All Hallows' Eve

I don't like Halloween. There, I said it.

When I was a kid Halloween was simple: you'd put on a cheap paper mask (I was fond of Spiderman) or punch holes in a bed-sheet, head out for an hour or two, come back with candy and a few bucks for Unicef. That was the extent of it. But now... It's a weeks-long extravaganza with houses decorated to the hilt, special events at school and the corresponding peer pressure for costumes that'll knock it out of the ballpark. A paper mask? Please.

"When I was a kid we'd walk ten miles in the snow!..."

It IS kinda cute for a second or two though—the wigs, the makeup, the funny faces. Last year Jacob was our first deserter, invited to spend the evening with a friend from school. This year Anaïs joined the fray and did her own thing as well. So for a few short hours of roaming and candy hunting, Heloïse got to be an only-child; she was ecstatic. "Just me and my parents!" she kept repeating, grinning from ear to ear. As much as you try and give everyone their one on one time, being the youngest of three inevitably takes its toll I guess. Your space, after all, is defined within a group from day one. That's your reality.

I broke out the XF 35mm f/1.4 on this one (except for the image at top shot with the X100T). A vampire, a doll (Lalaloopsy anyone?) and a pirate—who had already jumped ship before I reached for the camera.

Eventually Cynthia and I will have our wish: on Halloween night we'll spend a quiet evening at home, watching a movie, maybe having a glass of wine.
And we'll miss all of this nonsense so much it'll hurt.


Shot with the X-T1 and Xf 35mm f/1.4 R


Transitions

1. the act of passing from one state or place to the next.
2. an event that results in a transformation.

We spent our Thanksgiving weekend in the country, watching leaves turn, forgetting our day to day and its circular patterns. Some people find comfort in knowing what will come next, without fail; I can understand that—we're creatures of habit after all. But I find myself mostly dissatisfied with standing still. Probably part of the funk I was talking about in my last post. I've written about this before: the danger of satisfaction that accompanies any form of success, however moderate. I don't mean public success but a personal sense of achievement, this feeling that we've reached a point where we have more answers than questions and we now know what we're doing. That's the honey pot. It's this magical place where we can easily decide to stop learning and embrace the status quo. Establishment, after all, can take on many, many forms; and it usually has its roots in rebellion, settling over time. 

I find myself needing to consciously shake this off, this complacency, over and over again. Which doesn't mean I succeed btw—change is hard. But being aware of the need to move on is a necessary step. Learning should be a lifelong commitment.

It sounds all high and mighty but in my mind it's really about small things. For instance, that portrait on the right is something I rarely, if ever do with our kids: take them aside and have them sit down for a picture. And light them. As most of you know, my family (and documentary) work is all about being invisible and not interfering with a scene; finding images and moments as opposed to creating them. But that, like anything else, can become a habit of its own. A repetition. So when I packed for the weekend I added a Yongnuo speedlight and Honl grid. I brought my tripod too—maybe for a portrait of some sort in the surrounding woods. I took the XF 56mm, the 35mm and even the 23mm I seldom use in favour of the X100T; brought that camera as well along with the X-T1. Way more gear than I usually pack for a family trip...for the sole purpose of changing things up. Sometimes doing the exact opposite of what we usually do can be liberating. It's like telling our brain "Ok...new deal here. Find something else to do".

The idea is to try.

X-T1 with XF 23mm f/1.4 R. Handheld Yongnuo speedlight with Honl grid. Same setup for the portrait of my daughter Anaïs further below.


This past month has been a technical cluster&^#$ for me. I lost two drives out of the blue—one of them, a 3TB Seagate, just stopped working after less than two months. Both were backup drives but still...total pain in the you-know-what. Then I had a problem with my aging iMac that forced me to rebuild the entire system from scratch. A whole heckuva lot of fun.

And then of course...Lightroom CC 2015-2.

