Shakedown Cruise for Rocinante II to the Bristlecone Pines

This past long weekend has been both the maiden voyage for the little VW Westfalia I leased from my friend and sometimes shooting partner (especially for food photography), Cynthia Sinclair (one of the very best sailing photographers on the coast and a terrific portrait photographer as well), and the 2018 Bristlecone Pines Workshop.

Why the little camper?  My bigger Coachman, Rocinante (the one in the banner above), is wonderful, I love it when parked for a few days in a place with full hook-ups.  But honestly it is a bit much getting around sometimes, such as in parking lots or pull-overs to take photographs.   Consequently I find I do not take it out as much as I’d like. So I’ve leased this little camper and have been upgrading it to better serve as a photographer’s and teacher’s home and classroom on the road.  In another entry I’ll get into specifics if anyone is interested but this entry is intended to be more about the trek itself. ,

I left San Diego at 0730 Thursday and first then headed over to pick up a participant who needed a ride since her Miata would be beaten to death on the last road legs to Crooked Creek. I picked up Osia (who is not only a terrific award winning photographer but an amazing architect) in Pacific Beach, then set a course North on I15. 

At Victorville, I made a last-minute decision and braved the reported construction near Adelante — and found it to be overestimated and only  a minimal delay. We arrived at our first destination, Randsburg, only about 15 minutes behind normal. We ran into some of the participants already there who were shooting in this Living ghost town.  I’ve got a number of photos from there in previous posts.  Started by gold miners from South Africa, it, and its sister town, Johannesburg, were some major centers of activity in their day.  After some shooting there,  we went on to the first night’s stop, Ridgecrest, home of the famous China Lake Naval Weapons Station.  We did NOT shoot there.  It is a place that shoots back…

For dinner, I had bragged about my favorite steak and BBQ place but I am sad and embarrassed to report… it was awful. After dinner that evening we went to the Trona Pinnacles for some evening shooting. This is such a weird collection of tufa towers it is truly other worldly. The cloud cover prohibited deep sky shooting so we returned for an early evening. 

 Friday morning we went to Lone Pine and did a fast tour of Alabama Hills, Movie Road, and then up to Whitney Portal. There had been a fire raging near there and the whole area was shut down but it was reopened by the time we got there.  The little van with its Subaru engine had done wonderfully up to that point.  I’m not sure the original little 1800 cc VW engine would have even made it up the long and very steep portal road grade. The Subaru had no difficulty; but by the time we made it to the parking lot at the top it was approaching overheating.  When I stopped I made the mistake of just shutting the engine off rather than letting it circulate a few minutes with no load on it in the cool air.  Take this as a lesson: what happens is now the non-moving coolant just sits in place in the hot engine and expands… a lot.

The Subaru engine is a “Boxster” design just like the VW so it fits perfectly in the rear engine well but unlike the old T2 series vanagon, the T3 (this is a 1982 version) does not have an external access but rather requires you to get to all the engine stuff from the rear cargo area (which means unloading it).  This was a blessing in disguise because by the time I got the back cleared out and the engine cover off it had cooled down some and I lost only a little more coolant when I (carefully and with gloves on) opened the reservoir.  I added coolant, ran the engine to pull it back in, then added a little more to the fill line, checked the oil (it was up at the full line) then started re-loading the back.  I got finished at about the time participants were returning to head back down and on to the Bristlecones.

(As an aside, I confess that spooked me a little so on the climb up out of Big Pine, where we stopped to top off the fuel, up toward Eastgard Pass and then on to the research station at 10,100 feet, my eyes was glued to the temperature gauge.  But it never even approached an overheating stage and made the climb like it was nothing.   I had checked and filled everything before leaving San Diego so have no idea why it had a problem at Whitney Portal but suspect that since the air temperature in the Owens valley was already near 100 F and we drove straight from there up the Portal Road, that must have contributed to it. Judging from the antifreeze stains in the Whitney Portal parking lot, I was not the only one…)  

However, while there I got a call from the WMRS (White Mountain Research Station) liaison warning me that the highway out of Big Pine to the road into the Bristlecones was flooded and closed. Good grief, this was like the tick infestation nightmare of a couple of years ago, all over again.  First the construction scare, then the fire scare, and now this…???  But it was an error, the road WAS closed but on the other side of the pass and we had no real  problem driving there.  

