Boy says goodbye to the critical member of the family, The Studio Dog.

So it's all played out now. We drove the boy to the Austin airport and sniffled as we watched him go through security and then we drove back home and looked around the empty house. The Studio Dog knew something was afoot and she eyed use with harsh judgement for somehow banishing her best friend. 

I kept my camera over my shoulder to get a few last snaps like this. 
Not a great image but one that Belinda, Studio Dog and I will 
like having around until the winter holidays. 

Then of course I shook off all the sentimental fussiness, grabbed my favorite walking around optical machine and headed out to do the routine route; the quick tour of downtown Austin. I had my shooting camera perfectly set up. I was using the Olympus OMD EM-5 (in black) with the full on battery grip, the miraculous 25mm f1.4 Pana/Leica lens with hood, all held together with a black cloth strap that's soft and pliable and compfy to wear over one's shoulder. Auto ISO, aperture set at f4.0-f5.0 and color turned up to exciting. There is something very comfortable about the way the EM-5 is laid out, especially when one adds the battery grip to the whole package. It's just a fun camera to shoot and the Pana/Leica normal focal length lens is just right. 


The neat thing about walking through familiar territory is noticing all the things that have changed. The progress of giant, new building projects. A flock of new industrial cranes. The progress of the new $300,000,000 library building, built on some of the most valuable property in Austin, during an age when everyone downtown has instant internet access to almost anything written and nearly for free on their laptops and their phones. I'm always puzzled by the reason for the new library and also its location and who it is intended to serve...

But the Olympus camera does a nice job documenting the construction and the library's share of cranes...

I took a bit of heat around the web for my prediction that Canon and Nikon would eventually run into trouble if they didn't start introducing some innovations that other companies have already mainstreamed, like EVFs. I couched it all in terms of reducing the feedback loop of picture taking. Many traditionalist rushed to defend the optical viewfinder and disparage the whole idea of needed progress. The main reasons they trotted out in defense of OVFs were sports photography that requires AF tracking and a quaint subsection of photography called, "BIF." 

BIF (damned abbreviations and jargon!) is supposed to stand for "birds in flight." In another age they would have been referred to more poetically as, "birds on the wing." Apparently, and almost unbeknownst to me, there are legions of people who take their cameras out and try to shoot very tightly cropped images of birds as the birds fly around. This apparently requires the use of optical viewfinders. Given that sparrows and even hawks are pretty damned tiny, not to mention the dimensions of a finch, I would think that people who practice this unusual pursuit would probably need 800 or 1200mm lenses to have even the remotest chances of filling the frame with the flying trophies. Which means that their cameras pretty much must be on tripods as the last time I looked those lenses were devilishly heavy and unwieldy. Not the sort of optical construction that one hand holds. 

I presume all that stands between success and failure is the magic of phase detection auto focus. Hence the imagined need for the optical viewfinders. I imagine that all of this must have been true until the Panasonic GH4 with its DfD focusing magic. I've tried it with a borrowed Panasonic 100 to 300mm and it's pretty good. That 300mm has the reach of a 600mm on a full frame camera but I still don't think that's enough magnification to fill a frame with a flighty and nervous bird in flight. On the wing. All BIF-oriented. I'm going to venture a guess that the limiting factor for BIF-ing with m4:3 is not the AF or the AF-tracking but the availability of very fast, long lenses. 

I'd be interested to know where all these BIF images end up. I don't ever see them as I scout around the web looking at images and sites by photographers. I've never seen or heard of an ad agency requesting a BIF-fer and outside of a few low pay nature magazines I've never seen a printed BIF magazine cover either. Are there readers of VSL who regularly BIF?  I'd be interested to hear in the comments your rationale for spending valuable time looking for and tracking the photographing birds on the wing. What drives you to take these kinds of images and what real world impediments are various cameras and lenses putting in front of you? And what do you do with the successful images once you've captured them?

The other rebuttal from the must have/love the OVF crowd is the old standby, SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY. And again, I'm guessing that we're really concentrating on soccer, track and field and American football. Baseball is so unbelievably visually boring (as well as constrained to small, bound spaces) and slow moving that I can't imagine any modern camera not fast enough to catch the endless spitting that seems to constitute the majority of the time spent on field by the players.  Need to catch the action? The batting swing takes place at a stationary position at home plate. They stand still. You have all the time in the world to lock focus. Next, they slide into first base. Again, all you need to do is focus on first base. It doesn't move around! Pop fly? Again, the slow trajectory of a pop fly gives you endless time to lock onto whoever is positioning themselves to catch the ball....

And I know all the cameras are capable of covering swimming. The sport is highly predictable and very linear. You can prefocus on the start. You can prefocus on the finish. You can track a straight line swim. (But you'd be better off going manual and tracking along with the race since water splashes routinely trick the AF and cause shifted focus...

What other sports require fast AF? Do you deal with that sport? Really? Just about every camera made in the last year will do a decent job with most sports. But I'll readily admit, having photographed a lot of top tier gymnastics, that using a top of the line (Nikon D4) with a newish 300mm f2.8 is going to get you a specific look and do it without missing very many frames, even on the rush to the pommel horse. It's specialized. Really specialized. I'd probably use a couple of D4's and some big fast lenses if I made a good living photographing that sport...Something with a huge buffer and great high ISO performance. You'll need it since flash is banned from competitions.

So do you shoot lots and lots of sports? The kinds of sports that move fast (not bowling or golf...) and erratically? Well, maybe you will have to wait a few years until the EVFs become absolutely instantaneous and maybe you will have to wait until the big fast primes come to m4:3 and other mirror less cameras. I can accept that. But I also think that people who never shoot anything moving faster than their lunch like to trot out these arguments because they don't like to think about the future and they don't like to acknowledge change. I look at a lot of portfolios and web sites. Again, not seeing the huge volume of demanding sports imagery.

Finally, two people mentioned the fact that EVFs eat batteries and they mention having day long assignments that mean having to change batteries with an EVF cameras. I laughed my ass off when I read that. Apparently no one remembers the days of pro digital cameras working on metal nickel hydride batteries. My big Kodaks got about 80 shots out of what seemed to be a one pound battery. My buddies who shot with the Nikon D1x carried around five or six batteries to get them through the day and that was a time when there were few third party batteries and the Nikon battery product was something like $125 a whack. 

I just bought a couple of extra batteries to use with my Olympus EM5s for a trip this Fall. I bought Wasabi Power replacement batteries for cheap. I can buy two of them with a charger for about $25. If I'm shooting with the EM-5 and the battery grip it's rare not to get through a shooting day without changing a either battery. I bought them for the extraordinary times when I might shoot a crap ton of images and stay late to shoot some more. It takes me a few seconds to change out a battery. This is an argument upon which the entire decision to skip or embrace a system is based upon? Ridiculous. 


But underneath all of the rhetoric it was never my intention to "sell" a system to anyone or to claim that one system was the perfect fit for all humans who photograph. My argument was that EVFs bring some powerful shooting tools to people that make shooting in most situations easier, more satisfying and fun, more controlled and more predictable. EVFs and their "always on" feedback loop of pre-chimping imagery are easier cameras for rank amateurs to use well, and in the hands of skilled users they offer certain advantages that aren't duplicated nearly as elegantly by various, traditional live view schemes on mirrored cameras. I don't own stock in any of the mirror-less camera making companies and I'm not out shorting Canon and Nikon stocks on the Nikkei. I'm making observations based on my experience and the feedback I hear (constantly) from well schooled enthusiasts and pros. The leitmotif is that once you've pre-chimped with a good EVF you'll never want to go back. The other verse is, once you've shed two thirds the weight of a big kit and still realize that you can take just as great a photograph you'll never want to go back to being a pack mule. It's pretty much logical. 



But Kirk! You just told us last week that you bought a Nikon D7100. What the hell is up with that? 

I'm in a government program for photographers that's modeled on the agriculture programs here in the U.S. The government pays me big bucks and gives me tax credits to buy equipment I don't need and then put it in a boxes and promise never to use it.... (JUST KIDDING). 

