Too much going on lately! I’m posting this to try finally to publish some thoughts I meant to publish two weeks ago.
Two weeks ago, I attended Texas School of Professional Photography, a fantastic annual happening sponsored by the Texas PPA. Texas School is many things. It’s a big convention for photographers from all over: mostly Texas, but I met photographers from all over the country and even outside the USA. Second, it’s a huge trade show where vendors of stuff that photographers want to buy — cameras, lights, printing, etc. — can show their products and talk to their customers. But most of all, Texas School is a week-long “master class” (to borrow a term from music) where a small group of students work, all day, for a full week, with an outstanding photographer.
The trade show was huge: filling a big ballroom, the huge area outside the ballroom, and extending way down the mezzanine, with exhibit after exhibit. Arlington Camera and BWC are major sponsors of Texas School and had some of the largest exhibits. I had a great conversation with the rep from Sony and played with the new Action Cam, spoke to a rep from Phottix (which makes the best radio triggers for Sony cameras), and was able to borrow a great 50 f/1.4 lens for a day from the Sigma booth. Thanks, Sigma. Loved the lens! I also visited with the folks from BWC Photo Imaging. I’ve been using a pro lab on the west coast for years, and I just realized the best printer in the country is right here in Dallas. For my own printing, I talked to the folks from Hahnemühle Fine Art, maker of the best photo printing papers in the world. If I’d done nothing other than stroll around the trade show and talk to vendors, Texas School would have been worth the long drive.
Ah, but I did a lot more than visit the trade show. I went back to school!
My class was “Lighting Beyond the Camera,” taught by master photographer Joe Glyda. Glyda is a renowned commercial photographer. For years he worked for one of the largest food companies in the world, shooting things like bowls of macaroni and cheese for ad campaigns or annual reports. You may laugh—I did at first, and to be honest, so did Joe, who had a smile on his face all week. But shooting macaroni and cheese (or bags of chips, or glasses of wine, etc) turns out to be fiendishly challenging. Actually, I kinda sorta knew this, because from time to time, I try to take a photo of a nice dish that I make at home. I’ll grab a camera and a flash, thinking I’ll take a decent photo, and it never comes out the way I want. Well, now I know why. Shooting food (wrapped or ready-to-serve) is an almost unbelievably technical field with extremely demanding clients, a field in which nothing short of perfection is acceptable. Lighting is the key to success in every type of photography, but in commercial photography, the lighting is controlled with a degree of precision (and patience) that a wedding photographer can only dream of.
Anyway, it was exciting to learn about a whole new photographic industry. I was surprised to learn that the food shown in ads now is (mostly) real, for legal reasons. We were all amazed to hear Joe talk about the food “stylist” who actually used a tweezers to turn every single piece of macaroni in a shot so only macaroni and smooth, creamy cheese was visible—no ugly elbow ends with their ugly holes. It was valuable to hear Joe talk about how he analyzes the challenge presented by different types of objects. But the key part of the class was actually working with light (and lights) to solve an unending variety of photographic challenges, including shooting breakfast buns, wine bottles, packages of croutons.
But it wasn’t all bottles and bags. We also had four wonderful models come in and work with us. With our two young female models, we went outside into the park across the street from our classroom near Addison Circle, to shoot in the harsh midday light. Our other two models were a couple of photographers themselves who came as volunteers for a pretend engagement shoot.
Joe persuaded me to use my light meter more. We worked with large, very expensive ProFoto lighting equipment (on loan to Texas School from Arlington Camera), but Joe also showed us how to make better and more controlled use of scrims or reflective white boards to maximize whatever lighting we have, once again, something I have done in the past, but not as often as I could have and not as intelligently as I could. Joe was a real stickler on the subject of color balance, insisting on something I’ve been careless about too often in the past: shooting a color card as a reference for color balance on the computer. I own a couple of color reference palettes (the X-Rite Passport and the much more portable Whi-bal card) but I’m actually using them now, thanks to Joe’s class. I was also comforted to learn that some of the problems I’ve had with my studio shooting (for example, wrinkles in the background cloth) are universal problems, and was grateful for many great tips (like don’t fold the background cloth, just crumple it up for storage so the wrinkles are irregular).
For me, it was like cross training. (As if I knew anything about cross training!) I mean, instead of spending a week on challenges that I’m already very familiar with from my portrait and wedding work, I spent a week dealing with challenges that were fairly novel and took me outside my comfort zone. And yet everything we did was useful info and will be immediately helpful to me in my very different type of photography. Glyda was a great teacher and the other students were a great bunch to spend a week with.
Bottom line: Texas School was a great experience. I’m already looking forward to next year.