workshop: wedding photography – Sunday, 26 April 2015

I’m presenting a workshop on wedding photography on:
Sunday, on April 26, 2015 at Unique Photo in Fairfield NJ.
12:00pm – 4:30pm


the program description

We will discuss real-world practical steps to help you develop and achieve a personal style in wedding photography. We will also discuss photography techniques, as well as topics such as posing and lighting. We will cover various other aspects that photographers can work on and develop, so that they aren’t overwhelmed and daunted by the wedding day.

Please note that this seminar is about the techniques and styles of wedding photography, and isn’t a seminar on business and marketing per se, although we will touch on those topics.

This program is a repeat of a program presented two years ago, but of course the material has been finessed and updated.


more info


video tutorials – wedding photography

If you like learning by seeing best, then these video tutorials will help you with understanding photography techniques and concepts. While not quite hands-on, this is as close as we can get to personal instruction. Check out these and other video tutorials and online photography workshops.

The post workshop: wedding photography, style & technique appeared first on Tangents.

A new player in the house.

Hot on the heels of my Nikon D810 review I must let you know that I find it impossible (for me) to be a "one system" guy.  It seems like there is always some feature or some combination of features on a different type of camera that are just the perfect complement to the other camera. 

After much consideration I headed over to Precision Camera yesterday. The trip was slow and plodding as the brain trust that is the city of Austin is doing major construction to one of our two major, north/south highways in conjunction with the arrival of an extra 2 million or so people for the SXSW music festival. Observational evidence would suggest that many of the arrivals for the festival are experiencing driving in cars for the first time in their lives....but that would still make them better drivers than many native Texans.

At any rate, I made it to the optical candy store and traded in a bunch of accumulated studio bric-a-brac and duplications and walked out the door with a brand new, black, OMD EM-5 type 2. I also sprung for the HLD-8 battery grip. I made it back to the Starbucks in my neighborhood and sat down, with a cup of coffee, and started piecing the camera together while reading the manual.

As a veteran camera buyer I knew to bring along a charged battery, one of my favorite straps and a nice lens, as well as an SD card. Having the camera outfitted the way you like it makes configuring it much easier. 

It is immediately obvious that the new version of the EM-5 is better built than it's predecessor. It's nice and tight. The dials make sense and I'll probably use the function buttons if I can figure out where to post the sticky notes reminding me what each one is configured for....

This morning I posted a review that called the Nikon D810 the best all around camera in the world so why in the world did I go out and buy a totally different concept of a camera if that's true? 

Here's the best reason I can give you: The Image Stabilization in the new camera is so good and so useful that I would be shortchanging myself as a videographer NOT to have one of these amazing cameras as a premium tool for handheld video. 

I've shot plenty of test with the original OMD EM-5 to know that the I.S. was useful. Even vital for handheld video work. But the thing that kept me from embracing the last version for production work was the video codec. The quality of the files with movement and low light. It's almost as if the in camera processing of the video files cancelled out the benefits of the I.S.

While the new, type two, codec isn't without fault and detractors it's laps ahead of its predecessor and that makes it more than useful for handheld shots. The addition of a dedicated microphone port and a headphone jack, along with manual control for both of these features provided the final tipping point to purchase. 

I am currently producing a video that calls for clean, handheld movements and I'm getting up to speed as quickly as the Basque language Olympus menus allow. Already I am finding that this little package is like getting a video with its own free SteadiCan attached. 

I will be working on a full review to post near the end of next week. Not just video but anything that stands out about the photographic side of the camera as well. 

I am excited about having the fluidity of this camera at my fingertips for real productions. The next step is to see how well the files from the Nikon D810 cut together with the files from the EM5/2. 

I still can't believe the performance of the I.S. in video. Amazing.

Ben, hard at work in the studio. Fourteen years ago. 

Nikon D810 Camera.

Two days ago I wrote a review about the Nikon D610. It's a really great, full frame camera that provides a higher image quality than most photographers will ever need. The design, overall, is mature, easy to use and familiar to those who grew up with conventional film cameras. At the current, widespread pricing of $1495 it's a camera that many of us working professionally would have paid three or four times that amount if we could have gotten that camera in our hands six or eight years ago. So why in the world would anyone want or need the Nikon D810? I've spent the last few months finding out.

The Sensor: While everyone seems riveted on high ISO performance capabilities in new cameras I personally am thrilled with the low, native ISO of 64 on the D810. At 64 ISO the dynamic range is as wide as it gets. There is a (somewhat) linear relationship between escalating ISO and diminishing dynamic range. While people talk about ISO-less sensor performance they are mostly referring to noise, not dynamic range or color accuracy. There are plenty of Sony sensor infused cameras that do high ISO well (the D610 is one of the absolute best in that regard) but what some of us are looking for is how to achieve the very best image quality you can wring out of a camera. If you want to maximize the impression of quality in your photographs the place to start is at the bottom (native) of the ISO scale.

This is really what the D810 does best. Shooting at lower ISOs has some operational advantages in exterior shooting as well. ISO 64 means when we go outdoors to shoot portraits with flash we can use wider apertures at the maximum sync speed to drop more stuff out of focus. 1/250th at f5.6 if pretty nice. Add a bit of neutral density and you could be shooting that premium optic at it's pricy aperture in full sun. With maximum DR. Nice.

But this ignores the Brontosaurus in the dining room, the sheer resolution. In the past I scoffed at the idea that we needed much more than 16 megapixels in our cameras to do the vast majority of our work. I still feel that way for lots of applications like portraiture and just about anything destined to be used only on the web. But there are shoots that professionals who shoot for corporate clients and advertising agencies are commissioned to do that really do require just as many pixels in the mix as you can reasonably bring to bear. As the economy in the U.S. recovers trade shows are flourishing again. New printer technologies mean that it's more cost effective for more companies to use bigger and bigger posters and wraps in their marketing and the designers who put the work together are constantly looking for more information/ more resolution. We've been asked for samples from our cameras by more agencies in the past four months than we ever did in the past five years. The files from the D810 are appreciated by this audience!

I've also come to appreciate the increased resolution when using the D810 for still life photography. Yesterday I was shooting small computer servers on a white background. If you try to fill the frame with the whole server and you are shooting down at the server in order to shot it in the deep dimension there's no way to cover the entire product with uniformly sharp focus. At f16 and using every idea about distribution of depth of field I could either keep the front panel and the bulk of the server (but not the back end) in focus or the opposite. Yes, if I was working with one product instead of five or six with three views each I might try to do some focus stacking but we have realistic deadlines to meet. Instead I back up instead of trying to fill the frame as we did with lower res cameras. I tried to find the right distance at which I could distribute sharpness over the entire image in one shot.

When I brought the files back into the studio I was able to crop and still have a larger image area than I would have had with a 16-20 megapixel file. The higher resolution also helped when using lens correction tools to correct perspective. The image files start as 14 bit, uncompressed RAWs and even when cropped the sharpness and dynamic range, along with the color accuracy, remains.

When I do this kind of work I am always trying to shoot at ISO 64-100 or 200 (at the max). I am using the camera on a stout tripod and I use the mirror-up along with an electronic release. Used in this fashion I believe I am getting work from this camera that matches the 4x5 view camera systems I used in the days of film.

But....don't think that this camera is a specialized tool that can only be used like a view camera. The camera can be used in exactly the same way as any other high quality DSLR camera. And that includes shooting up to 3200 ISO with little regard for noise. When you use the files in the same way that you would when using a 24 megapixel camera with a better high ISO performance you'll probably find that when used at the same sizes the reduction in the D810 file size reduces noise to pretty much the same levels.

Overall performance: While there is a push in marketing to talk about super high frame rates most of us are happy to shoot at five frames per second for just about anything except sporting events that are over in a flash. Stuff like 10 meter diving, pole vaulting, broad jumping, etc. For my use as a generalist professional photographer with a leaning toward portraits the 5 fps of the camera is just fine and, even with the huge 36 megapixel files, the buffer is quite adequate---even when shooting with raw files.

The D810 uses Nikon's best auto focusing system. It locks on quickly with both AFS and screw-driver motivated lenses (old D series). I don't do a lot of tracking shots but the times I've tried C-AF with moving subjects the camera performed well.  What most of use find is that certain lenses focus quickly and others less quickly, regardless of which camera model is used. But the real benefit (at least to me) is focusing accuracy as opposed to overall speed of focus.

The camera is robust and feels very solid in one's hands. The marketing material implies that the camera is water resistant and I'm happy with that idea but mostly because I think that also makes the camera more resistant to dust as well.

If you've shot with Nikon digital cameras over the years all of the controls and menu items will seem familiar and comfortable. It had been a while since I used Nikon cameras. The last time I was using them was in the heyday of the D700. I reacquainted myself with the system last year via the DX model D7100 and was happy to find how quickly I adapted to the interface. As far as menus go moving from the Olympus system to the Nikon system is like going from some sort of highly encrypted document to reading a Dan Brown novel--- the later being easy to read and highly predictable. (To all the seething Olympus fans: yesterday afternoon I bought an OMD EM-5 type 2 with an HLD grip.....I am correct about the menu but the camera's value far exceeds the menus opacity...).

The Nikon D810 side view.

Image Quality. Whether I shoot in uncompressed 14 bit raw or in medium sized (20 megapixel) fine Jpeg I am happy to report that the camera turns in great performances without caveat. One attribute that surprised me the first few times I used the camera to take portraits was the way it absolutely nailed color on flesh tones. Even in mixed lighting like a recent project that was mostly lit with LED panels but also had bleed light from a cloudy outdoors and some fluorescent light sneaking in around the edges the camera seemed to nail the general color for skin with ease. This is a wonderful thing and cuts a lot of time out of the post processing phase of a job.

Having spent most of last year shooting with a Panasonic GH4 and a bucket full of Olympus EM5's the leap in dynamic range was.....exciting. I noticed this most in two types of shooting. The first "Aha!" moment was in shooting a dress rehearsal of "Peter and the Starcatcher" for Zach Theatre. The camera held highlight detail like my dog holds onto her squeaky toy. And the camera did so while looking deeper into the shadows than I am used to. As a result I spent very little time in post sliding the highlight and recovery sliders as I had done in the past. 

