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Nikon D5 high ISO performance 20000 ISO

Nikon D5 high ISO noise performance

With the increasing complexity of digital cameras these days, such as the Nikon D5 (B&H / Amazon), it has also become increasingly more difficult to give a comprehensive overview unless it is via a website dedicated to just camera reviews. So I will be rolling out mini-reviews along the way, as I use this and other cameras. The Nikon D5 ups many features and spec from the previous generations – Nikon D4 / D4s – by offering 4K video, higher resolution, improved AF and better high-ISO noise performance. I will do a more specific comparative review in time, but I’m so impressed with the camera so far, that I wanted to share a few images to show the high-ISO noise performance. It’s a definite cut above the already impressive D4.

This informal portrait of my friend, Jessica, was taken during a lull at the wedding we photographed. I wanted to impress her with my new camera, and shot a few handheld portraits at crazy settings: 1/40 (handheld) at f/2.8 @ 20,000 ISO. Yes, 20k ISO.

Here is what the 100% crops look like:

My settings in ACR (which would be the same if you were running Lightroom):

 

I ran the noise reduction at a higher level than I normally would, set to level 40, instead of the 25 default. Still, the detail is impressive in the final image. What also helped the sharpness at the slow shutter speed, was the Vibration Reduction of the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8E VR (affiliate). This combination of a stabilized lens and a truly impressive camera, is going to change things for me.

Here is another example from that wedding:

Here is the 100% crop of a darker area – the groom’s tux – to show the high-ISO noise for 6,400 ISO. I’m impressed.

 

Summary

So far the Nikon D5 has truly impressed me – the shutter is quieter than the D4. The auto-focus is incredible – I sometimes have to double-check if the camera did focus, it is that fast. The high-ISO noise, as you can see here, is also an improvement on already superb spec of previous generations. As I mentioned above, I feel that the Nikon D5 is the kind of camera that will change my photography over time. It’s that good.

 

The post Nikon D5 high ISO noise performance appeared first on Tangents.



People get locked into the era of their primes. Not the prime lenses they might own but the prime period of energy and interests in their lives. That age is usually from their 20's to the 40's;  before life has beaten the creativity and optimism out of them.  As people move on and embrace entropy everything is compared to the milestones of technology that correspond to the period of that primacy. It is in this way that people can say, with a straight face, that LPs (long playing grooved records) are better than any other form of recorded music. The blinders of lock-in convince them to spend time and money collecting limited editions of special pressings of music they would never listen to, if not for the delivery method. Equally, this nostalgia for the Golden Age is the reason some people are locked into listening to old jazz, another generation is still listening to disco from the 1970's while yet another group lives to lip-sync bad pop rock from the 1980's. 

This Golden Age Lock-in is the reason why perfectly serious businessmen, who profess to be logical and "bottom line" oriented, can spend enormous amounts of time and money on restored muscle cars that were dominant cars of their youth. "They just don't make em like they used to..." is their mantra. 

It seems to me that the same idea is rampant in photography. Not so much that using a Nikon F is vital but that the true-isms they learned in early times poison the appreciation of present technological advancements. In early days of digital imaging it seemed vital to have a full frame sensor. It was once the only way to get the right mix of both resolution and also big enough pixel sizes to keep noise down and detail up. A stylistic adjunct to this, after years of having nothing but smaller sensor cameras, was that full frame cameras allowed for narrower depth of field and that popular technique had been missed. All of a sudden everything had to be shot on full frame, using an 85mm f1.2 lens at its widest aperture. And to mainstream photographers today this combination (from the past) is still the gold standard.

There is a cohort that achieved their mastery of the craft in the days of medium format film and they will drive the incredibly tiny niche market for a new collections of modern, digital medium format cameras, like the new Hasselblad or the down market Pentax. The idea being that the cameras of the golden age were special because they were NOT the 35mm cameras everyone else was using. If the size was a determiner in the past there is no reason (in their minds) to think anything has materially changed. (Is a bigger sensor a better imaging tool even when "bigger" is now such a relative term?).

The past tends to poison our ability to accept real change that challenges our belief systems. It's the reason most people resisted the inevitable acceptance of electronic viewfinders and why they resisted new, smaller imaging sensors. It's the main reason people cling to using flash as their only lighting tool. It's the reason why people have friction with their current camera menus. And why a huge portion of the camera buying market professes to prefer eliminating video capabilities from their potential cameras. It will be the reason we resist self driving cars...

We see the effects of past intrusion on present everywhere in the photo business. A blogger opines that the stars of yesteryear had uniformly bad technique and would never have been famous in our current, modern times (a disingenuous argument since both of his examples are current, working and gallery-profitable artists). He claims that the only way to fame now is to "up your game." Which is another way of saying we need to go back to the golden age of technical mastery and make sure that all our work is superbly sharp, perfectly focused and color pure. As though using the supposed metrics of an earlier time is the only guarantee of present success in a marketplace driven by a different aesthetic than perfectionism. Make it sharp like the transparencies from a 4x5 or 8x10 view camera and certainly you will prevail. Of course, this is just insane rambling. The people who achieved success in the past did so because the content and style with which they worked was interesting and compelling; sometimes in spite of their technical mastery, or lack thereof. That the style was assimilated and endlessly copied makes it seem more banal that it was in its time but the power of the work at the time is unassailable. 

Nevertheless the hordes of photography remain resistant to change and daily channel the restraints of past practice. They cling to the big sports cameras. They cling to the heavy, fast zooms. They worship endlessly at the altars of high megapixels and full frame sensors. Why? Because that's the way the pros professed to do things oh so many years ago. Because that's the way the advertising by the two major brands is structured. They are always paying stealth homage to the "good old days" of journalism and associated parts of the profession that are in headlong decline. 

I took at gander at the Photo Expo calendar to see that all the usual suspects will be teaching all the usual courses. They'll tell you how to use big flashes and little flashes. How to do the style that made them popular ten or fifteen years ago. And the biggest booths at the show will be Nikon and Canon as they try to convince another generation that the history of their camera production is somehow meaningful to contemporary artists for all the wrong reasons. The camera maker that tossed everything modern at camera design, to see what would stick, (Samsung) is long gone from the market, in some way confirming my belief that the bulk of buyers love to talk about innovation while their buying habits are constrained by their lock in with the past. 

Current photography is no longer about metrics of perfection or overlays of styles popular with generations past. It is about immediacy and experimentalism. The poison of obsession about tools or barrier to entry techniques is a perfect example of the past putting practitioners in self imposed straightjackets. Hard to get out of the box if you think the box is a really nice, comfortable, custom tailored suit.

Like it or not the camera that influences people in their creative prime today is the cellphone. The iPhone 7 is not a revolution but an iteration aimed at the generation which first fully embraced phone cameras as just cameras. We might not be able to make the leap from 4x5 all the way to a pocketable phone for our personal work --- if our idea of "prime" is locked in the past, but we can take some baby steps and accept that all the new formats for  cameras are just as legitimate as everything else. No one format has a lock on anything anymore... 

Techical perfection is nothing more now than a nod to an era when achieving technical perfection was as difficult as having new and novel ideas. We've moved on.








Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Opening the last week of September at Zach Theatre, in Austin, Texas.
All photos ©2016 Kirk Tuck. All rights reserved.

Zach Theatre in Austin, Texas is less than two weeks away from opening their first show of the season. It's a big one! It's Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (based on the 1990's movie...) and it's going to filled with amazing sets and even more amazing costumes. But those come next week. Right now the case and crew are working hard in rehearsals to get every dance step and musical note perfect. Which they will. After seeing a second rehearsal last night I'd bank on it.

The show is so complex and visually rich that I wanted to see at least three rehearsals before I finally shot the dress rehearsal. I really want to feel the flow of the play so I'm ready to nail the shots we need to help market the production. And, as a side benefit of reconnaissance I get to produce some fun behind the scenes images to show how much work goes into ramping up a production of this magnitude. 

Yesterday evening we had a group of supporters in to watch about an hour of rehearsal and I decided it would be a good opportunity to take another look. Whereas last week I brought out the big guns (Sony A7rii and a6300) and the fast lenses I took a totally different tack this time. I brought one camera and a couple of spare batteries. And it was a very counterintuitive camera! It was the Sony RX10iii that I've been writing about so much lately.

You see, one of the thing people always right about of forae and in reviews is the idea that this camera is useless over 100 or 200 ISO and that there is rampant noise everywhere. The second most talked about issue is the limited battery light. While I was mostly focused on using the camera at high ISOs I thought I'd pay attention to battery life as well. Since this was a rehearsal and not a paying job I felt okay taking a bit of a risk with the gear. After all, it's good to know what you can do with all this stuff....right?

A week ago and again on Monday I spent full days shooting small products on black velvet with the Sony RX10ii and Sony RX10iii. All of the images were shot as raw files at ISO 100. I spent Tuesday and Wednesday of this week post processing each one of 348 files. Dropping out backgrounds on some, dustspotting and general image housekeeping. My takeaway? At ISO 100 those cameras create files that are sharp, detailed and visually solid. As good as any 20 megapixel camera on the market. And it's important to understand that I'm judging the whole system; the sensor and the lenses. 

So it was only logical to want to see what we could get at the other end of the spectrum: Handheld instead of locked down on a tripod. Bad light versus perfect light. Moving subjects versus totally motionless objects. Wacky Jpegs instead of very controlled raw files. 

I set up the RX10iii to shoot highest quality Jpegs with normal high ISO noise reduction. I used the flexible spot focusing mode. I made on custom white balance for the whole space ( all lit by fluorescents living high up in the rafters of a converted warehouse; at least they were all running the same tubes...). That's about it. Oh, yes, I set the camera to shoot at ISO 6400. While there are higher settings on the ISO scale in the camera I am not yet that brave...

Calculating the exposure by determining that I could not go slower than 1/125th of a second and have a prayer of getting un-blurry images of moving dancer and performers, and knowing that the camera at most focal lengths has a real maximum aperture of f4.0 I found that ISO 6400 was pretty much the lower limit for use in that space. (note to self: The theater needs to invest in more lights for that rehearsal space!!!).

So, what did I think? Well, if you just look at the files the way they will most likely be used (on a webpage, on Facebook, on Instagram, on Twitter, on Snapchat ---- not on a printed poster or double-truck magazine spread, I think you will find them quite acceptable. Good, quick social media content. If you jump into magnification mode and pixel peep at 100% you'll see some painterly artifacting from the intrusion of noise reduction but, really, the files are head and shoulders above my old Nikon D300, my Sony a77 and any number of recent cameras with bigger sensors. 

My biggest issue was the camera's ability to lock focus at these low light levels on moving subjects. Out of the 1,000+ images I shot last night I tossed out about 200 for focus issues. That's more than I'm used to but given my promiscuous shooting style I never left a scene without at least a handful of well focused photos. For this camera to work as a totally autonomous, one camera to rule them one camera to dominate all photography, Sony will have to add some sort of phase detection AF to make it truly awesome instead of just mostly awesome. The focusing in the Panasonic fz 1000 is better. 

Given that the real color of the floursecents is like 2900K with a nasty green spike I'm happy with the color rendition and I'm happy with the noise profiles at 6400. I doubt I will use the camera at that setting much when I can get somewhat better performance from a few other choices in the equipment basket but it is nice to know that it's usable in a pinch, or when you just want to play with an enormously long zoom range and a really deliciously sharp lens. 

That's my big revelation. Oh, one more thing. I shot over 1,000 images and still had 30% battery life left on the camera's gauge at the end on the evening. Turning off the automatic switching between back screen and EVF seems to conserve power. That's all I can figure. Anyway, here is an assortment of unvarnished Jpegs for you to look at. You can decide if the ISO 6400 setting will work for your next rehearsal. In the meantime, if you live within 100 miles of Austin you might want to go online and order your Priscilla, Queen of the Desert tickets. Show starts on the 28th of Sept. and runs through the end of October. Here's a link to Zach: http://zachtheatre.org


















This the Sony RX10 mk2. It is the most capable all around camera I have used. I take it on assignments along with the Sony RX10 mk3; the second most capable camera I have used.

Yeah, yeah, professionals and serious amateurs only use full frame cameras for their work....

Oh Bullsh@t. There's a wide range of work that could be handled by just about any camera currently on the market. The real secret in most assignments is getting the light right. That's generally followed by making sure your composition is good and balanced. That's followed by... etc. etc. But unless the camera is broken the chances are that just about anything you are using that was produced after 2010 is probably more than up to the task of getting the actual images you need. Double-especially if your primary target is the web. 

I know that if I want massive clicks I can write about the Fuji XT-2 or the Canon 5D mk4 and compare them with some Nikon cameras and some Zeiss lenses and we can keep the protest fires going all day long. But what if I just want to get some work done in a very efficient way for clients who have real businesses and actually write checks for the jobs we produce for them? It quickly becomes obvious that "photography" in the service of commerce is the result of a whole system and not just the camera and one of the magical lenses. 

It should come as no surprise to anyone who reads the blog here but I am a huge fan of the Sony RX10 series of one inch sensor cameras. Earlier this year I produced a corporate video what was shot with an RX10 mk3 as our main camera and the RX10 mk2 as our B-roll camera. The video looked great. And sounded great. We shot it all in 4K (UHD) and the cameras never gave us a moment of doubt; even shooting under dicey circumstances.

A couple of months back I posted a blog about using the long reach of the RX10 mk3 to document the dress rehearsal of the play, Mary Poppins, for Zach Theatre. I supplied images in the blog post that were taken from a fairly impressive distance from the stage but which still filled the frames with bright, sharp images of individual characters and small groupings. The camera handled focus and relatively high ISO in a competent manner and it was a great way of working since I could photograph silently while capturing a wide (24mm equivalent) establishing shot of the stage and then push right in for a waist up character shot with the long (600mm equivalent) end of the lens. 

As I continue to use these cameras I get more and more comfortable with their capabilities. A week and a half ago I decided to stop being so precious about making portraits (headshots) and put down my full frame camera in deference to making a portrait of a doctor, for a large medical practice, with the RX10 mk2. I just finished retouching the client selection today and I was very, very pleased with the results. I am sure they will be as well. 

