Be human first and photographer second

picnicpicnic-7picnic-6picnic-4picnic-3picnic-8picnic-12picnic-10picnic-2Turn on the evening news and it’s down right depressing to see all of the craziness going on with people. Craziness within one’s family, one’s neighborhood, one’s city or one’s country. People are killing people with little to no regard for human life. A large amount of these horrific acts have to do with someone’s skin color. It seems that people today fail to see past one’s skin color or physical difference to view the true person inside.

We as photographers often get tossed into the mix to cover a story or an event. We are the outsiders, sometimes invited and sometimes not. As such we need to recognize that fact before we even raise a camera to our eye. We need to remember to be human first.

One of the most enjoyable parts of this profession is getting to know my subjects. I genuinely like learning about different people. Show that when you are on assignment. Show your subjects that you aren’t just there to take photos but that you actually do care about them as human beings.

On this assignment I was to photograph mothers and their children returning from a visit with their incarcerated husbands/fathers. It was an early father’s day event that was sponsored by a couple of organizations and congressman Danny Davis. A picnic was to be held for the returning families and the congressman was supposed to be arriving with them.

I was most definitely the outsider when I showed up. For the first forty-five minutes I didn’t take a single photograph. Instead I got to know the volunteers, the event organizers and then eventually the families. In turn they realized I was ok to be there and trusted that I would represent them well with my photographs.

As a photographer I came away with much better photographs. As a human being I heard wonderful stories from people’s lives and met some wonderful individuals. In some way I hope I showed that people still do care, no matter what their skin color is.

Happy wanderings and be human first.

I prefer people with scars

I have a good friend who told me once, “I prefer people with scars.” What he meant was that he preferred people who had lived life through all of it’s turmoils and had the scars, visible or not, to prove it. These were not the pretty, plastic, perfect people that we see on TV or sometimes in our own neighborhoods. My friend would have considered the pretty people “pretenders.” Real people have scars.

To this point I was hired to photograph some very “real” people last week. Jim and Theresa are a loving couple who have had to deal with more than their share of life’s difficulties. They met while out for a bowling night and have since been married for thirty years. They are both blind and both have a laundry list of health issues. I was there to photograph them for the Presence Health Organization’s Foundation. Through donations people like Jim and Theresa can live in their own private apartment and still receive the medical care that they need. It allows Jim and Theresa to be able to stay together in a safe environment.

Knowing this made me feel good because I think the two of them would be lost without each other. You can still see the care and affection between them. They have traveled a hard and long road. It hasn’t been the years but rather the miles that have been put on their tiring bodies. These are real people…people with scars.

A note about the photos, they were originally shot in color but I chose to make them black and white for this post. All were shot on Fuji X-T1 cameras and converted in Lightroom CC.Presence Health Jim and Terry 55Presence Health Jim and Terry 101Presence Health Jim and Terry 45Presence Health Jim and Terry 57Presence Health Jim and Terry 75Presence Health Jim and Terry 87Presence Health Jim and Terry 99Presence Health Jim and Terry 1Presence Health Jim and Terry 15

The craft of photography with the Crown Graphic

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crown graphicIf you thought that I gave up film after getting the Fuji XT1 I most certainly have not. It’s just that when you completely switch camera systems you need to run the new system through it’s paces so that you can discover the hidden quirks and get comfortable with the camera. Recently though my film cameras were calling my name. It was time to take a digital break and go burn some film.

Instead of shooting roll film I decided to shoot some 4×5 film. I wanted to immerse myself for a morning of full on photography. So I dug out my trusty Graflex Crown Graphic. I got this camera a couple of years ago and since then have put together a nice kit. I have three lenses for it, a bunch of film holders and some filters for black and white work. For those of you who don’t know what a Crown Graphic is, if you watch any of the old black and white movies where there is a cigar chomping newspaper reporter, holding a big camera with a bellows and huge bulb flash, it’s probably a Crown Graphic or one of it’s relatives.

