Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Brief History Of Ziser Photography & Many Thank You’s To All Who Helped Me Reach This Milestone.

Good Morning Everybody,

I have to admit, this has been a unique time in my life as I transition from the million-mile-an-hour whirlwind pace I’ve kept for the past several years.  That transition began last year with our two month travels to Europe. I cut back on the blog more out of necessity – not much internet connect in the middle of the ocean – and I have to admit, I’ve enjoyed the break.

DAZ World TravelAnd, I also I have to admit that I’m still processing my transition to slower times full of world travel, landscape photography, and a completely different set of creative endeavors I’m engaging in.  I love smelling the roses much more often these days!  And I almost feel that using the blog is my  personal journal during this transition.  I’m also doing it publically because so many photographers have been following DigitalProTalk for many, many years and I thought you may enjoy the rest of my story.

Anyway, in today’s post I’d like to share with you my very early beginnings as a photographer.  My story may touch others and if you have a story to tell, please share it with our DigitalProTalk readers.  Here we go…

The Genesis Of My Interest In Photography

Ruby Red SAfe LightEvery photographer has their own unique story as to how they became involved in one of life's most interesting and exciting professions. My interest in photography hit me when I was 12 years old in 1960.  I was rummaging through the basement of our home and stumbled on some old photo processing trays, a contact printing frame, a ruby red safe-light bulb, and a few books on processing your own film that my dad had used as a hobbyist.

These small books were not the latest, greatest editions either.  I remember them being published in the early and middle 1940's.  Nevertheless, that early discovery was my entry into photography. 

Mike KnovacBut that is only part of the story. Co-incidentally, with my discovery of the my father's rudimentary photo processing gear, was the fact that I had a keen interest in a TV show that played from 1958 and ran 28 episodes till 1960 - it's title, "Man With A Camera" starring Charles Bronson as Mike Kovac.

I remember lying on the floor in my family's living room watching those B&W episodes every week.  I enjoyed the story, the drama, how photography was used to help solve the mystery week after week.  But what I remember most are those moments near the end of every show when Mike Kovac would put the exposed paper into the developer and the image would slowly appear - to me, it was magic! 

DektolNow, I possibly could work Mike Kovac's magic too.  I still remember visiting a local camera store, Provident Camera. On that first visit, I purchased a quart can of Kodak Dektol developer, a quart of fixer, and 25 sheets of Kodak Azo contact printing paper. I couldn't wait to process my first image.  Back in those days, our parents shot with a Brownie Hawkeye camera.  These were inexpensive, fixed focus medium format cameras shooting large 120 or 620 rolls of film.  The negatives were pretty big - 2 1/4 x 3 1/4 inches. 

Contact Printing FrameWe set up the trays, processing chemicals, and the ruby red safe-light at my buddy's, Russ Rigdon, mother's kitchen late one night and were ready to go. I had "requisitioned" a few of our family 620 size negatives for our first tests. Under the dark red glow of the very dim safe-light I loaded the negative and Azo printing paper into the contact printing frame and closed the back tightly.

My friend, Russ, was on light switch duty.  On my command, he hit the wall switch and turned the kitchen light on, I counted off a number of seconds and signaled him to turn the lights back off - very scientific back then.  I still remember removing the photographic paper and looking at it in that dim ruby red light.  It was totally blank but somehow the magic solutions in front of me were going to reveal the secrets it contained. 

Print trayI pushed the paper into the developer just like Mike Kovac and waited... and waited... and waited. It seemed like forever but it was actually only about 30 seconds when I first saw the faintness of an image slowly appear on the paper.  After a few more seconds, the image was coming into full view.  I remember being transfixed by what I was seeing before me - it was "Harry Potter" magic and this is way before the days of Harry Potter! After moving the paper through the stop bath and fixer, we turned the lights back on.  There it was… my first real photographic image - I was hooked.

Our next experiment involved making images larger that the original negative size, like all the way up to a 5x7 print.  One more trip to Provident Camera for some Kodak Kodabromide enlarging paper but, where was I to get an enlarger?

