10.15.2014

Observations about using a Nikon D7100 for work.

This image is from Balmorhea, Texas. It was shot with 
an Olympus EP-2.

Earlier this year a client took me by surprise. We didn't communicate as well as we usually do or maybe I just didn't pay attention very well but... we did a photo shoot of an actor in a number of different characters in front of a white background. I thought the client would be using the images in print ads and on the web so I was very, very comfortable shooting it with a Panasonic GH4, a camera I had used extensively and knew I could rely upon for just about anything. I used one of the best m4:3 lenses, the Leica Summulux 1.4 and we lit the whole thing with studio flash so we could freeze any action. I shot at the base ISO and metered carefully. The raw images looked really, really good. 

Then, casually, the final client announced that they were very excited to have such nice images to work with on their posters! Yikes! Could an m4:3 file stretch up to 24 by 36 inches and still look great? My old prejudices, fueled by the group hysteria of the web, overwhelmed my ability to evaluate empirical evidence and see the reality that the 16 megapixel files from the GH4 were very much up to the task. Perhaps a Nikon D810 would have given us more detail but what the client produced in the real world was right on target. 

Too bad for me that I am reactive and reflexive and a bundle of anxiety. The minute we finished the shoot, with the fresh information about the intention to produce posters, my mind rushed to the worst case scenario= the files might not work. (The problem with being an anxiety inflicted freelance photographer is that one tends to worry about every detail and every step and works on back up plans to ward off  imagined disaster, always forgetting that photography is rarely a life-or-death undertaking). 

I decided to add camera inventory I could use for future giant blow ups.  I did some quick research, looked at my potential budget and all the vectors crossed at intersection of resolution/cost/no "AA" filter and track record. I rushed up to Precision Camera and bought a Nikon D7100 and some extra batteries.

I bought a 50mm 1.8G, repurposed my Nikon 55mm f2.8 Micro and also grabbed a very well reviewed 85mm 1.8G. With that selection, a 35mm and a couple of zooms I had a kit that I felt was a good candidate for high res, high enlargement imaging. Should I have bought a full frame camera instead? Maybe. But at ISO 100 and 200 (my usually studio ISO settings) I sure doubt that I would see much difference. Certainly third party tests didn't show much (if all all) difference.

Since buying the camera I've done back and forth comparisons with the GH4 and I'm relieved to find that the GH4 is within a nano-whisker of the level of detail and, with the X lenses (35-100 and 12-35) is, overall, very competitive with the Nikon. Finding that out meant additional rationalizations would be needed to justify keeping the Nikon (beside the fact that some clients seem comforted by tradition). The one I settled on was flash performance. Yes, the Nikon has more accurate exposure in flash modes than does the Panasonic. But is that reason enough to keep it considering the few times per year I use on camera or slightly off camera flash anymore? Maybe, but I'm pretty sure I can sort out the Panasonic flash situation, given time...

At any rate I decided to use the Nikon D7100 with the 85mm lens to make the 100 portraits I'd been hired to do yesterday and the day before. We'd be working in a makeshift studio in a large training room at the client location and doing everything with studio flash. The camera seemed appropriate given its crispy file rendition, its double card slot which allowed me to shoot 2200+ raw images to one SD card while simultaneously writing smaller Jpeg files to the second card slot for quick web gallery images. The battery life is really good and the magazines and web sites all say that the PD autofocus of the camera is fast and sure even under low light...

I worked with assistant, Amy, the past two days and we worked together as though we'd practiced... The white background was lit within a quarter stop all the way across. It was neatly framed by two large, black flags just out of the camera's view. We were doing a very particular style which will be subjected to lots of post production so our main light was a large beauty dish covered with diffusion. 

The camera was set up and meter readings taken everywhere. In fact, we metered at the start of every session. We also did a custom white balance each morning---just to be sure. It should have been so easy...

