12.31.2009

Good Riddance to 2009. Here's to fun photography in 2010



I can't imagine many years more screwed up for more reasons than 2009.  What a hard stop to a frenetic decade.  As my friend, Steve, reminded me this morning all decades seem wild and crazy while we're living through them.  Over time you realize that every year is strange and the ones that aren't strange are strange by virtue of not being strange.

It was a year that saw turmoil in every industry and the photography industry certainly was not spared.  While the economy was a major driver I do feel that the change is more systemic and long lasting.  When the economy recovers the photo industry may look entirely different and the opportunities may be initially hard to divine.

I have a few predictions for 2010 and beyond but first I want to comment on the sometimes vitriolic responses to yesterday's blog.  Many assumed I was attacking specific Flickr groups or leveling criticism at some of the luminaries who highlighted various trends.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The guts of my argument was that you don't learn anything from mindless imitation.  And that a tidal wave of homogenous images does not move the ball forward for anyone.  I'm calling for people to create and define their own individual styles and not to conform like automatons to groupthink when it comes to imaging.

People think this all happened when we achieved digital saturation but I think it happened when digital camera manufacturers took away aspect ratio choices and aimed for accuracy in their color rather than differentiation.  Digital limited our choices while making us learn new ways of doing things and many ran for cover in the safety of copying successful work.  There's nothing wrong with Flickr.  And there's everything wrong with the idea of Flickr-ization.  Use it as a tool.  Not as an crutch for uninspired creative process.

To all the guys making a living teaching people stuff.  More power to you.  To all the people who think our intellectual properties laws are outmoded constructs I hope one day you are able to create something exciting and new after years of experimentation and hard work.  Then you'll understand that intellectual property wants to have value.

Okay.  The hell with all that.  Here are my predictions:

1.  2010 will be a much better year economically than 2009.  Just feel it in my bones.

2.  Video, as an adjunct to a photographic business will be a non-starter but as an adjunct to existing
      video production companies the adaptation of cameras like the Canon 5D mk2 and the
       Panasonic      GH1  will mean that they will start to offer clients still images in addition to video.
       It's going to get interesting.

3.  Instruction photo books will start to fade as a profitable market since the industry and the tools are
     moving so fast.  People will be drawn to e-books on platforms like the to be announced Apple
     tablet because updates will be included in the selling price and will become available instantly.

4.  The workshop craze will continue with greater and greater emphasis on "hands on" shooting for
     participants but the workshops will be taken over and run by savvy event companies and
     individual teachers will be co-opted in to the system.

5.  This will be the year that millions of photographers will reject heavy, last century DSLR models
     and embrace new paradigms like Olympus and Panasonic's Micro 4:3rds format cameras.

6.  Story telling will challenge individual, stand alone images.  This will require pre-planning, writing
     conceptual thinking, and effective image editing.

7.  Large corporations will use more blends of still and digital video imaging.  Large video displays will begin to totally replace conventional, printed signage.

8. The commercial photographers who are successful will learn how to compete against the concept of stock and will revitalize high end assignment photography.  Companies will demand it as they attempt to differentiate their messages.

9. Labs will finally figure out how to monetize regular post production just like they learned to
    process film and contact sheets.  This will free up creators from the routine work of correcting files
    making web galleries and burning DVD's.

10.  We'll learn to monetize content on the web and make money beyond the "click thru" advertising
      model.  As someone said,  "make something people really want and they will buy it."

Me?  I think great portraits will always be a marketable niche.  I'm up for more swimming, more portrait shooting and new breakthroughs in the generation of better and better coffee.  I'm writing one more photo book.  After that I'm concentrating on doing my art.  And doing my vision better than any one in the world.

Whether you agree or not I hope you have a great 2010 and that we all kick off a decade of happiness, growth, kindness and understanding.  I hope that we all learn how to be nicer on the web and in real life.  Finally, I hope we all learn that photography is almost never "life and death" and maybe we should all just lighten up and have fun with it.  Competition is so overrated.  Happy New Year to everyone!

12.30.2009

The Flickr-ization of photography

Caution: This image may not be acceptable for discussion on some Flickr groups. It's not trendy enough, doesn't use small, battery operated flashes for its main lighting and doesn't show an over lit female model in revealing wardrobe. Moreover, it doesn't list the make or model of a flash trigger. Finally, it's an image that might actually be used by a paying client.




Something evil is happening to Photography (with a big "P"...). It's becoming homogenized by high priests of specific styles. And while homogenization is arguably good for milk and some cheeses it really sucks when it comes to arts and crafts. The problem is that when a style is promoted by one of the "strong influencers" on Flickr people ask for the technical information behind it. In the interests of keeping information free (and driving more and more traffic to their site to get some "click thru's" for advertising revenue as well as justifying display space on their sites.....free?) the influencers eagerly divulge lighting diagrams and step by step instructions. No problem with that but what happens next is the "relentless repetition tsunami". Many people who crowd around cult-like figures tend to be very literal so they end up copying the original image without adaptation or interpretation. As the acolytes spread these copied images they create "laws of creation" that are pushed by the sheer momentum of logarithmic image growth. Laws that decree: 1. Every photo must be lit with flash. 2. Every flash must be battery powered. 3. Every flash must be used off camera. 4. Every portrait must have rimlight or strong backlight. 5. Every photo must include a woman in some peculiar stage of undress or an older person with hopelessly chiseled features. HDR (high dynamic range imaging---sometimes referred to as "Technicolor Vomit"....) seems to still be optional but highly suggested!  All composition must be regimented.

Currently discouraged are images with content, soft skin tones, elegant lighting from large sources and other distinctly anachronistic approaches.  Subtlety has definitely been put off limits.  As has light motivated by reality.

Now, I don't blame the originators of the images. They're just following a business model that brings people in the (virtual) doors to stoke up the furnaces of e-commerce. Their intention is to put another paying butt in a folding workshop chair or sell another DVD to an audience that believes technique is content. When HDRi takes hold the game plan is to become an expert in order to sell knowledge to less gifted

Why should we care? Of what significance is all this to any real photographer?

Why indeed.  I suspect that the trend is harmless for the most part but it creates an unreal idea of the value of raw technique.  Throughout the history of advertising (and that is the primary target for commercial images) the goal has usually been to differentiate your client from the pack by differentiating their public face from the mass of competitors.  It was usually done by taking contrarian positions or showing product or services in a new way.  In a new style.

When Richard Avedon took models into the streets of Paris in the early 1950's it was to differentiate the new face of post war fashion from the pre war convention of the studio.

When Nike began running ads that consisted on a brilliant photo with a discrete logo and nothing else they plowed through a mass of competing shoe ads that showed "scientific" drawings of arch supports and sported wall to wall psuedo technical copy.

When Annie Leibovitz took prominent artists and politicians out of the studio and put them on the beach or in unusual situations for American Express she changed the way people thought about credit card ads.

But, when everyone rushes in the same direction the signal to noise ratio hits 1:1 and it's impossible to tell why any of the images has meaning to their audiences.  In a word, the style has been "Flickrized" and when everyone gets around to doing it the style is already dead.  The leaders have moved on to another style, another technique and another workshop.

I could tell people to be original till I'm blue in the face but to the hobbyist it's meaningless and to the hack it's just another thing to learn.  I can hardly wait to see the workshop that professes to make people more original and more creative.  I'm sure someone will sell it just as sure as I know someone will buy it.  Then originality will be all the rage and everyone will copy the same style of originality.

