It was super cool that Colorado Public Radio brought me and one of the couples from my Denver In Color book in for an interview the other day on race and the book. You can see the write up and hear the interview on the CPR web page here.
It was super cool that Colorado Public Radio brought me and one of the couples from my Denver In Color book in for an interview the other day on race and the book. You can see the write up and hear the interview on the CPR web page here.
Well folks it’s been a very long time coming but the whole project that I started way back is not only done but fully printed. The Denver In Color project is now available in book form and you can get it direct by clicking this link.
The great people at our local TV station 9 News did a piece on the book that’s really well done. You can see it here:
Well folks meet my 2005 Suzuki DL650 V-Strom.
I picked her up late last summer with the intent of using her, yes bikes are always female just as ships are, to help get me places that my trusty Honda simply won’t. For those of you not familiar with these things the Strom is what is referred to as an Adventure Touring bike. It’s essentially a street bike with the engine and suspension set up to be able to go off road. Some Adventure bikes are more dirt oriented in their set up and others are more street. The Strom is more street which is fine for me. Think of it as a hot Subaru with a lift kit, skid plates and sorta knobby tires: reliable as heck and rather comfy for long hauls on the interstate but if you need to go down a hundred miles of very rough, muddy, rutted and rocky roads it will also do just dandy. Not gonna take her on tight and highly technical trails though. That’s more “Jeep” territory whereby they are just the ticket for crawling along impossible terrain but are horrible on the highway. Other bikes are more designed for the seriously rough stuff. The Strom is the right balance for me.
All that stuff on her? Well that’s my trial load out for my big trip up to Montana that I will be doing in a few weeks. The shot above was done about two weeks ago when I was finishing up two days on the bike doing some work in the lower part of the state around Pueblo. The big trip will be two weeks on the road following essentially the spine of the northern Rocky Mountains doing some work but mostly a set of portraits for a project of mine. I needed some way to get me up there into what could be sorta rough territory with ease. Thus the Adventure Bike.
Squashing all my necessary gear into the limited space that a bike gives has been and interesting challenge. I’ll have a whole post on just what I’m taking and how I’m making it all work.
I have no problem admitting that I’m a bit of a behind the scenes (BTS) junkie. If you are in my office you will regularly see, if not the news, some sort of tutorial or BTS video playing on my secondary screen while I’m working on something else. This is because I want to not only be learning constantly but about all things possible. What has been really bothering me is that when photographers post BTS videos they so often forget to tell us anything substantial. We get “here’s our location, here we are laughing while the model gets her makeup done, check out my cool shoes, check out this neat motion swoop we did with the video rig which almost shows my lighting setup, here are some artsy frames of stuff that doesn’t really show us anything except for how artsy we are, here’s a clip of me gesturing to the model and fade out to my logo” … all in 93 seconds. I’m sorry folks but what the heck does that tell me, a fellow photographer about how you work, any maybe more importantly: what does it tell a potential client about what you are like to work with? Not a whole lot.
The intent of these sorts of promotion pieces, because that’s what they are, is to inspire people to hire you. Otherwise they are nothing other than frippery to stroke your fragile ego. Now don’t get me wrong, there are some photographers who do it right. However I’m usually having to watch one two second section ninety eleven times to see that one important, to me, thing that is glossed over. BTW it seems that almost always when a BTS is posted by a major magazine, Vogue, or company, name of importance, they post the most meaningless and content less versions of this. I mean if you are going to post a video of Annie Liebovitz on set with Robert DiNiro how is it possible to not show us or tel us anything interesting other than “yeah that’s Annie and Bob”?
What I want to know is: why did you do what you did? More importantly when the subject is a person: how did you interact with the subject? I sometimes get the internal thought process but I never seem to get the photographer/subject communication. I more than anything else want to hear how Annie and Bob chat and what directions she gives him. I never get this! There is never audio from the actual shoot that means anything. Instead we get upbeat music and not the voice of the supposedly important person in the video: the photographer. I even watched a BTS where all the models were briefly interviewed and glowed about how wonderful it was to be shot by “some big name dude” but we never heard a word from the photographer during the entire video. How is this possible?
I will give a nod to Peter Hurley. Since he is a headshot shooter and is a major instructor these days he knows that his interaction is a critical aspect of what he does so he is very good about including his interaction with the subjects. Him aside the rest of you out there need to don a mic and let us in! It’s the subtlety of interaction and your personality that in many cases is going to clinch the deal of you getting that job. Your folio says that you can shoot. You as a person, and a BTS is a great way to show this, says what it is like to work with you.
Just a thought for ya!
Pic o’ the day:
This is why I always have a camera in my hands. I had just arrived at the location and was walking about getting a lay of the land to plan out my shoot. My handler and I stopped and I looked down. There was Ricky standing in this green tape box with green shoes. Click!
My work for the last few years has developed this neat-o split personality. I do portraits and I do reportage. Sometimes I get to do that for the same assignment which is to me very cool.
I do a lot of business profiles and to me it’s important to not only make the head dude/dude-ette look cool but also, if at all possible to show the people who work there who don’t wear the fancy suits. When you realize that the big guy that you are photographing has maybe ten minutes to spend with you, ya need organization and the ability to make a lot happen in no time with no fuss. That’s when I drag in all the cases of lights and stands and impressive looking stuff. I make a plan which usually consists of 2-3 different looks in one general area so that I can be as efficient as possible. I usually figure that I really only have five minutes to get “John Bigbooty, President of Megacorp, with their new SuperWidget XL2”. Once that is done I pack up all the gee-whiz stuff and go light and mobile: one body and usually just my 24-70 which which to head back to the engineering lab where they are hard at work developing the SuperWidget XL2 PLUS.
I love these assignments as they very clearly represent my two selves: the lighting it just right meticulous me and the freewheeling “screw the technicals – this is neat-o!” me.
Case in point: I did photos at a Denver company called MMLocal who is making waves with their small batch and rather artisan pickles. It’s run by two friends who are super dudes and they were a lot of fun to shoot for the five or so minutes that I could pry them away from running their quickly growing company. BTW I really lucked out here. They look a bit a like, dressed alike that day so I make the shot sorta monochromatic by shooting them against the side of their big galvanized cooler where they ferment their sauerkraut. Made their brightly colored product stand out.
