10.02.2011

My First Sunday Afternoon with the Olympus EPM-1. Yes, the EPM-1. I'm "Pen Ready."

When the e-mail arrived I assumed that I was being scammed.  The return address was a G-Mail address instead of an Olympus address.  I picked up the phone called the number on the e-mail and talked to a live person at the Mullen Company (the PR firm for Olympus USA).  He confirmed that the e-mail was legit.  Here's the deal:  If you get invited to participate in the Pen Ready Initiative you fill out  few forms on line and they send you a brand spanking new camera.  In particular, the tiny EPM-1.  You also get the 14-42mm kit zoom (revised from the original one that came with my Pen EP2 to be quieter when shooting video), a tiny little flash that uses energy from the camera battery, a 4 gigabyte Sandisk Extreme SD card,  all the usual manuals and papers and disks and a really cool little backpack to store it all in.  At the bottom of the card board shipping box I also found a medium size "Pen Ready" T-shirt which made me smile.  I smiled even bigger when I realized that, rather than send out the ubiquitous large or extra large shirt (American demographics nightmare!!!) they sent along a medium.  I can actually wear it an not look like it was meant to be a small pup tent.  I won't go into the details of the contest they are holding but you can always Google it.  They'd like each person to whom they have given a camera to upload twenty or so of their favorite shots but it doesn't seem to be required.  One way or another the whole package of goodies is free and I mention that because I want you to keep that in mind as I write about my experiences.  Free camera.  Full disclosure. 

First I want to comment about the size.  It's about as small as the ZX-1 but it feels bigger and much better constructed.  It also takes the bigger, BLS batteries.  That means the batteries are interchangeable between my EP2,  EP3,  EPL1 and the EPM-1.  The camera is a bit tiny for me but my wife's eyes lit up when I showed her the camera and I can tell you right now where the whole thing is going to wind up.  She picked up the camera (she has small hands, but not freakishly so.....)  and declared it "perfectly sized."  That means it's not to heavy to lug around and it will fit somewhere in her purse.

Technobabble:  The sensor chip seems to be identical to the one in the EP3 which is purported by test sites to be an improved and newer version of the sensor in the EP2.  The EPM-1 showed the same performance characteristics of the EP3.  Since I'd already worked for a while with the EP3 I was familiar but still not completely comfortable with the menu in the EPM-1.  When I shot downtown this afternoon I kept the camera in the RAW file mode, auto white balance, Aperture preferred, single shot AF mode,  and I mastered the exposure compensation (hit top of control wheel, turn control wheel  to increase or decrease exposure compensation).  The same controls work with the aperture but you push the top or bottom of the control wheel as though there were buttons there to change your settings.

I know some of you will scream and shout and gnash your teeth when I tell you that I immediately put a VF-2 in the accessory shoe because I refuse to hold the camera out in front of me like a stinky baby with a dirty diaper.  The VF-2 functions perfectly with the EPM-1 and makes it comfortable to shoot by providing a sharp, clear image as well as diopter correction for those not blessed with perfect eyes.  You may use the camera in any configuration you like.  The screen on the back is big and bright and I suppose you could use it to put together a shot.  My wife videotaped Ben running a cross country event with the camera on Saturday and did the whole thing with "arm's length" composition in bright sunlight.  Since she too has aging eyes I'll assume the screen is fine for this purpose.  

Speaking of video, Belinda was able to capture good video of the running event and the lens was able to adjust focus to compensate just like a dedicated video camera.  We watched the resultant "footage" on a 50 inch LED TV and it was pretty darn good.  She doesn't drink coffee so her results were much less shaky than mine would have been...I'll say more about the video when I've actually had my hands on it for that purpose.  This is just a first day overview of the whole package.

I put a fresh battery in the camera.  Clamped on the VF-2.  Stuck an extra battery in my pocket along with a 60mm f1.5 Olympus Pen F lens.....just in case.  I never needed the extra battery even though I shot nearly 300 images, using the EVF for everything.  The camera still shows a full charge.   I used the 60mm for several photos but mostly stuck with the kit lens.