That's okay with me.  Now, where's that HDR action button again?  New bumper sticker:  "Technical Mastery is Not Art."


12.28.2009

The EP2, San Antonio Fun shoot, shake out, field test, fun color stuff.

http://gallery.me.com/kirktuck#100182&view=mosaic&sel=0


Olympus EP2,  50mm f2 Olympus Macro Lens.


Wow.  I'm in love all over again.  A little background:  I dumped ten years worth of other system cameras and bought a modest amount of Olympus e-series gear this past Summer.  I liked the stuff.  When the EP2 came out I thought the combination of features, the usability of existing Olympus e-series lenses and the similarities to my old Pen FT system were too much to pass up.  Little did I know that I would fall in love so hard for this little micro 4:3rds system.

If I could do all my assignments with the EP2 I would get rid of everything else in a heartbeat.  If I assume the role of "practical businessman" I'd quickly tell you that this is a camera for the pro that already has a systems he or she is happy with.  At the moment there are too many gaps in the system and gaps in the operating capabilities to make it your one, "go-to" camera.  But that doesn't negate my belief that this is the funnest camera to shoot on the market today!  My e3 focuses better.  My Nikon gear did stuff faster.  But none of them are as much fun to shoot during a day of walking around in a visually resplendent city with a pocket full of cards and a good friend.

We're between jobs and my good friend asked me to go shoot with him in San Antonio.  I figured it would be a great venue for shooting with the new EP2 stuff.  We left Austin at the crack of dawn and hit SA early in the morning.  We hiked and shot from the area around the Alamo to the area round the Mercado.  It was crispy and fresh outside and the big jackets felt good.  We were both carrying the EP2 and extra batteries and memory cards.  Otherwise we traveled light and easy.  Here's my take on this camera system:


     Olympus EP2 with the kit zoom lens.  14-42mm.


Let's start by looking at the metering.  Just like any camera on the market you can fool it's light meter with scenes that have small points that your want right surrounded by bigger areas of opposite tonality.  Most camera have conventional viewfinders that can't show a preview.  They can show a review but by then you've already snapped a shot and perhaps the moment is already gone when you've reviewed the results and have decided to shoot again.  In the EP2 (and also in the Panasonic GF1, G1 and GH1) when you look through the electronic viewfinder you are seeing the image from the main processor with all the Jpeg settings incorporated into the scene.  In other words you are usually looking at exactly what the photo will really look like when you press the shutter button.  The colors are a match.  You can preview what the exposure settings are giving you and you can watch the screen as you make changes.  When you see just what you want you trip the shutter.  Amazing that point and shoot people have done this for years but to us DSLR shooters it's a new method.  A new feature.

The EP2 has a wonderful EVF finder.  Right now it's impossible to buy the camera without one and that's a pretty good thing.  It's one of the best EVF's I've ever used.  There's no lag and the colors and the resolution of the screen mimic the clarity of a good quality optical finder.


  St. Joseph's Church.  ISO 1000.  Hand held exposure at 1/13th of a second.  Kit Lens.


Let's talk about image stabilization for a moment.  Since the camera does not have a moving mirror and has good mass for its size it already does a good job of providing a steady platform for hand held photography.  The in body stabilization is the gravy.  And it is delicious gravy.  I am consistently able to hand hold the kit lens at its longest focal length at speeds of down to 1/10th of a second.  Reliably.  And it's a feature that works even with the lenses I play with from my old Nikons, via an adapter.  Is it the best in the world?  Is it better than Panasonic's in lens IS?  Don't know and don't care.  It does a fine job and helps me get stuff that previously would have required a tripod.

A few words about various ISO's.  I generally shoot with the camera set to ISO 200 and leave the lens set at its widest aperture, changing just the shutter speeds to control exposure.  The Olympus cameras have one difference vis-a-vis Nikon and Canon.  The camera comes with the ability to control noise reduction.  You can set it on high and see smooth photos with the detail smeared out of them and you can also set it to off and see amazingly sharp and detailed images with a lot of noise, even at 200 ISO.  Canon and Nikon don't give you the "off" option.  Everything seems a bit cleaner but you lose the option of getting exactly what you want from the N & C cameras.  I guess they think their customers are too dumb to leave setting the right noise reduction to....  But, and here's the fatal flaw, Olympus has one other setting that effects noise in their cameras and that is an auto gradation setting.  When this is set it lets the camera boost the darker areas to give the appearance of more detail in the shadows.  But it comes at the expense of a big jump in shadow noise when it kicks in.

If you use the "no" setting on noise reduction and also leave "auto gradation" as the default you'll see big noise in frames from 400 ISO on up.  There's a simple cure.  Set the gradation to "normal" and you'll have no big problems.  I want control over my noise stuff.

That said, I am happy with noise performance up to ISO 1000 in low light settings and up to 1600 when there is enough light to slightly overexpose my files. (There's headroom in these Jpegs that is quite good).  I'm happy to stick to 200 most of the time but I never fear faster speeds, where necessary.  These cameras won't compete in the noise department with Nikon's D3 series or Canon's 5Dmk2.  Don't expect them to.  But if you shoot what I shoot you probably don't need to go much over ISO 800 and in this range don't expect to see any difference between your demure and discreet Olympus versus that big hulking brute of a D3.


Park Custodian.  San Fernando Cathedral. Early Morning.


So, the finder works and the metering is reliable (if not spectacular) and the IS is great.  The ISO range is ample and well matched to the price point of this system.  But what about the color and integrity of the files that come squirting out onto the SD memory cards?  Well, when I shot Nikon I pretty much shot in raw.  I wanted control because the metering would occasionally burn me and the mid tones would go dark and the shadows, when corrected, would sit on the verge of banding.  I profiled my D700 and made custom curves but I was still never reliably happy with the jpeg files I got straight out of the camera.  That's okay.  Raw programs are really speedy these days.  But when I started playing with the EP 2 I noticed that the color and the tonal curve of the camera looked great in just about every jpeg I pulled out.

Now that I can have "what I see is what I get" control via the preview in the electronic viewfinder I choose to shoot mostly in the large super fine jpeg setting and see now reason to lash myself to the computer to convert raw files.  The tonal curve shows a much nicer distribution of mid tones than most other cameras I've used.  The contrast at defaults is just right and flesh tones work well.  Raw is beginning to remind me of the early days of digital when getting good exposures and colors out of the primitive cameras was really hard and demanded some skills.  Now it's more a hang on from those days....if you are a careful worker.  You'll need to get the images right in the camera but once you do you free up so much space on your card when compared to raw files.

What people say about "Olympus Blue" is correct.  Somehow they have tuned their color algorithms to produce very deep and natural blues that take additional saturation gracefully.

Here's how I set the camera up to shoot:

I set the camera on "natural" color.  I use single shot.  Evaluative metering (corrected by experience).  Aperture priority or Manual.  And I set the white balance for each type of lighting.  I use the camera's aspect ratio settings to show me a square composition in the finder.  If you shoot raw you'll see a square in the EVF and you'll see the full frame with a square imposed to show the right cropping when you shoot raw.  If you shoot raw you can always go back and try a different crop from the available full frame but I think that's cheating.  We Jpeg shooters burn our bridges and there is no turning back for the life jackets once you commit.....

If I'm shooting for hot color I'll set the color settings to "vivid" and go to town.  I've used the info control to show me a finder that has no extraneous information on it.  It's just not necessary.

