Thursday, August 27, 2009

Polaroid's Demise

Polaroid's ongoing demise reflected in the recent hubbub surrounding the sale of their photography collection, got me thinking about what a great asset they were to photographers over the years. See Polaroid

Michael T. pointed out recently "Miraculously Polaroid film and instant cameras are being resurrected by the last team and factory in Europe. Check out:". This is potentially very good news, we will have to see whether the new products fit the needs of photographers.

In the late 80's I received an National Endowment of the Arts grant to photograph historic churches in New Mexico. It was a very worthy large scale documentation project of about 600 historic, largely Hispanic, Catholic churches in Northern New Mexico. The NEA grant was not going to nearly cover all my expenses. One of my sponsors was Calumet who was loaning me a substantial amount of equipment and giving me photographic paper for the project. Realizing my additional need they also recommended me to Polaroid Artist Support Program who supplied me with instant films for proofing and the what we affectionately called Fujiroid (4×5 Fuji transparency films in Polaroid sleeves-the original readyload) for the duration of the project. Their help was crucial to the success of the project and I will be forever thankful to them for their help.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

DSLRs in the BIG City

Having just spent some time in Chicago photographing medium size sky scrappers with little room to back up, I have come to a conclusion. DSLRs and tilt/shift lenses are really stretched beyond their limit in big cities and are of marginal quality in situations where tall vertical structures are the norm. Horizontal structures like the Modern Wing shown in the post below photograph fine. But on tall vertical structures you end up using all of your rise, but you still end up having to tilt up and subsequently correct some perspective in Photoshop with all the interpolation that goes with it. I am not fully happy with the results compared to what I get photographing the lower buildings that you can stand back from in the Southwest. With lower buildings you do not use the outer limits of your lenses where resolution really suffers. My verdict? If I had to make my living working in the Loop in Chicago, I would definitely look at a first rate medium format system such as the Sinar. Of course if my primary clientele was in the Loop of Chicago, I could afford a first class medium format system.

After thinking about this today, Duh! I think my solution would simply be to revert to using my trusty view camera and scanned color negative film next time-simple cheap and fully capable of doing the job.

From Ed,

I tried posting this to the blog but I did not have the appropriate accounts. I have also struggled with the verticality of the city (I'm based in Boston) and DSLR shift lens limits. I am a stitcher also. There are a few options I've been looking into which you may already have seen that look promising. A company called Zork makes a 35mm dslr shift adapter which adapts the use of medium format lenses (645, 6x6, 6x7) allowing up to 20mm of movement if you go with 6x7 lenes. I'd probably stick with the 645 format due to the availability of a 35mm lens for up to 17mm. Since we are both used to stitching images anyway, having this level of shift could be very useful. It also allows sliding back movements for parallax free stitching which is huge. Photomerge in PS is pretty good but I occasionally get misalignment of tall building mullions if I'm up close with a wide-angle. Medium format resolution, and wide angle of view without the wide angle distortions. The tradeoff is more work at the desktop. Another option I have considered is going to medium format as you suggest but a $50k+ investment in the Sinar or a Hasselblad Shift system is just not going to happen. Zork to the rescue again. They make a MF shift adapter that uses 6x7 lenses (Pentax 67 are pretty good and cheap). The setup I am contemplating is a gently used Contax 645 (~$1,500), The Zork adapter ($1,500 which seems pricey for what it is but what are you going to do?), a range of 5 Pentax 67 lenses (~around $2k for all 5 from!) and a factory refurbished Phase One P25 22mp back (which is fine resolution-wise since we are stitching) from Calumet for around $12k. Total cost around $17k. That is still a chunk of change but way less than the Sinar or Hasselblad. I probably have $10k invested in 35mm so not so far off. Maybe you would be so kind as to try out these options for us and report about it on the blog! Also, check out Here is a link to a roundup of possible shift solutions for anyone used to working in 35mm DSLR:

Avoiding Parallax:

Other Links:
from David:

Regarding your recent comments on shooting tall buildings in the city: wouldn't the new Canon 17mm ts-e be of some help here? I know, you'd have to crop somewhat, which reduces quality, but wouldn't that at least be preferable to perspective correction in Photoshop?

