Beauty Dish. Fotodiox Amazes me Again!!!

Earlier this month I posted something about a huge (70 inch) Octagon Softbox (similar to an Octabank) that I ordered from a company that sells on Amazon.com, called Fotodiox.  The octabank/octagon softbox was a whopping $75 and, after I assembled it and shot with it a few times I considered it to be the bargain of the year.  Amazing.  A few of my friends read my little blurb and bought them as well.  We are now a fan club.  Here's a link to the eightsided softbox.  You can pay up to $1100 for a similar light modifier from a well regarded european company.  But even more amazing is that the price included a speedring.

That's background info.  A quick intro into my previous purchase from this online store.  Here's this week's "Oh my gosh!  It costs how much?"  from the same supplier.  I've shot with Profoto for years and in the mid 1990's we shot a lot of stuff with the Profoto beauty dish.  And it did a great job.  But when styles changed I sold it with a bunch of older Profoto stuff and my lighting went off in a different direction.  For almost ten years I did almost everything with giant diffusers and soft lights.  Except for my little forays into battery driven flash and LED mania (which is the future of lighting....).

Now we come to this week.  I've been shooting a ton of portraits outside with my Profoto 600b Acute system and frankly, with any wind at all, it's a pain in the butt to use umbrellas and softboxes outside.  The umbrellas especially have a nasty habit of going "airborne" and messing up the illusion of calm and reserve that I work hard to build.  My clients love the look of the outdoor portraits and I confess that I do too.  I usually try to put a scrim between my subject and any direct sun and then wail away with the 600 w/s seconds at my disposal.  I could do this with my Elinchrom Ranger RX system but it's twice as heavy.  The trade off is battery life.  The Ranger has reserve you won't believe but the Profoto is just the ticket for a one man show.  I bought three new batteries for the Profoto and now I can go thru a full day, shoot tons of stuff and still have back up power.  But none of that seems to help keep umbrellas in place and working.

I remembered reading some rationale for buy a very, very pricey plastic beauty dish being offered for shoe mount flashes and the one thing that rang true was the idea that a beauty dish with a diffusion sock on the front holds together better in the wind than a comparably sized umbrella.  Makes sense.  It's rigid and locked on with a speedring.  I put myself back in the market and started looking at the Profoto version.  My, the price has gone up.....

On a lark I checked in to see if Fotodiox offered one.  They offer two!  A 22 inch and a 28 inch.  Being a soft lighter I always go for the bigger unit.  Unlike the Profoto version the inside is metallic.  The Pfoto is matte white.  At 1/3rd the price I couldn't pass the Fotodiox 28 inch beauty dish up.  It came today and I couldn't be happier on many levels.  First, I saved money and that's critical to the continued happiness of my CFO.  Especially two weeks and change before tax day.  Second, the unit it very well built with a nice interior deflector and an interchangeable speedring set up.  With one inexpensive adapter I'll be able to use this light on both the Pfoto and the Elinchrom lights.  And finally, it comes with a well made diffusion "sock" that fits over the front.  The whole system is a whopping.......$109.

If you buy it with a less pricey speedring, say for an Elinchrom, Alien Bees or Bowens unit the price drops to an even sillier $89.

While I haven't done any exhaustive tests I have put it on a monolight, fired it up and looked carefully.  It's just the way I remembered a beauty dish to be.  Considering that my last Profoto speedring purchase cost more than this whole unit I am very, very satisfied.

Now I'm off to shoot in the wind......


Happy, Happy Fun Time. All Fun All The Time.

    Hanging out in the studio, surrounded by super models.  Being photographed for Rolling Stone.  Grooving on the new ethos of ultra coolness.  Chilling, thinking about poverty......in a good way. (Taken with Swiss light you can't even imagine yet with cameras made for the fashion Special Forces...)

