11.30.2017

Sure, you thought you loved the new gear. How much do you love it a year down the road? The "One Year in Service" review of the Aputure Lightstorm LS-1 LED Light.


People get all giddy and euphoric when they buy new gear. Even though they are trading the money that they traded their time for they must feel as though they'll get ahead by purchasing this latest thing and that the promise of leveraging their new gear will offset the short term pain of earning, and then parting, with the hard won cash. I know I generally feel that way...

We typically enter into the process of an eventual (photography) transaction out of boredom. In my case I already owned some good LED lights and they were working pretty well on most of the video and still projects I used them on. But recklessly, I ventured on to the internet and started just, you know, looking around to see what might be new in the world of lighting (which is generally less costly than looking around at new lenses, which is generally less dangerous than looking at new cameras).

So, it was about a year ago; maybe a month or two longer, when my "research" brought me face to face with a new generation of LED lights that boasted higher output and much higher CRI's (color rendering index) than the lights in my existing inventory. One thing led to another and I started to fixate on the (almost unnoticed) short comings of the five or six lights I had in house. How could I possible survive with lights that bared crested the 90 CRI threshold when I could be working with lights that breezed by with CRIs of 95 to 96? How would I be able to look clients in the face

11.29.2017

Sony Savant, Gary Friedman, has launched his new book (the "platinum owner's manual" -my advertising construct) for the Sony RX10iv.

http://friedmanarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2017/11/one-amazing-incredible-camera-except.html

I'm supplying the link but am not directly involved nor harvesting affiliate cash. I've always found Gary's books to be well done, logical and easy to read. He's a clear voice in the photo world who seems capable of mastering any camera Sony can throw at him.

If you have an RX10iv and you'd like a very good tutorial this might be the right book for you.

WARNING: He quotes the nefarious Kirk Tuck in the introduction......


Digital Photography Review's Richard Butler names the Sony A9 BATTERY as his pick for "Gear of the Year"....

... and makes the argument that this battery finally helps mirrorless achieve parity with DSLRs; in the power management department.

Apparently no one at DP Review actually tested the Panasonic GH5, GH4 or GH3 cameras and their batteries. Panasonic has been doing batteries correctly for years and years. And years. Even a cursory test would have shown that, when not using the built in flash, many users are able to get well over 1,000 still photo exposures while videographers tell of the GH4 cameras getting up to four hours of HD record time on a single battery!

But wait!!!! Here's what Richard Butler himself wrote about the GH3 battery back in April of 2013:

"One of the great advantages of the GH3's increased size is that it can take an unusually large battery for a mirrorless camera. The 7.2V, 1860mAh battery give 13. 4Wh of power, 50% more than the OM-D's battery, for example. This give the camera an impressive battery life of around 540 images per charge or 270 minutes of recording time."

(The typo, "battery give" is still in the review but should be "battery gives").

If we consider that Butler was quoting CIPA numbers for the battery at that time then the cameras with built-in flashes were always at a disadvantage as the ratings were done with 50% of the shots being done with the on board flash engaged. Something that the "pro" DSLRs did not have to contend with...

I guess we should be magnanimous and welcome the editorial crew of DP Review into the mirrorless world of 2013 (the year the Panasonic GH3 appeared in shops).

Glorious week for them. First Barney Britton's "non-hands on (un)real worldly recommendation of the Nikon D850 as his pick for "Gear of 2017" followed by blanket editorial amnesia of all mirrorless batteries pre-Sony A9.

We wait for the next Italian boot to drop... will it be "Sony camera strap, accessory of the Year!!!"?

In case you are interested here are the CIPA test methodologies from a trusted source = CIPA. http://www.cipa.jp/std/documents/e/DC-002_e.pdf

I spent a year shooting the A7Rii. I never lived in fear or anxiety about its use of batteries.


11.28.2017

Offering the right video services to the right clients....discovering your niche.


The market for video services can be as stratified as the market for photography services. There are people offering wedding videos and there are big, polished teams offering very high end television commercial productions; and there are a lot of producers offering services somewhere in between.  

In one sense the market for successful video production companies still has some barriers to entry while the barriers to an effective photography business have become much less daunting. The difference is not so much defined by one's ability to afford expensive gear but by one having the time to pursue a steeper and more diverse (light, sound, direction, editing, etc.) learning curve; and by having the ability to dedicate large chunks of schedule to projects with finite deadlines. 

