7.26.2013

What a nice day...


My day feels like this looks. Cool, sweet, refreshing and laid back. No complaints. I think I'll take a camera out for a walk and see how the day looks from a different point of view.



The Sony Rumors are starting to fly...Mirrorless comes to big cameras.

A quick snap of Victoria on set. Taken with the Samsung NX300 and the kit lens at ISO 1000 or higher. 

I've been reading stuff around the web and it seems like the rumor mill is firing up about the upcoming Sony replacements to their SLT product line. Cameras like the a77, a99, a58 and a57 all use stationary mirrors to split the light coming through the lens to both the image sensor and up into the finder to goad a phase detection AF module to leap into action and provide quick continuous AF. It's a system that works well, for the most part, but it's not technically elegant.  There is a 33% light loss which seems to limit sensor performance in the all important DXO sensor tests. And there is always the possibility of dirt on the mirror.

The basic technology to make these cameras truly mirror less, ala the Olympus Pens and the Panasonic line already exists in Sony's very good NEX line and in a number of their VG series camcorders. The bug in the sunscreen has always been that mirrorless cameras tend to slow down and get stupid when called on to focus continuously moving action. I won't go into the technical reasons that make phase detection AF faster (but less accurate) and contrast detection AF more accurate (but not nearly as fast) but regular practice with both kinds of cameras informs me that this is so.

If Sony (and Canon in their 70D, and Nikon in their V2) can produce good, solid phase detection AF points on their new lines of sensors then I'm pretty confident they'll match what we've come to expect from moving mirror cameras but with the additional speed benefit of not having mechanical moving parts to limit the imaging throughput. The rumors are that Sony will be converting their whole line to this new technology and I'm pretty sure they wouldn't take the chance if they hadn't proven the tech.

The one bugaboo that seems to stand in the way for the generation of unyieldingly recalcitrant photographers from the film era is the idea  of the optical viewfinder's necessity in the whole imaging chain. There is an emotional attachment to the glass periscope that, to me, defies logic. The idea is that you are seeing reality through the finder with an optical viewfinder and, the higher the quality and size of the viewfinder the higher and better the quality of reality. Of course most people don't make the thoughtful leap to the realization that their imaging reality isn't accurate unless they stop down to view the image at the taking aperture and that any mismatch between color temperatures isn't factored in, nor are the effects of in camera filters, settings or even movement.

The EVF (electronic viewfinder) view is a much more convincing simulacrum of the final photographic  artifact than the OVF could ever be and yet the argument goes on. If you've read the VSL blog for any amount of time you know what my passionately dispassionate opinion is: By the end of 2015 we'll ALL be buying cameras with EVFs, they will be better for most (if not all) applications and they will become so good that they'll be a fully transparent replacement for the older technology.

At any rate the rumor over on http://www.sonyalpharumors.com/sr3-specs-of-the-new-a79-prototype-camera/ point to an a79 with over 30 megapixels on the sensor, 480 focusing points on that sensor with full on PD AF, a 4 million pixel viewfinder, 8-14 fps, and no mirror anywhere in sight. I'm onboard with all of that. The two Sony a77's I owned were great production cameras and great studio cameras. If the newest chip tech is as amazing as the last generation of Sony sensors was the camera, sans mirror, should be remarkable. Whether the line does well against Nikon and Canon hinges on two things: Will they do the right marketing to get over the psychological hurdle of irrational finder love? and, secondly, will they put out enough and the right sort of lens choices for photographers? I think they will.

The NEX line continues unabated and the rumors there point to an introduction of a 50-150 or 180mm constant aperature, f2.8 zoom for those cameras coming in the fall. Now, if they'll give us a 16-50mm f2.8 for the NEX line as well I think we'll have a fully functional second system up and running.

What do I think of all this? As a guy transitioning from a still intensive content creation business to a mixed or hybrid still-and-motion business I welcome every tool that can cross over and do both jobs well. I played with a Panasonic GH3 yesterday. My friend showed me some beautiful video footage he'd just shot from the camera and I was amazed at the quality. Then I started looking through the video menus and that was cool. Amazing throughput. Good controls. Real time code. And a really great EVF. I was ready to switch systems again but I think I'll wait and see what Sony has up their sleeve before I go through all that mess again.

An interesting time to be in the creative content field. We are definitely going through another transition and we're leaving a lot of old and established paradigms in the wake. I'll miss the idea  of traditional camera designs but I'm certainly embracing the quantum leap forward in imaging potential of all kinds with the newest tech. Are you ready for 4K everything?  That's up next. I'm waiting for Apple to revolutionize the viewing space (once again....). 

