2.07.2020

Every once in a while I take a photo that seems to have a life of its own. Check out how Texas Monthly Magazine used my "Janis" photograph.

https://www.texasmonthly.com/the-culture/janis-joplin-musical-erykah-badu-san-antonio-zoo/

If you are too busy to click the link here's the original photo:

   Mary Bridget Davies as Janis Joplin in Zach Theatre's production of: "A Night with Janis Joplin."
Photo © Kirk Tuck

and a few more:






All images ©2020 Kirk Tuck.

The camera is off to Panasonic service. It will come back someday. In the meantime Let's talk about "biographical fallacy". (see second section...).


It's always anxiety provoking when there is a ripple in the force. In this case a camera that has become unresponsive and is in need of warranty repair. The camera is now winging its way to Panasonic where I am certain that they'll figure out what ails it and remedy its ills.

The main reason this camera failure bothered me is because I've been making a distinction between the cameras I use for business and the cameras I use for my personal work and the way it falls out around here is that the S1Rs; the high resolution cameras, are the ones I've designated for "me" stuff while the S1 cameras are earmarked for "client" stuff.

I came to this dichotomy somewhat logically as the S1 cameras have more efficient files sizes for work, better high ISO performance, and are much less expensive. Cost matters in some sense because it makes it psychologically easier to replace a camera that's been damaged and destroyed. Buying an additional body at $2400 is nowhere near as painful as shelling out $3600+ for a body which has, as its only advantage, more resolution.

All things considered I've been very happy with the Lumix S1 cameras and I've been pounding "work" exposures through both bodies with reckless abandon. One of the S1 cameras has over 30,000 actuations on it and the other is nosing it at about 25,000. It's a fair amount of shooting when one considered that I've only owned the cameras since September and October.

On the other hand, the S1R cameras each have less than 3,000 exposures on each since they aren't as agile for the kind of paid work I do. They tend to (individually) accompany me on walks, and spend much of their lives set up like mini-(old school) Hasselblads: Cropped to a square format, used with prime lenses, nestled in at ISO 100, and generally used in the raw format. This makes the S1Rs perfect artsy portrait cameras for me and, in that case, the failure of one is a bit of a sting.

So far I love almost everything about the S1Rs except the tendency to not roll off highlights as gracefully as film did. I don't mind the two card slots being set up for different cards. There's nothing about the AF or the operational speed of the camera I don't like. It just seems perfectly suited for me.

I guess I should change my mindset and just consider using the hell out of my cameras until they drop dead in my hands and then, with total unflappability, just grab the next new one from my dealer when the need arises.

I'm hopeful I'll see the sidelined S1R back in a week or so. If it takes longer than that I'll be ready to make someone's life at Panasonic more interesting.

On to a different topic: The biographical fallacy. Apparently, there is a Japanese photographer; a street shooter, who was the subject of a promotional video for Fuji's new LeicaReplicaX100 camera. You can see the video and reaction to the video here: https://www.dpreview.com/news/6165309898/fujifilm-pulls-controversial-x100v-promo-video-due-to-the-featured-photographer-method

He's a youngish, frenetic photographer who seems to be blending the worst of Bruce Glidden and Garry Winogrand's street shooting techniques. He invades people's space, sticks cameras in the faces of people who, at least in the video, are surprised and unhappy with the attention. The video probably explains why he loves the latest Fuji camera but the thing that I came away with was that the majority of the 700+ comments attached to the article were highly critical of the artist because of his on camera behavior and then, by extension, critical of his work.

I wonder, if they had seen the work by itself, in a gallery instead of in a video showing how the work was accomplished, if the same commenters would be raving about how glorious and dynamic the work is. This, to some extent, is the danger of the current penchant for deep dives into the working methods of photographers/artists/musicians via "behind the scenes" videos.

My first question is this: since the artist was being filmed by a video crew who followed him through the streets as he worked through the course of one day, did the presence of the crew subconsciously motivate him to over sell his real street presence? Did he ramp up his risk taking for the sake of the observers with video cameras? Did he exaggerate his methods for promotional value in the moment?

And since video productions tend to be distillations of hours of footage, squeezed down to five or seven minutes of action, did the producers bypass moments where the photography was more consensual, less predatory, calmer, happier and then concentrate on the more provocative moments in order to add some friction, controversy and click-bait-ability to their final video?

