6.29.2012

Method, Mechanics, Art and Madness.


I spent some time shooting downtown in the middle of the day recently. When the sun is out and the sky is clear the light just doesn't change its intensity from minute to minute.  I find it very freeing to guess at the exposure, set it on the camera and then use it without changing as long as I'm working in the same direct light. My guesses aren't really guesses, they are suggestions from Kodak that I memorized long ago when working with Kodak transparency films.

I am sure I've mentioned more than once that, because of the nature of a camera's built-in, reflective metering a camera can be easily fooled into setting the wrong exposure if the metering elements are pointed at a scene dominated by bright colors or dark colors.  By setting a known exposure for the prevailing conditions (or by using an incident light meter) you eliminate the variations in exposure caused by difference levels of reflectance in a scene.  The old examples are still pertinent.  If you point a reflected meter at a white wall it will return a grey file.  If you point a reflected meter at a black wall it will return a grey file. The meter wanted to put every scene into a blender and render it some shade of neutral grey.  An incident meter measure the light falling on the subject and in this was it could be said to be objective.  A known light source, like the Summer sun is constant (from two hours after sunrise to two hours before sunset).  If your subject is illuminated by direct sunlight a standard setting can be set with no real fear of failure.

Many websites and authors of authoritative articles about metering make the exposure process much more daunting than it really is or needs to be. I think this is a result of the societal/cultural shift from art to measure. We've become a culture that is more adept at measuring stuff and comparing it than anything else.  I think being able to measure what we've decided to call processes gives the ready illusion that with measurement comes control.  I used to hear the heads of corporations talk in hushed tones about "metrics."  Many had more faith in metrics than in listening to actual customers and more than a few of their companies have exited the market.

Not all art is directed by process and the success of art rarely has much to do with metrics. If repeatability and quality were primary concerns of art we'd still be listening to Strauss waltzes and Souza marches exclusively instead of the rich diversity of the music-o-sphere.

Where does the madness come in? I must be mad, or at least intellectually deficient. I post things about the feel of a camera or my perceived differences concerning a file that began life in a digital camera compared to a file that started life in a medium format camera and a certain percentage of my readers (no doubt very advanced and so in control of their emotions and perceptions of reality that they rival the Vulcans...) chime in suggesting that equalizing all the parameters in similar cameras will net me a set of equivalent files.  Images with nearly identical values.  The idea being that my need to touch and handle certain cameras in order to make certain photographs is an emotional attachment on par with a child's security blanket. The implication being that if I only took the time to equalize the technical parameters the seeing between cameras would be identical. The judgement is that cameras are interchangeable as long as the specifications match.

And it must be madness on my part but for me every camera has a certain feel and a certain energy of inclusion or exclusion in relation to me.  I could probably figure it out and explain it in detail, given enough time. But in real life sometimes I'll pick up a camera and it will immediately perform some sort of Vulcan Mind Meld that makes me comfortable with its handling and operation, or not.  The haptics remove some sort of resistance to use that I feel with other cameras.

For instance, I like the overall idea of the Nikon D3200 camera.  It's files are good.  But it seems a bit lifeless in my hands.  It's not that the camera isn't intuitive, it just doesn't push a little button in my brain that starts up the subconscious engine that says, "Go Shoot, Go Shoot, Go Shoot." Rather, it says, "I can take a technically correct image at your direction."  And that doesn't sound nearly as good to the part of my brain that craves the adventure and romance of shooting. I held a friend's D800 over lunch recently and it was the opposite experience.  I was smitten by the feel and balance of the camera at first touch.

When we date we aren't just looking for partners who are proficient in the practice of sex we also desire the company of someone attractive and fun to be with. Features are fun but the overall user experience is more than the sum of the parts. And I find it the same with cameras.

When I take one of my medium format film cameras out to shoot I feel an affinity towards the camera that makes me want to be a  better shooter. I've owned four other brands of MF camera but my basic Hasselblad seems to ring that little mental bell better than any of the others.  I rented a Mamiya RZ67 for a while and hated it.  Although it was capable of taking great images.  I was not capable of taking great images with it.  Over time the thought of using the camera was a great incentive to sleep in. But I know other photographers who loved that crazy box.

I should love the Olympus OMD EM5 but every time I pick it up I find the only thing I like about it is its density.  When I give the camera back to its owner I'm relieved.  There's something in the mix that keeps us from meshing.  On the other hand I've loved the feel of the Sony a77 from the minute I picked it up.

I liked the files from the Canon 5Dmk2 but there was no resistance to giving it up.  The bigger 1DSmk2 was the opposite.  The files were okay but the feel was so nice. More direct and more real.

I'll make a controversial statement here, if you haven't fallen in love with the way your camera fits in your hand, works and sounds, then you haven't found your camera(s) yet.

The shot above was done with a Hasselblad 501 CM camera and the standard 80mm Zeiss Planar. I scanned the file at 7000 by 7000 pixels and I'm sad not be able to print it out and mail a copy at full res to everyone of you to look at.  It's really pretty.  I imagine that one of the 60 or 80 megapixel digital backs from a company like Phase One would out resolve it.  But I'm equally sure (having handled them) that I wouldn't have nearly as much fun wandering the streets and shooting with one.  Of course, your mileage will vary.  Which is what makes all this interesting.

Of course, this could all just be a result of a big Camera Placebo Effect in which I have an emotional attachment that subconsciously informs and improves my ability to work.

When I made the image above I'd spent the better part of an afternoon walking around and shooting.  I never moved the exposure controls. Every frame on the two rolls was perfectly exposed and I had a smile on my face the whole time.

I'm not trying to denigrate the people who think differently than me.  There's the very real possibility that they may be right...











I find progress, at times, to be amazing. Just amazing.


I was looking around this morning to find a bigger memory card. I want to go back out to west Texas and shoot some video interviews and I hate stopping to change memory cards while I'm shooting video. I may be showing both my naievet√© as well as my tenure in digital photography but I am astounded at being able to buy a 32 gigibyte, class 10 (for HD video) SD memory card for only $25.

I remember when memory cards were something you budgeted for and saved up for.  Now big ones like these are no more expensive than two movie tickets for some trashy summer thriller. About the price of two rolls of film with processing and contact sheets...

I have a mixed collection of 4,8 and 16 gb SD cards from Transcend and so far, no failures. I got into the habit of formatting my cards before every use. Seems to work for me.