After dinner I gave a presentation on deep sky photography and painting with light.  Some of the participants wanted to go out and start shooting but I’ve learned, from sad experience, to not let them do that so soon after arriving at 10,000 feet.  Keeping that in mind, I forced them to endure a presentation the first night.  I often bring a guest instructor but this time it was just me. 

Saturday morming we were at Patriarch Grove (well over 11,000 ft.) when all hell broke loose from the sky. A lightning strike on the mountain next to us started the action followed by a downpour, heavy hail, heavy wind, serious thunder and lightning sent us s rambling For the cars. It rained 6 inches in ten minutes and hailed/sleeted nearly two feet in the same time.

student at Pat grove-blog

Participant lining up a shot at the Patriarch’s Grove in the Ancient Bristlecone Pines National Forrest.  All of my shots, unless noted otherwise, have been taken with a little Canon “S120” point and shoot camera.


wizard tree for blog

This is one of my favorite trees left in this grove.  My subject of “Bones of The Patriarchs” has finally disintegrated and gone back into the earth.


bcone detail

The trees are ice blasted into fantastic shapes and patterns.  I took this shot to illustrate the complexity but in fact I see 3-5 separate images hidden in here that need their own creative expression.


b-cone cones close for blog

Here is where it begins — a tiny bristly seedling.  These small cones carry the DNA of some of the oldest living organisms on the planet.

As I often tell students, some of the best photos are made in the worst weather. However I confess I’ve never been in such a downpour of rain and hail. In the time it took me to run around the vehicle I went from bone dry to drenched to the skin.  But wet or dry I was having a great time!  When the storm cell passed the sky was left with dramatic clouds, and wet surfaces that were color saturated. I’d get wet to see that beauty anytime. 


tree in ridge 02 for blog

While some of the participants ran for cover, others — and I — drove back along the ridgeline overlooking the Owens Valley above Big Pine and Bishop where there are always incredible views in the forest and rock outcrops along the edge.

van at overlook 01 for blog

The little van at an overlook to the Owens Valley and Sierras.  The flat item on the roof facing the camera is a 100 watt solar panel.

Osia at outcrop for blog

Osia shooting at one of the fascinating rock outcrops.

Sunday was our last day in the Bristlecone Pines forest.  But I was not even close to ready to come back.  So we went back to Lone Pine and Alabama Hills for some incredible evening shooting.  Monday, on the way back, we stopped at Fossil Falls and at the giant red cinder cone.  Then, alas, there was no more delaying possible so it was time to really head the little camper south and towards home.  My take on the VW has been all positive.  I need to do a more thoughtful packing job if I’m not alone and there are a few other improvements in the works.  This was NOT a camping trip (that will be next)  but more of a shakedown trip to see what it is like driving a distance.  The ONLY issue was heat (not the engine issue but just air temp in a vehicle with no internal air-conditioning).  So, since it is scheduled to go in for another spate of work next week, I just put in a request to see if there is a way to install a roof top A/C like the one that l have on ‘Big’ Rocinante. 

Oh, about the van’s name?  Well Cynthia called it “The Beast” but, to me, that simply doesn’t seem to fit its personality.  I’ve not decided on its name yet, but one of the workshop participants who has ALSO gone with me on treks in ‘big’ Rocinante, called it, ‘Rocinante, Jr’.  Hmmmm… Not sure that exactly resonates with me.   I’ll have to think about it.  It may wait until a good paint job calls forth its real sprit   .

van at cinder cone for blog

Here’s the van at the large cinder cone near fossil falls

This all has helped me make a decision.  At school, following a scheduling blunder by me, the admin wizards decided, apparently on data retrieved from a Tarot Card reading, that the Landscape Class no longer has enough interest to students, and so, for the past year and a half, it has not been allowed to be offered.  It serves no purpose to show how silly that is so it has helped me face reality and simply offer the location fieldtrips from that class as workshops and “host” them at school, just like our presentations with Adobe, etc. help prop up our photo foundation, give some skim to the district (if they also decide a photo workshop is somehow related to the program’s mission… which would be… uh… photography education, and in that way, rather than give the money to the school to disappear in the state’s financial black hole, take it home… 

This is sounding better all the time.  Let’s see… that way the students get educational events they want, the program gets repair money it desperately needs,  it frees up classroom time and schedules for those other advanced courses we are not allowed to run, lets me teach and interface with students without having to grade them, and allows me to shoot in some great spaces with my expense covered, something that does not happen when I do them as class field trips. 

