Musing about last Saturday's photo assignment where the critical parameter (as usual) was the lighting.

This shot is here to illustrate what I write about in the blog below. 
It is not a "finished" "polished" portfolio piece. You didn't pay for that.
We'll fine tune and enhance the final image that the client chooses from 
this set up. We don't routinely polish everything that gushes out of the camera.
There's not enough time for that. But I think this illustrates a point 
I'm trying to make below.

GH5+Olympus 12-100mm f4.0 Pro.

Amy and I were on location by 9:00 a.m. on Saturday morning. We were shooting another radiology clinic in Austin, Texas. Our shot list was ample but that's par for most image catalog shoots these days. These kinds of assignments can be done with just about any good interchangeable lens camera made in the past few years, anything from 16 megapixels to 50 megapixels will work fine. And based on the metadata associated with the files the quality of the lenses you use is a lot more important that the advertising impressive fast apertures. Most of our shooting through the day was done with a wide ranging zoom and it was used almost exclusively at f4.0. That's not f1.4, that's f4.0.

But the unforgiving piece in every scene is the lighting. Nearly every room we worked in had a combination of fluorescent lights, each with their own unique color characteristics and light properties. The long, ceiling mounted tubes gave off a softer, greener light, with a mix of blue. The compact fluorescent bulbs in the recessed ceiling cans had a deep yellow cast to them. Mix them together and you've got a real Rubik's cube of a color puzzle to solve.

The worst set of problems come when you need to photograph a scene like the one above in which you are showcasing an MRI machine. An MRI creates a very, very powerful magnetic field which requires the room in which it sits to be shielded. It also means that any ferrous metal isn't allowed anywhere in the room. The magnetic field is strong enough to wipe out your camera's memory cards and can also damage both the imaging sensor circuits in your camera, as well as the electro-magnets that drive the shutters and aperture blades in modern cameras.

We could not put lights in the room and we had to shoot from just outside the door which isn't the best recipe for composing a great image!

Our strategy was to figure out the dominant light temperature within the room and then supplement, through the doorway and via the heavily screened observation window about eight feet to the right of the camera position. The overwhelming majority of the existing light in the room was about 3,000K with a small dose of green. In most situations (those without MRI machines to deal with...) we'd just turn off the room lights and re-light the room with flash, or our choice of continuous light. But turning off the room lights in this situation meant that the back half of the room would go dark, which would look unnatural.

I filtered a strobe with a 3200K correction gel and put the strobe into a 24x36 inch softbox, positioning it near the top of the doorway, about three feet above the camera. Then we took one of our battery powered LEDs, covered it with the same gel material and aimed it through the observation window. The combination did a decent job lighting our two techs and their "patient" but there is more we can do in post to enhance the photo. We'll select the people and get their flesh tones into a pleasing color range and then inverse our selections and balance the light in the room a bit more. But the filters and the additional light went a long way toward cleaning up a visual catastrophe.

During the day it became (once again) very clear to me that the lighting in situations like this is nearly always more important and harder to achieve than getting the camera gear right. In retrospect I could have shot all day long with one GH5 and one 12-100mm f4.0 zoom lens but over the course of the same day we used five different flashes and three different LED panels in order to get a natural and pleasing look to the light in each scene.

Had we brought a $100,000 Phase One medium format camera and no lighting we would have been much less successful. Color balance works the same across all formats. Mixed light nearly always needs to be corrected. With no lights and a super high res camera we'd have many highly detailed unusable files to play with. Conversely, I could have brought along that old Nikon D2XS and some ancient, manual focus Nikon lenses and, together with a box of strobes, could have done photographic work that would fit into the use envelope of my client, regardless of the media selected for final output.

Everyone seems to couch their shooting needs in terms of camera capabilities but in the commercial field it's generally lighting that rules the day. You can spend a fortune on a great camera and I'll concede that with the same lighting you'll make images that are fractionally better than images made with a lesser spec'd camera. The differences might not make any visual difference at all in most uses; for instance if the images are to be used on websites or inserted into video programming, etc. But for most of the work I do, which is profitable and fun, there is no need for fast frame rates, no need for super high ISO performance, and no need for spectacular resolution. There is always a need for good lighting even if it's just to clean up the lighting inconsistencies of a tough room.

We used a collection of cheap speed lights to do our work on Saturday. Nothing over $150 per light. All of the flashes could be sync'd to radio triggers or slaved from each other. Having five (an investment of about $700) meant I could put them in small places and add light to areas that needed more light without running cables. We use the lights in the same modifiers we've bought for our bigger mono-lights. Softboxes, umbrellas, diffusion disks; you name it.

