Archive for the 'editorial' Category


Story Telling

Someone recently asked if I found the transition from stills to video a difficult one. I told her that I don’t really consider myself transitioning to motion, but rather expanding my services through its inclusion. The expansion was a natural one for me because theme shooting and storytelling have been an integral part of my still photography for what seems like forever. Her next question was “Well, how do you tell a story in stills?” Now I admit I was a bit taken aback by the question, but then it hit me like a ton of bricks, that there are lots of photographers whose work never calls on them to tie multiple frames together in a way that tells a story. Storytelling requires a different discipline because you literally must plan out your frames to convey the action. Additionally, if you are working on a magazine editorial, you know that you have a limited number of pages (six is a good number) from start to finish. It might mean multiple models and clothing changes, and props.
One of my favorite projects that I often cite as an example of storytelling in stills is a project I undertook called “Twisted Classic Children’s Tales.” I created multipage fashion editorials based on three classic children’s stories. The images below are from one of my favorites.





The images were shot at 10 am on a sunny day.  The location was a traffic triangle near La Guardia Airport in New York City.  A single Profoto head was mounted in a five-foot giant umbrella, and powered by a Profoto B2.  The model – Peter Chen for Q Models.

The images in this entry and which appear elsewhere in this blog are copyrighted by Byron Atkinson.


Some Reflections on the Word “USE”

"use and use"

I want each of you to say the following word:  USE.  I want you to remember what you said because sometimes what you see and what others may see, may not be what you get.

“Use” is one of the most misunderstood and abused words in the imaging related world here in the United States.  In fact, where the word “USE” is concerned, context and understanding context is of paramount importance.  A commercial photographer often employs the word as a noun; as such, “USE” is the word that is often called upon to define what can or cannot be done with the photographer’s images.  “Use” is also a word that often determines how commercial photographers price services as well as how they are compensated.  Modeling and advertising agencies, newspapers and magazines, are intimately familiar with “USE” as the purpose for which images are shot is fundamental in determining a significant amount of the dollars that flow between the parties as well as the contractual obligations. 


As a verb, “USE” (′yǖz) becomes an action, and sometimes the nuance of “USE” (′yǖs) the noun, gets lost.  Recently two incidents gave me reason to pause.  A potential client who asked for a proposal for images for a specific “USE”, balked at my retention of copyright and the language in my agreement that allowed him to “USE” the images for the stated purpose, but did not give him the ability to do anything he wanted to do with them.  In clarifying my position it became very clear that this start-up entrepreneur felt that he should be able to use (the verb) the images for any purpose he wanted, even though the project had not been priced that way and he did not ask for it to be priced for multiple purposes.  To his credit, after giving him some references, he came back and indicated that there was much that he wasn’t aware of with respect to images and rights and “USE”.  He is not alone.  Often people who aspire to enter modeling, photography and/or the representation fields are not aware of these concepts.  As we have become a more camera- and video-enabled society, manufacturers who incorporate cameras in their products have done little to educate or make people aware that there is more to imaging than just point, click, and distribute.


In another case, a friend, told me he was going to e-mail me an image by another photographer that he had downloaded and wanted me to see.  I asked him not to do send it, explaining to him that as a working photographer downloading and distributing someone else’s copyrighted work is something I do not do, as I would not want people doing that with my work.  The operative word here is work:  People sometimes tend to forget that the images they may be enjoying are actually work and not recreation for a significant number of us.  It was during that conversation that I realized that software companies are the greatest enablers of people being able to freely download images without regard to copyright or use.  In the absence of any kind of warnings, it is has become routine for people to click on many Web viewed images and instantly have the ability to save or send them.  Is it any wonder that significant numbers of people to feel that they have the right to “USE” images as they see fit?


I want you to recall how you pronounced “USE” at the beginning of this entry:  Was it as the noun?  Or the verb?  Or did you recognize it could go either way?  Since the Web audience is world wide, it is important to point out that laws and business practices often vary by locale, so you should become familiar with the laws and practices which govern you.


The Signs of the Times


This project, “The Signs of the Times” is a real departure for me.  There are no professional models involved, no make-up artist or stylist, and no fancy lights:  Just me, my cameras, and a monopod.  Over the past few months, as I have traveled around the New York City, the signs of  economic woes have grown more and more visible.  As a visual artist, I get a very different sense walking the streets with respect to the economy than from listening to the news or reading the paper. 

As I shot this work, each set of images took me to a different place.  I feel like I have been on a rollercoaster:  I have laughed, nearly cried, felt depressed, and then uplifted.  Those who view the work may or may not feel the same, but in the end all I hope is that it will make people reflect a little more.


You can view the full project at  scroll on portfolio and click on the featured project “the signs of the times.”




january 20, 2009 – Reflection

While it is an historic day here in the United States, in that the first President of African American decent will be sworn in, my first thought this morning was wishing my Mother happy birthday! It is truly a remarkable day for her and her surviving siblings, Easter, Edythe, Maddie and Jack, all of whom were born and raised in a very segregated North Carolina. They are not just witnessing history, but living history, because they have each done their part to bring change about.

