Will Crockett from Shootsmarter.com shoots Kirk

The two images on the left were done by Will Crockett, the Chicago area photo wiz who started and still energizes a website called www.Shootsmarter.com

I have the honor and privilege of being on the advisory board for the Photography Department at Austin Community College and I enjoy heading over to the school when they throw special programs just to see what everyone is interested in. ACC does a great job of bringing in really interesting photographers from all over the place so students get a good mix and know how diverse the universe of commercial photography really is.

I've known about Will and Smartshooter for a couple of years and found his website to be a really good resource for new photographers and, I'll admit it, I've even learned a thing or two on my visits there. But I'd never heard him present in person.

Wow! This guy is an encyclopedia of great information and he presents with incredible energy. He started the presentation right at 6 and there wasn't a dull or unfilled moment for the next three hours. He showed students how to light using a large Octabank, then an Octabank and a fast and easy white out background, then a totally different set up with a beauty dish and finally a set up (with yours truly as the guinea pig....) using a ring flash. His information was concise, succint, well thought out and to the point. If you were there and didn't learn something you were asleep.

I was amazed at how many things Will and I see eye to eye on that are at odds with large parts of the professional photography population. To wit:

1. More megapixels are not a benefit. Will shoots with a Nikon D700 and sets it at medium resolution for portraits. Proof is in the pudding. Will sent jpeg image files directly to an Epson 7800, bypassing Photoshop entirely, and printed out pretty darn gorgeous 16 by 24 inch images. Sharp as you'd ever want a portrait to be. Medium res would mean shooting at around 6 megapixels. He showed several images that had been blown up into enormous posters that looked great from the 6 meg files....

2. Did I say Jpegs? Yes. Will and I are both of the opinion that if you are shooting in a controlled environment you should be able to get excellent, repeatable results with jpegs provided you do two things before you start shooting. First, you need to use an incident light meter, take a careful reading and set your f-stop within a 1/10th of a stop of accurate exposure. Second, you need to do a good custom white balance from a grey card or a white card. We both get that RAW works better under uncontrollable lighting situations so let's not get too wrapped up in that one.

3. Yes. Will and I both strongly suggest using external incident light meters. Neither of use shoot without them. Fact is that the LCD's on the back of the current cameras can't be profiled and the histograms aren't the most accurate way to set exposure. Argue all you want but Will was shooting tethered and his exposures were amazingly accurate.

4. We both know that we live in an sRGB world and it's pretty much insane to shoot bigger file formats if you can only see 50% of what you've got on your monitor. Most (nearly all) labs are set up to print from sRGB and if you ask them they'll tell you that when you give them RGB or Bruce or 1998 or anything else you read about on the web they take your file and convert is to sRGB before they do anything else. If you do need to use Adobe 1998 for CMYK work make sure you've got a monitor that handles the full gamut. If it's a not an Eizo or an Artizan it's probably not quite there.......Also, if you shoot for the web please be aware that it is 100% sRGB.

Getting it right in the camera saves a great amount of time diddling around in Photoshop and that's time you can use to exercise, catch up on your reading or meet friends for coffee with.

Even though I've used the same concepts for years it was great to watch someone who's absolutely mastered his tools. I loved the way he explained stuff and I loved to watch the obvious excitement and enthusiasm he still has for the job.

Check out www.shootsmarter.com as soon as you can.

The evening was sponsored by the Bogen people and is called the Bogen Cafe. They brought a truck load of Elinchrom strobes and modifiers, nearly the complete line of Gitzo tripods and tons of lighting and portrait accessories. They also donated $30,000 of gear to ACC this week. Ringmaster of the whole event was Gregg Burger from the nation's finest local camera store, Precision Camera and Video. www.precision-camera.com. Peel back the curtain at any great photo event in our town and nine out of ten times you'll find the guys from Precision Camera there doing the heavy lifting.

All in all it was a wonderful evening. If you get the chance to go hear Will speak you won't be sorry. You'll be amazed. And if you're like me your rush back to the studio and revisit your techniques. Amazing.

On another note, I'm teaching a lighting workshop on Sunday October 25th and there are still some open slots. Here's the info: Kirk's lighting workshop

Almost forgot to mention: It is weird being on the other side of the camera.

Images used with Will Crockett's permission. All rights reserved.


Mark Coons said...

Thanks Kirk! As a long time Will Crockett fan I'm always interested to see and hear what Will is up to.

Kurt Shoens said...

In the recently-published book Real World Image Sharpening by Fraser and Schewe, there's a handy claim about human vision: that we can resolve a line-pairs test pattern down to about 1/60th of a degree (one "minute") of arc. For continuous tone images, our ability to resolve detail isn't as fine.

