Executive portraiture with Fuji XT1 and Cactus RF60s

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The executive portrait is one of the most important portrait sessions that a company can hire you for and yet for some reason you quite often get the least amount of time to accomplish them. Actually I know the reason, corporate executives are generally very busy people juggling a lot of things at once. Having a photographer show up to take their portrait is like reminding them their six month dental check up is today. They go because they have to but it’s painful for them. In fact they probably enjoy the dentist visit more than the photo session!

So with that cheerful reality in mind you show up with all of your gear, ready to create the next great executive portrait! Then you are informed you will only have five minutes of the executive’s time because…well as stated above they are busy people and they like you as much as a root canal. What is a photographer to do? First, don’t take it personally. Second be prepared to only have five minutes of time and if you get more than that, give them more options photographically.

Case in point. I was hired by a corporation to drive from Chicago to Des Moines Iowa to shoot a head and shoulders portrait of one of their head executives. They wanted the usual studio lighting with backdrop. In one of my previous blogs I talked about how I shoot these types of portraits and went prepared to do just that. I was also prepared to only have five minutes of the executive’s time. I did however suggest to both the executive and the person whom hired me that if they were paying me to drive all of that way to take his portrait, they might as well take advantage of me being there and let me give them some extra portrait options. Happily both agreed to to it. Hot damn I thought! Than I get the text message from the executive that he had some critical meetings that day so that might clip into our time. Crap! Back to the five minute shot!

My usual mode of operation is to request a room to set up the gear for the head and shoulders shot. I get it all set up and then and only then do I call the executive in so as not to waste their time. Inevitably they walk in and say, “I hate getting my picture taken.” Yep, you and the rest of corporate America! I always try to relax them with some cheerful banter while I am taking their photo. If I am adjusting the lights or camera settings I always tell them that they are doing great but photography is like cooking and you need to season to taste. I am making adjustments/seasoning to taste! Then I try to get a couple of shots in the bag and show them a nice one right away. They will start to relax when they see that they really look pretty good in the photos. During this time I am always open to their input and what might be bothering them in a certain pose or photo and make adjustments to their liking. Once I get the must have head and shoulders shot than I start to play with other types of portrait options if the time is available.

What about my Iowa executive? He was awesome and gave me the time needed to get some great portraits done. He even started to get into it and was coming up with ideas of his own on how we might photograph him. Now this is very rare but when it happens you had better be ready to deliver and deliver in spades.

We ended up doing some environmental portraits of him in his office using a variety of lighting styles. One version was lit with a soft box as a main light and then a gridded flash as a rim light. Another option we turned off the soft box and used the window light as the main light and kept the rim light albeit turned way down. Then we went outside and found some open shade to get some naturally lit portraits. So we ended up going from full studio style lighting to a mixed lighting and finally to natural lighting. I went prepared for all of it and we did all of it. I had a great and willing subject which makes all the difference in the world but you still need to deliver and deliver in spades!

A little technical side note. The main lighting for all of the non naturally lit shots was Cactus RF60 speed lights. The camera used was my trusty Fuji XT1 with mostly the 56mm lens and 35mm lens being used.

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Fuji XT1 Wedding Bells

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I have been using the Fuji XT1 professionally for about a year now. For me it has been the most enjoyable digital camera system that I have shot in years. The type of assignments that I have covered with it have ranged from editorial to corporate to portraiture. It has met all of my expectations and then some. Yes there are some quirks that need to be worked around, especially since the Fuji X system is relatively young compared to the likes of Nikon or Canon. However if you are willing to put up with those quirks the rewards are great.

One type of photography that I had not tried the system on yet was wedding photography.  Wedding photography is not my main income stream by any means but I do shoot the occasional wedding, usually obtained by knowing someone involved in the actual event. This was such the case with a wedding that was to happen the weekend after Thanksgiving. I will be honest weddings always make me more nervous than regular gigs. There always seems to be much more riding on it to get it right. I would never dream of trying new gear on a wedding but I had been shooting events with my Fuji system a lot lately and was pretty comfortable that I could get the desired results that I was looking for with it.

As always everything gear wise was packed and ready to go the night before the event. It was the smallest kit I had ever taken to a wedding. I had two medium size shoulder bags with gear and two small compact light stands to carry and that was it. Inside one shoulder bag was two Cactus RF60 flashes, one Nikon SB28 flash, two Cactus V6 transceivers, two compact shoot through umbrellas, extra batteries and some small light modifiers. In the other shoulder bag was my Fuji system which consisted of two Fuji XT1’s, one with battery grip and one without, a 50-140mm, 56mm, 18-55mm, and the 35mm:1.4. There were also spare batteries, memory cards and a Nissin I-40 flash for TTL work.

As always the first thing I do when I get to any assignment is to scope out the place and look for visual possibilities. This event was being held at an old manufacturing plant that had been turned into event spaces and artist studios. I knew that the family formals were to be shot before the event started. I found a spot to set this up where the lighting was decent and I had just enough room to squeeze a decent size group into a shot. The Fuji 18-55, which is the kit lens, was going to pick up the heavy lifting for these shots. One might ask why I used the kit lens instead of one of Fuji’s more professional lenses? Well the kit lens is pretty damn good, it has stabilization built in for handheld work and there isn’t much in the way of distortion when you have to shoot that really wide group. It performed excellently! I set up a mini studio in about five minutes using the two Cactus flashes and the two shoot through umbrellas. We worked through the shot list of the formals and then I took down the mini studio and packed it back in it’s bag, not to be brought out again for the rest of the event. For those who are curious, the Cactus flash system has been 100% reliable and a joy to use.