This morning my sister gave Mom an Obama Commemorative Plaque as part of her birthday presents. The look on Moms face was just priceless! In speaking with her a few minutes later she remarked how she never imagined as a child that the election of a Black man as President of the United States would ever be possible. Her eyes had a sparkle in them: It was the sparkle of hope and the sparkle of optimism realized! In that moment, what my mother had given to me, on this her birthday, was the reminder that we live in a dynamic environment, and that we must be players rather than  observers of  life. Mom, thanks for the gift! And now it is time for me to get back to imaging!!

mom-living history


So you want to be a Working Model… Part 2

PBP? Prep before photos!! Sometimes it seems that models,  particularly aspiring ones, who are not working with an agency on an exclusive basis, are obsessed with having to have images. I am not downplaying the need for or the importance of images.  But often times what happens in preparation for the shoot is as big  a determinant (or a bigger one) of how successful the shoot will be in terms of opening the door for work opportunities, as  who the photographer is.  None of those commercial shots that people salivate over in print, were accomplished without varying degrees of preparation before the photos were taken.  Taking pictures for your portfolio, is about more than throwing some clothing into a duffel bag, showing up for the shoot, and assuming that the photographer will use Photoshop  to address any issues.  I maintain that:  I am a photographer, not a miracle worker!   Don’t ask me to use the Photoshop  liquify tool to remove wrinkles from your clothing because you elected not to iron them the night before. 

The  working model’s approach to developing his or her portfolio requires a lot of thought. Does this mean that you have to have an entourage including hair stylists, clothing stylist, and make-up artist involved in your shoot? No, but it does mean that you need to think about how these  aspects of the shoot will be handled. Some of you will do fine with minimal assistance from others, while others will need more help either because you have no sense of style, or the number or nature of the wardrobe changes during the shoot, requires oversight and management. In any event, these are things which you should discuss with the photographer when exploring working together. I tend to recommend keeping things simple for those just starting out.

The images shot for your portfolio are about you first and foremost:  They should show your range, limits and/or versatility.  Your portfolio is not about  my  lighting and Photoshop skills in the sense that they should enhance, but never eclipse you.  Your portfolio images are not opportunities for me to create sweeping photographic vistas in which you are just one of several elements that make an image work.  Your portfolio isn’t about copying or recreating images that look like the hot ad campaign of the moment.  No casting director is going to think you have more work experience under your belt as a result of those photos.  Your portfolio images are about showing you at your best!  Yet sometimes  images that aspiring models place in their portfolios,  say less about them, and more about the person who took the shot.  These images may look great , but you need to remember one thing:  The purpose of every image in your  portfolio is to get you work.  If the images do not showcase enough of you or convey enough of a sense about you for a casting person to form a positive  opinion, you are probably going to get passed over.  The more experienced photographers usually understand this.  If you choose to work with newer photographers or are working with a photographer on a service exchange basis, make sure that each of you understands  the respective goals for your collaboration.

When I cast models, the most important images in a models portfolio for me, are the Polaroids. Why the Polaroids? Because those images best reflect what the model actually looks like with all his or her assets and flaws unadorned by the magic of heavy image editing and creative lighting. I then look at the other images to see if the model can carry off a suit, or a cocktail dress, or underwear, or whatever apparel I know that we will be shooting.  Because I am sometimes casting for lifestyle and stock image work, I look at the  other images in a portfolio  to ascertain whether the face has ample character, and whether the smile and overall demeanor fits my needs and demographic. I look for variety in expression among the portfolio images. I will also look for shots showing motion and look at video footage if available.

There are a few things I want to leave you with:

Keep things simple!  A good shot in basic apparel with proper fit and neutral color along with simple hair styling and make-up/grooming is preferable to one with more complex wardrobe, hair and makeup where any one element may be poorly executed and therefore ruin the shot.  Four  great photographs are better than twenty mediocre ones!!

If you think a thong and Uggs are an appropriate fashion statement for your portfolio, seek professional helpfrom a stylist that is.

Work on perfecting “expressions on demand.” At some point every photographer will ask you to: “Look happy, or sexy, or naughty or nice.”  Make sure you have some appropriate frames of reference to draw on – either a person or an event, that will allow you to access the emotions or expressions  needed to make the image work.


blogger boy

From a test shoot: An agency pick for the models’ portfolio.
From the same test shoot: My pick for my portfolio.  Notice the difference in the focus of the two images.  You get a sense of the models personality in the shot above.  In the image to the right, the model is more of an element in the scene, and the focus is more on the composition.