The first set of photos below came later in the day.  I'd already sorted out how to change settings and figured out the minor operational differences between the EPM-1 and the EP-3.  I stopped by Cafe Medici on Congress Ave. to take a break as it's the halfway point in my walk.  I ordered a Cappuccino and sat down at the bar when I looked up and noticed a very beautiful woman just a few seats away.  Remembering my recent post about permission I got up from my seat, approached her and told her what I was doing.  To wit, I was out testing and shooting a new camera to make this blog post.  I asked if it would be okay to take a few shots.  She agreed and, over the course of our shooting and conversation, it came out that she is a friend of Emily who worked with me on my fourth book, Photographic Lighting Equipment.  I gave her my contact information and thanked her.  With some luck I'll be able to hire her to be one of my models in my (long overdue) books on Minimalist Video Production.  

 The image above is of "Dani" who graciously agreed to be photographed.  One of the technical things I did differently than I've ever done before was to set and use the "auto-ISO" setting.  I set limits so the camera would only use the range between 200 and 800 ISO.  The shot above was my first attempt but I didn't like the broad lighting so I started directing Dani into the big wall of light coming from the big windows facing east onto Congress Ave.  The camera seemed to like shooting at ISO 800 for this series.
 Once I got the camera and the light up and running I shot a whole series of images and, on several I substituted the 60mm for the kit lens.  I let you figure out which is which.




I'm glad I got over my shyness and asked Dani to pose because it was a good test for flesh tone and general portrait parameters.  She has exactly the kind of face I love to photograph and is also very beautiful.  Most of the shots were in the range of 1/50th to 1/80th of a second and I had the IS enabled.  

Earlier in the day I went by the Texas state Capitol to see what was new.  I think the camera does very well with blue skies and bright sun....but then few cameras seem to have trouble with this kind of shot.


 The dome was a great subject.  I was able to tilt the VF-2 toward my eye so I didn't have to tilt my head back to shoot straight up at the dome.  The relaxed posture and IS helped keep the shots sharp.  I was shooting in mode 3 (iEnhance) which tends to open up the shadows.  That introduces a bit more noise as the shadows are electronically amplified.  I only see the effect at 100% on my monitor and you can cure that noise by "crushing" the blacks as a normal exposure would have done or you can just live with it.  The noise was not the "color speckle" noise we see in many similar cameras.  It looked more like monochromatic grain and was not intrusive.  For the most part I'm very happy with what I'm seeing between ISO 200 and ISO 800 and that's where I stayed today.  I'm not in a hurry to see what the camera does at high ISO's.  But I'm sure it's much like the EP3.  I'd be happy to use 1600 as long as I can shoot raw but I'd rather not have the noise "cooked in" in the Jpegs.  So, my new rule of thumb with this whole class of cameras is to shoot up to 800 if I'm using Jpeg and up to 1600 ISO if I'm using raw.
Column Detail at Capitol.  Kit lens.  800 ISO.

Open inner courtyard at Capitol.  ISO 200.

I kept looking in Lightroom for the Olympus lens corrections.  They aren't in there.  (Yes, I'm using the newly released ACR 6.5 raw module).  Then it dawned on me that the camera and lens talk to each other electronically and automatically correct lens issues, making the same auto corrector redundant in the RAW converter.  You are still welcome, of course, to do as much correction manually as you might like.  I find that, geometrically and in terms of corner shading, that the onboard program does pretty well.



 Just giving the IS a good workout in a gallery space.  Big space, sparse show.  The ultimate in Minimalist aesthetic satisfaction.....

 Of course I'm very shy but I get over it from time to time.  I saw this couple walking down Congress Ave. and immediately asked them to pose for me.  They were more than happy to do so.  I guess the camera seemed less than lethal...
Of course, once you open Pandora's box and start photographing strangers on the street you'll have em lined up to pose.  This was a group in from Dallas.  They came to party.  This is how I found them at 3pm on Sunday afternoon.  I obliged and took several images of the whole crew on someone's iPhone and then asked them to pose for me.  I hope they found the party they were looking for.


