Well...it's only been about 7 months since I last posted anything, so I figured now might be a good time to post the completed work I've been busy with. Here's the new Shenandoah Valley Airport website. I obviously don't put the sites together, but I do take the photos. I really like the way Estland put the whole thing together. Here's the link to see the site as it is now.
This is a FlipBook I made telling the story of some of JMU's Honors Students traveling to the Dominican Republic over their Spring Break to complete service work and learn about a different culture. It was a pretty incredible experience. If you get a moment, turn up the volume, sit back, and enjoy.
I was going through my archive of images this past week while trying to find some stock of the Shenandoah Valley. When shooting stock photography, I'm rarely interested in landscapes, I'm much more interested in the human element. So when I think about 'The Shenandoah Valley', I also think about what someone can do in the Shenandoah Valley. Mountain biking is huge in this part of the country - so why not combine the beauty of the mountains with the activity of mountain biking?
When I shot this around 6 or 7 years ago, I wasn't doing it for stock. I was doing it to teach myself off-camera flash techniques. If I remember correctly, I lit the subject with two bare flashes from the left and the right. It's a really simple lighting style that works, but I wouldn't necessarily do it the same way today (I'd hope I learned something in that amount of time). First, the power of the light on the right would be drastically reduced. The subject in this shot is relatively evenly lit. Light illuminates and shadows define. The subject could use a little more definition. I'd also modify the light using a softbox or strip-light of some sort. The light is harsh, and that's OK, but I think it could be a little softer on the face of the subject. The one thing I wouldn't change is my white balance. The actual sky that night was grey, not blue. If you look at my original RAW file, you'll see that it shows up as blue, so no, I didn't shift it in Lightroom. I changed the white balance while shooting (yes, white balance is not permanent while in RAW, I know) to see the different sky options. I found the right balance with the blue and stuck with it. I'll try and recreate this sometime this year and see if it looks any different. Let's hope so.
The image below is my second favorite from the shoot. Same lighting, just a slightly closer vantage point.
Photography with the Saber Strip in Blue Sprocket Sound
A big thanks to Blue Sprocket Sound for allowing us to photograph one of our JMU students in their recording studio. Long story short, we were trying to think of a location that was suitable for a student who's studies focused on both music industry and the trumpet. We thought that a recording studio would be an ideal location. We reached-out to a local studio and they gladly agreed to let us use their space. Again, a huge thanks to Blue Sprocket Sound.
The shot's lighting was fairly straight-forward. It's a two-light setup. One is on our left, the other is on our right. I'm using strip-lights as opposed to softboxes due to the constraints in physical space. There are hanging lights on our left (not visible in the photo) that won't permit me to use a large softbox. But that's OK, strip-lights aren't exactly the same, but they're pretty darn close. I used two Saber Strip strip-lights to light the subject. The Saber Strip is probably my favorite strip-light as it's crazy durable and produces a fantastic, even quality of diffused light. I throw all of my lighting gear in the back of my truck on a daily basis (I'm sure many photographers can relate to this in one way or another) and I don't think much about being gentle with said gear. I've had tripods and light stands that have lasted years, even with daily minor abuse, and that's because I buy the good stuff. The Saber Strip is pretty much the same - it's strong, doesn't bend, doesn't break, doesn't rip, doesn't tear. It's just reliable. I highly encourage anyone thinking about using a strip light to augment or replace their softboxes in specific situations, go ahead and consider the Saber Strip.
Photography for the New Sentara RMH Orthopedic Center
I recently had the privilege of photographing the new Sentara RMH Orthopedic Center for Sentara. It's an incredible facility that I hope I'll never have to use. I say that jokingly, but I'm a little squeamish about all-things-joint-related, so I truly do hope I don't need to go there for any sort of rehab, but I'm really glad its there in the event I do need to use it.
Now for the photography-part of this post. The center is great looking and has an incredible view of the hospital. There is one drawback to all of that natural light, and that's the fact that there's too much light. It's way too bright outside compared to inside, which is why I had to light the subject with an off-camera flash. In this case, the flash was modified with a strip light. It could have easily been an umbrella-softbox, but the strip-light provided a little more light and I didn't mind that it was a slightly 'harder' type of light. If it were a portrait, I might have used a softbox. The strip light also allows us to control those reflections really well as the light occupies less physical space than the softbox.
