7.27.2012

Just another photo of the boy.


I had the lights set up and the studio ready. Why not take a photograph of the boy? It's the same lighting I used on Amy, the triathlete.  Super large umbrella to one side blasting through multiple layers of diffusion.  Black, light absorbing panels on the other side and a gridded light aimed at the back wall of the studio. I shot twelve frames and released the boy back into the wild.

Camera: Hasselblad 501CM medium format film camera. Fuji 100 ISO black and white film. 150mm f4 lens shot at 5.6. Sharp in the middle of soft.  Scanned on an Epson V500 scanner. I love that there's detail in the white t-shirt.

If you want to learn to do better portraits I'd recommend setting up a small studio in your house or garage and getting a good book, like one of Chris Grey's on basic portraiture and just practice. Once you understand the basics you only get better by doing it over and over again, learning what looks good and doing it more often.  Learning what looks bad and figuring out how to avoid it.
The control you develop is half the fun.  But it's still a collaboration because you'll never be able to "control" your subjects...unless you threaten to withhold their allowance..











Triathlete on film. A second version.


I posted an image of Amy on the blog yesterday that I'd done with the Sony a77 but I promised you I would post an image from the two rolls of film I shot, as well. This is a pretty straightforward version of a frame from my twelve chances on Fuji Acros 100 black and white film. It's been scanned on a flatbed scanner and sharpened a bit. This will sound very quaint but I also spent some time eliminating dust spots. We used to call this, "spotting." It was necessary in the days when everything was film.  It's much easier to do now with PhotoShop...

This is as close as my 150mm Zeiss lens will focus on the Hasselblad without extension tubes.
The film was developed, with no special instructions, by Holland Photo Imaging, here in Austin, Tx.

I know what it is I like about the film version but I'll let you draw your own conclusions...

I want to thank Amy for being patient with me while I sprayed here in the face with (hopefully) warm water in order to get the water drops (click on the image to see them clearly).  I hope she doesn't return the favor by smacking me with a kick board at practice tomorrow.

I am happy with the image. I love the tonality.










7.26.2012

Portrait of an Athlete named Amy.


I swim with Amy at our master's workouts a few times a week. Amy is a dedicated and talented triathlete and she divides her time between swimming, biking and running (when she's not working at her job...).  I'm more linear, I'm usually just swimming. One day I asked Amy if I could photograph her as I see her sometimes, soaking wet, right after a tough workout. She agreed.

We met at the pool after the normal work day and she pounded out some yards.  Then we headed to my studio.  She's quiet.  I talk too much. But it worked out for me.  This image was made in my Sony a77 camera with an 85mm 2.8 Sony DT lens.  I shot at 50 ISO using a Profoto Acute B600 pack and one head bounced into a 72 inch umbrella.  The umbrella had a diffusion sock that softened the light.  Then the light went through another 3/4 stop diffusion fabric on a 48 by 48 inch Chimera frame before flowing across Amy's face. I used an Elinchrom monolight on the back wall of the studio, which is painted gray.  That light was turned almost completely down and projected through a 20 degree grid.

To get the water drops to show I would occasionally stop and spritz her with warm water. An interesting change of pace for most subjects... calls for closing your eyes and holding your breath...

I made corrections to the color file in Lightroom for exposure and contrast but I used Snapseed for my black and white conversion.  I like this style of shooting.

I also shot two rolls of 120mm black and white film in a Hasselblad 501 CM with a 150mm lens. The film will be back from the lab tomorrow and I'll make a few scans and see how it all compares.  To date, this is my favorite technical rendition of a digital portrait file converted to black and white.  I plan to keep working on it.









7.25.2012

A great video about portraiture with Nadav Kander



Where portraits are concerned smart people always seem more interested in what goes on in a photographer's mind instead of just what kind of gear the photographer is using.  Here is a 13 minute video in which renowned South African photographer, Nadav Kander, talks about how he approaches the art of portraiture.  It's a calm and compelling piece.

In a sentence?  It's more emotion than logic.  I think you'll enjoy this.










7.23.2012

Canon missed the whole point. Really.

