7.15.2014

Everybody likes something different in photography. That's what makes the business so much fun.


As crazy as it might sound there's nothing about the business I like better than hanging out in my studio photographing people against a stark, white background. The kind of camera I use really doesn't matter anymore and as long as the lens doesn't flare like a mad bastard I'm pretty happy shooting with any 85-105mm equivalent lens I can get my hands on. If there is a challenge around shooting white backgrounds it's not to overdo the lighting on the background. Unless we're aiming for a clipping path/masked drop out I like to see a tiny little bit of detail in the backgrounds. It's almost like we're acknowledging the three dimensions.

But what the near absence of a background does is to make you really think about how you want to light the foreground. The biggest mistake I see in student work or with photographers who haven't spent a lot of time in the studio is the tendency to get the subject too close to the actual background. It limits lighting options because so much of the background light wraps around. My goal is to always put as much distance between my subjects and their backgrounds as humanly possible. What that does is allow me to light each plane as a totally separate operation. Why is that valuable? Control.

By separating the effects of light on the background from the foreground subject I can light each one exactly the way I need to for the look I am trying to convey. I like dark shadows on faces and that means I also have to be careful to make sure that the lights hitting the background don't bounce around a "live" room and reduce the overall contrast everywhere. Too much fill light destroys the look I'm usually trying to go for. To prevent this I use four umbrellas on the background instead of two. This means I can work the background lights in a little closer which means I have quicker fall off. All four of the umbrellas are soft silver interiors with black backings. The black backings kill any light bleed through which would hit the walls.

I'm currently using inexpensive, 43 inch, collapsible Westcott umbrellas. Since the center shaft collapses they can be packed down really small and tossed into a suit case for long distance location work. But my obsession with spill light doesn't stop there. I "flag" the subject on either side with black 4x6 foot panels. The panels kill more of the total spill and also help even a mediocre lens be a bit more resistant to flare. I pull the black panels as close as I can to the subject without them being in the final composition.

Lack of something interesting in the background does motivate me as the photographer, and most of my subjects to do more interesting things. More intense expressions. More fall off with my main subject lights. More extemporaneous acting. We are all subconsciously compensating for the "missing" background.

Why am I talking about this today? Well, I spent last Thurs. shooting a very fun ad campaign against white and I was really happy while I was shooting and even happier with the results. Then, this morning we had another shoot with a model on a white background. The shoot itself could be considered boring. We were shooting a selection of T-shirts. But working with the model to make fun, angled compositions with her body against the clean canvas of the white was like doing pure sketching with a camera. I had clear marks for her on the floor so as long as she stayed within the marks I didn't have to worry about the technical aspects of the lighting.

I was using the GH4 with face detection AF enabled and I quickly learned to trust the camera 100%. The strong modeling lights made AF fast and solidly accurate which eliminated another layer of basic administration. With each layer peeled back I felt freer and freer to do the thing a creative photographer should be doing the most of: interacting with the model and working on expression, composition and timing. All the mechanical stuff started taking care of itself. And what are we really charging for? The ditch digging or the landscape design?

I had so much fun today because I love working with the art director who represented the ad agency. We've worked together for years and our respect for each other is 100%. I had fun with the model. She was smart, beautiful and interesting. Even more interesting when I found out that she is the mother of three kids! I had fun using a camera that does more of the heavy lifting than any camera I've worked with in the past. From selecting focusing points to flashing me highlight zebras when my lighting got too carried away. My Elinchrom lights are four years old and I largely take them for granted because they never hiccup or fart.

My mind set over the last few weeks is that we've come out the other side of the camera maze. We spent the last fourteen years watching digital improve and constantly changing our response to the cameras and the metrics of technical success. Now, in my estimation everything is good and automatic and flawless. If you aren't already shooting with an EVF camera you probably will be soon. If you shoot in studio and you aren't using face detection AF (with eye preference) you will be soon.

We are at the point now which one of our readers described in a comment this morning about computers: All the fun and change and challenge is over. They have now returned to being reliable appliances. Now we don't look to the cameras for the magic we look to ourselves for the fun and the challenge. It's actually a nice, comfortable place to be for a working photographer.

