Tag Archives: Anthony N. Chandler Photography

AsukaBook: Building the Perfect Wedding Book

AsukaBook I

I am not a wedding photographer. I do not enjoy weddings, funerals or birthday parties featuring magicians and clowns. However, in my line of work one needs to try anything one, so when my brother requested that we shoot his wedding last July as their gift, I decided to bite the bullet. Personal goal: make my family happy by capturing a key event in their lives, especially after the loss of my father the previous week. Professional goal: produce a perfect wedding book with neither cost nor profit being the object.

Since I began working as a photographer, AsukaBook, a publisher who prints in Japan but is based out of Oregon, has appealed to me as an option for my first big portfolio book. They have a special opening offer to all professional photographers (you need a website, I think), to print the first book for 50% of regular cost. Fifty percent is significant when you consider that the cost of this book was going to be $525 for 40 pages originally; this is not small peanuts for a book, but fair when one considers that a quality, single print edition of anything has to be expensive to make it worth the time spent in production. In the end, after shipping, taxes and currency exchange, I will have spent a bit over $400 for the book. Worth it?

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I chose a large format of 12×12 inches for the book. I feel that this is a perfect print size for archival prints, and when you consider that this book lays flat for a full spread of 24×12 inches, it is quite impressive. I also went with matte finish, even though I prefer glossy metallics for my personal work. I was aiming for a Martha Stewart wedding look and her books from the 1990s often featured a matte finish to bring out an emotional feeling of polish.

As you can see from these few simple shots of the book, the colours are rich and the package is about as high quality as could be conceived. I would caution any would be professionals to be aware that their small point and shoot or Unlce Louis’ dslr are not going to cut it, at least not straight from the camera. A large portion of what I do relates to post-production of the images, colour syncing to a particular palette, retouching and layout. I was unable to use AsukaBook’s proprietary software, so I had to lay out the book in Adobe’s InDesign CS6. If you are not regularly working on large publications, which I do for my school, then this might kill you. For me, it worked fairly smoothly and I was happy to have tech support question a few of my bleed choices in final production.

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The pages a almost a foam core style of thickness, and this makes for a seriously heavy book that feels akin to a Bible of coffee table masterpiece. I have seen nothing like this in small print production before, and it screams of quality in design. The wraparound cover and hard case allow for custom design – I went for two different photos on the actual book, and a full wrap of the case that shows a field shot: unique and compelling.

So it only took me 6 months to scan the Kodak Porta film, process the photos, lay the book out and get it back in the post. Would I do it again? Nope. Never. Doubt it. The book was gorgeous and flawless, but I would never make any money unless I charged about $5000 to shoot a wedding, and the only take away would be the digital negatives and this book. The time it took, and the behind the scenes work make weddings tough to work for profit unless you are constantly working through the exact same workflow, and you outsource the tedious work to others, which I just refuse to do.

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The real question will be whether the couple like it, love it or hate it. I just put the dvds and the book into the shipping box to be mailed tomorrow back to Prince Edward Island. If you want to see this masterpiece for yourself, then I am certain they will be inviting friends and family over to relive their happiest of happy days.

The South: Deep Rivers, The Woods and Houses Haunted

Memphis Midtown

The South is a different place. It is greasy, barren, and hollow, but is also bursting with energy, rich with music and pregnant with possibility. The American states that make up the Bible Belt are filled with contradictions which renew my faith in human nature with every visit. Poverty runs rampant, but there are beautiful buildings in various states of disrepair that harken back to a better era. Music is a business in the South, but it is also a way of life; a voice that rises above the Mississippi to soothe the poor and forgotten.  Food ranges from comfort foods like grits and white gravy to quintessential flavour of the Creole-influenced Oyster and Absinthe Dome featured at Commander’s Palace. For our eight day trek we drove from Nashville to Memphis and back again, and then onto New Orleans through  Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. Total time in the car was about twenty four hours of driving spread over the week, and while it was reasonable, I would have preferred to take stopover breaks in a place like Birmingham in hindsight.

