Prepping for a job on which I need to photograph toaster oven-sized products. Part 2. Testing, testing. 1,2,3...

B.Y. @ the Metropolitan Museum.
My corporate supervisor.

Well, the afternoon of testing is over and so is any nervousness about the upcoming job. Amazon delivered my ten foot, USB-C to USB-C 3.1 Gen2 cables right on time. I read about software issues between the latest version of Lumix Tether 1.7 tethering software and Mac OS Catalina 10.15.0 so I immediately updated my Laptop OS to 10.15.6. The combo seems to work fine with the S1R right now. I ran it all for an hour with lots of full-res and high-res raw test shots and nothing glitched. That part of the job seems locked down nicely. 

 The post focus feature of the camera is a bust for me on this job. It's just not reliable enough to be workable and just being able to pull 18 MB Jpegs is not going to work for this client. There is also a vicious frame crop when using it.  After evaluating the post focus feature I spent a little while testing different lenses for the different shooting situations but my real focus (yeah, yeah) was to see what I could do when it came to the still life shots that require more depth of field than my usual subjects.

Using the normal 47+ raw mode I shot the camera at one second and the lens at f16 and brought the raw files into PhotoShop for some eye-watering inspection. If I leave space all  around (lower magnification) the product/target I can get sharp front and back edges most of the time. But the winner in this race is clear. It's best to shoot with the high-res/multi-shot mode and get the angle I want and the comp I want but leave about 1/3 of the total frame empty. This means I am shooting further from the subject and gaining depth of focus as I move back and making the object smaller in the frame. Works well almost without fail. And the amount of detail in those huge files is breathtaking.

If they throw something at me that's enormous and needs more depth of field I'll shoot it with manual focusing stacking, using raw files, and go back to blending the frames in Photoshop. But I'm pretty certain I've got it wired with the super high res + distancing protocol. 

The next thing I wanted to check was how much sharpness I'd lose stopping down to f16 with my current lenses. The short answer is....not much. I was oversold on the idea that f16 isn't particularly pretty or useful with current digital cameras. That's not true with the lens I have in mind for the product shots. 

I picked up a 24-70mm f2.8  Lumix S Pro lens back in February and have used it sparingly but every time I do so I'm surprised at its high performance. I did test shots at the medium focal lengths (28-50mm) and the results at f16 are just fine. I might want to push in a bit of texture sharpening and boost the low radius sharpening a bit in post but the images I'm pulling out of camera are quite nice and sharper than any I would have gotten from whatever I was using a few years ago. 

If I start with a 180 megapixel shot, using the center 2/3rds of the lens circle, I'll have tons of detail to play with when I downsample to useable file sizes. Another problem solved? Naw, just a bit of anxiety squashed. 

The second part of the job is almost the polar, technical opposite. The clinician shots will be done with very narrow depth of field (gobs of background blur!) and a desire for flares and optical artifacts in the frame. Here's my only issue with that kind of work, so far: None of my current lenses seem to want to flare; even when used wide open with a light source in the frame. And none of them like to show off any artifacts. But the A.D. and I discussed this "issue" and we are both comfortable adding some of those effects in post. We'll start clean and dirty them up as we work on them. 

I've selected four lenses for the shots of a clinician working with each product/device. I like the Sigma Art 20mm f1.4 because it's the obvious choice for any shots that we decide must be both wide, sharp and still drop the background out of focus. While a 20mm isn't a logical choice for limited/shallow depth of field we'll be working close enough to the subject make it do what we need. I tested that lens today and it's plenty sharp by f2.0. Nearly perfect by f2.8. A far cry from the old 20mm's I started with many years ago. Those might have sharpened up enough, generally, by f8.0 or so. The Sigma 35mm f1.4 Art is a good, all around lens for tighter shots that still require soft backgrounds and it's as sharp as I could ask for wide open, getting cleaner and sharper all the way out to f4.0. It always earns a place in the mix.

