1.08.2014

I really like the way the Pentax K-01 makes images of Sony RX10 cameras....



I was working in the studio today but every time I started to make progress on something my calendar program would chime in and remind me of something I needed to be doing somewhere else. I'd promised a friend that I would speak to his kid about what to expect of a career in the arts. The kid is in college and is focusing on what she wants to do in the real world. After our Starbucks consultation I headed over to meet my friend, Will, for lunch. Instead of heading off to yet another restaurant he invited me to his house and served an incredible clam chowder, some wonderful stinky cheese on freshly toasted sourdough bread, and a nice glass of chardonnay.

Over lunch I was reminded of how nice it is to have friends who are both great cooks and also much smarter than me. Will shared some of his newest assignment photographs with me and gently chided me for making the statement that 'photography has gotten too easy.' He is already a master of the art and he was quick to point out that there is always so much more to learn.

1.07.2014

Rationalizing the systems for the coming year. What stays? What's going? And why....


Every website we visit these days (for photography) is talking about giant transitions. For some it's the transition from big DLSRs with seismic blast mirrors to much smaller, mirror less cameras. In many cases it's a transition from cameras that do video well and the rationale is that many smaller cameras do a better job focusing in video but have very similar image quality to all the bigger cameras because everything ends  up getting sampled down to 2000 by 1000 pixels or less. A lot of people are talking about downsizing from big, traditional cameras to smaller cameras (and much smaller lenses) in order to take a strain off their shoulders, backs and carry-on luggage.

I used to buy the smaller, lighter argument until I realized that when we go on location for corporate and commercial clients the cameras (any kind of camera) are the least of our burdens. We are usually carrying four to six light stands, some flags to modify light, some sort of lighting instruments and their attendant modifiers as well as a big, heavy tripod and cases to put all the stuff in and keep it relatively safe. And speaking of safety those four twenty-five pound sandbags don't lighten the load much either.  Now when I look at cameras I start weighing cost, efficiency, quality and usability more than anything else.

We like to think that there are objective measures to quality and, surprise! there are. But there's a sliding scale of where the crossover points occur between reckless costs and necessary quality. Most people aiming at the pro market have some sort of calculus that they use to divine that point for themselves. But I've always been into new math so my break points differ from traditionalists.

1.06.2014

The Transparent Commercial Photography Blog.


By the lore of the web I have done everything wrong with this blog. The articles are too long. The articles are too personal and the articles don't have, as their raison d'ĂȘtre, the motive of constantly pushing product and making money. Sure, I put in ads for things at Amazon from time to time but I've long since given up really trying to push sales of my five books. And my attempts at "selling" are abysmal.  Besides, the blueprint for financial success from affiliate advertising calls for three "gushy" articles about brand new gear for every one article about the actual art, or existence within the art of photography. It's sad to think that my core readers might not come here if I did follow the formula but they'd be replaced with legions of boring, linear thinkers like those that argue, ad nauseum, about aperture equivalence or shutter shock

I think photography blogs have more or less run their course. For every blogger who really understands the gear, like Ming Thein or Michael Reichmann,  there are legions of hobbyists who take duffle bags full of crappy images, review every camera that comes down the pike and fall madly in love with each of them. Every single one. Ming and Michael are leveraging their experience while almost everyone else is flexing their marketing muscles.

I am also commercially inept (as a blogger) because I have a soft spot for mutts and eccentrics. I love weird cameras like the Pentax K-01 precisely because it is a very functional camera wrapped in weirdness. My friends throng to the Olympus OMD but I am increasingly intrigued by the Panasonic GH3, a truly eccentric entry in the camera race.

What's all this leading to? Just a New Year's resolution.  To wit: I'll continue to write about whatever interests me, on my own schedule and people are welcome along for the ride. If I want to show images of dusty road barriers and construction fences I probably have some reason for doing so that my therapists and I haven't quite figured out yet. Maybe we never will. 

1.04.2014

Portrait. In black and white. 2014.

Jenny. Austin, Texas 2014

Another image from my first portrait session of the year. Created with the Panasonic GH3 and an ancient Olympus 70mm f2.0 Pen FT lens (circa 1970). Photographed in RAW format, processed to Jpeg in Aperture and converted to black and white in DXO Filmpack 3.


1.03.2014

Tourist in My Own Town. Gallery Hopping Outdoors. Graffiti Grande. Color Riots.


I was on a self assignment today. I was a tourist in my own town. I’d driven by a little stretch of North Lamar Blvd. on my way to meet someone in Clarksville for coffee when I saw a splash of color against a gray sky to my right. I turned around to see what it was, made it down a crowded side street and steered into an almost psychedelic collection of public art. I’d never seen any spontaneous art exhibit on any scale like this before. That was half a week ago but when I got up this morning and the sky was beautiful and clear I knew I should grab a camera, hop in the car and go over to document this manmade rainbow. I was not disappointed. 

