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PMA 2010

February 26, 2010 Leave a comment

This past weekend I had the opportunity to head out to PMA for the first time. It was being held at the Anaheim Convention Center and while I did not attend the conferences, I got to check out the show room floor and all that the vendors on hand had to share. The show was filled with products, demos and speakers to help sell products and the love of photography to retailers and photographers. I figured I’d share some of what I saw at the show and what I liked best:

Sony Booth

Now I have to say that I saved the best of show belonged to Sony, they really know how to market and cater to its audience.  Knowing full well that not only retailers would be arriving to the show but, pro’s Sony had a full array of its systems from Video, Displays and its full Alpha line along with all that lovely Zeiss glass.  I was familiar with the Zeiss line from checking it out at the Pasadena, Samy’s Camera last Fall but, I still wasn’t sure if I wanted to switch systems or add it to my arsenal.  That being said I got to try out here the a900 and a850 with and without battery grips.  I have to say I loved the a900, just like the first time, the viewfinder nice and bright, the LCD display was enjoyable to view but, something surprised me as we tried out many the many lenses on hand.  The first thing was the accuracy of focus at any focal length, it would track and lock on perfectly every time with absolutely no hunting in my limited testing.  The other surprise was even with long glass this thing was evenly weighted balanced and with the addition of the in-body stabilization was awesome  to just shoot away with.  I also noted that because of the in body stabilization this was the only system with a stabilized wide angle lens when it was paired with the 16 – 35mm.

I found that I did not like the battery grip however as it made the system more bulk and coming from the land of Nikon’s high-end D series cameras, I guess I was just spoiled at the integrated grip/ body.  So, I think I would shoot this without the grip when in the field.  The other thing that would take some getting used to was the hot-show mount on the camera, the fact that I needed to buy an adapter to make the mount standard to fit my electronic triggers was to say the least a little disappointing considering the MSRP of an additional $100+ plus buck for this (I think it should come with it).  But, in the end the true test of any camera is its ability to get the greatest quality with the least amount of issues allowing its photographer to create the images he / she wants.  In that department the a900 wins out, the images have the best neutral colors I’ve seen from most camera including my PhaseOne P45+ and the prints from this thing were outstanding!  Yes Sony had their entire booth surrounded in 30 x 40 prints from artists like Matthew Jordan Smith, Alan Katz and Brian Smith on display for the world to see.  these prints show quality of color, tones, sharpness and structure to all of the prints on display.  So, you could say I was won over and the Zeiss glass on hand from their focusing rings to fit and finish were awsome, then add the price of the 24MP a900 body starting at $2500 – 2700 street and its hard to stay away from it and not take it seriously.  Did I buy one yet?  No, but like most good marketers Sony had another ace up its sleeve at the booth to push me closer to pulling out my debit card.  What could that be you might ask?

Well Sony brought along its Artisan shooters to not only show their work but, talk about their photography.  they even had the stage set with a overhanging rail system with profoto lighting system, with models to allow some of the on hand presenters show simple lighting arrangements.  Why would they do this one was to show how the Sony a900 shot tethered and what the images looked like right out of camera, the other was so that people could what they pro’s interact with the equipment and last they would print un-retouched photos at the end of the day and display the quality for all to see.  I have to say I was quite impressed, my father and I both agreed that this was worth the price of the $50 admission alone.  I literally could have stayed in the Sony booth all day and listed to presenters and played with equipment, if I hand not wanted to see some of the other booths on the show floor but, as I said the staple of a good booth at any show is how long you can get the feet to stay planted in your booth.  I think Sony did an awesome job here.

Well I could not leave without discussing each of the presenters their inspiration photography, their relayed strategies for how they think through the process of getting their shots or working with clients and to provide you some photos from the show and video from the show.

Brian Smith

Brian Smith @ Sony Booth PMA2010

Brian Smith Presenting at the Sony Booth @ PMA2010

I caught Brian presentation already in full swing.  For those that don’t know Brian Smith is a world renowned celebrity, Athlete portrait and advertising photographer from Miami.  He has some wonderful stars to his credit and his work is quite outstanding.

Richard Branson © Brian Smith Photography

Brain Smith illustrating "taking shot" of his own after he's got what the clients requested to get that special shot the client didn't expect but, is happy to get.

