10.09.2021

I was looking at art at the West Chelsea Contemporary Gallery and this one caught my eye...

It's a detail but I love the look, the light and the general feel....


 

This post didn't get enough love. I had to pull it right after I uploaded it last week because the client decided to embargo. It's about having fun photographing electric motors. I'm reposting here.

 

Large, high tech, electric motor.

I wrote a longish post over the weekend and haven't felt like writing again until today. But I'm not blaming "writer's block" because I've had so many other things to take care of this week. And the week is going by so fast. I wrapped up post production on a month long project to photograph 50 portrait sessions for a national accounting firm. That took some time. Just getting everyones' files to them took the better part of a morning. But the sense of closure when the last files winged their way to the recipient made me very happy. I'm always waiting for second shoes to drop... part of having an anxious nature.

The week also started with a bout of PhotoShop retouching for a non-profit called, Texas Appleseed. I learned that one can work on a portrait in Photoshop and then go into filters and output the file to a plug-in of Luminar, then use Luminar to do a really nice skin tone automated retouching (with available over ride controls) and even use a slider for reduce "shine." I'd pull files in, do some "A.I" retouching and bring the files back into PhotoShop to finish them up and do the things that might require advanced selections and different blending layers. It's constantly fun to learn new ways to do things as well but quicker and easier than before. 

We had a fun job on Monday. One of my favorite creative directors booked me to go shoot motors at a company that makes very advanced, industrial electric motors. I'd worked on the same account about a year ago and was delighted to hear that the client specifically requested me for this week's project. Apparently I have an affinity for shiny objects. 

So, on Monday I swam, spent the morning in meetings and doing paper work, and then I packed up a very streamlined kit and headed up to neighboring, Round Rock, Texas to do the photos. The traffic is back and I've started to depend more on time estimates given to me by map applications on my phone rather than just relying on my memory of how long it used to take to get anywhere. I walked in the front door at 12:30 pm, right on time. I put on my face mask, dragged in the cart full of fun stuff and immediately got to work setting up my two lights. 

Just for grins I decided to leave the LED lights at home and go somewhat old school. This is the first assignment I've done completely with electronic flash in a while. I decided that with the right attitude and the right camera and lens combination there was nothing I couldn't do with two battery powered flashes. My choice on Monday was to use two of the Godox AD200  portable flashes. These are compact units that run off large, rechargeable batteries. They put out a good quantity of light and also offer a bunch of different "flash head" options; from the round head you see in the photo below to a more conventional rectangular head and even a bare bulb tube. The round head and the rectangular heads feature, in addition to their own dedicated flash tubes, LED modeling lights that can be dimmed or ramped up. The LED modeling lights wouldn't compete with the bigger modeling lights found in A/C powered units but they are nice to have.

I put one flash in a collapsible soft box and the other I set up with a 60 inch, white umbrella. I angled the lights for the best effect on the products and then put one light about one stop lower than the other to provide a modicum of modeling across the various product faces. I was pleased with the way they looked. 

Most of the time I'm picking cameras and lenses based on how well they shoot with the lens wide open or with the camera and lens handheld. But when shooting product you'd be a little nuts not to use a tripod and also pick a lens that gives you some compositional flexibility and, in this case, performs well at smaller apertures, in defiance of diffraction. A much feared but, in reality, mostly mild side effect of stopping down. 

The selection of camera was based on what the client/agency was going to need as finished files. They were very happy with the idea of 24 megapixels so my choice was between the Panasonic S5 and one of the Leica SLs. I went with the SL because I knew I wanted to use the big and beefy Leica 24-90mm lens and wanted to take advantage of the Arca Swiss mount L plate I have attached to the SL. The plate prevents the camera from twisting on the tripod head when I need to shoot in a vertical orientation and the SL seemed like a good overall size match for the big and heavy lens. In fact it was. 

It's important to find one control in the camera menu to make shooting with flash easier. There is a menu item that allows for auto exposure with all modes (PSAM) and one that does all but the M mode. It's like turning off constant preview for the M setting. Turned on it acts like an OVF camera, the image may be bright and sassy in the EVF but it's that way even if you're two stops under exposed. This is great when working with flash because you can see to compose and focus then chimp the review to confirm correct exposure. If it's turned off you might be focusing on a  very dim finder image. No fun.

Once I had the camera set up correctly I dived straight down to f14 -- f16 in order to get enough depth of field to cover each product. I have a photographer friend in Switzerland who does tons of still-life images with Leica cameras and he's tested a wide range of lenses to see which  ones perform well when stopped down into diffraction territory. The Leica 24-90mm is his "go-to" lens for subjects that require the flexibility of a zoom and the "bite" of a good prime lens. That was my selection as well. 

I stuck mostly with f16 and used the controls on a Godox X1 T radio trigger to fine tune the power output from the flashes to get to an optimum exposure setting. The main and fill flashes were used at 1/2 and 1/4 power respectively. We shot a handful of products but needed to catch about six angles per product. The motors are big and heavy. The weight of the one in the top photo is easily 150 lbs. Some are bigger. 

