Getting it right before you go to post processing!

I'm as guilty as anyone of putting a camera in RAW mode, setting the white balance to AWB and flailing away with the idea that I can fix it all in post.  And from a purely scientific point of view I am sure you can fix color in post given enough time and a discriminating eye.  But since the eye is a great comparator and a lousy rememberer wouldn't it be better if that was one of the things that we figured out up front?  Makes for one less step in post production and it's a step (in post)  that can adversely effect exposure settings, contrast settings and more.

I started to take this seriously when I sat through one of Will Crockett's workshops and heard him talk about his Jpeg centered process of "Kill it and Bill it." His philosophy is that careful incident exposure metering, coupled with nailing white balance at the outset means that you can use images right out of camera.

I didn't go jpeg but I put the time savings of correct, upfront, white balance to the test yesterday on a commercial shoot.  My friend, Lane, hired me to take photos of doctors and clinicians for a local sports medicine practice.  I wanted to make sure my flesh tones were consistent from set up to set up and I wanted to spend less time doing corrections before putting up web galleries for selection ( you can tell people til you are blue in the face that the uncorrected galleries are just thumbnails and will be color corrected but you will prevent much friction and second guessing if you just get the color and exposure on the money before you make the jpegs for the galleries.....) so I could efficiently spend time with the finals instead.

I used a Lastolite collapsible gray target to set my white balance for each set up.  I like to use the gray because the white requires you to really nail the exposure for the most accurate color.  Cameras seem to nail gray better....... My Lastolite is custom made for Will Crockett and has a focus target in the middle so I don't have to set my camera to manual focus or let it hunt.  The regular ones don't have the target but you could add your own with a Sharpie.

Long story all summed up.  Using an incident light meter let me know that there was a half stop difference between what I saw on the back of the camera on the LCD and what the actual exposure was.  The calibration out of the box was one half stop dark which made my files half a stop too light.  The gray card custom white balance setting meant that every single frame matched and required NO tweaking.  Interesting how a sensible shooting workflow can save hours on the back end.  Very nice.
I'd gotten lazy.  I'll fix that.  We're getting busy again so it's time to figure out all the ways to be more productive in a fixed time frame.  Ahhhhhh.


Have you ever had one of those days when things took a turn for the better?

                             Fun Test Shot with a friend.

I'm out of practice.  I tried to keep shooting portraits as last year devolved into one of the circles of Purgatory but it's hard to keep the creative wheels turning when doom and gloom looms all around you.  My portrait lighting skills were starting to take a hit.  Then I ran into Selena at a coffee shop and she needed a headshot and I wanted a model.  I think we both won.

We met last week and spent an hour working on posing and lighting.  I ended up using my big Octabank and my Elinchrom Ranger RX AS pack with one head for the main light.  My studio is all white so it's pretty "live".  I'd been lighting my fill too much lately, no doubt because some corporate client I took on in a moment of self induced desperation bitched about my shadows being too dark.  I remember the conversation so well.  It was short and it went like this:

Client: "What's wrong with the light on Bob's face?"

Me:   "I'm sorry, I don't understand.  What do you mean?"

Client:  "Well, it's a very nice picture but the light on his face isn't even.  It gets dark over to one side!"

Me:  "We call that modeling.  It's a way of adding some dimension to peoples' faces.  Makes portraits look more three dimensional.  Gives the light a sense of direction."

Client:  "Can you fix that somehow?"

Me:  "Well, it's supposed to be that way.  It's a creative thing."

Client:  "Is there some way to fix it in Photoshop?  I'm pretty sure Bob's not going to like being uneven...."

Me:  "But that's the same style that's in most of the portraits on my website...."

Client:   "Hmmmmm.  So you don't think you can fix it?"

It's exchanges like this that make me appreciate my wife's adamant rule of "no guns" in the studio.  But it's weird how a few toxic clients can subtly shift that line that makes an insecure portrait photographer dilute and devolve their own style.

Before Selena came over I looked over some of my favorite work and the work by some of the photographers I really admire.  I decided to aim my taste meter in the right direction and to resurrect what I liked with the hopes that it will find its audience.

