Category Blog

This is Our Moment

Charles Norman Shay
Charles Norman Shay, © Brian Fitzgerald

My grandfather, Gordon Clark, died at the age of 95 in 1991. A soft-spoken man with a great sense of humor and a fondness for Irish Whiskey, “Pappy” also survived many trying times in his long and extraordinary life. I still have the German flare gun he brought home from WWI as a member of the Battery B, 12th Artillery, 2nd Division of the US Army in France. He lost his fortune in the Great Depression, and rebuilt his life and family in the years to come.

Raymond Gordon Clark
Raymond Gordon Clark, c.1917

Closer to home, I photographed Charles Norman Shay, 96, of Indian Island, Maine.   A decorated Army veteran and Penobscot elder, Shay was a combat medic in WWII, was taken prisoner of war in Germany, and then served again as a medic in the Korean War. Along the way he was awarded a Bronze Star, Silver Star, and the Legion d’Honneur, meaning that Shay is, quite literally, a French knight.

Many of us haven’t literally fought in the trenches, but we’ve all lived through trying times.  

If you’re in your 30s, you’ll remember living through the Great Recession, the War on Terror and 9/11. If you’re a Gen-Xer, you remember the gas crisis, the stock market crash of 1986 (plus one in 1992), Desert Storm, the Iran hostage crisis, and the fall of the Soviet Union. A bit older and you remember the throes of the Cold War, the assassinations of MLK, RFK, JFK; the Cuban Missile Crisis, the resignation of Nixon and Vietnam. Before that, there was the 1957 influenza A (H2N2) virus pandemic that killed 1.1 million worldwide (116,000 in the US), the Korean War, “duck and cover” drills, and the McCarthy Hearings. The Greatest Generation fought WWII and endured hardships and deprivation that we’d find hard to imagine today.

We’ve been through tough times before.

At times like these—of great uncertainty and great fear—it’s easy to get overwhelmed and to think that nothing can be done.  But that’s not entirely true.

It’s important to remember that we as a society will make it through the Covid-19 pandemic, and chances are, you will too.  Yes, the world will change.  Yes, this virus and the resulting economic impact will have far-reaching and for many, devastating effects. Yes, much remains unclear.

But what is clear? What was important one short month ago no longer seems so significant. Instead of doing lots of busywork, most of us are at home, connecting with loved ones. Or perhaps we’re at a critical job, doing essential work to care for, feed or provide for others. What we are doing now matters.

This isn’t a time for selling, or for expansion, but it can be a time for growth. It’s a time for doing what’s essential, taking care of yourself and others, and for growing in whatever ways you can. These weeks and months of forced downtime are an opportunity to slow down, reflect, live simply and plan for what is to come.

I’m taking classes to learn new skills that I’ve long wanted to develop. I’m editing my portfolio and trying to stay healthy (thanks, Arnold Schwarzenegger!). My hope is that I’ll look back in a couple of months, as the world is getting back to work, and I know I’ll be grateful if I spent my time well; happy that if I couldn’t control the situation or the outcome, I could at least control my response.

Here’s to surviving—and thriving—in this moment where it matters most.

–30–

Certainty in Uncertain Times

During this time of uncertainty, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Not long ago all of us were still making optimistic plans for get-togethers, projects and trips for the weeks and months to come.


The events of a few short days have changed and challenged our perceptions and plans.


Stuck at home, certain only of our uncertainties, bouncing off of loved ones and compulsively checking our news (and non-news) feeds for scraps of information, we instead learn second-hand from the gossip of others.


What’s clear is that we are all in the same boat. None of us asked for this and the control we have is limited to that which we exercise over ourselves. We have the choice to limit ourselves for the good of the whole. We also have the option to spend some of our now extra time doing things we’ve long neglected—at least, that’s my plan. I’m choosing to look at this upheaval as a gift of time: time to spend with my family; time to reset and plan; time to learn and reflect.


