1.24.2021

A palette cleanser; just a series of examples from an old, legacy lens that was much, much better than I expected it to be on a digital camera.

mirror-photo-therapy. A Carl Zeiss Y/C 28mm Distagon f2.8 on a
Sigma fp with accessory loupe.

It's no secret that in the film days Carl Zeiss teamed up with Japanese camera maker, Yashica, to bring out a line of cameras under the Contax brand. Zeiss designed, and for a time actually built a number of the lenses in the line-up in Germany. Most of the later lenses, still designed by Zeiss, were built under license in Japan. 

The cameras were very nice but the lenses, according to reviewers of the day, were aimed to be competitors not for Canon and Nikon but for Leica. I shot with Contax cameras for a while in the late 1980's and early 1990's before moving on to a different system. I can't remember ever being displeased with any of the Carl Zeiss lenses and there are a few that made a big impact on me at the time. 

Even though I rarely reach for wider angle lenses I recall being suitably impressed every time I worked with the 28mm f2.8 lens so when one came on the market recently, at a very comfortable price, I took a break from my heedless pursuit of status signaling cameras and lenses to buy it. If you plan to use a Contax Y/C on a current mirrorless camera you'll need a lens adapter. I planned to use the lens with an L-mount body and as luck would have it I already had the required adapter attached to a Carl Zeiss Y/C 50mm f1.7 Planar; also a very pleasant lens. Since I seem to be attracting more and more of the Carl Zeiss Y/C (Yashica/Contax) lenses I went ahead and ordered a second adapter from a company called Fotasy. The adapter was a bargain at $14.95.

Keep in mind that these are "dumb" adapters that don't transmit any information between lens and camera. You'll either be working manually or in aperture priority mode, and since the lenses were originally built as manual focusing lenses you'll find that no miracles have happened in the ensuing 30 years; they remain manual focusing lenses. 

These lenses were built to a very high standard, mechanically, so you'll find the focusing rings to be smooth and not-too-easy-not-too-hard to turn and focus. The external aperture rings also have a "just right" feeling to them. The 28mm, 50mm and 135mm lenses all have the same 55mm filter diameter and yes, the filter mount is metal. 

Austin has been blanketed by fog all day long and when I woke up and looked out the window my first thought was, "Oh Boy! Everything looks cool on foggy days. Let's get out there."  It seems like any excuse for a good, long walk is a good excuse.

After my long, introspective article on Friday I felt the need just to kick back and not make any big waves today. I just wanted to do basic photo stuff and have fun out there. With that in mind I attached the 28mm lens+adapter to a Sigma fp, put the rear finder loupe onto the fp and headed toward my favorite downtown route. I had two goals in mind: I wanted to get some exercise and I wanted to see how different everything looked in the fog. Another side goal was to see how well I get along with the 28mm focal length. It's been a while since I owned a 28mm prime.

The camera was set to fine Jpeg and aperture preferred exposure. I engaged the auto ISO and set the WB to the cute little icon that means "cloudy." What I quickly re-discovered with the 28mm focal length is that the depth of field is big and wide. Unlike most modern lenses this one includes a depth of field scale actually engraved on the lens barrel. A bit of trial and error showed me that I could depend on a combination of the d-o-f scale and focus peaking for everything but the closest object focusing. 

Since I wanted to see what the lens was capable of through its most used aperture range I shot some images at f2.8, more at f5.6 and a good number at f8.0. Mostly because those are the f-stops I find myself using with wide angle lenses most often. If I were constrained to use just one aperture setting it would be f5.6.

What did I learn? Well, I'll start by saying the lens is more than adequately sharp for the way I used it today. The camera was set for a 7:6 aspect ratio so I wasn't giving the corners any hard lifting. Within the boundaries the camera and I set the lens was pretty much perfect and had very low vignetting. I'm almost certain the corners would not have been as pretty had I been shooting across a whole 3:2 frame. But the other part of that question is: would it even matter/

The color rendering of the lens is accurate and neutral and the contrast of the lens is a bit higher than most of its contemporaries. All in all it's a great lens to shoot with. I also found that the 28mm focal length felt more natural to me than the 35mm focal length. Certainly just a personal opinion but it did feel easier to compose with the 28mm. Of course, you could argue that with the reduced aspect ratio of the frame I probably was shooting the equivalent of a 35mm lens but there we are. I've attached a caption to a few of the images but not to all of them. Remember to click on them if you want to see them bigger. I uploaded them at 3298 pixels on the long side but God only knows what Blogger will do to them in the upload process.

I also bought a used 135mm f2.8 Carl Zeiss Y/C Sonnar but I haven't played with that one yet. I owned a copy back in 1994 which I took with me to make photos at a Paris fashion show. It certainly seemed good enough back then. I guess we'll see in the next few days how this one acquisition stands up in the digital age. 


There is a group of volunteers who maintain raised gardens of flowering plants 
along the sides of the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge. Even in the dead of winter
the flowers are there to make walking across even more pleasant. 
The main focus is on the rose just to the left of center frame. 
Please remember that I was shooting in dense fog...