Filling in for Kirk tonight is famous photographer, Mark Focus

Want to take better photos? !!!!!!!!!  Here's my TOP five list of ways to excel:

1.  Make sure your camera is in focus.
2.  Think about pretty backgrounds and then find some.
3.  Take pictures that will make everyone happy.
4.  Make sure your batteries are happy and they'll treat you like a king.
5.  Think happy thoughts and wish them into your photos!!!!!

(Kirk will return tomorrow.)

High Value Content. The Returning Market. All Change is Ephemeral.

I think I'll start with a single declaration that may or may not be true and will, no doubt, drive many people a bit nuts.  The advertising model we grew up with as photographers is dead.  Officially dead.  There will still be a residual blurble of work being created in the old paradigm but the change is pretty much complete.  Here's how it used to work:

A client would need to move more product, get more market share or make a bigger profit.  He would go to an ad agency and they would advise the client to advertise to certain demographics and to use certain media to effectively reach the market.  In the early days the medium that was most cost effective was print.   There were lots of magazines,  everyone read the newspapers in their towns and the cost to mail promotions was reasonable.  Sure, ad agencies also spread around the marketing dollars to TV and radio but for most businesses print was king.

Once the agency and the client agreed on a creative approach they hired an illustrator or photographer to create the visual messaging that would drive the campaign.  A large part of the effectiveness and value of the print ad campaign was and is based on the allure and impact of the image.  Photographers charged fees that took this value into consideration.

Eventually, television took a bigger bite of the budget and there were the typical economic ups and downs that effected the photographic industry but the basic paradigm remained unaffected.  Right up until about 2001.

At that point "Social Networks" emerged,  the economy collapsed in the face of the "9/11" attacks,  and the entire business and industrial marketplace paused to reflect.  At that point a group within advertising who were convinced that all advertising would move to the web and to screens made their move.  Over the last eight years they crowed louder and made more glitter and flash about their "grand ideas" than adherents of other media did.  The old guard was caught flatfooted. They'd never had to make a pro-active defense of their media's basic value proposition.  The momentum built against them and even non-players took up the cry that "Magazines are dead."  "Newspapers are dead."  "Print is dead."

And businesses, who are no smarter than any other entity, took these "new prophets" at face value and shifted more and more of their marketing budgets into "Social Marketing" and "Web Based" marketing.  The promise was quick access to a world market at fractional costs.  Businesses had already beaten a lot of the profit out of traditional media buys from ad agencies.  The days of 15% commissions for media placements are nothing but a whimsical memory of an era that ended in the late 1980's.  Now everything is fee based.  And a fee base is an arduous thing to scale.....

Internal Marcom departments saw the move to the web as a way to gain more control within their own companies.  In no time newly appointed CMO's (chief marketing officers) were driving new and unproven initiatives in every part of the their host's businesses.  Catalogues went from paper to the web.  Direct mail became e-mail blasts.  Ad campaigns became microsites and viral Youtube videos.  Annual Reports became blogs.  And downloadable PDF's.  And at every turn the pronouncements were:

1.  It's only for the web so we no longer need to pay more for "production value."  It's only for the web so we shouldn't have to pay more traditional usage fees.  It's only for the web, it doesn't have to have depth, only splash.

2.  If we remove production value, depth and usage we don't really need all the services of an agency.  Nor do we need traditionally expensive custom images.  We can almost always use stock.

3.  We can crowdsource this.  That way we can get what we want pretty much for free and even if it's not the same quality we used to get we don't need to care because it's just going to be on the screen and no one will really look at it that hard.

4.  While we are losing our brand's individuality we'll make it up in the volume of new "eyeballs" that we'll get.  Hey look, over 2 billion people are on the web and if they're not on the web we don't want them.

But what if the whole shift of the market is all based on something that's not really true?  Or, not really true at this time?

And here's what companies across America are starting to realize, almost in lock step with the nascent economic recovery,....they've been sold a program that was unproven, doesn't bring in sales results, is destroying market share and it largely uncontrollable.

