7.21.2020

Medium format digital becomes accessible. People take notice.


Interesting to me that three of my good friends (who are also photographers....but I guess that goes without saying...) have recently added Fuji medium format cameras to their collection of toys and tools.  One is my friend, Paul who is a very experienced architecture photographer, the second is a very advanced enthusiast named, Andy, and the third is an eclectic and self directed art photographer named Jim. All three had their reasons for giving medium format a spin and all three of them are happy they decided to give new Fuji line of MFs a whirl.

Paul, the architecture veteran, is always looking for an edge and he's not a newbie when it comes to large and medium format cameras; both digital and film based. When I first met him Paul was working with Linhof Technica 4x5 view cameras while keeping a Hasselblad SWC/M handy for quicker wide shots. He's worked recently with the bigger Hasselblad digital cameras as well as the Leica S medium format cameras so he knew what he was getting into when he bought a Fuji GFX 50R.

Andy is nearly as crazy about collecting various cameras as I am and his purchase of his GFX 50R was, I think, his first foray into medium format digital imaging. He picked up the basics in a matter of hours and has been using the 50R non-stop since picking it up a few months ago. I've seen plenty of samples from his work with the camera and he should be a spokesperson for Fuji. He's got that enthusiast's enthusiasm especially hard for the medium format space. All his stuff looks great. (And he's reviving his appreciation for his tripods).

Jim is the anything for art and all-in member of this loose coterie. He sprung for the GFX 100 (100 megapixels) and three of the lenses and he's become a bit zealous about how much he likes the bigger format. From the west Texas desert to the Colorado mountains, he seems to drag that kit around with him everywhere. It's a change from previous years when I could always count on him to show up with everything and anything Leica.

But what all three have in common is that they are generally in the first wave of adapters for camera technologies that make a difference in the actual look of the images they create. They aren't necessarily waiting for the reviewers to give them a sign. They are willing to adapt without the safety net of the herd to bolster their resolve. And they each deeply love making photographs.

So why the sudden lunge toward medium format? (Or, in Paul's case, back into MF).

In each case I think it happened when Fuji took all the goodness of the 50 megapixel sensor that appeared in the Hasselblad HD1X and the second generation Pentax 645D and put it into a system that is rationally affordable. In the case of the 50R when the price for a body started dropping down to the $3,500 price point it entered a dollar-to-value zone that made it irresistible for photographers who wanted a different look than what they (and everyone else) were getting from the 35mm sensor sized DSLRs and mirrorless full frame cameras.

In the case of the 50R the user is getting a sensor that's about +50% bigger than the 35mm models which translates into bigger pixels, which generally means a nicer looking file. But since the tech is based on the same underlying magic across sensor format sizes one still retains all the high ISO performance of the current smaller format sensors. And, unlike Hasselblad and Leica medium format cameras the lenses you'll want to use on the Fujis don't require selling a kidney on the black market to come up with enough money to purchase. I find the Fuji lenses bordering on affordable. The second part of the equation that really works for Fuji is that they quickly fleshed out the lens line up and did so with lenses that have a lot of appeal. I'm still salivating over the 110mm f2.0 lens. Oh, and the 45-100mm f4.0 lens. Even Mitakon makes two lenses for the system; a super fast 85mm f1.2 and a super fast 65mm. And I can't imagine a portrait photographer who wouldn't be at least mildly interested in the 100-200mm f5.6 zoom for a bit less than $2,000.

They've moved quickly to introduce lots of perfectly thought out zoom lenses as well as a collection of wides, normals and longer lenses. Venus Optical (third party) makes a 17mm for about $700 that's supposed to be good and is the equivalent of a 13mm on a 35mm system. But if you just want to get your feet wet with a pancake style "normal" focal length Fuji makes a 50mm 3.5 (a 40mm equiv.) for a hair less than $ 1,000.

Compare that to the Leica S series MF lenses and you'll find you can by three Fuji lenses (or more) for the price of one German marvel. That wouldn't be as exciting if the Fuji lenses were crap but by all reports from knowledgeable users the Fuji G lens are quite sharp and perform well. And the autofocus is decent. Both from a speed and accuracy point of view.

The EVF finder on the rangefinder style 50R body is one of the 3.69 megapixel versions so it's nice and detailed. And, if you travel a lot for your photographic work (does anybody do that anymore?) the body is currently cheap enough to make a second, back-up body nearly practical. (Not so practical if you are addicted to the 100 megapixel GFX100 version = which is still hovering around $10K. But then again....100 megapixels!!!).

What do I think? I think if the pandemic hadn't shut down my entire 2020 fiscal year's business income I'd find the $3500 price tag for the 50R body, and the $2,700 price tag for that slick looking 110mm f2.0 a very reasonable and highly justifiable purchase. I might still find them to be so.

But for my own stuff, in the moment, the S1 and S1R cameras are filling the bill. When the first green shoots of new business sprout, or when that lucky lottery ticket pays off, you'll probably find me in line at B&H or Precision Camera waiting for the 50R to come off back order. Yes, "back order" in the midst of the camera industry meltdown. Fuji must be doing something right...

