Ron Berg Reveals More about his Passion for Kentucky Derby Fashion in the Hopes of Getting a Sponsor.


After reading Ron Berg’s Photo District New article about his passion for Kentucky Derby fashion, Alison McCreery of POP Blog approached him and asked if she could interview him to delve a bit deeper into what inspired and connected him to the this project.  To see what he reveals, the interview is in its entirety below.

How did this project come about?

My wife is from Kentucky and through her I became interested in all things Kentucky: Bourbon, horses, and of course Derby fashion. I did some research and saw that no one had done a project on derby fashion. You see snapshots everywhere, but there was no cohesive, formal project.

I decided to shoot it like Avedon’s American West project, but in color because of the fashion element. I’ve been in the biz  for 20 plus years and that project has stuck with me the entire time. I grew up in a rural area and appreciated the slice of life that he captured.

From my research, fashion has always been a big part of the Derby experience. The tradition of the southern gentleman and lady has been behind this, mixed with the need to wear a hat to protect yourself from the sun or rain. Add in the celebratory atmosphere of the Derby and you get Derby fashion.

Because everybody is excited to be there and people are proud of their Derby attire, it’s a positive, fun, party atmosphere. It doesn’t feel like a football game where people are there to compete against each other. They are there to show off their Derby fashion and enjoy themselves.

I ended up shooting in excess of 500 people over two days and I had 15 seconds to one minute with most of the subjects. It was one of those typical mid-western summer days—hot, humid, and sticky. But as most may know, there is a lot of fanfare and people are super excited to be there. I got the sense that the people we photographed for the most part were not the serious gambler types.  I’ve never gotten that feeling from people who go to the Derby weekend. But, then again I’m not rubbing elbows with the high rollers.

How important was the location of your setup and how did you get people involved?

I thought after talking with our location scout Dan LaBorde we both agreed that we should setup  and get our permit to shoot near the infamous Wagner’s Pharmacy & Diner. It is on the main thoroughfare for the infield gate among the food, t-shirt and souvenir vendors.  Also, for the fact that most of the pedestrian traffic walks by that area. Wagner’s has always been an icon for many reasons—their proximity to the infield gate, their history providing pharma for the horses, and the silks they make for the jockeys and horses. Then to top it off they are a diner, in which you might find yourself eating right next to a horse trainer or jockey.

My team was my studio manager/producer Melissa Dean and KC art department & location scout Dan Laurine (Melissa’s boyfriend). Essentially, they were carnival barkers and recruited people with flyers—people weren’t necessarily just going to come up to us at first. We explained it was for a book project and that we would email them an image for free. Once they knew there was no catch and saw how much fun people were having being shot, they lined up. It was pretty much a slam dunk from then on. The lines never died down and eventually the local news station got wind of it and I was interviewed by that news crew and featured on the nightly news.

What was your lighting setup and what were the challenges of shooting throughout the day on location?

We had strobe mixed with daylight and the sun was going in and out behind clouds because it had just rained. We would be in the middle of a shot and the sun would disappear. There was no time to adjust the packs, so I made all my adjustments in camera.

[For lighting we used Profoto 7B, and Honda Generators for power. And a Canon 5D Mark II camera & lenses. We shot tethered to a large Apple monitor so the people waiting in line and walking by could see what we were doing.

What was the size of the crew?

Besides the indispensable Melissa Dean and Dan Laurine I spoke of earlier, we had two local Louisville assistants that also worked their tails off. Michael “Goat” Goatley & Alexander Brown. Goat was my digi-tech and Alex helped in every way possible. We all were grips before the masses ensued!

How much pre-planning did you do?

We treated this like it was any other client’s project. It took the typical amount of time to pull together like anything else would, so we started a few months before the Derby weekend. We (Melissa and the location scout Dan LaBorde – from Louisville) produced it and got our permits like we would for any other shoot. Dan and Melissa didn’t run into any road-blocks—everyone was very accommodating.

I expected to maybe shoot approx. 200 people total. I had no idea the level of participation we would have. When the numbers started to exceed our expectations all I can say is hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!

To feature the hats, you often chose not to have your subjects looking into the camera or to have their faces partially obscured by the hats themselves. How did you handle this on set?

