A few weeks ago Celeste asked if I'd make a portrait for her portfolio. She was heading up to NYC to continue an acting career. I met her at Zach Theatre where she worked in a number of great productions. I was happy to spend a couple of hours with her because it was a great opportunity to see how the new GH5s would work as portrait cameras. I made most of the images with the Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 Pro lens but Celeste was patient enough to let me try some variations with several old Pen lenses. I'm working on those samples and will post my favorites soon.
I didn't think the images had enough noise in them when shot at ISO 100 or ISO 200 so I added some noise to them in post. I just sent along her gallery. I hope she finds a few that she'll be able to use.
It was a busy week. Nowhere near the hectic pace we kept up in the pre-digital days but brisk nonetheless. My work weeks usually start on Sundays when I start organizing and cleaning up for the week ahead. When you do a lot of work on location, with nearly every job calling for different gear, you can generate quite a mess in the middle of the floor of the studio.
Monday: My first assignment of the week was to go on location and photograph a new partner at one of the downtown law firms. We've (me+ad agency+client) established a style for this client that is based on shooting environmental portraits. That means we use the interesting spaces in their offices as backgrounds instead of bringing a background of our own. I have generally shot portraits in their beautiful and modern styled offices with a full frame Sony camera and a fast medium format telephoto lens so I can drop the background walls, windows and interior design nicely out of focus. I've always found it easier to do a job like this with continuous lights since it's easy to use whatever range of aperture and shutter speed work best. I've found that current LEDs are a good match for the indirect daylight that floods in from floor to ceiling windows on the 27th floor.
For this engagement I was using the Panasonic GH5 so instead of shooting at f2.8 or f4.0 and being able to depend on the lesser depth of field given by a full frame camera I had to shoot lenses with wider apertures to get the same effect. I brought along the Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 as a "safety" knowing I could shoot it wide open with sharp results and then blur more of the background in post production, if needed. But the lenses I intended to shoot with were a motley collection of much less expensive prime lenses. I brought the little Panasonic 42.5mm f1.7, an ancient Olympus Pen 40mm f1.4 and a Zeiss 50mm f1.7 that was originally made for the Contax Y/C system.
We set up in a large conference room and I put the frosted wall behind my subject. The wall gets hit by all kinds of light and shadow. It's a beautiful pattern, with nice, cool color variations that look great out of focus. I used an LED light in a 50 inch diffuser as a main light and set a level that would match or slightly overpower the background. I used several smaller LED fixtures to provide backlighting and accents. But the real trick was finding just the right combination of focal length and aperture. The image that was finally chosen and finished out for the firm came from the 50mm Zeiss lens, shot at f2.2.
One part of commercial photography we gloss over is timing and logistics. I wanted to be on site at 9am so I could be lit and ready to shoot by 10am. That required me to plan backwards. Heading downtown during rush hour could take up to 30 minutes from my house, only five mile away. Austin traffic can be horrible. I would need to add 15 minutes to that in order to navigate the parking garage, find a parking space, load all the gear on a multi-cart and get up to the 27th floor. A bit more time if there was a new security guard at the front desk hell bent on saving the world from a graying, 60+ year old photographer...
Add in 15 minutes to stop by the coffee shop for necessary fuel and that puts us at one hour from leaving the front door of the studio to walking into the client's lobby. Since it's too easy to forget stuff in the morning that means that I'll want to pack everything the evening before. Two of the LED panels I wanted to use run on rechargeable batteries that need five hours to charge. I wanted to top off a couple of camera batteries. And there was a very specific shirt I wanted to wear that needed to be washed. Yikes. There goes a chunk of Sunday afternoon.
The GH5+Zeiss combination exceeded my expectations. The flesh tones from the combination were as perfect as I could ask for and easier to color correct than anything I'd ever gotten from my Sonys or Nikons.
The actual portrait session started at 10am and we were finished by 10:20am. The worst part of any shoot is breaking down a set and packing everything back up. It's annoying when the parking exit kiosk won't read the QR code on the pass you need to exit the garage but it's still Austin and someone came over, shrugged, and let me out. Good thing since the minimum charge for parking at this particularly tony building is $25 for the first hour....
I got back to the studio and ingested the files into Lightroom, making a second back-up set on a separate hard drive. Then I took a break to swim two miles and grab lunch.