I spent half a day pulling my hair out, unable to breathe without crashing, rebuilding my catalog (which I thought had become corrupted) before reading that Adobe had knowingly released a bug-ridden version. In the few moments between crashes I got to explore the new "improved" Import dialog. It's no secret that I've never harboured much love for Adobe, but when I moved from Aperture several years ago it was under the assumption that at least the company was focused on photographers; that they knew who their clients were and would make decisions based on maintaining a professional imaging business. More fool me.

I'm not affraid to say I'm extremely proficient with Lightroom; and even though I've never acclimated to its UX, it's become second nature. I can do anything I want in the app and yes, I even appreciate some of its features. I rage against it every day for ten thousand reasons but until now, it's always been there, it's always worked and allowed me to do my job without fail. 

But this...releasing a crippled version...on top of all the CC vs standalone nonsense...this is icing on the cake.
And I'm moving to Capture One Pro 8. 

It's not a decision I take lightly because it has all sorts of consequences. Compromises? Of course. But I've been putting the latest version (8.3.3) through its paces and most of the issues I previously had with the application have been addressed. Not all but most. Plus, without going into details (for now) I can honestly say this: it feels like coming home. No more modules, no more inconsistent behaviour depending on where I'm currently focused; customizable workspaces and keyboard shortcuts; a library that feels like my own, with projects and folders and albums that I can sort manually, the way I actually want them to be displayed, according to my needs. I'm not fighting against this huge monolithic machine anymore, trying to circumvent quirk after quirk of UI hell. It's going to be a time-consuming move but I'm already ingesting all new material in CP1 and I've imported a huge ongoing project over from Lightroom (yes, it can import an LR library; no, it does not bring in visual adjustments you can actually use; no matter what the documentation says—can't have everything).   

Transitions can be slow, gradual affairs, pondered over and carefully calculated for a minimal amount of shock to the system. Or...they can just hit full on, forcing us to react and adapt. 

No two ways about it: there's a Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin On.
Later.

P.S. I'm getting a lot of questions these days about processing and I know some of you were expecting my new book to address this subject, offer tips, guidance etc. Instead, I've decided to do this right here, on the blog. I was planning to update the old Aperture tutorials for Lightroom but this move has made clear how important it is to grasp the basic principles in order to become platform agnostic. So I'm rethinking the entire approach in light of it. It'll probably take the form of CP1 tutorials as I make my way through the new software but I want to make sure I'm offering a fishing rod, not just fish.


Shot with X-T1 or X100T. Processed in Capture One PRO 8.3.3


Funk. Thanksgiving.

With blogs it's easy to get caught up in self-promotion: "I shot this for client X!" "I'm releasing project Y!" "It's all wonderful! Look at me I'm on top of the world!"...

Sometimes I am. Most of the time things are good and moving along.
But right now I'm in a funk.

I'm beginning to realize it's a seasonal thing because I remember feeling this same way last year after returning from Europe, right around this time. It's probably compounded by the end of the Subterraneans project and the void left behind by any endeavour into which you've poured so much energy. Suddenly it's out there and this universe you've inhabited for months on end is now empty. It's an odd transition, both exciting and debilitating; like you need to now rewire yourself. It's not easy or obvious to do.

So for the past week or so I've been going through the motions. I could keep this to myself and post about the last jobs I did but frankly, I just don't feel like it. The reality of creative work is that it's 1) tied to emotions and 2) has highs and lows. Doesn't matter how much time you've spent on higher ground, eventually you'll come back down to earth. Eventually, you'll reassess and question and wonder. None of us are exempt of these feelings, of these ebbs and flows...not a single one of us, believe me. And I happen to think it's just as important to share.

I'm writing all of this while listening to Jefferson Airplane's After Bathing at Baxter's—I used to own this on a battered second-hand vinyl and had completely forgotten about the album until Apple Music suggested it. The song Rejoyce (yes, that's the spelling) is a masterpiece. Boy is that taking me back.

Our son Jacob is twelve today, can you believe it? God, I can't. We're going to the restaurant tonight to celebrate. Then this weekend we're headed for the country and I'm very much looking forward to refuelling; to walks on dirt roads and the silence of the fields.

