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I missed all my swim workouts last week. Every day was booked with early start times for video productions far from home. I did get back in the water on Sat. and Sunday but I was really looking forward to getting back to my routine today. I woke up five minutes before my alarm this morning; it was 5:55. I made some Irish breakfast tea with a little milk in it, read the news feed on my laptop and then grabbed a clean towel and headed to the pool.

The pool is a five minute drive from the house. On the way over I was being self-analytic and trying to come to grips with some anxiety. I have two big video projects in house and they both have the same, fast approaching deadline. I was having trouble getting started on the editing for the biggest one. It's hardest, I think, to decide on how a video will open; that sets the stage for everything else.

Somewhere in the middle of a hard set in the pool my brain unclenched from its bulldog tenacious grip on the editing and I started just mulling over the possibilities. Over the course of the next mile's worth of interval training I came up with a plan to construct the video story in small, manageable chunks. By the time I got out of the pool I'd ditched my anxious feelings and my need for rigid control of the project and I felt much calmer. I also felt good at getting in a couple miles of hard work before breakfast.

Now I'm back in the studio, the subtle perfume of chlorine wafting over from my bag of swim gear, and I'm carefully reviewing and cataloging snippets of the 2.5 hours of "footage" we've got in the can. If I find a few holes I still have time to shoot a bit more but I think we're pretty well covered.

For those who are interested in video.... I've been using Final Cut  Pro X as my non-linear editor. It's not that I'm somehow against using Adobe's Premiere but this is what I learned on and have used for the last two years. In the back of my mind I think about the possibility that Apple might pull the plug on further FCPX development as they did with Aperture and I think about switching to the Adobe product. I'd be interested to here what other people's experiences have been like using Premiere.

All of the footage we're editing for this video was shot in 4K with three different cameras. The primary camera was the RX10mk3 and most of the "B" roll content came from the RX10mk2. I've pulled out the a6300 to use on some action shots that required stable and accurate focus tracking.
All the material matches up well and since I worked hard at keeping the ISOs under 640 we're not having issues with noise.

On a cheery note the only day I will miss swimming with my master's team this week will be on Thursday. Maybe I'll do a double on Friday. It's sure better than missing an entire week!

Now, into the rabbit hole they call editing.....

For the curious fellow swimmers:

Today's workout was tough. 

We started with a 400 yard freestyle warm-up and then went right into a set of 16 X 50 yards on a :50 second interval, mixing strokes with freestyle (800 yards). The main set was: 

8 X (100 Individual medley + 125 freestyle, both on the same intervals) = 1,800 yards

The final set was 3 X (2 x 50 yards kick + 2 x 75 yards sprint, both on an interval of 1:05) = 750 yards.

It's a pretty optimistic workout for an hour and fifteen minutes, but it sure clears out the cobwebs...




Shooting the windshield of my car. 

It feels like it's been raining for weeks on end here in Austin. That's because it has been raining almost every day for the last three weeks! Hey, if I had wanted to enjoy Seattle weather I would have moved there. I guess I shouldn't complain too much, it certainly is better than the drought we'd been having for the past few years. I guess the primary things that have changed for me have to do with protecting cameras from water damage. I have rain covers for the cameras I use for video but I just grab a one gallon, ZipLoc bag on my way out of the house when there are glowering clouds outside and Accuweather.com tells me, in their hourly forecast, that I'm due to get soaked at 2 pm if I'm out for a walk. At least it's seventy five to eighty degrees outside so I won't become a quick victim of hypothermia...

It's a whole different situation for my friends who make their living photographing architecture; those folks are screaming for a few of those days with bright blue, Texas skies. I think they've shot every interior they can possibly find and are just counting down the minutes till the sun peeks through again and makes so much commercial and residential real estate look like something more than a soggy pile of construction material. 

I've been appreciative of the gloomy weather, personally. I'm trying to make a video about our historic floods last year and I need a lot of "B" roll of thunder and lightning, drenched streets, overflowing drainage ditches and mighty damns with their flood gates open. On a good morning I've been putting on my waterproof boots and my heavy duty poncho, wrapping my cameras in their rain covers and heading out to see what I can find in low water crossings, and at the places in Austin and surrounding towns where I know from experience that flooding happens. Like anything else shooting in the rain takes practice. It's kind of important to keep the water drops off the front element of your lens but at the same time it's important to get those angles that seem to be conducive to rain drop splatter. 

One of my big conundrums, when the rain is really slamming down is this: Do I take off the poncho before I jump into the car in order to keep water off the seats, but get my clothes wet in the process, or, do I keep the poncho on as I go from location to location and pray that someday it will be sunny enough to dry out the seat's upholstery before I start a commercial mushroom farm in my car? 

So far I've voted to keep the poncho on. It just saves time. And when I stop for lunch at decent restaurants I don't end up looking like a half-drowned river rat. 

The only things I really fear are drivers whose vehicles are out of control, skidding and aiming straight for me; and lightning. I don't think the poncho will stop a million volt lightning bolt and I'm pretty sure even a kevlar poncho won't stop a car hydroplaning its way into my personal space. I rarely worry about the cameras. The Sony advertising infers that the units I have been buying are "weather resistant" but I'm almost positive that they'll find a warranty workaround for just about any camera I might send them with wet stuff inside. I look at under $2,000 cameras as expendable if you are using them to make real money. If we lose one on the job I'm pretty sure that we'll have covered the cost somewhere in our bid or estimate. 

Last week my RX10mkiii got pretty wet on multiple occasions but seems to be working fine. I tried to always wipe off the water drops on the extended lens barrel before turning off the camera and I did put tape over the various doors. I even kept the flash shoe protector on. Those precautions, and a plastic cover that does a decent job covering the entire camera, exposing only the EVF window and the front of the lens, seemed pretty effective. The times I got water on the camera were when I got too anxious to shoot and ripped the cover off to get to the controls. 

Funny, I am used to shooting in vicious heat but have much less experience doing my work in the middle of rain storms. The last time I really worked for days in the snow was in February of 1995, in Pushkin, Russia; and I remember that as being very challenging as well. I guess you acclimate to your local environment. Interesting that mine is changing so quickly......


I'm in no man's land. I've shot all the principal video footage for my client's project. I've ingested it into Final Cut Pro X and I've just come to a complete standstill. I've been waiting for an actual script for a couple of weeks. They finally kicked the ball back to me. I wrote a script this weekend but, of course, now we wait for approval. I hesitate to start editing and cutting without a game plan. Seems like a waste of time. There are "housekeeping" things I can take care of, sure. I'm sitting for hours at a time scrubbing through the interviews looking for great, short utterances and moments of verbal clarity. But at some point you have to stand up and take a break; do something different and softer. 

I've been revisiting some of the old classic photography books I have around the house in my moments of free time. There's little that beats curling up on the couch with my dog, a perfect cup of coffee and a book like Robert Frank's, "The Americans." I've also been browsing around and around in the huge, "Autobiography: Richard Avedon" volume. Some of his early black and white photography, done in the street, is equally captivating. Those books inspired me to put together a discrete and small street shooting camera and, after hauling around a big, fluid head tripod and boxes of lights and stands and microphones I was quite ready for a minimally oppressive camera experience today. 

My choice, and I think a good one for me, was to put an older, manual focus Olympus PenFT 38mm f1.8 lens on the Sony a6300 camera. The lens is small, light and, by all indications, very good. The pair is much less weighty than a Leica M6+50mm f2.0 and much more capable. I set the ISO to 400 to emulate the speed of the Tri-X I'd shot for years and years. I set the camera to shoot black and white and, after a few tests done around the house, I added two steps of contrast and one of sharpness in the profile sub-menu. 