And here's my interpretation of the image in black and white. I must admit that, out of habit, I prefer the black and white rendition. I know, it's nostalgia...


7.25.2013

A new portrait. An old technique. A fresh model.


This is Victoria. We worked together on the project in Denver.  I lit her with a six foot by six foot diffusion panel and a 600 Watt Arri spot light. There's a little glow on the background from a Fiilex P360 LED light (balanced to match the main light.  The small, second catch light in her eyes is from a Kino-Flo fixture we were using to light our video.

The camera was a Sony a99 and the lens was the 85mm 1.5 Rokinon, cine version. This is one of the last many portraits done over two days.  I like everything about it so I wanted to share it with you, my VSL readers.


What I learned on the job yesterday.


I've been talking about the growing likelihood that traditional photography and video would collide and change the nature of the creative content market profoundly and permanently for photographers and, for me, it seems to be happening this year. I worked on a project yesterday and when we started talking about the parameters and fleshing out the brief with the client a few weeks ago the project was centered around the idea that we'd be shooting lots of stills for a rotating banner on their website. They tentatively asked about video and we said that we could do interviews and additional content called, "b-roll" that we could use to edit into the interviews to make them more dramatic. Over time the project changed from one that was still image intensive to one that is more video intensive.

Instead of spending most of the day looking for great still shots the time ended up being almost evenly divided between shooting stills and setting up and shooting video interviews and b-roll.

On the day of the shoot I made sure we packed a case with sound equipment which included a little Beachtek mixer that also matches the impedance of balanced, XLR connected microphones to the input impedance of my a99 camera. The little box is passive, meaning no battery power, but it does a good job managing the interconnection of professional, powered condenser microphones to what is basically a consumer level interface on the camera.

I debated a bit about which microphone to use to record my interviewees. A nice lavalier solves a lot of problems but, in the end, I didn't want any mike showing in the scene so I opted for a shotgun microphone at the end of a pole and used a Rode NTG-2 as my first choice. (Please don't write and tell me to take the microphone off the camera. As I said, we used it on a pole. The image above is just a quick way to show the "moving parts.") I packed extra cables and batteries as well as several back up microphones, just in case. The sound we got was good and detailed and Ben got it in nice and close which minimized the usual, office background noise. 

We were shooting broad spaces for the photography so lighting was very secondary in that regard but it was critical for the video. That being the case we knew we'd rely on continuous lighting so we brought two choices. We packed two large, florescent panels along with some nice diffusion cloths and we brought along four of the Fotodiox AS 312 LED panels with adjustable color temperatures. Ben and I used the LEDs, handheld, to pop a little light across glass or into dark spaces while we shot. We used the two, big, four tube per fixture florescent panels for our video set ups. They actually kicked out enough soft light so we could shoot with the (highly tinted) windows behind our subjects and show downtown in the background.  I thought we needed to travel light so I took intermediate sized light stands. They aren't really stable enough when the florescent panels need to go high. Next time I'll pack heavy duty stands for the fluorescent lights. We didn't have any issues but it sure made me nervous to see the lights sway a little bit next to floor to ceiling window, sixteen stories up.... This falls under: Sturdy stands trump lightweight travel. 

We packed one fluid head tripod and one tripod with a three way pan head. In retrospect, since everything we shot may end up as a 16:9 banner on a website and everything will be emphatically horizontal, we should have packed two fluid head tripods so that both of us could shoot various video footage separately. Even in the locked down shots of interior architecture (and there were many) we could have shot our stills and then unlocked the pan control and done a slow, controlled pan to use as a cutaway in our video editing. 

I don't shoot a lot of architecture anymore but at one time in my career I used a couple of Linhof TechniKarden 4x5 view cameras and a couple of wide lenses (75mm and 90mm) and shot tons and tons of interiors and exteriors for a magazine called, Early American Life. For a span of ten years or so I shot a lot of transparencies for them. If we needed to see a window in the scene and we wanted detail outside (we always did) we had to raise the ambient light level in the interior with strobes to balance. We'd always let the light go one stop hotter outside than inside. You could do that back then because film didn't just default to 255 and go white. It gracefully gave in to over exposure....

On this job I shot about fifteen shots that featured floor to ceiling windows with views of downtown Austin. Our working method now is to shoot a perfect frame for the exterior followed by a perfectly exposed frame for the interior and then we stack them in photoshop and paint in the window detail. I like working in layers this way because it makes it easier to control apparent depth of field by being able to blur the outdoor layer to tone down distance details and return emphasis onto the interior space. So far, in post production, this method is quick, easy and kind of fun. 

