9.25.2017

An evening at the theatre, watching the tech rehearsal for "Singing in the Rain" and learning just what the GH5 is capable of...


Last night I had the opportunity to document the technical rehearsal for "Singing in the Rain" at Zach Theatre. I really like using new cameras in the theater environment as I bring them into the fold in order to understand how they work in what I think is a challenging situation. The lighting on stage sometimes changes minute by minute, and those changes include shifts in color as well as intensity. In addition to lighting changes the actors are constantly moving and I have no control or ability to really anticipate changing expressions and gestures. It's a situation wherein you have to capture stuff you like, in the moment, and then edit toward the best stuff in post. 

In order to make it even more rigorous a test I sometimes deny myself the "crutch" of using the raw file format so I can get a sense of how well the cameras make Jpeg files. It's a bit idiosyncratic but then I never held myself out as a paragon of logic or consistency....

Our rehearsal started at 7pm. I got to the theater a half hour earlier so I could say "hello" to the many people on the technical staff that I've worked with for years. I also wanted to sit quietly and set up my two cameras at, potentially, the optimum settings.

I used two Panasonic GH5 camera bodies and two Olympus lenses. It seems counterintuitive but I think the two Olympus Pro lenses that I ended up buying are a perfect match for the GH5s. When I owned the GH4 cameras I chose (among other ancillary lenses) the two f2.8 zooms from that system; the 12-35mm and the 35-100mm. They were both good as well as smaller and lighter than my current  choices. I think the Olympus Pro 12-100mm is a better choice for all around photography than the 12-35 by dint of the much greater coverage on the long end. I also think it is a sharper and contrastier lens system than either of the Panasonic lenses I owned. Being able to cover most of the focal lengths I use in day to day practice is a time saver and means that most of the time I am wearing only one camera over my shoulder rather than two.

I bought the Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 Pro mostly to use as an adjunct to the 12-100mm in theater and corporate event photography where I might need both the one stop of extra speed and the extra 50mm of reach. While I found myself using the 12-100mm a lot last night I am happiest with the images I shot with the longer zoom. It's not that the files are "better" or sharper it's that they seem a touch cleaner and more detailed. I'd be perfectly happy with the shorter lens but there were a few shots, taken at the longer focal lengths, that just made me smile.

So, that was the gear inventory. The "kit." Two bodies and two lenses. Both set up nearly identically. 
I selected the finest Jpeg setting at the largest file size of 20 megapixels. I chose the standard profile for each camera and left all the parameter settings at their presets. zero, zero, zero. 

I set the camera with the 40-150mm on it to ISO 800 and the camera with the 12-100mm on it to ISO 1600 to compensate for the one stop slower maximum aperture. After consulting with the lighting designer I settled on 4200K as the color setting for the general illumination. The follow spot is cooler and some of the side spots are warmer. There's nothing much you can do about a wash of light that's homogeneously red, blue or magenta. With Herculean efforts you might be able to render a neutral color but it would be a fool's errand to try. After all, they are called accent lights for a reason. 

I tried not to use the shutter under 1/125th or above a 1/500th. If I had enough light to reach for 1/500th the logical thing to do would be to turn down the ISO. 

I shot both of the lenses wide open for the entire evening. On a wide stage shot I was hanging out near the 12-20mm range and figured that depth of field would cover any small disparity between camera and subject distance. At the longer focal lengths I was trying to grab tighter, one person shots and would depend on focusing accuracy of the system for best results. 

In earlier tests I found that the screens were brighter than the calibration on my studio monitor or my Atomos Ninja Flame monitor and knew that setting the brightness one or two notches below zero would help me push up the exposures in a good way. I also enable the histogram and put it in the bottom right hand corner of the screen, consulting it often.

While I had trepidation that the GH5 would stumble in lower light situations I found that anything I shot at ISO 800 or less was as perfect as anything I would expect to see out of any previous camera I had used to shoot this kind of work. At ISO 1600 I started to see (when viewing at 100%) the wavering hand of noise reduction impinge on overall image quality. It manifested itself in overly plastic skin tones and some harsher sharpening of bigger detail. After seeing this I tested setting the camera profile differently. I decreased sharpness by one notch under the default and brought down the noise reduction as well. With noise reduction I experimented with one and two notches under the default and I found that one notch under was enough to make the files perfectly acceptable to me while not requiring me to do anything in post production while a two notch correction required a bit of noise reduction fine tuning in post. 

I tried several different focusing options with the two cameras. I started with my usual: A custom configured AF pattern consisting of four smaller squares in the center of the frame, driven by S-AF. This method nailed every single shot I pointed the camera and lens at, and without any hesitation. It was much quicker and more certain than my Sony A7Rii or A7ii. 

Emboldened I thought I'd try out the methodology that seems to be the preference of many other photographers: To choose all the focusing squares across the frame (wide) and to set the focus to C-AF. Amazingly the camera locked on to the closest thing in the frame and worked predictably. I didn't notice any time lag at all and anytime the camera made an (infrequent) mistake it was because I started out pointing it at the wrong object. Following one actor as they walked across the stage was remarkably consistent and well locked in. 

Since these cameras are both highly competent video cameras I strayed from still imaging from time to time to shoot video snippets that I'll use in the video I am editing of conversations with the director of this play and the choreographer. I thought it would be really nice to have good b-roll of the lead actor actually tap dancing in the rain. When the stage hands turned on the rain device and we got a downpour on stage I switched to 4K video at 30 fps and followed the action. Again, the camera and the 40-150mm were able to follow the dancer (or his feet ) as he tapped his way across the stage under a convincing shower of rain. It's really beautiful footage and you'll get to see it sometime soon. 

We photographers are often given to hyperbole. Smaller format shooters would have us believe that their particular choice of camera is so special that it can transform the laws of physics and deliver performance equal to full frame (35mm) sensors across all performance parameters. Conversely full frame shooters would have you believe that anything smaller than their (35) frame size destines a user to end up with files that are nothing but mush and crap. The truth lies somewhere else. The scale isn't a linear one with full frame to 100%, APS-C at 75% and micro four thirds at 50%. The band of technical behavior and results is much tighter than that. All the cameras are in the 90%s. And there are always many compromises in each direction. As science and industry get better at solving imaging problems the ability to apply computational processing is aggressively flattening the field and reducing the differences we used to see between formats. 

I'm sure I will not be able to blow up these images to sizes as large as I would if using full res files from an A7rii but I'm equally sure that I can get close; and the reality is that either camera will make prints that are large enough so that the optimum viewing distance veils any substantive differences in overall quality. Fast lenses on small formats can equal the look of slower lenses on bigger formats. If f1.4 equals f2.8 (m4:3 versus FF) and we have f1.4 available then we gain two stops of shutter speed or two steps of ISO. Stuff works out. 

After carefully examining about 1200 photographs and six minutes of 4K video I'm happy to say that I feel comfortable using the new cameras in just about any situation. The secret is to understand how they can be set to ensure optimum operation. Used well just about any modern camera can excel. But few can match the GH5 for it's versatility (vis-a-vis the combination of video and stills). 






9.23.2017

"Show Black" and other mildly interesting event production details...


I had to go shopping for shirts today. I have way too many shirts but I didn't have just the right shirts for an upcoming job. I'll be shooting for three days at one of the fancy downtown hotels for a high profile, high tech firm and, as usual, in discussing the project with my client I asked about dress code.
My client being a practiced hand at large, corporate stage shows just tossed out, "standard show black."

"Just like the guys from the event production company." She referenced a company that I have worked side by side with, literally all over the world.

Show Black is as follows: black shoes, black socks, black dress pants (not jeans), black belt and a black, long sleeve shirt with a collar. The shirt can be either a button up dress shirt or a long sleeve polo style shirt but it should be dull black, unwrinkled and professionally presentable. And the entire outfit should blend in nicely with the black drape around and in front of the main stage.

