7.07.2020

Staying motivated during long periods of relative isolation. Trying to make a routine walk different.

An observation deck under the Congress Ave. Bridge. Austin, Texas.

I seem to be settling into a rhythm these days. It's Tuesday so I know I have a swim scheduled with my masters team at 6 a.m. I've stopped taking a camera to the pool with me. It seems intrusive. And I've photographed our pool in so many different ways that it's starting to feel redundant. If something spectacular happens, well....I still have my iPhone. 

Today I shared a lane with Margaret. We were diligent and pretty much stayed on task. The weather is heating up here so we decided to leave the cooling aerators on during practice. That meant swimming through a shower of big, splashy drops at one end of the pool. And as the sun came up the rosy, warm morning light played through the arcing water making a light show for the swimmers. 

Yesterday I spent too much time sitting around the office, doing things like making web galleries for several doctors, and paying that overdue business insurance bill. I didn't want to get stuck in my desk chair today so after breakfast I decided to do one of my walks with a camera. I mean, really... we've got all this time to go out and play and most of us are spending it sitting in front of our computers pretending to be working but really just cruising through our favorite websites, reading too much news, and window shopping for cameras when we're mostly not using the ones we already have. I wanted to throw off my pretension that I was making any sort of meaningful progress while sitting in front of a monitor soaking up the blue light. 

I set myself to a task today of coming back with photographs I hadn't seen or taken before. I wanted to look at my small part of the world a little differently. I took the world's best camera and lens combination with me. It's the Sigma fp with the 45mm f2.8 Sigma lens. I don't want to get all up in some escalating Mac versus PC style argument so just take my word for it. The Sigma fp is strangely better than all the Sonys, Canons and Nikons combined. (Not being serious; don't bother posting rebuttals...). 

It occurs to me that most photographers want to be out photographing but it seems harder and harder to get motivated for some of us. I stepped back and looked at my own reticence and decided that it's the same as the pool having been closed for a couple of months. You lose your edge if you don't do your craft consistently enough. If there's no financial incentive, and you've been restricted from taking the kinds of photos you want to, the push to get out the door with a camera in your hands gets harder and harder every day. Or it seems that way.

When I return to the pool after prolonged time off I feel kludgy and slow, tired and sore. It's easy to decide to take the next day off. And it gets easier to back away more as the days go by. But I've learned to depend on a bit of discipline to get back into shape and stay there. I make a schedule and promise myself to keep it. If I feel like crap when I get up in the early morning I tell myself I'll just drive over to the pool, grab an empty lane and just screw around. Once I get there and put in a few hundred yards I get renewed energy and my stroke starts to feel better. I toss aside my original lazy intention and join the workout in earnest. 

Each successful day builds a base for future success. The harder I swim the better I get. 

Today was a good day to be out walking early. We're having our first heat wave here and the later we get into the days the hotter and more humid it becomes. In mid-morning the walk started at 83° f and by the time I made it back to the starting bridge it was 88°.  The camera felt small and light on a strap over my shoulder. 

I've spent a lot of recent walks photographing buildings and parts of buildings; and when there is great sky to photograph I catch a lot of that. Today started out with soft clouds and pushed me to concentrate on more subject matter at ground level. More shots that didn't depend on a beautiful, rich sky for their essential attraction. I also have become more interested in using the 45mm wide open or near wide open when I can. It gives such nice background rendering (see above). 
One of the secrets of enjoyable walks is wearing good shoes. I have three pairs of walking shoes that I really like. Two of them are Keens and the third ( just above) is a pair of Merrills. They have Vibram soles and while the Keens are a bit stiffer and more shock absorbent the Merrills are close behind 
and quite a bit lighter. Now reminding myself in the moment to 
get some leather treatment on these pups...

This is the perennial starting point view for many walks into downtown. 
There are a series of North/South bridges that connect south Austin to downtown.
Nearly all of them have pedestrian walkways while one is strictly a pedestrian bridge.
That's the Pfluger Bridge and it's the one I'm standing on to take this photo.
It's close to my starting point which is also my ending point. 

I've walked over the top of this art work for years and never took time to stop and really look at it. There are a series of metal and colored glass constructions embedded in the sidewalk on 2nd St. 
They've seen some wear and tear but I find them attractive and naively charming.


I'd been looking for one of these yucca plants to photograph but most I've found are bruised or have dead spots on them. Wouldn't you know I'd find one in almost perfect shape over by the Four Seasons Hotel? Figures. 

I walked through here about 10 days ago and this shaded seating area wasn't here. 
It was built and donated by The Trail Foundation which is a private group
dedicated to improving and maintaining the wonderful hike and bike trails running 
around our downtown lake --- which is also part of the Colorado River.

It's a beautiful little spot on the North shore of the lake, just east of the Congress Ave. Bridge.
They must have just finished the project because there's not a spot of graffiti on any part of it. 

 The lighting was so nice on this spot today. I hope the compression in Blogger doesn't 
render it ugly and smashed up.
The way the Sigma fp and the 45mm lens render foliage is so natural. 
I feel like I'm standing there, sweating and admiring the trees and their leaves...

