8.16.2019

Walking through the Blanton Museum with a "normal," prime lens on my Fuji X-Pro2.

If I'm not booked on a job for a client on a Thursday I like to head over to the UT campus and spend some time at the Blanton Museum and sometimes the Humanities Research Center. Yesterday was hot and sticky and I think every potential client within 100 miles of Austin was either getting their kids ready for school or taking the week off to find a cool place in which to hibernate. That left time in my schedule (after swimming and napping) to give the Blanton a visit. 

As you probably know, if you are a regular VSL reader, I've been cornering the market in Fuji X-Pro2 cameras lately. I'm convinced it's a classic and might represent the apogee of digital camera making in our time (give me a little leeway for hyperbole, it's the house special....). 

I say that I'm cornering the market but what that really means is that I've managed to squeak together enough loose change to buy three used camera bodies. One looks brands new while the other two are scratch and dent free. I do like them a lot and I'm carrying one with me wherever I go. And recently I've been trying to branch out away from a myopic obsession with normal focal lengths to become more competent with semi-wide and even "classic" wide angles. To me this means the focal lengths from 14-23mm (which full frame translates into 21mm to 35mm equivalent angles of view).

But yesterday, with the heat and humidity clouding my usual endurance, I drew the line at the unfamiliar and the excessive and stuck with the Fuji 35mm f1.4 (classic) and used it mostly as a manual focus lens. The combination of the bright line finder aesthetic of the OVF and the ability to magnify a part of the frame to check focus makes the system (camera and lens) a different experience than either the mirrorless+EVF or the DSLR+OVF set-ups. The camera and lens, stripped of things like grips and flashes are actually small and light (everything in context) and even though I had to trudge four or five blocks through our heat storm the photo-gear barely registered its presence. 

I chose the X-Pro2 and the fast 35mm as a bit of an experiment. The idea that image stabilization is a "must have" feature has permeated every part of the photo industry. I'm coming to believe that it's an addiction, like cigarette smoking and the reckless consumption of sugar. I was beginning to believe that it would soon become impossible for anyone to even make an interior photograph without the jiggling of a sensor or the wiggling of some lens elements. I wanted to see for myself if the era of film photography was somehow a magic moment in time during which all photographers were steady as rocks, all our lenses above average and all of our models graceful and thin because of something in the construction of those ancient cameras; or perhaps something that was or wasn't in the water.....

I used the camera as I would have used one of my film rangefinders; conscious of holding it still and steady, exhaling softly during the shutter press, even down to visualizing the proper stance for maximum stability. I also think that to hold a camera perfectly during the moment of exposure one should be free of distraction and conflicting desire. I think just having a live cell phone in one's pocket is enough of a psychological vergence in the Force to deflect attention in little microbursts in which one wonders if they've gotten a text from Gloria, a reminder from their calendar, a 'like' on their social media feed. Those small but acute and repetitive distractions pull away one's focus and interject a bit of discord in the clarity of seeing and the coherence of visualization. The small vergences interrupt the clear and linear process of engaging in the moment.  Same with a fat wallet wallowing around in one's back pocket, or the pressure of those gaudy sunglasses cantilevered across one's skull. 

I find I'm at my best, when it comes to concentrating on photographic technique, when my only accessory at the time photographic engagement is a simple wrist watch. One with hands. But even that may shift the balance...

At any rate, I used the camera carefully and also left my phone in my car (and everyone else should too; I hate hearing inane telephone conversations in the middle of an otherwise quiet museum visit....). I used the lens at its widest apertures and chose logical, handhold-able shutter speeds like 1/60th and 1/125th of a second when making the images. Sometimes I could use ISOs as slow as 320 but mostly I kept the camera around ISO 800. That should be child's play for today's (or even yesterday's) sensors. 

So, how did I do? Well, I posted some images from my visit here:
I was able to examine each frame at 100% and I think I did pretty well. Actually, I think the camera system and I worked well as symbiants. The lack of "shutter shock" and a well implemented shutter button went a long way toward keeping the camera's vibration minimal. The bright line finder was useful in composing as I was able to see what was outside the frame and what really needed to be inside the frame. The bright lines also acted as a steadiness guide because I could gauge hand movement by the relative movement of the bright lines to the subject(s). The less "jump" I got between the lines and a reference point on the subject the less image degradation I got. 

What I found in the end was that photographing without image stabilization is entirely possible. It's possible even without a tripod. I feared that decades of caffeine saturation, and long nights editing in front of a computer screen, would have inflicted more damage to my ability to hold stuff steady but it wasn't the case. That said, I think my days of hand holding an unassisted 1/15th of a second with a normal lens are long over. But I was never that good at those kinds of speeds anyway. 

An artist covered one of the large, replica sculpture casts with very thin color 
fabrics to make a statement that art historian can vouch for; that original Greek and Roman statues were polychromed and painted when they were created and our perception of
white marble statuary as being the normal state is not so. It's a result of centuries of wearing and fading away of the colors.....