 For some eery reason these random rocks looked 3 dimensional to me.  I leaned over and shot them so I could print them, look at them and divine their three dimensional secrets.  We'll see what we can uncover here in the Visual Science Lab.
The camera has very few dedicated buttons on the back and for the most part that's okay.  You come to depend on what Oly calls the Super Control Panel to make most of your changes and it works pretty well.  The one button that I kept hitting by mistake was the "info" button which sits just above the all purpose wheel on the right side of the back of the camera.  I tended to hit it with my thumb when using the top of the control wheel in its "button" mode.  All it really does is screw with how my finder display looks.  I like some information.  Like the aperture and the shutter speed.  But when I accidentally pushed the info button the next variation on the menu is a clear, uncluttered screen.  Sounds great but I hate to be left in the dark.

Looking at the images on my calibrated, super deluxe and ancient Apple 23 inch display I find that they look just like what I saw in the EVF and that what I saw in the EVF is just about what I saw when I looked at the scene with my own two eyes.  That's a good thing.

Bottom line?  You get the same imaging performance and focusing performance as the top of the line EP3 but if you pay for the camera and lens (EPM-1) you get all that for about $400 less.  Give or take a few bucks.  If you have small hands you'll likely love the ergonomics.  If you are over six feet tall you'll probably have to work hard to find some place to keep all your extraneous square hand footage under control.  The best compliment I can pay a camera is that it becomes invisible to you as you use it.  This one was starting to fade toward invisibility by the time I ended my walk and headed to Whole Foods for a wine tasting.  The camera and lens together weigh next to nothing and you won't notice them when you are out and about.

Of course, it's not a DSLR so there's no dedicated sync terminal and when you use the accessory shoe for the (nice) EVF you won't be able to use the flash....and vice versa.  If you are a dedicated street shooter this camera and a nice 20 or 25mm lens would be very unobtrusive while providing really nice files. It's really quite a lot of imaging performance for not a lot of money.  Add in the video capabilities and you have a nice production tool for unhurried projects.

When I walked back into the house Belinda was ready to have "her" camera back.  I'll pick it up again soon and give the video some time to show off.  But I find my blog readers are lukewarm on video, at best.

Final note:  I did not try pointing the camera directly at the sun while stopping the lens down.  I do not know if it will make the "red dots."  I didn't see them in any of the other light sources I shot. If you are concerned about the "red dot issue" you might check else where to see if someone has done a definitive test......



10.01.2011

The new/old Canon 1ds2 is back in the house.


I was going to buy this camera from my friend, Paul, but when I tested it the camera froze up.  We sent it back to Canon, they fixed it and I bought it.  I like the idea of a big, professional, full frame camera for some of the advertising stuff I shoot and I wanted a full frame back-up camera for my Canon 5Dmk2.  I shot with the 1DS mk2 on Tues.,  Thurs. and Friday and I thought I'd throw out a short review of a nearly six year old camera.  Not that I think people are going to rush out and buy one but because it is kinda nice and some historic perspective is always fun.


9.29.2011

What happens when all the air comes out of the balloon?

I talked to three different photographers who used to make good livings in recent years teaching workshops across the United States.  All of them say the same thing.  Basically, the air is almost totally out of the balloon.  The current expression of the photographic workshop is being killed off the same way bacteria in a petri dish die out when the food in the dish is all eaten up. 

I thought about making workshop teaching part of my pie chart of doing business but I could never figure out how much of my life I wanted to give up traveling and pontificating/teaching when all I really want to do is to take photographs. Every once in a while I teach one for the guys at Precision Camera and it's great because they handle the registration and all the details.  But I'm careful to only commit to one day workshops because I know I can make it through one day and deliver a certain amount of value to students but two days always seems like a stretch.  A full week would seem like a prison term.  To me.  I can only imagine how bad it would be for the students.

My problem with workshops is that every student comes with a different set of expectations and levels of experience.  And what they think they want to know is so different than what I think would be best for them to know.  Most (not all) of the workshops I see and hear about, and most of the ones they want me to do are about technical stuff:  How to use small flashes.  How to use more small flashes.  How to use small flashes, part 2.  And of course, Using small flashes for a number of different images.  