At first, some would ask “Why am I not facing the camera?” I would tell them that I was trying to get options to try to show off their great hat and fashions.  Then, I really went with my “gut” instinct on how to direct and pose people. Since I didn’t have much time to goof around, I really wanted to come away with images for the project, but also images for the subject that they would love whether it was for Facebook or to hang on their wall. So quickly after I got a few under my belt I figured out to first shoot a series for them and then shoot a series for me. While people were waiting in line, they got a feel for what I was doing and what to expect.


With such a short window for each portrait or group shot, how much directing were you able to do?

I’ve had many people who have seen this book of portraits ask me how much I directed the people. It was a combination of both directing them and also letting it unfold. It took a lot of directing on my part because most of these people had never posed for a portrait like this and they were front and center on the set with a lot of people watching them. When most of the people stepped onto the set they approached it like they were getting a mug shot or party pic. I learned to act quickly, go with my gut, and direct them as best I could. Like the guy in the seersucker suit with the crazy Australian guys in the bright patterned coats with their pants down is a great example. I was photographing the guy in the suit when 20 – 25 of the Aussies rushed in. It was crazy. At first the guy who was being photographed was a bit thrown off, but he just went with it and it ended up being really fun.

I appreciated being able to work that fast. Most of the people really enjoyed the moment and said it was really fun and made them feel special at the same time.

How did you decide whom to photograph and whom to include in the current edit of the book?

Once I was thrown into it, I felt like I had to document what I saw and felt: from the women in their outrageous hats to the souvenir vendor and the ticket scalper. All these characters and people were important to capture the full essence and all aspects of Derby Fashion.

So this diversity of the people was the most exciting thing I had done in awhile. I’ve always loved meeting new and different people, from farmers to CEOs. Because even in that brief moment of time, you learn something about them or their vocation and appreciate them for this. And going back thru the images  you relive that moment of time with them. So including everyone felt very natural to what motivates my photography.


I understand you are looking for a sponsor for this event?  What types of clients would work and how would their partnership with you be beneficial?

Of course I think a any bourbon Company would work great!  This year, Woodford Reserve is a sponsor and I would be honored if they were interested.  There are so many other brands too that would of course be a great partner.  Brands like  Makers Mark, Jim Beam, Wild Turkey, or Knob Creek.  And, of course, the boutique brands like Eagle Rare or Buffalo Trace or the incredibly hard to find bourbon, Pappy Van Winkle.  I know that Finlandia Vodka is a sponsor this year, and even though they are not bourbon, they might find the fashionable aspect of this project appealing. Or if any of you fashionistas think a “Fashion Label” out there should know about this project bring it on!
I think partnering with me on this would be beneficial because I already have the vision and the passion.  There is already a buzz about it so sharing it with a brand name will bring so much more attention to the project.  Together I think we can bring another element of fun to an already great party.  And, who doesn’t want to be part of that?

You’ve shown the book at NYCFotoworks and PhotoPlus and the project got a lot of attention from art buyers. Why do you think they were so drawn to this project?

I had my general portfolio along with a couple other personal projects I’ve been working on. People really gravitated to this book because of the story and the people in it. Many were of course were intrigued by the people, hats and fashion but I feel it  came down to the fact that this was an ambitious, formidable project. And the enormity of it really became the underlying  spectacle. Many said it made them smile and wish they were they to partake in the festivities while many more said that the Derby was definitely on their Bucket List.

What was your Derby fashion?

I have a seersucker suit and started out in the seersucker slacks and a simple dress shirt. But it was so hot that I had to switch to plaid shorts, of course trying to stay in the mode of Derby Fashion.

Favorite Kentucky Bourbon?

Never tasted one I didn’t like! Every trip back to see my wife’s relatives, I drag her to many tastings and tours. At least she loves those Bourbon Candies!

What is the format and design for the final book?

The book measures 7 x 9” and was designed by Cheryln Quan in San Francisco and the covers were printed by Kansas City letterpress printer La Cucaracha Press. We printed the photo pages in-house and hand assembled them ourselves as well.So far, we’ve printed 10 copies. My rep, Heather Elder and I are actively pursuing some of the Bourbon makers for PR possibilities and also have chatted with a couple publishers. Everything looks positive, but it is too soon to tell what the possibilities are for the printing of a formal photo book.  Interested? Email us at

6 Days, 7 Airplanes, 18 Taxis, 4 Hotels, 40 Appointments and 100s of Handshakes and Hugs Later.

In all the years I have been repping, these last two weeks have been some of the most productive.  I traveled to two great events and met with so many of the art producers and creatives that I have gotten to know so well over the years.   While I was busy doing my thing, three  of the photographers in our group attended At Edge’s Face to Face in NYC,  two attended Debra Weiss’s One on One event in LA and three of them ventured out on appointments.

