New learning for a new era in commercial photography. Speed, efficiency and new delivery tactics surrounding the actual shoot.

I was working on a commercial shoot in New Jersey last week. We were making portraits and photographs of the working facility. In the days of film we would have taken about six days to shoot what we got done in two days, and that's without the hindrance of assistants and an entourage. I thought I was doing everything in a "state of the art" fashion but I wasn't. I haven't been.

I'm not really talking about big changes to the actual photography (although I need to modernize there too) but about the whole method of moving through space and time with greater effectiveness.

When I learned about location shooting for clients we did things with lots and lots of gear and people. On an assignment to photograph a factory and the executive leadership team in the days of film we would show up at the curbside of the airport with cases and cases of gear and enough people to shepherd the gear through the travel process all the way to the client facility. Since we were wrangling slow film we needed big lights and lots of them. We also needed big stands for the lights, lots of extension cords, big light modifiers and stout tripods. A typical "old school" medium format film shoot on location might look like this, as far as inventory goes:

Large Tenba Air Case with two Hasselblad bodies, four lenses and six film backs. It would also include several Polaroid backs for the medium format cameras.

A second, equally large Tenba Air Case with duplicates of the gear resident in case one. This was our back-up system. You know, just in case. We had cameras fail much more often in film days than in the new age of digital. Usually it was something caused by a film misload or from being too fast in cycling the camera; either of which might cause the camera to lock up. In that case you could not remove the lens until a repair tech reset the camera.

We once had two fairly new Hasselblads bite the dust on one shoot for a client called, Builder's Square, but we finished the shoot on time because ---- yes --- we had packed three bodies. And we finished up with the third body. I was getting nervous because, in that situation, we had no more back-ups and a couple hours left to shoot.

We would have three Norman 2000 strobe packs and six heavy, metal flash heads packed across three stout cases. The strobe packs along weighed in a 32 pounds apiece so once ensconced in hard cases, along with two heads per case, each Anvil case weighed in somewhere north of eighty pounds.

We had cases with light stands and cases with soft boxes and umbrellas. We had cases with diffusion frames and we had cases with make up, and, in some cases, even a Mole Richardson fog machine.

Going out of town meant rounding up your first and regular second assistants and generally one more person to round out a team. Two people unpacked and set up lights while the third managed the film and Polaroids. Marking film was essential and took both practice and concentration.

To get to the airport we generally needed a Suburban or a full sized van. We'd roll up to the curbside check in and disgorge all of our stuff. One assistant would jump in the vehicle and head out to park it while the rest of us pushed the bags to the skeptical Skycaps. If we had the full contingent of bags and cases I'd already have a couple, or three, twenty dollar bills out and showing to tip with. Extravagant tipping nearly always assured that we'd get the stuff onto our flight without paying for overages or extra bags. Sixty bucks at the curb was a preventative for getting slammed with overweight and oversized luggage fees at the inside airline counters.

Once we got the photo crew to the target city one assistant would head out to fetch yet another huge rental vehicle and we'd pull our stuff off the carousels and climb aboard. Before smart phones we would have pulled out a map of the city and figured out a route to our destination by ---- reading a map.

The rental cars were expensive but necessary as our gear would never fit in one or two cabs. Just feeding everyone three meals a day was a chore.

So, this is the way I was trained and the way we operated through most of my tenure in the "golden age" of film.

Once we got to the locations and scouted we'd set up lights to overpower the ambient light and work maybe an hour and a half, or two hours, setting up, lighting and testing each shot. We were happy if we got eight to ten locations in the same set of buildings lit and shot in a day. It took time to shoot and evaluate Polaroids and then make the changes.

Since I learned this way I have been resilient to changing my methodologies entirely. As digital cameras have gotten better and better I've pared down everything, from the size of my lights to the number of back up cameras I bring. But now making shoots more efficient takes me beyond the realm of shooting and lighting. It's every part that needs modernized. Updated. Upgraded.

I packed smart on this trip. One carry-on roller case for the cameras, lenses and small flashes; two checked bags; one for clothes, and one for light stands+tripods+umbrellas.  All the cases are wheeled and stackable and I can handle all three by myself. No more need to bribe the SkyCaps (but I still do tip $5 a bag --- habit).

