8.22.2017

No good assignments coming in the door? It's time to self-assign and build up a collection of new work.

"Texas Rancher". From a production at Live Oak Theater.

For a number of years the portrait above was an example of my preferred style of photographing people. I loved working in my big darkroom, shifting between my 35mm Leica Focomat enlarger and my Omega D5 enlarger. The D5 was the one that saw the most use because I kept feeding it medium format film. I experimented with condenser heads, cold light heads and diffused (but not cold light) heads. I loved black and white film and I really liked the look of lighting that could cast deep shadows to one side while keeping skin tone and texture perfect on the other side. When I made prints I used a device called a Pictrol under my enlarging lens to disrupt parts of the frame with semi-controllable pools of soft focus. I felt, at the time, that burned in corners made a print. I may have been right; in the context of this style.

But lately I've felt the need to make a portfolio of new work that reflects all the shifts I've made in both lighting and visualization over the last ten years. My target for final display is no longer the fine print but the immense audience on the web. My lighting has changed and my approach to subjects has changed as well. 

So, how do you create a whole new portfolio?  A collection of work that clients have never seen from you before? I think it would be very difficult to depend on the outcome of commercial engagements to ever distill down the work you might want to show while keeping clients happy (mostly because you get hired for work you already showed....).

I try to do it by reaching out to people that I specifically want to photograph and then inviting them into my studio or out into the world to collaborate with me and help me realize a visual concept I have rattling around in my brain. If we work from the idea that beautiful portraits have value then our collaborations are win-win situations because I'm happy to make meticulously retouched files for my sitters in exchange for their time and shared energy.

Last week I reached out to an actor whose current work on stage I really admire. I've worked with  him in the creation of marketing materials for productions at the theater but I wanted to bring him into the quiet refuge of the studio and spend an hour or two making images that would make me happy and might be helpful to him in his public career. 

We're shooting this afternoon. And when I realized that this would be a good shared experience for both of us I started getting in touch with other people on my list of "wanna photograph" people to see who else might be interested in playing along with my explorations of portraiture. Surprisingly, no one has yet to turn me down. 

There's no cost to either of us, just an investment of time. But a new collection of images moves me forward just as it shows a different side of the actor's range. This is how we used to do it when we wanted to explore new work. It's a good thing.

8.21.2017

Another difference between "the good old days" and now. Wardrobe.

David Sim and his wife listening to the audio portion of his interview for Ottobock Healthcare.
Photo: courtesy of ODL Design / Toronto, Canada

I love this image from our video shoot earlier this year. David Sim (above, left) lost a leg in a tragic accident and was speaking about his experiences using the latest microprocessor-controlled prosthesis from my client, Ottobock. I had the pleasure of working with one of our VSL "family" while in Canada and he was gracious enough to make some behind the scenes photographs of our work process. It's fun to see what I look like when I am trying hard to look smart and thoughtful. It's an expression that is fleeting for me, at best.

I spent half an hour this morning doing some retouching that was required because we're losing some aspects/guidelines of public personal presentation that used to be more rigorously followed in the past than now. At some point in the not too distant past nearly everyone who had made it to the level in their field where a business portrait was required took some care to make sure their shirts fit, their ties were clean and properly knotted and that their suit coats or sports jackets were appropriately sized and well pressed. When someone from the legal, medical or business professions walked into the studio they were, for the most part, well polished. Their clothes fit.

Over time the casual nature of Austin (and I'll assume most other locales) has caused a loosening of standards. Now suit coats are more or less bought off the rack and worn without having the sleeves properly shortened or lengthened. Many men have jackets or suit coats they acquired back when they were twenty or thirty pounds thinner and which have not be altered or replaced. Some of these issues are easy to deal with but the harder one, for me, is a situation in which the man in front of my camera has a shirt which frankly, does not fit. People have become  ever larger without compensating for things like an increased neck girth and how it affects the fit of their dress shirts. 

My nemesis is the shirt collar that is now far too small to allow its owner to button it properly (at all). The shirt collar gapes wide while the necktie is tasked, unsuccessfully, with camouflaging the gap. The problem is that the camera sees everything. I've recently had to work with images that required me to create multiple layers, grab a wide flung collar on one or both sides and transform the grabbed collar image so that it fits over the initial gapped image and is more or less accurate and presentable. It's time consuming and nitpicky work but it has to be done if the image of my portrait subject is used publicly. 

There is a simple solution. Men could pay attention to changes in their size and upgrade their wardrobe to match the here and now. I wear a size 15 and 1/2 collar. If that collar becomes to snug to button I know that I need to head to the store and buy a shirt with a 16 or 16.5 collar. Whatever it takes to be able to comfortably button the collar and provide a nice nesting place for a good tie. I can handle a person showing up with a bad tie; I have three or four dozen on hand from which to choose.

