Kill the Photographer

Bil Zelman's Experiment in Discretionless Curation

“And Here We Are – A Nature Story” at Museum of Photographic Arts

Huge thank you to APA and the Museum of Photographic Arts for an unforgettable evening and amazing turnout.


Rio Grande Restaurants

A fab campaign with forty good friends, one donkey (yes donkey) and thirteen bottles of tequila.
Huge props to the creative superstars at Piggyback Creative Productions.


“And Here We Are – A Nature Story”

This ongoing body of work examines the current condition of our rapidly changing landscape, the punishing impacts of non-native and invasive species and the fragile places where man and nature collide. 

For the past two years I’ve traveled extensively from the Amazon River to the Hudson, across the Sonoran Desert, made three trips to the Everglades and up through the mountains of British Columbia documenting the beginnings of the Holocene Extinction and the impacts when species are juggled on a global scale.

You can find more on my website under A Nature Story and I invite you to join it’s Instagram page as well.

Lürzer’s Archive 200 Best Ad Photographers Worldwide

Proud to have made the top 200 list again this year friends.

Rancho Mission Viejo Development Company

One campaign. Two Silver medals. Three Golds.



I’ll be speaking tomorrow night at a charity fundraiser for San Diego’s refugee students. Please join!

Very happy to present my new Director’s Reel

PDN’s PhotoServe Photographer of the Month

Really wonderful article by Peter Berberian on PDN’s PhotoServe. Read the full article here.

The stunning Jennifer Hudson photographed in Atlanta

Walmart Grocery

Small, precious moments and motion pinched from an impossibly large set…


Cobblestones, steel and felt.
(Click photo to see more)

Bil Zelman Fedora


Ugg Boots – “Est. 1978”

Shot in the sand and sun of San Diego.

Chernobyl Disaster 30 Years Later

Some recent work I’ve been doing with the International Neurosurgical Children’s Association. This time in Kiev, Ukraine – eighty miles from the 1986 explosion. While official numbers are still largely obfuscated by politics, most neurosurgeons there believe they are dealing with the aftermath daily.
*The radioactive fallout zone shown here may or may not be directly linked to illnesses of patients photographed in Kiev for this essay. (And verifying causality will forever be disputed.)

“The government in Ukraine speaks very openly about the fact that it thinks the problem of Chernobyl is firmly in the past – that the majority of deaths have already been accounted for, and that with each passing anniversary things will only get better,” said Liudmyla Zakrevska, president of Children of Chernobyl, “We are constantly trying to show the authorities that in reality this problem is not going anywhere.”

More on the story at

Kids On My Street

Tiny beach towns along the California 101 still exist in places. No street lights. No sidewalks.

Very happy to be a part of Pro’jekt LA- Lucie Foundation show at Smashbox Studios
Month of Photography Los Angeles- Instagram Smash.

Wall projections. Prints for sale. Awesomeness.
Thursday April 21, free to attend.


Happy to premiere my new 2016 Director’s Reel

Fab music by La Luz.


Bil Zelman- Director’s Reel from bil zelman on Vimeo.

RIP Glenn Frey

My DP Trevor wrote something I’m copying here because it’s so damn perfect-
“Someone once said: The Eagles weren’t a band you listened to, they were a band you did stuff to. They were on every road trip, every break up, every celebration. Like an old friend. Take it easy Glenn, and thanks for the good times.”

I had the honor of working with him once and he said “I’d like to look a little serious in the photo so I’m going to give you my best Mona-Lisa”- cracking himself up. We miss you already.


Fun with Video Conferencing? Yup. We did that.

Stills took a backseat to the motion on this wonderful project for Highfive-
CD Joe Kayser
Jeff Lee and Matt Lopman on the lenses
Stills, film direction and spiritual guidance- Bil Zelman


Reggae Superstar Rocky Dawuni

Congratulations to my friend Rocky on his 2016 Grammy nomination for Best Reggae Album.

