Jana. In the city.  Dead of Summer.

It's pretty rare for me to shoot stuff in full sun.  But sometimes you've got to try new stuff just to see what your camera will do.  This image started life as a file from a Canon 5Dmk2 camera and an 85mm 1.8 lens.  I shot it in the raw format and I tried to see just how much detail I could capture in the highlight areas on Jana's forehead and nose.  The real trick is to keep the highlight detail without plunging everything else in to the abyss of blocky shadows.  Some of it is careful metering but a lot of it is the wonderful dynamic range in some of the cameras we've had the pleasure to have owned.  The Canon 5Dmk2 was one of the those cameras.

But lately I've had equal success with the Sony a77.  It's all in how you use the cameras.  And how much you know about their personalities.  And to really know the personality of your camera you have to take it out on a series of "dates" and play with all the buttons.

I've shot the Sony a77 at ISO 3200 in the theatre and found it a bit noisy for my taste when I blow up the files.  But I've also shot a number of studio and full sunlight projects with the camera at ISO 50 and it's amazingly good there. In fact, it's exciting at ISO 50.  Why? Because the dynamic range is something to write home about.  How did I know it would happen like that? Because I took the camera out and shot people in the full sun and tested it.

I'd never met Jana before but I wanted to have a real person to shoot so I looked around on a model site, got in touch with her and arranged to meet her and one of her friends at a downtown coffee shop.  We spent a couple hours walking around downtown talking, shooting film and getting to know each other's aesthetic tastes.  After that we shot together again for one of my book projects.  

I've found that shooting test charts and boring set ups in studios is a flawed way to really understand a camera's potential. You have to shoot what you'd normally want to shoot with the camera to really understand it.  

All cameras are flawed in one way or another.  The denizens of the web forums would have you believe that some cameras are holy because of their high ISO performances alone.  Others are fixated with mega-loads of mega-pixels. I'm partial to the way cameras feel in my hands and how they operate.  But I guess the real point is that only you can assess whether the amalgam of parts and design and science that make up a particular camera connect with you.

If you read enough on the web you'll either ultimately be wildly confused or you'll end up chosing a consensus camera and never even touching or considering the camera that might be the "Goldilocks" camera for you.  Not too big, not too small, not to loud, not too ugly.  Just right.

I've just about finished testing every single parameter of the Sony a77 camera and next week I'm going to do the exercise of writing a full on review of the camera and a couple of my favorite lenses.  It's a flawed camera.  But no more so, in my estimation, than the Canon 5D mk2, the Nikon D700 and any number of other cameras I've worked with.

In a nutshell there are three reasons I still like the Sony a77 and haven't traded my two copies away for whatever the camera of the moment is:  1.  The camera has a very wide dynamic range, is very noise free and has wonderful tonality at ISO 50.  And, according to DXO's measurements it really is 50.  Not an electronically pulled 100.  2.  Once you've mastered using a good EVF on your camera for stills and especially for video you will never want to go backwards, even if the camera has some quirks.  And 3. I've come to respect and use some of the weirdo features I never, ever thought I'd touch.  I like the Multi-Frame noise reduction setting.  I humbly admit I like the built-in HDR capabilities (but I try hard to make the effects invisible).  I like the built-in electronic +1.4 and +2.0 teleconverter button.  That means I can keep the 50mm 1.8 or 1.4 on the front and push a button to get closer for a tight portrait.

The bottom line is that my a77 is more fun than previous cameras I've owned.  And the wonderful 50 ISO helps me work wider with studio flash and helps me get images with a look that's fairly unique among inexpensive DSLR's.  What I get is limited depth of field with high sharpness, wider dynamic range and incredible detail.  And for most of what I shoot that always trumps being able to shoot sports by candlelight.  In fact, with the exception of set up sports shots for advertising and the kid's swim team in full Texas sun, I never shoot sports and don't understand why that and BIF ( which stands for "birds in flight" and is another aspect of photography I have absolutely no interest in) capabilities in a camera seem to make so much difference to the other hundreds of thousands of camera buyers who also don't shoot those things.  If you do you might want a different camera....

But to be honest my perspective was built up over years and years of shooting and making money with big medium format cameras on tripods with slow, sharp, grainless film.  After showing a portfolio to people who potentially will pay for my work I've confirmed that real art directors still value the same things they valued in the film days.  To paraphrase:  They want their images sharp and technically perfect.  They know how to degrade them in post.  They can grunge up a beautiful shot but it's ten times harder to take a grungy file and make it sharp again.

Will your camera do what you want it to do? The only way to really know is to test.  Don't trust my opinions or Thom Hogan's or DPReview's.  Trust your hands and your eyes and the output onto your screen or prints of images that you like to shoot.  That's all that counts.

The process every photographer secretly (or not so secretly) fears. Putting together the portfoliio.

The floor of the studio while deciding what to include for a portfolio show.

