Packing for a three day shoot next week, but, "no pressure," it's here in town.

I have no intention to stop writing the blog. 
Sorry if that seemed to be implied in this morning's post.

A year and a half ago I did a bunch of photography for a wonderfully school here in my area of town called, St. Gabriel's Catholic school. Here is the website and most of the photographs on it came from that shoot. I got an e-mail last week asking me if I had any time in the very near future to come back and do some more shooting. It seems that they've expanded the campus and finished up some very nice additions to their already very first class facilities. We'll be making photographs of the students but this time we'll also be working on photographing the students in the context of the architecture. I was able to offer them Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of next week.

It's kind of a dream assignment because the school is in a very affluent area, is well served by the parents, and is in a beautiful location in the hill country, to the west of downtown. The children are wonderful and the staff of the school uses our work well. The one difference this year is that some of the images we create will be printed quite large (think wall sized) and used as display art around the school. In the past the kids were the single most important part of all the photography; in this instance it will be a mix of people and interior design.

We have three days of photography scheduled and, since the additions are new to me, I asked if I could come out and scout. We did that on Weds. The new interiors are very well done. They are modern and open, with very "of the moment" furniture design and lighting fixtures. I'll be spending three full days there so I am also happy to report that the cafeteria food at this school is also well above average. 

With all the basic logistics figured out I sat down this morning to figure out the fun stuff: What to use as camera gear on the job. So, finally, a need for big files. Mostly available lighting, supplemented occasionally  by small flashes. A need for wide dynamic range and great low light performance as well as fast, sure focusing. And a lot of the shooting is dynamic and will be handheld. 

What's my plan?

The Nikon D750 is the perfect combination of features and performance. The D810 is better on paper but since I'll be doing a lot of handholding the extra pixels are sure to get lost in the kinetic mix. To move fast I'll use two D750's, set identically, but with a different lens on each camera. Just for grins I'll put a quick release plate on each body and bring a big, wooden monopod with me to provide a stable platform.  The small flashes are a no brainer and I won't waste time talking about them.

That leaves a selection of lenses. The fun stuff. The lenses are the singular part of every shoot that makes a bigger difference than the number of pixels on the sensor, or the brand on the front of the camera. I decided that this would be the perfect job for a two lens set up, complimented by a few bonus optics on standby, in the bag. 

First up, a wide angle solution. Hmmm. Research, research.... I narrowed down my choices and decided to go with the Sigma 24-35mm f2.0 Art lens. Not a very wide selection of focal lengths but all focal lengths that I use often and understand well. I rarely go wider than 24mm and by the time I crest 35mm I'm really ready to just move on and grab a 50mm. The 24-35mm is big and heavy but one stop down from wide open it's probably sharper than anything I've shot with since the old Leica days.

I put the lens on both camera bodies and made sure (with a LensAlign tool) that we didn't need to do any radical micro-adjusting to get a really sharp image and then I used the Visual Science Lab electron microscope to look at the latent photonics test image on the sensor to evaluate the combination's nano-acuity.  The melange passed with flying colors. Much sharper and higher performance than the Zeiss Otus 24-35mm Ostrich lens. Oh, that's right, they don't have a high speed, wide angle zoom... 

It seemed obvious to me that a perfect complement to the Sigma 24-35mm f2.0 Art lens would be the 50mm 1.4 Art lens. I just happened to have a copy which I just happened to have calibrated on both cameras yesterday evening, before dinner, so I dropped that into the bag as well. 

At that point I was seriously wishing Sigma would hurry up and introduce their 85mm f1.4 Art lens to round out the trinity of what should be every working photographers most used trio of optics but that hasn't happened yet. I'll put the Nikon 85mm f1.8 G on the camera and be pretty happy with the combination. But I'll keep my checkbook handy should those rascals over at Sigma get motivated...

The working combo is (at least starting out) going to be the wide zoom on one body and the 85mm on the other with the 50mm 1.4 Art and the Nikon 24-120mm f4.0 zoom in the bag. The 50mm because everyone should always try to use their 50mm for whatever they can, as God and HCB intended; and the 24-120mm for those times when image stabilization is just flat out highly recommended.