Preservation Jazz Hall

The purpose of this particular journey was founded in seeing Old Crow Medicine Show play their sold-out show at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. Through our love of bands like Mumford and Sons, Whitehorse and Johnny Cash, we found our way to the song “Wagon Wheel” and felt that it would be worth it to spend time and money tracing American music through the blues, jazz, rockabilly and country genres. Memphis was our first stop. Even I have to admit that it was pretty cool to walk along Beale Street, up Union Avenue and hear Marc Cohn’s lyrics from “Walking in Memphis” ring true. Perhaps following the ghost of Elvis out to Graceland was misguided (between the lines for the parking to take a bus to get a ticket to get on a bus to cross the street it would have taken us hours to follow believers through Elvis’ house – the best I could do was hit a gift shop to pick up a small gift for our dog-sitter and friend, Jennie); still, it was important to at least see the house from the road as we drove by twice to exit what is generally a poor, seen-better-days area. The King left that building many years ago.

Sun Studio Memphis

Sadly, The King and The Killer also left the tourist-traps of Beale Street and Sun Studio. Do not get me wrong, it was a privilege and fascinating experience to see the buildings where so much of American culture seeped into the walls. My father  would have loved to see the place where Elvis recorded “That’s Alright Mama” and Jerry Lee Lewis recorded “Great Balls of Fire”, but today Sun Studios is a tour bus depot. U2 may have recorded a few tracks there for Rattle and Hum, but really it is now a cafe that sells t-shirts and tacky gifts for your enemies or Bingo partner.

Beale Street was a different story. I doubt that it was ever more than what it is today: a strip of bars that provide booze for visitors and venues to play for people to make a basic wage. Our first night had us listening to an older couple singing random songs at Rum Boogie Cafe for a largely transient tourist group who would go from bar to bar until they had “hear it all”. Cover songs for those who need to hear the familiar and feel that it is new. The second night was much different: by 3pm The Plantation All-Stars had hit the stage of the Blues Hall (also owned by Rum Boogie and with whom a bathroom is shared). This was the blues incarnate. It was greasy, funky, smoke-infused and fun. There were no $3000 Gibson guitars or even a single instrument that was not rubber-banded together, but these boys could play set after set of blues standards inflected with their personality. I should also mention that they were a fully black quintet playing for a mixed audience. People who were black stayed for the first few sets until the white tourists moved in to take over for the white band that played the main set. We left with the Plantation All-Stars, but not before talking with a bass player who was transplanted from Chicago in his search for paying gigs. He was playing a Squire five string bass with four strings borrowed from a friend while his was “in the shop”. It was blues at its best, and we felt blessed to find it among the tourist traps. B.B. King’s was best left for a t-shirt purchase and a walk-by.

Duck River Tennessee

Our dive back to Nashville had us stopping into Duck Bottom Reserve for a beautiful view of the river and a passing doe running from the path. Nashville was a sharp contrast to Memphis: there was money, there were vintage guitars, and it was all about the music business. From our walk along Music Row to our night listening to bands at Whisky Bent and Robert’s, it was clear who were the Nashville players and who were just filler bands that bars hire to support the whims of tourists seeking the “real” country music. If you are looking for songs by Brad Paisley, Garth Brooks, Taylor Swift, then you might be in luck. If you seek George Jones, Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn and Merle Haggard, then the digging will be difficult. Still, we found killer players at Robert’s. From Chris Costello and The B Squad to The Don Kelly Band’s set, we heard some of the finest picking and showmanship imaginable. I learned a Bible’s worth of tips on how to play music for an audience who is filled with rhinos only in town for “the football/basketball” game. As we stood in Ryman, the Mother Church of Country Music, to hear OCMS play hits and a few classics with their opener, Dale Watson and his Lone Stars, we knew that we had found the best traditional Country music we were going to find in this town these days.

