Documentary Lifestyle Sessions | Steven & Hibi

One new thing I'd love to focus on this year is doing more documentary lifestyle sessions. Being candid, unobtrusive, and honest with my photography has always been a top priority whenever I work with my camera, unless my client and I are specifically aiming for a particular purpose, in which case I take more control. What makes me happiest, though, is when I get to capture the way I see something with my camera in a documentary fashion - merely observing, anticipating, and telling a story through unstaged photographs. I think more people should embrace this style of reportage photography, because they rarely get to see this side themselves - a more natural, real them, and their story gets told more easily.

I aim to start photographing family and other sessions in this way, not only because it's less stressful for the ones being photographed, but also mostly because all they have to worry about is being themselves, and I will take care of the rest.

documentary lifestyle photography
documentary lifestyle photography
documentary lifestyle photography
documentary lifestyle photography
documentary lifestyle photography
documentary lifestyle photography

The Trails by Top of the World | Hacienda Heights

We're just barely past the middle of January and I feel like it's been forever, or that something's taking too long. I can read an email one afternoon and feel like it was sent days ago when it was just yesterday. I guess that's the feeling you get when busy-ness escapes you and the feeling of too much time starts to get the best of you. So far I've picked up some new gear and sold off an old camera, met a few cool people I'll be working with, dealt with that whole Las Vegas Rihanna thing, and got asked to use one of my images for a full page in AAA's Westways magazine. Still, late at night, I get a little stressed out thinking about the future and my photography.

I suppose it's good to remember to stop and smell the roses. Take advantage of the time I have now to take hikes around my neighborhood, get some exercise, travel, and play with Peanut. At the end of month I'll be going to Yosemite to celebrate my 23rd birthday with a few cool people. :)

That one time I thought I might try to audition to be Rihanna's Tour photographer: Part 2

Please read >> Part 1 <<. I had been invited to a test shoot/audition for the position of photographer for Rihanna's Diamonds World Tour with Live Nation. After arriving in Las Vegas as I was instructed, it became clear that something didn't seem right.

Where did I leave off?
I had arrived at the hotel with my room booked for two nights at the D Hotel in Las Vegas. I had talked to the front desk, the facility manager, and the events manager of the hotel, who all couldn't get a hold of JB. They had the same number I had. After about an hour of attempting to call/text/email JB and AJ, we decided that it was best to just cancel my reservation and stay at the Excalibur, which we had booked originally. Because I had just reserved my room at the D Hotel two hours ago, I was subject to pay the first night. I was hoping that given my situation, they would make an exception for me. After talking with the front desk, being transferred to reservations, and then talking to the manager of reservations, Mary Anne, telling each one of them my situation, the manager decided to refund me completely, and my credit card would not be charged. **I am still currently checking my bank account daily to see whether the pending deposit fee for the hotel disappears. When it does, I will be giving the D Hotel a glowing review and an email thanking Mary Anne for their superior customer service.**

So at around 3pm, I walked off with Tyler and Ben, checked into our room at Excalibur, changed out of my business clothes, and went down to the casino to have some fun. At 7PM, I received a missed call from JB, and then an email followed that read, "Hey I have been trying to call you. Where are you?" with a signature of "Denise Williams Watts, VP of Creative and Visual Contents, Warner Brothers... etc" **I just noticed this while checking my email timestamps. Red flag, much?**

I thought to myself, umm, you've been trying to call me with one missed call? No, I'VE been trying to call you. I emailed him back with saying "I tried calling you for an hour and a half when I arrived. I also tried calling and texting AJ, but both of your phones had a busy tone. I talked to the front desk and the D's events manager tried to look for you as well. We went to the room but it was already empty. I wasn't sure if I would be contacted again or if you would stay unreachable, so I ended up cancelling my reservation at the D hotel."

He emails back with "I what number is yours I have no names on numbers. I will call you right now."
I message him back pointing out that I have texted him with my name before but give him my number again anyway. He calls me back and we have a conversation for 15 minutes.

