I hate packing. But I'll have help with the unpacking and the re-packing and the unpacking that goes with it.

This is my secret weapon.  Her name is Amy and she's smart, strong and fun to hang out and shoot photos with.  I wish every job came with an "Amy" budget.

On most shoots I try to handle as much detail as I can by myself.  The reason is that business has been slow for the last year.  Slower than I'd like.  And I usually have enough time to handle stuff without running into too many roadblocks.  Where it all falls apart is on shoots that have tight schedules, require lots of gear, and require leaving the studio to make it all work on location.

Tomorrow is a great example.  I'm going on location to shoot a bunch of small groups of people against a white background.  I'm pretty boring when it comes to lighting white backgrounds.  I do it the same way nearly every time.  Here's the way it goes:  1.  I set up a nine foot wide white seamless at the far end of  the biggest room the client can find for me. That takes two light stands.   2.  I pray that we don't need full length portraits because, if we do, I'll have to bring a couple of shiny white boards with me for people to stand on.  They have to be shiny so they bounce enough light that they burn to white.....  3.  I'll set up two lights as far from the sides of the background paper as I can and about 45 degrees out from the center.  If you look at the set up the center of the seamless is the sharp point of a "V" between the two lights. There's two more light stands.  4.  I'll overlap the light beams a bit so they lights are almost pointing toward the opposite side of the white seamless.  5. Once I do that the lights end up hitting the subject or wrapping light around the subject so I need a black flag on either side to keep any direct light off  the subject.  Each black flag requires a light stand.  6.  Then I'll use a big light like a Photek 60 inch Softlighter for the subject.  There's another light stand.  7. Occasionally a client will want a total, bland, fill light so there's another light stand.  8.  I'll want a stand so I can use a small flag to help block light from hitting the lens and causing flare.  There's another light stand + magic arm + black wrap flag.

(For a more detailed discussion of my method of white backgrounds, please check out my Studio Book)

Add in the cameras, lenses, loupes, meter, batteries, extension cords and everything else I might need and you've got a ton of stuff.  Could I go Minimalist?  Sure, but on this job we'll be shooting 60 people in 20 or 30 groups, shooting 20 or 30 variations for a worst case scenario of up to 900 shots.  That's a lot of battery juice, a lot of waiting around for recycle or a handful of fried flashes coupled to high output batteries.  For a one person portrait I'd definitely roll with speedlights.  On an agency job with 60 people?  Thanks, I'll go with Profoto or Elinchrom gear and back-ups.  

So tomorrow I'll use a small set of Profoto lightheads hooked to an Acute 600e pack for the background and an Elinchrom Ranger RX AS pack and head or heads for the foreground.  Why two different sets?  I want to be able to precisely control the ratio between the front and the back.

So I spent a couple hours packing today.  I found the umbrellas I wanted to use.  Made sure the camera batteries and the flash batteries and the back up flash batteries were all charged and ready to go.  I packed my main camera, the Canon 5D2 and my back-up camera, the 7D.  I chose prime lenses that have the fewest elements so I'd have a fighting chance against background flare.  Then I cleaned out the Honda Element, checked it with a Geiger counter just to make sure there was no residual creative radiation from the last shoot, took out the back seats and started to load it up.

All you professional photographers who use assistants for everything you do will laugh at me for loading up the day before but our call time is 7 am, the location is about an hour away, (add 15 minutes for a Starbuck's Run) and there's no way I'm going to get up at 5:30 am in the morning just for the privilege of watching my nice assistant break a sweat before the sun comes up.  The idea that a team of assistants will work from a check list and load up your Bentley station wagon while you have fancy donuts with super models is so last century.  If you still have clients with budgets like that you don't need to be reading this ragged little blog......

So I loaded one car up this afternoon but I'm taking another car to another job tonight.  Why the second car?  Don't want a car full of Swiss and Swedish lights sitting unwatched on the mean streets while I photograph the dress rehearsal of a Shakespeare play.  Go Tempest!!!!

When we hit the client's office tomorrow we'll have to drag everything out of the Honda, put it on the big multi-cart and drag it down endless corridors to the designated temporary studio area.  If we're lucky they will have taken out the tables and chairs.  If we're unlucky there will be an unmovable conference table right down the middle and they'll expect us to shoot around it or use alien technology to make it invisible.  So, from 7am til 8am we're unpacking, setting up, testing and re-testing.  We'll mark the floor with white tape and mark the exposures at those marks.  It'll save time in the long run.

The final thing I'll do before the first group walks through the door at 8 am will be to use a lastolite gray target (on of those pop up things) to make a custom white balance for my raw files.

We'll shoot all morning long and then, at 11:30 am we'll reverse engines and pack it all up.  Put it back on the cart, move it back down the hall, stick it back in the car, drive it all back to the office, unpack it from the car to the cart and then from the cart to the various shelves in the studio.  So,  look what a big percentage of photography involves the logistics of packing and moving!!!!!

With luck we'll have a bunch of files with animated, gesturing employees.  With more luck the backgrounds will just have crested 255 in PhotoShop.  Once the client makes their choices it should be an easy thing in PS to make selections and send the files on their way.  If it all works the way it's supposed to.

This is the kind of shoot that you really need to use an assistant on.  The logistics are too odious otherwise.  I hope to be back in my part of town around "late lunch" time.  

The afternoon will find me doing global corrections and making web galleries in Lightroom 3.  Can't put this off because we start a three day corporate job on Sunday.

That's a behind the scenes look at the glamorous, "white background" shooting day of an average commercial photographer.  Does it really sound better than sitting in a comfortable chair, eating pizza, drinking Mountain Dew and writing code?  Didn't think so.  I'll let you know if we EVER get to do a shoot with the super models.




Dave Jenkins said...

But Kirk, haven't you heard? Photography is such a glamorous profession!

Anonymous said...

"If we're unlucky there will be an unmovable conference table right down the middle and they'll expect us to shoot around it or use alien technology to make it invisible." - what? you don't have that kind of Tech.? It came with the 5D MKII. It's a little blue Icon that looks like a trash can. ;-)

Kurt W. said...

Amateurs talk technique, professionals talk logistics.

Great article.

kirk tuck said...

Kurt, Exactly. What will it take to do the job? How about 1364 exposures, three hours of shooting and three apple boxes? That and some good direction.

Dave Jenkins said...

"Amateurs talk technique, professionals talk logistics."

Kurt W., that is such a great quote! Is it original with you?

Eduardo said...

Great article Kirk, and I agree with you although I would add "I also hate assembling and disassembling softboxes or/and octas" in my case :P...

As others said people get to see the photoshoot and they think it is all glamorous with super hot models, hot lattes or cold frappuccinos, picking the camera doing "click, click, click" and voila! But they don´t get to see all the logistics, hauling, assembling, disassembling, etc. that´s involved and all the time in the computer post processing!

BTW nice photo of Amy, her expression is really great :D

Mike said...

Quick question: how sturdy is that background support? I need a new one and the price was pretty nice on the one you're using.