Facebook Q & A, June 3, 2012

Tonight, Shirley Roberson asked about the work posted to Facebook and the Public Rotation album in particular :

I really like the ones where the subject is in the back and very sharp and the people or things up front are muted. How do get this look, if I may ask. And do you ask the people for permission or are these candid shots?

I had written up an answer that was going up as a Facebook comment, but it got so long, I decided to move it here for the ability to provide links and edit text.

Answer:   The area in space that is rendered as sharp is called “depth of field” and is often the marker of so-called professional work for a number of reasons and (not exhaustively) these are some good ones: lenses or mechanisms that provide for shallow and/or controllable fields are typically expensive, and the camera sensor/film size must larger than common cameras for it to be distinctly notable, and the thinner and more complex the shape of the plane the more skill is required.

The shape of that area is effectively controlled by three things: the magnification ratio – the ratio of the object in reality to the object as recorded by film/sensor, the aperture of the lens, and the lens position and (focus, tilts, swings, etc.) relative to the film/sensor. Also, you have to realize (as you implied) that what’s important in terms of composing for human perception is the contrast between sharpness and unsharpness. You only begin to see unsharpness once you go below the weakest link in the chain – for example, it doesn’t matter if you have sharpest lens in the world – you won’t see it if you are printing to newspaper (which has very coarse, dithered dots). It’s actually a moderately complicated subject.

As far as permission or candid – that too is complicated. In general, in the US so long as one is in public and a person’s likeness is not used commercially – think in an advertisement, not a sold fine art piece, permission is not needed. Much of my work is wholly surreptitious even though my cameras – which usually weigh at least 4 lbs – are worn openly. Nevertheless, to call it candid is inaccurate. People are generally predictable and actually are controllable. Eye contact, shifting equipment or limbs, changing the angle of your path on the street, and so forth can not just elicit responses, but actually induce people to move to the desired part of the frame for purely compositional reasons, e.g. to control weighting of areas or to present color and luminous contrast to a chosen background.

You might not realize that I need to use manual focus lenses for these techniques and have to have my lens set well before I even get to the time, place, and angle I intend to use… and I usually can’t be looking in the direction of my subject. In short, I usually have 1-6 inches of error, have to predict the future, envision the camera’s perspective from another point in space (and time), and not have the subject (or sometimes anyone) notice what I am doing. The last two mean, that in effect, I work with my eyes closed (sometimes less than effect – I have worked that way). I find that most times people assume – to the point of not asking – that a motor drive is used, that I shoot many frames per second. In fact, to keep the mechanism of my usual digital camera quiet, my 5DII is set to an advance mode where I can release the shutter once every two or three seconds at most – and that maximum doesn’t usually work either, because that begins to give away your interest in the subject. The film cameras typically don’t have motor drives.

That process isn’t magic and can be taught, but it does require time and exercises and I know of no one who has written this down.  (Yet.  Maybe.)  I also don’t know of many “photographers” who would put in the time to develop the ability.  A related concept (minus the surreptitious prediction and manipulation bit) is called blocking, but being a cinematography  concept, usually needs to be explained to still photographers.  (Not that “DP”s are any better.  They suck too.  Except for the ones that don’t.)

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Exposition of intuition

I recently started a list of maxims.  At this point, it’s mostly photography related because, frankly, I was tired of 1) repeating myself and 2)reformulating a simple, memorable presentation of an idea al regel achat.

Also, I’m on my sixth gallery software install since I first put images up on this site some six years ago.  It works ok, but it uses Flash which annoys me and the fallback (primarily) for iOS doesn’t work well, which doesn’t annoy me.  I’ve decided to leave it for now, but I realize the best option to do an HTML5 gallery, probably from scratch or at least with pasted together code.  There’s plenty of nice things (and much overlap with my Facebook fan page, so it can wait.  Weiter.

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So as to stop repeating myself, let me say

I’ve made a few additions to my ever neglected site.

I decided that rough is better than none, so I posted a preliminary write up of the Hasselblad 2000 FCW. Fortunately, I can cut and paste much of that V body’s review into other pages, so hopfully it will speed up the 500 ELX and 500 C(/M) reviews.

Also, I found I tend to repeat the same damn pearls of wisdom in one too many conversations, so I figured I’d make a running list and expand on each one of them in a blog post. I don’t think there is any particular order for them, but we’ll see. It might even get me to write more.

Again, we’ll see.

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Not again… but maybe “never” again?

Really handy tool for cleaning up (another) WordPress base64 injection attack.  It’s not perfect:  I found more junk code, or perhaps the source of my problems, lurking in a directory in my main WordPress directory.  On the other hand, it did a great job of clearing all those damn php junk headers.

