Bidding Jobs Requires a Big CheckList!

I recently got a phone call from an ad agency asking me to bid on a job for a multi-state  utility company.  We were being asked to do an ad campaign that would consist of five print images that would be used in direct mail, statement stuffers, newspaper and city lifestyle magazines, as well as their website.  There would be one person in each set up as well as photoshop prop additions.  

The lazy way to bid a job like this is to go all “day rate” on them and then do a rough assessment of expenses.  This would be a wonderful way to leave some fee on the table while creating a lot of accounting bad blood when you realize that you’ve left a lot of stuff out of your bid that someone has to end up paying for.

The smart way to go would be to provide an estimate that starts with a description of just how you’ll tackle each part of the job.  If you have to write out how you’ll shoot it you do two things:  you assess every step and every piece of material you’ll need to create, make or buy.  And secondly, you’ll show the client just how thorough and thoughtful you were when considering their project.  If you are bidding against other people you might well teach you client why you are more valuable that the competition.  If your competitor leaves an important and expensive article out of the bid the bad surprise hits the client when they least expect it and can least correct it.….right in the middle of the project.

By describing your methodology in a step by step method you’ll create your own master check list.

For this project we needed to cast five people in very specific demographics.  This is not something you want to do over the phone.  We called a meeting and the creative team sat together with the ad comps and a source books full of people photos.  We also brought our laptops so we could go to model agency sites and have a shared conversation about specific types and even specific models.  By the time we left the meeting we’d already reached a consensus about four of the five models.  

One of the account executives was kind enough to remind me to include meeting time in the bid.  She needn’t have mentioned it because that line item is at the top of my checklist.

Here’s a breakdown of my process and a rough checklist.  Yours will vary depending on the kind of shoots you do and how complex they are.

Creative fee:  This is what you charge to show up and actually think about the shoot, in the moment.  This is what you charge to bring to bear all you’ve learned in XX years of doing the business.

Usage fees:  This is a fee additional to the creative fee and is based on how many different media the images will be used in and for how long.  See David MacTavish’s book, Pricing Photography, or Craddock Software’s, FotoQuote, to see how to price each individual media use.  This is where your profit lies.

Casting fees:  You or a casting director will have to communicate with agents, agencies, and individuals to gather the talent you’ll want to use.  Make sure you charge for it because putting schedules together is long and frustrating.  If clients want to do a casting call with photos you’ll want to charge for the day(s) involved.  I can get a casting director for about $800 a day.  I’ll charge more if I handle it myself.

Who will pay for the models?  I’d rather have the client contract with the talents so that I don’t need to have the liability for payment if the client bonks.  If I have to include models in my bid I’ll make sure that there is a mark up of their fee to cover my exposure.

Meetings:  Ad Agencies can “meeting” you to death.  Each time the ad campaign changes direction they’ll want to meet with you.  Sometimes for hours!  Make sure you include meeting time in your fees.  They’ll respect your time and not waste it if they have to pay for it.

Locations:  Someone will have to find the five different locations we'll use, contact the owners of the locations and negotiate with them to use the spaces.  A location scout will probably have a whole catalog of locations which will be a good starting point for the selection process.  You might need to constantly remind the client that there isn't a giant resource of ready locations.  You might need to manage their expectations.  

Production scheduling is really part of bidding:  You'll need to know how you'll get from one location to the next, where your make up person will set up and who will bring props and also food and coffee to keep the production rolling….If you map it all out at the outset you'll find glitches that may cost you time and money when you get the green light to go ahead.

Assistant(s):  I've gone both ways.  I've done the one man show and I've done the entourage and I find the best way for me to do a shoot like this is to have a really, really good first assistant who can also produce.  They can help handle casting, propping in addition to the work that they do on the working set.  The best assistants are bulletproof and unflappable.  The worst are chatty, disorganized and needy.  If we're doing equipment intensive shoots outdoors it's good to build in a second assistant to help anchor scrims and keep softboxes from being blown over.  More than two assistants is more than I can generally handle.

Make up:  Be sure to budget a make-up artist for every shooting day that has human talent in it.  I work in a lot of high temperature locations and find that having someone there to powder shiny faces saves me tons of time in post processing.

Craft Service:  Craft service means food.  Everything from coffee and protein in the morning to lunch to M&M's in the afternoon.  A shoot runs on food.  If clients are there the food has to be a number of cuts above McD's or Costco snack mix.  On big shoots craft service is a full time job.  You might even consider hiring a service.

