Fun with cameras. Shooting belts all day yesterday for Klikbelt. Stills with a Sony a6300, video with an RX10.

Yesterday I had fun shoot with a company called, Klikbelt. They make belts that incorporate an Austrian made, quick release buckle originally designed for military use. The belt is selling well as a fashion item and also in hot demand from people who need, well, quick release belts. Our assignment was to show off the range of belt and buckle colors. You can combine silver, brown, and black belts with silver and black buckles. We spent the first part of the day in the studio. 

I set up my usual studio lighting for situations in which I'll be shooting both stills images and video. I'm using a 6x6 foot diffusion scrim over on the left side of the frame and filling with a 24 by 36 inch softbox on the opposite side. The big diffusion scrim is powered by three of the CooLED 100 watt units while the softbox is lit up with another 100 watt unit. Our basic exposure for the subject position (single person, standing) was ISO 400, 1/50th of a second, f4.0. The light was even, soft and still directional. 

The very first shooting task was to shoot "how to video" about how to actually put the belt together. You need to loop the belt through your belt loops before attaching the unattached part of the buckle. It's hare to explain but very easy to understand if you are watching a step by step run through. Since the lighting was set for video as well as stills we were able to interchange cameras on the fluid head on top a big Benro tripod and immediately start shooting. I used a Sony RX10 for video because the new XAVC codec looks really good in 1080p and we would not need anything larger since the videos will be used exclusively on the client's website. 

Twenty minutes later we switched cameras to a Sony a6300 with an 18-105mm f4.0 G lens and got busy shooting all the endless variations of belts and buckles on both our male model and our female model. We alternated models for efficient wardrobe changes and were able to get a huge number of shots down by lunch time. I think the secret to working fast in the studio is good preproduction and that's something the guys at Klikbelt really delivered on. They has their shot list narrowed down, the wardrobe sized, prepped and ready and they hired two great models who've done this kind of work professionally. I made good, solid meter readings and put marks on the floor of the studio to designate exact exposures for people standing in those spots. I also set a custom white balance, reading the light color at the subject position, before we got started. 

In my daily business I try to make sure that the studio is completely set and lit the night before we start a shoot. There's no sense wasting a client's time and the time of their talent while I set up diffusion panels, tweak lights and generally arrange stuff. I also make sure we have plenty of snacks, bottled water and a Keurig coffee machine with good K-cups. Nothing fancy but enough fuel to keep everyone rolling through. I spent Monday and Tues. working on a product shoot, and all day Weds. knocking out the post production for that shoot so the set up for the belt shoot got done Wednesday night, after dinner. 

The client checked images on the monitor as we went along so, no surprises for anyone at any point in the studio shoot. Once we'd gotten all the studio work done everyone packed up the wardrobe, I tossed the necessary gear I'd need for the afternoon into my car, and we all headed out for lunch. 

After lunch we headed over to the Austin Rowing Dock for some paddle boarding and then hit some locations in Zilker Park. We finished up the day with a spur of the moment video that was creatively sourced from our talents. Shot handheld with the Sony RX10 and a Zomei VND filter. It's hilarious and fun, and all about the belts. I'll try to get a working copy up in the next few days. 

The folks at Klikbelt are really into the advantages of extensive social media so, for a change, I was allowed to post whatever I wanted from our shoot; immediately. None of the images here have been retouched or highly corrected. That will come after the client and I have narrowed down the large number of files to a small bucket of just the good ones. I did take a few minutes during the day to shoot some behind the scenes shots of a simple set up we used on the dock of the rowing facility. (See below). 

Our model, Chase, kinda fishing. The half tucked shirt is absolutely intentional and if it doesn't appeal to us we may not be in the audience the client was targeting with this series...

A scrim can be a handful when the wind kicks up but having a four foot by six foot, white diffusion scrim is a wonderful thing when you find yourself shooting in full sun. (Same set up for the image just below).

Our model, Stephanie, fishing on the dock. Lady Bird Lake in the background. 

A Summer passtime in Austin is just hanging out down at the lake. There was quite a stir just down the bank from us as a large group of people hustled to get out of the water, quickly. Seems a six or seven foot long (dubious/dangerous looking) snake glided in from one side of the water and wiggled across to the other shore... 

