Stock Photos Aren’t Enough

Creating authentic images for your brand can be hard.  Where do you start?  Stock images? Have your intern take some iPhone photos of the office?  This honestly can be a big challenge for a number of brands, and it’s super easy to fall into the trap of stock photography.  Content Marketing Institute has a great article about this very issue. That whole CMI article is about authenticity.  The author Buddy Scalera puts it “Authenticity is like currency. Spend it wisely or it will be wasted.”  As I’ve said before, bad video content hurts your brand, and so can bad photography.  If your product or service is awesome, why aren’t your photos?

Don’t get me wrong, there is always a time and a place for stock photography, but we are talking authenticity here.  Whenever you talk about your amazing team that makes your product or service amazing, use real photos!  Nobody likes seeing the same photo of a man or woman smiling wearing a headset.

Popular stock photo from Shutterstock

I don’t know about you, but that photo rubs me the wrong way.  What is it that makes it seem so, stock?   What does a photo like this tell you about the company’s brand?

This is where authentic photos are key!  Show off your people that make your product a reality, make your big B2B brand personal! And that’s exactly what Opower did.

They recently had me come in to take photos focusing on two women engineers for an array of marketing collateral, along with some other general office shots. It was a really simple shoot and we were able to spend a half day shooting around the office.  The focus was on women in tech, and the result was a very easy going, authentic feel.

I think any brand could greatly benefit from a simple shoot to capture authentic workplace photos.










8 Month Home Building Timelapse


Every once in a while a fun side project comes along that makes you try new things and really push you.  This was it for me.  Branagh Development approached me about creating a timelapse of one of their homes being built.  I’ve always wanted to do something like this but I had to figure out how to have a camera taking constant pictures over the course of 8 months.  It’s not as easy as it sounds.  Here are some of my considerations:

  • How do I keep the camera powered for months at a time?
  • How do I keep the camera stationary the entire time?  Once it’s up I can’t touch the camera so the framing stays the same.
  • How do I download the photos without disturbing the camera?
  • How do I keep it safe from the weather and theft?

There were a lot of things that had to be addressed to make this work.  I ended up finding a great tutorial online about a similar project created to shoot long term timelapses of watersheds. I took his basic approach and made some modifications to fit my needs.

Here are some photos of the process.

I started by making the hole for the lens in the pelican case.


I then epoxied an ABS coupler on the hole to house the lens.  I siliconed in a UV filter on the end to seal it.  I used silicon over epoxy because it’s flexible and the I didn’t want the varying temperatures to crack the filter.  Also this  left my options open later to replace the filter if need be.


Then I made the camera mount.  I used cheap quick release plate attached to a piece of hardwood with two small L brackets.




I used two rubber washers on the exterior to make sure it was water tight


Next is the camera.  I used a 60D with a Tokina 11-16 f/2.8


The next part involved powering the camera.  I opted to use a deep cycle marine battery because it will last longer on one charge than a normal car battery.  Let’s start at the camera.  First there is a dummy battery in the camera to power it with AC, but I wanted to power it with a DC source so I needed to add in a selectable voltage converter.  This takes the voltage of the battery from 12 volts to 7.5 volts (the camera operates at 7.5 volts). Then we need to make sure the camera gets the correct amperage.  The normal canon LP-E6 battery provides 1800mAh (milli amps) so I needed to make sure the marine battery didn’t fry the camera. I put a fuse in line at the battery that would break at anything over 1800mAh.  Better to pop a fuse than a camera.


All time lapses need an intervalometer, I used this knock off one.  I wanted the intervalometer on the ground so I could access it during the 8 month shoot.  I bought a male and female 2.5mm audio jack from Fry’s and soldered some speaker wire in for an extension. It didn’t look pretty, but it worked great.

I also wanted USB access on the ground so I could download photos in progress and control the camera via EOS utility so I could change any settings if need be.  All I had to do was use an active USB extension that ran out of the case, down to the battery.  Here are all the parts in the pelican case.


This is my setup mounted on a fence for the first angle in the video. All the wires come out one hole on the bottom of the case.  I used silicone to seal the hole.  The piece of plywood is there just to keep the sun off and provide some protection from the rain.


Here I’m running EOS utility to see through the camera and control the settings.  I set the intervalometer to take a shot every 10 minutes.  I set the camera to aperture priority mode at f/5.6 at ISO 200.


This the second angle in the video that shows the front of the house.  Same mounting concept as before.  I figured the camera was secure because I used plenty of screws to mount this thing to keep it secure.  It would definitely take someone a while to take it down.  I also had a small lock on the case.  But someone could have just cut the post and taken the whole thing.  I’m glad no one did!


This whole setup worked great!  It went for about 5 months on one charge.  I took the battery home one night to give it a charge.  Here it is 8 months later.


The UV filter was definitely dirty but everything inside looked as good as new!




For the interior and backyard camera I used two GoPro Hero 3 Blacks.  For power I had to convert the marine battery to power the camera via USB.  I enclosed that custom connection in a waterproof case.  The GoPro comes with a waterproof case which was nice.  All I did was drill a hole in the case for the cable and then silicone it to seal it.  The GoPros had to take photos every minute, which was way more than I needed but it worked.


Any USB car charger will work for that connection.  I picked one up at Fry’s for a dollar.  Here is a similar one.




Above: I can plug right into the camera to download.  Below: I was able to control the camera with GoPro’s app.


