When I was very young I remember my father setting up the slide projector in our living room and showing me all the photos from his time he served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. A Private First Class, he was a radar operator in a counter-artillery unit very close to the front lines. He saw a lot of insane things during his tour there and even had to deal with his best friend being killed…a true tragedy of war. Amidst all of that though were the amazing photos he shot while he was there. My father, an amateur photographer, really showed some skills with a camera, even with only the small equipment he was able to take with him. Camera technology in 1952 was a lot different than the high-tech equipment us photographers use today, but the basic rules all still applied…composition, aperture, shutter speed, etc. Except back in those days cameras used this stuff called “film” in order to preserve a photo…something today’s younger generation is quite unfamiliar with.
While I personally have never served in the armed forces, most of my friends had at one point in time or another. James, one of my childhood friends, later went on to graduate from the prestigious National War College. In my 20’s, one of my closest friends, Rob, was an ex-Marine. When I went to UNLV, a good friend of mine used to take me up in private planes while he was logging solo flight hours for his admission into the U.S. Navy. He later went on to graduate Top Gun and is currently still an F/A-18 Pilot. Today, most of my friends are either veterans or retired U.S. Military, serving our nation in careers ranging from flight squadron commanders to my friend Dee, military police officer. I have always had the utmost respect for those who give so generously for the defense of our great nation.
This got me to thinking several months ago about doing something to support our troops. I was doing a photo shoot with my friend Samantha, who I wrote about in a previous blog about the photos we got published in MyVegas Magazine. Prior to our shoot with her breathing fire at the Downtown Container Park, she and I worked on a cool pin up photo shoot, which has since been published in Fashion Bombshell Magazine. I really enjoyed doing a classic pin up shoot a lot, and I spent a lot of time researching the many different styles of pin up art and photography that has spanned many decades and trends, and after that shoot I really wanted to explore doing more creative styles of work in this genre even more.
That’s when it hit me. Being that pin up art is very deeply rooted in military culture, from tattoos soldiers would get while stationed overseas to the images pilots would paint on the sides their bombers, why not do a pin up calendar for charity as a way to support our troops?! I contacted a number of different charities to get some opinions on how I could support them with this type of project and the answer I kept hearing was, “Once you have produced the calendar, we will have our legal teams review the photos and get back to you.” OK, so I had to make the calendar first and then figure out who I was going to help with it later. No problemo!
The first thing I did was run casting calls all over the Internet looking for pin up models. I started doing this over the past summer, figuring it was going to take some time to do the shoots, handle the retouching and design work, assemble the calendar, etc. Two photos I wanted to use were already shot though. A few years ago I did a shoot for a client, Sigrid, for her and her brother. I emailed her and asked if I could use one of the photos for this project and she happily agreed. Another photo I shot of my friend Mariah. Having moved to Denver over a year ago, her and her husband were some of my go-to models whenever I needed fun, creative types to work with. Robert, her husband, is an ex-marine, so I emailed the two of them and asked if I could use one of the photos I shot of Mariah and they loved the idea. (Mariah and Robert were my “Joker” and “Batgirl” as featured in a previous blog from 2011). Some models I wanted to use I already knew though, such as my friend Lisa, and of course she referred me to another model, Dahlia, who was just a HUGE help on this project. Not only is Dahlia a professional pin up model but she really does live the lifestyle. Her entire wardrobe is made of vintage, 1930s and 1940s style clothing. Sarah, a regular in my blog, was a given…nobody I’ve ever worked with puts in as much effort to making a shoot perfect as she does. With her unique creativity, I KNEW I had to get her involved. I had a few shoot ideas in mind but a lot of the concepts were created as we were shooting on set. Some were shot on location, others in studio.
One thing I truly did not expect were the emails and calls of support from people wanting to help out on this project once they heard what it was for. Bill, a local firefighter emailed me and asked if I would like to use his 1950 fire engine for the shoot. Once I saw the photos of this fully restored beauty I just knew I had to use it for something and it is now the background for our August photo with the awesome local model Kalliann Haas, who I wrote about in a previous blog where we shot all around Lake Mead. A car aficionado, I love to go to local car shows and there are some classic car collectors who do meet-and-greets in my neighborhood every Sunday. While perusing through these gorgeous automobiles of yesteryear, I fell in love with this one white car, a 1937 Ford coupe. WOW was this car beautiful. I spoke with the owner, a military veteran, and told him my desire to use the car for a photo shoot and he was thrilled. So thank you VERY much David for the use of your vehicle…it is now on the cover of our calendar and also featured for September!
