Saturday, February 26, 2011

thevisualCollective teaser trip --> Twin Arrows

Whew. I finally got around to editing my images from yesterday's awesome trip to Twin Arrows, AZ with some of the visualCollective crew.

Andrew, Taylor, Alexandra and I drove out to the abandoned awesomeness at Twin Arrows and had a blast. Here's what I got from the day...

Andrew getting on the roof of an abandoned building...

Taylor atop the (super sketchy) 35' silo

Alexandra freezing in the wind

Andrew uploading our awesome VLOG - On location!

The new teaser/trailer will be online soon, so check out to see what's new!

Another visualCollective update

Spent some seriously awesome time today with Andrew, Alexandra and Taylor.

Check out 

As well as Taylor's post over on his blog :

Check out our VLOG on location on Andrew's Youtube

I (sadly) had a busy evening and won't get my images posted until Saturday evening sometime.

Stay tuned!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Shoot more!

My photo professor pissed me off in class today. He kept talking about shooting *more* without any emphasis on improving the quality of the photographs, which is pretty much against everything I've been doing recently. These days I'm more about shooting to get one good image than I am getting ten mediocre images.

As I sat there, seething and muttering under my breath, it came to me. I had a moment of clarity.

random picture

He didn't need to emphasize an improvement in quality, because it comes with quantity. The more you shoot, the better your images tend to get. You learn what works and what doesn't, and you figure things out that way. So, even though I was pissed, I'm not anymore. In fact, quite the opposite. I'm going to take what he said to heart and see if I can shoot more than I already do.

Also: I recognize my ego has been getting in the way a lot recently. I'm going to try and work on being more humble and trying to learn from the people around me instead of scoffing about how much I think they suck...

To all the people I've pissed off by coming across as a self-righteous, arrogant douche: I'm sorry and I'm working on it!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Paparazzi with Taylor Mahoney

I had the opportunity this evening to assist photographer and cinematographer Taylor Mahoney in a pretty sweet shoot.

His concept involved a celebrity getting mobbed by the overeager paparazzi. He set the whole thing up in about 12 hours, including getting a mob of photographers, model, and gear. Pretty impressive stuff.

First, some BehindTheScenes images:

Everything I shot tonight was done at 1000 ISO with a popup flash or SB600 speedlight on 1/16 to 1/10 power. We had a blast. My job was to act as paparazzi-ish as possible, while firing off two cameras with strobes. I could have done with this without keeping any photos, but I figured I might as well keep the images and see what I could get.

Shooting on Large, Fine JPG, I got about 350 frames over the course of Taylor's shoot.

At one point, I grabbed my cell phone and snagged some video...

Sorry about the sideways-ness... Apparently I'm supposed to hold my phone horizontally while shooting video 0_0

I also got some images that don't totally suck to look at, especially considering I was shooting on-camera flash - which we are taught in photo school to avoid at pretty much all costs.
They work best as a series, but some of them are strong enough to stand alone...

Overall, a great success! Lots of fun with some of the most talented and fun people in the student photography community at NAU. I plan on assisting Taylor as much as I can in the future, especially if his concepts are going to continue to be so much fun.



a random confession, inspired by postsecret

What is talent? What role does it play in photography? In life?
How much of what we can do is innate ability? How much can be taught?

The above are some of the questions that have been floating around in my head recently. I don't really have answers to them... but I'm going to think out loud here for a bit to see if I can come up with anything.

I think we are all on one side of a figurative fence. We either believe that talent is the driving force behind creativity, or we don't really believe in such a thing as talent.

If talent is the driving force, then we must assume that people are born with their artistic abilities. As such, we should assume that photography cannot be taught. Oh sure, you can teach people the technical aspects of things. How to light, what an Aperture is, how to use a layer mask. But if you believe in talent, then I assume you also believe that creativity in any of its forms cannot be taught or otherwise influenced by others.

On the other hand, if there is no such thing as talent, then anyone can constantly improve their craft, given the right resources. If talent doesn't exist, then our success as creatives depends solely on how much effort, will, passion, sweat and blood we pour into our craft.

