The Digital Labrador
Friday, September 17, 2010
As a Midwesterner I'm fairly used to being overlooked. I don’t mind, usually, as long as I’m not the one doing the overlooking. So I was surprised to learn that I've been ignorant of a great Midwestern photographic resource in the form of Digital Labrador. You see, Digital Labrador is a little bit lab, a little bit gallery, a little bit camera store and a little bit classroom. Turns out that you can stop by this Kansas City store to buy a Canon camera or an Apple computer, a Hassy body or a Profoto kit. Or you can drop in to make prints from your files or stick around and browse the gallery. Heck, sign up for a class or two while you're there. The bottom line is that this is a pretty cool concept—a one-stop shop for all things photographic. And believe it or not, for all of you so unfortunate as to be stranded out there on the coasts, Digital Labrador (by the way, it started as a digital lab. Get it?) also hosts travel workshops around the globe too. As I write this, a group has just returned from a trip through the Italian countryside under the tutelage of Hasselblad shooter Roberto Bigano. They've got more international workshops in the works, so visit their web site to see what's cooking. And if you're in the neighborhood, it sounds like a great place to hang out. If only they'd incorporate a coffee shop too. I'd never have to leave.
Eliminating Reflections from Glasses
Thursday, September 16, 2010
I know of a photographer who has been accused of popping the lenses out of eyeglasses to avoid having to deal with reflections in photographs. This might be fine in bizarro world, but the rest of us need to deal with reflections in eyeglasses the old fashioned way: first by avoiding reflections when lighting, then by retouching away reflections in post processing. This is something that I've spent entirely too much time working on, so I know how important the "ounce of prevention" philosophy is. In short, when working with a studio light or on-camera flash, you've got to get the light above and/or to the side of the subject enough that the reflection on the glasses disappears. I find with a key light at a 45-degree angle to a portrait subject's face, and a few feet above eye level, I can usually eliminate reflections from all but the most bulbous lenses with simple head tilts and chin movements. Those super-bulbous lenses, however, sometimes make it impossible to eliminate reflections completely, and that's when knowing how to retouch them away in Photoshop comes in amazingly handy. I usually use a combination of luminance- and color-clone stamping, built up over what seems like hours of clicking, and in the end I get a passable result. Check out the recent DPS story on preventing and editing glasses reflections. If you ever photograph people—particularly those with less than 20/20 vision—you'll be glad you did.
Gregory Heisler Explains How He Lit Another Iconic Cover
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
I'm more and more convinced that you could skip photography school altogether and just watch this ongoing series of videos of Gregory Heisler dissecting his photographs. Created by Profoto, the videos have Heisler explaining the creation of some of his most famous cover shots—none of which are more famous than the most recent video’s subject, the 2001 Time cover with Rudy Giuliani. A phenomenal and iconic photograph, to be sure. What's most exciting about this shot, in terms of the lighting at least, is what Strobist David Hobby points out in his brief writeup: the lighting was environmentally centered. Heisler gelled his lights green and orange to match the warmth of the ambient city lights, and all of them were positioned below (except for the fill) to match the lighting that would be provided by the city below. A genius photograph, wonderfully executed and beautifully explained.
Primes vs. Zooms
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
I've often liked using prime lenses. In fact, all things being equal, I tend to prefer them to zooms. I've always felt like working within the box of a fixed focal length forces you to be a more active seer. I could never quite put my finger on it, but I figured it had something to do with the idea that when working with a zoom lens, if something doesn't fit just right you adjust the focal length and make an easy fix. But with a prime lens, you move in and out, side to side, up and down... you're engaged with your subject, working to see, conscious of making the perfect composition.
Then I read an offhand comment by Michael Johnston of The Online Photographer blog. In a post about what makes Leica rangefinders so great (which you can read at http://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2010/09/the-secrets-of-the-leica.html) he listed the cameras’ prime lenses as a major benefit. He wrote, "You learn how to see like the lens sees." Aha! That's it! The difference between prime lenses and zoom lenses is that simple, and that profound. A prime lens forces you to see as the lens sees, while a zoom lens can be forced to see the way you see. It may be simple, but it means a lot. At least, it does to us prime lens shooters.