The mirrorless, interchangeable lens Canon.  Really?

I'm sure that many people will buy this camera.  But why?

Let me back up and say that this camera will probably be a nice camera. Why? The promise of good high ISO performance which seems to be so important to so many amateur photographers.  The familiar name.  The minimal design. A nice bright screen on the back.  A normal hot shoe and.......that's about it.

I'm amazed at both the price and the offering. Let's start with the ultimate deal killer:  At $799 you get a point and shoot camera, with an interchangeable, single focal length lens, that you must hold at arm's length in order to focus or view the image. There's not even a port for an add-on EVF.  Have Canon not been paying attention to the growing legion of photographers who have figured out just how great EVFs are?  How cynical.  The cunning corporate concept seems to be that the iPhone and iPhoneography have so dumbed down picture takers that now the dirty baby diaper camera hold is considered a reasonable standard?   I guess no one shoots in the sunlight anymore. I guess no one wants a really stable camera hold.

It's basically a re-do of their boring G1X bloated compact camera but without the swivel screen, without the pop-up flash and without even the benefit of a creepy, point 85 plastic optical viewfinder.  So you actually get a lot less stuff but the same performance for the same basic price point?  And this makes sense to rational photographers? How?

I want to ask the people who have already rushed to pre-order one of these from Amazon, "What were you thinking?  Have you never seen a Panasonic G3 or G5 or GX1? or Olympus EPL-2? Or even a Canon rebel T3i?"  There are so many great bargains out there that this camera seems unbelievably cynical.

For the majestic price of $799 for what is basically a box camera you could have a Nikon D3200 with 24 screaming good megapixels, a very decent VR kit lens, a real optical finder,  a built in flash, and four 32 gigabyte SD cards.  You'd end up with a decent and flexible zoom lens and a camera with a real finder and an LCD screen.  Two for the price of one.

Is it the size? Surely people have read the reviews of the Sony RX 100 which is about 1/3 smaller and probably makes images that are just as good.

I hope someone can explain it to me because I'm mystified. What is the appeal?  Is it just "safe" because it's a Canon?

If I were in the market for a small, mirror-less camera I'd be waiting for the next generation of Olympus Pen cameras.  If they incorporate the IBIS and sensor of the OMD EM-5 Canon buyers who later compare will probably be reduced to tears.  Oh well.  To each their own....I guess.

edit:  July 24:  a more detailed discussion of the new Canon can be found on ATMTX's blog:
http://blog.atmtxphoto.com/2012/07/23/the-canon-eos-m-how-does-it-stack-up/   It's a good read.


edit:  July 25th.  ATMTX adds one more good column to the Canon mirrorless discussion:
http://blog.atmtxphoto.com/2012/07/24/taking-risks-the-fujifilm-x100-vs-canon-eos-m/












7.22.2012

What do you look for in a model?


I've been thinking about this a lot lately. As I post more portraits I'm sure you can see that I love people with beautiful eyes.  And I seem to love women with dark hair and dark complexions.  Brassy blonds and curvy figures are photographically less inspiring to me.  When I search for models to shoot I am attracted more to people who are uniquely interesting than classically beautiful. I think that interesting is beautiful.

And this will sound strange but I also think that smart is beautiful. You might ask how an intrinsic quality has anything to do with an extrinsic exercise of craft but I know that I can connect with smart a lot quicker and a lot better than I can connect with run of the mill sexy.  So I guess I select people to photograph that are the same kind of people I'd want to have around as friends.  I value interesting, smart and unique much more highly than perky and cute or "hot."

The subject in the photo above, Renee, was introduced to me by a woman who is an artist and a painter.  She knew we would hit it off as artist and muse.  And she was right. The first thing that attracted me, as a portraitist, to Rene was her quiet intensity and self assurance.  Then her eyes.  And finally the shape of her face.

I have several male friends who are art directors. They call me from time to time to tell me about a woman they've met that "you just have to photograph!!!!"  Invariably, when I've agreed to do a test in the studio the woman shows up and we seem to have no rapport whatsoever.  The energy is all wrong.  The aesthetics skewed.  What I've learned from the fashion photographers who gave us incredible photos in the 1980's and 1990's is that the "go see" is vital.  The photographer and model have to have some good energy together or any future session is frustrating and fruitless.

