The Joy of Work.

A photograph of Jaylen for a utility company.

There's something really great about photographing an ad and being in the right mental space. We did a series of "real people" in a campaign for a natural gas company and this kiddo was one of our real people. Kind of silly to even say that since no child under three years old can really be trained to do anything consistenty and predictably. This matched the art director's layout because we made it fun for Jaylen to be there.

This is image is one of four principle images we did for the campaign. Every piece of the campaign called for traditional photo skills. I sat with the art director and we discussed how the shoot should "feel". We determined the boundaries. How different could the laundry room we found be from the one in the comp? Exactly what kind of "feel" did our model need to convey? What kind of props would we need? What kind of outfits should we have available for the day of the shoot? Even, "will the client be there and will they need coffee?"

We scouted seven or eight laundry rooms to find one with the right configuration and enough space in which to shoot. Once we lined up the location we had to juggle days to find a slot when the location and the model would both be available. Pretty routine stuff.

The lighting was straightforward. One Profoto 600b bounced off the ceiling with a standard zoom reflector and a second 600b into a large translucent umbrella to the right of the camera. We used the 600b's not because we needed the power but because they could be turned way down, operate consistently and recycle almost immediately. At least as fast as the camera in short bursts. We also didn't want to run power cords around the room because it's just another thing to trip over.

I used an incident light meter to meter the space where Jaylen would be and metered in one foot increments so I could twiddle the aperture if he moved closer or further from the camera. I did a custom white balance before Jaylen stepped in. We arrived an hour before the model and made sure the set was lit and tested before he came in. That way we could work with him fresh.

In all, I took around 160 shots. In some Jaylen had the teddy bear upside down, or backward but whatever the orientation of the teddy bear we were all happy and encouraging. In the frame above we got exactly what the art director and client anticipated in the concept stage. In retrospect it all seem so simple. Just know exactly where the perfect, fictive laundry room is and how to get permission from a family who doesn't need your location fee. How to find a perfect model and have them come 100 miles to participate. How to be a child psychologist for the talent and a therapist for a nervous client who's "not sure this is gonna work!" Oh, and how to do all the camera and lighting work as well.

But you know, when it all works together there's such a feeling of accomplishment. And in a way we are more privileged than people in most other lines of work. We have a beginning a middle and an end. At the end of our projects we get to see a physical manifestation of our work. A finished piece of art. This morning, over coffee, our little sunday coffee group was talking about repetition in the workplace. We talked about how hard dentists studied only to end up doing pretty much the same thing over and over again through their entire careers. And how managers never see an endpoint or something they can point to and say, "I did that."

When you finish a shoot like this one there's a good feeling. And if you really like the finished piece you might put it in your portfolio or on your website. But it's always so much fun when, months later, you open your statement from the gas company and you see your work as the statement stuffer along with the invoice, and you can say, "I did this!"

Transitional Note: I closed my account at Flickr yesterday. For those of you who aren't aware of Flickr it is a big site where people can join groups like: The Strobist Discussion Forum (where people discuss how to light with small, battery powered flash unit) Or the Olympus Group (where people talk about the latest Olympus digital cameras and lenses). Each group has a pool of photos which they can share with one another and solicit comments and feedback.

I felt like I had become irrelevant to most of the group's participants. I'd posted many, many pages of stuff over the years but the nature of these giant forums is that there will always be newcomers asking the same questions that have been covered over and over again.

And like most forums composed of mostly men the questions and topics are much more geared to "how to" rather than "why". Call me cynical but I think all of the why is in the owner's manuals and the countless tutorials at YouTube, etc. I ran out of "how to" and decided that, rather than swim upstream I would bow out and leave the infinite discussions for those with more disposable energy.

The interesting things is that every resource like this starts out small and intimate. The feeling of support and mutual education is palpable. There reaches a certain point (think Seth Godin's ruminations on one's tribe never being able to exceed 450 people...) at which people see the resource as nothing more than a free web app which should correspond to their specific needs. At that point the things that made it a valuable resource for the early members vanishes. It serves a new need and a new market.

That's when the early dinner guests understand that there is a second seating and that their feast is over and the door beckons. Better to move on that trash the dining room. You never know when you might want to return for a meal.......