I learned to use my grid lines and the bubble level on my fluid head. If you have to pick one it's good to be consistent and depend on just one reference so that all your post production corrections are done with one angle change or one lens correction parameter. If you go back and forth between checking the internal levels and checking the tripod level one or the other will be off and you'll be zigging and zagging all over PhotoShop to correct them.

If you are transitioning to offering video it's cool to shoot ten seconds of video once you've got your still shot. The frames come in handy when you are editing and you know people are tired of seeing a talking head on camera. Intercutting related images breaks up the visual boredom. We roll ten seconds of video at the end of every still set up. Just to have it in the can. 

I did a stupid thing on Tues. (the day of the shoot).  I wore a white shirt. It was a really nice white shirt with collar stays and it was well tailored but....it was white and as I mentioned we spent a lot of time shooting into floor to ceiling windows...which reflect a lot of bright stuff from the interior space. Bright things like white shirts. I hate cloning out my shiny, shimmering white torso...Save yourself some time and wear you BLACK shirt when you shoot in shiny spaces. You'll have a lot less to mess with in post.

I learned that no matter how organized you are that by the end of the day you'll get tired and forget something. For video I keep a check list next to the camera and I've become manic about making sure the little red light on the camera is flashing to indicate that the camera is recording. It's hard to always remember when you stopped and when you started and it's embarrassing to get a really good take and then reach over to turn off the movie mode on the camera only to discover that you never pushed to start. 

We were organized but we forgot one thing. There's a great client logo/sign as you step off the elevator into their lobby. The client and I talked about the sign and Ben and I talked about the sign and we walked past it at least ten times on the shooting day. But we never shot it. After I do the post on about 120 shots I'm heading back downtown to shoot the darn lobby sign. Can't believe I didn't spend five minutes doing it on Tues. and now will spend more travel time and what not to grab the shot after the fact....In the future we'll write up and official shot list and check off stuff as we go. I've done so many shoots in my career they all blend together and it's hard to remember what  you did and didn't get. A list is helpful.

Finally, I learned that I still love the problem solving, people directing and general sense of discovery that comes with every shoot we do these days. I learned about a new industry. I had fun solving the interior/exterior set ups. I enjoyed directing people in their interviews and I had a blast having lunch at a downtown coffee shop with the kid.  Photography is still a wonderful and engaging career. And work keeps coming in. I'm loving it.

Bottom line? When you keep learning you stay engaged and attracted to projects. When you think you know it all you should stop and change careers. 





  

7.23.2013

I worked with a perfect assistant today.


Imagine a photo assistant who is calm, collected and quiet. Imagine he knows your camera menus as well as you do, in fact uses the same cameras you do for his own projects. Now imagine that your assistant has taken several years of cinematography classes, done sixty or seventy video projects and won cash awards for his Public Service Announcement video projects. Imagine an assistant that can do better audio and better microphone booming than anyone else you've met. Imagine you could hand him an extra camera and tripod and trust him to cruise around on three floors of a class "A" office building in downtown Austin, autonomously shooting great "B-roll" for the project and that he remembers all the responses from the video interviews you are currently shooting and can translate them into visual opportunities without having to be told or prompted.

Then imagine that he showed up early, wore just the right shirt, pants and shoes for the client at hand and he was polite, engaging and endearing to the clients (and to the photographer). Then imagine he does all this just four days after having all of his wisdom teeth extracted. You might call him a "miracle assistant". Around the house we call him "Ben."

I worked with the guy for a full day today. We were shooting stills and videos for a new client and I wanted everything to go smoothly. Really smoothly. So I took Ben. Later he told me, "You didn't really need an assistant you just wanted someone there to assure you that you were doing the video correctly.  And you were." I don't agree with his assessment but so what?

It's fun when you realize that your kid is much better than you are at stuff. Not everything, but a lot of the stuff that really matters. Everything he suggested was right on the money.  And the beautiful thing is that he only suggested if I asked. That's a great assistant.


7.22.2013

Why architects put reflective glass in the windows of big buildings...

Self portrait.

I thought we'd get right down to best practices and stunning technique in this particular post. As you may know I've been auditioning the Samsung NX300 at the request of their U.S. public relations agency and while this is certainly not intended as a review or even mini-review of the camera itself I will say that the jpegs files I get from the camera are exemplary. Sharpest in their class and also very good (though understated) in contrast and overall tonality. When I add contrast in post the files smile, and when I add a little saturation to the same files I smile even more.

