The first release candidate for Darktable 3.0 has been released for users to test. The new version represents a major upgrade for the software, which joins RawTherapee in being one of the best open-source applications for photographers.
Among many details that will mostly be of interest to developers, not casual users, the team behind Darktable notes that Darktable 3.0 features ‘a full rework’ of its user interface, making it possible to fully theme the software’s GUI. Multiple themes will be included with Darktable 3.0, including the default Darktable theme alongside darker and lighter variants.
Another major change will be the addition of undo and redo support in lighttable for ratings, metadata, tags, color labels, and more. Beyond that, users can expect a new ‘Culling’ lighttable mode and new timeline view, ‘drastically’ improved performance and usability with 4K and 5K displays, plus support for reordering modules.
Darktable 3.0 likewise brings a new Histogram Profile, multiple changes to Denoise, a new 3D Lut transformations module, an update to the Picasa module that transitions it to Google Photos with support for the latest Google Photo API, a faster and generally improved tagging module, ‘many’ code optimizations for SSE and CPU paths, several new modules for things like ‘RGB Curve’ and ‘RGB Levels,’ plus there are a huge number of tweaks and small additions.
Users can also expect a large number of bug fixes to arrive with Darktable 3.0, which is currently available to download as a release candidate for Linux, macOS and Windows through Github.
Last year, I was invited to attend Adobe MAX and to say I was overwhelmed would be an understatement. You expect a conference and get a summer camp. As someone tasked with summarizing the event it becomes incredibly difficult to do everything available, as there are at least 3 talks going on at any given time. This year, thankfully, I feel much more prepared and as such will attempt to extract only the most relevant information for you while still conveying the true MAX experience, which I think is important to know about as it truly is its own thing.
Around 6:30 in the morning I headed to the Press Room and came upon Tested’sJoey Fameli, who I am a great admirer of, and as he was here for the first time had similar questions like I had last year (“what in the hell do I even cover here?”). It was nice to hear that I wasn’t alone in those feelings, if I’m honest. After a bit of shop talk, we headed over with the group to the massive main hall for the opening Keynote.
The name of the game this year seems to be “Empowering all voices” and “Creativity for all”, with focus on Adobe’s Sensei technology and products designed for folks who may not have experience with or knowledge of professional-level applications. Sensei allows for powerful features like Content-Aware Fill for video, Auto Reframe in Premiere, and cool stuff like a new feature in Illustrator which can analyze a sketch and turn it in to vector paths with the click of a button. Or “select subject” in Photoshop, which intelligently figures out what you intend to select via a rough marquee outline and masks out the rest. This works for “delete background” too, making extraction of assets from photographs take literally seconds. While those are objectively “professional” features, they’re the type of thing that can improve everyone’s life regardless of skill level and make Adobe’s products more accessible. Another Sensei-powered product they announced was “Photoshop Camera” which is an app for your phone that, similarly, analyzes your image and isolates you and your friends from the photo and allows you to throw in cool backgrounds -moving or still- and various elements to spice up your images. It’s a little corny, maybe, but people can submit their own “lenses” and we’ll see how prolific those things become. People use Snapchat filters like crazy so I can’t say there’s no market for it.
Full versions of Photoshop and Illustrator have also been released for the iPad, which is pretty cool, and as such get those selection and extraction features included in their releases. Being able to use a physical pen in those apps is nothing to sneeze at and is easily something that any artist would prefer over mouse input.
Across the board everything in Creative Cloud seems to have been sped up performance-wise, which is another welcome announcement, but overall Adobe seems to be pretty keen on their (what I’ll call) “consumer software” this year, instead of perhaps “pro stuff”. I think last year with the release of Adobe Premiere Rush I perceived a larger focus on video from Adobe via this conference, and this year after talking to previous attendees I’m starting to better understand the Adobe MAX experience. It definitely seems like more of a (as they advertise it, duh on my part) Creativity Conference designed to excite, inspire, and combine creative minds versus a high-level discussion about certain software. How boring would a white paper conference be anyway? At the same time that’s what the lectures and what-not are for at MAX, so it’s not like you can’t find those discussions. I mean, Aaron Draplin is talking about Illustrator at the Microsoft Theater as I write this (and can’t attend sadly, as I have a conflict) so the pros are out here. Last night I attended a screening/Q&A with Tim Miller and team of Terminator Dark Fate*, for instance, so while Adobe does seem to be pushing out a lot more “prosumer” stuff at this specific event, I do think that’s more just the experience of MAX and less a “mission statement” from Adobe. In any case, while MAX doesn’t seem to be video-heavy this year, I’ll endeavor to find the morsels for you.
After the morning Keynote, I stopped by the Puget Systems booth to say hi and it would seem that they’ve started working in a smaller form factor than the one they sent me for my review, which is awesome. They also mentioned having a custom Pelican case to carry it to set with for DITs and the like, which is doubly awesome. Great thinking there. After that, I walked over to Aaron Draplin’s booth to give him some of my money (I got a sweet hat and a key hook) and say hi. I’m a huge fan of his, as I’ve mentioned before, and bought his font to be the official typeface of OWL BOT, so I had to give him one of the recent products I’ve been selling with the label loosely inspired by his work. If you don’t know about Field Notes, get after it. Best notebooks in the game, by far.
