9.17.2021

OT: Alive and well. Celebrating with a walk.


Today was the final day of my yearly physical. I'm in great shape. No markers for anything. Lipid panel looked excellent. Even my hearing still works. Nothing hurts anywhere. Celebrated with a three mile photo walk in the afternoon. Spent most of the time doing curls with a Leica SL and the Sigma 24-70mm Art lens. Keeping that muscle mass intact. Need better muscle tone? Buy heavier cameras. And lenses.

Spending time doing sports instead of watching them really pays off. Pass it on. And never stop. 

Loving the files from the SL. All those other technical specifications and metrics are meaningless unless you really like the "look" of the files...
 

9.16.2021

Thursday Morning and I'm less than halfway through the 50 portraits we need to complete this month. But it's a lot more fun that I imagined it would be.

This is not from this month's commercial project. 
This is a portrait shot long ago, in the days of 
Hasselblads, film and big lights. 

It is a bold project but we may have to change gears midway through. The client and I envisioned doing 50 individual portraits at 50 different time slots through the month of September. But here we are a two weeks into the project and we still haven't been able to motivate everyone to sign up for a slot. We're only a couple miles from their H.Q. so it's not an insurmountable distance to travel. I think my client's people (all smart, capable and nice people) are working remotely and it's a different dynamic because the individual associates are more in control of their own schedules. I get it. I like scheduling flexibility too. 

Even though the current set up is comfortable for me (I get to leave everything set up in the studio and just walk in for scheduled appointments; no constant set-up and tear down) it's not very efficient. The client and I have talked and we'll likely abandon this experiment and go back to setting a specific day and having everyone come to the office in scheduled slots to get the remainder of the foot draggers taken care of. And that's okay too. One day of set up and tear down isn't insurmountable. 

As it stands right now I'm enjoying the unhurried pace and the ability to work on my own turf for a change. I ended up selecting the Panasonic S5 as the camera for this project based on how well its eye detection AF works and I've been very happy with the raw files from the camera. 

I'm working with three LED lights and a big, white reflector as a fill so the studio stays nice and cool and there's no annoying flash to work through. I'm shooting at ISOs like 800 which is a piece of cake for the sensor in this camera. The resulting photographs are clean and well detailed.

Today I have one person booked in the afternoon and I'm spending my morning retouching and enhancing the selections from earlier sessions. The back end of the project; the private galleries on Smugmug, works very well. The galleries are nice, clean and controllable. Clients like them very much.  I'll likely deliver the images back to them via a download folder at Smugmug as well. 

The current lens of choice is the Panasonic 70-200mm f4.0 S-Pro. It's a logical choice since I tend to prefer the longer focal lengths for corporate headshots. I've looked at the exif data and it seems my preference is between 105mm and 135mm. The lens has a tripod mount so it's very stable and easy to handle. 

I've chosen to have people stand for their portraits and it seems to work better for their clothing because there are fewer wrinkles and "bunchings".  So far most of the people have been near my height but I have an apple crate standing by in case I encounter an especially tall person. I don't mind standing on a wooden box if it helps me do my job. If it's good enough for Tom Cruise.....

On extended projects like this I bill by the person/session and send in an invoice for the sessions at the end of every week. It keeps the payment stream flowing and seems to work for both client and photographer. 

Work is over-rated though so I'm thinking about taking the month of October off. I'm still planning to make a pilgrimage to Roswell, NM and the surrounding sites, and I may add a few other two or three day trips through the month. Gotta give that SL2 and the big, fat zoom a workout...

I'd Vlog my trips but I just tried to watch Thomas Heaton's hundred mile hike through some island and it was just painful. I applaud him for making the journey but half an hour at a time watching video of someone walk and occasionally talk to the camera is just....boring. I'm starting to think that videos like this are actually created as instruments of punishment for petty crimes in some countries. 

Convicted of shoplifting? Sit in this chair and watch an hour long video of a man trudging around in a banal landscape with a backpack and occasionally talking about how painful the adventure is. Yes. No. That's not the future of content. 

Finally, my latest gear purchase should arrive some time today. It's the Godox AD200 Pro and I have a use for it this coming Monday. An exterior portrait downtown. We'll have a test jaunt and see if it betters the performance of the sturdy and reliable AD200 (non-Pro). Fun with lights.

Time to toss on a face mask and answer the door. 


 

9.15.2021

The iPhone 13 Pro is the final, critical piece in phone photography's near total dominance of the camera market. Not a satire.

 


Early on, in the first years of Apple's iPhones, I was a skeptic and thought we'd never hit a point at which the vast, vast, vast majority of camera users would not only find a phone camera to be acceptable for serious daily work but would also prefer using a phone to using even the finest and most fully equipped, standalone camera. But that's where we are right now. Today. 