First issue. While the camera and lens say f8 the light absorption of the optical system is probably two or three tenths of a stop. It's hard to evaluate that on the rear screen (which always looks cheery and perky!!!) but when you pull files into a raw converter it's pretty obvious. Since there's no review in the finder (where the image would be protected from ambient light contamination and screen reflections) you really are at the mercy of histograms while in the field and I find that the histograms are calibrated to keep jpegs from blowing highlights which means that relying upon the histograms in cameras means darker raw files. Not that big of an issue at ISO 100 or 200 as there is a ton of headroom in the raw files from the magical Sony or Toshiba sensor. But still it's an extra pain in the butt. 

With a well set up GH4 you would see the disparity between measured light and light on the sensor immediately in the post review in the EVF, along with info about aperture and shutter speed settings. Not so on the Nikon. When I stopped to bring up a review at one point I mis-used the four way control on the back of the camera and inadvertently changed the f-stop by 1/3 stop and the shutter speed by 1/3 stop. I didn't catch the mistake until our next break but there really wasn't much change on the camera's rear screen, only on the computer monitor back at the studio. On the GH4 the exposure change would have been immediately apparent on the EVF. And the f-stop and shutter speed are constantly shown on my rear screen between shots. Not so on the Nikon. If your camera is at eye level on a tripod you cannot see the top window with its indications and you can only see the technical information if you go into the preview mode and then toggle the view to see more information. Operator controls seem crucial to basic photography and at this juncture the EVF just spanks the hell out of the OVFs for relevant control. 

I haven't really thought about camera buffers since the days of the Nikon D100 and the Fuji S2 but man oh man does the D7100 ever come crashing against its buffer again and again. I initially had the camera set for lossless compressed raw files at 14 bits with lens distortion correction enabled. As I hit the buffer again and again one after the other settings were compromised. First I switched to lossy compression of the raw files. Then I switched to 12 bits. Then I turned off the distortion correction. Even then I would still hit the buffer when shooting quickly to catch a fleeting expression or gesture. Yes, I know it's 24 megapixels. Maybe that's why Canon lets you choose raw image sizes....

But if you never used a better camera it might not bother you. Using the GH4 means super fast processing and a much deeper buffer. It's very raw to hit the wall with that camera. The immediate comparison was eye opening.

Next issue. All of the moonlights we use have 100 watt modeling lights. While the illumination is sufficient to quickly focus a new GH4 the D7100 seemed to struggle a bit to lock focus in the same basic light levels and it was a bit frustrating. Since this metric (fast focusing)  is the crux of all arguments in favor of traditional camera designs I was more than a little stumped. Maybe it's a sinister case of marketing over reality. Maybe the only thing DSLRs really do well in the focus realm is AF-C. They sure aren't a step up for in-studio AF-S....

At one point yesterday I was photographing a person who was easily six feet, six or seven inches tall. Remember, I'm the optimum height, five foot eight. I stood on my little Pelican case and stretched but it was clear that I needed to use live view in order to really be able to frame and shoot the images well. After years of using great live view in Panasonic, Olympus and Sony cameras the comparison with the Nikon live view was-----stark. Really stark. Snail focus. Long lags. Crappy live view boost. Took me right back to the early, ugly days of digital. I got the shot but I was miffed at the low level of tech being delivered by my camera.

So, bitch, bitch, bitch. The bottom line is that the files are very pretty, we're experienced enough to catch and work around the issues and the job got done with little muss and fuss. And the files are very, very good. Nice tonality, no burned highlights, great dynamic range. But all in all, for the use in mind I will reach for the GH4 or the Olympus EM-5 next time. Even if only for the lovely implementation of live view on the rear screen for photographing tall people. I believe that, at ISO 200 with good lenses on both cameras, both would exceed all quality parameters with ease and headroom to spare. So why not work with a camera that makes shooting easier and more fluid?

Will I keep the Nikon and the flurry of lenses I've gathered in? Hmm. I guess so. Unless you want them... But it's hard to imagine any shoot other than a flash centric one or an "ultimate possible resolution" one in which it would make more sense than an m4:3 camera.

I'm actually anxious to get my hands on a test body of the NX 1 from Samsung as it might meld the best of both worlds when it comes to handling and resolution. I've never tried on camera flash with a Samsung camera so I would guess that's a whole other adventure.

