11.05.2010

I'm sure you've seen this a thousand times but I never get tired of watching it.


copyright 2009 Scofield Editorial, Inc.

Problem is that it's so close to home that when I watch it I laugh and then, when it's over I realize that it parallels the reality of business so closely in our field that I cry and then eat a carton of Ben and Jerry's Cherry Garcia ice cream.  I think there's a secret workshop company that goes around the country and teaches people in big businesses to ask for much more of everything than they are willing to pay for.

The only part they left out is,  "We can't pay you any money but this will really look great in your book.."

"Oh gosh!"  I reply, "I've run out of space in my portfolio for additional photos of overweight, balding white guys in suits."

11.03.2010

revisiting a post about style and substance. It's becoming clearer every day.


DEAR READER,  SOMETIMES I RE-read a blog and find something new I like about it.  When I do I post it for the people who weren't here a few months ago.  If you already read this back in July you are welcome to skip it.......Kirk


WEDNESDAY, JULY 21, 2010


Style is substance and vice versa.

Dr. John Clarke, Annie Laurie Howard Regents Professor in Fine Arts, Ph.D.   Former Chairmen of the UT Austin College of Art History.  Photographed for the University of Texas at Austin.  Two lights.  One point of view.

While one can overlay faux styles onto any project there is a richness of style conferred to an image that has its own substance, its own reason for existence.   If the image exists only to show off the skills of the creator and the effervescence of the "style of the minute" the viewer can generally sense, on some level, that the image is more like a trick or a gimmick instead of the heartfelt representation of the object photographed.

On a confluent vein,  I took my son along on a photo assignment this afternoon and on the way home we were discussing what we'd seen and done.  I was tasked with taking a portrait of a doctor on his ranch here in central Texas and then interviewing him in order to write the ad copy.  I asked the doctor, who is a second generation surgeon,  why he followed his father into the practice of medicine.  He responded that he had always wanted to be just like his father.  I know his father and it's a wonderful goal.

On the way home I asked Ben what he thought of the interview.  He said that it was interesting but that he hoped I wasn't expecting him to follow my example and become a photographer.  I assured him (with a great sense of relief on my part) that his being a photographer was not something I was pushing for.  As the conversation continued Ben asked me why I became a photographer.

I expected him to think that I loved making and sharing photographs.  Or that I loved problem solving or playing with fine pieces of equipment.  But the truth is that I'm drawn to the experiences and privileged points of view that life gives image makers in its pageant procession.  The camera is a passport into a wildly rich assortment of experiential episodes.  It gives me the license to be present and aware in a way that other professions don't.

What a glorious and charming way for an avowed fiction writer to assemble the raw materials for books and stories.  I realized this when I realized that I didn't really care if the images came out perfectly as long as the clients liked them and kept inviting me back.  And then I realized that when I stopped caring about perfection the images got better and better.  And once I gave up thinking about anything but the subject, and my reactions to the subject,  my pictures became an extension of my style and became my art.

Photography is the messy intersection of art and physics.  For it to become art it must be informed by a creator's unique point of view--about the subject.  That's the magic stuff.

A photographic education. What matters?

Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught. — Oscar Wilde

11.02.2010

The latest victim of my iLED-ology fascination.

Intrepid Photographic Genius, Will van Overbeek, Poses For Another One Of 
My Endless LED  Lighting Experiments.  Straining The Bonds Of Friendship.......

I've come to believe, after years of trial and error,  that the only way to master a style, a light, a camera or a lens is to spar with it for weeks, wrestle it to the ground and beat on it for months and months.  Maybe even years and years.  The only problem with that for a photographer who likes to photograph people is that, sooner or later, your friends, loved ones and neighborly acquaintances will start to avoid you like sour milk and you'll have no more subjects on which to practice.

Will is a brilliant photographer and an old friend and we often meet for lunch.  But today he got too close to the gravitational draw of the studio and, like a spider,  I slowly pulled him into the web.

If you've been reading this blog for a while you probably know that I've become quite interested in LED lighting.  Interested enough to take money out of my pocket and buy three 500 bulb LED fixtures and one 1000 bulb fixture.   The light they put out is different from flash and daylight and I keep trying to get a hand on it.  To this end I'm practicing with all manner of filters and custom white balances and fixes in RAW.  Today I was going for a contrastier look.  I used the 1000 close in as a main light, with one layer of diffusion.  A 500 on the background (a gray painted wall).  I used a 500 as a hair light high and on the same side of the frame as the main light.  On the opposite side I  used a kicker light with only half of its 500 bulbs on.

