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Friday, 01 October 2010


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If you want to get another background, order one soon. From the Photek website:






the 7D an autofocus camera?

God, I can tell that's going to be my kid in a dozen years. He already procrastinates like crazy and he's not even six.

Zander's hair is too dark.

Loved the posting.
I remember that you promised to take my portrait sometime too. I was going to come over early this morning, but I sensed you were very busy. That's OK, I will wait until I need it in 35 seconds, since you respond so well to pressure.

I don't have a long lens for my GF-1 either, just the 20mm, but I just do the same trick I did when shooting with a normal lens on a film camera in the old days -- back off to the correct distance and crop the photo later in processing. I have a very nice portrait of my niece, shot at f/2 on the front porch of her house. It's cropped to a vertical from a horizontal, and it prints well up to an 11x14 (haven't tried larger, but I suspect it'll look fine.) Her eyes are sharp as a tack, and the background fades out to softness. Really quite nice.

Nothing wrong with the crop tool. Especially if the crop is pre-visualized.

Nice shot. And damn, you write fast!

Hey, you might want to buy a new one today, Mike. According to their website, Photek isn't making them anymore!

quote, horrible all caps in the original:


Aren't you glad you didn't buy the computer?

"I still like that camera though."

And how many thousands are you about to spend on a new computer, monitor, and peripherals?

Mike, Mike, Mike...
: )

This whole senior portrait situation is different from when I was in high school. I keep seeing it referred to photo magazines, etc but its not like how it was when I was younger. We were given an appointment time, told to show up in a white shirt. Bring your own black bow tie if you had one or they would give you a clip on. I had my own clip on.

The photographer had a rack of various black formal jackets and I found one that fit. I sat on a stool with a generic background and umbrella lighting. He took a few snaps and that was it. Same story for everyone in my class. Now it seems you can do your own thing and get creative. Nothing wrong with that.

Even though it wasn't fancy, my pictures turned out very good, better than the usual assembly line school photos from previous years.

Now, I'm exhausted.

Yikes, they still want prints? Which they then scan for layout and printing in the yearbook?

Oh God, donor mind me! I promise my ex that I would do school portraits for my kids, and I've been procrastinating for ever. Maybe that's what's in store for me this weekend.

Your portrait story reminded me of the following true-life vignette from an art director friend of mine. I've kept it in my Yahoo notepad account, out in the cloud, so it never gets lost, and I read it every once and a while to remind me what I'm supposed to be doing when I take pictures of people!

"I go to the Lutheran home for my Bulgarian dance rehearsals. There's a long hallway i have to pass through, with framed photographs of their presidents, starting i think somewhere around 1900. it's a linear
display of the changing techniques in photography, the change in the skills
and attitudes of the photographers, and the change in the people being

The first one was exquisite. the complexity of the colors alone was enough
to seduce my eyeballs into passing over every square inch. yes, colors--
infinite pearly grays and deep velvety blacks, each made of all the colors
in the spectrum, sometimes a little cooler in the shadows and warmer in the light, toying with the rich surface of the paper.

The lighting was of course meticulous and loving, and the subject was
dressed and coiffed perfectly, sitting straight and proud, sparkling eyes
gazing into the future, the lips suggesting a smile that promised glories ahead. he seemed to glow. did the subject provide the light, or did the photographer?

With every passing president the richness of tones in the printing declined, and the advent of color treated us with brutal reality instead of the delicate hand of dreams. the lighting became flatter, the subjects more poorly dressed, and most importantly, the "light" in their eyes gradually all but disappeared.

the last portrait was of an ugly, expressionless man in ugly clothes, shot
hastily using flash, printed on an inkjet and thrown into a cheap frame."

------------Frances Ullenberg

Wait, are you saying that high school starts at 7:30am there? I think getting up in time for school at that hour would be worse than waterboarding for most adolescents. I'm sure I at least would never have graduated.

My son graduated from high school here in Toronto last year (school started at the civilized hour of 9am) and I didn't hear word one about senior portraits. I think they just lined the students up in the gym and one by one they put on a gown and got zapped by the photographer hired by the school. But I got stressed just reading your description.

Nice post, it´s funny I´ve been reading your post/columns since you were posting at Luminous Landscape. I´ve seen quite a few images of Zander and I´m astonished to see how much your son Zander has matured! Makes me remember to pay that little extra attention to my four and six old before their infancy flies away.

I also got a portrait to shoot last minute of my girlfriend's son (I was asked yesterday to do it, is due the 8th so I guess it was plenty of time).

