Snow blindness | Processing Winter.

I’ve taken my New Year’s resolution ahead of time, one I intend to work seriously hard at keeping: I want to find my Winter Voice. Which is really just a fancy way of saying I need to work at it. A couple of posts ago I again mentioned how hard it was for me to shoot Winter scenes, how uninspiring this season was for me — apart from the Holidays, the baking, the lights. And I’ve always sort of dismissed it offhand… No problem, I can work indoors, I can stay in the studio… Who needs all this cold, white and grey stuff anyway?

But when I wrote about it last time, something clicked: I’m being lazy. I’m always talking about pushing boundaries and yet here I am, living in a northern climate, spending most of the year on standby mode, waiting for an entire season to go away. I still shoot but I’m never really happy with it and I usely mumble and grumble… Snow… Bah, humbug. So I sat myself down a few days ago and thought about it. What’s the problem here? I wake up in the morning and see the coat of freshly fallen snow, and it’s beautiful. To my EYES it’s beautiful. To my CAMERA it never seems to translate. The problem, I realized, is with the colour palette: the neutrality of it is simply not what I usually look for. And when there is contrast it’s somehow much less layered; it throws me off, period. Essentially, the softness is too soft and the harness is too hard.

This also means my processing is out of whack with what’s in those files, even if I expose the way I should. I can’t apply the same curves or work global exposure the same way. Basically: it’s not about right or wrong, it’s about finding a Winter look that I actually like. So I’ve been playing around with Classic Chrome on my X100T, forcing myself to shoot those scenes and starting from scratch in post, putting aside my usual reflexes. Contrast down. Blacks up. Whites compressed.

Results below for your approval. Baby steps. And the X100T is awesome in case you were wondering, but I’ll be reviewing it after the Holidays to spend as much shooting time with it as possible.

Later

P.S. It’s a Fuji Xmas today: firmware update!!!!!
P.P.S This. Below. I can't tell you how happy I am about this addition. It's now assigned to the front FN button of the X-T1 for life.

Yay!!!!

 

Shot with the X100T


Elinchrom Deep Octa and Matthews Century Stand

I can't believe 2014 is almost over. As always this time of year, we look back , assess what we did and imagine what lies ahead. I'm not sure I achieved all the goals I had set for myself but a great many things moved forward in ways I'd never anticipated. Life is like that — a great big bag of surprises.

In terms of this blog I find I may have been a bit less technical/tutorial oriented than in previous years. In fact, going through it, I realized I had promised articles that never actually made it — gear mostly, hardware and software. So before we jump to 2015 I thought I'd tie up loose ends with a couple of posts. First off: the big guns.


Elinchrom Deep (Throat) Octa 39" (100 cm)


Boy am I late on this one... I hinted at a review back in January. This was my very first purchase of 2014 and it's basically been my goto modifier since the day it was delivered. Let me try and explain why...

When we start to talk about quality of light it can get downright esoteric... It's hard to find a subject that's more subjective or bound to specific conditions. Light is light: it can be hard or soft or big or small. Modifiers aren't magical instruments. But they DO of course have an impact on the end results. I've always been more atracted to the hard light look than the often sought wispy and airy softness of very large diffusers. I sometimes deliberately use smaller softboxes because I prefer the falloff and harder edges. Sometimes it's just barn doors and bare bulb. What attracted me to the Deep Octa was its slightly schizoid personality and versatility: it has a very specific look to it, soft but very sculpted with a quick falloff. Like an edgy softness. I saw picture after picture from it while I was researching and it felt like the modifier I'd been looking for. I was right.

the kit


The Deep Octa comes with two baffles (interior and exterior) and a deflector, resulting in a bunch of different possible configurations:

  • Straight up: no baffles, no deflector, just the straight silver lining and deep dish effect.
  • Deflector-only:  sort of like a big beauty dish, the deflector eliminating the hotspot.
  • Inner Baffle: this is its typical look and the one I use most of the time. The inner baffle is recessed inside the softbox, so the light hits the baffle, gets diffused but also spreads across the silver lining. The natural vignette it creates gives it a very distinct personality.
  • Outer Baffle: the baffle is at the outer edge turning the Deep Octa into a more conventional softbox by diffusing its entire surface.

