Today I share an awesome conversation with the incredibly talented Markus Hofstätter, a Wet Plate Collodion photographer from Austria. Markus’ work is incredible in itself, and we’ll look at some of his stunning portraits later, but before that, we talk about his United Art Gallery project, which I’m proud to have also participated in.
As this is an interview, I don’t have our normal manuscript to share with you, but here are the bullet point notes that I wrote to give our chat some structure so that you can see what we talked about. More importantly, I’ll follow with a gallery of each of the images, mostly photographs, and one stunning painting, and I’ll also include some of the notes from the artists that Markus also provided. I’d like to thank Markus for his work pulling this together, but also I’d like to thank each of the artists, including Markus, for sharing their work with us in this way. I feel richer for having seen these images and reading the artists’ stories, and I hope you will too. First, here are the bullet points.
Tell us about yourself, and how you got into photography?
How did that lead to you starting to make wet plate collodion images?
Tell us how you came about the idea for the United Art Gallery?
Shortly we’re going to look at a selection of images, mainly from the Coronavirus Art gallery, but your Justice for All gallery is also very powerful and close to my heart. Please tell us a little about this as well…
Let’s walk through the images that I selected to talk about, and tell us a little about each image…
Description: My husband is obsessed with fitness and before COVID 19 he used to go to the gym several times a week before going to work. Here it is in a homemade gym doing his workout. The cat was interested too…
Description: 16″x20″ acrylic on canvas, painted during qurantine.
Nayana LaFond is an immunosuppressed artist currently quarantined and working in a home studio in Massachusetts about an hour outside of Boston. Nayana is a leukemia survivor and bone marrow transplant recipient with many underlying health conditions which put her at a very high risk of both contracting Covid19 and dieing from it. She has been producing work about her experiences as a patient for many years. When Covid19 happened her work began to reflect her feelings of being vulnerable during this time and gratitude toward those risking their own lives to help others. Nayana was supposed to be in NYC for art-related business when this pandemic struck that region. She is currently self quarantined in her home in Massachusetts which is a hotbed for the pandemic at the moment. She has produced over 25 works of art thus far during her quarantine and has been doing every piece over a live stream on Facebook and Instagram. Livestreaming the paintings as they are made has been a way to connect with other humans. People find her live stream painting videos soothing and a needed respite.
In Markus’ interview with Nayana, he was told that she came from analog black and white photography and that’s how she treats her paintings like the photography teacher told her – you have to have all tones from the whites white do the darker black in your image.
Description: Wet plate collodion photography made in late April. From a series about psychic distress called “Maussaderies”. It seems it fits perfectly with our actual quarantine, even if it wasn’t the first goal.
And here are the portraits of Markus’ that we discuss, along with some of the supporting photographs that Markus shared with us.
13x18cm Collodion Wetplate – Shot with a Dallmeyer 2b Petzval Lens (220mm F3)
Gabriel Baharlia is a well-known portrait photographer in Israel who worked before with Helmut Newton
This Portrait was shown at the Menschenbilder Exhibition (Humans pictures exhibition) in Austria
Won theNations Award at the World Photographic Cup
And was on the title Page of the international Silvergrain Classics Magazine
13x18cm collodion wetplate shot with my Dallmeyer 2b (220mm F3)
This is a very unusual collodion wet plate portrait.
It is very tough to get honest/real emotions like that captured in combination with that shallow depth of field.
I was prepared and did it and there is a nice story behind it 🙂
This image was selected for the Menschenbilder Exhibition in Austria – Paul loved it
This is one of 5 30x40cm stereo Ultra Large Format Wetplates.
I worked for 6 months on the modification of my camera.
To find two historical Petzval lenses that focus closely on the same spot took some time.
Also setting up the camera for a shoot takes a very long time. If I remember right, it took me 6 to 7 hours for two plates.
There were several articles about my work and the images will be exhibited in a stereo congress in the Czech Republic 2021
Today we’re going to pitch the old Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM lens against the new Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM lens, to see if it’s worth trading in the old lens for some shiny new glass, even with one-third of a stop smaller aperture. I also hope that this will give you an idea of the quality of the new lens, regardless of how it compares to the old lens.
The angle I’ve taken for this review is that an L lens from Canon lens being tack-sharp when stopped down to say f/5.6 or f/8 is pretty much a given these days, and therefore not really worth spending much time on. Conversely, the beauty of Canon’s wide aperture lenses is that you can shoot with them wide open and still expect great results. However, the depth of field that you get with these lenses at f/1.4 is incredibly shallow, and so my test shots are mostly wide open, both to show you how they perform, but also to show you what you can expect in terms of depth of field should you shoot with them wide open.
A Bit of Background
To give you a bit of background on my use of the 85mm Mark II lens, I bought mine back in 2007, one year after it was released, and have used it on and off ever since. I must admit, there have been long periods when I simply didn’t use it, mostly because much of the work I’ve been doing has been overseas, and for many years my kit was so heavy that it really wasn’t possible to take any more lenses, so it stayed at home. I actually have a rule that if I don’t use a piece of gear for more than a year, I sell it, and have over the last eleven years sold many lenses and old bodies as I’ve upgraded to new versions or bought new kit. But, despite not using the old 85mm f/1.2 lens, I could never bring myself to sell it. It was just that good.
It wasn’t perfect mind; for example, the autofocus was incredibly slow. Probably the slowest autofocus on any lens I’ve ever used. Not quite as big a deal, but when I heard that Canon was going to release an updated 85mm lens, I was happy to note that it had Image Stabilization. I can’t recall now if I had any information on autofocus speed improvements, but at this point in time, I couldn’t imagine Canon releasing a lens without really snappy autofocus, so I ordered a copy of the 85mm f/1.4 lens as soon as it was announced last year.