This giant, communal picnic table is a permanent fixture on the east end of the dog park
just North of Lady Bird Lake, adjacent to the Seaholm Center. 
People often have birthday parties and other celebrations here. 




f8 and be there. The 28mm does a good job with details.



The view across the Butterfly Bridge. Looking into downtown.




Different every time I pass by. 

curved mirror/parking garage studio #8.



Reviewers often mentioned that this lens was not as sharp or contrasty when 
used for close ups. This image was taken about a foot or 13 inches from the closer 
doll. I find it nicely sharp. When I look at 100 percent the doll's eyelashes are
rendered with exquisite sharpness. Maybe reviewers back in the last century 
were much tougher. 



It's so strange. I could have sworn I walked this route within the last week
and the mural just above (and below) did not exist. There had been a big, yellow all there 
for about a year. Now, all of a sudden, a new mural. The people you see in the frame 
were not added for scale they are actually some of the people who did the painting.
They've come by to see what more needs to be done. 
As you know, I am a fan of mural art and art in public places. 





another ultra close shot with the lens set to f4.0. 





 I learned to shoot reflections in puddles by watching Chris Nichols when 
he and Jordon Drake were doing equipment review videos for The Camera Store.

Everywhere I looked in downtown this morning people were either coming to or 
going home from yoga classes. It's a full on mania.





 I should note that I really like the way files come out of the Sigma fp. Even if they are just Jpegs. 

1.22.2021

Communal delusion, evolution, and relentless personal branding. Or....why I/we constantly want to buy new cameras. A look at desire.


One of my long time readers and commenters posited a question yesterday (Thank You!) after I admitted to my irrational lust for a nice, shiny, new Leica SL2. He asked, and I am paraphrasing, what exactly is it that compels you to buy new cameras when you rationally understand that there is little or no real obvious benefit to making yet another purchase? In fact, when the opportunity cost of spending the money might, in fact, be detrimental to my overall financial condition.

I thought of tossing off a witty reply to show-off to my audience just how glib and cavalier I could be but the question sank into my consciousness and I decided to take a breath or two and try to understand better just what it is that obviously compels me to buy new cameras and lens time and time again even though I have a certain, median mastery, and familiarity with the tools I already own. It would be so easy to explain if the problem was reduced down to the logical nuts and bolts. If the goal of our camera buying was really just to be able to make photographs that reflect how we think a photograph should end up looking it would seem as simple as a little math. 

The reader's query was an opportunity, or a push, to make me come to grips with just what I'm trying to accomplish by "churning" through camera after camera in the pursuit of something I hadn't dug deeply into. Probably because I fear the end result is that I'll be embarrassed and ashamed at the simplicity of the answer, and the implications of my compulsion. But I think a behavior unexamined is more dangerous than the psychic cost of coming to terms with reality; and with the understanding that reality might be contextual.

With all this in mind I re-read an academic book on why we desire things by William B. Irvine. It's a book that's a popular, modern tome for college philosophy classes and it covers the topic of desire from evolutionary biology to religion to the basis of human inter-relations. 

In one sense, everything we experience at the most basic level of desire stems from our evolution. From solely reactive organisms to fully sentient beings. So I'll start with that. 

From the book, "On Desire.  Why we want what we want." by William B. Irvine:

"When we humans later came on the scene, we carried with us a few billion years' worth of evolutionary baggage. We possess a highly advanced ability to desire; indeed, thanks to our reasoning ability, we can form elaborate plans to get what we want. But because of our evolutionary past, we find ourselves wanting certain things. Having sex, eating ice cream, and winning the admiration of others all make us feel good, and so we want to do these things. It isn't that we want to want to do them; the problem is that doing them feels good, whether we want it or not, and is therefore intrinsically desirable to us. If our evolutionary past had been different, what we find to be desirable would probably be different as well, and as a result we would tend to form different desires than we do. 

    If our goal, then, is to figure out why we want what we want, we would do well to take a look at our evolutionary past. 

So, our evolution compels us to take actions to ensure our survival and continuation. We need to eat, avoid disease, and procreate with healthy mates. As societies become more complex and our human existence more interwoven and independent on others, our survival and reproductive tactics become more complex and more external to our own basic planning. We now have to compete more competently with others for the benefits and rewards of existence. We feel evolutionarily compelled to constantly evidence some sort of superiority to those around us in order to ascend a social hierarchy that gives us greater opportunity for continuing evolutionary success. We can't control others but we can control how we appear to others in order to attract this success. This means we feel we have to care about how others see us so we have to be diligent about creating a public construct of ourselves that other find...interesting and desirable. Self-branding.

Levine also writes: 

    "Because we care very deeply about what other people think of us, we go to considerable trouble and expense to create and project a certain image of ourselves. Thus, according to La Rochefoucauld, "in every walk of life each man puts on a personality and outward appearance so as to look what he wants to be thought: in fact you might say that society is entirely made up of assumed personalities." The image we project however, will typically be quite unlike the "real" us: in  the words of Schopenhauer, "A man can be himself only for as long as he is alone; aid if he does not love solitude, he will not love freedom; for it is only when he is alone that he is really free.""

