2.19.2018

OT: An observation about political observations. A very short blog.



For many years I have listened to people refer to the ebb and flow of partisan politics as akin the swinging of pendulum where one side or party, having secured the right kind of leverage, takes their pet policies and runs with them, outpacing the general electorate which eventually reacts to the lopsidedness of the new paradigm and pulls the whole process back to the other side. More or less analogous to a sine wave. At some point we conjecture that there is a stable middle ground which is largely logical but never attainable. One theory is that the amplitude of the changes will eventually become smaller and smaller and somehow logic and reason will have us all meeting closer and closer to this theoretical middle ground.

In capitalism we often talk about cycles. In commercial real estate, in which I have some long experience, the accepted wisdom is that we tend to overbuild, panic and then overcorrect, which leads to a shortage of inventory which then leads to overbuilding, followed by surpluses and panic and then the inevitable overcorrection. General consensus is that this is a seven to ten year cycle in most parts fo the U.S.

Cycles, Sine Waves, Pendular Swings. This all makes our politics sound like an arena where the majority of Americans are making changes to their own perspectives and changing their point of view on issues with a degree of flexibility and open-mindedness that I have rarely seen in "the real world."

It dawned on me yesterday that, where politics is concerned, the model of the constituent swing is just wrong. The real model is a giant 24/7 tug of war over an open pit of hot lava. Each side straining and pulling to gain ground and capture territory, inch by inch. One side gets ahead and, perhaps in a celebratory moment, is distracted for a small fraction of time. This gives the other side an advantage which they press with vigor. A big victory makes one side feel as though momentum has arrived as an ally and they can now coast a bit. The sting of a big defeat galvanizes the other side to pull harder to capture back lost territory. People on either side either let go of the rope in a play for self-preservation or are pulled into the lava and die a quick and excruciating death.

But the real point is that the opposing teams rarely loss their team members to the other side. Defections are rare. Minds are not changed. The rope, the struggles is the only thing that energizes each side. The struggle is continually energized by millions on either side.

In the theory that there is a natural ebb and flow there is effort followed by a period in which the fruits of one's labor (or ideology) can be savored with a respite from the process. The wave will continue, supposedly, until it hits its natural peak and then ebb back. The pendulum will swing too far, slow toward its furthest travel in one direction and then accelerate back in the other direction.

But in the tug of war lava pit theory there is no real respite only the struggle and the commensurate balancing of two divergent views on either side of the philosophical lava pit.

That's all I was thinking about today.

2.16.2018

"Best Ever!" "Breathtaking" "The new Fuji camera has finally arrived". The line for the newest Fuji camera starts .... right behind me. Gotta be an X-H1 or I'll go to the floor right now and throw a tantrum.

Here's my breathtaking and highly original announcement. You heard it here on the VSL blog. This may be one of many decent cameras to be announced in 2018. It may be even better for some uses than other cameras which will also be announced. It's possible that some people will take good photographs with it.

so. Where's my "real world" "hands on first impression" "what you need to know" review?  Okay, I've got this. Here's my "I've read the same press release as everyone else so I'll take a stab at summarizing how I feel about a camera I've never seen" journalism:

Here's what I was working on here at the studio 14 years ago. They are semiconductor chip dies. They're about an eighth of an inch across. Sneeze too close to the set and you'll lose one...


Are you looking for a good test of your patience, you lighting skills, your manual dexterity and you photographic technique? You might want to try your hand at the devilishly hard process of photographing the innards of microprocessor and micro controller chips. If they are lit correctly you can get some interesting patterns and colors. But you'll need to get a lot more magnification than you'll get out of that 50mm macro lens attached directly to your DSLR camera....

At one point back in 2004 we were photographing eight or ten sets of chip dies a month for the folks at Motorola. They had two big fabs in Austin and it was a time in which the hardware side of the tech business was booming. 

I'd get a phone call from someone in marketing and I'd head over an pick up a heavy duty plastic container with tiny, tiny little squares of silicon with even tinier photo etched circuits on them. The clients needed clean, colorful photographs that they could blow up big and use in printed brochures and magazines, and it was always a bonus if we could make them high enough resolution to print onto 4x4 foot wall posters. It was always a big "ask" with a miniature deadline. 

I'd haul the little squares back to the studio and start assembling the macro rig. A very rigid copy stand with a camera holder on rails so that one had two levels of control of lowering the camera toward the subject. But between the camera and the subject was a bellow that sometimes extended nearly twelve inches along with a specialized macro lens that was optimized for magnifications between 3x and 8x life-size. 

There were three hellacious speed bumps we had to deal with on almost every job. One was getting hard light onto the subject from just the right angle to create a visual representation of the information on the surface (actually, several layers of surface). The second challenge was to keep the small (and very light) wafer in place and plano-parallel to the lens stage and the "film" stage of the camera. We cheated and used a little bit of spray mount painted on a holder surface with a toothpick. 

We had to secure the chip so we could "puff" it with compressed air just before shooting so we could make sure that we didn't get giant piles of dust in the photo. Retouching was out of the question. Too much fine detail. 

If we used compressed air on an un-anchored die it would go flying off into the infinite clutter of the studio.

The colors and the details were dependent not just on the angle of the lights but also on the aperture of the lens. Diffraction and fall off limited anything smaller than f5.6 and sometimes our best shots were at the widest aperture of f2.8. Changing apertures meant that the focus changed and that meant a whole new round of re-focusing. 

The final challenge was vibration and movement from the camera shutter. When the chip sizes went under a certain size we started to depend on opening the shutter with a black card under the lens, moving the black card and counting out "one elephant, two elephant...." and then replacing the card. No vibration --- as long as we didn't touch anything. 

If I was lucky I could get a good shot in a couple of hours. All of these images are from the same chip product. They are a result of changing the light angles, changing the elevation of the lights and changing the size of the light surface. The experiments (and re-focusing would go on until I got a handful of successful images and then it would be another hour in post processing. 

We started doing this kind of work back in the film days. A really good chip die shot could take a day to get just right because every bout of trial and error required Polaroid testing and then more testing. 

Our first foray into chip shooting was for the Apple/IBM/Motorola consortium that came together to create the RISC based PowerPC chip family. The last Motorola conference I attended was still using an 8x8 foot blow up of the original PowerPC chip I had taken (on large format film) nearly a decade earlier... 

A bigger challenge was getting a good die shot of the first IBM multi-core processor. Security in the pre-announcement stage was so high I had to take all my stuff and head over to their offices where I juggled a full sized 12 inch wafer filled with the little squares while a marketing person hovered close by. We processed the images on site and then they "helped" me to erase my CF card just in case....

Makes for a pretty iron clad NDA. 





2.15.2018

Large product shot. Very large product shot.


I'm a fan of using cameras correctly. In many instances a really cheap camera, use right, can create files that look much, much better than a very expensive, state-of-the-art camera. If you take a decent camera, get the white balance zero'd in correctly, figure out exactly where you want to place the depth of field and then put the whole shebang on a sturdy tripod you'd be hard pressed to tell the difference between a Phase One medium format camera and, well, a micro-four thirds camera.

This is, ostensibly, a simple shot. Just hang out about three feet outside the door of the room (the powerful magnetic field created by the newest generation of MRI machines can turn innocent cameras and tripods into deadly, high speed projectiles.... think: rail gun. Also, subject to the inverse square law....) and shoot to your heart's content.

