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Corporate Photography

Creating a football concussion Photo Illustration

I was commissioned recently to create an  photo illustration for Houston Methodist Hospital Foundation’s Annual Report  Photography for a story on concussions in high school football players.  This is a big issue not just for the NFL, but also in youth sports.

I think that originally we were just going to shoot a simple portrait of a young athlete in football gear, but after giving some thought to the issue, the art director and I collaborated on a few other more illustrative ideas.

A few years ago, I had photographed Matt Schaub, the Houston Texans quarterback at the time for Methodist's Leading Medicine publication.   We did a couple of different versions:  one was using a projected background created by a computer and an LCD projector of MRI brain scan imagery and another photo showing medical illustrations of nerve synapses in the brain.

I thought we might appropriate the brain projection idea, but add some other elements to it: a silhouette of a generic kid in a football helmet this time to keep the illustration anonymous; and a multiple exposure strobe effect to look like a violently shaking head.  Our art director helped us in researching a suitable stock photo of the brain that we could use in the projector.

After doing some testing in the studio (do we need a white helmet or black helmet, for instance?), and ordering some props (youth sized football helmet, jersey, and shoulder pads) we booked a young male model for the shoot.

(If we were truly going to be literal here, the concept probably should have been a brain bouncing around with multiple exposures/blur INSIDE a sharper helmet image, but I quickly decided that would have just been a blurry mess and would not have been as easy of a read as the brain inside a shaking helmet.)

This is an early shot, showing the strobe on the background (gelled orange), the projected image on the helmet foreground, but without the multiple exposure/multiple strobe on the background effect.

The key was to tripod the camera for the “brain exposure”, keeping it absolutely still for this exposure provided by the projector, and then with the shutter open, firing multiple strobe bursts (with strobe lighting the background seamless only) with the model's head in slightly different positions to show the silhouetted helmet with movement.  Although I liked the randomness of the head movement in each photo, we finally settled on zooming the lens smoothly and evenly to create the multiple strobe head images.

The intention was to do this just like the film days, creating the entire photo in camera, and we were successful with this for the most part.  Some of the images admittedly had some “unintended brain movement” from the long exposure of the projector (I think it was around 1/4 to 1/8 of a second), so we ended up retouching a couple of the selections with a “sharper brain” from another exposure.

Changing the color of the gel on the background strobe created some cool multi-colored silhouettes during multiple pops of the flash. I think it's especially interesting where the colors cross over and mix. Not a new idea, but fun to try nevertheless!

We used a Canon 5DS, and tried it with two different methods:  leaving the shutter open and firing the Profoto strobe manually, and also with the multiple exposure feature engaged.  We also tried two different methods to create head movement:  having the model shake his head around during the multiple exposures; and also leaving the model still and zooming the lens during multiple exposures.

We even tried this with different gels on the background strobe, but in the end my favorite was a monochromatic look with just the brain projection in color.

Another example with different gels and changing the color balance.

I prefer this monochrome version with lots of exposures created by zooming the lens.

Robert Seale featured in new ASMP collateral

One of the new ASMP postcards (Photo by Robert Seale)

This is definitely one of those Wayne and Garth “I'm not worthy…” moments,  The American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) have featured me, Houston commercial photographer Robert Seale, in their new collateral pieces (brochures and postcards).  Wow!

The American Society of Media Photographers is the premier trade association for the world’s most respected photographers. ASMP is the leader in promoting photographers’ rights, providing education in better business practices, producing business publications for photographers, and helping to connect clients with professional photographers. ASMP, founded in 1944, has nearly 7,000 members and 39 chapters.  ASMP's “Find a Photographer” feature on the national ASMP website is a wonderful tool for connecting photo editors and art buyers with photographers in a given area.  Despite the word “media” in the title ASMP is not a press photographers organization.  ASMP members are typically commercial photographers who work in advertising photography, corporate photography, as well as those who shoot for magazines.