To Thanksgiving and remembering where and who we are.

---

Speaking of post-project: I want to thank everyone who's purchased These Kings. These Subterraneans so far. It seems to be resonating in a way that's actually very touching to witness. I'm going to extend the launch sale until October 31st to coincide with the coupon code I gave away on the latest episode of the We Shoot Fuji podcast, hosted by Scott Bourne and Marco Larousse. Had a fun time with those guys, talking about photography and creativity in general. And that promo code is in the show notes I just linked to btw—just sayin' ;)

I'm leaving you with a few random attempts at shaking off the doldrums.
Happy (Canadian) Thanksgiving guys—see you on the other side.

 

Studies for a Backlit Screen I

I wanted to make something you could slip in and out of. You could pay attention or you could choose not to be distracted by it if you wanted to do something while it was on.
— Brian Eno (on ambient music)

Shot with the X-T1 and XF 60mm f/2.4 R


LANDSCAPE ORIENTATION

PORTRAIT ORIENTATION

The Hard Look | Stacking for Shadows

Fashion trends affect every sphere of our lives and our work is certainly no exception. There's a look in product photography that I'm seeing everywhere these days: hard light against white backgrounds. This particular treatment makes for very crisp, sunny "middle of the afternoon" images with a lot of pop.

But usually while the shadows and edges are very defined, the products retain a softness and roundness in terms of texture that's associated with softer lighting. So how does this work? Well, we can go crazy with light positioning, trying to get that perfect ratio...or we can start thinking in layers. The trick is stacking.

THE SETUP

Hard to see but that Deep Octa is directly over the table.

Basically, we use two lights: one for softness and one for shadows. But we don't use them together. Instead we shoot two images—one for each light—that we'll then combine in Photoshop or any other image editor that supports layers and masks. The advantage of this method is the amount of control we gain over which area gets a hard or soft treatment. It's then completely up to us to decide what works best. Let's do a quick case study—faults and all.

For image #1 I've positioned a Deep Octa directly overhead, fairly close to the objects (about two feet). The results are what you'd expect: soft; flat even. If I'm going for this kind of final look, I'll usually just play with the edges of the softbox by simply rotating it forwards or backwards, giving more light to either the front or back of the subject; this is a quick and easy way to create dimension. In this case however, because I'm shooting for stacking, I'm leaving it as even as possible. This is my base image.

For image #2 I'm using a 30º grid on an Elinchrom BXRi strobe, slightly behind and above the subject, camera right. The grid is focusing the beam and I've aimed the strobe directly towards the products. This is the afternoon sun, the "shadow and depth" image.

Both versions are processed for basic exposure, contrast etc in Lightroom. Once that's done I select them, right-click and choose Edit as Layers in Adobe Photoshop CC. This will open Photoshop and create a single PSD or TIFF file containing both images already stacked as layers.

THE STACK

From here it's all rather straightforward: I make sure the"base" image is on top and add a layer mask (Layers>Layer Mask>Reveal All). I select this new mask layer, choose a black paintbrush and start painting in the areas where I want the "shadow" image to appear. There's no recipe for this—it all depends on the image itself and the effect we're looking for. But I usually turn the base layer on and off throughout the process, to visualize what I've added or removed. With a mask we can simply switch to a white paintbrush to go over potential mistakes—it's all non-destructive. Once we're done, all we need to do is hit Save: this new image is added next to the originals in Lightroom where we can add further adjustments if we need to. Eventually, this is what you get:

A few more examples using the exact same technique (final image first; click for stacked versions)::

These are all quick and dirty examples just to give a rough idea.

If at all possible I always prefer getting everything done in one take; but sometimes the laws of physics get in the way. Stacking is a method that can prove useful for all kinds of settings: focus, exposure—anything reality can't manage in a single take. Just like bracketing. I personally never use this outside of commercial work but it's a useful concept to grasp.

Now, if I could just find that Remove All Dust, Fingerprints, Smudges And Scratches button....