11.11.2014

I seem destined to learn the same photographic lessons over and over again. And subsequently forget them.

Taken and enormous number of years ago 
with a Canon TX and an ancient 
Vivitar 135mm f2.8 lens. 

I owned one light at the time.....


I had another re-satori exercise happen to me this week. By that I mean I re-learned something that I already knew but the knowledge of which had been pushed down by my rampant consumerism. I've been very busy lately and that usually means there's a higher than usual cash flow which, sadly, generally means an increase in overall gear lust. 

I was about to embark on yet another wonderful and well paying job and I headed to my favorite consumer electronics "candy shop", Precision Camera, to buy a needed three stop neutral density filter. Of course, while I was there I just had to take a look at the used equipment (which seems to be flying into their door quickly and in bulk). Knowing I was in the middle of a lukewarm flirtation with Nikon gear my sales associate put two interesting, low mileage, cameras on the counter in front of me. One was a Nikon D800 and the other a Nikon D610. Both were in amazing shape and both were priced at almost half their original selling prices. Overwhelming temptation! I had the store put one on hold for me while I sorted out my feelings overnight. 

That's one part of the universe speaking to me through gear. But here's the other half....

I was asked by Craftsy.com and a website called, Pixoto, to judge a portrait photography contest. All I had to do was pick the grand prize winner and to write  short few paragraphs about why I had selected the winner. I looked through about 5,000 images over the course of a day or two. One image kept jumping out at me, over and over again. It was well seen. It wasn't processed to death. The expression of the subject was perfect and riveting. I went through the exercise of narrowing down images into a folder of selects but every time I opened the computer up and started looking again the same image drew me in. It was an easy choice. And writing the "whys" of selection helped me understand (again) what was important in a portrait.

So here we mix the two events....

Once the judging was done I went back to my weightier problem: trying to convince myself that a D610 or D800 full frame camera with a spiffy-ass sensor would hugely improve my portraits or, conversely, talking myself out of spending yet more money on yet another placebo camera.

Since the portrait of the contest winner was fresh in my mind I decided to go back to the site and see what marvelous camera and what spectacular (certainly German) lens had be used to channel that image into existence. I did. I went back and looked at the camera info (and I'm a bit ashamed that with my age and experience that I would still do that). Well, the universe seems to enjoy balancing stuff.

The camera used was an EOS 600D. In U.S. parlance that's a Canon Rebel T3i. And the focal length is listed as a 90mm which I assume is the actual focal length on a zoom. Not a prime (although he could have used a 90mm tilt/shift....). So, here I am thinking this is a wonderful image: http://www.pixoto.com/images-photography/babies-and-children/child-portraits/raphael-5592685093060608 and I have to also understand that it was done with mundane tools and a total regards for, or an appreciation of, the subject. Not the camera.

Yes, yes, I abandoned any thought of getting the new camera(s). It's amazing in this situation just how quickly the universe came back around to correct my thinking.

Now....I am packing for another daylong portrait shooting assignment/adventure and I noticed that a certain big name fashion shooter does a really nice job with Broncolor strobes. Maybe I should look at picking up a set of those lights. It might really help my work.   Right. Not.

To bring it all the way around I love the image I posted of Belinda at the top of this blog post. I did it back in the late 1970's with a camera that only had shutter speeds to 1/500th, sync'd at 1/60th and had a creaky, used lens on the front. I owned one particularly nasty Novatron electronic flash and a photographic umbrella that I found in the trash behind an old studio in downtown (don't ask!). But I love everything about that portrait. Could it be that our skills become inversely proportional to our abilities to buy gear? I'm beginning to think so....

14 comments:

Dave Jenkins said...

You have made many, many portraits since this beautiful one of Belinda, but I doubt if any have been better.

Of course, it really helps if the subject loves you and it shows in her eyes!

Frank Grygier said...

This post is related to the "Online Photographer" blog post tilted "The Zen of Shooting. A distracted mind cannot live in the moment. Doubt like fear is a mind killer. The idea that a camera can complete one as an artist is folly.

Anonymous said...


He has defied all the internet fora rules ;-) Also many of the PPA rules ;-) 90mm on a 1.6 crop Canon is a rather unfashionable 144mm FF.

BTW doesn't he know that Dutch Angles are only appropriate for sports ?? ;-)

Thankfully he relies on his talent instead of other peoples rules.

The eyes jump-out and grab me, I can't look away.

Ima Robot

AaronL said...

Oh, I am going to disagree (again!) The portrait you linked to of the child with the blue eyes seems to me to be way over processed, the skin tones are smoothed to oblivion and the eyes are way, way over done, all just in my opinion of course...
BUT, your portrait of Belinda is beautiful. That image will stand the test of time, the camera used is irrelevant.

Craig Yuill said...

The portrait of Belinda is wonderful. So is the portrait of the young child you linked this post to. (I can understand why you like it so much.) Neither portrait was taken with a top-of-the-line camera or lens. Congratulations on resisting the urge to "upgrade".

neopavlik said...

I'll face my camera and lens gear lust demons soon (when the deals start coming end of this month through March).

In the past I've been able to put that lust off by stockpiling lighting and miscellaneous stuff, but I'm running out of those kind of things to buy ( 4 lite panels for studio V-flat setups , a 2nd travel sized strip light, a 47" Octobox ? . grids for a bunch of things, 2nd light meter ? ).

Linked picture (child) : interesting angle and face, but it seems dripping with vignette and obvious processing that make it easier for me to look away.

Michael Matthews said...

You gotta give some credit to the subject. Belinda brought those eyes with her.

It was resonance with the earlier photo that kept bringing you back to your contest winner pick.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with an earlier comment - although it's a nice and arresting picture, my immediate reaction was how processed it looked. The skin tones and particularly the eyes really struck me as being very "artificial". I am somewhat surprised that Kirk thinks it wasn't over-processed, since his work always looks very natural - perhaps the copy he saw looked different to the one linked to on the web.

Noons said...

An "enormous number of years ago"?
Thin ice, Kirk.
Thin ice!...
;)

Claire said...

And each time I see a picture of Belinda at this age (and I think this is not the first time you post this one), I melt.

Old Gray Roy said...

Interesting how quickly and in such profusion the naysayers gather when you express an opinion online. An opinion is, certainly in this case, that which you see and feel.

Does this mean that the naysayers are not expressing a truth? Perhaps they are only expressing their opinion.

Anonymous said...

I once heard, or read- its been alot of years ago in my motorcycle days- the following statement by a really famous motorcycle racer: "Everything I know about riding fast, I learned on riding pretty slow motorcycles." I thought it an odd statement at the time; but I think I know what he meant now.

rdrowe said...

I think both portraits - Belinda's and the child's - are wonderful because they are motivated by love for the subject and not the gear. Thank-you Kirk, for a blog that continues to inspire.

Kirk Tuck said...

rdrowe, Thank you very much. That's exactly what I really meant to say. All the technical babble was just to disguise my discomfort as saying, "well expressed love in a photograph trumps everything else."

You made my day!