Kenner Toys, located in Cincinnati, Ohio coincidentally, had just announced a brand new toy - a Kenner "Give A Show" projector.  It was a battery operated projector in which you inserted the filmstrip of cartoon characters and projected them on the wall.

Kenner Give A Show ProjBut where could I get one - my little sister! She had received one as a gift. I carefully  "borrowed" it one evening, cut out one of the cartoon characters from the film strip and added one of the family negatives.  You guessed it - success - we had created our first enlargement.  It was an "Eureka" moment and the rest is history.

By age 15 I had managed to book my first wedding. A friend of my father's daughter was getting married and was looking for the best price in town, I offered and was hired. I barely remember shooting that wedding but I do remember knowing I had to be sure to get the bouquet toss. The rest of the day is a faded memory.

Because I had amped up my photographic hobby with bigger trays, print dryers, better safe-lights, enlargers, etc. I was causing quite a stir at home.  I kept blowing the fuses in our older home and my father was not happy.  I had a mutual high school friend, Bill Donnermeyer,  who was also involved in this magical hobby of photography.  His father was upset with him because he was using too much water when washing his processed prints.  His dad was a plumber.  That might have been part of the problem.

London Photo StudioAnyway, two 18 year old teenagers together with two upset fathers who were not happy at all with our photographic endeavors decided we needed a change of venue if we were going to pursue our photographic interests.  We decided to open a photo studio.  Yes, at age 18, we found a space for $75/month, split the rent and opened London Photo Studio – yes, that’s the logo I designed at age 18. Now I was a studio owner shooting portraits and weddings!

This lasted for the next 3 years or so as we completed high school and started college. Although we eventually closed the studio I continued to support myself with photography paying the rent, buying the books, etc. until I graduated with two degrees, one in Physics and the other in Engineering.

My love of photography never left me though.  I continued to shoot for friends and family long after college graduation in 1971.  With so many calls from friends and acquaintances, it was in 1978 that I decided to leave the field of engineering and strike out on my own in photography. 

This is my 35th year of owning my own studio.  Over all these years I have constantly and consistently strived to offer my clients the absolute best wedding photography possible.  Yes, and that passion is still there.

My father always wanted me to get a "real job" after leaving the engineering field but I never did.  I always wanted to learn more.  I continued to study with the wedding masters of the time - Bill Stockwell, Rocky Gunn, and the legendary Monte Zucker. I attended every program, seminar, and workshop that I could honing both the craft and art of wedding photography. I continue to do that even today. We can never stop learning. 

The Defining Moments In My Career

The "rest of this story" needs to include those defining moments in my life that first set me on a life course of not just shooting weddings but also training others to take better photographs.

Who were those people instrumental in that process for me.  First, I would have to thank my father for letting me "borrow" those first processing trays, safe-light, and contact printing frame. 

Kodak Model 11 FinalNext I want to acknowledge my lifelong friend, Russ Rigdon, who hung in there with me in those very early formative years helping me with my experiments in processing and printing.

We were even doing our own color processing in 1968 when after booking a high school prom and promising to deliver 2 - 5x7's and 4 wallets, we worked till the very early hours of many mornings trying to complete the job.

I want to thank Bill Donnermeyer for taking the chance with me of opening our first photo studio in the late sixties. We were teenagers, but heck, what did we know? We were confident we could pull it off and we did. The name of our first studio - London Photo Studio came from the London music invasion of the mid to late 1960's.

After graduating from college in 1971, I continued to shoot for family and friends and in 1978 I opened my studio officially leaving the engineering degree behind and moving forward into photography - a pretty scary time in my life.

I was looking for an assistant in those early years to help me on those wedding jobs.  My girlfriend at the time recommended her 15 year old brother.  I want to acknowledge Steve Bitter who was with me through "thick and thin" of the early learning/business years.  Steve was the perfect assistant.  He could read my mind, and many times, it seemed that he had three hands as I was changing lens and film backs during the shoots.

