Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Photography and image making...

A recent post on Mike Johnson's "The Online Photographer" started me thinking.  Perhaps I'm thinking a bit too hard, but I'm thinking.

The topic is image properties verses image quality.

Interior Landscape ~ Sans Coeur

I feel it's all too easy for photographers to hide behind a camera and assume that the equipment will provide enough quality in an image to make it appreciated by viewers:  Resolution, contrast, color rendition.  It seems all too easy to assume a photographer only has to provide content and all the rest will become "good" if only one had the right camera gear.

If I understand Mike's comments correctly, image quality is not the issue.  Rather, it is the properties of an image that lend it meaningful qualities that we as viewers can appreciate and like.  In general I agree with Mike's sentiments on this topic.

Somewhere in the middle of the article, Mike said "Consider that during the time of the pictorialist movement—and among the amateurs that kept its values alive in its aftermath—the same assumption held sway, except in the reverse. Image unsharpness was the virtue, the accepted convention."

Aqua Mammalian Progress

I formulated a short rant about pictorialist photography where I brought William Mortensen into the fray.  Thinking back to Saint Ansel's autobiography, I was shocked to read the violence with which St. Ansel attacked Mr Mortensen's pictorialist approach to image making.  St Adams derided the lack of clarity in Mortensen's images and looked forward to the day when the pictorialist was dead.

It was from this perspective that I responded to Mike's article.  Contrasting modern photographic approaches where image quality is somehow ensued with what I thought Mike was talking about when he mentioned the pictorialist movement.

I said, pick up a copy of William Mortensen's "Pictorial Lighting" and "Pictorial Photography", and you will read nowhere in the entire text anything that extolls "unsharpness" over "sharpness". Quite the contrary. Indeed, the High Priest of Pictorial image making (Mr. Mortensen)stresses the importance of presenting a clear image with a clear vision and a clear result.

Homunculus Rising

Petzval formula lenses (followed by a great many "portrait" lenses) have been in wide use, but even these optical tools provide a sharp image at the point of focus. How the out of focus areas are rendered is part of the optical designs of these kinds of lenses.

The only tools that seem to approach out of focus image making that I'm familiar with are achieved through the use of pinhole "lenses" and zone plates. Yet, it can be argued, even these are not truly "unsharp".

To me (and this was my key point), pictorial image making has more to do with exploring an idea and creating an image that represents that idea, as compared to finding a scene/subject and snapping an image of it.

Mike came back with "Oh, dear. Not even close."

Homunculus ~ Gravure #2

Confused, I used the Force (Google) to look up pictorialist photography.  Now I am even more confused and wonder what people can mean when they use the two words, pictorialist photography.  I know what I mean.  I know what I have read.  I know how I understand the words.  Yet, I'm at sea wondering what I have missed.

There seems to be a rather wide range of interpretations of these two words, pictorialist photography. 

Monday, October 08, 2012

Lights. Cameras. Wheels?

We no longer own an automobile.  Nor a bicycle.  We transport ourselves or use buses/metros/trains/airplanes.

So the question arose as to how I could put together a serious studio kit and keep it portable enough to take on public transportation?

Our apartment is too small for the kinds of photo-sessions that I was used to when we lived back in the States.  After looking around and talking with people, I found two dance studios that rented time by the hour.  Since I had worked in Jane Archer's "Euphoria Studios" for bellydancers, I had a pretty good idea of how I could use those kinds of rooms to make images in.

Once settled into our new location, I was anxious to acquire a studio kit.  Yet, it wasn't as easy as I first thought.  You see, I was hoping to acquire another set of Paul Buff Einstein 640 monolights with stands and parabolic light modifiers.  The closest outlet for this gear is in England and they charge a fortune for the gear.  Just the Paul Buff equipment alone would have set me back well north of 4000USD, which is over twice what I paid for this stuff when we lived in the USA.