My real issue is with all the people who, while living in the land of the free and the home of the (supposed) brave, are so quick to question the photographer's very right to be on the street shooting his work.

Many years ago, in an Art History class, we often discussed what is called "the biographical fallacy" where an audience judges an artist's work not by analyzing and commenting on the work itself (the work in a vacuum, so to speak) and instead blends together judgements about the work based on their knowledge of the artist, including his/her sexuality, religion, political preferences, aberrant personality, body odor and any number of other attributes specific to that artist.

In the contemporary artistic landscape we seem to have too much information. Too much third party observation of our modern artists. They are dissected (and in some situations it's self inflicted) and examined in visceral little snapshots that are inevitably taken out of context. Especially so if the snapshot of time and action is created in the service of selling a product instead of focusing on the photographer's work. If we had video of Robert Frost farting at a podium during a reading would that have to diminish the value of his poems?

It's widely acknowledged that Caravaggio was an incredible painter whose work moved the art of painting forward to a great degree. He is the poster artist for chiaroscuro.  His work hangs in prestigious museums, is the subject of many books and, to this day, influences visual artists across media. We inspect and dissect his work because it's the correct way to understand the art. Removed from the influences which the behavior or identity of the creator might handicap our brains. Might make us like or dislike the work by the connection to aspects of the artist we don't like.

In all accounts I've read Caravaggio was a dick. A wacky and troublesome artist who had to flee from one of his patrons after leaping over a tennis net, in a rage about losing a match to the son of the patron, and stabbing the scion of the patron in the heart with a knife --- killing him right on the court. He ran from the location of the homocide to the docks at the edge of the city and caught the next boat out with only the clothes on his back.

With that new knowledge do we then discount the powerful influence Caravaggio's paintings have had on his peers, and future artists for centuries since? I don't think so.

A tell all biography about Richard Avedon outs him as having been gay. Does this cancel his tremendous and wonderful influence, spanning or that 60 years, on photographers, fashion and art in the 20th century? Many of us now would not construe his sexuality as a negative in any case.

Be careful in judging art work in our times by using as a measure the person's immediate popularity or foibles. Good work is good work. Not everyone can be Mr. Rodgers but that doesn't cancel the good work that they have done, or its influence on us,  our future artists, and culture in general.

It's Friday. A good day for a walk. Everybody have fun!

2.06.2020

The Sad And Frustrating Feelings Engendered When a Relatively New Camera Just Stops Working. Looking Forward to See How Panasonic Will Resolve the Failure.


Ouch. Just...ouch! It's been a long time since I've had a digital camera body fail. Maybe all the way back to my Nikon D2x days. It's never a comfortable thing and the resolution; even when the company that makes the product steps up, is time consuming, frustrating  and ultimately erodes the idea of the camera's reliability. Dead cameras suck.

The camera in question is a Panasonic Lumix S1R. I bought it on November 28, 2019 and I've used it sparingly. I bought it as a back-up body for another S1R that I purchased about a month earlier. The camera has never been used in the rain, travels in a Think Tank backpack, has never been on a plane, or even a badly sprung pick-up truck. Of all my Panasonic cameras it's the one with the least mileage on it and since the advertising for the camera touts its robustness and impeccable build quality its untimely surrender of usability just galls me.

So, what happened? I'd set up a portrait session here in my studio with a good friend and had the camera set for a revisitation of my older style of portraiture. I was using it in the 1:1 crop mode and shooting raw files to a tested and almost new CFexpress card. The camera had a fresh battery in it and gave no hints of its impending demise. I was working with the camera on a tripod and lighting the session with LED lights. Room temperature around 68 degrees (f) and just enough humidity in the room to extinguish any static electricity.

I'd shot about 225 frames, reviewed some of them normally, and then stepped away from the camera for a few minutes to adjust lights and chat with my friend. The camera went into sleep mode and when I pushed the shutter button to wake it back up again it stayed dormant. I turned the camera off and turned it back on again. I got the following message: "turn camera off and turn back on again." We tried that a number of times but it was a loop that brought me back to the same message over and over again.

I didn't want to waste my friend's time or truncate the session so I reached into the equipment toolkit and pulled an identical body out of the drawer, put the 85mm lens on that camera and proceeded to finish the shoot (because that's exactly what professionals are supposed to do...).