I imagine the only sensible reason for Nikon to continue to make traditional cameras lies in the low light performance and much narrower depth of field of the full frame sensor. It get the appeal of the full frame cameras having owned six different varieties but I find it interesting and revealing that all six of them are in someone else's hand right now while I have a rich bounty of smaller, EVF enhanced cameras that seem to swirl back to me over and over again. While Sony's A7 series is a bit compromised it is my idea of one path to the future of photography. (Fix the shutter noise, the focus speed, the vibration issue and the battery issues, please!!!).

I'm interested to hear from those of you out there who have gone in the other direction: from EVFs and mirror-free back to the older technology. What drove you to accept all the compromises of the older technologies? What is it about mirrored cameras that has their claws in you? I'm not really very interested in hearing how much people who've never extensively used EVFs love their viewfinder cameras. That's like people who've never tasted chocolate protesting their love for brussel sprouts instead. Really though, I change my mind occasionally. I like the "romance" of the older tech. It also reminds me of twenty or so years of shooting. Nothing wrong with it if you really like it....

Just a note. I'll be out of town from tomorrow till the end of the weekend and posts might be light. The only electronics I plan to take on the trip are contained in my iPhone and I'm not about to start writing long posts on that. If you see me in Saratoga Springs be sure to flag me down and say hello.



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10.12.2014

If you want to see how I play around with lighting portraits in the studio you could check out my Craftsy.com class.



I write about how I make portraits here on the blog all the time but I wanted to remind you that I also did a class on studio portrait lighting for Craftsy.com. My approach to the class is a bit eccentric but filled with step by step learning. We play with lights. We play with cameras. We pose and interact with Victoria. And the cool thing about the Craftsy classes is that if you pay once you can come back to the class again and again. No limits. The format is also interactive so you can post questions and I answer them as quick as I can. 

A lot of the class is done with hot lights and some LEDs along with studio flash. Back then I was shooting with a Sony a99 but the information is transferrable across all camera types. I'd love to have more of my VSL readers give the class a spin. If it's not your cup of tea Craftsy has a great money back guarantee. You're not really taking much of a chance. When you get snowed in you know you'll want something fun and photographic to watch.....




Besides, how often do you get a chance to see me look nervous live?

Packing for three shoots without the chance of coming back to the studio to shuffle gear.


Every once in a while the scheduling demons conspire to make life difficult. A classic case is the one I'll deal with tomorrow. I am working with one of my favorite assistants and I'm not making many brownie points with her by asking that she be at the studio door at 5:45 in the morning. I hate getting up that early but here's the way it all turned out. I have one client who booked me to shoot portraits of a board of directors in Johnson City, Texas. They wanted to get the photographic work done before the board goes into their session at 9:30 am. 

We're shooting at a remote location and just to make it challenging we're doing seven environmental portraits outside, starting at 7:45 am. We'll photograph each person outside and then lead them into the interior location where we'll also shoot their conventional portraits against gray seamless paper.
Sunrise is at 7:31 so 7:45 is pretty much a start time mandated by nature....

When we get to the location Amy and I will set up the background and Elinchrom moonlights in our interior location, test and measure everything and then head outside to find an appropriate location close by for the environmental stuff. We'll be using three lights and several reflector panels for the interior shots and we'll use two heads plugged into the Elinchrom Ranger RX AS system for the exterior location. The two heads will have diffused beauty dishes on them. I like to use big beauty dishes outside because they are less effected by winds.

The interior set up will require five light stands and a set of background stands. The location gets its own tripod and camera so we don't make mistakes by trying to constantly adjust one camera between the two locations (which will have totally different exposure and color balance parameters). Much easier and safer to just bring along two tripods and two camera systems, set them for their dedicated environments and be done with it. 

The exterior location requires three heavy duty light stands, a Chimera panel with subtractive (black) surface and three big sandbags. I never want to set up a stand in an exterior location without firmly anchoring it to the ground. I would rather have gravity as an ally instead of a foe. Go sandbags!