Except... the machine and the room are only illuminated by relatively few compact fluorescent bulbs stuck in ceiling cans and distributed around the room just where you don't want them... The room had deep, dark shadows and areas of burnt out highlights. This became apparent when I shot my first test frame.

Without being able to light the room we needed to work with what we had and what the camera could supply us for leverage.

I switched from my usual RAW file camera setting to the finest Jpeg setting so I could take advantage of the Panasonic GH5's built-in HDR setting. Then I took a series of exposures at different starting settings so I could evaluate the sweet spot (or sweet frame) where the highest resisted burn-out but the shadow were opened up enough so that, with a little more boost in PhotoShop, I'd be able to create files that we liked.

I used the camera on a smaller Gitzo tripod about two and a half feet off the floor. I originally composed the shot a bit wider than shown here so I could crop and correct perspective. I used the Panasonic/Leica 8-18mm lens because I depended on its ability to help me fine tune final composition. The built-in level helped me keep the shot from being too wacky.

For safety's sake I also shot a bracket of RAW shots with the idea that I could blend them in post production if my in camera HDR didn't make the grade.

At f5.6 and an ISO of 200 all of the parts of the machine that I think should be sharply focused are. The lower ISO goes a long way to equalizing the quality between a shot in this format and an equivalent shot done with a full frame camera in that the full frame system would require me to stop down two more stop in order to get the same depth of field. Probably not critical in this show as we could have dragged the shutter on the full frame camera to make the exposures equal. But nice to be able to use a lens in its optimum aperture range and still get the deep focus required without worrying about the effects of diffraction.

This was the first of many shots we did that day. Some with people and some without.

This shot prompted me to go back and look at a shot we'd done back in 1988 for Central Texas Medical Center. They had just gotten a CT Scanner (no magnetic/kinetic danger...) and part of a brochure assignment was to take a sexy photo of that machine. It was the age of color filters and 4x5 sheet film.

CT Scanner. Circa 1988.

I was working with art director, Belinda Yarritu, on a brochure project for a new hospital in central Texas. It was located in San Marcos, Texas. During the course of the day we shot a beautiful mom and baby in a maternity room setting, nurses with geriatric patients, earnest looking doctors, spiffy looking lobbies and much more. But the most technical shot we did that day was in the CT Scanner area you see above. 

We shot everything that day on 4x5 transparency sheet film because, well, that's just the way advertising shots that might end up as double truck spreads were done back then. We were also hauling around 2 Norman 2,000 watt second power packs and a box full of flash heads. 

The shot above was done on a Linhof 4x5 using a 90mm lens stopped down to about f32. I wanted to get as much in focus as I could. We used four flash heads running off two 30 pound power packs and, as you can see, we used a mess of filters. 

We were shooting ISO 64 sheet film and my meter reading told me we'd need to turn out the room lights and modeling lights and hit the power packs for four separate exposures to get enough light onto the film; we were battling reciprocity failure at the f-stop I wanted to use. We also had to put black velvet over the computer screen for the flash shots and then do a separate exposure for the actual screen information (screen on the right, just to the right of the phone...). So, four pops for the room and about 10 seconds for the screen. Sadly, Polaroid had much quicker reciprocity failure and wasn't as useful as an exposure tool for lighting situations like this. 

The shot at the top of the blog took about three minutes. Lighting and testing a shooting the shot on film, just above, was probably 45 minutes to an hour of time. A lot has changed. 

It's fun to see the difference over 30 years... It was a different and less sophisticated market back then. 




2.13.2018

A more visceral story about using the Panasonic GH5. Not a technically accurate but barren assessment of an interesting camera.



Bloggers and reviewers of cameras tend to direct their attention to things that are measurable and comparable and, if you are into charts, graphs and measurements, this can certainly be interesting and entertaining but lately, when I'm looking for something fun to read about my hobby of photography I find myself wanting to read more about the personality of a camera or the the way in which the object itself (the camera) changed, amplified or even ruined the creative process of shooting photographs for the writer. I found myself thinking, "Tell me why this camera is your companion. Tell me stories about how you spend your time with your camera. Tell me why, after years of experience, this is the camera for you." 

There was a time when the best image making cameras on the market were also the biggest. Think back to the Nikon D3x or the Canon EOS-1Dmk3. These were the cameras that really pioneered the higher resolution sensors but they did so in frightfully expensive, bulky and ungainly packages. If you wanted the highest performance you just sucked it up, went broke, and carried around a beast.

I think most of us agree these days that the majority of cameras using modern sensors have passed over the bar which stands between sufficiently good for just about everything and "non-starter."

So just what is it that I like about the GH5 (and also the GH4)?  

When I walked into Precision Camera to see the first GH5 I was already shooting a different system; one which checked all the techno-boxes for low noise, high resolution, high bit depth, and superb detail. It was everything a technocrat could love in a camera system and I should have been happy with it but there was always the niggling feeling that the way it felt in my hands was a bit off. A bit sloppy and possessed of too many sharp corners and hard edges. It also felt a bit chintzy. As though a good, bumpy bike ride might put its internal parts out of whack.

That system was a bit schizophrenic. Its mirrorless heritage must have made the original designers feel that it should be smaller than DSLRs, as though the smaller profile would be a selling point. At the same time, in order to go toe-to-toe with the DSLR competitors the lenses (needing to cover full frame) were as ponderous and hefty as those made for all the other full frame systems; and pricier into the bargain. So, if I wanted a good performing long zoom I could by either a f4 or f2.8 version of a 70-200mm zoom, either of which dwarfed the cameras on which I could use them. It was a system of imbalances for me.

The camera system I owned a generation before that was a "professional" DSLR centric system featuring bodies and accessories that were big, obvious, inelegant and ungainly. If you wanted to play at the popular culture's version of a professional photographer you certainly couldn't go wrong strapping a bunch of these heavy bodies and lenses over your shoulders and across your torso. But you could write off any sort of discreet presentation because the sheer bulk of the system denied you any camouflage. It was essentially camera as theater.

So, when I decided that all interchangeable lens camera systems had hit the point where 95% of my jobs could be satisfied with any of them I circled back to the smaller systems. After 30 years of hauling around way too much gear I was interested in acquiring a new generation of equipment that would just get out of the way. And that could be packed in bags I could carry for miles without wanting to change careers.

I looked at the Olympus cameras but, truth be told, without the addition of battery grips those cameras are just too small to be comfortable for me. I've owned many different Olympus bodies over the years and enjoyed the files I got from them but I wanted more space for my hands, more space for hard controls, and bodies that could be paired with heavy duty, professional lenses (some of them from Olympus) and not feel ultimately unbalanced.

When the person on the other side of the counter at the camera store handed me the GH5, fitted with a 12-35mm f2.8 lens, I was immediately struck by how well it fit in my hands, how nicely the controls were laid out and also how solid the camera felt, structurally. But the proof is in the daily using....

I'm a traditionalist so once I unboxed the camera and charged the batteries I was ready to do my first bit of customization to make the camera familiar to me. I took one look at the crappy, promotional neck strap supplied with the camera, logo emblazoned in 72 point, red type, and I threw it into the trash. There must be something in every camera maker's marketing department that requires them to leave good taste at home when considering the look (and feel) of camera straps. The are all uniformly ugly and just scream, "free marketing." 