Once you know your shirt's required sleeve length and your neck size buying shirts becomes more of a science and less of an art. You can order a shirt on line or call your favorite men's shop and specify what you want. They'll ship to you. Just about anyone will. 

You may find that you've gained a lot of weight and it may be that finding a shirt with the right sleeve length and neck size doesn't give you enough shirt to get around the middle. You should be aware, especially if you need to wear a coat and tie frequently, that there are companies that will make custom shirts to your size requirements. If you are not an average size this is something you should really consider since a good fitting shirt can really make a difference in the image you project to the world. A well tailored shirt starts at about $125 and can go much higher depending on the fabrics you choose. The efficient part of the equation is that once you are properly measured and fitted, and the custom tailor knows your preferences, you can order more shirts in the future over the phone. 

A shirt with a properly fitted collar gives the impression that you are trimmer than having shirts with collars that defy comfortable (attainable) closure. Not to mention that your tie will also be much better presented. 

This sounds silly to people who work in casual industries but it makes a big difference to people in a wide range of professional occupations where one is required to speak publicly, meet with the public, and socialize with peers and clients in business situations. Whether this requirement is "right" or "wrong" a poorly assembled shirt/tie/suit can be the difference between closing a deal or walking a potential client. Given that many of the people we photograph are working with transactions worth millions and millions of dollars it seems a bit careless (negligent?) to disregard sartorial standards when doing it right can be so easy. 

Don't get me started on shoes. Or shoes and belts. Or where a pant cuff should break. It's a slippery slope. 

Get three perfect shirts. Two white and one light blue. Keep them laundered and wrinkle free.  You'll be ready for your close ups at any time.


8.20.2017

One of the features I've always valued in the Olympus and Panasonic cameras is the option for a 1:1 aspect ratio.

A journal of Lewis Carroll.

Every so often I'll write about how enjoyable it is to shoot with a camera that can show a 1:1 aspect ratio, with black borders, in the EVF. Before the blog ink is even dry someone always posts a comment telling me that all frames from any camera can easily be cropped into a square in post production; the ability in camera is, to them, meaningless. These individuals suggest I should, therefore, reject the wonderful advantages of being able to see the boundaries of the square at the time of composition and instead see the square within a more awkward flabby frame at the time of capture, and then be able to replicate same cropping, after the fact, while working with the image file in post production. This fascination with post capture cropping might have H.C.B. spinning in his grave.

Persons peddling this preposterous proposition are, of course, insane. Having black on all four sides of a square composing tool is heaven for anyone who values the perfect symmetry of the square frame. In fact, psychology professionals use this particular choice scenario to determine who might be a danger to themselves or society. In some countries having to use a camera with no changeable aspect ratios and no electronic viewfinder is punishment for petty crimes such as shoplifting or jaywalking. 

All the images here were shot with a fully functional camera. They were shot square because the photographer determined that he wanted to shoot square and he set the camera to show him a square frame in the electronic viewfinder. Shooting in Jpeg he was able to go from initial capture all the way to the final sharing on the web without ever seeing parts of a greater scene extending sloppily outside the confines of the 1:1 aspect ratio. It was great. Comfortable. Logical. Reasonable. Fun.

Going to museums with a square capable capture device seems normal and sensible to me. If you want to see the kind of havoc caused by a camera unable to realistically show only a square competition you need look no further than to the last image in this series; at the bottom of the page. 
Just image how much better that image would look if the 3:2 ratio of that camera's finder hadn't intruded in the process.....




The image below is from a Nikon D610. No 1:1 aspect ratio.

But the heart of the composition is still a square.

Dare to be Square.

Behind the scenes at the Theatre. Using an Olympus EM5-2 camera and two Panasonic Lenses. The 25mm Summilux and the 42.5mm f1.7.


Back in 2015 I was using the Olympus EM-5.2 cameras and a bevy of lenses from Panasonic and Olympus as second system alongside my full frame Nikons. Needless to say I enjoyed the process of shooting with the Olympus cameras much more. It was the combination of a great EVF along with state-of-the-art image stabilization that made that format so much fun. 

I was sorting and deleting old files and folders in Lightroom when I unexpected came across these images. I'd almost forgotten that I'd taken them. We did it for a project that never found its footing but it's alway instructive for me to look back and see what we were doing two or three years ago. We build mythologies about cameras and lenses but it's alway nice to be able to go back and sort fact from fiction. Fact: Those two little lenses were very, very good and the files from the Olympus cameras were so easy to work with. 

Now I find myself doing the same thing with Sony and Panasonic (with an Olympus lens tossed in for good measure). I hope to look back in two or three years and be happily surprised at what we were able to accomplish. 








Part of Austin's Downtown Skyline.


