PERSONAL PROJECTS

Tim Mantoani passed away last week. He has been a huge inspiration of mine for a long time, and I regret not getting to know him better. Aside from being an incredible photographer who worked on huge campaign's with legendary athletes, he was a great person. Any time I ever had a question about photography, Tim was always willing to help. Which is a rare thing in our industry, let alone a small market like San Diego. A lot of photographers out there would (and do) view me as the competition, and in turn, blow me off.  Not Tim though. Id approach him with questions about big ad jobs that I was lucky enough to have come my way (and any photographer would love to have come their way). And tim would take the time to tell me as much as he could about what I could do to land that "job". What do you say about someone willing to do that? Another thing Tim and I shared in common was our love for personal projects. He and I have always been big advocates for not just shooting, but promoting them as well.  Shooting commercial campaigns are great, and I love it. But nothing is more rewarding than shooting for yourself. In my experience, they are also the thing that leads to more commercial work down the road. So it's an amazing win win. If you follow what I do, you know about the personal projects I've worked on in the past. The most recent, and ongoing, being The Basketball Hoops Project. Been shooting this for about three years now, and it's finally gaining steam. It was published this morning on Sports Illustrated's The Cauldron. Which has resulted in another news outlet approaching me about also publishing the story. You might be thinking that these things don't matter, but this is how it starts. A series of small steps that lead to a much bigger payoff. Ive got big goals for this project and it's commercial usage, so these things are great little pieces of a much bigger puzzle. Not sure where I'm going with this, but most importantly, want to encourage any photographer who reads this, to put more time into their personal projects. Anyone proud enough to call themselves a photographer probably has 20 different projects in their head at any given time. The problem is actually doing something about it. So if you are reading this, get off your ass and start one of your projects. Doesn't have to be huge, but go at it 100%. 

Link to the article: HERE

Link to my Hoops Project: HERE

 

Tim Zowada

There are a lot of ways for people to earn a living. Most probably wouldn't ever think that making knives would be one of them. Especially in the manner of Tim Zowada, who lives/works in a remote part of northern Michigan. He's not on any kind of payroll. Nor is he paid by a large company to crank out mass quantities of their product. He's self employed, and creates beautiful one of a kind pieces. From scratch. Tim is much more of an artist or craftsman, than he is blade maker. You could make an argument that Tim is also one of kind, which is the reason why his products come out the way they do. A few months ago, I had the honor of shooting with Tim. And was amazed not only at his knowledge, but also his dedication. There is an incredible amount of time and detail that goes into making each one of his pieces.  Rather than write out a lot unqualified bullshit about his process, thought I would let Tim explain things for himself. His answers are great for anyone, regardless of profession, is trying to do their own thing. 
Side note: These images were all made with a mix of ambient light, shop light, and Broncolor strobes. My goal was to mimic what was already there, but boost it up with strobes a bit without having the strobe light call attention itself. 
1) Explain briefly (or at length) how you got started at your craft. 
Simply put, it was a hobby than ran amok. I have always had a "knack" for building things. Before I made my first knife I had made such things as a banjo, fly fishing rod and a rifle. I made my first knife in high school shop class. (Yes, we could do that then.) During college, I tinkered with knife making as a hobby. My junior year of college, I became disillusioned with my chosen career path. During that time, my father asked, "Do you think you could make a living with the knife making thing?". That question led to a complete change in the direction of my life. Thirty three years later, I'm still avoiding a "real job".
2) How did you develop your personal style? 
A personal style seems to develop with experience. Over the years, certain work would catch my attention. I would take what I thought was the best elements from those knives, guns, jewelery, sculpture, etc. and try to incorporate it in to my own work. As I learn new techniques, my perspective and style continue to evolve. 
3) What are some things you do that others in your business don't ?
Currently, I specialize in straight razors. It is not that I don't make knives, but the razors have really caught my attention. That being said, as far as I know, I am the only craftsman making razors from steel that I smelt directly from iron ore. It's not that others are not able to do it, I'm just the only one that is doing it.
 
4) What would you say is the one thing that separates you from everyone else? 

This is really a difficult question, as there are a lot of good knife makers out there. I think it would boil down to the style of my work, coupled with my perspective on materials, techniques, and attention to detail. 
5) Where does most of your business come from? (location,demographic. etc.)