DDC hat stowed away, I walked over to my first meeting with Samsung to chat about their new monitors. I previously reviewed the CJ79 and really liked it, but noted that for filmmakers it might be a bit to “in the middle” with its sub-4K resolution and not being a “replacement” for a two monitor setup but more of a supplement. I had suggested that one potentially get a 49″ version, and wouldn’t you know it they had a new one on display: the CRG9049, which gives you the space of two 27″ QHD monitors in a single QLED display with HDR capability as well. It also has a 120hz refresh rate for when you’re trying to out-shoot folks in Rainbow Six. Perhaps more interesting to filmmakers (maybe) was the absolutely bonkers 82″ 8K QLED display monitor strapped to the side of their booth. Dubbed the “QPR”, this thing basically looks more real-life than real life. I couldn’t find a pixel to save my life and from a distance, certain images looked 3D. It even has a processor built-in to intelligently upscale 4K footage to 8K, which was cool to hear. I couldn’t tell you how much that thing costs, nor how you’d really use it in a workflow, but if you’ve got Blur Studios-level money, that might be a sick edit bay TV or something. After that I rushed over to Dell to talk about their monitors, but got immediately derailed by their Precision line of computers on display. If I’m truthful I didn’t know about them, even being the level of nerd that I am, but it’s their pro-level (so to speak) workstation line. Think HP-Z, Puget, Mac Pro, that kind of arena. They had a few laptops, ranging from good to best, and a desktop workstation on display as well. Their desktops are highly customizable with multiple chassis options as well as internals. The name of the game with the Precision line is stability: they’re certified to work with the Adobe suite and are tuned and tested to make sure that your system won’t crash out on you randomly due to some update or what have you. It also comes with a free version of their Dell Precision Tuner which basically allows you to say “hey, I’m going to be working in X-Program now, please tune the computer to do that as efficiently as possible” which is pretty cool. The ~$100 version actually uses machine learning to analyze how you are using said program and tunes it to your specific spec, which I’d love to test out. Resources would be used differently in, say, Premiere between a 1080p and 4K workflow, especially if you are or aren’t using a ton of effects that aren’t (or are) GPU accelerated. For instance. The fact that the Dell can make those adjustments for you is pretty cool. They essentially are calling this the “conservative” line, meaning “I don’t want the headaches that come with bleeding edge tech, I want the newest most stable version of a workstation I can get” which is huge in a studio setting. I know people who are still on CC2017 just because that was “The last version that didn’t crash on our machines” so it’s nice to hear that a company like Dell is taking those folks into consideration and are trying to make super stable, efficient workstations like that. Hopefully I’ll be able to put one of those rigs to the test. On the monitor side, Dell is announcing a sub-$2000 27″ 4K color accurate monitor covering sRGB/P3/Rec2020 (about 98%, 100%, and 80% respectively if I remember correctly), complete with a built-in colorimeter that you can schedule to calibrate while you’re away. Working close with SpectraCAL, they’re hitting a sweet spot that’s emerging in the creative field where you don’t fully need a Flanders monitor, but still want something that gets you most of the way there. Also, kind of fun, the colorimeter is a tiny little popsicle stick looking thing that hides away in the bottom bezel of the monitor when not in use. It will be able to hold two LUTs, so you can A/B color spaces if necessary, and can even take two separate inputs and display them side by side if you like (although that seems to be increasingly common these days). Really cool piece of tech there, and the only monitor with a colorimeter built in which, coupled with the scheduling capability, is honestly a bigger boon than you’d think.
From there I walked around a bit and grabbed some food for the first time, sit down, and write this thing.
After that I headed over to Andrew Kramer‘s talk. After hitting us with the new hotness he spent his time giving back to the crowd that he says allowed him to do what he does today. His talk was largely about ambition tempered with realism and I for one am all about it. Andrew kept his talk pretty broad but from what I gathered his message was largely “Shoot for the moon, but know where to relax”. In other words, you should never phone it in, but with a lot of hard work and experience you’ll come upon times where you will have learned enough to get “close enough”. Like Ernie Gilbert said in my interview with him, “until it looks cool it doesn’t look cool”. Andrew was advocating for learning AE because there’s so many applications where AE can add incredible production value to your film, but let’s not forget that Andrew has given products products to the community like Action Essentials, Element 3D, and the genuinely excellent Nebula 3D (coming soon) which allows for realistic volumetric lighting effects within After Effects with minimal effort. I’ve always wanted to check out Element but Nebula seems far more valuable. At least to me. In any case, a pep-talk from Andrew was just enough to get me out of my chair and in to the tail-end of the evening which largely takes place in the Pavilion with beverages in hand.
After chatting with a handful of new acquaintances like Ted from The Art of Photography and nerding out about my new Fuji XT3 (coming from the Nikon D90 it’s a big upgrade) I sprinted over to the Grammy Museum for the Universal Production Music party, celebrating Universal’s purchase and re-branding of Killer Tracks. I’m still not sure who invited me to it but my name was spelled wrong and it was locked-in so I must assume it’s someone who knew me.
That party was largely unrelated to anything at MAX but Adobe sponsored it and it was a good time, so I figured it was at least worth mentioning. Tomorrow will be a new day, and as I’m staring down the barrel of 4 hours of sleep I’ll just have to promise that I’ll be diligent in finding the film-centric goods for you.