The Crown was made for newspaper photographers. It was a sturdy box of a camera that when opened revealed a bellows/lens system much like a field camera. It shot 4×5 film (although there were smaller sheet film versions) that loaded into film holders and then into the back of the camera. It had a built in rangefinder system but you could also use the ground glass on the back for critical focusing. Just like a field camera you could change lenses if you had extras already mounted on lens boards. It had limited front movements. A good photographer knew their settings and exposures and could bang out photos using just the rangefinder system and bulb flash. I don’t work that way.

I use my Crown Graphic more like a field camera. I have my handheld light meter and take multiple readings with it. I look through the back of the ground glass on the camera and carefully compose my image. Speaking of looking through the ground glass, for those of you who have never done this, the image you see is upside down and backwards. It takes a bit of getting used to. For me it is one of my thinking cameras. There is nothing quick about using this camera and most of my time is spent on setting it up and composing the image before even taking one picture. There have been many times where I’ve got it ready to go and I decide what I am seeing isn’t worth using a sheet of film on and I close it up and move on to my next possible scene. It’s methodical, it’s slow and it’s very, very wonderful.

When I use this camera I feel that I am fully practicing the craft of photography. I only shoot black and white film with this camera so the craft continues when I get home and develop the film. It is a thrill to hold up a developed negative and see that you got a good image. The second thrill comes when I scan the film and really see if what I had in my mind at the time of exposure actually came through.

If you want to try a U.S. made camera that has some cool history behind it and be able to get some top notch photos from it, do yourself a favor and at least shoot one these once. You won’t regret it. I certainly don’t and I must say I have gotten some of my favorite photos from it.

Happy wanderings.

Iridient Developer 3.0, better than the big guns!

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I have been an Aperture user since it came out. Of course now in Apple’s infinite wisdom they are doing away with the support for their professional photo editing software. That is a huge disappointment for those of us who had a good workflow going with their system. I also use Photoshop but have not yet done the leap to Lightroom. Just about when I was considering the Lightroom jump I bought into the Fuji XT1 system.

There were many complaints online on how Lightroom did or mostly didn’t, handle the Fuji X-trans files. I don’t even begin to understand the differences between their raw format and other camera maker’s raw formats but apparently there is plenty. I am more artistic and not scientific minded so I will leave those technological readings to those of you who enjoy them. I just care if it works! When I shot Nikon I shot only raw files for the flexibility. All of the modern software “big guns” out their handled those files great. Fuji is known for their great JPEG files and they are awesome but I wanted to know if I could get more out of the Fuji files.

Enter Iridient Developer! I heard that it handled the Fuji raw files really well and better than the “big guns” in the photo software business. I don’t know if this guy works out of his house or has a small company but it sure feels like you are dealing with a real person who cares about bringing out the best product that he can. It’s not expensive by software standards either, I think I paid like $99.00 for it or something like that. The best part is it works!

Now their is version 3.0 and I got to try it out yesterday. I downloaded some images that I just recently shot in Chicago. The originals are in color but I decided that I wanted to see how Iridient handled them in black and white. Wow! I mean really wow! I was able to make fine tuned adjustments to my shadows and mid tones and impressively bring back some blown out highlights that I thought were unretrievable. The results were black and white images with great tonal range and clarity. I could make huge prints off these files. I am super stoked about how well this software handled my Fuji XT1 files.

Currently I have only used it on landscape and city scape files but am eager to see how it would handle portraits. Stay tuned for that one. So don’t feel that you always have to buy from the “big guns” to get what you need. There is some great things coming from smaller companies with big ideas!

Happy wanderings!

Twenty years

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This post isn’t about photography, it’s more of a personal venting so if you don’t want to read it, come back in a couple of weeks when we get back to our regularly scheduled programing. Until then…

Twenty years…this story is not a new one. This story has been told all across Corporate America for some time now, the difference is now it includes me. You see after twenty years of loyalty to an organization, I was let go of my employment…restructured out. You might think to yourself, yeah that stinks but it happens all of the time. You would be correct in that thinking and that is the crime of it all, it happens all of the time.

