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Teacups fly through the air against a black background, from Director & Visual Engineer Will Strawser

Call it Directing, Call it Visual Engineering, Call Will Strawser to get it done

When Photographer and Director Will Strawser begins a new project, he isn’t just visualizing the end result, but the entire process to achieve it. “To me, directing isn’t just devising cool new ways of showcasing products or people, but – more importantly – engineering a system to bring the visual to life,” he explains. “The total process is what I think of as Visual Engineering.”

3 screenshots of zucchini for a Wegman’s video from Director & Visual Engineer Will Strawser
3 screenshots of zucchini for a Wegman’s video from Director & Visual Engineer Will Strawser
3 screenshots of zucchini for a Wegman’s video from Director & Visual Engineer Will Strawser

To that end, Will does a hefty amount of research and prep on the front end of any shoot. “Ideally, by the time we’re on set we have a nailed down game plan to perfectly execute the planned vision, AND also some time allotted for experimentation and discovery,” he says. “Some of the best shots we’ve ever accomplished were from going “off the boards.”

3 screenshots from a video for Taste Tea from Director & Visual Engineer Will Strawser
3 screenshots from a video for Taste Tea from Director & Visual Engineer Will Strawser
3 screenshots from a video for Taste Tea from Director & Visual Engineer Will Strawser

And to make sure his vision is fully realized, Will begins post-production before the shoot, not after. “Post is very important to the way I like to create,” he says. “To make sure we’re all on the same page, the post team is involved heavily in pre-production. A large part of the creative process happens in the edit, so I like to be hands on with the edit, color, CG and sound effects.”

3 Screenshots from the video ‘The Perfect Burger’ from Director & Visual Engineer Will Strawser
3 Screenshots from the video ‘The Perfect Burger’ from Director & Visual Engineer Will Strawser
3 Screenshots from the video ‘The Perfect Burger’ from Director & Visual Engineer Will Strawser

He also carefully curates a team that’s a match for the project, brand and vision he wants to achieve. A smaller project might call for just 3 or 4 people, while a more elaborate broadcast TV shoot could require a crew of up to 10. “When I’m bringing in a larger team, I’m really looking for a group that works seamlessly and efficiently together to keep us moving forward,” Will says.

3 screenshots from the a video for Stella Artois Cidre from Director & Visual Engineer Will Strawser
3 screenshots from the a video for Stella Artois Cidre from Director & Visual Engineer Will Strawser
3 screenshots from the a video for Stella Artois Cidre from Director & Visual Engineer Will Strawser

Will has brought his fresh, modern aesthetic and energetic shooting style to clients ranging from Wegman’s to Memo Jewelry to Taste Tea Naturals, creating web content, brand videos, narrative pieces and broadcast TV spots. You can see more of his arresting still and motion work here.

A selection of screenshots from the film portfolio of Director & Visual Engineer Will Strawser
A selection of screenshots from the film portfolio of Director & Visual Engineer Will Strawser
A selection of screenshots from the film portfolio of Director & Visual Engineer Will Strawser
A selection of screenshots from the film portfolio of Director & Visual Engineer Will Strawser
A selection of screenshots from the film portfolio of Director & Visual Engineer Will Strawser
A selection of screenshots from the film portfolio of Director & Visual Engineer Will Strawser
A selection of screenshots from the film portfolio of Director & Visual Engineer Will Strawser
A selection of screenshots from the film portfolio of Director & Visual Engineer Will Strawser
A selection of screenshots from the film portfolio of Director & Visual Engineer Will Strawser
   

Retoucher Rachel Kissel
helps photos finish strong

Retoucher Rachel Kissel recently teamed up with Photographer Adam Levey on a personal creative project. The result is this dramatic shot that took a full day in the studio and over ten hours of retouching magic afterward. “We spent a lot of time just bouncing ideas off each other, playing with different directions,” says Rachel.

The unretouched photo of the football player leaping through the air; Photographer Adam Levey

The look and feel developed over several retouching sessions as she evaluated various Photoshop effects and interacting layers. Rachel changed the atmosphere by painting, applying textures and blending fog and smoke effects. Intense color work and heavy manipulation of the shoe and laces added to the final impact.

A pilot stands proudly in the foreground against a blue cloudy sky; Retoucher Rachel Kissel

Rachel is well-versed in atmospheric changes, having created clouds, windswept plains and snowy drifts, all from her computer desk. She frequently uses highly finessed composite techniques to bring imaginary worlds to life.

A Nike sneaker is shown in dramatic, heroic light; Retoucher Rachel Kissel

She also regularly adds drama to still life product shots as well, partnering with clients from Nike to Apple to Levi’s. You can see more of her retouching magic here.