Later this week I'll be shooting something totally different: An action-y video project with interviews but also with B-roll footage for statewide television news use. Unrehearsed video action as it's happening. Good thing I'll have crack assistant, Ben Tuck, in tow. More later.

Editorial note: I usually write my blogs after I've made a bunch of raw conversions in Lightroom and I am waiting for them to exports. With my current computer I enjoy a leisurely interval in which to write my brilliant thoughts. This will all change when the new computer arrives on Thurs. I've been told by my geek friends that the whole export process (based on specs and metrics) will take about 75% less time. So, I either have to write 75% faster or I have to write 75% less. We'll see how all of that works out.....

7.13.2014

Wow. What does vivid look like?


I went out for a walk this afternoon. The lake that runs through the middle of downtown was buzzing with paddle boarders, kayakers and rowing sculls. Even though we were scraping 100 degrees the hike and bike trail was filled with walkers, joggers and serious runners. The clouds were doing that dramatic against bright blue sky thing that's getting rarer as the ozone gets thicker or richer or whatever it does. 

I had a new (to me) Olympus OMD EM-5 over my shoulder, complete with a Sigma 30mm f2.8 DN lens and I was eager to put the combo through their daylight paces. The day was so much about a mid-summer, Technicolor(tm) reality that I just had to switch the camera's color profile from natural to vivid. These images are the result. I think I'll call it "The Ken Rockwell Technique."

I hope you had a wonderful weekend lazing about and diving into a great novel. 








The "Noah's Ark" syndrome of buying camera bodies.

Berlin 2013.

Back in the days of film one of the most productive photographers in the New York advertising and editorial scene was a guy named, Jack Reznicki. He had a very successful ad campaign aimed at creative directors and art buyers. He'd send out cool stuff for promotions and everything would have the tagline: "Just call me Jack!" on it. A nod to the idea that people kept misspelling or mispronouncing his last name. At any rate Jack wrote a wonderful book called, Studio and Commercial Photography; it's out of print but there are still lots of copies floating around. I just ordered a new copy from one of third party book merchants at Amazon...

The book is a wonderful over the shoulders look into what the business was like back at the end of the last century. Jack's crew was building great sets in the studio, working with top talent and hiring amazing prop makers and riggers to make the images work right in the camera. The photographs themselves were good, solid advertising and editorial images. Almost everything he showed in the book were photographs of people. While his style wasn't cutting edge or even edge-y is was technically wonderful and a perfect match for the demographics of the markets in which he worked. 

For me this book was like a primer on studio work with people. I'd been doing my own style for years before I saw his book but it really helped me up my game as a photographer. These were the days before digital imaging was wide spread in that part of the industry and most of the work Jack showed was made with medium format film cameras. Hasselblads.

I was thinking about Jack's book as I bought a second Olympus OMD EM-5 camera from a close friend today. I was wondering (until I remembered Jack) why it is that I always feel compelled to buy cameras in pairs. Then I remembered. It's all about the back up. It's all about redundancy. It's all about being a "Boy Scout" for your clients and always being prepared. Or, as one of my favorite photography professors/artists, Dennis Darling, once wrote in his book, Chameleon with a Camera, "Cameras like to travel in pairs, like rattlesnakes..."

While cameras seem much more reliable now than ever before they are still electro-mechanical machines with moving parts and all machines fail at some point. Murphy's Law for photographers indicates that the rock solid, reliable workhorse camera that you swear by will fail and it will choose to do so at the least opportune time and at the highest cost to you, personally.

In Jack's book he goes to great pains to talk about his back up strategy. When he went on location he would always take two of each important piece of shooting gear. If he was shooting portraits he would have two lenses that, in a pinch, could each be used to cover the assignment. For example a 120mm macro and a 150mm or a 150mm and a 180mm. He would always travel with two bodies and anything else that the failure of which would bring the whole shoot to a halt. 

