About Stephen Elliot

I make a living taking pictures. I come alive making films.

Lessons Learned from Beauty Retouching

BeautyRetouch_BannerLast week I met with the French photographer Clovis Lalanne who does a lot of work in the beauty and makeup industry. Talking with him made me realize how little I know about shooting and retouching beauty photos. Far too often I’m guilty of looking at an advertisement and saying to myself, “I could’ve shot that…” and then usually end up in a bout of self loathing as I reason why I’m not doing work at that level yet. Meeting with Clovis helped me understand the gap and realize I still have a lot to learn. After looking at my portfolio he suggested that I work on retouching, so that’s where I began. Continue reading

Share Your Calendar and Save Your Time

CalendarBannerWhen I get an email from a potential client it usually sounds like this, “I need a photographer… Are you available? What are your rates?”

My rates are somewhat of a moving target, so I’ll cover that in a different post. My schedule, however, that’s easy. Here’s why: Continue reading

Behind the Lens: The Making of a Photograph


First things first, I really can’t take much credit for this photo. Sure I lit it and pressed the button, but it was 100% a team effort. Colleen Anne is a talented hair stylist who helped create the look, and Breanna Gittell is a fantastic model. With this much talent working together it’s hard to take a bad picture.

Lesson Learned: Surround yourself with talented people. Your photos will be better because of it.

Continue reading

Five Steps to Start Journaling


 “The weakest ink is stronger than the best memory.”

It’s frightening to realize how few of our thoughts and feelings we remember from day to day. That’s exactly why I’ve carried a journal with me every day since February 8, 2008. I like to think of it as a way of taking thoughts captive.

I haven’t always been this way though. It was definitely a struggle to get into the rhythm of writing, so I thought I would share my methods in hopes that it will inspire you to write also. Continue reading

Seven Tips for Hiring an Admin Assistant


Being a photographer is a lot of fun, but there are parts of it (like scheduling, job estimates, invoicing, etc.) that drive me crazy. Fortunately there are people in the world who actually enjoy doing those things. Instead of pinching every penny and trying to do everything myself I finally hired an admin assistant, and I’ve never been more successful and productive in my business. Here’s a look at my story and what I learned in the process. Continue reading

Behind the Lens: Shooting Skylines and Architecture

National Harbor at Dusk

I was hired to shoot some interior and exterior photos of a really ugly up and coming property just up the road from National Harbor. Suffice to say I was none too excited, but at least it was a chance to make a buck. The shot list also called for “pictures of the surrounding area” which I interpreted loosely as the National Harbor waterfront. You see, I had recently discovered a small stretch of land with a great, unique view of the harbor, and this was my opportunity not only to shoot it but to get paid for it. In other words I turned a crappy assignment into one I was actually looking forward to.

Lesson #1 Always look for opportunities to expand your portfolio and shoot what you want.

Continue reading

Lessons Learned on a Film Set

Earlier this week I had the privilege of helping on set for the film Anomaly. There is an incredible lineup of talented filmmakers involved in this project, so it was an honor for me to be a part of it. To date it’s the biggest production I’ve worked on, so there was a lot to learn. As usual I took notes in my Moleskine of the things I observed every day.

AnomalyOn-set Continue reading

Medical Update: Two Surgeries are Better Than One

In a nutshell, my appendix ruptured in late July. Rather than operating immediately they pumped me full of antibiotics, and told me to come back for surgery in several weeks once I felt strong and healthy again. That’s the simplified version anyway; you can find the full story here.

Last week I had a consultation with the surgeon to setup a date for surgery. Turns out I have a hernia that needs to be repaired before they remove my appendix. So now I need to have two surgeries before I’m back to normal. Awesome.

Both operations will be done laparoscopically which means it’s a couple small incisions as opposed to cutting me wide open. The surgery should take less than an hour, and the typical recovery time is 3-4 days. There aren’t any dietary restrictions after the procedure, so don’t get your hopes up about more tales of ice chips and jello.

For a number of reasons I decided to have the operations done in DC rather than New York. The first surgery will be today at 2:00 o’clock, and I would be grateful for your prayers. I’ll spend the weekend in DC before returning to NY. The second surgery is scheduled for early November.

Hopefully I can knock out a few good books and blog posts in the next couple weeks. I’ll be back in action soon enough! =)

Re-think Your Phone Upgrade

I’ve been eligible for an upgrade for a few months now, but there’s something that’s held me back. For starters my phone has been working fine (until recently), so I couldn’t justify the purchase of a new one. On top of that if I upgrade I’m forced into a new contract which means I will lose my Unlimited Data option. If you’re anything like me, that’s kind of a kick in the head. I use a lot of data for work, and I really don’t want to resort to counting kilobytes. Fortunately, there’s a way around it.