The one thing that remained vexing about shooting portraits with a small sensor camera was the seeming inability to drop the background out of focus enough to make the image aesthetically satisfying. With the new and more powerful selection tools in PhotoShop Ccxx I've experimented with a number of ways to select the portrait subject, inverse the selection, contract the selection, feather it and then apply gaussian blurs to mimic the traditional look. What I have devised is a very flexible and controllable method (for me) to emulate the style we've done with bigger cameras for years. One more barrier removed. 

And for those of you who eschew the idea of using software to fine tune headshot files I would say that your camera and lenses are already doing so much correction already that what's a bit more pixel  nudging in the service of making a picture and making a buck?

But why bother to make portraits with the small sensor camera if you own big ones already? Well, the RX10's generous depth of field and face detection AF pretty much ensures that you will never again sit down to post process and realize that your expensive camera missed focusing on your subject's eyes once again. The files are small enough to be manageable while big enough to bring the same level of quality into play. The lens on the front of any of these cameras is so flexible. Unlike using primes I can fine tune focal lengths to get exactly what I want and unlike a full frame camera sporting a 70-200mm f2.8 zoom lens (to match the convenience of the smaller cameras) I don't have to worry about the whole tripod mounted assembly drooping toward the floor as I switch to a vertical orientation. Ignore the last point if your big, fat zoom lens comes with a tripod collar. 

The mitigating factor in mostly equalizing the quality between the one inch sensor and the full frame sensor is the fact that, in the studio, you have the ability to use as much lighting power as you want and can always work at ISO 100. At ISO 100, with perfect exposure and nuts on white balance, the smaller sensor cameras are able to produce an amazing level of quality. More than good enough for a 16x20 inch portrait print retouched in the same way as a full frame file.

But the most recent experience that compelled me to write this piece this morning was a session with a private collector of artifacts who hired me for several days to document his collection for a book project. We needed to document hundreds of pieces with great efficiency which was made more difficult since the objects ranged from five feet long (on the long side) to some that were as small as an inch across. We would need to shoot almost directly overhead from the objects with the camera mounted on a tripod with a horizontal arm. 

We used high output LED fixtures in medium sized soft boxes as our primary light sources. With Live View you get to work fully in a "what you see is what you get" mode. No chimping. 

I ran a field video monitor off the HDMI tap on the camera so the client and I could see the live view image without having to miraculously float above the camera to see our subjects and compositions. The 8 inch monitor was small and light enough so that we could move it around as required. I could grab the monitor and watch it as I adjusted the camera's zoom from a perch on a step ladder. I could watch the screen as I shifted the focusing point to any position on the camera screen. We could watch the electronic level for the camera and check the histogram as we shot. But most importantly, the client could hold the monitor in one hand, create wonderful combinations and collages of artifacts, and check his compositional work as he went. 

We were working at ISO 100, between f5.6 and f8, and with shutter speed hovering in the quarter second to eighth second range. The camera was set to do a five second self timer and we could trigger the camera to start the exposure with an IR remote. Alternately, the shutter button on the RX10 series of cameras is actually tapped for use with a conventional, traditional cable release! Amazing but true. 

Working with a custom white balance and consistent exposures we took ample advantage of the capacious depth of field provided by the combination of focal lengths and sensor size. We were able to keep combinations of objects in sharp focus with ease. 

While I had both the RX10 mk2 and mk3 with me we mostly used the mk2 because it is easier to focus down into the macro range and the 200mm long end was ample for our working distances. 

We often hear grousing about the Sony NPW-50 batteries but I was very impressed with the stamina of the batteries we used. We started shooting at 8 am and finished each day around 4 pm, and on each day we used only two batteries. One in the morning and one in the afternoon. For a live view set up with consistent feed into an external monitor I think this is impressive performance. Well on par with more conventional DSLRs, when they are used in a live view mode. 

So, here we are in the future. Now. I'll toss out idea that our embrace of "ultimate" quality cameras is meaningless for many of the day-to-day jobs that photographers are hired to do. Give me a convenient and flexible camera any day of the week and I'll work efficiently with it. I am consistently amazed that we are able to produce work that is easily technically better than we could have six or seven years ago with equipment that cost five times less than one of these little bridge cameras. 

None of this really matters if you do this for fun instead of money but this blog is really about the working life of a photographer, not the idea of having endless financial resources, and days in which to make one perfect photograph. There is a time value to production that is part of the mix of work. If all cameras in the bag satisfy the technical quality parameters required by the job then why oh why would I not want to choose the most efficient working tool possible? In many cases that tool is decidedly not the biggest, most expensive and highest resolution camera on the market. In fact, I would say that the smaller, lighter more flexible tool trumps the bigger tools more often than not. It does so by reducing the frictions of production in meaningful ways.  

I am now ready to hear your arguments vis-a-vis my occupational sanity....

A different point of view about value? Read this: http://animal-dynamics.com/cameras-vs-houses-sony-rx10ii/  Thanks to blog reader, Richard. 

Gesture and posing – building up a photograph

This striking photograph of Anastasiya, like some flying super-hero, didn’t just happen on a first take in the studio. It started with an idea, and then through several iterations, finally took shape.

I wanted to test the Profoto B1 flash’s Freeze mode, where the duration of the flash is much shorter – perfect for freezing fast motion. However, with a jumping shot like this, the photo is timed pretty much at peak movement – and there isn’t really as much blur as we’d need to show that the Freeze mode is effective. We’re going to need skate-boarders or other athletes or some wild movement for that. Still, we ended up with cool photos of Anastasiya flying about.

The final images looked really good to my eye, but it took us several steps getting there. I’d like to walk you through the thought-process how we improved on the first tentative test image, to the final sequence of photos.

With the first image, I realized that we need to have Anastasiya turn her body away from the light. I didn’t want to broad light her body, but rather have the light come in from a direction which shapes her body better.

With the next hump it was clear it looked a lot better with Anastasiya looking over her shoulder towards the light. But with her arm extended like that, her arm was over-lit be being relatively closer to the light source. We had to control her movement and her gestures. She needed to look relaxed, floating in mid-air.

Her body and limbs better positioned towards the light, there was a big improvement. But my own placement in relation to her wasn’t ideal yet. She needed to be spot-lit, and not the wall behind her. Here she is on the edge of the curved shadow area.  Also, Anastasiya wasn’t getting the height off the floor that was necessary. Here the shadow of her foot touches the floor. To give that idea that she is soaring, we need to be disconnected from the floor.

The solution – to have Anastasiya jump off an apple-box. That gave us the necessary elevation to have her shadow disconnect from the floor. Everything is starting to hang together now, except that shooting from below like this, her face is lifted too high. I asked her to look at the camera for the next sequence of photos.

And there we have it – a relatively static pose, mid-air. It is starting to look a little surreal, with Anastasiya effortlessly gliding by in the air. From here on we had the recipe and took several successful photos.

Here is the final image, but with the apple box and electrical outlets still visible. I removed all that in the final retouching of the photo (shown at the top), losing all non-relevant items in the frame.

This was a simple progression to get to the final selected image – but without the slight tweaks along the way, we wouldn’t have had a successful shoot. It usually needs this kind of consideration – “what can we do to improve this photo?” – and build up from there with small adjustments to technique, shooting angle, lighting, gesture and pose.