One of the coolest things about using the EP2 and the Panasonic equivalents is that their short "flange to sensor" distance allows the use of a very wide range of lenses, all with infinity focus.  I've used the kit lens that came with the camera (and is small, light and sharp enough for most work) along with most of the Olympus e-series lenses.  I've also used a Nikon 50mm 1.2 with an adapter.  My friend Paul is using his Panasonic GF1 with Leica M series lenses.  And I'm also waiting for the Olympus Pen F half frame to micro four thirds adapter to come.  Those lenses should be really wonderful on this descendant of their body buddies.

When I use a manual lens like the Nikon I set up the info window to show the green box that indicates the position of the chosen focus area in the EVF.  I push the center button on the back mounted wheel control to show me a 10X magnification of the shot for fine focusing.  I push the button again to see the full frame for composition and shooting.  Unless your subject moves around a lot you'll only need to fine focus after you or your subject changes position.  It's easier to do this procedure than to write about it and it is much quicker.

At first I thought I would get a lot of use out of the various adapters but I've come to find the kit lens good for most applications and am loathe to remove it unless I need more reach.  I've found that my second most used lens is the "pancake" 25mm lens for the regular Olympus e system.  It is small and light and doesn't overwhelm the ergonomics of the camera body.  It's also a good lens and a good value.

Am I happy?  Very.  I've found a wonderful camera I can carry and use almost everywhere without the big camera stigma.  Will I give up my regular cameras?  For assignment?  No.  But I'll rue the weight and size and lack of preview every time I do a jobs.

Anything else?  Yes.  I've shot some video but I'm not ready to post any examples.  The video is good 720p stuff with lots of detail.  And thankfully, unlike the Canon 5dmk2, the Oly people gave us total manual control over exposure and focus while doing video.  It's a great "combo" camera for those making that step.  If only they would rush me out a microphone adapter!!!!!!!!! Dammit.

Thanks to my friend, Keith, who got me out of the house at 6 am to do this fun "walk around" project.  He was also shooting with an EP2 but, since he is much less lazy than me he was pretty persistent in shooting with adapter equipped Nikon lenses.  His stuff looks great.

That's it.  Go to the link to see everything but I'm throwing one more picture in at the end.  I don't get paid by Olympus to use or talk about their stuff.  I bought my own camera and lenses.  But I do have some books for sale at Amazon.  Full disclosure strikes again!

Thanks, Kirk



Wait staff and mural at Mi Tierra.  Kit lens.  Hand Held.

12.24.2009

A great article by Ken Rockwell. Really.

http://www.kenrockwell.com/tech/simplicity.htm

I get that a lot of photographers consider Ken Rockwell to be irrelevant at best and a source of wild and unsubstantiated craziness at his worst, but I've come to find the core of many of his arguments to be quite valid.  If you read the article I linked above you'll find some great reasoning for becoming conversant with one lens and one camera body.  Hopefully the least complicated body you can find.

I've written similar essays and I've come to the same conclusion:  More gear = less good photos.

The image above is of Sarah L.  I wanted to use her on the cover of my third book but my publisher and I didn't see eye to eye on that one.  When I shoot portraits I generally shoot them with the same lens and the same settings.  Even the light is largely the same.  That's because the portrait is about the subject and not about the technique.  If the technique is the first thing you notice in one of my portraits that means I've failed.  Miserably.  The camera is out of focus and Sarah is in focus.  And that's the way I meant it to be.

Give Ken his due.  He gets it right more often than a lot of would like to admit.

12.22.2009

"The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek." Joseph Campbell


"The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek."  Joseph Campbell


Nearly every photographer I've ever met is afraid to approach strangers in public and ask permission to photograph them.  The few that were not afraid were most probably sociopathic.  So, how is it that some people are able to overcome this fear and take photographs of strangers in public?


They begin by confronting their fears.  You work up your courage.  You approach the situation with butterflies in your stomach and you ask.  And, surprisingly, most times the person smiles and says "yes."  They are flattered.  They are human. They are part of the continuum of humanity.




The more often you practice the better you are able to push down the fear until you nearly conquer it.  Then you move on to the next challenge.  The next fear.  Joseph Campbell says it better than I in one quick sentence.  


Consider this next time fear of a deadline, a meeting, a new way of doing something presents itself.  By pushing against the fear you may unlock doors of which you only dreamed.  Steven Pressfield, in his incredible book, The War of Art, basically says that resistance is stronger the closer you get to accomplishing your goals.




Happy Holidays!   Kirk



12.20.2009

When In Rome....

Is everything in your life done on some sort of efficient agenda?  Are all your shoots scheduled?  Are you proud of your time management skills?  Do you see value in walking around with no conscious intention?

There's tremendous creative energy in throwing away "productivity" and replacing it with quiet, active observation.  When I lose the thread of excitement in my art (as opposed to work) I know I can get it back by repudiating the socially engrained work ethic that haunts most of us.  The only way for me to move forward is to not think about "moving forward."

I pick up a camera and a lens and some film or a memory card and I hit the streets and wander aimlessly. Sometimes I just observe stuff.  Sometimes I have a reaction to what I see.  It could be excitement or fear or a cynical sense of boredom; but some sort of reaction.  That's when I photograph.

A number of years ago I finished up some corporate work and I felt burned out.  Used up.  My store of visual energy was used up in the service of injecting passion into temporary, and ultimately unimportant materials.  I told my wife I needed to recharge and I packed a small bag and headed to the airport alone.

I was thinking of going to Mexico City but at the last moment I decided on Rome.  I had no agenda, no itinerary.  I landed at the Leonardo Da Vinci airport, took the train into town and booked a room at my favorite old hotel, the Victoria.

Every morning I got up early and ate quick breakfast in the dining room.  I carried a Mamiya 6 camera with a 75mm lens and stuck a 50mm lens in the pocket of my jacket.  In the opposite pocket I stuffed in ten rolls of 120mm Tri-x or T-max CN.  This gave me 120 potential images per day.  120 chances to find something fun.

But I never went out thinking, "I need to find something to shoot."  Instead I went out thinking, "I want to see what life looks like in Rome."  And if I saw something that caused a reaction then that was a bonus.  I walked and ate and shopped and shot for the better part of eight days.

When I came back home I had images that echoed what I felt during my visit.  During my walks.  I never thought about the images as stock.  I never justified the trip as a tax write off.  I just responded to things that made me think or feel.

Using one simple camera and one or two lenses, along with the formalist discipline of locking into one kind of monochrome film, focused me in a way that digital doesn't.  It limited choice so that my brain could process the emotion instead of running mental sub routines concerning color balance or contrast.  It freed me up to respond in a less encumbered way.

I have a camera I am using right now that I'm trying to sculpt into the shooting cameras of those days.  Black and white.  One aspect ratio (square).  One ISO (160).  One lens (Normal focal length).  If I limit choice I expand reaction.  My brain might work differently from yours.  That's what makes my vision mine and yours yours.

I'm just describing what works for me.

The top image was taken while walking down an alley.  The gentleman was totally aware of my presence.  I smiled and brought the camera up to my eye.  When I clicked the shutter and then let the camera drop down to my waist we both nodded at each other and moved on with our days.

The bottom image was taken during a crowded day at the Vatican.  It's part of a series that I love because it shows how integrated faith is in the daily lives of some Romans, as well as their proximity to the symbols of their faith.

