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BEST OF 2014, Bruce Katz
New York, NY
Bruce Katz did double duty during a recent assignment for a small New York advertising agency. While hired to shoot beautiful color sunset and twilight views of Manhattan for the end client's print and Web campaigns, Katz also rendered the city in his own personal terms — with a nod to classic black-and-white photographs of the ‘40s and ‘50s.

© Bruce Katz

© Bruce Katz

“I always try to stay open to the idea of exploring things more deeply. This approach has been very rewarding over the years,” says Katz. “In some cases, my clients have used these pictures. In other cases, I've been able to use the ideas as the genesis for my own personal projects.”

ASMP: How long have you been in business?

Bruce Katz: 32 years.

ASMP: What initially prompted you to join ASMP?

BK: I was looking for a sense of community when I moved to New York City.

ASMP: What do you consider the most valuable aspect of your ASMP membership?

BK: The most valuable aspects are the friendships I’ve made over the years and the opportunity to serve on ASMP’s local (New York) and national boards. We’ve been able to bring wonderful programming to our members that can really make a difference in their lives and businesses. I find that immensely rewarding, and it’s why I have maintained my membership since 1999.

ASMP: What is the most important relationship you’ve formed through your ASMP membership?

BK: A wonderful network of colleagues that I can rely on for creative and business advice.

ASMP: Do you have a favorite ASMP-related story to share?

BK: This project was a direct result of a discussion that I had with a member of our New York chapter Fine Art BrainTrust group. We were discussing the needs of a local museum curator and he suggested expanding my black-and-white New York City portfolio. I took that suggestion to heart and put together this portfolio.

ASMP: Which ASMP education/advocacy tools do you find most helpful to your day-to-day business and why?

BK: The New York chapter’s commercial and fine art portfolio reviews are wonderful events that have let to great networking and work opportunities. The reviewers are all top people in their fields and are extremely generous with their expertise and feedback. I’ve also (re)learned many sales and marketing techniques through the chapter’s Sandler Sales Training programs.

ASMP: What are your photographic specialties?

BK: Interiors, architecture and portraiture.

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

BK: An ability to communicate visually.

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

BK: A natural lighting style that allows the architect’s or designer’s work to be the star, and my ability to craft a visual story, along with a great sense of composition.

ASMP: These images were shot during many assignments for a small ad agency. Had you worked with this agency before? If so, on what kinds of projects? If not, how did they find you?

BK: Yes, this agency is a long-term client. We work on a wide variety of advertising and marketing for major real estate developers in the New York City area.

ASMP: You point out that this body of work is both client-driven and personal. Do you often explore your personal ideas while on assignment, going beyond the scope of the client’s needs?

BK: I always try to stay open to the idea of exploring things more deeply. I’ve found that this approach has been very rewarding over the years; in some cases the clients have used the work, in other cases I was able to use the ideas as the genesis for my own personal projects. By going deeper on an assignment I was able to transform a small, front-of-the-book story into a cover feature for Landscape Architecture magazine.

ASMP: As you note in your project statement, your black and white images from this series are reminiscent of the photography of the ‘40s and ‘50s. Are there specific photographers from that era whose work you draw upon or find especially inspiring? Who and why?

BK: I’ve always been inspired by Arnold Newman and Irving Penn, but I know I was thinking about Margaret Bourke-White when I was up on top of those buildings. I had that great image of her sitting on top of the Chrysler building in my head.

ASMP: The client wanted sunset and twilight views for this campaign. Would you have preferred shooting any of these personal images at a different time of day?

BK: If I have access to a great location, I always try to arrive early and stay late. I’ll ask my hosts (usually building management) for full access so I can take advantage of the full day and evening.

ASMP: You mention that in some of your locations, you found a satisfying personal image simply by turning the camera around in the opposite direction. Do you always look in the opposite direction from where you’re shooting? What’s the most remarkable view you’ve discovered when doing this?

BK: The opening shot for this project — the Empire State Building — is a perfect example. My client needed a view looking north toward Bryant Park at dusk. It was a no-brainer to turn around and shoot the southern view with the Empire State building too.

ASMP: You shot these images from an aerial vantage point. From what heights did you photograph and what vantage points did you use, the tops of other structures, airplanes or other means?

BK: All of the images from this project were made from either rooftop or window views.