You might wonder why I bought another 85mm lens when I wasn’t using my old one very much, but the main reason is that this is a great focal length for portraiture, and I do most of that these days on my tours overseas, and quite often in dark places, such as down a well or in a dark adobe building in Morocco last year, or of the Himba people in their huts in Namibia, and even though I might stop the lens down a little bit for greater depth of field, you can simply see more through a wide aperture lens, and of course, it is nice to be able to open the aperture up a little when necessary too.
The other big factor is that the weight of the gear that I’m traveling with is less now than it has ever been. I’ve replaced a number of lenses with fewer lenses, and they are pretty much all smaller and lighter, meaning that I can do most of my overseas travel now with an 18L backpack, and even that has plenty of room for an extra lens, which is why and how I was able to pack the new 85mm lens for my recent Namibia tour.
Another very important factor for me is that the 85mm f/1.2 lens is not weatherproof. Many people think that all L lenses are weatherproof, but that’s not the case. The new 85mm f/1.4 lens, however, is weatherproof. I wouldn’t like to take a lens like this to Africa, be it Namibia or Morocco, without weatherproofing, as the dust and sand get just about everywhere. I’m careful with my gear, but when it comes to getting a shot, I don’t want to be worrying that I might get dust in my lens, or moisture if it’s raining. This, in fact, is the only thing that I dislike about my 5Ds R bodies; they aren’t weatherproof. They have some weather sealing, but it is not like the Canon 1 series bodies that you can literally hose down if necessary.
I am also pleased to report that the Autofocus on the new 85mm f/1.4 lens is incredibly fast. It’s what you’d expect for a prime lens. You don’t even notice any lag when you press the AF button; it just snaps in immediately. This was really nice to see and removes the only frustration that I had with the old 85mm lens. I’m also happy to report that I have not noticed any focusing errors, such as the dynamically shifting back-focus tendencies of the Canon 50mm f/1.2 L lens that I wanted to love, but not with the problems caused by its by-design crappy focusing. There’s none of that happening with the 85mm lenses.
Before we jump in and look at the results of some of my tests, let’s compare a few of the key specifications of the old and new 85mm lenses. Firstly, the original 85mm f/1.2 lens was released in 2006, so it’s twelve years old at the time of writing (July 2018) compared to the new 85mm f/1.4 lens which was released at the end of 2017, so I’ve now owned the new lens for six months. I would have liked to have done this review sooner, but my winter tours had a hold of me, and I didn’t really get a chance to use the new lens until my Namibia tour last month.
Closest Focusing Distance
Another problem that I had with the old 85mm lens was that it’s closest focusing distance was pretty long at 95 cm or 3.2 feet. I was happy to see that the new lens focuses 10 cm closer at 85 cm, or 2.79 feet, but I must admit I’d have really liked to see this brought in a little more. The 10 cm is better than nothing, but when we consider that lenses like my 24-105mm f/4 lens can focus as close as 45 cm or 1.7 feet, almost half, that’s the sort of distances that you get used to. Of course, I’m sure Canon would love to make the minimum focus distance closer too, but I’ll bet it’s the super large apertures that make it physically impossible for them to improve on the current design.
In practical terms, the difference between the minimum focus distance of the old and new 85 mm lenses doesn’t give us the ability to magnify our subject by very much more. Here, in fact (below) is a photo of my old Canon AE-1 camera shot with both lenses at their closest focus distance. The smaller camera is from the old 85mm I measured it as taking up 38% of the frame, compared to the larger semi-transparent camera, from the new 85mm at it’s closest focus distance, which takes up 45% of the frame, so we’re talking about a 7% increase in magnification between the two lenses closest focus distances.
In fact, as we’ll see shortly, the new 85mm actually magnifies the subject slightly more than the 85 mm f/1.2 Mark II did, so not all of this 7% is coming from being able to focus at a closer distance, but let’s look at some more specs first.
As you can see in the next image (below) the new 85mm lens, at 4.1 inches or 105.4 mm, is slightly taller than the old one, at 3.6 inches or 91 mm. But the new lens weighs 75 grams less, at 950 grams, compared to 1,025 grams, or 33.5 ounces compared to 36.2. That’s not a huge difference, and the new lens is still a pretty hefty chunk of metal and glass, but any reduction in weight is welcome as it becomes more and more difficult to fly overseas with our gear.
Another nice advantage of the new lens while we’re comparing their looks, is that the new lens has a much shallower hood, making them in fact almost the same length with the hoods attached, as you can see in this next image (below). The old hood had two buttons to release it and just clipped into place without any twisting, while the new hood has one locking button, but is a twist action.
The lenses have completed redesigned optics of course, with the old 85mm f/1.2 II lens made up of 8 elements in 7 groups, compared to the new lens with 14 elements in 10 groups. Another nice bonus for me at least is that the new lens has a 77mm filter thread, which is the same as my other lenses, and therefore allows me to carry fewer filter variations. The old lens has a 72mm filter thread and is now the only lens that I own with this thread size.
In case you are wondering just how much bigger the lens elements of f/1.2 aperture lens is compared to the f/1.4 model, here is a photo showing them both from the end, and it’s easy to see that the old model is a fair bit wider. If we do the math, literally dividing 85 by 1.2 we find that the old lens had to have at least a 70.8 mm opening for the light to travel through, and for the new one, dividing 85 by 1.4, we get 60.7 mm, so that third of a stop reduction in the aperture saved canon 10.1 mm in the diameter of the lens elements.
According to my tests, I’ve found that the new 85mm is actually a slightly longer focal length than the old f/1.2 Mark II model. I measured the distance between the two sharpest lines of text in this photo of an open book, and found that it was 69.5% the width of the frame in the new 85mm f/1.4 lens, compared to 66.8% of the frame with the old 85mm f/1.2L lens, and both images were shot with the camera on a tripod, not moving at all between the two photographs. That’s a 2.7% magnification in the new lens over the old one.