Twenty years…you came to work whether your were sick or tired, even if the weather was terrible or there was a crisis on the home front. You were there, at work, doing your job to the best of your abilities.

Twenty years…people saw your worth and recognized your talent and what you brought to the table for the company. You honed your craft to the point where you made it look easy. Maybe that was part of the problem, you made it look too easy.

Twenty years…you have survived many of the organization’s restructuring processes but now it feels different. The powers that be are looking at you and thinking “we could get younger and cheaper.” You know in the back of your mind that some of the people in charge don’t realize what all you bring to the table anymore. They just see the floor plan that the most recent consultant has put before them. Oh those consultants, my company has hired more consultants than Baskin Robbins has flavors in ice cream.

Twenty years…the desk phone rings fifteen minutes before what is supposed to be the unveiling of the new restructuring plan. It’s Human Resources calling and that is never a good sign. The conversation in the H.R. office is short and cold. A one sided sheet of paper is handed to me explaining the demise of my job and my career there. Then a very unemotional “thank you for your service.”

Twenty years…not even a gold watch. “Thank you for your service.” In other words, don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.

Twenty years…wasted?

This I am afraid is modern day Corporate America. Loyalty to employees is gone even though the employees have been loyal to the company. It happens in all of corporate America’s many forms including companies like mine who’s purpose has much to do with living a Christian life and human rights. That vision seems to get lost when it comes to it’s own workforce.  All companies after all, are run by people and with that comes all of people’s self interests, weaknesses and sins. Even at Christian companies who should know better.

Twenty years…life starts over. You take your dream or part time business, in my case my photography business and try to turn it into something that will provide more joy than you ever got in the previous twenty years. Hopefully I will treat my people better.

Here is to the next twenty years!

Fuji XT1, the romance continues

In my last post I documented my transition from Nikon to Fuji, specifically the XT1. I’ve now had more time to play with the camera and also use it on some photo jobs. Am I sorry that I made the switch? Not in the least! Heck for Christmas Fuji gave us XT1 users new cameras by way of firmware upgrades! I love this camera in fact I wish I had two. I will need to get a second body for back-up purposes and it remains to be seen if it will be another XT1 or one of Fuji’s other bodies but it will be Fuji. In fact this camera has been such a joy to use that my film cameras have been sitting on the shelf way too long. I will need to rectify that but the camera is that good and that much fun to use. I like taking it everywhere and that my friends is how you get the good pictures.

Speaking of taking it everywhere, It took the XT1 out for an hour hike in one of my favorite woodsy places. Normally I take my film cameras to this destination but decided to travel light and just bring the Fuji. I walked away with more keeper photos from that hour than I would or could have with any other camera that I own or have owned. Why you say? Because of the WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) operation of this camera. I run this camera on full manual, no auto anything and it is the perfect camera for that. Adjustments are fast, especially once you get used to the layout, but then you see in the view finder what your adjustments did before you every take the photograph. I don’t need to take a dozen photos to make sure I got it right. I adjust my settings on the spot and can see if I got it right! One shot and onto the next subject unless I am trying to work on the angles and composition more. That is fantastic!

Another thing I have been playing with is using old Nikkor pre-AI lenses on the XT1. You see I didn’t totally get rid of all of my Nikon gear. I kept a couple of old film cameras one of which is an F2 for which I have a set of pre-AI lenses to round out the package. The Fuji with an adapter allows me to bring these early lenses to use in the digital world. Now some people would say why bother when the Fuji glass is superior and in some ways that would be correct. The Fuji glass is fantastic but don’t rule out old glass because it has a certain look and feel that you just might enjoy. I was surprised with the quality of the images that I got using some of these lenses. Some of the images in this post were shot with the old glass and I bet you can’t tell which ones.

The image quality from this camera continues to amaze me. It holds it’s own against a lot of full frame cameras but in a much smaller package. I have been using the JPEG files right out of the camera a lot but if I want full control of the image I have been using Iridient Developer for my raw files. That software is amazing in how it handles Fuji files, especially landscape images where you want all of that fine detail.

The XT1 allows me to shoot in much lower light without the need to pull out the flashes. Speaking of flashes, I have previously posted about my Cactus V6 transceivers and that is what I am using with the Fuji. I also picked up a Cactus RF60 flash and this with the transceivers and my old speed lights make for a killer setup that is quick to set up and very reliable to use. Love it!

One discovery or correction from my previous post where I questioned the tracking/fast focusing abilities of the XT1 especially in low light. I had been reading that if you put the camera in high performance mode that it helps. Well indeed it does. The XT1 sounds like a little machine gun going off and tracked very well in a hockey stadium. I wouldn’t call this low light so that still remains to be seen but in decent light it was not a problem.

So what is the biggest thing that I have had to get used to by making the switch to Fuji? Carrying a much smaller kit to do photo sessions. Even my wife is amazed at how much less gear I have to take. It’s a wonderful thing!

Happy wanderings!

The Fujifilm XT1, almost as good as film

Unless you have been living in a cave the last couple of years, you have at least heard about the mirrorless camera movement. Honestly I hadn’t taken it too seriously being a die-hard Nikon fan for years. The last couple of years though Nikon has been leaving me a bit cold with their offerings and downright frozen to death with their pricing on their products. With Nikon and Canon it seems for anything of professional quality it’s go big (as in full frame) or go home. I’ve been shooting the Nikon DX format since it’s beginning and my D300s has served me well but it was getting long in the tooth and the time to upgrade was fast approaching. Nikon for all intensive purposes, was ignoring the professional DX market and putting all of their R&D into full frame and I have never been able to warm up to the small button/menu system of the Canons.

With no solution in immediate sight I had instead, been working film cameras back into my workflow and enjoying it immensely. All of my film cameras, whether large format, medium format or 35mm are limited in functionality compared to a modern DSLR. That was ok with me. Those very limitations forced me, as a photographer, to take control of my photography instead of having the camera control it for me. It forced me to think out of my comfort zone and come up with different ways to photograph the image that I wanted while remaining within the constraints of a particular camera. You know what, I loved it! My creativity and enjoyment of photography went through the roof. I was using twin lens reflex cameras with their single built in lens or Mamiya 645s with their top shutter speed of 1/500th of a second. I didn’t find it limiting but rather freeing because it forced me to think outside of the box and it resulted in better photographs.

The other benefit from shooting these cameras was weight. Even though they were all metal machines, film camera kits were a lot lighter than my digital kit. So much so that I would carry two film cameras as my everyday camera kit and the Nikon kit was left in it’s case until called upon for an assignment.

One day I was looking at my Nikon F2 and wondered why some camera manufacturer couldn’t come out with a professional digital camera in a similar size with control dials on the top and smaller lenses compared to the bazookas that Nikon and Canon were producing now. All within a decent price point too. It will never happen I thought.

Enter Fujifilm, or more specifically the XT1. Fujifilm had been having some success with their rangefinder cameras and photographers like David Hobby and Zack Arias were jumping on board but I was never a rangefinder kind of guy. I liked SLR cameras. Well an opportunity arose where KEH was having a buyer in my area and if you bought new equipment in the hosting store, the store would add 10% value to the KEH voucher. So this was going to be like trading in your old jalopy and seeing if you would get enough for the shiney new sports car.

My wife watched nervously as I left the house with years worth of Nikon gear in two very large camera cases. Long story short I returned home with two very small shopping bags. I could tell my wife had her doubts about this decision and to be quite honest I wasn’t too sure about my sanity either. How could such a small camera kit match up to the old Nikon armaments. The answer is quite well!

I shoot portraits and fine art photography for the majority of my work. I do some corporate work and did some weddings but have recently retired from that gig. For the type of photography that I do, this camera works exceptionally well. In fact image quality and colors from the files blow my Nikon gear out of the water. The files are almost film like which is a plus for me and speaking of film, their film simulation modes are gorgeous. The high ISO qualities trump anything that I was getting off of my Nikons and the resolution of the files rivals my colleague’s Canon full frame camera.