But seriously, I do photography for a living and have done so for many, many years. Not all jobs fit one set of cameras and lenses. If I shoot exterior architecture that requires in-camera perspective control I'll rent (not hire, that's what you do with people....) I'll rent a Canon 5D 3 and a couple of perspective control lenses. We don't have those in m4:3rds. If a client comes to me and asks for files that can, A. be blown up to huge sizes, and, B. Examined at very close viewing distances, I'll probably rent a medium format cameras and the right lenses. Or, at the least, I'll rent a Nikon 810 and the right stuff to go with it. But those are just every once in a while situations and those are not cameras I want to use on a day to day basis to shoot stuff that's largely destined for the web. 

The D7100 fits a special niche. I do shoot a lot of event style stuff.  I need at least one camera and flash in my bag that is great with flash photography. Not pretty good, but great. Fast moving flash. Not set up with slaves or CLS and chimp flash but ready, aim fire, got it, good flash. I wasn't getting that with my Sonys (which I sold) and I wasn't getting it with my Olympus or Panasonic cameras and their flashes. I needed it and wanted it so I researched and experimented and liked the D7100 and it's circle of usable, iTTL flashes. The proof is in the eating of the pudding and my first two jobs that required quick, automated flash went even better and more deliciously than I expected them to. I also used the D7100 for some detailed images of museum artifacts against white backgrounds. Not with the auto flash but with a big studio rig. I chose to use the D7100  because I still have a collection of Nikon macro (micro in Nikon parlance) lenses and, locked down on a tripod in a studio, the live view is good enough. I was shooting for maximum resolution. Sorry m4:3 guys but a good, big 24 megapixel sensor can still do some stuff very well. Especially this new sensor from Toshiba.

At any rate it's all good stuff and it all mostly fun to shoot. There are constant trade-offs between ultimate image quality and haptics. Weight and fun. Speed and obtrusiveness. Etc. etc. The bottom line is that everyone gets to shoot with whatever they want. But as far as reading comprehension goes it's not okay to read into an article whatever the hell you want and then go spew your inaccurate interpretation into the marketplace. We will all eventually be shooting with EVFs and when they are fully exploited there will be very few people who will be able to discern the difference between the EVF and an OVF.  The secondary reason for the  technical/manufacturing shift will be cost savings and profits for the makers. Little hi-def screens are much, much cheaper than silvered precision glass pentaprisms.

Cameras will get smaller and smaller until they reach an equilibrium between size and handling. The phone camera acceptance shows us that. Sensors will get better and better and at some point we'll stop talking about them altogether. Then we'll focus on "magic lenses" and have the same kinds of battles over optics. I'll keep shooting what I like for fun and writing what I think photography is all about now and in the near future. The distant future is largely unknowable. 


We're past the point where every little specification is "mission critical." We've hit critical technical mass and we'll be staying here for a while. That's why it will be so hard, economically, on all the camera makers. 





My walk downtown was therapeutic and fun. The files from the EM5 are great. Just as good as the GH4. At the sizes I use them they are as good as the files from any camera on the market. Maybe better if pleasing color is a primary metric. 

You can hold onto whatever you like but eventually everything will change and we'll be looking at new ways to make the same old images. And then it might even dawn on us to try and make new kinds of images. And I'm all for that.

Please help support 
The Visual Science Lab
by 
buying and reading our latest book.
It's an exciting novel about.....
....what else? A photographer.


Final Note: Ben has arrived at college, moved into his dorm room, had two delicious meals, unpacked and met his room mates and suite mates. All the worrying about logistics on my part is over. I hope he has maximum fun. He deserves it.


I've been concentrating on letting people know about the novel, The Lisbon Portfolio, lately but I was amazed when I went to the Craftsy.com website to see what's new in the photo courses over there. My course, Professional Family Portraits, which is offered for free has already attracted over 70,000 viewers. 

I've sent a large number of friends there because it's a good starting point in just getting comfortable with using lights, arranging and directing people and thinking about portrait photography. You can go to the site and start taking the course right now. You don't have to hand over your credit card and you don't need any special stuff to start. You can go back and watch as often as you want and you can leave questions for the instructor....which I am duty bound to answer.

There are also photography courses by people who are not Kirk. Like small light expert, Neil van Niekirk (whom I featured in my LED book) and Chris Grey who is a masterful studio photographer who shares the same book publisher as me. 

I use Craftsy.com to learn more about food because, invariably, I am also learning more and more about video from watching how the Craftsy pro video term puts the projects together. 


Give the free course a shot. You might find it entertaining. 
Legendary Austin actor, Jaston Williams on stage at Zach Theatre.

My wonderful friends in the marketing department at Zach Theatre asked me to come and photograph  a dress rehearsal of Jaston Williams's one man play, Maid Marian and the Stolen Car. I packed up a little bag of toys and headed over on Tues. evening. I shot primarily with two cameras and two lenses. I was sporting the Nikon D7100 camera with the 18-140mm zoom and the Olympus EM-5 (in its natty black finish...) with the 25mm f1.4 Pana/Leica lens. 

The slow zoom pushed me to shoot at 6400 ISO while the much more functional 25mm f1.4 allowed me to stick around ISO 800 with an f-stop around f2.5.

What's my takeaway? While the D7100 is very usable for this kind of work at ISO 6400 the quickly changing light is murder on exposure consistency and the slower feedback loop of shoot/chimp/correct/shoot/chimp/re-correct means far more missed shots than when I use a camera with a good EVF. The feedback loop goes something like: view/correct/shoot/shoot/shoot. 


Yes, the finder on the Nikon is pretty and the sensor is big and gorgeous but I'll trade all that any day for nimble, accurate and fun-to-hold-and-shoot. Yes, we could have used faster lenses on the Nikon but that would have only changed the ISO I ended up setting, not the iterative nature of shooting with a (finely made ) last century paradigm. 

Looking forward here's what I see in camera marketing: The camera company that is most successful with professionals and advanced enthusiasts in the future will be the forward thinking company that incorporates a great APS-C sensor; a wonderful EVF that cuts down on the iteration-chain for more effective, almost intuitive, shooting, great lenses that work well wide open and good video. 

The Olympus system is almost there with the OMD EM-1 but it remains to be seen whether or not they can sustain profitability in the market long enough to continue consumer camera operations. The marketing hurdle with regards to the masses is always going to be the sensor size. It's too bad they haven't found a marketer/advertising agency who can succinctly and movingly explain the inherent advantages of the smaller format. ( I volunteer to give it a whirl. I couldn't do worse....).

Panasonic is in a similar boat but they've made a conscious decision (I think) to cut all the consumer crap out of their line and focus on the higher end products that we enjoy. The GH4 is 95% of the way there. A bit more work on the Jpeg processing and the EVF quality and they have a good shot of staying in the marketplace and adding market share.

Nikon had a good idea with the V system but destroyed whatever advantages they had when they screwed around with the formula and went gunning for rank consumer markets instead of forward thinking pros and competent amateurs. For Nikon to truly compete going forward they desperately need to create a camera with a sensor as good as the one in the D7100 but with a mirror less configuration that features a wonderful EVF and lightning fast response.  Screw the idea of making a faux rangefinder. It's not the size that matters to most shooters, it's the tight feedback loop of full information we get in the EVF finders!

They have to get that figured out. If they do they can introduce cameras like the D810, the D610 and the D7100 but with brilliant EVFs instead of last century optical finders. Keep the same kinds of lenses, keep the big, hearty bodies. Fix the damn feedback loop! Oly shooters come for the size (supposedly) but they stay because of the finders. Make the finders nearly universal and a major advantage of m4:3 goes by the wayside.

I think Nikon will finally get it because they have little to fall back upon. It's morph or die. It's adapt or shrink into irrelevance. If they want to hedge their bets they can keep a few OVFs in the pipeline during the inevitable transition. That will make the traditionalists (over 50's) happier.  But if they want to provide cameras for the post digital age they need to figure out that once we have almost automatic visual feedback and control we're never, ever going back. And that includes people like Michael Reichmann who only a few years ago pissed on EVFs as not viable. Now he's dumped all his Nikon stuff for a Sony A7r system---- partially because of the size difference but, in my opinion, his brain finally accepted the idea that seeing the final image before you pushed the button was------revolutionary, not evolutionary.