While one might pursue a part time career as a portrait or wedding photographer by working just on the weekends, while maintaining a regular, forty hour per week job, it's a different scenario for someone who wants to provide commercial video services to companies, associations and corporate enterprises. To do this kind of work you need to be available during regular work days; not just on weekends. All of your meetings and most of your actual time in production will need to occur during Monday-Friday, during traditional 9-5 work hours.  A project with two shooting days generally requires at least a day of pre-production and two or three days of editing after the video capture. And experience tells us that during every part of the project clients expect timely communications throughout.

Smaller companies with very modest expectations (and budgets) might not expect you to show up with current  top of the line models of cameras, lenses, microphones, etc. but as you climb the ladders of the industries you target you'll be working with many full time, in-house producers who will understand the benefits of different tiers of equipment. My philosophy is that as long as the gear you use isn't a limiting factor in a given production you can use whatever you want but when you know you need better ( or more ) you'll need to bite bullets and rent or acquire. And you'll need to know where those lines are...

I'm sitting down today to get a grip on just what I'm offering clients in the way of video services. I'm doing this exercise to clarify, in my own mind, what works, and to predict, as well as I can, what I'm likely to be offering over the next twelve months. As I do this exercise I am coming to (re)understand that there is a wide range of physical tools with which most of us can successfully work but there are definitely required "soft" tools that are the underpinnings of a successful, small video production business. 

Those soft tools include an understanding of the construction of a successful storytelling video narrative. How do we tell the story from start to finish? That understanding leads to the need to be organized and to get all the pieces (scenes, clips) one needs to construct a project. From good interviews to good b-roll. From good, clean audio to logical, visually pleasant editing. These are skills. Skills come from understanding concepts (how stuff works) and are honed by hours and hours of practice. These are things you can't buy in a box and bring to a shoot in a Pelican case. They either come packed in your brain or not at all. 

As an example: In the past week and a half I noticed that I was hesitant about using my wireless microphones on busy jobs, preferring to either use a wired, boomed hyper-cardioid microphone or a wired cardioid microphone. When it came right down to it I hadn't used the wireless gear in a while and have always been a bit hazy on the exact operation of my Sennheiser EW100 G3 system. I've gotten away with my workarounds but the avoidance of mastering and using a valuable and useful tool really bugged me so I set aside all of yesterday morning to go through every parameter of setting up the system, syncing the transmitter and receiver, setting levels, running the resulting signal into my cameras and also placing the lavaliere microphones just so on clothes to make them sound good and to prevent noise from clothing rustle. 

I watched several videos that focused entirely on setting up and using the system. I unplugged everything and reset both the transmitter and receiver and then went through the whole process of putting it back together, syncing and getting everything ready to record. I mic'd myself and recorded material over and over again at different levels to make sure I understood how to set "sensitivity" in the transmitter and how to set the corresponding controls in the receiver. 

I feel so much more confident with the system today. I'll go through the same self-training at least two more times before I use the wireless system again on a paying job next week.

The same practice of concept+skills applies to moving the camera. To choosing the right file settings for the video files. It's a combination of comprehending the underlying concepts and then practicing the implementation of those concepts at every step. 

I also evaluated the broader skills ( or limitations) that I've always had. I'm uncomfortable with large crews (probably why I became a photographer in the first place) and I'm impatient with the effort it takes to get everyone on the same page and moving in the same direction. But I'm good with lighting and good at explaining what I'm setting out to do with clients. I'm good at directing interviews and I'm good with client engagement.

All these things shape what I want to offer clients. And I intuit that trying to do the business the way someone else might do the video business is probably not going to work as well for me.

What do I want to offer my clients?

The optimum project would be one that requires lots of beautifully lit, engaging interviews coupled with great alternative scenes and clips (and still images) that create visually compelling b-roll. I love getting onto factory floors and showing process and workflow. I love getting shots of people moving through the spaces as they work. I love getting closeup details and getting footage from a point of view that's different. But most of all I want to translate an interviewee's authentic story into a perfect clip. 

Here's what a perfect laundry list of my discrete services would look like: 


- lighting, shooting and directing interviews.

- lighting, shooting and directing work processes in real world situations.

- creating and blending still images into the video storytelling timeline.

-creating good quality sound at every step.

-Help write scripts that feel comfortable say out loud, and to direct. 

-Lead a small and agile crew that travels light and moves quickly. 