Yep, this is sounding better by the moment.




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Sorry for the long delay since the previous post.  I’ve been a bit buried getting the Spring semester closed out with compiling grades for the three classes.  Plus the San Diego Fair work judging the International Photo Exhibit and prepping for several in-person events.  And, (in my spare time) doing a small video promo for Regional Rep of an International Company whose headquarters are in the Netherlands.

The grading part is easy since the computer collates scores and all I have to do is add any extra points, consider effort and participation then enter the results in the District Data Base.  Easy… but time consuming and since it is a short break, there is always a shortened deadline for submitting grades since a pre-requisite course, like Photo 143 has to have its grades in the system before students can sign up for subsequent courses.  But, for one of the few times I not only was in under the deadline but actually submitted them a few days early. I was on a mission to clear the decks for summer planning.

I have an online Beginning Digital Class for this summer semester which, coincidentally, started this week.  It is already at capacity: 40 students.  Whoa.  Normal classroom-based courses are capped considerably lower and online actually takes more instructor time per student, especially for “lecture/lab” classes trying to simulate in the virtual world the hands-on interaction with students of the normal classes.  But our admin, unburdened by actual in-class experience, thinks they are easy and so raised the caps.

Adding to that, the problem with summer classes is that semester is 8 weeks not 16 but we have to cover the same material if students are to be properly prepared for the intermediate and advanced courses.  So it took some juggling of topics and materials to try to fit that in.  But there is no way around it, this will be a LOT of work for the students and for me.

Summer is, however, also a chance for me to try out a “proof of concept” regarding teaching online.  I am headed for retirement but would like to leave open the possibility for what this district calls “pro-rata” assignments for retired full timers like me.  But I want to be able to conduct those courses online and from ANYwhere I can access the internet.  I’ve been upgrading the Westfalia camper I have leased from a friend with an eye toward just that ability.  I would happily buy it but she does not want to sell it outright… but she was willing to do a long term lease.  That way if, for some reason I head off into that great darkroom in the sky, it will simply revert back to her with no muss or fuss.  But I have added roof-top storage, a solar panel, and a WiFi signal booster to help in that plan.  That added so much weight to the pop-up roof that I’m also installing powered lift mechanics to it. 

My big motor home, Rocinante (the one on the banner above), is sometimes just, well, too big.  It is great when parked in a full hookup campground where it becomes basically an apartment on wheels.  But since I do not have a “Toad” (what the RV community calls a separate vehicle that is towed (get it?) by the main RV, I use the RV itself for daily treks so I don’t expect to be parked anywhere for long and it has proven to be too big to easily go on photo scouting forays where you might just want to pull off the side of the road.  The VW Westfalia lacks the wonderful room of the big one but it makes up for it with location flexibility… or at least that is what I think will happen.  Certainly some of the posts of this blog will reveal how that plan has worked out… or not.  I do need a name for it but it will tell me its name as it is used more. I’ve not sold the big one, waiting to see if the little van will do as I am hoping.

The SD Fair started and there have been judges’ events and presentations to do.  We have done both a judges “roundtable” where we talk about what, as judges, we look for in submitted photograph, and also  the judges “critiques” where attendees can bring in a file or print and we’ll collectively critique it.  That is also a good way to improve assuming you have a pretty thick skin.  On the 17th I gave a workshop on Time Lapse Photography.  And on the 27th at 7pm I’ll be part of a panel discussing the future of photography.  My book on that very topic has managed to gain some interest so I’m very interested in hearing whether or not others share or disagree with my conclusion so it should be a lively discussion.

My old friend and incredible artist, Bill Duncan used to refer to this sort of time between creative activity as the time he could do his “monkey work,” the necessary work to close out the previous work (making frames, mounting, etc.) and prepping for the next onslaught of work (stretching canvas, replenishing supplies, etc.  He called it that because he felt that a trained monkey could do it but his philosophy about art “production” was that to call yourself an artist and claim a finished piece as your own, then you had to do it all because, in the end, that additional work had an influence on the actual art piece, either positive or negative.  Therefore if you wanted full credit for that thing hanging on the wall, it all had to be a result of your own effort.  Otherwise you needed to credit the resources that helped you with the presentation.  That was a tough approach to maintain; but he did.  And to be honest with you, I agree with him.  The images at the Fair have borne that out.  Some that looked good on the computer for Tier 1 judging came as prints that we rejected for bad printing and a few actually looked better than it had as an electronic file.  The credit or blame for the state of that final print really has to be shared with whomever actually produced that print.

