ROB DURSTON PHOTOGRAPHY

Magazine

International Business Machines or just IBM for short.

The phone rang one Friday summer afternoon. Brrrring, brrrrring “Hello Studio”.
“Hello Rob, we were wondering if you would be interested in doing some photography for IBM”
Um geee, let me think about that. . . uh ya, of course.

I was to photograph a couple of tech guys in Dublin who use one of IBM’s IT systems. It would also provide a good shakedown shoot for a new camera I had just bought back in the summer but hadn’t really used on a larger shoot. The camera is the Pentax 645z and for anyone who follows things in the imaging world, its sort of a break through medium format camera in the sense of price, tech and quality; it comes in at a fraction of the competition, Hasselblad and Phase. It uses a 50mp CMOS sensor, which in layman’s terms, means it is about double the resolution of most 35mm cameras and can give excellent results in very low light. As a couple of added bonuses, the camera uses a legacy mount so you can use almost all the medium format lenses Pentax has ever released and because of the size of the medium format sensor it gives you a relative shallower depth of field (less things in focus), giving you greater control over your image.
I was very curious to see how it stacked up against my faithful Canon 5D mk3, which is no slouch and has served me very well since I got it back in 2012. I love the Canon for ease of use, the excellent, tunable AF system and low light CMOS sensor.

The Pentax 645z
I had been following the progress of medium format cameras over the years, teasing myself that I would sometime test the waters and dive into a Phase system and mortgage my right and left kidneys. A camera like the Phase in 2013 would have set you back $30-40k depending on the options, bells and whistles. Add on a couple of lenses and you’d be up around 50k. In the fall of 2013, Phase announced they would be releasing a new camera back using the new Sony CMOS sensor; it would be a real break though for medium format low light capabilities. The down side was the price, $35,000 just for the back.
Then Sony did something cool, they sold the sensor to Hasselblad and Pentax. The Hasselblad came in at just under $30k with a body and the Pentax is a third of that.
When I first heard about the imminent release of the Pentax, I started scouring for lenses. I knew it was going to be a legacy mount so I could mount the older 645 and 6×7 lenses on the new body but I didn’t want to go too far back in lineage, just to keep any unwanted aberrations to a minimum. I found an older manual focus 35mm, a 45-85 AF and a 150mm f2.8 AF. Those lenses along with a brand new 55mm f2.8 are what I’m using for most of my work these days. It seems the only time I’m going back to my Canon is for the extreme wide angle view from the 17mm, the superior auto focus system or the lighter weight. Other than that, the Pentax has the Canon “pinned to the ropes”.
That being said, this is not a pixel to pixel comparison but more of a user’s conclusion after his first shoot, using them side by side.
Overall I would say that the Pentax files have a very similar feel to the Canon’s. They have good sharpness out of the camera. The Canon seems to be a little more sensitive, exposure wise, by maybe a stop and a third to a stop and a half. On the Pentax side of things though, at equivalent exposures, you’ll see a stop more in the highlights and at least a stop more in the shadows, a huge improvement. The Pentax is totally usable up to 6400 and 12,800 ISO and beyond. I wouldn’t hesitate to shoot at the upper reaches of the ISO range (without going into the 6 digits), especially if it meant gaining a stop or two of depth of field.

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For IBM though I wouldn’t be needing any of those higher numbers since we were shooting in a modern office building with good available light as well as our own Profoto 600B’s. I did shoot up at 1250 ISO just for the convenience of being able to hand hold the Pentax while I wandered the space capturing still life images.
The 45-85mm Pentax zoom was great in this location; very flexible focal lengths. When I first heard about the Phase Schneider 40-80mm zoom I laughed. I thought was a ridiculous focal range, how could that be usable. It’s the equivalent of a 26-50mm on a 35mm camera. Although the Pentax is 5mm longer on both ends of the range, effectively its the same range and it totally works. I don’t know why but with this project and pretty much every one after it, this has been the lens of choice. It is quite hefty and it uses an older AF drive system that is much louder than the newer 55mm in the camera bag. It also has on of the worst designs for turning the AF on the lens on and off. You do this by sliding the focusing ring either away or towards you; therefore engaging or disengaging the locking mechanism on the AF drive. The reason it is silly to me, is that there are often times I want to grab focus using the AF system, then turn it off and then either leave it or do some focus bracketing while the subject moves. With this focus ring system, when you disengage it by sliding it, you inevitably turn the ring ever so slightly, therefore making that next image out of focus; painfully ill designed.
Its been a long time since we shot a serious work project on medium format. Outside of a couple of small simple shoots in the past couple of years, previously it would have been 2000 or 2001 when we really put on our thinking caps and used the size and benefits of the format to their fullest. Aspects like a diminished depth of field, razor thin focus and effective manual focusing on mid ground subjects, all started to come back to me again. Where you would have been shooting a portrait at f4 or f5.6 for a nice shallow focus but still holding it from the nose to the back of the head, now you’re dialling it up a stop on the power and giving yourself f8 or even f11 on the lens in medium format. It might not seem like much but it is the difference between all things being sharp and only some.
On this shoot we were dealing with a couple of computer guys, Niall and Krzysztof. They were really nice and gave us all the time we needed, all in all just over an hour. My assistant Richard and I scouted the location, an modern office building, amongst many other modern office buildings. They was nothing special nor anything ugly about it, the building was just vanilla plain. Some of the offices were vacant and there were random pieces of furniture in some of them. The brief called for 4 scenarios of portraits and a selection of still life and office images around the building. Sure it doesn’t sound hard but trying to make a banana split out of vanilla ice cream and only a bowl takes some creativity.
We tried a shot in the above room with the two lonely chairs, it was okay but we could do better. A couple of other scenarios we shot right in their work environments, behind the monitors, clicking away on the keyboards.

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Here is the set up for that image, along with my chatty assistant keeping the subject in stitches with his bad jokes, you can see the Pentax peeking in the bottom of the frame. We used one Profoto 600B with a silver Softlight.

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The Pentax lenses are nice, they are sharp (when focused correctly), decently contrasty but back lit, they remind me of a Hasselblad CF lens; just ever so softly flaring out at the edges against white. Still the king for backlit even after ceasing continuing to develop them, has to be the Mamiya RZ glass. It was near impossible to get edges to flare in the studio, when shooting on a white background, blown out a stop or two over the main. All in all though the Pentax optics are a solid 8/10, Only Hasselblad, Mamiya and Leica would have anything over them.
From the office scenario we needed a larger space, something to really let your eye wander around in and then pull it back to our main subjects. Remembering that this was a relatively new build office building, with no real “cool” aspects to the architecture, we searched the few floors we had access to. The kitchen area was large. It had an interesting countertop running mid height along one wall of windows. I thought maybe we could do something with it and the outside world.
As seen by the accompanying image, the location needed a little extra fill and a slight overexposure to clean things up a bit (nothing really could clean up these two ugly mugs)

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Moving on to our two subjects, I opted to go fairly wide, a little wider than the Pentax could do at 35mm. I shot with the Canon 5D mk3 and a 17-40mm set at 28mm. I’d love to get the Pentax 28-45mm F4.5 but it will need to wait a while until a few other necessities are purchased.
I love the cool, work environment tone of the portrait; cool green without muddying the skin tones.

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For the last image of the brief, I really wanted to get outside. It was a bright overcast day and I wanted something away from the office scenes. We had originally tried to go off site to the main server station but unfortunately we ran out of time to get the proper clearance (Clarence). So the next best thing, a street shot with one of the branded vehicles.
This is tough, creatively, trying to get an interesting image of two guys in button down shirts, posing with a heavily branded company car, in what can only be called an office building jungle. Whatever hope we had, holding out for some rays of direct or bounced sunlight would probably never happen. The thin, narrow corridor between the glass towers was facing the wrong direction to the shrouded sun. We would have to make do with the cool overcast light we had and I would supplement it with the Profoto 600B and the RFi 3′ Octalight. In tight with the grid installed its a really nice little light. In this case we were using it just as a little rim light, skimming across Niall’s right shoulder. I shot this on the Pentax with the 45-85mm at 45mm. It is set to f11 to make sure we have both Niall and Krzysztof sharp. The shutter speed was at 1/15th of a second to get a good blur out of the slow moving local traffic and ISO was set to 640.
I feel the subjects’ white shirts bring a focus point to the image; the strong repeating vertical lines of the background windows and the motion blur of the passing car are just eye candy.

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Here is the finished story using the last two images.

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Having a Laugh with Pat Ruddy #onlocation

As all professional photographers and most of the readers of this “blog” (damn I can’t stand saying that word) know, assignment portrait photographers get very little time with their subjects. Last year I shot one of the biggest personalities in Ireland and even though I was promised 15 minutes . . . I got five. No amount of preparation, research or moxie will persuade some subjects from deviating from their path of stubbornness.

. . . and then it opens up to expose a beautiful seascape

So when a subject comes along and after a few minutes changes their mind from giving you an hour to “whatever you need”, you don’t waste it.
That’s what happened when Condé Nast’s GolfWorld asked me to photograph Pat Ruddy, world renowned golf course designer. I am not a huge fan of golf, I admit it. I always took the Bill Cosby approach to golf; “you have the ball, you put the ball down, you hit the ball then you chase the ball, why?” I just never understand the passion some people have for it. Yes, I’m in the wrong country to be questioning “golf” but as far as I was ever concerned it was never a sport, more like a leisure event.

My personal edit of choice for story opener

Pat was a true sport; I’m sure he could see I had no idea what he was talking about at times, my eyes’ glazing over while he talked. However as he talked more and more about the history of the game I became more interested. He explained his methodology towards designing and constructing the courses based on terrain, water, trees, landscapes and enumerable other factors; I found it extremely interesting, much more so than current world standings or chit chat about shafts and balls.

Pat explaining the finer points of bulldozing earth

Our location was his own course, located about 35 miles south of Dublin, called The European Club. The course is a beautiful piece of land, personally designed and constructed by Ruddy with the help of his family. No detail was ever too small and the course exudes forethought; each hole has a view but you only ever get to see the view Pat wants you to see. He built berms and hills to make you keep your eye on the game and then in positions between shots, he’d open up the view to expose an awesome seascape or landscape. We spent hours in between photographs talking about the mysticism of golf and whats good and bad with the game today. It was a real eye opener to me. I will never look at the game the same as I had in the past.

Another favourite

So all this was for one of Condé Nast’s great magazine titles, GolfWorld, which publishes weekly, well did publish weekly. I was published in the second to last printed version of the magazine, ending a tradition that started in 1947. The magazine now is only published online.
I had made five or six portrait scenarios over the span of the day with Pat, far more than needed but it is always nice to have a few extras in case of a shift in the story or if a photo editor really doesn’t like something. I had one scenario, the setting below, all mapped out in my head days before we shot. I knew Pat had a large library of golfing books and memorabilia and I had pictured in my mind a small scope of daylight, streaming into the otherwise dark cavern. When we arrived and scouted the property, there it was, just like I had imagined it; a dark library with a small doorway leading out to a windowed in balcony area. The source of daylight was perfect for what I had in mind, seating him close to the doorway, lit with a bit of contrast from the overcast sky, with the rest of the library just hinting of the vast array of books and magazines.
Now I only remembered to do this, honestly, after we said our good byes, following a 7 hour shoot day. My assistant Richard and I were literally walking out the door, mind still spinning from all the mystical talk of land and sea, when I turned sharply and asked Pat for five more minutes of his time. We dropped all the gear at the door and I just took the Canon with the 17-40 zoom and tripod back upstairs. A few little art directing cues; some books on the floor covering unwanted floor plugs and a desk lamp adding a warm glow and the stage was set. All Pat had to do, after a long day of entertaining us with his stories and jokes was give me a few strong facial expressions and he had no problems delivering.

My second choice for for opener

Most people might think its easy to after the shoot, a quick edit, send the files off and then invoice the client, well not always.
I set my selects up in a gallery for the photo editor to download and the library shot was left behind. Hmmmmm, I thought it was strong and deserved a chance in front of the story. The photo editor challenged me on it, cool I thought, someone who actually is looking at the images as a cohesive story to tie in the writer’s copy. She wanted me to layout the image as I saw it in my mind, with copy for the opener. Cue Facebook and an available designer friend in California and a few minutes later we had a couple of roughs to send back to the photo editor to show her what I meant. Below is one of those roughs.

My second choice for for opener with copy.

Even with the added lengths, the image didn’t make the cut but it was still nice to see someone on staff really thinking and grinding the images to make sure they work with a story.
In the end it was a great day, one of those shoots you will always remember. Whether it was the jokes rolling out of Pat or the paparazzi scenario as he came over a berm, yelling and screaming at us to get off the course (so damn funny), it was all fun. I’d really like to thank Pat and his son for looking after us and giving us their time to make it all happen, thanks.

Doing my best Happy Gilmore