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Monthly Archives: October 2010
One of the great pleasures I’ve had since moving out of the New York area 13 years ago to southeastern Pennsylvania is getting to know and work with legendary Philly AP photographer George Widman.
George is what we call a “photographer’s photographer.” He is not a jack of all trades, he’s a master of them. Whether it’s photojournalism (a Pulitzer finalist for his work on the homeless), sports (he’s covered more World Series and Olympics than he’d like me to mention), feature, landscape, people, food, interiors….you name it, and George does it well. And then generously shares his techniques with colleagues.
And that includes post production. George and I both shoot for the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation, the tourist board of Philly, and I’ve seen him in action doing amazing things both on location and in post; including using HDR to capture otherwise impossible situations.
Now, truthfully, a lot of the HDR we see is that grunge-style, over the top, semi-psychedelic look (Wait! Before you start sharpening your commenting knives, I’m not making a judgement on it. In fact, I kinda like the look and two of the pics on my Spirit of Place 2011 calendar are HDRs).
I’m just saying that, in most cases for editorial or commercial photographers, the hyperreal HDR look just doesn’t fly with clients (unless you’re shooting the stills for the next Harry Potter epic!). I’ve used them in my calendar but can’t think of one paying gig where the obvious HDR look was acceptable to the holder of the checkbook.
That’s why I was delighted to find the master himself using a kinder, gentler style of HDR, let’s call it “real world HDR,” on a few recent commercial assignments. And I managed to cajole him into sharing some of his techniques with us. Take the above series of shots at the National Constitution Center, for instance.
It’s the classic indoor/outdoor light level conundrum—if you expose for the outside, you get detail in the windows but the interior is too dark. Expose for the interior, and the windows are blown.
In the past, you had two choices. Just let the windows blow out (hmmn, did someone just look at me?), or drive in a truck load of big AC strobes and throw enough light into the interior to raise it to the same light level as the outdoor scene (no, no, no–that’s definitely not me, that’s my buddy Joe!)
But George goes all HDR on it. Now many of you are familiar with the concept of taking the same photo at several different exposures for HDR, but here’s a few extra Widman tips.
First shoot RAW. You notice that there’s only three exposures in this particular HDR and that’s because George shoots a lot of situations with people (see that guy standing there, the perfect found “scale” element?). If you shoot 7 exposures, chances are that guy is going to move.
So in those situations, George shoots three, and uses the ability to squeeze extra dynamic range out of RAW files if he needs some extra exposure latitude.
He also recommends locking the mirror up and using the “electronic pickle”, aka electronic cable release (what can I say, it’s a Philly thing:-)) and waiting several seconds between exposures to make sure there is no residual vibration from the the previous shot.
George then runs the shots through his current favorite HDR program Photomatix Pro in the exposure fusion mode. This gives a natural looking combination. He resists the temptation to play with those seductive sliders too much. You start that, and before you know it, you’re through the looking glass.
But he doesn’t stop there. He takes his underexposed frame and layers it underneath the fused version, and paints away the windows for even more detail outside (see the difference between the images marked “automatic HDR” and HDR plus layered over/under image?). It’s slight, but that’s the kind of attention to,um, detail that a real craftsman gives you.
Finally, after all the HDR tweaking has been done (George advises that you enable a good number of history palette views in the Preferences of Photoshop so you can go back more than a few moves, but not necessarily to the beginning, if you goof up at a stage), that’s when you do things like perspective correction and the other minor tweaks.
I’ve played with Photomatix Pro and the new Nik HDR Efex Pro program (which has a lot of very cool bells and whistles) and found them both to be superb for all kinds of HDR techniques, including George’s approach. And check out George’s site to see other examples of his real world HDR.
In a recent post, I wrote about an email I commonly get hitting me up for free content. Here’s another type of email I get even more often: from a young (or not so young) photographer starting out and wanting advice. I get about 5-10 a week (up to 20 around college graduation time!).
