Great People

Great People = Great Shoots: Heather Smith

I’m very excited to tell you about one of my favorite photo industry team members. I first met producer Heather Smith when her production company Smith x Union was recommended to me for a Hunter Douglas shoot that I was commissioned to do. Heather has an increadible client list including Coke, Wieden+Kennedy, Ogilvy & Mather, and TBWA Chiat Day. I know I could trust her on one of my biggest clients. She knocked it out of the park and we’ve been on many shoots since then for my clients Prometheus Real Estate Group, UBS, and of course Hunter Douglas.

Heather’s super power is to take the stress out of any big production and make the whole set feel relaxed and well taken care of. You should see the craft table at our shoots: it’s snack nirvana. She’s always a huge help and does everything with grace and kindness. She’s direct, honest, and man does she work hard. She’s the total package and hires only the best crew to help her out. I can’t wait for our next shoot together.

Let’s meet Heather:

Describe what you do and how long you’ve been doing it.
I’m a producer. I started in the industry at 21 and haven’t looked back. I collect great people along the way to help me. It’s the only way I made it to where I am at today. Amazing help with the best personalities.

How did you get your start?
I found out they were filming Dawson’s Creek near my college in North Carolina. I was fascinated so started to do extra work for money while in college. After my first day on set I was addicted and knew this was in the vein of work I wanted to do, but behind the camera. I just stalked till I found the right person to send my resume and got the job!!! I quit college 6 months short of graduating. My parents cried! I did go back and get my degree but I knew it was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down.

Who was your first client?
My first client as a producer on my own would have been LensCrafters Campaign I ♥️LC. We traveled the country and street-casted the whole campaign.

What’s a typical shoot day like for you?
Hopefully, I’m helping the photographer to direct Talent. Hype man is my favorite nickname. I’m also highly involved in the food on set because I know it’s how I’m quietly judged by crew 🙂

I’m usually filling coolers, sending call sheets, helping wardrobe and props, and prepping for the next day. Anything to make the day smooth and efficient. I’m hands-on and love every second of my productions and crew I work with. My crew is my family. I care so much about them and getting to share them with other photographers makes me proud.

What tools do you use to do your job?
My mind mostly. Thinking 10 steps ahead to make the day more efficient is the biggest battle.

What was the craziest thing that happened to you on a job?
I was cornered on a motorhome in a bad part of town by a somewhat insane person. No one was on the motorhome to help so I had to just stall till the driver came back on. It was one of the scariest moments of my life.

Favorite ice cream?
Cookies and cream. I’m a sucker for it.

How can people find out more about you?
My Instagram is saturated with my family. It gets more likes than my work posts any day but at the end of the day, we work hard to give to our family and friends so it’s where it all starts and ends.

Great People = Great Shoots: Brian Williams

Welcome to the second post in my new blog series: Great People = Great Shoots!

I do a lot of my post production and retouching in house. Every so often, I get retouch a request that’s beyond my comfort zone. That’s when I call in the experts. One of my favorite retouchers in Brian Williams of Crossboard Creative. He’s been my go to guy now since 2010. He can retouch anything I throw at him, but he’s particularly good at architectural retouching (which is not a common skill-set). Check out this retouch job he did for me

Let’s get to know Brian some more:

Photo by Brian Williams

Describe what you do and how long you’ve been doing it:
I provide custom image retouching for pro photographers; I’ve been focusing on this specific work for a decade now. The majority of my work involves architectural images, but I occasionally handle many other types of shots.

How did you get your start?
After graduating with a B.A. degree in Art/Design, I spent about 20 years in different roles in the printing and advertising fields. Photoshop had been a part of my work routine in pretty much every graphics-oriented job I’ve had.

In 2005 I decided to go freelance, offering general graphic design services—and of course Photoshop was integral to much of this work as well.

It was around 2007 that I recall visiting an art gallery which was showing a certain photographer’s large format prints. The work was very nice overall, but I remember walking up to one of these large prints for close inspection and noticed evidence of different exposures being composited together. To this day I still remember standing there in that gallery and telling myself, “Wow, I could have helped this photographer make these big, beautiful images even nicer…”

That was a key moment in helping me realize that it was time to narrow my graphics work into what I enjoyed doing the most—that being image manipulation. Ten years later, and this is still all I do; in my experience, focusing on and developing just one specific, favorite work is a very gratifying way to run a small business.

