Goodbye my old friend, it’s nice to see you again

I was on assignment the other day to do photos for a story about an exercise trend/fad that is based on classical ballet barre work. Yadda yadda. Anyhoo the client wanted some video for their web edition. Hey, no problem. Well actually it a real pain to do stills and video but hey if that's what the client wants then that is certainly what they are going to get. While I was doing my thang when I had a quick realization that the soon to be much ballyhooed Nikon D4 was going to be announced and with it will be, for me at least, a paradigm shift. Notice the quick mirror self shot that I did upon reflection, HA! I kill me!

  Mirror

There I am with my trusty and to a large extent beloved Canon HV20 camcorder dangling from my neck along with two Nikon D700 bodies to do stills. Often when I have to do stills and video for news pieces I have a lot more gear on me: usually each body has a pro zoom, 28-70 f/2.8 and 70-200 f/2.8 to make things nice and heavy, and the camcorder has an external mic attached, which makes for a very cumbersome working method. In those situations am quite like the guy with too few arms. Not fun but I get the job done. Oh and to make matters worse I will often wear a backpack where my extra microphones, wireless rig and a tripod with fluid head is stashed for all the video problem solving that often comes up. Again, not a simple rig to use. But soon this will be simplified with the new bodies that are coming out.

What? Why aren't you shooting with DSLR bodies that do video? Well I'm glad that you asked. First off, I don't do that much video that needs to be done at the same time as still photography which is my main occupation. Then there is the fact that except for the D3s all the Nikon bodies that do video are the consumer bodies with the crop chip and brother let me tell ya that once I got my full frame back I promised muh-self that I'd never buy a crop chip body again. You can't tell but that there self shot was done with my "secret weapon" Nikon AF-D 28mm f/1.4 that is essentially an insanely overpriced normal lens on a crop body but with full frame it's is a glorious and crazy sharp wide angle. There is no comparable lens for the smaller frame cameras so there you go.

I was not going to purchase a D3s just for video, no way. I prefer my D700's as they are smaller, lighter and less than half the price. If you are an independent such as I am you need to justify spending any money on equipment against how it will not just pay for itself but actually make you money upon that purchase within 18 months. Otherwise it costs you to own it and it is simply a waste of money. Not good business practice there. Yes I know about all the dudes shooting the Canon 5DII and all that but again there is no reason for me to purchase an entire Canon rig just to shoot some video from time to time so forget that noise bucko! Besides the 5DII has a much slower frame rate, horrible AF and is built like a toy. Yuck.

I got my HV20 before the VDSLR rage hit and within a month of me getting it it made me money and has continued to do so ever since. Also almost every client has cared not a whit about what video camera I've used. What they want is quality video that goes on the web. How I get there doesn't matter.

In the getting there even simple pro-am camcorders like the old HV20 do a better job of shooting video than DSLR's because they are set up from the get-go to do video. They autofocus and autoexpose properly and easily. They are physically set up to allow you to use external microphones and monitor the audio without adapters. They have the controls right where they need to be. Not to mention that they are cheaper to purchase than a new DSLR body. Can't go wrong. Except for the need to have another thing dangling from you while you make pictures. Oh yeah, that.

As I suspected, much of that has now changed with the Nikon D4 for three reasons: it is supposedly going to properly autofocus in video mode, it will allow you to make exposure adjustments while recording video and most importantly and fit's into the "why did it take so long?" department – you have a headphone jack so that you don't need an adapter to monitor your audio. Huzzah! Finally a DSLR that will harken the end of me lugging the HV20 about.

Does this mean that I've put in for a D4 for pre-sale? Nope. No chance. First off I never buy version 1.0 of any product much less one as expensive and complicated as a pro DSLR body. Second I'm waiting for the D800 or whatever it will be called that will be the little brother of the D4 for the same reasons as listed about my D700's. Lastly, I don't need one yet. The HV20 still works great, makes me the monies and doesn't need to be replaced. Yet. I do think that in about a year I'll put the old girl on the shelf with the other cameras from which I've moved past. The D700's will be with me for some time as they are simply superb cameras in every way. If I could get a D700 with the new video capacity then I'd honestly be set but alas it is not to be.

 

As they say "Time … marches on!" and for this here cowboy that's a good thing.

Lani and The Stachettes

Since I work almost exclusively on location I am in some ways a bit jealous of the dudes who have the time and budgets to create entire sets for their subjects to be photographed in. So one of the things that I try to do when it suits subject and when it is f rankly even possible is to find a way to take a location and make it look better/different than it does with just a bit of tinkering. Sometimes that means moving object or furnature around, sometimes it means doing things with light and other times it means coming back at a different time or day so that it works for your intent.

I was doing some promo photos on location that went into the late evening that was going to include a number of set ups for a variety of looks that the client wanted. During the scouting I noticed this interesting lawn with a tree and stone path that led to some steps. I thought that it wouldn't work when the light was soft but after dark lit up it could be amazing with a bit of work. The energy was great that day and I mentioned that if we had the time and inclination after all the other shots to try something different and lo everyone was up for it.

Thus it was almost dark when I dragged all our gear down the road and had my assistant get us a bunch of candles from the home that the majority of the other photos were done at and had him set them up along the path. This brought color, warmth and a sense of depth to the image. At camera right I had a head with a 40 degree grid spot and CTB gel placed up the hill aimed at the tree for a moonlit backlight feel to give in addition separation between the girls and the dark moody background. On camera left I put another head into my 43" Octabank and put it up about ten feet pointing down about 45 deg aimed at the groups delightfully animated front girl Lani. After a number of shots we brought out more candles and put one in each of the other girls hands to light their faces for additional texture and mood.

Now, if this was done in a studio it would be a pretty big set to build and that would be the hardest part. The lighting would be easily controllable as it would be done in the dark with only the candles burning in during the exposure and everything else being lit by strobes but in this case my fill light was the moon! Being locked down on my tripod kept the camera steady but the girls had to remain motionless during exposures of up to 8 seconds including Lani who was doing all the wacked out poses for me. Yet when I said "Hold it!" they did and slap me silly, the frames are sharp.

