Kinda of getting paid but still asking for lots of people to work for free. Seems a bit mercenary to me.

Deep background:  Written after two assistants called me to talk about "offers" they'd received soliciting free labor.  The offers were from working photographers either doing personal projects or projects for which they would be paid or benefit from indirectly.

I keep seeing tweets and posts and other stuff wherein ostensibly working photographers are putting out the call to Attract/get free assistants.  They want people to stand around for a full day in the stinking hot sun to shoot second camera, video camera, behind the scenes camera or  to provide some other function in the service of the photographer's project.  The dodge is that they are justifying the "free" ask by claiming the process will be: fun, educational, a way to garner potential work experience/resume fodder or (the most disingenuous) a way to participate in an innovative social networking event.  The final argument might also be:  "Hey!  I'm not getting paid (directly) for this either!"

Let's break it down:  If a photographer with decades of experience is doing a project big enough that it requires multiple assistants (and even more so, anonymous assistants) he is doing it with the expectation that there will be a payoff of one kind or another, for him, down the road.  If it is true that he is not currently getting paid perhaps he will be willing to pay you by giving you a percentage of his take when, and if, the project does become profitable down the road.

For a project to be "fun" it would have to be challenging, entertaining, comfortable and leave you with good memories.  Perhaps you can't have all the things on my list but you should expect a combination of some of them.  It might be intriguing to learn how to hold a light stand in a brisk wind but I think the fun value might be more like......five minutes.  Not eight hours.  Will the volunteer opportunity be catered?  Or will you be expected to be delighted with a bottle of Ozarka water and an out of date PowerBar?

For a project to be a learning opportunity it would need to include time for you to observe the process, unencumbered by volunteer work.  And there would have to be something to learn.  Perhaps the lesson is: "How to take advantage of people who want to be in a creative occupation so badly that they'll work against their own enlightened self interest."

Ah.  The resume.  I started working as a full time professional photographer in 1988.  That's 24 solid years of good and bad experience.  In all that time I've never had a client request to see a resume.  A portfolio of my own work....yes.  A resume?  No.   I thought I might be an anomaly so I asked around.  Nope.  No other working photographer keeps a resume on tap.  Doesn't come up.

Oh goodness.  The chance to participate in a social networking experience!  I thought these only happened in Paris, Los Angeles and Tokyo (sarcasm served up piping hot...).  I heard  from a professional rep who went to a talk given by a photographer who has probably donated/thrown away/wasted/spent more time on social networking, tweeting and other forms of "Hi!  I'm here.  This is what I'm thinking about right now.  Look at this link!  Please remember me?!"  The rep asked the world famous social networker point blank:  "How many paying projects have you gotten from all the time you've spent doing this?"  The honest answer?  "TWO."

So, next time you are asked to do a job get a bit mercenary (take care of yourself first) and ask, "What's in this for me?"  If you want to ask a lofty question you could always try, "How will this project move our industry forward?"  And if you are totally pragmatic you could always ask, "What's in this for you?....and how do I get some of it."

Remember that the barriers to entry are about an inch high when it comes to technology and working with the photo gear.  Learning to do a one inch high hurdle shouldn't be a lot of leverage in exchange for a day of your valuable Spring season time.  The only other product of most creative products is the expression of creative vision.....but I can almost guarantee you that it won't be your vision in the project and few people have found a quick way to teach in depth creativity.  In other words....go into any volunteer project with your eyes open and an understanding of what everyone stands to gain.

You might find the weekend to be more enjoyable hanging with beautiful friends, taking fun images and relaxing around a pool.  I get being a volunteer for the Red Cross.  For Bob's Photo Hut Inc.?  Not so much.

85mm 1.4 Zeiss ZE Rocks for me.

It was a long, happy day yesterday.  I spent my morning and part of the early afternoon at St. Gabriel's School here in Austin taking photographs for their marketing and "look book."  I photographed young students with their older mentors, kids learning, drawing, playing, looking at Texas snakes and even playing under a giant colorful parachute.  It was a good job.  One that moved fast.  One that actually made good use of my ability to direct kids and teachers.  As soon as I wrapped that job I headed back to the world headquarters of the VisualScienceLab and headed into the top secret lab to download around 1500 raw files I'd shot.  I used three different cameras, including:  The Canon 5Dmk2, the Canon 60D and the Canon 1Dmk2N.  I used several Canon L zooms but my favorite lens of the morning was the Zeiss 85mm 1.4.  The images I shot with it seemed to have a sparkle and a snap that's more elusive to capture with the zooms.