My preference is for the pedestrian Tamrac strap with integrated leather shoulder pad. Not a big pad and not a pad of contrasting color but just enough black dyed leather to give good purchase on the shoulder of a cotton shirt or wool jacket. Nothing fancy and certainly not the childish, faux military visual aggression of something like the laughable Black Rapid (camera killer) Strap. I have the Tamrac straps on every camera I own and they are like a warm handshake at the beginning of every use.

The first thing the survivor of a lesser camera body notices is that the GH5 is the round peg in the round hole. The size is perfect. Not so small as to cause your pinky fingers to curl up and cramp and not so big as to cause casual bystanders to point and gawk. Not so ubiquitously branded that everyone's uncle wants to come up and talk to you about his camera model from the same company.  No, it's the perfect size for a usable camera that can accompany you with little fanfare (or drama) as you glide through life.

I was unpacking and getting ready to shoot in a medical clinic a week or so ago. My assistant was setting up three mono light flashes on stands while I pulled one of the three Panasonic bodies I brought with me out of the small backpack in which they travel. I twisted off the body cap and put it back into the bag. I selected the Olympus 12-100mm f4.0 Pro lens as my top choice for my first shots of the day and I put it on the camera. The next step was to flick the power switch on and start checking my settings.

I wanted to make sure the image stabilization was turned on, that I was shooting raw and that I had all the parameters for the files set the way I like them so I can make good assessments as I go. Next, two v90 memory cards get loaded into their slots and each is formatted. The touchscreen on the LCD makes whipping through the menus incredibly quick and easy and it doesn't hurt that the menus are easy on the brain. No Roswellian menu icons here....

With the camera and lens configured I put the strap over my left shoulder and start walking around the facility figuring out how I'll shoot. I see something I want to make a visual note of and I reach down for the camera. I leave it on all the time while I'm shooting so there's no wait state when I'm ready to use it. I feel my right hand instinctively wrap around the grip and, cradling the bottom of the camera with my left hand I bring it up to my eye. The finder image is perfect. The best I've used.

The left side of the camera has a big, smooth space that comes in handy if I need to switch to a vertical orientation. It sits in the palm of my left hand while I work the controls with my right. While the 12-100mm is bigger than most of the primes it's not that big when you factor in what it does. And the bigger size of the GH5 makes it more comfy to use than the cameras in the lens's own system.

I'm standing on my tiptoes peering into the EVF of the GH5 and trying to set up a shot and get the composition just right. The camera is locked on a tripod and I've got it set just exactly right. But I realize I need to dial in about -2/3 stop of exposure compensation. Without having to ( or being able to) see the top panel to find the button for exposure compensation I find it immediately by touch.  I know the button is the right one because it's one of three buttons just behind the control wheel at the top of the handgrip. It's not the dedicated White Balance button because that one is on the left of the three and is tactilely identifiable by its taller profile and rounded surface.  I know it's not the dedicated ISO button because that button has two small prongs that gently remind your index finger that this is the button you push to change sensitivity. You know your finger is on the exposure compensation button because it's more flush (almost indented) and smaller than its two mates.

Since I'm attempting to fine tune exposure and there is a human in the shot and I want to see something other than just a histogram or in-camera meter indication while I'm setting exposure comp. I remember that I've set the function button just behind the row of three dedicated buttons(just above) to turn on zebras and toggle them through different strengths. I set zebras to 85, get them to start doing their thing on the talent's flesh tones in the finder and then roll down the exposure comp until the zebras disappear. I want to be 1/3 to 1/2 stop under the point where the zebras stop flashing to make certain that caucasian flesh tones render correctly. Once set I hit the button again so I don't get annoyed at having to look at the zebras in the finder as I shoot.

With two ultra-fast V90, UHS-II SD cards in their slots the camera is amazingly responsive. The buffer seems to clear instantly. I'm never waiting for the camera.

The camera comes off the tripod so we can shoot super close and super wide and see a technician through the parts of a medical scanning device. I use the 8-18mm lens to get as close to the machine as possible. The lighting is low so we can read the function lights on the control panel of the machine. I need to use a slow shutter speed to keep the ISO down but the camera inspires confidence. If everyone stays still we can pull off some pretty amazing slow shutter speed shots. I try a bracket of shots around 1/8th of a second and 1/15th of a second. They are all sharply detailed. The in-body image stabilization works very well.

We're moving quickly now and I've got the camera around my neck and several speed lights set up to provide soft lighting for a series of quick portraits. Sticking the flash trigger in the hot shoe causes the camera to cancel out of "setting effect" and gives me a nice, bright image with which to focus. I pull the trigger out of the hot shoe and set the exposure by eye using setting effect. Once the manual exposure for available light is dialed in I put the trigger back on the camera and go back to the bright viewfinder image. A quick test shot shows me a good balance between natural light and the flash. We're ready to shoot.

I'm shooting handheld and the in-body image stabilization helps to ensure that the ambient light that makes up part of the exposure doesn't show off camera movement.

It's lunch time now and I stop to check a few shots and look at the rear panel of the camera. We've had the camera on non-stop for nearly three hours and we're down to the last few bars of power indication for the battery. I change the battery out, put the camera over my shoulder on its strap and grab a sandwich and some salad from the craft service table.

My client is anxious to take a better look at the material we've been shooting so as we sit and have lunch my assistant plugs a full size HDMI cable into the port on our shooting camera and connects the other end to an Atomos Ninja Flame monitor. We're able to review our work on a big, bright screen and not worry about the smaller, inherently precarious HDMI connections available on all the other more "semi-" professional cameras on the market....

We get to shooting stills for the rest of the afternoon. Near the end of our shooting day we get a visitor to our location and he turns out to be a specialist in medical imaging. The clients asks if we can get a quick interview. She means "video" interview. I set up the camera on the monopod with fluid head which I've just recently added to the car, pin a microphone on the man's jacket and check levels and lighting. We're good to go. The client suggests starting the interview with a close-up on the machine the interviewee will be discussing and the panning and pulling focus to the talent. We set up the automatic follow focus in the camera menu, do a few rehearsals and then shoot footage with a text book perfect focus pull. Five minutes later we're wrapping the interview with some great 200 mb/s All-Intra footage and we're ready to go back to still mode to get a few more shots.

The last shot is a new MRI scanner that's an example of the latest tech in medical scanners. I'm shooting low and from just outside the door (dangerous magnetic field inside).  The composition the shot is good but the lighting is way too contrasty. I switch to the fine Jpeg setting and enable the in-camera HDR, setting it to a three stop composite. The tripod is splayed so our camera is about a foot above the floor so I'm lining everything up on the rear tilting screen and thanking the photo gods for live previews. I'm focusing manually so I can place the depth of field with greater accuracy.

Several quick tests later we've found a setting that preserves highlights, brings up some shadows and works. We bracket a set and then switch back to raw to record a back up set of images to use in case we want to do a different HDR style in PhotoShop.