After the session was over and my friend was off to some other engagement I went through the standard trouble-shooting protocol: I changed batteries. I tried different lenses. I swapped out memory cards. I turned the camera on while holding down various buttons. Nothing would allow me to leave the cycle of: turn on, get message, turn off.

My favorite camera store doesn't close until 7pm on weekdays so I called my trusty sales person and explained the problem. He took down the details and sent a message to the Panasonic technical representative. I'm now waiting for a call back from someone to find out what we do next. My optimistic side wants the resolution to happen like this: I get a secret formula of button presses and reset options from the tech support people. Once we bring the camera back to life we reload the firmware and everything turns out to be just right. 

My second choice is that the store, the rep and the company decide to immediately make everything right by shipping me a new camera body overnight while the local store accepts the old one and takes responsibility for getting it back to Panasonic in trade for my new one.

My pessimistic self tells me an uncomfortable saga wherein fingers are pointed everywhere, the camera is sent in for warranty repair but it takes months to come back and then, two weeks later, the same problem resurfaces. I hope I'm absolutely wrong about this imagined option.

In one regard I've been proven correct about the need for professionals to have back-ups for their important gear. Lots of back-ups. That I was able to reach into a nearby drawer and pull out an identical camera model and finish the shoot the way I intended was a good thing and made me feel like a competent business person. I would never really tolerate having to tell a good client that I couldn't continue the job at hand because my "only" camera failed.

But this does break the feeling of trust in the equipment that I've been enjoying. Now I'll be on guard and nervous every time I take one of the S1R cameras out of my camera bag and start to use it. And that's a sad thing because it diminishes the joy of using gear you thought you could rely upon to work, as long as you kept it fed with batteries and safe from abuse.

I'm waiting (im)patiently for a response from someone today. There's still the second S1R and two S1s here in the office. I am not without workable tools. I'm just frustrated and a bit pissed off.

In other notes: We actually got a dusting of snow last night here in Austin. There was snow on the roof of the house and even across the windshield of my car. Studio Dog was delighted because she seems to love the cold (but I made her wear her sweater for her walk just so I'd be warm....) and now she's delighted because the sun is out and there are still spots of snow in the backyard that she can romp through and then track melted snow through the house. 

It was 30 degrees (f) when I got to the swimming pool this morning. The air was cold, the water was warm and the sun was brilliant. The sky was clean with those nicely saturated blue hues I always like in photographs. 

We did a good, long set and I worked on my freestyle technique with an extra dollop of diligence. I didn't think of my broken camera even once during the workout. I saved that nagging tug of concern for the drive back home. 

Camera Death. So sad. I'll let you guys know how it all turns out. This is Panasonic's opportunity to show off their customer service and make a blogger who just celebrated his 26,000,000th page view this week happy....

2.04.2020

I read on Thom Hogan's site that the market for cameras continues to collapse. What does that really mean for me? For you? For commercial photography?

Ben, at a swim meet a long time ago.

We're living through a period of enormous flux and change. Everything we thought to be stable and routine has been more or less turned upside down. And while photographers moan about being sidelined by progress and innovations that allow most casual users to make really good photographs with convenient tools, like iPhones, the same convenience, coupled with machine competence, changes the very nature of our business, our personal business models, and our larger culture's engagement with our craft. And, generally, not in a way that we enjoy; either financially, or from our ingrained craft perspective. 

The latest news from the camera organization, CIPA, is that camera sales have once again declined, year over year. Sales of cameras slid nearly 20% in 2019 and that follows several years of nearly as dramatic contraction. It's a huge chunk of the market. To put it into clearer perspective, there are now more people around the globe living middle class existences than ever before and the population (and potential market for cameras) is growing at an ever accelerating rate. 

The problem is that the cameras nearly everyone chooses today are the ones in their phones. Most people just don't see the need to step outside that product for their imaging needs and most aren't interested in becoming more knowledgeable about the nuts and bolts of photography. I don't blame them, most of their uses are social sharing and family memories and the phones have provided such a frictionless and fluid way of achieving those aims. But what it means for us, inevitably, is fewer choices of new photography products in the future as well as declining production which will raise prices on the products that do sell. 