Some further thoughts. The issue for me is simple. I have written many times that, coming from 4x5, to get acceptable quality from a DSLR requires very very careful work, minimizing everything that might diminish image quality like , camera movement, cropping, lens distortion, shift limits, diffraction, interpolation etc. In Chicago shooting in the Loop, where my 24 t/s had insufficient rise resulting in stitching vertical frames (that had some necessary converging vertical lines), that too many image deteriorating factors came into play to give me the quality I want. In many cases (street corner buildings) I simply could not get back far enough to avoid these issues. These factors included barrel distortion correction, significant perspective correction and cropping. In one situation I had to shoot from the middle of the street in a crosswalk and actually had to handhold the camera a situation which makes my skin crawl.

Now these images are not being used large, websites or catalogs, and with allot of work I can make them acceptable, but I always try to exceed my clients expectations. I have said before, if you routinely exceed your clients expectations, your clients recommendations will become your best advertising, if you exceed their expectations too much you probably will not be profitable and won't be able to make a living. In the short run to build your initial portfolio this may work, but in the long run you need to control your costs and be economically competitive.

The easiest solution is simply to go back to using my view camera for these shots but I did not anticipate this problem. Using my Schneider 47XL and a center filter (to correct for the lens fall off) on roll film would have worked because of the significantly more rise and less lens distortion I would have had compared to the DSLR with last generation T/S lenses (I would have bought the new 24 before the trip if I could have found one with a US warranty. It at least has less distortion) or use a good 75mm on 4x5. In the comments below another Ed, from New Orleans, suggests a similar and very viable retro option:

For the $1500 the adapter costs, you get a Sinar F2, 90mm and 75mm lenses, and do a better job. Since you are shooting for a client, the film cost should not be an issue.

Kirk, could you elaborate a bit on working in tight city spaces with the view camera? I am doing more shooting in New Orleans, which has some wonderful late 19th century, early 20 century facades, but also has some pretty narrow streets. Should I start saving for a 72mm XL?

Ed from New Orleans,

As you know your solution is perfectly viable and very inexpensive. Film for me can no longer supply my needs for commercial work as we no longer have a lab in this town and doing color myself or shipping it out is just too slow a turn around. BUT for odd necessary shot or my personal work that is no problem. I have coveted but never owned the Schneider 72XL for 4x5. I have owned 75s and 65s but those were of limited coverage on 4x5 and not suitable for extreme rises for tall buildings. If I remember right the 72XL has great coverage (like 226 mm diameter circle of coverage-that is a front rise of 48 mm with the XL vs. 31 mm with the 75 ) and should do the trick. As you are scanning your film you can get by without a center filter which helps alleviate falloff. I have successfully used a white gradient for years to fix falloff. You also need a really solid camera and preferably bag bellows. The extreme movements needed with even a very flexible "universal" bellows can force the front standard to tilt forward with extreme rise. I also prefer for my large format architecture lenses to mount them above center on the lens board to maximize rise. We always seem to need more rise shift than fall (and we can always reverse the lense board and mount it upside down to get more fall). This discussion makes we want to break out one of my 4x5s (I still own two) and go shoot some film! One other thought, though the ability to actually use this solution is rare. Check and see if there is a roof or window across the street from the building you want to shoot that is about half its height. That alleviates the need for such huge coverage lenses and provides an interesting birds eye view from about mid elevation of a tall building. It is also visually appropriate to leave a slight amount of convergence on really tall buildings or they tend to seem like they are falling forward Think also about using really long exposures to significantly blur cars or people. It is virtually impossible to avoid them when the light is right on a building so blur can make them less distracting and provide a juxtaposition to the solidity of the structure.