We will be doing the orientation for the Bristlecone Pines workshop (click the link on the banner to see details about it) this week and then be heading out to get it started in a couple of weeks.  It is nearly full so should be a fun time.  I always look forward to it. 

I also want to thank the individuals who have made my book, “The Future of Professional Photography & Photo Education” a success far beyond what I dreamed would happen.  Though it was initiated to fulfill a sabbatical leave requirement it has been, to my surprise, quite successful.  And also to my surprise my book on school shootings, “Making Schools Safe(r)” has begun to gather some steam.  I appreciate that very much.  If the results are that a conversation can be started then it too will have succeeded beyond my wildest expectations.  If you might be interested in getting a copy, my “spotlight” page on (the printer) is: .  They are also available on Amazon but you can get the copy faster by ordering directly through Lulu.  I’m hoping that for the next post I’ll have some images to share..





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I was so hoping I would not have to return top this topic — but in my “heart of hearts” I knew better.  And sure enough, last week we saw yet another instance of a young killer opening fire in a school and killing his own school mates, pretty much as I predicted would happen in my book, “Making Schools Safe(r).”

The shooter did confuse the standard, knee-jerk self-proclaimed experts and their preferred narrative by not using an AR15 or any of its variants.  He went “old school” with a shotgun and revolver which he took from his father’s collection.  And once again the cry goes forth upon the land, ” Oh what shall we do.”  But there is an implied extra clause to that question and it actually should be read as “Oh what shall we do that does not inconvenience the life style and social constructs we have created and enjoy.”  So long as we just gore that other guy’s ox and leave ours alone we happily contribute our  wit and wisdom even if it is bereft of any a glancing blow off the truth.

In my book, “Making Schools Safe(r)”  (that you can order direct from Lulu using the following URL: ) I predicted there would be more and more of these until we, as a culture stopped manufacturing these youthful killers.  I highly recommend that if you want to get a handle on this, you get the book and think how, just in your own life, you can help start to turn this sad but predictable around phenomenon around.  Spoiler alert: the books demonstrates quite clearly that these school shooters are not somehow in thrall to their tools.

The real answer does not and will not ever be found addressing the tool, especially with arguments that openly portray an incredible lack of knowledge on the subject but parroting the talking points of others who, it has to be assumed, are as innocent of any real knowledge of the subject despite their clever posts and copied memes on social media.

The answer will only be found addressing us —  all of us —  as a society providing the environment and even motivation for these kids to think the answer to the (in their minds) overwhelming anger and use of violence as a solution.  And that solution is found in the most uncomfortable and inconvenient of places… within ourselves.  If this is an important topic for you I suggest you might read my book and factor my arguments into the equation for you to settle on a resolution in your own world.

Next week is Finals Week at City so I’ve been a bit under the gun trying to get final exams ready and starting the final project grading then grade totals.  This time we are on a short leash to get grades turned in so people can register for follow-on classes if the needed our grade as a prerequisite.

I’m anxious to get this done so I can return to my project of getting the little VW Westfalia (Camper) ready for action.  The poor old gal had not been treated all that well and seems to be enjoying the attention.  She’s now running strong and smoothly thanks to some engine work and then it will be to finish out the upgrades I have planned to let me head into the field and work totally self contained in addition to having internet access to handle my online classes if I’m not at home.

I’m thinking of a trek through Canyon Country and then to visit a friend in Santa Fe and being able to create some still imagery and some video for topic intros and tutorials for my classes all shot on location “out there” somewhere.  It will likely be toward the end of July that all of the planned work is done, but in the meantime a few short “shakedown” cruises in this general region will help me verify that all functions are working or to know which ones are not.

OH, I almost forgot.  A reader of this blog sent me an email asking where a specific post was.  He had someone tell him about it but could find it.  It concerned a loving old traveling couple I observed on a trek to Alabama Hills.  Well, Sir, here is where you can link directly to it:





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Lighting Class Demo: Food

Wednesday I did a demo for the lighting class on shooting food.  A preliminary lecture on Monday let me talk about the differences in shooting “studio” and “plated” food and the aesthetic differences often seen between “editorial” and “advertising” shots.  I provided several handouts I’d created on food photography and then it was time to do something real and showed some examples of top notch food photographs.