My most intriguing and enduring subjects have always been people that I've found for myself.  People I've met in coffee shops or restaurants.  People on the street and even people at lectures. The process of making a good portrait of a beautiful person depends on each of you falling a little bit in love for just a little while.  Nothing else will work. At least that's how it is for me.

And the strange secret is that it goes for both genders.  You have to be interested, really interested in that person on the other side of the camera or you're just going through a workflow and none of the magic energy that we agree exists in great images shows up in your work if you really don't care about the subject other than the fact that you needed someone to sit there and they didn't have anything else to do with their time.

Pick some one you could fall in love with and make your images a poem to their attractiveness.
The spirit of collaboration works best when the laws of attraction work in your favor.

The process of making a beautiful portrait is much more about empathetic understanding than it will ever be about objective workflow.  Leave the engineer brain at the door to the studio.  Let the artist brain run the session.

A really lovely set of portraits of American Olympians from the 1948 Olympics.

A Sunday Reprint. Bad workplace negotiations.


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





7.21.2012

Square portrait. Black and White.


I met Ameerah Tatum at a theater years ago and asked her to come into the studio for a portrait.  We shot a number of variations but I liked this more serious side of her.  A year later she left Austin to tour Europe as a musician and actor.

I printed this from a 6x6 cm. black and white negative onto Agfa Portriga Rapid #3 paper and toned it in a mild selenium toner.  The image was made with a Hasselblad ELX and a 180mm f4 Zeiss Planar lens.

The lighting consisted of a four foot by six foot softbox from one side several wide grid spots on the background.

I like the way portrait composition works in the square...



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7.20.2012

What I would like to see in Sony's new flagship camera...


I always liked the idea of the Sony a77 SLT camera. I became a convert to the cult of the electronic viewfinder when the Olympus EP2 hit the market along with the very good VF-2 electronic viewfinder accessory. When I first tested an a77 I was infatuated with their built in version of the EVF.  It's quite good.  I also like the Sony a77 menu, the button placement and the feel of the body.

It took a bit of time to get used to using the EVF all the time. Especially for action. But as I've used the camera I've gotten comfortable with it.  I'd say it takes a month of daily use before the camera system becomes as transparent as the traditional style of camera that we've become used to over years and years of use.

Some things could use improvement. I wish the EVF didn't get noisy in low light, like when I use the camera to make portraits and I'm using weak, 100 watt modeling lights in my big strobes.  And I wish the finder had absolutely zero time lag from frame to frame. I wish the files were less noisy at 3200 ISO.  But to my mind none of these things are "deal stoppers."  Not for a minute.  Because what the camera does well it does very well.

Above is a reduced size file from the a77 and its 16-50mm lens. I shot it at 100 ISO yesterday afternoon while I was looking around for a path to a railroad track bridge.  The sky looked cool and it was a quick shot.  Just a scribble in my visual notebook.  But I've looked at the shot two or three times today while sitting at my computer doing post processing and I've decided I like it.  A lot.

The a77 does most things very well.  The exposure straight out of camera (using autoexposure and matrix metering) is much more accurate much more of the time than my Canon 5Dmk2 ever was. Maybe it's the fact that I can correct it as I see the image come up for pre-chimping in the finder.  After a few months of using the camera those corrections have become subconscious.  They are now part of the flow.

I use the camera in manual and in aperture priority.  I know which wheels make which magic.

And now that I've come to understand the camera the files are getting better and better. I like shooting at ISO 50-200 because the files are very detailed and have a delicious dynamic range.  As good as any camera I've used and much better than most.  In fact, the performance at lower ISO's and the great EVF are the two things that have kept me from running out and buying an OMD EM-5 even though the gear maniac part of my brain is begging me to raid the cookie jar and just do it.