My friend Paul likes the camera for its files but he's equally engaged by the short lens mount-to-sensor plane distance that allows him to adapt and use a vast collection of medium format shift lenses from previous, much more expensive camera systems. He's becoming a master at adaptation. Especially with shift lenses. Maybe he'll step up to the 100 megapixel GFX100 after he sees some of Jim's work with that camera. Then he might need to get rid of the 50R. I know someone who might willingly take it off his hands. I wonder if I can adapt some old Hasselblad V lenses to it.  You never know...

So, $3900 for a Canon R5, or a Lumix SH-1, or save some cash and step up to MF for nearly $500 less... An interesting question.

7.20.2020

Just sharing a little "Canon Love" that has absolutely nothing to do with new camera launches...

Jana at a test shoot for a book project.
Little City Coffee Shop on Congress Ave.
Canon 5Dmk2 + 85mm 1.8

I think sometimes we forget how many really fun and wonderful photographs we were able to make with the gear on the market ten or twenty or even thirty years ago.

Looking back is always a good exercise.

My Canon 5D mk2 always worked and never even thought about overheating....

7.19.2020

Emmett Fox, owner and executive chef at Asti Trattoria.
In Austin, Texas.

I was sitting in a comfortable chair reading a book late yesterday afternoon when I looked out the window and saw that the sky had turned quite beautiful. I caught myself wishing I had some assignment or any reason at all to be out photographing and taking advantage of all that sweet, late day light. I re-oriented my thinking just a bit and remembered that my friend, Emmett and his partner, Lisa were re-opening their restaurant this week for take out. Their patio was also re-opening too. Just no dining room right now...

I decided that Emmett would be a great subject to photograph so I grabbed the Lumix G9 with the 25mm Meike Cine lens, as well as my trusty iPhone and headed over to the Hyde Park neighborhood, just north of the UT Law School, in the center of Austin.

Emmett and I walked together for exercise earlier in the week but he was still surprised to see me show up with my camera. I shot a bunch of images of the restaurant exterior with my iPhone (auto HDR can be a wonderful thing...) and then got serious with my G9 and the 25mm.

This weekend is the 20th anniversary for their business and I've been a delighted customer every step of the way. Emmett and I also swim together in the masters program at The Western Hills Athletic Club. 
The thought of them working the 20th anniversary of the restaurant without some photos to document the occasion seemed wrong. Sitting around in my chair while the light sparkled and amazed seemed lazy and stupid. Sometimes it's incumbent on us lazier photographers to push ourselves just a little harder.

Two big benefits to my impromptu photo session: 1. Emmett and Lisa sent me home with tiramisu for two (amazing, delicious, comforting, fattening --- but in a good way). and, 2. I know Emmett can't repurpose this series of breathtaking portraits for his passport because of the face mask!!!
Emmett Fox, owner and executive chef at Asti Trattoria.
In Austin, Texas.

Emmett greets me in front of the restaurant. Mask and apron, the new norm.

Ben, Belinda and I have been coming here on as many evenings as we could 
over the last 20 years. Ben had his first escargot here. And his first sorbettos. We are 
all addicted to their house made bread sticks and focaccia. I love Emmett's 
fried artichoke hearts with aioli. 
Belinda is a fan of any risotto they happen to make.

Lisa and Emmett Fox. In front of Asti. Ready to feed you!

All images available light. Really nice available light. 

iPhone.
ISO 25!

7.18.2020

I'm still fascinated by the Meike 25mm T2.2 Cinema lens. That means, by extension, that I'm re-fascinated with micro four thirds. Especially the G9.


I guess this is a continuing review of the Meike 25mm Cinema lens that I wrote about two weeks ago. At least it feels that way. Yesterday I wrote about the importance, for me, of having friction in the photographic process if I was to both enjoy it and also feel as though I guided the picture taking process rather than being led by the nose through the routine by a smarty pants camera. I was thinking of this lens while I was writing about the 90mm Elmarit R because more than most lenses the Meike Cinema series is an unalloyed ode to total manual control. 

When used on a micro four thirds camera like the Lumix G9 the 25mm lens has the equivalent field of view of a 50mm lens on a 35mm sensor camera. It's a nice focal length for me because I can never figure out what to do with the rest of the stuff on the edges of images made with wider angle lenses. 

Because of a more restricted schedule at our pool I can only sign up and swim four days a week. As a consequence I'm at loose ends now on Saturdays and I figured that after my neighborhood walk with Belinda I'd have some extra time this morning to grab the camera and head downtown for a brisker walk and spells of dalliance with the camera gear. It didn't hurt that we've broken the oppressive heat wave, at least for today. Our high temperature is predicted to be only 97° and the humidity is mercifully lower too. It was a perfect morning to stroll with the G9 and the 25mm. 

I set the camera to manual exposure, ISO 100, daylight/sun WB, standard profile, with a starting shutter speed of 1/640th of a second which led me to an aperture range of t 5.6-8.0 in full sun and t 2.2 - 2.8 in open shade. Just right for my appraisal of my most used settings. We had nice, bright sun diffused by high, thin and only occasional cloud cover. It worked well both for my comfort and the camera's performance. 