The rest of the technical details are way, way out of my comfort level.  For example, I'm actually hand holding my Canon 5D2 to do the shot.  A tangle of tripods just steps away.......but I was trying to shake up the way I shoot.  My ISO was set to 100 and, amazingly, instead of a longer portrait focal length like a 100mm or even a comfortable old 85mm, I was using the 50mm Zeiss lens.  I shot until Will couldn't stand it anymore.  We called it a day after ten or so frames.

I'm starting to get my LED's dialed in and in about six months or so I should have an eminently useful methodology in place.  For now I'm just enjoying the novelty of it all.

Why am I shooting with LEDs?  Um.  For some crazy reason, corroborated by my electrical engineer friend, Bernard,  I think they will end up being the universal light as we go forward.  The lines are already blurring a bit between stills and motion and I'm betting Ben's generation (kids under 20) will have no real interest in still images when they come into the market.  I'd like to learn this stuff at the front end instead of being like all the guys I met back in 1999-2005 who were waiting to see if digital was going to "catch on".  I watched them trying to cram down the ten years of learning curve and experimentation I did with digital into ten months.  And for them it was a real "sink or swim" situation.  The market had moved around them and they didn't know how to paddle the boat any more.

And constant learning keeps the process fun.  And isn't good, clean fun what it's really all about anyway?

      

Shop Class As Soulcraft; a very short review.

This is one of the best books I've read this year.It's a really great look at why people aren't necessarily happy doing what they've been told they should be doing.  And it's about under-standing choices.

This is a very well written book and it looks at work in a different way.  The writer has his Phd. in something impressive and worked in a think tank and in an information technology company before chucking it all and returning the the thing he enjoys the most,  fixing motorcycles.  He makes a compelling case that work which entails problem solving, the use of one's hands and garnered intuition makes for a happier work existence.  According to Crawford 93% of high school students are now placed in college track preparation.  The college courses that most people take prepare them for......nothing other than an improved quality of conversation around the water cooler.  He posits that education inflation really means that most of the information technology jobs that drive the economy could have been admirably filled by high school graduates from several generations before. (Before my highly educated readership gets their backs up he specifically exempts engineers and doctors from his discussion on the premise that they really do learn valuable and commensurate skills that intertwine their pure knowledge base...).

As photographers we tend to occupy the "no man's land" of vocations.  All that's really required to do the mechanical parts of our jobs certainly doesn't require a college education.  We'd all do better at becoming product or people photographers by watching talented mentors and by assisting.  That, and a liberal dose of really reading the owner's manuals for the products we buy......

By going to college photographers can learn important things about art and art history, writing, literature and philosophy which, when properly digested, may add significant value to the character and quality of the way we see and interpret our work.  But in many cases it would matter not at all.  And that's the tragedy of making college into a trade school.  Having knowledge doesn't always add value to routine but skilled work.  And many times we're aimed in the wrong direction.  

I won't go into detail here and I may be skewing his arguments to fit my mythology but I will say that the book makes me feel a connection to the "blue collar" aspect of my work,  the hands on skill sets and polished craft, in a very different way.  It opened a door in my thinking that helped me see the value of tactile  and intuitive craftsmanship as a vital piece in itself,  not solely as an adjunct to a trendy, philosophically driven and stylistically homogenized image making.

I especially recommend this book to anyone who's kids are starting to think about what they want to do with their lives and how they want to proceed with their education after high school.

I'll go so far as to say this is "must read" stuff for photographers struggling with a new market paradigm of imaging, marketing and surviving.  Five stars.

11.01.2010

Do the little things right and you'll do pretty well.

I like this image because it was lit so simply that I'm still amazed by it.  These two people were in an office and I'm shooting thru a doorway.  I've placed a Canon 508 EX2 with a radio trigger on a desk behind then facing the wall behind them.  The entire room is lit by that one light bouncing off the back wall and lighting them from the back and going around them and hitting the wall in front of them and then bouncing back into their faces.  Amazing to me.

