11.07.2017

Good clean fun with a cheap normal lens. The Panasonic 25mm f1.7.

Le Politique on Second St. tries hard to emulate a Parisian café.
Hanger steaks and frites with a bottle on wine while sitting on
the sidewalk in the valley of modern office buildings?
Mixed metaphor, for sure....

Whether you own a full frame DSLR, a mighty APS-C camera or one of the whimsical micro four thirds cameras there's one thing that's more or less a constant; and that's how great the inexpensive 50mm (equivalent) lenses are for each system. I've always been a big fan of "normal" lenses and it's probably because the first two cameras I owned had variations of normal lenses before anything else. 

I spent my morning creating estimates for project bids, ordering new audio machinery and getting my car serviced. I'd put in some extra time doing post production last week and felt as though I deserved some free time to walk around the downtown area with a camera. So I did. (Don't tell my boss --- he thinks I was doing "research"). 

If the day had been bright and sunny I would have taken the Panasonic/Leica 8-18mm lens with me, mounted on a GH5, but it was cloudy and flat outside so I opted for the normal lens instead. Bright afternoon sun would have made for good sample shots at various wide settings with the zoom but when it gets "wintery" I'm alway in the mood for black and white images taken at an elegant focal length. 

I ate lunch at Whole Foods where the sushi is a right good bargain, and then I headed over to the new, six story, $130 million library which just opened in the heart of downtown. It was packed with the homeless, the hipsters and a huge swarm of young, eager corporate types, armed with phones and laptops, who were obviously glad to have a new venue with free meeting space. They tried to look casual and cool and give off the impression that they emoji candidates they were busily debating would be mission critical to client X. Everyone in the corporate clique had coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.

Want to see a cross section of Austin's new arrivals? Go skim through the six floors and the rooftop gardens of our new library. Don't miss the bicycle garage in the basement; my triathlete friends seem to talk of nothing else.... (Library - Austin - so, of course, a bike garage. Might even be a bike valet...).

I had my camera set up to use "filters" which are the same as presets or looks. I chose "dynamic monotone" and I must say I am pretty happy with the look. Like most 50mm equivalent lenses the 25mm f1.7 is bright and sharp. Even wide open it's pretty darn good. Stopped down to f5.6 it becomes almost analytical. While the lens usually sells for around $250 it sometimes goes on sale for $149. I was in the market for the lens but my sales person at the local camera store counseled me to wait a week or two. I did. He called to tell me the price had dropped again and that he'd put one aside for me. Nice.

Stay tuned, the 25mm price usually drops right around the time Panasonic announces a new body...

I did a circuit through the city's downtown and for some reason it was packed with people today. Mostly people walking down the sidewalk in little groups of two, three or four, all walking side by side, all staring at their own phones held, almost prayer-like, just in front of them at chest level. Here's an observation after watching this phenomenon for nearly two hours: Men cannot simultaneously look at their phones, walk down the sidewalk and also talk to other people in their groups. Women can and do all three things simultaneously. Almost as though it's mandatory.  It's interesting. 

I wonder what the next trend will be. I'm presuming everyone will get phone implants so that the physical handling of the phones becomes unnecessary. Just walking through the chattering hordes made me feel like an anachronism. There are no dedicated use cameras left in public anymore. None. They are all gone. Well, that's not exactly true. There was one guy with a Nikon or Canon slung around his neck. He was even older than me..... 

Ancient Trees. Just hanging on for dear life...


My favorite "point and shoot" camera is also a "serious" camera.

I think we can pretty much agree that the traditional "point and shoot" camera is nearly extinct. The all-in-one configuration that, in days of film, were mostly 35mm cameras with fixed mid-range zoom lenses and optical finders  set up in the rangefinder style. The reason they were popular was a combination of convenience and, surprisingly, image quality. The lenses rarely got fancy and stayed in a focal range and speed that made designing and manufacturing easy. The large size of the 35mm film was also a benefit and the "noise" profiles of the "camera files" could be improved in seconds by loading whatever the latest, best fast film of the day happened to be.

So, why did the "point and shoot" start its decline and then fall off the map in the recent days of digital photography? I think that's a pretty easy question to answer: The bulk of the digital point and shoot cameras used tiny, tiny sensors that were far worse than film in anything other than blazing daylight. Then there was the race for longer and wider zoom lenses which led to an actual decrease in optical quality that even a rank consumer could gauge. Finally, the screens on the backs of the basic point and shoots were mediocre while the early EVFs were atrocious. The real question might be: Why would anyone buy one of these cameras in the first place?

There were always exceptions to the sallow picture I've painted in the previous paragraph. The Sony RX100 series. The Panasonic LX series and even, to a certain extent, the likable Canon G series (at least the 9 and 10). But for the most part the digital equivalent of the film point and shoot was a miserable product.

At the high end it's been replaced by cameras like the Sony RX1 line, the Fuji X-100s and a few others.

It seems to me that the true replacements to the point and shoot cameras we used to love are the new entry level cameras from the mirrorless camera makers. The one I gravitated toward is the G85 but it is similar to the Olympus EM10iii and even the Fujifilm XE-3. If you want a true point and shoot you'll probably gravitate toward the Sony RX100V but I wanted a few more things that the Sony doesn't provide.

I wanted enough grip space to be able to handle the camera comfortably in the same way that I hold and use my cameras when working professionally. I wanted a camera with interchangeable lenses that would allow me to play with older lenses but also access all the new stuff I'd bought for the GH5s. I also wanted a camera that would share my existing cache of batteries that I use with the FZ2500.

