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Free and open to the public.
Wednesday, March 19, 2014 at 6PM PST.
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“Hi, I’m Matt Dutile. I’m a professional travel and portrait photographer living in New York City. For the past few years I’ve been fortunate enough to travel around the globe creating images for a variety of great magazines, agencies and companies. You can find some of those images from a recent excursion through Asia as examples of my style on this page.
I have a personal connection with traditional cultures around the world, and am particularly passionate about Asian traditions and cultures. How these individuals and societies survive and thrive under extremely difficult conditions is a testament to the perseverance of the human spirit.”
Just a short note of change here. The magazine style site is now switched to a blog page. More and shorter posts.
Occasional long format posts. Back to the Essentials of Lighting Essentials.
Yeah, it seems strange to write an article on why in particular I really love my Nikon Df. Why would anyone give a shit what someone else likes as far as a camera?
And yet, they do. And I kinda get that on some level.
I have heard this camera derided as being too “retro” by people who like the Fuji X-100… yeah. OK. (I love the Fuji as well, but this is not about the Fuji… so I am digressing.) I have read the litany of complaints from those who list no video, dials, slow to operate… blah blah. Yeah, them ‘grampacams’ are like that.
So let’s start out with what I do not care about. If you do care about all this stuff, then this is definitely NOT a review you want to read.
- High ISO (for me, shooting ends so there’s more time for drinkin’…) Shooting at 267,842 ISO means little to me.
- File size. Meh.
- Speed of the camera controls. Actually, I LIKE that they slow me down. More on that later.
- Ergonomics. Fits my hand just fine.
- Controls. Seem easy enough to me. I am fairly smart and can learn to twist a dial. Try it… not that hard actually.
So what do I care about?
- Image quality. Dayam this thing rocks.
- The size/weight of the kit. I already have a bigass kit of Canon DSLR’s in a huge roller bag. We good.
- The way the camera invokes a shot in my mind.
The way the camera itself invokes a shot… and that is IT, man. THAT is what I love about this camera.
Some background… I have been a photographer since before dirt was completely made. I have been a photographer since the Kodachrome days. And being a photographer meant that we had different formats of cameras for different types of work.
In my line of work, a generalist with a specialty of people, that meant a lot of kits.
I have an 8×10 Deardorff, a 5×7 Linhoff, a 4×5 Toyo and 5 lenses for that group. I also had a full set of Mamiya RB67′s, a Hassy Superwide, and a bigass kit of Nikons with 4 bodies all motorized.
When a brief would come in, there would be choices to be made. Film, processing, location/studio?
But usually there would be the first inkling of the system choice. Was this to be a view camera shot, or was this a shoot that simply called for 35MM? Should we go MF with the Mamiyas, or could it be time to haul out the big Deardorff?
The images in my head were inexplicably tied to the camera I chose. The camera I chose was absolutely indicative of the images I would make.
Fast action fashion? 35MM probably.
Portraits of cowboys on location? Medium format… even view camera possibly. And the choice would dictate the kind of work that would be produced.
Food would usually mean the view cameras, and model work would usually mean the 35 system.
Personal projects were many times created with the format of the camera in mind – sometimes chosen first. Along with the film of choice.
I did a shoot of old mines in southern Colorado on 8×10 B&W, and the next week shot Navajo coal miners in color on the Mamiyas. A week on the road for Motorola shooting executives in out of the way places was a 35MM shoot, and following that we shot stills of the first cellphones on both view camera and medium format. I would even pre-visualize the final print, as well as the look of it from the choice of film and format as well.
Contact prints of the 8×10 negatives were stunning, and the prints coming off the Mamiya were amazing… and different.
Shooting with a view camera is slow, deliberate and exacting. Each exposure takes a considerable amount of time. Focus upside down and backwards on the ground glass – under a black cloth, tilt the lens board, shift the back, adjust and focus again, shut down the aperture, prepare the shutter, insert holder, pull dark slide, wait for camera to settle, make exposure, insert dark slide, remove holder… prepare to do it again. Slow. Deliberate.
And the work that was created was deliberate and exact. There was no ‘rushing’ when using a view camera. A tripod was absolute, as was the preparation before going out to shoot. One shot at a time. One shot.