In addition to being one of the best reggae performers on the planet he’s been appointed the Tourism and Cultural Ambassador of Ghana and World Ambassador for the Musicians Union of Ghana. He’s also joined forces with Product (RED), UNICEF, the Carter Center, and the UN Foundation and has worked on campaigns focused on Guinea worm eradication, environmental issues, women’s health and education, HIV/AIDs advocacy, peace building, and clean water. 

Rocky- You’re making me look bad man.

Photographed on the ocean cliffs of Malibu California with help from my hot wife. Worlds worst photo of us holds witness.





RIP Scott Weiland.

Beautiful and cerebral- Fresh eyed and strong just out of prison- Scott and Mary and I shot this feature for Raygun magazine back in our late 20’s. His song Sour Girl was a smash the week I lost one of my closest friends to similar battles and still takes me back to crazy, beautiful and hard memories.

Scott Weiland and Mary Forsberg shot in Los Angeles. One of the first shoots I gave a damn about. You are already missed.





A few out-takes from our just released (and remarkably out of the ordinary!) pharmaceutical campaign.

Joe Ferrazano on creative.
Art buyer Ali Cohen on the drums.
Saatchi Wellness in the house.
Huge props to Heather Smith for finding our venturous talent!


That one time it rained in California.



The Amazing Frye Company- Fall 2015 Out Now

Shot on location in Brooklyn.



Ad Campaign for 19 Crimes Wine- Prague

In 1868 John Boyle O’Reilly was transported via prison ship from London to a penal colony in Western Australia. Midway through the voyage, O’Reilly and another prisoner established a handwritten newspaper called The Wild Goose which contained poetry, stories and anecdotes from members of the ship’s convict fraternity. Seven editions were produced, and one single copy of the original set survives in Whales. The Hougoumont‘s passage was the last convict ship transport to Western Australia.

*In 2015 genius creative Joe Kayser booted my ass into a time machine and told me to “Shoot the voyage like a fucking whiskey ad.” I can’t recall all the details but remember waking up in a freezing cold, communist era soundstage in Prague with a camera in my hand…

(And yes it’s true- You can open a bottle of wine by banging it on a wall in your shoe.)

Thank you Joe.


Very happy to see one of my favorite campaigns on the back of Rolling Stone again this month.


Happy Independence Day everyone!

Nerd out-

On July 4, 1826, at the age of 90, John Adams lay on his deathbed while the country celebrated Independence Day. His last words were “Thomas Jefferson still survives” (after receiving a letter from his old friend). He was mistaken: Jefferson had died five hours earlier at Monticello at the age of 82. Both died July 4th exactly 50 years to the day of the signing of the declaration of Independence. And that’s why we make blueberry pie every year. Yup.


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Opening: “Isolated Gesture” / A Solo Show – Sparks Gallery, May 31 – July 28, 2015

ON VIEW MAY 31 – JULY 28, 2015

SPARKS GALLERY:   530 Sixth Avenue, San Diego, CA 92101
RSVP Required – email or call (619) 696-1416 to be on the list. Or RSVP ON FACEBOOK.

// Curated by Bil Zelman
// Isolated Gesture Books available with purchase of print: oversized 9 1/2″ by 12″, 144 pages of Duotone plates, hardbound linen cover with foil stamp on spine, slipcover with cover image and title, stitched “Smyth sewn” seams.

Bil Zelman - Isolated Gesture

“For twelve years I obsessively carried a heavy, modified Nikon film camera with a powerful flash on it everywhere I went. I traveled to small town fairs, parades, public gatherings- Shot on the street and snuck my way into parties and gala events everywhere I could.

I never looked through the camera, but rather placed it near the scene with my outstretched arm, clicked the shutter and popped the flash. I don’t know any of the people in these pictures. I never asked anyone if I could shoot them, and people’s responses over the years varied from great interest and feelings of total flattery to invasion of privacy, near violence and even an unwarranted arrest.

