In previous blogs we introduced our stylist, Juliet White, and Bella Notte designer and founder, Kathleen McCoy. In this entry we have interviewed Jay Graham who is an accomplished photographer in both interiors and travel, and helps us to display Bella Notte in its "best light".
Q: Have you always been interested in photography?
My grandmother was a photographer so I've always been surrounded by photos, but the first time I took it seriously was during a course I took at UC Santa Cruz called, "The Making of a Photographic Book." Ansel Adams was the photo expert teaching the class along with Beaumont and Nancy Newhall – renowned historians of photography. I was such a beginner I barely knew the difference between the aperture and shutter speed. We did produce a book and I had one image published in it.
Legendary photographer Ansel Adams with students at UC Santa Cruz
Q: Did you go to school for photography? If so, what was your emphasis?
I didn't switch to photography as a career until my mid-thirties. I'd been a real estate appraiser and general contractor until then. When I did switch, I went back the Academy of Art in San Francisco and took one course at California College of the Arts in Oakland. I did a year taking the classes that I needed to get me out in the field. But I had a family and had to start producing income quickly. I assisted other professionals for about two years and then started knocking on doors. Architectural and interiors photography was my primary focus.
©Jay Graham - Interior Photography
Q: How did your relationship first begin with Bella Notte Linens?
I think I was introduced through a mutual friend, Jeanne Delparte. All I can say is that the way we've worked together has evolved so much that our photography and production process is amongst the most seamless and high-tech processes for any of my shoots.
Q: Bella Notte works with a stylist, Juliet White, in England—how do you help to connect Juliet to the Bella studio during the photo shoot? What applications and accessories do you use? How has this process evolved?
We're connecting to Juliet via the internet mainly using Lightroom, Skype, Dropbox, and a program called CamTwist. In the early days we started communicating with Skype. Juliet could talk with us and see the general layout of the scene we were photographing but it wasn't the exact angle I'd be shooting because she was viewing through the iMac's built in camera. I'd email her small jpegs to get the exact angle and make final decisions. We shot for eight days on this first shoot and at the end we almost felt as if Juliet was in the room with us.
Stylist Juliet is able to see both the live set and the actual screen of Jay's camera
On the next shoot, we incorporated Dropbox which made transferring jpegs (images) much smoother and the process faster. The latest innovation has been utilizing CamTwist to allows me to designate the video feed in my Canon SLR as the camera for Skype. Juliet is able to see the setup exactly as we are seeing it. I can zoom into specific areas to give her a more detailed look if needed. We still send her a medium resolution images to confirm the styling, but the process is much more fluid using CamTwist. Again, this is pretty cutting-edge stuff and it really allows us to work together seamlessly as a team.
Q: What steps are involved in setting up for a photo shoot? Lighting? Camera placement?
Set up involves connecting the camera and computer, setting up a file system, and making sure all the software including Skype are syncing. Lighting is fairly simple - we use natural light so controlling it's direction is the main focus. We close off any overhead skylights with black plastic to give our light a directional feel from the side to highlight the textures and depth of the fabrics.
A wide angle look at how each shoot gets its perfect natural lighting
Q: Once the photo shoot begins, how does your day look? Please give us an idea of a day in the life of a Bella Notte Linens photo shoot.
We generally have two set-ups going at once. As I'm shooting one, the other is being assembled so that it's pretty much ready to go when we're finished with the first one. As a side note, I arrive on the scene on the day of the shoot and begin my part that day; the Bella Notte team has already spent weeks designing and preparing for the shoot.
Designer Kathleen preps the bed on one set while Mitchell hangs Linen Whisper curtains on a second set
Once the set is ready to go I take a look at the sketches and take directions from the team on what's important to show and what angle we'll be shooting from. I set up the camera, take a preliminary shot or two until we have a rough first image. I then crop and do a rough tuning of color and exposure. The Bella Notte team including Juliet in the UK check the photo on the computer and via Skype to make sure we're in the ball park. I then create a medium resolution jpg image that I put in a Dropbox that Juliet has access to. She opens the file and can make more precise styling decisions based on the higher resolution shot. We repeat this process until everyone is satisfied then move on to the next.
Q: What is your favorite part of the process?
That's a tough question. I like the whole process. It's collaborative from the beginning to the end and it's all about pulling things together, solving problems and creating the best photo we can. If I had to pick one thing it would be seeing the sets for the first time and composing the shot in camera. I love photographing beautiful things.
©Jay Graham - Bella Notte Linens 2010
Q: Does it ever get dull shooting "still life"? How do you keep it interesting?
The only time it gets dull is when the flow slows down for some unexpected reason like having to rebuild the set because of lumps in the bed etc. The team is incredible and team is the operative word. There aren't any egos getting in the way – only collaboration and a lot of humor. The Bella Notte photo shoot is my favorite product shoot.
Q: What was it like working with things like live bunnies and floating bubbles?
Did I mention humor?
Q: What percentage of the final image is achieved through post production?
I don't know what the percentage would be but it's not much. It mainly entails cropping, color correction, fine tuning of the exposure, and a little photoshop to clean up things like dust bunnies on the floor, and small blemishes on the set walls.
Q: Do you ever "miss the shot"? Do you ever feel like you need to go back and do it again or do you just make it work when that happens?
If we feel like we've missed the shot we definitely re-do it even if it means rebuilding the set. We rarely have to do that. We rarely have to redo a shot for technical reasons because we can see the final shot in full detail as soon as we've shot it. Generally a re-do happens when we look at all the shots together and see one that is just not up to par with the others.
Q: How do you feel when you see the final inspiration books?
Great! The books and the sets that they dream up and build are such a great representation of the quality and possibilities of Bella Notte linens.
Q: Where you do you get your photography inspiration?
Beautiful, exciting things in interesting light. My wife can tell you that one of my favorite photography tools is the u-turn. If I see something interesting, I stop and get an image.
Q: What style of art and photography is in your home?
Eclectic. We have photography and art that I've produced as well as that of our friends and things we've found on our travels.
©Jay Graham - Travel Photography
Q: Who is your photography "idol"?
I have so many that I can't pick out one. But honestly, it's the photography and not the photographer that intrigues me most. If it's beautiful, I don't care who shot it. I just like it.
Q: What do you think about Instragram and other similar editing software apps?
I think it's helped a lot of people get interested in and take part in photography and that's great.
Q: What's your biggest challenge as a photographer?
The business end – I'd rather just shoot.