Post-processing

Post-processing of the main image was done with the RadLab plugins from Totally Rad, via a Vintage flavored recipe that I generated and saved. I used this on a layer, and pulled down the opacity to make it more subtle. You can download some of my RadLab recipes to try out and modify.

 

Related articles

 

 

Lighting setup & gear used

 

That particular shadow is a side effect of using the Profoto Magnum reflector (B&H / Amazon). It’s a huge silver reflector that fits on the B1 / D1 heads that I use, and somehow the reflective surface creates that multiple shadow lines. Kinda cool.

The post Gesture and posing – building up a photograph appeared first on Tangents.


Another perfect Sunday is coming to a close. I was up early and in the pool while most people were popping open the New York Times on their laptops or tablets. We rocked through 4100 yards as the sun rose up and burned away the scattered clouds. The water was perfect. It felt like it was right at 78 degrees. The air temperature was down at 73, which is a delightful change from the usual temperature at this time of year. 

A little after noon I grabbed the camera that is quickly becoming my go to street camera and I headed toward downtown to see what might be new. The camera was the Sony a6300, packing the relatively new (to me) Sigma 30mm f1.4 DN Contemporary. Love a lens with a name like that....

I took my time and took the long walk. I spent some time at the Graffiti Wall where the arrangement of rocks below seemed cool to me. Then I walked over to the Humanities Research Center at the UT Campus to get another look at the fabulous retrospective show of Elliott Erwitt's photography. It's just as good as it was last week when I visited. If you are near Austin (and that includes any readers we might have in San Antonio) this show is worth the drive. It occupies the entire first floor gallery of the HRC and it is wonderfully curated. The best. Believe me. The best. 

From the HRC I turned south again, heading past the State Capitol (currently under construction) and back into downtown proper. Down the smelly and seedy portion of East Sixth Street and over to the Convention Center where I was tickled to see a bustling Bridal Show in full swing. I remember going to a bridal show about twenty years ago and the thing that struck me, when I reviewed my memory of that event and compared it to the reality in front of me, is just how much bigger people have gotten over the last twenty years. I have to say that the attendees, when compared to the people two decades ago, are profoundly heavier. Thirty to fifty pounds on average. Sad and weird. I shook my head and continued my walk...



I headed back west past the tourists, drinking and eating appetizers on the sprawling front porch of the JW Marriott and continued east past the Austin Music Hall; now marked for demolition (that was a  short run...). Past the new Seaholm Center with a Trader Joes grocery store doing good business. I made it back to my car, parked in my usual space by the Treaty Oak, and headed home. 

When I landed here I was interested to see what I had gotten on my leisurely stroll through the city. I'd meant to spend the afternoon playing around with black and white but it seems like I veered in pretty much the opposite direction. 

Murals on Congress Ave.


I loved the splashes of art on the construction facades. They certainly lively up the place.



A fun find for the day was two UT film school students out shooting on Congress Avenue with a camera model that I owned, and used, many years ago. It was a Bolex Rex 5, set up in its spring-wind mode and loaded with 100 feet of some sort of 16mm film. The two guys handling it seemed to be having fun. The camera was certainly getting many thumbs up from for people savvy enough to know what it was. It brought back memories for me. I'd spent a lovely afternoon one day at Hamilton's Pool, back when an actress and a young film maker wannabe could head to the natural pool (about 20 miles from downtown Austin) on a hot weekday and not run into anyone else. I remember every frame...






Martin Burke as Crumpet for Zach Theatre's "Santaland Diaries." 

When I first started in photography the beginners all lit things with white umbrellas but they always coveted and aspired to own soft boxes. Especially Chimera soft boxes which were considered the cream of the crop. All of our photographer idols had studios filled with soft boxes. All sizes, from 12 by 12 inch up to 48 by 72 inches. There was a car shooter I knew in Dallas who had a custom soft box bank that was twelve feet by twenty feet. Amazing. And we would always marvel at the quality of light. Soft, yet directional. The boxes were relatively easy to set up and take down and at one point in my career I really couldn't understand why anyone would use anything else. 

But then I started shooting stills on movie sets and at high end video shoots and I watched as directors of photography lit up their sets using mostly various big frames which, in conjunction with diffusion material, created panels of light. At first I thought they just didn't know about the existence of soft boxes but after some long conversations with grips and gaffers I started to understand that the panels could provide a much more comprehensive amount of control, and along with the control, more "looks" than could be pulled out of soft boxes. 

I started collecting various frame sizes and cloths and using them in my work almost all the time. Once I learned just how much customization of light I could accomplish
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On the one hand we have the venerable maker of traditional DSLRs in the form of Nikon. Their once rectangular and hard cornered bodies converted like the conversion of automobile designs; from the sleek lines of the 1960's to the boring and aesthetically non-starting, rounded, aerodynamic shapes of the 1980's and beyond. Think: Mid-1980's Ford Taurus.

On the other hand one of the flagship representatives (and current pop star) of the mirrorless world, the Fuji XT-2. A clear design reference to the early days of mirrored cameras, visually, but endowed with a technological change that seems to be resonating more and more with aficionados and purists in the photographic world. The XT-2 reminds me so much of the generic SLRs of the 1970's; like the Rollei SLRs and even the Konicas.

But they are apt examples of the two factions currently warring against each other for the affections and $$$ of today's camera consumers. It's an interesting point in the history of camera design and marketing.

I watched this Summer as Nikon launched one camera that none of us will buy and a few other models that many traditionalists will consider. The first camera is the D5. It does one thing well and one thing only. It focuses quickly. Not necessarily with pinpoint accuracy, out of the box, but there is a built in app that automatically calibrates Nikon lenses to enable them to achieve focus. Seems a bit sad that a multi-thousand dollar camera and multi-thousand dollar lenses from the same company are unable to focus as accurately as their own grandfather lenses from previous decades, but there you have it.

No doubt that the $6500 Nikon D5 is nicely finished and is probably built to a withstand lots of wear and tear. I am sure the shutter is tested for a high number of actuations. But in all other regards it's a body that doesn't buy you better levels of image quality than you might be able to achieve with any number of camera bodies at half, a quarter or even 20% of its selling price. Who is this camera aimed at? For all practical purposes it is aimed only at sports and action photographers. There are better sensors for the fans of ultimate image quality = even within Nikon's own line. The resolution is a bit light for studio and landscape photographers and the weight is a quick impediment to dedicated street photographers and documentarians.

The technical attribute that makes this camera a non-starter for me is it's antiquated viewing system. Yes, I am certain that its optical, pentaprism finder is unequalled in clarity and transparency. I am sure it is a joy to use to look at the world in as close a condition as our human eyes see the world. But to my mind a camera finder needs to do more. The age of optical finders is dimming and being replaced by electronic viewfinders, and we seem to have hit the tipping point in the acceptance of that realization for a large plurality of serious photographers; professionals included.

I doubt Nikon anticipates selling very many of these cameras. The Olympics are over and more normal photographic life goes on. Too heavy for anything but a work camera and too limited for the kind of work that most of us end up doing. For $6500 the most thrilling thing this camera does, in my book, is to get some 3,800 exposures per battery charge. That may become its claim to fame as it slips into the stream of history.