I went to Rome to see things in a fresh way.  Next week maybe I'll go to San Antonio, Texas and walk around downtown.   Readjust my eyes to a new year.

12.18.2009

A non-photographic mentor. Learn more from people who know more.

Mike Hicks, circa 2007.  Austin, Texas.

If you woke me up in the middle of the night, at gunpoint, and demanded to know who has taught me more about photography and creativity in general, I would blurt out, "Mike Hicks."  Which is interesting because Mike is not a  photographer.  Mike is the consummate "Renaissance Man" of advertising and creativity.  I first met Mike back in the early 1980's.  He ran the most respected graphic design firm in Texas, Hixo, and he taught graphic design at the University of Texas at Austin, College of Fine Arts.

I didn't meet him in either of these contexts.  I met him at a restaurant called La Provence.  It was an amazing restaurant for Austin, at the time.  Patricia Bauer-Slate, the founder of the world famous, Sweetish Hill Bakery, decided Austin needed a classic, haute cuisine restaurant and for several years her restaurant set the standard for Texas, a land festooned with lots of chicken fried steak, BBQ and Tex-Mex food.  It was amazing.  And Mike is always at the forefront of good food in the capitol city.  We were introduced by Patricia one evening.  My wife and I were already in awe of Mike for his design work.  Now we came to know him as a "foodie".  In fact, many years later, he gave me a copy of the Larousse cookbook as a birthday present......

But this is a story about photography and mentors.  For a while I ran a competing ad agency and, when the opportunity presented I convinced Mike to joint venture with us on a big, multi-year project.  His command of the field was amazing.  His concepts were both timeless and cutting edge.

A few years later I left the ad industry to become a photographer and Mike was one of my first and most loyal clients.  What I learned from him came from almost weekly assignments for an ongoing, black and white newspaper campaign for a major retailer.  Once a week I would get a comp from his agency and I would be required to find the props and models and shoot, with rigorous precision, the exact set up described by the comp.  In those days we were shooting most studio shots on 4x5 film.

Sometimes Mike would indicate on the comp a very specific lighting style.  This was before the days of the internet and sometimes I would research and refine techniques for days before I got them to work.  One time I was asked to illustrate a baseball for an ad for Nolan Ryan's book.  The baseball needed to be clear and crisp but look as though it had been thrown so fast that it was on fire and trailing smoke.  Easy enough against a black background, but our whole campaign was shot against white.

I researched everywhere I could.  I called every pro I knew and came up blank.  Finally, after destroying ten or so baseballs I invented a technique that gave Mike exactly what he wanted.  When he looked at the 11x14 inch fiber based print (that's how we presented back then) he chuckled a bit and said,  "I thought that would be impossible.  Nice job."   This happened more than once.

I didn't learn anything directly.  It has all been osmotic.  But I've learned so much.  The biggest thing I've learned is that clients look at things differently from photographers.  We need to make work that works well for both sides of the camera.

Another thing I've learned from Mike is the importance of constant, personal reinvention.  He made the leap from analog to digital as seamlessly as a teenager learns a video game.  He's been able to translate a print sensibility into television commercials. He's a brilliant writer for publications like Graphis and  CA. And he understands the importance of a good lunch.

He's in his early sixties and has the energy of a 30 year old.  He never lives in the past.  Doesn't talk about the good old days.  He looks ahead, figures out how to do things in new ways and always finds a way to make it profitable.

You could do worse in choosing a role model.

I asked Mike to come by and let me photograph him a few years ago when some company lent me a medium format digital camera to test.  I like this image because it shows his relentless intensity.  Maybe it will be lost in translation but it is one of my favorite portraits.

12.17.2009

Mission Accomplished.....but not in time for the holidays.


The title, the cover, the ISBN number and all the guts are done.   I took a deep breath, celebrated with the Wonton Seafood Soup at Lotus Hunan on Bee Caves Rd. and then got back to work on the next project.


First, the self congratulatory, self pat on the back:  Four books in two years.  Yay! Now a bit about the book:

There are a lot of choices on the market when it comes to lighting equipment for photography but the typical photographer usually is only exposed to the most mainstream, bestselling and most cost effective products.  Beyond the world of shoe mount flashes there is another universe of lighting tools, made to satisfy nearly every lighting goal imaginable.

I've worked in photography for many years and have also done quite a bit of work with video and film production.  This exposed me to a much broader range of lights.  From 18,000 watt movie lights with large fresnel lenses to tiny LED panels that add just the right touch of light to a scene poised on the border between light and shadow.

More importantly, my tenure in both moving images and high end studio work have shown me what kind of accessories are required to really leverage the capabilities of diverse light sources.

This book is an overview of what's out there.  How it's used.  And why.

I only had 128 pages at my disposal but I tried to make sure that a photographer reading through would discover the range and the advantages and disadvantages to each category of light.  It's good to know that an 18,000 watt HMI figure can compete with the sun in a large area but it's also good to know that they are huge, heavy and require special power sources (and an experienced crew) to use.

The book is out of my hands now and is in the last lap with the publishing experts at Amherst Media.  If all goes according to plan the book will be out in late Spring, 2010.

If you are looking for the perfect gift to give a fellow photographer right now I'd love to recommend my third book, Commercial Photography Handbook.  It's pretty darn good.  One week till Christmas.  Hope everyone is doing well.

12.16.2009

Sometimes advertising concepts are unusual.....


Men: An Owner's Manual.


A while ago I was asked to shoot an ad concept for a cooperative ad bound for national newspaper insertion.  The client was Bookstop Bookstores, the first "category killer" giant bookstore chain.  The ad was to promote a book called, "Men, An Owner's Manual".

The agency creative team was fun and cynical and willing to take risks.  Lots of risks.  And so was the client, for that matter.  With tongue firmly planted in cheek the agency comped up a layout that pretty much matches the above photo and flew it past the client's marketing team with zero friction.

We convinced a new hotel in town to "loan" us a room, booked a couple of models and headed over for an afternoon of insouciance.  Mild room service.  No fiscal damage.

This is hardly high art.  Shot with a Leica M4 with an old chrome 35mm Summicron and some 100 iso black and white film.  Hand processed.  Printed on fiber paper.  Old school.  Two old strobes, probably Normans.

Just found in a stack of ad stuff.  It's not in a book.  It's just here.


12.15.2009

Fashion Week in Paris.



It was a cold October in 1994.  My wife, my parents and I were in Paris on a vacation.  When I read the paper one morning I discovered that our time in the city corresponded with the Fall Fashion shows being held, that year, at the Carousel de Louvre.  I put my Contax film camera in a bag and headed over to see what there was to see.  Security was tight and only photographers with passes were allowed inside the six large halls where non-stop shows were going on.

I didn't have any credentials for the shows and I was about to head back upstairs and wander around the city when I heard a familiar voice calling my name.  It was an assistant art director from a large American magazine I had worked for from time to time.  She asked which show I was covering.  I told here my being there was totally coincidental and I wasn't shooting for anyone.  She reached into her large bag and pulled out a press pass and a second "all stages" pass and handed them to me.  "If you get anything fun you can send it to me when we all get home." She said.  And then she disappeared into the crowd and was swallowed up in the line heading for the Lagerfeld venue.

