10.23.2014

When it rains it pours. The perpetual motion of running a business and trying to do art on the side....

Renee Zellweger from the old days. Just a nod
to unalloyed beauty. 
Back in the day we colored black and white prints for fun...

I got back into the office on Monday and it's been a marathon ever since. We're currently booked solid between now and about the 11th of November. Shades of the late 1990's. I had a fun time yesterday. I shot a portrait of a CEO in a small conference room. I lit him by blasting a 200 watt HMI light through a 4x6 foot diffusion scrim from one side. That was the whole lighting rig. Oh yeah, I did have to tape some black cloth on the wall opposite the light to bring down the shadow side of his face just a bit... It was beautiful. And the color on the files was just what I wanted. 

When I finished photographing the executive we bounced one HMI off the ceiling and another one off a white board positioned right behind camera, directly in front of the products and then proceeded to photograph six or sever servers, a couple of cool circuit boards with sexy heat sinks, and some interesting connectors, on a white sweep laid out on top of the big conference room table. I shot yesterday with the Nikon D7100 partly because I am a glutton for self-inflicted punishment and partly because I have to admit that the ISO 100 files, when created by an old, 55mm Micro Nikkor, are richly detailed and easy to grind through the raw processing software on their way to becoming advertising materials. 

I hated using the Nikon live view on the camera so much that on the way home I dragged the case with an assortment of lenses and the offending camera into Precision Camera to see how much I could get for the lot in trade for an Olympus OMD EM-1. Not enough to make it worthwhile. It's worse than cars now. Shoot with the stuff for four months and it's nearly worthless for resale. So I decided to work harder on liking the camera and the lenses. And being one of those guys shooting four mismatched systems deep.

I drove out to Johnson City today. Birthplace of LBJ. That president. I needed to quickly scout a location for several shoots that are coming toward me at speed in November. I was there for thirty minutes and then back to Austin in time to spend the entire afternoon and part of this evening retouching and creating clipping paths and masks for the product images I shot the day before. I was going to pace myself and do some of the work on Friday but my very helpful iCalendar reminded me that I'd booked most of tomorrow to shoot marketing images on location at a private school. When we wrap that up I need to head back downtown to attend an advertising agency open house for a firm I work with regularly. If the economy is still bad these folks haven't heard about it, this will be their third move, driven by quick expansion, in three years. Cocktails and face time from five till eight. 

I'm pressing the HMI's into everything. On Saturday one of my favorite people and models, Fadya, is coming over and we're going to spend the afternoon making HMI driven portraits. I hope I can find time somewhere in the schedule to clean up the studio....

As business gets more compressed and frenetic I'm gravitating more and more to using the GH4 as my primary production camera. It's quick and easy to use. The files are great and the lenses are wonderful. I'm smitten by the look and feel of the Oly EM-1 but my comfort zone is definitely in the Panasonic camp. 

No Lawn Jockeys in my area of Texas. It makes me smile when I see this image.

Finally, a wonderful sign of the times in business: I did a major job the week before Belinda and I went to Saratoga Springs. I was half way into the trip before I realized that I hadn't sent the client a bill. I hadn't even written one. That's unlike me since I'm always trying to bill quickly to get the payment clock running. I put that piece of billing on my "to-do" list and was all set to get busy doing paper work when we returned.  But first I checked my mail. There was a check from the client. Issued two days after the job wrapped, before the agency post production had even begun. They paid the full amount of the estimate. And there was a little note attached. The accounting person wrote. "This is the amount we had on the estimate. If there are other charges we need to pay please let me know and we'll send out a second check....."  Nice.


Something is wrong with trees in the north. The leaves become discolored and fall off. 
I hope it isn't some sort of wilt or blight.....

Nature planted these trees too close together. 
Which one am I supposed to focus on?







10.22.2014

Brick Wall with Windows.

