Sunday, June 3, 2012

amazing nikon d4 photography - with some added digressions

Before we get to the juicy stuff, the Nikon D4 juicy stuff, the camera that has been continuing to amaze me stuff, the gear that knocks my socks off day after day stuff, I, as usual, want to share some thoughts.

As humanity is seeming to, one by one, succumb to flesh eating zombies (or bad acid trips), country after country, city after city, I on the other hand have managed to keep my head on tight and focus on a few awesome shoots lined up over the next couple of months.

First and already in progress, is the All Hallow's Eve BTS shooting that I've dove into feet first. Working with television producer and filmmaker, Karol Escobar, has been quite amazing. We have about 18 more weeks to go on the project. Lots of hard work but well worth it.

Next, is my opportunity to work with, for a second time, Sweden based choreographer, Mike Gamble. I was able to shoot him this past new year's eve, in a very urban/industrial environment. On June 16th, we will be shooting indoors, possibly a dance studio, capturing Mikey at his pure and raw best-at-what-he-does. I have a million ideas spinning around my head for this one. Hint, black and white, clean and contrasty.

Another shoot that I've been super pumped to get the ball rolling on is that with Mikey Douthwaite. I've mentioned this one before. Mikey will be spending the day, from dawn until dusk, jumping from a helicopter, with yours truly along for the ride, capturing every second of the action. I can only think right now that I need some ball bungees to strap a few strobes in the fuselage of the chopper. The booking of the bird should be any day now. Any day.

Finally, and down a road less traveled, I have a couple artistic nudes lined up. I have to say at first I was a bit apprehensive about the projects but as the storyboards begin to materialize, I have shifted gears and gone to a better mindset. The word in mind? Epic. I think I should be able to rock them both. The first, without sharing my top secret plans, will be nature oriented. Think mud and reptilian. The second, which I was unsure of at first but after some investigation, I was able to pull out something that blew my mind.

The model and I had played phone tag for a bit, each of us returning the other's call, able only to get the other's voicemail. As technology goes these days, we were able to more readily contact each other via email and text messaging. The model and I had exchanged numbers about two weeks ago. She mentioned that she wanted me to shoot her. The conversation hadn't gone further than that. When we began texting, I had to dig deeper. I wanted a little more info of how she would like to be shot. After asking, "What exactly are you looking for?," she replied:

"Musky light. Wine and cigarettes. In my home. Artistic. Subtle. Nude. Tasteful. Muffled. Honest. Nan Goldin meets Daido Moriyama. Nothing glamorous, contrived or typical. Nothing beautiful even."

I have to say that these words floored me. It was perfect. I had to read it a second time until the statement really hit home. Some may see those word choices ass a bit off kilter but I knew exactly what she meant. Again, my only way to describe how I hope this shoot turns out, epic.

The Church
As I survive the zombie apocalypse another minute (the CDC actually has a protocol for such situations but the page seems to be currently temporarily unavailable), I will continue the post, hoping my wife, in the other room, isn't getting the craving for my flesh. Oddly, she was picking at my peeling sunburn and stating that tossing that dead skin would be a way to chum for zombies. Hmmm. 

The photograph of the church herein is the Gloria Dei (Old Swede's) Episcopalian church. It was built in the later 1600's and is, I think, the oldest church in Pennsylvania. Funny thing about this historic landmark in the City of Brotherly Love. I had absolutely no idea that it even existed. Furthermore, I grew up probably less than two miles from the building. Even crazier, I played ice hockey, less than 1000 yards from the church, at Rizzo Rink at Front and Washington. It's mind blowing that it is so common of people who live in certain cities to know so little of the history that surrounds them. Funny, when tourists come to the Olde City section of Philadelphia, they usually are very aware of where each important building is and the importance of that building for the development of the United States as a nation. Ask me about Olde City and I could tell you only where the best restaurants and pubs are located. Sad but true and all too common among those who spend their lives in large cities. 

I digress.

Although I cannot disclose, at the moment, why I found myself at this landmark, I can share my experience with you. 

The day was hot, and I mean hot. Not even officially summer yet and the afternoon was creeping into the 90's. If it wasn't, it sure did feel like it. My big ass is not totally acclimated for the hot days as of yet. A shock to the system if you will. Before leaving the house that morning, I had planned on bringing the D4, in her new home, inside of my new large Tenba Shootout backpack. Living in the awesome, big, solid, waterproof, utilitarian, bag is my new baby, the Nikon D4, a few speedlights, Pocketwizards (I <3 Pocketwizard), the new lineup of Nikkor lenses, Husky clamps, wiring, odds, ends and a backup body. The Tenba allowed me to finally combine a couple of my other bags. I typically had this same equipment spread across two other backpacks. The Tenba wasn't cheap but upon arrival, could immediately see and feel the superior build construction. 

Along with the Nikon D4 and the gear bag, I was planning on leaving behind the Calumet bag, containing the mods and light stands. Rather, I was going to pull one large umbrella and one stand and strap it to the tripod support section of the large Tenba bag. Before doing all of this I was already un-preparing myself for the temperatures that lied ahead. I was so confused, not wanting to lug all the gear around. I was wondering how I could pull this off, shooting outdoors, with minimal equipment? I decided to go for au naturale. I thought to myself that the new D4 dynamic range was far superior to anything I've used in the past and that even in harsh lighting situations, I would be able to pull detail from the entire histogram range. I made the final decision to leave everything behind, except the Nikon D4 coupled with the Nikon 24-70 f/2.8 nano coated lens. Besides being a super sickly awesome piece of glass, this lens would give me full versatility in one package.