Since the products weren't moving fast recycle time was inconsequential. The AD200 units, when used at 1/2 power can cycle at about 1 flash per second... for a while. They are well vented but not fan-cooled. I only needed two shots per angle. I could have gotten away with one shot per angle but why tempt fate? I was doing a two shot bracket at the "suggested" exposure and also one half stop under. Easy to pump up exposure in post but much harder to pull down overexposure. 

The project wrapped up in a couple of hours and I headed back to Austin to download and do post production. The agency discovered that some of the units we needed to photograph were a bit shop worn in places, with nicks, scratches and tape residue so they asked if I could retouch the most important four images right away. No problem. I love cosmetic problem solving. Any excuse to use the pen tool to create complex selections. 

It was a clean project with a start, a middle and a defined end point. Just the way I generally like projects. I hate stuff that drags on, changes, and drags on some more. 

The AD200 flash units are a far cry from the giant strobe boxes we used in the days of steam powered cameras with their rolls of hand-coated glass plates. A couple of the AD200s in a camera bag is an awesome and relatively powerful kit. You might remember that I used them extensively on a project that spread over a couple months back in 2018. The flashes stood up well in the oppressive heat of the Florida Everglades and then equally well in a mountain top sleet storm in rural Virginia. One unit finally bit the dust when it careened from the top of a ten foot light stand in a sudden wind gust. Ten feet down to concrete with all the mean-ness gravity could muster was too much for the plastic rear panel. That dead flash has since been replaced by a newer AD200 Pro which, for all intents and purposes is the same as the original. The new and old units work well together, share the same batteries and remotes and the same family of accessories. 

I think they are pretty cool. 

An AD200 (original) sunning itself on the window sill.

Gotta run for now. Having a Tex-Mex lunch with the creative director from the wine project. I wonder what he'll come up with this time?

Vacation is looming. B. is in charge of overall planning and logistics. She's much more detail and research oriented than I. 

 Added: Here is how the agency actually used the photos: https://www.infinitumelectric.com

(OMG, writing about current photography trends from the perspective of someone who does it for an actual living. Who would have thought?). 

Inflation hits the camera market. SL2 asset appreciation currently beating the market for the quarter....

 


When I purchased a Leica SL2 early this year the retail price (and the price I paid) was right at $6,000. A price increase a few months back put the new price at $6,500 and a new price increase recently put the full price of a new camera at $6,895 in the USA markets. That's a nearly 16% increase in the "value" of SL2 camera bodies since the first quarter of the year. And there was no attendant dip in price as there has been in the camera market. 

So, why has this camera gone up in price? While its sibling (SL2-S) has remained stable at its original introduction price of $4995? I'm presuming that part of this has to do with firmware added parity of digital features bestowed on the SL2 that make it just about competitive with the SL2-S for professional video work. 

With firmware 3.0 the SL2 gains newer and more efficient codecs, automatic follow focus controls, a re-sizeable waveform monitor, more options in the Log codec, the elimination of shorter record times in 4K and many other things. Both cameras can now record video until the memory on your card runs out or the batteries die. 

But firmware 3.0 was more than just a nice new assortment of video goodies. It also vastly improved the AF algorithms and made focusing much faster and less bouncy. The new firmware kept all the impressive photographic performance of the high resolution sensor and overlaid all the attributes found on the SL2-S with only one exception: the newer, lower resolution camera is still the better machine for high ISO/Low light performance. 

The firmware update to 3.0 is free so if you bought your camera before the last two price increases you've essentially upgraded to a newer model, performance-wise, for free. And here I always thought that cameras entered the market and, after the first two years on the market, started depreciating rapidly from then on. This doesn't seem to be the case with the SL2. 

I would also note that the original SL (model 601) followed a more traditional route until this last Summer. The camera debuted at $7450 back in 2015 and dropped to somewhere just under $5,000 three years after its introduction. These were the retail prices. Then the camera was discontinued and prices slid down over time to the $1900 mark. But people have been buying them up lately because they have come to realize just how good the overall files are from these cameras and people continue to be impressed at the build quality and menu interface. Now a clean version (used) has risen from an average of around $2,000 to a price range of around $2,400. 

With the SL, the 601 I'm presuming the bump back up in price is due to both inflation and increasing scarcity of units that have not yet been run over by trucks or thrown off the parapets of some castle during a fractious model disagreement during an emotional fashion shoot. But I'm having trouble understanding the rise in new prices of the SL2 but not it's sibling, the SL2-S. 

There is a lightly used SL2 available used in this market and it just got more alluring at $5,000 with the price rise of its new-in-box brethren having taken place. Maybe a second, identical body could be rationalized. I'll resist for now because it would impel me to go back into a re-packing frenzy for the upcoming vacation trip. 

I know that most of you don't care about Leica cameras and Leica news but for the few that do I'm sure they are as baffled by the inconsistent pricing model as everyone else. Now, if only batteries for everyone's cameras were still in stock...

Who would have thought of contemporary Leicas as a hedge against inflation?