In a more existential consideration, the move to the phones and to photography as a consumable (not collectible) undertaking means that we've flattened and democratized the process of photography in pretty much the same way that technology made typesetting available to everyone. Or the way the web gave everyone the opportunity to become a publisher of written content via blogs while, on the other hand, decimating traditional researched and fact checked journalism --- to the actual detriment of our entire societies. Feelings replace fact. A quick Instagram photo replaces an archival print. 

I walked Studio Dog through the neighborhood with my wife this morning. We chatted about our work. She works in the art department of a large advertising agency that has, as a primary client, one of the large, international computer and cloud services company. Work for the agency is constantly moving away from print and traditional, broadcast TV, and is constantly increasing its reach into the social media realm, both in messaging and in visual content. 

Some of the staff at the agency spend their days mining through online stock photo sites looking for images that align with their client's messaging and brand standards. The average purchase price for the images they find is miniscule. The reason and rationale for paying low sums of money for large numbers of photographs (and video snippets) is that the images no longer need to have any "legs" at all. No need for staying power. No long term use. The images are the equivalent of an order of French fries or a diet Coke. Or a cup of coffee at Starbucks. The images are used, placed for a few hours of prominence on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook, and then they fall back into the abyss and newer, fresher ones are inserted to take their place. 

What this means for commercial photographers (if we extrapolate from the business model of this one ad agency with 100+ people in Austin and thousands of people in offices around the world) is that commissioned, original photo assignments are now enough of a rarity to cause a palpable buzz through the agency offices for the days leading up to a shoot. Some of the newer, younger graphic designers have been in the business now for several years and have yet to be invited to attend a shoot. Lost to a generation is any experience with art direction in real time, or actual, commissioned art buying. 

As more and more work moves from technically demanding media (broadcast TV, four color printing, printed magazines and brochures) the rationale for using big, high resolution cameras declines, and probably at the same percentage rate as we're seeing in the decline of camera sales. If an image is an anchor for an Instagram post will it really make a difference if it started life as a 100 megapixel, medium format image? Not much. 

I understand that the majority of my audience here are enthusiasts and a good portion of you are retired from jobs outside the creative content industry and are pursuing photography with no risk to your income, your livelihood or your sense of self. I feel lucky to have survived and thrived through thick and thin but even I am rational enough to understand that we're heading deep into a fundamental change to the way photography works as a business, and a complete restructuring of how the next generation will get paid for creating new work. 

I feel like I've done my part to buoy up the camera markets (I've bought more than my share of new, expensive cameras and lenses) even as I see the number of "real" photography assignments slowly collapsing.   I could chalk it up to my age or my tenure in the market but I hear the same from photographers who are half my (venerable and wise) age. It's a real seismic shift. Intentionally or unintentionally progress has sucked much of the marrow out of the bones of the business and redeposited it into a different construct. 

There is no remedy to discuss here; no prescription to "weather" this trend. If you were wise you saw this coming and marshaled your resources to either retire or transition into something else. 

There is still work out there and there are still clients paying for it. But I think it would be legitimate to suggest that the traditional work that we hung out hats on is declining at about the same rate as the decline of camera sales, worldwide. 

Thank goodness it's such a fun hobby, because I'd do it even if I never got paid to do it. 

My suggestions? I actually have none. Except that everything we think of, negative or positive, tends to become a self fulfilling prophecy so perhaps you and I should ignore everything I've just written and forge ahead with optimism and a gleam in our collective eyes. You go first, I'll watch and make sure it's safe......

Right. 

2.03.2020

There's a certain pleasure in walking around with a camera in the "point and shoot" mode. Especially if the camera performs well that way.


I finished up a couple of post processing intensive projects one day last week, missed my swim due to work deadlines, and decided to head out for a walk; more with exercise in mind than any sort of photographic mission. But unless we're out for a run I just find it hard to leave home without a camera. You never know what you might see. 

My brain was overwhelmed with photo minutia and I was tired of being exacting and careful. I picked up the small and (relatively) light Sigma FP and the Sigma 45mm lens and took a few minutes to set up the camera as close to a point and shoot as I could. I put it in Auto-ISO (something I very rarely use!), put the color mode into "standard" and put the operational mode in program. AWB, of course. And to make it super specially informal I also put the camera's AF into the multiple point configuration.