The purpose of wearing "show black" is pretty simple; if you need to transit an auditorium filled with an audience you don't want to take away attention from the main speaker, the panel or the on stage presentation or demo. If you are working the show in the capacity of photographer, videographer, director, lighting technician, A/V specialist or stage set technician you need to always remember that the client and their presenters should be in the limelight and you should be functionally invisible.

Many, many years ago when I first started photographing at major shows for Dell, IBM and Motorola I showed up for a stage show event in a nice pair of black jeans, a white, button down shirt, and a pair of Nike trainers. The head of the staging company (who has been a friend now for 30 years) walked over and asked me, "Do you want to keep this client? Do you want to come back and work tomorrow?" I nodded. "Heres' one of our shirts (black button down oxford with his company logo very discreetly embroidered on the pocket), go and change and tomorrow be sure to come in black "business casual slacks" and black leather shoes. Clients are paying to see your work, not you." 

In a moment of rare clarity I took his advice and upgraded my show wear. I've successfully worked at major events for those three clients (and many others ) for the better part of thirty years. And in that time I've watched executives or journalists transit in front of a stage in white or light colored shirts and khaki pants and it seems like every set of eyes in the audience watched them as they made their way across the room; the bright, white shirt like a magnet for peoples' attention.

I have five or six presentable pairs of black dress pants but the closet was getting low on black shirts. I did a show two weeks ago and by the third day I was on my last presentable black shirt. My preference these days is black golf shirts --- I like the Greg Norman ones but there are a few other brands that are very low key and well cut to my build. The material has more give than cotton broadcloth and the latest fabrics are eminently breathable. If I was fat I would stick to  button up oxfords but since I have no discernible belly bulge I'm safe for the moment in tighter fitting shirts.

And my wife would tell you that my supply of black leather shoes will never run out. I love functional dress shoes. I know I am a living anachronism but I also have a shoe shine kit and black shoe polish and I don't show up for shows with scuffed toes. (Love the way that sounded when I said it out loud).

One more thing about wearing show black and having a couple of cameras over your shoulders--- the client's team instantly knows who you are, why you are there and what your are doing; even if they did lose your badge on the way into town....

Call Time. I learned even earlier than my sartorial education that the start time of my client's program is vastly different than my "call time." On the first full day of the show I'm working this week the online agenda says that the main tent session will start at 8:00 am. And yes, that means the show will probably start at 8:00 am. But on the production schedule, which the attendees will not see, are line item call times for various production positions. The stage techs' call time is 6:00 am. It could be earlier if there needed to be a pre-show rehearsal.

My call time is 7:00 am. This means I check in at the main auditorium no later than 7:00 am. One reason for this is to provide comfort to the client. If they see your face when they walk in for last minute changes and check list stuff they know you're there and ready and it's one less person to worry about. They know they won't be getting a call ten minutes before their CEO walks out on stage with a photographer on the other end making a lame excuse about traffic or a flat tire. Your early call is one more check on the check list that means "all systems go." 

But the early call time is more than just padding. Many times a request for special coverage will come down before the show. On a recent show several speakers came into town with no headshots for projection on the big screens to announce their upcoming presentations. All the other speakers had headshots and they were already dropped into templates for the program. Since I was on time we were able to set up, shoot and deliver new headshots that fit the template just in time.

I love showing up early. I can get acclimated, drink some coffee, talk to the show techs about anything special I need to be aware of ( a surprise award presentation? )  and get a feel for the disposition of the client. I routinely offer to show up early for the production company that's designed and implemented the stage design so we can run through some lighting cues and get them some photo documentation for their portfolios. It's a quid pro quo because, if they like you, the production company is quick to recommend you to big, new clients.

Crew Meals. On some shows I am asked to wear a coat and tie since I'll be working in the middle of a group of similarly dressed executives. In those situations it's pretty much assumed that I'll have lunch with the audience. When we are asked to wear show black and fit in behind the scenes the presumption is that we're separate from the invited guests and audiences and we'll eat in a space reserved for the crew.

The food is usually the same in the crew craft service area as what the hotel or convention center is serving to the show guests, it's just that we're in a room off the stage and the food is presented buffet style since everyone's schedule is, by necessity, staggered. This is great because we can blow off a little steam without potentially embarrassing ourselves --- at least not in front of the client....

It's also great because we aren't subject to the delays that the guests might encounter, such as long lines at buffets or long service times for sit down lunches and dinners. We don't waste time waiting.

I usually head straight to lunch as soon as the last speaker of the morning surrenders his/her podium. I want to eat quickly so I can sit down at my laptop and grind out a selection of images to send to the social media person on my client's staff for quick dissemination. I don't usually have time to eat a leisurely lunch on a big corporate showcase because I tend to be scheduled pretty tightly and there seems always to be a voracious appetite for ever newer images and video as the day drags on.

The Bar. Occasionally you'll have a long term client who sees you as part of their team and invites you to have a glass of wine or a mixed drink while you are attending and photographing receptions, etc. That's very much an exception. I make it a general rule to leave the bar and the alcohol to the guests and the marketing people from the client company. They truly might not care in the moment but if something goes wrong and karma catches up with you for writing a column about not needing dual memory card slot redundancy, and you lose some important images, the client may suddenly remember that one glass of wine and head down the road toward blaming your "reckless" drinking for their loss. Not a pretty position to fine one's self in.... Better to wait till the end of the night and have a drink at the lobby bar. Or, better yet, remember that you could make it to the 5:30 am morning master's swim the next day and skip that performance robbing glass of chardonnay altogether .

Memory Card Management. You are working fast and shooting tons of stuff. Eventually your memory cards fill up. You have more fresh cards to stick into the camera but what, exactly, do you do with the cards full of potential prize winners that you've worked so hard to fill up? I have a goofy system for that. I buy little coin/change envelopes at the office supply store. They are fairly small and have lick-and-stick closures. I get the yellowish manilla colored ones. When I fill up a card I lock it then fill out a time and subject description on the card and seal it into its own envelope. If I have duplicate cards I do an envelope for each and write "B/U" (for back up) on one of them. When I get back to the studio and start ingesting files into Lightroom I copy the files from the main card onto two separate hard drives with custom file names and some detailed exif. I keep the "B/U" cards separate and safe until I've done all the post processing and have delivered the final images to the client (also in duplicate -- nowadays on 64 GB memory sticks/flash drives).  Always better safe than sorry. Those little envelopes have saved me a lot of grief..... You can reformat and re-use one set of cards as long as you have one set put aside for the inevitable "rainy day."

Bill Hard and Bill Fast. You should bill for everything you originally discussed and also bill for any additions requested by the client during the run of the show. Did they ask you for print outs? Bill it. Did they ask you to come in earlier than originally agreed upon? Bill that. Were you promised an onsite meal but missed it because the client added a file send request that needed to be done ASAP? Grab a meal from the hotel restaurant when you have a chance and be sure to bill it. Does the client need a second version of the show on a second hard drive to send to their boss in San Francisco? Bill it. It's easy to get nickled and dimes at a fast moving show but you've got a smartphone and you should know how to use a notebook app to keep track. They would bill you if the shoe (black) was on the other foot.

Also, bill quick. Don't dally around after the show is over. Don't go on vacation and decide you'll bill when you get back. The excitement surrounding the show is like perishable food. It's best eaten fresh and begins to smell after it's been around for a while. Hand your client a bill with the deliverables while the show is happily fresh in their minds and remind them that you are happy to accept their corporate credit card for payment. Money in hand is well worth the meager percentage you might lose to execute the transaction. Wait too long and the show won't look as exciting in the client's rear view mirror. Then they may decide to go on vacation before they get around to picking around the edges of your invoice before sending it along to accounting; where it will go to the back of a long line of invoices from other vendors from the same show who were more motivated to get paid quickly than you were.....

