Best thing I ate this week - Smoked Duck Salad

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Often when I’m shooting a restaurant’s menu, or a chef’s key dish, the list of ingredients is exhaustive, exotic and complex. This past Wednesday night, I had the job of capturing Annie Smithers working at Bleakhouse Hotel by the water for a chef’s dinner.

Annie is a chef who doesn’t think much of fine dining, her emphasis is centred on honest food done well.

Annie Smithers, frame left

Annie Smithers, frame left

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It’s not often that a dish this simple is so convincingly good, but this Smoked Duck, Apple and Radicchio salad is the perfect example of the sum being greater than its parts.

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Best thing I ate this week - Dessert @ Saint Crispin

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This week’s stand out dish was the new Rhubarb (marinated and soaked in Szechuan spice), with custard, cumquat, ginger crumble, and rhubarb granita.

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Seriously good. You can’t help but smile while you eat this. If you’re in Melbourne, this’ll be around for the next couple of weeks at Saint Crispin. Highly recommended.

Gear - a regularly updated entry for photographers, geeks and people who ended up here by accident.

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I get asked what camera I use, what lights I have and which lenses to buy fairly regularly on Instagram, or via email. So rather than tap out the same short replies on my phone, I thought I’d just make a blog post with what I’m currently using, with the ability to add or change things as they move in and out of rotation.

Before we dive in though, I really need to say this: the stuff I use works for me. There’s a lot of really great imaging making equipment out there. Almost everything you can buy today is amazing. As photographers we are living in a truly amazing time. Not everyone has the money to buy what I use, and unless you’re making a living off this stuff, most of it is overkill. Photographic equipment has one of the most extreme cases of diminishing returns in technology. Buy what you can afford, but don’t replace it until it’s paid for what comes next. 

The links below are not affiliate links, they’re for the stores that I directly buy from, because I’ve received excellent service from them. If you want there to be places to try equipment, rent it, and repair it - support your local community.

Cameras 

I’m a Nikon photographer, and have been since my Dad handed me his F3 when I was 8 years old and had me make pictures with it. I think they’re a great camera maker. Fuji, Canon and Sony are all making amazing equipment too. Go to a camera store and try them out, feel them in your hands. Whichever one feels the best and makes you smile, buy that one. It’s fine. Really.

Nikon D850 - This is the camera body I shoot everything with. In my mind, this is the best DSLR you can purchase today. 46 mega pixels, up to 9 frames a second, fully weather sealed. There used to be a saying with cameras ‘there’s no perfect camera, just the right one for the right job’ and while that’s still true, the D850 can shoot across more genres, more subjects and more niches than any other on the market. I wrote a big dumb thing about it here It’s all still true today.


Nikon D810 - The backup. I used this camera as my main body until the D850 was released. It’s still a beast, but these days it’s showing its age. If you’re an aspiring professional photographer and you’re reading this, I can’t overstate how important it is to have a backup camera. You’ll never need it until you do. For me, it was on an 8 hour shoot when half way through the mirror box crashed and totally failed. If it hadn’t been for my backup, I’d have been utterly screwed. Always have a plan B.


This is my next: 

I’m at a cross roads. I either commit to Nikon mirrorless, or I go to Medium Format*. Thankfully I don’t have to make that decision for another couple of years, but if I had to decide today, it’d be medium format. My shooting career is skewing heavily in favour of food, interiors and portraits, all good options for medium format. Nikon’s mirrorless ecosystem is 5mins old, and is woefully ill-equipped for what I need out of it (today). If I was a sports, wedding or event shooter, I’d likely be moving towards mirrorless, probably Sony. 

*Bonus unexpected player.



Lenses 

Nikon 14-24 f2.8 The wide boy. This is the oldest lens I own that I still use. I bought this back in 2007. Guess how many updates it’s had since then? Zero. It’s still the current model. Extremely good optics for a lens this wide. Slow as balls to focus in live view, which is how I use this lens 90% of the time. It’s fine for what I need it to do, which is typically shooting interiors. I doubt it’ll ever receive an update as the Nikon mirrorless lineup has this slated for a 2020 release. Yes, this does make me sad.

Nikon 24-70 f2.8 The desert island lens. The go anywhere, do anything lens. If I could have one piece of glass and nothing else, this is it. Covers a great range, is insanely sharp, focuses damn near instantly, even in terrible lighting. Built like a tank. If I had one gripe, it’s that the front thread is 82mm. That’s ridiculously large, and is different to every other pro lens Nikon has ever made. But who cares.


