10.03.2013

Monday's location. Red Rock. Wow!!!



The Pentax K-01 lived on the passenger seat of my Fiat 500 rental car all week long. The only lens I have for it is the 40mm pancake so of course all the images were ones that worked well with a slightly long focal length. The video crew loved the yellow camera. We even used it in a shot...

I have to admit that it was fun to drive the tiny roller skate car around the curvy roads. With a little more power to play with we might have been able to out accelerate that ancient tour bus....

Fiat 500 not recommended for any photographer with more gear than a cellphone and one of those hipster hats....the Pelican case almost didn't fit in. We used some teflon grease as a last resort.

Yes. It's the latest technique to sweep through the photo world. Ghostly imaging.

My camera was banging around at the end of the strap and the universe was randomly pressing the buttons and changing my menu items. Instead of my usual austere and pensive images I ended up becoming an unintentional master of HDR......Far beyond the realm of Technicolor Spew.

I call it "Out of body and heading to the dark side on the streets of Denver."

I am back in Austin putting the studio back together and hanging with the Dog. Some observations...

"Life is like a box of chocolates....."

I have been on location, in Denver, Boulder and at Red Rock Park for the last eight days. I'm not sure how clear I've been on the assignment in previous posts but there is a company called, Craftsy.com and they make instructional videos about a bunch of different subjects. Everything from crafts (hence the name) to gourmet cooking and, of course, photography. People go to their website to find out how to do something, find a course they like and pay to watch it. It's an online experience. Once you've paid for a course you can watch it over and over again as many times as you like. And, unlike many other online education resources Craftsy has discussion areas for students and students can ask instructors questions about the content and get answers from the actual instructor. Students can also post work and get peer reviews and input from the instructor of the course.

Earlier this year they asked me to be an instructor for several photo classes. These are not live workshops with students in attendance, instead they are constructed like television shows that teach. We have outlines and we cover all the points cogent to the subject at hand in a direct and conversational style. The entire production takes time and a crew with expertise in video, audio, lighting, graphics and producing. The production values are first class all the way through. I am not the director or producer for my classes, I am the expert/actor who stands in front of the camera and speaks and demonstrates. I work with models to show lighting and shooting concepts and demonstrate how they work. Neil Van Niekirk is another one of the instructors as is Rick Sammon.

For the last eight days I've been working with a crew on multiple locations to create two new courses. I'm very excited about both of them and I had an absolute blast being on the other side of the camera. Now I feel as though I have a truer, 360 vision of video production, shooting, audio and more.

I want to talk about some of the stuff that might seem incidental but which made this adventure much easier and more comfortable. It's the little stuff that makes a difference.

NUMBER ONE, BEST NON-PHOTOGRAPHIC TOOL: After the cameras and what not the number one tool that made my participation more fun was my iPhone with iOS7 loaded on it. No, I didn't use the phone camera for anything but I did constantly use the latest mapping feature. It was bullet proof. 

I'm an anxious, nervous traveler, especially when a whole production depends on me being somewhere on time. I'd never driven in Denver before but we had lots of locations and crew members coming from different areas and we decided it would be best if I rented a car and got myself where I was supposed to be. I'd plug in a street address, hit "start" and the "Siri" woman would give me turn by turn driving instructions. If I screwed up and missed something because I was messing with my coffee or daydreaming the program would instantly calculate a new course and correct my path. Stunning. 

Probably old news for most of you but amazing for me. And totally free. I especially appreciated the guidance at 5:30 am this morning on the way to the Denver airport...

And then there's everything else on the phone. My cinema light meter, Easy Release model releases, Kindle, and the usual e-mail and texting stuff...

NUMBER TWO, CONVENIENCE ITEM: Everyone in the crew liked my Banana Republic, grey T-shirt best out of all my wardrobe. I wore it.... a lot. And I worked out in the hotel gym.....a lot. So I was happy to find that the Magnolia Hotel (which I called home for 8 eight days) has a self-service laundry on the first floor. Yes, I did a load on Sunday and I did wear the grey shirt again.

