9.07.2015

I love that thing that fast medium telephotos do to the background when you aim them at people and photograph nearly wide open.

Noellia and the 85mm lens.

My back yard has endless possibilities. But it needs a new barbecue pit. That would make for endless possibilities+1. 


Walking the streets. Looking for gold.


I needed to go for a walk to get some exercise and clear my head. Too much detail stuff at the office. Too many chores at home. It was a hot one today so I wore my dorky Panama hat because it covers my ears and gives me the most shade. I was also breaking in a pair of lightweight hiking boots because it always hurts less finding problems close to home.

The important thing for me is to go out without having expectations of what I'll find. I walked a new way and went by the state capitol building. I hiked down Congress Ave. and over to the convention center. I tried to let the camera drift on my shoulder while I looked and walked. My latest addition to the exercise (and I think this is something I've learned by osmosis from Studio Dog) is to take time to stop and really smell the environment as well as just looking at it. A hot and toasty day downtown has it's own smell. It's different than a cool day and much different from a rainy or windy day.

I knew it was hot because I was sweating in the very first hour of the walk. The sun felt like it had its own gravity and it was working to push down on me and slow me down a little bit at a time. Walking by bars with their doors open, spewing air conditioning made the effect of little oasis sprinkled down the ribbon of sidewalk on Sixth St.

I hate being weighed down so I was carrying only one camera and one lens. The camera was the Nikon D750, which is the most assured feeling of all the digital cameras I've owned. Not the best. Just very assured. You know the battery isn't tumbling toward inconvenience and you suspect that the exposure will be just as you thought it should be.

The last time I went out I had fun working the wide end of an old, manual focus, 25 to 50mm f4.0 Nikon lens so today I went wider with a Tamron 20-40mm f2.7 to f3.5 lens. Both times I put circular polarizing filters over the front.

I saw the turquoise patterns of the mural (above) out of the corner of my eye. They were painted on an interior wall of a parking garage at the intersection of Guadalupe St. and Third St. I walked into the garage and messed around with my exposure while a shaved headed young man in a white t-shirt revved a noisy motorcycle and adjusted the music on his mobile stereo. He gave me the "hey dude" head nod and rode off in a cloud of noise and exhaust.

But I liked the mural very much and I'm glad I walked around and found it. It's nice that people are making big art in the middle of the city. I love the gold fish on the woman's head. It's a nice touch.


The Packing Ritual. A Holiday Tradition. First comes the rite of selecting the system...

Shot for Primary Packaging in NYC. 

I have two assignments this week. One takes place tomorrow and it's not very gear intensive. I'm going to go around the Zach Theatre and photograph as many people as I can while they are engrossed in their work. A "behind the scenes" of what goes on behind the scenes. The gear selection there is simple: A nice camera that does great high ISO stuff --- because the request is that this shoot be all "available light." I'll take the D750 and the Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art and a few other fast lenses. The 85mm for sure. Maybe the 24-120mm Nikon for the wide stuff. Everything will fit in one shoulder bag.

But as soon as I finish up at Zach it's home to pack the car, pet the Studio Dog and slide into the Tuesday evening traffic heading to Houston, Texas. I'll be working there Wednesday, Thursday and maybe also a half day on Friday. The client is an international company that's involved in biochemistry and other arcane stuff and our assignment is to create a library of lab images and facilities images that the parent company can use on websites and in collateral to market and promote their products and services. I know I'll be working indoors and I know that there will most likely be clean room scenarios but other than that the project is a bit opaque to me right now.

If past work in the industry is any predictor of the upcoming assignment I'm pretty certain that most of the images will be made in lab spaces that are uniformly lit with high quality, fluorescent fixtures and that there will be a mix of measuring instruments, process machines with interesting GUIs, and people who are interacting with the first two subjects. My goal in these situations is never to overpower the existing light with powerful strobes but rather to augment the existing light with other constant light sources. To the point, I am looking at constant light sources that are somewhat controllable and quickly portable so that leaves out my collection of big, fluorescent Pro-Lights. They are too bulky for a fast moving, single operator pace.