Brian talked about some of his photos and what he was thinking during their shooting as they related to his basic principles.  These were that when working with celebrities, powerful business men/women or celebrities time is of the utmost importance.  So, a premium has to be spent on finding locations close to his clients and working with setups within these environments to allow his clients to get back to their lives quickly.  Thus by doing so he meets his second criteria which is to simplify the scene, clear out abstractions that don’t fit, and leave those that do (ex. colors, walls, natural props within the location).

He also looks to give his clients that something extra, he does this by fulfilling the client requirements for the shoot but, then engages his subject to allow him to take a shot for his “own” (e.g. portfolio worthy shot) which he presents to his clients as well with the required shots.  Typically says the clients appreciate the extra level of effort and some of his personal shots have been utilized by the client within their editorials.

One of the more salient point Brian expressed was that the issue with most of his clients is that they get photographed a lot and therefore are well known to the public photographically.  this of course presents some challenges in that he wants something different from the norm.

Jeff Gordon © Brian Smith Photography

Example used by Brian Smith to illustrate taking the known elements of a subject and combining it with something new about the subject.

So, he looks to shoot them in elements that they aren’t normally seen in or dressed at work in ways you would not normally see them.  This also goes for when he is working with a client at their homes.  He stated that most of his celebrity clients have rooms that they use to take photos, for example a singer while gold and platinum awards might have a room dedicated to them and want to be shot there.  In these instance he like to scout the house and find 4 – 6 locations around the premises that he could shot his subject in to allow for far more variety and allow his viewers more insight into the subject than the normal stock.  This combined with the simplify theme mean using curtains at the hotel or even elevators or walled artwork as simple backdrops for his subjects to put them in elements that people have never seen them in before.

Overall I was impressed with Brain’s photography, which I had seen in the past but, it was great to put a face with the name.  He also came across a genuine in speaking and sharing his love for photography.  We even learned that his wife style all of his shoots!  Which is really cool to get the family involved with something you love.  Check out some of Brian’s work at this website and on Sony’s site as he is a Sony Artisan shooter.

Andy Katz

Andy Katz PMA2010

Andy Katz Presenting at the Sony Booth @ PMA2010

Andy is a Fine Art photographer who loves to shoot on location both landscapes, wildlife and people.  You could say that travel photography is his forte but, that he is very skilled in the art of the portrait both on location and in studio.  Sony first ran a Bio on the many BRAVIA LCD screens they had on stage and around the booth of Andy’s work.  In particular his latest work in India.  Andy loves to use natural light or simulate it as much as possible in his photography.  After seeing his landscape work of Tuscany on his website I know why as to be a great landscape photographer you have to wait for the natural light and admire when it gives you what you need to fulfill you vision.  He looks to capture the mood and spirit of the cultures his is photographing and to do that he likes to take along the Sony a900 and a select assortment of lenses in his bag.  He shared with us that he normally takes 2 bodies for insurance just in case he has issues with his primary body but he has not had any issues that required the 2nd bodies use.  As far as those lenses he shared with us his favorites lenses:

He spoke at length of the elements of the Sony system he loved.  First was the fast and superb quality of the Carl Zeiss and Sony G leneses, the seond was the color quality and tonality straight out of the camera, and the in-camera stabilization which give any lens 2 -3 stops of range as it relates to hand-holding ability at wider apertures.  Sony had many examples of his work on hand in 20×40 prints around the booth.  They were just spectacular to behold in front of me.

Images of India © Andy Katz Photography

One of Andy Katz's Presentation Images © Andy Katz Photography

Brain then took a break then came back to share some of his secrets in relation to Simplified Lighting Techniques.  He had with him an assistant and a professional model on hand.  He used an a900 tethered to a Sony Laptop, utilizing Sony Image Data Suite Software, with one profoto head (I couldn’t make out the pack that they were using though) within a medium softbox.  Since Brian loves to work with natural large light and mimic this in his studio lighting, its typically a one light setup for him.  He also loves to get the lighting up close and his models even closer to the light so that it wraps, fills in shadows and becomes very soft.  In fact in his demonstration he had the model’s face actually touching the softbox’s fabric diffuser.  In doing this he depending on his angle of view he utilized the softbox as a full background for portraits and as a partially background allowing the only part of the model to be seen with defuser and allowing the shadow side fall towards the black backdrop thus playing with the concept of moving the eye across the image (e.g. light to dark, black to white).  He also introduced a white reflector which his assistant would hold for fill so he could shot the audience the difference each element made to the shot as he progressed.  Again I was very impressed with Andy’s speaking ability his professionalism with his model and while the lighting demo wasn’t to in-depth the fat that he was sharing some techniques and showing us his interaction with his subject was a great take away from his presentation. While I did not take photos of his finished shots on screen, I have to say the detail and the one light setup were wonderful to see on the LCD screens.  He tended to shoot at F13 @ 1/200, ISO 100 for most of his shoot (yes he had his assistant use a light meter).