The Fuji XT2 is, in some ways, the antithesis of the D5. At $1,600 it's near the high end of the price range for APS-C mirrorless cameras but nearer the middle/bottom of the range if you are also considering APS-C DSLRs like the Nikon D500 or the 7Dmk2 from Canon. The XT2 is not engineered to withstand infinite abuse. The frame rates with full AF are not as fast as the big Nikon but, in fact, for the average shooter the Fuji XT-2 brings a lot more to the party.

Being a traditional DSLR camera with an optical finder the D5 will definitely take a back seat when it comes to shooting video. No zebras, no focus magnification, no EVF imaging, and no in-body image stabilization. Wanna use it for video in bright light? Get a big Loupe for the rear screen or get an external monitor. But you probably won't bother since there are much better video solutions out there offering 4K video and all the video niceties for half the price and less. Just Google the Sony A7rii or the A7sii. Or even an RX10iii....

The Fuji XT-2 is the first Fuji still camera that jumps into video feet first. It features image magnification until you start recording. While you are recording video you still have access to focus peaking. The one thing that is twingy is the idea that you must buy the battery grip in order to be able to monitor sound via headphones. A minor gripe since the body and battery grips together are still far less than half the price of the D5.

The Fuji XT-2 seems to check all the right boxes for people who are moving to APS-C, EVF-enabled cameras. The range of lenses is expanding and each of the lenses introduced so far is well regarded. There are a number of fast primes which is like catnip to the older generation of shooters. The EVF moves the camera into the future along with the full range of Sony mirror-free cameras. This allows for continuous live view and all the digital trimmings such as film emulations that you can see as you shoot and zebras, as well as focus peaking (which is very, very practical when shooting with manual lenses).

The black and white and color film emulations resonate with a generation immersed in Instagram filters. The sensor in the camera is said to be wonderful in terms of color and tonality. It feels good in many people's hands and doesn't quickly become burdensome.

But what Fuji has done is to position the brand correctly for a contemporary market whereas Nikon is still branding their cameras to appeal to a newspaper procurement department from 1995. Every time I hear about how brilliantly tough and resilient the Nikon pro bodies are I remember watching journalists from the last century rushing around the sidelines of sporting events with three big, motor drive Nikons around their necks and over their shoulders. One body always had the cool, wide angle lens on the front; one had the short zoom and the third had the long zoom. As the photojournalists ran the cameras bang, bang, banged together with a disturbing cadence. You could watch little parts of the camera bodies fall off as the photographers allowed them to slam into each other like those little metal balls on swings that people used to buy for their desktops....There were five or six one inch metal balls at hung in a row from a little wooden frame and if you pulled up one ball, released it and let it slam into the row of balls the energy would transfer to the ball at the opposite end and it would bounce up. That's what the photojournalists' cameras spent their lives doing. So, of course, they had to be built to take the abuse.

But the abuse was usually a side effect of the cameras not being owned by the staff photographers but by the newspapers or the magazine they worked for. If one broke they could ask for, and receive, a replacement at no cost to the themselves.

With the exception of people working spot news, and pros working high dollar sporting events (one tenth of one percent of working photographers), this "trio camera necklace" of destruction is not the working modality of most present day photographers, be they pros or serious amateurs. Most of us are using one camera at a time or using them in a less frenetic fashion when we do use multiple cameras. We care for them better because we own the cameras and we own the responsibility for their potential demise.

Fuji seems to understand that the market has changed and the branding of cameras has changed. The emphasis is no longer prioritized in this descending order, a la Nikon: 1. Indestructibility 2. super fast focus acquisition 3. dedication to optical view finders 4. Giant, grippable surfaces 5. Image quality 6. Filter and film emulation enhancements 7. Usable 4K video. 

Most of us understand that indestructibility is relatively meaningless when most of us will upgrade to demonstrably better imaging cameras in two to three years. The toll for bullet proof build quality is insanely high given that most (non-sport shooting) professionals and serious amateurs are never going to get near the MTBF of their camera's shutters before the camera is a fondly remembered relic relegated to Ebay.

Most of us require a higher degree of accuracy in our focus than raw speed of acquisition. An ever growing number of us are adamant that we want the feedback and information provided by great EVFs and that we're never going back to what are becoming vestigial optical viewfinders.

We've mostly voted with our wallets against bigger, heavier cameras because the entire cohort of people buying serious, single intention cameras are aging and not willing to over-burden their shoulders and lower backs in the service of camera portage.

The bottom line is that Nikon is still marketing the machine. The specs. The robustness of materials while paying passing lip service to the idea of creativity, pleasant design and ultimate usability. This emphasis on horsepower or clock speed is lost on consumers who have come to expect their technical toys to operate with transparency. Nikon has bypassed the narrative of art and the "magic" of the sensor to keep addressing the concerns of a previous generation: the ability to pound on nails with the camera and not have the camera fail. Thick sheet metal in the new world of bluetooth interconnection. (An analogy for both cars and cameras). This is sad given their ancient history of telling photographer success stories in their marketing...

Fuji is not selling their new camera on the basis of its alloy frame (that's now considered a standard feature for entry to a certain market) nor are they focusing on the life cycle of the camera or its ability to withstand careless battering. No, they are looking at much more urbane and urban audiences and aiming their branding toward the things a new generation is more interested in: How beautiful is the rendering of the X-tran sensor? (implication: it has magic power to make your images more beautiful than other cameras used under similar situations). The size and design of the body is less intrusive and burdensome, as are many of the lenses. It's a camera that one could carry with them throughout a walk in a city without the size and weight becoming an unnecessary burden or something that's big enough to attract unwanted attention.

Nikon is selling a tool while Fuji is selling a companion. A good looking a affable companion.
Stripped down to their essence the cameras do basically the same thing. They use modified Sony sensors to make photographs with the aid of their own branded lenses. But the nut of it is how we've been manipulated to perceive the difference between the whole Nikon line and the smaller Fuji line of X cameras. Again, one is a tool for production while the other is an (affordable) near Luxe item that infers from its design and positioning that it is for people more interested in true art than just rote documentation. A Mini Cooper versus a Ford Edge.

One can easily see that Fuji is attempting to nestle into a space not unlike Leica's; almost handmade machines but at a lower price point. A status symbol in the manner of automatic watches in a world of quartz watches with batteries.

Branding is so much more powerful that actual feature sets or modalities of use. We assess our purchases not in a quantitative fashion but a qualitative fashion that employs subjective measures of the relative value of design versus function.

The reality is that a good photographer can take good photographs with either camera. One line will enjoy increasing success while the other line will show declining success. The momentum toward mirrorless cameras, and cameras of smaller size, has less to do with consumer comparisons between the cameras than the power of blogger, reviewer, magazine etc. prejudices to push consumer preferences in one direction or the other.

Right now there is one company that is clearly winning the branding and marketing wars and that is Fuji. Most of us have never pitted a similar Fuji lens and a Nikon or Canon lens of similar price and spec against one another and so we cannot seriously state that one is better than the other (other than anecdotally). But the mythology of the marketplace as created by iterative marketing and opinion maker propaganda has us salivating about the idea of owning the prime, Fuji lenses; even though they have a limited track record in the market. And far fewer user samples at full size are available.

