Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Purchase Mystery is Here!

Let’s close our eyes and drift back to that night on March 1st when some people’s lives and the equipment they owned would be changed forever.  New York has eight million people living there.  This story is about four of them.  The temperature dropped to 20 degrees by the time I left Long island and wove my way along Second Avenue toward my destination on West 18th Street.  With me was Laurence Yang, professional model, write and soon-to-be dental hygienist.  She sat, texting away on her iPhone 4 while I careened around yellow taxis cluttering the road, oblivious to anyone around them.  I made a sharp left up 17th Street, before maneuvering over Fifth Avenue and sliding to a stop at the rear entrance to Adorama.  Our timing was perfect.  Four minutes earlier we would have had to park in an overpriced, undersized parking garage.  Since this was Manhattan, I pulled out all the stops in securing my black SUV, with a black and red club locked firmly to the steering wheel.  A ¾” steal chain ran from the front axle and was linked together by a bullet-proof master lock to an overhead lamp light.  I was in the process of wrapping several layers of bubble wrap when I realized Laurence was still inside texting away.  It took about 10 minutes to extract her and finish all my precautions. 
I checked the inside of my jacket.  I was packing heat!  Hanging low beneath my right arm was a Nikon D200 with an 18-24 DX lens.  It was old by today’s standards, but had always served me well.  I would have felt naked without it, and that’s not a pretty picture.  I pulled my hat low over my eyes as we made our way through a dark, deserted alley and emerged on to 18th Street at Adorama’s front entrance.  I let Laurence lead the way as I scanned the premises for any familiar merchandise.  I got that feeling I was being watched.  Turning quickly, I noticed some suit guarding the front door. I moved in and found Laurence still speed texting on her I phone by the used equipment section. I motioned to her and she followed me into a dim lit hallway and on to a cramped elevator with some guy dragging equipment bags three times his size. These are the times your glad that deodorant was invented. The ride to the fifth floor was slow with the occasional flickering of the overhead fluorescent lamp. We departed a floor earlier that our bag toting friend and wished him a safe trip. The hallway was narrower on this level as Laurence led the way stopping at a set of double glass doors. I reached ahead and tested the door trying to ascertain if it was locked or if we were expected. Finding no resistance I pushed inward, Laurence looked up from her phone and entered the darken interior with me close behind. Whatever activity was taking place came to an abrupt halt as she passed in front of a 36” Westcott softbox to her left. I noticed several wide eyed men break out in a cold sweat, others just sat mesmerized, it didn’t take long to realize they weren’t looking at me!
She was a fine blend of French wine and Asian spice, and had that affect on men.  I glanced around, noticing jealous looks from the women in the audience. She was wearing a form fitting black evening dress cut a few inches above the knees. She gave everyone a warm smile and texted a hello as I ushered her to an overstuffed sofa in the rear.  The presenter was Dave Piazza, a friend and Technical Advisor for F.J. Westcott.  Dave launched into an eloquent presentation on lighting.  As I took in the group, just about everyone was packing heat of some kind.  Some banker type seated in the second row pulled out an oversized Canon with a 70-200 F2.8 lens.  Two rows to my left a tattooed Hell’s Angel wanna-be reached into his worn-out jacket and produced a small Sony point-and-shoot.  His chances for survival dropped 90%.  I figured he’d be lucky to get a shot off as some pretty, young lady on his right set her Nikon D300S to continuous high mode.
As Laurence got up and moved forward among the attendees, I removed my jacket, exposing my D200 hanging free on a black, rapid “R” strap, allowing unhindered shooting.  They got the message and gave her ample room to reach the safety of an array of softboxes and light stands.  As predicted, the fancy-dressed banker was first up and jockeying for position.  The biker was being squeezed back by the serious photographers.  Knowing he was outgunned, he did not protest.  The mayhem continued for a good 45 minutes.  The rapid, continuous firing sounded like Thompsons on St. Valentine’s Day in Chicago.  Thanks to the assortment of Westcott continuous TA5s and the introduction of the new TD6 lighting, everyone could shoot at once.  Occasionally, a tattooed arm holding a small Sony would rise from deep within the crowd, like a lone periscope searching for a target, then slowly sink back down.  Then, as suddenly as it had begun, it was over.
