You can do Magic! (With Mike's ADHD song lyrics!)

I am a geek.  On a Friday night, I’m more likely to be figuring out how to automatically download photos from Instagram and Twitter — and print them — as I am to be going out.
Out, like, I don’t know, dancing.  (Dancing queen, only 17!  Hmmm hmmm hmmm hmmm hmmmm Dancing queen….!  Oh yeah….!)  Out, like, I don’t know, maybe dinner.  Dinner BESIDES sushi at Saketumi.  Something.  Anything.  But NO.  Instead I am hunkered behind my desk, picking at a spicy tuna roll take out order, puzzling how to create a better work flow for a particular application.  How to gain a few seconds — YES SECONDS — in process.  How to lighten my kit by a few pounds.  When you travel the world, when you photograph thousands of people a week, when you are constantly using not one, not two, but three laptops simultaneously, it becomes URGENT to have blazing fast process, setups that are durable, portable, and sharp, technology that is stable, stable, stable.
That means:  no Friday night dancing.  It means waking up and thinking, “IF I USE THAT AP TO MOVE PHOTOS TO THAT FOLDER, THEN THE HOST PROGRAM CAN IMPORT IT!!  BRILLIANT!!!”  Then falling back asleep, dreaming of iPads, iPhones, iBooks, Ultrabooks, net books, tablets, touch screens, RFID, Barcoding, FTPing, wirelessly doing.
Dreaming of technology, process, and equipment.
And finally, it’s show time.  The job comes up I’ve been testing for, retesting, and reworking process to customize it to that shoot, so that some small client need is fulfilled without a hiccup.  We walk in, set up, and VIOLA: it works.
(You can do magic!  You can do anything that you desire (those are the only words I know) Magic!  You can do anything that you desire….hmmm hmmm hmmm hmmm….)
Or, it should at least look like smooth magic.  Even if something isn’t working as expected, we should easily move to plan b and plan c so no one — no one — is the wiser.
And that leads me to a bit of frustration.  This is going to seem like wining.  In fact, I’ll go one step further — this is wining.  Tough.  Keep reading.  I get to wine every once in a while.  Spelling intentional.  Mmmmm….wine….
(A bottle of red!  A bottle of white!  Hmmm hmmm hmmm hmmm something tonight.  In our Italian restaurant…)
So that said, here it is.  I’m very careful about making sure our rate — the price we charge our clients — is competitive to our competitor’s rate.  A few times a year I research what others are charging for similar services — and I make sure we are within the range.  Never the lowest, or the highest — just in the middle.  Much like my politics.  Well, maybe not.
But then I SEE these competitors out in the field.  I see a pipe and drape, ugly setup.  I see a laptop that originally ran Windows 98 before being upgraded to Windows Vista.  I see photographers dressed like street people.  I see green screens thumbtacked to the wall.  I see bored expressions.   In short, I see crap.  Am I the ONLY one that notices?
And, they are sometimes charging MORE than we are.  Bite me.  
Here we are, with freaking gorgeous setups, fantastic photos, a top notch team, and…(does anybody HEAR ME?  Is ANYBODY OUT THERE? ) …. I even bring in our own portable counters because I was sick of participants uncomfortable hovering over keyboards since the table the conference provided was just that — a table — too short to type login for social media without back pain.  So, I bought counters, and we ship them to each job.  Another 40 pounds.  But at least, I know they are right.  We have green screens that cost more than most people spend on a semester of college, designed in Hollywood, and erected on metal frames — pulled tight, neat and clean.  They are fantastic.  They are heavy.  They are a pain to travel with.  But I like how they look.  So, we suck it up.    (Sigh,  70 lbs.)
Competitors seem intent on one thing, and one thing only:  providing as little infrastructure as possible while charging a premium amount.  That means eliminating “frivolous” things like, say, lighting.  Or background stands.  Or photo holders.  Or keyboards to easily enter data into iPads.    Hell, they’ve even eliminated the photographers (something I’ll never understand in a photo execution) and replaced them with “booth technicians.”  Translation:  temps at $20 an hour.
