8.08.2011

Continuing with the medium format nostalgia....beauty.

I've always had a love affair with.......the 150mm Lens on a Square Medium Format camera.  This was shot on the stairs that connect my living room with my dining room.   The model's name is Kara and we originally shot this as an alternative choice for the cover of my first book.  The image was taken with a Carl Zeiss lens but it wasn't on the front of a Hasselblad, it was on the other European MF system I used, the Rollei SLR system.  While there was much to love about the Rolleis, and with the same lens maker and choice of films the ultimate quality was absolutely equal to the Hasselblad, but I always preferred the battery-less operation of the Swedish version and the relative quiet of the shutter.  The Hblad is also a bit lighter.

When we create book covers it's routine to try a number of variations and then judge the winner at the end.  I had worked with Kara on several advertising campaigns before this but they all cast her as the quintessential "soccer mom" while I wanted something a bit sexier.  I don't care what you're marketing, beautiful faces work for me...

Hope everyone is staying cool and having a fun Monday.

(quick note:  shot on Fuji Asti E-6 film and then scanned on an Epson V500 Photo flatbed scanner.)


A self serving book review that I hope will inspire even non-commercial photographers to rush to Amazon or Precision Camera to secure a copy.


I am in the middle of writing my sixth book. This one is about the convergence of digital photography and video.  I think I'll call it Minimalist Video for Photographers.    All of the books I've written are about photography.  Two are about lighting technique (Minimalist Lighting: Professional Techniques for Location Photography and 
Minimalist Lighting: Professional Techniques for Studio Photography) and they have been very popular books when it comes to sales.  Another book I wrote is all about lighting equipment.  It's mostly about what's available out there and why you might want to use it.  It's entitled, aptly enough:  Photographic Lighting Equipment.   And sales of that book are also good.  In fact, anything I write that relates to equipment either sells well or, in the case of this blog, is a big reader magnet.  I guess that says something about the interests of my audience.  The fifth book is a comprehensive look at LED lighting and it should come out this Winter, from Amherst Media.

But the best book I've written to date is the one that seems to always be languishing on the shelves and getting chummy with the remnants on the Amazon shelves.  And it's sad for me because I think that in addition to being well crafted it is by far the most important book I've written for the greatest number of photographers.  It's called:  Commercial Photography Handbook.  Let me explain.

8.06.2011

Going backwards. Or, the epiphany I had while out for a walk in the blazing heat. Or, how to rationalize buying a new Hasselblad...

This is one of the very first medium format images I ever shot.  

It was shot with a Yashica Mat 124G which was the desirable cheapy MF camera of the 1970's.  I shot this in late 1979 at my place on Longview, near the UT campus.  It was done on Kodak Panatomic X film (ISO 32) using a Novatron 150 watt second pack with one head aimed thru a shoot thru umbrella.  I only owned one head at the time so that's how I shot it.  (Was Zack Arias even born back then???).

I hand developed the film at the Ark Cooperative darkroom and eventually printed it on Ilford Ilfobrom double weight paper.  This was before the Bass brothers tried to corner the silver market so a box of 8x10 double weight fiber paper, 100 sheets was about $6.95.  I scrimped and saved to buy it.  Texas was a poor state back then and my finances were precarious.  I was so in love with Belinda that any photograph I took seemed incredible to me then.  We dated for five years, spent lots of time enjoying Austin and places like the Armadillo World Headquarters  (saw the Talking Heads open their for Devo one night.....) and eventually decided to get married. But that's a whole other story.  This photo represents our first year together.  She abandoned teaching for studio arts and I abandoned electrical engineering to be a writer.....

8.05.2011

Portrait Professional. A user report. From the frigid wastelands of my studio cave...


 You've probably guessed that it's extremely rare for me to talk about software on this blog.  It's not because I don't use software in my photography business but I always considered myself a "purist",  unsullied by the "phony" effects of HDR software or any of the other canned effects that I see all over the web.  Yep.  I always considered myself a basic PhotoShop warrior with the credo that, "if it couldn't be done in PhotoShop you really shouldn't be doing it....

But lately I've wavered.  My friend at atmtx keeps doing HDR stuff that I actually like.  You can see it here:  the guy that does good, mostly subtle HDR.  We had lunch yesterday and I'm kinda blown away that he doesn't even use PhotoShop but does his magic with a combination of Apple's Aperture and Photomatix.

So, I was sitting in front of my computer one day, contemplating a virtual stack of portraits that I needed to retouch/enhance and dreading the time consuming method I'd come to after years of just hacking away with clone tools and various adaptations of layers and gaussian blur when I came across an ad for a piece of software called, Portrait Professional.  And it was aimed at exactly what I was working on.  I mean exactly what I was working on.  I downloaded a trial and twenty minutes later I was back to download the full deal, credit card sizzling hot in my hand.

