Gear is fun but it's what we do with it that counts.

 Kirk and the clients.  I'm praying hard that the carefully feathered umbrellas deliver photons to the back of the room.  Love the ladder.

I just wrote a review about the Olympus EPL2 and I'll admit it was fun to get back all the comments.  It was even more fun to get nearly 20,000 viewers in three days!  But concentrating on gear reviews sends a skewed message to readers who are beginning their journey in photography or for people who are contemplating leaving the warm safety and security of "real" jobs to try their hand at freelance photography.  I think everyone would love to believe that, by investing in the right camera and a magic lens, they would be able to enjoy success in the wild and woolly field of "professional" photography.  I wish it were true.  I've already spent tens of thousands of dollars on gear....I should be a millionaire by now.....I'll have to check with my CFO, maybe I already am.....but I doubt it.

As the antidote to the "big" review I thought I'd dissect the shoot done Monday after I posted the blog (yesterday) and came down from the fun of mass communications to the reality of the business on the ground.  Is that okay with you?

I had an assignment to photograph for one of the best clients I've worked with in a while.  They are a large medical practice here in Austin.  Their practice has nearly ten locations and almost 100 employees. Monday was the day of their annual meeting and they held it at a giant, local restaurant.  My job was to shoot candid shots of the meeting, set up, direct and shoot a group shot of 100 people and then reset on the fly and shoot seven different groups from the different offices with anywhere from 10 to 20 people in the groups.  Sounds easy, right?

Let's do the dissection.

The group shot was going to take place in a large room with a stage.  The lights would have to be at least twelve feet in the air, as far back from the front row as possible with 60 inch umbrellas to soften the light, and they'd have to be feathered just right to keep to much of light off the front row and put just enough light on the back row.  That also meant we'd need a lot more power than I'd be able to get out of conventional shoe mount flashes (sorry Strobist disciples...).  But the lights would have to be set up in a public area with traffic.

The smaller group shots could be done in the same area but with a canvas background and they'd have to be done right after the main group shot so we'd have to be quick because we had dozens and dozens of people waiting and we were between them and their unofficial happy hour.

I also needed a camera that would reliably handle the candid shots I also needed to take in the main meeting room.  And it was a bit of a nightmare in there, with light coming in from floor to ceiling, west facing window on one side of the room and a darkened area with a projector on the other.

So I just showed up and we shot, right?  Nope.

The main photo would commemorate the 40th anniversary of the practice so we were determined to do this job absolutely correctly.  That started with a scouting trip to the location a week out from the event.  Yes, we charge for that.  The client and I went thru every step of the upcoming meeting and we mapped out how we would handle the group, how they would be arranged, who would be sitting and who would be standing.  We worked with the venue to ascertain when we could have access to the room and what we needed in terms of seating, graphics on a large screen in the back of the room, and where to load in gear.

I decided I'd do the shot with two big umbrella lights so the night before the shoot I put two Profoto Acute 600b battery packs on the chargers after running a "set up and fire" test on both systems.  I wanted both system batteries charged and ready to go.  I also charged several extra batteries for the Canon 5Dmk2's I selected for the project.    Before I hit the rack I made a thorough list of everything I would need for the next day.  The next morning I went to early swim practice (7 am) so I'd have ample time to pack and organize.

I packed a collapsible ladder, two complete Profoto 600b systems  (six hundred watt seconds each, one head each) two sixty inch softlighter umbrellas.  Three twelve foot Manfrotto stands.  I brought along a Manfrotto Magic Arm and camera plate which I attached, in lieu of a tripod, to the top of the ladder with a Super Clamp.  That gave me a solid and stable shooting platform.  I packed two Canon 5Dmk2's and both a 24-105mm L zoom and the same complement of wide angle and telephoto prime lenses as back up.  I also brought a Sekonic 758 flash meter and a set of background stands.  I brought a laptop with the graphic for the background screen loaded on it and also the logo on a disk.  The final cargo that went into the Element was four twenty pound sand bags.

I was scheduled to arrive at the location at noon but, of course, I got there at 11:30.  You never know about traffic.  My assistant, Amy, arrived at 11:45 for a noon call.  She shares my view about traffic.  We had a brief discussion with my client and we decided that we really would like to have a white background behind the groups to make it easier to drop out the individual office shots.  I sent Amy on the one hour round trip to retrieve said background from the studio.  No sweat.  The giant group shot would happen at three and the smaller groups, the ones we needed the background for, would be after that.

Before Amy left we loaded the cases, ladder and other materiel onto our cart and dragged it in the and unloaded it.  I did as much as I could in terms of setting up but the room wouldn't really be fully available to us until two o'clock.  I grabbed a camera, set the ISO to 2500 and headed into the main meeting room for candid shots.  I love shooting events.  You have a temporary license to get close in and shoot people without feeling self conscious.