Who was your first client?
Tom Gatlin, a super architectural photographer in Nashville, TN

What’s a typical day like for you?
My work day is very open-ended. I work in a home office space and settle in to work as often as necessary. My wife is a first grade teacher, and during the school year I’m busy hustling our two boys off to school at about the time their mom is out the door herself. Aside from that routine I’m dedicated to scheduling retouching projects whenever they come along. I try to keep my routine flexible—both for family and for the many photographers I assist.

What tools do you use to do your job?
It’s basically Adobe Photoshop running on a Mac workstation. I keep the setup simple and streamlined—and so far it’s working out well.

What was the craziest thing that happened to you on a job?
Strange…nothing jumps out at me. Maybe an indicator of how straightforward I prefer to keep my workflow…?

Favorite snack food?
A couple of bowls of cereal—something slightly sweet—in front of an old TV show.

How can people find out more about you?
crossboardcreative.com

Great People = Great Shoots: Kyle Petrozza

When I moved back to Charlottesville, VA in 2015 I was concerned about finding experienced assistants. The concern became very real and any time I had a local job, I would have to hire assistants from Richmond or Washington, DC. Around the beginning of 2017, I got an email from Kyle Petrozza. Kyle had been assisting out of NYC with some top photographers and decided to relocate to Charlottesville to get out of the city a while. I was very lucky to find him and we’ve been working a lot together the last year and half. We actually just finished up a shoot for Oreck down in High Point, NC. Not only does he know a lot about lighting on location and studio, but he’s a great dude to travel with. That’s a big + in my book. Kyle’s got a bright future ahead in the photo world and I hope he sticks around here for a while.

Let’s meet Kyle:

Describe what you do and how long you’ve been doing it.
On a good day, I’m doing all that’s necessary to make whatever shoot I’m on run more smoothly, efficiently, and enjoyably. Sometimes, as in the case with Lincoln, I’m assisting a photographer and anticipating their needs, acting as a second second of eyes, hands, and ears, and chiming in creatively whenever asked (or, keeping my mouth shut if not asked). On most days, I’m a digital tech, ensuring all the 1’s and 0’s do what they’re supposed to do to turn the team’s vision into a beautiful, usable digital file. On ad jobs, I also have the pleasure of entertaining art directors, clients, and, if lucky, DJ’ing. Finally, when I’m producing a job, I do a little bit of everything, for everyone, before, during, and after the lights, camera, action.

How did you get your start?
The initial seed was planted during my first foray out of the country. That seed had quite the germination period. Four years after it had first been sowed, I quit my engineering job, walked into a meeting of the New Orleans Photo Alliance and declared to all in attendance that, “My name is Kyle Petrozza and I’d like to be a photographer”. Someone in that room took a liking to me and the rest is history.

Who was your first client?
George Long (the person in that room) was the first photographer to hire me on. I spent most of my time editing, organizing, and toning photos while learning the ins and outs of the photography business. Little did I know then how fortunate I was to have landed in George’s world, for George was the best connected photographer in New Orleans at the time. And that time happened to be the post-Katrina-boom and Saints Super Bowl winning era when the city saw a flood of photographers coming in to shoot everything from ad campaigns to fashion catalogs. My first “real”, “industry” job was with Nels Israelson who was in New Orleans shooting the movie poster for A Little Bit of Heaven.

What’s a typical shoot day like for you?
Well, that depends. If it’s a shoot day based out of Charlottesville, it usually involves meeting Lincoln in the morning, loading up EQ, then heading out for a road trip. Wherever the destination may be, we spend the day(s) making the work of talented architects and brands look as great in 2 dimensions as they do in 3.

For shoot days that begin in New York and LA, they usually begin with coffee and public transportation and end in exhaustion and a taxi. In between, the day may take on any number of forms from turning an empty studio space into something magical for an editorial spread or ad campaign, to moving through estates and homes of which I’d have no other business visiting, or, as was the case this past week, waiting in a stateroom of the Plaza Hotel for our 15 minutes with a world leader. Whether I’m assisting, teching, producing, or shooting, each day is vastly different from the next (except for those catalog jobs!) and brings with it new challenges, lessons, inspirations, and friends. It’s a lifestyle that I’ve tried to pass up on, but to which I continue to return with glee.

What tools do you use to do your job?
I could list cameras and lenses and digital backs and pieces of grip and lighting modifiers and software packages for days as there are many material tools associated with this craft. However, none of those tools matter nearly as much as those hardwired within us: The ability to clearly communicate; The desire to think and see creatively; Knowing when and how to be humble; Being present and engaging in collaboration and the sharing of ideas; Engaging and living by a good work ethic, even if you may not like the work at hand; And, last, but certainly not least, always maintaining a kind, light, well-placed sense of humor. Having good taste in music and always wearing good socks doesn’t hurt either!