We'll be going back and forth from one set up to the other for each board member. We staged it this way so that each person could come at their appointed time and not have to wait for me or wait between the interior and exterior sets. 

Once we finish with our last individual portraits we'll have five or ten minutes to reset for a group shot of all seven people in an exterior location. At that point we release the clients back into the wild and start high speed re-packing maneuvers, break everything down and get it back into the Honda CRV in some semblance of order.  Essentially we'll have produced two shoots in the space of about two hours in Johnson City. I hope we are as efficient as I think we can be....  Because.....

We hope into the car and rocket back up through Austin and on to Round Rock, Texas. Our goal is to be at the next client's location by 11:15am or 11:30 at the latest. Once we're there we'll load in and set up a totally different feeling light set up with a long roll of white seamless paper and several big light blockers. Once this is set up and tested we'll send a test image to an art director in the Ft. Worth/Dallas area who will lead me through any aesthetic or technical changes we need to make to the lighting design. 

After we get approval we'll spend the rest of Monday and all day Tuesday making portraits of 96 people. Then we pack down again and head back to Austin to unload in the studio and start creating web galleries for each of our clients. 

So, how do I keep organized for essentially three different lighting set ups on three different locations? I actually sit down with a piece of paper for each shoot and sketch out the basic lighting diagram I'll be using. It's a lot like the lighting diagrams that we've done for my lighting books but with more details. In fact I try to draw everything I think I'll be using. This helps jog my memory about clamps, connectors, baby light stands and other stuff. Once I've done my diagram I picture myself setting up each piece in the diagram. If I'm setting up a background I need to remember the stands and crossbar but also some clamps to keep the paper from unraveling. I might also need white tape to tape the leading edge of the background to the floor. 

When I envision myself setting up a background light I envision the small stand, the actual light, which reflector I need for the spot grid I'll be using and even the cord, junction box and extension I'll need. When I look at the quick line drawing of the subject it reminds me to bring clothespins to pin baggy outfits and a make up case to kill some shine.

In case of exterior diagrams seeing the "picture" in advance reminds me to bring along the light stand with the one adjustable leg so I can get the stand straight on sloping ground. I am also reminded to bring along a flash light since a good part of our set up will be outside before sunrise...

The diagrams help. On the other side of each sheet of paper I do a check list of gear and I check it off as I pile the gear near the door. Believe me, it helps. I can remember everything I need for one set up but three or four set-ups with different lights and different cameras is a whole different animal. 

One thing I'm trying out today is putting tags on each stand bag with an inventory of what is in each of the stand bags and rolling stand cases. That way Amy can find stuff quicker and repack in a way that will help us on the next location. Am I overthinking all this? Well, I'd say if you've ever found yourself on a remote location unable to shoot because you over looked one small and inexpensive (but critical) item you'd know my answer. 

Diagramming your shots also helps you to focus on what you're trying to get from each one. There's nothing worse than showing up and winging a shoot only to discover after the fact that your impromptu genius doesn't stand up to the more leisurely scrutiny of post production. And there's no way to fix most stuff after the fact no matter how good you fancy yourself to be in PhotoShop. 

Now we'll see if we can get all this stuff into the vehicle...



A small by-law of Murphy's Law: If you don't bring a posing stool the place you end up will only have bulky, high backed leather chairs which will be no damn good for making portraits.

After these two shoots I'll get back to work on the sequel to The Lisbon Portfolio. 


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10.10.2014

Horsing around with big lights for an ad campaign. Outside in the real world.


This is Dr. Cunningham, oral surgeon and world class rodeo rider. We did an ad campaign for one of Austin's premier oral surgery practices two years ago and he was one of our twelve individual subjects. The whole idea for the marketing campaign was to give a personal face to the doctors in the practice. Each doctor was photographed in a way that told a short story about his "other" life.

Ben and I loaded up the old Honda Element and drove out to a ranch to make the image above. We used a large, battery powered flash (Profoto) firing into a large soft box. It was a windy day so we anchored the light and modifier with two 30 pound sand bags as well as with the weight of the flash battery/generator. Sand bags are wonderful but often overlooked accessories. It's rare for them to become obsolete....