It's time to wrap up so I put a red rubber band around my shooting camera and toss it back into the backpack. When I get back to the studio I'll know from the rubber band that this was the shooting camera and I'll pull the cards and battery from it. In the meantime I pull a second GH5 body from the backpack, attach my favorite lens of the day (the Contax/Zeiss 50mm f1.7) on the front, set the focal length for the IBIS and hit the menu to make sure my settings are just how I like them. This is now my personal camera and it's ready to shoot anything interesting between the client location and the studio.

This camera also has an inexpensive Tamrac strap on it. The diopter is already set to work with my new glasses. The camera feels so perfect in my hand and, as my assist drives us back to Austin I find myself unconsciously holding the camera and going over each function button, re-memorizing its exact position and loaded feature.

The camera is not so big as to be a burden or an intimidation. It's not so small that it feels squirrel-ly in one's hands. It's not overwhelmed by bigger, professional lenses but not so big that pancake lenses are dwarfed by the body.

Later that evening I went for a walk downtown and brought along the camera and the very tiny 42.5mm f1.7 Panasonic lens. I chose this lens for my walk because it was twilight and soon I'd be shooting with nothing but the illumination from street lights and shop lights. The 42.5 is pretty sharp when used wide open and amazingly sharp when used at f2.5-2.8. The lens has its own optical stabilization and it's one of the lenses whose I.S. can work in conjunction with the camera's own built-in I.S. It's a feature called, dual-axis I.S. It might not be quite as good as an Olympus EM5-II or OMD-EM-1.2 but it's clearly better than anything from the other camera makers, and not far behind Olympus....

When using this combo the EVF image is perfectly stabilized with a half-press on the shutter button. It makes composition easier because it keeps the finder image from jittering or moving around. I'm walking past a coffee shop and I see an interesting customer in the window. He's in his 60's or early 70's, is impeccably dressed and has a small stack of books in front of him on a small wooden table. He's got a book open on top of the stack and he's referencing that book while jotting something down on a yellow legal pad just to the right of the stack. I take a meter reading and it tells me I'll be shooting at f2.2 at 1/8th second at 200 ISO. I line up my shot, exhale slowly and push the shutter button. The shot is crisp and detailed. I drop the camera to my side where it dangles on the strap and I move on. The small size of the camera and its dark exterior finish blend in with the deep gray sport coat I am wearing and becomes almost invisible.

I reach down one more time to wrap my hand around the grip. It is entirely possible I've found my favorite camera body of all time.

It may not have all the bells and whistles and technical superiority (for stills) that some full frame or even APS-C camera might have but many of those attributes are mostly theoretical. Most users lack of discipline and technique water down advertised perfection.  The makers of those cameras have focused solely, it seems, on impressing us with numbers and specifications but usually at the expense of handling and pure design logic.

But let's talk about image quality for a bit. Most experts agree that the color and tonal quality of the video files at 4K run rings around their competition but most people considering this camera are apprehensive about the still image quality. It's not as good as some full frame cameras when you dial up the ISO; I get that. But in my day-to-day use that's not a vital parameter.

I got a panicky e-mail from a client yesterday. There was a photo we took last year of a doctor and his family.  A young doctor, his wife and four small kids. We took the shot in the studio. We lit it with flash. The client needed a copy in a different format. I opened the file in PhotoShop and took a quick look. I blew it up full screen and it looked good. Actually, great. I remembered that we took the image sometime during my switch of systems so I assumed it was made with a 42 megapixel Sony. I blew it up to 100% and sighed, thinking of how rich that file looked and wondering if my system change made any sense at all...

Then I looked at the metadata. Oops. It was a raw file from the GH5 taken with the Olympus 12-100mm Pro lens. It looked pretty incredible. It fooled me.

I took the camera with me to coffee this afternoon. I had the old Contax lens on the front. When I left the coffee shop to head home I saw an interesting image. The camera was at my side. I flicked on the power switched, quick focused with the focus peaking and shot. It's a beautiful twilight shot in a light mix and it's perfect.

This is why I like this camera but hate most reviews. It's clearly more than just the sum of its specifications. And if you shoot video it's like getting two great cameras for the price of one.

But most important to me is that it's a camera I actually enjoy having by my side. Always.

Thinking about the way I light my portraits and how to translate lighting built for large format cameras into lighting for small sensor cameras.


I liked the way I lit portraits in the time when big film allowed us to take maximum advantage of film's gorgeous highlight roll off. We could light right up to the edge of overexposure with black and white emulsion and especially with color negative film emulsions and have an almost certain expectation that we'd be able to manifest endless tones in even the brightest areas of our prints. When I shot 35mm transparency film I was a habitual user of a handheld, incident light meter so I could carefully match the light levels to a color zone system that occupied space in the logical part of my brain. The interim steps of either scanning or printing added a safety margin to our war against burnt highlights as well.

When we jumped across the chasm to digital capture it seems that the biggest casualty has always been the ability to retain great highlight detail without having to underexpose and then raise all the tones in order to compensate for our timidity. Until recently the method of underexposing in order to preserve valid highlight detail and tonality carried with it the curse of noisy and information poor shadow and lower mid-tone areas. There was also the very real disaster of banding in the shadows and mid-tone transitions that were the manifestation of lack of bit depth in the lower registers.

This was somewhat mitigated around 2014 when Sony sensors became more or less immune to the worst ravages of underexposure. Now that the technology of the shadow tolerant sensors have been implemented everywhere but in the Canon camp most of use are breathing a little sigh of relief. I have noticed though that m4:3 users are still closer to the edge in terms of highlight control versus overall dynamic range that we might want. Yes, the modern m4:3 cameras can do the same underexposure+lifted highlights trick as the cameras with bigger sensors but few are capable of shooting 14 bit raw files (perhaps only the GH5S...) and there is still some trade off between the overall information density of a camera like the Nikon D850 and the Panasonic GH5, in the realm of still photography.

Since I've cast my lot with the smaller sensor cameras I'm re-thinking how I light my portraits and I'm experimenting with ways to do so that don't depend on post production heroics or magic.

I'm more interested now in making light that's composed of smaller, closer lighting units. In the past I was a proponent of large light sources. I've often written about using 6x6 foot diffusion screens as main light sources as well as 72 inch diameter umbrellas, complete with diffusions socks over the front. Now I'm interested in using smaller soft boxes or, in the case of LED lighting, smaller diffusion flags, closer in toward my subjects and then using multiple sources to build an overall lighting design rather than just depending on big, soft sources and the necessary post partum enhancement.

Part of my investigation has to do with my increasing use of high quality LED panels in video settings. I'm re-learning how to sculpt faces better without imperiling my highlights or adding to much texture to faces that don't want to show off the daily battle scars of life.

In these undertakings it's good to remember that the inverse square law is your first assistant. Accelerating fall off is delicious, when used correctly.

I'm working on some examples of lighting that yield a tighter delineation of facial form and more interesting tonal transitions that I've used in the past. It's not enough just to get sufficient photons onto a subject; I'd like the photons, collectively, to also describe a more interesting range of information.

Just a few thoughts about lighting today. I've been watching too many Gordon Willis movies (a great DP). The lighting is just so much more interesting that most of mine. Now a conscious work in progress.

2.12.2018

What are we reading during "quiet time" in the studio today? Yes, that's right, it's about Photography!!!

AVEDON. Something Personal.  The Biography.

