Notes on images, hardware, software, aesthetics, priorities & history
This is a series of notes that are not in a completely specific order, but are intended to provide quick answers and background.
Update, April 2017:
On Post Processing the Digital Negative 
All of the things I said below are still essentially true, things about the integrity of the image and the deliberation of 'seeing', but I have been working on making my reality meet the ideals I think I am pursuing.
One thing that has bothered me for awhile is the look and feel of final images. I feel like they come close to what I think they should be, but I have never been comfortable with my understanding of the work-flow after the camera is done saving the data. As I asked a commercial photographer friend about that, he suggested I talk to Claudio Palmisano, an Italian photographer and post production god. Claudio has done a number of covers for Time Magazine as well as a number of projects for publications around the world. Claudio, patiently I think, read my lofty aspirations and then clearly and concisely outlined how I SHOULD be working, in part, and this is really important, pointing out that the process is much like traditional film processing. THAT MADE SO MUCH SENSE! I am actually a little embarrassed that I had not made that connection before, but in any case, it forced me back to core principles and physical realities. I have even been re-rereading Ansel Adams' The Negative with a whole new appreciation, and I just reread it last year
So, take everything below with a grain of salt. I want to go back to everyone of these images and re-process them, re-export and re-upload them. I am not sure I have that kind of time, but I am working in that direction.
Images & Integrity:
The images that I publish are 'straight photographs'...I am pretty sure, though I am sure there can be argument. I rarely crop images, nothing on this site is cropped. I will color correct color images or remove color to make a black and white image. I will 'push' tonality to either compress or expand tone to delineate form or not. I will spot a file or print just to make up for the fact that dust happens on sensors and negatives and nobody is staying up at night waiting for an existential discussion of dust. I don't copy and paste pixels or image elements ( beyond the aforementioned spotting) within an image, much less between images. Ever. I don't assign things colors that were not part of what I saw when I took the image, in fact I also try not to blow colors up except in so much as I am trying to get back what I saw and might have been lost...and even that makes me feel sort of dirty.
One place I do stray from orthodoxy is in digital image noise. See below for my love of the Sony A7s. The ability of the A7s to see in the dark is amazing, but even then, I found the image noise introduced at high iso to be prety distracting. I wrestle with this a great deal, I am a little bothered by what I am doing when I reduce noise, I also think there is a little loss of quality when noise reduction is used. Having said that, there are things seen that just look so much better when judicious noise reduction software is applied. I have really come to like Macphun's Noiseless and Google's NIK application, Dfine for carefully tamping down those wayward bits. The keywords there are judicious and careful...really...
Cameras & Technology
It is hard to think or talk about photography without considering the tools of the image making process. Even those who seek to make images without technology, or without acknowledging technology, are being driven by the mechanical creation or reproduction of images. 
Digital Imaging has allowed me more latitude for learning than I ever had with film, that is a really personal trait and lots of people would argue a failing on my part. Oddly, I am finding myself drawn back to film, but when it happens it will be so on pretty specific terms. Trust me, you will know about it...I probably wont shut up about it.
I was slow to commit to digital cameras, in fact I knew an awful lot about digital image files long before I bought a camera. I grew up in a world defined by large format, high resolution images. I didn't like the images that came out of the first digital cameras, low resolution and with limited dynamic range, I was unimpressed for some of the same reasons I didn't much like more 35mm film.
Currently I use a few cameras, all of which I am attached to for different reasons.
Sony A7rii and A7rv
These are my go to tools, the A7rv is a dream tool, high resolution, crazy smart auto-focus with the flexibility to control every aspect of the image making. It makes the sensor an extension of my eyes. Most of the time we get along.
Sony RX-100vii
This camera, so far, fits within the guidelines for cameras at concerts and sporting events. It has a reasonably large sensor and a reasonably fast 70-200mm optical lens.
