Gear vs. Goals vs. Opportunity

I've written many times in the context of this one particular project about process. I've also written far more posts about gear than I though I would. The two are intertwined in my own mind. In trying to be objective as I can I've come to the conclusion they probably should be.

In preparation for a break from client work next week when I get out of my particular town and head to a change of location for five days I've assessed where I've been and where I'm at on this project. I've done that not just by looking thru a lot of my experiments on approach but also some of the things that fueled my desire to do a project remotely like this in the first place.

I think the motivation for that assessment was that my mini road trip will be only the second change of venue I've ever had for the project. My intent for this project in the first place but I've not been 100% comfortable with my approach.

I stumbled across these from a few years ago while taking a look at everything that led up to pursuit of the black/white project. I won't bother to post every single one that has elements I really like or even all of the frames that posses the bits and pieces I'm pursuing, there's far too many. What's more relevant to some of you is probably the connection between gear, process, goals, and opportunity — or maybe opportunity + preparedness.

I rarely use the term BTS, meaning behind the scenes. When I do it's usually not because of the context in which I made a picture but more about what I included in the frame instead. I know that's a subtle distinction but an important one related to process. The above frames as well as most of the frames that proceed might be considered BTS in the sense that the context they were made in were not at all "Okay, now it's time to make pictures". They were all made in the context of getting ready to make pictures maybe in an hour or two or later sometime.

Two big reasons that allow me to approach things this way that are as independent as they can be from the person in front of the camera.

  1. I always am handling my camera in any circumstance where I might make pictures. It's always with me and I'm always using it. Not in a bothersome way instructing and interrupting people by directing them at some annoying frequency interrupting whatever they are doing or conversation they are engaged in. In fact I don't make a ton of pictures but I do make a few here and there. The camera is not in a bag, it's not sitting over in some separate space tethered to a computer waiting for picture making time. It becomes part of the norm.

  2. The gear I choose to use is as small, quiet, and unobtrusive as I can use effectively while delivering the IQ, or aesthetic that I want to see. Very little of that IQ or aesthetic has to do with ensuring I end up with the highest levels of minute detail that is technologically feasible.

The camera I used here was not a Fuji X camera. It was the last camera I consider my primary picture taking device prior to the six month commitment that lead to my wholesale conversion to the Fuji X-system. At the time it was the closest I had come to having a camera I was as satisfied with as I was when I used 35mm film cameras for this type of informal work. It happened to be the Nikon Df but more importantly I had a 28mm f/3.5 prime from 1973 mounted on it.

That kit satisfied me only when using smaller primes of the manual focus variety. Most of the autofocus glass and especially the zooms where just too big, too obtrusive to be carrying around and handling constantly for an entire day and then the same the next day. Not because of laziness but because they just got in the way of the normal. I don't know exactly what the breaking point is but there definitely is a fine line that's easy to cross by seeking just a little bit more IQ, just a little more focus speed, just a little more something. Too bad when you do cross that line it has a profound effect on making certain kinds of pictures involving people.

The above and below there are a few things to note regarding full-frame vs APS-C. For my purposes the two produce aesthetics I am comfortable with in what is my own personal camera to subject distance working area. I'm not saying this is the case for all people but I'm satisfied that for myself it's a toss up and I may even gain a bit of benefit overall with APS-C in terms of DOF, aperture, and aesthetic.

Recall that I am using a 28mm on full-frame here so you can see I generally work very close. What may surprise you is that I used an aperture of f/5.6 on all of these. Not a lot of DOF is there? As you can see there's very clear subject background separation even this wide with a subject this close to the background. I can easily get the same separation using the 18mm XF at f/4 or f/2.8 and I get a choice of either getting a higher hand-holdable shutter of lower ISO which negates the full-frame ISO advantage in my usual circumstances.

Do I really want less DOF than this? Maybe but that's rare when working this close in a fluid environment. I want enough for separation and ability to control viewer attention but I'm not one of the photographers that seeks complete and utter obliteration of the not only the background but most of the subject as well.

Want to hear a secret? Even though I loved a lot of these frames I vividly recall wishing I had brought my X100S with me on this particular weekend. I thought that on many of these pictures as well as the couple of days prior. I have no idea what made me decide not to jamb it in my bag but I didn't. The image above is one of those times where I so consciously thought about how much better the X100S would have been and truth be told so would have the XT-1 or the XPro-1 or the XPro-2. Why? Simple, The Df is much louder than all of those cameras even in silent mode.

The obvious change in circumstance changed the dynamic very much and I was worried that Df would be a distraction and completely change the images I was making here and now prior to going to make pictures at some point down the road. In the example above it turned out not to matter. Anastasia was far more interested in checking her eye make-up than in what I was doing at this particular moment.

Here's the thing. It certainly change the subsequent pictures as you might see above. It's impossible to say if the X100S would have been different in this case but I can say there's a good chance changing that camera awareness or even degree of awareness would be less likely. Myself I would always rather the choice and rigging it so that the camera doesn't make that decision for me. I'm not saying that any degree of camera awareness is always a bad thing just that I would rather make the decision, I can always increase that awareness myself.

Here's a tip. For certain people mirror can be a silver bullet in distracting people from camera awareness even if it's only for a moment occasionally. With Anastasia having cohabited with her on many occasions I know it's almost a certainty.

True with many people even if not quite as distinct. Almost everyone will want to check out how they look with a change in clothing, context, props, shoes, make-up, or circumstance. The first frame above with A. wandering over to the mirror checking her eye make-up was grabbed after we were on our way to go make a few pictures. The rest of the frames after that were with various degrees of camera awareness interspersed with A. figuring out how she looked and if she liked it in this particular circumstance.

As demonstrated above It's easy to make camera awareness happen by choice. For this particular project and many other circumstances I'm in love with the Fuji X-system for this reason alone combined with range of small lenses that are just the right fit for me.

Wrapping Up

In retrospect I would have to say that my previous experience with the XPro-1, X100S, and this particular occasion a few years ago just might be the nexus of what fueled my desire to pursue this project and all of the experiments in process associated with it so far.

I mentioned a week or two ago something about the collar effect. A few collars laying around or buried in other junk left over from a one-off gig with almost no exception are what people want to play with out of all the other stuff laying around as props or wardrobe.

This was one of those occasions where Anastasia was down visiting from NYC for half a week. Specifically she was playing with it the day before and wanted to know if she could keep it. Sure, why not. The next day with nothing better to do she wanted to figure out what kind of pictures she wanted to make with it. I just happened to make these frames while she was figuring that out.

The mirror that is a prime driver for the location, context, and feel of all of these just happened to be the most convenient mirror at the time. This is something I only accidentally introduced on one other occasion for the project so far. I'm shocked I've not introduced a mirror more. I've not really even thought about doing so on purpose given all of the experiments in process and approach. When I leave next week for those five days I'm likely to have the opportunity to work on this project in a new venue with a completely different backdrop on various days. You can bet I'm going to introduce a full length mirror on purpose. In fact I've already made arrangements to get one, I hope that doesn't fall through.

What's more I'm going to use that mirror two ways with one I've never really done before. I'm going to use it for scenarios I ostensibly setup. More importantly is I'm going to use it as I did here, on the fly getting ready to make pictures but rather than happenstance I'm going to use that in a different way than I've done before. I'm going to figure out where that particular device belongs compositionally and where it should be to generate the most opportunity rather than just have it arbitrarily placed as in the past.

End Notes

All photos made with the Nikon Df and 28mm Non-AI manual focus lens. Processing via Lightroom and VSCO FILM06 HP5+1 AND +2. Wishing I had brought my X100S.