That led me to the G85.

The camera is a micro four thirds model. It's set up like a traditional DSLR, with a vestigial pentaprism hump and all the basic design cues. While the sensor isn't state-of-the-small-camera-art when it comes to resolution the color character is of the moment and the sharpness is superb. It's probably a result of removing the anti-aliasing filter from the sensor array.

I spent $899 for the camera when it was on sale. That included the 12-60mm kit lens which features the dual image stabilization capability which gives the camera+lens a stability approaching the market leading Olympus cameras. The range of the lens is great and the optical quality is very good. Not as needle sharp and contrasty as the Olympus 12-100mm I've been using almost non-stop, but very good for a kit lens.

The G85 starts up quickly and the EVF is very well done for a camera in this price class. The camera is solidly built and gives one the impression of workmanlike reliability and purpose.

But why would I even need/want a camera like this if I have two GH5s and a nice selection of more esoteric zoom lenses?

If I were less timid I'd just use the GH5s for everything and replace them if they are destroyed, stolen or used up. But I'm always thinking that I want to preserve them for working projects. For jobs that generate money. The G85 gives me 90% of the potential of the GH5s (for still work) in a mini-system (camera+lens) that's about a third the replacement cost of the GH5+lens.

The G85+kit lens is also much smaller and lighter than its bigger sibling which makes it more pleasant to carry constantly when serious photography is not the priority of the day.

I'm currently shooting for work and pleasure with mostly just two camera models; the G85 and the GH5. They share lenses and they share menus, for the most part. I still have the FZ2500 but use it sparingly now that the GH5s have taken over most of the heavy lifting in video.

This represents the smallest number of cameras I have ever owned since started out as a hobbyist in 1978. It's a very freeing experience. There's little of the indecision about what to take to work that used to haunt me. After working with the Olympus 40-150mm I'm also thinking about selling the FZ2500 which would get me down to just three cameras. The Olympus lens does a great job supplying a "long lens" solution and I could apply the proceeds of the sale back into more lenses.

But the G85 is a bit of a linchpin. It gives me a "what-the-hell" camera to take out in the rain, in dust storms, during hipster stampedes, and other situations in which having to watch out for your money making cameras kills the mood and hampers risk taking.

In the end the GH5s cement their position in my work universe every time I use them. The G85 is expendable. Fun but expendable. Everyone should have a capable camera whose demise would not break one's spirit or one's bank account. For everything else there is the iPhone... But the G85 might be cheaper to buy and is cheaper to operate......

11.06.2017

A Visual Science Lab Blog Reader asked, "Why filter your flash?"

 He asked if I was the last photographer to carry around color filter gels....

Here's the answer: We tend to believe that the automatic white balance in our cutting edge cameras will be able to correct for any color inaccuracies in the scenes we encounter when photographing. Many think that this will work by blending or mixing the various color casts together in one file which will somehow be correct; but rarely is.

Here's the prevalent scenario for event shooters: We are in a large room that is lit by tungsten light bulbs. There is a tungsten spot light (or two or three) illuminating a keynote speaker. We need to take images of people talking together at their tables, conversing together at the back of the room and also watching the speaker. In short, we need to handle a range of shooting situations in an environment where the entire room is lit at >3200K while our lighting (and motion freezing) instrument is color balanced for somewhere between 5200 and 5600K. If we use the flash with auto white balance engaged on our camera then whatever is lit by the flash will be close to normal while the some much warmer light contaminates the edges of the subject and the background goes red/orange. It's not a great look.

If we want to have the room show up in the frame (with the subject in the foreground) then we have to find a shutter speed/iris/ISO combination that provides an exposure in which the main subject is lit to a good exposure and the background of the frame is also lit enough to see details and bring up the general exposure of the room. That might be 1/30th of a second, f4.0 at ISO 1250. If we do this then the room light contaminates the main subject to a much greater extent because there is very little difference in the amounts of mixed lighting hitting the subject and the background. 

But, if we put a correction filter in front of the flash which converts the flash color balance from daylight to something much closer to the ambient illumination's color temperature then we're shooting under two light sources that are much closer in character to each other. Since the filter provides a known color temperature we can easily select the lightbulb icon in our white balance menu or we can fine tune with a set Kelvin number to best match the two light sources. 

Now when we shoot a frame of the two guys talking in the back of the room, illuminated by ambient light from overhead and flash from the front the two light sources are close enough to be homogenous and the scene is more natural to our eyes and less contaminated by mixed colors.

I find that exposing this kind of work is best done in the manual exposure setting because one can use the shutter speed setting to increase or decrease the overall illumination of the ambient portion of light without changing the amount of flash on the subject. Through trial and error we can have a background/foreground ratio that is nearly equal or we can dial down the background light so the subject stands out more. We can control flash via the power setting on the flash or by changing the aperture. If we change the aperture to affect the flash we can compensate for the change to the background with our friend, Mr. Shutter Speed. 

Done this way you never have overly warm flesh tones or horribly murky backgrounds. You could, of course, create your own color style by picked a filter and a color temperature setting that is halfway to tungsten and letting the background go warmer or you can filter the lens and leave the filter off the camera to get the same effect as described in our initial example but I can almost guarantee that filtering the lens is going to require a couple of stops more power and exposure and will make autofocusing nearly impossible.