When Amy returned we set up our main lights for the big group.  We put forty pounds of sandbags on each of the two stands and also used the strobe boxes as ballasts.  Using the Profoto's at their full 600 watts per unit, bouncing into the 60 inch umbrellas, I was able to set an exposure of f11.5 throughout the room at full power, based on an ISO of 320.  And that's an ISO I know to be optimum with the 5D cameras.  Once we were set and we measured every row with an incident flash meter I double checked that the radio slaves were banging and that every component had fresh batteries.  I attached  our other camera to the top of the ladder with the Magic Arm and locked in a  good composition.  Then I went back to shooting candids as Amy stood guard over the set up.

Right at 3pm the meeting broke and the people flowed into my shooting space light the rushing tide.  If you are shy and retiring this is not the kind of job you'll want to tackle.  I needed to get 100 people into position quickly so I could make this shot work before the crowd lost it's positive energy.  I can get very loud.  And I did.  We moved all the people into position and then dealt with the stragglers.  I got onto the ladder and fine tuned the crowd from the shooting position.  Amy's job was to make sure both boxes were firing and nothing technically failed.  My job was to get people to focus their energy to the front of the room and not blink, scratch, nervously joke with the person next to them, etc. until we had a couple fo perfect shots in the can.

I chose the battery powered Profotos because I've shot big groups before and the last thing I wanted to do was to string long extension cords across the crowded floor and take the chance that someone would trip over one and bring the whole shoot to a quick and liability laden halt.  But the tradeoff is that at full power they take four or five seconds to recycle.  That's where the photographer's playful banter comes in handy.

Before I announced the successful end of the big shot I made sure to remind the people in the smaller groups that they would need to stay close by while Amy and I added a background and reset our lights.  We moved a white background onto the shooting stage and then manhandled the sandbagged lights into  new positions.  The background was up, the lights positioned and powered down a bit in less than three minutes.  Amy stood in for the meter reading and then I called the first group in.  Two minutes and ten exposures later we were on to the next.  We kept up the pace and within twenty minutes all the groups had been shot and kidded around with.

At this juncture I'll mention what you can obviously see in the photographs of me on the ladder.  I am wearing a suit and a tie and a pressed dress shirt.  (I did take my jacket off to unload the car......)
Why?  Because we, as photographers, always moan about money and budgets and the fact that people don't take what we do seriously.  Well, it's hardly a surprise when so many of our "profession"  dress like roadies or starving artists or musicians that people think our reward is our "artistic" satisfaction and our alternative lifestyles.  The suit (or coat and tie)  reassures my marketing directors that we mean business and, for most people we photograph, it means we operate in the same strata as the people who run the companies they work for .

I work as an equal with my clients.  Not as an employee.  And most of the people who actually sign the checks dress professionally and, whether it's a conscious decision or not, the way you dress is a clue about where you are in the pecking order.  Asking for top fees?  Dress like it!

I shook hands with the partners and officers and then Amy and I packed up our gear and wheeled it back out to the noble Honda Element.  We got back to the studio and broke everything out of the travel cases, made sure we didn't leave any crucial elements behind, and then stuck the battery powered strobe packs and camera batteries on the chargers.

After Amy left I sat at the computer and ingested all of the files by category, backed them up to a second drive and started editing.  By dinner I'd done a quick but good edit and I started the file conversion to web gallery small jpeg files.  After dinner I started uploads to two different galleries and the went about checking and packing all the gear I would need for the next day's shoot.  A totally different shoot.  This one on location at one of the practice's offices.  I did NOT wear a suit for that one.  I wore a dark grey sport coat, white button down and a slim, burgundy tie.  And the client was better dressed than I.

Once the client chooses images for the website and ads I'll spend some time working with my retoucher so she knows what the client and I want, and then, upon delivery,  I'll make one more set of back up files  and get my billing out the door.  And that's the anatomy of yesterday's shoot.

Did stuff go wrong?  You bet.  I left the studio without my wallet.  Amy got it for me when she went back for the background.  I wish the room had been bigger so I could have shot from further back, etc, etc.  But it all went pretty much according to plan and that's what good clients pay for.  Dress up.  Tomorrow should be your "A" game.
Kirk on a ladder trying to levitate the crowd.

After Monday's shoot, and all the wrap up and post production, I clicked off the lights and headed for home.  All of fifteen steps away.  I said goodnight to Ben and, as Belinda worked on designing a website for one of her clients I cracked open the laptop that's dedicated to writing books and got back to work on the fifth book.  The due date is fast approaching.  By 2 am the house was quiet, I'd hit my 2000 word goal and I crept off to bed.  In five hours I'd be back in the pool, and then doing some variation of this day all over again.


Olympus EPL2. Final Installment. Kirk's Definitive Opinion.

When I head out the door to shoot I usually have a Pen camera configured like this.
The VF-2 electronic finder is not an optional accessory to me.  It should be part of every package.
It's  small, light and unobtrusive.  Perfect for the street.

