Crash Taylor Interviews David Ziser

This week I welcome David Ziser. If you don’t know David Ziser then you are truly missing out. David is an exceptional wedding photographer and a true master of light and composition. His off camera flash techniques are first-class and his blog is just incredible. I read it every day with my morning coffee. I would highly recommend you subscribe to his blog if you want to take your photography, Lightroom and Photoshop skills to the next level. It’s a great honour to interview David and I hope you learn something from this guru of photography.

This week I'm giving away a brand new Kingston compact flash Elite Pro 4GB card for the best comment. I'm sure you know by now that I LOVE COMMENTS! The winner will be announced next week on the blog along with another awesome interview with an extreme sports photographer whose images will blow you away.

Hi David,

Hi Crash,
Hey, thanks for the opportunity to participate in your project profiling photographers from around the world. I think my answers come up just a little shorter than the length of the novel “War and Peace,” but I still hope it’s a good read for all who give it a go.  -David

Where is home?
Home is right here in the center of the universe – Edgewood, Kentucky. Edgewood Kentucky is actually a suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio. Cincinnati, Ohio is a major metropolitan area that is home to approximately 1.75 million people.  I've lived in the area all my life.

Did you go to school to study photography?
I never attended college with the pursuit of photography as a career, so no I didn’t study art or photography in college. I actually went to school and obtained degrees in physics and industrial engineering. I was also working, one class short, on a third degree in computer science.  I was a real geeky kid back then and I'm still a little geeky today.

How long have you been a photographer?
This answer always surprises people. I photographed my first wedding 45 years ago.  I was 15 years old at the time and I was the proverbial friend of a friend.  A co-worker of my father knew I did some photography and asked if I could do his daughter’s wedding.  The rest is history.

Although I worked as an engineer for a number of years after graduating from college in 1971, my friends were getting married in those late 70’s and I was asked to be their photographer.  I actually retired from the engineering field and open my studio doors in 1978 - 30 years ago.

How would you describe your style?
When I began shooting weddings in those late 1970’s, I would say that my style pretty much mimicked a lot of local photographers in style and concept. I studied their albums and displayed photographs and basically tried to copy the competition.

I had the occasion to hear Monte Zucker speak at one of our state conventions and then decided to spend a week with him at Winona School of Photography.  Monty was probably my first major influence in my style of photography.  His influence meant that I was bringing canvas backgrounds and setting up a “mini studio” to my functions.  I was using large light sources to light the bride, groom families and wedding parties and basically producing a beautiful series of portraits for my clients.

The next photographer to influence my style was Rocky Gunn.  I spent a week with Rocky learning about his pictorial style of photography.  Rocky was a master at the dramatic outdoor portrait and I was a quick study.

Another one of my influences would have been Al Gilbert from Canada.  He has a certain wide-angle style I really admired.  I brought a lot of that wide-angle look to my own wedding photography. Al’s influence has continued to be a favourite of mine and endured over the years.

Another good friend of mine Denis Reggie and I met in the mid-80s.  Dennis coined the term “wedding photojournalism.”  And not to be outdone I thought I would make that part of my repertory as well.

I would say that all these early influences have blended into an unique style - mixing it up with some of my own creativity and insights into what I think produces a great photograph.  I think the style my studio represents are beautiful well executed portraits were necessary, a flair for the dramatic in some situations, and a wonderful journalistic look to capture the overall feelings and emotions of the wedding day.

Favourite wedding/portrait photos you have taken recently?

How many weddings do you average per year?
In those early and mid-80s as I was growing my business we averaged about 80 weddings a year.  I had a staff of two other photographers who helped me cover all those events.  As I continued to reach for the higher end events in the Cincinnati area, I was able to reduce that number a bit.

Over the last couple of years we've average between 25 and 30 events.  That's a number I'm comfortable with and really don't see going back to doing as many weddings as we did in the mid-80s.  One wedding every other weekend is just a nice pace and still has me fired-up, excited and enthused every time I go out to photograph a wedding. These celebrations, (weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs) most often are very large events and quite often include more than one day of photographic coverage.

What type of cameras do you shoot with?
Back in the film days I shot with the Hasselblad camera and a full array of lenses.  I photographed my first digital wedding December 30, 2000.  I photographed that wedding with my first digital camera, the Fuji S-1.

Because of the limitations of the Fuji S1 at the time I migrated to the Nikon D1x cameras.  About four years ago I became more interested in some of the features of the Canon cameras and eventually made the switch to Canon in September of 2004.  I've been shooting Canons ever since.

