4.24.2019

It's interesting when a person resists procrastination and actually does a project. The project seems to move everything to a higher level. Like Andy's book.


I've known Andy for a number of years. I met him when he attended a lecture on lighting I gave at BookPeople (an Austin independent book store) about ten years ago. At the time he was an ardent amateur photographer who soaked up information like a sponge. Over the years he's gotten more and more serious about his photography but not in a traditional way. He's never been much impressed by the latest and greatest gear and prefers working with an ever rotating (and big) collection of point-and-shoot digital cameras that seem to represent all the good stuff from the last ten to twelve years. 

A few years ago he upped his game by starting a blog which he nurtures with daily postings. You can see the blog here: https://blog.atmtxphoto.com Occasionally he'll write about gear by way of a review but you can tell that standard reviews bore him and he's weaned his readers off the low hanging fruit. His real strength as a blogger is that he is constantly shooting and then talking about the process of photographing rather than blathering on, writing about, well, gear. He'll tell you what camera he used and why he liked it but you don't come to ATMTX to learn about the latest Zeiss Otus lens or Nano Acuity. Kinda refreshing. He's also not selling workshops, or flogging someone's sponsored product.

So, Andy has a day job and he doesn't have time to take traditional assignments but when his real work requires travel he doesn't go anywhere without a camera or three in his hands. Recently he found himself in Bangalore and Mysore India. I'm not sure, technically, how long he was there for but I do know he was there long enough to fill up a book with well over 100 wonderful street photographs from his adventure. 

And I mean adventure. While most U.S. business people tend to stay in the "safety" of guarded hotels and corporate centers Andy is right at home on the streets with real people. He's also has a fearlessness laced with a gentle and low key demeanor. 

I was floored when he pulled out this book at our lunch on Monday (Andy, sorry, I realize I really ate most of the queso...) and we started to leaf through it. Andy designed the book, chose the images, did the post processing and ran with the project all the way to completion. And it's a very nicely done book filled with images that are as good or better than most of the images I see from "major" talents these days. 
I really liked the way Andy paced the book and how he found resonant images he could place side by side for effect. The paper isn't premium grade; hell, it isn't even glossy or lustre, more of a trade book grade, but the images work really well on it and, like a lot of art books being bandied about, the production values make the book more accessible instead of more "precious." 


The book is a self-published work done at Blurb but it's the equal of many books that find their way through traditional publishing. When Andy gave me a copy I couldn't wait to get home to my favorite reading chair and sit, with a hot cup of real coffee, and give each page my full attention. 

So, what has the book done for me? It's woken me up to the idea that real artists are constantly creating instead of sitting around waiting for fate or fortune to throw the next project into my lap. It's made me realize that we live in a time when all of us can afford to create our own books and be our own publishers. 

Andy is already looking ahead to the next ten books. Everywhere he goes is a potential project. Even Austin, our home town, is a potential, future book. He kicked my ass into gear in a big way. 

Here is the link to Blurb where people can buy the book:
https://www.blurb.com/b/9354093-on-the-street-india

And here is his blog post about it:
https://blog.atmtxphoto.com/2019/04/05/my-first-book/

I guess if you are really into photography (with a huge "P") you could drop $10,000 for a Steve McCurry print over at the Magnum Photo shopping mall. But if you are into a wide and new vision of the possibilities of photography right now you could drop all of $18 for your very own copy of "On the Street: India" and get a taste for what one guys, with cheap cameras, no media connections, no Magnum connection, etc. can do all on his own. Or you can buy both and cover all your bases. 
The back cover. 

So, out of my lunch with Andy I get a great book, a huge serving of motivation, and a newer understanding of (in a good way) where we are right now with some parts of photography. The fun and non-pretentious parts. But our conversation also veered into topics like the visual differences between CCD sensors and CMOS sensors and the appeal of smaller, cheaper cameras that are less scary or obtrusive to our subjects. 

I was reminded of the Canon G10 and like most overly pampered and entitled people I thought about getting one again, the universe took me at my word, and today at 2 pm, in a soaking rainstorm, a friend knocked on my office door and delivered to me a like new G10 in the original box. I vowed not to spend any more on cameras until I've flogged the G10 and squeezed a lot of new art from it but of course you know I was on the web not more than fifteen minutes later ordering some additional Wasabi Power batteries for my new artist tool. And that's when I also started considering the G15. 

And off we go.  But, circling back to the book, it's not in any way camera dependent. Andy's success with the project was not predicated on connections, sponsorships, deals or quid pro quos. He wanted to do the project and do it well. So....he....just did it. 

