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Best of ASMP 2008

During a location shoot near his rural Tennessee studio, Tom Raymond went out on a limb to capture the mood of solitary bliss that accompanies an early morning swim at the sumptuous property of a real estate client. He relied on a combination of preplanning, professional confidence and luck to record an athletic model’s predawn plunge. All the elements came together without a hitch, and Raymond’s first take became the prize image for his client’s print and Web campaigns.

Tom Raymond — Johnson City, TN

Web site:
Project: Pulling off the shoot with the first shot of the day, a model diving into pool at sunrise for Garland Farm Estates.

© Tom Raymond
All images in this article © Tom Raymond.

ASMP: How long have you been in business?

TR: Part time 1984 to 1988, full time since 1988.

ASMP: How long have you been an ASMP member?

TR: Since 1987.

ASMP: What are your photographic specialties?

TR: Architecture, environmental portraiture, food and sports, but living in a small rural market, I often say with some authority that, “We specialize in the next phone call.”

© Tom Raymond

ASMP: Please describe the processes and techniques central to the making of this work.

TR: For the image in question it was preparation, timing and luck. Getting a pre-dawn sky in optimal weather, and then getting the model in perfect form on the first dive with a dry suit on. It all worked to perfection.

ASMP: What do you consider your most valuable piece of equipment?

TR: My employees, but they are not equipment. Again, living where we do, we cannot rent anything, so we own two of everything. Actually digital capture has made us more independent than the old film days, as our E-6 lab was a 4-hour drive away. We never could run clip tests; it was always “bracket & pray” that the FedEx truck got the film to the lab ok.

© Tom Raymond

ASMP: What is unique about your style/approach or what sets you and your work apart from other photographers?

TR: This is not unique, but we devote 110 percent of our effort to each job. Because of our locale and because our creative fees are lower, and because we cannot afford expensive promotional campaigns, we depend upon the excellence of our work and our professionalism to get us referrals and more work.

© Tom Raymond

ASMP: Please provide some background about your client and this assignment. What was the scope of this project? Had you worked with this client previously?

TR: Client was Garland Farm Estates, first job. Agency, art director and account rep have many years of working together.

ASMP: How much time did you spend on the project? How many shots / days and how much time on pre / post production?

TR: One day pre-production, three days of shooting. The shoot was within 30 miles of studio.

© Tom Raymond

ASMP: How much input did you have in working with the creative team during preproduction to develop the image concepts?

TR: Considerable. They trust our vision.

ASMP: How much planning went into the shot of the man diving into the pool at sunrise? Were you aware beforehand of how the dawn would reflect in the water?

TR: The pool is a centerpiece to the common areas of the property for which they are trying to sell lots. I grew up with a pool at home. I grew up at the beach. I knew the solitary mood that comes with a predawn swim by yourself would make a great image … like all the cruise ship ads where one family appears as if they have the whole boat to themselves.

© Tom Raymond

ASMP: Was this diving shot an essential element in the project? Did you have a backup plan if this first exposure was not usable?

TR: We shot him sitting by the pool at first, getting contemplative images. Then I said, let’s go for it. We already had the back up shots.

© Tom Raymond

ASMP: The position and diving form of the swimmer was critical. What criteria, including athletic ability, did you use for the selection of the model?

TR: As requested, the model for the diving shot was mature, very fit and a good swimmer. As it turned out, he was a Screen Actors Guild member with a lot of experience in major motion picture film and still work.

© Tom Raymond

ASMP: Were models used in other shots for this assignment? If so, did they have a stylistic continuity with this shot (figures in action rather than posed)?

TR: We worked with several models for this shoot. The adults were cast with the Talent Trek Agency. The kids were local, not from an agency. Some of the other shots were posed and a few were active (jogging and tennis).

© Tom Raymond

ASMP: Given the transitional, low-level lighting, what camera settings did you use for this image? Did you use a particular strategy to ensure that the action of the diver was frozen?

TR: I used a Canon 5D with a 24-105mm lens set at 24mm, f/5.6 @ 1/250 sec, ISO rating of 400, Raw file format processed with Adobe Photoshop CR2. Strategy: Higher ISO to freeze swimmer, already set by background images a few minutes earlier.

© Tom Raymond

ASMP: Did this file require any post-production manipulation or enhancement? If so, please elaborate on the details.

TR: Very little: candied up the sky and removed one small wet spot on concrete where the model had been sitting with his feet in the water.

ASMP: You cover a wide range of subject matter in your work. Do you have a favorite subject to photograph? Is there a particular subject area that you find to be most challenging? Please elaborate.

TR: The most challenging are architectural interiors. My favorite subject matter is environmental portraiture. I love the Arnold Newman quote about 10 percent of the work is photography and 90 percent moving furniture. We move a lot of furniture to create portraits.

© Tom Raymond

ASMP: You work with and employ additional associates in your photography business. Please tell us more about your studio and how the work is distributed.

TR: Three full time employees, plus one summer intern. John Edwards runs the studio area, manages all of our equipment needs, shoots still life and architecture. Randy Gentry is a priceless Photoshop guru and photographer who enjoys shooting interiors and food.

© Tom Raymond

ASMP: In 2005 you moved your business to a very large studio space. At a time when many photographers are downsizing or abandoning their studios, what do you find to be the biggest advantage to having a large studio?

TR: Since we specialize “in the next phone call,” I needed a space that would prevent regional clientele from going out of the region for larger productions. It’s expensive, but I now own the building we’ve been in for the last three years versus renting a smaller space during the previous fifteen.

© Tom Raymond

ASMP: As a studio owner, were there any business or financial strategies that you employed to safeguard your investment in this aspect of your business?

TR: I am blessed to have other resources to support this building. Photography is a second career for me. (See Photo District News 3/87 “Is there a Doctor in the Studio?”).

Backstory: I have no formal training in photography. As an undergraduate student, I picked up a “Sears TL” or something from my cousin’s pawn shop and started taking pictures. As quoted in PDN, “I immediately went to the college paper and, like a fool, told them I wanted to take pictures. And like bigger fools, they gave me a job.” That led to numerous photojournalism awards while still at The University of Tennessee. After UT, my family of overachievers thought I should follow a higher calling, so I went on to obtain a Masters in Biology from East Carolina University and a PhD in Biochemistry and Comparative Pathology from the medical school at Wake Forest University. Rather than bore you with the next ten years, I had a productive career in academic medicine, ending up at the new medical school at East Tennessee State in 1978. In the fall of 1984, I was awarded the first major outside research grant to ETSU from the National Institutes of Health (NIH, part of HHS) for about $250K. Five hours after finding my parents on the phone and telling them about the award, my father died from a heart attack. The next day, when I saw him “laying in a box,” I decided to do the 3 year grant work, and then pursue what I always really wanted to do: photography. So in 1987 I resigned the tenured position of Associate Professor of Medicine to run Fresh Air Photo full time.

© Tom Raymond

ASMP: Are there any strategies you’ve found helpful for keeping costs down?

TR: An upfront investment in insulation keeps everyone comfortable, so we only need to heat or cool the space when shooting with clients.

© Tom Raymond