Props:  This project called for many domestic props like, a bathrobe, bath mats, towels, a washer and dryer, the right clothes, a step ladder (but just the right kind…..) and a lot more.  And here's the deal:  An art director wants choices available at the shoot.  Three different bathrobes in various shades of blue.  Just the right coffee cup for a kitchen shot.  This must be budgeted because it can be wildly time consuming.  I did a shoot recently that called for just the right set of wrenches.  Took half a day to find this $75 prop…….

Also include time for prop returns.  I don't really need three extra sets of bath mats…..

Rentals:  When you sit down and think through the job be sure to keep in mind that you might need to rent specialized pieces of gear that you don't own.  This could include foggers, giant scrims, grip trucks, generators, additional lighting, perhaps even an RV in which to do make up and wardrobe changes for clients.  Rentals should not come out of your pockets.  Understanding the availability of rentals also expands your vision for what the job could be!!!!

Archiving, editing and post-production:  Most photographers lose their collective shirts because they give away one of the most time intensive parts of the shoot process.  Everything that happens after the actually shooting!  When you get back you'll need to dump all the raw files onto your computer.  And then you'll need to put them on two different backup sources as well.  Then you'll need to edit down the images into a manageable number for the clients.  When you've narrowed down an edit you'll need to get the color and exposure into the ballpark and convert your files to jpegs for client selection.  These will either go on a web gallery you'll create or on a disk you'll deliver.  One the client has chosen their favorites you'll need to go back and do a very careful conversion for each file and then retouch and prepare them in a format the client can use.  Tiffs for print and Jpegs for electronic.

Organization:  You'll need to keep track of all the model releases, property releases, agreements and contracts.  You'll need to provide the client with a final contract that makes sense.  And this take time to.  Time that you should put in your bid somewhere.  

Always resisting the temptation to cut costs because at some point you'll end up doing parts of the project for free.  And why you'd want to provide free work and free intellectual properties to profitably multinational corporations is beyond me………You are in business.  You should be making a profit.  The more complex the shoot, the bigger the pay off for the client, the more your should take home at the end.

If you want to know more about the biz of photography you could do worse than getting my third book:  Commercial Photography Handbook

yes,   this one:  

Good luck on your next bid or estimate.


Marfa and the great beyond.

Mr. Rob Hogan.  Singer and songwriter.  Shot just outside the Marfa Table Restaurant on Marfa's main drag.

After my time in the Davis mountains I stopped back through Ft. Davis. spending just enough time to get stopped by a state trooper for speeding.  For some reason,  probably my honest and like-able face,  he let me off with a warning.  A short while later I passed the world's most productive hydroponic tomato farm and then slid into the sleepy, west Texas town of Marfa.

I had lunch at the Marfa Table, and it was good.  My friend, Bridget, made me a BLT on ciabatta bread with a spicy chipoltle mayo and a great bowl of Porcini mushroom soup.  Wonderful.  Maybe the best reason to head out to Marfa!  Anyway, I struck up a conversation with the table next to me and it was delightful.  One of the pleasures of being out on the road.  Two men and a women were nursing coffee and chatting away.  One was a doctor who also keeps the NPR station  on the air for the entire area.  He'd just interviewed the other two people at the table, Marie and Rob, who are traveling musicians.  They'd done a performance the night before in Terlingua, would be performing in the evening at the Gage Hotel in Marathon and Sunday would bring them back to Marfa to play on the patio at the El Paisano Hotel.

I shot Hogan as he was talking to the good doctor.  For the technically inclined, this was an available light shot using the afternoon sun from the subject's back, right side.  The glorious fill light was provided by the bounce off the wall just behind the photographer (that's me).  I was delighted with the dynamic range of the EP2 sensor which did a good job including the direct sunlight on the right of his face while providing good exposure on his face overall.  Not to mention nice detail in the dark tones of his jacket.

As usual  on this trip, the camera was used with its humble kit lens.

I spent a while talking to these guys and getting a dose of what it's like to spend weeks and weeks on the road.  Little things become big questions.  Like,  "Do you think the hotel will have a laundry service?   If not, do you think there's a laundromat close by?

"If there's no vacancy when we get to the Gage do we sleep in our cars......again?"

I thought photography was a dicey way to earn a living until I hung out for a while with musicians.  Yikes.

Bridget and I made plans to meet up around five and share a bottle of wine at the big hotel and then head out for a nice dinner at a place called, "The Blue Javalina".  I did what I love most and spent time wandering around Marfa looking for buried treasure.  The kind that's right in front of you.  You just have to be in the right mindset to get it.  What started to appeal to me are what I call the Marfa Ruins.  For some reason these rail side pillars from a structure long ago rendered unnecessary seemed to evoke visual memories of the columns at the Forum in Rome.