Good luck to you, Nikon. I hope you see the light and I hope it's coming through a small, wonderful eye level screen instead of dead glass....

But onward to everyone's current "golden boy", Canon. The mantra is that they will survive because they've got the momentum. They'll keep making the traditional DSLR cameras because they own so much of the market. And the other line I always hear is, "They have the resources to compete in mirror less any time they want."  I maintain that they may of the resources but they lack the will and the foresight or the EOS-M would never have been such a cynically terrible camera. Deep down I'm starting to believe that they are the Japanese Kodak and they are so sure of their internal research and direction that they don't see the bullet train heading toward them on the same track.

The sad thing for all these guys is that the entire market is changing. Cameras in general are going away. They are being incorporated into all kinds of other products. They are being relentlessly de-valued by smart phones and combo computer products like tablets. If I ran Canon right now I'd jump in and start eating my own babies by making a line of incredible mirror less cameras in the full frame and APS-C spaces that required all new lenses and all new attachments and were the first line to implement the new generation of sensors that we've heard is coming down the line.  And just wait until Apple successfully incorporates a great camera into a beautiful wrist watch that automatically loads the images to your iPhone....

My advice to Canon? Make a mirror free product that's demonstrably better than any mirror less product out there. Three models: good, better, best. Launch with a full line of lenses: extremely wide zooms, fast primes and small but high performing long zooms. And toss the lion's share of marketing into their promotion. They can "halo" the existing products. They can cannibalize sales from all the competitors. Canon has the overwhelming share of name recognition. They have the deep pockets. If they don't follow through I'll be waiting for their Kodak moment with their camera division. 

But wait. Isn't there already a company out there that hits all the main criteria I've been pounding away at? Yep. And it's the only company whose recent products I haven't used. It's Fuji. And it's just right now that they got all their shit together in a meaningful way with the XT-1. Previous to that they had their share of software and firmware issues, zany non-compatible raw file issues, slow focusing issues and even the idiocy of launching a flagship product (the X Pro-1) without an adjustable diopter on the finder. A small point for most but they are still behind on the video front...

But to their credit they've kept improving and now they offer pretty much the golden triangle of good sensor, good (feedback loop) EVF and by most accounts, great lenses. It remains to be seen if they will act on their temporary supremacy and cement some increasing market share by advertising what they have to a wider market. Right now they seem to be the player with the mix. If Canon and Nikon want to aim at a competitor I suggest that they study Fuji and then take their best shots. It would be a waste of capital to aim at Olympus and Panasonic. 

But really, this is all a discussion about marketing trends and the future of cameras as we know them. It's relatively inconsequential to me and you in the short run because I really do believe that nearly every good prosumer and above camera in the current market is more than good enough to serve as an optical-mechanical conduit to my own vision. But your mileage may vary. 

I suggest that we have a bumper crop of choices in the stores right now. Enjoy it as I think the crop will hit some marked declines in the near future.  There are no "permanent" players in the camera industry and now, just like the professional photographers they serve, the companies will only be as popular as their last round of products. 

Other than that how did you enjoy the theatre Mr. Tuck? The play was hilarious and touching at the same time.... favorite camera? That was the EM5.




feminine portraiture – Pure: the authentic beauty project

Since 2012, Stacie Frazier, owner of Haute Shots Beauty and Boudoir Photography in Las Vegas, has been on an interesting mission – one to help women relinquish the control of cosmetics and see their own authentic beauty in the form of beauty and/or boudoir portraiture. Recently Stacie invited others to join her in this mission by announcing the PURE: authentic beauty project on the Business of Boudoir website.

Interview Questions:

1. Why was it important to you do start this project?

As a boudoir photographer, and especially as a woman myself, I see and experience the struggles my gender face on a daily basis. American women, in particular, are faced with unrealistic notions of beauty and what it means to be a woman. I wanted to offset this somehow with a project in which we all faced up to the truth of our own real beauty, in a natural and authentic way.

2. How did you get the idea?

A boudoir client from South Dakota was telling me about her job as a high school librarian and how she was heading a week long no makeup movement for the teen girls there. I was smitten with this idea. I thought it was so brave, especially for teenagers, to show their unadorned faces in such a judgmental situation like that. Teens can be brutal, afterall! But, it left me wondering what the implications would be to do something like this for grown women. Women who have developed makeup habits over the years. And, that’s when I decided to do my own study per se, and my No Makeup project was born.

 

 

3. How did you implement it?

The project started as a private endeavor. It involved a dozen of past clients behind closed doors with just me and my camera. For a whole year I shot women who were mostly unclothed and unmade up with the intent of making them just as sexy, if not sexier, than their original boudoir shoots with me. I soon realized the implications for this project far exceeded my original idea though and knew I needed to open this up to more women due to the empowering nature of it all. So, we celebrated the end of the year with a No Makeup event. Because this was now a group setting, we needed to change how we shot this quite drastically. Gone were the luxuries hotel settings as a backdrop, and privacy was definitely a thing of the past now So, we set up shooting stations using v-flats and required the participants to be clothed for this event. These shoots ended up being the most powerful of all for everyone.

4. What was the response?

The response was incredible. Not only from the women who participated but the local media caught on to what we were doing as well. It seems we had started a women’s movement of sorts and this was just the kind of story magazines were looking to cover.

 

 

5. Why did you decide to make this an official program?

Well, the response in the photography community was also quite strong. Many photographers began reaching out to me asking for permission to offer these events as well. And because I know firsthand what works and what doesn’t as well as the potential for this to really make an impact, I decided I would offer it up for the taking I just ask that we all stick together in this to give this the power and recognition it deserves for all women. And, that’s the most important reason really…I want all women to experience this, not just those local to my business.

6. How do photographers participate?

Join the movement by committing to the cause through the website and by joining the Facebook group at Pure Beauty Project.

 

 

7. What do you hope the long-term impact of this project might be?

My hope is that women everywhere will learn to appreciate their individual and unique beauty without trying to mask what makes them special to begin with. I hope that they will be as empowered as my own clients and myself to learn to love themselves just a little more because we all so greatly deserve that. I also hope to make a difference with the money raised for breast cancer awareness and domestic violence.

 

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U.S. Representative, Lloyd Doggett, Speaking at the opening of the 
new Austin Community College campus at Highland Mall. 

Texas State representative, Dawnna Dukes at the same event.

I recently tested cameras with flashes and came to realize that, for me the camera and flash combinations available for the GH4 weren't adequate for my use in event work (notice that I've said, "my use." I'm sure many readers are more adept at finding the right combinations of products and settings to make the m4:3 options successful. Just not working for me...).

I bought the Nikon D7100 based on reviews, previous experiences with Nikon flash systems and actual, hands-on experimentation. I bought an iTTL Metz flash instead of the Nikon brand because it tested just as well and was half the price. But the final test is always the use of the equipment in the field because everything seems to work well in my studio....

The two images above are classic examples of times I need good flash. The speakers are under the cover of a tent while the building in the background is in full daylight. The difference between the background and the speaker in the foreground is at least three and a half stops! I followed directions: I put the camera into matrix metering mode, S-AF, center focus point and focused on my primary subject. The images came out looking just like this. This is not a situation where it was possible to pre-light anything. I had several hundred people in the audience behind me and I was surrounded by six or seven other working photographers all trying to get the same decent shots. I would love to have bounced the flash off the white ceiling of the tent but I couldn't spare the flash power to get the right exposure and match that bright background. 

I could have used manual camera exposure and manual flash exposure but who wants to chimp, chimp, chimp through a fast moving assignment with lots of speakers and the need to also get audience reaction shots on the fly?

I haven't done any post processing to the shots. In fact, you can look at the two sides of the frame and see the obvious geometric distortion provided by the 18-140mm zoom lens. I am very happy with the results. I'll straighten the lines but at least I'm starting out with a well balanced frame that will work well for my client's public relations needs. It's a lot easier to straight a frame than to fix an unbalanced foreground/background lighting error. 

I am happy with all the image quality aspects of the camera/sensor/flash. The files are detailed, well white balanced and tonally happy. My only real complaint is how much I miss being able to chimp in the finder of an EVF camera to see if I got what I needed while I still have the camera up at my eye level. 

