5 products that caught my eye at Photokina 2016

I have just returned from a bustling two days at Photokina, the biannual photographic gear lovefest that is held in Cologne, Germany. I was travelling in the exquisite company of fellow Belgian X-photographers Isabel Corthier and Ioannis Tsouloulis. I want to thank the people from Fujifilm Japan and Belgium for inviting us over. Trade shows like Photokina are as much about people as they are about products. So, it was great to reconnect with longtime friends such as Tom, Bert (who used Tom’s bald head as a reflector during his 'Small lights, big results’ demo on the Fujifilm stand), Rob, Damien (energetic as ever), the German ‘rock star’ trio Dieter, Jens & Peter and Marco, Julia, Shusuke and Kunio. I also had the privilige of being introduced to new people such as Patrick La Roque, Jens Krauer, Martin Hülle and their impressive work. Finally, I am happy I got to meet Rico Pfirstinger. He’s the author of the unofficial Fujifilm manuals. If you are struggling to get the most out of your camera, his books and workshops are among the best resources to turn to.

Now of course, apart from the social aspect, Photokina is obviously also about gear. Lots of gear! In fact, it's probably the most GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome)-inducing show on the planet. Even during those two days, I was unable to visit each hall, let alone each booth. Yet, there were a couple of products that caught my eye. Because the Internet loves lists, here's five of them, in no particular order. Well, except maybe for the first! 

1. Fujifilm GFX

The GFX looks like a beefed-up X-T2. Image © Fujifilm.

The GFX looks like a beefed-up X-T2. Image © Fujifilm.

Call me biased (I'm an X-photographer after all) but the Fujifilm GFX was the star of the Fujifilm booth and probably even of the entire Photokina. In case you've just returned from another planet, the GFX 50s is Fujifilm's first digital medium format camera. It has a sensor size roughly 4 times that of the other X series cameras and a pixel count of 51.4 megapixel. The GFX 50s will be available with three lenses at launch, which you should be ‘early 2017’. By end of 2017, another tree lenses should be available.

Literally everybody wanted to get their hands on the camera of which only a couple of prototypes exist. I was lucky enough to get to hold it in my hands for a couple of minutes. I was surprised at how well it focused even in the dark venue where I was and also at how lightweight it was: this beast of a camera weighs less than many a professional DSLR! If you want to read more about the specs (even more than is available on Fujifilm's own website) read this excellent article by Rico Pfirstinger.

The price of the GFX hasn't been set yet, but Fujifilm management did promise it would be 'well under $10.000' with the standard lens. We have yet to see into how many Euro that will translate...

Official press release here.

You'll be able to use two EVF viewfinders with the GFX: a regular one and one that can be tilted and rotated, allowing almost every imaginable capture angle. It will even be possible to use an external monitor.

You'll be able to use two EVF viewfinders with the GFX: a regular one and one that can be tilted and rotated, allowing almost every imaginable capture angle. It will even be possible to use an external monitor.

2. Phottix Spartan beauty dish

As you know, I use a lot of artificial (flash) lighting in my images, so I'm always eager to learn about cool new lighting accessories. One interesting modifier I came across was at the stand of Phottix. The Spartan beauty dish (full specs here) is a modifier that seems to come straight out of a Transformers movie: it's easy to set up and you can remove the disc in the center to turn it into an octabox. I also like the fact that it comes with a grid. More and more, I seem to be using grids in my own lighting. The Spartan comes in two sizes: 50 cm and 70 cm. Price for the latter is about $145. That is very affordable, considering that some companies charge about that much for just a grid!

3. SMDV BRiHT-360

The SMDV BRiHT-360 is a lightweight 360 Ws battery-powered barebulb flash with removable battery that slides into the main unit.

The SMDV BRiHT-360 is a lightweight 360 Ws battery-powered barebulb flash with removable battery that slides into the main unit.

Just as I thought I could finally finish the manuscript of the second edition of my Making Light e-book, I came across the SMDV stand... I could not help but notice their BRiHT-360 portable barebulb flashes (there were about 10 of them placed along the counter). As you may know from previous blog posts, I am a fan of their easy to set up (and even easier to break down) Speedbox series of softboxes. At Photokina, it was the BRiHT-360 that stole the show, though. As its name implies, this is a 360 Ws barebulb flash. What I like about it is that it's super lightweight at only 1.25 kg including the battery. The latter lasts about 300 full power pops. Basically, this thing produces the same amount of light as four Speedlights at the weight and price of only two. What I also like, is that it works well with SMDV's Speedboxes, who happen to be also very lightweight: the combination of the BRiHT and an 85 cm Speedbox only puts 2 kgs on the scale!

The BRiHT does TTL and HSS with Canon and Nikon cameras (using a compatible SMDV Flashwave 5 trigger) but luckily enough it also works in manual mode on my Fujifilm cameras. I am looking forward to testing this unit more in-depth and to see whether I might even be able to get some sort of HSS with my Fuji cameras by using the Cactus V6 Mark II triggers, which I reviewed here.

In the mean time, you can read the full specs of the BRiHT 360 here. In Europe, the BRiHT will be available through www.foto-morgen.de. Price should be somewhere around €700 / $750.

4. Godox

The AD600 exists in a Bowens and a Godox mount and in a TTL and manual version. All versions support HSS with Canon, Nikon and Sony (provided you use the matching Godox X1 trigger). Image © Godox.

The AD600 exists in a Bowens and a Godox mount and in a TTL and manual version. All versions support HSS with Canon, Nikon and Sony (provided you use the matching Godox X1 trigger). Image © Godox.

Godox, whose Lithium battery-powered Ving V850 speedlight I’ve reviewed here, also had a stand at Photokina. Their AD600B battery powered studio flash has recently been reviewed in Shoot, the Belgian photography magazine I write for (Dutch link here). This unit packs 600 Ws of power in an affordable package with TTL and HSS support for Nikon, Canon and Sony. By default, it comes as an all-in one light with a battery that attaches directly to the body of the flash. The advantage is that you don’t need cables and you don’t have a separate power pack to worry about (or carry around).

The potential disadvantage is that if you put your light on a boom stand, especially with a heavy modifier, the setup can get a bit top-heavy. Also, if you’re using an assistant instead of a light stand, it’s quite a workout to hold a setup like this in the air for any prolonged period of time.

Image © Godox

Image © Godox

So I was happy to see the 600 Ws Extension Head. This accessory allows you to separate the pack from the head. Just unplug the flash tube from the AD600, plug it in the Extension Head, connect the power cable to where the flash tube used to be and boom, you've transformed your all-in-one into a pack-and-head system.

Godox also had a 1200 Ws Extension Head on display: this accessory has a special, more powerful flash tube which effectively allows you to turn 2 AD600s into one 1200 Ws pack-and-head system. With so much power, you can overpower the sun even when using larger modifiers. Or, you can benefit from faster recycle times.

Finally, Godox also had an AC adaper on display which allows you to turn the AD600 into a mains-powered flash. The adapter includes a fan as well.

If you live in the US, note that the AD600 is sold by Adorama under the Flashpoint XPLOR 600 brand name.

Image © Adorama

Image © Adorama

The 600 Ws Extension Head ships without a flash tube because you use the one that comes with the AD600. Price is around $80. Image © Adorama.

The 600 Ws Extension Head ships without a flash tube because you use the one that comes with the AD600. Price is around $80. Image © Adorama.

The 1200 Ws one has a special flash tube which actually consists of two 600 Ws tubes. Price is around $300. Image © Adorama.

The 1200 Ws one has a special flash tube which actually consists of two 600 Ws tubes. Price is around $300. Image © Adorama.

5. 3 Legged Thing Albert Tripod

I have been using the Three Legged Thing Brian tripod during my travels for the last couple of years. The main reason is that it is a lightweight travel tripod that still can be extended really high. For me, it serves a dual purpose: I can use it as a traditional tripod for long exposure photography (in which case I obviously don't extend it all the way up) but I actually use it a lot more as an impromptu light stand. Having this versatility (transformability really seems to be a theme in the products I selected in this blog post) allows me to travel with less weight without compromising on photographic opportunities. Alas, the Brian is no longer available. At Photokina, I was introduced to his successor: Albert. The Albert was improved on a number of points but still shares the Brian’s adventurous and multi-purpose DNA. Price of this carbon-fibre travel tripod system is about GBP 400 (including a ballhead).

Full specs here.

The Brian used as a light stand.

The Brian used as a light stand.

So there you have it, a quick round-up of some of some of the products that caught my attention at Photokina. If you were there, I’d love to hear what caught yours!

 

 

Wat is er nieuw in Lightroom CC 2015.7 / 6.7?

Adobe lanceerde gisteren een update voor Lightroom: 6.7 of CC 2015.7 naargelang je een kooplicentie hebt of het abonnement. In deze video leer ik je alles over de nieuwigheden. Naar het einde van de video vinden Mac-gebruikers ook belangrijke informatie over de update naar Mac OSX Sierra.

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Tutorial review: The Complete Guide To Portraiture by Sandro Miller

When I first heard about ‘The Complete Guide To Portraiture & Building A Body Of Work For Print & Publication’ I knew this was one I just had to watch. After all, it’s about all the things I love in photography: travel, portraiture, lighting and retouching. So I contacted the guys over at RGG EDU (that's short for Rob and Gary's Great EDUcation), the producers of this video, and they were kind enough to set me up with a review copy and a really cool discount code for readers of this blog. Full details are at the end of this post but basically, it means that as a reader of my blog, you can get RGG EDU's newly released 6 hour Capture One Pro training video as a free bonus when you purchase the Sandro Miller tutorial.

This tutorial follows internationally acclaimed photographer Sandro Miller from start to finish on a project in which he photographs indigenous tribes in the remote and sometimes downright dangerous parts of Papua New Guinea. Here's the official trailer below.

This day and age, everyone and his dog seem to be producing video tutorials geared towards photographers. As I can tell from my own area of expertise, Lightroom training, there’s a lot of chaff amongst the wheat. Yet, the videos from RGG EDU, a relatively young photography tutorial website, definitely fall in the ‘wheat’ category. Having bought, watched and highly appreciated their ‘The Complete Guide To Composite Photography, Color & Composition with Erik Almås’, I knew I could expect high quality, and I wasn’t disappointed. By the way, here's an in-depth (Dutch-only, unfortunately) review of the Erik Almås tutorial.

Sandro Miller

One of Sandro's most recent books is the result of a seventeen-year collaboration between photographer and subject. I'll try and keep that in mind the next time I make a one-minute portrait of someone :-)

One of Sandro's most recent books is the result of a seventeen-year collaboration between photographer and subject. I'll try and keep that in mind the next time I make a one-minute portrait of someone :-)

To be really honest, I did not know Sandro Miller. At least not by name. But I did know some of his work, and chances are you do, too: just google his latest book Malkovich Malkovich Malkovich, which features photographs that Sandro made during his 17 year friendship with this incredibly versatile actor.

Incidentally, this is just one of the things this tutorial taught me: getting a book published takes time and patience. Sandro visited Cuba 14 times before he did a book on it. But... it is not undoable, especially after watching this tutorial...

What’s in this tutorial?

In this tutorial, we get to follow Sandro while he is preparing a new book project: a series of portraits of tribal people in Papua New Guinea. 

Obviously, the highlight of the tutorial is the actual documentary in which you get to see him set up a makeshift studio, set up his lights and interact with the people he photographs. If this tutorial where a five course dinner: this would be the main course. But the appetizers, served as 'prerequisites' and desserts (the compositing tutorials and final interviews) are just as... mouthwatering.

Gear and Lighting Prerequisite 

First of all, there are a number of so-called prerequisites or series of introductory videos: there's one about the gear that Sandro uses and then another series of videos about lighting where you can see how he puts that gear to use in his studio in Chicago. The contrast between the high-end equipment (Sandro's studio looks like a mix of a Profoto and Broncolor flagship store) and what he used in Papua New Guinea could not be bigger. It’s another proof that it’s the photographer matters more than the gear, or as the publisher of my own eBooks, David duChemin would say: Gear is good, Vision is better!

The idea of the prerequisite videos is to teach you some of the basics so that you can follow along better when the tutorial shifts to a higher gear. To that effect, we see Sandro make 2 portraits: a moody male portrait and a fashion portrait of a woman. During these sessions, Sandro explains why he uses a certain light and how he modifies it with flags. We also get to see that lighting is often a game of inches...

‘I can create a novel in a man’s face by the way that I light it’
— Sandro

I found it interesting to see the progression in the images: from ‘I can do that, too’ to ‘Damn, that’s a setup I have to remember’. It was also kind of comforting to see that even a highly respected portrait photographer has to work a scene and a model to get to great results. Success does not come easy. In fact, if there’s one theme that recurred throughout the work of Sandro Miller in general and this tutorial in particular, it’s the importance of practice, perseverance and attention to detail. I really picked up lots of little nuggets from those prerequisites.

Digitech prerequisite

Another thing that I found really interesting was the interview with Shad Wilson. Shad works - amongst others - as a so called Digitech: a digital tech assistant. He even has his own custom truck stacked to the roof with tripods, pelicases and light stands. Sandro being a high-end photographer, he can afford the budget for a Digitech to come along on this project.

'I'll be in the shed...' Shad WIlson talks Gary from RGG EDU through how he turned a regular Pelicase into a sun-shielded laptop case.

'I'll be in the shed...' Shad WIlson talks Gary from RGG EDU through how he turned a regular Pelicase into a sun-shielded laptop case.

But even for mere mortals like you and I, this section has some really interesting advice on backup and workflow that can be helpful when you have to be your own Digitech. I also learned an interesting idea from this section: Sandro already had a specific idea from the start as to how the final images should look. He created that specific style in Photoshop and then gave that file to the Digital Tech. Shad emulated the look in Capture One so that he could apply it to the images while shooting tethered.

Postprocessing and retouching prerequisites.

As this tutorial is as almost as much about postprocessing as it is about photography, there’s also a couple of introductory videos on postprocessing and retouching.

In these videos, we get to know Pratik Naik of Solstice Retouch. Pratik is a world renowned retoucher and another example that RGG EDU will only work with people who really know their stuff.

Pratik has some interesting ideas on how to redefine some of Photoshop's shortcuts so they are grouped together better for retouching. Even though these prerequisite tutorials were primarily aimed at beginners, I picked up a couple of interesting tips, not in the least about Capture One, which I I'm not so familiar with as I am obviously more of a Lightroom user. Yet, the things I learned definitely made me want to check out Capture One more in detail.

Pratik has some interesting ideas on how to redefine some of Photoshop's shortcuts so they are grouped together better for retouching. Even though these prerequisite tutorials were primarily aimed at beginners, I picked up a couple of interesting tips, not in the least about Capture One, which I I'm not so familiar with as I am obviously more of a Lightroom user. Yet, the things I learned definitely made me want to check out Capture One more in detail.

Again, the idea is to get you up to speed for the ‘real’ postprocessing sections towards the end of the video, where the Papua New Guinea portraits that were taken on a green screen are composited into the backgrounds which were also photographed on location, but separately.

Sandro shot the backgrounds separately. At first, I had a hard time understanding why but after seeing the whole series come together, it made sense!

Sandro shot the backgrounds separately. At first, I had a hard time understanding why but after seeing the whole series come together, it made sense!

I have to admit that at first, I thought it was a strange idea to be shooting people against a green backdrop and then, sometimes as little as 100 feet further, shoot the actual backdrop separately, only to combine them later in Photoshop. I mean, why not just put your subject against the backdrop of your choice and photograph him right there and then, right?

It's what I have been doing so far with all of my travel portraits. It was only after viewing a number of finished images that I understood why this at first sight overly complicated procedure made sense: by having separate control over the background and the foreground and by also being able to exactly control the lighting of the subject in his makeshift studio (much more than under the glaring Papuan sun), the resulting photographs work much better together as a series. This in turn makes the work better suited for a book. It's definitely something I might also try in the future. 

The actual Papua New Guinea documentary

Although ‘only’ slightly over an hour, this is obviously the ‘pièce de résistance’ of this tutorial. Here we get to see Sandro created the raw material (pun intended) that will form the basis of an actual book project. We see Sandro check out locations that can either be suitable to create his makeshift studio or as a so called black plate, a background for compositing.

The setup (left) and the resulting raw file (right). Sandro used a digital Hasselblad on this shoot so he has virtually unlimited postprocessing options in terms of recovery and dynamic range.

The setup (left) and the resulting raw file (right). Sandro used a digital Hasselblad on this shoot so he has virtually unlimited postprocessing options in terms of recovery and dynamic range.

To me, the most important take away from this video was that you don't need expensive or complicated lighting setups to create really impactful images. Everything was done within a relatively simple, double diffused soft box. No rim light, no reflectors, nothing.

The video below has some behind-the-scenes footage and it gives you a good idea of what to expect in the full-length tutorial.

For me, the tutorial also re-emphasized the importance of having a good fixer on location. When you spend a lot of money on a location project in an area or a country that you're not familiar with, it really is a good idea to set some money aside and hire someone who can help you, not only logistically but most importantly help you scout interesting locations and faces and interact with them.

In terms of makeshift studios, it does not get much more makeshift than this :-)

In terms of makeshift studios, it does not get much more makeshift than this :-)

On my most recent trip to India, I did exactly that: we hired a really great local guy who helped us find interesting people and locations and who at the same time could translate  as my own Hindi is limited to ‘Hello’ and ‘Look this way’ and ‘Look that way’.

I would rather buy an f/1.8 portrait lens and have some money left for a fixer, than buy the most expensive lens there is and not have any budget left for travel, let alone a fixer. If you're interested, below you can find a short video with some of my own location lighting work. Although it's not in the Hasselblad range, I'm very happy with the dynamic range of my Fujifilm X-Pro 2 and I'm even happier its price isn't in the Hasselblad range, either!

The Compositing videos

As much as I liked the actual on location video in Papua New Guinea, I was even more looking forward to the compositing videos. And again, I was not disappointed. Pratik does a really good job of explaining how to blend these rather complex subjects with all their feathers and beads into the background. I found his explanation on how to get rid of the green fringes that remain (shooting against a green backdrop is no miracle solution) and how to use the blur and smudge brushes to tweak the mask, invaluable.

Before... As you can see from the screenshot, the original mask leaves a lot of problems in terms of green fringing. Pratik shows a couple of really interesting tips that I have never seen before (and Lord knows I've watched my share of compositing videos) on how to get rid of those.

Before... As you can see from the screenshot, the original mask leaves a lot of problems in terms of green fringing. Pratik shows a couple of really interesting tips that I have never seen before (and Lord knows I've watched my share of compositing videos) on how to get rid of those.

And after... The final image is dark and moody. Yet, by keeping everything nicely organized in layers, adjustment layers and groups, everything can still be changed should the photographer prefer a different blend of foreground and background, or a different white balance. By the way, these quick screen grabs don't do the images much justice...

And after... The final image is dark and moody. Yet, by keeping everything nicely organized in layers, adjustment layers and groups, everything can still be changed should the photographer prefer a different blend of foreground and background, or a different white balance. By the way, these quick screen grabs don't do the images much justice...

As a photographer, you have to have your own characteristic style. Part of that style is obviously created during capture, but this tutorial really made clear that an important part is also added in postproduction. The original files were rather dark and flat. Using a bunch of adjustment layers and filters, Pratik turns them into very moody portraits. As a nice extra, the tutorial includes a number of backgrounds and original raw files so you can follow along with the compositing videos. And I really recommend you do because it's the best way to learn anything. 

Two images waiting to be combined into one...

Two images waiting to be combined into one...

Another advanced technique I picked up was how to use Photoshop's Blend If options to restrict the effect of an Adjustment layer to specific areas.

Another advanced technique I picked up was how to use Photoshop's Blend If options to restrict the effect of an Adjustment layer to specific areas.

The printing videos

In these videos, we see Sandro meet up with his longtime friend and printer, Jon Scott of JS Graphics. We get to see Jon prepare the final images for print and if you have ever printed on a large format printer yourself, you'll recognise the mix of anxiety and excitement that you feel when an expensive large-format print comes rolling out of the printer. This section wasn't as in-depth as I wanted it to be but on the other hand, you could probably easily fill another 11 hours with just a printing tutorial.

