ASMP: How long have you been in business?
DH: I started as a photo assistant in about 1993, and then started shooting some of my own jobs around 1995 while I was still assisting. I made the full transition to shooting professionally in 1996.
ASMP: How long have you been an ASMP member?
DH: I only joined a few years ago (around 2008), mostly to network better with other photographers, since I didn’t really know many people in Portland after moving here. It’s actually been a really great resource for so much other stuff too, like information, lectures and seminars, and now I’m wishing I’d joined a long time ago.
ASMP: What are your photographic specialties?
DH: I love shooting portraits, fine art, and kids…oh and the occasional fashion story. Mostly, I’m just really good at interacting with people. I think that helps immensely.
ASMP: What do you consider your most valuable tool or piece of equipment?
DH: That is probably a toss-up between Photoshop and my eye, but this year I finally had to break down and buy glasses, so my eye is clearly deteriorating fast! (This could be a game-changer, for better or worse…)
ASMP: What is unique about your style/approach or what sets you and your work apart from that of other photographers?
DH: I don’t know if it’s different than other photographers’, but I think that I tend to obsess a bit when approaching a fun, unique or large project. It’s not uncommon for me to wake up in the middle of the night (or several nights in a row) and jot down story or prop or lighting ideas, draw sketches or a plan of action, then rework them over and over in my head before a shoot. I think I do this to make sure that I’m approaching things in the best possible way. And it doesn’t stop there: I will continue to finesse things during the shoot, sometimes covering many options, and then working things further with the final images during the retouching stages, over and over again, until I feel things are “right.” Of course, it’s pretty rare that I will revisit one of my older images and not want to change at least one or two things about it after it’s been published, so the tweaking never really ends.
ASMP: Please describe the processes and techniques central to the making of this work.
DH: This body of work was a pretty time-intensive project for me. It’s definitely out of my comfort zone, which I liked, as I rarely do anything this Photoshop-heavy.
It started with the client needing artwork for the walls of an apartment building his company was renovating in Salt Lake City. I was given architectural drawings of what the space was going to look like (modern, clean lines, nicely updated), as well as the new name for the building, which was going to be called “The Landing.” I’ve never set foot in the building itself, so that was all I really had to work with.
The name of the building really spoke to me and it became the source of inspiration for the body of work. I didn’t want to be too literal with the name and have everyone setting foot on a landing pad, but it was definitely the source of inspiration to put the subjects in various forms of flight and freefall.
After the project was approved, my goal was to shoot all of my landscapes with perfect light, and then shoot the talent separately, over various days, with appropriate lighting to match. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen like that.
The budget only allowed for shooting talent over one or two days (and ended up being just one day), and due to timing issues, we decided we needed to shoot the talent first. Then, the normally beautiful Oregon scenery that I had in mind for backdrops didn’t work out because the weather was solid rain and grey for February and March, which was when we were working on the project.
So, I had to improvise and I ended up chasing the light and going down to Nevada and California to shoot the bulk of the landscapes. That actually worked out really well. And fortunately I already had some images from New Zealand and Italy that were really useful too, so it became a question of finding just the right backgrounds to match the right models.
I had incredible freedom on this shoot though, and that is what made it the most fun for me.
ASMP: You shot all the models for this project during a one-day studio shoot while they were jumping on a trampoline. Please talk about your considerations in casting the models and where you found them. Also, what kind of direction did you give them on set?
DH: The models all came from agencies here in Portland. The client, the art director and I spent a few days figuring out the casting, which was influenced by the demographics of the apartment building as well as the physical abilities of each model to jump on a trampoline. Obviously we needed people who were ok jumping around for about an hour, and we were lucky enough to find a few people who were great with doing flips and face-plants on command!
As far as me directing them, I’d say I did do quite a bit of directing as I was definitely going for certain looks for each model. Some of the models were instructed to look like they were ‘floating’, and I wanted them to look graceful and delicate. The more acrobatic models were told to “really go for it” and not hold back with their flips and jumps. We used a giant industrial fan as well, to achieve a nice ‘coastal breeze’ that shows up in some of the shots.