To see the difference for yourself, click on the images to open them in the lightbox, and then navigate back and forth with your mouse or swiping on a tablet. If the fades transition makes it difficult to tell the difference, feel free to save the images to your desktop and flick back and forth between them on your own computer. Now, although I know that this kind of variance in the spec of our gear annoys some people, personally, I don’t really care about such small variances, but I wanted to point it out so that you know what you are getting if this is important to you.
0.4 Stops Darker when Wide Open
As you flick back and forth between these two images, you’ll also notice that the new 85mm lens is also approximately 0.4 stops darker and has a stronger vignette than the old lens at the same aperture. I should mention though, that if this vignette bothers you at all, it’s easily removed in post-processing. In Capture One Pro, both lenses have lens profiles available, and if I add 100% Light Falloff correction, the vignette disappears and in fact, the entire image looks very similar to the old 85mm lens images in terms of overall brightness.
Evens Out Stopped Down
I should also mention that the darkness that we see in the f/1.4 lens over the f/1.2 lens is only really noticeable from around f/2 and wider apertures. From f/4 there’s hardly any difference, and from f/5.6 it’s hardly noticeable at all, as you can see in these two images. Grab the vertical bar in the middle of the image and slide if left and right to compare the two images.
I actually shot the photos of the book so that we could take a look at a 100% crop of an image from each of these cameras to see how sharp they are wide open. Because the old lens goes a third of a stop wider than the new 85mm f/1.4 lens, I shot both images at f/1.4 so that we’re comparing apples to apples. You should see a handle over the image that you can slide from side to side to directly compare the images from each lens. Again, the camera was not moved, I just switched the lenses out and focused on the same word.
I can see a slight cyan tint in the text above the sharp area, and a slight magenta tint in the foreground text, on both images. The line that is sharp is definitely sharper in the new 85mm f/1.4 lens image though, despite this being shot completely wide open at f/1.4, and that’s pretty impressive. Also, just to reiterate what I said at the start, you can easily see from this image just how shallow the depth of field is when shooting at f/1.4.
I shot the X-Rite Digital ColorChecker SG card with both lenses as well, and so that we can continue to get an idea of the difference in the lenses wide open, I set both lenses to f/1.4, and as with the previous photos of the open book, I was using a studio strobe to light the target, so the light source was the same for both images. You should be able to see a handle in the middle of the image (on the blog) that you can drag from side to side to check the difference between the two images. I have turned on the Light Falloff correction for these two images too, so that you can see how much difference that makes. You’ll probably be able to tell that the f/1.4 lens is still very slightly darker, but there is no real difference between the color with either lens.
I have cropped the f/1.2 lens shot slightly so that they are approximately the same size, but you will also probably be able to see that there is a bit of barrel distortion in the old lens, and there is actually just a tiny bit of pincushion distortion in the new 85mm f/1.4 lens. So neither lens is perfect, but there’s definitely less pincushion distortion in the new lens than there was barrel distortion in the old one.
Scary Dislodged Lens Elements
One thing that also I’d like to mention before we start to wrap this up, is that when I got home from Namibia, as I unpacked my gear to clean it and put it away, the new 85mm f/1.4 lens was rattling as though it had been given a nasty knock and something had broken inside. I took both the front and back lens caps off and had a look through the lens, and sure enough, it looked as though one of the lens elements had broken free of its housing, and this scared the heck out of me at first.
I take out overseas insurance for my gear before I travel so it wasn’t such a big deal, but it doesn’t feel great to have a piece of gear break. To ensure that it was actually broken, I put the lens onto a camera body, and as I looked through the viewfinder and half-pressed the shutter button, the Image Stabilization kicked in, and I literally watched the dislodged lens element slide back into place. I gave the lens another shake, and it had stopped rattling!
I went online and found that it’s actually not uncommon for Image Stabilization lenses to come l0ose like this, especially after being transported around. And, when I consider how much my camera bag had been bounced around on some of the dirt roads in Namibia, it’s hardly surprising that the IS lens elements had come out of their locked position. I have not sent the lens in for repairs, as I don’t think it needs anything doing now, and in case you were wondering, yes, the test shots that I’ve shared today were all made after this incident, so if there is anything wrong with my lens, I can’t tell.
All in all, I’m very happy with the new 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens from Canon. It’s not one of my workhorse lenses, so it’s certainly a bit of a luxury for me to own, but I can tell you, it was really nice to be able to see through the lens so well inside the dark huts in the Himba Village last month, even though I stopped the lens down to f/4 for this portrait (and f/5 for the one above). The image quality is everything that I’d expect from a modern Canon lens and more. I hope you’ve found this review and comparison useful. If you decide to buy a copy yourself, please use our affiliate links if you buy from our friends at B&H, and that will help to support the Podcast and blog without costing you any more money.
It Worth Upgrading?
If you own the original f/1.2 Mark II lens, and you are wondering whether or not to upgrade, personally, I would. In fact, I did. As usual, this post is not sponsored in any way, and I received nothing from Canon or B&H or anyone else to enable me to create this review or otherwise compensate me for it. I bought the lens with my own money, at the full going price, so I’ve already voted with my dollars (or yen in my case).
I do honestly believe that it’s worth the upgrade, especially if you can get a reasonable part-exchange deal on your old lens. The image quality increase alone makes it a no-brainer for me, but the lighter weight, slight decrease in bulkiness, the weatherproofing and the addition of Image Stabilization are all very nice added bonuses. These things give me the confidence to take this lens anywhere, and hopefully continue to make some beautiful portraits with it.
