INTERVIEW // ROBERT J UNDI
The above set is from Rober J Undi's series Sultry Beauty.
Photographer: Robert Undi
Model: Greta Karr
Model: Alyssa Anderson
Makeup Artist/Hair Stylist: Lauren Manista
We had the pleasure of having a chat with Robert to find out all about his career, check it out below:
Tell us what’s in your camera bag? Why did you buy the kit that you have now?
Currently In my bag is the Hasselblad H6D-100c. A 100-megapixel monster! It's a true 16-bit sensor giving me 4 billion stunningly accurate colors. Comparing it to my Backup camera which is the Canon 5DSr which is a 50-megapixel camera, wich has a 14-bit sensor which produces 1 Billion colors. The Hassey has 2 stops more dynamic range than the Canon but where it really shines is with the optics. I'm a big portrait person and if the eyes are not sharp, the rest of the image becomes worthless to me. That's where Hassey's True focus comes in.
The center spot of any camera is always the most accurate. Therefore if you use the center spot to focus on the eyes and then recompose to capture the full standing person... if you figure out the geometry the hypotenuse is off by at least an inch and a half. The Hassey monitors the movement and angular motion of the camera and locks onto the original point of focus and as long as the subject doesn't move, the eye is tack sharp. Even though the Leica lens for the Canon is on pare with the Hasselblad lenses and you use the upper sensor point to focus on your subjects eye it's still just a tiny bit out of focus and hence the eyelashes are still sharper coming from the Hasselblad using True Focus. Yes I know I'm splitting hairs but when you need to print a 10-20-40-60 foot poster those small differences become magnified. Plus the new 1280 DPI lab printers are now available and even a 50" print makes these differences visible. Plus with the huge Hasselblad sensor, the Bokak at F4.0 is much richer than a 35mm lens at say F1.4.
Tell us about your education for photography, did you go to university or are you self-taught?
I'm 65 now but at 7 years old I was a Disney kid and couldn't wait for 8 PM to arrive on Sunday when Tinkerbell would start "The Wonderful World of Disney". One day my dad brought me into a dark room he had built under the cellar steps. There was only this red light on to see with. My dad put this white piece of paper into this white tray half full with a clear liquid. In under a minute my mothers face slowly appeared... that was real magic! I was Hooked! When I was 8 years old my dad gave me my first camera which took 625 film and was basically a box camera? It had 3 "F" stops and 3 shutter speeds. He had been teaching me the "Sweet 16 Rule" for over every time he took me out to capture some landscapes, etc. Because I wanted to learn this amazing magic craft called Photography. I vigilantly learned how to develop film and how to be extra careful in creating new rules of the film for our next great adventure. The standing joke when my parents had friends over was that "my birth would have been so much easier if I wasn't holding a camera when I came into this world. And "NO" when I was learning photography universities and college didn't have photography classes. When I was in high school, traditionally only a senior could be the president of the camera club. I was the first sophomore that became president of Devon Prep's camera club.
In my forties, I started playing with a program called pixel publisher or something like that and manual only had 16 pages with a stiff green cover stapled together. It was only a black and white program that allowed you to turn on and off single pixels on your green computer screen... The program had many iterations but around 87-88 we eventually had Photoshop. In 1990 3D Studio came out and somehow got on the bata team because of an article I wrote on hair... but then I learned Knock Out by Corel. That's where I was able to cut out people that I hadphotographed with my camera and composite them into 3D scenes I had created in 3D Studio, using Photoshop as my FX engine. That got me a fair amount of notoriety and than I joined the Autocad user group. eventually I become the 3D sig leader of the Philadelphia Autocad User Society. About then I had written a few more articles in 3D Artist magazine and because of that, I was asked by most if not all the art colleges and university in the Delaware Valley. For the next 3 or 4 years, I guest lectured on 3D and photography for 2 hours on Wednesdays nights. But after the lectures, we would continue the question and answer section till 2 in the morning... many times freezing our butts off.
What is your post-production process? Do you do it all yourself or do you work with retouchers?
Because of my age, I suspect there is only a few hand full of people that have been doing retouching as long as I have. But my grandfather taught me that you learn by your mistakes. But you will not live long enough to learn all the things that you want to learn by making the mistakes by yourself. So learn from other peoples mistakes!
That said I purchase every top-notch retoucher's videos so that I can find out everything I've missed or haven't gotten around to figuring out by myself. Yes, I will watch a 7 to 20-hour lecture just to find a tool that took me 15 seconds to learn. Everyone has a very specific philosophy they go by and not every tip is compatible with my philosophy. My job then is to convert that tool I've just learned to fit into my style of retouching. Because of my Hasselblad's dynamic range and colour depth, I work in Pro Photo colour space. There are some amazing very professional retouchers out there that work only in an 8-bit environment.
