10.08.2010

Twenty seven years at the bakery.

Every weekend for twenty seven years, barring those weekends when I was out of town,  Belinda and I would go to the bakery, meet friends on Sunday morning and drink coffee.  When Ben came along he became a bakery regular as well.  The other family member that never failed to tag along was my camera.

This was taken with a Leica R8 and an 80mm Summilux.  Color E-6 transparency film.  The special treat for little kids at the bakery was a drenching rain on a hot summer morning.  The best of all possible worlds.  Then getting dried off and finishing your chocolate croissant and milk.

The image that makes me think of snakes and danger.

Do you remember the first time your child was face to face with a water moccasin? I do.  And while I was too busy scooping him up and rushing him away to photograph the snake, this image brings back all of the sights and smells and sounds of that late afternoon in September.  We were out walking near the Lake.  It was called Town Lake back then but now it's called LadyBird Lake, after the late LadyBird Johnson, the wife of former president, Lyndon Baines Johnson.

It was a Sunday afternoon and we were on the docks of the Austin Rowing center.  Everyone else had long since gone home.  Ben was trawling the waters with a stick he'd found on the trail.  Boy+Water+Stick= Big Fun.

I was on the far end of the dock when it happened.  Ben was in the middle of the dock. At the very opposite end from me a big, mean looking water moccasin (cottonmouth) lazily slithered out of the water and started doing his snake locomotion toward Ben.  Uncoiled, the snake was easily six feet long.  I ran to scoop up Ben and move him out of danger.  At the same time a blur entered the scene from the land to one side.  It was a large black dog.  It ran straight for the snake, barking furiously.    It's owner was running up behind it.  I had Ben in my arms and I was moving off the boat docks.

The snake took a look at the dog and gave it a,  "I could take you if I wanted to...." sort of look and then slid back into the water.  I love the idea of that dog.  The dog as protector.  The dog's owner called him over and they continued to run around the lake as though nothing important had happened.  I'll never forget that dog......

I was too into the "parent moment" to step back and record the process.  And I hope if you find yourself in a similar situation you'll make the same choice.   But every time I see this image the whole adrenalized memory comes rushing back.

The power of the photographic still is to translate a whole afternoon into one inch by one and a half inches of transparent film.

Looking forward, Looking back

Right now I have a living room full of teenage boys playing some video game with great enthusiasm.  My son is now almost 15 years old, and yet,  it seems that only a few months ago he looked liked this and smiled like this.  I'm lucky.  I have photos from every stage of his life.  Photos taken in the stream of living and not just at "special occasions".  What was this special ocassion?  Nothing more than a mid-week lunch together in the Summer.  We'd gone to Hilbert's for some old fashion, Texas burgers.  Grilled.  Mustard, lettuce, tomato and onions.  And fries.  We sat on the stools that spin around.  The yellow light came through a yellow shade on the window and I haven't corrected it because that would change what it really was.

Ben's mom is in the background.  It's hot outside but our car is parked in the shade with the windows open.  We went home after this and Ben and I sat on the floor of the living room with the ceiling fans twirling overhead and the air conditioning pumping out cool, clean tasting air.

I remember exactly how I shot this.  Almost as if the exif info was embedded in my brain:  Leica R8 camera.  50mm Summilux as close to wide open as I could get it.  And I can see the film in my scanner:  Kodachrome 64.  The camera doesn't matter.  Only the presence of mind to shoot while the expression presented itself.

Isn't this one of the rewards of photography?  To be able to look backward as the whole world moves forward?

10.06.2010

I spent monday evening talking about business. Wanna know what I said?

I'm including this photo of my third book at the top of this column because this is the official textbook for the photography business courses at Austin Community College.  That's where I lectured Bill Woodhull's classes this past Monday evening.  Here's what we talked about:


After the usual introductions we plowed into the general topic that Bill wanted me to address to his class and that was The Business of Photography.  Basically, how to cut thru all the conflicting stuff you pick up on the web and on the street and put together a strategy to have a sustainable career.  The talk was pretty much non-linear but I'll put it down in the order I remember it.

1.  We are not creating a product for a one time sale, like plastic flowers or beer or a meal.  We are creating intellectual property which we own.  We keep the copyright and we license uses of that intellectual property (cleverly disguised as photographs or movies) to our clients.  They pay us to create it and then they pay us to use it.  And we can sell it over and over again.  Just like all the software you "buy".

