Business is just business except when it's also art.

I love business portraits. I love it when I have carte blanche to create. The stuff where the client tells you exactly what they want? It benefits no one, but sometimes it pays the rent...

(From back in the days when I really knew how to print...)

The death of commercial photography has been overstated. Wildly overstated if you consider the health of the bigger category of imaging.

There's been a thought trend that the photography business morphed into something new and diminished; at least financially, during the maturation of digital imaging and the massive destruction of the economy from 2007 until 2013 or even 2014. We assumed (collectively) that the business had changed into a blue collar undertaking with much lower pricing structures and a default to letting clients dictate new rules about intellectual property and ownership of images.

What I am seeing in Austin right now is a resurgence of interests on the part of clients in both traditional fields and start up technology fields in using respected artists and smart, well educated practitioners to collaborate in creating new styles of images and combinations of imaging technologies. They are no longer looking (if they ever were) for the lowest priced, technical button pushers, rather they are looking (as clients have since the dawn of creative photography) for people who can guide companies through the part of the process of branding by creating innovative visual work that reflects the feel and dress of the business entity. It starts with their portrait assets and diffuses into the rest of the visual, public facing representations of the company. Does the architectural imaging (and the architecture itself) reflect the look, style and feel of the portrait images? Does the video reflect the same messaging and feel as the still images?

Companies have come around to the idea that really good and really innovative industrial design (hello Apple, Ikea, Tesla, Sony, etc.) is very valuable to consumers and now that the technology inside products has become ubiquitous and invisible to the eye the quality of design and build is a major differentiator in people's desire to buy and own. The logical extension is imaging as part of the industrial design matrix. After all, the design of a company and their product is all represented to the market via video and photography.

Of course I am not talking about wedding, baby and family portraiture; styles and tastes there have always traditionally followed the marketing space by a decade or more...

While large parts of the USA are still dealing with lost jobs and declining wages for many a look at the major technical markets; from Boston to SF, from Seattle to the twin cities, unemployment is hitting record lows. Numbers not seen in decades. Here in Austin we just hit the official number of "under 3%" unemployment. I have friends with fine dining restaurants whose businesses are almost in danger of failing because they are consistently unable to fill positions throughout their enterprise. From cooks to waitpersons. I hear from retailers who are unable to find clerks even at wages quite a bit beyond any minimum.

The recovery works to buoy the value of our work by, on one hand, removing people at the lower end of the market who had not yet found ways to make their forays into photography financially successful (but who have successfully found traditional employment) and, on the other hand, by providing an ever more sophisticated market for ever more sophisticated imagery.

I think the secret is constant experimentation and a deep dive in the currency of being current. But knowing what is selling is only half the equation. Instead of replicating the styles we see it's incumbent upon us to figure out how to integrate the styles that are aligned with our own vision with the stream of current taste. Everyone must figure that out for themselves. But I will tell you that the market feels to me more like it did several decades ago when we were hired as both image makers and professional imaging consultants to collaborate on the projects instead of just taking orders for cookie cutter services. The vital aspect in all of this is to having to go out and show your new work.

Nice to see the market appearing to support a more professional and in depth approach to our partnering of companies with our expertise.

On a different note there was an interesting article in the NYT about how our lack of workforce mobility (actual, physical mobility) has caused this recovery to be slower and less effective than previous economic recoveries. Jobs are portable (ever more so) and move from market to geographic market pretty quickly. The most successful people across many industries are the ones who can move to follow the rise of markets in certain areas and then leave the markets during their decline. It seems that previously in our national history this was a recurring pattern with as much as 20% of the working populace relocating in pursuit of work every year. Photographers can be mobile. If one is stuck in a rust belt city with a declining population and a receding business market it can be more or less impossible to "market your way out" or "just up your game."

You might want to consider targeting the markets that are doing well and to relocate, or at least visit and test the waters. You may find that there are many support jobs available in hot markets that will allow you to work part time in a different field while settling into a much more active and profitable market for your skills.

Also interesting because it ties into a book I read several years ago about this upcoming generation being the "renter" generation. Renting bikes, skis, camera lenses, etc. instead of buying them because, well, it makes economic sense. The book also talked about the nations in Europe (at the time) with the highest rate of home ownership and the lowest rates of home ownership and how this effected income and career success. The poster country for home ownership, with over 90%, was Portugal which, not coincidentally, had the lowest income levels in the E.U. (at that time). The country with the lowest level of home ownership (a nation of renters) was Switzerland which, you guessed it, had the highest per capita income and the most entrepreneurial success.

The finding pointed to geographic mobility as a predictor of job success and income levels. A renter can leave to pursue opportunity while an owner is tied to his location by his single biggest financial asset. A Swiss person plying a career is able to take assignments across his country or around the world with short notice. He is able to follow the flow of success. While a home owner, particularly in a declining economy, is moored to his investment and unable to pursue the same opportunity.

