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Bill Pierce - Leica M photog and author

 

“Our autobiography is written in our contact sheets,  and our opinion of the world in our selects”  

"Never ever confuse sharp with good, or you will end up shaving with an ice cream cone and licking a razor blade."  

 

Bill Pierce is one of the most successful Leica photographers and authors ever. I initially "met" Bill in the wonderful 1973 15th edition Leica Manual (the one with the M5 on the cover). I kept reading and re-reading his four chapters, continually amazed at his knoweldge and ability, thinking "if I only knew a small part of what this guy knows... wow."  I looked foward to his monthly columns in Camera 35 and devoured them like a starving man.  Bill has worked as a photojournalist  for 25 years, keyword: WORK.  Many photogs dream of the professional photographer's  life that Bill has earned and enjoyed.  Probably Bill's most famous pic is Nixon departing the White House for the last time, victory signs still waving. 

 

Bill  has been published in many major magazines, including  Time, Life, Newsweek, U.S. News, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, New York Magazine, Stern, L'Express and Paris Match.  :His published books include  The Leica Manual,  War Torn, Survivors and Victims in the Late 20th Century, Homeless in America,  Human Rights in China,  Children of War.  Add to that numerous exhibitions at major galleries and museums.  Magazine contributions include  Popular Photography,  Camera 35, Leica Manual,  Photo District News, the Encyclopedia of Brittanica, the Digital Journalist, and now RFF.  Major awards include Leica Medal of Excellence, Overseas Press Club's Oliver Rebbot Award for Best Photojournalism from Abroad,  and the World Press Photo's Budapest Award. Perhaps an ever bigger award is Tom Abrahamsson's comment: "If you want to know Rodinal, ask Bill."

 

I met Bill in person through our mutual friend Tom Abrahamsson.  In person his insight and comments are every bit as interesting and engaging as his writing.  He is a great guy who really KNOWS photography.  I am happy to say he has generously agreed to host this forum at RFF  From time to time Bill will bring up topics, but you are also invited to ask questions.  Sit down and enjoy the ride!

 


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The season for getting
Old 12-21-2019   #1
Bill Pierce
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The season for getting

’Tis the season for giving - and getting. It’s hard not to dream of $10,000 cameras and lenses that cost more than many cameras. But are they worth it? Yes, if your pictures demand it and you can exercise the kind of control that optimizes image quality. If you are an architectural or landscape photographer who is willing and able to shoot at the optimum aperture and ISO when that means carrying and using a tripod, large prints are going to have more fine detail. And careful exposure onto sensors with larger pixels will produce excellent tonality in those prints. But, if you are hiking and hand holding, you have probably eliminated the possibility of showing off the best your super rig camera or lens can do. And a word of warning, don’t take pictures of friends, especially in a strobe studio, unless they are in love with their pores. Otherwise you will have to soften the images in post production and throw away the resolution that you just paid a fortune for.

Look at the pictures, your own and others, that you like. Do they demand what Santa could bring you in your holiday dreams? I’m an Edward Weston fan, and he certainly worked in the super sharp arena. But, since he made contact prints from sheet film that were only 8 x 10 inches, my current digital equipment might be able equal his in sharpness, if not in beauty, in a print that size. I don’t have to wait for Santa. (Actually, a used 8x10 film camera won’t cost that much these days.)

I’m sure that Santa’s elves would kill this post if they could, but as the holiday season sometimes creates an epidemic of equipment lust, I thought I should point out that not all of us would benefit from our Christmas fantasies. Or, as Scrooge might say, “BAH, HUMBUG!!!”

Your thoughts?
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Old 12-21-2019   #2
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I'm in a period where I lack camera lust at the moment. Hope it lasts.

Have much greater lust for "things that I really want to photograph"

But a quick aside, and not trying to hijack the thread. You brought up $10,000 cameras to use for architectural and landscape work, I want to ask, since I've never done either. I've heard for years that Architecture and Landscape (A&L) photographers need cameras with mega high pixel counts so they can make huge prints. My question, what are folks doing with these ultra-high res A&L pics that make buying a $10,000 camera worth it? Are the images just for personal use, and if so, how big are you printing them where you would need that huge pixel count? And if they are for clients, how big do these clients want you to print their A&L images that would require such huge pixel counts? Not asking to be snarky, asking because I'm honestly curious.

Happy Holidays everyone.