2.  Why would companies pay a lot for photography when they can get it cheaper?  An ad project is like a big inverted pyramid.  The huge costs are for the actual placement of ads or commercials.  Next down is the huge cost and overhead of the advertising agency.  Next down on the pyramid are all the costs of production.  From printing to all the crew and models you'll use to create the photography.  At the very bottom of the cost pyramid is the photographer's fee.  If the project budget is $100 million dollars then a fee of $10,000 is way less than one percent of the total budget.  In fact $100,000 is way less than 1% of the total budget.  Incredibly, even if you were to charge $999,999 it would still be.......less than 1% of the budget.  But if the image in the ad is the biggest and most important element in the entire ad isn't it the most important lever to move the intended audience?  If the agency screws up and hires a photographer who can't get just the right image then they've actually blown the entire $100 million dollar campaign.

So if they have a choice between a really good photographer at $10,000 and the "almost the best" photographer at $25,000 and the ultimate (done this before and everyone loved it) photographer at $50,000 do you really think they'll take a chance in order to save less than one tenth of one percent of the budget?  I didn't think so.  BMW didn't get to be BMW by scrimping on parts.  Right?

3.  So one of our biggest challenges when we're starting out is not to confuse the amount of money in our own pockets (meager though it may be) with the amount of money other people have to play with.  You have to come into the game knowing that people have money to spend and they are going to spend it with someone.  Rarely in the this world do things other than commodities get chosen by consumers based solely on price.  And if your work looks exactly like everyone else's then you've got a vision problem and not primarily a business problem.  Just because you're broke doesn't mean clients are broke and "need a deal".  You need to price your usages based on the value of the intended use.

4.  We talked for a while about how to find your cost of doing business.  What does it cost you to be you and to keep the doors opens and the lights on and your bills paid?  How will that affect things like the rate you'll charge for doing work?  How do you figure that out?  This was by way of review since they were required to read the book.

5.  At some point we moved on and I introduced the curve of efficient money generation as predicated by time in the market and the "aging asset"; meaning "you".  My curve goes up from 20 to 30 or so years old, hangs in a straight line till 55 and then begins to descend again.  The curve is an indication of the money you can expect to earn from commercial photography assignments.  The first part of the curve is the ascendency you experience as you learn to business more and more efficiently and as you make more and more friends in your age range in the business.  Things hum along (barring economic catastrophes) pretty well for about 20 years and then, in your 50's you begin to experience your art director and art buyer friends moving on and retiring or taking teaching positions or being moved up into management, where they are not responsible for hiring creative talent.  You also lose cool as you age and it is a business of implied coolness.

The take away is that you better start saving now so that you can deal with the declining income from this part of your business as the Kirkian Curve comes home to roost at your studio.   That means generating good income in the "hot" years and investing it in something other than your business.  It might also mean diversifying into other products, services and market sectors.

6.  #5 brought up #6 which is "handling your money" and saving intelligently.  I introduced them to the concept of "opportunity costs" with a real story from my checkered past.  In the mid 1990's my business was going crazy.  Dot com clients were tripping over themselves to spend money.  And in a fit of ego and business stupidity I bought a five series BMW automobile.  A quick tally on a napkin revealed that the total cost to buy, maintain and own that car for five years was nearly $100,000.  That's money that was just flat gone.  Back then Apple Computer stock was trading for $12 per share and all my friends were buying it.  Hey, we're all artists and we drank the Kool-Aid and we were sure of the second coming of Apple.  I couldn't buy the stock in any quantity because I lost my financial opportunity by putting my money into the depreciating asset of a car.  I missed the "inverse bubble" of Apple.  If I'd put the same $100,000 in Apple stock at $12 per share I would have made some $24 million dollars at this point in time.  I lost that opportunity because I spent the money on something else.  I'm still kicking myself.  But it's certainly something to remember when you are considering big purchases, like cars and houses and studios.  Opportunity cost is real and it is part of your business decision making every day.

7.  Someone asked how a "broke college student" could put together the capital to get started today.  The implication being that no one has any money.  I asked for a show of hands.  "Who has cable service?" "Who has an iPhone with an unlimited data package?"  "How much do you spend at happy hours and how often?"  And on and on.  All hands went up for most of the questions and we went back to the whiteboard so people could see that all those purchases add up to significant dollars and none of them are necessary expenses.  My question to them:  "Why are you wasting time watching TV if you've got a business you are trying to get off the ground.

8.  The we talked about your best friend and your worst enemy and the fact that they are one and the same.  That entity is:  Compound interest.  If you owe money you're getting beat up by compound interest every minute of the day.  If you have money and you invest it your money makes money even as you sleep.