After I used this camera and lens for an event in the morning yesterday I spent time shooting the Panasonic GH4 and the 35-100mm for corporate portraits in the afternoon. We were shooting in continuous light and it was so wonderful and fluid to shoot that way. The images looked incredibly good as well. In the same ballpark for sharpness and smooth tonality as the Nikon. The only differences really showed up in basic handling differences. 

To round out my day I shot a rehearsal of THE KING AND I over at Zach Theatre. That job was done almost entirely with the Olympus OMD EM-5 and the 25mm f1.4 Pana/Leica lens. It was fast, did a great job automatically color balancing under weirdly mixed lights and was both sonically and visually unobtrusive. 

Not every camera works perfectly for every imaginable scenario. Yes, you can press most modern cameras into doing everything competently. But isn't it a privilege to work with the best tools for the project in front of you? I could have made the GH4 work with manual flash at the press event but it would have added several layers of complexity and required much more fine tuning and equipment supervision. How nice to have that done for you automatically. 

I could have used the D7100 for the theatre images but it's so much easier and nicer to pre-chimp fast moving and unpredictable rehearsals so you know what you are getting while you are getting it. It's more efficient. And the smaller camera is more pleasant to use. 

Best compromise so far? The GH4. Fast focusing. Fast flash sync and great finder. The files are also wonderful. Now if they would just put out a flash system that works like the Nikon....



The new "Math Accelerator" at the newly re-purposed Highland Mall. 
Highland Mall was the first regional shopping mall in central 
Texas. It's been more or less mothballed for a little while but 
Austin Community College (which I serve as an advisor to 
the arts programs) bought the facility and are renovating it with
the help of a stellar architectural firm.

Detail of math lab shot with the Panasonic 7-14mm lens on a
GH3. Why the GH3? Looked like the GH4 while I was 
packing in the early morning....


Austin is in another of its regular booms. This time the expansion dwarfs all previous booms. The number of fine dining restaurants has nearly doubled in four years. We have thousands and thousands of high end condominiums coming online each month and the sale of new homes over a million dollars has skyrocketed. Every time the phone rings it's a new start-up company that just moved to central Texas and needs video and photography----right now. 

What a contrast with 2008 and 2009 when everything slowed down to a crawl and photographers were boiling their leather camera straps to make soup.

So how has this impacted or improved the lives of the city's photographers and photo community? Well, of course, everything has changed with the democratization of digital imaging. There is a huge bottom to the the triangular hierarchy now with zillions of "no pay," "low pay," and "won't this look great in your portfolio: you should be paying us for the opportunity" types of jobs to be had but the pyramid thins out quickly as one goes up the scale into jobs that require skill, taste, lighting and a deeper understanding of production. 

There will be, for the foreseeable future, a number of projects that require nuanced lighting and at least a decent inventory of lighting tools and professional modifiers. CEOs still need to be handled well. Juxtapositions of foreground and background still need to be handled gracefully. And the photography based on an idea or good concept or even good cheer instead of a transient technique is always in style with someone out there who still has a budget. 

My take right now is that at least in Austin the pendulum has swung back to benefit tried and true photographic artists and away from the possible cost savings of the untried guy in shipping. The reason is that the movers and shakers who are driving the client side of the market have nearly unlimited budgets and they are in a hurry. A big hurry. They might have used a less expensive, unknown in the past but now they don't have the time. They need guaranteed delivery of very good product and while they might have the budgets to do things over and over again they have neither the patience nor the schedule flex to do iterative sourcing any more. They think of it as "opportunity loss/cost."

My gut feeling is that we get hired for two main reasons: 1. We have done a the thing our clients want done, or a near variation of it, thousands and thousands of times, successfully. All of our learning curves are in the dim, dark past and they were paid for long ago. According to the marketplace we are a "safe bet." Need it done now? We can deliver it every time. Track record. Experience. Now viewed as a cost saving attribute, not baggage.

And 2. Photography can be wonderful and complex and there really are learning curves to things like lighting and portrait/subject rapport and straightforward production. How to get the models your client needs. How to find the right locations. How to put together a crew and how to make sure they work smoothly and on a schedule. How to choose just the right light and lighting device to make the photograph turn out exactly the way the client wanted/envisioned it. Without wasting everyone's time desperately trying to figure it all out with a line of people waiting for you. Oh, I guess that's still just experience. 

And I am re-discovering for the ten thousandth time.....people will pay what it costs to work with someone that they like and trust. It's not enough to know how everything works, you have to bring some joy to getting their job done. You can make a successful photograph and still be a sociopathic nightmare---but you can't be a sociopathic nightmare and count on return clients. Ah, the stories I hear....

At any rate, the  market here is booming but all markets have a parabola. The faster the rise the faster the fall. I think of local economies like sine waves. There's always a peak and it's always followed by a trough. There's no real way to time it but there are clues. When I hear, "This time it's different. This time there won't be a bust!" I start stocking in the canned food and put more money into savings. I've been on this ride before.


boudoir photography: couples boudoir photo session – gesture and connection

With portraits of a couple, the way they connect with each other is often the main factor whether the image is compelling. It could be through gesture and touch. The gesture might even be subtle – if a couple snuggles in, they don’t have to look at each other – it’s entirely possible to give that sense of connectedness, even with a downward glance. As long a it looks like they are concentrating on each other or responding to each other, it works.

With the image at the top, Olena and Austin are directly looking at each other, hands intertwined and legs touching. Connection clearly there.

Compare these three images – there’s a definite sexiness that exudes from the couple, but only in first image where Austin’s chin touches Olena’s head, does the connection really kick in. He need not look at her for him to appear attentive. But with the distant gaze in the middle photo, the connection is lost – it just looks like he wants to be elsewhere.

In the last image, the connection has been (somewhat) regained. I had asked him to drop his gaze so he doesn’t appear to be looking away.

This instruction, “just drop your gaze”, is one that I frequently use. It somehow seems more clear to people than telling them to “look away, or look down’. The instruction to look somewhere, is too specific, but telling them to change the direction of their gaze, is more easily understood.

 

equipment (or equivalents) used during this photo session

The main image at the top, with them facing each other, is just available light.

The three subsequent images, with Olena leaning into Austin, most of the light here are just window-light streaming in. But I did add a touch of light from a speedlight in a gridded soft box. The pull-back shot here was taken with different settings, so the flash dominates here. We have options.

 

video tutorial: boudoir photography, with Jen Rozenbaum

The post boudoir photography: couples boudoir – gesture and connection appeared first on Tangents.

Oh my. I love/hate this lens so much.

The lens pictured above is the kit lens I selected to go with the Nikon D7100 body I recently purchased. My overarching rationale for its selection still stands firm. It's a camera and lens (and flash) combination to be used to make photographs at dimly lit galas and events. Places where accurate and well controlled flash is a must. In those situations having a wide range of focal lengths in one tidy package is a big plus and, for these things, the lens does well. Even more so because photographing groups of humans is one place where wonky geometric distortions aren't very noticeable. 

The lens sells for around $500 but they had some sort of special Summer pricing and if purchased as a kit the lens came out to around $250. So, let me talk to you about this lens.....

Here are the things it does very well: 

1. The range of focal lengths is custom made for event shooters. At 18mm you've got a 27.5mm equivalent that's perfect for big groups and fun, dramatic juxtapositions. If you are shooting groups with anything wider you've probably noticed that your lens (no matter how superb) is morphing the people next to the left and right (and top and bottoms) of the frame into giant blogs. Head grow like balloon heads in cartoons and hips become wider than billboards. I try not to do groups with anything wider than a 35mm eqiv. but sometimes you need what you need. 

2. This lens is a VR king. Nikon says more than four stops and I am a believer. This lens has almost convinced my photographer friends that all I'm drinking is decaf. Rock solid. It's in the same class as the OMD EM-5's I've been using. We don't need no stinkin tripods.... (But, of course we really do).

3. Can you say "sharp?" In the center two thirds of the frame at nearly any focal length, at maximum aperture, this lens is sharp, sharp. As in looking into the pores sharp. I tested it all the way out to the end and the results were pretty consistent. A bit sharper at the wide end but no slouching at the long end. 