Best,
-Tim
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Old 12-21-2019   #3
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I have a FF DSLR. To get the bulk and weight down I decided to pull out my Vivitar 2800-D and use it with a WeinSafe this holiday; I didn't want a dedicated monster flash. I went around for a few days dialing in possible flash scenarios. It worked great but was still to bulky for taking to the Country Club for dinner. So I'm sticking with the 2800-D and will use my Olympus 35RC, besides if it is sunny I'm synched to 1/500.

I'm sure the subjects will be happier without there pores showing.

Merry Christmas to all RFFers.
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Old 12-21-2019   #4
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I just picked up a Nikon Z7 with three of the prime lenses (35-50-85). What a great camera! It’s threatening to replace my Leicas, even my Monochrom...uh oh.
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Old 12-21-2019   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Vince Lupo View Post
I just picked up a Nikon Z7 with three of the prime lenses (35-50-85). What a great camera! It’s threatening to replace my Leicas, even my Monochrom...uh oh.
I'd like to see a comparison between the two(SLR vs MONO). Can you treat them the same as your 'WEST' series? I can't figure out how you did those.
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Old 12-21-2019   #6
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Honestly, I'm kinda burned out on the trends in cameras and lenses these days. More of everything and more perfect perfection. Mirrorless cameras that prevent you from seeing the subject, just a video image thereof (EVFs). High speed lenses the size of rocket launchers. Mega megapixels, the more mega the better. Larger formats so we can cram in even more megapixels. ISOs in the quadgazillions. It's gotten boring. There's nothing new out there that really interests me. I'm buying older digital stuff these days. Let the kids play with their new toys--I don't need 'em!

Now get off my lawn!!!
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Old 12-21-2019   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Timmyjoe View Post
I'm in a period where I lack camera lust at the moment. Hope it lasts.

Have much greater lust for "things that I really want to photograph"

But a quick aside, and not trying to hijack the thread. You brought up $10,000 cameras to use for architectural and landscape work, I want to ask, since I've never done either. I've heard for years that Architecture and Landscape (A&L) photographers need cameras with mega high pixel counts so they can make huge prints. My question, what are folks doing with these ultra-high res A&L pics that make buying a $10,000 camera worth it? Are the images just for personal use, and if so, how big are you printing them where you would need that huge pixel count? And if they are for clients, how big do these clients want you to print their A&L images that would require such huge pixel counts? Not asking to be snarky, asking because I'm honestly curious.

Happy Holidays everyone.

Best,
-Tim
Tim -

I don’t really know any architectural photographers. The one landscape photographer I know is Eric Meola. Eric was an extremely successful advertising photographer who use to maintain his entire staff while he was “vacationing,” taking time off for personal projects. He’s done a number of books, but some of the pictures from his first book, “Last Places on Earth,” and all the pictures in his last book, “Fierce Beauty, Storms of the Great Plains,” would probably qualify as landscape. I’ve seen large prints from the first book. Unfortunately, the gallery exhibits of prints from Last Places have all been in N.Y. while I have been pinned on the West Coast. But I’ve never seen a Meola 40 x 60 print that was technically lacking. The prints on Fierce Beauty pages are approximately 9 x 13 inches, and, while storm clouds are not a good sharpness barometer, the fine foreground detail is there in *****s. Over the years, Eric has used Canon, Nikon and Sony full frame. He’s not only a very good photographer, he is a very sharp photographer. At times, we’ve used the same gear. At those times he’s been sharper than me. It gives me hope that someday I too can be a sharp photographer without spending a fortune.

To answer your question, while it’s not my world, the photographers I’m told about who use medium format and choose the best lenses they can find are fashion and commercial photographers who are going to see their pictures cropped. They’re probably going to see some of them as big, big prints. But their real concern is for the cropping in jobs where they are just one link in the chain.

I’m probably not the person to give a full answer to your question about format. When I added a Contax IIIa to my 4x5 Speed Graphic news kit a number of older and more experienced photographers definitely thought I had lost it.
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Old 12-21-2019   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
Tim -

When I added a Contax IIIa to my 4x5 Speed Graphic news kit a number of older and more experienced photographers definitely thought I had lost it.
Everyone I know thinks I've lost it; when I show up with a film camera. One guy asked one of my friends if I was OK.
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Old 12-21-2019   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Timmyjoe View Post
I'm in a period where I lack camera lust at the moment. Hope it lasts.

