Being open to unexpected results

Last week a group of us ventured out to the Salton Sea for a photo shoot. Having been there once before and seen the desolation and decay I was excited to add a touch of beauty to the scene with my models. I had seen images of an abandoned motel near the Salton Sea and knew this would be a great place as it offered a variety of location options. I figured since were were passing by we’d also stop at the dinosaurs in Cabazon for a quick shoot on our way to the Salton Sea. Even though I had allotted plenty of time for hair, makeup, wardrobe and lunch I hadn’t planned on traffic getting out of LA (at 2PM) being so bad. I also didn’t allot for another 20 minutes for hair and makeup final touches when we got to Cabazon.

This loss of about 45 minutes changed my plans for the the rest of the day. By the time we got to the “abandoned motel” we only had about 20 minutes before the sun set behind the mountains. Turns out that this famous abandoned motel had since been turned into a museum and community center.  I had brought my models to the only modern establishment in the area.  The ideas and shots I had planned in my head were now thrown out the window and I had to make-do with the light and location I had available. There was still a free-standing shack that would offer me some of the decay I was looking for and the shore of the lake offered some great options.

When I was shopping for wardrobe I came across two white sun dresses that reminded me of a baptism scene in The Book of Mormon which I had seen the weekend before.  After the sun dipped below the mountains there was about ten minutes of this incredible light. The lake was dead calm and the tones reflected in the water from the sky seamlessly blended together for an ethereal quality. These are the only shots that I had in my head that came to fruition.

The rest of the images from the Salton Sea were nothing like what I had planned but they turned out amazing. I also had lofty goals for a video but when the clock is ticking stills take precedence. I didn’t shoot any video after Cabazon.  A big thanks for out to Sura Radcliffe, Stacey Ellis, Claire Dellamar and Sarah Roberts for their work.

Hair: Sura Radcliffe - Studio VII
Hair & Makeup: Stacey Ellis - Ellis Salon
Model: Claire Dellamar
Model: Sarah Roberts


Cabazon Dinosaurs

Cabazon Dinosaurs – Sarah Roberts in Forever XXI

Cabazon Dinosaurs

Cabazon Dinosaurs – Claire Dellamar in Forever XXI

Salton Sea

Salton Sea

Salton Sea

Salton Sea

Salton Sea

Salton Sea

Salton Sea

Salton Sea

Salton Sea

Salton Sea

Sparklers in the dark

Sparklers in the dark

Tourist Trap from Chuck Espinoza on Vimeo.


Did I just talk myself out of a job?

It’s been a busy week. I’ve had four requests for estimates and they all have the potential to turn into real jobs. I get a fair about of requests for quotes but a lot of those calls are just people looking for a dollar amount. Their decision is largely based on budget. Quality, style, the right photographer are all trumped by the all mighty dollar. This week I had conversations with all of of these potential clients and even though all the conversations were promising, I could have talked myself out of a job in every case.

Job one is head shots for an actor. I was referred by a friend and fellow photographer. I’m always willing to help a friend and referral but the reality is that I’m not an “actor’s head shot” photographer.  Our conversation started with me asking some questions about what she was looking for and her goals for the images. During our conversation I was honest with her, I don’t specialize in actor head shots. That’s the truth. There are a ton of great head shot photographers that live and breathe actor’s head shots. If she felt she needed that type of experience then I’d rather her find one of those photographers and be happy rather than leaving our shoot feeling like her money was not well spent.  A rising tide lifts all boats right? If she’s happy with hiring a professional photographer she’s likely to tell her friends and do it again.  During our conversation it came out that she had already had two bad experiences with head shot photographers and now was searching for a photographer based on style.  She liked my style, she could afford my rate and the conversation ended with promise.

Job two was to shoot a static image of a furniture manufacturer’s building. They found me via google. They have been using an architectural rendering on their site in lieu of a photo. The owner thought a photo of the building would be better than the sterile and slightly fake rendering. The sad truth is that the rendering would be better than my photo. It was created with perfection in mind. A photo brings back the ugly reality of shooting an industrial building; there are power lines, imperfect landscaping, changes in color of the concrete, painted lines in the parking lot and other unsightly items that will need to be addressed. During the initial emails I was honest about those realities. This honesty, like the first scenario, is about managing client expectations. My client needs to know ahead of time that those ugly powerlines will be in my photo unless I remove them in photoshop. They need to know that there is only so much I can do to make the photo different from the rendering. Despite (or maybe because of) my honesty they had me in to talk about the shoot. Turns out my concerns were not only noted but voiced by the graphic designer that was in charge of hiring the photographer. She mentioned that another photographer that they asked for a quote didn’t mention any of these pitfalls.

Job three is a look-book shoot for an upcoming fashion line. Six models, on-location lifestyle photography plus catalog and product shots. Like every other email I get when someone asks how much I charge my response is to ask questions.

How long will it take? Where are we shooting? What do you expect or want as a result of the shoot?

