11.15.2010

Stuff I've learned from goofing around. And practicing goofing around.

 One of the things I've learned in years of trial and error is that "short" light generally (always) looks better than broad light.  I also have come to understand that, while it might be a stylistic preference, nothing makes a beautiful face look quite so beautiful as a big, soft main light.  That's why I love blasting light into a 6x6 foot diffusion scrim and watching it come undulating sensually out of the other side.  Works best when your subject is already quite beautiful.  Above portrait from our Summer workshop on lighting at Zachary Scott Theatre.  I had fun.  I should do another one........
 One of the things I learned, after being disappointed by fate time and time again, is that having a camera with you is a much more certain way to come out of a situation with good photographs than traipsing around without.  And the camera really doesn't matter much at all.  I was in Marfa, Texas when I met this gentleman.  I had the Olympus EPL camera and kit lens with me.  Look how it handles the direct sun on the guy's jaw while looking omnisciently into the shadows.  Who needs HDR?  I've seen people paralyzed and overwhelmed by their gear and I know too many people who only take cameras along if they have something already in mind or have made "strategic" plans to photograph.  Screw that.  Take a camera with you all the time and whip it out when it seems like the right time.  Just like your credit cards, you don't have to use it all the time but when you see something you'd like to have it's nice to know your capable of reaching out and taking it.......
 Over the years I've learned that having a talented person in front of your camera is/ can be just as important (or more so) that having a talented person behind the camera.  This is my friend, Martin Burke.  He's the funniest man I know, after Mike Hicks.  And he has an incredibly expressive face.  If I point my camera at him and let him do his stuff I generally get much better photographs than I would if I tried to hammer down my point of view.  Even though I'm pretty much of a lone operator I am smart enough to understand that sometimes the other guy is right.  Martin was awarded "top actor" in Austin last year by the Austin Chronicle.  He deserves it, and just like those photographers whose fame rests on their celebrity subjects or the availability of a helicopter, a good harness and a pretty city, he makes me look like a better photographer.
 One thing I've learned the hard way is not to over think your toys in the pursuit of a photograph.  The image just above of Jana was taken with a Canon 5dmk2 and an 85mm 1.8 lens.  I could have lit the photo but it wouldn't have been as nice.  I could have waited until I could justify the price of an 85mm 1.2 and had a bit less DOF but I wouldn't have been there to take the photo.  I could have had an entourage of assistants standing behind and beside me but it would have messed up the rapport we both wanted to establish. And they would have drunk all the Gatorade while we worked. (They get thirsty texting on their iPhones.....)  We could have waited for cooler weather (it was 100+ in the shade) but would we have gotten the nice glow on Jana's skin?  I could have brought "one light" but then I'd have to carry it.  I could have been all "strobist" but then I would have made someone else's photo.  Not mine.  I've learned that sometimes less is less and it's better.
 I've learned over the years that there will always be someone doing an assignment that you might think is more fun than the job you're doing as a photographer but every job comes with its own set of compromises.  The grass on the other side of the fence might be greener but it may not taste any better than the grass at your feet.  Embrace the happiness that being in the job in front of you brings.  If you let go of the need to compare what you do with what everyone else is doing you'll be happier.  And you'll probably make better photos. (Can we stop calling them images?).  Fun is in the process.
 I've learned that the true value of the portfolio is its role as a reservoir for all the frames that editors and art directors were too dull or slow or locked in to use.  Many times an art director will go for an inferior image just because the client has already signed off on a comp that matches and they are afraid to go back and substitute something better because they already have "buy off" on something that will work.  I used to get upset if they passed over a photo like the one above to use a photo of a fruit tart.  But not any more.  Now I take the overlooked overachieving, under-appreciated photos and put them into my portfolio and show them off.  Sometimes they boomerang and get used for something much better than the job we originally shot them for.  And we got the pleasure of creating the light and the look and then sharing them.....happily.
Finally,  I've learned that even the projects that sound boring can be incredibly fun challenging when they involve craft and problem solving.  As most of you know I'd rather make portraits than just about anything else photographic.  But every once in a while one of my good clients (who assume I can do anything with a camera) will give me a project with a brief that says,  "we need a totally sharp shot of a home theater receiver with the front panel lit up, on white.  We also need to be able to "see" thru the top cover and "reveal our product, perfectly lit, inside.  Can you do this?  We need it tomorrow for a big pitch that will make or break the company...."  And then the clock starts ticking and your brain makes it into a game.

