Fun with portraits. Audience in tow.

I was showing portrait lighting as I like to do it.  This is a very quick (five minutes) set up with my assistant, Amy, some big LED panels and a nice diffusion scrim.

I'll admit to being a being a closet introvert.  I'd teach more workshops but I really don't like to spend a lot of time in crowds and I always feel like I'm responsible for people learning something.  Some days I just don't feel like much of a conduit between information and it's intended targets.  Yesterday and today are good examples.  I walked into the Austin Photo Expo, where I'd agreed to do four workshops, and I hit the wall from all the silly stuff I'd been doing all week.  You can only go so far, so fast before you run out of emotional gas and find yourself running on fumes.  I hadn't put together a slide show and it showed.  I tried to talk through it but....as I predicted....major fail.  I sat down over lunch and hammered together a rudimentary Apple Keynote presentation with 60 slides and I went back at 1pm and had a great time with the audience.  I had another show this morning at 10:15 and did equally well.  This afternoon the audience was thin so we all just had a good time.

I set up a demo in which I used panels and Amy to show how I would light a portrait for myself.  We fooled around with the silly lights (fill, hair, backlight) and then we stripped it all away and did it right.

Amy is sitting about ten feet in front of a grey canvas and just behind her is a 500 LED instrument, covered with some white, nylon ripstop, diffusion material.  It's set to full power. Over to Amy's left (the right side of the frame) I've set up a 6 by 6 foot diffusion scrim and I'm lighting it with one 1,000 LED panel and one 500 LED panel.  That's it.  I love the way the big, soft light transitions from the highlight side of her face to the shadow side.  I love the little triangle of light just to the right of her nose and I love the little kick of light under her chin.  It's actually bouncing off her chest.

I'm using an older Canon 1Dmk2N because it has a firewire connection that gives me a fast and stable connection to my laptop, which, in turn is connected to the projector so the people in the class can see the shots as we progress.  I also like that even when shooting RAW the files aren't very big and they download into the tethering program very quickly.  I shot at ISO 640 just because that's where the camera was set when I picked it up.  I was using the Zeiss ZE 85mm lens.  I meter directly through the camera.

Amy is an accomplished photographer in her own right and she intuited exactly the look I wanted in the photograph and locked right into it.  We shot two frames of this pose and moved on to show what the image would look like with more fill light, etc.  But for me the two frames were the synthesis of how I want to shoot people.  Direct, unaffected and focused.  No extra effects.  No theatrics.

We wrapped up each session except for the last in the same way.  People who were too shy during the session came up to the podium to ask me their personal questions.  That's okay.  I like to have a personal connection too.  The fun people were the dozens of attendees who went out of their way to thank me for continuing to blog.  It felt good.

Amy and I wrapped all the equipment back up and carted it out to the Element.  We hugged and then drove off into the growing twilight of the Fall night.  In a way I felt that I'd come full circle to the way I always wanted to photograph.  An older style that might not have as much relevance today but seems so nice to me.

Which brings up a bittersweet observation.  Most of the people at the Expo seemed to be the same older photographers I see everywhere.  Many of them sporting big cameras and big camera bags.  They came to look at this year's iteration of their generations'  cool tools.  They flocked to the Canon and Nikon tables in droves.  And yet the younger generation, though not as well represented, were flocking to the smaller cameras.  There was palpable disregard, in their ranks, for the "big iron."  And it signalled to me that we were at a generational disconnect that presages a new age in both the hobby of photography as well as the business of photography.

The dependance on the big tools is fading.  No one in the emerging new group seemed to care about the stuff that we craved when we first were dragged, kicking, screaming and denying, into digital.  They don't care about big cameras or enormous lenses.  They aren't captivated by more resolution.  They look for cameras that are fast and fluid and casual.  They want good high ISo performance and small overall profiles.  They are looking for good industrial design to be coequal with good technical specs.  Think iPhone as opposed to the original Motorola "brick."

For them, the camera is an extension of hand and eye, not a puzzle or equation to be mastered. They want their cameras to be as operationally transparent as an iPhone or an iPad.  And while I have an emotional and nostalgic attachment to the tools and trappings I grew up with I'm quickly coming to recognize that it's a style and a set of tools that's quickly losing its legitimacy these days.  Smaller and more natural is the main thrust of our art these days.  The cameras in ascendency are the Panasonic G series, the  Olympus Pens, the Nikon 1 series and, most recently, the little Fujis.

Five years ago, at events like the Austin Photo Expo, we would have seen lots and lots of manufacturers showing off their electronic strobe systems.  Their monolights and traditional pack and head systems.  We would also have seen lots of booths offering a wide array of softboxes and umbrellas.  Most of that was gone this year.  In their place were endless Speedlight modifiers and attachments. There were more compact florescent fixtures than monolights and everywhere I looked people were figuring out how to use small cameras with smaller lights.

Austin is trend forward.  The Walmarts and Costcos and Best Buys will probably still sell millions of Rebels with kit lenses and Nikons with kit lenses.  But the tsunami is building from here.  And in cool towns all over the world.  And the trend is smaller, faster, more fluid, more liquid, more automation, more stealthiness.  It's cameras you can carry without burden to match a direction that implies that your camera will go with you everywhere and create mini-masterpiece series instead of one masterpiece at a time.  It's a brain shift.  And I understand it.  The days of carrying your Canon 1DS mk3 to the coffee shop are as over as carrying in your CB radio.

If you are waiting for the cycle to return and big cameras and static images to be back in style you need to start thinking of evolution as three dimensional spirals instead of two dimensional circles.

Added this morning (Monday Nov. 14):  For another version of Amy, by atmtx try this link:


Ah. The friendly advice. How to improve my blog....