I'm taking mostly LED lights. I'm bringing along four of the Fotodiox 312AS bi-color panels because they are superb accent lights and wonderful at creating small pools of fill light. We're charging two sets of batteries per unit right now. I'll also take along the bigger Fotodiox 508AS for those times when I want a quickly positionable, but stronger, fill light or a fast main light for portraits. Used with a layer of diffusion it's strong enough to overpower existing light by just enough to add direction to a subject. The batteries are charging for that one but it also comes packed with its own A/C power converter.

The lights that I hope will get the most use are the two new RPS CooLEDs; the 50 and the 100. They each are a much smaller point source of light and can give me a sharper illumination which may be very useful when we are lighting for a little more drama and more control of spill and spread. Since they both have polished reflectors and much more power they are perfect for stylized portrait work when pushed through pop-up diffusion material. We have an assortment of the pop-up, circular 5-in-1 reflector/diffuser units and I have them in a range of opacities from 1/2 stop to 2 stops. I'm also bringing black cine foil to control spill.

All of the LED lights and an extension cord, along with some sheets of Rosco diffusion, fit nicely into a large, wheeled Pelican case and this case will represent the bulk of my lighting inventory. But I'm always on the look out for situations that bite me on the ass when I get in to "all or nothing" scenarios with gear. (All flash, all LED, all available light, etc....).  To cover other contingencies I am packing three Cactus and Yongnuo flashes along with a full set of Cactus V6 triggers. This is for that one shot I don't (but have) anticipate where the art director says, "Oh, by the way, we need to get a shot of the CEO in his office. We go there to find the office flooded by sunlight from floor to ceiling windows on two sides....." That's why these lights are coming along for the ride. That and the every once in a while request to "freeze motion" on some equipment shot. I hope they don't come out of the case in the way that lifeguards hope they never have to throw the life preserver. But we like to be prepared.

I'll have a little stash of batteries for the flashes and a couple of collapsible, Westcott umbrellas just to round out the flash capability. As I am driving over to the big city some of this extraneous gear could be left in the car and fetched if needed.

The stands and tripods are self explanatory, we'll take along as many as we think we'll need and, invariably, there will be one shot where we need "just one more." Hello gaffer's tape...

That brings me to cameras. We always end up at the cameras. If this were a steady client I'd probably bring along the Olympus cameras and do all the stationary shots in the hi-res mode, the rest of the stuff as raw files. But this is a first time client, flying in from another state and is the client of a photographer from a different state who recommended me (thank you!).  It's more important to me to make the client happy with the work and with her steady photographer's recommendation than it is for me to go off on some sort of Zen gear path of discovery.

I'm presuming that my counterpart is using either a Canon or Nikon full frame system and I want to use what is client is comfortable with. My primary camera will be the D810 and I'll use the D750 as a back up. I'm taking a wide range of lenses including the 24-120mm, the 14mm, the fast 50mm, a 55 micro Nikon, the 85mm and the 80-200mm f2.8. Tons of extra batteries and connector cords for tethered shooting with either a laptop or the Marshall monitor (via HDMI out).

I'll be shooting 36 megapixels raw files and making custom white balances as I go along. My goal is to make every image sing before I even get it into the raw converter.

Why do I write stuff like this? It makes for a good rationalizing exercise and keeps Belinda out of the forest of, "should I take this or that." It creates a good equipment list that jogs my brain so I don't forget that one set of clothespins that might be the linchpin for a shot that requires a set of filter. I look back on these posts after the jobs to see just how well I hit the targets. Sometimes I'm right on the money but other times I'm just whistling in the wind. When I have a good rationale it also informs my shooting and helps me get ready to be productive and focused from the very start. Less trial and error. Less stop and start.

And occasionally a reader will see something I overlooked or didn't consider and help me move in a different direction. It's interested because our readers all seem to be good photographer but a large percentage are also active professionals. There are a thousand ways to describe subjects with light; mine are not always the best ways. I'm never to old to learn...


The Craftsy Learning Promotion Continues....



