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Best of 2011: Patrick Bennett


A natural wanderer, Patrick Bennett’s trusty VW Vanagon camper served as a mobile base during two travel/lifestyle commissions in his home state of Washington. Broad shooting parameters allowed him to seek out the smallest of details from the state’s 71,300-square mile scope. Bennett worked in the dawn and dusk light, often rolling out of bed before 5 a.m. to start shooting. A grand total of 24,731 images offered up a portfolio gold mine, with tasty gifts from his winemaker friends serving as an added treat.

Patrick Bennett, Seattle, WA

Web site: www.patrickbennett.com

Project: Two Washington state travel assignments: the Washington State Scenic Byways Guide and the 2011 Washington Wine Tour Guide.

© Patrick Bennett
© Patrick Bennett

ASMP: How long have you been in business?

PB: 26 years.

ASMP: How long have you been an ASMP member?

PB: Since 1989, 22 years.

ASMP: What are your photographic specialties?

PB: People, location, color and design. I can catch extraordinary moments without warning and set those moments up when the light is perfect.

© Patrick Bennett
© Patrick Bennett

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

PB: My brain. There are too many interdependent pieces to name just one. Camera, lens and computer are all just tools. It’s not the tool that matters, mate, it’s how you use it — although I am partial to my 500mm lens.

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

PB: On a project like this, I pour myself into it. The parameters were very broad and I thrive on exploring, finding small details in a larger environment. I go out and do this same thing on a regular basis just for the fun of it; this just gave me a better excuse to approach people to get permission to photograph them doing the fun things they do in this unbelievably beautiful, diverse state.

© Patrick Bennett
© Patrick Bennett

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

PB: I shoot at dawn and dusk for a majority of my images to utilize natural light. In the Pacific Northwest during the summer, that sunrise is just after 5 AM and sunset as late as 9:30 PM. Working out of my VW camper affords me the ability to be very near a location to roll out of bed and start shooting when every minute counts. I use extremes in lenses all the time. About 1/3 of the selected images were shot with focal lengths below 24mm or with a 500mm lens. When shooting interiors of the wineries I use the little 580ex flashes whenever possible to highlight or fill in the natural occurring light. Occasionally I used Dynalites to create a studio in the barrel rooms or wine cellars.

© Patrick Bennett
© Patrick Bennett

ASMP: You’ve been very busy in Washington state lately, photographing both the Scenic Byways of Washington State Guide and the 2011 Washington Wine Tour Guide. What were the timelines for both of these projects? Which project came first and did any of the shooting overlap?

PB: I started the first of July and could work on them in tandem, although I did most of the Scenic Byways project first. Fall was better for the Wine Tour Guide to capture the September-October activity of “crush” or harvest. Basically I did two big loops around this great big, beautiful state.

© Patrick Bennett
© Patrick Bennett

ASMP: What kind of workflow procedures do you maintain for processing, captioning, keywording and archiving your images? Since both of these projects spanned the same geographic area and perhaps somewhat similar subject matter, does your workflow incorporate any strategies to ensure files from each project are well defined and don’t get mixed up?

PB: I work in Lightroom and used both file naming and keywords applied to keep the projects separate. I have specific keywords to designate not just the project but the specifics such as the Scenic Byway (there are 27 in Washington), the Wine Regions, as well as the AVA’s and the individual wineries. Then I created smart collections to have the images populate automatically so I could keep track of what was covered. These were used to create the Web sites for the client to view as well. Visually, it’s easy to differentiate between the byways and wine images as a final check to make sure they’re all in the right place. Processing was not done until I was back in my studio on an Apple 23-inch display, color profiled before work began. All images were registered with the copyright office within 90 days of creation, so they did not have to be registered as previously published. It helps to have a photographic memory (yes, pun intended). I can recall the location of any photo in my collection visually. I’ve had people randomly pull an image out of my file cabinet (film days) and I can name the spot, time of day and other details.

