fun time at the theatre. A quick discussion of tools.

We spent part of Thurs. evening making photographs for Zach Scott Theatre.  The images will be used to promote four upcoming shows.  I like shooting stuff for Zach because they really know how to do their part of a photo shoot just right.  They're a dream client.  For me, at least.

We set a date for the shoot weeks in advance. In the course of the two weeks I received:  1. Confirmation on times and schedules.  2. A flow sheet detailing set up times, make up schedules and each actor's appearance in the make shift studio we created in their rehearsal studio. 3.  A detailed list of props that needed to be pulled together along with a list of who would be pulling props.  4.  A very pleasant e-mail asking me what wine I might like to have during the shoot.  5.  A "day before" reminder.

When I got to the theatre people were there to help me load in.  I set up a white background with two Profoto monolights, fitted with standard zoom reflectors, on the  background.  I used the absolutely great Fotodiox 27 inch beauty dish with diffuser as a main light and passed on fill light altogether.  The main light was powered by what has become my absolutely favorite flash system, the Profoto Acute 600b.  It's a battery powered pack and head system and I drag is around with three extra batteries.  When used at 1/4 to 1/2 power the batteries last and last.

For the shots of Ian, above, we used a small trampoline to keep him airborne.

All of the images were shot as raw files on a Canon 1d mk2N camera fitted with a 24-105mm L lens.  The shutter speed stayed at 1/125th and we settled in at f7.1 as our optimum aperture.  All of the smaller Profoto stuff does a good job (at lower power settings) of freezing action.  The secret is to make sure you don't have too much ambient light which will show off any blur inherent in the shot.

By relying on the blinking highlights and a few checks with a Sekonic light meter I ended up with digital files that needed no post processing at all.  I ran the file thru the raw converter in Lightroom 3.4 so I could apply a lens correction profile to each file.  I converted everything to .PSD files because the Zach designer is a very advanced Photoshop user and I knew she'd want to have the best quality to work with.

Over the course of the evening we shot:  1.  A woman illuminated entirely by the candles on a birthday cake.  2.  Very close up eyes.  3.  Ian jumping and posturing with his microphone. 4.  A woman in a cute, pink ballet/roller derby costume on roller skates and, 5. A woman in the role of a Houston socialite with a martini in her hand and high "Texas" hair.  When we wrapped we had 700 usable images.

Why did I use the 1dmk2n instead of the 5d2 or the 7D or 60D?  They all have more resolution and that's usually a good thing but the shutter release on the 1D2 is super fast and I like being able to anticipate the arc of a jump and get it at the exact point I want.  Not a little later. I also like the faster sync speed on the shutter (as compared to the 5 and the 60).  I like the heft in my hand and I like the split screen in the finder.  Finally, when we were shooting the portrait by cake candlelight, I was amazed at how quickly and precisely the AF of that camera locked in on the eyes of my subject.

Wouldn't the files have been much better with the higher res cameras?  At high res usage they might be but when the camera is set to 160 ISO and the files are used at a size equal to or smaller than the non-interpolated maximum I find that the quality is equivalent.  In fact, I find the 1dmk2 files to have higher apparent sharpness and snap.  Maybe bigger pixel wells have a look that's different from the smaller pixel wells of their younger brothers. And it may not even be a matter of better or worse but a matter of taste.  In the same way that photographers of the past shot either Kodachrome 64 or Ektachrome 100 but not both.  A slightly different look and feel.  Part of a style.  Whatever it is I find myself drawn to shooting the older cameras much more often.

What would I like to see in a brand new camera from Canon?  I'd love to see them come out with a more stripped down brother of the 5Dmk2.  I really want to see what Canon could do with a full frame chip that has only 16 megapixels spread out across the sensor.  Much bigger pixel wells coupled with the current processing capabilities.  Might that not give most users the best of both world's?  A fast camera, not plagued by as much diffraction,  not hampered by such huge files, with a higher color purity and lower noise.  It's a camera I'd buy and I'm tempted to believe that the larger sensor wells are part of the Nikon strategy and why they've kept the D3 and D700 resolutions at 12 megapixels.