Another one I have to reshoot because the girl that was posing was falling sick with mononucleosis so she did not like any of her photos. The light was marvelous, the day was perfect, she looked great to my aging eyes that do not see the "blemishes" she sees in them (my standards are slipping obviously). And so it goes. I am sure there are thousand of stories like ours every year.

Posting Zander's photo on your blog implies to me that you are seeking comments.

I would have suggested using a remote shoe-mount flash as either a kicker or a background light aimed at the subject's hair, to bring out the highlights and separate his hair from the background. This could have been simulated in Photoshop if you don't have a remote flash.

I assume you've read Strobist ...


When I graduated highschool (1972) we were told to go to one of the pro studios in town and get a portrait done, and they would send the B&W print (everybody remember Kodak Panalure paper?) to the yearbook staff. I don't know what they would have done if somebody had insisted on sending in a print themselves. (I seem to remember that that section of the yearbook happened outside our control; I was photo editor for the yearbook.)

Later on, in college, the vast majority of the senior pictures were shot by students. I did a bunch of them and, er, they sort of stand out in the yearbook.

...I wish I had year book photos like that!! Great work.

On the 7D -- are you sure it is the motherboard? Those kind of glitches sound like the switches are bung and that's what is throwing the computer wizardry. Have you tried moving that switch back and forth about 50 or so times? That might clean up the contacts a little and make it good again. You could check in the EXIF info if it really is applying an exposure compensation on those pictures I suppose...

I really wish we would have entry level cameras that looked like the 7D or the Pentax MZ-5 again. I'd buy one in an instant. But Minolta is now Sony (and I expect they are probably in the market for churning out cameras for the playstation generation) and Pentax has a niche with colours!


Great story that should be read by all those who dream about the glamour that is Professional Photography.

Glad you let Zander dress himself.

Great weekend y'all

What ? You didn't dry Zander's hair in Photoshop ??

What an astonishing whodunit and what a grainy bokeh!

is it that p/s post-processing or D7 that's giving that grainy bokeh? Or it's just me who does see (or maybe look for) all the noise almost in any wide aperture shot?

Yes, it's pretty bad. I would have fixed it if I were making a big print myself. But it will never survive all the way into the yearbook, so I didn't bother.


Despised Icon AND Whitechapel? \m/

Killer! A new reason to love TOP!
The guy's kid is a Whitechapel fan!
love it.

I might have just used the GF1 and a 50mm summicron with an adapter.

I'm sure you must have one lying around at home...

Teaching high school myself (and having to shoot many school-related jobs on the fly), I read this post thinking to myself, "yep... just like my students.... yep, that too... and that.... huh, and that..." all the way until it got to where you lent out that card reader.

My immediately reaction was, "well, you're never getting THAT back."

Colour me pleasantly surprised.

Um, wait for the hard copy. I fear Zander will nearly disappear into the background.

Still, it's an authentic high school portrait. It's like when I need a new passport photo--I have it shot at a 24-hour Kinko's at around 3:30 in the morning, as that's what I usually look like after I get off a long-haul flight and have to deal with the Customs man.

Losing the light? What about "Three Degrees of Darkness?"



"Losing the light? What about 'Three Degrees of Darkness?'"

Well, my old K-M 7D ain't no 5D Mark II. 1600 is pushing your luck with skin tones.

It's a 2004 camera, which makes it 42 in DSLR/dog years.

Amusingly, my camera's addled electronics are reflected in the metadata, which reports that I shot the picture of Paul at 1/1000th of a second at f/1, which would be quite a trick with an f/2.8 lens. The metadata for the shot of Zander says ISO 800, f/4, and 1/200th, which may be accurate.


Now that's a timely post. I just this evening delivered the CD to a friend, full of JPEGs for his son's senior pictures. Ever since my older daughter hit senior year, 4 years ago, I seem to have gone into business. And, yes, they all wait until the last minute. They also inevitably show up late, so the light's almost gone, then spend half an hour arguing over the wardrobe.

I like that camera -- she got character. You have mastered it, sorry, her. Tame of a ...

Next weekend I'm shooting casual senior portraits for my youngest step-daughter.

On film.

I don't know if there's a deadline. Nor do I want to know...my fingernails are short enough already!

Mike, I had cereal coming out my nose this breakfast I was laughing so hard! I feel for you buddy!