Channeling my inner "Walker Evans" to study "surban" life in Austin.

 "Surban" is suburban living in the midst of an urban environment. I thought it sounded cool so I went with it. I'll try to think up some sort of artistic manifesto later; if I need to...

Camera: Sony A7Rii

Lens: Zeiss / Sony 24/70mm f4.0





A nod to one of my favorite, high performance, camera and lens combinations for just walking around and looking at stuff.


Trying to escape from the political news, the dreaded heat, the August doldrums. My Sonys were on the chopping block on Friday but a last minute pardon kept them from  becoming trade-in fodder. The Panasonic GH5 was in ascendancy and my computational faculties were in retrograde. At some point, over the course of the weekend I'm back to the sort of stasis I'd created a couple of weeks ago: Panasonic for the heavy lifting of deep, rich 4K video and the two Sony full framers for the art of the still shot. 

Many years ago a friend of mine bought a crappy used car from a car rental company. He thought he was getting a great deal but it turned out he was getting a car that could only get itself sold as part of a highly discounted fleet purchase. But, after procrastinating too long he was stuck with it. He bitched and moaned about his "Walmart" car. My advice to him, if he planned to keep the car, was this: Take it to a car wash and wash it thoroughly. Then, dry it off and wax it till it gleams. He did this and was able to bond to the car well enough to keep it around for the next two years. The car met its demise when my friend braked hard, from Texas Highway speed, to avoid hitting an armadillo crossing the road in the middle of the night... The car flipped twice, left the highway and came to a stand still, upside down, in the middle of a cactus-y field. My friend unbuckled his seat belt and walked away without a scratch. 

He was thrilled. Now he would be able to buy the car he really wanted. 

When I find myself ready to sell a camera and my friends point out to me all the reasons why I should not, I think of my advice to my friend. The analogy in the camera world is to join the unappreciated camera to a favorite lens and then go out and shoot with the combo until you like it again. 

That's what I did today with the Sony A7R2. It's a camera I've used sporadically for video and for photo assignments that benefit from big, big, big raw files. But for the past year and a half in which I've owned this camera I've found myself reaching for its less detailed sibling, the A7ii nearly every time I shoot a portrait and I've spent much more time shooting video with the RX10s, the a6300 and the fz2500. Even in the theater I've come to appreciate the features of smaller cameras with bigger lenses more. 

Part of my reticence always revolved around the awkward price-to-usability ratio that existed when I dropped $3200 on it, new. I didn't want to "use it up" on smaller projects or in circumstances where any other camera would do just as well. I kept "saving" it for those sporadic projects that needed all the gusto a digital camera could muster. It's just that the projects were sparser and more widely paced than I anticipated at the time of purchase.

In retrospect, I should have been using it for everything; every project in which it was even remotely called for. The sensor is great, the format is great and, when used in concert with three hand picked lenses, the performance is stunning. The heck with trying to prove to the world the efficacy of using smaller, less specified cameras all the time...

So, that was my mindset today as I headed out the door. 

I've changed my routine to compensate for the wicked hot Summer we're having. While we won't break any records (hope springs eternals) for actual temperature readings the combination of high temperatures (over 100 each day) and the high humidity this season makes for a deadly combination; if you aren't careful.

I used to just grab camera and lens, my good hat and my car keys and head out the door. I carry a credit card with me for coffee or some unforeseen purchase but that's it. Today was different. I grabbed a small, brown leather backpack I'd picked up in the Geneva, Switzerland airport back in 1995 and I put some newly considered essentials in. The main reason for the backpack addition (it's small, really...) was to make carrying my 16 ounce, double-walled, stainless steel water bottle easy and convenient. I loaded the water bottle up with ice, water and a hydration tablet (Nuuns; lemon lime) so I could hydrate if I felt the need. I tossed in a notebook and a pen in case I had a fleeting inspirational idea (none to report) and I tossed in the house keys, a couple of extra camera batteries, a cloth handkerchief, some sunscreen and a couple hundred dollars in small denominations. 

I joined the Sony A7Rii to the Zeiss 24-70mm f4.0 and headed downtown. I think it takes some training to discipline your mind to pay attention to camera work when it's uncomfortable outside. Direct sun and high temperatures drains one's energy quickly and it takes some work to stay on task and to ignore the discomfort. I guess the trick is to be able to gauge dangerous discomfort from just basic wimpiness. 

It's one thing to be hot and tired but a whole other thing to be disoriented, slightly nauseous, light-headed, dizzy or worse. You want to make sure you plan to stay out of the bracket in which these symptoms exist. Nothing on a casual walk is worth heat exhaustion or sunstroke. 