This is a fun camera.  But before we get to the meat of the matter I'd like to lay down a few ground rules and make a few disclosures.  Everything I write here is my opinion.  You may disagree with me but I won't post your comment unless you disagree in a courteous and helpful way.  I may profess undying love for this camera and, if I do so, please understand that it's the passion of the moment and next month a new camera may come along that I love more.  This is not a marriage, it's a fun job that changes quicker than a model at a runway show.  When I make a declarative statement I generally mean that this is how something applies to ME.  Not to everyone.

Ergonomics.  When you read through this keep in mind that I'm five feet, eight inches tall and have medium sized hands.  If the camera feels just right to me it probably won't matter to you if you are six foot, six inches tall and have hands like big baseball gloves.  Go to a store and handle it yourself if you know your build falls outside the general norm.  Some people like big cameras and some like small cameras.  If you are considering the EPL2 I hope you've sorted yourself into the second category.

A word about payola and full disclosure.  What did I hope to get out of writing this review besides a little ego boost and the chance to decide whether or not I want to buy one of these before everyone else? Well......I want Olympus to give me a Porsche and it's okay if they put their logo on the back bumper.  As long as the logo type is no bigger than twelve points.  In the real world the best that I can hope for is Olympus to give me a hearty handshake, perhaps a mousepad or a pen and the vague promise to let me review something in the future.  I'll have this camera and lens boxed up and back in the Federal Express to them this coming Friday.  Ultimately I hope you'll like the writing and be predisposed to buy a book or two of mine in the future.

Another happy benefit might be that you click thru a link to Amazon and buy something.  If you click thru from my blog I'll get a small amount of money and you'll pay no more or less.  But for all intents and purposes I'm putting this out there for free and that's the extent of my disclosures.  I make the bulk of my income from photography assignments and I can't think of very many clients who come here to read about the latest cameras.  I wish.  So enjoy.  Let's get started.

I passed on the EP1 camera, the first of the new Pens, for one reason:  No electronic or optical viewfinder, and no provision to add an electronic one on.  I've spent decades looking through viewfinders and I can't get used to using a rear screen as a focusing and compositional tool unless the whole deal is locked down on a tripod and I've got a loupe with me to block out the surrounding light.  I bought the EP2 because it had the EVF and it was very beautiful.  Of all the Pen cameras it feels the best in my hand, and, truthfully, it's the one I like to shoot with the most.  Here's the rub:  While the EP2 is the best designed and has the right heft the EPL1 obviously has a better sensor implementation.  It's sharper and cleaner (in the image files) than the EP1 or the EP2 and it was priced so well I couldn't help myself.....I snapped one up.  And less than a year later, along comes the EPL2.  Styling that looks more like the EP2 but performance like the EPL1.  Throw in a better screen and........?

Well.  Let's start at the top and go thru this step by step.  First of all, what is the EPL2?  It's the latest distillation of what Olympus has learned from making this family of cameras.  The camera is one of the family of Micro Four Thirds cameras which use a sensor that is about 20% smaller than an APS-C sized sensor used in a Canon Rebel or 60D.  Sounds scary but the sensor is six times bigger than the sensors in cameras like the Canon G 12 and the Lumix LX-5 from Panasonic.

The smaller sensor means that the lenses have different angles of view relative to what fussy old timers are used to from the 35mm days.  Ostensibly, smaller lenses are easier to design and manufacture so that should mean good glass at a lower cost.

Why did Olympus create the Four Thirds and then the micro Four Thirds standards?  Because in the early days of sensor design and manufacture it was ruinously expensive to make bigger sensors because the failure rate in manufacturing was so high.  The catering analogy is caviar.  You might get some on your deviled eggs or on your sushi but the unit cost would break a restaurant if they decided to chunk a few ounces on every plate.  A bigger sensor is still more expensive and it still requires bigger optics but now we have choices again.  Just like the film days we can choose a day in day out format that works well for everything that will go into electronic media ( the smaller than 35mm frame size) or we can choose cameras with sensors that are the same size as a frame of 35mm film and now more or less take the place of the medium format cameras of the film era, or we can take the bitter and frightening plunge and grab for all the gusto of a medium format digital system (for around the price of a nice car) and have the ultimate in resolution and dynamic range.  80 megapixels anyone?

But the thing that attracts me to smaller cameras is

Olympus EPL2: Is the video good? Do we care? Do you care?

If you want to see it bigger (full res but with compression artifacts around the edges....go here: http://gallery.me.com/kirktuck#100264

I can hear it now.  A certain percentage of readers will grouse about "having to pay" for video they'll never use.  And I get the sentiment but the reality is that the inclusion of a tiny, crappy microphone and an extra button probably added about $2.50 (USD) to your total camera purchase price so you might just want to get over it.  The rest of you have heard the call from Canon shills like Vince LaForet and you're thinking you might just want to see what all the fuss is about.  Bottom line?  The EPL2 is a nice, clean video platform.  I'd hate to have to sit thru stuff that was made handheld but if you put it on a tripod it's nice and clean, and sharp.