The Fujifilm XT1 has the control dials I had wished for on a film sized SLR type body. They even brought aperture rings back! Woohoo!!! It has a tilt screen that allows me to shoot from the same vantage points as my twin lens reflex cameras. This is huge for me. As for lenses, the Fuji lenses are small little metal marvels. They are incredibly well built and sharp at all apertures. I purchased the 10-24mm, 56mm and the 18-55mm kit lens. Speaking of kit lenses, if all kit lenses were built this well, they wouldn’t get such a bad rap. I’m already drooling over a couple other Fuji lenses and they keep coming out with new ones that are more in line with professional requirements.

So everything is perfect right? Well no. The Fuji flash system is weak. To compete professionally they need to come up with a TTL flash with bounce and swivel and focus assist built in as a bare minimum. Wedding photographers would want this yesterday! Now to be fair I think Fuji set out to make their cameras natural light dynamos and they have succeeded but sometimes you need a high quality flash to get the job done. Rumor has it that they are working on this.

Then there is the focusing speed and tracking of moving objects. I would have to say Nikon wins here. The XT1 is no slouch but in dim light, like at a wedding, it is a challenge for the focus to lock on and then track the subject. Not a deal breaker for me because as I mentioned earlier I retired from weddings, plus just like my film cameras, it forces me to think out of the box and come up with different solutions. That is perfectly fine by me. The rest is nit picky stuff that doesn’t overly bother me.

On a final note here is another huge plus for Fuji. The little fact that Fujifilm listens to their customer base. Nikon and Canon could get a good schooling here. Not only does Fuji listen but they provide firmware updates which keep your camera viable for years. Canon and Nikon expect you to buy a whole new camera! This is huge people! In fact this month my XT1 will get a firmware update which in a lot of ways will make it a new camera all over again. What is not to like?

So goodbye Nikon, it’s been fun. My new everyday carry and professional camera is the Fujifilm XT1. Let the photographic adventures begin! Happy wanderings.

(In case you were wondering the above photographs were shot using my Mamiya 645 on Ilford FP4 film.)

Making the light

In my last post I talked about chasing the light. Well great light can be an elusive thing so sometimes you have to make the light. There is your standard in-studio lighting which is very much needed sometimes, but when you are a location photographer like myself, you have to mix your light with the available light on location. This is where lighting becomes like cooking, you season to taste. Do you want your light to act as the main ingredient or do you want it to compliment what is already there and to mix in so well that it looks like it belongs and already exists naturally. I do all of the above but some of my favorite images have come from doing the latter.

One of the images shown here is of my father-in-law sitting in his favorite chair. He is always in it. It’s almost part of his persona. So I wanted to capture Jack in his chair, in his natural environment and I didn’t want you to know that it was lit. You see, Jack’s living room is always dark, very dark. The sun never comes through the windows like you see here but I wanted it to look like it did. I wanted you the viewer to believe that this is how Jack’s living room looks in the afternoon light. To accomplish this I put a gelled flash on his front porch and aimed it down and through the window camera right. Then I bounced a flash off of the living room interior wall behind me to open up the shadows a small bit. You don’t notice it’s there but you would miss it if it wasn’t.  I made sunshine.

In all of the photos shown here the light was made because it didn’t exist at that particular time in that particular location. All of the lighting was created using a combination of speedlights with various remote controls. I have a bag with about a half dozen old speedlight flashes of various makes in it. I call it my “sunshine in a bag” kit. I keep my remotes and various colored gels in the same bag. This way when I go on location I can create light, make sunshine if you will, where ever it’s needed. As a professional photographer you can’t always rely on the ambient light to be beautiful so you need to know how to make beautiful light, whether it’s to counter act a high noon sun such as the photo of the family on the park bench, or to take a gloomy weather day and turn it sunny, such as the photo of the family in the fall woods. Not delivering quality photographs is an option. So dig out your flashes and start experimenting. It is what will separate you from the  Uncle Billys and soccer moms with the fancy cameras…well partly anyway.

Happy wanderings!

