Knowing why an image works is a fundamental requirement for being able to make decent photographs without having to rely on blind luck. Still, sometimes I take photographs that get to me although I have absolutely no idea why they work. They just do. I shot a wedding a couple of weeks ago and amidst all my usual shots I found the above hip-shot. Now by all technical accounts this isn’t a good picture. It’s not sharp (well the window does seem to be sharp…), exposure is neither here nor there and the composition is not exactly textbook to say the least. Still, I keep coming back to it. Sometimes I guess you don’t take a picture, you capture a moment. Send a thank you to the photography gods and enjoy…
I shot a casting for an upcoming advertising campaign on monday. The basic premise for the campaign was a young family (mom, dad, 2 children). The client needed portraits of the “parents” as well as action shots of the kids jumping on a trampoline, everything on a white background.
In the studio I had free pickings of the rental gear they had available, so I went for a huge 7-foot umbrella, mostly because I’d never gotten the chance to use one so far and I always like to try out new stuff when I can. For the background I used another two Profoto heads and shot them into large reflective umbrellas for an even illumination. As for the 7-footer, I have to say it’s almost disturbing how you don’t have to know anything about lighting and still get a great light from it… as long as you put it up in roughly the right direction you get a decent beauty light. Maybe not too defined and lacking a little attitude, but a great soft light nonetheless!
For this shoot it was perfect anyway, since I had to photograph women and men as well as kids. The kids also had to be shot jumping on a trampoline which would have been harder to light with a more directional light source.
Shot on the Nikon D700 with the 24-70 2.8 and triggered the lights with PocketWizards. The PocketWizards I only bought recently and I have to say, they may be expensive but they simply work, no questions asked. Shot more than 3000 images (exactly 3333 in fact) and I got two misfires which may or may not have been the PWs’ fault… impressive.
Had fun as well of course: (left to right, me, my assistant Tom and Sandra (casting agency rep))
I have to admit that the blog’s been far too quiet these past couple of weeks, even though there’s plenty of material to post about. Not surprisingly, that is also the reason why I haven’t been posting much recently. In the last 2-3 months I’ve become more busy than I’ve ever been and while that’s great, I still have to get used to the fact that I’m not sailing along on a two- or three-hour work week anymore. Anyway, I’m confident that a lot of reasonably interesting material will soon be finding it’s way onto this blog, so stay with me!
One of the things I’m personally rather excited about is the Hasselblad 500 CM medium format camera that I simply couldn’t resist buying. While I do love my Mamiya RB 67, it is a beast. It weighs a ton and with knobs and levers protruding everywhere, it requires a certain amount of fanatism to lug around as a street camera. The Hasselblad by contrast slips pretty easily into my standard shoulder bag and for the last two weeks it has been with me pretty much all the time. I’ve actually found the Hasselblad to be a fantastic camera for street photography, mainly because of it’s waist level viewfinder, since most people either don’t identify that box-like thing as a camera or else assume that you’re still fiddling around with the controls and not actually about to make a picture…
I’ve also shot a little series on last week’s bouldering world cup finale with it and I’m pretty happy with the results. That one’s getting it’s own post, so -again- stay tuned!
Oh and we’ve made it into children’s television! I assisted for photographer Bodo Mertoglu on a photoshoot for a children’s TV programme to illustrate what an advertising photographer does for a living. Click here to watch the clip! (in german)
Having a busy couple of days, so here’s me letting other people provide content for my blog once again… great video and I love the final pictures. Plus I like the whole Mamiya RZ + Fuji 6×9 thing…
Woke up with a nasty cold today, so I opted to stay in bed to get some rest. As it turned out, I felt good enough to get some work done on my new website and although not everything is 100% perfect yet, I decided to just go ahead and launch it without wasting any more time…
In general I’m pretty relieved to part with my old design as it simply had too many flaws and issues that I couldn’t fix on my own. Especially compatibility with smaller screens and especially the whole iPhone / iPad product lineup was a big issue. So far I’ve tried the new website on multiple devices and systems, from netbooks over the iPad to the iPhone, and I was amazed how well the scripts were working on all these different systems.
Anyway, feel free to have a look around, I tried to seize the chance and completely updated my portfolio so there should be quite a lot of “new” stuff to look at.
Hope you like it,
Recently I’ve been spending quite some time with the work of Matthew Jordan Smith. Apart from a boatload of breathtaking images, Matthew’s also got a voice at least as soothing as Bob Ross’… Don’t believe me? Check out this video of Matthew talking about his favorite paper:
I digress. Sorry about that. Anyway, Matthew has also made a couple of instructional presentations on how he made some of his images. I rarely buy instructional videos and the like, mainly because I’ve found that few are actually worth the money. In Matthew’s case I gladly made an exception though. Matthew offers several videos / presentations on his website, each selling for $12,95. I decided to start out with “10 Ways to Use One Light Source”.
“10 Ways to Use One Light Source” is a 20-minute presentation taking the viewer through 10 images shot with one light. Each shot is presented along with a lighting diagram and Matthew talking you through the setup step by step. While 20 minutes may not sound like much, it’s 20 minutes packed with actual information free of unnecessary junk or other distractions. This may disappoint the armchair photographers who prefer talking about photography instead of actually doing it, but it’s perfect for those of us who actually want to apply the things they learn.