The same is true in the video market when it comes to differences in Sony A7Sii cameras and offering from all the other makers. The untested consensus is that the Sony is the one to beat, even though some cameras like the Panasonic GH4 and the more expensive Sony A7Rii best the A7ii in some important technical video parameters.

At this point most of the differences between the two categories (mirror-free and traditional DSLR) of cameras boil down to whether or not one wants an EVF versus an OVF and then, whose branding messages you ultimately decide fit your personality or your self-image.

Since this is inarguably the case I would state that Nikon needs to change the hell out of their marketing and branding to make their cameras magical companions instead of cold tools while prospective Fuji buyers should re-apprise their lust for the XT-2 and re-direct said avarice toward the X-Pro-2 which more clearly fits the brand driven desire for elegant design and "best friend" status.

Of all the cameras in the market today I am most drawn to the design aesthetics of the Fuji X-Pro-2. So much so that I don't care if its video is crap or its battery only last for 15 minutes, it's a beautifully done camera. I may be relatively immune though to their particular branding since the joy I feel when handling one fades quickly and my longer term affinity/relationship with the mirror-free cameras from Sony reasserts itself.

At this point in the current cycle of higher end cameras we've begun to attain imaging equivalence across brands and are now engaged solely in a war of creating product personalities through the magic of advertising and paid testimonials. The reliance on increasingly irrelevant pro "thumbs up" in the service of Nikon is becoming downright embarrassing while the understated "we're like Leica only cheaper and sexier" seems to be working out well for Fuji. Sony just hums along selling cameras because they work well and have exotic feature sets that make people happy and productive.... at least that's what their marketing insinuates to me.

Finally, I want to take this opportunity to disagree with those who believe that the success of single intention cameras (those unencumbered by phones) is in making them more and more connected. I beta tested the "ultimate" connected camera in the form of the Samsung Galaxy NX in 2013. You could connect with wi-fi or cell network. Or bluetooth. Or morse code. It ran full on Android Jelly Bean. In every instance the parts dedicated to connection ruined the intimate attachment of the user to the camera and killed its embrace. Get a life. Meet friends for coffee and show them your photos.

Match your camera to your imaging needs, and the way you enjoy working, not necessarily by what rare ingredients were used in its construction or how well the lines of the camera complement your outfits and ancillary wardrobe.

Sexiest camera in my studio today? Probably the little a6300. It's just cute.
Elvis Behind Bars.

I woke up early this morning. I beat my alarm clock. I was feeling a bit sore in my left hip because I'd done something kind of zany on Thurs. Instead of going to regular swim practice I headed to the pool in the off hours and kicked 2,000 yards straight through with a kick board. I'm here to tell you that I, at least, have less resilience and ability to recover from over-training than I did when I was twenty years younger...

Anyway, I got up and did yoga stretches for half an hour before swim practice today. We hit the water at 7:30 am and pounded through a bunch of yards, many of which included sets of 200 yard I.M. swims. By the time I exited the pool and showered I was exhausted and starving. Really hungry. Stomach rumbling hungry. Usually I'll go home and have some cardboard tasting, healthy cereal and fruit but today I succumbed to advertising and weakness. 

There is a McDonalds about halfway between the pool and my house. It's a very upscale McDonalds that has been redesigned and is actually a visually pleasant place to hang out in. There is public wi-fi and it's pretty fast. I saw the signs in the window for their "Big Breakfast" and my stomach demanded that we stop and check it out. I surrendered to impulse and agreed. 

It was quiet in the restaurant. There were no other customers at the counter. I ordered the Big Breakfast. It includes: an ample serving of freshly prepared, scrambled eggs, a hash brown assemblage, a pork sausage patty, and a biscuit. I also ordered (without any trepidation) a small coffee. It was ready in the blink of an eye and I took my prize off to a comfortable booth to dig in. 

I hate eating in restaurants alone unless I have something to read. My choice of reading materials in the car today was meager. My choice was a book about the mechanics of swimming; which I had read six times before, a book on chaos theory, and a recent copy of Food and Wine Magazine. I went with the magazine. As I sat in my booth eating a complete meal that cost something like $4.80 I had the thought that I was immersed in several layers of irony. One: that one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the southern United States is host to a much maligned fast foot chain outpost. And that it has weathered the decades while many other tonier restaurants have vanished from the zip code. Two: That a much ridiculed chain would have such nice and comfortable interior appointments. Much more comfortable than the confusing and harsh redo of our neighborhood Starbucks. Three: That I would care enough about food to subscribe to several magazines on the subject and be reading an article about Michelin starred restaurants while dining in the most egalitarian restaurant I can imagine. Delicious irony. But the post workout body wants what it wants....

My review? The coffee tasted less bitter and burned than the usual Starbucks cup. It was actually very good. The eggs were fresh and well prepared. The sausage was inoffensive. I felt guilty eating the hash brown potato patty as it is so fried (but the crunchy texture is certainly satisfying), but the standout was the smallish biscuit. It was as perfect as any biscuit I have tasted.

My only memory of the magazine was of the advertisements for cruises. The photographs in most of the ads were very overproduced and odd flights of visual fantasy.

I took a camera along in the car. It was the Sony A7ii. It stayed in the car. 


Choreography rehearsal at Zach Theatre.

One of my favorite theaters is producing the musical, Priscilla Queen of the Desert. Usually my involvement in their marketing is to create signature images for each show, before the season begins, which become part of the season brochure, and then, the other half of my involvement is to photograph the dress rehearsals of each production, which normally happen the night before the first performance for the run of the show. Lately though I've wanted to get more involved in creating additional content in the weeks before the show openings in order to help build fun "back" stories to help get the shows on peoples' radar earlier.

I got in touch with the P.R. people at the theater and offered up my time to shoot some behind the scenes documentation leading up to the dress rehearsal. They thought it was a good idea and we put it into action this week, on Tues. evening.

The production is three weeks away from the dress rehearsal and Tues. evening's rehearsal concentrated on choreography. I showed up after a long day of dealing with the details of other projects. We were on the rehearsal stage instead of the main stage.

I knew that we couldn't interrupt the rehearsal in order to direct people for photographs, and I also knew that adding lighting to the rehearsal experience would be a huge distraction. Time is a precious commodity in the theater and I didn't want to slow down any part of the rehearsal process.

I brought two cameras along with me and a little collection of lenses that I thought would be most useful. The cameras were the Sony A7rii and the a6300. The lenses included the Rokinon 135mm (f2.0) and 85mm (f1.4)  Cine lenses as well as the 30 mm Sigma f1.4 (for the cropped frame camera) and the 24-70mm Zeiss lens for the full frame camera. I used everything in the bag.

The lighting in the space is anything but optimal; banks of fluorescents way up at the ceiling level about 30 feet up. There was no lower light source to toss fill light back into the actors' faces. I made liberal use of the higher ISOs in both cameras, sometimes using auto ISO and setting the top limit to ISO 6400.