Lately I've been thinking just the opposite thoughts.  I've been wondering whether my admiration for the micro four thirds cameras was the result of my  brain being wired to take advantage of EVFs in a way that is different and more inspiring than working with regular OVF (optical view finders).  After working with my EP3 and some good lenses today, alongside my a77's I've almost convinced myself to slim down my m4:3 collection in order to get ready for the Sony flagship camera that's rumored to be announced right before PhotoKina in September.  For all the insanely literal readers: please note that I said, "ALMOST."

The reason is that the better EVF in the Sony makes making the images feel more direct.

So, here we are in late July and I'm thinking about what Sony might do.  Judging by my inside sources I'm pretty certain that Sony is on the cusp of introducing their next generation full frame camera.  When I spoke with a U.S. Sony employee in a position to know, earlier this Summer, he would only say that they were in final development and couldn't decide between a 36 megapixel sensor and a vastly improved (over the a900 and a850) 24 megapixel sensor.  He wouldn't or couldn't divulge anything else.

If Sony is listening here's what I want:

I want this camera to be a full frame camera.  I think we're going to get that. I don't have anything against the smaller format cameras but I do think there are optical differences that I like. Most people want a full frame camera to better use wide angle lenses but I don't think that's an issue here as there are very few good wide angle lenses in Sony's line up at the moment.  I want full frame to do portraits with the pretty little 85mm 2.8 lens which I've named "the wasp."  It's small and light but it packs a sting it's so sharp.  And I'm interested to see just how good the performance of the 70-200 might be on a new and improved body.

I would like for Sony to ignore the people who are opinionated about finders and basically say that we'll pry their fingers off the OVF cameras only after they've expired. I'm certain that if 95% of these people tried an EVF for a week they would never want to go back.  The information on the screen and the real time feedback loop is just too rich to ignore.  The camera should have a fixed mirror like the other SLT cameras. I want the EVF and you will too.  Maybe in this iteration we'll see an even faster refresh rate and higher screen resolution.  In a pinch I'll happily settle for the same EVF that's in the a77 over a traditional (no matter how awesome) optical viewfinder.

I can't stress this next point strongly enough. I want Sony to use the same NPH-500 battery they've used in the a900, a850, a77 and a65 cameras. A customer is much happier if they only have to stock one battery type and one charger type.  I have six.  I don't want to change again just for the pleasure of adding financial ingots to their coffers.  Some people feel they need more juice?  They should get a grip.  Sony should make one and put a big battery in it and sell it for a decent price to all those people who think they need to fire off 5000 shots in a row without taking a breath or changing the power source.

I read on a forum that some people are already angry with Sony over the rumor that the camera will have two SD slots and won't make use of either compact flash cards or XQD cards.  To this I say, "Bravo."  I personally like SD cards.  They are fast enough, very resilient and amazingly cheap these days.  I'll gladly exchange a faster write speed for ten times the storage....  Put me down as "Yes" for two SD cards as long as their use can be programmed.  I'd love to have the ability to do raw on one card and Jpegs on the other.  Or to do redundant back-up.  Or to put stills on one card and video on the other.  Finally, I'd like setting that allows me to put two cards in the slots and then start shooting to the first card and when it fills up to automatically switch to the second card without having to stop.

Hey Sony, if you are having problems deciding on a sensor here's what I think:  24 megapixels is just fine as long as they are "kick ass" megapixels.  Throttle back on pixel envy and give us a really clean imaging sensor at 24 that gives us richly detailed images with  high dynamic range at low ISOs while also giving us a really nice, really clean file all the way up to at least 6400.  I'm sure you guys can make a nice 36 meg sensor but I'm going to bet that a ultra-sweet 24 meg sensor makes more sense and gives you more generous engineering parameters within which to succeed.  As the pixels get smaller the detail seems to get crunchier.  I want detail that's more natural.

You guys are really, really good at making pro video cameras.  Can we please have three additions to the video basket of goodies in the new FF camera?  You have to ask?  Really?  Okay, here you go:  First, you need to let us have manual control of the microphone sound levels. We might ask for it and never use it but that's not your concern.  I really want to see the little graphical bars shoot over to one side of the meter when my actor coughs, burps or screams.  But seriously, I want to make sure my audio is recorded at the right levels.  We can rehearse and set it but we can't set it if you don't put it on the menu.  While you are at it would you please enable manual level controls on the a77 via firmware? I'm sure the capability is sleeping somewhere in the camera's guts...

