Big, soft lights mean big catch lights. Do we retouch them? Do we blot the catchlights out in PhotoShop? What's a photographer to do?

This is an image of Heidi that we did for my second book; the one about studio lighting. The image is an example of the look you get when you use a very large lighting modifier close in to your subject. There is a beautiful light playing across her face and it falls off as you go from the left to the right of the image. By putting up a black velvet light subtractor to the left of frame (the right side as you look at it here) I was able to get a nice and dramatic shadow on the left side of her face, in spite of the inclusive nature of the light source.

The only thing that might give a viewer pause would be the size and brightness of the catchlights (the reflection of the big lighting modifier (a six foot umbrella) or any light source in the eyes). It's an ongoing issue because the catchlights will be there unless you go in and retouch the image. With a natural light source I am almost always inclined to leave the catchlights as they are. It's only in studio lit portraits that I waffle. I like to leave them but some clients expect them to be gone. It's worth a discussion with the people commissioning the work.

Here's the image, edited quickly, who NO catchlights:

Finally, here's an image (just below), edited even more quickly, that shows a compromise between the two extremes. There is no "right" way and I chaff at most retouching of things that occur in the actual shooting, but I'm curious to hear what others think. Not that I'll change the way I do stuff but......

I have switched to back button AF, so there is that....


Still thinking about composition. Half the frame is content the other half is non-tent.

This is a photo of novel writer, singer and sometimes political candidate for Texas Governor, Kinky Friedman. He's an Austin icon. I had a good time wrangling him into the studio and getting him to sit still (almost impossible) and usually I talk about the gear I use to shoot something like this or how I lit the shot. But lately I've been more interested in composition.

As I examine more and more of my older, square compositions I can see that there is a balance between the amount of space my subjects occupy and how much is left over. It seems, usually, to be a 50:50 balance between the two, which much make sense to some part of my brain.

The bonus, for me in this photo, is the wonderful diagonal of Kinky's black hat. Nothing I planned but maybe most portrait moves are better explained by the book, "Blink" by Malcolm Gladwell....




The folder full of sky.

I was mentoring a younger photographer who was hellbent on being an architectural photographer. I have no interest in architecture beyond hoping that architects concentrate on making the buildings and houses that I must look at everyday.....pleasant and interesting. I'm not at all into conceptual architecture but happy when it only exists in plans.

At any rate, I've done at least several hundred assignments for magazines, home builders and industrial builders, documenting the interiors and exteriors of all kinds of structures. For nearly everyone of those assignments I used a some kind of 4x5 inch view cameras and had mostly mastered the quick use of front and rear standard rises and falls. Almost all the assignments were done on film.

So I was showing the photographer how and why to use the rise on his tilt/shift lens and we started talking about a job he'd just done. He was a bit miffed with the results because the house he was assigned to photograph could only be done on a specific day, and that day had been plagued with a bald, ozone-y sky. The light on the house was fine but the sky was a whitish-gray mess.

I suggested that he just grab a good sky from his files and drop it in behind the house. This is the age of PhotoShop, after all. He didn't have a "sky' folder. He immediately went into male photographer problem solving mode = (Google) and started looking for stock skies. I just shook my head.

I think every working, commercial, professional photographer; no matter what their specialty, should have a folder on their computer that's filled to the brim with high res shots of skies. Morning skies, evening skies, big Texas Cloud skies, glowering thunderhead skies, high/thin/cloud skies and every other sky you can think of. In fact, when I'm out roaming around and I see a rich, blue Texas sky dotted with dramatic white clouds I can't grab my camera and a normal (or slightly wide) lens quickly enough.

This is not just advice for architecture photographers; I drop in backgrounds if I'm doing a portrait in an office that has a spectacular view that just hasn't materialized during my shoot.