All of those events and appointments together amounted to connecting with well over 200 people.

I have always said that the single most important thing I can do for my photographers is to make a connection.  And, if a photographer isn’t shooting, the single most important thing they can do for themselves is to make a connection. Doing so in this industry goes a long way.  And, having done this for quite some time now, I can say the relationships that have come from these connections – both personal and professional – have indeed been beneficial for everyone in our group.

Even though each event is very different, they all provide a very powerful path to making important connections.   See below for how we made each event work for us.


For those of you who have never attended an At Edge Face to Face  event, the goal is to connect top level creative talent with leading photographers.  (Link here to learn more)

Each photographer is scheduled for three 15 minute meetings with people they would like to meet.  When I attend the event, I accompany the photographers and help them to present their work.  Attending with them allows both of us the chance to connect one on one with the reviewer.

Our photographers made their own connections- without me.

Well, even though attending with them has worked well in the past, this time I decided to do things a little differently.  I learned a long time ago that if there is an opportunity for a photographer to have a meeting one on one without me, it can be more powerful than if I were present.   I have found that when I am present, the conversation can turns social and the photographer is left without the opportunity to tell their own story.

The fifteen minutes At Edge allows is not a lot of time, so why be a distraction? We decided that this time, I would merely make the introduction, say a quick hello and leave them to their conversation.

Hunter Freeman, Chris Crisman and Kevin Twomey all agreed that it was their time to shine at these meetings and all came back enthusiastic and excited about their new connections.  Connections that were entirely theirs.

Our photographers know that the quick, fifteen minute meeting, is just the beginning of their connection and it is up to them to keep it going.

I have heard photographers question how they can adequately show off their work in just fifteen minutes.  And I have also heard them say that it wasn’t worth the time and money to attend an event if they were only going to meet a few people.  I have always thought this was short sighted because all it takes is one person, one connection or even just one image that makes that next job happen.

Hunter Freeman had a great strategy.  He knew that he only had fifteen minutes and recognized that he was one of many that would be presenting their work that night.  Hunter started off each meeting telling the person that they would end the meeting with three things to remember him by;  Kids with Power Tools, Apple and Dreams.  His reviewers were intrigued and when he got to those particular images he would point them out and remind them that these were the images they were suppose to remember him by.   When the meeting ended each person – on their own – mentioned all three images back to him.  It was a successful connection.


In addition to Hunter’s strategy, everyone in the group spent the next few days following up with email and hand written thank you notes and not just to the people on their meeting list, but to everyone at the event.  There were so many flying around I could not keep up.

As we all discussed,  having a reason to connect with someone is half the battle.  At Edge provided so much more than that.


At first glance, you may describe a Le Book Connections event as chaotic or even overwhelming.  There are so many exhibitors, countless attendees and too many portfolios, ipads and images on display to count.

If you had never attended before it would be natural to ask, “How can you digest all of what you are seeing so that the event is meaningful?”

Here is how we do it:

•  Create a compelling and colorful environment. 

We make sure our booth is inviting and shows off imagery, not just portfolios. We use a combination of music stands and tables to showcase the work.  Every book is kept open to an image.  People often comment that the booth draws them in every time.


•  Curate our work so that we can easily show what is the newest.

The question most asked is, “What do you have that is new?” This is an obvious question and helps people digest all the work they are viewing.  We ask each photographer to update their books before the event and also provide us with any special presentations of their latest work.  Since so many people are already familiar with our photographers this is an easy way to get them to take a second look.  This time, Ron Berg’s Kentucky Derby Fashion promo was a big hit and fun for people to flip through.

•  Provide an Agency Portfolio

We learned after the first Le Book that not everyone has time to review every book like at a regular portfolio show.  So, to combat that, we created a AGENCY PORTFOLIO.  However, rather than group the portfolio by photographers like most other agencies do, we group the book by  SPECIALTY.  That way, a reviewer can see which photographers in our group shoot still life, food, lifestyle, landscape etc and if they see something they like we can direct them towards a particular book.  It is amazing how many times someone goes from book to book once we show them the group portfolio.