   
A crowd of colorful fruits, vegetables and brown eggs in a wooden bowl from commercial photographer Katie Newburn

For Katie Newburn, Photography is a Collaboration of Love.

When Photographer Katie Newburn was a kid flipping through magazines or watching TV, she never wanted to be the model or actress. “I was always thinking about what it was like on set – how did they make that movie or photo, who did the hair and makeup, who chose the décor,” she says.

Hands in a wooden bowl tossing large romaine salad leaves from commercial photographer Katie NewburnPhoto by Katie Newburn for The Best Caesar App, with Tyson Caly, Art Director

Now she knows. As a well-established commercial photographer, Katie regularly pulls together talented teams to work with clients from Yahoo to Chipotle. And she still gets excited about the collaborative process.

Overhead shot of two people enjoying burritos, chips and guacamole from commercial photographer Katie NewburnKatie Newburn for Postmates with Annemarie Guy on props and Carmel Cottingham producing

“It’s a creative opportunity when a new job comes along, a clean canvas that everyone can put their ideas on. From building the set and then adding the layers of props, light, mood, we all bring our own talents and skills to find fresh ways to represent a brand.”

A dish of Bhel Puri, an Indian snack dish, is held in a woman’s hand, from commercial photographer Katie NewburnA collaboration with McKel Hill for the Nutrition Stripped cookbook

The exploration starts the minute Katie gets an initial call. She researches the brand and what they’ve done in the past and begins thinking about compositions. “That time can be a little stressful, but in a good way,” she says, “because there are so many possibilities.”

Point of view of someone relaxing on the couch while looking at their phone, from commercial photographer Katie NewburnPhotographer Katie Newburn for Yahoo with Art Director Christopher Clarke

For initial studies, she pulls from her own training and from classical art technique, considering angles and shapes, how to draw the viewer’s eye into the frame and direct it from one thing to the next. And throughout, she adds her own unique style and point of view.

A woman holds a warm comforting bowl of Pho soup from commercial photographer Katie NewburnKatie Newburn Photographer and Erin Quon Food Stylist, for Postmates

Once the job is awarded she assembles a team of people that are a technical and creative match for the shoot. Depending on the assignment, her crew could grow to 10 or more, including food and prop stylists, wardrobe, hair and makeup, a digital tech plus assistants. The one role she doesn’t fill? Lighting. “I love doing that myself,” she says.

Overhead shot of beers on a wooden table from commercial photographer Katie Newburn

On set, Katie maintains a collaborative spirit. “I’m more about giving direction than micro-managing,” she says. “I bring in people who I know can do their job and will pitch in and get things done. So we can just stay in this positive mode of creativity.”

Marble canisters on a wooden counter from commercial photographer Katie Newburn

On a recent shoot for Sonoma Harvest, she and her team did just that. After thorough research and storyboarding, the client gave Katie and stylist Christine Wolheim the freedom to explore creatively. “That’s when the things you didn’t know could happen, happen,” says Katie. “We moved lights around, played with highlights and shadow. It’s the small things, like, you know, if this parsley was turned slightly it would catch the light.”

Overhead shot of baking ingredients and tools from commercial photographer Katie NewburnKatie Newburn for Sonoma Harvest, Food styling by Christine Wolheim

For Katie, a self-diagnosed extrovert, that kind of collaboration is what she enjoys most about photography, and also what she believes leads to the best photos. You can see for yourself here.

 

 

People photographer Steve Belkowitz goes bananas for Del Monte

A man takes a selfie of himself and a pineapple, both wearing sunglasses; by people photographer Steve Belkowitz

Steve Belkowitz has photographed top models and pro athletes, but he’s not afraid to keep it real when it comes to talent. “The client was nervous about using real employees for the Del Monte shoot – it can be uncomfortable for folks who aren’t used to the camera,” says the accomplished people photographer. “But I knew with a safe, relaxed environment they’d do great.”

A man wearing sunglasses and holding lots of bananas stands heroically; by people photographer Steve Belkowitz

Shooting for just two days with employees of the company’s fruit processing plant in Dallas, Steve needed to get the group in the groove quickly. “We wanted them to do funny things, so we played good music and kept things really light on set,” he explains.

A man proudly holds a fruit sculpture that looks like a swan; by people photographer Steve Belkowitz

Once the shots were solid, Steve relied on skilled retouching to tweak the look just enough to make the employees look heroic, but not perfect or unnatural. In a few cases they also dropped in props that were shot separately. “We probably did about 5 rounds of revisions for each image,” he says.

