The Business of Photography Part 4: New Equipment and the story behind it. OR Make Photography Great Again.
Warning: if you are not a professional photographer or serious hobbyist, this is one of those boring posts. Suck it up, buttercup! My fellow photographers have been emailing me a few questions. Time to provide a few answers. If you are bored just read the (Tourettes notes). I am funny.
Every year, I schedule a break during the holidays. Sometimes, that break lasts a bit more than a month; this year it was just about 2 1/2 weeks.
And while most people would give their eye teeth for a two and a half week vacation, it’s not really a vacation (or even a ‘staycation). In fact, I’m almost as busy during that time as I am the rest of the year.
It’s the time of year I update equipment. (Yeah! Shopping! Hello, Visa? Can you increase that credit limit again? Daddy needs a new boat. I mean printer. ) Out with the old, in with the new, that’s what I say.
I audit every piece of equipment with a few burning questions. First, did it do what it was supposed to do? Second, how difficult was it to get from my office to the job site? Third, how did it look? Professional? Dorky? And, last — was it a work horse, or did my teeth clench every time I used it because I thought (knew) it might not work.
To refresh your memory, I’m the co-owner of US Event Photos, and we provide high profile event photography, nationwide (in a swirl of fun. See video). We have three main areas of focus: greenscreen (chromakey) photography, convention and conference photography, and high profile photo executions. Our clients range from HBO to the Center for Disease Control — and all hire us to fill a niche in their marketing. The team includes myself, my mom, Melanie Rose (who manages our Las Vegas operations), my partner, Matthew Frey, and several assistants.
Everything we do is ADHD photography. That means it’s FAST, typically with just a few moments spent with each participant, involves some type of photo printing on location, and upload to social media directly from the event floor. We need to move people in and out of the photo executions without them THINKING we are pushing them (though of course we are). At the same time, we juggle multiple technology platforms during very high profile moments with very A-list people watching (glaring).
We have zero margin for error. (As the minions tell us on every photo execution.)
You don’t want to screw up in front of HBO, or you might end up the punch line to a Bill Maher joke. (He isn’t really high by the way. At least not always.) Everything, no matter how stressful, has to be fun for the participant and LOOK like it’s the easiest thing in the world. Even if you, the photographer, are ready to puke.
Equipment can’t freeze. Photographers can’t get snippy. Computers can’t crash. Printers must work.
Not just in the studio (what’s a studio?). But on location, in a variety of settings ranging from aircraft hangers to convention halls to executive board rooms — even the US Congress (home of the minions).
You want stress? Have a printer jam as the former leader of the free world watches (glares).
My primary computer is a Windows based lap top with as much ram as I can find — last year’s model was 8 GB, this year that’s doubled to 16 GBs. The processor is as heavy duty as possible. Last year was a Core i7, as it is this year. I continually juggle portability with performance, and jump back and forth, trading one for the other. Last year was a Yoga Ultrabook by Lenovo, a very thin and compact laptop — but I had trouble with photo editing programs running too small. The little squares you select to export photos during a photo event were TINY. Everything needed resized and adjusted to fit the smaller screen. A royal pain. Plus, just try creating a mask or doing ANYTHING in Photoshop with a tiny, sensitive touch pad and you’ll develop arthritis in your fingers by just glancing at the machine.
This years model is a Gigabyte machine, and is a full sized laptop running Windows 8.1. Why not Windows 10? Well….
(Because it’s crap)
Melanie upgraded to Windows 10, and the operating system wouldn’t recognize many of our programs and hardware, including her Nikon D700 cameras, which is our standard camera body for US Event Photos. So, bad Windows 10. (Like I said, crap.)
Why not iOS? Don’t REAL arteests use iOS, Michael? Obviously, you are not a REAL ARTEEST.
News flash: many programs for uploading of photos to social sharing platforms aren’t compatible with an iOS system on the host machine. Translation: Photo Party Upload (PPU), which is our primary vehicle for uploading photos to social media from the event floor, doesn’t offer a host program for iOS. Other software companies do — read, PPU’s competitors — however, PPU is constantly stable and reliable. The one time I tried a competitor? The iPads wouldn’t communicate to the host computer. Bad competitor. Bad. They fixed the bug later, sending out a patch. But too late for my event. Luckily, I never try new software without a backup (and had another machine running PPU standing by).
