10.10.2018

Short lighting. It's a nice look for portraits. Packing for five flights in the next week. Sticking to my guns in disparaging over-connectivity.


This blog post will be a bit of a collage-y mess because I've been working a lot and I'm a little wrung out like a wet washcloth. But writing feels good so I may as well do it. 

I came across these portraits of Kara when I was looking through folders of portraits for good examples of short lighting. I photographed Kara for a potential book cover but my publisher had other ideas and, well, publishers own the book covers.... We did these on the steps that lead up from my living room to our dining room and I was happy with the combination of flash and coming in from the French doors in the background. These were done around 2009 with a Kodak SLR/n, 14 megapixel, full frame camera and I liked the look of the skin tone very much. Pretty typical for the Kodak professional digital cameras which all seemed biased to deliver great color for portraits.

I've been on a portrait roll lately. We did portraits for a large software company last Thursday, a telecom company on Tuesday (yesterday) and I'm just packing up now for a shoot with a national accounting firm tomorrow morning; and yes, it's another portrait shoot with 8 to 10 individual portraits on the schedule. I shot yesterday with the G9 and the Olympus 40-150mm Pro lens and I really liked the overall look of the files so I think I'll use that as my starting point tomorrow. We're shooting against a middle gray, seamless background so a large part of the look is predetermined because we're matching what we did last December and earlier this year on similar shoots for the same clients. I like these kinds of shoots because I've done them often enough that I feel comfortable with the process.

The hardest part of corporate location photography now in Austin is finding parking close enough to the client's building, getting your gear loaded up and down the street, and then reversing the process. I got lucky yesterday and found a metered parking space adjacent to the Westin Hotel, right in the middle of downtown. Since it was pouring down rain I didn't even worry about paying the parking meter. No one checks them in the middle of a series of thunderstorms. But the lightning and drenching rain made pulling a cart with a couple hundred pounds of gear down the sidewalk that much more exciting. I'm practicing my use of rainwear for my upcoming adventures in Iceland....

But before I get to head to Iceland and have fun with photography I've got a solid week and a half of travel ahead of me. An client from a few years ago circled back to me recently. She is now the V.P. of an large, national construction company that does giant infrastructure projects across the country. She's been saving up some photography assignments for me that revolve around photographing corporate officers on location with their infrastructure projects behind them. A challenging combination of dramatic landscape photography combined with editorial style portraiture. Just the kind of stuff I love doing. Except that we're pursuing this work in cities all over the eastern part of the United States. Next week we start in Asheville, N.C. and by the end of the week we wind up in Tampa, FLA. Each day involves waking up in a different hotel, rushing to a remote job site, figuring out how to shoot it and then wrapping up and rushing back to the airport in order to bunk down in a different hotel, in a different city, by the end of the night. Dams, electrical generation, bridges and more. It's the kind of work that makes one happy to be a problem solving photographer. 

Much of this work is destined for very high quality (printed) annual report publication, editorial submissions and even some big trade show graphics so I've decided to use the D800s for this project. About half of my flights will be on smaller, regional jets so I've been thinking a lot about how best to pack for the project. I want to be bring along several self-powered mono-lights as well as a 4x4 foot diffusion scrim and three stout light stands. I know I'll need a tripod, batteries, mafer clamps and some other modifiers so I'm planning to drag along a big, wheeled case like this:



I don't need to do video on this job so I can fill the case with cool lighting gear and useful grip gear. If I need more than three light stands I should be hiring a crew anyway. The real magic will come in trying to keep the load+the bag itself all under 45 pounds. I'll have an assortment of flashes and triggers but there's not going to be anything in the case that's super valuable or irreplaceable. I've got two versions of the big case; a Tamrac and a Manfrotto. The Manfrotto (above) is lighter weight by at least five to eight pounds but the Tamrac is better padded has a bit better layout for gear distribution.

I'll pack them and weigh them and then make my choice. I'm sure the airlines will be gentle and respectful regardless of which case I choose......  I'm also packing a small suitcase to check in filled with.....clothes and shoes. But the real issue is: how to pack the cameras and lenses.