The beauty of using a 38mm lens on a cropped frame, APS-C camera is that you get the angle of view every serious photographer should crave ( a little bit tighter than a traditional 50mm, but not by much) coupled with the increased depth of field the shorter focal length provides, in conjunction with the smaller sensor. The 50mm range is the chameleon range of focal lengths. Used wide open, and with the right subjects, and the lens emulates the look and feel of a short telephoto. Used at f8.0 or f11 and used to depict wider scenes, or scenes with depth, and this angle of view lens emulates the look and feel of a wider lens; but without all the gratuitous information on the sides of the frame most people live with. Few people are really good at composing with wide angles but many people absolutely believe that they are the exception.....

So, I drove downtown and took a walk. Weird thing, downtown felt almost deserted. Even though it was around lunch time street traffic was light and most of the restaurants were half full, or less. There were sprinklings of hipster tourists who looked as though they live in Des Moines but bought some interesting hats, square sunglasses and extra iPhones and headed down here for vacation. You can always tell them apart from the quasi-natives (I think we've run out most of the genuine natives: no stomach for the homogenizing change) because they think having lunch on the patio of the JW Marriott Hotel is kinda cool. They also stare too long at any young woman with visible tattoos. 

But back to my  point; no foot traffic, low attendance and a general downtown malaise. I presumed that everyone had left town on some secret, unannounced, mass vacation until I later headed back to my neighborhood in west Austin and waited in line for a table at my favorite restaurant.....perhaps the relentless hipster invasion has pushed the locals out of downtown and into the surrounding neighborhoods. 

Every time I write something about shooting with the camera set to black and white the compulsive among us wring their hands and chasten me for not "being safe" and putting the camera into the mode of shooting RAW+Jpeg. They reason that I could then "visualize" in black and white since the camera would show me the results of the Jpeg settings but, BUT I could subsequently take advantage of the RAW files to painstakingly and laboriously create perfect monochrome files in post processing
captivity. I guess it makes sense but with each shot my own brain would know that the hidden potential of the RAW files would be lurking around like an unwanted lifeguard, hellbent on making sure I never get to experience failure. I'm not sure that our readers; those disposed to wear the water wings of redundant files, truly understand the thrill of letting go of the pool wall in the deep end to see if all those swimming lessons have finally paid off. 

Everyone's brain is a bit different but mine always seems to know if I've cribbed the notes of success on the palm of my hand in an attempt to grab for more than my fair share of technically good photographs.... And my brain resents my cowardice in those situations. Covering your ass for a client is different. It's part of the deal. But wearing that life jacket while doing leisurely laps sure makes it hard to practice anything but floating in place...

So, I set the camera to shoot black and white, but the real throwback to earlier photographic practice was using the idea of hyperfocal distances and depth of field to essentially make the camera and lens system a true point and shoot. To wit, when the lens is set to f8.0 and focused to 3 meters you have a wide range of stuff in front and behind the point at which you have the focus set which is still in acceptably sharp focus. Looking at files with huge magnification changes our aim point for circles of confusion but it doesn't really need to. We could just stop punching in to obsessively check for detail at 100% because it has very little relationship to how we consume most photography. We look at it in its entirety, not in its molecular state. 

There was a joyous freedom in setting the camera this way and then just reacting to the things I saw as I walked. Sometimes there's nothing to photograph for blocks at a time and it's during these spells that I think about walking and seeing; and how interrelated they are for me. If I see something fun I switch on the camera, bring it to my eye  --- just to frame --- and then press the shutter button. Since the camera doesn't have to think about, or actuate, focusing the response of the shutter is nearly instantaneous. And really, it hardly matters if the finder is good or bad, because it's just a composing device in this method and not a fine focusing instrument. Once you start working with hyperfocal distance shooting, and using a fixed focal length, you could actually just find a Leitz 50mm bright line finder, put it into the hot shoe and ignore the camera's finder altogether...

In some ways I felt as though I had pulled a Leica out of the drawer. The camera is small enough not to be taken seriously by either the objects of my observation or even myself. Since we had pervasive and consistent cloud cover I could set a manual exposure that worked for pretty much everything except indoor shots. With everything locked down in this old school fashion very few brain electrons or neural impulses had to do with camera operation; I could spend my mental energy enjoying the walk and looking for the odd disparities that make a life in visual arts interesting. 

I have done very little post processing to the images here because I wanted to carry through the film conceit and only do what I would have done in the darkroom; a little burning, a little dodging and maybe a trial run with a different contrast of graded photographic paper. To my mind these images fell neatly into my memory of Ilfobrom grade three paper. 

One of the things that surprised me in a very pleasant way was the amazing resolution of this particular lens when used with the Sony 24 megapixel sensor. I'll admit that I did "pixel peep" on the leaves falling over the side of the old railroad bridge to the right in the photograph just below. Every leaf was crispy outlined in an almost crystalline fashion. Yet, taken as a whole, the photograph is not over sharpened or harsh. If you are looking for one great MF lens with which to take advantage of the  a6300's small profile and low weight you could do a lot worse than one of these. Sadly, its family has not be made for well over 40 years so it may take a bit of searching to find one that has not been abused or degraded by neglectful storage. I am always a bit amazed when I put one of these ancient lenses on a most modern and high resolution camera. They never seem to be a limiting factor for overall quality. Not by a long shot. 

This may be due to the different way I tend to use these lenses nowadays. I'm generally stopped down to between f4.0 and f8.0 to take advantage of the depth of field. Most modern (and by modern I mean from the 1960's onward) should be able to deliver good quality in these middle settings. I'm less certain that the 38mm Pen would win in a contest with the Sony 55mm 1.8 FE lens wide open but then the Pen lens has surprised me before. It will be an interesting test when I get around to performing it. Maybe all the pundits are wrong and we are in the age of optical product decline; our modern optics put to shame by their ancestors... Did I mention the svelte feel of the solid, metal focusing ring? The silky slide and click of the aperture ring? I didn't think so, but it's all there. 

The bridge on the left side of the frame (above) connects the west side of downtown to the central area of downtown, just off third street. The lack of through car traffic makes walking in this area very pleasant even though on every side twenty, thirty and forty story condominium towers are springing up. This combination of two bridges (the right hand one was once a railroad bridge but it is no longer used) and the pipeline have been here since I first moved to Austin to go to UT's Electrical Engineering school in 1974. I've never understood why they are still standing but I'm glad for some aspect of Austin's landscape that is, for now, unchanging. And it provides some good cover for the homeless who seem to live underneath.


The image just above is one of my favorites today. I love a few things about it. I enjoy the diagonal of the curtain on the rod at an angle to the metal frame that runs across the lower third. I like the almost luxurious folds in the cloth and the way them seem to trap the shadows and hold them in stasis. I enjoy looking at the gathers all along the  curtain rod because they remind me of all the curtains in all the houses of my friends while we were growing up. I'm amused that the storefront in which the curtains grace the lower part of the window is otherwise empty. I even like the horizontal, parallel lines that make run across the window and make the image seem like a copy shot from something already existing as flat art in some book about the 1950's. 

Now, having had lunch and a walk with a faux rangefinder camera and lens assemblage I am back to the multiple tasks of both transcoding video and wading through the time/linear contents to find little gems I can extract and string together to make a media necklace for my client's special day...


I love business portraits. I love it when I have carte blanche to create. The stuff where the client tells you exactly what they want? It benefits no one, but sometimes it pays the rent...

(From back in the days when I really knew how to print...)

There's been a thought trend that the photography business morphed into something new and diminished; at least financially, during the maturation of digital imaging and the massive destruction of the economy from 2007 until 2013 or even 2014. We assumed (collectively) that the business had changed into a blue collar undertaking with much lower pricing structures and a default to letting clients dictate new rules about intellectual property and ownership of images.

What I am seeing in Austin right now is a resurgence of interests on the part of clients in both traditional fields and start up technology fields in using respected artists and smart, well educated practitioners to collaborate in creating new styles of images and combinations of imaging technologies. They are no longer looking (if they ever were) for the lowest priced, technical button pushers, rather they are looking (as clients have since the dawn of creative photography) for people who can guide companies through the part of the process of branding by creating innovative visual work that reflects the feel and dress of the business entity. It starts with their portrait assets and diffuses into the rest of the visual, public facing representations of the company. Does the architectural imaging (and the architecture itself) reflect the look, style and feel of the portrait images? Does the video reflect the same messaging and feel as the still images?