Then I headed to the production facility and got this shot of one of their guys putting in a batch of pickles into the steamer for canning. Moody!
Case #2. It’s a small world and I was sent to shoot my buddies at Renegade Brewing once again. Brian O’Connor their founder and head brewmeister is a heck of-a guy but with a big expansion under way is the “one armed paper hanger”.
Then it was back to shoot the pirates in the brewhouse making the end result of Brian’s master plans.
I love these gigs. It works all of my brain and forces me to be as creative as possible in the shortest amount of time. My head often hurts at the end of the day but I like it that way.
Sorry for the delays in posting. The last few months have been a long blur of often fun and occasionally well paying but more technical than artistic jobs. Not a lot of down time which is kinda how I like it. It’s not the sorta life that most would want. Don’t get me wrong, I dig it but it would be hell for most. When people think about becoming any kind of professional creative they think about the fun, maybe glamour and certainly all the great opportunity to live a live of expression with the bonus of getting paid to do so. Yep, that’s pretty cool.
Then you have a weekend like I had.
On Saturday afternoon I did one of the last couples interviews for the Denver In Color project that is coming to a close and it was a good one. I felt pretty good in that we got a super cool gay couple who in many way reminded me of the balanced and cooperative relationship that I have with my wife Angela. Was cool. So I came home and proposed taking us out. Shes a writer, as I’ve mentioned before, and had been hard at work writing all day so my plan was perfect: get some ribs from our favorite BBQ joint and take them to one of our favorite local breweries to chill out for the evening.
Fast forward and we are there having a great time tucking into some seriously good food washed with a lovely pint, just my gurl and me. Ahh! Just minutes after dinner I start feeling like I ate too much. It’s easy to do with stuff that good. But ten minutes later on the way home I start honestly feeling ill of the “Gosh I hope I don’t barf in the car” sort of way that really ruins a great day not to mention a date night out with the lady.
Wind the clock forward about a hour and a half and yepper! I’m sick as a dog. I’ll spare you the details but the term “projectile” is often used. And in this case was used for hours on end. Not good. No sleep that night; alternating between shivering and puking . I wake up Sunday afternoon feeling like I’ve gone three rounds with young Mike Tyson. Body barely works, my mind in a haze, can’t eat anything, dehydrated as heck. Aw-ful. I slept a bit but mostly just sat on the couch in a daze. The wife did her Google magic and finds that I caught the Norovirus which is that nasty thing which wipes through all the people on cruise ships that we’ve read about on the news before. Joy! Said that I would be out of commission for 3-4 days easily.
I’ve got two shoots on Monday and neither can be rescheduled as they are right on the publishers deadline. Argh.
So what happens? Monday morning I get up automatically at 6am as I always do, get a cuppa joe and go to work after not having eaten in essentially two days. I was maybe 70% functional. However I was only partially dead and that’s more that I need to get things done. Why? I’m a professional and people are relying on me. Not just to show up but to do my job as well as on my best day. No second chances, no excuses.
This “wisdom” was the first thing that I told to my new intern Chrissy when I picked her up Monday morning to assist me the first time. (Say “Hi” Chrissy, they are all looking at you …) I explained my weekend and said “… so this is the life. This is what it takes”. With that we were off and running. Ended up being a really fine day. The photos were good, the clients happy and all crises were avoided. Moral of the story, Never Say Die! BTW Chrissy is a total champ so expect to hear more about her in future episodes.
Here is the ab-fab Chrissy and I standing in for our subject the owners of the Grimm Brothers Brewhouse shoot that we did. Amazing beer! (For new readers, she’s the cute one)
… it’s magic! Seriously. Ok to make sense of this it’s confession time: I am a multitasker in a major way. I have two monitors and the secondary one is where I put my tool bars and such when I’m editing photos or video so that I can have my bigger main monitor dedicated to my image workspace. However over on the second screen I often have the news, YouTube videos or when I find something cool a tutorial/webinar going on. I don’t need 100% of my brain working to edit photos, work on promos or send out invoices. Thus I use my ability to process multiple streams of information to my benefit/need for information. It works for me and it freaks my wife totally out that I can do this. She needs total silence when she writes.
I was listening to a webinar the other day from a highly successful commercial photographer and he kept saying two things that really stood out. 1) I’m not so much a photographer but an illusionist, and 2) sell the fake!. This is because like so much of commercial photography his work is based on composites rather than single “straight” images. Not that there is anything wrong with this practice; it’s just not what I do. Nor is there anything wrong with the photographer that I was listening to. He’s very good at what he does and is an inspiration to many. Heck, I have one of his books of portraits! More like what he does is the opposite of what I do.
I don’t want to fool people into believing that some amazing image is real that really isn’t. That’s why I don’t do fashion or glamour photography: I like imperfections in people as it’s what gives them character and frankly I dig character. What I want to do is show people amazing things that are totally real only they didn’t get a chance to see it until I revealed it to them. No slight of hand, no mirrors. Just letting them see the magic that is hidden in the mundane.
The other day I was out with my friend Dan the architecture shooter and I grabbed this frame:
I showed it to him and he said “Wow! Where did you find that?” I pointed to the staircase that we were standing next to. I loved that he sees buildings and space with his wide angle “all seeing eye” perspective and I do the same but with my pseudo-macro funky details view. That’s my job: give perspective to the dazzling but hidden things that surrounds us. That is, to me, an more interesting trick than to make up something and convince people that’s its real.
Two things came up lately that has prompted me to make this confession. First off I came across an interesting opinion piece on PetaPixel where the photog who wrote it talks about how heavily modern commercial and PR photography relies on digital image manipulation. I won’t call it “retouching” as reconstruction is more like it. The reliance is so great that in many ways the industry depends as much or more on PhotoShop than the photographers who supply the base images for the manipulation.
We know what we are talking about: composites where the final image is made up of 30+ separate shots, bodies of famous people being reshaped, skin being rendered into that which resembles a rubber mask devoid of texture … all that rot. Images that look impossible because they are. They are fantasy. Illusions. Somebodies preconceived notion of what things, and people!, are supposed to look like.
As a result we have a populace who feels inadequate with their appearance, “I must be ugly. Look at how perfect her skin is in that ad!”. They feel like failures because their lives are pale and hollow in comparison to the dream like worlds that their favorite celebrity seems to live in. They believe what they are shown even though what they see is a lie being told in the name of commerce.
