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Adventures in Arch-itecture

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Adventures in Arch-itecture

Dick McDonald in New Hampshire. © Greg Benson

Dick McDonald in New Hampshire. © Greg Benson

Recently, I went to see the movie “The Founder,” starring Michael Keaton as Ray Kroc, the man who turned a California roadside burger joint into the worldwide fast food franchise known as McDonald’s. Kroc expanded the Speedee Service System started by brothers Dick and Mac McDonald beyond their wildest dreams.

I had the opportunity to meet and photograph Dick McDonald on an assignment for the McDonald’s Corporation’s in-house magazine. Dick was the person who had dreamed up the Golden Arches, so photographing him in front of that iconic logo was the only choice!

Bright lights, big city.  57th Street, Midtown Manhattan.

Bright lights, big city.  57th Street, Midtown Manhattan.

On assignments with Mickey D’s, I traveled to more than 30 states capturing the architecture of the company in the country, the suburbs and in cities. And always—there were always those golden arches attesting to Dick McDonald’s original vision.

A McDonald’s in rural New England or Virginia Beach?  Exactly!

A McDonald’s in rural New England or Virginia Beach?  Exactly!

I learned a lot from my work photographing fast food restaurants. During one shoot I had to climb onto the roof to replace burnt out light bulbs. (We didn’t have the luxury of Photoshop retouching then.) And wow, that’s when I learned to appreciate pre-planning, calling ahead and asking managers to check a list of things that could derail a shoot.

Being an advocate for my client’s needs while on location made my crew, the workers in individual locations and my clients happy with our results. And ensured that we “got the shot.”

I learned to make the plain and ordinary look exciting. Not every building is the Taj Mahal, so knowing how to bring drama into any architectural image is an important part of my craft. Great lighting, smart angles and the talent in finding the perfect p.o.v. were my tools.

I understood trusting my instincts. I was secure knowing that I had nailed the shot before flying a thousand miles back home—something absolutely critical in those non-digital days.

During this work, my portraiture skills increased as I worked with lots and lots of people—both in planning and scheduling, as well as having them in front of my camera.

And, let’s face it, I learned to appreciate the occasional Big Mac with fries and a Coke.

More dining destinations:

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So It Goes

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So It Goes

Kurt Vonnegut at 1980 Cornell Daily Sun dinner, 5/15/1980.
Kurt Vonnegut at 1980 Cornell Daily Sun dinner, 5/15/1980.

Today, November 11, is the birth date of Kurt Vonnegut. Born in 1922, he died in 2007.

Like Vonnegut, I attended Cornell University and was a member of the Cornell Daily Sun newspaper staff. I have fond memories of photographing for the Sun. One day per week I would be on assignment – shooting during the day, developing film and making prints in the darkroom at night, usually until midnight. The next morning I would wake up and see my photographs in the newspaper that was delivered to my doorstep.

Vonnegut attended Cornell in the 1940s, and he served as managing editor of the newspaper. The year I graduated from Cornell, Vonnegut spoke to the newspaper staff at our annual end-of-year banquet. I had the opportunity to photograph him during the banquet and I took this candid black-and-white close-up of him.

I have always liked Vonnegut ‘s fiction. He’s a great storyteller and his books make me laugh out loud and cry at the failings of his all too human characters. Many of his stories, though simple on the surface, actually deal with life’s biggest questions. That wisdom was on display the night I photographed him at the banquet, May 3, 1980. His speech that night ended with the following words, a reflection of his time at the Sun:

I was happiest when I was all alone — and it was very late at night, and I was walking up the hill after having helped to put The Sun to bed.

All the other university people, teachers and students alike, were asleep. They had been playing games all day long with what was known about real life. They had been repeating famous arguments and experiments, and asking one another the sorts of hard questions real life would be asking by and by.

We on The Sun were already in the midst of real life. By God, if we weren’t! We had just designed and written and caused to be manufactured yet another morning newspaper for a highly intelligent American community of respectable size — yes, and not during the Harding administration, either, but during 1940, ’41 and ’42, with the Great Depression ending, and with World War Two well begun.

I am an atheist, as some of you have gleaned from my writings. But I have to tell you that, as I trudged up the hill so late at night and all alone, I knew that God Almighty approved of me.