Have much greater lust for "things that I really want to photograph"

But a quick aside, and not trying to hijack the thread. You brought up $10,000 cameras to use for architectural and landscape work, I want to ask, since I've never done either. I've heard for years that Architecture and Landscape (A&L) photographers need cameras with mega high pixel counts so they can make huge prints. My question, what are folks doing with these ultra-high res A&L pics that make buying a $10,000 camera worth it? Are the images just for personal use, and if so, how big are you printing them where you would need that huge pixel count? And if they are for clients, how big do these clients want you to print their A&L images that would require such huge pixel counts? Not asking to be snarky, asking because I'm honestly curious.

Happy Holidays everyone.

Best,
-Tim
Tim I do a lot of architectural work (one of my clients is the largest homebuilder in the United States), and I’m using my D4 and a number of PC lenses. I also belong to a large homebuilders association. I can be pretty confident in saying that they aren’t making ‘huge prints’, and neither are any of my other architectural clients (architects, interior designers, high-end renovators, property management companies, retirement communities). Houzz, Zillow, Facebook and websites are where it’s at. Besides, what are they supposed to be making these large prints for? Matted and framed for their corporate offices? Banner-Ups for trade shows? 16mp is more than enough for those purposes.
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Old 12-21-2019   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by charjohncarter View Post
I'd like to see a comparison between the two(SLR vs MONO). Can you treat them the same as your 'WEST' series? I can't figure out how you did those.
It’s coming - gotta work through 4200 Monochrom photos from the recent West trip first!
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Old 12-21-2019   #11
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Strobes, studio and friends is oxymoron.
It is never too late to learn. Yet, I see many reluctant to it, still.

Hand held camera, on camera flash. ISO 1600 or higher. Lens 35 or wider. Aperture 5.6-8.
Shutter speed around 1/60. Flash is up or 45 degrees. Dial exposure down little bit.
Take exposure, fine tune.
No pores this way. You will hardly notice flash on pictures, if at all.
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Old 12-21-2019   #12
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Originally Posted by charjohncarter View Post
Everyone I know thinks I've lost it; when I show up with a film camera. One guy asked one of my friends if I was OK.

Fantastic story! As a 95% B&W film old guy, I say tell 'em they don't know what they are missing. But admit that there can be downsides, such as how last week you just missed a great shot of Elvis getting out of a UFO in a KFC parking lot because you had just shot your last frame on the roll.
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Old 12-21-2019   #13
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My friend said maybe he is off his medication.
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Old 12-21-2019   #14
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KEH had used silver chrome MP last week and it is now mine all mine. Unfortunately the frameline mechanism is broken and looks like someone unsuccessfully tried to either home repair or took it to some hack because the shark skin was reapplied a bit off. And yet KEH still rated it EX+.
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Old 12-22-2019   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Timmyjoe View Post
...

...I've heard for years that Architecture and Landscape (A&L) photographers need cameras with mega high pixel counts so they can make huge prints. My question, what are folks doing with these ultra-high res A&L pics that make buying a $10,000 camera worth it? Are the images just for personal use, and if so, how big are you printing them where you would need that huge pixel count? And if they are for clients, how big do these clients want you to print their A&L images that would require such huge pixel counts? ...
One very useful property for architectural work is the sensor's dynamic range. The sensor's analog signal-to-noise ratio is the primary factor that affects SNR. The sensor's conversion gain determines whether dynamic range or sensitivity (low-light) performance is maximized.

Most current cameras are photon noise limited. The read noise levels are not relevant for architectural work. Image detail (resolution) in shadow region depends on the signal-to-noise ratio.

Increasing sensor surface area is one way to increase the SNR and dynamic range of an image. Sensors with large surface areas are more expensive to manufacture. Also, the demand is lower. Large sensor surface areas typically mean larger lens element surface areas which increases lens design, materials and manufacturing costs.

In bright sunlight one needs a lot of dynamic range. Typically there will be some interesting image regions in shadow. A high-end architectural gig usually means the photographer can work when the time of day (sun angle) is optimal – this helps. The use of gradient ND lens filters helps.

Indoor architectural work also benefits from a high dynamic range sensor. As the sensor dynamic range increases, the time and lighting equipment required to produce an aesthetically pleasing image decreases.

High dynamic range scenes can be photographed by averaging a series of images made with different exposures. When tone compression is used during image averaging process, the result is a HDR image. Very few high-end clients appreciate images with obvious tone compression rendering. Most architectural photographers hand blend the multiple exposure images using a large number of layer masks to avoid tone mapping. More pixels means more data (information) which minimizes maximizes perceived sharpness when blinding multiple exposures.

I read an article that described how a high-end commercial photographer made images for luxury resort clients. He and a number of assistants would arrive in the rainy season when there were fewer guests. They would use high-power, gelled strobes outside the rooms located at windows to simulate tropical sunlight. The assistants would flag, reflect and manipulate the light as needed. The assistant would also light the room interiors to eliminate unnatural shadows. With this sort of support (budget), camera dynamic range is not so important.

In terms of image size, clients typically use very large images to impress corporate stake holders. It is not unusual to see very large architectural images on the walls of corporate lobbies. The images are used in corporate print publications (usually annul reports). The photographer may also use very large prints to impress potential clients.

Pixel counts not only affect the maximum acceptable image size and viewing distance, they also reduce the level of aliasing artifacts. Large pixel counts can produce aesthetically superior images because the alias artifact levels are lower. Aliasing produces jagged object edges and moiré interference patterns (color distortion). Moiré artifacts can be minimized using mathematical filtering in post-production. The filtering algorithms average pixels and estimate (guess) how an un-aliased image might render. This means the resolution is always degraded to some degree. The loss in detail can be small, but it can't be zero. High pixel counts can make a difference.
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Old 12-22-2019   #16
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Originally Posted by Vince Lupo View Post
Tim I do a lot of architectural work (one of my clients is the largest homebuilder in the United States), and I’m using my D4 and a number of PC lenses. I also belong to a large homebuilders association. I can be pretty confident in saying that they aren’t making ‘huge prints’, and neither are any of my other architectural clients (architects, interior designers, high-end renovators, property management companies, retirement communities). Houzz, Zillow, Facebook and websites are where it’s at. Besides, what are they supposed to be making these large prints for? Matted and framed for their corporate offices? Banner-Ups for trade shows? 16mp is more than enough for those purposes.
Depends on the market, the occasional work I do in this realm for architects and high end resort / hotel chains demand as high a res as possible for a variety of reasons such as being part of motion sequences in that they can do a movie on a large image when brought into Premiere. 90% of these clients are of the belief that it is better to have a lot of resolution and not need it vs not enough res and very much need it.

Not all markets are the same...
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Old 12-22-2019   #17
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Thanks for everyone's input on architectural and landscape photography. Didn't mean to hijack the thread, but I do appreciate the info.

Best,
-Tim
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Old 12-22-2019   #18
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The global-warming grinch has taken the joy out of consumerism, or maybe I just need rose-colored filters for all of my lenses? For subjects that don't move, my Olympus Pen-F already produces 80 megapixel raw files.
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Old 12-28-2019   #19
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Charjohncarter

I know the feeling, I had a camera club nearly banish me for using film and that was 14 years ago!!!

(I rarely torture my friends when I am meandering with a camera)
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Old 12-28-2019   #20
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Charjohncarter

I know the feeling, I had a camera club nearly banish me for using film and that was 14 years ago!!!

(I rarely torture my friends when I am meandering with a camera)
It is tough thinking for yourself.
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Portraits, not pores
Old 12-29-2019   #21
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Portraits, not pores

When I began my return to photography several years ago after more than 12 years' absence, I chose to concentrate on B&W film portraits, on location in available light, 4x5. 4x5 for the image ratio and special quality. I still have my MP4 and Mamiya 645, the former from photojournalism and ballet work; the latter from (mostly) commercial photography. At my advancing age, and with my Classical bent, character concerns me more than effect.

More relearning lay ahead than I imagined, but first, for reasons of very limited time, and for desired simplicity, I had to choose a film, developer, and paper. As the requirements of 4x5 for my desired results made HP5 the slowest film I could use, I began to worry about both grain and sharpness in 645 and 35, especially with cropping. It took work and time to convince myself -- despite all my years of 35mm-only work -- that the imagined problem, for my intentions, doesn't exist. While technical matters have effects, power of portrayal and composition trump them. I knew that; it's funny that I had to prove it to myself again. And I print on semi-matte paper, finished with Strand's varnish.
Were I photographing landscapes, slower Delta 100 or Tmax, and maybe a sharper lens for the 4x5 than my Komura would be my choice. But a great portrait can speak clearly through plenty of "noise".
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