Seven Days in the Life of an Eccentric Photographer.

Photographer's Kid

Somehow this got deleted and I had a few requests to repost it. Here goes.

If you've read my blog over time you'll realize that I can be somewhat imprecise. So, in fact, my seven days covers eight days. I decided to write this because everywhere I go there seem to be misperceptions about the way we work. Professional photographers out there will probably shake their heads and tell you that their experience is totally different but that's the whole nature of the business!

Last Thurs. morning I got up at 6:30 and tossed my camera bag into my Honda Element which was already filled with lighting gear and other fun stuff I wanted to use in demonstrations at the Creative Photographic Retreat where I would be teaching for three days. Being a former Boy Scout I hew to the motto, "Be Prepared" and brought my own LCD projector, just in case.

My first stop was the Rollingwood Pool where, at 7am, I joined my rowdy band of masters swimmers and pushed my way through a swimming workout of around 3200 yards. Next stop: Starbucks. Venti half caff drip coffee and a scone. Then onto the freeway pointed at Dallas.

Checking into the Marriott in the early afternoon and learned that the person who would teach the basics course (engineered to get newbies up to speed on basics) was delayed. Could I teach and impromtu one hour course on camera basics? You bet. The conference started with a welcoming reception and then all the instructors had a dinner together at the hotel.

I was, at 53, the oldest instructor by far. While the rest of the crew went out on the town at night I headed to my room to spend a few hours writing book #5.

Up in the morning Friday for breakfast and a brisk run thru the maze of tall Dallas office buildings. My first class started at 11:00 am and ended at 12:30 pm. The second class was from 3:30 pm to 5:00 pm. If you've ever taught a typical photo workshop (my subject was "using your flash off camera:) you probably know this drill: You finish up your curriculum and then you ask for questions about ten minutes before the end of the class. One or two people raise their hands and we muddle through a few general questions. Then the class is over and nearly half the class line up to ask you their questions individually. And it's usually a variation of the same question. Too shy to ask questions in front of the crowd I guess.

Saturday is basically a repeat of Friday with two more class sections. On the last day, after the formal classes everyone heads outside to try out what they learned and ask questions of the instructors. We spend a couple hours helping implement newly found skills. And then there is a closing ceremony with great door prizes from Canon, Tamron and others. The Canon guys were so nice that I felt like I should keep my little olympus cameras out of sight.

Once the official program was over the instructors had one last dinner together and then, around 10 pm headed to the lobby bar to compare professional notes and share our backgrounds and talk about marketing. That wrapped up at two in the morning. Even our choice of beverages was so diverse it was funny. From Shirley Temples to Champagne. The photographers were mostly baby, wedding, expecting and family portrait professionals. I was the sole advertising/corporate shooter.

Up the next morning and back on the road to Austin. Lunch with the family and then pre-planning for the next week. I shot through most of the week for the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority annual report. I needed to pack a range of stuff. I'd be shooting outside for the most part. I packed a bag with two Olympus e520's, 11-22mm lens, 14-54mm lens, and a wild 70-300mm lens which, in 35mm speak, is the equivalent of a 140-600mm lens. Brought along polarizing filters for all of them.

I also charged batteries and composed e-mails for all the clients who needed information during the week. I also dropped by the bank night drop to deposit some checks that had piled up over the week.

Monday. Driving up and down the tollways looking for soaring flyovers and curving overpasses with cool skies behind. The heat topped out at 104 and the car thermometer read 125 on the pavement. I was usually standing on the pavement to set up and take the photos. (Newsflash, e520's tend to underexpose by about 2/3rds of a stop).

Home at the end of the day to answer e-mails and phone calls while downloading files into Lightroom, making general corrections, and outputting the images as small jpegs. After dinner with the family the files get uploaded to a Smugmug gallery and I send a link to the client and the agency. Finally, before I put the memory cards back in the camera bag I copy the folders with the originals and the little Smuggie files to two other hard drives.

I swim in the morning and then check in with the client. We go out and shoot again. This time I take Ben along as an assistant. He's 13 but he's good to hang with. He's kind and indulgent with his father. We get lime green safety vests with orange stripes so we're visible if we pull off the road to shoot from overpasses. We park at an overpass that the client has on the shot list and start shooting the intersection just below. In minutes a black, stealth police cruiser with lights flashing pulls in behind the old Element and two police officers dressed in tactical black hop out of the car looking ominous.

We spend a few minutes chatting and I finally pull the name of the highway authority out. Seems the roads are privately managed and the police are paid from the authority to patrol. They give me the nod of approval and warn me not to break any traffic laws. Warm and fuzzy moment. Ben and I discuss the role of law enforcement. I let him know that a 50 year old with a clip board, a safety vest, a hard hat and a walkie talkie could probably get away with just about anything. He makes a mental note.

The rest of the day is a scavenger hunt for interesting angles and interesting clouds.

Weds. is a repeat performance but this time we bring along a bag of lights and a new lens. The lens is the Olympus 35-100mm f2 zoom. Weighs four pounds and I'm loving the image quality. It seems very humorous to me to put a $2500 lens on a $350 body but there you go.....

The lights are for the interior "high tech" shots where we go into the server rooms to make exciting abstractions of wires and switches and lots and lots of Dell computers and servers. Ben and I get to use the Flash Waves radio triggers. I also use two of the Vivitar Series One Olympus dedicated flashes. Here's why: They have built in slaves and when you set the slaves the camera defaults to manual. You set the power level you want. The slave switch also disables the power saver settings. The Flash Wave triggered a Metz flash which then triggered the two Vivitars. Everything was set up into small umbrellas. Ben got the whole thing really quickly.