“I'm not worthy!….” – sandwiched in with some big names inside the new ASMP brochure (cover photography by the great Stephen Wilkes)

These pieces are distributed by mail and also as handouts at professional photography seminars, workshops, and events as recruiting tools.  I'm humbled and honored to featured alongside some of the most notable photographers in our profession past and present, including many virtual mentors who continue to inspire my work today, like Richard Avedon, Dan Winters, Arnold Newman, Mark Seliger, Herb Ritts, Albert Watson, Joe McNally, Pete Turner, Jay Maisel, Gregory Heisler, Walter Iooss, and a host of others.

An inside spread in the brochure (photo by Robert Seale)

Major thanks to our executive director Tom Kennedy, a former Director of Photography at National Geographic, and a major force in the photo world, who continues to represent our organization and who leads the fight for working photographers every day.

More Oil and Gas Corporate Annual Report Photography for ExxonMobil

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The cover image was taken from a helicopter off the coast of Angola.

I'm a little late in posting this, (the 2015 annual reports were actually released during April of 2016), but I wanted to share some of the published work from the last ExxonMobil annual report.

Although we shoot all kinds of things:  lab technicians, testing, construction sites, high-tech control rooms, etc., for some reason this particular year, they featured several aerial photos of maritime facilities and ships.  These are always challenging to shoot, and we go through a lot of safety training including HUET (Helicopter Underwater Egress Training) just to be able to work out of aircraft offshore.  Basically, if you've seen the old Richard Gere movie, “An Officer and a Gentleman”, it's very similar to that.  You're dunked several times in a mock helicopter fuselage in a large swimming pool upside down and you have to unbuckle and swim out through a window.  Fun stuff!

The cover image was shot of the coast of Angola, and the spreads are from shoots in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, Jubail, Saudi Arabia, Baton Rouge, USA, Qatar, and from the Gulf of Mexico.  We shoot thousands of photos in these various locations, and there are many rounds of editing, so it's gratifying when you finally get to see some of the work in print.  I'm thankful for wonderful clients, and cool opportunities to travel the world, and I can't wait to share some for he work from 2016 after it's released.

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An ExxonMobil engineer in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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A sunrise image of an LNG tanker in Qatar.

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A chemical plant in Saudi Arabia.

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A ship unloading at the Rotterdam refinery in The Netherlands.

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A tanker undergoing sea trials in The Gulf of Mexico.

Robert Seale featured in the December 2016 issue of Professional Photographer Magazine

The opening spread of the Robert Seale article in Professional Photographer Magazine.

The opening spread of the Robert Seale article in Professional Photographer Magazine.

Shameless self promotion alert:  I'm featured in a 9 page article in the new December 2016 issue of Professional Photographer Magazine.  Professional Photographer is the publication of the PPA (Professional Photographers of America) and is edited by Jane Gaboury.  The writer, (and fellow baseball fan) Eric Minton was a pleasure to talk to about my work and career path, and PPA art director Debbie Todd did an excellent and very classy job with the layout.  I'm honored to be featured, and I want to express my sincere thanks to all three of these folks for the cool opportunity.

Here's a link to their “anatomy of an image” sidebar feature.

Unfortunately, you have to log in to see the entire  digital version of the article.  Those of you that are PPA members can see it there.

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Healthcare Annual Reports for Houston Methodist Hospital

The cover of the Cancer Care and Research annual report for Houston Methodist Hospital.

The cover of the Cancer Care and Research annual report for Houston Methodist Hospital.

Houston has some of the top medical facilities in the world:  Houston Methodist, Memorial Hermann, UT Health, Baylor College of Medicine, Texas Heart Institute, CHI St. Luke's Medical Center, Texas Children's Hospital and MD Anderson Cancer Center, all located within the same few blocks of the bustling Texas Medical Center, just south of downtown Houston.  Our city is not just about the energy business, we are also a center for advanced medical treatment and research.

We recently finished work on a series of annual reports for Houston Methodist Hospital, a top hospital in multiple categories.  We’ve done several healthcare photography jobs for them over the years, from advertising shoots, creating content for their corporate magazine “Leading Medicine”, and the last round of annual reports, which we finished in 2014.