While not connected to workshops my publisher recently asked me to do a revision of my first book, Minimalist Lighting, Professional Techniques for Lighting on Location.  But really,  I think the whole category or subject is played out.  Neil van Niekirk has two great books about the subject from the same publisher.  And there are ten or twenty more from that one concern.  When my book first came out in early 2008 the only competitive book was Joe McNally's but it wasn't so much step by step as it was photos with explanations.  Now the same niche has nearly 50 similar titles available at Amazon.  I'd probably make some money reprising the book, just from name recognition,  but I think that petri dish is well populated.  And so is the niche for similar workshops.

But there's a big ass niche that stands empty.  I think the next wave of workshops (and one I enthusiastically embrace and invite) will be workshops and books about "WHY PHOTOGRAPH?"  How to get in touch with "why" you feel compelled to spend the money on gear and why you want to take images.  Knowing the answers to these questions will be much more valuable in the long run to every photographer.  And it's the idea that knowing ourselves and our motivations will give our images their real power and their real meaning.  How do you learn inspiration?  I think it comes from falling in love with the subject....

The problem is that there are a lot fewer people out there who have the chops to teach something like this.  Don't look at me I wouldn't know where to start.  And that's why something like this would be so valuable.  The most valuable creative experience I ever paid for was a two day workshop by a guy named Ian Summers.  He did a series of workshops called, "Heart Storming" workshops and he really did a good job making you look inside yourself to see why you do what you do and how to excel at it. I went in as a skeptic and came out changed.  In a good way.  What did I learn?  "Be true to your own vision."  Find the thing you love.

But the problem is that there are lots of technicians who can teach you about lighting ratios and using one light or no light or ten lights, but there are damn few teachers who can take you to the next level of inspiration.  And even fewer who can teach you to have the courage to take the path less traveled but more in line to your own inner core.  If you find a workshop like that, take it.

Lately I've been seeing the typical, cyclical return of "Zen" and photography.  And the inevitable workshops that teach you how to be dispassionate about being passionate.  I understand but I don't understand.  How's that for a Zen koan?  These workshops might be useful to slow you down and make you more mindful.  But mindful of what?  Your unhappy childhood?  Surely you can find something you love more than that....

In the long run a good weekend spent sitting in a beach chair, staring at the ocean,  and clearing out your brain may be the best medicine.  Or it could be that you just need to stop reading blogs like this and go out with your camera and let your muse come to you.  After all, if you make yourself inaccesible to passion and inspiration how will it know where and when to strike you?  

Here's what I've come to believe about writing and photography:  The more you do it the better you get at it.  The less you think about it the happier you are.  The less you think about technique the better your art looks and reads.  The less you care about it the better and more sincere it becomes.  Put the brain on autopilot and shoot with your heart.

Wanna take a workshop?  Don't look at me.  I don't know what the hell I'm doing.  And that's okay with me.


These photos have nothing and everything to do with what I wrote up above.



I just like the way they look and I have a lot of respect for the art of four color printing.

9.28.2011

Developing muscle memory and fluid technique is almost as important as developing a sense of purpose.


Each race teaches us something new.
If you've been reading the blog for a while you probably know that one of my other passions, beside writing and photography, is swimming.  Which seems like something quite different from the other two activities.  But it is and it isn't.  All three depend on technique.  All three require practice.  Daily practice if you are to really master the crafts of swimming, writing and photography.  And to do all three at the level at which I'd like to do them requires discipline.  But more than anything else they all require a sense of purpose.  Why do we do these things?
What do they mean to me?  I don't photograph because I love the feel of the industrial design icons in my hand, I photograph because I see things that are interesting to me in the world and I want to share them.  I see faces that have emotions in them and I want to make the faces visual touchpoints in my ongoing dialogs about human nature and cultural existence.

I don't photograph landscapes because they rarely inform my running internal dialog about what makes people tick.


                                                                             I photograph people to share a point of
view about our shared existence.  I find the human condition, and growing old within the context of a constant cultural evolution fascinating.

If you are in photography because it seems like a "neat" hobby where you get to play with "cool" toys and show off technical mastery of one sort or another then you may have chosen the wrong hobby.  Or maybe you've just chosen to read the wrong blog about                                              photography because I will gently and         not so gently chide you to focus on only photographing in the service of
that which really interests you.  If it's beautiful woman I will respect you more than if it's to show off how sharp your camera and lens combinations are at 100% on your monitor.  The first just means you are attracted to feminine beauty.  No great sin.  But the second category means you are boring and that's just inexcusable.  Because the world around you/us is so rich and well stocked with things to be passionate about.  I'm in the camp that believes in the practice of photography as passionate sharing.
 So what does this have to do with swimming?  Swimming, at its core, is the mastery of dozens of interlinked techniques, an integration of interdependent movements, the understanding (both viscerally and intellectually) hydro-physics and a commitment to both mental toughness and commitment. (No,  I didn't write that wrong).