The second is that I made a new friend the other day who is a professor of political science at UC Davis who’s research focuses on the media and how what it does effects our society: policy and discourse. We got to talking about her work and the reality that people are misinformed constantly by the media. Not that it’s a huge conspiracy, it’s just the way it works. That and the fact that the media is owned largely by only 6 or so companies so there is very much a unity of voice in the news world.
Since the bulk of the media is based on things other than factual “news” reporting, things like (fashion, sports, entertainment) most people form their opinions about what is important from as much commercial/advertising imagery as they do from supposedly unbiased reporting because they consume so much of it all. Yet when you look at how when one bit of misinformation gets through the news fact checking filter it becomes very hard to remove it from people’s minds. Fact becomes fiction. Moon landing anyone?
When you add it all together it’s amazing that anyone knows which way is up anymore. Maybe we don’t.
I try. It may be futile but I’m going to give it my best go and always. I was thinking about all this and it hit me that I am a visual non-fiction storyteller. I don’t retouch. The clone tool is to remove dust spots not blemishes. I don’t/won’t try to create imaginary worlds for my subjects to be superimposed upon. Every image that I show in my folio and to my clients is a real moment. No fakery. No “I’m so clever” going on here. If I were to do so it would, to me, mean that I am more important than my subjects. Than I can create reality better, whatever that means!, than the most splendid thing that actually exists. Mostly though, if I am a fiction photographer, what purpose do I serve? What is the intent of my work other than to make money and aggrandize myself?
No, that wouldn’t do. Let me instead elevate the common. To show the strength, nobility and decency that lies not just within us but around us as it quietly goes about its humble work. Yes, let’s do that. I promise to show you the truth as I see it in all its imperfect glory.
P.S. For those of you in the fiction creation world: no offense intended. I’m pretty sure that you live at a pay scale that guys like me will never touch. Must be nice. But my heart just can’t let me live happily on those terms.
Things have been overly busy here at world headquarters and when that sort of thing happens you go into a mode whereby the important things get done and everything else waits until you can either personally get to them or you can delegate to someone else. Case in point, I've been trying to teach our cats to reply to emails that arrive at the office while I'm in the field but so far no luck. Alas it would have been great if I could get the fuzzy little buggers to order some office supplies the other week.
Ya see, I finished up a shoot for a commercial client who wanted the raw files so that their in house GA's could process them for the advert but low and behold I ran out of jewel cases to ship the dvd in. No problem I thought, I'll just swing by the store on the way to the post office and get a big 'ol box of them like I always do. You see the foreshadowing going on don't 'cha? Well I go to my usual store and they don't carry the full sized jewel boxes any more. I only ship optical disks in the full thickness jewel cases or the big DVD cases so that they don't get damaged in shipment despite the padded mailers that they are in. The only ones that I could find were the fragile slim jewel cases. Two more stores later and nothing. Seems that the big office supply stores are phasing CD's, DVD's and all related supplies entirely out of their stock. Wha? Yep it's all USB thumb drives from now on. Ok I partially get that: I have a few of them for swapping files from one computer to the other but that got me thinking:
Is this actually practical for a business like mine to use thumb drives for file delivery?
Well they are pretty cheap, a 4gb thumb drive is all of about $5 these days and that is a pittance overall. Heck bill that to the client. Ok but I have always had a label on the disc which indicates who, what, where and all that so the client can easily look at it and know if that's the disc that they need. With my logo and contact info on it every time they look at one of my discs it is essentially a marketing impression. But on a thumb drive you can't put that info on the tiny thing. Ok maybe a simple logo but that's it. So you are asking the client to pop one drive into their system and open up your files just to see if that's the one that they need to access? I don't think so. Then there is the question of if you are going to be sensible and hold on to the original files as a backup, many of my clients do this as their archiving isn't what it should be, where do you store the thumb drives until you need them, a shoe box? Or maybe you just throw them away. Personally I send out easily 100+ jobs on disc a year. Multiply that by all the other people who need to do this. That freaks out my quiet inner ecologist thinking of the millions of thumb drives and all their toxic materials in landfills. Maybe send the thumb drive with a stamped return mailer so that you can get the drive back and reuse them.
So I contacted a few good clients, told them the story and asked for their thoughts. They were surpprised at the death of the CD/DVD in the business world. Thumbdrives were not the answer from their point of view for basically the same reasons as I came up with. So now what?
Luckily we can still get optical discs and cases online but not at Staples or Officemax or othe big box retailers. I wonder that the near future holds though as we need some manner of large file transfer that addresses these issues.
I often say that illusions are important to maintain. We all keep a certain amount of fantasy, healthy delusion, mystery and in some cases outright subterfuge in our lives to get by. Generally there is not only nothing wrong with it but in fact it’s both normal and necessary. Heck sometimes it gets us out of bed just so that we can be productive “I gotta go to work, can’t let the team down”. Especially when you know that you could go absent and it wouldn’t really effect productivity.
The main illusion that I maintain is that I am unbiased and unaffiliated. I am biased and I have some pseudo-affiliations but I do my best to keep all that to myself. This isn’t easy when we live in the era of instant information. Keeping your “digital fingerprint” clean and undetected requires a bit of work.
Shortly after Google became, well Google, I tried out the new search engine by seeing what came up in searches for a variety of things including friends and family. This was before people widely did this and the results were for the time shocking to me. I mostly found almost nothing on the people that I knew but I found one result that changed my life. I got a link to a PDF of a petition that my mother signed stating her support for some local issue or whatnot. There it was, her name, address and signature online for all to see. Now the petition wasn’t anything damning at all but the ability to so quickly acquire a link between my mother and some politically motivated action on her behalf floored me.
Fast forward to today and many of us, because of Facebook alone, have come to realize that when you post that embarrassing photo of yourself it can come up to haunt you. People have lost their friends and even their jobs because they forgot that when you post something to the net it is essentially on display for the whole world and forever.
As an independent journalist I can’t afford to appear to be in any way unprofessional or be perceived to be actively working for any sociopolitical outcome. Thus I speak my mind in person to people who I know and trust but to all others, especially the internet, I keep my opinions to myself. I am not a member of any organization that is potentially politically active or takes any overt political stances. I don’t sign petitions and don’t write checks for donations to the cause. I keep my politics quiet and my professionalism above board.
