Biggest unexpected inconvenience of getting back to work. Comfort.

Ben before becoming a professional writer.

You know me. I never complain. And this last week I was pretty darn happy to be back at work. It wasn't about the paycheck, that was a very secondary consideration. No, I like being busy, I love the problem solving of making more complex photographs for corporations and professional practices, and having jobs gives me more sense of purpose than sitting home working on some hobby or crusade.

I was very happy to do a three day project for a very tech forward company and even happier to be able to include Ben. Working with your post college-aged kid on an assignment is fun and satisfying. He had the flex in his schedule and I needed someone I could count on as an assistant and a second set of eyes and hands.

I could not have been more pleased to be "back in the saddle" with the Panasonic cameras (which I am coming to believe represent the last of the truly professional cameras in the market --- the S1 system....). The cameras were absolutely suited to this sort of higher budget work since reliability, repeatability and overall quality are much more important priorities than how many frames per second one can shoot or how tenaciously the AF can lock on with a handheld camera and a fast moving subject. I might think differently if I was a sports photographer. But I'm not.

The ability to generate highly detailed files of products via the multi-shot, hi-res feature is valuable. To hand over perfect files that can weigh in at over 300 MB is remarkable. The other joy across three days was just how competent and beautiful the results from my collection of Panasonic and Sigma Art lenses really are. I know that many reviewers split hairs and try to quantify how many Zeiss engineers can dance on the head of a pin but I also know now that after you've hit a certain level a lot of the really good lenses on the market are within a percentage point of each other for actual performance. At any rate it's nice to work with comfortable tools that deliver professional/well balanced results.

We also enjoyed the good and happy collaboration of our client who made both Ben and I feel more like friends than vendors. Working in a largely empty space, along with truly professional partners is a joy unto itself. And when we're all of the same mind on a project the work just seems to flow.

So, after all this written Kumbaya what have I found to complain about? In short, it's the discomfort of working for long periods of time with a face mask.

Having been to college, studied hard in many science courses, and having a subscription to Medscape, I very much understand the absolute need for everyone in the USA to be wearing face masks in all public settings and especially indoors. I totally get it. When I go out I have a mask on my face and a back-up mask in my pocket. I won't work next to people who don't take the relatively easy protection protocol seriously. If you want to walk around with your nose sticking out of your mask I guess that's up to you but please don't stand anywhere near me!

My discomfort with masks that are used over the course of eight hours is nothing psychological and certainly nothing ideological. If I can master just one negative thing about wearing a mask I'll be in good shape for future jobs. Here's the deal:

If you wear glasses and wear almost any approved mask your glasses will invariably fog up when you work in air conditioned spaces. When your glasses fog up you can't see to inspect a product or look at the review results of a photographic exposure on your laptop screen! I developed a few workarounds to help make the work flow but none are optimal. I can only imagine that it will be even worse when working in freezing weather as well!!!

So, in an air conditioned studio, working on very precisely focused and highly detailed product shots, the EVF of the camera becomes a big and very important feature. If you can set your diopter to a useful correction and use the EVF well you can work that part of the process (accurately manually focusing your camera and lens) without glasses. I could and that was a big plus for me. All the critical focusing was done with my eye riveted to the EVF of the S1R. In this use case the 5.75 megapixel, super clean EVF was the most superior way of working I could find. I took off my glasses and magically, no fog. 

Could I have worked with a 2.74 or 3.68 megapixel finder instead? Sure, but if I can work with a better finder experience why wouldn't I?

If I looked at the computer screen with my regular glasses (bi-focals) I would invariably get fogged lenses because I was breathing but also I had my head tilted down to see the computer which caused any escaping breath to go straight up to the cooler surface of my glasses. I found I could do better by using a very small profile pair of reading glasses instead of my regular glasses. There was less surface area to capture my moisture laden breath and more ventilation around the lenses. I tossed the regular glasses in the gear case and spent the of the time looking through the EVF with no glasses and at the computer with cheap, small profile reading glasses. This was the best way for me to work.

There is a difference, as far as comfort goes, between various kinds of masks. The two highest rated that are not N95 masks are the standard, three ply surgical masks that come in various shades of blue. These are meant to be disposable, one use masks. You'll want to brush your teeth often unless you really want to come to grips with how grungy your breath can get by the end of the day if your oral hygiene is vague....

The second highest rated face masks are the three ply cloth masks that people are making but which are also available commercially. 

I started the first day with a black, three ply cloth mask because it fits so well and doesn't move around as much as the surgical masks when I speak. But the cloth masks muffle voices more, making it hard to give and receive direction. They also heat up more quickly and tend to get damp from the repeated deposits of condensation from your breathing. 

By the end of the day with the cloth mask I was pretty miserable. It was also a day of trial and error for glasses and visibility. The next day I switched to a surgical, disposable mask and it made a big difference in my ability to work efficiently. That, and the reading glasses reduced the discomfort level down into the readily manageable category. 

By the third day we had all this nailed down and we were humming right along. Masks came off only during socially distanced coffee breaks and the lunch meal. Fortunately those events took place in a large lobby area with very tall ceilings and were attended by only four people.

So, with the right mask, the right glasses and a stellar, state-of-the-art EVF I was able to work with nearly as much fluidity and efficiency as we have in the past. You get used to stuff. When you know it's important it's even easier to get used to.  Interesting to think about but I may have just written the first "review for photographers" about face masks and masking methods during interior, commercial photo shoots. 

At the end of the second and third days I tossed my used mask into the "bio-hazard" waste bin, washed my hands (again and again) and pulled out a second mask to use exiting the building and chatting in the parking lot. I see masks falling into the same category as paper towels. Use and toss. Add a bit to the invoice for replenishing and move on. 

If you don't want to wear a mask at work you probably aren't going to be invited to work at the same companies we're servicing and I certainly won't be hiring or working with you either. No matter what you think your "rights" are. Your rights legally, morally and ethically happen to end at the interface of public domain and private property. 

Don't let (flawed) ideology kill your business. Learn, adapt, profit.