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Posted by: kirk tuck in Photo articles
It's odd to make an investment in a system and then have that system go away. The earliest I knew of this was back in the film days when Canon changed their lens mount from the FD mount to the EOS mount. They bit the bullet and made the change because the Canon engineers were convinced that the narrow diameter of their camera's FD mount would restrict their ability to design fast and long lenses. Rather than compromise on optical performance they instead pissed off the legions of photographers who had made vast investments in bodies and lenses. And they gave Nikon (same basic mount for the last 10,000 years) a goldmine filled with marketing ammunition.
In the long run it proved to be a prescient move as it allowed them a free hand in lens design and allowed for a flexible electronic interface that made their transition from film to digital that much easier.
More recently Olympus orphaned their Four Thirds cameras (the ones with traditional moving mirrors) in favor of a Micro Four Thirds mount, a move necessitated by the change in the way the cameras auto focused and the amount of space between the back of the lenses and the actual sensor. I can't imagine you were a happy camper if you had just migrated to the older system right before the switch and had just sunk significant money into a couple of E-5 bodies and some lenses like the 7-14mm f2.8, the 14-35mm f2.0 and the 35-100mm f2.0. All incredibly good lenses that never worked as well (focusing) with adapters and the newer EM cameras.
While the lenses would likely last for decades and give the same ultra high quality performance you would be stuck with whatever the final and most advanced camera in the system might be. In the case of Olympus it was the E-5 with a 12 megapixel sensor and a few glitches, like a penchant for back and front focusing. If you were hellbent on staying with your system I guess your short term workaround would be to go out and buy as many remaindered cameras bodies as you could so you would always have a workable candidate to put behind the lenses. But you would never be able to take advantage of the advances in sensor design that have occurred since that camera's tenure in the market. Still, if you are willing to deal with manually focusing the lens you could upgrade to the EM-1 family and still use the optics in which you've invested. So, not really a totally orphaned system.
I was an enthusiastic Contax user in the film days and when they finally closed out the Contax RTS iii and it was apparent that no further development of that mount would occur I was stuck with the choice of trying to soldier onward or take my losses and change systems (again). It would be nearly a decade and a half later when those gem like Contax, Zeiss lenses could be used once again on a camera. In this case a Sony A7rii. But even before the end of film snuffed out the Contax line they also changed mounts in mid-stream, from the Y/C mount (Yashica/Contax) to the Contax N mount. Another engineering move to a wider diameter mount.
The latest (and I think most egregious) brand abandonment came last year from Samsung. As recently as 2012 they talked about becoming the number one or two best selling camera company in the world. About two years ago they introduced their flagship camera, the NX-1, along with an assortment of lenses aimed squarely at professionals and hard core hobbyists. They induced thousands of people to trade in their existing (working) cameras as partial trade up to the new system. They spoke in terms of fleshing out the line and going after the "big guys." There were a few stumbles with the NX-1. It used a new video codec that was a real computer basher. Had they stuck with a conventional codec it's entirely possible that they could have given Panasonic's GH4 a real run for the money with video people. In the purely still photography realm the camera, by most accounts, was a stellar performer. The sensor was detailed and relatively low noise. It also boasted dynamic range that was close (but not equal ) to the Sony sensors, and delivered higher resolution.
I worked with a previous generation of Samsung cameras and found their best lenses to be rivals to the very best optics from Canon and Nikon. The two lenses that they delivered with the NX1 camera initially were very well reviewed. So, right up until the day they decided to pull the plug on the whole camera system they were pushing hard to get people to convert. Their campaign "Ditch the DSLR" was a call to move to mirrorless. And then, country by country, they pulled the plug. No more shipments of cameras but at the same time no official announcements. No one outside of Samsung (and perhaps their advertising affiliates) had any idea whether this was just a pause, a retrenchment or what. It turns out that they just made a decision to walk away from the serious camera market and did it in a most disingenuous way. Like a girlfriend of boyfriend who never breaks up with you but never returns your phone calls. Were they kidnapped? Did they perish in a plane crash? Or were they just never that into you?
So, thousands of people bought into the system and invested only to be left at the altar. Now they have a camera which is only useful with proprietary lenses and a group of lenses that is only useful with a proprietary lens mount. I doubt there will be another firmware upgrade for either body or lenses. And all the interchangeable lens bodies below the flagship are also vanishing.
Samsung obviously didn't go out of business. They still sell cellphones and refrigerators and lots of other stuff all over the world. I'm fairly certain that they looked at the trending numbers for the interchangeable lens camera market worldwide and realized that they had just, with much bluster, entered a declining, perhaps dying, market and they made an executive decision to bail early rather than late.
The sad thing is that with the introduction of the NX1 they just seemed to finally get how to make a usable camera. Something ultimately fun to shoot. Of all the events in the last two years that point most vigorously to the death of the camera market overall Samsung's decision to cut and run is probably the most visible.
I understand Samsung's exit. If I could look at all the future marketing numbers and see that in two years the total pie for all interchangeable lens cameras would shrink by over half I think I would also bail, if I weren't one of the two or three front runners. But I think I could have made a much more graceful and less painful exit. And perhaps I would have figured out a way to make the exit less painful for the consumers who had decided to believe in my company and my sales talk.
I was part of an earlier group of Samsung product testers and users in a program called, Imageloggers. I resigned from the program about six months before the NX1 hit the market. I had lost confidence that Samsung understood cameras from a photographer's point of view. Their focus was about interconnectivity ( which should have made one or two other pundits ecstatic....) and less about the traditional attention to haptics and responsiveness that real camera users demand.
Now, they are just another story line about orphaned camera systems. A sad one too. Perhaps the exploding Note 7 phones are just a bit of Karmic revenge...
Posted by: kirk tuck in Photo articles
You've seen this shot before but it's being re-featured because its illustrated mechanics are a growing part of my tabletop workflow.
I've been writing a bit about tabletop projects lately, which may seem weird for someone who loves shooting portraits, but photographing products is nothing new for my business. It's something I've been doing since the earliest days of my career. But the way I do it keeps changing as I try to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the process. When I started out we shot almost every product using a 4x5 inch view camera. The film size delivered image quality while the rises and falls, +tilts and swings, helped keep products square and in focus. But boy-oh-boy did we use a lot of Polaroid test material in the course of every assignment.
For very demanding images of things, like computer systems with monitors, the ability to distribute focus kept me using those ornery bellows monsters right up until client demands for turnaround and cost control pushed the studio to a total digital workflow, starting around 1999.
We've recently had a spate of tabletop assignments from medical products developer, Ottobock Healthcare; tech hardware maker, Razberi; the Bob Bullock/Texas History Museum; and a private art collector who specializes in 3-D objects. In some cases we're asked to do a fairly large number of products over the course of a single day. Sometimes we are tasked with making photographs on dark backgrounds but the overwhelming majority are done on white backgrounds, even if they are destined for the clipping path treatment. I have shot several thousand projects on white backgrounds and, at this point in my career, I am finally becoming reasonably competent at it.