© Patrick Bennett
© Patrick Bennett

ASMP: Please tell us about your shoot planning for these projects. Did you map out the entire route in advance, plan on the fly or do a combination of both? How much of your trip planning was based on capturing local events or timed to coincide with significant activities to highlight area businesses?

PB: A combination. I’m a location photographer with a minor in geography. I can’t get lost if I try. I thoroughly enjoy the planning stages of a trip or project and I love maps, so I mapped everything I possibly could. Then, as weather or local events dictated and as the shifting schedule of the wine crush was pushed back, I adapted to do my best to be in the right place at the right time. With 71,300 square miles, that requires a spirit of flexibility.

© Patrick Bennett
© Patrick Bennett

ASMP: Washington state is not particularly known for beautiful, sunny weather. What kind of weather related issues did you encounter during your travels for these shoots? Do you have any strategies for working around inclement weather or did you make any insightful discoveries to share about weather patterns in the Pacific Northwest?

PB: Ha! We tell everyone the weather is terrible so they won’t move here! Nothing insightful: I’ve lived here 16 years; Seattle has rain in the winter and spring. July to September is simply spectacular. I can’t imagine spending those months anywhere else in the world unless I’m getting paid a lot of money. At that time I have nearly any terrain on the planet just hours from my front door: Ocean, lakes, beaches (rocky, sandy, short or long, cliffs), mountains, plains, deserts, snow if necessary even in August, rainforest and on and on. Wine country, on the east side of the mountains, is high desert, hot and dry in the summer, perfect for wine grape growing. There are both natural spectacular sites such as Dry Falls, evidence of the great Missoula floods of the last Ice Age that created the Columbia River gorge. And there are man-made sites such as the largest concrete structure in the world, the Grand Coulee Dam. My strategy is my familiarity with the state’s wonders after so many years of exploration.

© Patrick Bennett
© Patrick Bennett

ASMP: Do you have a favorite new discovery or scenic vantage point in Washington state that you found as a result of all your recent travels?

PB: After an exhausting journey through the northern region, consisting of the Omak Stampede (rodeo) and exploring Hart’s Pass (a destination for Swiss Alps-style views previously unknown to me) we pulled into the rest stop above Diablo Lake. As I pleaded exhaustion, my wife Patricia hopped out of the vehicle and ventured to the overlook. Running back she shouted for me to grab a long lens and hurry. I scrambled over and the scene was amazing. The emerald green waters of the glacier-fed lake were placid, save for the simple ripples created by canoes. I nailed the shot as the Native Americans paddled through.

© Patrick Bennett
© Patrick Bennett

ASMP: You mention that your work for the Washington State Guidebook was a project of limited financial benefit. How did you afford to travel 7,000 miles for this project? What kind of economies did you put in place to make this much travel (and gas) financially feasible?

PB: I have a 1990 VW Vanagon Camper, with about 260K miles on it, and I could not have completed the project in the black without it. Of some 80 days on the road I stayed in hotels twice, one night each. There was enough of a budget to cover fuel and food but really not enough for any extraneous expenses. I often slept in out-of-the way spots, high in the mountains or in areas where the general public rarely venture. Having a good friend who formerly was a National Park ranger was helpful, as he suggested spots. With a constant eye on the profitability meter, most meals were cooked in the VW as well.

The irony was not lost on me that I was trying to promote Washington state without the budget to pay its campground fees. Since last year, the Washington Tourism office has closed completely due to budgetary problems, making Washington the only state without a tourism department — so short-sighted considering all the work we need to do to convince people their tourism dollars will not become rain-soaked! They just might get wet in some awesome river rapids, though, so bring ‘em here if you’ve got ‘em.

© Patrick Bennett
© Patrick Bennett

ASMP: In regard to budgets and project fees, how did you negotiate price breaks with your clients in either case? Was it a matter of give and take? Were there any aspects of barter involved?

PB: There was not a lot of give and take. There was a request for images and a number given, all encompassing for fees and expenses. It was a more of a take-it-or-leave it scenario, which I was not thrilled with. I weighed the dollars versus the experience, portfolio possibilities and the future stock, and took the job. The only bonus was the 41 bottles of great tasting “gifts” we received from the wineries. That really boosted our wine cellar and our spirits!

