I was showing portrait lighting as I like to do it. This is a very quick (five minutes) set up with my assistant, Amy, some big LED panels and a nice diffusion scrim.
I'll admit to being a being a closet introvert. I'd teach more workshops but I really don't like to spend a lot of time in crowds and I always feel like I'm responsible for people learning something. Some days I just don't feel like much of a conduit between information and it's intended targets. Yesterday and today are good examples. I walked into the Austin Photo Expo, where I'd agreed to do four workshops, and I hit the wall from all the silly stuff I'd been doing all week. You can only go so far, so fast before you run out of emotional gas and find yourself running on fumes. I hadn't put together a slide show and it showed. I tried to talk through it but....as I predicted....major fail. I sat down over lunch and hammered together a rudimentary Apple Keynote presentation with 60 slides and I went back at 1pm and had a great time with the audience. I had another show this morning at 10:15 and did equally well. This afternoon the audience was thin so we all just had a good time.
I set up a demo in which I used panels and Amy to show how I would light a portrait for myself. We fooled around with the silly lights (fill, hair, backlight) and then we stripped it all away and did it right.
Amy is sitting about ten feet in front of a grey canvas and just behind her is a 500 LED instrument, covered with some white, nylon ripstop, diffusion material. It's set to full power. Over to Amy's left (the right side of the frame) I've set up a 6 by 6 foot diffusion scrim and I'm lighting it with one 1,000 LED panel and one 500 LED panel. That's it. I love the way the big, soft light transitions from the highlight side of her face to the shadow side. I love the little triangle of light just to the right of her nose and I love the little kick of light under her chin. It's actually bouncing off her chest.
I'm using an older Canon 1Dmk2N because it has a firewire connection that gives me a fast and stable connection to my laptop, which, in turn is connected to the projector so the people in the class can see the shots as we progress. I also like that even when shooting RAW the files aren't very big and they download into the tethering program very quickly. I shot at ISO 640 just because that's where the camera was set when I picked it up. I was using the Zeiss ZE 85mm lens. I meter directly through the camera.
Amy is an accomplished photographer in her own right and she intuited exactly the look I wanted in the photograph and locked right into it. We shot two frames of this pose and moved on to show what the image would look like with more fill light, etc. But for me the two frames were the synthesis of how I want to shoot people. Direct, unaffected and focused. No extra effects. No theatrics.
We wrapped up each session except for the last in the same way. People who were too shy during the session came up to the podium to ask me their personal questions. That's okay. I like to have a personal connection too. The fun people were the dozens of attendees who went out of their way to thank me for continuing to blog. It felt good.
Amy and I wrapped all the equipment back up and carted it out to the Element. We hugged and then drove off into the growing twilight of the Fall night. In a way I felt that I'd come full circle to the way I always wanted to photograph. An older style that might not have as much relevance today but seems so nice to me.
Which brings up a bittersweet observation. Most of the people at the Expo seemed to be the same older photographers I see everywhere. Many of them sporting big cameras and big camera bags. They came to look at this year's iteration of their generations' cool tools. They flocked to the Canon and Nikon tables in droves. And yet the younger generation, though not as well represented, were flocking to the smaller cameras. There was palpable disregard, in their ranks, for the "big iron." And it signalled to me that we were at a generational disconnect that presages a new age in both the hobby of photography as well as the business of photography.
The dependance on the big tools is fading. No one in the emerging new group seemed to care about the stuff that we craved when we first were dragged, kicking, screaming and denying, into digital. They don't care about big cameras or enormous lenses. They aren't captivated by more resolution. They look for cameras that are fast and fluid and casual. They want good high ISo performance and small overall profiles. They are looking for good industrial design to be coequal with good technical specs. Think iPhone as opposed to the original Motorola "brick."
For them, the camera is an extension of hand and eye, not a puzzle or equation to be mastered. They want their cameras to be as operationally transparent as an iPhone or an iPad. And while I have an emotional and nostalgic attachment to the tools and trappings I grew up with I'm quickly coming to recognize that it's a style and a set of tools that's quickly losing its legitimacy these days. Smaller and more natural is the main thrust of our art these days. The cameras in ascendency are the Panasonic G series, the Olympus Pens, the Nikon 1 series and, most recently, the little Fujis.
Five years ago, at events like the Austin Photo Expo, we would have seen lots and lots of manufacturers showing off their electronic strobe systems. Their monolights and traditional pack and head systems. We would also have seen lots of booths offering a wide array of softboxes and umbrellas. Most of that was gone this year. In their place were endless Speedlight modifiers and attachments. There were more compact florescent fixtures than monolights and everywhere I looked people were figuring out how to use small cameras with smaller lights.
Austin is trend forward. The Walmarts and Costcos and Best Buys will probably still sell millions of Rebels with kit lenses and Nikons with kit lenses. But the tsunami is building from here. And in cool towns all over the world. And the trend is smaller, faster, more fluid, more liquid, more automation, more stealthiness. It's cameras you can carry without burden to match a direction that implies that your camera will go with you everywhere and create mini-masterpiece series instead of one masterpiece at a time. It's a brain shift. And I understand it. The days of carrying your Canon 1DS mk3 to the coffee shop are as over as carrying in your CB radio.
If you are waiting for the cycle to return and big cameras and static images to be back in style you need to start thinking of evolution as three dimensional spirals instead of two dimensional circles.
Added this morning (Monday Nov. 14): For another version of Amy, by atmtx try this link: