Can you undertake "too much" pre-production? I'm inclined to say, "no."

Yeah. I did it again. I walked around downtown this afternoon, looking at stuff and spending time operating the controls on my camera. 

Yesterday I talked about practice. I wrote about going to a rehearsal at the theater and trying my hand (for the thousandth time) at shooting in the dark. Well, I was in the dark but the actors were in little pools of light... And they moved from pool to pool as they talked and gestured and, well, acted. And some of the pools of light were eddies of warm light while others were gelled cool. All the pools were different exposures. All the backgrounds black.  I processed the imagines this morning and assessed them while I ate a cinnamon roll I'd baked and drank so-so coffee that sprang from a Keurig machine. From start to finish the images got technically better and better. It was a lesson reinforced. Practice is not good, it's essential.

Yesterday's rehearsal was for the production of "Santaland Diaries." It will be performed on the smaller, stage, in the round, at Zach, but our big money-maker for the holiday season will be a very rock+contemporary culture inflected version of "A Christmas Carol." It's a big production on our large, Topfer stage and it's a complex musical with lots and lots of moving parts. 

This morning it occurred to me that I could better serve my client on Tuesday, at the official dress rehearsal, if I knew the progression of the show, the actions that lead up to big crescendos of action and poses, etc. With a bit of judicious scouting I'd know when to shift and when to shoot and how the lighting cues will affect my photography. Photography that will be used across a lot of media to drive traffic to the play over the course of a month. 

I sent an early Sunday afternoon e-mail to the stage manager asking if it would be okay for me to drop by and attend the tech rehearsal this evening. It's the last rehearsal without an audience and while it may stop and start it will give me ample opportunity to survey "the lay of the land." I pushed a bit and also got permission to photograph. A way of taking visual notes ahead of the official, assigned shoot on Tues. 

Now, this is hardly a burden since I love this particular production, enjoy the music, and am a big fan of many people in the cast. I'm heading over right after supper and should be ready to watch at 7:30 pm, when the curtain opens. 

I'm taking along the Sony A7ii and the 70-200mm f4.0 G lens and I'm intent on getting some shots from angles I won't have ready access to with a full house on Tues. Am I getting paid to spend my Sunday evening doing research/pre-production for a job? Not in money, no. But I'm guessing that my pre-knowledge of the blocking, lighting and timing in the show will make my images much better --- or at least more efficient, on Tues. 

I don't mind going the extra mile because I am less motivated by immediate financial gain and more motivated to push the quality of my meager interpretation of my chosen art to as high a level as possible in the belief that I'll get several wonderful photographs for my portfolio. This is a good strategy for me since I have, sprinkled through my website and my portfolio, images created for the theater five, ten and even fifteen years ago. They are some of my favorites. Short term investment in pre-production, and on site research, in order to create art that can represent me well down the road. 

Besides, I'll get paid for Tuesday's shoot and that's what the client originally budgeted for and signed up for. How I end up getting the stuff right is totally on me. 

Today's free equipment fascination (free because I already own it) is with the Sony A7ii, the cheap grip and a Contax/Zeiss lens. The image above shows the 45mm lens I shot with downtown today. Focused carefully and shot at f5.6 or f8.0 the lens creates sharp and sparkly images that I like. 
How's that for a short review? 

Sunday Image. From rehearsal. Also, Feedback.

A scene from the Zach Theatre Production of "Santaland Diaries."

I call this one, "looking at the work." 

I've been mulling a few things over in my mind the last few weeks. One is about our (collective) growing addiction to "social media" and our headlong dive into web programming (YouTube videos, video equipment reviews, camera reviews, printer reviews, online profiles, forums, specialty websites, etc.).  I read an opinion piece in the NYTimes called, "Quit Social Media. Your Career May Depend On It." by Cal Newport. In it he makes a number of good points, including the idea that social media is engineered from the ground up to be sticky and addictive. Also, that the more you consume the more you want to consume. He rightly asserts that, in any moment of boredom, it is too easy and alluring to just click into social media to get a quick fix of faux connectedness. The cost is all the surrendered opportunity to go out and have real experiences with real people. 

The article from NYT covers much more than my quick synopsis so if you have an impassioned response to what I wrote above I suggest you go and read the whole thing first...

At any rate, I am certain that blogs about everything are included in his general view that surface dives into endless content on the internet robs us of genuine experiences, the focus to be able to work on real work with discipline and diligence, and more; it also robs us of being really present. It's impossible (my opinion) to pay attention to anything in front of you if there is always a subroutine running in your brain that coaxes you to seek the solace of the screen. Or emotionally implores you to "check in."

I wrote rhetorically this past week about declining comments here and one reader chimed in with a litany of the blog's flaws. The foremost being that I write about the same few things over and over again. Those would include: Experiences shooting corporate work. Experiences shooting for the theater. Experiences walking in Downtown Austin with a camera. Experiences relating to swimming. Showing my favorite, old portraits.

The remedy, according to several other commenters, would be for me to: Get in my car and go on a long roadtrip to places I have never been before in order to get new experiences about which to write. Get on a plane and go to exotic, foreign locales to get new experiences about which to write. And, search out new and exciting equipment about which to write.

It was from this bubbling cauldron of introspection, New York Times guest writers and the insights of my readers that I have come to the conclusions that most social media is a waste of all our time. And that some of my readers misunderstand what this blog is all about. And, that everything must evolve or die. 

Remedies? I'm no longer actively posting to or reading anything on Twitter. If you left a pithy rejoinder there hoping I would stumble across it and have an epiphany you will be disappointed. More to the point, you won't likely get a response. I'll use Twitter now only to automatically post links back to the latest blog I've written. Ditto with Facebook, which seems to be the biggest demotivater ever invented by humans. Don't leave messages for me there because chances are I will read them .... never. 

My recent direct mail efforts have convinced me that few to none of my actual commercial clients follow me on Facebook (thank God! after this insane political season...) and even fewer on Twitter. They do react, almost every time, to a personal note, a post card, a direct mailing or an e-mail. I've never been hired or referenced from a contact on social media. Doesn't happen. 

Now, on to the more personal eye opener: Some seem to think that I write on this blog in an effort to establish a mercantile quid pro quo. Their idea is that I write content for them and in return I harvest profits, sell products, get money, accrue financial advantage, etc. They (perhaps subconsciously) view the VSL blog as a service which receives renumeration as a result of having attracted their eyeballs and delivered freely shared content. As if, somehow, their reading of my essays helps to vault my career and net worth skyward. I only wish that was so. 

I write because I love to write. I presumed that people read because they were interested in what I was writing. Now I see that a certain segment sees this blog as a form of general,  somewhat generic, photographic entertainment; the entry price of which is the chore of reading through things they don't like in order to find the one or two gems that inadvertently hit the screen. 

Sadly, as a I ante up the $65,000 per year to pay for someone's college expenses, I have very limited excess funds with which to fire up the Range Rover and set off to Patagonia to report on the state of various Four Season Hotels and Ritz Carlton Hotels along my route. At sixty one years of age I find my access to super models and skateboard celebrities a bit curtailed, so I won't be switching my focus (ha, ha) to all new subjects that are more popular. And since I haven't been emancipated from the need for income I don't really have the option of ditching all my blue chip corporate clients to pursue the (much sexier?) realm of poorly paying editorial jobs that might allow me to go somewhere different and make a photograph of someone doing something trendy which I can then overlay with an Instagram filter and peddle around as new art. 

I'm pretty sure I'll keep writing exactly what pops into my head and I extend to all of my readers the option to read it or not. If you'd like to show your support for my efforts be sure to click on all the ads below...

If you want me to write specific content, hire me.  

Have a great Sunday. I'm heading out to walk through downtown Austin, swim, ruminate about a video job I'm in pre-production on and then post some of my old, square, tired, black and white portraits.