8.12.2020

You've got to hand it to vintage lenses. In concert with black and white camera settings they make something as mundane as a mannequin's hand seem mysterious and somehow consequential.

 

I've walked by the poorly merchandized shop where this mannequin has languished in the window for several seasons. Each time before I had my camera set to record color. I had a lens on the front that was contemporaneously vying for world class status. But I never noticed the photograph lurking there. Then, when I went down the same street again but with the purpose of making black and white images firmly in mind the photo pretty much leapt out at me and said, "Hello."

Even though I was shooting with a micro four thirds camera the longer focal length of the lens (60mm) and the close camera to subject distance allowed for a depth of field shallow enough to effectively separate the hand from the dress in the background. 

The Panasonic G9 has a black and white setting called L. Monochrome. I start with this setting and then I tweak it to taste. For me that means adding one step more of contrast, one step more of sharpening and dropping the noise reduction down by two steps. I also set the "filter" to YL (yellow) to darken skies. Finally, the camera lets me add grain to the files. I choose the lowest setting. 

Once I get the image into Lightroom I do add a bit more contrast and open up the shadows a bit.

I like what I get in my straight out of camera Jpegs. They just need a tiny bit more camera tweak. I guess I could do it all in camera but I might have to slow down my walking pace and my shooting pace to tweak stuff for each individual frame. I'd rather walk fast and enhance images in post. 

But the important thought I was dancing around today is how my setting of the camera (defining it as, at the time, a black and white camera) came to influence what I chose as subject matter. The brain is a tricky collaborator. It takes some stuff literally....

When I take photos in downtown Austin I like to pay attention to signs. Store signs. Sale signs. Informational signs. And signs from the universe...

At some point last week I was brushing up on my relationship with the Panasonic G9 camera. A camera that is actually too good. I actually say that because no matter what lens I put on it and no matter how I handle it the camera does everything perfectly and becomes completely transparent. I feel inadequate. I feel like I don't need to put any effort into making a great shot because the camera is quietly busy just making me look good. If you ever engineer a relationship like that with a camera I'm going to suggest you keep the camera. You might be tempted elsewhere and sell it off to pursue some flashy, bejeweled unicorn of a camera but you'll end up wanting that other, special camera back and you'll have to pay for it all over again. 

Anyway, I was trundling along with the G9 and an old, favorite standby, the Olympus Pen FT 60mm f1.5. And for some reason I felt compelled to photograph just about every funny sign I came across. The one just above is of a perennial sign in front of a cute little boutique that sells women's clothes. Some times the content of their sign is straightforward and at other times it just makes me smile. I originally photographed this one head on, looking down the street, but I circled back around and made this shot at an angle because I though the mildly out of focus store was more interesting than an empty street. 

I came across the image just above at the very end of my walk and it just struck me as so funny; two women just playing around with their teeth. It's too literal, too obvious. And I think that what makes it humorous for me. The mind wonders... were they picking spinach out of their teeth? Was there a flossing failure that day? And why does the person on the left need two hands while the person on the right only needed one? Unsolvable mysteries, I guess. 


The two signs in the restaurant window were one above the other. They seem to be telling passersby that because they are currently closed it's okay to urinate (or worse) in the planters just opposite the sign... I can't look at the duo of signs without a grin on my face. I'm an easy audience...

And finally....the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young advice for the pandemic. Shades of the 1970's.


 

Back at work and having a really good time. Getting productive in different ways.



I touched base with last week's client yesterday. Just a check in to see how they are dealing with 938 very large image files. They are doing the post process retouching and I'm always kind of amused when I hear about "how big the files are!!!" Of course, we covered this in our proposal and our pre-production meetings so I'm not sure what they were expecting. 

On the other hand they seem to really love the files because of the endless detail contained therein. And the sharply focused back edges of the product photos make it so much easier to do perfect subject selections.

I always like to do an "after action" report to myself when I've finished a project so I can make changes to the way I operate; if necessary. Sometimes the after action reports are just good reminders of how you did something on a shoot so you can replicate the production technique for the same company when you get invited back for another round.

One thing I wasn't sure of before last week was how seriously our clients would take the health considerations that come along with the pandemic. People do have a tendency to get fatigued and let their guard down as things like Covid-19 drags on. But I have to give all four of my clients of the past ten days high marks for good natured compliance with mask wearing, distancing and hand sanitizing. In retrospect I should have guessed that a huge radiology practice and a bio-tech company that's fully immersed in making testing equipment just for this kind of public health emergency would come with a heightened awareness and a mindfulness of the important protocols. 

While I know I would never attempt to photograph a sales convention or a wedding in the current time frame I am becoming much more comfortable getting back to work with medical practices, large corporations and also the folks at the theater. They are all taking prevention steps seriously. I am too.

In some ways the seriousness of the situation seems to have been good for more proven performers in the business. I think larger companies who still have cash in the coffers are understandably reticent to take chances on less established providers of photography and video production. Their way of thinking about it is that it's better to pay a bit more and get everything done right the first time than it is to save a few dollars but potentially need to do parts of jobs over again. One of my clients also remarked that a fast and sure working methodology means that everyone involved in an assignment has less overall exposure to each other and also that many parts of a project require less client supervision. That means more potential safety for everyone. 