I parked the car in the old Whole Foods parking garage where I know I can leave the car for three hours without having to pay or worry about being towed. I love having the car inside a parking garage because when I return after a long, hot walk I know the car will be hospitable.  I pulled the leather straps on the backpack over my shoulders and headed down Lamar Blvd. to see what was happening at the graffiti wall.

I pulled out all the stops with my camera and lens. I set the camera to shoot uncompressed (enormous) raw files and set the lens to somewhere between f5.6 and f8.0 where I knew it was superbly sharp and vignette free. I worked on my stance and my camera hold. I worked on my slow release of breath when actuating the shutter and I worked without too much regard for the heat and glare to find compositions I liked. I kept the zebras engaged even though I was shooting in aperture priority just so I could see where the highlights started screaming. I notice when shooting in big raw that the EVF will show me a review image quickly and then, if I continue to watch it, the review image gets a bit sharper and more saturated a second or two later. It's as though the camera is taking time to process the file and write the embedded Jpeg that it will present. 

As I write this I'm sitting in my office and the air conditioning is cranking. I'm slowly draining a big glass of iced tea while I'm playing with the eighteen files I edited down to from today's walk. You don't have the benefit of seeing them the way I am right now so I'll write a bit of observational description so you can see beyond the compressed files I'm presenting here and understand the value of the A7Rii. 

When I look at a file on my monitor I am already happy enough with what I see but then I click into 100% and realize just how much detail is resident in the files. In the photograph above I can zoom in to 100% and see every hair on the young woman's head clearly defined. I can see the woven texture of her companion's t-shirt. In frames were I've under exposed to preserve all highlights (no blinking zebras anywhere) I can pull up the shadow areas as much as I want without any appearance of noise or color shift. Even in frames with the zebras blinking at 105% I can pull the exposure slider down and recover all the detail in the highlight areas. 

After nearly two hours of shooting the Wall, the Capitol, Congress Ave. etc. I finally got really comfortable with the camera and realized that I wasn't going to break it or use it up all at once. I could concentrate on little tactile features I found I liked. I found my fingers feeling the gentle curve of the body on the left side of the body. I got comfortable using the front dial to move the exposure compensation up or down. It became a transparent operation. 

Left to its own devices the camera will usually underexposure contrasty scenes by a third to two thirds of a stop so most of my compensation was to the plus side. That might bug me on another camera but with the wide latitude of this camera's files, especially at the lowest end of the ISO range, I saw it as part of a comprehensive tool set that works together to maximize the strong points of the system. Being able to accurately reproduce the brightest highlights along with capacity for almost unlimited shadow recovery. It's a pretty amazing thing. It reminded me of the freedom I used to have when I was shooting events with ISO 400 color negative films like Kodak's Pro line of color negative films make for press work. The lab could do miraculous things with those frames....

I finished off the water in the bottle in four separate stops. Near the end of the walk I went into the Royal Blue Grocery at the Austin 360 tower for coffee and one of their scrumptious walnut and chocolate chip cookies. Why coffee on a 100+ degree day? Because (par for central Texas) when the temperatures rise outside Texans seem to love dropping the temperatures inside. It must have been 60 degrees in the Royal Blue Grocery today. With the rapidly evaporating sweat from my clothes it's kind of a miracle I didn't get hypothermia. When I got back to the car it was perfect inside.

I'd accomplished what I set out to do. I took the final mystique and hesitancy out of the A7Rii and figured out its place in my hierarchy of cameras. It's fabulous and perfect for narrow depth of field, for times when I need technical perfection (not as frequently as you might think) and when I want to shoot in the same fashion and with the same disregard for operational awareness that I could get away with when shooting the old film cameras loaded with color negative films. 

I love the lens. Anyone who has every written a review dissing this lens (Sony / Zeiss 24-70mm f4.0) is just plain wrong. It's superb. Perfect. Balanced. Neutral. And there's nothing wrong with the corners if you are coupling it with a 42 megapixel sensor. 

Nice to bond with a lens over some fun photos and a disciplined approach to working in the heat of the day. I'm happy it's still here. 






8.18.2017

I'm bored with Summer. That's dangerous. Too much time means bad equipment decisions.


Self portrait.

I think everyone has a few screws loose, if you look hard enough, or long enough. I know what one of my main hiccups is; I love change. Even if it doesn't make sense I still love change. Every once in a while I catch myself. About a week and a half ago I bought a Panasonic GH5 and the Olympus 12-100mm f4.0 Pro lens. I immediately used the combo for a paying gig and loved it. The camera feels pretty perfect in my hands and those crafty engineers seem to have put all the buttons exactly where they thought I'd go looking for them. But the real shot of espresso shot in my experience with the camera and lens combo was just how nearly perfect the lens turned out to be. This of course whetted my appetite for more Olympus Pro lenses. Many more Olympus lenses. 