ASMP: Do you work with other crewmembers for an assignment such as this?

BK: I always work with at least one assistant, more if we have the logistical and production needs. My clients provide the post-production retouching if it goes beyond the basics.

ASMP: How much time did you spend on photography for this assignment? What percentage of that time were you able to dedicate to these personal images?

BK: That’s a little hard to quantify properly; the commercial aspect was multiple assignments for the ad agency. I went back to re-edit that work at a later date, with the idea of putting together the New York City portfolio in black-and-white. I didn’t keep track of that time.

ASMP: Please describe your preproduction workflow in terms of securing locations, access, permits, etc.? What percentage of the overall schedule was spent on that aspect of the shoot?

BK: This can vary wildly. If the end client manages or owns the building access, it’s rarely a problem. When there’s a disinterested third party involved, it may take months to get the proper access to the location. My clients understand the logistics and we budget time and money for the process as needed. These days an insurance certificate is needed for everything.

ASMP: Did you do much postproduction on the images?

BK: I use Lightroom 5 to do all the basics, including the conversion to toned black-and-white. I use Photoshop CC for resizing, further retouching, and printing through Quadtone RIP.

ASMP: Was the weather a factor in your shoot planning? How did you address any weather issues that resulted in a change of plans?

BK: I build the weather factor into the budget and try to keep the timing flexible. I ask the building management if they can be flexible if the weather goes down. I’ve found the WeatherBug app for the iPhone very helpful when I’m on location.

ASMP: What gear did you use? Did this shoot require any equipment, skills or techniques that differed from your routine?

BK: All routine stuff: Canon 5DmkII, 24TSE, 17-40, 70-200, and a Zeiss 35.

ASMP: What do you find most rewarding about photographing architecture? What’s most challenging about this subject matter?

BK: Collaborating with architects and interior designers has always been rewarding. I try to take some time to understand the design philosophy behind my clients’ business and incorporate that into our project in some fashion. The ultimate goal is to create great images that give the viewers a sense of the space that illuminates the designer’s work and philosophy.

ASMP: Do you have any preferences in terms of shooting this subject — interiors, exteriors or from any particular vantage point? Do you have any favorite compositional strategies or technical tips when faced with making images of a difficult space?

BK: There are two things that I like to do. The first is to always look beyond the obvious choice for a vantage point, and second is to shoot with the longest focal length possible for the space. I find many architectural photographers routinely shoot too wide for my taste.

ASMP: What methods of marketing do you use for your work: traditional, social media or both? Which do you prefer and which do you feel gets the best results?

BK: I do both traditional and social media. I think both are necessary for success. Keeping your name in front of creatives requires both methods — Facebook, LinkedIn and a printed mailer are all on the front burner for me.

ASMP: Do you market your personal work differently than your commercial work?

BK: The principles are similar for both commercial and art markets. The language you use might be a little different in dealing with the different markets, but both are still best served by referrals and personal meetings.

ASMP: According to your bio, you bring a wonderful sense of humor to all your assignments. Please describe an assignment when your sense of humor saved the day or came in particularly handy.

BK: On an early assignment for Architectural Digest magazine, the interior designer was breathing fire from the moment we walked in the door. His attitude was largely because he was not yet familiar with my work, so I diffused the situation with a joke and got him to relax. We established a wonderful working relationship after the first shot of the day. The feature story was a big success in the magazine, and he actually requested that I shoot his work for the magazine on a subsequent project.

ASMP: Please describe how your personal work has impacted your business to date. Has this work generated new clients or markets for assignment work or print sales? Has it given you new visibility with existing or past clients?

BK: I’ve always shot personal work along side my commercial endeavors. They do feed off each other to some extent. A project like this has led to new visibility with my existing clients and has led to sales in both the editorial and fine art market. I do use the opportunity to cross-market this work wherever possible.

ASMP: You mentioned that you went back to review the outtakes from this work a few months after you shot the images. Do you often do this with your shoots? What’s the most surprising gem that you’ve found when revisiting your outtakes?

BK: I periodically go back through my work, usually the personal projects, just to see if there’s anything that I can work on with fresh eyes. I try to re-edit work with a different context in mind. I’ve found a few things that I’ve been able to incorporate into existing projects, and found images that provide the seeds for a new project. The Chrysler Building shot was almost an afterthought for this project, but it turned out to be one of my favorites images once I printed it.