If you don't already have a sky file you  probably need one and now is a great time to start. It will come in handy. Eventually you'll have an emergency sky for every occasion. We still try to get every photograph just right, in the camera, but schedules, clients, weather and bad view angles sometimes frustrate our best intentions. Dip into the file, make a new layer and fix things up.

Just remember to match the saturation of the sky to the rest of the file and to toss the sky layer out of focus if it makes logical sense.

Several years later the younger photographer dropped by for a visit. I reviewed at his portfolio. It looked great. He told me that half the images in his "book" were made with dropped-in skies and the other half were shot as straight. To his credit I could not tell which was which. He thanked me profusely and we both went outside to see if there was any sky worth shooting.....

Contrast for composition.

I'm going to bet that if we measured the space Lou takes up in the frame and subtracted it from the total area of the photograph that the subject area, and the area for the rest of the frame, would be close to a 50:50, balanced split. Somehow I think this works. It's fun when you try for a compositional effect and it actually works...


Jobs don't just wrap up when the shooting ends and the galleries get delivered. More stuff happens.

Amy sits in while we light and comp for a photo at a medical practice.

I'm beginning to think I need to re-brand as a full service advertising agency. More and more of my clients are having a hard time coming to grips with what kind of value a traditional advertising agency brings to the table. They'd like to have a single point of contact that can supply all the content they need, and with a uniform look and feel for their brand. But they are chaffing at continuing with agencies which seem to only want to concentrate and "strategize" around social media and web video.

One of the clients I've been working with recently met me five years ago when a small marketing agency brought us together so I could light and shoot video interviews of their executive team, and then also shoot traditional photographs, to use on their website, and in brochures and presentations. The agency, and the video editing house that did the post production on the client's video, both went out of business but the client did not. Nor did I.

The client (a manufacturing concern) got in touch with me last month and wanted to do a complete refresh of their materials. They had expanded their scope of services, changed some key personnel, and even added a new factory location outside the U.S. I was delighted that they wanted to have me back for more work but I quickly found that most clients without ad agencies are experts at their own business but usually much less adept at the fine points (and details required) to pull all the marketing together and make it work.

I'm used to working with art directors and graphic designers who love to see all the options from a photography or video shoot. If we shoot 1,000 images and I edit out all the stinkers and end up with 500 equally good (technically and aesthetically) photographs the art directors generally want to see all the variations. They may be looking at our collection with a very specific layout in mind. They may want a different expression than I might value. But most importantly they are very efficient at looking through lots of options to narrow down to just the right one. And they generally know it when they see it.

With the client I mentioned above the CEO is trying to do all the heavy lifting for marketing but he doesn't have the background and experience that a first tier art director would. For example, when I supplied the first gallery of images from one of our shoots he asked if I had already cropped all the images. When I told him that the art directors usually crop the images so they fit into specific layouts he seemed a bit lost. He also wanted me to edit down to just the single "best" image of each set up so he could quickly pick what he needed. Again, this is something we would have an art director do.

We need to reconstruct a video for him as well but the companies that had the original footage and motion graphics are no longer around. I'm walking the CEO through the process to the realization that you can't really just chop new stuff together with the original copy as it exists on YouTube; that we'd need to start more or less from scratch.

The company, while prosperous, isn't making much use at all of social media or inbound marketing either. While it looks like a big opportunity for someone to step in, provide good direction, make great content, and more or less lead the client through the marketing minefield I constantly remind myself that Just because somebody tosses you a ball doesn't mean you have to catch it.

I'll hang in there with this client while I try to find them a good, competent, collaborative agency to take over the day-to-day stuff that clients of this size really do require. I'm not a proficient website designer so that's got to be a priority. I'm not a graphic designer/art director so that's a priority as well. In fact, if I stick with what I do best it's going to be photography, copywriting and shooting video; in that order.

But if I try to do it all I will run out of time for the stuff I love to do. Like swimming. And the people I need to take care of. Like my dad.

Another client represents the way we've always worked but reminds me that no job is ever really finished....if the images are good, have lasting value to the client and have legs.