It was a good, fun day of shooting stills and video. A change from the earlier part of the week when I was working alone, shooting black box technology. 

A quick few thoughts about tools: The LED lights are wonderful to work with in the studio. I love being able to put a softbox on a fixture or, fashion a snoot for some hard light using some black wrap foil. There is a speed and fluidity that comes with working in a purely WYSIWYG mode. It makes moving lights around, looking for the right reflection on a black face panel, so much easier. 

In our "fashion" shoot, the LED lighting helped me switch back and forth between video and stills almost instantly. If we saw some action we liked during a still series we could stop and reprise it in video with a quick change of our cameras. It required no complex thinking, only a bit of direction. Even the shooting (video) camera was preset for exposure and white balance. Shooting quick inserts was a matter of putting the camera on a tripod with a quick mount and then pushing the red button and yelling, "action." (But, in real life, I don't really yell "action"...). 

The RX10 worked well as a quick video camera indoors and, with addition of a variable neutral density filter, outdoors; even in direct sun. Right now, for fun, loose, unconventional video the two RX10s (the "classic" and the type 2) are my favorite cameras. I am consistently amazed at how great the images are out of those cameras for video (and for stills). 

The Manfrotto, hybrid Still/Video fluid head (which I've written about before) has gone from "ho-hum" to my favorite tripod head lately. It functions quite well as a fluid head video tripod but the big ball head has a switch on the base that allows you to free it from its horizontal constraints and work as a well mannered and well damped, conventional ball head. I've long since put the panning arm in a drawer. It gets in the way for still shooting and, I find that I mostly just grab the head and pan it with both hands when shooting with these smaller "video" cameras. Love that I can take just one unit and have it do dual duty, with precision and grace. 

The a6300 was my camera of choice. I've tested it a lot recently and (blasphemy!!!) find the super fine Jpegs to be really, really good. Especially if you take the time to manually set exposure and color balance. I didn't need the enormous raw files of the A7R2 and I was also anxious to lean on the smaller camera for very fast focus, fast frame rates and very good face detection AF. Over the course of the day yesterday I shot nearly 2,000 images using just two batteries. I have the "review" set to off, which saves battery power. And who needs review when you are able to "pre-chimp" every shot you make? The 18-105mm f4.0 G stayed glued on the front of the camera because it's a nice range of focal lengths, has really good image stabilization and the optical performance is totally satisfactory for all but the most demanding applications. It's a balancing act between that last 3-5% of performance versus smooth and efficient usability. 

Why didn't I use the a6300 for both stills and video? Simple answer is that I like to keep the cameras preset for their dominant tasks. Shooting outside with the a6300 I wanted to leave the camera set at a high shutter speed and I wanted to use DRO to open up the shadows a bit. I didn't want to use that combination for video and I didn't want to make mistakes by having to dive into the menu to make changes while we had talent in front of the camera. Having two cameras, each preset to their dedicated tasks, is easier for me, mentally; and results in fewer user errors on a shoot. 

The nice thing about using the RX10 is that it makes a great back up camera in a pinch. 

The final device that I want to talk about is the simple diffusion disk. It's so wonderful to be able to stick a piece of material between the sun and my subject and watch the light open up and get pretty. It's the cheapest lighting tool I know of and I seem to use these collapsible disk reflectors on every shoot, for pretty much everything. From blocking the light from ugly sodium vapor fixtures, to taming sunlight, to providing UV protection for the photographer. I'm partial to the "five in one" variety of collapsible diffuser/reflectors that allow you to have translucent, black, white and silver surfaces just by changing around (or removing ) the covers. I have one here in the studio from Chimera that just celebrated it's 30th birthday. I have another specialty version from Westcott that is a one half stop silk on a collapsible ring. I use it often and keep looking for more at lower strengths than the typical, low cost versions (they use thicker diffusion materials = not as sexy but...lasts longer and is probably cheaper to source and use in manufacturing). 

We are heading down the rabbit hole with our video shoot for a utility company so we'll see how an assortment of late nights chasing storms effects blog productivity. I already know that it's not conducive to a good swim schedule...... sigh.