9.  We talked about the quality of photography.  There are more great photographers "out there" than ever before.  That's the consensus.  My point to them was that there might be hundreds of people in my market who are better at using the cameras, at visualizing, at making pictures.  I am not afraid of better photographers.  I am afraid of better marketers.  Marketing is the key to just about every business.  Only monopolies can get away with doing mediocre marketing.  You can't afford not to do it right.

10.  When we talked about marketing I was very frank about two things:  One.  This is a numbers game. The prizes go to the people who have crafted a compelling message, understand their unique selling proposition, target the right audience and finally, who deliver the message to the target.  Two.  The paradigm of good marketing hasn't changed because of the web.  You can't expect to reach very many people any more with e-mail (free) marketing because millions of photographers have simultaneously spammed the e-mail accounts of the handful of art buyers and other ad agency clients.  What cuts thru?  Alway moving from a new direction.  Right now direct mail is hot.  But that will get saturated and you'll need to move on to something else in order to avoid the crowds and get through the filter of mail box grid lock.  But each iteration will get you clients.  At some point, when there are hundreds of thousands of online sourcebooks beleaguered clients may turn back to one or two printed source books.  I can't predict the specific future but I learned from the movie The Incredibles,  when everybody is special no one is.....

That's why it was a really smart move when the first person showed his portfolio on an iPad.  Now, only a few months later, it's already old hat.

I answered a bunch of questions and talked about how my career started.  I reminisced about my first show and how I spent my last $13 on jug wine.  Thank goodness someone called me and took a chance a day or two after the opening reception.......some times you have to take risks.  But nearly always you have to know what it cost you to be in business and who your potential clients are.  And always you have to know what your unique value proposition is.

This pretty much sums up the two hours or so that I spent with Bill's students.  Bill does a great job teaching them the realities of the market and which tools they need to survive and thrive.  They were a bright bunch and I don't think they have any delusions about the business.  But there's good reason to be optimistic.  The future is unknowable.  You step to the edge of the pool, hold your breath and dive in.  The water may be just right for you...





10.05.2010

Shedding the layers of adult responsibility. Are LED's the next big thing?

rome.  Old cellphones.  Suits and ties.  


Just a random assortment of frazzle ended topics that, by themselves, don't add up to a blog but in aggregate may make sense.  Punctuated by photos I like.

First up:  Kirk is now officially fascinated with LED lights of every variety.  It started when I wrote my book about lighting equipment.  I did a small segment about a borrowed Micro unit from LitePanels.  I liked it but I thought it was pricey and didn't put out enough power.  Then I bought an inexpensive Promaster unit that came thoughtfully packaged with it's own A/C power supply, although it works well on double "A" batteries.  Then I bought the unit I wrote about recently, the DLC-DLDV60.  It packs quite a punch of photons in a very small and inexpensive package.

I was pretty happy with those two battery powered units and didn't think much about using them in the studio until I stumbled across a light from a company called ePhotoInc. that sells various inexpensive lighting stuff on an Amazon storefront.  They listed an LED unit that has 500 bulbs, supposedly puts out as much daylight balanced light as a 500 watt tungsten fixture and runs cool while only sipping around 100 watts of power.  It was right around $200 so I bought one on a whim.  Amazon shipped quick and I took possession of the unit last week.

A bad grab shot of the ePhoto LED 500.  But plenty spicy in use.

This thing is amazing.  It runs on A/C.  You can use the switches on the back to switch four different banks on, it weighs about five pounds, the actual LED section is about 14 inches tall, not counting the barn doors.  The unit is actually supplied with a little wrench you can use to tighten the barn doors if they come loose.  I switched it on and I was amazed at the light level that came squirting out.  I ran into the house and grabbed Belinda, put a small diffuser panel in front of the light and started shooting.  It's basically the same effect as sticking a tungsten movie light behind a diffusion scrim and blazing away.  But the wonderful things are:  No heat build up and no popped circuit breakers.  Wide open apertures if you want them.  Enough juice to stop things down.

I compared the light temperature with daylight and it's a pretty good match.  Pretty soon I  put the Elinchroms and Profotos back into their cases and I've started shooting everything with this light, using the two battery operated units as background lights and accent lights.  Yesterday I was looking at the results on the screen and I went back to Amazon and ordered another one.

