Braving The Elements

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Weathermen Brad Colman Cliff Mass.  Photo by John Keatley in Seattle, WA.

Cliff Mass

Brad Colman

Clouds I can handle, but it’s the rain that drives me crazy when I am supposed to be shooting outside. Thankfully I was photographing weather experts for this assignment, and it turns out they know a thing or two about predicting the weather.

As I was packing up to head out for what I knew would be a long day at “the office” I began to feel a little nervous about the dark clouds hanging over Seattle. After checking weather.com, my nervousness began to change into a good case of anxiety because they were predicting rain by 9:30am, and that was just two hours away.  Maybe I could beat the rain and get in at least one outside portrait.  The problem was I had to photograph one subject in the morning, and the second one in the afternoon.  At the very best it looked like I would only get one of the subjects outside, but the show must go on.  I headed over to the University of Washington where I would meet up with my first subject, Cliff Mass.  My assignment was to photograph Cliff and Brad Coleman in studio for the opener, and get an environmental portrait of each of them individually.  The thing that made this all really interesting was I could not get them both in studio at the same time or place.  I had to set up a studio at UW in the morning, then tear it down, and set it up again, exactly the same at NOAA to photograph Brad.  I had been planning this shoot for a couple of weeks including some minor styling and location scouting.  This was an assignment I was really looking forward to, and I would have been really bummed if the rain forced us inside for the environmental shots.

To give you a little background on the men in the photographs.  Cliff Mass was mentored by Carl Sagan while in undergrad at Cornell University.  He is the author of “The Weather of the Pacific Northwest”, he runs a very popular blog, Cliff Mass Weather Blog, he is a weekly guest on KUOW radio, and he is a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington.  To quote a UW press release, “He has published dozens of articles on Northwest weather and leads the regional development of advanced weather prediction tools.”  Many people in the Pacific Northwest plan their weekends around Cliff’s predictions.

Brad Colman is the meteorologist-in-charge of the Seattle Weather Forecast Office.  “A meteorologist-in-charge is the front line officer carrying out the National Weather Service’s mission of serving the American public by helping protect lives and property,” said Brig. Gen. David L. Johnson, U.S. Air Force (Ret.), director of NOAA’s National Weather Service.  “NOAA’s National Weather Service is the official source of weather data, forecasts and warnings for the United States and its territories.  The National Weather Service operates the most advanced weather and flood warning and forecast systems in the world, helping to protect lives and property and enhance the national economy.”

Back at UW, it seemed like it would start raining any minute, so I asked Cliff if we could change the schedule a little and shoot the environmental portrait right away because I was nervous about the rain.  Embarrassed as I am to admit, it never occurred to me that I was working with one of the top experts in weather. When I told Cliff we should try to shoot outside while it is still dry, he promptly responded, “It’s not going to rain.” “It’s not?” I asked. “No. The cloud cover will begin to burn off at 10:30, and by 11:30 we will have clear skies.”  And he was right.  Take that weather.com!  Once we finished at UW with Cliff, it was off to NOAA to photograph Brad.  By the time we got there, the skies were opening up, and it looked quite different than just a few hours before, as you can tell in the pictures.

From this point on, I will include a weatherman on all of my bids.  First assistant, second assistant, makeup artist, stylist, and a weatherman.  Oh, and a falconer.  I recently learned about the benefits of having a falconer on set.  If nothing else it can be very entertaining, but that’s a story for another time.

A fun fact I learned on this assignment is Houston, New York, Miami and Boston all get more average annual rainfall than Seattle.   We win the prize for most cloudy days though…  Bummer.

Special thanks goes out to Robyn and Seattle North Face for the clothes.  And also to Mandy for painting some amazing clouds which were not used in the final.

This is a video of Cliff explaining some weather basics.  I like how he explains things in terms anyone can understand.  Plus he has soothing voice.


About Personal Work

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Personal work.  Photo by John Keatley.

This is a personal shoot I recently put together.  Many of the ideas and sketches I have been putting in my journal lately are set in outdoor locations at night.  I seem to go through cycles of being inspired by different things in my personal work.  For example, there was a time last year, when all of my ideas were studio shots.  After spending more time than usual in the studio, I began to find inspiration in other things.  I am a very curious photographer, and I enjoy changing the situations and people I work with so I am always experiencing something new.  Each time I explore my curiosity through personal work, I not only fulfill my curiosity, but I also grow as a photographer, and learn things that will stay with me.  There is something inside of me that is constantly pushing me to try something different, and create something new.

What I have begun to notice this summer through my personal work is that each phase that I go through, it is becoming less about a technical aspect, such as a specific light, or studio vs. outdoor, and more about my vision or the story I want to tell.  Each phase I have gone through has really been more about exploration and my own curiosity than the actual technical detail I was focused on.  Through these periods of different inspirations I have learned a lot, and  I hope I will always be learning something new about light, and photography, no matter how long I work at it.  But now I am able to focus more on my vision and less on the tools required to make it happen.  Not that the tools aren’t important.  They are!  But the more you practice, the more you will understand the tools, and the more they become ingrained in you so you don’t have to spend as much time and effort thinking about them.

This picture is the first in a series I am working on in my spare time.  I felt excitement when I made this image, and it was a good reminder for me of how much I love photography.  Thanks for taking a look.


Wired – Hole in the Internet

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Seattle based hacker Dan Kaminsky.  Photo by John Keatley for Wired

My first assignment with Wired just came out in the December issue. You can see the online article with my pictures of Dan Kaminsky and Paul Vixie here. It’s a great story, and worth a read, even if you aren’t interested in secret meetings at Microsoft, and a big security flaw in the Internet. This was my second time photographing Dan Kaminsky, the hacker who discovered the hole in the Internet. It was fun to work with more familiarity than I usually get with a subject. I also flew down to San Francisco and photographed Paul Vixie at his Redwood City office. Paul is considered to be the “Godfather of DNS”.

*Update* David Hobby at Strobist interviewed me about my lighting technique for this assignment and my other shoot with Dan.  He wrote a really nice article, and you can read it (here).