Canon DSLR
Canon DSLR (as backup)
3 Elinchrom BX 500 Ri with light stands
2 Elinchrom softboxes
3 105cm umbrellas (combo bounce/shoot-thru)
1 light bounce kit, large
1 backdrop system with stands
3 cotton backdrops
1 power supply extension cord
1 partridge in a pear tree... tra-la..
I know I could have built a very small studio kit out of Canon or Nikon flash units and could eliminate the "need" for the robust, large, heavy Elinchroms..  I knew the Strobist had talked with Rembrandt (the painter - tongue in cheek, of course) and found that wall paper held to a wall with temporary tape would eliminate the need for a back drop system.  I knew that Sony's NEX7 could make a very fine image in place of the old, large, heavy Canon DSLR/24-105L setup.  But somehow, I just couldn't bring myself to introduce such large amounts of change to my "known" workflow, never mind the costs of changing every element in that flow.  I figured I'd better stay with what I knew.

As commented on in an earlier post, I found Elinchrom BX 500 Ri lights and stands could work well.  To avoid the high costs of the PLM light modifiers, I would return to using bounce/shoot-through umbrellas.  The basic Elinchrom kit that was being sold at a reduced price also included a pair of small softboxes.

I went to Amazon.fr and purchased three big umbrellas and a really nice light bounce kit.  It's round and folds into a very small package.  It includes white, gold, silver, and black surfaces to move light around with.  Why hadn't I purchased one of these before?  It's wonderful!

After figuring out how to lash 8mm umbrella rods to the 7mm-capacity Elinchrom system (no small amount of sweating blood, until I realized that funny little bump on the side of the post mount was what I was looking for), I tested the rig and waited for the rest of the studio kit to arrive.

The new backdrop system is very small and portable.  The top rod comes in four sections and the stands are sufficiently strong to hold the cotton duck cloth that came with the kit.  I then purchased a hand painted backdrop of a kind similar to what I used to own.  It looked like I had all the parts of a studio kit that I needed.

Javel Mortadelle
 ... from my first Paris shoot, with Javel Mortadelle...

I plopped the whole thing into the middle of the living room floor and stared at it awhile.  How on earth was I going to haul this from the apartment to whichever dance studio I chose to rent?  I nearly wished I'd changed everything and went with the smaller, more portable, less powerful kit.

A bit more digging around on the internet and I found a large "sports bag".  On a whim, I went around the corner to a small shop.  That's where I found what I was looking for.  It's huge and was purchased from one of the great little "we have EVERYTHING" shops.  If you live in Paris, you already know what these shops are like.  They really do seem to have everything.  The bag was cheap and came with wheels.

I loaded up the sports bag and scheduled a photo-shoot with a local model.  The studio kit was hauled to the tram, and then from the tram to the dance studio.  The shoot went well and I hauled the studio kit home.  But there was a problem.  The sports bag kept turning off the wheels and onto it's side.  In the process, the bottom of the bag was being abraded and holes would soon appear if I didn't do something about it.

My wife and I visited Castorama.  Castorama is a large "Home Depot" style hardware, home supply, fix it all kind of place.  Jude found just what I needed.  It's a medium sized metal cart that will haul upwards of 80 kilos.  It folds down nice and compact.  And when it opens up, the substantial wheels swing out with the bed of the cart.

Vapeur ~ Stephanie Lee
... from my second Paris photoshoot, with Miss Stephanie Lee...

Held in place with a little nylon strap, I put the sports bagged studio kit on the cart for a second photo-shoot.

Heading back to the tram I instantly knew I now had a completely portable, full sized, ready to roll photographic studio rig.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Putting out the request for a bit of help...

I was chatting with Pascal, the editor of "Dear Susan", the Franglais Photobog, when I mentioned that since I'm new here in town that I'm having a hard time finding creative people to work with.

He came up with this!

I can't thank Pascal Jappy enough for this kindness.

Goddesses Entanglement