One more nod to eccentricity was putting the aspect ratio is the 1:1 setting. A bit of nostalgia for the Hasselblad film days (and if those wacky bastards at H-Blad had any brains they'd immediately introduce a camera model designed completely around a square sensor!!!) and the sensor layout the photo gods originally intended....

It was brilliantly sunny on that particular afternoon. The skies were clear in the way skies get when rain takes the haze away and then a strong wind clears out everything else. Everywhere I looked people were out walking their dogs, walking their children and walking their spouses. You would have thought it was Spring time in Austin. 

I waved the small camera around at anything that caught my intention. If the shot didn't turn out well I didn't bother to shoot again and try to fix it. Not much photography got done but it was a good excuse, after hours and hours in front of the computer screen, to recalibrate my eyes to work at a distance again. 


I cruised through downtown and felt sorry for all the people who had to be at work that day. On the way home I picked up flowers for the house and treats for the Dog. The camera was, for once, a definite afterthought. And that's just the way it should be sometimes. 


One interesting note about the Sigma FP that I discovered today: In the playback menu the camera is set by default to only show stills. I shot some video and I couldn't get the camera to play it back. I went through every setting until I came to that arcane setting in the playback menu. You can filter the selection of playable file formats to include or exclude specific kinds of files and, with a broader brush you can select or deselect "only video" or "only stills." Once I switched to "include all" everything was fine. But I still think that level of specificity is a bit onerous and bizarre. Not sure why I would want to exclude anything in a playback menu. Maybe you can inform me.....

I do understand that the camera probably doesn't want to play back huge video files done in raw but......

Tacky material for a dinner jacket. But fun to photograph.

2.02.2020

random images for Sunday night. Getting inspired for Monday.





I shot a theater production rehearsal solely with a Sigma FP today. It worked.

We swam 4,000 yards today in practice. The sky was clear and blue. The high temperature in Austin today was a little over 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

I thoroughly tested the video controls and output of the Panasonic Lumix S1 today, along with the audio adapter/interface and a. couple of my favorite microphones. I am now officially ready to hit sidewalks of downtown and do some "man in the street" (persons in the street?) interview for Zach Theatre next week. Got my reporter mic and my ND filters ready.

Brisk exercise has been shown to lower C-reactive protein levels; a key marker for imflamuation. Exercise may also help to stave off dementia...

I've re-charged the batteries for the Sigma FP and will beginning testing its video capabilities in earnest tomorrow. I have high hopes for the tiny rig......

All done for now. Please stay tuned.


An exercise in using a counterintuitive camera for a live theater shoot. The Sigma FP goes wild.

Finally. A double boxed shipment with lots of padding. 
I love it when suppliers pay attention to the quality of their packing.
I hate to send back stuff that arrives busted up...

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Disclaimers: 1. I bought the Sigma FP with my money and am not in any way shape or form supported or compensated by the folks at Sigma. 2. My blog contains no links or advertising to any vendor so if you think I write for clicks and $$$ you can go pound sand. 3. I'll be photographing the dress rehearsal of this play on Tuesday so no clients could have been potentially harmed by my using the "wrong" camera for today's adventure. 4. If you don't like what I write then go read something else.
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I've been playing around with the Sigma FP for the last week or so and I have to say that I am impressed by the image quality. Very impressed. But the body and functionality are never going to compete with conventional cameras for operating ease in fast moving, low light situations, leading many lazy practitioners to use the dreaded, "Dealer Killer" phrase. I decided to see if I could make the camera work in one scenario that I think is pretty challenging; photographing a play in a small, dark theater that "features" black walls and a high, black ceiling. The play is called, "Every Brilliant Thing" and is a one person production with lots and lots of movement and changing light cues. 

I decided to give the camera a trial by fire using one lens (the Panasonic 24-105mm f4.0 S L-mount) and shooting every shot at ISO 6400. I have been waiting for the Sigma FP hood/loupe to provide a magnified view of the rear camera screen but it seems to be on eternal back order. I thought a hood or loupe might make my use of the camera in this scenario more effective and I was bummed at the lack of a Sigma product solution. But a cursory glance in the equipment case reminded me that I had a Hoodman 3.2 inch loupe that could be adapted. 