Otherwise I could be denied access to any person or group who decides that upon doing a quick search to see who this guy is that wants to do a story on them isn’t going to be fair because they found this and that on the web that displays, to them, my bias. Ever tried to get the Secret Service to let you photograph a head of state or powerful member of the government? They do a lot more than a simple Google search on you. But all modern gate keepers know to see who you are and verify if they want you to have time with their important person. So if I was to, say, get an assignment to photograph the president of the big regional power company and their PR department found that I signed a petition just last month giving my support to a state measure to fund wind power, they might tell me that the president was “unavailable at this time to be photographed.” Boom!, the door is shut. It happens.
So I keep it all professional. I realize that because of what I do everything is “on the record” and reflects upon me as a professional. That information can/will be used against me and I may never know it when it happens. If publications are denied access because of their printed bias then I can be denied because of my digital bias. As a good friend of mine says “that vigorously inhales!”
On a lighter note: here is a funky out take from a shoot that I did the other day. Always shoot what is interesting even if it doesn’t “fit the story”.
Some of you know that I firmly believe that regardless of how driven you are in your art and or business you need to have something that resembles a personal and satisfying life. I am blessed beyond belief that I have a: wife, lover, girlfriend, sandbox playmate, adventure buddy, best friend, confidante and good time gun shootin’ and beer drinking dude all wrapped into the same person. Makes things a whole lot easier! (Fewer lies to tell that’s fer sure!)
Well not only am I a visual explorer of the human experience but in the same manner am a “Bon Vivant”. I prefer not to use other terms such a “gourmand”, “foodie”, “sensualist” or worse yet “hedonist”. Rather I try to enjoy what life has to offer within the reason that a mature yet fun loving and curious person has. I have long since stopped doing things that would potentially end in carrier ending or at least modifying outcomes. So no more free solo rock climbing, illegal car racing, bar fights, gun running … you know that sort of thing. But folks I gotta tell ya, there are so many ways to get out and enjoy what you have that are simple, wonderful and good for yer soul. A few weeks ago I did a shoot at Upslope Brewing, a local and pretty darned fine brewing establishment not that far from my home, and noted that they had a “Tuesday all day Happy Hour” deal going on.
She-zam! My wife, as mentioned above, had recently made the transition from Creative Director at a local marketing company to doing her own freelance writing deal. She was rather bothered and confuzzed over the prospect of her spending the rest of her life working from her new office; which is what others would call the space we set up in the library at home. Granted working in your pajamas with the commute to the office being about eleven feet from the bedroom is pretty enticing but then I digress. I had explained to her that, given her skill set, she could go anywhere and if armed with her laptop she was essentially “at the office” and being productive. Now Upslope is one of her favorite local breweries, too many to mention in this area – sorry everyone who doesn’t live here! As a result Tuesdays when I don’t have assignments have become what I would refer to as “Remote Office Day”. With the mobile web and a our laptops we head to the Upslope tap room, grab a pint and one of their artesianal cheese paring plates and take care of biz. Yes it doesn’t suck. Today she was finishing up the editing job of a 300+ page novel and I got some marketing stuff done.
Tomorrow and the next few days will be pretty jammed with shoots and all the stuff that goes with it but today it’s pretty cool to sit here and not be under the gun. Watching the sun set on the Rocky Mountains outside with a darned tasty cold one in muh-hand and the woman of my dreams next to me is more than I would have hoped for when I decided long ago to form my professional life here. It’s all about balance.
Gawd! I hate name tags. If I am in a situation where I expected to wear a name tag it seems to me that the organizers believe that I and my fellow attendees are not capable of introducing myself or to have the person that I’m talking to do the same. The stupid ones that come in the package at your local office supply store are the worst and you know the ones that I’m speaking of. I try to be a real sport about it though. So in my usually jaunty manner tend to do things like walk up to someone that I haven’t met and because I’ve looked at their silly name tag I can say “So David Chan, assistant director of product development at CircleSquare.com, what do you think of the stuffed mushrooms they are serving?”
It certainly breaks the ice.
A wholly different situation is where I am expected to wear some kind of ID/credential while I am doing my work. I hate this even more than the “My name is …” tags because it means that I am being watched. I had to jump through some hoop to get in the door, so to speak, and I know that as I wander about doing my job it is not enough that I was scrutinized to get in but my ID is singling me out and everyone in an official capacity is paying more attention to me, who was checked out before hand, than the hundreds of other people who didn’t go through the credentialing process. And yet I am the one that they keep an eye on. Wha?
I was reading one of my industry blogs the other day and there was a bit about essentially “How can you screw THAT up?” It was in the context of if you have all the gear you could want, as large a crew of top level assistants/wardrobe/hair-makeup/post-production professionals as you want, a bunch of stunningly gorgeous models and a week at an amazing and exotic locale … how can you not make photos that people want to look at? You have it all and frankly pretty easy to boot. Upon reading this commentary I thought, in the squeaky little kids voice of comedian Gabriel Iglacias, “Yeah!”
It’s not jealousy talking here at all. It’s just a statement of fact. Most of us professional photographers don’t get the breaks whereby we get paid big money to hire an army of people to make everything happen “just so”. Most of us have constant conversations with new and old clients alike where we have to say, often, “yeah but if that’s your budget for this project we are going to have to shave something off because we just can’t pull it off for that kind of money.” We have to think on our feet, adapt, improvise and overcome the various obstacles that come with every job that we do. The ones that can do the seemingly impossible stay in business far longer than those who can’t.
If you read the blogs of any solid working pro or watch enough BTS videos you quickly get the sense that not every photographer gets to have things go his way. That’s only in the movies ya know. But some of us have it worse than others and some are used to it more than the rest.
There is a particular kind of let down which occurs when you get to the location of your shoot and you realize that everything you had hoped to find to work with isn’t there. There are a million such scenarios: have to do portraits of a big leader of industry only to find a cube farm or at best yet another of the worlds most boring conference rooms to shoot him in. Or maybe it’s a supposedly big event that should provide lots of energy for exciting images but it turns out to be mostly old dudes sitting around on lawn chairs. Maybe it’s the performer that you admire and are supposed to get interesting and intense images of but the dude is too grumpy/tired/depressed/stoned to do more than slump into a chair. You know, that sort of thing. Hey it happens!
