I'm a sucker for eyes. Go figure. And an honesty is the best policy disclosure.

The late, great David Ogilvy was widely considered the ultimate godfather of modern advertising.  His agency was also among the first to scientifically test advertising.  According to Ogilvy, if you want to stop a reader of magazines dead in their tracks with an ad the sure fire method is to use an image of a person looking straight out at the reader.  It's human nature not to look away.  And it moves more readers to read headlines in print ads that any other technique.  That's why I love portraits.  And that's why my portrait subjects generally look directly into my camera.  In fact, I find it disturbing when the subjects of portraits look off to one side or the other.  I like an occasional profile but that's a rare pleasure like eating ribs.

I shot the image of Sarah above as a possible cover shot for my third book for Amherst Media.  There was another set that I liked even better that had Sarah on the pedestrian bridge spanning Lady Bird Lake here in Austin, Texas.  Let me see if I can find that.......Oh.  Here it is:

I shot this with a nice, soft diffuser right behind me blocking the direct, weak sun.  It was a 3/4 stop diffusion scrim from Westcott.  I never really heard why but the Publisher, Amherst Media, thought that the collage of images below was more suited to the subject matter.  And to a degree it is a more honest representation of what's in the book.  After all, the book has nothing to do with photographing beautiful women on bridges in central Texas.  It's a guidebook to actually make money doing things like taking photographs of beautiful women on bridges in central Texas.  I like the shot above pretty well but the people at Amherst know what they're doing and the book is selling well.  It's funny though.  Everyone I meet wants to become a professional photographer yet few of them have any interest at all in what I have to say about living through 25 years in the industry and making a good living year over year.  When I talk about marketing and advertising or billing (all things covered in this book) their eyes glaze over and they head over to the counter at our favorite coffee shop to order another strong drink.  

But when the conversation turns to gear everyone is all ears.  They want to know what kind of flash triggers I use and are routinely disappointed when I tell them that, most of the time, in the studio, I end up using a sync cord.  They want to know which camera art directors like best but they become disenchanted when I tell them that art directors are much more interested in the presentation of your portfolio images than by the gear you shoot with.  And when it comes to lights.....well you'd think Profoto was one of the original disciples.  

What is it about the whole subject of business that turns so many photographers off?  Is it the similarity to all the other businesses out there?  I guess people come to photography to escape what they see as a deadening routine.  They don't want to be told that, in order to be successful, they will have to do the same sort of week in and week out marketing that the dry cleaners and the coffee shops have to do.  People have to know where to find you, what you do and how you charge.

If you want to stay in this charming business you also have to know how to charge and how to license the rights to your photos without giving away the store.  But really,  most people flock to the business because they find the gear to be so much fun and the anticipation of shopping for and then buying even more gear even more fun.  This seems truly to be a business where nearly everyone seems to think the grass is always greener in the next photo system and once they buy brand X they immediately notice the emerald shade of green across the way at the other manufacturer's field.

So, I understand why my publisher chose to lead with the collage below.  It represents that subjects that are covered in the book.  They won't be blamed for bait and switch.  

I've done a  bunch of lighting workshops and a well received portrait workshop but now I'm thinking of doing a marketing and business workshop based on the subjects I cover in the third book.  I guess my question to all my readers is whether or not you think there would be any interest in this sort of workshop.  I suspect that the people who are already in the business will shy away for the same reason that owners of particular cameras feel duty bound to defend whichever choice they've already made.  If you just spent your yearly marketing budget on a page in Black Book (if it still exists) you probably don't want to be told that you could have stretched your dollars further in another area.  That leaves people who are in other fields who are thinking of switching.  And I don't think they'll be interested either since they are sure to be invested in the idea that it's a great and profitable business with more than enough profitable room for all comers.  The last thing they want to hear as they contemplate some sort of move is how hard the business has become and how much work they may have to do to become mildly successful.