The solution David suggests about using the new 17 T/S above may have worked but includes significant cropping and may compromise the file to much. It is hard to say without testing that lens. The suggestions of Ed to buy a used Contax 645, Pentax lenses and a Zork adapter......I wonder. Those Pentax lenses don't have that much excess coverage beyond a 6x7 negative size. How much shift are you going to get? I will not be trying any of these options myself soon as my equipment budget for the near future is the new T/S Canons, a new computer for file editing and my oldest daughters upcoming wedding!

From Tonnes:

I suppose if you were in a bind with nothing but your digital camera and didn't have enough rise using your 24 TS-E, you could use a really sharp tele like the 85mm F 1.2 or 1.8 and shoot a vertical panorama of the building. Provided you had enough time to shoot the sequence and you're comfortable using a stitching program like PTgui, the resulting gigapixel image would interpolate very well when you corrected the verticals, no? But ultimately if you try to shoot a tall building from too close, regardless of how the verticals are corrected (optically or in post), things can look weird - namely, the windows get progressively shorter towards the top.

As you say, in my experience with that kind of complex stitching of buildings from close up, there is always a fair amount of distortion that cannot be adequately corrected, and the resulting files are just not up to the standards or me or my clients. From a distance this is not an issue and multi-tile stitching is a great way to build quality large file sizes (of potentially unlimited file size for huge prints). Also, for me anyway, AP has become a bit of a volume business and I would rather invest in the proper piece of equipment so I can work quickly rather than laboring over multi-tile stitches and assembling them and correcting them in PS. Billing for all of that would not make any sense to my clients.

More to come.......

"What is the Difference Between Art and Fine Art Photography?"

An often asked and good question, one I contemplated allot when I was a student and am still to this day trying to figure this issue out. It is hard to define because we live in an artistic environment which attacks neat definitions and tries to destroy conceptual boundaries. So really the best I can do is give some personal reflections.

I think the Wikipedia definition is a good starting point though:
Fine art describes any art form developed primarily for aesthetics and/or concept rather than utility.[1] This type of art is often expressed in the production of art objects[2] using visual and performing art forms, including painting, sculpture, music, dance, theater, architecture, photography and printmaking. Schools, institutes, and other organizations still use the term to indicate a traditional perspective on the art forms, often implying an association with classic or academic art.
In my own lexicon, as both a commercial architectural and "fine art architectural" photographer, I find the first sentence of the WP definition to have some merit. Though the boundaries are certainly not distinct, in my commercial work as an architectural photographer, much of what I do is find ways to illustrate the aesthetic ideas of my clients ie interpret someone else's art. I am oftentimes trying to get into the head of my client and create images that are artistic but useful (have some utility) to them in design competitions, proposals slide shows etc. Aesthetics and illustration must be balanced lest you stray too far from your clients needs. Vice versa if you don't pay attention to aesthetics then you create boring documents, which may not "sell" your clients work well. At the far aesthetic edge of this commercial work are those clients who want me to just go out and "do what I do", which means to interpret their work aesthetically. See this Abstraction thread in my blog. To use this image again for an example- while making this image last week of the modern wing at the Art Institute of Chicago, my assistant remarked something like "that looks allot better than the building actually is". To which I said this is more like advertising photography than documentary". A former student of mine, he does HABS documentation and is quite good at it. Actually in all fairness the Modern Wing at AIC is an extraordinary design and photographs are hard pressed to do it justice.

An effective commercial architectural image illustrates and sells the clients creations. It is all art but different in concept and approach and intent than my personal work which when successful I refer to as my Fine Art. The fine art is intended primarily for aesthetic contemplation, though there is a visual reality to work from and oftentimes there is a descriptive intent such as trying to bring to life the spirit of a particular place. Aesthetic contemplation is a kind of utility but far more personal than public as in my commercial work. The FA work also illustrates but it is illustrating my feelings about a place as much as its visual reality, which leads me to much manipulation of tone etc that exceeds documentation. So aesthetic contemplation, strictly speaking of is role in my life has a more profound purpose and personal utility and I distinguish that as my Fine Art.