We shot on three different Saturdays and one Thursday for a medical specialty client here in Austin that has over 140 doctors/partners on the rolls. Under the direction of the in-house art director, Amy and I shot over 3,000 images which we edited down to about 1,500. We shot multiple teams of technicians and doctors doing multiple processes in multiple locations. And we supplied lots of detail shots that are like candy to the people designing the final work...

After the shoot we edited down the take, globally color corrected and adjusted tonality and detail, and generally made all the images immediately usable. We don't do any retouching until final images have been selected and ordered.

The galleries went up and a few weeks later the client ordered 40+ files to be retouched. The retouching had nothing to do with the quality of the images or the way they were shot but had to do with specifics that the client wanted changed. These would be things like taking a large tattoo off a nurse's arm, changing the wall color in the background. Changing the color of someone's scrubs. Fixing a fault with a doctor's white coat. Adding an embroidered name to said doctor's white coat, removing patient names from a screen file, removing wear marks from a piece of equipment, giving one talent in an image a specific hair cut and much more. Each file could take up to 30 minutes to change and perfect. Of course, we bill for this service and the clients expect to pay for it.

But if you have enough clients and they all choose different images to use in additional projects (different images and usages than the original project) you might find that the process of re-working and re-editing files to be nearly endless. Again, the scheduling problem with swimming.....

I am currently re-working files for three different clients who liked what we shot enough to re-use parts of the original takes in very different, new projects. Yesterday I got a request to prep about 200 files. Most are just minor adjustments that I can make quickly but some require more attention.

The wags among us would immediately bark out that all of this should have been handled in pre-production but they miss the point of the 21st century: clients changing their minds after the shoot. Then there are budget constraints and impossibility constraints. Yes, we could have had the wall in the Sonogram room re-painted. It would have taken time to get everyone to pre-agree on a paint color, agree on which days we might have access to the room to paint it and let paint dry (no patients=no income) and then to re-paint the wall back to its original color once our half hour in that location was complete. Not going to happen in the present era. Not when art directors are keenly aware of what can be done in post production.

We did one job for a Swiss bio-medical research company nearly a year ago and almost quarterly we get requests to re-purpose dozens of images to be used in new ways. And it's the same with video. While we remember the days when we did our jobs, got the clients to sign off on the "approval Polaroid", processed the film and handed off the sheet film (and all future responsibility) to the client, cashed our checks and closed the books on a project, that's not today's business reality.

The important thing to do in order to survive endless re-purposing is to be like lawyers. Keep track of your time, bill frequently and bill accurately. Clients need to know that every time we touch a file for them it takes resources. Our time and their money.

While I think a creative content agency would work well in today's agency climate, where most "agencies" just want to design and produce websites, I remember just how much work it was to manage staff and keep clients from fucking everything up at the last minute. I think I'll just persist in making photos and shooting random video. It seems like a safer bet for my sanity and quality of life....Now to find my goggles. Don't worry, I have many more pairs of goggles than I do cameras.

A long overdue walk with a recently neglected camera. Breaking the cycle of full frame dominance.

Downtown Cadillac. 

I've been busy lately. One of the things I've missed was the simple pleasure of taking a camera off the shelf and heading downtown to walk around, breathe deeply the urban air, and look at stuff with both arch elitism and benign naivetĂ©. 

I pulled on some old short pants and a black polo shirt. I looked very bit of 62 years old with my white socks and brown oxford shoes. I finished off the "you kids get the hell off my lawn" look with a nice pair of bifocal eyeglasses. Oh, and a baseball cap. Nothing says "I don't really care anymore" than a nicely mismatched ensemble of too casual ware. At least the camera was topical and chic...

