Thursday, February 2, 2012

More Shooting Less Talking

I'm pretty sure I've done more shooting in the first month of this year than I did for the whole first quarter (the only relevant part) of last year.

Having built good rapport with some key people who abide by the same discipline of photographic interest as myself, I've adopted a spot in the ranks of a very active and very enjoyable troupe of photographers with a penchant for adventure. I'll skip the verbose theatrics and simply state that they are THE urban explorers of the greater Baltimore area. While I've run across many who explore in the region, these folks would be the first that have clearly taken their discipline to the next level, and I am many time thankful to be welcome among their ranks.

Possibly the most interesting, most telling indicator of this mutually appreciated sense of accomplishment is the general lack of urban exploration we ever necessarily feel bothered/compelled to do. Our meetings have taken on a pretty standard formula at this point - we meet at a predetermined location, usually somewhere public and relatively low key, and although our initial intent may be to venture elsewhere and explore, our track record has us more frequently sticking to that initial location, chatting for hours about our adventures, our feats, our achievements, the stories, the memories that are the greatest treasures we own, maybe wandering a bit off the beaten path from where we started, usually with a couple beers in hand (or in stomach), and after hours of regaling each other with our privately treasured tales grand idiocy for sake of getting "that image", we part ways and look forward to meeting the next week. There may or may not be some happenstance train hopping that takes place in between.

Although I've only managed to attend a small number of officially organized events thus far, the group has a solid track record which leads me to expect nothing but good things from future meets. These are the guys who actually manage to get permission by factor of expressing their legitimacy. The ones who understand that food is the universal language and that beer is the universal feelgood.

So yeah. I aim to stick by these guys for a while. Now onto photography  things.

During these meetups with the new photography/adventuring troupe, I've been relearning the art of night shooting all over again. My process in post used for low light but still daylight images simply did not work for night shooting whatsoever, bringing forward far too much noise of the unattractive, blotchy color kind. It took some time and a lot of play to figure out how to achieve the look I was shooting for without butchering the quality of the image, but I'm pretty sure I'm at that point now. It simply required two leaps of faith - the abandonment of RAW and trust in native red channel fidelity. Basically, a step back to my former, 2004 self's style of shooting with just a little bit of an edge from years of learning and experience.

Yet again, Olympus' JPG engine continues to impress and make it very hard to justify the hard drive space that would otherwise be consumed by RAW. Against all logic or understanding of the engineering behind imaging technology, I'm simply getting cleaner, equally tweak-able files out of calibrated JPG files than with RAW. Some of this has to come down to a lack of responsible RAW processing on my part, but at the same time I managed to manipulate RAW just fine back in my GF1 days and that RAW fidelity is trumped wholly by JPG resiliency from the E-P3. Sorry, engineers/fauxtogs/GWCs, Olympus got JPG right.

Using the 12mm f/2.0 has been a joy as well. Barring what everyone already knows about the lens (it's sharp as hell, small, light, well built and just all around sexy), the lens genuinely provides a very critical ease to manual focusing with its pumping focus ring. I wrote off the stepped, dampened, marked focus ring as a gimmick to cater to older photographers (fly-by-wire manual focusing has always served me just fine on MFT) but with all the night shooting I've been doing its function has been a boon to ease. Even an f/2.0 lens will struggle to acquire auto focus in abysmally low light, but with the dampened focus ring set to a predetermined infinity mark on the focus scale, a position is literally "remembers" when you pump it in and out of that forced manual focus mode, any challenging focus situation is easily resolved (or simply bypassed entirely) by pumping the lens back. It's just plain awesome. And at f/8.0, literally everything is in crisp focus, not to mention the star bursts over sharp points of light are looking gorgeous. I could easily get back into night shooting with such a smart tool at my disposal. Such a simple thing, but easily makes the lens worth its comparatively high price tag.

Unfortunately, during one of these night shoots with the new group, I lost my XZ-1 to tragic circumstance. To keep the story short and sweet an abandoned train car was involved, as was beer and (therefore) possibly some mild inebriation. Olympus has come through for me in this matter (they seem to be treating me damn well in general, really) and have fixed the thing for free. It's currently en route back to me so that I may get back out there and put it to use. I've missed not having my little pocket rocket point and shoot on me at all times. Even if I never took many images from it to post, it certainly helped me to scratch that incessant shutterbug itch on a moment's notice when needed. The tripod aforementioned camera was mounted on is very much dead, however, and while I wait for my budget to permit a replacement I'm stuck using an atrocious, plastic Dynex unit from Best Buy. For the longest time I never understood the point of spending triple digits on tripods, now, having been spoiled by a well made tripod and being forced to regress to inferior tools, I couldn't be more excited to drop a C-note on a Manfrotto or Slik replacement.

Tonight, Kyle, the young fellow I randomly photographed a couple months back and somehow managed to engage in a strong, lasting friendship, is due to come over and let me experiment with my shoddy, poor-man's budget studio setup. I really am glad I've made good friends with Kyle... not only is he a good friend, but he's a reliable exploring partner and an engaging model for studio work. And when the camera is put down, he's still down for random movies, hookah, wine and pasta dinner. The perfect partner for any photog.

He's not even judgmental about being placed in front of a wrinkly bed sheet thumb tacked to a wall and a pair of Walmart special tin shop lights with 100 watt halogens in them. What a guy!