To compete with the people in these photographs you also have to be committed to doing hard daily work.
 Exercise.  The only way to swim well is to practice all the mental techniques and physical techniques every day.  And if you want to use these techniques to swim fast then you have to practice swimming fast, everyday.

Just as photographers only get better when they find more profound intersections between risk and immersion.  Immersion and technique. What made Avedon one of my favorite image makers was his relentless drive not just to photograph
but to push the boundaries of known
photography and to bring his vast technique (honed daily) to bear on things that he feared not being able to capture.  In essence you see better by looking harder and in different ways.  And all of that takes discipline.  And as you get older and life gets ever more fractured it takes more and more commitment to discipline to keep moving forward because there is always a temptation to attempt too many other things and to rest on your laurels.

When I look at these photos of the 2008 Masters National Meet, held at
 UT I see faces frozen in concentration and resolve.  I see people who've gotten up every morning for a decade or two decades or, in some cases, six decades and gotten themselves to a chilly pool in the early hours while everyone else stands in line at Starbucks waiting to slurp down some candy coffee and maybe a big scone and then get in their "couch on wheels" and head to the office to settle into a soft chair and work through "processes" all day long.
These are the people who've never
surrendered to the idea that it's okay        just to give up.  To give up on finding new ways to juggle time and energy that makes it possible to achieve.

I recently watched several people in my swim team pound out five thousand yards of hard swimming on a typical saturday morning.  They were swimming at an aerobic level that might do in people who are out of shape and half or a quarter of their ages.  I watched sixty year olds swim practice times that would have qualified them for Olympic trials in games a few decades ago.

And they pounded out (I should say, "powerfully glided through...") 140 to 180 laps of the pool before hopping out and heading on to start the same full days as everyone else.

And, in the end what is the benefit?  Well, statistically, if they are still swimming in their sixties they will live at least eleven years longer than the general population.  While they are living they will be more mobile and more fit.  Better able to deal with physical and mental challenges and they will have manufactured enough of their own self-discipline to master just
 about anything they decide to do.  And with mastery also comes confidence.

Again, what does this have to do with photography? Plenty.  Pushing through to a daily practice means making technique second nature and seeing with more focus and discernment.

Commitment to a showing the rest of us the beauty of your vision allows you to distill your vision down until it gains maximum power.  And like most

pleasures in life the daily habit means it's easier to change gears from other commitments back to photography without everything being a big deal.

I shot commercially yesterday and I have another job booked for tomorrow.  Today I've been doing pre-production on a two day food shoot for next week, but all through this schedule the one thing I want to do is walk with my camera, meet people and shoot for my own pleasure.  It's not the same doing jobs.  It doesn't matter how much you like the project or
client.  And so I resent not being able to leave the desk and shoot today.  Because that's part of my daily practice.

How do swimmers do it?  They decide they want to swim strong and fast and they make time for swimming.  If they can't swim at the crack of dawn they find an evening program.  The really committed ones jot down a workout on an index card and head to the local lake, pool, river and go.  I swim at 7am.  But I cheat because I have to drop off my kid at
cross country practice at 6:45am and
the pool is just around the corner from his drop-off.  I only miss a swim if I have a job booked.  And usually I head back to the pool when the project is over and make up the lost yards.

Photography is even easier once you've settled on what it is you love to look at.  What it is you feel compelled to share.  You don't need to get wet.  You can bundle up against the cold.  You probably won't get and ear infection....
But it seems harder to get started.
Remember when you made a New Year's resolution and you decided you were going to loose those extra 25 pounds.  You did it by starting an exercise program.  And it hurt at the beginning.  Your muscles were sore and you were out of breath.  The only way to make it work was to go out every day and do as much as you could.  Then you came home sweaty and tired but you liked the results so you resolved to do it again the next day.