Here’s a short clip from another one of Matthew’s presentations so you can get an idea what they are like:
“Just” One Light
As a photographer, one easily gets into this more light equals better light mindset. It’s not so much about the look, it’s more about the feeling of security you get from putting up a truckload of lights, thinking “Guys, I’m trying to make a masterpiece here, this can’t be simple.”
There are actually two things wrong with this mindset. First, a great shot can definitely be simple. And second, lighting an image with just one light can be anything but.
Deconstructing other people’s images is something I do every day, trying to figure out the way an image was shot, the number and position of lights and other important elements. I have to admit that I was often quite surprised that all these images were actually done with “only” one light.
Assisting for other photographers is possibly the best way to learn your craft. You’re able to see the shot being put together from scratch, learn about the way the photographer thinks and -if you pay attention- you can pick up some of those little tricks good photographers use constantly. While no video or book or presentation can teach you as much as a day spent assisting for a good photographer, Matthew’s presentation goes a long way in putting you in that spot.
It’s not so much about the general setup. If you look at a photo, you can usually tell by the reflections in the subject’s eyes and the shadows on their face, where the light is coming from. What you don’t see, however, is the little things that shape the final image from a raw shot into a brilliant one. Here’s where things like reflectors, v-flats and mirrors come into play. It’s also where you find out that “just” one light can be surprisingly complex and versatile.
I learned a lot from this presentation and -more importantly- I’ll be coming back to it for reference whenever I’m about to do something in this style. At $12,95 you shouldn’t be hesitating.
A few days ago I browsed through my copy of The Hagakure again and -like every time I read it- was amazed how these lessons, compiled some 300 years ago, remain valid and important until today. One lesson in particular left a deep impression on me.
In any training there can be no stage where one feels he has accomplished his end. Such a feeling of achievement is, in itself, against the pursuit of the Way. A man who has been unsatisfied with his results all through his life despite his whole-hearted training until he breathes his last, as in retrospect, has accomplished his purpose.
Lifetime pursuit knows no end; one has to find himself improved after each day’s training, striving towards perfection for the entire course of his life.
This is an idea that has stayed with me ever since I read it for the first time and which I think of almost daily. And it’s one of the qualities that all the people I know, who excel in one activity or another, have in common. They still feel the need to improve. They’re still hungry.
I hope I’ll still be hungry by the time I’m 50…
This is a quick review of the Canon CanoScan 9000F film scanner. Selling for 200 € it’s one of the cheapest scanners on the market that can process medium format film. Since the reviews I found on the web didn’t help me much in figuring out whether the 9000f is actually a good choice or not, I decided to do a quick one myself.
Short answer: I wouldn’t make gallery prints from the scans, but the image quality is sufficient for my purposes.
I am shooting more and more film these days and I’m always looking for ways to keep the costs to a minimum. Apart from the cost of the individual rolls of film, there are lab fees for development, contact sheets (a single sheet where all the shots from a roll of film are displayed in thumbnail size) and scans, ranging from quick scans to replace contact sheets to high quality scans for printing. Especially contact sheets and quick scans are pretty expensive and almost triple the amount of money you spend on a single roll of film even though they only serve the purpose of getting an overview over a whole roll. (A roll of 120 medium format film runs at around 5€, film processing at another 5-7€, while contact sheets or quick scans can cost up to 10€ each per roll!)
These high fees quickly started to spoil the fun I had with shooting film, so I started looking around for a cheaper solution. Lacking the room, the skill, and the nerve to develop film on my own, I started to look around for ways to cut costs on contact sheets and scans at least. Scanning the film myself was the obvious solution, but it was hard getting decent information on the quality an affordable scanner could deliver. If you have the money, you can easily spend a brand-new car’s worth of money on such a machine, while there are also much cheaper systems available. Obviously, a lab with a 15.000€ film scanner will produce higher quality scans than a 200€ standard document scanner with a film adapter. But I figured that I could at least cut the costs of having a set of quick scans made for checking whole rolls of film. (Sharpness, Colours, Composition, People’s expressions etc etc) Once I made my pick on single “keepers” I could still bring those to the lab and get a high quality scan made.
Again: Please note that I wasn’t looking for a scanner that could do high quality scans to make huge prints from. Instead I was looking for a scanner that could deliver images good enough for checking sharpness, depth of field and -after some work in photoshop-be used for display on the web.
The Canon 9000f boasts of being able to scan images at 9600dpi. As expected this quickly turned out to be a load of marketing BS as the CanoScan seems to take each pixel it reads and extrapolates that to achieve those ridiculous 9600dpi. Reducing resolution to 2400dpi actually seems to increase image quality. At this point, the 9000f delivers decent results for such a cheap system. I don’t know much about technical specs, so I’ll skip any tech talk about the Canon’s features.
