Jun 24, 2009

Weegee speaks.

"...one of those accents you don't hear so much in New York anymore: part Austro-Hungarian immigrant by way of the Lower East Side and part Elmer Fudd."

I find this link funny for many reasons.
  1. I've never heard Weegee speak (never wanted to, truth be told). 
  2. After listening for about three seconds, I immediately heard Dr. Strangelove.

Jun 23, 2009

You'd better not pout !

It's Free Portrait Day!

If you're in the neighbourhood this evening, come check out the Party In The Park in Mimico and get a down and dirty portrait from your truly. It's free... for me to take it. If you actually want it, you'll have to donate $10 to breast cancer research. Hey, fair's fair.

The "photo booth" consists of one rented backdrop kit (courtesy of Headshots in Toronto), and a mess of speedlights — a nod to Strobist Boot Camp II.

The idea came from a great posting I read on The Online Photographer, where Scott Streble spent a day taking free portraits of people, many of whom who were recently downsized.

Anyway, come on by, look for the flash pops, and lay down a sawbuck for the sisters.

UPDATE: due to strike-related snafu, the party has been relocated just north of the original location (Mimico Memorial Park) — to the field behind John English Middle School. You'll see signs.

Jun 16, 2009

Seamless portraits on location.

Before I say anything that gives you the impression I know what I'm talking about, go see Zack Arias' fantastic tutorial on seamless shooting. Read every word of it — especially the bit about studio space and cuss words, because he's annoyingly dead-on with that part. This is merely my addendum to Zack's generous contribution to portrait photographers everywhere.

I've always wanted to shoot white seamless portraits. And when I say "always", I mean for the last 12 months — it just feels like "always". Then I took the plunge and did it. Turns out "just doing it" is pretty expensive and space-dependent... And fun.

My opportunity came last Saturday, when I was asked to contribute "photo-booth" portraits as part of "Lobsterfest" — an annual fundraiser for my kids' daycare. This was my first real stab at seamless portraiture, and it doubled as a trial run for a maternity session I'm shooting next week. (As a bonus, I plan to enter some of the shots to David Hobby's recent assignment for Strobist Boot Camp II.

Like all 'Strobist' endeavours, what you need and what you can use are pretty flexible. For instance, you definitely don't need a brand new Manfrotto 314B portable backdrop kit with a 9' Arctic White seamless. You could probably get by with a king-size sheet and some duct-tape. That would certainly cut down on expense and add to portability, but I'm guessing you'd end up shooting yourself in the eye after three hours of Photoshopping grey wrinkles out of all your portraits. Forget that.

Final tally at Headshots: $406.78

Now, if you want that beautiful reflective floor, you could do many things. You could try to P-shop a reflection - the way NAPP some pros think is perfectly passable, but is actually not even close. Or, you could buy a sheet of "tileboard" at Home Despot. (Someone at the store actually showed me the right place to look. I think I cried a little.)

Seamless portrait 1

What I can tell you without any hesitation, is that tileboard was the hardest part of my seamless quest. Here's why.
  1. If you think you can buy an 8'x4' sheet of tileboard for ten bucks in Toronto, you're in for a major letdown. The sheet I got was about $70, and it was the last smooth one they had. I sincerely hope you can find a sheet for less, and I'm happy to be the right fool if someone can point me to something cheaper, because I still want another sheet.

  2. Carrying this stuff in your hands, or on a shopping cart is a bitch. Grab one of those huge dollies that the contractors use.

  3. Driving this stuff home was a double-plus unhappy experience. I didn't think it would fit inside my car, so I strapped the board to my roof racks with crisscrossing bungees. Very scary. As I left the lot, I heard a "bang" and pulled over. It sounded like a cord had broken, but what happened was that one of the bungee hooks made a small crack in the board that was being forcefully driven into it. Lesson one: use padding. Also, watch those bungees. When they let go, they are major deadly.

