A new equipment modification that makes the Sigma fp a more comfortable walk around camera for me. Thank you, Bob Autrey!

The Movo VF-40 Pro Universal 3X Loupe for mirrorless cameras. 

The Sigma fp camera, especially when used with the Sigma 45mm f2.8 DG DN lens is a wonderful camera for photographers who enjoy wondering around snapping images of cool stuff. Especially cool stuff that doesn't move around a lot. But it has one flaw for people like me. Those would be people who like to use a camera with an EVF or an OVF. It has NO-VF. 

You have to do all your focusing and composing on the camera's rear LCD screen. But it's churlish to complain about that now since I knew about this limitation before I bought the camera. I figured I would purchase the Sigma Loupe and everything would be dandy. 

But then the (built from unobtainium) loupe went on eternal back order and after I used the naked LCD screen in the Texas sun I thought it would be smart to find something to use to elevate the view from the back, in the interim. Since I had already ordered the Sigma version (and it's pricy at nearly $300 USD) I didn't want to spend a lot of cash on a short term alternative. I looked though Amazon and found a loupe by a company called Movo. The loupe is all plastic, with plastic optics, but it mounted pretty well to the camera and it only cost about $50. The single magnifying lens is plastic but it serves its purpose... medium well. 

It was a workable solution. The Movo had one feature that I wish had been duplicated on the vastly more expensive Sigma version; there is a hinge between the eyepiece and the body of the loupe which allows the operator to flip up the magnifier and use the body of the loupe as a hood for the finder. This way you can look at the full frame on the back of the camera but without needing the magnifier in the viewing path. In this configuration the body of the loupe works well to largely reduce reflections from glancing light rays. It make the screen readable to me even in bright sunlight. But you still have the big magnifier hinged up over the top and it's cumbersome. Inelegant. 

The Sigma VF-XX loupe finally showed up and I put it on my camera. It increased the overall size of the camera package by 2X. It's a great loupe, optically, but it's really big. And if you want to see the naked screen, without magnification, you have to disentangle the entire thing from the camera. After a few weeks I stopped using the VF-XX and put it in a drawer. I figure I'll use it on more controlled studio type shoots but never as part of a walk around system. 

And this renewed a desire to just have a hood. No big magnifier, just something to shield the rear screen enough to make it highly usable in sunlight. I kept looking at the Movo.... 

Then I got an e-mail from a reader by the name of Bob Autrey. We talked about loupes and he told me he'd modified the same model Movo loupe to make it serve the very purpose I was pining for. I asked how and he gave me instructions. A little while later I took a hack saw to the Movo and finally ended up with the product I didn't know I wanted all along. A nicely compact hood for the rear screen that doesn't interfere with the camera's buttons and provides all the light shielding I could ask for while keeping the overall camera package small and light. 

I am appreciative to Mr. Autrey for providing the necessary push and the guidance. Now the Sigma fp is one step closer to perfection. It's a great package to carry around and, since firmware 2.0, I'm trusting the camera's autofocus with the 45mm to the point where I'm not using the rear screen to check on that. 
It's strictly an exposure and composition device. And that works. So, $50 for a perfect camera hood that fits just right over the screen but above the necessary camera buttons. Seems like a bargain to me. 

Now looking for other stuff to saw.... There is a danger I could get carried away with hack saw power. Is that bezel around my iMac Pro a bit wide?  I might be able to fix that.....

 Sigma fp now good to go.

Final accessory for full control of reflections?
A black, cotton baseball cap with a nice, dark brim. Perfect.

Here's how I'm doing my portraits this morning. OT: It's just a post about gear. No other subjects covered.

An actor at Zach Theatre. 

Oh boy! It's Monday morning and I get to do two studio portraits. I've got the studio scrubbed and the hand sanitizer assembled next to the extra face masks and the disinfectant wipes. But, more important to my task this morning, I've got the lighting I want set up and I've selected the perfect camera and lens. So, without further messing around let's talk shop.

When it comes to work the genre I feel most comfortable with is studio portraiture. You can do it rain or shine, and if you pay attention you can have complete control over the lighting. But there's also a part of the process which is about hospitality. You are inviting someone into your space and you are hosting them there. It's your job to make the person you are working with feel at home, comfortable, and like the important part of the equation that they are. Only when you get them at ease in the space and comfortable on the posing stool are you ready to engage with the gear. And that part should be almost invisible.