Today we follow up on the portrait shoot that I did at the end of March, with an episode on how I fulfilled the first print order, including creating various print sizes on roll paper, and we’ll also touch on trimming and decurling the prints, and a little reflection on how incredibly happy this kind of work makes me, and thankfully, the customer.
A month ago, in episode 415, I walked you through a portrait shoot that I did with two families, using a portable studio that I set up at one of their houses. For a few days after the shoot I had a lot of other time critical things that I needed to do, so it took me five days after the shoot to work on their images and sent both families a USB memory stick with their images on.
I used to send portrait images on DVDs, but as I have USB memory sticks made to give my tour and workshop customers, I figured I’d use these this time instead. On a business side of course, although these cost more than a DVD to create, they are of course good marketing if the person that receives them actually uses them in front of other people. We use them on my tours for people to bring images to critique sessions, but of course there’s a bit of subliminal marketing going on there too. 🙂
MBP USB Memory Sticks
I downsize the images to 2560 x 1440 pixels before I give them to the clients. These are for them to browse to select images for print, and to use as their desktop background if they want to, as this is the same resolution as an iMac screen, so they look great on Retina and iPad screens, as well as high resolution Windows machines. At this resolution, they can be printed up to 5×7″ should the customer want to, although I make it known that this is not what they are for.
If you recall from episode 415, I also created a Sepia version of each image, and later a black and white version of each image. Once I have my final selection of images to show the customer, I rename them in Lightroom to assign a sequential three digit number at the start of the filename, which gives them all a uinique number. This means that the number for the color version will be different to the number for the sepia version of the same file.
I also include a small 1440 pixels wide version of all of the images that are watermarked, and let the customer know that they can share these on Facebook etc. That again is good marketing for me, and may lead to additional work from their friends should they like the images.
I also include a print order form in the USB memory stick in Excel format, so the customer can select the size and finish for their prints. They just select the size and finish from a pulldown, and enter the number of their photo, and how many they want, and the spreadsheet fetches the price and multiplies it by the number of images required.
Because I include a certain amount of money for prints in my portraiture packages, I add the amount that they have to spend on prints to the Excel spreadsheet, so they can track how they are doing. Of course, should they be happy to go over, the spreadsheet also calculates any additional payment that they’ll need to make to cover the cost of any additional prints.
Adding to the Long-Tail
This is all really about the business side of the deal of course, and before we move on, I’m sure some of you are wondering why I don’t just give the customer the full sized images and have them print their own and be done with it. That is one way to work of course, but I don’t want my customers to display images that they print themselves, because I want to control the quality.
Plus of course, by building in print sales into the portrait session and enabling the customer to buy more prints at any point after the session, I am increasing my profit from the shoot and adding to my product long-tail. Income that could potentially come in after the initial job is done. I also promise the customer that their images will be available indefinitely, so they can come back to me for prints as long after the shoot as they like.
OK, so my customer has their images, and the first thing that both families did was mail me to let me know how happy they were with the photos. They also mentioned how much they enjoyed the experience. What I provide makes people feel special. Sure, I charge accordingly, but unlike many studio on the high-street here in Japan, where the customers are wheeled in, posed, have a handful of images shot then wheeled out again, with my shoot the we have much more interaction and spend much more time getting them what they want.
We create a pose list before the shoot and then add anything that we think might work as we go along. I talk as I shoot, sometimes making them laugh, and other times getting candid moments that remind them of the day. Because there were two families to shoot during this session, we planned for 2.5 hours, and shot as much as we could in that time. That does not include time to set up the studio of course.
And on that note, the cool thing about taking the studio to the customer is that they get to see how much work setting it all up involves, and that makes them feel happier about the price tag. Of course, they wouldn’t have hired me in the first place if they weren’t happy with that, but I have been told after some shoots that the customer now feels they are even underpaying me, which proves to me that they are happy, and I am happy, because I’m not working for peanuts.
Remember, one of my business mantras is that I never want to work for an amount that doesn’t make me feel happy about doing the job. There may be times when I work for less or provide a service for free, because I want the photos, but that’s fine too. Compensation doesn’t always have to be financial, but you must be happy with your cut, no matter what form that cut comes in.
In this shoot you might remember, I didn’t charge the customers to photograph the kitsuke sessions, which is when the professional kimono fitter came to dress the young girls and two men in the families. I shot that for more than two hours for free, and still provided the families with the images, and I did this because I wanted to. It also gave the customers added value, so it’s a win win situation.
Creating the Prints
Anyway, the customers spend a week or so looking through their images and selecting what they would have me print. In Japan, people generally don’t have enough wall space for large prints, so the order that came through was for four 8 x 10 inch, 21 5 x 7 inch and four 4 x 6 inch prints, all on Pura Smooth, which is a beautiful OBA free fine art matte paper from Breathing Color. Remember, OBAs or Optical Brightening Agents aren’t always bad, but using fine art paper that does not contain them generally increases the longevity of the prints. I actually take an ultraviolet light and shine it onto some paper samples to show the customers that the paper is OBA free. Media that contains OBAs reflects the purple light, and OBA free media does not.
Laying Out Multiple Prints in Lightroom
Let’s talk a little now about how I actually lay out the prints in Lightroom for efficient printing. If you recall that I print with an imagePROGRAF iPF6350 24″ wide roll printer from Canon, it stands to reason that I am not going to be feeding in individual 4 x 6 or 5 x 7 inch sheets of paper. If for no other reason that the printer won’t even handle sheets this small, and you can’t buy this size pre-cut from Breathing Color.
21 5 x 7 inch prints on 17 inch Roll Media
To start my printing process, using the order form from the customer I locate and put all of the images that the customer wants prints of into Lightroom Collections, according to the size required. That means for this order I created three collections, one for the 8 x 10s, one for the 5 x 7s and one for the 4 x 6 prints. The customer wanted two of a particular 5 x 7 inch print, so I created a virtual copy, so that I could easily add both to a single sheet of roll paper that I’d print all the 5 x 7s on.