So here is my favorite from that series: a photo that I had no idea would happen and certainly not like this when I drove past on my way to the shoot.

  Lani and the Stachettes

 

Technicals: Nikon D700, Nikon AF-S 28-70mm f/2.8 set to 45mm. 4 seconds @ f/5.6, ISO 1600, Daylight WB. Camera on Gitzo 1320 tripod. Lights triggered via Pocket Wizard.

Pixel wars

I swear. Just as ice cream is cold, when it’s not all melty, that just about every time I’m shooting out in public somebody asks me “How many megapixels has that got?” I tend to reply “More than I need” and with that I leave it to his imagination. It’s usually a guy who asks and we all know that guys love numbers that define things. Horsepower sells cars, torque wins races – we used to say. Pixels is the modern photographic equivalent to that adage. Pixels gives those who often don’t know better the impression that they are getting more for their money. But “we” know otherwise.

Or do we? Canon, not to pick on them, have just announced their new flagship camera the EOS 1DX. Unlike their prior line up there is no “s” model that will be a higher resolution version that is best described as a studio/big print camera. Up till now the non-“s” was designed with sports, news and general professional use in mind where higher ISO and frame rate performance was more important than pure “does that have a Hemi?” pixel horsepower. But no more. Well I won’t bother you with that rant as I’m sure that there are hundred of writers out there spouting a much more empassioned appeal to one direction or the other. Nope not here. What I have to say is:

“How many megapixels” matters less now than ever before. Huh? Let’s fire up the Wayback machine again and I’ll show you. Boy I love this device; picked it up on E-Bay for a pittance! Click! Whirrrr-ZoooM!

My first digital camera was a Nikon D1x and it’s file output of 5.74 megapixels was pretty darned high resolution for the time. Ok, ok, stop giggling, it’s true! The ground breaking D1 was barely 3 meg and the improved D1h, the “news/sports” version was faster than the original but the D1x was the “magazine/studio” camera. Well I had one, then two then briefly three but again I digress. Ok so there I was cranking out nearly 6 meg files and I had my newspaper editor freaking out telling me to crop these massive files or I was sure to clog their wire service and archiving systems. Really! But they had a point. A clean 3 meg file was almost overkill on newsprint being printed at 75dpi so they could print BIG and it would hold up. In their mind my D1x was insane! Who needs that kind of camera?

Then I ditched the D1x for the smaller, faster, better D200 when it came out. 10 meg capture baby! Again the newspapers and even some magazines told me to give them smaller files because again that kind of resolution was far more than they needed. Heck National Geographic with their great reproduction is only 135dpi! They were running double trucks from D1x files what the heck did they need almost twice the file for? Are you crazy? Yep.

Thus I was waiting for Ralph Nader to walk on stage when he was on the campaign trail in 2004 and was equipped with dual D200 rigs and got to talking to Steve Groer from the Rocky Mountain News. He noticed my cameras and said something to the effect of “Nice, but what do you need 10 meg for? A nice clean 4 meg is plenty for our work. Why do they keep giving us pixels that we throw away?” He was using two Nikon D2h which were 4 meg capture and yes that was for his purpose just dandy. He was a news paper dude but I submitted to magazines and did commercial work on my D200 so the higher resolution made sense.

But now? What is the paradigm? Not print. And except for large “point of purchase” displays in stores just about everything that you are reading or looking at is either magazine sized or more and more likely on some kind of screen. Who needs super high resolution cameras for a major advertising campaign when those images are only shown on TV and the web? Wha? The final output will be 450 pixel sidebar ads? Do we honestly need the new 80 meg capture back from Phase One to do that? Nah! I can dust off my old D1x and still crop the heck out of it and it will look just great!

Pixels and horsepower sells product to a degree. But the money that is made from photography that is not of the art or personal memory making (read as essentially wedding photography) all comes from advertising. Magazines and news papers survive not by the quality of their reporting but by their ability to sell advertising to the people who want to read the articles. Advertising is getting smaller and smaller not just in terms of budget but also in terms of reproduction size and in terms of how long they can have a campaign be out there. As a result of their target markets being found more and more on the web and the 700+ tv channels out there the demands upon us photographers to have cameras that produce wall sized prints has turned upside down. Maybe Canon figured this out and they are trying to stop the megapixel madness. Maybe Canon turned their backs on a small but very real market for their products. I dunno.

What I do know is that I don’t print my own photos and haven’t for a very long time. By that I mean I don’t print photos to look at them. I print the occasional image for my folio or for promo use. The rest stay on the hard drives. Those prints that I have made are not gi-normous. How many people do you know that actually make physical prints of their photos anymore? There are more photos being made now than ever before by a huge margin and most of them are going on to Facebook. No joke. Facebook is the largest depository of photographs in the world right now. How big are they displayed? 600 pixels wide? Oh you certainly need 20 meg capture for that masterpiece! That’s why soooo many people just take the photo with their cellphone rather than a “proper” camera. No need for more.

When you consider that many commercial photographers ditched their medium format film cameras, like Hasselblads, when the Canon 1Ds came out with it's "huge" 11 meg capture because it provided equal or better image quality then what I run around with, my Nikon D700, is essentially a tiny Hasselblad that shoots @ 8fps and gives totally pro quality up to ISO4000. That's pretty amazing. Why do you or I need much more than that?

Now for the ironic wrap up: I’m working on making huge prints. I’ve been fiddling with a project where big prints are the result. I’m still shooting with my beloved Nikon D700 but using the multi frame stitch panorama approach to achieve the needed buckets of pixels necessary. It’s easy, it works and I don’t have to spend a bunch of cash on a super high resolution camera that is even more overkill than what I currently have.

Given that here is a simple four frame stitch that I did at night with my D700 using my AF-S 28-70 f/2.8 with a 30 second exposure at ISO1600. It will make a seamless and grainless 16×20 inch print. It's about the same as a 24 meg capture but because my camera makes ISO1600 look much better than the "big" capture cameras in essence you couldn't get this shot with a D3x or 1Ds III and the medium format cameras are even more useless in this application. For things like this loads of pixels is awfully nice to have but for everything else, why are we all worked up? Stop worrying about pixels and spend more time making the pixels that you have fufill your needs.