ASMP: At what point in your shooting process did you do the road trip to shoot additional landscape images for backgrounds? How long did you spend on this trip and how many images came out of it? Did you plan the specific shoot locations in advance or did you wing it based on timing and light?
DH: I only spent about three or four days shooting the locations in Nevada and California (Death Valley, Joshua Tree, Palm Springs, La Jolla). I had most of the locations in mind ahead of time, but it was not an ideal situation, timing and lighting-wise. There was so much driving between locations and usually I would arrive at a location at either mid-day or at a time when the light would be completely in the wrong spot or creating shadows where I didn’t want shadows. That was a bit frustrating but I used it to the best of my ability. For instance, I wanted to shoot Death Valley in the early morning and late day, but due to timing, could only be there in the middle of one afternoon. I opted to go for that harsh-light look for the images shot there, which I think ended up working well. Oh, and of course since I only packed one camera body, it was inevitable that the mirror would fall out of the body two days into the trip, out in the middle of the desert! So I had to make an emergency trip to Calumet in Escondido to rent another body, which shortened my time in Joshua Tree and Palm Springs. There was a lot of improvising going on during the trip. I absolutely loved being on the road though, with a rental car, a camera and a fully-loaded iPod. There was great freedom in that whole process and it was a little hard to finally come back home to more rain and grey.
ASMP: Did you bring your archive of jumping people shots with you on the road and, if so, how often did you consult them in scouting or composing the backgrounds? Did you do any post-production while you were traveling or did you wait until your return home?
DH: I did bring a laptop with the model images, as I wanted to try to match lighting as much as possible. That was my plan, but turned out that my hands were a bit tied with the lack of time I had in each location, as well as the lack of control over sunlight and conditions. I ended up shooting as many landscapes as I could with the idea that some things will work better than others. I ended up doing all of my post-work when I got back home to Portland.
ASMP: What is the primary purpose of your image library: Raw material for composite pictures, stock imagery or both? How is it organized and what kind of archiving/ keywording systems do you use?
DH: Oh man, next question…this is a little embarrassing.
I wish I had interned at a public library or something as a teenager; I’d be so much better organized today. I’m working on getting a better system though more out of necessity as images are definitely multiplying at a rate I’m not so comfortable with. But for now, it’s lots and lots of external hard drives backing things up, and using that handy search feature on my Mac!
ASMP: How much post-production time was spent on each individual image and generally speaking how many elements were combined in each piece? Did you do all the post-production work yourself or did you have assistance with this aspect of the project?
DH: I did do all of the post-processing work myself. Again, it came down to budget and it just wasn’t a feasible option to outsource the retouching for a project of this scale. The image files are massive and really slowed down my system just to open a file. Images would take about four or five minutes just to open or re-save. And I can’t even begin to imagine how many hours I spent retouching these images (in addition to the images that never saw the light of day because something was just a little ‘off’ when it came right down to it). Though the image compositions are simple — there is one landscape and one model in each shot — these images are about 5 feet across in the apartment building, so there is no wiggle-room for clumsy retouching. I also found that trying to achieve that ‘natural’ transition of subject into background proved to be really tricky. All of my models were tack-sharp when I shot them on the trampoline (f/16 at 1/250 of a second), but when I dropped them into the backgrounds like that, it just looked really goofy and unreal, so there was a lot of blurring and softening of edges and bodies to create the illusion that they were actually moving. That was a first for me; usually I’m trying to sharpen soft images!
The post-work was a grueling process that literally took a couple of months, when all was said and done. Though I wanted to pull my hair out a few times, I think it was a really good process to constantly put the images up for review to the art director and client and make changes as needed to get the final results.
ASMP: All told, how many images did you create for this client and at what size are they presented? What kind of output process did you use and how are the images framed?
DH: The final pieces are dye sublimation prints, floated between glass and steel and mounted with a stainless-steel rod system. There are seventeen images throughout the building, some measuring up to 5 feet across.
ASMP: Did you have any past experience in doing commissioned fine art pieces like these? If so, please tell us how you applied that experience to your current project. If not, please talk about any research you did to educate yourself about the parameters of the project.
DH: No, this project was really the first of its kind. I’m definitely interested in doing more now.