My favorite camera at this time, or let me say, the camera I use most often today would be the Canon 40 D.  With Canon’s introduction of the new 50D and the 5D Mark II, I just can't wait to get my hands on both of those cameras.  I suspect that within three months or let's say by 2009 I will be shooting the Canon 5D Mark II as the primary camera and the 50D as the secondary camera.

What is your favourite photography accessory, other than your camera?
You know, when I think photographic accessory I guess that could include about anything.  My favorite lighting accessory would be my Quantum T5 flash.  Much of my photography includes using an off-camera flash to provide a direction of light. The Quantum with radio controlled transmitters and receivers gives me every bit of control I need to produce a highlight next to a shadow which then allows me to create detail, texture, dimension, and colour saturation within the image.  If your thinking lenses then my favourite lens when I'm shooting the 40 D is Canon’s 10-20 mm wide-angle zoom lens.

If you had to choose one lens which one would it be and why?
Funny you should ask as this has been an on-going topic I've been blogging about on www.DigitalProTalk.com for the last four Fridays.  I’ve actually listed the lenses in order of their priority when shooting a wedding.  Of course, that continues to change with the introduction of new lenses.

One lens I'm really excited to be testing is Canon's new 18-200 mm lens.  For a wedding photographer it incorporates a wonderful zoom range that really eliminates the need to change back and forth to other optics.  Granted, there are times though we need to pull out the big glass to get the shot.  If my testing bears out my initial findings, I would say that one favourite lens will be the 18-200 mm image stabilized Canon lens.

What is your favourite computer/editing accessory, other than your computer?
This is a very simple answer. One of the best production “magic bullets” on the planet Earth available for photographers is Adobe’s Lightroom Version 2.0.  We are currently using Lightroom for approximately 85% maybe even 90% of our image enhancement.  It's extremely fast in the editing department and also gives us great control over density and colour of our images.  The new adjustment brush is what makes this one of the finest editing/image enhancement pieces of software available on the planet Earth.

What is your most used Photoshop tool, plug-in, action set etc…?
I actually have three favourite plug-ins for Photoshop. My first fav plug-in is Noise Ninja which I've been using since it was in beta.  I believe it is one of the best noise reduction tools in my arsenal.  NIK Dfine 2.0 is also very effective at removing noise.

I-Correct Portrait by PictoColor is also a real favourite and one that we use most often in my studio workflow.  It's one click colour balance whether it is for a neutral black or white tone or a skin tone. I-Correct Portrait really speeds up our production time as we work through image enhancement.

A new piece of software I've been playing around with for the last four or five months is NIK’s Viveza. I find it to be a very innovative product with U-point technology control, which I really enjoy using to get the most out of the image.

How important is Photoshop (post processing) in your final images?
Photoshop is an integral part of our workflow.  Although we are using Lightroom 2.0 for most of our colour management and even for some limited retouching we do take the images in the Photoshop for the heavy lifting. This might include facial retouching, perspective correction…. As these are simply not available in Lightroom.

Are you a Mac or PC lover?
I happen to lean towards the PC side of things as we have eight of them in the studio all networked.  I did pickup a Mac Book Pro about a year and a half ago because I do think Apple does have some very cool pieces of software.  I particularly like their iMovie and their iDVD software.

What piece of equipment would you most like to get but don’t have yet?
Obviously, the Canon 5D Mark II is at the top of my wish list.  The other pieces of equipment that I would be considering are Canon’s full frame fisheye lens which would be a perfect combination with the 5D Mark II.  Another piece of equipment I've looked at on and off over the last year has been the perspective control lenses that Canon has available.  I think these lenses offer some wonderful opportunities for both interior room photography and also for portrait photography.

What’s the best part of being a photographer?
I think the best part about being a photographer is; number one, having the ability to capture the action.  I was attending as a guest, a very small wedding just last night. I did bring my camera along with me and when I put it to my eye I thought I was on the job again. I just started shooting as usual and was caught up in the action in no time.  My wife had to keep reminding me I was a guest this time around.

The other thing I love about being a photographer is putting exciting compositions together.  Compositions could include any combination of line, shape, and form, dramatic lighting, and how to best enhance and capture the beautiful surrounds.

I'm just as much the photographer at heart when we go on vacation and travel too.  Whether shooting a wedding or shooting personal vacation photographs, at the end of the day or the end of the trip I still have about 4000 images in the camera.