I like well done graffiti. I love the transient nature of that art and I love the fact that it’s out in public being shared and devoured by a wide ranging audience. Apparently I am not alone. This is not “outlaw” art. Someone has created a temporary park called “The Hope Outdoor Gallery” and they have the full permission of the land owners. There is a “no trespass” sign that’s someone told me was up and down on a regular basis but I was also told that it was a lame defense against personal injury lawsuits. An attempt to limit liability in case someone was to slip off one of the dusty paths and plunge down forty feet onto hard concrete and rebar. 

I remember the site well. It’s right next to a part of Clarksville known as “Castle Hill” because a particularly evil real estate developer had built some sort of castle above this site before being eventually turned out by the Fed and the IRS.

An old blog entry for a new year. This one seems appropriate today...

1.02.2014

I am often guilty of posting images from the "good old days." Here's an images I took today. My first portrait of 2014.

Jenny. January 2, 2014

I get scared from time to time that my best days as a portrait photographer are behind me, lost in the golden fog of the days of film. And occasionally I think that I've made grave errors in moving from medium format to full frame and then back to micro four thirds sized cameras. I buy into the idea that the camera is such a crucial tool even though I have samples from every format that disprove the magic camera type syndrome.

So, today to celebrate the start of a new year I asked the daughter of one of my masters swimming friends to come over to the studio for a quick portrait session. Nothing fancy, just a straightforward portrait that she could use for her LinkedIn avatar and as a FaceBook photo. 

I used a couple of fluorescent fixtures pushed through two offset 48 by 48 inch Chimera Panels, each covered with a one stop silk diffuser. I use a couple of black flags to keep light off the background. I decided to ignore the entire idea of fill light and get more use out of the main light. 

I very purposefully selected my camera and lens combination to try and prove to myself that the camera and lens are inconsequential compared to good light and good posing. I used one of the GH3 cameras that I'd originally picked up for video projects and I coupled it with the 60mm f1.5 Olympus Pen FT high speed lens. I was very happy to be using the lens on a camera that allowed me to punch a  button and get a quick 8X magnification for exquisitely perfect focus. 

I shot at f2.5 and f2.8 with a shutter speed of 1/125th of a second at ISO 200. I also took time to meter the general exposure on my subject's face with an incident light meter to make sure I was really calibrated when it came to camera metering measurements and the rendering of the image on the EVF screen and the LCD. 

I hope the image is proof that good portrait work can be done with this combination of lights, modifiers, lense and camera. Jenny was a great subject and required negligible retouching. I took out a few strands of fly-away hair...

This is one of my favorite lighting styles. I was thrilled to have a project to work on for my first day back in the studio. I'm looking forward to a year with plenty of opportunities to make portraits. This is the fun part of photography.

Welcome back!


I like intersecting diagonals.


1.01.2014

Myth debunking. The "five minute marathon" with CEO's...

Mr. Rick Ellenberger, former CEO of Cincinnati Bell/Broadwing.

I've read a lot of books and articles by corporate and commercial photographers and there seems to be a pervasive mythology running through many of their narratives about the necessity of being able to do a portrait of a CEO, president, mover and shaker in five minutes or less. Most dress up the story by pushing the time limit to seven minutes just to make it all more believable.  It's almost like a "humble brag" (thanks, Lynn Cartia formerly Missy MWAC).    As in: "I was sweating bullets to photograph the president in four and a half minutes since I'm a pretty slow photographer...."

It's a really fun myth that makes photography seem more daring, the stakes higher, the drama more dramatic. At stake is the reputation and career of the poor photographer, exposed to the vagaries of everyone else's schedule changes and preferences. It plays well with less experienced photographers because at some point they want to believe that eventually they will develop skills that will allow them to do the super-tightly scheduled shoots that are out of the technical reach of mere mortals. Oh my, a new barrier to entry against the masses with iPhones! The need to meet, greet, photograph and say "goodbye" to the power elite in our society inside supersonic deadlines. A new kind of Olympian.

But I'm feeling like I should do a little debunking because I've been photographing CEOs and governors and even former presidents for about 25 years now and I can count on one and a half hands the times I've had to rush through a shoot and delivery perfection in five minutes or less. 

Sorry, very few of the shoots (even with the very top of the crop) are done spontaneously and instantaneously. Nope. It goes something like this: 

Accept assignment weeks in advance. Scout locations days in advance. Work with art buyers or PR team on the kinds of poses they want to get out of the shoot, how we want the subject to dress, which glasses to wear, what to put in the background and who will do the make-up. Really. This stuff is all lined up so well in advance. Right after the money is discussed and the agreement form is signed. 

