1.31.2011

Do you remember when we used to print things?


I got just got copies of an annual report that I worked on last year.  We started in the Summer when it was hot and steamy and we finished on a freezing, overcast day in December.  The design of the annual report was very, very good but the thing I liked most about it (in addition to the photography) was the printing.  Whoever spec'ed the printing didn't mess around with skinny, toilet tissue newsprint.  They went with rich, glossy premium white stock.  The high priced spread.  And they used a six color offset printer with nice machines.  No cheesy powder dye printing.  And the result is makes this report look like the best handprinted Lightjet/Cibachrome prints you ever saw.  And you know what?  When everyone else settles for what they think is "good enough" and then something like this comes along and sits next to it, the makers of the lesser work should just hang their heads and walk away.

And maybe that's where we're coming to with photography.  Maybe so many people have settled for "just-good-enough" stock photography and "just-okay-but-really-cheap" production values and "she's- not-really-the-person-we-wanted-in-the-ad-but-she-works-in-HR-and-she-was-free" not quite there models, that they've diminished peoples' memories of what really great stuff looked like.  And when something really well done comes along it sticks out from the crowd like gold coins in a pile of...... leftover pizza.  And everyone recognizes the difference in quality.  And then clients will want something that's as good as "that piece that Bob did."  You know, the one that won all the awards and grabbed everyone's attention.

Could it be that after a decade of "good enough" the pendulum could actually swing back in the other direction toward........WOW!!!!! THAT'S FANTASTIC.  ?????

Well.  One of my clients just did it and I was blown away.  I wonder if we can make that reality the next big social trend.  We could call it.........I WANT STUFF TO BE THE VERY BEST IT CAN BE.  Because we only get to do this one time around.  And wouldn't it be great if the work of our lives was something we could be proud of?


While printing presses have been modernized, at the top it's still the same process of spreading ink across a sheet of paper.  At high rates of speed.  Yeah.  Let's do this thing right.

LED lighting. I'm finally getting a handle on this stuff. And I'm using it more and more. It's a "style" thing.

I did a project a little while back for the Austin Technology Incubator and most of it entailed taking photographs of the really smart people who seem to be inventing the next wave of entrepreneurial businesses.  The building we photographed in had a wild mix of business start-ups, mentors and educators, all seemingly bent on discovering or sharing why some businesses thrive while others never seem to get cranking no matter how much time and money get thrown in.  The building also had an amazing long central atrium that was filled with diaphanous clouds of softly diffused sunlight.

I used one of the "sky bridges" that linked the two sides of the buildings together as a portrait location for some of my shots.  What I wanted was the "idea" or feeling of a large, open space but without the instrusion of too much detail.  It was the perfect venue for using the technique of shooting a moderate telephoto lens at a shallow aperture.  I chose to use a rather pedestrian (but more than adequate) Canon 85mm 1.8 lens, stopped down to f2.8.  While the area behind my subject was nice and bright the ceiling over the bridge blocked all the top light and, since he was on the outside edge looking in he wasn't lit by much fill from the other side.

I knew I would have to add light to balance the difference between the illumination where he was standing with the illumination behind him.  I also wanted the light to have some direction so I would want it to come from one side, high enough to put a little shadow under his chin.  I added a second, harder but weaker kick light from the same side just to add some teeth to the light.

I could have used a small flash into any number of modifying accessories but I've become weary of the constant use of flash.  Subjects are used to continuous light.  They don't react as much to that.  Flash always seems to draw more attention.  And subjects also seem to "play to" flash more than to other kinds of light.  I was in an experimental mood so I shot all the work on that particular day with a combination of different LED light fixtures.  Some battery powered and some A/C powered.  And what I liked, once again, was the WYSIWYG nature of the lights.  With a 1/4 minus green (a magenta colored filter) over the main light source the balance for the diffuse daylight is pretty darn close.  I dropped the green saturation by about -10 in Lightroom 3.2 and that seem to make everything just right.

Here's what the set up looks like:
160 LED fixture on the far left.  500 LED fixture in my typical "portrait" position being diffused by a one stop scrim on a Westcott FastFlag frame.  Canon 5d2 with an 85mm 1.8 on a Berlebach wooden tripod.


When I first started working with the LED lights I felt a bit "off" and that perceived lack of mastery is probably what pushed me to continue to work with them.  I hate unsolved mysteries.   And, in truth, I haven't really changed a bunch of parameters since I started as much as I've just allowed myself to sink in a become comfortable with the lights.  It's the same thing we did with studio flash but for many of us it happened so long ago that we've forgotten the learning pains of the process.

Now it's becoming my preference (where practical) to light portraits with LED's.  I'm into some mental groove that makes me happy to perennially problem solve and so, I guess the constant need to blend light sources instead of overpowering them is giving me some kind of nice feedback loop.

Let's revisit the ground rules for the blog again:  You don't have to light like me.  You don't have to use the same gear.  I'm just writing "out loud" trying to help you and me understand why I sometimes approach a task the way I do and what the attractions are.

And I'll be frank,  part of the attraction right now is that so few other people are lighting things the way I do.  And that's cool too.