Once I got the vibe with these I spent some time looking for images that incorporated that feeling of disuse and decay into some sort of feeling of the desolate southwest. I had fun photographing this old stock pen that sits beside the railroad.  The historical marker indicates that in prime days 70,000 head of cattle a year were processed through the pens and onto railcars here.

I love the look of the sky with the thin, diaphanous clouds high over head.  This is near the edge of town but still in town.  I spent and hour nosing around here without seeing a single person.  Without answering the old, "Can I help you?" from a law enforcement officer.  That may be because Marfa doesn't have its own police force.  They call a county sheriff if there's a problem.

Here's what I see when I drive through places like Marfa: There's a continual process of discovery and abandonment.  People come to Marfa on the way to somewhere else and they stop for gas and a sandwich.  While there the quiet and solitude work on them.  Maybe they're running from a big city and a crappy, stressful career.  As a counterpoint the west seems tranquil and manageable.

After they've been here for a while, fixed up a business or renovated a house the sameness starts to get to them.  Once bitten by the convenience of getting good phone service and coffee, good coffee, within five minutes of wherever you are, you get spoiled.

You go to one of the two tiny markets and look for fresh fruits and vegetables and you get misty eyed for the giant Whole Foods with its almost infinite choice of stuff.  And you might miss your doctor and you dentist because there are no full time ones in the area, etc. etc.  But the heck with all that.  I'm not a socialogist, I'm just a photographer.

For some reason, and it may be because I'm so resolutely anchored in a frenetic urban space,  I really love all these old farm and ranch supply buildings.  I love the corrugated siding and the tanks and pipes against a pure blue sky.  When I walk around small, Texas towns I spend a lot of time trying to make this stuff into some kind of art.  Might be nice as a contrasty monochrome image.

My friend's house is right across the street from an obvious artist's house.  I say obvious because everything in the yards, front and back, have an artful look to them.  This is a detail shot of the side fence which is made up of layers of rock and huge nuggets of colored glass.  It lives better than it photographs.
Marfa sneaks up on you.  At first you think, "desolate desert town, move on."  But given time the quality of the light and the obvious depth of the people give you pause.  They you get stuck and think, more.  Give me more.  Somewhere there's a balance.

So, what have a I learned so far?  I've learned that I adore shooting in the square.  Seems so natural and easy.  I've learned that there are very few things that in body image stabilization can't handle.  I've learned that the EP2, either by processing or by the nature of its sensor chips, nails exposure 95% of the time and greats images with great details in the shadows and the highlights.

While I'm pretty certain that I'm instantly pegged as a tourist with my jeans, black Target ($7) tennis shoes and my black t-shirt, I'm equally sure that my photographic profile is as slim as I can make it with my little black camera kept tucked in one hand with no strap intersecting my haberdashery or waving like a flash.  I watched people from the "big city" who'd come to do photo tourism (like me) but they wore their big cameras like badges, challenging people.  One fella I saw had on his photo vest and wide brimmed safari hat.  On one shoulder was the latest fat Canon with a 70-200. Around his neck, promotional strap wide and flaglike, was a second fat body with a plump wide angle zoom.  The exotically scalloped lens hood looking vaguely evil in a "Star Wars Storm Troopers Darth Vadar" way.  He marched through the street daring images to show themselves......

I learned on the trip to come first as an interested person and secondly as a photographer. Rather than barging in blazing, shutter clacking like an automatic weapon, perhaps it's more effective to smile, talk, share coffee and then lift the camera almost as an afterthought.  An easy and extemporaneous afterthought.  For years this was the province of Leica M cameras. Small and unobtrusive.  Now it's the province of a new generation of small and capable cameras.  If only we can get the shutter noise down a bit.............

I packed extra camera gear, but not much.  I hedged my EP2 and kit lens with an e30, a 14-35mm and a couple of Canon G cameras (the 10 and the 10) .  Pretty much everything but the EP2 stayed in the bag.

Wish list:  A direct, inexpensive flight from Austin to Marfa with a good car or motorcycle rental shop close by.  A noiseless Olympus EP2.  An Olympus 25mm f2 lens.  Not a 20!  (Too short.)  A nice public swimming pool in Marfa for lap swimming.  Time to enjoy it all.  Next up.  Adventures in Marathon.


A gem in Marathon, Texas. A mini-DisneyLand for photographers.

