I will readily admit to being a spoiled photographer. I like working in a studio with lots of space and lots of quiet. I like being able to work uninterrupted and at a leisurely pace. And I love having everything set up just the way I want it. When I imagined going to the PhotoPlus Expo in NYC I imagined that all the exhibition spaces would be enormous and we'd have lots of space to spread out, create majestic lighting designs and work at a tempered pace far from the retail excitement of the show.
When I got to the Samsung area the first day I was pleased by the general design of the booth until I saw the tiny area in which Nick Kelsh and I, along with our models, Gloria and Naomi, would be working. The actual lit space couldn't have been more than ten by ten feet and the lights were attached to a truss frame and could only be moved by union electricians. The glamorous Swiss flashes I'd imagined turned out to be very inexpensive Photogenics and the 4x6 foot softbox that I imagined would be the Nexus of my lighting demos had been shrunk down to about 24 by 36 inches. We had a background light with a scoop and two small strip lights on the sides, each with their own Photogenic monolight.
I was a bit dismayed (because I am so spoiled...) but it never seemed to slow Nick down and so I took my cues from him, bucked up and worked with what we had. It was part of a re-learning experience. By working with smaller, less expensive lighting (and a lot less control over the atmosphere) I had to push myself to work in a different style and with a much different cadence. It turned out to be quite refreshing and even.....fun.
The image above is one of my favorites from the show. I'm wedged against a counter and the counter is covered with sample cameras. On the other side of the counter are clumps of photographers who are alternately watching what I'm doing, shooting their own images of Gloria with any and every camera brand under the sun, and asking questions of the booth staff and of me. One gentleman had parked himself to my right and was demanding that I immediately stop what I was doing and shoot sample video for him to evaluate on the spot. The noise level was amazing as every booth doing a demo was using their own portable PA system to amplify their presenters (as were we). The idea of working under these conditions had never really occurred to me before.
The way we had the Samsung Galaxy NX camera configured was to enable it's wi-fi capabilities and send the images, as they were being taken, to a 60 inch, 4K television screen above the booth. That way everyone in the crowd could watch my every fumble and misstep. But they'd also see, honestly, how the process of taking portraits might work. The camera would do three things simultaneously: It would write the files to the internal microSD card, write the files to a group Dropbox account for easy access by the client and also send a full res, clean screen file to the television monitor.
All my photographic life I've looked through a viewfinder and composed and shot. With this camera I spent the three days doing portraits by looking at the big screen and using the on screen touch controls to focus and take the actual exposure. It's a different way of looking but it works really well when your preview screen is a 60 inch, super high def TV instead of a three inch LCD on the back of the camera. I don't need my reading glasses to see the menu on the 60 inch screen....
It's also a great way to review images you've shot with clients, or, in this case 50 or so of your new friends who you are demo-ing for. I'd shoot for a few minutes, review the images, make my selections of ten or so and then configure a slide show on the camera which would wirelessly play the images on the big monitor. If someone had a question about sharpness or wanted to look at the shadow detail of Gloria's jet black hair I could touch one image, bring it up full screen and using my fingers in the cellphone squeeze or separate method, enlarge the image to see parts of it. What a quick way to dispel a preconception about sharpness of noise in the shadows....
In any case I am proud of the image above, done in the chaos I've tried to describe. While I am sure Samsung would like for me to make the case that the camera was the linchpin for the image it also showed me that the tools are secondary to the intention. Our intention was to make the best portraits we could with the tools at hand. I don't need to hedge about this one. I really like it without equivocation. More so because it was created in such a wild (for a quiet portrait photographer) venue.
In the end good portraits are much more about a collaboration between photographer and sitter than anything else...
More to come.