background is in photojournalism which is far from easy, but a photojournalist who is on staff at a metropolitan daily newspaper doesn't have to deal with issues such as marketing or what their portfolio looks like. Hell, the only time a portfolio is even necessary is if the photographer plans to change jobs. In the old days, a portfolio consisted of a series of slides that were tucked into slide pages and shipped off (to some distant photo editor) with a cover letter and résumé, never to be seen again.

After leaving the news biz, I needed to define who my clients were and how to reach them. I bumped around for a few years and finally came to the conclusion that whatever I was doing was wrong. So I hired a consultant. I also hired a designer.

After a long phone interview I sifted through more than 40,000 images to find 650 or so that I could send off to be edited. It took about two weeks for my portfolios to come back. Two weeks after the edit, Vanity Fair called in my book. (Panic!)

My designer is in Seattle and she had just gotten the edited images. At first we thought we were going to have to work around the clock to meet the VF deadline but soon learned that the book didn't need to be there until January. Whew!

This has been a long and painful process. I now not only know what a portfolio should look like, but I have one. As a matter of fact, I have two. The other is a collection of glamour images that just aren't right for my commercial Web site or portfolio.

The cool thing is that all of the elements of my new identity have been designed and are at the printer. The new design has been delivered to my Web-site host and that should be in place next week. I've just designed a promo piece that will be sent to announce the new look.

I think the worst part of all of this is that while I have had this project going I've also been out shooting. The economy has been slow, which means that work (for most photographers) has been slow, yet this has provided me with opportunities to get out and shoot images that I wouldn't have otherwise had time for. This means that soon, I will start this whole editing/portfolio process all over.

It's been a big and rough cycle, but isn't it great!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Smart and Getting Smarter

A long time ago, in a career far, far away.  I came up with a name for a business that I hadn't yet started.  I figured that since I was an intelligent person who lived in Arizona, SmartAz was a great name.  Further punctuating my way of thinking is that I just happen to be blessed with a quick wit.  It all seemed so logical.  Heck I even thought that if SmartAz Photography was successful, I might be able to be like the Dread Pirate Roberts (from "The Princess Bride") and sell off the franchise.  I was mistaken.

About six months ago I stopped using the SmartAz name.  I came to realize, with the help of my consultant, that the name, while creative, doesn't instill confidence.  I've stopped using the name, yet it has continued to haunt my Web site. 

Making changes aren't always easy.  Making changes sometime require fistfuls of money to be thrown at those things in need of change.  I've finally been able to finance that change.  Crews in San Francisco are working 'round the clock to have changes in place sometime next week.

SmartAz was a great name and a great lesson.  It taught me how to register a trade name.  And it taught me to carefully think things through.

It's free to create a business with whatever name you give it.  To change it however, is going to cost as much as a used car.  The lesson is:  Be sure you can live with the business decisions you make today because you may be dealing with those desicions for years.

SmartAz Photography was good.  Tony Blei Photography is even smarter.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Dodging a Cruise Missile Attack

The View From the Bottom is GREAT!
So this guy calls me up around 8:30 this morning and informs me that I suck. I think he had lost sleep over the images on my Web site that he didn't like. This guy was very emphatic as he ripped and railed and launched his Cruise Missiles my way. He went on to tell me that the images on my blog were far superior and that if I was a commercial photographer, why in the hell do I have pictures of girls in bubbles on my site!!!!

Wow! It must have been a slow day in his small world (some people should consider switching to decaf).

It was early in the day and I was caught off guard. I tried to justify a few things but my advisor's gums were flapping so fast and hard that I don't think he heard a word I said.

I don't think I need to justify anything to another competing photographer. The truth is that few of us have all of the answers. A bigger truth is that my photography is about me and my vision. I'm the one (with the help of my beautiful wife) who has crafted and honed my skills over the past two decades. As a photojournalist I've seen things that would make some people weep and have nightmares. I've also taken award-winning pictures that have made a difference in my community. I've photographed seven US Presidents. Furthermore, because of my knowledge and experience, I've been able to secure a teaching job at the number one high school in Arizona. I think I've earned the right to put anything I want on my Web site. After all, it is my Web site.

A year ago my photography business was doing well. I was on track to break the previous year's receipts. I had enough cash to shop around for a consultant. Someone who would take me to the next level.