The road trip saga continues.  I made the Austin traditional pilgrimage to Marathon.  I must confess that I still don't get the appeal.  I guess if you spend your days glued to your cellphone, soaking up radiation and keep an iPhone in the other hand ready at all times to text, then you might have a profound and visceral response to a town of 250 people with two restaurants and one fancy hotel surrounded by miles and miles of desert.  I don't get it.  There is a photographer there by the name of James Evans.  He's really good.  He moved out there in 1988 to document the Big Bend area.  By all accounts his work in that genre is unsurpassed.  But my God!  The relentless isolation and only one choice for coffe........

Then I found an alternate to the Gage Hotel.  Two blocks away is a little stucco hippy refuge run by ephemeral naturalists and grumpy conservative utopian farm folk.  It's called Eve's Organic Garden Bed and Breakfast.  I walked in and looked around and found every square inch of stucco covered by a riot of paint.  Can you say "complementary colors"?
This kind of environment is what the Olympus EP2 camera is made for.  Vivid colors, lots of detail and wonderful shapes.  I spent the better part of a morning just walking thru the, maybe, ten thousand square feet being fascinated and clicking away.  This made the trip for me.......in a photographic sense.  Would I go back?  In a fast plane.  You bet.  In a car?  I'll have to think about it.  Marathon would be the perfect place to work hard on a novel.
As I blazed through frame after snicky little frame I did find myself longing for the days of the 4x5 view cameras all loaded up with juicy Provia Transparency film.  Nice as the colors are my optimistic memory of the past wants me to believe that the colors would have been deeper and richer on large format film.  In a more sober sense,  I think that's just a case of nostalgia.
As you might expect, I love to burn bridges.  That's why I did two things that drive my photographer friends crazy:  I shot everything in Jpeg Super Large fine Happy instead of RAW.  And I used the square crop.  In RAW you can always disregard the crop, it just shows up as an indication.  A suggestion.  But in Jpeg you've succeeded in wiping out any information that ends up outside the crop.  There's no way to change your mind and get it all back.  And I wouldn't have it any other way.  I think art photography takes guts and that means being willing to crop and burn without fear.


Another simple shot from Eve's in Marathon.

This is a close up of a towel rack leg.  Shot with an EP2 and the 14-35mm at 6.3.  Sometimes the light looks nice and you slow down enough to notice the detail instead of the forest.  (How's that for a chopped salad of a metaphor?......)  The wonderful thing about Eve's in Marathon is the endless supply of beautiful colored backgrounds at one's disposal...........

A brief interlude to actually show a photo I like to look at.

I shot this in Eve's Organic Garden and Bed and Breakfast in Marathon.  I'm not there yet in the arc of my story but I thought I'd throw in something I really liked to look at for fun.  I love the fortunate juxtaposition of colors.  It really doesn't matter what kind of camera one uses for shots like this............but it was an EP-2

Stay tuned for Marfa.

From great eggs and biscuits to outer space within an hour.

The continuing story of my short road trip to west Texas.  I left Ft. Davis shortly after breakfast and headed over to the Ft. Davis State Park.  Did the skyline road and then headed over the McDonald Observatory to see what was happening at the highest point in the Davis Mountains.  The observatory sits at just about seven thousand feet......  I saw a lot of cool rocks like the ones above and I tried my best to make images that were unique and different but I had to realize at some point that I'm not really a landscape photographer, so...........

I tried my hand at buildings.  This is one of two observatories on the top of the mountain.  I was supposed to go to the visitor center and join a group tour but I'm pretty bad at following directions and even worse as a team player (pointed out by a disgruntled editor just last week....) so I went straight to the main observatory where I met the lead electrical engineer for the entire facility.  No joke,  I told him I wasn't into group tours.  He gave me a private tour.  We talked about the proprietary Kodak CCD sensor they use in the main telescope and how they cool the sensor with liquid nitrogen in order to reduce noise.  Now I'm carrying around a tank for the Olympus e1 and dousing the sensor just before I shoot in order to reduce noise.  When I have the sensor totally immersed the low noise performance of that old Kodak sensor makes the new Nikon D3s look like a Roy Lichtenstein print......(Just kidding.  No tank of liquid nitrogen for the e1 ---- yes for the telescope.)

The main observatory which uses a Kodak chip (not kidding!) and the whole telescope assembly is cooled during the day to the temperature that is predicted for the night.  In this way they don't have to deal with the differing coefficients of metal and glass expansion or contraction which would alter the focal length and aspherical properties of the telescope's optics.