Medium format was a bit faster. We had a roll of film and a winder tool to advance it to the next frame. But this camera had something else that was unique: We held that camera at waist level, looking down into it. I had viewfinders for eyelevel work, but honestly used them rarely. It was the configuration of the camera that was tactile to working with it that made it part of the choice.
I liked looking down into my SuperWide Hasselblad, and the Mamiyas. I had a stack finder (a vertical tube to look into that kept out the ambient light) but still looking down.
Working with the medium format cameras was also deliberate, although we could move quicker than with a 4×5, and occasionally shoot off-tripod, it was still more meticulous than the 35MM cameras. We had fewer lenses to work with, and yet that too was part of the creative attraction. The big, bulky medium format cameras harkened to me a particular kind of photograph. There was something that the tool brought to the making of the image that I simply cannot explain, other than to say it was real.
The 35MM’s were the most dynamic. Shooting from eye level on a wide assortment of lenses, the work tended to be looser, more fluid… like the tool in the hand of the photographer would allow. Because of the faster cameras, I would make images in bursts (not really easy to do with a 4×5) and from places with difficult access (not easy with the MF cameras). The 35′s were an extension of my eyes. The MF’s an extension of my brain.
The view camera was an extension of my heart.
I don’t know if I have explained it well enough for others, and really, not a big deal.
I loved that tactile /creative part of the process. Still do.
Sometime along 2000, it all went away.
The DSLR replaced it all. Food shooters, architectural shooters, fashion shooters, portrait and product shooters all began to use the DSLR for ALL of the work. And the work started to show it. There was something missing from my imagery that was – at the time – unexplainable to me. I did not see the loss of the formats as big of a deal as it invariably was. I have learned over the years that it was indeed a love lost quietly, in the stills of time.
I think it explains my Df attraction.
I love it precisely because it is NOT another big DSLR. It is slower to operate, with deliberate dials and knobs. That slows me down, and it makes me think differently about the image. Holding it feels different as well. It is the first DSLR (SLR) that I have been happy with without a grip. Seems to fit my hand well, and feel very good in the way it handles both at the eye and in the resting position.
I would not have purchased a Nikon (although I do love the D700/D800 and secretly have pined for a D3400 in Ferrari Red… ). It would not have been a move up, but simply another big DSLR that – for all their differences – is really not any different than what I already own.
But the Df feels different and that makes me think differently about the photographs I would use it for. The lenses I have for it are all old model AF so they are tiny in comparison to their bigger, newer siblings. I like that as well. A tiny bag (in comparison) with four lenses and I am out the door. No shoulder stress, and no bag on wheels to find a place for.
The slowness, the deliberateness of the camera means a slower, more deliberate approach to the images. Earlier this week I went out to shoot a project for a client. I knew that the Canons were the right choice. Tomorrow I am doing a set of environmental still life and the Df will be on my shoulder. This coming weekend is the Renaissance Fair with my daughter. Nikon V1 is the chosen tool… great images, fast and easy to carry.
I would like to have a Fuji X-100 as well, and a fixed lens 35MM equivalent rangefinder… more choices for different ways of shooting.
So now I find myself with a big DSLR Canon kit (6 lenses – 20MM – 200MM), a single Nikon Df kit (4 lenses – 28, 35, 50, 85) and a Nikon V1 with 24-200 35 equivalent zooms (2). Different strokes and different approaches.
Not the same as before, with all the widely differing variances of tools, physical sizes, film choices, processing choices and more that was such a big part of the mystique, but it will have to do and for the most part, it does rather nicely.
So there you have it. My big reason for the Nikon Df is that it makes me think differently about the images I want to create because it IS different.
Nothing to do with the ‘retro’ of it, or the cool dials, or the amount of megapixels, or the shutter speed or buffer or yaddayaddayadda…
Yeah… big deal, eh?
(Oh, I like the new Sony Quattro system as well. So sue me.)
The assignment was to illustrate the phrase: “I Could’a Been a Contender”. Taken from the Marlon Brando movie, “On the Waterfront”, the phrase has been used to mean a lot of similar feelings… not making the cut, not being good enough, or being held back.
The P52 Pros came through with some amazing work.
I want to share them with you here.
To see more work from the Project 52 Pro shooters, visit the site at www.project52pros.com.
Tomas Jansson used a large softbox to camera right, and a white fill card to camera left in this still life.