Well I had two of them go down last week but like the ninja that I tell myself that I am, I found a way to elevate the painfully boring to the level of “Hey! That’s not too darned bad!”. I take it in stride because that’s what I’m supposed to do. Failure is not an option. Ever. The best part is that after delivering the goods I got a note from each client to the extent of “Hey I know that conditions of the shoot didn’t turn out to be nearly as cool as we had hoped but you really shot the hell out of it and the images are great, thanks!” Now THAT is cool. Makes me fee all professional inside.
Here is a shot from a similar situation: I was to make photos of the head of a software company for a profile piece. Problem was, they had just moved into a new building that still had the old occupants logos everywhere, everything was still in boxes, the head guy was only going to be in town for one day and had a ton of phone meetings lined up. I was given ten minutes between calls to make my shots. Luckily my subject turned out to be a super nice dude and was as accommodating as his schedule would allow. I shot the jebus out of it doing three set ups in that time and even with the cluttered mess about me made him look cool, intelligent, professional and personable.
My favorite was the last thing that I shot when he went back to his desk to answer the phone again. I saw the colors and reflections of the buildings outside and simply asked him to look up at me. Four frames later, the phone rang and that was the end of the shoot.
I’d love to be able to just connect the dots: this person here, light it this way, have all my trusty people do their magic and all that but I’m not sure that it would suit me. I’m not a huge fan of walking in an saying to muh-self “Argh! NOW what do I do?” but it makes me feel great when I pull off a magic trick and my clients know it.
I was on assignment the other day to do photos for a story about an exercise trend/fad that is based on classical ballet barre work. Yadda yadda. Anyhoo the client wanted some video for their web edition. Hey, no problem. Well actually it a real pain to do stills and video but hey if that's what the client wants then that is certainly what they are going to get. While I was doing my thang when I had a quick realization that the soon to be much ballyhooed Nikon D4 was going to be announced and with it will be, for me at least, a paradigm shift. Notice the quick mirror self shot that I did upon reflection, HA! I kill me!
There I am with my trusty and to a large extent beloved Canon HV20 camcorder dangling from my neck along with two Nikon D700 bodies to do stills. Often when I have to do stills and video for news pieces I have a lot more gear on me: usually each body has a pro zoom, 28-70 f/2.8 and 70-200 f/2.8 to make things nice and heavy, and the camcorder has an external mic attached, which makes for a very cumbersome working method. In those situations am quite like the guy with too few arms. Not fun but I get the job done. Oh and to make matters worse I will often wear a backpack where my extra microphones, wireless rig and a tripod with fluid head is stashed for all the video problem solving that often comes up. Again, not a simple rig to use. But soon this will be simplified with the new bodies that are coming out.
What? Why aren't you shooting with DSLR bodies that do video? Well I'm glad that you asked. First off, I don't do that much video that needs to be done at the same time as still photography which is my main occupation. Then there is the fact that except for the D3s all the Nikon bodies that do video are the consumer bodies with the crop chip and brother let me tell ya that once I got my full frame back I promised muh-self that I'd never buy a crop chip body again. You can't tell but that there self shot was done with my "secret weapon" Nikon AF-D 28mm f/1.4 that is essentially an insanely overpriced normal lens on a crop body but with full frame it's is a glorious and crazy sharp wide angle. There is no comparable lens for the smaller frame cameras so there you go.
I was not going to purchase a D3s just for video, no way. I prefer my D700's as they are smaller, lighter and less than half the price. If you are an independent such as I am you need to justify spending any money on equipment against how it will not just pay for itself but actually make you money upon that purchase within 18 months. Otherwise it costs you to own it and it is simply a waste of money. Not good business practice there. Yes I know about all the dudes shooting the Canon 5DII and all that but again there is no reason for me to purchase an entire Canon rig just to shoot some video from time to time so forget that noise bucko! Besides the 5DII has a much slower frame rate, horrible AF and is built like a toy. Yuck.
I got my HV20 before the VDSLR rage hit and within a month of me getting it it made me money and has continued to do so ever since. Also almost every client has cared not a whit about what video camera I've used. What they want is quality video that goes on the web. How I get there doesn't matter.
In the getting there even simple pro-am camcorders like the old HV20 do a better job of shooting video than DSLR's because they are set up from the get-go to do video. They autofocus and autoexpose properly and easily. They are physically set up to allow you to use external microphones and monitor the audio without adapters. They have the controls right where they need to be. Not to mention that they are cheaper to purchase than a new DSLR body. Can't go wrong. Except for the need to have another thing dangling from you while you make pictures. Oh yeah, that.
As I suspected, much of that has now changed with the Nikon D4 for three reasons: it is supposedly going to properly autofocus in video mode, it will allow you to make exposure adjustments while recording video and most importantly and fit's into the "why did it take so long?" department – you have a headphone jack so that you don't need an adapter to monitor your audio. Huzzah! Finally a DSLR that will harken the end of me lugging the HV20 about.
Does this mean that I've put in for a D4 for pre-sale? Nope. No chance. First off I never buy version 1.0 of any product much less one as expensive and complicated as a pro DSLR body. Second I'm waiting for the D800 or whatever it will be called that will be the little brother of the D4 for the same reasons as listed about my D700's. Lastly, I don't need one yet. The HV20 still works great, makes me the monies and doesn't need to be replaced. Yet. I do think that in about a year I'll put the old girl on the shelf with the other cameras from which I've moved past. The D700's will be with me for some time as they are simply superb cameras in every way. If I could get a D700 with the new video capacity then I'd honestly be set but alas it is not to be.
As they say "Time … marches on!" and for this here cowboy that's a good thing.
I swear. Just as ice cream is cold, when it’s not all melty, that just about every time I’m shooting out in public somebody asks me “How many megapixels has that got?” I tend to reply “More than I need” and with that I leave it to his imagination. It’s usually a guy who asks and we all know that guys love numbers that define things. Horsepower sells cars, torque wins races – we used to say. Pixels is the modern photographic equivalent to that adage. Pixels gives those who often don’t know better the impression that they are getting more for their money. But “we” know otherwise.
