7.17.2018

Dancing Napkins. Anything to make dinner more exciting!


Dancing Napkins from "Beauty and the Beast" at Zach Theatre. Austin, Texas.

Whimsical fun on stage. This was a fun number to photograph! 

7.16.2018

It looks like we've hit critical mass. The trip to Iceland is a go. And just thinking about the upcoming trip is a nice diversion from the heat and dust storm we're experiencing today.


I've been looking over the details for my upcoming trip to Iceland and I'm already getting excited about it even though we don't leave until October 27th. Part of my excitement is just the anticipation of cool weather; it's going to be in the 100's here for the foreseeable future and we've also got the twin (discomfort) overlays of high humidity and a freak dust cloud from the Sahara Desert making the skies look smoky, hazy and blah.

Here are the trip details. Now comes the hard part.... What kind of gear do I pack?

I'm kidding. Nothing hard about that. I'll take the same kind of gear I would take for any fun travel adventure but I'll add in a good, lightweight tripod for long exposures.

Since we have no idea what systems I'll be shooting with in a couple of months (kidding, kidding, kinda...) I thought I'd put together a non-branded gear list and you can tell me if you think I'm leaving anything out.

First up: two identical cameras bodies. probably full frame and high resolution since we'll be doing a mix of shooting. But really, two bodies because I'd hate to be in a beautiful place, have a camera go on medical leave and not have a replacement within easy reach. And while I'm at it I'll pack at least two batteries for each camera body. If I decide to mix in a bit of video I'll add a few more batteries just to make sure I can always make it through a day of high volume, mixed photography and videography.

I'm taking a super wide angle zoom lens. Generically speaking how about a 14-24mm f2.8 lens? Sounds perfect for anything I might need in the wide regions. I'll also take along a 24-105/120mm standard zoom to use for lots and lots of handheld stuff that falls into my preferred focal length range.
On the long end, no matter what system ends up in the bag I'll bring a 70-200mm f4.0 (or equivalent) for a bit of compression. And, finally, since I can't seem to leave home without one, I'll being some sort of fast or semi-fast 50mm lens. Maybe (going off the generic path) the Sigma 50mm Art lens!

I could comfortably do with just the standard and long zooms but I figure we'll have transportation and time so why not push my own envelope a bit and play?

Maybe I'll drop one small flash in the bag but I'm not leaning in that direction right now....

Just thinking about packing for "moderate" weather is bringing a smile to my face. Now, where did I put that sunscreen?

Olympus 12-100mm view #1321, the skywalk from the convention center to the Fairmont Hotel in downtown Austin, Texas.



After lumbering around Austin in the heat with a big Nikon full frame camera and an even more solid  lens it was a relief to cruise around at the end of last week with the other part of my Jekyll and Hyde camera collection, the Panasonic GH5 and the Olympus 12-100mm lens. I could have reduced the burden further by switching lenses and using the pixie-like Panasonic 42.5mm f1.7 but following that logic I could have saved even more space and weight by just taking along my iPhone....

I love walking almost as a I love swimming. Not only is walking a great exercise but a good walk is a good excuse to grab a camera and just go out to look at stuff. Or, grabbing a camera and going out to find new photos is a great excuse to go for a walk. Either way it's a nice process by which to lower your blood pressure.

Sometimes I think I'm being a bit too compulsive, walking the same route most weeks, and that might be true in a slow growing,  sleepy city that doesn't change much, but Austin's downtown changes weekly, sometimes daily. When I miss a week and then resume walking through downtown the next week I'll often find a flattened field which had been home to a multi-story building that had sat on that lot for decades. Two weeks beyond that I'll find an excavation of enormous proportions, made in preparation for yet another skyscraper.  I walked around the convention center last week just to see the completed skyway between the center and the new(ish) Fairmont Hotel. The shot above is a detail of the steel netting that replaces traditional railings.

It's all interesting to me.

