Two More "Acid Queen" images from last night's dress rehearsal and a bit about post processes.

I know I probably shoot too much but big, splashy, fun theater productions have so many things going on that you could shoot thousands of images and not scratch the surface. I was back at the theater last night with three cameras in tow. I had the Panasonic GH4 with the 35-100mm f2.8 X lens, a Panasonic GH3 sporting the 12-35mm f2.8 X lens and the nnew-ish (to me) Olympus EM-5 which cycled between two lenses, the Olympus Pen F 40mm f1.4 and the 60mm f1.5. Right off the bat I'll tell you that I had more fun shooting on Sunday because I had time to really play around with the 150mm f4 Olympus PenF lens and I feel like I was starting to get some really great images with the combination of that lens and the EM-5 body.

I recently took myself to task for shooting in much too cavalier a fashion. I've been defaulting to Jpegs any time I have to shoot a lot of images for a project on the premise that shooting raw would be too constricting and the output would take up too much disk space. I rationalized that, for most web based applications even Jpegs would be overkill. But then I did some comparisons and found that even with a modicum of extra effort I really can squeeze a better file out of a raw file. So I chastened myself severely and got with the raw program. It was such a dumb-ass move to make right before a high volume, dress rehearsal shoot for the folks at Zach Theatre...

Between the three cameras, the great music at Tommy, the incredible stage designs and the choreography I ended up shooting about 1500 images. Now, that's not as crazy as it sounds. I know that the rest of you have the uncanny ability to decide that this moment, right here, right now, this particular expression will be the ultimate one in a scene. You wait like a scorpion with your tail raised and somehow you know just when all the elements come together and then you strike! I'm sure it's a thing of beauty. How you know with certainty that the moment you've captured is the ultimate one is beyond my mortal ken. How you keep your finger off the shutter release for all the subsequent expressions, dance moves, light changes and combinations of actors is beyond my understanding. I am not even worthy to operate with the same tools as thou.....

But the pedestrian way that I shoot events is more lumbering and cautious. I try to grab good looking moments early (in case they are all that's on offer) and then keep them as safeties as I keep looking for the better and better shots. And I'll tell you a dirty little secret: I don't know how to create a hierarchy of value when it comes to emotional expressions or an exchange of expressions between two actors. Is this expression better than that one? How can I know if the marketing people will have a different of ideas of what constitutes "good" than I my set? Etc. Etc. And it's good to remember that the changing body positions and expressions are all happening while lights are changing intensity and color and moving, and while other actors move through the space, shifting the visual balance.

So, I thought I was doing well to get away with only 1500 total images. Which I valiantly edited down to 1379 images. I felt duty bound to delete images in which the principal actors had their eyes closed or those rare circumstances (gulp!) where I actually missed focus. There were, at most eight or ten variations in some scenes and as a few as two or three shots in others.

Last night I got home after the show and loaded all the raw files onto a fast 7200 rpm, firewire 800 hard drive and went to bed with the computer happily building image profiles in Lightroom 5.5. After swim practice and breakfast this morning I sat down at the computer and began the edit process. I was very happy to be able to apply just the right noise reduction to all the files at the very beginning. I found a formula that banished the (not unpleasant) tiny black dots that show up at 100% when shooting at ISO 1600. Wanna know a terrible secret? The raw files from the GH cameras and the EM-5 showed pretty much exactly the same kind and amount of noise and they all responded to the same basic noise reduction settings! That magnificent Oly color and low noise? Shared almost exactly with the Panasonic when you take time to process each to their optimum end.

But here's where the trouble started. I edited every image or group of images and then I set up the export menu and hit the button to begin batch processing the files. The progress bar looked like it was going in 10X slow motion. I looked in the "finished" folder, did a little calculation and was shocked to find that the computer I was working on would take the better part of 3.45 hours to complete the task. To output the files I needed to deliver.  This was a problem because the day after the dress rehearsal is the day the marketing crew wants to sit down and plow through the images, make their selections and get digital press packets out to the media all over the place. We usually deliver images around 11:00 or, at the latest, noon.

Well, there was no button on the computer for "faster" so let it roll while I ran errands, got lunch and then came back just as the last eight files fell into place. Now the job is done but I'm left with four future options: Shoot less, Stay up all night processing, get a much faster computer, or go back to shooting large, fine Jpegs. The problem is that once you step up the quality it's hard to regress. The next problem is that I don't want to be groggy for my swim so I'm not staying up all night.  The "shooting less" thing is silly because it limits my options. Guess it's time for a new computer.

This is the downside of assignment photography; it's always easier than it should be to justify new gear...but really, it's time to retire my blueberry ibook and try something made in this century.

(to my literal minded readers: The reference to the blueberry ibook is a joke. I own one but I have newer machines that we actually use...).


JFGilbert said...

In an earlier post about processing videos, I thought I had detected the early stages of the business case for a faster computer. I think we are at phase two of the construction.
In case you were wondering, delivery times for custom Mac Pros are down to a few days now...

Peter F. said...

You'll let us know what you get. Right? I am thinking of switching from PC to Apple, so I for one will be interested.

Murray said...

Have you thought of storing your raw photos as compressed DNGs? I've been doing it for a while and find it a good way to keep the flexibility of raw files and yet feel I am not filling up discs with data I don't really need.