Purists will bitch and moan but I was able to secure the hood to the camera with several elastic bands. The hood had to be adjusted from time to time but it did fulfill its purpose, which was to give me a magnified view of the rear screen and to block light from the screen from disturbing the small audience we had. Yes, essentially rubber bands. Next time I might ruffle even more "purist feathers" by adapting the loupe with duct tape. And then, in a flash, the Sigma hood will arrive and we'll get serious...

I chose to shoot with the 24-104mm lens because, while the camera has a vestigial electronic image stabilization "feature," it's a bit dicey and the Panasonic lens provides a more conventional and usable in-lens image stabilization. The smaller theater doesn't reward the use of longer lenses and the fast action of the play meant that using primes with only one camera body might be a bit cumbersome.

My basic exposure triangle was ISO 6400, the lens wide open at f4.0 and the shutter speed set to between 1/125th to 1/250th of a second. I wanted that shutter speed range to freeze subject movement and the other two parameters came along for the ride. But what I quickly found is that the  camera's autofocusing mechanism was not up to the task of nailing sharp focus on a moving target under low light reliably. Hmmmm. That was momentarily vexing. 

So I switched to manual focus. I already had the camera set up to show a magnified view in a PIP (picture in picture) frame and I had peaking engaged. It was a little tricky at first to get stuff into focus because the magnification was so high. Also, there is no option (as there is on the Panasonic S1 cameras) to change focus ring angle of turn or linearity with the lens so things jumped in and out of focus very quickly. I'd call it "twitchy."  But with a little practice you learn where to start the process and when to take your hands off the controls and rely on the actor's stationary pose and the lens's depth of field. 

I shot about 900 images. Some in a blaze of action and some very considered. Of the 900 images fully 400 of them were critically sharp and had the actor in a pose or position that worked. It's just a one person play so I decided to edit down a bit further and ended up with about 250 really nice photographs. I color corrected the raw files and converted the whole edited take to large, fine Jpegs and uploaded them to a private gallery on Smugmug. 

What I found was that the tiny Sigma FP does a great job as far as image quality is concerned. I find the files a bit sharper, out of camera, than the S1 camera files but they manage to be sharp without feeling or looking over-sharpened. Hard to describe but nice to see. 

I shot 12 bit DNG files and was happy to be able to get through the entire rehearsal with one battery. By the end of the performance the camera was warm to the touch but never showed a temperature warning and, of course, never shut down. I'm comforted by the presence of the big heat sink on the back of the camera, underneath the screen. One benefit of having available both 12 bit and 14 bit DNG files is the fact that the camera was ready for use with Adobe products right off the bat. No waiting for the raw converter catch up game. 

While this experiment was a guarded success I will admit that this kind of work is not the real strength of the Sigma FP. When I go back to the theater to shoot the final images at the dress rehearsal I'll likely take the camera with which I've had the most success with when shooting live theater. That would be the Lumix S1. In fact, two of them, along with a small selection of prime lenses. Maybe just the 50mm f1.4 and the 85mm f1.4. The sharp, fast aperture lenses will buy me a higher "hit" rate along with lower ISOs and a wider range of shutter speed selections. But my real mission was to rebut the argument that lacking certain features renders certain cameras unusable. 

With a bit of diligence and elbow grease just about any camera can be made to create good, competent photographs; even under less than optimal conditions. I actually enjoyed the operational friction the camera provided; I'll put up with a lot if I like the look of a camera's output. Sometimes proceeding in a seemingly obtuse fashion brings a different point of view to a project. That, and the Sigma FP is just so damn cute. 




1.30.2020

Acknowledging the vital role that the standard 70-200mm lens plays in my theater photography.


My theater work for main stage shows at Zach Theatre has me thinking in two opposite ways. On Sundays we generally have technical rehearsals which are the last chance to fix technical issues. Since we may stop and start the run-of-show for one of the technical crews to fix something we do not have any sort of audience or media at that run through. 

While everything is not as perfect and nailed down as it will be two day later for the dress rehearsal, for the purposes of still photography it's more than finished enough. The benefit of being close to the launch of the show and not having an audience in attendance is that I can range all over the venue; from the front row to the rafters. So, for a show like "Janis" I can shoot it more like a concert than a seated auditorium show.