I've been interviewing photographers who have been in the business for decades.  The successful ones do the details very, very well.  Let me circle back to that but first let me define what I mean by successful.  I'm thinking entirely from a business point of view.  So successful would mean that in good times and especially in bad times the doors stay open, customers call and share work, and all the bills get paid.  Now, a year like 2009 tests everyone but even in those dire circumstances there were a number of photographers who put their shoulders into it and pushed harder.  They were working with the same clay as everyone else but they focused on doing it better and more often.  

When I say, "better"  I am in no way talking about the quality of the work.  I'm talking about their unyielding resolve to keep up the advertising, the marketing, the blogging and whatever else they did to keep things moving forward.   And to a person they made it through not because of one or two very high budget, glamorous advertising projects but by doing the daily work that keeps clients happy.  And rather than see that "daily work" as beneath them, or remedial they approached the small jobs with the same professionalism as the bigger jobs that came their way in previous years.  Because, at the core, they realize that these jobs were just as important to their clients as the big ones.

They took the time to write a "thank you" note for any job they were asked to shoot.  They worked just as hard on the their post production.  They reached out and connected with their clients.  What I'm hearing now from these photographers is that all of their clients are coming back to full life.  Bids are being requested.  Contracts are being written and assignment work is back in style.  And, to a person, the clients have come back to these photographers and rewarded them for working the details. 

As I reflect on these interviews I've given some thought to my own business.  While I've had some big, fun, high profile jobs over the years the "bread and butter" jobs are the foundation of the business.  I've had one client at Motorola (now at Freescale) who's used my services for over twenty years.  None of the projects were the type that would get me on the cover of Adweek but all of them were challenging and fun to execute.  And the loyalty of my client translated into good income.  In return I would do whatever it takes to make this client satisfied with my work.

In all the years we've worked together I've never missed a deadline.  Never arrived late.  Never forgotten a critical detail.  After a few years my client stopped getting competitive bids.  She just calls on the phone with the details secure in the knowledge that there will be no surprises on her bill.  No complaints from her team.  And she's never forgotten to submit my invoice to accounting or recommend me to her peers.

Much of the marketing that photographers did in years past was aimed at getting the "big job".  Now the big jobs have become more scarce and the smaller and medium sized jobs are what photographers are looking for.  If they're smart.  Stringing a number of smaller jobs together can make an imaging business profitable and it's a way of not having all of your eggs in one basket.


I did this image for the same Annual Report as the image above.  These are the smaller "profile" images that accompany the bigger double truck spreads.  But the fact that they'll run smaller doesn't make them any less important to the client.  In this image I balanced the color of the small flash in an umbrella with the florescent lights in the rest of the facility.  I put a 1/2 plus green filter on the flash and it matched the overall light color pretty well.  I used the smaller flash because my intention was to match the overall light levels and provide clean fill.  It's not a difficult shot but it does take time to do it right.


So, besides doing the thank you notes and showing up on time and taking the work seriously, what are the little things and how do you keep track of them?

1.  You should have a job envelope for every project you do.  In it should be a copy of the job brief telling you what the client wants and what sort of details will be involved.  It should also contain the signed letter of agreement or contract.  During the job all invoices, parking fees, and client notes should go in there.  Clients hate it when little stuff falls thru the cracks.

2.  Pre-production is the foundation of all successful jobs.  Map out the job and make lists.  What kind of equipment will be required?  What kind of models?  Wardrobe?  Makeup?  Even what kind of snacks and refreshments.  Make maps to every location.  Put together a crew list with everyone's phone #'s.

3.  You need a packing list.  You might as well make a big list and have it copied.  Then, at the start of each job you can look through the list to jog your memory and make sure you're not forgetting a vital part.  What good is a softbox without a speedring?  A camera without a battery, etc.  The most forgotten item around here seems to be model releases and pens.  That's near the top of the new list around here.  The car is part of my production system so gas for the car is also on the list.....

4.  Make sure your client gets the files they want.  Every clients seems a bit different.  Some want big Tiff files while many who work mostly on the web are looking for Jpeg files.  A few even like working with RAW or .PSD files (whether you let RAWs out to your clients is a personal decision.  I have a few clients who are PhotoShop experts.  I'll give them the raw stuff.)  Give them what they need.  Give them what they want.  If they are web designers you aren't doing them or (by extension) yourself any favors giving them 120 megabyte uncompressed Tiff files.

