12.19.2010

Sunday ramble with a small camera. The EPL-1








2010 was an interesting year.  I felt very conflicted.  Our profession faltered, changed and then recovered, after a fashion.  Clients went away and some of them came back. But the structure feels different.  Before there was a camaraderie with many clients that went beyond an ordinary business calculus.  We supported each other.  We bent over backwards to make everything as perfect as we could for our clients and they rewarded us with a sense of loyalty.  Or maybe it was honesty.  Maybe it was just common courtesy.

Then the recession interceded and clients circled the wagons.  Many of us found ourselves on the outside of the circle.  The clients of the clients snapped their fingers and budgets flew out the window.  If the client screamed "stock" our client replied, "How cheap?"  Fear gnawed at them and broke the teams apart. And it was every photographer for himself.

But now the ad agencies are feeling pressure to be good again.  Not just hold the line or make the budget.  The new dictate is to go back to being good.  A lot of time's been lost for the ultimate clients.  A lot of market share got lost to fear and indecision.  And now they're coming back to the ad agencies and saying, "Show us something new.  Something we can't just suck out of a catalog.  Something that doesn't look exactly like the thousands of other variations that all of our competitors are using."

I had a client return.  They're big.  They didn't really get nailed by the downturn but they circled the wagons nonetheless.  And when they came back they didn't ask about budget.  And when the job was delivered they remarked,  "This work is wonderful.  It looks like HD in a standard world. It's so perfect it's three dimensional.  We'd forgotten that it could be like this."

And we almost forgot as well.  We (photographers) forgot that it really is much more than the regurgitation of technical skill sets.  It really is about vision and craftsmanship and art.  And there is a quality that comes from mastering working with the people in front of our cameras.  There is a difference between what we do as professionals and the legion of people who have new digital cameras.  And clients were amazed, after the long drought, that they COULD see the difference and it DID make all the work look better and it was WORTH paying for.

And I hope photographers don't forget this valuable lesson and accept the discounted status that accountants and account executives tried to foist on us when they held the leverage of the market.  We needed to have this discontinuation to remind all the parties that everyone was bringing something to the table.  And everyone was/is valuable in a way that can't be defined by spreadsheets and metrics.

And so this year of nascent recovery is coming to a close.  Three more large clients are back.  And they know that if we're turning the clock back it will be to the business practices of the time before the recession and we won't return to the ruinous pricing models of 2009.

I love this business.  It will recover.  It is recovering.  It's time good photographers everywhere stood their ground and started asking for what they are really worth.  2011 WILL be a happy New Year.

Technical info:  I left the house with an unusual camera/lens combination.  I stuck on old 38mm 1.8 Zuiko Pen FT lens from the early 1970's on the front of an Olympus EPL1 body, topped with an electronic viewfinder.  Manual focus all the way.  I found the metering on the EPL to be impeccable and the color to be.....juicy.  I spent a few quiet hours walking through downtown shooting jpegs at ISO 200.  I was happy with the results.  It made me feel good to see that I could go from a Canon 5D2 to a $499 EPL with a forty year old half frame lens and still make the same photos.  Amazes me.  

To everyone:  No matter what industry or profession you happen to be in let's push to get paid for the value we bring instead of bowing to the power of the spreadsheet and  precedent.  Especially not the precedent of the last three years.  We all deserve better.  Everywhere.  



My shameless "What I want for Christmas List".

 We can argue the evils of desire.  We can argue against consumerism.  We can look down our noses at reckless and wanton acquisition.....but let's save all that for some blog in the future when we're feeling fat and sassy.  I, like many people around the world, am kissing one of the least financially productive decades I can remember "goodbye" and hoping with exuberance that we can look forward to a decade of recovery and progress.  And that progress will include refreshing the equipment pantry with fresh new stuff.  Maybe not all at once but......

At any rate, it's fun to think about stuff you'd like to have even if, at the last moment, you get cold feet and conform to long habit of diverting the various nickels and dimes you could have used for the latest high speed lenses into your son's college fund or the ever voracious retirement fund.  Here's my list of stuff I'd love to pick up in 2011 if.......