Any way I slice it I come back to the (almost) fact that any rolling case is going to end up getting gate checked as soon as we leave the comfortable confines of a 737 and venture into the smaller jets. You know, the ones you can't stand up straight in even if you are only five foot, eight inches tall...the jets with seat so small they make me feel fat. I learned the hard way with a Think Tank Airport Security International rolling case a few years back. It's a dandy case and holds everything I need but it doesn't fit into the shoebox sized overhead compartments and, even with much protest, I had to check the case if I wanted to ride on the plane and make it to my next destination. Can carbon fiber tripods bend? We found out the answer....

My fall back is either to a conventional Domke camera back (the big one) or to a non-wheeled backpack like the one I took on my adventure in Toronto in the winter of 2017.

Into this case (Amazon Basics Photo Backpack) I will attempt to stuff two Nikon D800 series bodies, a 24-120mm f4.0 VR lens, a 70-300mm VR lens, a Tokina 16-28mm f2.8 lens and a few juicy prime lenses, along with as many batteries as I can fit in. I'll also fit in the new (ultra slim) MacBook Pro and a few chargers (extra chargers go into the clothes luggage. it's a hefty package to carry around all day but we're going to each location in cars or trucks so it's not like I'll be hiking the Appalachian Trail with this 20 some pound monkey on my back.

I will also wrap up a D700 in bubble wrap and stick it in one of the other bags as a final back-up. 

Five flights (actually more, if you count connecting flights) seems like a lot of travel to me. But we do three more out of state shooting days the following week and then head off to Iceland at the end of that week, on the 27th. I already know what I'm packing for that: Two GH5S cameras and two Olympus zooms. If I don't have the right cameras for the tasks at hand then I'll just change tasks. Good to remember that I'm there to teach not to return with pristine photographs for picky clients.

Finally, some of you guys took me to task for ripping on the Zeiss hyper-connected concept camera announced at Photokina. Hmmmm. I thought about it a lot after reading your critiques. I took them to heart. And then I decided that I'm definitely correct in my assumptions and that time will prove me prescient about the real need for features that only distract from paying attention to the image right in front of your cameras. If you need to make a call on your camera then you need some real intervention. Or you could just quit photography and start reading Michael Johnston's quirky new car review blog site. It's still called: theonlinephotographer.com

Believe me, you'll be better off ignoring fluff like wi-fi, gps, and bluetooth and just knuckling down and making the photographs better. Multi-tasking is the devil's work.


5 comments:

  1. Hi Kirk, thanks for considering the commentary. Hope it wasn’t harsh, I had intended to pose some additional considerations. And your point is well taken. Hope the shoots are fun and the flights are mundane and routine. I have done the aerial commute for work, and it’s not one that you want to be exciting :~)
    Cheers,
    Not THAT Ross Cameron

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  2. "It's the kind of work that makes one happy to be a problem solving photographer."

    One of the things I've always enjoyed most about commercial photography is that it's an endless process of solving interesting problems, but none of them are so serious that the world will stop if I get it wrong.

    By the way, I noticed recently that you have begun billing yourself as "photographer/writer." I think that's very appropriate, and I do it myself, but I wondered when you began doing it.

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  3. You only live 10 minutes from downtown?

    Why drive and worry about parking. Uber. Fast, cheap, no parking, you can unload right at the front door. The right tool for the job.

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  4. I wonder how good the weather seals are for the GH5 cmareas. Earlier this year I went on a cruise to Alaska. I assume that the conditions betwween Iceland and the parts of Alaska we visited are similar. I took with me the Fugi X100s and Olympus OMD EM5 II with the 25mm f/1.8 and the Panasonic 100-400mm (love that lens but it was a rental.

    Well, it rained cats and dogs in Ketchikan. My X100s locked up and refused to work for a day. The Oly took over and just kept shooting eagles, mountains and whales despite the cold and damp.

    The EM5II has a great reputation for crappy weather. I wonder if the GH5's can hnadle it.

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  5. Hi, nice post. I travelled through Scandinavia (including Svalbard) for 7 weeks earlier this year. This involved a number of flights on the small turbo props that service the small towns. My Olympus system fitted comfortably into a Think Tank Airport Essentials and the bag fitted into every plane without problem. And the Olympus 12-100 f4 Pro is a fantastic lens.

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