5.21.2018

How did my "take" from the 2006 production of "Rocky Horror Picture Show" stand the test of time. Twelve years later.....


I've had an interesting re-entry into daily work life. One of my clients whom I have worked with for nearly three decades called to see if I had "the files" for a project I'd done for them in 2000. They were preparing 50 year anniversary campaign and were looking for images taken in each of the five decades during which their company had flourished. I went over to the CD and DVD archives, stuck on a Metro shelf in the corner, and looked through the material. Nothing. No sign of the work. Perplexed, I looked at my notebooks from the time to see if they held any clues. Of course they did. Making notes is the secret to long term understanding...

2000 was a transitional year in my business. It's the year that 35mm film started to jump the shark and morph into digital. Somewhere in that year I abandoned 35mm slides and color negative film almost entirely and started depending on digital cameras as a replacement. There were still a few years left in which I worked with medium format film for the more intricate and very high image quality assignments but, as digital cameras continued to improve, these too fell by the wayside and were replaced with ever advancing digital images.

I found an entry in the notebook about the job in question. We'd done the pre-production marketing images (the highest value stuff) with medium format film and a little assortment of Hasselblad cameras and lenses and then had done the higher volume, less exacting work with a Kodak DCS 660 camera and Nikon zoom lenses. By mutual agreement the client had held onto the film as it was proprietary and they had bought exclusive usage rights, paying in 1990s prices. 

I talked through this turn of history with the client and they went through the process of contacting a procession of previous marketing directors until one of them led the current custodians of corporate branding (over the phone) to a small closet in the basement of headquarters, where the images languished in black notebooks, in banker's boxes, on a series of shelves. The original requestor had scanned the images he needed at the time and filed the "take" very professionally and with every intention of revisiting the work. But that was two careers ago. 

I wondered how the old work would stand up in today's market. Would the old 35mm slides and plastic pages of big square transparencies seem hopelessly outclassed by today's spectacular technologies? The clients found the files, made new edits (edits = means they selected the images they wanted to use, not that they manipulated them. Manipulating would be called "post processing") and then sent the edits out to have high resolution drum scans made of each slide in the new collection. As a courtesy they sent me a copy of the selected (edited) scanned images. I was dumbstruck by the amazing technical quality of the work. The highlight tonalities were gorgeous because of the natural roll off of the film's H&D curves. This more than amply matches any increase in dynamic range that might result from the latest sensor tech. They lacked the brute force resolution of the latest digital cameras, like the D850 and the A7Riii, but that quality was always secondary to the look and feel of an image. 

The eye opener was the files scanned from the medium format transparency film. They evinced a physical presence that was ethereal. Like opening a grimy window and looking at a cold clear winter day through suddenly clear glass.

"Ah well." I thought, "We made our choices and now we have to live with them." 

But even though I have an appreciation for film based results I have to think that, overall, the choices we made to move to digital were both necessary (from a business point of view) and also provided a handful of benefits. 

When someone from Zach Theatre called recently, to see if I had archived my images from their production of "Rocky Horror Picture Show" done in 2006, I walked to the shelving, grabbed the protective, clamshell case labelled, "2006, first half" and paged through. There were two identical (duplicate) DVDs labelled, "Zach, Rocky, 2006, Jpegs, Final to deliver." I popped one of them into a DVD drive and took a look around.

Nearly all of the 1100 files were shot with the latest camera of the day, a Nikon D2X, along with a 24-85mm zoom lens. While the camera was limited in its ability to shoot high ISO, and my handling of noise reduction might have been just a bit heavy handed, there was much on the disk that seemed to me to be good looking work. 

I uploaded all the files and shared the online gallery with the theatre. Then I started going through and editing (selecting, not manipulating!!!) twenty or so files that caught my eyes. I present them here without changing anything. This is how they went out to the client mid-year in 2006, processed with the software we had available twelve years ago. 

Even though we lost a lot to blur (due to having to use lower shutter speeds to offset the lower ISO available (shot almost exclusively at 640 and 800) the images stand up well in my estimation. There is a lot more I could do with them today given the speed of our processing computers and the ability to pull monstrous amounts of noise free shadow detail from today's files, when shot conservatively. I had to consciously wait for peaks of action back then to get a useful hit rate...

I'm curious to hear what you think of my twelve year old files, done with ancient digital technology. How do you think they stand up to our current tools? Certainly, the APS-C files are no match for today's almost noise free, full frame cameras but, there is also a lower pixel density sharpness to them, on a macro level, that is pleasing--- at least to me. 

It's a time machine. That's the nature of photography. It's good to look backward to see what the tools bought us in their day. 


An interesting aside. The marketing director for the corporate client is just 28 years old and has never worked with film before. Never. We are walking her through the scanning process, step by step. It is a revelation for her to see how slow and meticulous the film workflow was. In a way, I think it gives her come empathy or insight into how our thinking can be predicated on old habits that are hard to shake. 
On the other hand, she seems to be developing an appreciation for the positive attributes of film. But no. We won't be going back.



















A self portrait. Narcissistic or exploration?


There's something about mirrors that calls to me like a moth to a flame. When I walk by a mirror or a highly reflective window, and I just happen to have a camera over my shoulder, I feel a compulsion to pull the camera off and document what I look like. I think it's mostly curiosity; to understand how I look to everyone else, who live outside my brain and ego. 

I was in the Tang Museum at Skidmore College last week and I kept finding mirrored surfaces. I had a camera with me that does wickedly well with image stabilization and I tried every permutation I could. Now I know what I look like when I'm in a museum on a cold, rainy day and I've found a way to understand what my exterior presentation is all about. Does the Columbia rain jacket make me look fat? (implied smiley face emoji). I think we should all post some self-portraits. (And we should call them "self-portraits" unless we shoot them with a cellphone.....then we can call them "selfies").



I'm back. We're back. It feels strange to be back at work after a big weekend celebration. But there it is......




Heading into the Special Events Center for commencement. 

I've been out of pocket for the last five days but it was for something important. At least it was very important to me and my wife, Belinda. We headed up to Saratoga Springs, NY to watch the kid graduate from Skidmore College. He looked dashing in his Converse All Star High Tops, dangling his honors cords (both Magna Cum Laude and English Honors...) from his black robe. 

I took it easy, at least from a photographic perspective. I brought along one camera and one and a half lenses. I decided to take the GH5 because I continue to be impressed by just about anything that comes from the Olympus 12-100mm f4.0 Pro lens. It's a big lens but it's damn sharp and it just floats in place with its I.S. The half lens refers to the Panasonic 42.5mm f1.7 lens which is so tiny that it only counts, in my estimation, as a half lens. But it's as sharp and well behaved as any lens I own and its combo image stabilization (body+lens) means that the camera+lens combo is probably steadier than putting a non-stablized rig on any number of cheap and spindly tripods. Toss in a couple of batteries and a coupe of memory cards and you've got a powerful kit for traveling through the weekend. 

We worked until midday on Thurs., checked in to the airport and whipped through the TSA Pre Check line. Our flights brought us into the Albany airport a bit after midnight and we spent the night at an adjacent Hilton property, picking up our rental vehicle the next morning. After a good breakfast and nearly enough coffee we got into a Chevy Equinox and made the 25 minute drive to the northeast. 

First order of real business was to meet Ben, and my friend Fred, at a favorite sushi restaurant in the small, downtown area. Fred is a VSL reader, musician, photographer, instrument maker, bon vivant, and swimmer who lives in Saratoga Springs. He introduced himself to me when he put two and two together and realized that my kid intended to be in his town for a while. It's been great having someone you know on the ground.....just in case. He's saved me tons of analyst's bills by cutting down dramatically on my separation anxiety from the kid. Fred is funny and bright and we're planning a secret foray to Michael Johnston's place sometime this Summer. 

We might be mature, call in advance, have a genteel lunch with Michael, chat about heurmeneutics related to the worship of all things photographic or we may go to our default and just show up to toilet paper his house. You never know.... But Fred would be a great accomplice either way...

After lunch and a break to check into our AirBNB (first time for us and first rental for the AirBNB homeowner!) we headed to the college for a "Brick" ceremony. One of the things the college does to raise money for scholarships and grants to less affluent students is to raise money by having your kid's name inscribed on a brick which is then laid out into an ever growing sidewalk or plaza area. Kind of a permanent reminder of each alumni's time at the school. From 485 participating families the school as able to raise $1,300,000 this year. A pretty amazing total for the 2018 Parent's Fund Donation. 

Having surpassed their goal by several hundred thousand dollars the Parent's Fund committee went ahead and had a brick made for each graduate. It was a warm gesture of inclusion and appreciated by everyone involved. The brick ceremony was short and sweet and followed by a reception for students and parents at the college president's house. I brought my camera along but didn't find anything compelling so I let it swing on the strap, kept my Champagne glass in my left hand and left my right hand for greeting a shaking. 

We knew all the restaurants would be packed full on Friday night because a number of students come from families that live "in state." We rightly assumed that many would come in to town for the evening, do a big dinner celebration, hit the commencement activities the next day and then scoot out of town in the mid-afternoon on Saturday. We decided to do our fanciest dinner on Saturday night and it turns out our plan was flawless. That left us to D.I.Y. on Friday evening.

Since our AirBNB was spacious and well appointed we headed to a little specialty food shop called, Putnam's Market, and bought wonderful sandwiches; some with roasted vegetables, goat cheeses, and fresh tomatoes, others with various Italian meats and dressings. We tossed in a chocolate torte and a bottle of Champagne and had a wonderful, casual dinner at the house. We talked for hours.

The next day the college prepared breakfast for anyone who cared to come by and eat before the commencement event. The quality of the breakfast was a good summation of why my food oriented child chose this as his school over plenty of academically equally good schools. Skidmore is consistently rated as having some of the finest food in the country in their sprawling and beautifully design dining hall.