My last re-post of older columns this week. Something controversial from 2013. Looking back three years to see how accurate my assessment of the market was....


The graying of traditional photography and why everything is getting re-invented in a form we don't understand.

Gloria. Cropped image from Samsung Galaxy NX camera. 60mm macro lens.

On the last day of the PhotoPlus Expo I finally got why the camera industry has hit the wall and may never come back again in the same way. The folks who love cameras for the sake of cameras, and all the nostalgic feelings they evoke of Life Magazine, National Geographic, 1980's fashion, and 1990's celebrity portraiture, and other iconic showcases that made us sit up and really look at photography, are graying, getting old, and steadily shrinking in numbers.

I can profile the average camera buyer in the U.S. right now without looking at the numbers. The people driving the market are predominately over 50 years old and at least 90% of them are men. We're the ones who are driving the romantic re-entanglement with faux rangefinder styles. We're the ones at whom the retro design of the OMD series camera are aimed. We're the ones who remember when battleship Nikons and Canons were actually needed to get great shots and we're the ones who believe in the primacy of the still image as a wonderful means of communication and even art. But we're a small part of the consumer economy now and we're walking one path while the generations that are coming behind us are walking another path. And it's one we're willfully trying not to understand because we never want to admit that what we thought of as the "golden age of photography" is coming to an end as surely as the kingdom of Middle Earth fades away in the last book of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

This is not to say that photography is dying. Or that the generations coming behind us are doomed to failure and despair; far from it. They are living the golden age of photography from their perspective, and their heroes in the field are names we don't even know. This is a generation that values a personal vision that arrives as quickly as a phone call and has a much shorter half life than the one we experienced for our work, but then again, what doesn't move faster these days?

As I photographed in the booth for Samsung I looked out at the waves of people who were exploring the various products on the showroom floor and I became aware that most of them were well over 50 years old and the elders were carrying their big Nikons and Canons as badges of honor and with a smug attitude that their equipment choice was the one that would persevere through the ages.

But the very thing that makes a ruling party or a ruling generation is the same thing that will kill its paradigm. Our version of the market is almost a completely closed loop. At this Expo we worshipped at the altar of the same basic roster of speakers and presenters who've been speaking and presenting for the last ten years. We've closed the loop and the choice offered to younger photographers is to sit and listen to people old enough to be their grandmothers or grandfathers wax on about how we used to do it in the old days or to not come at all.

When I listen to lectures about how the market has changed what I hear from my generation is how to take the tools we programmed ourselves to love and try to apply them to our ideas of what might be popular with end users today. So we buy D4's and 1DSmkIV's to shoot video on giant Red Rock Micro rigs and we rush to buy Zeiss cinema lenses because we want the control and the idea of ultimate quality in our offerings while the stuff that the current generation is thinking about is more concerned with intimacy, immediacy and verisimilitude rather than "production value." To the new generations the idea of veracity and authenticity always trumps metrics of low noise or high resolution. And that need for perfection is our disconnection from the creative process, not theirs.

Our generation's fight with digital, early on, was to tame the high noise, the weird colors, the slow buffers and the old technology which saddled us with wildly inaccurate and tiny viewfinders and batteries that barely lasted through a sneeze. We pride ourselves on the mastery but the market moved on and now those parameters are taken for granted. Like turning on a television and assuming it will work. We are still staring at the technical landscape which rigidly disconnects us from the emotional interface of the craft. If we don't jump that shark then we're relegated to being like the photographer who makes those precious black and white landscapes which utilize every ounce of his PhotoShop skills but  which, in the end, become works that are devoid of any emotional context. In fact, they are just endless revisions of work that Ansel Adams did better, and with more soul, fifty years ago. Technique as schtick. Mastery for mastery's sake with no hook to pull in a new generation. Of course we like technically difficult work. It was hard for us to master all the processes a decade ago. Now it's a canned commodity, a pervasive reality, and what the market of smart and wired in kids are looking for is an emotional connection with their images that goes beyond the mechanical construct.

It's no longer enough to get something in focus, well exposed and color correct. It's no longer good enough to fix all the "flaws" in Photoshop. What the important audience wants now is the narrative, the story, the "why" and not the "how." The love, not the schematic.