After weeks of dalliance and intrigue with the various Nikons I thought I'd take it easy with a camera that delivers the goods without affectation or strain. I chose the Panasonic GH5 because I missed it and I also realized that I'd purchased a Sigma 30mm f1.4 Art lens for that system back in early January and the chaos for me at the beginning of the year meant that I've barely used that lens. Almost overlooked it entirely. 

A quick aside about this building: It was originally a hotel. It was originally built in the 1930's and was actually named, the California Hotel!!!  It's located on East 7th Street in the downtown bar area. Many years ago a group of artists got a lease on the property and renovated it (more or less). We had a huge downstairs display space as well as a smaller gallery for more intimate art shows. There was a commercial kitchen in the back. We never air conditioned the building and we never added an indoor shower either. The shower was in the back courtyard and the "air conditioning" consisted of cheap fans from the hardware store. At one time an art director from Texas Monthly Magazine had her painting studio here, across the hall from my one room,  an upstairs, studio and living space (a futon I could roll up if I needed to shoot). Musician, Charlie Sexton had a room in the left top corner while mine was on the right. We also had the curator of the Laguna Gloria Museum in residence as well as any number of wonderfully eccentric artists. I started hanging out and working here in the late 1970's, early 1980's. This was home to my first solo photography show. I made my first "important" portrait here (a 4x5 format portrait of Mike Levy, then publisher of Texas Monthly Magazine) and I did my first photo-illustration assignment for Texas Monthly in the down stairs gallery. I left after I got a teaching assistant's position at UT. The dream of air conditioning was finally realized. The nostalgia for a simpler time remains.

I'm a new convert to the "back button focus" cult. I tried it out on the Nikons, liked disconnecting the shutter from the AF and decided to see if the same set up was possible on the Panasonics. It is! In the space of several weeks I've gone from having everything tied to the shutter button and shooting only in center-sensor-single-frame AF to full on, full area AF in continuous AF. It's a weird pleasure to watch the little green boxes race around the confines of the EVF until I let go of the back button and realize that we're locked in until I decide to change something. I like it. No more focus and re-compose. I feel unfettered. The camera feels unleashed. Let the torrents of "I told you so..." begin. 

I had another "mini-epiphany" this morning. I decided, after looking through some of the 550,000 images I have up on my Smugmug.com account, that I tend to post process my images to be too bright, too flat and a bit too saturated. I spent this morning talking myself off the ledge of infinite shadow recovery. Tougher than kicking other bad habits but something to work on all the same. 

The image just above, of café chairs and planters is my attempt to ratchet down the drama to an acceptable level. I need to work on getting the mix just right but at least it's a start...

I have a few observations to make about the lens. The Sigma 30mm f1.4 "Art" lens is nicely sharp and contrasty. It's big but lightweight. The supplied hood is nice and deep. Images like the ones in this blog post aren't really a challenge for many lenses since most were shot at f4.5 or around there. I've been shooting some at the wide open aperture and find that, where I am focused, the content is nearly as sharp and contrasty as that at the medium apertures. I like the lens and the focal length very much; even more so when I use the camera in "Hasselblad Square" mode. The focal length seems just right for the square format. 

With my appreciation of this lens realized I am looking forward to trying out its wider sibling, the 16mm version. They, along with the legendary 60mm f2.8 Sigma lens would make a very nice and compact traveling system for the photographer who prefers individual focal lengths over zooms. 

Today is post production and studio cleaning day. My swim is done, my walk is over. Now to put my brain back into the game of doing my business and getting stuff done. At least until late afternoon...It's my turn to cook dinner and I've got steak and salad on my mind. Along with a nice, S. African red wine (a blend) that's just begging to be uncorked...

Go Cameras!

Looking though some wine and restaurant shots made with "ancient" cameras and lenses....