I have customers from all over the world, in nearly every demographic. It is very difficult to specify what would I would call my standard customer. I have sold knives, and razors, to customers who have had to save for a very long time, and probably couldn't justify the expense. I have also sold my products to "billionaires". Since I sell to such a wide variety of people, It makes marketing quite difficult.
6) You live in an isolated part of northern Michigan, and run your business from the same location. Can you talk about the effect it has on your business? 
With the advent of the Internet, it doesn't really have much effect. The internet has pretty much taken the place of the knife shows of the past. It is still important to get out and be seen once and a while. Since customers quite often become friends, it is good to get together.
7) From what I observed, the way you doing things can be classified as the definition of "old school". Explain your desire to keep things simple and authentic. 
You saw a lot of the "old school" stuff because that's what makes the best photographs! You didn't see the things like: my metallurgical microscopes, micro-hardness tester, digitally controlled salt bath hear treatment kilns, liquid Nitrogen process, etc. The way I think of it is; I like to combine traditional and ancient techniques with new technology, to produce products that are truly unique.

A good example would be my home smelted "Timahagane" steel. The smelting of iron ore to make steel ore goes back many centuries. Not much has changed in the materials or techniques. Yet when it comes time to heat treat my Timahagane, I rely on electric salt bath kilns. They give me the best control available over the temperature and atmosphere of the process.
 
7a) How has the digital age had an effect on your business? 

The internet has revolutionized marketing and communication. Earlier this week, my son was doing a live feed on Facebook. He had a crowd of people watching him, as he ground a razor. It was amazing to watch him communicate with his clients as he worked.

As you know, digital photography has made everything much faster. I can finish a knife, and have a high quality photo up on the internet in less than 20 minutes. Even though I am a luddite, I have to admit, it is very important to keep up with technology in the area of marketing.
8) You've been doing this a long time, and are considered one of the top knife makers in the world. How did that come to be? 

Well, I don't know about that. I guess it would have to be persistence, and enjoying what I do...  :)

9) Are there any areas of your craft that you would like to improve on? 

Pretty much everything. The more I learn, the more I realize how much there is to learn. If someone is continually trying to improve, they will never "arrive". The biggest new thing in my bag of tricks is, I am learning basic engraving from David Riccardo.
10) The way you run your business can be a great lesson for anyone who is self employed. Do you have any advice for someone who wants to live "off the grid" but still become the best at what they do (and make a living at it)? 

Don't quit your "real job" until it is getting in the way of making money at your craft. Too many people dive in to self employment before they are ready. Lots of skilled craftsmen have had to give it up because their business wasn't to the point of supporting their bills. It is very important to remember the business side of the "business". If you look around, it is easy to find excellent craftsmen who are starving, and conversely, people who produce junk who are making a lot of money. Finding a balance between production and running the business is very important.
*Last collage image of knives were made by Tim Zowada, Jim Weyer, and Sharp by Coop. 

 

Fitness Photography-Multiple Exposure

The "muscle-up" is a difficult exercise, requiring a lot of strength and practice. It's something I've photographed for a long time, but have never been satisfied with the result. It just didn't seem like you could convey what the athletes were doing with a single frame. So after a lot of thought, I decided that in-camera multiple exposure was the answer. It's the only way to show the whole movement and range of motion. Finally satisfied. 

Shot on a Nikon D810 and lit with 5 strobes. 

Crossfit

I've been shooting Crossfit for a few years now, and love it. There is a certain element that is missing in regular gyms. Most people in regular gyms get dressed up to "workout", but really they just stare in the mirror for an hour. Crossfitters want it to hurt. They are authentic. They want to be in pain by the end of their workout. This is a small collection of images I made over the past month, of that pain.

All images were shot on a Nikon D810/D4 and lit with Broncolor strobes.

Steph Curry

Couple images from a shoot a few months back with World Champion and NBA MVP; Steph Curry of the Golden Sate Warriors. This was my second shoot with Steph, and he's still cool as ever. The second shot was taken during filming of the Foot Locker commercials you've probably seen on tv, and done with all natural light. The first was done on white seamless with 5 strobes. The only place we were permitted to set up our seamless was outdoors. And at the very least, you always have to worry about wind taking up the seamless, or knocking down your strobes. Weather that day said 0% chance of rain. And of course it didn't rain all day, until we were a few minutes into our shoot. Then it just started pouring. Steph wasa good sport about it, and thankfully, we had already got what we needed. Some of my equipment on the other hand, took a small beating. Took quite a while to rip it all down, and get out of the rain. Everything was all good in the end though.These two images are my favorites, but certainly not what Foot Locker/Under Armour used for their store windows/ads.