One theory assumes that true artists are few and far between; either you've "got it", or you don't. The other concludes that anyone can be an artist if they truly desire.

I admit, I don't know which side of the fence I'm on. In photography classes throughout high school and now in college, I have seen a fair few people who clearly produce higher quality art than others. The question is: do they wake up, pick up their camera, and fire off amazing frames one after the other? Or do they struggle to express themselves like the rest of us? Do they fire off tens or hundreds or thousands of frames to get the one image they show proudly in class? In short: do they do it by talent, or by hard work?

I'm going to go ahead and guess that the students (and non-students) whose work I see and respect on a regular basis are working significantly more on their craft than those students who turn in crap every week. They ponder endlessly the possibilities for the way to get across a specific emotion or idea. They do research. They experiment. They try and try and try to get it just right. They spend hours with their camera and then spend even more time in their darkroom (wet or digital) to come up with the final photographs we see.

I base this off my own experience. I have to work at my craft. I don't wake up and pull amazing photographs out my ass. So, by my own (twisted) logic above, I guess I am not one of the talented ones.

Man, what a depressing conclusion.

Or is it? Honestly, as awesome as it would be to produce gorgeous works of art without any thought or effort - I think I like it the way it is. I have to think. I have to try. I have to fail. I have to work in order to grow and to learn. The process involved in making photographs, good or bad, means I am learning and growing. I'm becoming (hopefully) a better photographer and a better all-around person.

I guess I haven't really answered any of my own questions... Though I don't think I am meant to. I don't think these questions have concrete answers.

What do you think? Leave me a comment below!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A second afternoon with the WRX

I took the 2011 WRX out again from the dealership on Friday, this time for some interior work.

I'm not generally a fan of interior photography, but overall it wasn't too much of a painful experience. I had a bunch of lights at my disposal, and a large studio. It turns out that one of the photo profs at NAU used to photograph cars professionally, so I asked him to come down and help me figure things out.

We used two hot-lights to light the entire of the cockpit. Can anyone guess where they were?

I spent 2 hours on location and only took 38 pictures in that time. Most the time was spent cleaning the interior, arranging lighting, and generally being super-nit-picky about all the details. Very much a foreign concept to me, as I tend to be a "big picture" person.

Another 1.5 hours in post production and I got the image above, which started with just one exposure. Unsurprisingly, there are quite a few layers for individual details like the gauges, clock, wheel, vents, etc.

Assuming the snow stays out of the way in Flagstaff, I plan on photographing this car one more time for motion. We'll get it out on the highway and get some nice blur in the wheels.

This week I'm finishing up a shoot for the East Coast Deli and Grill. When that is all said and done, I'll post some of those and talk a bit about how I did my first food photography assignment.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

An afternoon with the 2011 WRX

I've managed to get the hookups with a car dealership in Flagstaff. Essentially, we trade time for digital copies of the finished images. This works great for me for a couple reasons:
  1. I can build my portfolio quickly
  2. I establish a working relationship with a car dealership and meet new people
  3. I get to drive awesome cars
  4. The dealership falls desperately in love with my photographs

This afternoon I dropped by and picked up a brand new (172 miles) Subaru Impreza WRX. It's a really fun little car. Sounds great, looks good, is *way* too much fun to drive.

My goal with each car is to get ONE image I really like. I did that in just under an hour using a vacant lot  and waiting for the clouds to give me the light I was after.

The plan is to do 5 cars for free, then start charging the dealership per car. Right now I'm thinking $500/image for online-only rights for 1 or 2 years. Double that for print licensing. 

The Drive Planet Nissan Subaru Jeep is the dealership I'm working with. Everyone I've interacted with so far is super chill and very willing to help me help them.

That's it for now! Of course, I can't do a post without the obligatory plug for thevisualCollective trip!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Rant: Subject vs Technique

I was going to title this post "The value of naked models." I'm sure a post title like that would spike my traffic through the roof - but that isn't what I'm after here.