In this shot, the light is coming from my upper-left. It's obvious that this is the direction of the light due to the shadows. As anyone who knows me will attest, I constantly proclaim, 'light illuminates, shadows define'. The other cool thing about this shot is that because I'm using a mirrorless camera, I'm able to get the camera in between the bands, use the articulating display, and easily get the shot I want without bending down and putting my head between the bands. It's the little things.
Here we are again, this time instead of using the bands, we're using the faux-brick wall to visually explain another rehab exercise one can do in the new Orthopedic Center. The light's location is obvious again. It's out of the frame, its illuminating both the subject, the ball, and the wall. It's basically a miniature indoor sun.
Moving on to a different area of the facility, we find ourselves with a doctor who does hand surgery. Again, one of those things I hope not to have to think about for a long time. The fluorescent lights in most buildings are horrible. They stink. They're a nasty color, they have a slow cycle (forcing use to shoot at 1/125sec or below, otherwise part of the frame will be a different color temperature than another), and they cast scary light on subject. The best thing we can do is overpower them, and that's what we've done here. The doctor now has flattering, directional light because I've reduced the natural light and overpowered it with my artificial light.
And we conclude with a shot of the model hand the doctor uses to show her patients what's actually going on inside of their bodies. Gross. Weird. Sick. I'm a luddite, I just prefer not to think about it or I get freaked out. They made fun of me for being grossed out by it. That's OK, I'll just stick to photography.
A while back, I made it no secret that the Sony A7 ii wasn’t the camera for me. I wasn’t alone in my assessment either, even The Verge claimed it was ‘The Next Great Camera, Someday’. My opinions weren’t based on the sensor, the button layouts, the size or weight, it was all about the first-party lens selections. Sony’s E-Mount platform felt either stalled or ignored when it came to professional lenses, and I’m not sure which one is worse. There were (and still are) a pile of lens adapters while allowed photographers to use the great lenses they already owned on the Sony system, with the downsides not being able to use autofocus, plus the DSLR lenses were gigantic compared to the diminutive body of the A7. In March of 2015 Sony brought updated lenses to the table, including an amazing Ziess 35mm f/1.4. There have been indicators that Sony is working on a 24-70 f/2.8 - which may not seem like much to some people but it most assuredly is a signal that Sony is going to support the E Mount platform beyond consumer needs. They already have a 24-70 f/4, E Mount, but most professional photographers need the ability and option of the wider f/2.8 aperture.
So that was all just a way to explain how time can bring change to a platform like the Sony A7 series. Now allow me to give you a little more background of where I’m coming from when I’m giving my real world review. Until last year, I would have considered myself a ‘Nikon guy’ - and that was until I switched to mirrorless. The Fuji X-T1 kicked me off the DSLR train. I’m in love with mirrorless for 2 reasons: what an EVF can do over an OVF and the reduced size/weight. I’m a little unorthodox in the sense that I don’t seem to pledge my allegiance to any one particular camera manufacturer, I just want whatever works best for me on whatever shoot I’m working on in a particular day. I split my time between the Fuji and Sony system all depending on the circumstances of a shoot.
OK, now for the real-world review. As the photographer for a University, I get to cover all sorts of things - over Thanksgiving break a group of students gave up their breaks, drove down to New Orleans and helped people rebuild their houses destroyed a decade ago in Hurricane Katrina. I had been using the Sony A7 ii for about a month before this shoot so I had become acquainted to its characteristics. What I mean by that is how it focuses, its Fn button layout, what to expect with battery life, and all the little things you learn about a camera after you’ve been using it for a while. I packed my bag, hopped on a flight, and showed up ready to take some pictures. But let me back up - all I packed for this trip was the A7 ii, the Zeiss 35 mm f/1.4, and 2 spare batteries. No other lenses, no cases, no tripod, no lights, etc.