My goal was to show the choreographer leading the group through some of the key musical numbers. I shifted from the 24-70mm (for wide and normal shots) to the 85mm and 135mm to isolate key performers and to take advantage of the very narrow depth of field I got from shooting wide open, and near wide open. The a6300 and the 30mm lens were used for wide, establishing shots. I wanted to show the size of the cast and to show the rehearsal environment.

Focusing the long primes was easier than I anticipated. The focus peaking in the A7rii was very effective and I guess there is some muscle memory hidden deep down that was partially awakened by the process of manually focusing on moving subjects in so-so light; something I had been able to routinely do back in the days when there was no real alternative. The shimmering, yellow edge indicators of the focus peaking were a great guide and, after a few minutes of tentative double checking with focus magnification, I became confident enough with the focus peaking to just go for it. The important thing I tried to remember was to change the focal length of the manual lens setting in the image stabilization menu as I switched between the 85 and the 135mms.

I got a lot of great images of small groups, individuals and the whole ensemble with every image containing moving subjects. During my two hour visit I was able to shoot about 500 frames. I narrowed these down to about 350 to share with the marketing team. You never know which way an organization will go on image selection so I always err on providing extra coverage.

The mood in the rehearsal studio was pretty jovial. I had worked alongside many of the actors a number of times before. The musical director and I go back a couple of decades. The director and I have worked on dozens of shows together. Each person seemed very assured that I would only shoot them in the best postures and expressions; or at least if I did catch something less than flattering it would be excised in editing and never see the light of day. This isn't photojournalism after all.

At one point I felt like I'd gotten a good range of images and I checked in the with the P.R. person who was kind enough to attend along with me. I showed her some images on the screen and asked for her opinion. She was happy with the stills but asked if I might also be able to shoot some video (some of the dance numbers were wonderfully visual...). Yes! Of course I can. I knew that one of the in-house production people is a really great video editor and I jumped on the opportunity to create fun moving images and then leave someone else to do all the heavy lifting of actually editing something nice together.

I put the A7Rii in full frame, 1080p mode, set the camera to 30 fps (the editor's preferred setting), shutter speed at 1/60th and made sure the rest of my video settings were appropriate. The 24-70mm was the perfect choice for videos that would capture wide shots and then tighten in to single person shots. I also knew that it was more than sharp enough to be used wide open for 1080p video.

I back-tracked and started shooting the video counterparts to many of the still images I'd been capturing. There is one scene that starts with two actors and builds to the full cast. It lasts about one minute and forty five seconds which really pushed me to work on my handholding technique while depending on the image stabilization from the camera. Since I hadn't expected to shoot video I didn't bring a tripod along with me....( bad boy scout...).

Much as I liked the still images I ended up loving the video clips I shot. There's is so much energy in the show and it's not always easy to capture that in single, still frames. Video seems to be the perfect adjunct to the stills we used to shoot exclusively. It felt great to be able to hand the client twice the coverage.

I delivered the video clips this afternoon and I can hardly wait to see what our editor does with the files. A lot of it will make for tasty b-roll but some of the footage of the whole musical number will make for great, short videos on places like Facebook and YouTube.

Of course, I have an ulterior motive in offering my services in this capacity; I would love to start training corporate clients to think of video not only as perfect, three minute presentations with a year long lifespan and high production quality, but also as weekly or monthly content refreshment for websites and other marketing outlets. Looking behind the scenes and catching more spontaneous interviews and insightful moments that make a company and their product or service more topical and relevant for consumers. What better way to practice and create example footage for those potential new revenue sources than to immortalize my theater client's inspired interpretation of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert???


Lighting an on-location photo session – Home Free

I had another opportunity to do promotional photos for Home Free, the A Capella group. Some of the previous photo shoot was described in this article – On-location lighting problem solving. This time we met at another location – a farm which also doubled up as a reception venue. This offered us some outdoor areas, as well as a more barn-like area.

From the art director and manager’s description of what they wanted, as well as photos of the location, I knew that if I flat-lit this with large light sources, it would lose some of the dramatic feel of the shoot. With this, I decided that gridded stripboxes would be my main light modifiers – these offer me soft light, but a lot more control than a large (ungridded) softbox or umbrellas would.

The specific need for these gridded stripboxes are visually explained better in the 2nd part of this article – but I wanted to start with some of the final part of the photo session which was outdoors during a brief respite from the rain.

The photo above is largely straight-out-of-camera, except for a slight crop, and the usual exposure and contrast adjustments of the RAW file. The light was over-cast, and I wanted to add some punch to the images – softly accentuating the group, highlighting them over the surroundings.

Camera settings and photo gear used for this photo

This pull-back shot reveals the way the lights were positioned. The Profoto 1’x6’ gridded strip-box on the left is aimed to the group to camera-right. Similarly, the Profoto 1’x4’ gridded strip-box on our right, is aimed to the group on camera-left.

The grids contain the light so that the grass in the front (and the upper part of the building isn’t as well lit as the group. Of course, in the main photo, a simple edit of the RAW file using the local correction brush can be used to darken the grass in the front.

The specific use of the gridded softboxes will be even more apparent with the explanation of the setup of the first part of the photo shoot. If you’re not familiar with the results from a gridded stripbox, also check out these two related articles:

 


 

Building up lighting with Profoto gridded stripboxes

With the photo above, the intention was to have dramatic light, yet with enough detail in the shadows – all with the idea in mind that there is leeway for the photo retoucher to easily work some magic. For this photo, the guy in the background, second from left, should ideally have had more light on him. Similarly, I would’ve like the ground in the front to be less well lit. But there is enough here for the retoucher to play with.

We had several arrangements with the five men in Home Free, changing their poses and positioning.  And for every major change, I would adjust the lighting. There is one limitation here in finessing the lighting – it had to be good enough. If I spent too long in-between each setup to really finesse the lighting to be perfect in-camera, I would lose their attention and enthusiasm. So what might seem slightly sloppy here, is with the goal in mind of having a shoot overall that is successful, even if at the expense of perfection in lighting. There’s enough to work with here as a starting image. Nothing really that needs fixing, with retouching only needed to enhance the image.

That said, I would like to show how I set up the lights for the initial sequence where we had three guys on the left, and two on the right. (See the pull-back shot below.) I wanted soft, directional light on both groupings.

In getting to my camera settings, I dropped the shutter speed fairly slow, and worked with a mid-range ISO … so that we had some detail in the fireplace. I worked without a tripod here, but the ambient light was so low, that camera shake wouldn’t have registered. On top of that, I was using the stabilized Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8E VR (affiliate), so I was quite safe with a hand-held shutter speed of 1/40th.

Here is the pull-back shot to show the lighting setup, and the relative positioning of the lights:

Photo and lighting gear used during this part of the photo shoot

 

I switched the left-hand light (Group A) on first.
The Profoto 1’x4’ gridded strip-box on camera left, was pointed at the two guys on the right. I could rotate and swivel the light to have most of the light fall on their faces.

 

Then I switched on the light on my right (Group B), which was pointed to where the three guys on camera left, would be positioned. Again, I would move, rotate and swivel the light until I was happy how the light spread.

Here I had the longer Profoto 1’x6’ gridded strip-box (affiliate), since I would have to cover three guys on the left. Just to reiterate again, this light was set up to camera right, pointing to the left-hand portion of the group.