Pano

Spot on

The other day I had what I’m now thinking of as an “Old Man Moment”. I was setting up a shot and I was walking around with my old beloved Minolta AutoMeter IVF getting readings. The subject of my photos was a bit of a photographer himself and while I was working he and I were talking about photo stuff. So he says to me “What’s that thing you are using?”, meaning my hand held light meter which I was using to dial in my strobes. I explained what it was and what it did. He seemed confused. “Doesn’t your camera figure that out for you?”

That baffled me for a sec. I explained that the camera can’t control the output or placement of my studio strobes and thus I have to set everything manually. He replied that it’s silly that with all the technology we have the camera can’t automatically set the lights. Well with lovely things like the Nikon CLS system it can but with a fair amount of limitations and since I was using 5 lights for the shoot the camera can’t handle all the calculations. Yet.

Then that reminded me of a shoot a few months ago where I was shooting an event and was next to another professional shooter whereby I was close enough to hear: Click! “Mmm, dark.” Click! “Still dark.” Click! “Still too dark.” I mentioned something like “Why don’t you just get a meter reading?” The response knocked me to my knees, “Naah! I’ll just change my exposures till it looks good on the screen.” Turns out the photog only shoots in Aperture Priority and will fiddle with the exposure compensation for a while until the exposure gets right. Holy wasted time Batman!

So it seems that because I own and actually use a hand held light/flash meter I am a bit of an oddity. And because I learned how to use a spot meter, that wonderful tool that is in just about every camera priced above $500, I am also a master of the arcane arts. Ok I understand that yes I learned to shoot on film and before the era of the intelligent multi segment meters which we take for granted. And yes I learned how to judge the reflective values of objects so that a spot meter can be used to determine not only exposure but also to figure out the range of brightness within the scene to be able to figure out how to process the image to make the best looking print/file because I learned the Zone System that Ansel Adams developed.

I guess that I’ve also taken something for granted: me. I am used to my working method and because of it I am an automated photographer and don’t use automated systems except for TTL flash in some situations and AF in poor light. The rest is up to me. I really only use my LCD screen to check my moments/compositions rather than exposure. In this way I can spend more time looking through my lens than at the back of my camera.

Case in point: I was shooting at a night club a while ago and the interplay of people, light and color was pretty interesting. I saw this couple and they were playing with his cell phone. I liked the way their faces were lit by the screen so I got a quick meter reading off his face with my spot meter and shot away. No lost time or lost frames because I botched the exposure a few times to dial it in. Huzzah!

Club 2

Techicals: Nikon D700, Nikon AF-S 28-70mm f/2.8 @ 35mm. Daylight WB. Handheld 1/3sec, ISO 4000.

Using the “not so remote” camera

It’s not common for a photographer to be the subject of an others imagery and I am certainly not used to being photographed while I work. Yet when my friend and assistant Lindsay sent me this shot the other day I thought that it was actually pretty cool.

Me

Ya see what I was doing was not adjusting my camera controls but composing through the LCD with the camera, my beloved Nikon D700, in Live View mode. But rather than holding the camera in a position, like over my head, and then composing through the LCD I had to hold the camera low and compose. Well then, why not just kneel down and shoot “normally” and focus/compose through the regular viewfinder? That wouldn’t have given me what I wanted. My head needed to be above the camera to get the effect that I wanted and the only way to get the camera in position was to go through this gyration.

You see the subject was partly a person who was out of focus in the “background” but I wanted her eyes looking up. Rather than the normal shooting method of lowering myself to get the angle I wanted and potentially distract her and change her gaze I needed my eyes to be somewhere for her to naturally look at above the camera. Thus the reason that the camera is below my head. I was able to engage her in conversation and in that manner subtly direct her without the bothersome “Can you lift your head and look over there, no, there” kinda mess. A regular person doesn’t take very good posing direction and when I’m in documentary mode I never to that because it spoils the mood and energy that I am witnessing.

  Glass

Technicals: Nikon D700, Nikon AF-D 50mm, ISO 800, f/1.4 @ 1/30th, Daylight WB.

So I totally forgot about this shot until Lindsay sent me this delightfully unflattering image of me at work. It reminded me of how often I use the Live View mode to help get the camera into places quickly that I can’t get my whole self into in order to make an interesting-er image by using it as a semi-remote camera. If you have a camera with such capacity I recommend that you give it a try.

 

Previsualizing filter

 There was a day when some hardcore B&W landscape
photographers would carry a filter in a frame that sucked all the color out to
render the view through it to be essentially black and white. This was to help
you visually edit out the color content of what you are looking at to get a
better idea of how the colors would be rendered as B&W tones. It wasn’t
perfect but it helped. You still had to learn how the film that you were using
actually rendered things but it was close.

 

When shooting color film you had to learn that and had no help
previsualizing your shot. Photogs would often find a film that they liked and
basically only use that one. Otherwise you might not realize how this scene or
skin tone would be either made lifeless or garish by the way that your film saw
things.

 

Digital has changed that as you can to a large degree when
shooting RAW render the scene anyway you want it. For quite a while I wanted to
see my flat and boring looking RAW files to look like themselves when I was
doing an image review on my cameras LCD screen. But then I realized that once I
found a look in Photoshop that made me happy 95% of the time I could simulate
that by changing the color curve and saturation of the jpg processing my
cameras do. The deal is that even if you are shooting RAW the camera makes an
imbedded jpg into the RAW file for the preview. Thus the file isn’t processed
but the preview is so I can get the feel of how the image will most likely look
like when it comes out of Photoshop.

 

But when I started the Avery Brewing project I had in my
head the idea of doing it in B&W for three reasons. 1) it makes things more
timeless looking, 2) most of the brewing process takes place in white-ish rooms
with big stainless steel containers and tubes so there isn’t much color content
to begin with and 3) it puts the emphasis on form and lighting which I really
dig.

 

So I decided to use a warm tone B&W mode for the shoots
so that when I’m checking on my shots the tones “feel” right. I still will do
the toning in P-Shop but after taking a few shots with my normal straight color
preview preset and the warm tone, the B&W made me more inspired by a mile.
And isn’t that what we want – to be inspired to make photos?