Monika On First Street

The end of the journey was New Orleans. NOLA is a city where it all comes together and nothing is ever as simple as it seems. It is the birthplace of jazz, the melting pot of music and food. It is a city where slavery began and ended, but also where the mix became a gumbo and forced America to become something new. For me, New Orleans is also where my loves come together: jazz, food, vampires and voodoo all meet in this city, and no matter what tourism masks it remains a magical town. We made a pilgrimage to Anne Rice’s former First Street Mansion, to Preservation Jazz Hall, the French Quarter, the Garden District, Bourbon Street, Magazine Street, and even walked along St. Charles all the way out to Audobon Park and Loyola University. The trees grew deep and sprawled into the sidewalks, and the magic still continues to seep from the air of what should be an destination for any traveller wanting to feel alive in a way unavailable any other place in the planet.

New Orleans Tree of Life

 

Our journey took us from one place to another, but each stop in The South was part of a bigger picture. On the trek I carried my Hasselblad SWC camera with a CFV 16 digital back. Not a simple camera to drag through dodgy areas, but sticking it into a bag that I paid little attention to seemed to protect the $10, 000 worth of gear inside from being swiped. Using a camera like this for travel photography is challenging, but after the West Coast Trail where I shot fully with film, I decided to try out the SWC with a digital back for this trip. Given the super wide angle of the camera lens (38mm in medium format), this is not a snapshot camera. The idea was to shoot scenes that represented the journey in a manner that would always remind me of the best moments even if they were not the ones featured in the shot.  The resolution is astounding on the digital back, and surpasses what I can scan with my Epson scanner. The challenges remain: expensive to break or lose, the mechanical shutter and the trigger cabe do not always signal the back to expose the sensor, the lcd screen is good for nothing other than basic exposure, the sensor is cropped compared to film, and with the SWC focus is tough as it has no mirror. Worth the hassle? I believe so, but I would never take this combination outside of a city or controlled atmosphere. It would require a completely different H5D or Phase One camera to even consider such work. Still…an amazing series of photographic moments from a perfect adventure through the deep south.

More photos will follow, as will more thoughts on specific restaurants and experiences we had along the way.

Relax, Refocus and the Art of Breathing: Summer Begins The New Cycle

Holister

I live my life in cycles based on the school year. I have targets to persevere through, I have times of the year that I love, and there are moments that never fail to provide surprises and growth. Summer is my time to renew, reflect and enjoy two months on the road with friends and family. 2013 remains the most productive and personally fulfilling year of my life; I am thankful for the success, the challenges and failures the universe has offered up to me, as I truly believe that each second of 2013 has been pivotal in finding my dharma: my life’s chosen path.

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The past week has found me hosting a bachelor’s party for my best male friend, has found me dancing in the streets with new friends for Pride Toronto, cooking cupboards clean before I head East and then West for outdoor and wedding adventures, and I even had time to practice my bass playing in a serious fashion. As I sift through the week’s most interesting photographs, what strikes me most is how the littlest fragments captured can speak so deeply about the world around us.

As I walked through the Pride Parade aftermath in Toronto with friends, I found myself not snapping the “big shots” with a giant lens. I was not looking for images to sell or even share, but rather I wanted to remember what my eyes actually saw as I drifted with the crowds towards stages and patio parties. My eyes part-objectified the world around me: I saw necks, hips, backs, feet and the messages written across bodies for aficionado to find and decode.

Stars on Parade

As I slow down, sleep in (first time sleeping more than 6 hours in a year or two), and even catch some tanning time by the pool, I feel healthy and capable of whatever my mind seeks out. I have been reading Plutarch, essays on food and identity construction, short narratives about how Time and the Modern Area clash and our need to reconnect with Nature, and even a few Estonian fairy tales about gnomes. I have watched a rabbit attempt to build a burrow in the middle of a freshly cut lawn, and I have spent a few hours observing a pair of young cardinals build a nest in a smoke tree. Time continues to pass, but unlike any other time in my life, I am present and making sure to fill each second with worthwhile, enriching activities and personal connections.

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Food is another story. With time on my hands and a need to leave no food behind to rot in my absence, I have been playing a game with myself: what can I cook from the random ingredients at the back of cupboards and in the back of freezers. Mealtimes have become Iron Chef competitions with myself. I entertain friends with recipes that come from my imagination and creative mind; I also make the effort to swim, run, lift weights and drink less coffee in an effort to balance out the calories and late nights. Balance is key.

