Movin’ On Up!

Wow, what a Christmas!  I got an email from the Norman Felix Art Gallery in Toronto, shortly before Christmas, asking if I’d be willing to talk with them.  My first surprise came when I saw that they had copied my logo into the email that they sent me; it was taken from my web site, as it had a black background.  My initial reaction was “hmm… I know that logo.  I also know who owns the copyright on it!”  Good thing I’m not paranoid, huh?

I met with them and it turned out that someone (I still don’t know who) submitted my work to their jury, and it was approved!  They want me as one of their resident artists!  How freakin’ cool is that?  Yes, I know – the Louvre isn’t shelving Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading the People” to make room for me, but still, an unsolicited signing?  For my first time out?  Yeah, I can dig that!

To make matters more interesting, I have also been asked if I want to take part in the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival. I know about it and how huge it is, but I can’t say that I know if it’s of any benefit to me, as a photographer. So if you happen to know about CONTACT, please, do comment and let me know, both good and bad.  I have until January 3rd to decide, so I have to figure this out quick!

What this means is that I won’t be taking my sweet time anymore and doing shots when I want.  I now have to keep a steady flow of work going, so I’m going to focus on my street photography.  This means that most likely, I’ll be moving to Toronto (though I love Niagara Region).  It’s where I’ll find more subjects, and it’ll be closer to the gallery.

Another reason for this, which I found funny; they’d like me to be there for show openings to socialize.  I get it, from their point of view.  It looks better for the gallery, and patrons love to meet the “artist” behind the pieces that they’re buying (I still don’t see myself as an “artist”, which is why I put it in quotes).  The problem for me is that I have Avoidant Personality Disorder, which means that the thought of being in crowds makes me cringe.  Being in the limelight at the party?  Um, hell no!  I’d much rather be one of those reclusive ninja photographers who everyone talks about, but no one’s seen.  First, why do you think I like doing night photography?  Secondly, doesn’t that add mystique and all that good stuff (not to mention value) to my name?

At any rate, it’s going to be a very interesting experience, to say the least…

Why I Should Calibrate My Monitor

I know; it’s usually the last thing that photographers want to spend their money on.  A little dangly thing that sits over your monitor and you use once a month if you remember to, or half of a new lens that you’ll use all the time?  Seems like a pretty easy decision right?  Not quite.

I have a colour calibrator on my computer…on my PC.  However, due to an issue with the motherboard bios updating process, I am presently without my PC.  Everything I’ve been doing lately has been going through my Macbook Pro.  It’s nice, but when you have a pair of 24″ monitors, you’re not going to settle for one little 15 incher; forget that.  Thank goodness for HDMI and Thunderbolt connectors, but that’s another story.

The calibrator I have, presently, is the Spyder4Express.  It’s good, but has one major limitation – it only works on one monitor.  I had just gotten used to running my Photoshop on one screen, and Bridge (solely for the management aspect) on another.  I haven’t incorporated Lightroom into the flow yet, so it’s not an issue at the moment.

Anyway, I installed it on the Mac.  Wow, problem city.  With the PC, you can usually trick it into flipping monitors, or at the least, set it up for one monitor and (since I have two identical monitors), use the same profile for both.  With the Mac, no such luck.  It forces you to calibrate only on the onboard monitor.  That’s no good to me.  So, in addition to getting off my butt and contacting the mb manufacturer to get the board RMA’d (since they won’t just send/sell me another bios chip), I ordered a Spyder4Pro.

I checked out the Elite version, but even the guy at the local shop said that the only difference was that the Elite can calibrate my television, as well.  As much as I love seeing the Dallas Cowboys or the Hamilton Tiger-Cats play, I’m not so anal that the colours have to be perfect.  For a hundred or two difference, I can live with a slightly off-colour Jason Witten.  Oh, it can also do my iPhone or Android, but since I have a Crackberry, we’re 0 for 2.  Besides, I’m not about to do any photo editing on ANY screen that small!

