An afternoon of "mixed media" shooting by the Visual Science Lab executive staff. On location with toys!

Film maker, Ben Tuck, shoots behind the scenes video on our Clutch Creative adventure.

Some shoots are just drop dead fun. Yesterday's creative shoot for a small ad agency (filled with big brains and even bigger ideas) was one of those really fun and satisfying jobs. I was hired to shoot photographs to be used on their website revision and Ben got hired to shoot the behind the scenes video of the sessions. As always he packed his trusty Sony a57 camera with kit lens, his Rode Videomic and his Gitzo tripod with a small, Manfrotto video head. That and a small bag containing a few batteries, memory cards and miscellaneous stuff.

I went all crazy and took a break from the Sony DSLT cameras in favor of using a bag full of Nex cameras. I packed two Nex 7's and one Nex 6, along with the 19mm and 30mm Sigma lenses, the 50mm 1.8, the image stabilized 18-55mm lens, and an assortment of Olympus Pen F prime lenses, with adapters, as support tools. My favorite non-Sony lens is still the Pen 60mm 1.5 lens which, when stopped down to f2 and beyond is just unreasonably sharp and snappy.

I'm not sure the Nex cameras make absolute sense in this kind of situation if you use them solely as available light systems but I decided to shoot with electronic flash and a big umbrella so the usual caveats about handholding and slower apertures really didn't apply. And given the right glass (like the 50mm or the 60mm Pen) these cameras are as state of the art (image-wise) as just about anything else.

My lighting consisted of my Elinchrom Ranger RX AS pack with one head firing into a Photek 60 inch Softlighter 2 umbrella. Worked very, very well.

Ben and I ate lunch at home and then we filled up the CR-V with our toys and headed over to the agency offices. Ben is learning to drive this Summer so he was piloting the craft. I was trying to both pay hyper-vigilant attention to all danger and also seem casually uninterested and unperturbed so I wouldn't undermine his confidence. We made it with no close calls and no father hand prints permanently embedded in the arm rests.

Ben rolled about an hour's worth of good, clean video and I shot a bunch of expressions and different set ups. It added up to about 700 images. I'm editing them down today. I decided to use the Nex cameras because I made the mistake of venturing over to one of the online discussion forums at the world's biggest website about photography and was overwhelmed with all the useless misinformation about what constitutes "professional photography." Their focus was all about "pro gear."

Where do the rubes get all this stuff? It's like a Spanish Inquisition about cameras. There's a whole deviant theology about how things can and can't be done (professionally) and most of the correspondents in the groups seem to be in lock step agreement about the liturgy of equipment. To wit: All professional cameras must: 1. Be large, bulky and bulletproof. 2. Be able to withstand a monsoon or breaking waves at Wakiki. 3. Be able to shoot frames almost as fast as a movie camera. 4. Must be able to focus almost entirely automatically and at the speed of light. 5. Must be frightfully expensive. 6. Must have an optical viewfinder. 7. Must come with lenses that range from 8mm fisheyes to 1200mm, f4 telephotos. 8. Must be able to transmit images wirelessly at the drop of a hat. 9.  Must help you build muscle mass by providing impromptu weight lifting substitutes. 10. Must be either Nikon or Canon branded.

As I've said many times before, this kind of rigid adherence to the idea of how the business must  have been run in the olden days is laughable. I'd go so far as to say that if you can't make a good image with the cameras you want to work with it's not worth pursuing the career in the first place. The inventory of gear is becoming more and more meaningless by the day. We don't need Arriflex movie cameras in order to make good videos for Vimeo and YouTube. We don't need Maseratis for an afternoon, rush hour commute and we sure don't need any stinking DSLRs to make great images for websites. Or anything else for that matter.

Ben's generation gets it. I offer him more esoteric cameras to shoot with but he routinely produces better programming than I can in video because he understands how important story telling, editing and catching the right action at the right angle is. While camera "A" may be marginally better than camera "B" it's all the intangible human talents that make something watchable or horrifyingly boring. And it's the same in still photography. If I were still working at an ad agency I think I would have come, by now, to fear the photographer in a khaki fishing vest who has the requisite three cameras and the requisite three lenses. Three Nikon D800s or Three Canon 5Dmk3s. The optically mundane 16 or 17mm to 35mm f2.8 lens. The  beastly, large, ponderous and wallowing 24-70mm f2.8 and the OMG, everyone has the identical 70mm to 200mm f2.8 zoom lens. All of them in lock step. Everyone producing safe and boring images that all look alike.

Oh, I almost forgot; the nod to shallow depth of field....the 85mm 1.4 or 1.2 behemoth. Can't leave the studio without the fast glass bling. It's all so mundane and predictable. The supporting script is that somehow all the advertising professionals and magazine (which ones are still left?) photo editors are consumed with only using people who use an approved inventory of gear. My art director friends and my favorite graphic designer of 28 years are amazed that photographers buy this line of insanity for even a minute. They (the ad people) hire because they see images that they like in your portfolio and on your website. The cameras are meaningless to them. Totally irrelevant. If you show great work they believe you can deliver the same for them, and that all technical considerations are the responsibility of the artist. Almost always. There are exceptions but they are damn few. 

