1.15.2014

Coffee seen as life giving elixir during recent Austin, Texas Cedar Fever Epidemic. The "PollenPocalypse"


It's been an especially rough week for Austin Portrait Photographers who are susceptible to allergies from the juniper and mountain cedar trees which cover the Hill Country to the west of the city. We have a scourge here called, Cedar Fever. It's named after one of the many symptoms attached to allergies from the pollen from the cedar family of trees.

While Zyrtec, Claritin and even Benedryl are our allies nothing seems to scrape the velcro-like grains of vicious pollen off the backs of our throats or the roofs of our mouths quite like a big cup of hot, steamy coffee.  In a week or two this particular pollen season will come to a close; rains will clean out the residual grains and we'll start a body count to see how many brave Austin men, women, children and photographers we've lost this time.

If you were buying into the hype about Austin being one of the best places to do business in the U.S. or you thought about joining the hipsters for a beer at Bangers, maybe take in a bit of live music at one of 16,967 live music venues, you might want to reconsider. There's very little that's worse than sneezing to death for the privilege of a few funny hat moments.

While coffee is by no means a cure (the only real cure is to have one's sinuses surgically removed...) it does temporarily relieve one of the symptoms....at least enough to almost enjoy driving or blogging for a while. Coffee sales are off the charts in Austin in the new year. Hardly a surprise since we are enjoying a record setting cedar pollen harvest.

And yes, the pollen does stick to digital camera sensors!

Just a snapshot between shots in the product studio.

Renae embraces the product.

You know how it gets when it's around 4pm and you've still got a few hours of product shooting to get through and everyone is getting punchy. Always a good time to put all the toys down and go for a walk. Or sit quietly for 20 minutes with a cup of coffee. 

Renae and I were photographing products for the annual report of a long since dead dot come start up company. We were blazing away with a Hasselblad and a 120mm Makro lens. Big soft boxes everywhere. For some reason she picked up this laptop and just started laughing hysterically.

Is it my imagination or are the skin tones on this scanned transparency richer than the ones we get from our digital cameras? Maybe it's just the scan......

Lower Back Pain? We've got a photo for that...

For an advertisement about back pain.

I spent too much time on airplanes and in cars over the past week and I've nursing some lower back pain. According to a Harvard medical specialist most lower back pain is like headache pain; there's nothing structurally wrong, it's usually a side effect of stress...

At any rate I remember coming across a few sheets of negatives from a shoot I did many years ago about back pain and I thought I'd test my ability to find that sheet of black and white negs and take a little walk down memory lane. 

This image is pretty straightforward. We found a model who was in great shape but also in the age demographic the agency was targeting and we had a make up person cover him with a toner in order to make him appear more "bronze statue-like." The art director for the shoot found a tree stump somewhere and I remember that he had the stump painted gold because in the early planning of the shot the client and agency were considering running the campaign in color. This was back in the early 1990' when color ads were more costly to insert and run in newspapers and magazines.

The color got vetoed early on and we continued with black and white. I did my basic lighting for a white background and then I lit the model from the right to create a darker area on the left side of his body. We wanted that so I could put a diffused edge spot of light back in on the left side of the model, right where his hand is positioned on his "sore" back. We used a big 4x6 foot soft box on the right and a flash head firing into a grid spot on the other side. 

The image was shot using black and white film in a 6 by 9 cm roll film holder on the back of a Sinar 4x5 view camera. We'd been using the 6x9 back for lots of product shots for two other clients and, at the time, it seemed like a good compromise between the economy of being able to shoot eight shots on a roll of 120 film but also getting more square footage of imaging detail than we would have gotten otherwise. 

The 6x9 holder allowed us to do many catalogs and product set up with total control of rises and falls, tilts and swings. The Sinar made doing the technical stuff pretty easy. And the Schneider lenses we used were wickedly sharp.

Once the shots were in the "can" I went into the darkroom and processed four rolls of film leaving two safety rolls aside, just in case...

At the time ad agencies worked from prints for black and white so once the exact image was selected (not the one above) I went back into the darkroom to pull a 16x20 inch black and white print. Why 16x20 inches? A bigger print is much easier to work with if you need to airbrush or retouch details.

I am quickly remediating my back pain through a regimen of swimming, excessive coffee and getting in touch with my back spirit animal----which, based on the structural integrity of my back, must be a hummingbird or some sort of shrew. Ah well. Back pain comes and goes. At least we made a paycheck out of it once upon a time....