8.18.2011

Putting my hands, my eyes and my head where they belong.

It all came together for me a few days ago.  I realized why I'm such a formalist when it comes to photography. Why I like the older cameras.  Why I like the old Hasselblads.  They slow me down and make me think about what I'm about to shoot.  I came home from an assignment (thank you, dear clients for continuing to believe in the value of creative, custom images...) and I was taken by the light in my living room.

It's been hellishly hot here for the last few weeks and we have six double French doors (all glass) that face west.  For a few hours they get direct sun, filtered through a few 60 foot tall, live oaks.  One day when I was in the studio I realized that I owned three, two stop silk diffusers that were currently just sitting around taking up shelf space so I went outside and put them up over the outside of the French doors.  You can still come in and out but you have to come in thru a curtain.  And when the sunlight hits the silk it lights up my living room like a movie set.  It's a wall of intense but soft, directional light.  The same kind of light you might think you'd get out of a six foot by eighteen foot softbox but you wouldn't.  It's better because the sun is further away and the fall off is less quick.  In the digital only days I would have grabbed Ben and shot a few handheld portraits and walked away.  But a few days ago when I came home I was transfixed by the light and decided I'd give the new (old) camera a try.  I loaded some Tri-X, into the camera, locked the 150mm lens on the front and then tossed the whole assemblage onto a Berlebach tripod.  I grabbed an old Minolta incident light meter and headed into the house. The finder is so perfect that I took my time comping the shot for the sheer pleasure of it.  I was critical, thoughtful, deliberate.  I pulled out the meter and metered the exposure very carefully.  I had twelve shots and I was committed to getting what I wanted in twelve or fewer exposures.

Ben was game and planted himself, as directed, on the arm of a chair at an angle to the wall of light.  It was so easy to focus the 40 year old lens.  Wide open the slender sliver of sharpness popped up like candy.  Instead of banging away with a motor drive we were both thoughtful and collaborative in our imaging duet.  The feel of the shutter release was industrial engineering at its finest.  The slap of the mirror was solid and calm like the closing of a door on a big Mercedes car.  The snick of the shutter was flawless.  And then there was a pause as the finder went dark and the whole process waited for me to wind the crank and reposition all the internal clockwork for the next shot.  Time enough to mentally process the slow changes wrought by multiple seconds of delay between each release of the shutter.  Time to talk to Ben, to listen and then to make everyone quiet again in anticipation of the next opportunity.

When we finished Ben went off to do some last minute Summer math assignment and I had the pleasure of pulling out the film insert, removing physical film and licking (yes! licking with my tongue) the adhesive paper strip that seals the exposed film into its own cocoon of paper layers to protect the latent image on its journey to the lab.

It was a wonderful experience.  And now I'm hooked.  I shot a commercial job on digital cameras today and I have no doubt that it will be well exposed and sharp as a tack.  The colors will be on the money and if they're not I can fix the raw files in any  number of programs.

But with the film camera I had to get it right.  I had to use both sides of my brain in tandem and I realized how much exercise I'd need to get my creative muscles back into shape in order to re-master real photography.  Challenge = joyous success.  Shooting film means you have more skin in the game.  That makes the sweet taste of success all the sweeter.

A break from the medium format nostalgia to talk about the Boy Scout motto.



 You know the motto.  It's "Be Prepared."  And corny as it sounds it's one of the most important things I remember from the fogs of my own history as a Boy Scout.  And I generally hew to the motto in all things photographic, from having back-ups in my gear to double checking locations and weather maps before shoots.  But I fell down on the job yesterday.  I rallied but I wasn't happy with myself.  Yesterday was our first day of shooting on an annual report shoot that will go on for the next week or so.  We have to shoot in August and, since it's for a roadway/construction concern, all the photography is outdoors.

As you might know Texas is in the midst of both an extraordinary drought and a record breaking heat wave.  We've gone over sixty days with triple digital daytime temperatures.  It's pretty amazing stuff.  If I were a landscape architect right now I sure would be reading up in the finer points of xeriscaping.....

So when I planned for the shoot yesterday I found just the right broad-rimmed hat, the perfect non-polarized sunglasses,  a Sportif technical shirt with an SPF of 40 (long sleeves please),  a very cool pair of long cargo shorts (I know, I know....) and appropriate shoes for stumbling around big blocks of concrete and rebar.  I put a case of 16 ounce bottles of Gatorade in the ice chest along with a couple of cooling neck wraps.  And then I packed the gear.