The silver dome houses a curved mirrored array that acts as the data collector.  It's a very cool looking building.  I imagine that people go in thinking that there's an eyepiece to look thru.  There isn't.  Here's what the business part of the telescope looks like:

The fascinating thing about this image for me is the exif info.  This was shot with the EP-2 handheld at 1/3rd of a second.  Either I am as steady as a large block of ice or the IS in this camera really works.  (I paid full price for my own EP-2.  It is not a loaner.....).

The next shot is not nearly so impressive since it was shot a boring 1/6th of a second.  Unthinkable before IS in cameras.

Love the way the exteriors look when you underexpose them with the 14-35 on the e30.  Makes me want to re-do my place with silver foil :

Well.  So much for cool science stuff.  A big "thank you!!!" to Hans Kreel for the personal tour.  Spectography rules!  And then back on the winding road to Marfa, home of Bridget and the Marfa Table restaurant.

Camera notes:  After the first day I abandoned the Canon G10 and went straight for the EP-2 with a side of the e30 thrown in from time to time.  Here's why:  small. light.  good files.  fun to use.  great finder.  The downside:  you get around 300 shots per full battery charge.  Good thing I brought four batteries because the power was out at my friend's house.  But that's a story for later.........

Day Two. High Altitude Photography. With eggs.

So this is the first thing I see in the morning when I get up in my campsite in Balmorhea State Park.  It's this wonderful tree against a cold blue sky and it sets the pace for the day.

I didn't bring along real food or cooking equipment so I figured I'd get some coffee in Balmorhea and then head off on the day's adventures.  Silly me.  There's only one restaurant in town and it only opens for lunch and dinner.  It's called "The Bear Den" and it serves pretty good Tex-Mex food.  The first real coffee will be in Ft. Davis which is 45 minutes away through the mountains.  For those of you who know me and are convinced that I can only sleep in a four star hotel room that a client is paying for, here is my campsite:

I shook myself awake.  Put on my wrinkled and frozen Khaki pants and revved up the car.  I'm not use to mornings without coffee but I figured that this was supposed to be an adventure after all.  I was not so comatose that I failed to see how beautiful the light was along the road so early in the day.  As mine was the only car I saw during the entire drive between the two towns I thought nothing of stopping alongside the road, at random, to take photos like these:

After driving all day and then sleeping in my car I would like to take a moment to praise it.  In over 1200 miles it never missed, coughed, surged or otherwise provoked the city boy anxiety of getting stuck in the some desolate place.  The seats were comfy, the drive was stable and sure and it housed my cameras like a giant Pelican case. (Not currently sponsored by Pelican!).  In fact, I promised it (while talking to myself near Sonora) that I would show you its photo:

The noble and long suffering car.

The trip thru the mountains was wonderful.  Forty five minutes of photo-Disney.  Big ridges, raw cliffs and energetic fauna.  But I was getting hungrier by the moment and beginning to fantasize about what the world would be like with a Starbuck's shop every ten miles or so.  ( I would be a bad world dictator because I would mandate silly things like:  There must be a good coffee shop within twenty minutes of any destination.....)  But I finally pulled into Ft. Davis and started looking.  If you aren't a local it sure is hard to know what your options are.  This time it was dumb luck.  The writing on the door said, "Nel's Coffeehouse" but a handwritten paper sign also added, "Hot Breakfast now being served".  I parked the dynamic beast/car and went in with much trepidation.  The first person I saw was a state trooper right out of central casting, with a Stetson hat, a big belly and a pair of black, ostrich skin boots.  He nodded that authoritarian nod right when I came in the door and then settled back in to his coffee and the skinny newspaper.

Luck was on my shoulder that day.  Nel's had inaugurated hot breakfast that day!  And to paraphrase Ernest Hemmingway,  "......and it was good."

Doesn't look like much in the photo but that was the best biscuit I've ever had.  Foreshortened by the wide angle setting of the 14-42, it was really ample.  Just to the left of the biscuit and the potatos is a portion of refried beans.  Just thought I'd explain that for any of my readers from the great northern reaches of the country.

This is what happens when the camp out is chilly and the food is delicious:

Nel's was a contrast at every step.  The food was great and the service was disorganized.  The coffee was incredibly good even by Austin or Seattle standards but it was served with pre-packaged dairy creamers......

And lots of them.........

