2.06.2012

Cool, futuristic lobby.

Canon 5Dmk2,  20mm Canon EF lens.  Available light.


I think I've posted this image before but I came across it today and it reminded me how much photography could be done with simple tools.  Earlier in my career this would have been shot on 4x5 inch sheet film but with careful metering and a few clicks of the transform tool in PhotoShop I am very happy with this rendition.  The only hold over from the earlier days is the need for a stout tripod.

Some people decorate with flair.  I really enjoyed being in this space.

2.04.2012

Revisiting, "Oh My God, That's Sharp!!!!"

I've been fooling around with lots of different cameras over the past few years.  I guess I've been looking for the Holy Grail of cameras.  We all seem to want something small and light, fast and sleek and almost infinitely flexible.  And, most of us (myself included) are drawn like moths to the newest and trendiest of inventions.  I know we're looking for a magic bullet that will make our photo work shine.
 But I've learned a lot over the past two weeks.  I learned that I can be wrong in a blog and it's okay to change my mind.  I learned that most people are interested and kind and patient and I re-learned that the world seems to keep assholes around for balance.  But mostly I learned that we spend a lot of time spinning our wheels reading stuff like this and trying to divine some meaning in it all that probably isn't there.  We (myself included) tend to think that photo bloggers are exceptional photographers.  In a recent forum someone mentioned my 500px gallery and suggested people take a gander.  Started a skirmish as one person jumped in to say he found nothing exceptional about my work.  The battle was on as people friendly to me took umbrage and pushed back.  But the happy or sad truth is that I'm not better a photographer than hundreds of thousands of people all over the world.  In fact, you may be much better than me.  But it doesn't matter.  And I don't care.
 The real secret of photo bloggers is that we (tend to) write well (otherwise people wouldn't bother to read) and we're  early gear adopters and we seem to be able to tap into what's hot in the market. And that may be because we are, for the most part, the same demographic as you.  We're photo entertainment more than photo education.  If it's fun to read and you get something out of it, who's to judge?
But to make the jump from "a fun read" to "great photographer" is a daring and foolhardy leap.
 I like little cameras and, if you read the blog you know that I'm partial to the Olympus m4:3 cameras for a number of reasons.  I have a happy history with their previous PEN products, I've made a good number of images I like with the current cameras and they are easy on the shoulder.  But the blog drives me to extremes.  A few popular articles about the m4:3 cameras and the "good blog ratings" drive me to write more and more about them.  Perhaps a subconscious desire to "own" the subject.  To grab mindshare.

But it makes me blind to all the other great stuff out there.  So today I left all the trendy, tiny cameras at home and went out with the camera that I reach for almost every time I head out the door for a paying job, where I'll have time to use a tripod or tether my camera and use studio lights.
I picked up my heavy, boring, bad menu, bad LCD screen, Canon 1DS Mk2.  
I also put the Zeiss lenses in the drawer and stuffed the "L" lenses in there with them.  The lens I took out with me today is one I don't talk much about but use all the time.  I haven't really mentioned it because it's not sexy.  It's not "L-ish" and it's not German or even faux German.  It's a Tamron 90mm f2.8 macro lens that I bought used for about $300. A really nice focal length for me and as sharp and easy to use as it was cheap to buy and boring to talk about. It's a lens I can use wide open at f2.8 but it spends most of its time in the sweet spot around f5.6. So, a little walk today 
with a heavy, ancient camera and an inflexible, cheap lens.