With the G9 set to M/F you can get full time focus peaking even with non-communicative lenses. It makes manual focus fast and accurate. I have found that either my vision is improving or camera finders are getting better because it seems easier and easier to focus most lenses on the G9, even without the focus peaking. No glasses required. 

I could write a bunch of stuff about my impressions of this lens but I think the photographs will speak for themselves. I will say that there is some small amount of barrel distortion that's easily corrected in Lightroom but there is no vignetting that I can see in the photos. I'm also not seeing chromatic aberrations anywhere. The colors are nicely accurate and the lens has a transparent quality to it that's unique. It makes photographs that seem clearer and cleaner than many other lenses. 

One more note: I'd forgotten how much I liked the feel and sound of the G9 shutter mechanism. I'm also pleased with the incredibly long battery life of that camera. It may be the current best, all around photo tool on the market. And the I.S.  Even with non- I.S. lenses the stability of the system is so good I'm sure other camera makers are green with envy....

This is my morning view from the dining room table. 
Today I made coffee and sourdough bread toast.
Thick slices that I slathered with peanut butter and 
blueberry preserves. A wonderful treat. 

Early light. 

I keep trying to get this mural right.....



 I thought this frame would be a good test image on which to try Adobe 
Lightroom's "Detail Enhancer" feature. The image above is the full frame 
while the two images below are, first 100%, followed by 200% crops. 


The G9 raw files, aided by the Meike lens performance, resolve plenty of detail.

See the distortion at the roof line? 
Of course it could be quick and shoddy building construction instead...

I looked up during a quiet coffee break to see the steam stacks from a different perspective.

Another perfect cappuccino from Intelligentsia.

I'm always curious to see how sharp and detailed a lens is. 
I expect them to be sharp in the center and I'm happy to see them sharp at the edges.
For the Meike test I used the lens at f5.6 and a half and focused on the 
machine in the center of the frame.  See below for crops at 100% and 200%.
Remember, you can click on the frame to see it full screen...


I think the detail in the grass is quite nice.











At the end of my walk I headed back home to toss the files into Lightroom and check them out. I was happy with the color and the overall quality of the files. The G9 is one of my all time favorite cameras and I think the combination of that camera with the Meike lens is superb. Really superb.

OT: Today is the first day since late February that Belinda and I got hamburgers and french fries from out favorite Austin burger chain: P. Terry's Hamburgers. Of course we ordered our favorites online and I dropped by to pick them up. I'd forgotten just how tasty the fries are. They don't use nasty, industrial oils to fry them; they use canola oil. All the produce is locally sourced and the beef is organic, grass fed. For an inexpensive lunch they just can't be beat.

It was a lovely break from our usual, healthy homemade fare. You don't miss your water till your well runs dry! Into every life a little junk food must fall. The happy familiarity of a good burger is not just delicious it also produces happy endorphins. Mustn't discount those!

I have better lenses but they're not as much fun to use. I have faster cameras but they're not as interesting.

this is a combination that repudiates "easy." 
The Lumix S1R camera is not a "fast" shooter. You won't be
using it to shoot 20 frames per second. It's big and heavy. 
The battery life isn't "class leading." 

the lens is an old Leica 90mm R Elmarit lens that opens up to 
f2.8 and has to be focused manually. The aperture has to be manually
set on the lens. With a fully "dumb" lens on the Lumix you
only get "A" and "M" exposure modes. 

so, when I'm just hanging out shooting for fun, why is it that 
I prefer this rig to ones that are easier and more 
automatic to use?

Why indeed.

things have gotten so easy. You point a current S.O.T.A. camera at something, zoom the lens to match the composition that looks best, do a half press on the shutter button and the camera leaps into action, setting the focus and the exposure and you smile as you press the shutter button all the way down and the camera makes the shot. You don't have to think. You can just respond. If you are unsure you can just hold down the shutter button and the camera will continually readjust focus and fire away at 10 or 15 or 20 frames per second. Surely one of the frames from among hundreds will work for you...As simple to operate as it is to change channels with your TV's remote control.

Not sure how to get the best dynamic range? Just put the camera into the auto-HDR mode and let it do all the work. You can totally automate your videos as well. 

But, after a while, doesn't all that easy photo living get a bit.....boring? It does for me... Modern cameras are to immersion in photography as golf carts are to authentic golf.  If you didn't walk the course and carry your own clubs did you really play? 

And I guess that's why I'm drawn to cameras (and lenses) that have the potential to deliver great images but at the same time require more effort from the operator. I love cameras and lenses that make me work for the prize. I hate the ones that make it too easy. Too easy is how people must feel when everyone gets a trophy. Not a sensation you'll encounter when using something as eccentric as a Sigma fp. Or even your hyper automatic model, when switched over to manual control.

I like cameras that require the owner to invest in at least some of the operation; some of the creative and subjective selections. The need to make decisions tied to the actual operation of the camera keeps reminding me that this is still, when all is distilled down to its essence, a craft that depends on my choices more than on just buying the most convenient-to-operate tools. When the operational requirements are so facile and so automated I think the process, subconsciously, is devalued by the person practicing it. I know I invest progressively less in a photograph the more simple and automated the process becomes. 