I wasn't nearly busy enough last week to stave off boredom of the most pernicious kind. Sure, I had another Philip Kerr novel languishing next to my reading chair, and I had a few lunches with clients lined up but it's August in Austin and that means everyone is doing everything in their power to avoid dealing with the relentless heat. Everything slows down. Business slows down. Socializing slows down. Naps get longer....

Like many of you I gravitate toward a path of least resistance. For me, last week, it meant cruising all over the web looking for anecdotal evidence to support my contention that owning as many of the Pro series Olympus lenses as I could gather up would irrevocably result in me becoming the world's greatest photographer and videographer. Then yesterday I went to the Blanton Museum and saw an amazing three screen, video/multi-media exhibit called, "GIANT" by Teresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler. The video presentation and the accompanying audio was amazing (if you're in Austin you MUST go). I walked out of the museum after seeing the presentation three times, newly convinced that I would spend the rest of my life trying to do video art like the work I'd just seen. 

By the time I got home I (and boredom) had convinced myself that the way forward, at least for now, would be to buy a second GH5 (the two camera angle set-up) along with the 7-14mm 2.8 Pro lens, the 25mm f1.2 Pro lens and maybe also the 42.5 Nocticron --- just for good measure. An easy way to finesse the whole deal in less than 24 hours would be to take my Sony gear to my local camera store and trade it in on the whole ball of Panasonic/Olympus wax. 

After swim practice this morning I came home and packed every vestige of Sony product up in a big hold all and headed to the camera store. I had previously arranged to meet my friend and video mentor, Frank, for coffee on the way to my own private Shop-A-maggedon. So I joined him and filled him in on my new plan for personal photo and video domination. He asked a few pointed questions and then smiled and laughed and said something along the lines that this would be the 8th big system switch I'd undertaken since he's known me and it hasn't changed my style much at all, anywhere along the line....

In my gear-addled state I took that all to mean that he massively approved of my basic camera logic and wished me godspeed to the camera shop. But a funny thing happened as I drove away and the coffee kicked in; I started thinking with some basic logic for the first time this week, about the whole idea of yet another massive equipment turnover.

If I thought about it rationally my reason for buying the GH5 and the 12-100mm was to make better video. When I drilled down into the lode of logic so recently surfaced I realized that the 12-100mm was enticing specifically because it held the promise of being an "everything" lens (and a damn good one). From the widest focal length I am normally comfortable using to the longest. All in one package. With great performance at every stop and every focal length. All the other "Pro" lenses I was considering were desires motivated by that hoary hold over from the film days: covering all the focal lengths. They weren't lenses that would necessarily get much use...

When I looked into the bag full of Sony stuff I started matching up memories of past successful jobs and stellar shots done with the individual cameras and lenses and I realized I'd be decreasing my shooting and creative options, not increasing usefulness. 

The two lenses that punched me in the face and stopped me in my tracks were the Sony 70-200mm f4.0 (which ends up being my default headshot lens) and my very recently added 85mm f1.8 FE lens which has quickly endeared itself to me as one of the fabulous portrait lenses whose eloquent performance I've had the pleasure of knowing. I had less regard for the 28mm f2.0 FE but mostly because I'm indifferent to the actual focal length. I'm stone cold neutral about the 24-70mm f4.0 Zeiss lens but mostly because I see it a very utilitarian tool. Not a glamorous formulation. A workhorse but not a diva.

I was halfway to the store by the time I realized that my impulsiveness had nearly cost me one really good and useful system while trying to hypnotize me into believing (once again) that new gear would yield entirely new outcomes for my engagement with my craft. I took a deep breath and realized that I liked my Sony stuff. A lot. And I've had two years in which to get used to it. That's almost a record for me in the realm of digital camera systems and I thought to extend the record instead of crashing and burning. 

So, Frank, if you are out there reading this: I got halfway there and turned around. I might add a few bits and pieces to the Panasonic stuff I've recently acquired but you were right when you (pointedly) asked if I might not miss having the full frame stuff. I know my rationale was glib but, HEY! I used to be an advertising copywriter. If I can't figure out a sellable rationale for buying something then I will have totally lost my advertising touch.

So, this afternoon I pulled out the Sony A7Rii, pried the battery grip off the bottom and stuck in a freshly charged battery. I put the 28mm f2.0 on the front and tasked myself with the responsibility of getting to at least know that much maligned and ignored focal length. It was hot and humid in Austin this afternoon but the camera and lens were balanced, trim and almost dainty. Much less of a burden than the GH5 and the 12/100mm lens. 

I didn't shoot much but I did come to understand (yet again) that it's okay not to do everything in an "all or nothing" manner. 

Now I have the luxury of two groovy systems. What a nice problem.


Not a literal self portrait.

8.16.2017

I bought a new light for my location kit. I thought you'd want to know about it.

