Phone vs Photography |Behind the Scenes Photos

It was Chase Jarvis who said “The best camera is the one you have with you”, well…he’s at least the one who had the initiative to make a name for himself on the back of that phrase. When I shot “The Kids Aren’t Alright” I was surrounded by good cameras, but for the entire duration of the production I shot all of the behind the scenes photos on my phone.

The phone at the time was the HTC One Mini. I’ve always loved taking pictures on my phone, the simplicity and convenience of having it all in one – photo, process, post… it really engenders a carefree type of shooting. At least for me, I’m not exactly an influencer where my livelihood relies on my social media content, so I tend to be a bit light hearted with it.

Phone cameras aren’t the best quality, no matter how many viral articles go around about a photographer shooting a whole wedding on an iPhone. But they’re so inobtrusive that people are naturally a lot more comfortable around them.

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“The Kids Aren’t Alright” HTC One Mini, processed with VSCO

The thing I love most about taking pictures on my phone, is how amateur they feel – and the sense of intimacy that stems from this. The lack of depth of field, the distortion, the poor image quality…I think it all adds up to create a very unique feeling that can sometimes be hard to achieve. The experience has a lot of character about it.

Perhaps it’s a deviation of the social media effect, but there’s a real sense of presence in the photos it produces. While a 50mm is commonly seen as the most accurate representation of what a person sees, the form factor of a phone camera really places the viewer inside the scene. And given how widespread photo photography has become, I think the general public’s perception of a phone camera’s field of view is becoming quite the representation of their sight.

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“The Kids Aren’t Alright” HTC One Mini, processed with VSCO

Everyone knows what it looks like to see through the camera on their phone, everyone is familiar with consuming media through that perspective. People take pictures on their phones every day, so to present them with pictures taken through the same source instills a natural sense of familiarity.

While depth of field can add to photos being more beautiful, people address the beauty of the image without engaging with the content of the image. A concept I learned through working in film – when a cinematographer is doing their job right, how the film was shot will go completely unnoticed.

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“The Kids Aren’t Alright” HTC One Mini, processed with VSCO

I think a lot of the beauty in phone photography is how entirely unnoticed the camera and photographic techniques are.

Maybe we’re regressing on a general level of what passess for a medium of documenting life, and people are more divided between the extreme ends of the spectrum. But I think with the paradigm shift in how we consume, create, and share, this is simply just the next phase in how we most popularly record our history.

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“The Kids Aren’t Alright” HTC One Mini, processed with VSCO

There’s no specific magic to it, if anything it’s just simpler and more derivative of everything preceding it. But it still demands you to be present, engaged, and attentive of your subject.

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“The Kids Aren’t Alright” HTC One Mini, processed with VSCO

And your light – don’t forget your light. I did mention these cameras don’t tend to be particularly great, so you really do need to be attentive of your light.

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“The Kids Aren’t Alright” HTC One Mini, processed with VSCO

In the end, it’s just another means of creation. One I find myself reaching for quite often. One that’s so easy and simple to use. One that lets me just snap a picture of what I see when I don’t want to run the risk of being mugged carrying all my photography equipment around.

But after all that, maybe it’s just something I use to kill the boredom when others are talking, and when I want to play around with some photo editing while sitting on the bus.

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“The Kids Aren’t Alright” HTC One Mini, processed with VSCO
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Visual Lexicon

Working on a new brief for college titled “Visual Lexicon” – the idea is to take images to fit under certain headings that are given to us. I’ll admit, my work on it so far hasn’t been particularly great – I’ve been very lazy with this assignment by leaving it to the last minute, but I’ve gotten a few images that I’m reasonably happy with. Here are a few of the images I took the other day while working on the project, along with their titles:

Movement

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Pattern

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Translucence

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Gaelic Football and overcoming lens restrictions for sports photography

I photographed Gaelic Football for the first time last week and it was an awkward experience – I was without my 300mm lens, all I had was a 70-200mm F/2.8 which I was not comfortable with. And I was in a position where I couldn’t sit on the ground, I had to stand at the sideline. But I couldn’t just simply not photography the match – I had to producer images that were usable for my college newspaper, and this was a pretty huge cup match!

