Half my life as a professional photographer…

This year marks my 23rd year as a professional photographer – exactly half of my life on Earth. In 1991, at the age of 23, I graduated Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, receiving my Bachelor of Arts in Commercial Photography, young and enthusiast, eager to set the photo world on fire…at least I hoped.  

A month later, after sending out 150 resumés around the West with no job offers in return, I figured I might as well start my own business. I pounded the payment, shot self-assignments and had a number of images published from those shoots, and through it all my business slowly grew. There were many months where I wondered how I’d cover my expenses, pay my bills, yet somehow I was able to.

Many over glamorize professional photography, especially travel, assuming you trek the globe simply clicking away with ease while clients pay you. Far from the truth. You suffer, sacrifice, struggle, have successes, disappointments, moments of amazement, times of loneliness, all the while wondering where your next paycheck will come from.  Doing this for over twenty years can wear on any person.  Sure you attempt to diversify your business, obtain regular clientele, and place as many proverbial eggs in the basket as you can, but with staff turnover prevalent in our industry and an over-saturated market, you consistently fight the battle to be remembered when a photographer or photograph is needed.

 

Through all of this, I still can’t see myself doing anything else. My hopes were always to lead an extraordinary life, and this goal continues to drive me today. I can’t wait to capture the next image, yet I’m willing to take breaks between shoots to keep myself fresh and hungry. I continue to love photography, whether I’m taking shots with my iPhone and funkifying them to share online, or produce a commercial shoot with lights, models, and a crew for a high-end client.  I’m extremely proud of the collection of work I have; to be able to look back at my career in a tangible way is rare. These days I feel I’m at my best, combining my knowledge and experience to handle any job thrown my way, and hope to build on my collection to create some of my best images in the years to come; to use the skills I’ve acquired to be even more creative and to grow as an artist, writer, teacher and businessperson.

As for highlights, well I’ve been lucky enough to be published thousands of times around the world on coves of magazines, books, ads, CD covers and websites. I’ve done segments on tv, captured images with Nikon’s first DSLR way back in 1995, hung out of helicopters, finished two successful books, fought for better rates and contracts for photographers, met many amazing athletes, and had numerous articles appear in most of the major photography magazines.  As exciting as these moments were, they don’t show the countless hours of planning, preparation, and execution that went in to making them happen; the stress involved or the responsibility I carried. But no career shows this, it’s part of the deal.  

Today, I received a review of my business from a recent client that hit the nail on the head as far as what I try to provide each and every customer.  It was a nice reminder of how hard work, honesty, and pride of ownership can pay off:

Sean is a true professional with a great photographic eye. You can’t go wrong using him for any of your photography needs. He immediately contacted me to work out a plan for our photo shoot. He is a great listener and took copious notes so that he fully understood what I was looking for with photographer services. He also interjected his professional opinion when asked, which was a big help because I was relying on his significant expertise. On the day of the shoot, he arrived promptly, set up his equipment and proceeded to execute on every shot on my shot list. Sean was able to shoot both indoor studio shot for my barbecue grill but also outdoor “glamour” shots that had a high degree of commercial appeal. Sean will travel to you, be forth coming about his services, and is very reasonably priced given his decades of experience in photography. Cannot recommend him highly enough.

I can only wonder what the next twenty three years will bring.  At that point I’ll be 68, with any luck going strong and sharing my love for the visual world with many. I’m sure there’ll be some suffering, sacrifice, struggles, and success.  Hopefully some of that success will come in the form of a great big giant lottery ticket.  :)  But if it doesn’t, at least I’ll have something money can’t buy- a life well lived.

My Petersen’s Photographic magazine cover – Volume 5, 2014

Now on newsstands – the latest cover of Petersen’s Photographic with my Jenny Lake, Wyoming (Grand Teton National Park) image.  
I also have eight articles and dozens of my photos inside to read and enjoy.  Check it out in stores everywhere!

Gaucho García – The Art of Asado

Last month I had the pleasure of photographing this cool new Argentinian BBQ design for a new client, Gaucho Garcia.  We spent a day capturing studio shots (I set up a portable on-location studio with a backdrop and lighting), and later that afternoon we set up an outdoor BBQ scene.  
Their new site is up with my all images (including the animation of the grill rolling up), and they’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign as well (accessible through GauchoGarcía.com).  
 

