Going to Church, Photographing LAX

Going to Church, Photographing LAX

Beauty is not the first word that comes to mind when one thinks of Los Angeles International Airport. Most often the first word you’re going to think of is explicit, four letters long, and is immediately followed by the mental gymnastics that one must perform when they figure out the optimal time to leave in order to beat 405 traffic while not getting stuck in 10 traffic but at the same time approaching the airport so as to dodge Century Blvd traffic. Need I mention the loop, or the low-roofed ceilings, or overpriced airport food (hey, it’s getting better!), jammed TSA lines, etc. It’s an airport we love to hate, but ever since moving to Los Angeles I’ve made a near-weekly trip out to photograph it.

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On Assignment with Arquitectonica

On Assignment with Arquitectonica

Over the past few months, I’ve had the good fortune to photograph roughly 35 projects by Arquitectonica, the Miami, Florida, based architecture firm known for iconic projects such as American Airlines Area, Brickell City Centre, the Lima Airport, Atlantis Miami (Hello, Miami Vice!) and many more. Arquitectonica has projects across the entire US and around the globe, so when the call came through that I’d been hired to document their most recent projects in the US I was absolutely psyched.

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Photographing Brickell City Centre in Miami, FL

Photographing Brickell City Centre in Miami, FL

Over the last six months I’ve been traveling regularly to Miami, FL, to photograph the new Brickell City Centre development. Spanning over six acres spread across five city blocks, the project is absolutely enormous in scale. With multiple high-rise office buildings, residential buildings, hotels, and an open-air mall with retail and dining space, there is no shortage of amazing subject matter for any architectural photographer. The overall plan and architecture were envisioned by Arquitectonica and interiors were designed by Richardson-Sadeki. The images below are the result of many early mornings, late nights, and humid Miami days creating images of a truly impressive project. As the project continues to be completed, I will be traveling back to photograph additional spaces throughout 2017.

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The Making of Airportraits: Chasing Planes Around The World

The Making of Airportraits: Chasing Planes Around The World

I just spent nearly two years of my life photographing airplanes and airports.

It wasn’t two years straight with no interruption, but it did occupy a good deal of my waking hours. Even if I wasn’t photographing airports or airplanes, I was planning how I was going to photograph them, making arrangements to photograph them, or staying up until 3am tracking airplane movements and wind patterns.

In March of 2014, I created the first image of this series, Wake Turbulence, which depicted an entire day’s worth of aircraft movements at LAX composited into a single image. The resulting work was plastered all over the internet, was named one of the top images of 2014, and even ended up on a Gestalten book cover which is now in museums and bookstores all over the world.

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Eyes Aloft: The Sublimity of Plane Spotting" Published in Virgina Quarterly Review

Over the past couple of years I’ve been working to photograph airports all over the world, and a large part of that project involves photographing aviation enthusiasts who line the edges of runways with their cameras pointed skyward. Known as planespotters, these enthusiasts have actually played a very interesting part in our world economy, exposing movements of some of the most elusive figures and celebrities by uploading images of their private aircraft to the web for all to see. I was lucky enough to be chosen to illustrate VQR’s story about this interesting and relatively under-the-radar hobby. Images from Los Angeles, Tokyo, and Zurich were included in the article. See some of those images below and be sure to check out the full article in VQR!

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A long way from Los Angeles

I have not written much at all on here, which I simultaneously regret and also enjoy. I had one of the most productive summers of my life, so am loathe to say that I was 'too busy' to write up here, because I believe people who say they're busy just can't manage their time properly (wink wink) so let's just say I put myself under enormous pressure to pull off a ton of projects in a short amount of time, because, well, if not now, then when? Here's a quick recap of what I was up to since the last blog post.

I taught an architectural photography workshop in the Bahamas, in which I taught 20+ aspiring interior and architectural photographers everything I know:

Right after the Bahamas, it was time to buckle down and focus on getting my Kickstarter campaign off the ground. That alone was one of the most intense and focused periods of my life, and I'm happy to say that it succeeded. Those who know me know that I am my own toughest critic; and while the campaign did well I know we couldn't have possibly reached everyone, so I'm even happier to announce that the book, LA AIRSPACE, has been noticed and picked up to be published and available to the general public through retailers thanks to Angel City Press. So yes, that is extremely exciting on all fronts. Successful Kickstarter, followed by my first published book. Just awesome.

In addition to the LA AIRSPACE Kickstarter, I suppose that this is as good a time as ever to announce that some of my image from the LA AIRSPACE project and my Architecture of Iceland project have been awarded a spot in the Luerzer's Archive 200 BEST Ad Photographers Worldwide 2016/2017 edition. This has been a career goal of mine, so to say that I'm excited is a little bit of an understatement. I'M FRIGGEN STOKED! 