Those are the basics. But of course you can also combine: both baffles means double diffusion for an even softer look; add the deflector and there's no hotspot to speak of; or deflector + inner baffle-only. And it's all very quick to change too: the deflector fits into the Elinchrom umbrella shaft, the inner baffle snaps into place with buttons and the outer one uses velcro.

Bonus tip: that deflector fits into the Elinchrom head itself... Which means it can be used with ANYTHING, from the bare speedlight to any reflector, other softboxes etc. Poor man's beauty dish in a pinch.


Results

I love this thing to death. In fact I can count on my fingers the times I used anything else this year. Now, the reason it took this long for me to review it is that I wanted to do it properly, shoot examples with each configuration, show the differences etc. I never found the time and I have to be honest with myself, I probably never will. So I hope you'll forgive me if I simply show a few of my favourite images below, most of them using the inner baffle setup. 

I, model... This is the inner baffle only.

I, model... This is the inner baffle only.

And this is without baffle, deflector-only. Shot with the XF 60mm f/2.4... Another loose end to tie-up. Necessary sullen gaze included.

And this is without baffle, deflector-only. Shot with the XF 60mm f/2.4... Another loose end to tie-up. Necessary sullen gaze included.

THE ONE NOT SO FUN THING


It's a temporary problem but it IS something to be aware of: setting this up for the first time is an absolute B.I.T.C.H. I wanted to throw it out the window, set it on fire and scream every single word in my extensive dictionary of very-bad-things-I-must-try-not-to-say-in-front-of-the-kids™. I think I tweeted about it — after struggling for 15 years or so — and my friend Morten called me up from the other side of our beautiful country to give me some pointers. He'd been through the same ordeal, like pretty much everyone who owns this contraption. Seriously, look it up: there are YouTube videos about it.

The problem is that the amount of force needed to get each rod into place makes no sense and at some point you end up convinced you're on your way to breaking the entire thing. But you're not. Plus the provided instructions don't really help at all because none of it lays still the way it says. You basically need to put one hand on the speedring to get a few rods in, then use your elbow and push like mad to get the rest of them in place. Like MAD. But it works. And once you've done it a few times it isn't that bad — but man... The entire dictionary, I'm not kidding.

The good news? Once it's assembled you don't have to take the rods out and go through all of it again when packing up: you just take the ends out and the whole softbox folds in like an umbrella, speedring included. And it fits in its bag as well.

So you need to suffer to get the goods.
But they're worth it.

The Elinchrom Deep Octa 39" is $302.36 at B&H (affiliate link). There's also a smaller 27.5" model.


Matthews Hollywood Century C Stand Grip Arm Kit - 10.5' (3.2m)

I can't believe I waited this long to get a c-stand of my own. Well... It's not the sort of thing you rush out for excitedly — it's not the latest camera or crazy amazing lens you've been waiting for, the one that will suddenly transform everything you shoot into unicorns. It's just a bloody stand. Plus they're big and heavy, and bulky and... Heavy. But they're incredibly versatile, have a smaller footprint (because of the way their legs are designed) and they're stable. Very, very stable. 

I kid you not: I get giddy every time I use this thing and I'm kicking myself for not buying one sooner. It's a tank; the build is incredible, all solid metal. You lock any of the joints and it's locked, tight, with very little effort. You look at those grips and think you'll be sweating but it's just the opposite: slight twist and you're done. Everything is just rock solid — sandbag this baby and bring on that hurricane.

The boom easily holds the Deep Octa/BX500ri combo at any angle. The longest leg is adjustable to accommodate steps or uneven ground. And the bonus with this particular Matthews stand is that it isn't actually as heavy as similar models from other brands. It's still heavy enough mind you, but it easily packs flat and can be moved on location without the need for a few months of weight training.

It's machined beautifully and does its job. It's a stand that makes me happy — Can't ask for much more. 
The Matthews C-Stand Grip Arm Kit is $129.99 at B&H (affiliate link).

Next up on Loose Ends: tripod and camera bag.

 

A few quiet home abstractions...

Winter brings a sort of hush, every year without fail. I'm not inspired by snowy landscapes or gusts of wind through barren trees. I see others create masterpieces from this stuff but anytime I try, I fail — completely and utterly. You need to love your subject or nothing shines through.