In a few weeks or months when things calm down and normalcy returns, as it surely will, I hope to look back and know that I spent my time the best way I could. Today, I plant a seed for that day.

Have Studio, Will Travel

During my photojournalism career, my ‘office’ was my car, complete with police scanners, reporter’s notebooks, a Domke bag of gear and strobe lights in the trunk.    Now, as a commercial and editorial photographer, I’m based out of a studio in downtown Portland (far nicer than most newspapers I called home and with much more gear). 

I always imagined two types of photographers existed:  studio photographers, usually specializing in portrait or product photography, and location shooters, who travel to clients and whose studio is wherever they happen to be on assignment.  Wedding photographers, photojournalists and editorial shooters and architectural photographers are among those for whom an assignment is everywhere but, obviously, a studio. 

At heart, I’ll always be an editorial photographer—a storyteller— who is flexible enough to adjust to the changing circumstances of a location shoot but who uses flash and strobes fully, where appropriate.   Not a studio photographer, but a photographer with a studio. 

When I moved into my first studio over a decade ago, I figured it was mainly to store my gear outside of the home, where it was gradually taking over the basement.   I thought I’d meet clients there and that’s about it.  But, it turns out that my studio has remained busy because it gives my clients options.   When the weather or a location isn’t working out for us, or if we need absolute control over lighting, we have the studio.   

My studio now has become just one more tool in my bag and helps me to deliver another option to my clients.    I may miss the days when everything I owned could fit in a shoulder bag, but I’d much rather have the flexibility to choose the best approach for my clients—in studio or on location—instead of having my approach dictated by a lack of options.

On location, Old Orchard Beach, ME

 

Portland Maine Studio
Fitzgerald Photo Studio, downtown Portland.

 

Portland Maine Studio
Fitzgerald Photo Studio, downtown Portland.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Giving More

A little initiative and a lot of hustle turned a project to photograph firefighters for a fund raiser into a project depicting firefighters as always on duty and (over) committed to their work, called “Everyday Heroes”.

I grew up Catholic, which might explain why I have a deep-seated belief that anything good in my life must be accompanied by a healthy amount of suffering.

That’s not the healthiest story to tell oneself,  but I’ve come to replace it with  another, more powerful story:  if you want good value or results—a great shoot, great assignments, great clients—then you have to first give great value.

What does ‘value’ mean? It means that you should do your best to be remarkable in your work, your attitude, your professionalism. It means that you ask first how you can help before you ask for help. It means that you give more value than your client expects. It means that when you are on a shoot, you go that extra mile: look for an extra angle, take a creative risk and push yourself to take something different once you’ve satisfied your client’s needs. Sometimes you’ll end up with something that surprises you and delights your client.

If you consistently do this and have the attitude of giving more than you are getting, you’ll find—like I have—that you get an amazing amount of value in return.

It starts with you.



Five Ways to Rock Content Marketing (plus One)

If you’re responsible for marketing at your company (or one-person shop), one single word can induce sweating, bouts of self-doubt and even some wistful headshaking: content.  Since the online platforms for content delivery are so ubiquitous, it’s likely any bottleneck in producing consistent, high-quality (and brand-appropriate) content is on the production side (you), not on the delivery side.

So what’s your strategy when it comes to producing and sharing content?

Content isn’t just what you produce—writing (blogs, articles, white papers) and visuals (graphics, images, videos), but also those things you discover, curate and share.

The content you publish might be very slick and professionally-done. It might also utilize unedited smartphone photos, Instagram stories or short video snippets. This kind of grab-and-go visual content is raw, but also authentic, organic and real.

Both types can have a place in your content strategy.

A solid ongoing content approach may include targeted shoots to build up a library of appropriate imagery—of people, processes, places; of faces and evergreen details—that are on brand message. It also involves defining what sorts of ‘raw’ content should be considered, and the triggers and standards for that kind of content.It all starts with an editorial content calendar—whether in the form of a spreadsheet, a physical white board or an actual calendar (digital or physical). On this calendar are listed all of the planned blogs, articles, social media posts and other content planned for the next months or year.