In fact, quite the opposite. I just checked my Flickr feed. It receives approximately no traffic on any given day. Yesterday, however, I posted the images from the hotel shoot with Christie:

I got all kinds of traffic to the few images that I posted. 
I got so much traffic that Christie's friends/acquaintances saw the pictures and she texted me begging that I take the images down so the whole world doesn't see her in her underwear.

I'm a nice guy (generally) so I (sorta) did as she asked. I didn't take them down - but I made them private, so only me and my friends on Flickr can see them.

I have two issues with this whole thing:
1) The pictures really aren't that super amazing. Technically speaking, as a photographer, they're OK but they aren't worthy of the the traffic that I got. Thus, I can assume my traffic was coming to see Christie mostly naked. I don't blame them, but as far as I can tell, none of these new viewers looked at any of my non-scantily-clad-female photos. Cummon!
2) Christie signed a waiver, so technically (legally) I can put these pictures wherever I want, for whatever purpose I want. Yet, she asks me to take them down and I do 'cause I'm (generally) a nice guy. This isn't the first time that this has happened. It seems to me that models do this all the time. I can work with it, but I'll admit it's annoying. To clarify (because I know Christie will read this) - pretty much every model I've worked with has done this at some point. 

Let me take this opportunity to say this to all the models in the world: Please don't do a shoot if you aren't comfortable with the whole world seeing the results, especially when those results generate a lot of traffic (albeit shallow traffic) for the photographer you're working with. I understand that you don't want your cousins or coworkers to see you in your underwear. But if that's the case, don't let people photograph you in your underwear unless you have specifically stated that these pictures will not be going on the internet. If you really mean it, don't sign a waiver that lets the photographer do whatever he or she likes with your photos. 

That said, I love working with Christie and I'll do pretty much whatever she wants in order to maintain the photog/model relationship and to generally keep her happy. Good models are hard to come by, and Christie is one of the best I have ever worked with.  

< / rant >

Happy Valentines day!

Sunday, February 13, 2011


The dreamTrip 2011 has a new name and a new home.

It has been renamed to thevisualCollective, and it has its own website :

Since Andy came on board, we've done some planning, some shooting, some editing, and a fair amount of creating.

In that time, we decided that spending the $12 on a domain and website for the project is a great idea. The site went up around 1:11am this morning. It's still under minor construction - but the basic idea will stay the same from here on out.

The visualCollective? It's a group of visual artists pooling their collective vision and creativity to create art. In short, a visualCollective.

On Friday morning, Andy, Seth, Alexandra and I went out to the middle-of-nowhere (Two Guns, AZ) to test out the idea of a day-trip of creatives and to make a trailer to help people figure out what it's all about. We had an absolutely awesome time and made a bunch of great photos and video.

I've posted the stills on the website - check them out here

This day-trip made me even more excited about the actual trip, mainly because if we can have as much fun as we did on Friday, but repeatedly over the course of 4 or 5 days - it will be seriously epic.

I'd like to point out that thevisualCollective is still looking for sponsors! We need more memory cards, as well as money for fuel and food! If you're interested, please leave a comment below or send us an email:

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Hotel shoots 1 and 2

I've established a working relationship with the Hampton Inn & Suites in Flagstaff. I come in and make demands, and they give me whatever I want. Free breakfast is provided.

Pretty good gig, if you ask me.

Last week I photographed Alexandra in their pool.

The other day, I spent some time in their lobby...

I admit, interior photography isn't really my thing. Still, I've seen worse. I did, however, enjoy doing some more artsy/abstract shots like those below:

The following day, I asked for access to a room for a couple hours. Again, management acquiesced. This time, I convinced Christie to model for me and Dahlia to assist me.