First in line is always better. More to follow.




9.22.2017

Random Thoughts After a Long, Hard Week of Working in the Trenches of Video and Photography. Sept. 22. Phones, the "Cool" lens and general angst.


It's been a physical week. I had a very traditional photo assignment on Monday which required shooting portraits and environmental shots at three different, blue chip law firms and at a company that provides insurance to the legal industry. I say that it's been a physical week because that job had me packing and unpacking a lot. I was able to stuff everything into one heavy backpack but it was one heavy backpack. 

I used small lights, off camera with triggers, and tried to do justice to portrait subjects in a series of quick encounters. But really, it's the packing and moving that wears one down. Tuesday was one of those relentless post processing days when the jobs done on Saturday, Sunday and Monday finally get ingested, tweaked and sent on to web galleries for their brief moment in the sunlike glare of clients' attention. 

I was back to the location work on Weds. with portraits at yet another law firm. I was using the big LED panels (Aputure Lightstorm) and four of them are a heavy package. They shared space on my multi-cart with plenty of light stands and grip gear. But the portraits I did that day were some of the best I've ever done. A lot of the quality had to do with the particular subjects but I'll give some credit to the lighting. When you finally get the perfect mix of window light and panel light, and all the planets line up correctly, if you are lucky enough to get it all balanced and sprinkled with magic pixie dust you sometimes get a gift from the photo gods. But sometimes you just get photos that are more or less in focus. I had a smile on my face when I looked at the final files this time....

Thurs. was the back-to-back work, stills and video projects for Zach Theatre. Flashes and a seamless background for full length shots of two actors at a time followed (in a different building) by two interviews (lit with LED panels) and some really fun footage of a full rain effect (with tap dancing) on the main stage. The video, when mixed with stills from the tech rehearsal this coming Sunday will get smooshed up together to make an promotional piece for "Singing in the Rain." 

I have figured one thing out. A way to lighten my load would be to lose the sandbags we use to keep stuff from falling over. But then stuff would.....fall over. A few years back Calumet marketed plastic sandbags that were meant to be filled with water at the location and then drained after use, but before packing. They worked okay for the first four or five times I used them but on one shoot, in a nice setting, they started to leak and that was the end of that. Ah well.

It's also the week I started to add some additional weight training to augment my swimming. Nothing big but even adding 50 curls with 20 pounds is enough to make one sore if one has been avoiding their weight bearing exercise....

By today I was dog tired and, after noon swim workout, I could have used a nap but instead I started reading reviews about the photographic capabilities of the new iPhone 8s. And I started thinking in earnest about computational photography. I don't think I'm breaking any new intellectual ground here when I make the statement that I sure as hell would not want to own stock in a traditional camera company from here forward. 

The inclusion of portrait modes on the new iPhone 8s that emulate the traditional optical look of out-of-focus backgrounds is going to take a huge chomp (once again) out of the low and middle tiers of the market for professional photographers. Once those cameras transition from beta computational software to the full implementation they will be able to do the few things that kept larger formats alive in the eyes of the majority of the market. They'll provide big files with lots of detail, much less noise, and the ability to drop backgrounds nicely out of focus. 

Ah, but we'll still survive because we know how to light portraits! Right? Ummm. The beta software includes the ability to change the lighting on human faces. Game over for a lot of people who were able to make a living because they could put a TTL flash with an umbrella on a light stand, get close on exposure, drop the background out of focus and depend on the generous latitude of raw files to save butt in those times when the TTL didn't quite work the way the photographer wished. And yes, you can change the background in the iPhone software. Oh, and the screens are much higher quality than just about anything on current enthusiasts' cameras. 

If I were just starting out a career in photography I'd be running for the exits so fast.... With a few well thought out accessories you and your new iPhone could be competitive with a lot of newly minted pros. Imagine if these phones ever fell into the hands of really accomplished photographers and you'll understand why I think traditional cameras are not long for the world of general photography. 

In two years there will be three classes of cameras left: the smartphones (95% of the market), mirrorless cameras with killer specs and great video (for the few working pros who are left) and traditional Nikon and Canon DSLRs for the errant dentist or nostalgia buff.  It won't be pretty on the blogs...

But I am here now and still working so I'll write about a fun lens I used for a ton of stuff this week. I've written about it before but I'll recap: I bought an Olympus 12-100mm f4.0 Pro lens to keep my first Panasonic GH5 company. I found both its optical qualities and its image stabilization to be quite good. So I've started using it for more and more work. I used it for most of the work I did at law firms in the early days of the week. And I used it yesterday, with the GH5, for both the actor images against white and the director and choreographer interviews I did in 4K video in the afternoon. I love this lens and camera combination. Everything that comes out of the camera is sharp and sassy but not exaggerated. 

The one lens that I played with this week that's even better is the Olympus 40mm-150mm f2.8. I used it wide open to make one of the most beautiful portraits I've made in years. But you just can't beat the range of the 12-100mm f4.0. And the remarkable thing is that most of the time I've been using it wide open. Pretty stunning. Everyone should run out and buy one immediately. Or not.

So, how do I feel about my recent decision to bulk up on GH5's and attendant lenses? Pretty damn good. Nearly every estimate request and bid request I get these days calls for some part of the project to be video. I was negotiating a three day event for next week and the client was pushing back on price. I pushed back too but I wanted the job. I would have ended up reducing the price if I had to but in the process the client noticed that I was also offering video services on my website and asked if I could also provide some conference b-roll video. I said, "yes" and all of a sudden my original bid was fine and reasonable. 

How much video? Roll on a speaker for 20 seconds in the middle of a session. Get some quick footage of people networking during the breaks. Show a few angles of a panel discussion. Get some footage of the band on stage at the ACL/Moody Theater. It's all stuff that will fit well around the photography I'll already be shooting. This is what the whole hybrid concept was really meant to be. 

It also works in reverse. I've been hired to shoot video interviews and had the client's marketing team enjoy the process we use with their executives enough that they were willing to add a day just to shoot portraits and some interiors. And if you think about it every single day of commercial use just about pays for one individual GH5. But none of this would work if the footage out of the cameras wasn't great. It is. In both directions. Just thought I'd throw some love to my current favorite camera. Made my favorite camera partly because of the lens contributions from Olympus. They're a better fit for me that some of the similar Panasonic lenses. 
The GH5 is definitely a keeper. 


I'd like to say that I'm planning to chill out this next week but we're already gearing up. I shoot the tech rehearsal for "Singing in the Rain" on Sunday (mostly for video b-roll) and the dress rehearsal on Tues. (mostly for marketing photography). I use any downtime on those days to do post production on the content. Then, it's a Weds. - Fri. corporate event with two handfuls of GH5 cameras. Photos and video, followed by more days of post. I've learned it's good to make hay while the sun shines. The marketing mood and the national economy have a tricky habit of turning bad on a dime...

Shooting flash without cables and cords. Makes for a relaxed photo assignment.

An almost behind the scenes look at my lighting for the actors who 
will star in "A Tuna Christmas" at Zach Theatre. In between shots.

I've pretty much cut the cord when it comes to electronic flash. After a long career of dragging heavy strobe boxes, heads and mono-lights onto location after location I've had enough. And it's never just the box and head or the mono-lights that make the process of lighting things on location such a pain in the ass, it's also the cabling, connectors and extension cords that add sheer drudgery to every job outside the studio.

In the days of nickel-cadmium double A batteries and wimpy hot shoe flashes the bigger flashes were a necessary component when lighting large groups, big products or big rooms with power hungry medium format cameras and films. Now, not so much...

