7.16.2010

Looking back is looking forward.



When I'm in the moment I think the stuff I'm working on is really great and destined to go into the portfolio but time is an interesting filter.  And the stuff I shot years ago because I needed the money or I volunteered or I shot because I was stumbling around, bored, with a camera?  The same time filter eventually causes the old work with value to bubble up.  If you take the time to go back and look at it.

People are always in such a hurry to do new stuff.  Always new stuff.  It's relentless and once you jump in and get in the habit of habitually shooting you can almost not help trying to make each day and everything you come across a series or a project.

And what happens to most of us is that we're so busy administering the endless flow of raw files that need archived, and images that need processed and so on that we never take the luxurious step of just sitting back and really looking at what we've already done.  In an unhurried way.  In a thoughtful way.

There's an extra layer that mitigates against reappraisal of past work in digital and that is our subconscious belief that the cameras we are using today are so far improved over what we shot with just five years ago that.....what's the point of going backward?

But that's the very core of what knowledgable people have been saying for years:  It's really not the camera.  It's really all about the vision and the seeing.  And the lighting and, in the end, getting off the office chair and doing.  (Not taking a stab at non photo professional office workers but photographers of any stripe who research photography more than they shoot it).

There are always advances.  Some good and some bad.  But artists having always gone forward with the tools of the day and made art that stands.  They use the shortcomings of the tools as formalist boundaries which they use to define their niche in the genre.  There are artists selling work from the five and six megapixel generation of cameras in museums and galleries.  Images from 35mm film are still collected and appreciated.  At some point looking back reinforces to you what you got right and what you'd do differently.  And for that alone it's an incredibly valuable undertaking.

I shot these a few years back for a mentoring program called, Project Breakthrough.  In the intervening years we shot trendier versions of kids for the program.  But these seem to be the ones I come back to again and again.  And I look at them to figure out why.

Might want to crack open a few disks from the earlier part of the century and sit quietly with some of the images on them.  Might just give you an older/newer way of looking at things going forward.







The joy of straightforward work. Getting back into the groove.

A product shot for D2 Audio.  Done with multiple exposures so the viewer can "see thru" the top of the case to the product inside.


In a recent blog I alluded to the need for constant practice as a building block to becoming a better photographer.  The more I shoot the more fluid and less labored each subsequent photo session becomes.  And I think, at some point, it really doesn't matter what the subject is, the very act of working through projects and problem solving acts like a lubricant to the whole process.

The image above is a very straightforward shot with lots of little challenges.  The cabinet and front panel are black on black so you have to define the three visible planes of the product by giving them each a different tonal value with your lights.  While there's on overall exposure for the electronic flash illumination you'll need to make a secondary exposure for the blue lights on the front panel.  At f8 it probably took one or two seconds to burn the lights in to the correct intensity.  That means you'll need to turn the modeling lights out when you do the overall exposure so you can drag the shutter, along with the flash exposure, without introducing any overall color casts to the background or the overall product.

The next step is to consider how to match the angle of the overall  product with the angle of the separate shot for the "hero" product, the blue and white processing module inside the appliance.  Of course the important parameters are to keep the angles the same and the camera position the same between shots, and the direction and quality of light (hard, soft, indifferent) has to match.

When you put it all together you are obviously putting the module layer under the overall appliance layer and then using a large soft brush to erase through part of the top layer to get the look of transparency.  Then you need to drop out the original white, seamless paper background and add in your own drop shadow.  Voila.  You are done.

We do a lot of these kinds of shots.  It's a subset of the business, and once you get the hang of it it's almost a meditative process.  Sure, every product is different enough to keep you on your toes.  Chrome finishes are vexing.  Weird convex or concave patterns make life more interesting.  But it's all just fodder for problem solving and process.

Even something as simple as where to put your point of focus comes into play.  I shot this with a Fuji S2 and a 60mm lens.  I needed to have the whole thing in relatively sharp focus.  The front panel is more important than the back edge but the back edge has to give the perception of sharpness.  If you focus on the front edge there's no way that f8 (the f stop I choose for highest quality and least diffraction) will carry focus to the back of the product.  But you could find a point about 1/3rd of the way into the product that would work.  In the old days we would have used a view camera and tilted the front and rear standards to create focus in the plane need, but who has the budget for that these days.

While this image is a  golden oldie I spent this past week doing similar images for another tech client.  I'd show those in the blog but it's pretty routine for the images to be embargoed until after they are used by the client....

In addition to product images in the studio I also took the show on the road and photographed on site at a medical center.  I started my week shooting a swimmer showcasing good and bad technique for a magazine article.  The next step was location/environmental portraits for a medical practice.  I shot images out in the heat and in the freezing environs of a data center.

And, even though I'd love to be shooting portraits all the time, the range of work was engaging and kicked up the problem solving gland to produce more solutions.  Different solutions.  And my hands and brain practiced together.  Getting the timing and the thinking synced.  Exercising the weird part of the brain that makes decisions about composition.

There's a benefit to doing "day in, day out" photography besides the fees.  It gets you into the groove and the flow.  I like it.

One more techy shot of the road.....