 

Here’s another from the Avery barrel room. They use a
stainless steel nail as a simple plug for taking samples without introducing
air into the barrel. For some reason the silhouetted pliers reminds me of that
famously manipulated image by Gene Smith of Albert Schweitzer where he used
like 5 negatives with the handles of tools in the foreground. Hmmm?

Avery 2

 

Technicals: Nikon D700 and Nikon AF-D 35mm f/2.0. ISO 400, f/2.0 @ 1/30th.

I’m not Mark Tucker but …

This has kind of the feel of his longstanding ad campaign for
the Jack Daniels. I’m doing a photo project with my friends at Avery Brewing,
one of the top craft breweries in the country and luckily not that far from me.
I’m focusing on the hands on “craft” aspect of what they do. Unlike 99% of the
beer out there the brew that comes from a place like Avery is made by just a
few people and is very hands on. It’s much like when you go to that special
market and buy artesianal cheese or bread – it’s made by someone who has spent
years learning to get it right as opposed by a big machine or factory where they make serviceable
stuff but it doesn’t have that special thing that makes you swoon. Avery puts magic and love into 12oz bottles. It's that good.

 

So anyhoo this is 3 of their head brewers doing a taste sample for
one of their experimental barrel aged beer projects. The little where house has a wide
array of different barrels and each one brings its own flavor profile to the
same young beer that goes into it. Thus they have to learn what each barrel is
doing and keep meticulous notes on the contents of each barrel and then figure
out when each barrel is “done” and then they sit and blend the best barrels to
make their limited release beers. It's amazing how precise their palettes are. They can detect the most minor flaw in a warm flat beer often just by it's smell. They will find a beer that most craft beer drinkers will like to be actually horribly flawed.

 

This to me is artistry and I am delighted to spend time with
these guys who I admire. More to come as the project unfolds.

Avery 1

 

Technicals: Nikon D700 with AF-D 35mm f/2.0. ISO 400 f/4.0 @
1/15th. Shot RAW and toned in post.

In the dark

Vivian

This is from a shoot I did that was made possible by few things.

1) A great subject. Vivian is a great gal with a stunning look. She was superb to work with and was perfect for the modern urban look we were going for.

2) PocketWizards. This was done with two strobes but one was very much behind me and there was no easy way to trigger them with my beloved Nikon CLS system. The Wizards make the "you gotta be kidding me!" totally possible.

3) Willingness to risk. While I was setting this up, in an alley just steps away from a very busy street where lots of evening revelers going to and from clubs I heard one person with a camera say something like "that won't work. It's too dark" Ha! I used the darkness as a low fill light and let my two strobes do all the work.

The setup is pretty simple: I had an SB-800 up about 10 feet on a stand to my left and behind me about ten feet using a Zoot Snoot to create the spot of light on her. I had another SB-800 low and parallel to the wall giving separation to her legs. That was handled by my Voice Activate Light stand named Kim. I used my workhorse Nikon AF-S 28-70mm f/2.8 @ f/5.6 on my Nikon D700 set to ISO 200 for 1/8th of a sec. Like this:
Vivian diagram
I triggered the strobes with my PocketWizards. Once we wound Vivian up good and tight the rest was a total snap. I really think that it's so much easier to light things when you don't have to crazily overpower the ambient. These strobe in the dark situations are to me far more interesting than just finding a way to overpower the sun. Besides, without a day lit scene to work with you can do more with lights and make the photo look "natural" because in dark situations we are use to seeing dim light being reflected by all kinds of surfaces and light sources. In this case I made the light on the stand similar to a street light and the low light the reflection of something else.

11 hours, 1755 frames but I got more than just soggy shoes

So my friend LuLu tells me that she and her long time sweetie Chris were finally getting married. Since their little mountain town throws a huge party on 4th of July they thought "why not join in?"  She is a chef and he is the drummer in the popular Phish tribute band Phix so you know that it was going to be a good time. How's the day going to start?, I ask. "Well", she says, "we are riding the fire truck in the parade and there's a kazoo marching band …" AaaahG! I'm in! How can you pass THAT up? So I assigned myself to be their officially unofficial photographer.

Well the area has been getting monsoon weather lately and it didn't let us down – as in downpour. It rained and rained but luckily it stopped for the hour of the ceremony and some family pictures then it rained during the reception but then it cleared for the big fireworks display that this tiny town somehow finds the money every year to put on. Which is odd considering how many cities canceled their fireworks due to budgetary issues. Anyhoo it was a total hoot. This little town is nuts in the best mountain hippy way possible. Here's some of my faves:

During the parade, which is about 6 blocks long, there was this kid who made this hat from a cardboard box. Love it!

Hat

Except during the ceremony I pretty much shot everything with my Nikon D700 and Nikon AF-D 28mm f/1.4 wide open. I so love this lens.

Dress

Lu 2

Heather

 Like I said: it rained but that didn't stop them from dancing like the happy bunch that they are. I found the hard way that the weather seals on the D700 work really well. I was totally drenched shooting the dancers but the camera acted as if nothing happened. Whoo-Hoo!

Lulu

Feet

There were dogs everywhere and not a clean one in sight.

Dog

This is the kind of shot that frankly you just couldn't get a few years ago. It's shot with my AF-D 28mm f/1.4 wide open at ISO 3200 at one and a third seconds; yes with a tripod. The files these days are so clean at what used to be insane levels of sensitivity that it's stunning. Combine that with long exposures that don't give hot pixels and an available darkness shooter like me is in heaven. This was done at EV-2 which is a stop below the lowest light level that Nikon says that the camera will autofocus at. By using the autofocus on the guys Nike shirt I was able to get a focus point in conditions where our eyes could never ever register as sharp. Man do I love this technology.

4th

Lights

The red glow is the fire fighters setting off fire works while the moon shines through the evening fog. Kinda spooky huh?

Works

You can tone a piano but can you tone a …

Some may have heard about a certain news photographer from Denmark whos photos from Haiti were disqualified from the final round of a major photo competition because he worked the be-jebus out of his entries in Photoshop. He didn't add/remove stuff like some other guys lately who have come under the watchful eye of journalistic ethics. Nope. Here he took rather boring images and cranked the color, contrast and burn/dodge tools into the relm of "that's nothing like what the scene looked like at all".