Nikon 70-200 f2.8 The best piece of photography equipment I bought last year. Absurdly fast focusing, and my favourite feature? It now focuses 30cm closer to the subject than what it replaced. It’s wonderful. Nikon swapped the focus and zoom rings for this version. Why. Stupid. Took me 3 months to get used to. Still, awesome lens.

Nikon 105mm VR Micro The food photographer’s friend. I wasn’t using this lens for a long time, but found the ability to produce more cinematic shots at longer distances really lovely. I rarely use it to shoot actual 1:1 macro detail, but being able to grab a 100mm lens and have it focus far closer than usual can make some very powerful shots. Like the 14-24 lens, this is very old. VR 1, Chinese made, but again, the latest model.


Nikon 60mm Micro I really should sell this lens. I haven’t used it in over a year. It’s fine. A cheap macro if you need it, but at a length you may as well grab the 24-70 for. 


Nikon 19mm f4 PC My only real specialist lens, and it is gorgeous. Bought when I was convinced I’d become an architectural photographer. Sadly I only use it a handful of times a month. People who’ve never owned a Tilt Shift lens will tell you ‘you can just do it in Photoshop’ these people are idiots.


This is my next: Zeiss 100mm Milvus macro: I had the opportunity to use this lens for an afternoon, and it blew my mind. So much sharper, better built and enjoyable to use than my own 105. Manual focus will take some getting used to, though.



Memory Cards

I currently have Lexxar SD/CF cards, and Sony XQD cards.

Turns out Lexxar is basically dead and XQD is being replaced by C-Fast. You probably shouldn’t listen to me on this one.

I use a Sony XQD card reader, and it’s perfectly ok.

This is my next: Honestly who knows. Storage is in such a strange place. I imagine it’ll be CFast cards.

Computer Equipment 

Desktop: My main computer today is a 5K 2017 iMac. Crunching through D850 files isn’t the easiest task, but this guy can manage it. Full terabyte SSD is essential, do not buy one of these with a spinning disk. Ever. Make sure you’ve opted for a decent GPU, Pro apps make use of them far more than they used to.


Display: Eizo ColorEdge CG277. The benchmark for colour critical displays. Using this and the iMac together gives you the best of both worlds. The iMac handles work thats only ever intended for Web use, whereas the Eizo handles prints, press, and magazines. It has a built in hardware calibration system that checks itself each week, and updates as needed. It’s so bloody nice. It’s not 4K, but it utterly curb stomps 99% of the displays out there for gamut, accuracy and even-ness. 


Notebook: 2016 15” MacBook Pro. The whole disaster. The terrible keyboard and all. It’s ok. Notebooks in general don’t really do it for me. They’re a compromise in power from a desktop, and a compromise in portability from a tablet. There is no winner here. I use it purely for tethering on location, and when I’m interstate. 


Tablet: 11” iPad Pro. One day this will replace my MacBook Pro for all on location work. It’s only a matter of time, and improvement of software. In the meantime, I use it for Camranger, and to churn through my email, invoicing and when I need to show clients images. It has an incredible display.


RAID System: I currently use a Promise Pegasus 2, and a Drobo 5D. They’re both good, with the Pegasus being near silent, and the Drobo’s fan running incessantly. Between the two, I’d pick the Pegasus every time on sound alone. A Pegasus 3 will soon be joining the family. Thunderbolt is fantastic, and the ability to daisy chain them all together is wonderful. 


Portable Drive: G Drive SSDs. Tiny, almost weightless and crazy fast. They don’t make this model anymore, but the replacement is ‘ruggedized’ and otherwise the same. Don’t bother with spinning hard drives for portables. It’s 2019. Losing files because you accidentally dropped something is dumb as hell.


Wacom: I use an Intuous Pro Medium for retouching. It’s great. If you’re still retouching with a mouse or god forbid, a trackpad - I implore you to save your wrists. Carpal Tunnel surgery has a very long recovery time. There’s really no other tablet worth buying.


This is my next: A new Promise Pegasus. This is the new Thunderbolt 3 model, which will replace my ailing Drobo. If it’s anything like the Pegasus 2, it’ll run near silent.