Nine times out of ten you'll dust off the brain cells that interlink with different techniques and be able to bring together a working strategy.  On the tenth time you'll wake up one of your friends in the middle of the night because she's a much better product shooter than you are and they'll give you the "magic formula" that saves the job and you deliver on time and the client thinks you're a hero.  Only they just expected that you'd deliver on time and on the money.  Because that's what you do.  Because you are a professional photographer.

And no matter how weird this industry gets it still beats the heck out of digging ditches or being president.  With ditch digging you'll always get mud on your shoes.  And when you are president at least half the people think you're always wrong.  Good night.

11.13.2010

On location with a box of lights and a few ideas.

If you've been following the blog for any amount of time now you know that I get bored using the same stuff to make photographs with.  The idea of doing the same thing over and over again is not very attractive to me.  I know that for everyone like me there are a bunch of people who want to master one set of tools and use them until the end of time.  I guess you could have done that in decades past but the pace of change seems to accelerate with every passing day.  The things we can do with the newest tools were unimaginable seven years ago.  The high ISO performance of the cameras.  The low "buy in" cost of lights.  Even the avenues to learning have exponentially increased.  You can embrace change and have fun with it or you can hope that "this will be the last camera and lens I will ever have to buy!!!!!"  and stick your head in the sand.  While the profession is rife with nostalgia I have only nostalgia for the fees, not for trying to make good, quick work with a recalcitrant Hasselblad 500 CM and a 2000 watt second Norman flash pack.....

I've been playing with LED lights with the same enthusiasm that I had when I started playing with Nikon SB800 flashes and I came to realize that I could replace my heavy duty (and just plain heavy) studio flashes with a Domke bag full of battery powered, hand holdable, computer controllable flashes.  I think I'm starting to get a handle on the color rendering and the difference in power output vis-a-vis flash and I've been impressed with what can be do with a very high tech/low tech product.  

Why do I say "high tech/low tech product"?  Well, the technology of LED lighting is pretty cool and all based on semiconductor processes.  These are really the first semiconductor lights to hit the market in a wide scale way.  And I say low tech because they offer all the real functionality of a light bulb.  You can turn them on and you can turn them off.  One some models of LED panels you can also dim them. And that's all they do.  They don't calculate fill, they don't auto expose and they don't do anything smart.  The panels just sit there and put out light.   That's a pretty low tech set of features to give to a generation raised on "smart flash" but there are some benefits too.  Since the light from the panels is continuous you can actually see what you are getting while you're shooting.  With continuous light you've instantly cut your "recycle" time to zero so you can really lean on that motor drive if you want to.  If your camera will do 10 fps so will these lights.

Anyway,  I love to take risks so when one of my favorite agencies asked me to help them with a project I told them I'd love to do it if they let me use my new toys to do the job.  Surprisingly, they agreed.

I packed some big LED panels and some small ones.  Here's my box full of the small ones:
I've been buying little panels since I first got interested in shooting video.  They come in handy and I like em.  The first generation I bought are the littler ones.  The come from Dot Line Corp.  I call them DLC 60's because they have 60 LED's on them.  I've done some fun stuff with them and I love the fact that I can click all four panels together to make a small soft bank or a thin or thick strip light.  They are the most primitive panels I own because they have nothing but an on and off switch.  (FTC statement:  All these panels were purchased from either Amazon.com or Precision Camera.  No manufacturer or merchant has given me any free lighting product.)

Just before I started working on this project I also bought two new panels from an Amazon vendor.  These are the slightly bigger units in the photo above.  These panels have 160 LED's each.  They put out about one full stop more illumination than the smaller units and have a number of features including:  A dimmer knob that seamlessly allows you to drop the power from full to next to nothing.  A battery check button with a four LED read out on the back.  The ability to take a ton of different batteries.  A filter slot and supplier diffusion, tungsten and slight green correction filters.  And an articulating mounting foot.  