The reports are beautifully designed and printed brochures (can you say, “spot UV” on all the photos?!!), each aimed at a different healthcare specialty within the hospital. There were different publications for each specialty: Heart and Vascular Care, Cancer Care and Research, Neurosciences, Transplant, and Ortho/Sports Medicine. These publications are typically not something the patient always sees. They are more typically targeted toward doctors and other healthcare professionals for a variety of reasons.

These shoots are always interesting exercises in problem solving and working fast. For instance, we might have several shoots in one day at the hospital, all with different doctors or researchers, all with hectic tight schedules. We have to scout locations quickly, light the room, test, and break it all down again to get to the next shoot on time….hopefully with enough time factored in for a quick lunch or Starbucks stop in the hospital.

There’s a lot of variety too. The shoots ranged from portraits of doctors, working shots with doctors/nurses with patients, high tech shots of researchers in labs, to actual surgeries. In my last few years of working closely with this hospital, I’ve seen heart surgeries (open and minimally invasive), a kidney transplant, knee surgeries, and even an open neurosurgery where the patient was awake for brain stimulation throughout the procedure.  Open brain surgery is truly one of the most amazing things I've ever seen.

We worked closely with MMI, the hospital’s agency for this project, and a friendly group of marketing, PR, and video professionals at the hospital. We spent a lot of time with them, and consider them not just our clients, but very good friends.

Here are a few of the layouts from this year's reports.  Check out more of our Medical and Healthcare Photography on our portfolio site.

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Photographing an Industrial Deep Sea Diver for Scuba Diving Magazine

Brian Lacey, an industrial deep sea saturation diver for Scuba Diving Magazine.

Brian Lacey, an industrial deep sea saturation diver for Scuba Diving Magazine.

We recently did an editorial shoot for Scuba Diving magazine for a special issue they put together on the “Dirtiest Jobs” in the SCUBA diving industry.  The photographs were commissioned in various parts of the country by different photographers: a salvage diver, a diver from a nuclear reactor facility, a police investigator, an underwater logger, a croc-wrangler, and our cool assignment: an “industrial deepwater saturation diver.”

Our diver was a nice gentleman named Brian Lacey, and he travels all over the world diving deep underwater for the oil and gas industry, repairing rigs, working on pipelines, etc.  He spends up to a month on the job, living like an astronaut in a small pressurized chamber.  He's been as far down as 900 feet, but on average works at around 300 feet below the surface.

I've taken many oil and gas portraits, but this was my first chance to photograph an industrial diver, and I was pretty stoked.

Photo assistant Michael Klein and I photographed Brian on a dock in Galveston with his super heavy deepwater dive gear.  We used two Profoto B-4's and one Profoto Acute 600B.  I scouted the location previously, and due to the recent downturn in oil prices, several offshore rigs were parked in port, which provided us with a great background normally not seen next to shore.  It worked perfectly for the story, and the photo gods blessed us with a wonderful colorful sunset to complete the assignment.

Brian Lacey, an industrial deep sea saturation diver.

Brian Lacey, an industrial deep sea saturation diver.

The double truck layout from Scuba Diving Magazine's "Dirtiest  Jobs" issue.

The double truck layout from Scuba Diving Magazine's “Dirtiest Jobs” issue.

Executive portrait photography for Barron’s

2015_08_17_cmyk_NL_I recently had the opportunity to create some executive portraits for Barron's magazine.  Barron's, founded in 1921 is a weekly publication published by Dow Jones, and each issue features a profile of a mutual fund manager.  We're pushed to shoot these fund manager portraits in an interesting way, often with an environmental portrait link to their hobbies or interests…something more creative than a person at their desk.

Our feature subject for the issue, Juliet Ellis, the Portfolio Manager of Invesco's Small Cap Equity Fund, suggested a great location for her portrait, the Houston Methodist Hospital Research Institute, where she serves as a board member.  I was already familiar with the space and the personnel there, having photographed healthcare annual reports in the past for the hospital.  In the morning, we knew that it would make a fantastic “light and bright” portrait location….definitely a welcome departure from the average trading desk photo.