I understand that some people think the universe of commercial photography is falling down around our us but I've been extremely busy in May. At least it feels that way once I toss in the responsible adult parent care I'm also trying to handle. Last week and this week are a case in point. I shot and processed four different jobs last week, work that also included time consuming travel back and forth to Mexico, but I spent time engaged in a different adventure on Sunday and Monday. I headed back down to San Antonio on Sunday afternoon to get my father prepped for a very early appointment on Monday morning. Our event of the day was an early morning trip to the hospital to have his pacemaker replaced. Now I know all you electro-physiologists/cardiologists sprinkled through our VSL readership will probably roll their collective eyes and tell me what a trivial procedure a simple, sub-cutaneous replacement of the generator only is but I'm here to tell you that the real trick is getting a cranky 90 year old with some memory issues up from a deep sleep, through his morning rituals and into a car at 5:45 in the morning. And me without an ounce of even bad coffee....

Everything went well; better than I could have imagined (I'm an anxious pessimist....) and we were back at dad's memory care facility in time for a late lunch. Once I'd briefed the nurses on the procedure, and my dad headed back to his room to listen to the classical music station and take a nap, I got back in the too familiar car and headed back to Austin. I needed to get home; I had a shoot scheduled for the next day and I needed to pack cameras and think through the requirements of a different kind of shoot. 

Yesterday's assignment was at midday and over by around 3pm, which was great since I like jumping right in and getting all my post production done in the moment. While I watched the files upload I finally had time to bill for the last four assignments. I was pleased to find that I had been able to make my accounting target, my "nut" in the first week of the month. I kicked back and started the upload of the day's assignment to a private gallery on Smugmug. 

While I was on the site I started looking around at some of the other 550,000 images resident there. I stumbled across a folder of images from a story about wines that I'd done for Tribeza Magazine back in 2006 or 2007. I was pleased with how well the images held up. 

As you are aware I've been having a flirtation with older cameras lately. More specifically, cameras like the Nikon D2Xs, which was the most expensive camera I ever bought brand new. When I looked through the images from the wine story I was amazed at how much I liked the actual photographs. The color, the sharpness and even the out of focus background areas. I kept hitting the "info" button on the files to see what camera and lens I had used. Almost every wine image in this blog post was done with the D2Xs but the real star (in my mind) was the 28-70mm f2.8 Nikon lens on the front of the camera. I think it was one of the finest lenses I have owned in any system and the testament to that is that most of these images were shot handheld at the lens's maximum aperture.

Yes, now I am on the search for a mint condition 28-70mm f2.8 AF-d. I know that just by writing this I will almost certainly boost the price I'll end up paying for a nice copy. But really, I can just imagine how nice the images will be when I use this lens on one of the D800's. Or, even better, on a D700.

After last week I was thinking we'd slow down a bit but I just got hit with a request to post process several hundred images from several shoots done earlier this year, then we have an assignment with a new doctor on Friday and over the weekend we'll finalize plans and budgets for a new video project for one of my ongoing manufacturing clients. Oh, and of course, the Sunday visit for lunch with my dad. 

All the work has disappeared? Maybe not. Maybe the marketing disappeared.....


The agony of unpacking. The near opposite of the joy of unboxing.

I see videos everywhere in which the main subject is "unboxing" a new camera, lens, flash or other object of desire. They pull out each piece and remark about how great it will be for their work, which seems a little off since there work seems to consist of.....just unboxing things on YouTube. Sometimes they will also read off the specifications of the new object in an attempt to....flesh out the droll nature of their content.

Today, after two large production shoots in two different countries, and one smaller production shoot piggy-backed on top, I have the displeasure of pulling all the gear out of a collection of black cases (some "rolling", some not) and assessing each piece before putting it back in its rightful spot. Only by putting things back where they go will I be able to figure out where they are next time I need them.

Leaving gear in the travel cases is not a good option for me because I am certain I'll be packing a different selection of equipment the next time I head out the door.