But on a more serious note, its a good reminder for us to actually photograph our loved ones. Things change so quickly. Today's nightmare, is tomorrows precious moment. I especially see that in my dogs, and lately have gotten the BIG camera out to sneak a few shots while we are still in the golden years. (Now, if they could only get a few snaps of me!)

As odd as it is, thanks for the motivation Mike! That was a good shoot.


Somebody else has mentioned how Zander has matured. As to the photograph, it looks like he has twigs of conifer growing behind his head. So be it.

And I don't know which school Damon Schreiber's children attended; however the common black gown and a setup of lights was how I did it for each and every graduating class in all of the high schools in the City of York.

If all went well I could do two secondary schools a day. Used two
older Hasselbalds as they gave me far better results, especially with 220 film. Had one of my audio-visual students busy loading and unloading film packs all day long. Each grad
received five different views. The lighting would get set, the gowns were always clean and the boys and the girls usually were co-operative. Was lucky having a great processing company for the film, and the gowns were always washed at the end of each day's shooting. Only lost one roll, and that was the fault of me being in too much of a rush. Two Hasselblad 500 CM's worked all week and as noted would start Monday, be finished Friday and any duds or missing students were reshot the following week. In the last years it was colour film however for the most part black and white.
Some of those grads made a positive impression, some didn't and now many years later often wonder what happened to those grads over the years and where are they now?

Ironically never sat for my own grad photo; education was my bane and was glad to leave, with a grade 12 diploma. Declined the photo session as I figured, will it matter in forty years? Ironically my employent was as a technologist and media administrator for 26 years in a school board.

Mike, the timing seems right to drag you - presumably kicking and screaming — into the new digital age. In the new digital age, dematerialization and outsourcing is where it's at.

For potentially "family heirloom" pictures like senior portraits, I'd suggest you use a film camera. I'm sure you have quite a few decent cameras and lenses lying somewhere in a cupboard ;-)

Outsource the boring digital aspects, like scanning and printing.

1) Film scanning outsourcing:
Send your film to a processing lab that will also make a hi-res digital scan. Ken Rockwell says good things about North Coast Photo, for example. There probably are several other reputable processing labs, possibly closer to you, that offer simultaneous high-quality film processing and scanning services.

2) Digital printing outsourcing:
Don't bother anymore with temperamental domestic inkjet printers.
Do invest in a new, high-quality, color-calibrated display to prepare your image files. As an aside, consdering your line of work, you'll presumbaly be staring at a computer monitor for several hours per day, for several years. This literally means several thousand hours. That usage duration should make the financial outlay for a high-quality monitor more justifiable, even for the ordinarily frugal types ;-)
Send your print files to a reputable printing service that uses well-calibrated printing equipment. With such a workflow, what you get should be a reasonably good approximation of what you see on your monitor.

In the new, outsourced digital age, you get the best of both worlds:

  • you get to continue to use those lovely film cameras, with which you're throughly familiar
  • the slides and negatives you get are likely to last several decades, whilst those hard disks, DVDs and CDROMs on which people entrust their digital files will likely only last a few years
  • the films' digital scans give you all the benefits of the digital age — e.g. photoshopping, emailing, web publishing and digital printing

  • Sounds familiar.

    A couple of years ago, my wife's granddaughter was passing through town (she lives 3 hours away) on a Thursday afternoon, stopped, and asked if my wife could take her senior picture, and, oh, by the way, it was due Monday (so we had PLENTY more time than Mike). And, she only had forty-five minutes that afternoon.

    So, we hustled her off to an abandoned World War II fort, to take a few shots. It was early afternoon, and the light was bad. We did get a few shots, where the harsh light shining into her eyes made her squint, and created an intriguing expression (oh, the wonders of 17 year old skin, and how it tames harsh light). However, none of the shots were really appropriate for a yearbook.

    So, on Saturday, we packed up the car, drove the 3 hours into Maine, and with umbrellas, reflectors, and a few flashes we attempted our best Joe McNally impersonation for lighting. We shot a variety of locations and poses, and ended up with over 100 pictures (oh, the wonder of digital cameras and large capacity CF cards).

    We plunked her down in front of the computer, and told her to choose one. She wasn't very happy, she being a teenager and it being Saturday night and all. Nevertheless, she persevered, whittled it down, and eventually selected one.

    Then we made of the mistake of asking "What format does it need to be? Raw? TIFF? JPEG? What size? What media? CD-ROM? USB Stick? Print?" We were met with a very blank stare.

    Mild panic ensued, gnashing of teeth, etc., but in the end it all worked out ... at the last minute.