The camera that intrigues me right now is the 1dmkIV.  I'll confess to liking the frame size as it relates to lenses and I like the speed and the files sizes.  I've heard that the image quality actually nudges out the 5d2 but this is probably more related to newer processors and tightened processing algorithms than any superiority of the physical parts.  And I like the feel and heft of the body.

The very next day I photographed the kids at the Rollingwood Waves first swim meet of the season.  I used two Canon 1d2 bodies.  On one I had at 70-200mm L lens and on the other a 20mm EF lens.  I experimented with the AI autofocus, using all sensors.  When I finish up this blog I'll start downloading the files from the meet.  Should be fun to compare them to the files done over the last ten years.  Almost like a living history of the development of digital cameras.  Whatever will I do when I find out, that for all practical purposes, there is not much of a difference between the Olympus e10 and the Canon 5dmk2?  Hmmmm.


Why do art? Why paint? Why Photograph?

I was going to write a whole BS manifesto about why I do art but I knew you'd see right 
thru me.  And you'd know.
The instant that
you saw
The Paintings that I did it because it was fun.

I did it because I didn't want to hand in another in an endless stream of precious
Photos in another endless stream coffee shop gallery.

I did it because I wanted to feel the oily, viscous
nature of the paint sliding across the 
canvas with that
glintzy bit of pressure,
of traction and 
of de-traction that happens.

Because painting is active.
All that matters is how you make the lines.
And I like to paint outside the lines.

And I painted a big
because it makes me 
happy to look at it.
It reminds me of the 
fiction we create 
each time we 
have an

And most of the time
Painted to see
How all the pretty colors looked on the canvas.

But mostly
I painted them
because I could.


Do you ever find life amazingly non-linear?

I took this photograph just for fun.  No assignment.  Just for fun.
Twenty years later it's still fun.

There's so much I should be doing right now.  But I'm painting canvases instead.  Got the idea to do a series of paintings.  No money attached to the project.  Just the fun of swirling paint.  And adding imposto-ed touches of glinty highlights.  Didn't feel like doing any "real" work today.  Just letting a brush glide around, leaving a bright residue of ultra-marine and cobalt yellow.  And doing my "real job" = Having Fun.  That's what my business really pays me to do.

What does painting have to do with photography?   Nothing directly.  But it feeds into my general idea that art is all encompassing and everything we try and see goes into the big blender in our brains and creates the materials for future creativity in all media.

I've found something interesting over time.  The more I write the faster and more fluid it becomes.  The easier it becomes.  I think, by extension, that art must be the same way.  The more you do the more you do and the better you like it and the better you get.  I've come to think that the only people who get "writer's block" or "photographer's block" are the people who do the same thing over and over again. Or those people who wait for an assignment before they engage.  "Artist's block" is your brain's way of telling you to get off you ass and try something brand new.  Or just to do more.

There's entropy and there's stasis and that's as far as most people take things.  I'm not always satisfied with that so I'm looking for the chain reaction. A leveraged boost.  Maybe you should too.

If you're a photographer you might find painting a perfect adjunct. Head to the art supply store and get $50 work of canvases and tubes of acrylic paints.  Hours and hours of creative fun.  And a new way to look at color and control (or in my case, lack of control) and you might find that all that swirling and blending makes its way into your photographs.  Creative osmosis.

Lots of Rousing Debate About Street Photography.

My good friend,  Michael Johnston, posted a blog and a link on this site The Online Photographer to my blog about Street shooting and tacit approval.  That blog got 50 or so very quick responses that broadened the original discussion a great deal.  You can read that blog and the interesting comments, here.
The comments were interesting enough that Michael posted a second blog with counterpoints.  All of it is polite, well reasoned and strongly felt.  If you like my take you might want to see what his readers think.

I presume that there's a lot of cross over between our blogs.  There should be.  He writes stuff that I find interesting.  Check it out.

The shot above was done in a Paris Metro station.  Just to date this image, the slats on the escalator were made of wood.  I did not get permission from the subject.....


Some quick additions to the x-100 files....