I start with the easy stuff first. Those are the stand bags and tripod bags. Yesterday's shoot called for a total of 9 light stands, 2 flex fill holders, a giant scrim frame and two tripods. All of those things come out of the dark recesses of the bags, are examined for breakage or missing parts and then put into the stand holder or tripod holder near the door of the studio. This makes it easy for me to select just the right stands in the future. If they lived in the bags I'm pretty sure I'd forget about them entirely. Why do I check the condition of this gear? Let me answer that with my own question: Have you ever gotten to a shoot only to discover that you've lost the quick release plate for the head of your tripod?

Next up is the case full of cameras and lenses. I blow off all camera bodies with compressed air to get rid of dust and junk that may have attached to the gear. Best to get rid of it before I take lenses off bodies. I check the fronts and backs of every lens for dust or surface marks. Any lens that needs cleaning gets it right way. The quicker you handle a nasty thumbprint on the glass of your lens the less chance that the acid in the oils from your skin will etch into the coatings of the lens and degrade its performance. A clean lens is a happier lens.  But if the lens doesn't require wet cleaning don't do it reflexively  ---- better to keep your lenses clean than to keep cleaning your lenses.

Once we've separated lenses from bodies I pull the batteries from the cameras and put them on their chargers. Better, in my mind, to have topped up batteries in the equipment drawer because you never know when a good client might call and ask if there's anyway you could come over soon? Or you might have the opportunity to do a fun, spur of the moment project. Why wait for exhausted batteries to recharge as a reactive response to an opportunity?

I also pull the memory cards and download all needed files, backing the content up initially in two new places. In this way I never get to a location, find my only card already loaded with valuable images, rendering me incapable of doing new work. Having a workflow or post shoot process keeps me from making unintended errors.  Better to just get stuff done than to try and remember what you did and did not do. And what you might need to do next.

Next up, cords get wrapped, (or re-wrapped, if a non-cord certified person offered to help by (mis)-wrapping your cables at the last location) so they don't develop unruly kinks and bends. Re-wrapping your extension cables, power cables and microphone cables also lets you know when a cable has gotten dirty or greasy from a less than tidy location and needs to be cleaned. If you take care of your tools they will take care of you.

Portable electronic flash gear and battery powered LED panels get checked to make sure all the parts for each unit are in their cases and that everything is functional. Now is the best time to find out sad news about the operational status of a piece of gear. You may have time to replace or repair it before it is needed again. Mostly, I'm looking to recharge all the batteries and check for breakage.

Finally, all the cases are cleaned out and sometimes vacuumed. You pick up a lot of dust working in busy industrial sites and you might as well keep it away from your equipment if you can. Once the cases are emptied and cleaned they go back onto the shelves they came from. If the cases are empty I can quickly pull down a preferred case and fill it with new gear rather than having to unpack under what might be a future tight schedule.

All of this takes time on the day of unpacking but being organized is much more efficient than "winging" it. If everything goes into cases in a logical order it's so much easier to work on busy location. If you did your packing well you know where every component is at all time. Your unpacking gives you the chance to see just how good your organizational skills were and to make improvements for the next time. Works for me.

At this point I am done stowing the photo gear and ready to reward myself with a nice cup of coffee.


Small child grows up and gets ready to graduate from college...

I took this photograph of Ben when he was in kindergarten. The school was celebrating Texas history and had asked the kid's to dress like "Texans." Ben wore his boots, of course, and what little Texan doesn't have a selection of cowboy hats? I thought the bandana was a nice touch as well.

Now I have to come to grips with the idea that my kid has grown up and is about to graduate from a nice little college and head out into the real world. I'm pretty sure he is more ready than I ever was at his age. He has the benefit of having inherited a distinct level-headedness from his mother, as well as her common sense about money and hard work. I have no doubt he can handle pretty much anything.

We're heading up to New York in a couple of weeks for the graduation ceremonies. If I had my own airplane I would certainly take Studio Dog along for the show. She'd enjoy it but she is averse to flying. She refused to fly coach. Much less the cargo hold. I'll just have to Skype with her...

