Everyone stood around waiting for the Ferraris to roar through town. It was the annual day when the Ferrari owners from all over the country converged on Rome to show off their cars and socialize with each other. I was walking near the Spanish Steps with a Nikon F100 and an 85mm 1.4. I clicked a quick shot onto Kodak T-Max 400 CN and moved on. The day was rainy and warm. The cars were beautiful. The people more so.
One of the amazing fringe benefits of being an event photographer for smart technology companies has been an ongoing "ticket" to a front row seat at events featuring some of the smartest and most interesting speakers of our time. This is Dr. Michio Kaku and he spoke to our audience of technologists and engineers back in 2008. His lecture was loosely based on his book, Physics of the Impossible, and I remember how quickly and completely he was able to draw me into his vision of the future.
I shoot corporate shows mostly with available light but I do make a valiant effort to understand the nature of the light and to talk to the lighting designers to find out about the light sources and the filtration they'll be using during presentations. I remember being able to go to a lighting rehearsal the morning of this talk and take meter readings on the stage and to use a color meter to devolve the mix of lighting on Dr. Kaku. I was able to set the camera I was using (a Fuji S5) to a pretty exact color balance and it was very helpful in post processing. The lens was the old standby, the 70-200mm f2.8 used somewhere around f5.0 with a shutter speed of 1/60th of a second.
I understand that Dr. Kaku has written a new book called, The Future of the Mind, (#1 bestseller in the physics category) and I can hardly wait to get my hands on it. This kind of book straddles the divide between fiction and non-fiction. That should keep both halves of my brain happy...
For more information on Dr. Kaku see his Wikipedia Page.
Edit: Funny how memory works to put everything in such a vague folder. I was cleaning the studio after writing this only to discover my (non-virtual) planning calendar from 2007. It tells me that I used a Nikon 55-200mm lens and not the bigger, 70-200mm lens. That's probably why I used f5.x. I also noticed (quite obviously) that I shot this Freescale Event in Orlanda in 2007, not 2008. It took place in late June and the day after I arrived home my first book for Amherst Media would hit its deadline and need to be sent out. I now remember spending late nights at the show double checking the manuscript. Always good to write stuff down...
Kinky Friedman. Writer, Musician, Perennial candidate for Texas Gov.
You are thrilled. You are a professional photographer and you've booked a good assignment to make some images for an advertising agency and their client. They asked you to bid on one final image with three models on a location. You figured out the time required, how they'll end up using the image and all the details and, miraculously, they approved your bid without much haggling.
So now you are on the location, your lights are set up and the camera is on the tripod just waiting to take some incredible shots. The talent is professional, fresh and ready to work. You're already patting yourself on the back for the incredible job you and your team are going to accomplish today. The make-up person is ahead of schedule (fantasy) and the stylist has a rack of good clothing choices so the client and art director have the best combination of wardrobe to choose from. You're waiting for the client and art director to come to a consensus with the stylist over what the models will wear and you are having a cup of that wonderful Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee your assistant picked up as part of the craft service. Life can be so good...
And then it happens. The client says, "I can't make up my mind about Jeremy's shirt." Jeremy is one of the three models. The client continues, "I like the blue shirt with the strips but I also like that yellow, retro shirt. And I think we need to shoot a conservative version with one of those button downs. Maybe a white one and a blue one. Can we just try all four?"
And that's how it starts. You know it won't stop there because there are two other models to dress and there are choices to be made (or not made) for each of them as well. My math skills are no longer amazing but if you shot all the permutations you'd have something like 64 basic combinations and something like thousands distinctly different variations. And that doesn't take into consideration selecting shoes and pants. Or accessories.
All of a sudden the half day you thought would be a generous amount of time to shoot in is looking like a small part of a two or three day shoot. Or at least a one day shoot that goes really long.
Even shooting three or four variations total puts a serious dent in the post processing budget, not to mention the extra time on set and the possible overtime for models and crew. What's a photographer to do?