Every once in a while I look into a folder from five or then years ago and find images of open fields which are now jam-packed with new high rises. Here's a shot (below) looking toward the Seaholm Power Plant, which is now which is now bracketed by 20+ story residence towers and retail shopping centers.

Walking through the constructions and the new business openings is one way to stay connected to my current city and not wedded to my nostalgic vision of what the city was 20 or 30 years ago...


7.14.2018

Totally off topic: Healthcare. Not a discussion about the Affordable Care Act !!!


I know many of my readers worked for the government or big corporations before retiring or may still work within those entities. I don't want this to devolve into a political discussion about the ACA. I just want to start a discussion about how freelancers access healthcare and what my strategy is for my healthcare. It's part of being a photographer and it's even more important as one hits middle age (and older).

I've always carried health insurance, rarely had to use it. I researched physicians in Austin about 30 years ago, asked my dentist and friends of mine who were doctors in various specialties, and went out and actively interviewed general practitioners. Most people just throw a dart at the dart board of whoever is offered in their employer paid health plan but I wanted an actual partner in my healthcare and I wanted someone who would go beyond the seven minute evaluation and the quick exit after writing a prescription. I wanted the kind of doctor my grandfather was; a caring and dedicated professional who would follow you through life, understand your history and think before diagnosing.

I found a great general practitioner and over the years I'd go in for a yearly physical, get ear infections treated and get my immunizations done. He never blindly prescribed, we talked through modalities of treatment and he offered options and let me know his preferences.

About two years ago my doctor decided he'd had enough of jumping through hoops and reducing fees for the big insurance companies and he decided to re-start his practice as a "concierge medicine" practice. Clients pay a yearly fee (mine is $1,600) and in return they get a thorough yearly physical exam with lab tests and all the office visits one might need over the course of the year.

I was also happy to get a direct cellphone number (not a medical exchange number) so I could get in touch right away if I needed to. Since insurance is not involved (although I still carry an ACA approved policy with a high deductible) there's no paper work when I go to see my doctor. There are no bills, no copays, no road blocks.

I had a rash on my forearm that popped up a day or two ago and after swim practice yesterday I called my doctor's office to request an appointment. It was 9:15 in the morning. The scheduler at my doctor's office let me know they had appointments available that day. Did I want to see my doctor at 10:15 a.m. ? They could make that happen.

I arrived on time and was ushered straight into an exam room where my doctor's nurse took my temperature, blood pressure and asked me a few pertinent questions. She was out of the room for 30 seconds when there was a knock on the door and my doctor entered. He examined the rash and prescribed something. He burned off an actinic keratosis on the other arm with liquid nitrogen. Then he asked me how life was treating me. We talked about my dad's recent cardiac event and my anxiety over the impending house sale. In all he sat and chatted with me as a friend and advisor for nearly 45 minutes. I left with the assurance that the rash was not some deadly cancer (me: ever the hypochondriac), feeling better about my recent changes in lifestyle (father's administrator and supervisor of his care) and happy to see that my long term "white coat syndrome" has largely resolved and that I can actually have a normal blood pressure of 115/65 while talking about my health.

Jointly my wife and I pay nearly $20,000 a year for health insurance although both of us are very healthy and rarely need more than glancing course correction. That represents nearly 15% of our income. Some of my associates suggest that I not pay for the concierge medicine and only pay for health insurance but I can say that once you've experienced appointments on demand, real continuity of care and the unhurried attention of a professional you trust it would be very difficult to give it up.

I remembered back, as I was writing this, to December 24th which was the day my mother was rushed to the emergency room. Being able to get my personal physician on the phone on Christmas Eve to talk me through the enormity of issues confronting my mother, and, by extension, me as her medical P.O.A. was something I just can't put a price on.

At 62 years old I am cognizant of the inevitable decline all of us will eventually experience. No one gets out of this alive. But there are good ways to get care and frustrating ways to get care. For me the investment in a dedicated professional seems to be a bargain.