Rasmus Hald wanted a feeling of sadness and introspection. He used a 15 degree grid spot on the main overhead light, and a 30 degree grid on the face of his subject, dialed down well below the exposure of the hands. This gives the image a powerful, selective feeling of isolation.
Anders Eriksson kept the image very dark, and the mystery quite high. A single medium softbox was used on both half of the images which were then assembled in Photoshop.
David Price wanted a feeling of isolation and sadness, so he used the composition and lighting to achieve a feeling of despair. A single medium softbox from camera left was skillfully blended with the ambient sunlight to present a very cohesive image.
Katherine Gooding used a single small modified flash to make this emotionally heavy image. A fill card to camera right kept a very small amount of detail in his hair on the shadow side, and the light on the rough sweater lets us feel the texture as well as witness the pose of surrender.
David Price also submitted this feeling of loss and despair. A single strobe with a reflector was used high on camera left. The sharpness of the unmodified reflector gives extra detail to the mountain of paperwork that has ‘temporarily we hope’ halted the progress of the subject.
Alicia Bonterre worked with a friend to make this haunting photograph in Trinidad. A single gridded light and intentional underexposure gave a gritty edginess to the image.
Filipe Martins entry also uses a pool of light to emphasize the loss and pain of not being able to cut it on something you love to do.
Adi Talwar used window light and carefully selected exposure. A lovely, moody portrait of his daughter.
Bob Knill’s entry shows the pain of loss with pools of light and shadows telling the story. The subject’s sense of loss is wonderfully played by his model.
A single gridded softbox from camera axis gives a punchy light to this portrait. Bret Reynoso chose the graphic lines of a strongly backlit window shade to be his canvas.
Irene Liebler’s neighbor is a motocross rider and familiar with the pain that riders meet when they lose. Irene used three softboxes to give this portrait emphasis. and the great edgework of the light adds dimension as well.
Julie Clegg chose a single very large softbox in very close for this “contender”. Great direction and a subject willing to ‘emote’ gives us this strong portrait.
A sense of loss and a style reminiscent of ‘film-noire’ was the impetus for this image by Girish Basavar. Using a hallway and a beauty dish, he was able to make this image of high emotion. Grid spots from left and right behind added additional light to help tell the story.
Peter Dopchev shows us the moment when a competitor realizes it is all over for him this season. A small pool of light and a cinematic approach to using the shadows adds a bit of mystery to this understated portrait.
Russel Harrison reveals the moment when finally alone and away from the crowds, an athlete reflects back on the loss. Strong emotions from the subject and a sense of understatement makes a powerful portrait. A single speedlight, tightly wrapped in plastic to stay dry, is fired from the back of the shower and diffused with additional plastic material.
Project 52 Pros is one of the most fun and important things I have ever done. To see this quality of work coming out of the group is simply stunning.
Thanks to all the P52 members for keeping it real.
Light does the same thing every time.
Read the above again, please.
Because it does.
Can you imagine what would happen if every time we pushed a key on a piano we got a different note? How would we make music? If 2+2 is occasionally something other than 4, how would we unlock the mysteries of science with math? If a foot was ‘sorta between 9 and 13 inches’ how would anything ever get built?
Light is the same thing. It has parameters that do not change. It has science that is repeatable and expected and managed built in to it.
It is light.
We can use the sameness and repeatability of light to understand and use light as photographers. We simply have to understand the characteristics of light, and the basics of how it works to be able to manage them.
Light is brighter the closer we are to it. Always.
Light falls off faster the closer we are to it. Always.
While light can be diffused, we can not bend it around corners. Always.
The brighter a light source is, the farther it travels and can be seen.
The farther we are from a light source, the smaller it seems to us.
The farther we are from a light source, the less powerful it is to us.
There are a couple of absolute rules to learn (and believe me when I say I am not into rules at all) and understand and this is one of them:
“LIGHT FALLS OFF AT FOUR TIMES THE POWER AT TWICE THE DISTANCE.”
The “Inverse Square Law”… yeah, it is terribly scary sounding.
First, it has the word “inverse” in it and what the hell does that mean, then of course it is “squared” and that brings up memories of Mrs. Bartholomew’s algebra class… eeek! And finally… it is a LAW! Scary stuff… but, let’s forge ahead because it is NOT as scary as it sounds.