I'll do my best to paraphrase our conversation. JB said his phone wasn't working, and that he had been dealing with phone calls and texts from the other photographers trying to contact him. He said he was really stressed out and had to turn off his phone because it was so chaotic. He said some people didn't get to the meeting because some people arrived late, and some people arrived early, and he was still trying to contact about half of the 30 people that were supposedly invited to Las Vegas to test shoot. I told him I was frustrated, and he responded that he was frustrated too because he wasn't able to watch the game. I assumed that because I missed the meeting, JB would give me more information about what this was all about. He told me that he would not be giving me two hours of information in a phone call because he didn't have the time. ** If the meeting had been for two hours, I would have arrived smack dab in the middle of that meeting.** I had been told in the morning that Rihanna would be giving a performance in Las Vegas, and so I assumed that the auditioning photographers would be photographing her performance (since, that's what most of the tour would consist of, right?). When I told him what I was given the impression of (us taking photos of Rihanna while she performs because that's what they would be testing our skills on and because he specifically said that Rihanna would be in Las Vegas), he started accusing me of lying, and said something along the lines of, "Why do you even know to be going to Vegas if you don't know what's going on?" I calmly told him why I thought the way I did (and even did the whole "I can see where we may have had a misunderstanding"), that the ONLY contact I had about this information about Vegas was from him and the RDT@LVN email. He apologized. If we weren't photographing Rihanna, then what were we photographing? He says that we would be photographing Rihanna getting into the car, etc... because she was performing at a private event that nobody is allowed to attend. I ask, "Isn't that being like paparazzi and wouldn't it be obtrusive to her?" and he says "Not all of you are going to be doing that!", to which I ask, "Then what are the rest of the photographers going to be doing?" In a tone of voice like he was super surprised why I would be asking such a question, he answers, "Las Vegas! You're taking pictures of Las Vegas! There are lots of beautiful things to take pictures of in Las Vegas!"

In the information email sent by RDT@LVN, it reads exactly - "You will be judged on your ability to take good action pictures of people places, objects all pertaining to entertainment. You will be judged on how well you upload and Edit photographs for social media sites. How fast you move threw people and get the shot you need."
To me, this was very vague. I like to know exact directions so I do things right the first time, so naturally, I always ask questions if I'm not clear. What shot do I need, exactly, if I'm not given a particular assignment? "Take pictures of beautiful Las Vegas" is not the specificity I was looking for something as important as a test shoot.  Whenever I asked for specificity, I was greeted with offense and disbelief.

By the end of the conversation, I was assured that I would be paid and was forwarded the three documents that made up the contract/application between Roc Nation / Live Nation and the work-for-hire photographer that was supposed to be signed at the meeting. The documents were "Photographic Work-For-Hire Agreement," "Guidelines for Photographers and Videographers Covering Rihanna's Diamond World Tour 2013," and "Contract Photographer Application." Each document had the Live Nation / Roc Nation logo on it and seemed legit. The only interesting thing I noticed was that the "Contract Photographer Application" seemed very generic. For example, it had a section to list my equipment information and in the "Total Available CF Memory," it said "minimum 2GB required." Any competent photographer would know that 2GB is not enough memory for a working shoot. In fact, I had 32GB of compact flash memory with me and I was afraid it wouldn't be enough. At the end of the application, it asked what I was interested in shooting (circle) - Grads / Corporate / Sports / Teams. Umm, wha? Seemed like a generic photography application.

The next day, I took out my camera and explored Las Vegas with Ben and Tyler, shooting as close to "action shots of people places and objects all pertaining to entertainment," though this phrase seemed very vague to me, and I was uncomfortable with how little specificity or direction I was given. I emailed and texted JB that night asking where I would be uploading the photos to, since according to the information email, we would be judged how quickly we can edit and upload our content. I received no response. While Ben and Tyler gambled a bit in the casinos downstairs, I stayed in the hotel room for about an hour by myself editing photos and preparing them to be accessed quickly lest this thing actually worked out in the end. One cool thing that happened that night was that we ran into Jared Polin AKA FRO KNOWS PHOTO! We got a few stickers, he instagrammed a photo of us with him, and he started following me on instagram. That was pretty neat. 