In practice I find the 160 LED lights to be a wonderful compromise between the lower power of the smaller panels and the size and bulk of the larger A/C panels.  The only thing that would materially im prove this product would the be ability to link together multiple fixtures the way you can on the DLC 60's.  

Pricing on Amazon can be wildly kinetic.  When I first looked at these lights they were in the $90 price range.  The next time I looked the price plunged down to $64 each.  That's what prompted me to buy them.  The vendor I bought them from, Fancier, is now showing "out of stock" but several other companies sell an identical unit and their prices seem to have settled in around $79.  At $64 each they were an absolute "no brainer". 

The 160 LED light is sold on Amazon.com by Fancier, ePhotoInc., Cowboy Studios and several others. I've ordered product from each of them and it's all worked just the way it should.  Here is the way the filter slot works.  Nice.

A side view that shows the dimming switch (also, off and on) as well as the shoe mount.  It's articulated so you can put the LED on a still or video camera and tilt it back to bounce the light off the ceiling.
See how the Sony camcorder battery fits into the back area.  If you open the surrounding door you discover that you can also power the units with six double A batteries.  The unit gets warm during operation but not uncomfortably so.

So, I packed up a complement of large and small LED panels and we went to visit the Austin Technology Incubator.  We had a big shot list.  We needed to do portraits of the staff, some of the start up businesses that are currently resident there and even head shots of interns and advisors.  The location was the old MCC building in north Austin.  It originally housed the Micro Computer Consortium and is a great venue to shoot in.  There's a four story atrium that runs thru the center of the building.

We decided to do our first round of portraits on one of the bridges on the third floor just outside the client's front door.  The agency wanted to have images for a website and wanted very narrow depth of field in each shot.  In the past I would have used small flashes in small soft boxes for this kind of work.  Yesterday I just put a couple of small panels on a stand, covered them with diffusion material and brought them in toward the subject until the illumination on their faces matched the intensity and feel of the background.  I was trying to leverage existing light and added light together.

Here's a sample:
The light is a little harder than I would have lit five years ago but I'm working a bit hotter and a bit contrastier than I have in the past.  Yesterday we worked all day long at ISO 1600 on both the Canon 5Dmk2 and the Canon 60D.  The 60D shows a bit more noise at 100% on screen magnification but responds very well to noise reduction in Lightroom 3.0.

Before we started shooting in earnest I stepped back and made a few wide shots with my art director as a stand in.  You can see how simple the set up is for this shot.  If I wanted to go softer I would have added another two panels to the mix, interconnecting them on the same stand and then put a frame with diffusion about a foot in front of them.  You can see that we're working under the shade of the "bridge" from the next level up while the background is getting full light from the building long skylights.

That's the main reason for adding in the fill light from the panels in the first place.


Here are a few notes about using the LED panels:

1.  If you are expecting to use these to overpower the sunlight on a location you will be profoundly disappointed.  They aren't a replacement for big fill flash in sunlight.

2.  The auto white balance on the newest Canons (60D) is incredible.  It's better than the 5Dmk 2 by a good margin.

3.  You'll need to group LED panels or use them in closer than you might be used to with flash to get the right levels.

4.  It's great to have a continuous light source without being anchored to a power cord.

5.  It's great to shoot without having to worry about radio slaves and syncing.

6.  The goal is to become masterful at mixing ambient light with the light from your panels.

7.  You know how the Eskimo people supposedly have something like 50 words for different kinds of snow?  Well I'm starting to build up my vocabulary in the same way when it comes to the different diffusion options.  From very sheer white material to various thicknesses of ripstop nylon to products called "Luxe"  there is a whole world of diffusion out there that most still photographers don't know about.......and every variation has a slightly different look.

8.  Lithium Ion camcorder batteries are cheap, recharge pretty quickly and last a long time.  I've got them for most of my little LED panels.  We shot 700 frames from 10 am till 5 pm yesterday and all the panels made it thru the day without needing to be recharged or have the batteries switched out.  It was pretty amazing performance.

9.  People blink less with continuous light sources.

10.  Everyone I met was interested in LED technology.

In one of the shots we did in the late afternoon we set up nine different panels.  Some were just scattered on the floor.  Others beamed in from down the hall.  A few were set up in a fashion similar to the way I'd light with other light sources.  It was fun to experiment and really easy to see what I was getting.