In a nutshell the program offers you all the stuff a seasoned professional retoucher would bring to a basic portrait retouching job, organized in a straightforward way, with tons of individual controls.  I used the basic tools for the job at hand and estimate that I did the project in less  than a third of the time I would have done it in with my previous, antiquated workflow, and more importantly, I did a much, much better job than I would have previously done.  I just had to kill and bury that 20th century purist who had always (subconsciously??) held portrait retoucing in low regard.  He's gone now.  It's a new century and I'm all about making portraits that my clients love.  If I want to do "Art" I'll do in on my own time and on my own dime.  This is a tool for taking a conventional business headshot or ad shot and cleaning up skin tone, remapping some features and generally flattering the hell out of your sitter without tipping your hand too badly.  Now, don't get me wrong.  You can go all extreme and dangerous with the program and turn out Barbie Doll skin and wacky space alien features but you can also use the power of the program with a bit of restraint.

Once you open the program and select an image you'll see a "before" and a "working" image side by side on your monitor.  The program leads you thru the process of "marking" the outside point of each eyes, zooms you in to fine tune your selection of eye and eye brow and then sends you along to do the same kind of quick marking of lips and nose and the general area and shape of the face.  I assume the program uses this information to figure out what is skin and what everything else is.  You also select whether you are working a male or female face and even whether or not you are working on a child's face.  Once you've done all this (two minutes?) you push the space bar and the program does its automated retouching and then opens a brilliantly conceived and laid out interface that allows you to go into dozens of parameters and change settings to your heart's desire.  Finally, when you've done everything you want and you've watched the changes, you push the spacebar again and the program finishes out your creation and saves it.

I'm cheap, I bought the basic program.  It'll work with Jpegs or Tiffs and it works as a stand alone program.  If I need to clone something or mess with a background the image has to go into PS.  But you can buy more complete versions that allow you to use it as a PS plug-in and even in 64 bit.  I didn't realize how much I would enjoy working with the program and how much easier it's making my professional life or I would have gone straight to the best/coolest implementation.  I hope they allow me to upgrade.

I'm a curmudgeon at times but once you beat me over the head with the time savings of something and the fact that the program keeps me organized and better able to turn out a great enhanced/retouched image that is perhaps better than my patience and skill previously permitted, I'll jump every time!

Check it out and see what you think.  If you go to their site there's a free trial:  http://www.portraitprofessional.com/?gclid=CKmjkqyRuaoCFQ0S2godKgfGMw  The company is Anthropics Technology.  And now I'm curious about what else they may have to make my life easier.

Final Note:  It's not particularly fair or revealing to use Jana (above images) as a before and after because she has such beautiful features and photographs so well.  I thought about using someone plain until I realize that I make it a habit of never photographing anyone who isn't gorgeous......


8.04.2011

I have a lot of cameras. Why do I keep coming back to the Olympus ones?

Of course I have egg on my face about the Olympus XZ-1 and my initial perspective of letting ergonomics define everything.  Turns out I just needed to retrain my left hand and part of my brain.  Now I seem to carry it everywhere because, even with the EVF-2 on it, it's light as a feather and the quality of the files is very, very good.  I like the metering and I like the colors.  Noise?  Sure.  Why not. But not enough at 100, 200 or 400 to even register to me.  Print them out and 800 works as well.  Higher than that?  Well, I had a $5,000 Nikon D2x that didn't look any better over 400 ISO, so I don't worry about it much.  I like that it goes wide and I like that it's got a fast aperture.  Is it worlds better than the Canon or Panasonic products.  Not in its native form but when you add the finder it makes it worlds better.  Say what you will about the extra expense, or the way the finder sits on top of the camera like a goiter, but that finder is magical and if you haven't actually looked through one and seen how much fun it makes the cameras it is attached to you should do that before you comment.  Otherwise I'm just trying to describe how good steak tastes to someone who's been trapped and held captive by radical vegans since birth.

8.01.2011

A regular job that was fun and straightforward. Traditional photography lives.

You've read about the Cows and you've read about next generation transportation so I thought we'd throttle back a little bit and look at a job that may seem less glamorous and cutting edge but which, in fact, takes just as much photographic skill and business expertise.  Shooting products.  There's an Austin based company called, Salient Systems and they are a leading provider of IP video surveillance software, video management systems with IP video servers, and hybrid CCTV software.  Their stuff comes in rack mountable enclosures and they call from time to time and ask me to photograph new products.  I do so happily. 