So you want to be a Working model….Part 1

a-working-model-theirry-jean-bartLate last year I was approached by several people about getting involved with new model portfolio building projects. I usually ask prospective clients what they are looking for, as I find that sometimes people are expecting more out of the photographer than just images. I am not an agent, and have no interest in being one, so if a potential client is looking for someone who is going to provide them with job leads or casting access, I am not the guy. There are also some projects which I just don’t feel are appropriate for me or grab my interest.
I use the word working model in the title of this entry because in my opinion, the day of the supermodel is over. The degree to which one ascended to “supermodel-dom” used to be measured by the numbers of covers a model had under his or her belt and/or endorsements. If you go to a newsstand today and look at the covers of most fashion publications, you find that they feature entertainers or athletes or some other person who is either famous or infamous. Fewer and fewer magazine feature models on their covers. And more times than not, an entertainers appearance on a magazine cover is either tied to a release of a new movie or record, but that’s another discussion. Those same entertainers and athletes endorse watches, cosmetics, clothing and scents heavily advertised inside the magazine pages.
For aspiring models I tell them that before they can get to be a “supermodel,” to borrow a phrase from RuPaul “you better work!!”
And working means developing good habits, not believing your own hype, and being open to learning and criticism: It is understanding that modeling is more than having a great face and a hot body. I have seen striking beautiful women and handsome men, get on a set and become the equivalent of a human clothes hanger with no expression on their face and what my assistant Cynthia calls “dead eyes.” More times than not when this happens, the model fails to understand that the session is not about him or her, but is about the clothing, the product and/or the lifestyle that they are wearing, holding, or promoting. Models are in fact improvisational actors who use body language, facial expression and attitude, in the place of dialogue to convey a message and sell, sell, sell!
If you understand this, you have a head start in becoming a working model. if you do not, you really need to. I urge people to think about this before they spend any time and money hiring photographers and building a portfolio. It’s part of what i call “pbp.”
And in the next installment, I will tell you exactly what “pbp” stands for.
blogger boy


A Few Thoughts on Bragging Rights!

_mg_0185web“Nanah nanah nanah, mine is better than yours is!”  Remember that phrase from your childhood?  Recently I was looking at some of the internet photography forums and was struck by how similar many of the forum comments on cameras and format were.

“Nanah nanah nanha, my can is better than your kon,” or “16 bit medium format is it, your 35mm stuff ain’t sh-t.”  I found myself wondering who many of these people are:  Share holders in these companies, or perhaps people hired as part of a guerilla marketing team?  In reality, it seems that these participants are just consumers, some professional photographers, but mostly weekend warriors and enthusiasts.

I began to wonder how many of these people look at a magazine or an image and opine as to which camera the photographer used to capture the image.  Based on what I saw, I’d say a substantial number may.

When I look at a photograph, I always react to what is in front of me.  I never find myself wondering which format or brand of camera was used.  I never find myself wondering about which brand of lighting was used.  I may look at the image and deconstruct it to determine where the lights were placed, but I never find myself asking “Profoto or Alien Bees, Elinchrom, Dynalite or Briese.”  There are also no absolutes in photography which is to say that one format is not necessarily better than another.  The photographer is responsible for picking the right tool for the job.  I have seen some incredible images taken with the most basic dslr, and some pretty mundane ones taken with state of the art medium format digital systems.  The thing one must always remember, and somehow lots of people tend to forget is that the technology may evolve, but the latest camera is no substitute for your artistic eye, or for your vision.  The camera does not:  Compose, direct the model, style or light.

One of the things that I made a conscious decision not to do in this blog was to review products.  I own no shares of stock in any photography related company.  I am a consumer of their goods, not an investor and definitely not an employee.  I have no interest in providing marketing services on behalf of any of these companies for free.  I have no interest in debating whether Canon is better than Nikon, or Nikon better than Canon, whether 4/3’s is viable, or medium format is king.  And please don’t talk to me about strobe color consistency because if you use three heads with different modifiers, you have altered the characteristic of each light.  Engaging in these activities or pass times will not put bread on my table nor will it help me develop my craft.  I have made decisions on equipment based on my personal needs, likes and dislikes and not because a high profile photographer “shoots with this model or brand.”

Then the light bulb went off:  For me bragging rights are about knowing that I have produced my best work to date and that I am continuing to develop; but for others bragging rights may come down to telling the world that they have contributed to the bottom line of a particular camera company and/or the success of a particular product.  When you think about it this really isn’t much to brag about as we know what they put out ($), but usually cannot see the evidence of what they got in return.


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June 2019
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current ipod playlist includes:

Eva Cassidy - Over the Rainbow, Rascal Flatts - Unstoppable, Renee Olsstead - A Love That Will Last, Train - Hey Soul Sister, Trisha Yearwood - How Do I Live, Jason DeRulo - Whatcha Say, Byron Kelsey Atkinson - The Love That Heals, Luther Vandross - Love Forgot, Patti Austin - True Love, Phyllis Hyman - No One Could Love You More, Keisha Cole with Monica - Trust, Shontelle - Impossible, Nickelback - This Afternoon, JayZ with Ms. Keyes - Empire State of Mind



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