I took my one camera and two lenses ( a 50mm 1.4 and a 135mm 2.8, both Zeiss) peeled ten rolls of tri-X out of their boxes and headed in to see what was what.  I spent the afternoon shooting for fun.  I hung out backstage at a few shows.  I drank some Champagne with  people celebrating the success of their individual efforts and I had fun.  Thank goodness I thought to wear black.

All the photographers were patient, kind and professional.  There's no real story here.  Just a random memory triggered by a photo in a folder.

No one cared that my camera was a manual focus one.  Nearly everyone else's was too.  Amazing that so many great photographs were taken before the advent of so much automation and lightning fast feedback.  More challenging? Less challenging?  Maybe just different.

Sometimes photography is just plain, clean fun......

Working in your style.


Curious to understand what makes a "style".  I'm not sure I know.  I know I like portraits that seem to connect with me.  I'm less interesting in the technique than the context and less interested in the context than the content.  I want to be interested by the implications of the captured moment.

More square.  More time.  More practice being with people.

A silly holiday image.


    From the Zilker Park Holiday Tree display.  December 2009.


It's been a tough year for most of my friends and long distance acquaintances.  Some times a walk through the park is a good prescription for our mental health.  Hope the holidays are stress free and happy for everyone.

12.14.2009

A rant about an editorial in the NYT by Thomas Friedman.

The following is from Thomas Friedman's Editorial in the New York Times from Sunday, December 13, 2009.  I am excerpting it according to the fair use provision of the U.S. Copyright Law to discuss it's interpretations about the new economy......

In this article Friedman is discussing his friend's re-working of an advertising agency to deal with the "realities" of the new economy...........My note are in red....

 "He illustrated this by telling me about a film he recently made for a nonprofit.
“The budget was about 20 percent of what we normally would charge,” said Greer. “After one meeting with the client, almost all our communication was by e-mail. The script was developed and approved using a collaborative tool provided by www.box.net. Internally, we all could look at the script no matter where we were, make suggestions and get to a final draft with complete transparency — easy, convenient and free. We did not have a budget to shoot new footage, yet we had no budget either for stock photography the old way — paying royalties of $100 to $2,000 per image. We found a source, istockphoto.com, which offered great photos for as little as a few dollars.
If there was no money in the budget for any production was there money in the budget to pay Greer's fees?  If so, how did the money get there?  Was it part of a negotiation?  If so, why wasn't appropriate money negotiated for all the other creative resources normally necessary?  In other words, how did everyone else's budget disappear while the budget for Greer remained?
“We could easily preview all the images, place them in our program to make sure they worked, purchase them online and download the high-resolution versions — all in seconds,” Greer added. “We had a script that called for 4 to 5 voices. Rather than hiring local voice talent — for $250 to $500 per hour — we searched the Internet for high-quality voices that we could afford. We found several sites offering various forms of narration or voice-overs. We selected www.voices.com. In less than one minute, we created an account, posted our requirements and solicited bids. Within five minutes, we had 10 to 15 ‘applicants’ ” — charging 10 percent of what Greer would have paid live talent.
(And, of course, when they've succeeded in eliminating all of the "live talent" in the market what will they do when the market recovers and clients demand original, creative and complex voice over solutions?  Will they wring their hands and plead ignorance?  Doesn't the work itself have an intrinsic value? Are all skills merely commodities?)
“Best part,” he said, “within minutes we had sample reads, which could be placed into our film to see if the voices fit. We selected our finalists, wrote them with more specific instructions and within hours had the final read delivered to us via MP3 files over the Web. We could get any accent or ethnicity we wanted. For music, we used a site calledwww.audiojungle.net,” where he could sample thousands of cuts of music and sound effects with the click of a mouse, and then buy them for pennies.
(How can Friedman, or for that matter, his friend Greer, not understand that by decimating each layer of creative businesses by not having the balls to charge liveable and sustainable production budgets they will create  a business model that will quickly go up the food chain.  Pretty soon,  if there is no solidarity among creative professionals the next step is to automate advertising and marketing or offshore it to third world countries.  People might say that this is a new "paradigm" driven by the web but what is really happening is that the massive destruction of creative markets, and other similar skilled markets, is leading to  people making non sustainable choices in order to survive for the moment.  As usual, only the consolidators are making any profit.  Eventually these vulture-like pricing strategies will push most of the creative class into poverty.)
By being able to access all these cheap tools, Greer got to focus on his value-add: imagination. The customer got a better product for less money. But he didn’t create many new jobs. For that, he needs the economy to pick up. “If we could only borrow a buck and invest,” said Greer, “we’d all be rolling again.”
(There is no proof that the client got a better product.  There is no proof the client got a good product. Only a groundless justification for cutting the profit out of three different areas of creative endeavor.  "Save yourself and forget the rest of the passengers!"  "Take him, not me!"  Finally, what does Greer need any additional capital for?  His supplier costs have dropped by a factor of ten.  He's doing his jobs for 20% of what he used to charge.  If his sole value add is imagination wouldn't he be better off eliminating all of his staff and just sit around being imaginative?  ........Imagination is the most readily available resource in all of the advertising world.  Hell, you can get better imagination from just about any six year old than you can from the typical ad man.  The real shortage is of skilled practitioners, and companies like Greer's are picking them off one at a time under the guise of "efficiency".  That Friedman applauds this makes me nauseous.  When the NYT downsizes him out of a job, replaced by random column generators, or "crowd-sourcing"  I hope he'll understand what he helped to destroy.  Makes me want to re-read the Lorax by Dr. Suess.)


What does this have to do with a column about photography?  Plenty.  In nearly every avenue of our lives big business is trying to figure out how to squeeze more and more cost out in order to  return huge profits to a smaller and smaller group of people (not necessarily the stockholders).  By denying quality suppliers a sustainable profit they drive the suppliers out of business or off shore.  By doing so they decimate support for local communities.  Photographers have been especially hard hit in the last few years by stock photography marketeers that market to the dreams of a vast army of amateurs, convincing them to work below their own costs (the very thing our government routinely accuses China of doing....it's called "dumping" when countries do it).  In this way legions of people, hungry for some sort of misplaced artistic recognition, subsidize companies owned by powerful corporations.   In a way it's similar to the way that state lotteries prey on the ignorance of the poorest segments of society.  They show off the "big winner" to a demographic segment that doesn't understand the statistical relevance of "one in ten million..."


In the same way the legions of microstock photographers don't understand that they are part of a system that drives the cost of "marketing intellectual property" to zero for companies so they can more efficiently take even more money out of the pockets of the very people who subsidize them.  Corbis=Microsoft.  


When mega corporations have succeeded in driving off the musicians and artists and filmmakers and all the other people who bring beauty and relevance to our lives what exactly will be left?  Canned music over fries at McDonald's?  Endless animated movies?  Billions of nearly identical photographs?  A broke middle class?  A poverty stricken class of skilled workers?  And when Google finally figures out which legislators have to be paid to make all books available free who will ever want to write a book again? Then what will you read?



Finally analogy:  If you take a great bottle of red wine and dilute it with several gallons of water is it still a great bottle of wine?  And if you train a new generation of people to drink the diluted wine will they have actually experienced good wine?


If we as a culture are willing to settle for less and less, where will it all end?  What will we have done to ourselves.....?  

12.13.2009

Wacky times with lens adapters.



Above, and above but not just above.... :  The well regarded Nikkor 50mm 1.2 lens.  Mounted on a Nikon to 4:3rds adapter, mounted on an Olympus 4:3rds to micro 4:3rds adapter then mounted on an Olympus EP2 camera body.  