© Patrick Bennett
© Patrick Bennett

ASMP: Do you generally price travel industry assignments differently from other work? Do you find yourself spending more time on this type of assignment than what you might get paid for?

PB: This assignment was definitely priced differently. I knew going in that the fee would not realistically cover the entire project, but I travel quite a bit every year just for the experience, so I placed this project in basically the same frame of mind and went for it. The thing photographers have a hard time understanding about publishers is that they really don’t care too much about the images; they have holes to fill. They will fill them with the most cost-effective image for their bottom line. All in all, I over-shot this assignment, and there are a handful of images I thought were some of the best of the project that weren’t even selected. This project was like the closest thing a freelancer ever gets to a paid vacation. Of course my idea of a vacation is getting up before dawn and shooting all day, so go figure.

© Patrick Bennett
© Patrick Bennett

ASMP: What kind of agreements did you negotiate with the clients in terms of image licensing? Do you maintain rights to license any of your images from these projects yourself?

PB: They were able to get a lot of usage for the fees they were paying. Again, this is because I was willing to do the travel to get the kinds of images I need to fulfill my life. We did limit the licensing to a reasonable period of time and I maintain all rights to license the images in the future.

© Patrick Bennett
© Patrick Bennett

ASMP: On your Web site are links to license your images through both Alamy and Photoshelter. Have these been successful endeavors? Please compare/contrast your experience in working with these two sites.

PB: No, not really. I haven’t put forth the effort in either to make them a viable return on investment. For years I’ve complained about Getty and Corbis taking more and more of the pie and doing less of the work (first scanning, then keywording and other image prep chores) but those two always sent the biggest checks. In fact the others rarely send checks at all.

© Patrick Bennett
© Patrick Bennett

ASMP: Do you handle all stock licensing independently or are your images also represented by traditional stock distributors? If you work with others, what companies and which are most successful for you? Assuming that you do work in this area, how do you decide which images to submit to traditional distributors and which images to hold back for licensing yourself?

PB: My images are represented by several agencies. Getty and Corbis have been most successful monetarily. I work with my images myself and don’t have a lot of time to devote to stock, so I get what I can out the door to my primaries and let them do the work of marketing them. I recently signed with Science Faction, with hopes they can handle the majority of my work in the future.

© Patrick Bennett
© Patrick Bennett

ASMP: Please give us a breakdown. What percentage of your income is from self-generated stock licensing, from traditional stock licensing and from assignments?

PB: It has always been heavy on the assignment side, even in the years when stock was selling well. Ten to twenty percent is stock and, of that, probably one quarter is self-generated.

© Patrick Bennett
© Patrick Bennett

ASMP: You maintain a password-protected directory of client projects on your Web site. Do you also use this as a sales tool for presenting your work and discussing projects with potential clients?

PB: Hmmm, I don’t know how too many other photographers do this, but I’ve kept it as simple, yet protective as I possibly could without going to outside sources to do so. The images I put inside the password-protected area are specific to a client’s projects and I consider those proprietary, so no one else has access. I don’t consider it so much a marketing effort but rather a tool that assures clients no one else is peeking.

© Patrick Bennett
© Patrick Bennett

ASMP: Do you view your photography of winemaking and vineyards as a viable photographic specialty, to be marketed independently from your other work? If so, what methods do you use to promote or expand this aspect of your business and connect with potential clients within this niche?

PB: Most winemakers have a lot in common with photographers: They don’t have a budget for much more than keeping their craft going forward. I’ve done it more for love than money, with the occasional bottle or case thrown in, with the hope I find the few winemakers that have both the ability to make fine wine and the understanding that it takes marketing to get it sold. I’ve found a few of them. I certainly market to the wineries independently from my other work and only do so with cost effective — read ‘free’ — marketing.

© Patrick Bennett
© Patrick Bennett

ASMP: Do you find there’s any synergy between your focus on wine and other luxury-market subjects such as gourmet foods or hospitality clientele?