 

Combining the lights by switching both main lights on, I had to also make sure there wasn’t strong overlap in the middle causing over-exposure. Then it was back to rotating and swiveling the lights until the light spread from both lights were good.

 

Looking again at the pull-back shot, notice the large Westcott 7 Parabolic Umbrella (affiliate) standing behind where I would be. I had this light (a Profoto D1 studio head) set up as group C, and it is with this light that I controlled the over-all contrast of the scene. I could give the shadows just a bump more in exposure, as needed.

 

Summary

This should all give a good visual idea of how the two main lights were used to build up the specific spread of light. The grids on the softbox are essential in giving us that particular kind of control.

 

 

Related articles

 

A little bit of homework

The camera settings for this photo is the same as the seated one, shown at the start of this article.

  • 1/125  @  f/11  @ 640 ISO

See if you can give a break-down of why I used those specific camera settings while using the two Profoto B1 flashes. There’s a certain logic to this.

 

The post Lighting an on-location photo session – Home Free appeared first on Tangents.


I stand corrected. The engineers at Sony have given me exactly what I want in order to make perfect out-of-camera, black and white jpegs. I can control the tone curves in the highlights and shadows, as well as controlling the panchromatic color response of the system. Just like using the filter presets in other brands of cameras but with a much more profound level of control and customization. Too bad their marketing people seem hellbent on keeping this advanced level of performance a closely guarded secret....

Backing up for a moment. I had recently written bemoaning the idea that Sony lagged behind other brands (and especially Fuji and Olympus) when it comes to providing a great experience when shooting black and white in camera. Almost all cameras now have a monochrome or black and white setting among their creative settings. Fuji seems to lead in this feature set by having not only color filter emulations but also presets for some of their most popular black and white films. When I dive into the Creative Style menu of the Sony cameras I find only the basic setting and controls for only sharpening and contrast. It's a very limiting feature set and the results are
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I looked at the site stats yesterday and am a bit alarmed. I've sent some notification to Blogger (Google) but pretty much all of a sudden I'm seeing traffic numbers that are a bit crazy. We went from 5,000 to 7,000 page views per day to10,000+ yesterday and already 18,000+ today. They are all originating from a site listed as http://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&source=web&cd=1

I have tried following the link only to get a redirect warning notice from Google. Note that the address uses "google.co" instead of "google.com".

I don't understand it but I am always wary of web anomalies. As I wrote above, I have sent screen shots and samples to Google/Blogger and am waiting to hear back.

While I like the idea  of having a legion of followers I really only want to write stuff for legitimate human beings. If you are an internet genius and you have some ideas about this please toss me an e-mail or leave your pearls of wisdom in the comments.

If this persists I may shut down the blog for a few days while brighter minds get to the bottom of all this.

Help?  Kirk

Someone mentioned a "redirect virus" although Blogger is not hosted on my computer. Just something to be aware of and cautious about.


Added note: Smarter minds (thanks Chuq) have pointed me to some FAQs about this issue. It seems to affect only the internal stats, conveys no viruses to readers and is a known issue at Google. I will leave this up for a few days just to let everyone know. Thanks for the quick responses from my professional audience!

Photographing wide-angle portraits

In photographing wide-angle portraits, we have to make the decision whether we want to embrace the wide-angle distortion (such as Bill Brandt famously did), or have a more natural approach where the wide-angle is used to show more of the environment and to help with a dynamic composition.

With this photo of Anastasiya, I wanted to include these massive billboards 5th Avenue. That meant I had to use a wide focal length. In this example, I had my 24-7mm zoom racked to 24mm.

The idea here is that we need to be purposeful. Better to shoot in a more controlled way with a specific idea in mind, than afterwards think to yourself, “if only their hands and feet weren’t so distorted.” It needs to be a conscious decision at some point. Control.

So if the intention is to use a wide-angle lens for a portrait, and not have crazy distortion, there are a few things we should look out for:

  • Shoot from waist-high if you can. Then you have about the same distance to your subject’s feet as their face. Think of how photographers used twin-lens reflex cameras hanging from their neck – the camera was about belly-button height. This helps minimizing perspective distortion. Shooting from lower down also prevents you from shooting ‘down’ on your subject.
  • If you shoot from a lower angle, as in these two examples above, then you are likely to get severe perspective distortion – you can see that Anastasiya’ hands and arms look much larger in the frame compared to her face. The way around this is to move further away – don’t shoot so close-up, and then, as in this case, have your subject lean forward ever so slightly. This will help correct the distortion. That’s what we did with this frame.
  • With a wide-angle lens, try to keep your subject central – the closer they are to the edge of the frame, the more stretched-out their features will look. Oddly-shaped, distorted heads aren’t attractive for portraits!

 

Post-processing the photo

The main image shown at the top was boosted a bit with some mild HDR via the Aurora HDR software.

 

 

Photo gear used during this photo session

This pull-back shot (and a comparison without flash) will show the effect the off-camera flash had, and how it was positioned. In this instance, I had my assistant hold up the Profoto B1 flash  (B&H / Amazon), with the Profoto OCF (2′) Octa Softbox  (B&H / Amazon). (The Octa softbox also needs the OCF speedring to mount to the Profoto B1 or B2 flash.)

I like this setup because it is powerful, but the softbox is small enough to not be unwieldy out on the streets in New York.

 

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What the heck was I thinking this morning? We swimmers had the special treat of getting a scheduled master's workout on Labor Day. Gold Medal Olympic butterflies, Tommy Hannan,  showed up to coach us and the lanes were packed with enthusiastic swimmers. For some reason that I have no recollection of really buying into the swimmers in my lane, all younger than me by at least a decade, decided that I needed to lead the I.M. sets. For some insane reason, surely having to do with excess ego and minimal common sense, I decided to got for it and lead this train of swimmers through that part of the set. The I.M.s seemed to go on forever. (For the non-swimmers out in VSL land the I.M. means "individual medley" and consists of equally dividing the distance required by all four of the competitive strokes. For example; if we were doing sets of 200's we'd do two lengths of butterfly, two lengths of backstroke, two of breast stroke and two of freestyle). We pounded through three or four rotations of I.M. sets, followed it up with some four 125 yard repeats, followed by six 100 yard repeats, followed by ten 50 yard repeats (sprinting each of the 50's all out). I successfully kept the younger, stronger piranhas I swim with at bay for the mixed stroke salad but by the time I got home at 10:15 this morning I was shot. I ate like a pig and settled in on the couch for a little nap. Four or five thousand yards of fast, hard swimming sucks the calories right out of a person. I've been grazing since I got up from that nap.....

But that rarely stops me from grabbing a camera in my free time and heading out for a walk. My camera of choice for casual walks these days? It would have to be the Sony A7ii, but with a twist.
Last time I took the A7ii out I didn't take a spare battery and only made cursory check of the battery already in the camera. The gauge told me 65% remaining and I presumed that would work for my short jaunt. But then I got side-tracked. I found more stuff that needed exploring. I found new people to talk to and by the time I was heading home, in the final stretch of my walk, I saw a great image, pulled the camera to my face and had the battery crap out entirely. This made me less than happy. 

My fault, of course, for not practicing safe battery protocols. Four hours of
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