  4. Hazards lights on. After crawling for 30 minutes at 20km/h (that's 10k, class) , I finally accepted the fact that I was "that guy". Despite everything you know — and Jerry Seinfeld's observation on cheapskates who deliver mattresses on their cars — your left hand will be drawn almost supernaturally to your roof until you get home.

  5. On the day of the shoot, I carefully crammed the tileboard inside my SUV, and bungeed the door down on it. Crack number two. Not a perfect solution, obviously, but at least I never felt that the thing would sail into oncoming traffic.
The two cracks turned out to be at the far end of the board — no big whoop — so I would now recommend looking first for a damaged one. See if you can get some discount.

Everything after that first trip was gravy. The kit sets up very intuitively, and seems way too big... until you step back and look though your lens at your subject. Very glad I didn't buy the 6' seamless.

Seamless set-up test.

After a quick inspection, I talked the organizer into letting me relocate to a big room where the buffet would be. Lo-o-ots of room — but I still could have used more. Any illusions I had about ever setting up a studio in my garage are now sitting on the curb, beside my yard waste and exercise bike. Now all I had do do was contend with the washroom line and hope I didn't get spattered with drawn butter from the buffet.

The rest of the shoot was Zack 101. Although I had my Honl gobos for the 2 background lights, I highly recommend the bi-fold doors that Zack talks about. Otherwise, you'll get cross-shadows and bright feet. The drawback is you're really crimping your portability, but if your carting that 8'x4' already... why not?

Field note: When I set my camera to manual, for some reason I left it at 1/60. Didn't hurt me, but I would definitely have used 1/250 if I'd been paying attention.

I went manual exposure, and set the background power by eye for f/8. Just on the verge of lens flare. I then TTL'd my handheld flash with a small softbox, so I could move around without worrying about a fixed key light. I had singles and group shots, so I didn't want to be tied down.

Everything went swimmingly, and people gave great feedback on the thumbnails. I even got my tipsy neighbour to fire off a few with me and Michelle in the frame.

Seamless portrait 3

My seamless portrait 10 Commandments — some overlap with Zack's notes:
  1. Get the reflective flooring (tileboard). It adds so much to the final image.
  2. Buy some cheapo clamps for your seamless roll, or you will have an aneurysm.
  3. Shoot somewhere with more space and height than you think you need.
  4. A little more.
  5. A liiiittle more. Perfect
  6. Find anyone with a van — even a serial killer —to help move your tileboard around.
  7. Pad your board so it doesn't chip and crack.
  8. Use bi-fold doors to gobo your lights really well, so they won't spill on your subject.
  9. Store your rolled-up seamless on its end, not flat.
  10. If you can use someone else's studio, do that instead. Buy them a 2-4.

Jun 15, 2009

I'm not buyin' it.

[UPDATE (Sept 30, 2009) I am grudgingly re-thinking my original posting from June: Maybe I'm not buyin' it, but a whole hell of a lot of people are buying this. More power to you, Chase.]

Lensbabies? Holgas? iPhones?

It's one thing to take shots with these things, but posting them, too? Have pro photographers finally rolled the quality odometer? D3x too clean? Pentax not wacko enough? 

I appreciate up-to-the minute photo-awesomeness, but unless you just stumbled across Nessie or Amy Winehouse in a respectable evening gown, I'm probably not interested. 

I swear to God, I'm really trying not to be a snob here, but the whole point of a small, lightweight camera is to rock it. Buy yourself an Elph, for cryin' out loud. 

Chase posting iPhotos on his blog is like Ian McKellen wearing pink Crocs at the Oscars. I guess he's allowed to, but... why?

[Update 2: oh... I see. To kick ass and get people to rethink photography in the 21st century, while expanding their esthetic horizons. Damn. Never anticipated that part.]

Hey, if you're posting stuff on your own blog, then go for it. I mean, the whole point is to do your own thing. But if you're Twittering your pics, then please make a bit of an effort. Otherwise, I'm going back to my son's Fisher-Price.

Note/Apology: To prove how out-of-touch I can get, I was recently caught referring to someone's blog as being too "self-indulgent"—kind of like saying that the Oxford dictionary is "wordy". 

