7.30.2015

Heat Wave. Texas Summer Finally Arrived.


After a much wetter than average Spring we're on record for one of our driest Julys. As of last week the first big high pressure system rolled in and it's been driving out clouds and driving up temperatures every day. Yesterday it was over 100 and now the weather people are forecasting afternoon temperatures over 102(f) for the foreseeable future.

Funny thing is that I've been booked on more outdoor shoots than anything else for the last month. Some of them are executive portrait assignments and so far we haven't lost anyone from the heat. I try to get to locations by 7 am and get set up and ready to work by 8 am. Most shoots don't go much past noon which still means that we're loading up sandbags and gear in the hottest part of the day.

It's times like this that I envy the still life shooters all nestled into their chilly still life shooting caves with the air conditioners throbbing and the music pounding.

Our mantra for shooting exterior in the Summer is: Stay hydrated. Stay in the shade. Carry less stuff on each trip to the and from the car. Wear your hat. Keep some sunscreen in the camera bag. Keep light color "hats" on the cameras when not in use. Go home early. A couple weeks of the high pressure system and we'll be back to normal.

To the above list of "survival tips" I'll also add: Wooden tripods, no black light stands, umbrellas can be used to create shade. More water. And, stay in good shape.

Hope you are staying cool....

7.29.2015

I love the stairways that flow down into the pool at the Balmorhea State Park Pool. Cold springs and lots of space to swim or float.











All images: Olympus EP-2 camera.

Leaning heavily on the Elinchrom Ranger Pack this month. If it's not the need for power it's the need for enough power and fast recycling. Over and over again.

I think it's funny how some photographers use the same exact gear for everything they do while others use different gear all the time. I count myself in the second camp and I'm starting to see a pattern in my use of lights. It starts when a client decides they need to do photographs outside with people. They want the people well lit and they want the lighting on the people to blend with the direct sunlight falling on everything else. 

We bring out scrims or flags to take the direct sun off the subjects and then use a powerful flash in a nice softbox or umbrella to put more controlled and flattering light back on the subject. And since we need power without squinting and blinking we tend to use electronic flash. But the simple truth of Murphy's law is that the nearest outlet for that big flash pack will be just a few dozen feet further away, outdoors, that the longest extension cord you have.  Or there will be no A/C power anywhere in sight. 

That's when we bring out our Elinchrom Ranger power pack and its two companion heads. We can put 1100 watt seconds on a subject about 250 times in a row before we need to recharge the internal lead/acid battery or change the battery out for our back-up battery. With both batteries in tow we've got the potential to do over 500 full power, sun matching flashes in big soft boxes or big umbrellas before we need to call it quits. And if we work that light in close and drop the power down to a bit less than half, along with a slower recycle setting, we can knock out thousands and thousands of sun challenging flashes out in the middle of nowhere. 

So, once the exterior projects start up in Spring our minds wrap themselves around the Ranger pack until every project looks like a candidate for the Ranger pack treatment. Interior, exterior, whatever. It doesn't hurt that the well designed system puts out beautiful quality lighting that's amazingly consistent either. 

Eventually we'll get side tracked by a hybrid video/still photo assignment and that will lead me away from the flash and on to something in the tungsten, fluorescent, LED zone and the Elinchrom Ranger system will end up back in its case waiting for the next CEO portrait with the Austin skyline in the background. 

It's nice to have choices.




60 inch white/black umbrella on location.

Ranger RX AS at low power for almost endless flashes and fast recycle. 

And what project photographing people for advertising would be complete without
the make up person?

The self timer. An important tool for photographers who work alone.


This is me. Or at least it was me this past Spring on a rainy day inside Zach Theatre. I'm sure you're wondering why I am standing in the frame with a loony grin on my face and the word "dream" over might right shoulder. Well, I am not really trying to fill up my selfie portfolio, I am trying to make sure the lighting I've set up, and the composition I've set up for my interview with singer, Jennifer Halliday is exactly what we need and want for the video interview we'd be doing ten minutes later.

I was using four fluorescent light fixtures and trying to make sure that the levels were correct and that the color matched the look and feel of the background without any weird color casts. I'd arrived about 45 minutes before the interview was schedule to start and the first thing I did was to put up the camera I'd be using to record a 5 to 10 minute program. It was a Nikon D810 with and 85mm f1.8G lens. Once I had the background framed I started working on how I would frame Ms. Halliday. The next step was to put an "X" of gaffer's tape on the floor to market the "sweet spot" of the composition so I'd be able to move Ms. Halliday into place with a minimum of indecision.

When the composition and camera position were set I started setting up the lights, aiming for a nice bright interview area with lots of soft and flattering light. I've set up lots of portrait lights and interview lighting designs but I always want to see how the end product will look on a human face before I have my subjects walk into the set and get started. I think it's rude to do a lot of fine tuning while everyone waits on you.   So I put the Nikon into its still mode, turn on the self timer and set it to a ten second delay, manually focus by intuition and then step onto the "X" on the floor.

A few seconds later and the shutter fires. Now I have an image I can look at, dissect, etc. which gives me a reference for fine-tuning the lighting, the composition and everything else. I might go back and forth to the camera a handful of times doing an iterative process of correcting and verifying, correcting and verifying, until I am satisfied that what I've done will work for the job.

I leave all the lights on while waiting for the subject to arrive. I want the room to appear as it will be throughout the interview. No changes = less resistance.  Once we've got the tech set I do one more self-timer shot to double check all the final adjustments and then switch the camera over to video capture.

Lots of people work with crews of three or four (or more) people. I dislike having lots of people on sets. There are too many places for our subjects to look; too many eyelines, too many distractions. Certainly I'll bring along enough people to help if there are lots of moves to be made, lots of gear to be transported, and lots of things happening almost simultaneously, but I think a lot of photo and video shoots are wildly overpopulated by "staff" and that photographers and videographers are fooling themselves if they think having a bustling entourage is always helpful. A full room diminishes your hopes for any sort of intimacy or connection with your subject.

This is why the self-timer is an integral part of my set up. It allows me to have control over the look and feel of my lighting and composition without the need for a bevy of warm bodies wandering about the sets.

The way I like to work is very dependent on one thing in particular: I want all the set up, the sausage making, to happen before my subject(s) steps into the room. An actor, model or real life human should be able to walk into your shooting environment, find their mark and do their part of the job without waiting for you to get ready. I guarantee that this sort of pre-production makes everyone happier.

Self-timer. Set lighting. Composition.  Finally, a constructive use for the "selfie."

7.27.2015

Just a few more photos of "Sophisticated Ladies" from Zach Theatre in Austin, Texas.

Jennifer Halliday on the Topfer Stage at Zach Theatre in Austin, Texas

I really enjoy photographing live theater. The stages and performances are usually beautifully lit by premier lighting designer, Michelle Habeck and that's such an important part of the success of the photos. Then there is the hard work of set designing which was done in Sophisticated Ladies by J. Aaron Bell. I have to credit the action/choreography to Dominique Kelley and the costume design to Susan Branch Towne. Takes a real collaboration to make this all work well for the photographer. And, of course, for the audience. 

There are so many other people involved but these are the ones that make the visual stuff shine and that's the biggest help when it comes to getting good photographs for publicity.

I shot these images with the Nikon D810 and the older, push/pull version of the 80-200mm f2.8 D lens. I've pixel dived down to 100% and I must say that not only is the D810 an impressive performer but so is the ancient lens I've put on the front of the camera. 

If you live in Austin and love live theater this play/musical is another one to love.