One thing we lean on a lot is the intertwined use of LEDs with the small flashes. Most mono-light have tungsten modeling lights and when we need to drag the shutter in a combination flash and ambient light exposures used to make the screens on computers or the panel lights on machines glow correctly we get tungsten contamination in our daylight leaning shots. But it's nice to have a modeling light as a work light for focusing. It's common practice for us now to just grab a daylight balanced LED and bounce it off a ceiling, or even off the front end of the modifier we're using for flash. We get the focusing benefits of a modeling light and no color contamination of our mostly daylight flash exposure. Nice when it all works together...

During most of the day I worked the camera around ISO 200 and ISO 400. Using a smaller format meant I could use wider apertures and still get the depth of field I needed to get both techs, patients and machines in acceptable focus. All of our lighting units and modifiers fit into one, big rolling case and, since the battery powered strobes are small and light, we were able to use smaller, lighter light stands which helped us keep our overall footprint smaller and the overall weight load lighter.

Generally, on locations, the use of the camera is never a puzzle or mystery. Use the lens that gets you the composition you want and you are good. Lighting is a totally different story. Some rooms are filled with reflective surfaces that have to be tamed. Lights have to be placed just right for best effect, and all of it has to be balanced so nothing sticks out and beats our viewing audience over the head.

Think you need a kick ass camera? Think again; what you really might need are some kick ass lighting skills. Nine time out of ten it's the lighting that makes you the money.

At the end of the day we'd done 36 different shots (nine locations with variations in each) and amassed 1585 raw files. I can't think of a single shot on which I did not use at least two lights. Usually three or more. We edited the take down to about 600 and delivered the online gallery on Monday. This was our third day of shooting for this client in the last 30 days. We are scheduling additional shoots for this client in April. We must be doing something right.... maybe it's the lighting...


Closing in on that magical time of the year here in Austin. It's time for SXSW; the music, film, education and tech conference. Two weeks of .....

"South by," as it is referred to by locals, started out as a straightforward music festival during which bands from across Texas, and then across the U.S. and now around the world, made their way to Austin, Texas to play for free (or next to nothing) in hundreds of clubs and temporary venues in the hope of being discovered. When the festival started to expand the owners looked to other industries to expand the audiences (and the sale of pricey wristbands). 

Consensus is that the event has peaked. The cool kids find it about as attractive as a sunny Saturday afternoon at a local shopping mall and even the corporations are starting to glom to the fact that the overall festival has gone from trendy to Sears and Roebuck. 

But that doesn't deter the event's owners and promoters who seem to understand that even boring, plodding, participants from the downward side of  the coolness Belle Curve can spend money prodigiously and, since most of the content is more or less free to the producers, why would they stop now? No such thing as leaving on a high note in what used to be the music biz.....

But for anthropologists/photographers there is still a lot to like about the next two weeks (my take is that the official start is March 9th. Yes, there is an education segment to the conference that starts this week but it's a newer add-on and I don't think it really counts...). 

Over the next two weeks the clubs in downtown, along Sixth St. and in the Rainey St. district will be packed with bands playing everything from vintage punk to new age polka. Rabid or vapid fans will be swirling through the street oblivious to traffic as they stay up to speed on schedules via their cellphones which will never veer more than two feet from their faces.

Photographers will head downtown to photograph this year's variations off youth culture, music culture and some will brave the lines to see the good and bad movies that are part of the festival. Like participants in the stock market a tiny sliver of the attendees will actually make connections that will help their careers, everyone else will end up subsidizing national hotel chains, scrounging for free beer and finger food and generally waiting in long lines for crappy entertainment they would never have wanted to pay for at home. All at about $1200 per person for the generic wristband. 

Me? Yeah, I've watched SXSW grow from an extension of the native music scene to a city clogging world event so I'll head down as I have the time to see if there is anything interesting I can shoot for posterity. Maybe I'll catch some K-pop. Meet the next Spielberg. Rub shoulders with the next Fedex-shipping-dog food-delivery-online-start-up. Oh shades of 1999.

The camera of choice for me is usually something smaller and lighter but still capable of good stills and very good video. This year it's probably going to be the Panasonic G85 with the kit lens and a nice little microphone sitting in the hot shoe. I'll remember to pack a couple of ND filters. And to get into the center of downtown along with Austin's temporary 70,000 new hipsters I'll definitely be riding down there on the city bus. Parking a car is so last decade....

Maybe I'll see you down there on Saturday after the noon workout and the coffee klatch. Could be groovy. Want to fit in? Gain a lot of weight and wear a lot of black along with a really crappy pair of sunglasses. 