After many months of photo shoots and hours and hours of retouching and graphic work, the calendar was now ready. Now the question came into my mind of who would be a great charity to work with on this. There really are many wonderful organizations out there and many were recommended to me but one stood out more than any other, and that is the USO. After all, who would be able to identify more with this kind of thing than the USO?! The USO (United Service Organizations) was founded in 1941 as a non-profit organization to provide morale and recreational service to members of the U.S. military. The USO is best known for their live performances for troops around the world by such notable entertainers as Bob Hope, Judy Garland, Robin Williams, Lucille Ball, Lewis Black, Marilyn Monroe, Mark Wahlberg, and many others. But more importantly, they provide over 160 different locations around the world for military personnel and their families to visit for recreational down-time. They also aid in the transportation of fallen soldiers and comfort for families in dealing with such losses. Their airport lounges provide books, televisions, free snacks, and even quiet, comfort areas for soldiers to take a nap and relax before their flights.
A USO fundraising video from 1946, as hosted by Bob Hope
When I contacted the USO, I was surprised to learn that donations made locally stayed locally. That really piqued my interest a lot as it made me happy to know that donated funds wouldn’t get lost in some national shuffle…they would go right to the source that needed it if you so desired. I spoke with several great staff members at the USO and I was even offered a private tour of their facility at the Las Vegas McCarran International Airport location. I met with Tim Mullin, one of the two full-time staff members at the USO Las Vegas (everyone else works there strictly on a voluntary basis) and got to see first-hand some of the wonderful things they do for our soldiers passing through Las Vegas
After meeting with the staff of the USO and some of their amazing volunteers, I knew this was the right choice for this project.
So, effective November 25th, our 2015 calendar is complete and is now for sale! This is a large, 11X17” calendar printed on high-quality stock to showcase the awesome pin up beauties! You can get your copy for only $24.95 (plus shipping) and 100% of the profits will be donated to the USO Las Vegas. In 2013 the USO Las Vegas was awarded as being the top USO facility out of their 160 locations around the world and they hope to receive the same award for 2014, so you know that your contribution to this project is a great one.
Here are the photos that are included in the calendar:
MANY special thanks to the amazing models who donated their time, energy, and talents to making this project come together: Amy, Agatha, Dahlia, Kalliann, Lisa, Maria, Samantha, and Sigrid. I couldn’t have done it without you guys. Special thanks to the rest of my team from our photo assistants, makup artists, and to our classic vehicle owners as well.
These 2015 calendars will be on sale only for a few more weeks so to get your calendar, especially in time for Christmas, please order now before they are all gone!
Normally I don’t post in my blog about different accolades I’m awarded but this time I thought it would make for a fun blog about the craziness of being published. I’ve had the privilege of being published in magazines around the world, in major ad campaigns, and even on the deck of a skateboard, but sometimes it’s the smaller accomplishments that serve as the largest personal rewards.
Back in the autumn of 2013 I was reading a newsletter from Nevada Magazine about how they were looking for submissions on different topics. Much of what they publish are about the rural areas of Nevada which I rarely shoot but one topic really jumped out at me. They were looking for photos of the new Downtown Container Park which is the brain child of the urban development project of Tony Hsieh (of Zappos fame). As I am frequently shooting in the the downtown area of Las Vegas I started thinking of all the ideas of what could be photographed in this highly creative location on East Fremont Street. Inside the Container Park are small stores and boutiques…all locally owned, in addition to some great eateries, a HUGE treehouse/play area for kids AND adults (adults get the run of the place in the later hours) and live music all day and evening. Then of course, there is “The Mantis”.
One year at Burning Man, Tony Hsieh saw this giant robotic praying mantis on display shooting huge fireballs from its antennae and it was love at first sight. Tony purchased the mechanical monster and brought it out to some First Friday events before eventually making it a permanent home at the entrance to the Downtown Container Park. Every 15 minutes they put on a show with perhaps the most interesting fire show you’ve ever seen. Needless to say, it’s a huge hit with visitors and I knew that if done right, a great photo shoot was in the making! Now I just had to convince Nevada Magazine about it not to mention the Container Park.
Act II…The Preparation.