A man peers over pineapple slices he’s holding, fanned out like a deck of cards; by people photographer Steve Belkowitz

The shots are being used for branding materials for Del Monte’s fresh fruit division, including print ads, social media and collateral. “It’s also the company’s 125th anniversary, and they want to authentically connect with their consumers,” Steve explains.

A woman holds up a sculpture of the number “125” made from cut fruit; by people photographer Steve Belkowitz

That’s a perfect match with Steve, whose photos often leave the viewer with a smile. You can see more of his lifestyle and people photography here.

A woman juggles melons, a banana, pineapple and a chef’s knife; by people photographer Steve Belkowitz    

Five days in the jungle – Adventure photography from Andrew Maguire

Two runners approach on a beach trail under lush palm trees; adventure photography from Andrew Maguire

Andrew Maguire has scaled epic cliffs and skied snowy ravines to get the perfect shot, and now he’s conquering the jungle to bring home adventure photography for outdoor brand Merrell.

Two trail runners make their way down a root-tangled jungle path; adventure photography from Andrew Maguire

Andrew and a small crew recently spent five days traversing the rainforests and beaches of Puerto Rico, covering active lifestyle and sports shots for Merrell’s website and social media campaigns. Andrew directed the motion shoot for the effort as well.

Two people ride beach cruisers past the open doorway of a quaint shop; adventure photography from Andrew Maguire

With Andrew’s deep portfolio of outdoor and active living shots, he’s perfectly suited for a brand whose mantra is “Find Adventure Anywhere You Go.” In fact, Andrew and Merrell have embarked on many projects together, including a just-wrapped shoot in Southern California.

A couple enjoys a bonfire on the beach; adventure photography from Andrew Maguire

With other recent shoots in Iceland and on Mt. Whitney behind him, Andrew is gearing up for his next adventure. You can see more of his sport and active lifestyle photography here.

A couple hikes through a lush green jungle; adventure photography from Andrew Maguire Three friends lounge in a doorway of a quaint town center; adventure photography from Andrew Maguire    

Fueled by Girl Power: Brian Smale’s latest people photography

Three portraits in black and white of teenage girls having fun; people photography by Brian Smale
Three portraits in black and white of teenage girls having fun; people photography by Brian Smale
Three portraits in black and white of teenage girls having fun; people photography by Brian Smale

Photographer Brian Smale has roamed the planet capturing people photography for clients as diverse as Panasonic, USAA and Microsoft. But his latest project kept him right in his own community.

Two black and white portraits of girl and teacher being silly with science equipment; people photography by Brian Smale
Two black and white portraits of girl and teacher being silly with science equipment; people photography by Brian Smale

“My daughter’s school is hosting their annual fundraiser and asked if I’d do some portraits of some of the girls and teachers for the event,” explains Brian. “I get creative freedom, they get free,” he laughs. What started out as a small portrait project grew under Brian’s direction to 12 foot high posters of the girls doing what they do best – being themselves.

Two black and white portraits of teenage girls looking happy and confident; people photography by Brian Smale
Two black and white portraits of teenage girls looking happy and confident; people photography by Brian Smale

Brian added the photoshop ‘cutout’ filter to make the portraits more representational of the student body as a whole. “Plus,” he adds, “at 12 feet high with zero budget, going to simplified images with just 3 or 4 tones was a no-brainer.”

Three black and white portraits of girls and a teacher having fun with pencils, leaves and hula hoops; people photography by Brian Smale
3Three black and white portraits of girls and a teacher having fun with pencils, leaves and hula hoops; people photography by Brian Smale
Three black and white portraits of girls and a teacher having fun with pencils, leaves and hula hoops; people photography by Brian Smale

Having spent a career shooting portraits of luminaries, gangsters, Nazis and politicians, Brian isn’t phased by much. Still, facing off with a gaggle of teen age girls, “I was terrified, of course!,” he says. “But they were such a nice bunch.”

Two black and white portraits of teenage girls looking capable and confident; people photography by Brian Smale
Two black and white portraits of teenage girls looking capable and confident; people photography by Brian Smale

The focus of the all-girls school is building leadership, independence and confidence, so Brian wanted to make sure those values were reflected in the photos. “And,” he adds, “I wanted the girls to have fun.” Check and check. You can see more of Brian’s wide range of commercial people and places photography here.

   

Graphic Designer Filip Yip
revs brand engines.