* In regards to Terminator, Tim and his team spoke about how seeing (really sneaking into) Terminator 2 was incredibly formative for them as kids and young filmmakers (for me it was The Matrix) and how being afforded the opportunity to continue Sarah Connor’s story was a blessing. Tim has been working with his crew since Deadpool and before, but this film was a much larger undertaking. Their main goal, truly, was just “to make it not suck”. The past Terminator films weighed on them and they just wanted to make a film that was fun to go see and did right by Sarah, which I’d argue was accomplished on all fronts. If you haven’t seen the film, see it before having an opinion. I’m seeing a lot of talk online, especially with the box office performance, but I’d argue those folks haven’t seen it. If you like a good action film, go see Dark Fate. If you’re a die-hard Terminator fanperson, I can’t tell you how you’ll feel about it because to be perfectly honest I don’t know where we’re at with Terminator lore at this point so I can only judge this film alone and I liked it. In regards to making the film, they spoke about wanting to recreate that feeling of relentless pursuit like T2 without just flat out remaking it, which would be kind of boring (cough TFA cough).
From a technical perspective, Tim and the gang edited Dark Fate on Premiere (surprise) after having used it to edit Deadpool. You can actually get the Project file template and some presets used on that film from Vashi Nedomansky here. In any case, they had a lot of homework for Adobe to take care of before they came back (editing Deadpool 2 on Avid) and apparently Adobe delivered, primarily in the form of much-improved shared project features, an absolute necessity on large projects like this. That build of Premiere, built specifically for the Terminator team, will be pushed to the rest of us via an update here shortly so look forward to that.
There wasn’t anything too remarkable about the teams setup; Mac Pros maxed out, 128TB SSDs, reels broken in to projects, scene bins… 2300 VFX shots… they used Premiere, After Effects, Substance, Mixamo, Red Giant (but I don’t know what product), Zbrush, 3DS Max, Vray, Nuke, Octane, and apparently they’re looking at Katana for lighting in the future. The most surprising thing, honestly, was that Tim has stuck to the Fincherian behavior of meticulously reframing and split-comping everything, so almost every shot had some form of adjustment on it if not just Lumetri or some kind of Camera Shake applied (apparently Tim loves extra shake). Split-comping, in my opinion, is one of the easiest tricks to pull as an editor and the result is well worth the few-second effort, as long as the shot is locked off. Fun fact: literally nothing in Dark Fate is locked off. The other thing the team had to deal with was time; they never had any. They deserve some kind of medal for the work they put in, and if you want any proof just watch the opening scene with Sarah and John (not spoiling anything, really) at the beach bar. That’s not de-aging, that’s just straight-up CGI and it’s flawless. Flawless.
At the end of the Q&A the team had a unified message to filmmakers, and that was to stick with it. You can’t win if you don’t play the game and, at least in Tim’s case, sometimes that takes until you’re 50, but if you quit that’ll never happen. Stay with it, work hard, and don’t lose hope.
If you’re into animation and Dragonframe is the software used, edelkrone has a new accessory to make stop motion animation easier: the Stop Motion Module for the company’s HeadPLUS or HeadPLUS PRO.
The new accessory announced by edelkrone takes animation to a whole new level. In fact, as the company says, “even without Stop Motion Module and Dragonframe software, you can still create amazing animations just by using the edelkrone App. However, if you want to step up your game, we recommend using Dragonframe.”
Dragonframe is the animation software trusted by major motion picture studios and independent filmmakers alike. With its highly acclaimed features and intuitive graphical interface, you can easily program advanced camera moves, animate lighting, and even import and edit multiple audio tracks. The software’s website invites people to begin their stop motion filmmaking journey by trying Dragonframe, which is presented as an animator’s dream come true.
Works with PC and Mac
The 30 day trial will give you an idea of the potential of the tool, which now works with the new accessory from edelkrone. The Stop Motion Module, which costs $89, enables you to control your HeadPLUS or HeadPLUS PRO through any PC (Windows/Linux) or Mac. The HeadPLUS and Dragonframe software integration – for stop motion only – will bring your stop motion animation to life. Just connect HeadPLUS to your computer with the new edelkrone Stop Motion Module and you are all set!
With a durable, CNC machined aluminum body, the module connects to your computer via USB port, and cables and USB Type-C adapter are included. Focus can be adjusted with the knob located on Stop Motion Module, giving you ultra-precise and real-time feedback. (Focus Module for HeadPLUS or HeadPLUS PRO is required.)
Stop motion animation is just a small part of what you can achieve with this system, says edelkrone. The video included on this page shows some of the other things that the SliderPLUS, Slide Module v2 and HeadPLUS can be used for.
Without fanfare or so much as a press release (yet), the Canon EOS Ra camera has officially been released. The specially-designed astrophotography camera is Canon’s first full-frame mirrorless camera “dedicated to deep sky and night sky photography.”
If you’ve been around the block a few times, you’ve no doubt seen one of these special “a” series cameras pop up before—remember the Nikon D810a? And while specialized cameras like this don’t exactly sell like hotcakes, they are extremely compelling for photographers who specialize in photographing deep sky objects like nebulae.
Like the Nikon D810a before it, the Canon EOS Ra features a specially designed IR filter that has been modified to allow four times as much transmission of the 656nm wavelength (hydrogen alpha rays) compared to the regular Canon EOS R cameras. “This allows for a higher transmission of deep red infrared rays emitted by nebulae, without requiring any other specialized optics or accessories,” explains the product description.