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While I am not a fan of Italian cannoli, in general, I do have to admit that despite the sublime perfection of my own experiments with pineapple-upside down cakes, molten chocolate cakes, bread puddings, and plum crumb cakes, the cannoli from Toronto’s La Strada bakery beat me hands down and into submission. After munching three of these little beauties I was in a bit of Heaven. In fact it somehow inspired me to try my hand at cooking pork shanks on the barbeque after a few hours of pre-cooking in beer and spices. While I was aiming a a German beer garden taste I ended up closer to great southern barbeque. Next time, there will be less boiling, more brining and an oven used to crisp the final product into my Munich aspirations.

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Next step has me preparing all week for Friday’s trip to Ottawa for a wedding. I got a sweet room at Chateau Laurier, and am so looking forward to hitting the road even if my bank account would prefer to not have to pay to board my two dogs for a few days at a time. Regardless, the cost of boarding them is worth the unexpected freedom: priceless.

 

Working With The Big Pixels: Shooting Base Camp X with the Hasselblad CFV 16

Apex Pioneer

Summer time is upon us. I live for the time when I am no longer beholden to my employer to provide my full day to earning a living. Summer is a season when I hit the road, meet back up with old friends, sleep more than six hours a day, and exercise for the pleasure of using my body for what it was built for. Some days I find extra work projects with new clients, while on other days I shoot for my main clients and learn how to use my extensive equipment collection in new and exciting ways. This week has me mostly resting and colour correcting the white background shots that I shot for Base Camp X the week before.Flame Pioneer

A large majority of my portfolio has been based on shooting products on white backgrounds. While that may seem simple, white backgrounds are an art form that demand a photographer who is aware of shadows, white balance, perspectives and accuracy. You will be hired for one session if you have equipment, but unless you are accurate, then you will never be hired again. Case in point is Base Camp X: for the past year I have built a solid partnership with the company based on my ability to provide photographs of axes that are accurate and do not manifest the problems faced by most product shots of items larger than twelve inches. Perspective warping in no one’s friend, and to shoot Graeme’s axes demands that I balance my camera on top of a six foot ladder, handholding it until an overhead shot is complete. This was difficult with my Canon EOS 1DmkIII, but it is nightmarish with the new Hasselblad CFV 16 digital back. However, the quality…the quality is far, far superior.

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Yes, you can take clear, accurate photos with your cellphone. The preceding image taken at Brother Jimmy’s Ribs in NYC is pretty darn solid. If you are blogging, building a travel album of your adventures or using things for social media, then I am a big fan of the iPhone. If you want to shoot, and I mean where you make money, then I would ignore Chase Jarvis’ iPhone assertions and accept that you need to invest in a camera system and lights that will provide consistent colour, speeds and resolution. For me, the Hasseblad system is the one I invested in for a myriad of reasons, and, frankly, so far it has been the best choice I could have made for my studio needs. All of my gear is based on the now discontinued V System, and all of it has been purchased used from KEH.com in Smyrna, Georgia.

CarbonFrom this shot of a carbon-tinted Pathfinder axe to the first shot taken outdoors in the afternoon sun, the CFV 16 back has delivered both a superior resolution and a depth of field unattainable in a dslr set of lens/camera body. I cannot shoot sports or wildlife in the jungle with it, but for fashion and products it has met all of my actual needs. Next month I will shoot my first wedding with it, and hope for the best. I will be carrying lots of film, and a few digital options to ensure nothing is lost should failure of batteries or lighting issues occur (the CFV is not for low light shots), but I am confident that it will crank out one hell of a wedding book collection.

Tonight has me watching my bass hero, Me’shell Ndgecello, sing Fats Waller/Nina Simone standards at the Horseshoe Tavern with Jason Moran as part of the Toronto Jazz Festival. I can only hope that the tattoo I had done today does not start paining while I am crammed inside on a hot night. Regardless, it is better to know the pain of life than the numbness of death.

The Canoe Trip: A Photo Montage

Base Camp X Paddle Lake

Base Camp X Pathfidner Chandler

Anthony N. Chandler in Haliburton

Paddle Sharp Base Camp X

BASE CAMP X PATHFINDER

Chandler Smoke BW

Haliburton Camp

Kitchen Knives and Vegetables: The Hasselblad CFV 16’s First Session

Hasselblad CFV 16

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…

Hasselblad CFV 16 image

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?

Rhubarb Pie: Learning How to Photograph From Square CFV 16

Pie Crust Recipe

Learning any skill is difficult, but unlearning old habits so as to improve upon one’s technique is supremely frustrating. Case in point: learning how to shoot food with my Hasselblad CFV 16 digital format back. I love this new piece of used gear. It feels solid, the files have a completely different look than my other work, and it allows me to use all of my Hasselblad V lenses without an adapter. The problems arise however when I try to use dslr technique (multiple exposures, low light, shallow depth of field) or film technique (big shot wide, fast shutter speed) while shooting with the medium format digital back. Try these tricks with the CFV and you might as well try to draw the photograph with a crayon. Get your technique down, and the machine is brilliant. Tonight I decided to work on technique while baking a rhubarb pie from scratch.

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Medium format has a much more shallow depth of field than a dslr. It is a sliver really, and since I had been using a V lens to Canon body, the image circle tended to only show the focal sharp area. Do not get me wrong, the bokeh (blur) is gorgeous and artistic, but getting the focus to where I want it to go is a challenge. The next challenge is actually getting in close enough for the lenses to focus or to get back far enough. Without lights being set-up I need to use my 80mm f.2.8 just so that I can get an exposure at 1 second with 100 ISO. The 80mm still shoots pretty wide, so then I need to add either a 16E or 32E macro extender…then I am too far away. Basically I need to relearn what the lenses do, which is kind of fun, but also a nightmare if I need to do a paying session before I can visual each focal length.

Rhubarb Pie

Colour. Colours. Arrgghh. I need to shoot with a ColorRite target if I want my white balance to be accurate. Simple. Stupid. Simple. When I shoot for clients I always use the target to ensure that I can get accurate colours if they need them, but lately for the blog I have just shot with the iPhone or my Canon. Worst case scenario and I might tweak the shots in ColorFX Pro to give them a pleasing color cast. Good luck with the CFV files.

Rhubarb

The good news is that these are all techniques that I can improve. Each of these areas will be what makes me a unique, masterful photographer which is my life goal. I am not in this business to be uber-cool and shoot the Pepsi ad campaign, to cover of Vogue or even for Martha Stewart; I want to create a personal art style that expresses how I see the world while still delivering a compelling visual product. Lighting with the Profoto D1s should help exponentially. With a simple, proper set-up like I normally do I should be able to transform the inaccurate, fuzzy shots from above into the sharp, colourful image below which I shot with the SWC and the same back in the midday sun off tripod with not focusing at all. The blue is like an ocean, the lines of the buildings are crisp, and the image knocks you down ever though it is nothing special.

Tip Top Lofts

What does the final pie look like? I am waiting for it to bake, but then I will shoot the rhubarb pie with Profoto lights, a 120mm lens, a ColorChecker passport and at a reasonable f.8 aperture. Given that I have been working on getting my mom’s pie crust recipe right for 20 years, it only seems reasonable that it will take a few weeks to get the Hasselblad CFV 16 up to spec and running perfectly. The final pie shot will be added in a few minutes when I update the blog post. Until then…dream of Rhubarb Pie.

Rhubarb Pie

Okay…I am getting closer. I used one Profoto D1 light overhead with a beauty dish. The aperture went from f.4 to f.8, but I forgot to take a grey card reading (or light meter for that matter). Would I be happy with that photo? Actually, yes. The framing is an issue because what I see in the viewfinder is not the framing of the sensor so I am not sure where the crops occur. While I can shoot loose and then crop without issue due to the sensor resolution, I will probably pick up a new focusing screen at BH Photo in NYC next month that has the screen crops engraved on it already. Plus, in a real situation I will be shooting the CFV tethered to the MacBook Pro. What I can tell you is that the smells of three rhubarb pies baking in my studio is going to send me to sleep easily tonight, but with a bit of desire for pie in the early morning.