Of course, I shot everything in color - but I don't have gels for my strobe equipment and all the compact fluorescent lightbulbs were color-corrected to tungsten. The result is fairly mixed light:

I lit everything with a 5' softbox on an Einstein 640. A beauty dish would have worked great as well, but I don't have one yet. The main issue with the softbox is that it is huge, while the hotel room is fairly small. Of course it is also a gargantuan light source, so it lit up the floor and much of the bed as well.

Random blog post from back in the day

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Twit this!

I did a quick post a while back about Twitter. That was when I had just started using it and before I really had much of a concept for how it can and should be used.

I'm no Twitter expert. Just because I use the service doesn't mean I know all the ins and outs, but what follows is my attempt at a bit of education for my readers who don't yet know what all the fuss is about.

What is it?
Twitter is a "microblogging" service. Yeah, I don't know what it means either. Essentially Twitter lets you express your views for the whole world to see, but you have to do it in 140 characters or less. This forces you to keep your thoughts brief, or to tweet multiple times. Twitter is constantly indexed by Google. In fact, you can easily make it such that your Google search returns only the latest Twitter results. Sometimes though, Twitter acts very well as a search engine, especially when you are looking for information (or opinions) on the *latest* news. Twitter users tend to have a fairly short attention span. For instance, the day Michael Jackson died - Twitter was the place to go for information (and rumors and opinions and straight up lies too).

Twitter users have "Followers," which are just like your "Friends" on Facebook. Your followers can see the things that you tweet. A lot of new Twitter users seem to think that sheer number of followers is the most important part of Twitter. It isn't. The number of followers you have doesn't matter. This is *not* a popularity contest.

Twitter introduced some fun ideas to Web 2.0

To Tweet = To Twitter. It's official. Either form of the verb is acceptable. "I Twitter" is the same as "I Tweet." I tweet, therefore I am (?)


RT = Retweet. If I see something cool on Twitter, I can retweet it to share it with my followers. Retweeting is the way that most information on Twitter gets around.

# = Hashtag. Hashtags are great for categorizing your tweets or for joining large conversations within the Twitter community. For instance, when my hometown of Boulder caught fire a few months back, I tweeted news and then included #BoulderFire in the tweet. That let other users on Twitter (and search engines like Google) find my tweet more easily.
In the photography community, Chase Jarvis regularly invites his followers to ask him questions or leave comments via a specified hashtag like #CJlive

@Mention. If I want to include another user in a tweet, I can include the @ symbol, then their username. For instance "Man! Just had a totally awesome convo with @simonhucko about #photography"

 "Tweetups." A Tweetup is a meeting that allows Twitter users to meet each other face-to-face rather than interacting entirely on the internet.

Why bother?
This seems to be the issue most people have with Twitter. Why should you bother? Nobody wants to read about what someone had for lunch, or the last time you took a pee. Luckily, that isn't what Twitter is for. I use it for a few main purposes:
1) to complain To seek customer service. Many successful companies are using Twitter to monitor the opinions and word of mouth that revoles around their good or service. If you want quick service, find whether the company in question has an actively managed Twitter account. Oddly enough, complaining via Twitter tends to produce faster, higher quality results than calling customer service (in India!).
For instance: Qwest DSL has been pretty bad in Flagstaff over the last couple months. I called customer service (in India!) and talked to a rep for 35 minutes. I had to deal with all his BS about "is your router plugged in? Pull up Internet Explorer please (F that), Please reboot your computer." I worked in IT and I know how to fix a problem when it's on my end. Screw him. After 35 minutes of screwing around with "Jim," I was moved up the chain and learned: "I am so sorry for the inconvenience sir, there is nothing we can do."

Really? Honestly? Rawr.

Annoyed, I turned to Twitter. Using Google, I discovered the Qwest customer service Twitter handle. (@talktoqwest) and I posted something like "Internet goes down every night from 6pm-6am. Thanks for nothing @talktoqwest !"

5 minutes after I posted that, I had a Direct Message from the rep running the Twitter feed. He asked for my DSL number and a contact number.
The next day, I got a call from Qwest corporate headquarters in Boise, ID. A lovely (english-speaking) gentleman explained to me that the problem was hardware-related: one of their servers in Phoenix crashed. He gave me a time frame for when the problem would be fixed and promised to move my traffic through a new gateway.