During my conversation with the fashion client I brought up a lot of  points other photographer’s hadn’t mentioned. Once again my honesty and willingness to help with the process was noted. Did I just give her advice and ideas to take to the next photographer so that he can under bid me? Maybe, but I don’t care. If she doesn’t want to hire me then she’s not the right client for me.

Job four is for a client that’s asked me for estimates on numerous occasions but our schedules have never lined up. The initial email described the day as eight hours and “mostly portrait shots”.  Once again I asked a lot of questions about the shoot. How many subjects, how many locations, what kind of portraits, how many images will be retouched and delivered? Without those answers I’m doing my client and myself a disservice. Turns out that the job involves three locations, twelve subjects, two magazines, environmental and static portraits and by estimate will take twelve hours before I even sit down at  a computer.

My job as a professional is to use my experience to help my clients. Even if these people haven’t hired me yet I want them to be informed about what I do, what I can’t do and what is to be expected if they hire me. With the information upfront it helps to make sure everyone is on the same page and that we both are happy with the results.

Since I stared this draft I booked and shot job number one. The shoot turned out well. I may have talked myself out of job number two (industrial building) but I’d rather them not hire me than hire me and be displeased. They thanked me and vowed to keep me in mind for future projects. The fashion client is a maybe and so far radio silence from client four. 


Shooting medium format

I get it. I finally see what all the fuss is about. I got the film back from my first shoot and I love the quality of the Mamiya files. I say files because despite me shooting film I’m paying for the lab to develop and provide large Hi Res scans. The scans have a beautiful soft quality. Because of the softness, skin looks milky and soft; so much so that skin looks good without retouching.

The following images were shot during a shoot with Claire Dellamar. Since it was my first time out with the Mamiya I used the 5D to get me to a place where I was confident that I had a shot worthy of film. When it’s all said and done each shot on the Mamiya costs me ~$3.50. In the grand scheme a couple bucks isn’t much money but at $35 a roll the figures start to grow pretty quickly. Each roll of 120mm film on;y gives me ten shots.

With Claire on the stairs I knew I had something special. The light was great, Claire looked great and I had found a rhythm and knew it was worth shooting film. The downfall is that because of my inexperience with the Mamiya coupled with the manual features of the camera my rhythm came to a screeching halt. I have to stop, take a meter reading, take out the dark slide, bend over and look down instead of at Claire, focus manually, cock the shutter, compose the shot, double check focus and then take the shot.  That’s a lot of steps for one shot. In that same amount of time I could have taken a handful of shots with my 5D.

I’m feel like I’m cheating by using the 5D. When I look at all ten shots I feel that the roll was a success. Had I gone out with a roll of film and only had ten opportunities to get great shots I wonder if the proof sheet would have looked so great. (my feeling is no).  Then again had I started shooting medium format years ago I would be burning through $10/pack polaroid instead  of the 120 film.  Digital has provided me with so many opportunities to learn and make incredible photos. In the eleven years I have been shooting on a DSLR I’ve shot hundreds of thousands of frames. In addition to shooting that much I’ve also sat in front of a computer and reviewed each and every image and leaned from my experience. If I were paying $35 for each roll of film I wouldn’t be the photographer I am today.

I’m enjoying the Mamiya. It’s giving me a fresh outlook on photography and it’s motivating to create.

*Processing and scanning by Richard Photo Lab.

Mamiya RZ67 and Kodat TX400


Claire Shot with Canon 5D Mark III, default black and White conversion in Adobe Photoshop CC

Shot with Canon 5D Mark III, default black and White conversion in Adobe Photoshop CC


The first three shots were taken in the studio before we left for the location. I wanted to try using the Mamiya with my strobes and for the first shot the flash didn’t fire. Boom, I just threw $3.50 in the trash.


Kodak 400TX proof sheet – shot with Mamiya RZ67


These images show the huge difference in quality when you zoom in.





Kodak 400TX

Kodak 400TX


The first roll of film

It’s been about ten years since I’ve shot film. The last time was during a surf trip to Costa Rica where I used an underwater 35mm camera. I have to admit I was anxious. I wanted to see the difference between my 5D Mark III files and the Mamiya. Since I’d never used the Mamiya I wasn’t sure what I would see as a result. Up to this point I had burned through a pack of polaroid film with horrible results. I was afraid the film would look the same.

My first outings with the camera were not productive. I only shot one frame on two different occasions which were forced and didn’t turn out well. When I started encountering the issues with the polaroid back I began to wonder if the camera had issues so I made an effort to shoot through the roll and have it processed to make sure the camera worked.

When I got the email that the film was ready and the scans were available to download I couldn’t resist accessing the ftp via my iPhone. I was pleasantly surprised to see great exposures and solid results. I love the tones and the creamy, rich feeling of the images. I’m still not sure if this is the result of the camera or shooting a roll of film that expired in 2006 (I got a bunch of unused film when I bought the camera).

Even though it’s typically hard to get them to sit still I managed to rope my kids into sitting for eight frames. The following were shot on Ilford optima 400 using my Mamiya RZ67.

