5.17.2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

5.16.2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



5.14.2018

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


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

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

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

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

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

Nikon D800x known weakness and cheap fix.


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

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

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

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

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

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

Now were back out to the real world with the cameras and even less concerned about their safety...

5.12.2018

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

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

I'm ready.



All photos ©ODL Design. All ©ODL Design. 


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Keeping Austin Weird. One Photo Assignment at a Time.

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


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

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

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


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

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


5.11.2018

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

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

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

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

Thoughts?

kirktuck.com