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Saturday, March 19, 2016

When am I the smartest person in the room? (Hint: Rarely) Trust me- Its photography related.

I've always maintained that the only times I am ever the smartest person in the room is when I'm either with my immediate family, or by myself. I have two cats that also might take exception to that.
That outlook most certainly extends to my photography. There is always something new to learn, a different (and sometimes better) way to do something, and sometimes the realization that I can't be all things to all people, for instance- Why I don't shoot weddings. It's because I don't have an "eye" for weddings, and I'm very comfortable with that fact. I am either friends with, or very well acquainted with some of the best wedding photographers in the Chicago area and I have no issue referring potential clients to them.
What mystifies me are the people who settle for second best. I don't mean cost, I mean quality of imagery. There are so many great resources out there (and many more that aren't) that provided the investment has been made in not only learning, but the proper equipment should result in great imagery.
Whats my definition of proper equipment?
Not low end junk is a good place to start. There are some very cheap alternatives to proper and durable lighting, for example. I have yet to see a "cheap" overseas sourced strobe system or light modifiers be anywhere near as capable and durable as their higher end competition. Their quality is spot on, every time. The time involved in correcting the shortcomings of cheap lighting equipment always outweighs the short term cost savings, but only amateurs would disagree with me. Thats because their livelihood is not dependent on their photographic endeavors. I have seen many new to the profession buy cheap equipment because they seem to think that it will do just as well as that of a higher grade, as well as thinking that many pros make it look so easy that they can do it with little or no education or investment.
I'll leave Briese and Broncolor off the table for now because they cost far more than I'm willing to spend, although they are considered to be the best in many ways. Down (Figuratively speaking) from there, you have Profoto and my personal favorite; Elinchrom. Profoto makes some of the most widely used gear in studio lighting and they are one of the best, along with my personal choice, Elinchrom. So, why did I buy Elinchrom back when I was getting started? Salesmanship and representation. I was working in a photo equipment store at the time and the manufacturer's representative for Elinchrom came by the store frequently, was friendly and highly knowledgeable about the products, whereas I had met the rep from Profoto once and he was not helpful at all, nor was he easy to contact (He almost never responded to emails or phone calls). That particular rep is long since gone from that position, which I believe was no great loss to Profoto.
Once I had learned that Elinchrom was very much the equal to the other brand in quality and reliability, I placed my order. My only mistake was ordering a set of soft boxes by another company, which I will not mention here because their quality was far from good, down to the slightly red color cast that was consistently present whenever I used them. Their build quality was terrible- They didn't last long and a few months later I spent the money for a number of Elinchrom's own soft boxes and accessories. Color balance was restored and I am still using those same soft boxes in my studio today, many years later.
There are lower cost brands that are quite good and reliable, such as Bowens, DynaLite and a few models by White Lightning and their subsidiary; Alien Bees. Anything below those I would never consider for reliability or correct color balance.
One of the things I see all too often amongst those wanting to become photographers is that they have some very interesting ideas about lighting, either thought up by themselves or seen online in a video done by a so-called professional that the professional community has never heard of. The cheaper the solution, the better according to some of them and they end up making quite an impressive video. I've seen the results and they are nothing short of disappointing. There are very well established professionals out there who are putting out some highly educational materials which may not always be free, but they're done properly and can get an aspiring photographer off to an excellent start.
Another thing I tell those who come to me for advice is to take classes regarding the type of photography they are interested in. Basic lighting classes from local photographers, such as my friend Bill Skinner at ProCam in Aurora, IL is the best example I can cite. I've learned that only a few follow that advice, claiming they cant afford the classes, yet they somehow make the money appear in order to purchase equipment they only think they know how to use. Those people eventually learn that I am no longer available to them as a resource. Advice doesn't necessarily require following, but when the refusal leads to poor results and that the person in question doesn't learn from it, that becomes a waste of my time.
Another issue: Spares. Imagine being in the middle of doing work for a client and a camera or lens stops working. How about a strobe? Got a backup? What will you do? Whats the plan? I have a long term client who when I first "interviewed" with them they asked me to bring my camera equipment with me. Why? Because they knew that there are many people out there claiming to be photographers who are wholly unequipped to do the job due to not only a lack of experience but also the lack of proper equipment. As I started to remove my gear from the (huge) camera bag I brought them in I could see their eyes getting wider- My portfolio got me in the door, my gear helped pave the rest of the way. I currently have two bodies and multiple, top grade lenses that in may cases focal lengths are duplicated. If one of my bodies stops working, I have another to immediately continue shooting with (I'll be adding a third body soon). If one of my strobes fails, I have a total of 6 so I'm not particularly worried. Softbox failure? Same thing. I have multiples and more coming this year.
Imagine the embarrassment and how costly it would be to have an equipment failure in the middle of a shoot and not be able to continue.

Well, I think I've bounced all over the place on this one so I'll stop here.