We had an auditorium that could safely seat 300 people at our disposal today
as our main studio. It was an embarrassment of square footage riches!
Easy to distance at a shoot when you've got a huge lobby for the talent to wait
their turn in and five or six thousand square feet to shoot in.
I just finished up the first big, juicy photography job of 2021. It felt so wonderful to be back in the middle of a project. I can't show today's images since the client hasn't even seen the finals yet, and I don't want to mention the client by name because they are in a highly regulated industry and might not be comfortable with the too much information floating around, but I did want to write about which I camera I chose to use for the job and why.
photo: ©Austin Brown
Note the "cheat sheet" taped to the leg of my tripod. It was there to
keep me on task and help me remember to work with the talent
to get six different "looks of excitement."
photo: ©Austin Brown
We were checking the histogram on the camera and then
double-checking it against the waveform monitor on an Atomos.
Note the N-95 mask on your heroic photographer ...
photo: ©Austin Brown
photo: ©Austin Brown
Austin Brown was giving me a master class on selfie creation.
I've not mastered the genre yet. Hard to do "duck face" under
the face mask and have it "read."
If you guessed that I used the Leica SL2 or the Panasonic S1H because of their high resolution and great image quality you'd be close, but no cigar.
Let me set up the day for you and then we'll get to the camera choice.
My client makes very, very high tech medical testing instruments. They sell them all over the world. We've photographed their products in the past and have also done a few shoots which show their own internal scientists using the newest of the machines but we've never done a "people only" ad shoot for them...before today.
Our brief was to go to their location, set up appropriate lights and a background and then photograph six different talents showing six different emotions ranging from pure excitement, to (happy) disbelief, to serious pride. I needed to direct each of the talents through the range of emotions and make photographs that have great skins tones, interesting/pleasing lighting, and which don't lose detail in their white lab coats. The photos also had to be shot with the idea that we'll be dropping out the backgrounds and delivering layered Tiff files.
I'm a promiscuous shooter. I love to overshoot because you never know which image/expressions the client will like, and a good day's worth of work should be productive enough to get tons of images for the client as well as images that I might like even better.
Over the course of our photography today I shot about 3,000 frames. From that bucket of photos I edited out about a third of them and kept 2,000 which were well exposed and sharply focused. Most of the files I tossed were because of the talent blinking, or from me shooting in between the looks the talents were working on. Some frames got tossed because I was trying to rush the flash recycle and ended up with black frames. And some images were tossed just because I didn't like the expression, or gesture, or balance.
I knew we'd be shooting a lot of frames because the clients wanted to play around, experiment with looks, and then really drill down on a look once they hit something we all liked. We ended up doing a lot of fine-tuning, from expression to hand position to the amount of finger curl.
Since I knew we'd be "file heavy" I decided that 24 megapixels would be more than adequate for this project. Compared to the 47.5 megapixel cameras we were able to use half as much storage and cut way down on all the processing time. It's a real consideration when all 2,000 of those files we did keep are 14 bit raw files....
I have a couple cameras that shoot 24 megapixel raw files but I'd done someone-dpeth testing recently with the S1H that made me smile, and I also remembered that it's the one camera in the system with an anti-aliasing filter in the optical path. I wanted to take advantage of that to cut down on any moiré I might provoke from the synthetic fabric lab coats we were having the talents wear. I've also found the S1H to have a slightly different color palette than the other S1 cameras and it's something I prefer.
I put the S1H into a cage so that when I used it vertically (almost 95% of the shots were verticals) the weight of the lens wouldn't twist the camera down. It's a great way to shoot vertically if you want to be on a tripod. And I usually am partial to the added support...
I know a lot of photographers like to shoot tethered to laptops when they are on location but I absolutely detest doing that. You are at the mercy of the tethering software and since each frame is transferring to the laptop over USB at full resolution you have a huge amount of data transfer going on. If you shoot a lot and very fast you'll bog down quickly and end up spending a lot of time waiting for the files to get to the laptop, and finally end up on the screen. My solution is, I think, far superior for any kind of shooting except for ponderously slow product photography.
I hook up an Atomos monitor to the camera's HDMI port and use it as a system monitor. The image data transfer is limited to the embedded preview Jpeg and it's also limited to a 4K size. The monitor keeps up with my shooting speed. The Ninja Flame monitor I use is a really good color and density match for the Retina screen on my desktop and I can put the 7 inch monitor just about anywhere with a 15 foot HDMI cable from the camera.
I can also daisy chain addition monitors if there are a number of people in the same area working through an "on the fly" approval process. We run the Atomos monitor with A/C power so we can keep it running all day. We're not writing files to the Atomos; just using it as a monitor. Clients love it since it's much bigger than a camera screen and they can watch the files come up on the screen in real time as we shoot. I don't understand why more photographers don't do this instead of tethering to a computer. If you have a reasonable argument to make about the value of actual tethering please let me know!
Today's shoot went smoothly. The client hired real talent (and they were all great) from a well respected agency which meant they were all well vetted and reliable.
I worked with a make-up person named, Serret Jensen. She and I have worked together on video and photo projects for Zach Theatre for about ten years. We set her up in a 2000 square foot room, complete with high ceilings and good ventilation. Talent came to her one at a time and she wore a mask under a plastic face shield while working with each talent.
I directed the client to the talent agency and left it to them to choose the right people and the right looks for the job. They were spot on!
Since we had a lot of ground to cover and were setting up and using five or six lights for the photography I brought along a great assistant. His name is Austin Brown and he's one of the technical lighting directors at Zach Theatre (when they are open and running). He's a pleasure to work with and kept all the lights humming (metaphorically). He also did the heavy lifting so I could act like I was concentrating on the fine details of photography in front of the client.
Had we been looking for only one "look" from each talent I might have used one the higher resolution cameras but I've been spot checking the files we shot by looking at them at 100% and I can't imagine the difference would be discernible to most people when the images end up a bit smaller than a full page in a trade magazine advertisement.
We hit the location this morning at 8:30 and were set up and shooting by 9:15. The client had set the schedule with the idea of ending around 5 pm but I was pretty sure we didn't need that much time. We photographed all but one talent before lunch, broke for an hour to eat a nicely catered lunch, and then grabbed the images of our sixth talent, followed by some stuff the client wanted to try out after having reviewed the morning's work. We were packed and out the door by 2:30 which allowed everyone to avoid the resurgent Austin road traffic.
The initial edit and import into Lightroom, and the creation of a back-up folder, were done by 5:30 this afternoon and we're ready to power down and enjoy some pizza and a glass of wine.
It feels so great to be back in the mix. More like this please!
One of my quiet spots from the day before.
I got there to ruminate over how I will design my shooting
process for the next day.
It's good to have quiet places around town in nice settings.
Stairs. No buildings...