5.  Make the process smooth. If you can knock some rough edges off that's a good thing.  Might mean bringing extra pens and pads for the forgetful or making sure the coffee addicts have access to the right brew.  Might mean finding the right restaurant for foodies.  Just don't leave anything to chance if you can help it.  We probably won't find "just the right chair" at the location.....

6.  The follow up.  After you deliver the files you need to follow up and make sure everything works and the designers are happy with both the files and the images.  Then you need to follow up and make sure you haven't messed up anything on the invoicing.  And finally, you should make a note to follow up and see how the photo worked in the ad or on the web.  The more interested you are in their work the more interested they will be in your work!

7.  The "thank you."  Without them you will not make money.  Clients need to know that you appreciate being invited to the party.  If your mom and dad never made you write "thank you" notes for gifts you got  from relatives and friends then you need to work that out with your therapist.  But you should make thanking your business partners = your clients mandatory when they give you the opportunity to show off how good you can be while giving you money in the process.  I've never met a client who didn't appreciate an honest expression of gratitude from an important vendor.....

8.  The "non-creepy" check in.  You want to stay connected to your client and you want your client connected to you.  Between jobs it's important to keep in touch.  But not in a creepy, "Hey, it's Bob.  Do you have any work for me???"  sort of way.  How do you do it?  If you've worked with a client on a project you'll probably have chatted about fun stuff like favorite TV shows, favorite music, favorite foods and what not during the course of their project.  A quick link to something you know they'll be interested in is nice.  A "no sales" lunch at a favorite lunch haunt is always welcome.  Just keep the selling to a minimum.  If you have some new work to show send them a taste in the form of a post card.

Finally, make sure there are no loose ends from a job.  If you promised a print or a file, jump on it right away.  If you make your jobs smooth and pretty much carefree for your clients you'll be invited back to the party again and again.  We all like working with people who make our lives easier.  And we've all dumped vendors who gave us confusing bills,  showed up late or acted gruff and surly.  Don't get dumped for forgetting the little stuff.

10.30.2010

New LED light test with Canon 60D and Zeiss 50mm.

    A quick test with the ever patient Ben.  Camera:  Canon 60D.  Lens:  Carl Zeiss 50mm Planar 1.4.
    Lights:  ePhoto LED 500's and 1000.  Custom white balance with Lastolite Gray Target.


I did a quickie test when I first got a couple of the 500 LED light panels and I didn't do any correction to the files.  Yesterday I took delivery of the 1000 LED panel and I decided to do things right.  So I set up a quick lighting design along the lines of what I would do for a corporate client and I asked Ben to come and sit for me.  To start with this is a four light set up.  I used the 1000 panel, which is 14 inches by 14 inches, as my main light.  It's covered with white diffusion material from my Westcott FastFlags kit, held in place with clothespins attached to the light's built in barn doors.  I felt that the size of the light source was right on the borderline for me.  A bit small to use without a bigger diffusion panel.

The background light is a 500 LED panel (8 inches by 14 inches) placed on a floor stand about four feet from my 18% (painted) gray wall.  It is used at full power as was the main light.  The I added an overhead hair light.  Also a 500 LED panel at full power but with the addition of Rosco frost gel over the front.  Finally,  I added a kicker light from the opposite side of the main light and about eight feet behind Ben.  This light is also diffused with a Rosco diffusion material but it's a light enough diffusion that one can still make out the individual rows of LEDs shining thru.  Over the the right hand side there's a 4 by 6 foot black panel to kill any light bouncing into the photo from the white wall.

I set the camera at ISO 400, the aperture at 2.8 and the shutter speed at 1/160th of a second.  Right where I'd want it to be if I could have anything I wanted.  To my eye the Canon 60D is pretty noiseless at ISO 400 and I would have no hesitancy shooting there for client jobs.  I set a white balance using the gray side of a Lastolite collapsible target.  I keep a small one in my case all the time and a large on in the studio.  It's quick and easy and saves a lot of bad guess work after the fact.  The balance was pretty much perfect.  I DID NOT use any sort of color filtration on the lights and shot intentionally in Jpeg.  I did not color correction or color temperature shifting in PhotoShop.  What you see (except for taking out a skin blemish or two.....) is essentially what came out of the camera.  I misjudged the shadows a little bit so I used the shadow/highlight control to open the shadows up with a setting of 3 and a small radius.