Important lesson: Spend less time talking about photography and more time doing it.


  1. Kirk, you will be missed at Flick'r but at the same time it means I'll be spending more time here!
    Keep up the great work!
    (photopaul65 on Flick'r)

  2. Well, I for one am grateful that you dropped in on flickr. You have given me things to think about without a doubt :) Enjoy doing what you do, and enjoy doing it well.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Heard you ditched flickr. Good for you. Place is a time suck. Love the above photo and I love the show and tell in the writing. We'll just need to move a couple hundred thousand people from flickr to here. Piece o cake.

  5. I would rather talk about the 'why', rather than the 'how', but finding a forum in which to do this seems impossible. Thanks for all the information and common sense you provided over at flickr.

  6. I had a similar experience with Garage Glamour. I loved the forum in the begining. It really was about shooting chicks in your garage. After a time it grew to have stuff like Premium memberships and there were all sorts of paid seminars being promoted there. It just wasn't fun for me anymore, so I left.

    I still enjoy the Strobist forum on Flickr and I enjoy putting videos on You Tube. I'll continue to do both until they are no longer fun.

  7. I understand your feeling about Flickr, and in some respects I get disappointed as well. But if you look carefully enough and follow a scent there is good stuff there.

    For people like me who are not professionals but are serious amateurs the options to share photos are limited. Sure, I could have my own site, but who would see it and how would it engage conversation? As it stands, Flickr is still a good option if you ignore the gear-oriented "newbies" and search for the artists. Diamonds in the rough.

    I also use Zenfolio where I share more personal or family work.

  8. The Flickr Strobist forum is largely gadgetry. If I wanted to learn about the cheapest possible radio triggers, that's the place.

    Then there's the perennial technical subjects that I doubt you'll miss like the proper way to position a lightmeter. I admire your past willingness to comment on that one each time it shows up.

    Then there's the perennial "kvetch about the business" subjects that never go anywhere because business forces don't read flickr.

    Then finally there's the philosophical subjects that seem to draw in experienced people like you and result in the most hurt feelings. They are the most interesting to read, but never converge because there's no "closed form" solution to any interesting artistic question.

    In previous blog posts you mentioned missing the social interactions at the coffee shop and the photo lab in the old days. That sort of professional to professional conversation will be the exception in a general interest Internet discussion group.

    I've noticed that high profile contributors often disappear suddenly. This makes me think they were getting both strongly positive and negative things from engaging. The negatives finally prevail and *poof* they're gone. At least I imagine that's how it goes. For me the positives are mild and the negative can be summed up with the phrase "Internet time sink." As I lose interest I'll just read less and fade away.

  9. Kirk, I beat you to it! Left the Flickr Strobist forum last Friday. It was fun while it lasted but I realized (as you pointed out) that there are better places to spend your time than on online forums. You only get a limited amount of playtime on forums like that before reaching the point of rapidly diminishing returns. And if you're really into philosophical debates then this blog or a real cafe is a much better place. I was surprised you lasted as long as you did.

    Cool to see the readership numbers (as expressed in the number of commentors) have gone way up since you started this blog!

  10. Hi, Kirk.

    First, I love the picture above. It conveys several emotions, fun, joy (at getting the bear back from the wash), and innocence.

    I, too, empathize with your point about spending your time wisely. I've found that over the past several years, I've gradually found less and less satisfaction from time spent online. I used to participate in computer, motorcycle, and photography groups. Now I down to just the photography. I'm rapidly losing my enthusiasm there.

    There seems to be a lot of rehash of the same topics because the poster couldn't be bothered to search. Also, the endless debates about gear are getting tiresome. I'd rather grab my grandson and camera and go to the park. It may or may not be improving my skills, but there is always the feeling that it was time well spent on the way home.

  11. Interesting comment about the size of tribes. I have been around the Olympus DSLR forum since there were a handful of us and we were excited about the E10 (a pretty amazing camera, all in all). I drop in everyday still, but don't share much, but look forward to comments from you and Doug Brown (from Toronto Wide) who's writing is great teaching and storytelling like yours. I get to read about the why from you all, and that makes sticking around worthwhile. And the love and support, from those have been around along time. It is a gift. So please don't leave the Olympus forum as well.

