5.09.2016

Here we go. Packing up for another shoot. It's the day-to-day stuff that keeps most photographers in the black...

Amy sporting a DCS760C from years ago. On yet another "portraits on location" escapade. 

I was packing up today for a shoot tomorrow morning when I started thinking about how often I do what seem to me now to be simple jobs; and how many times I've packed up like this and headed out from the studio on a morning to make the same kinds of photographs.

Tomorrow I will take headshots of six to ten insurance executives at their offices in north Austin. Even though my clients who are in technology sectors have moved on from seamless paper backgrounds to environmental portraits with out of focus backgrounds the clients in some of the more traditional fields are still using the "studio grey" seamless paper as backgrounds. In a few cases they are just attempting to match what I shot for them five years, or even ten years ago. It's simpler sometimes to keep a style that's still working for the client, if there are a number of executives whose portraits are already posted on their company website. I guess their choice boils down to: "Do we re-shoot the thirty guys we've already got photographs for or do we just keep the style we've had for these next ten?" Finance companies in particular always opt for a continuation because, after all, they are good at calculating the anticipated ROI from any particular investment...

I'll conservatively estimate that I've done a location project like this one at least five hundred times in the last twenty years. And probably a good number more that I've pushed out of my memory to make room for something else.

I tend to always pack the night before. It's a good time to check the equipment, make sure we've got memory cards loaded in the cameras and that the batteries are charged. I still have a check list on hand because no matter how often you've loaded your car the photographer, unaided by visual cues, will hew to Murphy's Law and forget that one vital piece. Usually a sync cord or the crossbar for the background stand set.

Tomorrow I'll be shooting with the Sony A7R2. I'm not excited about shooting 42 megapixel raw files and even less excited about the prospect of processing them so I'm setting the camera up to shoot in APS-C format which, I think, yields an 18 megapixel file instead. Since my mind is already wrapped around the aesthetics of shooting in the "crop" mode I feel comfortable backing up my primary camera with an a6300. I'll use the long end of the Zeiss 24-70mm f4.0 as my "A" lens (the effective FF focal range with the crop becomes about a 105mm, which is my favorite angle of view for portraits) but I'm bringing along the 18-105mm f4.0G lens as a back-up. It will work on either camera if I keep the A7R2 in the crop mode...

I've packed a couple of monolights; one is for the big soft box that is the main light and the other is for the small soft box that will light up the background. I'm also packing a battery powered, hotshoe flash in case I want to add a bit of back lighting for people with darker hair. A radio slave set for the moonlights, and extra batteries for the small flash, have also been tossed into the lighting case. My last two additions were: more hard sync cords (just in case) and a flash meter (in case I want to be fussy).

The rest of the gear is pretty straightforward; light stands, a tripod, a flexible collapsible reflector and an extension cord. There is one new addition to the mix. Don't get excited about it; it's not a new Leica SL. I always grapple with one aspect of posing and that's whether I'll have the subjects sit or stand. I've come to prefer standing poses because peoples' clothes hang better and look neater that way. Tomorrow I'll have my subjects sitting because it matches what we did for the same client a few years ago.  But the sitting pose, on location, is always fraught with other necessary choices.

Do I get to the location and hope I'll find an appropriate chair or stool at the client's place? Do I bring the big posing stool from the studio? The one with the huge, stable base and pneumatic center post? It's ungainly and hard to pack. Even with bungee cords it keeps falling off the cart as I steer it through the parking lot on my way into the location.

I remembered using a collapsible bench, about 18 inches wide, on a location a few years ago. It was made for musicians who play keyboard instruments. Every music store and guitar shop in Austin carries them so I went out and picked one up today. The reason they work well for doing seated portraits on location is that the can be folded flat and don't fall off the cart. They pack down pretty darn well. But the common benefit shared by both posing stools and keyboard benches is that there are no arms or backs which always seem to show up in photographs; and, since the bench is rather small, the subject has to exercise good posture; they can't lean back or they'll fall right over. I know it seems like a weird thing to think about but during the 500+ times I've done this bad chairs have been one of the big stumbling blocks I kept running into over and over again. I guess this latest purchase officially makes me a control freak...

It's nice to reduce the number of variables I have to think about when I'm trying to get work done in a space I've never previously seen.

So, assignments like this are efficient. I charge set fees for the time and an additional fee for each retouched portrait we deliver. The actual photography is straightforward and something I've practiced over and over again. The making of web galleries is almost automatic, and the process of retouching is a fun exercise in problem solving. The clients are stable and payment is prompt.

Stringing together a fair number of these assignments keeps the business humming and gives us the resources to play, experiment and take risks in other areas of my photographic practice. It's not the most creative kind of work in the photographic cosmology but it's certainly not unpleasant.

On another note I've spent some time this afternoon getting really comfortable with the Eye-AF controls the big Sony camera. I practiced so I wouldn't fumble around with the camera tomorrow.

That's all I've got this evening.

6 comments:

dasar photography said...

Well Kirk, I think there is a lot of people that is waiting for a small review about A7rII used in crop mode.
Please let us know your opinion after the shoot.
Thanks in advance

typingtalker said...

Kirk wrote, "It's nice to reduce the number of variables I have to think about when I'm trying to get work done ... "

You're also reducing the number of variables that the client has to think/worry about before you get there. Another reason to invite you back next year.

Gato said...

Nice post again. My own checklist is on the wall just to the left of the monitor. As Typingtalker said, makes life easier for both photographer and client.

And thanks for the tip on the bench. Several times I have been tempted to buy one of the folding benches intended for gardeners, but your idea looks more professional and costs about the same money. I need to get by a music store.

Dave said...

Since this isn't a video related post I have to ignore it :)

Good stuff as usual Kirk. Though I've left the idea of going commercial behind I still find these insights interesting.

Art in LA said...

The picture of your old DCS760C reminded me of a trip to the Eastman House/George Eastman Museum a couple of years ago. Have you been? There is one room there that shows the history of cameras with actual camera samples. So many early digital cameras had Kodak branding ... did hubris keep Kodak in film too long? That cash cow got smushed surprisingly fast!

Your posts make me want to upgrade to an A7 flavor -- I like the idea of being able to use my current E-mount lens lineup, not just FE lenses. The A7 lineup seems incredibly flexible. However, I hope Sony hasn't completely abandoned the A-mount. Sometimes I prefer a nice chunky camera.

Anonymous said...

Love the idea of the bench, I've used a bar stool as couple of times for the same reason, no arms and forces reasonable posture. But I wouldn't want to carry it around.