Just above:  A shot of the front of the Canon G11 made with the Frankenstein set up in the top two images.


But Why?


Well.  I think it's because I really like shooting square with this little camera and I like the way the finder looks.  But, when I use the kit zoom lens I can't really make the DOF dramatically shallow.  And, with the exception of the 50mm Macro, Olympus e series lens, there are really no fast lenses for the system.  I bought the Nikon adapter to use the 50 1.2 on the e series cameras.  I like the effect on the e30 and the e3.  But when I bought the adapter to use e lenses on the EP2 this seemed like a fun experiment.

I haven't had time to shoot any portraits with the set up because of the holiday crush but that's next.

Here's what I like about the combo:

1.  The shallow depth of field!
2.  The amazing center sharpness of this older lens.
3.  The wonderful out of focus feel.

What I've come to dislike about the combo:

1.  I can't really focus it accurately unless I used the quick magnification in the finder.  That gives me an image that is 10x to focus with but it really slows down the process.  Take this caveat with a grain of salt.  I don't have perfect vision and I usually wear glasses for close focusing.

2.  The lens has some nasty green fringing wide open that show in the high contrast intersections.

3.  I lose autofocus.  Obviously.  The lens never had it to begin with.

4.  If I stop down I am looking at more and more gain artifacts in the finder.

5.  If I stop down I lose the visual effect I'm trying to get with this lens in the first place.

What I hope to end up with is a camera/lens combination that gives me back the tight crops and the shallow depth of field I like while being more convenient than other set ups I've tried since the film days.  In truth I'll probably give it a valiant effort and then start using the 50 Macro Olympus lens.  It's almost as fast at f2 and, if I compare them side by side, at f2, the Olympus is a bit sharper and much better corrected for chromatic aberrations.  It will also allow me to set all apertures while focusing and metering at the wide open value.

I'm on week two with the EP2.  Here are my thoughts.  I like it very much.  It requires a bit more control freak intervention on the +/- controls to keep the exposure in the sweet zone.  No problem there.  The IS is astoundingly good with the little kit zoom.  That lens is sharp in the center zone at nearly every aperture I want to use.

Should you rush out and buy one if you already have a G11?  Good question.  I used the G11 to take the photos of the EP2 above and I was impressed once again at what a good job Canon did on that camera.  Unless you have Euros or dollars cascading from your stuffed pockets I would wait a while and push the G11 to its limits.

In fact, I just saw a 16x20 black and white print in my friend's office, made on a G10 and printed with an Epson 3880 this week.  It was absolutely perfect.

If you did pixel peeking you might be able to find a fault but at the normal (and even at the "I'm an opinionated photoshop expert smart-ass" level) it was damn good.   I mean good enough to compete with similar images from the latest DSLR's.  But, this guy has his chops down and the image was well seen.

What to make of all this?  Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.  And sometimes we buy cameras because we just like buying the cameras.  And there it is.

12.09.2009

Out for a walk with the EP2. Square lovers rejoice.


    A tree along the Austin hike and bike trail.  Just south of downtown.  EP2 with kit lens.

So, I mentioned that I really love the square.  The Olympus EP2 gives me back the square with elegance and ease.  I am satisfied with the camera.  I'll have to leave off my tests with portraits; it seems all the usual suspects actually had other things to do today.  Bereft of human models I took off on a walk around downtown.  I know it won't sound heroic to my friends in the frozen wastelands to the north but it was a chilly 31 degrees (f) when I left my car and started across the pedestrian bridge into downtown.

Here's a link to a small gallery of images from the morning:  morning with my square camera.

I set the new camera to mostly neutral settings.  Large SF Jpeg.  Color natural.  Aspect ratio: 6x6.  Single AF, etc. No more or less sharpening, contrast or saturation than the defaults.  I look through the viewfinder and see an wonderfully framed image with a bit of black on either side.  I can toggle through the "info" button until I get to screen with no numbers, letters or symbols on it and I'm free to compose unencumbered.

The camera is so small and discreet that everyone takes me for a tourist.  At times I feel like a tourist in my own life but I'm sure my mental health professional friends would label that as disassociative and worry.  Instead I'll say that I love cruising around the same downtown I've walked through almost weekly for 32 years.  I love to see what's new and who's hanging out at the coffee shops.  Lately we've seen some upscale stuff on the main drag from the state capital.  A Patagonia shop opened its doors.  There are three new restaurants.  A state office building is being rehabbed for commercial use. Downtown has two more steak houses.

I don't really know what to say about the camera.  I never had a missed focus.  If I needed exposure compensation it was usually on the order of +1/3 stop.  I tried out the ienhance setting in the colors menu and the tree above is from that group of frames.  I find the lens pretty sharp wide open.  The shutter, once locked in, is pretty fast.  In all you'd have to be a bit clumsy to mess up with this camera.

But for me, the ability to compose in the square with such a nice viewfinder is a treat over all else.  More to come after I get the studio thing figured out.  As you probably know, the finder sits in the hot shoe and the hot shoe is the only way to trigger any sort of flash.  Hello tungsten lights and HMI's.  More to report as I live with the camera.  Raw info:  272 shots with one battery, full time  EVF, and 31-38 degrees over the course of three hours.  Kit zoom lens.




12.07.2009

A short blog about why I think the Olympus EP2 is great.


This image was shot with a Hasselblad Camera and a 150mm Lens.  I like it because it is square, black and white and the lighting is fun.  What's this got to do with the tiny Olympus EP2?  Read on.


When I bought the e30 SLR camera I was excited about being able to choose a different aspect ratio.  The ratio I shot with for twenty odd years was that of the medium format square.  Called 6x6.  I love composing portraits in the square and one of the things I never liked about the transition to digital many years ago was the cold hard abandonment of divergent aspect ratios.  With 3:2 based systems everything became the 35mm look that I had consciously moved away from decades ago.

But the way the aspect ratio option was done in the e30 only really worked if you were shooting in the live view mode.  The time delay using live mode in an slr with a mirror was just too long.  Not being able to compose at eye level was just too different.  I could live with it when doing still life and landscape but....I don't do still life and landscape very often.  And when I do it's for money not for joy.  The joy comes from shooting portraits.

So, along comes the little black EP2 and it offers an electronic viewfinder.  That's its one major improvement over the earlier EP1.  But along with the EVF I get actual square aspect ratio in an eye level finder!  The joy!  And it works well.  The square factors out to about a 9 megapixel camera which is more than enough for me.

Once I set the camera into the monochrome mode and enabled the green "filter" I was in heaven.  I'm still in heaven.  Now I have the digital camera I always wanted at a very reasonable $1100.  This is my portrait, street, event, anything that doesn't require flash camera.  So far the files are looking good.  When I something half as good as the Hasselblad shot I posted above I'll do a more in-depth review and post it here.  I'm in the "breaking in" process right now.  Stay tuned.

Tomorrow I get the MMF-1 and we go to town shooting some video with the 35-100mm f2 lens.  Creamy out of focus and lots of juicy sharpness in the same frame.  New chapter of the digital revolution here we come!

Have fun shooting.

12.03.2009

Breaking the self fulfilling prophecy of a "bad year"


For Zachary Scott Theater.