Check ‘em out- the BBQ is amazing, the design is slick, the fundraising project looks cool, and the people are passionate and dedicated to the project: http://gauchogarcia.com/

All images © Sean Arbabi | seanarbabi.com (all rights reserved worldwide)

2014 Photographic Workshops with Sean

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Most of my 2014 workshops were updated and listed on our main site, with a few “dates to be determined”.  We offer live and online workshops.  Check out my workshop schedule, sign up, and come join us sometime for great photographic instruction and a day, weekend or week of fun! 

http://seanarbabi.com/workshops/

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You can also find me on Meetup (running two groups there) where we list many of our workshops:

http://www.meetup.com/Sean-Arbabi-photographic-workshops/
http://www.meetup.com/sanfrancisco-bayarea-photography-workshops-tours/

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Thanks and Happy Shooting!
Sean

Just updated my DxO software

Just updated my DxO software: DxO Optics Pro 9, DxO Film Pack 4, DxO ViewPoint- great software from a French-based expert photo testing company- you get incredibly accurate results- check ‘em out: http://www.dxo.com/intlDxO Optics Pro 9: Enhance your photos, remove noise, optimize exposure and contrast, magnify colors, and boost details, regardless of shooting conditions: http://www.dxo.com/intl/photography/dxo-optics-pro

DxO Film Pack 4: Reproduces the quality, style, colors, and grain of legendary analog films. In black & white or in color: http://www.dxo.com/intl/photography/dxo-filmpack

DxO ViewPoint 2: Great for your wide-angle lens, fixes perspectives and restores the natural shapes of the subjects located along image edges – a standalone application and a plugin: http://www.dxo.com/intl/correcting-distortion-dxo-viewpoint-2

Above: Non-corrected HDR capture of the College of San Mateo, San Francisco Bay Area – © Sean Arbabi | seanarbabi.com (all rights reserved worldwide)
Above: Corrected HDR capture of the College of San Mateo, San Francisco Bay Area (corrected building perspective – I could have corrected it perfectly straight, but went for a real look and didn’t want to lose the edges of the image) – © Sean Arbabi | seanarbabi.com (all rights reserved worldwide)

InstaGRAB vs Photographers. Please, by all means, steal my photos.

Someone on PPA (Professional Photographers of America) recently asked “Ads in Instagram… should you consider them?”, then went on to talk about seeing ads on their Instagram feed and noticing the “lack a sales message”.  Really?  Are you serious?

I really don’t get this method of thinking by photographers sometimes.  As we continue to lose control of major sections of our industry, so many still haggle over the ridiculous minutia that really doesn’t make much of a difference.  

“I really want my byline to be a larger font.”  

“I’m going to demand my copyright includes my website.”

“Should a magazine send me one or two copies of the issue where my photos appeared.”

What? Who cares about this stuff – we all are making less and less each year.

All while big companies or corporations make more profits off our photographs by presenting lousy contracts (that most photographers don’t read or alter), offering low or no pay, and creating businesses where they trick photographers into believing exposure will help you make more money. Bullshit. It’s like throwing a penny down on the ground and having all these photographers run to pick it up while they reach into your back pockets and steal your cash-filled wallets.  And as far as exposure goes, I say exposure my ass.  My business has never flourished from my images being used for free.

The bigger question is, why would any photographer use Instagram after they changed their terms to use your images. Instagram’s terms still state “you hereby grant to Instagram a non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license to use the Content that you post“.

That’s bad for photographers and come to think of it, bad for everyone….except Instagram.

Btw, I call them Instagrab now- seems to be a perfect name for who they really are.

This kind of rights-grabbing terms on social sites is unacceptable, and there needs to be stronger backlash against it by photographers, artists, or any creative person who’s livelihood deals with visual media- stills or video. Facebook tried to follow this method earlier this year (no wonder- they own Instagram and got away with it once already) and even Google+ is trying to implement something similar.

By the way, I used to have an Instagram account, and I enjoyed it.  It was fun to create images and share them with others- silly photos, creative ones, others to promote my business, and so on.  But the second they stuck with their new terms, I dumped my account, and closed my family member accounts too.  Today, there’s news on Instagram adding video functionality or ads but this is besides the point. I’m baffled why so many would still be on Instagram when their terms state they can use your images for anything- also confused why big companies (i.e. National Geographic, NY Yankees, 49ers), sports athletes, or celebs are on Instagrab since they can do this to them as well.