But what I'd like to call attention to today is my stance and the way I am holding the camera. I have tried ATMTX's suggestion to "Use the Force.." and just stick my arms out in front of me with the camera at the end of a long set of shaky levers but it's really a non-starting solution; an attempt to make a bad ergonomic situation just a little better. I'm talking about the fact that the camera has no EVF nor any potential to add an EVF and one finds oneself falling back on what we call, "The Stinky Baby Diaper Hold" and all of the missteps that entails....from a physics point of view. Why the arm extension? Chalk that up to being over 40 and needing the almost universal reading glasses...

Classic "stinky baby diaper hold" but without the little hipster hat...

But I am using the camera with, for me, great success. I basically take along my Hoodman Loupe and press it against the back of the camera in order to compose. The loupe blocks out extraneous light which means that I can really evaluate an image or preview under bright sun, in the field. And more importantly it allows me to press the whole package to my face with my arms in a much more physiologically stable posture which presumably gives me more consistent and controlled compositions with much less camera movement.

Here's how I do it....



Unless you have the eyes of a fifteen year old and have never known the sybaritic pleasures of well made coffee there is no way that the SBDH can hold a candle (or much of anything else) to the correct hold on your camera.

But if you must do the stinky baby diaper hold, or the radioactive cellphone offset hold, you might want to complete the ruse by adding another prop/accessory, the SBDH utility gloves. Available in most sizes and ready to hold steady any non-EVF imaging toy or tool. Or use in the changing of stinky diapers.  (See below).


Seriously, I like the NX300. I really do. But why Samsung chose to go with a camera that doesn't have the option of an Electronic Viewfinder mystifies me.  Thank goodness for the Hoodman Loupe. I guess since the camera is mine I could super glue the loupe to the back but that would defeat the whole idea of the touch screen. Another first world concern...


Don't get too used to all those new "convenience" features in our new cameras....

See what happens when you get used to using the in-camera level indicators and then you accidentally push the display button and they vanish at the wrong moment? Tragic. I was trying to get everything lined up on the screen and they were gone....the little lines in the center that turn green when you've got your camera held level. And it couldn't have come at a worse time. It was mid-composition. Now I live in terror. What if the auto-composition controls go on strike? Will everything I shoot seem subtly out of whack? Better to not become addicted in the first place but now I sound like one of those guys who wanted to smash the machines. I guess there has to be some balance somewhere...

Speaking of weird stuff. My Samsung NX300 and my Sony NEX 6 both have some sort of built in wi-fi and I finally figured it all out. So, you have to be near your phone and you have to download an app and you have to configure your camera to send the app to your phone which you can then use to relay your image into the interwebs with fumbling alacrity. It takes ten or fifteen seconds, over the most nimble connection, to transfer a 20 megapixel file so it's not exactly a speedy proposition for a guy who likes to hold down the magic shutter button....

Strangely, it does work. But equally strange to me is the idea that anyone would want to do that unless this is your idea of the new paradigm of breaking new photography. For art? I think we can all wait until we get home, snuggle up with our laptops and a nice glass of wine and push all the big boy buttons. But that's just my opinion. I am sure that in just days I'll be back telling you that immediacy is the new black, and that I could no more live without camera wi-fi than I can now live without in camera levels or in camera auto composition. Stay tuned. Literally.

Real Street Photography. Right?




 I decided that my street photography had gotten boring. It had turned into a habit. I decided that a really committed street photographer should embrace the whole idea of the "street" and not the safety of the sidewalk. To that end I've started randomly walking out into traffic, turning to face the oncoming cars and then shooting with reckless abandon. The image above was taken Saturday afternoon. It had just rained which gave me some nice street reflections to work with. It also made the roads slicker and made the whole adventure much more riveting for me and the drivers.

After a number of near misses a peace officer dropped by to counsel me on my artistic undertaking and to suggest that the middle of a four way intersection on a busy street might pose overwhelming challenges to my project. I pulled out my double spaced, multiple page artist's statement  (AKA: The Street Shooter's Manifesto) and after he read, with interest, every single word he just shook his head and drove off.

I will say that, at times, the abject fear of death wreaks havoc on my usually nimble photographic skills... There was one candy apple red Mustang that was heading straight for me and I noticed that the driver was looking absently at a text instead of me. The car was heading toward me at forty miles per hour and it's a good thing I zone focused because I'm not sure the contrast detection autofocus is that good at objects coming straight for the camera. Fortunately it must have been a very short text because the driver looked up and then locked up the brakes. Unfortunately the buffer on my camera was full and I couldn't capture the passenger side of the car as it whipped around me into an adjacent lane, nudging, just barely, a cute little powder blue Prius.

