Victor Rufus

Niccolò Machiavelli, the photographer — photoshoot notes

If for a moment you consider the requirements for a successful shot as a pyramid, technical requirements will sit at the bottom and as we go up the pyramid, more artistic aspects of photography will be placed.

The environmental, situational, technical and skill-related aspects usually covered first, and as one become a more experienced and knowledgeable, more artistic aspects gradually being covered, to the point one can delegate the technical aspects to muscle memory and focus more on artistic aspects.

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I think there’s a clearly defined line where one can be sure that they covered the technical aspects of successfully captured photo. Correct exposure, avoiding unwanted distortion, motion, achieving the desired depth-of-field, focus and sharpness are the basics that can be clearly defined.

However, one can pass all these requirements and yet create technically perfect and boring photographs, just like most of my pictures, and on the other hand, you still can create art without regarding and adhering to all technical considerations. But that doesn’t mean avoiding doing your homework magically make you an artist. Photography can be a chaotic, unpredicted work. Being prepared technically and mentally always help. This reminds me of Machiavelli’s quote in his notorious masterpiece, “The Prince”.

Fortune can be compared to a river that floods, destroying everything in its way. But when the weather is good, people can prepare dams and dykes to control the flood.”

Machiavelli – The Prince

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Looking at the bigger picture, photography, fortunately, is not mostly a one-off experience. Of course, you’ll be going to miss a lot of photographic opportunities as you start your journey, but as you gain more experience, with each photoshoot session you cover more ground, to the level that you can focus on matters that are placed higher on the photography pyramid and think only about them and leave the rest to subconscious and muscle memory. Maybe this approach sounds archaic. I worked all my life just like an artisan in the Renaissance times. I know no shortcuts to greatness.

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I’m trying to learn my lesson about the technicalities, and study the possibilities of artistic communication in other people’s words and works. For the moment to arrive, you have to be mentally well prepared and of course, be there.

This article photos are from a recent performance of Victor Rufus, musician, teacher and Canberran and his band, at Smith’s alternative.

You can view the complete album here:

Victor Rufus at Smith's alternative

Magazin design - B2B Magazine

The challenges of co-branding design

Note: This text is about the visual and not the commercial aspect of co-branding, which is the more common use of the term.

One of the questions I encounter every day during the magazine design process is how to draft visual treaties between various design systems. For example, you can have an article about financial sector sitting beside an advertisement for a restaurant. It get’s more difficult when it’s two distinct branding systems are sitting side by side. However, no task is more challenging than successfully landing a distinct branding system with its own guidelines on typeface, white space, choice of colour and visual devices (i.e. frames, illustrations, icons or other visual concepts), on a page of a magazine that has its own branding guideline as well as content style guide.

 

Of course, this sort of conflict does not happen when you are working on an art, a literary or political magazine where only the magazine style guide rules, except for islands of advertisement. But for a business magazine like B2B, which is a blend of various brands, products, and services sitting side by side, you can’t simply dismiss each entity’s identity and dictate the magazine visual style. Each and every of them should have a chance to show their distinct visual identities, along with their message to readers.

Now you have not only different and sometimes contrasting visuals sitting side by side, you have to frame the content within the magazine’s own style. After all, you are not creating a product/services catalog, the magazine’s style guide should encompass and hold all the distinct visual elements like a glue, so readers experience a natural and continuous flow of various stories, advertisement, and features.

From my own experience, one of the most successful approaches in creating the harmony is thinking about how much you can bend the magazine style guides to accommodate the brand it’s hosting. however, at the same time, you should be careful not to sacrifice the host brand. Obviously, this is a one-way road. You can’t expect to bend the guest branding rules to fit the magazine style guide, except the choices of typography. If you change the typography for each brand, the result is a saddle-stitched catalog, not a magazine.

b2b120-oct-v1-1 - Magazin design - B2B Magazine

 

So it’s your magazine’s brand that “wears” the dress of each brand it hosts, but it’s still the magazine brand, and not beyond recognition. I think the most common example these days is how Google co-brands itself with various causes and historical events. I don’t personally like it because I think this is a posturing as a force for good, which is philosophically irrelevant at best, for a publicly-traded company with its main goal of giving more profit to its shareholders. However, at least they are successful in doing so in visual terms.

In issue #120 of B2B Magazine, it hosted RSM on for the cover story and I tried my best to maintain a balance between the branding identity of them and our magazine. Photography is done by me and the photography venue was the courtesy of QT Lounge, Canberra. I would like to thank the fantastic RSM team members for their time and patience and as always thank Tim Benson, our editor for all the support and guidance.