The worst part of location jobs seemed to be the lack of nearby or functioning electrical outlets in whatever area in which we needed to shoot. We'd get an assignment to photograph a group of executives at a company and when we got there we would find that the location the marketing team had reserved was in a major foot traffic area in a company headquarters and that the nearest A/C outlet was 75 feet away. And on the other side of a hallway. We'd set up out lights and start stringing out extension cords. Once the extension cords were laid down we'd need to spend time taping down any part that crossed a walk way. If we needed more than one outlet our budget for gaffer's tape could get out of hand...

When I switched to mono-lights it fixed on problem (all light heads being tethered on fairly short cables to one pack) and added another. Now all four or five lights used on a temporary set would need their own power cable and those power cables needed their own extension cords. Major pain, as each cable had to be taped down so inattentive executives and their legions of helpers didn't trip over the cables and injure themselves.

I tried to go with a total battery powered system back in 2007-2008 but I was stymied by the need for all day power (so of our shoots run 1200-1500 exposures) and the need for more power than most of the cost effective speed lights delivered. I like shooting at ISO 100 or 200 and I like to use big umbrellas and soft boxes and the venerable Vivitar 283 or the Nikon SB-800 just didn't deliver.

NiMh batteries were helpful but we found ourselves changing out the four batteries in four or five flashes four or five times a day. And much of the cost of big brand name portable strobes was based on their ability to be controlled from the camera position which was a feature set we didn't need for my style of photography. Now almost every generic brand offers the same kinds of controls. But we still don't really use the remote setting features.

No, the real split between my flashes and alternating current came this year when I became aware of bigger, lithium ion batteries coupled with fairly powerful generic flash products from companies like Neewer, Godox, and Fotodiox.

I dipped my toes into the bigger battery, better performance for less money market with a couple of Godox V850 flashes and I've never looked back. Two of them made for perfect tools when lighting up a standard white background. Even with ISO 200 I'm getting f8.0 on the background above while using the flashes on manual at 1/8th power.

My next step was to play with the Godox AD200 flash which provided a bigger battery and more power, along with an interchangeable flash head. It's a really nice flash and it bangs away at 1/2 power just about forever; especially if you are using the bare bulb head. But what I really wanted was just a bit more power and a day's worth of flashes. That's when I found the Neewer Vision 4, 300 watt second, battery powered monolight. It features a big lithium ion battery that's said to be capable of delivering 700 full power flashes. I use it at 1/2 power for quick recycling and I used it that way for about 500 flashes at a shoot yesterday and still had about 3/4ths power remaining when we wrapped up.

My set up for two people, full body, on a white seamless was to use the two smaller Godox flashes at 1/8th power directly on the backgrounds. I made little BlackWrap(tm) flags to cut the light spread to keep it off my subjects. At 1/8th power the flashes recycle almost instantly and will keep popping pretty much forever.

My fill light was the AD200 firing into a 72 inch, white umbrella at 1/2 power. I used it about 20 feet back from my subjects. It was the perfect fill light.

My main light was the Neewer Vision 4 firing into a 60 inch, white umbrella that was positioned about 15 feet from the subjects (looking for the inverse square law to help me even out the light across the two actors). The light was triggered by its included remote trigger which trigger the other three lights which were set to "S1" which makes use of their optical slave modules.

With no cords to manage and no extension cords to act as potential liability lawsuit triggers I was able to position my lights wherever I needed them and to work more quickly than ever before.

I might add a second Neewer Vision 400 but....then again I may just keep on working with the exact stuff I've outlined here. Seems to be working for me well right now.

Happy to say "goodbye" to extension cords, power cables and haphazardly functional wall outlets. I'm now back in the studio watching four battery chargers flashing away for the lights and another two flashing away with camera batteries. Relaxing.


9.21.2017

Lighten my load with smaller cameras and lenses? Which dream world do you live in...?

Happy Photographer writes blog about camera size and weight 
versus the need to bring the lights...

Some of us photographers who cross over and do video like to talk about the benefits of "hybrid" shoots where we "light once and then shoot twice." By keeping the lighting instruments the same and using the same cameras for both disciplines the big idea is that we lighten our load of equipment and get multiple kinds of imaging stuff done quicker. And, as far as I can tell, it works pretty well most of the time. But never in this particular proposal of processes have I ever indicated that getting smaller and lighter cameras is an important part of the hybrid equation. I'm not thrilled with the weight savings of smaller, mirrorless cameras any more than I am thrilled by the overweight nature of professional DSLRs. The reason I don't particularly care about the weight or size of cameras is that so much of my work is done using various kinds of lighting equipment. 

I was all excited about shooting a marketing piece for a theater today. We planned on shooting various actors on a white background. I'd mastered lighting a traditional white out background with my Apurture LightStorm LED lights and I was getting ready to pack when my art director e-mailed over so final notes. The actors would be dancing and moving and might be jumping as well. Well, that kills it for the LEDs. I can't freeze someone mid jump and keep them sharp with continuous lights. I got busy packing up the flashes. 

The number of lights is basically the same so I wouldn't mind BUT..... after we shoot the marketing piece for one production, and wrap up the gear at that location, we're breaking for a late lunch and then setting up in a different building to shoot two video interview. Which, of course, do not call for electronic flash. So I'm right back to the requirement of packing two sets of lights. Oh joy!

You can make the cameras as light as you want. You could even put your lights on a diet, but for most of the stuff I shoot we're hauling around a set of background stands and a nine foot roll of background paper, six to eight heavy duty light stands, flags, three or four sand bags, a sturdy cart. apple boxes, a hundred feet of heavy extension cords,  soft boxes, umbrellas and the various hard and semi-hard cases required to keep all the breakable stuff unbroken. Saving two to five pounds on camera gear is a drop in the bucket in the overall equation of a couple hundred pounds of (necessary) lighting gear. 

Today we'll also need to bring along a large duffle filled with sound blankets because the space we're assigned to shoot in is as hot as the hood of a black car in a Texas parking lot. We need to take the edge and echo off the voice recording. By the time we pack white masonite for the floor and another c-stand and fish pool for the microphone we'll just about have the Honda CR-V filled to capacity. 

I know that some of you will chime in and tell me that you do photography strictly for the love of it and I'm happy for you. I'm not sure I chose the right career ---- sometimes it just feels light a combination of logistics and weight-lifting with a few moments of imaging tossed in...

I dream of the day when I can take just a small bag with a camera and a lens or two. But it's the lighting and accessories that make it feel like "work." 

Really should have gotten a couple of assistants for this job. They could be setting up while I get in a noon swim. Now that would be delicious.

With a flurry of back to back jobs the studio is starting to look like a warehouse.
We drop off one set of gear and grab another. The image above is as neat and clean as it's been in months....

The magic ingredient for commercial photography success, besides having a trust fund or a wealthy spouse, is a non-stop stream of coffee. Comes in handy when the client "needs" those shots the next morning and you're still on location wrapping up the shoot at 7:15pm.

Photographers tend to fixate on those "magic" cameras but I think the real 
magic is in bringing the lights and knowing how to use them. 
That, and getting along with people. 

9.17.2017

Texturists versus Contextualists. Camera choice follows individual sensibilities.

New discoveries or the relentless display of craft?

An individual's aesthetic wiring directly relates to their choice of camera types when it comes to photographing what we might call their vision. I would argue that there is a spectrum between pure documentation of the subject matter, divorced from technical considerations of presentation, and the other extreme; the exercise of technical virtuosity which would consist of the highest level of craftsmanship.

At each extreme point of the spectrum either the lack of desire to embrace technology, or the wholesale embrace of technology, becomes an impediment to the most effective presentation of a subject --- or a visual idea.