  12. Kirk - I will miss your presence in the Strobist group on Flickr. The group will miss your calm rational wisdom. Ultimately though, Strobist is all about 'how to'. Trying to pin down 'why' is akin to a discussion about religion - most are too invested in their own position to open themselves to wider possibilities.

  13. Flickr never appealed to me in the forum sense of things. In fact, I can't remember a single forum that ever actually caught my attention and held it tight.

    Flickr's function in my process is as an online back-up for "keepers". I could pay for my own webspace or pay an online back-up site to upload my entire photo directories for back-up, but that route either costs more or simply isn't as flexible. Using Flickr as a back-up ensures access to full resolution images for printing, creates thumbnail and reduced sizes for viewing on a cell phone or laptop and even presents everything in a nice, automatically generated slideshow format without any effort on my part. Tack on the organizational benefit of sets and collections to sort through the sea of images and it's as good a back-up as my array of XHDD's. Not to mention the chance of random exposure to other Flickr users who might possibly be interested in my work, which may not be a direct objective but is certainly a fun little side benefit. Definitely worth the $20-a-year for me.

    Of course, that's just me. I'm all about cloud computing and mobility, and Flickr happens to cater to that need. Typically when I'm at Starbuck's and want to share a photo I've taken the thing that comes out is my cell phone with the Tickr app open, ready to share my gallery. It's simply convenient.

  14. Kirk,
    I've recently returned to a former (40 years former) hobby, photography. I've, bought, read and reread a couple of your books on lighting and would recommend them to any photographer. From the books I found your web site/blog. So I have only a recent, short snapshot of your writing. I say this with all due respect and as someone who spent his career managing high energy, high tech, successful, aggressive people but who certainly doesn't claim any medical ability. Take a three month sabbatical. Lay down your camera. Go sailing or snorkeling or whatever gets you away - but with no camera. In the high tech industry we call it incipient burnout.

    With all good wishes.

  15. I've enjoyed your blog very much and hope you continue to let it fly where ever it takes you.

  16. Kirk,

    I love the story above. Virtual coffee shop fare.

    How'd you find the talent?

    Please keep writing stuff like this. Your audience will follow you.

  17. Hey Bill, We did a "Craig's List" casting. I went to traditional agencies first but no one does really little kids. The CC casting was done in desperation but this little guy was just who we needed.

    We did right by them on modeling fees and paperwork.

  18. The 'why' is always much more interesting than the how, but also seems to be harder to pin down and talk about. The what and how technically is much easier, so people stick to that (and write books about it, more often than not)

  19. Kirk - if you can handle her, my 2 yr old has plenty of fun energy for shots like this! :-)

  20. I recently closed my Flickr account as well. Like you, I found the same questions being posted over and over again; the groups I participated in would see spikes in new members, followed by spikes in redundant questions, followed by spikes in uploads of work that was mediocre at best. And most of the discussion revolved around gear, not the thought process behind the shot.

    The thing is, it's happening everywhere, not just Flickr. A visit to any of the more popular forums will result in the same conclusion. It's tiresome.

    The other thing I'm noticing is an increase in "attitude" among the forum membership. Answers to questions posed by beginners are laced with snarky comments, and answers to more advanced questions seem to always end up being a pissing match of, "I'm more Pro than You".

  21. Good article and I also really like the photograph that resulted from the project.

    Sorry to lose you from Flickr, Kirk. I always enjoyed and learned a great deal from your contributions to both the Studio Lighting and Strobist groups.
    Your reasons make sense, though, and your leaving will be our loss, not yours.
    I'll just have to read what you have to say here and elsewhere instead. :-)
    All the best, Nionyn

  22. Hi Kirk,
    Thanks for all the great fun @ flickr and thanks for the occasional great critique.

    I agree with you and with previous commenters that said that why is more interesting. However the ways to get to the "why" are countless and for some (me included) they are tightly coupled with the how.
    you leaving flickr is gonna bring a storm of RSS subscribers to the blog :)


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