Balance, Counterbalance. Going overboard and then getting back into the boat.


It was such a wildly excessive portrait week last week. All portraits all the time. Exterior portraits in the wind. Fluorescent lit portraits. Flash lit portraits. HMI lit portraits. Even little flash portraits. So, after additional time in the post processing/retouching trenches I emerged this morning ready to shoot just about anything else.

One of the problems with doing lots of portraits for group medical practices or high tech companies is that even after you've carefully explained all the steps to your direct contact you still end up administering more than you should. For example, I make it really clear that when it comes to portrait selections for retouching I'd like to have everyone's selection on one list before we get started. If you've done a job with 10 or 20 different people for one company you know that they are looking for consistency. After all, these portraits are generally going to sit right next to each other on the website. And the best way to ensure consistency in a project is to sit down and edit all the images at once in one long, clean session.

When too much time elapses between edits you start to go "off the ranch" (at least I do) and toss in the results of experiments in processing that you might have done in between batches of erratically delivered file numbers. You might think to automate the process so all the retouching looks the same but you'd be barking up a strange tree as almost every face needs its own combination of fixes and enhancements. The major things to get right when you're looking for consistency are getting the color and density of the background right, hitting a pleasing and reproducible skin tone, and keeping the contrast and sharpening/noise reduction all in the same ballpark. Toss in cropping as well because you really should be matching head sizes. If you leave that up to some web designers you run the risk of getting a really rocky checkerboard of images in the final layouts.

Another issue we come across on a lot of shoots (and something I hear from other photographers) is that clients just can't make up their minds. I had one client recently who was supposed to select one image that would be used in an ad. His admin sent me a list that included selections from: His wife, his two daughters, his business partner and, of course, his admin.  In all there were nine different image files selected, and on one his admin wanted to know if I could change the color of the man's tie...

So, how do you pare it down and make it manageable? We lay a lot of stuff out in advance of the job. If we're doing a directly commissioned portrait; and by that I mean the person we're photographing is hiring me and paying my bill, I'll offer three to five variations which are included in the price of a session. If it's part of a larger set of people and images or it's part of an advertising project I'll cap the included file retouching at two images per person and then charge a set fee per additional file retouch. In the new year I'm moving to a stricter policy of doing one great selection retouch and then charging $25 per image for each additional file selection. When I say "basic retouching" I'm talking about doing basic color correction and tonal correction, making sure the skin is right color and hue, that we have taken out normal pimples and blemishes, dealt with normally bloodshot eyes and soften rough skin. If we need to do more stuff or more complicated stuff then I'll hand it to an outside retoucher and mark up their fees or do it in house on an hourly rate.

If you've been working with PhotoShop for a long time and you've been shooting portraits for a long time you should be able to do a "standard or basic" retouch on a file in five minutes, ten minutes tops. This does not include clipping paths, masking out backgrounds or any other graphics/production work.

With the rules firmly in place when a direct client comes back with a laundry list of files they "might" want it's easy to add the number of files all up and present a price before you begin the retouch process. If that list of ten means adding $250 to their final bill, and they are okay with that, then you win---kind of.  I think it's better to help your client narrow the list down a bit and keep the charges in a comfortable ballpark but at the same time you have to be wearing your business hat right under your artist hat so you don't give away your time. It's pretty much all we've got...

So last week I just went overboard on portraits. Like a customer in a Mississippi buffet line. Earlier in the fall we (assistant: Amy Smith) did a giant shoot with 100 portraits done over two days. This past week was a bit more difficult because of the daily change of landscape, usage, locations and style expectations. On several jobs we were trying to match previous work (which I hate because I dislike doing anything the same way twice) and sometimes I no longer have access to a distinct background or a quirky lens that I thought I hated and sold only to realize I liked and couldn't replace it.

The counterbalance to spending full days with people right in front of your face is to go out for a long walk with a different camera and no people anywhere near your face. I did that this morning. I was dragging around a Nikon APS-C camera with a 50mm lens and just banging away whenever I saw anything I liked. Nothing moved, blinked, squinted, flinched or frowned. Everything just sat there begging me to photograph it. I spent a couple hours in the brisk morning air having a great time with a mundane and unimpressive camera. But it did a nice job.

The final part of the walk took me past the original Chuy's Restaurant. The chain is pure Austin Tex-Mex food but the owners have a flare for crazy decor. There's an assortment of drive in intercoms and reflective balls out front. All of these images are from a space of about ten square feet in front of the restaurant. Sometimes shooting stuff in Austin is like shooting fish in a barrel.

I've polished the reflectors and light stands in the studio and wrapped cords with an unusually graceful touch. I've sent invoices and thank you notes. I've been on the non-portrait cleansing walk and now I'm ready to jump back into making portraits. Good think I've recharged, we've got one coming up tonight and three more before the end of the week. It's nice to be back in balance. Now I'm waiting for chance, luck and destiny to send me a really great annual report....  That should keep the fates (and the studio) busy for a while.

No comments: