We're about to have our first day of Autumn here in Austin. Here's how I know...

From the Zach Theatre production of: A White Christmas.
Sony a99. Sony 70-200mm f2.8

The leaves are just now falling off the trees. Two days ago it was 90 degrees but tonight it's supposed to dip into the forties and by Sunday, into the thirties. People are changing from Sandals to real shoes; from shorts to old jeans. From t-shirts..... well, they are still wearing t-shirts, but they may have a light jacket in the car...

People are making plans for Thanksgiving and the Christmas plays are about to launch over at Zach Theatre. I've been shooting marketing images for, "Santaland Diaries" and "A Christmas Carol" and I've seen the first of the invitations to Zach's famous New Year's Eve party. Add it all together and I believe it's the real arrival of Fall in our town. 

The photo above has always been one of my favorite theater images. It was taken back in 2012 for the production of "A White Christmas." I came across it recently while doing a quick search for images I'd shot with either the Sony a99 or their 70/200mm lens. This came up for both. The dynamic range in the original raw file is great and the lens sharpness at a wide open aperture is really good. A constant reminder that if we don't get carried away with spec-manship the gear we have in our hands at any one time is perfectly usable for much longer times spans that we are generally willing to admit. 

So, how am I dealing with this new severe weather? Well, we may have to turn the heater on this weekend so I've gotten a new filter. Nothing special since I put in one of those pleated, 3M. Allergy Relief filters in about every three months. I'm buying fewer bottles of Sauvignon Blanc and Proseco and stocking in more Cabernets and Merlots. I'll make sure I have a dry towel in the car every time I go to swim practice and --- I can finally start comfortably wearing suits and ties again. Oh Joy! I've also washed a few of my favorite sweatshirts in preparation. 

The big task on my seasonal plate right now is to come up with a clever photographic idea that I can put on a holiday card to send out to clients. That's a tough one. If you have any great ideas just toss them over the transom and I'll co-op them immediately!

Wrapping up the week. Some observations from mid-November.

Choreography rehearsal. Zach Theatre. Sony A7xx + Sony 50mm f1.8

Yesterday afternoon I finished reading an older Hennig Mankell novel, Firewall, sat on the back porch with Studio Dog, ate some Siggi's vanilla yogurt and relaxed for a few minutes. It's nice to put some calm time in the middle of the day. It's a chance to collect my thoughts. 

Then it's back to work. I packed up to shoot an event at the Four Seasons Hotel. For the last decade and a half I have volunteered to provide photography for Texas Appleseed's annual fundraising dinner; it's an event I always look forward to and the Appleseed foundation is a great non-profit resource for legal change in Texas, and beyond. I won't go into their mission here on the blog but if you are interested you can go here: Appleseed.

The event attracts the top attorneys, judges and politicians from all over Texas. Last night over 400 attendees packed the ballroom at the Four Seasons to honor one of their own and to raise a half million dollars or so for the organization. Since I've photographed the event each year for the past 15 years I've gotten to know the names and faces of at least half the attendees in any year. It makes my job easier because I know in advance who needs to be photographed and what small groupings will give my photography the most utility for my client. 

I packed up two different camera systems because I was indecisive, when I left the house, about which system to use for the evening. I ended up using both. On one side of the case was the Sony a6300 with its 18-105mm f4.0 lens and on the other side of the case was the Sony A7ii with the 70/200mm and the 24-70mm lenses. I brought along a Yongnuo flash and an even cheaper, Neewer flash to use through the evening. I've never bothered to buy a Sony flash or a high priced TTL flash for the Sony cameras because I've learned, through the years, that shooting events via TTL makes for a nightmare of correction in post processing. I paid $55 for the Yongnuo flash and $35 for the Neewer flash and both have been just fine for everything I've done with them. Both are fully manual. Both have built in optical slaves. Both take 4 double "A" batteries. Both have a single contact on the shoe. Both seem uncomplicated and reliable. 

I used the a6300 combo for most of the evening because for the first hour and a half there was a cocktail reception the lobby which was a great time to circulate and make photographs of couples, and small groups. This was an "all flash" situation and I selected the a6300 because it's probably the fastest and surest focusing of the current Sony family. I used to dread shooting with flash in the lobby area in front of the main ballroom at the Austin Four Seasons because the ceiling was painted with an sea foam green paint that precluded the use of ceiling bounce with flash. They recently renovated and painted the ceiling a very nice and mellow white. Perfect. I ditched my bounce card, put a small diffuser on the front of the Yongnuo and calculated the exposure for bouncing off the ceiling while being seven to ten feet from my subjects. The little diffuser directs most light to the ceiling but there's also a little bit of front light which makes a great, subtle fill. 