On an unrelated project I was working with an amazing local fashion model, Samantha Sable. She and I were working on a photo shoot for a pinup magazine. During one of our conversations in setting up the shoot Samantha had mentioned she had a very unique skill…she was a fire breather. A soon as she said those words my eyes grew to the size of dinner plates. “YOU’RE A WHAT? A FIRE BREATHER? Wow do I have a concept to pitch to you!” I already had the finished concept complete in my head. I wanted to pose Samantha breathing fire in front of the Mantis doing its thing. I pitched her the idea and she was on board! The thing is, with most photo editorials in magazines, they don’t just want one photo, they usually want a series of photographs that can span several pages along with a written editorial piece of some sort. Nevada Magazine though is more photo-based so something written wasn’t necessary but having an assortment of photos was. Having one killer photo was great, but they needed more. So, I recruited a second model…James Michael Pelz. Even though they had never met, I wanted to create a series of photos of a couple walking through the mall to create a certain mood. Samantha, being one of the easiest models I’ve ever worked with, was on board with that and so she and James became my “couple” for the evening. Based on the photos, you’d never guess they met just 30 minutes prior to shooting.
Before I ever took the first photo though, there was a LOT of things to prepare for. I first wanted to get some test shots with Samantha. I didn’t have a huge amount of experience photographing fire breathers so I went to her home and in front of her neighbors, we did a fire breathing test shoot that came out great. I was stoked.
So, off to Nevada Magazine. I pitched them the entire concept of what I wanted to do and they went nuts for it. “So you already have permission from the Container Park to do all this?” they asked. “Oh, of course I do…they are all on board.” …I lied. I knew that when I pitched this to the Container Park management they would love the idea, but I hadn’t even approached them with this yet. I wanted to make sure that these photos would be published before I went that route so now I had to get the Container Park as stoked as I was and the good news is, they were! Over the course of several meetings and a huge volume of emails, I finally got the green light to do the shoot exactly as I planned it and the management and staff of the Container Park was really excited about the concept and, of course, the positive publicity they would receive. Two weeks before the shoot I even went to several of the local vendors to get shopping bags we could use so they would get a plug as well and make sure everyone was happy on their end. Everything was going exactly according to plan. That’s when things started to go sideways.
“Our legal department says you need to have a $2 million dollar insurance policy to cover the fire breather” they told me three days before the shoot. In a panic, I called my insurance company I use for my business but they didn’t have a system in place to cover such a shoot on short notice. Eventually I found a company that specializes in insuring circus performers so in less than 24 hours, I had insurance papers in hand! “Do you have your permit from the city also?” they asked. It turns out that since some of the photos may be shot from the city street area, the city of Las Vegas gets involved and for liability and filming purposes, they require you to have a permit. So, after dealing with the city bureaucracy for a day, we got our permits on short notice too.
It was a cold night in early January of 2014 when we decided to do the shoot to make a February 1st deadline with the magazine. Las Vegas was going through an uncharacteristic warm spell this year but it was still cold out. Everyone arrived on time and ready to go. We decided to do the fire shoot first and then shoot through the Container Park after as they neared closing time. We arrived on the scene and were greeted by the representatives of the Container Park who wanted to oversee the mayhem we were about to create. Samantha got into her performing outfit, I was setting up lights, and then we got word of a small problem. There was a gas leak in the Mantis and they had to get some parts to fix it. Not good. After a minor delay, we were back in business. The pyrotechnicians who operated the Mantis were more than accommodating and helped us immensely with angling the giant robotic beast, performing test shots for me, etc. These guys were just awesome. It took me several test shots before I could really dial in the settings on my camera to get the effect that I wanted all while maintaining a good photograph of all the subjects involved. Creative lighting techniques really came into play to make this all work. It would not be an easy shoot.
As we began to setup, a crowd began to form thinking something significant was about to happen and they didn’t want to miss it. Samantha spent some time coordinating cues with the pyro guys to get in sync with their firing off the Mantis and her breathing fire. Those two were in step with one another like Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire! Samantha walked out, took her torches and blew fire 20 feet into the air while the Mantis was shooting fireballs high into the sky. It was AMAZING, and the crowd cheered so loud I’m sure they could be heard for miles! It was like nothing I’ve ever seen. Now though came the important part…did we get the shot? I hit the “preview” button on my Nikon D800 and Shazam…magic was captured! I asked to do a few more takes from some different angles and everyone was more than happy to do so. “How do they look?” Samantha asked. “I’ll show you in a minute but let’s keep shooting.” I said as I could barely contain my excitement. Several repeat shoots later, I knew we were done. The crowd gave everyone a huge applause and many people wanted to go talk to the amazing fire breather they just saw but Samantha was dying to see the photos…as I was I. We started reviewing them in the camera and we all gave each-other a high five in excitement. We nailed it.