Charlie – Ilford Optima 400 on Mamiya RZ67


Grace and Charlie


Learning to shoot with film

I recently purchased a Mamiya RZ67, a five pound, 30 year old camera that shoots a 6×7 negative on 120 film.  A few weeks ago I had my first venture out with the camera and it was an entirely different experience. And that new experience is why I bought an overly heavy, 30 year old camera that shoots film.

I booked a shoot with one of my favorite models knowing she could bring what I needed. The experience was completely foreign. Besides having a waste level view finder with the image reversed ,the big catch is that each roll of 120 film only has ten exposures. I had to make them count. I bought the Mamiya to change the pace of my photography. I wanted to slow down and my wish was granted. Going from shooting hundreds of frames to 10 exposures is an entirely different speed.

I have to be honest; I also brought my DSLR to the shoot and used it as my main camera. I still shot hundreds of frames but when I felt like I was on to something special, be it a location or light or a mood I’d pull out the Mamiya. Despite knowing that the shoot was a success I’m anxiously awaiting word that the film has been processed to find out if the Mamiya was as successful. The following is a photo I made with my 5D and one of the reason’s I called Claire to be my first model using the Mamiya. 

Claire Dellamar – shot with a canon 5D Mark III and 50mm F1.2 lens.



The casting process

Since I started working with models in ~2003 I’ve used a number of methods and sites to look for new talent. I’ve used sites like OneModelPlace, Modelmayhem, LACasting, Craigslist and even Instagram. Each time I post a casting there is alway someone that stands out because of how wrong they are for the submission. As the casting process progresses I see more faux pas; and I see them over and over. So if you are a model or an actor this is to help you in the casting process.

1. Read the casting. This seems so simple it’s stupid. I know that booking acting and modeling jobs is often based on the law of averages. The more times you submit, the more auditions you get, the more castings you respond to the more likely a job will materialize.  This is true, but if the casting is for a brunette that’s between 5’8″ and 5’11 and you don’t fit in the category then don’t submit. Yes I know you are 5’8″ in heels and that for the right amount of money you would be glad to dye your hair but what your submission says to me is I DIDN’T READ THE CASTING.

2. Don’t lie.  A production designer recently recounted story of how an actor lied and it backfired. The role was a window washer to be sitting on a window-washing scaffold 40 feet in the air eating a burger. It was a national commercial so naturally the actor lied about his ability and comfort level being high in the air on a scaffold that was moving and shaking. As the scaffold with the talent, cinematographer and camera assist began to rise, the actor freaked at about 12 feet and couldn’t get past his fear. Thanks for playing please fill out your time card and go home. In addition to wasting people’s time he cost the production company thousands of dollars in wasted production costs. Time IS money.

3. Act professionally. Another suggestion that seems to without saying.  I encounter this so frequently that it makes me want to scream. A lot of actors and models don’t consider themselves a business or a product. But you are. You are a business and should conduct yourself professionally. And just like your desk-jockey friends that act professional when they send cover letters with their resumes, come prepared to job interviews and  communicate in a professional way with prospective employers you should do the same.

  • Make sure your email reply information is correct and accurate.  If your email is and your name information is not included with your email how will I know who you are.
  • Be professional when talking on the phone and sending emails.  At this point I’m not your friend nor are we friendly yet. So treat me with the same professional respect you would when you apply for any other job.
  • Come prepared. Clothes pressed, makeup ready, lines memorized, portfolio in hand. A few weeks ago a model showed up 30 minutes early, had all her wardrobe balled up in a bag, then asked to do her makeup and hair in the studio. Instructions were to come hair and makeup ready with her clothes pressed.
4. Invest in your business. You would be shocked at the level of photos some actors and models use. In the casting process I have seen thousands of horrible images that should not be used in a professional manner. In Los Angeles professional photography is  accessible and generally affordable because there are so many of us. Spending the same amount of money you would make in a day’s work is a fair investmenet that will pay off in the long run. Want better photography and more options invest more money. Hire a makeup artist or hair stylist. Buy a new outfit. Hire the photographer you want based on their work not their price.

 . Use your photos wisely.  On the main website I use for castings my view is 24 thumbnail images per a page. Each person’s photo is about 1.5″ wide x 2″ tall.  At that size Grace’s head is 1/3 of an inch in the dance photo.  Make sure that main image is great. If you don’t look amazing I won’t even bother to look at other images. I know that it costs more money to host additional images on LACasting and other similar sites, but if your job depends on a photo don’t you think it’s a good investment to have multiple images?  (see #4) 


  • Use the size and space wisely.
  • Use only professional photos
  • Pay for and use multiple photos in your portfolio/site

6. The Internet is forever. Another great feature on the large casting sites is my ability to make notes that stick with your profile.  I noticed that a handful of models would submit to every casting I posted but then when I responded or asked for more information they wouldn’t respond. Eventually I started noting who those models were and ignored them on future castings. When you don’t follow the above mentioned suggestions we remember.

It’s simple, if you are an actor, model or any related freelance creative you are a business, now go act like one.