He continues: 

    "We take great care in constructing this false image of ourselves. In conversations we are careful what we do and don't reveal to others. We might tell someone that we just bought a car, but we withhold the information that we had to borrow from our parents to make the down payment and that lately we have been receiving dunning notices from our creditors. We might tell someone abut the award-winning novel we just finished reading but not about our ongoing addiction to a certain soap opera. We try to project an image of happiness even if we are miserable."

Status, and status signaling, is part of an evolutionary strategy which attempts to attract the best mates and also to willingly surround each other with associates (tribal community?) that help ensure our physical and existential survival. Just ask any male peacock. 

In effect, each of us is, at some level, hard wired to create and foster an image of ourselves for an exterior audience which presents us as successful and leads other people to think that by allying with us they will be able to benefit for themselves from association. This gives us a tribe or community. Part of the building of that status is to show off totems or symbols of success and power. For investments bankers this might include acquiring and bragging about lavish mansions. In almost every demographic strata in my country the most mobile and easily presentable status symbol of wealth and position has long been a car. The model and vintage of the car, and the easy to discern price strata are elemental in defining the rewards of society to the owner that the car represents. 

Another symbol of success might be fine watches or really nicely tailored clothing. The strength of the symbol is very particular to the group in which it is presented. In fact, the more exclusive the group to which one aspires the more niche and nuanced the symbols become. At some point it's not enough just to be able to afford an object or symbol, one has to know which products represent the most value to a particular cohort.

Among photographers there is the same hierarchical pattern by which we subconsciously, or even consciously, use to try to broadcast to our group our level of achievement and the beneficial rewards thereof. While most photographers can (and have done) very good work with very basic, plastic and inexpensive cameras (think: Canon Rebel, non- iPhone phone, point-and-shoot) there is a culturally enforced hierarchy that is persistently presented as "proof" of the owner's position and mastery within the hierarchy.  

For street photographers an entry level camera might be any....entry level camera. Currently most cameras make successful images.  As the desire for positive differentiation grows the kind of camera used becomes a symbol of a person's mastery of the concepts in play that kind of photography. Our communal delusion, created by the advertising of past masters' predilections and preferences for certain kinds of cameras, informs us that small, discreet, rangefinder style cameras are the way to go. We end up buying a camera like a Fuji X-100V because it is affordable but at the same time its implied complexity signals mastery of craft and a step up the ladder of conferred status within a very specific demographic niche. This is aided in no small way by Fujifilm's very informed advertising which serves to create a mythology about the very nature of "street photography" in which "rebels" re-imagine  imaging in a way that creates an effective subculture of fans.

In addition, being able to buy a speciality camera instead of one that can do a bit of everything fairly competently is an obvious signaling that the owners are more affluent. Otherwise they would more logically buy cameras with interchangeable lenses and other features.

Once that step up is achieved the marketplace, and our group belief is that the "actual" ultimate camera for shooting "our" kind of photography is the more prestigious interpretation of the rangefinder style camera; an actual rangefinder camera. Once people progress to the Fuji X100V and use it for a while they are likely to explore the lore of street photography and documentary photography which Fuji suggests is the primary reason for the design and very existence of their camera. However, when digging into the lore about these kinds of cameras one soon discovers that a different and more expensive camera signals an even higher level of success and mastery. 

That would be the Leica M series rangefinder camera. It immediately signals that the owner is financially successful since the Leica camera most closely associated with the same style of street photography as the Fuji camera would be the M-10, paired with a 35mm Summicron lens. The combination of which, while basically providing the same benefits and capabilities as the $1400 Fuji, would currently cost well over $10,000. As clear a signal of wealth accumulation as any other mobile totem. The members of the Leica M community are a much smaller subset of the overall community of photographers which is also a convenient status level signaling. Finally, and counterintuitively, the Fuji is easier for people to operate which better insures that they'll be more productive but the manual operation of the Leica M camera, and the need to be somewhat skillful in focusing with a coincident rangefinder further connote that the owner has attained a higher level of operational skill. 

In short the continued climb through the strata of street shooting cameras confers acceptance into a more and more exclusive group of photographers, the value of which is mostly an emotional assuaging of imperfect self-esteem but is also part of the complex dance of appearing more successful or competent which is just a piece of the overall personal branding of the camera-wearer. 

Anecdotally, I fell for the Leica value proposition back in the 1990's when the disparity in pricing between a Leica and something like a Fuji was much less severe. Also, in the film days the ruggedness of a camera could be thought of a very worthwhile feature in that all the complex mechanical parts in a typical SLR film camera would make them more prone to breaking down while the simplicity of the Leica promised more reliability. 