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Focus on APS-C sensor

Be careful what you wish for, it might come out-of-focus

Being a long-time user of smaller-than-35mm cameras and enjoying their sharp and all-in-focus images in street photography, my early experiences –more accurately put, re-encounter, considering film era- with 35 mm format — was initially difficult. Shots were easily got out of focus. Lack of any visual indications (i.e. split screen or micro prism) in modern digital cameras added to the problem [1]. I was being at the mercy of cameras autofocus system unless I use the more accurate, but usually difficult-to-use live view.

Dialogue - 1/80 sec @ f/5.6, ISO 140 - 105mm - APS-C
Dialogue — 180 sec @ f/5.6, ISO 140 — 105mm — APS‑C

The larger area of 35mm format sensor – in comparison to smaller formats- increases the light capturing ability and improves the low light performance. [2] Larger pixels ‑if the sensor pixel density kept at reasonable levels- helps improve dynamic range. Also, rendition of out-of-focus areas can be softer using smaller f‑number [3] These create enough motives to try to go up the ladder of sensor sizes to achieve better picture quality and creative control. But there’s a downside to this. As you opt for larger sensor sizes, controlling the focus and depth of field becomes more difficult. A tiny misplacement in focus point translates to visible softness. F‑numbers considered safe in a Micro Four Thirds or APS‑C formats, can have very shallow in-focus depth in 35mm. Get close to f/1.4 or smaller f‑numbers and the in-focus plane becomes so thin that focusing accidentally on an eyelash can make subjects’ eye look slightly blurry.

Lunch - 1/320 sec @ f/4.5, ISO 100 - 200mm - APS-C
Lunch — 1320 sec @ f/4.5, ISO 100 — 200mm — APS‑C

Let’s look at an example: A typical APS‑C Nikon camera with its kit lens at 18mm and f/3.6 focusing on a subject 3 meters away will have ~1.2 m in front and ~5.7 m behind of the subject in focus. That’s ~6.9m of in-focus depth, which leaves a very good safe margin in case several non-linear subjects needed to be in focus at the same time, for example, people standing in a U‑shaped group.

Doing the same calculations with a full-frame Nikon with same f‑number and angle of view [4] and the total in-focus depth reduces to ~3.2 m. Now you have less than a meter in front and about 2 meters behind the focus point in focus.

In some circumstances, the unforgiving nature of 35mm in comparison to smaller formats eliminates most of the probable advantages for choosing it in the first place. For keeping the subject in focus you need to choose a smaller f‑number, losing light gathering advantage you had to some extent. You might need to bring more light into the scene to compensate and hence complicate the process. If you do all these and manage to keep your focus on the creative aspect of the work at the same time, you get better results than a smaller format. [5]

Jerrabomberra wetlands - 1/250 sec @ f/5.5, ISO 100- 18mm - APS-C
Jerrabomberra wetlands — 1250 sec @ f/5.5, ISO 100- 18mm — APS‑C

That’s why I envy the owners of latest APS‑C cameras. If you begin purchasing a system nowadays, there’s a real opportunity to be very happy with APS‑C and Micro Four Third systems nowadays. Everything is achievable with them except very low-light (like music photography in bars), For monochrome, photojournalistic work they are adequate and you enjoy a smaller system within budget. Camera’s are fast and have deep buffers, autofocus is accurate and minor mistakes in choosing the aperture are forgiven. For people like me, who really need 35mm (and larger) for certain type of jobs, it’s just more shooting discipline, awareness about the in-focus range and refusing the temptation of getting carried away by the allure of wider apertures.

After all, there’s so much wisdom in Arthur Fellig’s famous quote, when asked about his technique: “f/8 and be there”. [6]

1/200 sec @ f/7.1, ISO 100 - 200mm - APS-C
1200 sec @ f/7.1, ISO 100 — 200mm — APS‑C


Footnotes

[1] Focusing screens for digital cameras are too soft for manual focus and lack micro prisms and split screens, due to different design goals.

[2] With a physical limit on the number of photons that a sensor can receive per exposure, each sensor size receives and records a finite number of photons per area. Obviously, the actual number of photons that their values are recorded with precision is less than the maximum theoretical limit, but even if theoretically ideal sensing device was achievable, able of recording 100 percent of photons it receives, still the data being sampled cannot exceed the total number of photons. So here’s where the size of the surface area becomes the key factor in sampling more photons in the same exposure timeframe and having more image information to work on.