Bil Zelman - Isolated Gesture

In the end, and after photographing ten or so thousand people- hangs “Isolated Gesture” which has been collected by or shown in The Museum of Photographic Arts, The Museum of Contemporary Art, The Lucie Foundation, Fort Collins Museum of Art, The Center for Photographic Arts, The Center for Fine Art Photography, The Center for Exploratory and Perceptual Arts, Newspace Center for Photography, The Portland Museum of Art and many others.” –ZELMAN

Art Critic Leah Olman- (Excerpt from “Introduction to Isolated Gesture”): “Since Garry Winogrand, Larry Fink, Diane Arbus, William Klein and so many others, the aesthetic of the “wrong” has become accepted practice in photography. Aggressive framing, dramatic contrast, unconventional subjects, unflattering shots—all have become comfortably ensconced in the standard repertoire. These photographers—and Zelman positions himself among them- are agitators of a related sort, purposely getting it wrong in one way so as to get it right in another, disrupting visual order to ignite a kind of visceral disorder.”

** Please note there will be a Padres game this day at Petco Park – please plan to come early downtown this day for the best parking options.

Ever feel like throwing your entire life’s work onto the lawn and doing snow angels on it?


Happy 2015 Everyone.

May we always have a Christmas tree in the spa and champagne in our pool.


Happy Freakin’ Holidays from the North Pole


2014 Communication Arts Photograph Annual

Jim Beam print campaign with CD Kevin Mckeon and Strawberry Frog. Art Buying brilliance by Josette Lata.


Scary Selfies

Bobbing for scary selfies this Halloween for SONY’s New water proof phone the Xperia Z3v.

Huge shout out to Fitzco!




Harley Davidson 2014. F’ing Awesome. More to come…









Behind the scenes with the San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers asked me to shoot some reportage of their training camp via my old pal Peter Judd at Hub Strategy.  Here’s a taste.







Albert Watson honored my book “Isolated Gesture” with an Art Directors Club Award


“Dusk through Dawn” at the Portland Museum of Art.

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While shooting a commercial in Portland, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I have multiple pieces in a fantastic show at the museum – Also included are works by Garry Winogrand, Robert Doisneau, Ansel Adams, Minor White, Chris McCaw, Peter Henry Emerson, Edward Weston, Edward Steichen and many others. If you are in the area,
please go check it out.

Dusk through Dawn at the Portland Museum of Art.

Photography at the Edges of Daylight

DEC 21, 2013 – MAR 16, 2014

“Throughout the history of photography, practitioners have been drawn to the varying characteristics of natural and artificial light, skillfully using them to express mood and underline emotion. Dusk through Dawn showcases more than 70 pictures made in the hours between twilight and daybreak, when light becomes particularly suggestive. From scenes of nocturnal activities exposed by the harsh flare of the camera’s flash to early morning landscapes awash in subtle, atmospheric tones, these images are among photography’s most striking.”

Organized by the Portland Art Museum and curated by Julia Dolan, Ph.D., The Minor White Curator of Photography.


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Lürzer’s Archives Best 200 Photographers Worldwide


Love that brandy eggnog…

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My father, the scientist, who gave me that camera when I was nine.


PDN Pulse Video – Bil Zelman on How to Shoot Ads That Look Real (Not Staged)

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“Photographer Bil Zelman specializes in shooting lifestyle advertising for top brands such as Coke, Apple and Budweiser that looks real, not staged. Getting natural, emotionally genuine performances out of talent is one of the biggest challenges for advertising photographers, but Zelman has spent his career honing his skill. In this video, he describes how he saved one shoot that was spiraling out of control, and he shares some tips and tricks he uses to coax the performances he’s looking for.

Zelman uses non-professional talent almost exclusively. He explains, ‘They don’t know what’s expected of them. Usually they show up a little bit nervous and it’s easier for me to relax them, rather than pro talent that shows up feeling like they’re going to act it out. I hate acting. that’s the bottom line.’