Although we had fantastic natural light for most of the shoot, we supplemented the ambient with just a low power  “kiss” of light from a Profoto B4 with a Plume Wafer 100.  We didn't want to disturb any of the cool natural shadows around her in the background on these, so we stuck with the small source and even added a Lighttools grid in some of these to focus our light and keep it from spreading everywhere.

We couldn't have asked for a more lovely and patient subject, and our friends at Barron's of course created a fantastic layout with excellent display.

Juliet S. Ellis, CFA, who is the CIO, US Growth Equities, and Sr. Portfolio Manager at Invesco Advisers, Inc., photographed at Houston Methodist Hospital in the Texas Medical Center in Houston, Texas on Wednesday, July 15, 2015.  © 2015 Robert Seale/All Rights Reserved.

I thought the inset in the wall made a great composition, framing her face nicely.

Juliet S. Ellis, CFA, who is the CIO, US Growth Equities, and Sr. Portfolio Manager at Invesco Advisers, Inc., photographed at Houston Methodist Hospital in the Texas Medical Center in Houston, Texas on Wednesday, July 15, 2015.  © 2015 Robert Seale/All Rights Reserved.

We loved the shadows on this one.  We supplemented the light on her face with a Profoto B4 through a Wafer 100.

Juliet S. Ellis, CFA, who is the CIO, US Growth Equities, and Sr. Portfolio Manager at Invesco Advisers, Inc., photographed at Houston Methodist Hospital in the Texas Medical Center in Houston, Texas on Wednesday, July 15, 2015.  © 2015 Robert Seale/All Rights Reserved.

The photo chosen for the cover.

Remembering Houston medical pioneer Dr. James H. “Red” Duke

Dr. Red Duke, on the Life Flight Helipad at Memorial Hermann - Texas Medical Center on June 2, 2008.  © 2008 Robert Seale. Robert Seale Photography www.robertseale.com 832-654-9572

Dr. Red Duke, on the Life Flight Helipad at Memorial Hermann. © 2008 Robert Seale.

Houston lost one of it’s most iconic characters this week. Dr. James H. “Red” Duke passed away at 86. Dr. Duke was a true medical pioneer, founding the Hermann Hospital (now Memorial Hermann) “Life Flight” air ambulance service during the 1970’s. He was one of the first faculty members of the UT Health Science Center at Houston (now known as UT Health), where he taught several generations of medical students the intricacies of trauma surgery.

Dr. Red Duke was instantly recognizable to millions of people through his television health reports, which were syndicated on stations all over the country in the 70’s and 80’s. He was known for his signature signoff, “I’m Doctor Red Duke,” delivered in a frontier Texas drawl that was more Texas cowboy than brilliant trauma surgeon.

Dr. Duke often masked his considerable intellect with folksy country humor, and a friendly bedside manner, which gave comfort to his trauma patients and their families during difficult times.

In addition to his many medical laurels, he also was an Eagle Scout, received a divinity degree, served as a tank commander in the US Army, was a yell leader at Texas A&M, rode horses, created western art, and grew up with Willie Nelson.

Dr. Red Duke, on the Life Flight Helipad at Memorial Hermann - Texas Medical Center on June 2, 2008.  © 2008 Robert Seale. Robert Seale Photography www.robertseale.com 832-654-9572

Dr. Red Duke, on the Life Flight Helipad at Memorial Hermann. © 2008 Robert Seale.

Early in his medical career, he was one of the emergency room doctors at Parkland Hospital in Dallas responding to the assassination of President Kennedy, and was widely credited with saving the life of then Texas Governor John Connally who was wounded while riding with the president.

I grew up watching Dr. Duke on TV, and in 2008, I was lucky enough to photograph him on the helipad at Memorial Hermann. We had no guarantees that there would be a helicopter for our background, as the aircraft were out and about, delivering critical patients to the hospital.  When the doctor arrived a little later than our optimal sunset time, he apologized: “Sorry – I was in surgery….had to fix up a guy up who decided to wrap his car around a pole.”(or something to that effect).

I think he was 79 at the time, and still working every day.