Or do we? Canon, not to pick on them, have just announced their new flagship camera the EOS 1DX. Unlike their prior line up there is no “s” model that will be a higher resolution version that is best described as a studio/big print camera. Up till now the non-“s” was designed with sports, news and general professional use in mind where higher ISO and frame rate performance was more important than pure “does that have a Hemi?” pixel horsepower. But no more. Well I won’t bother you with that rant as I’m sure that there are hundred of writers out there spouting a much more empassioned appeal to one direction or the other. Nope not here. What I have to say is:
“How many megapixels” matters less now than ever before. Huh? Let’s fire up the Wayback machine again and I’ll show you. Boy I love this device; picked it up on E-Bay for a pittance! Click! Whirrrr-ZoooM!
My first digital camera was a Nikon D1x and it’s file output of 5.74 megapixels was pretty darned high resolution for the time. Ok, ok, stop giggling, it’s true! The ground breaking D1 was barely 3 meg and the improved D1h, the “news/sports” version was faster than the original but the D1x was the “magazine/studio” camera. Well I had one, then two then briefly three but again I digress. Ok so there I was cranking out nearly 6 meg files and I had my newspaper editor freaking out telling me to crop these massive files or I was sure to clog their wire service and archiving systems. Really! But they had a point. A clean 3 meg file was almost overkill on newsprint being printed at 75dpi so they could print BIG and it would hold up. In their mind my D1x was insane! Who needs that kind of camera?
Then I ditched the D1x for the smaller, faster, better D200 when it came out. 10 meg capture baby! Again the newspapers and even some magazines told me to give them smaller files because again that kind of resolution was far more than they needed. Heck National Geographic with their great reproduction is only 135dpi! They were running double trucks from D1x files what the heck did they need almost twice the file for? Are you crazy? Yep.
Thus I was waiting for Ralph Nader to walk on stage when he was on the campaign trail in 2004 and was equipped with dual D200 rigs and got to talking to Steve Groer from the Rocky Mountain News. He noticed my cameras and said something to the effect of “Nice, but what do you need 10 meg for? A nice clean 4 meg is plenty for our work. Why do they keep giving us pixels that we throw away?” He was using two Nikon D2h which were 4 meg capture and yes that was for his purpose just dandy. He was a news paper dude but I submitted to magazines and did commercial work on my D200 so the higher resolution made sense.
But now? What is the paradigm? Not print. And except for large “point of purchase” displays in stores just about everything that you are reading or looking at is either magazine sized or more and more likely on some kind of screen. Who needs super high resolution cameras for a major advertising campaign when those images are only shown on TV and the web? Wha? The final output will be 450 pixel sidebar ads? Do we honestly need the new 80 meg capture back from Phase One to do that? Nah! I can dust off my old D1x and still crop the heck out of it and it will look just great!
Pixels and horsepower sells product to a degree. But the money that is made from photography that is not of the art or personal memory making (read as essentially wedding photography) all comes from advertising. Magazines and news papers survive not by the quality of their reporting but by their ability to sell advertising to the people who want to read the articles. Advertising is getting smaller and smaller not just in terms of budget but also in terms of reproduction size and in terms of how long they can have a campaign be out there. As a result of their target markets being found more and more on the web and the 700+ tv channels out there the demands upon us photographers to have cameras that produce wall sized prints has turned upside down. Maybe Canon figured this out and they are trying to stop the megapixel madness. Maybe Canon turned their backs on a small but very real market for their products. I dunno.
What I do know is that I don’t print my own photos and haven’t for a very long time. By that I mean I don’t print photos to look at them. I print the occasional image for my folio or for promo use. The rest stay on the hard drives. Those prints that I have made are not gi-normous. How many people do you know that actually make physical prints of their photos anymore? There are more photos being made now than ever before by a huge margin and most of them are going on to Facebook. No joke. Facebook is the largest depository of photographs in the world right now. How big are they displayed? 600 pixels wide? Oh you certainly need 20 meg capture for that masterpiece! That’s why soooo many people just take the photo with their cellphone rather than a “proper” camera. No need for more.
When you consider that many commercial photographers ditched their medium format film cameras, like Hasselblads, when the Canon 1Ds came out with it's "huge" 11 meg capture because it provided equal or better image quality then what I run around with, my Nikon D700, is essentially a tiny Hasselblad that shoots @ 8fps and gives totally pro quality up to ISO4000. That's pretty amazing. Why do you or I need much more than that?
Now for the ironic wrap up: I’m working on making huge prints. I’ve been fiddling with a project where big prints are the result. I’m still shooting with my beloved Nikon D700 but using the multi frame stitch panorama approach to achieve the needed buckets of pixels necessary. It’s easy, it works and I don’t have to spend a bunch of cash on a super high resolution camera that is even more overkill than what I currently have.
Given that here is a simple four frame stitch that I did at night with my D700 using my AF-S 28-70 f/2.8 with a 30 second exposure at ISO1600. It will make a seamless and grainless 16×20 inch print. It's about the same as a 24 meg capture but because my camera makes ISO1600 look much better than the "big" capture cameras in essence you couldn't get this shot with a D3x or 1Ds III and the medium format cameras are even more useless in this application. For things like this loads of pixels is awfully nice to have but for everything else, why are we all worked up? Stop worrying about pixels and spend more time making the pixels that you have fufill your needs.
I’ve been watching a lot of tutorials on video color grading lately. For those of you not working with video in a professional context that means that I’ve been learning how to adjust and tone the video that I shoot much like you work with still images. But not at all.
Ya see when I become Emperor things will be made consistent. We won’t have 32 different terms for the same thing so that when you learn a new discipline that really isn’t that far away from your main body of knowledge you don’t have to pick up a thousand new words for things that you basically already know how to do. Thus I’ve been learning how to “color grade” video using basically the same kind of tools that I’d use to process a still photo. And friends I gotta tell ya I just can’t believe how picky these guys get about the subtleties of the color in their video, I mean wow.
So why the heck am I torturing myself with this rot? Well I’ve been editing a large-ish video project that I’ve been shooting for a local client of mine and it’s made me want to have a better and larger set of processing tools. I have an excellent video editing suite but in the past nearly all my video work has been news/editorial and just like when being a still image news photog you aren’t supposed to play with the image in post. But for commercial work it needs to be cleaner, more interesting and maybe even slick. Depending.