One by one, the bright lights fell dark, like New York City in the middle of a blackout.  The darkness was followed by a brief moment of panic, as shooters realized they had only taken 300 to 400 duplicate images.  I released the pop-up flash on top of my D200 and fired off a quick shot, bringing everyone back to their senses.  A few people filed back to their seats, while other quickly encircled Dave, firing off questions like they had a continuous mode.  Dave calmly made his way over to a large, rolling steamer trunk.  Its leather finish showed mileage.  Dave was multi-tasking between disassembling and packing lights and stands, politely fielding questions.  Mr. Tattoo was hogging the floor with a barrage of nonsensical queries.  Being the consummate professional, Dave ignored him to address photographers who were there to learn, not to add photos of a pretty girl to an already over-used collection. The banker type was busy flexing his 70-200 Canon, attempting to capture Laurence’s attention.  Seeing it all before, she was not impressed.  I edged in between with the look of a bouncer coming off a bad shift.  He eyed by D200, swaying on the “R” straps hook.  He turned away, soon to become Dave’s problem.  Little did I realize at this time my troubles were just beginning.
I guess the day was catching up to me.  I was being drained quicker than a set of AA batteries inside a SB-900 on a Joe McNally shoot-out.  I felt them long before I heard them.  The hairs on the back of my neck stood at attention.  Slowly, I reached for my D200 before pivoting around.  I was staring down the barrels of four medium zoom lenses.  The group, consisting of three women and one man, showed no fear – just a plea for help.
Dave sent them over to me, knowing I could help them out of their dilemma.  I felt like a TV private eye, taking on the case the police refused to handle.  One at a time, they stated their concerns.  It was nothing new.  I heard it all before in one form or another.  In fact, over the years, I personally encountered the same situations more than a few times.  Now I had years of experience on which to draw.
Before responding, I posed several questions of my own, assuring the questions would assist finding the solutions.  I’m a Nikon shooter, but the questions could have pertained to any brand.  They had come to learn about lighting as it pertained to portraits.  Although Dave had given them this information (and then some), their faces projected an eagerness to learn more and improve.  I was happy to take their cases and find solutions.  Looking to my left, Laurence was actively giving out her contact information to budding photographers of both sexes.
Turning back to my charges, I fired off my questions.  What is your level of photography?  Do you want to do this professionally?  Is portrait photography going to be your emphasis?  What equipment do you currently own?  Based on your current inventory, what is your new equipment budget?  Afterward, individual specific concerns were addressed.  Can I get good photos with a second party lens?  I have a small strobe.  Should I get rid of it for a more powerful strobe or continuous lighting?  Is my current camera too limited?
If you’re a fellow professional, you’ve heard these questions before.  You have a patterned response to some; others require more probing to get to the root of the question, to find out what they are not relating to you.  As they answer this question, listen more than talk.  Many times, you will have to answer a question with another one in order to lead to the solution.
While we all have our own opinions and preferences, we must realize our personal choices may not be appropriate for the individual asking for assistance.  If you’ve been called on for your expertise, you have a responsibility to suggest what is best for the individual, based upon their affordability and requirements.  Granted, other professionals may not opine with your recommendations.  This does not imply you are wrong and they are right.  It’s merely a matter of opinion, and both options may work; sometimes, there is no one answer or solution to solve a mystery.  The scenario the flash did it in the library or the camera did it in the upstairs bedroom won’t fly.  As professionals, we know they’re both guilty, as one could not pull it off without the other.  The only way to close the case is to assure all the clues fit together to form a complete solution.
I maneuvered the small group into the interrogation room, swinging a TD-6 into their eyes.  Upon entering, I forced them to squint to decipher my silhouette behind the bright, cool 5500 Kelvin lights.  “Okay,” I told them.  “I want the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”  They quickly agreed and all started talking at once.  “Hold on,” I said.  “One at a time.  You’ll all have your turn.”  I turned to the dame with the Nikon D90.  “Okay, sister.  What’s your story?”  Making some arbitrary adjustments on her camera, she launched into a full confession.  She needed a new lens and lighting equipment but had a limited budget.  “Welcome to the club,” I shot back.  “Do you have a lens in mind, or are you open to suggestions?”  “A 24-70,” she answered, “but they are expensive.”  I agreed with her choice and observations.  “Before I answer,” I said, “let’s look at the total picture.  You also need lighting.  Let’s determine what will work for you and at what cost.”  Several questions later I laid out a plan.  I suggested a Sigma 24-70 F2.8 lens over the Nikon, saving her several hundred dollars, while still giving her excellent glass.  The money saved would be funneled toward improving her choice of lighting equipment and accessories on which she hadn’t planned. 
She confessed it all made sense and departed.  So it went, one after the other.  They couldn’t wait to spill the beans.  At first, money was the main issue because they hadn’t done the research or simply didn’t know.  However, that is the reason I was there – to lay out their options and point them to the straight and narrow path.  Forty-five minutes later it was all over. Another case solved, I switched off the TD-6 as I departed the make shift interrogation room and emerged into the now empty lecture hall. Dave was putting the finial items into his case. Laurence had resumed texting; I was wondering whom she expected to reach this time of night, when suddenly my i phone “chipped” signaling an incoming message.

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