This is the outside camera that I strapped to a tree:



In order to create the edited timelapse sequence I had to cut out a lot of photos. Because the camera was taking pictures all night and all day, I had to go through each day and take out all the shots at nighttime and on the weekends where nothing was happening.  I used After Effects to edit it all together because you can easily import an image sequence.  I also included a lot of speed changes in the video and it just depended on how exciting the action was.

So that’s it!  It was a ton of fun to make this happen and I’m just glad no one stole the cameras!

Here is the final product:

San Francisco Software Product Photography – Opower Customer Journey

Below are some product photos we recently shot, but in this case, the product is software.  We wanted to first show the software begin used, and second, show it in a casual environment that says, yes, you too can easily use this in the comfort of your own home.   For photos like this it’s almost more about what’s around the device then the screen shot on the device.  Take the first image below for example; this gentleman is checking his energy usage while sipping his coffee in the morning at home.

The other side of shooting photos like this is getting the screen to look natural.  It’s incredibly important that the screen is not too bright and still retains reflections from the natural environment.  To do this we simply shoot the device with the screen turned off, then “comp” the screen on in photoshop.  This ensures we’ll get the best possible result, and as a bonus we can reuse the shot by swapping out the screen with something different.  Below each photo is the original so you can see how the original reflections show up in the final image and help it look very real.








San Francisco Event Photography • Lithium inc.

On Wednesday night Lithium had their office opening party at their new location right in downtown San Francisco at the corner of Bush and Sansome. They asked me to shoot it, with mostly candid shots to document their opening. It was a great, relaxed gathering at their office. Their new office has a nice open floor plan, lots of glass, a fully stocked kitchen, and tons of windows that brought in a lot of natural light for photos. Below are a few photos from the event.


Product Photography • San Francisco

Today I had the opportunity to take some product shots for a large branding firm in San Francisco, Philippe Becker.  It was a fun and interesting challenge as I normally work with people.  I just used a white seamless backdrop that rolled down onto a table and used just one overhead soft box for all the lighting.  I captured directly to my Mac so I could get an immediate, up and close, review of the shot.  They had requested everything be shot straight on with a little shadow to suggest depth.  So that’s exactly what I did, and the the soft box lit the scene really smooth and casted a nice soft shadow off to the left.







San Francisco Headshots • SmartShoot

Last week I had the privilege to take headshots for the team over at SmartShoot.  SmartShoot connects its network of filmmaker and photographers with businesses and individuals all around the world to create amazing visual content.  They wanted to have fun with the photos but still maintain a slick, professional look.  So I brought in the Profoto strobes and set up a black seamless backdrop and went to town.


After we finished the formal headshots we had some fun!  The idea was that on the their “about” page on their website all the formal photos would display normally but when your mouse rolls over a photo the fun one would appear.


And of course we have to wrap up the shoot with an epic group rooftop photo!


Big thanks to SmartShoot for such a great shoot!

Beautiful Home in Menlo Park • Bay Area Real Estate Photography

Branagh Developments recently remodeled this whole house in Menlo Park.  Their custom detail added a lot to the home and I definitely enjoyed photographing it!

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Lawyer Headshots Walnut Creek California

James is a good friend of mine and just graduated law school. I was happy to help him out with a headshot for his LinkedIn profile. We went to a bridge in Concord and used the industrial vibe to create some nice images. I worked with two assistants, Josh and Brian. We used a diffuser to create a soft warm rim light from the sun and then used an off camera speedlight with a shoot-through umbrella for a soft key light.

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This is my favorite shot- the expression on his face combined with the strong pose and red tie? Bam!James-78 James-98

We had a great shoot and it was a ton of fun! Big thanks to Josh and Brian for their help!

Rebel Unit • San Francisco Portrait Photography

Yesterday I had the privilege of taking portraits for the team over at Rebel Unit Media in San Francisco.  We took an individual portrait of every person on the team on a white seamless background.  Each one shows everyone’s unique personality.  Here is one of them.


I used 4 strobes: beauty dish with grid on camera right, large softbox on camera left as the fill, strip light on camera left behind the subject for the rim light, and an umbrella to light the background from overhead.


Rebel Unit has a great office on the top floor on a building on California street.  We brought some chairs and props out on the roof to really create a unique group photo. I used a just one softbox to light the group. The sun made a beautiful hair light!


Here it is unedited and without any additional light.


Bam! Here it is with light.


Here is a pulled back view of the setup.


Josh and I just lounging around before the shoot!


Big thanks to Rebel Unit Media for making it a great shoot!  It was a lot of fun and their personalities really shined through in the photos. And of course a big thanks to Josh Currie for helping on the shoot.


I wanted to share some of the photos I took while I was recently down in Tijuana.

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Every day when we would drive back to the campsite in Redondo Valley we would pass an elderly gentleman sitting in a field with a few cows.  Day after day he was still there.  He looked like a really interesting character and I wanted to know his story.  On the last day I went with a friend that was fluent in Spanish to see if he was still there.  And of course, he was.  He said his name was Juan and he was very kind and willing to talk to us.  My friend asked if I could take his picture and he replied by apologizing that he was not very handsome.  After I took a few shots we asked him more about his life.  It turns out he is 84 years old and he has lived in Redondo Valley, in between Tijuana and Tecate, his entire life.  He raises cattle for milk and then sells them for beef.  When he’s not milking the cows he sits in the field all day.  This way he can keep an eye out for predators and make sure nobody steals his cattle.   In fact, he often he watches the cows while he sits crouched on the ground like a child.  At 84 years old! Occasionally he will take his cattle across the street to feed on their grass if his fields are running low. He told us that he didn’t make very much money but he agreed there are better things to life than money.Mexico-2013-533Mexico-2013-534