8.19.2010

The anatomy of an annual report shoot.

I shot this job last month and I wanted to post a few pictures and talk about it but there's this thing called "an embargo".  It basically means that you can't (ethically) use the images you shot until your client uses them first or gives you their express permission to use them.  It's part of the professional ethics that you need to practice to make sure you'll have clients in the future.  I had lunch today with the client and she gave me her permission to show photos and to blog about the job.  I knew she would because she understands the power and benefits of long term collaborations.

The client is a quasi governmental agency that plans and builds roadways and toll roads in and around central Texas.  Their core mission is to provide sensible solutions to our traffic problems and to make sure there will be the right kinds of roads in the right places to support the city's growth.  Every year we do an annual report that showcases what they've done and what they plan to do.  In the recent past we've won significant awards for Annual Reports from various professional organizations and we've gotten good at reading each other and playing to our strengths.

If you are new to professional photography this is the kind of client I think you would want.  My direct contact has the responsibility for designing and producing the printed document and repurposing our work on their website.  Before we started the project we had a planning breakfast together in which we went over the goals of the project, the time line, the look and the styles that she wanted to include.  If every client did this kind of pre-planning there would be fewer spinning wheels and a lot more efficiency....

We wanted to showcase the people who do the actual work on projects.  We also wanted to convey that the agency had created several "shovel ready" projects in central Texas that would benefit local companies.  The companies who do the real work.

Our challenges were limited to the weather conditions in Austin.  We completed the job in six long days, mostly during the end of July, and our biggest problem was the heat index.  Nearly all of the shots were exteriors and the temperatures ranged in the low 100's (farenheit).  This meant that we would need to work quickly and efficiently.  We were working on active construction sites so hard hats and reflective safety vests were a must.

The shot above is our very first shot of the project.  This is one of the supervisors for a company that digs foundations for, and then builds forms and pours the concrete pillars that support overpasses and flyovers.  We arrived mid-afternoon when the mercury hit 102 and the humidity was nearly 100%.  We could see those tall, threatening thunderheads moving in from the northwest.  I set up quickly and did about 60 variations in the space of eight to ten minutes, sweat dripping down my hands.  The rain did hit and we started to wrap up and put stuff away.  The Elinchrom Ranger I was using got splattered but never paused and never went down.

So,  how did I set this up?  I used a Canon 7D with a 15-85mm IS lens.  I put it on a tripod so I could step away from the camera, invite the art director to inspect the image on the screen and then step back in without worrying about the framing being disturbed.  I floated a sixty inch umbrella with a black cover over the top of the subject's head to cut any direct sun (which kept coming in and out.....).  It's on a heavy duty Lowell stand that's straddling a trench.  I used an Elinchrom Ranger RX AS pack on half power thru a head that was covered with a quarter CTO filter and shoved into a small (16x20) softbox.  My method was to meter for the glowering sky and then set the light from the flash about 2/3rds of a stop higher.

By filtering the flash with a quarter CTO (an orange filter) I was able, in the raw conversion, to bring his face back to neutral which drove the sky into a deeper blue.  That gave me the color contrast I was craving and would try to use for the rest of the project.  (Reference the white on the logo on the helmut before telling me that his face still looks warm.  This is Texas and a lot of us who work outside have excited more melanin than most pasty northerners will in a lifetime.....).  The challenge is to find a balance between the background and foreground that is believable.

This is the look we were hoping to get.  I will tell you that when you work in temperature extremes there is a great temptation to "call it" too early.  By that I mean that you get so uncomfortable that you start to think,  "this is close enough.  I'll fix it in post".  This is a mistake.  You should never walk away from a set up until you are sure you've got exactly what you want.  My goal is to make a shot that I could convert to Jpeg and give to the client on the spot and still be proud.  We shot this in raw and did a little PP but not much.  We stayed until I had it.

To her everlasting credit the client hung right in there and never, for a moment, suggested that we should move on.  Figures.  She runs distance races and practices around our hike and bike trail regardless of the elements.  We finished this shot and then moved on to the next location.  And the next location.  All at 102 degrees or better.

In a week no one remembered the misery of the location.  We were all thrilled with the sixty or seventy different variations we'd done of the twelve or so set ups.  The sweaty shirts got washed.  The mud covered shoes were cleaned off.  We stood under the garden hose to cool off.  The project is in production.  I'm happy I can share it now.