Now, the big question.  Do you need colour calibrating?  I think so.  Here are two pictures of my monitors, taken just seconds apart.  Here are the settings I used for both:

  • ISO: 1600
  • Focal Length: 23mm
  • Aperture: f/5.6
  • Shutter Speed: 1/160 sec
  • Camera: Sony Alpha A6000 (brand new…yaaaay!)
  • Lens: Sony E-mount 16-50mm 3.5-5.6
  • Monitor (both): Dell U2413F (first one connected via HDMI, second connected via DVI through Thunderbolt adapter)
  • Distance to subject (approx.): 18-20″
  • Monitor Brightness/Contrast (both): bright 25, contrast 50
  • Monitor Preset (both): Standard – I tried to show it for the second one as well, but it closed the menu before I shot it.
  • System Macbook Pro w/ Retina

All other settings were at neutral.  No bump up on colour, saturation, or anything like that.  I shot them as Fine .jpg files, brought them into photoshop and saved them for web, simply to resize them.  No colour correction or editing has been done.

HDMI-connected monitor:

HDMI

DVI-Connected Monitor:

DVI

 

Although those photos don’t do it justice, you can still see a whole lot of extra saturation in the second monitor.  Other than being connected by HDMI vs DVI/Thunderbolt, there is no difference between the two setups.  You can see the loss of detail in the carpet and on the logo, as well as the increased haloing everywhere, particularly at the exhaust header (the chrome pipe curling out of the front of the cylinder), at the tip of the teardrop-shaped primary, and where the carpet meets the concrete, at the top.

And that’s why I, and every photographer out there who wants their images to look the way they think they look, should have a colour calibration tool.  Mine’s on order and is expected to arrive tomorrow.

Note: this is just a random photo that I haven’t intended to use for anything, but haven’t gotten rid of.  For you gear heads, it’s a 1949 BSA Bantam.

Jostens 101 or How to Make Your Photography Life Easier

Ugh.  What was I thinking?  Oh yeah, I know what I was thinking – it went something along this line:

“I can offer to be the photographer, get to do some photography instead of my regular work for a bit, and hang out with the gorgeous receptionist for a bit.” (She turned out to be pretty cool, too.)

Our HR manager (well, now it’s People & Culture – same thing, as far as I can tell) wanted staff photos, since we’ve grown to the point where no one knows anyone anymore.  She didn’t want anything fancy, just a head & shoulders shot, so I spoke up.

I brought my strobes and camera in (didn’t bother with tripod) and went to town.  The one thing I didn’t anticipate is that I still had my regular duties to do, I’m only doing the editing during work hours (since I wasn’t getting any extra for this), and despite this being a mass-produced event, I was still putting a little effort into the retouching.

That last sentence was my big mistake.

If I didn’t care as much about the final product, I’d have just saved everything as a jpeg straight from the camera and been done with it, but noooo! I had to bring out people’s eyes, just a little bit more.  Or I cleaned up the pimples and pock marks on their faces (I work in a computer shop – we have a few people with these).  When you’re doing three figures of images plus your regular job, it takes bloody forever.

So, what did I learn from it that can be applied to mass shootings (not the CNN news, live coverage type)?

Photography Hints

  1. Use a backdrop.  This sounds basic, but I had this cream coloured wall, so I decided to not set up the backdrop every session – oops.  It was the cleanest wall, but there were two pictures hanging behind it.  They were removed, but the hangers remained.  One was covered by the subject, but the other was constantly in the original, and so had to be factored in during cropping, or had to be manually edited.  It was only a few seconds to do, but in volume, that time adds up.
  2. Use a tripod.  Same reason as above.  It keeps things consistent.  You can raise and lower it, but you’ll always be at the same distance, so you’ll generally have the same cropping points.
  3. Have an assistant.  I had this great girl from HR, Taylor, working with me (I should hope so, since it was technically her project).  She took down the names, in order, so that when I retouched the images later, I could create jpegs that were JimSmith.jpg, instead of _MG2945.jpg.  She also posed as my tester for the light positions, as well as my white-card holder.  Plus, it was nice having someone to chat with in between shots.
  4. Have some muscle on your side.  Most adults don’t like having their photos taken, especially for staff photos.  Getting them to voluntarily submit to this is like pulling the teeth while cat herding. (I will never get sick of this video.)  Getting a big boss who wants them to do it and can put pressure on them to make it happen, makes the whole thing happen soooo much faster. 