To lay the prints out I had to create a custom page size. As I would be adding a border, I calculated that it would be best to use 17″ roll media, and layout 3 columns of 7 images to create my 21 prints.
So, in the Print Module in Lightroom, I created my custom page size using the Page Setup button, and for the first batch 21 5 x 7 inch prints, I selected the Single Image / Contact Sheet option, and by specifying 7 rows and 3 columns under Page Grid in the Layout panel I pretty much automatically laid out my 21 prints, as you can see in this screenshot (right – Click on the image to view it large and see the text etc.).
Note too that I wanted to add a 3mm border around each image, as the customer would be framing many of these in small wooden frames that they have, and this helps to drop the prints into the frame without loosing too much of the print behind the matte.
The problem here though, is that Lightroom only gives me the option to specify a Stroke Border in points. Luckily, Wikipedia came to the rescue telling me that one point is 0.3527777778mm, which enabled me to create a conversion with PCalc, a calculator app that I use on my Mac and iPhone, and create a conversion between Points and Millimeters. I now know that 1mm is 2.8346456691 and could calculate that 8.5pt is as close to 3mm as I need it to be for this purpose, so that’s what I used.
Making 21 5 x 7 inch Prints on 17 inch Media
Now, there is one other problem with the Lightroom print module when printing in Contact Sheet mode, with many images in columns and rows like this, and that is that you can not add Lines as cut guides. You can only add Crop Marks, as I have circled in red on the screenshot (above).
This may seem enough, but as you start to trim your images down, you actually cut away the crop marks, leaving nothing to guide your last cut, so you have to put a little nick in one direction before making your third cut on some images.
This isn’t difficult, as long as you keep this in mind, so I don’t find it worth actually going into Photoshop and adding a 3 mm border and stroke line etc. but I did want to mention it as something to watch out for.
Actually, another option is to use the side guide that comes with the Rotary Trimmer that we’ll take a look at shortly. If you just set this to the required depth, you don’t need to worry about loosing this last crop mark either, but the way I work doesn’t always make it easy or necessary to use that method.
Having tweaked the Cell Spacing and Cell Size in Lightroom to ensure that my images would all be exactly 5 x 7 inches, I send the job to the printer, and enjoyed watching all 21 images print out on a 53 inch long piece of 17″ roll media (right). Note that if you’re wondering why I don’t let the paper feed into the paper catcher on the printer, this is because I don’t want anything to touch the face of the prints. It would probably be fine to let smaller prints just drop into that cloth, but I generally catch my prints as they are automatically cut, and lay them straight onto my work table.
This is fine too, because I really do love watching prints come out of the printer like this. This is another reason why I build printing for my customer into my portrait sessions. I just get a huge kick out of printing, and watching these images come out like this, with the smiling faces of the family I photographed is incredibly fulfilling.
I guess that’s MBP Business Mantra number two for today – build your business around doing things that you love doing. Just like only doing jobs that I’m happy with the compensation for. If you are happy with what you are getting paid, and you are doing what you love, your products will reflect that. Your customers can feel the care and quality in what you produce, and that is priceless.
Trimming the Prints
OK, so now that we have our sheet of 5 x 7 inch prints, we need to trim them, which I do with a 36″ wide Saunders Professional M3 Rotary Trimmer (below). I’ve had this about four years now, and although I found the edges it left a little rough to begin with, after a few uses it settled down, maybe helped by the self-sharpening mechanism, and I now find it an invaluable tool.
Because my prints were initially on a 53 inch long sheet, I first trimmed it down into three more manageable sizes, then started to trim down a row at a time until I had just my 21 5 x 7 inch prints. As I said earlier, if you use the Single Image / Contact Sheet printing mode, you have to be careful of the order in which you crop so that you keep your crop marks long enough, or use the side guide for the last cut, so that you get the sizes exactly right.
Saunders Professional Rotary Trimmer 36″
There’d be nothing worse in my mind than holding a stack of prints that were supposed to be the same size, and finding that they are all slightly different. This is (above) actually shows some examples of all three sizes that I was creating for this customer.
Note too that when I’m only quickly trimming one or two images, I sometimes just use a rubber craft cutting mat, a steel rule and a sharp cutter knife. I use a steel rule, as I’ve heard that plastic rules can sometime cause the knife to ride up the edge as you cut, leading the knife blade towards your fingers, which isn’t good, so if you choose this method, do get a steel rule, not plastic.
Printing the Other Sizes
Four 8 x 10 Inch Prints on 17 Inch Media
I’m taking things out of sequence a little to explain all of this in logical order, but to put things into perspective, I actually did all of the printing on one day, and allowed the prints to fully dry overnight before I trimmed them.
Let’s go back now and take a quick look at how I printed my other two sizes. First, here’s the four 8 x 10 inch prints, again on 17″ media (right), because two eights is 16, so it leaves me a half inch either size to trim.
And for the last four 4 x 6 inch prints, I just laid them all out on a single row, because again, 4 x 4 is 16, leaving me just a little bit of leeway for trimming.
As careful as I am with the printing and trimming process, with this many prints to create, something almost always goes wrong. One thing I find with fine art matte media is that quite often, once you have printed the photograph, a flake of the coating on the media can come away, leaving a white spot. Sometimes I can use a pigment ink felt pen to spot this, if it’s a dark area of the photo, but generally it means a reprint.
And although I wear my white cotton gloves when handling the prints, occasionally I’ll scuff one against the other and leave a bit of a line on the surface. The customer would probably never notice, but I know it’s there, so I do a reprint. Also, as carefully as I checked the originals, I found a solitary dust spot on the group photo 8 x 10 inch print that I did, so that had to be done again, along with the 5 x 7, although it was hardly visible on the smaller print.