This got me thinking about how for ever I have been, on non-news "its the truth yer Honor" photos, actually been doing essentially straight prints. By that I mean if I was to be shooting film and after processing it, if it's a negitive, I would pop it into the enlarger and make a color correct print with adequate contrast and minimal cropping. No burning, dodging or selective anything. Basically taking the image out of the camera and adjusting it to print well without doing anything to be creative to it after the fact. Now when I was making gallery prints I'd do all kinds of stuff to bring out my vision. As Ansel Adams said "The negitive is the score but the print is the performance" and I wanted great performances. I was/am am pretty darned good print maker but in the news world that's a bad thing so I have left that stuff at the door, so to type.

However for some things where it's not reality to begin with, like portraits, the act of making one is from the get-go a manipulated situation. So if you are going to have your subject sit here, wear this outfit, turn your head this way, hold the chicken like this and put a few lights around to set the mood, why can't you make a few adjustments to the image to bring out what you want to show? With in reason of course.

I have a few actions set up in Photoshop so that they take the RAW image that I shoot, always RAW muh-friend!, and create adjustment layers for all the things that I may need. These are: a sharpening layer, a color boost, levels adjustment, curve adjustment preset, a selective color layer, a burn/dodge layer and a layer with a whole lot of mid boost that I call a "fill light". Once I open up the RAW file it takes Photoshop about 3 seconds to make all these layers. With the preset color and curves I have in my main action I usually just flatten the image and start shipping it to the client. But with other things I'll get a bit funky with the tools at hand. Take this shot which is the straight RAW file: BTW, everyone say "HI!" to Leah.

Leah raw  

It's really flat but that's the way that a RAW file looks. I wanted to bring out her eyes and add some depth to the image but not make it look "worked". So here is the image with the layers and masks I created:

Leah with layers
It's pretty simple really. I masked out the color saturation to her skin but not her lips and eyes. I applied the sharpening only to her eyes, eyebrows and lips. I did a slight edge burn and boosted the white point on her face for more contrast. Using the "fill light" mid tone boost I increased mid tone separation in her eyes and hair. Total time to produce: maybe 4 minutes.

Final result:
Leah final

I'm pretty sure that I'm not going to be kicked out of any competitions for my toning – ever. With Leah I didn't use the clone or healing tools. I didn't add or remove any "content" but instead just tried to bring more focus on her. The "straight print" didn't work that well. The saturation on her skin was wrong and the contrast was weak. With some minor adjustments I think that she looks "right" to me. At least that is how I felt about her when I was making the photos. Having the emotional content as well as the informational content be true is, to me, rather important.

Technicals: Nikon D700 daylight WB, 1/60th sec ISO320. Nikon AF-S 28-70mm f/2.8 @ f/2.8 SB-800 into 43" shoot through umbrella at camera left and and SB-800 at camera right set to -1.7 controlled via CLS.

When in doubt – use the wrong lens

Photographer Dave Black has been a huge inspiration to me from the moment that I met him. I was at a photo conference and had some time to kill and saw that this guy who works for Sports Illustrated and Newsweek was going to talk about freelancing. About 35 of us showed up to the hour long talk and in walks this tall thin dude who walks up the the podium and promptly does a hand stand. "Now that I have your attention – let's talk about photography!" That was my introduction to Dave. His energy is amazing and he has always pushed his artistic boundaries. He's visually fearless. I picked up a lot of things from him and one was "Don't assume that you have to photograph anything in a particular way. If you are used to using a 400mm lens to shoot baseball, try using an 85mm instead. You will be forced to find different images than the ones that you expect to see. It will be hard at first but they are there."

So even though we all have a comfortable zone of approaching subject visually sometimes it's good to force yourself into something that is going to throw a variable into the mix. If you tend to use your 70-200 lens most of the time, shoot some with a fixed 35mm. If you typically bring out 4 lights to do a portrait, do some with just ambient and a reflector. Sometimes the "wrong" tool for the job is better.

For my news/documentary work I tend to stay in the 28-85mm range for a number of reasons. Mostly because it allows me to be physically close to my subjects and show an intimacy both personally and visually. Also at the 3-5 foot "conversation" range any lens longer than an 85 is very tight and won't focus close enough. Anything wider than a 24mm gets quite distorted when hands or feet get so close to the lens. So for those kind of shoots I tend to either have two bodies (one with a 24/28mm fixed and another body with my 85mm f/1.4) or one body with my 28-70mm f/2.8.

I was assigned to make images for a story about an aerial dance studio and decided to bring with me the wrong lens for the job: my 14mm. I initially got that lens when I was shooting my Nikon D200's with their 1.5x crop so that I would have a very wide 21mm equivalent for things like architectural shots. Since I've been using the full frame D700's though the 14mm has become the "insanely wide lens" that hasn't really been used because it's soooo wide. But I thought "What the heck!"

After getting what I knew would satisfy the client I put on the 14mm and started doing what you are not supposed to do: stick it very close to people. Why? The foreshortening becomes extreme and very distorted/odd looking. So what?! It could be cool. Also rather than framing things through the viewfinder I blind shot nearly everything.  I did use Live View for some initial rough lining up of shots but since they were moving about I couldn't really "compose" in a normal sense. End result? I loved the 14mm shots more than the other ones done with less lens induced weirdness.

Trap 1

Trap 2

Now this approach doesn't work very often, or it becomes boring, but here it was a load of fun. Sometimes talking the wrong approach is just the thing to do.

Behind a scene

Did a little spring fashion-y shoot the other day and thought that ya might want to take a gander. I did it a little backwards as is my usual method. First I didn't want, if possible, to to use typical 19 year old gal who is a size 2 or 4 as the piece was aimed at women in their 30's. We got lucky and found two ladies who are gorgeous but exotic looking in their own right so I wanted to use both of them for the contrasting looks.  The studio that we used is rather small so I made the best of it.