— Kurt Vonnegut ’44

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Swim Suit Optional

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Swim Suit Optional

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As part of my series of portraits of movers and shakers of the building world, I photographed Chad Ochnich and Jeff Mattiola of Bluetree Landscaping. Chad and Jeff work often with EP Henry’s paver products, a frequent client of mine.

When I proposed having them pose waist deep in the pool wearing their work clothes, they were willing to jump right in. As I wrote in my Designer Dog blog, when I shoot portraits I like to show my subjects doing what they love, and also depict them in a playful way.

Chad and Jeff are natural partners in their business. Chad spends much of his time out in the field directing day-to-day operations. Jeff is the behind-the-scenes office manager and salesperson.

They have recently added swimming pool construction to their landscaping business.

Overall view of the Bluetree pool featuring lots of EP Henry pavers.

Overall view of the Bluetree pool featuring lots of EP Henry pavers.

Greg exploring potential camera angles.

Greg exploring potential camera angles.

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Designer Dog

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Designer Dog

Floss Barber and Dorothy.

Floss Barber and Dorothy.

As part of my series of portraits of movers and shakers of the building world, I photographed interior designer, Floss Barber at her offices. Her dog, Dorothy, became a key co-star in the photo.

When photographing people, I want the environment in the photograph to show the person, their activities and interests.

Floss runs an interior design studio, Floss Barber, Inc. and her office reflects her passions and focus. Large ceramic sculptures, by the artist, Robert M. Younger, stand tall by the conference room as if they had just materialized from a Greek archeological dig.

Pets become an integral part of our lives and Dorothy was always at the office. Sadly, since I took this photo in the fall of 2012, Dorothy passed away at age 12. In Dorothy’s obit, Floss says that at the office, the dog ended up advising her staff on the correct carpets for her high-end customers. She had a particular affinity for wool and silk blends.

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Janus

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Janus

Lee and Laurence Tamaccio.

Lee and Laurence Tamaccio.

We’d like to think that things from 2000 years ago don’t impact our modern technological world, but they do. The calendar on my iPhone reads January, named after the Roman god, Janus, a two-headed god who looks forward and backward. Janus was the god of  transitions, beginnings and endings.

In the spirit of Janus, I have been looking back at 2012 and forward to 2013.

In 2012 I had the opportunity to photograph twins, who I have known for many years--Lee and Laurence Tamaccio. They are both architects and I have worked with them each separately, Laurence at Design Destinations, and Lee at Buckl Architects, but I had never been with the two of them at the same time.

Laurence and Lee Tamaccio.

Laurence and Lee Tamaccio.

Having seen and spoken to each of them separately, in my mind, Lee and Laurence were as identical as two people could be. When I got together with both of them for a photo shoot in Center City Philadelphia, I suddenly realized how different they were from each other.

January is the month of new beginnings and New Year’s resolutions. It is a time for reflection on the past, and a time for optimism about the future. While many resolutions are doomed to fail, some will succeed. Good luck in your New Year.

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Take Two Photos and Call Me in the Morning

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Take Two Photos and Call Me in the Morning

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Recently, Hamilton College, located in Clinton, New York, commissioned me to photograph one of their Philadelphia-based alumni, Dr. Christine Laine. In celebration of alumni accomplishments for Hamilton's bicentennial year, this photograph appears on their website and in their alumni magazine.

Dr. Laine, class of 1983, is the editor of the Annals of Internal Medicine, a widely distributed and cited medical journal that is published every two weeks by the American College of Physicians in Philadelphia. In addition to editing one of America's major medical journals, Dr. Laine continues to see patients at Jefferson Medical College.

I used the shelves of historic bound copies of the Annals as a background while having Dr. Laine hold a current issue. We set up lighting to highlight her in this environment.

As editor, she is overseeing the creation of an iPad version of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

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Take Your Child To Work Day

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Take Your Child To Work Day

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SunGard, a software and technology services company, hosts a “Take Our Daughters And Sons To Work Day”. They invited me in to take pictures of the kids.

To make the day meaningful, the children were encouraged to make things to illustrate what each of their parents do for a living.

How do you show that your dad works to protect people's computers and data? Why, wrap yourself in bubble wrap!

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I brought a bunch of brightly colored backgrounds to SunGard's headquarters, and we hung out with the kids for the whole morning, taking lots of pictures of them with their creations.