Dynamic illustration of a red white and blue racecar for Kingsford by graphic designer Filip Yip

Americans love our cars, and brands know it. Graphic designer and illustrator Filip Yip helps those brands connect with their audience, creating car graphics that speak to people’s lifestyles and loyalties. “I do love cars, but not in that car-guy kind of way,” says Filip. “To me, cars represent where you are in life, what your needs and dreams are at that moment.”

Charming illustration of two animals driving down a Sierra County foothills road by graphic designer Filip Yip
Energetic graphic depiction of the black Havoline racecar by graphic designer Filip Yip
 

Filip has conjured powerful racecars for companies like Kingsford and Havoline and cars with throwback charm for Eddie’s Premium Salsa and Sierra County Chamber of Commerce, along with many more. “With cars, and really all brand design, you’re trying to create a shared experience between the brand and the viewer. That’s where my process starts,” Filip says.

An old-timey blue delivery van by graphic designer Filip Yip

The relationship between company and consumer is one Filip takes very seriously. A decade into his successful design career, he took it upon himself to earn his MBA so he could fully partner with his clients on their strategic communications efforts.

Illustration of a farm truck for a salsa packaging client by graphic designer Filip Yip

Some may not immediately see the connection between Filip’s hard driving business instincts and his inspirational idols Van Gogh, Matisse and Gauguin, but for Filip, that’s the power of design and visual communication. “I try to create something authentic and emotional every time because those are the building blocks of strong branding,” he says.

Iconic illustration of one of London’s double decker buses by graphic designer Filip Yip

With clients from Anheuser Busch to FedEx to EBay to Clif Bar, Filip’s vast portfolio reaches far beyond driving machines. Check out his cowboys, monkeys, schooners, skyscrapers and much more here.

Logo of an Airstream trailer for Austin Food Trailer Week by graphic designer Filip Yip    

Eric Frazier’s portrait photography makes work look like fun.

A woman jumps through the air wearing a blue cape in an office setting; portrait photography by Eric Frazier

“Stuffy corporate headshots are going the way of car phones and retirement watches,” says photographer Eric Frazier about portrait photography. Modern companies use employee photos both as a brand tool and a recruitment tool, luring clients and applicants with energetic, highly personal portraits.

A woman rides a bike down an office hallway; portrait photography by Eric Frazier

Eric recently shot a series of portraits for NicholsBooth Architects – a San Francisco firm that prides themselves on truly listening and responding to clients. They wanted to make sure their team photos supported the same message.

A woman smiles at the camera with Scrabble board graphics on the wall behind her; portrait photography by Eric Frazier
The feet of the woman in the previous photograph – she is balancing on one leg; portrait photography by Eric Frazier

In addition to the requisite individual portraits on the website, the rollover state of each one showcases the person’s favorite shoes. “We shoot all over the office, trying to capture each person in a way that makes you feel you’re really getting to know them,” says Eric.

A man sits on a couch, smiling and wearing a gold dollar-sign necklace; portrait photography by Eric Frazier
The feet of the man in the previous photograph. His feet are up in the air with his shoes resting on top of them; portrait photography by Eric Frazier

“It’s smart because these industries have so much competition – good portrait photography is one way you can show potential clients – and even future employees – how very friendly/clever/creative/helpful/easy to work with/smart your team is.” In a world of tight competition for business and talent alike, a positive company culture has become invaluable.

A woman sits up smiling on a modern couch; portrait photography by Eric Frazier
The feet of the woman in the previous photograph – she is up on her tiptoes in cream colored brogues; portrait photography by Eric Frazier

In addition to saving companies from the stiff, boring headshot, Eric also shoots compelling sports and lifestyle photography, recently working with San Francisco Opera and MUFG Union Bank. You can see more of his work here.

A man in a boat throws a fishing net out to sea; portrait and lifestyle photography by Eric Frazier

 

 

Shane Johnson’s Superpower
is Character Design

A black and white illustration of a superhero flying toward the viewer, fist raised; character design by Shane Johnson

If you grew up on comic books like Illustrator Shane Johnson did, you won’t be surprised by his approach to character design. “Superheroes are so compelling because they reflect our own hopes and flaws, on a magnified scale.”

Illustrated black and white portrait of a superhero in mask and cape; character design by Shane Johnson

Shane has lent his comic style to commercial and editorial illustrations for clients from Nickelodeon to Dreamworks, Smithsonian Magazine to the Wall Street Journal. And while he may not always draw literal superheroes, that classic raw energy and the dynamic struggle between good and evil is frequently the subtext of his work.

Comic-style black and white illustration of a fist punching through a wall; character design by Shane Johnson

His latest series, created in black and white with a strong noir feel, was inspired by 1930s comics. “I’m a big fan of older films and radio shows and the original Bob Kane Batman,” says Shane. “I’ve always wanted to create something that harkens back to that, but I needed it to be in my own style.”

