The Rig
Comments 21

The Rig: Robert Boyer

Who are you and what’s your profession?

Okay – the hard part. I’m Robert Boyer and I detest talking about myself so I’ll make this brief. I’ve done a fairly insane mix of diverse things professionally all over the map. Probably because I never really decided what I wanted to be when I grew up. Photography wise I’ve done it full-time for quite some time but went down a commercial road that lead me to a point of despair and cynicism that I won’t even attempt to describe. A few years ago I put down the camera for what I thought might be forever as I was in a crisis of my own making – success at making photographs of which I had no interest in making. During that downtime I started to help a few other photographers achieve their vision by bringing a lot of diverse skills to the table. I enjoyed that and found it rewarding. Mostly because I was not invested in the subject or the photographs. It was helping others do what they had a passion for.

Fast forward a bit my head is in a completely different place now. I know what I am interested in for my own work. I’m comfortable taking on a few jobs to make photographs here and there as long as they are on my terms and I’m interested in the subject/project. I’m taking it slow as I am not advertising any sort of service and have no immediate plans to do so – that’s what gets me into trouble as I tend to loose sight of what I like about photography and become far too immersed in achieving some arbitrary business result.

The thing I am working on right now that excites me the most is a new endeavor that marries services, locations, and the photographic community on a local and regional level. Myself and my partner’s have just soft-launched this mission in the last two months and I expect this will consume me for 2014 and possibly beyond. I am super excited right now about what we are doing and more importantly why we are doing it. Anyone interested in tracking our slow plodding evolution can check out

What’s your rig?

This might come as a surprise to anyone that has happened across any of my ramblings on the web but I am gear agnostic for the most part. I talk passionately about gear I use on both the upsides and downsides for sure but at the end of it all anything that works and meets a few basic requirements is okay with me. The biggest requirement is that the gear gets out of my way and doesn’t have characteristics that distract me from the matter at hand – the subject.

With that out of the way here’s a partial run-down of what I use rather than what I own – I’m sort of a hoarder when it comes to equipment. I rarely get rid of anything…

My primary camera at the moment is a Nikon D600. I actually love that camera and think it’s the best deal going at the moment. It’s fast, small, great controls, and image quality characteristics that leave nothing to be desired. I have dozens upon dozens of Nikkor lenses but the truth is I will shoot with a 50mm or 85mm 99.9% of the time. A have a gaggle of Nikon SB little flashes but I am not super keen on using them. I am well versed in CLS etc, etc, etc. It’s just that I don’t usually work in places where there is a huge advantage to little portable lights – by the time you are done with all the other stuff like stands and modifiers It makes more sense to use big-boy lights for what I am interested in. I do a bunch of workshops for creative speedlight use but I don’t sell people on the speedlights for all occasions kind of thing. I discuss it pragmatically and consider it an entry point for people that are starting to take control over their lighting. Everyone has a speedlight of some sort so the barrier to entry is easy.

My take everywhere camera is an X100S. I love that camera because of it’s size. It also allows me to skip packing a 35mm lens for use with my D600. The image quality is great but not really magical – it’s as good as any other new-ish APS-C camera. I love it because of the mix of size, viewfinder, and lens. The lens is tiny which is a huge part of the size equation. I was shooting an X-Pro-1 for about a year but truth be told the size of that kit was not really different than my D600 and two prime kit and there is no comparison in performance or handling if you take retro-emotion out of the equation. I’m not a backpacker, I don’t walk miles and miles to a few ounces are meaningless to me. The bottom line was I used the same sized bag for the D600 kit and the X-Pro-1 kit. Great camera but not even close to a D600 or 5DMkIII or something like that for a lot of things.

I have dozens and dozens of Nikon, Olympus, and Leica film cameras I have acquired over the years – along with a huge Hasselblad 500 series kit and a bunch of glass I bought new in the late ‘90s. I shoot most of them on a semi-rotating basis. Shooting film in simple cameras tends to ground me when and re-immerse me I what I love about photography when my head gets too wrapped up in all the tech.

I have an extensive collection of Speedotron black-line and Profoto lighting gear that I bought new years ago. I love both of those systems for different reasons. Of course all the crap that goes along with that, a billion reflectors, boxes, beauty dishes of various sizes, grids, stands, booms, etc. I think it’s been years since I’ve actually used more than 3 lights and even that’s rare. I’ve really pared down and usually use one or two lights now. Then again I’m not shooting huge sets or locations that require me to make it look like a bright sunny morning at 12 noon in January while it’s snowing either. If push comes to shove I would far rather use one or two of these lights – either system than a bunch of speedlights. It’s just faster and easier for the most part with far more consistent (better) color. Unlimited power – great recycle time, etc, etc.

Every once in a while I will use my 8×10 Ansco view camera from the 40’s. I love using that camera and love the results it produces with film I develop in my tub but it’s actually getting way too expensive to shoot black and white. I shoot people and theres a good chance I am going to need somewhere in the neighborhood of a dozen shots to put something in the can that I actually like and think is worthwhile for anyone I shoot. That’s a fairly huge investment that’s not easy to finance for any real project unless someone is willing to pay for it – rare these days. So I do it here and there for special subjects and concepts but they are one-offs.

What hardware do you use?

Right now I am using a maxed out top of the line 27” iMac with a 27” Cinema second monitor. Not the super new one as of today, the last generation. I connect that to a bunch of home-made drive arrays that I’ve concocted on the cheap. Would love to buy a big Pegasus but I’m getting along fine. Since I don’t do a whole lot of video that machine is stunning in performance for all of my files and client files which are all over the place from D800’s to Hasselblad H4-50D’s to Canon 5D mkIII’s.