In the past, when using early generation digital cameras, we relied on (slow) firewire or SCSI tethering to see images as we shot. Software was buggy and connections were often lost and images floated off into the ether after we shot them. Re-launching camera and computer software was an extremely annoying part of the mix. Tethering to a stationary computer was okay when we worked at a pace similar to the pace we worked at with film. A long tether to the workstation from the shooting area had us shooting a test shot and then leaving the camera and walking over to judge the resulting image on the monitor. Then back to the camera to make changes and then do the process over again.
We were okay with the pace and the inconveniences of being tied to fixed locations because it was the only way we really had experienced product photography. Laptops were underpowered at the time and I wasn't about to stick a full sized computer and a large monitor on an Ergo Cart and wheel it all around. Cable management could also be a nightmare.
We stuck to the tethered method until the moment when the LCD screens on the rear of the cameras became practically usable and, to a certain extent, calibrate-able. At the time we were almost always using electronic flash as a primary lighting equipment and there was always a need to check exposure and light balance. I think the Nikon D2Xs was the first camera that had a review screen that I halfway trusted. But the small size and vagaries of mixing with ambient lighting in the review mix still made the process problematic, especially when sharing the images with clients as part of our collaboration on set.
I stumbled into a new way of shooting by accident. A couple of years ago I was shooting video for three different clients and it became obvious that we needed a bigger monitor on our sets. We wanted something that could be calibrated for exposure, color and contrast and somthing that would give us the ability to see focus peaking was a big plus. I bought a seven inch Marshall monitor and used it to good effect with video. It takes two standard Nikon EN-EL 15 batteries so it can be used remotely. It was so good on our video shoots that I started bringing it along on still shoots. The process of using a monitor out of the HDMI port on my Sonys is so easy and transparent that I've gotten into the habit of bringing it along even if I'm 90% sure I'm never going to use it.
I started using the monitor for studio shoots since it is adequate for both clients and me to look at simultaneously but at first I would stick it on a light stand near the camera and we'd do what we learned in the days of tethering to computers; we'd go back and forth from the camera to the monitor. A couple of months ago I started working with an art collector who needed lots and lots of images for a high quality coffee table book. We started with the monitor on a stand next to the camera but we hit a point where the camera was mounted above the shooting table and we were trying to carefully position dozens of objects in one shot. It would be great if we could observe the changes to our layout of objects as we moved them. We grabbed the monitor off the light stand and started handing it back and forth to each other as we made our changes. Being able to hold the monitor in one hand while reaching up to zoom the lens on the camera, just a little bit, while watching the result on the screen, was so seamless and fluid. Sometimes my client would be bent over the table using tweezers to adjust a small object and I could lean in an hold the monitor in such a way that he could just glance away from his set-up and instantly confirm the change without moving out of position.
Two sets of two batteries lasted us the entire day. It also extended the life of the batteries in the camera. One battery took us through to lunch time and the second camera battery got us all the way through the afternoon. Pretty cool when you consider that the cameras were on all the time. Not having to run the monitors, in-camera, saves an enormous amount of power.
Now, you could argue that I can replicate this set up with wi-fi and an iPad but raw files tend to be problematic and I find that setting an iPad down for a while in order to re-set the objects we are shooting means that cameras time out and iPads time out and we end up going through the re-engagement dance again and again. I think it's still primitive times for using most digital cameras, along with wi-fi, in high volume, professional applications.
For exacting work we use dedicated macro lenses but lately I've tested and found that most of our f4.0 zoom lenses are more than adequate when they are stopped down to f11 or f16 in practical shoots. Our daylong shoot yesterday was done with a Sony a6300 camera and, for nearly all the images, an 18-105mm f4.0 G lens parked at f8.0. The combination of decent glass, a slow f-stop and in camera image correction results in perfectly sharp images with no discernible distortion. The lens seems to be a good match for the 24 megapixel sensor in the body and the combination rides well on the Gitzo sidearm I use on my tripod to get the camera directly over the top of sets.
I have the camera set to electronic first curtain (nothing is moving so there is no rolling shutter effect) and the shutter speeds are in the 1/3rd second to 1/15th second range so there are no artifacts from fast shutter settings. I also use a 2 second or 5 second self-timer delay for the shutter actuation so the camera can settle. I added an electronic release lately so I'll probably forgo the delay next time; but old habits die hard.
With a slap of velcro on the main tripod leg and a corresponding piece of velcro on the top edge of the monitor it's easy to set up a shot with the monitor in my hands, affix the monitor to the tripod and have my hands free to manipulate the camera controls. I could use a bigger monitor but as the size increases the mobility and intimacy of the monitor decreases. And then you are back to the situation you were in when tethered to a big desktop system.
The rest of the shooting modality is the same as always: We use high output SMD LED lights which don't change color balance and we always start out the shoot with a custom white balancing. If we are shooting on hard white board (which is highly reflective) I take a spot meter reading for a representative area and put the exposure for that area at 95%. It's not quite white but the Sony sensors are made to be pushed up. Having white at 95% means I don't worry about losing highlight detail but I know the exposure will be high enough so that I rarely have to "lift" the shadows by more than a stop. At ISO 100 this is like changing the ISO to 200 in terms of overall image quality. Not a compromise at all.
Along the same logic lines I chose the a6300 instead of the A7rii or A7ii because I pick up an extra measure of depth of field ( which can be critical for small object photography ) with no quality loss. Also, I like the 18-105mm f4.0 in this situation for it's well behaved general nature and its zoom/framing flexibility. Testing in raw with camera and software corrections turned off shows me that the lens is at its very best between the focal length range of 28-90mm so, if possible, I try to stay in that sweet spot. If I need to go to the extremes I don't worry about it at f8.0 and I don't see a huge penalty in diffraction induced softness at f11-14. I'll go to f16 if needed, in order to keep everything in focus, but in those cases I know I'll need to pop the sharpness either in camera or in post.
In almost every job in which we shoot against white the client needs a clipping path in layered files so they can drop the object onto different backgrounds. We used to have to do all clipping paths by hand because automated solutions in PhotoShop, like the magic wand tool, were not refined enough to do the job well. The edges could be too ragged. Even with the introduction of refine edge we ended up using a pen tool and going point to point, along with careful Bezier curves tossed in. The latest selection tools are much, much better and, if we have hard, defined edges in the images we can use the automated selection tools much more often, which speeds up post production.
Many have suggested that I look into using some of the companies from India (and here in the U.S.) who advertise low prices for doing clipping paths. I have tried four different companies now; two here in the U.S. and two in India, and in each case I have gotten the files back, been disappointed and then spent long, lonely nights doing the paths myself under much tighter deadlines. When your reputation is on the line "good enough" can come around and bite you on the the ass. Really.
Given the trajectory of the economy it's always good to figure out how to become more efficient and more effective. I just wish there was a way to scale what we do into greater quantities. The limitation of a one person business is that scaling generally means just working more hours.