It wasn’t the best experience to say the least, and it was cold and raining. However, the key is not panicking, and using what you have to your full advantage.

I knew going into this that I wouldn’t be able to cover much more than just the sidelines, so my aim was to position myself at the side of the pitch, between the halfway line and the goal line. Then shoot directly across, or upfield.
There was about a 4 foot barrier in front of me, so I couldn’t sit down and couldn’t get particularly low, but I was able to use that barrier to steady my hands much like a monopod would – and it helped keep horizons straight! Shooting in landscape orientation as opposed to portrait orientation is also an easy way to make things seem somewhat closer, portrait orientation opens up too much of the foreground and makes things seem farther away than they actually are.

Working with what you have at your disposal is the sign of a true photography, and what everyone should try to do. You don’t need that really expensive lens to take great photos, you just need to make the most of what you have with you. Know the limitations of your kit, and work around them.

Here’s some of my photos from the match, the first two are black and white because of artistic preference – I wouldn’t submit monochrome images for publication in newspapers, but I prefer the images this way:

BW (4 of 5)

BW (5 of 5)

DIT vs Marys Sigerson (1 of 12)

DIT vs Marys Sigerson (3 of 12)

DIT vs Marys Sigerson (4 of 12)

DIT vs Marys Sigerson (5 of 12)

DIT vs Marys Sigerson (12 of 12)

Making a Short Film…

I’m not a videographer, my skills don’t really stretch that far. Although I would absolutely love to making videos it’s just not something I feel comfortable getting into, my preference lies in still images. I prefer the much wider creative scope and the power a still image can hold. However, I want to change that.

I’m a huge film fan, my respect for history of cinema and filmmaking in general has grown and grown since I was in 4th year in school where I did a filmmaking course, a film studies class and a history of cinema class. And over the past few months I’ve become more and more attracted to the idea of directing a film myself. One thing that often pushed me away was the amount of people who work on a film set to make the project come together, I’m quite the control freak and not only do I like to be in charge of everything, but there’s very few people I’d trust to help me and I like learning the extra skills involved.
I did a photo story to be used as my portfolio to get into college to study photography, and the issues in the story which the shoot addresses is one which I strongly believe in and really want to get out there and have it gather more attention. I’ve decided to take the plunge into the world of filmmaking in an effort to get this story out there and hopefully have these issues addressed by more people. So, a few weeks I started piecing together a script and developing my idea to suit the different medium. But the best thing is, my portfolio pretty much acts as a visual shooting guide/basic storyboard.

DSCF3483Instagram photo from Stuart Comerford

It’s been rather difficult to contain the world I’ve created in the script, it’s hard to not let other storylines drift into the spotlight. I’m trying to replicate a real world environment and keep it as realistic as possible without going too over-the-top and I’m finding it rather difficult but the script is coming together and is practically done, all other tweaks would be done during filming.
As I’m in the middle of my Leaving Cert exams I can’t start it quite yet, but at the end of this month the production will be in full swing! Hopefully everything will be wrapped up and released by August (actually, it needs to be into post-production at least by August since my leading male is moving to England in the first week of August!). I’m really excited to make this.

The film is a documentation of the frequently avoided subject of teenage depression, following the story of one teenage girl as she deals with bullying, social exclusion, isolation, and domestic violence during a pivotal time in her life when she’s finishing school and concerned about the purpose of her existence. Not everybody “fits in” as a teenager due to it being such a crucial period of personal development and self-discovery, and I hope to create something that at least opens people’s eyes to a topic which is very serious and demands attention.