Next I really want you to put in a headphone jack. I want to put on a pair of enclosed headphones and hear what I'm getting when I record audio with my video.  Better yet, I can run the headphones to the sound guy and he can listen for problems.  But if I don't get a headphone jack I'm right back to using an outboard mixer and that adds $400+ to the system purchase price and a major pain in the butt when it comes to the video production experience.

Finally, in the video arena, it would be really cool if you could output uncompressed or raw video via HDMI or a Thunderbolt connection.  Then we can buy a couple of these cameras and head out the door to make the movie from my novel before the book even comes out. This camera should make film makers cry tears of joy...

Save yourselves a bit of money.  You can make the camera out of polycarbonate over a metal frame. I don't need macho metal everywhere and neither does anyone else. As long as you can weather seal the beast lab tests will probably prove that metal transfers more shock to the inner guts than "plastic" and that plastic wears even better than metal.  Want to make Nikon and Canon pros cry? Consider making the outer shell out of carbon fiber.  Really.  It's the one material that men will choose over just about anything but titanium.  And most of them wouldn't know the difference in performance if it was writ large in 20 point type.  It would give you guys something to beat on in the advertising.

Steal a page from Nikon's book when it comes to lens compatibility.  Let us use our groovy/cool DT lenses on the body in a crop mode. I like that 16-50 a lot and I'd like to be able to use it across sensor sizes.  I promise I'll buy a real wide angle to put on the big camera but I'd like the system to be all terrain in a pinch.

Now, be real heros and price this thing at $2499 US.  Launch it the minute Photokina closes and start stocking them up now so that everyone on the short lists can get shooting in the first month after the announcement.

I know you guys think you can market like gangbusters but I have one last suggestion for you.  Take couple hundred of these cameras and put them in the hands of pros who are already shooting your a77 products.  An honest blog review with real world samples trumps everything you can put in an ad.  Really.  If you get people to use the camera and you have a place to share their experiences you'll quickly have a raging success or....you'll discover what you did totally wrong and stop the bleeding before it wreaks havoc on the rest of your product line.

Jet black.  Carbon fiber covered with sexy black rubber grippy stuff.  The envy of every cinematic  DP. Low Light champion (within reason).  If you want to make a dent in the market share barrel it's time to come out swinging with your "A" game.

And since we're talking marketing it's good to remember that having the right lenses for the job is a big part of the cache of a system.  You've got some big blanks that need filling and it's time to stop depending on Tamron and Sigma to pull the weight for you.  Here's what you need to announce along with the camera:

A 15mm Zeiss wide angle lens.  Make it perfect.  Now you own 15mm.  Next up you've got to have at least one tilt/shift lens.  Don't get crazy and go too wide until you have the 24mm focal length covered.  That's the sweet spot for discriminating architectural photographers.  Once you've got that one nailed it's time to also think about a 35mm tilt/shift.  It's a great focal length for a lot of stuff that requires perspective control.

How about giving us an updated 20mm prime?  If you want to turn heads let's make it an f2.0 and let's make it right.  We could also use a nice 200mm f2 for those interior sporty moments.

And if you want to make Olympus OMD users cry make the lens hoods really, really wonderful and put them in the boxes for free.

I made Ian at Precision Camera create an "a99" waiting list and put me on the top.  I'll buy one.  It's a whole new camera universe.  Carbon fiber.  That would be cool...

Sunday edit:  It's' coming quicker than we all thought.  According to actual people in the know the camera will be called the a99.  It will be announced next week. I missed the guess on sensors, it will be a 36 megapixel camera and it will most definitely be a fixed mirror SLT design.  Get this: 12 FPS in raw.  Sadly, no carbon fiber...  ISO 100-4,000 (rational thinking prevails..)

The price will either be $2799 US or 2999 US.  Just thought you'd want the update.