If you look at a big magazine in your lap, a full-page image might cover 20 degrees of your vision. Tally up the numbers and six megapixels sounds like plenty. Similar math applies to large prints because there's a limit to the angle of view that we find comfortable to take in a whole image. Sure, we can push our noses up to a print to see how much detail we can see, but what's the point of that? Are we put off by seeing grain up close in a film print? By seeing brush strokes in a painting?

You mention that most printers want sRGB and convert to sRGB if you give them a different RGB profile. There's a popular photo book self-publisher that goes one worse: rather than convert your images or bounce the job, they ignore your profile and assign sRGB regardless.

I must differ from your views in two trivial ways, however. First, the proof is not in the pudding. That conjures up messy fingers looking for the proof. Instead the proof of the pudding is in the eating, a most applicable metaphor. The proof of the JPEG is in the print, which doubles as a pun.

The second quibble is that I have yet to like a photo using a ringlight as the key. Wait, that's probably untrue. I haven't liked any where I could tell it was a ringlight.

John Krumm said...

Looks like an interesting site, Kirk. About the light meter, any suggestions for a decent one that doesn't cost a fortune? I'm been teaching some digital photo basics to middle schoolers and would love to point a light meter around when we are out and about.

kirk tuck said...

Mark, This was the first time I've seen Will speak in person and I was really blown away by how well he explains concepts to people. Since I put the blog up several people have written to me off-line to ask why he doesn't still do the school. I'll try to ask him that when I get a moment of his time.

kirk tuck said...

Kurt, Thanks for the reply. I"m not a big fan of ringlights either but Will had some great examples to show. I bought one for a client project that never came to fruition and I now use it as a background light. Oh well. Viva La Difference.

Thanks for the note.

kirk tuck said...

John, Will likes the Gossen Digi-Flash and I like the small sekonic. Both are highly accurate so I guess it's one of the "hold it in your hand and see which one you like" things. Will can put his in his pocket I just put mine in a waist pouch.

Mark Coons said...


Just go to http://www.bogenimaging.us/Jahia/bogencafe/site/bius/lang/en_US and click on "Ask Will". One of the things I really like about Will is straight forward answers to my questions. He help me pick out a lightmeter a while back. (Got the Sekonic L358 because I could add the Pocketwizard trigger when I needed it.)

Will will answer any question just as soon as he can. (Thanks to Bogen Cafe for providing this!)

Jim said...

Great blog!

Regarding light meters, the more things change, the more they stay the same. When I shot film, I always hand metered (preferably incident), 'cause in-camera meters are just not reliable. I cannot understand why people have abandoned meters simply because they have built-in polariod cameras in DSLRs--camera meters are inconsistent from frame to frame and histograms are limited help, especially in tricky lighting.

@John Krumm--try ebay or Craigslist for a used older light meter--I use/like the Minolta Flashmeters 3 and 4, Minolta Autometers, as well as the Gossen Luna Pro. If you are going to shoot any type of flash work, though, make sure it will read cord and cordless flash.

John Krumm said...

Good ideas, I'll do that. Thanks Kirk, Mark and Jim.

Marshall said...

I think the reason people end up at odds over some of this stuff is context and some of it is misinterpretation of choices that simplify life. Plus, some people just like to argue.

A lot of people take statements about sRGB, or resolution, or [pick your poison] and treat them as gospel. "Will Crockett says all you need is sRGB"; "Kirk Tuck says you can't tell the difference between 6MP and 12MP at 16x24"; and so forth. Then it turns into an argument when it turns out that for some ENTIRELY DIFFERENT kind of work, people can see a difference in the detail of a print or some extremes of otherwise printable colors get subtly blocked up.

It's the same kind of thing when someone or other on some forum on the intertubes says that [camera x] is unacceptable for noise, and before you know it, [camera X] is a noisy camera that can't shoot nighttime sports or concerts and anyone who does it is clearly an amateur hack.

What people have to understand is that you and Will understand the tradeoffs, the value for your work, and the value for your workflow. As long as people are actively thinking about the advice they read and taking in the context, hopefully the photography world can stay respectfully at odds and get smarter, broader, and more understanding all at the same time.

- Marshall

Pete Appleby said...

Hi, Kirk. It's nice to see you smiling! Once again I find myself nodding in agreement while reading your blog. These days I'm shooting with an old 5 mp E-1, and the quality appears to be better than my older 8 mp camera.

Poor images are not caused by lack of pixels. Most of the time, it's me making another silly mistake. I can't blame my forgetfulness or lack of discipline on the pixels, camera manufacturer, or anything else.

Dave said...

A couple of comments. I've been to Will's presentation and found it very informative and upbeat. I never stopped using a meter when I went from film to digital. I find my Sekonic to be indispensible. I sold many 24x30 and several 30x40 portraits shot with my Fuji S2 which while it's marketed as a 12MP camera the base resolution is 6MP. I found the images to be superior to those shot on 6x7 160 ISO film in my Mamiya RZII.