Category Archives: photo

Blur Screen: Pretty In Post

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I’m not shy about admitting I’m a huge proponent of post production. Sure, getting a photo as close to right as you can in camera is important, but I’d say at best a straight-out-of-camera image can only ever realize 70% of its true potential. The difference between an OK photo and a great photo is usually found in pushing the right sliders. And, because the original goal of this blog was to show the secretive invisible work behind making art, here’s a side-by-side of a test shot for my upcoming blur screen project showing the photo as rendered from raw by LR, and the final develop decisions for the series. Bit of a difference.

A Night at the Theatre: IRT’s 2014 Radio Show

So, recently I had one of those super-awesome opportunities that are so prone to giving me impostor-syndrome: thanks to my ETC peeps I ended up helping the Indianapolis Repertory Theatre out by shooting their annual fund-raising Radio Show. I guess shooting it fell off their usual guy’s radar, so, I was helping them out at as a last-minute fill-in. But really, given that the Radio Show is a fun little night of local celebrities and Indy big whigs, it was really them doing me a solid.

I knew going in I was going to have to grab a photo for a cast of 30, and in a hurry at that. Not an easy task under normal circumstances, and in an unfamiliar place and with a time-crunch I thought it was a good excuse to finally try the epic 86″ version of my beloved parabolic umbrella. The 64″ extreme silver I have has served me well for years now, and with a diffuser cap on it did an admirable job shooting the much smaller cast for ETC’s “Shakespeare Wrote What?” last summer.

The cast of "Shakespeare Wrote What...?"

64″ Extreme Silver PLM with diffuser about 20′ from cast on top of a metal stair ladder.

Since the medium PLM did such a good job with a small cast, I figured the larger version with the softer silver would probably be a good choice with a larger cast. So, I dragged it out to the IRT, and set-it up a good distance from the stage and about as high as I could get it:

Actually, I got it a bit higher than this, and reduced the angle a bit in the end.

Actually, I got it a bit higher than this, and reduced the angle a bit in the end.

And, sure enough, it didn’t disappoint. Because of the rush I had it slightly off center, so, I had about a 1 stop gradient across the frame, but nothing LR couldn’t handle in post. The shadows cast by the umbrella were, for the context, just perfect. Hard enough for definition, soft enough to be pleasant still.

Can you guess who everyone is? I sure couldn't.

Can you guess who everyone is? I sure couldn’t.

It wasn’t until the actual performance I learned who the cast was for the evening. The sudden realization that you just took a picture of the CEO of Lily and his wife, one half of the infamous Bob and Tom radio show, one of the newer member of the Colts, and a bunch of other People who are People To Know is a bit of a terrifying rush, let me just say.

But boy, a lot of people made it out to see them (and, you know, to help the IRT raise money for little things like underwriting tickets and transportation costs so students can see more live theatre).

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After an hour or so running around through two packed floors of guests and cast mingling (shot with a Fong Cloudsphere, love those things), it was back into the main theatre to catch the Radio Show on the One America Main Stage. It was a delightful “parody” of Downton Abbey (“Downtown Abbey”), with lots of good cracks at Indianapolis foibles and follies. Fun was had, and quite a deal of money was raised very quickly to help underwrite those student tickets. I was glad to be there for it, and glad to see how strong the theatre patronage in Indy really is.


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And, boy, am I glad with work like this I made the jump those years ago to a D700. Everyone assumes the problem with working in theatres like this is the dark, but you know, very rarely did I have to go above ISO 3200 (thanks in part to the awesome new Tamron 70-200mm f2.8 VC I was giving a spin). The real problem with theatres is actually the light in the dark, if that makes sense. It’s the stage lights, which aren’t by themselves technically bright, but they are much, much brighter than the dark without them, creating a pretty big EV range to try to capture. And the dirty secret of high ISO too few people think about is that as ISO increases, dynamic range decreases. So, the trick of shooting these conditions isn’t to just ramp up the ISO and call it a day. If you do that, you end up either only having the highlights exposed and just massive stretches of pure black blah, or else you get the shadows but your highlights are too blown to recover. The D700 has much better headroom for highlights in RAW than my E-3 ever did, and that’s made shooting like this possible. I usually try to split the difference these days, where the shadows are a bit dark and the highlights slightly blown then I fix them in post to have something that looks more, well, natural than a pure “in the camera” process could ever give me.


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Shooting theatre is fun, but it’s definitely got its own flow. Most of your attention has to be on the performance itself, trying to watch the actors, how they behave, who does interesting things, and trying to predict where the action is going to move on you. So, you don’t have a lot of time for focusing on the technical. Which, thanks to the decreased DR of the higher ISOs you need but the expanded range of the actual scene thanks to the stage lights means you have to take a lot of shortcuts. The big one is that I only use stabilized lenses, both tele and wide/standard, when I shoot like this. Sure, stabilization doesn’t compensate for actors moving, but at slower speeds like 1/50 it sure does take out a lot of the slop my own shakey hands would otherwise be introducing to the mix. Speak of 1/50, that’s about as slow as I care to go shooting theatre. Slower than that and you get too much blur too often. It’s nice to go faster when you can, but, once it requires raising the ISO the lack of blur is compromised by further compressed dynamic range, so, I prefer to err on the side of motion blur. So, what little time I do have to devote to the technical mostly goes to constantly fiddling the shutter up and down a few stops to compensate for the rapidly changing (and meter-baffling) stage lights.