    Bob Burchsted

    I'm a bit disappointed that Ctein didn't get into the act. He could have made a few more dye-transfers to sell on your site...

    Minolta 7D a great camera, I've just been experimenting with high ISO and setting the White Balance with some care. I've got very usable after dark portraits of my son, and wife both at 1600 and Tungsten -/+0. I hope the next High End Sony is as flexible as its worthy predecessor.
    Have you attempted setting the front auto focus switch to MF and using the rear AF/MF button to prefocus your picture. It may be a workround for the lack of auto focus.

    I did love the camera. (The K-M 7D.) I did most of my best digital pictures with this camera. But you'll have to take my word for it--mine is really sick. It doesn't work right in about 18 different ways. I don't know what happened to it, but something serious went wrong at some point. Mine is definitely crippled. But it was a great camera, no mistake.

    And I made a lot of money with it, so I won't mind when I have to throw it away. Much. Well, I will mind, but I'll be able to rationalize it.


    Never knew about that background in a bag! Thanks for mentioning it.

    I loved my 7D. It never got quite as quirky as yours and I sold it for the new generation of low-noise high ISO cameras a few years back, switching from lifelong Minolta loyalty to Nikon. The D300's a great camera but after a couple of years of daily shooting with it I still can't use it as intuitively as the old KM and I regret not sticking with Sony.

    I still have my Rokkor 24-105, an autowinder for a Minolta XD-11 and a really old 135mm Vivitar MF in Rokkor bayonet mount, if anyone's interested.

    What's a senior photograph?

    "What's a senior photograph?"

    It's a portrait of a high school senior for that year's high school yearbook.


    All these stories remind me of how I started in photography working for a large mid-western portrait studio while I was in high-school and then college. The studio wrote a contract with each high-school offering to photograph every single student individually for the year book (and gain an ability to sell packages of photos to the student families). There were assigned photo days for each class, and the crews went to the schools for about a week, photographing all against a selection of backgrounds (based on what class you were in), and easily being able to pick up lost or sick students sometime during the week.

    One of the big sales features of the studio was that when they would land a contract, it would include a certain amount of free photographic work of special events for the school year-book staff. In fact, this is how I, as a young guy learning the business, would be thrust out into a "run-and-gun" situation, photographing a "breaking" event like a prom or home-coming (with relatively little damage if I muffed a few things) and learning how to talk with young and old alike to get good shots, and ferret out information to complete the assignments successfully. Valuable experience when I moved on to advertising.

    The upside to all this, is that whether you wanted to buy any photographs or not, there was a nice (maybe boring) pic of you forwarded to the year book staff so that you could be included in the book. Even the poor got a decent representation in the book. And the student didn't have to do anything but "sit", the delivery of pics was all handled for them (we even brought pre-packaged combs we just gave away to those who needed it, and had a few staff people to make students look more presentable).

    Sometime after I left college and went on to ad work, I heard that there were tons of lawsuits going on in this business claiming collusion and/or exclusion of other photographers and some of the parents complaining about not being able to select the studio they wanted to use, etc., etc. All very interesting.

    My understanding of how all this works today, is as stated in the previous posts and the main story, wherein the student has to supply a photograph (from where-ever) to the year-book staff, and it can be anything and shot anyway. What I hear from pals in the business, is that high-schools in wealthy areas end up with year-books that look like Vogue fashion shoots, and the rest is kind of catch-as-catch-can; with, of course, a lot of those last minute stories of unplanned shooting sessions for high-schoolers that couldn't remember what was going on or some other thing...

    So gang, what was better? Old way or new? I'm conflicted, I certainly wouldn't mind photographing beautiful high-school kids with costume changes for big money in wealthy areas...but...

    We need to get you working at a newspaper for a while Mike. You still had time to go get breakfast, and really any self-respecting photojournalist would've realized that's what's important. (smirk)

    Old way or new way? To me, not letting people represent themselves any way they want in the yearbook photos is just wrong. So the new way is clearly better.

    However, I don't see why that couldn't be combined with having a portrait company come through and shoot everybody who wanted to be shot. That should be most people (they could decide another photo was better later if they wanted). It does cause a complexity for the yearbook -- making sure pictures sent in directly properly supersede what comes from the portrait company. But, speaking as the yearbook photo editor my senior year, I think we could handle that.

    You can get a SDHC card reader on ebay for US$1.

    I have a couple and they work well - you even get an activity light.

    eg http://stores.ebay.com/eworld365

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