 Saratoga Springs, N.Y. 2014

Lots of changes coming up. On Monday (10/27) I turn one year older. I'm setting goals for the year: Swim better, swim faster. Shoot tons more photographs. Write the next book. Make more portraits. Meet more and more interesting people. Socialize more. Use smaller cameras. Make more friends. Play more. Share more. Blog more.

If you can help me with any of these goals jump in and let me know.

Tech notes: Taken after drinking Brazilian Santos coffee. Panasonic GH4. 12-35mm. Ektachrome.






10.21.2014

The rewards for stumbling around the back streets with a camera can be silly or startling. I like the surprises I find off the beaten paths,


Like any old city Saratoga Springs has its share of attractions. There are the springs, of course. Then there's the oldest thoroughbred horse racing track in the U.S. and, of course the shopping and architecture. Let's not forget Yaddo, the writer's retreat. But I am loathe to tromp through where so many have tromped before me. I'm always on the look out for the interesting Kitsch that makes life feel like it's got an ample dose of whimsy and cerebral clumsiness. 

I headed west from downtown and found lots to look at. One place that was particularly fun with Saratoga's Florist. In a side yard adjoining the flower shop was a cacophony of visually engaging relics. Saints and naked nymphs frolicked together in the fenced in, open air, warehouse and I was able to move through with my little camera and try to pull out things I liked as visual candy. 

My favorite was the vaguely Medusan flower pot shown above in black and white. Just sitting there on the ground in front of colorful lawn fdic-frac decor and just behind a rickety cabana table. Now that's what I'm looking for when I'm roaming with a lens....



"Adoration of  naked breasts."

Shooting houses and landscapes makes me nostalgic for the era of the 4x5 inch view camera...


...but  when I remember the workflow without the overlay of nostalgia I realize that I wouldn't have gotten very many photographs taken in the time allotted. When I first had the thought that it would be fun to make images again with transparency film and a Linhof, equipped with my favorite Zeiss 250mm f5.6 Planar lens the memory all seemed so---magical. So I did what I usually do when I remember optimistically, I dissected the process in a step by step fashion to help me rationally remember what a pain the ass it really was. 

To take the image above I would have had to extend the legs of the Gitzo tripod I used out to the sides in order to get the head and hence the camera close enough to the ground to get this comp. That presumes that I would be carrying my 18 pound 5 series tripod with me. Yes, it was required. I would have assembled the camera from its carrying case and mated it to the tripod. I would open up the lens shutter and open the aperture and then crouch behind the camera with a dark cloth so I could evaluate the image on the ground glass screen. I would figure out how much tilt I needed to add (positively) to the front standard and how much to detract (negatively) from the rear standard to use the Scheimpflug  principle to distribute the plane of sharpness correctly. 

Since there was no efficient way to correct for color temperature with transparency films (and many times we needed to send original transparencies to clients or magazine....) I would pull out the Minolta color temperature meter to figure out what combination of Wratten gel filters to put over the front (or the rear) of the lens in order to get the right color in the final image. Of course, I would pull out a different meter and use the incident dome to get a preliminary reading of the overall exposure. 

Since I am within 10x the distance as a ratio of the lens focal length I would have to modify any meter reading with a bellows extension factor. I'd want to verify that by using a Polaroid test or two. While I was waiting for the Polaroid to time out and to dry a bit before evaluating I would simultaneously be praying that the lighting would not change. That no clouds would come by and mess up both my exposure readings and the color temperature readings. A big change would require a "recalibration" and maybe a new set of filters taped to the front of the lens. 

Once we got all the metering just right I'd hop back under the dark cloth one more time to put a loupe onto the ground glass, stop down to the taking aperture (so I avoid focus shift) and then fine focus at the taking aperture before cocking the shutter.

When the stars all lined up I would grab four film holders from the case and proceed to do a bracket in 1/3 stops. Two exposures over. One exposure under and one right on the money. Then I would reverse the process, making sure I'd flipped the dark slides before re-seating them in the film holders, taking the camera apart and putting it into the case and an then gathering in the tripod. Sounds easier when you write it but I'd guess that each of the shots would require about 30 minutes after you discovered the subject and angle you wanted. The move to the next subject would most likely involve putting all the gear into the trunk of one's car and driving to the next location. Back then, on a good shooting day with a view camera we'd be happy with six of seven good images for consideration. And we would have truly earned anything we shot. 

