Sometimes I like to post stuff just because it's fun. Like really beautiful women and very narrow depth of field. Makes the committed m4:3 users "jaw clench."

Jana helped me by modeling in the studio for my book on LED lighting. You can still buy the book here. It's a fun read. But her "audition" took place on a hot Sunday in the middle of a blistering, record setting Summer afternoon. We met for coffee at Little City Coffee house on Congress Ave., just south of the capitol building. We proceeded to shoot outside, in the heat.

I shot pretty much everything that afternoon with the Canon 5D mk2 and a lens I actually miss, the 100mm f2. It's a lens I tried always to shoot at f2 or f2.8. I doubt the aperture gizmo in the camera ever introduced the lens to anything smaller than f8.

We stayed in the open shade or under covered shade for the hour or so that we worked at making photographs. Jana graduated from UT two years ago and is now working for some powerhouse marketing company on the east coast. She was ultimately professional in every aspect of every project we worked together on.

I liked the fact that she understood advertising and marketing so well. It made her work as a photographic model or talent that much more convincing.

Seeing this image again makes me want to rush out the door, hop in the car and go to Precision Camera to buy a Nikon D610 body and a 105mm f2.0 DC Nikon lens. Same look with an even better sensor. The problem with impulses like that always comes later when I find that the system back or front focuses and does it in a non-linear fashion. That's what effectively killed my enthusiastically sought after relationship with the 85mm 1.4 Zeiss lens for Canon. Wonderful combination if you are lucky enough to get a pair with no focus shift and no crazy back focusing. Nothing makes you look like a dumb ass photographer more than an  image of what could be a beautiful girl whose ears are sharply defined while her eyes and lips look like soft focus mush.

Oh, now I remember why I love shooting with the Panasonic GH4......

Marketing. Just a side note because it all happened in 24 hours.

The sharp eyed readers of VSL may have noticed that I put up a strange post on Ripe Camera yesterday. It consisted of a lot of images from food and beverage shoots and some copy about my experience and qualifications shooting food and drinks. You can read it/see it here:


So you may be wondering what the heck that was all about. Well, I thought we'd take a break from the holy camera wars and the intriguing dives into the icy waters of lens lore and optical sorcery to discuss the plain nuts and bolts of the photo business. (Ooops! We just lost half the readers.....).

Yesterday morning I got an e-mail from an account person at an advertising agency I've worked a lot with over the years.  The e-mailer asked me to bid on a job. The agency is working on a alcohol makers account and needed to commission some well done product shots of nice drinks made with Tequila for their client's new website. The request laid out all the details nicely.

They wanted me to come and shoot at their location. They would hire a drink stylist directly. They would be in charge of assembling props and product. I would come in, design the lighting and shoot 12 mixed drinks, in various glassware, individually and deliver beautifully post produced files against white for use on posters, some collateral and on the client's website.

I pulled together a list of questions and a preliminary, "ballpark" estimate that would qualify them as either 'serious', 'fishing', or competitive bidding. I thought the project would take a day to shoot and another day to post produce the files. I already knew the rights package they needed.

After I sent along a ballpark estimate that was essentially one number with a dollar sign in front of it.  I got a "hey we're definitely in the ball park and we need a detailed quote with terms and conditions." The one thing they requested that sent up a little warning signal was the request to break out my photo bid into an hourly cost. That always scares me because if I am good and do the job cleanly and quickly I should benefit from the application of my years of hard won experience. Because of this I always try to bid based on the value of the needed usage for the images but I am happy to break out hard costs that are external to my licensing fee.

While I came highly recommended by a senior creative director, and also a well known art director another firm, the person who requested the bid also wanted to see some F&B shots I had done. She wanted to be able to share them with her client. I handled that request by quickly assembling some fun, recent work and making the blogpost you see at the link above. They liked the work and we jumped over another hurdle in the process. We were getting closer to the purchase order. I could almost taste the tequila in my glass.

The one thing left to handle was the requested price breakdown. I handled it by walking the person through my thought process. It went something like this:

"We don't, as a rule, work by the hour in our advertising projects because it's the work itself that has value to you and the client, not how long it took or how difficult it was for me to complete. You've already agreed that the pricing we're offering is what you were looking for so we know you'll be happy with the budget. The downside for you, if I estimate this by the hour is that there's no real cap to the costs. No way to know exactly how long it might take if everything goes slow, if the beverage stylist is slow, if we go over on time. Say we agree on $300 per hour and our estimate is based on an eight hour day of shooting. What happens when the ice machine breaks down and we have to send someone out for ice and wait for them?  What if the chosen glassware adds complications and it takes longer for us to figure it all out? What if I'm just stupid that day and I have to do things over to get them right? What happens if the creative director and the client are on different pages and have to work toward some shared vision----and that process takes time? If we estimate by the hour that clock keeps ticking and you may end up spending more than the job is really worth. 

Another thing, say every photographer you ask quotes you "a day rate" based on eight hours of work.  If I'm in the groove and I work well with the stylist, and the food and beverage gods are with us. I might get the whole thing done in six hours, while it might have taken Joe or Steve ten to twelve hours. If we get your images done in six hours they still have the same value to everyone as if I had taken the full eight hours to get the work done. But since you heard, "by the day" or "by the hour" you may think that you are entitled to get a full eight hours of work from us. If you are like some clients we've worked with you might decide to add three more drink shots to the mix. But this isn't what you asked for in the beginning and you need to understand that there will be an additional usage charge of each of those three additional image licenses as well as an increase in the retouching and post production charges. A better idea would be to use those extra two hours that my skill and efficiency bought you as a gift to get something else done, bill someone else more money or take off early and spend more time with your children.