Why?
Because at ISO 100 and a decent, hand holdable shutter speed, files from this combo remind me just how good and sharp and detailed files from professional digital cameras can be.  I own a Canon 5D Mk2 but for my money the older 1DS mk2 is better at ISO 100 and 200.  Much better.  In fact, I like the files better than just about any other digital camera I've shot.  
They (Canon) seem to have gotten that one just right.
 So, today wasn't a manic day dedicated to shooting stuff to share with you on the blog.  It was a return to my old walk around downtown, shooting my old favorite sites. Watching the clear, winter sunlight play across the buildings and remembering what it's like to shoot with a camera, not because it's cool but because it works like you expect a camera to work.  Not a scathing denouement of Pens or Panasonics or Fujis or anything else.  Just me shooting with a comfortable, old favorite.
 I had no intention of writing a blog today.  But I liked the images in an amateur way, not a professional way.  And I wanted to share them because I liked all of their technical qualities.  And it seemed fresh to me.  I've written some blogs recently that people misinterpreted as depressing or negative or hopeless about photography, but nothing could be further from the truth.  In each article I suggested that the old way of doing the business of photography is dying.  But I also suggest, with great certainty, that the business of photographers will be re-invented and eventually thrive.  I just don't know what the new paradigm looks like and even though I write a popular blog I don't have any more insight than you do about what will happen next.  But I'm generally happy, thrilled to be along for the ride and still confident about putting a kid through college with my creative businesses.  
Both shooting and writing and consulting.

It's hard to write a blog that works for professionals and hobbyists at the same time.  There are bound to be conflicts.  I'll say truthful stuff that I think other pros need to have a dialogue about.  Some hobbyists think, when I talk about the "death of the existing photo business", that I'm talking about the end of all photography and that's just silly.  Photography is the most popular hobby in the entire world......next to jabbering away on cellphones.....  You have to pay attention and understand when I'm talking in general and when I'm making a point about what we do on the commercial side of the coin.
When I got back to the studio I downloaded the raw files and looked at them in Adobe Bridge.  I chose the ones on this blog and added a bit of contrast and a little bit of saturation.  The files from the 1 series cameras from Canon are, by default, a bit flat.  Perhaps more room for post processing....

I was very pleased at the high sharpness.  In fact, there's even some moirĂ© on a few windows of the Frost Tower which tells me that the balance of the anti-aliasing filter is just right.  Does this mean I'm abandoning the smaller cameras?  No.  But I'm trying to find a better balance than all or nothing.  Maybe pursue the middle path.  Some people look to me for an "expert" opinion about cameras and lenses; I am anything but.  All I know is what I see and what I feel and how the files will work for the things for which I want to use them.  That's it.  Collectively, this group knows far more.
Finally, let's talk about what I want out of this blog.  I've tried to be very transparent.  I write the blog because I'm interested in photography and I like adding to the dialogue.  I write the blog because I like to write.  But truthfully,  I write the blog because I hope that people will like the way I write and buy one or more of my five books on photography.  When I stepped away from the blog last Fall many, many loyal readers posted asking what they could do to help.  Some suggested adding a paypal "gift button" while others suggested making it a subscription site.  A few people sent unsolicited donations. (Thank you).  But the reality is that I hope that once a year you'll take advantage of the very inexpensive pricing at Amazon.com and take a chance on one of my books.

Right now I'm suggesting the LED book.  It's a very current topic.  I think I did a very good job presenting an overview of how photographers might best buy and use LED lights and there are hundreds of photographs as examples.  If you do photography as a business it would seem that a book about lighting would be tax deductible (check with your accountant).  If you do photography as a avocation/hobby/joyous art form/distraction from cold hard reality, etc. it would most probably be the absolute cheapest photo specific expenditure you would make in all of 2012.

Buying one of the books means I get a royalty from the sale. Buying the book through the link below means I'm get a small percentage of the sale from Amazon, which will cost you nothing.  It's one of the ways I support my family and this blog.  There is no membership fee here and no one is required to buy anything.  

Reading is fundamental.


From Last Week. Not last decade.

Panasonic GH2.  Elinchrom monolight into Photek Softlighter 2-60" with diffuser.

Amanda is one of our swim coaches.  She agreed to sit for a portrait.  She's an amazing swimmer with a perfect butterfly stroke.  She also has tremendous energy.  I'm busy writing and shooting.  I'll be back to the blog soon.






2.01.2012

A quick post. Staying flexible.

