An overdue Sunday walk helps reinforce a sense of place. Regardless of which amazing camera you choose.

You purist out there are going to hate me for this but for the last week I've gotten stuck on a silly, post processing mode in Aperture that Apple calls "Toy Camera." It ramps up the contrast and saturation of an image and then applies a whopping big dose of vignette. I think I started playing with it because my images were looking meek and soft and I wanted to experiment with a more, "in your face style." I'm sure I'll get over it and go back to my flatter and less frantic post processing.

I spent my week doing portraits (stills) and interviews (video) and I was ready for some "non-human" photography time. Many people seem to think that cityscapes are boring unless you do them in one of the "great capitols" where imposing, august and intimidating buildings that were made many years ago live. Cities as populated with interesting architecture the way Palm Springs is populated with golfers (and from time to time, photographers...).  I might agree with that assessment if my goal was to catalog and show off the architectural achievements of my fair city but in fact I walk and photograph to reinforce my sense of place. I see the city as constantly growing and changing. Not always for the better but not always badly. Having a mental image of what local places look like gives me some sort of comfort that I find hard to explain.

On the day of this walk I took the (relatively) new Sony a58 and the muscular 16-50mm f2.8 lens with me. I like the camera just fine but I love the lens. And I love it even better when I watch through the electronic finder after I take the shot and watch the camera's processor apply the corrections in it's little memory banks to the image. The lines straighten out and the corners lighten up. But then I just mess it up again in post processing with my Toy Camera Mania.

I spent all week in the studio so when I went out I looked for all the places where the central Texas sun does it's hot, bright, bully light all over everything. The images above and below were taken up on the third level of the Austin Convention Center. Interesting thing, the ACC is open every time I go there. Whether they are having a car show or meeting or nothing at all the building seems constantly accessible to me. Given the long halls with flooding sunlight and all the blandly interesting post modernist touches I am amazed that it's not full of film students doing guerilla photo shoots, without permission or permits. At the very least some exploratory fashion photography? Whatever. But the bathrooms are convenient and the water fountains are cold.

One benefit of keeping track of a city center growing like a weed is knowing which locations you want to put in the background of a location portrait and what the best time of day is to make it happen well. 

Our downtown never seems to sleep. There are multiple art and music festivals just about every weekend, and something like 120 music/night clubs in a one and a half mile strip. The problem for diurnal shooters like me is that most of the big events take place outside, during the day. The sun is harsh on faces  but looks great on buildings. I guess I need to go out later and haunt the few interior venues with interesting interior light....

I like walking the city with a small camera and a good lens because it allows me to get seriously good images when I see them while making a casual and lightweight enough package so that it feels as though it's just along for the ride. If I don't find anything to shoot then no big deal.

Okay, I think I'm over my "toy camera" phase. Just had to get it out of my system...

Changing my mindset from the "loner, creative photographer" to the "team player immersed in creating content". Now there's a leap.

I think it's a quirk of the human mind to always be looking in the rear view mirror at where we've been and what we've done, and how we did it. And, in an anthropological sense it's logical. Learn from the past. You have to take into consideration that for the vast majority of the time we've been wondering around this planet (as a species, camera-less)  the rates of profound changes in process and tradition for most generations of humans were....glacial. So I think we're pretty much hardwired to look for future solutions by mining our past experiences. What that leads to in an age of hyper-change and accelerating process evolution is a never ending set of schism points between people who "get" the lastest change in X and people who just pull up hard and stop in place. No bandwidth to go any further. Shut down and operating on whatever brain operating system version was in place at the moment they hit the wall of progress. 

You see it everywhere. There are some people who don't want to learn how to pump their own gas. Others who've never adapted to using the web. Still others that "don't get Twitter" and millions who aren't sure why their otherwise rational sons and daughters walk around in a haze staring at their phone screens as though some benevolent technology god was just about to impart the "final secret" through that medium. Remember the shock, disappointment and lost sales BMW suffered when they first introduced the "i-drive" to a generation of series 7 car buyers who were baffled by the interface? And why they might need/want it?  Maybe we could chalk that one up to crappy interface design. 

I'm of a generation that loves to talk about how we did it, pre-digital. And really? No one gives a shit. I'm also of the generation of imaging specialists who think they might just skate through their entire professional lives doing just one thing or one process really, really well. And why not? They won't have to expend any additional time learning more. I read a "Pro" forum today. A traditional wedding shooter was bemoaning the story that he had "booked" nineteen weddings last year but only four this year. You could feel his anguish. He went on to say he just couldn't understand why everyone wanted to mess up their images (taken with phones) by dragging them through the filters in Instagram. He just knew that if he could show them the pristinely sharp, perfectly color corrected and (yawn) perfectly posed portraits that he was able to knock out and print onto canvas with his Nikon D3X and such and such lens he felt certain that they'd want his product. A backward look at a product that sold well in the 1980s.