The reality is that for most of our current presentations the image quality of the m4:3 or APS-C cameras we have at our disposal are nearing the same technical quality that we would have gotten from all the hard work back then but the time period from recognition of the subject to final shutter click could be measure in dozens of seconds rather than in dozens and dozens of minutes. 

And, of course, the image on the transparency was only share-able with one person at a time. Maybe two. It would still have to be printed in the darkroom or scanned and uploaded to achieve sharing "parity" with modern images. Ah. The large format image. A romantic memory of a process that was, in reality, fraught with hard work and, at times, heartache. I think I'll stick with digital for right now. 





We don't see many lawn jockeys in Texas. 

I'm sure the natives thought it funny to see an person bent over their camera and fixated by a lawn ornament. But that's really the nature of cross cultural explorations. 




The One Camera, One Lens Weekend. Just Making Snapshots in Saratoga Springs.


Ben made it into the college he wanted. They like him, he likes them. We went up to see him last weekend and I took along one camera and one lens. The camera was a Panasonic GH4 and the lens was a Panasonic G Vario 12-35mm f2.8. It's a lovely combination. Not too heavy and not too big but packed with features that help it compete with bigger sensor cameras. Usually when I'm shooting images for myself (non-client work) I shoot jpeg files. For some reason I decided I'd spend this weekend shooting in raw.  I also decided to set up the profile in the camera to be pretty flat. I used the shadow/highlight curve settings to make a custom curve that brought down the highlights and boosted the shadows. Then, in post production I brought the contrast back up, selectively. It seemed to work well for me. 

As we all know, the benefit of using one card, one camera and one lens is that you never really have to make a choice when you head out the door of your hotel. Oh sure, you may decide to set the camera up to shoot black and white or something but in general you've already made your choices and now your real choices are: what to point the camera at and when to push the shutter button.

I was amazed yet again at the stamina of the Panasonic battery in the GH4. I brought along a spare but I may as well have left it at home. I was able to do over seven hundred raw files before the first indicator on the battery icon (menu screen) disappeared.

I had fun making photographs in the northeastern United States. The leaves were turning. It looked like daytime fireworks in the trees. I enjoyed the weather too. It was in the 60's during the days and the upper 40's at night. Perfect for a photographer acclimated in the Texas summers. 

We stayed in Saratoga Springs while we were up north. The only thing I really knew about Saratoga Springs, NY came from reading the James Bond book, Diamonds are Forever, by Ian Fleming. In that 1950's book Ian Fleming writes about the mob connections in Saratoga Springs. The main attraction of the town at the time was horse racing (which is still enormous there) and James Bond was sent there by the mob to get paid off for smuggling diamonds into the U.S. The chapters about Saratoga Springs are like a time machine snapshot of 1950's Americana. Go back and read the book. It's so different from the later James Bond movie by the same title that was produced much later...


I think it would be fun to be an architectural photographer in rural New York state. A lot of the houses and buildings have their own history and their own aura generated by sheer temporal endurance, but the neat thing is the way the buildings are situated in their space. They've mostly been there long enough for nature to have settled in comfortably around them. It's a nice look. Maybe I just feel this way because it looks so different to me, having come from flat, quick, rudimentary Texas.


Here is the view from the penthouse floor at Ben's dorm. In every direction you look you see nothing but an ocean of tall, majestic trees. When you look directly north you see a view of the southern edge of the Adirondack Mountains. The land undulates and then sweeps up to the mountains just a few miles away. 

Yes, I know it gets incredibly cold there in the winters. We had many lighthearted and serious discussions about it and when I miss the kid I reflexively order him insulated hiking boots and extra extreme gloves from Amazon.com. They generally arrive two days later just in time for northern style heat wave (that's when the mercury vaults up to the high 70's (f)). 