The second shooting situation was shooting portraits in a high sun environment. I was blocking sunlight from my subjects with flags and then adding the light I wanted with a strobe in a softball but I was also shooting at ISO 64 which is the dynamic range sweet spot for the camera.  Instead of blocked up shadow areas in deep shade in the background everything in the image was recoverable. In effect, the camera helps you to be better than you are by acting as an exposure lifeguard via its wide range of exposure latitude. This is also seen in the ability of the files to be recovered gracefully from underexposures and overexposures. 

Assuming you are shooting at the lower ISOs you can recover up to two stops with no worries and up to three stops with a little work from underexposed images. In raw I can easily recover files that are up to a stop overexposed. When I compare this with previous generation cameras like my older Canon 5D mk2 I am pretty amazed.

It's not the fastest shooting camera in terms of frame to frame fps and there are cameras that can beat the D810 in terms of lower noise at high ISOs but in every other regard, including focusing speed and accuracy, color accuracy, dynamic range, usable resolution and general handling I stand by my executive summary and happily call this camera the best in the world (for the price).  From an image quality point of view I am completely satisfied and have warm and fuzzy new feelings about being able to offer my clients the best quality work I have ever created. Ever. 

But these days I want even more out of my cameras------ I want them to be good video shooters as well.

Video Performance. Before I dropped $3,000 on this camera I spent a lot of time looking all over the web for information and samples of this camera's video performance. Nikon is pushing hard on the video capabilities of this camera and its lower resolution counterpart, the D750. I wanted to be able to press this camera into service in both disciplines. That meant, at a minimum, that the camera had to give me manual control over sound levels, exposure and focus, had to have both a headphone and microphone inputs, needed to have a clean HDMI output and be usable with an Atomos digital video recorder, and most important, had to have sharp, detailed and clean video files. 

What gave me pause was the lower bit rate of the camera's native codec. The "in camera" files are 24 and 42 mbs in 30p and 60p, respectively. No most meat on the files than what I had in the Sony a99 over even the Olympus OMD cameras. But "the proof of the pudding is in the eating" and I went looking for samples. What I saw was good. Not as detailed and wickedly sharp as the high mbs bit rate files of the GH4 (but what is?) but better than the Olympus, Sony and previous generations of Nikons. From every set of samples I could find the D810 was demonstrably better than the video coming out of Canon's (un-hacked) 5Dk3 as well. 

Once I acquired the camera I pressed it into commercial use by doing two video projects--- end to end --- with the camera. One was a controlled interior project which required exposing at ISO 1250 and the other was a series of location interviews with minimal added light. The interior project showed me that the camera could create usable, good video at lower light levels. It also showed me that I need lots of practice panning and maybe an investment in a better fluid head... One thing that I'm starting to understand are the strengths and weaknesses of 1080p video. Wide, highly detailed scenes never look great with video that's just 2,000 x 1.000 pixel because ===== wait for it==== there just aren't enough pixels to make everything convincingly detailed. Doesn't matter which camera. You just aren't going to make great, detailed landscape videos with a camera and format that's limited to this pixel count. 

The strength of 1080p video is that it looks great in close ups. It's great for interviews with big talking heads. It's great for tight telephoto shots. And it's convincing when you let the backgrounds fall out of focus. Then your eyes don't go looking for detail they're never going to find. 

So the giant wide shots we did on the interior job worked as well as 1080p video was ever going to work and the low noise at this mid-ISO setting was very acceptable. Where the camera did shine though was in its FLAT profile. The new profile isn't dramatic like an S-Log profile but it provides a nice, flat, lower saturation file that sharpens well in post and can be graded with more saturation and contrast and look really good. I leaned on that in this project.

The other project was series of interviews on uncontrollable locations all over the place. But, being interviews in my style meant that the frames were comped like portraits. Nice and tight but not too tight. These looked uniformly beautiful with lots of detail and no artifacts whatsoever. This camera is eminently usable for interview work and close up work. And if you have enough light to head up to 60p the files are drop dead sharp. 

Some downsides. The on camera microphone preamps seem noisy. Not weird noise but mostly just high frequency hiss. They also require a lot of gain if you use balanced microphones straight in. I was working with a Rode NTG-2 that was good on the GH4 but needed way too much amplification on the Nikon. Part of the problem might have been an impedance mismatch so I used a passive BeachTek DX2A as a mixer and impedance transformer between the NTG-2 and the camera inputs and that helped a lot. But even better was sticking a digital audio recorder, like a Zoom H-5, in the middle and using the output of the digital recorder to drive the microphone inputs on the camera. In that configuration the camera audio was much better. Very usable. This adds a layer of complexity that's not always wanted but good sound can be so vital in most instances it is worth it. 

The most glaring downside in video on the D810 is that the camera does not feature focus peaking on the rear screen. When working in video, up close with long lenses, in conjunction with a full frame sensor, focusing accuracy is critical and, while photographing subjects in motion an aid like focus peaking can be critical. I very much hope that this is something that camera be added in firmware. 

The camera is also a bit of a battery hog in video. You'll get about 40 minutes of shoot time out of each battery. It almost makes sense, if you are a heavy video user, to get the battery grip that allows the use of the D4s battery inside. That should give you hours of shooting without issues. Except that there is one last issue: 

The camera only shoots 20 minutes files at it's highest quality settings. The camera doesn't over heat (in my winter time experiences) but it does count down to zero and stop every twenty minutes of shooting. I used to shrug this off because most narrative work never calls for long takes but as luck would have it I did a 2 hour interview a few weeks ago and that had me watching the elapsed time on the camera like a hawk. When we we're in the last thirty seconds I'd try to time the shut down and restart of the camera with someone's cough or long pause. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes we lost a few seconds. Something to consider. 

Nothing against the D810 but I will say that there are times when other formats are better overall for shooting video or even fast action in still images. A much smaller sensor gives you more depth of field which means less drama and trauma over focus issues when going for the close ups. Or shooting stills "on the wing." I am also spoiled by Olympus's incredible image stabilization, both in video and still photography. But these aren't issues specific to the Nikon D810. 

Overall assessment: This is a wonderful camera. As a portrait photographer the only way I think this camera could be improved with current technology would be to shoot squares easily (yes, I know, you are mentally magical and can crop in your mind and apply later---but that's not the way everyone else's brains work...). The files are great and the handling, as a still camera could only be improved in one way---the removal of the optical finder and its replacement with a nice EVF. A really nice EVF. The EVF would make the addition of focus peaking a no brainer and would make it a perfect tool for shooting with many of the older cinema and Ais optics we really like to use. What a perfect complement that would be to my old Nikon 105mm f2.5 manual focus lens....

As a video camera it's pretty good but would benefit from a more robust codec. But there is always a trade-off. More mbs means much more file size. Which means much greater storage issues. I have seen really, really good quality 4:2:2 color from uncompressed files written to ProRes on an outboard recorder and am confident that the Nikon can do amazing video with these add-ons. If the client has the budget it's a somewhat logical thing. But in reality if the client has the budget to spool terabytes of uncompressed files it would make more sense to rent a dedicated video camera like the Arri Alexa or a Sony F65 or F55 and just get all the bells and whistles in one robust package. 

In a way I think Nikon is making a good compromise for the kind of video use this camera is going to see. That use is from photographers who also make video and do so for businesses and corporate clients aiming at showing their marketing videos on the web and in other non-broadcast venues. Like everything else it's production that exists in tiers based on the wants, needs and budgets of the project. 
By my nature I will pretty much always aim to use very small crews for video projects. I want to run camera and direct. The second person I would always hire (unless I was shooting solo) would be a sound person to wrangle microphones and move audio from mixers to camera inputs. After a sound person would be a second shooter for cutaway angles. That's about it. 

It's smaller, less complicated productions like these at which Nikon seems to be aiming their new generation of video enhanced cameras. Will this marketing niche work for them? Maybe. But if I were their product marketers I would be demanding that engineering give me cleaner audio and focus peaking so I would have some assurance of total parity with other products in the price range. For now the GH4 still trumps the Nikons in video for everything except the ability to limit depth of field. 

But all this video mumbo jumbo aside this is a still camera whose image files everyone will love. The only advantage to other formats is the size and weight. For commercial work this one hits the sweetest of the sweet spots. 

flash photography: applying the Sunny 16 rule and the flash Guide Number

In essence, if you know the GN of your flash, then you could use (bare) off-camera flash to match the sunlight, without even metering!

There is a super-useful shortcut built into those two simple values: Sunny 16, and the Guide Number.

Now, I am pretty sure that when you hear mention of the Guide Number of a flash, you’re most likely switching off already, thinking that it is just an arcane list of numbers – different apertures against different power settings. But hang in there – this is very useful stuff to have a grip on.

And yes, since: GN  =  distance  *  f-stop
that is what the Guide Number tells you – the distance multiplied by the aperture is the GN.

But there is something immediately useful there in the Guide Number, which is hugely important. If you understand this, then you have an important key in your pocket about how to quickly match bright sunlight with your speedlight. It’s really simple:

an example of how the Sunny 16 Rule and the flash guide number inter-lock

So let’s take this with an actual example (instead of just running tables of figures)

Let’s say you are photographing someone in shade – maybe standing under an arch or under trees. Let’s say the background is very bright – lit by bright sunlight. Or, as in the example at the top, two models backlit by strong sunlight.

You can use on-camera flash, or off-camera flash here. Same principle.

The background exposure would typically be: 1/200 @ f/11 @ 100 ISO. This is based on the Sunny 16 rule, where we shift the aperture and shutter speed up and down in correlation.

The Sunny 16 Rule says that for bright sunlight, our exposure would typically be: 1/100 @ f/16 @ 100 ISO OK … so now we have 1/200 @ f/11 @ 100 ISO. That’s the ambient exposure for the background. Your subject is shaded, or in the shade … and you need to dump f/11 amount of light on them from the flash.