I hadn't seen a lot of press about this book when I stumbled across it. As a big, big Avedon fan I had to buy it and start reading it immediately. In my estimate he's one of the five powerhouse photographers who shaped Photography across the 20th century; especially in the United States of America. His work is powerful and seems to be doing a great job withstanding all tests of time.

So here, finally, is a definitive biography of a man who changed the business of photography, written by a business partner who knew him socially, commercially and as one of his closest confidantes. 

The interesting thing, to me, about the book and the story it tells is how Avedon almost single-handedly demanded that photographers of a certain stature get well paid for their work, their insight and their art. Consider this, in 1965 he was asked to become a photographer for Vogue Magazine. He'd been the super star photographer at Harper's Bazaar previously. He demanded (and got!) a contract for one million dollars per year. In 1965. And this was not an exclusive contract, nor were the demands on his time constricting. He continued to work for the French arts magazine, Egoiste, as well as a legion of commercial, advertising clients. 

The reason he was able to command lofty fees and huge retainers? It was a simple equation; when Avedon shot something the metrics of newsstand magazines sales and client product sales skyrocketed. Clearly he was able to tap into the markets in a way his competitors could not, and he was rewarded for it. 

While the book, written by his business partner of 37 years, has a chatty, sorority girl feel to the prose and the subject matter ranges from deep insights into business and art philosophy all the way to catty name calling and reputation slamming but the underlying stories are endlessly fascinating to someone like me who is still amazed at what Avedon was able to accomplish, and the legacy he left behind. 

I'm on page 335 of 672 pages and I'm loathe to put it down; even to write this...

If you want to see just how golden that particular "golden age" of photography was then this is the history book that looks behind the seamless background paper of a master image maker who was, perhaps, even more masterful as the marketer of his own image and vision. It's well worth the read if only to serve as a kick in the ass to raise your own expectations of what can be done.

Buy it. Read it. Laugh at it. Whatever. 

Note: I know that some readers don't hold Avedon in the same regard I do and I'm willing to listen to your (valid, non-emotional) reasons but if you just want to come here and trash him be aware that those comments probably won't pass by our resident censor. 

2.09.2018

A New Generation of Stripped Down Cameras based on Smart Phones? It's a marketing idea I think would work well. Right now.

Photograph from our marketing shoot for ZACH Theatre's production of:
"The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time."

I was hauling my enormous Panasonic G85 around with me this morning as Studio Dog and I patrolled the neighborhood looking for deers and skunks at which to bark. I was giving some long thought to a few things I'd read recently on the web about using cellphones as cameras, in place of "real" cameras and it struck me that we've come to believe that it's a multiplicity of uses that drives adaptation of smart phones to take some people's daily photos. 

I began to think: What if it's not the immediacy of being able to send a photo that moment that's driving the adoption? What if people just like the form factor and the fact that newer generations of processors and software have made the images from the small form factors much more appealing and technically sufficient? 

The top dog in the cellphone market right now, for photography, video and day-to-day stay in touch at all costs syndrome, is probably the iPhone X. Big screen, fast processing, many (too many) features, much technology dedicated to things like facial recognition, banking security, fast access to multiple networks, the ability to crunch more data more quickly, etc. The downside of owning the "best" cellphone camera on the market is obviously the price. It's north of a thousand bucks. 

This led me to start thinking about an alternate product; one that I would want to have, one that would appeal to purists looking to downsize from Godzilla DSLRs into a product that was capable of taking good images but really, really fit into a pocket. And how about one without a recurring, monthly price burden? 

There are many times when I think I would like to own a super small camera that did 4K video, had image stabilization, made good images and had ample storage. Something the size of my iPhone 5S but without the initial purchase price penalty or the monthly subscription to AT&T to keep the whole mess breathing.

Here's the camera I designed in my head as Studio Dog sniffed fresh deer poop: It would have the same form factor as the iPhone 5S. All internal electronics would be dedicated to the perfect processing of images and videos. There would be no web access, no wi-fi, no bluetooth, no apps. It would shoot in raw and basic Jpeg as well as H.265 video. There would be three external ports across the bottom end of the device: One 3.5mm jack for microphones. One 3.5mm jack for headphones. One USB3 C port for charging and seamless downloading of images. The interior space would be dedicated to battery, processing and storage. No antennae, no gingerbread, but also no high prices.

The mini-camera should hit the market at $199 or less. A one time buy. No contracts. No monthly dues. No endless parade of apps to buy. Just buy the device, charge it and go shoot. Finished shooting? Go home, plug it into your computer, tablet or laptop (or even your phone) and download your images. Recharge, do it again.

There are already cheap phones on the market with cameras but most of them absolutely suck as a camera. Think of this device as the iPod of cameras. A dedicated device tuned to the way real photographers want to use them. 

Yes, we are all pretty affluent and we already have phones but think about the legions of younger, less affluent people who can't afford the stretch to the very best phones --- especially the weird conundrum of unlocked phones with no service plan. I think they (the ardent imaging fans) would lunge for something like this. 

Think also of the people who need "crash cameras" for dangerous shooting situations where the likelihood of losing a camera is high. A bag full of $199 fully capable mini-cams could be just right. They would be elegant versions of GoPros but with better performance and a more enticing design aesthetic. 

I'd buy one in a heartbeat. Part of the attraction to me is the singular nature of the device's nature. It would have one role; imaging. It would have one attractive feature set: easy to carry and nearly disposable. It would be the perfect camera for kids and people who sometimes get pushed into the swimming pool with their street clothes on. Might not survive the chlorinated water but it wouldn't cost a thousand bucks to replace. 

I don't always want a phone. If I used my iPhone as a camera I would be pissed off when people called as I was trying to take a photo. If I turn off the phone I also turn off the camera. Yes, I could ignore the ring but yes, I could ignore mosquitos and loud banging noises but they don't help me concentrate on the task at hand. 

Would you buy one? Something the photographic equivalent of an iPhone 6 or 7 but without all the social magnet bullshit installed? I would. I would jump at the chance. For those times when I'm in a suit and tie and a camera slung over the shoulder just isn't right....

2.08.2018

Now daydreaming in black and white...

Sidney. ©2018 Kirk Tuck

Tech specs: Panasonic GH5. Lens: Rokinon 50mm f1.2 UMC (for cropped framers). Aspect ratio set to square. Converted to black and white in DXO Film Pack. Tri-X setting. Finished in Snapseed. 

Still post processing. Still posting portraits. This one photographed with a Rokinon 50mm f1.2 at f2.0.

Sidney. ©2018 Kirk Tuck


Mid-Afternoon Stream of Consciousness Portrait Posting, part 2.

Sidney. ©2018 Kirk Tuck


Stream of consciousness portrait posting this afternoon. I'm post processing, looking, changing and then posting.

Sidney. ©2018 Kirk Tuck

Portrait from January 27th. In the Austin studio. GH5+Sigma 60mm f2.8 DC DN lens.


Portrait of Sidney. Exploring the capabilities of the Panasonic GH5 as a portrait camera. First portrait with the Rokinon 50mm f1.2 UMC lens.


Image taken in our little studio using a 4x6 foot panel with several LED lights blasting into the diffusion material on the panel. One small, battery powered LED panel on the background.