I headed out the door, stripped down of my usual arsenal of equipment. It felt kind of funny. Scary too, as what if I really needed a speedlight or two or three? I'd be S.O.L.

Upon arrival in South Philly, my old stomping grounds, I entered the Gloria Dei church grounds. It was like taking a step back in time. Tombstones that were hundreds of years old surrounded the old brick structure. Cobblestones led the way throughout the cemetery and towards the church entrance.

I wanted to capture a bit of the grounds including the landscaping while emphasizing the church. The lighting conditions were less than optimal. It was nearing 3:00 p.m. and the sun was still pretty high, the sky was bright and clear, a formula for photographic disaster. This is light that most people would think is great for photographs. Seasoned shooters tend to avoid this scenario by either shooting at different hours or using strobes or ND filters to kill the awful ambient. Packing light, I had neither option. I had to improvise with the hand I was dealt. This was going to put the D4 to the test.

I dialed in my settings to get a proper exposure. I went with a shutter of 1/2000, an aperture wide open at f/2.8 and ISO 100. I was using a focal length of 24mm, allowing me to capture the whole scene. The resulting image was nothing less than spectacular. I was amazed that the D4 was able to capture detail in clouds that my eyes couldn't even see. To the human eye, it seemed like there wasn't a cloud in the sky. Apparently, due to my eye adjustment, I couldn't see what was really there. Phenomenal.

Still, although the capture was compositionally correct, abiding by all photography rules, I felt that it was missing the "feel" that I wanted to portray in the photo. This is something that I typically do using off camera light but on this day, did not have that security blanket. I had to work with what I had. Instead of creative lighting, I decided that I could what I needed in the digital darkroom.

Back at the workstation, I uploaded the files from the super fast 16G Sony XQD card via the Sony XQD card reader. To upload the files, I use the new Nikon Transfer 2 software. I typically just use Adobe Bridge for all file handling but for the upload portion of my workflow I can no longer use Bridge. You see, I made a boo boo on fine afternoon. In the back end of the software, I accidentally removed that key part of the program. I was trying to be my own IT guy, as I usually am with a (almost) perfect track record, working on a bug that was occurring when I was trying to upload some images one day. Needless to say, I now use Nikon Transfer 2 for that portion of workflow. No biggie, I have it configured to automatically open once a card or camera is recognized. I then choose where I want the files to go and all that good stuff. Finally, once the files are uploaded, the application automatically quits and Bridge automatically opens. Seamless so far.

Reviewing the files, I began to drool. I am amazed time after time, at the quality of images that the Nikon D4 produces. I chose the winner, the one you see here today, and began working the crap out of that file, pushing it to the limits, thinking to myself, "let's see what you really got baby." In the Adobe RAW editor, where I do the bulk of my edits these days, I did my usual tweaks, white balance, exposure, clarity, contrast, etc.

Once satisfied, I jumped over the the sharpening section. This is an area that I have matured at an exponential level. I used to hit the sharpening pretty hard, adjusting in RAW and a thousand different ways in Photoshop. These days, I simply add a bump in the RAW editor and call it quits. Life changing. Less is better my friends. I also used to tweak the noise reduction pretty hard as well. Those days are also long gone. For the most part, I leave the noise level as is. Especially shooting the D4, which performs fantastically at high ISO levels. Even if there is visible noise, it is very film like and quite acceptable.

Now that the image is looking sweet, I now add the needed emotion that I want the viewer to "feel" when looking at the photograph. A bright and happy photo with clear blue skies was not the happiness that I thought would be appropriate for the scene. I needed to make it a bit darker, creepier, eerier if you will.

The first step I took towards this product was to add some vignette. I used to do this over in Photoshop but the look was far from natural. In RAW, the editor does a fantastic job of adding a nice vignette and giving the user the option to adjust perfectly to their liking. Adding this, and pretty heavy, darkened the sky and foreground just enough that it actually pulled more detail out of the sky and added the perfect emotion to the grounds, leading your eye to center frame, emphasizing the main subject.

After finishing up in the RAW editor, I opened the file to Photoshop to get some more effect in. At this point the image was still too happy and bright, loaded with bright colors, exactly what I did not want in the final image. Without hesitation, I opened the Nik Silver Efex Pro plugin, adding a custom black and white layer to the background layer. In there I chose the basic black and white preset and then tweaked the sliders to my taste. I bumped the contrast and structure adjustments just a bit. I then took down the brightness ever so slightly. Once complete I closed the plugin and worked on that layer. Rather than leave as is, I decided to bring back the color, ever so slightly. To do this, I simply dropped the opacity of that layer to approximately (I forget the exact amount) 80%. The result is the desaturated photo that you see above.

I felt that it still needed a tiny more "pop," for a lack of a better word. To achieve that I opened the Nik Color Efex Pro and worked a tonal contrast adjustment. In the plugin, I usually lay that on pretty heavy, dialing it down on with the adjustment layer. This particular image, I dropped the opacity of that layer to about 7%. The change probably not noticeable to others but as you become one with your processing, you will notice the slightest change. 7% was barely anything but just enough to make the difference that I was looking for. Again, less is more.

After saving the file and leaving the digital darkroom I went over to my new love, the D4 and wiped her down with a microfiber cloth, as she was still wet from my sweaty greasy face smashed up against the back of the body. I then gently placed her back in her home with the rest of the new family, in their large Tenba home.

Lock your doors people, the zombies on LSD are everywhere!

Until next time...