I've always tried to make sure I have backups for everything. When digital bodies were frightfully expensive it wasn't always financially reasonable to have two identical cameras. When we entered the 6 megapixel arena with the Kodak DCS 760 the bodies were around $7,000 each. Buying two in a  quickly evolving market just didn't make sense so I would bring along an Olympus e-10 camera as a last gasp back-up. Just enough ummph to finish a job and not a pixel more. 

Today, with the price of good, solid, usable cameras well below $2000 (and many under $1000) I am back to the practice of buying two of the same cameras. Two weeks ago I bought a black EM-5 from a friend whose vast camera inventory means that camera won't even be missed. Today I bought a second body. The rationale? Same menus, same settings, same controls, same batteries, same everything. If I need to grab a back up camera I won't miss a step getting used to a new interface, and staying in the same family means effortless interchangeability of lenses, flashes and other accessories.

I have a project I'd like to do out on the road and I wanted to try it with the EM-5 and the three Sigma dn Art lenses. But I would never go out to remote locations with an "only" camera. I am happy to have the second body. 

But it goes beyond just having a back up. When I shot events in the film days I used three cameras. One with a wide lens, one with a normal lens and one with a long lens. As we progressed some of those lenses were replaced with fast zooms. That meant quicker access to the moment. Rather than having to dig around in a camera bag to change focal lengths one could drop one camera and let it dangle on the strap and grab another one with the lens needed for right now. Bring the next camera to your eye and shoot. 

I still do it that way. A recent conference saw me hustling around with three Panasonic GH cameras festooned around my person, along with a flash and extra batteries in the pocket of my jacket. Over time you get used to placing the cameras with specific lenses in the same locations. Fast normal around my neck, hanging down on my chest; fast, wide zoom on the left and fast, long zoom on the right. 

With the EM-5 cameras I'll probably start out with one over each shoulder and the 17mm on one with the 45mm on the other. We'll see how that works and then go from there. 

So my theory is that we proceed just like Noah loading animals into his ark. Two of each. Not that I expect to leave the cameras in a dark bag with Barry White music playing in the studio and have them multiply. But at least I'll know I have a pair that's perfectly matched. 

The other reason Olympus owners might want multiple cameras is to minimize lens changing. We tend to think that there's no downside to the marvelous 5 axis IBIS but it's good to keep in mind that if something nasty sticks to the sensor and the shaking device can't dislodge it you will have to send the camera in for sensor cleaning. You can't use the old Q-tip and vodka cleaning method that a well anchored, full frame sensor might withstand. So having one lens on each of several bodies and leaving them almost welded in place might, in the long run, turns out to be a much less expensive strategy than going cheap on bodies and changing lenses over and over again in raging dust storms. 

Are the Panasonic cameras in danger of being displaced and discarded? Not on your life. Those GH cameras are video and still photography money makers. The Olympus cameras are my new dilettante shooters. For fun and art. Remember, it's an open lens standard and we get to pick and choose. With the un-stabilized lenses the Olympus cameras give the caffeine addicts a fighting chance...

7.12.2014

How much is quality determined by your camera's sensor and how much is determined by your software?


I have tried DXO Optics Pro on several occasions. The last full, elite download I did was version 4.2. DXO is now on version 9.x. I used DXO back in the days when we were shooting with a Nikon D2xs (12 megapixels) and it was the sharpest camera you could get your hands on unless you ventured into the rarified area of medium format digital. At the time I bought that version we were doing an ad campaign for a multi-national technology company and we were shooting people in clean rooms. It was important to use a very wide lens (at the time a 12-24 Nikon lens), get perfect geometry and perspective, shoot without supplemental lighting and control noise in the files. While the PhotoShop of the time did okay the trial of DXO I downloaded pretty much blew me away and clicked off every checkbox on my list of needed file improvements.

The only downside of the program back then was the excruciating slowness in processing images on the computers of the day. (No 64 bit, no multi-threading, less RAM, single core processors, etc.). The trade-off wasn't important in the situation at hand because there were things I just could not control. I had to shoot without lighting. I had to ramp up the ISO past my usual safety settings and I had to count on a lens that needed some help on the edges and in the corners. But after we successfully completed that job the slowness of the program took its toll and I gradually stopped using it while the Adobe products continued to improve.