Americans may argue that home ownership is vital for economic success but study after study shows that there is continual financial/investing opportunity loss, and that homes, in general, rise and fall in value slower than equities markets. It's something to think about when someone starts to rant on about, "The government is fudging those employment numbers! Everyone in my town is out of work!" Yes. That the second part of that argument may be true but it's up to the individual to create as much opportunity as possible for himself. Sometimes that means following the work.

The above is about the idea of home ownership and job mobility and NOT about politics. Political responses will be moderated into the void. You are forewarned. 

Getting snagged and befuddled by the practice of using the same camera for stills and video. Too much stuff.

I tend to glom onto a camera that I really like and use the hell out of it in spurts. I know, you are so much smarter than me; you use one camera forever and ever and know it better than you know where the zipper is on your pants. Too bad I'm not as gifted. I forget stuff, get in a hurry and overlook stuff. And with modern "do everything" cameras it's a bit harder to change gears all the time. Especially when schedules get tight and clients get pushy.

It should come as no surprise to anyone who reads VSL that I've lately had an infatuation with the Sony RX10iii and have been using it as both a still camera and as a (wonderfully capable) video camera. But, truth be told, I've stumbled over my two left feet more than once this week by getting in a rush and not making sure I had everything set correctly as I went back and forth from video to stills.

I'll start with the least obvious thing. This camera allows you to set a wide range of styles, profiles and effects. When I shoot video I use a setting that I found while testing all the settings. It's a Rec709 look with a nice, flat gamma. It looks good and the colors fit into the gamut represented by ProRes video. Great, right? Well it's not the profile I'd want to use to shoot Jpegs and it's a pain to batch change profiles in raw as well. I started shooting some still photographs one morning without really paying attention to all the settings. Yep. I had the 709 Picture Profile set instead of the Neutral Color setting I like. I only started paying attention when I reviewed the first few images and everything looked flat to me. Not the great colors I'd come to expect from the neutral or standard settings. Damn it.

Another thing that just messes me up is going into the movie mode and not remembering to set the AF to manual. I usually shoot in S-AF and I expect to be able to hit the shutter button, lock focus and roll on. But the Sony cameras don't work that way. They don't do S-AF in video. They switch to AF-C without telling you. Working under pressure; and with the memory of past still practice, you'll probably think (as I did) that everything is great. And it might be but you'll probably have a nice, sharp background with a fuzzy person speaking in the foreground. I need to get into the habit of switching to manual, punching in on the magnification to fine focus and then keep my hands off the lens. But thirty years of habit is tough to break.

On Thursday we were shooting in the rain with an "A" and a "B" camera. I was setting up the shots along with my wonderful assistant and I couldn't understand why the RX10ii (B) camera was three stops underexposed compared to the A camera at the same overall settings. The client was pushing the schedule and I was starting to question my sanity. I did what most of us do and started going through a mental list of possibilities. Aha! The built-in neutral density filter. That was the culprit. A three stop difference solved by the pressure makes for stress and stress isn't good for working artists.

Focusing modes, profiles, timing settings, annoying zebras versus welcome zebras. It's a lot to change back and forth. Even resetting ISOs from one situation to the other requires diligence. And how many of us have some niggling doubt about the integrity of our files when we put our cameras on tripods and forget to turn off the image stabilization. My least favorite mistake to make, although not destructive, is to come home from a shoot and realize that I didn't format the card I used since its last shoot and it now has two shoots on it. When you go to import it becomes a time consuming mess.

So. What to do? Well, I'm setting up every Sony camera in the rolling tool case with the same settings on the custom buttons. The bottom right hand corner button (#3?) is always focus magnification. There is also a function menu that includes six shortcut settings. I've got a set figured out that I want for video and a set I like for stills. What a pain in the butt to go back and forth. I have two options to consider and I'm guessing you have your suspicions about the course I will ultimately take....

You can, of course, vote.

Option one (the logical course):  Make and laminate a check list for stills and video settings including recommended function menu items for each use. Keep the check list in every camera bag and case. Refer to it whenever changing modes. The advantages here are cost and satisfying the need to also run through a checklist before important shoots anyway. I've never had a formal camera check list but I think pilots do this every time they fire up a 747 and go out for a drive, and what we're doing is at least as important....

Option two (the gear head solution): It would be much more fun to figure out which camera is getting the most "crossover" use; the most switching between video and stills, and buy a second, identical camera. One camera would have all the settings permanently set for video use while the companion camera would have still imaging setting. The cameras could be identified with stickers or perhaps different colored camera straps to cue the busy shooter into making the correct choices.  I'd still like to do the check list just for all those times when a clients agrees that you need an hour to light and set up for a shot but then the CEO comes 55 minutes early and marketing client expects that you'll automatically flood your system with adrenaline and get set to go in five minutes or less. You know, pretty much every other shoot.

The downside of this option is the extra cost and the required space in the camera case but, consider this: You'll be getting s second battery!

Seriously though, I am fine-tuning the function menu items and putting them on two checklists. I am also referencing where to find each menu item in the menu so I can do this quickly. If you know a quicker way to change between two sets (which I have not yet discovered) please chime in and let me know. We've got one more mixed mode shoot coming up on Thurs. and it would be nice not to be caught flat-footed.