I love doing the Craftsy.com classes and also having written a number of books. Those are both situations that are the epitome of scaling. Teach once/sell often. Write once/sell often. Too bad proprietary product shoots can't be sold over and over again to different sets of clients. Same with commissioned portraits. If someone out there has a unique way for photographers to effectively scale their businesses without damaging quality assurance I am fairly certain we'd all LOVE to hear about it. Give it your best shot in the comments!
That's all I have for now. I'm headed downtown to see how Formula One will affect us this year. Every year their footprint in our downtown has shrunken dramatically. It will be interesting to see, this year, if there is any presence at all. ... If there's not then I'll just take a nice walk.
Posted by: kirk tuck in Photo articles
I thought I'd break with our little tradition of mixing gear reviews and photo-philosophy by telling a little story from the archives. It was back in 2005 that I got a call from Andy Roddick's people. Andy's foundation was going to hold a fundraiser for the new Children's Hospital and they wondered if I would be available to photograph the event. The people asking were good friends and always well intentioned and so, of course, I said, "Yes." Then, having secured my engagement they let the other shoe drop; the guest of honor and entertainer would be Sir Elton John. I've always been a big fan to so I was incredibly excited to be on the team.
Now, by way of a little back story, our Governor at the time in Texas was the redoubtable Rick Perry. The same guy who more or less stumbled his way through the primaries an ill-fated campaign for president this year. Back in 2005, in an attempt to curry favor with the more conservative factions in Texas (and just two weeks before Sir Elton John's visit) Perry decided to push an amendment to the state constitution basically banning gay marriage. The legislation was called "Proposition 2" and it was passed by Texas voters in November of that year. Now, I don't know if it was a coincidence or not but just one week before coming to Austin, Texas to do his part raising money for the kids, Sir Elton John very publicly announced his official marriage to his long time, same sex partner. Around Austin people were pretty sure that this was his way of answering Perry's Prop 2 (later struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court...).
The day of the shoot finally arrived and I was excited (I was a fairly big Andy Roddick fan and a Yuuuuge Sir Elton John fan ---- a side fact, E.J. is a well known collector of photography and had, last I read, a world class collection of work. An eclectic collection... but all top quality work...) to see them both in person.
I packed the gear I was using at the time. It was a bit of a weird mix. I was getting into the Olympus system and brought along a couple of E-1 cameras (5 megapixels) with two zooms, and also a Nikon D-70 to use as my flash camera.
The venue for everything was the Four Seasons Hotel in the downtown area. We started out with a "press only" news conference with Andy Roddick. Later in the afternoon Elton John arrived and he met with Andy in one of the downstairs conference rooms. I was the only photographer in the private meeting and was called upon to take shots of Andy and Elton together as well as shots of them both arranged in various groups with members of Andy's family. It was very casual and laid back. I introduced myself to Elton John and he and I bantered back and forth for a bit about photography, Austin and Texas.
A few hours later we headed next door to a larger conference room for a press event with people from various print news outlets and three TV stations. It was typical of social news event coverage. Lots of innocuous questions and an emphasis on continually mentioning the charity that would be supported.
We had a break after that and I wandered around with my cameras and talked to some of the other shooters in the foyer.
Around 6pm the reception space outside the grand ballroom started filling up with people in fancy clothes, throw back suits, and well to do people clutching albums and CDs to get signed. Sir Elton John would be the guest of honor for a formal dinner and then would play a solo concert for a very lucky room of about 300 people. The doors to the dining room opened at 6:30 and people streamed in. Sir Elton John entered from a side door, shadowed by two of the most proficient looking body guards I have ever seen, and was quickly embraced by the crowd. He was gracious, signed autographs, stood for photographs from all comers (thankfully, this was before the selfie craze....) and was generally the magnetic attraction in the room.
At some point before dinner Gov. Rick Perry entered via a side door followed by his Texas Ranger bodyguard. The Texas Ranger was wearing his gray, felt cowboy hat. Perry was dressed totally out of character in a black turtle neck pullover, no glasses. He started to make a beeline in the direction of Sir Elton John. After all, what politician would not want to stand next to the center of gravity? But he was intercepted by one of E.J.'s enormous body guards who leaned over to the Gov. and said something, quietly, that I couldn't quite catch. Whatever it was Perry stopped in his tracks and found someone else to talk to. A short time later he vanished out the door he'd come in through and did not return. The scenario with Perry and EJ's bodyguard flew under most people's radar. But I was there to observe and document everything and it was from my overwatch position on the stage side of the tables that I had the vantage point to observe that instant.
After dinner Sir Elton John walked up to the stage, sat behind the grand piano and mesmerized the entire room with an hour long concert of our favorite hits from an arc of forty-some years. No one was allowed to photograph near the stage. I remember being the only photographer in the room. I captured the concert on the Nikon D70 because I happened to have the old 80-200mm f2.8 lens in my bag and it was the longest lens I owned. I was positioned at the back corner of the room, near a door to the kitchens.
Looking back at the files from the time leaves me with some mixed feelings. The images remind me of just how much fun it was to meet and hang out with someone whose music I had always enjoyed. A true celebrity in every sense of the word. It felt good to realize that my work allowed me to occasionally meet people who have changed the world. At the same time I look at the images and realize how primitive (relatively speaking) the cameras I was using at the time were, compared to current models.
How different the image quality might have been if I'd have had a longer lens, a bigger sensor, some in-camera stabilization, lower ISO noise, etc. But that's a silly way to feel. Looking back at the actual images I see that we got our part of the job done and that the content (as nearly always is the case) trumped the constraints of the technology of the time.
I packed up and headed home as the concert wound down. I edited my photographs and sent along my selections to the Andy Roddick Foundation and then got back to work with my regular clients. But for a week or so I was a bit star struck and every other job seemed a bit mundane. In the end Elton John and Andy Roddick raised well over a million dollars for the charity. A job well done.
And two from the actual concert:
Posted by: kirk tuck in Photo articles
Garlic in black and white.
Posted by: kirk tuck in Photo articles
Taking even a short vacation seems to be good for coming to some understanding about what it is you really, really like to photograph. To be clear, even though I took the routine landscape shots and the colorful shots of food at farmer's markets, there was really nothing I was excited to photograph on my trip. I thought I might make a few thoughtful portraits but since portrait work is collaborative everyone has to be in the mood, or at least unhurried enough to consider sharing some time.
Family vacations are like punishment for photographers. You reflexively bring your camera and a nice lens but the opportunities to use them for the kinds of work you might enjoy making are neutralized by the scheduling and proclivities of the group.
Ben is a fine portrait subject when he is here in Austin, between semesters. He's been working with me on projects when he's not in school and he seems to really enjoy the unhurried pace of an unstructured hiatus between the dual grinds of school and assisting. When he is engaged in the middle of a semester he is all business. He's on a schedule, burning the candle at both ends and keeping his grades up. But it precludes the kind of padded time intervals that would make slowing down and sitting in just the right spot difficult.