Last Thurs. I did a job in the studio for two ad agencies. The shoot required me to photograph a very good actor, on a white background, in a series of funny outfits and with fun props. The shots were from head to toe. I used my GH4 and the 25mm 1.4 Panasonic. I chose the lens both because it is known to be a very good performer and it was also just the right focal length for the project. This was an important job because I was working with a new ad agency for the first time and also working with a second agency that is one of my all time favorite Austin shops. Everyone loved what we were seeing on the screen and we all patted each other on the back for how smooth and trouble free the project had been.

As the agency people were packing up the props I asked my main contact how they wanted the files. I am certain we had discussed that the images would be used mostly on the web. They were also doing the masking so I just assumed that they might want to wait around for twenty minutes or so and I would hand them a memory stick full of images and be largely done with the project. And that's when it happened.

The head honcho from the front agency casually mentioned that they should probably just make selects from a web gallery since the final files needed to be big. (Big? Really? for the web?). It seems that in the time between talking to me about the job and finalizing it everyone decided that it would be really great to do a series of four posters with the shots. Not small posters either, but real 24 by 36 inch posters. Of course I smiled and told them I'd get right on that web gallery. I waved as they all drove away and then I had a crisis of confidence. Had I royally screwed up by switching to the smaller system? Would the files have been remarkably better had I stayed with the full frame cameras? Yikes. Creeping anxiety. What was I thinking when I made the "all or nothing" plunge into the smaller sensor cameras? And what would I tell my blog audience after having strutted around like an expert espousing the charms of the Panasonic GH series cameras?

I looked at the files in Lightroom 5.5 at 100 % and, while it may have been my over active imagination they did look a little soft to me. Maybe a bit less detail than I had been used to with the files from the Sony a99. I fretted about it all day yesterday. I went ahead and did the web gallery and it looked great. Of course it did, the files were 2000 pixels on the long side....

Then, this morning at swim practice the letters "D" "X" "O" popped  into my head and I relaxed just a little bit. I'd go and down load the program and see if it was as good as I remembered it. I reconciled myself to the expenditure of another $269 to get the new version and I pulled out the credit card. I logged in and hit the "buy" button for the Elite Version and the menu told me that as a previous purchaser I was eligible to upgrade for only $69.

I couldn't hit the keys fast enough. Once I had the program and the modules for the Panasonic camera and lens loaded I went through the whole image fine tuning process with one of the raw files. Once the process was completed I was looking at a file that was much sharper, smoother and happier than the full frame files I'd been pulling from the Sony cameras in Lightroom. The GH4 files yielded absolutely wonderful files that stood up well at 100%. Clearly better than previous generations of cameras I'd owned.

The final test was to output the improved file from DXO and to open it in PhotoShop so I could res it up to 9000 pixels on the long side and see how that looked. I tried several different resizing protocols and all of them were more than satisfactory. I may investigate some other enlarging programs but I am very happy with the look and feel of the file and will sleep well tonight.

DXO is not a program I'd want to use to process batches of images. It's still just too slow on my computers. But once a client narrows their take down to the top five or ten images the amount of control in the program is amazing. The images I put through were significantly better than what I was seeing in Lightroom and Photoshop. While I'm sure there are people out there who are such PS masters that they could replicate the look I am also certain it would take a lot of time and effort. Much more than the investment of $69 and a half hour learning curve.

I am even more satisfied with my GH4. I feel as though the camera can handle literally any photo job I come up against with the right handling in the right software.

Now, this is not to say that running the files from a Nikon D800 or Canon 5Dmk3 wouldn't result in even better images. But if I am happy with poster sized photographs from my camera of choice then the software engineers have done their job and the Panasonic folks have done their job by providing data files with enough information potential that, once unlocked, makes the camera wonderful.

Just an observation on a Saturday afternoon.



7.11.2014

In the mood for black and white.

Olympus EM-5 and 60mm Sigma dn.

 Don't know why but when I woke up this morning I was so in the mood to shoot black and white that I flipped on all three GH cameras and set them to monochrome, jacked up the contrast and turned down the noise reduction. Got the weird optics on the front and now I'm looking for people and places that just look black and white in my head.