When I think about my young Texan living so close to the Arctic Circle I remember something he told me after his initial visit to the campus during a cold snap last Spring:  "Dad, all the buildings there are heated. Get over it."  We'll see who has the last laugh..

I'd like to thank a VSL reader who prefers to remain anonymous. This gentleman answered my query a month or two ago when I asked if I had any readers who lived in this area. We corresponded and he sent me good information about the town and the logistics of getting there. Then he offered to pick Belinda and me up at the airport in Albany, drive us over to Saratoga Springs and then give us a wonderful insider tour of the area. He and his partner are wonderful and we look forward to spending time with them during every visit over the next four years. His generosity made our trip so enjoyable and worry free, and knowing that he's close by to my kid also calms my opportunistic anxiety. Dear Anonymous, Thank you very much!

Finally, I want to make one more observation. Based on the three meals we shared with Ben on campus a lot has changed since I was a student at college. The food has gotten really good. Beyond restaurant good. On the way home to Austin I was musing that after Ben finishes and moves on Belinda and I should register to go back to school there. One can always use another degree or two and the food might just be worth it. 

We're getting back into the flow of work here. I got a swim in today. I had a meeting with a colleague about upcoming collaborative projects, a meeting with seven people to map out the hour by hour agenda for next weekend's four day shoot and I've lined up yet another CEO portrait for tomorrow afternoon. This Saturday I'll be shooting a portrait of one of my favorite talents, Fadya. Only this time I'm planning on shooting with the K5600 Lighting HMI units (a third fixture is on its way to me) and I might even get around to borrowing my friend's Leica S camera to see what all the MF fuss is  about. We're back in God's country, back in the saddle, all caffeined up and ready to go. Stayed tuned and we'll talk. 

10.20.2014

Moving past career paralysis. Pro or Amateur.




I thought I hated traveling but I've found recently that I only dislike traveling when I don't have a good reason in my head to go. Last week we took a couple days off, added them to the weekend and went off to visit the boy at college. His mom and I wanted to see how he was doing. Neither of us had seen the college he chose so we were doing that "anxious parent" thing of making sure he was safe and well. We needn't have worried. He seems to have made a series of good choices.

But the trip served to take me past traveling just for client service or with some sort of art mission in mind. I was traveling for non-photographic reasons probably for the first time in 25 years or so. Because of that I took only one camera and one lens. That's also very unusual for me. I usually take at least a back up body and a secondary choice of lens.

I made due with a Panasonic GH4 and the 12-35mm. I only shot when I wanted to. I depended on Belinda to do most of the "Ben in dorm room, Ben in dining hall, Ben with friends" shots and I pulled the camera out sometimes mostly just in response to things I found beautiful.

I felt blocked in my career lately. I was suffering from the paralysis that comes from, "been there, done that" syndrome. In a nice way taking a break from the expectation of photography helped me see more clearly the deep rut I'd allowed myself to fall into and the quick method of course correction for rut stuck people. It's to stop working and to start playing. 

That's it. That's all. By subjugating the camera to the reason for my travel (to see Ben and his new environment) I was able to defuse the single-mindedness of the relentless photographic process and use it the way I used to. And that was to make photographs that I liked of things that seemed important or beautiful to me.

Traveling with no photographic purpose is a way of letting go for me. Fewer cameras and fewer expectation of photography served to distill the pleasure into digestible little doses and helped me stop being obese with imaging.

Less investment of purpose. More enjoyment of being in the moment. Photography in the service of what I love instead of being in love with photography and scrabbling to find ways to express that misguided love. Who knew?



10.15.2014

Get "The Lisbon Portfolio" Kindle version on Sale!!!


I am doing a "countdown" sale of the electronic (Kindle) version of the Lisbon Portfolio on Amazon.com. Today the price is only $2.99 (regularly $9.99) in a day or two it will jump up to $4.99 and then go to $6.99 and then, at the end of the week, it goes back to the regular price. 