But there is another reason that vacations are not an optimum time for me to practice my own portrait work. I've come to depend on being able to shape light to match the moods and context that I want to portray in a finished image. I want control over how soft the roll off of light is into the shadows and I want to control the direction of the light in relation not only to the subject but also in relation to the background elements.
When I roll out to locations locally with the priority of making portraits for me I generally travel heavy. I drag along the Elinchrom Ranger flash system, a big soft box or umbrella, a C-stand or two. Some sand bags and a few extra diffusers. These are a godsend and a logistical encumbrance. And there was not way I wanted to drag them along on a weekend end vacation and even less of a chance that the other members of the family would be comfortable going along with this rather extreme program of creating family snapshots.
I know myself well enough to know that I needed to defer my usual bent of work in order to fulfill the goals of the trip at hand: to see the boy, to see his new living quarters, to sample his academic life, to meet; and have dinner with, the parents of one of his new roommates, to make sure Belinda enjoyed the weekend and to see the sights and sounds of my kid's chosen environment.
This was obviously not the time to drop into the role of producer/director. And knowing that is good. Not trying to interweave two diverse and conflicting agendas serves to mitigate or eliminate the frustration that would flow from presuming that one is always on.
My favorite work comes at events where I am supposed to be photographing. Where I have license and access to photograph. I love this image of a young girl who had just finished her event at a swim meet. I was at the swim meet as the volunteer team photographer and it was my job, obligation and delight to be charged with getting great images of the swimmers to share on the club's website and with the kids and parents. I largely ignored my family (except when it was Ben's turn to swim) and the run of the meet and concentrated on making impromptu portraits and group shots of the kids. I was able to bring a focus to doing so that made the work seem like play.
At the end of a swim meet I look back and realize that being in a certain zone made the day seem to pass in five minutes and that distraction is what happens when you aren't having fun.
I enjoyed spending time away from Austin but I also enjoyed letting go of the photographer label for the duration and enjoying the time away as a civilian. In that capacity the images I took were ones that just presented themselves, didn't require art direction or posing, could be made without revving up a light and could be walked away from in order to conform to the vagaries of the schedule.
I realized in the moment that I sometimes take my role as an image maker far too seriously. That the camera isn't the centerpiece of every social gathering. That fussing with dials and menus is not an appropriate task while sitting in the dining room of a nice restaurant having conversations with new (or old) friends.
So, what do I like? I find myself re-enlisted in pursuit of a few things that have been leitmotifs throughout my life with cameras. I love the look of wide ranging tones of luxurious black and white photographs. We can argue all day long about whether or not it has to do with suppressing extraneous and confusing color cues or if it's really just about nostalgia but, to my mind, done right, black and white images focus my seeing of the final print more acutely. I'm less and less interested in landscapes and even street images than I have been in the past. I want to work with one person in my frame and I want to have the whole experience be confined to a two person collaboration with no outside intervention or suggestions. And, more and more, I want to control the lighting.
I don't always have a specific lighting design in mind when I get ready to engage with subjects but I am always aware that there is a style and a consistency of qualities that I like more than others. I'm not a fan of light that's spectacular or trendy. I don't often light hard light (unless I intend to create the final image using the equivalent of diffusion or soft focus) or highly angular light. But I know as I work through a session, or even just an encounter, that I want more and more control over how the light works with the face in front of my medium-to-long telephoto lens.
In social situations this just isn't in the cards. Nor should it be. But it's a life long lesson to re-learn and re-learn.
I am constantly reminded that I like scenes that are rich with texture and even decay or disorder.
I labor with the idea that the work I like and finish all the way out is destined to be matted and framed and shared with a small circle of people. At times all the lights, stands and cameras in the studio are put away and the matt cutter comes out to play. It's been years since I hung a show but my re-entry into my regular routine this time has convinced me that I'm overdue and need to start thinking in terms of a small show of black and white portraits.
Finally, I spend time thinking about things outside photography that I like. Family goes without saying. And the same with my noble Studio Dog (currently just a bit conflicted; she is pissed that she had to spend three long nights alone but happy that we hired her absolute favorite dog sitter to come over four times a day while we were gone). But I also cherish my routines. I think we all do. My Sunday walk through downtown. Coffee with friends. The way an afternoon nap feels on my couch with the sun pouring through the French doors to the back garden. Early morning swim practice. Noon swim practice when I am either too lazy to get up in time for the early one, or motivated enough to do two in one day. I like the conceit of control that I've tried to construct in my Austin existence but lately have come to understand that comfort and control are also part of the nefarious impediments of resistance that keep me from focusing on doing my work.
With that said I think I'll wrap this up and convince Studio Dog to head back into the studio for some pre-production on an approaching job. Being part terrier she revels in keeping me focused on the task at hand so I can spend more down time tossing the tennis ball decorated as a mouse....
No matter what business you are in it makes good sense to step away and think, and to try and remember exactly what is was about the business that put you on your current path. More importantly, have you been true to your own satisfaction in executing on those delightful details that make what we do fun?
The camera is so much less important that what your real intentions for your photography might be. Being clear on the mission usually uncovers the reality that any camera will do, but not every approach will satisfy.
Posted by: kirk tuck in Photo articles
From "Priscilla" at Zach Theatre.
While Google tells me that 87,000,000 page views have occurred that's a cumulative measure of all links and blinks and RSSs and stuff. The total number of "I went to the actual site and took a look..." numbers is, this morning, 22,000,000. It's fun to think about the sheer number of eyeballs that have read what I've splashed out over the last eight years.
If you've enjoyed the ride consider dropping a comment into the queue to help celebrate another milestone. The "quick hello" is one of the fun things I get from filling this site with content and images (lots of images. thousands of images.)
I'm back at work but wishing I was still on vacation. I bet the same is true for you...
Posted by: kirk tuck in Photo articles
I marvel at how intact and untagged so many things are in the northeast. I think I am drawn to photograph images like the one above because things like this really don't survive long in our locale. Outside of the wealthy and secure neighborhoods people need to chain their stuff up in order to keep it and anything that is quaint or curious or just generally available is stolen, vandalized, smashed or covered with painted gang signs. The two towns I visited on this trip, Lake George and Saratoga Springs, were largely devoid of a kind of human driven entropy that seems more or less rampant in bigger cities.
It's interesting to think about why people photograph certain objects. I can't recall seeing one of these coin operated, binocular telescopes anywhere in my travels across Texas, although I have to assume they exist in some nook or cranny. So they are, to me, an oddity. I remember in my youth seeing these near most big natural attractions but they seem only to have been preserved in unique spots and in unique slots of time.
The implicit intent of our visit to Prospect Mountain, near Lake George in New York, was to see the scenery. The glorious, technicolor trees and the blue waters of the lake. But when I got there I was most interested in the telescopes. I shot lots of angles and lots of different magnifications of the units as I found them. To me, they represent a time in our national past --- the 1950's and 1960's --- when car travel for vacations swelled and families became captive to a national movement: "To see the USA in a Chevrolet."
