2.26.2013

In all the excitement about Sony's cheap, new camera I forgot to make fun of their new 50mm Zeiss lens...

Now don't get me wrong...I love 50mm lenses. God knows I've owned a lot of them. And don't misunderstand me here, I think this lens will be remarkably good. What's not to love about eight elements when two of them are festooned with this magic word that makes us gear junkies swoon, "ASPHERICAL."?

And here's something for all you photo heros who spend all your time trampling through the rainy jungles and alternately trudging through desert sand storms with your lens held out in front of you like a beacon: This lens has been designed to be WEATHER PROOF. That's right. Now when you're at the art festival you don't have to worry about accidentally spilling your Coca Cola on the lens while you are grappling with your turkey leg or corn dog on a stick...

Why am I being so testy? Because I'm pissed that Sony and Carl Zeiss have the big corporate balls to charge a whopping $1500 for a 50mm lens. I think only madmen, Leica owners and madmen rationalize $1500 expenditures for lenses in a class where the 1970's Nikon 50mm 1.1.2 lens might still be the IQ front runner in the field. I guess it will all be okay if Sony also release a Sony branded 50mm 1.4 that's only $750. Maybe I'd buy one of those. But let's get rational for a second.

How much better than the Sigma 50mm 1.4 lens can this one really be and how many of us are going to go through the necessary steps to get the kind of performance that this lens promises in the real world?  For the most part this kind of lens is designed to be a great lens for low light reportage (already an issue for a number of Sony DLST models....) and that kind of shooting is mostly done quickly and handheld. Yes, you'll be holding this impressive monster in your shaky, quaking, vibrating hands and praying to the photo gods that Sony was right about getting three stops of Image Stabilization out of their latest camera bodies.

You may have paid for 180 line pairs of resolution but unless you stick that Bugatti of a lens on a set of sticks I think you'll be tooling along with the rest of us in the lane that gets about 45 line pairs of res from their 50mm lenses.

I'm sure that, at this price, this lens will knock it out of the ball park wide open. But even though I own and have owned BMW's worth of fast lenses over the years, and I always have the intention to shoot them at the bleeding edge of 1.4,  those pesky clients inevitably decide they'd like just a bit more than one lip in focus and we end up using these marvelous optics at f-stops like 2 and 2.8. But when you get to 2.8 you'll have to look hard to find just about any modern 50mm 1.4 variant that's not performing at least up to your ability to hand hold.

So, who is this lens really made for? The people who claim to only want the finest in life. And the finest in their camera bags. But wait, aren't they already shooting with Leicas (large or small)?

Will I buy this instant status symbol and wear it around on the end of my Sony a99 like a Mercedes hood ornament on a gold chain? Not unless Sony rings me up and offers me one for permanent testing (and hey! Sony! if you do that I'll wear it everywhere until I wear it out!!!). It's not that I don't crave, desire and lust after pretty glass that promises instant photographic genius but hey! everyone's got to have limits to their excess somewhere.

What's my game plan? Well, when I compare the pure performance (not the amenities) of the Sony lenses I own with the two Rokinon Cine lenses that I've recently acquired I'm pretty comfortable saying that I'll stick with my old, used Sony 50 1.4 lens (re-badged Minolta lens) right up until the moment I see the Rokinon (or other Samyang variant) 50mm 1.1.2 Super high speed Cine lens hit the market. And if it's priced like history says it might be, and I'm having high roller hallucinations I'll just take the $1500 I might have spent on the Zeiss (in my craziest dreams) and buy four or five of the Rokinons instead.

I'm not putting any links in for the new Sony Zeiss lens. If you can swing that one (and rationalize it to yourself) you probably have someone on staff who can research the best deal for you. Just check in with your house manager, I'm sure they're on top of it.

Important note: As per my track record of consistency in the last four years of blogging I reserve the right to change my mind and run out and get one of these uber-ninja lenses as soon as next week and not even notice the irony....... You've been warned.