Matthew Jordan Smith

Matthew Jordan Smith - PMA2010

Matthew Jordan Smith Presenting at the Sony Booth @ PMA2010

The last presenter was a photographer who I had know about already.  His photography and lighting techniques with his celebrity clientele which include the likes of Tyra Banks, Ophera, Angela Bassett and Aritha Franklin to name a few has put Matthew Jordan Smith in the A list of high flying Fashion / Beauty photographers.  So, when I found out he would be presenting at the Sony booth and doing a demonstration on some simple lighting techniques as well I had to hang around even further at the Sony Booth.

As with the other presenters before him Sony provided a short retrospective on Matthew’s Photography, which he discussed his passion for photography.  In particular his theme was around combining “great equipment” or the “best equipment” with you inspiration is what gets you to create you most compelling work.  Matthew made the point that your true inspiration comes from 3 places 1) The People You Meet, 2) The Places You Go and 3) The Books You Read.  Through these combined sources enriching your life and providing your with sources of inspiration you get you unique vision and while you may use the same lighting techniques, or the same camera and location but, your vision will drive you to something different.  This is why he states he does not mind sharing his lighting techniques and the equipment he utilized as each photographer would get different results.  I agree with him as I have been to a couple of workshop where you would figured you would get the same photos as other participants around you but, if fact from the angles you choose, to lens choice to the post processing you vision dictates the final image’s direction. He then stressed that preparation for any shoot was important and when working with celebrities that you need to do the little things to get the best out of them. For him this includes sending flowers to his celebrities before the shoot and have special food and even wine on hand to set them at ease. He then prepares a personalized music playlist for the shoot that is themed towards the mood and feel he wishes to evoke from his subject. To that end he is full prepared, his team is prepared and his subject is the best frame of mind to give him what he needs on camera.

Matthew then moved on to talk about some recent shooting he had been doing and one of his personal projects.  On the recent shooting he recently just came off doing some shoot for New York Fashion Week before arriving to PMA.  For Fashion week he did 2 shoots both different in nature but, Fashion related.  The first he showed was a editorial story he and his team created with Pete Wentz.  Pete’s designs showed as upscale casual clothing like hoodies and jeans, and designer t-shirts – selling that its about who you are in the clothing and what you can be.  To that end Matthew’s team put together a selection of 3 models (2 females and 1 male) that they selected from 100’s of model agency submissions.  He firmly believes that picking the right team which includes the right models makes a shoot that much more successful.  He stated he lucked out as both of the female models just had it going for the entire shoot.  the male model on the other hand had issues emoting to the camera but, he was able to final get what he needed when he combined the females with the male models to get some group shots which I found to be the ones I liked best.  In my opinion they group photos had that youthful vigor, sexiness and that attitude all in one.

Madam Butterfly © Matthew Jordan Smith

The Original Madam Butterfly Series © Matthew Jordan Smith

Next Matthew spent time showing us many un-retouched photos from the shoot, how the team went down to their selections and which they used in the final selection of photos that were used as large prints for the lounge area during Pete Wentz’s Rock show at Fashion Week.  His next Fashion Week assignment was to document and shoot Kim Kardashian for BeBe.  He showed his direct access backstage and showed what it actually took to pull off a successful Fashion Week Show.  How the looks and the garments were preset to each model and were actually grouped on racks and visual style boards that allowed each model to get ready quickly, with just exactly what they were supposed to have for that segment of the show.  Of course a lot of his shots showed that the model spent a huge amount of time in wardrobe and makeup which for those of us that have had our own photo shoots know that to get it right our teams need that time before our models ever make it out for the camera.  It was an interesting view since most of us that have been to shows typically are out in the pit access or as guests sitting along the runway waiting for the models to come out in garb.