4. For the number of focal lengths this lens replaces it's small. It's a comfortable and nicely designed package and it has both aspheric and ED elements as well as being an internal focus design. For $500 it's a pretty good "go everywhere with one lens" lens and for $250 it's easy to classify as a bargain....unless:

Here are the two things that the lens sucks at but you can only really blame the designers for one....

1. The lens has a slow maximum aperture. It's f3.5 at the wide end and f5.6 at the long end. With enough money and the allowance of enough weight you could design a lens with these focal lengths and an f2.0 constant aperture but no one would be able to buy one. And few photographers would want to carry it. The low max. ap. used to be a deal killer in days of old but now every camera does ISO 25,000 with dignity and aplomb so who really cares (sarcasm). But really, if you consider that f3.5 is less than a half stop over f2.8 and that f5.6 is just two stops over f2.8 and that camera sensors really have improved a lot in the past few years I think we can get by this. Especially for the price and convenience. 

2. And that leaves what, for some, will be a real deal killer.  The lens has the most extreme distortion I've seen in ages. At the 18mm end it's barrel distortion. And I mean a real barrel. Like a beer keg. It requires a minus 7 or minus 8 correction in raw conversion to get it into the ball park and even then it's not perfect. So at the wide apertures you're dealing with expansive lines bowing outward but at around 50mm it goes into a weird inversion and all of a sudden you've got pincushion distortion that's just breathtaking. Not sure if there's a lens profile out there for this one but I'm not seeing an auto correction in D7100 Jpegs or in Photoshop....

I'm keeping mine but if you do architecture or anything else with straight lines don't even ask for the sales guys to take this one down off the shelf for a demo. You'll be wasting everyone's time. I'll do my haphazard corrections and put a note on the lens hood reminding me to "never, never point this puppy at any straight line that I want to keep straight. 

And that's my review of the Nikon 18-140mm lens. Good for fast moving people mania! Horrible for straight lines of any kind. 


This image of a Berlin street is included solely for blog decoration. 
It has nothing to do with the content below. 
I shot it with the quirky Samsung Galaxy NX camera
and the solid little kit lens.
I like the pretty colors.

I've said recently that we've been busy over the last two weeks. Last Weds. I spent a full day making wonderful available light portraits for a software company in a downtown bank building. I spent most of the next day doing the necessary post production and also having phone meetings about upcoming video production. Yesterday I had the good fortune to spend most of the day on an assignment for the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum. It was a straightforward job but one that was almost meditative and very satisfying. 

The museum has a constant influx of artifacts that need to be well documented and I've been providing photographic documentation for them throughout this year. Since nearly every object must be kept on the museum grounds and can usually only be handled by a curator wearing gloves we definitely do each of these assignments on their turf. All of the artifacts are photographed on white backgrounds and during post production I create very detailed clipping paths so they can drop out backgrounds where necessary. 

Yesterday I loaded up the Airport Security case with the Nikon 7100 camera. A 35mm lens, a 50mm lens, a 55mm f2.8 manual focus micro lens and the wild kit zoom. I had a back up battery and, in case of catastrophic system failure, I had a Panasonic GH4 with assorted lenses in reserve. I also brought along a flash meter, gaffer's tape and some black wrap. Always black wrap. As an afterthought I tossed in two Yongnuo slave-able flashes.

In another case I had four Elinchrom moonlights with cables and speed rings and accessories. In the stand bag were a couple of soft boxes, a few umbrellas and my little, Benro tripod. Riding along with no case was a stout, tall C-Stand with an arm. It was joined by a thirty pound sand bag. I also brought along assorted chunks of white foamcore and black foamcore which is wonderful when you need to add or subtract light from a composition. 

I wheeled the case in right at 9am and we got set up with a white background sweep table in one of the big work rooms on the first floor. I used a medium sized (3 feet by 4 feet) soft box on the C-Stand's side arm (using it as a boom) and positioned it directly above the set. I used this light for almost everything, repositioning it and fine tuning it to match the subject matter. 

Occasionally I wanted to supplement the top light with fill from a spot near the camera position. I grabbed a Yongnuo flash, set it to "slave" mode and aimed it into a 42 inch white umbrella with a black cover. Being able to dial the power levels up and down and to not work about radio triggers or cords was efficient. 

As I intended I used the D7100 and the 55 macro lens for just about everything. I wanted to see if the combination of a "known" great lens and the 24 megapixel sensor with no anti-aliasing filter would give my images some sort of extra mojo. Having now imported everything into Lightroom I can see that the images, shot at 100 ISO with the lens at f5.6 to f8.0, are sharper than what I had previously gotten with good lenses on the full frame, 24 megapixel Sony a99 camera. Score one of the APS-C, next generation. 

My working method was to set the camera to the live view mode, zoom in to 8x or so to fine focus and then shoot a single frame, chimp the hell out of it, make whatever course corrections were necessary and then shoot two more frames: one to use and one as a safety. 

This shooting method ameliorates any battery advantages of OVF cameras and, as expected, I ate up 50% of the battery charge getting about 125 shots done over the course of five hours. I was also surprised to see, already, a dust bunny appear when we started veering toward f11.5+ to get more depth of field in shots of really small objects. I haven't seen dust on the sensor of a Panasonic or Olympus camera in.....forever. 

I did take time to shoot several of the images with the Panasonic GH4 and the 12-35mm lens. I wanted a direct comparison I could mull over. Here's what I found: The Nikon D7100 has a resolution advantage and the files seem more color correct right out of camera. If you were going to make huge paper enlargements the judges would immediately side with the bigger sensor-ed camera. But, at our final delivery size the advantages disappear (or are equalized by the common denominator of size).  From a working perspective I will probably switch back to micro four thirds for the next round of artifact documentation at the museum. There is a distinct advantage to the additional depth of field at the same angle of view when you are working in tight with a subject. 

Also, cameras that are designed to be in permanent "live view" via their EVFs are much more facile in operations like this with much faster focusing. Finally, I've gotten spoiled by the touch screens. Being able to touch the screen at the spot at which you'd like to see the focusing point is wonderful.
In DXO, up to the full native resolution of the Panasonic files there are few discernible quality differences. Certainly the trade off between a perceived small increase in shadow noise in the GH4 at 100% is handily offset by its ability to generate files that don't show dust spots....

You read a lot about the "overwhelming" superiority of one system or sensor class over another and even the most level headed among us can succumb to moments of doubt as to whether they've made good equipment choices. That's why I feel it's important to test things out first hand. To see what the reality of a comparison is. The nature of writing and blogging leads writers to exaggerate small differences to provide more exciting contrast in the written content. Nothing sells like bold statements and controversy. But once again I've found that careful lighting and technique are far more important than camera attributes and, that at conventional working sizes, the cameras and their files are less different than the fans and the manufacturers would like you to believe. 

Tonight I'm diving into the Nikon flash system. That may be an area where real differences make themselves known... But we'll see. Objectively. 

Hope you have great day.

hot-air balloon ride

During my visit to South Africa, two of my friends, Jerry & Linde, arranged a surprise for me – an early-morning ride in a hot-air balloon in the Magaliesberg area. This was a first time for me – and I have to wonder now why I had never done this before – it is exhilarating! (This must be old news for those who have done this before.)

With this entire 2-week visit to South Africa, I decided to forego all the heavier, bulkier camera gear, and only take my Fuji X100s (vendor). It’s a specific decision where I forego the versatility of getting every angle from super-wide to tele, and just accept the single 35mm-equivalent lens.

So that’s all I had with me – just this one small camera. Within the limits of that single lens, it became a fun challenge to still get meaningful and interesting images.

Here is the slideshow with 24 images, from the start to a few seconds before touch-down. I hope it shows some of the beauty of this winter-time landscape in the Magaliesberg area. There was a certain 3-D look to the scenery, with the sun coming on low over the horizon. You can see various antelope dot the grassland by the shadows they cast.

The one thing missing from these images is the sheer stillness of gliding over the landscape, with just the dogs barking way below, and some cars driving by. Oh, and then the rushing sound of the burner filling the balloon again to remain buoyant.