Photography is like that. So is writing.
People are always amazed when I turn out a seven or ten blogs a week but really it's all practice.  It's writing practice.  And I get to experiment with words and structure and pacing.  And the more I write the faster and (I hope) clearer I become.  The more direct and focused my messages become.

Enough.  What makes photography fun? Learning what you love to show and learning how to craft an image that really shares that love and reaches out and makes a connection with a viewer.
 And how do you get there?  Once you know what conversation you want to have you re-write and re-write.  If you are a photographer you work on shooting and shooting again.  If you are a people photographer you work on getting out of your shell and learning what makes people tick.  And then doing it again but getting closer this time.

Funny thing about swimmers.  They can't really be gear heads.  It's basically just a set of goggles ($20 max) and a
swim suit (men $25, women $50) and
 you're done shopping for the year.  So that part of the technique doesn't get in the way.

One camera.  One or two lenses and you're done.  The important thing is how you use them and how often you use them.

I'm going to suggest: Daily.

Intention?  That has to come from you.  But I would suggest that, as a functional person, you no doubt find things in life that spark you up.  Give you pleasure, satisfaction, happiness.  That inflate your will to live.  Distill down to those things and make them the base of your art.  Then the intention will drive everything else.

I intend to be swimming well into my 90's.  I intend to have a camera along with me for the ride.....

Daily practice.  After work.  Before work.  All you need is your intention and the simplest of cameras.
But every day, rain or shine, world class athletes practice their craft.  How
can you expect to gain remarkable vision without daily practice?
When you leave work you might grab your camera and go out to explore.
And when you do you might find the thing you love to shoot.  And then you
can spend your life joyously making your message more and more
beautiful and easier to transmit.  The camera is meaningless without a
focused passion.  Find yours.

If your pictures aren't fun enough then you lack a sense of humor.

I see stuff all the time that tickles me.  Makes me laugh.  Makes me happy to be alive.  And I try to photograph it.  This image is one of those vignettes.  And believe me, there was no way for me to sneak a subtle, voyeuristic street shot.  Nope, I was using a normal lens on a big medium format film camera and I walked up until I was about ten feet away from these gentlemen, I smiled, raised the camera and clicked the shutter.  They let it all roll past.  I was a tourist.  A mild annoyance.  Here and then gone.  And that's fine with me but I'll always remember the moment of joy when I first saw them posing at one of the many side streets leading into the Piazza Navonna.  It was visual love at first sight.  Was I embarrassed?  Nope.  I was too busy trying to fight my natural, cultural resistance to directly interacting with strangers in public.  Was I afraid?  In one of the last bastions of civilization?  Hardly.

Medium format camera.  Normal lens.  Black and white film.

Old Cameras. New Cameras. Old Pictures. New Pictures.


Belinda and I were talking about the emotional differences between film and digital workflows as we sat in the shade of a skinny tree, on the little bluff overlooking the starting line for Ben's cross country race in Cedar Park.  It was 10:15 in the morning and the sun was already warming everything up.  It's not as far fetched a conversation as you might imagine since my wife is a very competent graphic artist and was one of the first designers in Austin to buy a Mac, along with an early, early rev of Pagemaker (page design software)  and start doing electronic print production back in 1985....

She's been figuring out the quirks and treasures of computer since long before many of her competitors were born.  And, interestingly enough, in early times there were no websites to consult.  No Lynda.com for training wheels and no online support for the relentless software and hardware conflicts.  Fast peripherals were SCSI, etc.  I remember that her Mac SE30 had four megabytes of RAM and a 30 megabyte hard drive.   It was pioneer days.

I was trying to work through my guilt at re-embracing medium format film and since she's the smartest person I know  (makes me look like I'm playing chess with only pawns....) I was bouncing my quandary off her.  Spending money on consumables in a down economy.  Trying to re-invigorate old tech instead of moving ahead....

Young people who were raised on digital can deal emotionally with: How ephemeral digital files can be.  How hard old files can be to find.  The reality that the work you did on a digital camera five or eight or twelve years ago can look and feel primitive compared to the model you are working with today.  And, finally, the ease of slamming stuff out and the lack of financial skin the game with each shot seems to relentlessly devalue photography.  You can see that in falling prices and the wholesale commodification of the industry.