A few shooting notes from central Texas:  We used the Canon 7D because we knew it was about to rain most of the week and that camera is both a good performer and weather sealed.  I made good use of the 15-85 because it allowed me to do a lot of different looks without having to change lenses amidst the dust storms that roadway construction sites can become.

I use the Elinchrom Ranger RX AS because it is designed for use in  rough conditions and always has enough power to overcome direct sun.  At first we recharged every day but as I became more and more trusting of the Elincrhom gear I started charging up every two or three days.  The batteries in these things are amazing.

The trusty Honda Element took anything that a pick up truck could handle without a complaint.  Certainly this is one of the ultimate photographer's vehicles.  If I could custom design one it would have some racks for light stands and maybe a built in water cooler....

I'll post some more shots from the project over the next few days.  In the meantime I want you to know about the anti-workshop in San Antonio on the fourth of Sept.  Read about it here:  http://visualsciencelab.blogspot.com/2010/08/free-low-key-event-for-anyone-who-wants.html

I want to tell you that these long sleeve shirts are amazingly protective......

And I want to thank my client for their support and creative spirit.  We're on to another project now but this will go down as the best project I've worked on this season.

All the best,  Kirk

If you work in the sun, get good shirts.  Here and here.

If you like the blog you might want to try one of our books.  I think you'll like em:

   

A free, low key event for anyone who wants to come...Sept. 4th. (already in the past but posted for fun and to see if there is any interest in doing one again in Nov. or Dec.).

Belinda.  Many years ago.  Does film look different?

I'll start with the hard facts and work my way down from there.  Freeform, free kinda workshop-ey thing in San Antonio for anyone who wants to come.  Sept. 4th.  The longer version:  It's been a tough three years for everyone and The Market for everything still mostly sucks.  I get between five and ten poorly targeted e-mail blasts a day from photographers touting workshops.  "Learn the secrets of HOT Photoshop (Kelby)"  "Light like a champ" (five hundred semi-employed former professionals)  "Shoot hot models!!!!!!! (future semi-employed professional photographers)  "Learn to make millions shooting video with your Canon!!!!"  (all the guys who couldn't make it as semi-employed professional  photographers who are trying something different) and,  the truly famous, first tier photographers who are doing workshops with fixtures in the photo entertainment industry like the Maine Photographic Workshops and the Sante Fe Workshops (the real deals?).  But the bottom line is "come listen to me and pay for the experience".

Don't get me wrong,  I think a weekend workshop with someone whose art and style you admire, who is not trying to make everyone shoot just like him, someone who's really good at teaching,  like Don Giannatti over at Lighting Essentials, can be a transformative investment.  It's a way of kick starting the basics and showing you the stuff that maybe you can't get your head around in a good book.  I've given some workshops over the past three years and, judging from the feedback,  people felt as though they were taking away some good material.

But if you're like me you're overloaded with all the come ons for all the workshops.  We seem to have hit some sort of tipping point where the market goes from just oversupplied to ridiculously overwhelmed.  When you were in biology class did your teacher ever do the experiment concerning bacteria or algae growth in a petri dish?  You put in a food source (agar) and then you drop in one small colony of pathogen or bacteria or whatever and you chart the growth by counting new colonies.  The growth starts slowly.  Then it accelerates.  Then it becomes geometric.  As all the colonies double and double and double they soon fill the entire petri dish.  They consume the entire food supply and then...........they all die off.

I think we're just about there (hyperbole alert!!!!!).   So I'm suggesting that we take a break from the relentless profit motive and just enjoy a day of photography together.  I'll be in San Antonio on Sept. 4th to walk around pretty aimlessly and shoot in the streets.  I'm starting at the Alamo at 8:30 am.  I'll be the guy with the camera (one camera).  I'm starting off the  morning walking around downtown but always heading west toward the Mercado (marketplace).  I'm heading toward Mi Tierra Restaurant for a big plate of Heuvos Rancheros and a cup of coffee.  Maybe a few flour tortillas.  While in restful repose we can chat for as long as we want about shooting photographs.  Not about gear, just about shooting photographs.  Why and How.  Not "which lens should I buy and how do I set my flash triggers????"   Just, how do you get people to pose?  What do you think about when you're out searching for images?  How do you know what will work and what won't?