I have a portfolio show with an advertising agency today. When I first set it up with the art director I assumed I'd be showing my work to him and maybe one or two more people.  It was my intention to throw some work on the new iPad and sort it into galleries with an app called, "Portfolio" and then let them fingertip drag their way through.  It's a nice, intimate way to show one's work and it doesn't require a bunch of physical work.

Of course there's always Murphy's Law. In the interim between setting up the portfolio show and the appointment this afternoon someone at the same agency called me up and asked me to bid on a fairly big project. Then, when I confirmed our portfolio show the art buyer let me know that eight of the creative people in the agency would be attending.  Yikes! Eight people hovering around a (now) tiny iPad?  Curses.

What to do and what to show?  I decided I'd do the show with both a traditional 13 by 19 inch leather portfolio case, filled with prints, and the iPad.  I might also bring along a beautiful little 8x8 inch leather book filled with black and white portraits.

The nerve racking part of the whole process is the question of what to put into the big print book. So I did what any crazy artist would do and immediately dumped the better part of 1200 large prints onto the floor of the studio and started sorting. And here's the sad reality:  I'll be sorting and changing and sorting and changing right up until the time of my appointment, trying to fine tune the selection. Not an efficient way to spend the day.

My "brilliant" friends who are also professional photographers would laugh at me.  They've got bound books (which removes all temptation to meddle) filled with their greatest hits.  But I like to custom populate my portfolios with images that are aimed at the market I'm pitching.  If an agency is heavy into healthcare I want to make sure that I've got a good sampling of the images I've done for hospitals, cardiology practices, cancer practices and oral surgeons.  At the same time I don't want to come in so heavy in one category that I can't represent my interest in other kinds of  industries in which they may have good clients.

My wife, a graphic designer of many years, tells me to put together a book of great portraits and just to show what I want to get. Nice advice. But it would really depress me to go in with a book of great portraits only to hear, "These are lovely but we were hoping to see some food as we just landed a big hotel account..."  Or something along those lines.

While this may sound like something only commercial image sellers should have to worry about I think it's also germaine to amateur photographers as well.  I think nothing is as ruthlessly, painfully instructive for every artist than the task of narrowing down your work to your top  thirty to fifty pieces. In fact, I think we should all undertake the discipline of having to put together a big, printed portfolio (say 13 by 19 inches?) because it will make you really look at your work with a critical eye.  Does the work hold together stylistically? How will handle the inevitable vertical and horizontal interplay between prints? Does your chosen subject matter hold up for 25 or 50 images?  Do you have 25 to 50 keepers? (sometimes I feel like I have ten....)

Try it as an exercise.  Put together a beautiful portfolio of 25 images. Don't put in anything that's not perfectly seen and well printed. Don't put in stuff that's so limited in appeal that only you would get the emotional appeal of the image. Don't stick it in a nappy plastic binder. Invest in a real portfolio case.

What will this buy you?  Well, when people ask you about your photography work you will have a very impressive and comfortable way to present what you do.  I think everyone would agree that seeing beautifully printed images writ large beats the heck out of watching your "friends" scroll through the screens of their cellphones, "Looking for that great shot..." Your audience will be impressed if only by the fact that they've probably never seen photographs well presented before.

It's a way of organizing your vision and your style.  And the process will probably nail down, for you, what you really like to see and what's just the same kind of fluff everyone else is shooting and showing on the web.  But the most important aspect of putting together the book is the solid feeling of having really done something with your work.

A company called Itoya makes some really nice, inexpensive portfolio books with leather-like covers and crystal clear insert pages.  Do your own ink jet prints or send them to a lab that's well profiled like Costco.  In Austin we have an additional embarrassment of riches in that we have good custom labs at Holland Photo Imaging and Precison Camera.  I have a fair number of prints done at Holland Imaging because they run specials on large prints imaged onto C-print papers, including metallic finishes that look really cool.

Okay.  I think I've got it.  One big book, one small black and white book, and my greatest hits on the iPad.  Now, what am I going to do for leave behinds? 

I should stop coasting and do this (portfolio showing) more often. Practice makes perfect.  Now where have I heard that before.....

Edit: After the show.  I went with my plan of showing a book of square, black and white portraits (10 by 10 inches in a nicely book bound presentation), seven different galleries on an iPad and one big book of 13 by 19 inch color prints.

Of the eight people present several were intent on viewing everything on the iPad. The lead creative director loved the big color and everyone, universally, liked the black and white book.  The reasons to bring both are ample.  I think the big prints had the most impact but the iPad supplied depth for people whose brains are wired that way.  In the end the iPad paid for itself because, in response to a spontaneous question from the creative director, I was able to play for the group some video projects on which I've been working. That opened up another line of potential business.

I took along ten copies of a postcard (5.5 by 8 inches) which has one of my favorite images of a weathered looking concrete contractor in a hard hat in front of a wall of incoming storm clouds. The group asked for contact information and was delighted with the cards.

After I update this I'll sit down and write each person a "thank you" note.  And that completes my portfolio show.   Thanks for your interest.