Photoshop Hints

  1. Get Comfy.  Make your workspace yours.  Set up what you find you usually use.  Put everything where you find it’s most accessible.  As an example, here’s what my workspace on my work computer looks like (the red line splits the left and right ends; like a “…”).  Since I’m predominantly right-handed, I tend to leave the things I use more frequently on the right, and the things I look at more frequently on the left.  My computer at home has a lighter background shade, and I should change this one, if I ever need PS here again.  It really can mess with your colour perception, so be careful.

    photoshop

     

  2. Lights, Camera, Actions!  Make a frickin’ action out of everything.  Does it take two steps to do?  Make an action out of it.  Do you have to go through a drop-down menu and then another sub-menu to click on it?  Make an action out of it.  It sounds petty, but you’d be surprised how much faster things can go.  To speed it up even more, change the setting on your Actions menu to…

    1. Buttons!  If you look up at that screenshot, to the right of the Actions tab (assuming you have it on your workspace, which I highly recommend), you’ll see the little drop-down icon.  If you click on it, the first item on the menu is “Button”.  That’s what turns the list into the menu that I have on my screen.  No more highlighting the action and then clicking the ► button any more; just click on the action once and off it goes.
    2. Colour Coding.  Colour coding your actions makes them so much easier to find.  Pick the ones you’ll be working with for that session, and give them all one particular colour.  You can always remove the colour coding once you’re done, but it makes them so much easier to find, especially when you have an extensive list of actions!
  3. …Yet There Is Method In ‘t.  I know this goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway.  Keep a method to your madness.  It’s important when you’re retouching 2 pictures; it’s extremely important when you’re retouching 200.  Develop a workflow and stick to it.  This applies to both the retouching itself (so that you know what you’ve done and what needs to be done, without wasting time constantly double-checking), as well as file storage (so if your Taylor happened to switch two names in line, you can just go back, find the original numbered PSD’s, and save a renamed copy, rather than starting from scratch with the raw files.  Remember, your final probably isn’t in numerical sequence anymore – it’s in alphabetical).
  4. They’re staff photos.  Don’t overdo it!  They don’t need model-level retouching.  They probably don’t need any retouching.  Shoot, rename, save, repeat.  But then, you’ll be like me and hate sending out stuff that 

One of the cool things I found from it, was that I could test locations. 🙂  I’ve wanted to do a shoot around here for a bit now, and this seemed like an easy way to test.  So, with a few certain persons (no surprise, some of the more attractive ones in the company), I offered them a more unique staff photo, rather than just the plain ol’ “up against a wall mugshot” photo.  As a result, the company (well, me technically – I didn’t give over copyright on these ones) has a few staff photos like this one:

Staff Photo

 

I did a good gangbanger mugshot for my own picture, but then another guy wanted to do one as well, so I ended up not using mine for the staff photos.  It was a shame, too; it turned out really well!  Oh well, I need a new shot with my freshly painted bike, anyway.

So those are the things I learned during this process.  Hopefully, I said something that may make your life a little easier down the road.  If you have any ideas of how to streamline the process, feel free to add your two cents!

Until next time, take it easy, and don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.  And if you do, take pictures! 😉

 

Funk (not the George Clinton kind), and a Review of Topaz Labs Software

Me Rambling

It’s been a while.  A long freakin’ time, I know.  If you knew me, you’d completely understand, okay? I am soooo not a talker.  I need an outgoing girlfriend or a chatty best buddy to do this stuff for me, because as you know, I don’t jabber much.  So consider this my apology.

It sucks.  I’ve been completely off the grid lately.  I completely blame myself, too, so it’s not like I have good cause, either.  I get ideas in my head, and that’s what I want to shoot.  I don’t want to do other interim ideas while I’m waiting for something to happen before I can do what I really want to do – I wait.  Sometimes, it’s good, sometimes it’s not.

I was waiting on two things to happen:

  1. To get access to a particular freight elevator.
  2. To get my bike back from the paint shop.

Well, with someone retiring, #1 has now happened, and after three freakin’ months, #2 finally happened, so now it’s just my lazy butt.  So DON’T BE LIKE ME, BOYS AND GIRLS!  Don’t get fixated on ideas; it’s not healthy, and it holds you up.  Kinda like eating too much bread.  (Yeah, there’s a mental image you didn’t need.  You’re welcome.)

