6.03.2019

Fuji 90mm f2.0 lens seems to work pretty well.


The second lens I ever owned was a 135mm f2.8 Vivitar lens. It was a manual focus model made with a Canon FD mount. I used the crap out of that lens and I was amazed at some of the images I got with it. I took it along on a backpacking trip to Europe in 1978, along with my Canon TX SLR and spent the trip bouncing back and forth between the 135mm and my other (only other...) lens, a 50mm f1.8 FD lens. It was actually a great combo for me, the 135mm seemed like just the right focal length for so much stuff and that made the 50mm look, in comparison, like a wide angle. I never have really warmed up to anything wider than a 50mm on a full frame camera and I often wonder if that's because of my early experiences with the longer focal length...

When I bought into the Fuji X system I fooled myself for a while and pretended that I'd only buy and use three lenses, a wide to medium zoom, a 70-200mm equivalent zoom and a normal lens, like a 35mm f2.0 on that format. But, of course, all that fell by the wayside and I started ravaging my wallet for credit crumbs and buying lenses as though all the makers of cameras and lenses were going to cease production in the very near future. I wanted to be ready for the impending gear drought.

I hemmed and hawed about the 90mm f2.0 just because of its ruinous price. Then, one day I walked into Precision Camera to find that Fuji had certain lenses on sale and the 90mm was one of them. At $300 off it seemed like a bargain so I dusted off that last remaining credit card and bought one. I was slow to embrace it. I let it sit in a drawer for a few weeks before giving it a tentative audition. The results were good and I started including it in my regular kit, with every intention of using it for --- something.  I took it to some play rehearsals but it was always just the wrong focal length. A bit too long for groupings and a bit short for tight actor shots on stage. Dialing in a sweet spot for use of a focal length can be a tedious process after one has been dumbed down by the seeming fluidity of a zoom lens.

Finally, I was asked to shoot in conjunction with a TV commercial production at the theater and I once again packed the luxurious 90mm but I started to feel that I'd never find that "use window" that would justify my outlay for the product. I started the four hour shoot with the 16-55mm f2.8 lens but sometime in the middle of an action packed evening I reached into the Airport Security roller case and pulled out the 90mm. I attached it to an X-H1 body and set the aperture ring to f2.8, reputed to be the f-stop at which the lens reaches its highest level of optical performance. And I started clicking off carefully selected frames. 

The quad linear motors were fast and largely flawless. Working on a dark set with black all around people in small puddles of light the lens and camera combination rarely hunted and usually locked focus quickly and accurately. I started feeling the potential of the lens. At a 135-140mm equivalent the lens picks out details and single person shots with ease. I found that even after years of using zoom lenses as crutches I was still able to use my actual feet to move forward or backward as dictated by the constraints of my immovable frame.

If you are anything like me you operate with a vague feeling of uncertainty. You know that what you are shooting should be sharp and of high quality but you suffer from self-doubt. Am I getting anything good? Is it in focus? Is the lens/camera combination really sharp? Will I see the difference between a $1,000 prime and any number of under $100 "vintage" lenses when I get this stuff back to my computer. Have I been duped once again by a shiny sales pitch? A fact-y advertisement? Or is there real merit to this lens?

While I am still working my way towards the right frame of mind to provide the right frame of a frame for the 90mm I am finding more and more sharp and detailed images coming out of the shoots on which I press this long lens into service. It's nice. The stand off feels good. The ability to retreat a bit and frame things more graphically is wonderful and harkens back to everything I learned in early days. 

I'm now packing the 90mm in my bag no matter what the assignment or self-assignment. I'd like to think it a bit magical but I know that's the ads talking. The real magic just comes from my appreciation of the focal length and my relative ease at using it as opposed to lenses I actively dislike --- such as any 28mm equivalent. I am still startled by the cost because I am getting equally wonderful shots out of the 60mm f2.4 macro and I paid less than half as much for it. But then again, they are two different focal lengths and two different philosophical conversations. 

For me the happy thing was to get highly detailed shots of dancers. It made the lens feel like it was earning its keep. 

The pursuit of being unnoticeable while taking photographs at corporate events.

Author, Phil Klay, at the AT&T Conference Center at UT Austin. 
Keynote speaker for the Texas State Bar. 