Coming from Texas, where the temperatures had been in the upper 90's last week, the commencement was an interesting change. It was cool and rainy, and the rain picked up just as the event started. The speeches and ceremonies were held at an outdoor amphitheater which is covered. We were safe from the rain but we Texans were happy that we had been warned to bring warm clothes! It was in the high 40's to lower 50's all morning long. OMG, it's the end of May!!!

Belinda and I shot photos of the commencement; me with the Panasonic and Olympus blend, Belinda with her ancient iPhone, and we hugged each other in mutual congratulations for getting the kid at least this far and this well. Then we gathered the kid and headed back to the campus for yet another reception and a wonderful lunch back at the dining hall. 

We dropped Ben off at his apartment to continue packing and we headed back to nap and listen to the water play on the roof of our temporary home. We picked Ben up at 7:00 pm Saturday evening and headed to our favorite restaurant in the area, Max London's. We had a wonderful meal and, in a first for Ben, he was able to order a glass or wine without being carded (asked for I.D.). He took it as a sign that he had truly graduated. 

We all flew back together on Sunday and Southwest Airlines worked like a Swiss watch. The capper to the weekend was the incredibly joyous reception between Ben and Studio Dog. She just couldn't believe her eyes and her nose. The (un)prodigal child had finally returned. 

I looked through my images today in Lightroom and nothing rises above rote documentation and family memorabilia but I share a few here just because a fair number of readers have watched me and Belinda raise Ben over the years and I wanted to put a chapter marker on this phase of our lives. 

That, and to write that it's possible to work in the arts and still have the normal middle class expectations we grew up with pan out. Not everyone needs to be an accountant, a doctor or a lawyer in order to get through life. (Not that accounting is in any way a bad thing....). Artists tend to hear an unceasing drumbeat from family, acquaintances and media that tells them they will be poor, live poor and die poor but it doesn't have to be that way. We just need to do a better job teaching our artists about handling money. 

The camera choice was, in this case, totally immaterial to the event. I could have done just as much with my phone and few gimmick add-on telephotos. In one regard though the weekend was very re-freshing. I could not wait to get back home and get back to work on my own stuff. Sometimes even a short break is enough to prime one's creative engines. 

The hardworking, ever present content creation professionals do their thing.

Ben gets his degree from the president of the college.

We all file out into the rain and temperatures in the upper 40's. 
A day very unlike the day prior in Austin, Texas, when it was 97 degrees..

The Parent's Fund raises money to provide scholarships to economically
disadvantaged students to ensure diversity among the student body.
Some of the funding comes from donations given to get a "named" brick for your student.

485 families donated to the fund via the "Brick" fundraiser.
They were able to raise 1.3 million dollars....

Ben's Brick has been placed.

5.17.2018

I love it when the media picks up one of our public relations photos for the Theatre and does a beautiful job showcasing it.

https://www.blacktexasmag.com/home-1/2018/5/14/zach-theatre-announces-cast-for-sunday-in-the-park-with-george

This shot is one of the promotional images we did two weeks ago for Zach Theatre's upcoming production of Sundays in the Park with George. 

I used Aputure LightStorm LEDs to light everything because we also had a video crew shooting some behind the scenes stuff and low powered modeling light alone would have made the video crews' job a nightmare.

If you are in Austin this production promises to be really stellar. We'll be shooting the dress rehearsal and tech rehearsal the week after next.

Fun to see work published all over the place... still.

5.16.2018

An Image I made back in 2009 with a Leaf A7i medium format digital camera. It's time to make a print....

This is Ben ten years ago. 
Leaf sent me an Aptus A7i, 40 Megapixel camera
to test and I started photographing everyone in sight.

Like all other nerds I can't keep from comparing things. In my world some of the most fun and easiest things to compare are the files from various cameras. When I acquired a Nikon D800e and a D800(vanilla) I first shot a bunch of test frames and then I sat down in front of the computer and started to compare the files from the medium format cameras I've shot over the years, wondering how they would stand up to the Nikons. I'm not sure I can see a real difference and I'm not sure that, if I saw a difference, it would be anything more than a visual placebo. Then, of course, I would have to figure out how much difference lenses make in the overall appraisal of image quality in a given set of photos. 

At their lowest ISO settings I think I prefer the older, medium format files but it's a difference that's so minute that even a slight discrepancy in focusing would be enough to massively skew the results. And therein lies the whole problem with hobbyists and professionals who embark on trying to test and judge the differences between cameras. Tony Northrup once did a video in which he talked about this subject and noted that even the give of a wooden floor beneath a solid tripod might me enough to grossly affect the results of any rigorous test. A slight focus shift. Differences in temperatures between tests. And I think it's a fool's errand to do any sort of test of cameras if you must use different lenses for each format or each model. 

Having "tested" and written about three different medium format cameras in the past, and having compared those files with newer files from the D800, D800e and my old D810 convinces me that using any of those cameras without the assistance of tripod, or at least the image freezing aid of a short duration electronic flash, lowers the effective resolution by enough of a percentage that these 36 and 40 megapixel cameras are then reduced to competing with their 24 megapixels competitors when it comes to how the photographs look in various media and how resolution is experienced.

As to lenses I think the only directly comparable testing situation is one where a tester only compares results from two cameras that share the same lens mount. In that way the same lens can be used during each test. If each camera is focus at high magnification, in live view, with all other parameters being tightly controlled then we can tell something about the differences between two models or different generations. 

When it comes to lenses I think the scores and DXOMark are more interesting than the scores they apply to cameras. I was comparing several 50mm lenses on their site with all lenses tested on a D800e. Their lens tests show the actual lens resolution on the sensor, in terms of megapixels, versus what one would expect from the full resolution of the sensor. Using the Nikon D800e as a test base I compared the Nikon 58mm f1.4G lens with the Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art lens. The Nikon lens allows a user to take advantage of only 25 megapixels of actual resolution. The Sigma lens scrapes out 35 of the 36 possible megapixels of resolution that the camera can deliver. 

Now, more than every, it seems that cherry-picking your lenses can make a drastic difference leveraging the image quality and performance you pay for in today's state of the art cameras. And, you can imagine, that if a testing site uses a perfect lens on one brand's camera and a similar but less perfect lens on a competitor's brand, that the stated results in the review would be much, much different. But how much at fault is the sensor and how much degradation is the lens really responsible for?

I remember one site that used the Sigma 70mm f2.8 Macro lens for every camera test. They invested in hand-picked and tested units of the same lens in order to eliminate as many variables as they could. To not test this way is tantamount to just throwing your hands up and declaring, "It's all subjective!"

I wonder if the folks at the bigger test sites think about things like this or whether they interpret the results they get from a myriad of different lenses through the lens of their own preferences. 

But here are my thoughts about the differences between the MF and the Vintage Nikon 36 megapixel full frame bodies: In stringent test I'd probably select the images from the MF cameras as slightly superior, but this would only apply at base ISOs and at optimum apertures, and each test would need to be rigorously vetted and repeated a number of times in order to null out frame by frame anomalies. I do remember that the image of Ben (above) was shot with a $7,500 Schneider 180mm APO lens. I can only assume that was a big "assist" to the file quality. My 85mm Nikons aren't quite in that class but the images I've taken lately with the Sigma Art lens (50mm) seem to rival the pricier glass. 

After looking at a bunch of work, printed and otherwise, I'm going to say I'd be happy with any of the full frame, 24 megapixel cameras. In the sizes most of us actually work in the differences between the 24 and 36 (or even 40) megapixel files will only show up in the most critical and disciplined sort of work. 

A bit of news. I'm leaving tomorrow afternoon for New York to watch my kiddo graduate from college. He texted me this afternoon to let me know how the semester turned out and I'm very happy to say that he is on the Dean's List for the seventh consecutive semester and will be graduating on Saturday Magna Cum Laude. 

We'll have a busy schedule as there are dinners scheduled, as well as many receptions and ..... the ritual clean out and packing up of his apartment. This means I may post fewer blogs than usual and be even slower on moderating comments (which I love to get...). 

Following on this happy news.... I have made my last payment to the college and we are all celebrating Ben earning his degree without anyone taking on debt. I feel like I just got a huge raise!!!
(Let the unfettered camera buying begin!!!).

Studio Dog, the VSL security team, and the house sitter will remain in Austin to prepare for the boy's auspicious return. Some one has to dig the BBQ pit. Right?



5.14.2018

All of a sudden we're getting tons of spam comments. I'm spending too much time moderating them.


 One of the glorious benefits of writing a blog for anyone who cares to read it is that sometimes your open access leads to being slimed and spammed by gutless anonymous web wankers. I'm getting so tired of it that I'm considering drastic measures. Maybe drinking a lot more red wine so that I can't even bother to care about the recent groundswell of trash, I'll be too busy thrashing out medical problems.  Or perhaps the best approach is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to hunt down the physical location of the spammers and then drop in with Mitch Rapp, Court Gentry and Dominic Caruso (all of their "heads on a swivel" ---swear to God, I've read that line in every action novel out there) and laying waste to their homes and offices with heavy weapons and even heavier action text and dialog. (reference to action heroes from three different novel/thriller franchises).

But mostly I think I'll just use this space to ask the spammer nicely, "Please Stop." Go and spam someone else. Maybe Tony Northrup or Jared Polin. They probably have staff that have time to read your stuff...

If it continues (and seriously, I'm getting from dozens to massive dozens per day) I'll just shut down the comments for a while and you sweet and loyal VSL readers can call me on my land line and give me your comments and thoughts directly.

I  hope it doesn't come to that. Not that I don't want to hear from you but I'd be chained to my desk. And I'd have to presume the spammers will start calling too..... grrrrr.

Have any of you ever, ever had your e-mail spammed (big cynical smiley face implied)?

Nikon D800x known weakness and cheap fix.