We used the soft box as close was we could to the subjects so the fall off would be quicker toward the back of the frame in shadow. Our only challenge, beyond anchoring the large soft box, was to position the horse correctly. Once we got everyone in the right place we shot twenty shots or so shots and headed back towards town.




10.09.2014

Can we talk about lighting for a second? I mean isn't that really where it all happens?

Multiple Fresnel Continuous Lights.

I was thinking about lighting this morning because I was playing around with some flash in the studio and then I switched over to HMIs. But I wasn't just playing around because I was bored I was playing around because on Monday and Tuesday of next week I'll be making stylized portraits of about 96 people. The art director at the agency I'm working with has a very specific post production technique she'd like to use and I wanted to make sure we would be delivering exactly what she needed to make it all work. 

I talked the project over with the account manager and she sent me along to the production specialist who would be doing the actual post production on the files. This is always good. When you go to the source you get the best information and it's the kind of information you can really use. 

The entire conversation was about light. We talked specifically about the backgrounds and we talked about getting very little variation in the white seamless we'd be using. The specialist wanted the exposure on the white to "just tip over" into 255 but not be so bright as to throw bounced light forward onto the subject. Why? We are trying to hit a perfect level of deep, contrasty shadowing along with bright areas of flesh tone. It's pretty critical to the look we're trying to achieve. 

We're going to end up doing the shoot with four lights in silver umbrellas with black backing on the background. We'll flag those lights with black, 4x4 foot panels to kill lens flare which would lower the contrast. While we're at it we'll "fly" a black flag over each subject's head for the same reason. 

We played around in the studio with a number of versions of the main light but ended up with the 28 inch raw beauty dish at a specific angle. We'll use a two stop net to modify the bottom of the light so it falls off a bit quicker from the subjects' faces. We'll also use two black 2x3 foot flags to barn door the beauty dish so we don't have a lot of spill to the side walls in the shooting space. That helps us control contrast as well. You really only want the light to go exactly where you intend it to go! Anything else is just not cool. 

I shot a bunch of samples, zipped them and e-mailed them to my collaborator in Dallas. We talked through the look and feel on the phone and he gave me his feedback (which was good and good). 

I was about to say, "What was missing from this very serious discussion with a very important client?" I was about to say, "Any discussion whatsoever about cameras or lenses or gear brands of anything." But that's not 100% true. There was no discussion of lenses at all. But the specialist did ask me what type of camera I was planning on using. I told him he had his choice between Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic or Samsung but that's not what he was getting at. He didn't particularly care which camera we used but we'd need to send him the raw files for the kind of post production he has planned and wanted to make sure that whatever camera we used was represented in the raw converters in Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom. Seems someone had handed him some Phase One files that he couldn't convert in his usual programs. No one wants to stop, buy a new piece of software and learn to use it well in the middle of a project.

Once we discussed the fact that all the cameras I'd consider using have been mainstreamed into the Adobe workflows many months or years ago all discussion of cameras immediately stopped and we moved back to important considerations like the look, feel and posing of the images. You know, the stuff that makes a difference to the audience. 

What do professionals colleagues talk about when they discuss most upcoming photo shoots? Just about everything but cameras. And that's just the way it should be.

Kirk stumbles on numbers in a previous post!!!!! See the corrected numbers!



I've been playing with the 5600K Lighting Evo kit (two cool, HMI fixtures and accessories) for over a month now and having a blast. Continuous daylight capable lights are the sweet spot I enjoy most because they enhance the advantages of the "always on" live view of EVF enabled cameras and, well, the light just looks so good. I'd been putting off sending them back to the folks who own em because once you've had great light it's hard to go back to good light. I wrote about them here but I made a big mistake. I put the price tag of the kit, with two fixtures, two electronic ballasts, a bunch of modifying lenses and a case at about $6,000. I got my numbers wrong. The actual price of the kit is a little under $4,000. Seems much more reachable to me. While they are not cheap they are pretty darn incredible and put out quite a bit more lumens than the higher end LED panels along with the benefit of being able to supply a never ending stream of sharp, hard light when you need it. 