So, what does this mean for the camera industry? It means that incremental improvements in quality no longer mean shit to a huge and restless younger market. They don't care if the image is 99% perfect if the content is exhilarating and captivating. No one cared if the Hobbit was available at 48 fps as long as the story was strong in 24 fps. No one cares if a landscape is perfect if there's a reason for the image of a landscape to exist. No one cares if a model is perfect if the model is beguiling.

My generation has long been fixated on "getting it right" and that presumes that our point of view is the one that is objectively right. But it's always been true that "your focus determines your reality."

What it really means for the camera industry is that the tools they offer the new generation must be more intuitively integrated and less about "ultimate." In this world a powerful camera that's small enough and light enough to go with you anywhere (phone or small camera) trumps the huge camera that may generate better billboards but the quality of which is irrelevant for web use and social media. The accessible camera trumps the one that needs a sherpa for transport and a banker for acquisition.

I look at the video industry and I see our generation drawn toward the ultimate production cameras. Cameras like the Red Epic or the Alexa. But I see the next generation making more intimate and compelling work with GH3's and Canon 5D2's and 3's. Or even cameras with less pedigrees. The cheaper cameras mean that today's younger film makers can pull the trigger on projects now instead of waiting for all the right stuff to line up. Cheaper good cameras mean more projects get made. More experience gets logged. More storytelling gets done. My generation is busy testing the "aspirational" cameras to see just how perfect perfect can be. And we're loosing ground day by day to a generation that realizes that everyone must "seize the day" in order to do their art while it's fresh.

If I ran the one of the big camera companies I would forget the traditional practitioners and rush headlong toward the youth culture with offerings that allowed them to get to work now with the budgets they have. Ready to do a video project? Can't afford a Red One or even a big Canon? How about a $600 Panasonic G6 and some cheap lenses? Ready to go out and shoot landscapes? Will a Nikon D800 really knock everyone's socks off compared to an Olympus OMD when you look at the images side by side on the web? No? Well, that's the litmus test. It's no longer the 16x20 gallery print because we don't support physical galleries any more.

So, there we were at the trade show and the majority of the attendees were guys wearing their photo jackets with a camera bag over one shoulder and a big "iron" on a strap over the other shoulder. And they had their most impressive lenses attached. And they walked through the crowd with pride because they were packing cool gear. And the pecking order of the old-cognescenti was: film Leica's, then digital Leica M's, followed by Mamiya 6 or 7 rangefinders, followed by Fuji Pro-1's, followed by big, pro Nikons or Canons and so on. While the few young people there zipped through the exhibits and took notes of interesting products with their phones.

The next generations aren't adapting to "hybrid photography" they invented it in a very natural way. We're the ones trying to label the intersection of video and stills and the co-opt it. But we keep overlaying our own preconditions to the genre.

If we understand that our focus determines our reality then we can try to change our focus and better understand where photography is headed, outside the parameters of our own little, private club. And that understanding will help us swim back into the  current of current of photographic culture instead of swimming against the tide trying to get back to a place to which we can really never return.

Yes, some people will still use "ultimate" cameras to create "ultimately sharp and detailed" landscapes, cityscapes and artsy assemblages but their audiences will be constrained to other groups of aging practitioners. Art is a moving target. To understand the target requires a constant re-computation of the factors involved.

It's a hoary stereotype but we need to look to the music industry. The delivery systems have changed profoundly and the music along with it. We can cling to Stan Getz and The Girl from Ipanema  but we certainly won't connect with the current market. I'm not saying we need to love hip hop or Daft Punk but we need to understand where the market is now. It's wonderful that you enjoy waltz music or polkas but if you want to swim in current culture you probably won't find those genres conducive to gaining general acceptance.

Cameras are and will get smaller and lighter. The lenses will get smaller and lighter and easier to carry around. The gear will get easier and easier to use. And why shouldn't it? The gear will get more and more connected. Maybe the cameras don't need to master the entire internet on their own but it will get easier and easier to move images from camera to phone or camera to tablet. And why shouldn't it get easier? Making the process harder for the sake of artisanal martyrdom doesn't move the art along its way. And why should it?