I was not as clear as I should have been about the optical finder on the camera.  In the past I've been a big proponent of EVF's but I glossed over how good I think the optical finder on this camera is so let's revisit it just for a moment.  You have a choice of viewing your taking image three different ways.  The first is like a tourist:  looking at the live view on the LCD on the back.  Not ergonomic unless you are on a tripod and using a loupe.  The second is live view in the eye level electronic viewfinder.  This is kinda cool because you can see a simulation of how the camera will handle the exposure you've set as well as the
color balance and any filter settings you might have engaged.  Pretty cool feedback if you are in the learning mode.  But supposed you are in the purist mode.  Here's where the camera shines, in my estimation.   Set the camera so that you are using the optical eye level viewfinder.  Turn of the record/review on the main, rear screen.

When you bring the camera to your eye and hit the shutter button to focus you'll see a white rectangle that serves as your frame for accurate composition.  Notice that the frame moves up and down and left and right as you focus near or far.  The camera is moving the frame to compensate for parallax.  Over the the left of the finder you'll see a scale that lets you know if you've dialed in exposure compensation.  You can also move the focusing point.

Now what you have is a camera that's removed many layers of distraction.  If you practice with it for a week you'll find the technical interface disappearing and being replaced by a more intuitive sensibility.

This is the charming part of the camera that "old-timers" keep referencing.  Jan says the camera styling is like putting an old phone dial on an iPhone but I disagree.  The design of the body is echoing the time honored ergonomics of the rangefinder genus.  Form is following function.

This is what makes the x-100 unique.  If don't value this feature then the camera is probably not a strong choice for you.  But as person who's extensively used rangefinder cameras I have experienced first hand how freeing it is artistically to have your camera become, for all intents and purposes, more transparent.

Note:  After I posted this my friend (and very able photographer), Jan Klier sent me a note pleasantly disagreeing with a few things I said previously about the camera.  I figured it would add to the discussion to append Jan's reply so I asked him if I could.  He obliged.  Here's his point of view:

Hey Kirk,

Just read your follow-up blog post.

I totally get your point about the camera ergonomics being such that the camera disappears. In fact that is why I just recently bought a rangefinder for my street shooting, because I didn’t want to carry my Canon 1N around. It’s not conducive to the type of photography you want to do on the street or when you’re just out and about and want a ready-to-shoot, not overly complex camera that doesn’t grab everyone’s attention. It allows you to interact with your environment and bring the camera in when desired. The one I bought recently is a Cannonet QL17. Can’t get the mercury batteries anymore, so no AE no AF. Just purely mechanical, simple 35mm film. Requires solid technique, but not much thinking. Just what you want.

But I’m also a stickler when it comes to product design. I hate products that have crappy, thoughtless, or confused design. My iPhone analogy actually had a specific point – the other day I was listening to NPR on a story about Steve Jobs, and the fact that the four most influential innovations of the computing age are all attributed to him. He’s obsessed with product design, and rightfully so. In fact the story recalled how they went back and forth on the material choice for the box the iPhone ships in and measured how long it takes for the iPhone to sink into the box when placed, to approx 4s. It’s all about the experience. There are many features that are missing on the iPhone, but those are conscious choices and saying ‘no’ as often as saying ‘yes’ in order to have a consistent design where every minute detail is thought about and has proper intent.

That’s the aspect that I find so jarring about the X-100. There’s no clear intent, it’s a compromise that’s pleasing too many. It’s like a Samsung phone instead of an iPhone. Here’s I think how that camera could have been designed (single choice, not multiple choice):

-          Focusing on retro – people that like the styling of the old range finders, but just don’t want to bother with film: Build a camera that looks and works just like a film camera, with the one exception being the medium. Use the classic elements and design of alloy chasis, etc. Even go as far as limited ISO choices to typical film (100, 400, maybe 1600). And then just insert an SD card where the film used to be. No LCD. You can see what you got when you download the card.
-          Focusing on rangefinder ergonomics – people that like a simple camera that disappears in the background but performs superbly. Build a range finder with great LCD, digital control, ideally may be a touch screen or other advanced control. Build it solid, but use modern product design standards, such as the iPhone. No dials and levers. Just buttons (unless touch screen). Make it best possible user interface that does what range finders do – intuitive, focused on the essentials. Don’t put stupid gimmicks like video in it.