While getting anywhere in Texas is a feat of travel endurance
and rewards speed and persistence, travel in the middle of New York state seems to have been a different sort of experience. One combining frequent scenic overlooks followed by Howard Johnson's restaurants and Holiday Inns. Until recently Texas had always been a poor state and travel meant one rest stop with chancy toilets every 250 miles or so (with a view of flat, hot land and blowing tumbleweeds) bookmarked by a dusty, independent version of a Motel 6, with a tired and shopworn Denny's diner next door. The Texas Whataburger chain was a sign that a town located off I-10 had made it.
But I am assuming that to a person who grew up in the northeastern part of the United States the experiences might be flipped. The desolation of Texas' open spaces might seem fantastic and unreal while the rawness of the food and accommodations might seem adventurous.
When I think of travel I think of the book, On The Road,
by Jack Kerouac. The descriptions of various regions always served to remind the reader that wealth and middle class opportunity in the 1950's flowed from New York City and trickled into the south diminished by an evaporation that left the furthest points south in the deepest poverty.
When I see a coin operated telescope I am reminded of the saying among cultural anthropologists who say that there are only two places that have no trash and litter. At one end of the spectrum are areas of extreme poverty where every paper scrap or piece of trash is collected and used for something. Even if it is just gum wrappers to keep open fires going for boiling water. At the other end of the spectrum there is no trash or litter because people are wealthy enough to pay others to perform constant and strict maintenance. It is only the places in the middle that deal with litter.
And the area around Saratoga Springs and Lake George was more or less pristine...
A poor family from a different region might see the unattended, coin operated telescope as something that could be wrenched from its moors and sold as scrap metal while a family from a wealthier cohort ignores the object completely because it is part of a constant landscape in which public objects are immune from a certain cultural entropy, one driven by the idea
As a Texan for most of my life I can only say that I love it that objects like this continue to exist, undamaged, as a marker of a time and space that is removed for most of us now. It's a reminder of an age of innocence. It is visual time travel. Like the old American sedans in Cuba.
It's so different to travel on a family vacation to a wealthy, established town in a community with history. I become like every other proud father visiting his kid's college town. Carrying a camera to record all the things that are novel and different with little regard for making art or presenting the visual material in some personal style. Just recording the things that stick out and make this newly discovered locale unique in my catalog of places. And in a year and a half I'll have finished paying for an undergraduate adventure at a private college and we'll collectively move on to the next stage.
I'm back home and trying hard to settle back into this
different culture. Everything here is both new and worn at the same time. Pre-fab, tilt wall America. Young people in a hurry. Pretensions of hipness mired in a culture of discount ethos. I guess that's the thing I photograph when I'm seriously working on my own photographs. Every place is still as different as it is the same.
Posted by: Neil vN in Photo articles
Using the Profoto B1 modeling lamp as a video light
Looking through the past articles on this blog, you’ll notice that I love using a video light for low-light photography. A video light adds that sense of drama to portraits, and very often blends better with the existing ambient light, than flash would.
Lately though, I haven’t bothered to bring a video light to weddings for the romantic portraits – I already have the Profoto B1 there with a substantial enough modeling light! Less gear to carry with me! Since I rely heavily on my Profoto B1 flashes (B&H / Amazon), I already have them on hand.
To show you how good the light from this looks (with the softbox still attached, but the baffle removed), here are a few images of Anelisa, taken during a Photo Walk in New York. We were using the flash and softbox earlier on, but as the sun disappeared, the light was getting lower, and there wasn’t a colorful sky to use as a backdrop – just the city lights. With the White Balance set to 3100K in fine-tuning the RAW file in post-processing.
In this case, with the light reflecting off the sides of the interior of the softbox, the light becomes a somewhat larger light source with the shadows slightly less hard.
Camera settings and photo gear used
The beauty of using the Profoto B1 like this as a continuous light source, is that I don’t have to set up another light source when photographing the romantic portraits at weddings. Same gear, but with a dual purpose … and I don’t have to bring a separate video light with me. This makes the Profoto B1 even more versatile as an on-location light source.
The post Using the Profoto B1 modeling lamp as a video light appeared first on Tangents.
Posted by: kirk tuck in Photo articles
I went to New York State last Thursday and now I am back in Austin. And I'm asking myself, "why?" We spent most of our time in Saratoga Springs, luxuriating in the cool, Fall weather and getting to wear sweaters and jackets that normally only see use in January and February here in Austin, Texas. And then there is the appeal of a relatively small town with very little traffic. You can actually park in the a free parking garage in the middle of their downtown ---- in the middle of the weekend!!! Amazing for a boy from the boom town...
Our main mission was to visit our son at college. It was Skidmore's Family Celebration Weekend. Belinda and I say through a class offered to parents, showered our kid with time, money and affection, and generally soaked in the atmosphere of being back on a campus.
The food in Saratoga Springs was uniformly good. They now have a decent Mexican food restaurant for homesick Texans called, Cantina. It's right on Broadway. They've got their soft, corn tortillas down perfectly and their instincts for seasoning and spicing were spot on. Steaks at Max London's,just down the street, were also superb.
This year we added a run up to Lake George while the kid stayed on campus to study. Right now, this instant, the color of the trees is turning and the skyline heading up the highway is a riot of color. We parked in town and climbed Prospector's Peak and were rewarded with spectacular views of the lake and the cascade of technicolor trees marching down majestic hillsides to meet it.
In a previous blog post I wrote that I had decided to take a specific camera but, of course, as we were leaving the house at 5 a.m. on Thursday morning I changed my mind and substituted. The camera I ended up taking was the Sony a6300 along with the 18-105mm f4.0G lens. This combination was smaller and lighter than the ones I had previously selected and, I decided to just go and be a proud parent instead of a compulsive photo-junky. It was a wise decision as I found the a6300 and lens to be the perfect travel companion for a long weekend mini-vacation like this one.
Here's a random selection of images I made this last weekend. I'm happy I went. It's an area I'd like to explore more. And sometime I would like to go, spend a few days around the area, and then hop on the train to Montreal. Could be a fun adventure. But I think I'll wait till next Fall for that...
Posted by: Neil vN in Photo articles
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Posted by: Neil vN in Photo articles
review: Canon 5D mark IV – high-ISO performance
The Canon 5D mark IV (B&H) offers a bunch of new features which are exciting: higher resolution than the previous incarnation of the 5D series. It now offers 4K video. The autofocus has also been improved – a weak point of the previous 5D bodies. There is also new features such as Dual Pixel RAW – a way for fine adjustments to be made after the image is taken, to make slight adjustments to the focus point to improve the fine details recorded. The 4K video capability also allows you to grab 8.8MP still frames during playback, via the touch-sensitive LCD screen.