I recently bought two used Nikon D800 series cameras; a plain vanilla D800 and a spiffy D800e. I'm happy with the handling and the file quality and I've read on the web that these cameras are rugged and well built. There is a caveat to that though... According to my most trusted expert on used cameras and camera repair (he runs a very busy rental, trade-in and repair counter for a very successful camera store) the D800 (and above) cameras have on weakness that he's seen repeatedly over the years since their launch. Where the D700 camera had a solid, metal construction across the inside, bottom of the camera, which made it nearly impervious to blows to the bottom of the camera, the D800's+ have a two piece construction that is fairly susceptible to a hard knock delivered to the bottom of the camera. Once a camera gets a hard enough impact to the bottom it becomes, for all intents and purposes, dead. Yes, you could get the unit repaired but at a cost which would most likely exceed the cost of replacing it with another used copy.

While I am pretty careful and conscientious with my cameras (I don't hang three around my neck and do the photojournalist hustle, with cameras banging against each other....) I have made mistakes from time to time which may have endangered a camera or two.

So, how to protect a usable tool from accidental, deadly impact damage? I thought about this long and hard and decided that the answer lay in more armor. When I bought the D800e it came with a Nikon Branded MB-D12 battery grip. This seemed like the perfect solution to prevent bottom of camera impact and so I've left it on. I went to buy another one to put on the bottom of the second camera only to find that price for a new Nikon MB-D12 grip is the princely sum of $429, at new, retail. While that might be reasonable (probably not) if you were buying a new camera package, and also were interested in using bigger batteries in the grip, it is certainly not rational to pay what amounts to the price of a decent APS-C camera for a bit of extra structural "padding" at the bottom of one's camera!

I checked around on the web, found and bought an aftermarket version that got mostly 5 star reviews on Amazon.com, for a whopping $39, delivered in two days. It fits on the bottom of the camera and seems made from the same materials as the Nikon version. It works well and did not drain the camera battery overnight, or do anything else untoward. While my interest is only in camera protection I'm a bit happier having the battery grips on when it comes to shooting in a vertical orientation. It's nice to have the vertical shutter release...

My intention is to use it as I use the Nikon grip on the other camera; as armor plating against possible impact damage to the camera's bottom. My Nikon branded grip came to me used and did not have the battery trays for one extra lithium battery or six, in-grip, double "A" batteries, but the new one has trays for both. I'll load up both kinds of batteries just as a test but I find that one battery, in camera, makes the overall package lighter and lasts for at least half a day of heavy photographic work. If I were to use the cameras for video I'd see a much, much faster battery drain but that's not my intended use for the Nikons.

That's my known issue report on these particular Nikons. There was one other issue with early D800s which was well covered in the media and that is a focus issue where one part of the frame is not exactly parallel with the other, resulting in one sided focus issues. I've tested both new/used cameras and they are free of this malady.

Now we're back out into the real world with the cameras and even less concerned about their safety...

5.12.2018

Join me in late October for a really cool (literally and figuratively) 9 day workshop in Iceland. Pretty amazing stuff. Photography, travel and food. What else can you ask for?

http://www.crafttours.com/trips/?page=iceland_photography_1018

I'm ready.



All photos ©ODL Design. All ©ODL Design. 


After shooting through a winter storm in Canada, in February, I've learned how to dress for the cold. I'm practicing eating Icelandic fare and I'm looking forward to exploring all the nooks and crannies of photography with like minded shooters. Come along for the ride and we'll have a great time.


A Giant Chicken got into my Studio this Afternoon. I chased it around and cornered it on the white seamless. Then I photographed it....

So, there I was in the studio when I heard a bunch of squawking and opened the door. In rushed a giant chicken with balloons tied to its wings. "What the hell?" was my first response but soon I was able to corner the chicken and corral him onto the white seamless background I'd set up this morning for no particular reason. Just opposite the lights I also set up for no discernible reason at all.

Actually, this is world famous actor and playwright, Jaston Williams, who co-wrote, co-produced and co-starred in TUNA TEXAS and A TUNA CHRISTMAS; two hilarious plays that have toured almost every major city in the United States. He called yesterday to see if we could do a quick shoot for a play he'll be opening in San Antonio in the next few weeks. I have no idea why there is a chicken suit but, anything Jaston is in I'll go see. He oozes comedy.

I need to see if he'll make me a pair of those incredible "fins", they may be just what I need for the next swim practice.

This is what I do on Saturdays when I am taking time off and relaxing. Kinda.

Weird gear brief: Neewer Vision 4 lights, Nikon D800e camera, crusty, old Tamron 28-75mm f2.8 zoom lens. Not much post. GIRIC (get is right in camera!).

Keeping Austin Weird. One Photo Assignment at a Time.

Big, soft lights mean big catch lights. Do we retouch them? Do we blot the catchlights out in PhotoShop? What's a photographer to do?