Anyway, for the reprint layout, I kept my 17″ roll media in the printer, and used the Custom Package option in Lightroom instead of a Contact Sheet. Contact sheets of course can only lay out images of the same size. To create various sized prints, it has to be a Custom Package. One of the good things about a Custom Package is that instead of just the Crop Marks on the corners of the image, we now have the option to change the Cut Guides to Lines, as you can see in this screenshot (below).
Various Sizes with Crop Lines for Reprint
This means that the line extends almost all the way to the edge of the paper, so you can actually trim the edge away a little, ensuring that you get it straight, and then you have a guide to look down on to ensure that it’s perfectly in line with the blade of the Rotary Trimmer.
Now that we have all of our print sizes created, there is an extra step to go through because we printed on roll media. Pretty much all heavy roll media that I’ve worked with curls, especially after it’s cut, because it’s stored rolled up of course, and wants to stay that way. To do this, you can buy over priced Decurlers, or you can make one with the remnants of media left on old rolls that you use up. If you leave a meter or two on the end of a roll you can use that.
Or, as I do, use an old roll of canvas. I actually have a roll that had some defects, and being the amazing company that they are, Breathing Color immediately replaced the roll for me, which means I have one lying around. As we can see in this photo (below) all you have to do roll out the media a way, then lay out your prints so that the curl is facing upwards, and then roll the media up, taking the prints inside. An old roll of canvas is especially useful for this because it’s heavy, and once rolled up with the prints inside, you can just put it aside for a while to decurl them.
You can of course do this before your trim your prints too, and I sometimes do that, but in my experience you still have to do it again once you’ve trimmed your images down, as they start to curl all over again once they’re trimmed down to this size. Also note that sometimes rotating them 90° and curling them sideways, and not directly against their curl, can help to decurl them too.
Laying Out Prints for Decurling
I generally leave the prints rolled against their curl for 12 hours to a full day, before packaging and shipping the prints. They generally still curl again later, but it’s not as bad as it would be if I didn’t do this at all.
One of the beautiful things about working with small prints for a customer, is that it enables me to use my die-cast and embossed folio covers when I send the prints. The addition of a single page with the words Thank You written on it add a nice surprise for the customer when they open the folio of prints.
Here you can see that I also printed one of the images that the family selected on gloss paper, and used that in the window of the folio, so they know exactly what is inside. This is all just added value that makes the entire experience more pleasurable and memorable, hopefully even remarkable for the customer.
That of course is a Seth Godin style “remarkable”, meaning that people feel strongly enough about something to remark upon it to others, and that’s how word of mouth works.
To finish the presentation, we package the folio in bubble wrap to protect it, and put it into a white box, and seal it with pure white tape, that gets scuffed and dusty and messed up in as the courier transports it across Tokyo, but I think they get the idea when it turns up at the customer’s door.
To finish, I’m going to share a photo that the husband of the family sent me on the night that the prints arrived. I just love this photo. We can see the lady of the house surrounded not only by photographs from this session, but I recognize a number of photos from our previous sessions too. Some of the photos that had just arrived are already in frames, on the counter behind her. As much as I like the photos from the shoot itself, this one will probably be the one I’ll come back to and look at the most, because it says it all to me.
Surrounded by Memories New and Old
So, we’ll wrap it up there. I’ve touched on many aspects of my process today, both the craft side and the business side, but wanted to bring this shoot full circle. I’m looking forward to receiving the print order from the second family and fulfilling that, and I just heard that this family is already putting together a second order, which is good to hear. I love creating happy customers.
Craft & Vision PHOTOGRAPH No. 7 Just Released!
Straight after I released this episode, the latest issue of the Craft & Vision PHOTOGRAPH digital magazine was released. This publications just goes from strength to strength, and I’m proud to be a part of it. Check it out here.
Andrew S. Gibson just released his latest Craft & Vision ebook, which is a “Big Book” some 240 pages long, all about making The Natural Portrait. At a time when so much of the information has us scrambling for our flashes, this book is a breath of fresh air, as it’s all about using natural available light.
In our conversation, Andrew gives us a brief run-down of what the book is about, and we then move on to a conversation about how working as a one-man-band while trying to set up lighting can hinder the communication necessary to build a rapport with your model.
We talked a bit about posing and finding light, as well as Andrew’s experiences working with models from Model Mahem.
In The Natural Portrait, Andrew shares some great tips for portrait retouching in Lightroom which led to a section of our conversation about how far you should go when retouching portraits, especially if you want to keep the resulting looking natural.
To finish Andrew gave us 5 tips for the photographer starting to shoot portraits like the ones in his new book. In brief they are:
You don’t need to buy lots of extra gear – an 85mm f/1.8 prime for a full-sized sensor camera or 50mm for a crop factor camera may be all you need
Get your model in the shade!
Shoot at the end of the day
Find a good background – i.e. scout good locations
After a bit of a roller-coaster summer where I found that I had a brain tumor, had some pretty scary surgery and then spent the last four months or so getting my strength back, last Sunday marked my full return to being a working photographer with a location portrait shoot for a family that I have been photographing each year for the last three years.
The worst part of my recovery was the first month after the surgery which was tough at times, but after that I’ve been working full, often long days in my studio and gotten a lot done with my time, so I really don’t feel as though I’ve lost much time at all, but I’ve got to tell you, it was great to get out and do a full shoot again. It wore me out, for sure. I need to do much more regular shooting to really get myself fully back into shape, and I’m heading out to the gym again now, which is great, but still, I think I can safely say that I’m back!
So, today, I’m going to walk you through a few of the things that I bore in mind as I set up for the shoot, and we’ll take a look at some of the resulting images. to help illustrate some of my points.