A lot of magic happening there. More than I feel I can do justice in a single review. Therefore I will concentrate on a few features in a series of mini-reviews of this camera. This time, the high-ISO noise performance.
Not all the features will seem compelling to every photographer – our needs vary. Whether you’d want to upgrade from a 5D mark II or III (or the 6D) would depend on the subjects you shoot. I know that wedding photographers, amongst others, have a real need for superb high-ISO noise performance. So this review will concentrate on comparing these cameras:
Canon 6D — (20 megapixels)
Canon 5D mark II — (21 megapixels)
Canon 5D mark III — (22 megapixels)
Canon 5D mark IV — 30 megapixels)
The one thing which makes a direct comparison difficult, is that their resolution differ. The 5D mk2 and mk3 and 6D have approximately the same resolution, but there is a distinct jump with the Canon 5D mk4, to 30 megapixels. So simply viewing the images at 100% might not give you the best idea of how the 5D mk IV compares to the others.
Therefore I have done two things:
- You can download a sample RAW file for each camera, ranging from 800 ISO to 12,800 ISO. (The 5D mk2 is the exception, with the files only going to 6,400 ISO.) So now you can play with these files, and change the noise reduction, etc, and see how you like the high-ISO files from different cameras. The naming convention for those files should be obvious.
- I show comparison images here for all four cameras at 6400 ISO, but I have equalized the images for 20 megapixel resolution. So we see the same size image, and that in a way equalizes the comparison of the high-ISO noise between the cameras.
See what I did there? I neatly side-stepped to-and-fro arguments about which method is the more valid way of appraising the images. You decide!
To make the test as even as possible, I had to make sure the lighting didn’t vary. This is tougher to do with flash, where the WB might shift as you change the power … which you have to do when you run out of shutter speeds around maximum flash sync speed. So I opted for continuous lighting. Here’s the setup:
The lighting and setup for this test
To be able to use soft, flattering light, which is also a continuous liught source, I bounced two Litepanels Astra EP 1×1 LED Panels (affiliate) into a white V-flat. The other V-flat helps as fill, but was mostly there to block any light that still sneaked in from the curtained windows. I wanted to have the light on Sara as uncontaminated as possible, so she was just lit by the Litepanel LED lights. What made these Litepanels Astra LED lights (affiliate) ideal for this kind of test, is that they have a High color rendition (CRI) – in other words, they have a full spectrum for the light they emit. They make it much easier to get pleasant skin tones from these lights.
I used the Litepanels Astras in a similar way with these two shoots:
The camera settings for the images were based around: 1/60 @ f/4 @ 1600 ISO
I used a tripod to avoid camera shake at the slower shutter speeds.
The lens I used was the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II (affiliate), which is my go-to lens when I shoot with Canon bodies.
You might notice the composition for these images have a lot of headroom – I wanted to keep the composition and point of focus the same between every image, and it was simpler to keep to a central AF point between all the cameras, since they have different layouts for their AF sensors.
As an aside, our model here is a make-up artist in New Jersey, Sara Hayton, who I frequently use when a client needs hair and make-up done before a photo session. When the model I was going to photograph flaked out on me, Sara kindly stepped in. I might just be happier for how things worked out.
You can see Sara’s work on her website; or Instagram account, or follow her on Facebook.
Comparing the 5D2, 5D3, 6D and 5D4
As mentioned above, since the 5D mark IV has higher resolution than the other three cameras, I scaled the processed JPGs down to 20 megapixels, and created these 100% crops. I took it from the shadow side of our subject where high-ISO noise might be more visible.
Remember, you can download a sample RAW file for each camera, ranging from 800 ISO to 12,800 ISO. Play with these and see what you think.
Looking at these and images at other ISO settings, the pattern is expected and obvious: The 6D and 5D mk3 improved on the 5D mk2. The 6D and the 5D mark3, appear to be very similar. In turn, the 5D mk4 (in the images which are equalized), appear to be a touch better again than the 5D mk3 and 6D. Thist then gives an obvious jump from the mk2 to the mk4. Nothing surprising there. How much of a difference this is, and how important this is to you, you have to decide.
Is the Canon 5D mark IV (B&H) worth the upgrade from the 6D and the 5D mark III, purely based on this? I can’t tell you – it will depend on what you need from the camera in terms of the high-ISO noise performance and any other features which are useful to you in your photography. We have options! It’s a good time to be a photographer. We’ve never had it so good in terms of gear which enable us.
The post review: Canon 5D mark IV – high-ISO noise appeared first on Tangents.
Posted by: kirk tuck in Photo articles
I swam at noon today. Crystal blue skies and mid-80's. A perfect day to shirk all responsibility, ignore all clients and get in a good swim. Jane was coaching and so the workout was thoughtful and interesting. Descending sets of sprint 50 yard swims interspersed with cruising speed pull sets. Go hard for a set of 50s and then chillax with a set of 150 yard pulls. Nice. (I will be packing my goggles and Speedo jammer suit so I can get in a few swims up north...)
Made me hungry by the end of the hour long workout so I indulged in a guilty pleasure: Jason's Deli makes a Tuna Muffaletta. They call it a Tuna-Letta. It's on the same crunchy bun but instead of the usual, New Orleans inspired, ham, cheese and tapenade it's stuff with tuna, hardboiled eggs, spinach and, well, an olive tapenade. I think it's delicious. Big sandwich, chips, sparkling water and a free ice cream for a whopping $6.81.
Then I got on to my important job for the day --- deciding which camera and lens to drag along with me to go visit the younger Mr. Tuck in Saratoga Springs. I leaned heavily towards the original Sony a6000 for its "uncluttered-ness" along with the Sigma 30mm DN for its "damn that thing is sharp!-ness"
But in the end I think I've decided to take the Sony A7ii and the Zeiss 24-70mm f4.0 with me instead. I like the lens range, the light weight of the lens and the old school look and feel of the body.
When I visit colleges it always takes me back on the nostalgia express
to the time when I first got interested in taking pictures. The A7ii is really my only pure nostalgia camera these days just because it is frankly uninteresting and not remarkable. This way, if I get a good photograph over the weekend my family and friends might be more inclined to give me some credit instead of chalking it up to some idea of the "magical" camera that can do no schlock.
That's my plan this hour. I hope not to change my mind at the last minute because I don't have the time to crank out another blog post today. Tomorrow? Maybe. We'll see....on another note:
I frequently write about the work I do for Zach Theatre and I thought I would show you one way in which they use my photographs. The link below goes to a web version of an e-mail they just sent out to their subscriber base. It touts the latest two shows and asks for ticket purchases for an upcoming show (Santaland Diaries). I like their approach but be aware that this is only one tool in the box. They also run print advertising, do direct mail, make point of purchase posters and run radio and TV (with my images embedded in the video). It shows me an effective use of the content. I like it. Click the link to see:Here is one way in which Zach Theatre Uses my Photography. click to see
If you shoot small lights long enough, you will run up against some limitations. You might be trying to light big areas, or trying to get a combo of soft light with a large working distance. Most likely, you might be trying to light against full sun. Or, obviously, any combination of the above.