So Wednesday I brought in a Fish and Chips mean from the restaurant where I had lunch and a student brought in a dessert pastry so we had two items to shoot.  In setting up the entrée I discussed the role of a food stylist (HIGHLY recommended) for example in carefully arranging the fries in the basket and then the pieces of fish.  (A quick disclaimer here, I am NOT a stylist so my arrangements will not match those of a good food stylist but there were none available for the demo.)

Once the food was arranged and a composition determined, it was time to set the lighting.  For this shot I used two lights and two reflectors.  The shots are taken with my Canon 5DSr and a Canon 90mm Tilt/Shift lens tilted forward to angle the depth of field plane to cover the whole dish.  Final shot is at f9.

The main light was a large softbox positioned directly overhead and slightly to the rear.  This created a soft, saturated light with just enough directionality to show up the texture and cast a slight shadow forward.  This replicates how food would look to you seated at a table where you were blocking off the light coming from the front of the plate.

I then used a gridded light from screen right to skim across the food and add some dimension and separation of the items in the meal.

However that made the front of the product a little two dark so two reflectors: a large silver one just in front and slightly to the left and then a small white card close and to the right.

Here is the light plot…


blog on food lighting-diagram-for fish and chip

Do note that in the actual shoot, the large softbox is placed overhead and aiming straight down on the product.

And here is the initial shot cropped and with preliminary settings in ACR.

 blog on food demo fish 01

And here is the final processed shot.

blog on food demo fish 02

For the dessert shot, brought in by a student, Christopher, we arranged the individual pieces on a silver serving dish then since they were spicy, added the peppers for color and some of the seeds around the platter.  Once the arrangement was tweaked and ready and a composition chosen he added the dollops of frosting and we set the lights in place.

As before, the main light was an overhead large softbox placed slightly to the rear.  This time we used two accent lights, one from each side to provide element separation and show off the texture of the product.

Here is the light plot for this shot.

lighting-diagram-for napoleon dessert 

I was still shooting with a 90mm Tilt Shift Lens so wanted to show the class how to also use its functions to create very shallow depth of field.  The first shot below is with the lens tilted forward to increase depth of field as might be done in an advertising shot and the second is with it tilted to the rear to decrease depth of field for selective focus typical of editorial shots.  Here are the final shots.


blog on food dessert focus

For this shot the tilt of the lens was adjusted so at the shooting aperture, f8 (a sweet spot of this lens) the leading edge of the product is sharp and the trailing edge is just slightly going soft.  This shows the whole assembly but lets the viewer concentrate on the texture of the product.



blog on food dessert soft

In this version, the lens is tilted slightly backwards so that the plane of depth of field is tilted backwards and runs through the product in a narrow slice.  Focus is on the front edge of the nearest piece of product.  Aperture is f8 just like the shot above.


Well, so that was our demo.  I hope this was helpful.









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Bristlecone Pines Trip is Filling Up!

Just a quick post this time.  The roster for the 2018 Bristlecone Pines trek in July is filling up.  If this is a workshop trip that you might be interested in, go to the Page noted in the banner above for all the details and then drop me an email to get on the roster.

If you know someone who might also be interested, below is a YouTube link to a short promotional video on the trip you can pass on to let them know about the trip.



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The Log for a Promo Video Project


Some of you are getting into video production to add to your professional photography offerings.  As you’ve heard me say here and, in my workshops, video is an entirely new world for most still photographers, even experienced ones.  So, from time to time I’ll let you in on the processes and issues from a real video shoot; and here is one of them.   When things are smooth there is very little of educational value, but when it is more difficult it provides far better resource material for students.

This project was done as a “favor” for a friend to help his father boost his business.  Trust me you’ll be getting requests like this as video becomes more ubiquitous online and in sales and service websites.  But here is the problem you will face: I can tell you from lots of experience, there is an inverse relationship between the price charged for a project and the problems that will come out of the wood work to bite you.

The expensive gigs are planned very carefully, have full professional crews and set help, and even though they are often a lot of work, that planning and help means they tend to go very smoothly.  But as the money fades and parts of the production logistics have to be jerry rigged or corners cut, the problems escalate.  And free projects can often turn out to be the worst nightmares for some or all of the production elements.  Like no other, free projects will demand you be on your toes and ready to get creative with rigging and shooting and lighting and… well all aspects of it.  That’s all on top of the conceptual and aesthetic creativity required to produce good video productions to serve your client’s needs in the first place.  Those are hard on the treasury but great exercises to develop your creativity.