If you are a freelancer under 65 years of age what is your strategy? Have you looked into Concierge Medicine providers? What has your experience been?

In a way my physician has become more of a freelancer, like me. He's just working on a fixed retainer. I get the whole idea. I like it. I'm waiting to see what changes in whole insurance world. I'd love to be able to buy a catastrophic policy and have that in reserve instead of having to duplicate some expenditures to get my care the way I want it.

You could buy a lot of cameras for $20,000 a year.......

7.13.2018

"Why does that photographer shoot so many images of each scene???? He must get paid by the frame."

A photograph from the opening night show of "The Beauty and the Beast" at Zach Theatre. With Meredith McCall, John Christopher and Martin Burke. Photographed with a Panasonic GH5 and the very nice Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 Pro series lens. Get one. They're great!!! Sorry no affiliate link for you...

It always comes up. "Why do you shoot so many frames?"

I'll look at the results of a photo shoot; either a portrait session or a dress rehearsal, and I will have shot something like 100+ images for a "simple" (no such thing) portrait or somewhere north of a 1,000+  images for a two hour dress rehearsal of a live theater production. That's a lot of frames!

I've watched other photographers work hard and with much gnashing of teeth shoot ten for a portrait and a couple hundred for a live performance. Am I just stupid or am I a gluten for editing punishment?

I'll give myself the benefit of the doubt and toss out a rationale based on my personal experiences.

In making a portrait rapport with the sitter builds as you spend time together. There's a rhythm to the shooting; a cadence almost, and it takes most sitters some time to accept it and then, ultimately ignore it as they become more and more comfortable with the whole process of being photographed in a studio. In most cases we could probably toss the first dozen or two images and be pretty confident that the best stuff will come around the 2/3rds point in the session.

In addition to the "warm up" frames there is also the question of micro-expressions; little changes in expression that are more telling than one might at first believe. Little things like tension around a subject's mouth or eyes, a smile that's forced. If you see these things shooting more frames gives you time to re-direct conversation or direction and head into a different look. And, as I suggest, sitters get more comfortable over time --- if you engage them genuinely and with good intention.

After we get things happy and calm I might see and expression or gesture+expression that I really like and then we shoot more frames while we fine tune all the details, from the way hair falls to the way a collar sits on someone's neck, all the while working back to that great expression/gesture. It takes frames and a certain amount of trial and review to get things where you probably want them.

Once you have some really good frames the last 20% of the shoot is spent seeing if there is any way to improve the work and get even better frames. It's easy to see how you could get to 100 or more images in twenty minutes or so of working with a portrait sitter.

Yes, if you only took 12 you might get a useable frame but would it be a good frame? Would it be a photograph that both you and the sitter would be proud to share? The numbers are your friend in this case. You can throw away all your mistakes in the editing phase but the big mistake is to not have taken the great image in the first place, constrained by your own overly frugal regards for digital frames....

But what about show photos? Well, you are still looking for the perfect expressions but as in the image above we now have more parts in motion. We have three people, all moving, all expressing all doing their parts. In a world in which I would have absolute and complete control, an endless budget and infinite patience I would photograph each actor individually and with every variation of pose and gesture I could think of and then I would select the best frame of each actor and drop them into a master frame.

But that's not the reality of theater photography. You don't have unlimited access to actors. You don't have infinite budget for retouching and compositing and the theater probably wouldn't want that service if you could provide it. They value authenticity over perfection.

So we overshoot each scene so that we can be reasonably sure that there will be at least one frame in which everyone looks great, has their eyes open, is turned in just the right direction and in which the photographer has nailed composition, focus and exposure. Oh, and good handholding technique. As weird as it may sound your "perfect" selection ratio might be one really good and usable photograph out of a series of 50 or 60 that don't really make it.