I was pretty flip (cynical, sarcastic, dismissive, etc)  about the effects I was getting with Snapseed when I last wrote about my adventures in post processing.  But today I had a mini-lecture from a great swim coach about the need for enhanced flexibility if we intend to keep swimming butterfly into our middle ages... (wry smiley face implied...).  Then I looked up at my analog bulletin board and saw the quote from creativity consultant, Ian Summers, which reads, "Grow or Die."  And I thought I should sober up and take a hint from the converging messages I'm getting from the universe.

When I was printing traditional black and white prints (in the darkroom) I had dozens of little tricks to make a print pop or sing or look sexy.  I had a Pictrol which is a little contraption you stick under the enlarging lens to soften the corners in an artistic way.  The blurred spilled light also enhanced the black tones around the edges.  Of course we would burn and dodge but we also stole a technique from 1940's Richard Avedon in which you place very thin tracing paper in contact with the print during printing.  You could also do it selectively.  Just in areas.  The parts that touched the paper were sharper than the parts that didn't.  Primitive darkroom "tilt-shift" technique?

We selected paper for effect.  And we did full contact, radical toning.  With selenium, sepia, gold and even coffee (which never worked as well).   And for a while we did lots of art on the print with transparent Mashall's oil paints.

So why the burr under my saddle about modern post processing?  Can't imagine it would be anything but jealousy in not having discovered it first, followed by curmudgeon tendencies.  So I'm coming clean.  I actually like playing around with this stuff and I've been re-working some recent images to re-interpret how I used to print.  After all, the Snapseed generation had to find their inspiration somewhere.  Right?

If you are bored with your photo work right now you might want to change processing.  The water's fine.  Jump on in.

edit/addition feb. 2:  An interesting article from www.luminous-landscape.com about the "RULES OF PHOTOGRAPHY."  http://www.luminous-landscape.com/essays/rules_of_the_game.shtml  A fun read, in light of our continuing discussions here.





Are you working too much? Are you going crazy? This is an oft requested post from about a year ago. I'm not saying you're "bad."

2.20.2011

Working 24/7 and slowly going insane? Join the club? No Thanks!


I was rather shocked when I listened to a person from a company that makes all kinds of electronic products the other day.  She made the pitch to me that her company helped stressed out, over-worked moms by making products (like phones and tablets) that would allow a frenetic mom to "disconnect from her office" and be able to "take her work along with her" so that she could be present for her children's activities.  From what I could understand this person believed in the 1990's mantra of "multi-tasking" which has been so thoroughly discredited by psychologists and process experts over the last decade.

The idea was that, between tweets, urgent e-mails, progress reports and modifications to mission critical spreadsheets, the newly unfettered mom would be able to look up from the screen and instantly enter into her child's world just at the moment when Sally hit the game winning home run or when Poindexter cinched the national Spelling Bee with the correct spelling of "Delusional". 

The more grievous idea I came away with is that now it's no longer good enough to give a company a stress and anxiety filled 50 or 60 hours of your week.  No.  The new norm is total ownership.  The excuse is that now so many people in finance, tech and commodities work in a world market and they must be accessible to their counterparts in Malaysia, must not miss the opening bell in Berlin or Kerplakistan, must be electronically present for those important clients in Kathmandu....

I have a sneaky feeling that chronic unemployment is not caused by a lack of jobs but that many jobs are being handled by one person.  The manically compulsive super workers are stealing more than their fair share of jobs.  And they are training their companies to expect "work till you drop" dedication that trades health, family life, hobbies, community involvement and the basic richness of existence for quarter by quarter profitability.  And here's the kicker:  Those super employees aren't being compensated for doing the work of three, they're giving their employers undeserved charity.  

In the self employed world we read books on negotiation.  We learn that you never give up something without getting something in return.  That's the foundation of good negotiation.  And as self employed people we never work for free (unless we are donating our time, services, goods to a needy and beneficial cause.)  But that's exactly what the super workers of today are doing.  They are giving it away for free.  And, of course, their companies are encouraging them.