Companies have come around to the idea that really good and really innovative industrial design (hello Apple, Ikea, Tesla, Sony, etc.) is very valuable to consumers and now that the technology inside products has become ubiquitous and invisible to the eye the quality of design and build is a major differentiator in people's desire to buy and own. The logical extension is imaging as part of the industrial design matrix. After all, the design of a company and their product is all represented to the market via video and photography.

Of course I am not talking about wedding, baby and family portraiture; styles and tastes there have always traditionally followed the marketing space by a decade or more...

While large parts of the USA are still dealing with lost jobs and declining wages for many a look at the major technical markets; from Boston to SF, from Seattle to the twin cities, unemployment is hitting record lows. Numbers not seen in decades. Here in Austin we just hit the official number of "under 3%" unemployment. I have friends with fine dining restaurants whose businesses are almost in danger of failing because they are consistently unable to fill positions throughout their enterprise. From cooks to waitpersons. I hear from retailers who are unable to find clerks even at wages quite a bit beyond any minimum.

The recovery works to buoy the value of our work by, on one hand, removing people at the lower end of the market who had not yet found ways to make their forays into photography financially successful (but who have successfully found traditional employment) and, on the other hand, by providing an ever more sophisticated market for ever more sophisticated imagery.

I think the secret is constant experimentation and a deep dive in the currency of being current. But knowing what is selling is only half the equation. Instead of replicating the styles we see it's incumbent upon us to figure out how to integrate the styles that are aligned with our own vision with the stream of current taste. Everyone must figure that out for themselves. But I will tell you that the market feels to me more like it did several decades ago when we were hired as both image makers and professional imaging consultants to collaborate on the projects instead of just taking orders for cookie cutter services. The vital aspect in all of this is to having to go out and show your new work.

Nice to see the market appearing to support a more professional and in depth approach to our partnering of companies with our expertise.

On a different note there was an interesting article in the NYT about how our lack of workforce mobility (actual, physical mobility) has caused this recovery to be slower and less effective than previous economic recoveries. Jobs are portable (ever more so) and move from market to geographic market pretty quickly. The most successful people across many industries are the ones who can move to follow the rise of markets in certain areas and then leave the markets during their decline. It seems that previously in our national history this was a recurring pattern with as much as 20% of the working populace relocating in pursuit of work every year. Photographers can be mobile. If one is stuck in a rust belt city with a declining population and a receding business market it can be more or less impossible to "market your way out" or "just up your game."

You might want to consider targeting the markets that are doing well and to relocate, or at least visit and test the waters. You may find that there are many support jobs available in hot markets that will allow you to work part time in a different field while settling into a much more active and profitable market for your skills.

Also interesting because it ties into a book I read several years ago about this upcoming generation being the "renter" generation. Renting bikes, skis, camera lenses, etc. instead of buying them because, well, it makes economic sense. The book also talked about the nations in Europe (at the time) with the highest rate of home ownership and the lowest rates of home ownership and how this effected income and career success. The poster country for home ownership, with over 90%, was Portugal which, not coincidentally, had the lowest income levels in the E.U. (at that time). The country with the lowest level of home ownership (a nation of renters) was Switzerland which, you guessed it, had the highest per capita income and the most entrepreneurial success.

The finding pointed to geographic mobility as a predictor of job success and income levels. A renter can leave to pursue opportunity while an owner is tied to his location by his single biggest financial asset. A Swiss person plying a career is able to take assignments across his country or around the world with short notice. He is able to follow the flow of success. While a home owner, particularly in a declining economy, is moored to his investment and unable to pursue the same opportunity.

Americans may argue that home ownership is vital for economic success but study after study shows that there is continual financial/investing opportunity loss, and that homes, in general, rise and fall in value slower than equities markets. It's something to think about when someone starts to rant on about, "The government is fudging those employment numbers! Everyone in my town is out of work!" Yes. That the second part of that argument may be true but it's up to the individual to create as much opportunity as possible for himself. Sometimes that means following the work.

The above is about the idea of home ownership and job mobility and NOT about politics. Political responses will be moderated into the void. You are forewarned. 

I tend to glom onto a camera that I really like and use the hell out of it in spurts. I know, you are so much smarter than me; you use one camera forever and ever and know it better than you know where the zipper is on your pants. Too bad I'm not as gifted. I forget stuff, get in a hurry and overlook stuff. And with modern "do everything" cameras it's a bit harder to change gears all the time. Especially when schedules get tight and clients get pushy.

It should come as no surprise to anyone who reads VSL that I've lately had an infatuation with the Sony RX10iii and have been using it as both a still camera and as a (wonderfully capable) video camera. But, truth be told, I've stumbled over my two left feet more than once this week by getting in a rush and not making sure I had everything set correctly as I went back and forth from video to stills.

I'll start with the least obvious thing. This camera allows you to set a wide range of styles, profiles and effects. When I shoot video I use a setting that I found while testing all the settings. It's a Rec709 look with a nice, flat gamma. It looks good and the colors fit into the gamut represented by ProRes video. Great, right? Well it's not the profile I'd want to use to shoot Jpegs and it's a pain to batch change profiles in raw as well. I started shooting some still photographs one morning without really paying attention to all the settings. Yep. I had the 709 Picture Profile set instead of the Neutral Color setting I like. I only started paying attention when I reviewed the first few images and everything looked flat to me. Not the great colors I'd come to expect from the neutral or standard settings. Damn it.

Another thing that just messes me up is going into the movie mode and not remembering to set the AF to manual. I usually shoot in S-AF and I expect to be able to hit the shutter button, lock focus and roll on. But the Sony cameras don't work that way. They don't do S-AF in video. They switch to AF-C without telling you. Working under pressure; and with the memory of past still practice, you'll probably think (as I did) that everything is great. And it might be but you'll probably have a nice, sharp background with a fuzzy person speaking in the foreground. I need to get into the habit of switching to manual, punching in on the magnification to fine focus and then keep my hands off the lens. But thirty years of habit is tough to break.

On Thursday we were shooting in the rain with an "A" and a "B" camera. I was setting up the shots along with my wonderful assistant and I couldn't understand why the RX10ii (B) camera was three stops underexposed compared to the A camera at the same overall settings. The client was pushing the schedule and I was starting to question my sanity. I did what most of us do and started going through a mental list of possibilities. Aha! The built-in neutral density filter. That was the culprit. A three stop difference solved by the pressure makes for stress and stress isn't good for working artists.

Focusing modes, profiles, timing settings, annoying zebras versus welcome zebras. It's a lot to change back and forth. Even resetting ISOs from one situation to the other requires diligence. And how many of us have some niggling doubt about the integrity of our files when we put our cameras on tripods and forget to turn off the image stabilization. My least favorite mistake to make, although not destructive, is to come home from a shoot and realize that I didn't format the card I used since its last shoot and it now has two shoots on it. When you go to import it becomes a time consuming mess.

So. What to do? Well, I'm setting up every Sony camera in the rolling tool case with the same settings on the custom buttons. The bottom right hand corner button (#3?) is always focus magnification. There is also a function menu that includes six shortcut settings. I've got a set figured out that I want for video and a set I like for stills. What a pain in the butt to go back and forth. I have two options to consider and I'm guessing you have your suspicions about the course I will ultimately take....

You can, of course, vote.

Option one (the logical course):  Make and laminate a check list for stills and video settings including recommended function menu items for each use. Keep the check list in every camera bag and case. Refer to it whenever changing modes. The advantages here are cost and satisfying the need to also run through a checklist before important shoots anyway. I've never had a formal camera check list but I think pilots do this every time they fire up a 747 and go out for a drive, and what we're doing is at least as important....