I like the hands-on action of manually focusing a lens. All the better if I have to magnify the view and decide exactly where the point of sharpest focus is supposed to go. And then get it there. I like shooting in a manual exposure mode because there's less inertia to making exposure settings that "disagree" with the automatic settings. Because it's okay to prefer exposures that are lighter or darker than the automatically selected ones.  No matter how compartmentalized your thought processes are I can't believe that a camera providing an exposure set point doesn't in some small way reduce your incentive to take control and make adjustments. 

The weight of a camera isn't a detraction from the process if your intention was to go out and take photographs. It's a reminder of the seriousness with which you take your process. Carrying around the extra weight and taking over control of all the camera settings is akin to making a hopeful sacrifice to the photo gods. It's the friction that makes the process of taking a great photograph more unique, more difficult and by extension more fun and rewarding. 

If Panasonic made a camera body with no autofocus, no auto exposure and no extraneous modes or features, but one which required your complete attention to making images, I'd buy it in a heartbeat. It would be a constant reminder to me that I am integral to the process. That the success of an image depends more on my seeing it and capturing it correctly than letting a camera implement a cookie cutter approach to capture.

There's no real style without creative friction of some kind. For me it's the mastery of the camera and all the controls, for someone else it's the search for the perfect location or the perfect post processing recipe. But I can only see the process through my approach. And for me the friction with my tools is important. 

I find composing and focusing to be intertwined and I like it best when I control it all. But I'm guessing people's ways of working are all different. I can only think that cameras like a manual Leica M, though digital, are popular precisely because they require the integration of the human brain and fingers with the mechanisms of the camera.

When you learned on a Canonet QL17 you learned a way of shooting that doesn't leave you. Knowing how to make all the changes is the core advantage. Excessive automation is the enemy. 

The Leica Elmarit f2.8 is a classic. It's a simple optical formula that's enhanced by the build quality. Superior glass in metal barrels, precision machined parts that are made to be used for decades. A smooth focusing ring, the use of which is its own reward. The knowledge that if you get everything just right you'll get a photograph that you bargained for. I love the process of selectively focusing that lens. It keeps me involved right in the center of the whole enterprise.

If, on a  walk for instance, the camera/photography is secondary and you've only brought your camera alongs in case something catches your eye, then I understand the desire not to be burdened by weight or size or complexity. Bring a compact camera. Bring a good phone/camera. But if it's your intention to make photographs I think the added complexity and required work of a more controlled approach between human and manual camera operation adds a welcome  friction that generates the needed heat of creativity.




7.17.2020

OT: Kirk's ramble about stuff. Today we start out with swim goggles...



This is the usual time on Friday's during which I look at the stats for the blog and wonder where everyone went. We had been averaging 4,000+ readers per day but now it's slipped to about 2,500. Maybe, in a way, this confirms my post from yesterday about the state of the market. Fewer people (who read English language blogs) are interested in photography than at any time since I started writing blog posts. Either that or the quality of my writing has finally fallen through the bottom of the web content safety net and we're plunging toward the abyss of irrelevance.

I guess I don't really care what the reason is since I enjoy writing the blog and will continue to do so until Google pulls the plug on Blogger and entropy keeps me from turning to some other publishing  substitute. And since that's my attitude I think I'll just proceed with what I had in mind to write after I made a cup of coffee for the afternoon.

You think the switch to digital changed photography? Well, just imagine how big a boost it was for swimming when, back in the very early 1970s, swimmers started finding workable and semi-comfortable goggles to wear while working out in chlorinated pools!!! I've been swimming long enough to remember when goggles were a rarity in most programs. We'd pound away at swim practices and then head home with bloodshot eyes and a hazy cloud reducing our visual acuity. It's a wonder most of us can still see today.

Now there is an avalanche of choices in the goggle "sector" and it's dominated by Tyr, Speedo, Arena, Roka, and Barracuda. My pair right now are the Speedo Vanquisher 2.0 goggles. They provide a tight seal around the eyes without having to be strapped on too tightly. I also like the Tyr version with the red surrounds but I have no idea what the model name (or number) is; I only know that I have six pairs of the Tyrs in various states of utility so I must have liked them a lot for a while.

It's possible to pay up to $100 for a pair of swim goggles but, get this! I've been swimming with competitive programs for decades and have never spent more than $18 on a pair of goggles. Can you imagine if I could maintain this sort of discipline in my pursuit of cameras?

The Speedo Vanquisher 2.0s ($16-$18) that I have now come in an optically clear version and a dark shaded version and I have one set of each. I've been using the clear ones lately for the 6 a.m. workouts so I can actually see my lane mate at the other end of the pool in the early morning darkness. Yes, we have underwater pool lights but in breaks between sets it's great to see your partner and yell back and forth about the particulars of the next set. Better still, you can see them getting ready to take off on the set which is your cue to also start.

If I go to a later workout, at a time when it's already light outside, I switch to the deep gray lensed goggles which are also UV resistant. It's a lot more comfortable that dealing with the glare of the sun through non-tinted plastic.

Why does anyone need more than two pairs? Because all the swim goggles are made of plastic which eventually becomes scratched and optically marred. You never know when you'll hit that tipping point of no longer wanting to look through a visual mess of scratches and surface abrasion to you keep a new pair around in your swim bag for the day you find yourself ready to switch.

