In the commercial field of photography the actual taking of fine and dandy photographs is pretty straightforward and uncomplicated. In fact, it would be a wonderful undertaking if not for all the stuff you have to administer to get to the point where you are standing in front of the subject ready to push the shutter button.
We're in the final throes of pre-production for a large job right now. Many moving parts. Here's every stumbling block:
My favorite assistant was already booked for the dates by another photographer. I have used this assistant for over a decade and it never occurred to me that I might not, some day, be able to use her for my own shoot. She kindly sent along to me a list of assistant resources for which she could vouch. Of the fifteen people on the list the first five phone calls were more or less a snapshot of how well photography is doing in Austin, Texas.
All of them were booked. I finally got ahold of someone on the "approved by Amy" list and we booked him for the days needed.
The client asked me to handle billing and payment of the talent and their agency and, since this is a trusted and ongoing (and great national) client I agreed. I know how difficult it can be to set up a new vendor in the corporate accounting processes, on the fly.
During Covid, as business slowed way down, I decided to stop having a credit card merchant account and to handle all credit card payments via PayPal. It's worked out great. Until now. Apparently our deposit from the client for models exceeded whatever triggers are in place for "too big an amount." Jumping through hoops and layers of certification were the penalty; all of which takes valuable time and energy. So far it's been a two day process, about an hour a day on the phone, to resolve. We're close...... so close....to final resolution...and the ability to use the client's money to pay the client's models... If not then the usual workaround is to call my banker and have them extend a line of credit for the next 30 days until PP gets their process ironed out. Alternatively, I guess I could pull the money out of my own account but.....why?
Next on the list was lining up a make-up artist to make the three talents picture perfect. And....over the last three years of Covid my first two choices have exited the field looking for greener pastures. Back to Amy for some contemporary suggestions. Amy to the rescue with a great, new to me, make-up artist. Now booked for the shooting dates.
I never knew Rubix cubes were so hard to puzzle out. A lot like finding shoot dates that worked for multiple models and support people as well as a photographer, the art director, and a handful of clients. Back and forth ensued and we landed on the only two days that fit for the 4th entire quarter.
We're shooting one day of product in the studio before the shoot days on the client's location. The days with talents. But this means that, as a congenial host, I have to organize and clean the studio space, the bathrooms in the main house, sparkle up the kitchen, stock in coffee, pastries and a few healthy snacks and set up a guest network for wi-fi.
We have a final pre-production call with everyone tomorrow to set schedules, go over wardrobe, confirm addresses and staging, and to generally answer any questions that come up. Then we generate a call sheet and send it out to everyone involved. The call sheet has the name, job position, and basic information for each person on the crew side as well as whoever will be our liaison at the client side. It will also have cellphone numbers and email addresses for everyone. Finally, it will have the call times (arrival on set) for each person: when and where they need to show up. Call sheets are critical for bigger projects with lots of moving parts.
Speaking of moving parts.... We're packing heavy for our two days of location shooting as we may need to light up an entire lab and also have additional lights to optimally illuminate the products used by the humans . In some cases the compositions need to be pretty exacting and some of the technical constraints are complex. Might add a second assistant at the last minute --- if I can find one.
Then there is the whole issue of being able to tether the camera I want to use. My first choice is the Leica SL2. It's a wonderful camera that creates perfect DNG raw files and the lenses I have for it rock. But it's only "tether-able" via the latest rev of Capture One. I'm sure Capture One is a great application; I have an older copy of it here somewhere, but I hate that I can't save files to internal memory cards AND C-One. It's also my least desirable interface of all the photo applications I use.
I might end up going with a Panasonic S1R instead, or even the S5, because both work well with Panasonic's very stable and simple tethering software. We're not going to be post processing files on site. We just want to show examples to the clients on a bigger screen. With the Leica it seems my choices are limited to either Capture One or just using Leica Fotos (the wi-fi app for phones and iPad). Neither works for me. I'd love it if I could do a seamless set up tethering with Adobe Lightroom Classic.
An alternative, and one I've used in the past, is to use an Atomos Ninja monitor, connected via HDMI, to the camera to call up previews. It works but it can be very kludgy. I'm usually comfortable shooting directly to the camera on most shoots but I perceive that multiple people will be anxious to review and approve images on site so we'll get to the solution that works best. I remember when Lou Manna (food photography specialist in NYC) used to hook up his cameras to a 50 inch, flat screen TV and show the client previews that way. But, again, we're not disposed to haul around a big TV either.
As I was walking down a wet street on a cold afternoon in Vancouver with just one camera in my hands and one lens. No schedule. No client. No staff. No payment issues. No details other than what to have for dinner. I remember wondering why I continue to do this. I love small shoots, portraits, easy gigs. And while the kind of job I've outlined above is the kind of job most younger commercial guys crave I'm not seeing the paycheck or the challenge as much as I'm realizing how much time we spend getting stuff ready on one end and cleaning stuff up on the other end. And always on tight schedules.
But, as B. reminds me, I'm always a curmudgeon on the front end of a shoot (classic worrier) and I'm usually ecstatic while actually shooting and playing around. I hope, once again, that she's right.
At any rate the client has been a dream to work with. Highly organized, super-personable, flexible and collaborative. Can't ask for more than that. But I knew that going in....we've worked together before.