Tungten-esque light on the front of this statue combined with daylight through yonder window mostly means that one must take the reins of control and make a conscious decision as to whether you'd like a warm, yellow statue or a correctly colored statue in a room filling up with blue light.

Two versions of "Woman With Striped Dress, and the Saturated Red Seat." I could not decide which I liked better so I included them both. I should have requested that this person walk all through the museum with me, standing just so and just enough out of focus in the background of every scene. It would make a nice variation on the usual, too serious images from the museum....








The same kind of conundrum as with the woman in the stripped dress. Does this collage of objects work better in the photo as a standalone object or does the out of focus person in the background add a contrast between the sharpness of the detail and the soft and ephemeral image of that person?




This image is not from the museum but was a test shot in my living room.
I have these sconces on all the living room walls and I use them as targets when playing with lenses prior to a shoot. Yesterday I was using this one as a target for the Kamlan 50mm f1.0 on the 
Fuji X-Pro2. It's actually a sharp lens in the center, if you get the focus right.

Finally: One man's idea of minimalism.

I love the museum. It's filled with fun things to look at,  powered by sometimes goofy ideas. 
But even the goofiest of ideas is important. 

Oh, and you probably don't really need image stabilization all the time. In fact, outdoors in the sun you probably don't need it at all. Maybe it's a "rainy day" feature. 

8.15.2019

A short video featuring Holland Taylor discussing her play, "ANN" at Zach Theatre.



This is a short edit of our video interview with Holland Taylor discussing the Austin performance of her hit play (I can say that since it did well on Broadway!) ANN. We shot this on a hot Sunday afternoon in a location that featured all the roadblocks any video production could stumble over. But it's genuine and I like it. The Zach Theatre has been using it to good effect and the show is selling briskly.

All shot in 1080p with the Fuji X-H1 cameras and assorted Fujifilm lenses.

To see more about the play go here: ANN

Our next Fujifilm, multi-camera production is next Thursday at UT. So many toys to play with, so much fun....


Added in the afternoon: for some reason this post is one that got a lot of traction in our "stats" today:
http://visualsciencelab.blogspot.com/2011/10/were-back-both-of-us-all-of-us.html

8.14.2019

Scouting. It's part of the job. Sometimes it's a job-saver.

I'm shooting some video for a department at the University of Texas. The project revolves around interviews with six or seven students and five or six lecturers. The interviews are quick and informal but I still wanted to see what options we might have for locations and whether or not we could shoot in multiple locations so that all the interviews don't look exactly the same. I suggested that we scout the location at least a week before the project day, just to make sure there's no lurking job destroyer that might show its ugly face just when we have a stack of people waiting and no other options. Scouting is a magic thing that not only gives us a good idea of where we'll be but also how the light looks in each location and what sort of audio challenges there might be. 

Once we've put together a list of options the gap between the scouting day and the shooting day gives the client the opportunity to reserve the spaces we've selected and to make styling adjustments and technical fixes to the locations, if necessary. For example: we'd like to shoot in one lab but there is a vent hood in one corner and it seems as loud as a diesel lawn mower. I'd like to turn it off when recording video but it might be critical for the vent hood fan to be running continuously. There is a "guy" the client must check with before we know what options we'll have at that particular location. Without the check-in with the expert turning off the fan is not an option. Multiply this by every location. 

Scouting also means that we know where we're supposed to park, how long it will take to get equipment into the building(s) and how long it will take to navigate hallways and the spaces between buildings. We have three different macro locations selected in the campus area. Within each of these master locations we have two or three "micro" options. We got answers to questions like: Is there a usable elevator to get between floors? Are there conveniently located electrical outlets? What's the air conditioner noise like? And the perennial question, "Can we turn off those florescent lights?"

We also now know that under no circumstances can we mess with the air conditioning. The discontinuation of air conditioning in Texas in August is (justifiably) a reason for instant dismissal. In a University of Texas facility it is close to a capital crime. This means that it will be comfortably cold while we make video but that we'll need to use lavaliere microphones to minimize the noise. 

I brought along my consumer camera (an iPhone XR) to take visual notes as we walked around and scouted. The images below are either germane to the scouting or are of things which caught my attention. The camera you have with you....

Un-digital archiving.

Yes. Acres and acres of magnetic tape.




flat files with secret maps.

20th Century Filing Systems.



And gear. So much gear.




This is...emphatically....not the gear we'll be packing in....







We spent a couple of hours scouting which will save us at least twice as much time on the shoot day. It also gave me and the two main clients time to get more detailed about our shooting plan and our goals for the production day. I have a much better idea of their expectation and also a better understanding of what kinds of gear I need to bring in order to do the job.

We're going to do a two camera set up for the interviews and we've been promised a treasure trove of b-roll from expeditions all over the globe. We will need a small light kit (3 units) and a couple sets of wireless lav. mics. Some stands, a couple cameras, a bag of lenses and a relaxed attitude. I'm hoping this video project will be heavy on the fun side but I want to be ready to do it right.

