7.23.2020

Getting back in the saddle. Ramping up with selected, trusted clients before anybody else.


I started letting clients know that we were ready to accept assignments; at least the ones that everybody agreed were pretty safe. By that I mean jobs such as photographing one person at a time in our studio, or photographing buildings and infrastructure projects outside. I'm fine with doing environmental portraits outside as well. Once I started reaching out and conveying details about our slow motion return to work I've been getting requests for bids, and actual assignments for multiple engagements in August. And it feels good to get started back. 

Since many of my clients are medical practices (radiology, cardiology, oral surgery, oncology, etc.) we don't have to explain much about the safety procedures we're requiring from everyone. If people are coming to my studio they'll need to wear their face masks until we get ready to photograph. We have an A/C system set up to bring in constant fresh air; no recycled stuff. I'm swabbing down surfaces like a professional HazMat team. If people don't want to do it my way they don't need to book my time. 

So far only two requests for bids have come from ad agencies and both projects got put "on hold" the day after the bids were delivered. The rest of the work, and offers of work, is coming directly from the companies I've worked with a lot in the past. Most of the first wave of jobs I'm scheduling are simple headshots in the studio but we are bidding on several video projects that will have their own sets of logistical challenges. I have a feeling everything will take longer now and move slower. And the approach to craft service (the traditional food/snack tables at video shoots) will be an entirely new experience. 

There is one large law firm I work with that loved the in-office, environmental portraits we were doing for them for the last five years. Since many of the lawyers are still working from home and are reticent to all come into the office for the traditional, tightly scheduled photo sessions we're changing gears a bit and working with some PhotoShop solutions. I'll spend some time in their offices during an off time (Saturday or Sunday) with one point of contact there as a host. My goal is to photograph a bunch of great environmental backgrounds in their facility that I can use in an ongoing library to make composites with portraits that we'll do, one at a time, in the studio against a plain, neutral background. 

I would not have offered or considered this approach pre-Covid, but that was before the latest upgrade to Photoshop more or less perfected the "Select Subject" command. (It's in the selection tools). If you have not upgraded and experienced the huge leap forward in this automatic selection tool you owe it to yourself to check it out. "Select Subject" makes the cleanest drop outs/selections I've ever seen. It's about 10 times quicker than using a pen tool and you can use it in conjunction with the refine edge tools as well. 

I had occasion today to drop out the backgrounds in 16 images I shot for another law firm. We'd shot against a plain background and it was amazingly easy to click one button and see a  perfect cut out. The 16 images, working in 16 bit from 47.5 megapixel raw files, took a little less than 2 hours of time. Last year I would have blocked out a day to do this kind of detailed selection process. I'm so impressed. 

Saving between 4 and 6 hours of time today and getting great results is the best argument I can make to anyone who thinks the $10-12 a month is way too much to spend for PhotoShop and Lightroom bundled together. I calculate that I made a year's worth of subscription charges from the time saved on today's job alone. And I provided what is probably a better product that I could have produced a year or two ago. 

While it feels good to look at August's business calendar and see it filling up there are still projects I won't accept. One kind is any sort of day long event work in interior spaces. No convention hotels for me yet. I also won't fly for work. I do have one client in North Carolina I'd love to continue on with but that will have to wait until we've got a better handle on either vaccines or iron clad curatives. Even though I always imagine myself as being bulletproof I am 64 years old and the statistics are not in my favor...yet. 

On  the other hand, if someone would like me to do larger, infrastructure projects anywhere in Texas I'll be happy to drive to the locations and do the work under the same constraints I've outlined above. I'm even considering a rooftop tent for my little SUV which would free me from having to flip a coin about how safe a hotel/motel might be... But no one is asking right now so that's more or less a contingency plan at the moment. Maybe something better saved until the cooler weather arrives...

I can't predict what will happen next. I have friends who've lost long term jobs at ad agencies and from corporate MarCom departments but I have other friends who are working through the pandemic, in marketing, without a hitch. I'll be happy to work a bit after months of twiddling my thumbs and boring you with images of Austin's mostly closed up downtown spaces. But I'll be equally happy just hitting the pool in the early morning, grabbing delicious take out for lunch and lounging under the ceiling fans with a great novel on my Kindle. Whichever way the universe leans. 

Favorite lens of the moment: The Panasonic 24-70mm f2.8 S-Pro. I used it on some in studio images of people against white and was impressed by the sharpness at both ends of the focal length range. And across all f-stops. Better than many, many prime lenses I've used. And not a hint of flare or contrast flattening even though the white background was a half stop hotter than the subjects. No flare from the hair light just out of frame either. The lens and camera combination focused speedily and accurately and  working with the lens was easy as pie with the face detection AF in the camera. It's a pricey lens but it's so darn good I've almost forgotten what I paid for it. In a few months I'll forget that altogether and wonder why I didn't get it sooner. 

For everyone who suggests that if I can't find fun portrait subjects to work with I should find some other subject matter to replace them with in the interim: Go read Michael's post todayhttps://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2020/07/bill-jay-on-the-thing-itself.html

It's a bit of writing from the late Bill Jay. Pretty much sums up my POV. 

At any rate, happy that the cameras and lights still work the way they are supposed to. More adventures on resurrecting my autumnal career in the near future. Keep your powder dry.