Now I'm interested in sticking my toes into the world of LitePanels.  They make the pro stuff.  While the above ePhotoInc 500 is robust and mostly well finished metal the LitePanels seem to have taken the movie making and video world by storm.  And the range of their offerings is really incredible.  Their units include spot units, tungsten and daylight balance switching in some units. And a number of the units can be turned down with dials to almost zero without color shift.  They even have LED ringlights.

I don't shoot a lot of action.  I shoot a lot of portraits and I remember reading about Irving Penn making a giant wall of light bulbs behind white tracing paper because he liked the effect of a large soft wall of light.  Can you imagine a who interlinked assemblage of LED panels measuring six by eight feet with one layer of Rosco Toughspun diffusion over the whole thing?  It would look marvelous!!!!

So what pushed me in this direction?  Well, Will and I made another video and one of the smaller units came in really handy at one point.  I love the idea of WYSIWYG lighting and I like the idea of using one kind of light that would allow you to shoot HD video and still images with the same set up.  That obviates flash.  And like most photographers I like the trend of doing images with a very, very narrow depth of field.

And then there's visual differentiation.  I want to sell a look that no one else does.  Different lights might be part of that look.  The second panel should come tomorrow or Thurs. at the latest and I'm lining up a gorgeous model to shoot.  I'll let you know what transpires but I can already feel the desire for panels #4 and $5. A whole big bank sitting behind some diffusion.  I'll be around $800 into the LED big boy panel mix by then but it won't mean that I'm immune to the siren song of the LitePanels stuff.  Which I guess is a bit silly.  Like owning Nikon and pining for Leica......But we still do it.

Next up:  Shedding that adult responsibility.


Remember?  Remember when life was like that and you didn't have to care?


Ever wonder why we do it?  Why we go into the office every day and do the work thing?  You can lie to me and everyone else about how much you love your job but would you do it if no one paid you to do it?  Would you continue to go through the steps knowing that the primary cheese is gone?  Did you every set a number in your head for how much money it would take for you to retire and step away from the mind numbing madness?  Did you reach that number only to find that your spouse and your family moved the bar way up from where it was?  Are you paying for everyone's cellphone data package and the premium cable and the car insurances and all the other stuff that the people in your family expect you to supply?  Have you ever thought of just stepping away from it all and telling them to get their own stuff?

You can delude yourself that photographers are immune to all this.  That we love our jobs so much we'd do it even if no one paid us but the truth is that that's bullshit.  No one will knowingly shoot some stranger's wedding just for the thrill of exercising their shutter finger and their post production skills.  What photographers mean when they say they'd shoot even if no one paid them is this:  I would take out my camera and shoot the projects I've always carried around in my heart if I didn't have to shoot all the other stuff I shoot because I need the money.  I'd do my project shooting sensual portraits of the 50 most beautiful people I've ever met.  I'd roam the streets looking for those funny moments in between funny moments to shoot.  The kind of photographs that laugh at the vast silliness of culture.  I'd shoot stuff to see what it looked like.  I'd shoot and print to surround myself with beauty.

If I had a couple million dollars in the bank would I show up and shoot the puffy faced CTO at the drab start up offices of yet another start-up software company in an industrial center cloistered out near the airport?  Would I relish the moment when the receptionist hands me the temporary vendor badge and asks me to fill in my license number and make of car on the ledger sheet at the security desk?  Would I hunger to help my assistant drag the cart full of gear down the badly carpeted hall to the tiny conference room with the enormous, gothic conference table where I'll stand and ponder "how in the name of origami will I turn this turd of a room into a temporary studio?"  Naw.  And you wouldn't either.  No matter how much you love your new TurboFlex camera.

So, what to do?  I have a new process I call, "Shedding Adult Responsibility".  I start by asking myself if the task in front of me is something I really want to do.  If it's not I delegate it, ignore it or blow it off entirely.  If I can make good money for efficient projects I'll do those because I have a scale in my head that gives me the exact measure of the trade off.  But I try not to take projects that interfere with my morning swim or my yoga class.  I try to make sure that every project wraps up in time for happy hour and I try to spend as many evenings as humanly possible at home with my wife and kid.  I do what I like to do.  With the freedom comes the responsibility of saying "no" and leaving money off the table.

So, how do you make that work?  First you have to get very straight that people don't necessarily get rich because of how much they make but because of how much they save.  If your family has trained you to provide premium cable, business class internet service, gas for their cars, and available credit then you're screwed and you need to make some choices.  Shedding faux adult responsibility means only really paying for necessities.  No cable.  At all.  Rip the sucker out.  You'll save a fortune.  Stop paying teenagers to drive your cars by not providing gas or gas money.  Let them ride their bikes.  It'll do them some good.  Cut out buying all food trash.  No money for candy, soda, snack food or desserts.  Provide the basics.  Treats on rare occasions but only healthy food every day.