An article in Ad Age Magazine (online) http://adage.com/article/cmo-strategy/pepsi-burger-king-news-signal-end-social-media/149523 basically echoes what I'm saying.  That a wonderfully popular and viral campaign in social media for Burger King coincided with SIX QUARTERS OF DECLINING SALES!!!!  In another  article in the same magazine an industry expert makes the case that corporations with more diverse media campaigns all did better in the last year than their rivals who invested more in online marketing to the detriment of conventional media.

What brands need in order to survive is not to build a more intimate conversation with consumers but to build a call to action that moves consumers to go into stores and buy.

So, ad agencies, driven by a need for more fee income, drove their clients with vigor into investing more and more treasure into social media, social networking, viral online videos, on line campaigns and large, complex and passive web promotions.  And in  the process their trained their clients to disparage the products and services the agencies had become experts in for many decades.  Experts in products that actually caused the sales of real products.  And each of the recklessly abandoned media were and are proven performers.

Agencies, losing the income from print production and placement rolled over on the writers, producers and photographers and rolling-pinned the profits right out of them.  And as a result the print campaigns that they grudgingly produced were less effective than they could have been had the corners not been cut, had the value to stick eyeballs to pages had been present.  In short, if they had provided High Value Content the metrics would have proven the mix.

Instead what we got was a trickle down creative coma.  Everyone from the CEO's to the coders was petrified to do anything new and different.  Everything hinges now on how many click throughs you can get on whatever we promotion you have in front of consumers.

Here's a nasty little truth.  We think a new generation of ultra millionaires is sitting out their right now gaming on the web and cruising the websites and generally participating in the "ether markets"  but the real truth is that the largest concentration of sheer wealth in this country right now resides in the pocket books of people over 40.  And a large part of it resides in the hands of people over 50.  And the majority of these people (65% of the real money in the system, and liquid to boot) still acquire their buying information and impetus from a mix of media that includes traditional and web based.

We think that Amazon.com rules commerces because we as photographers and consumers of trendy digital stuff frequent the web looking for reviews and opinions about products and that's where we buy stuff.  But Walmart sells in about a day what Amazon sells in a year.  And that includes digital cameras.  Target sells more in a day in their stores than they do on their website in almost a year.  And so it goes.

I'm not postulating that the web is totally ineffective and I certainly don't deny that it's a growing window into the buying motivations of consumers but right now, to a large extent, big companies are getting exactly what they paid for out of web marketing, not much.

And so this leads me to declare traditional commercial photography to be dead.  Does that mean it's gone and we should hang up our Sekonic meters and take up the happy hobbies of coding endless lines of code drivel to make the next "My Pretty Pony" app?  Or brain surgery?  Or retail coffee preparation?

Not at all.  But we need to understand that everything changed when the marketing trendsetters flipped the switch and asked people to believe in the web instead of in print.  Because even though they envisioned a landscape where they could transfer the old ads onto a cheaper and unlimited media they never really understood that it was just a matter of time before video became first possible and then impossible to do without.   And they initially envisioned content on the web to be 480 by 640 at high compressions and didn't visualize a time when everyone would have a 30 inch monitor on their desk and the ability to stream 1080i video at the click of a mouse.  No, at the sweep of a finger.

Now we come full circle.  In a matter of months production quality will be back in vogue.  Because consumers will demand it.  Think about it.  If your target market sits in front of 50 inch flat screens, digesting full HD programming with incredible production values, remarkably good sound and content they are willing to pay for will they be happy to sit at their kitchen tables looking at 1000 pixel wide, binary animation banner ads and static pages?  Gosh-arooni.  Probably not.

And while it's easy and cheap to throw cheesy videos onto YouTube and every high schooler can animate his own banner ads it's not so easy to provide really High Value Content.  The agencies will need to go to the people who have an institutional memory of what High Value Content looks like and they'll find the suppliers who can give it to them.  And when it requires incredibly complex editing the dollars allocated to the projects will go back up.  And when it requires $2,000 microphones on quiet sets the dollars allocated to the projects will go back up.  And when it requires ideas that fit the media and really hit with specific target markets the budgets will really go back up.  In short, when advertising makes the current leap from blah internet with tiny videos, bad sound and dead type to highly kinetic, brilliantly created and compelling content that delivers, all the creative markets will be re-energized.