And there's the flip side. If you accept my offer and it's based on the value of the final, supplied images in the uses that you have specified then you know exactly how much you and your client will be paying. It's a fixed amount. If I'm having an off day then I eat the overage. If I need to send out for something then I eat the delay. If one of the images is a doozy to retouch and takes me a full five hours then I eat the miscalculation. If I didn't figure out that cherries and olives require different approaches to styling and lighting and have to spend more time on set getting stuff right then I eat that and you end up paying.....exactly what we said you would at the very beginning. You get the exact value that we calculated the images had for you. I can even tell you, right now, how much more a buy-out would be. And if I do go over my bid I pay for the assistant's extra time right out of my pocket. It's such a win for you to have this all locked down! There's so much incentive for me to do it efficiently and right.

So, how did it all work out? Well, the creative director called to tell me that he loved the bid, loved working with me and had approved his end of the paperwork/permission routine. As far as he was concerned we were a go. His one caution? The only uncertainty would be the client.

I sent along the long (4 page) agreement form which outlined usage, how we would work, delivery schedules, pricing, rights package, and (most importantly) when we would get paid. The account supervisor was happy with the paper work and got ready to send it along to the client for final approval. Then the phone rang on her desk. It was the client. "Good news!" he said. "One of my friends, who is a photographer, owes me a favor and is willing to shoot the whole thing for free!!!"

I got a sad e-mail back from the account supervisor. She filled me in on the terminal glitch.

End of the story? Nope. In my experience many of these "friend" deals don't work out and we get the job anyway. In the meantime I got to educate a critical, new person at an agency I've worked with for a long time. Next time the bidding process will be even easier. I was gracious with the news and didn't complain. That's just good marketing. Finally, it gave me something to write on the blog that didn't include a paean to yet another winsome and flirtatious camera. Gotta like that.

Now, someone tell all those non-commercial photographers that it's safe to come back into the blog....

The most powerful lighting tool in my inventory...

Do you see the instrument? Is it a Profoto? Is it Broncolor? Is it a fluorescent? How many watt seconds? What's the CRI? How about the color temperature? Do I have a beauty dish in the mix? Is it bare bulb? I can barely restrain myself. Is there a radio trigger? Is it a good one? Is it a Pocket Wizard? How high can it sync? Can I change the exposure from the camera position? Well, maybe.

But of course you know that I'm not talking about whatever metal and glass unit is hidden behind the 74 by 74 inch white diffusion screen, I am talking about the diffusion screen itself. It cost me about $100 ten or fifteen years ago. That included the soft, shimmery, nylon diffusion material as well as the frame. It's held in place by two ancient light stands.

And I have used this as a light modifier in hundreds and hundreds of shoots, including three or four of the shoots from which I've posted images here in the last week or so. I've used it to diffuse terrific Texas sun on outdoor shoots. I've used it as a big reflector. But mostly I've used it the way we would have used a big, wonderful soft box in years gone by. It's been an integral, defining part of many of my shoots.

It's been used along side of Kodak, Canon, Nikon, Leica, Hasselblad, Olympus, Panasonic and Samsung cameras. It's seen twenty or thirty or forty thousand dollars of cameras and lenses come and go. But it's still here. It's still the bedrock and aesthetic magician of many, many shoots and it still only cost me ..... $100.

In the example above I was shooting for Zach Theatre. The magic light unit of the moment? An old and crusty 1,000 watt, open faced tungsten light. As cheap and old tech as dirt. The final result?
A wonderful season brochure and accompanying ad campaign. The sale of hundreds of thousands of dollars of theater tickets. The paychecks of dozens of actors and staff. From a well used modifier and an old, non-automated light. And, an older, 12 megapixel camera.

The most powerful tool in the lighting inventory is little more than a bed sheet. Charge for what you know. Charge for how you see. Not for the dollar value and novelty of your tools.

Is it all about the magic camera? Naw....

The single most important parameter in the success of a photograph is, without a doubt, how interested you are in the subject.  The second is the way you look at or consider the subject. Then it's all down to how you incorporate that consideration or emotional point of view with your lighting.

From a technical point of view the success of an image is so much more dependent on the quality, direction and motivation of the lighting than the camera will ever be. Honest.

If you've been chasing cameras and lenses for a while and you feel constantly frustrated it may eventually dawn on you that you may have been chasing the wrong things. Learning to light well takes a lot of time and experience. Learning to use a new cameras well (not the initial learning curve of photography and camera use in general) takes an evening to read the manual and about a week of shooting to get used to the controls. Lighting? Much longer. Lighting well? A life time.

We talk about cameras here because they are like the lunch of the photography world. Should we go out for a burger? Are we celebrating with steaks? How about that romantic little French place. But lighting is like breathing and meditating. It's what the real masters had to master.

People have chided me for having no allegiance to cameras but really, I consider them now, in the digital age, like the Tic-Tacs of photography. A temporary Pez dispenser of imaging. It's the lights and the lighting and the subjects I'm really interested in. A new camera just gives you something fun and novel to play with while you are waiting for your real subject to show up or when you are waiting patiently for the light to get neat.

Making your own light well is hardly ever about the brand no matter  how hard we try to make it that way. Give me twenty different flashes of equal power and decent color consistency and once I put them through a modifier or a diffuser (or even a bed sheet) I defy you to tell me which one was a Nikon Speedlight, which one was a Yongnuo 560 and which one was a Broncolor Mobil. Just flat out don't believe you can tell a different.

So, magic cameras? Naw. Magic lenses? Maybe for certain stuff. There aren't any magic lighting units. But the ability to mold the lighting to your vision-----that's where your magic starts to happen.

For Henry White it's all about the light....