It's time we took a good long look at the American work ethic and got rational.  The unions got it right back in the coal mine strikes and the meat packers collective bargaining days:  Forty hours a week is the most you can work in a reliable and sustainable way.  And by that I mean being able to preserve your personal dignity, your physical health and the health of your family and relationships.  

If you are routinely working 60 or 70 hours a week and you don't OWN the company you work for (and, in my mind, even if you do) you might consider that you are your own "scab" and you are in some ways responsible for the downward spiral of the American dream.  That spreadsheet WILL wait until monday.  Your real life can't always be on hold.  If it needs to be done over the weekend your company needs to hire a weekend shift.

So, this is a photo oriented blog, why the hell am I talking about workplace issues?  Because from time to time I write columns that talk about some of the outrageous schedules I work.  But the difference is that my projects stop and start and there's lots of in between time for rest and rejuvenation.  Joy and pleasure.  Family dinners together and weekends puttering around helping Ben with homework and Belinda with some gardening.  Couch time with a novel.   If a freelancer in a struggling industry can do this and keep his head above water then so can the valuable employees of all sorts of companies.

The electronics that we seem addicted to are also a secret weapon that helps bosses (and clients)  suck more and more from their people by blurring the lines between what is and what isn't work.  The cellphone is not referred to as "An Electronic Leash" without good reason.  

It's all about setting limits.  Isn't that what we tell our children? 

The shot above is of Belinda in Montego Bay, Jamaica.  The way I negotiated a series of projects in the Islands was to work for a week, for my usual rate, and then go back later with Belinda for a second week of vacation and downtime.  No phones, no internet, no emergencies in Patagonia.  The vacation opportunity defrayed the travel time and longer working days of the actual project.

Shot with a Rollei medium format camera on Tri-X film at a place called "The Pork Pit."  Really good pulled pork.  A quiet week by the sea.

Added half an hour later:  I read this on Kim Critchfield's FB page and loved it.  I sent a copy to Ben and to a friend who needed to read it.  I'll post this on my wall, just to the side of my computer.


One evening a Cherokee elder told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.

He said, "My son, the battle is between the two 'wolves' that live inside us all.
...
One is Unhappiness or Evil - It is anger, jealousy, fear, regret, greed, arrogance, sorrow, self-pity, resentment, inferiority, false pride, superiority, weakness and ego.

The other is Happiness or Good - It is joy, love, hope, serenity, benevolence, peace, empathy, kindness, generosity, truth, humility, faith, strength and compassion."

The grandson thought about it for a while and then asked his grandfather, "Which wolf wins?"

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed." - Cherokee Elder






Yesterday was about marketing. And fine tuning.


Untitled from Kirk Tuck & Will van Overbeek on Vimeo.

This is just a test of the Nikon V1 video at 720, 60fps. I looked at the top of my desk (as opposed to my "desktop") and figured it would make a cooperative subject.   I put together a DIY slider using a rail assembly from a company called, Igus.  There was a Manfrotto ballhead on top of the slider carriage. I lit the desktop, and the old Kodak camera, with two 1,000 LED panels.  I was looking for noise and artifacts.  The stuff looked pretty good in FCPX.

I keep getting more intrigued with video.  I had a sales meeting with a client yesterday and it's one of the few meetings I've done so far with the iPad2 as my presentation tool.  The ability to go from still portfolios to video with the touch of a finger was eye-opening for me.  With a print portfolio I was always careful not show to much.  Conventional wisdom said 20 to 40 nice prints.

I bought a program called Portfolio for iPad and arranged my work into six different categories.  Each category has its own icon and incorporates its own images.  Each category had anywhere from 25 to 40 images.  With the iPad in the client's hands he controls the pace of the show and the amount of images he wants to see.  It was fun to watch how addictive the screen is.  The client went through every image.  And all the videos (six).

