Having fun with little cameras. Making an image of my swimmer friend, Amy.

So.... a little while ago the folks at Samsung sent me a cool little camera and asked me to shoot with it over the Summer and I said, "yes, I'd love to." And at first I was apprehensive because it didn't have a viewfinder and I fear change. But pretty soon I discovered a few things. One is that I really like the NX300 and I really like its menus and the way it handles. Another thing is that adding a Hoodman Loupe to the back screen when I'm shooting in bright light is no big deal. And it works well for composition and color evaluation.

Well, there are a group of us evaluating the camera and sharing images on our blogs and in social networks and the 28 or us got invited to participate in a tiny, little contest. It was a perfect excuse to go out and self assign. The general idea was to photograph something you see everyday in a new and unique way. I mulled it over and thought I'd pass on the contest thing until I went to swim practice this morning and ran into my fierce and amazingly competitive friend, Amy. I decided, on the spur of the moment that I wanted my entry to be a photograph of Amy.

I see her at the pool almost every day, and most days we share a lane along with a rotating roster of other early morning swimmers. We get to the pool at 7:00 am and we're usually out by 8:30 am and the sun in central Texas is generally hidden behind clouds that get burned off later. So I see her in the flat light of early morning, mostly in the water with our heads down, our hearts pounding and our lungs burning. If she's feeling fast all I see of Amy most mornings is the splash of her kick as she pulls away and prepares to lap me. If I'm feeling fast I see Amy on my toes when I'm flip turning and we see each other briefly at the wall as she tells me (forcefully) to stop playing around and go NOW.

I thought it would be different and cool to make an image of Amy that was totally different for me so I asked her to meet me at the pool in the late afternoon when the lanes are nearly empty, the light is lush and luminous and the heat has ramped up and burned away the diffusing cloud cover.

I asked her to jump in the water and look as mean as she seems during workout. I laid on two kick boards on the deck and pointed my NX 300 at her  with the 18-55mm kit lens on the front. I added a polarizing filter to deepen the rich blue of the water and to remove whatever reflections I might not like.  I set the camera to manual exposure and then, laying on my belly, I directed my subject into place and started shooting. The screen on the back, when used with the Hoodman Loupe was perfect. I could see exactly what I was getting and access all the menu items I needed as well.

I shot a bunch of different images. I didn't use any fill cards or flashes. I set the Picture Wizard to "vivid" and the file setting to super fine Jpeg and knew what I'd add in post processing. I opened the files in Aperture and did general corrections and then I opened the keepers in Snapseed and added fun amounts of post processing, leaning on the structure filters and the "dramatic" filters. I wanted the image to look different from the whole film aesthetic. I had a hard time choosing which image I really wanted to use but in the end this one seemed very three dimensional to me.

We celebrated the shoot with pistachio cannoli and sparkling wine at Whole Food Market at Sixth and Lamar. I hope I win because the prize is a new lens. And all my friends know just how much I need a new lens........ but really, it's the competition and the self-assignment that's so much fun.

I'm also happy to know that I have good friends who are willing to jump in and help me out on short notice. It makes the art better.

And the combination of the Samsung NX300 and the big Loupe make shooting in full sun easy.  


What a nice day...

My day feels like this looks. Cool, sweet, refreshing and laid back. No complaints. I think I'll take a camera out for a walk and see how the day looks from a different point of view.

The Sony Rumors are starting to fly...Mirrorless comes to big cameras.

A quick snap of Victoria on set. Taken with the Samsung NX300 and the kit lens at ISO 1000 or higher. 

I've been reading stuff around the web and it seems like the rumor mill is firing up about the upcoming Sony replacements to their SLT product line. Cameras like the a77, a99, a58 and a57 all use stationary mirrors to split the light coming through the lens to both the image sensor and up into the finder to goad a phase detection AF module to leap into action and provide quick continuous AF. It's a system that works well, for the most part, but it's not technically elegant.  There is a 33% light loss which seems to limit sensor performance in the all important DXO sensor tests. And there is always the possibility of dirt on the mirror.

The basic technology to make these cameras truly mirror less, ala the Olympus Pens and the Panasonic line already exists in Sony's very good NEX line and in a number of their VG series camcorders. The bug in the sunscreen has always been that mirrorless cameras tend to slow down and get stupid when called on to focus continuously moving action. I won't go into the technical reasons that make phase detection AF faster (but less accurate) and contrast detection AF more accurate (but not nearly as fast) but regular practice with both kinds of cameras informs me that this is so.

