I'm back. I've been traveling. And working. And performing.

Small, regional jet. How cool is that....?

I traveled to Denver and back this week and the trip was a success. I'd shipped up three cases of equipment the week before and everything, even the fluorescent tubes in my new fixture, arrived unbroken and unscratched. I arrived in Denver on Wednesday afternoon and first thing Thurs. morning I was in a studio setting up portrait lighting demos, getting make-up on my face and listening while my producer picked out the grey, Joseph Aboud polo shirt (with two pockets) that I'd be wearing for my first day in front of the video cameras. Together with a fantastic crew I worked under the studio's Kino Flo glow until we finally finished, exhausted, on late Saturday afternoon. We were shooting the principal content for an educational program about studio portrait lighting.

Everything went just like every video shoot I've ever been on as a still photographer or in the capacity of creative director or DP. Slow and steady. The shoot was more complicated than most because we were trying to show the effects of my lighting and at the same time the crew was trying to make sure that I and the set were both well lit into the bargain. While we had a basic shooting script the was broken down in eight sections, and further divided into chapters, there wasn't a word by word script. Nor was there a teleprompter or even cue cards. I would talk with the producer about a chapter, think for a few minutes about what I needed to say and how I wanted to say it, and then we'd plough right into a take. I flubbed the intros of the first few takes but after I hit my stride we were able to pick up the pace and nearly all the sections (complete with chapters) were done in only one take per section.

We covered a lot of ground. Hard light and soft light. Short light and broad light. Color temperatures, tools, lighting designs, model rapport and style. I even did a section on working with and posing models. The course will be about 2.5 hours long and will launch sometime in mid-August. As soon as I have all the details and permission from the company I've partnered with I pull the wraps off and let  you know all about it. 

I did want to write this today because this is the first time I've been on the other side of the camera (any camera) for a protracted period of time and I feel like I've learned a great deal from a client or talent perspective and I'd like to share a little bit of my new enlightenment.  Here's what I learned:

The first five minutes of the first day were the scariest day I've had in years. I felt myself getting more and more nervous.  My mouth got drier and drier while my brain shut down altogether and I forgot everything I've learned about portrait photography over the past 25 years. I flubbed my lines two or three times and then I changed my mindset, ignored the camera and pitched to the crew instead. It worked. I hit a stride, just as I have in workshops, and the information started flowing. So, don't think of the camera as your audience. Play to the person behind the camera or, if they don't want a direct into camera shot, direct your energy to a real person instead.

Instead of trying to memorize a "speech" about your content break it down into the "big thoughts" and memorize them. As in, I need to start out with an introduction to the course, talk about why someone would need or want to learn portrait lighting, talk about what we're going to cover, intro myself and then do a "tease" or intro into the next lesson. 

I learned that if I slowed down and took a beat between thoughts it was a lot easier for the team to be able to pick up at the end of a thought and just redo whatever didn't work the first time rather than having to start at the top and go through the whole section again. 

I learned that everyone should always check and make sure the main microphone is switched on if they want to go home on time....

It is obvious, and not a new lesson for me, but having a really beautiful and smart model on the set as your foil for the program makes everything much, much better. In this situation the producer presented me with choices weeks earlier and let me make the final call on models. I chose correctly. If you could build your own perfect portrait subject the same way you can build a custom teddy bear at the Build a Bear store at the mall then Victoria is the model I would have designed....


This is just a quick shot at lunch but you can see how fresh and beautiful Victoria is. She was also smart, witty and a natural part of our production team. Wonderful when that happens.

Every morning someone would come by my hotel to fetch me and my bag of cameras and then every evening someone else would drag my bone tired carcass back to the Magnolia Hotel, just in the middle of the city near the theater district. I'd drag myself to Harry's Bar each evening for a quiet dinner, then I'd walk around for a while with my little Samsung camera and try to be in bed and attempting sleep by 10pm. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't.

I was worried that I'd be affected by the altitude but I felt no ill effects whatsoever. I did notice that my resting heart rate did increase from 56 beats per minute to about 62 beats per minute but it's back to normal now that I'm home. 

One thing was different for me on this working trip: I did not bring along a lap top. I brought an iPhone and an iPad. One evening I left my phone and my iPad at the studio and didn't discover their absence until I had been dropped off at the hotel. Miraculously, I found that one can go to a place called a bookstore and actually buy printed books and magazines. The world did not collapse or spasm. I checked my messages the next morning and no massive issues had erupted. 

Today I navigated through the Denver airport. It was packed. It's a tougher crowd than that found at the Austin airport. On average each adult seemed to be about 30 pounds heavier. The wardrobe of this vast sea of "extras" in my airport "scene" today was markedly more "blue collar" that either the cast of my Boston trip or of a recent San Francisco trip. People frowned more. And I've figured out another reason why I don't like tattoos. So many people have them now and most of them are so poorly done that now it's hard to tell which people actually spent time in prison and which people just have poor judgement compounded by bad taste. Denver's tattoo count, per capita, far exceeded Austin's and I've always felt like my home town was awash with bad ink....

I wanted to take an Airport Security roller case (Think Tank) with me but when I found out I would be flying on a munchkin jet I defaulted to the time honored, large Domke bag. All the roller cases got mandatory gate checking while the fully stocked Domke slid right under the seat in front of me and left the plane slung over my left shoulder. Did I want wheels? Hell yeah.  Did I want to gate check $10K worth of camera bodies and lenses and then wait in a sad line in jet way tunnels while baggage "handlers" dropped my cameras off the side of the plane onto the tarmac? Even more hell no. So pragmatism won out over comfort. The bag is wonderful. Don't believe any of the bag talk you've been reading recently on the web. If you don't have a Domke bag you are under equipped. Sorry, no arguments accepted.

I bought some reading material for those two desperate times. The time after they close the cabin doors and the time when the pilots tell you to turn off all electronics for landing (sometimes in the vague future). All electronics go off and then what do you do? Well, that's what the magazine is for. Good article about Soft Lighting and good interview with Joey L. in this month's rag. It was a thirty minute  life saver but I left it on the plane of the next photographer. After all, it is just a 30 minute read.

Weird coincidence. On the same return flight I ran into three of the partner/doctors from Austin Radiological who've been clients of mine for years and years. I've never run into them before when traveling and it's even more coincidental (although there are no intermediate steps of coincidence....) is that it happened in the same week in which Ben will be visiting them to have his wisdom teeth removed. I can only hope they were coming back from some new conference where they learned a new technique to make the procedure painless.

Thanks for patiently waiting. I hope your week was exciting and fun. I'm back and itching to write about photography...


  1. Welcome back. Sounds like you hit it out of the park.

  2. Sounds like a great trip. Wow, and I thought Austin had a lot of tattoos.

  3. Good to have you back safe and sound and blogging again! And is that Jessica Chastain on the cover of Digital Photo Pro?

    1. Thanks! I had a lot of fun in Denver. I learned even more about multi-camera video programming than I thought I would. And yes, that is Jessica Chastain, shot by Joey L, on the cover. Some lucky United Express traveler gets to read it next...

    2. Electronics not a total in-flight blackout. You can use iPhone and iPad cameras in situations where using a dedicated camera might be awkward or forbidden.

      And who's to say the results aren't any less acceptable than more expensive gear, especially for the web...

  4. Glad to hear that you made it back all safe and sound, and are right back into blogging again. I can't wait to find out how we can view/purchase the lighting course. It's always great to learn from a true master!

  5. lol @ tattoo remark. Jacksonville is pretty flush with them as well.


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