One part of the equation remains; what to do about the speaker on stage? Well, if the stage is well and amply lit you don't need to do much more than identify the color temperature of the fixtures being used to light him or her and then set your camera accordingly. Turn off your flash altogether and snap away. In my example from last Friday it was pretty obvious to me that the fixtures were tungsten balanced and that cued me to set the camera to 3000K (most lighting people use dimmers to pull the lights down a bit so the speaker doesn't get the "deer in the headlights" look) to get a nice, neutral color balance. If I don't  use flash I don't annoy the audience or the speaker, and if I'm using a state of the art mirrorless camera I can shoot in complete silence and pound away at anywhere from 12 to 20 fps to capture the "magic moment ==== I don't though because it's a lot more fun to practice catching the right expression through anticipation and faster reflexes. And it makes it so much easier to wade through the files in post.

Just because you have a flash on your camera doesn't mean you have to use it....

To re-cap: Make all the light sources as close to the same as you can. Filter your flash to match the vast ocean of available light in the ballroom, meeting room, convention or conference center and then set the right white balance for the filter in your camera's WB menu. Use your shutter speed to change the ratio of the ambient light in relation to flash. Use aperture to increase or decrease flash exposure and then restore your ambient/flash balance with the shutter speed.

Shutter speeds too low? Flash not powerful enough? Don't be afraid to increase your ISO.

And that's how I generally handle lighting mismatches and why. Thanks for asking!

11.05.2017

Weekend Notes. Galas. Cameras. Clipping Path Hangovers. Counterintuitive Event Cameras, and a bit of Swimming.

This here flash is a Godox TT685O. 
It's a right good unit. 
Sure enough.

It's the weekend. We're in the first week of November and temperatures in the mid-to-high 80's mean we're still fighting swirling flocks of mosquitos. The Texas sized mosquitos; as big as dragonflies. Best bring along some insect repellant with DEET if you're planning to join the nationwide trend of moving to Austin to enjoy the view from the center of the universe, there have been cases of West Nile virus reported in surrounding cities...

Let's talk gala's. Big ass, fundraising galas. One of my clients asked me to come to a gala last night to take photos for three hours. She's been a client at various tech companies for years and years so, of course, I said yes. 

Sadly, I think I've matured away from galas. Or I've been to so many I'm having banquet ennui deja vu. When I got to the massive and imposing downtown hotel and waded through the throng of people at the bars which encircle the actual property, like a tipsy human moat, I headed upstairs to the 4th floor ballroom. The big one. I had on my dark blue suit and a shirt with a tiny black check pattern that I bought on a lark at Nordstroms. When I hit the fourth floor the ballroom foyer was filling up with woman in that odd age group of 30s and 40s who all seemed to be wearing variations of prom dresses ---- or those vengeful bridesmaids dresses that people remember with shame years later.

Most galas have all the standard features of fundraising. There's the "silent auction" with products and services donated by friends, associates and vendors. Mostly vendors and artists. There's the perfunctory 45 minute "happy hour" at the beginning where the women in odd dresses and men in an assortment of crisply tailored suits, or ill-fitting, off the rack suits mill about in little groups with a drink in one hand and a smartphone in the other. 

Uncharacteristically, I had little contact with the person requesting my service. I knew where and when but had no idea of "what." It was an "agenda on the run..."

My first duty/position was near the entry area where the client had set up a background with a logo in the middle of it. I guess no one really thought it through but really? The big logo right in the middle? Five feet wide? On an eight foot wide background? We might be able to break up a couple and put one person on either side of the logo for a photograph but I think that would be very awkward. The problem was more or less immediately solved when people started coming over to be photographed in groups of four, six, eight; even twelve. The logo stayed behind them. We couldn't figure what else to do...

But let's talk about a new understanding of "event photography" for a minute. In the past people would dress up (gentlemen, at least buy a shirt on which you can button the top button and wear your necktie correctly....) and part of the gala process would be for each couple to have a commemorative photograph made. Now it seems that the "step-and-repeat" background serves two masters. The traditional photography paradigm and then (a bigger priority) the iPhone selfie hordes. 

I stood at the ready with my camera and a flash but the majority of the attendees were happy to group themselves into small clusters on the background, do the little bended knee posture and then make "duck face" for their own cameras, which were being wielded by their friends. At one point a number of small groups of prom dress women did ask me to make their group photos but most only wanted me to do so with their phones. This year, and perhaps the next few, will be remembered by photo historians as the period of time in which every young woman was photographed with a phone in one hand and a drink in the other. But no photos will actually exist since our government (or what's left of it) will outlaw Facebook, Twitter and Instagram in an attempt to limit election fraud and, as the services go bankrupt the first things to go will be people's photo albums....No one ever said social media was benevolent...

Moving on, the guests are summoned to dinner by hotel food and beverage people who walk through the happy hour space in the foyer striking little melodic chimes on tiny, handheld xylophones. The seating process is arduous because the entry into an new room reminds everyone of something they forgot to mention to their friends during the happy hour and fifteen minutes later people are still standing next to their tables yakking as the emcee for the event heads to the podium. 

Our emcee is a real celebrity. He's the local weather man on one of the network channels. He's been calling out the weather (or flipping a coin and faking it) for decades here in Austin and, of course, his first comment of the evening is about the weather. Ouch. 

Dinner gets served as people speak about the merits of the charity being bolstered. Cute kids are sent to the microphone to testify about how much their lives have changed since joining this program. 