If Sony (and Canon in their 70D, and Nikon in their V2) can produce good, solid phase detection AF points on their new lines of sensors then I'm pretty confident they'll match what we've come to expect from moving mirror cameras but with the additional speed benefit of not having mechanical moving parts to limit the imaging throughput. The rumors are that Sony will be converting their whole line to this new technology and I'm pretty sure they wouldn't take the chance if they hadn't proven the tech.

The one bugaboo that seems to stand in the way for the generation of unyieldingly recalcitrant photographers from the film era is the idea  of the optical viewfinder's necessity in the whole imaging chain. There is an emotional attachment to the glass periscope that, to me, defies logic. The idea is that you are seeing reality through the finder with an optical viewfinder and, the higher the quality and size of the viewfinder the higher and better the quality of reality. Of course most people don't make the thoughtful leap to the realization that their imaging reality isn't accurate unless they stop down to view the image at the taking aperture and that any mismatch between color temperatures isn't factored in, nor are the effects of in camera filters, settings or even movement.

The EVF (electronic viewfinder) view is a much more convincing simulacrum of the final photographic  artifact than the OVF could ever be and yet the argument goes on. If you've read the VSL blog for any amount of time you know what my passionately dispassionate opinion is: By the end of 2015 we'll ALL be buying cameras with EVFs, they will be better for most (if not all) applications and they will become so good that they'll be a fully transparent replacement for the older technology.

At any rate the rumor over on http://www.sonyalpharumors.com/sr3-specs-of-the-new-a79-prototype-camera/ point to an a79 with over 30 megapixels on the sensor, 480 focusing points on that sensor with full on PD AF, a 4 million pixel viewfinder, 8-14 fps, and no mirror anywhere in sight. I'm onboard with all of that. The two Sony a77's I owned were great production cameras and great studio cameras. If the newest chip tech is as amazing as the last generation of Sony sensors was the camera, sans mirror, should be remarkable. Whether the line does well against Nikon and Canon hinges on two things: Will they do the right marketing to get over the psychological hurdle of irrational finder love? and, secondly, will they put out enough and the right sort of lens choices for photographers? I think they will.

The NEX line continues unabated and the rumors there point to an introduction of a 50-150 or 180mm constant aperature, f2.8 zoom for those cameras coming in the fall. Now, if they'll give us a 16-50mm f2.8 for the NEX line as well I think we'll have a fully functional second system up and running.

What do I think of all this? As a guy transitioning from a still intensive content creation business to a mixed or hybrid still-and-motion business I welcome every tool that can cross over and do both jobs well. I played with a Panasonic GH3 yesterday. My friend showed me some beautiful video footage he'd just shot from the camera and I was amazed at the quality. Then I started looking through the video menus and that was cool. Amazing throughput. Good controls. Real time code. And a really great EVF. I was ready to switch systems again but I think I'll wait and see what Sony has up their sleeve before I go through all that mess again.

An interesting time to be in the creative content field. We are definitely going through another transition and we're leaving a lot of old and established paradigms in the wake. I'll miss the idea  of traditional camera designs but I'm certainly embracing the quantum leap forward in imaging potential of all kinds with the newest tech. Are you ready for 4K everything?  That's up next. I'm waiting for Apple to revolutionize the viewing space (once again....). 

And here's my interpretation of the image in black and white. I must admit that, out of habit, I prefer the black and white rendition. I know, it's nostalgia...


A new portrait. An old technique. A fresh model.

This is Victoria. We worked together on the project in Denver.  I lit her with a six foot by six foot diffusion panel and a 600 Watt Arri spot light. There's a little glow on the background from a Fiilex P360 LED light (balanced to match the main light.  The small, second catch light in her eyes is from a Kino-Flo fixture we were using to light our video.

The camera was a Sony a99 and the lens was the 85mm 1.5 Rokinon, cine version. This is one of the last many portraits done over two days.  I like everything about it so I wanted to share it with you, my VSL readers.

What I learned on the job yesterday.

I've been talking about the growing likelihood that traditional photography and video would collide and change the nature of the creative content market profoundly and permanently for photographers and, for me, it seems to be happening this year. I worked on a project yesterday and when we started talking about the parameters and fleshing out the brief with the client a few weeks ago the project was centered around the idea that we'd be shooting lots of stills for a rotating banner on their website. They tentatively asked about video and we said that we could do interviews and additional content called, "b-roll" that we could use to edit into the interviews to make them more dramatic. Over time the project changed from one that was still image intensive to one that is more video intensive.