Additionally, the EOS Ra allows for 30x magnification in both the EVF and LCD, for precise focus when shooting deep sky imagery.
Other than those two features, the camera is more-or-less identical to its non-“a” sibling. It uses the same 30.3MP full-frame CMOS sensor, the same magnesium alloy camera body, same RF mount, same EVF and LCD resolution, and on and on.
Just don’t plan to purchase this camera if you’re interested in anything else besides deep sky and night sky photography, as the modified IR filter can wreak havoc on your images in some regular shooting scenarios.
Here’s an inspiring 7-minute video by SmugMug Films titled “Imagination Unbound.” It looks into the life, mind, and work of Russian photographer Kristina Makeeva and follows her as she visits Lake Baikal in southern Siberia, Russia.
Makeeva blends fashion and travel photography with “magical realism.” Working at frozen Lake Baikal, the deepest lake in the world, Makeeva uses posing, props, and outfits to add color and life to the icy blue environment.
Here are some photos she captured during the trip:
“Kristina Makeeva dreams with her eyes open. Giving life to her whimsical imagination as a child, she reimagines the sprawling wilds of Siberia as dreamscapes where anything feels possible,” SmugMug says. “Contrasting natural light and settings with surreal subjects and pops of technicolor, Kristina captures what happens when you blur the line between the tangible and intangible, the ethereal and the real, when you stop seeing and start dreaming.”
Universal Production Music and Adobe Inc. have collaborated to build a specialized music application panel designed specifically for Adobe Premiere Pro and Adobe Audition. The new tool will enable users of the Adobe programs to access Universal Production Music’s entire catalog. The panel is a new integrated extension that offers a way to search, play, […]
Irix has announced the 45mm T1.5 Premiere, a mid-range cine prime lens that features a new optical design and minimal distortion.
Inside the lens are 11 elements in 9 groups, including four high-refractive elements, one extra-low dispersion element and one aspherical element. It features a nine-blade aperture diaphragm and has an aperture range from T1.5 to T22.
A size comparison between Irix’s 11mm, 45mm and 150mm Cine lenses.
Like other lenses in Irix’s Cine line, the 45mm T1.5 is constructed of a magnesium-aluminum alloy, has a 95mm outer diameter with a magnetic mount and uses an 86mm internal filter thread. It features minimal focus breathing, standardized 0.8 Pitch Mode Cine Gears and has a support foot for added stability considering the lens measures in at 1.1kg (2.42lbs).
The Irix Cine 45mm T1.5 lens will be available in Canon EF, Sony E, Olympus/Panasonic MFT and Arri PL mounts. No timeframe or price is given for lens, but based on the pricing of other lenses in Irix’s Cine line, it’s likely it will retail for $1,200-1,500.
As content traditionally reserved for public TV or meeting rooms is now increasingly being live streamed, the Minnesota House of Representatives is using AJA’s HELO to stream meeting content to YouTube.
When the House Public Information Services, a non-partisan office of the Minnesota House of Representatives, decided to broadcast select meetings live, not only on PBS and cable, when the House is in session, but also deliver a live stream of every meeting room to YouTube, they were just following what has become a trend: using YouTube and social media to stream meeting content to potential viewers 24/7. AJA’s HELO was the solution used to make it happen.
In fact, looking to enhance the accessibility and quality of each stream, House Public Information Services Engineering Director Michael Simonds recently modernized the agency’s workflow, bringing streaming in house and upgrading image quality from SD to HD. It’s not just a matter of keeping the public apprised of legislative developments, it is also about offering that public the best quality in terms of stream.
“HD is everywhere now, and before using HELO, our feeds were downconverted from 1080i and streamed in SD to our website using a third-party service.That level of quality just wasn’t cutting it anymore, especially for the cost, but fortunately technology like HELO has made it easy and affordable to stream HD content to better cater to audience viewing habits,” shared Simonds.
Support for closed captioning
“With HELO – he continued – , we can live stream high quality content straight to YouTube, so anyone who is interested in meetings or debates on important issues can open up the YouTube app, find the stream they want to view and tune in directly from their computers, phones or other portable devices; it’s improved the viewer experience and saved us a ton on streaming costs.”
HELO’s support for closed captioning was another key consideration in the workflow overhaul, as the office strives to be ADA compliant for the public. Latency also played a large factor in the decision. “HELO’s closed captioning support is huge and a major reason we decided to go with it,” noted Simonds. “The devices have also helped us reduce latency by nearly 90 percent– going from one minute to five seconds; that’s a noticeable improvement and perfect for the kind of talking heads content we’re covering.”
Media hub has 13 HELOs
The Minnesota House of Representatives campus spans multiple committee rooms with production equipment spread throughout the House Chamber and surrounding buildings. The main production facility is based in the state office building across the street from the House Chamber and features two production control rooms.
Since all meetings are considered public, 13 HELOs located in a media hub in the basement of the Minnesota State Capitol, where content is distributed, stream committee room footage 24/7 to allow access to meetings that may not get television coverage. All video typically runs through the media hub and is converted from SDI to fiber for long distance runs, and back to SDI in the main control room. There, it is run through a switcher and graphics system. Audio is distributed back at the House Chamber and submixed down to Simonds’ department. Graphics are then added into the feeds, which are converted back to fiber and transmitted across the street to the Capitol building and back into the media hub. The feeds are then sent across a VLAN to the House IT network, where its Internet connection is used to send the feeds to YouTube.