 I've been a Craftsy.com instructor now for several years and I think their courses are well done and a good deal. Once you buy a class at Craftsy.com you can go back and review it over and over again. You can pause it, watch parts of it again, and even send the actual instructors direct questions on a course forum. You'll get real answers from the people who are teaching the courses, generally in a day.

When I first started watching the Craftsy.com courses I only watched photography programs. Since then I've branched out into the cooking programs and I had a great time learning how to make chocolate croissants. And then sauces. And then bread.....

There are lots of craft courses that other people in your house might like. They include subjects like: Painting, gardening and even course on making better pizzas. I think the courses also make great gifts for people who are really into their hobbies.

Clicking on the Craftsy link here takes you to the site and also gives me a small commission which has no effect on the price of your classes. But it does help support my coffee habit and keeps me writing new stuff. And by the way, we've just crested the 2500 article milestone for the Visual Science Lab. I'll celebrate over the weekend.....

Check out Craftsy.com. Every class has an intro video you can watch before you decide whether you want to buy it. Wouldn't hurt to take a look....

Hey! Go watch my Cantine Video. Shot with Olympus OMD EM5.2 cameras. You'll like it.

9.06.2015

The recurring themes of being a freelance photographer. "It's too busy." "It's not busy enough." "I have way too much in accounts receivables and way too little in cash." "I just bought a new camera bit I wish I'd waited for the one they just announced."


The market for commercial photography, at least as it relates to me, is crazy and constantly changing but on the other hand it feels constant and unchanging. Let me explain.

Austin is growing at the speed of light. People are moving here from all over the country and most of the people moving here have higher incomes than the people who were here to begin with. That means residential property in the prime neighborhoods has been appreciating like Apple stock. If you bought a good house in the Eanes School District (rated #1 in Texas) in 1995 for a little less than $200k you might just find that the land under your cute little house is now worth close to a million dollars; maybe more. Nobody wants your house, they want to buy your lot, knock the house down, scrape it off the lot and build their new dream home. But what this means in a bigger picture way is that the city is becoming prohibitively expensive to live in or invest in for normal, middle class people. Say, freelance photographers making less than $100,000 per year. 

If you are moving into the market you are either coming with money or you are doing the old fashion, California living accommodation by renting or buying something  miles and miles outside the magic ring of the actual city of Austin where all the value is and all the cool stuff happens. It would, I guess, be a workable strategy if not for Austin have the "honor" of currently having the 4th worst traffic congestion in the country. A drive in from Pflugerville or Cedar Park during any of the ample and assorted rush hours might have one driving for several hours in order to make it into the real city and back out again. Much worse if someone rolls a big truck on one of the major freeways.

But consider your plight even if you were lucky enough to buy at the right time (twenty years ago?) and you live within three miles of downtown. You might now have a property worth a cool million, which is also highly liquid right now,  but if you sold it where would you move? Everything else in the desirable zones is equally inflated and rising quickly. So maybe you just decide to keep sitting on all that equity and have fun in place. Good plan in most states but in Texas, where there is no personal income tax, the state fills the coffers mostly with property taxes. And ours in Austin are some of the highest in the country. That million dollar property looks good when you consider the "sell side" but the "stay put" side is scary because every year your property taxes are likely to go up by about 10%. We are just about to the point where our property taxes will "jump the shark" and cost more each year than our mortgage.

The popularity of the city and the increase in population don't necessarily translate into higher rates for freelancers; in fact the popularity of the city among the nation's educated young attracts lots and lots of newly minted photographers who shift the supply and demand curves in the wrong direction. Add to that the increased time cost of doing business in a crowded and thriving metropolis. What used to be a leisurely twenty minute drive up Mopac to a job site in the "tech central" part of town is now an hour or more in the rush hour parts of the day. The time of the day when businesses get started and expect photographers to start as well. Once you hit your destination you'll find that the ample, free parking we used to enjoy outside of the downtown area is shrinking faster that the water supply in Lake Travis. After your slow and plodding commute you'll be circling the periphery of most locales looking for that rare parking place. Wanna park in the shade? Good luck.