Instead of spending most of the day looking for great still shots the time ended up being almost evenly divided between shooting stills and setting up and shooting video interviews and b-roll.

On the day of the shoot I made sure we packed a case with sound equipment which included a little Beachtek mixer that also matches the impedance of balanced, XLR connected microphones to the input impedance of my a99 camera. The little box is passive, meaning no battery power, but it does a good job managing the interconnection of professional, powered condenser microphones to what is basically a consumer level interface on the camera.

I debated a bit about which microphone to use to record my interviewees. A nice lavalier solves a lot of problems but, in the end, I didn't want any mike showing in the scene so I opted for a shotgun microphone at the end of a pole and used a Rode NTG-2 as my first choice. (Please don't write and tell me to take the microphone off the camera. As I said, we used it on a pole. The image above is just a quick way to show the "moving parts.") I packed extra cables and batteries as well as several back up microphones, just in case. The sound we got was good and detailed and Ben got it in nice and close which minimized the usual, office background noise. 

We were shooting broad spaces for the photography so lighting was very secondary in that regard but it was critical for the video. That being the case we knew we'd rely on continuous lighting so we brought two choices. We packed two large, florescent panels along with some nice diffusion cloths and we brought along four of the Fotodiox AS 312 LED panels with adjustable color temperatures. Ben and I used the LEDs, handheld, to pop a little light across glass or into dark spaces while we shot. We used the two, big, four tube per fixture florescent panels for our video set ups. They actually kicked out enough soft light so we could shoot with the (highly tinted) windows behind our subjects and show downtown in the background.  I thought we needed to travel light so I took intermediate sized light stands. They aren't really stable enough when the florescent panels need to go high. Next time I'll pack heavy duty stands for the fluorescent lights. We didn't have any issues but it sure made me nervous to see the lights sway a little bit next to floor to ceiling window, sixteen stories up.... This falls under: Sturdy stands trump lightweight travel. 

We packed one fluid head tripod and one tripod with a three way pan head. In retrospect, since everything we shot may end up as a 16:9 banner on a website and everything will be emphatically horizontal, we should have packed two fluid head tripods so that both of us could shoot various video footage separately. Even in the locked down shots of interior architecture (and there were many) we could have shot our stills and then unlocked the pan control and done a slow, controlled pan to use as a cutaway in our video editing. 

I don't shoot a lot of architecture anymore but at one time in my career I used a couple of Linhof TechniKarden 4x5 view cameras and a couple of wide lenses (75mm and 90mm) and shot tons and tons of interiors and exteriors for a magazine called, Early American Life. For a span of ten years or so I shot a lot of transparencies for them. If we needed to see a window in the scene and we wanted detail outside (we always did) we had to raise the ambient light level in the interior with strobes to balance. We'd always let the light go one stop hotter outside than inside. You could do that back then because film didn't just default to 255 and go white. It gracefully gave in to over exposure....

On this job I shot about fifteen shots that featured floor to ceiling windows with views of downtown Austin. Our working method now is to shoot a perfect frame for the exterior followed by a perfectly exposed frame for the interior and then we stack them in photoshop and paint in the window detail. I like working in layers this way because it makes it easier to control apparent depth of field by being able to blur the outdoor layer to tone down distance details and return emphasis onto the interior space. So far, in post production, this method is quick, easy and kind of fun. 

I learned to use my grid lines and the bubble level on my fluid head. If you have to pick one it's good to be consistent and depend on just one reference so that all your post production corrections are done with one angle change or one lens correction parameter. If you go back and forth between checking the internal levels and checking the tripod level one or the other will be off and you'll be zigging and zagging all over PhotoShop to correct them.

If you are transitioning to offering video it's cool to shoot ten seconds of video once you've got your still shot. The frames come in handy when you are editing and you know people are tired of seeing a talking head on camera. Intercutting related images breaks up the visual boredom. We roll ten seconds of video at the end of every still set up. Just to have it in the can. 

I did a stupid thing on Tues. (the day of the shoot).  I wore a white shirt. It was a really nice white shirt with collar stays and it was well tailored but....it was white and as I mentioned we spent a lot of time shooting into floor to ceiling windows...which reflect a lot of bright stuff from the interior space. Bright things like white shirts. I hate cloning out my shiny, shimmering white torso...Save yourself some time and wear you BLACK shirt when you shoot in shiny spaces. You'll have a lot less to mess with in post.

I learned that no matter how organized you are that by the end of the day you'll get tired and forget something. For video I keep a check list next to the camera and I've become manic about making sure the little red light on the camera is flashing to indicate that the camera is recording. It's hard to always remember when you stopped and when you started and it's embarrassing to get a really good take and then reach over to turn off the movie mode on the camera only to discover that you never pushed to start. 