Since I'll be moving from class to class, and from building to playground to gym and back to the cafeteria, for six or eight hours a day for three days in a row, the other important consideration is to wear good walking shoes. And since the boys wear coats and ties to class I think I'll go with the sartorial flow and do so as well. That makes my shoe selection the Timberland Oxford classics. in cordovan. 

Now, how to pack? Hmmm. Seems like a situation for an Airport Security roller case from Think Tank. 

The icing on the cake? The school provides really good coffee to faculty, staff and photographers all day long. Seems like a good way to spend the better half of a week. We'll see how the gear selection survives initial contact with the assignment. 


Don Parsons said...

Yay! Sounds like fun.

Make sure to some for yourself.


David Farquhar said...

I was very happy when I read the first lines of this morning's blog. I obviously wasn't the only one who read through yesterday's well written exploration of the last 20 years or so with a trepidation that I'd get to the bottom and find you were stopping. 20 years is a long time though, and it would be surprising for any of us to find we were still the same person doing the same things we used to do back then. It made me think about how much my life has changed, way different to how my 20 years ago self would ever have expected, but not in ways I regret now.

Like Don said today's post sounds like a fun few days enjoy it

John C said...

This blog post is my favorite kind of blog post you write. Giving photographers insight into what gear you choose and how you choose for a photo shoot is invaluable. If you wanted to carry less, I am sure you know that the 750 can shoot in the dark and yet have total recovery of dark areas....but I realize that you are a lighting expert. I wonder if the day will come when the sensors reach a point where somebody with your wealth of knowledge about lights will think they have no problem with just coming to a shoot without any external lighting and rely on what God has given for natural light and Sony has given for the sensor.

John Krill said...

Let me guess it takes a day and half to get through Austin traffic.

Anonymous said...

I suppose I can see how this might be a dream assignment, Kirk, but in my experience (which is considerably less than yours) I've found the most interesting and challenging assignments to be those on the opposite end of the socioeconomic spectrum. And, these are by far the most rewarding. Capturing video and audio of youth trying to explain and come to terms with living in often desperate situations most will never realize, and seeing in their eyes and hearing in their voices the despair, but also the cautious glimmer of hope only youth can muster. The reward is realizing that by simply giving them a window to share their lives (and by extension an ear), and an opportunity to have a voice, they in some measure gain a vested interest in the community and world around them. In the process of engaging, we have also created an opportunity to share and provide options they might have otherwise never been made aware of. What we've discovered is that when these young people share, they are seeking insight as much as a desire to be heard. Wonderful stuff all around.

ajcarr said...


Good luck with the shoot, or to adapt a theatrical saying: 'Break a tripod leg.'

One question/suggestion for portraiture: have you ever thought of using the Zeiss Sonnar 1.5/50 on your Olympus MFT bodies (via an adaptor, obviously): you'd get the equivalent of a 100 mm lens with a depth of field equivalent to f/3 wide open, 35 mm full-frame, i.e., similar to your 105 mm Nikkor, but with that glow which comes from the Sonnar's under-corrected spherical aberration (which disappears as you stop down, but produces focus-shift, which is not an issue since you'd be focusing at taking aperture in an EVF). If you wanted to test the water, you could even find an old Soviet Jupiter-3 in LTM on eBay (which isn't a copy of the original Sonnar, but the thing itself, since in Dresden and Jena the Red Army impounded all of the manufacturing equipment and press ganged the technicians, moving the whole lot to the USSR)?

Best regards,


Huw Morgan said...

Great post Kirk! I've been shooting choirs and opera dress rehearsals lately and your insight on gear and approach is much appreciated. I'm a bit curious about the Sigma 24-35. I'm a Canon guy and the 24-70 Canon lens is rated just as sharp as the Sigma. What's the attraction about the 24-35? It seems a bit limited. I've been using the 16-35 F4 at the wide end and the 24-70 for medium tele shots. Both lenses are quite sharp on the 5ds. Am I missing something with the Sigma?

On another note, what do you use when the theater is less intimate. I've been shooting in large barns and have to resort to a 70-300.


Patrick Dodds said...

Re: coffee - I can't remember, are you still on the decaff?