The main family that hired me for this assignment have just had their kitchen and lounge refurbished, and wanted to celebrate that at the same time as get their family shots for their year end cards, and to document their family each year as their kids grow up. This is the third year that I’ve been asked to photograph them, which is great, because they are a wonderful family to work with.
This year they decided to ask the two sisters on the lady’s side of the family to come to town with their respective families, and their mother was also going to be there too. Also the man of the house’s mother lives nearby, so we wrapped a shoot of grandma with the grand kids into the mix too, so we had a full shot list, and three hours to shoot it all in, with a hard stop at three and a half hours, as they all had to leave for lunch at 1:30pm at the latest.
I use an app called Second Shootr on my iPhone to make a list of the must have shots in a shoot. Once you have got the shot, you just tap the item in the shot list, and it moves to the completed list, so as you work through your shoot in the Not Completed view, your next shot will automatically make it’s way up to the top of the list. I actually prefer to use the To Do section for my shot list, because this also gives me a text field for notes, into which I type the names of family member, so that I can take a sneaky look if I should forget someones name during the shoot. This isn’t so important for people that I’ve shot before, but I’m not good with names, so I like to list new client’s names just in case.
I did the shoot with just my wife as my assistant, and as there was so much to do, I wasn’t able to get loads of behind the scenes footage, but I did get a couple of shots that we can take a look at. In this first shot you can see that I used a Westcott 7′ Octabank to throw light into the kitchen, which was the main location for the shoot. These large doors open up wide enough for the majority of the Octabank to be able to pump light into the room and there was a little space to the left of it for me to stand and shoot.
To light the living room area, which was to be the background for many of the shots, we used a 3×4′ Profoto softbox, again right up against the second window. To maximize the light that entered the room, we removed the bug screen from the right side of the window, and I also used a boom here for two reasons. The first and main reason being that the deck on which we perched the light stand ran out a few inches short of where I would have liked to have the light stand. To get the softbox in the middle of the window I need to be a little bit further to the right, so the boom allowed me to do this. Also, having used the boom like this, we didn’t have the light stand smack in the middle of the route off the deck and out of the gate there.
As we can see in this next photo, there was a third window out on the road side of the room, which we pumped a third Profoto D1 Monolight into, not just to add extra light to the room, but also to stop that window from falling dark, as it would without the extra light here.
More Lights Outside
Finally, in this next shot we see a fourth monolight inside the kitchen, to fill in what would have otherwise been pretty harsh shadows on the side of the faces of people in the kitchen for some of the photos I shot. These second two behind the scenes shots were actually from a little later in the day, as I tested the lights for another family shoot, but it’s very similar to how we started out.
In this next portrait of the three sisters, I’d actually got that fourth monolight closer to the doorway, just to my left. I was literally standing in that little gap to the right of the octabank. If you are wondering why we even used studio lighting for this shoot, we basically needed to overcome the sunlight, which only hits certain parts of this room, even at mid day, and model the light for a more pleasing look.
Three Sisters at Breakfast Counter
The idea is to fill the room with enough light to make it possible to shoot with an aperture of F5.6 at ISO 100, for 1/160 or 1/200 of a second shutter speed. When I needed a slightly deeper depth of field, I went to F8 and changed my ISO to 200, so that I didn’t have to change my lights. I purposefully turned off the Profoto Air Remote that was on the top of my camera to stop my lights from firing and exposed one frame to show you how dark it was in this room without the lights, but there’s not much point in posting it here, as it was almost completely black. There were just a few shapes in the shadow that you can just about see, so pretty much all of this light is coming from my Profoto monolights.
With the large softbox to my right as I shot this, I had some beautiful soft light coming in and hitting the side of the three sisters faces, and the light to my side filling in the shadows just enough to reduce the contrast, but not so much that it destroyed the shadows on their faces, as you can see with the shadows of their noses and cheeks etc.
Profoto Glass Dome for D1 Monolights
Note too that I have the monolight inside the Octabank fitted with a glass dome from Profoto, made for the D1’s, which basically spreads the light out much wider to really fill the Octabank with light, so it really does give me a wide enveloping light source, with very little light falloff at the edges of the front diffuser panel.
Ideally I would have liked the Octabank to be a little bit higher, but with the restriction of having to shoot in through the doorway, it couldn’t be lifted up any more. Later in the day when this did cause a bit of a problem, we poked the Octabank inside a little, and raise it up maybe a foot, but that was about all we could manage. Still, I’m quite pleased with the results here.
As I also mentioned last week, in my review of the ThinkTank Photo Airport Security V2.0 Rolling Camera Bag, I took some wide angle lenses to this shoot, as we’d hoped to try and get some wide environmental portraits of the three sisters in their kimonos in the newly refurbished kitchen. First, here is one of the resulting shots (left) at 16mm, which is has so much distortion that it’s really not a flattering image at all. To overcome that to a degree, I grabbed my 24-70mm lens, and shot three vertical images, which I later stitched together in Photoshop.
Heavily Distorted 16mm Shot
Three Shot Pano
Of course, this now has barrel distortion, because I panned around from the same point, as I couldn’t really move across the scene here, but the faces in the shot are much more flattering in this version. Neither are really very good, but we tried at least. Luckily this was not on the must have shot list. That was covered by the image we looked at before these.
Once we’d bagged a nice shot or two of the three sisters in the kitchen, the plan was to have their mother join the group. We moved the sister who’s house it was around to the inside of the counter, and had the Mom sit between the two younger sisters, and I asked if they had a magazine or something for them all to look at together. The big sister grabbed one of her photo albums, which got them all in stitches looking at old school photos etc. as we can see here.