Final Facebook

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Album Cover Photoshoot

Today I had the opportunity to do a photoshoot for the album cover of my friends’ band, “Checkpoint”. You may have seen me blog about them in the past, I’ve done a lot of work with them, we’ve been close friends for almost 6 years now and they got me into photographing live concerts so I love to give back as much as possible. Their new album is coming out soon, check out their facebook page for further details: http://www.facebook.com/CheckpointPunk
You can check out one of their new songs here: https://soundcloud.com/checkpoint-punk/driven-you-dead

Anyway, I am still very new to portraiture. I don’t have a clue how to pose people or how to compose shots, I always feel very uncomfortable when working one on one with people. I’m a huge fan of candid shots, about 90% of my work is of a documentation style, so this was another learning experience for me.

We all got delayed and gradually met up much later than agreed upon so we didn’t start shooting until 4:30pm, to add to that it was a horrible snowy day and we were down an alley… so I was stuck up around 1600 ISO the whole time, using my Canon 1D Mark IIN.  As per usual with photoshoots, I did a bit of forward planning and started to come up with ideas, unfortunately, I couldn’t come up with much. But I had one idea which I sketched out a little, here’s the page of my idea book:

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Well, my idea didn’t work out like I planned. The shooting itself didn’t go how I would have liked, and the photoshop afterwards went horrible. I’ll probably end up going back to it and attempting to photoshop it again but for now I’ll give up with this crappy attempt. My idea was to blank out the eyes and seal the slight opening in the mouth, to make them dummy like.

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That shot took a few minutes to set up and get the desired result, I’m really kicking myself about not getting the photoshop part right. With more time and effort my vision could come true, my cloning/tone blending abilities aren’t the best if I’m honest. After that we got on with the rest of the shoot. They had a few ideas which we shot next, mainly focused on their shoes which I found a little boring so worked around with a few angles to get as interesting a result as possible.

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After that I wanted to do some individual portraits so set up in front of that door they’re standing in front of above. The reason I’m going with a square crop for these is because the album booklet will be in square format, so for ease of use I’m keeping them all square.

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And of course, I had to capture a candid or two in between shots.

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The candids aren’t square as there is little chance of them getting used. The above one was more powerful without cropping.
Throughout the whole day I found it very difficult shooting for a square crop. In the editing process I frequently found myself cutting off little bits of the image here and there because I didn’t shoot wide enough or underestimated the parameters of the square crop. We were wrapping things up when it started pouring snow again (it’s late March and it’s been snowing sporadically every day here in Dublin, Ireland). We spent the whole shoot in a little alley, so every location is less than 15 seconds from each other, it was a really cool spot to use, had a lot of interesting textures and a fair bit of character. If you’re ever in Dublin and want to use the location, it’s the back alley to the Olympia Theatre in Dublin City Centre, not too far from the IFI. We were about to head off because of the snow but decided that we can’t turn up the opportunity to have some shots walking down the lane with the snow in the background. We braved the elements and may have gotten a cover photo out of it!

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All-in-all it was a pretty enjoyable shoot. The photos came out better than I had expected, but I still long for a particular style/feel to my photographs that I haven’t yet achieved. Maybe with time things will improve as I learn to work with people in a more efficient manner. If it weren’t for the weather I would have brought out my lighting kit and tried out a few things, but I didn’t feel up to it because of the snow. Really wanted to bring my brand new Peli 1510 case (I’ll be reviewing this soon!) but didn’t want to get the bus with it so brought everything in my Think Tank Retrospective 30. Unfortunately, in the end the only two pieces of gear I used were the Canon 1D Mark IIN and the Sigma 24-60mm F/2.8.

Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram for behind-the-scenes stuff from all my shoots:

http://instagram.com/stuartcomerford

Is the Canon 1D Mark IIN still a good purchase in 2013?

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*UPDATE as of May 2013* I own 3 of these bodies and they are all workhorses. They get me through absolutely everything I come up against.