PS: The review of the X-100 on Luminous Landscape made a similar observation about the design of the backplate: http://www.luminous-landscape.com/reviews/cameras/fujifilm_x100_test_report.shtml. He called it the ‘A-Team’ for the top controls, and the ‘B-Team’ for the backplate.



Do you ever buy weird lenses, test them and really like them?

Will van Overbeek and I met this afternoon so I could return his X-100.  I'm proud to say I didn't put a scratch on the camera.  But Will needed more hand's on time with the camera so we decided to take a stroll around downtown.  Couldn't be a better day for it,  temperatures in the mid-90's and a healthy dose of humidity to boot.  I agreed to walk because I had something else I wanted to shoot and test out.  

It all started when I left a part out of a consignment package.  The lighting unit sold and the buyer wanted to know if I could supply the missing part.  Silly me, it was right there on the shelf.  I headed over to Precision Camera to drop off the piece.  I lingered a bit and browsed.  Always a dangerous thing in an "adult candy shop."  And wouldn't you know it, right there in the consignment case, nestled in with a comfortable group of Canon zoom lenses was a lonely Tamron wide angle zoom.  I asked to see it on a camera and I decided to take it home.

What is it?  It's a Tamron 11-18mm SP AF Aspherical DX2 UD IF.  It's a wide angle zoom that was released in 2005 and superseded some time between then and now by a 10-24mm with even more initials behind it's name.  The DX in the name indicates that it was designed for cropped sensor cameras; in this case, the Canon APS-C frames.  Unlike the Canon EFS lenses it will mount on a full frame camera or (my favorite= the APS-H frame with a 1.3X crop factor).  Mounting it on anything other than an APS-C camera almost guarantees that you'll get some vignetting when you shoot at the widest focal lengths.  I expect that.  But I learned when I owned the Nikon 12-24mm DX zoom that as you zoom to longer focal lengths on some of the zoom lens you increase the image circle and it's entirely possible to use the lens as a superwide for bigger formats.  Really!

Here's what I've found to be true.  At 11mm, when used on my Canon 1dmk2 I get vignetting in the corners.  To see how much go straight to the bottom two images in the stack below.  One is shot at 18 and the other at 11mm.  See how much vignetting there is at f8?  Not nearly as much as I thought there'd be.  And my goodness, that's a wide angle of view.  See the one shot at 18mm?  No vignetting at all.  And I didn't remove anything in post.  Initial tests are making me happy because all of a sudden I've got a very wide angle lens for my two APS-H 1dmk2 cameras.  And for the 7D and the 60D Yippee.  More after this next photo......

Recently I've been testing the very sharp and very expensive Zeiss 21mm ZE lens for Canon full frame. It's a very sharp lens and it's very well corrected, geometrically, but it does have one little fault.....I found that it has more flare than I'd want.  Especially if there's a light source in the frame or near any one of the corners.  To be fair, I was doing the worst case scenario= an interior with lots of dark accents and light thru the windows.  But it was still worse than I expected and I ended up doing some remedial repair in PhotoShop.  I didn't expect a used, $350, third party wide angle zoom to do any better but today I was pleasantly surprised.  I shot this image (just above), including the shadow side of the building, with my camera pointed up to include direct sun.  And while the lack of flare was impressive even more impressive was the lack of ghosting in the image.  That's some pretty remarkable resistance to flare for a wide angle zoom lens. 
But in the back of my mind I kept thinking that, when my evaluation of the Zeiss 21mm was over I should probably go ahead and purchase it because it did show high sharpness when I shot it on a job last week.  So I almost resigned myself to the expense but figured I'd shoot a few more things downtown and see if the Tamrom was anywhere near as sharp.  I had my doubts.....

Nice sharpness for a handheld at 1/20th of a second....

Definitely a bit of geometric distortion but most of it was simple barrel distortion that could be corrected with Photoshop's Lens Correction filter...  That's my reflection in the middle window.  

Tacit approval?  No, active approval.  I smiled, pointed at my camera and he gave me the "thumbs up" sign.  I shot and then smiled again and waved "goodbye"

It's always hard to tell things from small jpegs on the screen but when I looked at this raw file at 100% I was happy with the sharpness at infinity.