And it is one of the fundamentals we MUST learn to understand lighting. (I know there are a bunch of photographers wide-eyed right now thinking – “WTF is he doing jumping in at the ISL right off the bat like that?”) Shut up… THIS is probably the single most important understanding of lighting that there is… so much depends on understanding this basic concept.
Let’s take a look at what we really mean by the ISL…
Take an average 8×10 photograph and ask yourself how many 4×5 images you can make out of a single 8×10?
If you answered two, you only counted one edge… and you forgot that the 8×10 is FOUR times the size of a 4×5. Double the 4 to 8 AND double the 5 to 10.
So we doubled one of the lengths, and quadrupled the amount of square inches of coverage. We doubles 4″ to 8″ and that AUTOMATICALLY doubled the 5″ to 10″. And that quadruples the size of the image… not doubling it.
So if we understand that light is the same way… that it comes from a source both horizontally and vertically, we can see that if we double one distance – horizontal, we automatically double the other distance. – vertical.
If we were using a light that covered 4×5 at 2 feet, and backed up to have it fill an 8×10, we would have to back up to 4 feet. One foot for each side of the rectangle. At three feet back, we would still not be showing the edges… so we would have 4 times the coverage at 4 feet than we did at 2 feet… and we would be farther back from the 8×10, so the light is less powerful. Four times less powerful.
This basic knowledge of how the light works – every time – is imperative for us to wrap arms around and be able to control.
Question from that guy in the back there… “does it do the same thing in a softbox?”
Yes… mostly. Close enough to work with the knowledge. Anytime we modify a light, we can certainly understand that something is going to change… cause we, well… MODIFIED it.
And no, the ISL is NOT absolutely faithful when we put a softbox or an umbrella or something on the light… but it is damn close and well within the parameters WE need it to be. Yes, we will have to finesse it a bit, but there is a big difference between finessing it and not having a freeking clue.
Here is a link to a very good tutorial on the Inverse Square Law.
And another good link with a very good illustration.
Building a Tool for Exposure Based on the Inverse Square Law.
Let’s start with power. How bright the flash is at a given distance. For purposes of this discussion we will use the ISO of 100. We will add a table for conversion as well. At this point, the ambient light and shutter speed are not relevant. Choose a normal situation or somewhere where you can comfortably shoot. The power of the strobe is not related to the ambient light at this point. We will get to mixing the ambient with the daylight next week.
Get your light meter. What, no meter? Then get a gray card or digital target. You are also going to need about 8ft of twine or my favorite – clothesline twine – available at most supermarkets. We are going to only use a part of it, so the rest of it can go in your location kit. You can’t believe how handy 30ft of cord comes in sometimes.
Building our LoTech Meter:
Put your flash on 1/8 power. Manual setting at 1/8. Got it?
Why do we start at 1/8 power? Because it gives us a mean reading where we have the ability to go up and down with the power settings. If we start at full power, we can only go down. I like flexibility, so I do it my way – you still get the same readings of course, this is my way of doing it. Your shutter speed wont matter at this point, but pick a nice neutral one like 1/125 or so. We can go up and down from there later.
You can see I am using an older model 430 EZ here. Setting on Manual and at 1/8 power. I have this one set at zoom level of 80mm, but you will set yours to 50mm or so.
Now set the zoom to the middle point as well. Not out to 135mm and not back to 24 mm. I use the 50mm setting on my 430. These settings on the strobes exist for shaping the light when it is on your hotshoe… the longer lenses (like 85mm, 135mm) require a more narrow light, while wider lenses need a wider throw of light. When the light is narrow for the long lenses, it actually can become stronger. Put your strobe on a stand and attach a trigger to it. You don’t have to, but it is way easier and makes having a second person not nearly as important.
Alternate method 1: Light Meter.
Tie a loop into the end of the clothesline cord and loop it over the strobe on the stand. Make it an easy thing to do so you can repeat it on location when you need to.
I use very lo-tech tools here. You can use whatever tools you want. I make a loop and place it at a consistant place on the light.