And don't forget to bring along your corporate mascots....

An Apt Reprint from 2012 about "professional" gear. Fun looking backward......

You can't use that. It's not professional.

This is a homemade florescent bank.  We cobbled it together to use it as a fill light in a giant data center that was all lit with similar florescent tubes.  It worked great.  The images were exactly what the client wanted.  It worked better than thousands of dollars of filtered flash would have.  It cost less than fifty bucks.  It's held together with tape and bungie cords.  There are chunks of cardboard that separate the tubes.  It's not pretty it just works.

Marketing works harder at sucking the individuality out of art and life better than just about anything else except poverty.  When you are poor you have to use what you have at hand.  But when you have enough pocket change rattling around you can get sucked into the whirlpool of "how the professionals do it."  And pretty soon you'll be shooting just like everyone else.

I wrote a column for Michael Johnston's blog, TheOnlinePhotographer, that ran on Sunday.  In it I talked about the Panasonic/Leica 25mm Summilux lens for the micro four thirds systems.  One commenter asked, in so many words, how I could convince clients that "Kirk+G3 = Professional?"
(The G3: referencing a < $550 small sensor camera).

This comes up in every facet of being a working photographer.  It's all based on looking in the rear view mirror of working life. How we did things a decade ago.  That's how it seeps into the current idiom.  The truth is that there's no longer any even imaginary line between what tools are professional and which ones are just screaming fun.  Now that the overwhelming target space for our "visual genius" is the iPhone screen or the website viewed in a coffee shop on a 15 inch laptop the metaphorical sky is the limit.  Not the number or provenance of our pixels.

Here's how I think of the whole subject...

Old school "pro" computer = The big tower with multiple processors and the giant monitor. The rationale: Big files demand fast processors.  The speed saves me time and money...

The reality = Most photographers would find the latest i7 equipped laptops screamin' fast.  And cheaper.  I ditched big computers in 2007 and I've never looked back.  My office set up right now?  A 13 inch Apple MacBook Pro with an i5 processor hooked to a 24 inch monitor.  Runs fast and works well.  

Old school "pro" camera = Canon 1 series, Nikon D3 series.  According the the experts who don't make money taking photographs any camera used by a "pro" must be weatherproofed, watersealed, shoot at 10 frames per second, have a shutter that will last far longer than their interest in said camera, and the camera must be made out of many pounds of metal strong enough to endure re-entry from outer space and impact with the Sonoran Desert at terminal velocity.  In the current space the camera must also have tons and tons of pixels.

The reality = Given that 80 percent of the images go to the web, that very few people make prints anymore and that ever advancing digital technology makes camera bodies more or less disposable there are tons and tons of people getting paid for making images with Canon Rebels, Sony nex5's and other small and delicious cameras.  The size of the body is meaningless as an evaluation of final quality in use.  My current small cameras spank the big, expensive cameras of yesteryear and our clients aren't really pestering us for anything better or more "spec'd."  Twelve megapixels is still the sweet spot for most work from a size/quality paradigm and sixteen megapixels is huge. 

Bulletproof?  The only two cameras I've had that required major service (or any service at all) have been a Canon 1 series camera with a defective circuit board and a Nikon D300 that backfocused everything in the universe.  The smaller, cheaper cameras?  In my small, anecdotal survey?  Much more reliable.

I'll trade face detection autofocus with eye preference over extra seals every day.  Makes my job easier.  Makes the focus better.  If I spent my days in San Diego, dedicated to photographing the Navy Seals in action I'd probably want an "everything proofed" camera but most photographers I know shoot in offices and in cushy suburban neighborhoods. 

I prefer using the micro four thirds cameras when it's appropriate.  They're more fun.  And, for most of the stuff I do the images are just great.  If you shoot sports you need something different.  But that's one of those YMMV things.  For ad guys the whole live view thing is a wonderful.  Do I need an optical view finder? Only to impress my hobbyist friends.

Old School "pro" lenses = The pervasive idea is big, fat, white zoom lenses with f-stops of 2.8 and lots and lots of knobs. Or big, fat primes with gold or red rings around the barrels. Heavy, weatherproofed and beknighted with a string of letters like ASPH, ED, UD, IF, and of course, LLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL.

Reality? =  While I've got some bigger lenses in a drawer somewhere the stuff I use looks more like fun stuff.  I like little zooms like the 14-45mm zoom I have on my G3.  Or the 14-42mm zoom I have on my EP3.  If I'm lighting stuff the apertures are fast enough.  If I'm outside the lenses are always fast enough.  If I need better I switch to cute little prime lenses (at a third the cost of their bigger cousins)  with apertures that are just as fast as the "pro" lenses but give me a little more focus coverage because of their shorter focal lengths.  But more importantly not having to carry all the prestige around with me leaves me more energy to explore and be nice.