Of course, you have to do it all in reverse to get back home. One Summer in Austin the ambient temperatures were so high and the commutes so slow and plodding that a record number of car batteries just "gave up the ghost" that season and died off. Part of the cost of popularity and an excessively mobile culture.

You'd think with the sheer momentum of grooviness and hipster culture in town that photography rates are sky-rocketing but, perversely, we still see our city as a "second tier" creative city and rates have stagnated for years. Big clients still head out of town for "name" photographers for many of the big and juicy advertising projects. The local agencies are being beaten up by clients taking creative and marketing totally in-house and are passing the fear and budget cutting along to their freelance collaborators.

And then there are individual concerns. I've always thought it was smart to market to the tech companies and various start-ups. The problem with concentrating on one industry or niche is that everything happens for every client at the same time and in the same season. If you have five good clients and they are all attending the same trade shows and need video and still photography content for booths, collateral and website refreshes you'll be swamped to the breaking point but mostly in concentrated clumps of days and weeks. Once the wave subsides things can go unnaturally quiet for weeks or even months. You start to feel as though you'll never work again...

I can almost feel the pulse of industries by the way, and on the schedules, they devise for paying their bills. In times of rising industry fortunes there's no need for bids and the checks arrive sometimes before we can even get a bill out the door. Last year we had a couple of clients who wanted to "pre-pay" for a series of projects just to get the paperwork out of the way. This year you can tell that everyone is a bit nervous and hesitant. Checks seem to take more circuitous routes to the mail box and the stories are being reprised about accounting departments being sidetracked by: "the audit, the payables software change, and my new favorite: "We use an outside service to generate payments --- let me check on that and get back to you." My least favorite new response is: "We're splitting the cost of your invoice with two partners and one of them is part of holding company in the U.K. It always takes longer for us to get checks from them......" I didn't even know that secondary companies were part of our contract. Silly me.

So, taxes, expenses, time costs and competition are all up while rates are static; and so what's really new?

Well, even as recently as a couple of years ago there was at least the certainty that we knew how to make and deliver our core product. Even though we might love buying new cameras and stuff there was always the underlying and comforting reality that our clients didn't really drive equipment acquisition and we probably could get another season or two out of this or that camera system. If economic push came to shove.

Funny how it's changed.  To maintain income and keep traditional clients we've been doing more and more video projects. That necessitated buying new cameras that could crank out good video footage and were agile enough to use for multiple roles. It also required investments in microphones, faster computers, new software, and new ancillary gear. But it's changing quicker than is comfortable. A year or two ago we downplayed the idea of 4K in our video inventory but now clients want it for reasons other than showcasing their programming on 4K monitors.

They are now asking for things like "vertical edits" which are better handled with 4K. A recent client wanted video that would go 2560 pixels wide in a super narrow aspect ratio (that's a blow up from 1080p) which also is going to look a lot better from a 4K original. Clients are learning that by shooting wide in 4K we can do a lot of very smooth movements in post instead of riskier movements during shooting with sliders, dollies and hand held rigs. There's much more "after the shot" flexibllity in the final edit with a lot of extra space around the live areas. Heck you can zoom in by a factor of 4 and not run out of pixels if you are aiming at delivering a 2K final product.

I learned the interesting way just how nice it is to start with a widely composed 4K video file if you are planning to make extensive use of software stabilization in your editing. The programs analyze your clips and map the range of motion. They then crop to the maximum range of motion for the entire clip. You lose tons of top and bottom space when stabilizing a jumpy (handheld?) clip. If you start with 4K, then stabilize and then crop to your wacky aspect ratio, with good pre-planning, you may lose nothing you wanted included.

So during a time of escalating costs in nearly every part of the business we add on the ramp up of a video market that's also diffusing quickly into the general market.

I'm happy when I'm in the vacuum of working with my Nikon D750 and D810 and I'm not nosing into websites about new gear. But then I get distracted by something like the Sony A7R2. I don't particularly like that camera but I do like that it shoots really, really nice 4K video internally. Will my clients need this? Sure. Are there other options? Absolutely. But how do you make the right choices and how long do you wait to buy and start servicing the market with new technologies?