Today we'll be working with one of my favorite camera and lens combinations for corporate portraits; the high resolution, Lumix S1R camera and the Lumix 70-200mm f4.0 S Pro lens. This lens is sharp and visually pleasant throughout its focal length range. In a controlled setting, like the one we've set up for our ongoing client's radiology practice, I have each physician sit on an adjustable posing stool and I set up the camera on a tripod to be at eye level. Lately, when I check the exif information I see that my typical focal length for most sittings is about 135mm. It's a good compromise between establishing a safe working distance and getting a head size that fits with all the previous portraits I've done for the same practice. 

We're working with modestly powerful LED lights lately. I'm using them at medium power settings. I know most photographers' impulses are to buy the biggest, most powerful lights they can get their hands on, and that makes sense if you are lighting big spaces, but for portrait subjects there's only a certain intensity you can go to before the people in front of the lights get uncomfortable and start to squint. My lights for today's sessions are three Godox SL60 W's. They are daylight balanced LEDs and the way I use them and modify their output means that I'm working with ISO 1000 @ f5.6 on the camera. I used the shutter speed to hit correct exposures. If I'm set up right I can hold a shutter speed of 1/50th - 1/60th of a second and, with good instructions to the sitter, we can get most of our images without subject motion. 

Yes, bigger lights would get me higher shutter speeds but there is a point (a bit different for each person) at which the increased light intensity is going to be counterproductive/uncomfortable for the subject. I don't worry too much about lower shutter speeds because I'm using the camera on a tripod.

 It is funny to remember that when I opened my first little studio I was doing portraits with an old Calumet 4x5 inch view camera and sometimes did available light sittings with shutter speeds as low as 1/4 or 1/8th of a second. Some photographs turned out quite well. Some looked like "art." With slower shutter speeds timing and watching the subject carefully become more important. But the added challenge makes the process more fun.

I'm shooting 14 bit, 47.5 megapixel raw files so I have a fair amount of latitude when it comes to color correction and dynamic range. Even so I do a custom white balance for each set up. Especially in my studio where the overall lighting environment is supplemented by exterior daylight. As far as exposure goes it seems best, with modern cameras, to aim for a slight underexposure which allows one to maintain detail in highlights while raising shadow values in post for a better look. 

The main light is a Godox SL60W in a small, 30 by 30 inch soft box coming from the subject's top right hand side. I've feathered the soft box so that a good amount of spill light hits the silver reflector on the subject's shadow side and provides a nice fill. 

There is a light aimed at the white, seamless background paper and I'm using that one without a modifier as a wash. I have added a set of barn doors just to keep extra light from spilling everywhere. The light on the background is about 2/3rds of a stop brighter than the main light. 

The final light is yet another Godox SL60W used at lower power in a small 16 by 20 Chimera light box that I've had hanging out in the studio for at least two decades. I want just enough soft light on the top of people's heads to add some motivation for the background light. This light isn't absolutely essential for portraits against white but as long as you are judicious and don't let anything burn out it's neutral. I use it because the client's art director will often drop out the white background put the doctor's photo against a different background which might be much darker. If they do this then the effect of the hair light helps to create separation from the new background. 

Once I've set up and tested the lighting, camera and lens, I'm ready for my subject when they walk through the door. I think this is essential because it keeps the process (in the eyes of the sitter) focused on the interaction between the two humans and doesn't introduce "gear" as a distraction. My instructions to the sitter are all about positioning them and getting expressions I like. I'm never happy to interrupt this process in order to tweak a light that I should have taken care of before starting. Of course, it's not always possible to be so perfect. You do find things that need fixed during the course of the sitting. You may notice something about the client's complexion or hair that needs a slightly different approach with lighting and you'd be silly to depend on fixing that in post. But, as a general rule, I like to have all the nuts and bolts of lighting a session taken care of before we start. 

When it comes to camera operation I feel the same way. I don't want to distract a sitter with technical mumbo-jumbo. If I need to make an exposure adjustment I rarely announce it. If I do I state it in terms like, "I just want the image to be a little bit darker..." Instead of, "I'm going to adjust the aperture to f 7.1 for better density..." I want to keep the conversation  moving and learn all about them, not teach them all about my process. Mostly because --- they don't care. And they shouldn't have to care. 