Old School "Pro" lights = Profoto.  Big boxes. Big monolights.  Lots of big accessories.  Many stands.  Lots of sandbags.  Lots of assistants to hold everything together.  In fairness though I should mention that the great middle of the professional market has transitioned to plastic flashes from Paul Buff without too much grumbling.  

Reality? = Most of the images I see could be made with a couple of $100 speedlights and a couple of slave cells.  My five figure project in December was done entirely with three LED panels (maybe $1,000 total).  You light with what you need.  Most pros have a small set of electronic flashes, some portable flashes and a few fun lights like LEDs or florescents.  If you need more you rent more.  The real art is knowing when to turn most of it off...

This pro versus amateur thing is so silly.  When I talk to guys who've been doing it for years I hear the same story over and over again.  They started taking photos with a (fill in the blank/advanced amateur camera) simple, basic camera, shot lots and lots of fun stuff that people really liked.  Went "pro" and bought all the trappings and then spent the next twenty years trying to get back to that simpler time. Why? Because everyone, including themselves, loved the images from the time when the pictures were about the idea or the emotion instead of the magnesium alloy and product positioning.

Remember the early cellphones? Remember when you owned the Motorola "brick"?  Was that more professional than an iPhone?  Could it do as much?

Remember the Buick Electra?  Remember when you owned that Suburban? Was it better transportation than your Mini Cooper or your Outback?

"Professional" is such a lovely advertising buzzword because it connotes acceptance of a defined standard. But what is professional video in the time of the Canon 5Dmk2 or the Panasonic GH2?  Is it still a $50,000 Sony Betacam?  Will it matter on Youtube?  Does it matter on Vimeo?  What if the smaller cameras create files that looks just as good? Or better?  Now you can afford to be a videographer.  Now more people can afford to be photographers.  All they need to supply is intelligence, taste and elbow grease.

In medicine and law "professional" means more training, not more gear.  

Old School Photographer = We conjure up the hip guy in black with a warehouse full of studio space, surrounded by high power popping flashes in enormous umbrellas telling hot models to pout with more energy.  The guy is surrounded by legions of assistants.  Some look at big screens as the photographer shoots.  Some shout out encouragement.  Some flirt with the hot client.  Some flirt with the coterie of hot models waiting in the wings.  Some flirt with each other.  All wait breathlessly for the magic.  All vie to be the next one to hold the prestigious medium format camera.  All wear their black baseball caps backwards. It's only for webcasts, only for TV.  Only for the movies...

The Reality? = For most it's a process of daily marketing, a trip to a client's store or factory or restaurant to shoot.  Setting up a few lights.  Taking good photographs.  Billing reasonable amounts and delivering images that will help to move a client's products and services.  Sometimes they'll bring along an assistant to help carry some gear up the inevitable stairs or across the parking lot.  Headshots in our smaller and efficient studios.  The day-to-day needs of local commerce.

Back to the original question.  Most clients who know the difference between professional camera models are themselves deeply interested in photography and would have shot their own products or people but they needed you to do so because something needed to be lit or people needed to be posed or the client could belay their ego and admit that you routinely found better compositions than they would have and they were willing to pay for your services.

If they know nothing about the nuts and bolts of photography they probably hired you because they went to your website and looked and saw what they needed to see and have/had a reasonable expectation that you'd deliver a similar and satisfactory product.  They didn't see your camera or your lights or your computer when they hired you.  Nor (I hope) did you bring the gear along to your pre-production meeting.  If you want to be considered professional your first obligation is to deliver at least to the level that you advertise on your website.  And the kind of gear you need in order to be able to do that is something that's up to you.  My wife is a graphic designer.  She couldn't care less what camera or lens I use on her jobs.  The final tally is binary.  I got the image she wanted or I didn't.  End of story.

Professional is how you act and deliver, not something you lug around over your shoulder.


A quiet exercise in old camera appreciation.

I worked late on a video last night. Got home around 10:30pm and still had a couple hours of post production to wade through. The video shoot went like clockwork. It was tiring though because I had to pay attention to everything all the way through the run of the play. Monitoring two cameras and following the main actor with one of the cameras means never pausing to actually enjoy the performance. 

At any rate I survived and delivered files this morning after swim practice. I returned e-mails and calls and made myself a lunch and then prepared for my one p.m. call. I was on the line for an hour with a wealth advisor taking care of the boring part of being an adult and owning my own business. I had a weird feeling about the markets recently and decided to move sufficient money into CDs to allow me to sleep through the night. We also fine-tuned some diversification/asset allocation. After that I had to dutifully give full details to the CFO of my company and family. (Literal readers, by CFO I really mean my spouse who is, literally, much more adept at money and numbers than me...).

