So last month I started to book photography shoots for January, only a few as things were not looking good on the COVID-19 infection rate.
As expected after Christmas Day we had a full lock down. I had not anything booked for the first week of January but was hoping to start working after that. Instead I spent last week canceling shoots again.
I’ll be doing some initial planning for February and I do support the lock down but I feel sorry for the small businesses and self employed, for them this is very hard.
Modern sound equipment in the last ten years has come a long way.
My first job was working for a music shop, working in the workshop weekdays building speaker, crossover circuits, repairing amps and mixers. We also did special affects, so I learn’t to repair lighting controllers. On Saturdays I would work in the shop selling audio.
I went to all the big shows in London, and was privileged to be able to listen to high end audio from vinyl and cd on systems costing hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Now it does not cost a lot to get quality a quality music sound, but with people using low quality MP3’s, bluetooth headphones many have not heard how good music can sound.
Now let me state, most of my casual listening is done through a set of wireless Apple Earbuds from streamed lossy format music on my phone. In fact let me state now, it is not worth listening to lossless format music using Bluetooth, but you can get high end audio at a budget price, and also not all lossy format music is the same; you can get quality lossy format MP3’s; that combined with a good CODEC over Bluetooth can give quality sound when combined with good noise cancelling headphones, but todays chat is not about mobile audio, its about audio in your home office.
An old laptop or desktop computer as your music source with some ripped CD’s lossless format, or a high quality streaming service, a £100 DAC and £100 wired headphones can go along way. Do try and go wired where you can for better quality.
So how do I get quality music in my office. Well I have seem some users with high end vinyl record decks and thousand pound desktop speakers, but whose office generally gives good acoustics?
In my office I keep things simple. In summary its a music library of losses ripped cd’s in my iTunes (now Apple Music Library), streaming from online music services and some quality budget active speakers on the desk.
First the source part of the system.
I have Roon software on my MacPro pulling all my music together and acting as a Roon end point. From the MacPro I have a high quality audio USB cable feeding into a DAC stage of the preamp on my desk. I used to go straight into my speakers from the line out feed on the Mac, but the digital to analogue converter in computers are decidedly average. Even adding a £65 DAC such as a AudioQuest DragonFly Black can add a great improvement to the sound of your system.
My preamp is a Schiit Asgard 3. This has the optional USB multi-bit DAC. Purists who complain that the multi-bit military spec DAC cannot touch a high end audio Delta-Sigma DAC, really need to give multiunit DACs a listen, on paper its certainly not as good, but its sounds nice and would certainly rival may £500 DACs available.
Asgard 3 with optional built in multi-bit USB DAC
Amplification and Speakers.
Its not a good idea going to high end on the speaker front for your home office. Over eighty percent of how it sounds is down to the room. You have some big floor standing speakers in a large empty room with a wooden floor? You can greatly improve the sound quality with a £50 rug from Ikea! Also the amp and speaks are a very important pair, if your going separate speakers and amp then remember to audition them together.
Speakers are either active or passive, all that means is that active speakers have the amp built in them. People used to look down on active speakers; they used to be the cheap low-end of the market, but this is now not so true.
The Asgard 3 has RCA phono output and single ended headphone jack. the RCA feeds the built in amp inside my Ruark Audio MR1 Mk1 speakers, these also accept bluetooth should I wish.
This system gives me great music in my office and with the headphone socket in a quality preamp I can also get even better sound out with a pair of quality open backed headphones.
This is a nice system and comes in under a £1K but would rival many above that. Its also easily upgradable. Adding a higher end DAC such as a Schiit BIFROST 2, or even going up to a Chord Electronics Hugo with some headphones gives sound that would be hard to beat, on the speaker front you could upgrade to KEF LS50 speakers or add a power amp and some nice Wharfedale’s but you need to remember that the room has a big impact on the sound of your speakers and going to high end may not be worthwhile in your office. Keeping it simple like I have and when you want higher end listening go to headphones, or if your lucky like us and have a room you can dedicate to music then build you dream system there.
There are few iconic camera shops left and I saw in AP (Amateur Photographer) today that we are losing another one.
Richard Caplan has now closed the specialist Leica and Hasselblad dealer. I’ll be sad to seem them go.
I was worried about Robert White’s but following his death the shop has kept going and remains a wonderful Aladdin’s cave of items.
With the internet one can fine difficult items but often only if you know what you are looking for. These older specialist shops had staff who knew their craft and could really help you out. Its going to be tough for shops like this in the future but I hope they can keep going.
For my studio and wedding work I generally use a Nikon D800, if rumours are true the D8xx Z version to come after the D850 and Z7II will be coming in just over a year.
This is likely to be called either the Z8 or Z9. Its been confirmed that at least three prototypes are currently in the field being testing.
For me the most interesting prototype is the 60 MP, 16 bit A/D model with a 5,76 MP viewfinder, 120 Hz refresh rate, this is going to. be quite the studio and landscape beast and would work well for me.
