My Life Before Photoshop

February 15, 2012 by  
Filed under FREE Photography Tips

Joe Luter
Memories and musings to help you understand just how well technology serves you now and to make sure you take full advantage of it all. Luter is our recently retired founder; he was in private business for 37 years.

By Joe Luter

We often hear said, “We’ve been doing it that way forever.” which generally means since way back last Thursday. But not forever, if memory serves. In the “day” achieving the things we now take for granted took a lot more work and a lot more time. A few examples will demonstrate.

One Color Correction. A color key showed that one photo had too much magenta in the bottom right corner. It was reshot twice but the problem persisted. The saving grace was that we knew about someone who was so skilled at color correcting separation negatives, he could fix anything. So we took the two-hour drive down to his place long after midnight.

With his loop, trained eye and lifetime of experience, he could see immediately that this job was going to require beer. A six-pack was quickly fetched, brought to his throne and humbly submitted. Then the old master set out to work on the magenta negative; he worked carefully and patiently for about two hours.

His method was to scratch about every third dot off of the magenta negative with an X-acto knife, blow on the negative with lips pursed, inspect it thoroughly on the light table, hold it up to overhead light, squint, look at it angrily and start up again. Until he liked the look of it.

Eventually, he made it good. Perfect, it could be said. Hurray, one color correction was completed.
How many nano-seconds would that job take now?

Making Grass Green. A photo for a magazine cover had to be shot in January, when the grass was dried and brown. This was not an insurmountable problem because we knew a guy in a Atlanta (a seven hour drive each way) who could make the grass green by painting directly on the transparency.

We drove. He painted, and the artist did his thing with great precision and care. And then all was well. . . but not too well. I wished the finished transparency were a little more green.

But there was no turning back now. The deadline, of course, was the next day. (Aren’t they always?) Take it and fly. Pre-press waiting. So, of course, the fuel pump on the car exploded and a driving rain beat us through the rest of the return trip.

Cost for coloring the grass: $2,500 + a roll and a half of Tums.
Is your toddler available for our next such job?

Confessions of the Models’ Favorite. Photos of models were routinely overexposed to hide any blemishes or, heaven help us (forgive me girls), tiny wrinkles. The more successful the model, the less face there was surviving the exposure.

Our area’s top ranking model would demand the overexposed look and, after waiting 17 hours for her to “fix” what the makeup artist had perfected, we did not take further time for debate. The lesser known the model, the better the photographs we could provide her. But some of the “stars” had so little detail in their final prints they barely had a nose. And they loved our results.

True, we had some retouching tricks of our own. But, oh, if only we had Photoshop. We could have assured them all they would not have had to look anything like themselves after post processing.

Too Many Hands Spoil the Shot. To promote a Tampa Tarpon Tournament, we wanted a different photo. I had seen many shots that were almost too similar, i.e. across the pole to a jumping fish in the distance. Why not reverse that?

Then we would have a bigger fish view, which is what we wanted, and that shot would surely be “the” image of the tournament. We went to the end of one pier where we found two nice tarpon being unloaded, bought one, mounted it on a broomstick and found a good spot to shoot from the shallows to the boat, which at this location appeared to be far off shore.

Two guys were charged with getting underwater and pushing the tarpon forcefully up in unison, and the frames were shot successfully. Lots of them were shot because we knew what our big problem would be: Hands.

Several excellent shots were trashed due to hands showing just above the water as the tarpon was pushed up. In fact, almost all of shots had those dratted “hands.” I would not consider cropping out the waterline.

Luckily, we did find one pretty darn good shot to use. But wouldn’t it have been a dream if we had the ability to remove the offending hands from any of them?

Flash Filtering. To soften a direct flash shot on location, when bouncing was not an option, we would simply drop a handkerchief (one thickness) over the flash and if that wasn’t enough, we folded it in two for double thickness and shot again. Clean handkerchief preferred.
Filters, circa 1955.

“Peanut” flashes were pretty good for the situation too and super for fill light in the sun.

Photo of Surprise. But Who’s Guarding the Film? When doing a grand opening for a 28-story office building, we had impressive events set for every day for a week, but I also wanted something special that photographers would love. That would not only get us time or space in
the local media but we knew some photographers would submit their best to a national publication or wire service.