What my test shot showed me was that, in the absence of a bunch of mixed lighting,  I could forgo the magenta filtration I talked about in a previous post and use the lights in their raw form with very good results as long as I took the time to do a custom white balance with a known source.  I think that, with the custom white balance, the flesh tones and the gray background are right on the money.

The benefits of the continuous light shooting were several:  In the first instance I was able to take a very, very accurate light meter reading of the gray target.  No flash meter.  Secondly, the lighting was very much "what you see is what you get."  My only caveat there is that assessing the amount of shadow detail is alway just a bit tricky because the human eye seems to be able to look into shadows better than the camera sensor.  Finally, Ben is a "blinker" and the ability to find an expression I like and shoot as fast as I liked was instrumental in catching a good smile.

The manual focus lens was a blessing as once focused I didn't worry about the AF sensor changing focus on me to some other area.

The quality of light was just what I wanted with smooth, even fall off and enough control to make customizing my portrait lighting design a breeze.  The next step will be heading out of the studio to use the LEDs as supplemental lighting in bright daylight.

Random news:  I've been invited to speak and do a workshop in Kuwait.  We haven't worked out the dates and details but I'll let you know more as it transpires.  I am very excited by this.  I've just completed several advertising  projects and am looking forward to doing a large project in November for a high technology business incubator here in Austin.  As part of the parameters of that project, which will be shot on locations at the client's headquarters and on the UT campus,  I will be lighting everything with the LED panels.  Should be a good, high production, trial by fire.  Finally, will be holding a workshop here in Austin in January to show how to light with all the  major kinds of light available to photographers.  From big hot lights and studio flashes to small flashes, LED lights and Florescent Lights.  As soon as I finalize dates and pricing I'll let everyone know.  This will be the first workshop in which I'll demo how I use each light and then break up into teams of models and photographers so that everyone can give it a go with each kind of light as I supervise.  Should be fun.

10.25.2010

The Canon 60D revisited. Funny what a lens will do.....

 I liked the 60D the minute I picked it up and (with a few caveats) I've liked it more and more as I've used it.  But it wasn't until I capriciously stuck the Carl Zeiss 50mm 1.4 ZE lens on the front of it that it became my favorite camera to take out shooting.  It's more responsive and feels about one and half generations better than a Canon 5Dmk2.  It's at least as good a camera for most non-ultra-sport shooting as the Canon 7D.  And I like the way it feels in my hands.

I originally bought the 50 Zeiss to use on the 5D2.  I thought it would create very cool looking images with impressive DOF effects and it did that just fine.  But what it didn't do well was manually focus.  And when I used the focus indicator or the focus indicator+obnoxious beep I found that the combination missed the point of sharp focus, no matter how I had the camera set.  The 7D was a bit more accurate but even with the micro adjust feature of both the more expensive cameras I was never quite sure I'd get what I wanted in sharp focus.  Which led me to believe that the mis-focus anomaly must either be non-linear or intermittent.

On a whim I put the lens onto the 60D and set the menu items for "stupid operator in need of much help" or SOINOMH mode.  That means, center focus point, beeping confirmation and steady green light indicator hand holding.  I proceeded to shoot and the oddest thing happened:  Every time the camera told me I was in focus I really was in focus.  I was soon able to lose one set of training wheels.  The beep.

Although I leave the beep on if I'm around a bunch of really pretentious gear nerds because it seems to drive them crazy and, as they flinch and clutch at their 1DS mk3's, I have a moment of selfish entertainment......)

A benefit of this newly realized focusing capability is the new knowledge that the Zeiss lens is sharper wide open than I originally thought and the saturation and color rendering is pretty darn good.  This leads me to leave that lens on that body all of the time.  This combo gives me a solid platform, great images, smaller form factor and the satisfaction of having a tool combination that's working at optimum efficiency.  If you don't shoot sports and you don't need the full frame chops of the 5Dv2 this is really a wonderful little camera with good high ISO performance into the bargain.  I grab it first when I leave the house or studio.  When I'm being reckless this is the combo I keep in the car.

