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Jeffrey Totaro started his career as an architect and structural engineer, giving him a strong technical background before his transition to professional photography in 1996. Jeffrey is well known for his ability to capture structural complexity, architectural detail and ultimately present the architects vision.
Jeffrey recently upgraded his Phase One P45+ digital back to an IQ260, we asked Jeffrey if it lived up to his expectations and learned what it has brought to his work, both creatively and professionally.
What project are these images captured for?
All of the images were created for the same client in Philadelphia. This is a large design office with architects and interior designers, and I was fortunate to shoot for both departments on these projects. Being an architectural photographer, my goal is to clearly communicate the design intent and add some drama and interest to make the photographs compelling for the viewer. Almost all of the photographs I take are for the dual purpose of promoting the client’s work and also to create an entry for a design award competition. My clients frequently enter and win design awards, and I am happy to be a part of that process.
What was the technical setup?
I shoot with 2 Alpa bodies (MAX an SWA) and 5 lenses. All of these were shot with the Alpa MAX body and the 36mm Switar or the Schneider 47mm XL Digitar. For the dusk exteriors I usually set-up about an hour before sunset and we make sure ahead of time that we have access to all offices and windows and that we know how to control the window blinds and the lights. Typically we open all of the shades as in image 1, but in the case of the Image 2 the building is designed for the shades to lower at sunset and for the shades to then be lit from the outside so that it creates a uniform appearance for the building at night. It’s a nice beacon of light along a beautiful pedestrian path at the University of Pennsylvania.
The hardest part of shooting image 2 was keeping the lights on in both buildings. These are large office buildings in Wilmington, DE and they are following the common practice of having occupancy sensors to reduce the amount of electricity used. What that means for us is that we need a larger crew of people running through the building keeping the lights on. In this case we had 3 people moving through all floors and offices keeping the lights on for the 20 minutes of actual shooting time.
The interior photographs always take some time and this client takes the process very seriously, which is nice for me. In all cases here we map out a strategy of which shots to do in order to tell the story of the project. Once we make those decisions we'll then spend time arranging furniture to fit the composition and then start to light the shot. I use Profoto D1 1000 w/s heads (I carry 6 of them) and my goal is to accent the lighting that is in the space, not over-power it. Often we are working with fluorescent lighting in the space so we get the heads to match that color. I use a combination of soft boxes, reflectors, and large silk fabrics to shoot the lighting in order to create a broad source for fewer shadows. Often I will shoot with the strobes and then without the strobes and combine those exposures in post-production to get the best of both.
For the interior photos, I always shoot tethered to the laptop so my client see what we are doing, and so that I can check focus and look for other issues that may come up. For the exterior photos, I will decide on a shot by shot basis whether it is best to work tethered or to shoot to the card. With the IQ260 it is easy for me to evaluate the image on the LCD screen on the back or if connected to the iPad it is even better. For the shoot at the University of Pennsylvania, we wanted two dusk views on the same night, so I set up both Alpas and transferred the IQ260 between them. I'd shoot a range of shots for the first view, then remove the back and put it on the other camera and shoot from there, and just continue doing that until I have what I need from each shot.
What expectations did you have to the IQ260 and did it fulfill these expectations?
I am not new to shooting medium format, so I am quite used to the quality. I had the P45+ and prior to that the P25 digital back. The evolution of the IQ series has totally lived up to my expectations. I make use of all the new features of the back. The image quality is quite stunning from color and contrast to shadow detail and dynamic range. Its a pleasure to use and really gets out of the way and lets me work.
What benefits has the IQ260 given your photography, creatively and business wise?
Just the other day a new client wrote to me and said the images I had just delivered were the best quality files he had ever seen. I think that speaks for itself! When the clients notice the difference, that makes me very happy, but even if they don't I still pride myself in delivering the best quality images. I have always said that there is no problem we can't solve with this digital system, but now there are even more features to back up that statement. Increased dynamic range means I can shoot more often with people and rely on one file to get me to the finished product. Better high-ISO performance means I can get better shots with people moving through the shots. Working with the DF+ body gives me more flexibility to do hand-hold shots. The Wi-Fi, is great! For a recent shoot in Wilmington I remember handing the iPad off to my client to show him the shot. And when adjusting outdoor furniture, I could bring the iPad and see what it was I wanted at all times. Now that's cool and productive! And the Wi-Fi works even when tethered, so when I shoot to the laptop, I can have the iPad working too for my assistants or clients to take a look.
If you should emphasize one feature of the new IQ2 digital back, what would it be and why?
There are many new features to choose from, but I very much enjoy using the live-view on the IQ260. I often compose one-point perspective photos. These are when the camera is square to the subject, like the dusk view in image 1 or the interior with the red chairs and red wall in image 3. Using the live view and choosing the grid on the LCD I can much quicker get the camera positioned and make sure I am centered or squared-up, and I can play around and try some different idea. What I wasn't expecting was the ability to use live-view even when the camera is tethered to the laptop. This is very nice feature since I can get the best of both worlds, tethered for close inspection, and live-view on the LCD for composition adjustments.
Who is your Phase One partner of choice, and what benefits have you experienced from this contact?
I worked with Digital Transitions in New York for my P45+ and my IQ260. I have developed a great relationship with them. I find my sales person (Lance Schad) to be very responsive whenever I need something or if I have a support issue. A good dealer makes all the difference. Its nice to know someone is there who knows all the ins and outs of the software and the hardware too. With the new updates to Capture One, I can trust their opinion on when it’s ready for upgrade, considering my workflow (OS, computers, etc). So many moving parts to the system, but they keep it clear and easy. I highly recommend them and Lance in particular.
"...a new client wrote to me and said the images I had just delivered were the best quality files he had ever seen."