Soaked, chilled, exhausted but fed I sat down to make subtle, global corrections to the 40 files I would put into a gallery and upload to my online gallery at Smugmug.com. While the files uploaded via my pokey wi-fi connection I unpacked and re-shelved the lighting equipment and put the camera battery and lighting batteries back on their chargers.
Once the images were uploaded I sent a link and a password to my client, along with an invoice for my services and for a license to use one resulting image for the website, for public relations and for general marketing.
I spent the rest of the afternoon trying to track down a great background for Wednesday's shoot.
Tuesday: I was up early for a run around Lady Bird Lake. I headed back home for breakfast and a shower and then I started organizing for Wednesday's shoot. This would be a day long "cattle call" shoot where, over the course of the day, I would make portraits of 24 people, all in front of the same background and with matching lighting. This would be a more traditional shoot and I decided to use electronic flash since I'd never seen the space before and didn't want to chance having big windows or uncontrollable ambient lighting that would interfere with the lighting design I had in mind.
For this assignment I wouldn't be concerned with trying for exacting depth of field so I was set on using the big Olympus Pro zoom at f5.6 and bringing along the 12-100mm Pro lens as a back up. I went through the lighting design in my head and then mapped it out on paper. This helped me figure out exactly what to bring in terms of lights, stands, reflectors, cabling and remote triggers. I changed out the batteries in the triggers and the light meter (always take the light meter...) and charged the battery for the Godox AD200 I planned on using to light the background. I laid out all the stands on the floor, along with the bigger Photogenic flashes, all the cables, speed rings and reflectors.
Then I took a break to swim a really pleasant afternoon workout with my friend, Emmett.
It was the day before the shoot and I still didn't have just the right background but I had a workable candidate. I was waiting on two different backgrounds I'd ordered from Amazon.com. One came mid-afternoon and the other came at 7:55pm. I liked them both better than my back-up so I packed up all three.
After dinner I packed up everything in appropriate cases and bags and put everything except the camera case into the car. It's a really, really safe neighborhood but I hate to tempt fate the night before a shoot by dangling the cameras to chance. The last thing I did before I left the office was to print out my correspondence with my client which had the address and all the details, plus examples. One copy for the camera bag and one copy for the passenger's seat of the car. I checked the map online. I knew exactly where I was going as the client's office is right next door to a great competition swimming pool (which I did not have time to try out...).
Wednesday: So, up at 5:45am, shower, coffee, breakfast taco and then out the door at 6:35am. I padded my time just a bit because --- if you are on time you are already running late --- and arrived at the client's parking lot with eight minutes to spare. I finished listening to something interesting on NPR and then loaded up the cart and headed to the front door.
I met my client, loaded in at 7:00am, had a quick conversation about backdrops, made our selection and then I started building the set in a large training room. A big bonus was that my client was thinking ahead and cleared everything out except for two, big chairs and a couple of tables on which I put my camera stuff. I'd brought a pneumatic posing stool because I hate looking for a chair that might work.
I set up the background we selected and then started setting up lights. In the end I decided on just two lights and one passive reflector. With that gear we were able to hit the look and feel they were after.
I finished making the last meter reading and setting up the camera with a custom white balance at 7:45am and my client and I rewarded ourselves with a quick cup of coffee. We had people scheduled to come into the temporary studio every 20 minutes throughout the day, with an hour scheduled for lunch --- which the client catered. We finished our last portrait at 4:30pm and I went through the hated process of breaking everything down and packing it up.
As I exited the client's parking lot it dawned on me that I was halfway to Costco so I headed over there to pick up my two new pairs of eyeglasses. Nice to see the details again. The diopters on the cameras compensate well but I can't spend my days walking around holding the cameras in front of my eyes.....
Of course, the day is not over until the gear is out of the car, put back onto shelves, batteries placed on chargers, and files loaded into the system and backed up. It was my turn to do dinner. I'd picked up a couple of Asian chicken salad wraps and we sat down to eat them at 9:15 pm. A long day but very productive.
Thurs: I read another part of the ongoing review about the Nikon D850 on DPReview. The thought the bubbled up as I read was of the time in America when the only (popular) measure of new cars was how much raw horsepower their engines could generate. That was always the magic number. The landscape was festooned with giant cars that boasted of having 300, 400, even 600 horsepower. Of course they got less than 10 miles to a gallon of gas and were hardly good (performance wise) for anything but going in straight lines. None were adept at cornering or even stopping well. (yes, I am sure there were exceptions). It was a drag racing mentality which thankfully dissipated when gas prices spiked more or less permanently...