Okay, onto the review…

Topaz Labs Software

http://www.topazlabs.com

They have a number of products in their suite, including:

  1. Adjust – Adjusts contrast, colour and detail.
  2. B&W Effects – Black and white, in a variety of tones.
  3. Clarity – Boosts contrast more intensely.
  4. Clean – Smooths an image out on edges and texture.
  5. DeJPEG – Makes JPEGs look less like JPEGs.
  6. DeNoise – Gets rid of the noise.  Sorry, Chuck.
  7. Detail – Loses the halo effect.  ‘Cause, you know, we ain’t exactly angels around here.
  8. InFocus – Gets rid of shake and blur.  ‘Cause lets face it, we’d ALL like to get rid of Blur!
  9. Lens Effects – Lens effects, as if you had other, expensive and funky lenses.  George Clinton funk*, not my previous “I haven’t shot lately” funk.
  10. ReMask – Makes masking complicated things like hair, veils, TREES, a breeze!
  11. ReStyle – Not actually sure about this one.  It’s not in the menu or in the PhotoFXLab.  Unless it’s the effects themselves in the PhotoFXLab menu?  Anyway, I’m not going to talk about this one further.
  12. Star Effects – Adds trippy flashy stuff.  Think sparkles on diamonds.
  13. PhotoFXLab – A control panel of effects within Photoshop.  You’ll see in the screenshot below.

Just so that you can see a sample of how these work, I’m going to use a recent shot I took up north of my charming aunt, out on the boat.  She’s not actually mad at me, as her face in the picture may imply.  Well, she might be a little, when she sees that I’m using her as my demo model, but c’est la vie (“that’s life”).

A lot of these have a number of options, so while I may mention that they have a variety, I won’t show all options.  I’ll just give you an idea of what you can expect, and one sample.

Here’s the shot at a colour temp of 6000k and no other tweaks – everything else is at 0.

6000K, no other adjustments.

6000K, no other adjustments.

 

Adjust

This has overall colouring changes.  It ranges from the basics (cool, warm, high/low key) to more funky ones like Sketch – Color and Solarized Dreams I-III.  There are two groups of settings that I prefer to use here: Classic Collection and Film Collection.  Classic has the basics that you can use every day, while Film has ones that I like to use when I’m aiming for an older photograph look.  I tend not to use most of the others very often, as I don’t like to go overboard on my images, but that’s just me.  Here’s a sample of “Retro III” from the Film Collection:

Retro III from the Film Collection

Retro III from the Film Collection

B&W Effects

I almost had a really pissy comment here, because B&W Effects wasn’t loading on my Mac (my PC is down right now with BIOS issues – ASUS, get off your butts and tell me if I can order a frickin’ BIOS chip already!  I know it’s removable!).  …but I digress.  A download of the B&W Effects on its own and running the installer fixed it right up.  Array! 🙂

The thing I really like about B&W is that they do have a wide range (beyond just the traditional overexposed/underexposed stuff), and some of it looks like you did masking work after the fact, to bring back colour.  When you’re not interested in doing a manual black and white conversion, or you just don’t have the time, Topaz has a lot of options that work.

As an example of one with a little colour in it, here’s “Tea Green Fall Off” from the Opalotype Collection.  I don’t usually use ones with colour in them, but I thought it’d be a cool example.  Plus, I like the name.  Really, doesn’t Tea Green Fall Off sound like some new slang for weed?  “Hey dude, I know this guy, grows the best tea green fall off you’ve ever had!”

 

Tea Green Fall Off

Tea Green Fall Off

Clarity

Clarity will clean it up, but not just a general sweep.  You can tell it what you’re looking for, and it’ll react accordingly.  Again, it’s all about the collections.  Architecture, Fashion, Wedding, Portrait, etc., and within each collection, you have a preset (editable, as are all presets in the Topaz Lab software) that is intuitively named.  As an example, within the Wedding collection, there is Bouquet I, Bride I, Rings & Stills I, and so on.

I’ll admit, I don’t use this one a whole lot.  Nothing against it, it’s just not one that I tend to fire up very often.  I can see, however, that it would be quite useful to people, so I’m not knocking it. As a sample, here’s Portrait-Soft from the Portrait Collection:

Portrait-Soft

Portrait-Soft

 

Clean

This one cleans up skin and edges.  To be rightly honest, this is the first time I’ve really used this one.   I haven’t found any use for some of them yet (particularly the ones in the Cartoon Collection), and while I would normally get the most use out of the Skin Collection, I picked up a fantastic action from SharkPixel.com during a webinar with the amazingly talented Kristina (if you go there, it’s free, by the way).

No really.  Go get it.  I’ll wait.

Okay, now where were we?

Ah yes.  As I was saying, this one, if I didn’t have the aforementioned action, would be great.  However I do.  Sorry, Topaz.  That said, here’s a sample from the Skin collection – Skin Even, to be precise.  Actually, it does look good, I must say, but you definitely need to mask off skin, or everything else gets too blurred in the process. Look at the vest, the seat cushion, the water and the trees, then compare them to the original, to see what I mean.