In the part of last week's shoots that involved photographing product our client stayed out of the shooting studio until we had a product set up, lit correctly, polished and cleaned and a test shot up on the laptop screen. We'd call them in to see and approve the shot, or give us feedback. Once they approved, or improved our understanding of the concept, they exited our space and went back to work on something else (making them more efficient). With less experienced photographers there would need to be more interaction and supervision along with more exposure between client and photo crew. It's a pertinent and valuable selling point. 

Thanks for the suggestions on keeping masks fog free. I'm experimenting with some of the methods and will report back about which ones work for me.

Zach Theatre News: My marketing specialist and partner in video over at Zach Theatre had a successful hour and a half online meeting yesterday to iron out all of the tech details for the project we find ourselves totally immersed in right now. We're essentially producing creative modules for a part live/part pre-recorded online fundraising show that will happen on September 26th. 

We wanted to do a "detail" call without the rest of the team on the line to slow things down. We covered the basic storyboards he created for the three projects and we discussed the scheduling logistics involved. Some of the scenes include up to 30 people, dancing and singing as they move across a bridge and head toward the theater. We spent time trying to figure out how to keep chatty actors socially distanced, how to handle craft service, and most importantly how to film the sequences. How many cameras to use. How many medium shots versus tight CU shots. How to handle syncing the actors with the (pre-recorded) music. 

And even the minutia of which frame rate to use and which codec will work best for the large amount of editing that will need to be done in a short time frame. And who will start the city permit process and who is in charge of providing insurance for the public area shoots. 

While the theatre's creative team deals with casting, scheduling and rehearsing actors I've gotten hold of a preliminary B-roll list. Since the "big shot" of the 30+ actors on the bridge will take place on an early morning I'm trying to shoot all the B-roll to match the time of day. I've scheduled myself to do 30 or 40 quick shots all over Austin around the same time of day. It works out well. I can swim until the sun comes up, grab coffee and then get a handful of shots each day before breakfast. 

We settled on using the S1 cameras with the V-Log upgrades. A lot of our shots will be in full sun and I felt that working in V-Log would help us keep the highlights intact. We're testing now to make sure our editor is comfortable with a basic LUT and his ability to color grade the files. We're still going back and forth on whether to shoot 4K or 1080p. The 4K gives more flexibility and it sounds sexy to the marketing director but we're also looking at "day of" bandwidth requirements for uploading and streaming on Facebook and YouTube. Might just shoot the big, wide opening numbers in 4K and save the heavy lifting on the close ups...

I just finished up buying variable ND filters for all the different lens diameters. Those 82mm filters can get pricey... 

I hope we're able to raise a bunch of money with the online show. I'm happy to be shooting video. I'm even happier not to have to edit it. (But, in a pinch I'm a soft touch to take at least one part of their hands). 

Swim News: We're into week thirteen of socially distanced masters swimming and so far we've had no cases of Covid-19 emerge. We still get our temps taken each morning before hitting the water and we still wear our masks to the pool edge. The big new is that with the kids going (virtually- in our district) back to school we're able to change up and add to some of the practice times. 

We're ending the 6 a.m. workouts and shifting to 7 - 8 a.m. and a second workout from 8 a.m. - 9 a.m. And we're adding a noon hour workout Tuesday-Friday. This should ease up on the pool "traffic."

We got in 3,000 yards in our 55 minute slot today and everyone was in good spirits and seems to have returned to their pre-CVD-19 swim endurance and performance. I can hardly wait to lard in some noon swims just to ramp up my vitamin D intake/metabolism. 

Finally, I was just about to buy another pair of clear goggles since the 6 a.m. swim is mostly in darkness but the revelation that the swims are changing schedule means I can save that money and put it towards new lenses.... (that's a joke).

Errata: I have two Japanese Maple trees on the property and the bigger one has branches that are in sun for most of the day. It's been over 100° here for days and some of the leaves are getting sunburnt, shriveling up and dying. The tree isn't too tall; about 12 feet at its highest point, and most of the branches are fairly low --- especially the branches with the sunburnt leaves.

I've taken to setting up a couple of C-Stands and topping them with 50 inch diameter diffusion disks. I go out from time to time and adjust the diffusers based on the position of the sun (as it move around the earth -- at least that's what Fox News says...) and the tree seems to exude a sense of relief at my intervention. I also read up on Japanese Maples and discovered that they like damp, moist soil. Who doesn't? So I have sprinklers on them early in the day. Fingers cross that they make it through the hot spell. 

Lighting: Does anyone have experience with the new Godox VL150 and VL300 LED lights that came out recently? They've gotten great reviews from Curtis Judd and also from Gerald Undone (both on YouTube and both smart/ non-time-wasting reviewers) and I'm thinking of ordering a couple for higher output stuff -- like lighting up the stage at Zach for this project (usual lighting crew all furloughed). If you've them and either love em or hate em, please let me know. 

Another noon call today and them I'm free to roast in the heat. May even take yet another walk. They don't seem to last much past the day you take them.