Verizon’s current offerings are something like this –btw, I’m ignoring Talk and Text options to keep things simple here:

  • 2 GB/month for $30
  • 5 GB/month for $50
  • 10 GB/month for $80
  • Unlimited data for $29.99 (no longer offered)

At some point Verizon will change their plans and prices making the above info completely useless, however, the principles below will still apply.

All upgrades lock you in to a 2-year contract. The advantage is that you get the phone for much cheaper by signing up. Typically a new smart phone costs about $600, but they will offer it for, say, $200 if you sign up for two years of over payments –I mean, a contract. Here’s how the prices break down for a new phone today.

$650 for the phone w/out contract
$30 per month unlimited Data (only applies to customers who already have this plan)
$1,370 Two year total

$300 for the phone w/ 2-year contract
$50 per month for 5GB Data
$1,500 Two year total

$300 for the phone w/ 2-year contract
$80 per month for 10GB Data
$2,220 Two year total

In other words it’s $850 cheaper for me to buy a new phone at full price than it is to get the “discount” and pay for usage (over the next 24 months). Plus I have the peace of mind knowing I never have to worry about overage charges.

So if you find yourself in the same situation as me rest assured you don’t have to be the sucker consumer. Try buying a new phone and simply having the number switched over. Your wallet will thank you.

Medical Update from a Bus

Greetings, my friends! It’s been just over a month since my appendix ruptured, and I’m happy to report that I’m about 94% back to normal. Based on the number of questions I’ve been asked as I’ve eased back into society I figured it was time for another update.

At the moment I’m on a bus from DC headed home to NYC. We came down for the holiday weekend, and I stuck around to shoot some headshots today –my first shoot in over a month! It felt good to pick up the camera again, but I’m still not pushing myself too much. Heck, I made my assistant Will do all the heavy lifting today =)

Let’s just say the introvert in me definitely took over for the past few weeks. After a while I got tired of repeating the story, I didn’t want attention, I didn’t have anything new to say; I just wanted to chill out and get back to normal. What I didn’t realize at the time is that recovery would take a month. I spent a solid three weeks on my back with little energy to do more than walk from room to room. By week four my back started to hurt (wonder why?…) but by then I had enough energy to walk around and get some pathetic excuse for exercise.

If I knew from the start that I would be out of commission for a month it would have been easier to swallow. When you keep thinking you’ll be back in action “any day now” it starts to get a little depressing after the first two weeks. Motivation was hard to come by for a few days in there.

As I expected, I progressed much faster once I got off the antibiotics. Every day I would notice a little more improvement, and even now I still feel some things rumble and bumble in my abdomen. It feels like progress, or perhaps I’m being overly sensitive to it. Until that sucker is removed I’m not going to take my chances.

At this point it looks like it will be another two or three weeks before I go in for surgery to get my appendix removed. That is the most baffling part of this story for most people –“Why didn’t they operate on you immediately?!”– so I will attempt to explain it as best as I understand it.

The conventional method of treating a ruptured appendix is to go immediately into surgery and get it removed. However, in recent years the medical community has begun to re-think that strategy. The problem with operating immediately is that you have a big mess to deal with. Think of it like a pest control issue. You find a bug in your house, and then another bug, and then another. The more you look the most you find, and eventually you get to the source and realize it’s a bigger problem than you thought. No longer will a can of Raid suffice, you’ve got to tear out some walls and fix the plumbing. I imagine that’s what operating on a ruptured appendix is like. You start to find infected areas of the colon and intestines and who knows what else, so those have to be removed also. What you end up with is a patient who has diarrhea for the rest of his life because the surgeon went a little overboard with the scalpel.

So, you can guess how much fun that would be.

The only one who benefits from that approach is the manufacturer of toilet paper. Rather than dealing with a messy surgery and unhappy patient they have started to take advantage of the fact that the infection doesn’t kill you immediately. If you think of it as an infection rather than an emergency it makes a lot more sense to attack it with drugs instead of a knife.

Once the infection has been wiped out your body goes back to business as usual. In my case, it took about four weeks. That’s why the doctors decided to delay the surgery. If there isn’t a rampant infection then the surgery is much easier for them and far less damaging to me. All in all it’s a much better scenario even though it feels like a long ordeal right now.

There’s a part of me that’s not too excited about the notion of losing an organ even if doctors don’t really know what it does. But there’s another part of me that is even less excited about the thought of a relapse…

So that’s how I’ve been lately and how I’m doing now. I thank God that I’m feeling so much better, but I realize we’re not out of the woods quite yet.

Miscellaneous thoughts and schtuff:

  • The best way to prevent appendicitis seems to include a diet high in fiber.
  • Not only did I repeatedly win against Heidi, but I also whooped my dad in a game of Phase 10 during my recovery.
  • I need to get some more travel-friendly photo gear. Schlepping my gear on the subway and Bolt Bus is no fun.