So, there's my correction. Not $6,000 but under $4,000. Look for an article about a full on shoot with the lights coming soon. Including behind the scenes set up images. Too much fun. And, if you shoot video for a living these puppies will make your knees weak....



10.08.2014

The hard thing about photography is that it takes time to do and there's never a guarantee that you'll find the subjects you want.


I have the world's least efficient hobby. I like to take photographs of people and of things I find interesting, cool, funny, beautiful, bittersweet, bizarre, sensual, or even nostalgic. I practice my hobby by  choosing a camera and a lens and then driving or walking to an area that I think holds the promise or potential of providing any subset of these thing. Then I walk around all day long just casually looking. Sometimes I'll go to San Antonio and walk around the downtown area from early morning on a Saturday until sundown. Sometimes I feel like I'm coming home with little treasures captured in my camera and other times I'll be frustrated and feel as though I'm wasting my time.

As cities become more and more homogenized there are fewer interesting anomalies to look at and enjoy. When I come home empty handed I start to feel as though I should have worked on something commercial. Instead of roaming around in old clothes and tennis shoes with a jewel like camera in my hands I should be concocting some sort of marketing piece or spend a warm and viscous afternoon calling clients and potential clients on the phone, trying to set up an appointment to show them other commercial work that I've done. 

If it's been a particularly fallow trip I consider that I may as well get a real job and spend eight hours a day in a building somewhere with canned air, sitting behind an industrial desk, working on templated software, getting up every once in a while to fetch and drink a diet Coke, all the while feeling the back of my eyes burning from the almost undetectable flicker of the sixty cycle fluorescent lights. Occasionally heading down the hall to ask Doreen in accounting if we can budget money to do something meaningless and mundane. I try to weigh the advantages of working for someone else and I always imagine that it would be in some company whose offices are in North Austin. I also imagine that the hours will be strictly enforced. I'll be on the Mopac Expressway in my little car sitting motionless or near motionless for forty-five minutes to an hour. In each direction. I'll listen to the same stories (at least they seem like the same stories) over and over again on NPR. Or I'll listen to the worshipful gun nuts on one of the other stations talk about which automatic weapon Jesus would have owned and how vaccines are turning us all into communist leeches.

But some days I go out into a city with my camera in my hand and twenty dollars in my pocket and everything is fun. Fun and strange images and juxtapositions erupt merrily with every few steps. I meet people who are a bit insane and generally far more interesting than most people you will ever meet in the sort of antiseptic, middle class existence that we create in the hopes that our isolation will ensure our personal safety. Is that scruffy guy with the old digital Rebel the next Robert Frank? Is the woman behind the counter of the donut shop really engaged in selling donuts or is she an actor playing the part of a woman selling donuts?

I'll bet I walked fifteen miles the last time I was in San Antonio pursuing my lonely hobby. I must have looked at more street level windows and doors than I could keep count of. I drank coffee at the Apache dinner but it wasn't very good. I found a Starbucks and the coffee was much better. Old men stopped to ask me if my camera was digital. Young people avoided me so I couldn't get a toehold and start off on a never ending story like their uncles or their parents. 

My uniform was inconsistent. I could see that in the eyes of the policemen I walked past. The shorts were a green that was becoming so washed out that they are starting to look tan. I've lost weight and the shorts are just a bit too baggy. I was wearing ankle high, white sports socks. The nondescript gray pullover shirt was vague but it came from Barney's. And my new walking shoes were totally out of the consistent uniform pattern. They were a brand called Ahnu and they cost $125.

The camera of the day was something equally vague. A mid level Nikon digital or an early mirror less. My watch was a $15 Casio that is more accurate than my $1200 Fortis which sits on my night table running down, automatically.