I was a photojournalist for twenty years. A year ago I didn't really know my market. My consultant has helped me to define it. She has grouped my images and chosen pictures that I wouldn't have necessarily picked myself — which is why I hired her. My portfolio not only portrays vision and technical abilities, it delivers a feeling as you look at it. My portfolio was not designed to entertain other frustrated photographers.

Two weeks after the portfolio edit, my book was called in by Vanity Fair, REMEDY Chicago and Maxim Magazine. Three weeks ago I met with someone in a giant corporate fortress who called in another art director to look at my work. They loved what they saw — and oddly enough LOVED the bubble pictures that I shot at the rave! There might just be a method to my madness after all.

I tell my students that I love taking pictures. They ask, "How much do you love taking pictures, Mr. Blei?" I tell them, "More than food." They tell me that's absurd to which I reply that I can get food by taking pictures. They laugh.

Art isn't art until someone sees it. If you are going to wait for the phone to ring before you create art, then, as an artist, you have no soul and you may not be creating art. You may only be documenting something.

If I can't show images, then what's the point in shooting them? And if I know there is going to be a visual opportunity, but I don't take it, I am a failure. I shoot crazy images of teenagers dancing in foam at a rave because it's an honest slice of life and that's what makes me happy. Oh! And I almost forgot! A consultant — one that I didn't hire — said I should consider doing a book with those images (if I didn't post them, I wonder how they could have been seen...hmmm).

A Cruise Missile attack was launched at me this morning but in all honesty, it was a dud that was way off target. Some people should learn to mind their own business and find what makes them happy.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Their Eyes Have It

Some time ago I wrote about taking a part-time teaching job at a charter school in North Scottsdale. I blogged a couple of times about this great opportunity — and then went silent. Let me explain why.

At first I was very excited and proud to guide young minds in a way they had never been guided. I enjoy kids and I firmly believe that each of us must plant a tree we will never sit under.

By the third week I was beginning to wonder what I had gotten myself into. One third of the class had rallied against me and was working to take over the class. I don't want to get into the negative aspects of this experience but let me just say that the class size has decreased by 30% and the students who remain are smart, eager and talented. (Click here to see their work.)

Over these several months we've had great and very passionate discussions on copyright, legal issues (if a police officer orders you to stop photographing, do you have to?) and ethical matters regarding privacy. You see it's easy to take pretty pictures, but in some cases, you need to know when, where and if you can take those pretty pictures. Photography is a powerful means of expression and therefore a constitutional right. My students are responsible and well informed.

Their work excites me. I am going to miss them. Sadly, I have one week left in this teaching gig. I've found it to be incredibly rewarding as I've seen some wonderful kids become amazing, young photographers. They tell me that they look at pictures differently now. Not only can they take good pictures, but they can discuss the merits of a photograph and tell you why the image is good or bad.

I've enjoyed teaching. It has taught me what I really know about photography. The best part is that I've been able to influence a group of teens who have the beginnings of wonderful vision.

If you didn't click it up above, here is a link so that you can view what they've done. Take a peek and leave some comments to let them know how you feel about their work. To me, they are photographic rockstars.

High Dynamic Range

This is a great time in history to be alive and working. Sure, we have our problems, but man, the technology that we are using is amazing.

Digital Cameras are getting more and more sophisticated and so is the software. Adobe PhotoShop is a great program that no photographer can live without. Add to it Adobe LightRoom and you essentially have a digital darkroom. There are all sorts of filters and plug-ins that can be added to customize your images. Some are pretty expensive, and by the time you collect five or six, your, now customized, version of PhotoShop could cost as much as a used car.

A year ago I bought some software that included a PhotoShop plug-in that allowed greater control over the tonal range of any High Dynamic Range (HDR) photograph that I might produce. An HDR photo is a photograph whose tonal range is so high that only dogs can see it (just kidding). Seriously, the range is so high that printers and monitors can't reproduce the range. But with tone-mapping software, we can reel in the tones to the point that we get a photo that can take your breath away. The saturation of the colors and tones looks like a blend of film and imagination.

My goal for this week has been to work on a few HDR images and really polish the process. It's still fairly new and hopefully you will be seeing amazing HDR images in advertising and other commercial applications in the future.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Killer Rabbits

Some days it just doesn't pay
to get out of bed...

Hopefully this Easter, you won't need
to use
The Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch

Friday, April 3, 2009


I had a great time last night. Mark Mayfield of KSLX is spending three days on location while seeking donations for the St. Mary's Food Bank.

I'm short on time so I'll just post a link to a slideshow.