I have sons in their twenties in the journeyman stages of their (non-photographic) career paths and consequently have a huge soft spot for helping kids get their careers launched whenever I can. I’ve spent tons of time counseling scores of young folks who are attracted by this glamor profession (if they only knew!).
But there is a certain type of entitlement in some approaches that turns me off.
It’s like another letter I get several of a week….from students who are doing a term paper for their photography class and have to interview a working photographer and want said photographer to do all the heavy lifting in the process i.e. ” here’s a list of 20 questions and please write the answers, 200 words per answer, and please have it done by tomorrow because I’m late….”
Drives me nuts.
Here’s a letter I got a couple of days ago. It’s fairly typical of that “what can you do to help me” mentality, however, I will say that the student in question had some nice work and did say “thank you” (not everybody does).
Take a read and see my response and tell me if I’m just being a crotchety old fart, or if what I say has some merit…actually, I know I am a crotchety old fart, I just need to find out if you think the advice has merit:-).
From: P*** F****** <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Advice on New Website; www.S*************.com.au
Date: October 19, 2010 11:29:55 PM EDT
To: Bob Krist <email@example.com>
I came across your site on Google and thought it would be worth getting in touch with you. I checked out your website a couple of times and you’ve got quite an amazing set of images there, so it’s pretty inspirational for someone like myself……….
…..As of this morning, my new website has been launched, so it would be great it you could take a couple minutes to check it out and let me know what you think…and get back to me with some advice on what I could do to improve my chances for getting work experience or even point me in the right direction for getting employment, that would be awesome.
Thanks for your time Bob,
And here’s my answer (yes, I have these pre-written and just make minor modifications to customize). Am I being too hard on the lad? I don’t think so.
From: Bob Krist firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject: Advice on New Website; www.S*************.com.au
To: P*** F****** <email@example.com>
Hi: You have made the classic error that a lot of beginning photographers seem to make these days—to wit, asking a perfect stranger to take time and give you detailed career advice and guidance.
I get about 5-10 emails a week (more in May and June, when college students graduate) like yours, and I can’t answer them all, or I’d go out of business.
But here’s the thing. Success as a photographer depends an awful lot on being a self starter and self motivated. When I was young, I had photographers whom I looked up to as well. But I would never have dreamed of contacting them out of the blue and asking them for feedback and free advice. In my day, you just didn’t do things like that.
Instead, I studied their work until my eyes burned holes in the pages, bought their books, took their workshops and seminars…..in other words, I put the onus on me to learn from them, not for them to take their valuable time and enlighten me with little or no effort or investment on my part.
Had you done the same, you’d have seen that I have spent a lot of time and effort writing books, blogging, and teaching the very things you’d like to learn. And while I’d love to take every fledgling photographer who emails me under my wing, the huge demands on my time that this career requires make that an impossibility.
However, you are free to tap into my extensive knowledge and experience, gained from decades in the trenches of this profession, simply by buying my books or finding them in a library, taking a seminar or workshop, or reading my blog.
The latter is even free, for crying out loud…. for the last two years, I have cracked my head open and poured out just about everything I know, and am currently learning, for free on the internet. I just don’t know how much easier and awesome I can make it for you guys!
I wish you all good things in your endeavors, and hope that this email (which, as you may have guessed, is a canned response, written “hundreds-of-emails-like-yours-ago,” and cut and pasted into this email) will serve as a first step in the right direction for you, career-wise.
all the best, Bob Krist
While my beard gets longer and grayer in the wait for the delivery of the Nikon D7000, there are a couple of things I’m learning about DSLR video; resolution, beautiful bokeh, and high ISO performance notwithstanding, that give me pause when I think of it in terms being a one-man travel-shooting band.
Not only me, but a number of journalist-type video shooters have noted that when you approach a subject with a rig that looks like this:
you can, um, intimidate your subjects.
In the case of the above video, which is a little travel piece I extracted out of a larger shoot I did recently in Senegal documenting the work of some doctors over there, my subjects at the fishmarket, all armed with sharp knives and no real patience for photographers, would not have been intimidated at all.
No, they would have had my guts for garters!