This is an image of Heidi that we did for my second book; the one about studio lighting. The image is an example of the look you get when you use a very large lighting modifier close in to your subject. There is a beautiful light playing across her face and it falls off as you go from the left to the right of the image. By putting up a black velvet light subtractor to the left of frame (the right side as you look at it here) I was able to get a nice and dramatic shadow on the left side of her face, in spite of the inclusive nature of the light source.

The only thing that might give a viewer pause would be the size and brightness of the catchlights (the reflection of the big lighting modifier (a six foot umbrella) or any light source in the eyes). It's an ongoing issue because the catchlights will be there unless you go in and retouch the image. With a natural light source I am almost always inclined to leave the catchlights as they are. It's only in studio lit portraits that I waffle. I like to leave them but some clients expect them to be gone. It's worth a discussion with the people commissioning the work.

Here's the image, edited quickly, who NO catchlights:


Finally, here's an image (just below), edited even more quickly, that shows a compromise between the two extremes. There is no "right" way and I chaff at most retouching of things that occur in the actual shooting, but I'm curious to hear what others think. Not that I'll change the way I do stuff but......

I have switched to back button AF, so there is that....


5.11.2018

Still thinking about composition. Half the frame is content the other half is non-tent.

This is a photo of novel writer, singer and sometimes political candidate for Texas Governor, Kinky Friedman. He's an Austin icon. I had a good time wrangling him into the studio and getting him to sit still (almost impossible) and usually I talk about the gear I use to shoot something like this or how I lit the shot. But lately I've been more interested in composition.

As I examine more and more of my older, square compositions I can see that there is a balance between the amount of space my subjects occupy and how much is left over. It seems, usually, to be a 50:50 balance between the two, which much make sense to some part of my brain.

The bonus, for me in this photo, is the wonderful diagonal of Kinky's black hat. Nothing I planned but maybe most portrait moves are better explained by the book, "Blink" by Malcolm Gladwell....

Thoughts?

kirktuck.com

5.10.2018

The folder full of sky.


I was mentoring a younger photographer who was hellbent on being an architectural photographer. I have no interest in architecture beyond hoping that architects concentrate on making the buildings and houses that I must look at everyday.....pleasant and interesting. I'm not at all into conceptual architecture but happy when it only exists in plans.

At any rate, I've done at least several hundred assignments for magazines, home builders and industrial builders, documenting the interiors and exteriors of all kinds of structures. For nearly everyone of those assignments I used a some kind of 4x5 inch view cameras and had mostly mastered the quick use of front and rear standard rises and falls. Almost all the assignments were done on film.

So I was showing the photographer how and why to use the rise on his tilt/shift lens and we started talking about a job he'd just done. He was a bit miffed with the results because the house he was assigned to photograph could only be done on a specific day, and that day had been plagued with a bald, ozone-y sky. The light on the house was fine but the sky was a whitish-gray mess.

I suggested that he just grab a good sky from his files and drop it in behind the house. This is the age of PhotoShop, after all. He didn't have a "sky' folder. He immediately went into male photographer problem solving mode = (Google) and started looking for stock skies. I just shook my head.

I think every working, commercial, professional photographer; no matter what their specialty, should have a folder on their computer that's filled to the brim with high res shots of skies. Morning skies, evening skies, big Texas Cloud skies, glowering thunderhead skies, high/thin/cloud skies and every other sky you can think of. In fact, when I'm out roaming around and I see a rich, blue Texas sky dotted with dramatic white clouds I can't grab my camera and a normal (or slightly wide) lens quickly enough.

This is not just advice for architecture photographers; I drop in backgrounds if I'm doing a portrait in an office that has a spectacular view that just hasn't materialized during my shoot.

If you don't already have a sky file you  probably need one and now is a great time to start. It will come in handy. Eventually you'll have an emergency sky for every occasion. We still try to get every photograph just right, in the camera, but schedules, clients, weather and bad view angles sometimes frustrate our best intentions. Dip into the file, make a new layer and fix things up.

Just remember to match the saturation of the sky to the rest of the file and to toss the sky layer out of focus if it makes logical sense.

Several years later the younger photographer dropped by for a visit. I reviewed at his portfolio. It looked great. He told me that half the images in his "book" were made with dropped-in skies and the other half were shot as straight. To his credit I could not tell which was which. He thanked me profusely and we both went outside to see if there was any sky worth shooting.....

Contrast for composition.


I'm going to bet that if we measured the space Lou takes up in the frame and subtracted it from the total area of the photograph that the subject area, and the area for the rest of the frame, would be close to a 50:50, balanced split. Somehow I think this works. It's fun when you try for a compositional effect and it actually works...




5.09.2018

Jobs don't just wrap up when the shooting ends and the galleries get delivered. More stuff happens.

Amy sits in while we light and comp for a photo at a medical practice.

I'm beginning to think I need to re-brand as a full service advertising agency. More and more of my clients are having a hard time coming to grips with what kind of value a traditional advertising agency brings to the table. They'd like to have a single point of contact that can supply all the content they need, and with a uniform look and feel for their brand. But they are chaffing at continuing with agencies which seem to only want to concentrate and "strategize" around social media and web video.