Light Once. Shoot Twice.

The title of this blog comes from an ad by K5600 for their HMI lights. The blog is not about HMI lights...

This is an image of one of the most cost efficient and effective lights in my bag of lighting tricks. It's a Fotodiox 312AS LED light.

Light once, shoot twice. 

My business, Kirk Tuck Photography, needs to change its name. We aren't just about taking really wonderful images that have unimaginably good ROI's for clients anymore. Over the past few years we've been progressively adding other content centered services like writing, and video production. As with most successful imaging businesses we've been hard at work offering our (wonderful) clients more services that build on our core competencies. It's pretty logical to think that, because we can light people beautifully and compose them well, on very capable cameras, that we might be very capable of taking another step and also produce some video content while we have time-pressed assets in front of our cameras...  If we can script them and direct them too then so much the better.

The days of flashy website interfaces and visual gimmicks as selling tools are pretty much over. What agencies, clients and businesses in general are learning is that content is king. Having great content trumps just about anything else when it comes to a sticky web experience, and content is one thing that we can provide well. The message is the magic now. The medium is just the packaging.

The biggest synergy I can find for my work, as it's used in advertising and marketing is the combination of still imaging and video production. Clients need still images for portraits and product but they are increasingly finding that concise videos with interesting content are very popular with most audiences. Credit the rise of YouTube and Vimeo for much of evolution in this area.

Our clients have choices they can make when they source their various content. In the visual/video area they can hire a traditional photographer to make the still images and then hire a different person; a traditional videographer, to come in at a different time to create video interviews and other content. They end up paying two fees: they pay for set up and tear down of lighting and backgrounds twice, they pay for prepping the temporary studio, if we shoot at their location; or they pay in terms of lost productivity to have a valuable executive drive, first to one studio and then to another to create the various media assets they want.

Or, they can enlist the services of a flexible content creator and do a bit of time saving one stop shopping.  There is much additional value in finding one business that can provide multiple content products, nearly concurrently.

Here's a perfect example:  For two days this week I'll be working closely with an ad agency that's providing new marketing materials for a medical practice. A group of cardiologists. The biggest requirement for my company is to provide high quality portraits of the doctors as well as a two minute video clip of each doctor talking about his particular specialty. We've got six or seven doctors who need to be represented this way, in stills and video.

The problems we get to solve are these: We're working during the practice's office hours and they have very busy schedules. We need two different portraits per doctor. One in scrubs and one more formal. We're shooting in a small conference room. That's all the fixed space we can get. There is no room for a second lighting set up in a different location.

The other problem is that the doctors (and the practice administrator = client) don't want to do this twice. We won't be shooting stills one day and then coming back for video on another day. It's just not going to happen. They decided that they can only absorb the disruption for one day... 

This all points to a single solution: We have to light once and shoot twice. We have to use a lighting system that will provide good color for our raw still files and also provide great lighting for our video interviews. My ultimate goal is to finish shooting my last still of each doctor, walk over and clip a lavalier microphone on them and walk back to the camera to start rolling (anachronism now since nothing rolls) on the video.

To this end I'll use a modified three point lighting system that can be tweaked on the run. I'd like the light to be a little softer for the stills (add a one stop diffuser to the key light) and a little harder on the videos (subtract a one stop diffuser from the key light...).  I obviously can't use flash for the video so my choice narrows down. We might not be able to block all of the daylight from the room so my choice narrows down again to a lighting system with adjustable color temperatures. That means LEDs.

My shooting plan at this juncture is very simple. The agency wants to use a plain gray background. I'll have one 312AS panel illuminating the background for separation, one 312AS as a hairlight/rimlight, and I'll use two of the 312AS panels as a main light. We'll use a pop up reflector opposite the mains as a passive fill.