Now the guests have had drinks at happy hour and decent wine at dinner. They've been softened up by videos and testimonials from all the people the charity has helped and now the big guns come out; the auction, with a crew of five auctioneers all sporting gray cowboy hats. The things being auctioned off are more or less events or experiences. You can bid on a trip to taste vintage retsina wine on a Greek Island for you and your closest seven friends. Go hunting for Pandas at the world's greatest hunting lodge is some vague area of China (kidding). And, the recurring auction item of the decade (as witnessed at five different galas...) VIP tickets for six to see "Hamilton." 

This gala was bigger than most in Austin and easily raised over a million dollars. It was so big that the organizers had cascading shifts of photographers. Mercifully, I was slotted from 6 to 9 pm. I was out the door with my take at 9:05...

But let's talk about the gear. Since I was working strictly in the role of publicist/documentarian I packed lighter than I ever have before in my career. The choice of camera was made for me by my recently reduced inventory of cameras. It was either going to be a Panasonic GH5 or a Panasonic GH5. The lens was even more of a "no brainer." What better lens could I want than the Olympus 12-100mm Pro? A nice, wide angle for those big groups festooned across the logo'd backdrop and a tight, 200mm equivalent for shots of the keynote speaker up on the stage. All bundled with exceptional image stabilization. In fact, the stabilization is so good that, at times, I can take both hands off the camera and it floats in place, in midair, on its own! (hyperbole alert. do not try this with your camera....).

The only real question I had was "which flash to take?"  I have a shipping crate full of manual flashes from Godox, Cactus and Yongnuo but I decided I would like a dedicated TTL flash for the Panasonic system. I've had good luck with Godox lately so I splashed out $125 on the model, TT685O, which is the same form factor as several others I own and useable with the same remote triggers. It features full automation and can also be used as a master or slave flash in a multi-flash system.

With Eneloop NiMH batteries the flash worked like a charm.  My first use of the flash was in taking shots of couples in front of the above mentioned logo'd background. I tried a bunch of flash modifiers but shooting directly into a shiny vinyl background was always going to create a hot spot so I defaulted to bouncing the flash off the high, white ceiling. It looked much better. I started with the system on TTL but sometimes large expansive of white prom dress caused underexposure while couples draped entirely in black caused some overexposure. I realized that I could just set the flash to manual power at about 1/2 and, since our positions rarely changed, the exposure on my subjects would be absolutely perfect from shot to shot.

I started off shooting in AWB hoping to mix the ambient lighting with the flash but didn't like the way the flesh tones inevitable went to warm. I put a full orange filter on the flash to match it to the basic ambient light color and then set the camera at tungsten. Again, bypassing the automatic setting made for very repeatable results and much more pleasing color on the faces of my subjects.

Let's talk about that lens for a second. You know how everyone talks about how you can tell a great camera sensor because you can shoot it at the base ISO or ISO 1600 and by lifting the base ISO exposure to match the 1600 ISO exposure there's no difference in noise? I can't remember what the wags at DPReview call this but I'm renaming it "sensor indifference." What it basically means is that up to a certain level it really doesn't matter where you have the ISO set, the files will look the same.

So what does this have to do with the Olympus Pro lenses? Well, I very much believe that they are truly aperture indifferent. They look as sharp and contrasty wide open as they do stopped down to f8.0. I used my 12-100mm at f4.0 all evening and when I got back to the studio and magnified the files to 100% I was re-surprised at how sharp and detail rich the files were. Even at ISO 800. It's exciting not to worry to much about focus. The contrast detect AF is nuts on accurate and even though the focusing speed slows down in dim light (hello grand ballroom) when the AF confirmation signal locks you know you've got it nailed down.  It's fun to shoot with an aperture indifferent set of lenses because you never have to worry about trading lighting gathering for sharpness.

The camera (GH5) was a counter-intuitive choice for event work mostly because nobody seems to work with it that way. In our rush to mark this tool as a video centric imaging solution most reviewers have overlooked its very competitive still photography performance. The files, when created with discipline, are absolutely beautiful. The flesh tones make me happier than what I've been getting from most other systems and the size of the package for the performance is ridiculously good. I finished out my three hour shift with nearly 700 images on the V60 SD card (no wait for a buffer, ever) and I still had two of the three bars on the camera's battery indicator. Very pleasant, no struggles.

I think I've found one of the sweet spots between the one inch sensor cameras and the full framers.

Clipping path hangover.... What an ordeal. For a number of days last week I'd wake up at six in the morning fretting about getting all the clipping paths for 91 files knocked out in time. Each file needed to have two different clipping paths and we needed to work at a level of precision that would allow the images to be used in just about any medium. I'd lumber into the kitchen and make coffee and then, cup in hand, I'd head out the front door of the house and into the studio.

I had operational amnesia about one aspect of path making that I could not solve but was so happy to have the braintrust at our VSL blog rush into action and save me from my own ignorance. Another big "THANK YOU!!!!" to a brilliant advertising agency owner in Toronto, Canada for getting me the information I needed just when I needed it.

I preach against sitting in front of a computer screen doing fine work all the time but it's exactly what Belinda and I did last week. I've spent the better part of the weekend walking around in a daze, staring off into the middle and far distances and occasionally trying to extend my vision to infinity. And this just a week after getting new eyeglasses....

Every time I finish a project like this I say, "Never Again." But a few months later, when accounts receivable dip like a well drying up, I succumb to the weakness of commerce and, smiling, agree to another bout. When will I learn?

And now for the real reason most read the blog: swimming news!!!!