Chasing the light with Ektar 100

Photography by it’s very definition is painting with light. As a photographer it seems that we do a lot more chasing of that light than painting with it. Landscape photographers are always chasing the sunrise and sunsets. I’ve done my fare share of that. For me great light can happen anytime and anyplace. The light can me made by nature or man made. I have created the wonderful light myself when it didn’t already exist in the situation being photographed.

They say the golden hours are the best time for photos and to some extent those time tables can certainly put the odds in your favor for getting beautiful light. In this case it was morning but it was already getting past what is considered the golden hour. On this day I was chasing the fog as much as I was the light. I needed the sun to be a little higher in the sky for the dramatic look I was hoping to capture.

With my camera backpack in hand I headed off to a nearby forest where I knew the sun would break through the fog with a cool effect. On the way I passed this cemetery and instantly went to plan B, which required a U-turn on my part a race back to the cemetery. As a photographer if nothing else you need to be flexible.

I had never explored this cemetery so I had to scout it out quickly before I lost my light. I knew this event wouldn’t last long. I drove to the back end of the cemetery and there the light was just streaming through the trees like you see in these photos. It was amazing! I loaded my camera with Kodak Ektar 100 in the hopes for more saturated colors but I was worried if it would have enough latitude to capture everything. I ended up really liking the look. I shot off one roll in less than 30 minutes and the light was gone along with the fog.

While I was taking these photos a woman walking her dog came up to me and asked “what are you taking photos of?” Probably curious as to why anyone would want to shoot in a cemetery. With what must have been an incredulous look on my face I stammered “well the gorgeous light of course!” She looked in the direction I was pointing and her eyes widened and she said ” oh my that is amazing!”

This morning I chased the light and received it by the bucket full. I was looking for things that other people would walk by and not even notice. Beautiful things.

Happy wandering.

All photos were shot on a Mamiya M645 and the film was developed and scanned by Indie Film Lab.

Head shots with Cactus V6

You may be getting tired of my Cactus V6 posts and or missing my film posts, I get that. However when you are a photographer who is on a more limited budget than some of the other great talent out there and you find a tool that works well for you, you need to share that news. As I continue to implement the V6 units into my professional work their value and usability keeps growing. I ordered two more units giving me a total of four V6 transceivers now. They were put to work right away.

Sooner or later as a photographer you will be required to take corporate head shots. They may not be nearly as exciting as other things that one can photograph but you need to make the subject look good and you need to be able to light them well. Each photographer has their own recipe for these types of shots and that recipe can change along the way dependent on the requirements of the organization you are photographing for.

These four shots needed to be done quickly as each person had time restraints for the day. They were also being photographed for a photo illustration that required a different lighting scenario than what you see here. This scenario dictated some of my lights being turned off for those shots and then turned back on for the formal portraits that are in this post. With the Cactus V6 triggers, it was just a matter of pressing one of the group buttons on and off. Sweet!

The basic set up for these photos was a main light which was either camera left or right. It was alternated because of the photo illustration that was being done at the same time. This light was a Nikon SB900 attached to a Cactus V6 and shot through a medium octabox. The fill light was SB800 above and behind the camera position. This was attached to a V6 and shot through a white umbrella. The background light was gelled blue and was a bare SB28 on a V6. The rim light was a second SB800 with a warming gel and was being controlled from an on camera SB900 that was being fired with the TTL passthrough feature of the on camera Cactus. The SB900 was in Commander mode. The rim light was also covered in a Rogue softbox. It all worked great and the whole session was done in less than an hour.

There will probably be one more post on these triggers. Why you ask? Because I did some initial testing and piggy backed my Radiopopper JrX transmitter on top of my Cactus transmitter to see if it would operate correctly. It appeared to work. I now want to test it with my Alien Bee lights to see if I can control the power output for those via the Radiopopper while it’s mounted on my Cactus. If that works and I think it will, then that means I can have the Cactus control my speedlights while the popper controls the studio lights during a session. That would be awesome!

Stay tuned…

Happy wanderings!