Website Portfolio Update

New front page image for website I've finally got around to uploading some more images to my website. Most of the images are from relatively recent projects but a few are from projects that I photographed over two years ago but have been kept in the dark due to publication embargoes. I've added a bunch to the "residential" section of the website and a few to the "commercial" section as well. Winter weather (ie: rain) is in full effect here in Seattle but I've still got a small handful of very cool projects coming up before the year is out (some located in warmer/sunnier climes) so hopefully I can add a few more to the site before the New Year.

I was experimenting with other images for the front splash page of the website but I have gotten so much positive feedback regarding the floating home image that it will stay up on the front for now. It's definitely one of my fav's....

Exploring Dynamic Range: Part 1

It's time for a gear-centric tech geek post about the camera's ability to capture "dynamic range." For my purposes I simply define dynamic range as the range of luminance values in a scene and the camera's ability to capture those values. Dynamic range is of particular importance to architectural and interior photographers because we shoot under conditions where a single scene may have a large range of luminance values from dark shadow areas to bright sunlit sky.

There is certainly no dearth of technical discussion on the internet regarding camera sensors and dynamic range but many such discussions tend to become so far removed from the practicalities of real world image making that they cease to become useful. I am only interested in the subject of dynamic range in so far as evaluating cameras and techniques that may enable me to create the images that I want to create. I could care less about stops, charts, plots, graphs, bits and bytes.

Personally, I am interested in pulling detail from the shadows more than the highlights. I have never had much luck with recovering details from highlights. In the majority of the architectural spaces that I photograph, a properly exposed interior will almost always leave a grossly over exposed sky that simply cannot be recovered.

First off, let's start by looking at what some modern camera systems are capable of straight "out of the box." That is, just how much usable dynamic range is captured in a single shot. Once again, "usable" is a somewhat subjective term so your results may vary....

Example 1: Phase One P21+ medium format digital back. Though somewhat "dated" considering the recent release of top of the line digital backs such as the the Phase One P65 and IQ series and Leaf Aptus-II 12, the P21+ is a good example of what most "working class" digital backs are capable of when it comes to usable dynamic range.

Below is a shot of my living room on a late afternoon sunny day. No it's not usually this messy. I added some clutter for the sake of the image ;-)...Though overall very dark, some portions of the sky are still blown out beyond the point of recovery. This example represents a difficult lighting situation and yet the kind of dramatic light that I love to shoot in. I have included the Lightroom histogram for reference:

Here's the exact same image file adjusted in Lightroom. I've upped the exposure 1.25 stops and slid the fill light slider all the way to 100:

By upping the exposure I've overexposed some more of the sky, but it's really the shadow areas that I'm interested in here. Let's take a closer look at some 100% crops:

Pretty impressive. There is a bit of noise in the darkest areas of the fireplace but not much. Fine details are retained (note the sisal strand at the bottom right of the frame).

Example 2: Nikon D3x. As of this writing, the Nikon D3x represents the pinnacle of 35mm digital camera technology. The file it produces is unlike any other 35mm digital camera file that I have ever seen and is closer in quality and flexibility to medium format digital systems. Lloyd Chambers has an excellent write up about the amazingly clean files of the D3x. The dynamic range abilities of this camera is one of the few reasons why I have not switched to Canon as my primary camera system. As soon as Canon produces a camera that can match the base ISO image quality and resolution of the Nikon D3x I will switch.

Below is a grossly underexposed image of a client's library. I might underexpose an frame similar to this as an "insurance shot" to ensure that if all else fails I've got an exposure with no blown highlights (like the white orchid in the foreground):

Here is the exact same image file adjusted in Lightroom. I have upped the exposure three stops and set the fill light slider to 25:

Here are 100% crops:

Looks pretty good to me. There is no pattern noise of any kind and the noise that is visible in the darkest areas is random and looks almost like film grain. It looks like there might be some banding on the table but that is actually the striping of the wood. The texture of the leather couch can be seen in the highlight and you can eve see a seam in the leather at the bottom center of the image.

In future posts I'll test some more digital cameras and maybe even some film.

Blog Theme

I've been messing around with the blog the past few days trying to get a look that I like and have settled on Wordpress' "Oulipo" theme for now. I like the fonts and the layout. I was really jazzed on some Graph Paper Press themes but it's going to take some work and lots of help from the brother-in-law to configure and get it all working. I also kinda like "Wu Wei" and may switch to that in the next few hours. It's not as elegant as "Oulipo" but it does allow for viewing images larger than 460 pixels. Decisions decisions!

Polaroids and Road Trips

Because the film is so darn expensive (I've seen single 10 exposure packs go for $35 on ebay), my trusty powder blue Polaroid ONE600 gets taken out only for special occasions. The most recent: My best bud's bachelor party in the desert. There's just something about a photograph taken on expired Polaroid film...

Save for a short reconnaissance hike, strenuous physical activity was kept to a minimum in favor of feats of mental skill and stamina such as bocce ball and shooting empty beer cans with BB guns.

The Nikon D300 did make an appearance on the last evening for a 30 second group shot:

Film and Digital (part 1)

Though I shoot digital pretty much 100% of the time professionally, I do shoot a little bit of film every now and again. Last year I brought along my Mamiya 645AFD to a few interior shoots and when I had the time, I snapped a few frames of Kodak Portra 160NC to compare with the Nikon D3x. Below is a bedroom scene shot with both cameras:

Obviously there are differences in the two images as this was a casual "test."... The cameras were not in the same spot and there was a little difference in focal length so the compositions are not exact. I tried to get the color and exposure to match pretty good but again, this is not exact science.