Looking at a blank screen it can be overwhelming, thinking about how to proceed.  I start with the easy wins.  Here are some strategies that can help you produce great content consistently and take the stress out of the process. 

Recurring Content
This is the easiest to schedule. For me, it starts with my end of year wrap-up blog post. I also do a series of assignment showcases that celebrate completed recent projects—usually one a month—and so I just schedule those even if all I can write for some of them is “client highlight”.  I can fill in the specifics later. The important part is to fill out my editorial calendar so that I have content each week in the form of blogs and social media posts. For others, it might make sense to tie content to annual events or seasons, like the start of spring or baseball season.

Leverage others’ content
I don’t do all the content heavy lifting myself. I make sure I’m curating interesting content from others. This means commenting on social media posts, sharing content I find valuable, and even allowing guest posts on my sites and platforms.

Behind the Scenes
People love to see the unscripted ‘inner workings’ of an operation. This tends to be the ‘raw’ unpolished stuff. I try to have a stream of visual content that shows me and my team at work, or on location, as part of my mix. This is where some of the more creative, quirky or fun images can go. This is what Seth Godin might refer to as, “showing your scuffed shoes”. I schedule this as well in my calendar.

Evergreen Content
This is content that always stays fresh no matter the season. It can be a quick hit list of tips, a short how-to article or feature. These can be done ahead of time and sprinkled around where needed.  Brainstorm and produce this during your slower season and you’ll be ready no matter how busy things become later. 

Targeted Shoots
Custom, highly tactical content generation. Coming up with a shot list (including video) and executing with the idea of creating an image library good for specific uses.

I have many clients who hire us for targeted, planned shoots of content meant primarily for social media—these may be less polished, and include a mix of micro-video snippets and images that can be easily shared. Then they spread out these posts over the course of several months so they have plenty of content even during their busier times of year. If you plan ahead, these targeted shoots don’t have to be onerous, time consuming or costly—we strategize with our clients to come up with creative approaches that are fun and fit their brand, whether it’s a restaurant wanting ‘in-situ’ portraits of their dishes or a recycling company wanting “product” shots of the sometimes strange and unusual types of items that end up being processed in their facilities. Often, we help set the strategy that our client’s marketing teams can continue to do themselves in the future in a pinch.

Recommendations and favorites
Recommended lists of books. Favorite peices of software. Best blogs. Top resources for others in your industry. This is a fun way to share your knowledge with others and create a conversation. 

Having a balance of polished, high-value content as well as social media-focused content will keep your audience engaged and will help you be successful at actually maintaining the consistency needed to grow your audience.

Have questions about how to make this happen for you and your business? We build custom plans for our client partners and would be glad to discuss whether we’d be a good fit for yours.

Client Work: ReEnergy Holdings

Renewable Energy

With the latest boom in commercial and residential construction, have you ever wondered what happens to all of the tons of used (or unused), broken or left-over materials used in the building industry?  Some of it ends up in landfills, but much of it—wiring, piping, metals, wood—can be recycled, resold and reused.

I recently finished a project for ReEnergy Holdings, photographing their recycling operations throughout Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. These facilities process tons of construction material and repurpose what they can.  It’s often a dirty, dusty, mucky job but one I’m glad they are there to do.

Location work like this is challenging because it requires creating great images no matter the situational challenges that arise.   At busy industrial facilities like these, the machinery can’t just stop while I set up lights and get everything just right. It’s more of a run-and-gun situation, photographing people and processes as they happen and making lemonade out of lemons (I’m into recycling, too). The primary challenge is to take advantage of the visual opportunities that are there—even when they don’t easily present themselves—and stay on the move….all while dodging moving trucks, loaders, and spinning machinery.

The shoots were done indoors and outdoors, in dry, extremly dusty conditions and on days that it was pouring rain and the mud was several inches thick. I’ve found that extreme situations such as these, though unforgiving on cameras and lenses, offer plenty of visual gold.  Enjoy!