I took a Leica M camera with me everywhere and on every shoot. When I entered into a corporate suite to make portraits with a Hasselblad or Mamiya or (God forbid) a Bronica, I always had my German talisman of "real photography" swinging over a strap on my left shoulder. I was never asked about any of the medium format cameras I was using nor about various Canons or Nikons but invariably the CEOs of major companies instantly recognized and appreciated the Leica. In fact, several CEOs here in Austin were avid Leica collectors. In my estimation their Leica ownership was not because any of them had much interest in the end product of photography but because they were interested and motivated to let others in their circles understand that they understood the cameras to be precious and valuable symbols of both wealth and prestige. And "insider" knowledge.

Why do I mention this? Because a first impression with a CEO can mean tens of thousands of dollars of revenue if they become an ally of yours within their company. Their approval quickly permeates the hierarchy and gives permission to subordinates to use you without the lingering fear that comes from hiring someone else, the choice of which might be questioned in the future. 

In these situations the CEOs' evaluations seemed binary. We would set up our lights in a conference room and wait for the CEO's arrival. A person from marketing would be on hand to make introductions and let the CEO know what the marketing people would like to see from the project. The CEO would shake hands with me (a quaint notion in the time of pandemic) and assess me; from the shoes I wore to the camera on the table in front of me. The assessments were instant and, like stink, stayed with one throughout their tenure with the CEO and the company. 

Almost to a person the CEO would mention the camera on the table and descend into a story about their first Leica (invariably a Leica M3 since that was the real inception product of the legend) and which lenses they placed special value upon. Then I'd get quizzed about my Leica M inventory and if the answers were "correct" I would have made an ally for his term. Or, at least I would not be dismissed out of hand. 

This is the rawest and nakedest example of status proffering as I can think of in the photography world. 

Keep in mind that I was not photographing the CEO with the item of our joint admiration, only wearing it as "jewelry" but it was enough to signal that I was affluent enough to enjoy the symbol and conversant enough to understand the particular cultural value of that camera/symbol. 

As the peacock with the most impressive plumage gets his pick of mates so the owner of just the right tool/symbol ensures his acceptance into the orbit of financially successful confederates. While this seems to work with male CEOs it seems irrelevant to their female counterparts.

On a personal perspective, while I owned film era Leicas, which could be purchased used for not much of a premium over other brands of the time I have spent the last number of years feeling that much as I would have liked to own a flagship product from Leica they did not match my understanding of value in my marketplace, at the time. Leica, in the early days of digital, was plainly in disarray and the products they presented to market in those days were not as culturally valuable as the products on offer currently. They seem to have regained their footing quite well in the last six or seven years. 

But the Leica versus everyone else is only an example of why we might, as photographers, buy various cameras. With the dawning of the mirrorless age buying a "cutting edge" mirrorless camera was a way of signaling to your tribe that you were an innovative thinker. That you were looking into the future and inventing new ways of imaging which might also change your vision of photography in a way that was industry leading. To your group this willingness to embrace change delivered a learned aura of expertise that elevated your status within the tribe. 

The willingness to experiment, promiscuously, with new equipment was a sign that you were more knowledgeable and more conversant with tools. It also brought along with it the promise that your understanding and learning about the new tools would be conveyed back to the group which benefited the other members. 

And remember, all of this is exclusive of anyone ever seeing an image, photograph, webpage, etc. of actual photography that might let people know at a glance if you were proficient. But that wasn't the intent of camera knowledge in the first place. It's always been about defining a self image and honing the image presented to your enduring benefit. If equipment ownership was about the quality of photographs being rendered then every website or blog with references to a particular camera would just list the camera as a title and then the rest of the content would be galleries and galleries of images from said camera and lens. 

But even that would show nothing beyond the photographer's proficiency because truly talented photographers have shown they can work well with just about any camera in arm's reach. 

But this brings up a different question; if, as an example, a Leica SL2 can be thought to be the ultimate status signifier in 35mm style, popular photography then isn't it both logical and positive from an evolutionary point of view for said photographer just to buy one and use it exclusively until an even better Leica SL3 comes along and then switch to that, and so on? Once one attains the camera or lens he sees as the "finest" what is the value, if any, of moving on to another model or brand? What is the value of the "churn"? What is the underlying message of changing camera systems much more often than everyone else? Why are some people happy to sit with the same camera for a decade while others are ready to move on months or even weeks after the purchase?

I see this, in light of our knowledge of desire, in two ways. First, here's a quote, again from Levine: 

"A species suited to its environment is more likely to survive and reproduce that one that isn't. The problem is that environments change not just millennium by millennium but also second by second. This, in turn means that members of a species (or of a tribe) benefit from being able to detect changes in their environment and react in a way that increases their chance of surviving and reproducing in that environment." 

It's about incentives and rewards. As the need for bigger, bulkier cameras decreased the need for smaller, lighter but equally proficient cameras increased. In a group with aging members exposure to newer, smaller cameras led to jettisoning heavier, bulkier cameras which offsets the disadvantages of aging and muscle loss. There might be any number of reasons to embrace rapid change and increased prominence, and status confers to the early adapter.