In days past a camera was an invitation to learn more and lean in. To strangers it was a fun momentary connection. Some were happy to have been considered interesting while some just acquiesced for no real reason other than it was the stream of least resistance. In days past having a camera pointed at a person tended to validate their own idea of their own image. If you pointed it at a woman she may have assumed that you were validating her beauty. If you pointed it at a person in a military uniform it validated the idea that you appreciated their service. The bottom line was that having a camera pointed at a person made them realize that they were interesting. At least to one person and at least right now, at that moment. 

Now the world is different. The mood has changed and the innocence of creating images just for the sake of creation is gone. It's been replaced by suspicion and the idea that photographers are participating in a mercantile skim in which the images, stolen from the subject, becomes so much irretrievable raw material for a giant stock photography site where everyone is getting rich but the subject. Now they want to be cut into the deal. Photograph someone of the other gender and you are suspected of devious intentions. Photograph a person in uniform and you are a de facto terrorist.

And in spite of everything I've said I still love it. I love the vagaries and uncertainty of just walking and looking. I love the challenge of winning over people to my fleeting and mostly ephemeral cause. I like the feeling of driving back up the highway with a card full of latent images just waiting their turn to promenade across my monitor and remind me of how the air smelled and how the heat played across my skin in the afternoon. I love to sift through the images of random people and piece together my fictional version of their story just from the images and from the bits and pieces we shared in our brief and shallow encounters. 

And I am reminded that, in a sense, the real value of walking around the streets with a camera is the hard-to-describe but authentic and joyous immersion in actual, real life. Not a life of trading time for money or trading blunted curiosity for safety. In some sense the walk through other people's lives is a never ending search for some sense of universal belonging and understanding that I can interpret and weave into my own existence. The images are tiny, encapsulated visual novels. I can read and re-read them into my memory at any time. And every time I engage them their story seems to change. And I know that I've changed and even though I'm looking straight ahead at the same images I know I'm looking through them at a different angle. 







Back at Zach for a second "King and I" shoot. Horsing around with an old 60mm f1.5 lens.


There are two different sets of kids who perform in "The King and I" at Zach Theatre. They alternate during the week so that no child misses too much school, homework and sleep. The marketing folks at the theater asked me if I'd come back and do a second set of images for the kids. My goal yesterday evening was to shoot as many images of the kids as I could instead of shooting the big, dramatic, adult actor moments. 

I met Belinda for dinner and we both went. I wasn't settled on which camera system I'd end up using so I brought along a couple. We'd be seated on a "walk-through" row, middle of the house in both axis. That meant an aisle in front of us and more elevated seating behind us. Still, I'd be shooting during an actual performance with a full, paying audience, so my choice of camera system was a bit more important than it would have been on a dress rehearsal night.

Originally I wanted to shoot with the Nikon D7100. On paper the 7100 has the best high ISO performance of my current cameras and I also wanted to use the CX crop mode (1.3 crop gets the camera to about an m4:3 sensor size with 15 megapixels and a commensurately smaller raw file size. Belinda and I got into the theater early to do a little sonic testing. Even in its quiet mode the D7100 was much too loud. I even tried swaddling it in neoprene but that wasn't enough to squelch the shutter and mirror noise. Back in the bag it goes. Pity since the 85mm lens with the CX crop would have given me the equivalent of a 170mm f1.8...

Next up was the Samsung NX30. I figured that it has an electronic shutter setting and if it works as the Panasonic e-shutter works it should be silent. Well, turns out the first "curtain" is electronic but there's still a loud capping noise somewhere in the process so that one headed back into the bag as well. I finally grabbed the Panasonic GH4 and put it into the silent mode----where it was absolutely silent. The only noise was my exhale as I gently squeezed the shutter button. 

I shot most of the show with the 35-100mm f2.8 and truth be told I could have used another 100mm of reach from time to time but there's always more that I'd like no matter which set up I'm shooting. 
For the dance scene above, with no kiddos on stage, I decided to try out the ancient Olympus Pen 60mm f1.5. in combination with the GH4's focus peaking (the lens is strictly manual in every sense!).

