Last March, I was planning a shoot in New York City. The lockdown hit and it was off. Everything was off. Clients were unavailable, or in my case, potential clients, as well as everyone else needed for a shoot. Makeup artists, stylists, models, hairstylists, assistants, studios, and portfolio review events were all suddenly off-limits. The streets of Manhattan became a ghost town. People were fined for walking around on the streets without an absolute need to be there. I thought I was on the verge of getting my foot in the door as a commercial photographer but for now, the door was shut, hermetically sealed, and locked.
In between then and now, I found my way to my first two clients, one on either end of the so-far year-long lockdown. The first was a sale to a big advertising client for a TV commercial, the other a small sale to a small magazine that I happen to like. Not enough to cover more than a month’s expenses, but better than nothing, and I had broken in. I was gratified that the first client was an advertising sale because an art director at Saatchi and Saatchi had told me I wouldn’t sell anything to an ad agency until after I had a sizable collection of editorial tearsheets. Ha, wrong! But then, that was it for a long time.
For marketing purposes, I have pitched myself as a portrait photographer, with an emphasis on athletes. The photographs I sold were all portraits. I like making portraits, at least in part because I like people and enjoy interacting with them at shoots. Thanks to the lockdown, I was worried about the implications of shooting portraits. What if someone had or got covid on a shoot? I didn’t want it to happen, nor did I want to be responsible if it did. I’d heard about new requirements for insurance and other limitations on shoots that I didn’t want to deal with. I did a group of portraits of shopkeepers from the requisite six or more feet away, with everyone wearing masks. To be blunt, it wasn’t very satisfying.
One of the great things about portraits is looking at all the wonderful faces. With two-thirds of every face covered by a mask, a great deal was missing. Thanks to concerns about covid and the lockdown itself, I decided to do something different that I’d wanted to do for a long time: get some shots of a 1950’s style diner I’d seen in town. That shot, of the Palace Diner in Poughkeepsie, NY, turned into a large personal project that has kept me busy off and on for almost a year. So far, I have shot several dozen diners, inside and out, some on multiple occasions in different seasons.
Below are some of the images from the series. More can be seen on my website, www.paqphoto.com
All of the photos in this series were shot on a Phase One XF with an IQ3-100 digital back. A range of lenses were used, the Schneider-Kreuznach 28mm, 55mm, 80mm, 120mm, and 150mm. The most recent shots were made with the 28mm. The rest vary considerably as I experimented with other lenses. Many of the early images are stitched together out of as many as 30 100MP images shot through a 150mm lens. Some are focus-stacked, a few are not. The shot of bacon and eggs is one of the most complicated images in the group. It is made of eight stitched images, each of which is made of 51 focus stacked images. I used a Broncolor Siros 800w/s light for some but not all of the interiors.
Every time I opened the raw photos for these images in Capture One, I was greeted with an advertisement for the new XT camera and IQ4-150 digital back. The ad asked if I wanted a free trial. Every time, I thought, “are they kidding? Haven’t they heard of how business has almost completely died this year?” Of course, I wanted to try it out but until I had more business, there was no way to justify the cost to my wife or myself. That said, I finally pushed the button. This series has shown me why I might want to use the XT and the new back.
As long as I was shooting portraits, my XF with IQ3-100 was more than adequate for the job. It does a good job with the diners also, but there are a few things that can be improved. I do not like correcting perspective distortion in software. A tilt-shift lens would be handy, but I didn’t have one and could only find an old one that might not be compatible with the camera. Meanwhile, the XT has a horizontal/vertical shift option that provides similar functionality. The XT cannot use any of the Schneider lenses I own but the Rodenstock lenses made for it are supposedly sharper than mine, corner to corner, thus allowing more of each raw image to be used in the final edit. The higher resolution back allows me to skip making stitches in situations I might otherwise be tempted to make one, thus avoiding the sometimes complex editing task of painting over leaves that don’t quite match up along the seam. The XT/Rodenstock combination is also much more compact and lightweight than the kit I am using now. Is it worth it? I’m not sure. I have an excellent kit but the XT is more appropriate for the kind of shots I’ve been making lately.
We’ll see. So far, I’ve had three “free” demonstrations of Phase One products. The first two times, I bought the camera and back I was looking at. The third time, the Trichromatic back, I felt that the incremental improvement in color quality wouldn’t make back its cost before the next generation of backs, which turned out to be true. More importantly, will it make the difference between selling prints or not? Or selling more prints than would be the case otherwise? One thing I can say is that it would have been very difficult to make the images in this diner series with my Nikon or the Sony A7r that I sold a couple of years ago. They don’t have the dynamic range needed, and they couldn’t make the 30,000-50,000 pixel wide images that some of these turned out to be without taking ten times as many photos to be stitched together.