How do you keep yourself motivated and your photography fresh?
This is very simple to answer.  There was a gentleman in one of my classes about 15 years ago that came all the way from Israel to participate in my class.  Over the course of the week several students asked Chaim, “Why are wedding celebrations such a big deal in the Jewish faith?”  Chaim turned to the class and answered this way, He said; “You look at the history of my people for over 5000 years, we've wandered in the desert, we've been attacked on all of our borders, the attacks still goes on today.  He said what keeps my people going over all these many millennia is living from one joyful occasion to the next!”  It's this simple statement that completely crystallized for me why I enjoy photographing weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs and why I need to be excited when I go out to photograph each celebration.

When we are hired to photograph a wedding it's more than just being hired for a job.  It's also about being honoured to participate in the joyous event of these two families coming together in this wonderful celebration.  This is what keeps me fired-up knowing on the other side of my camera is not just another wedding but in fact it is a joyous event-taking place and that I’ve been honoured to be present at this celebration.

In addition, I really enjoy experimenting and trying to photograph using a new technique or to photograph in a different way to create something different and exciting for each client.

What has been your most memorable assignment and why?
Well, what has been my most memorable assignment, that's a good question?  I’ve been blessed to photograph several very large and prestigious events.  I can remember helping my friend Denis Reggie photograph one of the very big Kennedy weddings in the Washington, DC area.  I also remember just two years ago photographing the largest wedding event in Cincinnati, Ohio for one of the most prestigious families in the area.  We were honoured again just this past year to photograph her cousin's wedding in Florida for their four-day wedding celebration.  It was just a kick and I don't think I'll ever forget the magnificence of these events.

If you could shoot a wedding with someone who would it be and why?

I've had the opportunity to shoot with some of the most famous photographers in the country I've also had some of those photographers assist me in on some of my events.  There is such a great group of talent emerging on the scene right now I think would be exciting to work with maybe a David Jay, Michael Colon, and Jerry Ghionis as they bring a different set of talents and perspectives to their style of photography.

Where would be your dream destination wedding?
I've already had the opportunity to shoot at many dream locations. These include weddings in downtown New York City or the beautiful beaches of Florida, Cabo, Mexico, or high in the Rocky Mountains.  For me today a dream location may be anywhere in old Europe in one of the magnificent churches maybe with a reception taking place in an historic castle.

Who or what inspires you in your personal life and work?
This is a hard question because I think there are so many things in which I find inspiration.  It may be in the magnificent sunsets, it may be dinner with great friends, maybe a moving quote of inspiration, it may be that wonderful vacation in France, a walk thru a museum, and it may be a terrific photograph or two that I've seen online.  I think inspiration can come from so many areas, and as a matter of fact on www.DigitalProTalk.com I was running a series of posts for a number of Fridays called Inspiration Friday.  I think searching my blog for “inspiration” and “creativity” will give the readers a good insight as to what does truly inspire me.

A website and/or blog you visit often?

My favourite websites:

One of my favourites is the www.Strobist.com is by David Hobby.
Another is Scott Kelby’s www.PhotoshopInsider.com.
Another favourite blog is www.1001NoisyCameras.com.

Since I cruise about 75 to 100 blogs in the course of the week, each cruise has a new favourite surface from week to week.  I think the ones that I mentioned are consistently at the top of my list though.

The hardest part of your job?
It's the nine to five, Monday through Friday dealing with the editing, the phone calls, the tech support, the day-to-day business operations, including the various unscheduled issues that pop up during the week.  Sometimes people think I'm crazy when I say this, but my relaxation time comes on the weekend when I'm out there with my camera to my eye seeing and being a part of the wonderful event taking place and unfolding before me. I get to creatively capture beauty, feelings, action, excitement and emotions for my clients.

Things you say or do to put your clients at ease in front of the camera?

This is an interesting question to ask because so many of my newest clients have been guests at previous events that they actually repeat back to me my lines. I often use the fun and light hearted “happier, happier”, “more teeth, more teeth”, or “group hug, group hug” and these lines then become their chants when they're photographing with their own point-and-shoot cameras.  It's always funny to see and hear but I do take it as a compliment that they sometimes mimic my occasional goofiness.

Seriously, it’s about positively complimenting my clients with honesty and integrity as well as a small dose of humour.

The first photographer that comes to your mind and why?
The first wedding photographer that would come to my mind would be Rocky Gunn, a photographer whose work was always the most exciting to see at any gallery showing.  I've also enjoyed the work of Philippe Halsman.  I love how he created his portraits of famous individuals together both in composition, lighting and expression.