I almost hate to get into this but........it's not full on HD.  It's 720.  That means the frame is 1280 by 720 pixels.  Full bore ultimate HD is 1920 by 1080.  Will it make a difference in the final product?  Yes and no.  My use for video coming out of these cameras is for interviews and programming that will be part of websites and blogs.  A typical commercial use would be a medical practice where a physician walks you thru a procedure that you might have scheduled.  The highest imbedded res is probably going to the be one in this embedded video which is something like 640 by 360 pixels.  That means that when we shoot at the highest res we're always going to throw some pixels out.  Anecdotally, I've heard that Disney used a bunch of EPL1's as second unit cams in a feature film and that noise had to be added to the video frames and they had to be downsampled as well because the video looked better than the first unit film.......

I looked at the footage pretty carefully in FCP and I think it's sharp and pretty much noise free at ISO 400.  If you are shooting with the intention of creating programming for HD television you might be aiming a bit high using this camera as a production tool since everything else in the chain, including some connecting cables, is probably going to cost more.

Here are my gripes about shooting "movies" with this camera:

1.  It's easiest to view, compose and focus with the VF-2 finder in place....BUT....with the VF-2 finder in the one accessory slot you won't be able to plug in the external microphone adapter.  The solution is to do what everyone does with the DSLR's,  use the back LCD with a Zacuto or Hoodman finder strapped on and keep the port ready for external mic'ing.

2.  You don't get a lot of video configuration choices in video.  You can choose standard SD footage at 640 by 480 or HD at 1280 by 720.  Both settings lock you into shooting 30 fps.  Would I like more?  Sure.  How about 24 fps or 60 fps to help with slow motion effects?  But it keeps things simple.

The only other choice is microphone on or off.  I'd just leave it set to "on", that way I'll never forget.

3.  It's too light.  This is a silly gripe and it's one I could level at just about any of the small cameras on the market.  The lens and body are just to light to hold steady if you are shooting hand held.  One cup of coffee will separate the men from the SteadiCam rig.....  But that's a trade off of all hand held cameras.  If it's not shoulder mount it's only as good as your jangling nervous system.

But here's what I like about it:

1.  Olympus actually thought about how we'd use the camera and gave us a microphone port.  That's pretty darn cool.  It's true that you'll need to buy and adapter to accept the 1/8 stereo plug and interface with the proprietary plug but it's not expensive.  Once you've got that piece the sky is the limit for microphones.  I get good results from the middle priced Rode microphones intended for amateur video production.  My favorite is their Stereo VideoMic.  It runs on 9V batteries, it's what Ben and I used to do sound for this video and, with the supplied "dead cat" windscreen, it even looks professional.  I like the way it sounds but I wouldn't be too quick to judge it from my room's acoustics:  It's kind of "bouncy and bright" in here.

2.  It's easy to focus the lens between takes and even during takes a half squeeze on the shutter button will drive the lens to re-focus and, in my experience, quickly and accurately.

3.  The combination of the camera, the new 40-150mm zoom and the mic adapter is so light and small there is never an excuse to be without a capable video camera.

4.  It's really so cheap that you don't need to fret if you are doing commercial work and the client wants to put the camera somewhere dangerous (strapped to a car, or under a moving car, bolted to a skateboard or in a shooting war).  You break it and you can always get another one.  If you don't make a living with your cameras then it might be better to not hot glue it to a helmet and go bungie jumping......

5.  The image, within the constraints of the format, is very, very good.  And the sound is as decent as whatever microphone you stick out there (and how good your mic'ing techniques are.....).

6.  With inexpensive adapters you can use the complete line of Olympus E lenses or with a Nikon or Leica adapter you can use maybe 60 or 70 years worth of legacy lenses on the front of the camera.  Want a nice, compressed shot with lots and lots of "bokeh"?  I'm sure you can find an old Nikon 300 2.8 that will do the trick quite nicely.

The camera is not the limiting factor for most video projects and it certainly won't be for this unit either.  What you'll really need as you polish your "reel" for commercial success is a good script, good story boards, good direction, good lighting design, good acting and good sound engineering.  The Olympus just makes the actual shooting easier...

So, would I buy the EPL2 just for it's video chops?  No, probably not.  Unless I was on a low budget and I could make movies without expectant clients hovering around.  Would EPL2 movies be as good as movies from all the other under $1,000 cameras out there?  Yep.  The only place you'll see a difference is on the shots that require high ISO.  It lags at least a stop behind the Canon 7D and two stops behind the Canon 5D2.  But isn't that why we have lights?  Finally, is it a step up from the EPL1 for video?  Well, the LCD screen is nicer but the image quality seems about the same.  So....not really.

That's it for the video part of the review.  The review of the actual camera comes Monday.  Stay tuned.
Have you visited my website yet?  It's here:  www.kirktuck.com


Thinking about art while swimming. How I like to do portraits.