The last part of the retrospective discussion was Matthew reiterating his 3 points about inspiration and showing how it related to a beauty story he put together called – “Madam Butterfly“.  He stated he was on a trip to the Natural History Museum in LA and had just taken in a new Butterfly Exhibit, which showcased all manner of beautiful butterflies from around the globe.  After seeing this unique beauty Matthew stated he felt he had to incorporate butterflies, the feel and look into a shoot.  So, he assembled his team after doing some preliminary research (i.e. mood board) that showcased butterflies for his crew and his initial concept, the team went to work on thinking creatively on how to incorporate this for a shoot.  What they came up with was his butterfly series which from makeup, to hair, to lighting mimicked butterflies and essentially turned the models in butterflies for the lens.  he then stated that this would be the focus of his lighting demonstration, to further advance his butterfly project there for us.  He then informed us he actually had one of the exact models he utilized in his original series there on hand and she was in the back room with his makeup and team getting prepared.

Madam Butterfly Continued © Matthew Jordan Smith

The Madam Butterfly Series Continued on Stage © Matthew Jordan Smith

So, we went on to get some lunch as it would be an hour before this segment of his presentation would be on. Before I left though I made sure to introduce myself to Matthew and found him to be just as passionate in conversation as he was in the presentation. One of my key question for him was that I knew he used the Broncolor Parabolic Umbrella’s but, I noted in one of his setup shots that he paired it with a Profoto strobe and pack! So, I had to ask how was this possible as I had known some photographers that get unique setup made for them by electricians so, I had to know; in particular since I was told that these two systems could not be paired together. Low behold he stated that he gets the same information when he asks shops to rent him the Para’s and the Profoto’s but, he tells them he’d been doing it for years and the two just work together! So, I might find a way to use a Para with with a pack I know..hmmm.

Upon our return Matthew was up and running with and shooting his model on stage. He first had his assistant check his camera, set a 22″ Beauty dish with grid (he likes to use beauty dishes with grids) at a 45-degree overhead angle to the model about 3 – 5″ back and had him verify the lighting with a light meter. He then proceeded to shoot a tethered a900 and switched back and forth between the Carl Zeiss 85mm F1.4 and the Carl Zeiss 100mm Macro lenses to take in different perspectives. He expressed that in his fashion or beauty stories that it was important to obtain these different looks of details, full shots and the portraits to present a compelling story in print or online. He showed us a few examples of this as he worked through the shoot. In fact he had the Sony techs on hand put up a split (dual image) layout to allow us to see a picture on the left of a close up of the models eyes from a profiled view (details) to one with the models full portrait on the right. Both showing aspects of the butterfly and telling the story as components of a the broader theme. As far as his equipment of choice he stated he pairs his Sony a900 with the Sony 100mm Marco, the Carl Zeiss 24-70mm, the 85mm F1.4 and the Sony 70-200mm F2.8 G for most of his work. He then stressed again from his previous presentation that you need to buy the best equipment you can afford as the quality of the tools is important to get the best results at the outset prior to post production. With the presentation coming to a end he closed with 2 points, the first was that while there was a recession going on, if we found business was slow that we needed to look to do personal projects and /or inspiring editorials in which would allow us to pitch these to potential clients. Matthew stated he’s had some success with this approach. Lastly he reiterated his 3 points to the foundation for inspiration – 1) The People You Meet, 2) The Places You Go and 3) The Books You Read.

There you have it the Matthew Jordan Smith Experience!  If you want more check out these 3 iPhone videos of Matthew’s shoot portion of his presentation from the show!

So, with all the great Sony marketing and inspiration on hand with Sony tools didn’t this now mean that I bought a Sony a900 with those wonderful Zeiss and Sony G lenses?  No, not as of yet but, all of the things that were holding me back are gone with the exception that since I shoot MFDB, I was leaning toward any 35mm system I buy into should have HD video built in.  Knowing Sony’s history of great video systems and now the Alpha line of DSLR’s, I am convinced that Sony has the expertise to merge the two.  Then again I could just move to the a900 for stills only and look to RED for video as the Scarlet looks very promising (that’s a topic for another day though).

Nikon Booth

Nikon’s booth was actually one of the largest booths on hand and they had an amazing arrangement of equipment on display and enough folks on hand to answer questions.  The had the whole slew of Nikon Bodies and Lenses which allowed me to play with the D3x and the likes of the 85mm F1.4, the D3x as well as the D3s on display were fast focusing machines, anything we pointed them at a half / depressed the trigger locked on and gave us some smooth action once the trigger was fully traced.  In comparison to an old D2x I used to own both newer bodies had less mirror slap in my hands and seemed much faster from trigger to capture to LCD display, all of which were very nice.  the view finder were nice and bright and well and the old familiar integrated grip was welcome considering it I’ve been without it on my Phase system of late.