Option two (the gear head solution): It would be much more fun to figure out which camera is getting the most "crossover" use; the most switching between video and stills, and buy a second, identical camera. One camera would have all the settings permanently set for video use while the companion camera would have still imaging setting. The cameras could be identified with stickers or perhaps different colored camera straps to cue the busy shooter into making the correct choices.  I'd still like to do the check list just for all those times when a clients agrees that you need an hour to light and set up for a shot but then the CEO comes 55 minutes early and marketing client expects that you'll automatically flood your system with adrenaline and get set to go in five minutes or less. You know, pretty much every other shoot.

The downside of this option is the extra cost and the required space in the camera case but, consider this: You'll be getting s second battery!

Seriously though, I am fine-tuning the function menu items and putting them on two checklists. I am also referencing where to find each menu item in the menu so I can do this quickly. If you know a quicker way to change between two sets (which I have not yet discovered) please chime in and let me know. We've got one more mixed mode shoot coming up on Thurs. and it would be nice not to be caught flat-footed.




The Texas Sky Over the Top of My House. 

I'm taking a break from my break to quickly talk about my recent good and mediocre experiences with the Sony RX10mkiii camera. I've been using it non-stop since Monday so that makes over forty hours of hands-on use this week. I've learned more about the camera. 

I used the iii to shoot video on Monday. I was following a crew from an electric utility company as they restored service to various rural customers after heavy rains hit last week. I used the camera under an inexpensive rain cover as well as naked in the mists. I used the camera on a stout, video tripod and on a shoulder mount. I used it as a still photography camera this week to shoot archeological artifacts of the Southwest U.S.A. and I used it for four day this week as a production video camera. Here's what I know now: 

I'll start with stills. I needed an all purpose camera that could take images of all sizes of native American artifacts in a temporary studio setting against a black background. The artifacts ranged from less than an inch across to about four feet in length. I lit the small "studio" with two SMD LED lights in 24 by 36 inch soft boxes. All the images are very well detailed and the color; set with a custom white balance on a Lastolite target disk, was very accurate and matched what my eye was seeing. I used a Gitzo tripod, sometimes with a side arm, and also used a 2 second self-timer setting to kill vibration. The result was high sharpness and detail right into the 100% view. 

The pluses in this set up were the lens flexibility, the very accurate color and the convenient operation of the camera (loving the "punch-in" magnification for fine focusing....). I should also mention that I got through about five hours of off-and-on shooting before I needed to swap out the battery. All very cool. 

The minuses were twofold: The AF hunts as the focal length set on the camera gets longer and longer. It's not a camera I would choose for low light, super long telephoto work. In good light it is superb. In less good light it hunts. The other minus is that its minimum focus distance is too long for good magnification of close ups of small objects unless you go to really short focal lengths. I want the angle of view I want and I want close focusing. It's a lot to ask but I want my fast, 24-600mm lens to also let me focus down to fill the frame with a one or two inch object. I don't always get my wish so sometimes I pulled out the RX10ii which focuses closer. Problem solved; just not very elegantly. 

I shot still life artifacts all day on Tuesday and processed files till late in the night. Delivered via FTP in the early hours of the morning. Why the rush? Because I had three long days of video production ahead of me and didn't want to have to split my attention. Better to be done and billed than changing gears all the time. In hindsight, I would have loved to have shot the still life stuff on Monday but the video schedule required that Monday, as my time and involvement revolved around the schedule of a lineman crew and several large trucks. You can't always schedule perfectly --- as evidenced by the fact that this is the first work week in months in which I had no time to get to the pool and swim with my master's team. Absolutely tragic. 

I shot on Monday with three Sony cameras. I used the RX10mkiii to shoot rainy roads, low water crossings, and skilled technicians forty feet up in the air fixing electrical lines. We also shot footage of a crew fording a river in an ATV. I used the RX10iii for long shots with nice compression, I used the RX10ii as a stationary "B" camera and I substituted the a6300 with the 18-105mm G lens when I needed to do continuous focusing while following a fast moving ATV parallel to the camera, and coming toward the camera. This was all video which I shot in 4K at 24fps, generally at ISO 100 and usually with a variable neutral density filter gracing the front end of the cameras. 

The VND filter slowed down the continuous AF on the RX10iii.  Compromises abound.

On the other side of the coin are two things the cameras (the RX10mkiii and the RX10mkii) do very, very well; those are video and audio. 

I've now shot over half a terabyte of 4K video with the cameras and am consistently amazed at the quality of the images when viewed on a 27 inch monitor. The detail is amazing and, with few reasoned adjustments to the picture profiles, (reducing sharpening by half) the tonality and integrity of the images matches what I am seeing from the A7Rii in the Super35 mode, right up to ISO 400. The images hold together past ISO 800 but you start to see more noise in the shadows than you will get from the A7rii. I think that's fair considering the difference in price and the mix of features. 

The true testament to the quality is when an experienced videographer walks into your office, looks at a paused frame on the monitor and asks if it's a still photo from the camera. The 4K files are that good. 

But the other thing I wanted to mention is about the sound quality of the cameras. I read a lot of stuff that led me to believe that you could NOT get good sound in the camera. That in order to get reasonable quality one would have to buy the hotshoe interface kit from Sony, with its own pre-amps, or resign yourself to shooting double sound. Here's my experience: I plugged a Sennheiser wireless receiver into a Tascam DR60ii and caught the signal from the Sennheiser lav mic. I adjusted the levels with the DR60ii preamps and fed the signal from that machine into the microphone input of the camera; being careful to adjust the levels to a minus 12 average (in terms of Db). The sound I've recorded on the SD cards is noise free and very clean. There are no negative inflections to any part of the sound. The issue I think most people are experiencing in their glancing trials of the camera's audio system have to do with the fact that there is a mismatch in terms of input/output levels from some microphones and,  in those cases, the camera must boost the signal more that it was designed to do. 

Given a good signal to work with the audio circuits are amazingly clean. 

I have one warning about using one feature on the camera!!! If you choose to use the face detection AF in movie mode you'll be walking a dangerous line when the light levels drop. In good light the camera locks onto faces and holds on to them tenaciously. As the light drops the camera loses its ability to grip onto those faces and starts flailing around, looking for something with more contrast to grasp for. If there are nice, solid lines and angles in the background that's where it's going to set focus. 

If you aren't shooting in enough light to keep your exposures at ISO 100/200 with f4.0 you need to switch to MF and punch in to focus. Just a word to the wise... Every feature has its limitations; don't get bit on the ass by exceeding the "envelope" of engineering promise. 

If my studio burned to the ground and everything inside melted the first two things I would replace would be the Sony RX10iii camera and my Apple Computer. Everything else could wait. It's really amazing how good this camera is. 

Now, I'm going back on break. I've got a full week of editing to do and the client just added another video project in which I'll be dealing with making the CEO look good. Counting down the days until I am once again unencumbered by the reality of earning a living and am able to saunter back to the keyboard to chat about life, love, copyright infringement and why I don't have a Fuji camera......(kidding about the Fuji, just kidding). 



Gear list – Starting out with off-camera flash

You can get great lighting with just on-camera bounce flash when shooting indoors, as shown in this related article – Lighting with bounce flash. But at some point you might want more flexibility and consistency. Or you might run into problem scenarios with bounce flash, such as colored walls and ceilings. Or you might run into a situation where you can’t use any bounce flash at all, and the available light isn’t ideal. Then it is time to step it up with off-camera flash.

Starting out with off-camera flash photography might seem daunting for the newer photographer who hasn’t dipped a toe in that yet. But it isn’t that scary. A very basic off-camera flash setup need not be expensive – and even that basic lighting setup can take you far before you have to expand into more sophisticated or flexible gear.

I’d like to show you how to build up a very basic off-camera flash setup that doesn’t cost much. An easy and inexpensive entry into an area that can really elevate your photographs.

This list of gear isn’t definitive – there are so many different ways to build up a lighting kit. I think this might be why it is confusing to the aspiring photographer – an overwhelming array of possibilities. But I am confident that the gear listed here will be solid, good choices.

 

The photo at the top of Claudia, and the photo below, of Anelisa, where taken with this basic setup. You need not get the identical setup, but you’d need something similar. Let’s look at what you’d need.