For video light I'll use a piece of Rosco TuffSpun diffusion over the two lights to unify the shadows and make them work as a single light. The diffusion won't be bigger than the combined area of the LED panels so the light will still be sharp and a bit edgy. When I shoot stills I'll add a Westcott flag or Chimera panel with light diffusion to increase the apparent size of the light source and create softer shadow transitions.  In essence, the whole project is an exercise in Lighting Once and Shooting Twice.

How much did I have to learn to offer this additional service to my client? I had to learn to light well with continuous lights.  That was easy. I just re-read my book, LED Lighting. The critical part in adding video is coming to grips with audio.

Audio is the make it or break it aspect of "motion capture." The pitfalls are endless. They include conversations in the next room, horns honking outside, air conditioners turning on and off, cellphones ringing, the rustle of a lav mike against a starched shirt and a lot more. 

A rookie mistake is to presume that one microphone will work for everything. It won't. A room with bare, bright walls and hard floors can be rough with a shotgun style microphone, it can pick up too much of the ambiance of a room and make voices sound off. In situations like these a lavalier microphone might be a better choice. It's closer to the speaker's mouth and rejects more background noise by dint of the inverse square law (and you thought that only applied to flashes?).

While I haven't convinced my client of this....yet....I am lobbying for us to help script each of the doctors and have their written content available on a teleprompter program, loaded on a 15 inch screen lap top. I think the doctors would be more comfortable with this and we'd be much more efficient in our shooting. There would be far fewer "ums" and "ahhs" to edit out later. But introducing services can be a one step at a time process.

The bottom line for our clients is that we save them time and money by bundling similar services during one session. There's one bout of pre-production, one travel fee, one set up and one tear down. The lighting has a continuity to the look and feel that helps hold the whole of the project together, visually. The subjects who need to be photographed and interviewed need only commit to one time slot. The client or agency has a single entity with which to negotiate, bill, schedule and celebrate with.  Add in the writing component to create or polish the content and you basically have one stop content shopping.

What is the benefit for my business? Well, for starters, we have a much better shot at keeping existing businesses as loyal clients since they don't need to effect new trials with new vendors to get the new kinds of services they need. If we service our clients well they stay happier we get to keep them longer.

Then, we bill for every service we add which increases the revenue from each project we undertake. That's a win for me but the efficiency makes it more cost effective for the client as well. We're providing two streams of content from one set up and only one touch on the time of their key money makers.

Finally, we move the business from depending on a single product to multiple products. Don't need still photography? Of course we can help you with this video project.  Don't need any visual content but you're having trouble writing that speech? Well remember, we're the ones who wrote that great script for your (fill in the blank).  

Many photographers fear change. I've had more than a few ask me, earnestly, why the hell I bother with LED lights. But the ones who fear change aren't doing nearly as well as the peers I have who dug into new avenues of business and learned new tricks. My clients want more and more services and they want more and more efficiencies in their projects. We are both a content business (IP R US) and a service business. The only important part of being a service business is giving clients what they need in a way that makes them happy.  And provides a good ROI that they can see in a glance.

Our mission now is to provide content that moves the needle. We're out to show our clients that better production, and better seeing, might have a higher initial cost but will pay off many times over in it's value to their audiences. I'm committed to controlling as much of my clients' visual messaging as possible because the value of content is all interlinked. A great photo coupled with bad design doesn't sell, and neither does a crappy photo with great design wrapped around it. When we learn new skills that build on our old skills we have a more valuable package to sell to our clients. We become a more important part of their team.  And that's just good for business. Everyone's business.

Light once. Shoot twice. That's the reason we leverage the flexibility of LED panels in our work.

( I am using the Sony a99 camera and the 85mm Rokinon 1.5 Cine lens for the portraits and interviews. The a99 has a headphone jack so I can monitor audio. I'm using a Sennheiser wireless lavalier microphone system to record audio. I have a professional Audio Technica Lavalier microphone (wired) as a ready back up.  We'll shoot 1080p at 24 fps in AVCHD and provide the agency raw footage for their in-house editor to use.... Ah, the details...)