To really understand the nature of desire and how it works on someone like me, as a writer and photographer you also have to understand the emotional rewards of being a vociferous and agile adopter of change. Some of my self-esteem is no doubt tied up in things like the books I've written and the blogposts I've created. In a sense the written product and the acceptance of it by an audience create a powerful circle of reinforcement and positive emotional value. There is little doubt in my mind that having new equipment gives me a certain amount of purpose that is essentially divorced from the purely photographic aspects of the tools. 

Buying a new (example) rangefinder camera not only gives me a new camera but also a continued motivation to go out and experiment and shoot with the cameras. But the end results are less pieces of art than they are components of my journalism. If I shoot well enough and write convincingly enough then I become valued for my contributions. 

Were I to become totally stoic and reject any anti-logical aspect about new cameras I might still be nursing along a couple of six megapixel Kodak APS-H cameras and getting adequately good quality images to sell to clients. But I would have had very little with which to enter into conversation with, where photography is concerned. One can only read about the foibles of Ni-Cad camera batteries so many times before wandering off to see if the moss is growing well on the trees. 

Yesterday and the day before I was wrestling with my seeming compulsion to sacrifice the sunk value of two magnificent cameras (which are actually profitable work cameras - even though their status signaling value is moderate to low) in trade for one new camera. The thing that would amaze most students of psychology is that both the new camera and one of the cameras I was willing to trade arguably share the same sensor. Without any doubt they share the same lenses. And much of the technology in both cameras is shared technology between the companies. To put it bluntly, I would be trading up at a high financial cost, to purchase a camera with no higher photographic value than the one it would replace. 

Therefore, the only logic in the trade would have been the acquisition of a status symbol with which to announce my place in the loosely configured order of gear buyers. Since I can afford to buy the SL2 outright, without trading the other cameras I hesitated. I would probably would have gone forward with the deal twenty years ago because, on some subconscious level, I would think or believe that the new camera would confer bonafides that might enhance my standing among my tribe and also acceptance by a more influential tribe.  All of which might hopefully lead to more profitable work along with a rise in stature among my peers.

My final rejection of the idea of "upgrading" was the realization that I am at a point where social signaling has a much lower chance of adding value to my overall position. I am not actively pursuing jobs where I am in contact with well positioned executives and, in fact, most would see a mirrorless Leica as inferior to a rangefinder M Leica. Others in my photographic circle have finally come to the conclusion that all cameras are excellent now and that I would be trading the idea of financial exclusivity for many other features and performance benefits that come from other cameras. 

Desire is endless...until you realize that the thing you desire isn't as valuable in one's current situation as it might have been when the symbols of status were first learned and ingrained. Also, what is status to one generation is boring to another. The phone cameras are a brilliant example of this reversal of value perception. 

Even the most logical of us are hard-wired by evolution to react in certain ways. Outsiders might couch the desire for a new camera by trying to divine a logical argument that the new camera might improve my photography. Or that it might make photography more enjoyable. I conjecture that those considerations are much less important to most photographers than the idea of camera as symbol, totem, avatar.

We could all be using earlier film or digital camera and enjoying the actual process of taking photographs as much or more. But because of the way we are wired we constantly seek change. We fear being left behind. And why? Because if we weren't hard-wired for a constant struggle to improve our condition we'd still be sitting on some vast plain, scrounging for enough food to enable us to continue scrounging for more food and hoping to breed with an acceptable mate before dying of tooth decay at age 28. 

Part of that genetic training is the immutable desire to get ahead and to feel superior to everyone around you. 

If you don't identify as a full time photographer your evolutionary ammunition is probably aimed at different targets and so it seems to you that after having covered the basics for a workable camera it's just sensible to move on and work on your other, more core ambitions. But for a life long photographer it may be that those self-branding attempts based on ever better equipment are part of existential survival strategy. 

Sorry, there's no cure. Only self-realization and the constraints of budget. 

And this is my response to CR Santin's question.


1.21.2021

Back in the groove today. I photographed at my favorite law firm. The "Covid Security" was amazing. My first commercial, location project in a month.

Clients can remove their masks once all the lighting tests are done and we're ready to make photographs. 

Cabin fever is weird. I find myself sitting in front of the computer looking for cool stuff to buy. More or less momentary relief via Shopping Therapy. Yesterday I hit on the idea that I'd be happier with one Leica SL2 than one each of a Panasonic S1 and an S1H. I e-mailed the buyer at my favorite camera store and he shot over a trade-in value for the pair, against a shiny, new Leica SL2. 

That engendered the usual bout of hesitation and indecision. On the one hand the Leica seems pretty darn cool. On the other hand it seems to do just exactly what my Panasonic S1R already does, and does really well. And the S1R has already been paid for and well tested. The concept behind this proposed transaction was deeply flawed. I'd be using the same lenses on the new camera so not much would change vis-a-vis image quality. I'd just have....a shiny, new Leica. 

I decided to ponder it further. Maybe I'd head over to the candy store camera store after a quick job I agreed to do for my favorite law firm today. They got in touch a week or so ago and needed to do a new group shot for the top banner of their website. They also had a new partner that needed a headshot and some environmental portraits. 