Let’s talk negatives. Focusing is great, but not perfect. I was so spoiled shooting with a DSLR and I didn’t even know how good I had it when it came to my camera’s autofocusing ability. The Fuji’s AF ability is great, but only if your subject is static. It can’t keep up with a moving target, even after their latest firmware update. The Sony blows the Fuji out of the water when it comes to autofocusing on a moving subject and you’re set on continuous AF. However, it doesn’t beat the DSLR. The DSLR can lock AF in AF-C mode in just about any light other than darkness. Granted, I haven’t tried the A7s ii, so maybe that one is better than the A7 ii in regards to AF ability. Someone who’s tried that particular model would have to inform me on the differences. The other negative I noticed is the battery life, but seriously, the battery is constantly driving one of two displays. We’ve been spoiled by our DSLR’s battery life because it essentially sips the battery until the user views an image on the display. Mirrorless cameras aren’t sipping, they’re chugging - the EVF needs lots of power, and so does the back display. That being said, every review I read says ‘expect 350 shots or so’. Maybe its just the way I shoot, but I shot about 1,400 photos on the first day of the shoot and I still had 40% battery remaining. I’m a compulsive battery saver though, I turn the camera on right when I need it, then off again right when I’m done. Not everyone shoots that way, but that’s how I’ve been able to maximize battery life on the camera.
I think the most positive aspect of the A7 ii is its image quality. When you think about it, the end result is the one that matters the most. After that, it’s all about how pleasing/simple/intuitive was the experience of capturing that great shot. I think the images here will speak for themselves regarding what the A7 ii is capable of in a photojournalistic setting. It’s great. It’s incredible. It’s so darn good that the camera just fades into the background and lets me do my work. The other half of this equation is the Zeiss 35mm f/1.4. The lens is a bit bulky for my taste, but I guess there’s no other way to get a 35mm lens with a huge aperture any smaller, otherwise Sony would have figured out how to do it. The lens’ color reproduction is stellar, it focuses great, its bokeh is beautiful. There’s really not much more to say.
I don’t know if this was helpful to anyone, but I hope it is. I know that when I search for reviews of cameras and lenses, I really just want to see the images someone produced with it. I can deal with annoying menus and other weird characteristics of a camera, but just show me the final results and I’ll know whether the camera is right for me or not.
JMU Madison Magazine Cover Image
I'm still a little behind on posting updated work to the blog, so here I am catching up. This summer I was able to photograph JMU students working with children with autism for a story called 'Hope for Autism'. It was a pretty incredible thing to witness. As a photographer I'm regularly granted permission to enter very unique situations. Sometimes it's closer access to a political candidate, other times its the ability to have 10 minutes of a VIP's time for a portrait session. This particular instance was about visually telling the story of children with autism and how JMU's program was helping these children. It was moving - incredibly moving. Congrats to JMU for having such a fantastic program - they're genuinely making differences in these children's lives. The story can be found here.
As for the photographic nerding-out-part, I used my Fuji X-T1's for this shoot. I believe I had 35mm (equivalent) and 55mm (equivalent) lenses attached to the cameras, and I just roamed the room trying to tell the story. People have commented on the X-T1 and how it's not a 'professional' camera because it's cropped-frame. Yep, it doesn't handle low-light as well as a Sony a7 v ii or a7s v ii (and as of this writing, nothing handles low light better than the a7s v ii). But it doesn't matter - I think we tend to get bogged down with the technical details of the cameras and not focus on just focusing on taking pictures. Love the Fuji's, they're great cameras. Clearly capable of creating a cover photo for a magazine.
Great beer. Great logo. Great people. Sounds like a recipe for a successful brewery if you ask me.
I was brought in to Pale Fire to do all of their progress, portraits, environmental, and product shots. In this post, I'm just going to talk about the product shots, which I think turned out pretty well. I used the lighting technique outlined in the Hard Apple Cider shoot - there's one light source coming from the left, a reflector (which isn't the behind the scenes photo below, but it's there in real life), and a backdrop. Instead of a white backdrop like last time, I used a black backdrop and used a light behind it to create that half-circle pattern behind the pint.
And that's pretty much it.