  • Most of all, you need a flash / speedlight – it need not be very sophisticated. But ideally it needs to have some power.
  • Two wireless triggers to allow your camera to fire the flash. One is on your camera, the other connected to your flash.
  • An umbrella or a softbox to diffuser the flash and create flattering light.
  • An umbrella clamp (or spigot) to attach the flash to the light-stand, and to connect the umbrella to.
  • A light-stand to hold everything up.
  • Possibly a battery pack, to help with recycling time of your flash.

That’s it. That’s all you need to start out.
Let’s start with the easier items first:

 


 

1.) Light-stand:

Working indoors, the light-stand we use need not be that heavy. But we would still benefit from a light-stand with a big enough foot-print. Working indoors, we don’t need a light-stand as sturdy as the C-stand (which is often recommended.) We want a light-stand that is not too heavy, not too flimsy. We want the Goldilocks option – it should be just right!

There are so many options for light-stands, but I really like the Manfrotto stackable light-stands (Amazon). The medium sized one (1052BAC) is fairly light (2.65 lbs), but still tall enough (7′ 7″), and it has a footprint diameter of 43′ … while the larger version (the 1004BAC), is 12′ tall at its highest, and has a footprint of 42″ and weighs 6.6 lbs. Sturdy, but heavy.

This then is more or less the specs I would look at when comparing other light-stands. You want something similar to that medium-sized Manfrotto – a light-stand taller than 7′ and with a decent footprint so it doesn’t topple easily, and a weight of around 3-4 lbs. Just right.

Reviews of the Manfrotto light-stands:

There are other brands available such as Avenger and Impact. But I like these Manfrotto light-stands because they clip together – it makes them easier to carry and easier to store.

 


 

2.) Umbrella Clamp:

This might be the simplest choice to make – an umbrella bracket (Amazon). There’s no need for a heavy, metal umbrella bracket. Right now, the umbrella bracket by Neewer (affiliate), might be the best choice – inexpensive, and it gets the job done.

 


 

3.) Umbrella / Softbox:

There are such a huge variety of ways to modify and sweeten the light from your flash – the best choices to start out with would definitely be a softbox or an umbrella. For outdoors work, I find a softbox is more easily controlled than an umbrella – the wind tends to easily scoop an umbrella. The two softboxes I use with speedlights:  Lastolite softbox (Amazon), and Westcot Rapidbox (Amazon).

Related articles about softboxes:

For indoors work, I do think an umbrella would be your best choice – inexpensive, fast to set up, and compact when collapsed. In the end you will get a softbox or two as you progress as a photographer, but an umbrella might be your best starter option.

Now your choice is whether you should get a 45″ bounce umbrella with a black backing (B&H / Amazon), or a 45″ white shoot-through umbrella (B&H / Amazon). The black backing on the bounce umbrella can be removed if need be, so it acts more like a shoot-through umbrella.

If you’re going to mostly shoot indoors such as in homes and venues, then I think you would do well to pick a white shoot-through umbrella. It acts like a light bomb as it lets the light from the flash scatter in all directions, which then bounces off the ceiling and walls to create soft light. The photos shown here were done with a white shoot-through umbrella. So as a starter light modifier, I would suggest keeping it as simple as that Westcott 5″ white shoot-through umbrella (B&H / Amazon). Other brands are good too. You have choices, and they need not be expensive.

 


 

4.) Wireless triggers and the choice of Speedlight / Flash

Now we get to the more tricky part of the shopping list – the speedlights and the wireless triggers. There are levels of sophistication here, as well as differences in how the wireless triggers and flashes combine as a system. For this reason, I am going to discuss our options here with that in mind – building a system. Two things will have to be balanced – cost vs features. Also, the proprietary brand names (Canon / Nikon) will be more expensive than the off-brand options.

With the wireless triggers, there are two ways that the transmitter and receiver communicate – radio-frequency signals, or optical signals. With the optical signals, you have to rely on line-of-sight, which can cause problems with range and position of the flashes. The best then would be proper radio-frequency wireless transmitters of some kind.

Let’s carefully step through all this and see if we can figure out where the best choices would be:

You will have to make an important decision from the outset here about the direction you want to go with off-camera flash. You will have to decide whether you want to opt for:
– a more simplistic manual-only flash setup, or
– a more sophisticated setup which allows additional features such as TTL control, and high-speed flash sync.

With the two main photos shown here, there are the pull-back and detailed shots. Even though I used the Nikon SB-900 flash, I used the older PocketWizard II units. There is no intelligent communication between the camera and the flash with this setup – it is entirely manual. So you can get superb results without having to chase the technology immediately. A basic setup can get you far, even though you lose TTL flash control, and high-speed flash sync.

 


 

Manual-only flash

First of all, if you want to only shoot manual flash, with no sophisticated control by the camera itself, then you have several inexpensive options. Keep in mind though that with the most simple of manual options, it would be up to you to adjust the flash’s output. (We will cover metering options in the segment below.) There would be no control over the flash’s output – you would have to walk over to the flash to adjust its power.

 

Suitable speedlights:
Instead of buying new, this would be a good opportunity to look for the previous generations of Metz flashes / Vivitar / Sunpak flashes, but also more recent brands such as Bower. They are really inexpensive, which is their entire appeal.

Suitable wireless triggers:
Look for used PocketWizard Plus II units. Alternately, you can look at the more recent  PocketWizard PlusX Transceiver (B&H / Amazon).

Also look at the Cactus Wireless Flash Transceivers V6 (B&H / Amazon), which work with Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Panasonic and Olympus Flashes. If you want an inexpensive manual flash, the Cactus RF60 Wireless Flash (B&H / Amazon) might suit your needs.

Another option is the Yongnuo YN560-IV Speedlite (B&H), which can be triggered by other Yongnuo speedlights, as well as with the Yongnuo RF-603 and RF-602 wireless transmitters.

 


 

for Canon

Canon users are in luck – the  Canon 600EX-RT speedlite (B&H / Amazon) is everything you want in a flash. Radio-frequency control (instead of just optically controlled wireless flash). High power, with loads of features and controls.

Reviews of the Canon 600EX-RT speedlight:

 

The two main off-brand makes are Yongnuo and Mitros. These two brands have their fans, but there are also reports about reliability problems. If you want the reliability and solid performance and build of the proper Canon gear, then you know what you want. If you’re okay with the slight risk of less reliability at much lower cost, then these off-brand options are there:

Yongnuo:  If you would like the same functionality as the Canon 600EX flash, but at a lower price point, then there is the off-brand Yongnuo YN600EX-RT speedlite (B&H / Amazon), and the Yongnuo Wireless Transmitter (B&H / Amazon), which mimics the ST-E3, with infra-red AF assist added as a bonus.

Another option is the Yongnuo YN685 Wireless TTL Speedlite (B&H / Amazon), which offers complete radio slave functionality with both the YN-622C and RF-603/YN-560 radio systems for maximum compatibility with your existing gear.

Phottix:  Phottix Mitros+ TTL Flash and Odin Trigger Kit (B&H / Amazon)

Nissin:  Nissin Di700A Flash Kit with Air 1 Commander (B&H / Amazon)

 


 

for Nikon

With Nikon, the options are less clear than with Canon who has a solid radio-frequency controlled system with their flashes.

With the Nikon SB-910 Speedlight (affiliate), you have to rely on wireless triggers such as the PocketWizard FlexTT5 Transceiver & AC3 Controller (affiliate), to get radio-frequency control. Otherwise, you have to rely on the built-in option of the optical wireless signals … which has line-of-sight limitations.

With the more recent  Nikon SB-5000 AF Speedlight (B&H / Amazon), we finally get radio-frequency wireless control of our flashes … but only if we use the Nikon D5 or Nikon D500 bodies. Disappointing that they couldn’t make it backwards compatible like Canon was able to do when they released the Canon 600EX.