I had also loaded a smaller portfolio, just for him, of images that I'd done various levels of post processing to.  I wanted to make sure he understood that we could overlay these effects to just about any image we create for him.  I labeled this gallery:  (His Name)'s Portfolio.   It took only minutes the night before to create the custom gallery of test images.  It would have required sending out for prints in my older style of showing.

His take away at the end:  "I have to be honest with you.  I much prefer seeing work on a screen than in a print book."

It was a successful marketing foray.  It got me back into his sphere of attention and hopefully, onto his "A" list of suppliers.  I left him with a copy of my new LED book as a leave behind.   I figure that, with over 300 of my photos in one place it's got to be a better leave behind piece than my competitors...

I will say this for progress: Carrying around an iPad beats the hell out of carrying around my 16x20 inch portfolio book (yes, I know, yours is 11x14 and it's just right and I should consider........).

Best of all, we used the calendar function on the iPad2 to book a lunch this Friday.  I still remember what a crusty, old marketing guy told me decades ago about a clients:  "Lunch em or lose em."


If anyone wants details on the "slider" let me know and I'll throw together a quick blog post.  



1.31.2012

An interesting article about lighting. With an interesting conclusion.

This article is from Michael Reichman's amazing, Luminous Landscape site.  A treasure trove for people interested in medium format digital.  The article is a short history of lighting culminating with a very interesting conclusion that involves LED lighting.

It's from 2010.

http://www.luminous-landscape.com/techniques/the_next_chapter_in_photographic_lighting.shtml

Hard work is hard. Everything changes.

The sky behind this construction person was there.  It's been enhanced but it wasn't dropped in.


I'm usually as resistant to change as anyone else I know.  You find stuff that works and you try to stay in that groove until something pushes you out.  I'm coming to grips with the idea that post production isn't just a way to fix stuff we didn't get right in the shooting, it's also a way to finish out your illustrative  vision.  Maybe a path to completing what you had in your head when you were out shooting but what can't be done by camera alone.

There was a time when, by necessity, most everything was done in camera.  At some point in the 1980's or the 1990's the art of photography starting to diverge along two pathways.  One path was litered with the saints of documentary photography and its religion called on followers not to crop, not to heavily burn and dodge and never to change the contents of a photograph with retouching, air brushing or other methods.  And it was good.  And these people were called, "photojournalists."

The second pathway was engendered by the relentless needs of the marketplace.  Here anything you could imagine could, with time and budget, be done.  This was the land of top technicians and people with visions that couldn't be easily realized with regular, in-camera techniques.  This has become the land of post-processing.  In the past it was the land of air-brushing.  Nothing in the photograph could be taken as "truth" but it sure did look cool.  These people were imaginative.  And what they do we called, "Photo-illustration."

I was always in the first camp.  Henri-Cartier Bresson implied, to an entire generation of photographers, that only pussies needed to crop.  Real men saw the composition in the decisive moment and leapt upon it like panthers.  Generations of magazine picture editors forbade radical color changes because they would not be objective.  Never mind filter effects or added grain.  Anything that broke down the presumed objectivity of an image was forbidden.  And this was not just the provence of journalists.  The most powerful advertising icons, from the Herb Ritts/Calvin Klein underwear ads to the "Marlboro Man" ads to Bert Sterns Smirnoff ads were all done in this manner.  As are many ad images even to this day.  Sure, we retouched the frazzled edges but we didn't light em up.

PhotoShop changed everything for professionals and the ardent.  And now programs like Snapseed* are changing it all for everyone else.  It's everywhere.  The unspoken mantra is that a photograph is not ready for viewing until it's been dipped in the magic pool of post production.  Every image.  Every time.

I used to fight stuff like this.  I used to make impassioned arguments that photography should remain "pure" but I've given up.  This  change feels permanent.  When we came to a cultural conclusion that, if all the stuff coming off a camera sensor is already filtered, manipulated and color tweaked by firmware and software then wasn't it already "retouched" for all intents and purposes?  If you shot jpeg and you liked your files with a little extra sharpening and more saturation and you set your camera that way weren't you already toeing over the line of strict objectivity?