Building roofs are windy anyway, doubly so with helicopter rotor wash all over the place as you're trying to shoot photos.  I'm sure it was equally difficult for Dr. Duke but he was unfazed.  We had several volunteers helping out the assistants to keep the lights safe and secure.  My favorite moment with him came at the end of our photo shoot….he had been very patient with us, and as we were starting to pack up, two rather attractive young women from the hospital (who had been graciously helping us out), asked to have their photo taken with Dr. Duke.  As he stood in the middle and posed with his arms around both of them (in heels they were both quite taller than him…),  he looked down at me and said, “You can take as long as you want to now…”

Happy trails, Dr. Duke.

Dr. Red Duke, on the Life Flight Helipad at Memorial Hermann - Texas Medical Center on June 2, 2008.  © 2008 Robert Seale. Robert Seale Photography www.robertseale.com 832-654-9572

Dr. Red Duke, on the Life Flight Helipad at Memorial Hermann. © 2008 Robert Seale.

Dr. Red Duke, on the Life Flight Helipad at Memorial Hermann - Texas Medical Center on June 2, 2008.  © 2008 Robert Seale. Robert Seale Photography www.robertseale.com 832-654-9572

Here's a look at the photo shoot set.  The pilot thought I was nuts when I tried to mount strobes in his cockpit.  Photo by Eric Kayne.

Dr. Red Duke, on the Life Flight Helipad at Memorial Hermann - Texas Medical Center on June 2, 2008.  © 2008 Robert Seale. Robert Seale Photography www.robertseale.com 832-654-9572

We actually placed strobes around the perimeter of the helipad to amplify the existing landing lights.

Dr. Red Duke, on the Life Flight Helipad at Memorial Hermann - Texas Medical Center on June 2, 2008.  © 2008 Robert Seale. Robert Seale Photography www.robertseale.com 832-654-9572

Dr. Red Duke and me.  

 

 

 

Corporate Industrial Photography for ExxonMobil 2014 Annual Report

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Long exposure of Oil and Gas facility in the Middle East under a full moon glow.

Last year we had the awesome opportunity once again to create some really interesting oil and gas photography for ExxonMobil's corporate annual report.  I'm very proud to have worked with this incredible company for many years.  We usually have several assignments that take us around the world, and this year was no exception.  We photographed oil and gas facilities in Scotland, Belgium, The Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, and West Texas.  We also did a few days of offshore oil and gas photography in the Gulf of Mexico, shooting from helicopters and living aboard a state of the art offshore drilling platform and drill ship.

Portrait of a mechanic in Scotland.

Portrait of a mechanic in Scotland.

For the European portions of the assignment, assistant Travis Schiebel helped out and we had a lot of cool experiences, including being surrounded by sheep while shooting long evening exposures near a plant in Scotland.

After a morning sunrise shoot in Antwerp, we were having breakfast, enjoying our waffles (hey, you have to, right?),  in a sidewalk cafe, when suddenly a parade of elderly French Foreign Legion soldiers came marching through.  We were able to follow them and hear some great stories of battles in Algeria as they went on their annual barhopping jaunt through the city.  You haven't partied until you've partied with 85-year-old Legionnaires.

Saudi_fishDallas assistant John Sutton helped me out in Saudi Arabia, as we photographed in three different facilities there.  I had been there a couple of years before and it was great to see old friends again.  One of our friends there prepared a wonderful traditional meal of whole cooked fried fish, which we ate with our hands while sitting together on beautiful woven rugs.  The last time we were there, we enjoyed “mandi”, a lamb cooked in a tandoor oven ground pit and served over rice.  Both were fantastic.  I'm not normally a super adventurous eater, but I'm getting better about embracing and sampling the local cuisine wherever we go.  I felt honored that locals embraced us and were thoughtful enough to share their food and culture with us.

Saudi silhouette with   incredible twilight color.

Saudi silhouette with incredible twilight color.

Oil and Gas photo shoots usually involve a lot of long days, getting up super early for sunrise, and staying until late evening for sunsets, and these fun mid-day diversions make the assignments really fun.  By the way…..the light in Saudi was incredible – fantastic sunsets, and beautiful warm early light.  One night, we were lucky enough to photograph a new facility under the light of the full moon, which provided a wonderful backlit glow to the shiny new steel plant.