I think it's a result of too much color work all Summer long. It's either that or the cool, black box of Richard Avedon postcards I got last week...

Hope everyone has a happy weekend and, if you live in Texas I hope you stay cool. It will be a scorcher by Sunday.


Catch up with Henry White, the hero in The Lisbon Portfolio,
as he takes a Leica to explosive new extremes.....

Love letter to a lens? (Chapter one).


I didn't need you. I hadn't planned on bringing you home. It just seemed to happen. Oh sure, I was messing around with micro four thirds cameras when it happened. I just spent too much money on a trio of promising, fast zoom lenses and I guess they really are nice, and have good personalities, but they lack the romance you bring to our relationship. There's just something about you single focal length types that takes me right back to my early days as a photographer.

Those were the days when zooms were the trailer trash of the camera world. Brazen thugs who could shift around into different lengths but they were mostly no good. Not the kind of lens you'd depend on when things got tough. The kind of optical system you just knew was going to leave you in the lurch the minute the smallest dollop of direct light hit his front element...

Hanging around in the camera bags they were always like, "Hey, I'm so cool. I can go from a wide shot to a tight shot and back again standing in one spot. And you," they would taunt the 50's and 105's, "all you can do is your one trick pony act."  But they always seemed to drop the ball. They'd make excuses: "what the hell do you mean 'wide open'?? I wasn't designed for wide open. Set me at f8 or don't bother taking me out of the bag!" Then there were all those embarrassing episodes with flare. And again the rationales: "Dude! I saw it in Life Magazine. Flare is cool. Flare is artistic. And watch this! I can make iris rings show up right in the middle of your photograph. I swear, I saw Ernst Haas do it...."

But those zooms mean nothing to me now.

I still remember the day I sat, bored and at the same time busy, in front of my mighty computer. I was half listening to a client on the phone and half cruising through Amazon.com's website when I came across your profile. It might have been your photo that caught my attention. Was it a selfie? At any rate it looked....enchanting. Then I read your profile and I was really interested. But the thing that made me initially fall head over heels was your price. Only $209.  I'm sure I've paid more than that for a Leica lens hood.

It was an impulsive decision. You had to be mine. I hesitated when I saw your twin sister in the silver finish but for some reason I can't explain your smooth, black exterior was too alluring.

I remember the afternoon the guy in the truck pulled up and let you out. I rushed into the studio with you in my hands and peeled you out of all those unnecessary wrappings. And there you were, naked and gleaming.  The Sigma 60mm f2.8 dn. I sighed. I was smitten.

But we were both a little shy until we went out for that big walk through downtown. Me with my hat and walking shoes, you hanging off the front of a hulky camera body. And it was magic. Over the months my regard for you has grown and, though you don't say it out loud, I think you enjoy our time together as well.

But lest all the readers think us cloying and saccharine let me take a moment to more objectively catalog your charms:

1. The 60mm focal length is really nice for tight portraits and graphic close ups with the small format cameras.

2. The lens is very sharp in the center even when its aperture is wide open. By f4 the whole thing is sharp and by f5.6 it blows the doors off the same focal length on my zoom for that feeling of edgy good sharpness.

3. It is small and light and focuses quickly on all my modern m4:3 cameras.

4. I have had no issues with flare from glancing light or little pin points of direct photonic contact.

5. It's so inexpensive I never worry about it.

I took the 60mm Sigma out on a walk with me today and fell in love with it all over again. I have the 19mm and the 30mm and like both of them as well, but the 60mm is special. If they made a wider focal length to match the existing trio of lenses, say a 12mm, I'd buy it in a heartbeat. That would be a wonderful basic system of primes for any of the m4:3 cameras.

Ahhh. Summer romance.






Revisions. The firmware upgrade for electronic books!!! A novel update.


We love firmware upgrades for our cameras because they tweak stuff that wasn't just right when the cameras first came out. They make the focus a little surer and the overall response of a camera quicker. Now I find that I can "upgrade" the "firmware" of my recently launched novel in much the same way. The biggest difference is that the install is quicker and easier for the end user.