Remember, regardless of the price charged, from $0.05 to $50,000,  once you have agreed to do it at all, your name and reputation is now on the line and you need to give the production 100% of your skills, talents, and energies.  And remember too, this is not YOUR needs to meet, but the client’s.  You may or may not be able to pull a program for your reel from it, but that is irrelevant.  The only relevant thing, as it is in ALL of real commercial photography, is meeting the needs of the client… not yours.

So-o-o-o…  this late in March I shot the video for a series of episodes on barbeque tips and techniques for a delightful gentleman from Mississippi, LaMont Burns.   (Check him out at On his website you can see some of his older videos and it will be obvious why he needed something new.  He has operated his own BBQ restaurants specializing in southern style cooking and BBQ and now has his own proprietary BBQ sauce and marinade.  It was ultimately to promote sales of his product that the planned web site and video channel is designed.  These short 2-5-minute “episodes” are designed to air about every two weeks and provide tips and techniques for BBQ and southern cooking using his own products, of course.

Two “sets/locations” were desired to provide some variety:  one was to be indoors in a kitchen and the other outdoors and a bit more rustic.  This allowed showing the use of both standard appliances like stoves and also a clever indoor-outdoor grill.  But, remember, there was no money for this production.  Period.  So certainly, there was no money for a practical kitchen set on a studio or stage somewhere, so we had to use LaMont’s son’s kitchen.  Real kitchens, unless in a serious mansion, present major challenges as shooting locations: general layout was designed for cooking  and not for photography OF cooking.  The available space and low ceiling for lighting, talent, camera(s), and sound design issues for audio, are just starting issues.  It can go downhill from there.

With vinyl floors and hard cabinet surfaces, the small kitchen for the interior segments was very “live” and echo-y from a sound perspective.  I used a good shotgun mic on a boom very close to him but it still picks up some of the small room’s tinny bounce.  It turned out, however, that “live room” wasn’t anywhere near the audio problem we found when the “quiet back yard” for the exterior shots turned out to back up to a major boulevard and be on the flight path out of a local general aviation airport…  Oh well, if it was all easy anyone could do it, right?

Besides, the subtle “project” creep as it was slowly revealed to me, after I agreed to do a short video for a friend’s dad,  which became 19 segments, should have been an omen that it might not all go stunningly smooth and glitch free.  But every now and then it is important to do a project that pays in smiles and appreciation; it may be hard on the patience and the pocketbook but it is, I think, good for the soul.  If “Karma” is real, sometimes these projects will, I fervently hope, provide a few points in that regard.  And, for a teacher, they can provide some of the best educational “war stories.”

Well most of the time, anyway…  it will remain to be seen if this will turn out to be one of them.  I remain hopeful…   When I looked at some video he already had on his website and it was simply awful, I was relieved; at its worst, the segments we shot are, by comparison at least, awesome.  I’d prefer a more object criteria and evaluation of awesomeness, but, hey, sometimes you grasp at straws and latch on to the good news however you have to find — and spin it.

However, there are lessons to pass along for you guys seeking to move into the video production end of commercial photo work.  Unless you are just doing the incredibly boring but really simple “talking head” sort of project —  you know, where an “expert” presenter, often self-titled, who knows it all, is going to dazzle the viewers with their brilliance and therefore needs nothing but a planted camera (usually a DSLR) and they are good to go — you need help.  And when starting out, believe me you need some experienced and knowledgeable help.  But, with no money for anything there was no money to hire good crew help.  That is enough of a real problem for an experienced producer, but it can be deadly for one just starting out and trying to build their reel and rep.

Whether it is your first production or your ten thousandth one, good quality video has at least three major elements:  first the audio must be clear and understandable, second the lighting must be good and give enhancement and some spatial sense to the set, and then finally, the video itself needs to be sharp and clear and help with the sense of motion and pacing.  If motion isn’t an issue then do a still shoot; if it is, then it becomes the only reason to be doing it as video in the first place.  So learn to use it.

For videos with an on-screen presenter, the fourth requirement is that the on-screen presenter not only really knows their stuff, they need to be used to working in an environment where they may have to re-do some takes and need to be able to stop and start and duplicate the last action and dialogue as perfectly as possible or things will not cut together in edit.  That is a skill set that makes good talent worth their weight in gold on a set and which will ultimately be cheaper as it will save time in shooting and editing.