When the annual reports were recently released recently, we ended up with several well designed two page spreads.  Here are a few samples below.

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First impressions with the 50 MP Canon EOS 5DS

Loose full-frame composition from a spin class shoot with the new 50MP Canon 5DS.

Loose full-frame composition from a spin class shoot with the new 50MP Canon 5DS.

Tight crop from a spin class shoot with the new 50MP Canon 5DS.

Tight crop of the same frame from a spin class shoot with the new 50MP Canon 5DS.

With the help of a generous friend at Canon, I was really excited to spend a few days last week shooting with a pre-production model of the highly anticipated, brand new Canon EOS 5DS camera. The 5DS is Canon’s newest camera, with a whopping 50MP sensor (8688 x 5792 pixels).   Many Canon shooters have been on waiting lists for several months to get one of these in their hands.

For commercial photographers, landscape photographers, and others who grew up shooting medium format film (and more recently, RENTING crazy expensive medium format digital systems), this camera is the one we’ve been waiting for, and based on my very preliminary testing, it’s a game changer on the order of the EOS 1DS Mk II.

My initial impression of this new technological development can be summed up with this classic front page from the Onion. (This is a family photo blog, so you follow the link at your own risk).

A little bit of camera history: though many of my photojournalist friends were VERY EARLY adopters of digital camera technology (anyone remember the lovely Kodak NC 2000?), most of my sports magazine shooter brethren arrived late to the digital party. Although early digital was “good enough” for newspapers and wire services, magazines still needed and demanded, high resolution images for magazine spreads and covers.

My Sporting News colleagues and I made the switch to the first EOS-1D (4.15 MP!) camera in the Fall of 2003 for most of our action photos. We clung to our medium format film cameras for portraits though, and we were still hanging Hasselblads up as remote cameras in NBA arenas as late as 2005. The original EOS-1DS (11.1 MP) was an improvement over the regular 1D, but it was slow, and still produced a file that was not up to medium format Velvia scanned on a fantastic Hell drum scanner.

The BIG game changer for me (and most of my colleagues) was the Canon EOS-1DS Mk II. I began using this camera in 2005, and it clocked in at a pretty impressive 16.7 MP (4992 x 3328 pixels). That’s roughly an 11 x 16.5 inch photo at 300 PPI. For reference – at that time, we were making 50 MP drum scans of our Hasselblad chromes.   I remember shooting a test and looking at two files, side by side on the same monitor, one shot on film, and one out of the EOS-1DS Mk II, and my colleagues and I quickly decided that this camera was the one to finally allow us to become an all-digital publication.

It wasn’t just The Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, and other magazines…..this camera changed things for just about every commercial photographer I knew. When this camera was released, the price of medium format gear dropped like the 1987 stock market crash. Waiting for Polaroids to develop became a completely unnecessary ancient photography ritual.

I went out on my own in 2006, and my EOS-1DS Mk II cameras were the cornerstone of my corporate and advertising photography business. Things quickly improved even more in 2007-8 when the EOS-1DS Mk III was announced. I sold my Mark II’s and upgraded to the new 21.1 MP chip (5616 x 3744 pixels).

I LOVED my DS bodies. I loved the professional grade finish, the weather sealing, the EOS-1 ergonomics and standardized controls, the robust build quality, and the 1/250 flash sync. When the 5D Mark II was released in 2008, I was impressed with the full HD video capabilities, but the actual still resolution was unchanged. I didn’t like the prosumer body form factor. I did not buy one.

Almost five years after the DS Mk III, Canon combined their EOS-1D lines (previously the high resolution, but slower DS and the lower resolution, but faster Mark IV) into one camera: the EOS-1DX. The 1DX is a fantastic camera: faster than hell autofocus, 12 FPS motor, great ergonomics, wonderful low light capability, and solid professional build quality….it’s awesome….BUT, wait a minute…..they went DOWN in resolution to 18.1 MP! (5184 x 3456px). A new 5D Mk III was also released, but with a disappointing 1MP upgrade over the previous 1DS Mk III.  UGH!   I eventually gave in and switched out my aging 1DS Mk III bodies for the extended dynamic range and higher ISO capabilities of the 5D3.