Sometime during the Kickstarter campaign in June, I made off to Brazil for 8 days to begin the biggest assignment of my life, which will take me all over the world to airports on every continent. The second (I actually photographed in Dubai International earlier this year) airport and first on this summer's mega-trip is the Sao Paulo/GRU Airport in Brazil. What an experience that was; at the risk of turning this into a travel blog, Brazil surpassed my expectations in every way. Had a wonderful, if not stressful, time watching the weather and hoping for the best, but in the end it turned out fantastically, nailing our shot on the last day we were there with some legendary light giving us a nice hand. 

After Sao Paulo, it was back to LA for a sum total of something like ten days to wrap up the Kickstarter,and  shoot a really cool assignment with America's Styrenics here in LA. 

After a whirlwind week it was across the country to South Carolina for a brief family visit, and then off to Amsterdam for 6 days, Frankfurt for 5 days, Zurich for 5 days, Innsbruck for a weekend, Munich for 5 days. Quick flight to Tokyo for a week, overnight to Syndey for another week, then across the little pond known as the Tasman Sea for 18 days in New Zealand to photograph (you guessed it) more airports. I was fortunate to get access to amazing never-before-photographed locations at many of these airports, which was so much fun to experience. The enthusiasm and help that these airports offered in terms of helping me find the best locations for each assignment was just amazing, and is going to make for some really unique images. Here are a few behind-the-scenes snaps...


At some point during this assignment, Air New Zealand arranged for me to get a ride in the jumpseat of one of their mainline flights between Auckland and Queenstown. More to come on that front when the entire project is wrapped, but let's just say that was the absolute coolest moment of my entire life. Not sure how I can go much higher than this, honestly, I think I've peaked :)


Two months later, back in Los Angeles and immediately into shooting some pretty great architecture and interiors. Restaurants, residential, and pretty much everything in between have been on tap.  Here's a quick rundown of some of the architectural gigs I've been on since wrapping up the first half of the airport project:

Even got the chance to go to Indiana to photograph classic British cars under a 30 foot Chimera softbox. The absurdity continues - this was so much fun and with any luck this won't be the last of my automotive and transport based work. Here's a quick sneak peek at what I was up to...

Who knew that there was a crossover market for the architecture-aviation-and-automotive enthusiast? Going to start calling myself AAA Photography or something equally cheesy.

A couple more architectural shoots to wrap up October, and then it's travel time AGAIN, this time to Cuba for eight days to guide a tour around the island. My head is spinning too, don't worry.

And for a little icing on the cake, I learned I've been invited back to Dubai in February to teach at Gulf Photo Plus. For those interested in workshops, this will be my only one for the foreseeable future after my Cuba workshop in a few weeks. And that's that. I will try to be a little more pro-active on here, but I've got buckets of editing to do to catch up! More to come...


LA AIRSPACE Kickstarter: Halfway done, 86% funded!

I have neglected the blog on this site for the past month, which is rather unfortunate, considering all that has been going on! I recently decided that the time was right to wrap up and publish my work featuring the city of Los Angeles as photographed from a helicopter. The project is named LA AIRSPACE and as the title mentions, we are 86% funded on Kickstarter as of today! We've got half of the campaign left and I'm so excited with the progress we've made so far.

The book has been two years in the making, and has had me in the air covering Los Angeles in all four seasons. The book is being designed, printed, and put together right here in Los Angeles. Everything involved with the creation of the book, right down to the helicopters that we flew in, is locally tied to the city of LA. 

I'm so proud of the work we've done on the campaign - and so happy to have such great support from not only LA but all over the world.  It is so exciting to finally see this come to life, and to be lucky enough to have so many people willing to collaborate with me and back the project - just amazing!

To check out the Kickstarter campaign itself, click here. I've also been blogging about the process every week on Fstoppers. Those two posts (more to come) can be found here and here.

Architectural Photography Q+A With University of Lancashire Student

I recently received an email from a student at the University of Lancashire in Preston, England, asking for a few minutes to answer some questions for a report he'd been working on. What I initially thought would be a five-minute email ended up turning into an hour-long type-a-thon! The student asked some wonderful questions and really got me to give up some good insight into my job and life, and as a result, I figured it was interesting enough to share with the world. I get asked most of these questions on a fairly regular basis, so it is good to make it permanent here on the blog. Enjoy! And thanks for the wonderful questions, Kaiz!

How long have you been an architectural photographer? 

Five years

If you don't mind me asking, what made you go down that particular route? 

I have always been interested in art and design, having studied painting, sculpture, graphic design, and digital art all through my formative years and in college. A chance encounter led to me meeting my first architectural client, and I found that it was the perfect marriage between my love of design, art, and photography. Or perhaps that is a ménages à trois, more specifically...

First things first, what's your process when you're out on a job? Do you give yourself some time to get familiar with what your shooting?