PB: I’m sure there is. When I tap that market, I’m sure I’ll use these techniques to get some more work!

© Patrick Bennett
© Patrick Bennett

ASMP: Your wife Patricia helped coordinate the winemaking project. Does she work with you on a regular basis and, if so, what is her most important role in your business? Who are your other significant team members?

PB: Patricia has worked with me since 1990 and is my producer on any advertising shoots. When shooting the ad series for ExOfficio travel clothing in Argentina she doubled as producer and translator, as she is fluent in Spanish whereas I’m merely capable. She plays an integral part in most aspects of the business planning and operations. We hire freelance whenever a larger crew is needed.

© Patrick Bennett
© Patrick Bennett

ASMP: You spent 15 months living in Argentina during 2006-07. What brought you there? Please tell us about this experience. Was there anything specific you did there to help you recharge creatively or spiritually?

PB: We visited Argentina and Uruguay in December 2001 with our daughter Nadine. One of our last days of that trip found us at an outdoor cafe and we recall thinking the same thing simultaneously — that we had to figure out how to live there for a time, to discover what lay beneath the culture that intrigued us as much for its familiarity as it did its differences to our life in the U.S. We toyed with the concept for the next few years. After a successful year-long visit from our Spanish exchange student Elena, we committed to making it happen. Our 15-year-old daughter was on board with the plan, having had a good role model. This explains a lot: http://web.me.com/patrickfifth/Buenos_Aires/Bienvenidos.html (written before our move in 2006).

I recharged my creative spirit by buying a Land Rover Defender (the kind you can’t get in the U.S.) and exploring some 28,000 km of Argentina over an eight month period. It was a lot like my first trips in the Eighties across the U.S. Fresh eyes in a new location is very inspiring.

© Patrick Bennett
© Patrick Bennett

ASMP: Did your experience in photographing vineyards and winemaking begin in Argentina or did you cover this subject before that? Are there significant differences between winemaking operations and vintners in Argentina and in the United States?

PB: We took off on our Harley’s in 2004 to shoot crush in the Columbia Gorge because we loved wine and thought it would be a blast. We were right.

Both Washington and Argentina have a long history of viniculture. Europeans brought grape vine cuttings with them to the New World for the blessed sacrament and presumably a bit of fun. Wine fell out of favor in preference for beer (and the bit about Prohibition) and it wasn’t until about the 1980s that those in both Argentina and Washington state went back to the vineyards and reinvented the winemaking. California was way ahead of the game in the U.S., but Washington state and Argentina share a huge potential for growth that has been recognized by industry elites.

I have visited many wineries, and what amazes me is that each of them go about winemaking in their own style, choosing combinations of process, hardware and ingredients, whether to pick and de-stem by hand or machine. There are an infinite number of variable choices. It truly is art in a glass.

© Patrick Bennett
© Patrick Bennett

ASMP: In more general terms, do you find there to be particular similarities between wine making and image making, or between vintners and photographers?

PB: While the vintner creates a set of works of art using Cabernet, Malbec, Torrontes or Syrah, he or she does so in grand amount, like a limited edition. A photographer makes an image to compel an idea and may just sell it once but its impact may be on a similar size audience. While we must keep an eye on the bottom line to stay in business, I think most photographers and winemakers do it first for love and second for money. Not many people can say that in this country, but it’s a lot more common among working people in other countries I’ve visited.

© Patrick Bennett
© Patrick Bennett

ASMP: Finally, how do you manage to work around all that wine while making critical judgments about content, design and, more to the point, making sure that you thrill your clients?

PB: Try to make the judgments before too much wine is drunk. Seriously though, there were several moments, while shooting at dawn, that we had to defer tasting the winemaker’s efforts due to the fact we had several more wineries and shoots over the next 13 hours. As far as thrilling the client, I went into each winery looking for a portfolio shot and didn’t worry too much about the client. I was hired because the client liked the work I’d done in wineries previously so the best I could do is shoot what I liked to see. That line of thought served me well on this project.

© Patrick Bennett
© Patrick Bennett