At any rate, I'd love some feedback from the usual characters (whom I've come to count on for some really good and sometimes face-slappingly jarring advice).  Should I share my last few secrets?  Will anyone come to a workshop about writing contracts, personalizing model releases, dealing with billing and getting clients to pay you on time?  Will people be as excited figuring out a good marketing campaign as they are about opening the box surrounding a new D3s or 5Dmk2?

Or should I take the easy way out and keep doing the lighting workshops?  I guess everyone could just buy the book and be done with it but my wife, Belinda, constantly reminds me that everyone learns differently and for everyone who learns best from reading three or four learn best by watching and doing.

With that in mind I wanted to let everyone know two more things that are important to me.  First, the fourth book, Lighting Equipment, is at the printers and should be at Amazon and wherever else fine photographic books are sold, by the end of April or the beginning of May.  This book is a look at all the different tools you can use to customize your lighting so that, in the end, your photographs really look like your photographs. It's already available for presale at the big A.  I ordered one for my mom.  I hope she likes it. My favorite part of the book is the look at all the stuff they use in the movie industry.  Nice to know now that everyone is rushing to get their chops up to speed in the world of video.......

My other important thing is more in the way of a disclosure.  I want to always be honest with all you guys and I feel like any time a photographer develops a relationship with a camera manufacturer that goes beyond a hearty hello, the offer of a cup of Sprite at their booth and the surreptitious passing of a free lens cleaning cloth or two during a store visit by a rep, it's time to fess up and let people know. 

About a week ago the folks at Olympus approached me about being a speaker at the upcoming Photo Expo sponsored by Precision Camera and Video, here in Austin, Texas.  Happens in May.  Details to follow.  I'm going to put together a few slide shows and show my work and talk about the way in which I use Olympus cameras and lenses.  In exchange I'll get one or two pieces of gear that I always wanted to own but didn't want to dip into Ben's college account in order to afford. I can promise you that I won't be swayed by Olympus's largess but where you want to peg that on the credibility scale is now totally up to you.

And before you think this gives me any clout with Olympus remember two things:  I still don't have an EMA-1 microphone adapter for my EP2 cameras and second, I bought nearly all of my very cool Olympus gear long before anyone made me an offer I'd feel silly to refuse!!

Would it be over the top to point out that the image for the book cover just above was shot with an Olympus e3 and one of their really nice zoom lenses?  I didn't think so.

Want to know what I know about the business of photography?  Try this yummy book:


Things I learned photographing a TEDx Conference......

There's the TED Conference and then there are TEDx Conferences and I think I should explain the difference first.  The original TED conferences are all about a once per year, concentrated assemblage of international talents from interesting segments of our culture, over the course of three days attendees hear 18 minute presentations from 50 people.  For more information, please go here:  http://www.ted.com

Ruby Jane Smith.  A gifted 15 year old musician, singer and songwriter peforms at TEDx.

These conferences are limited to about 450 attendees and you must become a member of TED for thousands of dollars and then apply to attend.  Obviously, it becomes a very exclusive event very quickly and that is part of its appeal.  But the power of the information presented is available to every one since the conference modules are made available on the web.
Rip Esselstyn, Author of the bestselling book, The Engine 2 Diet.  Leads of the speakers for the day.

In addition to the TED Conference groups can apply to become a franchisee and create and produce a TEDx event in their own city.  The organizers follow certain proscribed rules and seek out sponsors to help produce a very professional event.  Since Austin is quickly becoming recognized as one of the most influential cities in the United States it seems obvious that Austinites were ready for their own TED event.
That happened yesterday on the world famous sound stage of the long running music show, Austin City Limits.  The event was incredible.  Tightly and very professionally organized by a group of people who actually produce events for a living.  The facility is world class and located on the University of Texas at Austin campus.  The whole event was taped for future sharing on pedestal mounted broadcast cameras and the stage was lit by a crew who've done international TV for years.  Our TED event covered on very full day and featured 18 speakers and performers.  With one morning break, lunch and one afternoon break it was a full day for the crew and organizers.

