Some thoughts on simplicity and photography.

continuous light sources rock. Except when they don't... and other stuff. 

More than just about anything else in my business is my own ongoing desire to simplify. Once you enter the commercial arena and market yourself as a bit of a generalist there is a push or inertia to be ready for any contingency! This week is a great example. My work has been a royal mix of portraits, run and gun video, video interviews on locations, and some vague photojournalism. We used studio flash for one set of portraits at one downtown law firm and LED panels at a different law firm. In all, twenty five or so portraits. The video interviews were lit with one small LED light which gave just enough boost to make everything look natural. In the last three days I've worked with a video tripod with fluid head, a stout studio tripod and a smaller tripod that live in the car most of the time.

And between every assignment there's the rush back to the studio to reconfigure the cases and add or subtract gear. Add microphones and a boom pole. Take out the portable flashes, etc.

But the scatter doesn't seem to stop at the packing and shooting. When we get back to the office some of the work gets done in Final Cut Pro X and some goes into Lightroom while other images go straight into PhotoShop. It's enough to make one feel stretched.

I had the idea, after buying a Nikon D810, that all the work would slowly get aimed over to the big Nikon and I'd stop picking and choosing gear before each outing but in the short run it doesn't seem to be working out that way. The main benefit of the D810 is the resolution and beautiful dynamic range of the full frame sensor but when I'm shooting portraits I love to shoot and shoot until I get just the right expression and composition. If I shoot with the D810 as it is meant to be shot I go home with enormous amounts of data for images that will eventually find their highest and best use as content on websites or as quarter page magazine fodder. Don't get me wrong, we have those assignments where having the biggest file available is a decided advantage but....in the meantime I find myself generally grabbing a D610 for portrait work and even then I find myself wishing it had the half and quarter sized raw file choices that Kodak so brilliantly put into their DSLR/n cameras.
We could shoot most of our portraits as six megapixel files with no problems at all but I don't want to give up the flexible post fix-it-up potential of the raw files.

On one recent job I just got fed up with the file sizes on the D810 and started shooting medium sized Jpegs. And you know what? They worked pretty well.

Then I thought I'd be happy using the D810 for video work but even there one has to make a few compromises. I'm happy using the camera for most video projects. The files are nice and the controls are simple and straight forward. BUT.... just this morning one of my clients called me all excited to let me know that we got permission to film a complete interview with an celebrated politician. There's not time limit to the interview, it could go to an hour. But here's the nasty deal, the high res file setting on the Nikon D810 will only give me twenty minutes of shooting before I have to stop and then re-start. Back to the GH4 for long form motion stuff.

If I simplified my business what would it look like? I'd have one camera model, two copies. The camera would shoot amazingly high resolution raw files but it would also have the choice of medium and small raw files with no compromises. The cameras would have EVFs. Really, as nice as the D810 optical finder is the reality of work calls for an ever increasing amount of video and an EVF would also (hopefully) mean much faster contrast detect autofocus.  I'd want the camera to shoot full frame so I could get that wondrous depth of field control. The camera would have a pretty video codec and a way to set the microphone sensitivity during recording. And every camera that comes out from this date forward should allow the user to shoot right up until the internal memory card is full or the battery is exhausted.

Any perfect camera should have a big ass battery like one of the pro Nikons or Canons. One of those 4500 shot kind of batteries. Lots of oomph. And as long as we're spec'ing an ultimate camera we can't leave out really good, in body, image stabilization.

If I could get a cosmic product blender from the Marvel Universe I'd toss in a Panasonic GH4 and a Nikon D810 and give it a long whirl. Maybe I'd toss in the EVF from the new Sony A7ii...

But that still wouldn't solve all the issues of scattered business syndrome. I've actually come to realize, through deep reflection and meditation (humor implied) that most of my adventures with different lights have been done in order to find the perfect (non-existent) lighting for a photographer who would like to hopscotch back and forth from moving to not moving images. I thought fluorescents would work (and they are good for video) but even the best units cause some banding when we use shutter speeds over 1/60th of second. I liked HMIs but even with electronic ballasts they have some flicker or banding issues I ran into. Again, perfect for video but not quite there for all still work. My battery powered LED panels are rock solid on the non-flickering front but like all the other lights mentioned here the Achille's heel is working in conjunction with sunlight. You just can't overpower the sun without frying your client's eyes.

And it always leads us back to electronic flash. And then it's portable flash versus high power flash. Both of which I believe I need (from time to time). What a mess I've created for myself. Sometimes I wish I were in one of those occupations where there's one way to do what is required and that's how you do it over and over again. No choices. No additional inventory or knowledge required. Just plug and play.

On the lighting front it would be so cool to have a small lighting instrument, the size of a 12 ounce Coke can that could belt out about 600 W/S but could be dialed way down to 12 W/S. It would also be capable of TTL flash with all the major brands and, as a bonus, it would double as an incredibly powerful but flexible LED source. Like a Fiilex P360 on steroids. The added bonus to the bonus would be the ability to control both color temperature and hue for all the permutations of light the instrument was capable of putting out.