7.31.2011

My amazing electric bike and why I think this kind of stuff is important.

    Photo of me, courtesy ATMTX Photo.  Picking up my electric bike yesterday.


Added on Monday August 1st, from the New York Times:  http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/31/opinion/sunday/the-dutch-way-bicycles-and-fresh-bread.html?src=me&ref=general


We all talk a good game about being "green" and "making a difference" but in reality we're all pretty reticent to change much.  A lot of the people in my neighborhood live less than three miles from their offices in downtown Austin but every morning they rev up the Chevy Suburban, drop by Starbucks for a big ole latte and head downtown.  If they leave between 8 and 9 a.m. chances are good that they'll sit through a few red lights at the intersection of Mopac and Bee Caves Rd.,  listen to St. Sam on the radio spew lots of ultra-conservative wisdom peppered with a continuous dose of both Christian "love" and a bit of Texas-Style admiration for the state's death penalty.  Once they've followed the rest of their neighbors into the hornet's nest of parking garages my neighbors will settle in for a day of work.  Their $40,000, six thousand pound cars languishing in layers of concrete or baking in an open parking lot.  In the evening they'll do the same thing in reverse.

7.29.2011

A moo-ving experience.

Being a cow wrangler isn't always as glamorous as it's made out to be.  The cows can be tempremental at times.  Especially the ones with tiaras.  Olympus xz-1.


While I love the cow with the wheels and gears I hope it's not a preview of my new bike....
Olympus xz-1.

Being serious for a second I really like the look of the widest angle setting on the Olympus xz-1 camera.  It's bright and contrast even though I was shooting at f3.5 in full sun.  The VF-2 made shooting in full sun, and shooting low angles a lot more comfortable.  Coulda done this with an iPhone but it probably would have crippled me......

 Another example of the nice color, exposure and wide angle rendering of the camera.

What budget deficit?  We've got the golden cow.  Wait.  Isn't there some Biblical tie in here?

So now I've come to the end of another long week and I'm tired and sore and behind on my schedule for writing.  That just means next week I'll have to write more.  Don Giannatti and I talked this week and decided to push the lighting workshop in San Diego back toward the end of September.  We were both getting calls from lots of friends and strangers who wanted to take the class but had conflicts with kids going back to school or end of the Summer family vacation plans.  Stay tuned for more info on that.

I'm a little bummed about all the BS that's going on in Washington, D.C. over the budget deficit.  I don't care what your party affiliation is or which leader you personally think is the great Satan but I'm starting to feel businesses that were on firm recovery footing pulling back a bit and re-adopting that nasty, "Wait and See" attitude.  And that's not good for any of us in the creative industry.  We're lower on the food chain and some of us were just starting to see food on the chain again when all this crap bubbled up.  

It's kind of wild when you own your own business or are otherwise self-employed.  If the economy implodes again there is no unemployment insurance for us.  The salary jockeys in most states are going to get their 100 weeks or 2,000 weeks or whatever of unemployment payments but when our last job is over and the market collapses we say hello to our personal bailout.....it's called our savings accounts.  And if you are a fellow photographer I hope you've been rebuilding yours lately because when these liberal and conservative numbskulls (who have NO skin in the game) start playing around with the world's largest and more rigorous economy you might need it.

Sometimes I feel like the neighbor who just watched the nuclear reactor manager next door give the keys to the facility to a bunch of teenage boys on high fructose sugar and Red Bull.  Consequences be damned.  Well, at least we have the cows to keep us company.......

The Epiphanizer. It's not, "Who moved my cheese?" It's "Who moved my path?"

If' you've been to the blog recently you've seen me post a number of photos from the "square years."  I've never been stylish so you can presume I just mean the years and years that I shot with square format cameras.  We all know why photographers largely abandoned their groovey, cool film cameras in the mid-part of this century's first decade but now I'm going to look at the advantages of going backwards to an older methodology.  It all has to do with mindful behavior.  

But first, the seductress:

We had many good rationalizations for moving from film to digital.  Not all of them worked out the way we expected.  The first rationalization was the money that we'd save by not having to buy film and polaroid.  We'd save a second fortune by not having to pay for processing and scanning.  And, finally, we'd save a fortune because the immediacy of the process would free us up to do more and enjoy life.  So, what did we get?  Some good and some bad, like anything else.  We gave up a slower pace and we lost some months in re-training to become color separator/experts.  We got the nod to shoot lots more stuff but now we're still at a loss for how to store it for the duration.  We got out of the darkroom and into our Aero chairs.  We stopped having to buy archival pages and sleeves but we're filling hard drives.  All that stuff seems to be basically a wash.  For me the two big losses were the shrinkage of format choice and the abandonment of the MF depth of focus characteristics.  