That's some VIP treatment, and all I had to do was complain on Twitter. I could go on and on with examples like this. It just works.

2) I also use Twitter to promote this blog, my business and anyone I respect. The trick here is doing it with the proper frequency.

3) Twitter is great for when you're bored at work. A lot of twitter feeds are run by people who seek only to amuse followers. @Lord_Stewie impersonates the Family Guy character Stewie. Hilarious. @shitmydadsays is great too.

4) Sharing. The vast majority of tweets that I see, especially those from photographers, include a link, a photo or a video. Sharing is caring and it gets information around *really* quickly.

Etiquette on Twitter is tricky. I've been chewed out by other users before - but here are a couple things I've picked up over the last year or two.

  • It is polite to follow your followers. I generally give people the benefit of the doubt and follow them. If they do something that annoys me, I can always "unfollow" them later.
  • Generally speaking, less than 1/3 of your tweets should be self-promotion.
  • Your tweets should be spaced out such that you don't hijack anyone's entire feed. Seeing 10 posts from one person in quick succession sucks.
  • Long Twitter conversations should be had via Direct Message (DM) instead of @reply to keep from hijacking feeds

I'm sure I've forgotten a whole bunch of important info about Twitter. I'm no expert, but I hope that this post gave you a better idea about what Twitter is, how it can be used, and how to use it without pissing people off.

Time for this (micro)blogger to head to bed. Goodnight world!

BTW, you can find me on Twitter: @mattbeaty

Monday, February 7, 2011

One thing at a time!

I dunno about you, but for me, creativity comes in spurts. My muse or inspiration or whatever you want to call it seems to have two modes.

off. dead. neglected. take a nap.



Pretty much nothing in between.

Currently, I'm in the middle of the "ON" stage, where my mind cruises at full speed coming up with new shots, ideas, concepts, campaigns, and so on. I can't turn it off and I wouldn't even if I could - but it does tend to make things a little hectic.

If I tried to actively pursue every idea that came to me during this "ON" stage, I would find myself switching gears every 5 minutes and starting a new project that would ultimately die an unfortunate and unfinished death. Nothing gets done at all that way and it feels a lot like this:

image courtesy of

Instead, I have to record the ideas that I think are worth going after, and save them for later. Tackling one idea at a time means that I can get a little boost of creative juice even when my muse is doing a Garfield impersonation.

image courtesy of

I have several methods at my disposal to record fun ideas/projects/whatever for later use. Right now I'm using a combination of my giant whiteboard, my sketch book, and the ToDo app in my phone. Eventually every good (and not so good) idea I have gets written down somewhere for later use. I might rediscover it next week or a year from now, but eventually I'll come back to it.

The tough part is choosing which project to pursue first. I need to decide how long it will take me to complete, whether I have the necessary knowledge and equipment to get it done, things like that. 

Right now I'm working on getting some interior images of a hotel that's agreed to give me full reign and total access. After that I'm doing to do a fashion/modeling shoot in the same hotel, and then I'll move on to a special project for the dreamTrip. During/in between, I'll be shooting cars. 

Technically I'm taking one thing at a time - but I'm going to do all that in the next 5 days, plus shooting basketball and track for work. It doesn't really *feel* like one thing at a time... but technically I suppose it is.

Do you have a way to manage your creative spurts? Let me know in the comments below!

Lightbulb! (why I love photography)

It's been a while since I used my phone to take a picture that I liked.
My LG Optimus S phone does some weird stuff to the images that it produces... like a ton of noise reduction and some funky sharpening. Regardless, I got this picture the other night:

Honestly, I was surprised my phone could even capture something this bright. 

Are these pictures masterful works of art? No, they aren't. Do I like them anyway? You betcha.

More and more often these days I feel pressured to use my cameras to make amazing, life-changing images. You know what? That isn't what photography is all about. Sure it's great to do that once in a while... but photography is about expression. It's about showing the way you see the world around you. It's about creation. It's about the sound and feel of the shutter.