It would be great to offer video services that are accessible, both financially and in terms of time efficiency. This means providing the right set of camera resources with which to do the jobs we work on but not straying too far from the camera handling characteristics I'm used to. Camera handling should be second nature when on the job. 

The clients we want are corporations or organizations that need good, efficient interviews and resulting short videos that explain the client's unique position within their industry. To get across a message that's important to our client's success.

The most enjoyable projects are the ones in which we interview one or two primary subjects who tell their stories. Their interviews provide a narrative backbone on which to build the video. We might use 3 or 4 minutes of a person's video story (their audio tracks) but only see the person on screen for a half or a third of the time. The rest of the visual imagery needs to be "eye candy" ( intentional b-roll) that directly relates to what's being said in the interviews. 

If the subject talks about a love of the outdoors then we'll shoot b-roll of him walking through the woods or fishing in a stream. If the subject talks about the radical advances in his industry wrought by a new device or process then it's imperative that we show the device or the process. And show the final product and how it affects a customer's life...

The best way for me to deliver value to clients is to immerse myself in understanding what the client needs to say with the video in order to move their game forward. 

The best clients involve me in their project early enough so I can help them mould the story in a way that makes it possible to produce within their time frame and their budget. 

At the very end of the process it's wonderful to deliver a video that tells a compelling story which changes opinions, helps to market a worthy product, motivates change and makes our client look brilliant. It's a lot to aim for and that, in itself, might be the biggest barrier to entry in the business. 

What am I not going to pursue next year? 

I'm not looking for big, blockbuster projects that require lots of special effects, tricky compositing or vast legions of crew. Projects are like vacations to me; they should be fun, simple and over in two or three weeks. Nothing numbs creativity like projects that drag on forever. They are like graceless subroutines in one's mind, taking up space and attention from everything else. 

We're not looking for projects that require endless BaseCamp e-mail chains before, after or during production. And that probably means we won't be competing for the big budget work that comes from larger ad agencies.

And we're certainly not signing up to do a low budget copy cat production of something someone's VP saw in a TV commercial. 

The goal of every project is to enhance a client's ability to communicate, with video, in markets that never existed before. It's tough to afford a Super Bowl TV commercial but it's easy to leverage the internet. And that's where opportunity still seems endless. As long as you have some good video to share...




11.26.2017

Re-thinking what it means to work as a freelance photographer/videographer.


Deep Eddy Pool. November 25th. 2017

I think the very nature of freelance photography work has changed. The process of making a good, or at least effective, photograph has become much easier and quicker than it was. The projects that used to take weeks now take days. The projects that used to take days now take hours. Since the time required to make images for clients keeps shrinking it long ago made sense to jettison the idea of billing by day rates, or by the hour, because one would keep delivering a finished image which has equal or greater value to a client but at an ever declining rate because of ever increasing efficiency. 

For years now we've looked at projects and bid them based on the value they'll provide to the client. And honestly, we also bid based on how convoluted the client's internal processes are. In many engagements it seems we spend more time on conference calls and in meetings that we do actually shooting the images. And then there's the time we spend ensuring that we get paid......

It makes more sense to bid the creation of images as a compound process which takes into consideration the amount of time spent meeting, figuring out the creative direction, shepherding the idea of collaboration, pre-production, scouting, post production and administrative nonsense into one fixed price instead of trying to break it out into line items for some linear thinker in someone else's accounting department. 

e.g.: Three minute video interview, in town, on a client location, with two cameras and two production people = $3200  Add in editing and it's $4,800. We don't break down the numbers. We say, "It will cost $3200 or $4,800." If there are no line items then there is nothing to squabble about. The client can either afford and approve the project or walk away. 

On another note, there is a tendency for people to bring an employee mindset to the freelance field. They may offer their services at rates that are not particularly profitable but try to make up for under charging by attempting to work as often and for as long as possible. If what you do doesn't require any real problem solving and involves the same basic routine done over and over again than I guess it all boils down to how much boring, repetition you can stand? 

But if your idea of being a photographer means that you are a creative problem solver or a creative collaborator, or a translator of marketing concepts into high quality image content, then I think the idea of trying to cram 50 or 60 hours of work into every week is very counter productive. 