On Sunday I like to explore angles from both sides of the stage and I mostly work in the first three rows and within 45 degrees of the center of the stage. Obviously, wide angle shots are going to be more immersive and show a lot more of the stage context. But it's not always the case; sometimes it allows me to get in close with a lens like the 85mm and experiment with shooting wide open or, maybe at f1.6.

I get a lot of my best shots this way and, as long as I don't use a flash or wear a white jump suit (stick to bright colors so the tech people who are carefully watching this very important performance don't get visually distracted. If you hair turned white you might consider putting it under a black ball cap....) I can move through the rows without causing shifting the focus to me. With mirrorless cameras and loud, live audio, there's so little noise from the shutter that it's not noticeable by the actors. 

Usually, I've dropped by one or more rehearsals so the actors know who I am and aren't trying to figure out why some strange guy is roaming around, unleashed, with two big cameras in his hands. In any event an Actor's Equity notice goes out to cast and crew whenever we're going to be in the house making photographs....

So the Sunday rehearsals, shot close to the stage, are the times when the wide angle zooms come into their own. My current one is the Panasonic Lumix S 24-105mm which is a constant f4.0 aperture. The lens is more than sharp enough, even when I use it wide open ---- and so I usually do. While I always would love faster lenses, now that I have a brace of cameras that work really, really well all the way up to ISO 6400 those fast apertures have fallen down the priority scale for me. Besides, I don't know of any companies that make wide-to-short tele zoom lenses that are faster than f4.0. The f2.8 lenses all tend to be 24 to 70mms and that's just too short a range for my needs. 

I try to get as much great stuff as I can on Sundays but I never miss a Tuesday dress rehearsal because 95% percent of the time every bit of the production is finished, and perfect, and ready to be shot without caveats. 

The only consideration is that we always have an invited audience. Usually a broad, family and friends audience. It's a good thing for the actors because they get to see for the first time where the audiences will react and how to time deliveries and pauses. The audiences gets energy from the actors but the actors get even more energy by having that audience to play to. And, by extension, the actors are more "on" and more "dynamic" than at any other time leading up to that first attended show. And I think it's reflected in the expressions and gestures of the cast. Since it's the "big test" of the show they aren't holding anything back. They're there to give it everything they've got. 

The compromise for me is that I can't move through the rows of seats and I really don't feel at all comfortable moving around the edges of the house, distracting the audience and the cast. What we've worked out over the years is that I shoot the dress rehearsal from the cross through row in the middle of the house. The house blocks off that center row and aisle and I share the entire row with a guy named, Eric, who shoots two camera video for show documentation.

With the whole row reserved for me I can move across twenty or so seats to get a position 20 or 30 degrees to the left or right of center. What I can do is move closer to the stage or further away. It's a bit constricting but I rationalize that I'm seeing the show exactly as an audience member would see it. 

But since I can't get closer to the stage I need the longer reach of the 70-200mm to get tight and dramatic shots. Since this production has a catwalk on the stage, at the very back of the stage, I would have loved a lens that goes all the way out to 300mm. I could have gotten a bit closer on the shot at the top of this post. Most of the time the 70-200mm is fine. Just fine. With all the 24 megapixel, full frame cameras, it's easy to crop in a bit and tighten up a good frame. 

I've been using Panasonic's Lumix S Pro 70-200mm f4.0 and it's really great. But, over the years I've also used the Nikon, Canon and Sony 70-200mm f4.0s as well as a collection of f2.8s and they are all very sharp and very well designed lenses that all deliver the sizzling steak to the clients. I'll test the f2.8 from Panasonic but I probably won't replace the f4.0. It already does everything I want it to...
As you may have noticed, when I change systems (and I do change my underwear much more frequently than camera systems; thank you very much!!!) I always buy the two holy theater lenses first and foremost, the wide-to-tele zoom and the 70-200mm. Can't leave the store without them. The fun stuff, like 50mm f1.4s and 20mm f1.4s all get added in as we go along. 