Nikon also had many prints of their work on display such as Scott Kelby’s – football player photo which honestly thought looked better online only because I felt the reds popped out more but, the print was great nonetheless.  Nikon also had a section showing off their new Coolpix models and an curtain shaded area to try out their new project models.  I did not find the projector models to be that impressive and seemed more like a novelty device, I think my iPhone fits that niche for me and I can always plug it into a laptop or a PS3 to see the JPG’s on it one an actual screen.  I know the connivence factor is there but, in the end I don’t think its something I need but, I could see some consumers wanting this for its connivence.

The last portion of the Nikon booth I felt was the best at most stores and locations its very hard to find the full gambit of Nikon’s long glass to try out on their high end models.  Nikon had these small raised podiums with Nikon D3s and D3x’s attached to their long glass the 300mm VR F2.8G400m VR F2.8G and the 500mm VR F2.8G, all sitting atop Wimberly Heads that would allow you to pan the show floor looking for objects to track and shoot.  Again the focus with this long glass was spectacular in that you lock fast and keep tracking an object as you would if you were doing wildlife shooting or even motor sport events.  It was just a nice chance to see all the high-end gear in action and I am glad Nikon really had its consumers/ retailers best interest at mind when setting up the booth.

HP Booth

The HP booth was pretty large, they ran the gambit of products from point of sale equipment, computer systems + integrated software solutions for photographers to their full line of printers from personal home printers to the big boys like theZ6100 and Z3200.  I really wanted to check out the Z line of printers and see what they were capable of on different papers and their build quality in person.  I have to say that the build quality was very nice, the feature set from built in calibration and cutters, along with the choice of 22″ to 44″ inch wide printers was great.  The print quality from the Z3200 44″-inch model, in 30 x 40 print sizes they were producing on the show room floor were awesome.  The colors were rich with detail, the B+W prints had nice tonal ranges and snap to them and from the selections they had on display it printed equally well on canvas and specialized material – like plastic that could be backlit, which HP used for all their signage across their booth.

Hoodman Booth

While I honestly did not spend a lot of time in the Hoodman booth they had setup an actual hooded inflatable tent that you could go in to check out their products.  The also had setup out side their Hoodman Loupe products and couple of cameras to try them out on.  I had been hear some good things about this product from other photographers blogs (like Scott Kelby) and I found the devices worked to shade the rear LCD screen of the camera and give you a better closed view of the results from your shot.  My only concern form me is weather or not I would use it or recall to bring it with me on outside for  outdoor fashion, automotive or landscape assignments.  Hard to tell but like any new tool once you use it and integrate it into your work flow it becomes second nature.  The jury is still out for me on this innovative product but, you should check it out for yourself  and see if it fits your style.

Sigma Booth

Sigma had a nice setup with a round curved bar area that had many different models of camera bodies (Canon, Pentax, Nikon, Sigma) and behind them the full line of Sigma lenses for people to try.  My father (also a avid photographer) was with me and I knew he had been looking for a wide angle for his Canon 20D and I knew of photographer getting great results with Canon gear and the Sigma 10-20mm F4-5.6 lens.  I had tried the lens with a Nikon D200 2 years ago but found that while the build quality was great the quality of my pictures did not stand up to the Nikon 12-24mm, in particular when doing post-productions, I felt the Sigma lens left more digital artifacts in my images than I was acustomed to with my Nikon glass.  But, like I said there are some landscape photographers that I really admire that are still getting great results from that lens (check out Helga Kvam’s Flickr photo stream for some great examples).  My father was also quite impressed with it angle of view and the crispness of the images on the 350D that he mated it to.

Sigma also had a nice surprise in their booth.  They had their, what I like to call the “Bazzoka” the Sigma 200-500mm F/2.8 lens on display attached to a Canon Body on rotating ball head that allowed you to scan the show room floor and check it out.  Lets just say this thing is massive, comes with its own handle and when attached to a camera body the camera seems like the accessory!  But, it was good to be able to check it out although it was very had to keep it focused at 500mm and at such a shallow Depth of field object would move just a little quickly out of the sweet spot.  But, for those that need the biggest and baddest, can by this and have an instant conversation piece for any road trip for those wildlife or sports shooters out there.

Hope you enjoyed my PMA 2010 review and insights!

– Marq

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