A wedding photographer who inspires you?
I really can't name any one wedding photographer that inspires me.  I think there are so many great photographers out there that are bringing so much to the mix that would be great if we could take a little bit from each one of them and create the perfect wedding coverage.  I mentioned Michael Colon, David Jay, and Jerry Ghionis who have really made their mark on our profession in recent years.  There are so many others unnamed but are still out there on the Internet that I find inspirational as well.  If you want to be inspired by wedding photography just go to www.Flickr.com and search on “inspirational wedding photography” and you will be pleasantly surprised and inspired by the results you find.

The last workshop or seminar you attended and why?
It was just a few months ago that my wife LaDawn and I made the trip about two hours from home to hear David Jay speak.  He was quite inspirational.  The next day we attended a program by the very successful family and portrait photographer Sandy Puc.  They both had national lecture tours going at the time and they happened to be at the same city on concurrent days.

I think it's vitally important that we take advantage of these resources in our profession and continue to attend conventions and programs. Professional organizations as well as national speakers offer a wonderful opportunity for the photographer just beginning as well as the seasoned professional to continue ones education. There is always something valuable to learn, some titbit of knowledge, some inspiration that allows me to adapt to my own style of photography or business practices.

Do you offer workshops and if so, tell us a little about them?
I think that we offer one of the best as well as one of the best-valued workshops available anywhere.  I conduct my Digital Master Class two to three times a year in the greater Cincinnati, Ohio area just minutes from my studio. It’s 4 1/2 days including location shooting with emphasis on lighting, composition and subject placement. We talk workflow and sales and marketing. You have the opportunity to visit my studio twice and to meet and question my staff.

People come from all over the world to attend. Just three weeks ago we finished the third class for 2008.  We had attendees from Nigeria and Belgium.  In our summer workshop we had attendees travel all the way from Canada and also Wellington, New Zealand.

It's great when we had the international photographers show up because it does have such an international flavour to the week and all the participants have the wonderful experience of seeing how things are done both the same and differently around the world.  It’s an exciting week not only for our guests and class attendees abut also for myself and my staff. You can get additional information on my workshops at www.DavidZiser.com.

One way you market your business?
My easy, quick, simple answer to that question is this.  “Get to know the people doing business with the people you want to do business with.”  Create relationships with those people, decide how you can help each other, and work on building that relationship into an authentic partnership and not just the big schmooze.  Business will follow.

If not a photographer you would have been?
When I entered college I was planning to major in Chemistry.  It had always been of interest to me all through my high school yearss and I was a pretty good amateur scientist.  On registration day a friend of mine talked me into standing in the physics line so I ended up majoring in physics and also obtaining a degree in physics.

As I was pursuing a degree in Physics I decided to push it a little further and take on a major of Industrial Engineering and Computer Science as well working towards a triple degree back in those late 60s and early 70s.

For the sake of my sanity, I drop a Computer Science degree with only six credits to go.  But I think that's why I like this digital age so much.  So much of that interest that I had many years ago is resurfacing now with digital photography.

Do you make time for personal photographic work? If so, what do you enjoy photographing and do you have a few images you can share with us?
I mentioned earlier that I take quite a few photographs on our family vacations.  This is involved into quite a love of landscape photography.  You can see many examples of my work over at www.imagekind.com.  Just search on my last name and you'll see several of my favourite images.

If you could be invisible for one day with your camera...
Well, with our exciting American presidential elections in full swing right now and heading into the home stretch, if I could be invisible, I would love to be behind the scenes in either Senator McCain's campaign or Senator Obama’s campaign.  I think it would be exciting to capture the true emotions, the trials and tribulations that both candidates are feeling and experiencing.

Photographing penguins in the Antarctic, a fashion shoot for Vogue in Paris or the wedding of Brad and Angelina?
Give me the wedding every time.

London, Japan or the Bahamas with a Hasselblad H3DII-50 and Kate Moss?
Forget the Hasselblad too big, too heavy, to slow.  Give me the quick and nimble DSLR every time and London as the choice location.

Is there anybody, living or dead you would love to capture on film and why?

I had the opportunity many years ago to photograph Ronald Reagan who subsequently became president of the United States of America.  It was a kick to be at that gathering and see this nationally prominent political figure interact with his constituency.  I'm really fired up with the U.S. Presidential elections happening right now and I think the person I would really like to photograph at this point would probably be Barack Obama.  It still amazes me how any political candidate can find deep within them that much time, energy, effort and resourcefulness into running for office on a nearly 24-hour a day, seven day a week schedule for over many, many, many months.