We were organized but we forgot one thing. There's a great client logo/sign as you step off the elevator into their lobby. The client and I talked about the sign and Ben and I talked about the sign and we walked past it at least ten times on the shooting day. But we never shot it. After I do the post on about 120 shots I'm heading back downtown to shoot the darn lobby sign. Can't believe I didn't spend five minutes doing it on Tues. and now will spend more travel time and what not to grab the shot after the fact....In the future we'll write up and official shot list and check off stuff as we go. I've done so many shoots in my career they all blend together and it's hard to remember what  you did and didn't get. A list is helpful.

Finally, I learned that I still love the problem solving, people directing and general sense of discovery that comes with every shoot we do these days. I learned about a new industry. I had fun solving the interior/exterior set ups. I enjoyed directing people in their interviews and I had a blast having lunch at a downtown coffee shop with the kid.  Photography is still a wonderful and engaging career. And work keeps coming in. I'm loving it.

Bottom line? When you keep learning you stay engaged and attracted to projects. When you think you know it all you should stop and change careers. 



I worked with a perfect assistant today.

Imagine a photo assistant who is calm, collected and quiet. Imagine he knows your camera menus as well as you do, in fact uses the same cameras you do for his own projects. Now imagine that your assistant has taken several years of cinematography classes, done sixty or seventy video projects and won cash awards for his Public Service Announcement video projects. Imagine an assistant that can do better audio and better microphone booming than anyone else you've met. Imagine you could hand him an extra camera and tripod and trust him to cruise around on three floors of a class "A" office building in downtown Austin, autonomously shooting great "B-roll" for the project and that he remembers all the responses from the video interviews you are currently shooting and can translate them into visual opportunities without having to be told or prompted.

Then imagine that he showed up early, wore just the right shirt, pants and shoes for the client at hand and he was polite, engaging and endearing to the clients (and to the photographer). Then imagine he does all this just four days after having all of his wisdom teeth extracted. You might call him a "miracle assistant". Around the house we call him "Ben."

I worked with the guy for a full day today. We were shooting stills and videos for a new client and I wanted everything to go smoothly. Really smoothly. So I took Ben. Later he told me, "You didn't really need an assistant you just wanted someone there to assure you that you were doing the video correctly.  And you were." I don't agree with his assessment but so what?

It's fun when you realize that your kid is much better than you are at stuff. Not everything, but a lot of the stuff that really matters. Everything he suggested was right on the money.  And the beautiful thing is that he only suggested if I asked. That's a great assistant.


Why architects put reflective glass in the windows of big buildings...

Self portrait.

I thought we'd get right down to best practices and stunning technique in this particular post. As you may know I've been auditioning the Samsung NX300 at the request of their U.S. public relations agency and while this is certainly not intended as a review or even mini-review of the camera itself I will say that the jpegs files I get from the camera are exemplary. Sharpest in their class and also very good (though understated) in contrast and overall tonality. When I add contrast in post the files smile, and when I add a little saturation to the same files I smile even more.

But what I'd like to call attention to today is my stance and the way I am holding the camera. I have tried ATMTX's suggestion to "Use the Force.." and just stick my arms out in front of me with the camera at the end of a long set of shaky levers but it's really a non-starting solution; an attempt to make a bad ergonomic situation just a little better. I'm talking about the fact that the camera has no EVF nor any potential to add an EVF and one finds oneself falling back on what we call, "The Stinky Baby Diaper Hold" and all of the missteps that entails....from a physics point of view. Why the arm extension? Chalk that up to being over 40 and needing the almost universal reading glasses...

Classic "stinky baby diaper hold" but without the little hipster hat...

But I am using the camera with, for me, great success. I basically take along my Hoodman Loupe and press it against the back of the camera in order to compose. The loupe blocks out extraneous light which means that I can really evaluate an image or preview under bright sun, in the field. And more importantly it allows me to press the whole package to my face with my arms in a much more physiologically stable posture which presumably gives me more consistent and controlled compositions with much less camera movement.

Here's how I do it....

Unless you have the eyes of a fifteen year old and have never known the sybaritic pleasures of well made coffee there is no way that the SBDH can hold a candle (or much of anything else) to the correct hold on your camera.

But if you must do the stinky baby diaper hold, or the radioactive cellphone offset hold, you might want to complete the ruse by adding another prop/accessory, the SBDH utility gloves. Available in most sizes and ready to hold steady any non-EVF imaging toy or tool. Or use in the changing of stinky diapers.  (See below).