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All-in-all, I shot well over a thousand frames at the Radio Show. Mostly because, heck, I was having fun. It was a cool event, and one I was glad to be present for–even if I was technically working it. And, hey, the gal handling the audience cue cards totally rocked it with the best dress in the house and green hair. Take that, things.

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This Is Not A Painting: Aglets, And The Smell of Earth After Rain

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Around 1928 René Magritte painted a piece titled La trahison des images (The Treachery of Images), a famous picture of a pipe with an inscription in French: Ceci n’est pas une pipe (This is not a pipe). His point was a good one, possibly one on of the best ever made by a visual artist, and spoke to a common perception fallacy we engage in. A pipe is a real thing, an item with a certain character, size, and dimensionality. It is tangible. Magritte’s picture of the pipe was not a pipe, it was a picture. The fallacy is in our desire to label representations of things we recognize as if they were the things themselves.

And that was almost a century ago at this point. Since the introduction of color printing, the saturation of photography, and the invention and rise of the internet we have become even more exposed to mere representations of items. Pictures in books and magazines have long been substitutes for seeing the actual thing, be it an item, animal, or exotic place. And the prevalence of digital photography and ease of distribution via the internet has only accelerated that. If you want to see something, almost anything in the world, you can. Instantly. At least, that is, you can see an image of the thing. It is now the case that most things we will ever see in our lives are not the thing themselves, but rather the image of the thing. A flattened picture of it.

The art world does not escape this. It is impossible for an individual to see in person every piece of art that they can see in books and online. Many people will never fully understand the difference it makes to see an oil painting in person. Because paint is a different visual experience than a photograph, it has texture, and depth, and it can have layers built through the use of glazes and varnishes that provide a different experience in an environment where you can move and examine them from different perspectives.

But, by and large, we won’t encounter these actual items. We won’t hold the pipe. What we will see are the images. The pictures. The representations of the real item. And that means a handful of lucky few will have a completely different experience of any given work than the majority will, because they will have seen the thing and not merely the image. And, that’s not fair, is it?

In this series I seek to resolve the conflict that Magritte first brought up, and that the digital age has exacerbated. The image is not the thing. Unless, of course, you make it the thing. If the representation of the painting was not just a representation, but the piece itself. In this series, the painting is almost inconsequential as an object. it exists for the purpose of getting the photograph, and then it is no longer needed. To reduce confusion about this, the painting is even destroyed. Leaving only the image behind to examine, to show, and to share. Excepting for variances such as brightness, and monitor calibration, everyone gets what approximates the same image. It’s the same perspective. The texture has been flattened from only one vantage, and everyone examining it minutely will see the same details. The photograph is the piece, and the piece is not a painting.

Because, in this digital age, the painting was unnecessary anyway. It’s the image of it that matters. And in this case, the image is all there is left.

This first entry is called Aglets, and The Smell of Earth After Rain, and was shot at the abode of the lovely Nicholas and Moxie Henry. A video of the prop used to create this image being destroyed will be posted once I get a chance to cut it. Because, really, who doesn’t like seeing things get reduced to itty-bitty pieces? Boring people, that’s who. Besides, I want everyone to know I’m putting things on the line here. The photograph is the work of art, and I have not kept the painting somewhere. That would imply that there was value separate from the photograph remaining still in the painting. Seeing it destroyed is my way of proving to you that there is not. And, since most of you will have never seen any of my paintings in person, you’ll never know the difference anyway.

This is not a painting. It no longer needs to be.

YANG: Yet Another New Gallery (EclecticPond)

You guys know the drill by now, right? My name is Zed Martinez. I drink way too much coffee. I’m a humanist at heart, even though I often have problems remembering it in practice. I will accept payment in fried pork tenderloin sandwiches. Occasionally I pretend to do art. And I shoot photos for EclecticPond Theatre Company (actually, with input and direction from their artistic director Thomas Cardwell I also do their design and website now, but that’s beside the point here.)

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Actually, I shoot lots of photos for them. 2,872 in the past two years. I have headshots of 48 actors now. It’s safe to say a decent chunk of my artistic self is now expressed via the work I have done for (and now with) them. So, to reflect that, I have finally added them as a part of my formal artistic portfolio. Under Photo you’ll find a shiny new gallery called EclecticPond filled with but a scratch into the surface of what I’ve done with them. As always, more pictures will find their way onto 500px, but, at least now you can check out some of the best and strongest examples of what I do with them right here on ZmZ. Woo, right?