It was a lot fun photographing them and feeding off of their energy.

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Have you taken your daughter or son to work, lately?

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Role Model

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Role Model

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To illustrate their profile of James Veal, Senior Market Advisor Magazine envisioned images that showed the financial advisor within his native Philadelphia.

Greg took James out of his office to capture him amidst the landmarks of the city. Philadelphia has many great buildings within walking distance of each other -- the iconic City Hall and the historic Union League provided great backgrounds.

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From the median in South Broad Street, Greg captured a striking portrait that the magazine used for their January 2012 cover.

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The steps of the historic Union League also afford a great setting for a portrait.

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The Art & Science of Portraits

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The Art & Science of Portraits

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Portrait photography is both an art and a science. Producing an exciting portrait involves both the art of seeing, plus interacting with the subject, as well as the science of employing lenses, lighting and technique.

In that spirit I have worked with the School of Arts and Sciences (SAS) at University of Pennsylvania for several years. Twice a year they publish a magazine that features articles about faculty research and activities.

I worked with the writer and art director to create a photograph that would work for a two page layout and illustrate an article about Prof. Emilio Parrado's research on the lives of Hispanic immigrants. As a visual symbol of a border, we used a razor wire topped wall near the university as a background. A low camera angle, strong off-camera lighting, digital adjustments to tone and color help establish the unsettling mood of this image.

Here are several other environmental portraits that I have shot for Arts and Sciences.

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Josephine Park's teaching and research focus on questions of representing Asian American experience. As one of the scenarios, I opted for an out of focus neutral outdoor background.

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Victor Mair helped organize a large exhibition entitled, Secrets of the Silk Road, at the University Museum, as well as writing the exhibition catalog. Incorporating Asian art from the Museum into the background helps illustrate his involvement with Asian culture.

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The engineering building, Skirkanich Hall provides a spatially complex background for Robert Ghrist who teaches about multi-dimensional spaces beyond three dimensions.

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The historic arched spaces of the Fisher Fine Arts Library form a background for Devesh Kapur, Director of the Center for the Advanced Study of India.

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The fleeting reflections inside a curved stairwell at Irvine Auditorium helps create a simple but abstract background for this portrait of Carolyn Abbate.

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Having Brent Helliker sit amongst plants re-inforces his interest in plant biology.

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This playful animated portrait of Penn's Water Polo Coach, Antonio Merlo, evolved from trying out several ideas by the pool.

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I Am Suburban West

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I Am Suburban West

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The Suburban West Realtors Association recently launched a campaign to attract new members and remind their more than 5,000 current members of all of the benefits they gain from the association. The association and their graphic designer envisioned a series of ads. Each would highlight one of the many benefits of membership.

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Their campaign is modeled after a similar one that was very successful for a realtors association in a different region, so the concept for each of the scenes to be photographed was already fully developed. Our challenge was to find distinct locations at the association headquarters and in the surrounding community that were different, interesting, and descriptive enough to successfully illustrate each of the ads.

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Since the ads work as testimonials, actual members of Suburban West Realtors were photographed instead of paid models.

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As always, when working with real people and not models, we make a specific effort to make everyone feel at ease in front of the camera, and give plenty of direction so that their poses have a feeling of purpose.

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Even with the minimal choice of locations available, through lighting and educated camera choices, we were able to deliver five images that successfully illustrate each of the ads and do not feel repetitious.

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Paul Stankard: Breathing life into glass

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Paul Stankard: Breathing life into glass

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Paul Stankard is one of the preeminent American glass paperweight artists. With fire and a patient hand, he breathes life into detailed botanical and ethereal forms that are eventually encapsulated inside crystal.

We were fortunate to visit him at his home and studio to shoot images for a feature story in American Style magazine.

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During the shoot Paul, his daughter Katherine, and master assistant David Groeber demonstrated aspects of the glass-working process. Glass is very sensitive to timing and temperature. Greg documented the action while staying clear of flames and annealing ovens.

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Throughout the day Greg shot several different environmental portraits of Paul, so that the editor at American Style would have options in laying out the story. Paul’s beautiful home and studio provided many opportunities for photographs.