So, where am I going with this? Well, it dawned on me that most businesses do better when they listen to the customers they aspire to serve. I've just come off what I would have described as a schizophrenic week just a few years ago. Schizophrenic in that I got to wear many hats. I bounced back and forth between working as a still photographer, a portrait photographer, a script consultant, a video lighting designer, a director and a DP. The two video interviews I helped create were for businesses who felt ready to up their sell on their websites. One was for a law firm the other for an executive coach. Both mixed together my long term lighting skills with new stuff I keep learning about video in the digital age. We also produced a TV commercial for an entertainment client. When I say, "produced" I mean that I worked with a creative person and my part was to set up the lighting, engineer the sound and then run the camera. My partner created the script, ran the teleprompter and did the edits.

During the same week I shot an ad image, several portraits and did some fun art documentation. In the last few days, when I've dropped by agencies that I've worked with before, either to drop off work, or to drop by some promo, my creative counterparts ask me what I've been up to. When we talk about making video their eyes light up and conversations moves from polite banter to full attention. What just about every creative person and corporate marketing person is looking for is a full on content provider rather than a breadbasket full of disparate cogs that require assembly. 
But this is not the way we used to do it in the rear view mirror.

I spoke with a regular client about an upcoming project next week. He's used my video services for interview recently and has hired me as a photographer many times over the past ten years. We discussed his need for "B-roll" video as well as still images in our upcoming location at a tech manufacturing facility. He wanted to know if I could light my set ups with continuous lights, shoot the still images and then roll some video for inserts. It was a good discussion. He's designing the new website to use only horizontal image content. That means we can go in with a video tripod and fluid head.  We'll lock it down for the stills and we'll move for the video. The budget gets a bump as well. 

This was the lighting package I took to the location ad shoot. 
Big flash and lots of power. But for the rest of the week it was...
....all continuous, continuously.

I dropped off a couple DVDs to another long term client today who asked me, "What's up?" We dove into the video conversation. When I explained to him what I was doing he got excited. "I didn't know you were doing motion." We talked about shooting video with DSLR's and we talked about sound recording and editing. He was excited. He likes the way I direct and light people in stills and was ready to incorporate those looks in video. His company is all interactive. All website design. His take on the market? People are demanding a mix of media now. Static images are not enough. They are required but the are not sufficient to hold viewers' attentions. People want both. I want both.

As part of my continuing education I'm learning the in-depth craziness of Final Cut Pro X, which is a non-linear video editing software product. I knew it was more than I could be able to figure out by brute force so I signed up for a service called, Lynda.com. They specialize in video based instruction for creative people of all stripes. They have modules for just about any imaging software from In Design to Nuke 7 and everything in between. They even have a tutorial for learning how to optimize your YouTube channel.  I've watched the basic, six hour FCPX video editing module twice and my last two edits were better, quicker and more controlled.

The cross platform "money maker." Bright, soft and powerful.

I've got a lot to learn but then I'm expecting to live a long time so I figure I'd better adjust to my ever changing surroundings. One part of me wishes that nothing had ever changed and that everyday I could go into the studio, set up my signature light, drink coffee and yak with my assistants, shoot a corporate exec on a standard background and get paid big bucks. But, on the other hand once you figure something out well enough so that the operation becomes subconscious don't you get incredibly bored and ready to move on to something new? Isn't that the true nature of a creative business?

On one of the video shoots I couldn't use my preferred microphone method which is to put a lavalier microphone on my interview subject's shirt or lapel. We ended up using an inexpensive shotgun mic on a boom instead. I spent a lot of time in the editing process cleaning up the sound. That led to a shopping trip last Sunday which culminated in an upgrade. A new, much better shotgun microphone. You can hear a difference. I hear the sound of less work in post processing. Another part of the learning curve.

Providing more than photographs requires every photographer to look to their native skill sets. If you are a natural leader you might aim at doing more and more directing. If you are an introvert who loves the process of things you might aim to be more involved in editing and special effects. If your alternate talents lie in writing then I see scripts in your future. If you love to light you'll probably figure out how to leverage all the cool stuff you learned lighting photographs into more work as a lighting designer/camera operator. Are you really into music? You could be leveraging your assets into sound design.

There's no question that the market for just still photography, especially from mid-talent people in mid-tier markets is tightening. But it's hardly the end of the world. It's just an ever accelerating marketplace's way of encouraging you to spread those creative wings, open your mind and expand the range of stuff you do.

I like doing all these different things. It's more profitable than just sitting around changing camera systems willy-nilly, hoping the latest system has some sort of magic that will get you business. And even the time I spend learning via the web or editing the work has some benefit:  I get to spend more time with my noble dog. That's a nice, stable part of the process. And yes, I do look for her advice on everything from the moral character of the people who come into the studio to whether or not a cross dissolve would look cheesy for a certain transition. She hasn't let me down yet.  Go out and be prolifically creative. It's all fun.

I'm not saying I'm great at any of this...yet. But I'm committed. I'm enjoying the teamwork of shooting video and making interviews work. I grudgingly admit that editing is not the satanic process I originally thought it might be. It's all fun. And making motion ties right into all my research about continuous light sources over the last four years. Synergy. Growth and Change. Like baking a cake.