Kirk Tuck said...

Peter, I'm thinking of switch from Apple to more Apple. I've got my sights set on one of the new Crisco Can Mac Pros. Pricy but shaped like a big Maxwell House coffee can so you know it's got to be good.

My spouse reminds me that though I have BMW tastes in computers I really on have the budget for a Honda model... Probably an i7 iMac. And some more hard drives.

Brian Fancher said...

I have found that with Lightroom, especially version 5, I really need at least the 16Gb of Ram that I now have in my i7 equipped laptop in order to have file output speed faster than glacial. I output full resolution, high quality jpg to Photoshelter directly from Lightroom. I don't know whether it is the plugin or Lightroom itself that creates the bottleneck. Sending the same jpgs to a folder for burning to disc is moderately faster. The move from 8 to 16 Gb of ram made a noticeable difference. I suppose those new Mac Pro canisters outfitted with 32Gb and a direct network connection would be much faster, though.

Sean said...

Hi Kirk,
You are looking in the right direction at the new MacPro, it's a beauty! We got one at my shop recently. We have a workflow that requires the opening of compressed 2400 dpi one bit tiff images. They print out at 40 by 70/ 50 by 80 inches in Photoshop (20 giga pixels). The images are rotated, reduced in resolution and resaved for inkjet proofing. This happens in seconds, pop, pop, pop!
I haven't tried Lightroom yet on it, but I did load an Aperture library of mine, and had the Mac export 527 6 megapixel RAW images to full size JPEG. All of them had edits for WB sharpen lens correction sharpen etc. the new MacPro spat out 1.4 gigabytes of jpegs in under three minutes. You can buy a lot of tools, that give you quality, flexibility, capably; but this one is like buying time!

Sean Murphy

Eric Rose said...

I would be really interested in a detailed PS or LR settings/workflow article from you. Your images always are so vivid and sharp while not looking cooked. Even when I use a tripod etc. I never get images that look that sharp as jpegs. It's not like I don't have good glass etc. or a good camera, I do, but I must be missing something either in the camera settings or post. Thanks in advance.

Peter Wright said...

Like you I have LR 5.5, an iMac i7 (2009 in my case) with a 'fast' 7200rpm disk drive connected through firewire 800. You probably already know this, but it is the disk drive and its interface that is slowing things down.
You could get an iMac with in internal SSD, decent sized RAM (say 16 GB) and Thunderbolt interfaces and be fine. Just do all the work for the client in LR but keeping the files on the SSD until you are ready to archive to the external HD. Lightroom can keep track of all this easily.
However, if I did video, and had clients wanting same day delivery, I would be very tempted to just get a Mac Pro and sleep at night (literally in your case.) Put this way your wife is sure to see the rationale!

Anonymous said...

I own one of the fancy new Mac Pros, and while it's a nice machine, depending on the work you're doing it may be no faster than a high-end iMac (if it's packed with similar amounts of RAM). For some tasks it may even be slower.

In a nutshell, the Mac Pro's Xeon cores are faster when the software you're using makes extensive use of multithreading. The iMac's i7 cores are faster with single-threaded programs. For the Lightroom processing you're doing I'm not sure which will do better, but I'm sure you can find comparisons with a few web searches.

One of the Mac Pro's big strengths is the ability to connect crazy amounts of fast storage. Unfortunately Thunderbolt (especially Thunderbolt 2) storage is still very expensive.

Craig Yuill said...

I noticed you said you are using Lightroom 5.5. For a while you were using Aperture 3.x. Do you now recommend it over Aperture? I suppose it is just as well you no longer use Aperture (?), given that Apple has announced it will do no further development on Aperture. Apple seems to be merging Aperture and iPhoto into a single program called Photos. Who knows what that program will be like?

I can understand you wanting to stick with Apple. I, however, am becoming less happy with the company as time passes. Much of this has to do with its forced obsolescence policy. I haven't been able to upgrade to the last two OSes, largely because my iMac won't support the latest eye candy demanded by these OSes. And because I cannot do an OS upgrade I cannot get regular software updates for programs I use, like Aperture. When I do update my machine I will have to pay a substantial amount to upgrade a lot of software that won't run on the latest OS. I am not sure I have a huge incentive to stick with Apple, given that Lightroom is also available on Windows machines too if I feel the need to switch over to it.

If I do stick with Apple, I might considering going to a Mac Mini. That way when the inevitable hardware update needs to be done I can at least keep using the external monitor. It is too bad the video system is somewhat slower than what is available on the iMac. But if you still want to use your Firewire 800 external drives, I believe the Mac Mini is the only Apple computer that still contains Firewire ports. Whatever model you choose I do agree that RAM should be maxed out. It has been my experience that an inadequate amount of RAM is the most-likely cause of computer slowdown.

Gato said...

Apparently we have been hanging out on the same forum. Those guys are making me a little crazy as well.

Interesting that over here all the comments are about computers - nothing about your comments on shooting.

Nice work on the photos, as always.

gsteele62 said...

I have often gone to 3-5 frame bursts when shooting people on the move or with quick changing facial expressions. It is amazing how much expressions can change in a fraction of a second. Editing is a bear, but it is often worth it. My camera's burst rate is slow enough and the shutter button sensitive enough that I can easily take "singles" when multiple frames are not needed or desired.