We can put the flash in full manual output. This makes sense in bright light.

If the guide number is 110 … (which is very close for the Nikon SB-900 / SB-910 and Canon 580EX II and Canon 600EX-RT for the flash-head zoomed to 35mm.)

Now, with the GN = aperture x distance, then the Guide Number of 110 implies that at full power (with the flash-head zoomed to around 35mm), we need: 110 = 11 x distance

The 11 is the f/11 for the bright background, as implied by the Sunny 16 Rule. So now we see we have to hold the flash 10 feet away from our subject.

110 = 11 x 10
GN = f-stop * distance

The correlation is that straight-forward:
If your speedlight has a GN of (around) 110 when zoomed to 35mm,
then simply hold your off-camera speedlight at a distance of 10 feet to get an exposure of f/11 …
which in turn matches the exposure for the bright background.

This is a real world example. This is how it works, and how you can get to very good exposure for flash and ambient light, without even using a light-meter!



The beauty of all this is that you got to your camera and flash settings without even metering! You could of course finesse this – but you got to these setting which are pretty accurate, without metering. In other words, your first test shot should be on the money! No futzing around.


related articles


photo gear (and equivalents) used in this photo session


a little bit of homework

If you take a test shot using this method, and your subject (lit by flash), is under- or over-exposed, what is your next step?


video tutorials to help you with flash photography

If you like learning by seeing best, then these video tutorials will help you with understanding flash photography techniques and concepts. While not quite hands-on, this is as close as we can get to personal instruction. Check out these and other video tutorials and online photography workshops.


photo gear (and equivalents) used in this photo session

improving the photograph by finessing it in post-processing

With the photograph at the top, it is obvious that the exposure for Anelisa wasn’t correct in-camera. She is a short distance away from Yulia – so she would’ve been under-exposed by the off-camera flash.

While I’m a strong supporter of the idea to get it right in camera (as far as possible), there are times when massaging a photograph in Photoshop, can greatly improve it. And ultimately, it really is the final image that counts.

In deciphering how the photograph came about, let’s look at the straight-out-of-the-camera image:

camera settings: 1/250 @ f/11 @ 100 ISO

Here is the un-edited, un-adjusted image. It was one of my test shots during a photography lighting workshop in New York. I was still getting to my basic settings, and Yulia wasn’t quite ready yet – so her pose is not quite there, and her expression is unguarded. Yet, the image nearly hung together with Anelisa languishing in the background. But it needed some work in Photoshop.

But before finessing the image in Photoshop, I first had to do the major changes in the RAW file itself.

Counter-acting the strong sunlight with just one off-camera speedlight, we had to work with bare, un-diffused flash. So the lighting on Yulia was good. Anelisa though, was posing for another group of photographers in the workshop. But in zooming wide, and changing my composition, I could include both models. However, I didn’t want to disrupt everyone in the group for my own photographs, and have them now light my background subject. So, instead of using additional lighting on Anelisa, or just discarding the image, I used local corrections brush with the RAW image.

I pulled the Exposure up on Anelisa between 1 stop and 1.3 stops across her frame. Since I shot at 100 ISO, the increase in noise isn’t noticeable. It would be noticeable at 1600 ISO and higher, when viewing the image at 100% .. but at 100 ISO, the under-exposure has no impact at all on the noise possibly increasing.

You can see the effect that the flash, pointed at Yulia, still had on Anelisa, a bit further in the background – you can distinctly see the flash shadow on her legs.

So that took care of the brute adjustment – and the RAW file has better leeway for this kind of adjustment.

Then of course, I also did the usual changes in Exposure, Color Balance, Saturation and Contrast, in adjusting the RAW file.

Then, after generating a JPG from the edited RAW file, I pulled the JPG image into Photoshop:
– I swapped heads with another image; and
– removed clutter with the use of the Clone Tool and Healing Brush in Photoshop.
– I removed the crane, and the water-tower on top of the building.
– I desaturated the red of the awning on the left. The color was too strong and distracting.
– That pesky pigeon in the sky also had to go too!

To give the final image that warm sun-drenched look, I used my own recipe created in Radlab.

The post flash photography: applying the Sunny 16 rule and the flash Guide Number appeared first on Tangents.

The Blanton Museum.

My friend, Chris, came over yesterday to borrow a microphone for a video he's making with a fashion designer. But you never just need one part and by the time Chris was out the door he was struggling with armfuls of gear. You need this to do that.

It all started innocently enough. He wanted to borrow a shotgun mic. But then we discussed who was going to run sound and it turns out he's going to go solo on the project. All of a sudden the subject of "where to put the microphone???" comes up. We both know better than to just stick it on a camera but if there's no one there to hold onto a pole what do you do? Well it just so happens that I have a microphone boom holder. It's a small device that lets you balance the pole on a light stand. But to use the holder you need a grip head. So I reached into a bag and grabbed a grip head. But the stands Chris has are kinda flimsy (am I a stand snob?) and we quickly decided he might need a medium sized C-stand to hold the grip head, the adapter, the fully extended microphone boom and the microphone. So we added that to the pile. Good to go, right?

Well, we might as well add a sandbag to the stack for safety. And as we were getting ready to haul this stuff to his car we started talking about the idea of using a lavaliere microphone in addition to the shotgun so Chris asked if I had a wireless lav set up. Well, I did and I didn't need it myself this week so we added that to the stack. At that point I remembered to ask Chris if he had XLR cables for the shotgun. No? We scrounged up a twenty footer and a back up. 

By this time a soft rain had started to fall. Little drops clung to the panes of glass on the studio door and that brought up the next line of inquiry. Chris had hoped to shoot outside in some sort of bucolic oasis but the rain might make him change plans. Nobody really wants to drag their Sony F55 video camera out in the rain and I'm not that thrilled about my mics getting soaked either. So we started talking about lighting. In short order we decided that Chris might want to use a small set of hot lights because the rooms he would be shooting in now weren't that big and, for the most part, the light in them is pretty controllable. We scrounged around and found three Lowell Tota-Lights with  500 watt bulbs in them and we added them to the stack. Almost done....

But this necessitated some sort of light modifiers because no one really wants to use a Lowell Tungsten light bare and head on. We decided on Westscott Fast Flags so I loaded my friend up with three frames and a bag full of diffusers. But the frames need to go on some sort of support so that meant at least a few more C-Stands and every C-Stand needed a grip head. And a sandbag.

We could have gone in a different direction but the fluorescent fixtures are heavier and bulkier and I had the LEDs marked for my use today. 

We loaded everything in Chris's Honda and off he went to create. "If you give a mouse a cookie..."
"He's going to want a glass of milk."

I guess my point is that there's always a way to do stuff on the cheap or without the right gear but when you really start thinking through a project you come to understand just how many interdependent pieces there can be. And in my opinion it's always better to cover yourself for probable changes with rational contingencies rather than to court disappointment. Especially if that disappointment is on the face of your client....

portrait photography – show us a favorite or break-through photograph

This photograph remains one of my favorites. It was taken circa early 90’s during a studio shoot-out arranged by a camera club (CCJ) I belonged to in Jo’burg. In this photo, the models are waiting for their turn to be photographed in a studio setup, using studio lighting, as well as available light in the large studio. It was a candid moment, as I knelt in front of this model, Megan.

For me, this was a transitionary photograph – I was at a point where I knew basic photography techniques. I read voraciously, and devoured magazines and books. But my own images at the time – landscapes and cityscapes and such – were mostly “found” images. For me, there was still a gap between what I was photographing, and the images I was drawn to – portrait and fashion images which were more controlled. Even then, the portraits and fashion photography that appealed to me, had a fresh and “loose” feel – and I felt I wasn’t quite  capable of that yet. It wasn’t just insecurity, but also shyness in working with people, and posing them. I lacked the courage to involve the people in my photography.

Yet, here I had a photo that had that spontaneity and elegance that appealed to me. Even though the moment was presented to me, and I had nothing to do with how it was arranged, I still felt really proud of it … but more so, the realization dawned on me that I could do this. I could have set this up and shot it. It was within my reach.

I was aware of the problems with this photograph – the fingertips cropped off, and the tilt. The pillow she held to herself is incongruous. The background is cluttered. A more controlled photograph would’ve been more successful. Still, this was one of those photographs which sparked a change for me.

This photograph then, was pivotal in my progress as a photographer. For the first time I took a photo that looked (nearly) as good as I saw in photography magazines. I could do this!


I would like to hear your story, and see your favorite or breakthrough portrait.
It need not be perfect. It just needs to be important to you.
There are two book prizes to be won:


The Portrait: Understanding Portrait Photography

The Portrait: Understanding Portrait Photography, by Glenn Rand & Tim Meyer, is a good introduction to portrait photography. Over the course of 200 pages, the authors explain the essentials of Portrait Photography.

You can order this book from Amazon, or directly from Rocky Nook.

If you order an eBook directly from RockyNook, then the coupon code Portrait40 offers 40% off the ebook version of The Portrait.

You can also buy it at a discount as an e-book bundle, along with Tilo Gockel’s book, Creative Flash Photography. (review)


let’s hear your story: contest & give-away prize

This contest is now closed. Check my comment at #63.
But please feel free to add to this thread at any time in the future. There are always stories that need to be shared.

Add your favorite portrait photo – your kids, or anyone that is important to you. Or show a portrait photo that has specific meaning to you. Make your entry informative or fun.

Post your comment here, and then email me the image (preferably watermarked), so I can add it along with your comment entry. Preferred sizes:  900 x 600 pixels; 600 x 900 pixels;  750 x 750 pixels. Somewhere around there. And if you need to ask whether it should be 72dpi or 300dpi, you are in for a stern lecture!

I will pick two winning entries on Saturday, March 21st.