What advice do you have for photographers just starting out?
My best piece of advice for a new photographer just starting out or any photographer would be this.  “Don't ever say that you're giving it 100%.  You have no clue what your 100% is. You need to push it even harder.  And pushing even harder every minute, every hour, while photographing a wedding should be exactly what you should be doing.  It's only by stretching ourselves that we become better photographers.”

The second part of the answer would be this. “Bring passion to what ever you do.”

And the third part, “It’s easy to be successful. Just work harder than the next guy.”

Photography is constantly evolving. What do you think will be the biggest difference between photography now and in 5 years time?
My quick answer would be to say, just look at the convergence of “still” and “video” photography right now.  With the introduction of Nikon D90 the first camera digital DSLR camera to have video on board and then just a few weeks later, the introduction of the Canon 5D Mark II with high definition video onboard creates some exciting opportunities for photographers.  We are only scratching the surface of where these new creative tools will lead us.  These tools, coupled with future software developments, will help us communicate in wonderfully new, exciting, unique, different, creative ways.

What talent would you most like to have?
I would love to be able to play a musical instrument.  My main choice would probably be piano but being able to play a banjo is something that also intrigues me to possibly learn.

Something you’re still learning?
I think I'm still learning everything whether it is photographic lighting, composition, design…or anything concerning artistic concepts.  I'm not trying to limit this just to photography either, I think we must be constantly learning all the time. “ If you are not learning, you are not growing, and if you are not growing, then you are dying.”

What do you love to indulge in?
I'll answer this two ways.  I've decided that after blogging for 15 months that I really enjoy writing.  The minor problem with that is I'm still a two-fingered typist so typing my blog posts takes me much longer to achieve than maybe others.  On a more personal note my wife LaDawn and I really enjoy good travel, great restaurants, wonderful wine, and beautiful sunsets.

Something that is overrated?

Something you’re saving up for?
After the U.S. stock market crash of this last month I'm saving up for everything ;~)

If you could have lunch with anyone who is famous who would it be?
Sorry to say I'm really on this political thing right now and I'm really wrapped up in the U.S. elections.  I would say either of the presidential candidates running for office. Or maybe Warren Buffet, I REALLY need to pick his brain!

Where you'll find me on a Friday night at 9 p.m.?
On a Friday night at 9 p.m. I would be at home sitting outdoors on my deck with my wife LaDawn and enjoying a fine red wine.

Your favourite film (movie) of all time?

This probably really dates me but my favourite movie would probably be the first or second Star Wars movies.

First thing you would do if you won the lottery?

Plan on whom I was going to be making a large donation to.

Three words that describe you.
Passionate, energetic, most of the time, and contemplative.

What would you like to be doing in 5 years from now?
In five years I would like to see myself lecturing and training even more and stepping aside from the day-to-day operations of the studio.  I would continue to be shooting and still challenging myself photographically.

And the last question, if you had one wish…
I feel like I'm at the Miss Universe Contest right now and I'm afraid my answer would be the same - world peace in our time. Wars and killing is such a waste.

Oh one more, if someone said ‘how can I be the next David Ziser?’ What would you say?
I would say be careful what you wish for!!  In one sentence I would say; “Be passionate about what you do, always try to do it the best, and don't accept a compromised finished result.”

Your readers can find out more about me:
Your readers can get a daily dose of David Ziser at: www.DigitalProtalk.com
DigitalProTalk.com is my daily blog where I post an image a day wedding, portrait, landscape, or fine art - describe my thoughts behind the image and give all camera specs associated with the image.  In the course of the week we feature several specialized posts including; Technique Tuesday, which is about a 12-minute lesson on anything photographic, Photoshop, or Lightroom.

Thursday is always Business Day Thursday where we discuss many aspects of improving your business, marketing, and profit-making skills.

I've also just added podcasting to the blog and we have some fascinating guests lined up for future podcasts.  There are several online podcasts available including a conversation with Donnie Hoyle of “You Suck At Photoshop” fame.

Your readers can also get more information about my Digital Master Classes over at www.DavidZiser.com.  We also have a few other things under development but if you follow my blog, you'll be able to see what's coming down the pike.

Thanks to everyone who gave this lengthy profile a read.  I hope you enjoyed it.  And I look forward to our paths or pixels crossing down the road.

All the best, David