Suffice to say that at some point you might want a big gun in your lighting bag. But how do you choose? Read more »
Posted by: kirk tuck in Photo articles
I was not an early fan of the personal practice of photography. While I grew up looking at the same news and lifestyle magazines that everyone else in my generation consumed I was always much more interested in the written stories. More specifically, the stories about the people in the photographs. When I started college I was an electrical engineering student. I was always interested in things that were somehow connected to engineering and my biggest enthusiasm was for audio engineering. I dutifully built tube amplifiers from Dynakits, enjoyed putting together my first transistor amplifiers and, of course, making my own loudspeakers --- complete with custom-made crossover networks. One of my proudest possessions as I got more and more immersed in the tantalizing pleasures of audio was my Linn Sondek turntable and its companion Audio Research pre-amplifier.
At some point I realize that I would run out of money if I kept buying audio gear and hoarding it in my dorm room so I walked up the street to the Dobie Mall and applied for a part time job at a store called, Audio Concepts. It was one of two stores in Austin in the 1970's that catered to audiophiles. The other was High Fidelity Inc., the town's McIntosh dealer (No, silly, not the computer company!).
We classified McIntosh gear as the kind of stuff you sold to older doctors and lawyers who couldn't hear third order harmonics if you sat them between a set of Klipschorns. We were proud to peddle Luxman, Audio Research and a few "downmarket" brands like Crowne and Phase Linear as well as the small "apartment systems" from Yamaha and Onkyo.
Like most gear nerds of the time we had raging arguments about Dahlquist DQ 10s, Magnaplanars, and a raft of other loudspeakers. But at the very bottom the whole attraction to audio was not, for me, a love for music but a sense of marvel at how lifelike we could engineer something like natural sound. Now, I like music just fine but it's not a passion for me. I can tell the difference between Beethoven's 9th Symphony and Orff's Carmina Burana, and I can enjoy everything from old recordings of Bob Will's to new stuff by Goriilaz, but I'm never in withdrawal from not having music or desperate to hear something....anything. I can go days or weeks without clicking on iTunes or streaming something from Amazon Prime.
In the end it was the lack of love for the subject matter that kept me out of the audio business in any form. Probably the reason why I've never bothered to buy a pricy audio system for our house. Just a little Tivoli radio, with a second speaker, hooked up to a re-purposed iPhone. Yes ---- audio Luddite.
But the picture is different if we talk about photography. I was dismissive about photography until my junior year at UT. Then I met a lovely girl who was a studio art major. Her name was Beth. She asked what kind of art I did personally and I was caught up short. Did I paint? Did I draw? Did I sculpt? Nope. She suggested that I try something (strong implication that a real, 3 dimensional human with pretensions of being "educated" had to have some conversation with art...) and, in a mildly condescending way suggested that photography might be an easy starter. I scoffed and said that I felt photography was just a mechanical process. A bringing together of a few logistical variables. Nothing of consequence. She challenged me to prove it.
I stared at her beautiful eyes and realized that it would be wonderful to have a photograph of those eyes. To have my visual interpretation of how those eyes made me feel when I looked into them. So I accepted the challenge, marshaled my meager "savings" and bought the camera that one of my friends (who was devoted to the acquisition of cool cameras) suggested: A Canonet QL 17. A rangefinder focusing compact with a fast, 40mm lens (f1.7) and a quick loading feature. I learned the basics of exposure and quickly got the hang of rangefinder focusing. For a long time I was happy with the camera because I was happy with what I was photographing. Let me repeat that: For a long time I was happy with the camera because I was happy with what I was photographing.
It goes back to being interested in the stories about people. So much of most people's stories are written on their faces. There are short stories written by their postures or gestures. And there is an infinite variety in the ways people consciously or subconsciously project themselves. It's a never ending story with an ever changing cast of characters. My thrill in photographing, even to this day, is to try and figure out the dominate story line that each person I photograph carries with them and to make that story line into an almost abstract visual construct. I'm essentially telling their story as I see it in one snapshot.
Better photographic technique is always an attempt to clarify the story. Better lighting can (but not always) make the story clearer while a longer lens might eliminate the chatter a nervous background introduces. But always, it's the story that the person in front of me is telling with with their stance and their expression that drives my curiosity.
I have said many, many times that I am indifferent to landscape photography and to the documentation of architecture. I can't see the stories there like I can with people. I don't think about interpreting objects. But with people the amount of time I spend with them deepens the way I understand their stories and gives me a certain insight into which face or which gesture is genuinely part of their unique presentation and which ones are cobbled together, along with self-consciousness, for the camera.
In some ways it was folly for me to choose the life of a generalist, commercial photographer precisely because I've gotten drawn into photographing so many things in which I really have no interest. It shows in that work. And as a salve for the boredom of forcing myself to work on something outside my areas of interest I've made the general process of commercial photography more interesting by doing what I did back in my days of audio fascination. I let myself be seduced by the process. I started collecting the
gear that matches the wide spectrum of subject matter that keeps arising. It's the same with lighting. Once you leave the locus of your passion for something
to pursue an ancillary or adjunctive subject you move from passion for the subject to a passion for the process.
While I was seduced into photography by a pair of beautiful eyes I've staying in it for largely the same reason. The eyes tells such compelling stories. The faces are exciting introductory chapters to stories that beguile and amaze me, and in some cases frighten or disgust me. But they are all rich stories that visually speak to a collection of experiences outside me. I'm not using the portrait subjects as canvases for my canned technique I am using my status as a photographer for access --- a free ticket to turn the pages of someone else's life.
I recently photographed my friend, Michelle. I've photographed her many times over the years. It's my own kind of personal work. We spent a lot of time talking and we are not at all alike. We're on different journeys through life. But the exchange is insightful and, for me very interesting. I understand my compassion in a different way. In our pre-shoot and post-shoot conversations I am taught a different way to look at life. What an amazing gift to receive from so many people for such a long time.
My biggest secret to photography is the reality of my distillation. I am retelling stories. They may have been told better by the person I photographed but you weren't there to hear them. At my best I am functioning as a conduit between the sitter's experience and you, the audience for the final images.
Lots of photographers these days are talking about "story" but I think they mostly mean a literal story where one picture after another in a sequence tells a linear tale. My visual stories of my portrait subjects are usually one, concise image. The next time I photograph the same person the story has inevitably changed. At that point we are capturing a new story. We do it by building on what we've already seen.
When we talk of a love for photography I think we are essentially misguiding ourselves. We may enjoy the tinkering, the mastery and the possession of beautifully made machines that seem to use magic to do our process, and we may enjoy the experience of looking at images, but I conjecture that the images which resonate most for each of us are the ones for which we used photography to tell a story about something outside of photography that we loved uniquely.