When comparing the CanoScan to the 15.000€ Hasselblad drum scanner that a colleague of mine let me use for high quality scans, I found that it really comes down to the level of detail that you need. For displaying images on a computer screen and for web use, both scanners deliver decent results only differing in terms of contrast and color which can be changed around in photoshop anyway. Here’s the same image scanned with the 9000F and the Hasselblad:
To be honest, the only difference I can make out is a higher contrast in the Canon scan, which I could have changed in Photoshop to make them look even more alike.
Blown up to their true size, the differences between the two scanners become obvious, with the Hasselblad being able to read much more detail than the Canon. Not a big surprise there. This would make a difference for printing although I believe that a print made from the Canon scan would satisfy most photographers.
35mm film can be scanned as well, although image quality is visibly weaker than with medium format film. It’s still perfectly acceptable for web use but I’m not sure if I would depend on it to make prints from it. Since I don’t shoot much 35mm film I don’t mind and the results are acceptable in any case. Here’s Annie, shot on 35mm 400 ASA film:
Lack of sharpness is for the most part due to my shooting a 30th @ 1.7 and not a fault of the scanner…
Operation & Software
Scanning film is not fun. This applies to any scanner I’ve tried so far. For quick scans I like the Canon since it takes up to three medium 6×7 cm medium format frames without the need to cut down the film to individual frames. Scanning one medium format frame takes about 5 minutes at 2400dpi with medium dust removal and other software corrections. The 9000f comes with Canon’s own software as well as a version of Silver Fast. I started with the Canon software and although it seems to suck a lot of processing speed from my Macbook Pro it works fine and rather intuitively. Next I tried out the Silver Fast App. To be honest, after more than a week with the scanner, I still haven’t yet had the nerve or time to figure out the Silver Fast interface, which sucks on all levels of software design. After a couple of test runs where I didn’t get a single correct scan, I switched back to the Canon software which then turned out to crash every time I tried to start scanning after installing Silver Fast… perfect. After killing Silver Fast from my system and doing a complete reboot of my Macbook, Canon’s software worked fine again.
As I mentioned at the top, my demands at image quality weren’t especially high. All I needed was a scanner good enough for web use and for checking sharpness, exposure and other criteria I have trouble judging from the negative. On those counts the Canon 9000F easily surpassed my expectations, delivering scans that if necessary could even be used for making prints from as long as one doesn’t need the absolute finest quality.
In short: If you’re looking for a cheap way to scan film and have reasonable expectations in image quality, the Canon 9000F is a great choice.
UPDATE: I made a couple of test prints from scans done with the 9000F and I have to say, I’m surprised how good the images turned out. Image size was 30x45cm and I didn’t have any complaints. I wouldn’t go much bigger than this, though.
Photography has always been digital for me. I might have shot two or three rolls of 35mm film when I was a boy, but in general, digital photography has been the “standard” way to shoot for me. After shooting only digital for a couple of years, I started getting curious about what film had to offer. I looked around on Ebay and grew a liking to the Mamiya medium format cameras. The Hasselblads were nice obviously, but it seemed that you payed a big premium mostly for the name Hasselblad. In the end, I decided to buy a used Mamiya RB 67. As these cameras are some 15-30 years old, some of them might come in less than “mint” condition. The one I bought turned out to be having several issues, ranging from broken light seals in the film back to incorrect shutter speeds. After a couple of test films I decided to return it and shelved the idea of my own medium format camera.
A few months later I made a second attempt and got another RB 67. This time, body and film back were working fine, but the lens was a 150mm soft focus lens. As it turned out, it was a nightmare to focus and only really usable as a normal lens from f8 upwards. Additionally, on my first try run in a friend’s studio, I made a mistake with the Mamiya’s flash settings which resulted in the flash not syncing correctly and thus underexposing the images. This really frustrated me. I had really been careful about my shots, set up decent lighting, had a friend come in for a portrait session and the end result was less than overwhelming. In the end, I had spent some 100 euros on developing and contact sheets for a couple of rolls of pretty much unusable film. Once again, I put the Mamiya away and returned to shooting digital again.
Late in december I stumbled upon an ebay auction for the 127mm k/l lens. (The K/L lenses are the most modern lenses that work on the old RB bodies. The RB 67 was replaced by the RZ 67 and sadly those lenses don’t fit on the RB…) After googling a couple of (very positive) reviews, I decided to give the whole thing another shot and ordered the lens. And that’s where this whole business became fun. I spent the holidays doing portraits of my friends and family, and I loved the results. Tack sharp even when shooting wide open, thin slivers of depth of field and a process of shooting so different from my usual digital, day-to-day stuff. For commercial work, digital will probably always be my go-to system. For personal projects however, I’m sure that the RB is going to be playing a big part in my photography from now on. (Although I’m curious to see whether some clients might actually be fascinated by the whole idea as well… we’ll see.)
More to come…
Since (a) I’m not in the mood for long typing and (b) since this is a photography blog after all, I decided to do simple photo posts more often. Just keep my mouth shut and show some pictures.
These two images I made sometime in March of 2010 with my friend Tammo Vahlenkamp’s Mamiya 645 medium format camera. Lately I’ve really fallen in love with shooting medium format film so this won’t be the last post about this topic. Have a great day!