 

So both of the Nikon options have their limitations, which is why many photographers who use Nikon, look at the off-brand options with their own wireless trigger system. Again, Yongnuo and Phottix dominate the market:

Yongnuo:  Yongnuo YN685 Wireless TTL Speedlite and Controller Kit  (B&H / Amazon)

Phottix:  Phottix Mitros+ TTL Transceiver Flash  (B&H / Amazon)

Nissin:  Nissin Di700A Flash Kit with Air 1 Commander  (B&H / Amazon)

Neewer:  Neewer NW910/MK910 Master/Slave Flash  (Amazon)

Sanny:  Shanny SN910EX-RF Wireless Radio Master/Slave Speedlight  (Amazon)

 


 

for Sony

The full-spec Sony HVL-F60M Flash (B&H), uses the optical pulses to wirelessly control the slave flash. Again, this leaves us vulnerable to line-of-sight issues.

For proper radio-frequency control of our flashes for Sony Multi-Interface Shoe Cameras:

Phottix:  Phottix Mitros+ TTL Transceiver Flash  (B&H / Amazon)

Nissin:  Nissin Di700A Flash Kit with Air 1 Commander  (B&H / Amazon)

 


 

for Fuji

Fuji has only one option really if you’re looking at a radio-frequency wireless TTL flash system:

Nissin:  Nissin i60A Flash for Fujifilm Cameras  (B&H)

 

 


 

Using this basic setup, and metering for the flash

The next big question after you’ve acquired the basic gear, will most likely be – now what? How do I use this?

In terms of positioning the umbrella – go for a conservative position – about 30 degrees to your side, and about 20 degrees above your subject’s face, with the shaft of the umbrella pointing at their chest. There’s no real precision here – we are giving a wide swathe of light.

The next step – exposure metering. How do we set the flash power? Many of the speedlights listed above, are TTL. But for a static, studio-type setup, we would most likely go to manual mode on our flashes. Then it becomes a matter of getting proper exposure for our manual flash. This is a really simple procedure, explained through this (and subsequent articles)

The simplest way of metering for the flash would be with a handheld meter. I would suggest looking at the used gear market first before buying new. The Fred Miranda Forums is a good place for this.

I also often use the histogram to determine exposure. It works very well with manual off-camera flash.

Both of the main images shown here where shot at: 1/125 @ f/5.6 @ 250 ISO

 

 

Related articles

 

Summary

Radio-frequency wireless trigger systems have become a hotly contested area of flash photography over the past few years. We are sure to see more entries in the market, and ever increasing sophistication. We really have it so good with so many options.

If you see anything here that is incorrect, out of date or incomplete, please let me know.  I would like to keep this up to date to help everyone.

 

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.

 

The post Gear list – Starting out with off-camera flash appeared first on Tangents.

Improve your portrait photography:  Lighting with bounce flash

For a straight-forward but effective portrait like this, there are just a few things that have to come together … all within your control as the photographer:

  • Framing / Composition 

This is mostly as simple as looking at the edges of the frame in your camera’s viewfinder, and then deciding how much head-room or breathing room you want to allow. Also look at the background, and exclude what doesn’t add to your photograph. In this example, it was easy enough, working in my studio which has a grey wall.

So often though, I find that aspiring photographers that I teach at my workshops, haven’t developed the ability yet to look at the way they frame the subject, and look at the edges of the frame in their viewfinder. They either shoot too tight, or way too loose, or with a lop-sided composition as they center their subject in the frame. It just needs a little bit of practice.

  • Posing / Expression

My subject here, Claudia, is a professional model who was our subject at the flash photography workshop held in my studio. She certainly knows to pose – however, she doesn’t know how the photographer is going to frame her. So it is still up to us to tell her how we are framing her. It doesn’t help if her hands and arms are out of the frame if she thinks we are shooting half-length compositions. So even with a professional model, you, as the photographer, still need to guide and pose your subject. Here are more articles discussing the topic of posing.

  • Lighting

Here we come to the essential part that I wanted to discuss here – the lighting. In this example, the lighting is clean and open, with a slight gradient across her one cheek. That gives a more dynamic lighting pattern than flat lighting would have.

If this look appeals to you, then I have good news for you – it is within your reach. You too can easily have your portraits look as good as this!

 

The lighting is simplicity itself – on-camera bounce flash. This was shot indoors without much available light – my studio. Which is why I can’t really show a pull-back shot on the lighting – there isn’t anything else other than the speedlight on my camera.

If you are shooting indoors, and using your speedlight on your camera, the the simplest approach is invariably the best way to use the flash. This is discussed at length in my book, On-Camera Flash Photography, as well as the Craftsy video tutorial on flash photography.

There are two of the most important tips I can give you on getting the most of your on-camera flash when you use it indoors:

  • Bounce your flash into the direction that you want the light to come from. Not towards your subject, but in the direction that you want the light to come from. (Mind if I repeat that again? NOT towards your subject.) Here I bounced the flash over my left shoulder because I wanted the light to come in from the direction best suited to how her hair is parted. In other words, I didn’t want the light to come from the direction where her fringe on her left-hand side, would block much of the light.

 

Summary

An elegant portrait need not be difficult in execution. Don’t get overwhelmed. A step-by-step control over the elements, and a straight-forward approach, is often the key to success here.

The next step though in expanding your repertoire, would be lighting with off-camera flash. If you’re new to off-camera flash, and unsure of what gear you’d need, here is the gear list – starting out with off-camera flash.

 

Photo gear (or equivalents) used during this photo shoot

 

Related articles

 

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.

 

The post Improve your portrait photography: Lighting with bounce flash appeared first on Tangents.

Romans on scooter. ©2016 Kirk Tuck

Much as I love writing about photography and cameras I find myself
at a pausing point and need to figure out where photography is 
heading; and me with it. The field feels likes it's just become so diffuse and ubiquitous
that it defies all of the logic, arguments, entrenched history and presumptions 
we used to carry around and hash out in blogs. 

Just taking some downtime to concentrate on the ongoing process of making art. 

Christopher Robin said it best, 

"GON OUT
BACKSON
BISY
BACKSON
C.R."

Check back in a week or two...

A7R2 w/24-70mm
A subset of the KW in-house video crew.

I have written, yesterday and today, tangentially, about my photo assignment to document a day of community service by a company. With permission to use some of the images from the shoot in hand I thought I would show a range of shots taken over the course of the day, along with some camera information; just to  give an idea of the scope of the project. Plus it's always fun (at least I think it is) to see what the real versus imagined differences are between cameras. Different end targets will demand different levels of quality but...if you click on these images and look at the bigger versions at least you will see what the three different cameras look like at 2200 pixels wide on the long end. 

The client was real estate company, Keller Williams. Here's how their company describes yesterday's event: "Inaugurated in 2009, RED Day (Renew, Energize and Donate) is Keller Williams Realty’s annual, company-wide day of community service. Keller Williams associates are asked to “give where they live” and dedicate a day to renewing and energizing the communities they serve."

To recap: There were about 200 volunteers (here in Austin; thousands more across the country) doing things as diverse as fixing up a playground, reading and recording books onto video for hospital bound kids, painting and repairing schools; donating, labeling and shelving books for school libraries, reading to elementary school classes and even putting on a comedy/drama (with five live shows) for the entire third grade of an elementary school. My role was to be a visual documentarian of the day. To do that I used three different cameras and two different, interchangeable lenses. The cameras were: The RX10iii, the a6300 and the A7R2; all current Sony products. The lenses were the Zeiss 24/70mm f4.0 and the Sony 18-105mm f4.0 G lens. The fixed lens on the RX10iii covers angles of view corresponding to 24mm-600mm (yummy!).

A7R2 w/24-70mm

A7R2 w/24-70mm
Chris, the CEO, reading for the camera.

A7R2 w/24-70mm @1250 ISO
Checking in books and labeling them.

A7R2 in crop mode @5000 ISO
The "Hero" of the school plays!

A7R2 in crop mode @1600 ISO
A quick look at the corporate messaging.