The nice thing about 70-200mm zooms of all varieties (non-entry consumer....) is that you know what you've got in your hands and if you've been photographing theater for long enough you know what your composition will look like at every focal length. You'll also know, the moment you see a great wide angle shot that you can't do it with the long zoom and you need to toss that camera into the maw of the open case sitting on the chair next to you, grab the camera body with the wide angle lens on it and blaze away. 
On dress rehearsal evenings I tend to get to the theater at 7:15 p.m. before an 8:00 p.m. show. This means I can always find a convenient parking place in one of the theater's lots (I have a staff hangtag on my rearview mirror that grants me free parking....). I get into the auditorium as quickly as I can get through the knot of staffers chatting each other up in the lobby. I want about 15 minutes of quiet time in my center seat so I can pull out the cameras, check for sensor dust, pop on lenses and then set all the menu items to the same settings. It takes the guess work out of everything when I need to quickly switch cameras. At most I end up making a quick shutter speed or ISO adjustment to match. 

Once I'm set and ready I head back out to the lobby for a quick bathroom break and then follow the audience back into the theater. I spend the last ten minutes in my seat, surrounded by seat with "reserved for photographer" signs on them because there are always people with excessive feelings of privilege who will actually take the signs off the seat back and plunk down. I move them out quickly, and I keep a small stack of reserved signs in the pocket of my roller case.....

I used to grab a glass of red wine at intermission, mostly because I could get one of the premium red wines at a discount if I'm wearing my name tag. But, since the beginning of the year I've been abstaining so I spend that fifteen minute gap catching up with the lighting designer or sound engineer. It's like we're all old school alumni. 

I used to worry about running out of space on my memory cards because I like to overshoot to make sure I've gotten just the right moment and expression. Now I buy bigger, faster cards; like 128 GB and up, and I find I simply can't run out of space. The downside of overshooting is the Herculean task of working through the next day's edit. 

I usually get home from a rehearsal shoot around 11 p.m. and drop by stuff by the office on the way into the house. In the last 11 years of shooting I've never experienced a single shoot evening that doesn't end with Studio Dog greeting me warmly at the front door and checking in to make sure everything smells good and that I'm okay. That's nice touch. 

So. The TLRIA (too long, read it anyway) is this: Two nice cameras. Two nice zoom lenses (with one being the 70-200mm) and you're ready to start shooting theater production photographs. Thanks for reading and leaving a pleasant comment...

1.29.2020

Sad Times. Another magazine diminished and then lost. The victory of immediacy over depth and substance. R.I.P. Photo District News.


When I saw my first copy of Photo District News (1982?) I was young and hungry for real information about professional photography. Not the photography practiced by thousands of mom & pop portrait and wedding shops but the way commercial photography was practiced by the people whose images wowed me in the great magazine advertising of the day. The brilliant stuff that made young photographers aim to be better and more.....premium.

In its heyday Photo District News was an oversized, rough print, tabloid with hundreds of pages and articles that went into depth about....everything that seemed relevant to the stars working in NYC, London, Paris, LA, and Berlin (and the legion of us wannabes). The gear articles were almost non-existent while profiles of working pros and their methods were always on the menu. And we're not talking short bursts of chatty dreck made for the vast population of people with the attention spans a squirrel, we were able to sit down and dive into deep articles that really inspired. Also many articles about the business side that worked to elevate the profession and increase the incomes of real working stiffs. Premium content.

It's gone now. I read about the end over at the horrible website that helped to drive so many print magazines about photography out of business. Now we are left with two ends of the spectrum: Precious little fine art publications that believe "photography" really means "landscape," and at the other end of the spectrum are the few glossy magazines who interpret "photography" to mean very pedestrian "wedding and portrait" businesses. In the later magazines the ad to content ratio is now skewed to about 90:10. Especially so when you consider that nearly every article about yet another wedding lighting technique is a very, very thinly veiled advertorial for more junky, plastic stuff.

Makes me want to start a magazine for working professional photographers. Ah....If I only had an extra ten million dollars or so to burn as a sacrifice on the pyre of journalism.....

Sad times. One more pillar of rational information pulled down....


1.28.2020

That awkward moment when you realize that ISO 6400 on your new cameras looks a lot like ISO 400 on your older cameras.....


With a camera that shoots clean 6400 ISO and an 85mm 1.4 lens that's actually razor sharp when used wide open I started trying for shots I never would have bothered to attempt before. I continue to be amazed...

Panasonic S1 + Sigma 85mm Art + dim rehearsal lighting. No processing. No noise reduction shenanigans.