But I'm not writing this with the intention of slagging the 5 or the 7.  It's just that this whole circus of lens  madness and focus brought me to realize that there may be an optimum lens and camera combination for each body.  I spent a while looking through images I've taken and I think it really breaks down like this:

1.  The 60D and the Carl Zeiss 50mm is my favorite combination for casual portraits and walking around  just making photographic trouble.  I like shooting with the rig between f2.2 and f3.5.  I like what it does to the backgrounds when I get in close.  Works for me.

2.  The 7D is the perfect match for the 15-85 and that combination is rarely rent asunder.  For some reason I feel like they ultimately compliment each other.  I love the wide angle end and I find more and more that it's a lens that was made for wide open shooting.  The 7D sensor and AF seem to wring out every scintilla of performance from the optics and vice versa.  If it's commercial and I've got to get the shot this is the camera I'll grab.  Doubly so if it involves "smart flash" or HS flash.  Really.  Almost as good as the Nikons........sniff......(meaning as good with flash as the Nikons are.  Not anything else.)

3.  The crazy anomaly.  The 5D2 has the best overall image quality of the three and not just by a whisper.  But it seems harder to extract that extra five to ten percent of quality for me.  Sometimes, when all the stars line up I get incredible stuff.  And for high ISO I am consistently impressed and amazed.  But it can be a goofy camera to work with.  The body doesn't really feel as solid as the other two.   And instead of one there are two lenses that I think are synergistic with it.  One is the 85mm 1.8 which seems to ride on the body about 60% of the time.  The other is the 70-200 f4 which comes out of the case when we do traditional portraits, lit with softboxes and perfectly metered.  Every frame is sharp from f4 on down and it has no weird CA's or soft spots.  I thought I'd love the Canon 5D2 with the 50mm focal length but that's been a non-starter for me.  I love using it on a tripod and with the mirror locked up.  That's "sharp mode" and it really reaches down and pulls out great performances when used that way.

If I had to choose one of the three to go and shoot personal work with?  It'd be the 60D.  More to come.

I was thinking about this whole subject as I was "nerding" around in the studio getting used to my new LED light fixation.  I decided to do a photograph with which to illustrate this blog and I wanted to see how the new lights would do on a product shot.  I wanted to see what, if any, the advantages of using LED's over florescent or hot lights would be.

Right off the bat I found that I could use the lights closer than I every have before.  That means even a small panel with some diffusion on it yields the same soft light as other fixtures in bigger fixtures used further away.  I could also use fixtures right next to my camera without worrying about being blinded by the flash or heating up the camera.  In the same situation the florescents would probably have held their own.  But compared to tungsten and flash the whole setup, visualization process and shooting was easier, more comfortable and more straightforward.

I even included a set up shot.....just for fun.

not shown is one more light to the far left of the scene which is providing additional illumination on the background to keep it even.


The lights are the ePhotoinc LED 500's I've mentioned before.  I took a chance and it turned out well.  So far I've done a handful of assignments and my only real issue is that getting perfect white balance has to be more intentional at the front end of the process now.  Also, the lights can cause polyester fabrics to go a bit purple.  I'll experiment with some UV filtration when I get back by gear.   For everything else?  Charming.  And cool.

Small Flashes on Location. Again.

     Dr. White on location at his office in Austin.


I've been doing a series of ads for a large oral surgery practice here in Austin.  We are introducing the partners/doctors to the community in a casual ads that showcase the doctors engaged in their hobbies.  We photographed a rancher/doctor feeding a baby dear with a bottle in a pasture.  We photographed one person with his Ducati Monster motorcycle out on the golf course and we photographed one subject with his horse.  All the shots were fun and showed a side of the guys that people rarely see.  It served to make them more than two dimensional.

But then I came along a doctor who had sacrificed his free time to be the president of his professional association.  He was adamant that for the past two years any time he didn't spend practicing medicine he spent working for its improvement.  He felt most at home right in his office.  So that's where we did his photograph.

I am standing out in the hallway and Dr. White is sitting just inside the door.  I'm using a Canon 580 EX2 flash in a Speedlight Prokit beauty dish about two feet above camera, tilted down at him, for my main light.  Behind him and over to the left of the frame I'm using a second flash, a Vivitar 383 df, bouncing off the ceiling in the middle of the room.  I used a third flash, also a Vivitar 383 df from the back right of the room, with a home made grid attachment to provide just a little bit of accent light to the left side of his face to give a bit of separation with the back wall.