In less extreme examples we can see how this bifurcation of intention in photography; the pure documentation versus the value of craft over context, drives the choice of tools individual artists embrace in order to bring their vision to fruition.

In thinking about those whose focus is to document an event, a person, a scene, etc. with respect for the content and the energy of the image I would put up as examples photographers such as Willian Klein and Robert Frank. In the opposite camp; those to whom craftsmanship and mastery seem to be more important than subject I would point to landscape photographer, John Sexton and supposed documentarian, Stephen Shore.

In their time both Klein and Frank selected cameras not for their ultimate image quality but for their fluid nature and their transparency in terms of getting an image on film interpreted only by their selection of the moment of capture and the selection of an almost reactive composition. In an age where the standard camera format of commerce was the 4x5 inch camera, and a medium format twin lens camera was considered to be a snapshot camera, these two artists (and others such as Henri-Cartier Bresson) chose to work with the (then) tiny 35mm cameras made by Leica, and then added insult to injury (in the eyes of their generation of photographers) by using fast, grainy, less sharp black and white films.

Their images all have an immediacy that allows us to more directly connect with the objects of their observation. Once the images were captured the images were printed in more or less direct methods. While the printers may have cropped slightly or burned and dodged a bit there was nothing like the wholesale manipulation of images that we routinely see in contemporary post processing where many times the captured image is a vague chimera that will be added to and massaged endlessly by today's oppressively addictive software.

In my past role as a specialist lecturer at the University of Texas at Austin I used to take my advanced photography classes to the Humanities Research Center to see actual prints from the HRC's vast collection. We would don on the white cotton gloves and sit around an expansive wooden table and personally handle and view the quintessential photographic work of the 20th century in its purest guise, as black and white prints (mostly in sizes from 8x10 to, at the largest, 11x14 inches).

I was always left cold by the pristine work of photographers such as Minor White or even Edward Weston while any number of works by Leica toting social documentarians could perk my interest (and appreciation for their clarity and speed of seeing).

In one session we were looking at a portfolio of prints of Henri-Cartier Bresson's work. One print was a larger version of a photograph of the Pope, in Vatican City, in a throng a people. A student pointed out that HCB had missed focus. The Pope was not in razor sharp focus. We all sat back and looked at the print for a while and decided that the moment captured (and the way it was caught) certainly outweighed the technical shortcoming of the camera's operation. To be in the right spot at the right time with a functioning camera was much more important than not having the photo at all. In retrospect I have been considering how that image would have worked in a smaller print. Something like a 6x9 inch image on an 8x10 inch sheet of paper. Would we have even noticed the slight softness of focus on the Pope or would the smaller size render the technical deficiency moot?

This always starts me thinking along the lines of "What if HCB had used a bigger camera with a higher potential image quality?" Having shot with a small Leica, a Rollei twin lens, and 4x5 inch cameras I feel confident in saying that he made the right choice of camera and film for his vision and his immediate circumstances.

When I look at the work of Robert Frank I understand that, with the ability to use the camera almost without conscious thought, and with the discreet profile of the small, handheld camera, Frank was able to capture moments of social documentation that were so unguarded that we feel the emotion of the people in the moment instead of just the study in sociology that most journalism-style photography presents.

While held in high regard by many I can't stomach the lifeless virtuosity of most large format nature photographers. They really tell us nothing about nature or our place within it; they only use their naturalistic subjects as foils for their own clinical vision. Their intention seems to be to find in nature scenes that they can use as a base canvas upon which to showcase their skills and technical mastery of otherworldly tonal control, contrast and arch preservation of detail. When their audiences see the work they respond to the way the artist's control glorifies the experience of viewing replicas of nature by providing an alternative representation of what is generally visually mundane in situ.

One imagines these large format artists marching through the chaos of the woods with a folding view camera, stout tripod and a backpack full of film holders, looking for a vignette that can be forcibly composed into a structure considered "harmonious" by the masses and then stolen from its colorful and chaotic place in nature into a black and white showcase of gloriously rendered detail and order, with all the contrast of a Japanese pen and ink image. There is no impression of timeliness or emotional reaction to their moment of discovery, no AHA!!! instead one feels the plodding nature of a researcher who leisurely sets up a camera and then, in a series of investigations works around the subject more or less begging it to yield some meager measure of intrinsic magic to give even the meanest spark of life to the artist's experiment in technical perfection. As sensual as kissing a porcelain mask.

Since these artists have the time, and additionally live and die by the highest expression of technical mastery, their tools of choice are the 4x5 and 8x10 inch cameras and a selection of films with the finest grain and the highest resolution. The classic representation of detail being more important than the subject itself. But the "seeing" doesn't stop with the rigorous capture of the scenic-ly mundane it continues in the dark room with another bout of arduous perfectionism until the photograph is as much a manipulated reference as a purely photographic print. The value, according to curators, is in the artist's interpretation in the final print of the original scene, not in the power of the original scene itself.

Another way to look at all of this (at least in the eyes of the great audience of every man) is that few people outside the small (and shrinking) world of educated artists and art historians see the value of abstract painting, action painting, and non-representational painting in general. The further paintings diverge from hard core realism the less appreciated they are by most audiences. The masses demand as much verisimilitude to reality in their paintings as can be wedged into them. In this way the virtuoso photo-realistic painters, as well as those painters who just happen to be very compulsive, are publicly adored (and quickly forgotten).

In the current field of photography we seem to have same kind of situation that existed in the 1950's and 1960's. The middle of the curve of photographers seems obsessed with the need for "perfect" digital cameras. They define "perfect" as the cameras that can most accurately reproduce the scene in front of the camera in terms of sharpness, resolution, contrast and overall color correctness. They are willing to spend many multiples more money over less well appointed cameras in order to get these camera attributes so that these photographers can dogmatically pursue the creation of a "perfect image".

While any camera today can make a beautiful, reasonably sized print, there is a mania to have the camera that will make the biggest print with the least noise and the widest dynamic range. The maniacal pursuit of technical perfection blinds many to the charms and virtues of alternate tools. While a Zeiss Otus 85mm lens might be the sharpest lens in the photo cosmos it's just one focal length. If an artist has an elastic (and more interesting)  and expansive personal vision of reality that requires being able to switch angles of view with speed and agility then the Otus becomes an encumbrance to his/her vision. It may be that a camera with an almost endless range of angles of view helps bring his/her vision into existence.

A frail or aging photographer with a lively and unique vision may not be able to physically carry all the bits and pieces of the "perfect system" out in the field. The weight of "perfected progress" might hinder him or her from even leaving their home to engage in their art. But what if their vision could give birth to great work with a smaller, easier to handle camera and a small selection of good lenses? Would their work be less valid? See the work of Jan Saudek https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jan_Saudek

When I look across so many arenas of photo sharing; from Instagram to Google+ and to some of the old standbys like Flickr I am generally much more drawn to images that display immediacy and authenticity than I am to cleverly contrived and technically flawless images that lack any sort of contextual soul. It's rare that an image from a Sony A7Rii or a Nikon D810 is revered in social media for its imaging qualities --- they are almost always "liked" and "favorited" for the angle of composition and insightful  moment at which the subject is captured, or the subject's gesture or expression, not in the way the camera's noiseless purity is displayed. More often, these days, the most interesting work is coming from the least complex of cameras --- iPhones.

There is a giant cult within contemporary photography that ignores the human magic of storytelling and instead concentrates on trying to show the essence of a boring thing because a certain type of subject is a more pliable canvas on which to demonstrate the camera operator's mastery and control of their special tool. Wouldn't it be so much more interesting if they had a story, beyond all their proficiency, to tell?