The process is mostly the same. I'll do a walkthrough on the day of shooting with the client, or a scout day beforehand to get familiar with the location. From there, it's a matter of finding the correct composition, glamorize the space with lighting at the right time of day, and then transform the composition with furniture movement and staging. After that, I try to translate the language of the architecture in post processing to bring elements forward using value, light, color, and so on, to create the finished image. It's a lengthy process.

How long does a shoot last? Do you go back and do re-shoots and if so, how many times? 

For most residential projects, a shoot lasts one or two days. For commercial projects, things can last as long as a week. I'll go back to capture different light at different times of day if necessary, and try not to mess it up so bad that I have to do a re-shoot :)

How close do you you work with the architect and do they have a say in the final outcome? 

Some architects want to be there to art direct everything, and some trust me completely. But at the minimum, we are having a face-to-face meeting or a walkthrough before the shoot to go over everything before I even take a single picture. It just depends on the architect/client.

Are there any other contemporary photographers within the industry that inspire you? 

This may be weird but I try not to follow other architectural photographers' work. I am afraid that if I look at it too much, it will influence my style and pull my photographs away from the vision that I created in my head. But If I have to answer, I do really like Scott Frances' work, Frank Meyl's work. Julius Shulman is another big influence, not so much in his post-processing or vision, but in the way that he transformed the genre and went against the grain of what was the 'industry standard' at the time. He was really the first to add light and transform the composition in front of him.

I've just recently submitted my dissertation which tried to answer the question on whether Architectural Photography has as much to do with the photographer's vision than the architectural details? Do you believe that there is some truth in that? 

In my opinion, it's really not either. I have some architects who want me to photograph little details that took forever to design, but who cares about details? People want to see how the house works, how it flows, how it's used, and how people live in and make the space their own. It's not JUST about the photographer's vision, either. I think my job is simple, and I don't want to get all preachy about vision this and vision that. Our job is to show what the building looks like, how it's used, and add a little zing to get people interested in it. I might take some flack for that but it's how I work - I'm personally trying to get away from shooting details and make more interesting photographs that show the space being used, working as a home or space.

Moving on, Is it often necessary to make changes to an interior in order to archive the desired result? For example, to swap the sofa or the commode, to select and hang a few pictures or arrange a delicious meal in the kitchen?

Every picture needs staging. It's like photographing a beautiful woman - you can either make her look terrible and shoot her straight on with flat light, a double chin, and no retouching, or you can pose the model properly, light her with great shadows and highlights, and retouch just enough to really make an incredible, evocative photo.

And following up on that, how does photographing the interior differ from the exterior? Are there any technical aspects that should be considered in terms of lighting and framing when approaching interior shoots? 

Well, mostly I make sure I take my shoes off before photographing an interior. But seriously, I don't think there's a huge difference - I do mostly the same process for my interior and exterior shots, especially with regards to framing. I could take a half hour just finding the perfect shot, inside or outside.

Speaking of the technical aspects, how much of a role does post-processing play in your practice as an architectural photographer? 

Post processing is huge. And I don't get why people think it's this terrible thing that architectural photographers need to avoid, to show the space just as it is - because as soon as you take a picture, even without post processing, the space isn't what it is, by the very nature of transforming a three-dimensional space into a two-dimensional image. Post processing is so important to evoke a mood, create a feeling, bring out textures, lead the eye around. I think of it like this...artists who paint photo-realistically; I think it's really cool and impressive. But I've never wanted to hang a photorealistic painting on my wall. No, I want a little abstraction, a little interpretation, some mood, some imperfection, some drama. I'm an artist, not a Xerox machine! I can't help it.

Are you in favour of the inclusion of people in architectural photography or do you believe that the architecture itself should be the main focus? 

Of course the architecture should be the main focus, but sometimes you need a person in the shot to show how the space is used. A person in the photo doesn't necessarily need to change that, it can be a great, subtle addition without diverting attention. A person in the shot can also make an image SO much better by adding a touch of humanity and scale.

I was reading an article that Hufton+Crow did, where they explained their reasoning for the inclusion of people in their photographs, expressing their belief that it adds a sense of realism and a true visual account of the buildings primary function. Do you believe that to be the case? 

I wouldn't say so much that it adds realism, but it adds scale and humanity more than anything. A human to anchor the scene can do so much when it comes to telling the story of the architecture. It can really soften the scene as well, and people can also be used to add motion and a place for the eye to go in the image. Adding people adds great dynamic to a photograph if done well.

Looking at your work, it's fair to assume that your clients are satisfied with what you've produced. I'm certainly envious but how do most of your clients find you? If you could suggest just one marketing tool to the beginner photographer what would it be?