The 50mm f1.4 Lumix S-Pro is sharper wide open at f1.4 than my Leica 90mm Elmarit is at f5.6. I'll use it for as many of the shots as I can. I'm not worried about the clinician shots because I know it's easier to select and drop areas out of focus than it ever is to try and make something that's already soft in a file sharper. The 50mm f1.4 Lumix was a splurge but every time I shoot with that lens I get two benefits: Tangy sharpness, even wide open, and a nice workout for the bicep and forearm muscles on my left arm. The lens is a big, heavy piece of gear but it was made for style controlled advertising shoots like this one. 

Finally, I have to include the Sigma 85mm f1.4 Art lens because of all the lenses I own the combination of performance and focal length is as close to perfect as I can imagine. I don't think we'll really need something that long and at the same time delivering such a narrow depth of field but you never know, and it would be nice to have an opportunity to stretch my time hanging out with that lens a bit. Especially since, in this case, I won't be carrying it around in the heat at the end of a strap, married to a dense and heavy camera. 

In shoots like these the shoulder mounted camera bags stay home and the cameras + lenses travel in a wheeled Think Tank case. We'll move maybe 50 feet in three days. I think my assistant and I can handle that. 

That's all I have to share about the upcoming assignment and the process of selecting and testing the candidates for the gear inventory. I hope this was somewhat entertaining and explained my thought process in getting ready to go on location. I've missed the mental exercise.

Self-casting. I needed a person to do something in the frame and there wasn't anybody around.
I cast myself and made good use of the self timer on my camera. It was easily 100° in that factory in Matamoros, Mexico. This week's job will be in pleasantly filter A/C. 

A historic shot of Austin which predates about ten new high rises. 

A favorite crane shot. With Apple expanding in Austin and Tesla coming here too I'm guessing these cranes will not be an endangered species for a while...

The boy and I had a pre-production meeting this afternoon. 
He'll be assisting me for the last three days of the work week. 
It won't be his first rodeo by a long shot...
a trusty collaborator.

Getting the depth of field right for a product shot

That's all I've got for now. Hope the week goes well for everyone.

Gearing up for our first "real" job since the end of February.

From a lab shoot in New Jersey. 
A couple of years ago...

I'm very excited. And a bit nervous. I accepted a project for a company that makes all sorts of top tier bio-tech testing equipment. They make some of the machines that are used in Covid-19 testing, blood pathogen testing and cancer screening. They sell the diagnostic products around the world and they need photographs of some new products that are rolling out, along with stylized images of a clinician using the machines.

I'm excited because I think it's going to be fun getting back to work but I'm also nervous because it's been a while since I've done table top sized product shots and I want to try out some of the features of the S1 and S1R Lumix cameras that I either have not used or used only once, to test, months ago, and have largely forgotten how to use.

I'm waiting for a current technology USB-c 3.1 to same cable to arrive today so I can set up and test the first important feature. The client and I would both like to shoot the actual product shots (machines against white backgrounds) with a high res camera tethered to a laptop. The cable I ordered is a high bandwidth cable that's designed for camera to computer transfers. Once I have it in hand I get to download the latest version of Lumix Tether and figure out the best way to make it all work.

I know I can get the actual camera controls to work with the program but I need to be able to quickly review the files and I'm pretty sure I'll need to use Lightroom or Capture One and set up a watched folder for that. So, working on that and then practicing the set-up over and over again is on the agenda for this afternoon.

The one other feature, in camera, I'm interested in is the focus stacking/post focus capability. I have high hopes of making this work for all my stationary product-only shots but I'm a bit bummed that the system is limited to a max of 18 megapixel files (they are blended from 6K video files...). I have a suspicion that I'll want to hedge my bets and shoot with this post focus feature but also back-up each set-up with a high res file in the S1R. We'll see which one gets us the best focus depth+detail. I have a sinking feeling, after playing around with earlier Panasonic cameras that I'll want the higher res file, in raw, as the starting point for our post production. I just wish I could have both the focus stacking with range selection AND a 47.5 megapixel file... Maybe that will happen on the S2R.