All of the lights were used in manual mode with the main light at 1/4 power, the room fill at 1/2 power and the accent at 1/8th power.  I used a Canon 7D body with a 15-85mm zoom lens set at f5.6.  The ISO setting was 200 and the shutter speed was 1/50th of a second.  The camera was on a Gitzo tripod.  I was looking for a realistic but flattering lighting design that didn't call too much attention to itself.

The shot was done in raw and processed in Lightroom 3.

From a technical point of view there is a big shift in how I pack to light things.  In the past I would have taken monolights or a strobe pack and heads but now it just feels natural to take small lights for indoor shots.  Nine times out of ten the big lights would require me to really throttle down their power in order to match them up with room light levels.  Then there's the hassle of running extension cords all over and the need to bring bigger stands and accessories.  When I go to shoot interiors now I'm generally feeling well equipped if I take one Canon flash, like the 580 EX 2, and three cheap manually controllable flashes for fill and accents.  All of this and the Speedlight Prokit beauty dish and a few other modifiers fit comfortable into a Think Tank wheeled case along with the camera and a few lenses.

I triggered the main light with a long Canon off camera TTL cord (the flash was used on "manual") and then let the two Vivitar 383's provide their own slave function with their built in optical slaves.

Obversely, when I go out to shoot on locations that are exterior I find that I generally leave the small flashes at home and use the more powerful Elinchrom Ranger RX pack system (1200 watt seconds) or the Profoto 600B pack system (600 watt seconds).  These lights provide me the punch I generally need to blow light through a softbox and still match sunlight.  I take the Profoto if I want to move fast and the the Elinchrom when I need a lot of pops.  (I also have an extra battery for the Elinchrom....).

Outside I use a radio trigger (Flash Waves 2) or an old fashion PC cable to trigger the flash.

I used the 7D on this assignment because I like the versatility of the 15-85mm lens and I like the fact that it's really very sharp wide open.  Couple that with better autofocus than the 5D2 and you've got a camera and lens package that's easy to shoot.  I was originally seduced by the full frame of the 5D camera but in practice I've come to appreciate the advantages of the cropped frame cameras and often choose the APS-C system of the 7D, backed up with a 60D for a lot of my work.

Doesn't matter what you're shooting with as long as you're having fun and making money.

Announcement:  I'm pleased to say that my first book: Minimalist Lighting.  Professional Techniques for Location Lighting,  is back in stock at Amazon after being sold out for several weeks.  Sigh of relief.

10.22.2010

It winds down and it winds up again...

Wedding guest at the Mean Eyed Cat, a bar in downtown Austin.


It's been one of those wild weeks in a busy month that's starting to remind me of the way this business was before the recession made people generally skittish about spending money.  I started the week with a sense of elation by signing a contract to write and photograph a new book.  This time I made it all the way through the contract signing instead of getting bogged down in the minutiae of the contract as I did when I was considering doing the Road Trip book with a different publisher.  What's the difference?  Well, my current and future publisher sent me a three page contract with no ambiguous passages.  And, oh my,  they actually share the proceeds in an equitable manner.  If you're about to sign a contract to work on a book and your prospective publisher hands you a twenty pager and all the stuff protects them and nothing protects you......you might want to re-think who you're planning on dealing with.  Just saying.

So, after the momentary elation of the new project wore off I was left with the frightening realization that I would, once again, be spending months sitting in quiet rooms writing about things I've learned and am learning.  And I will spend just as much time convincing friends and acquaintances to drop by and be photographed in the service of my project.  I always learn so much when I write a book.  Enforced class time for 50 year olds.....

I spent a full day on marketing this week.  I discovered all the new templates for folded, five by seven inch greeting cards in iPhoto and played around for hours.  You probably already know this but it is now possible to do a number of different four color images on the inside of your cards.  Very cool.  I designed a card with a cool photo we'd done of a highway construction worker on the outside and six fun portraits on the inside.  I love the templates.  I love the look of the Apple graphics.  I ordered a couple hundred onlne and was pretty amazed when the Fed Ex guy delivered them to the studio today.  Literally a four day turn from start to finish.  I loved the whole process and the final quality of the cards so much that I sat down and designed two more.  I did it because I like to have stuff in the vault for those days when I panic and realize anew that marketing never sleeps.

