Stuff I've learned from goofing around. And practicing goofing around.

 One of the things I've learned in years of trial and error is that "short" light generally (always) looks better than broad light.  I also have come to understand that, while it might be a stylistic preference, nothing makes a beautiful face look quite so beautiful as a big, soft main light.  That's why I love blasting light into a 6x6 foot diffusion scrim and watching it come undulating sensually out of the other side.  Works best when your subject is already quite beautiful.  Above portrait from our Summer workshop on lighting at Zachary Scott Theatre.  I had fun.  I should do another one........
 One of the things I learned, after being disappointed by fate time and time again, is that having a camera with you is a much more certain way to come out of a situation with good photographs than traipsing around without.  And the camera really doesn't matter much at all.  I was in Marfa, Texas when I met this gentleman.  I had the Olympus EPL camera and kit lens with me.  Look how it handles the direct sun on the guy's jaw while looking omnisciently into the shadows.  Who needs HDR?  I've seen people paralyzed and overwhelmed by their gear and I know too many people who only take cameras along if they have something already in mind or have made "strategic" plans to photograph.  Screw that.  Take a camera with you all the time and whip it out when it seems like the right time.  Just like your credit cards, you don't have to use it all the time but when you see something you'd like to have it's nice to know your capable of reaching out and taking it.......
 Over the years I've learned that having a talented person in front of your camera is/ can be just as important (or more so) that having a talented person behind the camera.  This is my friend, Martin Burke.  He's the funniest man I know, after Mike Hicks.  And he has an incredibly expressive face.  If I point my camera at him and let him do his stuff I generally get much better photographs than I would if I tried to hammer down my point of view.  Even though I'm pretty much of a lone operator I am smart enough to understand that sometimes the other guy is right.  Martin was awarded "top actor" in Austin last year by the Austin Chronicle.  He deserves it, and just like those photographers whose fame rests on their celebrity subjects or the availability of a helicopter, a good harness and a pretty city, he makes me look like a better photographer.
 One thing I've learned the hard way is not to over think your toys in the pursuit of a photograph.  The image just above of Jana was taken with a Canon 5dmk2 and an 85mm 1.8 lens.  I could have lit the photo but it wouldn't have been as nice.  I could have waited until I could justify the price of an 85mm 1.2 and had a bit less DOF but I wouldn't have been there to take the photo.  I could have had an entourage of assistants standing behind and beside me but it would have messed up the rapport we both wanted to establish. And they would have drunk all the Gatorade while we worked. (They get thirsty texting on their iPhones.....)  We could have waited for cooler weather (it was 100+ in the shade) but would we have gotten the nice glow on Jana's skin?  I could have brought "one light" but then I'd have to carry it.  I could have been all "strobist" but then I would have made someone else's photo.  Not mine.  I've learned that sometimes less is less and it's better.
 I've learned over the years that there will always be someone doing an assignment that you might think is more fun than the job you're doing as a photographer but every job comes with its own set of compromises.  The grass on the other side of the fence might be greener but it may not taste any better than the grass at your feet.  Embrace the happiness that being in the job in front of you brings.  If you let go of the need to compare what you do with what everyone else is doing you'll be happier.  And you'll probably make better photos. (Can we stop calling them images?).  Fun is in the process.
 I've learned that the true value of the portfolio is its role as a reservoir for all the frames that editors and art directors were too dull or slow or locked in to use.  Many times an art director will go for an inferior image just because the client has already signed off on a comp that matches and they are afraid to go back and substitute something better because they already have "buy off" on something that will work.  I used to get upset if they passed over a photo like the one above to use a photo of a fruit tart.  But not any more.  Now I take the overlooked overachieving, under-appreciated photos and put them into my portfolio and show them off.  Sometimes they boomerang and get used for something much better than the job we originally shot them for.  And we got the pleasure of creating the light and the look and then sharing them.....happily.
Finally,  I've learned that even the projects that sound boring can be incredibly fun challenging when they involve craft and problem solving.  As most of you know I'd rather make portraits than just about anything else photographic.  But every once in a while one of my good clients (who assume I can do anything with a camera) will give me a project with a brief that says,  "we need a totally sharp shot of a home theater receiver with the front panel lit up, on white.  We also need to be able to "see" thru the top cover and "reveal our product, perfectly lit, inside.  Can you do this?  We need it tomorrow for a big pitch that will make or break the company...."  And then the clock starts ticking and your brain makes it into a game.

Nine times out of ten you'll dust off the brain cells that interlink with different techniques and be able to bring together a working strategy.  On the tenth time you'll wake up one of your friends in the middle of the night because she's a much better product shooter than you are and they'll give you the "magic formula" that saves the job and you deliver on time and the client thinks you're a hero.  Only they just expected that you'd deliver on time and on the money.  Because that's what you do.  Because you are a professional photographer.

And no matter how weird this industry gets it still beats the heck out of digging ditches or being president.  With ditch digging you'll always get mud on your shoes.  And when you are president at least half the people think you're always wrong.  Good night.


Dave Jenkins said...

"Can we stop calling them images?"


Sorry about the shouting, but you struck a nerve. I hate the use of the term "images," because to me it diminishes the specialness of what we do.

Great, inspiring post, Kirk. You should write a book!

Paul Feng said...

Even worse than "images":

"Nice capture!"

Paul Feng said...

P.S. Even funnier, Kirk, is that you use "image" (without derision) a few other places in your post. :-)

Dave Jenkins said...

In my (admittedly archaic) view, a photograph becomes an "image" when it's been Photoshopped to death.

Marcin Retecki Photography said...

Your "lessons learned" are a good lesson for me:) thanks a lot for sharing!