For me the tide started to turn with the introduction of the Apple 10 (X) cameras. I bought an iPhone XR and even though that phone camera is limited to a one lens camera it has proven itself as good in many video shooting situations as the best hybrid cameras (which with their lenses cost four or five times more!). I skipped the next two iterations of iPhones because I felt certain that the next tipping point would come with the inclusion of a good, longer tele focal length. That just happened on the Apple iPhone 13 and 13 Pro.

After I played with the XR for a while I added a few things to the package to make it even more useful. Things like Filmic Pro video software and also an app more aimed at photography; Halide. On the hardware front I added a phone gimbal for shooting moving video. Over time that phone has progressed up the ladder of usability to match most cameras for video and casual photography for me. The one step I looked for was the lens and now both models of the Pro 13 lines have the same capability. One no longer has to buy the larger "Max" version to get the lens and camera performance potential at the current state of the art. 

While hardware and firmware, as evidenced in the new line of iPhones, has progressed both rapidly and steadily so has widespread professional acceptance of the content being generated. It's not a race for equivalency, it's a race to replace one form of imaging as the dominant and historic style with a newer and highly accessible, even more kinetic style of imaging. And one very accessible to the masses of middle class and wealthy countries around the world.

Photography as I practiced it ten, twenty and thirty years ago is pretty much dead now. Frequent shows of prints in galleries, and print sales to individuals seem absolutely passé. In the days of pension funds and three martini lunches nearly everyone got their doses of photography from printed magazines like Life, Look, National Geographic, Vogue, etc. We had a defect standard to aim for.  Most magazines are now either gone or reduced in their reach and demographic. Almost everyone is accessing photography via their phone screens, iPads, Laptops, and, for us older users, our desktop computers. Even outdoor media which used to be the final argument for high resolution cameras have ceded the battlefield to large, bright video screens. 

You may think, when watching some of the promo video footage from Apple that it's all just propaganda and advertising, and that all filmmakers and video producers are using twenty thousand dollar lenses on one hundred thousand dollar cameras to shoot their projects. I have some insight into those fields by dint of having friends who make feature films and others who make corporate videos and commercials. Yes, maybe the top tenth of one percent of feature movies are done with heroic and pricy gear. The next tier down, say a competent Netflix original series, might use Canon C300ii cameras or something similar, but a fair number are being done on smaller and cheaper video cameras (Panasonic S1H) and many, many times the b-roll scenes, drone shot scenes and much more were already being shot on various vintages of iPhones. The revolution has been happening in the background for the last eight or so years. 

Why is the 13 Pro another major inflection point? There are a lot of reasons. Mostly because the image quality has become so good. Another reason is the almost transparent ease of use. The ability to override consumer interfaces and install professional controls. The almost universal familiarity with the interface.  For an extremely potent and easy to use content camera the phones are dirt cheap. If the drone hits the lake you might have to write off a phone but given it's water resistance ratings you'll probably be okay if you salvage the camera quickly and don't let it sink more than five or six feet. At the thousand dollar price point they become both replaceable and, on the other hand, the pricing makes it easy to use multiple phones simultaneously to capture various P.O.V.s and as "crash cams." With the latest version the screens are better, the refresh rates are better, the colors are better and the processing is better (best).  Add to all this the ability to share files anywhere and almost instantaneously.

These will be the first phone cameras to make use of ProRes raw codecs for video recording. This is huge for professional editors. The 4K ProRes codec  is the coin of the realm in professional video. Added to all this is the fact that the new iPhone 13s are computational powerhouses. Already things like video refocus and computational focus pulls from the cinematic mode are features that are currently undoable with other cameras. All other cameras. 

But I get that most of you don't really care about any camera's video capabilities. If you buy a camera only to shoot still images and text your spouse why should you care? But even seen just as still photography cameras the new phones are awesome. The same computational capabilities means you can control the look and feel of each frame to a much greater extent. With new lenses, new sensors and new on chip focusing the only thing the new cameras give up to our regular cameras are pixel size ( which could mean more noise....unless you are shooting static subjects and then the camera will use its computer power to sample many multiple frames and through out noise on the fly) and total resolution. Oh, an lens interchangeability.

For the few of you who still print seriously the higher pixel count of dedicated cameras will probably still make a big difference. For everyone else? Not so much. Why? Because the vast, vast, overwhelming majority of the images generated from now, and into the future, will be targeted to iPhone screens, iPad screens and computer screens. Currently, anything higher than 8 to 12 megapixels will basically have information tossed in the garbage cans of compression and dynamic resizing. 

It was the moment after I saw the final Apple presentation that I knew my predictions about photography were right. Images are now a consumable and not a physical collectible, object. Cameras have superseded photography as "the" hobby. So we long time practitioners will find it hard to give up the pursuit of gear. For artists who just want to capture the images they need the phone is the tool they will want. 