And there we’ve sat for the past 3 years. While Canon shooters were waiting, Nikon came out with the D800 (36 MP), and then the D810. Sony came out with their A7R (also 36 MP). I toyed with switching systems, but had a ton of money invested in Canon glass, and after testing the D800 with my Lightroom workflow, I decided that I actually preferred the color rendition of the Canon sensors better – particularly on skin tones. I also loved using the X bodies for faster moving objects, and since I use both types of cameras, I didn’t want to take another step backward in MP size since Nikon’s similar competitor to the 1DX was the D4 at an even lower 16 MP.  (Again, different cameras are tools for different needs…if you are a photojournalist shooting in low light, the 1DX or D4 might be just the camera for your needs).

All of this said, please remember that pixel counting is mostly for photo gearheads. Your clients probably don’t notice a difference between photographs shot between 16, 18 or even 22 MP. It is nice, however, to have options, and the option to recompose and do a ridiculous crop from a wider frame is pretty useful at times.

There were a couple of times where an ad agency requested bigger, non-interpolated files, and we had to rent a Phase system. The quality can be absolutely amazing, but incorporating medium format into my average job workflow definitely requires a slower, more methodical way of working.  Shutter lag was also an issue, and I had a really hard time timing shutter release delay on sports portrait images.

So after some frustration, I was excited when I began hearing rumors about Canon’s new high res baby. I was ecstatic when I finally got my hands on one in late May.

Loose full-frame composition from a tennis player shoot with the new 50MP Canon 5DS.

Loose full-frame composition from a tennis player shoot with the new 50MP Canon 5DS.

Tight crop from a tennis player shoot with the new 50MP Canon 5DS.

Tight crop of the same frame from a tennis player shoot with the new 50MP Canon 5DS.

This won’t be a scientific review, you’ll have to go to DP Review or another site for that, but I wanted to convey a few first impressions. First, if you are an EOS 5D Mk III user, this will be a seamless transition for you. Unlike virtually EVERY new camera I’ve ever purchased, the physical size of the 5DS is relatively unchanged, which means the battery grip from the Mk III is the same! It uses the same batteries and charger! That’s great news, as I can just use the same grips I already own, keep plenty of extra batteries around, and I don’t have to buy new Really Right Stuff tripod plates.  In reality, I’m told there were some physical changes made to the body – Canon strengthened the area around the baseplate and tripod screw to make the camera more stable. I’m just glad they designed it to accept the same grip and batteries.

Inside the camera, the menus are very similar, but there are a few new features, including one where you can set a slight shutter delay after mirror lockup to dampen any mirror vibration before the actual shutter release. This is very useful if you’re locking down the camera and shooting long exposures on a tripod.  Since I shoot a lot of industrial facilities stopped all the way down with 20-30 second exposures, this is something I will definitely try. (My solution, prior to this was, to hold my hand or a black card in front of the lens at the beginning of the exposure).

The flash sync is 1/160, which is very disappointing (why is 1/250 so difficult?)…..my solution to this is to use hypersync and high speed sync more and start incorporating that feature into my location work with my Profoto lighting gear.

A long overdue feature is the incorporation of a USB 3.0 port, which will be a huge help during tethered shooting. The Nikon D800/D810 have had this feature for some time.

Other than that, the 5DS and 5D Mk III are very similar, I went right to work with it without as much as reading the manual. I’ve warmed up somewhat to the 5D form factor with the grip (it still doesn’t feel quite as good as the 1DX), and I sometimes get irritated that critical buttons are in different locations than they are on the 1DX series cameras (like the button to light up the LCD display for example). For 50 MP at 3700 bucks, I’ll make that trade off gladly, but I will still hold out hope that the DX series continues in higher resolution form at some point.