‘You know, people are laughing in [advertising] scenes all over the place, and so good talent will simply guffaw the entire time, and it looks so fake. So I would much rather have somebody uncomfortable in front of the camera, and then do something stupid to make them laugh, than hire somebody’s who’s basically a somewhat attractive professional laughter.’

‘Whatever city we’re flying to, I’ll fly my casting director (Heather Smith) there ahead of time and she’ll go to bars, and Craigslist, and hit all the social media and we’ll just find people. if I need bikers she goes to motorcycle gangs and if I need twenty five-year-old college kids she goes to the colleges, not to talent agencies.’

‘I try to go to casting calls whenever possible. Depending on the mood of our desired performance I might yell at [the people answering the casting call] or throw something at them. I’ll see if they can cry, [and see] what their eyes do when they genuinely laugh verses faking it with just their mouth. Perhaps I’ll ask them to dance with no music going. It all depends on the job but I’m looking hard to flush out any overacting, self-consciousness or catolog-like contrapposto or gestures and such.’

‘I’m often looking for big, extroverted personalities as well- A person who you can throw into a group of strangers and get them all roiled up regardless of the fact that it might be 6 am.’ ” – PDN Pulse

PDN Pulse Video – Bil Zelman on Shooting Portraits of Difficult Celebrity Subjects

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“Celebrities can be skittish and uncooperative in front of a camera, so photographer Bil Zelman sometimes uses psychology to elicit a particular reaction for a compelling portrait. In this video, he describes how he calmed author Isabel Allende, who was self-conscious in front of the camera, and how he got himself out of trouble on a shoot with film director Werner Herzog. “He was just staring at me,” Zelman says. “It was a blank stare. I was getting nothing.”

In addition to shooting portraits, Zelman specializes in shooting lifestyle advertising for top brands such as Coke, Apple and Budweiser that looks real, not staged. In previous videos, he shared tips and tricks he uses to coax natural performances from the non-professional talent he uses on most of his shoots.” – PDN Pulse

PDN Pulse Video – Bil Zelman On Directing Kids on Advertising Shoots

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“Photographer Bil Zelman explains how he used psychology (and magic) to get emotionally genuine performances from kids for two recent advertising shoots. Zelman specializes in shooting lifestyle advertising for top brands such as Coke, Apple and Budweiser that looks real, not staged. In a previous video, he shared tips and tricks he uses to coax natural performances from adults. He also explained why he prefers non-professional talent, and how he scouts that talent for his shoots. (Check back tomorrow for another video featuring Zelman explaining how he handled two difficult celebrity portrait shoots.)” – PDN Pulse

Jim Beam campaign launches!

Wonderful interview with Art Buying superstar Josette Lata about our recent shoot for Jim Beam with StrawberryFrog. Check it out here.


Please Join Me at PhotoPlus Expo in NYC October 25th, 2013

I’ll be speaking at the 2013 PhotoPlus Expo in NYC. My seminars are titled The Authentic Photograph and How to Create Advertising that Doesn’t Look Like Advertising. For more info and to register, visit

For more information on my seminars, visit


A little fun with ESPN’s College Game Day crew for Coke Zero.

Shot in beautiful Atlanta with Arc Worldwide.

Smart Little Campaign-

Spot it in Men’s Health, Money, Sports Illustrated, Oprah Magazine, Fortune, Real Simple, Time, People, Reader’s Digest, Real Simple, This Old House, Parents and others…

Smashbox finally got me that chair I’ve wanted for so long-

Location scouting- Another shitty day in the office.

Communication Arts Website Of The Day

Big thank you to Periscope and Smith and Union Productions

P.J. O’Rourke

“We know nothing about where political systems come from.  We don’t even know where they don’t come from. And considering the shiftless, slave-trading, bed-hopping, debt-ducking (and that’s just Thomas Jefferson) nature of America’s founding fathers, who also included rum-soaked bunkum merchants and Indian-massacring land swindlers (and they all oppressed women and weren’t vegans) we should be careful about saying that certain societies or nationalities or religious persuasions aren’t “ready for democracy.”-P. J. O’Rourke.   Excerpt(s) from Don’t Vote It Just Encourages the Bastards, copyright c  2010 by P. J. O’Rourke.