I would suggest to anyone who really wants to see better to practice actually seeing by putting the A7rii/D810/5Dsr in a drawer and rummaging around to find that old point and shoot from ten years ago. Something like a Canon G9 or some Coolpix or an early Sony RX100xxxxx. Put the camera in "P" mode and go looking for subject matter than interests you for more than just its ability to serve as a canvas for your craftiness. Look for the beautiful smile of sensual person. Look for interesting clouds. React to a sweet expression. Consider a quickly fading gesture. Watch the light play across someone's elegant face. Find a moment that speaks to your sympathy for our shared existence. Reject easy opportunities just to show off your chops.

Turn off the review mechanism of the camera and just point the camera at things as they interest you, bring the camera to your eye and click. You might just be amazed to find that if you stop contemplating perfection and start embracing serendipity, and the honest reactions of your emotional self, you may like the images that arise far more than the sterile work of proving your camera is a better artist than you.

Finally, I write about discovering scenes, gestures, etc. And of technologists also on a search for perfect foils for their art, but there is another way. I consistently look back at the work of "constructionists" like Duane Michals whose work is neither "discovered by happy accident" or the result of hours of arduous manipulation and obsessive control in the the darkroom --- after being captured by the "Best Camera in the World". Instead, he imagines and then directs photographic stories that resonate with so many audiences. His stories bubble up from his life. He constructs a visual narrative but without the artifice of perfectionism. It's a third way of seeing that we don't talk about enough. It's powerful and, reading the story of his career, you can see that the camera, or type of camera he uses, is unimportant. A minuscule part of his act of creation. Seems imagination is one of the most powerful tools of all.
http://www.dcmooregallery.com/artists/duane-michals




9.15.2017

Playing scales. Swimming drills. Filmmaking practice.



When I see someone play the guitar or piano very well they make the process seem so fluid and easy. It's the same when I see an Olympic swimmer repeat graceful one hundred yard repeats under a minute each. As a culture we have a tendency to ascribe mastery to genetics, luck and natural talent and we ignore or discount the reality of the artist's or athlete's years and years of training and practice. But all one needs to do is to read about swimmer, Michael Phelps's training regimen in the decades leading up to his multiple gold medals to know that even those with in-born talent still have to put in the time and energy to excel.

I thought moving from still imaging to video production would be a cakewalk. After all, I've been working with a camera in front of my face for nearly 4 decades and I've studied the science and craft of how the sensors work with light, optics etc. Hell, I've written books about it, but if all that was required to be good at motion pictures was the rote memorization of hundreds of facts and mechanical steps then most professional photographers would be able to step seamlessly into video production, right?

But I'm finding that making moving pictures is a whole different game. In photography you can compose well and then lock your camera down on a tripod and press the shutter button at the decisive moment. If you've trained yourself to see well you'll most likely get a good still image (especially so if the subject looks great...) but the crazy thing about video, especially video with a handheld camera, is that so much really depends on an integration of physical practice combined with seeing well.

In the beginning of my video journey the cameras we used didn't have stabilizers and handheld gimbals were unheard of. I thought my workaround would be to put the camera on a fluid head tripod and that everything would proceed just like still photography. I thought that until I was called on to do my very first very steady pan. Who knew that just panning a tripod head could be so difficult? My moves were jagged-y and inconsistent and the stopping and starting of my pans was just downright embarrassing.

It seems that panning (and tilting) is an acquired skill. Smoothness comes from physical practice. The practice of panning over and over and over again until you figure out how to pace and how to become more continuous in your moves. I continue to practice and agonize over the quality of my pans and am coming to grips with the need to put in more hours just practicing the moves (which also depend on distance to the subject, focal lengths of lenses used, speed of subject travel and so much more). You can buy the best tripod and head in the universe but if you don't routinely practice your pans will never be as smooth as the "talented" camera operators.

The same goes for every facet of video camera operation that requires movement. Camera movement is so much more than hand skills. The best operators use their whole bodies in the process of smoothly moving their cameras. You can't see their best work because their best work has as its goal making the camera and its move invisible. But you can routinely see okay and mediocre and bad camera pans in many TV shows and movies because not every operator has hit the point where their work can become transparent to the viewers.

I imagined that having the new GH5 camera and a stabilized lens would give me a much more solid and smooth platform with which to shoot handheld, and it's true that the camera/lens combo gives me great stabilization but even with stabilization the camera has to move and once you go from stationary to pan or tilt, or even walking with the camera, the lack of practice becomes glaringly obvious.

If I'm to be successful at handholding a moving a video camera it's pretty darn obvious that I'm going to need a lot of practice. A lot of practice. I may even have to give up drinking coffee. Imagine living the life of a monk just to make smooth, handheld video camera moves. Breathtaking in its cruelty...

My sometimes partner in video crime and I just finished estimating and proposing eight video projects for an ad agency. The bulk of each video will consist of handheld b-roll lifestyle scenes. This means getting sharp focus on the fly, moving through groups of people, quickly moving to catch great expressions, etc. While my partner has years of continuing practice (he's a full time video shooter) I've spent way to much time depending on flash to freeze motion and tripods to anchor my non-moving, still photography cameras. As we get closer to the start of the projects I've taken to daily practice moving with my camera.

I headed out yesterday to walk through Zilker Park, past Barton Springs Pool and around the lake with my camera, lens and neutral density filter in hand. Every time I saw something interesting to shoot I practiced regulating exposure by rotating the variable neutral density filter and evaluating zebras in the finder of the camera. I had the camera switched to manual so I could also practice using focus peaking to hit sharp focus. But after getting the settings correct I spent most of my time working to pan with joggers and bikers, following aquatic birds as they skimmed the water and then took flight, and I spent time panning from one object to the next. The most difficult thing to practice it to walk smoothly with the camera and I did that as well.

I was feeling pretty good about my time in practice until I came back home, stuck the SD card into my computer and started looking, full screen, at the practice shots I'd made. They showed how the camera moved with my breathing and how any operation of camera buttons created motion havoc in the frames.
I cringed when I saw how lumpy my pans were; speeding up and slowing down to try and regulate my moves. I got a few takes that were decent and I tried to think back to what I'd done to achieve them.

At the end of the exercise, when I'd looked and looked at the shaky footage on my unrelentingly critical monitor, I dumped the footage in the trash and grabbed the camera up again --- stuck a new battery in it and got ready to practice again. Today, after paper work, dog walking and some swimming I'll be back at it practicing camera moves. It's a race against time. Will I master all the arcane methods of handholding and moving a camera or run out the clock instead? The real answer is that mastery is a classic case of ever diminishing returns but that doesn't mean I should not try for the next twenty to thirty years to become at least good at it.

What I learned this week: When starting a camera move place yourself in the position of least comfort to start and move progressively to the position of comfort by the end.

The real masters of motion picture camera operation have spent as much time with a camera in their hands as most virtuoso musicians have spent with their own instruments in hand. That's what makes both camps great.

Camera, except for its feel in your hand, inconsequential.

9.13.2017

Sony's new RX10 camera just got announced. It's called the Sony RX10IV and it looks like everything I wanted.

This is a photo of the RX10iii, one of the best small sensor cameras I have ever used. 
Actually, one of the best cameras I have ever used....along with its
sibling, the RX10ii. 

I just read the announcement of the launch of the RX10IV on Digital Photography Review. It's the one time I hope DPR just goes insane with their product coverage as this is a product that makes sense and one for which I'll gladly line up to hemorrhage cash. 

There weren't many things I didn't like about the previous generation. The only one I can think of right off the bat would be focusing speed and sure-footed AF lock on to the longer end of the lens. Especially so in video. I haven't checked the specs (extensively) on the new camera but would also love to be able to "punch in" more than the current 5x times magnification in video in order to really nail focus when in manual mode.