First off I wanted to use softboxes as edge/separation lights but because of the size of the studio I ended up using two small Chimera softboxes instead of the mediums that I initially wanted to use. Frankly I couldn't fit two mediums in and not be crowing the area that I had to work with. The softboxes give a bigger and glow-ier light on women than a hard light like a grid spot and I wanted the ladies to not look etched by the light. I also wanted a big soft light on them but wanted the light mainly high for the jawline shaping that a high light produces. Since I was going to have them move about I used my 60 inch shoot though umbrella because it throws light in a curve rather than a flat plane as softbox does. It also gives a round catchlight which is more natural looking than that of a rectangular softbox. I used another head with a 20 degree grid to be placed just above my head to act as an on axis fill to keep the eyes and shadows open. The camera, a Nikon D700 and AF-S 28-70mm f/2.8 was tethered to my laptop.

The diagram looks like this:
Fashion lighting

For your amusement I put my old Nikon D200 with my AF-S 17-35mm f/2.8 on a tripod set as an interval timer, cranking a shot every 15 seconds so that we could see how things transpired. And it looks like this:

Five minutes, two lights and a mood

I was walking back from doing a shoot with my friend Aimee when we walked past this alley. It was a cool and lightly overcast day but I saw something other than the boring scene before me. I saw something rather film noir-ish. I didn't have any lightstands with be but hey – that doesn't stop us now does it? There was a light near the doorway that I spotted that was hanging flopily by a wire and found that I could wedge the strobe under it and positioned it so as to essentially emulate the light from the light it was attached to. I then found a plastic chair behind the dumpster down the way and took one of the large rubber bands that I keep on each of my SB-800's to keep gels attached and rubber banded the strobe to the chair. I positioned it low and to camera right to act as a fill light and cast the tall shadows that so often appear in noir films. I wanted the high light on Aimee to be a bit hot and since she was wearing black and her hair is very dark that wouldn't blow her totally out as the dark coat and hair would keep her face framed and bring out her eyes. I saw the scene in B&W so I wasn't worried about the colors, just the tones. I had her set into the doorway and clutch her coat and look over her shoulder as if in fear of who was coming down the alley. I dialed the low strobe back 2 stops, under exposed the ambient by 3 stops and did the whole thing in about 7 frames.

Aimee

Technicals: Nikon D700 ISO 200 daylight WB. Nikon AF-D 50mm f/1.4 @ f/5.6, 1/250th. Two Nikon SB-800's controled by D700's built in flash as a commander.

Hang around

I'm not sure who first said it but it's totally true. "If you hang around one spot long enough, something interesting will happen". I was at the local home and garden show a while back and knew that something a bit odd was going to happen at the flower sale area. Oh yeah don't 'cha know it – it's just the most bizarre thing in the world (not). So I was just sitting there surrounded by all these potted flowers in bags when this lady walked up and started sticking her head into the flower bags to smell them. I didn't see any others doing this so the frame was easy to make. I think it's funny but then everyone says that "He ain't right in the head".

Home and Garden

Technicals: Nikon D700, ISO 200, 1/8th sec. Nikon AF-D 24mm @ f/8.

A bit of mystery

Kenneth Jarecke made a nice post talking about the differences between newspaper and magazine photography here. I think that he made the distinctions very well by saying that newspaper photography because its deadlines are so tight tends to be literal/straight visually and based on answering questions while magazine photography tends to be more conceptual/complex and likes to ask questions. This got me thinking.

If you were to read the caption on 3 photos, one a classic newspaper photo, another a magazine photo and a "fine art" (whatever that really is) photo you would see the differences easily:

In the newspaper photo you tend to get a straight visual documentation of a situation. The caption reads: "Highland Cougars #16 Rod Parnell scores the winning point in overtime over arch rivals the Southfield Raptors 7-6".

In the news magazine photo since they have more time to work the situation they get more outside the obvious recording of a scene and try to be evocotive. So that caption might be: "The distraught face of Rod Parnell is reflected in the wall clock as he sits in the whirlpool of the Highland Cougars training facility awaiting charges in the doping scandal which has rocked this once rising star of the sport".

The "art" photo would maybe be a collage of images of Rod Parnell with words written on the photos and loads of things that many people would find to be almost randomly glued on the large final print. That caption would read: "#4 in the series Jesus Hitler On Rye". (Sorry I can never take that kinda stuff seriously)

Anyway the newspaper shot is a good solid and easy read. You look and you get the story. The magazine shot makes you stop and think "Erm, what's this about? He really doesn't look happy. Wait, hey that's Parnell … oooh gotta read that story".  The art shot makes you stand there and stare and stare and wonder "what the heck is that?". One has no mystery to it at all – it's all right there. The next leaves things a bit nebulous where you need to peer into it to see it's slightly obscured truths or its uncommon vision of the world. The other doesn't want to tell you anything – its all on you to guess the intention and meaning of the image.

Personally I think that the world itself is a mysterious thing in the best of ways. But it's not a mentally intractable mess either. When an image has some element of uncertainty it often engages you to want to look more deeply into it. Too much and you just through up your hands in frustration. What you don't see is sometimes as interesting as what you do or maybe even more but you have to see something. That's what the mastery of Alfred Hitchcock movies were all about.

Well I'm no Hitchcock but when I was reading Kens post I immediately though of this shot I did a bit ago:

Sensorelle

Technicals: Nikon D700, ISO 400. Nikon AF-D 24mm f/2.8 @ f/8 1/8th sec.

My right knee

If I'm out working you can tell that I'm a photographer even if I don't have a camera in my hand. Just look at my pants. You will usually see that the knees are abnormally worn; especially the right one. Even if my jeans are only a week old you will see a noticeable wear pattern on the knees from all my kneeling while making photos. A pair of jeans really only last me a few weeks before they are too beat up to wear anymore – just because the knees are gone. This is one reason why I don't wear Armani everyday. But why all the kneeling?

Well I think that many of us photograph makers, even a lot of professional ones, tend to make images from whatever their standing height is. For many images that works perfectly. But for others – not so much. So I get high angles when it works and low angles a whole lot. That means that I spend a fair amount of time on location crawling around and my right knee gets the most amount of abuse in the process.