To be successful as a freelance anything you need to let clients know you exist and you need to be able to artfully toot your own horn. Your goal is to get noticed in a good way; a way that leads to profitable work. But if your work is about getting good photographs at corporate events your goal at the event is to blend in and be such an integral part of the "landscape" that no one breaks stride to stop and grin at the camera. 

The photograph above was one of several hundred that I shot at a reception in the large courtyard. The event was a gathering of lawyers and philanthropists who came together to raise funds for legal assistance to veterans. In one evening the audience of about 300 contributed well over one million dollars to the charity.

The event organizers value photography as it is a lasting reminder of the event and, even more importantly, because donors can be send a physical object, a print, as a "thank you."  At a well run event the photographer should make as many candid images as possible that show the true nature of the event. The photograph above gives a good, quick view of this part of the event. No one is taking any notice of the photographer or the big camera with battery grip and ample lens, or the little flash that provides just a whiff of fill light. 

After the guests get used to the presence of the the photographer and then progress to ignoring him we can move on to get quick and natural  looking arrangements of people (usually around the keynote speaker) that clearly show faces. A quick posed shot with the keynote speaker is the perfect post event souvenir to send along. But I think it's important to spend time building up the indifference to your presence first. And you do that by being low key and continuing to take photographs.

How does one become invisible? It's pretty easy: you arrive before any of the guests so that you are already part of the landscape as people arrive and orient themselves. You dress the same as most of the people in attendance. You work quickly and with a minimum of fuss. Every movement you make should seem natural and automatic. Nothing should add friction to your presence in the crowd. You appear to be a guest with a camera. If someone looks at you and you'd prefer a candid shot of them interacting, just smile, nod and put your camera down until they return to their social interactions. When shooting posed groups (a must, in addition to a good collection of candids) work quickly and act as though this is the most natural thing in the world. Work with authority but always with a smile and always asking, "Please, could I get a quick shot of your group together?" Snap two quick frames as soon as everyone is looking to the camera and then smile, say, "Thank you." and move on.

If you are tasked with taking photographs during the keynote speech and during the other speeches that are an inevitable part of most corporate events there are key things you need to do (or not do) to keep from attracting attention. In a crowded ballroom with spotlights on the stage you'll want to make sure you are wearing a dark suit and a non-white shirt (mid tone or darker). Peoples' eyes are drawn to the brightest part of every scene; the darker your apparel the less you'll stick out. Don't stand up in the middle of the room and wait to take a shot. If I'm photographing a speaker and waiting for a particular moment I'll take a knee in one of the aisle areas so that I am not even as tall as the seated guests. I stand only when I need to, to get the shot. If you stand the whole time you are near the front of the ballroom you'll pull attention away from the speaker.  One of the worst things one can do is to use flash during anyone's speech or presentation. One flash changes the whole feeling of a room.

When you've shot enough images of the speaker to cover yourself then withdraw directly toward the back of the room, never side to side and never in front of the speaker. A good withdrawal is a bit of an art. Best done during a pause for applause or during the laughter following a well told joke. Head down, not making eye contact with people at their tables as you retreat. The idea being that all attention goes to the speaker. 

Photographs taken during speeches are, to me, the only really compelling reason to depend on high ISOs. I'll happily head to 3200 or even 6400, if I have to, to avoid ever having to use flash

The only time I use flash in a ballroom setting is when someone is being presented an award, a trophy or a gift. In those situations I balance the color temperature of the flash with the color temperature of the spotlights and use the flash as a fill in to reduce contrast and to create more flattering light on faces. This use of flash also helpful in making very sharp images for subsequent public relations photos. For the most part, during the speeches, the flash stays off my camera and in the right hand pocket of my suit coat. 

If you want to be less noticeable then don't attach yourself to any groups, don't linger in conversation and limit interactions to getting the photographs and moving on. It's not the time to polish your resumé or to network. By the same token, if the event is over at, say 9pm, get whatever team photographs the client wants in the aftermath and then leave immediately. There is always a contingent of guests and event staff who will stay for another round and nothing good ever happens after the keynote speaker and the V.I.P.s leave. 

One security professional whose job is to protect high profile people like CEO's once told me, "I make sure my principal is in his suite and locked down by 10pm. Nothing good ever happens after 10pm. After that hour you are just looking for trouble." 

Pack light. Move with purpose. Lead with a smile. Exit with a "Thank you" and make sure the impression you leave behind is only obvious and apparent to your happy client. 





Willow Hall. The windows.

©Kirk Tuck.