Friday, December 3, 2010

Photo Shoot: Works Party

For my sins, I am now recognized as the "guy with the expensive camera" at my office.  For the last 3 years this has translated into my being assigned as the official photographer at an annual joint party.  I work for HP and specifically help to manage the relationship between SAP (A large German Software company) and HP.  This relationship is managed as part of HP's enterprise business and drives over $2B in revenue for HP, so is treated with care.  One aspect of this is an annual get together on the evening before the US thanksgiving holiday, just three weeks after the end of HP's fiscal year.  This is one of the few days in the year when we can guarantee an escape from the perpetual conference calls with the US, so makes a good time for us to relax and party.

Well, when I say us, that is everyone except me, this is one of the most stressful evenings of the year, as not only am I tasked with taking photographs, but also with printing them on demand for the attendees, well I work for HP, so a big part of this is to show off our technology.  So for about 5 hours I alternate between taking photographs and importing them into my PC and then printing.  Careful workflow is critical here.  I import all images into Lightroom for a few tweaks and then print batches.  In the mean time I prowl for more photographs. Sadly this year, I was also quite ill with a fever and so struggled to keep up the momentum during this gig.

The biggest challenge is working in fairly dim mixed lighting.  For this reason I stuck with two lenses an f/2.8 24-70mm zoom, standard lens for such work, and a 135mm f/2 for a little sniping.  I have used a 70-200 f/2.8 in the past, but it is heavy and hard to use in a tightly pack room.  The first thing I did was to decide upon an image quality strategy.  I did not want to produce harshly lit flash dominated photographs, they are unflattering and not greatly different from what can be produced with a pocket camera.  However, not doing so would mean using the ambient light in the rooms I was working in, a mixture of strip and tungsten, with a distinctly yellow cast.  I compromised by exposing for the ambient, but adding fill flash, bounced off the white ceiling of the rooms.  To try and even things up a little I shot a grey card and used that exposure to set a manual white balance.

Interestingly, most people were more than happy with the slightly yellow cast on the images as this warmed up their faces.  I also suspect for many people this was a rare occasion to have their photo taken by something other than a camera with a fixed flash sitting right next to the lens.

This was very much a "People Aware" situation.  The hardest part was that people really did not want to be photographed and it was quite difficult to get agreement.  The people attending had also been at the party before and had already been pestered by me for photographs. After a couple of hours, I stopped hunting and basically worked on a request basis, which seemed to be a good compromise, plus by this stage I was really quite ill and starting to fade badly.

However, this was an interesting introduction to an element of photographic reality, money comes from this type of commercial gig and although banal helps to fund the artistic side of the endeavor.  I did not get specifically paid for this, but was on company time, so technically was being compensated for my work.

I have selected the best of the images, see what you think:

First of all the set up

Portraits, some candid, some posed:

Then group shots

And finally a rather strange one.  The team managing the HP Germany relationship with SAP wanted a team shot to put in a newsletter, so I obliged:

However, they forgot one person and by the time they remembered he had left.  I had a photo of him, he is the guy on the left of this picture:

So Photoshop to the rescue:

One of the few semi-pro gigs that I do each year.  Always a useful learning experience and a reminder that making a living as a photographer is not all about selling art works, there is a lot of hard graft to provide the freedom to be an artist.

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