Happy Valentines Day… Now Get to Work

Well, the last week was a busy one on with some “interesting” food shooting and some interesting classroom stuff.  The food part has pictures so I’ll make you wait for that, and a little Valentines Day message at the end.  But I’ll start with the distressing stuff.


The classroom madness was at least spread around a bit.  One of our beginning classes contains an individual who is disruptive, intimidating, aggressive, paranoid, and even threatened a volunteer lab tech with an unequivocal “I am going to hurt you!” speech.  Following a meeting with professor and lab manager and being told of other student’s complaints as well as inappropriate behavior, he excused it all as the teacher out to get him and prodding him by “…calling him by name.”  Perhaps he would prefer a code name like “Sweet Cheeks” or “Love Bunny” which would be appropriate since he stated he was only there to learn photography to do porn.

But the student’s antics are not my main point.  The point is the lack of engagement and interest on the part of our administration from the Dean to the VP of Student Affairs.  A couple of years ago when I said our IT people should either learn to do what they were paid for and we needed or they should be fired, I was officially reprimanded for being threatening and “uncollegial” and told I needed anger management counseling.  I never once threatened them physically but only with the observation that I would fire them on the spot.  In this case, however, the student is an overt bully who actually DID threaten someone, who is one of the sad new crop of entitled self-annointed victims who blames all their problems and failures on others, who has a volatile temper and would probably be voted by his peers to be the one most likely to “go postal.” And when told all that in writing, admin’s response was only to encourage faculty to work with him and continue to monitor the situation.

We’ve had some questionable students before with issues bubbling just beneath the surface.  With no screening and a desire to accept everyone who applies that is to be expected.  But this one “feels” different… this one scares me a little.  Not for me but for his instructor and the other students in his class he seems to have decided are out to get him.

Fortunately he is not my student… my own students, meantime, present a problem that is diametrically opposite of this one.  They do not threaten or badger other students, they just show up and disappear into the bowels of facebook or email or whatever on the class computers.  For my own part I have realized that I have some students who are still, behaviorally, in kindergarten mode and cannot – cannot – help themselves from playing on the computers in the digital lab when I am trying to lecture.  Now the truth is, on a personal level I honestly don’t care.  It is their lives they are messing with not mine; when they miss the material for a test or to use in the field to properly do their projects it does not diminish me or the value of the material to the others that they are sitting in their chair but may as well be asleep or at home.  But it IS a huge distraction to others so my tolerance ran out last week.

For a number of reasons my Bull S**t bin was finally topped up over the break and so now, with my BS storage capacity filled at 100% and my tolerance for incoming BS at 0%,  this was and is too much.  I am so profoundly done with accommodating behaviors that are matters of choice that there will be no more of it on any front.  I am stunned at how often people are so wrapped up in their own “things,” so completely trapped in their carefully constructed dungeons made from their own well crafted stumbling blocks that they seem totally oblivious when they have done something or acted in a way as to just slap others in the face with the implication of their actions.  In this case it displays an incredible lack of concern, awareness, common courtesy, simple CARE about how what they are doing might be effecting others; how it makes others feel.  I love the line, “Oh they won’t mind” as if they had a clue.

So, in class at least, next week I will descend to the sophomoric tactic of simply locking the computers down during lectures; something I can do from the instructor’s station.  I hate doing that because it is an admission that trying to hold all of the students to a professional standard of behavior is apparently beyond me.  But the serious students who are there to learn deserve better from their classmates.  And they deserve better from me than allowing it to continue.  And they are the ones to whom I should be paying attention, not the ones that cannot be bothered to pay attention to me or their classroom neighbors.

Food Shoot

OK, rant over… on to more pleasant visual pursuits.  Coming back from the break, outside photo work had slowed down.  That was, in my past experience, typical and to be expected.  From December or even late November, through late January, worked had almost always slowed down or died and it was one of the few times I was relatively comfortable taking time off.

But, right on schedule, in the last couple of  weeks it came back swinging.  By Friday evening we had done a corporate portrait set, three food shots, and have more shooting already schedules for next week.  Cool!