Photographed in San Diego, California.

Fred Savage

KCRW Diaries

Zach Braff-

Support Zach’s Kickstarter project and next film here.


A quiet evening-

Lovin’ on our UV Vodka Campaign-

Such a fantastic time on set with the folks from Periscope and 75 of our closest friends.

San Diego Magazine

-Thank you Ann Wycoff-

Jay Adams- Dogtown skate legend gets hitched.

In typical fashion- Jay called me two hours before his wedding to his bride Tracy at a local skate park to come and shoot.  I guess the other 75 photographers weren’t enough and YES- That’s Christian Hosoi at the “altar”.

Look for my short film on Jay at film festivals late 2013.

Isolated Gesture

Collectors quality, oversized 9 1/2” x 12” – 144 pages of Duotone plates, hardbound linen cover with debossed title, dust jacket and stitched “Smyth sewn” seams.

-Available Here-

Nick Kroll

KCRW Diaries

Beautifully printed piece shot for the W-

Art Direction and Design- Dave Roberts
Agency- Greenhaus

Phone interview with Sherry Riad regarding “KCRW Diaries”.

Click “Vimeo” link in lower right of video to view in full resolution.

Finally got that stunt double.

Gustavo Arellano- Bestselling author of ¡Ask a Mexican!

KCRW Diaries

Judd Apatow

KCRW Diaries

Sent to me by my good friend Justin Christmas morning.

Click for Video


Press proofing the new book. Astounding.

PDN Article- Behind the Scenes with Bil Zelman

“In the past year, Zelman says he has been asked to shoot campaigns that emote contentedness, pride, elation, celebration, defeat, consolation, intelligence, a sense of loss and pensiveness. He explains. “Figuring out ways to make those people genuinely feel those emotions is the secret sauce.”
He says, “The Agency really believed strongly in my suggested production approach and fought hard to let me run things in a way the client had never seen before.”

Click image for full article-

Shooting, filming and eating our way across Europe on the MS Windows Phone campaign .

A fantastic couple of weeks with superstar producer Starla Stroh and filmmaker Patrick Wright.

Footage shot and edited by Patrick Wright and a special thank you to him for keeping me awake during that mad 22 hour drive across Germany.

Isolated Gesture on Kickstarter-

Please take a moment to check out my fourteen year street photography project and proudest achievement.

Publishing hard cover, limited edition, collectors quality on Kickstarter.

Thank you.

Taxi, Billy Goat and Matt with the only generator on the island.

Remi Kabaka-

Renowned Nigerian drummer and percussionist for the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney and Paul Simon to name a few.

Louis C.K.

KCRW Diaries

The Stunning Karen Marley, Club Afro Funke’, Santa Monica

Pfizer building NYC-

A small and beautiful piece of Pfizer’s global “Get Old” campaign.

Credits: CD- Kash Sree, AD Ty Baker, AP Anna Shinderovsky

Reggae superstar Rocky Dawani-

Being named Best African Artist at the World Music Awards, CNN’s Top 10 African artists and Ghana’s Ambassador of tourism didn’t stop Rocky from cooking us one of the best dinners we’ve ever eaten.  Bless you Rocky.

Eagles founder Glenn Frey gives his best Mona Lisa-

Kimbra recording with KCRW, Los Angeles

Jeremy Lin for Volvo in NYC-

Archive’s Best 200 Photographers Worldwide

Recording with the White Rabbits-

Don Cheadle Photographed in Los Angeles-

Old Bull Lee Catalog- The best time you could ever have on a shoot.

Jóhann Jóhannsson

Genius composer Jóhann Jóhannsson playing for KCRW, at The Village studio Los Angeles.

Jason Segel- I love you man!