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With my photographic needs growing significantly towards the end of 2012  and with the expectation of bigger things to come in 2013 I felt like my equipment was holding me back a big. I love Canon, and I’d love Canon even more if I had about €4,000 to spend on equipment. But like most, I don’t have that kind of money. I had needs that my equipment wasn’t meeting and I had a budget of €500. Things weren’t looking good. I had expected to end up sticking with my current equipment but I looked around and found a great deal on a 1D Mark IIN which I instantly snapped up and haven’t regretted since. In fact, I’m considering buying another.

Why the 1D Mark IIN?

Well, simply put… the Mark II felt too dated and the Mark III was a bit too expensive with a few too many AF worries. I was specifically after a 1-Series body, for the build quality, the dual card slots and the AF system.  As much as I love the 5D Mark II it just wasn’t fit for my needs, it has the benefits of low light performance and image quality but I just needed to get away from the 9 point AF system (well, only the centre point has ever been useful on any of these 9 point systems). The Mark IIN looked like it was the one, it fit all my needs, it fit my budget and it had very few drawbacks. So I went ahead and picked it up.

How does it perform?

I’ve used it on quite a few occasions now and I am extremely impressed with it. It produces fantastic images at all ISO values (actually, I don’t think I’ve had the camera below 800 ISO yet!). I’ve shot fireworks, a concert, rugby matches and some night time street shots since I got the camera. ISO 1600 and ISO 3200 are extremely clean compared to the same settings on the Canon 40D, 60D and 500D. They equal the quality of the Canon 5D Classic and ISO 3200 on the 1D Mark IIN is slightly worse than ISO 3200 on the 5D Mark II. (I’m excluding the 5D Mark III, 1D Mark IV, 1DX etc. because, if you have the money for them then you wouldn’t be reading this post…).

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1/60th, F/2.8, ISO 3200

It’s snappy to focus. Better than any Canon DSLR I’ve used before. In lower light situations, the 40D/60D are quicker to start up but the 1D Mark IIN is quicker to find focus and it’s better at finding focus in low light situations. I shot a 4 hour long battle of the bands concert and there were only 3 occasions throughout the whole night that the 1D had trouble finding focus and that was mainly my fault. If you know to look out for the high contrast areas then it’ll be easy to lock focus 99% of the time. The constant changing stage lights didn’t put the camera off once. Music photography is by far one of the hardest jobs a photographer can get, you really need to be able to rely on your equipment to pull through for you.
The 45 point AF in the 1D was phenomenal. Every point, including the non-cross-type points locked on very easily. I stayed in one shot AF for the entire gig as that’s my shooting preference and I didn’t have a single out of focus image from the entire night. The 1D rendered the colours lovely and they were a pleasure to edit. I’ll mention now that all these images were shot in RAW and processed in Lightroom 4, no noise reduction was added to any of them (I went back and checked). The dynamic range of the 1D at 1600 ISO and 3200 ISO surpassed that of the much newer 60D  and the full frame 5D Classic.

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1/320th, F/2.8, ISO 1600

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1/200th, F/2.8, ISO 1600

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1/80th, F/2.8 ISO 3200

Regarding the editing of the RAW files: you can increase the exposure by about a stop but then the image falls to pieces. This is to be expected. Here’s a black and white image which I pushed and pulled to extremes to get just the way I wanted it, I boosted the exposure by about 2 stops and drastically increased the blacks and clarity to get the exact silhouette look I was after:

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1/1000th, F/2.8, ISO 3200

However, when kept within its limits the camera’s RAW files hold up very well during the edit process.

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1/640th, F/2.8, ISO 1600

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1/100th, F/2.8, ISO 3200

So, I mentioned how the AF performed in one shot, how about in AI Servo? Equally as brilliant. I photographed a Leinster Schools Senior Rugby match and I didn’t get a single out of focus shot that wasn’t my fault. I got a total of 3 out of focus shots because I selected the wrong point or focused on the wrong thing (I was still trying to get used to the AF system at this point). At no point did I have to think about the AF, I set it to back button focusing (my preference) and just held it down without letting go. At no point did I have to give the AF any thought. Tracking was exceptionally good and the camera was not easily tricked. Even when the ball passed in front of players faces there was no noticeable hiccup in the AF. I’d imagine if you set the tracking speed faster in the custom functions you might encounter some problems here, but I had it set to standard and it was perfectly fine. I shot during the rugby match with the Canon 300mm F/4L non-IS and the Canon 70-200mm F/2.8L non-IS so AF was spectacular as per usual with those lenses.

