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Friday, November 30, 2012

Keeping Up Appearances

Straight from camera, this portrait could be printed without a single stroke of Lightroom
or PhotoShop. But which camera? The latest, greatest, most expensive? 
If you have seen the classic television show of the same name as this blogpost, you will remember the situations that Mrs Bucket often found herself in because she was consumed with the notion of keeping up appearances. The truth mattered little. She needed to be accepted. She needed to be seen. She needed to look like she belonged. But with a name like 'Bucket', was that really going to be possible?

Photographers face this situation within their cultural circles also. Its sad, but its an irrefutable truth.
"What? Your lens doesn't have Vibrations Reduction!"?
"really" You don't have the 1.4? You only have the 1.8?"
"Really? You take pictures with that? Oh...mine is much newer/biggger/more technologically advanced!"

All the Gear, and No Idea
There is a saying that photographers have which I laugh at, but which I have found unfortunately true in far too many cases. "All the Gear, and no idea". I have taught and trained many hundreds of photographers over the years and far too often have I seen them turn up with thirty grand worth of gear and completely devoid of real information and understanding. That, I suppose, is where I came in as a trainer and teacher and that's perfectly fine. But the notion that expensive gear makes the photographer is definitely a myth.

And then there are those who simply will NOT learn.

I know that in years past I have been at weddings where 'Uncle Brian' has turned up with two six thousand dollar cameras, four three thousand dollar lenses, two or three one-thousand dollar flashguns and about three cents worth of ability and talent. Then, he stands in my way all the time or tries to point his lens over my shoulder during the shoot. Sorry, Brian. That's a 'no-go'.

The image above was taken recently at Tracy and Simon's wedding reception....and yes, we will be blogging that wedding soon. This portrait of Don ( I hope I have remembered his name correctly!) is straight out of camera, (except for some resizing for the blog, of course) . What camera? Our old backup Nikon D200. Yes, folks, you heard it here. A camera with 7 or 8-year old digital technology produced a jpeg like this. And yet, this jpeg - straight from camera - could be printed and accepted for quality without a single stroke of PhotoShop.

New, technologically advanced camera equipment is wonderful, but it won't make you a photographer. Its funny how we all know that, but its also funny to see the looks on photographers' faces when you pull out an old workhorse like the D200.

And yet, it can create images that were perfectly beautiful, won awards, travelled the world and shot a mean wedding in 2005. And you know what? It still can. If you are considering photography as a career, think education over gear. Armed with that education and training you will actually save money buying the right equipment first, rather than gathering your weapons only to find that you don't know the battle strategies.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

A New Look at an Old Lens....

Sometimes when you are in the middle of what you have to do, you find that there is more you can do. Whether you can do it is the question. As a working photographer, your client is foremost. However, sometimes you are able to fit something in briefly that is purely creative and has nothing to do with the client. This was one of those situations.
While on a shoot recently, Betty (pictured above) was assisting us with people and other simple logistics. Betty is from Kenya, has striking features and an effervescent, bright personality. For a few moments between tasks, she was able to sit briefly and have her portrait taken. She was more than happy to do so, for which we were very grateful. 
Thank you Betty for spending a few minutes with us and allowing us to photograph you.
As much as I love available light, I have to admit to being thoroughly enamoured with the control of studio lighting. This is a very simple setup, and combined with some Lightroom processing, a simple but dynamic portrait has resulted.
What is otherwise interesting in this portrait is that while I used my Nikon D700, the lens was by no means as recent (although even my D700 is now beginning to look a little old...) The lens I chose to use for this shoot was my old manual focus Nikon E-series 75-150 f3.5 zoom. Yes, its 30 years old, but its such a beautiful thing. If you remember the classic image that the great Galen Rowell took of the rainbow over the Potala Palace in Lhasa, then also know that it was this lens that he used. This lens is small, sharp and has a constant aperture throughout. You can get them dirt cheap these days. If you are a Nikon shooter, you work in slow and controlled situations (such as studio) and you see one in good it. Its so beautiful to use in the studio and if you are concerned that your eyes may not focus as sharply as they used to in manual focusing...shooting at f11 helps.
This lens had been sitting in the bottom of my filing cabinet for years.
Now, I wonder why. I have been missing out.
Well, it has its place in my LowePro Pro Roller now!
Yes, I do own the Nikkor 70-200 f2.8 zoom, and I love it. But its a cumbersome lens and completely unnecessary in the studio. In studio situations I much prefer this 30-year old lens designed for Nikon-using amateurs in the '80's than the 70-200 f2.8 with its autofocus and its Vibration Reduction and its blah blah blah. The 70-200 is a great location lens, perfect for wedding work, location commercial work, location portraiture and travel. But from now on, I will be very happy pulling this old amateur lens out of my Pro Roller and shooting with it.

Friday, November 09, 2012

The Camera Can Do It

There are times I feel a sense of loss for photographers who never had the benefits of shooting with film - back in the ooooooolden days. True, photography has come a long way technologically since then and even I can see that the quality of images I am producing with my well worn, 4-year old Nikon D700 is better than I ever achieved using my 35mm Nikons. However, learning the ropes using film had one distinct advantage - especially transparency film. Why?

Well, we learned that a transparency was the last word, the final result. What it revealed was the direct result of your shooting skills and your ability to produce an image using the camera and its direct accessories during the actual capture process. That lesson has been one that I have promulgated as a trainer and teacher of photography over the last 15 years, and also one that I still endeavour to maintain as a photographer.

Do I love PhotoShop? Lightroom? Yes! Do I love manipulating and finessing a RAW file? Absolutely! But I would never want to walk away from a shoot not having produced an image that I am proud of in camera. That is especially true when shooting portraits, corporate headshots and weddings. In this 'see it when you shoot it' age, a bride is encouraged to work with her photographer even more enthusiastically when she can see what you are producing there and then. For commercial clients, the advantage is obvious. Your reputation as a photographer who can produce and satisfy on the job is only going to win their hearts and cheque books.

The other advantage to this is, quite simply, time. The hours I hear photographers putting into their post-processing is often horrendous - chewing through their personal family time, destroying relationships, eating up profits and frustrating their customers. Aiming for the image in-camera reduces that workload dramatically.

The image above was recently shot in our Living in Pictures mobile studio, and produced entirely in camera, shot in jpeg fine and using the D700's monochrome mode. It is a straightforward and simply produced image and is a jpeg straight out of camera - downsized for this blog. It was achieved using a simple two-light system with a Photek Softlighter on the main light and a grid on the hair light. That's it. As an in-camera jpeg, it certainly does its job and prints beautifully.

I metered as I always would have in my film days, using my Sekonic flash meter. I balanced the ratio between the hair light and the main light as I always did, using my Sekonic flash meter. I added a Lastolite reflector, as I always would have....because the process and the principles haven't changed. To add antiquity to the mix, I used a 30-year old 135mm Nikkor manual focus lens I picked up at a Camberwell Camera Market a couple of years ago for $150. Damn, that thing is sharp.

We underestimate the humble jpeg and the cameras that produce them. I am all in favour of a RAW file, which is why I usually shoot simultaneously producing both. But twenty years shooting transparencies is a hard habit to break, even after ten years of shooting digitally. I still aim for the finished jpeg, in camera. I wonder if I will ever change. But then,  I wonder why I would need to.

The Life, Times and Images of photographer, Shelton Muller

Images on this blog are copyright Shelton Muller