And he showed me that we can do our projects too.  That's it.

(Andrew Molitor! Buy one. If you don't like it I'll buy it from you and pay for the shipping. It's a book!!!)

What did I learn last night when I used the Fuji 100-400mm lens for 95% of my documentation of a play?

Chanel as "Vinette" in "The Ballad of Klook and Vinette."

I photographed this play's technical rehearsal on Sunday evening and I used two different lenses; the 16-55mm and the 50-140mm f2.8. I covered the production from the second row, center of the house, and got lots and lots of good images. But not everything was "set" of the final production that evening. There were a few costume changes and some more set dressing to go before the dress rehearsal with audience so I came back last night to build some new images into the catalog which would give the marketing people some updated images to use. 

But since I felt that we were nearly 100% covered in terms of needed photos I decided to experiment and do things a bit differently for last night's shoot. I packed the 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 Fuji lens and an X-H1 body. I also packed a second body and the 16-55mm because ---- just because. 

My intention was to shoot from the very back row of the theater in the center. It's a smaller house than our main stage so the top row is really only ten or twelve rows up... from the stage floor. I also intended to use the 100-400mm mounted on a big, Benro video monopod; the kind with small "chicken" feet that help anchor the monopod. 

I shot for a few minutes with the monopod but it really hampered the way I usually work in the theater, which is entirely handheld. It was just to cumbersome to use when following people around the stage and trying to comp very quickly. 

The lens is sharp and, out of nearly 1,000 frames only a handful were spoiled by not getting exact focus.  Even though parts of the play were quite dark I only had the lens hunt or refuse to lock on twice and in each episode a slight change of targeting got use back on track quickly. 

I probably won't try this again because the long focal lengths were too limiting. I'm usually working from the other direction (with lenses like the 16-55mm) and trying to zoom in just a bit more than the lens will give me. In this situation I worked hard at 100mm to get good "two" shots (two actors in the frame) with enough air around them  not to feel claustrophobic and I didn't have nearly as many opportunities as I thought I would to take advantage of the really long end of the lens. I took a bunch of tight shots near 400mm but they look more like headshots than documentation of a play. Live and learn. Or, rather, try something new and learn. 

What I really learned was that working above the stage feels off to me. I prefer to be level with or just very slightly above the actors for camera position. I learned that the 100-400mm is a very good lens. I was impressed with the sharpness I was able to get, handheld and wide open. The image stabilization worked well and, with the camera in "boost" mode everything felt snappy and engaged. 

Hitting and holding focus is tougher when you go longer. If you use S-AF and lock in on a point, like an eye, you run the risk of the actor moving just a bit before you commit to engaging the shutter. On a long lens just and inch or two can mean the difference between acceptable sharpness and the trash can. With C-AF you might start with your focus point on the object you want in focus but as actors move and the frame changes the point of sharp focus may end up somewhere else. The solution for some shots is face/eye detection but there were plenty of shots where the eyes weren't visible in the way the camera might need to see them. 

I learned that my initial choice of lenses for theater work is optimal for the way I do stuff. The 140mm of the 50-140 seems to be long enough, even on the main stage and the 16-55mm, when used close enough to the stage, is great for wide shots, full width of stage shots and then also medium to large group shots. 

I've really gotten the color, contrast and general look I like down to a near science with the Fuji X-H1 and I'm happy I have three....just in case. Adding back contrast and saturation while keeping the shadows open is like magic. The Eterna color profile is by far my favorite when working on contrasty stages. I dial down the noise reduction a bit which wins me back some sharpness in Jpegs and reduces the chance of getting plasticky skin tones at high ISOs and reducing the sharpness in camera also helps keep noise in check. 

I was able to use ISO 6400 without fear last night and the files look almost as good as those shot at 3200. The real secret is just to get your color balance and your exposure correct. That buys you some wiggle room when it comes to overall quality. Surprisingly, the Jpegs are pretty solid and can take a lot of tweaking in Lightroom. The don't faint and fall apart with some aggressive post production. 

I won't drag along the 100-400mm for the smaller theater assignments again but I have come to respect the optical performance of that lens and can't wait to use it at the next swim meet. It's definitely a keeper. I'm still a 24-200mm adherent (ff equiv. implied).  That's about it. 

400mm. wide open.




400mm. Wide Open. Handheld. ISO 6400.

400mm. Wide Open. Handheld. ISO 6400.

Around 230mm. Wide open.