This experience was a high in every sense.

 

slideshow

 

The post hot-air balloon ride appeared first on Tangents.


We're shopping and packing. We're having celebratory dinners together at all our favorite restaurants. The kid leaves to go off to college next Saturday and I'm already getting a bit mopey and feeling useless.  I've been hanging out with the kid since his forever and I'm actually going to miss getting up at 6:30 to drive him to cross country practice and driving halfway across Texas just to see him run for 18 minutes. His crew of friends are all peeling off this week to go on their own college adventures. His friends of thirteen or fourteen years are all bright and motivated. Their dispersing to good schools all over the country. Some are taking a semester off to sail out in the Pacific. A few are going to school here in Texas at A&M and UT. Few are going as far away as Ben. His school is 1850 miles from Austin in the northern reaches of New York state.

The whole idea of his leaving is really starting to sink in as we toss last minute stuff in the laundry and I teach him for the 100th time how to tie a necktie. The transition is effecting everything. I skipped swim practice so I could have breakfast with him at least one more time. I've lost my motivation to go to work, write a blog or head out for social functions because I want to hold on to every minute. It's almost pathetic.  He's ready to go, his mom is stoically spearheading the "pre-production" and I'm hovering like a lost art director, trying to figure out how to reverse time or at least slow it down since there are so many things I still feel as though I need to teach him.

But friends of the family who have known both of us for as long as Ben's been alive are quick to assure me that the boy is much brighter than I've ever been and as worldly and knowledgeable as they come. He understands already that compound interest is your best friend or your worst enemy. He know that the measure of a person is not how well that person treats you but how well he treats the "help." He flosses his teeth. He writes "thank you" notes without parental prodding. He truly understands calculus, statistics and, at least, the rudiments of physics. He's already made an award winning video and he's already earned money for being smart.

He has done things at 18 that I didn't get around to until my mid thirties. Opened a brokerage account, made good equities investments, turned down bad jobs, learned to drink black coffee, tasted vintage champagnes and developed a taste for bleu cheeses. Given me business advice that worked out well. Bounced around plot ideas for my next book. Reined in my tendency to go off into something without all the information and so much more.

I've been spending my time buying him warm, winter clothes. Gloves, boots, hats, sweatshirts, jackets, vests, parkas, ski jackets and even long underwear. He'll be able to pack and carry onto an airline only a tiny fraction of this giant, new (and to him, alien) wardrobe and the rest I'll have to ship to him. I've actually gone so far as to call the college to make sure they have adequate heating for the class rooms and dorms.

I keep telling myself that when he is safely ensconced in his scholarly enclave I'll regain my recently wavering motivation and hit the business and writing with renewed vigor. I guess we'll see. But if the blog seems a little spotty or "off" for the next week I can pretty much assure you that it's a reflection of my state of mind. I'm sure it will all straighten itself out. I'll rediscover an "amazing" lens or camera system and we'll be off and running.

Funny that the week prior to Ben's departure I'm busier with jobs that I've been for most of the Summer. But I don't regret the work because it keeps me busy and alleviates the constant hovering that I seem to be doing when I am momentarily directionless. It also bolsters the checking account which, I am certain, has just taken the first of many painful beatings. Ah, the life of the freelance artist...But seriously,

I know that nothing will ever be the same again.

On another note I came to realize that Ben has observed my progress and immersion in photography for quite a while so I took the opportunity at a recent lunch to ask him where he thought everything was going and what was next for the world of photography. He deflected my question a few times and then he pulled his iPhone out of his pocket and put it on the table. He glanced at it, pointed and remained quiet.

I'd been pressing him to come into the studio and select a camera to take to college. I've opened up the cabinet doors and asked, "film? Digital? Leica? Olympus?" The final answer was the iPhone. He's seen the trajectory of photography and it doesn't interest him (or any of his circle of friends) at all. It's not his "cup of tea."  That makes me feel conflicted. On one hand I trust his instincts 100%. If he isn't into photography nothing I can say at this point will change his mind. On the other hand I can't help wondering if, in this respect, I've been a poor role model and have only shown him the mechanical and business side of photography but have forgotten how to transmit the joy of it.

I didn't buy my first camera until my junior year in college. Only time will tell.

One week until the giant adventure begins.

To all of you who've successfully launched your children and are reading this blog post as though it is in the rear view mirror: congratulations. To all of you who have this journey in front of you: Good Luck!
This is not a portfolio show.

There is something deeply wrong in modern society. There are large groups of people who have come to imagine that the screens of their phones are appropriate venues for sharing their photographic images (or portfolios) with other people. If you are one of these people and your friends are as clueless as you then I guess it really doesn't matter, but...if you are trying to share your work with someone whose action upon having viewed your images could be helpful to your career or your cause then you need to re-think your presentation skills and recalibrate your ideas about what constitutes appropriate displaying and sharing tactics. 

Here's the hierarchy from best case down: 

Top Layer:  If you want people to look at your images in a respectful and even appreciative way then you need to control the environment in which you show them your work as well as the medium you choose to show them. The gold standard is the paper print. A color print at a large enough size to be easily viewed (but still easily handled) is the most impressive of the presentations. If the work is matted, framed and well lit, so much the better. Show this work in a room where the light doesn't come from multiple, glare causing lights scattered across a ceiling. Do it in a place where there is little noise and fewer distractions. Allow your audience to become immersed in the experience and don't ruin it by chattering all the way through the presentation.

Next layer down: If you can't show large prints effectively (and maybe it's because you've decided to make Starbucks your office and the tables are too small....) you should consider prints placed in a book. These can be handmade books or bound books but books allow you to show work that is right sized for easily viewing while offering a mechanism to handhold the work in a less than optimal space. Give the book to your reviewer and allow them to set the viewing distance and pace.

Next layer down: If you can't do big prints, or even smaller prints (8x10 minimum), or books, you will need to default to a high quality screen device. This will probably be an iPad or one of the copycat devices from a company with less creativity and design acumen. As long as the screen is wonderful, large (full size iPad, not "mini") and dense with pixels (think Retina screen) you'll be providing a decent viewing experience for your valued audience. 

Hand the person you crave to share you images with the device and let them proceed at their own pace. It's only fair that if they have to wade through your visual enthusiasm that they get to control the duration of their trial or joy.  Again, silence is golden and an environment without a lot of extraneous motion is an effective way to garner their full intention. A busy, busy coffee shop means that the hyper-vigilent persons are dividing brain space between your images and all the movement that may be primordial, evolutionary cues of danger.

If none of these presentations are available and the screen on your phone is the only thing you can manage then you are clearly not ready to show your work to other people. Especially people whose opinions you respect.  Stop. Don't do it. Don't cause other people to  politely nod as they internally calculate just how quickly they can get away from you and this painful situation. The only people who can clearly see the screen as it jiggles around in your hand are people well under 30 with perfect eyesight. And even they would vastly prefer any of the above methods. They have phones, they know how dreary and unfulfilling it is to look at another person's work on a tiny screen.

Any of the above methods always beats sticking your cellphone screen in a stranger's face in the equivalent of a bus station, lit with a batch of mismatched, bare fluorescent light tubes stuck in the ceiling next to the surveillance cameras, casting multiple glares across the tiny screen, and expecting that they will compliment your work, or offer you the chance to photograph their company's next annual report project. 

My take is that the crappier the presentation the less the presenter cares about the work. And really, who wants to see work by an artist who doesn't care enough about his or her own work to at least display it decently. And even if you are a genius and your work is stunning who would ever be able to tell when looking on tiny screens? 

The iPhone might be a great capture tool. I know they are good for making phone calls or texts from. But they are most certainly not decent portfolio tools. Never.

Learn every part needed to participate effectively in an art culture. It's a sign of respect to your work and to the viewer to present your images correctly. It's all about putting the best foot forward and making sure the audience is comfortable. Anything less is just torture of the innocent by the painfully narcissistic. 

edit note: Let me flesh out the reason for this particular post to satisfy an anonymous commenter who asked if this take was really just a "meme" or whether I had experienced the cellphone show. I was recently asked by a college photography student if I would look at his portfolio. I assumed we were making an appointment for a future showing because I sure didn't see a physical portfolio anywhere. When I agreed he pulled out an iPhone and started doing the obnoxious "finger sweep" through an assortment of images. I stopped him and told his that I hadn't brought along a pair of glasses and that rendered this kind of showing moot. He was a bit taken aback. I suggested a future date which he hemmed and hawed about.... 