We discussed the elephant in the room; the covid virus. In all there would be six people in the group shot. And then the one person who needed his individual portrait made. They each have large offices on a floor 20+ stories up. They have the whole floor in their building. Each attorney has a huge office and their conference room is large and airy. So far so good. Several of the attorneys are near my age and are clearly worried about the pandemic and their own mortality. Several have already been through both rounds of vaccine doses.

They agreed that everyone would be masked on my arrival and, since I'd photographed there before many times, they would just leave me to my own devices in the conference room setting up lighting for the group shot. I wore two masks today. The one closest to my face was a KN-95 which fit good and tight. The second mask was a black, multi-layered cloth one. I kept a spray bottle of Trader Joe's excellent hand sanitizer in my back pocket.

The first part of the whole gauntlet was getting into the building. Few people were working in the building and my arrival was scheduled for 11 a.m. There weren't many cars in the parking garage and the elevators to the underground walkway between the garage and the building proper were completely empty. I had to call security to actually have them electronically unlock the subterranean access door to the building. Then I had to go to the security desk, have my temperature taken (for the third time today), sign in, and wait for the freight elevator. I rode up the 25 floors alone. Well, I did have my faithful cart with me. I got off the freight elevator and switched to the law firm's private elevator for the trip up the next three stories. 

When I got off the elevator everyone was sequestered in their offices with their doors shut. I let one of the partners know I was there and then headed into the conference room to construct my lighting set up. Two electronic flashes into matching softboxes set over to one side of the room in order to keep reflections out of the large windows. 

I brought along one primary camera and two lenses. The "A" camera was the Lumix S1H and for the group shot I used the very exceptional, Lumix S-Pro 24-70mm f2.8 zoom. The S1H was one of the cameras I'd considered trading in. I thought it would be a good reminder of whether or not I really liked this camera or if I would feel no remorse trading out. I also brought along the Sigma 85mm f1.4 (new version) for the portrait work. (Yes. I brought a back-up/emergency camera. It was the Sigma fp...).

We got through the group portraits in about five minutes and I exiled everyone from the conference room so I could re-set the lighting for a single, formal portrait in solitude and calm. When I was ready I rounded up the new lawyer and made some shots with the lighting set up in the conference room and then we roamed around the public spaces to get some "B" roll photography that their web designer will use on that attorney's page. As soon as I finished everyone apparently left the office to head back home. They really only came by to have photos taken. 

I said "goodbye" to the last remaining attorney; he was waiting for a package to be delivered, and began my lonely journey through a near empty office building back to the glitzy and glamorous Subaru Forester and packed the stuff in. I took a moment to spritz my hands with good smelling sanitizer then removed the top mask, re-spritzed and then removed the bottom mask. I was back home in minutes. There really are very few people working in downtown so the dreaded traffic is, strangely, not too dreadful. 

When I edited through files in Lightroom I was chastened by just how good the files are coming out of the S1H. And by extension the rest of the S1 series cameras. 

By the time I'd scrolled through the individual portraits taken with the Sigma Art 85mm I was metaphorically kicking myself for ever even considering such a foolish camera trade deal. I chalked it up to boredom and mental lethargy and wrote a note for the bottom of my computer which reads: "Stop Buying Toys." And a second note that reads: "Don't Buy Stuff, Do Stuff." 

That's the first job I've done for anyone since the last video I shot over at Zach Theatre on December 6, 2020. I'm glad to see I have not forgotten (yet) how all this fancy gear works. 

The S1H is a remarkably good camera. I'll keep it. Now that I have my note on the computer I feel like both the camera and I are on safer ground. Learning lessons over and over again is so much fun (sarcasm strongly implied). 

 

1.20.2021

Joe Biden became our president at noon, Eastern time which is 11:01 Central time (here in Austin, Texas). At 11:01 I breathed a huge and grateful sigh of relief... and noted that my blood pressure dropped 20 points.

 

The point in time, today, at which I felt like I could stop holding my breath.
 

I can hardly wait to go out today and photograph in a free democracy again. It feels as though we turned a giant ship just in time to avoid the nastiest iceberg I could imagine. 

I'll celebrate with family tonight but after I type this I'll head out and walk with a camera in my hands and hope in my heart. That's my idea of a personal celebration.


* Added after 5 pm.  Was just at our friendly, neighborhood wine shop (Twin Liquors) thinking I'd duck in and get a really nice bottle of Champagne to have with our celebratory dinner this evening. I don't know why I thought I'd be the only one in our neck of the woods to have this idea. I ran into half my neighbors there. All of them had ecstatic smiles on their faces and bottles of bubbly in their hands, waiting to get rung up. I guess we're not the only ones in our zip code who are planning to celebrate tonight. 