[3] F‑number is the ratio of the lens’s focal length to the diameter of the entrance pupil. F‑number –being a ratio- is equal among cameras with difference sensor sizes, but it doesn’t mean physical aperture size and light gathering capability with the same f‑number is equal among various formats.

[4] 18 mm in APS‑C is approximately equivalent to 27 – 28 mm in 35mm format, depending on the manufacturer’s APS‑C sensor size.

[5] I understand why Fujifilm and Four-Third Consortium chose to build their system on a smaller format. They correctly anticipated that the technology will progress to the level that quality will be acceptable under most conditions and eventually will surpass and cover all typical shooting scenarios. Because they were early movers, the investment of the Four-Third standard consortium took a long time to show a positive return. Early camera’s low-light performance was subpar and contrast-detect AF was less capable than phase-detect systems used in DSLRs. Later, with better sensors, on-sensor phase detection, and better contrast-detect systems the gap narrowed. And they are not still 100 percent there. For Fujifilm however, the return of the benefits of this approach bears the fruit faster, because they have chosen a format only one step (and stop) behind the 35mm. Just look at the recent photo samples of the X‑T2.

[6] Speed Graphics — the cameras used by Arthur Fellig at the time were 4×5 inch and the optimal aperture for them were f/16. I don’t know why he quoted f/8 as the optimal aperture.

Canberra Swing Katz - Canberra City Band Floriade 2016

Canberra City Band in Floriade 2016 — photoshoot notes

Introduction

Canberra City Band in Floriade 2016

Recently I’ve been fortunate enough to be invited to photograph Canberra city band’s performance in Floriade 2016.

CCB is one of Australia’s oldest community concert bands, serving the ACT community for over 90 years and recently ‑among many other accolades — won the New South Wales A Grade Concert Band Championship 2016, Australian National Eisteddfod Champions 2009 – 2016.Here are my technical notes of photographing the performance.

Here are my technical notes of photographing the performance.

The problem with the scene’s dynamic range

Music director face is darker in than the mid-tone in background. Canberra City Band in Floriade 2016
Music director’s face is darker in than the mid-tone in the background. Canberra City Band in Floriade 2016


Canberra City Band performance photography in Floriade 2016 was amazing and difficult at the same time. In an ordinary sunlit midday, there’s around one stop of difference in light between the surroundings and the stage 88 itself. So you have to either overexpose the backgrounds or take an underexposed shot and pull one stop of details from shadows, which I dislike. Pulling details from shadows in landscape photography and inanimate objects is one thing, and doing the same on the delicate human skin is another, and usually leads to unpleasant results, unless you are looking at a particular effect.
Now, the performance day was dark and rainy, and I had around 3.5 stops of difference between mid-tones outside and inside the stage. So, while having the cloudy sky as a slightly underpowered softbox helped to take shots from people under the tent, the difference with the surrounding made the job rather difficult. But after all, I don’t want to pretend that I took pictures on a sunny day, so let the things be true to themselves. The following picture is a good example of the situation that I had:

Musician's face is at least 3½ stop darker than the sky in the RAW capture. No flash used.
Musician’s face is at least 3½ stop darker than the sky in the RAW capture. No flash.

They say don’t do black and white just for the aesthetics.…

Canberra City Band in Floriade 2016

I disagree with that. I love the pure black and white photography (as the joy of seeing the world black and white and taking pictures of that). But sometimes, converting a colour photo into black and white can remove distractions. Maybe it’s the only technique that ‑unlike all other post processing techniques-  can turn an ordinary picture into a something worthy of keeping.

First steps in dance photography

Canberra Swing Katz in Canberra City Band in Floriade 2016
Canberra Swing Katz in Canberra City Band in Floriade 2016

Canberra Swing Katz in Canberra City Band in Floriade 2016
Canberra Swing Katz in Canberra City Band in Floriade 2016

From my past experience in dance photography, when you haven’t been to rehearsals, you will get constantly surprised by the moves and your subjects hands and feet will be out of the frame, ruining otherwise great shots. So wide-angle, good shots need anticipation that either needs knowledge about particular moves of the dance you are photographing or simply having the chance to attend rehearsals.


When you have none of the above, I think one of the best techniques is stepping back and zooming in. This way, you can anticipate the movements and keep the dancers within the frame without knowing their next moves.