I was at Precision Camera on an errand recently and someone recognized me from a speech I had given a year or two earlier. They proceeded to come over, chat and then pull out an Android phone to show me "what they had been working on...." 

I was at Medici last week when an acquaintance just had to tell me all about the new Nikon D810 he'd bought. He pulled out his phone to regale me with some of the "incredible" shots he'd gotten with the camera, all the while doing the "finger spread" motion to enlarge portions of each image. As though I'd be able to see the difference, on a cell phone screen, between his D800e  and his new D810. 

I was doing a photo walk downtown two weeks ago when a local photographer who is known for his iPhone "art" intersected with me and pulled me into the open shade to show me some "incredible" new work he'd been doing in the streets with the same phone. I've met this character before and the best way to defuse him is to keep one's sunglasses on (couldn't see the images because of reflections, etc. anyway) and nod until his fingers finished sweeping and unsqueezing his screen and then to wish him good luck with his project and move on. 

And how many people do I meet everyday who say, "You're a professional photographer, let me show you some shots from our vacation!" And they proceed to hold their phones up in my face with their hands trembling from coffee poisoning and swish through endless dark, grainy, poorly composed shots. 

There are times when it might be okay. I had coffee recently with a friend. He had just come back from a workshop and wanted to show me what two of the models looked like. We were inside, in air conditioning. I had a happy cup of coffee in front of me. I had a pair of reading glasses with me. I was curious as to the models one of my peers had chosen over in Atlanta. I was happy to see the content of the two images he showed me. And then he had the good taste to stop. I'm actually waiting with anticipation to see a nice print of the female model he showed me. Looked like a very young Angelina Jolie. In a good way. 

But yes, this is written from recent, first hand experience. By the way, are we using the word "meme" correctly? The derivations from mimesis? To take on the property of.....?  Just checking.

And, Anonymous Commenter, thank you for "letting" me take any angle in want on your requested article about printers. Normally I just do whatever a handy authority figure orders me to do....


By the way, if  you are partial to looking at cellphone screens and think I am wrong to object you might be pleased to know that you can get the Kindle app for your iPhone or Android phone and read "The Lisbon Portfolio" between portfolio shows....

finding interesting available light & white balance options

It’s always a feel-good moment to discover interesting available light while out on a photo shoot. Something unusual to add a new flavor to a different sequence of images.

While photographing a model with Tilo Gockel and Mike Silberreis (both from Germany on a visit to NYC), we started off with off-camera flash to help with the strong sunlight. (You might remember Tilo from a recent guest article on product photography on a budget.)

Then, while positioning Olena, I saw part of her dress had a patch of bright light on it. Turning around to see where this came from – I expected sun flare from nearby building window – I saw that it was actually the sun reflecting off a traffic sign right next to us. The light that was reflecting off this traffic sign was pretty hard, but had an interesting specularity, yet appeared flattering. So we shot an entire long sequence here, ditching the off-camera flash.

 

I switched over from my 85mm f/1.4 to the  Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG Art  lens that I was testing out, to shoot portraits with more of an environmental flavor. (I also wanted to see how this Sigma performed at wide apertures.)

The image at the top was shot at: 1/1000 @ f/1.6 @ ISO 64
Yes, the Nikon D810 has 64 ISO as its native lowest ISO.

 

choices in white balance settings

camera settings: 1/640 @ f/1.8 @ ISO 64
Nikon D810;  Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG Art lens: Canon | Nikon

The color balance here is quite warm, even though I had reduced the warm tones in post-processing the RAW file. With the Daylight WB that I shot at, the photo appeared with more red tones. Somehow the light reflecting off the stop sign was very warm.

So now I had to choose what white balance I preferred. There are always options.

The left-hand image was adjusted (by eye) for a more neutral color balance on her skin tones, by adjusting the RAW file to approx 4000K. The right-hand image was adjusted (again by eye) for more warmth, in keeping with how the scene looked at the time. Sun-drenched. But the right-hand image wasn’t as warm as the out-of-camera image shot with Daylight WB.

This again just underlines the idea for me that you are better off with the option of having a RAW file to play with, rather than sticking to a narrower (and potentially tougher) idea of “getting it right in camera”. Besides, what exactly is “correct” here?

 

Looking again at the image at the top: here is the version where I went for more neutral skin tones by adjusting the RAW file to approx 4000K white balance. Because the light on her was somehow so red / warm, this now pulls the background to much colder tones, similar to how you’d do it when gelling your flash for effect.

This gives the resulting image a look that slightly resembles a cross-processed photograph.

 

Going with the warmer color balance again, and the comparison between “neutral” and “hey, this looks pretty good with the warm colors”. Yup, that’s a legit white balance setting. It should be anyway.

camera settings: 1/640 @ f/1.8 @ ISO 64
Nikon D810;  Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG Art lens: Canon | Nikon

 

equipment used during this photo session

The post using interesting available light & white balance options appeared first on Tangents.

 This image of a corner of the Denver Convention Center has absolutely nothing to do
with this particular blog post. It's sitting here on top of the page because I like looking at the 
colors and the shape. Done with the Pentax K-01.

Starting the day with an active meditation on seriousness.
And the cult of coffee-ism. 

One of my favorite Austin ad agencies got me hooked up with a cool software company which one might call a "start up" if not for the fact that they have nearly 500 employees, offices around the world and tons of income. One thing they did not have, and which they understood the need for, was really nice photographs of their top twelve executives. Yesterday we aimed to fix that. In a previous meeting we worked together to craft a creative brief that called for me to a formal yet edgy and modern portrait, a series of action portraits at a conference table, capturing hand gestures and facial expressions as in an interview and then, finally, a waist up portrait in an exterior hallway (beautiful architecture everywhere).

The men and women we were photographing were already "warmed up" for their media experience because many of them had been interviewed for a video project the day before. 

I found a conference room that faced north a got beautiful, diffuse but directional light during the entire day. The back wall was a beautiful soft green/teal airbrushed glass. I had every intention of lighting the crap out of every shot and brought along enough gear to light up the entire floor of their office in this exquisite bank tower but when I started figuring out the shooting angles and how I wanted to pose the people for the interview shots and formal portraits I instantly saw that nature had done a much better job with the lighting than I ever could. It was just up to me to position each person to get some good modeling on their faces. This sounds optimistic but it turned out to be so true. Perfectly done lighting without lifting a finger. All of the flashes and light stands and umbrellas stayed in their cases and my most important tool of the day was my tripod. 

I had planned to shoot everything with the Panasonic GH4 and the two f2.8 zooms but.....

I was seduced by the lure of two other camera systems. The Samsung NX 30 and the Nikon D7100. The odd couple. The "hey, let's go all experimental today" cameras. Why? Who besides a good psychiatrist can really know?

Just for the sake of rationalization let's say that corporate portraits are one place where narrow depth of field imaging sells really well and I wanted to make sure I could get that look (in spades) from one of the cameras. The second rationalization is that I think the Toshiba 24 megapixel sensor with no anti-aliasing filter (in the Nikon D7100) is going to be a cult sensation. According to DXO tests it delivers nearly 14 EVs of dynamic range and it's amazingly detailed. I thought this job might be a good shake out for this recent addition to the tool kit. Even with it's funky but solid 18-140mm super-zoom kit lens. 

The day was fun and we worked at a nice pace. We had people schedule at 30 or 40 minute intervals but as with most freeform executive suites the players swapped schedules with each other all day long. My real goal was to slow them down, get them into the spirit of the shoot and not to relent until we had three good shots in the can for each person. At first I leaned on the Nikon and the zoom but I kept tossing the Samsung NX 30 into the mix with its ultimate lens, the 85mm 1.4.  I was shooting that combo at ISO 250, f2.2 and 1/200th of a second and I loved nearly every frame I pulled out of that camera and lens combination. While the operational aspects of the NX 30 are no where near as solid as the Nikon camera the lens and the sensor in it made up for all the finesse and structural nuance Nikon could build into their picture taking machine. 