Personally, I'd say that your presentation of post production skills trump magic glass every single time. But so do all the intangibles, like imagination and gesture and timing.

We can go both ways here. On the days I need to feel the ego life preserver of over the top gear I can borrow a Leica S2 and some Leica glass from one of my photographer friends. I can rent a Red One camera from GEAR. I can rent a Bentley from the specialty car rental place in town. But you know what? I've never had the need. And neither have my clients.

I like the images I produced for the ad agency. And they must like my work because they keep asking me back. We've shot for them with Fuji, Nikon, Canon, Sony, Olympus and Kodak cameras. We even did a project on the old Sony R1 for them (which was gorgeous...). Same with lights. At the end of the day the most powerful tools are the ability to get along with people, the ability to see composition and lighting solutions clearly and emphatically, and the ability to make it fun.  Yeah, fun. We purposely avoided getting jobs in cubicles or behind cash registers. The reason we did was to be able to make a living creating stuff. Walking around. Meeting people. Sharing ideas. Sharing visions. Telling a marketing story. We don't make our living as an all purpose rental house. And I don't think real clients want that either...


  1. Beautifully said! It's now on my wall to remind me. It is truly fun.

  2. That was a fun read at the end of annoying day. Thank you.

  3. Like you, I've been shooting for a long time. In my circle, I was the first with a computer, the first with photoshop, the first to scan, the first to get a digital camera, and for my friends in the industry, I was the one they went to for information. Now I'm the first to dump all of my Canon gear and go all in with m4/3, which I had been easing into for the past 2 years. My friends are horrified that I could use such cheesy junk. I anticipate that they will soon be calling me in search of info and guidance so they can do the same.

    None of my client care what I use, only that I deliver photographs that capture the moments and tell the stories. And, my back is very grateful to be carrying much less gear. I can shoot longer and with less fatigue. I'm a happy camper.

  4. "pro" rule #11. The camera must be black. No silver bodies.

  5. Thank you! I KNEW you'd find a good home for the A57, and thank you for crediting Ben's efforts where credit is due!

    Why is video so hard for us older still photographers and so easy for our kids? How come I can shoot any type of assignment in stills, but ask me to produce a video on the A57 of the same event and I feel like I turn into my uncle with the Super 8 camera, legs riveted to the floor doing a pan and scan! Great to see Ben getting the attention he deserves!

  6. I saved a whole bunch of grief and headache not visiting those boards you're mentioning or engaging in any gear based debate for months now, and my blood pressure is all the better for it. Those places are full of wannabe photographers truly only concerned about discussing (heatedly if possible) cameras, not actual photo makers who are busy taking real pictures. I'd rather belong to the second group and make this blog my daily morning stop for a fix of refreshing wisdom and clever insight.
    Thank God I'm not a professional photog (I'm being serious, too) but I believe that a professional camera is... a camera skillfully shot by a professional. No more. I shot jumping horses yesterday with a NEX 6 and obviously it would have worked much better with my humble D90. But I know for a fact if I'd had the DSLR I would have produced pro grade images, not because of the Nikon badge on front, but because it's a tool much better suited to the task of moving targets.
    I think Richard Avedon pretty much shot the same large and manual focus camera all his career. That should give the gearheads some stop. If they knew who Avedon was, that is...

  7. Equipment doesn't make you a pro. A pro is someone who can deliver high quality results time and time again on time and on budget. Equipment has nothing to do with it.

  8. Equipment doesn't make you a pro. A pro is someone who can deliver high quality results time and time again on time and on budget. Equipment has nothing to do with it.

  9. The incomprehensible amount of marketing money coupled with the human psyche that is specifically vulnerable to this type of manipulation virtually guarantees the attitude you find in the forums. Even the people who are aware of this vulnerability and guard against it are not immune.

    There are so many depressing aspects to modern cookie cutter life that the endorphin rush associated with new gear is almost impossible to resist. And then, of course, we have the psychological need to validate our decisions by proclaiming our choices to have been the right ones (which, circularly, protect the manufacturers' desired status quo).

    Very few, and certainly not me, are personally secure enough to side step that madness. If you have been able to rise above all the forces pushing you acquire more and "better" feel free to pity us, but please don't judge us too harshly.

  10. " ... the useless misinformation about what constitutes "professional photography."

    Professional Photography is that which someone will pay you for. It's the pictures, stupid.

  11. I love your rough treatment of the heavy DSLRs and associated glass. I switched from Nikon To Olympus OM-D, largely from what I learned on this site. What a relief! Now I can walk around like a human being again, and I feel like I'm off of a gear treadmill.

    Now for that software treadmill...


Comments. If you disagree do so civilly. Be nice or see your comments fly into the void. Anonymous posters are not given special privileges or dispensation. If technology alone requires you to be anonymous your comments will likely pass through moderation if you "sign" them. A new note: Don't tell me how to write or how to blog!