Training Timber – © Sean Arbabi | seanarbabi.com (all rights reserved worldwide)

Come on people, grow a backbone and dump any account where the company tries to use your work to make millions while paying you nothing.  Complain to these sites and spread the word.  Social sites can make their money from ads. I could care less about that since it seems like a fair exchange for a free way to market your art.  Just as long as they don’t try to take my images without my permission and use them for these ads….or for that matter, any other lousy rights-grabbing idea they have to please their shareholders or investors.

See how some in the UK fought back: http://www.bjp-online.com/british-journal-of-photography/news/2290837/photography-organisations-rally-against-instagrams-terms-of-use

More on how stripping metadata by social sites can lead to abuse of a photographer’s images (and how some companies are trying to make that okay): http://eposure.com/blog/the-instagram-act-new-copyright-info-for-photographers?goback=.gde_2093733_member_248489690

Read two of Daniel J. Cox’s blog posts on Instagram: http://www.naturalexposures.com/uk-gov-passes-instagram-act-all-your-pics-belong-to-everyone-now/ 
and 
http://www.naturalexposures.com/instagrams-new-policy-to-steal-your-photos-returns/

Once more article about Instagram from ASMP (Amercian Society of Media Photographers): http://asmp.org/articles/instagram-papers.html#.UnVhGZRAThA

The legacy of David Gaines

Recently I was editing some of my image files from the Eastern Sierra, a wondrous place east of Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia National Parks where trees grow for thousands of years, land erodes abandoning balancing boulders, and alpine snowmelt feeds ancient lakes.

 

 While I reprocessed a few shots, taking advantage of new wonderful features in Lightroom 5.2 and Photoshop CS6, I came across this scene (below)- a photo captured years ago just east of Mono Lake.  A sunset road scene on a long desolate stretch of Highway 120 west of the California/ Nevada border, documented during a long February road trip photographing the US West.  As I recalled this wonderful peaceful road that led us to our final destination of Mono Lake, the name David Gaines came to mind.

Highway 120 near the California/Nevada border at sunset © Sean Arbabi

Originally part of the Great Basin, Mono Lake is a one-of-a-kind place.  Home to trillions of brine shrimp and alkali flies, and over 2,000,000 migratory waterbirds, including 35 species of shorebirds, use the ancient lake as a resting, nesting, and feeding place.  When you walk along the lakeshore viewing thousands of flies fan out as they avoid each of your footsteps, touch the salty waters painted red by the abundance of tiny shrimp, and gaze in awe at the monstrous clouds rolling over the Sierra, you feel how special and unique this body of water really is. 

The southern shores of Mono Lake and the Sierra Nevada at sunrise © Sean Arbabi

A lake with no outlets, the alpine streams and annual rainfall that feed it remain in the natural bowl for tens of thousands of years- that is until Los Angeles’ Department of Water and Power (the DWP) began searching for new sources of water to supply their ever-growing Southern California metroplex.  From 1941 to 1990, the lake level began dropping as the DWP diverted unrestrained amounts of water from Mono Basin streams.  Mono Lake dropped 45 vertical feet over 50 years, lost half its volume, doubled in salinity, and exposed previously submerged tufa towers (limestone structures that grow exclusively underwater).

Moonrise over the Eastern Sierra, as seen from the southern Tufa-lined shores of Mono Lake © Sean Arbabi

Courtesy of NASA

People like David, and those who worked tirelessly at the Mono Lake Committee, fought Los Angeles’ DWP from draining the lake through numerous ecological studies, court cases, and injunctions.  I 1989 I joined the cause, photographing the Mono Lake Bike-A-Thon, capturing over a hundred riders as they peddled 332 miles from the DWP offices to the shores of the lake, raising funds for the fight.  Many of the decisions that came in favor of Mono Lake and the Mono Lake Basin allow us all- humans, birds, and wildlife- to enjoy its wonders.  Sadly, Owens Lake, an ancient body of water covering 108 square miles nestled in southern Owens Valley 10,000 feet below the towering Whitney range, was not able to be saved, drained by the DWP over a span of roughly 40 years.  Full in 1913, desiccated by the mid 1940s.  Much of the Owens River was diverted into the Los Angeles Aqueduct, and today the mostly dry lake bed is the largest single source of dust pollution in the United States.