The lens is the same 24-600mm equivalent Zeiss lens and the camera continues the full frame read, non-binning 4K video performance. The video is actually down res'd from a 5K capture! I found the handling and post processing performance of both 4K and 1080p video to be class-leading and the combination of all the features and performance metrics of the RX10iii to be superb. If this camera focuses better and locks focus quicker; especially in video, then I'm really to throw down money for my copy. (But I want to try it out at a bricks and mortar store before tossing around that kind of money...).

I saw other features reviewed such as silly fast frame rates for stills but I didn't pay attention to them. The older models shot just as fast as I needed them to... if you really need 24 fps then you need to be shooting video instead...

Why do I like the most recent RX10xx camera models so much? Hmmm. That's easy. The RX10-3 is an amazing still photography camera. The 20 megapixel sensor makes beautiful files when shot at 80, 100, or 200 ISO. Workmanlike files at 1600 and still decent/usable files at 3200. The image stabilization in that camera is rock solid for photography and 1080p video. Not quite in Olympus territory but as good or better than systems costing thousands more... The all encompassing lens is an "as good" or better than decent replacement for a bagful of most interchangeable DSLR lenses and has more useful reach than just about any lens available under $5000 for Nikon or Canon. Or Sony A7 series cameras. And it's foolish to discount the usefulness of a great, built-in lens; not having to change lenses means no dust bunnies, no sensor damage, no fumbling in the dark to effect the change, and much less to carry around.  You know, the difference between two weeks of shoulder battering drudgery or a real vacation.

If that was all there was to the RX10-3 it might seem expensive for a one inch sensor bridge still camera but the camera is capable of so much more. It's one of the best fully capable video cameras/systems you can get under $2,000. It's capable of beautifully detailed 4K files and, unlike other cameras in the Sony line up, I've run the camera for multiple segments of 29 minutes duration, with only seconds of delay between the segments, without any indication of overheating. You might think of bridge cameras as "amateur" but then what other "amateur" video camera comes with a full S-Log codec and a the ability to configure its video files in many more ways (knee, black level, gamma, etc.) than just about any other multi-use camera on the market? So, nearly full frame 4K at 30 fps, complete with S-Log, and the ability to write the 4K files to Pro Res files via a clean output HDMI connection to an external recorder like the Atomos Ninja Flame. Wow. And of course there are still microphone and headphone connectors, and very clean microphone preamplifiers.

I've used the RX10-2 and 3 to make video in downpours, in 100+ plus heat and in the dark of a theater and the camera has never faltered. In 2016 I used the RX10-2 and RX10-3 on enough projects that the jobs I used them on (sometimes exclusively) contributed about 25% of my fee income. So, why would I want to upgrade to the latest model; the RX10-4?

I'd do it for the phase detection AF capability that was added in the new model. Apparently it uses the same processor for AF as the new a9 camera. It focuses twice as fast as the current model and locks in (according to Sony) focus quicker and at lower EV levels. The PD AF has been well proven in the a6300 and a6500 models as well. No more dicey focus at the long end of the lens.

While I often give in to reckless hyperbole when I'm slamming around on the keyboard I believe that this new camera could provide a single tool that would be able to do most of the professional video and photography assignments most photographers will encounter in day-to-day business. Yes, $1800 is expensive if you consider comparing it directly with a larger sensor camera body. But you should really be comparing it with a whole system of lenses, a stand alone, 4K video camera and a super fast camera body. It's a camera that can replace thousands and thousands of additional dollars invested in arcane photo stuff.

I'm not saying anyone else needs to rush out and buy one immediately or their career will come to a grinding halt. This may be only really cogent to my uses. But I'm certain it will be a most useful tool.

The two biggest complaints I'm reading about the new camera model revolve around price and size/weight. It's almost as if there is a wholly uneducated but vociferous group of photographers who feel as though Sony can bend physics to their will. I've seen suggestions that the lens speed be increased to f2.0 while, in the next breath suggesting that the size of the camera be reduced by half. Many insist that, since this is not a "real" DSLR that the price should be around $599 or lower. I'm sure the same people would love a first class airline ticket to Paris for $25 --- and I'm equally sure they'd complain that their glass of Champagne had too many bubbles. That their seat should be the size of the couch at home. And that the plane did not go 2,000 mph. I'm sure these are the same people who believe their Pontiac Aztecs should be able to fly....

The camera is not as big or as heavy as any DSLR anywhere once equipped with an equivalent lens (if there was one....). The price is not just for a camera body with a small sensor but for an entire system that is capable of doing a combination of applications open to no other camera/lens system on the market. If you just broke the price in half and charged $900 for the body and $900 for the lens then perhaps it would be easier for the cognition-challenged to understand the overall value. And, since it only comes in a kit you save a dollar!!!

The RX10IV might not be perfect. It's too big to fit in the front pocket of your ever-tightening Jourdache jeans. The video specs aren't as good as those on the GH5. The dynamic range of the sensor isn't going to go toe-to-toe with the Nikon D850. But if you need to toss some plastic wrap over the top and video tape a raging flood in the middle of a driving rain storm and then walk away with near perfect 4K video, and then turn back around and make a technically great photograph of an electric transformer  blowing up on top of a utility pole one hundred yards away ---- then I think you may have found your camera.

You might not need one. You might not be able to afford one. But that doesn't mean the camera isn't pretty darn amazing. And very useful to people who need what it offers.

Go see reviews from people who bought the IV's predecessor:



9.12.2017

Kid heads off to NY for his senior year of college.


Last lap. Ben's back at school, hitting the books and having fun. This is a photo of him from his grade school years hacking away at an old Mac laptop. He's having an after school snack of grapefruit and blue cheese. 

Time goes so fast. If you still have young ones at home don't ever put the camera away. Shoot even the most mundane stuff. You'll love it later. Believe me.

Sometimes photographers get way ahead of their clients. More like spinning your tires than making progress... Sometimes clients have the roadmap we need.

I forgot to use the "ultimate" camera on my job....

I got up early, drank coffee and drove north yesterday morning. I left the house way too early for an appointment at 9 a.m. but you'll have to give me a little slack since the never-ending road construction on Loop One/Mopac can be a mercurial bitch. One day you breeze on to your destination and the next you sit motionless in the fast lane, staring at the tail lights and listening to someone droning away, cheerfully, on NPR. Yesterday was a miraculous day for me on Hwy. Loop One. From 7:45 a.m. on the traffic never slowed down between Westlake Hills and Round Rock. I made the trip in 25 minutes. Which left me about an hour to cool my heels at a local Starbucks before walking into the lobby of a long time client. Thank goodness I brought a book!

My assignment was to photograph the CEO of this local/national/global tech company, together with a giant prop. We needed him pictured alone, and surrounded by a group of about 25 happy, enthusiastic employees. The shoot took place in the lobby and while I shot stills the in-house video team (supplemented by a freelance sound person and a second camera operator)  captured video and then, after the CEO exited, went in for some interviews with a few of the employees. I needed to provide a bit of direction for the group photos but after getting the individual CEO shot and the group shots I  chilled out and just grabbed some candid shots of the event.

I brought the Panasonic cameras for the event. I was a little concerned (but not much) that the client would not be happy to see me shooting with a smaller sensor, lower resolution camera since everything I read on the web about professional photography would have one believe that clients routinely demand particular cameras or camera types; that those cameras reflect the current state of the art, and that clients understand the difference --- and I read way too much on the web.

I have worked with the head of this particular company's video department for well over 20 years. We run into each other at major events and shows and sometimes, just at the office. He asked me what I was shooting with and I told him. "Those are really cool!" he said. "But don't send us big files. This is all going to end up on social media."  So much for any trepidation I may have been fomenting...