By comparison, film has a permanence that's undeniable.  No need to migrate and migrate and migrate your work in order to preserve it.  A good filing cabinet and well ordered folders are all it takes to be able to access your work in minutes.  And if film decays during your lifetime it will do so gracefully.  Finally, the images we shot on black and white film in the 1970's, 1980's and 1990's still look as technically perfect as they always did.  They are still, for all intents and purposes at least the equal of most modern digital cameras (excluding the highest res medium format machines).

Now none of this will matter to a generation that never savored the magic of film and the peace of mind that comes from knowing that it's safe and sound and insoluble in the filing cabinet.  That, if a scanned file becomes corrupted at worst it means a trip back to the filing cabinet and back to the scanner...And I know the IT people who entered this field WHEN it became digital will have all sorts of counter rationalizations.  Be forewarned, I'm not a zealot looking for converts I'm frankly explaining my gut level dissatisfactions.....

Subconsciously, when I shoot digital cameras all the limitation of storage and retrieval, the need for computers and hard drives, the ambiguity of whether what I shoot today will be acceptable in ten or fifteen years (technically) all conspire to make me shoot with a ton of baggage heaped on my rational shoulders.

Belinda said it like this:  "I learned how to work in Premiere and a bunch of different programs to make websites and other web based advertising but the realization that no two screens share an objective point of view, that type invariably looks different on different browsers and different operating systems take away the purity of my design.  The uncertainty of presentation ruins my enjoyment of design.  I'm dedicated to being a print designer for as long as there is print.  I'll do websites and what-not but I don't have the passion for that medium which I do for print.  I can hold a print piece in my hand and share it.  But I can't send out a website or an e-mail ad and know that it will look the way I intended it to on someone's phone, a non-Apple pad, a poorly calibrated or uncalibrated monitor or on someone's 6 bit laptop screen and that bothers the artist in me."

By the same token, as I've said before, the intention for most film projects was to hit paper as a final destination.  That paper could have been a luscious sheet of double weight, fiber paper with a luxurious surface and an endless mix of subtle tones and colors or a post card or an annual report, but when it hit paper it had an objectivity that can't be matched and a permanence that seems emotionally and practically unavailable on the web.  When you add the hundreds of ways it can be compressed, re-profiled, re-sized and generally fucked up you cease to have the same pride of ownership and presentation and you quickly find that intended presentation on the web IS the thing that lowers all of your images to their lowest common denominator.  It's like making a beautiful prints and the putting it under four or five layers of imperfect plastic and then looking at the melange through tinted sunglasses in a badly lit bathroom......

If you haven't practice technique at the highest levels you can::  Locked down on a tripod.  Well lit and exposed.  With medium format film or an extremely high res sensor.  And then printed it out or had it printed out as large (20x20 inches and larger) premium quality prints you really can't imagine the difference in seeing images in print versus seeing them on even the best monitors.  

So, what do we do?  We can slow down, improve our techniques and aim for big print presentations.  Film or digital origins don't matter.  But until we work for objective metrics of perfection it's all just a crap shoot.

For me?  Portraits and art for me come in squares. Whether shot with a Pen or an Hblad on film the out put is the measure of success.  I'll shoot film when I shoot portraits for myself.  I'll shoot digital for things that go to the internet and I'm sure it will all cross over from time to time but......all these things are ideas we should examine.   At least when I pull a negative from 1979 it still has all of it's technical promise intact and can be scanned to breathtaking sizes, with high sharpness and quality.  I can't say that about a file from a Nikon D1 from just ten years ago.......

In the end I haven't solved any of the issues.  I've probably confused myself even more but the first step to resolving this kind of discord is the understanding that it exists.

9.27.2011

Making the most of your time.

When I finish writing this blog I'll toss my cellphone in the top drawer of my desk, grab a camera and head out the door.  I don't always have a destination in mind but I know that just about anything I find outside my door will beat time wasted searching for the holy grail of technique on the web.