In almost every situation in which we photograph a CEO we're asked to do multiple locations and multiple poses/expressions. We generally ask for an hour of "in front of camera" time and end up getting forty five minutes or so. 

After all the details are nailed down in....detail we bring in a crew of assistants and cart loads of lights and modifiers and get to work the day before or the night before the shoot and set up lighting for each location. We have people stand in so we can fine tune the lighting. We put white tape on the floor to indicate where the big man or woman will stand. We even write the f-stop and shutter speed on the tape in each location for quick reference. Every set up is approved before we leave the location and get a good night's sleep. 

On the day of the shoot we get to the location (usually company headquarters or flagship factory) about two hours ahead of time and help the make up person get set up and ready. We double check the lights and make sure the settings haven't drifted as a result of maintenance moving our stuff around. 

We greet the CEO and introduce him to the make-up person all the while confirming his time commitment and our schedule. The PR chief runs interference so the CEO's time with us is not infringed upon by V.P.s and other folks looking for impromptu face time. 

Once the make-up is complete we walk the subject to the first location, pose him, and get to work. Then we smile, say, "We've got this one, we're ahead of schedule, let's move to the next location." If the CEO has spent a lot of time in front of cameras it's actually an easy job. Yes, everyone around him can be filled with stress but if he's experienced and we've practiced a couple hundred times there's not a lot left to chance. 

Thirty to forty-five minutes later we're shaking hands and I'm telling him how great he was in front of camera and what pleasure it has been to work with him. He smiles, says something gracious to the PR director and he's gone. We pack up and go home.

Sometimes plans go out the window and schedules change. We were down in San Antonio making a portrait of the CEO at USAA a few years back. We agreed to do three locations within his office suite in 30 minutes (after set-up and make up) but once we started chatting the CEO and I remembered that we attended high school (rival schools) at the same time in San Antonio and had competed against each other for four years in a row as competitive swimmers. Once we rediscovered the common interest everything changed. Two hours later we did a leisurely pack up, laughed, smiled, shook hands and promised each other we'd stay in touch. 

The times  we've been pressed for time have generally been on editorial assignments and generally where an editor is looking for one perfect shot on a quick deadline with a subject that's been scheduled in a rush. And even then the subjects know that it's to their advantage to do it right.

Photographers who are training clients to expect a five minute miracle are just another obstacle to doing the business correctly for everyone who comes after them. It's a professional encounter, if you need time, it's just professional to ask for it and push back against unrealistic expectations. 

Just my two cents worth. 

Have you ever noticed that most people have one eye that's bigger than the other?


Scientists tell us that no one has a really symmetrical face, or, for that matter a symmetrical body. While I left the image above un-retouched to show this it is one of the reasons that I like retouching programs like Portrait Professional. Many people know this software program because of their web advertising in which, I believe, they do themselves a tremendous disservice. The folks who market Portrait Professional like to show off the maximum effects possible with their product so they end up showing "before images" that make people look horrible and then "after pictures" that are totally overdone. Skin goes from rough and scaly to smoother than a baby's butt to as featureless as a Barbie doll. Cheekbones get accentuated like animated elves, lips dramatically increased in size and ballooniness and eyes end up rendered like the eyes in paintings of sad waifs on black velvet. Giant eyes totally out of proportion with faces....

But the actual product is highly controllable and when used by operators with even a modicum of good taste it allows for fast correction of things like mismatched eyes and too many wrinkles. Just because the advertising is over the top doesn't mean the program isn't a valuable tool for portrait photographers!

If you want to go old school then put the smaller eye closer to the lens and put the bigger eye on the highlight side of the lighting configuration. Hard to do if your subject is looking straight into camera.

That's the prescription but in art there is no absolute right or wrong. I routinely leave the eyes the way I found them, only correcting if the mismatch is an obvious impediment to the aesthetic value of the portrait. Accuracy?  We've never done that here and we're not planning to start.

unrelated musing: 

We're starting off 2014 with articles about portraiture but you know it won't last. In a few days, maybe a week we'll be off on some other tangent that will make some of our readers grind their teeth and others nod in agreement. And then there are the tourist readers who drop in unannounced because someone with an agenda has linked to one of the articles that supports their talking points on a forum. At that point all hell breaks loose and I become saint or satan, depending on which side of the argument the visitor's audience embraces.

Will the web change? Doubtful. Will we respond? Well, you may have noticed that we've been moderating comments all year. Saves you from wading through bathos and pathos on a daily basis and it helps keep my blood pressure interesting. I think it just goes with the territory. At least I have you guys here to watch my back....

To everyone else....."HEY! IT'S JUST A CAMERA. IT'S NOT A RELIGION... "