Stumbling into Nel's was dumb luck but three days later I am still congratulating myself for not judging a book by its cover.  In a small town, with limited resources, it's not always possible to build the most impressive infrastructure.  But believe me, if you are headed in that direction you'll have one of the best "regular guy" breakfasts that you can imagine.  If you are traveling with hoity toity people be forewarned that there will be no eggs Benedict nor will there be scones.......at least not until you get to Marathon. But that is a story for another day........

Yes,  This is Nel's.  Love the signage?

All images done with the EP-2.

Getting Wet In The Desert.

I always promised myself that when I went to West Texas on my trip I would take an afternoon to swim in Balmorhea Springs.  So I did.  I started my journey west from my parent's house in San Antonio.  We'd eaten a great dinner the night before at a wonderful restaurant called, Bistro Vatel, in Olmos Park.  I hoped into my old 2003 Honda Element and headed out to highway 10 about 8:30 in the morning.  Six and a half hours later I pulled off I-10 into the tiny, tiny town of Balmorhea and went looking for the springs.  Now, I should preface this by reminding you that I am from Austin.  I swim year round in a heated pool and even on the worst weather days we have anywhere from 15 to 20 hardy swimmers show up for swim practice at seven in the morning.  We also have Barton Springs, where urban rumors tell constant tales of the beautiful sirens who, in the days of Janis Joplin and blotter acid, used to sun topless on the banks of the mystic waters.  Even in the crisp chill of January Barton has it's faithful crowd.

When I got to Balmorhea Springs I walked into the pool area and took a look at a really magnificent fresh water pool.  Clean, crisp water fed in from an underground spring.  The pool is huge and goes to a depth of 25 feet.  Catfish swim lazily along the bottom.  As do black puffers.  And schools of little Mexican tetras zip along and try, enthusiastically but unsuccessfully, to nip at your with their tiny mouths.  But there were no swimmers.  The only public swimming pool for miles and miles in any direction and not other swimmers!  Eventually a tourist came.  Looked at the pool and floated around for a bit before getting out, drying off and heading out for some other adventure.

(Do you see the vicious tetras just under the surface?  They wait to feast on the unsuspecting...well, maybe not.)

I put on a swim suit, grabbed a pair of goggles out of my swim bag and hoped into the pool to swim some laps and spend some time unwinding from my manic drive.  And the surprisingly good latte from McDonald's a couple hundred miles back in Junction.

The water was a pleasant 72 degrees.  No lifeguards on duty.  No teenagers doing cannonballs from the edge.

After a bit I got out and dried off and started taking images for my "project".  I used all three cameras in a short period.  I started with a Canon G10.  No matter how good the new EP-2 and its compact cousins are I just can't give up the G10 yet.  It charms by its industrial design and it's huge and detailed files.  It's the camera to have if you can have only one and you're not allowed to have lenses.  Thankfully, there are no rules like that so you can have any dang camera you want.

I was amazed at the pool.  So clean and clear.  So unused.  The things that make it endearing are the archaic touches light the design of the railings. And the wonderful signs warning against diving in shallow water.

I started out using the G10 and it was good but I segued into using the EP-2 and, in fact, that camera and the humble kit lens account for 85% of all the photos I took on my trip.  The ability to do instant visualizations in the near perfect EVF adds something magical to the process.  It's fun to see, in real time, how the shift of exposure or the change of a color temperature setting will affect the image before you even trip the shutter.

I also used the Olympus e30 and my favorite Oly optic, the 14-35mm lens.  But no matter how alluring the optical qualities I couldn't resist the EP2.

I shot a lot in the afternoon sun and then left to search out the ONLY restaurant in all of Balmorhea.  Don't like Mexican food?  I can only suggest  that you consider driving the 40 minutes to Ft. Davis if you crave some variety.......

After dinner I came back to see how the light looked.  I stayed shooting until the sun tucked under the collaring mountains and the last of the light was extinguished.

At one point a motley crew of scuba divers showed up and spent some time lurking on the bottom.  They seemed to have the same sort of "gear nut" mentality that photographers sometimes evince.  They talked about their tanks and their regulators and how cool their neoprene suits were.  I could tell that the whole process tickled them and made them happy.  One college couple came and walked around the pool making art of each other with their shared point and shoot camera.

It's a long way to go just for a swim but it is one of the nicer and more organic pools I've been in.  If you have to go to Marfa or El Paso or some such city you could do worse than to pull off the highway and cool down a bit.  Just don't expect lifeguards or concession stands.  No lattes after this swim.  Not for another 45 miles at least......
You might notice the ducks in this image from late evening.  They weren't their when I swam my laps but the scuba guys say they are pretty territorial.  I'd hate to say I lost an encounter to a mean duck.....