Part of the subtle texture of this sort of in your face street photography is the colorful language the drivers hurl my way. It makes the whole process of doing this kind of art seem very, very interactive. I've been recording clips on a digital audio recorder but carrying the extra gear, and having to minister to it, reduces my agility and ability to gain the sidewalk in those many moments (especially during rush hour) when people are either oblivious to obstacles on the road or not at all into the whole idea of kinetic and challenging art forms.

I am hoping this new kind of street photography catches on. Especially with iPhone-o-graphers. It's so immediate and the risk makes it so much hipper than just trawling for static images of slow moving life.  You'll never feel the same sort of rush if you're just documenting your lunch...  The thing I think is most fun, if you have a driver's license, is that one can plumb both sides of the process: from workflow to traffic flow. Whichever side of the wheel you find yourself the newest idea in street photography may mean that soon we are ALL part of the art process.

I'm thinking of specializing in a certain esoteric form of this new street photography. There's a little known niche that deals with just left turn lanes. Might need a different selection of cameras to really master that one.

( Don't try this at home! Because most homes don't have streets running through them.)

#NX300 This was inspired by my tests with the Samsung NX300. With only an LCD finder you really have to work hard on street-o-graphy, especially in bright sun.



























7.20.2013

Some Kirk Tuck, Visual Science Lab News.


first up: The Visual Science Lab has just published its 1600th blog post.
That's one thousand, six hundred. That's a lot of words and pictures.
We hope that you've enjoyed it.
Please stick around.

Second up: Those who know me personally know that I'm an overly 
protective and involved father. So, I just wanted to share that 
Ben has survived having all four of his wisdom teeth removed 
and is doing well but tiring of a diet of smoothies, yogurt, 
ice cream and mashed potatoes. 
I am thrilled he's doing well.

Third up: I am anxious to share what I've been up to with my trip to 
Denver, CO. and am waiting to discuss with my corporate 
partners just how to handle any announcements. I'll be 
conferencing on Thurs. and hope to announce some 
fun news, in depth, on Friday.

Fourth up: I hope you saw my announcement that another image of ours
has been published by the New York Times. This is our fifth image for 
Zach to grace their pages (or website) and we're proud to have 
been part of Zach's national stature. We've been the 
production photography resource for the Theatre for
nearly 20 years and have seen so much growth.
It's one of Austin's unsung resources.

Finally: While I am writing reviews of the Olympus EP-5 and 
also covering the Samsung NX 300 I wanted to remind everyone 
that the cameras are always secondary to the thrill of just being  
in the mix of life and taking wonderful images.
If it's daytime outside your window and you happen to 
have a browser window open to Amazon or B&H
you might consider just putting that computer to sleep and 
heading outside with whatever camera you have at 
hand and having yourself an adventure.

My solution is always to find a beautiful friend and make some 
pictures. You'll end up liking the experience better 
than shopping.....


 One last announcement for today: In order to increase traffic to the blog I am changing my name to Kirk "Kardashian" Tuck and subtly insinuating/flat out stating that I'm in a relationship with Madonna but may be cheating on her with BeyoncĂ© Knowles. Also, I am switching camera systems to Holga.

Nighty night.

Kirk Tuck image for Zachary Theatre runs on today's New York Time U.S. Section!

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/12/us/gtt.html?_r=1&



I like it when my work for the Theatre is well used. Texas Monthly sent one of my images along to the NewYork Times. Which I think is very cool. It ran at the top of the U.S. Section. The image just above is another version... 

I keep hearing about the demise of our industry. What's the deal?

Victoria chides me for adding devil horns to her image on the Cintiq. 
I can't help it if I have maturity deficiency disorder.

When I started working as a photographer most of the things that made all of us successful had to do with mastering certain techniques. If you worked in a smaller market in the 1980's you needed to be able to provide your commercial clients with transparencies shot on 4x5 inch sheet film. Which meant that you had to know how to use rises and falls and tilts and swings. While it sounds like no big deal you also had to be able to load sheet film into holders, meter very accurately and also manage larger Polaroids. In order to make ISO 64 sheet film work well for you at f16-22 you had to know how to light because you couldn't just hit the menu and get more sensitivity out of your film. That meant a typical commercial photographer needed to own and maintain about 4,000 watt seconds (minimum) of electronic flash equipment and all kinds of modifiers.