Easily the best six portraits I've done this year I did hand held with the NX30 and the 85mm 1.4 lens. The pity is that I don't have permission yet to show them off. Once the client's website goes live you know I'll share them with you but for right now you just have to take my word for it. All the stuff I know about artificial lighting and state of the art cameras just went out the window and the stuff that will make it into my portfolio, from that full day of shooting will be from the NX.

It's eerie when you finally connect with a camera; when you finally discern it's reason to be there. I had to overlook the fidgety function controls and the fact that every frame seemed to see a slightly different color balance (thank goodness for raw files...) but in the end it's the highly sharp center surrounded by lush and glorious out of focus areas, provided by a premium lens, that nailed it for me. At the end of the day I had two wishes. First, I was wishing (hoping) that the rumors swirling around in a tiny part of the industry are true and that Samsung will both introduce a new, pro or prosumer camera body with an even newer  sensor. And that, if they do I get my hands on it soon. In the company of their 85mm 1.4 I would consider a well finished pro came to be a marvelous, dedicated portrait camera for studio and location work. 

The proof of the pudding is in the eating so I'll stop writing about the NX 30 and just leave it with this: With this lens and the current sensor  the Samsung imaging chain is easily on par with any APS-C camera out there from Canon or Nikon. I don't have enough experience with the Fuji's to make a statement about them. With this in mind the NX30 is going with me on my next high ISO shoot over at the theatre. There's a dress rehearsal for a one person play coming up and this focal length and sensor combo should be perfect. 


 The NX 30 body under discussion.

The Luscious Lens. May be the best one out made just for DX format.

And that brings us to the question of "what the hell were you doing with a last century paradigm Nikon body at a Kirk Tuck photo shoot?"  Well... hmm. I think I touched on this earlier but my experiences with Sony camera bodies and flashes, Panasonic camera bodies and flashes and just about everybody else's cameras and flashes has been at best, mediocre. While I may be missing some secret tricks or something it seems that most people's flash/camera combos don't do a great job of mixing ambient light and strobe. They are also a bit inconsistent for me. I'm sure someone has mastered the flash riddle on mirror less but I'm just not there yet and I've booked about $10,000 work of event work this Fall. The kind of assignments that call for flash in dark ballrooms and racetracks at night and in concert performances at night, etc. 

Whenever a new type of assignment crops up I tend to review the way we handled similar assignments in the past. How can I get the images my clients want with the least amount of fuss and failure? When I divested my Nikon gear back in 2008 the one tinge of regret was the fact that their flash equipment, and its integration with the bodies, was the first perfect match in the digital age and it's still, in my humble opinion, the top of the game in 2014. By that I mean I can focus in near darkness, on a guy in a dark suit, push the shutter button and nail the flash exposure with no real intervention from me. 

Remembering this pushed me to head over to Precision Camera and check memory against reality. I tortured my favorite sales guy for a while and discovered that my memory and reality matched up pretty well. The flash performance of the iTTL flashes and the current Nikon bodies is great. Having settled that I started imagining the working situation: Impromptu group shots requiring wide angles of view. Couples and foursomes requiring the middle range. Speakers at podiums requiring longer, maybe 200mm equivalent angles of view. That's when I started researching the Nikon 18-140mm zoom. According to DXO, DPreview and the invincible Ken Rockwell this lens is very sharp even wide open. At nearly every focal length. It matches the Toshiba sensor in the D7100 well. In many regards it's the perfect extra long ranging zoom lens. It has one huge, major, gasping flaw: It has more distortion than a car radio turned up to maximum volume. Brutal amounts of distortion. It requires minus 7 correction at the wide end to cure barrel distortion while the pincushion distortion which comes into play from 35mm onward requires a +8 correction to cure it well enough. 

If I were buying the combo to do architecture I'd have my brain examined by several professionals. Wouldn't work at all unless your client designed fun house mirrors. Ditto with product shots of products that are largely composed of straight lines. Amazingly weird. But for grip and grin photos in the Four Season's ballroom it's the best. Fast focusing, four stop image stabilization, sharp wide open and the equivalent (for 35mm frame dimensions) of a 28mm to 210mm lens. Amazingly good for what I have in mind. A specialty tool, like a hex wrench, that exists to do one thing well----social, event photography. 

At any rate that's as much as I can rationalize my purchases. But I will say that after seeing the performance of the naked Toshiba sensor I am thinking of using the D7100 camera (with a different lens) as the view camera of the studio for images requiring very high resolution. I did put a 55mm Micro Nikkor on the front and at f5.6 and ISO 100 the detail seemed endless. And profoundly sharp. 

Now, for all the linear and literal readers out there. Don't get your boxers in a bind. I am not abandoning the m4:3 cameras and lenses I've been using with much happiness for the last six months. They are much more fun to carry about and much more fun to use with manual lenses and with continuous lighting (my personal quirks abound). If you've read the blog for long you know that the gear inventory never stands still.....and that I think it shouldn't stand still. Curiosity is part of the art. The tools are woven into the process. And the D7100 is a wonderful camera with which to shoot flash on the run. No excuses.


So, between the two APS-C cameras, and the various strange lenses, the shoot for the technology client went very, very well. What a gift not having to light everything. I packed up and headed home to do the post processing. Because I was working with people who are not "on camera" professionals I felt the need to do lots of shots to catch the best expressions. When you couple the human needs with the fact that there is zero recycle time with available light my frame rate soon got totally out of control and when I finished downloading the UHS-3 SD cards I found I'd shot 1600+ images. Which occupied nearly 28 gigabytes of hard drive space, times two (the backup drive). 

I brought the files into Lightroom 5.6 (thank you Adobe for the instantaneous Cloud upgrades...) renamed them and started my edit. This morning I'd worked the pile down to 650. If you look at it from a per set up basis it's really only 18 shots per set up, per person. I'm loathe to edit further because at a certain point an errant art director will start saying, "Is this everything we shot? It seems like we shot a lot more. Oh? We did? I'd like to see them....all." 

The files started life as 20 or 24 megapixel raw files. In the case of the Nikon files they are shot as 14 bit images with lossless compression. The images are huge. Way too big (note to camera industry: Kodak gave us raw file capability in all file sizes in their DCS SLR/n camera. Why can't we have that in all of our cameras? I'd love a half sized RAW file in the Panasonics and three or four smaller files in the Nikon and Samsung.). 

I exported the files as 1800 pixel wide, mildly compressed Jpeg files and sent them along to a gallery on Smugmug.com. That way the client, the agency and I can all look at the images and discuss them with each other remotely. They'll pick finals and we'll retouch em. Even the wonky lines from the 18-140mm lens.

On a business note I thought I'd share one aspect of billing a job like this. These are all busy people. We did the shoot yesterday but they may not get around to making final selections for a week. Or a month. Or ever. You just never know. So I bill jobs like this in parts. The first bill goes out as soon as the gallery goes up. That invoice covers the shooting and licensing fee for the images we created. It also covers the cost of editing and then creating the gallery. 

Once the client and agency make their selections we'll send along a second invoice for the post production and retouching of the files along with any additional usages they may have decided upon once they've started working with the material. 

If you do billing like this you start the clock on payment right now. Today. If you wait until the end you might be starting the billing cycle clock thirty days from now (or longer) and you'll suffer by not having the cash flow and profit from work you've already done. 

Finally, as always, remember that Samsung sent me the camera and the lens I discussed above for free and that I also participate in their Imagelogger (image sharing) program. I'm never shy being critical about their cameras. I don't pull punches but you need to know the provenance of the camera and lens so you can evaluate my experiences with the knowledge that I may be introducing some unconscious bias. As with all gear: try it out for yourself or only order it from a store that has a liberal return policy. Every hand and brain is different. 

Check back in on Monday. I am taking delivery of two HMI lights from K5600 Lighting. They make all kinds and sizes of HMI lights for the movie industry.  I have high hopes for these small but powerful, daylight balanced, continuous light units. One is an "open face" and the other a fresnel. There will be much spirited portrait play in the next few weeks. Count on it.

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