Photo District News article on the makings of our AFL-CIO broadcast spot.

“The AFL-CIO has produced a groundbreaking broadcast piece,“Work Connects Us All,” which contemporizes and humanizes an institution that has traditionally been seen as a polarizing brand. The AFL-CIO hired award-winning, New York  City-based indie social engagement agency, SS+K , known for such iconic work as the yellow wristband campaign for Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong organization, as well as its recent Cannes Lion kudos for Coca-Cola’s Honest Tea.  The SS+K team researched a lot of photographer candidates, looking at personal as well as commercial work, as that indicated the kind of honest connection they wanted with real union workers. Exec. Producer Fagan and CCO/ Creative Director Kash Sree went with advertising photographer Bil Zelman.   “Bil’s work is technically beautiful but it was his connection to the subject that made him the perfect choice for us.  During pre-production, Bil took the time to review hundreds of candidates for the photo shoot to help us find the people who would help us tell the story best,” says Fagan.  “We loved Bil’s work. There was something natural yet cinematic about it, at the same time.  Human yet rich.  He reaches in and finds the beauty in people,” says SS+K COO Kash Sree.

Full article here:

The Shins recording for Sony Music at famed Village (Studio) in Los Angeles-

Interesting NPR report on our AFL-CIO Broadcast spot.

Pretty cool.

You can read or listen to the NPR report here.

Brian Unger is a serious man.

Bil’s Really Bad At Backing Up

Some nice press about our AFL-CIO spot below.

Fox News

ABC News

Huffington Post

Daily Kos





Director: Bil Zelman
Motion Cinematographer: Aaron Phillips
Creative Director: Kash Sree- SS+K
Executive Producer: Kelly Fagan- SS+K
Editor: Peter Johnson- Consulate
Production: KWC Productions

Apple stores- China.

Tokyo subway.

Elmo photographed in Los Angeles. Seriously.

no Santas were harmed in the making of our film-

White Denim at KCRW, Los Angeles

The many faces of Kristen Wiig.

Rolling Stone Italia.

Photo of Bil Zelman's photo in Rolling Stone Italy Magazine

Werner Herzog photographed in Los Angeles-

Photograph of Werner Herzog by Bil Zelman

Ten new portfolios- Fresh smell of ink.

Bil Zelman Photographer with Portfolio

Anything for the shot.

photo of smashed camera lenses by Bil Zelman

In the offices of Tony Hawk-

Corrida de Toros. No mixed feelings here.

Cool PDN feature on Factory Design Labs including our Revo Sunglasses campaign-

Shot on location in Patagonia-

El Mirage dry lake bed racing

Rode the motorcycle out and camped on the flats with a few good friends-

Sonic Youth frontman Thurston Moore with KCRW Los Angeles.


Shoot-Edit. Repeat.

London rain on the way to lunch with Publicis-

Puerto Rico

Japanese posting for “No giant terrible thing with fire”?!

Patagonia with Sebastian Copeland and Factory Design Labs for Revo

Barnes & Noble Nook campaign launch shot with the great folks over at Mullen

Monkey Vs. Sloth!

I don’t normally shoot nature scenes but…Ten feet up a tree in the Amazon Delta, a sloth eats- (Click).  Sloth looks to me and smiles- (Click). FREAKING SCREAMING MONKEY ATTACKS- (Click) and bites us both.  I fall out of the tree with an angry little monkey on my neck pulling my hair (no shots of that-  those little bastards are viscious!).

Some alone time in Tokyo and Shanghai on a recent and wonderful shoot with Apple-


The many dangers of open casting calls off of craigslist-

Casting was for “real people” and someone sent us this photo.  Running wagers around the studio on whether or not he’s wearing pants.

You rock masked man!

Windy here

A quiet moment at the city dump-

Paper towel tube portrait

Returning a prop at the airport in Seattle. Shit.

Coachella with an iPhone

We Hate Blogs

I’ve resisted blogging for years but presently have important things to say.

Ready. Set. Go!