So, after using it as a daylight flash source in the desert you could dial in a tungsten balance, switch to LED and use the same source through a diffusion scrim to use for video.

The real issue is not that we want to do so many things but that clients have different needs and different ideas of what is right for them. I guess we can make the scope of our offerings very narrow and turn down all the square blocks that don't fit into the round holes or we can just suck it up and master as many tools as we find we need.

Now, where is the Marvel Universe Cosmic Camera blender I've been asking for?


Patrick Dodds said...

Probably you already know this so forgive any impertinence, but the D810 - doesn't it have a mini-raw option coming in around a third the size of the full-on files?

Anonymous said...

I guess nothing's perfect - and certainly none of the cameras, accessories or the editing software. So on and on we go with gear acquisition syndrome!

"Sometimes I wish I were in one of those occupations where there's one way to do what is required and that's how you do it over and over again."

I know you don't mean it literally, but be careful what you wish for: if you did, you'd be bored to tears and pulling out your hair out of frustration in no time. See, nothing is perfect :-)

Kirk Tuck said...

You are right Patrick but it's not much smaller than using the full image in 12 bit compressed. And there's no flexibility, you have to use it without being able to choose either bit depth or compression options. But the real issue for me is that they should have done it at 18 megs AND 9 megs. More choice on sizes. 9 is on the edge for prints but 18......?

Rick Baumhauer said...

On the camera side, why do I feel you slipping back toward Sony? The A7 series (you'd probably need both A7 IIs and the follow-on to the A7S) would seem to tick the most boxes for you, if only they'd do something about that shutter.

I say this as a very happy micro 4/3 shooter, currently in possession of one of each of the 4 OM-D models, but video isn't currently part of my business.

Dave said...

For the life of me I can't fathom why Nikon hasn't implemented focus peaking in Live View.

Frank Grygier said...

I think Panasonic will have some interesting new things at NAB. The GH4 sounds like the answer to both use cases to me. Always a trade off but light weight and capable of stills and movies.

Bonaventura said...

Is there a Red camera in your future? Maybe after college bills are done?

Mike Rosiak said...

I have to keep this post in mind whenever I get the urge to acquire more gear, in search of the "perfect" solution. So, thank you, Kirk.

Gary Matson said...

Looks like Fiilex has an upgraded 360 EX that has 20 % more power. ... I I love the idea of them.....

amolitor said...

But when you really think of it, isn't it a minor miracle that you can do all those things so very very well with such a tiny collection of gear?

Ten years ago we'd have burned you for a witch!

Anonymous said...

Well, I for one have given up on the idea of convergence and/or one size fits all a good while ago. There sure as heck are no one size fits all clients, either.
Suppose it's better to try finding the kind of gear that you like and gives you the least resistance throughout the workflow. One for each key task.

But for someone like Kirk who's living in a place like Austin, TX there seem to be little need to actually own cameras like the D810 when one could easily rent it for those rare occasions one absolutely needs something like it, and only buy the kind of gear that gets packed for the gigs most often.

Then there are also a couple of other classic means to minimise the clutter, which Kirk is no doubt aware of already, like rising one's prices and trying to consult and educate the client and make them see that what they actually want is what you want to do. :)

Well, just some random thoughts triggered by the blog post.

Ron Nabity said...

It should come down to "how much is enough" rather than "how much is the most?"

It seems that the larger physical pieces of gear bring along a lot of extra baggage in file sizes and workflow drag, and for what purpose?

I can see the minor differences between 12 bit and 14 bit image files, but frankly, it seems like most of our compulsion about image quality is wasted on other photographers, not our clients.

Kirk, you've shown us many times that the primary ingredient to quality images and video is content. The relationship between the portrait photographer and the subject. A powerful story being told in a video. At any bit rate, those will rise to the top.

I've reached the point where I'm no longer concerned about if it's high enough technical quality. I know it is, and it's liberating to move forward without the worry or the second guessing. And my lower back is much happier, too.

Spiney said...

I'm not at your level as a photographer or with gear, I'm shooting a D7000. You mentioned that "being frustrated with the file sizes you gave up and shot medium jpg and it worked out" I shoot with 2 cards so I always have jpg and NEF. If your 810 allows the same, would that be a solution? If your happy with the jpg use it, backup the raws just in case. Or better yet could you send full raw to one card and the smaller raw to the 2nd card?

I too find the 20 minute limit on video to be very frustrating, especially when shooting a live performance. My understanding was the limit was put there to protect the imaging chip from overheating. Not sure if that is true, especially since you can start recording again almost immediately.

Been following your blog for a long time. Always find it informative and inspirational. On your advice several years ago I bought a Canon G10, followed by a G11. I almost followed you down the Micro 4/3's path. Thank you for taking the time to share your time and talent with us.