* the camera roll *

little snaps from my iphone, among other things

Archive for the ‘freelancing’ Category

eerily true

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Written by John

July 6, 2012 at 3:05 pm

behind the scenes: kingsford

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hi all, sorry that i haven’t posted in a while.  busy busy busy.  here are some behind the scenes pics from a recent shoot for Kingsford.  a week of steaks and steak-related recipes.

given the carnivore that i can sometimes be, i can’t believe i’m saying this.  but after a week on this shoot, i would be okay with not seeing another steak for a while.

we did the shoot at The Right Studio, a former firehouse converted into a shooting studio by photo producer Carmel Cottingham and her brother Chris.  Kevin Crafts provided the food styling, with Vicki Woollard providing food styling assistance.  Jim Cardosa provided the prop styling.  and Dania Maxwell served as my assistant.  Dania also shot the iPhone pics below.

Written by John

April 16, 2012 at 11:44 am

start fresh

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sorry it’s been a while since i’ve posted last.  the ole missus and i spent the past month moving to a new place, so we’ve been in a world of boxes and trips to lowes.  but we’re starting to resurface, and all is settling nicely now.

which brings me to this post.  my most recent cookbook collaboration with tyler florence was released today.  “start fresh” is a cookbook geared towards cooking for babies and toddlers.

we shot this book here and there over the span of about two months, starting in mid december and finishing early february.  timing couldn’t have been better for me, because at the time we started shooting, my kiddo had just rounded the corner past his first birthday, so i was a bit at a loss for what to cook for him.  until my son came along, i had no idea what one fed a baby.  for all i knew, babies ate bland mush and dried protein pellets until they turned 3.

so spending a couple of weeks in the kitchen with tyler and food stylist kevin crafts, watching them make for babies/toddlers things like roast broccoli, fish chowder and lasagna kinda blew my mind.  some of what they did would invariably make it into my kitchen at home.  lo and behold, my kid would actually eat this!  real food!  i would roast a big batch of broccoli with olive oil, salt and pepper, and then pulse it down in a food processor with some grated parmesan, and watch my kid take bite after bite.  roast broccoli has actually become a bit of a regular dinner staple for us (in fact, we ate that tonight).

shooting this book was decidedly different than shooting tyler’s last book “family meal”.  with “family meal”, it was this big 5-week production with 8 people working in and around the kitchen, with me frenetically shooting everything that moved.  i took more of a “shotgun” approach to cookbook photography, where i would just shoot as much as possible and labor thru the editing afterwards to piece together a coherent package.

but with “start fresh”, it was just tyler, kevin and i at his house, coffee cups in hand, just leisurely cooking and shooting away while listening to tyler’s ipod mixes.  i slowed down and focused a lot more on the composed finished plates and heroes.

below are some pages from the book:

Written by John

June 7, 2011 at 8:14 pm

love it

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i love it.


did i say already that i love it?

the lines between stills and video are blurring.  this, from the behind the scenes look into the project:

This is the first time that video has been as significant as the print portfolio.

Ms. Ryan (Kathy Ryan, NY Times Magazine photo editor) said she knew from the beginning that she did not want this year’s performers simply to sit for a portrait.

“Celebrity portraiture demands reinvention,” she said.

Written by John

December 8, 2010 at 2:38 pm


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so my first full cookbook officially came out today:


"tyler florence family meal: bringing people together never tasted better"


now, when i mean first “full” cookbook, i mean that this is the first cookbook where i shot 100% of the photos.  i’ve contributed to cookbooks in the past, but they were always a few pics here, a few pics there.  this book weighs in at 304 pages.  hard cover.  no idea how many pictures are in there.  i haven’t sat down and counted yet.

we shot this back in january and february of this year.  12+ hours a day, 6 days a week, for 3 weeks, plus intermittent pickup shooting days here and there.  i would guess that it took us a total of 5 weeks of shooting.  my initial edit of images came to around 790 or so pictures that i delivered to badass book editor pam krauss over at rodale.

tyler is very involved in his cookbooks.  unlike most of the other celebrity chefs who leave the cookbook cooking to stylists, tyler’s in the kitchen each day we’re shooting, sweating over the stove for 12+ hours.  while other celebrity chefs glide in for one afternoon to chop some onions in front of a camera, tyler is covered in panko and grease, the same “mill valley fire department” baseball cap that’s covering his sweaty head.  day in and day out.  with the exception of the dishes in a neighborhood potluck chapter, every recipe in the cookbook was made by tyler and his kitchen team.