One of the clients I've been working with recently met me five years ago when a small marketing agency brought us together so I could light and shoot video interviews of their executive team, and then also shoot traditional photographs, to use on their website, and in brochures and presentations. The agency, and the video editing house that did the post production on the client's video, both went out of business but the client did not. Nor did I.

The client (a manufacturing concern) got in touch with me last month and wanted to do a complete refresh of their materials. They had expanded their scope of services, changed some key personnel, and even added a new factory location outside the U.S. I was delighted that they wanted to have me back for more work but I quickly found that most clients without ad agencies are experts at their own business but usually much less adept at the fine points (and details required) to pull all the marketing together and make it work.

I'm used to working with art directors and graphic designers who love to see all the options from a photography or video shoot. If we shoot 1,000 images and I edit out all the stinkers and end up with 500 equally good (technically and aesthetically) photographs the art directors generally want to see all the variations. They may be looking at our collection with a very specific layout in mind. They may want a different expression than I might value. But most importantly they are very efficient at looking through lots of options to narrow down to just the right one. And they generally know it when they see it.

With the client I mentioned above the CEO is trying to do all the heavy lifting for marketing but he doesn't have the background and experience that a first tier art director would. For example, when I supplied the first gallery of images from one of our shoots he asked if I had already cropped all the images. When I told him that the art directors usually crop the images so they fit into specific layouts he seemed a bit lost. He also wanted me to edit down to just the single "best" image of each set up so he could quickly pick what he needed. Again, this is something we would have an art director do.

We need to reconstruct a video for him as well but the companies that had the original footage and motion graphics are no longer around. I'm walking the CEO through the process to the realization that you can't really just chop new stuff together with the original copy as it exists on YouTube; that we'd need to start more or less from scratch.

The company, while prosperous, isn't making much use at all of social media or inbound marketing either. While it looks like a big opportunity for someone to step in, provide good direction, make great content, and more or less lead the client through the marketing minefield I constantly remind myself that Just because somebody tosses you a ball doesn't mean you have to catch it.

I'll hang in there with this client while I try to find them a good, competent, collaborative agency to take over the day-to-day stuff that clients of this size really do require. I'm not a proficient website designer so that's got to be a priority. I'm not a graphic designer/art director so that's a priority as well. In fact, if I stick with what I do best it's going to be photography, copywriting and shooting video; in that order.

But if I try to do it all I will run out of time for the stuff I love to do. Like swimming. And the people I need to take care of. Like my dad.

Another client represents the way we've always worked but reminds me that no job is ever really finished....if the images are good, have lasting value to the client and have legs.

We shot on three different Saturdays and one Thursday for a medical specialty client here in Austin that has over 140 doctors/partners on the rolls. Under the direction of the in-house art director, Amy and I shot over 3,000 images which we edited down to about 1,500. We shot multiple teams of technicians and doctors doing multiple processes in multiple locations. And we supplied lots of detail shots that are like candy to the people designing the final work...

After the shoot we edited down the take, globally color corrected and adjusted tonality and detail, and generally made all the images immediately usable. We don't do any retouching until final images have been selected and ordered.

The galleries went up and a few weeks later the client ordered 40+ files to be retouched. The retouching had nothing to do with the quality of the images or the way they were shot but had to do with specifics that the client wanted changed. These would be things like taking a large tattoo off a nurse's arm, changing the wall color in the background. Changing the color of someone's scrubs. Fixing a fault with a doctor's white coat. Adding an embroidered name to said doctor's white coat, removing patient names from a screen file, removing wear marks from a piece of equipment, giving one talent in an image a specific hair cut and much more. Each file could take up to 30 minutes to change and perfect. Of course, we bill for this service and the clients expect to pay for it.

But if you have enough clients and they all choose different images to use in additional projects (different images and usages than the original project) you might find that the process of re-working and re-editing files to be nearly endless. Again, the scheduling problem with swimming.....

I am currently re-working files for three different clients who liked what we shot enough to re-use parts of the original takes in very different, new projects. Yesterday I got a request to prep about 200 files. Most are just minor adjustments that I can make quickly but some require more attention.

The wags among us would immediately bark out that all of this should have been handled in pre-production but they miss the point of the 21st century: clients changing their minds after the shoot. Then there are budget constraints and impossibility constraints. Yes, we could have had the wall in the Sonogram room re-painted. It would have taken time to get everyone to pre-agree on a paint color, agree on which days we might have access to the room to paint it and let paint dry (no patients=no income) and then to re-paint the wall back to its original color once our half hour in that location was complete. Not going to happen in the present era. Not when art directors are keenly aware of what can be done in post production.

We did one job for a Swiss bio-medical research company nearly a year ago and almost quarterly we get requests to re-purpose dozens of images to be used in new ways. And it's the same with video. While we remember the days when we did our jobs, got the clients to sign off on the "approval Polaroid", processed the film and handed off the sheet film (and all future responsibility) to the client, cashed our checks and closed the books on a project, that's not today's business reality.