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There is currently a retrospective celebrating Paul’s fifty years of work showing at the Wheaton Arts center in Millville, NJ. The show runs until May 8, 2011.

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Make Up Ad Brags About Being Photoshop-Free

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Make Up Ad Brags About Being Photoshop-Free

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The web site Jezebel has an article about a cosmetic ad that exclaims that it is the first unretouched make up ad. We are so used to every advertising photo being photoshopped that to stand out an ad has to tout its lack of retouching. Note the model's imperfect arm contrasted with her professionally made up face.

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I Hate Having My Picture Taken

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I Hate Having My Picture Taken

If I had a dollar for every time someone said to me, "I hate having my picture taken," I could take an extra week's vacation each year. As a portrait photographer I strive to calm subjects' anxieties. Nervousness about having one's photograph taken is not a new worry. I was paging through a book of Ogden Nash poems recently and ran across this poem written in the 1930s.

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Waiting for the Birdie by Ogden Nash

Some hate broccoli, some hate bacon, I hate having my picture taken. How can your family claim to love you And then demand a picture of you? The electric chair is a comfortless chair, But I know an equally comfortless pair; One is the dentist’s, my good sirs, And the other is the photographer’s. Oh, the fly in all domestic ointments Is affectionate people who make appointments To have your teeth filled left and right. Or you face reproduced in black and white. You open the door and you enter the studio, And you feel less cheerio than nudio. The hard light shines like seventy suns, And you know your features are foolish ones. The photographer says, Natural, please, And you cross your knees and uncross your knees. Like a duke in a high society chronicle The camera glares at you through its monocle And you feel ashamed of your best attire, Your nose itches, your palms perspire, Your muscles stiffen, and all the while You smile and smile and smile and smile. It’s over; you weakly grope for the door; It’s not; the photographer wants one more. And if this experience you survive, Wait, just wait till the proofs arrive. You look like a drawing by Thurber or Bab, Or a gangster stretched on a marble slab. And all your dear ones, including your wife, Say There he is, that’s him to the life! Some hate broccoli, some hate bacon, But I hate having my picture taken.

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Look Out

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Look Out

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For a location photographer it is always exciting when assignments take you to unusual places. Making environmental portraits inside a birdcage the size of a tennis court was a unique experience.

University of Pennsylvania animal behaviorist Dr. David White leads a course called Research Experience in Animal Behavior. He supervises students as they do hands-on research.

In the photo above, Greg posed the students to show them engaged in their research.

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In a past issue of the Penn Arts & Sciences magazine the publication ran an article focused on one of Dr. White's student groups who observed the behavior of cowbirds. Greg was asked to visit the research group and their professor at their aviary in the Morris Arboretum just outside of Philadelphia.

Cowbirds have an unusual reproductive strategy, termed brood parastic. They lay their eggs in the nests of other birds, and those birds end up raising the baby cowbirds. The fledgling cowbirds are nourished by the host parents at the expense of their own young.

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The location for these environmental portraits of Dr. White and his students gives the photos a rich sense of place.

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Recognize Achievement

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Recognize Achievement

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We photographed two of the nominees for

Senior Market Advisor

magazine's “2010 Financial Advisor of the Year.” As with every environmental portrait assignment, connecting with the subject and finding a strong visual are keys to creating a successful image.

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It can be a challenge to photograph people who are not models. Models are used to being in front of the camera. Getting the subject to be relaxed and confident is part of carrying off the assignment.

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Leslie Neilsen RIP

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Leslie Neilsen RIP

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Actor Leslie Nielsen died at age 84, on November 28, 2010,  of complications from pneumonia. He was a late bloomer. His comedic roles in the movies, Airplane and the Naked Gun series gave him fame and fortune in his later years.

In 1999, I had an opportunity to photograph him when he spoke at the Penn Law School. Nielsen had a serious side and used his Hollywood earnings to present a one man show on the early twentieth century lawyer, Clarence Darrow. Darrow is famous for defending a teacher on trial for teaching evolution in the 1920s Scopes Monkey trial in Tennessee. Darrow was also against the death penalty and defended many people in capital cases including Leopold and Loeb, wealthy Chicago teenagers who kidnapped and killed a younger boy.