 You had to know how to shoot black and white sheet film, load it and unload it, process it, contact print it in your own darkroom (a famous era for rush projects) and you had to know how to make beautiful black and white prints from your negatives as well. It pretty much goes without saying that the 4x5 was the standard format requested by clients for product shots. And the clients were happy when the shots were well lit and in focus. But you also had to have a medium format system for shooting advertising photographs in the studio and on location and, if you also covered events and public relations you had to have a complete 35mm SLR system with lots of backup stuff. (Cameras actually broke back then...).

Shooting 35mm with finicky films was especially trying because you couldn't really preview with Polaroid (and there were no LCD  screens on the backs) so you had to be able to read a meter and nail an exposure in just about every condition. Including those conditions in which you supplemented the existing light with flash. In those years the meter was a mandatory part of the kit. It had to be.

Many photographers could stay busy just supplying these basics because there was a steep learning curve and often no time opportunity to do a re-shoot. Clients paid for technical expertise and reliability. The better people in the fields also added good tasted and a point of view. But I'd guess that the vast majority just covered the basics and delivered well exposed and well focused shots and clients generally were happy.

In the consumer/retail market customers went to portrait studios and wedding photographers for much the same reasons. A wedding shooter had to have their technique down cold and practiced. Most used color negative films so there was some wiggle room to save a file in a custom darkroom with an experienced printer, but for the most part the portrait guy needed to sell a well lit, reasonably sharp image with the subject projecting a pleasant expression and an overall good look. The good ones knew how to light to make faces look their best. In that day and age there were accepted styles of portrait lighting which mostly revolved around the ideas of short light and broad light, high key and low key light. There was a lot of talk about lighting ratios....not as an aesthetic consideration as much as a nod to the limited contrast range of the photographic paper upon which they would be printed.

The reality of the portrait business is that people didn't innovate year by year. There were codified styles that photographers worked to emulate, the idea being that there were certain "optimum" lighting styles and posing configurations that were tried and true and could scarcely be improved on. That allowed portrait photographers to essentially abdicate responsibility for aesthetic innovation and still work to be the best technicians they could be. All the way to the retouching.

Things were good in the 1980's and 1990's for working pros. Many of my friends in the commercial side of the business routinely billed $200,000 or more out of one person businesses, supplemented by freelance assistants, producers and stylists (whose fees could also be marked up for additional profit. But, essentially, what we were selling, even if we wouldn't admit it and still won't admit it, was a good level of technical expertise and an understanding of the aesthetic underpinnings of our industry.  We emulated a lot of good lighting and good ideas from a small percentage of photographers who pushed the envelopes in New York, LA, Paris and Milan. Burrow down to the core and most of us were technicians who also dabbled in the creative side of the art form. Really. We learned the basics of composition and incorporated ideas that were popular at the time. But it was our grasp of the fine points in the owner's manuals that drove the bus.

The massive shift to digital would not have made much of a difference to the industry if it was still hard to get a great image. But the reality is that most of the work done in the last 10 years by cameras makers and software companies has been aimed at simplifying technical processes and automating technical tasks that used to require a step by step knowledge. It's also been aimed a allowing a mindless replication of some styles with software driven solutions.

When the technical gobbledygook no longer mattered and the LCD's on the backs of cameras and phones provided instant feedback, fast learning through quick iteration became the trend of the day. And why not? The educated public at large is open and exposed to the same samples, examples and visual resources as the previous "elite" visual cadre was. We look at the same TV shows, study the same movies and read the same magazines. The technicians had NO lock on the visual language of our culture except in the times when an intermediate (and complex) device was required to create an artifact.

It's widely acknowledged that the old school part of photography as a commercial industry and product generator is quickly dying off. Much to the chagrin of one dimensional suppliers whose only trick was that basic skill set of technical fulfillment. In many instances, especially in the wedding and portrait markets, the vast majority of previously paying customers zigged while the practitioners zagged. People liked the more casual and unconstructed images they were seeing all over the media of popular cultural, and anti-technical photographers with edgy points of view, such as Terry Richardson (now a millionaire many times over from his point and shoot camera ethos) have driven a wave of imaging that is valued for it's authenticity and in-your-face point of view much more so than because of any technical consideration. But the same was true in the art history of photography when Robert Frank's The Americans and Robert Klein's iconic books, New York, Tokyo, and Rome hit the bookstores in the both the 1950's and 1960's. In their time they were a clarion call to cast off the status quo of commercially inflected imaging and to embrace the immediacy of a new media....the small camera. The hand camera. With its grain, noise and fluid mobility that promised unconstructed glimpses of some reality.

