Follow Up On Gear Testing and StupidCrap™

I hate the wintertime. I don't mean this in any casual dislike kind of way. Buried way down in the prehistoric fight or flight part of my brain right next to the breathing and the gag reflex there is a little tiny control room with two paranoid attentive guys manning the place. Sort of like those missile launch control guys with the two keys. When any air that is less than 50 degrees F hits my skin they launch which activates the "I gotta get the hell outta here circuits" in the rest of the brain. This is how much I hate the wintertime.

I look outside and it screams dead and ugly. Sure I would rather shoot stuff other than StupidCrap™. I actually do. In fact I have three whole days committed to shoot all to myself - just for me. No jobs, no requirements, no client, no deliverables. Just for me. The StupidCrap™ comes in when I am a bit out of shape in my shooting regimen.

In my last post I ruminated on gear testing prior to actually having to rely on said gear out in the field. I wholeheartedly believe that this kind of exercise is much better than some intellectual checklist - just do it, it can't hurt. What I didn't talk about is the other side of that coin. The habits and muscle memory part of being really ready to go when it counts. Like anything else if you don't regularly exercise your brain and body doing the actual thing you plan on doing, you will become clumsy and cumbersome and awkward and slow and just plain lame.

If you are an athlete you absolutely know this to be true. If you are a musician you know this to be true. Photographers well some do and some don't think this is the case. Me - I certainly know that I will be lame if I don't put in the time. The difference between the first day of wrestling practice and the end of the season was night and day every year for me. The difference between practicing guitar 4 hours day and playing gigs almost every night verses fiddling around once or twice a year = night and day. Same goes for all of those photo skills.

When I have shot all day every day in the past for years at a time I am ready to rock in ways that are hard to even communicate. Visually, creatively, attention to detail, set up, break down, camera handling, model direction, you name it - fast, smooth, ready to go. I have spent way too long not shooting all day every day to think that I will be on top of my game if I don't get in shape. So I do.

What does that have to do with the wintertime and StupidCrap™? For me, a whole lot. I quite literally pick the first thing that's in front of me and make every single type of picture I can possibly make of it. Every angle, lens, ISO, depth of field, high key, low key, backlit, front-lit, side-lit. Natural light, strobe light, strobe key light with ambient fill, ambient key with strobe fill, you name it - I do it and I try to do it fast. If I can think on my feet and be even remotely creative with whatever is right in front of me I have a much better chance of being able to do it with subjects I actually care about.

The point is - whether you're like me and hate the outdoors in winter or not - do anything it takes to keep your skills in shape mentally and physically. It matters a lot when the rubber meets the road.

The shot at the top of the last post was shot in almost complete darkness with small strobes and a tiny bit of creativity - not too much - don't wanna use it all up. The shot at the top of this post was shot two whole days later. Yea - they are of the same stupid crap but here's the illustrative part. Take a look at that shot lit by strobes again. Here it is…

It might be a bit different that the last version I posted because I did a quick and dirty color temperature match up by eye to the shot at the top of this post. That's not important. What's important is that I lit it with strobes and shot it from memory of what I saw earlier in the day when I wasn't shooting with strobes. The exercise was to bring into existence light that happened to be there earlier in the day when the sun was streaming in a nearby window and raking across this little area. I wasn't even shooting when I noticed it earlier.

The shot at the top of the post shot two days later is at 10am when I noticed that the particular light was there again - this time I shot it just to compare how close my mind's eye memory was. I didn't even refer to the strobe image before I shot it. As an exercise i tried to frame it and shoot an identical perspective from what I thought I had shot with the strobes in the dark. Let's call it the reverse exercise. How did I do?

Not too too bad. You can't be too hard on yourself but my biggest mistake was that the real sun comes in at a angle that is a bit steeper - maybe 15 degrees or so more to the side. The second biggest error was that although I remember some amount of sun getting back into the recessed area on the right of the frame and looking good I actually made it look too good in the strobe version where it never gets quite as prominent in the "real sun" version.

What surprised me was that I got the fill ratio as close as I did in the strobe version. The particular room configuration and colors and angle of the sun, etc, etc make certain areas have a heck of a lot of fill compared to most shots lit directly by the sun. That's one of the reasons I have noticed that area before - only photo geeks would notice that.

For the sake of full disclosure both images were shot with my Nikon D600 using my ancient 85mm AF-D and processed in Adobe ACR 7. One image used two Nikon SB-800's and one none. Post processing consisted of two clicks. Click one was VSCO film 02 Kodak Portra 400VC. Click two was VSCO Kodak Tone 2. The toning is fairly extreme and meant to throw off casual viewers from noticing that the color temp of fill and key are quite different in both images you can neutralize one but not both - something extremely hard to reproduce with completely different lighting. Instead I am trying to mask it with toning. I also manipulated the WB on the strobe lit image to more closely resemble the sunlit image. Nothing technical like reference cards - just messed with the slider by eye.

I hope you take away just a little bit of value in doing arbitrary exercises. Do they have to be StupidCrap™ like mine? Nope but they do need to work for you. If mine aren't StupidCrap™ I tend to fall into a mode of just doing "what works" and I know will work instead of truly stretching and doing things that "might fail". It's my little way of tricking myself to do what I need to do. Find yours.


Ps. I didn't forget about the sun simulation discussion. My alternate agenda for shooting that image at the top was so that I could properly illustrate it as soon as I have time to sort out all the things that are important to discuss - and there are a few.

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