Where is photography going? Where it always gone. It's going along for the ride with popular culture. It's the traditionalists that feel a sense of loss but the sense of loss is from the constant evolution of tastes and styles. If you look at photo history you'll see generational warfare at every junction. Resistance to smaller camera formats! Resistance to color film! Resistant to SLR cameras! Resistance to automation!

And in the art you see Robert Frank as the foil to the arch perfectionism of Group 64. You see William Klein as the antidote to the preciousness of Elliott Porter. You see Guy Bourdin as the antithetical anti hero to Snowdon and Scuvallo. Each move forward was contentious and cathartic. Just as Josef Koudelka was the revolutionary to Walker Evans.

The camera market is in the doldrums now because it is conflicted. Go with the aging money? Or go with the maturing new markets? Go with a shrinking but loyal market or blaze a new trail based on new cultural parameters? The spoils will go to the companies that get it right.

What do I see as "must haves" for the industry to resonate with the new markets?

Cameras must be smaller, lighter and more accessible. 

Cameras need to work with less nit picky intervention on the part of the operators.

Whole systems must be smaller, lighter and more financially accessible.

Cameras should be interconnected with phones and tablets in an almost mindless way.

Cameras must no longer be precious and coveted. They need to be more like phones. A commodity that gets replaced as new stuff comes out with feature sets more conducive to the mission.

Apple has it just right. Make things that are simple to own and simple to use. Make menus easier and not harder. Eliminate the need to make unnecessary decisions. Make design more important and ultimacy less important. Change the focus of consumers in order to own the markets.

Is my advice any good? Naw. I'm as trapped into my generation as anyone else. But I do know that the first step to freedom is to throw off the resistance to change. You'll never change the momentum of the overall market but you can always change your own focus. And then you may open new doors of perception that allow you to do your own work....but in a new way. Like a bridge.

Continue to tell your story. But make sure you are delivering it in a way that people will be able to understand. Change is inevitable and fighting it is the first step to failure.

For a while my markets drove me back into full frame cameras. But those markets have changed so much that it no longer seems to matter. Now I'm just looking for cameras that are fun and easy to embrace. They all take good enough images now. Ultimate quality is now taking a back seat to intimacy and immediacy. A big camera is no longer a prerequisite for a place at the table.

Edit: go see what Michael Reichmann has to say about all this: http://www.luminous-landscape.com/essays/pdn_photoplus_2013.shtml

Edit: Just read this at the NYTimes and found it .... familiar: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/27/opinion/sunday/slaves-of-the-internet-unite.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20131027&_r=0

(EZ reader translation for people who have forgotten how to read long stuff....

All cameras now good. Technical Mastery not as important as in year's past. Old guys love technical mastery. New guys like making different style images and don't care about image perfection. Aesthetic pendulum swings from perfect to emotive. Some camera makers evolve. Some not.  Cameras getting smaller and easier to use. Old styles of shooting fading. New styles emerging. Good time to be a photographer. Change is inevitable. Change is good for young people. Change harder for some old people. Kirk is happy and now goes off swimming. May toss all old gear and just get better phone. short enough?)

Studio Portrait Lighting

in other news: Belinda and I finished working on, The Lisbon Portfolio. The photo/action novel I started back in 2002. I humbly think it is the perfect Summer vacation read. And the perfect, "oh crap, I have to fly across the country" read. It's in a Kindle version right now at Amazon. The Lisbon Portfolio. Action. Adventure. Photography.  See how our hero, Henry White, blows up a Range Rover with a Leica rangefinder.....

Remember, you can download the free Kindle Reader app for just about any table or OS out there....

Edit: Added 11/6: Here's another one that will make you gnash your teeth: http://visualsciencelab.blogspot.com/2013/08/has-bubble-burst-is-that-why-camera.html

Family Photography: Candid Moments & Storytelling

Since my schedule is uncooperative for writing this week I've been posting some favorite, older posts. Here's one about making more interesting photos. From 2012.


How to shoot far more interesting photographs...

(consumer camera.  consumer lens.  continuous light.)

The only way to shoot more interesting photographs is to become a more interesting person.

And, how do you do that?

Listen more, talk less.

Travel more.

Eat stuff you never tried before.

