10.29.2020

So much work got done in the last two days. Where to start???

Judy Arnold singing at Zach Theatre's "Songs Under the Stars."

We finished up a job for Jaston Williams ( a wonderful stage actor and playwright) yesterday afternoon and I immediately fell into post processing mode. We'd shot in a temporary studio set-up back stage at Zach Theatre's MainStage. But this shoot wasn't done for Zach it was completed for Jaston's own production company. We were just renting space at our favorite theater. 

We spent two days with a gifted make-up artist, a director, a costume designer, a lighting designer and Jaston creating photographs of characters that will appear in a multi-media production of Jaston's next big show. 

But after we finished photographing and my assistant and I wrapped all the gear (a mountain of gear!) getting it all safely back to the studio I needed to re-pack and turn around pretty quickly. I did take time download all the big, juicy raw files from that day's adventure but I was out the door an hour later, heading back to the theater to photograph the evening concert series the theater is calling, "Songs Under the Stars." 

I tossed in a little twist this time. Since I can't physically block the stage from the audience I've been shooting with longer lenses. But the longest lens I have for the Lumix S1 series cameras is the 70-200mm f4.0. In fact, I don't think Panasonic has delivered a longer lens for the S1x system yet! I've been using it on the S1R with the camera in the "teleconverter" mode which is basically a 1.4X crop that yields a 23.5 megapixel file (the full frame file being 47 megapixels...). That at least gives me a 300mm equivalent to work with.

I'm always looking for a longer focal length for these productions and last week I picked up an old, used lens for the micro-four-thirds cameras. It's an early 45-200mm f4.0 - 5.6 Panasonic lens. I covered the concert with the tried and true, full frame camera first but then I stuck the 45-200mm onto a G9 and started to blaze away. Even with dual I.S. it's damn hard to get lots of keepers with a 400mm equivalent lens. I tried a bunch of steadying techniques and even put the rig on a monopod but I wasn't able to get enough satisfyingly sharp images until I got the shutter speed up above 1/200th. And that required me to ramp up the ISO to 6400. Yes. 6400 on a "cropped frame" camera. Astounding. Impossible. Inadvisable. Etc. 

The saving grace of modern cameras is to shoot them in Jpeg mode when you go from the sane settings to the weird and over the top settings. The idea is that the camera and its engineers have probably figured out a better noise reduction technique that I will have done in the post processing of raw files. And I think it worked on about 2 out of every 10 shots. The one above was shot two thirds of stop lower than wide open, and the ISO was 6400. 

The image is certainly usable for social media, etc. but the keeper rate from the lens is far too low. It's partly because the image stabilization in the lens is very much first or second generation while we are now in a time of 8th or 10th generation I.S. I also think that the lens is not really as sharp as I'd like when used at its longest focal length, especially while the lens aperture is at or near its maximum. 

I liked the reach but I decided that we'd need a much higher quality optic to make this bold experiment in the use of smaller sensor cameras work. What better solution for a self-inflicted problem than some immediate retail therapy? I decided I liked shooting at 400mm and I'd like it even better with a faster lens that was also razor sharp wide open. I decided to add a 50-200mm f2.8-4.0 Panasonic/Leica zoom to the studio mix. I picked it up this morning after scouting a location for a third client in far north Austin. Thankfully this lens is currently on sale at $200 off the usual price.

I'll have to put up some comparison photos next Wednesday or Thursday, after I've had a chance to shoot the next show in the same lighting. It should be interesting. 

Pandemic safe meetings. I had a meeting with a client this afternoon to discuss an upcoming project. Since it was with a person I've known for years and years I thought she would be open to a new meeting venue. I proposed that we meet in the vast, central city park (Zilker Park). We each sourced our own coffee and met under the trees there. I brought two lightweight, Adirondack-style chairs with me and we set them up so our legs were in the sun but our faces were shaded by the leaves of a friendly tree. 

It was 61° and bright this afternoon. There were wind gusts but it was, altogether, very pleasant. We chattered away about concept and design of a campaign for the better part of an hour. I took a few notes. At the end we were both relaxed and the thought crossed my mind that perhaps business meetings could produce better results if we did more of them in nature; weather permitting. The chairs were comfortable and there were no fellow associates to interrupt my client. No ringing telephones (we left them in our cars). And across the street we could see the happy-go-lucky younger adults playing rounds of Frisbee golf. Maybe happiness is contagious. At least it felt like it.

With a bit of distancing, some clever chair positioning to make sure we weren't breathing towards one another, and lots and lots of fresh, cool air I think it was easily the safest (quasi-) face-to-face meeting I've had since we learned about Covid-19. I realize it's not optimal for people living in the northern regions but on the odd day when the weather is warmer than it should be it might be a good idea to bundle up a little and go exterior. 

I have a meeting tomorrow morning with an agency creative director, I think we'll try another version of the meeting in the park. Could be a trend.

I have to admit, I wasn't expecting the Apple Watch 6 to be as good as it is! Yes, I got the watch for my birthday and I've been getting up to speed on it, day by day. I haven't been able to get the death ray to work yet but that might not even be a real thing. I'm loving checking my vitals. I love that it tells me when I've got a call and gives me a quick way to ignore said call. And I like changing my watch face throughout the day (currently using Mickey Mouse...). I love the heart rate monitor and I value the loud noise warnings.

My watch was very concerned yesterday since the amplified concert I photographed was way too loud, and lasted for over an hour. I tried and tried to tell the watch that I was definitely using earplugs --- because I always use earplugs at concerts, but the watch wasn't getting that point. Interesting to see though just how much loud sound people willingly subject themselves to. Little wonder so many become hard of hearing as they age...

The only depressing thing about the Watch, both yesterday and today, is how easy it becomes to check the current value of one's investments. Just like the other suggestions, like breathing more, the Watch should admonish me for checking stock prices too often....Especially when values are dropping like rocks.

No big work tomorrow. Just one happy meeting and then a relaxing day. I'm looking forward to chilling out a bit.