Neewer Vision Four with Radio Trigger. $279.

In the distant past I owned two different flash systems that were designed from the ground up to be used on location and powered by batteries. Both were pack and head systems and both were cumbersome but very useful. I owned the Profoto B600 power pack and head as well as the Elinchrom Rangers RX AS power pack and two heads. Both were older tech. They used sealed lead acid batteries for power and as you can imagine they were both heavy. The Profoto was 600 watt seconds and a nice little system but the batteries only provided between 80 and 120 full power flashes, depending on the ambient temperatures. I had to carry a bunch of heavy and expensive batteries with me to get through a day of shooting. Recharging the batteries took five hours and each replacement battery was about $250 plus shipping. The current Profoto system, with newer battery tech, is well over $2,000.

The second light was my super heavy duty system from Elinchrom. The Ranger RX AS pack and head could belt out 1100 watt seconds at full power and a single (very heavy) battery could pump out about 250 full power flashes before it needed recharged or swapped out for the second ten pound ballast I hauled around as a back up. The pack with battery weighed in at 18+ pounds and, yes, I've carried the system over rough terrain for miles, at times. Not a pleasant way to roll. 

As styles changed and the jobs that required massive amounts of battery fueled flash power declined I sold both of the units and was happy to

Two more weeks and the kid goes back for his last year as an undergrad.

A much younger Ben.

I've come to see the last weeks of August as bittersweet. We love having Ben at home for Summer vacation but when the calendar starts to slip into the second half of August I know that I'll only have a couple more weeks to enjoy his company before he heads back to school. This is his senior year. His academic achievement has been just what we expected it would be. I have a row of Dean's List Honors certificates which he has earned each semester hanging across the wall behind my desk. His excellent performance led him to the stint at S. Korea's prestigious Yonsei University last semester. 

I thought we'd struggle to make all these experiences work out financially but every step has been manageable and his commitment and discipline makes the investment rewarding.

In the first week of September he'll pack his rolling duffle bags and head back up to Saratoga Springs, NY. He's looking forward to cooler weather, rolling hills, and the camaraderie of a bright and engaging group of fellow students.

Someone asked him a week or two ago, when he was assisting me on a video project, if he was planning to follow in my footsteps as far as business was concerned. He smiled and shook his head. I think he realizes that the markets have changed, flattened, whatever and he's interested in so many other things. Too bad; he's a great director.

Ah well. I'll miss the runs around the lake with him in the Summer heat. His mom and I will miss his dry wit at the dinner table. But the family member I feel the most sympathy for is Studio Dog; she will miss him with the kind of intensity only a loyal and totally imprinted dog can feel.

I see more time with Studio Dog in the near future. I'd better stock up the treat jar...

8.15.2017

Client applies reality to thoughts of camera system change.

Good enough for any scenario? Hmmmmm.

I'm in the honeymoon period with my Panasonic GH5. The camera is shiny and new and all the little stuff like the EVF and the dials seem so just right. After shooting the first thousand photos with the camera I started to entertain the idea of taking my vast collection of Sony cameras out to the camera store and trading them in on a total immersion into the micro four thirds system. I'd get a second GH5 body for those seamless two camera shots. Toss in a bunch of cool, new lenses like the 8-18mm Pro lens and the 42.5mm Nocticron. Add the 25mm f1.2 from Olympus and maybe even spring for the 100-400mm Panasonic. I keep talking about the transition to video. In my fevered mind it was starting to make so much sense. 

Then I went to a meeting with one of my long term, medical practice clients and we started talking about Fall projects. Video came up but one of the partners in the group is hesitant to use video. What they do love using is photography. Lots and lots of photography. And when they use it they seem to embrace the idea that bigger is always better. 

One of the images that we'll be re-doing this Fall is a group shot of the doctors on the plaza of the Long Center with the downtown skyline in the background. The last time we shot this particular shot we had fourteen doctors in the the line up and shot them with lots of space around them and an ample amount to dramatic skyline in the background. They made lots of fun, large 30x40 inch prints. They made a large banner with the shot. Essentially, anything they could think of that would challenge the limits of resolution and detail was fair game. 

I went back and researched to see what camera I was using at the time. It was a Nikon D810. So that sets the bar for future shoots. What it really means to me is that the Sony cameras; and the A7Rii in particular, aren't going anywhere. There's always a need in the tool box for sheer, overwhelming detail for some shots and that line of thought extinguished my brief flirtation with crazy system change at this time. 

Thank goodness we have clients around to keep us sane.

OT: Thoughts about swimming this Fall.

2007 Master's Nationals. Austin, Texas.

On the first of October the pool I've been swimming Master's workouts in for the last twenty years will be closing for much needed repair and renovation. The expectation is that the pool will be out of commission until the end of January (at the earliest). This means that everyone on our swim team will need to figure out a new, temporary home at which to swim. Not working out at least five days a week is not an option for the majority of us. 