I don't get why photographers aren't really excited about working with new stuff they can't wear around their necks.  I've been warming up to LED lighting panels since late Summer and I'm having a blast with them.  Look what you can do at a fifteenth of a second!  You can actually capture movement.  So cool.  I think we're way oversold on the idea that everything needs to be sharp and every photography has to have scads of detail.  I love getting it wrong because somewhere on the other side of wrong is cool.

One of the drills we do in swim practice is to swim with tennis balls in our hands.  Means you can't spread your hands and fingers out like water sails for maximum propulsion.  But it sure teaches you to do everything else right.

A quick note.  When I wrote a post a while ago comparing swimming and photographing someone suggested that the comparison was stupid and that they could go months and months without touching a camera and then, in a flash, pick one up and create a masterpiece on demand.  I thought about that for a long while.  Stuck it in the part of my brain that just chews on stuff.

I've been shooting non-stop, for myself as well as for clients, since Christmas.  I'm making fun photos to show off concepts for a book.  When I'm not on assignment lately I've been walking around in the afternoons and the evenings with the new Olympus EPL2 just getting a feel for it and seeing how it reacts to all kinds of light.  And now I've decided on a reply for the person who thought that people didn't have to actively and regularly practice and bond with the process(es)= Bullshit.  

Moving on.  I thought I'd take a minute to describe my process of shooting a portrait of a pretty girl in the studio.  I've watched photographers show off their public shooting face at tons of expos and seminars but I think the way they handle portrait sittings with an audience is largely a fictional parody of what happens when you get right down to the way most real shoots work.  I can't imagine doing the kind of work I do with an audience.  I can barely stand to have an assistant in the room, much less gawkers.  Clients are always welcome.....especially if they bring a purchase order or signed contract.

When I'm shooting something for a technical book I'm writing I still want to get some fun stuff I can put in my portfolio and my models still want stuff they can use in their marketing as well.  Most bookings are spur of the moment things.  I don't spend a lot of time looking at Model Mayhem or face books from talent agencies.  I'll usually run into someone and in the moment I'll notice how much I like their face and their energy and I'll introduce myself right then and there and ask them if they have any interest in working with me on a project.  I hand them a business card and leave the next contact up to them.  Gives  people a chance to research who I am before they commit.  Then we'll set up a date to shoot and talk about what kind of look I'm going for and what kind of wardrobe we might mutually want.

The day before the shoot I'm usually a disorganized mess because I realize that I really need to go into the shoot with SOMETHING in mind.  I'll look at my backgrounds and I'll play with different lights and modifiers.  Then I'll set up a lighting design in earnest.  I keep telling myself that if I just get one good look I'll be happy.  Just one look.  If I think the model is magic (like the last three I've shot) I'll get so nervous that I'll drag Ben or Belinda out to the studio just to do some tests and make sure I don't have to make any big changes.  If I plan on using a new camera, like the EPL2 from last week I always make sure to back it up with an existing, proven camera system.  In this case the Canon 5Dmk2.

When the model shows up on the day of the shoot I've got cameras and lenses on top of a rolling tabaret and they are all ready to go.  Batteries charged and memory cards formatted.  I think it's embarrassing if a  model has to wait for me.....

Invariably they come in with arm loads of clothes and we stand around the studio sipping tea and picking potential outfits.  I'm not a fashion guy.  I'm looking for something organic that offsets the model's face and her personality in a cool way.  Obviously I love the look of black and deep gray with most faces.  I like long sleeves but, good luck in Texas.  Even in the winter.  I'm sure that all the talent has been to my website and seen the kind of work I do but even so they always bring lots and lots of shoes.  It's a rare day when I get a pair of shoes in a portraits.

I worked with Fadya on a commercial job last year but I really didn't get to know her.  The schedule was hectic and the crew was pretty big.  The art director keep us on an ambitious schedule and she was on and off the set in less than an hour.  So the first thing we do is get make up out of the way.  Send any sort of assistants or "hangers-on" out of the building and we strike up a conversation.  A wide ranging conversation.  I remember reading an article by writer, Lionel Tiger, in which he described a portrait sitting he had with photographer, Irving Penn.  He said that once the "giant wall" of lights was set and illuminated all the people in Penn's studio left the shooting studio and the rest of the sitting was done in strict privacy.  He and Penn talked about novels, writing, art, world history and so much more.  The sitting lasted a long time and, only after a sort of sleepiness overcame Lionel, and he had exhausted all of his usual social defenses and started becoming quiet he finally dropped his defenses and stopped self-consciously posing.  That was when Penn started shooting and quietly suggesting small movements and little modifications.  Tiger said that when he asked Penn his secret for shooting great portraits the reply was that Penn "waited until a kind of drowsiness arrived."  Then he knew he'd be photographing a more sincere portrait of the real person.