We were shooting for a square print sized brochure with ten inches on a side.  I packed a Canon 5Dmk2 as my main camera and the 7D as a back up.  I knew we'd want some sweeping, dramatic shots so I packed the 20mm and the 24-105mm L for the full frame camera and a lovely old Tamron 11-18mm SP for the cropped frame 7D.  I also brought along but never got around to using the full complement of Zeiss lenses.....

And here's where I screwed up.... I opened the filter drawer and grabbed all of the circular polarizing filters.  There must of have been two pounds worth.  I tossed them into the camera bag along with the other stuff.  And I ASSUMED I had all the filter diameters covered.  Both the 11-18 and the 24-105 take a 77mm filter.  I had 52,  55, 58, 62, 67, 72, and 82mm filters.  In some cases I had duplicates!
But not a single 77mm filter.  So I did the next logical thing and looked through the filter case for the 77 to 82mm step up ring I was almost certain I had.  Nope.  Didn't exist.

Turns out that the lens/filter combo I ended up using all day long was the 11-18+ cir.  polarizer.  I gave new meaning to "hand made photos" as I ended up holding the filter in place with my fingers, being as careful as I could be not to intrude on the image area.  Everything worked well but it was a pain in the butt.  Sometimes I was perched on top of a ladder, camera gripped in one hand, filter gripped in the other, gripped with more than my normal dose of acrophobia......all while sweating away in the direct rays of the sun.

When we finished our shot list for the day I made a careful inventory of the filters and all of my different lens filter sizes and went straight to Precision Camera to fill in any blanks.  We start up again today and I'm happy to say I feel like I am finally well prepared.....



A quick note on contracts.  When you start working with a new PR agency or Ad Agency it's an important time to revisit your commitment to getting signed contracts.  We have a policy here in the studio that calls for signed agreement forms for every new project.  If we've worked with a client for many years and are responding to a quick request for a shoot chances are we'll send them a quick e-mail outlining the project and the cost and ask them,  "Is this what you had in mind?  Does this price work for you?"  And when we get back, from an ongoing client, a response like:  "Yes.  That works.  The budget is fine."  We'll get to work even though we haven't covered ourselves with grade "A" paperwork.

But every once in a while there's a new agency taking over an account we've worked on for years.  Even though we have a good relationship with the final client it's pretty much mandatory, if the agency is "contracting" with us for the client, that we get a more robust contract in place with details about who is paying for what and when.  We also have a policy of getting a deposit for half of our initial project fees and costs upfront.  It's a quick way of separating the serious from the bullshitters.  Money talks.

If we don't get the signed contract we have a couple of choices.  Of course we can walk off the project but then we open the door to any and all competitors......and you can be sure that a new agency you haven't heard of has one or two favorite suppliers just waiting in the wings....or you can go back to the direct client and make your case to them.  Another reason to keep your client relationships happy and mutually beneficial.

And I'll let you in on one of our firmest rules:  All attorneys, churches and politicians must pay up front or when we deliver the images.  No exceptions.  Here's why:  If you get crosswise with an attorney as a client you'll never be able to outmaneuver them when it comes to collections.  They know every way imaginable not to pay a bill they aren't fond of.  Churches all believe that you really shouldn't charge them in the first place because, of course, they are doing "God's work."  They will forget an unwritten agreement quicker than a prayer.  And it's really not going to raise your professional profile within your community to have to sue a church.....  Finally, if you work for a politician and they lose....they are already out of money and you'll become just one in a long line of unsecured creditors.  And believe me, it's hard to raise campaign funds after the fact to pay off debts already incurred.

You can go all self-righteous on me if you are an attorney.  I understand that there are a ton of good and honest ones.  It goes back to the "bad apple" theory.  (In all honesty, I have friends who are attorneys who I would work for at the drop of a hat...these are rules that can be interpreted....).    You can be appalled at my lack of respect for "the church" but I've been on the other side of a couple of deals and I'm pretty sure that as long as humans are involved in the process there are a few financial leaps of faith I'd rather not make.  And no matter which side of the ideological coin you fall on I'm pretty sure, if you think about it, you'll get my very direct caveat about working for politicians.

Don't forget your hat and your polarizers.  It's going to be a hot one....