gotta say, i was kinda nervous handing over this big mess of photos to pam and designer ruba abu-nimah (also a badass), both which i have yet to meet in person.  for about two and a half months, i lived and breathed these 790 images.  i spent weeks editing them, toning them, fussing over them.  they were like my 790 little babies.  and then poof, one day i just handed them off to pam and ruba 3,000 miles away in new york.  for several months i didn’t hear a peep from them, beyond the occasional email asking, “do you have a picture of this?”  otherwise, it was pure nerve-wracking silence.

then about two months ago, i was over at tyler’s house, and his wife tolan shows me a big stack of loose papers bound together by either a giant paper clip, or a rubber band, or something i don’t remember.  this was the rough proofs of the book.  i sat in tolan and tyler’s dining room, quietly flipping thru each page.  first it was this smirk growing into a smile, then into a chuckle, then into a full blown giddy laugh as i made my way thru the book.

needless to say, i was blown away.  not from anything that i did, mind you.  my role in the cookbook shoot consisted of waving the camera around like a trained monkey and pointing it at really beautiful food.  the part that blew me away, was that pam and ruba were able to make sense of my mess of 790 images and dig around for the nuggets.

during the cookbook shoot, i would periodically shoot random pictures of things that caught my eye:  the side of a dirty copper pot on the stove, or the remnants of a pile of chopped asparagus on the cutting board, or a plate of half-eaten food.  i shot these pics mostly out of amusement, assuming that i was just shooting for the sake of shooting because they would never get into the book.  kinda my cheap imitation of william eggleston.  but of course, pam and ruba finds these pics and sticks them in the book as full-page photos.

back when i was a newspaper photog, i had gotten accustomed to being disappointed by how the photo editors there handled my pictures.  poor cropping, simplistic literal edits, tiny postage-sized reproductions on shitty newsprint with runny ink.  quite frankly, i got used to shitty editors.

but now as a result of my experience with the editing of this book, it’s really nice to know that there are some great editors out there.

oh, here’s a promo vid that my buddy michael coleman shot for the book:

Written by John

October 12, 2010 at 9:12 pm

in appreciation of my assistant stephen lam

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so i’ve been accumulating a collection of pics of my great and trusty photo assistant stephen lam over the past couple of years.  they’re pics of him when i need him to test the light or composition when we’re setting up for a portrait shoot of someone.  so for instance, if i need to photograph some old golfer guy at a golf club in santa rosa, stephen will stand in there and do his best to look like an old golfer guy.  or maybe i will be photographing an author who wrote about her struggles with anorexia/bulimia, he’ll step into the set and do his best to look like her.  i’ll most likely lose him at some point, because he’s too good to spend his time schlepping lights for me.  same way i lost my previous great assistant paul quitoriano, who went off to make a name for himself in new york.

here’s a sample of stephen in action:

stephen as model agency owner phillip gums (left), his assistant (rear), and a 16-year-old model (right).

stephen as architect robert swatt.

stephen as architect robert swatt, slightly underexposed.

stephen as architect robert swatt, grossly overexposed.

stephen as former navy seal sniper scott tyler.

stephen as author peach friedman.

stephen as a principal at BAR architects.

stephen as an old golfer guy.

and here’s a pic of my old assistant paul, during a shoot he helped with me a few years back along the miwok trail north of the golden gate bridge.  shot on a polaroid, back when i was still shooting film.  poor guy, i made him lug around a profoto 7b kit up and down mt tamalpais that day.

paul as a long distance runner.

Written by John

September 3, 2010 at 3:01 pm


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had an assignment recently for the 40th anniversary issue of the smithsonian magazine.  it was on jellyfish.  thoroughly fascinating article about how, because of global warming and overfishing, jellyfish are taking over the oceans.  see article here.

interesting shoot.  my assignment was to shoot a mixture of marine biologist portraits and some pics of jellyfish.

now, beyond the one time the ole missus and i found ourselves snorkeling thru a patch of jellies while on vacation, i know absolutely nothing about them.  never gave them a single thought.  so i had no concept about how to shoot pics of them.  turns out, they’re really fun to shoot.  just stick a light off to one side, grab a macro, and go.  absolutely surreal.  like space aliens.  i guess james cameron based the space aliens in his flick “the abyss” on jellyfish.

if you don’t remember the movie, see the kenny rogers version here.

the assignment was primarily at the monterey bay aquarium.  a thoroughly fascinating place, as long as you get past the tourist hell that surrounds it.  i had such a good time there during the shoot, i went back a few weeks later with junior and the ole missus for a belated father’s day excursion.

below are portraits i shot of a couple of the marine biologist-types in the article.  steven haddock from the monterey bay research institute (left), and chad widmer from the monterey bay aquarium.  two heckuva nice guys.

Written by John

July 23, 2010 at 2:42 pm