NUMBER THREE, SCADS OF STUFF EVERY BUSINESS HOTEL SHOULD HAVE: Where do I start? The Magnolia Hotel (at 17th and Stout in downtown) starts each day with a free breakfast for guests. Not a tacky, stick you pastry in the toaster or make your own waffle thing, but great eggs, breakfast sausages, bacon, all kinds of toast, fresh scratch oatmeal, good coffee, a couple dozen types of tea and more. On sunday they had eggs Benedict as an option. One good breakfast at 6 am and I was good till two or three in the afternoon.

Wine and beer happy hour from 5:30 till 6:30pm in the same dining room. I sure didn't make it to everyone but if I did my parts well and we didn't need to do too many takes I could sometimes make it back in time to sit in one of the big, puffy chairs or on the couch, have a nice glass of Cabernet Sauvignon or a Killian's Red and a big glass full of pretzels. On Saturday night I actually had two glasses of wine. It's fun and a nice wind-down feature of the hotel.  But it doesn't stop there...

From 8:00 p.m. to 10 p.m. the hotel puts out a spread of fresh cookies, milk and decaf coffee. Cruise by and grab some cookie happiness and eat it there or take it up to your room. Nice. And happy.

Next up, the hotel has a couple of big black SUV's and they'll take you anywhere downtown at the drop of a hat. Free. I was coming back late on evening and I had a dinner date with a business client at a trendy restaurant in a busy part of downtown. One of the those downtown areas that are a parking nightmare. I cruised into the hotel, they valet-ed my rental car, bell hopped my equipment cases up to my room and put me in one of the big, black cruisers simultaneously. I was three minutes early for my dinner engagement instead of half an hour late.

Final hotel perk? 25% all coffees at the Starbuck's adjacent to the hotel. Loved that. A Grande drip coffee for $1.44. I thought I'd been teleported back to 2003.

NUMBER FOUR, STUFF I TOOK THAT TURNED OUT TO BE VERY, VERY USEFUL...
I'll start with the Thunderbolt to HDMI adapter for my MacBook Pro. Then I'll move along to my Thunderbolt to DVI adapter and I'll end up with my various card readers. Yes, we were productive not only in the shooting but also in moving content around and displaying it on different devices. I'll finish up with my Swiss Army Knife which came in handy for fixing a flash shoe, cleaning a connection and also trimming nose hairs. 

I loved being the object of production. I didn't have to mess with hotel reservations, car reservations, airplane reservations, location scouting, model releases, logistics or figuring out where to eat while working. All I had to do was bring the content. I'm spoiled now. I could really get used to that.

Anyway, now I'm back in Austin. I've picked up the boy from school, reheated my family's Chinese food from last night for a late lunch and I've even given the lovable and stinky dog a bath. Yep, I'm back home and ready for tomorrow...

For the last eight days life was like a box of chocolate with none of the filler options that no one really likes. In my mind it was all brandy truffles with toasted almonds.

Studio Portrait Lighting






















10.01.2013

I wrote an article about lighting for Photo.net. You can read it there.

Here's the link: http://photo.net/learn/lighting/going-big/

If you read the blog you already know the punch line.  Something to do with really big scrims....

I'm still in Denver. We photographed kids on horses today and I spoke lots of words about photography into video cameras. It all went very well. We wrapped a little early so I was able to drive my rental car, a very small Fiat 500 back to the Magnolia Hotel in Denver without jousting with rush hour traffic. Which, apparently, Austin doesn't hold a patent on.......

I'll be back in Austin this week and at the end of the month I'll be heading up to NYC to attend all three days of PhotoPlus. Should be an absolute blast!!!

My "new school" hippy friend, Noellia
Shot with the Samsung Galaxy NX camera.
No incense sticks were harmed in the making 
of this portrait.

9.29.2013

I'm a sucker for pillars and the last light of the day reflected off distant buildings....

I don't know about you but when I'm in another city on assignment and have a day off I head out the front door of my hotel and explore all day long. I'm in Denver right now and I found one building just a few blocks from my hotel that has really cool pillars. I walked by the building yesterday in the early evening and even though the building faces east parts of the pillars were all lit up by the reflection of the setting sun off the mirrored windows of a giant office building. I shot them from as many angles as I could. Even though I am largely a portrait photographer there's something about this kind of architecture that I like. Maybe it's the repeated forms and maybe it's a reference to the temples of the ancient Greeks but it's a type of structure that I find photographically fascinating.

Today has been a recovery day. I've actually done laundry in the hotel self-service laundry room. Why? Because my production team seems to think I look best in one of my gray t-shirts and we used them up last week. Makes me wonder why I bothered to pack those ten other nice shirts....

Tomorrow morning we get started again. I'm driving an almost comical Fiat 500 to Morrison, Colorado to do video production for my newest class on portrait photography. The Fiat 500 is definitely NOT a photographer's car. I can barely fit my single Domke bag in what passes for a trunk and getting a fully loaded Pelican 1650 rolling case into the back seat (two door car....) is like Tai Chi weight lifting and muscle popping puzzle solving. When I get wedged in between two giant Colorado pick up trucks the car gets lost entirely. Finally, the stereo in it kinda sucks. I don't understand why I didn't get the Bentley convertible. Maybe Martha Stewart can help me figure that one out....



















Monday is coming at me fast...





9.28.2013

Done about 16 years ago in a primitive version of PhotoShop. One with no layers and no undo...


I sent it out as a holiday card.
The response was wonderful.
I still have a copy on my desk. 
At nearly 18 the boy is as angelic (for the most part) 
as he was then.

I included this in a new program I'm working on 
about photographing your family.

It's all fun.

Say "Hello." Look people in the eye and introduce yourself. Ask politely. It's a plan....

I was walking down "Mall" street in downtown Denver and I saw this man playing cards at one of the tables in the middle, park like area between the two bus lanes. At first I walked by. I was feeling a little shy. But then I realized that passing up a nice portrait because I'm becoming chicken shit will be the first step in a long flight down to the point where I'll never be able to ask again. Reticence builds on itself.

I turned around and approached the table and, when the subject and his friend at the table had a break in their conversation, I asked the man with the headscarf if I could make his portrait. I introduced myself, told him (truthfully) that photography was my hobby and that I was visiting his city and I noticed he had an interesting face. He smiled and gave me permission to continue. At that point his friend stood up and let me sit in his chair, across the little stone table from my subject. That was a very nice gesture.  It allowed me to be at eye level with my subject and I'm pretty sure that made both of us more comfortable.

These are the kinds of portraits I like to take on a full frame camera with a medium telephoto lens but I wasn't dragging a rig like that around today. Instead, I relied on my Pentax K-01 with its little 40mm 2.8 lens. I had the camera set to shoot black and white. And I'm pretty darn happy with the way the image turned out.

The entire exchange took a minute. When I'd finished I thanked him very much. Touched his jacket sleeve and told him (honestly) that he had helped to make my day better. He smiled, his friend sat back down, the deck of playing cards came back out and they resumed their game. And, at least for now, I have regained my self confidence where approaching strangers for photographs is concerned.

It's strange, when you photograph people for a living you are always in a safe zone. You've been asked to make a photograph of someone. There's a total buy in by all parties. It makes taking the images so easy and that ease makes it harder when there is no external purpose for the images. Harder when there isn't the certainty that people will say, "yes." We get too complacent when we have our subjects delivered all primed and ready. It's a good exercise to venture out into the big, wide world and learn to ask nicely again.

How one sneaky little camera, bought as a novelty, can throw your whole plan off kilter. #Pentax


I guess I told you a month or so ago that I'd bought a used Pentax K-01 for a song and that I was having fun using it. I didn't pay much attention to the camera in the weeks after my purchase because I was getting up to speed on the Samsung Galaxy NX camera for my trip to Berlin and doing a bunch of pre-production and then shooting on some video projects. While packing for my working trip to Denver I decided at the last minute to toss the little yellow Pentax K-01 into my camera bag along with its charger. I brought it along as a rain/beater/fun camera to carry with me when I finished the long days of shooting with the big Sony cameras. 

The only lens I have for the Pentax is the 40mm pancake lens. So, what I've essentially got is a cheap camera that's yellow and has only one very limited focal length, no EVF and a tacky, promotional Pentax camera strap. And after four or five hours of walking around and shooting with it today I've already come to appreciate it, enjoy images from it and even smile when I hear its muted and quietly precise shutter go into action. Yes, the rear screen is as difficult to use as any other in bright daylight but I don't seem to care because the camera in its holistic entirety is so adorable. Maybe I like it because no one on the street seems to even pay attention to it when I shoot.


So, why do I think of this camera as problematic? Hmmm. I've been mulling that over. I guess it's because I've shot some stuff with the lens wide open at f2.8 and been very impressed with the characteristics of the lens. Sharp and smooth is how I'd describe it. Maybe it's because the shutter is muted and solid. And maybe it's because the I've come to like the bright color of the body....it's easier to find in the recesses of my black camera bag. It's become problematic because I keep thinking that if Pentax got so many things right in the creation of this camera and the matching of its physical properties to my proclivities then maybe some of the other Pentax cameras would suit me as well. And that's where the slippery slope always begins.... I keep zapping over to Amazon to look at reviews of the K5.2.  I played with one again at Precision Camera and came away impressed. Especially for the price!

I'm sure the Pentax glass is just as good as anyone else's and I like the size and feel of the bodies. It always starts like this: I'll decide that only one body and maybe that 70mm pancake lens will be just enough to make me happy. Sure, I'll keep the Sony a99 and other Sonys around for all my professional, paying work. The Pentax will be my fun camera, my art camera, my personal camera. But then I'll find reasons to like it too much and little by little it will ingratiate itself into my camera bag. I'll add a lens or two. And then one day I'll take it out on a little assignment instead of the Sonys and I'll have good luck that day, for one reason or another, and I'll decide that it's great to have two systems to go back and forth with and I'll add a few more lenses and maybe a second body; because you know that no professional should ever go on assignment without a back up body....

Deep in the honeymoon period I'll look for ways to rationalize getting rid of the Sonys and going "all in" on the Pentax gear. I'm sure the initial self-argument will be that the bodies and lenses are cheaper, etc. But once in the system we'll go through the honeymoon stage into our first big, plate throwing, name calling fight over some weakness or absence in the system. I'll begin to pine again for the full frame option. I'll rail against Pentax's primitive video implementation and lack of a headphone jack and I'll be back where I started, only thousands of dollars poor...

At this juncture, before I do any damage to myself or my bank balance I would love to hear from former and present Pentax users. Maybe you'll be able to blunt my desire with rational arguments from the other side. Maybe not. So much for camera lust. Let's talk about the Denver Art Museum.


I have the day off today and I was up early, well breakfasted and out the door with a camera in time to shiver happily in the 36 degree lows. The day is bright and sunny and warmed up quickly. I walked around for a while and then finally got serious and headed to the Denver Art Museum. I was thrilled with what I saw there. Absolutely thrilled. Right off the bat there's a show of Mark Rothko's work. I've always been a fan of Rothko's later subtle and quiet color studies but the show's curator did a nice job of creating a time line from Rothko's earlier work into his final years of working abstraction. The show also includes some work by contemporaries which helps to place Rothko's work within the time period and art/cultural milieu. That show closes tomorrow so I considered my visit lucky right from the start.


The architecture of the museum itself, an origami assemblage of non-linear, angled walls and creative space is worth the trip and I found myself bringing the camera up to my eye just to catch the whimsical juxtapositions of the walls. But the two installations that I really loved, almost worth the trip to Denver alone, were the enormous installation of Sandy Skoglund's Foxes at Play and smaller, quiet, black and white portraits by photographer, August Sander. 

Conceptual artist, Sandy Skoglund, has been creating wonderful three dimensional tableaus for decades. I first became aware of her installation work back in the late 1970's or early 1980's because a photography magazine featured her seminal piece, Attack of the Goldfish. The emphasis of the article at the time was the way that Skoglund lit and captured her three dimensional constructions. She used an 8x10 inch view camera and color film to make incredibly wonderful photographs of her work. In those days I assumed that the final target  was always intended to be the photograph as the final artifact of her work but museums have been collecting installation pieces now so the exhibitions have long lives and the photography recedes back a bit into its role of documentation for magazines, websites, catalogs and the like. The FOX installation is wonderful. I could have walked around it for hours. And I love the fox sculptures which I think stand up well as individual, sculptural art. Google Sandy Skoglund and I think you'll be surprised at how much Gregory Crewdson borrows, conceptually,  from her much earlier work.....







Middle Class Mother and Child by August Sander. All rights reserved.

 Finally, in a gallery in the North building of the Denver Art Museum is a small but very effective show of August Sander's work. For those of you who are not familiar with his work he was a German photographer who created a huge body of work by going onto locations and into businesses to photographing his fellow Germans in very direct and formal poses. His work was done in the 1920's and 1930's. He made portraits of coal miners, bakers, bankers, clerks---an enormous range. In most of his work the subjects face the camera with grim expressions. They are serious in their collaboration with Sander. Part of the formalism came, no doubt, from his use of a large view camera on a tripod.

But this show introduced me to several new images of Sanders that I hadn't seen before which are less formal but no less powerful. There was a portrait of three men in suits, posed casually in the countryside that is wonderful. Any of our best photographers in this age would be secretly proud to have shot that photo.... And the one of the mother and child in the park (above) is also timeless and perfect on so many levels, from pose and expression right through to final print.

The August Sander exhibit sobered me up and reminded me of how far we've allowed our craft to fall in servitude to budgets and expediency. His 8x10 inch portraits have a depth of field that is so shallow and falls off so beautifully and dramatically that even his technical decisions elevate the work to a level that most of us will never be able to achieve today with our technically advanced but mercilessly crippled cameras and lenses. In one sense it's all about format size.  We just can't replicate the magnificent focus isolation Sander was able to get with his tools unless we too go back, grow a pair, and start shooting with very large format cameras and very carefully processed and printed sheets of film. And it's a pity since the uniformity of our current cameras impoverishes us with its homogeneity. Sad times when the tools betray us and obfuscate their aesthetic shortcomings with a glittery display of techno-fireworks. And built in "art" filters....

Said in a different way: the more our tools are identical the more our collective vision is damaged by that self same lack of diversity.  And if we are unaware of what came before our chip filled toy cameras we don't even have the capacity to understand that there is a loss and how crippling that loss is...

That's the real gift that museums keep giving photographers. They keep showing us how the tools and vision are intertwined and how we've abdicated choice for easy use and low cost. And every now and then a Weston Print or a Paul Strand Print or an August Sander print comes along to slap us in the face and drag us out of creative lethargy. Thank you to the Denver Art Museum for at least three beautiful exhibitions savored all under one roof on one day. You made my stay in Denver that much better.



Phoning it in.


I'm in Denver working on camera as an instructor for Craftsy.com this week. I got here on Weds. and I'll be here until Thurs. morning. Teaching photography this way is fun and rewarding. I love the process and every time I do a class on the opposite side of the camera (the talent side) I learn more about the art of making great video and I get to be on the receiving end of good direction. I'm paying attention to the work done by a great camera crew and learning the fine points of gracefully transitioning between scenes. 