All the hardware is this kinda crusty, WPA feeling stuff. Overengineered and under maintained.

Of course, I love the square.  That's so cool being able to set the aspect ratio that works for you.

Once the sun goes down the park shuts the pool.  No night swimming for these people.

After the pool closed I walked back to camping space number 19 and got my bed ready.  I flipped up the back seat and spread out my orange sleeping bag.  Then I started a small campfire in the little cinder block circle next to the campsite.  I sat cross-legged and drank a glass (styro cup) of red wine and watched the giant white stars pulsing against a nearly jet black sky.  The fire burned down to white dusted red embers and the wind picked up.  As soon as the sun went down the temperature dropped like a rock.  I wrapped up in a sweat shirt and a parka shell and finally got up, kicked dirt over the last of the embers and went to sleep.  The wind picked up and, at times, rocked the car.  When I woke up in the morning every breathe I exhaled made white clouds of steam even inside the car.  Damn it was cold....

That's it for day one.  More to come.


It's all about the Ruby Slippers.

    Red shoes in a museum thrift store in Marfa, Texas.  EP2.  Kit Lens.

I drove 1200 miles.  I froze my butt off in the Davis Mountains when the temperature dipped to 15 degrees one night and I was camping rough.   I ate protein bars while nudging the wheel to keep within the faded lines on the most desolate roads I've ever seen.  I woke up and drove 45 miles one morning in search of good coffee.  Or hot coffee.  Or any coffee.  I sat, bored in a coffee shop in Marathon as the rain moved in, thumbing thru my withered copy of Jack Kerouac's, On The Road.  And I discovered the thing I missed when I went off on my half baked desert driving adventure.  I discovered why it all works and it all doesn't work.

My revelation was put into words for me by the movie, Buckeroo Bonzai, when Buckaroo says, "Wherever you go, there you are." and, of course from, The Wizard of Oz.  I convinced myself that I needed the Ruby Slippers to transport me back to the land of "Art".  But on my whirlwind visit to the Oz of the great southwest I came to understand something very important.  Vital.  Art isn't some place, it's some thing that you carry around inside of you.  If the art isn't working it doesn't need a change of venue it needs a change in you. Art isn't a camera or a wide open landscape --- it's a way of seeing.  And art definitely isn't something you pick off a low branch.  Doesn't matter where you go because the firmware is already uploaded.  Only the scenery changes.

And the further I drove the more I felt that I was running from something and not towards something.  I went out expecting to find exciting things to see only to find that the endless and picked over landscape felt, for me, all used up out here.  But this process of discovery and re-discovery was important.  What did I really see?  What did Jack Kerouac see on his sad series of desperate journeys back and forth across the United States? The sadness he carried around with him.  The journey gives you time to look into your own heart.  If the images you create aren't good it's because you've given in to the conformity that pushes us all down to some mediocre baseline.  I've gotten good at technique but lousy and lazy at looking for something that means something to me.  The journey was like a mirror in a cold, dirty Exxon gas station restroom.  You look in the mirror in the morning, after sleeping hard on the floor of your car the night before and you see the tired eyes of truth look back at you with the recrimination that you could have done better.  You should have looked harder and felt more.  You should have ignored what everyone else was doing and stuck to the work that gave you butterflies in your own stomach and a sense of anticipation every time you thought about it.  But I didn't.    And you get two choices.  Or a thousand choices.  I only get two choices.  Try harder and better or hang up those magic boxes and quit.

So here's the deal for me.  I traded normal for photography many years ago.  While my friends marched into jobs as doctors and lawyers and bankers and engineers I marched into the chaos and candy of being a photographer.  An artist.  But over the years I reached too far.  I tried to make photography into the same secure path that my friends enjoyed in their career paths.  How to do that?  By making the thing you love into a business.  By slowly and systematically sucking out the life from the art.  Chasing a dollar by giving the people what you think they want.

And you know what?  You end up not pleasing anyone.  You don't have art.  You don't have product.  You don't have equity and you can't sell your practice.  If you didn't do art you screwed yourself because that was the only prize on the path you chose.  And the sad thing is that there may always be a market for the people that ignore the perceived marketplace and do the art even if they think no one will like it.  Even if they think no one will notice.  Because they will have, at least, pleased themselves.