But what does that mean for photographers? We need to be pro-active.  If we are truly "of" the medium we need to create the ideas that best leverage the power of the medium.  We need to step up our games and become more involved in every step of the process.  Because "desk coders" can't do this.  The agencies are killing off their inspired and inspirational creative people and replacing them with drones who code.  Drones who follow the pack.  Drones who fill orders.  They are the factory workers of the creative industry.  When it became more important for a creative to check of the blanks:  Adobe Premier? Check.  DreamWeaver? Check.  SQL? Check.  AfterEffects?  Check.  They lost the people who read novels, looked at paintings, went to challenging movies, enjoyed something other than pizza, and generally translated culture into  advertising.  Now there's a growing void, driven by the market.  Created by misguided budget allocations and misperceptions about media and reach.  And we have become the visual translators.  We are the creative conduit from reality to the media.  We are the ones who drive trends how and agencies look thru flickr and endless photographer's websites in order to discover the "new look" the "new sensibility" and their path to the next ad.

Agencies must re-invent themselves by bringing back what they really had to sell: Creativity.  And that means creating a different look for their clients, not copying a prevailing idiom or trend.  It means re-growing the balls to say "no." Or to say, "this is challenging and it will work."  And having the ovaries not to just roll over and let clients pick one from column "A" and one from column "B".

And until they do that it's an open invitation to ignore them in the creative process.  To throw down their self appointed "gate keeper to the clients" status that they had earned in decades past and squandered in this decade's love affair with "free marketing on the web."

Now, when I approach a client I'm not just selling photograph.  If they just want that I'm happy to comply.  But I want to know who's writing their creative,  who's doing their television, who's overseeing their brand, who's their designer.  And I want to have as much control as I can get.  Because it makes business easier for me.  And it makes it more efficient for the clients.

You might not be a writer but you can team up with one.  You may not be totally conversant with video yet but you can find collaborators to fill in your blanks.  You can find an editor to make your camera work sing and a sound guy to make your audio beautiful.  Everyone should know and cherish a graphic designer because, done right, their work is present in everything you do for a client.  You build a team of collaborators and the next thing you know you're going toe to toe for the good stuff.

But this means we need to stop being passive.  Stop just sending a mailer out to the art buyers and AD's and CD's and start looking for the end clients who might adore your creative vision and your organizational vision.  Your holistic ability to translate marketing messages into visual poetry.

Because, if you haven't figured it out yet, everything changed.  And it won't come back together again in the same way.  The money will come back.  And the need for clients to move products and services will come back.  Hell, a taste for beautiful prints might even come back.  But it won't be as part of the old paradigm of waiting for a rep or an art buyer.  It's time to saddle up and be part of the new process.  And that means taking ownership of your direct relationship with clients.  You need to introduce them to your creative stuff.  You need to own the HIGH VALUE CONTENT and share it with them.  For a price.

The old web is dead.  Be the first wave of the new, high production value web, translate it all to print and even television and you win.  Sit back and wait for the that ad agency mailer to bring in results and pretty soon you'll be destined to hear,  "can I have that to go?"

And remember:  Good print.  It's the new differentiator.  Everything comes around  the circle.


We were talking this morning about how to do portraits.....

Not really the kind of portraits that portrait studios make.  Not so posed.  Maybe not so formulaic.  And certainly not aimed at a huge audience.  One person on my favorite private forum asked how people approached portraits.  What did they think about lighting and how did they pose people?  What did they think about when they stood behind the camera and tried to pull together the session?


Project "Post Partum" Depression. Ouch.

Shot in Willie Nelson's private saloon, somewhere west of Austin.  Canon 1dmk2N and Zeiss 50mm 1.4 ZE lens.  Daylight thru a dirty window.

