From Book Cover to Bride.

When I started working on my second book I needed a model so I could illustrate the techniques I talked about.  I tried to press my sometime assistant/full time friend, Amy into the position but she was having none of it.  She did have suggestion.  It was Heidi.  When Heidi walked into my studio I knew that Amy had me totally figured out (not that I'm hard to decipher.....).  She had enormous, happy eyes, fabulous Italian lips and elegant cheekbones.   The three of us had a fun day shooting with large and small umbrellas, bouncing sunlight into the studio and generally dragging out all the lighting gear and putting it through its paces.  Heidi was wonderful to work with and barely complained when I forgot to send along a check with my usual dispatch.

When we put the book together I supplied several different images for the front cover.  My publisher had different ideas (and in retrospect I can see he was right...) and chose one of the images from the available lighting series of images I'd done with Heidi.  She made the book cover in a photograph with a black background.  Funny thing,  in a book all about studio lighting it was one of the images we made with the bounced sunlight through the west windows.

I recently got an e-mail from Heidi,  she said she was getting married and looking for a wedding photographer.  About six weeks later I showed up at the door of a house in south Austin and met Heidi and her attendants.  We had a rollicking good time before the wedding, during the ceremony and afterwards at the Mean Eyed Cat bar on West 5th St.  Unlike some weddings that seem to have undertones of psychosis and virulent "family issues", this was one of the sweetest weddings and collections of people that I've experienced.  It sounds corny, but it was a privilege to attend.  And a blast to shoot.

If you've been reading lately you probably know that my fickle personality has me playing with two and a half camera systems at this point.  So I used all three on this project.

I started out shooting the "getting ready" stuff on a Canon 5Dmk2 with basically two lenses:  the 100mm f2 and the 24-105 L zoom.  I like the out of focus rendering of the former and the handholdable "shoot anything-ness" of the latter.  I shot sRaw (9 meg setting) and was mostly delighted with the files.  I kept the ISO under 800 and didn't touch a flash with the combo.

I shot the ceremony and most of the group photos with an Olympus e30 and both the SHG zoom lenses. The 35-100mm is a wonderful lens to shoot a ceremony with.  Fast enough for available light with an ISO of less than 800.  Sharp enough to shoot wide open with impunity.  The 14-35mm lens was my "go-to" lens for the reception.  Super sharp at f2 and well done, in body, IS meant that I rarely reached for a flash.  Only when the last of the daylight vanished and no photons stumbled in thru the windows did I ever reach for a flash unit.  When I did I just used a Vivitar 383df (dedicated to Oly) dialed down two thirds of a stop.  Right on the money every time.  As an aside, I bought a couple of the 383df's when I first started toying with the Olympus cameras and I always thought I would upgrade to the FL50r at some points.  But here's the deal:  The flashes just flat out work well in TTL mode, they recycle quickly enough and they are much lighter and less complicated than the Olympus flashes.  As an added bonus they also feature a simple to use, built-in optical slave that makes them very usable as slave flashes with any system.  You just set to "slave" dial them down as low as 1/16th power and forget them.  The optical slave cells are great.   In most rooms you'll never have a misfire or a non-fire.

How much do I like these flashes?  Well, I just ordered a dedicated version of the same flash for the Canon camera.

I also mentioned my "half" system.  What the hell am I talking about?  Of course, it's the Olympus Pen cameras.  I've taken to bringing the Pen EPL with a Panasonic 20mm 1.7 with me everywhere.  So after I pack up the car and get ready to leave one location (the ceremony, for instance) I might notice something really cool that needs to be shot.  Since the EPL is over one shoulder or around my neck I'm ready to lift it to my eye and go.  I did that a lot.  I also keep it handy when I'm taking a break for delicious BBQ or a quick bathroom break.

Here's what I like about shooting weddings.  Especially casual, fun and happy weddings like Heidi's:  You have active permission to be the ultimate voyeur.  People expect to be photographed at weddings and no one questions your right and imperative to be there clicking.  You can explore the interesting faces at whatever distance you like.  You can linger over a shot and get it just right.  Shimmy to the left to get more of the out of focus couple in the background and so much more.  You get to shoot in a way that you wouldn't get away with out in the street.  At least not over and over again.

I would do weddings in ernest if all the brides were like Heidi.  But I've been to weddings, a lot over the years, and even some of the nicer people I've known turn into psycho killers under this form of duress.  I think I'll reserve shooting weddings to an occasional pastime.  I certainly admire those who do it every weekend because, to do it well requires not only a good eye and good technical skills but also endurance and a modicum of grace under social pressure....