After we launched the book back on June 16th we started getting reviews (mostly five stars!!!) that read something like this: "The book is a page turner. I stayed up all night to finish it. It's a fun story for photographers. BUT it could have used a better editor---there are a lot of typos and a few inconsistencies....still, it's a great read." I resolved that as soon as I had the time I'd dive back in and try to find the stuff I missed or, alternately, I would some day have enough free cash floating around to hire an editor to help me fix the things that needed corrections.

But because of my incredible VSL family I am thrilled to say that we've been able to make the vast majority of the corrections. I want to say a big "THANK YOU!!!" to longtime VSL reader and participant, Michael Matthews, for painstakingly going through the manuscript and finding a huge number of things to fix. Belinda sat down with his notes this past week and made 99.9 % of the changes he recommended. Would have been 100% had I not been stubborn on one use...

Because of his hard work and generosity the book is now a much better read than it was just three weeks ago. So, what does this mean to you? Well, if you downloaded the book and have not yet read it you could delete the copy currently on your Kindle enabled device and download the newest version (your firmware upgrade) at no charge to you whatsoever. Then you can plunge in and enjoy the book as it was meant to be.

If you've been on the fence, really wanting to support my book writing efforts and really dying to read the photo blockbuster novel of the Summer, but you were put off by the mention of typos in some of the reviews you can now download a much improved copy and get right into reading for pleasure.

If you participate in Amazon Prime you should know that we've elected to make the book "borrow-able" from their lending service, at no charge, for five days. Wow! Free book read. 

But if you haven't looked, haven't read or haven't downloaded I would be interested to know what we can do to make it more tempting for you. Is price an issue? If so, what price do you think is appropriate? Is it the fact that the book is only available right now as a Kindle book?  Would you prefer to be able to buy a hard copy? I'm interested to know how I can get the book into more peoples' hands and I figure the blog is a good place to start a bit of market research....

If you have suggestions be sure to make a comment. I'll appreciate it. And if you are a script reader for a major Hollywood movie producer be sure to leave your contact info....


below is the book's latest review on Amazon:

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What 'The Man Who Knew Too Much' Should Have BeenJuly 8, 2014
By 
This review is from: The Lisbon Portfolio (The Henry White Portfolios Book 1) (Kindle Edition)
Swimmer, photographer, Dad, Husband, Blogger (the visual science lab) Kirk Tuck now adds another notch to his accomplishments, action adventure fiction writer. Drawing on his background as a corporate and portrait photographer, Kirk creates just the sort of story that made Alfred Hitchcock famous. Movies like North by Northwest put an ordinary fellow into an extraordinary situation. The audience identifies with everyman who will have to out wit a strange and menacing world around him.

Some action stories like Clancy's use long drawn out narratives (how to assemble a nuclear bomb or spread ebola virus for example) interspersed with action scenes every few chapters. For my money, Kirk has bested Clancy by combining a careful narrative explaining 'about to be' high tech weaponry or skull duggery computer hacking while getting right to the story.

The best parallel would be what Fox terms 'America's Thrill Ride' the 24 television series. High Noon took place in real time with the clock counting down. Jack Bauer and his group endure a 24 hour day to end all day sin every season. Likewise, Henry White is thrown from researcher/observer to field operative. Most of the story takes place over a four day convention in Lisbon. Caution to readers, once you get to the scene in the convention center rest room, the thrill ride really gets going, you are likely to be hooked, make sure you have time to finish the book from that point on.

And so we have Hitchcock style hero, Henry White, Austin, TX photographer set against a somewhat exotic Lisbon setting. The MacGuffin ins question are plans on a micro drive which as in any good action adventure story, everyone and we mean everyone wants. While another reviewer suggested GDS was emblematic of IBM or EDS, I can also imagine United Technologies in league with other military suppliers constantly at work finding buyers for their 'products' especially when the Dept of Defense gives them a pass on some expensive R and D project. IO am sure none of that R & D is simply expensed….