Other AJA gear used
Simonds concluded, “The HELOs pack a lot of punch for such little devices. Lined up vertically in a rack, their power is impressive, especially given the massive workstations traditionally used to achieve the same end result. They’re also super easy to use; plug them in, turn them on and they do exactly what you want. They just keep working, even when running 24/7– true workhorses.”
In addition to using HELOs for live streaming to YouTube, Simonds’ team uses a host of other AJA gear for delivering content to broadcast to public TV stations; these solutions include FS2s for frame synchronization, and Hi5 Mini-Converters for converting SDI to HDMI for large HDMI monitor walls.
Xiaomi has officially revealed the Xiaomi CC9 Pro, the company’s first full-production smartphone that features Samsung’s crazy 108MP image sensor and a ridiculous penta-camera array on the rear of the phone.
The Xiaomi CC9 Pro is a “penta-camera” smartphone that features six cameras in all (if you include the front-facing sensor). On the back you get:
The main, 108MP wide-angle camera
A 12MP 2x telephoto camera
A 5MP 5x super-telephoto camera
A 20MP ultra-wide camera with a 117° field of view
And a 2MP macro camera with close-focus capability down to 2cm
There’s also a front-facing camera in the teardrop notch, which boasts 32MP of resolution. That brings the total camera count up to six, including not one, but two telephoto cameras and a main sensor whose maximum resolution is a teensy bit higher than the medium format sensor inside the Fujifilm GFX 100, despite being about 1/15th the size.
The star of the show is, of course, that crazy 108MP image sensor that Xiaomi co-developed with Samsung—the Samsung Isocell Bright HMX—which we’ve mentioned on a few separate occasions.
For those of you who need a refresher, the sensor uses a quad-bayer “tetracell” design that, under most circumstances, combines blocks of four pixels into one. You can still “remosaic” 108MP photos given enough light, but the photos produced by this 1/1.33 inch image sensor will usually weigh in at a more low-light friendly 27MP.
But specs are one thing, and performance is quite another, which is why we were pleasantly surprised to see that DxOMark has already tested the CC9 Pro and awarded it an impressive overall score of 121. That puts the sensor in a tie for the #1 spot on the DxOMark charts, and bodes well for all of the other smartphones that promise to use this same image sensor.
From DxOMark’s Conclusion:
By showcasing its 108MP main camera, the Mi CC9 Pro Premium Edition demonstrates that there is definitely a place for ultra-high-resolution sensors in phones. That increased resolution currently comes at the cost of some image artifacts, however, so we can expect to see Xiaomi further enhance image quality by minimizing them in future models.
You can read DxOMark’s full review of the CC9 Pro (Premium Edition) here to see how it compares to the Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ 5G and Huawei Mate 30 Pro in a variety of tests.
The Xiaomi CC9 Pro and Pro Premium Edition will go on sale in China starting tomorrow at approximately $400 for the base model with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. However, chances are we won’t ever see this phone stateside, which is probably why Xiaomi is teasing the Mi Note 10—with its own penta-cam 108MP setup—for a November 6th announcement, calling it “the world’s first 108MP penta camera.”
To learn more about the CC9 Pro, head over to Xiaomi’s website and have your Google Translate ready to go.
The Insider, Michael Mann’s most underrated masterpiece, turns 20 years old today and its powerful story is more timely now than ever.
For a movie that’s largely composed of scenes featuring two people just talking in rooms, The Insider is Michael Mann’s most riveting thriller.
“What got broken here doesn’t go back together.”
What Al Pacino’s Lowell Bergman says to 60 Minutes‘ reporter Mike Wallace (an exceptional Christopher Plummer) after helping tell a Whistleblower’s story to American audiences is, 20 years after its release, as prophetic as it is unsettling.
Premiering in New York this Thursday in a one-time event prior to its free streaming launch the next day is Luigi Campi’s coming-of-age thriller My First Kiss and the People Involved. Starring Bobbi Salvör Menuez, it’s the tale of a quiet, recessive young woman (Menuez) living in a group home who goes on the hunt for her missing caregiver. Said Campi in a Filmmaker interview, “The film’s tension arises when violent events that she can’t fully grasp force her to step out of her safe zone. My first connection was to the main character’s unique way of seeing the world, […]
Commercial photography seems so glamorous and it certainly can be. But I’ve found that a few things were really bothering me over the last several years. Don’t get me wrong: I’m always crazy honored when any client anywhere chooses to hire me to photograph something for them. I realize that a client has hundreds if not thousands of choices when it comes to choosing a photographer. So I’m not bitter, I’m thankful. Always.
I thought it would still be helpful, though, to list out some reasons why commercial photography may not be as glamorous as you’d think and how I found a solution (down below).
So here we go:
1. I have 100% creative control with the public studio portraits. With commercial work, I’m just a small part of the overall creative process. There are LOTS of cooks in the kitchen. Both on the shoot and throughout the rest of the design process as well.