When we finally wrapped up I was shot, spent, tired, and felt like I'd just spent a week working overtime in a cubicle (apologies to any reader who works in a cubicle. It was a metaphor...).  What better antidote to maturity and responsibility is there than a nice, late afternoon walk through the downtown areas of my favorite city? It was 68 degrees and the skies were central Texas blue. 

I've felt a bit sheepish all week long about having wasted good money on the used Nikon D2XS so, of course, that's the camera I grabbed to take along with me. I'll tell you right off the bat that it's at least twice the weight of a GH5 with a similar optic on the front. My lens of choice this afternoon was the cheap 50mm f1.8 Nikon AF lens I picked up last week (adding financial insult to injury). It's a very decent lens from f2.8 to f8.0 or f11 but then what lens isn't?

As you can see from the image above I've been playing around with the black and white mode which was one of the features I think was added in the upgrade from the X to the XS. It's nice. The screen on the back doesn't do the files justice but they looks pretty in Lightroom, especially if you lean on the contrast slider a bit. Don't bother adding sharpness; they already have sufficient bite...

My goal was 10% about getting a decent little handful of photos and 90% about walking around without a schedule, a deadline, an assignment or a self-imposed goal. It's been a tough year for me as far as family goes and after losing my mom and getting my father situated in memory care it's been all I can do to get business done and then drop myself on the couch at the end of the day where I sometimes just fall asleep curled up with Studio Dog. This walk was the first one done in nice, sunny weather in weeks and the combination of bustling sidewalk traffic, clean, clear sunlight and 60 degree temperatures worked miracles on my recently re-acquired stress and anxiety. 

But what about that darn camera? Deja Vu. It's big and heavy. The rear screen sucks hard. But it focuses like a bat out of hell and the files are rich and satisfying. I remember why it was I had such fond memories of my first ownership of this camera model. In it's time the handling was state of the art. And, at ISO 100 and 200 its image quality might still give current cameras a run for their money. While its 12 megapixels might not give you the micro detail of the new generation of 40+ megapixel cameras I remember an article about "shot discipline" written by Ming Thein wherein he made the point that if you are using a camera handheld, in the street, you'll probably never exceed the image resolution that one gets at 12 megapixels and, that at higher megapixel densities shot discipline (technique) becomes ever more important. Perhaps 12 megapixels won't satisfy every situation but he made a good case for the many, many times that 12 megapixels is optimal. 

Here are a few shots I made shooting the camera at ISO 400, straight to Jpeg. I think it's a marvelous camera as far as images go and I'm trying right now to figure out how to integrate it into our shoot at a radiology clinic tomorrow, along with our GH5's. Maybe I'll bring it along as a "behind the scenes" black and white documentary camera. I've done crazier things.....

Hope your week was as productive as mine --- but a lot less stressful. Hope Mike Johnston can dig himself out of the snow banks! Hope Ben is staying warm in Saratoga Springs. 

I'll end by saying "I'm just an average intelligence, working photographer but I'm happy I've re-allocated some of my meager assets to cash (literally: CDs)". It will be interesting to see what the markets do in the next few weeks. I guess we've never touched on the topic of personal finance here on the blog before. I've always assumed that most of my readers are much more adept at finance than am I. But maybe this will open up some discussion. I'll admit that I vacillate between having a medium to low risk tolerance. Your mileage probably varies. Where do you think the market is going?

Will we be happily buying medium format digital cameras next month or boiling our leather camera straps to make soup? 

The famous electrical pole. With old fashion dust spots in the sky. (Left in for nostalgia. Yes literal readers I do know how to remove them with the cloning tool or the spot healing tool in PhotoShop.....and, no, this image is not intended as a marketing tool aimed a paying clients).

Last night's last minute video assignment. 200 Gigabytes later.....

The camera and lens are the same ones I used last night, as are the headphones but
I used different tripods and also the new DMW-XLR1 audio adapter. Added for literal readers. 

I got an e-mail late Wednesday asking if I could help ZACH Theatre out with a video project the next day. We had stuff booked through the midday but the request was to make a two camera, video documentation of the current production of, "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time" on the main stage. The theatre needed archival footage to satisfy their usage contract. 