When I set up the lighting I re-acquainted myself with a favorite old tool, subtractive lighting.  I grabbed a black panel and put it on the opposite side of her face from the main light.  I brought the black in pretty close because I wanted deep shadows.  I grabbed a little Alien Bees ringlight that I use all the time for a background light and put it on the gray seamless at a really low power.  MMMMMM.  Just right.

Then I shot with a longer lens than I've used in a while.  I'm happy with the light and the skin tone.  When we finally decide on an image I'll fix the stray hairs and the few wrinkles in the shirt.  But count me happy with my lighting and the general look.  And I think her expression is just wonderful.

My portrait lighting is back and it's really changed my mood.  It's devastating when your mastery takes a vacation without putting it up on the scheduling board.  It's always wonderful when it comes back home with a nice tan, a few pounds lighter.  I don't know if Selena likes the work we did.  I haven't talked to her yet.  But for a change, the only validation I was looking for was mine.


What I learned doing five talks.....

     Model at a Paris Fashion Show at the Louvre Carrousel.  Contax S2  135mm f2.8 

.......in two days.  Wow.  I think one thing I learned is that one hour is a long time when you are standing up in a room in front of 60 or 80 people and trying to entertain, educate and pitch.  But I didn't come to that obvious realization until after I came home on Sunday evening and fell asleep on the couch.

So let's start at the beginning:  I was asked by the people at Olympus to be a speaker at the Austin Photo Expo which is a weekend long mini-trade show that's sponsored by Precision Camera.  Just about every major photo company had a booth or a table and they were showing off all of their photo candy.  Tech reps from the manufacturers were there to answer questions and sales people were there to ring up sales.  We had speakers like Hanson Fong, a very talented wedding photographer from LA.  Kevin Ames, the author of Digital Photographer's Notebook:  A Pro's Guide to Adobe Photoshop,  and Rolando Gomez, author of Garage Glamour (published by Amherst Media) and Rolando Gomez's Posing Techniques for Glamour Photography.  And then there was me.

The talks between Olympus and me were vague.  I don't think they knew what to expect from me and I have very little input from them.  They may have wanted me to talk about the way I use the e series DSLR cameras and why I like them but I don't know.  Instead, I decided that I was much more excited about the little micro four thirds Pen cameras so I decided to talk about them.

First lesson:  If you are going to spend five hours talking about a camera system it's a really, really good idea to shoot a wide range of photographs so you'll have something of interest to a wide audience.  I'd shot a lot of buildings and a lot of landscapes in west Texas (something I practically never do.....) and I thought that would be good.  In retrospect, I wish I'd shot hundreds of beautiful portraits as well just to fill in the nooks and crannies.

Second Lesson:  Get there early and make sure you know how to connect your computer, how to calibrate it to the projector and how to make the sound work for you.  I did get there early on the first morning.  About an hour before I was scheduled to speak and nothing worked.  I was saved by Kevin Ames.  He stepped right up and went thru a mental check list:  Step one, find the right setting to make the projector talk to the computer.  Step two, make a grayscale step wedge with 20 steps from black to white and proceed to use the brightness and contrast controls to tweak the images on the LCD projector. Step three: Set the right color space for the projector.  Doh!  Step four:  Plug in mini plug to mixer for sound from the computer.  Set sound levels for computer output.  Step five, Adhere lav mic to shirt (I tried on my own....Kevin fixed) and then set levels for the wireless mic.  Step six, breathe deeply.

I made up some ground on Sunday when I brought my own 42 by 72 inch black Lightform panels to block light from the screens in my rooms to boost saturation and contrast in my projected slides.  Kudos from Kevin Ames....

Lesson Three:  If you are showing video make sure it's captivating (Yah! The camera clamped to the skateboard got laughs and gasps every time)  but (Boo! Five minutes is three minutes too long).  Get Will van Overbeek to give you good interview quotes to spark up your otherwise uninspired content. (Thank you Will).  Take out most of the sound FX that you thought were really cool when you were staying up late and working on edits in iMovie.

Lesson Four:  Don't curl up in the fetal  position and cry just because someone walks out during your talk.  Maybe they have a week bladder.  Maybe they'll be back.  Maybe you're just kidding yourself.  Thankfully, very, very few people left before the end of each talk.  I want to thank everyone for this.