I stayed up until 11:43 Sunday night finishing the book, it's that good. Kirk certainly seems to have done his homework on the high tech stuff. I don't know where he got up to speed on how all the spy guys walk, take shooting stances, etc. perhaps there are more ex Black Ops types in those Austin Coffee Shops than I realized.

Thanks Kirk, I see this is Book 1, let's hope it does not take another 14 years to produce Book 2, the Further adventures of Henry Whitel
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No

7.09.2014

Two More "Acid Queen" images from last night's dress rehearsal and a bit about post processes.



I know I probably shoot too much but big, splashy, fun theater productions have so many things going on that you could shoot thousands of images and not scratch the surface. I was back at the theater last night with three cameras in tow. I had the Panasonic GH4 with the 35-100mm f2.8 X lens, a Panasonic GH3 sporting the 12-35mm f2.8 X lens and the nnew-ish (to me) Olympus EM-5 which cycled between two lenses, the Olympus Pen F 40mm f1.4 and the 60mm f1.5. Right off the bat I'll tell you that I had more fun shooting on Sunday because I had time to really play around with the 150mm f4 Olympus PenF lens and I feel like I was starting to get some really great images with the combination of that lens and the EM-5 body.

I recently took myself to task for shooting in much too cavalier a fashion. I've been defaulting to Jpegs any time I have to shoot a lot of images for a project on the premise that shooting raw would be too constricting and the output would take up too much disk space. I rationalized that, for most web based applications even Jpegs would be overkill. But then I did some comparisons and found that even with a modicum of extra effort I really can squeeze a better file out of a raw file. So I chastened myself severely and got with the raw program. It was such a dumb-ass move to make right before a high volume, dress rehearsal shoot for the folks at Zach Theatre...

Between the three cameras, the great music at Tommy, the incredible stage designs and the choreography I ended up shooting about 1500 images. Now, that's not as crazy as it sounds. I know that the rest of you have the uncanny ability to decide that this moment, right here, right now, this particular expression will be the ultimate one in a scene. You wait like a scorpion with your tail raised and somehow you know just when all the elements come together and then you strike! I'm sure it's a thing of beauty. How you know with certainty that the moment you've captured is the ultimate one is beyond my mortal ken. How you keep your finger off the shutter release for all the subsequent expressions, dance moves, light changes and combinations of actors is beyond my understanding. I am not even worthy to operate with the same tools as thou.....

But the pedestrian way that I shoot events is more lumbering and cautious. I try to grab good looking moments early (in case they are all that's on offer) and then keep them as safeties as I keep looking for the better and better shots. And I'll tell you a dirty little secret: I don't know how to create a hierarchy of value when it comes to emotional expressions or an exchange of expressions between two actors. Is this expression better than that one? How can I know if the marketing people will have a different of ideas of what constitutes "good" than I my set? Etc. Etc. And it's good to remember that the changing body positions and expressions are all happening while lights are changing intensity and color and moving, and while other actors move through the space, shifting the visual balance.

So, I thought I was doing well to get away with only 1500 total images. Which I valiantly edited down to 1379 images. I felt duty bound to delete images in which the principal actors had their eyes closed or those rare circumstances (gulp!) where I actually missed focus. There were, at most eight or ten variations in some scenes and as a few as two or three shots in others.

Last night I got home after the show and loaded all the raw files onto a fast 7200 rpm, firewire 800 hard drive and went to bed with the computer happily building image profiles in Lightroom 5.5. After swim practice and breakfast this morning I sat down at the computer and began the edit process. I was very happy to be able to apply just the right noise reduction to all the files at the very beginning. I found a formula that banished the (not unpleasant) tiny black dots that show up at 100% when shooting at ISO 1600. Wanna know a terrible secret? The raw files from the GH cameras and the EM-5 showed pretty much exactly the same kind and amount of noise and they all responded to the same basic noise reduction settings! That magnificent Oly color and low noise? Shared almost exactly with the Panasonic when you take time to process each to their optimum end.