On the most recent trip the advertising agency made all the travel arrangements. I met up with my agency person at the baggage area at our destination and told him I was ready to head out to get our rental car. I presumed (habit) that we'd be doing the time tested car rental for our 30 mile trek. He smiled, fussed with his phone for a couple of seconds and said, "Our Uber car should be here in two minutes and forty five seconds." It was. We loaded our bags into someone's Toyota Rav 4 and they took us straight to the hotel in a city 30 miles away.  Lesson one: Uber and Lyft are very convenient, easy to use and easy to navigate. Why spend time in a shuttle headed to some dim and time wasting rental facility on the outskirts of the airports and stand in line waiting to transact for your car rental --- and being manipulated into paying for the insurance, etc?   Forty five minutes to an hour saved right there.

Any time we wanted to go someplace; to a restaurant, the client's facility or back to the hotel we used Uber. When we needed to have something picked up and brought over to the shoot we didn't need to send anyone, the agency person could tap on his phone and get someone from Favor (an app) to pick up that prop from whatever store and deliver it over to us directly. We looked for local restaurants with an app and read the reviews on another app.

At one point during the shoot I realized that I really did want my agency client to look at test shots for each of the executives we were photographing, before and during each person's session to make sure I was on the right track. Also, a second set of eyes is great for catching errors and omissions. I would ask my agency guy to come over and look at the screen on the back of the camera. He was happy to do so but when we were flying home we were discussing the camera apps available to both control cameras and also look at images as we shoot. I won't go out on location again until after I've picked up a new iPad Air2 with a Retina screen and loaded and mastered the software needed to shoot live with Nikon, Olympus and Panasonic cameras. What could be better than having my client sitting in a comfy chair with a cup of coffee in one hand and an iPad in the other, watching my back? And making sure he's getting what he needs for his designs and templates.

I think I'd also feel better having a neutral device to proof the images for exposure as well.

When we talked about file delivery I mentioned that we had a lot of stuff to move around and I'd be able to put it all on a 32 gigabyte memory stick and drop it by when I finished with post processing. He hemmed a bit and then told me he didn't really like getting physical product anymore and wondered if I could send it via FTP. I do that a lot with smaller jobs but I thought clients would want the stuff on a stick for back up and what not. But younger art directors are used to pulling things down from the cloud whenever they want it, wherever they are. Fortunately, one of my service providers, Smugmug, recently instituted a new unlimited download service and I can load everything up there.

In the actual photographic world I think many younger clients are no longer expecting the "ultimate" file, they are expecting good, right sized files. We were looking at a few of the files I'd shot on the Panasonic fz1000 instead of the full frame Nikon. In one situations I'd shot some stuff at ISO 1600 and I was worried about the noise. My client watched me blowing stuff up to 100%, laughed, and said, "We'll never use it that big." He liked what he saw on the screen and had strong idea of exactly how he would use the work.

Our oft-repeated patterns of shooting, delivering and even managing our photographic adventures tend to get stuck at whatever time strata we felt most comfortable in. That's why so many photographers in my age cohort are always pursuing the ultimately sharp or noise free camera. But we do ourselves a disservice if we feel like we need a supersonic jetliner like the Concord for a quick commuter flight or a Nikon D810 or Sony A7R2 camera for a headshot for a website. We're making our own lives and careers harder by aiming at targets that really don't exist anymore; at the expense of new methodologies that work well for a new business paradigm.

I am often asked by older photographers why in the world I would choose to buy a bridge camera when I have a couple of full frame cameras. In their minds that ultimate file equals the badge of a real professional. But my younger clients (and almost all of them are younger than me now) never even think about the old pecking order of cameras or even if we are shooting with a traditional camera. Their concern is centered around the look and feel of the image. Is the angle right? Does it feel right? Will it work across a website splash page? Can we ramp up the saturation? Is the file malleable?

At no time did my art director bat an eye at the battery powered speed lights I was using on his project. And a few years ago I could have sworn that pros only used Profoto strobes or Elinchrom Strobes.  He was more impressed with the compactness with which we packed and the results we were getting from shot to shot. That, and how the smaller package allowed us to move much quicker and get more usable shots.

I have been a bit backward, rejecting cellphone based apps for my conventional cameras. I have hewed to parking my own car in the parking garage at he airport even though a crowdsourced cab would be much less costly and much more efficient. I've let my past way of doing things cloud my ability to embrace ways of working that would be less arduous for me and easier for my clients. And this cuts to the heart of business. While we want to be artists we must deliver what the aggregated client base wants. There are few 60 year old art directors  to cater my services to. The  demographic of the clients I've worked with this year is about 80% female and the average age is about 32 years old. They have much, much different expectations for photography at every turn than we had or have at this point in our careers.

We seem intent on creating perfection while fast sharing is more vital to them. We seem to like our lighting and focus locked down whereas they enjoy accidents, happenstance and unplanned moments. They value fast movement and portability over "shock and awe" resolution and optimal technical results. But most importantly they love the idea of collaboration instead of one person acting as the lone wolf artist.

We have a choice. We can stick in our comfortable rut and work for a tiny and ever diminishing set of clientele who share our generational proclivities or we can learn from the younger people around us and embrace the change. I guarantee you that only one course of action will give you any hope to ensure your continued embrace and enjoyment of commerce, and of getting paid.

Deliver on DVDs? Not likely. Not anymore.

If you are a working pro I would be interested in what kinds of new technologies you are bringing to your work. Please share in the comments. Thanks, Kirk


Anonymous said...

I'm still primarily tethered to my digi tech on a D800. A few times a year I get booked on jobs where tethering is not required and in those cases I'm shooting on a couple Leica M240s. Tomorrow I start a 3 week job that takes me to 4 cities across the US and I'll be primarily shooting on those Leica Ms but have a couple Olympus Em5II's ready to go, and I'm excited to put them into the rotation as I've really developed a love for the Olympus M43 cameras and lenses in my personal life. As for lighting, depends on the situation, but I really love the Profoto B1TTL units and the Profoto ProTungstens for hotlight. I worked with some Arri M18s this past year and the quality of the light was fantastic.

john gee said...

changeable adaptable current.........that's young.......not years

C. Kurt Holter said...

Were it not for the fact that you are a far better writer than I am, I could have banged out this column myself, since it perfectly echos my experience in this business over many years (including the multiple Hasselblads and multiple cases of big, heavy, expensive and relatively fragile support equipment).

The vast majority of my clients prioritize immediate electronic delivery as much as they prioritize high quality images. I literally have exactly one regular commercial client who still needs photos delivered on physical media. DropBox links and/or private online albums have been the standard for me for the last five years or so. My 1TB DropBox account at $99.00 per year (or whatever it is at the moment) has been some of the best money I've ever spent.

And, as you noted, the younger the clients (art directors, marketing representatives, etc.) are, the less they're concerned with the tools I use on the job. They want the photos they need, are open to using more non-traditional views, and most of the time do not want or need huge files. The common thread is that they want the pictures fast.

Since I became a computer hobbyist way back in the early 1980's, while working as a photographer, I've been quicker than many of my peers in adopting digital technology. Of course, back then I never dreamed I'd ultimately be adopting that technology to actually produce and deliver photographs.

The biggest eye opener for me most recently has been the impact of social media, and the way my clients have embraced and prioritized it in their marketing.

All else being equal, these days the photographer who can do excellent work with minimal impact on the client's end, and get the stuff out the door very quickly after the shoot has a huge advantage over the shooter who wants to make an overly big production out of every assignment, deliver massive amounts of massive files, and take his or her sweet time doing so.

I shoot a lot of corporate and institutional events. Regarding new techniques, I will say simply that despite the many shortcomings of Nikon's WMU iOS app, I find myself using it increasingly to wirelessly move a picture or two from the camera to the iPhone, give it a tweak (most often in Snapssed), and email it to the client, all in the middle of a shoot. They'll post it on their social media sites instantly.

Incidentally, the place where the WMU excels is that you don't have to shoot JPEGs along with raw files in the camera, since the app actually transfers the raw file's embedded JPEG preview. So, I'm not cluttering up the cards in the camera with a bunch of JPEGs along with the NEF files.

I'm still waiting for the killer camera/phone/WiFi app however.

I have also gotten very positive responses from clients during these same kinds of events by shooting, tweaking, and sending them an iPhone panorama during the event. They'll post it for social media, and unless the venue light is simply horrible, the quality os more than good enough for this use.

James Pilcher said...

Once again, Kirk, a stunningly insightful post that, beneath the photographic wrapping paper, offers concrete business advice to almost any consultant/artist/lone-wolf business entrepreneur willing to listen. In this ever-accelerating high tech global culture, we are leaving behind "eras" and are dealing with change that makes each year a new and different technical, cultural, and business challenge. I take your business-related blogs, insert my own consulting discipline into your thought process and learn from the Master. Thank you.

Don Parsons said...

>>>>We're making our own lives and careers harder by aiming at targets that really don't exist anymore; at the expense of new methodologies that work well for a new business paradigm.<<<<

You hit it exactly. But it's soooo hard to let the old ways go. With diminishing print ads, increasing web presence, the clients needs HAVE changed. And you're right, we need to change with it.

Great post, thank you.


John Ricard said...

I'd really like an iPad Pro, with its super sized screen for client review and of images in the studio. I use an EyeFi Mobi for image transfer. It works, but it is a bit buggy. It will be nice when they get that technology to be 100% perfect.

MO said...

My postprossing is set up around Google pictures. where i deliver all finished products via a link to a folder. when i use the standart resolution for google (1366×2048 )pixels. my segment either dont need them bigger or buy prints from me. i noticed u posted once that yur pictures got destratuated converting to google.

I found that making the end step trough capture one helps this problem. just a tip for you. when i use Dxo optics or Adobe i will send the pictures trough capture one in tiff in highest resulution and send from caputure one in lowest jepg quality. i found it makes the pictures look identical when loaded to google.

My jobs are not as well paid as yurs, so i need to keep cost even more down. i charge between 150- 1500 dollars in the jobs i get depending on time spent. from a simple 4 pictures job to an all day job.

This post sums up pretty well my approuch to making a living from this. great post.

side note. i never had any client question the quality of the output made this way. i had one or 2 ask for the pictures on a cd or stick. but they never questioned the quality.

More n more order prints from me n order big like 60x90. more n more income comes from this. About a 1/3 of my earnings come from printing for people. For people still in there twenties. And often i get extra earnings from there parents that tend to order a bit smaler prints.

but the market is either big prints or the low resulution googel link. with thw exception of newly made grandparrents send in extra orders after seeing the big prints on the walls of ther kids. And all people that whants prints order from me when the google resolution would be a problem. so i never had anyone question the offering. i see a tendensy of the market being willing to pay for service again though. Making the hole expirence more plesant and simple. Showing form people bieng much more interestet in the feel of the picture that shows u got them than the process. they dont whant to be bothered with the process.

But try the capture one output for matching with googles engine for down sampling. I find they work well together. i dont get the destratuated look that i get from dxo for eksample.

again sorry for my crippled english and the long post. Being a Dane i dont think in english! at the same time im sorry for cutting worts like "and2 and "you" to n and u. i think its a product of exackly what u describe in this post. cutting cost n making it efficient!

I got a lot from reading ur blog and for the first time i had the chance to give a little back ;)

Nick Davis said...

Times change. I rarely give or get asked for CDs or DVDs these days. Have you tried wetransfer.com? Still can't believe it's free although you might benefit from the paid version if you are using it a lot. Clients seem to like it.

mikepeters said...

Hi Kirk,

Yup, I remember those days of hundreds of pounds of lighting and grip gear, schlepping all over creation, worrying about lost luggage, and having backups for my backups. It was good to be young and strong, and to have a few extra hands to move all that crap. I also had two Rolleiflex 6006's go down on a shoot, and fortunately had an SLX in reserve. Phew!

With the Panasonic Image App, I've been shooting tethered to my iPad for a few years now, works great to show clients, takes little time to get up and running, and if you shoot jpegs and raw, you can upload the jpegs and email them on the spot, and with LR mobile, even tweak them a bit.

Smugmug has offered the full gallery download for years also, only now they have a convenient download all button. In the past you'd have to request a full download link and they'd package it all up in a zip file and send you the link which would last for two weeks. Now, it's always available. Nice. I haven't delivered a physical object with files on it for at least the past 5 or 6 years.

I just passed a nine and a half foot wide print in the hallway heading to my office from an image I made last summer. Shot with a 16 mp micro 4/3 camera. I had no idea that the admissions department was doing this, so the image was made from one of my everyday jpeg files, no heroic measures were taken to make it special, and it looks great. I'm completely unconcerned about the size of my sensor, or noise, with regards to being able to make images for any use whatsoever. At the ripe old age of 56, I've completely embraced the ethos of small cameras, tiny lights, evf's, tremendous flexibility, the ability to work fast and efficiently and use very little gear in the process. Life is good.


Glenn Harris said...

Very enjoyable and refreshing read on a Sunday morning Kirk. Sometimes we need a reality check and you provide it so eloquently.

Wolfgang Lonien said...

Exactly the same here. While I don't take paid jobs (yet), all of my "clients" (models and so on) expect a Dropbox link these days, sent to their cell-phone email adresses. I guess if they don't like stuff they don't even bother to download it. And no one is looking for "full frame" or other status symbols anymore, except those who own them.