Three Sisters and Mom
I really like this shot. The three sisters with their Mom in the middle, and they’re all having a great time. Of course, they would almost never all be in kimonos like this, but that’s what makes it so special. It’s as though they are all together for a special occasion, and reminiscing over something, which in many ways, they were.
Three Sisters on the Deck
Before the ladies changed out of their kimonos, we had an idea for one last shot, which we see here (right).
We were able to go up onto the balcony of the house next door to shoot down onto the wooden deck that they’ve also just had built. We pulled the bug blind across to darken down the kitchen and and focus our attention on the sisters in their kimonos.
This was lit with just the Octabank, and we do have a problem in that the sky behind me looking down in very bright, with the sun just hidden behind the balcony I was standing on, but still causing the sisters to squint a little as they looked up. I was also shooting between two slats above the deck, which is why we get a slightly forced rotation, but I still quite like this shot. It was probably the best of this batch from the deck, though we got a few nice head and shoulder shots too.
It’s important to plan the flow of the shoot to make the most of the time that your client’s are paying for, so while the ladies changed out of their kimonos for some casual clothes shots, we grabbed the octabank and 3×4′ softbox to go to the man of the houses mother’s house, where we shot her with the grand kids for his Mom’s year end cards. We got the standard shots to feed the shot list, but personally, this next image is my favorite from this location.
With the Grandkids
The young guy here is remarkably relaxed here, for him, and I captured a tender moment for the family. None of their eyes are visible in the shot, but that isn’t always necessary in my opinion. This just works on a number of levels.
Again, the main light here is the Westcott Octabank pushed up against the outside window, and the 3×4′ Profoto softbox is in the room to camera right, to fill in the shadows a little, but not too much. I was also conscious here to ensure that Grandpa, who’s unfortunately no longer with us, was able to be in this family shot via his photograph in the back there.
Having used the time well, we went back to the main house and had more sessions with the sister’s families. I’m not going to include shots from each session, but here are a few more to finish with. For example, here’s a nice normal portrait of the main family…
That was actually one of the last shots that we got though, after bribing the boy with a Macdonalds or something. Up to that point, the son had other ideas. He’d actually brought a wooden sword to the shoot, and spend most of the time pretending to be a samurai…
Which earned him a bit of friendly frustration from Dad, as we can see here.
End of the Road
After this session, we did a few more shots back out of the deck, as the families wanted some photographs with the garden in the background. Here’s one of the youngest sister with her new husband, shot with the 50mm F1.2L lens.
There are some hotspots in the background where the sun is catching the trees, and I’m not fond of the drainage pipes that form shapes on the wall to the right, but we got what we were asked to do here, and the clients are happy with the results. I was happy to get some nice natural expressions too.
To finish up, we shot the three sisters out on the deck together, for this last shot.
I’m actually breaking a whole bunch of rules here, because I actually have these three ladies standing directly in front of the softbox, and that’s the only light, so you’d think we’d have really flat light, but I actually split the light into two, by standing directly in front of it myself. If you click on the image to show it full sized on my blog, you can make out a horseshoe shaped catch-light in their eyes, which is basically me standing in front of the huge Octabank. Because I did this, we still got some nice shadows and definition in the faces, and I of course had balanced the exposure so that the ambient light in the background was just overexposing where the sun hit some of the foliage, so there was also more natural light hitting the subjects too. All in all I think it turned out quite well.
This family had booked me with my Gold Package, which basically includes a two hour session which we extended for the additional subjects, and it also contains a bunch of prints that I’m going to start working on as each family decides which of their respective photos they want me to print for them.
I don’t just give my clients a DVD with all of the full sized images on, as I want to be in control of the quality of any prints made. They each get a Web album with the images numbered, so that they can let me know which they want printed. As including portraits like these in New Year postcards is popular here in Japan, I do provide the clients with a DVD with images resized large enough to be able to print a postcard at 300ppi, and these are also a good size for computer desktop wallpaper etc.
To provide this image data, I also create a DVD that I send to each family. I try to select a nice shot from the shoot to put on the label as you can see here. I’ve blurred out the names for privacy sake, but you can see that these are usually quite a nice memento from the shoot.
I received an email earlier today that these DVDs had arrived and the client is very happy with these and the overall experience. It makes me so happy to be able to help people to create memories like this. Although I love my nature and wildlife work, this side of my business is incredibly fulfilling, and I’m really looking forward to doing more and more now that I’m officially back to taking on assignments again.
How’d the Profoto BatPac Do?
I did also want to update you on the fact that I had two to three monolights working from the Profoto BatPac for the majority of the shoot, and at some points I had all four lights running off of it. I had them all set in battery mode, to purposefully slow down the recharge time, so that they didn’t try to suck too much energy out of the battery after firing, but apart from the odd time when I’d inadvertently take two shots consecutively and making all of the monolights scream as they warned me that they were not yet up to power, the BatPac held up very well.
I shot some 570 frames over the three and a half hours, all of which had a minimum of two monolights on the battery, usually three, and sometimes four, and it just kept going. I think Profoto have purposefully under stated the potential of this battery in their specs. It certainly outperformed them, so I’m very happy with this unit.
Car Loaded – Ready to Go!
How About the Airport Security V2.0 Rolling Camera Bag?
As I said last week, this was also the first assignment on which I used the ThinkTank Photo Airport Security V2.0 Rolling Camera Bag. You can check out the full review of the bag in Episode 309 of the Podcast, but just to close the loop on that, the bag totally lived up to expectations. It’s tough, holds a ton of gear, and although the security measures make it a relatively weighty bag, the fact that you can roll it around makes it really useful for this kind of shoot.
Before we finish, I’d like to say a huge thank you to this family for allowing me to make these memories with you again this year, and for allowing me to share the resulting images here on my blog and Podcast. And of course, thanks to all of you for listening.