Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Wednesday Evening Revival

I said I'd get back on my feet eventually, didn't I? Oh, I didn't? Was just nay-saying and worrying about prolonged cold-feet syndrome? Well then, apologies.

Last week it was requested that I provide my photographic skills at work. On occasion it's necessary to photo-document various tasks and procedures, some of which involve VERY delicate macro work that requires a bit more technical knowledge and skill than the average Joe with the mode dial switched to "Auto". Part of the task to be documented also called for the use of some personally owned camera equipment, which fed me more than ample excuse to bring a change of clothes, the full bag of my camera equipment and a full tank of gas to turn the evening into a photo expedition after my workplace photographic duties were completed. The sun just seems to be at that perfect point in the sky during Summer months just as soon as work is over...

... Anyway, my day was well planned and laid out before I ever made it into the office. It's always a good day when my workplace calls upon me to employ my knowledge of photographic techniques. Although my title is certainly far from "Official Office Photographer", it's nice to be recognized as bearing that very specific skill set and thus be the go-to guy for any tasks that involve intensive imaging. If nothing else, it certainly makes the day more pleasant when it can be spent exercising the skills you already enjoy exercising.

I was already riding a euphoric high from a job well done by the time I left work. The sun was golden and bright and the light it cast on the world around me was the rich orange I wish could last forever. Not even obnoxious rush-hour traffic could deflate the swell of motivation boiling inside. It was a day to exercise artistic endeavors, to pursue dreams, and so I drove into that sun to chase the dream down.

My equipment roster started off rather lengthy at the beginning of the day but an instinct of purpose in my shooting drove the list to diminish. The Lumix 14mm f/2.5 sat comfortably on the E-P3 (oh, how I wish it was the 12mm f/2.0, though) with the kit 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 in one roomy cargo pocket and the XZ-1 occupying the other. Looking back on the day, the 14-42mm could have even stayed behind. Something about primes, any shooting just seems to comfortably conform to the perspective they provide, nullifying any original interest in other focal lengths that may have existed. If ever such a curiosity about perspective struck hard enough, it seemed far more prudent to reach for the XZ-1 and snap an image than it did to swap lenses on the E-P3 (another reason I may very well be in love with that brilliant pairing). In keeping with the laziness/minimalist preparation, the tripod also stayed in the car.

The day simply played out with perfection. Things fell into place in a manner I nonsensically never thought they would, and my appreciation of the tool in-hand elevated by several degrees. For nearly a year I had been locked into a RAW workflow that I greatly resented for its time consumption and demand on my hard drive. Finally I could return to the comfortable, get-it-right-the-first-time manner of shooting that treated me so well when working with Nikon equipment. Unlike that antiquated gear, however, I was somehow able to conjure usable JPG images up to ISO 800, which simply did not happen before. Combined with the in-body stabilization amplifying the speed and steadiness of the f/2.5 lens I was using and even the need for a tripod disappeared. It was magic, genuine magic. A small camera with a small lens (stabilized in-body) and useful images up to ISO 800. The trifecta. All those dreams of a tripod-less future finally realized.

Odd, really, that it never dawned on me how incredibly useful in-body stabilization could be with fast primes. In the past I'd always considered that primes were already quick enough, that stabilizing them was frivolous ("If it's that dark, just use a tripod"). But look at what I shoot- scenes, static interiors, no motion to speak of. And given how off the beaten path my preferred locales are, it pays to travel light. Bringing a tripod to shoot scenes at base ISO and 1/2 second exposure used to be common practice, but now it seems silly with the advent of the body-stabilized wide prime and availability of mid-to-high range ISO territory to clean image capture. The Manfrotto may actually be relegated to strictly no-light applications, something I only ever considered possible with the high ISO range accessible with full-frame digital matched with a prime. I may not be able to stop motion, but if there is no movement to begin with what does it matter? So odd that it took the better part of 2 years and a body-stabilized camera in-hand to make me realize what a blatantly obvious advantage it is for shooting my typical subjects.

Aside from the great swell of appreciation for the tool in-hand being so well thought out, it was nice to revisit an old haunt all over again. The locale I chose to explore sees a good amount of traffic through the year. Whereas most find that this frequency of visitation desecrates the place, I find the offending vandalism gives it a sort of organic, ever changing charm and personality. Although the building and property are themselves a constant, unchanging aspect, the graffiti and state of disarray are lively and different from visit to visit. They are such vibrant parts of the greater structure that it can be shot differently depending on the manner in which the property is vandalized, making for a wonderfully amorphous subject to photograph. Seeing as my last visit was several months ago, the place kept me excited and giddy as I snapped away at old visages turned more awesome with time.

The entire experience was rather awesome, actually. Granted, the locale itself is considered "easy mode" in the circles in which I meddle, but after so much time "out of the fight", so much time spent longing to return to the muse... it finally happened. And much to my pleasure it doesn't seem to have been cheapened at all by any sense of unfamiliarity or even too much familiarity. I wasn't disappointed by boredom in the return to old subjects, nor was I stifled by an unfamiliar tool whose learning curve I still hadn't overcome. The tool, in both the standpoint of direct handling and of the ultimate image created, excelled to degrees I hadn't expected at all, and now leaves me with a marked confidence in regards to my future endeavors. And as for my stones to travel forgotten lands far less traveled by the typical passerby, I am elated to discover they are, in fact, still in tact.

Once again, I embrace the future.