It’s not exactly scientific to show you resolution testing results on a (decidedly low resolution) blog. However, I am here to tell you that this is a transformative development that we haven’t seen since that EOS-1DS Mk II. I purposely made some very loose compositions during my week with the camera, just to see what it would do, and the 200, 300, and even 400 % crops are just stunning. I’ve included some samples, but like I said, it’s hard to compare skin texture and noise from my 30” monitor to your mobile phone screen. To become a true believer, you’ll have to try it out for yourself.

This will not be my high-ISO camera, so I didn’t even test those features….everything I shot was between 50 and 250 ISO, most of it portraiture with studio strobe, and it is fantastic at those ISO’s. If I need to shoot low light, high ISO photos, I’ll use the 1DX.

Some people have asked, if Canon’s 35mm lens designs will still hold up at 50MP of resolution. Resolution that high will certainly magnify any design flaws in your glass. Again, these are first impressions, with a pre-production camera, but I feel like the results were good with my workhorse lenses: the 24-105/4L, and the latest version of the 70-200/2.8. I didn’t have time to test every lens in my bag.  I know that Canon has been steadily redesigning most of the lenses in their arsenal over the last few years with higher resolution sensors in mind.

I had no issues with filling the buffer, but I was shooting the way I usually do….portrait subjects with strobe, so I was not motor-driving like a typical sports photographer. Again, there are different tools for different jobs, and if you want to motor drive all day, you’re better served getting a 1DX.

I don’t do a ton of video, and I didn’t really test the video capabilities of the 5DS, but with the new addition of the USB 3.0 port there is now no room on the camera for a headphone jack. Those of you who are full time video shooters will want to hang on to your 5D Mk III cameras for now.

Another big question: 5DS or 5DSR? There are two models of this camera available. The normal 5DS , just like every Canon digital camera we’ve discussed, has a built in anti-aliasing filter in front of the sensor. The R has a “self cancelling” optical low pass filter. This is the same thing Nikon did by releasing two versions of the D800.   Anti-aliasing filters on the sensor inherently soften the image, but also prevent moiré patterns in things like football uniforms, herringbone suit fabrics, etc. If you shoot landscape images you might prefer the R version, as there is little chance of getting moiré patterns in that type of work. I was not able to test the two cameras against each other, so I reserve the right to change my mind, but I was pleased with the sharpness of the regular 5DS using my regular workflow, which adds a nominal amount of capture sharpening in Lightroom. I ordered the regular 5DS for now.

I’ve heard a fair amount of moaning on the internet about the “lack” of dynamic range in the 5DS. During my brief time with the camera, I had no issues, and at the risk of sounding like “HEY, you kids get off my lawn” – does anyone remember shooting Kodachrome? How much latitude did we have then, like maybe 1/3-1/2 stop? How about medium format Velvia? It was a little better, but still required critical exposure skills. There are times in the past where I’ve wished I had more range….like a portrait with a blown out sweaty forehead hotspot, or an aerial at sunset that would call for a split neutral density filter back in the old days. Honestly though, I’m pretty amazed at what we can do now with these sensors, and the amount of control I have in Lightroom with highlight/shadow sliders is nothing short of amazing.

I’m sure that the higher bit depth of a five figure medium format system results in higher dynamic range – there’s no doubt…but, keep in mind that this is a 3700.00 camera, versus a 20-50K camera, and it’s doing something amazing that’s never been done before at that price.   Sometimes it’s like hearing someone comparing the relative shortcomings of Gisele Bundchen to Alessandra Ambrosio…..when they are both supermodels! Keep things in perspective folks.

I just got word as I’m typing this that my wait-listed camera is in a Fed-X box, on the way to the studio, so I’ll definitely be reading the manual and checking out and utilizing some of the new features, but for now, I’m just blown away by the increase in resolution. This camera is a game changer.

Loose full-frame composition of the Houston skyline with the new 50MP Canon 5DS.

Loose full-frame composition of the Houston skyline with the new 50MP Canon 5DS.

Ridiculously tight crop of the Houston skyline with the new 50MP Canon 5DS.

Ridiculously tight crop of the same photograph of the Houston skyline with the new 50MP Canon 5DS.

(All photographs on this blog are © 2015 Robert Seale/All rights reserved).