Again, I think I'll pull my Canon Pro 100 printer onto a white seamless sweep this afternoon and play around with various lenses and camera to subject distances to see just how much of a typical product I can keep in sharp focus with the high res camera and then with the focus stacking. The funny thing is that I know I could stop down the lens on a Canon G16 to f8.0 and get total coverage but I'm pretty sure my client is counting on a big, juicy raw file to play with once we get through the photography process and into post. I'm putting time in experimenting today because I don't want to get caught short on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of this coming week. We've got a lot to accomplish.

Another thing I haven't thought of for quite a while is the effect of diffraction on sharpness with small pixel/high density sensors like the one in the S1R. Yes, you can get tons and tons of detail at optimum apertures but...you have to be cognizant of the potential sharpness robbing issue of lens diffraction at the smaller apertures one needs to achieve deep focus. Extended depth of field.

In the best of all worlds we'd want to use f16 and, if available, f22 for all of the product shots in order to get good sharpness from the leading edge of the product all the way to the back of the cabinet. My hope is that the Leica certified Panasonic lenses and the Sigma Art lenses I'll bring will be well enough corrected to make the effects of diffraction less obvious, but I know that a lot of the effect is down to the physics of aperture size and focal length. Still, it would be nice to be able to use smaller f-stops.

Again, we'll spend some time testing to make sure we're not setting ourselves up for disappointment.

One idea that came to me while working through all of this would be to back up the camera a bit from the subject and make the products smaller in the frame, overall, but to then enable the high-res mode (multi-shot) in the camera to generate those huge 160-180 megapixel files the camera is capable of and then cropping in to provide a right sized image in the frame. If I can double the resolution of the frame and move back to make the object smaller (half size?) in the frame I could still end up with an equal amount of resolution but with more depth of field on the product. Again, this is something else I need to test today.

We'll be using our collection of LED lights for this assignment since the products and the products+clinician aren't really moving fast....

I've enlisted Ben to assist me on this one because we've been inhabiting the same safe "bubble" for the last ten days or so and I feel comfortable with him. I was hesitant to hire an assistant that I didn't know well, or even one I did, since you can never know their actual chain of connectivity to a wider group.

I did a walk through with the client on Thursday. We'll be shooting the products in a large media room at the facility. There is no one officing there now as their media team is working from home. Ben and I will be the only ones in the room for the set-ups and, once we've got something to show, we'll bring in the A.D. to look at the image on the laptop and either approve it or advise us about changes. The rest of the offices and labs around us are also unpopulated and will remain so during the three days of the shoot.

We have two models but we will only be photographing one of them at a time. As usual, most of the time will be spent with Ben and me setting up the basic structure of each clinical setting shot and then bringing in our model once we're ready to shoot. Since the company is a bio-tech engineering company the models (who are also clinicians) will be dressed for their typical lab work: with face masks, face shields, lab ware and gloves. The room we'll be photographing in is about 2500 square feet and totally bereft of anyone but our small team.

As I was thinking about writing this I was so focused on our current reality that I was going to say something like: "One of the reasons I'm nervous about this project is that it's the first time I've had to work with a face mask, etc. for three full days in a row!!!" But on reflection I've spent (cumulatively) many weeks in full "bunny" suits, with hoods, goggles and gloves -- even Tyvek shoe covers --- while photographing various processes in semi-conductor clean rooms over the years. Several years ago we also did a multi-day shoot for another Bio-Tech firm in Houston; one that handles deadly pathogens, and we were fully suited up for most of that project as well. By comparison, this is much less cumbersome.

Ben and I are both up to the physical task ahead of us but I haven't had to pay attention and use my brain in this way for months now. I hope I don't get distracted and wander off. Or get bored and go looking for a swimming pool. But, if we handle this successfully then it signifies to me that we're back  in the mix.

Wish me luck with that depth of field issue. It's kind of new territory for me with this particular camera system but, I guess we've done it all before with lesser cameras so with a bit of luck we'll find it as easy as it should be.

Nice to get back into the mix, have P.O.'s cross the desk, scout locations and re-find some daily purpose; besides swimming and those dreaded downtown photos....

Hope you've got a good week planned. Don't let your guard down but don't forget to mix in some fun.