The most interesting or informative or deserving entry chosen by myself and my cosmic collaborator, gets the prize. The 2nd winner of this book prize will be chosen via random number generator. (Unfortunately, due to high shipping costs, if you live outside the USA, it will have to be the PDF version instead of a printed book.)


details about the photo at the top

This was shot on Fujichrome, with either my Pentax Super-A, or Pentax Z-1 … or perhaps the Nikon F90x that I had migrated to in the early 90’s. I am sure I scribbled notes somewhere about which camera and lens I used, and possibly even the camera settings. However, as with most photography, those kind of details aren’t of much importance.

It is scanned from the Fuji transparency with a Nikon CoolScan 5000. What you see there though, isn’t the “organic” look of film. I retouched it slightly in Photoshop, and then had to brighten it up and change the WB through Curves and Levels and a Color Balance adjustment layer.

For 20+ years I shot in Fujichrome, and loved the vibrant colors. I wish though that all the images I had shot, were 12 megapixel (or better) digital captures. They would’ve been more crisp, and more easily accessible and usable. For workflow, and for the final look, digital (imho) far surpasses film, and I know I will never go back to film. Life as a photographer is better and easier with digital. But those were the days.


related articles

The post portrait photography – show us a favorite or break-through photograph appeared first on Tangents.

#Austin  #SXSW Downtown.

 I'm writing a review here on the Nikon D610 camera. I'm writing it not because I think you should run out and buy one or because it happens to be the best in any one category (it's not) but because it's an affable camera, I enjoy shooting it and, so far, it's been generating images that look really good to me. It's already been superseded by the D750 camera which is largely the same but in some ways "better." But it remains in the Nikon product line up and the price of the camera seems to have stabilized around $1495 which I think is a good value for the quality of the sensor and the particular feel of the camera. 

I shoot with several different cameras and I have reasons for every choice. I have a Nikon D810 when I am after perfect images with unassailable resolution and dynamic range. Lately I've been shooting the Olympus EM-5 camera more often since I discovered both how much I like the black and white setting (with the green filtration) and how nice video can look in black and white when you use the image stabilization offered by that camera in the video mode. But these days I grab the D610 as my personal shooting camera for portraits and street shooting. More and more I've come to value a camera that's a nice balance rather than a tool with which to pursue "perfection." 

Let's jump into the D610 and see why I enjoy using one. 

I'll start by saying that the enjoyment of any camera is likely contextual. At whatever point we entered the enjoyable field of photography (almost always as an enthused amateur...) we embraced the tools that were available to us at the time and those became our norms and baselines. If you came "of age" in the time of smartphones you are probably most comfortable with cameras that have a small size profile and are loaded with features and apps. If you discovered cameras while toiling your way through college back in the 1970's or 1980's you probably picked up a single lens reflex camera like a Canon AE-1 or a Nikon FM or FE and you learned everything you needed to know on one of those cameras. When you choose cameras now all of that context and personal history comes into play in a different way for each person. It just makes sense; how else could Samsung think there would be a market for their highly connectible Galaxy NX camera while Nikon trolls for users from earlier eras with their Df camera.  Kirk's rule of camera appreciation: The first camera with which you make really good nudes of a beautiful girlfriend will be remembered as the most magical camera. 

I am inquisitive and fickle when it comes to buying and using photographic equipment. It's a blessing and curse. There is so much I love about the smaller, electronic viewfinder cameras like the Olympus Pen line. I've waded through nearly every generation of those little gems except the most recent and I've found lots to like in each evolution. But it's sometimes hard to shake my own history and the context in which I tumbled into photography. It was a time when Canon, Nikon and Pentax had a really good handle on how to make trouble free, single lens reflex cameras that were small enough to be "carry everywhere cams" and stout enough to handle motorcycle rides, a few falls from bicycles and the general disregard of gear that goes along with youthful enthusiasm. 

For nearly the entire decade of the 1980's my camera of choice was the Nikon F3 which was a no nonsense SLR that was built to a high standard and had a luscious viewfinder. That camera, and a handful of lenses, followed me everywhere. I'd arrive at class, on a date or at an event with the camera, complete with a 50mm f1.4, and a pocket full of rolls of Tri-X film.  My socks might not have always matched but the camera and its attendant paraphernalia were always set and ready.

In the ten years or so that I used that camera I had no mechanical or electrical failures. Since everything was focused manually and everything was built to a very high standard (and my eyes were younger, brighter, stronger...) there was no such thing as front or back focusing. There were no cards to corrupt, no static to crater an operating system. In short the camera became as transparent, over time, as water and with the few and simple controls the learning curve was largely external to the camera. It consisted of learning to breathe slowly to ensure human powered image stabilization and learning exactly when to trip the shutter. 

So now when I choose cameras I am drawn in two directions. I think things like the EVFs of the new Olympus cameras are wonderful and I love shooting with them. But I think the full frame imaging still draws me because that's what was imprinted on my shooting psyche in those formative years of mechanical camera handling. I like the image stabilization of the new cameras but I also like the ability to use old, classic lenses as they were designed to be used. Classics like the 105mm f2.5 and the ever present 50mm f1.4's. In many ways I am as much a relic as the relics I crave using. This dichotomy is probably why I own cameras at both ends of the spectrum. I have full frame, tradiitional (as traditional as a digital simulacrum of a film camera can be....) cameras and at the other end of the short spectrum I have four of the EM-5 cameras and love them. I'm currently maneuvering to trade in the Nikon APS-C cameras in order to add the EM-5-2 just for its upgraded video capabilities coupled with its improved I.S. in video...

But lately the Nikons are what I've been shooting for most of my work and even more recently the D610 is the camera I pick out to have swinging at my side as I walk around and take snapshots of life swirling all around me. So why?

The body. The D610, along with it's close predecessors and the DX 7000 series, really does fall into the Goldilocks meme for me. It's big enough that the body sits in my hands perfectly when I'm shooting. Just perfectly. That helps me hold it in the most correct fashion to stabilize the platform and get into making the shot. The increase of landscape square inches over something like an EM-5 or smaller camera means that the buttons and knobs are more accessible and less finicky. At the opposite end of the spectrum the D610 seems absolutely miniature compared to something like the D4s or even the older Kodaks we routinely used to shoot with. That makes the D610, while not a small camera, bearable to carry around all day over one's shoulder on a regular strap.  The body is as weatherproofed as anything else and the whole package feels very well made. 

The finder. This camera is a traditional DSLR with an optical finder. I think that is the camera's one weakness. It would be so cool to have everything just as it is on this body but for Nikon to have put in a really high definition electronic viewfinder. To be able to shoot with the full frame and still be able to pre-chimp everything would be glorious. But it's not that. The D610 has a very good optical viewfinder. It's not as bright and snappy as the viewfinder in the D810 but it is very good. My one gripe is that the diopter range is more limited. I am right at the edge of the minus 2.0 diopter adjustment and I was hoping for a minus 3.0 so I could adjust as my near vision falters further. Some of this is my vanity. Some of this is my comfort zone born of decades of working experience. I don't want to succumb to having to wear glasses to operate the camera; any camera. But after we crest the minus 2.0 mark it's either inevitable or all the -2.0 cameras get spun off in favor of ones with more range. (Incidentally, this is why I never bought the original Fuji Pro-1 even though I was ready with cash in my hot little hands----the camera had no diopter adjustment!!! Insane.).  

I know many of you adore the optical viewfinders but I'm always thinking these days of using my cameras to shoot video so I'm always weighing the features that will help in that regard. Having an EVF means shooting video in broad daylight without dragging around either a monster big loupe for the rear LCD screen or an even bigger circus dragging around an HDMI monitor and attendant monitor shade. It would be nice to hold the camera at eye level with my occipital bone pressed to the body for stability and my eye seeing an image not degraded by stray light. It will come. It's inevitable from a manufacturing and cost savings angle. 

All that said, I am able to change gears and go right back to the days of the F3 when I pick up this camera. The optical viewfinder is just fine for street shooting and portrait work...

Menus. If you can master either the Olympus Pen or the Fuji X menus you should have no issues at all getting very much at ease with the Nikon menus. They are largely straightforward and logical. There are no mystery icons and there is enough customization possible to keep most rational people happy. I find endless customization only works for people who have not memorized lots and lots of other facts and concepts in their lives and who therefore have lots of empty space to fill up and play around with. When I dive into various nefarious submenus and reassign this function to that button and then give all five buttons a second function but only if some other knob is engaged I fall down into a patch of peyote like madness that twists the mind and hampers one from ever truly mastering the camera as a tool. It's like learning every single menu item in PhotoShop. Yes, you will have mastered the menu but most probably you will have sliced years off the effective use of your brain in the service of learning many things that are largely unnecessary. But let's not get into it. Some people can quote every line in every episode of the TV series, Star Trek, and they see some value or happiness in that achievement. To me that is the same as learning every customization step on certain cameras. As useless for the most part as it is annoying to all those photographers in the surrounding area who have to hear about it.

The D610 menus are a continuation of the menus I saw in the D1x, the D100, the D200, the D2X and the D7X00 series. That sort of continuity is useful to people who don't like to change systems or who like to bounce back and forth between systems. Final word about menus from me: The original Sony Nex 7 menu was obviously built as a punishment for shop lifting or perhaps accidental murder. In certain countries a convicted party might be required to use that menu for the rest of their lives to, in part, pay for their crimes. We have nothing like that sort of torture in the D610.

Focusing. The D610, like the D600 and the D7000, is not problem free. Focusing action slows down as the prevailing light falls. At normal light levels where I can shoot at ISO 400,  f 2.8 at 1/60th of a second the camera does fine. At really low light levels with lower subject contrasts the focus falters. It almost always achieves its goal at the end but that end may be five or ten seconds later. Sorry. That's just the way this one is. I'm old fashion (see the idea of historical context:above) when it comes to AF. I rarely set the camera for anything other than central focusing target in the S-AF mode. I push down the shutter button half way until the image flops into focus and then push the rest of the way down to make the photo. In that mode the camera generally works well. In the past few days I've been trying to get used to a mode of focusing and shooting that all of my long time, never switching, Nikon user friends use. You use the AF-on button on the camera to start and stop the AF process and then the shutter button is unfettered from focusing responsibilities and is solely concerned with, well, operating the shutter. 