Everyone tells me just to crop but there's a psychological shove that makes us conform, even if only subconsciously, to fill whatever space we're given.  We see it on the edge of the frame so we figure out how to incorporate the edge.....  But I want to see things through the camera the way I want to see things.

I've said it before but it also bares repeating that the look for the focus "fall off" is profoundly different --at the same camera to subject distance---between 35mm sized sensors and a full on frame of medium format film.  Much different.  It's not just a question of shooting an 85mm 1.4 wide open.  The stuff I shoot at 150mm f4 looks different.

In the end though all choices are equally valuable.  I like shooting m4:3rds at times just as much as I love shooting 35mm full frame.  And, when time is short and budgets are shorter, it's good to be able to knock stuff out with digital.  We just should not forget that there ARE times when budgets and time are less pressing and we might have the idea for images that just plain work better big and fat and on film.

I'm not giving up digital.  I'm not going back to a film workflow.  But I'm re-embracing MF film for my own sake just because it feels so right to me.  

I spoke of an epiphany and I should share the moment the light bulb came on over my head.  A few years ago I made a "greatest hits" book of my favorite black and white portraits.  Just so happens they were all squares and all shot on either a square format Hasselblad or Rolleiflex.  I found a cool square book and flush mounted them all.  I started showing that book along with a more topical book, filled with 13x19 inch color prints from digital files.  The digital files were from Leaf digital backs, a Leica M9, Canon's of all stripe, and some savory Nikon files too.  And when I showed the color book people would smile and nod and say stuff like,  "That's pretty nice."  But, young and old,  when I showed the square book people slowed down and stared at the portraits and said stuff like,  "Oh my gosh!  These are incredible."

I put two and two together and it equaled the working methodology I'd evolved working with my preferred tools.  I can have it both ways.

7.28.2011

Yesterday it was all about the Cows. Really.

Wednesday was a very cow-y day for me.  There's this thing called the CowParade and here's how it works:  The organizers plan a Cow Parade for your city.  They get corporate sponsors to kick in.  They invite artists to apply.  The find a charity to give money to.  Then each artist who makes the cut gets a cow to decorate and use as an art project.  All the cows are rounded up and auctioned off.  All the proceeds go to the charity.  In Austin's case the charity was the Dell Children's Medical Center.  Cool.  In Austin there will be nearly 100 cows.  So how do I fit in?  Well, since you asked......

I do a pretty fair amount of work for a PR agency here in town that happened to be involved in the whole project and it seems that the CowParade has much use for good photography.  One thing they need is for someone to show up during the cow "round up" and photograph each one of the cows from six different angles.  The cows need to be shot on white seamless paper so they can be "dropped out" to white and used in catalogs, collateral pieces promoting the Austin CowParade and also for use by the friendly electronic media.  I got encouraged/volunteered to become an "in kind" sponsor which means I did lots of photographs in exchange for "recognition" on the signs and other collateral.  I also got "invited" the VIP Preview Party but I was going to be there anyway since I agree to shoot the event photos.......

I usually dread shooting 92 inch long cows that weigh over 100 pounds on locations away from my studio and this was no exception.  When you shoot at a venue like a city coliseum, a music hall or other venue that specializes in live entertainment you always have to deal with people who don't understand what photographers need or how the projects need to be set up to work well for everyone.  For instance,  the cows are a maximum of 92 inches long and regular (what I can get my hands on quick) seamless background paper is about 108 inches long so, if you want to get white all around your cow you'll need to be able to stand back about forty or fifty feet from the set and shoot with a long lens.  In this case I used a 70-200mm f4L zoom on a Canon 60D.  With the cow about three feet in front of the actual white seamless I could get the biggest cow just right, with a couple of inches of white safety on either end.  But the first thought of event planners it to put you in the smallest space they can imagine a human and a cow in simultaneously.  You have to deal with that aspect in your very first conversation.

But the best spot in the Long Center in Austin just happened to be in the Auditorium Lobby.  It was wide enough to accomodate four Elinchrom monolights with umbrellas,  the seamless backdrop and an almost unlimited option for backing up to get less in (makes sense to me).  And when you want to shoot in a public, potentially high traffic spot like that you almost always end up having a very tense discussion with the security and safety people at the venue who (foolishly) believe that protecting human life is more important than our photographic projects......  It usually ends up with some sort of compromise that makes everyone feel a little used and abused and tosses a tinge of turmoil into what is usually already a costly and chaotic situation....

But NOT THIS TIME!!!!  St. Pinhole', the patron saint of location photographers, took pity on me and supplied me with a guardian angel.  His name was Bill, and this is what he looks like: