©2013 Kirk Tuck. Kirk Tuck
Every once in a while I post a self-portrait. You may think I am a profound narcissist but actually I'm uncomfortable with the way I look in photographs. I still imagine myself at about 24 years of chronological age; maybe 19 years if you are just counting evidence of emotional maturity... But I post them because, in fact, they are part of my portrait process; in the studio and on location.
I spend a lot of time setting up lights and cameras in advance of executives breezing into my photography space to have their portraits created. In the heyday of film photography the process seemed more technically demanding; the lights were bigger and heavier, things took longer to set up and then fine tune, film backs had to be loaded and looked after. We got used to using assistants and a fringe benefit of having an assistant in tow was that you always had a "stand-in" to use while roughing in your lighting design, and during that awkward phase when you are trying to decide on just which lens to use, and how far away everything needs to be from everything else.
These days lights are smaller and modifiers are quicker to set up. There's no film loading, no Polaroid timing and peeling, less need to carry around a lot of crap. If something needs to get cut from the budget to accommodate a single portrait project I'd much rather cut out the assistant fee than start carving on my own fee. Right?
The offshoot of this new, parsimonious perspective for shooting is that one doesn't always have a reliable stand-in for the set up process. And I'm never confident enough to photograph an important and time sensitive assignment without having a look at how everything is working.
I routinely get everything where I think it should be and then set the self-timer on my camera and step in to the scene to get a read of how everything will work. It's very helpful and there's always some fine tuning to be done. More fill, less fill; more cowbell, less cowbell...
A few years ago I got an assignment to set up and photograph about 70 different people. We were making their portraits with former president, Bill Clinton. It was at a big corporate event, right after Mr. Clinton's keynote speech, and the timing was as tight as one could imagine. Now, I have a lot of hubris but not so much that I would go into a big job like this without padding my meager skills by adding a good assistant. I hired one of the best.
But on the day of the shoot, as I was hauling stuff to the meeting room where we were to set up, I was met by one of our clients who let me know that there was some mix up with the Secret Service and that my assistant had not cleared some bureaucratic hurdle, or something. There was no option to add someone to the roster since everyone on the photography set had to have a background check and security clearance. I'd be setting for this one up solo.
I took a deep breath, reminded my self that this was not my first presidential "grip and grin" rodeo, and proceeded to do my usual lighting and camera set up. My SWAT team minder refused to act as a stand in so, minutes before the arrival of the entourage, and the eager crowd of V.I.P.s, I found myself doing the usual self-timer induced tweaks. In addition to the regular lighting and camera set up I had duplicate gear staged and ready to go. I made it through the event with no issues and everyone was happy with the files and the prints that I delivered. Once again I mentally thanked the camera makers for including self-timers on their cameras.
I have started a folder for all the self-portrait images. I look dour in almost every one of them. Is it any wonder why? They are all taken moments before the arrivals of high maintenance CEOs or other "interesting" people. If you want to see happy self portraits then I'll need to start taking "post event" stand-in shots. But then I would probably look just as curmudgeonly; the images would be taken in advance of my least favorite photo task, cleaning up and packing.
A brief, self-serving notification. My free course at Craftsy.com; "Professional Family Portraits" is just about to click over to
+200,000 enrolled students! I think it's a big deal. That's a lot of people. Now, if I could just convince all of them to rush over to Amazon.com and buy a copy of "The Lisbon Portfolio" I'd be outrageously happy. I might even be able to afford second Sony A7R2....