I never got to take a portrait of Beth. I have no picture. No story beyond my memory. We were both in relationships with other people. But she gave me a gift of curiosity and opened my eyes about the way to tells stories that I love about people whom I find to be very interesting. And, as I grow older I find just about everyone fascinating.
I am documenting the faces of the interesting people I meet. Behind the faces are timeless stories of human experience; joy, sorrow and mischief. The stories are projected or reflected.
We are drawn to photography by what we love outside of photography. We are sidetracked by the pressure to photograph more and different things. The greed for different gear is a symptom of those diversions. When we hew to our desired and true course our external needs relent.
One more point I have noticed. As I get older I am more and more content just to be in the conversations and to aurally hear the stories. I find myself becoming more "present" than ever before; with or without the camera in my hand. That's a nice thing. It makes me a calmer artist. I don't worry as much about the ones that might get away. If I saw the story written on a face then, camera or not, I got to see a small part of their story...
It becomes part of a rich and complicated matrix of memory. Even moments just observed become part of the process of inquiry in the next session.
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Posted by: Neil vN in Photo articles
Tips on concert photography
As a companion piece to the recent guest article by Mark Tepsic – Camera Settings for Concert Photography – here are my thoughts and advice on camera techniques photographing music concerts. It’s not something I often photograph – I mostly just want to enjoy the experience of the concert without having to be concerned with taking photos – aside from a shot or two to post on Instagram. But this was an opportunity I could relish – photographing a favorite band who has influenced countless other musicians and bands over the course of the past four decades – Gang Of Four. How did I get to photograph them in concert? I asked.
Here then are some observations about photographing a band in concert. Much of it is just good technique, and you’ll notice that there’s a lot of intersection with the article that Mark Tepsic wrote, simply because of the subject matter – low light, with wildly changing lighting, with musicians who move around the stage. This means the advice from photographers will converge to similar good advice.
I brought along the camera best suited to low light, and focusing in low light – the Nikon D5 (affiliate). I didn’t want to change lenses – so it was just the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8E VR lens (affiliate). The lens’ stabilization wouldn’t be of much use – the band members are actively moving around – this would be no static performance.
Composition and timing: with concert photography, everything still hinges on the essential elements of photography – composition and timing. The moment, carefully balanced within the frame. While shooting, those are the two most important things that I concentrate on. Not the camera settings so much.
Successful photographs will show a dynamic balance in the composition – but there has to be a peak moment of some kind. There has to be more than just perfectly balanced elements within the frame. So while busy with the photographing of the event, I’m constantly waiting for things to come together within the frame – the musicians and the lighting. Forms and shapes.
Even though I shoot many frames, in the short time allotted – 3 songs while in front of the barrier – I’m attempting to get images where some elements are balanced in the frame, whether the band members and lighting. Forms and shapes. Instinctively trip the shutter when you feel it has all come together within the frame. But things move so quickly, and the lighting especially changes so fast, that you have to shoot multiple frames, or even bursts of frames.
This is the key – balancing elements with purpose within the frame. For me, the core tenet of photographic composition – frame, don’t aim. Make sure you don’t just point your camera at your subjects on the stage, centering them in the frame. Ideally there has to be a dynamic composition holding the image together.
Timing – getting meaningful images which are representative of the experience, showing movement and gesture. You have to imply the experience of being there through a photo …. sans the music. It’s a challenge.
There are moments which might not have a clear context within the performance, but are dramatic enough, and definitely captures the mood.
Exposure metering – this is more of a feel thing, than possibly any other areas of photography. The lighting changes so much, and often goes to a near-monochromatic look with just one color dominating. There’s no real way to meter for that accurately and quickly. So instead of metering, I guesstimate the exposure at various points, and adjust the shutter speed and aperture as I need to, to get good exposure. Note, the word ‘good’ exposure. I didn’t mention ‘correct’ exposure since you wouldn’t necessarily go for correct skin tones and placement of tonal values.
You really are after capturing the mood and the moment here. This includes faces in near dark, or with the band members silhouetted – with that, the more traditional way of exposure metering falls by the wayside. Go for the mood and the moment.
With lighting sometimes become just the single tonality of just one color, you will get a kind of posterization – it plays havoc with image sharpness. Again though, concert photography is more about capturing the excitement and mood of the performance!
Starting with exposure settings which give me the look I want, I might change the shutter speed, or aperture (and sometimes ISO), as the set’s lighting changes. Each song will quite likely have a different lighting setup. So I don’t frantically change camera settings in the vain hope of chasing correct exposure. If the lights are flashing, I fire bursts of sequences – some will be darker, some will be blown out … and some will be great. It sounds like a shotgun approach, and in a sense it is, but it does get the results. It’s a calculated method to get some keeper images in a situation where the lighting is unpredictable.
I do a quick chimp every so often to confirm exposure – just a glance at the back of my camera, knowing that I am in the ballpark, and that I can still control things afterwards with the latitude that RAW files give me. Oh, and I shoot in Auto WB during concerts – there really isn’t something like correct WB, unless the performer is under a consistent light source such as Incandescent lighting.
More about the music itself: The mainstay of the Gang Of Four is Andy Gill, the songwriter and guitarist. For me, he is one of the guitar gods. When friends mention Hendrix or Clapton or Van Halen, I refer them to the angular sounds of Andy Gill’s guitar – cold hard shards of sound, interleaved with harmonic tones and brittle rhythms – a wide range of sounds from his guitar that matches anything by the other great guitarists.
I live my life to a music soundtrack – there is usually music to fill the spaces during my day. There have been a few key music artists which have had an enduring impact that helped shaped what I listen to, and therefore indirectly, my life. One of these bands, is Gang Of Four. From the first moment somewhere in the early 80s when I heard the song Paralysed, the opening track on their second album, I was riveted. Much of the music landscape then for me was British punk and post-punk (and New Wave). Instead of the Punk noise which most bands embraced, here was an even harder sound, but controlled. The rhythm section, then as well as now, sound like an unstoppable juggernaut with the aggressive attack that you’d expect from a post-punk band.
As mentioned, with a press pass you are usually allowed three songs before having to leave the area in the front. So the angles tend to be from lower down. This does make for dynamic compositions, but to add variety, I also took some photos later on from the crowd, about 5 or 6 people deep into the audience. This was a smaller venue – Webster Hall in NYC, not a large auditorium or stadium, so the 24-70mm still sufficed from where I was in the audience.
I find the zoom, even with the slower aperture than a fast prime, is still more versatile and faster to use than a prime lens. I’m constantly changing my composition and how tightly I frame – what I include and exclude. Zoom wider / tighter. Change it up. Re-frame constantly.
I use Single focus mode. Continuous / Serve AF is too unpredictable in how it will follow focus when the background is so often brighter than your subject, especially with off-center compositions.
With the Nikon D5, I used Single AF, with the Grouped points. I moved the AF group around in the frame to give me proper AF within the composition I wanted. It needs dexterity and familiarity with your camera – a good thing with any field of photography. Know your camera by touch!
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