Sunday, January 29, 2017

Carolyne Zinko:The Gala Life

Carolyne Zinke (left). Read article here.
On Sunday, January 22, I read an article written by Carolyne Zinko, a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle in the Style Section.I read here article on what it's like being the style writer on the opening night of the San Francisco Opera.

I actually read the Style Section, especially after I've photographed a charity event for the Journal where the "movers and shakers" were present. I guess I'm curious to see how other, more seasoned photographers handle the situation, every mindful of one important difference: My job is to submit the single photo that will, in some way, illustrate the visual excitement created by the designers and decorators within the venue, while giving proper recognition to the Chairpersons and Donors who made it all happen. Style Section photographers function more like Event Photographers, but in addition to  providing documentation of who showed up, they must also provide details on who wore which designer gown. Eventually this album of photos will be posted to a blog site devoted the the event, or made available for sale by the photographer, a la Drew Altizier.

A portion of her January 22 essay has been reproduced here. Warning: Ms. Zinko wrote in the third person.

  • 5 p.m. Showtime. As guests climb the steps at City Hall, pull aside ladies with intriguing gowns, hairdos or smiles. The Chronicle photographer has just seconds to take a photo that’s in focus, lit properly and (we hope) is flattering. Guests greet one another with a European double-cheek kiss, exclaim how fabulous they look and inquire how they’re doing. The disconnect now begins. Zinko, you see, is not there to socialize. She is positioning ladies for photos and taking notes on their gowns (and if they’ve forgotten the designer, unzipping them slightly to check the label). While you chat with her, people are walking by — other people in gowns that need to be photographed. Zinko and the photographer must make haste! Is she ditching you? No! But if she misses someone the editor wants her to get, she will be in trouble the next day. So she becomes brusque to cut out the chitchat and speed things along. When she is stressed, she barks, it’s true. But she does not bite.
If there's a point to be made, it's that professional photography is a rush-job proposition at all levels. Back in the film days, a one-week turn-around time was considered speedy. Now, everybody expects immediate feedback on everything digital, and it also applies to photography. Read what else Ms. Zinko has to say.
  • 6:30-9 p.m. While others are dining, and later, watching the gala night performance, Zinko and the photographer are sitting in the press room, eating hummus and carrots. They are captioning photos that are uploaded to The Chronicle’s website within minutes. She is also tweeting her own photos and posting to Instagram to spread the night’s glamour on social media. Hurry, hurry, hurry!

  • 9 p.m. At intermission, it’s time to hunt for more gowns that haven’t yet been photographed. It’s back to the press room for more captioning during the second act.

  • 10:30 p.m. At the after-party, we hunt for more gowns, and stay to the end, in case news breaks out — like the time someone pulled the fire alarm during the Symphony gala (oddly enough during Stravinsky’s “Firebird” suite).
  • 12:30 a.m. Back at The Chronicle, Zinko changes into sweats and starts typing. The story is due by 9 a.m.; better to write now than drive home and write in the morning, lest she sleep through an alarm.

  • 3:30 a.m. Bleary-eyed, Zinko drives 30 miles home.."
The behind the scenes details are often overlooked. After all, if your images travel at the speed of electricity, shouldn't the images be delivered just as quickly? I can speak for the style section, but every image I submit for publication must be as perfect as I can make it, in so far as exposure and white balance (the rendering of whites as truly white) are concerned. Beyond that, pretty much nada. So far as deadlines go, I can remember only two instances when they "stopped the presses" until I could submit the image I was sent to get. The image had to be in by 10:00 pm, and after that, I was homeward bound, the mission accomplished.

But wait. There's more.
  • 9:30 a.m. Wakey, wakey, eggs and bakey. After five hours of sleep, Zinko heads back to her desk at 901 Mission, to check proofs, build curated photo galleries and sometimes edit a video to post online. Contrary to popular belief, she does not make the call about which fashion photos go into print. She does not have that power — that’s up to another editor.But she knows ladies are waiting with bated breath to get The Chronicle’s stamp of approval by seeing themselves in the newspaper. So the next time Zinko appears to be giving you the cold shoulder, please reconsider. She is working hard to give everyone an equal chance of getting their picture in the paper, or in an online photo gallery at the very least.

Devlin Shand, Drew Altizier Photography Click here to view the source image.
I viewed the photo galleries from the event, and must tip my hat to both Ms. Zinko and the photographers she works with for just getting the job done. Trust me, nothing is ever as easy as it looks, and those who make it look easy are probably trained long and hard to get there.

I once heard of an aspiring photographer who simply wanted to be told where to go and who or what to photograph. One might have concluded that being a photographer starts the moment the shutter release is pressed and ends when he or she says, "Thank you". It's never been that way for my assignments from the Journal, and obviously isn't that way for Ms. Zinko.

In 2006, I started using Gary Fong's  Light Sphere shortly after its introduction, making me something of an early adopter. Now, some ten years later, you can see that it's still a mainstay for event photography. As you can see, Mr. Shand is using his, as do all the photographers I've seen in Mr. Altizier's employ. It's also used by Katy Winn, a photographer for Getty Images and Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week.  The Light Sphere makes its appearance at 2:45 in the video. It worked for me in 2006, and it still works for me today.

All photographs are from posts from, the digital arm of the San Francisco Chronicle. The entire article can be read by clicking here.