On Wednesday I got up early (for me at any rate) and drove a fully packed Honda Element to the far north side of town to set up in a conference room and shoot portraits of the senior staff of an addiction treatment center.  New CEO and about ten others.  It was a fun thing for me because the newness of shooting with LED lighting hasn't quite worn off yet.  I used two ePhoto LED 500 units diffused through a 4x4 foot Chimera Panel, positioned close to the subject.  I brought my own posing stool because I like it and I brought an Apple box so my subjects could do fun stuff with their feet.  On the opposite side of the diffusion and light set up I used another Chimera panel with a white cover to bounce in fill light.  The background was a simple blue paper on background stands lit by two joined DLC 60 LED panels.  These are little ones.  About four inches by six inches and they run off inexpensive Sony Li-on camcorder batteries.  Mine lasted for the entire session even though I wasn't particularly good about turning them off between sitters...

I used a "1/4 minus green" filter on all the lights to get rid of a little green spike that rears it's ugly grass stain self from time to time.  I shot at ISO 400, 1/60th @ f4.5 on a Canon 5dMk2 with a tripod mounted 70-200 L lens.  Everything looked great.

I headed home, stopped for lunch and got a phone call from the marketing director of the organization I just shot for asking if I could send over a head shot of the CEO right away.  I got home and fed the memory card to my computer and started downloading.  There's a lag in the time it takes to fully ingest a large card into Lightroom 3 so I also stuck the little LED panel batteries on their chargers.  Didn't anticipate needing them for a few days but you never know, what with Murphy's Law and all.

After sending the needed file I started on my next task.  I set up a gray canvas outside (with plenty of sandbags) and I set up all three of my ePhoto 500 LED fixtures with Rosco diffusion material on the fronts of each.  I was supposed to shoot an image of a doctor with his Ducati Monster motorcycle for use in an ad and on a website.  We thought it might be cool to use the gray canvas outdoors.  I'd seen Michael O'Brien do an outdoor shoot with canvas years ago and figured I'd just steal a concept from one of the best.  So now I have all this stuff set up outside my studio, with extension cables heading out from the studio and the whole deal.  It's getting near 4 pm and I get a call from the doctor.  His motorcycle started smoking and cutting out on his way over.  Could I meet him about a mile away in the parking lot of an office building and maybe shoot something over there?  And could I bring him a bottle of water?  And, by the way, the wrecker truck will be there in about 45 minutes......

I'm looking at all this expensive stuff set up in front of the house and studio and I'm wondering when I'll be able to tear it all down and how I'll still be able to meet the ad subject and get the shot when my kid, Ben, comes riding home from school on his bike.  I ask nicely and he goes into assistant/clean up mode while I grab the small LED panels, the batteries and a few accessories and go off in search of the crippled piece of Italian motorcycle sculpture.  Good kid.

I find the doctor and we do an old favorite standby technique.  I put a diffuser over his head, put some open shade in the background and then punch in fill light from four conjoined LED panels.  It works great.  We shoot for while and then talk about motorcycles till the wrecker comes.  I head back home to download again.  I'm working at the computer when I look up and realize that I'm supposed to be at a presentation by Jack Reznicki at Austin Community College.  I'm on a departmental advisory board and I like to be an active participant.  Besides, there's a rumor Jack might want to use my Commercial Photography Handbook in one of his classes back at SVA.  It's the standard book for the "business of  photography" class that ACC requires for all photo students.

Jack is incredible.  He knows his stuff and there's none of the ego nonsense you sometimes have to wade through with other photographers.  He convinces by the quality of his photos, not the quality of his BS.....which is also really fun and interesting.

Thurs. becomes a long post processing and gear recovery day.  Lunch with Paul, recharge all the stuff that needs recharging.  Burn DVD back ups and do accounting.  Pizza and wine  with novels for dessert.

Today was blocked off for post processing of a fun job.  I'd shot the entire 30 person staff of an ad agency and I finally got all their selections this week.  I set aside today to do the work.  Take out wrinkles, make em look smarter, stronger, taller and angelic.  I think I got close.  I was about to shut down and do something non-photo related when my favorite art director called with a new project.  Cast, scout and shoot an ad by Tues. or Weds. of next week.  I put down the phone and went out to scout.  I called the talent agency I like and told them what we needed.  They're on it.

Last thing to do before I leave the studio for my fifteen step commute to the house is to write a blog.  Box checked.