This is pianist, Anton Nell, on the new stage at Zach Scott.
This post is the 1,200th blog post written by me on The Visual Science Lab. I've been sharing my thoughts about life and photography here since 2009. I plan to continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Some of you are new to the site and some of you have been visiting regularly since nearly the beginning. I thought I'd catch up and let you know, at this milestone, what I've learned, what I want to learn and where I think photography, in general, is going.
First of all here is a recent image of your host and writer, Kirk Tuck:
It was taken in robot mode with one of my Sony a77 cameras set to smile detection. Honest. You can set these cameras to recognize when your subject smiles and then shot a frame. Or a ton of frames. Just keep smiling and then frowning and the camera will keep blasting away. All silly business all the time...
While the photo business has been challenging over the last three years 2012 is finally feeling stable and, in my market, seems to be returning to a more natural rhythm of more and more assignments with less down time in between. In the last month or so we've had good, substantial assignments from healthcare, technology, publishing and hospitality clients. I have my fingers crossed that we'll return to the smoother and more profitable times we enjoyed before the big bust hit in late 2008.
The business has changed. More and more stuff may be going to the web and in that arena the competition is fairly brisk but contrary to the predictions of the experts there is a growing resurgence in print production and direct mail and what this means it that images that will be sloshed large on nice paper, with good ink, have to meet certain quality standards and color reference standards that have all but left the curriculum studied by many newcomers to the market. We're seeing an uptick in requests for images that will go on trade show displays as well as in nice brochures and, for the first time in three or four years we're seeing lots of demand for images that have to be lit well. Really well.
I'm happy everyone has run off and done the off camera, battery flash thing to the exclusion of all traditional lighting because it means clients will pay for stuff that needs to be lit up with large, +1000 watt second studio flashes firing into big softboxes and then massaged by light sucking modifiers and what not. I did a job yesterday and in the old times it would have been considered a very straightforward thing: Make a photo of a group of 25 business people in an interior location.
Last year the photographer the group hired showed up with a shoe mount flash and a belief that ISO 3200 solves all problems. One bounced flash off grey acoustic tiles on a 24 foot ceiling isn't quite the same look as 3,000 watt seconds of state of the art flash gear banging through three Chimera Lanterns, each hanging up over carefully designed groupings to make a dynamic shot. Cutters to keep reflections off back walls and nets to tone down foregrounds in pre-post-production (actual) shooting. The results? Ecstatic clients with big time budgets.
I'm feeling a pendular swing back to more production and away from "good enough." I think that means companies have money again and they are starting to lose the fear of investing it on their brands.
But the change also means that more and more clients are really asking for video content. Interviews, product demos, stuff to stick on the web, stuff to play in meetings and presentations, and all the rest. I enjoy delivering the content but I enjoy even more working in collaboration with good editors who can and want to take care of the back end. This probably explains my current attraction to the Sony cameras I've been using, the a77's. They may not be as good as a $10,000 production video camera but for a hybrid tool they are pretty darn good. And if, going forward, half of my billings are coming from leading clients through simple but very well lit and well crafted interviews then when choosing my shooting cameras I'll be weighting more and more of the buying decisions around not only their ultimate image quality but also their ability to help me make profitable motion content for already happy clients. If I were a hobbyist I would not give a crap about the video potential of a camera but as a working stiff I can't see how it helps me to be a purist and turn down synergistic and good paying work, just because the images move and people talk.
From a hobby point of view (and yes, I still consider photography my hobby as well as my vocation...) I see the gear getting more and more interesting now that companies have figured out how to make most stuff work well. But I am unsettled by one trend that I think plays against our enjoyment of the work as art and that's the scarcity of opportunities to come together and share work face to face. I'll admit it, I like shows of prints. The bigger the better. And I want a chance to meet the artist.
Sure, we can put stuff up on Flickr and Google+ and just about anywhere else but that's hardly a serious venue for serious efforts. And so many in your hoped for audience are looking at the images you sweated bullets to get on little cell phone screens and iPads and older laptops. It doesn't do justice to most people's vision. And this kind of virtual sharing is so disconnected. So ephemeral.
What I'd love to see in every city and in as many neighborhoods as possible would be venues where interested artists could stage actual, real, physical shows and invite friends, family, colleagues and competitors to experience your work just as you intended it to be seen. A while ago I did a show of prints from my favorite black and white negatives from Rome. As you probably know if you've been reading the blog for while I shot most of the images on medium format films. One of the benefits of doing that is you can scale up prints to really large sizes without losing the integrity of your photographs. My show was in a small venue. A restaurant owned by a dear friend. We covered the walls with thirty by thirty inch images, surrounded by ample white mats in 48 by 48 inch black frames.
The images were big and crisp. I hand painted on some of them. I made patterns around the edges of others with oil paints and other media. You could get up close. We served good wine at the opening and made appetizers like bacon wrapped scallops and prosciutto wrapped melon. We did rustic pizzas. The party/opening attracted 250+ people over the course of a four hour evening and everyone paid at least glancing homage to the large prints around them.
More of that should happen. Not just for me but for everyone with a passion to make photographic work. The commitment of doing the show pushes you as an artists and the chance to come see someone else's work, made large, helps you bust out of some self imposed boundaries and opens your perspectives about what is possible and what is fun.
I highly recommend shows and a good way to stick your toes into the water is to put together a group show where everyone has the opportunity to put in up to three cohesive pieces and to share the cost of invitations, food and other gallery goodies.
When I'm not shooting and writing I am swimming and eating. The eating is boring to read about but fun to do. Ditto with the swimming. I have a set of swimming goals. I have someone in my age group that I want to beat in a 50 meter butterfly race in October. I want to keep improving my times and my skills but in the end I really just want to stay as fit as I can so I can beat my 25 year old assistants up the stairs with a case of photographic gear in both hands.
As we live through an interesting Photokina month it's important to remember that when I write about equipment that's coming out of Cologne and onto the web I'm doing it out of fascination not out of some misguided belief that we should own all of this stuff or use it all. No one who is shooting with a currently good Nikon or Sony camera really needs to run out and replace it with the newest toy (unless they want to). So when you read stuff about new products here don't get all bent out of shape and think you have to defend your personal choices. There's so much good stuff on the market already just about any choice you make will be a good one. It's okay to marvel at innovation and progress.
But the most important thing for an artist it to practice and play all the time, just like pianist, Anton Nell. Doesn't matter what piano he practices on what matters is that he practices. And the practice makes music. And the music makes joy. And it's no different for photographers.
I may want a Sony a99 but there's not much I can't already to with an a77. Either way I go I'll still need to practice.
The bottom line is that I want to be a better photographer. Not a better technician but someone who can see clearly what it is they want to say.