The big question, of course, is what camera to take along to a college graduation. I've never been to one before. I left school as soon as I got my degree and spent the next few months backpacking. The whole process seemed silly to me then. It's another story now, I actually paid for this one. Maybe that's why parents feel so invested in attending their kids' graduations.

I'm thinking I should take the old Nikon F2 out of the drawer, drop the 105mm f2.5 onto the front of it and load it up with Tri-X. Maybe take an extra three rolls along in my pants pocket. Either that or head to the opposite extreme and take a Sony RX10iv. You know, for the extra reach...

Then again, this photography thing at the event, it's not my job. Perhaps I should leave the cameras at home and just support whomever the school hires to take the official photos of the young adults getting their diplomas. That would be the ethical thing to do. And I wouldn't have to pack more stuff.

On another topic, I've been trying to decide what to get my kid for graduation. I thought, because he is such a good kid, I should spring for something special, like an Aston Martin Vanquish but my banker put the kibosh on that one and the insurance company offered supporting testimony for my banker's reasonable stance. Another dilemma to ponder....

At any rate. Another chapter in life closes. Another one begins. Funny, I was just re-reading Ian Fleming's novel, Goldfinger. The first chapter is entitled, "Reflections in a double bourbon." I guess everything can be a chapter. That one just sounds so......Mad Men.

I always remember the final line in "Diamonds are Forever" by the same author. The line is about the life of secret agent, James Bond. It says, "It reads better than it lives." don't know why I find the line so entertaining, but I do.

If you haven't read an Ian Fleming novel, and all you know of James Bond is the movies, can I suggest you pick up a copy of "Moonraker" and make yourself very, very happy? It's ironic. "Moonraker" is Ian Fleming's best James Bond novel and yet it's the worst of the many James Bond movies. Go figure.

(And don't tell me you never read fiction or you'll be pilloried in the comments section. Really!).

Self Portrait near the painting booth. Matamoros, Mexico.

Happy to see that the self timer on my new camera works.

I spent Thursday doing post processing for my images from Matamoros. I shot everything as raw files in the Nikon D800 and ending up with 600+ huge photos. The photos got imported into Lightroom and had some shadows lifted, some highlights tamed, and most got little nudges and tweaks to the color. It's nice to have the full, 36 megapixel files when doing post processing but once you've gotten the file the way you want it I think most people who use commercial images are happy to get photographs that are about 6,000 pixels on the long side.

I set that as the output size and converted the photos to Jpegs using 96 as the quality setting. This results in files that weigh in at about 13-14 megabytes. Today I am post processing work I shot this morning on the main stage at Zach Theatre as full size, 7360 x 4912 pixel files. After conversion to Jpegs these weigh in around 22 megabytes of info per. This morning's shots will certainly be used in print, and also blown up large as Duratrans for exterior signage, and perhaps even used on life-size posters in the theater's lobbies. I'm sure that today's art director will welcome the extra information in this case.

I like doing my basic post processing as a quality check, and I like doing it the same day or the very next day because the feedback loop is so powerful. Every time you shoot and then look at the results you see what worked and what did not. Did you need more fill light? Less fill light? How's your focusing technique? Did you estimate the coverage of depth of field correctly enough to keep two actors, one standing a few feet in front of the other, in sharp focus? I was shooting full frame today and I'm coming from nearly a year of shooting M4:3 format so as I've buzzed through the files on the large screen I've cringed occasionally when I've looked through a series and seen how many I misinterpreted, in terms of depth of focus. But the feedback makes me aware of how I screwed up and how I need to proceed the next time I photograph in the same way. I find that I shoot enough frames, and focus frequently enough, so that there's always some good frames that hit the mark. But until I find them I get a little nervous....