I worked with Sidney for an hour and a half and we got some fun stuff for her portfolio. It was nice to just do a simple shot in the studio for a change. Seems like everything else we've done this year has been on location.

It was fun to shoot nearly wide open and see just how well the lens and body worked together in manual focus.

More to come.

2.07.2018

Video editing as a painful short course in paying more attention during the actual shooting part of the job....

checking the details.

I shot a simple interview last Friday. It took about half an hour to set up and maybe half an hour to shoot. I didn't do much pre-planning and I let a marketing person steer the interview and now I'm in editing hell. The interview subject was articulate and video-genic but... in response to rather open-ended questions from the interviewer she gave us a fast paced recital of much (good) technical information. The pain comes when the marketing team comes back and asks for about thirty minutes of great stuff to be cut down to two minutes. At that point you realize that all that water cooler talk about pre-production is a lot more than random bullshit.

The marketing team and I are both guilty of an age old issue: we should have decided exactly what we wanted this video piece to do, mapped out exactly what we wanted and stopped treating the shooting process as a classic, open ended interview. Not a "Sixty Minutes" piece. In fact, we might have served the final purpose better by defining the answers we wanted and semi-scripting our talent.

Instead I'm slicing and dicing and using ample B-roll to disguise all the quick cuts I'm making in order to piece together a jigsaw puzzle with way too many pieces.

But before you I'm strictly a still photographer - this has no relevance for me types rush to move on to the next gear review I have to point out that what I'm learning today has relevance to both sides of the aisle. I realize that I could have been delivering better and more effective still photography for my clients if I spent a lot more time and effort up front. We have a tendency to let clients indulge in the fantasy that a photograph can serve many, many situations and still work. The reality is that matching the style, content, look and feel and intention of a photography to its final and highest priority use will make for a less generic/homogeneous image and will more solidly glue eyeballs to the screen or the page.

Here's an example that seems always fresh in my mind: Four years ago, when I was shooting mostly with the Panasonic GH4 cameras (and liking them very much) a regular client hired me to shoot a series of tongue-in-cheek images, full length, of a very talented talent who dressed and played the part of: an adventurer, a plumber, a mountain climber, etc. We shot twelve images with props in all. Here's where it got dicey! This client had nearly always worked with me on web-based projects. All our images (with a few small print exceptions) went to phone screens, laptop screens, desktop screens and 1080p monitors at trade shows. The GH4 was the perfect camera for any of these uses, especially so when we were able to bring the talent into the studio and pump up the light letting us shoot at ISO 100 and at optimum apertures. We all looked at the images at the end of the shoot. The client, the agency, the photographer and the talent. We all patted each other on the back.

It was only there at the end that I overheard the agency creative director say to the client that these images were going to look great on posters! Yikes. Here I was shooting 16 megapixel files on a small sensor camera....

When the client got into their shiny German car and sped away I casually asked the creative director to fill me in. He was happy to. The images would run on the client website...and as a series of big, 30x40 inch, printed posters. I smiled as I waved goodbye to the C.D. and then frantically got on the computer to download the latest version of DXO. I was wholly dependent on software to up rez these files into something solid for the final use.

Had I gone through a logical pre-production conversation with the agency I would have asked, first, "What is our primary use of the images? Are there secondary uses? Will there be retouching/compositing involved? Who will do that process? What kinds of files will you need? How do you need them delivered? But, of course, we had gotten comfortable with the consistency of this client's previous use of our images and were only concentrating on getting the creative stuff done.

Had I done my upfront homework I might have decided to rent a higher res camera for this engagement. The client and agency certainly had the budget to pay for it. There would have been no post shoot panic. No lunging for more software.

As it was the IDEA of failing destroyed my appreciation for the cameras I had been working with (happily) and sent me on a senseless journey of camera migration, buying and selling, that lasted years until I ended up back where I started. With a Panasonic GH camera.

This is not an isolated story. And it's not always about the efficacy of the gear. Sometimes we get wrong-headed about the concept. A lot of the time we allow the presumptions of the clients to drive our mistakes.

A few weeks ago we shot in a medical practice and the talent provided to us by the client had skull and crossbones tattoos on each bare forearm. The client was standing right next to the camera. Approved every shot. We took a break and my assistant pulled me aside and asked about the tattoos (this is Austin, after all...). She suggested we rush over to a nearby big box store and get a generic long sleeve shirt for the talent. I didn't take her suggestion and act on it. I figured the client had provided the talent and knew what she was getting.

A week later, long after the images were delivered, the tattoos became "an issue." Not for the initial use but for one of the many, many subsidiary uses for the photos which we never discussed. A long sleeved shirt would have saved us (client and photographer) hours and dollars of careful and complex retouching.

But the painful awareness about the results of not doing pre-production are hardly owned only by working professional photographers. Hobbyists could earn efficiency and make better images by taking the time to knuckle down on research and planning as well. When I am in "hobbyist" mode I often head out of the house with little or no plan other than to walk around with this week's magical lens and try to find fun images, or images that make me look like a good photographer. I often get downtown and realize that there is a motorcycle parade and that a good, longer lens would be more likely to get me the photos I want than the 35mm equivalent some spirited discussion on the web led me to buy.

I might not check the weather and then spend time loitering at the Whole Foods coffee bar, or under welcoming awnings,  waiting for a cold rain to stop. All the time cognizant that I could have been doing something better with my time. And don't get me started on the number of times I headed out without a spare battery....or even an SD card in my camera.

Now I like to go out with a plan. I'm open to chance but, based on the prevailing weather, the event schedule in Austin and some little bit of self-awareness I'm at least having more fun. Now I need to translate that level of preparation back into some of my jobs and stop showing up on autopilot.

New check list: Do I know completely what my client expects? Do I have the right gear to do it? Am I prepared for the weather? Do I have an extra battery? Do I have a big-ass memory card loaded, formatted and ready to go? Have I checked to make sure downtown isn't going to be closed for some awful political rally or construction project? Do I have an idea of what I want to get from the adventure ( pro or amateur ) and am I prepared to improvise? Finally, have I decided on where I'll go for lunch? 

So, back to my video project at hand... I wish I'd used a different microphone. The sound was great but the talent kept hitting the cord and making noise. A cardioid on a stand would have been a better choice than the lavaliere I used. I wish I had asked questions during the interview that would have led to more compact and linear answers. I wish I had reviewed all of the B-roll assets that were available to me so I could steer the interview in a direction that would take advantage of the material I had in my toolbox. I wish we had scripted to a tighter time frame. I wish I could have previsualized how the interview should go in advance. There is no team in I. And the buck stops at the editing workstation.


2.06.2018

Lenses: Sexy versus useful. I'm leaning toward useful.


It's a near constant in photography; we all love the idea of the fast glass with the rare earth elements and the big expanse of glass across the front. It comes from a constant source of self-delusion, we think that lenses with big apertures and the ability to suck in billions more photons per nano second will make our photographs mystically marvelous. I've fallen for the trap over and over again. I got caught again in the snare just a week or two ago and a few weeks before that as well. 

I think the lens sickness is even worse for people who shoot smaller format camera systems. We're subconsciously (or with both eyes wide open) trying to compensate for the more limited ability to put stuff out of background in our photographs by constantly looking for lenses at every focal length that might be a stop or two sharper than the standard/serviceable lenses at the same angle of view, always hoping that the newest lens computations, coupled with premium glass, will give us high sharpness and the ability to do what our full frame cameras seem to do in a more effortless way; drop things out of focus.  