Go some place scary.

Make friends with people who are smarter than you.

Make friends with people who are actors, artist and musicians.

Change your habits.

Read more novels.

Read more poems.  (Try Billy Collins...or Wallace Stevens.)

Go to museums. Look at the art.

Go to  art galleries.

Go to a mosque.  Go to a church or go to a synagog.  Go to a house of worship that's not your current brand.  

Learn new stuff from your kids.

Pick a place that's one tank of gas away and go there.

Go on a life threatening adventure.

Spend a month on a cargo ship.  Or a fishing boat.

Take naps in the middle of the day and stay up all night.

Try your hand at abstract painting.

Date your wife.  Or husband.

Change political parties for a while.

Put down your cameras until you really learn how to tell interesting stories.

Become a more interesting person and you'll take more interesting photographs.  Really.

NSFW (well, American workplaces, at least): It's time for Eeyore's Birthday Party again. This Saturday at Pease Park, in Austin, Texas. Here's gallery from 2011...

Another post that is NOT about A camera. Re-posted from 2012. A good year for writing.


Why are we afraid to make beautiful photographs?

I understand that it's fun to see just how minimal you can get with your gear and still pull out a recognizable image.  Recently the combination of iPhones and Instagram has given rise (once again) to the aesthetic of the "distressed" image.  It's like re-strip mining, in a sense, since Polaroid transfers already pulled up the richest lodes of the distressed movement years ago, before people got tired of squinting at the images to see what the hell they were really all about.  Before that it was Polaroid SX-70 film that was reworked during its development with the business end of chop sticks, tooth picks and other implements of art.  In the 1980's we all lived through "cross processing."  It was a groovy way of fucking up your film to get a different look.  Back then you did it through chemistry but now you can do the same amount of damage/inspiration? with the click of a button.  And, of course, there are Lomos and Holgas, and before them the seminal Dianas.  Plastic cameras that help you innovate by producing "distressed" pictorial results.  

I think every generation goes through this kind of experimentation and then, realizing that it is as much of a dodge as any other technique practiced for the benefit of the technique instead of the subject,  the real artists drop the schtick and the glitter and go on to create really original art or they move on to another hobby.  Perhaps "action painting" or bead craft.

We seem to have hit a point in photography where it's not enough to just interpret beauty.  If we photograph a woman we feel we must "enhance" her by smoothing her skin and using "liquify" filters to "thin her out."  We seem immune to the charms of beauty that is too obvious and even an inch outside mainstream constructs.  Same basic idea with men.  We've hit a pothole in the road of photography and now were stuck in the low gear of insisting that all photos of men be rim-lighted and have the "clarity" sliders maxed out.  Craggy skin tones and over the top lighting.  For every male over 21.

If you like doing all the distressed stuff don't let me stop you.  I'm not always right. You could be right.  Instagram could be the reincarnation of Leonardo da Vinci made whole for the masses.  But if you get a queasy feeling looking at one more "enhanced" portrait or one more Instagrammed snap shot.  If you start feeling vertigo at the non-stop progression of overdone HDR landscapes and city scenes you might want to join with me and ask:  "What's so bad about the reality of beauty?"

I think the appreciation of art follows the pattern of the pendulum.  A gifted artist tries a technique. The technique is antithetical to the prevailing ethos.  The technique finds popular and critical approval.  There's mass migration toward the technique and the new practitioners lack the original, driving idea that acts like a motor to power the technique.  Lots of derivative work is generated.  The technique reaches maximum cultural saturation and like fashion it goes out.  Old style.  Last year's stuff.

If the race, for the last five or six years, has been toward the grunge-ing of images and the instagramming of images for maximum nostalgic distressed effect then it seems logical that we're on our way back to the opposite side of the pendulum where beauty is consumed raw and quality is a technique that society is happy, once again, to explore.  Are we on the cusp of learning how to shoot well? Again.

How to use a tripod to gain clarity?  How to use our cameras to convey the richest manifestation of beauty instead of looking at beauty through layer after layer of dissembling electronic filtration?
Count me in.  I want to be part of the new trend.  I want to aim higher than a lame display on an iPhone or a quick hit on Twit.  How about you?