Creative people work best (at least from what I've seen working in the field for a long time) in spurts. It's like being a sprinter in the swimming world, you might be able to crank out a good, sub-minute 100 meters on a good day, at a race, but you can't step up to the blocks hour after hour and crank out the same stellar swim (unless you are Michael Phelps or Jason Lezak), and you certainly can't perform at that high level day after day as you get older and your endurance diminishes (as it will for everyone --- ). 

Good creative work, and the creation and implementation of evolving styles, (like swimming) requires down time, recharge time, unencumbered time to ponder and the time to look around at things that are seemingly outside the myopic world of photography. Recovery and re-imagining. As an example, to be able to take better landscape photographs of 18,000 foot mountain peaks you'll probably need to spend more time learning about mountain climbing and practicing mountain climbing rather than focusing like a blunt laser on which camera to use or which lens might deliver the sweetest bokeh. 

If you want to be a better video interviewer of CEOs it would certainly pay off to spend a bit less time experimenting with V-Log and to spend a lot more time reading up on the world of business in which your target clients are engaged. (To do this you must incorporate your experience and continuing education into your overall pricing!!!).

But most of all, if you find, or are finding, that photography is taking up every minute of every day you may want to consider that you might be in danger of becoming photo-rexic and need to dial down the compulsion to a safer level. You could spend all day, every day, reading about photo stuff on the web. Some from people who probably know far less than you already know. But you'd be isolating yourself from valuable social networks while narrowing down your focus from the things that might have once made you an interesting person into a person who.......can operate a camera.

As I age up from my long, long adolescence into "middle age" I find that dialing back the hysteric need to be "all photography all the time" is healthier. If I can clear my mind of the endless internal chatter about photography I can better see actual (non-viewfinder) life swirling around me and refreshing my ability to look at the world in a happier and more comprehensive way. If I step away from the computer my life is enriched even more.

I've been thinking about the time I spend swimming lately. I swim for a number of reasons; one is to stave off the ravages of aging and the inevitable (but slow-able) decline of physical endurance. I swim to maintain good health. But I also swim because the process of spending time with my fellow swimmers builds or reinforces social community. 

On Friday evening I got several texts from fellow swimmers as we jockeyed to find a time to meet up yesterday so we could swim as a group. We ended up at Deep Eddy Pool at 10 am Saturday morning. We all jumped into empty lanes and, after a decent warm-up, took turns suggesting sets to swim. We interspersed short sprints with long endurance swims. We kicked some sets to build overall speed. We commiserated about the (cold) water. 

But once out of the water the sense of community and connection remain. On most Saturdays we'll head off after a swim for a group coffee. We'll share stories and news. We'll find out what other people do and how their slalom through life/work/family is going. We'll offer sympathy, humor and genuine friendship. 

One of my fellow swimmers is a restauranteur. Sometimes he and I will swim in the middle of the day on a weekday. Sometimes we depend on each other for the discipline we need to get out of the office or restaurant and make it out for a swim. And sometimes, after the swim we'll head out for a ramen lunch or to grab some sushi from some place good. We can eat early or late. We own our schedules. 

But free time is valuable not just for building friendships but conversely for spending time lost in thought. Meditating. Seeing the world from someone else's point of view by taking time to read.
I find that reading novels; anything from Tom Clancy to J.K. Rowling, makes me think differently and gives me a richer visual palette to work with than when I am too busy to read anything at all. 

Would I trade time with my dog for more time with my cameras? Hardly...

So, this afternoon at 1:30 we've arranged for another swim. We all agreed yesterday that today's swim would be a physical recovery swim. No heroics. No long sets. Just a joyous batch of yards in the bright clear, natural spring water of Deep Eddy Pool, under the warm and chromatically brilliant Texas Winter sun. 

After that maybe I'll get around to tossing out a few more trash cans of older photo work I never want to see again. 

If I prioritize my life for fun/engagement/curiosity all the necessary stuff seems to come along for the ride. It's when I prioritize for work/fear/routine that everything falls apart...


I have heard the mermaids singing; each to each.
......................
                                        .......................        
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

-T.S. Eliot

11.25.2017

Lately we've been testing new lenses with the G85. I thought I'd take an afternoon to shoot with an old favorite: The 40mm f1.4 Olympus Pen FT lens.