Jun 10, 2009

You got your flotsam in my jetsam!

"Mars ain't the kind of place to raise your kids.
In fact, it's cold as hell.
And there's no one there to raise them,
if you did."
-Bernie Taupin/Elton John

Ummm... guys? There's some weird logic going on here.
If you raised them, there'd be no one there to raise them? WTF?

Also of note:
  • Say what you want. There is only one Indiana Jones movie. Flying saucers? Please.
  • Cookies or not, the concept of milk is just wrong.
  • Movie-swords need to stop making that sound, especially when they're being drawn from a leather scabbard.
  • No, seriously... why do Glossettes cost four bucks at Cineplex? No, I won't shut up! Answer the f&%$# question, Cineplex!
  • I looked on dictionary.com and there is still no entry for "ks" (what a Canadian male says when a door is reluctantly opened for him by another male. Compare: "thanks").
  • Memo to Swiper: when someone starts saying, "Swiper, no swiping," just grab the frickin' thing.
  • Anyone who eats Stilton is not allowed to say Cheeze Whiz is "disgusting".
  • Three Wolf Moon.
That is all.

These boots were made for camping...

Strobist Boot Camp II

Jun 9, 2009

Strobist Boot Camp II begins.

David Hobby has revved up the machine again. Strobist Boot Camp II is on.

If you are unfamiliar, Hobby runs Strobist, a very infotaining photo-blog devoted to off-camera flash photography. He has a killer "101" introduction to lighting — a must read, if you have any interest in the subject — as well as his boot camps, which are intended to shame photographers into getting off their butts and pressing the little round thing on top of their cameras once in a while.

The assignments are perfect for those who like photography but spend too much time dithering on subject matter. (It's more like school than Parris Island — but school isn't a democracy, either. If you want a shot at the prizes, you gotta listen to the teacher.)

I can't recommend his blog enough.

Jun 1, 2009

Digital photography is a big fat lie...

...just like acting, writing, music and painting.

What is the biggest obstacle to creating art?  I would say the need for validation. For instance, my love-hate addiction to photo-blogs and Flickr's parade of troll-critics has resulted in too much second-guessing of photos, and not enough shooting of photos. 

A good photographer would just shrug his shoulders and unplug. To be fair, I'm doing more of that these days — because my daily quest for professional opinion and technique has come with the heavy baggage of 'analysis-paralysis'. Now that everybody with two years behind a lens thinks they're a seasoned pro, the subtext question seems to be: what kind of photography is valid, anyway?

Having ranted on this before, I am now conceding two things: 
  1. Digital photography – and it's manipulation – is a big lie.
  2. I'm okay with that. 
When weenie-boy purists hunker down for a good session of cyber-snobbery, digital photography makes a perfect target because it has now fallen into the hands of the goobers. The "democratization" of photography, through affordable hardware and user-friendly software, has generated legions of new artists who can produce images way beyond their reach ten years ago. And there's nothing members of a club hate more than new members.

To compound the insult, motivated noobs are able to draw from a bottomless well of professional, online tutelage (I'm looking at you, Strobist). Trade secrets and word-of-mouth tips have been liberated from the House of Hasselblad and delivered into the hands of nouveau shutterbugs - most of whom previously thought Matrix Metering was a way of ranking Keanu Reeves' crappier movies.

"But, he doesn't use film"... "It's Photoshopped"... "That's HDR"... Just a sampling of sour grapes from bloggers who are unhappy with all the good photographs out there. When you can't criticize the result, you attack the method. A purebred film-aficionado only has time for a photograph steeped in hard work and pedigree — either a serendipitous one-timer or a painstakingly constructed in-camera opus. Trickery and manipulation seem to render amateur photos null and void. 

True photogs should be able to expose like Adams and capture like Cartier-Bresson; without resorting to layer masks and machine-gun frame rates. (It helps if your photo is original size — 5x4, or better yet, 6x6 — to "prove" that you never cropped it digitally.)