What was the craziest thing that happened to you on a job?
We were on location in Anguilla for a Ralph Lauren campaign. It was a pretty cush job: everyone had their own private villa on the beach and since we were shooting natural light, we had a good chunk of the afternoon to ourselves. I had a bit of sailing experience under my belt so, I suggested that the other assistants and I take out one of the resort’s Hobie Cats. Everyone was excited and four of us hopped on. The wind was blowing nicely and it blew all I knew about sailing right out of my head. I ended up crashing the boat, ripping off a rudder, and was left alone as all my mates swam to shore. Needless to say, I was the butt of many a joke for the remainder of the job, but remained on the job!

Favorite restaurant your in your favorite city?
Oh man, this is a trick question, isn’t it?! Sadly, most of my favorite restaurants or my favorite iterations of them have closed (I’m thinking of Lham Zhou Hand Pull Noodle in Chinatown and Mission Chinese’s first NYC iteration off the top of my head). Saravana Bhavan in Murray Hill is a place I have a hard time avoiding whenever I’m in NYC. Though, my favorite places aren’t cities so if a favorite restaurant in a favorite city is another way of asking where would you go eat right now if you could go anywhere and eat? I’d have to say it would be the Roti Man on Pulau Tioman, Malaysia. Or that Casa de Popolo outside of Florence. Or Bacchanal in New Orleans. Or…

How can people find out more about you?
There are three ways:

Great People = Great Shoots: Peter Grill

One of my New Year’s resolutions this year was to start giving back more. Not only with time and money to charities, but with exposure to the people I care about. I am very fortunate to work with so many talented, hard working, and dedicated people on my shoots for the past 16 years. Assistants, digital techs, producers, stylists, location scouts, PAs, even the caterers are often amazing! I really can’t thank these people enough for helping me to do my job and create great work for my clients.

A light bulb went off in my head last week and I realized I could make a blog series about these amazing people. So here we are! I present to you…

“Great People = Great Shoots”

It’s my hope that this series will inform you on what a great crew can do for any job, big or small. I also hope that other image makers use this when looking for recommendations. Let’s start off with…

PETER GRILL

Photo by Peter Grill

I met Peter when I moved back to Virginia in 2015. He’s based in DC and has been one of my go to assistants and digital tech these days. The guy is the complete package. Hard worker, knows lighting and grip, can digital tech, and now offers rental equipment. I’ve flown with Peter on a few shoots and he’s a great traveler, too. I am ten times more likely to hire someone again if I can travel well with them. Most recently, Peter digi-teched for me on my Oreck shoot with Wonderful Machine down in Charlotte, NC.

Let’s get to know Peter:

Describe what you do and how long you’ve been doing it.
I’m a professional digital tech and photo assistant offering capture, strobe, and grip packages. All the services and equipment have been slowing developing over the years but I’ve been a full-time freelancer for about 4 years now.

How did you get your start?
I went to Appalachian State University and graduated with a degree in commercial photography.

Who was your first client?
While I was a senior at ASU I got a few freelance assisting gigs through the professors, either working for them or their photo buddies. When I moved back to the DC area and tried to pick up freelance work Robb Scharetg was one of the first guys to hire me and continued to be my first regular client. Working with him my first 6 months really got me started in the area.

What’s a typical shoot day like for you?
I usually don’t know what I’m getting into until the morning of the shoot. Things like finding out our load in point, then staging area, and then figuring out lighting and planning any company moves are normal procedure. If it’s a new client I’m trying to learn what gear they have, how it works, and how they organize it as quickly as possible.

What tools do you use to do your job?
I always have a watch, sharpie, and a leatherman on me when working. Otherwise I deal with a large variety of strobe and grip equipment.

What was the craziest thing that happened to you on a job?
While working on a short in Death Valley CA we went on a bit of a wild goose chase to find one of our locations. We hiked in a built Sony FS7 rig, tripod, and a few other cases of gear. We really had no idea if we were on the right track but kept following remnants of old mining contraptions further and further into this canyon. We came up on this dried out water fall and had to rig a makeshift rope ladder to scramble up. It wasn’t the most technical climbing but carrying a $15K camera rig in one hand made it pretty sketchy! Anyways we found the location just in time to shoot one scene at sunset and hike it all back out.

Favorite snack food?
I have a bit of a sweet tooth on set… Gummy Bears, Twizzlers, Starbursts. My favorite crafty is the build your own fajita/taco/burrito spread.

How can people find out more about you?
getting in touch via [email protected] or my site, grilldigital.com