But I digress. Back to this year’s laptop. I actually bought this Gigabyte machine last year, but couldn’t get it to work with our DNP SL 10 dye sublimation photo printers, which we (were) using at all our events. Everything installed correctly, the printers showed as active, all LOOKED good. But the photo simply wouldn’t print.
Google problem. Run “Troubleshooter”. Troubleshooter says: (You’re SOL.) (Paraphrasing) “Even though we swear USB 3.0 is backward compatible to USB 2.0, it isn’t really, and this printer won’t work. Our bad.”
Rather than fight with the machine, I parked it on Matthews desk, where he used it for a year to watch videos and surf the web. A total waste of a fantastic, powerful laptop. (And my mouth watered every time I passed it on his desk.)
This year I upgraded the….
from the DNP SL – 10s to Mitsubishi CP-D70 DW models. And, VIOLA! Everything works great with the Gigabyte machine. So, I was able to move onto that laptop as my primary, shifting the Lenovo to my backup computer and giving Matthew an older laptop to email clients (post to Facebook).
The DNP SL-10 photo printers were supposed to be workhorses, and for the first year or so they were. But they weren’t built to last, and by the end of this year I had five machines sitting in my supply closet with signs on them saying “paper cutter doesn’t work”, “won’t power on”, “cuts crooked”, “won’t read ink cartridge”. Those machines have since been discontinued by DNP, after that company bought the line from Sony. Supplies are still available, however, they are now out of warranty, and having each unit fixed is a $400 tab. Not worth it.
By the way, the DNP SL-10 machines replaced the Sony CPX-1 printers. Both in my work flow, and in Sony’s marketing. The old CPX-1 printers? I have three still going strong. They ARE work horses. Ugly work horses, I admit.
I decided to move to the Mitsubishi CP-D70 DW printers because they are a small footprint, like the SL-10s, are fast, have good reviews, and fit inside the same shipping Pelican cases I previously used for the SL-10s. At $300 for each case, that’s a big advantage. (SEE how thrifty I am!?) The media is roughly half the cost of the DNP printers, which let me either take profit or be more competitive on pricing, my choice.
Last, a way back machine note. The CPX-1 printers replaced my original photo printers, which were Shinko. To this day I will never, ever, never, never, ever buy a Shinko printer (now also known as “Sinfonia”). When I had one fail for the millionth time on a job, and took said broken machine apart in my hotel room, (The maid reported me as the unabomber to the front desk.) I came to discover it was held together with two plastic push pins. No, really. TWO PLASTIC PUSH PINS supported the 45 pound print head. So, when Fedex drop kicked the unit, as they do, down the jet way, that 45 pound print head — surprise surprise! — flexed down and snapped the plastic push pins. Duh. So, Shinko (Sinfonia) is forever banned from my equipment lists.
I didn’t even REALIZE Sinfonia was made by Shinko until I ordered four units a few years back. When they arrived, I recognized the craftsmanship — and sent them packing right back to the supplier. Who was not happy. But at $6000 for the four printers (and one arrived not working, something about the print head having gone “misaligned”) I wasn’t going to fight the machines for the next three years. I’d rather sit through an IRS audit.
Time to pack up for the next round of work. Break time: over. However, never fear: next time, I’ll rant about lighting, and the evolution in my equipment from strobes to LED, and every stop in between.
Is that a groan I hear? Really? You watch a 72 hour marathon on Bravo on the Real Housewives of Detroit and you can’t hold attention for a little ity bitty discussion of photography equipment? Harumph. Maybe the title of this should be “Make Photography Great Again” as I pose in a badly fitting baseball cap. Then, you can follow the @realmichaelgatty on Twitter (actual Twitter by the way is @USeventPhotos) and tell everyone what a great business man I am. ( I’ve never declared bankruptcy. SNAP!)