Looking west at Highway 136 and Owens Lake below the Whitney Range © Sean Arbabi

David Gaines (courtesy of the Mono Lake Committee)

So why did a photo of a highway remind me of David Gaines, a person I never met?  Well, David was tragically killed in a car accident in the winter of 1988 along Highway 395, south of Mono Lake, on a stretch of road similar to the one I posted above.  I drove along the road he did a few months later and captured that photo above on my first visit to the area.  Someday I will use that road to take my two daughters to the shores of Mono Lake.  I will tell them about the history of this region, about its ancient waters, and how we are still able to share it with future generations thanks to people like David Gaines.  He may have been taken far too early, but he gave far more to the world than most.

“My camera is my constant companion.” – Josef Muench

Way back in 1990 when I was 22, during my college days at Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara CA, I had the chance to photograph Josef Muench at the tender age of 85 - father of David, grandfather to Mark – all great photographers in their own right, David probably being the most famous of the three.  


Josef was a landscape pioneer, many of his images gracing the pages of Arizona Highways for much of the 1940s and 1950s.  To my understanding, he worked for the magazine for roughly 50 years, and his stunning landscape images (shot with his 4×5 camera in 1936) helped place Monument Valley on the map.  He returned hundreds of times and to many, his views are some of the most memorable photographs ever taken of this southwest location.  He went on to capture images around the world, in Africa, Alaska, Asia, Canada, Colorado, Europe, and Hawaii.  Even the unmanned Voyager Expeditions, launched in 1977, included one of his photos (in a group of 117 images of Earth’s landscapes) - a snow-covered Sequoia redwood taken in Kings Canyon National Park.


Born in Germany in 1904, some say Josef once threw a tomato at Adolf Hitler, hitting him in the face.  I couldn’t verify this, but he sounded like my kinda guy.  While writing this post, I was able to find a nice quote online, Josef talking about the deserts of the Southwest: “When I first saw the desert I liked it. It was new and different. It immediately took on a meaning to me. I had heard it was barren. It isn’t. A little cactus–so delicate and beautiful, can hide from you. You have to go slowly, and look carefully.”


I can’t recall how I found his information when I was in college, but when I contacted him to fill one of my school assignments, he was kind enough to schedule a time, welcomed me into his home, sat patiently while I set up my 4×5 view camera, and allowed me to capture this portrait, even giving his suggestions on how he might pose.  

 

 

We talked for a bit about photography, and although I wasn’t old enough to really interview him the way I would today, I knew I was with an old photographic soul, so I attempted to soak up his words of wisdom during our brief time together.  Ironically we shared the same age (11) when we received our first cameras, and now I’ve had the chance to photograph some of the places he visited (although oddly enough, I’ve traveled all through the Southwest but never been to Monument Valley and have had the desire for years).


He past away in 1998 at the age of 94, but his images live on- just Google his name (Josef with an “f”) to review some of his work.  May I be so lucky as to live as long as he did, viewing the world through photographic eyes.

My photograph inspired a quilt

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery – this story fits the bill.

A few years ago while on assignment for Via magazine, I captured an image of Lombard Street that ran in their July/August 2009 issue.  I was happy with the shot but didn’t feel it was the best image I captured that day, but that’s never the point when you are on assignment – the key is if your editors are pleased with the results – what they use is up to them.  I even had another editor (from a different magazine) comment on how they felt this was one of the best images of Lombard Street he had ever seen.  Goes to show you how subjective art can be.

A month later landscape quilter Susan Lane contacted me to ask permission to use this image as inspiration for a new quilt she was sewing, to hopefully show in an exhibit.  She said she was inspired by the iconic nature of this image.  Since she wasn’t creating the quilt as a product to sell or license, I granted her permission and a few months later she emailed me the results.