I thought I would do this for readers who are feeling a bit cash strapped right now but might want to join in the fun and adventure with our hero, Henry White. If you've been waiting for the price to drop it just did. But only for a few days.

Read the reviews and then get my book for less than the price of a medium sized latte at Starbucks. 

You'll be happy you did. I'll be grateful you did!

Observations about using a Nikon D7100 for work.

This image is from Balmorhea, Texas. It was shot with 
an Olympus EP-2.

Earlier this year a client took me by surprise. We didn't communicate as well as we usually do or maybe I just didn't pay attention very well but... we did a photo shoot of an actor in a number of different characters in front of a white background. I thought the client would be using the images in print ads and on the web so I was very, very comfortable shooting it with a Panasonic GH4, a camera I had used extensively and knew I could rely upon for just about anything. I used one of the best m4:3 lenses, the Leica Summulux 1.4 and we lit the whole thing with studio flash so we could freeze any action. I shot at the base ISO and metered carefully. The raw images looked really, really good. 

Then, casually, the final client announced that they were very excited to have such nice images to work with on their posters! Yikes! Could an m4:3 file stretch up to 24 by 36 inches and still look great? My old prejudices, fueled by the group hysteria of the web, overwhelmed my ability to evaluate empirical evidence and see the reality that the 16 megapixel files from the GH4 were very much up to the task. Perhaps a Nikon D810 would have given us more detail but what the client produced in the real world was right on target. 

Too bad for me that I am reactive and reflexive and a bundle of anxiety. The minute we finished the shoot, with the fresh information about the intention to produce posters, my mind rushed to the worst case scenario= the files might not work. (The problem with being an anxiety inflicted freelance photographer is that one tends to worry about every detail and every step and works on back up plans to ward off  imagined disaster, always forgetting that photography is rarely a life-or-death undertaking). 

I decided to add camera inventory I could use for future giant blow ups.  I did some quick research, looked at my potential budget and all the vectors crossed at intersection of resolution/cost/no "AA" filter and track record. I rushed up to Precision Camera and bought a Nikon D7100 and some extra batteries.

I bought a 50mm 1.8G, repurposed my Nikon 55mm f2.8 Micro and also grabbed a very well reviewed 85mm 1.8G. With that selection, a 35mm and a couple of zooms I had a kit that I felt was a good candidate for high res, high enlargement imaging. Should I have bought a full frame camera instead? Maybe. But at ISO 100 and 200 (my usually studio ISO settings) I sure doubt that I would see much difference. Certainly third party tests didn't show much (if all all) difference.

Since buying the camera I've done back and forth comparisons with the GH4 and I'm relieved to find that the GH4 is within a nano-whisker of the level of detail and, with the X lenses (35-100 and 12-35) is, overall, very competitive with the Nikon. Finding that out meant additional rationalizations would be needed to justify keeping the Nikon (beside the fact that some clients seem comforted by tradition). The one I settled on was flash performance. Yes, the Nikon has more accurate exposure in flash modes than does the Panasonic. But is that reason enough to keep it considering the few times per year I use on camera or slightly off camera flash anymore? Maybe, but I'm pretty sure I can sort out the Panasonic flash situation, given time...

At any rate I decided to use the Nikon D7100 with the 85mm lens to make the 100 portraits I'd been hired to do yesterday and the day before. We'd be working in a makeshift studio in a large training room at the client location and doing everything with studio flash. The camera seemed appropriate given its crispy file rendition, its double card slot which allowed me to shoot 2200+ raw images to one SD card while simultaneously writing smaller Jpeg files to the second card slot for quick web gallery images. The battery life is really good and the magazines and web sites all say that the PD autofocus of the camera is fast and sure even under low light...

I worked with assistant, Amy, the past two days and we worked together as though we'd practiced... The white background was lit within a quarter stop all the way across. It was neatly framed by two large, black flags just out of the camera's view. We were doing a very particular style which will be subjected to lots of post production so our main light was a large beauty dish covered with diffusion. 