ASMP: How did you first connect with your client for this project? Was it someone you had worked with previously or did they learn about you through word of mouth, or through the Internet?
DH: My brother Jay (www.studiolaunchpad.com) was the creative director on the project. He was hired to do a new logo and basically a branding redesign on the lobby, the entrance and some of the areas around the building. When it was decided that the building lacked any sort of artwork on the walls, he recommended me to the client.
ASMP: You mention that you initially spent a couple of weeks discussing various directions you could take for this project with the client. What were some of the other directions discussed? Do you expect to try out any of the other ideas you came up with in future projects?
DH: Originally we talked about shooting ‘safer,’ more fine-art things like plant and cactus still lives. Then, that evolved into shooting in various scenic locations around Utah and the Southwest — deserts, snowy mountains, rock formations, that kind of thing. All seemed like fun ideas, but I wanted to do something a bit less traditional and also something that you couldn’t just tap into a stock library and find. And quite honestly, during the process it hit me — why wouldn’t this client just purchase these scenic landscapes through a stock library and avoid travel costs, weather days and so on? So for me, a big part of my push to do this particular project was derived from not wanting to lose the job to existing stock photography.
ASMP: Please tell us about your negotiations with the client for this project. How did you arrive at an overall price? What kind of line items or cost breakdowns were involved? Do you retain rights to license the images elsewhere? Do you have a written agreement stating how long the pictures will hang?
DH: That was a tricky one. This client has never really dealt with photographers or has never had an idea of what to expect with budgeting a project like this. He is the quintessential businessman with the bottom line. It was also a bit tricky since we initially had lots of different directions we could take and none of those directions were easy to accurately estimate how much he could expect to pay, as a lot of travel would be involved, unknown locations, weather days and so on. Those initial estimates were really open-ended and covered many factors, mostly in my favor. The results were some very high estimates to sort of show worst-case scenarios.
When I first approached the client with an estimate, his reaction was clearly sticker shock, which is what I expected. But after regrouping and discussing things with him a bit more, I was eventually able to get a budget from him, which helped me to determine if it was going to be worth my time and effort to do this project. At that point, the estimate became less of a priority for the client, as his budget was the driving force. It was sort of a “Here’s what I can pay you, but that is my maximum budget” kind of arrangement. He clearly didn’t want any surprises along the way or additional fees, so I had to be absolutely sure this would be worth my time, and I had to think of all the possible situations that could potentially make it a nightmare for me and weigh that into the process. I knew it wouldn’t be the most lucrative job I’ve ever taken, but this was a really unique opportunity to create a large body of work that I was really excited about, and to push myself creatively. In the end, that is what drove me to take on the project, much more so than the money.
I retain the rights to publish the photos, however it gets a bit trickier since we are using agency models. The contracts the models have signed are limited to the apartment usage (which kept us within the budget), so if I wanted to sell these images as stock, for instance, I would need to re-negotiate the terms with the modeling agencies and deal with the compensation on my own terms. In terms of how long the prints can hang in the building, the building has a 5-year term, with an option to renew. The prints can come down before that period, however, if they decide they would like to change them out at some point.
ASMP: Once the project was completed and the images were installed in the space, what efforts did you make to get the word out about this project and/or market yourself? Please talk about any and all efforts you make to promote your business.
DH: This has been the first thing I’ve done to promote this project, other than posting on my Facebook page. The prints have only been up about a month, I believe.
ASMP: Besides a commercial business branded under your name, you also have a business called Milkbottle Studio specializing in kid’s portraits. When and how did you come up with this branding strategy and how has this aspect of your business been received? What is your favorite age to photograph?
DH: I’ve found that I’m really great at shooting kids. But, my commercial Web site was getting so polluted with so many different styles of photography, it was getting really confusing to commercial clients and families that wanted portraits done. I decided that I needed a bit of a distinction between my commercial work and my more family-oriented work. Creating Milkbottle Studio has helped with that distinction. I just launched that at the beginning of this year, so it’s still getting off the ground, but it’s been really well received so far.