As you may recall, the water at our newest swim destination, Deep Eddy Pool, took a decided turn toward frigid last weekend. Apparently the city was using water from a back-up well while they fixed the pumps to the main well. The pool is refilled every other day so when they switched from the primary well to the secondary well the temperature dropped from a barely acceptable 72-73 degrees right down to 67 degrees. After a mile swim in that water, last Saturday, I rushed to buy a short wetsuit to preserve core temperatures for future swims. It came in very handy on Sunday when the water was also like the Antarctic ocean.

But this last week the repairs to the pumps were made and the pool has cleaner and more temperate water than I've seen since I started swimming here again a month ago. the temperature is back into the 72-73 zone and the wetsuit stayed in the car all week long. I have been warned, however, that the well water temperature will start dropping as soon as (if ever) we get some winter weather. I'm keeping the wetsuit handy....

Yesterday I met up with my friends, Anand, Emmett and Julie  and we self-coached a 3200 yard workout, from noon to one pm. We did 33.3 yard sprint sets, sets of 66.6 yards, sets of 100 yards and we interspersed these with 200 yard kicks and 400 yard distance swims. Swimming in colder water than I have been used to for the past 20 years is different. Muscles get tighter which causes more resistance. But the water seems to keep core temperatures in a good range for best recovery/performance. We're swimming harder and better but man! am I tired and sore later in the day.

Thinking about getting an inexpensive underwater camera to shoot some video with, if anyone has any suggestions.

Coming up. I deliver the clipping path job tomorrow afternoon and then, for the rest of the week I'll be on pins and needles waiting to see what new camera Panasonic will be releasing. There are plenty of rumors and a rumored date of Nov. 6 for the announcement. If it's a cool still camera and less pricy than the GH5 I'm pretty much in.

Also awaiting the release of the Olympus 45mm f1.2 Pro lens. I'm arranging to borrow one from my local vendor to test and see if it's really so much better than the Panasonic 42.5 I currently use. If it is then it may be irresistible.... I'm finding it increasingly difficult not to be assimilated by the Olympus Pro series lenses. So far, they are a brilliant differentiator between existing formats.

11.03.2017

The clipping paths have been completed. The sample sent to the client was approved with high marks. Ahhhhhhh. Now to relax at a gala!


Belinda and I methodically made our way through the 91 compound clipping paths. Now our client will be able to use the file with a white background and their product on a white (shiny) mannequin. They can select the next layer up and have an image of the white mannequin+their product on a transparent background, with an embedded clipping path, or they can go to the next layer up and have an image of their product sitting on a transparent background with no mannequin ---- but with a very nice, attendant clipping path.

It takes more time when the mannequin needs a few little scuff marks retouched, etc.

I made good use of the curvature pen tool and also the "select and refine" option.

I finished the project in enough time to have a late lunch, to pack and to head downtown for a gala at the JW Marriott Hotel for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Austin.

The glamorous life of a photographer....

Tonight I'm packing a dedicated (TTL) Godox flash for Panasonic/Olympus, a GH5 with the 12-100mm lens and a bunch of batteries. Too set in my ways not to bring along a back-up rig so I've also packed a G85, the small and lightweight 12-60mm lens and an extra manual flash. And again, batteries for all.

At least business is brisk.

11.02.2017

VSL Reader Help Requested. Clipping paths get more complicated in latest PhotoShop.

This is a measured plea for help. By measured I mean that I am not yet panicky but a bit frustrated. Maybe you can help with a clearer workflow for me.

Stuff I think I know:

There is no substitute for hand drawn paths with bezier curves for documents that will go to print.

There is no way to automate complex selections.

White on white is its own problem.

I know how to use the pen tool and how to create a path. In previous versions of PhotoShop, if you needed compound clipping paths (paths within a path or multiple paths in a file) you could draw one path hit the shift key and begin another path. And another. And another. Then you could click on each path and they would all work in concert to create a clipping path.

Not so anymore. Now I can create a new selection, see it in the work path icon (in the paths palette) but when I go to select the multiple paths I only get the first path or a subsequent path as my selection and not the multiple paths.

A good example would be a product with many holes through which you can see the background. In preparing for printer files each hole would have to be part of the overall clipping path. The primary clipping path would be the whole product (to clip it from the background) but I would need to create smaller clipped areas for each of the holes as part of the working path.

This is where I am stumbling. Not every file has these needs but enough of them do to make me grit my teeth.

My partner is working on an older version of PS and has no issue whatsoever producing as many smaller clipped areas inside the overall clipping path. None at all.

If you understand the clipping path workflow in PS CC 2017 I'd love to have the largess of your greater skill and brainpower.

Help?

P.S. I've searched for tutorials for hours. I can composite a fashion model on a background now but only if the composite doesn't require me to make paths inside of paths..... grrrrrrr. KT

Help us all understand this admittedly specialized part of the new PhotoShop!

10.31.2017

Back into the weeds of commerce. Clipping path saturation!

I've written enough about cameras this week. You would think I'm a review site! So I'll write instead about what I'm working on right now in the glamorous and scintillating world of commercial photography. You'll no doubt be so jealous that you'll walk away from your job as chief off shore banking expert at Goldman Sachs to toss your hat in the golden ring of product photography. One day, you to might know the pleasure and satisfaction of ..... the nuts and bolts of photography.

Last Thurs. and Fri. I set up the studio and completed the principal photography for an international client whose H.Q. is located in Germany. Their north American headquarters is here in Austin. I was tasked with photographing 24 medical products displayed on a (shiny) white mannequin (top half of thebody...) against a white background.