I'm pretty sure most photographers and writers, and just about anyone else embarking on a lengthy project, confront an sense of ennui and lassitude when they finish up their work and send it off to wherever it's supposed to go.  There's a sense of freedom and elation as you become aware that you've been freed from your obligation in the best possible way:  You saw it thru and completed it.

But if you've been working on a book as both the writer, photographer and creative director you've had to shift your life around to compensate for the inevitable deadlines.  You delay some things.  Put off commitments and reposition yourself to be most efficient and focused until the project ends.  When you are the one who pitched the book there's always an extra onus on you to do it well and do it on time.  You're submerged in the process of proving the value of your undertaking at every turn.

So when you finally emerge you probably do the same silly thing I do and send out an e-mail announcing your triumph.  You're done.

But most people (all of them?) didn't put their lives on pause just waiting with ever ripening anticipation for you to prevail and shower them with wisdom.  On the contrary, if they were friends in your social sphere they probably (barely) tolerated months of conversation that was always just a few degrees removed from "the book" and they were happy someone finally stuck a stake in it's heart so you could get back to holding up your part of the social bargain.

So even though you've announced your triumph in the loudest possible way you should consign yourself to getting back a few well intentioned "attaboys" and not hold your breath for a flurry of congratulatory bottles of good champagne, and month long string of celebratory dinners at the best restaurants in town.

When Steve Pressfield finished his first novel he rushed to tell his mentor.  His mentor said something along the lines of,  "That's great.  Now you'll want to get started on the next one tomorrow..."  And that was it.  And that's the way it works.  But today is the monday after I put my most recent project to bed.

I shot for Zachary Scott Theatre on Saturday and Austin Oral Surgery on Sunday but I still feel a little lost and anxious.
Michelle on medium format Tri-X.  One tungsten beauty dish as fill.  One diffused tungsten spot as a main light.  Hasselblad.  180mm Carl Zeiss lens.

That's when I know it's time to re-group, have a cup of coffee and work on my marketing.  But I always think it's time to work on the marketing.  And that's how we start the cycle all over again.

Don't worry about me, though.  My publisher already sent a contract for the next project.  I've assured myself that I'll take some down time though.....How about I start on April 1st?  That should work.

Reminder.  I'm not a paid reviewer.  My readers don't pay me and the manufacturers don't pay me.  I write stuff because I'm genuinely interested in what I write about.  I turn down the "opportunity" to play with/review ten times more stuff than the stuff I write about.  And in most cases what I write about is stuff that I own or will own.  And I'm very upfront about the fact that I don't give a crap about charts, graphs and test numbers.  I only care about why I might like something, not whether you will like it too.  And I can't think of another way to do it because I don't have a clue what each of you hold to be critical priorities and what you think is fluff.

Someone named Steve took me to task yesterday for not sounding the alarm about the damn "red dots" in my EPL-2 review.  Implied that I was some sort of elitist who had so many cameras at my disposal, and bought so many new ones, that I wouldn't care if a camera were tragically flawed.  I didn't like his implication,  I didn't like the way he stepped over my line.  But here's the deal:  The visual science lab is me thinking out loud.  Really loud.  And if you don't like the angle or the way I think (out loud) you can demand a refund of my "lifestyle consulting fee" and leave.  I'd write this stuff even if I only had an audience of 25.  And I have......

But I won't homogenize what I write to fit a "one size fits all" faux "objective" audience.  I'm not going to invest in test gear and if something doesn't pop up in my tests, and fun shooting periods, I'm not going to spend my time tracking down and brutalizing my gear so you can have a "worst case" scenario appraisal of a $500 camera.  That's just bullshit.

Honest difference of opinion with respectful writing?  Your comment gets posted.  Call me stupid?  Your comment gets flushed and I take you off the sweepstakes list to potentially win big.  Sounds fair to me.  


Can't get enough of those crazy LEDs.

