Self Portrait near the painting booth. Matamoros, Mexico.

Happy to see that the self timer on my new camera works.

I spent Thursday doing post processing for my images from Matamoros. I shot everything as raw files in the Nikon D800 and ending up with 600+ huge photos. The photos got imported into Lightroom and had some shadows lifted, some highlights tamed, and most got little nudges and tweaks to the color. It's nice to have the full, 36 megapixel files when doing post processing but once you've gotten the file the way you want it I think most people who use commercial images are happy to get photographs that are about 6,000 pixels on the long side.

I set that as the output size and converted the photos to Jpegs using 96 as the quality setting. This results in files that weigh in at about 13-14 megabytes. Today I am post processing work I shot this morning on the main stage at Zach Theatre as full size, 7360 x 4912 pixel files. After conversion to Jpegs these weigh in around 22 megabytes of info per. This morning's shots will certainly be used in print, and also blown up large as Duratrans for exterior signage, and perhaps even used on life-size posters in the theater's lobbies. I'm sure that today's art director will welcome the extra information in this case.

I like doing my basic post processing as a quality check, and I like doing it the same day or the very next day because the feedback loop is so powerful. Every time you shoot and then look at the results you see what worked and what did not. Did you need more fill light? Less fill light? How's your focusing technique? Did you estimate the coverage of depth of field correctly enough to keep two actors, one standing a few feet in front of the other, in sharp focus? I was shooting full frame today and I'm coming from nearly a year of shooting M4:3 format so as I've buzzed through the files on the large screen I've cringed occasionally when I've looked through a series and seen how many I misinterpreted, in terms of depth of focus. But the feedback makes me aware of how I screwed up and how I need to proceed the next time I photograph in the same way. I find that I shoot enough frames, and focus frequently enough, so that there's always some good frames that hit the mark. But until I find them I get a little nervous....

I think one of the things that makes professional photographers more "fluid" or "visually efficient problem solvers" is the fact that they shoot much more, and much more often than most hobbyist shooters. A case in point is my work this week. I did a fast moving event on Tues. which required using on-camera flash. I tried to use all my little tricks (learned over several decades) to make the lighting work without the telltale artifacts of direct flash. I did a lot of bouncing from walls and ceilings. I shot all the speakers on the stage using the available light which required balancing to the color temperature of the stage lighting, and the process made me pay attention to the inevitable compromise between using higher ISO and getting too much noise in the files. In the course of two and a half hours I shot about 600 shots which I edited down that evening to about 400. Looking through showed me immediately how well I was doing with all the technical juggling required for event work.

I spent the next day walking around a working factory and shot in a reportage style, using a camera on a tripod but not setting up very many shots. Most were more or less "found." If you shoot and review a thousand images shot over the course of a day you'll quickly see that one angle works better than any other in terms of light. Some actions are too quick to catch with a non-flash rig.  If you do use flash this higher volume of on your feet shooting gets you to distill down the best filter pack to use on the flash in order to color balance it with the color of the ambient lights. "Working" a scene for a while nets you a better selection of expressions from camera shy subjects. You need to stop and eat lunch because you need the nutrition to help you keep your focus....

The near constant feedback loop quickly lets you know that you aren't the slow shutter speed, handholding god you thought you were. You also learn that perfectly sharp backgrounds, supplied by advanced image stabilization lenses, don't mean much if the subject movement in the frame makes your main subject unsharp!!!!!!! A lesson I keep learning over and over again. All praise the noble tripod.

Today we shot on the main stage at Zach Theatre. Two great actors.  I supplied the lighting. We lit with six LED fixture; two into a 6x6 foot diffuser for soft fill, two into 42 inch flex fills for soft main lighting, and two as background/accent lights. Why did we use LEDs? Why continuous lights for stage shots? Easy answer: the entire still photography shoot (done for marketing and advertising) was being filmed on multiple video cameras by a video production company that is working with the theatre to create a program about the "making" of the play that will open at the end of the month. I figured that weak modeling lights in electronic flash units would make the filming more difficult and I also like the WYSIWYG nature of continuously light sources. Finally, we were trying to make the images look as though they came from a stage-lit shooting situation. I shot about 450 shots over the course of several hours while a giant storm raged outside the theater. I edited down to 325 to send along to the client. My feedback loop here was all about calculating the minimum shutter speed needed to freeze my subjects enough to make sharp images that would stand up to magnifications up to life-size size. Examining the files after the fact showed me that, on a tripod, and with medium focal length lenses, I could get away with shutter speeds in the 50th-125th range and stay nicely sharp. Getting near the lower end of the range I shot more frames to cover myself.

In all I've shot through over 2,000 frames this week, almost all with one cameras and mostly with one lens. I've looked, in a cursory way, at every single frame and I've looked in depth at over 1,000 frames that I touched in some regard during my post processing phase.

If you want to learn the craft all the way down to the subconscious level you might think of shooting several hundred frames per day, in all kinds of shooting environments, for all kinds of final uses, and then sit down after every shoot and examine everything you just did in detail. And do this every day.

In fact, maybe I should do a workshop in which all we do is shoot assignment after assignment and then sit in a quiet, dark room and review every salvageable single frame. The workshop would be over when the last student loses patience with me and storms out. But that's okay because I'll be back the next day doing the same evaluation and post processing on the next shoot. And then writing a blog about it so I'll have an additional resource to remind me later of exactly what I've done and how to do it better the next time....

I have a day off tomorrow. I think I'll go out and shoot.

P.S. Editing is the act of removing frames from the folder which you do not want to post process, just as editing in movie making means cutting out frames you don't want to use and tossing them. Editing: the process of shortening and clarifying through distillation or discard. Post processing is the act of changing the frames you've already chosen to keep. Post processing includes color correction, tonal correction, shadow lifting, highlight salvation, and anything else that you do AFTER you've edited down your take. Because you only make your post processing moves on frames you've chosen in your EDIT. 


EdPledger said...

Just an Amen to the “not the slow shutter speed hand holding god” comment. One gets spoiled by IBIS, as I have learned with my recent purchases of nostalgic non-stabilized bodies. Like you, treading water on new equipment awaiting the next wave of innovation...if there is one. Hopefully y’all made it through the downpours...

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

It rained like crazy this morning. The gauge at the house says we got nearly 4 inches in about 2 hours!!! I was in the main theater at Zach Theatre and we could hear the rain pounding on the roof and the wind whipping around. I had to dodge a low water crossing on the way home. But when I got to the house everything was good. No damage. No trees down. No water in the studio. A big sigh of relief.