The next morning at 9AM, I received an email from Jay asking me if I could stay at my hotel one more day and that he would cover the costs, and then telling me that he would have me go to the Wynn hotel, because everyone would be there at a meeting room receiving payment at 3pm. I was also told I could upload my photos to their servers at that time. I told him I couldn't stay for another day and asked for a specific meeting room since the Wynn and Encore are separate hotels. I was told to "Meet in the Lobby of Wynn/Encore and look for Roc Nation registration desk. They will direct you to the  meeting room." At this point, I had a feeling that this wasn't really going to happen. 

At 12:30pm, I talked to the lobby and registration desks of both the Wynn and the Encore hotel and no one had any information about a Roc Nation or Live Nation. I waited in the Wynn for a few hours and continued to try calling JB and AJ, and of course, I could not get through to either of them. I emailed JB and told him that the people at both the Wynn and Encore did not have any information regarding any of this. Tyler decided to help me call a Live Nation number and we asked to speak to an Amy Phillips, the name signed at the end of every informational email (including the ones that included contracts) sent from RDT@LVN. The fellow at the end of the line said that Amy Phillips had been let go about two years ago. When I inquired about JB, I was told that he was not an agent of Live Nation. Perhaps he was with Roc Nation, though he had a Live Nation email address. In hindsight, I should have realized that the email addresses end with "livesnation" instead of "Live Nation." I guess it didn't help that when you type "" into the searchbar it automatically takes you to "" Walking out of the Wynn, I left a message with the Roc Nation office, but I haven't gotten a response yet, and I don't expect one. 

Yesterday morning, just for kicks, I tried calling JB with my google voice number. It actually got through but landed into voicemail and confirmed that it definitely was able to go through, as long as I was using google voice. I also tried looking his number up on those reverse websites where it tracks where a phone number originates from. JB's number was unknown, but even my google voice had some sort of origin. A few minutes later, I got a call from JB. I didn't pick up.

Ben's friend, after hearing the story, suggested that maybe this JB saw me in Las Vegas but also saw Ben and Tyler with me, so backed off whenever they were with me. We entertained the idea that this had all been a scam, but I don't understand what they could have gotten from me. Ben and Tyler suggested that maybe booking at the hotel gave these people referrals and they got profit that way.

I'm not really sure what exactly went on behind the scenes, but I'm glad that what I got out of it all was not a loss of my money or time, but was instead a fun few days in Las Vegas with my friends and winning $17 from the slot machines. :)

Well, let's not put these images I took to waste! Here are a few images I shot under the direction of "good action pictures of people places, objects all pertaining to entertainment." Super vague, so I decided to go ahead and shoot in my own style and whatever interested me. 

That one time I thought I might try to audition to be Rihanna's tour photographer: Part 1

I'm sitting here at my computer thinking about just how short I could try to keep this story, but I really can't guarantee that this won't be a TL;DR post. I just feel that I need to get my experience written down as complete as possible so that I don't ever forget that one time I thought I might try to audition to be Rihanna's tour photographer, but instead became a target for a scam. Luckily, I didn't lose out on anything. This post won't exactly be about my experience auditioning to be a photographer for Rihanna's upcoming Diamonds World Tour. It will be about my experience dealing with either utmost incompetency or a not very well thought out scam.

This is how the story begins.

Last month, I was scouring the Craigslist ads for photography gigs and jobs. An ad for a female photographer showed up and the pay was $500/day, calling for a concert tour photographer for Rihanna's Diamonds World Tour. The US shows would be spread throughout March-May, and a photographer was needed to capture behind the scenes photos, videos, and concert images. The instructions were to apply to I applied with my standard pitch and resume and hoped for the best.

Last week, I received a phone call from a fellow who said he was a representative for Live Nation. We'll call him JB. He told me that there was going to be a test shoot/audition along with 30 other photographers happening in Las Vegas in three days. The accommodations would be paid for, and the pay for the test shoot was $475/day for three days. I was told that we would be tested on how well we photograph and record video as if it were a real tour date. Our behavior would be monitored, and we weren't allowed to interact with the other photographers because they didn't want any influence to our work. JB also said that Rihanna wants people who are representing her or simply around her to dress cute. Thus, we'd have to wear appropriate "cute" clothing, such as shorts, skirts, etc. Fair enough, I thought. I was told to contact the original email address that I had applied to the gig for - {let's call this RDT@LVN) and I would be given more specific details. I told him I would think about it.