I'll repeat it again for all the people who love to do things the same way over and over again.  This stuff looks different.  The shooting style changes.  The areas of focus change.  The shooting techniques change.  And none of this is really a bad thing.  In some ways it's just the continuing evolution of photography brought about by digital technology.

We're past the bleeding edge with this technology and we're joyously embracing the ever accelerating changes.  Hop on in.  The water's fine.

11.08.2010

Craft, vision and practice. Stories from the art world.


Some people have asked me why, "all of a sudden" I'm posting behind the scenes stuff from photo shoots when there are countless thousands of website and blog sites that are also doing "instructional" stuff.  I'll admit, when I find a challenging new niche to master I become a bit compulsive and start digging like a possessed badger until I feel like I've got a good grip on the subject matter.  Once I understand the technical issues I see how I can fold the knowledge into what I already practice.....just in case it's a catalyst for moving my real work (taking photographs of people) forward.

If you aren't interested in lighting with LEDs you probably should just be patient.  The novelty will wear off soon and they'll just become another set of lights I'll be able to use to do the things I've always done.  Once mastered they will be assimilated and find their niche in my primitive brain, leaving my conscious mind to collide with other projects.

But it does bring up a point that I like to make:  Practice is good.  Practice is learning.  Practice ensures that the eyes and fingers can keep up with the brain and the brain can keep up with your passion.  When I made the comparison of practicing photography to practicing swimming I got several (heated) responses telling me that they were nothing alike.  One person claimed that he could put his camera down for months at a time and, when the muses struck, he could pick it up on a whim and create a masterpiece.  I went to his website in search of masterpieces.  I found only pixels.  People with a paucity of passion, however gifted, want to believe that they can play with art in a detached way.  But anecdotal evidence about artists in general says,  "NO."

Like Edison's inventions successful art is built on the 1,000 or 10,000 failed trials that came before.  There's no real shortcut to the process of failing and challenging and changing.  No workshop will provide the same humiliating experience.  No handbook will provide the emotional context of despair with resolve that great artists endure.  But it's the need to keep moving toward the unknown that leads to the journey that can lead to the great works.

There's a great book about art called:  "Art and Fear: Observations On the Perils (and rewards) of Artmaking" by Ted Orland and David Bayles.  Nestled in among the other nuggets of knowledge is a story about a ceramics teacher who challenges the class like this:  He divides the class in two.  He tells half the students that their final grade will be solely determined by the sheer weight of the ceramic pieces that they each make.  He tells the other class that they need only make one piece but that the grade will be determined by their best piece.

The quantity half of the class gets to work in earnest, cranking out piece after piece.  The quality side of the class thinks and thinks and thinks, and then,  partially paralyzed by the nature of their task and their need to achieve perfection they finally produce.

In the end the students from the quantity half of the class produce far more good work and even far more great work than the other half of the class.  The constant experimentation led to making each piece better than the one before it.  Mistakes were resolved, their hand skills blossomed.  They understood the limits of their materials.  And then they challenged the limits of their imaginations.  It was a great blending that could only have taken place thru the process of experimentation and active exploration.


It was a revelation to me to read that particular chapter.  I stopped sitting around waiting for inspiration to strike and started experimenting and shooting more.  In this same vein I'm on a constant quest to see what different cameras, lenses and lights can do for my vision.  And I KNOW that when I shoot more quantity I get luckier.  There's a groove and I get down in it and produce.  And it all gets easier.  I can read the light.   Controls on the cameras fall right to hand.  It's easier and easier to direct the people in front of the camera.  Obversely, when I'm dormant for weeks I seem disconnected from the processes, timid about directing people.  Everything feels like stop and start.

I've tried to be transparent in the blog and what you are living thru as readers is my "infatuation" stage with a new technology.   And it is different than flash or hot lights.  The nature of the light is different and the way we use them is different.  It's dictated by their strengths and weaknesses.  Soon infatuation will give way to comfortable and we'll be back to looking at expressions and composition and what not.  But in a big view way this is all part of my personal creative process.  I shot for Zach Scott for hours on Saturday.  I shot all day with Jana on Sunday.  I learned stuff.  I rejected stuff.  I'm happy.