Each of us looks at our daily life through the layers of our past and the constant static of random and chaotic information from outside our rational process.  Our memory of past occurrences obscures the real pattern of the present.  How many times this year have I heard photographers say,  "The whole industry is devastated and it's never coming back!"?  But aren't new photographs being made every day?  Negativity and news reports lead one to believe that everyone is unemployed, losing their jobs, their life's savings and their homes.  Economist tell us that we'll never regain the spending power we had in the 1980's and 1990's.

But what is true?  How much of this is random, unrelated static?  How fearful should we be?  Well, all economics, like all real estate, is local.  In Austin, Texas the unemployment rate is around 7% but the unemployment rate at the height of the boom years hovered around 4%.  So 3% is the number directly affected by this downturn in my metro area.  The other 93% of people still have their jobs.  Still get a pay check, still buy groceries and pay rent or mortgages.  I know the numbers are different in other parts of the country but in many places similar statistics prevail.

When I read the paper or watch the news things seem horrible.  Random killings, earthquakes, storms, wars.  But locally?  Nothing.  Ribbon cuttings, petty embezzlements, Christmas tree lightings, appeals for charities.

How does this all relate to the business of being a photographer?  Surely I'm not telling you anything new about the nature of anxiety and the news.

Okay.  Here's what I've been thinking about lately.  It's been a tough year.  The "low hanging fruit" disappeared from the trees.  Belts have been tightened, even if only in anticipation of a whole scale collapse that will probably never come.  Budgets have been slashed.  All the cliches.

So, every photographer (every business) has a choice of how to approach the change in market dynamics.  Some will theorize that this is a year in which nothing will happen.  These photographers choose to sandbag the windows and retreat into their bunkers, intent on husbanding their resources, for the time in the future in which they anticipate that the clouds will part and the economic engine will re-fire and they'll stand ready to reap the rewards.  They're keeping their powder dry.  And while they're keeping their powder dry life goes on without them.

The opposite choice is to go out and make the connections and work with what's being presented by your universe.  Accept less glamorous jobs.  Make new friends.  Show new work.  You only get one life and if you hide away in your bunker you're just wasting your time.

The solution to the retreat of low hanging fruit is to get a taller ladder.  Throw a wider net.  Stay connected.  When it all works out you don't have to worry about timing the market.  You'll already be enmeshed in the middle of it.

I've spent the year trying to stay in touch.  Working on my own fun projects.  Spending money on cool stuff when opportunity knocked.  Writing blogs.  Reaching out. Teaching. Writing books.  Shooting smaller projects.  Planning for bigger projects.  Having more lunches with friends. Getting the important stuff right.

When the market comes back I hope I barely notice because I'll be submerged in the process.

Case in point:  I have some friends who have seen a few(financially)  rough years.  One of them had the opportunity to travel in Europe as part of a speaking tour.  While it didn't make economic sense for them at the moment they pulled their kids out of school, took some vacation time,  spent the money and took a fabulous trip for two weeks.  Why?  It made emotional sense.  Kids grow up.  Time won't stand still.  The money is less important than the shared experience.  Did they have some fear about taking the risk?  Yes.  Was it worth it?  You'd have to ask them but from the smiles on their faces I would say......without a doubt.  They acted.  They resisted paralysis.  They risked. They won.

I look back at this bad year.  What do I see?  Devastation and ruin?  No.  We made it through.  We're still paying our bills.  Clients still call on the phone (but mostly they e-mail).  I've written another book.  I've shot some fun images.  I spent the year having fun with my family.  We learned to enjoy new stuff.  It's all a wild adventure.  I feel like we won too.

Was it a bad year or did we just make less money?  Can we separate the nonsense that the photo industry is falling apart from the temporary shortfall in the economy?  If we can then we all win.

11.28.2009

At the Theater with a camera and a big lens.













One of my favorite clients is Zachary Scott Theater. Their marketing director uses photography well and they appreciate my style. I do a lot of straightforward, set-up images throughout the year for their website and print collateral. But one of the things I've been doing for them for over sixteen years now is "running shoots". These are documentary shoots of the dress rehearsals. We usually do them the night before each show opens. We do them straight through. No stopping and starting. I have access to every part of the stage but there are no "do overs". These are the photos that the theater sends to the lifestyle publications and the local newspaper to run with reviews and announcements.

What we're trying to do is give a potential audience the feeling of what it's like to be there. To be in the audience.

When I first started doing this the publications wanted black and white prints. We shot black and white Tri-X in Leica M series rangefinder cameras. This took a lot of concentration on the changing stage lights. Since the cameras were unmetered I was constantly checking things with a spot meter. It was quite an undertaking. Our hit ratio for well focused and well timed images was much higher than our ratio for proper exposure.

At the end of the show I'd head to my darkroom to develop film that evening. The next morning I'd make contact sheets and try to meet with the marketing team around 11 am to get their input for needed prints. By mid afternoon I'd have ten or fifteen 8x10 inch black and white prints ready to be picked up and sent around.

Over the years the cameras changed but the deadlines never did. Last year I was shooting the shows with a Nikon D700 and assorted lenses. As you may know I changed systems and now I shoot with the Olympus e series SLR cameras. I really like them but they don't handle high ISO noise as well as the Nikon stuff. I was nervous about using them on a show like the one I've included images of. The stage light isn't bright and everything is knocked down a bit by colored filter gels. I have trepidation in shooting anything over ISO 1600 with the e3 or the e30 so I didn't go there. But while I was getting ready for the shoot I remembered shooting at ISO 400 with a manual focus Leica. Things have gotten better.

The standard lens I used for 80% of my stage shots last year was the Nikon 70-200 f2.8. The Olympus equivalent is the 35-100mm f2.0. The Olympus is a full stop faster and at least two stops sharper. By that I mean that the images I get at f 2.0 seem on par, in terms of sharpness, with the images I used to get from the Nikon at f4. I packed an e3 and an e30 and just two lenses, the 35/100 and the 14/54mm.

I shoot a lot during rehearsals so I tend to shoot large/fine/jpegs. I set both cameras to ISO 1600 and I set the color settings to "natural" with a minus one click on contrast. I use the spot meter in both cameras. One 4 gb card for each. (I've settled in at 4 gb because they fit nicely on one DVD.....).

Since both cameras have great IS (image stabilization) I forgo the tripods and monopods. This year my 14 year old son, Ben, joined me with his Pentax istD camera and short zoom lens. 14 year old non coffee drinkers seem to be better at holding a camera still than some adults....

While I missed focus more often than I would have liked I found that the lens performed very well at f2, f2.2, f2.5 and f2.8. I rarely had to go below 1/160th of a second and found that most of the time I was working around 1/250th of a second. Not a very perilous range for handholding. Most of the actors were African American and nearly every background was dark and continuous. A ready made torture test for noise in the shadow areas.

Non of the examples above have had post production noise reduction applied. The noise reduction in camera is "standard". Please take a moment to blow a few of them up on your screen and evaluate the noise. While I'm the first to admit that the Nikon's are less noisy I don't think the noise in these files is at all objectionable. I took the time to print a few and found them to be just right.

When I pick up the 14-35mm f2 SWD I'll stop worrying about noise altogether.

The magic thing seems to be that the lenses have enough depth of field to cover what I need at nearly wide open. Not the case with full frame which requires me to work around f4 for satisfactory sharpness and focus depth. Amazing how you can never compare apples to apples in this craft. If Olympus made a few f1.4 or f1.2 lenses for this format I'd sure give the whole thing a try with the older e1's and e300's. If I could use them at ISO 400 it would be fun.