I brought along the 35-100 f2 for a very specific reason. We needed to shoot down from a bridge or gantry and include the cameras that clock the cars and read their toll tags. The cameras are about ten feet below us and we are behind a strong wire mesh that can't be removed. I'm banking on 100mm at f2 to give us a shallow enough depth of field to basically make the mesh disappear. For the most part it works. We scout some more stuff and when the thunderheads move in we call it a day and head back home to the studio. Unload, download, reload, recharge, back-up, make galleries, return phone calls and e-mails. Every day starts at 6:30 and every day seems to end around 8 pm.

This day had extra, added stuff. A dinner party at a friend's house. I wrapped a bit early, bought a nice Bordeaux on the way home and we spent the evening catching up with six other families we know well.

I talked about my current project and I wore my safety vest to the house for a bit of fun.

Remember, we're not shooting cute models or striking portraits. We're shooting roadways and technology. But I love it for three reasons: 1. I'm good at it and the client likes the work, 2. I get well paid for the work, 3. It's the hard or what are thought to be "unglamorous" subjects that let pro's show off what they can do with the most common clay. Anyone can shoot an interesting image of a beautiful young girl in an exotic locale. Let's see what you can do with asphalt. Lots of asphalt.

I change directions on Thurs. take a break from the roadways and we photograph five different executives from Dell in our studio. It's really the first formal outing for the 35-100 and I'm overjoyed with the look and the ease with which it works when mounted on a stout tripod. The lighting is Profoto power packs and heads. Main light is a 60 inch Softlighter umbrella diffused with an extra layer of white silk.

Then in the early afternoon we do a few group shots of more Dell execs followed by a magazine cover shoot for yet another Dell exec. Then Ellis Vener showed up from Atlanta and we talked tech. (Ellis is the technical writer for Professional Photographer Magazine and a damn good photographer. He knows more about the technical end of imaging than just about anyone around). After a good catching up session it was back to........you guessed it......downloading, uploading and gallery making. Never stops. This time it was for the Dell people. The Oly cameras are great with flesh tone. Probably should have shot the whole thing with an e-1 but I was tired and wanted to go with the sure bet. (You never know when you are going to need the bigger file size).

Today was clean up day. Or it should have been. There was an early client meeting (after the swim) to go over the week's shooting and to plan some of next week's shots. Then a coffee with a photographer who just moved into town and wanted a little guidance (asking my advice? Optimist!) followed by a lunch with one of my favorite photographers, Will Van Overbeek. His advertising work is incredible.

By the time I got to the studio I was wiped out but, you know, you need to get your billing out as quick as you can while everything is fresh in your mind. Nap on the couch? Not until I book a model for some personal, portfolio work on Sunday. And another assistant for monday's highway shoot. Mailed out checks. Checked e-mails.

Doesn't sound very glamorous, does it? Sounds more like work. Like everybody else's job. Yeah? Well, I conjecture that for every photographer out there shooting fashion or glamor and getting paid for it there are like, ten thousand of us working stiffs who are shooting interchanges, asphalt, products and executives day after day. It's a long way from those dreams of shooting art that we all had back at the university decades ago. Unless you allow yourself to make each project your art.

But believe me, after the year we've just collectively lived through I am thrilled to be working on good, paying projects. And working with new toys. And making art out of monolithic concrete and gently curving overpasses. Modern Stonehenge. Just wanted to share my typical week. Hope yours rocked.


Upcoming stuff: My third book is coming out at the end of August. It's entitled, The Commercial Photographer's Handbook. It's not anything like my first two books. It's all about the business and marketing part of being a photographer. It's highly opinionated. It doesn't agree that "information wants to be free". If you are contemplating a career in photography it de-mystifies the business and tells you how to get rolling. You'll like it. Maybe. Some people don't like anything but you're not like that........

More as we get closer. KT


Matthew T Rader said...

Wow that was very interesting, I really enjoyed reading all that. You sound very busy and productive. Your kind of photography is what interest me most, using your creativity to turn something mundane to look very interesting and aesthetic. If you are ever in Dallas again I would love to be your assistant if you need one again. I'm an amature photographer desperate to learn more and do it professionally.

Ed O'Mahony said...

Hi Kirk,
Really enjoying all your thought provoking stuff on your blog. Looks like you are not the only one realizing Olympus are on to a good thing. You might enjoy this http://theblindmonkey.com/gear-reviews/ from Andrew Kornylak - or is this some sort of subterfuge Olympus plot fighting back, placing cameras with great photogs to get a higher profile??!!
Enjoying your thoughts either way.

Dave Jenkins said...

As one working photographer to another, I would say you're more eclectic than eccentric!

kirk tuck said...

Thanks Dave. That sounds nicer. Less clinical. I am having fun every time I walk out the door to shoot and every time I sit down to write!!!!!

Kyle said...

Looks like the cyber-gods intervened again - the content of this post dissapeared. Again... It is a good post, so hope it can be resurrected!

Anonymous said...

Hi Kirk, great post! It IS a bit of a mystery about the text on this article - it's actually there but the foreground color is white (white on white is REALLY hard to read). I was able to read the article just fine once I hightlighted the text with my mouse :)

Ken - www.kennethrossphotography.com