The non-deadly fly in this ointment is the lack of an AF-on button on this particular camera (it must live wherever they exiled the 1/8000th shutter speed to) and so you must dive into the (logical) camera menu and reassign a button to make this all work (now I'm starting to sound like an Olympus user....). I've reassigned the AF-on function to the ae-l, af-l lock button and this method actually works quite well when I remember that I've done this and that the camera not focusing when I mash on the shutter button is not an indication that something is broken...  I guess time and training will work out the kinks.

With manual lenses. The camera can use a wide range of Nikon's past lenses. In fact, if you can find someone to preform the "Ai conversion" on almost any old Nikon lens you can use it with "A" and "M" functionallity, including metering, on the D610. This is a big plus, especially if you are part of the cult of users who believe that the hand built, hand adjusted optics in metal casings with ultra-smooth focusing rings and hard stops at infinity and the close focus distances are indeed better in just about every way than the newer AF lenses.  But you will have some issues getting sharp focus because the focusing screens in the new AF cameras are optimized for brightness rather than manual focusing acuity. 

I have two workarounds that I use and it depends on which lens and under what conditions I am shooting as to which method I use. The first method, which works well because the lenses have clearly marked distance scales and the focus settings are repeatable. In this method we fall back on the idea of hyperfocal distances and preset distance estimation. In other words take a gander at your subject and estimate how far away they are, then set the focus distance to that number on the lens, make sure you've chosen an aperture that gives enough depth of field and then fire away. 

The second method works best on a tripod but can be workable with a handheld camera and it consists of going into live view and enlarging the image and then focusing with the help of the magnification. Then either shoot your image or exit live view, recompose and shoot your image. 

The guesstimation method works really well with wide angle lenses. Yesterday was sunny in Austin and I was out and about shooting with the D610 and my favorite MF wide angle, the 25-50mm f4 Nikkor. I set the camera to manual and set the exposure to 1/125th of a second shutter speed and f8 or f11. I used the auto ISO, which works in manual, and let the camera ride the ISO for correct exposure. If I shot at the 25mm focal length and used f11 I could set the lens to ten or fifteen feet and have enough depth of field to cover from about 7 feet to infinity. The longer the focal length the smaller the hyperfocal window but really, with a little practice it's a piece of cake... Most of the images below were done that way. Amazing system in its utter simplicity. The camera and lens do all the heavy lifting leaving the photographer free to instantly react. What fun. 

The live view method is for all those times when I have the leisure of working on a tripod or when I am using a very fast, long lens and need to absolutely nail focus with the aperture wide open. A classic example is the Rokinon 85mm f1.4. It's a manual focus lens. The d.o.f. wide open and within ten feet is narrower than we actually think. If you want to shoot an optic like that wide open, especially in chancy light, you'd do well to click into live view, enlarge the frame, focus exactly on something with good contrast and then click back out into the regular shooting mode. As long as you don't change subject to camera distance you can shoot with that setting and get good results. 

Those are the methods I use when I really want the focus to work just right but I'm not above using the "green dot" confirmation method. With the attributes of the older Nikon lens set in the menu I often rely on just focusing and letting the camera tell me when it guesses that we're focuses. Not on client shoots but on my own dime.. It works for a large percentage of images. 

Handling. With any caveats about focusing outlined above taken into consideration the camera, overall, is delightful to shoot with because it is very responsive. If you are a speed demon the regular full frame shooting rate is about 5.5 frames per second. This is just fine for real life even if it's not what we might see on TV as an example of "professional photography". Shooting 5.5 frames a second in raw is just another way of ensuring that you'll have lots of useless work to do after the fact. I generally use my cameras in the single shot mode. I wait for the smile. I don't want to get smiles from people who are secretly laughing at me for pointing my camera at them and triggering it at maximum intrusion motor drive mode. But since nothing every stays the same I have been working with another mode on the drive dial ( which surrounds the mode dial and is eminently sensible in terms of layout...) which is the new continuous silent setting. It's about 3 fps but it's marginally quieter than the regular settings and I am still reflexively agile enough to lift my finger after one or two shots... I like this setting better than the single silent setting which holds off on the mirror recharge until you release the shutter button. I don't really appreciate the two step mode...

When speaking about handling I think it's fair to discuss battery life. I praised the photo gods when I bought both the D610 and the D810 because they take the same batteries as the entire 7x00 series and lots of other recent Nikon models, including the D600, D800, D810. What a boon to be able to use the same battery across so many cameras!  The batteries tend to give me about 1200 to 1500 exposures but remember, I'm shooting in moderate temperatures and I'm pretty sparing in the use of the review function. It's good but not great battery life. When I shot with the older D2X with it's much larger battery it was not unusual to shoot five or ten assignments and as many as 4,000 shots on one charge. 

I bring along three batteries with me when I'm using the either the D610 or the D810 on assignment. 
I generally come home with the same battery I started with still in the camera but I'm sure from time to time I'll be rewarded for my paranoia when it comes to back up units. 

Where it is not paranoia is battery use when shooting video. I am spoiled by the Panasonic GH4 which seems to be the video battery champion. When shooting an industrial I routinely get nearly two hours of almost continuous use out of a standard battery which is not physically larger than the Nikon battery. Don't know what the difference is but I suspect that some energy goes to keeping the Nikon mirrors up during the exposure.   Speaking of video....

Video.  I have mixed feelings about the video capabilities of the D610. Like most of its Nikon peers (not the D750 or D810!!!) the codec or the way the video is written is a pretty low information stream of about 24 megabits per second. Compare that to an average of 50 mbs on the new Olympus EM-5 mk2 or 72 mbs in its All-I format. The Panasonic GH4 can give you a whopping 200 mbs, written in camera to a fast, fast card. 

The video in the Nikon is distinctly "last generation" or "first generation" video compared to the feature sets in the Sony RX-10 and the Panasonics. But many times we focus a bit too much on ultimate performance instead of story telling so you have to keep everything in perspective. What bugs me though are the little operational gotchas that add up to basically a sucky user experience. 
While the camera (D610) had both a microphone jack ( stereo 3.5mm) and a headphone jack and the audio levels can be set manually they can only be set before you start recording and cannot be adjusted during video shooting. Likewise there is no ability for the operator to adjust headphone volume when monitoring audio. Finally, based on my use of four different microphones I find the audio preamplifiers in the camera to be noisy. They have a consistent level of higher frequency hiss. The old work around, which I do not have to use on the GH4, is to route the audio through an external digital audio recorder and pull sound off the line out of the recorder and into the D610. Set the D610 audio levels to manual and ride levels on the separate recorder. 

But with all of that as a disclaimer the reality is that the camera can perform some of the duties I need a video camera for well enough. I use my cameras to record a lot of interviews where I have control over microphone placement ( a closer microphone = less noise + better sound), room noise, subject movement and lighting. In a controlled environment, and especially with lower ISOs. A little time spent adjusting the adjustments in your chosen profiles also helps. I'd back off the sharpening just a bit and maybe the saturation as well.

This camera model doesn't have the new FLAT profile for video that's found on the D810 and D750 but there is a strong rumor that the profile may be added via a firmware update sometimes this year. The FLAT profile has also made its appearance on the newly announced DX D7200. 

One last design glitch on the D610 is that the aperture on a lens cannot be electronically changed while the camera is shooting video. You have to exit the live view mode to change the aperture and then re-enter the movie mode. This is a tragic oversight for some users but within the sweet ISO range you can make 1/3 stop changes in ISO while shooting to get the same exposure control without really effecting the quality or consistency of the files. Many of the lenses I use on the camera are older, manual lenses and one has full control over the aperture settings even when shooting. Even better are the Rokinon Cine lenses which have infinitely variable apertures with NO click stops. You can open and close the apertures with reckless abandon. 

A number of the issues with the camera in video mode can be remedied if you are willing to add some complexity and storage costs to your projects. To wit, the camera can output absolutely clean, 8 bit 4:2:2 video to an outboard digital video recorder like the Atomos Ninja Star. The recorder and one 64 gigabyte (new format) memory card will run you about $400 but it brings top notch video into the system by side stepping the baked in compression that the camera uses when writing video to the internal memory card. You can set up the Ninja Star to write the files in various forms of ProRes, including ProRes LT and have a much more detailed and robust file to edit with. It also does away with the 20 minute time limit to each video segment. But if you are adding both an audio recorder and a digital video recorder to your mix you may be better off financially getting a GH4 for video projects or seeing how the video handling and file quality of the more expensive and newer Nikon cameras such as the D750 and D810 are. My experiences lead me to believe that I can use the D810 without the add-on and get everything I want for web and presentation video. If I were shooting for broadcast I would still add a video recorder to the mix to get the better looking, uncompressed files. 

What the Nikons and Canons don't do well when pressed into service as video cameras is decent, decisive focusing in AF and any sort of real time image stabilization. In fact, the stabilization issue is why I am looking at adding the Olympus EM-5 typ2. My shot tests with the camera in video mode and the IS engaged show a stability that trumps any hand held rig up to a real steady cam, is better than most people can get with a monopod and is handhold able for long shots. It would make a nice adjunct to the stuff I have now.

Lenses. The real reason for me to shoot with some of these Nikon cameras is to use the Nikon lenses in the way I learned to use them many years ago. I think some of the Nikon MF lenses are very good. The 105mm f2.5, the 55 macros, the 25-50mm f4, the 50mm f1.2, and even the older 85mm f1.8. While all of these lenses can be easily adapted to smaller format cameras the whole point in my argument about context is that this adaptation moves the lenses out of the visual style I have hardwired into my brain and makes them, for the most part, unable telephoto optics. 

Final Thoughts. I've spent months now with the D610 that I bought in late December of 2014. I've shot corporate portraits, personal portraits and touristy shots around town. I like the camera very much because it reminds me and helps me channel the way I shot when I was still learning and so emotionally engaged in photography. That's one person insight into why people prefer one camera over another. But from a rational point of view the camera really delivers good images. The sensor is the second or third best rated of all the sensors at DXO database and gives the user (me) great color, extremely ample dynamic range and see-in-the-dark ISO performance  unrivaled in nearly every other camera on the market. 