Why bring a second pair with you to the poolside? Goggles are unpredictable. A pair can work fine for a year; maybe even two, and then one day without warning the seal along the eyecup will no longer seal properly and you'll have one or the other eyecup fill up with water as you push off the wall, flip turn, etc. Once you do swim practices with goggles in a chlorinated pool you'll never want to try to go the distance again without having that back-up pair stuffed in with your other swim paraphernalia at poolside and that means you can do a quick change and not miss the sets you've signed up and paid to swim.

What other failures do goggles exhibit? The weak spot for me with goggles has always been the rubber or silicone strap that holds the goggles onto your face. Now that new materials are being used it doesn't happen as often but the combination of chlorine and UV radiation breaks down most elastic materials and eventually causes them to fail. Tugging too hard on a strap end in order to tighten it is the prevailing cause of strap failure. This is another reason to keep a second set poolside. Sure, in the quiet comfort of your own suburban home, surrounded by your nicely mowed yard, it's pretty easy to replace the broken strap with a new one. But in the middle of a workout, in a shared lane, during a coached session, it makes a hell of a lot more sense to grab your back-up, deck-resident goggles and get right back into the mix. You can fix the casualties over a quiet cup of coffee on your own time.

I keep goggles everywhere. There are three pairs in my main swim bag which I take to every workout. The swim bag also has hand paddles and a pull buoy as well as a set of fins and a collection of different sunscreens.

I keep two pairs in the car in case (God forbid!!!) I forget the swim bag or lose it. I'll still want to swim and with the car goggles and an extra pair of jammers (swim suit) in the trunk of the car I can still make it through a workout without stressing over lost swim opportunity.

Oddly enough, I also keep a couple pairs in my main camera bag on the presumption that I might find myself near a pool or clean lake, waiting for the light to get cool, or a client to show up, and decide to take advantage of the scheduling gap to hop in the convenient body of water for a swim. With two pairs in the camera bag I can always be magnanimous and offer a pair for the client to use.

I realized the importance of goggles for workouts back in high school. We put in a lot of yardage. We hit the pool five days a week at 5:30 in the morning and had a second practice each afternoon. We also did a long Saturday morning practice. By the end of a typical day our eyes looked like Zombie eyes. Read and weepy. Sometimes a bit painful.

I had a date once with a beautiful swimmer on whom I had a crush. We went out to a very fun and trendy Mexican food restaurant on our first date and I would have loved to have stared into her eyes and she into mine. But we'd both spent too much time in the pool and both of us were so visually impaired by the time we got to the restaurant that our eyes watered too much to even read the menu. I figured that when swimming goggle-less hampered one's dating life it was time to take definitive action. I bought us both goggles and we started wearing them to every workout. After a while it became standard.

And, that added equipment was a good thing for teenage swimmers. The last thing you want a police officer to see if they pull you over for a traffic infraction is a kid with bloodshot and bleary eyes. And back in the days of hot cars and cavalier teens the "pull over/stern lecture" happened more often than one might imagine.

So, how do you keep your goggles from fogging up when the water is cold or the outside air temp drops? If you have no other recourse you let a few drops of water in each eyecup, put on the goggles, and then, when swimming, you tilt your head down and let the water wash across the inner surface of the lens. There are also anti-fog liquids you can buy that are specifically made for swim goggles. Speedo makes the most popular formula. I find that it doesn't work much better than a bit of human spit and a quick clean with a human tongue.

Hope your swimming is coming along well and that I can offer you other swim oriented tidbits when the photography entries become too boring. After looking at today's stats I decided it was an appropriate time to start....


My brain tells me to constantly pursue improving gear. My ability to look back at older work lets me know my brain's advice is often futile.


Once upon a time I liked to do live demonstrations about lighting. For a while, after the publication of several books on the subject, I would be invited to do a question and answer session about technique as well as a demonstration.  In 2011 I was very interested in the quickly growing acceptance of lighting just about everything with LED lights. Seems so normal now but nearly a decade ago the standard working protocol for just about everything photographic was to trot out a flash or two and bang away with them. Right or wrong, I thought LEDs and continuous light would become the preferred working methodology for many kinds of photographic projects.

I was right about some of the photographic uses for LEDs and wrong about others. For portraits, products and just about any subject that doesn't move around quickly continuous lighting has many benefits. It's wonderful to see what you are getting as you go along without resorting to frequent "chimping." It's great to easily work at bigger apertures without having to worry whether your flash can be turned down far enough. And, while working with big, soft, multi-diffused lighting it's great that a new generation of LEDs is much brighter than the modeling lights on most flashes; that makes composition and the visualization of the final image much easier. 

But in the early days I was caught short a few times by the unexpected need to freeze fast moving action, like dance, or kid's at play. I learned to really dig into a project's brief and to ask pointed questions about subject movement. If the marketing director at the theater suggested that the actors would be dancing and gesticulating wildly I swapped in conventional flash in the place of the LEDs. 

The image above represents one of my favorite ways to light people, and one of my favorite ways to use LEDs. Looking at it closely these days the image also tells me that most of my camera chasing is an exercise in futility. That the tools we had a decade ago were fine. 