Vision is a great thing to have.  And so is style.  Unless it becomes a trap and keeps you producing the same stuff you've done for years.  It may be good for products to be consistent but I would argue that nothing kills art quicker.

By Popular Demand. Behind the scenes stuff. Or, "Does this lens make the photographer look fat?"

Since I posted photos from my shoot yesterday I've gotten dozens of requests for "behind the scenes" shots that would show how everything was positioned.  Fortunately my friend, Amy Smith, was assisting me on the shoot and she kindly provided some behind the scenes coverage.  I hope these will be help you more accurately visualize how I was placing the lights and how it affected the overall look of the shots.  

The first one is a studio shot done with my favorite light source, the big-ass 6 foot by 6 foot scrim.  I'm using a Photoflex frame and one layer of white diffusion. As you can tell I like to use the light source as close in as I can.  I have black panels on the shadow side to make sure that too much bounce from the studio's white walls doesn't fill in too much and degrade the contrast I wanted.  These are quick edits and no,  I haven't edited out fly-away hair, etc.  If the images were heading straight from here to a client we'd  retouch them first.  



While strobes might yield more depth of field and add a bit of sharpness I think you would agree that these images look more cinematic and life like.  Afterall, we chase fast lenses in all the reviews and forums,  doesn't it make sense to use them close to wide open from time to time?  Isn't that why we spent the extra money?

Yes.  You can do this with a small flash.  Really easily.  Almost as easily as just tossing up three small light panels and taking a look through your camera's finder....... Funny.  I worked at color correction and did a custom white balance.  Amy was shooting jpeg and seemed to hit the right WB everytime.  Live and learn.
I call this, "lights on a stick".  Love the wooden tripod.  Goes so well with the tennis shoes.

It's cruel to use small lights without even the tiniest bit of diffusion.  I didn't want anyone to report me for "cruelty to models" so I added some Rosco Luxe to each panel.  I think it's endearing that the little panels I use snap together to make bigger panels.  I have two more coming this week........

I'm no fashion photographer.  That's for sure.  But I kept hearing about clamshell lighting and I thought I'd try my own variation with my LED lights.  I tossed a couple of 500's on the floor, covered with some half stop diffusion and I put the 1000 through a two stop Westcott Fast Flags diffuser and blazed away, screaming, "Pout for me baby and I'll make you a star!"  Or something from "Zoolander".  I can hardly remember......


And guess what?  I had enough light to shoot hand held.  Miracles happen every day.......

That's it for the behind the scenes stuff.  Is this something you want?  Should I post more set up shots?  Just curious.  I'm not really comfortable flashing gang signs, participating is extreme snowboarding and saying "bro" and all the frenetic stuff we see on other blogs.  But I am happy to show you where we put the lights.......

11.07.2010

Few things beat a perfect Austin Sunday afternoon spent taking photos.

It was one of those perfect Austin afternoons.  The temperature was in the 70's.  It was dry.  The sun was shining in a clear blue sky and there was a gentle breeze with just enough energy to push around some blond hair.  Jana (above) and Amy came over to the studio so we could experiment with some lighting ideas.  Late in the afternoon we posed Jana in front of the stone wall that runs a couple hundred feet across the front of my property.  The open shade was great but we added some fill from an electro-luminescent source and it filled in the gaps perfectly.  Others may argue about non-continuous spectra and other supposed inconsistencies but I think Jana's flesh tones are right on the money.
Earlier in the afternoon we all headed to the Rollingwood Swim Club to take a few shots of Jana in her superb wedding dress. We were working under a covered area and use a few tiny portable LED light panels for some fill light.  The lens was a 100 and the working aperture was 2.8.  On our way into the pool a very nice young man held the gate open for our little entourage.  It was Aaron Piersol, the world record holder in the 100 and 200 meter backstroke events.  He's also got a handful of Olympic gold medals.  Amy and Jana both approved.

We spent the rest of the afternoon playing with big scrims, little lights and bank buildings.  I don't expect anyone to fall off their seats at the photos above.  They were more of an exercise.  A practice.  I enjoyed the process of learning more about some new lights and I always enjoy hanging out with Amy and Jana.
We capped the afternoon by catching the post sunset at the bank building around the corner.  Three little LED panels on a light stand over to the left of the frame brought up the illumination on Jana while  Amy held a fourth panel about fifteen feet to the right to get just the right accent light on  Jana's hair and shoulder.  New lighting always makes for a bit of excitement but it doesn't do any better than any other light source when they are used correctly.