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1/800th, F/4, ISO 800

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1/1000th, F/4,  ISO 800

I left AF point expansion off when shooting with the 300mm. It didn’t feel natural to me, probably because I’m not used to it yet, but the camera handled the action fine without it. I was able to keep up with the players by moving the AF point myself. The dual dial system is a bit tricky to get used to compared to the newer joystick method of selecting AF points but I now prefer it, it’s much easier than the joystick for people like me with big fingers.

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1/1000th, F/4, 800 ISO

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1/1250th, F/2.8, 800 ISO

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1/1250th, F/2.8, 400 ISO

Conclusion

It’s fantastic. I love it, it’s a workhorse of a camera. The files it produces are superb, the 8mp sensor is more than most people will need, it will print as big as you could ever want (unless you’re a studio photographer, in which case I doubt you’d be interested in this camera).  The smaller file sizes are much more friendly towards CF cards though, the buffer clears quicker than with bigger files (like with the 40D or 7D), due to the buffer clearing quicker it’s easier to get longer bursts at the 8.5 FPS the cameras offers. A Lexar 8GB 200x CF card gives me a good 3 second burst of RAW files on full speed before it slows down. An even faster card wouldn’t have this problem, I just have no need for faster cards at the moment.
In terms of IQ, it is far beyond any current APS-C sensor camera offered by Canon. I would rather buy a 1D Mark IIN than a 7D. The IQ of the 1D matches that of the 5D Classic, the 5D Mark II is a bit better, especially at high ISOs. It really benefits from the full frame. I love the 1D Mark IIN and I think it is a very good choice in 2013 if you’re on a budget. Other cameras around it’s price range would be a 650D, 30D, 40D, 50D, 60D, 5D Classic – it performs better than each of those models in it’s own way. The AF is far beyond that of the 5D Classic, and the image quality (as well as other features like the AF) is far beyond that of any APS-C offering.

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1/10th, F/4, 800 ISO

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1/1000th, F/4, 640 ISO

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1/1600th, F/2.8, 400 ISO

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1/1000th, F/2.2, 800 ISO

Pros
-Fantastic Image Quality
-Rugged build
-Brilliant 45 point AF system
-Dual card slots
-100% Coverage Viewfinder
-Audio Recording
-Smaller file sizes allow for cheaper CF cards (like 200x as opposed to the 600x needed for similar speeds with a 7D)

Cons
-Big and heavy
-Big battery (twice the size of the 1D Mark III/IV battery and about 3/4 times the size of the 5D/7D/xxD batteries)
-2.5 inch LCD screen, not as high quality as current screens (doesn’t bother me, it’s still a brilliant screen)
-Only goes to 3200 ISO

Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram:

Twitter: StuartComerford
Facebook: StuartComerfordPhotography
Instagram: StuartComerford

Jack of all trades, master of none…?

This is something which has been troubling me for a little while now. Over the past month I’ve been increasingly thinking about what I intend to study at university as it’s only a few months now until I’ll have to make my choices and submit my application form. In regards to what I want to do at university I’m currently torn between…(wait for it)… politics, journalism, human geography, geology, genetic engineering, microbiology, business management and then you can add on multiple media courses to that list. Something tells me that 15 years from now, providing I have some sort of stable income, I’ll have multiple degrees.