 


 

Fitness Photography-San Diego

Happy with what we got here, but things didn't start so hot. Our first location was the rear stairs of the San Diego Convention Center. So I got there early to set up, and got kicked out before we even got started. That always sucks, but I've learned when things like that happen, it pushes me harder, and I usually come out of the day with cool stuff. You just have to improvise, and Tara was great. The portraits were actually shot in a parking garage. Who needs a studio? 

Random fact: Tara and I share the same birthday. 

Shot on a Nikon D800e and lit with Broncolor strobes. 

Emmanuel Mudiay

Emmanuel Mudiay just went #7 overall in the 2015 NBA Draft, and is now the newest member of the Denver Nuggets. I had the opportunity to shoot with his last month in LA for Under Armour. If you pay attention to hoop, you've probably seen all his "Life changes after the draft" commercials. Funny spots.Anyway, he's a good kid, and was fun to shoot with. Seemed very mature for his age, and handled all of his responsibility well. These shots below are from the 34th St. Foot Locker in New York City. It's always cool to see your stuff used like this. 




STAND UP PADDLE BOARDING-SAN DIEGO

Had some more fun in the water a few weeks ago with my Aquatech Water Housing and Broncolor Strobes.  Was originally hoping for some early morning light to shoot Carter Graves doing some stand up paddle boarding on Mission Bay. We didn't get the sun, but I'm thankful for that now. Think the clouds provide a more dramatic look and add a lot to these images. 

Carter Graves

 

Death Valley-Running

I've been living in San Diego for a lot of years now, and have no excuse for never visiting Death Valley until just a few weeks ago. With all the cross-country driving I do, it seems ridiculous that it took this long to visit a place less than 5 hours away. Either way, I was more than excited when a client asked me to shoot some running images out there. And can't wait to go back for more. It's a very unique place. Obviously. Massive and desolate. You could argue that is almost seems like another planet, and not many people would argue. We came out of there with some awesome shots, but this has to be my favorite. This style of image is something I've been working on for a while now. Trying to show the scale of a place compared to the athlete and what they are doing. About 70 yards away from the runner in this shot, I still wanted to use strobes in order to really make him pop. So we ran a 20ft sync cord from my camera to the Broncolor transmitter, and set it up on top of a rock, which was in direct line of site to the strobe. Have to admit, when we first started testing, I thought the distance was going to be too far. That, and the very nature of Death Valley, seemed like it would mess with the radio frequencies between transmitter and receiver. Hoping to head back in a few weeks to push the envelope. Stay tuned. 

Nikon D800e and Polarized Nikon 70-200mm lens. Runner lit with Broncolor Move Pack and MobiLed Head. 

Click HERE to see more RUNNING images. 

 

Boulder, Colorado-Trail running

If you live in Boulder, Colorado, then chances are you spend some time outdoors. It's a town that's just as famous for being active, as it is for marijuana. Which seems kind of contradictory, but whatever. I've been a fan of Boulder (and the rest of Colorado) for a long time now. So on my last visit, I made it a point to shoot some trail running. Red Rocks Trail is a cool spot with a great backdrop for this type of thing. The shoot was a lot of fun despite having one Elinchrom strobe shit out on us about 3 minutes in. Luckily, I also had some brand new Broncolor gear that I was testing. Huge fan of it, by the way. Looking like the Elinchrom's will be taking a backseat. These first three images were lit with strobes. The last one is all natural light. All shot on the Nikon D810. 

 

TRAVEL PORTRAIT

One of my favorite things to do on the road is make portraits of people that I randomly come across. This is Larry. He's a farmer in Blanca, Colorado. Which is a place you've probably never heard of. Neither had I, until driving through it last week. There isn't much to be said for it, but quite the opposite for Larry. Really jolly guy, and proud owner of that mustache since September 8, 1971. "The day I got my shipping papers to go state-side". Saw him out of the corner of my eye while passing his farm, and knew a portrait had to be made. Really gladded I stopped. 

Nikon D810 with Nikon 17-35mm lens. Lit with a Broncolor Move Pack and MobiLED Flash Head.