Know-How, Then & Now


The other day I came across a clipping of an article my father, William Pell, wrote (“Problem Illustrations”) which appeared in Art Direction magazine. Based on the accompanying photos it was probably published in the early 1960s.

I thought I’d include a few excerpts here to give readers who’ve never shot film some idea of the problems professional photographers faced PD (Pre-Digital). My father solved the dilemma of providing a client with both color and b/w for use in a magazine and newspaper (see above photo).  “…because action and expression were so important, it was absolutely necessary to have the exact picture in color and black and white. To accomplish this, I set up 2 cameras , one directly over the other and used long focal length lenses to minimize the slight difference in camera angle. By using strobe lights, it was possible to open one lens and fire the lights with a synchronized shutter on the other lens thereby getting the identical picture in color and black and white simultaneously.”

SmileDSLR, anyone? Yet despite the sophistication of today’s technology we still regularly face technical challenges.

“…I had the pleasure of a lengthy talk with Edward Steichen. Among the many things he told me, one point in particular made a lasting impression. It was his opinion that a man [or woman] could not become a photographer in the true sense, until he had at least 5 years of professional experience or its equivalent behind him. Over the years, this theory has been borne out for me by the fact that every new assignment—no matter how much of a departure from the norm—has had an inescapable tie with a job in the past. It is for this reason, I believe,  that we find the so called “old timers” still pressing the bulb so successfully today.”

Digital cameras haven’t made photographing babies any easier.

“It has been my experience that infants  react better to sound than to objects. such as toys. Therefore, I’m always stocked up on noisemakers and records to create interest in very in very young tots. The promise of a surprise toy has always helped to sustain action in young children up to 6 or 7. However, speed is essential, since their attention cannot be held long  without sacrificing spontaneity which is so necessary in this type of picture.”


Finally, on who should select the models… the art director or photographer?

“A photographer is generally more familiar with the assets and shortcomings of the models with whom  he works…  because of make-up requirements and lighting technique , very often models will photograph differently than their composites and portfolio of job pictures indicate. So, in most cases, it would seem advisable for the photographer to do the casting.”


During a long, successful career in commercial photography, my father used all the major camera formats, including the classic Deardourff 8 X 10; 4 X 5 and 5 X 7; 35mm; and—most often—the  2 1/4  Hasselblad. I remember him packing 3 Hasselblads for location assignments. When I asked him why, he said the camera was  “quirky” and he needed backups.

We all need backups.