My studio continued to grow and I needed to hire more help.  The person I hired next was Don Moore [link], one of the most talented photographers I know.  Don was my studio manager and covered the business as my lecture career started to gain traction in the mid-eighty's. Don and his wife Lona continue to be good friends and trusted confidants even today.

DAZ and KentDuring those early years, I had met two people in the beginning stages of their photography businesses too - Kent Smith [link], from Columbus, Ohio pictured with me in this photo; and Mark Garber [link], from Dayton, Ohio.  We three were equally passionate about our work and wanted to do anything we could to make our work exceed that of our competition. We formed what, Mark called "our brain trust", and constantly challenged each other to be the best.  We continue to remain close friends and all of us own very successful studios today.

I also want to acknowledge those photographers that I have trained under and helped me understand nuances of technique, style, and creativity in this profession.  First, the legendary, Monte Zucker [link], one of my first teachers in this profession.  He gave me a solid grounding in the classical techniques of lighting and posing that photographers and painters have used for years to flatter their subjects.

Monte, Rocky, BillRocky Gunn, master pictorial wedding photographer showed me how to see differently and how to use the beautiful surrounds to create out-of-the-ordinary outdoor wedding portrait. Al Gilbert [link], one of the top photographers in Canada, showed me how to use wide angle optics to create wonderfully innovative and dramatic portraits.

My thanks too to so many other photographers, teachers, instructors, and trainers that have helped me gain a greater understanding of all facets of the craft and art of this profession.

Many More Thanks

As my studio gained popularity in the greater Cincinnati, Ohio area my worked started to gain some attention and receive many accolades at the state and regional conventions. I began to get invitations to lecture about wedding photography.  My thanks to Wayne Byrne and Bill Duty who together provided my first opportunity to do just that, traveling to 10 cities throughout the Midwest from Buffalo, New York down to Memphis, Tennessee. in 1982.

My thanks too to Lisle Ramsey, who also had the confidence to invite me to speak in New Zealand and England and present my program to photographers in both of those countries on behalf of the International Professional Photographers Guild he had founded. His invitation, after only being in business for 4 years, was quite a thrill.

Terry DI could not forget to mention my friends at Eastman Kodak, Paul Ness and Terry DeGlau [link], who several times over these many years asked me to represent Eastman Kodak at some of the most exciting venues around the world.

Also, thanks to all the wonderful people at Professional Photographers of America [link], Wedding and Portrait Photographers International [link], and especially the National Association Of Photoshop Professionals [link] with their legions of instructors have continued to hone my photographic and digital skills and talents.

My thanks must also include Scott Kelby [link] at Kelby Media who encouraged me to write my first book and his entire team who, for me anyway, miraculously pulls all the words, images, diagrams, and notes together that reaches an understandable cohesion in it's final result.  I am amazed at the entire Kelby Media team as they work in what seems an almost effortless fashion to complete the many publishing projects they work on each year.

I can't miss thanking Peachpit [link], my publisher, who also agreed to to be part of this project. There have been many others involved in the process who have taken time to review, edit, and suggest improvements to the project.  Those special folks would include my staff, Sharon, Jennifer and Martha my good buddy, Michael Jonas, and so many others that have helped me tie together all the lose ends to bring the book to completion.

DAZ and LDAnd finally, I want to thank that special person in my life that has always given me her love and support throughout these last ten years of my career. Without her insights, suggestions, recommendations, and most of all, her patience throughout our special projects, tours (marriage) and so much more, I never would have achieved the level of success I have today. I love you LaDawn.

Finally, I want to thank all of you - the readers of this blog, my newsletters, and my Captured By The Light book, all those who have attended my seminars around the world,  I sincerely hope some small part of what I’ve tried to contribute to this wonderful profession helps take your photography to a brand new level and will continue to open the doors to your own creativity bringing a sense of adventure, excitement, possibility to your joy of photography.

Thank You All.  -David 

p.s. Tomorrow check back again for another special treat.  DAZ


  1. Nice article, i have enjoyed reading about photography, thank you very much!

  2. Thank you so much. All this information that you supplied us with is extremely helpful and will be put to good use. I’m a wedding photographer and this will change the way I take/look at my photographs.