That's why I love photography. Because I am creating. I am making something that nobody else ever has. Even if the concept has been done a bazillion times, when I press the shutter I know what no one in the history of EVER has done exactly what I just did. Photography is a powerful drug feeling. Looking through my viewfinder, I am The Creator. I am the all-powerful master of the seen universe.

When I'm holding a camera, I feel like Mufasa is standing next to me, whispering in my ear "Everything the light touches is our Kingdom."

Photography makes me The Creator, and it makes the world My Kingdom. It empowers me to express how I feel and what I see. The simple act of creation is what makes photography, painting, drawing, or playing music worth it. Honestly, it doesn't matter if my pictures change the world. It doesn't matter if anyone ever sees my photos, because every time I push the shutter, I'm creating something.

That is why I love photography.

I love blogging too. Not because I'm an attention whore with an absolute need for recognition. I know it seems like that sometimes, but honestly - that isn't why I love it.
I love blogging because it allows me to share. I can share what I have created. I can share the work of others. I can share Willow Smith's greatest video (you know you love it). I can share whatever I want, with a (potentially) world-wide audience. Anyone with an internet connection can read what I have to share.

That's the end of my rant for today.

Here's another random link to an old post

Friday, February 4, 2011

Swimwear: concept fail

Let me preface this post with an important concept.

Failure is inevitable. Failure is good. Failure will teach you.

With that out of the way, let me tell you how I failed my most recent personal photo shoot.

It started with a concept. A model, slowly rises out of the water. Black goggles cover her eyes and water pours down her face as she stares down the camera, looking deep into your soul.


With a grand concept like that, I was bound to fail. Nevertheless, Alexandra and I had fun and I ended up with an image I rather like. This was my second time working with Alexandra, who has been modeling on and off for the last 7 years. I called her the day before my shoot and gave her my basic idea. Even though she's still getting over a cold, she agreed and I picked her up and headed out to the location.

She jumped in the (very warm) pool and we started shooting. Light was provided by one Einstein 640 with a 20 degree grid. I had her go underwater and then come up approximately a bazillion times. I had her stop and hold at a variety of positions. I tried a few different techniques to make things work, and this is the best of them:


It immediately became apparent to me that the original concept simply wasn't going to happen. Not with the ambient light in the pool. Not without a C-Stand or a VAL (strobist terminology for Voice Activated Lightstand, or someone holding the light on a pole). So I had her take the goggles off her eyes and we did a few frames like the one below.

Again. Not what I was after and not an image I'm particularly proud of. 
I knew I wasn't going to like these nearly as much, so I bailed on that concept and asked Alexandra to swim through the sunny spot in order to take advantage of the ambient light that I had been trying to conquer. 

In doing so, I ended up with the frame I like best from the shoot:

Sometimes it takes a major concept fail for me to realize that the best way to shoot is to use what you have available. Half the wall of the pool is windows, and we had a bunch of sunlight streaming in. We did 4 or 5 takes of this and wrapped the shoot. I'm going to go back next week with a different model and a different concept. I'll probably tackle my original concept again when I've decided how I'm going to light it (probably with a C-Stand and a big softbox)

Speaking of stands:

I use the Heavy Duty 13' stand I bought from Paul C Buff. Getting a light with any kind of modifier up even 8 feet requires weights on the stand for stabilization. I know a lot of photogs use sandbags or lead shot bags. I've found a cheaper alternative:

These are ankle weights from Gold's Gym. I bought them at Wal Mart. 10 LBS (5 each) for $8. They're super portable and they velcro to themselves, so I can keep them directly on the stand. I'm going to buy two more so I have one for each leg of the stand, and one for the middle. That'll be 20 LBS of extremely convenient weights that I don't have to take off my stand. Makes the stand a bunch heavier, keeps it stable and keeps the weights out of my bags. Plus, they're super cheap and they don't leak at all!