I wish I could scout next Tuesday's portrait assignment in Knoxville, TN. but the only chance will be on Tuesday morning, just before we ramp up and get our lighting in place. If we didn't bring something along with us then we'll just have to amp up our ingenuity levels and be creative. That's the flip side of the scouting equation. Nice to have, not always available.

Finally, we scouted the cafeteria. I think we'll certainly be able to find healthy options here. On my plate you'll find about two pounds of vegetables along with a vegetarian enchilada entree. That, and a bottle of mineral water. I might live forever.....
Golden beets and Brussel sprouts???
Belinda and Dr. Rhodes will be so proud.....

8.13.2019

Don't take perfect operation for granted. Test every used camera that you buy. Make sure it works before the short term warranty runs out....


You guys already know this but... when you buy a used camera, even from the most reputable source, you need to take some time to reset the menus to the settings you like to use, try out all the controls, and also shoot a bunch of test shots to make sure the camera is focusing correctly and exposing images the way it's supposed to. Otherwise you are unwisely tempting fate. The photo gods love to punish hubris by sabotaging you when you least expect it and when the cost to you is greatest. Don't even let me start the story about the freshly overhauled Leica M3 I brought along as my only camera on a trip with my wife to Paris in 1986. First day out, in marvelous light, in the perfect setting, and a loose screw in the guts of the camera brought the entire day to a halt. But, enough digression. Just a reminder that all cameras were assembled by humans and all humans are fallible. Check yours before you bet the farm.

A new-to-me Fujifilm X-Pro2 made its way to me yesterday and I pulled it from the box, charged the battery and installed a shiny, clean SD memory card. Then I reset the menus, clicked all the settings I wanted (including new settings for the function buttons) and made sure the camera basically worked. 

After my swim this morning I spent hours pretending to be financially/investingly savvy and researching various investment strategies, but as soon as I became terminally bored with learning about icky stuff like compound interest I picked up the new camera and headed out the door. My rationale for taking a break from grown up stuff was the desperate need to test out the new camera to make sure it didn't need to be returned. I hate sending stuff back. 

I finally got over to my favorite, shady parking spot at Zach Theatre around 3 p.m. at which time the temperature was hovering around 105 (f) and when the humidity was factored in, the "feels like" temperature was supposed to be something like 110.  I took precautions to combat the oppressive heat; I brought along a cotton bandana which I used to cover my black camera when it was not in use. 

I've decided to get more use out of the Fujicron lenses so my test run today was done with the 35mm f2.0; it was too hot to carry and use an assortment of lenses so I left everything else at home. 

When it gets this hot it's a good idea not to stop for more that a few seconds on black asphalt. The surface heats up so much that sometimes, if one is not careful, the heat melts the soles of people's shoes and then the shoe ends up sticking to the pavement. If one waits too long the melted sole and the asphalt bond and trap the unwary pedestrian in place where they are soon overcome by the heat and sometimes perish. We lose a few Californians this was each Summer. It happens too often when they stop to chat and reminisce how much better everything was back in Malibu.....or something like that.

I followed all the general procedures for a safe adventure in a sea of elevated infrared and pulsating UV energy. I wore the wide brimmed hat, sunscreened the skin that wasn't covered by clothing, and made sure to drink a few pints of water before I left the house. Someday I will become wealthy with my newest idea: sunscreen for cameras! 

I had a modest and easily attainable destination in mind; I was heading to the new library where I looked forward to swilling down a cup of their coffee and maybe even indulging in one of their cafe's wonderful toffee, almond, pecan, chocolate chip and sea salt cookies. I was almost to the library when I ran into my son, Ben, who was also walking around downtown this afternoon. He was heading off on some errand so I only delayed him long enough to pry an agreement out of him to come over on Thursday evening for dinner. Thursday being our traditional night for sharing pizzas. 

The library cafe was quiet, cool and nearly empty of people. The cookie was easily one of the top three cookies I've eaten in all 63 years of my young life. The coffee was fine too. I savored the view and the quiet for a while before finally completing another walking and photographing loop through downtown. After that I headed back over the pedestrian bridge toward my car. Halfway across the bridge I ran into Ben again, he had changed into running gear and was on the last quarter of his 5 mile run around the lake. He looked none the worse for wear. There is something about being a skinny, daily runner that seems to make Ben and his friends immune to the heat. Although, from a parenting point of view I do wish he'd run in the morning when it's cooler. 

I used the camera in the OVF mode for the most part. Everything seems to be working fine and, as you can probably tell by the included photographs, the focus seems to be right on the money. Now that the camera has passed my initial test and my heat torture test I'll put a small piece of white tape on the bottom and give the camera a number. I'll also change the file name identifier so I'll know which camera is which. 

Be sure to test used cameras that come your way. It could save you some grief down the road. 

Yay! The boy is coming for dinner! 

A view from the pedestrian bridge looking east to downtown.