Wouldn't it be wonderful if you were privy to the plans of your camera maker? If I knew that Nikon was launching a new camera with 4K video at the Photo Expo in October then the whole issue could be sidelined (and the savings started) until I got my hands on the new product. All of which is predicated on getting checks from those folks who are "being audited, learning new software and waiting on slow boats from merry old England." 

The biggest issue facing me in the business right now is in marketing. Not just what to say but where to say it and to whom. The flux in the industries we work for has accelerated to a speed that's faster than I've ever seen it. People seem to be moving between companies on an almost monthly rotation.
No one has a real phone and very few people respond to e-mail. So how do you reach them now? Oh, yes, social media. I almost forgot. Right...

I think about all this today from my position of "man sitting in chair waiting to be paid" but by the middle of the coming week, and for the rest of the month, I'll be ruminating from the position of "man in transit from project to other relentless projects."

I have two weeks of broken and inefficient travel coming up and I'm as much of a curmudgeon about that these days than I am at dealing with sociological change.

To keep from going nuts I'm distilling it all down to this: Change is inevitable/stay flexible/play to your strengths but develop new strengths/everything you do is marketing/Nikon will come out with 4K just in time/all marketing works if it's targeted correctly/Don't sell a house if you don't want to move/pay your bills and your taxes and be grateful/keep swimming & keep shooting. = that's the good stuff.

And in the end we always looking for that evasive "extra". For me it's to have the time and energy left over from making a living to play with photography and video for fun. I think it's still working.



http://visualsciencelab.blogspot.com/2009/11/combatting-oppressive-sense-of.html

9.04.2015

There's a sale going on at Craftsy.com. It's a great time to try photo courses from experts like Chris Grey and Neil van Niekirk. (and Kirk Tuck).



 I've been a Craftsy.com instructor now for several years and I think their courses are well done and a good deal. Once you buy a class at Craftsy.com you can go back and review it over and over again. You can pause it, watch parts of it again, and even send the actual instructors direct questions on a course forum. You'll get real answers from the people who are teaching the courses, generally in a day.

When I first started watching the Craftsy.com courses I only watched photography programs. Since then I've branched out into the cooking programs and I had a great time learning how to make chocolate croissants. And then sauces. And then bread.....

There are lots of craft courses that other people in your house might like. They include subjects like: Painting, gardening and even course on making better pizzas. I think the courses also make great gifts for people who are really into their hobbies.

Clicking on the Craftsy link here takes you to the site and also gives me a small commission which has no effect on the price of your classes. But it does help support my coffee habit and keeps me writing new stuff. And by the way, we've just crested the 2500 article milestone for the Visual Science Lab. I'll celebrate over the weekend.....

Check out Craftsy.com. Every class has an intro video you can watch before you decide whether you want to buy it. Wouldn't hurt to take a look....

Hey! Go watch my Cantine Video. Shot with Olympus OMD EM5.2 cameras. You'll like it.

The real reason many of us photographers worked in black in white early in our careers.


I pretty much "re-fascinated" with black and white photographic imagery these days. I've found fun ways to shoot in monochrome with digital cameras I own, I've had much fun with a program called, DXO Filmpack, which converts images from normal digital images into emulations of various film types (while there are color profiles in Filmpack my interest is in the emulations of many of the b&w films I used to use), and I've found settings in an free program I use called, Snapseed, that work pretty well. I know that I am being guided by my own nostalgia but I was working backward in trying to understand the continuum and to remember just why most practitioners in my cohort started out shooting their first, tentative photographs mostly in black and white.

While it was a mainstream way of working in the middle to late 1970's I must be honest and say that it was a combination of cost and learning curve that kept us shooting black and white and printing in our own darkrooms.

Color film was at least twice the cost of black and white films and, if you were willing to roll your own film from a bulk film loader, the cost dropped even more. I remember saving up cash to buy 100 foot rolls of Kodak Tri-X, inserting it into the Bakelite bulk film loader and counting the clicks to make sure I loaded just enough frames into each film canister. I preferred empty Ilford canisters because the top and bottom rings that held everything together clicked in with more pressure and were more resistant to unhappy failure. I got the canisters from the professional lab that used to be on 19th Street in Austin.