This is a lot like how I had to learn how to actually use Photoshop for more than cropping. Now when I’m shooting portraits and the client wants, for instance, some skin smoothing I can do that easily. But back “then” I had no idea how it was done.
Now I’m not interested in doing feature films at all as that is way too much like work for me but I do really enjoy shooting and editing video. Much like the audio based multimedia that I’ve been working with for years video is just another way of telling stories. Unfortunately in the past when I’d have my video camera rig on me I would also have two still cameras as well making for a very clumbsy me. It’s very hard to shoot stills and video of the same time and not make a mess of it. But I had clients who wanted both and since they were paying for it and knew that it means that you have at best adequate stills and passable video, I did the best with what I had to work with.
Oh and for those of you who haven’t seen the mess that video editing looks like here is a screen shot of all the cuts, bits and tweeks I had to do just to get that two minute and a smidge piece to look that way. Ugh!
I got my first video only assignment last year and it was a very freeing experience. I was to shoot the annual fireworks held at the University of Colorado’s football stadium, (boring!) but we got a torrential downpour (Yah, bad weather!) so I spent two hours with my lens not pointing up at a bunch of meaningless flashing lights. The weather became the story so I shot it that way. Considering that I put it together on daily deadline and did it all muh-self I’m pretty happy with it all things considered. It’s raw and such but for my first “real” news video I can live with it. (It’s much better than the stuff I did when I also had to shoot stills!)
So anyway I’m doing more commercial video now and it’s freaking great. I’m be able to get good sound, put the subject in good lighting, and do two dozen takes with varying angles to then edit it together and with some post production have it, well, look good. She-ZAM!
And it’s funny because I was at a very cool seminar a few weeks ago all about better reaching advertising clients and one of the topics was “do you need to shoot video as well” and the consensus was that if you can that’s cool but to do it right takes more than just handing you, the qualified still photographer, a camera that shoots video. There is the audio, the lighting, the direction of the subject and all the editing/grading that makes it work. But I was chuckling to myself because I am not nor will I ever be a junior Spielberg but I do think that I can fake it all well enough to have people write me a check for the work that I do.
Oh and I’m just about 3 chapters away from finishing “On Directing Film” by David Mamet and I think that his insights may have effected my still photography brain even more than my moving pictures brain. How did that happen?
It’s well known that when you eat at a quality restaurant that part of what makes the food so good, besides their use of top ingredients and excellent technique, is that they put more salt, sugar and fat into the dishes than you would as a home cook. In fact the amount of sugar, salt and fat – often butter, would freak many people out to the point of them questioning if they should eat at their favorite place ever again. But again that’s what makes it so yummy – all the things that our taste buds crave is there in spades on the plate. We aren’t supposed to think about what we are eating when we are enjoying it so much. Otherwise we would never really eat dessert again huh?
I started to realize the other day that post processing images is just like that. As a professional photographer you are expected to have excellent technique and be using if you will top ingredients in your images. Natch! But these days it has become normal to use so much “seasoning” in post production that people are now used to it and in many ways expecting that what you are showing them has already been sweetened by P-Shop.
I have had a number of interesting looks and responses when I show a potential client examples of my work and explain that none of my images are composites and have the barest amount of processing; just enough to set color and levels usually. Their “Oh really?!?” is because my work looks good and so many professionals transform their images in post rather than compose and create them in camera. You know, like in the old days? It almost wierds people out for me to tell them that I could shoot the job on film and it would look great “out of the can” as we say.
Did I mention that I don’t retouch my portraits? When you look at any publication that is non news just about every image of a person, let alone product, has been worked over in P-Shop in many cases to the point of looking like a different person. Many celebrities have retouch artists who they personally prefer to make them look “right” before the publication can use the selected images. Gad!
Ok, ok, I’m still that news guy at heart … yeah. But to me the deal is that people are so used to opening up a publication or seeing adverts where women are without pores or over 30 and no hint of wrinkles that they question their own reality. We produce a world where colors and contrast are surreal. One where objects that don’t exist together are stitched seamlessly within impossible circumstances. Our ability to crank up the sensation of it all may be deadening their ability to distinguish between visual truth and fiction.
More sugar! Saltier! Spicer! Then they will be excited to buy the new, and rather useless, widget that we are selling. Maybe? No matter that they should have just made the widget actually work well and thus people will want it. That seems so, uh, old fashioned.
Given that – isn’t reality, our current one, even stranger than fiction? Can we tell when there is something clean and simple and real before us? Or is everything made glossy because we are used to making is so?
Thus let us contemplate the simple things before us. I propose that in our photography we should not necessarily be the illustrators of a hyper reality but rather illuminators of the glory of our truly three dimensional world. Can I get a “Hurrumph!”???
This to me is simple beauty: fresh picked peas from an organic garden that was started up by a fellow who wanted to grow his own food in the city. His hands say a lot about him, eh?
I know that this comes just after I posted a glowing admiration of great editors but bear with me. I often look a publications and wonder who is running the place. When the publishing industry is supposedly trying so hard to be relevant and not only hold on to their businesses but maybe even grow a bit why do so few seem to be capable of independent or creative thought? Is everyone so scared that they err on the side of “tried and true” and through that inaction get passed by? I had a discussion with an editor who I have a great relationship with about the power and importance of the cover of a magazine. We were talking about the strength and weakness of having a cover design that is essentially a formula. It’s easy to recognize if it’s done well and if you are a subscriber or have positive feelings about the publication you can pick it out of a newsstand easily. But if it’s a boring cover design that has nothing going for it why would you pick up that rag if you didn’t know that the content was stellar?
As a photographer it is my job to make the images interesting and if I am to do a cover shot it needs to be interesting while being easy to read and leave space for type. Not an easy thing to do but it can be done well with some thought and work. Then you have situations where as the photographer your design criteria are so specific and limited that there isn’t much you can do with the shot other than shoot a vertical. I saw this a while ago and it so baffled me that I took a shot of it just so that I could complain:
What gives here? I mean it almost looks like a rack of the same magazine but there are three different titles and they all have almost the same pose! These are major publications, (in a Rodney Dangerfield voice “Huh. No offence!”) that is incase they should decide to hire me sometime, but come on – that’s the best you can do? Wow.