Travelling to Vegas by myself in such a short time? Having to dress cute? Especially while I'm working with my camera? Dressing comfortably and having appropriate footwear is my main concern whenever I'm working with my camera, since I know how heavy all my gear gets and I'm standing around for 12 hours. Being gone for three months? At first, I didn't plan on emailing back to confirm my spot. After a night out with my friends, who convinced me that this wasn't something I could pass up,  they decided that they would go with me. At 11PM that night, I emailed RDT@LVN and said I could go and asked for more information. I got an automated email reply thanking me for my email and that I would be contacted by a representative during normal business hours. Well crap, I thought, maybe I've emailed too late and now everyone has left the office and won't be able to get back to me until the day I'm supposed to be in Vegas already.

If it didn't work out, at least I'd be in Vegas with my friends - Ben and Tyler.
On Saturday (the next day), I tried emailing RDT@LVN again and tried calling the number I was contacted by JB with and left a message. On Sunday, I still got no response. Looks like it won't be happening, I thought. I still had Monday morning left to be contacted, so I planned for my friends and I to head to Las Vegas at around 10am on Monday, and we booked a room at Excalibur for two nights. Chances seemed slim, but I thought I might as well be prepared to go in case they contacted me last minute.

On Monday morning at around 8AM, I received a call from JB from a New York number. I explained what happened and that I had received no instruction about the test shoot in Las Vegas, but that I was ready to leave, though I would be late because I had been waiting to be contacted back. I could sense impatience from JB, and after repeating information that I had already heard from the first time he contacted me, I received an email from RDT@LVN with detailed information about the test shoot. Pertinent information I needed included two contact numbers (JB and AJ), which hotel to book our room (The D Hotel), two official forms of identification, what clothes to bring, and a rough itinerary of January 7-9.

JB asked me to email him a photo of myself so he would know who he would be talking to. I also sent him a link to my concert/set photography work, to which he replied "Thanx. I remember your work now. I really like the Big Sean shoot. That the look I am looking for. Can't wait to meet you." Awesome, I thought.

I packed my clothes as fast as I could, printed photocopies of my forms of ID, and left for Las Vegas with Ben and Tyler. As instructed by the information email, I texted the number listed for JB in the email telling him I was leaving for Vegas and I would arrive approximately at 2pm. Who is this? the number asked. I told him who I was, and he said "Book the room and the info to the office. They need that confirmed b4 we meet." So while I was driving, Tyler helped me book a room at the D Hotel in Las Vegas and waited for a confirmation email. I never got one, but my friend who booked the room for me with his computer sent me a screenshot of the confirmation online. I sent the image to RDT@LVN and explained that the D hotel's email system was down and that once I received the confirmation email for the room I just booked, I would send it to them. I contacted JB via his Live Nation email

I arrived in Vegas around 2pm. The info email said there would be a meeting at 1pm at "Meeting Room 12" at the D hotel, but since I had told JB I would be late, I asked him via text if I should meet up with him first before checking into my hotel room or go straight to the meeting room. I was told to "chec in the meet with me." I offered Tyler to just drop me off, but he insisted that he stay with me. Thank goodness. I arrived in the D hotel and asked where "Meeting Room 12" was. I was given quizzical looks from the front desk and told me I probably meant the meeting room on the 12th floor. I went up there, and the floor was completely empty, except for a facility manager named Shawn and a guy practicing his bartending skills. I thought I had gone to the wrong place, so I asked the facility manager if there had been a meeting. We went back down to the lobby and talked to Josh, the events manager, who confirmed that there had been a meeting but it was probably over by now. This entire time, I am emailing JB and trying to call him. I received no email, and the phone number I had been texting would ring once, pause for a minute, and then have a busy tone. I tried contacting the second number we were given in the information email via text and calling, but I received no response, and when I tried to call, there wouldn't even be a ring.

This is where it all goes down hill.

Actually, this is going to be way too long to be one single post. I'm going to have to split it into two parts.

>> Part 2 <<