Tethering



USB Cable: Tethertools cable. It’s the only thing worth buying. You’ll roll your eyes at the price, but it’s durable as hell, and the orange coloured plastic is often the only thing between you, or someone on set and an insurance claim.

Jerk Stopper: Because USB 3 ports on devices are terrible, shallow, and far too easy to knock loose.


Aero table: I use one of these with an old manfrotto tripod screwed into the base. You can’t always put your computer on a table, and it beats putting it on the ground and hoping for the best. 


Lighting

This is (after cameras) the most asked about part of my equipment. I use Profoto equipment because I really dig their product line. When I was choosing these lights I’d been using a small army of speed lights, with inexpensive modifiers. Patching things together with duct tape and making things work despite themselves, so when I moved to studio lighting I wanted a system that was going to be bulletproof. A lot of my shooting involves walking into a room with a subject that I might only have a few minutes with, tops. There’s no time to troubleshoot why my flash isn’t firing, I need it to work first time. There’s absolutely other options out there, with great offerings from Elinchrom, Godox and even Bowens now being back from the dead, apparently. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend Profoto for everyone, but if you’re a location photographer with tight time frames and you shoot by yourself, it’s pretty hard to beat.

Profoto B1X (x2) - Being on location for all of my work, my strobes need to be battery powered, completely reliable, and as cable free as possible. These guys deliver in spades. Consistently excellent light, no colour variation, and the ability to sync up to 1/8000th of a second. I’m often needing to freeze liquid pours, shattering food or dusting food shots with flour or icing sugar, so I really appreciate the high speed sync. The batteries are good too, I can make it through 2-3 shoots in a day with them.


Profoto Air Remote - Allows me to control the light from my camera without running around to make adjustments 

Profoto A1 - I was super sceptical of this when it first launched. Calling it a studio flash was garbage, surely. Nope, from the first time I used it, was able to adjust beam angle, use its modelling light and even heard its tiny fan turn on, I was a convert. Great light quality, quick recycle time. Comes with a diffusor dome, a wide angle attachment, and is itself an Air Remote as well as a flash. Great for hiding in scenes where I need to illuminate something in the background but don’t have space for the B1Xs


Profoto Deep Umbrella Medium Silver + diffuser (x2): My go to quick and easy modifier. A lot of what I shoot is made with these. Lights high and bright, and then diffused to give you a beautiful punchy glow without crazy hot highlights. I use these over soft boxes most of the time simply due to speed and easy pack away.

Profoto Magnum Reflector - the sun dish. A super hard reflector that emulates strong daylight, but with a large light source to take the absolute stark edges off shadows. Gives a nice magazine-like contrast to skin which can be fun. Stupid expensive.

Profoto 22” Beauty Dish - White, with grid and diffusor options - Lovely diffused light for tight portraits. The grid helps control spill, and the diffusor lets me pump the light up a bit without flaring out.


Profoto 3x2 Softbox with Grid - useful for situations where I can’t mount an umbrella because there’s simply not enough room in the uh, room. Or if the scene heavily features glass-ware and you want the light source to run the full length of the glass, instead of a spot highlight that you’ll get from the umbrella.

Neewer Portable 5 in 1. 120x180cm. A Giant reflector, or (and what I use it for constantly) shoot-through diffusor. This with a B1X head behind it will give a beautiful, massive diffused light. Cheapest thing I use. 


Profoto Hand Held Medium diffusers. Yep, they’re not the cheapest, but that built in handle comes in handy constantly. Wait staff, chefs, PR managers and Art directors all over Melbourne have helped me by holding these. Handles help.

Manfrotto 1005BAC lighting stand (x3) Not much to say other than they’re air cushioned. Having crushed my fingers on multiple occasions its nice not to have that be a problem anymore.

Manfrotto 5001B Nano Stand. Useful if I need to mount a flash very close to the floor, or on a table that’s not wide enough for the main light stands.

Manfrotto 1314B Background Kit - For paper backdrops.

Kupo 40” Black C-Stand. Sometimes You’ve got to throw a light overhead, or a camera for that matter. Nice locking mechanism. Wish it was air cushioned.

This is my next: Profoto XL Umbrella. As I shoot more full length portraits, I’d like to have the option to use a single large light source that’s easy to setup and pack down in a hurry.


Bags and Cases 


Think Tank Airport Roller Derby: Stupid name, amazing bag. I used to rock backpacks, but that stops being fun once you can’t get up without it hurting. 4 Wheels, space for all your stuff and weather sealed. Really great.