2. On a related note, I love to experiment and explore. I’m an artist. With commercial work, you still are selling a product or person. You still have to make them look good. This ends up ultimately killing a lot of the weird ideas that an artist like me wants to explore and I end up giving them the super flattering (but also boring) light that I know they’re going to want anyways.
3. I own my work! The vast majority of commercial shoots are buyouts, thus meaning I don’t typically own the photos I take. With studio portraits, I enjoy being able to own everything I create.
4. I make the selects! With commercial work, they often select and use my LEAST favorite images from the shoot. Even if I “trim the fat” and take out bad photos, the worst of what’s left over still gets used. It’s just science. Every. Dang. Time. Can I get an amen?
5. It’s intimate. With commercial work and so many people on set, it’s often challenging to connect with my subject and have good conversation. My new shoots are one-on-one. Way better dialogue and easier to connect.
6. I control the final edit. With commercial work, it’s often a new hire or an intern or a collection of people that further edit the photos. Sometimes it works out well, but rarely in my opinion.
7. I can release on my own schedule. As an artist, I enjoy sharing the work when I want and how I want. With commercial work, you often have to wait months and months, sometimes a year or two before the work sees the light of day. By then, I’m over it and no longer excited about the shoot. Oh yeah, and remember, they picked the worst photo.
8. I get paid 100% up front. No more waiting 60 to 90 days to get paid!
9. I don’t have to travel. I’m a husband and father of 4. Now I get to see them every day. The travel of commercial work can certainly be a blast. I loved it in my 20s and 30s. But for those of us who have kids, it can become super challenging to properly balance a family life if you’re never home.
10. I don’t have to set up and tear down. I get to leave my gear up every day in my studio. Think about it. Sleep on it. Refine it. Improve it. With location photography, you’re constantly setting up and tearing down. It’s hard to really hone in on a perfect process.
11. I’m not selling anything. I’m not thinking about my client’s marketing strategy anymore and how to help them sell a product or a person. I’m simply trying to capture an individual in a really beautiful, creative way. The end.
So what does one do? Change the business model.
As a commercial photographer, I thought it was always kind of against the rules to open up the studio and photograph everyday people. Not sure why. I guess it felt like some unspoken thing that people or clients would look down upon you if you did that.
A couple of years ago though, I dismissed those notions as silly. In fact, I became quite enamored with the idea. I wondered, “What if I could make the same day rate photographing strangers as I could shooting for commercial clients? And what if I could get paid to just play and experiment? Would people pay for weird, dark, experimental portraits? What if they’re wanting the type of portraits of themselves that I’m wanting to create?”
Worth a shot.
We live in an age where everyone needs new, cooler photos of themselves. For social media, for websites, for whatever. And everyone wants to look cool. So I invented a new business model process that changed everything. Super simple premise:
15 minutes of shooting for $250 ($1,000 hourly rate, which competes with some commercial rates these days).
All experimental, dark, dramatic lighting.
Intimate experience — no massive teams or cooks in the kitchen. Nice and simple, one on one.
I choose the final, released images — No image galleries sent, nothing.
I release them when and how I want to release them.
I own them outright.
Sounds fun right? It’s working. My first round of portraits made exactly $57,000 in 57 hours of combined shooting.
You might say, “Well, what about editing time?” I shoot tethered in the studio and have my editing already dialed in, so as images come up on my monitor in Capture One Pro, they’re mostly already good to go. I might do subtle tweaks but for the most part, they’re good. Then I do a quick review with the client before they leave and we star our favorites. Then I export them to dropbox and I’m done! So there is not much editing time at all to answer the question.
So I made $57K for 57 hours of shooting, I did all my weird experimenting, I controlled the edit, I released when I wanted to release, and guess who’s happy as could be? It’s me.
“Well, you’re a known photographer and you have a platform. I could never do this,” some might say.
Sure you can. Follow the same process, but just start with a lower price point. This model can scale at any price point and as demand goes up, raise your prices. The freedom and fun of getting paid to essentially do personal work and learn as I go has been priceless. Honestly, it’s been more fun than the majority of my commercial work.
So what about you? What can you do to eliminate some of the rules you don’t like in your own work? What type of photography makes you feel alive but also pays the bills? That’s a hard riddle to solve but it’s possible.
About the author: Named the “Most Influential Photographer on the Internet” by Huffington Post, Forbes and Yahoo in 2014, Jeremy Cowart is an award-winning photographer, artist, and entrepreneur whose mission in life is to “explore the intersection of creativity and empathy.” The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. Cowart has published four books and is a sought-after speaker, having presented at TEDx, the United Nations and creative conferences across the country. His latest endeavor is The Purpose Hotel, a planned global for-profit hotel chain designed to fuel the work of not-for-profit organizations. He’s the founder of a global photography movement, Help-Portrait, a mobile social networking app called OKDOTHIS, and an online teaching platform, See University. He lives in Nashville, TN, with his wife and four children, two of whom they recently adopted from Haiti. You can find more of Cowart’s work on his website, Twitter, and Instagram.
Compatible with Matthews Combo Stands or any stand with a 1” square tube leg, the new Rock n’ Rollers quickly simply slip on, ready to smoothly roll over anything from rocks, to power cables.
Known for smart solutions that ease life on set, Matthews Studio Equipment has a new product to show: the Rock n’ Roller Wheel Sets. Designed by request and input from DITs, Steadicam ops, video assistants, grips and gaffers, these useful add-ons feature 3 foam semi-pneumatic tires, 3” wide by 8” diameter that are, according to MSE, unlike other caster wheels, as they “won’t go flat, keeping your movements smooth and easy.”