Went by the state capitol today and ran into a camera crew from one of the local TV stations. I asked them, "Where are all the crazies today?" They laughed and told me that three people from Trump-Land showed up to protest. The protesters hung out for about 30 minutes but as there were dozens and dozens of National Guard soldiers with automatic weapons on the other side of the gate, and no one outside the gate to yell at, the protesters crammed into their rusty and bumper sticker covered Ford Pinto and went off to find a Denny's. 

All in all it's shaping up to be a really good day. 

1.19.2021

Getting back on task. Shutting down the idea that I have to be ready for any type of project that comes my way.



If you are like me you got into photography because you loved making certain kinds of photographs. I started out photographing people I knew and liked. That was the bedrock. Every purchase of cameras or lights, in the early days, was strictly in the service of making "better" people photographs. Before I started accepting assignments I never thought about having specialized sets of gear that would enable me to make architectural photos, or macro still lifes, or event photographs. No need for focal range coverage, no need to cover everything from 15mm to 1,000mm. And in those seminal days I never had a thought of buying video cameras, microphones and fluid tripod heads. My focus was very precise, highly curated, and singular: make images of beautiful faces. Seems simple and direct, and like most people who are, perhaps, less smart than they think they are, I let things get out of hand. For thirty-five years.

I rationalized having one of everything; just in case. I felt that we could handle every assignment that came my way because we had the stuff needed to do the process. It's been exhausting. I just didn't recognize the burden of "being equipped."

The pandemic and the lockdown have provided us with ample opportunity to step back from what we've been doing, reflexively, in our lives and to re-evaluate the choices we've made and the paths we travel down. While it may seem that my almost daily walks are all about playing with cameras and making inconsequential images that lead to frivolous discussions about which is best for what kind of work. I consider the walks these days not so much opportunities for exercising the gear but as self-therapy. A way of helping my mind circle back and decide what's important and fulfilling to me instead of how to use photography to assuage my ego, fight off the ravages of time, and let me posture as some sort of expert. I seem to spend more and more of my time walking and thinking about how badly I might have missed the big clues and road signs as I blazed through life without paying much attention to what I really wanted out of photography.

To be self-honest I have to admit that I'll never take the time, or have the burning desire, to excel as a film maker. Video and movies can be incredibly engaging but a little self-knowledge assures me that I'm the furthest thing from a "team player" imaginable and that the core of making good movies is the ability to bring a team together and motivate them all to embrace your vision, ideas and story. I can barely tolerate one person at a time in my collaborations, much less enough of a  team to make a worthwhile project. So, I've been casting off redundant gear to younger colleagues who have a sharper, clearer focus about film-making than I ever will. 

I've cleared out a few cameras and lenses, a fluid head tripod, some lights and stands, a couple of microphones and a gimbal or two. They've been gifted to people who have a sure desire to make projects in motion and only lacked a few critical pieces of gear to step up their craft. But it's been revelatory for me because it feels like letting go of baggage I've carried around for years but never found a passionate use for. 

Now, I walk into the studio/office everyday and my first thoughts are: What can I get rid of? How much of this stuff can get distilled down to one nice set of portrait making tools? Do I really need back-ups of everything I work with?

The answers are: I can get rid of as much as I'm emotionally comfortable letting go of. And that's down to process. I can distill down to two lights, two stands, one tripod and a few modifiers. I can ratchet down the inventory till I get to the point where I have two small systems. One system is for studio portrait work and that's all full frame Lumix stuff. The other system is "walking meditation" cameras and for now that seems to be a set of Fuji X-100V cameras. 

If I keep a cabinet full of video gear and audio gear it comes with an implied obligation to do something with it before it all decays from lack of use. My brain knows the stuff is sitting there and as long as it is there my brain thinks we should be doing something with it. That's a sub-routine that takes focus away from other, more primary work desires which circle around making portraits and reducing distraction. You are more apt to drive more often if you own a car. It's the same thing.

One might think that writing a daily blog would be an ultimate distraction but, in fact, it's just part of the ongoing therapy of being a photographer on the cusp of aging out of the commercial game. I'm still fit and competent but I'm not as pretty as I used to be nor as willing to be compliant. That comes from the rich residue of experience. There is also a slight (to me, at any rate) ethical question of when it's time to give up some of the (less fun) work and let a younger generation get their shot at more commercial success. It's harder now than it's ever been for younger photographers to make a living; made harder still by people who refuse to get out of the way. Richard Avedon worked until his death at 84 years old. He loved what he did. And he profited handsomely right up to the end. He was right to keep working because no one was in the wings waiting to take over what he was capable of making.

I'm no Richard Avedon but I know that making portraits is something that I'd love to do...right up to the end. Whenever that is. And I am more and more loathe to spin my wheels and waste my time taking starkly commercial images that have nothing to do with my passion for the craft. Because, I have discovered, it's not the cameras or photography I really love as much as it is a well crafted portrait pulled out of a compelling session with an enchanting person. This is a clarity I wish I'd acquired decades ago. 

A former client called last week and wanted to talk about a video project that would require a series of conventional interviews about products and processes that are, frankly, boring. The people I'd be interviewing are boring. And unpracticed in front of a camera. Alien to the interview practice. Halting and unsteady. 