Lesson Five:  Don't bring lots of props and lots of things to set up.  It's not that visual aids aren't warmly appreciated by the audiences it's just that the management usually has a speaker booked right after you and the two of you have 15 minutes to both tear all your stuff down and pack it away while setting up his stuff and getting his computer to do all the things we covered above.  Simultaneously.  Compounded by the fact that all the shy people who didn't ask questions during the alotted Q&A will probably surround you as you are packing and pepper you with questions.  And follow up questions.

Lesson Six:  Try not to sit in on other people's talks.  I know it makes me nervous when the really smart guy sits in the back of the class with the smirk on his face.  And I'm sure it's usually the same guy who has the weak bladder and needs to leave just as you are getting warmed up.  But the real reason I say this is that I'm such a contrarian.  If the smart guy is speaking about highly technical parameters of calibration that are "absolutely required" for any photographer who doesn't want to shoot absolute crap I'll feel compelled to change up my next talk to emphasize how much technical crap gets between our heart felt shooting and our subjects.  And then, since this is obviously not a rehearsed part of the presentation I promptly get lost and have to depend on the unsettled fan who's already sat thru the first two of my talks.  He's got it memorized and is eager to prompt me from the front row.

I can't emphasize this enough!  Bring your own food.  The organizers are looking for  quick food intake and low price.  Can't blame them.  They dropped the prices to the public on all the gear and they certainly have no interest in Platinum Level wining and dining for the Tech Reps and the speakers.  But BBQ sandwiches and diet Coke aren't Kirk Tuck jet fuel.  Next time I'll bring a sandwich from the Sweetish Hill Bakery.  Oh hell, I'll just bring a peanut butter and jelly on whole wheat from the house and some coffee from Starbucks.

Along these lines, don't presume that everyone has the same taste, abhors flavored coffee creamers and flavored coffee.  If you have any doubts bring your own thermos or do a hard target search for the closest good coffee shop.

Lesson Seven:  Before you get started with even your first speech put your head together with the sales team from the company you are pitching and beg or demand that they give you swag to give away.  For the uninitiated "swag" is all the giveaway stuff people bring to trade shows and conventions.  This would include regular swag such as T-shirts and pens as well as premium class swag like coffee cups and flash lights.  The most sought after swag is memory sticks.  You know, USB Thumb Drives or whatever they call them now.  Get as much of this stuff as you can force them to give you.  It's a great buffer to reconnect with your crowd after you've found yourself spacing out, forgetting where you are and what you are talking about.  "Hey, who would like some Olympus Pens?!"  or "If you can tell me what reciprocity failure is, I've got a memory stick to give away....."  It actually works.  Just beware of your friends who will try to twist you to the dark side by inferring that "no one will know if you give us the memory sticks......."

Lesson Eight:  Anything that can screw up will and you should be prepared for it even if there is no way you can be prepared for it.  The 60 year old man that decides to take up streaking.  Projectors hung too close to the ceiling that start to smoke.  The crazy person who jumps up and claims that your sponsor is a "tool of Satan".  That rising tide of nausea from lunch.  Tripping over the audio cord and breaking it just before you get ready to play the video that will give you a four minute respite during which you can try to tamp down the panic and regroup.  Just carry the pepper spray, a pocket full of $20's and some gaffer's tape.  Wear comfortable shoes and nonflammable clothing.

Lesson Nine:  Just as you are starting to believe that you are a genius and the audience is enraptured by your discussion of the hermeneutic circle and its relationship to the mystical effervescence of street photography someone will raise their hand and ask you if you think it wise to buy a monopod.  Be flexible and be prepared to change gears and direction at a moment's notice.

Lesson Ten: An important lesson in public speaking. After you've sat around soaking up the bonhomie of the other speakers, sipping coffee and making fun of the petit bourgeois of photography, it's imperative to slip in a little time to find the restrooms and make a graceful pit stop before the class. Hopping up and down on one foot isn't as graceful as you might think you are making it appear.   Seriously though, I learned that doing this (photography) every day for twenty years gives you an enormous encyclopedia of knowledge and you have to judge where in the cycle the majority of your audience is and then head there. Only then will your talk be successful.

Whatever you do, don't forget to pitch your books.......