I think one of the things that makes professional photographers more "fluid" or "visually efficient problem solvers" is the fact that they shoot much more, and much more often than most hobbyist shooters. A case in point is my work this week. I did a fast moving event on Tues. which required using on-camera flash. I tried to use all my little tricks (learned over several decades) to make the lighting work without the telltale artifacts of direct flash. I did a lot of bouncing from walls and ceilings. I shot all the speakers on the stage using the available light which required balancing to the color temperature of the stage lighting, and the process made me pay attention to the inevitable compromise between using higher ISO and getting too much noise in the files. In the course of two and a half hours I shot about 600 shots which I edited down that evening to about 400. Looking through showed me immediately how well I was doing with all the technical juggling required for event work.

I spent the next day walking around a working factory and shot in a reportage style, using a camera on a tripod but not setting up very many shots. Most were more or less "found." If you shoot and review a thousand images shot over the course of a day you'll quickly see that one angle works better than any other in terms of light. Some actions are too quick to catch with a non-flash rig.  If you do use flash this higher volume of on your feet shooting gets you to distill down the best filter pack to use on the flash in order to color balance it with the color of the ambient lights. "Working" a scene for a while nets you a better selection of expressions from camera shy subjects. You need to stop and eat lunch because you need the nutrition to help you keep your focus....

The near constant feedback loop quickly lets you know that you aren't the slow shutter speed, handholding god you thought you were. You also learn that perfectly sharp backgrounds, supplied by advanced image stabilization lenses, don't mean much if the subject movement in the frame makes your main subject unsharp!!!!!!! A lesson I keep learning over and over again. All praise the noble tripod.

Today we shot on the main stage at Zach Theatre. Two great actors.  I supplied the lighting. We lit with six LED fixture; two into a 6x6 foot diffuser for soft fill, two into 42 inch flex fills for soft main lighting, and two as background/accent lights. Why did we use LEDs? Why continuous lights for stage shots? Easy answer: the entire still photography shoot (done for marketing and advertising) was being filmed on multiple video cameras by a video production company that is working with the theatre to create a program about the "making" of the play that will open at the end of the month. I figured that weak modeling lights in electronic flash units would make the filming more difficult and I also like the WYSIWYG nature of continuously light sources. Finally, we were trying to make the images look as though they came from a stage-lit shooting situation. I shot about 450 shots over the course of several hours while a giant storm raged outside the theater. I edited down to 325 to send along to the client. My feedback loop here was all about calculating the minimum shutter speed needed to freeze my subjects enough to make sharp images that would stand up to magnifications up to life-size size. Examining the files after the fact showed me that, on a tripod, and with medium focal length lenses, I could get away with shutter speeds in the 50th-125th range and stay nicely sharp. Getting near the lower end of the range I shot more frames to cover myself.

In all I've shot through over 2,000 frames this week, almost all with one cameras and mostly with one lens. I've looked, in a cursory way, at every single frame and I've looked in depth at over 1,000 frames that I touched in some regard during my post processing phase.

If you want to learn the craft all the way down to the subconscious level you might think of shooting several hundred frames per day, in all kinds of shooting environments, for all kinds of final uses, and then sit down after every shoot and examine everything you just did in detail. And do this every day.

In fact, maybe I should do a workshop in which all we do is shoot assignment after assignment and then sit in a quiet, dark room and review every salvageable single frame. The workshop would be over when the last student loses patience with me and storms out. But that's okay because I'll be back the next day doing the same evaluation and post processing on the next shoot. And then writing a blog about it so I'll have an additional resource to remind me later of exactly what I've done and how to do it better the next time....

I have a day off tomorrow. I think I'll go out and shoot.

P.S. Editing is the act of removing frames from the folder which you do not want to post process, just as editing in movie making means cutting out frames you don't want to use and tossing them. Editing: the process of shortening and clarifying through distillation or discard. Post processing is the act of changing the frames you've already chosen to keep. Post processing includes color correction, tonal correction, shadow lifting, highlight salvation, and anything else that you do AFTER you've edited down your take. Because you only make your post processing moves on frames you've chosen in your EDIT.