Take the string out about 6 feet (about… actual distance doesn’t matter) and pull the string slightly taught. Fire the flash for a reading straight at the meter. Check your reading. (Make sure you are still on 1/8 power.) We are looking for an exact reading, not a little over or a little under. An exact f-stop. F11, not F9. When you get the meter in the position to get an exact F-Stop… and you are out about 6ft or so, then make a knot in the cord at that point.
We are not looking for a fixed distance like 6feet, rather a fixed F-Stop like F-11
Gratuitous shot of a knot for anyone not knowing what a knot was. Sorry… Heh.
Remove the loop around the strobe and double the length. Make a knot at that point and cut the cord. You should now have a long piece of string with a knot in the middle. Good.
We have our meter in basic form. Now take the length between the middle knot and the loop and make a knot in the middle of it. Ending up with a cord with a loop and a knot half way to the middle knot and a final knot at the end.
We want to have a knot in the middle to give us another guide point
Alternative method 2:
Setup and method is the same, but we are using a gray card instead of a meter. The camera is mounted next to the strobe and we place the gray card at a distance to get a centered spike in the histogram. Dead center, not to one side or the other even by a spec… dead center.
Here is exactly how I would do it. Place the strobe next to camera and aim it toward a gray card on a stand. Make sure you fill the frame with only the gray card, no extraneous background. Put the camera on f-11. Shoot the shot and check the histogram. It should be dead center. If it isn’t, you can adjust as needed. When you find that spot where the histogram spikes dead center, it will be the point to start.
(EDIT There was mention that the math here does not exactly match the “Inverse Square Law” as it truly exists. That is absolutely true. However, ISL only applies to point source light in a specific shaped parabolic umbrella. My ‘cord’ meter is not that exact, and you may have to adjust a little bit. I know that I have used it in decades before – on chrome – and it was damn close. We are looking for damn close here… we will always want to tweak. However, if you want to do the math correctly it would look thus:
– 2x – 2.8x – 4x – 5.6x – 8x
Now that puts that center forward knot at about a 1/4 stop under (2.8 slightly less than 3) and the back center area about a half stop under as well (5.6 being slightly less than 6). Theoretically… Next time you all shoot ‘theoretically’ let me know how that worked out for you… I shoot real world pictures. So should you. This is photography, not physics. Try it… then tell me it doesn’t work.
Just remember also that the cord meter costs less than twenty cents. And for twenty cents, it is simply amazing. Next week we get off of ‘theory’ and put it to use. We will all see the results.)
When that center spike is achieved, begin the knotting procedure that is above. You will end up with the same length of string with the knots as indicated.
Now let’s look at our ‘meter.’ We know the f-stop at the middle knot is what we metered it to be. I am going to use f-11 for our discussion as that is what I have on my 430. The knot halfway to the strobe is two stops brighter. (Inverse Square Law…) and is therefor f22. The knot at the very end is two stops less than the middle knot, f-5.6.
After we have the cord knotted, we have a point to start to understand that placement can be critical for using the power for perfect exposures.
Now let’s put some thought into it. If the middle knot is f11, we can make it f16 by increasing the power to 1/4 on the flash or decrease it to f8 by changing the power to 1/16. Choices… These changes also affect the knots in the cord at the other places as well. So we have a repeatable tool for finding the exact power/f-stop we need on most situations.
And the light doesn’t change. It is constantly coming out at that power as long as we have it on that setting, at that distance.
Can you do this with your umbrellas? Absolutely. Warning though, the Inverse Square Law is not quite as accurate so it is better to actually make the readings at the knots that you use. Then the exposures are exactly right. I rarely use my umbrellas at distances larger than 6ft, so that is the basic distance I made my first ‘meter’ to. With adjustment knots in between of course.
Finding the exposure with your umbrella is just as easy. Be aware that the fall off is not quite as accurate as the Inverse Square Law, so you may have to make some manual exposure placement knots.
We can now accurately know what our flash units are doing when we pop the trigger.
As an addendum, you may change your flash to the wide angle setting and do it as well as with the more zoomed out flash. You will find that the power will drop when you go for a wider angle and increase when the light is more focused as for longer lenses. Hmmmm… more options.
Assignment: Create a string meter for both your bare flash and your umbrella (whether you shoot predominantly in bounce or shoot thru, it doesn’t matter. Just make sure you make your meter for the method you use the most.) Take a few shots to make sure you understand the light coming from the flash is consistent.