I paid $1249 for the camera. A small fraction of what I've paid for other full frame cameras. For that price I don't have to treat this camera as a precious object. I don't worry about taking it out in foul weather or leaving it under the front seat of the car while I go shopping or meet with someone downtown. I can shoot and, more importantly, frame shots as I did when I first learned to photograph. It's a sensibility that is hammered into my consciousness by thousands of hours of shooting and printing. The camera is nearly perfect for me because it isn't perfect. It's just an all around good camera. It's uncomplicated. It's accessible. It's comfortable. 

If I need the highest performance I can reach for some other camera. But this one is a great back up for the D810 when shooting stills. It's an acceptable back-up for shooting most kinds of video. But it's quickly as comfortable as an old pair of running shoes or a pair of swim goggles that don't ever leak and that's exactly what I was looking for. Not perfection, just comfort and reliability.

disclaimer: I bought this camera from a vendor on Amazon with my own funds. The camera and lenses I've written about were all purchased from various retailers and there is no connection, financial or otherwise, between me and Nikon. I am not selling Nikon cameras, don't give a rat's ass whether you buy one or not. This is not an "either/or" column about why you should choose one system over another. Just my thoughts about the D610. I'd probably feel much the same about a Canon 5D mk xxx.

#SXSW gets underway. Lots of a signage.

This is the alley behind Esther's Follies on Sixth St. They just painted these
fresh murals. I think the murals are a lot of fun. 
I love public art.

Esther's Follies.

Esther's Follies.

Cops and folks out on Sixth Street. 

What are the ramifications of chest mounted iPads with interactive apps?
A new breed of intimate advertising.

Festival Tourism.

The signage one the gentleman near the center of the frame is another iPad.
Drink specials: "Three Dollar Hurricanes."

Together at #SXSW

Like most modern cameras the D610 can do it's own raw processing, in camera.
I took this as a test and processed the image in the camera then I came 
back to the studio and tried processing the same raw file in Lightroom.
The camera version is much, much better. Crap. Something 
new to worry about.

The Lighting Notebook eBook now only $9.95

The Lighting Notebook, by Good Light! Magazine, is a PDF eBook that gives you easy access to all the lighting setups you might ever need.

– One-click jump to any setup from the visual index
– Categories: One light, Two light, Multi light and available light
– Copy and print the PDF without technical restrictions

New setups are added to The Lighting Notebook on a regular basis. All updates to future volumes are free of charge for you.

*** please note: This e-Book contains nudity in the examples. If you’re okay with that, then great. If not, then this book isn’t for you.

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promotion – special offer: iDrive – an affordable online backup system

It is tough for me to summon up sympathy for someone who wails on FB that their hard drive has failed. My advice is always simple – go to your back-up! It’s so obvious.

Hard drives fail. You need to rigorously take that into account, or else you will lose your photos … and potentially your business. It can be that devastating.

Even more devastating is complete loss of everything, with no chance of even having a hard-drive that could be rescued. Fire, hurricanes and tornadoes – all of these things can obliterate your office and home, leaving you nothing … unless you have everything backed up online. For example, as described in this article – photography workflow and back-up plans for disaster – the photographer pretty much lost everything in Hurricane Sandy, but he was okay in that all his data was backed up to the cloud. He didn’t lose his files!

There are a number of options which are easy to use, and inexpensive. Which means at this point it would be inexplicable foolishness to not have an online back-up for your images.


special offer

iDrive is one such service available – and there is a special discount for followers of the Tangents blog!

1TB of Cloud Backup + 1TB of Cloud Sync space for only $14.88 for the first year, for followers of the Tangents blog, via this discount page. (For transparency: it is an affiliate link.) The regular price of $59.50 for 1TB for one year, is discounted by 75% if you sign up through that link.


more info on iDrive

iDrive is a one-stop solution to backup all of your PCs, Macs, iPhones, iPads, Android devices and Facebook pictures into a single account!

iDrive creates a unique local folder on the computer. Add files to this folder to sync them in real time. Whenever you modify files within this folder, the updates instantly reflect on all linked devices and vice-versa. This means you have access to all your files (up-to-date) on iDrive, from any device.

  • more info on what iDrive does, and how it works.


related links

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The radio telephone the secret service carried on the Johnson Ranch.
Where's the screen for reading e-mail?

I am now officially booked through the end of March. It's nice thing because it represents a bit of financial security but it does play havoc with the swim schedule. I will adjust. The thing that makes being booked up different for me this year is that so much of the current (and near future) work is video or a mix of photography and video. It seems obvious that corporations are profoundly changing the way they communicate with customers. 

You can see it in the new wave of websites. The ones from the tech community don't open with a banner photograph across the top of the front page anymore, they open with a video banner instead. The video banner is nearly always a lifestyle/brand presentation of the client. One company has a video of good looking professional people walking toward the camera in a light, airy and modern airport setting. They sell software that improves customer experiences and one of their big clients is the airline industry. The video is a quick, active encapsulation of what they promise: A quick and convenient airline experience; one made better by the company's phone centric software product. At least that's the premise and the promise.

Even my theater client which we've supplied photographs to for 24 years has lately discovered the power of video content to move shows into profitability and engage their base in more active conversations around certain plays. While I'm making conventional images for the marketing of the new LBJ drama, All the Way, I recently spent three days making a combination of reportorial style still images, video interviews, video programming on locations and audio interviews. They're building a strong YouTube channel and also inserting video, wherever possible, in social media. As channels of content distribution get more splintered it seems that having more tools is always better. It's rare now, for me, to get jobs that don't have some sort of online video component (whether the client chooses to have me produce it or not...). Video is a self-contained way to present a complete story across any number of devices. From old school televisions to phones.

I met this morning with a technology client who has commissioned me to do a new video for them for an upcoming trade show. Their booth will have a number of 50 inch monitors and the video needs to do three things: 1. Tell a shorthand version of the company's story. 2. Present an overview of their products and the benefits to customers. 3. Represent the company's partners. The video needs to come in under three minutes (harder to do than a longer program) and it needs to work well with, and without audio. To do the video we need some good still images of the products in prototype. We might also need a few more images that we can pan over of their existing products. We have good, existing video of the processes and the look of the headquarters.  We'll need copywriting and some motion graphics and a big dose of editing.

The videos will run over and over again across all the 50 inch monitors on a trade show booth. The monitors are the logical replacement for large, static trade show graphics in that the video is constantly moving, can handle multiple messages in one space and captures the audience's attention for a longer period of time that a still image would. The days of handing out a brochure and a business card under a gatorfoam mounted company logo sign are quickly coming to a close....

While none of this really matters to photographers who pursue the craft for their own pleasure I write about it because it's swirling all around me and the integration of video seems inevitable. I'm certainly not making the statement that still images will vanish but there's a convergence going on that's changing the way we've worked. It seems like it will change the way we navigate future business as well. Everything moves and everything talks.

When we bid on photography projects now the closing sentence on most cover letters for bids is something along the lines of, "We also offer complete video production services including:scripting, shooting, motion graphics and editing. Please let me know if you need video services as well and we'll be happy to create an estimate. It can often be much more cost effective and time efficient for you when we provide both services in tandem...with the added benefit of a single source of contact..."

I can't provide every service a client might need directly but I'm making alliances with other vendors who are very good at the things I'm not up to speed on. I commission motion graphics. I send some projects to editors. In fact, I am equally comfortable hiring small teams to do the actual video under my creative direction when necessary. I guess the old saw is right, "A man has got to know his own limitations." 

I'm not sure about a lot of stuff but I am fairly certain that video is here to stay for professional photographers and the quicker we become experts the better it will be for our bottom lines. 

Where's the screen for the computer on the left?
What that round dial on the telephone? Is it like the control dial
on the back of Canon cameras? 
(LBJ's office at the ranch).

Is an intercom faster and easier than yelling down the hall?
Or texting? 
(LBJ's office at the ranch). 

My latest experiences with video have me thinking about one thing in particular and that is what the best form factor for a video camera might be and how much operating convenience and efficiency counts when weighed against potentially higher imaging quality. To wit, is an EM5-2 a better video camera because of its incredible image stabilization versus the superior video file capabilities of a GH4 or Sony A7S? Which trumps what? After my work last week I would have gladly traded the Nikon D810 for an older Olympus EM-5 just for all the handheld sequences. It's an ongoing process of figuring out a style that works most of the time. I'll hedge a little and say that I still find the Sony RX10 a compelling little video camera for anything handheld. On the other hand clients seem to like the look of the bigger Nikon fully tricked out on a tripod.... Ah well, some stuff never changes. 

A quick advertising note: Craftsy is offering a bunch of course at up to 50% off. It's a good way to learn new stuff. You might want to browse their photo offerings. I'll be looking at the cooking classes.....   Here's the link!

Photoshop tutorial: create a Photoshop action to add texture overlays

guest post by Adrian, at Five Star Studios
wedding photographer, Mackay, Queensland in Australia


Neil’s post on applying a texture to the background, made me think of the things I do to give photos ‘that special look’ and when I told Neil about it, he kindly invited me to write an article on this topic – adding texture layers to photos. This can be easily applied via an action, outlined step by step further down.

The post by Neil was a texture ‘replacement’ background as opposed to laying a texture on the image itself, a big difference, and that involves a lot of ‘cutting’ out, brushing, etc, which just simply cannot be done via an action unless a lot of  ‘Stops’  – read a message (messages on what to do can be built within actions) – and then continue.   It’s just not practical with some images.

Remember, we are laying a texture over the image, as opposed to using a texture for replacing the background, so before we start, you need to have some images that you have found or even shot yourself.

Images like rusted metal, old painted peeling doors/walls, rocks, absolutely limitless.

Google ‘textures/patterns’ and there are 1000’s of free images to source.

Also, give them names you can relate to, makes it easier rather than eg: Image1.jpg, Image2.jpg, etc.

The textures we are going to use will first need to be made into Patterns and the beauty of this method also is you only have to build just the one action, but you can apply countless different numbers of texture variations over the image/s by merely changing the ‘Pattern’ itself on the ‘Pattern Adjustment Layer’ built into the action.



Step 1: Creating the ‘Patterns’ needed from the Texture Images:

  1. a) Open up your texture images you now have sourced into Photoshop.
    You can download this texture from this link.
  2. b) Once you have the images in Photoshop, go to:

The Main Menu Bar – choose Edit, go down to ‘Define Pattern….’ and click that.

You will now get this Dialogue Box – Leave the name the same and just Click OK.

That’s it, nothing else to do. Close that image now.

Repeat for the remainder of the images, Edit/Define Pattern…., click OK, close image. All done.


  1. c) Once you have done a ‘Defined Pattern…’ on all the images, you can now check them in the Preset Manager, where you can manage what’s in there.

Menu Bar/Edit/Presets/ and choose Preset Manager from the fly-out menu option, then in the Preset Manager’s drop down menu at top, choose ‘Patterns’ and you get this:



Step 2: Creating the action:

  • 2. a) Open an Image you want to work on, then open your Action Palette if not already visible. Menu Bar/Window/Actions.

Depending on how your Action Palette was last used (or if used at all) will depend on how it looks.

It may be in ‘Button Mode’ (lots of colored buttons) or you may see lots of grey folders, (out of ‘button mode’) and sub-lines of type, which are all independent actions.

You need to be *out* of Button Mode and see just the grey color & black wording.

To do this, on the Actions Palette at the top on the same line as you see the word ‘Actions’ on the far right side, there is a very tiny triangle with some horizontal lines, (called the Wing Menu – arrowed in snapshot) click that and uncheck ‘Button Mode’ by just clicking it.


You will now see grey folders (called ‘Sets’ where each ‘Set’ can contain lots of actions.

We now want to create a new ‘Set’, then in that Set we will create the action.

Before you start, you can fold up any ‘turned down’ triangles beside any folders so they are all neat and tidy by just clicking on that triangle.


  • 2. b) Click back on that same Wing Menu and choose ‘New Set…’, from the fly-out options.

You will now get a dialogue box called New Set, type in a name, eg: Texture Overlay.

Click OK and you will now see the new ‘Set’ called Texture Overlay at the very bottom of the Action Palette.

Each time you create a new set, it comes in at the bottom, but you can move it’s position by click/hold and drag it to where ever you wish.


  • 2. c) Back to the Wing Menu, this time choose ‘New Action…’ you get another dialogue box, now just type the same name (Texture Overlay) in, but before you click ‘Record’, you may also want to give a ‘Color’ to the Action Button when you go back to Button Mode, just so you don’t have a truckload of just grey buttons by default, up to you.

Click ‘Record’


Once you have clicked ‘Record’, you will now see your ‘Action Set Folder’ and the actual Action living inside of that Set by the turned down triangle beside the ‘Texture Overlay’ folder at the bottom of action palette.

Also at the very bottom of the Action Palette, you will see the round Red Recording Button light up from it’s normal grey color.

Your action is now ready to be recorded.

Important: Anything you do now while in Photoshop will be recorded, so you need to know what you have done/not done, eg: don’t start recording then think I want another image, and you close, and open another image, that will all be recorded.

So, if you want to do something other than the actual recording steps, click on the Black Square Button to the left of the Red Recording Button, that will stop recording, do whatever you want, then click on the now Black Round Recording Button again, it will turn Red and be ready to start recording again.


NOTE: We are going to do all the steps like in the sample image above, but, you can choose to delete/change opacity of any layers after, and just have the Texture on top of the full color image, up to you, but all the steps are best recorded so that you have the opportunity to change later on, instead of trying to add it in at the end.


  • 2. d) Now in Photoshop first make sure you have your Layers Palette open: On Top Menu Bar/Window/Layers.

Once you are set and recording is now underway, go to the bottom of the Layers Palette, and click on the round black & white circle button 3rd from left of the ‘fx’ button (Adjustments Layer – the Black/White circle), then choose ‘Hue/Saturation’.

You should see a ‘Properties’ dialogue box, if not, Menu Bar/Window/Properties – OR – just double click on the tiny Icon you see on the left of that Hue/Saturation Layer in the Layer’s Pallete and you will get it also.

On the Saturation Slider (middle one) drag it back to -65%.

Your image should now be very de-saturated, with only a little color left in it. We really want that at this stage.


  • 2. e) Click back on the New Adjustments Layer Icon as above, choose ‘Solid Color’.

You will get a Dialoge Box as below, type in the Color Code a65b03 (arrowed – this can be changed anytime) and Click OK.

Your image now will have a Solid Color over the entire lot, you now need to fix this.

On the Layers Palette at the top you will see on left ‘Normal’ which are the Blend Modes, you need to click the drop down menu in there and choose ‘Color’.

Your image will now have a ‘blended’ sunset/brown wash through it.

One more step, because it would ‘look wrong’ if the whitest whites had a wash through them, we need to bring back slightly any Whites (Highlights), like wedding dresses, white shirts (as in sample image) so we need to change that Layer’s Style Blending Options to bring back up some of the Whites/Highlights on the underlying layer, so they are visible in the overall image.

To do this, you need to double click on a blank area of that ‘Solid Color’ Fill Layer, not on any wording or the Icon, but in a blank area.

Once you have the ‘Layer Style’ dialogue box open, in the middle section at the bottom under ‘Blend If’, leave it on ‘Gray’ then, place your cursor on the ‘Underlying Layer:’ sliding scale, just beside (not on) the tiny double white triangles on the right side (Highlights) hold the Alt Key down and just click.

That will separate the Highlight Markers so you now have 2 white triangles.

Click/hold the inner half triangle (leave the outside one alone) and then drag until you see the amount of 198/255 come up on the left. (see image)

Click OK.

You will see that the color wash will now appear on anything white up to about the ¼ tones of the Highlights. (that 198 value you set being a quarter of the Highlights – just enough to take the edge off of the Color Fill).


  • 2. f) Adding the Texture:

Go back to the New Adjustments Layer button, choose ‘Pattern…’, you now get this dialogue box, in the small preview window, click on the down arrow, choose your pattern, one of the ones you created, once that has been chosen, you will more than likely see that the ‘pattern’ now showing over the image may look like it’s starting to repeat itself, depends on the actual image size of the pattern, so to fix that, there is a Scale Slider, click that and merely move the scale up until there are no repeating edges on the pattern and or just for appearance anyway.

Click OK. Your image will now be the full textured pattern over the top of your main image, you need to change the Blend Mode, experiment with Overlay/Soft Light/Hard Light, what ever you like.

You can also change Layer Opacity, image shows 80% but I settled on a subtle 10% in the end.


  • 2. g) CLICK THE BLACK SQUARE STOP BUTTON. This will stop the recording and therefore ends the new action.

If you now look at your Actions Palette, you will see all of the steps recorded.


  • 2. h) To run the action now, you need to go back to Button Mode, go to the Action Wing Menu, click back on the ‘Button Mode’ it puts a checkmark back on it and brings back the actual buttons.

If you are used to running actions from UN-Button Mode as in clicking on the action, then clicking the Play Action, then of course do that.

Also, you can change the layer’s opacity, it does not have to be 100%, a lot of the time I may change it to anywhere between 10-80%.

If you don’t like the pattern, you can change it, simply double click the Pattern Icon on left of the layer and it will open back up the Pattern Options, just choose another pattern, also play with the Scale slider.

Also, if you have faces in the image, you can still move that pattern layer around on the image anyway, or, it puts a mask onto the layer so you could use a soft black brush to brush out anything over the faces.

Of particular interest also, you can delete the Pattern layer to get a great Sepia/tone image just by itself from the start, I would also leave the Opacity at 100%

That’s it. All finished!


quick run-down of the technique

  • De-Sat image first: De-sat -65% (adjustable)
  • Solid Color with a65b03 – 80% (adjustable) opacity
  • Pattern ‘very rusted metal’ – Scale 145% – Mode: Overlay – 10% layer opacity. (all adjustable)
  • Blend IF: Underlying layer Highlights to 198 on Solid Color Layer only.


related articles

The post Photoshop tutorial: create a Photoshop action to add texture overlays appeared first on Tangents.

school house on the Johnson Ranch

We saddled up mid-morning, all caffeinated and happy, and headed due west on a road trip to Johnson City and beyond. It was a cold, crisp Friday morning last week. Well, cold by central Texas Standards. The temperature where gloves aren't exactly necessary but sure feel nice.

In the car were the photographer/video guy, the dramaturg/researcher and the public relations person from Zach Theatre. Coming along behind us in a pick-up truck was the theater's artistic director and our actor. Our mission was to research LBJ in order to make the upcoming play more insightful and faithful to the real personality of our former president. 

I was juggling two jobs, something working journalists seem to have been pushed into in recent years. Over one shoulder I had a Nikon D810 all rigged up for shooting video, with a microphone in the hotshoe and a giant loupe clamped to the rear LCD screen. There was an extra battery in my left pocket and the 64 gigabyte card in slot #1 gave me confidence that I'd be able to shoot for hours. 

My relationship with microphones is dicey. I understand them, have had success in the studio and on controlled locations with them but there's something about "run and gun" work in quick changing environments that always leaves me feeling that I've got the wrong tool on at the wrong time on the wrong camera. I started with a small shotgun mic but it sounded to noisy and I didn't have a dead cat wind sock for it so I tossed it back into the bag and grabbed a Rode NTG2. I had the "dead cat" but if I'm anywhere beyond about two feet from someone speaking I can never get enough gain out of that microphone. I ended up sticking an older Rode StereoMic on the hotshoe and it seemed like the best compromise of the three. I would have used wireless lavalieres but the cast of characters ebbed and flowed and grew and I only have two microphones. I'd no sooner mic one person than they would probably walk off while someone brand new would come into the group and toss out that perfect quote... Damn. Sound out in the wilderness can be challenging.