If you don't shoot with primes, I recommend trying one out. They're often really sharp, and really fast, and they can be pretty affordable too. The normal 50mm prime used to be industry standard in a new camera kit, but it's been replaced by the mid-range zoom in recent years. If you've got an old dis-used prime of any size, strap it on and go for a walk. Or consider purchasing a new prime; the lenses are popular enough that Nikon has just introduced another great professional prime—the 85mm f/1.4. Whatever prime you choose, enjoy giving up a bit of control to the camera, and see how the lens sees. You might like it. You may even find it freeing.
Big Old Polaroids
Monday, September 13, 2010
Forbes magazine just did a great little writeup on the massive 20x24-inch Polaroid Land camera. Only seven were made, with four of them remaining in useful existence. If you’ve got the budget—close to $2000 a day and $200 per exposure—you can rent the camera for your next shoot. If you’re looking to differentiate your work in this increasingly all-digital world, I’d say you can’t do much better than a mammoth 20x24-inch Polaroid original. See what some renowned photographers have done with the camera online. Jennifer Trausch, mentioned in the Forbes story, takes the 20x24 on location to shoot in the real world—not something often seen with the cumbersome machines. William Wegman popularized the format with his series of portraits of his dogs, and Elsa Dorfman is perhaps the photographer most closely associated with the format as she has one in her own studio. Each of these photographers is worth investigating, and if you have the good fortune to see original 20x24 Polaroids in a gallery or museum near you, be sure to search them out. They’re unlike any other photographic format you’re likely to have seen before, nor ever will again.
Pix Boom Ba
Friday, September 10, 2010
Well this is a fun idea. Ever want to ask a studly National Geographic photographer for some picture-taking advice? Now you can, thanks to the new web site Pix Boom Ba. The ridiculously named URL should give you an idea of some of the charm of this photo tips site, and that's the fact that the guru photographers involved—Bob Caputo and Cary Wolinski—are having fun while answering questions and offering photographic advice. With so many online resources geared to teaching photographic basics via blog, text and video (as this site also does), it's great to see someone putting effort into making photo tips entertaining too. And that’s something this site does better than almost any other.
Light Painting with Harold Ross
Thursday, September 9, 2010
While recently surfing the Photography Served photo blog, I stumbled upon some excellent work quite unlike anything I'd ever seen before. That's increasingly rare these days, so it came as a very pleasant surprise to discover that the amazing light painting photography by photographer Harold Ross was not a fluke; his whole portfolio is full of amazing work like this. So I got in touch with Harold, a well established commercial shooter from Philadelphia, to find out how he goes about making such great light painting photographs.
"I've been painting with light for well over 20 years," he told me, "and I currently use the technique in virtually every image I make. I started painting with light as a response to my desire to have more creative input into the commercial photography that I was doing at the time. I felt a bit constrained, having to follow a layout that included type placement and, as I was shooting product work and food, the subject matter was chosen for me."
Harold started with large format film and Maglight flashlights, and quickly saw that he could create more dimension, texture and color using the highly controllable light sources.
"I also found that I could create an ‘illustrative’ look to my photographs," he said. "This is partially a result of being able to place highlights exactly where I want them, just as a painter does. My clients came to appreciate the unique look of the images I was shooting as well as the problem-solving capabilities of light painting. I actually feel less encumbered when light painting in a more direct connection with my own creative vision and how I light my subject."
The challenge of light painting was trickier before Harold made the switch to digital. On 4x5 and 8x10 film, he had to get everything right on a single sheet of film. In those pre-Photoshop days, the fantastical images looked like nothing anyone had seen before. Today he shoots digitally with a Cambo Wide RS camera with Phase One P45+ back, sometimes substituting a pre-digital Hasselblad body for the Cambo. Noise was once a problem with digital long exposures, but not any longer.
Make The Ordinary Extraordinary
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
I like simple and I like great. The work of photographer Caleb Charland would have to qualify as both. Charland got a recent writeup on the DIY Photography blog, which is where I stumbled across the man and his work. What is perhaps most "DIY" (do-it-yourself, for those uninitiated) about Charland's work is the fact that he's building interesting constructs and contraptions to photograph. The photography is fairly straightforward, albeit beautiful, but the subjects themselves make the work totally fascinating. I particularly like the idea of illustrating everyday concepts—like magnetism, for instance—in such a simple way. Simple, yes, but plain? Definitely not. I love photographs like this that take something ordinary and make it look extraordinary. Check out the writeup at DIYPhotography.net, then head over to Charland's web site to see more of his work. His new series of color images is mind blowing.