The camera was set up and meter readings taken everywhere. In fact, we metered at the start of every session. We also did a custom white balance each morning---just to be sure. It should have been so easy...

First issue. While the camera and lens say f8 the light absorption of the optical system is probably two or three tenths of a stop. It's hard to evaluate that on the rear screen (which always looks cheery and perky!!!) but when you pull files into a raw converter it's pretty obvious. Since there's no review in the finder (where the image would be protected from ambient light contamination and screen reflections) you really are at the mercy of histograms while in the field and I find that the histograms are calibrated to keep jpegs from blowing highlights which means that relying upon the histograms in cameras means darker raw files. Not that big of an issue at ISO 100 or 200 as there is a ton of headroom in the raw files from the magical Sony or Toshiba sensor. But still it's an extra pain in the butt. 

With a well set up GH4 you would see the disparity between measured light and light on the sensor immediately in the post review in the EVF, along with info about aperture and shutter speed settings. Not so on the Nikon. When I stopped to bring up a review at one point I mis-used the four way control on the back of the camera and inadvertently changed the f-stop by 1/3 stop and the shutter speed by 1/3 stop. I didn't catch the mistake until our next break but there really wasn't much change on the camera's rear screen, only on the computer monitor back at the studio. On the GH4 the exposure change would have been immediately apparent on the EVF. And the f-stop and shutter speed are constantly shown on my rear screen between shots. Not so on the Nikon. If your camera is at eye level on a tripod you cannot see the top window with its indications and you can only see the technical information if you go into the preview mode and then toggle the view to see more information. Operator controls seem crucial to basic photography and at this juncture the EVF just spanks the hell out of the OVFs for relevant control. 

I haven't really thought about camera buffers since the days of the Nikon D100 and the Fuji S2 but man oh man does the D7100 ever come crashing against its buffer again and again. I initially had the camera set for lossless compressed raw files at 14 bits with lens distortion correction enabled. As I hit the buffer again and again one after the other settings were compromised. First I switched to lossy compression of the raw files. Then I switched to 12 bits. Then I turned off the distortion correction. Even then I would still hit the buffer when shooting quickly to catch a fleeting expression or gesture. Yes, I know it's 24 megapixels. Maybe that's why Canon lets you choose raw image sizes....

But if you never used a better camera it might not bother you. Using the GH4 means super fast processing and a much deeper buffer. It's very raw to hit the wall with that camera. The immediate comparison was eye opening.

Next issue. All of the moonlights we use have 100 watt modeling lights. While the illumination is sufficient to quickly focus a new GH4 the D7100 seemed to struggle a bit to lock focus in the same basic light levels and it was a bit frustrating. Since this metric (fast focusing)  is the crux of all arguments in favor of traditional camera designs I was more than a little stumped. Maybe it's a sinister case of marketing over reality. Maybe the only thing DSLRs really do well in the focus realm is AF-C. They sure aren't a step up for in-studio AF-S....

At one point yesterday I was photographing a person who was easily six feet, six or seven inches tall. Remember, I'm the optimum height, five foot eight. I stood on my little Pelican case and stretched but it was clear that I needed to use live view in order to really be able to frame and shoot the images well. After years of using great live view in Panasonic, Olympus and Sony cameras the comparison with the Nikon live view was-----stark. Really stark. Snail focus. Long lags. Crappy live view boost. Took me right back to the early, ugly days of digital. I got the shot but I was miffed at the low level of tech being delivered by my camera.

So, bitch, bitch, bitch. The bottom line is that the files are very pretty, we're experienced enough to catch and work around the issues and the job got done with little muss and fuss. And the files are very, very good. Nice tonality, no burned highlights, great dynamic range. But all in all, for the use in mind I will reach for the GH4 or the Olympus EM-5 next time. Even if only for the lovely implementation of live view on the rear screen for photographing tall people. I believe that, at ISO 200 with good lenses on both cameras, both would exceed all quality parameters with ease and headroom to spare. So why not work with a camera that makes shooting easier and more fluid?