Skin Even

Skin Even

 

DeJpeg

I can’t say I’ve ever played with this before.  I don’t shoot in Jpeg, so this one is new to me.  Instead, I had to grab a jpeg from the Internet and try it.  I found one that’s really rough, and only used presets, no tweaking.  If you look in the “J” and to the left of it, it did a pretty good job, given the mess it had to work with.  I’m sure that, with some adjustments, I could have done better, but I didn’t shoot that, so I’m not wasting my time on it!

DeJPEG - Very Noisy

DeJPEG – Very Noisy

 

DeNoise

Yeaaaah boyeeeeeee!

Man, I really tried to write this without getting any Public Enemy references in my head, but it just didn’t work. I’m a Gen X’er, so sue me.  Anyway, this is why I bought the software in the first place.  I had an image, a while back, that I wanted to clean up, but it was beyond my capabilities. I did my homework and compared a whole bunch of software, like Noise Ninja, Neat Image, NDNoise, and others.

In no comparison did DeNoise come in first, in terms of speed.  It is one of the slower ones out there, be advised.  However, in every review I came across, it ranked in at least the top two, if not the very top.  Since I don’t have any images right now that have any noise (I try not to take images with noise, and I have this nasty habit of deleting bad images), I found one on the web and ran it through the denoiser.  Again, no tweaking.  This is just merely a sample.

DeNoise: Jpeg Moderate

DeNoise: Jpeg Moderate

Detail

This one I don’t play with much, but upon looking at it, I should.  It has a variety of useful presets in it.  Creative, Highlight, Shadow, and Stylized Details, as well as Smooth Collection give you a whole whack of toys.  If you shot too dark and want to pop the highlights, done.  Did the reverse? Easy ’nuff.  The Smooth Collection is another skin smoother, which might be a little overkill, but since most of us shoot people (depending what mood you’re in, that might’ve come out wrong), you can never have too many skin editors.

The one I’m thinking I’ll like, though, is the Stylized Detail collection.  With some masking, it’ll help transform the background easily enough.  The sample I’m going to use is “Cool Dreams”, specifically because the photo was shot on an overcast day with very dark clouds coming in fast, and a very dark water below.  Granted, I’d want to play with the settings a little, but the Cool Dreams gives it more a look of being out on a nice day (albeit cool, since she does still have her vest and sweater on).

Cool Dreams

Cool Dreams

InFocus

InFocus is just that – a de-blurring tool.  Like anything else, if you’ve been whipping your camera around like you’re a ninja, then no, nothing short of intense therapy is going to help.  However, for those times when you screw up in the minor sense, yeah, it’ll save your bacon.

I’m not going to bother posting a before and after, here.  It’s a long weekend, and I’m too lazy to go out and take slightly blurry photos just to get this right.  Just one of life’s little disappointments!

 

Lens Effects

This has a bunch of effects, ranging from “yeah, I could use this every day” to “huh?”  There’s just one collection here, so you just go through the list and see what you like.  Things like the Split Prism, that make it look like you’re seeing it through a kaleidoscope, tend to be ones I never touch, but there are also ones like Filter-Polarization that do come in handy.

This one is a feature you use when you want to get your art on.  I tend to go for more realistic photographs (yeah, I know – boring!), so other than the Polarizer, Graduated ND, and one or two others, I don’t spend much time in here.

Just for kicks, since we were out on the water, here’s Fog II.

Fog II

Fog II

PhotoFXLab

PhotoFXLab is a base for everything.It lets you run all of the effects or plug-ins from one central location, if you want.  One nice feature (and you’ll see in the screen shot, in the bottom right) is that it has a layer list, with the option to duplicate, so you can create a layer for each effect, rather than making an effect, exiting, duplicating, re-entering, and repeating.  It also has the Opacity and Blending Modes in there as well, in case you wanted to make an effect an Overlay, rather than a Normal layer.

Top left has tools for masking, adjusting settings (or the entire layer/mask/image), which again, is very handy and saves leaving all the time.  Top right has the effects list, and the history, that can be undone, just like anything else in Photoshop.  They also have the EXIF data; I haven’t had a need for this yet, but I’m sure someone has.

PhotoFX Lab

PhotoFX Lab

Simplify

I’m not sure why they call this Simplify, because it doesn’t, really.  It has cutesy artistic changes, to turn your photograph into a sketch drawing or a cartoon or things to that effect.  There is a Dust Removal and Spot Removal section, but if you’re changing your lenses properly and keeping them clean, you shouldn’t have a whole lot of problems in this field in the first place.