A7R2 in crop mode @5000 ISO
The dramatic comedy team at Perez Elementary School.

A6300 + 18-105 @2000 ISO
CEO being interviewed by local media.

A6300 + 18-105 @2000 ISO
Pre-kickoff orientation meeting (with real breakfast tacos).

A6300 + 18-105 @2000 ISO

A6300 + 18-105 @2000 ISO

A6300 + 18-105 @2000 ISO

A6300 + 18-105 @2000 ISO

A7R2+24/70mm @ 1600
One of the youngest volunteers sorting books at BookSpring 

A7R2+24/70mm @ 1600

A6300+18/105mm @4000 ISO

A6300+18/105mm @4000 ISO

RX10iii. 
Fixing up the playground at an early childhood development center.

RX10iii. 

RX10iii. 

RX10iii. 

RX10iii. 

RX10iii. 

RX10iii. 

RX10iii. 

RX10iii. 

RX10iii. 

RX10iii. @ISO 2000
Back to the drama at Perez Elementary.

RX10iii. @ISO 2000
The angst of possibly having to cancel Summer vacation.

RX10iii. @ISO 2000

RX10iii. @ISO 2000

RX10iii. @ISO 4000
At the breakfast launch. Me just showing off the AWB and ISO 4000 performance (under insanely mixed lighting---) with the RX10iii.

A7R2+24/70mm ISO 800
I've never yet met a photographer who looked forward to making group shots. 
The A7R2 did nicely for me. It's a tight squeeze but no one is puffing out at the corners....

These kinds of jobs require me to mix with CEOs and other corporate people, become one with the bigger corporate team, and also get by to a number of schools, and other institutions, and to do it without drawing too much attention to myself. I want to make everyone comfortable and happy in front of the camera; at least as much as is possible. The rest of the time I want to hide behind my cloak of invisibility which is most easily done by being right in the middle of things. 

I had an absolute blast. While the RX10iii can't match the other two cameras for high ISO it does quite well in the lower ranges and I'd be comfortable using it in jobs like this all the way out to 1600. If your final target is the web you can get away with higher ISOs but you can't always go to 100% magnifications and not see some real noise reduction going on. I set the camera to High Iso Noise Reduction: Standard because I knew the images would look fine for my client's intended use (web P.R.---team building). In fact, the images from the smallest sensor camera might have looked better if I had turned down the noise reduction and dealt with it in post, but the only people who will notice that difference are other photographers peeking too closely behind the curtain. 

Remember, you can click the images to see them larger.  

5.18.2012


Who cares about camera bags? Well....I do.

This is an old, Domke Little Bit Bigger camera bag.

I see a lot of super crappy camera bags out and about.  What the heck are you people thinking?  Seeing a huge, ballistic nylon, super-size-me bag that looks like a black shipping box rigidly swinging from a strap that has a death grip on your shoulder tells me that you didn't think that bag purchase through all the way. I know, I know, you're an engineer and you read the tests and selected a bag for maximum gear safety.  Your brand X behemoth bag can protect the contents at drops that accelerate to 20 g's.  It's bullet proof and has dedicated compartments for everything from your micro-fiber cleaning cloth to your 18-500mm zoom and your GPS something or other, and your flashlight and your cellphone(s),  and your MP3 player and a few books on lighting and a couple of sandwiches and a six pack of lite beer.   Swinging the "big bags" through an unsuspecting crowd won't win you many friends.    In term of coolness the giant, semi-rigid, b-nylon bags are the comb-overs of camera bags.  Better to just carry everything in a paper bag from the grocery store.


 You want something better out of life than to own the U-Haul of camera bags. I've looked at almost every bag on the market over the last thirty years and I've bought dozens of them.  Maybe more.  I had a brief romance with a minimalist Leica canvas camera bag but it just wasn't the right size.  I still have three of them hanging on a door in the studio, in various sizes.  Tamracs are the Pontiac Firebirds of camera bags.  Too bulky and inefficient.  The interior size is minute on most of them compared to the exterior dimensions.  Ditto the Lowes and the Katas.  In fact, all of the bags that are constructed of dense, rigid foam, covered with ballistic nylon are heavy on "protection" (as if it mattered) and light on comfort and usability.  And as stylish as a leisure suit.
You want a bag with give.  You want a bag that ages gracefully.  You want a bag that's underwhelming and personable.  And, most importantly, you want a back that wraps itself around you like an affectionate lover.

In the end, if you are a professional photographer who carries his own cameras onto commercial locations, or in the service of art, or you just want to look like one, you can't really carry anything but a Domke cotton canvas bag.  The size is really up to you but good taste dictates that you select one that's just big enough for whatever you have planned, photographically, for the day.

If you are shooting with micro four thirds cameras and lenses you certainly don't need anything bigger than the original, F2 bag.  If you shoot with APS or full frame cameras you don't need anything more ample than the Little Bit Bigger Bag in the photo above.  If you get one of the Little Bit Bigger Bags and you come back whining that you've run out of space you are wrong.  You just tried to put too much worthless stuff in the bag.

Let's get straight about one thing: A camera bag is not a "storage solution" and a photo shoot is not an automatic opportunity to bring every last piece of photo-crap along when you leave the house. Tobacco colored filters? Really?  If you've done your due diligence and practiced your craft over and over again you should know which two zoom lenses you really need to shoot with or, alternatively, which three primes you need to pack for the day.  If you're shooting unhurried and close to home do you really need a back up camera?  I didn't think so. An extra battery or two? Sure.  Wanna pack even lighter? Leave the cellphone at home and concentrate on shooting.

But back to my point.  The small Domke bag (the f2) and the Little Bit Bigger Bag are both made out of cotton canvas.  Over time (if you use it) it gets softer and softer. Comfortable to the touch.  The bag is made to smush when there's not a lot in it.  It kind of wraps around your hip instead of gouging rigidly into it.  The smaller bag should always be bought in the dark brown color.  It's stealthy and visually appealing in its simplicity and grace.  In the large bag your really only have the choice between a very, very light tan and a deep black.  I have them both.  Just get the black.  Over time it will fade like the corners of an enameled Leica M3, showing the equivalent of camera brassing that says, "My camera bag earned this soft, weathered finish from time in the field."

My Bigger Bag is perfect for what I do.  I can comfortably fit in two big camera bodies and four lenses, plus a flash.  The front pockets are reserved for camera batteries and memory cards.  The end pockets for flash batteries and off camera flash cables.  The back pocket?  You get to use it any way you want.  It will accept my 13 inch laptop but it's stupid to carry a laptop around if you're going out to shoot.  If your camera bag feels heavy it's either not well made or you put too much stuff inside.  See above.

Big, dumb bags are insidious.  They aren't really scalable because they are more rigid than the unstructured canvas bags. Human nature (which you can't resist even though you say you can) impels you to fill every pocket; every nook and cranny.  And the fat bag throws off your normally graceful gait. The more you carry the harder it is to be creative.  It's a known law of the photographic universe.
I started out with a Domke F2 (original) bag in brown.  I still have it after nearly 20 years.  A short time later I got the bigger bag because I was doing a lot of airline travel and the bag, with my two shooting cameras and four lenses, and necessary junk would all fit under the seat in front of me.  It still will, even with all the TSA'ing and downsizing.

The black, bigger bag has been with me through a blizzard in St. Petersburg, a junket to Monte Carlo, a torrential downpour in Seattle and just about everywhere else.  It won't protect gear from rank stupidity and will  punish you until you learn to be vigilant in caring for your gear.  But it will make you a better photographer because it will carry your stuff gracefully and call less attention to you than more unyielding baggage.  In a way, all baggage is part of a balancing act.  Too much means you're not selective enough.  Being prepared is one thing, carrying your whole inventory on your shoulder is just crazy.