After everything calmed down, now it was time for Part 2…shooting through the park. Over the next two hours we setup shoots in a variety of locations. The nice thing about the Downtown Container Park is that there are so many interesting things to shoot in there so it makes it quite easy to get great photos inside. So off we went. I had our two models sipping coffee inside an orange container that overlooks the entrance, we got photos of them “shopping”, having fun in the playhouse, and people watching. It was great. The rapport these two had on camera was wonderful and it’s proof that when you work with professionals, you get professional results.
We were done with the shoot, but the photos still needed retouching and the fire photos, while awesome, needed quite a bit of work in Photoshop to make them look as perfect as they could be. After all the post-production work was done, I submitted the photos over to Nevada Magazine a week before our deadline and instantly I got the email back from them…they loved the photos! They went nuts for them. Mission Accomplished!!! Nevada Magazine is a quarterly magazine and we were expecting to be published in their Spring issue, which would be great for all of us. Wrong. “We can’t afford to pay you for the photos” my editor contact emailed me. “What are you talking about?” I replied. “Well, it turns out that we ran out of budget for this issue and we didn’t think you would want to submit just for photo credit so we missed the deadline and my boss is saying he can’t use the photos this time around.”
I emailed everyone involved and we were just devastated. All that work for nothing. Nevada Magazine was very nice to us but it just wasn’t in the cards I suppose. Sometimes that’s just the nature of this business. Now I have possession of an amazing photo shoot with no home. Needless to say, I was a little upset at how this went down and I knew that with a little tenacity, we would find someone willing to publish the shoot. I sent out emails to all the local magazines and newspapers and I received back tons of positive responses. The best one came from a magazine that I actually thought would be one of the most difficult to get into because the quality of their magazine is so high and that is MyVegas Magazine. This quarterly publication reaches tens of thousands of readers throughout the Las Vegas valley of both locals and tourists alike. They have a great editorial staff, writers, photos, and a very good presence through Las Vegas. They absolutely loved the photos and most certainly wanted to run them…but they wanted a little more. “The photos are amazing but we usually like a small editorial to go with them. Are you able to write a little something to go with the photos?” I pointed them to this blog and their response back was wonderful. They asked me to keep it very brief (less than 200 words) and they would be happy to take care of us in their Summer issue.
As I’m sure you can deduce by now, I’m not one to keep things brief. 200 words? This sounded more daunting than photographing a fire breather. I knew I needed some assistance with this and it’s always nice to be able to call-in favors. One of my past clients and now friends is Ben Spillman. Ben was a writer for the Las Vegas Review Journal and recently moved up to Reno to write for the Reno Gazette-Journal newspaper. He’s an awesome writer and man of many talents. I sent him over the article I wrote and he provided me with some very useful feedback. When finished, I submitted it over to the magazine and they thought it was great. Now …the waiting game.
Months later I get an email. “You have a package waiting for you at our office if you would like to pick it up. We could mail it to you too if you wish, but either way, your issue is now available and we thought you’d like to get a few copies before they hit newsstands.” We were published! The folks at MyVegas Magazine are just an awesome group. I couldn’t wait. I hopped in my SUV and drove down to their offices in anticipation. The box was waiting for me with the receptionist and I couldn’t wait until I got home to open it. I cracked the seal and the magazines inside looked amazing. I flipped to our segment and there we were.
Here are the other finished photos of the fire breathing. The first one was the photo used for publication:
So out of all of this, we managed to turn lemons into lemonade and WOW was that some great Lemonade! If you haven’t been able to pick up a copy of the magazine around Las Vegas, you can see the digital copy of BY CLICKING HERE. or you can copy and paste the link below into your browser:
Special thanks to the magazine, of course, for taking such great care of us and helping us to find a home for this complicated project. Also, special thanks to Samantha and James for some awesome modeling work and especially Samantha for her incredible fire-breathing talents and professionalism. While James is no longer actively modeling, Samantha most certainly is. For information on booking Samantha for photo shoots, you can contact her at email@example.com and to see more of her work, feel free to visit her on Model Mayhem:
As a professional Las Vegas photographer for over 15 years, I specialize in photo shoots of all shapes and sizes so if you are in need of something wild and crazy for a commercial shoot, publication, or if you just want some great photos taken at the Container Park, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or give me a call at 702-204-1740 and we can discuss your next shoot in greater detail!