I'm not Irving Penn but I've come to know that spending less time with a subject sure doesn't help the photos.  All people come in smiling.  I don't really want a smile.  Unless it's from the subject's eyes.
What I really want is a curious or self assured presentation.  And by "curious" I mean the subject seems interested and that look is reflected by the camera.  Slowing down and working at a relaxed pace makes the process a lot more fun.  I've watched to many shoots that have the affect of cooking over easy eggs.  The photographer is frantically demanding a lens from an assistant with an air of panic in the voice as though one misstep will lead to disaster.  Hardly the way to get the looks you need or want.....

My biggest issue is that the fiction of TV fiction fashion sessions where a "photographer" works with a "model" always shows the set in a constant state of movement and kinetic chaos.  The TV models move from pose to pose to pose every time the flash goes off (probably another good reason to use constant lights).  But that's antithetical to what I want as a portrait photographer.  I want to work up to the right look, hold on to it for a while.  Perfect it and capture small nuances before going off in another direction. I may be looking for just the slightest tilt of a person's head.  The barest parting of lips.  The kindest look in the eyes.  And so my biggest job is to slow people down.  To change their expectations about the process.

Feedback is also critical.  If I see something like the beautiful expression and gorgeous eyes in the photo above I make sure to feedback what I'm seeing to the subject.  But I don't do it in a general way by yelling,  "Beautiful baby! Now....pout for me and I'll make you a star!"  Instead it's more like,  "That look is great.  Can you hold that and just tilt your head a tiny, tiny bit?  Like this."  And then I show them what I want.

I never assume the role of the "all knowing expert".  All good portraiture is a warm and connected collaboration. Mutual respect and mutual trust are the real "secret weapons" of all the portrait photographers I have known or read about.  Understanding just how exposed and self conscious even the most beautiful person is in front of the camera goes a long way toward figuring out how to find a happy bridge between the experience of the photographer and his subject. The real measure of how well you did is not whether or not you win awards or get tons of comments from other photographers.  It's when you model or portrait subject says, "That was such a fun afternoon. Call me anytime you want to do photos!"

We ended up shooting for about three hours.  We mostly used three big LED panels thru a big (74 by 74 inch) diffusion panel over to one side.  We also went downtown to shoot with some smaller panels in the streets and we wound up at the local Starbucks.  But even when we stop for coffee or snacks the camera comes along for the ride and we keep playing.  Truth is a portrait session, done well, is a wonderful experience for everyone's ego.  I make the model look as good I can.  She does the same in return.

Tech notes.  The black and white images were done with the new Olympus EPL2 camera and the 40-150mm lens.  The camera was shot Jpeg/monochrome.  The color images were done with the Canon.

The portait just above was done with a new light modifier I bought from Fotodiox  (Thanks, Mary and Steve!!!).  It's their version of the Elinchrom Octabank.  The Fotodiox version is a pain to set up but the light is really nice and the price (under $100) is just what the chief accountant likes.  The octagonal shaped softbox is 70 inches in diameter and has two diffusion baffles.  I love it.  I'm leaving it set up in the studio.....it's too big a hassle to tear it down and take it on location.  Unless I have assistants in tow. Maybe.

Here's one last image from Fadya's shoot (below) we did it when we stopped for coffee at the end of the shoot.  It's done handheld and lit by one little battery driven LED panel just wedged onto one of the shelves next to the table at Starbucks.......simple as can be...

Warning:  I've been told that you can only get an out of focus background and a sharp foreground like this with the Canon 85mm 1.2 lens.  I cheated and use the 1.8 version.  


In the quiet days of 2009 and 2010 I'd forgotten what it was like to be busy all the time.  Now assignments are rushing back as though a dam broke somewhere upstream.  Too many executives decided they couldn't put off being successful anymore.  More people decided to defend their marketing turf.  Maybe they just got tired of looking at the same old stock photographs they got for a song.  Maybe they really needed to differentiate the service they sell from every other competitor in their industry.

Whatever the reason it seems like were back to those busy Fridays where the kid needs delivered to some event, the clients would like to see everything we shot.  Now.  And the book is just tantalizingly out of finishing range for the moment.  And of course, masochist that I am,  I promise camera reviews on Monday.

So why am I posting yet another installment of the blog?  Because, in the interlude between making client web galleries and uploading I stopped and lingered on a shoot I did for fun.  I liked this portrait so I messed with it for a minute or two.  And I came to the conclusion I've come to so often before:  The magic that happens in photographs isn't about some soulful camera or magic lens.  It comes in spite of our tools.  Our tools interject.  It's as though they are part of the Heisenberg Theory.  They become intertwined in the process of seeing and subtly change nuances of intimacy and revelation.  Some more, some less.  Our goal should be to nullify their impact on our vision.  Because that's when we step over into art.  And I damn sure don't want the breeze from a shutter actuation in Belgium to create stylistic hurricanes here in Austin if I can prevent it.

Cameras blow in the breeze.  Tethered by your own sense of style.