Think Tank Stand Manager 52: Better name, also a great bag. I can throw all my lighting stands, tripod, 2 umbrellas and 2 reflectors in this and wheel that sucker around. It’s the best thing I’ve bought for the business for ages.

Pelican 1500 - Great for throwing all the extras in for extended shoots or if I’m travelling interstate.


This is my next: Some sort of hard case for my studio lights. Probably this one.


Tripod 


Gitzo GT5543XLS - Ok. I know, it’s an insane price to pay for a tripod. I totally get it, this is unjustifiable, I know. But dang it’s nice. Combined with the centre column add-on, this guy reaches 10 feet into the air. Which seems ridiculous. Right up until you need it. I previously used Aluminium tripods, and the move to Carbon Fibre is something that makes you thankful every time you pick it up. 


Gitzo geared centre column - It’s heavy, and the locking mechanism is not great. But when you need to adjust height by 7cm, it beats readjusting 3 legs independently.


Manfrotto 405 Geared head - Shooting interiors often means really small adjustments, this does a good job. Drawbacks: Can’t put the camera back to face the ceiling. This may sound dumb, but I literally had this be a problem last week. Also, in terms of build quality, not as good as the Gitzo. Everything will be locked in place, but then you can still get a bit of movement out of it. Maybe a millimetre or so.


This is my next: An Arca Swiss geared head. This one is a long way off, but it’d be nice to have a totally rigid, go nowhere tripod head.




2018 in Review

I started last year’s review by saying ‘2017 was a year on fire. I couldn’t have crammed anymore into the last 12 months if I’d tried’ 

For some reason, I think my subconscious interpreted that as a challenge rather than a warning, and decided to run a 2018 marathon, as well. The year mainly revolved around the 12th of October, my wedding day. Not a day went by it seemed without some form of planning, discussion or task related to it. Thankfully it all worked out in the end, but it was totally all encompassing.

I achieved a lot of what I set out to do this year, the year of yes.

I said Yes to almost every shoot I was asked to quote on, and agreed to do just about everything that came my way outside of photography. It was enormously fulfilling, and as I wind things down for the Christmas break, I find myself truly tired.


Anyway, to the list.


Album of the year

Rufus Du Sol, Solace

This was a tricky one, as I didn’t listen to a lot of single albums, but found myself living on a diet of EDM playlists during my now daily 2+hr drives to and from shoots. Rufus was one of the rare exceptions that stood out as a great cohesive work.

Songs of the year

Diplo (feat. MØ) - Get it right

Batshit, Sofi Tukker

morgxn - home ft walk the moon


Movie of the Year 

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A Quiet Place 

I don’t even like horror/suspense films. In fact I hate them, but this - this I loved.


Best Purchase 

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Nikkor 70-200 f2.8E FL ED VR 

Aside from an obnoxious name, this lens is stupid good. The AF is lightning fast, it feels great to use, and one of the least talked about features, but one I adore is its ability to focus a full foot closer to the subject than the generation it replaced. My go to lens for at least 60% of my food and studio photography. A total winner.


Runner up: 

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GITZO GT5543XLS Systematic Ser 5 4S XL Tripod

Huh, really is the year of bullshit names. Anyway, incredible tripod. I’m still reeling for having to pay for it, but it’s changed the way I shoot. This thing with the centre column goes above 9feet high, and its bloody wonderful. 


Best Game

Yeah, I really didn’t have time this year.

Best TV series 

I don’t watch TV very much, but I’m all for this series. It’s compelling, and whatever the director of photography gets paid, it’s not enough. In the latest series, the story of Cristina Martinez just further reenforces how great TV can be, blending art, political activism and hope.


Best Podcast

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The Ground-up show with Matt D’avella 

Favourite Book 

Pulitzer Prize fiction winner, Less - Sean Greer. It’s about growing older, love, and the way it’s written made me smile a lot. Recommended,

Favourite Meal of the year

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Yuzu Ice-Cream, Ginger Granita, Ginger Snaps - at Cheek Restaurant, Melbourne CBD


Best Moment of the year 

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I got married!


For 2019, it’s another domestic year. Nose to the grindstone, and the year of refinement. It took all of 2018 to come to terms with the fact that my photography career has gone in a different direction to what I’d imagined, and as December comes to an end, I’m fully onboard with that new vision. 2019 is the year to take it and run with it.

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