I had another fun project this weekend (actually two more......).  On friday evening (in 96 degrees...) I headed to the pool at the Western Hills Athletic club ( where I spent ten exciting years as a board member....) to photograph the kids of the mighty, Rollingwood Waves, as they held their second full out swim meet of the season.   This will be the tenth season that my son, Ben, has participated in the summer swim league.  Last year he was one of the volunteer assistant coaches.  This year he's one of the big kids that all the little guys look up to.  Our kid's head coach is Whitney Hedgepeth who won a gold and two silvers in a recent Olympics.

In our league all the parents have to volunteer to work to support at least four of the seven swim meets.  You could end up as a timer, a stroke judge or, most dreaded of all, an age group parent.  The ultimate hard job this year is age group parent to the six and under boys.  There are 40  kids in that age group this year!  If you have this hallowed position you are responsible for making sure they don't kill each other, choke to death on Skittles, and you have to lead them up to the ready bench in time for their events.

I've done all of those jobs and probably would still be relegated to six and under rodeo if someone early on hadn't known what my "day job" was.  Since that time I've become the official photographer for the mighty Rollingwood Waves.  My job is to document every swim meet,  photograph the kids swimming and hanging out, try to catch kids in mid air dives and strive for heroic swimming portraits.  After every swim meet I edit five hundred to a thousand images and create a web gallery on Smugmug.  Since my board position creates an obvious conflict of interest I can't really sell the images and make a profit.  But I don't want to train parents to expect free photographs either (these are families that live in one of the  wealthiest neighborhoods in central Texas) so I charge for  "personal use digital downloads" and all the proceeds go to the Eanes Education Foundation which supports our local, public schools (Westlake High School, where Ben will go next years as a freshman, is currently listed as one of the top 100 high schools in the entire United States...).

At the end of the season we have an awards ceremony for the kids and the families.  Speeches are spoken, awards given and received, dinners devoured and, at the very end, we put on a slide show of all the best shots from the season.  Since we try to include every single child, and we also want to have all the funnest shots in the show it tends to go on for 12 to 15 minutes.  We get the teenagers to produce a music track.  Every year we figure out ways to improve the projection.  It's all fun.  Now that I've worked with Kevin Ames I'll be rigorously calibrating the digital projector this year.....

This is another chance for me to do three things photographers need to do:  1.  Meet the influential people in our area.  2.  Showcase my photographic abilities, and 3.  Get a lot a practice getting close and photographing people.  A side benefit is that I get the endurance exercise of carrying around an Olympus camera with a 35-100 on one shoulder and another camera with the 14-35 on the other shoulder.  Do that in the late afternoon heat for three and a half hours and you'll either drop over or emerge stronger.  I'm hoping for the "stronger".

This week projects came in threes so even though I had the swim meet on Friday afternoon/evening and the wedding all day on Saturday,  I got to throw in a video project with my dear friend, Will van Overbeek, right after the swim meet.  We did a video piece in our continuing series for Glasstire Magazine.  This time it was on the prom being thrown by the arts organization housed at Flatbed Press in east Austin.  We did interviews with the two women throwing the party and shot a lot of footage of the festivities.  After a couple glasses of champagne we headed out.  We'll be editing this week and I'll try to post a link to the video.  We shot it with Will's 5d2 and a couple different primes.

Seems to me that our local economy is springing back to life.  I hope it's that way all over the world.  I guess this catches me up for now.   Hope you have a great week.  Kirk


Daniel Fealko said...

"... relegated to six and under rodeo if someone early on hadn't known what my "day job" was."

Oh, the perks of photography!

ginsbu said...

Thanks for the review on the Vivitar 383. I've been curious about those flashes for a while.

Perhaps I've missed it, but although I've seen you discuss your use of the Pen system quite a bit, I don't recall seeing you discuss why you added the Canon into the mix. I've found your explanations of your system choices are a useful antidote to the usual "technical superiority" pissing contests.

Your comments on weddings are spot on, I think. In too many cases "duress" is just the right word! But the permission to photograph with (virtual) impunity can make for great fun...

Anonymous said...

Let's see. A long swim meet in the heat, a video shoot and a day long wedding all in twenty four hours? Makes me feel downright lazy. Do you ever sleep?

Anonymous said...

What a lovely image of Heidi at the beginning,
but what a shallow DOF,
I really think I would have preferred more DOF.
What lense/system did you use?
Alan D