Bikers meet Olympus EPL2

    Barbara and friends down at Buffalo Bills in a promo shot for an upcoming production at Zach.

Leaving behind the "red dot" imbroglio for a now,  I took the EPL2 (with the EP2 as a back up) when I went to shoot some production shots for an upcoming play about Molly Ivins, today.  We took a series of shot in front of a red curtain with a large LED fixture as our main light and then we headed down the street to a bar called Buffalo Bills where we met our group of volunteers.  They all brought their own Harleys but the director, David, though this one would be the signature bike.  I was going to light the scene but it was a beautiful day, we were in open shade and the open shade setting on the new camera seemed just right.

I was happy to be able to shoot black leather jackets so I could see what the noise looked like in a every day kind of shot.  This was shot at ISO 200 which, like the EPL1, is the Olympus "recommended" ISO to shoot with.  It's supposed to be the best combination of dynamic range and low noise.

The camera, with the VF2 is actually a very capable production camera.  Set on continuous it bangs out frames quickly and it takes a while for the buffer saturation to slow down your shooting speed.  I tend to shoot in burst of three and four frames so with my method I rarely ever have to wait for the camera.  It's usually waiting for me.  It probably wouldn't be a good sports camera because the view finder tends to black out for too long after each shot in single frame and the buffer does fill up quickly in raw.

We went back over to the theater and shot some other production shots against a white background.  I used the larger LED (two for the background and one for the main light) lights and the camera, on auto white balance, nailed a perfect white in the background and great skin tones.  And I needed that.  Since there's no RAW conversion for this new camera in Lightroom I was shooting jpeg and depending on proper technique to ensure good results.  No "save it in raw" here.

When I looked at the files I was happy.  I'd probably stick to 800 and under for print production photography but then, as a measuring method, understand that I try to keep my Canon 5Dmk2 at 1600 ISO or lower for the same kind of work.  The bigger, sharper screen was a big help when it came to sharing previews with the production team.

There were no red dots but there were red boots.  I swear they were that way in real life.  I didn't change a thing.  This file is straight OOC.  I should mention that I used the two kit lenses for everything.  The bike shots were done with the 14-42.

Fun shoot.  Should be an even funner play.  EPL2 does it's first, full, solo, real life job.

For the nosy foodies,  I went to Artz Rib House with my friend, Mike, today.  We both had the regular order of baby back ribs, double beans, no potato salad, yes cole slaw.  For my money, the best BBQ ribs in the city limits.  Nice.


Walking around, looking for trouble.

These are all handheld images taken this afternoon (after a long day of commercial shooting) with the Olympus EPL2 and the kit lens or the Panasonic 20mm f1.7 lens.  This is what I do to relax after a day at work.....
I knew I would get in trouble when I posted this afternoon's blog.  Apparently, I just didn't understand that, while the red dot might not affect me personally, it would render the EPL2 ineffective for skyline shots at night.  This is the Frost Bank Tower.  At twilight.

And this is the Frost Bank Tower about 35 minutes after sunset.  Wicked flare from the street light....

Funny what you'll find in a typical parking lot in Austin, Texas.  Kit lens.

I love the clouds in the winter and I love the view from the pedestrian bridge.  You could tell we had a nice 60+ degree day in Austin because the downtown hike and bike trail was packed with runners, walkers and bikers.  Sorry, no HDR....  Just good timing.

We Austinites are fascinated with high rise buildings.  Especially condo and apartment towers.  I guess it's because we had so few in the city until recently.

 I tried some more dot photos.  I didn't get the red dots but I froze the pigeon near the center in the bottom third of the frame.  That's gotta count for something.

Someone questioned my last test with the sun over to the side.  "What would happen if the sun was in the center of the frame?"  they asked.  This is what it looks like with the sun in the center of the frame.

Pretty Sky.  Softlight.  Fresh Cookies. Sumatran Coffee.

 Gosh.  I couldn't even get the street light to misbehave.

I've lost my chance to show the red dot at sunset for today.  But I was already out walking and the camera felt so good around my neck I just kept going.

 There's so much energy in downtown Austin these days.  The W Hotel just opened and everyone is hanging out at the bars.  I dropped by to get a Bloody Mary but it was too bloody crowded so I decided not to stay.

 The IS has its mojo working.

 If you want skies to do this neat color thing then chuck the AWB and keep your camera on "daylight" as the sun sets in the west.  It's really cool and warm at the same time.

I thought I got it.  I thought the dot showed up.  See the street light on the left?  Look about one third down from the top and the same amount to the left and there's a soft, white dot.  On further inspection it's really the light on top of the moon tower in Clarksville.  Foiled again. But nice OOC black and white...

I walked from 5 to 7:30pm and then it was time to go home.  Dinner.  An interesting one.  Lentils and rice with a yogurt sauce and grilled onions.  A salad of fresh avocado and grapefruit slices with a drizzle of oil and vinegar dressing and fresh shallots.  

Can we talk very frankly? About the serious, red dot issue????