What I learned from Sal Paradiso's journey was this.  We count up our losses.  But there are also gains.  The overwhelming journey is the important one and we're constantly learning those lessons.  I learned that, at 54 I can still sleep on the floor of a Honda Element with an old orange sleeping bag from Costco.  I learned that waking up at 6 am on a freezing morning means that I alone can watch the sunrise from my austere angle, miles from anyone else.  It's like water in a fast moving river.  You never step into the same water twice.  I watched the sunrise over nameless peeks and hills and I knew that no matter how good my craft the photos would never equal the experience of just watching quietly and soaking it all in like rays of new energy.  I didn't take a camera out of the bag as I watched the purple and blue and yellow of the sunlight slowly work its way down naked mountains and into valleys of valiant scrub  brush and bustling Javalinas.

There's no long term project here.  No book.  No shared quantum of revelation or wisdom.  There are no masterpeices among the 1200 images I stuck onto little memory cards.  But there is an overwhelming joy in knowing that I can still feel wonder and curiosity.  That I still have time to rescue the second half of my life from the mindless conformity of image making that I expected I needed to do to make a living instead of making a thriving.

I guess what I realized most was that the first half of most lives are about mistakes and enthusiasm and lessons learned and time spent in the raw pursuit of mastery.  The second half of life can be about whatever you can take from all those lessons and leverage into sheer, exuberant happiness.  And if that comes in your art, so much the better.  Shared or unshared.  It's the one things that's totally yours.

When I set out to do a roadtrip project I was in talks with a publisher.  After weeks of negotiations we'd worked out a contract that was workable.  We had agreement.  Right up until I saw their writer's guidelines.  They were so regimented.  How to deliver chunk by chunk of the writing on a factory schedule.  What program to use. What operating system to use.  Precise and required formatting.  It turned a creative idea and a creative process into a Sinclair sweatshop.

We parted ways.  And I decided to go on and do the project my way.  Only what I found out on this trip is that trying to teach creativity is like trying to do anything else.  The teaching is not the art.  The idea of a book is  like a life preserver for people whose industries are in trauma.  It's a way of delaying the need to change.  It's not change.  I may never do that particular book.  Or I may find a better way to get the ideas across.

But I did come away from the last six days with one firm idea.  I really love taking photographs and I'll do that until I can't do it any more.

(This is the only philosophical rambling I'll post from the project.  I do have images to share and discussions to put out here in the blog about what worked for me on the trip.  I am happy with the outcome of the adventure and ready to jump back into photography with more passion.---Thanks, Kirk)


The mechanics of hitting the wall.

I don't know about you but the last three years have sure taken a toll on me.  I sublimated the fear and feelings of anxiety and career desperation by writing books.  Lots of books.  Four in a row.  And the time in between was jittery and uncertain.   Lately, it's starting to seem as though a long drought is breaking and photographic work is starting to flow.  But you can't live through a social upheaval like the last two or three years without a certain amount of the residue sticking with you.  I confess that I feel burned out.   And really, it's the waiting and the indecision and ambiguity that wears a person down.

I just finished two photographic projects with a great ad agency and I feel comfortable enough to take a solo vacation.  Really more of an extended weekend.  Baby steps.  I'm leaving today for points west.  I'll be visiting friends in Marfa for a day but for the most part I'll be cruising around with a bag full of cameras and no real agenda.  I'm leaving today and I'll be back next week some time.  I asked the boy if he wanted to drive through the desert and mountains for five or six days with me and he gave me that kind yet sad teenage head shake.  Didn't relish the role of free assistant/talent.

I'm not testing any lenses.  I'm not focused on making technically great photographs.  I'm sure not writing to a template and a tight deadline.  I'm just going to take it mile by mile and snap a few pics of things that make me smile or make me frown.  I'm not taking a computer.  I won't be checking e-mail.  I don't have an iPhone.  I won't be checking texts.  I have a rudimentary cellphone and I'll call home to make sure the wife and the boy and the dog are fine.

There's no client for this trip so I'm doing it like a Texas, college Spring Break trip.  Toss a sleeping bag in the back of the Honda Element, pull a couple hundred bucks out of the bank and go with a vague schedule. Sleep, eat, drive, shoot.  What-a-burger?  Dairy Queen?  Bag of granola?

Cameras?  I'll take some.  All little pixie sensor cameras.  A small bag of pixie system lenses.  A tripod.
A bucket of batteries.  No studio flash.  No stands.  No umbrellas.  Nothing that feels like work.  It's the new Pixie Camera Aesthetic.

Remember all that stuff about Minimalism?  That's what we're aiming for.  If I make it back I'll start blogging about it next Thurs. As they say on Star Trek, "Kirk out."

Check out the fourth book.  Click Here