Out into the un-Austin parts of Texas to photograph for a radiology practice. Kinda fun.
One of the interesting challenges for photographers who shoot a lot for medical practices is that presented by M.R.I. machines. These diagnostic machines create incredibly powerful magnetic fields that can strip the information off your credit card mag strip in microseconds. They can be dangerous. Any object that is ferrous can become a deadly projectile if it's inside the room with an active MRI scanner. Especially with the new, more powerful 3T generation of scanners. From a strictly photographic perspective the real issue is that you CAN'T take a camera into the scanner room and you certainly can't take lights and stands into the area with you. Anything you do to better photograph the newest MRIs will have to be done from beyond the doorway, or when the machine is off.
Here's the problem with turning off an MRI scanner: turning it back on and getting it back up and running can cost nearly $100,000. Yikes! You don't want to be the guy who takes one of these medical diagnostic machines offline... And if you did happen to find a current MRI scanner that was down and could be accessed for a photo shoot you wouldn't have the benefit of the wonderful "running" lights and illuminated information panels that add the polish to the pictures.
Our first series of shots on Saturday morning were, of course, the new 3T MRI scanner at a clinic in Kyle, Texas. Since this was not my first rodeo with radiology I knew not to go past the MRI door alarms with things like my cellphone in a pocket, my good watch on my wrist or my wallet full of super high (ha, ha!) credit limit credit cards on my person. I didn't wear those Red Wing boots with the steel toes and I double checked to make sure none of my dental fillings were cast iron.
I took these precautions because I knew the first thing I'd be doing on Saturday morning would be cleaning and straightening all the stuff that piles up around these giant machines so I would not have clutter in my finished photographs. There was an angle from the door way that allowed me to capture the whole machine in a frame and I used the 8-18mm lens on a camera about three feel back from the door way to make a "portrait" of the MRI scanner. It was during this first shot that I realized how much I depend on just a blush of light to make a photograph work. Since I couldn't put lights in the room and was relegated to just using the existing fluorescent "can" lights in the room I tried all the tricks one can find on modern cameras, including the built in HDR which went a long way towards taming the shadows.
The real issue was when the clients wanted to construct portraits of the technicians who operate the scanners, in the room with the scanner. Again, since I couldn't light the portraits in any style I fell back on trying to position the techs so the light from the cans didn't fall on them directly but was, in a sense, a feathered penumbra of light. At our first stop we photographed our models having regular scans and also biopsy scans. We had a resident expert on protocol with us so we wouldn't make any of the gaffs that sometimes occur. My favorite (self-deprecatating) medical faux pas (a long time ago) was to photograph an operating room scene in which the anesthesiologist had on neither gloves nor a face mask..... He was a real anesthesiologist so I thought he would know his way around the O.R..... (never assume).
We moved on from there to sonograms, mammography and various other modalities of diagnostic breast imaging. We used, mostly, Godox flashes on lightweight stands which could be controlled from the camera position. Two bounced off the acoustic tile ceilings and, typically, one used as a main light coming from a side angle and modified with a 60 inch photographic umbrella.
There wasn't anything technical to slow us down but there is always a molasses effect when using amateur talent and that involves their self-consciousness at being directed and photographed and their inevitable attempts to use humor to compensate. The marketing mission is always to project confidence from the people in the photographs and, usually, a big grin is antithetical to the serious gravity that a medical practice, which is based on ferreting out cancers and other life threatening issues, wants to portray to the public.
All you can really do is let the giggles and group dynamic run its course. That, and take a lot of images in the hopes of wearing down the grinning facades and replacing them with an almost tired resignation. Best case scenario is the medical tech that arrives in newly pressed scrubs, has no visible tattoos and has a confident bearing. One on a tight time schedule is even better as there is less playful banter and less messing around.
I worked on this project, with master assistant, Amy Smith, all day Saturday. We did about 25 set ups and shoot promiscuously in order to get just the right expressions, no blinks and good synergy between our model "patients" and our volunteer techs. By the time we wrapped up I'd shot about 1,400 raw frames and was on my third battery. Batteries go quicker when the camera's live preview is always on, but having a good, live preview means the client can always see and approve images as we go along.
In the early hours I tried to press my new, fast lenses (Sigma 30mm f1.4 and Rokinon 50mm f1.2) into service but in nearly every case it was important to show context --- or at least the expensive machines which were the subtext for our project. This meant we wanted sharp focus on faces and acceptable focus on our machines. The back walls could take care of themselves.
The two lenses that made life easy for me were, of course, the Olympus 12-100mm f4.0, and the Panasonic 8-18mm. Each had an important place in the process. But towards the end of the day I started feeling as though I could have done everything with the 12-100mm and not bothered to bring along the backpack with the rest of the lenses. To be able to go from a wide shot of an exam room with a bed, a scanner and two people to a tight shot of a biopsy needle held by a gloved hand was great. Even better was that at either end of the focal length spectrum the lens delivered sharp results.
We packed up around 5:00pm and headed back to Austin through the gray of a cool and overcast winter day. It was nice to work with Amy again. She was instrumental starting about a decade ago in helping me organize the photography for all five of my photography books and sourcing talent for the illustrations required. She's been working with more video and film directors lately so I hope to incorporate her into future film projects.
I'm not used to being assisted that much these days but it's really great to have a second set of eyes on the set looking for visual trouble and squashing it quickly.
If there is anything I'll change in our next radiology encounter it will be to use our Atomos Ninja Flame monitor to do our previews on. The bigger screen, which is able to be calibrated, would come in handy for aiding clients in seeing what the finals will really look like.
We're back at work here. I was working on a video edit all day yesterday and I sent it to my client for review last night around 11:30. I got notes back at noon today and, as always, I'm trying to figure out how to get it to shrink from 4 minutes to 2 minutes. Some sort of magic trick involved? We'll get out that editing knife and see what can be cut....
The raw files from the GH5 are beautiful and the rendering of flesh tones is nearly perfect. I have a little card in my camera case to remind me of the best ways to fine tune files. Always white balance each scene first and then figure out exposure. Changing white balance after setting exposure can cause the effects of exposure to change. Focus on faces when in the scene, at all other times focus one third of the way into the scene and calculate depth of field to cover.
one other note: I played with a Panasonic G9 recently and love the new viewfinder. Am currently considering (but have not decided) to trade in my G85 and get one of the new cameras. Might just be a waste of time, money and energy but....