Low angles have a lot of benefits: they clean up backgrounds, change perspective to that of a child/dog, make things like hands more dominant than faces which is great when your subject has expressive hands, it tends to make things heroic and then there are others which don't come to mind. Anyhoo they are not "straight" pictures which bore me. Sports photographers do a lot of low angles just because they are often photographing people who are wearing hats/helmets which obscure their eyes and sporting environments usually make very very cluttered backgrounds so the low angle shows you more face and less background.

So here is an example. I was photographing Air Force cadets performing a ceremony to honor the loss of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. In my usual way I got there early, great photos happen when people are preparing or in this case just standing around, and noticed how the cadets were taking turns holding the flag in a fashion that looked like a hug. The area was next to a busy street, there were loads of buildings around and the trees still don't have any leaves so the scene at eye level was not only not interesting but obscured the elements that I wanted to show clearly: the cadets and the flag. By getting in low and tight with a wide lens I got what I was seeing in my head.

Shuttle

Technicals: Nikon D700, AF-S 17-35mm f/2.8 @ f/8, 1/500th, ISO200

Things we can do now

I fully admit that I an a gearhead, technology junky or in other words: a nerd. I love the tools and arcana of my work. However I don't get emotionally wrapped up in them as it's just a waste of time. I don't care who made this neat-o tool/toy so long as it works and gives me options that other things don't. Anyone who knows me is aware that I have more gear than I may need but not as much as I want and yet I end up using all of it at one time or the other. It's not just for show folks!

However I am not one to rush out and get the latest anything. I wait for the fix because they rarely work right the first time especially anything involving software. I wait and see if this new thing is really great or just hype. So given that: here's a little story.

I've been using the Nikon D700 for a while now and I simply love-love-love it. The D3 came out and rocked the world. When it's baby brother the D700 hit with essentially all the same systems but in a smaller body I just walked out and plunked my money down. I knew that there were going to be some aspects of the thing that weren't going to be quite "all that and a bag of chips" but what the heck?

Well frankly I think that the cameras we have these day are a pretty big bag of chips and the D3/D700 are the cats pajamas. They enable us to do things that we really couldn't have done just a few years ago. We used to be able to only make photos where there was more than a certain quantity and quality of light. There were some places that frankly if you could make photographs they resulting quality was very poor.

It wasn't that long ago when Fuji came out with their Fujicolor Press 800 film that gave us, at the time, the unheard of professionally usable ISO of 1600 when push processed. It may sound funny but that was a big deal and opened up a lot of opportunities. Did it really look good? Well it was ok but everything else looked horrible. However that film and it's glory wasn't an option for magazine or commercial photographers – that was a newspaper shooter thing. Magazine/commercial guys have quality requirements that just weren't met by that film when pushed. So they didn't shoot in situations where you could/had to use the 800 pushed or not. Their work was usually capped at ISO 200 because for color they shot slide film and ISO 400 slide film never got to be worth a darn.

That's the way that the world was and for those of us who lived and worked back then to a degree we still have that in our heads … "Can I get a way with ISO 400 here?" Well that's all changed in a major way. My D700 gives me resolution that rivals medium format and ISO's that are beyond anything that film ever produced and beyond the digital cameras of the last generation. I now have to get used to walking in to a situation and saying "Oh cool! I'll just use ISO 3200 and it will look great!" It still freaks me out and it will for a while. I'm making photos in places that you just coudn't shoot in before. Wha!

Ooh! Then there's little thingys like Live View which I was certain that was going to be worthless – viewing through the LCD playback screen had to be a joke. Nope it's ver-ah kuhl and I've ended up using it alot. So much that I have a function button setup in my main shooting preset. So no more "Hail Mary" shots where you are shooting high or low angles without knowing what the lens is actually seeing.

Case in point:
Happy

Technicals: Nikon D700, Nikon AF-D 28mm f/1.4. 1/20th @ f/1.4 ISO 2000 Tungsten WB. Sandisk 4GB Extreme III card.

I shot a story about how with the economy being what it is people are flocking to restraunts and bars happy hours for the discount drink and eats. This place was rocking but dark-dark-dark. A year ago I'd walk in and start trying to think of how to light it so that it looked natural since the ambient lighting was so low. Granted I cheated with my 28mm f/1.4 "The Secret Weapon" but bear with me. @ ISO 2000 the file looks like it was shot at maybe ISO 400 from cameras that were state of the art two years ago. I could have gone to a higher ISO but this combo gave me what I wanted.

Now I didn't "see" this shot. I was behind the bar and put my camera between some pint glasses pointing up at the ladies. There was no possible way for me to get my eye to the viewfinder so I used Live View for composition and focusing; switching it off for the final frame. The depth of field on that lens at f/1.4 is very very small as I've shown before – one major reason I used it here. I could not have gotten a sharp point of focus by guessing or by hoping that I had an AF point that I could get on the face of the gal at the right but not focus on the glass just below her head. This is fargin cool stuff.

There are new worlds that are opening up to us just because we have cameras, and some lenses, that give us the ability to produce quality images in now new places. We will be seeing the world in new ways just because this technology is being used by insightfull and creative photographers. Thinking about that gives both the nerd and artist in me goosebumps

Making sausage

Being a "foodie" I get a big kick out of photographing the people who grow and craft our food. Cooking is the only art form where all 5 senses are taken into account so in lots of ways I'm jealous of chefs but don't tell them that, ok? They say that the test of a chef is to have them make you soup. It's something where most of the fancy techniques a chef learns, especially those for presentation, can't really be used and none of it matters a whit if the soup isn't tasty. Give a chef a lovely fillet, some foie gras or a lobster and they are hard pressed to botch it. Then there is the task of taking scraps, odds and ends and making something yummy out of it. That is the beauty sausage: turning things that you would throw away into something that is superb. A staff photographer for Associate Press once referred to news photography as a sasauge factory: making something good out of bad situations.