Each of those elements requires a special skill set on its own.  If you don’t have help, there are so many things to think about, all at the same time, that no matter how good you are, or whether or not you know how to do all of the things needed, the complexity of a real shoot will bite you and things will start to slip through the cracks and require either major editing fixes or perhaps, worse, can’t be fixed at all.

This project was a textbook example of that problem where the infamous Mr. Murphy and his law book was on the set and happily doing his thing.  The presenter, LaMont, was a wonderful guy; warm, approachable, and an incredible cook.  But he was not an experienced on-screen talent.  He really knew the topic and was a “ham” in front of the camera… but that is a very different thing.  For example, when multiple takes or some stops and starts were required, no two takes were anything alike in terms of narration, and without a script supervisor or producer paying attention or worse, as in our case with no script at all but LaMont doing it all as an ad lib delivery, the material presented a virtual nightmare for editing purposes and necessitated time-consuming but careful logging of footage, trying to find and cut sections together that flowed and more or less matched.

There is a reason for rehearsals and it is not for talent to learn their lines; that is something they should come to the set with.  It is for scene blocking and letting the talent and camera ops synchronize movements and expected action.  Again, THIS IS NOT STILL PHOTOGRAPHY!  But the talent arrived the night before and left the morning after so there was no time for rehearsals.  We did it all cold and on the fly.  And in places it shows.  Video is like that; to a much greater extent than stills, small issues find their way into the finished piece for all to see or hear.

This was done as a favor but a student, knowing of the project, asked what it would have cost had it been done “Straight up,” i.e. how should it have been budgeted for a proper quote and proposal?  With the benefit of hindsight, we know the actual times involved so do not have to speculate (though it turned out requiring almost exactly what I expected and would have estimated for out-of-pocket costs to the production company had it been a real gig).  San Diego, in terms of clients’ ideas about rates for any photo or video work is the cheapest, most unprofessional level I’ve seen anywhere in the country.  The rates in Denver in 1990 were far better than here today in 2018.  But it is what it is, and this is where the project took place so we will take some bare-bones low-end rates from this area for our estimates (if you are in New York or L.A. or Dallas, or even Denver, please don’t laugh.  And in any other venue, don’t use these numbers or no one will take you seriously.  In most venues students would charge more than this.)

# Item Rate Time/Qty Total Cost Notes
1 Producer/Director $350/Dy 2.5 Days $   875.00 The common “set boss”
2 “A” Camera Operator $250/Dy 2.0 Days 500.00 DP & 1st Shooter
3 “B” Camera Operator $175/Dy 2.0 days 350.00 2nd Shooter
4 Gaffer/Grip $150/Day 2.0 Days 300.00 Set lighting/equip control
5 Audio Tech $175/Day 2.0 Days 350.00 Set Audio/boom
6 PA $100/day 2.0 Days 200.00 General set help
7 Editor $50/hr 50 hrs 2,500.00 Real editors cost MUCH more
8 Equipment/kit Fees 300.00 Project 300.00 Cam/lights/audio/etc
9 Contingency 10% Expense $ 55.00 Generally 5-10%
10 Travel $.75/mile 141 mi 106.00 SD-Site-SD x 3 trips
11 Misc     .00 No misc was needed
12 Sub Total     $5,536.00 Costs to vid company
13 Profit for Video Co. % subtotal 25% 1,384.00 Fairly low percentage
14 Total Estimate     $6,920.00 A reasonable total bid

Well, those are numbers for a proper-sized crew and approach but with ultra-low-end local rates.  Even so, what was actually available with no budget was one person to be the director/DP/cameraman x2/gaffer/audio tech (that was all me) and a “producer” whose idea and concept it was but who, on set, helped prep the food and run the slate for me.  The “talent” was also the “client” so there is no line item for that though a good experienced spokesperson type talent would have been at least $200 -$500 per day + expenses (but would have saved a lot of editing time).

There is also no charge shown for pre-pre-production meetings and conference calls to set it all up.  Travel time, also not listed, is usually billed at ½ production rates.

