Monday, July 23, 2012

My Kingdom for a fill-card!

A fill card is a card of any size - from index card up to 2'x4' or even larger - than is used to reflect light onto a subject to light up an area that otherwise is a little too dark.  Sometimes the fill card is placed behind a contained filled with liquid (like a glass of beer) to make it pop and sparkle!   Why does that come to mind now?

I remember an interesting incident in my 2nd year at RIT.  I was in line at Grace Watson Dining Hall, and a girl I was meeting for a date showed up wearing a very low-cut outfit.  I forget exactly what the circumstances were, but she had to bend over to reach something.  And when she did - I remembered instead of wishing for a more direct view, I wished I had a fill card to throw a little light onto the subject.  At first I thought that was odd, but then I knew once again I was "hooked" on photography - which is Greek for "writing with light".

Years later I would work for photographers who mostly let me set up a shot for them, then come in and tighten things up.  Most of the time that was done for the benefit of the clients (if they were in the studio).  One time I remember being able to see from an off-camera angle a fill card was sticking out from behind a prop.  I diplomatically and quietly (yes I can be both when the situation calls for it) mentioned it to the photographer who took credit for the save.   That only happened rarely when I was working as an assistant.

But more often I see really bad lighting in photography these days.  I am always amazed at the photography I see where the photographer doesn't realize that they are writing with light.  Where the light is just haphazardly placed without care of what the light does in all parts of the shot.  Like one model who is well-lit but casts a shadow on the face of another model who you now can't see very well.

Could it be the reliance on digital imagery and Photoshop, or the lack of clients who go out on shoots with photographers these days?  Or the fact that so many photographers who shoot today never came up as an assistant before shooting?  

Surely some folks do say that they can take care of it in Photoshop, but why not take care of it on set so you can save time post-production?

Sunday, July 22, 2012

I agree with Bender: Film is better than digital!

I was over visiting my old friends Michael and Holly and their kids.  We were watching an episode of "Futurama" called The Thief of Baghead and I got really tickled. 

I've seen the show over the years, but I confess that I am not a big fan - not like Michael and Holly and their two sons Philip and Eric.  Bender decides to become a "paparazzo", but insists on using a film camera, going so far as to point out that his negatives will outlast any digital files.

Other characters question why are you using film? Digital cameras have been available for over 1000 years.  When asked where he can still get film developed, he opens his chest to reveal a fully darkroom inside -- and later in the show, he access his darkroom (with trays of developer, stop and fixer) to makes some prints.

Benders says, "No digital camera can capture the quality, warmth and grain of good old film." but the Professor character claim this is silly your eyes are based on digital sensors!  Clearly there is no way that Bender should be able to tell the difference. 

Aside from the question about how a robot with digital sensors can make a value-based judgment about the quality of film, he does raise a good question:  is film better than digital?

Bender is right - film will outlast digital.  Any of the B&W negatives, some of the color negatives and even the color transparencies that I have shot and processed myself (ok - even the stuff that was processed by someone else) has a better chance of being around in 5 years than any of the digital files I shoot today.  That's because digital files are only as secure as the medial you store them on.  And I've already had my primary hard drive corrupted by missing sectors.  Thankfully I have all my images backed up on other hard drives.  But my luck might run out one day.  

And even assuming that the images don't get corrupted, I'll still have to transfer and convert my files that I can open TODAY with image processing software over to files that I can open up with tomorrow's image processing software.  I estimate I'll have to do that every 5 years or so. Already the files I scanned on my old HP ScanJet IIcx as Twain files on my Mac Quadra using Photoshop 3 aren't able to be opened on my new MacBookPro with Photoshop CS4. 

Yet I have negatives and slides that were shot before I was born that I can print from TODAY almost as easily as when they were first shot.  I can even scan and them directly into my computer. 

I have many friends who claim that digital is superior to film because of the ease of use.  You can buy a camera for a few hundred dollars - or use your cell phone - and take photos and post them to the web almost immediately. 

But is that a good thing?   How much does all that digital access cost?  You really need a computer or some sort of smart phone to access those digital images.  And the cost of my first digital SLR and zoom lens (covering the three primes plus one macro lens), laptop, software and other gear equaled the investment I had in 3 formats plus lighting equipment 2 years out of college (1986).  All that to generate image quality I can do with gear I already own that's only worth a few hundred dollars now. 

But I can't really show up on location and shoot photos and deliver proofs to a client an hour after the shoot when I shot film.  But then again, almost all my clients own digital cameras and can generate images that they feel are almost as acceptable as the images I shoot.   Image standards are lower now than they have been at any time in my professional career.  Other professionals admit they don't even white balance their shots anymore. 

So I agree with Bender.