When people come to Las Vegas they think of the bright lights, world class shows and restaurants, gambling, and shopping galore. What many tourists who come here don’t know is that right outside of Las Vegas are nature areas that are not only amazing to visit, but also very easy to get to. To our West we have the Red Rock Canyon State Park and to the Northeast we have the Valley of Fire State Park, both of which are easy to get to but because of this fact, many tourists travel to these destinations in search of that magical photo. The problem is, when they arrive, they soon realize that they are in mixed company with the thousands of other out-of-towners with the same idea. It’s not to say that you can’t get an amazing photo in these two locations as both of these locations are certainly worth the trip, it is just that if you want to have some amazing photos without the bus loads of tourists rampaging through the area, then there is a different destination to consider.
Lately I’ve been getting a lot of requests for photo shoots from couples wanting engagement photos, family portraits, or even hiking photos from one of the surrounding nature areas outside of Las Vegas. Most people think of Red Rock right away and usually decide against Valley of Fire because of the longer drive (about 1 hour outside of Las Vegas) and busy roads from tourists. What I have discovered is that a better choice might actually be in the areas around the Lake Mead National Park (Specifically what is referred to as the Lake Mead National Recreation Area).
One of the great pleasures of being a photographer in Las Vegas is that we have so many wonderfully talented people here. I recently did an awesome shoot with local model Kalliann Haas at some of my favorite secret Lake Mead locations. If you are an avid reader of my blog, you’ll know that Kalliann is the model I shot for the Las Vegas Review Journal article that was written about me last year. A full-time professional model, Kalliann is really a tomboy by nature who’s hobbies including Quad racing and drifting race cars. By day though, you can see Kalliann as a showgirl street performer or working as a model for tradeshows and conventions.
Even the most beautiful supermodels though are aided by the talents of a great makeup artist. Over the years I’ve really learned that excellent makeup application for photo shoots is just as essential as the location, wardrobe, and even photography. It’s a collaboration of talents that all make a great shoot come together, whether you are a professional model or just a 9-to-5er looking for some spectacular wedding photos. I almost always recommend now that for any high end photo shoot like a wedding or portraits, that all parties (yes, even the guys) get some form of professional makeup application. Some makeup artists prefer to work in the confines of a studio or makeup counter, but in a crazy town like Las Vegas, you have to be prepared to work in the weirdest of conditions. One of my favorite professional makeup artists here in Las Vegas is Alyxandra Joy, who can work her magic in the strangest places possible. Here you can see her doing a 1-hour makeup job on Kalliann from the back of her car in the parking lot of Texas Station. Welcome to Las Vegas.
After makeup, we then headed out to Lake Mead. As we traveled along the roads surrounding the area, we stopped to get photos at some very cool places. Locations most people wouldn’t even know existed complete with large rock formations, deep canyons, and big, beautiful skies.
When most people visit any of the destinations around Lake Mead, they think of rocky beaches, busy marinas and boat docks, and that’s about it. As a Las Vegas native I’ve had the luxury of exploring all around Lake Mead and every time I do, I discover new and exciting areas that most people would never realize is even there. For starters, there are the red rock formations. Yes, you heard me right. Most people associate Lake Mead with brown dirt and rocks but if you know where to look, there are some awesome places to have photo shoots done around Lake Mead that are not only exceptionally easy to get to (if you know where to go) but also resemble exactly what you see at Valley of Fire but with a much shorter trip and a lot less tourists. When people ask me to shoot their wedding or engagement photos at Valley of Fire or Red Rock Canyon, I now suggest we shoot at Lake Mead for these reasons. Plus, there are a lot less park rangers to deal with.
Lake Mead is famous for it’s easy-access marinas so boating and WaveRunners are a common sight all through Lake Mead from the Boulder Basin Las Vegas Boat Harbor to the Calville Bay Marina, but there are very few places to actually go swimming around Lake Mead. The most popular place is Boulder Beach where many tourists go to swim as well as many Las Vegas locals as well. While there are no lifeguards on duty, it doesn’t stop people by the hundreds from visiting the small, rocky beach every day during the summer months. Many photographers I know have attempted to do photo shoots in the area only to leave in frustration because the photos frequently have litter in them from the unclean beach or random swimmers in the shot. I was one of them too many years ago…that is, until I decided to scout out some great water locations to shoot in that were not only safe, but off the beaten path resulting in unobstructed beauty like no other place in Southern Nevada, as you can see from our great photo shoot.
Special credits go to:
Makup: Alyxandra Joy. For booking contact Alyxandra at email@example.com or by phone at 702-722-7400.
If you are looking to book some amazing outdoor scenic photos near Las Vegas, I highly recommend shooting at Lake Mead. I know all the great spots to shoot at they are easier to get to than you might realize…you just need to know where to look. If you’re interested booking a shoot, give me a call at 702-204-1740 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.