In the interest of full disclosure I have owned the Panasonic G85 for about six months now and have used it to shoot over 10,000 images ; from stage work to landscapes and portraits, as well as using it to shoot several hours of 4K video. I am conversant with every control and menu setting on this camera. I have owned and used the 40mm lens for over 32 years and have shot many thousand images with it as well. I paired the two together to see what effect the camera's lack of anti-aliasing filter would have when combined with this much older lens. A lens originally designed for a half frame of film. I wanted to see just how sharp a file the combination would yield.

The handling of the lens is superb. It functions well on the G85 and the focus magnification makes fine focusing easy and quick. If you are stopped down to a middle aperture you can use the focus peaking in the camera with confidence. Today I was shooting most of the images in downtown Austin to ascertain whether I felt the wider apertures (f1.4, f2.0 etc.) were usable with a modern camera like the G85. 







Final image focused on the S in "signature" with the lens set to f1.4. 
The image has been sharpened in post.

The fine art of engaging camera reviewing from the internet's most popular review site. Giggle.

"So I don't own one (even though I'd like to), and I've barely used it. I didn't take any of the pictures in this article, or in the gallery linked below. Then why on earth is the D850 one of my two picks for the best gear of 2017? Well, just look at it, for heaven's sake." - Barney, from DPReview



11.24.2017

An actual, daily user review of the Panasonic/Leica 8-18mm lens, used on a Panasonic G85. Too sharp. Too good to share.


I know so many of you are short of time during the holiday season so I'll keep this short and sweet. I'm mostly a portrait photographer and don't use wide angle lenses all that often. When I do it's usually because we're working with a commercial client on something like an annual report project where, in addition to portraits and photos of people working, we need shots of beautiful business interiors, majestic exterior shots and lenses that are wide enough to make a tiny lab look.....acceptable. I learned a long time ago that wide angles work best when there is something in the foreground, more stuff in the mid-ground and even more stuff in the background. We rarely go searching for "bokeh" when going wide. 

I did my research and decided that a micro four thirds system, built around the Panasonic GH5, would best suit my varied needs (video, portraits, general business photography) and I invested in it completely this year. The 40-150mm f2.8 was a "no-brainer" purchase given its incredible performance and nearly perfect focal length range for me. 40mm-60mm is perfect for portraits while the 60-150mm is perfect for documenting live theater at Zach Theatre here in Austin, Texas. 

The 12-100mm was a leap of faith. I'd read so many good and great things about it that I decided to try it out as my "all purpose" working lens. It's a constant aperture f4.0 which is great for most stuff. I'm happy I took the plunge because it very sharp at all focal lengths and all the other characteristics which people worry about are equally well handled.

For a week or so I thought that the short end of the 12-100mm would handle most of my wide angle needs but a job came along that required a bit wider field of view. I started researching the available wide angles in earnest. I wanted a zoom, and, after my experiences with the Olympus Pro series lenses, I knew I wanted to look at the top of the range of what is available. The advantages of premium glass are, if anything, even more obvious with the smaller sensor cameras....

I had previously owned the Pansonic 7-14mm f4.0 and had some niggling criticisms of it. The corners weren't perfect and the bulbous front made any sort of convenient filtering impossible. I've read amazing things about the Olympus 7-14mm f2.8 Pro so I tried that lens on loan. It's fabulous! Maybe even a little bit better than the lens I ended up with but for a photographer who

11.22.2017

Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 Pro on the Panasonic GH5 to document a holiday theatrical production. How's that working out?

Scrooge and the Ghost of Jacob Marley get the party started in Zach
Theatre's amazingly modern version of "A Christmas Carol."
(Actors: Harvey Guion and Roderick Sanford)


The holidays are upon us. Run for your lives...
Just kidding, just kidding. I'm recovering from my second "running shoot" of Zach Theatre's amazingly fun version of the old Charles Dickens play, "A Christmas Carol." This not our parent's take on Dickens. No, this version is peppered with comedic moments, hit, contemporary music ("Shut up and dance with Me" Madonna's "Holiday," and plenty more) as well as great choreography and some of the best stage lighting anywhere. I mean, come on, Dickens with disco balls? Perfect.

If you live in Austin and you don't go you'll miss something fun, heartwarming and so thoroughly profession in its production that you'll take note for future photo or video shoots.

I'm photographing the big productions in the Topfer Theatre in two stages. I shoot during the "tech" rehearsals on Sunday nights to get lots of angle from close to the stage. I also go to learn the tempo of the production. To see just where the finales of each number end up and to get a handle on the blocking. It helps, when shooting the dress rehearsal, to know where the actors