I'd be lying if I said it was more complicated than that, but it really wasn't. No, it wasn't a quick shot and it took some time to fine-tune the details to make sure the reflections were just right. In fact, the hardest part of the shoot was shooting in an area with so much natural light. Next time you're out and about, take a shot of your glass of beer and notice all of the tiny reflections in the glass. In order to do this shot, we needed to completely cut out the ambient light. The softbox is helping achieve that goal, as is the background - I even have another piece of black foam in a weird position to cut out a couple more reflections.
Camera details: Fuji X-T1 (as usual), 85mm f/1.2 set to f/5.6, ISO 200 (lowest ISO able to shoot in RAW). The camera is positioned so its looking up ever-so-slightly on the beer. You can definitely tell because you can see the underside of the beer's foam.
No Photoshop for the original image. Check out the back of the camera - there's the test beer with no foam on it. I did use Photoshop to clean up any imperfections in the glass, but that's it.
I love being a University Photographer. It's really enjoyable and there's a huge variety in the subject matter I get to shoot. This particular shot is for an annual publication called the Viewbook, which is a mini-magazine that highlights some of our rockstar students, geared towards prospective students deciding on which college to attend.
Anyway, let's talk photography. For those of you who think this is some sort of Photoshopped shenanigans, here's the un-retouched version below:
Two light stands. That's it, that's all that's been removed from the image.
So here's the behind-the-scenes breakdown of the shoot:
I marked it up to visually explain what's going on here, but I'll also spell it out a little clearer, plus the rationale.
-Main light on our right (1/1 Power)
-Fill light on our left (1/2 Power)
-2 edge lights/kickers in the back (1/8 Power)
Our main light is twice as bright as our fill for obvious reasons. But why 1/1 Power? Well, because I've already bottomed-out my ISO (ISO 200 is the lowest the Fuji X-T1 can shoot and still write in RAW) and my aperture is f/5.6 (to ensure the seating in the background isn't completely blurred-out). Finally, the max flash sync speed is 1/180 sec on the X-T1, so I can't cut ambient light out by shooting at 1/250 or 1/500, the flashes won't appear. Yes, I've read about a HSS (High Speed Sync) flash hack, but I haven't experimented with it and wasn't about to do so on a shoot.
How about the quality of light? Well, you see those soft boxes there on the ground? I originally wanted them up, but because of the distance from the subject (required to get the amount of background I wanted) too much of my light was being eaten up. Oh, and the freaking wind was out of control. My boom stands fell three times when strong gusts came through because the soft boxes acted as sails. By removing them, it made it easier to keep them upright, plus get more light onto our subject. And guess what, it only made the quality of light better in my opinion. The harder light was a good thing. It's supposed to be edgy, this isn't your typical portrait, so it worked out really well.
So that's pretty much it. Here's an alternate image I also liked. The art director will ultimately decide which one runs and which one doesn't. I'll be satisfied with either one.
Found this recently on The Phobolgopher: http://www.thephoblographer.com/2015/03/27/3-reasons-why-spring-is-the-best-time-to-get-out-and-shoot-film/#.VRl48lx6kUV
Yeah, I'm sorry if I sound like a curmudgeon here, but for the life of me, I still can't wrap my head around this sort of thinking. Last week I was working with an architect and he needed me to photograph some renderings that were too large to be scanned. In the matter of 5 minutes, we shot two large format renderings, imported them into Lightroom, cleaned them up in Photoshop, and loaded them to their new site. I had a mini-epiphany that went something along the lines of 'why in the world are people so in love with film in 2015?'. I get it, nostalgia is a strong force. But here's the thing, that workflow ever could have happened with film. I would have shot the renderings, then what? Drove back to my lab so I could develop them, then scan them in and start the editing process?
Yes, film looks 'cool'. I get that. But please, please, please stop suggesting people go out and shoot film just for the hell of it. If you want to suggest people do activities to become better photographers, have them shoot meaningful subjects, things that interest them, do post-production tests to learn software. Just don't hide behind 'go out and shoot film and you'll get better', because digital will push you further - way further - and you'll end up learning a great deal more from the experience.