Everything else is discretionary.  The less you have to shell out the less you have to work.  The less you HAVE to work the fewer times you'll have to accept anything you don't want to do.  And the more time you'll have for reading novels and drinking coffee or red wine.  Or whatever you'd do if you were left to your own devices...

At some point you just have to realize that you only get one shot to do the things you want and then you get old and then you drop over dead. If you don't start doing what you really, really want to do right now you'll never get around to it.

What motivated this part of the blog?  Several friends my age who hate their jobs, pamper their families and live lives of desperate stress trying to keep it all together.  The young are resilient.  If they aren't they should be.  You are probably less resilient.  It's just like they tell you about the oxygen masks on the airplanes.....take care of yourself first.

On to another topic:  The Final Verdict on the Canon 7D.


I like it.  A lot.  It shoots well, the files are very nice and the battery lasts forever.  It is also an easier camera to shoot video with than the Canon 5Dmk2.  And so we see another counterintuitive proposition.  The Canon 5d2 is arguably better at generating the highest quality in the image files.  But in most cases you won't see the difference and you'll enjoy shooting with the 7D much more.  That's all I have to say about it.

If you want to live as an artist it's time to think like an artist.  Think different.  Be different.  Listen to the voice in your head.  Block out the voice of the neighborhood watch, the fear of failure, the paralysis of fear. Plunge in and do what you want to do.  I always remind myself not to wait until it's too late.  But then I also have to ask, "Too late for what?"

In the end it all boils down to one question:  "Are we having fun yet?"


ciao.

  


10.04.2010

The random and ambiguous nature of the recovery.

It doesn't matter if the shoes are cheap.  If they are ugly she won't buy them.

It seems that people are embracing all sorts of new ways of doing business.  Most new schemes are predicated on offering more for less.  Many plans are predicated on "priming the pump" by giving away most of the farm and praying that people will become addicted to what you're selling cheaply so that they'll come back and buy more.  And the fleeting hope is that, while they came to you first for your low price, they'll come back to you because they liked the taste of the product and want more.  And maybe, at some mysterious time in the future you'll be able to raise the prices.... at least to the point that you won't be loosing money.  Is that really the new business dynamic for photography?  All driven by the intergalactic reach of "free" web marketing?  Barely keeping your head above water, and selling the mythical golden goose, cheap.

I think not.  And I am not alone.  I had lunch with a photographer friend who has been in the business for quite some time.  He's traveled the world for clients and.....still does.  As we sat in the fresh crisp air of fall, eating our Asian chicken and spicy tofu, we compared notes about the business.  Yes, 2009 sucked.  But we both have found that the economy for the kind of photographic images we offer started to make an earnest recovery around the beginning of the Summer.  And our recoveries have been snowballing ever since.

We both saw billings in September start to hit back into the range we'd come to expect before the recession.  And we both see clients understanding the value proposition of coming back strong with their marketing in the face of an almost certain business recovery.  The smart clients are revitalizing their marketing budgets with the strategy of being first in line and snapping up cheap market share.  None of these clients are anonymous, "over the transom" clients pulled in by websites or ferocious e-mail blasts, rather, they are traditional clients who've responded to measured and consistent, targeted advertising.  I'll spell it out:  direct mail, supported by e-mail, supported by face time and referrals.  Just the way it's always been done.

No behind the scenes videos of the "making of Kirk Tuck's executive portraits".  No BTS videos of my friend skimming light across the wall of the office space being photographed.  No price reductions.  No giveaways.  No endless fascination with SEO.  Not to say that we don't use new media to market but let's face it, when everyone leans on the crutch of "free" web marketing the only thing that's really going to break through the clutter is the mailer that's delivered to the non-virtual desktop, or some variation of that.

When people come back from their bunkers (always long after the start of the real recovery) and rejoin the market I think they'll find that having a good marketing plan, good capitalization (save some of the money you make for rainy days) and a good product will put them in the best position to enjoy a share of the recovering market for photography.

It's all in the book:

10.03.2010

My brief flirtation with Monte Carlo.

My view from the Lowes Beachfront Hotel in Monte Carlo.