While the kinetic intensity and imagery of Frank and Klein was unencumbered by too much precious technique it didn't effect the vast majority of practitioners because the technical constraints of the new photography didn't change much, only the aesthetic foundations shifted. It's also important to note that, in a society whose cultural news came to them predominantly filtered through weekly lifestyle magazines and monthly photography magazines (with long lead times) it would have been impossible for the culture at large in that time frame to absorb, mull over and integrate the changes from the avant garde whereas in our current milieu our absorption rate is over night, the adaptation rate is measured in cycles of days and an avant garde technique becomes: mainstream, practiced, shared, disseminated and ultimately discarded by avid hobbyists, enthusiasts and culturati as fast as the web can spread the word. Or instantaneously....whichever is faster.  

Finally, the first two waves of photographers to realize the eminent collapse of their industry have created a secondary teaching industry that effectively marks an end to the tenure of photographers based on technical skills. There are literally millions and millions of videos and sharing sites dedicated to deciphering the nuance of skill based shooting. You can learn just about anything you want on the web, the only difference between paid and unpaid resources being the value of curating, bundling and aggregating of the information and, to some extent, vetting the information.

How can one dimensional visual handymen survive? The mantra three to five years ago was the we should all up our game and create better or more complicated to duplicate work. But really, the commercial field is client driven and they only care about fulfilling their marketing needs which, out of messaging necessity, need to be part of a homogenized and referenced popular cultural idiom. Too much of too good falls outside what the audience expects and is used to and, in fact, diminishes the ad messaging by making the audience think too much about ideas outside the selling proposition. Why are the shadows so dark? Why are the colors all funky? How did they distort the frame?

So, in fact, the traditional markets are only looking for work that hews to the sweet spot of the Bell Curve of execution and taste because that's where research implies it will have the most power.

For now the people that are hanging on are finding ways to deliver images that the rubes still can't, en masse. Complex lighting takes more advanced skills and creating a rapport with other humans in front of your camera takes people skills. Advanced compositing and post processing skills also count. But these are speed bumps along the road to ultimately completely democratizing the business into irrelevance.

In the end it will all come down to luck (being in the right place at the right time), a stylistic point of view that's an uncopy-able amalgam of tech and taste (some fashion work and some high end portrait work) or work that creates a new category (the intersection of video and still imagery) or the re-invention of older photographic analogies (the substitution of massive megapixel cameras as a metaphoric representation of work from 8x10 view cameras with the infinite detail and silkiness of tones). 

We, the rank and file of professional photography, are like the family dog. We think of professional photography like our territory. We see our local markets like a dog sees his family's yard. We are on guard for intrusions and bark and posture when we see people eyeing our St. Augustine grass. We bark loud and even chase the cars of progress with our snapping and snarling. But the progression in many parts of the field are inevitable. 

I've seen the writing on the wall since the introduction of the iPhone and now the melding of phone and camera as represented by the Samsung NX Galaxy running on Android. We're all image creators now and even if 1% of us are by some degree exceptionally good ( which I doubt----we've just had more times at bat) that means there are still hundreds of millions of us competing for mindshare with editors and advertisers around the world. How many thousands of portfolios a week can an art buyer see before they shut down and just grab the most convenient resource from an infinite stack of infinitely similar work?

I'm as guilty as the next guy when it comes to girding myself against change but it's here and it's now and it's not going to roll back when the economy completes its recovery. Everything is mutating. My goal is to find the apex of the new paradigm that fits my temperament and skill sets and make that the new locus of my commercial work. That probably means more hybrid work. Still portraits that flow gracefully and naturally into video interviews. Narrative products that combine words, stills and motion. And it certainly means teaching more and more. We old schoolers are bad teachers when it comes to style and aesthetics because we have a set point which mentally restricts what we consider "appropriate" looks and styles. It's almost hard wired. It's tied rigidly to our successes in the past. But we're good teachers when it comes to understanding the fine points of technique and the interface between image maker and real people. And that's what we should be teaching and leveraging.

I am not opposed to teaching as a side profession for image makers. Until the industry gets its new sea legs it's a good way to supplement income in uncertain times. But I'm also convinced that art teachers and photographers who run workshops do their students a disservice when they try to teach style and substance in addition to good technique. So many students come to parrot the work of their instructors and become hampered by visions limited by long practice.  Instead we should be saying: "Here's how to shoot, but don't shoot like me...."

