Inside the Green Studio

Being eco-conscious can also be good business.



While California and its governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, have taken a lead on a variety of environmental issues, within the state it is the San Francisco Bay Area that is at the forefront of the green movement. So it's no wonder the region is also home to a new group of eco-conscious photographers who have reshaped their businesses in an effort to create what might be called environmentally sustainable art. As public support of green practices grows, so has the marketing power of these photographers.

In that regard, green photographers and other green businesses in the Bay Area have an advantage over their like-minded counterparts in other places. The Bay Area Green Business Program is a multicounty partnership that offers guidelines to local businesses, then inspects and certifies that they follow environmentally safe practices. (Go to

Marin County

Among the green photographers certified in Marin County are Nita Winter and Rob Badger (, who maintain separate careers in the home they share. Winter, who worked for nonprofit social organizations for years, and Badger, who has done extensive work for a variety of environmental organizations, say the choice to go green in their personal life was natural.

"This has been part of our ethic for a long time," says Badger. "If you look in my office you'll see that my furniture was purchased used except for a couple of computers. All the carpet is used. We recycle all paper. We use energy-efficient appliances, and a reverse-osmosis water filter allows us to use dishwater and wastewater to flush our toilets."

By far the biggest professional investment the pair has made to keep their business green has been in digital cameras and other digital gear. "Eliminating chemicals from the workflow is the number-one priority for any green photo business," says Badger.

For many small photo businesses, the switch from analog to digital workflow is a major financial step. Badger bought his first digital camera five years ago and watched as the technology improved dramatically. "So you have to replace, and that's costly," he says. He likes to work in medium format, "but there was no way I could afford a $24,000 digital back for my Hasselblad." A year and a half ago he bought a 16-megapixel Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II D-SLR. "There was finally a digital SLR I could use in place of medium format," he says. "Now I save on film lab charges and the costs of transporting material to clients."

For archival print mounting and matting, Winter and Badger use Fox River Paper's cotton rag products. (Go to "We use aluminum frames for our prints because there is about 50 percent recycled content in them, and they can be recycled when damaged," says Badger.

Winter and Badger say they promote their businesses in green hotels and other likely venues. "We're starting to see the results," says Badger. "We're getting clients who come to us because we are green. It's a matter of educating people."

Contra Costa

In Contra Costa County east of San Francisco, photographer Martijn Mollet ( has earned a nickname, "the renewable energy paparazzo," because of his fascination with photographing solar- and wind-power installations. Originally from New Jersey and a graduate of Syracuse University, Mollet says he's been an environmentalist "since I was a kid -- as long as I can remember." While living in New York City in 2003 he produced a "sustainable fashion shoot" in a solar-powered building on the Lower East Side, featuring clothing made of hemp and shoes made from recycled materials.

When Mollet moved to California in 2004 he decided to make his photography business "as green as possible." For the most part, he says, that means doing the basics, such as using recycled paper for office work and installing compact fluorescent bulbs for lighting. "When I shoot I try to use natural light as much as possible to cut energy usage, and I use reflectors as much as possible for fill light."

Mollet also uses a bulk ink system for his printer, rather than sending empty ink cartridges into local landfills. He prefers to e-mail promotional material to clients, but when he does have material printed he uses a Berkeley, California-based company called Greener Printer ( "They use recycled paper and soy-based inks," says Mollett.

Out of the studio, Mollett drives a Volkswagen Golf powered by biodiesel made from 100-percent recycled potato chip-fryer oil. "My biggest problem is travel -- I love to travel, but that creates a big carbon footprint," he says. Mollet offsets greenhouse gases by purchasing renewable-energy credits through a San Francisco firm, the Center for Resource Solutions (


Operating out of Berkeley, Conscious Creative ( is a green company specializing not only in photography and videography but also graphic design and Web design. The director and principle photographer, Cheri Larsh Arellano, launched the business six years ago, when there wasn't as much interest in the green movement as there is now. "Today there are many more green products and options available, and client interest has really taken off," she says. "We get most referrals by word of mouth."

Conscious Creative business practices include using the Internet to share and review projects with staff and clients, which include a number of eco-friendly organizations and private companies. "We eliminate travel and carbon emissions," Arellano says. The company works with local green printers to prevent paper waste by designing materials that make use of standard-size paper sheets. "That way, the printer doesn't have to trim as much and throw away the leftovers," she says.

San Francisco

San Francisco-based photographer Tai Power Seeff ( is not certified as green, yet. "I thought that was only for larger businesses," she says. Nonetheless, she follows green business practices and has had herself listed on the Green Maven Website, a directory of green businesses (

Originally from New York (and daughter of famed photographer Norman Seeff), she often works on projects illustrating climate change and resource depletion. That requires a lot of airplane travel, so Seeff buys carbon-emission offsets. She charges her camera batteries with a solar-powered charger and always shoots by natural light. "A photographer friend of mine put it best when he said, 'If natural light was good enough for Rembrandt, it's good enough for me,'" says Seeff.

For Seeff, the look of natural light is as much aesthetic as environmentally sensitive. "Some clients are attracted to the idea of a green photographer, but in my experience art directors and editors are simply more attracted to a more natural look, she says. "In photography there's a fine line between exposure and exploitation, and I strive to be on the correct side of that division."

Running the meter backward in Vegas

It is not exactly correct to say that Las Vegas-based photographer Jeff Gale has a solar-powered studio ( The power he generates all day with the 60 photovoltaic panels on his roof is pumped back onto the local power grid via an Intertie system ( "We make the meter spin backward," Gale says. "At night, we draw some of that power off the grid. That way we didn't have to deal with the cost and technology of installing batteries to store power."

Gale, who once ran an eco-conscious photo lab in Las Vegas and is a supporter of a number of environmental causes, also has 12 four-feet-by-ten-feet roof panels that heat water to warm the studio radiantly. In addition, he is currently planting more than 2,000 trees on his property. "They function as a carbon offset," he notes.



Nita Winter and Rob Badger buy secondhand.Courtesy Nita Winter And Rob Badger


Cheri Larsh ArellanoCourtesy Conscious Creative


Tai Power SeeffCourtesy Tai Power Seeff


Jeff Gale's studio has 60 photovoltaic panels pumping power back onto the grid.


Inside the Green StudioJeff Gale


Jeff GaleEric Eggly