     "My head was pounding from the twelve very dry vodka martinis I'd drunk the night before at the Grand Casino.  Morning came blasting through the delicate white lace that coated the seaward windows like a fine spray of dust, lingering just so.  Through the fog in my head I started to remember some of the events of last night.  I should have stayed on the eight of diamonds but I had grown impetuous with drink and was determined to show Ernst Stavro Blofeld that the cards were a fickle and exacting mistress.  Damn my foolish pride.  Once again hubris had got the better of me.  I pushed the super model over a bit on the bed and stuck my hand under the pillow where I was comforted to find the cool and calming bulk of my Walther PPK pistol, cocked and ready to deliver lethal justice.

It was my second day on assignment in Monte Carlo.  I had already wrecked my Aston Martin DB-8 and been in two gunfights.  Oh the life of a foreign....."

Oops.  Sorry.  Too many James Bond books.  But,  let me veer away from photography for just a second and indulge a literary guilty pleasure.  If you've seen the James Bond movies but have never cracked one of the Ian Fleming novels that the movies are loosely based on I am very jealous of you.  You will get to savor each one for the very first time.  They are wonderful, elegant, funny, anachronistic, sexist, suspenseful and delicious.  I read them from time to time just to savor the descriptions of food that we'll never see the likes of again.  Especially if nutritionists and cardiologists have their way.....  Buy them all while you can get your hands on them and I warrant that you'll find it the smartest literary investment you've made in a while.  A cooler look into the 1950's and 1960's you'll not come across.  End of indulgence.

I was asked to go to a conference in Monte Carlo for a company called Tivoli, which is now a wholly owned subsidiary of IBM.  I would arrive on a Saturday evening and the conference would start on Sunday evening with a cocktail hour reception and dinner.

The 50 meter swimming pool overlooking the bay and yacht docks.  My favorite memory of Monte Carlo.

The conference would last through until Thurs. afternoon.  Anyone who wanted could stay for the weekend and play golf.  There were helicopters to make the transfers between the airport in Nice and the hotel.  Everything was beautiful, the hotel had the patina of a place used to hosting dignitaries and heads of state.  And for true James Bond fans it was next door to the Grand Casino.  My job was to photograph all of the proceedings, the speakers, the speeches, the food, the carefully grouped shots of new acquaintances and the general ambiance of the event.  The dress was "business" and it was requested that I wear a dark suit and tie during all portions of the conference.  Packing was a pain as one doesn't wear the same suit or tie twice in a row.  This necessitated bringing along four suits as well as a few more casual sport coats for the times when I was "off the clock".  Strange how clothes are part of some assignments.

I've found that, when shooting pictures while wearing a suit, it never looks good to throw a camera bag over your shoulder so I would always find a corner behind the AV partition in which to hide my camera bag.  I'd carry a Nikon F5 and a medium zoom lens in my hand, complete with a flash in the hot shoe.  We shot ISO 400 Kodak print film at these events as it could be processed and printed just about anywhere, and quickly.  I carried three or four rolls in my suit coat pocket.   In the bag behind the curtain would be a back up camera body, a back up lens and an 80-200mm 2.8 zoom.  Extra batteries and film.

There were fun things to photograph including a very wonderful dinner in Prince Rainier's private car museum and speeches by Sir David Frost and Tom Peters.  But here's how it fell out for the client:  a number of anticipated guest didn't show.  The organizers decided to end each day's sessions at noon, serve lunch and then give the attendees the afternoons off to play golf or sightsee.  

Once my morning obligations were taken care of I headed on foot into the center of town to the Prince Rainier Swim Center, paid my two bucks and got a few miles of lap swimming in.  Rarely have I eaten so well, been so richly entertained and also been well paid for a job that included a recreational swim component.

At the end of the conference my client asked me to fly to Rome on another assignment.  Ah, the days of high tech's ascendency!  I spent the next five days in Rome before heading back home to Austin.  I still congratulate myself for taking along my favorite pair of swim goggles and a swim suit.  Nice pool.  Good view.  Some think these days will never come back but it's just not true.  All fun stuff cycles back into fashion with the utmost reliability.   In the meantime, have a few vodka martinis and relax.....


A love affair with Rome. And a flirtation with Monte Carlo.

Ferrari in Rome.  Your camera exposure should already be set, in weather like this the light isn't changing quickly.  You turn when you hear the roar of the engine, bring the camera to your eye, compose and then shoot.  No muss, no fuss.  If you look closely and are a car lover you'll note that all four cars visible in the shot are Ferraris.  Ahhhh.  Rome.  Nikon F100 with an 85mm 1.4.