Austin DJ, Dr. No keeps things lively at lunch and during the breaks.

I was asked to be the event photographer.  The rules for the audience were strict:  No texting, no tweeting, no cellphones, no laptops, no video recording, no photography.  All the images would be taken by me and will be shared on the TEDx website.  I had unlimited access to every part of the show.

Now, this is not my first event "rodeo".   I am the veteran of two decades of corporate shows that span the globe.  I've photographed events for 10,000 people and I've done them in places like Monte Carlo, Paris, Madrid and even Nashville.  I've shot them with film and I've shot them with digital.  I've photographed entertainers like the Bare Naked Ladies, Cheryl Crow and Lyle Lovett.  I've photographed speakers like former presidents George Herbert Walker Bush and Bill Clinton,  Sir David Frost, Daniel Pink and many others.  But this is my first volunteer event.  Every person involved in the event, from Manuel's Restaurant who hosted the Speaker's dinner the night before and the breakfast for 400 on the day of to the people who made the programs was a "sponsor".  I was also a "sponsor".

This was my first big event in which I used only Olympus digital cameras.  I took along a small amount of equipment for this show since all of it would be on one stage.  I needed fast lenses that would suck up all available photons and I needed those lenses to be hyperbolically sharp, wide open (because that's where I like to play...).  I choose two lenses and three camera bodies.  I packed the e3, e30 and the e520 in the bag along with the 14-35mm f2 lens and the 35-100mm f2 lens.  That's right.  Both of them go all the way to f2 at every focal length in their range.  And here's the amazing thing:  Both of them are sharper wide open (according to the DXO test performed on the SLRgear website) than any of their bigger format competitors are at just about any f-stop at any range.  Here's the weblink for the 14-35mm. First lens to acheive a perfect "10" in every parameter.  The review of the 35-100 is nearly identical.
Politico, Mark McKinnon shares his epiphany about life.

So.  three cameras, two lenses, a handful of batteries, a Metz 48 flash (dedicated to the Olympus cameras) and a monopod which I quickly decided was unnecessary.  All three bodies feature very effective in body image stabilization.  I put the long lens (the 35mm equivalent of a 70-200mm) on the e3 camera and the 14-35mm on the e30 to start.  The lighting on the stage gave me this basic reading as ISO 1000= aperture f2.5, shutter speed 1/160th of a second.  Both cameras were set to RAW, single frame autofocus, single shot mode, center sensor and spot metering.  Since the majority of the background was black any other metering pattern would be useless.  I made sure to turn off the autofocus assist lights and anything that might make noise.  I tend to shoot on 4 gb cards as they fit on one DVD and I hate to have too many eggs in one basket.

The 35-100 was perfect for tight stage shots of the speakers and for quick, turnaround and shoot, reaction shots from the crowd.  The shorter lens was perfect for shots from backstage and at angles to the stage that showed the performer and the crowd.  The shorter lens got plenty of use during the break.  One thing that's important to note is that all the cameras are always set to manual exposure.  I know from experience that, unless the light techs change the light design during the presentation that my first metered value will hold true no matter what angle I'm shooting at and having consistent images to work with make post processing a breeze.

Both the e3 and the e30 worked well and consistently.  The finder on the e3 is great and the one on the e30 is nearly as good.  The BLM-1 batteries last me about 600 images with an embarrassing amount of chimping.  I took about 2000 images and only replaced the battery in the e3 once.  No other camera needed a new battery.  So why did a I bring along an e520?  Two reasons.  First, you should always have a backup and my shooting style for this show called for not changing lenses and having two cameras with two different lenses at my disposal for immediate use.  I just don't have time to change lenses and it would require something to hold the second lens in.  I might as well have that second lens on a body over one shoulder of the other.  Secondly, I'd read on the DXO site that the e520 was second only to the e3 in low noise ISO performance and I wanted to make some images with all three and compare them.  I had thought about consigning the  e520's after getting newer gear but this article gave me pause.