For a laptop I use a first gen 11” MacBook Air. I forget how old that machine is and have been meaning to replace it for a year. Which reminds me – I need to do that. Great machine but it’s really dragging with the D600 files at this point. I don’t do much work in the field – I use it for tethering when I teach workshops on location and don’t have access to a real computer. It’s crap for doing color but it’s really small and light. My next machine is most likely a 13” retina MBP – one of the Haswell models. Nothing too fancy – any of them will probably do for my purposes and have the upside of actually being able to do non-critical color work on them in the field.

Here’s a guild pleasure kind of thing. I am trying to be a grown-up and just stick to what I actually need but that new MacPro is nagging at me. I have no need whatsoever for a $4000-ish computer – absolutely none but I want that thing really bad. Mostly because it’s shiny and black. I get like that. Hopefully logic will win the day but based on past experience it will probably get the better of me. I’m guessing it will be when there is some sort of “retina” cinema display to go with it… that will be a $8K hit somewhere that’s totally unnecessary so wish the AtomicCanary endeavor success – I will need it.

What software do you use?

I love Apple Aperture 3. It’s almost the perfect environment for photo work. It’s slick and it’s fast. Not just in wall-clock timing of some arbitrary function although that’s fast too. It’s fast to work in because of how fluid the interface is and how well thought out the software was from the get-go. Of course I have my wants and desires. Most of those are related to a re-vamp of the way local adjustments work. Not tiny-tiny Photoshop replacement things – big broad things that are more darkroom like. If I had those I would be fine and dandy with a piece of software that’s under a hundred bucks.

Now here’s where the complexity comes in… Not for me or my work but for all the stuff I do for other photographers in terms of post processing, etc, etc. I have and use just about every RAW processor in the universe. They all have their ups and downs. Lightroom, Capture One, Capture NX2, Phocus, etc, etc. Of course Photoshop CS6 as well and InDesign, and… you get the idea. For my own work I can’t remember the last time I used Photoshop – for other people’s stuff and for workshops that require it… I feel like I live in PS. Then there is all the plug-ins. Again driven mostly by client desire and what they like but the Nik Suite is actually very nice. I really like Silver Efex 2 as well as a couple of other things here and there. I will use that for my own final prints but not for web or illustrative work – I really don’t do post on anything I put on the web – maybe a generic preset stamped on to a bunch of stuff. All of the stuff I put out there publicly is for educational and discussion purposes – most of which is in-camera discussion so I look at a lot of post as obscuring that discussion which I find more interesting personally.

What would be your dream rig?

I have my dream rigs for the most part. Well at least for film. I love shooting my Nikon FM’s, F2’s, my Olympus OM-1’s with a simple prime and some great film. For more formal work my Hasselblads are about perfect. For digital my dream rig may not exist yet. I had an H2D for a few years with a Leaf back – sold that when I stopped doing commercial work on a daily basis. That was a nice simple camera that had a great viewfinder – very important to me. I guess my dream rig is really something very similar in size to an OM-1 or even a Nikon F3 with simple direct controls and a fantastically large viewfinder – like the OM-1. That with something along the lines of the sensor in the D600 with some minor improvements in the way highlights render in real-world light would be fantastic. I really don’t have serious issues with glass right now. I have some substitutions I may make in the lens department but nothing that’s going to be night and day for what I like about photography. Give me something as simple as an OM-1 at the same size with great viewfinder that combines what I like about film rendering with what I like about digital – both and give me the aesthetics I like in terms of sensor size to focal length to aperture ratios as large-ish apertures and I will be happy. I’m not far from happy now.

What’s your favorite photography quote?

That’s a tough one as I have so so many. I’m actually quite the photo-historian so there are many that I just love but possibly for very esoteric reasons and the way my head is wired I tend to prefer quotes that are not what one would consider “inspirational” – I take comfort in what for the most part are candid off-the-cuff moments that I can identify with deeply and have somewhat over the top feelings about. Things that make me feel not so alone in the world – less like some crazy outsider. Okay here’s a few off the top of my head.

It’s that I don’t like white paper backgrounds. A woman does not live in front of white paper. She lives on the street, in a motor car, in a hotel room.

Helmut Newton


Now to consult the rules of composition before making a picture is a little like consulting the law of gravitation before going for a walk. Such rules and laws are deduced from the accomplished fact; they are the products of reflection.

Edward Weston


I’m proud of the two adjectives superficial and frivolous.

Jeanloup Sieff

See what I mean… strange huh but that’s the kind of thing that comes to my mind. I’m an odd bird. Here’s something to consider though. It’s not about the quotes – it’s about the history of this art and science and it is both. I consider it a travesty that many many photographers I meet don’t have the slightest idea that we stand on the shoulders of giants. My suggestion – go to amazon and grab a few monographs of one sort or another. Pick say 10 photographers from the 20th century who’s careers spanned 40 or 50 years – yes YEARS. Any of um but more than just one or two. Turn off the internet. Spend a long time – weeks or a year really absorbing their career and their work not just blasting through thumbnails looking for something loud. Take two or three of the photographers who’s work really speaks to YOU. Read everything you can – biographies, memoirs, go look at a showing of their work in person somewhere. Look at what they were doing in the context of that time. Really get to know them as you would a good friend. Their work speaks to you because they are kindred spirits. The best education you can give yourself – at least a different and very important kind than you will get from the typical link-bait out there like “The 4 and a half SECRETS to not suck so badly or at least suck less” or whatever.

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