Guess if I wouldn't upload some of the photos to Flickr, and save Terabytes on our machines, everything would be pretty short-lived these days. Shot today, gone tomorrow.

The real good stuff, like family photos? These hang on our walls.

Anonymous said...

I suppose that I'm horning in on this pro-oriented discussion, but Kirk, what you've pointed out is something that is true across the photographic spectrum. For most people who use a camera or image capturing device, the intent of use is in support of a conversation or more immediate form of broadcast communication. But our cameras are designed for lecturing from a carefully prepared and curated bound book by presenters who take no questions. We and the camera manufacturers have yet to come to terms with the increasing irrelevance of all the image quality wizardry packed in to our tools, and the ascension of the need to communicate and collaborate easily. As you point out, to facilitate serendipity.

Camera are tools for purposes. The right camera for a purpose is increasingly the one that works well with others, not the musclebound Bear Grylls able to create a 5 course meal in the wilderness with only a multitool and firestarter; authoritative, yes, but with no one else left around to appreciate his effort and unable to carry a conversation if there were.

Gato said...

Good post. You're pushing me in a direction I need to go, but have been resisting. I stopped delivering files on physical media several years ago, but have resisted moving from email to Dropbox or the like. I need to get that working.

I have tried wifi tethering with EyeFi and Panasonic's app, but found it frustrating and slow. I need to make another pass at that, maybe with an upgrade to a more capable tablet and/or phone. (Or maybe I need to shoot slower. LOL) The clients love seeing files on a larger screen, but they are not so thrilled about waiting for transfers or dealing with buggy wifi connections. I'm hoping there is something coming soon that will be faster and more reliable than wifi - and less a pain to set up.

My indoor location light kit has gone from 3 monolights to 4 Yongnuo flashes - 75 bucks apiece with remote power settings and no need to search for an available outlet or carry extension cords. Couldn't buy anything like that back in the day, at any price. I still pack a single monolight on a few jobs where I need the modeling light as a focusing aid.

Dave Jenkins said...

Good grief, Kirk! Surely you knew how to unlock a Hasselblad by removing the back and using a small screwdriver to turn the screw at the base of the lens mount?

John Camp said...

Terrific post.

You should look at the iPad Pro before you buy any other iPad. I saw one a couple of weeks ago and decided that they are amazing tools for showing off photos. And with a very small clip-on keyboard, they function as laptops, as well, with some limitations.

I've shot for newspapers and magazines in the past, but not like you have, as a full-time pro -- but I always have and still do travel a lot. So here's a suggestion: join the Hertz Gold Club. (I think all the other car companies have similar clubs.) It's free. You arrive at the rental facility, walk past the desk to a bulletin board in the garage which has your name on it, with your car slot. You go to the car and drive out. My most annoying travel is to places like Phoenix in the summer, when you have to ride a bus in 105-degree heat out to the rental facility, which must be a ten-minute ride. But once there, you're out in five minutes.

I believe you on the FX1000 but point out that the GX8 is smaller with interchangeable lenses and I think the same sensor, or a very similar one. But more expensive.

Kirk Tuck said...

Dave, I do know about the screwdriver through the rear curtain fix but I don't talk about it in case someone with less dexterity that you slips and scratches the rear element of their 110 Planar and wants to blame me. The article was meant to be widely instructive and show all the things that can go wrong. The jammed Hasselblad was one such example. As a former Electrical Engineering student I can fix most things by myself. That's not always the case for everyone else.

John Camp, The GX8 sensor is bigger. It's the same pixel count but is a true m4:3rd size while the fz 1000 is the more diminutive (and poorly named) one inch sensor. It's about 25% smaller.

typingtalker said...

I agree that it's the product that's important, not the tools that get the image. Also eliminating physical media as the delivery method is fine as long as you have a copy somewhere -- if the client loses it guess who gets the first call. And finally, all else being equal, small (and simple) is beautiful.

The tendency today is to say that the product will end up on the internet to be viewed on a phone or tablet so quality is unimportant. But, and there is always a but, I see more on-line publication of beautiful large images designed to be viewed on laptops and tablets with bigger high quality screens. An example ...


Finally ... I was using a small, convenient, flexible mirrorless camera for a long term project this summer. One day I just happened to use the big gun full frame. I had forgotten what really good images looked like. Even on a small screen. Guess how I shot the rest of the project.