Most of my clients find me via the internet. As far as one marketing tool...I would say make sure that your clients learn about who you are. I don't get why so many photographers insist on being this mysterious, artsy, boring persona - people are going to be spending 12+ hours a day with me. Why would I want them to think I'm weird as hell? If I'm shopping for someone that I'm going to spend so much time with, you better believe I want to know that they're going to be fun to hang out with. This is probably just as important as the images in my mind.

A lot of Commercial Architectural Photography has to do with self promotion and marketing but how do you get your name out there? Through word of mouth, social media or some other way? 

All of the above, plus being a really nice person, having a good sense of humor, etc. There isn't just one way to do it, nor is there a book on it, but all of the above are definitely necessary in 2015.

In terms of cost, how do you decide how much is enough when charging clients for a particular job? 

There are a million things to look at here. Right now I am trying to standardize my rate across the board to simplify everything a little bit. And honestly, I have no idea what I'm doing when it comes to pricing. 

Do you find there are times when commercial shooting becomes boring and routine? And, if so, what does it depend on?

I would be lying if I said that it didn't. Just like any job there are gigs that just pay the bills and gigs that get me REALLY REALLY REALLY excited! Of course if I was perfect, I would get just as excited to shoot a Jack-In-The-Box bathroom elevation as I would to be the photographer of record on a new NYC highrise! But I am not perfect. But it depends on a lot of things - are the clients really fun? Is the job really exciting? Is the pay good? There are a lot of ways to get excited.

What are the most exciting and challenging architecture photography projects you’ve been involved in?

I just came back from nine days in Mexico working for one of the most prolific architects in Latin America. It was absolutely incredible in every way - experiencing a new culture, beautiful architecture, wonderful food, and an epic location all in one. I will look back when I'm 80 and tell tall tales of that gig. 

What special skills and equipment would you consider essential when photographing architecture? What would your advice be to anyone thinking about taking up architectural photography?

Well, there are lots of special skills involved in finding composition, creating the right staging and styling, adding the right lighting, and finishing it off with good post production. Not to mention the business side of things. As far as equipment goes, you can check out my equipment list here - but my advice for anyone looking to get into this is to work hard and be brave. You may not be the best, but you CAN always be the hardest working guy out there, and that will take you really, really far. As long as you're not a giant asshole, that is.

Wine Country Pre-Fab with BluHomes in Healdsburg

Apologies for the lack of blogging lately! I haven't been in Los Angeles much at all, with trips to San Francisco, NYC, Dubai, Mexico and somewhere else that I forget, it's just been an absolutely manic yet totally exciting winter for me.  At the end of 2014 I was worried that there would just be no way for me to top the amazing year that I've had, but damn if I'm not off to a great start this year. 

I'm getting back on the train to write about a really amazing shoot I did up in Healdsburg, about 2 hours north of San Francisco, for BluHomes. Set amongst gently rolling hills and the calming rows of vineyards, shooting this place was like a little preview of heaven. Tranquil and idyllic are the words that come to mind. In many cases, I get clients praying for perfect weather, but the soft fog clinging to the ground made for some incredible ethereal moods and provided an amazing soft light over the two days we shot the home.

For most of these images, lighting was relatively simple, with only one or two lights working their magic. One of my favorite parts of this shoot was just how amazingly quiet everything was - you could hear the shutter click from a good 200 feet away at twilight. Things just seemed to echo and hang around with the mist. 

After two days of shooting, it was a quick wrap-up and back to LA - and from there, a quick turnaround to give a talk on CreativeLive's PhotoshopWeek in Seattle - seen here (link to the talks here)

And less than a week later, off on a nice long-haul to London and Dubai, whose pictures will be posted up shortly as I get through the edits.

Aerial photography of the labor dispute at the Port of LA and Long Beach

As anyone who follows my work knows, I'm fascinated by industry and infrastructure. For the past few weeks, a labor dispute has been unfolding at the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach. After flying over the area while coming in to land at LAX, I saw all of these giant container ships anchored offshore and instantly knew that I had to photograph it. 

The next day I called my pilot and said 'when is the soonest we can go up?!' Less than 24 hours later we were in the air. It was one of the most exciting experiences I've had doing aerial photography - being that far out at sea, with the huge swells underneath you, and these massive, massive container ships everywhere was like living a scene out of Walter Mitty's life.

Cargo ships have been backed up for weeks on end at the ports of LA and Long Beach amid a labor dispute.

The size of these ships blows the mind; many of them are over a thousand feet long.

We photographed them from anywhere between 200 and 5,500 feet, and even at this height the enormous size was something else entirely.

The haze and setting sun created an ethereal mood to all of the pictures

Cargoes from around the world are backed up right now

I've never seen ANYTHING like this, even rush hour at the 405 doesn't look so bad.

Colorful and massive, this ship is over 1000 feet from end to end.

From this angle, the scale and size of the city and ships becomes quickly apparent

I have teamed up with PurePhoto.com to make fine art prints of these images available for sale, to view or purchase prints and size options, click here.