There are huge areas where my own definitions don't hold much water. For example I have been part of city public arts commission projects with fairly strict limits on subject matter. Is this commercial illustration or fine art? I have struggle to accomplish the latter while honoring the boundaries set by the city/client. Many observers of my work don't see my distinction between commercial illustration and fine art and see the commercial work equally as creative as the FA and the FA work equally as grounded in real time and place as the commercial work. Also ironically, some of my favorite FA work has come out of HABS documentation projects. For me it is a personal distinction that helps me focus on what is important in each endeavor, but not an aesthetic straight jacket.

Just some of my personal views on the subject based on my own work............and an example of the personal FA work, the upper Morada in Abiquiu. Does any of that make any sense?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Shooting for magazines for free?

This post comes from a thread on Luminous Landscape (Free).

Do magazines in areas like food/architecture/sports, etc. expect photographers to work for free?

Magazines that EXPECT photographers to work for free are probably marginal and won't give you the exposure you expect. Any quality publication EXPECTS to pay for photography though the rates may be pitiful for assignment or stock.

I happily do allot of editorial, mostly architecture related (but not exclusively) for local, state , regional and national magazines. Though mostly architecture, recently New Mexico Magazine asked me to illustrate an article on Rudolfo Anaya, a friend I rarely see. It was a treat to work with him. he is a state treasure. The fees were adequate. Overall, the rates are poor right now with some magazines (but not all), but far from free and the difference I can often make up in the stock sales of images from these shoots. These editorial shoots also generate client contacts, high profile exposure and keeps my assistant working during slow times. Editorial also gives me access to unusual locations for my personal work and gas money to get there on someone else's dime. Editorial and the stock it generates is now and always has been been a vital part of my income and marketing strategy. With most magazines my fees are reduced but I have gotten full fees from some publications (pre-recession).

The only time I do free work is for friends, family or occasionally non-profits I support.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Chicago Trip

I've been in Chicago on an extended shoot and will get back to blogging after I return and get some rest. I love this town. It is a museum of great architecture. Here is a quick sample from the trip, Renzo Piano's new Modern Wing at he Art Institute of Chicago. It is one of my favorite pieces of architecture I have seen in years. Superb.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Julius Shulman Passes at 98

The Kaufman House, 1947

Julius Shulman, probably the most prominent architectural photographer of the 20th century has passed. His work defined early modernism in the architecture magazines. The book "The Photography of Architecture and Design" is a classic that influenced virtually every AP I know, myself included.
Julius Shulman

Monday, August 3, 2009

Photographer Laura Gilpin Comes to Life
A Through the Lens Chautauqua event
6:00 pm to 7:30 pm
Deborah Blanche will recreate the life of legendary Santa Fe photographer Laura Gilpin during a Chautauqua performance in the History Museum Auditorium, 113 Lincoln Ave. A free, public event.

In this show, meet “Miss Gilpin” as she was in the year 1954 – a confident, ebullient woman in her early 60s. As Miss Gilpin, Blanche narrates a slide show that includes images from the photographer’s first Lumiere color prints to many from her best-known book The Enduring Navajo. (The slide show of 30 pristine images is made possible by arrangement with the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, Texas.) Miss Gilpin will answer questions from the audience and tell some of the behind-the-camera stories about the photographic retrospective that parallels her life.

Laura Gilpin was a pioneer of architectural photography in the Southwest, though she is best known for her landscape work. She was a principle photographer of the designs of architect John Gaw Meem, who many see as the father of "Santa Fe Style". Laura Gilpin and I had a show together at a long defunct gallery in Santa Fe back in 1973 or sometime. She was a great lady. I enjoy her work and life immensely. I think this Santa Fe program could be quite interesting if you are in the area. This is part of the "Through the Lens" exhibit, which I have a small role in.

Steps of the Castillo, Chichen Itza
By: Laura Gilpin (1891–1979)
Image is located at Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth TX. Gelatin silver print (bromide) on Gevaluxe paper

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