“Superheroes reflect our own hopes and flaws…
on a magnified scale”

Per his usual process, he began with rough thumbnails, gathering reference materials once he decided on the layout. “I sometimes even shoot photos of myself for the character poses,” Shane explains. “Or, for more extreme poses, I create models on the computer using Poser Pro.” Shane’s next step is pencils, which are scanned and then inked and shaded in Manga Studio.

Black and white illustration of a superhero facing off against a villain with a gun; character design by Shane Johnson

Shane continuously revises each of his illustrations over several days, always finding “just one more detail” he wants to perfect. It’s the kind of self-improvement his own favorite comic hero, Spider Man, would applaud. Come check out more of Shane’s character design and heroic artwork here.

 

 

Always a winner:
Athlete Photos by Jack Hutch

A female boxer looks directly into camera as she rests on the ropes; athlete photos by Jack Hutch

Jack Hutch has spent decades shooting athlete photos of everyone from Jerry Rice to Spud Webb, Kristi Yamaguchi to Joe Montana and hundreds more, so he doesn’t get nervous around high profile personalities anymore. But he still gets a thrill. “Sports photography is just one of the most exciting things to shoot. You’ve got these bodies at their best, doing things they’ve perfected – If you bring your best, you’re going to get something great,” he says.

Brandi Chastain jumps up to kick an airborne soccer ball near the goal line; athlete photos by Jack Hutch

To bring his best, Jack prepares often and early. “Never once in my career has any athlete given me the amount of time I was promised by the agent. If they tell me ‘an hour,’ I think ‘12 minutes.’ Jack heads to set hours before the athlete arrives and sets up multiple shots, various lighting, wardrobe changes and props. “So when the athlete gets there it’s just bam-bam-bam, switch, bam-bam-bam…and we got it.”

A shirtless portrait of Jerry Rice holding a golf club; athlete photos by Jack Hutch

This training has served him well with another time-pressed population he’s often called to photograph – Silicon Valley CEOs. But with subjects who aren’t as accustomed to being in front of the camera, he sometimes has to slow down.

Black and white shot of a female boxer working out against a punching bag; athlete photos by Jack Hutch
Olympic Skeet Shooter Ali Chiang points her gun; athlete photos by Jack Hutch

“Very accomplished athletes who aren’t super famous may not be as comfortable,” says Jack. “But they all know how to get in the zone. I lay a scene for them: ‘You’re in the semi-finals of the Olympic trials. You walk up to the blocks, you get prepared.’ Immediately, they’re in it.’ Then it’s up to me. Do I want to go low to show the clothing movement as they take off from the blocks? Or from up high, looking down on the lines of the track for a graphic look as they stretch?”

A javelin thrower is poised to throw; athlete photos by Jack Hutch

Jack also considers the exact way their bodies will move as he shoots, taking into account which hand might come up first, which hip is coming around or what the follow through looks like. He times his lighting against all these variables to get the shot he wants.

A biking team poses together under a clouded blue sky; athlete photos by Jack Hutch

“Being an athlete and shooting athletics works together,” says Jack. “You can get the essence of the shot because you understand it.” Jack grew up playing a wide range of sports, starting with ice hockey and evolving to include golf, quarterback of his football team, and butterfly swimming and hockey at the college level. He still plays sports when he can and coaches his son’s hockey team. “When you know how the body works, how the action works, you can get the shot.”

An athlete jumps to catch a frisbee; athlete photos by Jack Hutch

What he can’t always control is the restrictions on the athlete. “Everyone gets approval now,” Jack says. “The athlete is under contract, so the sponsor, the agent, the PR firm – they all have rules about what the athlete can’t do. It can get really limiting. But I like a challenge,” he laughs.

Close up on Willie Mays’ hands holding a baseball; athlete photos by Jack Hutch

That challenge forces him to continually think outside the box, reinventing athlete portraiture when necessary. A portrait of Willie Mays, for instance, became a black and white shot of just Willie’s hands holding the ball. “With these one-of-a-kind athletes you have a chance to create something that will speak to their legacy. Those old, beaten up hands – that’s the history of baseball right there.”

The Heath brothers pose on the track; athlete photos by Jack Hutch

In addition to athlete photos, Jack has also amassed an impressive body of work in lifestyle, industry and architecture photography. Based in San Francisco, he shoots both locally and on location from his fully-equipped Mobile Studio. You can see more of Jack’s work here.

Black and white shot of a neighborhood basketball game in action; athlete photos by Jack Hutch