The D850 certainly checks the horsepower box with it's 45+ megapixels. But in many ways the analogy is apt given how archaic DSLRs are in general. Lots of horsepower, just not fun to drive anymore. But I'm digressing.
I got up and went for a self-paced swim practice. It was cold and lonely. But the yards slipped by.
I spent nearly all day in Lightroom editing down 1600+ portrait files into more manageable 600+. I color corrected every person's set to match everyone else's and then converted the selected images from Raw to Jpeg and started the time consuming process of uploading them to an online gallery. I convert to full sized, minimally compressed Jpegs for the galleries because the big files provide another layer of back-up for the images.
Once I get the upload started it's time to thoroughly clean the studio for Friday's shoot. We'll be photographing a doctor in four different ways for one of my long time medical practice clients.
The studio is a mess. The floors need swept and washed. The shelves need to be de-cluttered. The desk top needs to be excavated and all the other gear I already used during the week needs to find its happy spot --- off the floor.
Friday: I get to Deep Eddy early for a long swim and then meet one of my video mentors at the local Starbucks to hear about his latest adventure and learn from his experiences. It's always best to hear from people whose experience is a known thing than to take advice on the web from someone who rarely leaves their basement.....
After lunch I give the studio one more cleaning sweep through and airing out and I begin to set up in earnest for a shoot I've been dreading. We have four different imaging needs for advertising. The first is a family portrait of the doctor with his wife and five children who range in age from six months to about ten years old. I'm looking around the studio for anything that might be dangerous to little kids and spend time getting sharp edged things off the floor and taping down cables. We'll light this with classic "family portrait" lighting and use an innocuous muslin background. The image will be used in a community newspaper to announce to consumers that this doctor has joined the practice.
Once we get the family shot nailed down we need to re-light and put up a gray background for the doctor's solo photographs, in a suit and tie and then in a white coat. Finally, I need to change backgrounds again to a green screen and light that appropriately. We'll be taking a full length image of the doctor on green screen so I can drop it into an existing exterior group photograph of the other 14 or 15 doctors.
So, three background changes, three lighting changes and small children all in about an hour. Yes, it's definitely a case for flash. And a fast focusing camera...
The doctor and his family are out the door and we have good photos in hand, and just enough time to ingest them into the system, before Belinda and I head out the door with our dog to go to our friends' house for a wonderful dinner. We sit under the stars long into the night. On the drive home I make a mental note to start post processing the doctor and doctor+family photos right after swim practice tomorrow morning.
That's a look at the last week. Other stuff happened. I ate pizza. I scheduled other work. I did a bit of marketing. I had coffee with two other friends. It's a river of activities and we just float along from one to the next. The only consistent thing this week was using the GH5's for everything on my plate. Nice cameras. No glitches.
Looking ahead to see what I'll be packing for this coming week. The one consistent thing ahead is swimming at Deep Eddy Pool. Ah, routines.
Added Sunday afternoon: I left the house at 12:45 this afternoon and headed to Deep Eddy Pool. I have four more boxes (credits) on my little Tyvek swim pass that I bought many years ago but which the city of Austin still honors. I used one more today. The outside temperature was 78 but the pool was a crisp 70 degrees. Today I broke with my usual sprinter's tradition of swimming sets and decided to just do 2,000 yards straight through. I hate unbroken distance swimming but I feel the need to work on pure endurance so I set a pace I imagined I could keep and soldiered through for 35 minutes.
It's harder for me to swim distance in Deep Eddy since I am used to a 25 yard pool and not a 33.3 yard pool. I get one less flip turn per 100 yards and I really missed the long glide off the wall. While you don't get oxygen during a flip turn the long glide offers a tiny bit of muscle rest. When I got to the end I was ready to stop. I did a couple more laps, slowly, in the deeper part of the deep end and then headed toward the showers.
My punch card will run out on Wednesday (if I swim on Mon.-Tues-Weds.). I'll have to pay the full price of three dollars a day to swim on Thurs. I am booked all day Friday so --- no swim on my birthday (sniff, sniff, tear drop) but when I get to the pool on Saturday morning I will be 62 and eligible for the $1 entry fee. It's all moot though as the pool entry become free after the 30th of October.
I left Deep Eddy Pool and headed to Whole Foods/Amazon for a slice of pizza and a veg smoothie. Then a nap on the couch with studio dog. Now, that's how I like spending a Sunday afternoon!!!