4.20.2010

Another day in photography. The death of my original Photek Softlighter...sigh.

nothing to do with today's adventure but continuing in my series of early Rene Zellweger images.  This taken back in 1991 with an EOS-1 camera (the original) and the totally cool but largely overlooked 135mm soft focus lens, also from Canon.  This is a scan from one of my favorite prints but you can see some spots where I neglected to spotone.  Life moves fast.  Spotting moves slow.


Zang.  My alarm clock on my phone starts ringing at 5:45 am.  I am deeply unhappy to ever be up at this hour but for the sake of a good client I persevere.  In the shower I'm thinking about the schedule for the day.  I start out in Texarkana taking a group portrait and then individual portraits.  On this project I'm shooting a formal portrait against a very  fun, light grey (almost metallic) seamless background using a big soft light and a reflector.  Then I take the subject down the hall to a really wonderful library room and use the soft, diffuse light coming through the windows to make an available light, environmental portrait.  I'm using a 100 mm f2 lens for these and I love the soft yet hard look of available light.  Whatever.  The client will have a selection of images both ways of every person we shoot.  I'll set up from 8am till 9am and then spend a half hour trying to do some really nice interior architecture shots.  The company I'm working for has exquisite offices in every city I've been in.  I make it to the offices early and start scouting.  Fun to scout when no one is there as their consciousness doesn't flood the space and skew what I feel when I look at a room.

Funny, but I really think that to be a good portrait photographer you really have to be attuned to a person's emotional energy.  You have to sense the sensitive points to avoid and ferret out the things that bring energy and joy to a sitter.  The more empathetic you are the more you'll be able to distill from the collaborative dance of a portrait sitting.  Some people open right up.  Some require careful handling.  But it's a double edge sword for a photographer because when you are really in tune with other people their thoughts and emotions have a way of impinging on your thoughts and emotions.  An art director in tow changes the energy of a shoot by changing the way you might selection a position within a room.  You have to leave space for their collaboration and this diminishes your insight driven choices by dint of the shared vision and shared responsibility.  Anyway, there was no one in the offices except for me and the housekeeper and I was able to feel my way through the space and try to connect to areas of interest to me.

We start early and finish right before lunch.  I've shot eight gigabytes.  The worst part of every photo shoot is the moment after you've shot the last image because you know that you'll spend the next half hour or so cleaning up, repacking, dragging your gear to the car and repacking the car.  There's an extra layer for me this morning...I have to navigate through road construction and detours and find my way back to Longview, Texas.  Google tells me that it's about two hours and nine minutes of driving time but I disagree.  With the additional construction on the roads it's closer to two hours and forty minutes.

I hit Longview around three pm.  I'll need to eat lunch and find my way to the regional airport before 4pm.  I'm not flying anywhere, I'm doing a bunch of photos of two jets.  I swing into a Whataburger.  Haven't been to one in a couple of years.  Did you know you can get whole wheat buns now?  The burger is okay.  It's just energy at this point.  I get my bearings and, with the help of a local person, find my way to the airport and to the private hanger I need.

The pilots are fun.  We move a Lear jet and a Citation jet around with a cool little tractor thing that's electric.  When we get them positioned just right in relation to each other I work em over with everything from a 20mm equivalent to a 105 equivalent.  Then we bring in the models and have them meeting on the tarmac and then working inside the Citation.  We don't fire up the engines so the plane's AC is not on and the cabin starts to heat up as the sun beats down.  Next up is a shot of four pilots with the planes in the background.  I decide to use my precious Profoto 600b battery powered light with a 60 inch Photek Softlighter 2 umbrella to fill in the guys' faces.  Swear to the photo gods (or at them): it was as calm as a Buddhist Priest on Prozac when I set the light and umbrella up.  I even clamped the strobe box to the stand for ballast.  But the 5 o'clock American Airlines flight taxied past us and I turned around to watch the light and stand rush to kiss the concrete in excruciating slow motion.

And here's what separates the pros from the ams:  I looked over my shoulder at the (potential) death of my favorite light, shrugged my shoulders and said to the client,  "Well, that's why I've got another one in the car."  We continued the shoot and didn't stop to deal with the stricken light until after the last frame was shot and the last model sent on his way.  The bad news?  The Softlighter 2 will have to be retired.  It's bent and bashed.  I'll save the diffuser.  Maybe even the black cover.  But now the back up will move to the number one position and I'll order a new back up when I get back to the studio.  The good news?  The umbrella acted as parachute and shock absorber for the precious light head.  No other damage was done.  Flash tube, pyrex cover and box are all in "like new" condition.  Lesson?  There is no lesson.  Sometimes crap happens and if you want to be in the business you need to know how to deal with it and move on.  And you always need a backup plan.

Once the planes were back in the hanger and the photo gear back in the Element I drove off to find another wonderful hotel in which to rest my weary bones.  By this point I had 12 gigs of data to catalog and back up on multiple drives.  Tomorrow I drive to Dallas (2 hours with the good graces of the travel gods) and stay at the Four Seasons in Las Colinas.  A much needed down day after three fast paced shooting and travel days.  Thurs. we head for the last lap with a full day booked in my client's incredibly modern Dallas offices.  Tomorrow morning I'll wake up in another $100 "Inn" (homogenized across the United States) figure out the "make your own waffle" bar and then move on.  I won't suffer through the weak, light brown coffee because the gods of travel have seen fit to reward me with a Starbucks just a block away.

Before I go to bed tonight I'm going to do a little memorial service to this particular Softlighter 2.  You see, this was my original.  I've had it for over a decade.  We've bonded over many a good and even a few bad assignments.  It's lovingly softened the light on a thousand faces.  It's always been graceful to set up and gracious to take down.  I can't remember when I've ever been as sad about the passing of a piece of gear as I am about this simple umbrella.  That in itself is a testimonial to the power of well thought out products.  Here I hang my head and stop.  Grief forbids me to add any more.