We had a product manager, an project manager, a technical specialist to make sure the products were correctly fitted to the mannequin, as well as a person who was there to learn how these kinds of shoots are done so she can supervise her own projects in a different, but related, department. I made coffee and Belinda baked a loaf of pumpkin bread the night before. We also had fresh bagels and creme cheese as assorted fruit. We want to keep our clients well fed.

The products were things like body braces and immobilizing medical devices that might be used for patient who had been subject to trauma or were in recovery from spinal surgeries and neck surgeries. The products were mostly black with some plastic trim pieces in white or mid-gray.

We set up a shooting table in front of a white background and covered the table with shiny white dry erase board material. Since we would need multiple angles of the mannequin+each device I put the mannequin on top of a very basic turntable after covering the turntable with bright white paper.

Exact exposure for this shoot was important because we needed to clearly separate the shiny white mannequin from the pure white background. Important because at some point some poor bastard would need to create two clipping paths per file....with over 90 files.

I used a light meter to carefully meter the background and then the plane of the subject. This is, for me, a tough metering situation since the white in the background had to go texture-less while the mannequin would have to read at about 90% even when printed on so-so four color press paper stock. But I would also have to preserve good, ample detail in the blacks!

We worked our way through all the products and kept notes that will tie each product to a set of filenames/numbers. At each step we got the client's approval and, at the end I had that exhilarating feeling that we'd gotten through the project without a single hiccup. The files were shot simultaneously on two SD cards (because I presumed I had jinxed myself earlier by ragging on the idea of duplicate card slots and redundant back-ups) and immediately ingested into Lightroom with folders created across two hard drives. All that remained for my part of the project would be to go through and clean up the files a bit, make sure they all matched for color (never varied) and tonality, and to quality check them for focus.

Then I asked the project manager how the in-house designer would like the files delivered. What format would she need in order to facilitate the creation of clipping paths? Big Tiffs? .PSDs? Should I deliver them on memory sticks? Add them to a small hard drive that we use to shuttle big files? Upload them to an FTP address? They had always done the clipping paths in the past.

Maybe the designer was overloaded or overbooked. I might never know... but the project manager asked me if I could do the clipping paths. Being customer service oriented (meaning I want my clients to be happy so they'll: A. Pay me. and, B. Use me again), I said "Sure."

Then he gave me the details. We would need one masked layer with just the mannequin with product on a transparent background. We would need a second layer with just the product (no mannequin), complete with a clipping path for the product. In this way the client could easily drop the mannequin+product into a catalog or just grab the clipped product layer alone and pull that into some other use.

What that means to me is very precise selection (via pen tool) for the overall separation from the background. This selection would go through the refined edge process in PhotoShop and I would select "selection with layer mask" in the "select and mask" menu. Then I would duplicate that layer and, again using the selection tool, I would create a clipping path in the top layer around the solo product. I would then select and inverse the path to drop out the rest of the background (including the mannequin) from just this layer. Finally, I would save the entire file in layers and deliver it as (client preference?) a layered Tiff or .PSD file. Uncompressed the Tiff files done in this fashion; with layers, weigh in at 126 megabytes per. That will give me about 11.5 gigabytes of deliverables.

I did a sample file today and sent it along to the client to get confirmation that we are on the "same page" and that this is indeed their preferred methodology. It takes about 20 to 30 minutes to do each file which means we have about three ten hour days of time in front of the computer to celebrate!!! Of course it's all billable time but it's hardly as captivating as sitting around on Maui with a bunch of bikini models, sipping Cuba Librés and waiting for the light to get neat...

If you wonder why I fantasize about cameras and lenses too often it's probably a direct result of enforced captivity...and a convenient conduit to the internet.

Before all you smart guys rush to tell me all about some clipping services in India that will do this stuff for a song please let me interject that I've been down that road a couple of times and each time I rushed to re-do the work before delivering it to my clients. There is a difference between a ho-hum factory clipping path and careful precision. If you have the right clients then the clients will know. Because, you know, the client's art directors and designers know just as much about good clipping paths as we do....

My workaround is to split the job with my art director/designer wife/partner and share the excitement!!!
Of course, she'll charge me her regular rate but I know her paths will be immaculate and unimpeachable. And that's about all you can ask for in 2017.

Excited? Wanna join in the fun? If you just adore doing clipping paths and need a nice hobby I can send you a folder full of files just waiting to be clipped. And if you own an ad agency in Toronto and can think of a better method than the one I outlined I can send you the files instead... :-)

And that's what we're doing here in the world headquarters for the rest of the week. Enjoying the amazing benefits of the freelance lifestyle --- tied to my desk chair.

10.30.2017

Maybe creativity and technology exist on a spectrum. The further you go to one side the more stuff becomes art. The further you go to the other side.....


I tend to vacillate like a sine wave between camera equipment with very high resolution and lots and lots of controls, and gear that some might consider pedestrian or incapable of producing the good results under all circumstances. I bounced from a Nikon D810 to a super zoom camera. From a Sony A7Rii to a gaggle of pygmy-sensored Panasonic cameras. It's never a completely conscious decision but I think I've worked out what my motivation is for the changing systems. 

I buy a high performance, do-everything camera and a bag full of choice lenses because I buy into the fear that most photographers experience. It comes from the idea that if your work isn't strong enough, or interesting enough, then maybe it's your gear that's holding you back. Bad, faulty logic but some of us are highly susceptible to it.

