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Adjusting The F STOP

Posted on: December 6th, 2011 by: Zack Seckler

© 2008 Zack Seckler

Five years ago I was at a turning point in my photography career. I was transitioning from photojournalism to commercial and fine art photography. I had plenty of ambition, but no roadmap.

I read about lighting, production, marketing and everything else I thought I would need to know, but when I looked at the work of top photographers in the field I realized it was a quantum leap from book knowledge to the image on the page.

Who did this amazing work? How did they begin their careers? How did they move from inspiration to image?

I wanted to talk to these photographers, find out firsthand how they created their images and launched their careers. I realized that if I had these questions, then many others probably did too. The idea for The F STOP was born.

Fast forward a few years and I feel like a mountain climber looking back at the ground he’s covered. Fifty-seven interviews with the best photographers on the planet; dozens of interviews with industry leaders, hundreds of thousands of visitors; it’s been quite a trip. I’ve learned a lot, and I hope you have too.

Running a publication like this is about passion, not profits. There are certainly payoffs; connections made, doors opened. But the real rewards come from connecting with great people who do remarkable work. Visiting the homes and studios of your favorite photographers, getting to look them in the eye, ask questions, make friendships, these have been memorable, formative experiences, and I’m grateful for every one.

Now, I’m taking a step back. I’m not able to give The F STOP the time it deserves. I’m looking to partner with someone who has a passion for the work, who has ambition, curiosity, and a love of good photography.

The search begins today! So, if you know someone who might be a good fit for an editorial role at The F STOP email me: info@thefstopmag.com

With the help of a new partners I hope to see this publication thrive for many years to come.

Zack Seckler
Editor & Publisher

Behind-the-Scenes Videos — Take Two

Posted on: June 20th, 2011 by: Zack Seckler

There’s a new twist on the ubiquitous photo shoot behind-the-scenes video and it looks less like something you’d see on YouTube and more like something you’d see on MTV (well, back when MTV played music videos). F STOP photographer Michael Levin recently showed me a stylized  short film of him shooting on the south coast of Japan. It’s stylized, it’s slick and it’s a far cry from the BTS videos that only photo geeks can relate to. At close to 75K views in just two weeks of being released it also seems to be doing a damn good job at introducing Levin’s work to lots of eyeballs. I asked Michael a few quick questions about this project; our brief interview follows below.



What was your goal in having this film made?

The film was actually the result of another project I was working on. A production company needed footage of me at work in Japan for a documentary and that’s when I decided to contact Brad Kremer. So my original intentions for the video grew into something much more as we stared filming. Brad recognized while we were shooting that the footage might be used in a couple of different ways, one of them being a short video set to music. So this is the first video in a trilogy of projects we’re working on right now. The video has provided me a platform to help expose my work to a larger audience. I think with some creative marketing I’ll be able to promote the video in areas that are photo centric based websites or magazines.

Why did you want it to be different from other behind-the-scenes video?

Well, I don’t think this is a true behind the scenes video in the traditional sense. I really think it’s a story about a day in the life of a photographer at work. It captures some of the small moments that i encounter yet isn’t really revealing in a “oh that’s how they do it” way.  After studying my photographs Brad came up with some interesting ideas on how he might want to tell this story and we ran with it. It became clear that neither of us wanted a straightforward video of me standing in front of some  picturesque scene, that’s not what my work is about. From the onset  Brad wanted to film me in ways that took my photographic style into consideration and he tried (and succeeded) to incorporate those elements into his filmic style. I think the scene at the 3:01 point demonstrates his ability to place me within the frame of something that I might shoot, yet  I was shooting something completely different. So in a way he’s taking a voyeuristic approach to filming me and I’ve unknowingly been placed within one of my own photographs. Because of the technique I use for my photographs I’m often in one location for a number of hours at a time. I was concerned that this might not be that interesting to a videographer as there’s really nothing visually dynamic going on. This proved to be quite the opposite as Brad clearly was able to make unremarkable scenes into something much more.

Why did you think Brad Kremer would be a good fit for this project?

I really enjoyed a short film he did called “Hayaku” shot entirely in Japan. I’ve visited those places that he filmed in a number of times and I really thought he had captured them in a spectacular way. It was clear to me that he also shared a true fascination with the Japan that exists outside of the big cities. The other factor was that he frequently uses time-lapse photography to create video and I thought this would be the perfect style for capturing me at work as I stood there for a number of hours in one spot.

How did you convince him to come on board?