The important thing to do in order to survive endless re-purposing is to be like lawyers. Keep track of your time, bill frequently and bill accurately. Clients need to know that every time we touch a file for them it takes resources. Our time and their money.

While I think a creative content agency would work well in today's agency climate, where most "agencies" just want to design and produce websites, I remember just how much work it was to manage staff and keep clients from fucking everything up at the last minute. I think I'll just persist in making photos and shooting random video. It seems like a safer bet for my sanity and quality of life....Now to find my goggles. Don't worry, I have many more pairs of goggles than I do cameras.

A long overdue walk with a recently neglected camera. Breaking the cycle of full frame dominance.

Downtown Cadillac. 

I've been busy lately. One of the things I've missed was the simple pleasure of taking a camera off the shelf and heading downtown to walk around, breathe deeply the urban air, and look at stuff with both arch elitism and benign naivetĂ©. 

I pulled on some old short pants and a black polo shirt. I looked very bit of 62 years old with my white socks and brown oxford shoes. I finished off the "you kids get the hell off my lawn" look with a nice pair of bifocal eyeglasses. Oh, and a baseball cap. Nothing says "I don't really care anymore" than a nicely mismatched ensemble of too casual ware. At least the camera was topical and chic...

After weeks of dalliance and intrigue with the various Nikons I thought I'd take it easy with a camera that delivers the goods without affectation or strain. I chose the Panasonic GH5 because I missed it and I also realized that I'd purchased a Sigma 30mm f1.4 Art lens for that system back in early January and the chaos for me at the beginning of the year meant that I've barely used that lens. Almost overlooked it entirely. 

A quick aside about this building: It was originally a hotel. It was originally built in the 1930's and was actually named, the California Hotel!!!  It's located on East 7th Street in the downtown bar area. Many years ago a group of artists got a lease on the property and renovated it (more or less). We had a huge downstairs display space as well as a smaller gallery for more intimate art shows. There was a commercial kitchen in the back. We never air conditioned the building and we never added an indoor shower either. The shower was in the back courtyard and the "air conditioning" consisted of cheap fans from the hardware store. At one time an art director from Texas Monthly Magazine had her painting studio her, across the hall from my one room, upstairs, studio and living space (a futon I could roll up if I needed to shoot). Musician, Charlie Sexton had a room in the left top corner while mine was on the right. We also had the curator of the Laguna Gloria Museum in residence as well as any number of wonderfully eccentric artists. I started hanging out and working here in the late 1970's, early 1980's. This was home to my first solo photography show. I made my first "important" portrait here (a 4x5 format portrait of Mike Levy, then publisher of Texas Monthly Magazine) and I did my first photo-illustration assignment for Texas Monthly in the down stairs gallery. I left after I got a teaching assistant's position at UT. The dream of air conditioning was finally realized. The nostalgia for a simpler time remains.

I've a new convert to the "back button focus" cult. I tried it out on the Nikons, liked disconnecting the shutter from the AF and decided to see if the same set up was possible on the Panasonics. It is! In the space of several weeks I've gone from having everything tied to the shutter button and shooting only in center-sensor-single-frame AF to full on, full area AF in continuous AF. It's a weird pleasure to watch the little green boxes race around the confines of the EVF until I let go of the back button and realize that we're locked in until I decide to change something. I like it. No more focus and re-compose. I feel unfettered. The camera feels unleashed. Let the torrents of "I told you so..." begin. 


I had another "mini-epiphany" this morning. I decided, after looking through some of the 550,000 images I have up on my Smugmug.com account, that I tend to post process my images to be too bright, too flat and a bit too saturated. I spent this morning talking myself off the ledge of infinite shadow recovery. Tougher than kicking other bad habits but something to work on all the same. 

The image just above, of café chairs and planters is my attempt to ratchet down the drama to an acceptable level. I need to work on getting the mix just right but at least it's a start...


I have a few observations to make about the lens. The Sigma 30mm f1.4 "Art" lens is nicely sharp and contrasty. It's big but lightweight. The supplied hood is nice and deep. Images like the ones in this blog post aren't really a challenge for many lenses since most were shot at f4.5 or around there. I've been shooting some at the wide open aperture and find that, where I am focused, the content is nearly as sharp and contrasty as that at the medium apertures. I like the lens and the focal length very much; even more so when I use the camera in "Hasselblad Square" mode. The focal length seems just right for the square format. 

With my appreciation of this lens realized I am looking forward to trying out its wider sibling, the 16mm version. They, along with the legendary 60mm f2.8 Sigma lens would make a very nice and compact traveling system for the photographer who prefers individual focal lengths over zooms. 





Today is post production and studio cleaning day. My swim is done, my walk is over. Now to put my brain back into the game of doing my business and getting stuff done. At least until late afternoon...It's my turn to cook dinner and I've got steak and salad on my mind. Along with a nice, S. African red wine (a blend) that's just begging to be uncorked...

Go Cameras!