But here's where the trouble started. I edited every image or group of images and then I set up the export menu and hit the button to begin batch processing the files. The progress bar looked like it was going in 10X slow motion. I looked in the "finished" folder, did a little calculation and was shocked to find that the computer I was working on would take the better part of 3.45 hours to complete the task. To output the files I needed to deliver.  This was a problem because the day after the dress rehearsal is the day the marketing crew wants to sit down and plow through the images, make their selections and get digital press packets out to the media all over the place. We usually deliver images around 11:00 or, at the latest, noon.

Well, there was no button on the computer for "faster" so let it roll while I ran errands, got lunch and then came back just as the last eight files fell into place. Now the job is done but I'm left with four future options: Shoot less, Stay up all night processing, get a much faster computer, or go back to shooting large, fine Jpegs. The problem is that once you step up the quality it's hard to regress. The next problem is that I don't want to be groggy for my swim so I'm not staying up all night.  The "shooting less" thing is silly because it limits my options. Guess it's time for a new computer.

This is the downside of assignment photography; it's always easier than it should be to justify new gear...but really, it's time to retire my blueberry ibook and try something made in this century.

(to my literal minded readers: The reference to the blueberry ibook is a joke. I own one but I have newer machines that we actually use...).

7.07.2014

Does your insistence on using the same camera for years at a time hamper your artistic growth? How do you know?


I'm reading a book called, Letting Go of The Camera, by Brooks Jensen. The book is a series of essays by the editor of LensWorks. One of the many great essays in the book talks about the time that Jensen, who had used a 4x5 inch, film, view camera exclusively for over 20 years, finally bought a 35mm type digital camera. He describes the incredible sense of freedom and visual agility he instantly gained because he no longer was constrained to shooting carefully constructed images, on a tripod, requiring long set up times and motionless subjects. The transition helped him to realize that we all tend to be limited by the boundaries imposed by our habits. It's an example of the old saw that goes, "If all you have is a hammer everything starts to look like a nail." 

The main point of his essay is that working with the same tools all the time trains you to find subjects and ways of shooting that convenience or leverage the strengths of the camera and not your unique vision. Another essay talks about the difference between reprising your greatest hits over and over again or finishing with a creative vein of work and moving on to another, different way of seeing. There are photographers who have early "hits" and the approval of their fans, coupled with their basic insecurities, conspire to manipulate the photographer into basically doing the same kind of (popular) images over and over again. It's what their current audience expects and the act of disappointing the people who validate their vision is too frightening to consider for some. Their growth as artists comes to a halt.

But the great artists need to keep moving forward---like sharks---or they stop being creative and become greatest hit xerox machines. I think it's instructive for people to move outside their creative comfort zones as often as possible. Jensen mentions Joni Mitchell and John Paul Caponigro as examples of two artists who are constantly re-inventing their art and their subject matter. And he writes about their constant artistic growth.  The very act of looking at something through different frames may unleash a wonderful new way of seeing and sharing. And the very act of casting your vision onto a totally new subject matter can change everything.

In my career I've experimented with everything from 8x10 inch view cameras to Pen F half frame film cameras. Every time I pick up a new camera it seems to change the way I approach my photography. The acceptance of new boundaries keeps my eye and my art fresher. 

 I was perplexed recently when a very good friend who is also a very good photographer told me that my work looks the same to him no matter what camera I use. We discussed it and what we came up with is that when your work resonates across formats you've hit your innate style. Style seems separate from curiosity or vision or creativity. Style feels more like how you put your pants on in the morning or how you tie your shoes.  It only speaks to how your mind and eyes see ingest the subjects that interest you, not in the way that the a particular camera helps to shape the way you share them.  

I suggest changing cameras. I like to change cameras.  Actually, that's an understatement. Most VSL readers would say I change cameras as often as most people change air conditioning filters. That may be so but it keeps me interested because it makes me work in different ways. And then I can always brag about my real achievement as a photographer===I've figured out the nuances of the Olympus menu.



Chaotic Frame. Fun Frame.

 no clue what it all means. It just looked so layered and at the same time menacing through the camera that I wanted to have the image. Olympus EM-5 and Olympus Pen F 150.  From: Tommy, at Zach Theatre.





Need some action and adventure in your Summer? Try the photo novel of the Summer: 




We'll both be happy you did!