This time I have done some hardening of the install beyond new .htaccess files, plus checked my database (but disturbingly didn’t find anything), and added an IDS and some other stuff.  Yeah, should have done that ages ago.  Well, here’s hoping I don’t have to deal with this again… which will require me paying more attention.

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[UPDATED] Spending $15,000 at Adorama? Salesman: you’re “hardly worth it” and your “wife is a bitch.” Behind your back of course.

Update : having a very good exchange with Helen Oster of Adorama which I expected, given her deserved reputation for fast and attentive help. Will continue to provide relevant and continuing facts as best I can. Also wanted to add the following. Original post from 2/21 follows after.

[2/22/12 7pm]

I went back and forth about posting this. I could have written about the things that happened two months ago at that time. But once it went beyond me, I no longer felt “in person” conversations were sufficient. It also occurred to me that I had recommended Jimmy to others, in addition to pro/serious amateur/artist friends who drop serious money there, and I had an obligation to them, especially the first group.

I want to make it clear that I am writing about my experiences as factually as I can – while holding back names of people who have done nothing but be supportive – and on my own feelings. The one thing I won’t do is suggest a course of action for anyone. That includes both Adorama management and customers. While I really would like to recommend certain other salespeople there, I think it’s reckless because I haven’t worked with every person there, and others deserve chances. I wil make those recommendations, as I have in the past – because I do like to help those I think care and provide service – but only on a direct basis and not in “broadcast” form.

I went into the NYC store on 2/21, to mention the post to managerial staff and certain involved parties, to make sure they had a chance to deal with the situation or to object to any facts presented. Of course, they are dealing with the situation and have been in touch with me. I do not know what they are doing at this time; frankly, it’s an internal matter and I won’t offer an opinion. All businesses make missteps with customers, the point is to do right when they are in the wrong. I have a long history shopping at Adorama – some time ago I found a grey card I bought there in 1996 – and in the past, we have managed to solve any problematic issues. I am and remain a fan.

——
[2/21/12 4am]

You know, I spend a lot of money at Adorama.  I can wallpaper a room with my receipts.

Those receipts add up to a car, and not a cheap one.

I spend a good amount of time there and recommend the store to my personal students. With an exception or two, the sales people are nice, if varied in their level of techinical familiarity, and honest given their knowledge and the profit model of consumer electronics.  Unfortunately, this is about an exception.  One they are aware of and not dealing with.

So I write this story regretfully – it was going to be private initally, has been told in confidence to some of my friends, some of the highest-end, most accomplished photographers in the city, some with university teaching positions.  But since the story extends beyond me, since the conduct was observed by others at the store, done brazenly across the sales floor, I suppose there is no issue continuing the public trend.  Moreover, in this economy, captial expenditures are a major choice and a risk.  I think people should know whom they are dealing with, their character, when people make business choices that can make or break them.

One evening [EDIT: 8 Feb 2012, 6pm], a few weeks ago I had an issue with a used item I bought.  Mistakes happen, the rating system is more about cosmetics than function, I know this and life goes on.  I was standing at the used desk, chatting with Andy, who really is one of the nicest, fairest people you will meet.  He loves cameras as objects, as a craft, and has decades of experience to draw upon, and really works to treat people selling their camera equipment in the most honest fashion in the city – and I have dealt with just about everyone.  In any case, I moved on to looking at some used piece.   From across the floor, Jimmy Newmark, my former usual salesman, shouts out to Andy about pricing a Leica M9P and some lens, a $15,000 package.  Nothing unusal about that, except for decorum, perhaps.

Now, for the next five minutes, across the width of the floor, say 25 feet, a three, well, four way conversation is held.  Apparently, the guy was selling some equipment as well.  He was calling from his car and had his wife with him, but she was unhappy with the prices he was getting on his trade-in and was pushing for him to sell privately.  This continues for a bit and the call ends.  From his sales station, he recaps the situation as above, mentioning that he is a rich S-Y (Jewish slang for a Syrian Jew) and that he makes a fortune, real estate I believe it was, and that his wife was a pain.

A few minutes later, the call resumed, and some sort of deal is reached. Or it wasn’t. I stopped paying attention. Call ends.  Jimmy then left his station and came to talk loudly – standing next to me, initially – at Andy and other staff at the used desk.  I say “talking at,” because this wasn’t a conversation, it was a monologue, a rant. In short, he stated that the he’s a big guy, the guy drops $15K every year on a whim, but his wife is such a bitch, it’s not worth the hassle.  Nobody acknowledged him in any way; they just looked at him and walked off when he was done.

And it was a performance for my benefit.

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There oughta be a word

There oughta be a word to describe a word which results in the exact opposite response than it should at first glance. Stripped screws are not as fun as they sound. Actually, one of my least favorite things.

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