The mastery of any craft demands three components: time devoted to learning technique, the set of tools the craft demands, and a passion for the previous two that will make the sense of time and tools disappear. The photography studio rebooted for 2013 with the aim towards improving both my workflow and to reinvent the abilities I have been working on for the past five years. My time had been spent on learning to take better photographs with each and every new opportunity that came along. I shot a book cover, a cd cover, a large scale poster, catalogue work, advertising, portraits, sports photos, drama, head shots, babies and children, art work, naked bodies, food and lifestyle, events, and even engagement photographs. It was never about “that’s not what I do; that is not art”, but rather “I might learn and improve my craft while being paid to do what another human will appreciate.” Time was spent on small details and learning how to do each session just a little bit better.Without the hours of actual work I doubt that my skills would ever do more than marginally develop. Many people own cameras and read about photography, few do more than machine gun their way along through what are really a series of snapshots, and then they fix their mistakes in Photoshop or an Instagram-style of filters. Sloppy in – pig in lipstick out.
Tools cannot be ignored. Picasso might be able to create art from a bicycle seat, but he lived and breathed time into his craft at an exponential rate compared to what we might be able to do. Jack White might choose to struggle with unplayable instruments so as to develop his techniques and sound, but he developed his aesthetics while apprenticing as an upholsterer: the ideas of one craft transfer to another. In my case, I have worked my Canon EOS 1D mkIII to its borders in terms of resolution and the ability to produce a competitive digital image. The artefacts of a small sensor (10MP) being used with 20 year old, medium format lenses began to tear at the seams as I started being commissioned for larger prints and digital media. I faced the choice this year of either using the Canon until clients complained (or stopped calling), or taking on the burden of $15,000 plus in debt to be able to purchase my way into the medium format realm where my lenses would perform at peak and wherein the resolution would permit cropping without much loss in quality. Introduce the Hasselblad CFV 16…
Fortune smiles on those who know what they seek but who wait patiently for delivery. Just after the Phase One World Tour demo, I decided to go with a used Phase One back for my Hasselblad system. Before making any purchases, however, I decided to check out KEH.com to see if they had any digital backs for sale; I had never seen any before. Miraculously, a CFV 16 in EX+ condition came in for the cost of $3546. Yes, it would be three generations behind the current CFV 50. Yes, I would be buying used technology, which never makes sense due to obsolescence. Yes, I might get a beat-up lemon and regret the loss. I chose to take the risk. KEH has always been great to purchase cameras and lenses from, so I felt good about the risk and the $7000 savings compared to a similar purchase in Toronto. The risk appears to have paid off.
The session last night had me shooting a knife set and cutting board for Paderno Cookware. The shots themselves had to be in sharp focus throughout the image: one white background and one hero shot for packaging. I shot with the CFV 16 on my 501 C/M body using a 50mm f.4 lens. The settings were around f.16 at 1/500 with two Profoto D1s with 3×4 and 2×3 softboxes. For the purpose of the blog, I am posting test shots straight out of Phocus versus the actual corrected images. Despite a few hot pixels and dust/oil on the sensor (I will need to buy proper wipes when I travel to NYC in two weeks), these are the cleanest, crispest images I have ever shot. The white background shot ended up being of the highest quality of any photograph I have taken, and the hero shot could be endlessly cropped and corrected with no loss of detail. The photo featured here is a 1/2 crop.
I should also note that I shot while being tethered to my new MacBook Pro Retina. Tethering is what the CFV was built for, as the actual LCD screen is pretty awful. With the super light MacBook Pro and Phocus the workflow was smooth and compact. I will always shoot this way with the Hasselblad now. As well, the focusing screen in my 501 will need to be replaced to make sure that I see where the crop factor comes into play. I should note, that the 50mm becomes an 80mm lens effectively due to the crop factor of the sensor. This actually works in my favour as I only shoot product at this focal length and the 50mm lens is the best one in my stable of CFi lenses in terms of sharpness and colour accuracy.
There will be more to come from the studio soon, as I want to practice with a few items lying around. In the end, each camera I own does one thing in a way that no others can. The Hasselblad CFV 16 shoots products in a manner that can force me to develop my talent until I reach another plateau five years down the road. Until that time I have the best tools available and the wherewithal to push myself to adapt to a bigger pond. If not now, when?