Until this post, I don’t think I’ve ever produced an image using this feature.  Again, for the more artistic crowd, it may be quite useful – just not for me.

Cartoon Black and White

Cartoon Black and White

Star Effects

This is another artsy one, so I hope you’ll understand when I say I’m not too big on it.  It is exactly as the name implies – star effects.  Remember those pictures you had when you were a kid in hockey or figure skating, and the photographer added stars dancing on your helmet or costume?  That’s what this is.

Some of the ones, like the Sun Flare series, can add a nice touch, but for my taste, they’re about it.  Now, for a commercial purpose, like jewellery or luxury cars?  Hell yeah.  I’d probably be all over this one like white on rice.  Add it as a new layer, tone down the opacity, and it could rock.

Jewel Sparkle II

Jewel Sparkle II

 ReMask

This one is part of the PhotoFXLab, but for some reason I keep thinking it was on its own in v13 (they’re on v14 now).  Anyway, this alone is worth the price of the suite.  This thing is freakin’ insane.  You use a tricolour system to mask things off: red is for what you definitely don’t want, green is for what you definitely do, and blue is for what you want the computer to think about.

Everything starts off green.  Take the blue, paint the questionable areas (hair, leaves, wherever) and fill in the outside area in red.  Click “Compute Mask” and it sets it up for you.  Through a series of simple refinements, you can improve details, get transparencies, and kick some serious butt in your masking.  Things like glasses and…oh, wedding veils! are no longer a problem.

There are some videos on YouTube on how to take full advantage of this.  They don’t take long to watch, and it takes an equally short time to master.  I suggest you watch one.

ReMask

ReMask

Overall

There are elements of Topaz Labs that you probably won’t use, regardless of what you use it for.  There will be things that the art community will use that the commercial community probably won’t, and vice versa.  However, there are a lot more elements that everyone will use.

There is a learning curve to this; don’t fool yourself.  With this many things, and this many options, for as intuitive as they’ve made it, there still is a little learning curve.  YouTube or simple experimentation can fix this in a matter of minutes.  Topaz Labs isn’t that hard to figure out.

Right now, it costs $380 USD for the whole ball o’ wax, and each individual element ranges from $30-80.  If you’re not sure, they do have a 30 day trial of the complete suite (a FULL trial, not just a limited use one – huge bonus, in my never-so-humble opinion) so that you can put it through the paces for yourself before deciding if you want to part with your hard-earned money.

One thing that I recently learned was that a license is good for future versions as well.  It’s also good for Windows and Mac (not or, and), so if you’re like me and have both a PC and a MacBook, you’re good to go.

Also, I have to give kudos to their staff.  I’ve dealt with their staff before, and they respond quickly, and are honest, stand-up people (yes, even the sales staff)!

 

Conclusion

I love it.  But that doesn’t mean a thing to you, does it?  It shouldn’t.  Instead, go to their site (www.topazlabs.com), download the suite, get a free 30 day demo key and try it out for yourself.

Personally, I’ll recommend this software to anyone who asks.  Of course, that’s just my 2¢.  Sorry, no refunds!

 

*Note: copious amounts of acid may help in understanding Parliament Funkadelic a little better.**

**Relax, people – I’m only kidding.  Ken Kesey and Tim Leary together couldn’t have dropped enough acid to understand Parliament, and they could do enough to kill an elephant, so don’t you even try it. Just groove with the music.

Trying the Fashion Thing (Including Lens Comparison)

As mentioned previously, I’m going to try fashion photography.  I am most definitely going to use a stylist.  My style is Johnny Cash – everything goes with black, especially more black and maybe dark blue denim for colour.

The first step was to find out what I’m getting into.  So I happily walked into the local mag shop on lunch today and bought $30 worth of fashion magazines – Vogue, Elle, Fashion, and Harper’s Bazaar.  I’m not sure if I’m just weird or what, but I had no problem whatsoever doing it, and yes, there were women looking at them, too.  Three women and one bald, tattoed biker in a leather jacket, all looking at Elle.  Go figure.

Note to guys who haven’t seen it yet: Vogue is friggin’ huge.  I don’t mean in the industry, I mean in physical size.  This thing is the size of a small-town phone book.  Ladies, forget pepper spray or pocket pistols.  You want protection on the streets?  Carry a copy of Vogue – you could probably walk through East St. Louis, alone, at 3 in the morning, and be perfectly safe.