ASMP: Many photographers find editing their images to be a particularly difficult part of the process. How do you feel about editing your own work?

BK: I enjoy the editing process and find it an essential, powerful tool to clarify your photographic intentions. I will live with my work for a while and work on multiple edits. Once I’m done with that, I’ll present the work to colleagues. The ASMPNY fine art BrainTrust has been a great resource for thoughtful discussion and criticism, as are the chapter’s portfolio reviews.

ASMP: You teach at the International Center of Photography in New York City. How long have you been teaching and what do you find most rewarding about this? What’s the most memorable thing you’ve learned from a student?

BK: I’ve been teaching for almost ten years now. There are two things that I find rewarding. One is watching the students apply your ideas to their work and seeing their growth as the class progresses. The second is seeing the energy and enthusiasm that students have for their work and studies. I try to feed off that and remind myself to apply that to our class and my own work.

ASMP: What were the influencing factors in your decision to become a photographer? Did you have any significant mentors early in your career?

BK: I was a bit of a self-taught photo geek in high school and maintained my hobby through college. After graduating, I talked my way into a job as an aerial photographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. I flew around the country and shot miles of large format aerial film for mapping and environment impact studies. It was great for building my technical chops. From there I went on to assisting with the commercial folks in Washington DC. That was my biggest education on the creative and business front.

ASMP: You’ve had a long and successful photography career. What are the biggest changes you’ve witnessed in the industry over time?

BK: The biggest change I see is that many of the profitable markets have been decimated by the sheer volume of billions of images that are instantly available for very low cost or free and a current cultural mindset that does not put real value on content. Major media has struggled to find formulas to make content profitable and photographers are now struggling with less available assignment work.

I’ve tried very hard to reach those clients who understand the value of having work that cuts through the clutter of today’s market. At the core of all of this was the need to re-evaluate how I did my basic sales and marketing work. ASMP’s New York chapter had a great program through Sandler Sales Training that provided some amazing tools and insights. I use that for my business on a daily basis.

ASMP: What are your thoughts about the future of the industry and about your specialty in architectural photography? Do you feel that current hot button issues such as photography with drones, increasing issues with access and restrictions on photographers’ rights will affect your business or your style?

BK: There seem to be some rays of hope in the current market. There’s some stability returning to the editorial market; pay walls have met with some success and the local market has bounced back from the recession. Architectural photography has always been tied directly to the health of the real estate market and I see a lot of optimism there now.

I have no doubt that ASMP’s advocacy will have a large influence on resolving many of our other hot button issues. While I do not use drones for my own work, we have many members who do. There is a tremendous value in that work and, potentially, a great market. We need to get beyond the superficial arguments and help craft rules that will allow this work to continue.

ASMP: You are a regular contributor to ASMP’s Strictly Business blog and have written articles on a wide variety of topics, from professionalism to being on location with a client to bill collecting to your guitar lessons as a youth. What have you learned about yourself and your own business from writing these pieces for the community at large?

BK: The biggest lesson I’ve learned is how hard it is to write well! It’s given me a newfound appreciation for the craft.

ASMP: What is the most important business advice you’ve ever received?

BK: I’ve been extremely fortunate to serve with some of photography’s best and brightest on the ASMP New York chapter board, the National board and with our members at large. There has been so much great advice and counsel that it’s impossible to single out any one thing. What I can say (putting my board service hat back on) is that all of this collective wisdom and experience is available through our business bible, Web site, and our current programming, including a great, ongoing Webinar series.

ASMP: What’s been your most valuable business decision to date?

BK: Incorporating the lessons and principles from the Sandler Sales programming into my marketing. I’ve gained tremendous insights into how and why clients make their decisions and this has helped me land new work.

ASMP: What is the most important advice that you’d give a young photographer starting out now?

BK: One thing that I tell my students and emerging photographers is that if they understand and believe that their work has real value, good decisions about their careers and business will flow naturally from that insight.

ASMP: Where do you see yourself in five years time? Do you have any projects in the works that you’re particularly excited about?

BK: I’m very excited about continuing work on my project City Limits: Unexpected New York City, as well as collaborating with some musician friends on a video project.