But all those doubts evaporated for me when I leaned into this shot.  The Fuji X-100 is my target and when I blow up the file the engraving around the lens is rendered with a high degree of sharpness.  This was shot both handheld and wide open and the lens acquitted itself well.  What is of interest to me is the pleasant bokeh of the out of focus areas in the background.  Common wisdom has it that ultra wide angles don't have good bokeh.  But I venture to say that this one is pleasant.  And sharp.

If you've read my blog for very long you probably know that I'm not typically a wide angle lens shooter.  So what drove me to buy this lens?  It all started when I got a call to shoot interior images for an electronics company.  The interiors were in a very posh and very private club somewhere in central Texas.  (NDA signed).  I wanted to do a good job and, while I shot with a four by five view camera and Schneider Super Angulons for years I'd basically sent all of my "would be" architectural clients to my friend, Paul Bardagjy, who is a wonderful architectural photographer with a feel for design and a head for detail and quality.  I decided to do this job because the client and I go way back, and there would be interesting technical shots that I thought I could do a good job on.  My only reservations were about optics.  I'd be shooting the job with a Canon 5dmk2 and the widest lens I had on hand was a 20mm Canon EF lens that is a bit less than sharp on the corners and tends to have some chromatic aberrations even when stopped down.  It's not a bad lens, it's just not as good as it should be for straight lines and images that require across the frame sharpness.  For most of the stuff I shoot with it I'm happy but straight lines in rooms is another thing.  

I'd been invited to borrow a new 21mm  Zeiss so I did and I enjoyed the shoot.  Far easier, in a way, than the old days of view cameras but I was reminded by Paul that the rules are the same:  Watch for the details, flag the flare, use the polarizers, bring grad filters, style, style style.  The job went well and the client has two more projects in the chute.  Hence my search for a lens that I like, that works, that won't break my budgets.

Have I found it in the old used Tamron? Maybe.  It's pretty darn good. But I'll go on looking and see what's out there.  Next on my list is the new Canon 24 T/S lens.  I'll try that one on for size as well.
But I will hang on to the Tamron, it's a very usable set of focal lengths, especially for the format it was originally designed for.  And I'm impressed with the center area sharpness.  I also want to try out its replacement, the 10 to 24mm.  But that's another day.

This is the lens on a 1dmk2 (1.3x crop) used at 11mm.  You can see the vignetting in the corners.  But the rest of the image is very well behaved.  I love giant window posters.  

What did I learn from my latest experiment?  That some older lenses can be bargain gems.  That the common wisdom that Di, DX or other lenses designed for APS-C are unusable on bigger sensors is wrong.  That cheaper lenses can have better flare characteristics than some of their pricier competitors.  That zooming can be fun.   That's about it.  Thanks.



Saturday at Lady Bird Lake. And stuff.

public piano on the pedestrian bridge in downtown Austin.

Love this crazy city.  As an art piece, these fully tuned and playable "art" pianos are cropping up all over downtown Austin.  People are encouraged to sit down and play.  I was downtown shooting a few cityscapes,  I need to drop one into the background of a portrait.  The bridge is my favorite place to start.   I was traveling "light" with the 1Dmk2n and the 24-105L.  Nice combo.  Nice files.

Wedding?  Prom? Graduation?

There's a great spot for downtown shots right next to the Palmer Auditorium.  The city made a hill there and people go up and look across the lake at the buildings.  I was heading there to fill in my needed shots when I saw this mass of people rushing about on top of the hill with lights flashing.  The guy in front of the lightstand with the shorts is the photographer.  I never figured out what the event was but he had a nice angle working and his fill flash seemed pretty well thought out.  I shot some BHS shots and moved on......

I never saw this reflection in the glass of the Long Center before.  I guess I just wasn't paying attention.
That's it for the Saturday blog.  Why didn't I post a "walking around Austin Sunday blog?"  Well,  truth be told I spent the afternoon painting four paintings on beautifully gessoed canvas.  One is an instant winner.  Two are honorable mentions and the fourth gets scrapped and earns a "do over."  It's fun and purging and challenging and different to paint instead of photograph.  But not so fun to blog about.....