Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Fuji X-E1 In The Field - Part 4

Photo #1: December 23, 2015. Photo: Susana Bates, Special To The Chronicle

Odysseo, the latest iteration of Cavalia, combines horses and riders in a dazzling combination of expert horsemanship, acrobatics, and creative staging. Today, a group of students from the Vista Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired would get the chance to brush, feed, listen to, and smell these magnificent horses, and talk to the people who train and care for them.

My goal was to submit a photo featuring a blind student making a connection with a horse. I noticed that two of the students carried canes, and one mentioned that she had spent time with a therapy horse, so she was much more at ease with these four-legged star performers. I decided to concentration on her, and photographed her almost exclusively.

I did not know at the time that I would be working with so many people from the local media. There was Steve Rubinstein, formerly a Chronicle columnist but now a special features staff writer specializing in lighter news. Next was Susana Bates, a still photographer from the Chronicle who I recognized because she’s the only local photographer I’ve seen who routinely carries two Nikon D3’s and the standard 24-70 and 70-200 Nikon zooms, resulting in a kit that must weigh even more than mine.  Finally, there were SF Gate videographer Kathleen Duncan, and Cindy Warner, an Arts and Culture Blogger who contributes clips to the San Francisco Examiner.

Once the shooting started, I pretty much ignored them, but kept an eye out so that I didn’t accidentally show up in somebody else’s photo or video clip. This was the fourth assignment using my two Fuji X-E1 cameras, to which I added a third body fitted with a 12mm 2.8 Zeiss wide angle. I now had deal with three bodies swinging about my neck and shoulders, plus the messenger pouch they came in, and the jacket I should have left in the car but was now just getting in my way. I really started to regret my decision to go with the Fuji and my three fast prime (non-zoom) lenses (a 12mm 2.8 Zeiss, and Fuji a 18mm F 2.0 and a 35mm 1.4). These may have been ideal for low light work, but unfortunately, not fast focusers in the mirrorless format. I still hoped to capture a “decisive moment” when expression, composition, and timing fell together into a meaningful image.  I shouldn’t have complained, as my cameras were far more responsive that the Leica rangefinders used by Eugene Smith, and Larry Burrows, the two photojournalists who have always inspired my work.  Still, I listened to the rapid “Click, click, click” of Ms. Bates’ Nikons with more than a hint of regret.

Envy: Mr. Rubinstein’s story appeared the following day in the Bay Area section of the Wednesday, December 23 issue of the Chronicle, the day after the event. I was shocked by the physical size of the piece: The first page real estate measured 84 square inches and spanned four columns on the first page. Three of Ms. Bates’ photos were included, the first measuring 4.5” X 7” featuring two horses (Photo #1), eight spectators, and one photographer deciding which of his three cameras to use next. Two additional photos accompanied the article. Ms. Duncan’s video compilation appeared on SF Gate, and Ms. Warner’s video on the Examiner’s web page.

Photo #2
When I saw his article, I was overtaken with envy. The three photos from the Chronicle had the advantage of being accompanied by long, descriptive text that added, through words, the context for the image. On the other hand, my single photo (Photo #2), printed in the Community section of the following week, was sized at 4”x5” with my brief caption.

When confined to the single image, I had to be sure that the viewer's attention was directed exactly where I wanted it. Notice that my subject's head is placed on one of the Rule of Thirds intersections, and that student in the blue and yellow tee shirt is cropped beyond recognition. As I mentioned earlier, the cane is an important visual element, as it emphasizes the blind theme of the event. The hay provide an addition "eye hook" due to its sharp contrast against the performer Claire Beer's black pants.

Photo #3

Photo #3 was made earlier in the day during a grooming demonstration. The shot lacked a good expression, so it was not submitted. The absence of Ms. Scopelite's hand removed a  any reference to touch, something that would have reinforced the blindness aspect of the experience. Unfortunately, the situation yielded nothing better.

Photo #4
This last shot (Photo #4) does combine nearly all of the elements I wanted. Unfortunately, the angle of the shot, along with the foreshortening that comes with wide lenses and short working distances, makes the horse appear a little too small. I also did not like how the composition was stretched out with the horse and Ms. Scopelite to close to the left and right edges of the image.If memory serves, there this image uses nearly all of the image, with not room for cropping to improve my subject's placement.

Looking back on the images, I really had only one choice. It actually had two smiling subjects, something my other two photos lacked. But the envy factor come in when I think about the power of multiple image that accompany a lengthy article, and the advantages that video can gave in the distillation of 10 or 20 seconds into a single, seamless experience, one that can blend two or three special moments into a single viewing experience. I begin to wonder if the power of the single image is lessened by the saturation of media coming through our phones and tablets. In the days when hard copy was the only copy, the single image was all we had, and as photographers, we had to make it count. Now, with multiple opportunities to watch videos on a variety of platforms, it makes it more challenging to capture the attention, and the imagination, in a single static representation of an event distant in time and space.

Perhaps the availability of The Daily Prophet, the newspaper chosen by wizards and witches of all ages, is already here. The animated "photos" that so entranced Harry Potter might just be the next evolutionary step in mass media. The day when we have the technology to present video in an inexpensive and disposable newspaper format can't be that far away. Perhaps this marks the creation of a reading experience that will appeal to people who would enjoy reading, and watching, the events of the day simultaneously.