To light this photograph I set up a canvas background and then, to one side I put up my favorite 6 by 6 foot scrim. I covered the scrim frame with two layers of white diffusion material which sucked up about three stops of light. On the side of the scrim opposite my talent (Amy Smith, now ace photographer!) I placed two large LED panels that each had 1,000 individual LED bulbs. I used the panels far enough back from the scrim so that they illuminated it fairly evenly from one side to the other. I angled the scrim so it was 45° from Amy's eyeline. 

She is as close to the scrim as she can get without me having to show the rear edge of the scrim. 

I used a well worn Canon 1D mk2N camera and the pedestrian Canon 85mm f1.8 lens. The ISO was 640 and the exposure was 1/125th of a second at f3.5.  

The set up took about ten minutes and the photography another ten minutes. Then we tore everything down and put it back in the boxes. If there is anything I'll remember with absolute clarity about how we used to do photography it will be the non-stop setting up, tearing down and moving to the next location to do it all over again. Photography of a certain kind has always been about managing the packing and moving of gear....

When I did this particular demo I remember someone asking me why I bothered to make the switch from flash to continuous light. Of course I had a number of rationales but what I really wanted to say was something along the lines of: I get bored easily. I like to try new things. This is a new thing.

And it's also really an old thing. But we all love the look of cinematic lighting work when done well in movies. I was watching the last Jason Bourne movie in bits and pieces last night. When I first saw the film I was watching the action and the choreography of fight scenes. But last night I was so enamored of a quiet scene of Alicia Vikander, lit at a 45° angle, in what was made to look like a vast office flooded with daylight, that I paused the Blu-Ray disc just to look more intently and to deconstruct exactly what was so wonderful about the look of the scene. One could tell that the DP had fallen in love, at least for the duration of the movie, by the look of that actor's face. His lighting was in service to her look and at the same time it was a rich gift for the viewer. 

All of which is to say that it's the final look that counts and all the stuff that happens behind the scenes is meaningless to the final viewer. 

I haven't written a book in ten years so I haven't been asked to do a demo in quite a while. Sad, because I think you learn to lock in whatever style you take time to demonstrate. 

Finally, one of the things I love about working with Amy is that she is so perfect as a talent for demonstrations. As a wonderful photographer in her own right she understands exactly what I'm looking for from a talent and she walks right into the sweet spot of a scene and flashes the perfect look for me. I hardly feel like I'm working. 

45° and 45° is like magic. The final magic dust? The biggest diffuser I can find.


7.15.2020

Why professional photography will never come back in the form it had at the end of 2019. Everything changes. Everything moves forward.

This photograph took time and effort to produce.
It was photographed on medium format black and white film.
The film was hand developed, Contact sheets were made. A large 
print was made after many test prints, in our darkroom.
One version was colored by hand with transparent oil paints. 
It was used during the run of a play at Live Oak Theater for promotion.
This image and A series  in the same style, also hand-colored with 
Marshall's Oils, was displayed in the lobby before, during and 
after the run of the play.  That was nearly 30 years ago.
It's still in my portfolio. 

This photograph was taken in the spur of the moment, during a walk with two friends.
We all had our cameras with us and we came across this person on a bridge in
downtown Austin. I took the photograph in less than a minute. I spent two minutes 
tweaking it in post and then used it as an illustration of Facebook.

By the end of the day it had been consumed. 
By the end of the next day it was thousands of "page" down the 
rabbit hole and never seen again. It's not in my portfolio and it
represents the new paradigm of images that are made to be 
consumed in the moment rather than leveraged over time.
It's never been in my portfolio. 

In a certain period here in the USA it was a practice among some parents, who caught their teenaged kids smoking cigarettes, to force the child to smoke the entire pack until they became sick. Physically ill. Puking their guts up. 

The thought behind the punishment was to make the process of over-dosing on nicotine and tar so odious and uncomfortable that the child would never want to smoke again. It's a practice that seems aligned with the theory that a good way to "cure" addiction is to "hit bottom." I'd guess the practice grew out of animal studies using electric shock as a behavioral disincentive....

I'm not a therapist but I have a feeling that what's happening to classic photography right now falls into the same category: force feeding a society with so many images that, once there are other outlets for our attention, we'll never want to go back to Instagram, 500PX, or Facebook and look at photographs the same way we are right now --- never again. 

As we are furloughed from our jobs, fearful of leaving our homes, and have watched all ten of the decent movies currently available on Netflix, we have devolved to clicking through online image galleries in the hopes of continually finding something new, interesting, titalating, shocking or alluring to keep our minds and imaginations occupied for the hour, half day, week, etc. 

If statistics are accurate we, as a culture, are gorging ourselves on quickly made and instantly served visual fare. It's composed of photographs, meme graphics and super short movies that are made mostly to be instantly consumed by the viewer once. Only once. And then the assumption is that the viewer will move on to the next image that gets dumped into the vast bucket.

Most photographers of a certain age still identify "real" photography as being high resolution images that could (operative work = "could") find their way onto a print. An actual paper print. The potential to be printed also creates the assumption that the image, as realized by the printing, would have a life beyond the first and primary consumption. We'd want to come back to it and view it again and again. 
The photographic print would exist over time rather than being consumed and discarded.