With theater you also have to add in the reality that this may be the first time you've seen the productions and have no idea what comes just after the shot you thought was going to be the ultimate keeper. I keep shooting because I don't want to stop only to find the very next second or minute or whatever holds an even better version of the frame I just shot. We can always trash the frames that don't work but we can never get frames we lost by assuming we'd already hit the peak of action only to take our eyes off the prize just as it turned to gold. A little extra shooting and a little extra editing is the price we pay for looking for the potentially great shot in a sea of adequate shots.

And that's why I shoot so many frames.

One last thing. I may be partial to a certain look or gesture or expression but I try to shoot beyond my preferences because clients may have different tastes, points of view, or understandings about what constitutes a great image for their marketing efforts. In a very real way I'm shooting get stuff for me and for them even if the stuff in question is shot in two different ways. At least, if I overshoot, more of us will be happy with the final choices we get to make.

If I were shooting still life stuff to a tight comp we could probably get the shot in three frames....and two of those would just be safeties...

On a different topic (kinda): I wish Olympus made lenses for other camera makers. I love my m4:3 cameras partly because the two Olympus Pro lenses I use are so darn good. But I'd love to have them make a 25-125mm f4.0 lens for full frame Nikons and Sonys because I'm almost certain they'd blow the doors off what the big boys put on the market. And I know their image stabilization would also rock. Ever thought about what would happen if every photography player just played to their strengths? The lens I described just above with Nikon or Canon color science and Sony mirrorless tech? We couldn't even use a system like that. It would be too good for most uses. We'd end up crying over the lost potential........

Maybe it's just the heat talking...

7.12.2018

A production photo of Brianna Brooks at "Belle" the Zach Theatre's Production of "Beauty and the Beast." Now, if I can only remember which camera and lens I used to get this one.....

Belle at the Castle of the Beast.

I made it sound like I was on pins and needles this week when shooting the photos for "Beauty and the Beast at Zach Theatre. Yeah, I did two different shoots and also attended a non-photographic run through as an exercise in scouting; but the truth is that I enjoyed every minute of it. I've been shooting marketing images at show rehearsals for decades and I guess I've done it well enough so that each new marketing director doesn't come in and try to "manage" me, or give me shot lists, or tell me how to shoot the photographs. Instead they tell me when the curtain will be going up on a rehearsal and they tell me when they'd like to get the final images. With an open ended mission and a bag full of cameras and lenses to play with --- what's not to love?

I shot at the play for as many days as it took to get the shots that I wanted to see. That's how it works.

Camera and lens? Not the Nikon. It was the GH5 and the Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 Pro zoom. 1/80th of a second, lens wide open. ISO 1600.

Just re-read something I wrote in 2016 for the blog and it was like someone tossed a bucket of cold water on my head. Again. Here, read it:

https://visualsciencelab.blogspot.com/2016/02/changing-gears-is-sometimes-about.html

Here's a pretty photo to look at instead. Just in case you've exceeded your reading quota for the day.


A PhotoShoot That Took a Long, Long Time. Two Cameras Systems and Three Rehearsals Later....


Zach Theatre is producing "Beauty and the Beast" and it's been a rugged slog for me this week. Not that it's particularly hard to be a theater photographer but it's hard to know sometimes when to stop.

Let me explain.

This production required some large and complex set pieces; a big castle that would sit on the turntable at the Topfer Theatre meant that it needed to be finished out in 360 degrees. There was a large, live band. There were fog machines and amazingly complex lighting and effects. The costumes were amazing and intricate. And the cast was numerous.

I decided at some point, probably while walking around aimlessly in the heat, that I'd really like to shoot the marketing photographs at the dress rehearsal and tech rehearsal with my two Nikon D800 cameras. On reflection I remembered that we generally had an audience at our invited dress rehearsals and that the Nikons are far from silent. I decided to finally order an accessory I've gone back and forth about for well over a year; a Camera Muzzle. I found the link on Amazon and ordered one. It's a soft-sided semi-blimp that reduces the sound of shutter clicks by enclosing the camera in a very well padded (and roomy) case. There's even