So, after downloading the files and checking for any issues, and after recharging the batteries for all the cameras I got to packing for my next job, my service as the volunteer photographer for the mighty Rollingwood Waves swim team.  It was a hot day.  The meet started at 5pm.  I'd been trying to cover everything at previous meets and had been hauling around two 1D series cameras along with a 24-105mm L lens and a 70-200mm L lens.  I wanted to change up everything and in the process change my point of view for the rest of the afternoon.  To do that I committed to one lens and one camera body and headed to the pool.  I chose to work with the morning's winning combination:  The 1Dmk2n + Zeiss 85mm 1.4.  I have the 1Dmk2n fitted with a split image rangefinder screen that's optimized for manual focus and it works very, very well.  Especially in bright sun.

The pool area was packed.  There were 180+ swimmers on our team and over 200 swimmers on the Westwood Country Club team.  Add in three hundred or so parents and coaches and you have quite a big crowd.  Our pool has electronic timing and we tend to run a fast meet but even so it took nearly an hour and a half just to run thru the 25 and 50 yard freestyle events.  Heat after heat.  In the heat.
Instead of shooting the swimming action I spent the day photographing the kids.  And, in the process, remembered the things I love about the 85mm Zeiss lens.  It's great to work in close and to be able to drop backgrounds out with luscious, soft transitions.  When focused correctly on peoples' eyes there is a sparkle that gives images extra dimension.  The focal length on the 1D camera equals about a 113mm lens on a full frame 35mm camera so I can fill a frame with a person's head and not be right on top of them.  The Zeiss lens isn't necessarily sharper than the 85mm Canon lens I had been using but it seems cleaner and, for want of a better word, more "accurate" to the way the scenes look to my eyes.  But the snap and the sparkle is the thing.  I uploaded these files in a larger size than I usually do so you could click on them and see a much larger image. Note the detail in the boy's eyes above.  I may not be putting what I'm seeing in words very well but maybe the image will show you what I mean....

There's a distinct operational advantage to working with one lens and one body.  It's easier to get into a shooting rhythm because you start to anticipate, well before you bring the camera to your eye, what will be in the frame and how the background will most probably look.  That's a cool thing because you begin previsualizing how your shots might look instead of bringing a camera and zoom lens up to your eye and then zooming around hoping to find a workable composition.  I've always thought that the fewer choices I have to (or can) make the more powerful the photos.

 After my experiences last Sunday trying to photograph Suzan-Lori Parks in a dark rehearsal studio I was a bit nervous about my ability to quickly manually focus with autofocus based cameras.  I guess the morning's working session helped me get my focusing eye back in shape because there were very few missed in the afternoon's take.  I stayed at apertures around f2.8.  Sometimes playing with f2 and occasionally messing around with 3.5 but never stopping down past that.  If someone goes out of focus in the background then that's how the art was meant to be.  I know the Canon 5Dmk2 is supposed to have much better IQ than the three generations older 1Dmk2n but I like the way the older camera shortens the reaction time and fires with much less shutter or system lag.  And I am convinced that, for the most part, the inherent quality in both cameras still exceeds my abilities to extract it.  The 85mm lens gets me closer to my goal.

I'm happy with the images I got for the might Rollingwood Waves.  And I'm glad I was only carrying around one camera and one fixed lens.  The part of my brain that usually has to keep track of which zoom is on which body and which one would be best to shoot in a given situation got to take a rest.  And I found out just how much system resources that constant set of subroutines demands.  Freed of largely unnecessary decision making the rest of my brain could spend time analyzing the scenes in front of me and figuring out how to fit them into a fixed construct.  It was like working a with a reduced instruction set computation.  More a+b= photo than a convoluted equation with lots of variables and multiple correct answers.

Next weekend, at one of our saturday morning swim meets I'm going to bring along a 300 2.8 and shoot some video.  We'll see if that makes it into our end of the year slide show.  Big fun.  Cool water.