A couple of weeks ago, an otherwise intelligent acquaintance of mine suggested that the whole "Nikon vs. Canon" thing was moot because... at this point I enthusiastically tried to complete his thought by suggesting that "it was the final image that mattered, and no one could ever tell the difference anyway"... He patiently shook his head and gestured proudly to the point-and-shoot Leica around his neck. 

We were at a kindergarten recital.

For many of the Director's Cut generation, the experience is not complete without knowing how it was made. Which is not to say I don't fall victim to photo-snobbery.  I once enjoyed Robert Doisneau's print of the couple kissing in Paris... until I heard they were paid models. Then I hated it. I mean, it was never going up on my wall, but this was like learning that your ex-girlfriend faked it. Anyone could shoot a posed couple kissing, right? (Well, not really — but the sin wasn't that the photographer posed them, it was that he denied that he had.)

Quick tangent:
I finally saw The DaVinci Code on Saturday, and many things occurred to me - prime among them: I can't believe this film received protest. A Catholic getting huffy about Dan Brown is like a feminist getting huffy about Andrew Dice Clay. They give far too much credit to their nemeses. Memo to Catholics: no one believes that albino masochists are offing people under orders from the Vatican, any more than they believe Miss Muffet gave blow-jobs. And if you took anything away from The DaVinci Code, it should be this: fiction is a word meaning not true

By the way, they call it 'acting' for a reason. People don't really talk like that. No one ever answers a question with, "Yes... No... I don't know." People don't explain their phobias by looking away from you and eloquently recounting a tragic event from their fifth birthday.

Ever watch people lying to each other on TV? Television characters are terrible liars. They pause awkwardly, look around furtively and lick their lips... and they're never called on it. My three-year-old daughter lies better than Robert DeNiro in most of his movies. The reason? (Spoiler alert: it's not DeNiro's acting ability.) It's because otherwise great directors seem to be telling them, "Your motivation in this scene is to emulate Jon Lovitz buying a bottle of vodka for his sixteenth birthday."

People want to be entertained, and a good chunk of that entertainment comes from not feeling like an idiot. We want things explained to us, and one (shoddy) way to achieve this is by having the characters explain things to each other. Note: ideally nothing in a movie should be explained through dialogue, but that's rant for another day.

Backstory and plot details are crammed down our throats because studio honchos don't trust their own product. Hollywood's speak-and-spell screenplays demand that we in the audience know everything, especially if it's irrelevant to the story arc. 

Mysteries should be left to our imagination — they have more power there. When Obi Wan told Luke that his father fought in the "Clone Wars", he left it at that. Smart move on the writer's part  — too bad Lucas felt compelled to make an entire trilogy explaining the reference.

So, when you're watching The Da Vinci Code or Angels and Demons, ask yourself: Does a Professor of Religious Symbology really need Latin translated for him? Does he really need to be refreshed on the back-story of The Last Supper? No, but for those in the audience who assume The Tudors is a series devoted to sports sedans, it's nice to be spoon-fed a bit of interesting trivia.

Since you were asking:
  • CSI techs don't really need to explain what Luminol is to their colleagues.
  • Firemen do not need to be briefed on the physics of a "backdraft". (They actually call it a "flashover", btw.)
  • Fighter pilots need not describe the geometry of a "split-s" to their wizzo.
Whew, that was a tangent. 

My apologies. But, I hope I've proved my point by actually becoming a film weenie for a minute. It's nobody's place to explain why you should love or hate something. As Dennis Miller said, "if you want the Red Skelton clown painting, buy the Red Skelton clown painting."

So I'm okay that it's only a paper moon. Movies are big, fun lies — even documentaries are made from a premeditated vantage point. No drawing or painting exists to tell the truth, and popular music is a stew of artificial ingredients (like Auto-Tune and other effects) that doesn't reflect reality. 

And to me, photography is all about the final image. If you P-shopped the Loch Ness Monster in there, that's your problem, not mine. I'll try to love it or hate it at face value.