The market will sort itself out. And most of the sturm und drang has to do with the preservation or destruction of traditional markets. We hear the pain of photojournalists working ( or no longer working) for print outlets. We hear the gnashing of teeth by wedding photographers who are dealing with the  dying demand for traditional leather albums with individual prints tucked into ornate matted sleeves, and we are hearing the unhappiness of portrait photographers whose markets for traditional color display prints are quickly drying up in an age of electronic display and relentless sharing.

While large swaths of the markets in both commercial and retail are being rendered obsolete by consumer taste and almost foolproof, simple tools the entire market is not melting away. There is still a market for well done portraits but they must be in a contemporary style and in a medium that matters in order to be a sellable commodity. There's still a need for quality product shots and interior architectural shots but they too must reflect a more nuanced and sophisticated style and "look", not just because everyone has magically become more sophisticated and nuanced but because the style started with effete/elite tastemakers and is quickly absorbed and processed into mass style by the grinding machine of social interconnectedness. We may not understand the intellectual underpinnings of the latest style but we sure as heck are hellbent on emulating it, if only not to be left out of the current communal brain waves of our own tribes.

For every portrait photographer who uses "fine, painted, artisanal canvas backgrounds" and who is mystified by why his market has left him there is a corresponding Peter Hurley who has created a modern headshot style which is currently bubbling through the geologic layers of awareness to become the new status quo. And when his style is totally subsumed the market will turn to the next version and the next in a relentless pursuit of now, driven by the almost frictionless access to the latest thing. Twitter as a cultural driver. Instagram as this generation's Vogue Magazine.

For every architectural photographer who is setting up crossed umbrellas and sticking the vase of perfect, red flowers onto the table in the corner and making sure everything is just right there are younger photographers who are introducing models that move through spaces and add blur and substance and humanity to human designed spaces in a way that never happened with long exposures on view cameras or the analogy in the digital age.

The problem most established pros (and hobbyists and amateurs) will have is to throw off the yoke of the past and balance the new styles and their immediacy with the photographers' own visions. It's no good just to follow the pack. To be successful one must absorb the message of the pack and add an inflection and a framework of personal vision to make a unique and differentiated vision and product to sell.

The important thing to understand about what I'm saying is that this embrace and re-imagining of current cultural style and current taste are only important in so much as you need to earn a living from your work. If you are an artist then the only thing that's compelling is your separate and sustained vision, unsullied by the marketplace or by imitation. If you shoot for fun then your best course is to follow your nose. If a style smells bad to you then avoid it. If a style feels natural and right to you then enjoy it.

But if your livelihood depends on the visual products you create you serve no one with a desire to defend the past, and past styles. You serve a market, for better or worse, and your choices are to reflect back to the market, create a new direction for the market or to surrender and leave the field of the business battle. It's stark but it's an honest reflection of every market shift in the past 100 years. Just ask GM. Just ask Apple. And now, just ask Dell.

No one gets huge margin customers by making commodities and no one gets rich missing cultural shifts. Apple was almost bankrupt twelve years ago but they started breaking from the pack and launching products consumers wanted but had not yet been served. They prospered. Dell mastered the art of making a low price, low margin commodity, preserved the past and have been injured and ebbing ever since. Apple saw the move from desk computing to mobile computing and made iPhones and iPads, their ability to intuit and confirm the direction of the market led to their success. Their ability to abandon whole technologies to embrace the next generation of technologies will ensure their market position and success. Dell focused like a laser on what they knew best. And what they knew best was the past. In looking and planning only for what had already occurred they missed the whole mobile phone market with it's ecosphere fences and it's reverse halo effect.

Traditional photographers seem to be looking for a return to big studios and the sale of Leather Craftsman wedding albums and big corporate junkets and lavish, big studio advertising shoots. But they are looking into the rear view mirror of our industry instead of embracing the fast moving, fluid and discipline-crossing reality of the moment. Not everyone is affected but enough people are watching their businesses erode to make a trend. People scoff at the idea of "Change or Die" but I'm softened it by saying "expand the product net" and at the same time "expand the net that brings in mind changes." Be willing to move from an older delivery system to a newer delivery system.

Do you remember a time when studios took only cash or checks? I do. I remember when people rolled over and let ad agencies string them along on payment for 60 to 90 days. I remember images of wedding couples floating (via double exposures) in brandy snifters looking down from the heavens at their own ceremony, all in one godawful eight by ten inch color print.  Could you sell one of those now???? I didn't think so.

Change is inevitable. Learn what is unchanging and what needs to change and then implement. Survival is more fun. Embrace it. There's still money to be made. It's now on a different aisle...


The recent site of my introduction to being on the other side of the camera. 
Denver, CO.