So I splash out hard cash to buy (or re-buy) whatever the best camera of the moment is and I start using it for everything. But the process becomes too routine and too easy. You can routinely fuck up and the camera will save you. You get sloppy. You get complacent. You know that if you just shoot raw with something like an A7Rii all you have to do it get stuff reasonable in focus and the rest you can fix after the fact. Did your boredom with the gear lead you to ignore technique and now you have overexposed frames? No problem, your miracle camera can pull down exposure at least a stop if you shot raw. Were you too busy oggling the models to read the exposure meter? Did you just default to auto because it's all so damn easy? No problem, you can push that underexposed frame up three stops, thanks to Sony sensors (Don't try this at home with Canon cameras....).  And the bottom line is that aesthetically you begin to play to the camera's strengths. Everything is a showcase for dynamic range or infinite detail or ultra-bokeh-ism.

Eventually the cameras become boring and the certainty of knowing you are covered and can produce something that's at least acceptable to a client sucks the nervous energy, the fear of failure, out of the project and makes work just about the work. At some point I get depressed reading that we're all shooting with the alpha---omega of cameras and I crave some fear and some creative adrenaline and some challenge. And that's when the big purge kicks in. The other side of the sine wave. 

I dump all the bourgeoise "safe" and "reliable" gear and start pressing cameras like the RX10iii into service. Or I grab a lens that's nearly as old as I am and put it on the front of a dinky frame camera and try, by sheer force of will, to make that combination make work that's as good as the stuff I can do blindfolded with the $3200 cameras. But more interesting in its imperfections. I think humans, in general, like challenges. If you are operating well above a subsistence/survival level I think you like to show that the art comes from you and not the camera.  That your point of view is more important than the pedigree of your glass. That you don't need a crutch to make interesting or fun photographs. 

That's when I grab the >$1,000 "do everything" compact camera and try to make it sing like a Hasselblad. Because --- if I can make good work with something small and cheap and non-professional it means that the idea worked or the style worked or, even, the point-of-view had value that outweighed the much more mundane idea of perfection

When I'm on this side of the sine wave I generally feel that "perfect" cameras and "state of the art" cameras are for pussies. Until I come across a client with a hand full of purchase orders and a bunch of projects to do. Then the fear kicks back in and I succumb to my own insecurities and head out looking for the next perfect camera. Afraid to risk the promise of cash just to champion a Quixotic quest with lesser cameras.  But in the back of my mind I know I'll be back at the edge of the envelope, down the road. A few months later. Maybe a year...

The same thing goes for the actual work. I'll be busy for weeks at a time, sitting in the studio post processing late into the night, shooting all day. And the more I work the more I wish I had time just to do my own art. But then, when work slows down or stops, I feel unmoored from my business connections. I convince myself I may never bring in another job. I start to fear the void. And then instead of doing my "art" I get busy marketing so I can hook the next tranche of paying work. Which makes me anxious to do my own work all over again....It's a different version of the vicious circle I described above. But it's the best observation I can self-apply in the moment. Go figure...





When I went downtown to see the new library I took a cheap body and two ancient lenses. Here's what I saw...


First, a program note. I was more or less kidding when I wrote my October 28th post indicating that I might lunge for a Fuji camera. I'm not. The X-Pro-2 is very pretty but I'm not convinced that the system offers anything I don't already have. You can stop cautioning me against the purchase, or, conversely, you can stop goading me to give it a try. The next camera on my list of "wants" doesn't exist yet but will be the Panasonic GX9. And I'll probably toss Olympus lenses on the front of it.

Today's info: I love the latest Panasonic cameras and the coolest Olympus Pro lenses but sometimes you gotta go lower tech just to remind yourself that it's your time and energy that make the photographs, not the provenance of the camera and lens in you hands. Since my options are now much more limited (inventory reduction...) I grabbed my G85 and two ancient Olympus half frame lenses (with adapters), the 20mm f3.5 and the 40mm f1.4. The first half of the post is almost entirely shot with the 20mm f3.5. The second half was almost entirely shot with the 40mm f1.4. There's no real takeaway here other than the idea that getting out and shooting trumps sitting at home with cutting edge glass and a computer screen in front of you. 

I will say that the older lenses have a different (heavier) look to the files they create. 













  40mm below....







10.28.2017

So hard deciding what to get myself for my birthday. But I finally nailed it. One day late. Surprise acquisition!!!

continuing the square nostalgia series with the GH5. (And below).  

Lately I've been looking, with some interest, at the Fuji line. Everyone talks it up; especially if they own some. Now, I'm not dissatisfied with the Panasonic and Olympus gear, far from it, my love affair with that system continues more or less unabated. More so after two more very successful (and counterintuitive) assignments. But my photographer brain (nerd brain) is always on the prowl for something that might give my work magic (read: external) powers.

I'd been looking at the Hasselblad X1D kit but it seems a bit pricey for a body with a smallish MF sensor, slow to glitchy AF and only three lenses. The "deal killer" for the kit is that the longest lens is only a 90mm which is more or less equivalent to focal length blah for portrait work. At least my portrait work. The case the system comes in looks nice but a quick glance around the office turns up more nice cases than I could fit in the back of a pick-up truck. I thought of lighting the match on nearly $15,000 but the current model looks like so much "Let's test the market! We'll fix all the horrible mistakes in the next model...." I decided not to become a beta tester again...

Since re-entering the holy order of small sensor shooters via the m4:3 system I have had my eye on the Olympus EM1.2. It seems like a really nice body. Good AF. Great I.S. A nice finder and decent video. But then I took a trip to the camera store and handled it. Until they get Panasonic to subcontract construction of a whole new menu system I'll have to pass. The menu is just too arduous for me to consider. I am, after all, only a humble photographer, not a computer programer/hacker. 

As my birthday burst into its full glory, and clients showered me with fantastic riches, the thought of picking up "just one Fuji camera and just one Fuji lens" started pulling at me; appealing to my most irrational impulses. I've had my eye on the Fuji X-Pro-2 for quite some time because I really love the way the body looks and, by all accounts, the 24 megapixel process they use is supposed to be beautiful and nearly flawless (unless you do raw conversions with Lightroom...). I ventured over to Amazon and put one in my cart, then I went back to reading all the reviews. "Nice handling." "Great images." "Best Pumpkin Spice bokeh!!!" The generally positive reviews, generated no doubt by people's urgent need to justify their purchase, had me nearly hooked. 

My research for Fuji's "perfect lens" just about set that hook. I found something called the XF 56mm f1.2 lens and I had to pause my search for a minute or so to mop up the drool. 

Could a system be a better fit for me? For my momentous, yet-to-come, seminal portrait work? I imagined the creamy bokeh and all the background stuff that would be rendered into a pleasurable visual abyss as I merrily blazed away with the lens wide open. This might be the next step. My monolith on the surface of the moon that would launch my own Odyssey into the unknown regions of photography. Photography as practiced by the idols of my youth. In seconds the lens was in my shopping cart. The justifications could come fast and furiously. I deserved it. No, I needed it. It would be mine. Oh yes, it would be mine...

But my newest resolution stepped in at a critical juncture of the process. It was my recently embraced personal promise to myself to sleep on any potential purchase --- at least overnight. No quick orders after short naps on the couch.

I closed down the machine of mercantile delight (iMac) and headed out to a big wedding at a ranch. We found the open bar and the fabulous barbecue, that should be required at all Texas weddings, and as we sank into the bliss of observed, potential matrimonial optimism for the new couple, in front of a blazing fire pit,  my thoughts shied away from the need to buy MORE CAMERAS AND LENSES NOW. For a few seconds it seemed like a very "Zen" state of mind. Or the influence of Champagne...

We had our first real cold snap last night. The winds whipped the trees around and a great push of weather; a frigid blast from the north, dropped our temperature down to 38 degrees. It was still 40 when I made my way to the spring-fed Deep Eddy Swimming Pool to get in my post birthday swim workout. I had on my down jacket and I assured myself that, since the water temperature should be the same as last time I swam there, I could handle the cold. Just in case I pulled on a second back-up swim suit ("jammer" style) over my first. A little more insulation against the perceived cold.

Belinda had given me a cold weather swim cap and some neoprene swim socks in an attempt at helping me ward off instant hypothermia. I wore them. After I changed into my swim gear I put my down jacket back on and headed down the long stairs to the pool area while being buffeted by the gusting winds.

On Thursday the water temperature had hovered around 72 or 73 degrees and even though the primal immersion had been jarring and uncomfortable on Thurs. I had warmed up quickly and gotten in a nice swim. By the end, that afternoon, I was warmed up and fairly comfortable. But that was then. This morning was different. 

When I got to the deck there was only one person swimming in the pool. It was a younger woman in a full, long sleeved, long legged neoprene wet suit. No one else was in sight. This was something of an irregularity for a Saturday morning. I asked the lifeguard sitting on the nearby stand why no one was swimming. She said she thought most people believed it was too cold. I asked if the water was the same temperature as a couple of days ago and she pointed to a thermometer, sunk in the water and tethered by a thick, white string. It was the same thermometer that told me the pool was 72+ on Thursday. 

I pulled the device up out of the water and glanced at the scale. And then I glanced again. It was reading somewhere between 67 and 68. 

Oh well, I thought, how much difference could 6 or so degrees make in the grand scheme of things? I took several deep breaths and jumped into one of the many empty lanes. The shock of the cold was almost painful. "Get moving!" I kept telling myself. "You'll warm up." 

I swam a hard, fast mile. I was almost afraid to stop. And across the 33.3 yard length of the lane the water varied in temperature. Parts were the same nasty chill I felt getting in but here and there were patches that were even a few degrees colder. By the end of the mile I was feeling the first effects of actual hypothermia. My muscles were tight and I was feeling just a bit shaky. I crawled out of the pool, tossed on my down jacket, and headed up to the open air changing area. I pulled off my swim cap and immediately put on the Polartec cap I'd brought along. I didn't have the courage to wait (a long time) for the hot water to arrive at the shower so just I dressed as quickly as I could and headed to my car to turn on the heater and make an emergency hard target search for the life sustaining miracle of coffee. 

It was in that very moment that I knew which way to go on my birthday purchase. I knew which gear would get my hard earned cash. Not the Hasselblad. Not the Fuji. Not even the newest Leica. 

I headed the car straight to Austin TriCyclist (a very good local shop for triathletes) and begged the owner to supply me with just the right wetsuit for winter swims. Something that would cover my torso and upper arms. Coddle my thighs. Keep my guts at the right operating temperatures. Now I have a wetsuit. All thoughts of new cameras vanishing in the cold depths of the swim. What good is any camera if you can't swim?

I can hardly wait to head back to Deep Eddy Pool tomorrow morning and show the callous and taunting  face of nature that I was not defeated. I'm there for the winter. And I'm ready!

But that X-Pro-2 still looks sexy, right? Like-a  modern day Leica.... And that 56mm. Ooooh. Ahh.