So with the cold, I internalize. We're merely a week away from the start of the Christmas break and soon our home will transform into its traditional massive whirlwind; cookies and noise and crazed anticipation all around. 

These are miniatures, frozen and hidden beneath the surface. Fragments before the grand finale.


Shot with the X100T using Classic Chrome film simulation.


The Inspired Eye 16

This is exciting: Issue 16 of Olivier Duong and Don Springer's photography magazine Inspired Eye is out, featuring an interview with yours truly. The publication gets more impressive with every issue and this one is just packed with fantastic work; an honour to be in such great company. It’s a downloadable PDF, available as a single issue or as part of a subscription. They’ve picked our baby as the cover for the article… Her very first magazine spread. Glimpses of our future? Ouch.

You can get the new issue right here. Really worth it.


Sometimes I get all worded out… Like my brain just doesn’t want to deal with thinking in characters anymore. As much as I enjoy online communications, the fact remains that I sometimes feel like I’m just typing continuously. Which is why it’s nice to get a chance to speak to people directly, have a back and forth conversation that doesn’t revolve around a keyboard. Vocal chords are a pretty cool evolutionary perk. Case in point: the two seminars I gave as part of Lord Photo’s Fujifilm Weekend. I really had the most wonderful time. Billy Luong was there on Saturday as well which is alway a treat. Although we’ve seen and heard so much of each other in the past couple of months, I think we’re just about reaching the sheepdog/wolf stage… You know: “Morning Ralph…” “Morning Sam…”

Yeah, I’m a Loony Tunes guy.

Seriously, thanks again to Fujifilm Canada, Lord Photo and everyone who came out… It was great meeting you all — early Saturday or coooold Sunday. Oh! And that 50-140mm? Hmm... Rather nice. Rather very, very nice.

Between shoots, editing and preparing for the seminars I've barely had time to touch the X100T since it came in last Wednesday. I’m still in the thick of it too. But of course I can’t help myself — I mean the damn thing is right there. So there’s no rhyme or reason to anything below; it’s all just stuff on which I’ve been pointing the camera these past few days. All shot with the new Classic Chrome simulation of course.

Next up, I think we’re going to talk double exposure as promised. Stay tuned…

Speaking this weekend... And other news.

A very quick post on this cold December morning. It’s been a great two weeks, filled with shoots I’m rather proud of — some for a long term project I’ve yet to talk about. I did a studio session on Monday with my friend Pierre Labbé, a double exposure exploration for his next album that I’ll be sharing with you guys as soon as it’s possible to do so. Used the X-Pro1 for those because… Raw. More on that once we get to it.

Last weekend was our traditional donut-making fest, marking the official launch of the holiday season for our little family. The kids have started counting down the days. And Christmas came early for me: Mr. Purolator rang my doorbell yesterday, handing me a brand new X100T. Excited? Hell yeah.

I’ve barely touched it but I’m already blown away by the refinements I’m finding in every nook and cranny. I’ll have a full review once I’ve had a chance to put it through its paces — of course, I’m not on the starting line with this one but hopefully I’ll manage to add a modicum of valuable info. In the meantime you may want to check out my friend Bert Stephani’s extensive video shot in beautiful Leuven.

If you’re feeling the urge to part with even more hard earned money money (’tis the season!), my other KAGE buddy Derek Clark takes a first look at the XF 50–140 f/2.8. I’ve had a chance to examine several sample images and bloody hell… Fuji has again managed to push the envelope. Bigger? Yes… Unavoidable; optics are optics. But Derek’s post title It Thinks it’s a Prime says it all.

While I’m on the subject of KAGE… If you haven’t already seen Vincent Baldensperger’s first story for the collective you’re missing out. L’art et la matière is an absolutely gorgeous visual essay. It’s also beautifully written. Worth the detour.


Last but not least: I’m speaking this coming weekend at Lord Photo in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu. It’s a 3 days Fujifilm event and Fuji Guys Billy Luong will be joining the party as well. It’s totally free and you can sign up right here. I’ll be hanging out for awhile too so if you feel like shooting the breeze… Come on down ;)

Donut-fest images below — Holidays here we go. And btw I didn't just take pictures: I mixed most of that dough. Hard work people, hard work.
Later.