 

 



Client Work: Pine Tree Legal Assistance

It’s easy to get lost in the technical aspects of photography—the correct exposure, the right light modifier for the exact situation—and produce a technically perfect image that lacks heart. 

That’s why I enjoy working with clients like the Pine Tree Legal Association.  They are a statewide non-profit providing legal services to Mainers with  need but no ability to pay.   It’s a wonderful mission and they do great, important work.  

Recently, PTLA asked me to take portraits of their clients both at their Portland office and at various other locations of significance to the clients or their legal cases.  

Selfishly, I love the opportunity to photograph PTLA’s clients—many of them families, all of whom have stories to tell—in a candid, simple, editorial way.   Here, the moment is the most important thing, as is revealing the stories written on the faces of their clients.   

Pine Tree Legal Association

Care without Compromise

Happy to share some recent work I’ve done for Portland-area based healthcare provider InterMed. I’ve been working with InterMed for years, a great partnership.

InterMed’s tagline is “Care without Compromise”, a message and story we try to express in all of their visuals. I love the little moments in each of these images. Enjoy!


 

Healthcare imagery

Happy Birthday, Fitzgerald Photo

Happy Birthday

This month, Fitzgerald Photo turns nine.

More than a decade ago, I started my photography business even as I continued working full-time as a technology consultant. I had some initial success bringing in new clients.

It was a nice little start but not enough to cover the bills. I had an idea, not a business, and it was clearly decision time.

My wife Beth—who always seems to know me better than I know myself—made a suggestion she knew I needed to hear.

In short order I found myself on a plane headed to Washington state to visit my friend Scott. We’d known each other 16 years, since meeting in Cottonwood, Arizona; each of us a journalist at competing small-town weekly newspapers in the Verde Valley. Since that time we’d both moved several times, lived abroad, gone back to school and now I was coming to pick his brain about his experience running a successful business. By this time, he’d been an acupuncturist with his own shop for about a decade, expanding from a solo enterprise to one with staff and multiple providers. I was there to ask for advice, in between hiking and enjoying some Northwest beer.

He grilled me on the long drive from the airport: what was I selling, to whom was I selling.   I was tongue-tied and felt inept. The weekend was a master’s course in learning to not make excuses. I had a quite a few. In the end, he told me, simply: “Unless you cut out all the other stuff and focus on your business, you’re not going to have a business. Stay in your lane.” He may have added some expletives to that last bit.

Motivated, I returned to Maine. I phased out my other gig and focused every day on building my new work. Even if I didn’t have paid shoots, I shot anyway. I worked on my business and kept business hours. I built systems. I took every opportunity to talk about what I do and to ask others what they needed.

The needle started to move. Slowly at first but undeniably.  My business tripled that year, after just seven months of full time work. The year after, it doubled again. Two years later, it doubled yet again.

I had a business.

It all started with a decision to take responsibility for what I wanted and to focus on doing my work without making excuses.

Fitzgerald Photo started in 2009, by necessity. It was born in May, 2010, by choice.

Cinematic, environmental portraits

I love creating environmental portraits.  That’s good, because I make an awful lot of these as a commercial photographer.

One challenge when doing such location portraits is that the benefit—the environment, which can offer very cool, very visually striking contextual cues—can also be a severe liability.  Imagine showing up to a shoot to find you are limited to shooting portraits inside a tiny conference room with orange walls, or in the middle of summer using an interior of a steel shipping container (both are recent examples).

So what do you do when the environment detracts from,  instead of adds to, your portraits?

I opt to shoot portraits with very shallow depth of field, in order to throw my distracting backgrounds out of focus.  Then I carefully add in lights to create depth and color as needed. Given the time of day or the situation, this may require using ND (neutral density) filters or high-speed sync to achieve this look, but it’s worth the extra effort.

The results are tack-sharp portraits that pop from the soft background, minimizing the things I don’t want while giving a sort of cinematic feel that I love.