As far as the name ‘Milkbottle’ goes, when I was coming up with names, I knew I wanted something clean, fresh and memorable, something moms could relate to since they would make up about 95 percent of the clientele to potentially contact me. I also wanted something that could give me a super-clean logo and brand.
I would say my favorite age group to photograph would be 5 to 8 year olds. When they are present in the moment and happy to be there, they can be the most fun to shoot.
ASMP: Do you find there’s any cross-pollination or referrals that happen between the different aspects of your businesses? Do you cross promote your other business identity to clients you work with in one specific area?
DH: Absolutely. Most of my commercial clients and friends have kids, so I definitely do the crossover referral thing when it’s appropriate. That is one of the reasons why I took on this other business model. There will always be kids around, even if the commercial photography world experiences budget cuts and changes every year.
ASMP: Has the Landing Apartments project yielded new client contacts or inquiries about future projects? Has it increased your profile as an artist/photographer where the building is located in Salt Lake City, in your hometown of Portland or anywhere else?
DH: Not as of yet, as it’s such a new baby, but I have my fingers crossed that it will generate some new exposure soon.
ASMP: Please talk about the fine art aspect of this image series. Do you have an interest in pursuing this aspect of the marketplace and, if so, have you shown this work around to galleries or fine art consultants? What kind of input or response have you received about this to date?
DH: No. I’ve done one quasi-gallery show in my career, because I’m sort of shy about showing my work when it comes right down to it. Deep down I’d love to get it out there, but I still am my own toughest critic and that gets in the way a lot. My goal in all of this is to break through that fear I have been holding onto for so long.
ASMP: Contrary to a lot of ASMP members, you arrived at still photography from a film background. Is there a way in which cinematic thinking helped you conceive this project for the Landing Apartments?
DH: In a lot of cases when I approach a still photograph, I take a cinematic approach. Sometimes I’m more successful than at other times, but I love when a still image looks like it’s pulled from a film or it has some sort of narrative behind it, whether implied or in the literal sense. So yes, in the Landing series, I’m sure I subconsciously took the cinematic approach, especially knowing the images were going to be displayed very large, almost like a small movie screen.
ASMP: Please tell us more about your transition from moviemaking to stills. Did you make the switch while you were still in school or afterwards? What were the most significant reasons for your switch? Did the still photography shift from analog to digital influence your decision-making or allow more freedom in creating images?
DH: I studied film and video production in college several years ago when people were still actually shooting film and video. Shortly after graduating, I moved out to Los Angeles to “become a director,” like so many others. Looking back I realize that I probably should have had that as an ultimate goal rather than an immediate goal, but in that process, I landed a job with a music video production company cataloging videotapes. It was a fine enough job, but I could tell there was a huge amount of distance between my dream and reality. Plus, I was pretty put off by the film industry early on for various reasons, so I just found my heart wasn’t in it as much as I had previously thought. That is when the light bulb went off in my head to put a focus on still photography, since the two were closely related but stills were so much more accessible for a broke guy just out of college looking to change career paths. Though I had an enormous amount to learn about the photo world, this became the pivotal moment where I began assisting photographers and really learning all the aspects of the photography business. Until recently, I have not wanted to delve back into the motion picture world. I think I’m starting to get the bug back.
ASMP: One of your blog posts from 2010 says, “iPhone, why can’t I just use you on real photo shoots?” Have you arrived there yet? Why or why not?
DH: No, not yet. Unfortunately, so far my clients all seem to want high-res, ‘professional’ grade images, as opposed to the more random quality you get with a camera phone. Hopefully that will change soon as the resolution and optical quality continues to improve.
ASMP: Please tell us more about your blog. It looks like you haven’t blogged much since making several posts in 2010. In those posts you come across as an interesting, easygoing and creative type. Is there a business reason why you’re not posting as much now?
DH: I started my blog last year and was half-serious about it, using it more as an experiment. I was never really thrilled with the layout I’d chosen and the clumsiness of the interface (mostly due to my lack of understanding and not delving into more options), so after a few posts, I got a complacent and sort of let it slide. I’ve since learned that a lot of art and creative directors solely look at photographer’s blogs when searching out talent, so that reason alone should get me motivated to keep the blog going.