I sent him an email basically outlining the project I was working on. We had some back and forth dialogue and within a month we were having beers and sushi in Japan.

How long did it take to create the film?

We did all the filming over 5 really long days in the beginning of January 2010. Brad and I met up in Kyushu, Japan and as soon as he arrived we started discussing concepts. Once Brad was back in the States he started assembling the rough edits over the next two months. During that time we had numerous phone discussions about the sequencing and clip choices as there was a lot of footage to go through. He then worked with his team coloring and editing the final footage to a song by Röyksopp which I think worked out quite well.By the end of May the final edit was completed, so about 4 months from start to finish.

How have your results been so far?

Once the video was completed we both realized that this was something really unique and we were both proud of it.  I’ve seen videos of photographers at work before before but nothing like what Brad had come up with.  Brad posted it on his Vimeo page and it really took off and has received considerable attention and favourable praise from around the globe. It’s been viewed over 40,000 times in less than two weeks which I think is very promising.

Working Backwards. Breaking Rules.

Posted on: April 25th, 2011 by: Zack Seckler

I receive emails from people asking about the work I do as a professional photographer (zackseckler.com) so I’m going to talk about a recent shoot I did that has a cool story behind it. Here it goes…

Season's Greetings. © 2010 Zack Seckler

As a general rule in conceptual photography, photographers first have an idea for an image and then they go out and shoot it. Duh! But sometimes an opportunity presents itself and the photographer, in this case me, needs to break the rules.

A few months back I ventured out with just a camera and tripod looking to capture the fleeting beauty of fall. During my mini-adventure I came across a tree with a very unique look. It was indecently exposed, so to speak.

I proceeded to shoot my new deciduous friend from different angles, with different lenses and at different times throughout the afternoon. I didn’t know quite what I wanted to do with the image at that point but I knew I wanted to do something. I also knew I wanted to composite other elements into the image to elevate it beyond a standalone shot of the tree and turn it into a more personalized conceptual piece. Needless to say, I got a ton of shots. Lots of shots in this case equaled lots of options.

I churned through a bunch of ideas and settled on one of transforming the existence of fall itself, the changing of the seasons, into a man-made occurrence. It’s an over-the-top expression of how much impact us humans have on the environment today.

In order to make the concept clear, and do so without too much visual clutter, I settled on the idea of having a worker with an industrial vacuum cleaner sucking up the leaves. Many other ideas wouldn’t have read as well or were too costly to produce.

First step: pre-production. I purposefully picked an idea that was simple to execute so this part was super simple. I ordered the props I would need; a wooden ladder and industrial vacuum (thank you Home Depot return policy). I held a casting for talent. I arranged for several wardrobe options and ended up going with a workman outfit to match the color palette of the background plate. I needed to duplicate the lighting conditions on the day I shot the tree so I checked with Al Roker and he booked us for a day with 100% sunshine.

Image composited into background. © 2010 Zack Seckler

Next: shooting. Compositing an element into a shot after the fact is difficult so I had to be detail oriented; ensuring the man on the ladder would fit seamlessly with the background plate. My camera settings were set exactly to what I used for the original background image capture. I shot with a Canon 1DS Mark III and a 24-70mm L lens set to F/8. I positioned the talent on the ladder at the same distance from where I was when I shot the tree. I then placed him in a ton of different positions and played with the angle ever so slightly to get a lot of options. This was critical to ensure I get a perfect match with the ambient lighting in the original background. For lighting, I wanted the ambient light to be the star so I simply used a strobe positioned just above the camera to fill in the shadows.

Finally: Photoshop magic. 1) Combined the composite image with the background plate. 2) Add shadow. 3) Add leaf effect. 4) Remove distracting background crap. 5) Add rung to the ladder (it was a bit short). 6) Grade the image. Done.

I thought all my hard work might be well suited for a humorous take on the “Season’s Greetings” card. I sent out that card and entered the image into a couple of competitions. I’ve recently found out it will be published in the 2011 Communication Arts Photo Annual and has been Chosen for American Photography 27! I’m very honored.

In a perfect world, where talent, props and equipment are available at a moments notice, this could have easily been done in-camera but sometimes it’s necessary to do things backwards. Sometimes its fun to break the rules.


Just Foolin’

Posted on: April 1st, 2011 by: Zack Seckler

If your fresh out of pranks today and just want to share a chuckle check out Awkward Stock Photos. You’ll find some truly priceless pieces here if you scroll through the pages.

Via @ramintalaie