The shots for this week ran the gamut from very cool to, well, if I told you I wanted to take an owner and bake them in their own ovens, it might give a clue.

Thursday we had a normally scheduled early morning shot for a pizza place in Poway called Bongiorno.  And then, when that was finished, we had an “emergency”  job inserted for another pizza place here in town.  The first place was run by a young couple and presented a chance to do both a cover and a portrait in addition to the food shots.  This guy was a real artist in what he did and how he did it and was fun to watch.  Cynthia thought it would be neat to shoot him at the ovens and I loved it since it was such a departure visually from most of what we had been asked to shoot.

So, here is him taking a newly done pizza from the ovens.

Owner of Bongiorno Pizza in Poway removes a newly baked pizza from his oven.  Canon 5D Mark III with Canon 24-70 L

Owner of Bongiorno Pizza in Poway removes a newly baked pizza from his oven. Canon 5D Mark III with Canon 24-70 L

It was a little tight to rig lights in the space around the ovens but I loved the sheen and abstract quality of the front of the oven.  The poor guy was toasting his hand while I had him pause for the shot.

We also did the obligatory shots of food but I’m hoping the publication uses this one because at is both different and I think personalizes the restaurant nicely.  However we ran into an unexpected issue.  The publication’s account rep had apparently promised the store owner far more than they had a right to.  We work FOR the publication not for the final client.  Our service contract is with the magazine and the usage rights are spelled out clearly.  Even if we wanted to, we could not turn over shots to the clients.  But they seemed to think we should do that – for free – but also that we should be there to shoot everything they have, in essence do a new menu shoot for them.

They are sometimes offended when we say we could come back and do it and would be happy to show them a rate sheet/price card for our services but this shoot is already bought and paid for with specific guidelines and so we will not violate our deals with OUR clients.  Someone needs to spell out those issues clearly with the account reps.  The owners are caught in the middle having been promised something by the rep that could not be delivered.  It is uncomfortable all around.

But the pizza baker (or is it cook? or chef?) was very nice, extremely helpful, and though I do not like pizza, he gave us some to take with us and Cynthia said it was VERY good.  Then we rushed down to town for a shoot that was told to us was critical to get shot in a hurry and files rushed in for publication deadlines.

This time, the owner was borderline surly, clearly had a number of things he would rather be doing than dealing with us.  Desite it being HIS emergency he had gotten in late to fire up the ovens so we had to wait even though we told him we were on a very tight schedule (I had to get to class in the afternoon), he finally got the ovens up and running but apparently despite having stacked ovens could only make one pizza at a time and chose to make a pizza for a customer that wandered in BEFORE they were open (we had the door open to haul in lighting) leaving us to cool our heels.  Then he decided he wanted all manner of stuff in the shot though we tried to tell him the stuff all crammed together would be small and hard to see.  It was a completely unpleasant situation.  And then, to add insult to injury, while we were shooting, he got out his cell phone and got in the way taking his own pictures WHILE we were shooting.

Pizza is an interesting subject:  it is flat.  And it is a disk.  And pizza restaurants seem to be the least conducive to use as locations for appetizing food shoots though I don’t know why that is the case.  It would be far easier to shoot in the controlled environment and background of a studio where there were no distractions to the shoot.  And pizza would be easy to bring back to “life” for such a shoot.

However for this shot one of the pizzas brought out was very nicely decorated so it seemed like a perfect cover shot.  As is our usual working procedure for a cover shot, Cynthia styles the shot, I light it,  we help each other during the shoot as we see things needing attention which means that whoever does not have their hands full of reflectors or trying to brace up items depresses the shutter when we think we are ready.  We were working back and forth so I do not know for sure which of us fired the camera this one: oour method of working really is a TEAM effort.

After the shoot generally I will do the final edit.  Here the actual frame had the breads in the background a little off centered and, I thought, a bit overpowering since the main subject was the pizza.  Or as in this one where EVERYTHING was sharp, the bread was distracting.  So I separated the elements, moved, enlarged and softened the breads and enlarged the pizza so we could see more of it.