 

Canberra City Band in Floriade 2016

I’ve chosen to bring a Canon 60D and 24 – 105L for dance shots (Best thing I had access too) and it was useful because of spot-on and fast autofocus and good frame rate. I also liked the film-like black and white renderings of the lens and camera combination. These days any seemingly notable photography results (or even cheesy ones) are attributed as being “film-like”. But by film-like, I just mean a slow and smooth transition to highlights, which was very pleasant in the case of Canon 60D. The negative part was the shallow camera buffer of 16 images in RAW. If I have to do photography again with the same configuration, I would certainly turn off burst shooting or at least put it on slow burst mode, not being out of memory in the midst of photography.

For complete gallery, please visit the following gallery in Flickr:

 
Canberra City Band - Floriade 2016

Magazine layout and design

Constant refinement in publication design

Usually, there’s more room for design improvement in publication design than to brand development. Brand designers deliberately avoid leaving any room for future refinements. The philosophy behind this approach is that the guideline should be infallible. It should think instead of the graphic production artist two continents away. It should leave nothing to guess (and imagination). That’s why the amount of boringness of a brand is in direct relation with the volume and variations of its presentation.

 

In branding, finding the best method to apply the guidelines to various situations and mediums is the designer’s target. When working on a publication, except for some broad guidelines, there’s no limit to creativity. Usually, the guidelines are not that rigid in the first place. Visual and the literary style guides are always evolving and open to interpretations based on the context. That’s why they are the source of many challenges between editors, authors, and graphic designers.

Magazine layout and design

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In the realm of print, instead of trying to apply a set of rules to various physical forms, the designer is working on a single well-defined medium. A sheet of paper has proportions that may change about every 100 years. So, focus on creativity and constant refinements is the goal.

I’m not suggesting designers can’t be creative when working on brand development. But there’s always a possibility that their efforts become dismissed by the public. All their harmonisations efforts can be seen as trying to make things uniform.

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr's article in B2B Magazine

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The question of brand development is how you to harmonise the message across the media. This is in direct contrast to publication design, which has a well-defined medium. A medium that lets designer focus on layout and the meaning instead of odd dimensions, materials, and proportions.

In theory, there’s no limit to the refinement of every element of a printed publication. Photography, from the art to technique, post production and prepress, has a limitless capacity to improve.

Typography, both as in playing by the rules and not playing by them, has an unlimited capacity for exploration, too.

Back to the magazine, in this issue (#120) of B2B Magazine, I’ve tried to refine several technical and visual aspects of the design. Table of content generation is automatic and articles are hyperlinks in PDF form. Also, some important hyperlinks in pages are active. Typography is more uniform, stylesheets are cleaner and better defined. All the photos are converted to FOGRA 39 and not left to conversion by Raster Image Processor. Most of the pictures are 350 dpi and sharpened for print in the last step. Every editable file is kept as PSD and no lossy compression is involved. Also, nearly all the visual elements of the magazine adhere to a baseline grid to improve readability and beauty.

As I said, there’s an immense space for constant refinements and I hope I can do more in upcoming print cycles. After all, print, no matter being a dying art or not, is a very beautiful one.

Billboard design, canberra

My first billboard design in Canberra

As a kid, I was fascinated by masterpieces of classic and modern literature and ‑like many others my age- dreamed of writing a novel, or a collection of short stories and become a famous literary figure. I even had a very good name for my hypothetical novel, which is so good I won’t tell anybody, just in case I find time in this life to write the book. I was living the lives of Bulgakov, Joyce, Proust, and Kafka and spent days and nights working on my own short stories. Life, however, had a different plot for me, with different characters playing pivotal roles in my life, and to my surprise, my first work that printed maybe in millions was not a novel or a collection of short stories, actually not a bonded book at all, but a package I’ve designed for a fountain pen. It was not an excellent pen and certainly didn’t had a very good package. My “work of art” was judged and used in a very different way than what I originally had in mind, but, it touched so many people, perhaps a lot more than the number of people who might read my stories.

I think, for graphic designers, consumer product package design and billboards are two empowering and critical subjects at the same time. Both of them are “out there” to be judged and experienced by almost every kind of person in society, not to mention that their impact is also measurable in various ways.

This is my first billboard in Canberra, Australia. The brand must attract attention in the shortest span of time (around 2.5 seconds, before display switches to another ad), and should be visible under the southern sun.
Because branding hadn’t defined a secondary colour, I’ve chosen the most visible and noticeable yellow the outdoor advertising industry recommends of LED displays.

The photo is taken by Canon 5D mark II and Canon EF 17 – 40mm f/4.0L USM.

Big Impact Advertising is the billboard provider.