I've been in and out of Rome a fair bit.  My first visit was with my parents in 1965.  Once with a girlfriend in 1978 and then over and over again either on business for various multinational companies or with my wife.   Usually I stay at the Hotel Victoria, about 400 meters from the Spanish Steps, just off the Via Veneto.  Working or not I always take a camera with a normal lens along for the ride.  A medium wide angle and a short telephoto also hitch along with me.

I've shot the city with an Argus camera from the 1950's, a Canonet QL17, a Canon TX, a brace of Leicas, a Nikon F100, a Mamiya 6 and a Canon EOS-1.  I've never shot a digital camera in the eternal city.   Just wasn't ready yet the last time I was there.

The thing that makes Rome so enticing to a good ole boy from Texas are the things that are different.  We don't have any buildings here in Austin that are much older than about 70 years old.  We have one or two like the state capitol that have been around longer but they've been modified over the years.  In the central part of Rome they don't really have any buildings that are under 100 years old and most are older still.

Again.  Turn and shoot.  If you've been shooting in the same light there's little reason to fiddle with exposure.   Rome.  Same camera and lens.

In Austin, with the exception of our giant outdoor pool, Barton Springs, and the seemingly endless outdoor concerts in the parks all of our social life in Austin seems to take place in cars and bars.  We're either going somewhere or coming back from somewhere.  And only the hippies and poor college students walk anywhere.  In Rome, at all hours of the night and day, people are walking, strolling, strutting and otherwise meandering down the ancient streets powered by nothing but their feet.  And when they do take to the cars the cars themselves are really worth looking at.

Do you think per capita income in the U.S. would go up if we stopped dressing like slobs who were about to go work on the yard and started dressing like serious adults?  Lawyers seen nodding "yes". Nikon film camera, 50mm lens.

We take food seriously here in Austin.  In Rome it's like life and death.  In Austin it's hot and everyone wears tee shirts.  In Rome it can get hot and people still wear their Armani and other fabulous stuff.  Which always looks better in photos than a big bellied redneck in a bright white Budweiser promotional shirt.



I just love the way the city resists change.  Here's my plan for 2011:  Shooting trip to Rome in March.  One camera.  One lens.  A million CF cards and a hundred batteries.  Who wants a very expensive guided tour of the world's coolest city?

Um.  Golly jeepers.  Do you notice how many people are out walking in the streets?

Addendum:  Zack Arias is wrong.  In his blog he states that people undercutting the market only hurt themselves.  I believe that all damage is cumulative and that photography as a business is dying by one hundred thousand small paper cuts per day.  Read his blog and decide for yourself.  Read it carefully.  It's right here:  http://www.zarias.com/cheap-photographers-only-kill-themselves-not-the-industry

I like Zack's work and his writing.  But I was a bit surprised to see that he confesses that he still can't afford to buy health insurance.....  I think he might want to reconsider his blog's point of view.  

Sometimes I cheat myself by believing things that just aren't relevant.

I really wanted to believe that the Zeiss 50mm 1.4 ZE lens for the Canon EF systems would be so incredibly superior to the Canon glass that I would see all kinds of brilliant optical wonders.  My images would be elevated to a new pantheon of photography reserved for the new blognoscenti and clients would flock to me, gushing, "How do you make the colors so rich and vibrant?" before shoving wads of currency in my photo vest.

But it didn't really happen that way.  I had the Canon 50mm 1.8 (type 2) and I bought into the big story. It goes something like this:  The Germans invented all this optical stuff.  They build the coolest mechanical things in the world.  Zeiss makes magic glass.  All the world's top pro's depend on magic lenses from either Leica or Zeiss.  So when my friend bought a Zeiss 50 and then decided it didn't help grow hair in bald spots or enliven his sex life I rushed in from the sidelines to buy it cheap.  "Like New In The Box."

I put it on the Canon 5Dmk2 and rushed around trying to shoot stuff.  The focus was off.  I did the whole micro adjust routine.  It was still hard to focus.  I got a new screen.  Now I could focus it.  And I shot and then waited for the magic to hit.  And I'm still waiting.

Don't get me wrong,  it's a very, very good lens.  The colors are wonderfully saturated, just the like the colors in the image above.  And it shows a high degree of sharpness, just like the sharp lines and detail in the photo above.  And the "micro-detail" is stunning.  Especially if you spend your life glued to your monitor at 100%.

But here's the problem:  The photo above was done with my $90 Canon EF 50mm 1.8 mk2.  And it's just as wonderful and breathtaking as the images from my Zeiss lens.  And did I mention that it cost one sixth the price?