Will I keep the Nikon and the flurry of lenses I've gathered in? Hmm. I guess so. Unless you want them... But it's hard to imagine any shoot other than a flash centric one or an "ultimate possible resolution" one in which it would make more sense than an m4:3 camera.

I'm actually anxious to get my hands on a test body of the NX 1 from Samsung as it might meld the best of both worlds when it comes to handling and resolution. I've never tried on camera flash with a Samsung camera so I would guess that's a whole other adventure.

I imagine the only sensible reason for Nikon to continue to make traditional cameras lies in the low light performance and much narrower depth of field of the full frame sensor. It get the appeal of the full frame cameras having owned six different varieties but I find it interesting and revealing that all six of them are in someone else's hand right now while I have a rich bounty of smaller, EVF enhanced cameras that seem to swirl back to me over and over again. While Sony's A7 series is a bit compromised it is my idea of one path to the future of photography. (Fix the shutter noise, the focus speed, the vibration issue and the battery issues, please!!!).

I'm interested to hear from those of you out there who have gone in the other direction: from EVFs and mirror-free back to the older technology. What drove you to accept all the compromises of the older technologies? What is it about mirrored cameras that has their claws in you? I'm not really very interested in hearing how much people who've never extensively used EVFs love their viewfinder cameras. That's like people who've never tasted chocolate protesting their love for brussel sprouts instead. Really though, I change my mind occasionally. I like the "romance" of the older tech. It also reminds me of twenty or so years of shooting. Nothing wrong with it if you really like it....

Just a note. I'll be out of town from tomorrow till the end of the weekend and posts might be light. The only electronics I plan to take on the trip are contained in my iPhone and I'm not about to start writing long posts on that. If you see me in Saratoga Springs be sure to flag me down and say hello.



Kindle book now on sale!


10.12.2014

If you want to see how I play around with lighting portraits in the studio you could check out my Craftsy.com class.



I write about how I make portraits here on the blog all the time but I wanted to remind you that I also did a class on studio portrait lighting for Craftsy.com. My approach to the class is a bit eccentric but filled with step by step learning. We play with lights. We play with cameras. We pose and interact with Victoria. And the cool thing about the Craftsy classes is that if you pay once you can come back to the class again and again. No limits. The format is also interactive so you can post questions and I answer them as quick as I can. 

A lot of the class is done with hot lights and some LEDs along with studio flash. Back then I was shooting with a Sony a99 but the information is transferrable across all camera types. I'd love to have more of my VSL readers give the class a spin. If it's not your cup of tea Craftsy has a great money back guarantee. You're not really taking much of a chance. When you get snowed in you know you'll want something fun and photographic to watch.....




Besides, how often do you get a chance to see me look nervous live?

Packing for three shoots without the chance of coming back to the studio to shuffle gear.


Every once in a while the scheduling demons conspire to make life difficult. A classic case is the one I'll deal with tomorrow. I am working with one of my favorite assistants and I'm not making many brownie points with her by asking that she be at the studio door at 5:45 in the morning. I hate getting up that early but here's the way it all turned out. I have one client who booked me to shoot portraits of a board of directors in Johnson City, Texas. They wanted to get the photographic work done before the board goes into their session at 9:30 am. 

We're shooting at a remote location and just to make it challenging we're doing seven environmental portraits outside, starting at 7:45 am. We'll photograph each person outside and then lead them into the interior location where we'll also shoot their conventional portraits against gray seamless paper.
Sunrise is at 7:31 so 7:45 is pretty much a start time mandated by nature....

When we get to the location Amy and I will set up the background and Elinchrom moonlights in our interior location, test and measure everything and then head outside to find an appropriate location close by for the environmental stuff. We'll be using three lights and several reflector panels for the interior shots and we'll use two heads plugged into the Elinchrom Ranger RX AS system for the exterior location. The two heads will have diffused beauty dishes on them. I like to use big beauty dishes outside because they are less effected by winds.