These are just suggestions.  If you're as headstrong as I am you'll go out and buy whatever the hell you think is right.  But I'm here to tell you that when I've met the best and the brightest, the superstars, the Rollingstones and Beatles of photography, every damn one of them is hauling their carefully selected camera gear around with them in a Domke canvas bag.  Not some high tech monstrosity of a bag. And certainly nothing in bright colors or attached to a cutesy name.  You've been informed.  No one can force you to have good taste.  But if you are in the market for a great camera bag I suggest you try one of the Domkes.

full disclosure. I own too many Domke bags but, it can't bear to let any of them go.  I don't own Tiffen or Domke stock and no one gives them to me for free.  The article is not meant to be mean or serious.  If it comes off that way I either wrote it wrong or you read it wrong.  And, true fact, Duane Michals actually did carry his cameras to several photo shoots in New York City in a Shopping bag from a department store.  Really.


Love the bag? Buy the book.

Kirk's Amazon Author's Page






Photo shoot: On-location lighting problem solving (with Profoto)

When I photograph on location, many of my decisions on the technical stuff like camera settings and lighting, are based on common sense algorithms. Max flash sync speed, choice of aperture, and direction of light. That forms the basis of decisions, but just as often we, as photographers, have to adapt and go into problem-solving mode. Here’s an example during a photo shoot where I had to come up with a different way of using my off-camera lights.

It was a big deal for me when I was asked by the management of Home Free, an a cappella Country group, to do a series of promotional photos of the group. I flew out to Minneapolis to meet up with them there.

One of the locations we shot in, was this large event space which had this metallic wall. This was a tough location because the metal wall easily reflected the flash … yet, I wanted to have the lighting look as natural as possible – as if it were all found light. This was a bit of a challenge.

I had two Profoto B1 flashes (B&H / Amazon) with me. Powerful workhorse flashes that I’ve come to rely on. With 500 Ws they deliver a fair amount of power, yet they are compact enough to travel with. I also had a bunch of light modifiers with me – umbrellas, sofboxes, gels and grids. I had to pack enough gear to be able to meet any challenge, but not kill it with overweight fees with the airline. A delicate balance.

I’d like to step you through how I lit this scene above. In the end, it was a fairly simple lighting setup, but it took several steps to come up with it:

While everyone was setting up the scene, I tried various setups with the two Profoto lights. But no matter what I did, there were these large hotspots of light that revealed the flash.

The room was L-shaped. I even tried to use the two Profotos with white shoot-through umbrellas, hidden around the corner so that they just spill a lot of indirect light into the main part of the room. But the light from the flash lit up the wall opposite the metallic wall … and created a large flash hot-spot.

I scurried around to try and make this work, and the manager of the group said to me that they don’t have to use that wall if it isn’t possible. But I wasn’t willing to let go of this yet. Maybe a bit of pride, but mostly because this would be such a good setting for the group. I worked fast, and didn’t delay the shoot – by the time they were set up and ready, I had come up with a solution!

Since we didn’t have enough ambient light streaming through the windows on this rainy day, I thought that I could mimic this by bouncing flash onto the walls and windows. Regular followers of the Tangents blog will know exactly how I bounced the flash … you bounce flash into the direction that you want the light to come from. And that’s what I did – I bounced my flash off the windows and walls where I wanted the light to come from.

The Profoto B1, even with the flat front of the flash, spreads the light very wide – too wide for what I wanted to do here. Fortunately, I also brought along two sets of the Profoto OCF grids  (B&H / Amazon). With these I could contain the spread of light to exactly what I needed here.

The four photos above show the positioning of the lights, and the available light at the chosen camera settings. I wanted some of the available light to still register …. and I was also at the extreme end of what the two Profoto B1 flashes could deliver here, so the camera settings were:  1/50 @ f/5.6 @ 1250 ISO

The stabilization of the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8E VR (B&H / Amazon), allowed me to move around a bit and shoot from different angles and different height.

 

In the end I was really happy with the results – it looks natural enough to not reveal that flash was used. A slight bonus is the way the flash is reflected from the windows, creating patterns. The main photo at the top, and this wider image, are both straight out of camera – meaning that the few hot spots there could still be diminished in post-production if needed.

 

Photo gear (or equivalents) used during this part of the photo shoot

 

Related articles

 

The post Photo shoot: On-location lighting problem solving appeared first on Tangents.

A Fringe Benefit of Being a Photographer: Better Family Portraits.

I saw a statistic today that 85% of the people who work are not happy with their jobs and feel disengaged. That stunned me. I figured that at least 50% of the people in the workplace were fairly happy with their working situation. I read this piece of news as I was sitting in my office at 6 am sending along eight links of 2 gigabytes each to a client I worked for yesterday. To say I had fun yesterday would diminish the sheer pleasure I had in pursuing the same career I've worked at for the last three decades. This photography stuff is just plain fun.  

I mean, think about it. My "boss" (me) bought me four new cameras this quarter ,and as many new lenses, and he consulted with me at every single step of the selection process. I don't have "office mates" so there's no one to annoy me with silly stuff and stupid ringtones, and no one to keep track of how I choose to spend my time. The business seems happy to try and schedule my appointments around mission critical commitments like: swim practice and long lunches. The pay is good and the meetings with staff (zero attending) are very, very short and to the point. 

But the most fun part of the job is to continually do new and different stuff for a wide range of clients. Yesterday was a blast. A client hired me for the day to shoot a community service initiative and, while I am committed to creating images that work hard for them, I also saw the day as a perfect opportunity to test three new cameras. 

I love working for clients who are comfortable letting me figure out what's needed photography-wise and how to do the job. No one had an extensive and anal shot list. Just a few sentences in an e-mail with some general guidance. No one tracked my progress, and no one offered course corrections or in the field critiques. My essential task was to make the clients look good while they made themselves look good in the community. 

But that was yesterday and not all jobs are so much fun, right? Well..... the day before I had a portrait session in my small studio in West Austin. I got to decide just how I wanted to play with lighting design and spent time evaluating the various merits of Profoto versus Elinchrom versus Photogenic flashes. Did I like the big Octabank better than a smaller softbox? How would I light the background? Would I include a hair light? 

When my subject showed up I got to meet an interesting person who had moved from a career as a doctor to a career as a CEO of a large holding company. He came to the studio alone, without an entourage, which meant we could chat about anything we wanted to for as long as we wanted to. We talked about his businesses and then we talked about our kids. What could have been a 30 minute session stretched into an hour of me getting to look into a business I wasn't aware of, guided by the CEO of the entire enterprise. We had a fun time. The photographs looked great. I made a new connection into a different industry. And I got to practice using the Eye AF button on a new camera. 

I did a few more portraits for people from vastly different companies in the afternoon. I guess it was officially studio portrait day. Each person who graced the small studio space yesterday had clocked enough years and miles in their respective industries to also have great stories to tell. And I was interested in each one. It's a constant learning process. Each subject adding more to the sum of what I might know. 

The day before I packed up all the necessary gear and went on location to make portraits of eight people. I used to dread working on location because I never knew what sort of room I'd end up in. Would the ceilings be high enough to accommodate lights? Would there be blinds on the windows? Would the space have enough linear run to let me put the background out of focus? Would there be coffee? Would it be good? I kid about the coffee but location work is always a challenge only now it's a challenge that I view more like a technical puzzle to be solved. I no longer worry about things that are out of my control but I make sure I've got what I need to control what I can. (Like the keyboard bench...). 

I'd like to think that whatever career I choose in the future would be as much fun. If I move more intentionally into video production the same basic fun stuff remains: meeting new people, learning about new industries, and solving technical puzzles (multiplied by 3X). If I choose to concentrate on writing then I'll have to put myself out into the world in some way to have new experiences to write about. By the same token, if I went into sales I'd have the chance to meet an all new species of customers. 

I'm feeling in a bit of a celebratory mood today for a number of reasons. My decision to shoot with Sony cameras is panning out (well). My kid is coming home from college for the Summer this evening. My clients keep delivering fun projects to me and following up with checks. But mostly I am celebrating being able to enjoy what I do so much that I can't imagine doing anything else. It's almost like being a photographer  in this day and age, and in this culture, is a strange but compelling privilege. 

Next week is all about video. I can hardly wait.



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