It was the same with printing. A box of black and white, double weight, fiber paper was about a third the cost of a box of color paper and the chemical used for developing the black and white paper lasted a long time.

Long before the advent of PhotoShop, etc. the common way to print one's own color prints was to do interactive test strips and then develop the prints in drums. There was so little control and for every print that was a success there were an embarrassing number of failures. With no color casts or shifts to worry about black and white promised quicker success and, as in hand grenades, a lot of variation fell into the "close enough" camp.

I remember decades of standing in my various darkrooms sloshing prints around in trays and then baptizing them in the archival washer. It always seemed like a quiet and meditative process, even under the tightest deadlines. But the magic was almost always there as you stood, holding your breath, and waiting to see the first glimmer of an image emerge in the developer tray.

Now I have all sorts of rationalizations for shooting in black and white: It's more abstract, there's no distraction from needless color, it distills an image down to its composition, black and white is more about graphic design, it's easier to see into the subject instead of being seduced by the color, etc., etc.

I don't know if any of the rationales are really apt but I do know that one becomes acculturated and comfortable with what one is familiar with. Since black and white images were my first love my own inculcated prejudices always serve to position color work lower in the hierarchy for me. Now black and white imaging is popular again. Now we'll get to see if there is more to it than sentimentality.

The image above was shot with a Nikon D750 and the 85mm f1.8 G lens using available light. Conversion to black and white via Snapseed. 

Noellia on the new sectional couch. Nikon 85mm f1.8. Some groovy processing just for fun.





Hey! Noellia! If you happen to stumble across this photo go ahead and click on the link below so you can see the Cantine video that James and I did, okay?

https://vimeo.com/137964319


The Craftsy Educational Promotion Continues: 



 I've been a Craftsy.com instructor now for several years and I think their courses are well done and a good deal. Once you buy a class at Craftsy.com you can go back and review it over and over again. You can pause it, watch parts of it again, and even send the actual instructors direct questions on a course forum. You'll get real answers from the people who are teaching the courses, generally in a day.

When I first started watching the Craftsy.com courses I only watched photography programs. Since then I've branched out into the cooking programs and I had a great time learning how to make chocolate croissants. And then sauces. And then bread.....

There are lots of craft courses that other people in your house might like. They include subjects like: Painting, gardening and even course on making better pizzas. I think the courses also make great gifts for people who are really into their hobbies.

Clicking on the Craftsy link here takes you to the site and also gives me a small commission which has no effect on the price of your classes. But it does help support my coffee habit and keeps me writing new stuff. And by the way, we've just crested the 2500 article milestone for the Visual Science Lab. I'll celebrate over the weekend.....

Check out Craftsy.com. Every class has an intro video you can watch before you decide whether you want to buy it. Wouldn't hurt to take a look....

Hey! Go watch my Cantine Video. Shot with Olympus OMD EM5.2 cameras. You'll like it.

I like what fast 85mm lenses do to the backgrounds in photographs.


This is shot either wide open at f1.8 or 1/3rd of a stop down at f2.0. It was taken with the Nikon 85mm f1.8G lens. I have come to really like this lens because it seems to perform well at every aperture. The model is Noellia. She has been working with me on commercial shoots and books for nearly 12 years. The location is the long hall in my house in Austin, Texas.

It might not be a style you appreciate but it's one I've liked since I first took up photography.

It's fun to make portraits like this.

Flare? We don't care about flare. In fact, I'm starting to search for it wherever I can find it.


I was kinda sad I couldn't make this sunspot reflection flare more yesterday. I was doing everything "wrong" so I presumed that all the unnecessary perfection of the system would break. I had on an ancient, wide angle lens. I had a cheap polarizer on top of that and I put the direct reflection of the sun up on the top 1/3 of the frame. Still no drama.

My goals for the month? More flare. More stuff that's crazy backlit. And tons more black and white.

I'm so over technically perfect images...