March 27th, 2009

Getting the Shot: The Impossible Tripod

Posted in architectural photography, equipment by Fernando Gaglianese

Shooting on location requires being flexible and ready for the unexpected. The above interior photograph was shot earlier this week at an apartment home community in Cherry Hill, NJ. And to make it possible this time it was our trusty Gitzo tripod’s turn to be more flexible than normal.

To capture the living room in this model unit a high angle from somewhere behind the kitchen countertop was required. Greg started with the tripod butted up to the kitchen counter and eventually found the optimal shooting position was directly on said countertop. See the extreme tripod position below.


The image above is a finished and retouched photograph from a recent shoot at an MRI lab. It is a great example of how the work done on location and during post-production complement each other. Each is a piece of the larger puzzle and good planning on location means that the puzzle will go together correctly.

Greg set up the shot knowing that one frame could not create the image he wanted: the brightness of the light in the room where the MRI machine sits is much higher than inside the control booth, the computer displays would be completely blown-out highlights, etc. On shoot he captured many puzzle pieces like separate exposures for the two rooms, and exposures for the computer screens.

On the left is the a small portion of the image as it was straight out of the camera, on the right we can see the same portion of the image after all the digital magic has happened. Click on the picture to view a larger version.

March 16th, 2009

2009 EP Henry Catalog is now available

Posted in architectural photography by Fernando Gaglianese

We just received our copies of the new EP Henry catalog. They are a manufacturer of concrete products used for pavers and walls, otherwise known as hardscaping.

Greg has been shooting for their catalog since 2005 and it has always been a very well produced book that we look forward to receiving every year.

The catalog does a great job of showing off the entire range of their products and showcasing some special finished projects. It is always such a great experience to visit with the proud homeowners and share their excitement of being chosen for the catalog.

The catalog is available to order through EP Henry’s website.

March 6th, 2009

Mayor Nutter in Low Light

Posted in equipment, portraits by Greg Benson

This week I had an assignment to photograph the Mayor of Philadelphia, Michael Nutter. I was hired by the Institute of Law and Economics at the Penn Law School to document the Mayor speaking at their Law and Entrepreneurship Lecture series on the importance of education to the city. Nutter is smart and articulate, and not afraid to speak his mind.

Having residents of Philadelphia succeed with their public schooling and increasing the percentage of college graduates in the city are goals of his administration. Children who graduate from high school are less likely to end up in jail and a city with an educated work force attracts businesses that pay good salaries. These are sensible and worthy goals. Achieving them won’t be easy.

The new Canon 5D Mark 2 camera that I shot with has amazing low light capabilities. Here is a shot under available light which was shot at ISO 6400. When the large file is reduced to web size there isn’t any noticeable noise. Below is a 100% crop of the actual pixels. There is certainly noise but compared to film and digital cameras of the past, the latest generation of digital cameras are far superior in low light situations. (For more on image quality see my post regarding megapixels and image quality – Fernando)

March 6th, 2009

More Megapixels and Image Quality

Posted in equipment by Fernando Gaglianese

Yesterday afternoon it was reported on (and also discussed on The Online Photographer Blog) that Olympus is happy at a 12 Megapixel file size and will not be pushing development of larger sensors for their E-System cameras. Instead Olympus will concentrate in improving their sensors in other very important ways: “dynamic range, color reproduction, and a better ISO range for low-light shooting.”

The camera-buying market has this unquenchable thirst for higher, and higher megapixel count when that is not necessarily as important as the other characteristics of a digital capture. Camera manufacturers know this, but I think to a large extent feel they have to perpetuate this “Megapixel Race” to satiate the market demands and not to be perceived inferior to their competitors.

We have recently upgraded to Canon 5DMKII cameras that make 21.1 Megapixel files (almost twice the size of the files from our previous cameras); and, while the added file size is definitely an advantage if an image needs to be cropped severely, the real improvements over the previous generation 5D are not the increased file size.

The new camera has the ability to shoot at the ludicrous ISO sensitivity setting of 25,600. Anyone that started shooting in the film days looks at that astronomic figure and can at mostly just manage a disbelieving chuckle. At that high end of the ISO range the images are only barely usable, but this sort of flexibility brings new opportunities to photojournalists who can now shoot when and where they have never been able before. This expanded range also makes high ISO shooting in more traditionally regarded high ISO settings like 800, 1600, 3200, (and maybe even 6400) a realistically possibility for non-reportage uses. At these ISO settings the new camera makes much cleaner and crisper files than the previous generation (which already made better high ISO images that high ISO color film, but that’s a different discussion). (Greg gives us an example of a 6400 ISO file out of the 5DMKII – Fernando)

The 5DMKII also has much better color range than the previous cameras, simply put: there are more possible colors the camera can reproduce, and that means more color subtlety. The previous generation also improved on this, making waxy-looking flesh-tones a memory of digital captures past.

Increasing dynamic range (the range of values in brightness from darkest to brightest that a given digital sensor or piece of film can record) is to me where development needs to be. Aside from some forgotten and somewhat unloved cameras from Fuji (the S1Pro, S2Pro, and S5PRo), most manufacturers have avoided promising increased dynamic range. In this area most of the headway is currently made with digital post-production — multiple exposures, CameraRaw manipulation, etc. The trend to push HRD (High Dynamic Range) techniques is proof of that many are fascinated by the prospect.

Larger file sizes also bring new problems to the working photographer. Where last year the studio generated almost 1.5TB worth of images and files, we can expect to double that or more in 2009 with the new cameras. More files mean a lot more storage needs to be devoted not just for archiving the image but also to keeping everything backed up. Larger file sizes immediately render one-year-old editing stations painfully slow. Larger file sizes make some previously good lenses seem less sharp — yes, a large enough sensor can reveal imperfections in lenses that seemed optically perfect with film and smaller sensors.

Still, the megapixel count WILL go up. We should all consider which other features are more important instead, maybe manufacturers will devote more resources to developing in those areas instead of just increasing the file size.

March 5th, 2009

Twilight at the Rock School of Dance

Posted in architectural photography by Greg Benson

Twilight, the time just after the sun goes away and before the sky goes black makes for dramatic photographs.
On February 17, I shot exterior photographs of the Rock School of Dance, which trains classical ballet dancers, is located at a busy intersection in South Philadelphia.

My client, JJ DeLuca, is a commercial construction company who renovated part of the building that was vacated by the Pennsylvania Ballet Company who moved to another location. JJ DeLuca changed the second floor from offices to a cafeteria and study rooms. In addition, the exterior facade was updated and signage added.

This building was a challenge to photograph during daytime hours because one side faces north, so the sun doesn’t light that side; and the low winter sun starts to cast shadows from adjoining buildings in the mid-afternoon on the western side. Twilight created more visual interest and minimized visual distractions in a very urban setting.

Another obstacle during the shoot was waiting in the February cold for the busy flow of rush hour traffic on both Broad Street and Washington Avenue to be at a stage where the cars didn’t overpower or block the building.

Coincidently, I used to live four blocks from this building. Back in my old neighborhood I was able to have lunch at a Middle Eastern eatery, Bitar’s, where the lamb gyro with yogurt was very tasty. Two blocks away, we had dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant, Viet Huong, where the summer rolls and beef with lemongrass were delicious.

March 4th, 2009

First Posting

Posted in blogging by Greg Benson

Benson Photo is launching our blog. We are: Greg Benson, a commercial photographer since 1982, Fernando Gaglianese, digital editor and assistant, and Tanya Hopkins, office manager and assistant. On this blog we hope to post our thoughts on topics related to commercial photography. Stay tuned for the next installment. Benson Photo’s home page is