The same demographic imagines that print is still primary. That advertising even now consists of a hierarchy of media in which the primacy of the media is prioritized as follows: TV, then print (magazines and newspapers), then printed collateral (brochures) and then, grudgingly, the work seeps down to the online electronic marketplace of social media. 

But just as the enforced isolation of the lockdowns are forcing people to make more and more use of social media and apps to work, entertain themselves, and connect, more and more advertisers (already bleeding budgets and customer engagement opportunities) are pulling back from more expensive and less promiscuous media and putting the bulk of their marketing efforts into media with the biggest reach and the lowest production costs. And all of that lives on the web. And it's done for very temporary consumption. 

When you add in Zoom meetings, online education, and connection to family, I'd conservatively predict that most peoples' daily screen time (mandatory and otherwise) is doubling over that consumed just last year. When the virus is finally conquered and it's safe to go back to work and school and play I expect that people will become so conversant and inured to their screens that printed and displayed photos, as well as print in general, will seem...uncomfortable and odd. They will have lost their ability to fluidly, and at the same time, deeply immerse themselves in a media that once could count on continuing allure and staying power for its value.

At that point print in many forms will become distinctly a niche category of the arts. Supplanted by consumable screen images, short form screen video, and collages of electronic engagement. No one will remember how to sit quietly and look at one image for any amount of time. We will have fully evolved into beings with an attention span, for single, discrete images, displayed "off screen", of about 5 seconds. And three of those seconds will be spent trying to decide if it's okay to move on already...

So, what does this have to do with commercial photography? Oh, I'm sure being paid to make visual content will continue to be a profession but the requirements of clients will presage a realignment towards nothing but screen display-oriented materials. And, as part of that new regimen, the images and video will need to be constantly refreshed because that will be part of their new power of engagement. You have to keep looking so you can observe the change while it happens.  You have to keep coming back to the site because you'll be infected with the fear of missing out.

This is nearly antithetical to the flow of our intentions as photographers that we developed over the last two decades. Even now the sought after cameras of our industry are still measured, in large part, by how much resolution and dynamic range they bring to the table. The underlying but false assumption is that the cameras are being engineered to meet the most stringent and prevalent use cases. That currently conforms to the idea that print is still "top of the heap." So Sony sells a number of A7iii cameras that deliver 24 megapixels of detail. The A7Riv was probably designed as a "specialist" camera and one that only a small subset of users would need and want to buy but it's selling briskly. And it is so obviously a camera that was engineered to make big, printable files.

The same holds true of product introductions from Canon, Nikon and Panasonic. Each maker leads with a flagship model that seems mostly aimed at the "idea" of producing very large printed pieces. At a time when even professional photographers seldom print more than 5% of their jobs in a year. 
And 4K computer screens are approximately 8 megapixels. Your 60 megapixel camera would have to have its files reduced by over 700% just to fit on the screen... (downsampling? Yikes!). 

At the end of the pandemic constraints here in the USA (the only market I can really watch with some certainty...) high end camera sales will have plummeted to near historic lows. The only glimmer of hope for real sales volume will be cameras that are purchased with the intention that they'll be used  for video production. The Apple iPhone 12 will be launched and will be highly successful as an all around video and still camera. It will be joined by models from the other talented makers of smart phones. 

Those cameras/phones will be surprisingly successful in the commercial space because they have been tightly designed to excel at exactly the only media that's growing and healthy --- the screens. 
Once advertising agencies and marcom departments discard their last decade prejudices toward bespoke imaging tools the rationale for most camera used in production to be anything other than smart phones will fade away. It will take time but the writing is on the wall. 

And, as I suggested ten years ago, the professional image maker of the present and future will be someone who can photograph and make video, edit video, take advantage of new venues for their products, and be multi-platform creative content providers. The idea of being a traditionalist with a sack of still cameras will seem quaint and old fashioned. It already does.

Given the need to constantly produce and publish fresh work the photographers of the future will probably work more often and on more diverse parts of projects. They'll be busy supplementing still images with video and vice versa. They'll be producing quick web properties that clients will use for hours, or a few days, at the most. And even though the fee structures will decline the photographers who are fully engaged with their clients over long periods of time will.......make it up on volume. Or more billable hours. 

You can see the change already. Even on YouTube the influencers who were all the rage just a few years ago are experiencing fallow times. It used to be enough to sit at a desk, do a fancy introduction module and then stay stationary and drone on and on about a reviewable camera. You watched the review, the camera being reviewed was its own "B" roll and, if the camera still interested you by the end of the program you might click through a link for more information. And that click thru paid the V-logger some pocket change for making the review (if it was entertaining and pushed the product to a sale). 

Now I watch YouTube and see photographers like Peter McKinnon who are more like contestants/hosts/actors. He's not operating a camera and he's not running sound; most likely he's in front of the camera(s) performing lifestyle events while tangentially using a product that needs to be marketed. He's become the actual product and his ability to accrue nearly 5 million viewers is the product. 