Surprise, the e520 runs well.  Right next to the e3 but the secret to all three of these small sensor cameras is that you can't keep the noise down in the competitve region unless you nail the exposure.  I want a few frames to be overexposed just so I can remind myself not to slack off and head for the supposed safety of underexposure.

I learned one thing the hard way.  The lights were gelled and when I shot RAW the color corrections were one or two clicks in Capture One 5.0.  When I shot Jpeg (which I did from time to time for comparison) the shifted color was much more difficult in post to bring back to neutral.  It was also easier to get good noise filtration using the controls available in Capture One than to rely on the noise settings in the camera.  I'm rethinking my whole Jpeg versus RAW manifesto and may need to embarrass myself by doing a "180" and go back to shooting all raw.  My close photographer friends will never let me live it down and yet, with Capture One software as the raw converter the raw files look profoundly good.  Yes......better than the Jpegs.........

I got a lot of stuff right.  I wore black pants and a black long sleeve shirt.  And since I've been dying my hair grayer I wore a black baseball cap as well.  This meant that I had a very small visual footprint when I needed to work close to the stage and I was much less distracting the the audience.  I learned that the way a camera feels in your hand is at least as important as its "on file" characteristics.  Especially when you have it in your hands for 12 hours straight.  Yes, twelve hours straight.  Yes the 35-100 does get heavy!  I learned that in a really dark room it's hard to get good focus with just about any camera and lens combo.  But when I needed to use flash I was either photographic couples or small groups.  On the first glimmer of a AF slow down I set the aperture of the 14-35mm to f8 and put two small, white pieces of gaffer's tape on the focusing ring.  One at the one meter mark and one at the two meter mark.  Then I spent my "dark" time zone focusing and using the hyperfocal distance to cover focus area.  With the smaller format it was a snap and all the images taken this way are sharp and the shutter actuation is instantaneous.  I'd forgotten what a useful technique zone focusing is.

I took off any filters and always used a lens hood and that meant that I could shoot into stage lights; actually include them on the edges of the frames, without any flare or halation.  I wore my comfortable Costco all terrain cross training shoes and experienced no discomfort or foot fatigue.

There are two ways for photographers to evaluate events like these:  Did you have fun and meet interesting people?  And,  Did you get great shots?  I'm finishing up the post processing today and I can said with conviction that the Olympus cameras and lenses were incredible.  The sharpness of the images at a nearly wide open f stop of 2.5 or 2.8 is on par with my older Nikon 70-200 at 5.6.  And that's not really fair to the Olympus glass since it has no flare, very little fall off and is actually a bit sharper even at these vastly different f-stops.  The IS in the Olympus cameras works and I never think about dust.  The cameras fit my hands well (I've taken the battery grips off and like both cameras better this way) and feel right.  High ISO noise?  I shot up to 1600 and I didn't see anything that couldn't be easily handled by the noise reduction in Capture One.  (Need to do a comprehensive review on this software.  It is so good).  While my friends swear by the newest Canons and Nikons I love the idea and the execution of the Olympus 4:3rds cameras.  I like the aspect ratio of the format.  I like that they have amazing, pro lenses.  I like that the cameras are relatively small and quiet.

As to the fun quotient I'm happy to report that 90% of the presentations were either very moving or intriguing and thought provoking.  A great average by any measure!  The catering was great, the coffee was wonderful and the crew went out of their way to produce a world class show.  I met some incredible people, like Richard Garriott and John Pointer.  Met a 15 year old musician that will doubtless be making Platinum albums in a couple of years.  Shared glasses of wine with prime movers and shakers in Austin's marketing and advertising industries.  I even got home in time to watch a movie with my wife.

I got smarter, got to shoot all day,  got well fed and met cool people.  All in all a good day.

Behind the scenes at Austin TEDx.  20 Feb. 2010