Sometimes we want something to be true so much that we'll spend a lot more money on it and a lot more time convincing ourselves that we need this particular piece of gear.  We don't.  Not always.

I have two favorite 50mm lenses right now.  Neither of them are SEXY at all.  I have the 1.8 and I have the 50mm Macro 2.5.  I tested them recently against both the aforementioned Zeiss and the Canon 50mm 1.4 and guess what?  At f2 they all look equally bad.  At f4 they all look equally good.  At f7.1 I couldn't tell the difference with an electron scanning microscope.

I'm keeping the Zeiss around for the "bling factor", and to remind myself that the best gear isn't always the most expensive gear.

9.29.2010

What do commercial photographers do when they go to family weddings?


My niece got married to a really nice guy last weekend.  Do I think the whole marriage thing will work out for them?  Well, yes.  They're both sweet, practical and they like each other very much.  They threw a really nice wedding with a tasteful and happy reception.  They did so many things right that it didn't surprise me when they didn't ask me to do the wedding photographs.  They both work in the ad business and they seem to know that there's a difference between species of photographers.

My niece asked my advice and then selected a San Antonio wedding photographer.  And judging by his unflappable attitude and his assured camera work, not to mention taking great advantage of the really nice available light,  I think he and his second shooter did a hell of a job.  


If you've read my blog before you know that I take a camera with me everywhere.  If I were on the edge of death and rushing to the emergency room a priority question would always be, "Leica M with film? or Canon 5d2 for low light?"  So, of course I dragged my camera with me.  I did make it a point to stay far from the real working professional.  I didn't bring a flash.  And I mostly kept a "nifty fifty" (the Canon 50mm 1.8) glued to my camera at all times.

I did the obligatory grown up wedding things.  I made sure my kid had his suit on straight and his tie tied.  I made small talk with the relatives and relations.  I congratulated the couple and the families with great sincerity.  I smiled lovingly at my wife.  It limited my Champagne consumption and didn't dance on the tables.  But there was still a lot of dead time to fill.

So I kept my camera with me and tried to shoot some "in between" moments.  I always enjoy the "media press" at social functions so I tried to get some of that........


And, of course I needed a shot of the real photographer and his second shooter directing the group shots.  But I stayed pretty far back and didn't try to scalp any of his or her set up shots.  I figured that they were doing the hard work they should reap the rewards.  No outrageous gear on display.  Just Nikon 700D's and the requisite 24-70 and 70-200's.  Little SB-600's in the shoes but not used very often.  These guys were good and it's obvious that they had a well oiled mental checklist working in their heads.  Just enough direction to pull everyone together and make great shots, not so much direction that they got in the way of the socializing.....A real photographer makes it a real event.


I took a lot of photos of my kid, Ben because he wasn't on the other photographer's radar even though he grew up with his cousin and they are pretty close.  Ben is very patient with me but he quickly gets tired of the "paparazzi" treatment.  I couldn't help it.  I thought his suit looked cool....(24-105mm Canon 5d2)


And I wanted to put the "bokeh" of the 24-105mm zoom to the test so I had to grab a few shots of Ben with the bride's-brother's-girlfriend out of focus behind him.  Looks  pretty okeh-bokeh to me....


But then I felt a little guilty using my niece's wedding as a lens testing laboratory so I took a shot of my nephew's girlfriend as the primary subject instead of the "bokeh baseline target".    And I've decided that anyone who doesn't like the 24-105mm is pretty daft.  It's a good lens.  Pretty sharp wide open and the IS is really good.  Specially if you're going for the available light thing.


This niece is from my wife's side of the family so my wife decamped from Austin and headed to Comfort, Texas the day before to help get everything ready and to visit with family coming in from all over the place.  Ben and I were more economical with our time.  We dropped the dog off at the lux kennel and headed out in the mid-afternoon on Saturday.  Comfort is a two hour drive down some bouncy country roads so I put in a little extra time for surprises in the low water crossings.  Ben read novels on my Kindle.  (We both have found that one can read faster on a Kindle......burning through books....).

Around 10 pm, after dinner, the cake cutting, and toasting, and the inception of the dancing, Ben came over and asked the  "14 year old" question:  "How long do we have to stay to be polite?"  We were back on the road and back in our Austin house by midnight.

I'm anxious to see the professional photos.  There was so much fun stuff to shoot.  It was hard keeping my camera on the strap and out of my hand.  But I figure that if you hate having folks leaning over your shoulder.......you better do things the way you want your karma to flow.