So after the long breakfast I'll hand  out a rough map with my favorite routes and things to see in the downtown area and then we can all wander off in random directions.  I'm not interested in being surrounded by groups of people.  If you feel lonely you can group up with other people who might attend.  At 4 pm I'm heading over to the McNay museum to see what REAL art looks like  (always great to have some grounding.....) and then, when they close the doors,  I'll head just up New Braunfels St. to La Fonda and have a nice, icy beer, some of their great hot sauce and chips and maybe a Tex Mex plate. I'll also be happy to chat about the How and Why of photography at length.  But,  I'll also be ready to listen to anyone who has something interesting to teach me about photography.  Even if it's highly tangential.   I won't tell you how to use flash triggers or which flash to buy.

Then,  when the conversation dies out or the restaurant starts looking aggressively at the table I'll head back to Austin.  Hope to be home before 10pm but you never know.

The cost?  There is no cost.  Just come down and play.  Use your camera.  Walk the streets.  Feel the rhythm.  Feel the heat.  Snap some pix.  Test out that technique.  Have a plan.  Do a project.  Find a favorite mid-day retreat with cold air conditioning and hot art.  Look at the famous, modern library architecture.  Explore the tourist traps.  Take pictures of each other wearing sombreros.  Bring a hot chick or a hot guy and shoot them someplace new.  You have to buy your own breakfast, lunch and dinner but you'd have to do that wherever you are.

What to bring?  I'm a minimalist.  I'm bringing a camera and one small zoom lens.  Haven't decided whether it will be the 18-55 IS or the 15-85 IS on the Canon 7D or just a 50mm 1.8 and the 5dmk2.  I do know that it will be one or the other buy not both.  I'll bring a hat to keep my head from getting fried.  A shirt with a collar and no stains in case I decide I want to have lunch somewhere nice.  An extra battery and an extra memory card in one pocket......and definitely NOT a camera bag.  No tripod.  No monopod.  If my street shooting technique won't work without a tripod I'll move on to the next shot.  No problem.  Flashes and flash triggers?  Not for me.  Twenty or thirty bucks for random stuff,   a driver's license and credit card shoved in one pocket.  That's it for me.  Anything else just slows me down, makes me look conspicuous and gives me too many choices.  Choices that slow me down and get in the way.

I'll wear a long sleeve shirt in case I need to be in the sun for a while.  But it will be a shirt made of the technical fabric I talked about two weeks or so ago.  With nice vents.  Maybe and ex officio or Sportif.  Comfortable shoes that don't look brand new or too dorky always helps.  I like to bring my sunglasses.

Street shooting etiquette:  This could fill a book.  (Maybe a book on street shooting is overdue!!!! Hello?).  Basics:  1.  If you point a camera at someone and they ask you not to photograph them, don't.  You may have every legal right in the world but you probably don't have an ethical right.  I don't think we'll be doing "hard news".   2.  Figure out the shot before you even put the camera up to your eye.  The less you fidget and fuss with your camera the nicer the images generally turn out.  3.  Not everything is worth a picture.  Some stuff is better savored directly.   4.  Yes.  Pretty girls are pretty.  Take a shot if you want but let's not keep after it until everyone in the area is uncomfortable and the cops,  or worse, her big brothers are on the way.  5.  Respect the environment.  I hope I don't have to tell you that church interiors and the insides of restaurants are best lit with nothing but the light that's there.  As Henri Cartier Bresson once said,  "Using flash is like bringing a handgun to the opera".   At the time it was a poignant statement.  Now, in the USA, you can pretty much count on someone thinking it's just great to bring their handgun to the opera.  But it's still not okay to use your flash at the opera........

6.  Respect private property rights.  Anything is fair game if you are shooting from public property but when you step onto private property all the rules change.  You really do need permission to shoot if you are physically on private property....

7.  It's annoying to see a great shot and then turn around and see a line of photographers waiting behind you to copy it.  I'm just saying.....  Ditto with carefully cultivated models...

8.  Try to be an example for all the other photographers that will come after you.  Be nice and people will generally be nice to you.  This is Texas, afterall.

The schedule waits for no one.  There's no private consultations.  Everyone joins in.

That's about it.  I'll spend the day shooting the way I usually do.  I'd love to have people around to have breakfast and dinner with.  Lunch?  I'll just grab a snack.  Why do this?  Just for fun.

Don't need to tell me if you are coming but you are welcome to use the comments to see who's in and who's not.  How many do I expect will be there?  At least one (that would be me) anyone else is a bonus....

Street shooting and eating our way thru San Antonio.  Most fun.