Seriously, I like the NX300. I really do. But why Samsung chose to go with a camera that doesn't have the option of an Electronic Viewfinder mystifies me.  Thank goodness for the Hoodman Loupe. I guess since the camera is mine I could super glue the loupe to the back but that would defeat the whole idea of the touch screen. Another first world concern...

Don't get too used to all those new "convenience" features in our new cameras....

See what happens when you get used to using the in-camera level indicators and then you accidentally push the display button and they vanish at the wrong moment? Tragic. I was trying to get everything lined up on the screen and they were gone....the little lines in the center that turn green when you've got your camera held level. And it couldn't have come at a worse time. It was mid-composition. Now I live in terror. What if the auto-composition controls go on strike? Will everything I shoot seem subtly out of whack? Better to not become addicted in the first place but now I sound like one of those guys who wanted to smash the machines. I guess there has to be some balance somewhere...

Speaking of weird stuff. My Samsung NX300 and my Sony NEX 6 both have some sort of built in wi-fi and I finally figured it all out. So, you have to be near your phone and you have to download an app and you have to configure your camera to send the app to your phone which you can then use to relay your image into the interwebs with fumbling alacrity. It takes ten or fifteen seconds, over the most nimble connection, to transfer a 20 megapixel file so it's not exactly a speedy proposition for a guy who likes to hold down the magic shutter button....

Strangely, it does work. But equally strange to me is the idea that anyone would want to do that unless this is your idea of the new paradigm of breaking new photography. For art? I think we can all wait until we get home, snuggle up with our laptops and a nice glass of wine and push all the big boy buttons. But that's just my opinion. I am sure that in just days I'll be back telling you that immediacy is the new black, and that I could no more live without camera wi-fi than I can now live without in camera levels or in camera auto composition. Stay tuned. Literally.

Real Street Photography. Right?

 I decided that my street photography had gotten boring. It had turned into a habit. I decided that a really committed street photographer should embrace the whole idea of the "street" and not the safety of the sidewalk. To that end I've started randomly walking out into traffic, turning to face the oncoming cars and then shooting with reckless abandon. The image above was taken Saturday afternoon. It had just rained which gave me some nice street reflections to work with. It also made the roads slicker and made the whole adventure much more riveting for me and the drivers.

After a number of near misses a peace officer dropped by to counsel me on my artistic undertaking and to suggest that the middle of a four way intersection on a busy street might pose overwhelming challenges to my project. I pulled out my double spaced, multiple page artist's statement  (AKA: The Street Shooter's Manifesto) and after he read, with interest, every single word he just shook his head and drove off.

I will say that, at times, the abject fear of death wreaks havoc on my usually nimble photographic skills... There was one candy apple red Mustang that was heading straight for me and I noticed that the driver was looking absently at a text instead of me. The car was heading toward me at forty miles per hour and it's a good thing I zone focused because I'm not sure the contrast detection autofocus is that good at objects coming straight for the camera. Fortunately it must have been a very short text because the driver looked up and then locked up the brakes. Unfortunately the buffer on my camera was full and I couldn't capture the passenger side of the car as it whipped around me into an adjacent lane, nudging, just barely, a cute little powder blue Prius.

Part of the subtle texture of this sort of in your face street photography is the colorful language the drivers hurl my way. It makes the whole process of doing this kind of art seem very, very interactive. I've been recording clips on a digital audio recorder but carrying the extra gear, and having to minister to it, reduces my agility and ability to gain the sidewalk in those many moments (especially during rush hour) when people are either oblivious to obstacles on the road or not at all into the whole idea of kinetic and challenging art forms.

I am hoping this new kind of street photography catches on. Especially with iPhone-o-graphers. It's so immediate and the risk makes it so much hipper than just trawling for static images of slow moving life.  You'll never feel the same sort of rush if you're just documenting your lunch...  The thing I think is most fun, if you have a driver's license, is that one can plumb both sides of the process: from workflow to traffic flow. Whichever side of the wheel you find yourself the newest idea in street photography may mean that soon we are ALL part of the art process.

I'm thinking of specializing in a certain esoteric form of this new street photography. There's a little known niche that deals with just left turn lanes. Might need a different selection of cameras to really master that one.

( Don't try this at home! Because most homes don't have streets running through them.)

#NX300 This was inspired by my tests with the Samsung NX300. With only an LCD finder you really have to work hard on street-o-graphy, especially in bright sun.