Sandro and Jon inspecting a large format print. As an interesting side-note, this image, which was shot with available light and was not composited, is one of my favorite images of the entire series.

Sandro and Jon inspecting a large format print. As an interesting side-note, this image, which was shot with available light and was not composited, is one of my favorite images of the entire series.

Final interviews: hug a book!

This tutorial wraps up with two more interviews: the first is with Sandro’s publisher, Martha Hallet from Glitterati. It's an interesting talk about the publishing business and all of the artistic, financial and marketing considerations that go into  publishing a book. I chuckled when I heard Martha say that Sandro wanted to use seven inks for the Malkovich book (compared to the standard of four) and how they finally settled for five.

I dont’t want to look at a book on an iPad. That’s ridiculous. You want to feel a book. You want to hug a book!
— Sandro

This section really is an ode to the printed photo book and rightly so. One thing I found missing was some insight as to how to actually layout a book like this. The publisher goes briefly into it but an interview with the graphic designer would really have interested me, too. Well, I guess the RGG EDU guys had to draw the line somewhere!

The final interview not only gives an insight in Sandro's career, which spans four decades, but also in his amazing collection of photo books, which seems to span 40 feet!

The final interview not only gives an insight in Sandro's career, which spans four decades, but also in his amazing collection of photo books, which seems to span 40 feet!

That ode continues in the last interview with Sandro about his life and career. Sandro is filmed against a bookshelf that literally contains hundreds of photo books. After all the tech talk of the previous videos, this more inspirational interview is a great way to end a great tutorial.

Conclusion

As you may have guessed by now, ‘The Complete Guide To Portraiture & Building A Body Of Work For Print & Publication’ is an excellent tutorial in my opinion. If you're into location portraiture, postproduction and the entire process of working towards a published book, whether it's self published or with a publisher, this is something you must watch and then... probably watch again.

Everything is relative
— Einstein

Two fantastic RGG EDU discount codes for readers of this blog

Now... about the price. At first sight, $299 isn't cheap but as Einstein said: 'Everything is relative'. For the price of a camera bag, you get 11 hours of very well produced, in-depth, concise and above all very motivating training that will probably do more for your photography than any camera bag ever will!

Knowing what it already takes to produce a relatively simple Lightroom or Photoshop tutorial, I can only imagine the planning, effort, time and money it has taken to create the Sandro tutorial. So I would say that although not cheap, the price is more than fair for the length, quality and production value of the tutorial.

With code MTW25, you basically get RGG EDU’s new 6 hour Capture One Pro tutorial for free!

And if $299 is too much to pay in one go, you can even finance it in monthly installments of $29.

Better still, I’ve got two very cool discount codes for you, my dear readers: code MTW10 gets you 10 percent off the Sandro tutorial (or any other RGG EDU tutorial, for that matter). Code MTW25 even gets you 25 percent off on any order that's over 375$. That basically means you can get RGG EDU's freshly announced Capture One tutorial (a $79 value) completely free: the trick is to add both tutorials in your shopping cart, enter the code MTW25 and you'll pay less for both than the regular $299 price of the Sandro tutorial alone! But don't wait too long, because these codes expire end of August, 2016.

Before I forget: the RGG EDU contest!

When you buy the tutorial, you also get access to a private Facebook group and you get to enter the Sandro Portrait Photography Contest which RGG EDU specifically set up for this tutorial. The contest has $50.000 in prizes! I told you these RGG EDU guys don’t do half work… Find out more about the contest here.

Subscribe to my newsletter and get my '10 Tips for Better Travel Photographs' for free.

Subscribe to my newsletter and get my '10 Tips for Better Travel Photographs' for free.

And - shameless plug to end this long review - if this tutorial gets you in a traveling mood, don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter: you’ll receive my 10 tips for better travel photographs absolutely free.

Finally, if you want to do more than just read about travel photography, Matt Brandon and I have just announced the 2017 edition of our Location Portraiture and Lighting Masterclass in Delhi and Varanasi, India.