Here's some advice from the field: Don't bother spending the big bucks to go from f2.0 to f1.2. You won't get what you are looking for and you'll spend dearly for the privilege of trying. 

I packed up my fast glass this last week and went off to shoot an advertising/marketing job. I had dreams of shooting heroic faces framed against gelatinous nothingness, important machines separated from their stark backgrounds by the laws of optics and physics but in nearly every case the regular and routine photos that I take for work (and for play) seem to call for more detail, more context, more  parts in focus. 

There were a few shots where I needed to isolate a small, handheld object; in almost every situation I found that "longer" was just as good or better than "faster." If I wanted to isolate an object then stepping back a few feet and zooming in with a longer lens nearly always was more interesting and effective than staying close and trying desperately to accurately maintain focus through the process. 

The new, sharp, Rokinon 50mm f1.2 UMC was out of my camera bag and on my camera for a little while during the shoot but it quickly became obvious to me that in the modern age a lens like the 12-100mm f4.0 Olympus Pro zoom could run circles around the more traditional lens. Even though it's (gulp!) three stops slower.  It was just so much easier to get exact composition along with a perfect balance of sharp and unsharp with the zoom. 

The Online Photographer recently ran a series of posts about picking lenses. One of the articles proposed a "nested" approach to lens buying. The idea is to buy an all purpose zoom like the 12/100mm. Ostensibly you'd buy one which had a focal length range that is centered around your preferred angle of view, and the lens would also have a high enough performance to be sufficient for the bulk of your work. The lens would probably be bulky so the other part of the advice was to also choose a second lens that would be a single focal length lens also having high performance and, perhaps, a fast aperture. One would use the all purpose lens for .... all purposes and use the nested, "prime" lens for those times when you wanted to divest yourself of the burden of hefty machines and get more in touch with your photographic spirit animals. 

I'm on the fence. I think it's great to be able to change your perspective on lens choice day by day but at other times I pine for the discipline to understand and accept that a lot of lens buying is just emotional compensation for not being as good at this art/craft as I should be after years and years of practice. 

Lenses, especially zoom lenses, have gotten really good lately. Cameras have more or less pounded down the need for high speed apertures to prevent noisy files. That means the only real reason to own "fast glass" now is depth of field control. I guess it makes a certain about of sense to have some fast, middle focal length options. Maybe a 50mm equivalent and an 85-90mm equivalent as well. For those times when the background is just trashed; or needs to be trashed. 

But if I were putting together a system and wanted to stay within a limited budget I'd be looking at all purpose zoom lenses first and foremost. If I still shot Nikon my first lens would be the 24-120mm f4.0. If I were still in the Canon camp it would be the granddaddy of wide-ranging normal zooms, the 24-105mm f4.0. If I were still banging away with some full frame Sony bodies I'd be all over the new 24-105mm G f4.0 lens. In the m4:3rds realm it's always a toss up between range and speed. I made my choice with the Olympus 12-100mm f4.0 but I have a feeling I'd be just as happy with the Olympus 12-40mm f2.8 or even the Panasonic/Leica 12-60mm f-something to f-something.

I've found that these are the lenses that most people; pros and amateurs, use 90% of the time. The next up would be longer and faster zooms like the venerable 70-200mm f2.8s and equivalents. In last place are the wide zooms and after that, and only then, do people pull the primes out and frustrate themselves with tightly constrained choices. 

These are transient thoughts. A hangover from my daylong shoot last Saturday. Ask me again tomorrow and I'm sure I'll be extolling the virtues of my collection of prime lenses once again. But stick around and watch me pack that camera bag for the next job. It's zoom rich. It's prime poor. 

I chalk it up to the mythic boundary that supposedly exists between our professional work and our avocation.  

2018 Lens of the year. Yes, I know. It came out a while ago...

Random hat shot. Concentric circles and oddly sensual curves.


Out into the un-Austin parts of Texas to photograph for a radiology practice. Kinda fun.

Once again, the photograph here has nothing to do with the written content of the blog. It was done for fun with a G85 and a 25mm Panasonic lens. 

One of the interesting challenges for photographers who shoot a lot for medical practices is that presented by M.R.I. machines. These diagnostic machines create incredibly powerful magnetic fields that can strip the information off your credit card mag strip in microseconds. They can be dangerous. Any object that is ferrous can become a deadly projectile if it's inside the room with an active MRI scanner. Especially with the new, more powerful 3T generation of scanners. From a strictly photographic perspective the real issue is that you CAN'T take a camera into the scanner room and you certainly can't take lights and stands into the area with you. Anything you do to better photograph the newest MRIs will have to be done from beyond the doorway, or when the machine is off.

Here's the problem with turning off an MRI scanner: turning it back on and getting it back up and running can cost nearly $100,000. Yikes! You don't want to be the guy who takes one of these medical diagnostic machines offline...  And if you did happen to find a current MRI scanner that was down and could be accessed for a photo shoot you wouldn't have the benefit of the wonderful "running" lights and illuminated information panels that add the polish to the pictures.

Our first series of shots on Saturday morning were, of course, the new 3T MRI scanner at a clinic in Kyle, Texas. Since this was not my first rodeo with radiology I knew not to go past the MRI door alarms with things like my cellphone in a pocket, my good watch on my wrist or my wallet full of super high (ha, ha!) credit limit credit cards on my person. I didn't wear those Red Wing boots with the steel toes and I double checked to make sure none of my dental fillings were cast iron.

I took these precautions because I knew the first thing I'd be doing on Saturday morning would be cleaning and straightening all the stuff that piles up around these giant machines so I would not have clutter in my finished photographs. There was an angle from the door way that allowed me to capture the whole machine in a frame and I used the 8-18mm lens on a camera about three feel back from the door way to make a "portrait" of the MRI scanner. It was during this first shot that I realized how much I depend on just a blush of light to make a photograph work. Since I couldn't put lights in the room and was relegated to just using the existing fluorescent "can" lights in the room I tried all the tricks one can find on modern cameras, including the built in HDR which went a long way towards taming the shadows.

The real issue was when the clients wanted to construct portraits of the technicians who operate the scanners, in the room with the scanner. Again, since I couldn't light the portraits in any style I fell back on trying to position the techs so the light from the cans didn't fall on them directly but was, in a  sense, a feathered penumbra of light. At our first stop we photographed our models having regular scans and also biopsy scans. We had a resident expert on protocol with us so we wouldn't make any of the gaffs that sometimes occur. My favorite (self-deprecatating) medical faux pas (a long time ago) was to photograph an operating room scene in which the anesthesiologist had on neither gloves nor a face mask..... He was a real anesthesiologist so I thought he would know his way around the O.R..... (never assume).

We moved on from there to sonograms, mammography and various other modalities of diagnostic breast imaging. We used, mostly, Godox flashes on lightweight stands which could be controlled from the camera position. Two bounced off the acoustic tile ceilings and, typically, one used as a main light coming from a side angle and modified with a 60 inch photographic umbrella.