To be successful he's had to become the writer, the producer and the star of a show about making images that speaks to the creation process as entertainment and now has "product placement" in the place of a traditional review. The production values are good. The pacing and flow are modern and plucky. But there's not even a whiff of the idea that he is dedicated to making images that must be printed. While he might offer prints his real product is the actual video and the real goal of the video is to drive people to buy expensive and overpriced cameras which will largely be used to create 1080p videos of cats. Or images of women, practicing what they think are their most seductive poses, which are destined to be dumped onto Instagram at 1600 px. in exchange for comments and heart emojis. 

The real product in the near future will be the flow of work, not the finished piece of work. But don't despair, this is just my assessment of the commercial side of photography. As amateurs, hobbyists (I personally like: Enthusiasts) we can do photography however we please and present it in any form. 

But I am beginning to see my printer as something...vestigial.





I was reading about sending the kids back to school in the Fall and remembered this photo I did a long time ago for the KIPP Schools.

Photo for KIPP Schools Annual Report.
Shot with an Olympus E-520 camera and 
one of the telephoto zooms at 150mm, f4.5.

I've been reading a lot about the Canon R5 lately and looking at files from that camera, the Sony A7RIV and the Panasonic S1R. But I am reminded by this photo (and by my current inability to go and shoot things like this!!!) that the camera pales in importance to being in the right place to even get a photograph and at the right time in order to get the right expression. 

While a higher res camera with a state-of-the-art sensor might get me a bit more detail I don't think it would have made any real difference for the project that was the target for this image. It would have printed pretty much the same. 

When I photographed for the KIPP schools I was left to my own devices to decide on which children to select and when to shoot. We didn't set up "scenarios" or direct the kids in any way. My only secret to getting as many good shots as I could was to arrive early in the morning, be there when the kids got there, and immerse myself in their classrooms for the entire day. I sat down and ate lunch with them and they thought that was okay. 

By the end of the day I had become more or less invisible. I don't think that's possible without investing the time to become invisible. If you show people your sincere process they will reflect back what your camera needs.

I hope smart educators figure out ways to keep our children and teachers safe and learning. I don't care about the politics of this but it should be a top priority. Healthy children and healthy teachers are better for society, the long term economy and my peace of mind....



7.14.2020

NYC. 2013.


The shot in between the "shots."

It's funny. I worked with Gloria for two days at the big Photo Expo in NYC where I was shooting and speaking for Samsung for the launch of their Galaxy NX camera. I would have Gloria or Naomi "model" for me against a gray seamless backdrop and we'd try different poses and different lighting. Sometimes I'd switch lenses. All the while the camera was feeding high res images to a couple of large monitors suspended over the shooting area. That way people could see what I was getting in real time.

Of course, that meant I had to be at least mildly competent because there was no way to retouch, post process or do more that color correct in the camera --- before shooting.

But the funny thing is the process of both model and photographer becoming more and more at ease as the hours and days progressed. We were all a bit stiff at first, even though the people on both sides of the camera had lots of experience doing their jobs. It's just a bit different at a trade show when dozens or hundreds of people are gathered around giving you real time feedback and critiques. It was the first time I'd photographed while wearing a headset that would amplify my voice so I could give a rambling "play-by-play" to the audience.

I counted the actual exposures. We banged through nearly 5,000 shots during the two days I spent at the Javitts Center. By the end we were laughing, having a good time and relatively immune to the crowds.
We stopped shooting stuff we thought the audience might think is cool and started shooting stuff for ourselves. The way we do most work.

Occasionally there were glitches. A camera would freeze or a light would overheat but we had a ready team of camera specialists at our beck and call and the problems vanished quickly. We also learned the right cadence of shooting to prevent overwhelming the cameras and the wi-fi system.

But my takeaway from the whole process was that there is always a warm-up process to a good "people" shoot. If I could I'd take hours to do portrait sessions. Then I'd know I finally got on the same wavelength as the model or subject and that the expressions I really wanted would get done.

I wasn't wild about the Galaxy NX as a concept but the sensor was good and the two lenses I used most of the time were excellent. At least as good as the best stuff from the traditional companies. Wish I still had that 85mm f1.4. It was close to perfect.

Added after initial post: I thought it was warm yesterday but here in the hills it only hit 105°. I just saw a weather broadcast and found out that we set a new record for the 13th of July = It hit 108° yesterday and, coupled with the humidity it felt like 113°. That's too hot! I'll play with my camera inside today...

Hot times in Texas today. We're heading toward 105° today and the weather people tell us that when the humidity is added in the heat "index" will be about 110°. At least that's what it will feel like.

I hit the pool at six o'clock this morning and my lane mate, Margaret, kicked my ass for an hour. I like something like a ten second rest interval between 100s but Margaret decided it would be good for me to shorten those intervals to 5 seconds. Two gulps of air and go. Who argues at 6 in the morning?

It wasn't a banner day for yardage but the yards we got done were high quality. And the coffee tastes so much better afterwards.

On deck for today, in response to two days with the G16, is a Lumix S1R coupled with a 50mm f1.4. No big plans but I thought I'd drop by Intelligentsia Coffee and make sure yesterday's perfect cappuccino wasn't just a fluke.