So, sheer square inches is a nice thing to have when you need to shoot under low light but.....it's just one shifting side of a changing paradigm. Olympus figured that out when they started designing lenses for their small sensor system. I can hardly wait to try my hand at some architecture with these little cameras. The 7-14 and the 9-18mm lenses have reputations for being some of the sharpest and best corrected wide zooms around. Couple the lens performance with really wide DOF at f5.6 and f8.0 and you really have a totally different way of looking at that field. Should be fun.

I suggest you head out and support your local theaters during the holidays. Live theater is something special. And while not as polished as a movie or a television show there is a tremendous value in the unexpected and the energy of live performances. Many theaters depend on the holiday cash flow to help subsidize chancier work during the rest of the year. And if we let theaters die off all we'll be left with is television and YouTube. Don't you want a nice excuse to get out of the house?

Final Note/Request: If you are looking for the perfect gift for someone who is really hard to shop for, like a really hot girlfriend/boyfriend, a generous aunt, a demanding boss, your sainted mother, etc. you might want to consider a really original gift. My third book, Commercial Photography Handbook, comes to mind. Beautifully illustrated and full of good, solid business info. You never know when your great grandmother will give up knitting and pick up a Leica S2, ready for business. You'll be happy you got her the book when she starts turning a major profit. Heck, she may even share tips with you. Thanks, Kirk

11.23.2009

The Anatomy of a Corporate Portrait Shoot.



Dell Executive onsite at Dell Headquarters.

When I read various forums about lighting and photography there are presumptions about the way professional work is done that are just plain wrong. When I used to post images as examples in discussions about lighting people would always demand that I post "the set up shots." What they wanted was a step by step photographic build, or instruction manual, of the way the image was constructed. People also wondered, "why didn't you try this, and this and this???" And, of course, the constant assumption that I would have hours to put everything together while a highly paid VP or CEO stands around waiting for me.

Well. Uh. No. When we hit the client's hallowed halls our one intention, with laser like focus, is to get in, get the images we need and then get the hell out before we overstay our welcome.

So, here's how I do executive portraits in 2009. The call comes in from the Vice President's administrative assistant and we begin the planning process. Here are the questions we cover:

1. What kind of images do we need to end up with?

Answer: We need a standard headshot against our regular blue background. Then we'd like a series of images shot across a conference table in our briefing center. On some of these we'd like to do an interview style where he appears to be answering questions for a magazine or other interviewer. Finally, we'd like two or three different environmental shots in our beautiful briefing center.

2. How much time will we have with the executive?

Answer: Can we do all of this in one hour? I'll push for an hour and a half but that's going to be the outside limit.

3. How much earlier can I have access to the locations?

Answer: I can get you into the conference room where we'll do the headshot and the conference table shots about an hour before the VP arrives. Will that work? As to the public areas we'll have to set up and tear down as we go. Sorry.

4. Can you have him bring several suits, several ties and several shirts?

Answer: No problem. What about make up?

My Answer: We'll bring our "Barbie" case and I'll powder him if necessary. I don't think we have time to put him into a standard make up routine.

5. How will the shots be used? What kind of rights license are you looking for?

Answer: We'd like unlimited public relations use for a period of three years. Can you send me an estimate for the shoot?

My Answer: I'll have an estimate to you before the end of the day.

At this point I'll sit down and figure out how I'm going to produce the job. From arrival to the point where I'm loading stuff back in the car. Now my budget is approved and we've set the date and time.

I make sure my assistant has her driver's license with her. They will ask for it at security check in. We meet at my studio at 11am and load all the gear into the Honda Element. We drop by Starbucks for coffee and snacks and then head north to Dell. We discuss the shoot, step by step. We've both done jobs in the conference center before and we have a good working knowledge of the layout and what to expect in terms of existing lighting.

After clearing security and meeting up with our client we head to the conference room with a ton of gear on a cart. We set up a blue background on background stands and put together a standard three light portrait set-up. We always bring our own posing stool for these situtions since high backed conference chairs are horrible for headshots. We test the lighting set up with the assistant sitting in and then, satisfied that we have it nailed we move on to setting up a second set of lights for the conference room table shot. Before we move on to the second lighting set up, however, we pull out the little notebook and jot in the shutter speed, aperture and other settings so we don't have to waste time when the VP sits down.

The conference room table shot calls for a Chimera Lantern (large size) over the table with a Profoto Acute 600b head and pack. The back wall is lit by several shoe mount strobes with home made grid spot adapters. A third gridded, hot shoe flash is used as a hair/rim light. That's an effect I rarely use and I keep it powered way down for a subtle separation. Once these two set ups are in place we go to scout the other locations. Along with our client we decide on three looks in one really great room. Shooting from three different vantage points will give us three completely different looks. We pull out the notebook and I sketch out how we will light it and where the camera and subject will end up.

Our subject shows up right on time and we start moving. We select a suit and tie combination that looks great and he does a quick change in the restrooms down the hall. We get warmed up with the headshot, get to know the guy pretty well during the conference table shots and build a sense of collaboration by showing him the best images from each set up. By the time we get ready to do our environmentals we're all part of one team and everyone's fairly excited about getting the best stuff in our last three shots.

While I was shooting the conference table shots my assistant was tearing down the headshot lighting set up and moving those lights into the first position we'd sketched out in the final area. She's got the lights set and ready, metered and color balanced by the time we finish with the conference room.

The VP, client and I move to the first set up in the new room. I do test shot and quick tweak and then we start in earnest. The real goal in portrait photography is to let the real person come out in the photograph. At least all the good stuff... And in this case our subject was really wonderful. Very engaging and very savvy about the process and what we hoped to get.

After the first set up in our new area I sent the VP off to change clothes so we would have a different wardrobe look. My assistant had wrapped the conference room and we set up the second lighting design for this room. In each position we're shooting fifty or sixty images in order to have a good selection to work with. While I've carefully metered and white balanced using a Lastolite gray target disk I'm still shooting raw because if we've missed anything we're going to have a hard time getting back on this VP's schedule.

As we're finishing our third set up in this location the VP looks at his watch and starts to look a bit...impatient. We're right at the hour we'd been promised. I know we've got a lot of good stuff so we shake hands and he sprints off toward his next tightly timed meeting.

While my assistant begins wrapping equipment I talk over payment schedules and delivery schedules with my client. Then I help with the packing and the load out.

On the way home we discuss the shoot. I'm looking for feedback and she's looking for answers to several technical questions. We hit the studio and unpack all the gear. I write a check to the assistant and sit down to back up the raw files in several places and then fire up Capture One for a first pass editing session.

The stuff looks good. I have a web gallery, with globally corrected images, up for our client inspection and selection and I send her the link before 5pm. Along with an invoice for our services and usage license. This shoot has gone like clockwork. We have enough gear to keep two different set-ups rolling all the time.

We got what the client needed in the time we were given. The next step was finishing out the selected images and delivering tiffs and jpegs. Since we don't know in advance the number of files they'll need we have a la carte pricing for finishing out the raw files. They're generally delivered by FTP.

This job was done with Nikon D700's and assorted Nikon Lenses. Lighting was mostly Profoto Acute 600b's which are battery powered, light and portable to the extreme.

At no time was it either appropriate or feasible to step back and shoot step by step images of our entire set up. The client's needs are primary. That's just good practice and good marketing.

All the best, Kirk