•  We Know How to Throw a Good Party

At the Le Book Connections NY event last year, we hired a very nice looking bartender (can’t hurt, right?) to mix martinis for the cocktail hour.  The shake shake shake and the martini glasses wandering around the room were a hit and drew people to our booth for sure.

Well, this year, we upped the ante and partnered with Brite Productions.  We asked to be placed next to them and together we hired the bartender, served martinis again and added pigs in the blanket for a little Mad Men style.  It was a party not to be missed.  And, the sense of community was unsurpassed.

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I have never personally attended one of these events because they are by invitation only for the photographers. However,  whenever I receive an invitation for them to attend another one, I always encourage our photographers to do so.

Her event is similar to FotoWorks in that photographers meet one on one with many art producers and creatives to present portfolios. They are allotted 25 minutes and they see upwards of ten or more people.  It is a very productive time and many connections are made.

I am sometimes asked why photographers in our group attend events like this.  People wonder why photographers at this particular level would need to do this?  Why wouldn’t they just reach out to the creatives and art producers on their own.  Surely, they would get an appointment.

My answer is simple.  Efficiency.  There is no other way that a photographer (or a rep for that matter) could see that many people in that short amount of time.  Ron Berg and Hunter Freeman saw 10 people each at Debra’s One on One. Chris Crisman and Richard Schultz met 20 people each when they attended FotoworksNYC.  Any rep will tell you that coordinating 20 appointments for one photographer would never happen in two days, ever.  You would be lucky if this happened over a week and to get a photographer to commit to a week on the road promoting their work is a long shot as well.



3:30PM (West coast time) on Wednesday of last week, I received an email from Chris Crisman.  “I am headed to NYC tomorrow for appointments, can you help me out?”  3:30 my time is 6:30PM in New York.  YIKES!  While I was thrilled that he was hitting the pavement with his new portfolio, I was not quite sure what I would pull off for him given that most of NY was headed home.   Regardless of the time, I began sending emails.  I started with the art producers that have called in his work or estimated a job with him in the last year.  I then reached out to friends, knowing that I would at least get a reply from them!

Well, by the time I got back at my desk the next morning, Chris had eight appointments.  Eight!  I was so grateful for everyone for even considering such a last minute request.  On top of the eight appointments, countless others replied with their regrets – which I thought was amazing given how busy everyone was and I never expected that many people to even reply.  And, as I said to Chris, even a regret means they had to think about you for a second.  Who knows, maybe they even clicked on his website.

When it was all over, Chris had an opportunity to show off his new portfolio, talk about potential projects and meet new friends.   Something he would not have otherwise been able to do from behind his desk at his studio.


A special thank you goes out to Glen Serbin, Susan Baraz, Elizabeth Owens, Alex Orlowski , Debra Weiss and all the NYC Art Producers that took time to schedule appointments and reply to my emails  for making our time on the road very very productive!  We are part of a very special community of creative, talented and generous people and we are very grateful.

Ron Berg Goes to the Races for Derby Fashion. So Says Photoserve.

© Ron Berg

© Ron Berg

Last year, Ron Berg decided that he was going to photograph a long time passion of his, the people who attended the Kentucky Derby. His hopes were to showcase all that is special and unique about its people and their traditions, specifically the fashion.  The result was a vast collection of imagery that he just began sharing at the end of this year.

It is gaining a lot of attention from the mini portfolios he created and the imagery we are sharing online.  I think the introduction that appears in the mini portfolio sums up the project best.

“My introduction came about by marrying a Kentucky bride eons ago. I then became enthralled with the many things that make Kentucky what it is.

One of those things that always came to forefront was the Derby, it’s traditions, and it’s fashion. Be it the hats, the dresses, the suits, or the crazy infield attire,  I am intrigued by it all.

After some research I was unable to find any efforts to document the Derby fashion. Sure there are snapshots galore, but nothing extensive.

So we made it our mission to document DERBY FASHION!  And after a little rain, 95 degrees, and 100% humidity, and 500+ people we created the collection I was looking for all along.”

Just recently Photoserve featured the project on their website.  Link here to read the article and see which photographer was his inspiration for the project and how he pulled it all off.

And, enjoy the slideshow below.  To see the mini portfolio, just email us.