Let's get the camera prattle out of the way first. My Pavlovian response to my birthdays is to rush out and buy a camera. I tried to contain myself and I made it all the way through my actual birthday with no acquisitions. I was so proud. But a large (and unexpected) royalty payment came in the last minutes of the day, via e-mail, and trigger anew the whole acquisitive process. I know the camera I emotionally want; it's the EM-1. I know the camera I would like to own for a longer time; it's the Olympus EP-5 with the new EVF finder. Why? Because it is so beautifully designed and assuages my nostalgia for the original (to me) EP-2 Pen camera that I really did love very much. Well all of it but the sensor.... I think I've got a line on a good, very lightly used EP-5 tricked out the way I want it I just need to be patient for a week.
So, here's how the downfall from camera chastity to camera sluttiness occurred: I need to do some overnight printing for a fast approaching assignment. What does that mean? Well, after a full day of shooting (maybe till midnight or around there) I need to come back to the studio and make 40+ small prints before I return to the job the next day at seven. I may seem as though I operate by the seat of my pants but I really do test stuff before I head out and do it. I like to know that I'll be able to pull of what I'm about to promise. Keeps the clients much happier.
I needed a box of Canon lustre pro inkjet paper so I headed up the clogged highway to visit my friends at Precision Camera. I found the box of paper and tried to find someone to ring it up. But in the search I walked by the used Nikon shelf and happened to see a Nikon D7000 camera body offered used at a reasonable price and, in a moment of weakness, bought it as a back up body for the D7100. The logic was pretty flawless: pretty much the same menus, the same basic feel and control set up, really good high ISO performance and appreciably smaller file sizes. I bargained a bit and the next thing I knew I was heading home with it and, truth be told, I was pretty happy with my decision.
I had an assignment to deal with this afternoon. I shot a series of marketing images for the people at Zach Theatre. They needed new creative visual content for the upcoming play, A Christmas Carol.
What a perfect opportunity to break in the new camera!!! I packed it along with a few lenses and a bucket full of lights and umbrellas and what not. But old habits die hard and even though Precision Camera prides themselves on thoroughly checking out used cameras before sale I would never leave the studio to shoot a job without a backup camera in the bag so I grabbed the D7100 to back up for the D7000. I set up the background first. Always. And then I got around to lighting everything and when that was done I grabbed the new camera, the used D7000 out of the case and put a lens on the front. Then I had the marketing intern step in so I could make a few test shots.
Funny, when I blew up the test images nothing was sharp. Nothing. I tried another lens and got the same results. I tried a third lens and then gave up and tossed the camera into the bag and pulled out the thoroughly tested D7100. We did the whole shoot with that camera and the Nikon 18-140mm. All the images turned out great.
When I got back to the studio I put the camera on a tripod, pulled out a home made focus tester and got to work on the new/used/offending D7000 body. I wanted to determine if the fault was just a calibration issue that could be user fixed. Nope. Even at +20 steps of correction or -20 steps of correction it was uncorrectable. Frustrating but better to find out before a major, unrepeatable project. Back the camera goes for a refund. Another hour spent driving up and back down Mopac Expressway. I'm resolved to just wait for fate to deliver that beautiful Pen EP5 to me...
Now, on to the job. The folks at Zach Theatre are doing the classic Dicken's, A Christmas Carol. They needed images of Scrooge and Tiny Tim against white. They'll cut out the people and combine them or put them into other graphic elements. Zach is using an organizational software program called, BaseCamp, so I'm in the e-mail loop for every step of preproduction. Kind of fun. Almost like being omniscient.
The packing was straightforward. Starting with the background we used a white muslin that packs down small and works well. We bought it in 2002 for a Southwestern Water Company annual report and I've been using it ever since. It's not as graceful a white background as Super White background paper but it does the trick when you are working fast, don't want to worry about light reflected back to the subject and you don't mine a little tone in the background. Works best when your art director's production team is highly proficient at dropping out backgrounds.
I lit the background with two Elinchrom D-Lite 400s firing into matte silver surface umbrellas. The main subject is lit from the left (as you see the image) with a 60 inch Softlighter umbrella and from the right with a very powered down second light firing into yet another 43 inch silver interior umbrella. All four of the lights are Elinchrom D-LIte 400s.
After metering with a Minolta flash meter 5 I set the camera to ISO 200, 1/80th of a second, f7.1. Knowing the large expanse of white would serve as an auto reference I got lazy and used AWB for color. The camera nailed it perfectly.
We shot 350+ raw images which were post processed into 96 compression Jpegs at the full 6000x4000 pixel size.
In this wide shot you can see the placement of umbrellas. The shot is wide angle so the background seems smaller and further away.
We wanted the kid, William, to be on "Scrooge's" shoulders but our older actor has had some back issues so we needed to find a creative work around to make the shot happen. We ended up putting Tiny Tim on a ladder and compensating for the difference in heights by putting Scrooge on a step stool. I think it matched fairly well. All of the positioning was very stable which allowed me to get a wide range of expressions. If the kid had really been on Harvey's shoulders we would have had to take more breaks and work much more carefully...
Our make-up artist steps in to re-powder and actor's forehead.
With the combination shoot coming to an end the marketing people stepped in to bring William down safely off the ladder. This shot should give you an idea of how we set up the shot.
Sad tiny Tim.
Happy Tiny Tim.
We were in and out in about an hour and a half. We tried lots of different exposures and combinations. The D7100 was flawless. The 18-140mm was a good, all around lens for this kind of work. I had all of the files post processed and on a memory stick by dinner.
First thing tomorrow the used D7000 goes back. I guess life can't always be perfect. But it's been darn close lately.