As the closure date approaches I'm busy researching options. The obvious one is my alma mater, The University of Texas at Austin, Jamail Swim Center. My friend, Whitney Hedgepeth (Olympian: Backstroke: Two silver medals; one gold) coaches an extremely competitive Masters workout in the big pool there. It's a tough program with tons of no nonsense yardage and tight intervals. There are two drawbacks to swimming at the Longhorn's pool; the first is that it's indoors and I'm used to swimming under blue sky. The second problem is that workouts start at 6 a.m. An additional annoyance would be trying to find parking on a busy campus with nearly 50,000 students plus faculty and staff...

My next choice is the Austin Swim Club run by Brendan Hanson (Six time Olympic medalist who set world records in the 100 and 200 breaststroke). The pool is outdoors and 50 meters, long course. It's about equidistant from my house/studio and there's no indication that parking is ever problematic. Brendan has a reputation as being a demanding coach with tough workouts. Some of the swimmers from our program are negotiating to get a new workout time from this club at 7:30 am. That means my trip there would be against the commuter traffic and by 9 am,  the end of workout, the worst of the rush hour  traffic heading back would be over. 

The final choice would be to swim each day at the spring fed, 1/8th mile long natural pool, Barton Springs Pool. There would be no Masters program to swim with, no pace clock and no lane lines. I would  have to be very disciplined to hit the 68 degree water before first light each morning and push myself to get a really substantial workout done. Barton Springs pool is closed on Thursdays and, when the weather is bad. You have to get there before 7 am if you want a clear path to swim down because the pool starts to get moderately crowded as the light comes up. Not as big an issue in the dead of winter when the temperatures drop....

I'm leaning toward option two. We'll see as we get closer. Might not seem like a big deal to most readers but it's a huge shift for me. I've spent six or seven hours a week, over the last twenty years, swimming up and down the same two lanes, looking at the same black line at the bottom of the pool. I think I could blindfold myself and still hit my turns from muscle memory. Like most people I fear change. 

Not a good time to also think about changing camera systems..... too much change would be overwhelming.

8.14.2017

Pushing off the wall in a nice streamline and gliding through the water is the closest most humans will ever come to the sensation of flying.


Testing the Panasonic FZ2500 at ISO 80. Supposedly the extended ISO limits dynamic range. Is that true?

OOC Jpeg with camera set to Vivid and ISO 80

I needed a walk yesterday. I'd heard the news about Charlottesville and I was disturbed that Nazism and racism reared its ugly, nasty head once again; and in such an obvious and hate filled way. I know some readers think we should only talk about photography here but hatred spreads when normal, middle class people like me choose to "duck and cover" for comfort instead of at least making the public statement that racism and Nazism is unacceptable and has no place in our society. Even less so when used as a tool by political opportunists on the far right. If you disagree then feel free to click away and never come back... 

At any rate, I decided to get away from my computer and my phone and just walk with a camera. I recently saw a YouTube video by Tony Northrup making the case that extended low ISOs were not the bad compromise that many technical photography writers have suggested over the years. He backed up his words with tests and examples and it made me curious to see what files from the Panasonic FZ2500, which has extended ISO range to 80, might look like. Would we see a flattening of the contrast or a diminution of dynamic range? Or something else? 

On nearly every other aspect of the camera I have made my peace, figured out the best ways in which to use the camera and have come to really, really like both the raw and Jpeg files I get from it. I've also discovered that the wide ranging lens is close to equalling the lens on the Sony RX10iii when proper focus is achieved. My little foray into lower ISOs would not change my overall opinion of the camera but a great performance at lower ISOs would be yet another tool in its growing tool kit. 

In looking at the finished files later in the evening, yesterday, I noticed that the skies and flat color areas were mostly noise free. No fine pattern graininess or noise. The obvious use for lower ISOs would be in video where one is working with 24 fps set ups with the shutter speed set to 1/50th. If wider apertures are called for the recourse is either to use the lowest ISO possible or depend on neutral density filters. Too bad the extended ISOs are not available in video so the lowest ISO there is 125. 

After carefully inspecting the files I would say that the lower ISO use case for best image quality would be to use the camera on a tripod, use f5.6 for optimum sharpness (pretty much anywhere in the focal length range) and then find the shutter speed that works best in combination with ISO 80. It was a bit of a revelation for me to see just how sharp the files could be. A final suggestion for ultimate sharpness at lowest ISO would be to turn down the noise reduction within your picture profile. A minus two step or three step setting in noise reduction is just about right for increasing very fine detail without introducing any noise that would be visible in normal use or at normal viewing distances. If your life is spent pixel peeping at 200% then all bets are off. 