Yep. I'll be first in line to pre-order a 13 Pro (not the Pro Max --- the only difference this time is screen size and battery life). This time around I'll opt for the 512 GB version so I can record lots and lots of 4K ProRes footage. Not for "A" camera interview footage but for cutaways, b-roll, establishing footage and documentary reportage that does not require high production quality sound (although easy enough to do with a separate recorder...). 

And when I finish a production I'll stick the "camera" in my trouser pocket and walk away. 

Does this mean we're going into a full on "cult adaptation" mode with the phone? Naw. I'll keep the Leicas and the pricy lenses around for all those times when I get nostalgic or when I want to make a big print just to prove to myself I can still do it. But for a quick shot of ...... just about anything, anywhere, I'll probably just pull out the phone. Even if the big camera is hanging off my shoulder on a strap. 

You'll likely think of all kinds of reasons why I am misguided, wrong, delusional, too trendy, too quick to try new stuff, have no respect for tradition, or whatever your label might be. You can take pot shots at the messenger but it won't change the fast moving, glacial momentum paradigm in photography. 

We're all amateurs now. We're all destined to be phone camera shooters. But as hobbyists we can, of course, retain the right to shoot with whatever we want. Wet Plate cameras, medium format film cameras, 4x5 film cameras, big Sonys, fast Canons, stately Leicas. But when it all gets crunched down onto a screen we'll probably all be wishing we'd left the big cameras at home and just brought along one of the new phones....

Future arrived. One more blow to traditional camera form. 

Now to find the right Domke strap for my new phone.....

Added after initial publication: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c3CZX-lnAIc

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XKfgdkcIUxw


9.14.2021

Today's Blog Image. And an interesting marketing observation.

 


Even though I've pursued a career in the visual arts I have long been more inclined to value the written word over photographs. I love to read and, by extension, I love to write. But while that's great for my personal enjoyment I'm finding that written instructions and paragraphs of marketing are not always the most effective way to reach various audiences I interact with. 

This is quasi-anecdotal but I thought I'd share just to make my point. 

I was asked to make 50 individual appointments for portrait sessions for an accounting firm. I created a scheduling template in a spreadsheet program, wrote out a one page "explainer" on how to sign up, how the portrait sessions would work, what Covid safety measures I would offer and also information on how to find my studio location. I sent this document, with nicely designed locator map, to my client contact and she sent it out to the associates who would need to be photographed.  Crickets.  Silence. One or two diligent people got in touch and signed up. That was interesting.

My son suggested making a video instead of just relying on the written document. I grabbed an S5, a lav microphone and some lights and made a short, quick video that covered all the stuff I'd put into the written document. I edited out the "ums and ahhs" and added some b-roll images and then sent that to my client for distribution to the same list. That hit late last week. By Monday (yesterday) I'd booked about a dozen people for this week and part of next. I've already photographed four of the initial respondents and I always ask which way they preferred to get their information. All of them said that reading one page of type was boring but watching three minutes of video was fun and also they were able to put a face and a personality to the event as opposed to what had been an anonymous instructional missive. That I was able to reiterate important points delivered benefits as far as scheduling and a more congenial understanding for the clients of what's involved.

This was yet another learning experience that I'll be folding into future projects. A good "explainer" video gets more and better results for some audiences than just.....information. It's also a chance to show who you are as well. 

Note after initial publication: Once again I've chosen to curtail comments since some commenters seem hellbent on denigrating the organization or employees I talk about in the section on creating video. I'm sure most people realize that there is a gap between generations as to their media preferences. The subjects of the photo shoot are ALL four year college or university graduates, mostly with advanced degrees. They are capable of assimilating information in any number of ways. In fact, they specialize in information technologies. But...as they are mostly under 50 years of age they prefer to get information for some things via video. 

Several commenters decided to make this post an issue about intelligence of clients or the state of public schooling and of course that was not the intent of the blog at all. My intention was to supply an observation about marketing and how to successfully market. The commenters chose to make it a battle between the intelligence of people who prefer print versus those who prefer to get information via video. 

Also, it was never a matter of equivalence between the two media. As I suggested the viewer of the video could get a sense of who they would be working with. What he looks like, etc. Something not possible with a written document. Finally, yes, we can all read fast. But there is more to content than pure information harvesting. Sad that so many were ready to pillory the director level associates of a major U.S. accounting firm for taking advantage of an offered video instead of discarding the video in favor of the written word. 

It's just fucked up thinking if people are at all serious about understanding marketing. I think we'll chill on comments for a while. The knee jerk nastiness or presumption of fault is starting to wear a bit thin for me.

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