I walked in the door a few minutes ago and set down my stuff.  I've been shooting photographs for an oral surgery practice again today.  Yes,  I shot a model released patient having a procedure done.  Yes, there was a little blood.  Yes, I'm squeamish about blood.  Yes, we took lots of frames to get the angles and relationships between the surgical team just right.  I shot most of it with can big, heavy Canon camera but I shot some of it with the little Pen EPL2 because I'm trying to keep it in my hands all week.  It's the only way I can write a review about it.  Anyway, the first thing I find when I hit my mail box (sorry, I'm not the kind of pro that can keep his head in the game and still instantly respond to e-mails and texts.....) is a growing hysteria about the alleged Olympus EPL2 RED SPOTS CATASTROPHE!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Otherwise sane readers are on the edges of their seats, eager and anxious to know more about the red dots/spots dilemma.  Well.  That stopped me cold.  I've looked at the red dots on some sample photos from the middle of China and I've tried shooting the camera with the sun in the center third of the frame and I'm not able to replicate the problem.  At least that's the answer I posted a couple of days ago.

But that wasn't good enough.  People implored me to shoot:  "With the sun peeking around a building." "Directly in the middle of the frame."  "At 4 pm."  "At noon."  "With all the Pen lenses."  "Wide Open."
"Stopped down to f16."  "Surrounded by naked women."  "In a Klingon Null Force Field Containment System."  "While riding in a black helicopter."  And much, much more.

I have no doubt that you can make the Pen cameras create red dots.  Really.  Not disbelieving the possibility.  But chances are I have a Pen EPL2 in my hands and you don't.  I've pointed it at the sun, and a house lamp and an LED lamp and you haven't.  So,  to increase your anxiety or put your mind at ease (depending on which side of the fence you are on.....) I want to give you the straight scoop.

Now, before I do I need to let you know that ALL the camera and lens manufacturers are trying desperately to keep you in the dark about this.  I'm breaking all sorts of NDA's to tell you this.  But I think you have a basic, All American, All trans European, All Asian (etc.) right to know this......

Here it is:

SINCE THE DAWN OF COLOR PHOTOGRAPHY YOU'VE HAD THE POWER TO MAKE RED DOTS WITH ANY CAMERA!!!!!!!  It's nothing more than abusing an optical system.  It's like oscillating your Siemens centrifuges back and forth over their red line.  It's like driving your car at red line for hours and hours and waiting for the engine to smoke.  The red dots are no doubt coming from lens flare.  Here's the scenario:  Take a small sensor camera with a reflective sensor surface and shoot it at f16 (the system is already diffraction limited at about f5.6, at most, f8).  Point it directly at a point light source many times brighter than the surrounding area.  Watch the lens flare.  Watch the collimated light hit the sensor and bounce back against the rear lens element.  Watch it ricochet off the lens element and restrike the sensor. Repeat ad nauseum.

But here's the special, secret part:  You've been able to do this with any camera you can think of.  And pretty reliably too.  Just shoot stupid.  Of course the manufacturer warns you not to point the camera directly at the sun.  Of course every lens manufacturer warns you not to include a bright light source in the frame for fear of flare.  Guess what?  If you go it your own way, all independent and self-reliant and what not......you'll likely get some sort of flare.  Could be repeating patterns of the lens diaphragm.  Could be general light source smear, could be red dots.  But if you use any tool outside its proscribed parameters you get to deal with the......artifacts.  Or the blown engines.  Or the flare.

But......I would not give up on my personal search for the EPL2 red dots because I know how important it is to everyone out there considering a full featured, interchangeable lens, 12 megapixel, still / HD movie camera with included optical zoom to have a camera and lens that is more flawless than camera systems costing 100x more.

Well.  In my testing I could make a Leica M9 flare like fireworks with a $5000 lens on the front and I wanted to get the same performance from my $100 lens and, frankly,  I started to despair.  Perhaps my technique wasn't all I thought it was.  Did I have a defective system?  And I remember being able to ably elicit flare and red dots from the Phase One camera I tested a few years ago.

Then, my dog reminded me of a new and better way to get the red dots.  Photoshop's filters menu.  Apparently many of you think of Photoshop as only a tool to get those wonderful and sought after HDR files.   But, it's also a great tool for red dots and all kinds of flare effects.  Just go to Filters.  Then to Render.  Then to..............lens flare.  The possibilities are endless.  And they represent what photographers have seen from real world camera and lens systems for decades!!!!

Cameras and lenses are not yet computers.  They are tools.  They have limits.  No one camera system has a lock on flare.  Get over it.  I'd worry more about this:  I measured the self timer performance of the camera, with a fresh battery and at room temperature.........the ten second increment on my unit is fast.  It goes off in just 9.85 seconds.  Wait till they hear about that over on the forums.  Olympus will never be able to sell another camera.......... (for the achingly literal:  The last sentence is not true.  I have no way and no intention to test the self timer on any camera....).