Hope your week gets off to a good start.  Remember, it's all just one big experiment and you'll never know what works and what doesn't unless you test your hypotheses.


11.06.2010

Shooting Theater Ads with LEDs. Yes you can light a set.

Martin Burke as the elf in David Sedaris' play, Santaland Diaries.

Santaland Diaries, is my favorite Christmas play ever.  And when Martin Burke plays the elf in this one man production it's possible that it rises to becoming my favorite live theater performance, extant.  So, every year the marketing folks at Zach Scott come calling and we do a shoot for direct mail, website use and various other bits of advertising.  I'd like to think my work is so great that it's the reason they sell out every performance, but as I've already said,  it's a great play.........So much for my fragile ego.

They called again this year and I threw a wrinkle into the plans.  As you probably know I've become fascinated with LED lights of all varieties and I told them I'd love to help out with the photography as long as they'd be okay with me using all LED lights for the shooting production.  "Sure.  We guess."

 I went into the studio the night before to clean and set up.  I've got a nine foot wide seamless on the back wall and it's being lit by one 500 LED panel placed on either side, just behind Martin.  The lights have a lot of spill so I'm using two of the Westcott FastFlags, covered with black fabric to block any spill forward onto Martin.  The lights have four switches on the back and you can turn on and off banks of LEDs to adjust the intensity.  After a quick metering I turned off one of the four banks on each back light.

For a main light I'm using a 1,000 bulb LED panel aimed through a one stop diffusion cloth on a Chimera four foot by four foot frame.  I added another 500 bulb light just to the left of the big light.  It's mostly hitting the diffusion but I'm also letting some of the light hit Martin directly just to add some contrast and intensity to the shot.

On the opposite side I'm using a small Westcott FastFlag with a white fabric of fill (you can just see the sliver of the side profile above the flex fill that's sitting on the floor and leaning against the light stand.
That's the extent of the lighting.  So, how did it all work out?
 I was very happy to shoot with the continuous light.  I could see very clearly and quickly the effects of any changes in the lights.  If I moved something I could see it immediately.  But it did take a few minutes to re-orient the actors to a new way of shooting.  We've shot together many times and on most of those occasions we've used flash so they were used to being able to make fast moves and big gestures without worrying about blur.  For most of the time on this shoot we worked at f4, shutter speed = 1/80, ISO= 800.  If action was important I'd bump up the ISO a bit more.  (Camera:  Canon 5dmk2)
 I noticed two big differences.  The actors didn't get tired as quickly.  They are used to working under continuous lights and both mentioned that it was much preferable for them to the disconcerting nature of random and powerful studio flashes.  The light levels in the room were much higher than what I usually get from the modeling lights and that helped make the actors pupils close down, which makes images much more natural.  The second thing I noticed was that no one had to wait for flash recycling.  If I saw a fleeting expression I could catch it in a quick burst of 3 fps without any worry about erratic exposure.
 In earlier blogs I reported that I had been filtering the lights with "minus green" filtration to deal with the mild, but obvious green spike in the color spectrum of the LED panels I'm using.  I've found that if I do a custom white balance at the beginning of the shoot and keep the light on the set the same I get perfect color with good saturation and consistency across the board.  And that's without any filters at all.
While the LED panels throw around a lot of light and spread it pretty well they are still pretty hard sources when used without diffusion.  On this shoot most of the light that touched to the actors was diffused through fabric diffusion cloth.  I've also recently paid a visit to the movie rental facility here in Austin called, GEAR, and laid in a good inventory of diffusion materials that go from 1/4 stop to 2 stops and include Rosco Luxe (a beautiful diffusion material!!!!!) and even various thicknesses of ripstop nylon.  And guess what?  Every permutation gives a subtle yet very different look to the light.  It's the combination of direct and diffused light through the same surface.  And I can tell that, with a little bit of practice, I'll be lighting better than I ever have and with more control because I can see the changes as I shoot.  I guess this is why some movies look so darned good.  The DP's utilize much more control that we typically do as photographers.  We tend to think in binary terms about soft and hard but there are so many intermediate shades of gray (or collimated and diffused light rays....)
The images here are all directly out of camera, converted from RAW files to Jpegs.  The marketing people will make their selections and we'll clean up the backgrounds and retouch the skin a bit.  Am I happy with this project and the inclusion of LED lights.  Absolutely.  Will I do it again?  Tomorrow.  Literally.  Jana and I are shooting all day long.  But the twist is we'll be using both these big panels in the studio and a bunch of smaller, battery powered units on exterior locations.  I'll have examples up as soon as I can.