For the rest of the wedding I utilized the 50-140mm, the 56mm (older version) and the 18-55mm. When flash was needed I put the Nissin on top of the XT1 that was carrying the 18-55. The other XT1 always had one of the other two lenses mounted to it. I carry the two camera setup using Holdfast Gear’s Money Maker camera strap. It’s pricey but keeps my back from complaining by the end of the day and it looks way cool!

To say I was thrilled with the results would be an understatement. The image stabilization in the 50-140 works superbly. The 56mm allows me to isolate individual subjects during candid shooting and the 18-55 does great for the wide angle shots. The colors I got from the Fuji files were gorgeous and the latitude to adjust and play with the raw files is huge! This was the first time I used the High Performance mode and there was a noticeable improvement in response and focusing abilities with the cameras. Yes it ate through battery juice a lot faster but I brought plenty of back up batteries so that was a non issue. I shoot 100% manually. The auto setting that is turned on is the white balance which is amazingly good. With the WYSIWYG viewfinder my post processing time has been reduced dramatically which allows me to go out and shoot more. Perfect! For those of you who like to shoot rapid fire with your cameras, I cannot comment on how the Fuji would have done. I didn’t use it. I prefer anticipating the moment and shooting a couple of shots  to get my keeper instead of twenty shots to only pick one good one. I’m knocking those of you who do shoot that way, in fact I used to but I don’t with this system. The other change in the way I shoot is I am using a lot less flash lately. The fast Fuji lenses and the high ISO performance of the XT1’s allow me to photograph with natural light a lot longer before having to pull out the flash gun.

So in the end my marriage to the Fuji system looks like it is going to last for quite a long time. I can only imagine how the relationship will grow in the next few years.

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Is it fall already?

Sorry for my absence the last couple of months. Since going freelance full-time I have been busy drumming up work and thankfully it seems to be “working.” This where they always say it’s all in who you know and it really is. From friends, to relatives to past business associates it has been amazing at the help that has come across my desk. It has either been in the source of direct work or names of people that may have work. It is a reality check in seeing that how you have handled yourself in the past with others can dictate what you may receive in return later. I am humbled.

I am learning how to schedule my day to day calendar and create this new way of working/living. I must say I do like the flexibility that freelancing can provide in your daily routine but I do try to at least have a plan for each week. If I deviate from it, that is fine but at least I have a roadmap to guide me through the week. One thing that I have been trying to do is make sure I leave some down time available. If you work all of the time you will quickly burn out. My downtime has turned into a mixture of photography and woodworking lately. Both bring me great gratification. With this post I bring you just some down time photography. Fall is my favorite time of year and I gifted myself with a couple hour walk in one of my favorite fall spots.

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Be human first and photographer second

picnicpicnic-7picnic-6picnic-4picnic-3picnic-8picnic-12picnic-10picnic-2Turn on the evening news and it’s down right depressing to see all of the craziness going on with people. Craziness within one’s family, one’s neighborhood, one’s city or one’s country. People are killing people with little to no regard for human life. A large amount of these horrific acts have to do with someone’s skin color. It seems that people today fail to see past one’s skin color or physical difference to view the true person inside.

We as photographers often get tossed into the mix to cover a story or an event. We are the outsiders, sometimes invited and sometimes not. As such we need to recognize that fact before we even raise a camera to our eye. We need to remember to be human first.

One of the most enjoyable parts of this profession is getting to know my subjects. I genuinely like learning about different people. Show that when you are on assignment. Show your subjects that you aren’t just there to take photos but that you actually do care about them as human beings.

On this assignment I was to photograph mothers and their children returning from a visit with their incarcerated husbands/fathers. It was an early father’s day event that was sponsored by a couple of organizations and congressman Danny Davis. A picnic was to be held for the returning families and the congressman was supposed to be arriving with them.

I was most definitely the outsider when I showed up. For the first forty-five minutes I didn’t take a single photograph. Instead I got to know the volunteers, the event organizers and then eventually the families. In turn they realized I was ok to be there and trusted that I would represent them well with my photographs.

As a photographer I came away with much better photographs. As a human being I heard wonderful stories from people’s lives and met some wonderful individuals. In some way I hope I showed that people still do care, no matter what their skin color is.

Happy wanderings and be human first.

I prefer people with scars

I have a good friend who told me once, “I prefer people with scars.” What he meant was that he preferred people who had lived life through all of it’s turmoils and had the scars, visible or not, to prove it. These were not the pretty, plastic, perfect people that we see on TV or sometimes in our own neighborhoods. My friend would have considered the pretty people “pretenders.” Real people have scars.

To this point I was hired to photograph some very “real” people last week. Jim and Theresa are a loving couple who have had to deal with more than their share of life’s difficulties. They met while out for a bowling night and have since been married for thirty years. They are both blind and both have a laundry list of health issues. I was there to photograph them for the Presence Health Organization’s Foundation. Through donations people like Jim and Theresa can live in their own private apartment and still receive the medical care that they need. It allows Jim and Theresa to be able to stay together in a safe environment.

Knowing this made me feel good because I think the two of them would be lost without each other. You can still see the care and affection between them. They have traveled a hard and long road. It hasn’t been the years but rather the miles that have been put on their tiring bodies. These are real people…people with scars.

A note about the photos, they were originally shot in color but I chose to make them black and white for this post. All were shot on Fuji X-T1 cameras and converted in Lightroom CC.Presence Health Jim and Terry 55Presence Health Jim and Terry 101Presence Health Jim and Terry 45Presence Health Jim and Terry 57Presence Health Jim and Terry 75Presence Health Jim and Terry 87Presence Health Jim and Terry 99Presence Health Jim and Terry 1Presence Health Jim and Terry 15