Canon 5DMkII ( Retired )
The 5DMkII was the first camera I have ever owned that feels like an extension of my eye and brain. Sure, we still negotiate from time to time, usually when I forget reset things or I choose a setting that isn't realistic. For the most part though, I look, I see, the camera focuses, my finger twitches and we are done. The quality of the images from the 5D are why I had to have one once I used one. I pretty firmly believe it is partly the 'Canon' look, but largely the increased dynamic range that a full size sensor  makes possible. The tonal gradations, and thus the presentations of spaces and volumes, are buttery smooth with little banding or added crap. I also like that lenses work and look as they are supposed crop factors, little added chormatic cruft. I get what I see, when I want it. 
The 5D is a lot of camera, no really, when we go into do 'work', it weighs a ton. Part of that is the battery grip that gives me enough battery not to worry for most of a long day of basketball tournament. Part of the weight is the 70-200, which, yes, weighs a ton on its own. That weight though has advantages, it dampens incidental movment and makes me less likely to flit about too much. The other part of that setup though is that it is really well balanced and feels very natural to work with. In the depths of the aforementioned basketball tournament I DO end up wearing a wrist brace.
I generally shoot on Aperture Priority or Manual. I will, in most cases, let the autofocus do its thing, it is generally accurate and quick. I will turn off the autofocus if I have specific reason to overrule it but I also tend to use the ubiquitous Canon 70-200 2.8 which is happier when the camera does the focusing. I also use the Canon 40mm 2.8, a manual focus Zeiss 35mm 2.0 and from time to time one of my older Zuiko OM mount lenses, especially the 50mm 1.4 and 28mm 2.8. 
Sony A7s ( Mostly Retired )
I picked up an A7s for a few reasons. The big reason was I wanted to be able to really ( REALLY) use legacy lenses, I had a set of Leica Summicron lenses handed down to me and after trial and error I found that the A7s played best with the rangefinder lenses. I especially love my second generation 35mm and more recently my 90mm. I also had a few Olympus Mount Zuiko lenses and have always really liked their build and optical qualities. Now I have more than a few.
I like the way the Sony cameras with wi-fi let me work out in the real world. I almost never use the camera in my phone for posting to Social Media anymore, the lower resolution of the A7s makes it perfect for posts in the field in, more or less, real time and that is a really good thing.
I also like the A7s for its wide dynamic range and silly high ISO sensitivity. Those both make the camera see more of what I see, but also, at times, see more than I can see. That leads to what I have come to love most about this camera, it is, for me, all about control. Not necessarily TAKING control as much as assuming, earning and asserting control. For me, this camera forces me to be deliberate and precise, it forces me to plan ahead and really think though what I want to get in each shot. I don't own any auto-focus/auto-anything lenses for full frame e-mount cameras, I also don't own any zoom lenses in either mount that I do use. Every shot requires me to THINK about what I want to get out of that image. I still shoot with Aperture Priority or on Manual, but even then I am actively engaged with the camera and all the variables that go into an image at any moment. That has made me SO much better at what I do, or hope to do. It has forced me to be really deliberate about what I see and want the image to see, and when I am not deliberate, sucks..flat out and I pay the price for my inattention...THAT is a very good thing. 
Images: Photographs, Painting & Sculpture
I jokingly refer to myself as a painter who wants to make sculpture with photographs..thats only half in jest. 
As a painter I was, and am, exceedingly aware of the history and inner-workings of picture space, i.e. the illusion of three-dimensional space that a flat plane can create or not. Painters like Caravaggio and Rembrandt created extraordinary compositions of swirling active spaces which became almost like sculpture. Modernist picture space, exemplified by painters like Picasso and Frank Stella, further complicated picture spaces by creating spaces that at once asserted complexity of depth and movement but also often included conflicting spaces that could fight for the perceptions of the careful viewer.
Photographs, Culture, History and Me:
As I said in the last note...I am aware of history, maybe even at a pretty high level. When I taught studio art I felt strongly that an art history component was absolutely essential. Art is a sometimes complex conversation about how we see and perceive world, ourselves and our culture. To put it bluntly though, if you don't speak the language you can't be a part of the conversation...period.

Back to Top