The second part of my investigation with the FZ 2500 was to ascertain just how sharp that sometimes maligned lens is; especially when used in a normal, handheld fashion (apologies to people who live in the UK and profess to never seeing sunlight --- this is the bright stuff I live with....). The images below are mostly shot at ISO 125 and ISO 200 because I wanted shutter speeds that would allow good, handheld exposures with sharpness.  The image from Bill's Blacksmith shop is near the longest end of the lens. But the coffee sign painted on the side of the parking garage below ranges from the widest end to the longest end. 

While it may not be apparent in the web compressed images here the sharpness at all focal lengths (mostly shot at f5.6) is very, very good. On par with many of the lens and camera combinations with bigger sensor sizes that I've used in the past. 









Got brick walls if you want them..


As I've noted before, the FZ2500 is a very good still photography camera for many uses. Its one weak spot is high ISO performance. That's a trade off between its sensor size, cost and flexibility. When you add in the amazingly good video performance of the camera it's one on the best bargains on the market today.

Finally, I don't care which political party you affiliate yourself with, hateful racism and any embrace of Nazi ideas is always wrong and we should all stand up against any incursion of this into our society.

8.12.2017

OT: Choppy Swim Practice Today. Maybe I had too much on my mind.

Paradise. 

Some days it's just hard for me to make up my mind. Do I want to hop in one of the lanes on the right hand side of the center of the pool and struggle to keep up with the faster swimmers or do I want to jump into a crowded lane with swimmers who are more or less in line with my speed and endurance? I was one of the first people on deck this morning and jumped into lane four; right in the middle. Lane three filled up with the people I usually swim with but my lane today, the pivotal lane between fast and not so fast, stayed lonely until after warmup.

Then I noticed a bunch of faster swimmers arriving late. Couldn't justify using up a whole lane for myself and I know I can be hard to categorize. Too fast for some lanes and not fast enough for others. I had effectively pushed all the slower swimmers into the first three lanes and had effectively pushed all the faster swimmers into the far three lanes. I decided to abdicate the middle lane and alleviate the crowding in lanes 5 & 6.

But the conundrum was "where to go?" My usual lane, #3, was filled with four swimmers. The swimmers in lane 2 were too slow for my usual pace and I didn't want to disrupt them. I looked at lane 1, which is usually the slowest lane and there seemed to be no one there. I grabbed my gear and headed over. I could pace with my buddies in lane three but, apparently, have an entire lane to myself again.

At least that's the way it looked until Tommy Hannan jumped in. He'd been swimming in lane 1 since warmup but had gotten out to answer nature's call. (Thanks for not peeing in my lane....). He offered to swim on whatever interval might work for me. There's something intimidating about circle swimming with an Olympic gold medalist. He moved through the water like a shark. A fast shark. I was happy to know that he'd tolerate and compensate for me in his lane but, after fifteen anxious minutes of swimming hard, I decided to move again.

In the end I wound up swimming in a total of four lanes today and could never find just the right mix. I stayed for a bit of the second workout just to get enough yards in. Strange to swim on those days when you just can't figure out where you fit in. And tomorrow will be totally different. I blame too much thinking about lenses and not enough thinking about swimming. That's easy to fix --- I'll just shred my checkbook.

I shot a photography assignment with the Olympus 12-100mm and the GH5 yesterday. Here are a few random observations.


A client I'd done work for ten years ago called me a few weeks back and asked if I could do a photo shoot to replace the images on their website that had been there for over a decade (now that's how to get your money's worth out of a photographer!). When we did the original website it was cool just to have a well designed site and basically the photography was little more than a documentation to prove that the staff existed and that the firm actually had physical offices. Nothing fancy to the photography.

Now so much water has flowed beneath the bridges that photography for a website is a different conversation. The firm still has a central office but it's more of a way station. Most of the executives are working from home or from small, single person, satellite offices that are close to their homes. The client's thoughts about websites have changed as well. Rather than have individual headshots against anonymous backgrounds they wanted to do something much more casual and almost conversational with their people photography. Their business is still a "people" business and they want their people to be visible but they want to be seen as approachable, likable and congenial. Also important was to show their cohesiveness as a team.

I like their out of the box thinking. They asked me (as the assignment) to join their six person executive leadership team for lunch at a new restaurant and to shoot  candid images of them at lunch as they talked and laughed and shared a meal together. The client checked with the restaurant and made sure it was okay with them to have me shooting, almost randomly, in their main dining room during a busy lunch. This being Austin, Texas, home of the very idea of laid back, it was no problem.

The restaurant is near downtown and is in a re-purposed power plant facility. It's very cool. There were a couple stories of glass windows and all the furnishings were spare and modern. We wouldn't be lighting anything but I had full license to be as intrusive and