This was a classic situation where you had to shoot and move, and shoot and move quickly before anyone took umbrage with your presence.
And if you don’t think that’s hard to do while you’re on a tripod, think again.
But at least I had a tiny tripod and a small non-professional looking camera…a little Sanyo Xacti HD 2000. It weighs six ounces and it looks like this:
Don’t be fooled. It shoots 1080P30 (and 60) FPS video (although I shot it at 720p30FPS). It has a lot of manual control and does a wonderful job for what it is. But it won’t give you the sweet, sweet bokeh of a fast prime on a DSLR with a nice big APS-C sensor.
On the other hand, it doesn’t need a Rube Goldberg-esque rig to frame, focus, and shoot either!
And it won’t get you a filet knife in the kidneys.
And, at least in my book, there are times when that’s even more important than good bokeh!
Here’s a little three minute video from the Balloon Fiesta (sorry about the repeat of the timelapse in the middle, but it does pick up the pace).
I used the D300s with 10.5mm, 12-24mm, and 18-200mm VR lenses and also the Coolpix P7000. I know that some of the low-light stuff is noisy—both those cameras make great 720p video in good light, but they are not low-light machines. In learning to shoot video, I’m also learning to love my tripod.
Anything I shoot handheld in video without a tripod, monopod, or some kind of shoulder stabilizer looks like I’ve had a three martini breakfast….and I hardly ever have those anymore.
I can’t wait for the D7000, with its manual control over ISO in movie mode.
I got a number of emails requesting instructions in putting together time-lapses. I’m no expert but the easiest way I’ve found is to get the “Pro” license (I think it costs $15) for Quicktime 7.
Quicktime 7 is buried in utilities folder of some Macs running Snow Leopard, but if not, you can download it.
(In another one of those inscrutable steps backwards that Mac is making more often lately, the current Quicktime Player is unable to create timelapses, so you have to find the earlier version and upgrade to the Pro features. Go figure….Jobs giveth, and Jobs taketh away).
First, you need a folder of jpegs shot in a sequence. Don’t make them too big, otherwise you’ll choke your machine and the timelapse will stutter. I usually shoot full rez jpegs and scale them down to screensize using Image Processor.
In Quicktime 7 Pro, Go to File>Image Sequence and select the jpegs. You’ll then be asked for a frame rate, and you can experiment to see what looks good. 10, 15, or 24 FPS are common settings. Hit okay and wham, you’ll get your timelapse sequence in seconds…nothing to it.
I had the opportunity to cover the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta with Steve Heiner and Lindsay Silverman of Nikon, and a group of photo luminaries including Rob Galbraith, George Schaub, Scott Bourne, and Matt Kloskowski, among others.
Nikon was showcasing the nine lenses and two cameras they introduced this year to these eminent members of the photo press, and since I had shot several of the brochures with the new optics, I got an invite to hang with these photo experts.
Needless to say, we had a great time, got some wonderful images, and geeked out in a major way. It was a treat for me to catch up with old friends, make some new ones, and refreshing, for once, to be the least technically-hip guy in the room!
Wow, do these guys know their stuff! What an education to hang out with them.
I shot all video (as I say to my wife, Peggy, aka SWMBO, I’m in my cocoon phase. I may be ugly now, but I hope to emerge as a beautiful video butterfly in the near future). I just hope the transformation happens before the turn of the next century.
I hope to have a nice little movie edit to share with you soon, but I’m on an old fashioned corporate shoot this week, and it’ll be a while until I can wrestle my D300s and P7000 clips into a presentable movie.
Thanks to this trip, I’ve already had to earmark the proceeds from this week’s shoot for some of the outstanding optics I sampled last week, including the 35 mm f/1.4, the 24-120mm f/4, the beloved 24mm f/1.4, and the 28-300mm.
Of course, this is all subject to the approval of SWMBO, who rules the financial roost around here, thank goodness. Otherwise, I’d probably be living in a tent surrounded by every lens Nikon has ever made…and that’s about 400 at last count!