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

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

Music photography and the difficulties of shooting in the dark

Music photography and the difficulties of shooting in the dark

I bitterly remember the time when I was asked to photograph a band in a dark whisky bar. The light was so low (Candlelight plus some disco lights in purple, orange and green) and in no way, the camera could focus. The tiny pinhole of modern DSLR’s viewfinder didn’t let me focus manually either. I was watching the band playing hide and seek in the dark in frustration. My equipment was too modest for the job, but I doubt even having the best professional cameras could have changed anything for the better then. After that night, I studied and thought a lot about ways to do better if I had another photoshoot in similar conditions. Choices of lenses, flashes, autofocus method, post processing choices, noise reduction and composition re-evaluated and re-thought.

Recently I was asked to do another photo shoot for the band Big Boss Groove, in Mawson Club, Canberra. When I entered the club I realised I’m going to have a difficult night; the environmental light was nonexistent and harsh disco lights in red, green and purple were used on a corner of a stage, flashing on musicians faces.

I realised that Canon 5D Mark II can’t focus in that light if I insist on using single point focus. So I switched to full autofocus, something I rarely do, and also switched to burst shooting. To my surprise, results were better than waiting forever for the camera focus on a single point. Of course, I had to pick and choose in-focus photos from a collection about twice the number I usually shoot normally, which was frustrating, but I didn’t return from the event empty handed.

I like nightclub’s spotlights. They are interesting and can be used as a strong compositional element, provided that light designers plan them carefully. Otherwise, they distort the colour channels of every object they hit in a way that is irrecoverable in post processing. Also, they make the focusing in low light even more difficult.

Because of very low light, I broke the rule of not using flash for some shots. Using Nikon SB-700 pointed to the ceiling and the diffuser, I took some of the most difficult to expose angles.

Here you can see the results of my photo shoot and judge yourself how much I was successful in taking successful shots in such a challenging environment. Comments are welcome.

Big Boss Groove at Mawson Club - 2016

Music rehearsal photography

The question of dynamic range and high contrast scenes in photography

Rehearsals are unpredictable, if not for the musicians, but for the photographer. Light is seldom ideal, and you can find yourself in a dimly lit room with yellowish light, no shadow or highlight to work on and a very busy background of note stands, chairs, microphones, and cables. Take these samples, — a rehearsal at ANU,‘s Peter Karmel building ‑which I tried to work my shots in a very small room with a mixture of fluorescent light and a single window of harsh natural light. While some may be disappointed by the harsh backlight, there’s always room to explore creative possibilities. The quest for expanding dynamic range in digital cameras, while worthwhile in many cases, can be deceptive. Camera maker’s goal is to record as much detail in the most accurate manner and not wasting a single photon that passes the sensor. However, aesthetically, the results — recording everything that exist in the frame- may not be ideal. The camera doesn’t know where to look, what to exclude, how to compose, and realise what’s important in the shot. When a scene is beyond the dynamic range of the camera, one can either try to bring their own light, which is almost impossible in the case of photographing musical rehearsals, or decide to intentionally take out parts of the scene and use the contrast as a compositional tool. A high contrast scene can be a curse, especially if you are shooting a corporate portrait or a landscape. But as your creative latitude increases in the project, it can be a good thing.

Appollo’s Echo is a new music project created by Mark Levers, making soul and 70s pop-fusion music.