My two best questions for the physicians today were: "Why did you decide to become a radiologist?" And, "How to you like Austin, Texas so far?" 

Once we're finished and we're unwrapping ourselves from the actual shooting I will ask for the sitter's forbearance while I spot check just a few files to make sure I haven't missed something important or something that would be easier to shoot a few more frames to fix rather than heading into a post production rabbit hole. I quickly check ten or so files to make sure we don't have too many blinks, sleepy left or right eyelids, or too much subject movement. Once I've got a preponderance of keepers I walk away from the camera and let the client know that we've got some great stuff. Then they are out the door and onto their busy day. Any friction I can reduce in our collaborative process is one less sub-routine they'll have running in their heads later. 

A few more small ideas: I like to keep the studio cooler than normal for sessions in the Summer because Texas heats up quickly and the cooler interior temperatures help the client get comfortable quicker. The cool, dry air cuts down on shiny complexions and is more inviting. More relaxing.

I turn off my cellphone and mute notifications on my desktop. Even though I would never answer the phone during a session both the client and I are probably acculturated to think one of us should answer the phone. And we'll wonder who was calling and why. A quick and easy way to break my concentration and my client's focused participation for what's probably just another robo call.

For a quick headshot session I prefer not to play music. I know a lot of studios are jamming all the time and there's always something playing in the background. I'd rather focus on the client and be able to give instructions and good feedback without having them strain to hear me. Also, you never know what your client's taste in music might be. You might think that Lady GaGa's 2008 album, The Fame, is the greatest assemblage of music since Mozart but that country and western fan sitting on your posing stool might think it's the Devil's work. Not an argument worth having. Silence is ultimately the best audio curation for short sittings.

Finally, I've learned that the "goodbye" of a session is as important as the "hello." Once the session is over I want to tell the client exactly what will happen next, how they'll get access to their gallery and what kind of retouching I anticipate doing on their photos. If they are a new transplant I want to welcome them to Austin and see if any of our interests intersect so I can suggest resources. I always want to thank them for taking time to come to the studio.  Finally, I want to offer them a bottle of water or a cup of coffee for the road, if they want one. 

The last question many younger clients ask in parting is: "Where is the nearest Starbucks." I have a quick answer ready. 

When you are working over the long term (decades?) for a client you want each session to go as well as you can engineer it. Each person who returns from your studio to the home office is a data point for the marketing people. Their individual satisfaction is one part of a cumulative measure which either keeps you in the fold or finally pushes your client to look elsewhere. If you don't service your clients well they may not continue to be your clients.... they are a gift and not an entitlement.
Ready to work. Camera set, lights measured, attitude adjusted. 
I bought my first Godox SL60W about a year ago and was impressed by the build and performance for the price. I've since brought two more and they've become my default lighting choice for quick set ups in the studio. The light is good and the Bowens speed ring compatibility is efficient. Makes them easy to use in soft boxes. 
Having a routine set up and having a digital read out of power output makes replicating set-ups from week to week easier. I keep a note in the client's folder about the lighting set up. Better than re-inventing the wheel. 
The new normal for studio supplies. Hand sanitizer, disposable surgical masks and wipes. 
Even a small spray bottle of isopropyl alcohol for spraying down objects...
Here's the view from the camera position. I haven't raised the hair light yet but I'll have it roughly positioned by the time my sitters get here... I measured the distance from camera to subject today. It's 10 and a half feet. That should work. 
I'm using a silver reflector for a fill light source. Used pretty close it's just right.

Since I started writing this blog post this morning I've had both the scheduled people come by to be photographed. The first session was at 9 and the second was at 10:30. Each took a bit less than 15 minutes. Lots of time in between to clean up and re-prep. They appreciated the short time commitment. Seems like they were both looking forward to busy days...

One blog note: Just a reminder that this blog doesn't accept advertising and doesn't sell anything. You won't get hit up for Patreon cash and if there's a link to click on it's because I'm presuming that the thing linked is interesting to us as photographers (or swimmers). I don't have an affiliation with any gear manufacturer, camera maker or otherwise. If I write about something it's because I'm interested in it. 
You are always welcome here but your attendance is not mandatory. If you don't agree with what I've written that's fine and you can leave a well considered, even tempered comment. I don't get paid to read rants or participate on the losing end of ad hominem attacks. 

Like most humans I thrive on feedback so try to leave some from time to time. 

Stay well and soldier on. KT