Final shot of colorful pizza and breads.  Now that I look at it more closely, since I cut out and resized the pizza anyway, I should have trimmed off the plate.  Sometimes when you are rushing a job things fall through the cracks.

Final shot of colorful pizza and breads. Now that I look at it more closely, since I cut out and resized the pizza anyway, I should have trimmed off the plate. Sometimes when you are rushing a job things fall through the cracks.

This was a rush job which meant we shot it at the last minute then I ran to class and then to a meeting, and did the edit that night (finishing around midnight) so it would be waiting for the press run on Friday morning.  When you work tired and not pleased anyway, things slip through the cracks.  That is no excuse by any means… there are no excuses.  You are only as good as the shot and no one gives a rat’s behind why it might not be perfect… it is your job to make it perfect.  But if I were doing it now, rested and without the pressure I would like to think I would have seen that since I needed to cut out the pizza anyway, I would have trimmed off the top of the gray metal serving platter.

But then, after  short night, on Friday we drove up to Temecula to shoot a Chinese place called the Red Dragon.  This was the kind of great environment and people that helps erase the bad memories.  The restaurant was very nice looking (once again the owner wanted to show something of the restaurant in the shot) and when it came out, the food was so excellently presented we had almost nothing left to do with it to prep it for shooting.

We did two versions this time since everyone was so nice.  We did the overview shot the owner wanted and also a close up of the food that the publication wanted.  Here are the two shots. The top one, is more typical since it shos some of the venue and also easily leaves room at the top for the title.

The overview version of Red Ginger's cover.

The overview version of Red Ginger’s cover.

Below is version 2 which tightly presents the food.  Cynthia actually was at the camera for this one though I did the lighting and the final editing.  She really has a good eye.

Oh yes, and I was carefully and precisely holding a couple of fill cards which are, of course critical to the shot and without which, it goes without saying, the entire concept would fall completely apart!  It is all in the fingers which is a talent requiring years of practice… at every opportunity.


Personally I actually really prefer this second shot but it may not accomodate the cover layout very well since they often have LOTS of copy spread out all over it.

One of the hard things about media shooting is working to accomodate a layout that, as in this case, might have a title, volume data, room for address sticker, call-outs pointing readers to inside features, and whatever else the publisher can cram into that space to get you to buy or grab the publication.  The final cover shot often looks fine when printed with the copy in place on a newstand; but as a stand-alone shot in a portfolio, for example, leaves the composition a little puzzling.

In the view camera days we could take a sheet of clear acrylic with the layout in grease pensil and lay it over the ground glass to help guide the placement of items in the shot.  It was clunky but very workable.  Anyway, here is that second shot…

Detailed shot of excellent fare at the Red Ginger.

Detailed shot of excellent fare at the Red Ginger.

We were crowding the lunch opening and we could see the owner sweating bullets as he watched the clock but he was far to polite and gracious to say anything. When we were through, the owner prepared a table for us and we had the food for lunch.  Since we had not had to ruin it with trickery for the shoot it was still good for eating and I can tell you it was EXCELLENT.  The shrimp in the shot above were amazing!


So now here is the Valentine’s Day Holiday.  For all of you out there with people in your lives that you love… tell them.  You ought to be telling them every day, you never know when you will never see them again.  But especially this weekend, make it special, even above the norm.  I see so much dysfunctional behavior here, more so than I saw in the west.  And here, I hear the word “love” used a lot more and then followed by behavior that makes the word meaningless.  When it comes to matters of the heart, words without supporting behavior are worthless and simply confusing. I think we have a culture that no longer has a clue all of the wonder and power that word can contain when it is real.

If your love is real and the word is not just used as a strategy, then you will not be able to help but show it.  Real love is worn on the sleeve and cannot be successfully hidden.  If it isn’t obvious, then it isn’t real.  Don’t just mouth the words, show that special person that they ARE special to you. DEMONSTRATE it!  Otherwise shut up and stop stringing them along… if they mean anything to you then they deserve better.


About ndking

Commercial Photographer and Professor of Photography at San Diego City College
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