It may be that my life is too isolated.  As an advertising and corporate photographer there are blocks of time spent with groups of people making projects work and then blocks of time where nothing happens.  A few days into a period of inaction and I'm always presented with a choice.  On one side is the path of least resistance:  Let's see what Michael Reichmann says about the new Phase One back.  Let's see what Michael Johnston says about the new Koudelka book.  Let's see what the people on DPReview say about the new Nikon.

On the other side is the path of most resistance.  On this path the choices are:  (the bane of all creative people) Pick up the phone and schedule some portfolio shows.  Pick up the phone and call someone and beg them to come over and sit for a portrait.  Grab a camera and go out looking for something wonderful and interesting to shoot.  This path is much harder but in the long run it's a lot like weight lifting.  If you keep doing curls with a five pound weight it's hard to see much progress down the road.  A bit of heavy lifting and you can feel it the next day.  To build muscle you have to overcome the resistance.  To build creative muscle you have to leave the safety of the creative den.

I took some time off from blogging last week.  Too much seat time.  It only takes you five minutes to read one of these but it inevitably takes me forty minutes to think and write one.  I did client jobs and I did portfolio shows but mostly I walked around, met people and took images.  And it re-energized the way I feel about my work.

The one important thing I did for my art was to find this image (above), have a large print framed, and hang it over my desk.  It reminds me that I'll never find what I'm looking for in my own work if I'm glued to the computer.  Nice.

It reminds me to unplug and move.  Because at the core, photographers are like sharks.  When we stop moving we stop breathing.  And that's when we die.

Above image shot in Rome with a Mamiya Six MF rangefinder camera (square format), 50mm lens, Kodak T-max CN.

There are times when the EP3 doesn't do what I need from a camera.....

 All last week I had a wonderful crush on my EP3.  Right up until I used it to shoot some theater stuff at ISO 1600.  I also packed an old Canon 1dmk2n in the bag, along with a 70-200 L lens.  The focus wasn't an issue but getting really clean, sharp files from the EP3 at 1600 was.  (And I didn't expect them to be....).

The EP3 does lots and lots of stuff right.  The images, from ISO 200 to 800 are nice and clean and saturated but at 1600 they don't really stand up to the larger pixels on the larger sensor in the Canon.  That was my first incidence of dissonance.

This morning (Sat. Sept. 24) I had occasion to wake up my kid at the way too early hour of six a.m. to get him ready and deliver him to a cross country invitational race in Cedar Park, Texas.  I packed the EP3 and the same Canon rig again.  In bright morning sun both cameras are superb.  The Canon is a giant brute of a camera and, with it's white lens on the front, it weighs a ton.  The Olympus fits in my hand perfectly and is nearly weightless.  But a few minutes of trying to track runners running at speed, coming toward my camera, had me tossing the weightless wonder back in the bag and grabbing for the 2005 vintage sports camera.
The Canon 1d series has three attributes that make it a top choice for photographing your kid running cross country:  1.  It focuses incredibly fast.  Maybe faster than it's descendant, and with a high degree of accuracy.  Even when you are in AI autofocus and tracking.  2.  It can shoot at 8 frames per second which gives you options for framing and foot placement of your subject.  3.  It has an inherent color palette that works well for sunny and shaded scenes.



This is not some sort of "mea culpa." I am not "wrong" to sing the praises of the Olympus EP3 because it's a very capable camera.  But it is a cautionary blog to remind you that, when I buy a new camera I don't usually divest myself of all the other cameras in the studio.  Each one is a different mechanism for seeing.  Each has its own personality and its own set of strengths (and weaknesses).  I would not select the Canon and a few L lenses for a fun walk across a city.  I'm not into recreational weightlifting.  The EP3 is the perfect camera for that kind of work.  But it's good to acknowledge the weak points of the gear as well.  But I've been repeating, since I got my first EP2, that these are not sports cameras.

The Canon 1Dmk2n is a wonderful sports camera and built to a price point of around $5,000-$6,000.  It was almost custom made to do exactly the kind of work I put it to above.  The focus is better than anything else I've ever owned, from Nikon, Canon or Olympus.  But it's not nearly as much fun to shoot on a downtown street or in a crowded club.

If you only have one camera you'll need to make some practical choices.  If you buy some previous generation cameras that are specialized, along with current cameras in other niches, you might end up with the best of all possible worlds.  Just not at the same time.