Our solution was to hire a guy in a jet pack to fly to the top of the building, around it and back down again. Who with a camera could skip this?

We put out the word to the clubs, in publicity and to a select few via personal phone calls from an assistant. Most important to me was to get my friend Judith Gefter out there; I knew Judy would come up with something creative.

On the day of the flight we had an awful lot of photographers but no Judith. What? Did she forget? I had someone try to reach her number just before lift off but no answer. (No cell phones, of course.)

So we saw a million of the shots I expected but nothing out of the ordinary. I called Judith the day after and asked what had happened to her; she told me she was there and, being coy, said I would be hearing more about her shot later.

I did. Hers was the inside back cover of the next Life magazine. It was shot across a very stunned looking 25th floor executive into the jet pack guy flying past his glass wall just feet away. Priceless. You had to know Judith would come up with something different.

What Judy talked about was not the shot but getting it to the publisher. On deadline, it had to go directly to the magazine without her seeing it. Would it get there? Would it overheat en route? Or have a half of a head cut off? Or suffer leakage?

No, none happened. But it sure would have been great to have a little card in the camera that would magically put the image on something from which it could be high-speed transferred to the publisher?

Quite a wonderful dream from those of us laboring in the 60s.

Diamond Model Award for a Goldfish? My assignment was to take a picture of a little over a gallon of water. And I might add myself, “try not to make it too boring.” This was for an electric utility that wanted to demonstrate the amount of humidity air conditioning removes from a house.

No problem. It could be a fishbowl containing a single fish. So we went goldfish shopping, bought a dozen or so and spent the afternoon auditioning them. But would you believe each and every one failed the audition? (an often fatal loss if you are a goldfish.)

We went back and bought a couple dozen more (the lady at the fish shop was ecstatic) but more carefully this time, picking very scrupulously through the herd. Back to auditions, we again had trouble but finally did pick our star. Then, on stage she was slow to hit her mark and not all that terrific after all. We saw small imperfections that made me want to wait for her to make a slight turn. And wait we did. Got it. Done.

But if only we could have re-touched any fish ever so slightly in a not-yet-invented desktop computer. even the first group of candidates would have done fine. We even could have made them more prominent in the bowl than nature had.

Waterskiing Without a Zoom. All the grown ups were presumably already out on assignment when this photo intern at the Tampa Tribune was told to go take shots of Morrison DeLesseps, legendary mayor of New Orleans, slalom skiing in the Gulf.

Great, great. But I didn’t have a zoom lens. All I had was the newspaper’s standard issue (for interns) Yashica-Mat twin lens. Upon arrival at the ski center, I explained my predicament to the guy running the place and he solved the problem with his boating skill.

He sent the mayor out first and then boated me to and fro around him, sometimes close enough for me to have pulled his ear.
The shots were great, one made the AP nationally and I got a windfall $15 check from them.

Now in 2011 we would have had a small zoom bundled with most any SLR at a price that even the newspaper would have paid. And I could have peeked at what I got so far between our frightening runs at the poor man.

In Search of Data Storage. It seemed as though every presentation was the most important one ever made, back in the ad agency days. And we thought this one certainly was. With an excellent series of photographic prints in hand, I sped over to the art director’s place to join him and his work and get there on time.

As always, someone had thrown him a curve at the last minute and he had to stop and re-make two painted boards. After a few more minutes of work, we dashed off to his car, spread the work out, with paint still wet, on the back seat of his convertible and zoomed off.

One small bump, a tap on the brakes and a draft from our approach to a bridge and everything we had for the presentation out into dense traffic. Not just the new work. The whole campaign.
Turns out it may not have been the most important mishap in history after all. In fact. when we showed up 20 minutes late with about 60 percent of the work and even that much embellished with tire tracks and the dirt, all the people on the client’s side of the table thought our adventure was hilarious. And they loved the campaign.

Tomorrow the job of reproducing all of that work began. No harm, no foul. But if only we had some way to copy and keep things back then. We could have called it a data storage system.. Or, failing in that, if we had had a little more sense.