Over the other shoulder I had a Nikon D7100 with an all purpose zoom on it. When I got too frustrated with audio chaos I would let the D810 drop over my shoulder, grab the 7100 and do what I know how to do best---just take photos. Just as I have a love/hate relationship with most microphones I also have a love/hate relationship with Nikon's 18-140mm everything kit lens. On the plus side the range is great, the center sharpness is more than adequate and the VR works like a champ. On the down side the corners are softer than Brie cheese and the in camera distortion correction uses too much of the edge of the frames to do its work. That 18mm quickly becomes more like a 22 or 23mm instead. But the combination of good reach, adequate sharpness and killer stabilization keeps me using it for stuff that happens without a script or a plan.

Hat in LBJ's childhood home.

When we're doing jobs for clients I like using the raw files on the D7100 but I use them on this camera like a modern version of a Jpeg. By that I mean that I've got the camera set to shoot 12 bit raws which are also compressed. And since the menu gives me a choice between lossless compression and compression I'm going to assume that the compressed file is on the edge of being visibly less able than the other option. But this compromise buys me two things: I get to cram about a third more images on a memory card, and, I still get to dial in color temperature, sharpening and the like after the fact in post processing without destroying file info.

Traveling out of town means we get to sample new food in new restaurants. We took the National Park Service Ranger's advice and ate at the 290 Diner in Johnson City. Lovely people. Good food. I wish I had ordered after the P.R. lady. She got a BLT and then had the diner add a fried egg to it. It looked delicious and the bacon was so wonderful looking that it bordered on food porn. 

One of the fringe benefits of a group trip like this is someone else driving. I got to sit in the front passenger seat and stare out the window like a puppy. And if it was boring outside I could close my eyes behind my hipster sunglasses and no one would know I wasn't paying attention or being earnest.

The trip from Austin takes about 45 minutes (assuming you don't want to go at rush hour...) and it takes one through some really pretty Hill Country. You go past the turn off for Pedernales State Park and there are at least two Dairy Queen restaurants between here and there. Johnson City is very small. They are maybe 1800 people who live there but the population might swell to 2,000 during the weekdays as people come in from all around to work at the Pedernales Electrical Cooperative and at the restaurants. Very different from the million + people who live in the Austin area (11th most populous city in the U.S.) and the twenty million who seem to be trying to drive here most weekdays...

I always find the low population density calming...

Anyway, the job was fun. I just followed people around and tried to catch interesting conversations about LBJ and if that didn't work I tried to make pretty pictures. One thing I came to realize is how poorly configured DSLRs are for long bouts of handheld video taping and how unprepared I was to hold a camera of that bulk still and vibrationless for more than a few minutes at a time. I came to love my tripod and hate the times when I had to handhold the rig---example: shooting in a moving car!

While the three point hold with the Loupe as the third point goes a long way to stability I'll never understand how anyone anywhere can hold a camera of that weight and size out at arm's length to view the naked screen and have any expectation of stability. I know I could never do it, no matter how much I might practice.

After grappling with the D810 for a while I realized that one of the features and flaws of shooting video with a big-ass, full frame camera is that one had a very limited depth of field. Great for those narrow depth of field shot of the half naked beauty rising from a nap on a gloriously lit set but sheer hell when trying to keep multiple people in reasonable focus without always having to shoot wide. 

At a certain point I gave up the much better video image quality of the D810 and switched over to shooting video with the D7100 I'd brought along for still shooting. The smaller frame, using the same aperture on the 18-140mm got me a happier number of in focus shots. One of the unsung benefits of using the M4:3 cameras as video cameras, at least in these kinds of situations, is the forgiving nature of more ample depth of field for the same angles of view. All in all this kind of work would either drive me back to using the GH4 or EM5-2 all the time or maybe even buying a dedicated video camera with a nicer form factor. There's a time and a place for shallow depth of field and equally there is a time and a place for deep focus. It's so much fun learning and re-learning on the job. 

Telephone in LBJ's childhood home.

I was happy to shoot video and photos but happier still to be part of a small, road trip community. We stopped at an isolated McDonald's for coffee. We zoomed around LBJ's ranch in a Lincoln. We heard amazing stories and we say some beautiful ranch country. And then, best of all, someone else did the driving back home. As I dragged my gear back to the car I thought about my usual litmus test for projects and their fun quotient: would I want to do it again? The answer for Friday would be: Yes.

Wash basin in LBJ's childhood home. 

If you come to Austin for SXSW and you are disappointed 
at the highly diluted nature of the festival and the 
massive crowds of similar people you might want to 
rent a car and head out to Johnson City.
It may be a good cure of overweaning hipsterism.

A quick advertising note: Craftsy is offering a bunch of course at up to 50% off. It's a good way to learn new stuff. You might want to browse their photo offerings. I'll be looking at the cooking classes.....   Here's the link!

Lisbon, Portugal.

When we work with fully manual cameras that have no meters, no autofocusing mechanism and no zoom lenses we tend to work more quickly because we aren't slowed down by having to make choice after choice at the time of shooting. 

When I shot with a Leica M4 and a 50mm lens I followed the same routine when I was outside. I would Scotch tape a Kodak exposure guide (small slip of paper with pictograms on it) to the bottom of the camera. I would walk outside and judge the light, then I would look at the guide to decide the right exposure setting. I would set it on the camera and it would stay set until I noticed that the light had changed. 

I liked working at f5.6 or f8.0 apertures on the 50mm when I worked with Tri-X because in any light short of full sun I could use those apertures and work within the limitations of the camera's 1/1,000th of second top shutter speed. I would preset a hyperfocal distance that would cover the usual subject and if needed would fine tune depending on the distance from my camera to the subject. 

With the camera set this way taking a good picture was as easy as seeing the subject, raising the camera to the eye and then pushing the shutter button. No thought. No second thoughts. 

Once the moment is captured we might try to fine tune. It is usually futile as the clearest seeing of the image seems to be the moment of recognition. 

Auto focus introduces conscious thinking. Everything from deciding on the focus points to confirming focus. None of it is instantaneous. None of it is reflexive. It's different. Ah well.

A quick advertising note: Craftsy is offering a bunch of course at up to 50% off. It's a good way to learn new stuff. You might want to browse their photo offerings. I'll be looking at the cooking classes.....   Here's the link!

2200+ posts. 
Lots of photos.
Even more words.

Thanks for stopping by.

This image has nothing to do with this particular blog post.
It's an image from Lisbon in the late 1990's.
I liked the tile on the side of the building.
Leica M6. 50mm Summicron. 

I got hired by a photographer for today. He was shooting the installation of an art project at an airport and needed someone to provide video documentation of the installation as well. The installed art work is hundreds of feet long and covers two expanses (two walls) of a great room. We had control of the location from 10am until 2pm. There was "hard stop" at 2 pm because an arriving international flight would disgorge passengers who needed to transit through "our" space. 

The best way to show the installation on video was to move across the length of the art. Fortunately we had a floor that was smooth as glass and a large cart with soft wheels and a true bearing. My most important shots were done by placing a stout tripod on the top of the cart, loading the cart with ballast to give it more inertia and then practicing my pacing. I'd line up the shot and then use the joins on the floor to stay on the right path, perpendicular to the wall.  When I first started planning the video portion of the project I was thinking "wheel chair" as a quick and inexpensive alternative to laying a couple hundred feet of dolly track but the cart was even better.

We needed a fun opening shot and a perfectly placed escalator allowed me to descend into the room and into the art in a very visually fun way. Through experimentation I found that the best way for me to hold a camera very steadily on moving stairs is to use a loupe/finder over the rear screen and have a three points of contact strategy. The three points being my left hand, my right hand and my forehead/eye socket.  I also engaged the vibration reduction on the lens I was shooting. 

We tried using a slider but the room's volume and dimensions, as well as the placement of the art in relationship to the lighting, really necessitated using longer lenses from further back. There's not enough relative movement in some long lens shots to get the feeling of movement across to the reader in any convincing way using a slide movement. If we'd needed to shoot close and wide it would have been a different story. 

Some of the best shots of the day were a result of just finding the right vantage points for good side to side pans. We had the usual hurdles like mid-room pillars and non-removable signage but we can make short work of those by using some judicious dissolves to and from the b-roll I shot. Panning is much less a technical consideration than it is a matter of coordination and lots of practice. I haven't done it enough to get perfect pans every time so I need to do lots of takes and work all the time on my technique. I can only imagine that the guys who are really good at getting pans at just the right speed and smoothness must practice for months and years before getting their technique just right. No workshop shortcuts available...

Like most brain functions combined with hand functions it takes practice making the two work together. Pans can be unforgivingly obvious when they aren't done in a skillful way. I'd like to think a better quality ($$$) fluid head will make my panning moves much better but I can already see that there's no magic bullet. Some stuff just has to be gotten to straight through before it really works. My big hope is that perfect panning is not another one of those things that takes ten thousand hours to accomplish. 

I do know that the pans worked better when I used one hand on the camera and one hand on the tripod arm. I know now that it's easier to do a fast pan than a slow pan and it's almost impossible to do a really good very slow pan; at least for me.

I've learned in previous projects just how useful detail footage and shots from other angles are when editing. If a part of one pan goes bumpy it's always possible to cut away to a different angle and then cut back when my overall performance improves somewhere in the original shot. 

I'm back in the studio now and looking at footage. It doesn't look bad. I know enough to know that I don't know enough and don't have enough practice yet to be good. But I can, at this juncture, get stuff that's serviceable. Studio dog is in the studio basket with her PolarTec bathrobe (and inadvertent "gift" from me) right next to the little radiator heater. She is subtly trying to tell me to wrap up this blog because we're falling behind on the schedule. The schedule goes like this: Retouch a couple of headshots, play fetch. Retouch a couple of headshots, play fetch. Retouch a couple of headshots, play fetch. Retouch a couple of headshots, play fetch. Retouch a couple of headshots, play fetch. Retouch a couple of headshots, play fetch.........

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