I was able to use the flash at 1/8th power for nearly everything. This gave me f5.6 at 1/50th of second, ISO 640 for everything. If I was standing closer I'd drop the flash power to 1/16th and if I was standing further away, perhaps for a wider group shot, I'd push the power up to 1/4. Unlike my experiences with Sony, Canon and Nikon dedicated flashes, used in TTL mode, I had NO variance in exposure or color from frame to frame. This meant no need for frame by frame exposure correction or color modifications. The light was nice, soft and the color was perfect. It's a nice way to shoot with flash and it's lovely that the Four Seasons decided to paint their foyer ceiling a delicious shade of white, just for me.... 😉

I shot about 550 exposures with the a6300 and the flash. These also included awards presentations on the main stage. I never needed to change camera or flash batteries. 

But I did pull out the Sony A7ii and the 70-200mm lens for photographs of the speakers on stage. Shooting speakers is NEVER a situation in which you want to use flash. 400 people in the audience don't want you to either --- I'm pretty sure of it...

I set the camera to ISO 3200 and the used the lens wide open at f4.0. While the stage lighting wasn't great (for profit events generally invest a bunch more money in lighting...) the images were perfectly usable and the additional reach of the lens certainly helped. 

Dinner was quite good, with nice wines and a very nice steak and salmon combination. I enjoyed dinner very much. 

The evening wrapped at 9:30 pm and I packed up my little assortment of camera tools and headed back home. It was a nice way to spend a Thursday evening. 

Observations: I don't know if it's burnout from the elections or if I've just lost my touch as a writer but comments from readers have more or less ground to a halt. I'm not taking it personally since the daily visitor numbers are steady and it's not like I'm selling a lot of product on the site that needs pushing, but it is nice to get feed back. Maybe I'll ask questions in a better way. 

Speaking of the election, most people I know are dead tired of hearing about it and I know I've more or less given up on opening Facebook because of the torrents of emotion being expressed there. I've stopped listening to or watching election news for now. Someone be sure to tell me if an all out ground war with Canada is imminent. My focus for the rest of the year is to meet nice, new people and make nice portraits. In addition, I'm more and more interested in making video interviews. I have a bunch of material for a video about Wyatt McSpadden and I'm looking for a big gap in the schedule so I can sit down and edit with few interruptions. I have a backlog of personal portraits to post process and deliver as well. 

I haven't pre-ordered any new gear (or computers) but I am watching the Fuji medium format camera with great interest. I'm not sure if the advantages are overwhelming, when compared to something like an A7Rii but I'd like to test it for myself when it becomes available. After shooting several nice portraits with the Rokinon 100mm f2.8 macro lens I'm not sure I need anything better....

People seem a bit unsettled about gear right now. My friends have a weird expression on their faces. They'd like to buy something new just to keep the process they've been indoctrinated in moving along but they haven't seen much that tweaks the buying impulse. The consensus is that the stuff we all have in our hands right now is just "super" and the improvements are marginal enough for most people not to be discernible. A bad kind of place for the camera makers, I think. 

The only action that seems fun was the introduction of small, but powerful, portable flash systems from Profoto and Elincrhom. I love the looks of both but find the pricing ..... adventurous. I'm negotiating to get units from both for evaluation. 

On the marketing front. What is the ROI on our latest little flurry. This is fun. I sent out 65 marketing pieces which consisted of a cover letter and a postcard with the Michael Dell image, in an envelope. The marketing message was about my event photography services. The cost of the mailing, with ink, paper, stationary and postage was about $125. The first of the mailers went out on Monday and the last batch went out yesterday. I got an e-mail yesterday requesting a bid for executive portraits from an existing client who referenced the mailing. The portrait project should net between $2,000 and $3,000 so I'll mark the self-advertising venture with a big plus even if this is the only project that results. 

Truthfully, I don't expect directly correlated results from marketing I look at it as long term brand building; but I have found in the past that getting a marketing piece reminds people of projects that need to get done and motivates them to "pull the trigger." 

The next marketing effort hits in two weeks and will showcase portraits. I'll keep you posted. 

While we are usually winding things down this time of the year I am waiting to hear back from a client about a potential job in Salt Lake City for the week of the 5th through the 9th in Salt Lake City. It's a straight up advertising project and one that I'd love to do. It would make a nice coda to an interesting year. 

Tomorrow I will be back over at Zach Theatre (after swim practice, naturally) to photograph a behind the scenes look at Martin Burke in "The Santaland Diaries." It's my favorite holiday play and one of my favorite actors. This is something I asked to do instead of it being a request from my client. Just wanted to give a few of the fast lenses a bit of a workout and get some fun stuff for myself. Of course, I will share with the theater.

Back to Lightroom. We've got work to do.