Now, this brings me onto the subject of this post which is a bit more media orientated than the introductory paragraph would lead you to believe.
I’ve involved myself in the world of digital media for quite a few years now, I think I started when I was thirteen (four years sounds about right, probably longer). I wanted to make the things I admired, I wanted to design cool stuff that other people would admire. I had always be into painting, drawing and sculpting (I still am) but I wanted to do it on a digital level, so, I got myself photoshop CS3 (yeah, I was definitely younger than thirteen since CS4 was released late 2008). I just started clicking buttons and playing with the tools. Seeking a pat on the back from my mother whenever I felt I had accomplished something new, it’s really amazing what satisfaction the little things provided. I remember freaking out thinking I was so cool when I was able to make a multi-colour gradient, now-a-days I have actions set up so it takes less than 2 seconds to do such a thing.
Through experimentation I learned quite a lot about photoshop, but I felt as if there was more I could do; more I could learn. I turned my attention towards video. I spent quite a lot of time editing videos of random clips or even of xbox game clips, anything to learn more about colour grading, transitions, angles, titles, shakes, crops, overlays and… well, you get the gist. Video is an amazing media form which I always like to keep an eye on, It’s slowly revolutionising the world of the still photographer and I’d really rather not get left behind.

Video opened my eyes to many things, motion graphics and sound design in particular. My time with sound design was short lived but I feel I learned just enough to get me through any situation I may encounter, my intention was never to learn how to build digital songs – I’ll keep the music production to my guitar and harmonica. But I spent many, many sleepless nights experimenting in Adobe After Effects and trying to get over the very steep learning curve. It’s quite a shame now that since I’ve been away from it for so long all my hard work seems to have been wasted. I found After Effects amazing as a compliment to video production, but it didn’t do quite what I wanted it to do. The 2D animation wasn’t right at the time, although, the physics simulators were very intriguing. But alas, on I moved to Cinema 4D for 3D design and my God, that was extremely fun. 3D design is hands down the best way to waste 8 hours making little to no progress on something (that may sound sarcastic, but I’m deadly serious – it was amazing fun). From Cinema 4D it was on to blender for animation and character modelling and then one day, I found myself, in Adobe Lightroom, editing RAW files. I had practically gone full circle and ended up back at the start.

A few days ago, I purchased some photoshop magazines as composite images were starting to attract my attention. After a few hours of reading and watching the accompanying DVDs I ended up spending hours in photoshop doing what I had always wanted to do: create stuff. The satisfaction gained from creating something from scratch in unmatched. I honestly think I could take the best photo in the world but still consider building a 3D computer model of a human face to be far superior.
Well, since purchasing those photoshop magazines I’ve returned to Sony Vegas, After Effects, Illustrator, Cinema 4D and Blender.  If I’m so attracted to motion graphics then how come I’ve chosen still photography as what my life pretty much revolves around? I don’t know, but I sure as hell ain’t giving up photography.

And so this brings me on to what’s been troubling me. People say that you can be great at doing loads of things but you’ll never be able to perfect your skill at one particular thing. It’s got me thinking, many photographers take up a role as a videographer since it’s really simple once you understand your exposure triangle pretty much. But could there be any way of connecting still photography with 3D design, for example? Sure, maybe if I wanted to create digital art such as the work seen in the desktopography exhibitions but is there a practical use which I could integrate into a photography career?  Is there a place for motion graphics/animation amidst this photographer/videographer/designer dilemma? Perhaps I’m way in over my head.  Sure it’s useful, it’s always handy to have experience in slightly relative fields. But in any situation will it actually pay off to be a jack of all trades? Or should you really channel your energy and time into perfecting one thing? – Is there a market for a jack of all trades?

Maybe I’ll study business at university.

Last night I opened up Cinema 4D and After Effects CS5 to piece together a short little video intro for my future videos on my youtube channel. It’s proper short (7 seconds) and is only a few hours of work – most of that time was re-learning how to export illustrator paths into Cinema 4D and then work the extrude NURBS tool and the camera animations, I ended up doing everything the long and hard way but it was enjoyable none-the-less. There are some obvious problems, especially with my render settings and lighting, buts still… check it out!