The project appealed to my ego. I would have yet more proof that I was still at the top of my game. That I could still pull out a great project from a sack full of mediocre parts. But then I thought of all the time I would spend on it, all the frustrations attached and the fact that I'd probably not even put that kind of project onto my reel, into my portfolio. 

I demurred and passed on the offer. And almost instantly I felt lighter and freer and ... happy. Then I looked through a gallery of old portraits I'd done and felt like I was home. It's a strange time. I wonder how my own destiny would have unfolded without the intermission the pandemic forced on us. But I think you can never know the future just as you can never change the past. You can only find the things that make you --- satisfied. And do them. Now.

Cleaning a bit more out of the space every day. Today I'm shredding papers I've kept for some unknown reason. Even invoices from 30+ years ago. Most of the paper has been unexamined since it was created and copies were sent to clients. None of it has meaning anymore. It just takes up space. Better for me to toss it all out now than to burden Ben at some inopportune time in the future with the unpleasant task of figuring out what he should keep or toss. That seems more like the job of cleaning up after one's self that would be my responsibility. 

Just some thoughts after a remarkably nice swim practice in the rain today. No thunder or lightning so we got through the workout with no interruptions. Swimming hard in the morning makes the rest of the day feel smooth and productive. Just saying. 

Looking forward to the inauguration tomorrow. Hopeful for a new period of calm and success for our country. And, as a bonus, we get to hear Lady Gaga sing the national anthem. 

 

1.18.2021

An Additional Freebie for Fuji X camera users who want film simulation recipes...


 If you go to the Apple App Store and look for "Fuji X Weekly Film Recipes" you will be able to download, for free, over 100 different film "recipes" to use with four generations of Fuji X series cameras. The author of the app is also the owner of the Fujixweekly.com website. His name is Ritchie Roesch. He is offering the recipes at no charge. You can download them to your phone or iPad and have them at your fingertips. 

You'll still have to load the settings manually but for most of us once we've found our "home" recipe (for me it's the Tri-X) you'll probably not change to often. You can become a Patreon member of Richie's site and it will unlock some tweaks but I haven't done that yet. I'm still checking out my first attempts. But I'll gladly send along the $16 if I decide the recipe is valuable for me. I'm heading in the direction. 

Still need to put some real people in front of the camera...

Just wanted to let you know. Everybody likes free stuff. 



AHA! Digital Black and white. I found a cool site that made me smile so big. Shoving Tri-X into my Fuji X-100V. For free.

A convenient model happened by....

 I was catching up on my Fuji lore when I happened upon a YouTube channel hosted by Omar Gonzales. He's a Fuji user and he grabbed my attention with a headline that read something like: "Loading Film into the Fuji Xpro3." I dived right in. Omar seems like a smart guy even if he does go on a little long and a little slower than I'd like, but the gist of his video was that there is a site dedicated to making film profiles for Fuji cameras that mimic classic films we used to cherish. 

The site is: Fujixweekly.com and if you are a Fuji shooter it's like Christmas morning. I immediately started scrolling around to see if they had a profile for my favorite film of all time: Kodak's Tri-X. Yes. They do. It's right here: https://fujixweekly.com/2020/06/18/fujifilm-x100v-film-simulation-recipe-kodak-tri-x-400/

The recipe includes shadow, clarity, chrome, WB tweaks and much more. I won't lay it out here because you should reward Fujixweekly.com for their fine work by paying them the visit. 

I sat down on the couch with my laptop open to the Tri-X page and dutifully changed all the parameters as suggested. There are about 12 steps so it's nothing cripplingly difficult. While there are many, many profiles to chose from they are divided into sensor types in the Fuji family. The reason is that Fuji keeps adding more and more controllable parameters with each new generation of sensor and processing.

The profiles I'm most interested in are the ones that are tweaked for the current 26 megapixel sensor cameras since that's what I'm shooting with right now. All the profiles can be used across the Fuji line but older cameras won't have things like color chrome effect available.

Some of you have questioned me about why I have both a chrome and a black X-100V camera. My rote answer is that one should never go on a trip or a job without a back-up camera, and I'd take that a step further and say no one should venture out without a back-up camera that operates in exactly the same way and which takes the same battery, the same filters and the same memory cards. Hence two copies of the X-100V, differentiated by color.

Now I have a new answer. The black camera is for Tri-X/Monochrome photography while the chrome body is dedicated to color. When the black one is in my hand I'll know I'm about to start shooting my new, digital Tri-X camera. When it's the chrome body I'll know I'm about to start shooting color slide film. Easy to remember and no struggle to juggle settings on the fly. 

I might need to tweak a bit (or I might not...) but here are some of the test shots I took this morning while walking over to the state capitol building to see if anyone was there fomenting trouble and trying to tip our nation into facism and white nationalism. I am happy to report that there were only a few tourists on Segways in front of the fence, snapping pix. All clear downtown. Here are the pix:

click to make the images big, big, big.