Susan made the 27” x 52” quilt using various methods including fused and raw-edge applique, painting and texture magic, taking over 2,000 hours to complete the piece.  She was kind enough to offer to meet so I could see the finished piece, but we never found a time to work for both of us.  You can see more detail of the quilt by visiting (and scrolling down): http://maverickquilts.wordpress.com/tag/susan-lane/
Susan’s “Lombard Street” piece appeared in numerous shows including the Pacific International Quilt Festival in 2010, and in 2012, it was accepted into The West Coast Wonders, to show at International Quilt Festival in Long Beach and then travel in a group exhibit.  For more on Susan’s work, visit: http://www.mysticstitchery.com/index.html
So many have inspired me in my artistic career, it’s nice to inspire another artist.

Instagram’s shady terms just having changed enough

I definitely enjoy social media, but it’s time to start a big discussion about Instagram.

Reading blogs like this one below, from the well-known amazing photographer Daniel J. Cox, not only confirms my thoughts about Instagram’s lack of “changes” to their photo-rights-stealing terms, but has prompted me to start this talk online and reconsider dumping my Instagram account again.  Read Daniel’s point of view here: http://www.naturalexposures.com/corkboard/instagrams-new-policy-to-steal-your-photos-returns/

Here’s another great blog from Beate Chelette, the PhotoBizCoach, discussing the matter: http://www.photobizcoach.com/2013/01/23/instagrams-fake-changes-to-your-image-rights/?goback=%2Egde_4774947_member_20772942

I have to say though, when Nat Geo came back to Instagram earlier this month (after closing their account back in December with over 600K followers – their new account has over 870K), to me, it was a barometer for Instagram’s supposed change to their recent heavily criticized policy.  I thought, “Well, if Nat Geo isn’t worried about Instagram using their images – a company that prefers strict controls on their photographs to the point that they themselves co-own copyrights to the images their hired photographers have captured, then why should I be concerned?”  That got me wondering.  Is Nat Geo just not worried about their Instagram’s new terms?  Or maybe they set up some deal with Instagram- there’s lots of that going around these days with large internet companies.  Or maybe we’re all just getting fooled here.

What about other companies like the San Francisco 49ers, who I follow, and have over 250K in followers?  Or Coca Cola (only 3500 followers), or eBay (only 1900 followers), or the New York Yankees (85K).  What do they think about all of this?  They are still using the app.

When you read Instagram’s Terms of Service (which they also call their Terms of Use), you may begin to see my concern.  Here is part of it in their words:

These Terms of Use affect your legal rights and obligations. If you do not agree to be bound by all of these Terms of Use, do not access or use the Service.

you hereby grant to Instagram a non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license to use the Content that you post on or through the Service, subject to the Service’s Privacy Policy

Doesn’t sounds like change to me….or at least change that photographers would agree to.  But let’s say you’re not a photographer, or you don’t make money from your photographs – why should you care?  Well, maybe you don’t want someone to use your personal photos for an ad without your permission.  What if that funny instagrammed photo of grandpa was used for a smoking ad, and grandpa happen to die from lung cancer?  Or it was used to see Depends undergarments?  Or they took a photo of your child and sold it to Dupont or Halliburton?  Remember it says “royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license to use the Content that you post”.  They can do any of this if you follow their words.

Having dealt with this before, I’m not a fan of giving my work away for free to mega-rich (or soon-to-be rich) companies.  Art is a commodity, as is photography, and we as photographers have watched our industry spiral out of control as business people, who realized how much money they could make off of our images, began to control the photo industry more and more.  Stock agency contracts changed with the photographers receiving less and less percentages, editorial rates stagnated and magazine contracts became another rights grab, all the while these companies made more profits that ever before.  

This all reminds me of the old line, “Everyone has learned how to make money off photography, except for photographers”.  

But I’ve refused to be a part of it in the past, and I will continue to pass on companies trying to use underhanded legal wording to get valuable photography for free.  Where has this gotten me?  Well I’ve been a full-time working pro for over twenty years, and I own all the rights to all my photographs – every single image.  Maybe my collection of work will be monetarily valuable to me or my family when I’m old or gone (I know it will be sentimentally valuable), maybe it won’t, but at least we’ll be able to control how my images are used when its time – because I own all my work and anyone who wants to use it needs written consent to license the rights from me for a fee.  See how the “r” is missing from that last word – not “free”, “fee”.  

By the way, if you want to follow me on Instagram, my user name is “arbabi” – but I might not be there for very long.