Their bag of tricks/tools do not work in my bag of tricks. The exact same tool in 8 bits does not work as cleanly with more artefacts and less sure than that exact same tool in 16 bits. So ultimately it's just a lot of hard work to make that tool work/fit into my bag of tricks. The only time I have another artist do retouching for me is when I'm strapped for time and I know he is competent to the quality level that I need or If I'm too lazy to do it myself. Sadly I'm always backlogged with 20 to 60 images that require 2 to 8 hours of retouching so obviously spending 10 to 20 hours on a great background image
just doesn't make sense.
Is there a particular type of photographer that you just can’t stand?
It drives me crazy when Photographers don't give other team members credit for their work. Many times I'll contact them privately and point that out. Many times I say "Try doing that same portrait "Without the Model" Do you ever think that the little bit she makes as a model helps pay for gas to get to your place or some goes to her car payment, or her cell phone bill so you can call her to set up the shoot. Or God forbid if she is putting herself through college she really needs this gig and "ANY OTHER MODELLING GIGS SHE CAN GET". So by you not tagging her you're making it very difficult for her to do the thing she loves, "MODELLING".
The same thing applies for models... Professional photographers are highly undervalued in our society because of cell phones. Generally, people in society don't know what a quality image actually is because we're viewing them on our cell phones... from time to time I'm asked to print these "little images" and people are shocked how blurry and out of focus they are even on a 4 by 6 print... Images that have been reprocessed sometimes 6 or 7 times loses quality with each reprocessing. Cell phonecompanies have created the illusion that their images can become billboard posters. (I digressed a bit too far) Generally speaking, models get 10 to 30 times more likes than the photographer same post do. I do realise that many models are very possessive of their photographers and don't want other models stealing their photographers away from them.
My bag of camera equipment costs a fortune. And all that gear eventually wears out or brakes and needs to get replaced over time. All the lighting gear has the same ageing/breaking problem, and I have at least as much lighting and associated gear as camera equipment. Let's not forget the cost of operating, heating the studio and the electricity to make it all work. My wife pointed out that our electric bill was up by $350/month and only doing 2 or 3 shoots a week compared to when we went down the shore for 3 weeks and didn't have any other shoot that month. Because models popularity is so much higher, photographers need as much help getting the word out so that paying customers can keep the photography business as a business, not just a hobby.
One of my other pet peaves is when a photographer does a few blemish removals and does a little amiture color corection and stretches out the edges of the image to hide
the parts of the studio that he or she doesn't want in the final image and to show his artistic ability adds a filter all in under 3 minutes and calls it a retouch.
If you haven't spent at least an hour on an image chances are it's not a real retouch. Yes I have created many action in Photoshop to speed my work up and have cut my initial 4 hour base retouch time down to one hour but I still spend 4 to 20 hours on a magazine image submission. Multiply that by 6 to 10 images that are needed for a submission and you begin to understand how passionate I am about my images.
What is your stance on image retouching? Can it make an image, or contribute to unrealistic ideals?
That is, of course, a very controversial topic, which I feel can change based on the talent of the retoucher. Images can be perfect but there is a big bright red zit on the end of his or her nose. No one will see that she or he has the most striking eyes in the world. That red dot is a distraction. Because humans are hunters and gathers, we are very skilled at seeing distractions. Let's face it... it's where our next meal would have come from, and hunger is a great motivator. Hence any distractions will prevent you from seeing the real person. Then there is the issue of distinguishing marks, they too will also distract you from seeing the person. If I'm doing a portrait for someone parents I would remove the scar and then fade it back in to 40% to 60%. This allows me to maintain the genuineness of the person and still reduce the distraction. If it's a beauty image for a magazine then it is gone! Being publish ready is a completely other animal. I make sure there are no clumps on the eyelashes even when it's a full-length image. No distracting veins in the eye. I colour match the whites of the eyes with the teeth. I like the teeth White but within reason. I pay close detail to the spaces between the teeth so there is no yellow discolouring. Most fly away hair doesn't bother me and it add a sense of realism unless it creates a distraction. Makeup repair is a big deal to me. I supply magazines with print sizes images, plus full resolution images. So I am never OK with companies using a print size image 3300 pix by 2550 pix to be used as a trade show poster 10-foot high. It looks like shit! (Sorry I was born in France and sometimes I speak in North American French). So the foundation crack that you really can't see in a magazine print image because it is a sub-pixel distortion. I just don't leave any "subpixel level distortions". Yes, I will do thousands of small adjustments. so the skin pore that is twice the size of all your other pours because of a zit you had when you were 13 has to be replaced with a normal sixe pore. And I am a lover of peach fuzz. That's why when you touch a woman why she feels so soft.