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!