I ran into a photographer I know at the Austin Photo Expo and we spent a few minutes catching up.  He's a nice guy and fun to talk to at parties, etc.  But after five minutes or so of comparing notes he smiled and told me he was glad I'd decided to get back to blogging.  That felt nice.  But then I left myself wide open.  He asked me if I wanted a little advice about improving the blog.  I should have said, "no!"  but instead I politely nodded and said, "sure."  And he proceeded to give me the same advice that I've heard from every "blogexpert" and web source you can imagine.  I tried to will my ears to close and my brain to shut down but it doesn't really work that way.  Damn primitive human physiology....

In a nutshell his advice was this:  1.  Many of my blogs are too long!  He felt that I should work on trimming down the content to make it more manageable.  He added that he has twenty or so blogs that he reads everyday and that the length of the articles means that many times he can only skim them so that he's able to get on to the next blog.  Hmmmm.

2.  I shouldn't post so frequently.  He suggested that, if I felt compelled to be.....productive (like a cough) that I might want to warehouse the overflow and dribble out the content in some sort of "just in time" delivery scenario like a discount warehouse.  Again, if I post more that once a day this puts a burden on the reader who, with twenty or so bloggers on his radar,  gushing forth a torrent of somewhat disconnected content, may not be able to match pace.  Interesting leap of faith here.  That I can write faster than my audience can read.....

So, I'd like to address this as it may further focus my intentions as a "blogger."  Or even better, my intentions as a writer.

First of all,  I use just enough words to get across the message and the inflections of my messages.  No more.  No less.  While breathy and gushy quick hit blogs may be just the thing shallow readers crave, like Hallmark Greeting card sentiments,  I only want to write for an audience that's comfortable swimming in the deep end.  If a paltry 2,000 or 3,000 words is more than one can handle in a few minutes, with coffee already coursing through the system,  then the length of my blog is not the only problem bubbling to the surface.  We must, as a culture, be  developing an epidemic of ADHD.  

If my writing is too long and vapid to hold your attention then, by all means, give yourself permission to change the channel.  But in various chats with lots of followers, the majority indicate that they like the meaty, chewy and satisfying length we at VSL give to a fair number of our articles.  Like a juicy, marbled Ribeye, hot from the grill....  And let's be frank.  If everyone is following the "web savvy" advice and writing, like, two paragraphs,  where are all the people with "abnormally" long attention spans going to go for their photo reading enjoyment?  It's an ethical conundrum for sure.

As to the second point.  The frequency of posting.  That is even more interesting to me because it indicates that my web educator might not be fully aware of how the world wide web works....  It's like a giant capacitor.  You can keep throwing information at the web and it will keep storing up the charge. And when you aren't reading it the web (through the magic of Google, et al) will patiently sort it, rank it and even vet it for you.  Then, just like Tivo, you can come back at any time and enjoy it on your own schedule.  BUT....big news flash!!!!!  We annoying artists and writers don't work on a schedule, really.
We write stuff when it comes to us, post it and move on.  Clearing our palettes for the next thought.  We are NOT administrators.  We are not we traffic managers.  Managing your dosage is your responsibility. I ain't gonna start spreadsheeting my writing on some punch clock schedule just so you can use the web in "live mode" only.....

So, in a nutshell,  I will write as long a post as I'd like and as many posts as I like AND I will post them all willy-nilly and leave it up to my peeps to learn how much they can drink in at one sitting.  But I'm not dumbing it down any further than it is right now because I don't want to lose the kind of readers I'm happy with in the pursuit of gaining a class of readers I am less happy with. (And the second group is certainly more numerous....)  Some people shop at Walmart and I'm okay with that but I like a different experience and I'm even more Okay with that.  (Too bad I can't "smarten it up" but this is all I've got.  Just like power to the warp drive engines on Star Trek.  I can hear all the Scotty's in the brain engine room yelling into the intercom:  "We're giving her all we've got, captain!")

I'm certainly not angry or upset that my photographer friend offered me his opinion but I'm sure pissed at myself for agreeing to hear it in the first place. Everyone who comes to photography from the real world of business is hobbled because they see photography through the constructs and vicious metrics of profitability.  Photographers who came to the business because of their love for art and expression may be hobbled when it comes to making the maximum financial profit from each effort but at least when we are at work we're not looking at our subjects through layers of spreadsheets.  We run unfettered.  (maybe there's a class on creativity stuck in there somewhere....we expunge the math brain, the profit brain and the judgement brain and send people out to shoot things that are pleasing to themselves...).

You may have noticed a scant number of ads on the site.  As the VSL becomes more "popular" we've been getting approached by more and more companies which would like to advertise on our site.  And it's tempting but there's a trade off for everything.  And I know I would not be above the subtle, subconscious manipulation of a vendor's gracious largess.  And then you'd have to "read between the lines" (which would double the length of the articles).  When people write novels they don't sell ad space between the pages.  I know I'm not writing a novel here but every time I sit down to write something I like to start with a clean "piece of paper."  I think I'll keep pitching my books here, toss in an Amazon link for a product I've bought myself and leave it at that.  Then, at least my motives will be above reproach even when my grammar and spelling is not.

Finally,  everyone over thirty who thinks they know dick about how things "really" work on the web is full of crap.  Marketing on the web is a constantly moving target and all the metrics in the world will only tell you what worked yesterday, not what's going to work tomorrow.  Every site is different.  Every demo absorbs the web in a different way.  We use a proven method at VSL.  It's called, "Throw it at the wall and see if it sticks."  Our only metric is:  "Did Kirk want to write this?"

The above photo was taken in a studio, under a .25 Watt light bulb with the V1 at 1600 or 3200 ISO. 

(Can he write, "dick" on the web????)