There wasn't anything technical to slow us down but there is always a molasses effect when using amateur talent and that involves their self-consciousness at being directed and photographed and their inevitable attempts to use humor to compensate. The marketing mission is always to project confidence from the people in the photographs and, usually, a big grin is antithetical to the serious gravity that a medical practice, which is based on ferreting out cancers and other life threatening issues, wants to portray to the public.

All you can really do is let the giggles and group dynamic run its course. That, and take a lot of images in the hopes of wearing down the grinning facades and replacing them with an almost tired resignation. Best case scenario is the medical tech that arrives in newly pressed scrubs, has no visible tattoos and has a confident bearing. One on a tight time schedule is even better as there is less playful banter and less messing around.

I worked on this project, with master assistant, Amy Smith, all day Saturday. We did about 25 set ups and shoot promiscuously in order to get just the right expressions, no blinks and good synergy between our model "patients" and our volunteer techs. By the time we wrapped up I'd shot about 1,400 raw frames and was on my third battery. Batteries go quicker when the camera's live preview is always on, but having a good, live preview means the client can always see and approve images as we go along.

In the early hours I tried to press my new, fast lenses (Sigma 30mm f1.4 and Rokinon 50mm f1.2) into service but in nearly every case it was important to show context --- or at least the expensive machines which were the subtext for our project. This meant we wanted sharp focus on faces and acceptable focus on our machines. The back walls could take care of themselves.

The two lenses that made life easy for me were, of course, the Olympus 12-100mm f4.0, and the Panasonic 8-18mm. Each had an important place in the process. But towards the end of the day I started feeling as though I could have done everything with the 12-100mm and not bothered to bring along the backpack with the rest of the lenses. To be able to go from a wide shot of an exam room with a bed, a scanner and two people to a tight shot of a biopsy needle held by a gloved hand was great. Even better was that at either end of the focal length spectrum the lens delivered sharp results.

We packed up around 5:00pm and headed back to Austin through the gray of a cool and overcast winter day. It was nice to work with Amy again. She was instrumental starting about a decade ago in helping me organize the photography for all five of my photography books and sourcing talent for the illustrations required. She's been working with more video and film directors lately so I hope to incorporate her into future film projects.

I'm not used to being assisted that much these days but it's really great to have a second set of eyes on the set looking for visual trouble and squashing it quickly.

If there is anything I'll change in our next radiology encounter it will be to use our Atomos Ninja Flame monitor to do our previews on. The bigger screen, which is able to be calibrated, would come in handy for aiding clients in seeing what the finals will really look like.

We're back at work here. I was working on a video edit all day yesterday and I sent it to my client for review last night around 11:30. I got notes back at noon today and, as always, I'm trying to figure out how to get it to shrink from 4 minutes to 2 minutes. Some sort of magic trick involved? We'll get out that editing knife and see what can be cut....

The raw files from the GH5 are beautiful and the rendering of flesh tones is nearly perfect. I have a little card in my camera case to remind me of the best ways to fine tune files. Always white balance each scene first and then figure out exposure. Changing white balance after setting exposure can cause the effects of exposure to change. Focus on faces when in the scene, at all other times focus one third of the way into the scene and calculate depth of field to cover.

one other note: I played with a Panasonic G9 recently and love the new viewfinder. Am currently considering (but have not decided) to trade in my G85 and get one of the new cameras. Might just be a waste of time, money and energy but....




2.02.2018

Why I keep coming back to the clever and elegant Panasonic G85. Especially now that I've found a great companion lens for it.

Tomorrow morning first assistant, Amy Smith, and I will meet at the studio, pack the car and head to Kyle, Texas for a daylong adventure in commercial photography. We've been awarded the assignment of photographing, in detail, the operation of a large radiology clinic there. We'll be photographing architectural documentations, procedures (with actors and technicians, but not with real patients...) and encounters with machines such as MRIs, CT Scanners, Mammography Imaging Scanners and much more. 

In this instance we are NOT taking everything in the studio with you. I'm limiting the lighting gear to only what we can comfortably fit into a rolling case (see above) but that does include: Three Neewer Vision 4 battery powered monolights, one Godox AD200 flash, and two Godox V850s with their rechareable lithium ion battery packs. At first glance this may seem light but I'm really packing two systems; mostly for redundancy. 

My well worn plan is to use the three bigger, monolight flashes for everything. Two bouncing off white ceilings and walls and the other one adding directional fill from a 60 inch white umbrella. But if the schedule drags out and the batteries start in the big units start to falter I'll have the more pixie sized flashes on which to fall back. I may approach it the other way around and start with the pixie flashes and work my way up. 

The power of the flashes hardly matters. The clients and I had a meeting on Monday to discuss creative strategies and the "look and feel" they want to get in the photographs and actually less powerful (but no less controllable) lights might actually be beneficial. We want to shoot as wide open as possible in order to de-emphasize the backgrounds. This means we'll need to work mostly at f2.0 or f2.8 for effect. Even at ISO 200 it means that most of the lights will be operating in the 1/32nd to 1/64th power area and we'll need to be cognizant of "bleed" light from existing fixtures around the facility. No sense getting a great shot if we also get a lot of green tinge.

So, one roller case filled with lighting goodies and one Amazon Basics backpack for all the camera gear. Seems like a recipe for moving quickly while retaining good control of the lights. 

We'll be working with the two Panasonic GH5s and shooting raw format all day long tomorrow. I thought I'd take a day off today and blow off some steam (and lingering anxiety0 by heading out for a walk this morning with what has to be the most comfortable and amiable camera I've ever, ever used: The Panasonic G85. With a whopping 16 megapixels of super-charged pixels and a shutter that's a sweet as an Adele song, the G85 is a stellar traveling companion. Across town or around the world. It's compact, smooth and, with the right lens, it can be a bit of euphoria in your hands. Yes, that's called "hyperbole." But in fact, the camera is a very, very well designed and implemented companion camera. The EVF is transparently invisible, the shutter sounds nicer than the gentle closing on a Bentley door, and the image stabilization is top tier.

My latest engagement with the camera was also an opportunity to test a lens I've had on hand for a while but have ignored, for no good reason. Maybe it didn't seem sexy enough just sitting, forlorn, in the drawer of the equipment cabinet... It's the 25mm f1.7 Panasonic lens that is often on sale for $149 and worth at least a hundred dollars more.

I thought it would be the perfect companion for the G85 and I was exactly right. I used it wide open, and at apertures up to f4.0, and was happy with the sharpness at every f-stop. It was a lens that instantly helped me channel my "Henri-Cartier-Bresson-Robert-Frank-Lee-Freidlander" classic vision. A vision in which the subject is king and not the visual strutting of unusual focal lengths with all their hysteric frippery. I was so happy shooting with today's combination that I neglected to stop in any of my favorite coffee shops or bakeries, such was my passion to continue on with my addictive photography rig. No visit to Voodoo Donuts. No cappuccino at Medici. No Vegan Lemon Hazelnut Scone at Whole Foods/Amazon. Just walking, shooting, walking, shooting. 

It was 55 degrees and breezy when I started my walk and by the end we were careening toward the high sixties and that sweatshirt that felt barely cozy at the outset was starting to feel overly warm. Ah, winter in Austin. A few days of bluster and weeks of swimmable weather. Below are images I shot this morning.