Regular readers will know that I am the "official" photographer for Zachary Scott Theatre, here in Austin, Texas.  I was reminded today of why I like doing photography there so much.  They have great actors and the actors can make great faces.  And I get to capture those great faces and show them to the world.  It's a wonderful collaboration that makes me painfully aware that "out there" in the "real world" our sitters are generally nervous, self conscious and reticent to do anything that might make them look....."creative."  In the theatre we work toward "creative."  

The other reason I like working with the folks over at Zach is that the whole environment is one that's open to experimentation and "edge." To art as process and process as art.

Next month they start a new run of August: Osage County.  I don't know much more about the play than anyone else.  I know it's being billed as "one bitch of a family reunion" and that most of the characters have their share of social and mental dysfunctions.  That's about it.

The marketing people for the theater are going to collage all thirteen characters together for the advertisings materials and our job for this morning was to shoot each person in character against a light background so that they would be easy to select in Photoshop CS5.  Two years ago I would have meticulously lit the background a solid white to make the drop out easier by the new selection tool (with refine edge) in CS5 is soooo good I don't need to worry about a little tone in the background areas.  And if I use the images without dropping out the background I find I like the image better.

As it is Saturday I went to swim practice first and then headed over to the theater's giant rehearsal studio a little after 10am.  Even though I stuck the LED book manuscript in Fed Ex yesterday I was still excited to use the LED panels for the shoot today.  Something about tossing them on stands and covering them with a gauzy layer of diffusion then plowing right into the shooting really appeals to me.  The big panel (1000 LEDs) works so well as a main light.  Almost as soft as a beauty dish and harder than a small softbox, it has a certain authority I've come to enjoy and it's a look I don't get easily with flash.

Here's the basic lighting set up:   One 1000 LED panel with a thin layer of diffusion positioned so that the bottom edge is at the subject's chin level.  Just to the left of camera and about five feet from the subject.  I placed a 500 LED panel back near the plane of the seamless background facing back toward the subject.  I would use one of the other but usually not both depending on which side of the collage the person would appear.  I wanted that "rear lit" highlight for a change.  The ambient light levels were fairly high in the space so I didn't need to add any fill to get what I wanted.

The final addition was a little 160 LED battery driven panel on one side of the seamless paper, just behind the subject's plane, kicking some extra "clean up" light on the background.   The direct and I ran the actors thru their different emotional affects and we shot a ton of frames.  Our final tally was close to 1200 and the whole shoot lasted about and hour and a half. 

No filtration over  the lights and they were still a really nice match for the cool daylight that came fluttering down from the ceiling skylights, two stories up.  What did I learn?  Nothing.  I re-visited the idea that I love continuous light because the actors don't "play" to the flash.  There's nothing to cue them besides direction from the creative staff.  And, in my usual contrarian manner,  I used the Canon 1dmk2n instead of one of the newer, higher pixel count cameras  like the 7D, or the 5Dmk2.  

The shot just above is my favorite.  It shows off the effect of the light falling off as it cascades down from head to toe.  His face is well lit and by the time our eyes get half way down the frame the exposure on his coat pockets is a stop and a half, or two stops down.  And I love it.  I also love the idea of cocktails.....

While I have a bunch of cool lenses sitting in various toolkits in the studio, for some reason I'm having a brief infatuation with the Canon 50mm macro lens.  Yes, the cheap f2.5 version with the "noisy" focusing motor.  It's sharp, impressively well behaved and very sharp at f3.5 or f4.  My exposures on this shoot were approximately this:  ISO 800,  1/200th of a second,  f3.5/4.  

After "meeting" the characters I can hardly wait for the running shoot (dress rehearsal) in a week and a half.

Buy some tickets.  Come out and see some live theater.  I can pretty much guarantee that it's better than just about anything you'll see on TV.....  And it's real 3-D!!!!!!  The 3-D effects are incredible.  It's just like you are sitting in the audience......

Why the older camera?  Why not? It focuses at least as fast as the 5Dmk2 or the 7D, the files are just the right size for most of our marketing uses and it just feels so sexy in my hands.