With lock down back on, and this area now in Tier4, planning shoots for the early 2021 is proving interesting.
I managed a few shoots this year but they were few and far between.
The best shoot of this this year was with Helen seen above at the Two Wei Location House. This is a fantastic location is one that I hope to use many times in the future. Helen is an amazing local model who I also will be working with again.
In the last couple of months I managed three quick shoots, Jasmine and Nicola I have photographed before and will again. I used them as test subjects for a number of ideas that I will develop some more in the future. Alaria I had never worked with before but had lots of ideas that I knew would work from previous tests.
We ran out of time before we ran out of ideas which is always a good position to be in.
My first shoot for January is another test, a new model, a new location we will see what comes from it.
OK I know its Winter now but was Autumn when I took this pictures and wrote this blog post! Silly fact, those of us in the UK call it Autumn but in America its called Fall. In general we often rightly assume are American friends are wrong (joking) but in this case they are correct. In the past here in the UK we called Autumn Fall but at some point changed the season’s name.
The weather and the light over the last month has generally been awful but we have had the odd nice day, and the latest one I took the car to a pretty little Lincolnshire village and photographed the church and surrounding area. With the bright low warm light the colours did not look real, they were so intense.
I had an enjoyable hour photographing the village and came back with some nice pictures.
So if you get some nice light, even if only a few hours at this time of year its well worth going out and making the best of it.
Budget: well in many ways this is linked to the other points so we will skip this for now but, more money means more features, more support etc. Budget, midrange and high end all have their pros and cons.
Mount type: many systems have the Bowens S mount, the other common ones are the Elinchrom EL and the Profoto. Soft attachments like soft boxes can generally. be adapted or you can get third party adapter rings to fix your Profoto soft box on to say an Elinchrom flash head. It gets more difficult with hard accessories like beauty dishes. Think long and hard about where you want to go too.
Colour Consistent: This is one of those things linked to budget. The midrange and higher end flashes tend to drift no more then 300k in use. If your only taking a few pictures not too much of an issue, if your taking a lot of pictures with a lower end flash unit, keep taking a custom white balance as you go along. Taking a white balance reading and shooting for a couple of hours and then in post production noticing your colours are off after an hour in the session can cause issues when your editing and will slow down your work flow. Be aware or buy better lights.
Exposure accurate: There are two aspects to this. Consistent amount of power while you work, which is essential, and consistent when you turn up the power turn the power down, this is less important but can cause a bit of frustration if your wanting to go down one stop, set the flash one stop less and its only half a stop down in power. It slows you down a little, but is not really and issue if you meter well after each change, remember as well some of the cheaper lights may change colour temperature if you change power output, so white balance reading after a power change may be required.
Flash duration: Do you shoot sport, want to freeze water droplets, the flash duration is what freezes the action. For general use most flash is fast enough. For some specialised use then you can get special flash heads with very short duration to freeze action.
Support: Cheap and even some midrange flash units do not have good manufacture support, the units are considered consumables, if they die after three years then buy a new unit. Some high end flash companies support their old heads that are now over thirty years old and will cost-effectively repair and turn it around quickly. They have dealers locally that can lend you loan units and give quick turn around.
Power: Generally in small studio’s you do not need a lot of power, 250ws or 500ws (watt/seconds) is enough. The issue with cheaper flash units is often too much power, some high end 1000ws units will turn down 1ws, cheaper 250ws will only turn down to 30-50ws. This makes them less flexible. You may need to buy a 250ws and a 500/1000ws head as well to give you options. Also look at some reviews on YouTube. Some higher end flashes that are rated at 250ws when tested could nearly reach output of cheaper 500ws lights due to the more efficient head design and better reflectors.
Mains or Battery: This is linked to power. On location, wedding receptions, event photography then battery is the way to go, in the studio then go for mains. Depending on the amount of power I have needed on location I have either used small speed lights or my more powerful Elinchrom Quadra units. With newer technology and better batteries you can make the case for using battery in the studio. There are some units. now that are battery powered but can run on mains as well.
TTL Support: Studio flash scares a lot of photographers, in fact flash period scares people. TTL flash is generally what you get with small speed lights, but more and more studio flashes are supporting TTL. TTL – Through the Lens metering means your camera and lights work together to try and make the correct exposure. As long as the scene is not too dramatic it generally works well.
High Speed Sync: If you are mixing daylight and flash then you often find your flash sync speed in your camera becomes a limiting factor. This is why high end medium format cameras for fashion photographers can sync up to 1/2000 and some 1/4000 or 1/8000 of a second. To over come the the limits of typical cameras slow sync speed the camera and light manufactures came up with HSS. The flash blasts lots of little flashes in the hope that some of the flashes correspond with the high shutter speed in use. It uses up a lot of power but can really help if you need it. If your looking at HSS then mains power or very powerful battery lights is the way to go.