The interior set up will require five light stands and a set of background stands. The location gets its own tripod and camera so we don't make mistakes by trying to constantly adjust one camera between the two locations (which will have totally different exposure and color balance parameters). Much easier and safer to just bring along two tripods and two camera systems, set them for their dedicated environments and be done with it. 

The exterior location requires three heavy duty light stands, a Chimera panel with subtractive (black) surface and three big sandbags. I never want to set up a stand in an exterior location without firmly anchoring it to the ground. I would rather have gravity as an ally instead of a foe. Go sandbags!

We'll be going back and forth from one set up to the other for each board member. We staged it this way so that each person could come at their appointed time and not have to wait for me or wait between the interior and exterior sets. 

Once we finish with our last individual portraits we'll have five or ten minutes to reset for a group shot of all seven people in an exterior location. At that point we release the clients back into the wild and start high speed re-packing maneuvers, break everything down and get it back into the Honda CRV in some semblance of order.  Essentially we'll have produced two shoots in the space of about two hours in Johnson City. I hope we are as efficient as I think we can be....  Because.....

We hope into the car and rocket back up through Austin and on to Round Rock, Texas. Our goal is to be at the next client's location by 11:15am or 11:30 at the latest. Once we're there we'll load in and set up a totally different feeling light set up with a long roll of white seamless paper and several big light blockers. Once this is set up and tested we'll send a test image to an art director in the Ft. Worth/Dallas area who will lead me through any aesthetic or technical changes we need to make to the lighting design. 

After we get approval we'll spend the rest of Monday and all day Tuesday making portraits of 96 people. Then we pack down again and head back to Austin to unload in the studio and start creating web galleries for each of our clients. 

So, how do I keep organized for essentially three different lighting set ups on three different locations? I actually sit down with a piece of paper for each shoot and sketch out the basic lighting diagram I'll be using. It's a lot like the lighting diagrams that we've done for my lighting books but with more details. In fact I try to draw everything I think I'll be using. This helps jog my memory about clamps, connectors, baby light stands and other stuff. Once I've done my diagram I picture myself setting up each piece in the diagram. If I'm setting up a background I need to remember the stands and crossbar but also some clamps to keep the paper from unraveling. I might also need white tape to tape the leading edge of the background to the floor. 

When I envision myself setting up a background light I envision the small stand, the actual light, which reflector I need for the spot grid I'll be using and even the cord, junction box and extension I'll need. When I look at the quick line drawing of the subject it reminds me to bring clothespins to pin baggy outfits and a make up case to kill some shine.

In case of exterior diagrams seeing the "picture" in advance reminds me to bring along the light stand with the one adjustable leg so I can get the stand straight on sloping ground. I am also reminded to bring along a flash light since a good part of our set up will be outside before sunrise...

The diagrams help. On the other side of each sheet of paper I do a check list of gear and I check it off as I pile the gear near the door. Believe me, it helps. I can remember everything I need for one set up but three or four set-ups with different lights and different cameras is a whole different animal. 

One thing I'm trying out today is putting tags on each stand bag with an inventory of what is in each of the stand bags and rolling stand cases. That way Amy can find stuff quicker and repack in a way that will help us on the next location. Am I overthinking all this? Well, I'd say if you've ever found yourself on a remote location unable to shoot because you over looked one small and inexpensive (but critical) item you'd know my answer. 

Diagramming your shots also helps you to focus on what you're trying to get from each one. There's nothing worse than showing up and winging a shoot only to discover after the fact that your impromptu genius doesn't stand up to the more leisurely scrutiny of post production. And there's no way to fix most stuff after the fact no matter how good you fancy yourself to be in PhotoShop. 

Now we'll see if we can get all this stuff into the vehicle...



A small by-law of Murphy's Law: If you don't bring a posing stool the place you end up will only have bulky, high backed leather chairs which will be no damn good for making portraits.

After these two shoots I'll get back to work on the sequel to The Lisbon Portfolio. 


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