We were on location early. The video guys were setting up two different cameras; one getting a wide shot and one with a shoulder-hefted rig with which he would roam around. The sound guy had his "belly bag" full of Sound Devices goodies and a nice shotgun microphone on a pole. After we figured out our angles and our working choreography I decided to add a light to the mix. I put that new Neewer 300 w/s flash on a stand and bounced it off a wall directly behind the camera position to create a nice, broad fill. The light I used is the one with lithium ion battery pack so no extension cords/power cables were needed. I didn't have to spend time taping down the cords. Progress! The flash also has its own dedicated trigger so that's nice too.

Once we got set we had time to kill and, as normally happens, we stood around and talked shop. Since the video department head has nice equipment budgets and works all over the world I assumed that they were producing everything at the very highest technical levels imaginable. I presumed 4K capture for all video and buckets of SSD drives with which to record everything in 12 bit 4:4:4:4. I asked about their equipment expecting to feel like a rank amateur with a toy camera.

In fact, neither of their video cameras were necessarily anything to write home about. One was an inexpensive Black Magic Cine camera and the other an older Sony ENG camera. No Arri Alexa, no Sony F55, no Red camera, etc. A wide cinema prime (Sigma) on one camera and an EOS zoom lens on the other. No external monitors, no gingerbread. And, not a light anywhere.

I asked if they were shooting in 4K and they looked at me funny. Turns out the only time they venture into 4K is when they are working with green screen and need high definition for masking. They shoot mostly in 1080p. Why? Because nearly everything they shoot is destined to go straight to the web via their own website or one of the social media sites. Everything seems to end up over at YouTube which mostly just crunches the hell out of everything via compression.

After the event I went home to post process the photo files and get them sent off quickly. Usually I shoot raw and then work on the files a bit. The client emphasized the need for speedy delivery so I shot raw+big Jpegs. I pulled the Jpegs into Lightroom and they looked really good. I selected about three dozen shots and uploaded them to Smugmug, making enhancements only to the files containing the CEO (I knew they'd get the most use....). I had the files uploaded within 20 minutes of hitting the front door of the studio. The clients gave me thumbs up on everything.

But this all seems antithetical to what we learn on the web. What I read always leads me to believe that everyone else out there is getting demands from their clients to use and deliver files from the biggest and most expensive state of the art cameras around. As though the clients are tapping their feet and thinking, "OMG! Are we still using those ancient Nikon D810s? When is my photographer going to get his hands on the D850?!!!. We might believe that clients are demanding that everything be sent to them as 16 bit Tiff files and that each file be retouched in Byzantine detail before they see them. But this rarely seems to be the case --- in the real world.

In the video markets we photographers/aspiring videographers seem to believe that the way forward is to offer the highest performance codecs we can afford to create. Take the biggest files we can hammer through a GH5 and send them to an external recorder so we can upgrade them to huge Pro Res files before delivering terabytes of programming to clients who may have only wanted a nice little piece to put up on Instagram. The community of new arrivals to video presume that every shot is done with V-Log (S-Log, C-Log) and that every frame will be color graded to the nth degree. (That's the way I've been thinking about it...).

There may be some parts to the overall equation of corporate production to which we are not always privy. The client's need for speed being one of them. Everything we shot yesterday will be edited and presented as a very small part of an "all hands" meeting presentation that will be broadcast to 100,000+ employees via the web. The video will be a minuscule part of the overall presentation. But it will need to be slim and right sized to work on monitors and connections all over the place. Not big and bloated and hypothetically perfect. Some employees will no doubt need to watch the presentation on phones...

At the end of the session yesterday the video operators pulled out their memory cards and quickly transferred the files to a thumb drive which they handed off to the client's video director. No big fuss.

Were all eyes on me? Hardly. Were the clients or the videographers carefully inspecting and passing judgement on my choice of gear? Not for a second. Did we all deliver right sized media for our client's needs? You bet.

The world of our work is changing quickly and the days of producing work for giant print graphics are fading away. If we keep focusing on the wrong targets we'll probably miss the right ones by a long distance. Much as we'd mostly like to concentrate on getting our work printed on double-truck spreads in magazines or seeing our video work on huge movie screens the reality is that the work we do for clients is very much headed in different directions. They're aiming at UHD monitors or projectors as being the high end use of video currently but, honestly, the vast majority of uses are still 1080p and smaller. The work we're mostly doing is much more transient than ever before so storage is less anxiety provoking. The "sell by" dates are quicker and few of the projects will be re-visited a year from now. And, across the board, the production time frames we're being handed are continually shrinking. (edit:) I had a phone conference with an ad agency creative director this afternoon about a series of videos for one of their clients. Their research showed that in their client's audience  80% of video views were on mobile phones. 80% !!!!!

If we look in the rear view mirror we can be made to feel that we MUST have the biggest and the best gear available for all engagements. In fact, the biggest and the best might be an impediment to delivery speed, flexibility and fluid action. If we look at where media and content are headed we can see that everything is changing and most of it is moving in a direction that's vastly different than the print orientation currently shared by many established photographers. Clients may be way ahead of us here.

The final thing I was thinking about as I sat in front of the monitor watching the progress of my images uploading was about how we business people allocate our assets and how it affects our bottom line. I have friends who firmly believe that they must have the world's best gear in order to compete. They routinely seek out the "best" cameras and the "ultimate" lenses to shoot with. This made sense when everyone's aim point was the lushly printed page and the state of "best" wasn't all that great (think about the first two or three generations of digital camera bodies...) but does it still make sense when the limitations of the targets (screens of various sizes) for most of our work will blind and obfuscate any differences in image quality between any of the modern cameras, across formats?

In a time when fees and budgets are under constant attack and are, in fact, lower when adjusted for inflation than any time in our careers, can we continue to justify the brutal expenses of "the best" when good, solid gear will get the job done just as well or better?

My client's video producer could probably requisition just about any cool video gear he feels he needs. He might be able to outfit his crews with $50,000 Arri Alexas. He might be able to pony up for sets of Leica cinema lenses (@$125,000 per set). But he doesn't. Why not? Perhaps he knows that good enough works great and that saving the corporation cash means more value added to his 401K. Maybe we freelancers would be smart to follow those instincts. After all, isn't it really our talent we're selling?

9.10.2017

The Age of the Image. By Stephen Apkon

I was rummaging through the shelves of books about cinematography at our local, independent bookstore, BOOKPEOPLE, when I came across this book. It was published in 2013 so it's not exactly cutting edge topical but it's an important book to read for all the people who say, "I have no interest whatsoever in video..." 

The book is a well researched romp through the changing history of language, communication, symbology and understanding. It traces the paths from the embrace of the written word as a primary method of communication and shows how quickly, thoroughly and globally we are moving from the written word to the language of motion pictures. The author makes a convincing point that, in the near future, to be truly literate will mean understanding the grammar and language of video; both how to decode it and how to create it. 

Toward the end of the book are examples of current educational theory about communication and the embrace of moving images on all manner of screen. In the chapters leading up to that are some general explanations about how to make better video programming. Also, how and why a good video can trump the printing word for global dissemitnation of ideas, memes and, of course, brand messaging. 

After reading the book I grabbed my inexpensive G85 with the kit zoom, put an ND filter on the front of the lens and headed out to practice shooting interesting scenes. The book inspires one to look beyond conventional wisdom, to stop looking in the rear view mirror of technology, and to think more inclusively about communication and not just one's favorite or most comfortable media. 

I recommend that everyone give it a read. Ask your library to get a copy, drop by your local independent bookstore for a copy, or buy one from the link below....

(This book was purchased with my own funds and was not sent to me by the borrower or the author. No one asked me to write this short review).