Their entire setup screams, “just pretend we got it done, and send me the check.  Better yet, what was that credit card?”
For any given job, I ship about $500 worth of stuff.  I don’t mean the equipment is valued at $500 — multiply that by a factor I don’t want to think about — I mean my SHIPPING bill is $500.  Not to mention the investment in the extra equipment designed to make the entire execution run, well, like magic. (You can have anything, that you desire…magic…)
But it’s worth it.  I like knowing we are walking in, set up for success before the first photo is clicked.  I like when a client eyes my new LED lights and says “wow, those are so freaking cool.”  I like when other photographers circle our set, covertly scanning the equipment, and trying to figure out where we got it.
Keep circling, you sharks.  Unless you are ready to go custom, forget it.  You’ll never figure it out.  I only figured it out because of all those Friday nights obsessing over process. And by the time you copy me and start talking about your “Hollywood designed sets?”  I’ll have a new concept, and that’ll be bugging you, too.  Plus, my pecs are looking great from hauling all this stuff around, if I do say so myself.  Better for the bod than my suchi diet.
Oh, that rant felt good!  Even if I did write in on a Saturday evening, sitting at an airport gate, heading to a job.
My luggage?  Just two bags checked!  Both about 80 pounds.  Sigh.  Good job I know the counter agents.  They don’t roll their eyes anymore — at least that I can see — they just check the bags and ask what I’m shooting next.
What can I add to my setups next?   I still have 20 lbs before I’m cut off.  Stanchions.  I think.  How heavy are they?  I wonder if anyone makes a portable one?  (Magic!  You can have anything, that you desire…
hmmm hmmm hmmmm hmmm hmmm….)
New LED light panels eliminate the ugly umbrellas, softboxes, and heavy, hot, power sucking lighting — while providing a better light in cave – like convention halls.
Here’s a wider shot of a small photo set for Delta airlines.  For this two hour reception?  About 300 lbs worth of equipment.  But looks nice, right?
Here’s our infamous counter I bring.  In this case, it’s the bigger one — um, that means 50 lbs — but the scrim frame on the background is my lighter one — aluminum, saving those few pounds.  So, all and all, a wash.  And, again…. pretty…..
I’ve shown this before, but suck it up, it’s too perfect.  This is a competitor’s setup — and it’s actually the second background they erected, the first was even uglier and was vetoed by the client.  Lovely floor drape, right?  And this is their entire setup.  Notice a few things missing?  Lights?  Photographer?  Well, he popped up with a hand held point and shoot when someone wanted a pic.  No flash.  No lights.  No…anything.  Of course, in the final image, the motorcyle was about 1/16 of an inch high, and the participant even smaller, so unless you were looking at it with a magnifying glass, I guess you didn’t notice HOW SUCKY IT WAS.  Of course, not being able to see it’s you kinda defeats the entire purpose, doesn’t it?
I confess I’ve shown this before, too.  But here’s what happens when you eliminate the photographer and the camera.  In this case, it was an iPhone (4 , ehhem ) that did the pic, and an ap that did the greenscreen combination.  OMG!  Do I look like that?  Please tell me I don’t.  They DID erect lights for this shoot — two video lights from Cowboy Studios (Read: DISCOUNT).  That’s why I’m a strange color — the light is balanced wrong.  As for why I’m glowing and shiny?  Well, I’m just happy to be in the pit, don’t you know…
Wait, here’s a pic that day from my setup….

Whew! That was close.  I’m not butt ugly.  thought I was still hot.  Mario is still cute, too, right?

And here’s our set, on the same day as the motorcycle set shown above.  The pic above was with this set.

Again, cost?  I doubt what we charge was significantly more than the motorcycle guys.  Maybe I’m wrong.  But I don’t think so.  

OK!  Work done at 6 pm on this Southwest flight to Orlando.  Off I go.  Hope my bags made it.  Wait, this is Southwest!  Of course they did!