Okay, enough of Magzilla.  Onto the lenses…

I need a portrait lens.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my Tamron 24-70 f/2.8.  Love it!  It’s great, but it just doesn’t do the bokeh thing the way I’d like it to.  I also have the Nifty Fifty, and it worked perfectly on my T2I, but on my full frame 5DIII where it doesn’t crop the same, I need to get in a little too close.  So, new lens time.

As I mentioned in my last post, I did the fashion seminar, which is pretty much full body portraits.  You want the subject in and not a whole lot else.  So that means that bokeh can be a benefit, though it’s not always wanted (just close the aperture, easy ’nuff).  The choice came down to these three lenses:

  • Canon 85 mm f/1.8 USM
  • Canon 85 mm f/1.2 L II USM
  • Zeiss Planar T* 85 mm f/1.4 ZE

I looked at them on a bunch of aspects, some of which were the quality of shots, the percentage of good shots, usability, vignetting, the bokeh (obviously) and certainly not least, the cost.  I’m not Peter Hurley; my budget doesn’t have six zeros at the end of it.  Let’s hit them up, one at a time:

 

Canon 85 mm f/1.8 USM

Good

  • Cost ($550 + tax)
  • Weight (399 g/14.1 oz)
  • Size (good for street photography – smaller = less noticeable = more candid shots)

 

Bad

  • Auto-focus (AF) not as fast as 1.2
  • Narrowest aperture of the three, at 1.8 (kinda funny, when you can say that f/1.8 is a narrow aperture!)
  • Bokeh circles are more octagonal (due to the blades)

 

Canon 85 mm f/1.2 L II USM

Good

  • Better sealing than the f/1.8 (part of the L series)
  • Widest aperture of the three (1.2 vs 1.4 or 1.8)
  • Faster AF than the 1.8
  • Much more even bokeh circles than the Zeiss or f/1.8.
  • One of the Red Rings – looks cooler to show off to others.

Bad

  • Cost ($2160 + tax) – most expensive of the three.
  • Weight (1025 g / 36.16 oz) – heaviest of the three.
  • Let’s face it; you get something like this to use at 1.2.  Not 1.4 or 1.8, 1.2.  Because of that, it gets tricky to make sure that the right thing is in focus, so I have seen a lot of reports about a lower percentage of usable prints.
  • Vignetting at large apertures (common among any brand, but does make it a bit of a bummer when you paid the extra money for that aperture)

 

Zeiss Planar T* 85 mm f/1.4 ZE

Good

  • Did you see the first word in the name of it?  ZEISS.  That means Zeiss glass.
  • Cost ($1320 + tax).  For a Zeiss, that’s not bad.
  • ZE model is specifically made for Canon mount, so no adapter needed
  • 9 blades for more evenly rounded bokeh circles.
  • Body and hood are both metal and well built – no cheap plastic, here.

Neutral

  • Weight (680 g / 23.98 oz)

Bad

  • Same vignetting issue as the Canon f/1.2
  • no AF – manual focusing only.  This will render a higher percentage of shots than normal unusable, if you’re not used to it.

So, after all that, and reading a whole ton of reviews, looking at ton of comparison images, and spending way too much time watching YouTube videos on the subject, I picked this guy:

 

Canon 85 millimeter f 1.8 lens

The Canon 85mm f/1.8

Yes, cost is a factor, I’ll admit.  My motorcycle is currently being repainted, so I’m in the process of shelling out $2500 + miscellaneous for that, as well.  That aside, I’ll admit, I wanted to get the Zeiss.  I mean, I really wanted it, even if for no other reason than to say that I had a freakin’ Zeiss in my arsenal.  I wanted to discount both Canons and say that the Zeiss was the only logical candidate, but after reading from a number of different, independent sources that the quality of shots achieved by the Zeiss was not substantially better than either of the Canons, and certainly not worth the price difference, I had no choice but to exclude it.  *sniffle*

As for the f/1.2, dropping a few thousand on it when you’re not doing this full-time is a big expense.  Also, I had to seriously ask myself how often I’d really be using that open an aperture, and I couldn’t come up with enough answers.  Plus, after hearing how many unusable shots people have experienced at large apertures and that they have much better success at 2.0 or narrower anyway, it just didn’t make financial sense to me.

So, after all that, I now have, sitting right next to me, a Canon 85mm f/1.8 USM lens.  Now I just need a model, and maybe a MUA and stylist to try it out on!