1.  A plain jane 16 Gig Wi-Fi iPad.  I know.  It's silly when I have all these aging laptops sitting around. But I'm secretly jealous when my advertising friends whip theirs out and start doing the "finger dance" to show people they're latest stuff......Wow.  Prices are starting to drop.  Can I wait for the new product intros? Suspense.

2.  Copies of my two or three favorite movies on DVD.  I've got tons of old classics on VHS but new players are vanishing.  I'd start with La Dolce Vita and Casablanca.  Then, of course, all the 1960's James Bond movies......I know these don't have much to do with the obvious photography stuff but they are rich sources for style.....(rationalization alert).

3.  More LED lights.  The solid state future has arrived.  Here are some I want and some I want more of:  The 183 is fabulous.  I have two and want two more.  They run bright and the dimmers work well.  They can be used with lots of different kinds of batteries.  Yummy.  And, at the high end of the scale I want one (or more) of these Lite Panels.

4.  On a more practical note, I'd like a lithium replacement battery for my Profoto 600B Acute portable flash system......but I'll gladly settle for an extra lead-acid at half the price.....There are times when a small, extremely powerful studio flash comes in very handy outside.

5.  I sold off all my compact cameras in the middle of the great recession and I'm really pining for one little camera with great specs that I can shove in a coat pocket and sport around for those cold winter days.  Problem is I can't decide between the Canon G12 and the Panasonic LX-5.  Both are cool.  I'm leaning toward the LX-5 because you can use it with the electronic viewfinders from the GH series cameras.  I like eye finders and the electronic ones don't bug me.  A little price drop and I'm there.

6.  I've had my Apple 23 inch Cinema Monitor since the dawn of time.  Well, at least since the inception of the G5 machines....I'd like to replace it with the new 27 inch monitor.  My friend Paul has two and they look awfully pretty.  Awfully pretty.  But I just want one......

7.  I knew I couldn't resist more lenses for long.  I have a friend named Bernard.  He showed me his Canon 135 f2 L lens and now I can't get it out of my head.  According to all the stuff you read on the web it's miraculously sharp wide open and has a bokeh like butter (whatever the heck that means...)  I'm sure they'll "improve" it if I don't buy one quick and it will not be the way I wanted it to be....

While we're on the subject of lenses.   I keep thinking of things to like about my Carl Zeiss 50mm 1.4 ZE lens.  So much so that I'm adding the 21mm Zeiss ZE lens to my long term addiction list.  I'm trying hard to like my Canon 20mm but it's not trying very hard in return.....

8.  Here's something I want but I don't know if any of us will get it.  I want a brand new historical novel from Steven Pressfield.  I loved his Gates of Fire,  have recommended and given away dozens of copies of The War of Art and loved all his other novels about ancient Greece and Alexander the great.  Of course,  if more novels magically appear it just gives me an excuse to give in to resistance and put off finishing my next book(s).  I'll accept that downside.

9.  There are a ton of little things I'll put on my list as stocking stuffers.  You can never have too much fast memory for your cameras so I would love it if Santa stuff a few 16 gig CF cards in my stocking.  And, you can never have too many external harddrives so I'd willing unpack a couple of these 2 terabyte disk spinners as well.

10.  The last category is "studio comfort".  There are two things I need in the studio to make everything wonderful.  I need a pair of these crocs so I can go from the cold pool deck to the cool studio and still keep my (size 10) feet warm.  I like crocs.  Don't care if they are out of fashion.  They are strictly pool and studio wear.  I'll put on shiny shoes for clients.  And I need something to play raucous music on when young models and ad people are here that also sounds good when I'm playing Joni Mitchell and the Beatles from my time......I like this system.  It's just right for my space.

I tend to be modestly frugal.  I'll probably just opt to get myself another pack of those great double A alkaline batteries from Costco.  They're always a big hit in my office!  Dreaming is fun.  I'd be interested to know what's on your list.

happy holidays.