In the evenings, after a twelve hour day, I come back to my hotel, have dinner and try to chill out. I was looking at the photographs on my iPhone this evening and I found this one of Belinda that I'd taken at the W Hotel during some party or celebration last year. I know it's just "phoning it in" but I enjoyed having a forgotten photograph of my wonderful wife turn up out of nowhere. Makes me realize how lucky I am.

And I feel lucky in my career as well. The people at Craftsy.com are reminding me that I'm sharing thirty years of valuable experience with a whole new generation of image makers and that feels great. 

So, a week in Berlin then a week in Denver. At the end of the month of October I'll be spending the better part of a week at the Photo Plus Show in NYC. I guess the industry is not slowing down as quickly as rumor would have it. That's okay with me. I'm having the time of my life.


9.24.2013

Theater photography tonight. Travel tomorrow.


Tonight is the dress rehearsal at Zach Theatre for the blockbuster opera/musical: Les Miserables.
I'm doing photographs tonight for press releases and initial marketing of the show so I'll be camped out dead center of the orchestra nursing an armful of cameras and trying to capture the fast moving action and the even faster changing lights. But I hate to be unprepared or surprised when I'm doing a job for a client so I dropped by the Theatre on Sunday evening to catch the first half of the show in a technical rehearsal. No audience, no photos (Equity rules...) and no stress. I wanted to sit quietly and watch how the overall lighting design worked and how the choreography looked. The actors were great and the play was well polished.  I stayed for a couple of hours and now have kind of a running mental inventory of how the cast comes together for little finales, little group shots just before the lights dim to change a scene. Those are the signature shots that papers and websites love to run.

When I walk into the theater this evening I'll have a good idea of which cameras and lenses to use to cover the wide shots and the tight close ups. I'll probably go with two Sony a99's and a wide to slight telephoto zoom plus a standard 70-200mm 2.8. I like shooting the a99's at ISO 1600 but I'll probably go up to 3200 on the wider zoom just to add more depth of field. The show is darker than some of the recent, upbeat musicals and I'll be watchful about dipping below 1/125th of a second. I do like to keep it all sharp.

Tomorrow I travel. I'm headed to Denver, CO. to spend a week with my friends at Craftsy.com. We're doing two video programs this time for their website.  Both have to do with portraits, lighting, posing and family photojournalism. I've done five solid phone meetings to flesh out the details and we've revised the outlines a few times.

To be clear, I'm actually appearing in the programs I'm not part of the crew or in charge of the direction. I'll be teaching, on camera, and as nervous as any of the talent I've worked with over the years. It's a whole different thing to be on the other side of the lens. I warmed up to it last time and I don't have nearly the trepidation this time. I'm actually looking forward to ten hour days on camera since I don't have to haul lights or make sure technical stuff works right. Someone else will be stringing the extension cords and tugging on sand bags.

I've got my laundry list of things to do today. I need to make time for a haircut, I need to go over the packing and make sure I have the right cables to connect my cameras and my laptop to Craftsy's video equipment. I have to find that great little can of shaving cream I discovered last time I traveled. I have a couple of hours of post production to do on an ongoing job and, of course, I'll need to turn the Zach Scott rehearsal images around by the end of the night tonight. One more swim workout before the sun comes up tomorrow and then wheels up. There's so much to do when you are a one person business. If there's a detail that makes a difference it's up to me to see that it gets done. But I like it that way. I like it because when I finish a big project there isn't the feeling that I have to jump right into something else to keep the payroll flowing. If I want to chill for a few days or a week that's my call too.

I suspect the blog entries will either be less frequent or shorter or both for the next week. If Samsung gets me a new camera today I'll have some stuff to report on the newest version of the Galaxy NX. If they don't then the big Sony's will have all the fun. I guess it all hinges on that one Fed Ex truck....

I am turning into an instructor. I'll have to think about this for while and decide if I like this direction. I can see where it would interfere with my goal of being a fully eccentric artist......Sounds like it's time for a little meditation when I get back.

Swim well. See well. Speak well. And enjoy the arrival of Fall.