The EVF indicated exposure was perfect and, considering that I was being brave and using the lens wide open for the most part, the focus peaking was pretty darn good. Especially when one considers the lower light levels, the constant subject movement and scene contrast. The camera's focus peaking worked well and I was able to get satisfactory focusing on 95% of the frames attempted. 

I figure if you can shoot an ancient lens in manual, focus it manually and do manual exposure as well as a bit of white balance adjustment on the fly still and come away with decent images you are probably zeroed in on your technical game. It was fun to pull out and work with a classic optic. It was even more fun when the old lens is given an "assist" from a new camera.




added in the afternoon: I forgot to mention that the play was wonderful. Mel as "the King" was phenomenal while Jill Blackwood is always just perfect. Another treat for me were the huge backgrounds "outside" the palace windows. They absolutely glowed at "twilight." I'll go back a third time just so I can enjoy the whole spectacle without a camera pressed against my face.

10.07.2014

A splashy marketing stumble makes me question Canon's sanity. Again.


Canon's ad agency bought a time machine and 
made a website from the 1980's. 

After a week of build up and a double truck ad in the New York Times all of the hoopla from Canon was for the introduction of a badly designed "interactive" website that tried to tell too many (poorly crafted) stories to too many disparate audiences. You can go and see it for yourself: http://seeimpossible.usa.canon.com

But be forewarned that the site took over a minute to load on my broadband connection.

And this on the heels of a lavishly produced but sparsely attended show here in Austin from their consumer printer division in which they showed maybe 100 framed and matted prints to an invited audience of maybe 35 people at the Austin Music Hall. They seemed desperate to fill the space even with complimentary alcohol and nice catering.

While I will make no judgement on the content or style of the images shown it was sad to hear that Canon printed all of the files themselves because the actual printing was the weak part of the show. That, and the fact that all the prints were printed in the same palette at the same exact size and format.

Homogenous. Flat. All printed on the same Lustre paper.  If these two incidents are examples of their advertising agency's best work it's high time they shopped around... maybe find some college kids in an apartment who haven't lost all of their mojo and still have some enthusiasm for stuff that's new and different.

I'm sure someone will suggest that I don't like Canon cameras and that's not the point here. The point is that maybe part of the problem in camera sales is that the damn ad agencies handling the accounts don't have a clue how to talk to photographers. That's a big hurdle. And I'm not just singling out Canon. At this point, if I was on the Canon internal marketing team, I'd just bag the traditional ad agencies and start crowdsourcing the creative. It couldn't be worse and it would be a hell of a lot cheaper.....

A reposting of an image by reader request. And a mea culpa to Aaron.



On a recent blog I wrote about using three cameras with various lenses on them to shoot in a style that used to be common in the days before pro level cameras became so expensive. A reader asked in a comment how I wore the cameras as I was shooting. The above image is from a math conference I did this Summer. Two of the cameras are GH3's and one of the cameras is a GH4. In the blog I talked about using all three cameras with prime lenses but two of the cameras above are fitted with zooms. I wouldn't want to be too consistent...

And I do owe an apology to reader, Aaron. I misread his comment about there being no difference in changing lenses to other focal lengths or zooming. I presumed we were talking about staying in one place and zooming versus changing positions and "zooming with one's feet." He is, of course, absolutely correct. Sorry about that!

I have been doing variations of the three camera shoot for about a year now and I find it a fun way to shoot. I'm down to two Panasonic cameras now so my "three camera" system is now only being practiced with the three Olympus EM5 bodies. This week I am experimenting with using the 3 Sigma DN Art lenses for m4:3 as my trio of glass. The 19mm, 30mm and 60mm. While the wide end is not very wide neither is my vision... I absolutely love the 60, and I love the smooth black lens barrels.

On a totally different note I showed up for jury duty yesterday fully expecting a painful three days in the service of democracy and the rule of law only to find out, from the judge, that both defendants in the cases copped a plea just before the empaneling which gave me back three uncluttered, unencumbered days. I spent this morning swimming, sipping a latte and eating warm chocolate croissants. This afternoon Studio Dog and I are going out for a run. Should be lovely. A nice gift from the scheduling universe.