I got the message as I was walking into the house at 9:30 pm after shooting all afternoon and evening at a radiology clinic. I responded that I could do the project but would not have the bandwidth to also edit or do post production. "No Problem." was the response. They just needed the raw footage of the show from two different cameras; one for a wide, static shot of the stage and a second one to follow action on the stage. I started a quick job folder so I could make a list of the things I'd need to take along and what sort of pre-prep my gear might need. 

Usually I shoot things like this during the last rehearsals and I like to use external Atomos monitors so I can really see the frames clearly which helps me achieve better focus and is even more helpful with nailing exposure. We would be shooting this project with a sold out house and I would be on the cross through row in the middle of the middle of the house. This meant that there would be paying clients behind and in front of me. We had the house manager take out three seats so I could position two cameras on two tripods. The row behind me starts the upper half of the seating configuration so their floor is at about my shoulder level when I'm seated behind the cameras. Still, I knew the bright Atomos screens would be unacceptable for most of the audience behind me. Sadly, I had to leave them at home...

Pre-prep for something like this mostly means putting all the gear on the list onto a table in the studio and making sure it's work-worthy. Since we need to shoot with two cameras we'll need an extra set of batteries. All the batteries need refresher or full charges. I generally use a third set of batteries in the camera while setting up the menus for specific shooting so I don't start with a partially drained battery in camera. I pull the caps off both cameras, grab a loupe and inspect the sensor for dust. If there's any foreign material on the sensor I use a bulb blower to dislodge it. While I don't recommend doing it I have, on occasion, used canned air to blast something off a sensor but I'm very careful to hold the can level...

If we pack monitors I make sure there are ample batteries and two back-up HDMI cables. 

If I'm using tripods I make sure the quick release plates are attached and the correct tripod screws are resident on the plates. Can't tell you how depressing it is to pull out a tripod only to find that the last user (probably me) left the plate with a 3/8th inch connector attached instead of a needed 1/4 inch connector....

I finished by earlier photographic jobs and packed for the video job with my inventory list in hand. 

I arrived at the Theater two hours before the start of the show, just in case. I set up both GH5 cameras putting the (adored) 12-100mm f4.0 Pro Olympus lens on one and the 40-150mm f2.8 Pro Olympus lens on the other. Both cameras were set to MP4 at 100 mbs, 1080p, 10 bit, 422 color space. The cameras and their attendant V90 memory cards are capable of writing 400 mbs All-I files at 10 bit and 422 but since I wouldn't be editing the material I defaulted to a file size I knew would not be problematic for the editor. 

The camera with the wide zoom was my stationary camera and it was the one on which I put the Panasonic audio adapter. The sound engineers had dropped an XLR cable from the sound booth to my location so it plugged right into the adapter. Important to note that the sound coming off the main mixer (usually) is a higher line level signal. If you run that signal into an input that's looking for a microphone signal you'll almost certainly overload the input and the audio you end up with will sound distorted and crappy. Set you're switch to "line in" instead of "mic." 

The second camera, the one with the longer zoom, got its own microphone in the hotshoe. This provided a sound track that would make it easy to sync footage between the two cameras in editing.

Once the cameras were set the sound engineers played the loudest pre-recorded cue that they would send to me during the evening. I set levels for that and noted the dial position. We then had a quick dialogue rehearsal which showed me where I should set the average level. This is important because in a two camera set up I can't follow action with the longer lens on one camera and set sound levels on a second camera simultaneously. As a back-up the entire audio of the show was recorded from the main mixer in the sound booth by the engineers. 

I then asked to see the lighting cue that was used the most during the show. The lighting designer got a cue up for me and I had a crew member from the theater hold up a white card dead center in the stage. The lights, LEDs with filters, gave a reading of 4600K with a negligible hue shift. I also checked the follow spot and it was balanced within 100K of our average lighting cue as well. 

White balance set. Camera set to show green focus peaking outlines. Exposure and focus set to "M." 

The final step before the start of the show was to balance the fluid head with the "following" lens. Having a well balanced video head makes for smoother moves but if I was too ham-fisted in any one spot we could always cut to one of the wide shots as b-roll. 

Now my job was to start the cameras and then follow the main action with tight framing on the camera with the longer zoom. The first act is about 1:15:00 and the action moves continuously. That means the camera and the focus also move continuously (and as smoothly as I can possibly manage).

I was using 128 GB V90 cards which, based on the shooting codec, would give me about 2:45:00 of shooting time. The two acts combined were about 2:15:00. No worries there. The batteries were both still showing 2/3 full at the intermission but I had the luxury of just putting in fresh batteries and that also meant one less thing to worry about in the final act. 

After the early swim practice (Yay!!!!!!) this morning I got to work transferring the files to a small, milspec hard drive. Each camera card clocked in at about 100 Gigabytes for a total of just under 200. I'm happy I won't be the one editing this project. I think the render time will be agonizing....