With 360-degree rotation, they maneuver in any direction yet can maintain a straight line when rolling across the set. The dependable, face locking pedal brake features an adjustable pad to ensure strength throughout the life of the wheel. A dual-lock mechanism, it secures both wheel rotation as well as caster swivel. The smartly engineered round top plate is a real foot-saver, keeping pointy corners out of the way when engaging and disengaging the brake. Plus, Matthews’ proprietary Spring Steel Sleeve attaches the wheels to the stand for a secure fit without damaging the legs’ sidewall.
Three versions available
The new Rock n’ Roller Wheel Sets are not only stable, they will carry your equipment anywhere. Matthews Studio Equipment says the company decided to name its new accessory wheel family the Rock n’ Roller because they do rock, “but they also roll smoothly over rocks, power cables, cable cross-overs, gravel, asphalt, uneven concrete, and soft grass.”
Available in three versions to suit every situation, the Monitor Wheel Set pairs with the Monitor Stand II and Slider Stands. The Combo Wheel Set goes with with Matthews Combo Stands or any stand with a 1” square tube leg—a real benefit for moving large lights like 18Ks. The Mombo Combo set is compatible with 1-½” square tube leg stands so it’s a workhorse when breaking down huge overheads whether moving the it only a couple of feet—or across the stage.
A largely forgotten bit of photographic history might be of interest: the civil war between realism and pictorialism.
The justly famous Ansel Adams and his contemporaries were very strong advocates of photographic realism, dating back to the days of Group f/64, of which Adams was cofounder about 1932 along with Edward Weston. Group f/64 was a reactionary movement against the pictorial style and especially the philosophy championed by Alfred Stieglitz and a cadre of primarily East Coast-based photographers.
Warning: This article contains some artistic nudity that may not be safe for work.
Stieglitz and his followers were typically well educated in the pictorial fine arts of the times and saw photography as an important new tool for such art. Much of their seminal work was done in the 1890s and the early days of the 1900s. Their images were usually of city scenes of the day, with people and often in rain, mist and poor light.
Photographs were typically made on orthomatic dry plates, with emulsion speed at what would be by today’s standards somewhere between ISO 5 and 10. Mood was far more important than sharpness. The lenses used were capable of reasonably sharp results when well stopped down, but often the photographers of the day did not enjoy the advantages of bright light and stable objects so that they were forced to use wider apertures, where lens performance was considerably degraded.
The photographic artists of that group and that period were and are considered to be the Pictorialists.
The Realists, in contrast, were dedicated to creating photographs that were as sharp as possible, typically using large format sheet film cameras and very small apertures to maximize depth of field and sharpness. Most, though not all, were landscapes, usually of the American West.
Edward Weston, in particular, did nudes and still lifes as well as landscapes. Also, though relatively expensive at the time, panchromatic films were becoming available, offering a truer rendering of color shades, all of course seen in monochrome.
The Realists believed photography to be a totally new art form, NOT a tool or technique for prior forms of art.
In their own time, the antithesis of the Realist movement was William Mortensen, who was earning his own reputation at the same time that the Realists were becoming prominent. West Coast-based Mortensen was well known as a Hollywood photographic portraitist between the 1930s to the 1950s. But he also did scenics and pictorial work that attracted a considerable following.
Mortensen’s goal in such efforts was always to create an interesting picture. To him, any technique to get it was fair game; he used fabric and wire screens, knives, brushes and pencils, soft focus, filters, grease; anything to gain the effect he sought, as well as more conventional darkroom techniques. Thus he created many very striking images that were widely admired at the time.
Ansel Adams and the Group f/64 despised Mortensen’s work and many of his techniques and got into angry and very emotional commentaries in print. Adams is on record as referring to him both as the devil and as the anti-Christ. In a very backhanded way, this was a huge compliment to Mortensen. Had his work been of lesser quality they would have ignored him instead of singling him out for their contempt.
In their defense of photography as a new and unique art form, it seems clear that the Realist’s attacks on Mortensen were in fact attacks on the whole Pictorialist school. The Realists were surely well aware that attacking the likes of Steiglitz would be at best counterproductive, whereas Mortensen was an easier and safer target, a symbol of all they despised, and time-wise, he was their contemporary.
One must wonder, none the less, just what caused such a strong reaction to Mortensen’s work? It seems unlikely that it was jealousy or envy. Rather, it seems more likely that the Realists believed he was desecrating their Holy Grail, their ideals of photographic purity. Had his images not been compelling, they could have been safely ignored.
Again, Mortensen may well have been seen as representing urban America, the rapacious perceived threat to the wilderness so beloved of the Realists. They obviously believed in a spiritual element in their love of the wilderness. Mortensen and most of his work were anything but that, and seemed to threaten the aura they were trying to develop.
A campaign to discredit and ignore Mortensen proved amazingly successful; he slipped into obscurity for many years, whereas the works of the Realist photographers gained enduring fame. When Beaumont Newhall wrote and published his book in 1978, “The History of Photography, From 1839 to the Present Day” which proved to be extremely influential, he purposely did not mention Mortensen at all, although Mortensen’s work was well known at the time and richly deserved inclusion.