Retrieving the 1999 image of Nielsen from my archive is illustrative of how much the technology of image making has changed in eleven years. The original is a color negative that was in a job jacket in my studio attic. Once I found the negative, I scanned it, a process that took me around fifteen minutes. A digital original would have been much quicker to find, view and post.

At the end of the day, technology only matters so much, Nielsen's deadpan comedic delivery brings laughs or groans, whether on film, DVD or youtube.

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Have camera, will travel. . . (and lights, computers, assistants, etc. . .)

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Have camera, will travel. . . (and lights, computers, assistants, etc. . .)

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Earlier this year we were approached about photographing two print ads for Minwax. Their agency sometimes builds sets to shoot their print ads. This time they envisioned shooting on a location that would have the sort of ambiance that is difficult or impossible to manufacture. An ad campaign of this size requires well produced photographs shot to a tight, pre-determined layout -- it required we set up our studio on location for the day.

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Each of the ads would showcase a different piece of custom furniture and a model playing the part of a satisfied DIYer showing off their efforts in their garage/basement/workshop. The furniture, its beautiful grain and finish, would be the hero in the shot and needed to be beautifully lit.

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In preparation for the shoot and using the ads' layout as a strict guide, we spent a day at our studio running through several lighting options that provided beautiful, glare-free light for the furniture but also would flatter the modeling talent.

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On the day of the shoot we descended on the beautiful barn that had been selected as the location. Representatives from the client and the ad agency were on set all day to oversee the shoot and approve images. The rest of the team included a prop and wardrobe stylist, a makeup and hair artist, the two models, a carpenter (to tweak last minute details on the furniture and set), and our photo crew.

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As well as all of the lighting and grip gear, we also brought along two computers. Using the a wireless transmitter hooked up to our cameras, we displayed the photographs on a large monitor immediately as they were being shot and got continuous feedback from the agency. This set up is invaluable to the client and art director when working on shoots where a tight layout dictates the composition of the photograph. We were able to overlay the layout over the images soon after taking a shot.

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Commencement

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Commencement

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The Penn Law Journal, an alumni magazine, wanted a cover shot featuring six graduates from the class of 2009. The group photograph was shot for the cover of the magazine. The article on these students also featured a photograph of each of them with their families. The families were only available on graduation and both the group shot and the photos with the families had to be shot on the same day.

The day of Commencement we were under a time constraint and in a crowded public space where we had to create the high production value group portrait. The group photo was scouted with the art director and planned prior to the event. The art director helped select and approve the best view that would show six people in black gowns in the ornate setting of the Academy of Music, where the graduation ceremony is held. Because there was an event before the Law School graduation, our time to set up and shoot was limited.

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Coordinating with each of the students and their families, we set times and locations to meet them.

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Taking into account everyone's schedules and also allowing time for each setting, locations were chosen at the Law School and near the Academy of Music.

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The settings switch from indoor to outdoor and because they were shot during different times of the day, a range of visual variety was possible.

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It is worth noting that the Law Journal's piece succeeds in being a testament to the diversity of students that the school attracts. Each of the family groups is so different. While at different stages of their life's journey, all of these graduates are commencing their careers at the same time.

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To read more about these students see the online version of the Fall 2009 issue of Penn Law Alumni Journal.

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Going Big

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Going Big

It is always helpful to have the final use of a photograph in mind during the planning stages and during a shoot. For instance if images are destined to only be used on the web, simple compositions shot in landscape format often work better.

For a much larger size like a billboard some of the same considerations, like simplicity, are relevant. In addition, quality and resolution are important factors in producing a photograph for a billboard. Format and orientation are often prescribed by an existing layout. Billboards are large budget projects and the client will typically already have approved the final design by the time we get involved in the project.

For an on-going campaign we have photographed some of Saint Joseph's University's successful alumni. This billboard campaign, created by Articus Ltd. , features tight portraits of notable alumni.

Named as one of TIME Magazine's 100 most influential people in 2009, Sister Mary Scullion is cofounder of Project H.O.M.E.. Project H.O.M.E. describes itself as a program that "empowers people to break the cycle of homelessness, address the structural causes of poverty, and attain their fullest potential as members of society."

The most recent billboard shows Dr. Ray Washington, class of 1991. For Dr. Washington, playing for St. Joseph's demanding basketball team and simultaneously pursuing a pre-med major, made medical school easier by comparison.

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