 

Until next time, take it easy, and don’t do anything I wouldn’t do…and if you do, take pictures!

k.

Out of Hibernation (a few artsy, but still NSFW, pictures)

Yeah, it’s been a long frickin’ winter, here in Canada.  Heck, most of you Americans know exactly what I’m talking about, even the ones who didn’t know what the heck snow was, before.  Sucks, don’t it?

Well, this winter hit me hard.  I have been in such a funk this winter that George Clinton was jealous, and only recently, I have started to come back out.  Took me long enough, huh?  But now that it’s over, I’m coming back with a vengeance.

The first shoot of the season was two weeks ago, with Kelly.  If you ever get the chance to shoot with this perfect storm of beauty and talent, TAKE IT!  I swear, I could have put my camera on the tripod, set the shutter to snap every ten seconds, and walked away.  An hour or two later, I’d come back, with a gallery-worthy set of images, ready to go.  She is just that good.

 A young woman, gazing out of a window.  A young, nude woman, curled up on white sheets.

 

A young, nude woman, gazing out of a window.   A young nude lady, with her arms crossed in front of her and her head down.

 

A young, nude woman, stretched out in blackness.

Also, this past weekend, the teacher from a photo business course I took was hosting a day-long seminar on fashion photography.  Now, as you may have seen from my site, I don’t know Jack about fashion photography, so I signed up for it.  It was an interactive seminar (complete with model), that not only dealt with the photography aspect itself, but also dealing with agencies and magazines and all the other aspects that create such high alcoholism rates in the industry.

It was a great shoot, and again, the model knew exactly what to do, almost reflexively.  However, as the model is a high end model, and those of us there, aren’t, we were told that we could use her images on our sites (not FB), but not to include her name.  She also bugged out without giving any model release.  Um…no release, at all?  Not even a non-commercial one?  I know, here in Canada, you technically don’t need one for a non-comm anymore, but I still subscribe to CYA.  If she ever changes her mind and decides to take it to court, it’s her word against mine, and mine will probably lose.  Plus, the whole thing pissed me off a bit lot, so I’m not using the pictures at all.  It’s a shame too – I got some really nice ones.

On a related note, there’s also another lens on the horizon (one that’s probably well overdue), but that’ll be for my next post, since, me being me, I did a lot of comparing.

Take it easy, and don’t do anything I wouldn’t do…and if you do, take pictures!

 

P.S.  The 2nd to last shot, where she has her arms wrapped around herself?  Other than removing one tiny bump on her right arm, one on her neck and upping the colour temperature, that is a completely raw, un-cropped, untouched shot.  She’s just that beautiful!

No Response Is A Response…Or Not?

Most photographers know this old rule: when contacting a model about a shoot, no response is a response.  Unless, of course, you’re one of those stalker types, but for the purposes of this editorial (and most editorials, for that matter), stalkers don’t count.  Most models just don’t bother replying if the answer is “no”.  We accept it and move on.  That’s also why we usually look at a few models when we’re planning out a shoot.

I, like most every other photographer, have experienced this.  The first time, you might take it personally.  The second time, not nearly as much.  It gets pretty easy to handle, even for someone like me, who normally doesn’t handle things like that well (long story, not going into it).  It soon becomes an element of the shoot that you simply incorporate into the planning stage, and nothing more.

Over the summer of last year, I had this happen with two models that I wanted to work with, on different projects.  I contacted one through a forum that I’m on, and the other one in person (a friend of a friend).  Neither got back to me, so I said “okay, they’re not interested” and moved on.  C’est la vie.

Well, wouldn’t you know it?  This past week, BOTH of them got in touch with me, asking if I still wanted to do their respective shoots.  Huh?  I know I’m a guy and get confused easily, but what the heck just happened?  Twice?  In a 24 hour period?  After six months??  I tell ya, I was waiting for the world to turn black & white, Rod Serling to pop out of nowhere and start in with “Submitted for your approval…” [side note: Rod only used that line in 3 episodes: Cavender is Coming, In Praise of Pip, and A Kind of Stopwatch]!

Now, one of the shoots was done already, and since the other was simply a shoot of opportunity, it was abandoned.  However, not being one to look a gift horse in the mouth (as it were), my response to both was “um, yeah!  Let’s shoot!”  I wanted to shoot with them before, and that hasn’t changed.

…now I just have to figure out what the shoots are going to be!

 

Rod Serling from Twilight Zone

No, this is not my image. Rod died before I was born. – k