Mortensen died in 1965. But in recent years interest in his work has been renewed; as people came to realize that he was, in fact, an important and very influential photographic artist, though not wholly in a classical photography sense, but also in terms of graphic art. His books have been reprinted, along with a recent biography. Some of his photographs — perhaps they would be better called “pictures” — are mesmerizing and will almost surely stay stuck in the back of the minds of viewers.
There is evidence he was to a considerable extent the developer of the Zone System, picked up and popularized by Ansel Adams, before Adams became aware of the fact that it had been Mortensen who had done the earlier work that Adams built on. But Mortensen’s legacy extends far beyond his development of exposure and processing controls. In fact, Mortensen had a considerable impact on many of the images we see today, both graphical and photographic.
It is rather ironic that most or all of the techniques of both Ansel Adams and William Mortensen can be replicated today by users of serious post-processing programs such as Photoshop or Affinity.
What is the legacy of the Realists? They certainly were successful in establishing photography as a fine art in its own right. Ansel Adams prints hang everywhere and, to a lesser extent, those of many other photographers’ do as well — a few relatively well known but most largely anonymous. In any case, most of them are certainly the spiritual offspring of the school of the Group f/64.
The civil war between the Realists and the Pictorialists is largely over, yet, the wonderful legacy of Ansel Adams still shapes landscape photography today. Color photography of landscapes became prominent, in part thanks to “National Geographic” and “Arizona Highways” magazines. Digital post-processing replaced film and darkroom magic, though some photographers still shoot film and then digitize their negatives, followed by digital post-processing. Yet, the unwritten rules of landscape photography remain to a considerable extent.
And indeed, most landscape photographers still work to emulate Ansel Adams. Here I speak particularly of his dedication to maximum sharpness and maximum density range. Roads, telephone poles and other modern artifacts are frowned on. Clouds are sometimes acceptable; fog and mist, not so much.
Pictures must be sharp corner to corner, edge to edge. A full tonal range must be included, from darkest black to the cleanest white the media can offer. Blue skies are almost always darkened in monochrome images. Human artifacts should be largely avoided; however, old examples might be acceptable, such as rotting wagon wheels, pre-World War II agricultural or mining equipment rusting in place, etc. Humans are almost always unacceptable, except possibly in pastoral settings if they are not prominent.
These unwritten rules are a bit hidebound, but they unquestionably make for beautiful photographs.
The civil war between Realists and Pictorialists is or certainly should be essentially over. Back in the day, photographers were struggling to overcome the limitations of their equipment, as well as the films available to them. It is worth noting that the films available usually had an ISO well below 25 and were orthochromatic instead of the later panchromatic films, one advantage of which allowed skies to darken instead of coming out white. Pictorialists saw photography as a new palette that would further the classical traditions of fine art. Realists saw photography as a way instead to escape the limitations of traditional fine art.
It is well worth noting that artistic painters of the day saw realized the development of photography gave them their own opportunity to escape their past of realistic or semi-realistic art and to dive deeply into abstraction.
In any case, one important aspect is that the so-called civil war was not truly a civil war, but as much an inter-generational war. Stieglitz, for example, simply did not have the much-improved tools available that had become available a generation later. In particular, the lenses available to him were, by any modern standard, terrible, suffering astigmatism, distortion, curvature of field and chromatic aberration.
Yet Stieglitz and his contemporaries created many memorable images, usually not dissimilar to the works of some of the painters of the era. One could argue that the technology available to Steiglitz made photography of the day more of an adjunct to painting fine art and that later developments opened up the potential of photography as an art form all its own.
Yet, one can look back to an earlier age — that of Matthew Brady, many of whose American Civil War photographs were relatively sharp. But the exposures for these photographs were usually at least several seconds long and that in strong sunlight.
This then begs the question: if later equipment were somehow to become available to them, would Stieglitz and his contemporaries have worked for the sharpness and depth of field of the Group f/64 style, or would they have continued their own photo-impressionism? We will of course never know.
In any case, the photographer of today has an array of tools that the photographers of the 1930s could not even have dreamed of. Beautiful color photography, computers, and post-processing, ink-jet printers, excellent zoom lenses, astounding ISOs and all at costs that are peanuts compared to the cost of a serious outfit of the ’30s.
I suggest that landscape photographers of today should no longer consider themselves as being tightly bound by the rules of the Group f/64 era. There are few photographers who have not seen the works of Ansel Adams or Edward Weston. But seek out and look at the works of Stieglitz and of Mortensen as well. They have their own validity and are very much deserving of our study and respect.
A last note: the intended scope of this article was to compare the Pictorialists to the Realists. As such, obviously much other photographic history has been ignored. My treatment of the material is undoubtedly somewhat simplistic. But the personalities, beliefs and especially the work of the above photographers shaped our views and our own work of today. They were important to our photographic heritage and deserve recognition.
About the author: Bob Locher certainly makes no claim to being a great photographer; rather, he considers himself to not be a very good one. He is not much of a speaker either, and does not have his own YouTube Channel, nor does he do Photographic Tours. But, he has been in the photographic hardware industry most of his life, fancies himself as something of a writer, has opinions and is not afraid to express them. He loves photography, values technical quality and is indeed a pixel-peeper. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. Locher has written over 50 magazine articles as well as two books. You can find more of his work and writing on his website.