But it was all just an academic construct in the first place.  After all, even in the early days of color you could choose between the palettes of Kodachrome and Ektachrome and even Scotchcolor.  You choice of film speeds could buy you some extra grain and so one.

It's always tiring to tilt against windmills.  I'm tired of trying to bail out the Titanic with a small plastic bucket.  And I'm equally tired of trying to catch a two edged sword with no handle.  From now on anything goes.  Everything goes.  If it sells better with a coat of psychedelic paint spilled on it then who am I to question the marketplace?

I've written my last column disparaging HDR.  If you like it, more power to you.  I'm taking a psuedo-intellectual sabbatical from taste.  I'm working my maximum Zen and trying to live in the land of "no judgement."

We'll see how that works out.  I'm off to figure out how to automate Snapseed so I can churn my whole catalog of images through the "grunge" filter.  With enough grunge and tilt n shift I may even be able to pass myself off as one of the crowd.

*Snapseed is an app that was developed for use on the the iPhone or iPad which would allow you to tweak you images with contrast, color, sat and sharpness corrections but it also enables you to apply filters to create trendy looking images.  You can control the effects and combine them.  It's $20.  Now they make a version for the desktop.  I've taken the plunge, stopped lighting or even trying very hard during the shooting process, confident that I can just "auto-grunge" any of my images to save it.  You can too.






1.30.2012

Snapseed for the Mac Desktop. Is it art? No. Is it fun. Sometimes.

When used as a quick contrast, brightness, contrast, etc. and sharpening tool, Snapseed works about as well as iPhoto or any of a large number of simple image tools you'll find on the web.  The magic is supposed to happen with the filters.  They have names like "Grunge" and "Drama" and "Vintage" and "Tilt and Shift."  They do most of the trendy stuff you'll see on the web.  I gave it a spin this evening.  While it's fun and makes stuff look different it's canned so eventually the effects will get old.  That shouldn't keep you from having fun.  Afterall, it's only $20.


I'll run the effects by the art directors who deserve them.


But once you've found a cute model.  Found a cute dress.  Gotten her on the floor with her legs in the air, you've really done all the hard work.  Why give a boxed software effect all the credit?

I'll keep it.  But like cheap alcohol I'll use it sparingly.


Roman Food. Roman Chef.

     The morning market at the Campo di Fiori, Rome, Italy.  


The man in the image above was/is one of the partners who owned a wonderful, little restaurant in Rome called, al Grappolo d' Oro.  If rumor is to be believed, it was at a table there that the famous song, "Volare" was written.  I was led to the restaurant on the recommendation of a native Roman back in 1985 or 1986 and I've returned for a meal on every trip since.  When my friend, Paul, and I shot in Rome in 1995 we ate there twice in one week. And that's says volumes in a "food city" like Rome.   I haven't been in a few years so I can't vouch for much now but I will always remember how fun it was to watch Carlo arrive at the Campo di Fiori market one day and carefully hand select the produce his restaurant would serve later that day.

He was, of course, a regular of the market and knew everyone there by name.

I was walking around the small piazzo with a Mamiya Six in hand.  I recognized him from one of my recent visits to his restaurant.  I took two frames and then walked off to see new things.  I ate at his restaurant again that night.


Walking through the markets in old towns is really nice.  There's a comfortable rhythm that feels organic and right.  The good ones dispay food with style but without too much flash.  I'm hungry.  I think I'll wander into the house and see what's for dinner.

These are medium format color negatives that were scanned at low res with an Epson V500 Photo.  With a little practice it does a good job with color negatives and even black and white negatives.  The images were taken with a Mamiya Six medium format camera and its normal, 75mm lens.  The images are nothing special to anyone but me.  I remember now the cool breeze of a cloudy day, the smell of the fresh fish and the vivid red of the strawberries like the day I took the images.