The film image was scanned using an Epson V700 flatbed scanner and the resulting file was roughly 60 megapixels. I cropped and down-rezzed the film image to match the aspect ratio and resolution (roughly 22 megapixels) of the D3x digital file. Here are some 100% crops:

Some more thoughts:

The focus point was not identical in these two images and frankly, I think I missed the focus by just a hair on the film image. I was using a manual focus only lens and the Mamiya 645AFD has one of the worst viewfinders for manual focusing (small and dark). So I was pretty much guessing. Whereas the Nikon has liveview focusing where you can zoom in to 100% on the image and focus at the pixel level. You can really see the difference in the detail in the second set of 100% crops.

It is pretty remarkable how "clean" the digital image is. There is no noise or grain whatsoever. That said, I think the film image looks pretty darn good considering that is was not well taken care of and scanned on a relatively inexpensive flatbed scanner. For some subjects, the grain of the film adds a certain patina and acuity that is quite pleasing to the eye.

And for the record, I did try another test where I uprezzed the D3x file to 60 megapixels to match the film file and was very impressed with the quality of the D3x file. It looked the same as the original 24 megapixel file.

I sold my Mamiya last year but have been keeping my eye on a few Mamiya RZ67's and might pick one up. The RZ shoots a larger 6x7 negative as opposed to the 645AFD's 6x4.5 negative. And for interiors, I find myself cropping to a more square aspect ratio quite often these days.

The Photographer's Ephemeris

The Photographer's Ephemeris is a fantastic little application that provides a wealth of useful data for photographers about the sun and moon.

Simply enter your location and the program gives you a ton of information including sunrise, sunset, moonrise, moon phases, and when and where it's all going to happen relative to your location and time of day. As an architectural photographer, knowing where the sun is going to be at any given time of day is extremely important.

The application uses Google Maps so a precise location can be pinpointed and the whole thing is very easy to understand and visually oriented so that you don't have to be an astronomer to figure out what's going on (good for us photographers!).

Word is that there's an iPhone App coming soon...

Wranglers are my next pair of jeans

It's that time of year when the internet is abuzz with rumors and hype about the latest and greatest cameras soon to be released. Megapixels, ISO, file formats, anti aliasing filters, sensor sizes, micro contrast et cetera et cetera. It's easy to get caught up in all the gadgetry and technical crap and forget what the whole point is.

Great Imagery. Creativity. Images that make people go "Wow!". I have been impressed with Wrangler's recent ad campaigns. It was pretty ballsy of them to hire Ryan McGinley to shoot their "We Are Animals" print campaign.

And then I saw the website for their Blue Bell Spring/Summer 2010 Collection.

Totally Awesome. I'm showing my support of creative advertising by buying a pair of Wrangler jeans. I also try and order Dos Equis whenever I'm in a Mexican restaurant. ;-)

The Pogoplug

Wow! It's like a network attached storage device for the rest of us....

All you do is connect this thing to your internet router, plug in a usb drive and you can now access that drive over the internet anywhere in the world or over your home network at LAN speeds. You can upload, download and share files from any computer, even your iphone. And it's only $129 with no monthly fees.

I think I'm gonna have to get one here!

New Hard Drive Set-Up

Last week (on my birthday no less) one of my primary image storage hard drives conked out on me. It was working fine and then all of a sudden it started making this excruciatingly high pitched whining noise which slowly got deeper and deeper until it sounded like someone had put sand inside the drive. Of course, I was in the middle of working on some images and it had been a few hours since I had done a manual back-up of the edits.

I removed the drive from the Mac Pro, attached a drive tray to it and slid it in to my external backup enclosure hoping that I could get it to mount long enough to pull the edited images off of it. Luckily, this worked and despite the awful noise I was able to pull the edited images off and on to two back-up drives.

This was my first real failure of a hard drive since I have been a professional photographer and has caused me to revisit my current image back-up and archiving workflow. Currently, my back-up routine is pretty much the same as these guys just on a smaller scale. All images are manually mirrored to two identical drives in an external enclosure. I keep track of what is on the drives using a simpletext file and I can easily search for a shoot by date, client or subject. I really like this system because it is simple, inexpensive and low-tech.

Last year, I consulted with Mac Guru Lloyd Chambers and we figured out some simple and relatively cheap changes that would add some performance and beef up my redundancy. So last week I ordered a box of new hard drives and moved some things around:

* My main system/boot drive is now in an external firewire drive. This frees up all four internal drive bays on the Mac Pro to be used for data storage. The computer boots and applications start surprisingly fast even with the slower firewire connection. * Two 1 terabyte enterprise class drives are joined together in to a fast RAID 0 "master" volume. Striping the disks in to one volume creates a 2 terabyte volume and really speeds up the transfer speeds. This volume is about three times as fast as my single drives. The disadvantage to a RAID 0 stripe is that if one of the two drives fails, the whole volume fails. Soooo..... * I made another RAID 0 "master backup" volume from two more 1 terabyte drives that mirrors the "master" volume. * There is a small 64gb partition on the "master" volume dedicated to Photoshop scratch use.

So now I have really fast access to all my shoots for the year which can be kept live on my Mac Pro, instead of off line on other drives. I still use the external enclosure to run multiple rotating back-ups both for on-site and off-site storage.

If you've got a Mac and want to know how to optimize it for fast photo processing performance, there is only one place to look:

Lloyd Chambers' Mac Performance Guide