Now I understand that there is a lot to be said for simple and clean design but there is no reason for anyone that I can think of to be compelled by these covers to walk over and pick them up. Since I’m on a roll I’ll ad in a hearty Mr. T “I pity the fool!” who had to shoot those cover shots except for the fat check that came with it. Those could have been shot by the new assistant while the “real” photographer was on the phone in the other room. So a boring shot was asked for, shot, received, edited, laid out and approved. And anyone wonders why magazines as a whole are treading water?
Being bold doesn’t mean being stupid but it does mean that you don’t passively repeat yourself. I’ve spoken about my unwillingness to repeat my own work even if it was with a different client. If you do what you have always done you usually get the same results. What the industry needs is to get creative and make content king again.
Ok, end of rant. Move along.
I have a confession to make: I wish that I had the benefit of having more strong editors influence and support me in my developing years. It’s not that I didn’t get to work with a few who took me under their wing. Jay Quadracci when he was at the Greeley Tribune gave me loads of support along with the excellent advice to “go have fun and the pictures will be there”. A big nod goes to Paul Aiken at The Boulder Daily Camera who always told me to “shoot the shit out of it”. Those guys were and are important to me and I can never thank them enough.
Because I didn’t go through the typical P-J school system, didn’t have internships and essentially have made, read as faked, my way from the “get go” some things took quite a while to filter their way to my head. One of which was the critical importance of a good editor. Now this is mostly because looking back at it I realize how many bad editors I had to deal with in the beginning. I think that they didn’t really know what they were supposed to do and acted as naively as I did in my own right.
I think that the issue was that I thought I was supposed to roam free, like the lone wolf, cowboy, rogue agent or something equally romantic, unencumbered by either convention or pesky people at the head office who coincidently are paying me for my photographic jaunt! On the other side of the assignment desk the editor most likely saw themselves as simply management: get things done, fill out the paperwork necessary – keep things clean and tidy.
We didn’t realize how much collaboration our work really is. Not in the sense that we are working together but that we are working for each other. The editor is not just the one who tells me to “go here and shoot this” but rather is my champion at the publication who is there to support me both in the field and in the office. To do my job well, not just properly, I need to have the time, access, information and supplies necessary. Much of that comes from the editor. Short notice, no real idea of what I’m supposed to see once I arrive at a vaguely described locale with a subject who may not be willing to cooperate and not having the critical something necessary to make the shot happen is a recipe for photographic disaster. Even if I apply the “go have fun” and then “shoot the hell out of it” principles the photos will likely be poor at best. Unfortunately I had way too many manager types and all too few who would make sure that I had what I needed to enable me to produce the coverage that the client honestly wanted. Too many times I had no more than an address and time with the instructions as fleshed out as “Need a shot of Dr. Pence. Vertical”.
As a news guy I learned to embrace being a tough intellectual loner to thus cope and figure things out as I went. Sometimes I had nothing more to go on than my instinct and work ethic. That’s when I started researching subjects in earnest so that I could have ideas to work with once I got there and found that I had little to work with. Unfortunately I had to do that so often that I tended to think of all editors as paper shufflers who were put in charge of professionals whose work they neither understood nor cared to have much interest in. I had the chance to shoot for very well known publications whose editor I was working for couldn’t fathom what it was like to have to make photographs in the real world.
Editor: We have a problem with some of the photos you took.
Me: Oh, what’s the issue?
Editor: Well the photos you took of her, (the subject of the story) when she was on stage are really red.
Me: Yeah. They had her in that deep red light pretty much the whole time. I couldn’t use flash while she was giving the presentation so that’s what we had to work with.
Editor: Ok, but they are really red.
Me: I used a tungsten white balance but that red has such a narrow spectrum that didn’t do much to clean it up.
Editor: I don’t like them – they are all red!
Then there is the:
Editor: How did it go? (after a three day travel story shoot)
Me: Great. I’m pretty stoked. I got excellent access, the weather was fine and there were lots of things happening.
Editor: Cool. I can’t wait to go through your shots.
Me: So that you know about 2/3 rds the way through there is a series with a couple on a bench with the big bridge in the background – the sun was going down behind them so I shot them as silhouettes. So you don’t think I botched my exposure! (laugh)
Editor: (confused) Silhouettes? Why in the world would you shoot something as a silhouette?
Me: Uh, well the colors in the sky behind them were lovely and the graphics of them on the bench with the tree on the other side of the frame with the arch of the bridge … Could make a good cover shot.
Editor: (shaking her head in wonder)
And the inexplicable:
Me: Wow. What a great time. I totally fell in love with that family – I hope they adopt me. Moments just happened in front of me effortlessly. We got horrible weather but it made for amazing light and their eyes and faces were just glowing from it.
Editor: Excellent. Did you get the cover shot we wanted?
Me: Not quite. As I said the weather was terrible so I had to find other options for that. We did three different locations just for the cover and I’m pretty happy with them.
Editor: But we told you we wanted a vertical of the family in front of their house for the cover!
Me: I know but it rained both days I was there. There was no way to do the shot when it was pouring down. Take a look at my images. I have plenty of options for the cover. Frankly their house is pretty boring looking so even if I did the outside shot with good weather it wouldn’t be that good as a cover.
Editor: No, no, no. You had specific instructions to shoot them outside their house …
(The editor was telling me this from 1500 miles away from the shoot location and had never even seen what their home or neighborhood looked like.)
Those kind ofexperiences gave me a very bad and totally unnecessary image of editors. As a result I think I became prejudiced against them fearing that the next one I dealt with would be clueless as to what I needed as a working professional. I did learn my lesson and as a result try to search out clients that understand and support their photographers. When you get a good editor you find that they are totally golden and you will bust your last nut for them as they will for you.
So here’s to the editors! You are not just looking through my images for “the good ones” you are doing all that you can for me/us so that I will in fact bring back “the good ones”.
Pic of the day: A little interplay of light and shape that I grabbed on my way to a shoot in downtown Denver.
It’s been a long time since I was in Manhattan.
Well frankly I haven’t been there since I was a kid. Although the city has
changed considerably, as have I, it’s still the most important city in the
world where everything that you could want is unfortunately sandwiched between
things that you would like to avoid. In my case it is filled with potential
clients, read as: patrons for my art, and was unfortunately blisteringly hot.
Lots more after the jump.