Well I had to photograph a chef/owner of a new place that is about to open and when I arrived what I found was this:

Arugula interior

Well they said that they were finishing up construction but I didn't believe that it would be that rough. I couldn't take him outside as it was snowing and the whole place was a construction zone. Mmm, ok … give me a dude and some space and we will grind it up into something usable. Light is the seasoning that's the easiest to use, yeah I'm still using culinary terms, so I tried to find a space to use. There were about 6 construction dudes running about so I needed some place that let me set up lights without being in the way. So I took this hall way and moved the baking racks out of the way to give me access to the tiles that would break up the scene and give something more interesting than a seamless background. However the hall is only 7 or so feet wide. Gad!

Arugula hall

Alec the chef was super nice and accomidating. I sent him to the storage shed to get some kind of cooking impliment so that he'd have something in his hands.

Arugula lighting

I put a small Chimera softbox high and over his shoulder at camera left very close to him so that it would quickly fall off his face. I also pointed it away from the wall as best as I could to minimize it's spill as it was only about 3 feet from the wall. I aimed a light with a grid about 20 feet away at about waist level so as to light the tiles with extreme side lighting for maximum texture and dialed about 2 stops below "normal". When Alec brought out a long French wisk, yeah I actually know my wisks!, I knew that I wanted some sparkle on it but the main light woudn't be enough. So I pulled out my 3 degree grid spot so as to just add a bit of light to the tip of the whisk without hitting him or the wall. The softbox did spill onto the wall but I didn't expect that the line created would be the same as the line of the whisk – when I saw the first test shot I just smiled and went with it. Why not?

Arugula

Don’t leave home without one

No not the American Express card, though they are pretty cool. I'm talking about a speedlight. I don't care if it's one of the modern and amazingly cool/powerful Nikon SB800/900 or Canon EX580II or an old flash like an SB-24 or even a Vivitar 285. Even when I'm heading out with my case of monolights I always take two of my SB-800's "just in case". I rarely pull them from the bag but when I do they make neat-o things happen just because I can put them places that I could never stick a big strobe.

Grand example: I was shooting a story about Ana Weir who runs a non-profit that collects and reconditions used running shoes and then donates them to people in Africa. We were making photos in the laundrymat that she uses and I loved the light coming from the wall of windows on the far side and how it was reflecting off the stainless steel of the washers. I had her open one of them, crouch down and start putting shoes into it. However with her being dark skinned and facing into the washer her face was way too dark. So I put a medium softbox at camera right and a strobe with a grid over her shoulder to add definition to the scene but it was putting an SB-800 into the washer that made it happen. There was no way to get a monolight into the washer even with my Innovatronix battery pack so the SB was the only option but it was one that I could take advantage of.

Ana

I wanted a limited a limited depth of field so with my AF-D 85mm f/1.4 set to f 2.8 I didn't need much power from the SB at all. I put the dome diffuser on it and attached a Pocket Wizard using the shiny stainless interior as a big reflector. The rest was easy but getting that little strobe in there made it all happen.

Ana lighting

Party pix

I was sent to cover the hub-bub at the Colorado State Republican Victory Party on the 4th. Anyone who has done this knows that it's usually boring as all get-out. A bunch of candidates, their families and policy wonks milling about drinking heavily – you hope! – and watching tv. Oh yeah!  THAT'S going to make for good photos. Even if yer candidate looses he's not going to openly weep into his scotch so that you can get an good emotive photo. Nope. But then trying to make something visually interesting out of the painfully boring is usually our/my job.

I was initially to follow 3 candidates in hotly contested races but, to my delight, two didn't attend the event. That left me following only Nick Kliebenstein. That's a great thing as these guys don't hang around in a tight group and making my way around the Marriott in the dozen or so small party rooms and the big ballroom filled with about 400 people would be awful. As I said: sometimes a boy gets lucky.

Nick was not as prompt in getting there as I was so I wandered about and just shot stuff to keep me from getting bored. Yes I said that out loud. Once he got there I was just in "hang out" mode. Nick's a great guy and his wife, and aide Matt were delightful to spend time with. Makes my job even easier!

I brought a fair amount of gear because I didn't know what I would need. I quickly found that with just my D700 and beloved AF-D 28mm f/1.4  I had the ticket for this kind of chaos: wide enough to give me some air around my subjects but that fab f/1.4 gives me an amazing separation between the subject and the stuff around him. It's like how you use a longer lens to separate the subject from the background but with a wide angle view. Man-alive I'm glad that I kept this lens during the DX chip era.

So here are some snaps from that night. All of these except for the last one was shot with my D700, ISO400, Tungsten WB, AF-D 28mm f/1.4 @ f/1.4 around a 1/90 sec.

Ah the glamorous side of being an on air tv personality!

DSC_1424

Watching the results trickle in, I was echoing her sentiment.

DSC_1429

Oh come on! If you saw this kinda light tell me that you wouldn't shoot it too.

DSC_1445

Here's Nick telling some supporters that he had essentially chewed off all his fingernails in anticipation of the results.

DSC_1521

Aide Matt, Nick and Nick's wife Krista kept checking Nick's Blackberry for more up to date results than was coming over the 8 bajillion tv feeds that were going on. It never looked good.

DSC_1548

"Hey why don't you go make interesting photos of people waiting around and watching tv?" Gad! Well that's what it was all about. I must say that this is the shot that makes me love that 28mm f/1.4: the catchlight in Nick's eye is perfectly sharp but look at the lovely out of focus background that is a cluttered mess if sharp but isn't so it doesn't.

DSC_1579 

Now this one was done with my AF-S 17-35mm f/2.8. In these situations when there is a scrum you tend to do a "hail Mary" overhead shot. After a while of doing these you get to know kinda where you need to point you lens to get a usable framing realizing that you need to shoot wide to allow for the necessary crop to level out the nearly always tilted horizon you get when not looking through the lens. Well I have one of my control buttons on the D700 set to activate the Live View mode and since I do a lot of "No-looky" shots this function is just the bomb. I was able to shoot Senate candidate Bob Schaffer talking to the press after his concession speach and see exactly what I was aiming at. This is a full frame shot – no crop. Man I love our tools these days!

DSC_1604 

Well as we all know the Republicans didn't do very well so the Republican Victory Party was neither Victory nor Party but I actually had a good time. I didn't get anyone crying into their Martini's but we will go through the whole excercise again in a few year so who knows?