I delivered the work on the hard drive to the Theatre offices this morning and sent out an invoice an hour later. Now comes the gear post production during which we pull everything out of cases and charge all the batteries. I don't want to take chances with gear as we have a full day of still photography shooting schedule at a location tomorrow for another client. I can finally say that it's a busy start to the year.

Go video. 

On a related front, the Stephanie Busing Video has been well received and tallied a little over 10,000 views during the first five days of life on Facebook and YouTube. The client is very, very happy and ready to enter into discussions about the next project. Fun with stuff that moves. See the video in a previous, recent blog. 

I must not write very clearly. Someone yesterday interpreted our blog post about stand-ins to be a professional portfolio presentation of my work and not a behind the scenes look at process. I need to write better or a commenter needs to read better.

The "Jenga" Building in Downtown Austin.

People are so painfully literal. It seems that every time I post an article about how I did something photographic, or how I set up a shot in video, I get someone who writes in with the "tsk. tsk." patronizing tone to let me know that "this is not your best work...." "it's a really mediocre portrait" "I expected more...."  I should develop a thicker skin but people who read blogs should develop better reading skills. 

So, I just want to make sure that everyone understands that yesterday's article about stand-ins, and the assistants' role in helping make photo assignments work more smoothly, was NOT meant to be a portfolio of finished, polished work. The images were meant to illustrate the written points I was making in the piece. 

Had the commenter paid attention he would have read (pertaining to the first image) that Amy (my assistant) was standing in for a doctor who would be photographed after we got the lighting just right and after we cleaned up all the clutter in the scene. It seemed to make sense to me when I wrote it but  I obviously must be overlooking something. 

A quick show of hands. Is anyone else confused by the use of the photos in yesterday's post? 

(I didn't have an image to illustrate frustration, and a sense that I'm just writing this stuff to exercise my fingers, so I put in a cluttered shot of a building under construction. This image is not meant to be a classical or formal presentation of the architecture as an art piece. It is meant to convey the visual chaos that layers parts of an urban environment. And no, I won't be explaining the intent of every photograph I post in the future.).


The process of "standing in" so we can figure out lighting and what needs to be cleaned up.

Amy stands in for a Radiologist as we begin the prep of the scene.

I've been working for one large radiology practice here in the Austin, Texas area for nearly twenty years. They are fun to work with and have lots and lots of cool gear that looks great in photographs. Every few years, as the gear changes and the practice evolves, we get to do a series of daylong photo assignments in order to help them build an ever-changing image catalog that the practice's marketing team can use for advertising and public relations. 

Yesterday Amy (my assistant) and I met up at one of the practice's mid-town clinics to make environmental portraits of doctors and health navigators. Our client wanted to use selective focus in the images in order to focus attention on the people and pull attention away from unnecessary background detail. It was an opportunity to give one lens in particular a workout. I used the Rokinon 50mm f1.2 lens as frequently as I could and supplemented with the Sigma 30mm f1.4 when I needed a wider angle of view. The important thing for my was how well each lens worked at or near its widest aperture. In that regard both lenses passed my tests. 

Since we were aiming to work with the taking lenses used as wide open as possible I decided to skip electronic flash and do all of our lighting with LED panels. Working this way made it easier to get an exact balance between the room illumination and the brightness of the reading screens that were somewhere in nearly every frame. 

My method in setting up lighting was: First get the right illumination intensity on the dominant computer screens. Second, set up lights that would mimic the direction and type of light illuminating the face of someone sitting in front of a monitor. In the case above we had a tight space to work in behind the computers (less than a foot). I taped white paper on the wall in front of Amy, behind and above the monitors and bounced a small LED panel off the paper. It made a convincing computer monitor light source that was controllable. 

The next step is to balance the primary illuminate on the subject with the illumination on the screens. This is straightforward as most good LED lights can be adjusted from 10% power to 100% power in tiny increments. After the balance is achieved we bounced several lights from the ceiling to bring up the overall light levels so we could seen into the shadow areas in a believable way. 

Once we got everything lit we started cleaning up the clutter that would be in the shot. We removed the lighting fixture just behind Amy's head, cleared off papers, eliminated the bar scanner in the bottom left hand corner of the frame, etc. Only then were we ready to bring in our physician and start the process of posing and fine tuning. If we are photographing someone in a white coat we keep the portable steamer close at hand to get rid of wrinkles. 

Since I was shooting at or near wide open it was important to go beyond focus peaking and punch in as far as possible in preview mode in order to get a highly magnified section of the frame for fine focusing. I compose the shot and then move the target for focus to the eyes of the subject without moving the camera. Focus and recompose is NOT an option with narrow depth of field....