Final word was from the marketing crew:  "Wow.  No heat."

Zachary Scott Theater is building a new theatre next year and the plans call for them to be the second theater in the country to switch over to all LED stage lighting.  Do I feel a groundswell occuring?  Or is it just the inevitable slide and glide away from the light bulbs of the last century?

Sometimes getting a photo stolen is flattering. A little.

Renae with Bialys.

For about twenty years I had a great deal with my favorite bakery in town.  I would put up photographs on their walls of people which also featured their products and they would give me free coffee and pastries every day.  One day my assistant, Renae, and I were working in the studio and we started talking about the ongoing show.  We decided to shoot some baked bagels, which are apparently called "bialys" and quick as can be Renae popped off her shirt, grabbed the baked goods and struck a pose.

The original of this was shot on color slide film with big soft lights.  I converted it to a quadratone in PhotoShop and we printed it as a 20 by 30 inch print.  In due time the print was mounted, matted and framed and we delivered it to Sweetish Hill Bakery.  The owner put it up over the condiments.  Every time someone walked over to put cream in their coffee or sugar in their tea the print would catch their attention.

In the ten years that it hung on the wall one person complained that it was inappropriate.  The owner told her that, if she was really upset by the artwork, she might be more comfortable buying her bread and pastries somewhere else.  

But then something strange happened.  The print started getting stolen.  It happened twice and cynic that I am I immediately suspected the intolerant woman and her cronies.  And in artistic defiance we quickly reprinted the image and had it back up on the wall in short order.  A few months later it was stolen again.  And again we put up a new copy.

Eventually the show ran it's decade long course and I showed up one morning to take all the work down.  The regulars leapt from their tables, cast aside their New York Times and hung up their iPhones.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" They demanded.  I told them I was taking down my art.  "Don't touch the Bialy Girl photo and we won't hurt you."  They responded.  I left it there for a few more weeks.  I came back after hours, eventually, and removed the photograph.

One day a few weeks later I got a phone call from a woman who demanded to know if I was the owner of the image of the "bagel girl" photo that had hung in the bakery.  Upon learning that I was she asked how much I would charge for the print and the framing of the "Bialy Girl" image.  I told her a ridiculous price and she accepted without hesitation.  She then asked when should she come by and pick up the artwork.  

I was curious though.  Why did she want it?  She explained that she had a teenaged grandson who had tacky posters of J. Lo.  up in his room.  She was determined to give him something she thought was more tasteful.

She showed up on the appointed day in a beautiful, black, Bentley automobile.  She took a cursory look at the print in the frame and then proceeded to peel off a number of bills from a wad of $100's.  I helped her put the print in the trunk and she was gone.

So, what does this have to do with the stolen photographs?  Well, about a year later I was having coffee and an empanada at the bakery when I was approached by two "thirty-something"  women.  They asked me if I was the photographer who used to show mostly naked people and pastry photos at the bakery.  In a very embarrassed way they asked me what  kind of price I would have given to two struggling college women who loved the print, if they had asked.  As it was academic at this point I said that if they wanted it because they liked the art I probably would have sold a print like that for $250 back then.  

They looked at each other and nodded.  Then one of the women reached into her pocket and pulled out that much cash.  She sheepishly handed me the money.

She could tell I was curious by the look on my face.  The both smiled sweetly and said, "Don't ask."

I never found out what happened to the other stolen print but I like to think someone liked it and couldn't afford what they assumed the print might cost.  I keep going back to the bakery.  At heart I'm an optimist.  I keep thinking someone will walk up, shrug in a confessional sort of way and hand me more money.

Food and cute girls.  Who can resist?

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."