I spent one of my few remaining days being 66 working over at one of my favorite client's offices. It was a reminder that the business of photography can be fun.


Photographer standing in for his own tests. At the same time sadly ruminating that
he will very soon be 67 years of age. Tragic. At least the client-folk were kind and 
welcoming....and careful not to make jokes about the youth-deprived...
nor did they leap up to help me carry things ---- which is always embarrassing
no matter how well intentioned.

I actually had a blast photographing yesterday. It felt so nice. I was working at an accounting firm. One for which I've made portraits each year over the past ten years. They office just across the lake from downtown and are a quick 5-7 minute drive for the Visual Science World H.Q. The atmosphere was light and stress free and the food, all day long, was wonderful.

For the first nine years of portraitizing their various associates we were locked into using a gray, seamless background and very traditional lighting. Some of these constraints came from the company's headquarters located outside Austin. This year was a giant sea change. The marcom people at some far off office decided to refresh the images of all their hundreds and hundreds of employees, spread over most of the USA. They sent out guidance for local offices which warmed my heart. 

Now they are looking for "authenticity" and a glimpse of people in their environments. No more tight "head&shoulders" crops. Now they want to see both shoulders and and not too tight a crop on top. And happy days! They like the idea of a horizontal (landscape) aspect ratio. One that more or less conforms to the classic 4:3. 

Since the company offices here are close to home I dropped by on Monday to do a quick scouting mission. The marcom folks wanted the backgrounds to feel "office-y" but to be pretty much uncluttered, out of focus and denuded of knick-knacks. I needed to make sure there were four or five locations on their floor that would work so we could cycle through and get some visual diversity across about 20 portraits. The scouting was quick and pleasant. My direct contact as sweet and welcoming as ever. 

I had an urge to go totally minimal on this adventure, just a camera and a tripod, but my business brain talked my hippie, sandal wearing alter-ego out of it and insisted that I bring along a couple of lights and one big, pop-up diffusion disk that could reduce the savage glare and odd specular highlights of the ceiling mounted fluorescent lights that criss-crossed the ceilings. 

My basic plan was to position each person with an appropriate background in the right position, put the big diffuser directly over the subject's head and then fill in with an umbrella equipped LED light to give the light some nice direction and also to smooth out the flow of the existing light. Otherwise it would have all been top to bottom, too much contrast, with no side angle to sculpt faces. The horror! 

Everything fit into a large, Manfrotto rolling case and I tossed in a 50 foot extension cord which also came in handy.

My first impulse was to shoot everything with a Leica SL and the 24-90mm Leica zoom but at the last minute I tossed the little, bare Sigma fp into a corner of the case along with five extra batteries. When I left the office to head over to the client site I was thinking of the fp as a backup camera. Just included in case the SL went belly up and became electronically comatose. But by the time I arrived, no doubt influenced by VSL reader Greg H. and prolific blogger, Michael Johnston, I was ready to go all in with the little fp instead. And when I say, "bare" I really mean it. I didn't bring along the big chimney finder nor have I gotten around to buying the EVF that's now available for the fp and the fpL. I spent the day looking at the screen on the back of the camera. 

Funny thing is, by the end of the day I was totally acclimated to this very rudimentary way of composing and working. All rear screen. No eye level viewing --- well, unless I held the camera at eye level and did "dirty baby diaper hold" --- which I did not!!! 

The nature of shooting basically available light portraits in an office environment means you'll want to use a tripod. Which I did. 

Since I got the Novoflex tripod adapter for the Leica 24-90mm lens I seem to be using that lens for more and more portrait work like this. And why not? The lens is amazing good and the only reservations I had were about its use in a vertical mode on a tripod. It's so heavy the lens and camera package starts to droop no matter how tightly I screw in the tripod screw. All that's over now that I have the tripod adapter! I'm so happy to be able to use the lens unfettered now. 

Speaking of: very, very happy, I'm thrilled when clients have state of the art coffee and espresso machines in abundance. At my client's offices coffee is encouraged, elevated to an art form, and one could maintain a vibrant caffeine buzz all day long. Easily. For no reason whatsoever one of the office managers swung by a favorite donut shop and bought gourmet donuts for the staff. There's a place in Austin called "The Salty Donut" and they make amazing (but way, way too sweet) donuts. At nearly $5 USD per donut they better be good and the quarter sample I tried was. Did they buy enough? Yes, they had a dozen left over at the end of the day. They asked if I wanted to take some home but I demurred. I need to be able to fit in my pants from day to day...

So, cappuccinos and donuts first thing. Then they catered in box lunches for everyone. Great sandwiches on artisanal bread. They also ordered a few Cobb salads in case anyone wanted to cut down on the gluten and eat more green stuff. For a photographer used to bringing along a lunch in a paper sack, or taking a lunch break out to fight the traffic and lines just to stave off hunger, this was starting to feel a bit... heavenly. 

Around 3:30 the HR staff started setting up a buffet line, a cooler full of exotic beers and a table with some sort of wine-based cocktails. The catering arrived and it was full scale Indian food from one of the city's favorite Indian restaurants. I asked "why?" and the staff smiled at my lack of worldly cultural knowledge and then informed me that it was for the Diwali celebration. The lobby got decorated with posters and twinkly lights and the party started ramping up around 4:00 pm. I guess there were 30 or 40 employees left in the offices by then and they had a wonderful time. I also got invited to come back for the monthly book club meeting. There will be prizes, lots of fun food and an open bar. Something tells me they are taking employee retention quite seriously. 

The offshoot was that everyone I photographed was happy to be there, engaged in the picture taking and very happy to see what we'd shot on the little screen each time we finished with someone's photo. 

For all the odd review crap on various camera review sites one might be amazed to hear that the Sigma fp is able to autofocus at all. In the real world where non-brand-ambassadors take off their advertising blinders to shoot, the Sigma nailed AF on all 750+ shots using face and eye detection throughout. Gee, I didn't think that was possible except ---- I knew it was. That's a benefit of actually using a camera for a couple years. You really find out what it can do.

I packed up my one rolling case and headed out of the company's parking garage hoping I got good stuff. I transferred everything to Lightroom Classic this morning and breathed a sigh of relief. Everything is usable and most of it is very good. With some global corrections here and there it could be great. I envision separating the people from the backgrounds with the powerful new selection tools in LR and doing color corrections to each part of each chosen frame separately. Doing this will also give me the opportunity to introduce a bit more blur if I decide to toss caution to the wind...

The Sigma fp shot through nearly 800 images over the course of the day and did so on only two batteries. The second battery still had about 20% charge remaining. But I ran out of subjects. 

This was my last shoot as a 66 year old photographer. 67 looks bright. This is a good way to end work this birthday month. 

Today has been a relaxed, get things done day. We're trying to wrap up casting for a medical device advertising campaign that's scheduled for the third week of November. We've got front-runners for the two talents our clients originally requested and now they are adding one more. It's always something. 

But I did take time to go to Torchy's this morning for a breakfast taco, to the bank for buckets of cash to spend on my trip, and then to the pool for the noon workout with coach Jane. Swam 3,000 yards before lunch. Now heading out with a camera to enjoy the cool weather and bright sun. Thanks!  KT