Here are my three basic tips for getting the job done and still making a profit:
1. My favorite argument goes like this: Pull the art director aside and say, "Really good models are like top athletes. They have one or two really good performances in them. Those are the performances where you can really tell they are connecting with the camera and with the audience. We really need to take advantage of that great energy and make sure not to shoot them when they've already peaked. Changing costumes is going to sap the energy out of them and you don't want to end up with the right wardrobe but a shot of them run down and looking bored after they've peaked. The best option is that blue shirt with the stripes! It'll go perfectly with the other models' outfits."
If they don't buy this (real) argument we can move on to my second tip, bringing up the money.
2. Pull the agency person aside and explain to them that this shoot was bid, discussed and approved as a "prix fix" meal. One set up, one wardrobe selection and the post processing required to fulfill just those shots. Let them know you'd be happy to shoot variations but each additional variation will cost 1/3X the original budget. Pull out your "job modification agreement form" and make it seem all very business like. You need to let them know they ordered the steak but they don't also get a free pork chop, a free salmon fillet and all you can eat caviar with every project. Especially on one with a conservative budget. If they can't decide at least you'll be charging them for each change...
If these don't work you can go for the nuclear option.
3. Pull the agency person aside and say, as nicely as you can, "Look. This is not what we talked about and I can't keep shooting stuff over and over again. You hired me because I know how to make decisions. We hired the stylist because she's an expert in making these kinds of choices. If you don't trust our decisions then we're not the right team for you and we should stop right now, send everyone home and let you and the client have the opportunity to hire a crew that's more inline with your way of handling these things. The blue shirt works. And the other shirts work. There is no "ultimate" shirt.
Now, we can go back into the shoot and make a decision or we can shut it down and you can start over with someone else. I'll leave it up to you..."
If you go with number 3 you probably will never work for that art director again for the rest of your career. But would you really want to? Sometimes saying "no" is the best business decision you'll be able to make in a situation. This all presumes that you covered these issues during the bidding process. An ounce of prevention sometimes gets sucked dry by the best of intentions, or hammered into the ground by the amazing sense of entitlement some clients bring to the set. Managing unrealistic expectations is part of the job. The steps above are workable escalations. But you always have to be prepared to walk away.
Yes. I did ask permission.
Austin no longer has a functioning downtown. We now have a mile square area with very tall buildings that is more like an "on call" amusement park for major corporations that want to throw cynical "consumer" events. Last week it was the X Games with a downtown exhibition (largely constructed just for the TV cameras) that took out blocks and blocks of Congress Ave. and assorted side streets so some painfully cool folks could ride skateboards up and down some ramps. Before that it was some craft festival. And then, of course, there are the two full weeks of snarled traffic for SXSW. And before that the Europeans, and misguided Americans, who like Formula One car racing (we actually moved F1 to a God forsaken cow pasture thirty miles from town but the "visitors" like to teeter around drunk downtown. Seems like a "sporting" tradition) clogged up our downtown, smoking Marlboros and looking for the cheap beer prices. But this weekend is all about good, clean fun with......the ROT Rally. One of the largest motorcycle rallies in the U.S. So, again, on Friday we block the streets and motorcycles sans mufflers race up and down Congress Ave. while their riders look tough and mean. Who wouldn't want to get out and photograph that?
I headed downtown with a simple camera set up; the Samsung NX30 and the 50-200mm f4-5.6 zoom lens. The camera does a great job on anything that's standing still or moving gently but it certainly wouldn't be my choice for a BIF (or "Birds In Flight") shooting tool. I tried tracking motorcycles and their riders and got about a 50% success rate. While the camera has a first rate sensor and also seems to nail exposure with aplomb I'm still grappling with some little issues like the lag time between switching between the rear screen and the EVF. It's too long. I shot mostly with the lens wide open which, while not generally recommended with consumer zooms, worked well for me and delivered files that, when in sharp focus, have rich detail and good snap. Samsung has proven to me time and again that they can make great glass.
I spent a couple of hours walking around shooting the stuff I saw but I got bored before the 7pm parade to the capitol building got started and decided to call it a day. Below are some of the marvelous scenes I came across on my walk down Sixth Street...
Don't get me wrong. I like motorcycles.