Additionally, since I supplied all of the equipment including cameras, lights, and audio gear (#8) nothing actually needed to be rented so if you own your own gear that specific cost is optional for your quotes.  But, and this is important, if you do not put rental costs in your estimates and something breaks during the shoot and you have to then go and rent it, you will end up paying for it out of your own pocket.  A basic rule in corporate/industrials is that once the contract is signed, you cannot go back and ask for more money because you forgot something in the quote.  In this case, it shows a highly discounted rate for money that would normally go into my equipment maintenance account.

I also did my best to drive the two cameras (one for the “master” shots, the other for details and another angle since coverage could not be done single-camera-style to match the master shots) simultaneously by myself thereby defying the basic laws of physics (and with only marginal success at best) but it was a bad plan and the footage reflects it.  I also tried to be the audio tech at the same time.  That was an even worse plan and it definitely reflects it. What I also did not include, foolishly, was production insurance.  Shooting in someone’s ‘normal’ house is a recipe for some major liabilities.  Luckily nothing happened and we escaped disaster; but cooking requires heat and electricity so the potential for a problem is high.

All in all, a proper quote even in this area should have been about $7,500.00. and up…  almost anywhere else it would have been quite a few notches north of $10,000-$15,000. For the potential 95-100 minutes of programming designed to sell a product nationally.  So even with the rough spots, the “client” got a heck of a deal.

When all of the graphics get done and music bed laid in (also not listed in the expenses spreadsheet above) and pieces edited, I’ll post links to a few of them so you can see what we are talking about.

Meantime, here is the link to a “behind-the-scenes” or “Making of…” video pieced together from stills and video Stephen Burns did will the shoot was going on.






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Book is Completed and Online

Just a short post to share my relief that the book on school shooters is done and online.  I am so glad its over.  THe research took me into some grim places including a few from my own past so it is like a dark cloud now breaking up.

The point of its nearly 300 pages is that as usual, we seem to be employing a knee-jerk response based solely on emotion to try to solve a very complex problem that needs objective, intellectual, critical analysis to quit high centering on symptoms and start focusing on root causes.  I have zero level of expectation that people will take it to heart and no go ballistic when their pet theories are rejected.  The good news is that I rejected those theories from virtually all sides of the spectrum.  As a teacher I have this quaint idea that the lives of students and even of the  shooters ought to be sufficiently important to force us to do the unthinkable… think.

I have a virtually insatiable curiosity and am open to hearing and considering virtually any concept from any quarter.  But I have a ruthless vetting process for those ideas.  BEcause of that I tend to not fall prey that often to Huxley’s assertion that “Humans tend to believe what they tend to prefer.”  There are many modern concepts that, truth be told, I would by far prefer to be true.  THey are often kinder and gentler than others, they are more, to use the current buzz word. sensitive.  But when they fail the vetting process they are, to me, nice ideas unsupported by research, history, logic, et al and are sadly abandoned.  I do not believe solutions to complex issue can be found in simple or simplistic concepts simply because they are stunningly appealing.  In writing this book I have noted many of the offered “solutions” and points of view, assiduously followed that vetting process for them, and, again, sadly rejected most of them despite what would appear on the surface to be actions easier to accomplish than those tough ones I was, in the end, left with.  I followed Sherlock Holmes’s dictum that when you have eliminated the impossible, what remains, regardless of how implausible it may sound, must be the truth.

One reviewer noted that my anger was showing through the writing… and they are right.  I am quite angry that we constantly look for scapegoats, usually identified collectively as those who think differently from us, and assiduously avoid looking in those dark, scary area we ought to look which is at ourselves.  I find that to be intellectually blasphemous in its avoidance of the cognitive capacity with which we are created and given care of our world.   Maybe, I can only hope, a collective wake-up slap might at least start a dialogue and if that dialogue can be a civil one, then perhaps, just maybe, something good will come of it.

I have never held myself out as a writer, but I do believe myself to be a creative person.  Creativity is about careful observation of our world, a broader view but with an almost contradictory focus that connects dots too often unnoticed by others.  It results in a connection of that observation into a tangible result, sometimes visual, sometimes literary, sometimes musical,  but that presents to the audience, by whatever means,  the conclusions of the author.  I was taught, early on, that the real artist is one who does not try to shoehorn every vision into a single media but who can let the subject and the vision determine for them, the proper means of its expression.  In this case, the result of my observations and research into the phenomenon of school shootings was this book.

Anyway, here is the link to my page on the printer’s site where you could order a copy if you like and also a copy of the previous book on the future of professional photography.

I’ll be back soon with the post on the BBQ shoot, I promise.


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