I've also learned (the hard way) to check focus frequently. When manually focused any sway on the part of the subject might be just enough to kills the sharpness where it's needed. We worked on a tripod for all but two of the shots in our assignment yesterday. It helps. 

Amy stands in for a classic "hallway" portrait. 

Clients sometimes like backgrounds that dissolve away. But with m4:3 cameras making backgrounds dissolve works best if the subject is fairly close to the camera and the background is fairly far away. We found the hallway above and decided it would be a great place to make portraits of busy doctors. 

My first impulse was to block the existing light with a scrim and then re-light the subject but when I put Amy into the location the art director and I decided on I noticed that the ceiling lights were indirect, firing into a white barrel vault ceiling that made the lighting very soft and flattering. All that was really needed was a white reflect just under the bottom of the frame to bounce light back under our subjects' chins. Before Amy set the white reflector in position we used it as a target for a quick custom white balance. When the art director saw the results on the monitor she decided that we could do two other people in the same location. As with the first image I am using a tripod, shooting wide open and re-focusing frequently. 

(Note: if you are using an AF lens in a situation like this, and it's one of the Olympus Pro series, make sure to switch the AF off on the camera body. Using the manual clutch on the lens is great but once you take your hands off the lens barrel  and then touch the shutter button the camera will re-focus your lens UNLESS you have set the camera into MF).

Our biggest challenge in the shot above was to keep people out of the background. While we were shooting after hours we had a bunch of talent waiting for various shots and they wandered in and out of the hallways. A lot. Had the budget been even more generous I would have hired a second assist and tasked them with keeping people corralled and keeping an eye on clients who wander away from the set just when I'm looking for shot approval.... :-)

Having a stand in is great because getting busy doctors to stand still while we change this and that is a money losing venture of the practice and they are not nearly as cooperative in the pre-shooting part of the exercise as a good assistant.

Amy stands in on our "consultation" location. 

A lot of location photography is about moving furniture so it works for our compositions. Consultation rooms and exam rooms are small because....they don't need to be big and square footage in Austin is expensive. But the tighter the space the harder it is in which to light and compose. Our quick stand in shot showed me that we needed to cant the small couch and the matching chair about 20 degrees counterclockwise in order to best show both faces of the talents who would be in our consultation shots. Since the room was tiny and my back was against the wall we needed to have the art director and the talent wait outside the door as we brought in three lights, some modifiers and a bounce card or two. It's easier to put a plan into place if you aren't dodging closely packed people.

The shot above is our starting point. There is a process which involves putting up the lights you think will work and then fine-tuning and the looking, again and again. Better not to bore your subjects or your art directors with too much picky rearrangement; especially when you have a good and patient assistant in tow. 

Our final location. Another spot for consultations. 

We were on our way to another consultation "closet" when we walked past a big, welcoming waiting area and it dawned on me that this would work much better, photographically. I liked the nice, warm light in the fixture at the back-left of the frame and the colors were great. We switched around some chairs and then started lighting by using the illumination of the "practical" light as our starting point. Some top light and a bit of back light from the right side of the frame were just right. I backed up as far as I could and shot with the 50mm Rokinon (which is the equivalent to a 100mm in full frame). 

About two hours into the shoot Amy walked up to me and handed me a bottle of water. "Drink." She commanded. She is aware that sometimes I get into the rhythm and schedule and forget to stay hydrated. It's good to have assistants that are watching out for me.

The entire shoot yesterday was lit with two Aputure Amaran 672S daylight LED panels and one smaller Amaran 96 panel. The bigger panels both use Sony NP970 batteries which are enormous and heavy. The benefit is that we were able to shoot for about five hours and still come back to the studio with at least 50% in reserve for each light. Since both of the big lights take two batteries I also packed two more sets. Just in case. You never know when you'll need to run at full power for long set up.....

I think of yesterday's shoot as a warm-up for our shoot coming up on Saturday. We'll be on location for a full, long day at a different location. We'll have about 12 models and 3 marketing staff with us as well as a hair and make-up person. The client is arranging craft service and, so far, they've done an exemplary job. 

The Panasonic GH5 continues to exceed my expectations ---- as long as I use premium optics and use them correctly. The LEDs are priceless for work like this. But the best productivity on jobs like this is a good assistant who keeps an eye on schedule, clothing details, stuff intruding into the frame and more. Amy is a great assistant! On a busy location it's best not to cling too strongly to the "one man band" concept of production photography.

Hope your week is good. We're packing up for tonight's video project. More on that tomorrow...