This is the opposite view from the Pedestrian Bridge. The bridge in the photo is the Lamar Bridge. 
It used to be one of the main bridges that runners used to go North/South when running various loops around the lake. But the sidewalks on the bridge were designed at a time when traffic was much slower and much sparser. They are extremely narrow. Too narrow. The city began production on the Pfluger (Pedestrian) Bridge after several runners were struck by cars and killed. 
It's still a handsome structure, but in a very 1950's way.

When I left my car this morning and started the walk I was already tired from getting up early and swimming hard for a couple miles. The first fifteen minutes of this adventure felt slow and groggy. There was an annoying allergy drip down my throat. My energy was at a low ebb. I thought, what the hell, I'll just make a short loop and head back home. 

The further I got into the walk the better I started to feel. By the time I got to the farthest side of the route I was feeling great. I was in sync with the camera and lens combination and seeing things in a fresher way that I have in a while. By the end I was happy. Really happy. 

Walks are unpredictable. Sometimes the cadence of walking takes over and I'm reticent to stop and take photographs. A week or so ago I took a camera, walked for an hour and a half and took two photos. When I reviewed them I erased them and decided that sometimes a walk is just a walk. Today I felt like this was a balanced walk with a camera. There were things that piqued my interest and there were stretches where it just felt great to glide by and stay with the rhythm of my breathing. And then there are the walks where everything seems interesting and photogenic and I come home with hundreds of photographs and the realization that I barely covered a mile or so. 

Another funny aspect of walks is that when I walk in the neighborhood with Belinda, or out in Dripping Springs with Emmett, I never bother to bring along a camera. With Belinda there are too many interesting things to talk about and our mission is exercise. With Emmett there are too many hills, the pace is quite brisk and the camera would just slow me down. 

I would say that I appreciate the solo walks but they are never really "solo" if I have a camera with me. 

I walked with a camera today. It felt good. It felt like a happy process. The secret is to walk again tomorrow. And the next day. Then it becomes a good habit. Besides, I've got the time right now.

Medical notes: I bought a blood oxygen tester a few weeks ago. I thought I'd check my VO2 every once in a while to make sure I was healthy. Low oxygen levels can be a sign that you might have developed a respiratory disease (Like COVID-19) while other symptoms might not have emerged yet. 
I've had fun testing myself. My blood oxygen generally run between 96-98. I had no idea that there would be as much variation. I thought homeostasis would iron out the ups and downs. 

But the interesting thing is that this device is giving a constant readout of my pulse rate. If I take the device to the pool and clip it onto my finger after I get out from a hard workout my pulse rate can be as high as 135 or 140 (it drops pretty quickly right after the last set). By the time I'm sitting in my car getting ready to go home it's dropped into the 70's and, sitting at the dining room table, by the time I've finished eating my combination of yogurt, muesli and blueberries, my heart rate settles down to the mid to upper 50s.

If I sit in a chair for an hour reading and relaxing I can watch the BPM dip all the way down to the low 50's. 

I didn't realize just how much a person's heart rate would vary depending on their activity. It's been fun. 
If I try to make my heart rate slower the effort of trying to control it speeds it up. Same with the O2 readings. I guess the mantra for today is: relax. 

And create or recreate a habit of photographing. 


7.06.2020

A new equipment modification that makes the Sigma fp a more comfortable walk around camera for me. Thank you, Bob Autrey!

The Movo VF-40 Pro Universal 3X Loupe for mirrorless cameras. 

The Sigma fp camera, especially when used with the Sigma 45mm f2.8 DG DN lens is a wonderful camera for photographers who enjoy wondering around snapping images of cool stuff. Especially cool stuff that doesn't move around a lot. But it has one flaw for people like me. Those would be people who like to use a camera with an EVF or an OVF. It has NO-VF. 

You have to do all your focusing and composing on the camera's rear LCD screen. But it's churlish to complain about that now since I knew about this limitation before I bought the camera. I figured I would purchase the Sigma Loupe and everything would be dandy. 

But then the (built from unobtainium) loupe went on eternal back order and after I used the naked LCD screen in the Texas sun I thought it would be smart to find something to use to elevate the view from the back, in the interim. Since I had already ordered the Sigma version (and it's pricy at nearly $300 USD) I didn't want to spend a lot of cash on a short term alternative. I looked though Amazon and found a loupe by a company called Movo. The loupe is all plastic, with plastic optics, but it mounted pretty well to the camera and it only cost about $50. The single magnifying lens is plastic but it serves its purpose... medium well. 

It was a workable solution. The Movo had one feature that I wish had been duplicated on the vastly more expensive Sigma version; there is a hinge between the eyepiece and the body of the loupe which allows the operator to flip up the magnifier and use the body of the loupe as a hood for the finder. This way you can look at the full frame on the back of the camera but without needing the magnifier in the viewing path. In this configuration the body of the loupe works well to largely reduce reflections from glancing light rays. It make the screen readable to me even in bright sunlight. But you still have the big magnifier hinged up over the top and it's cumbersome. Inelegant. 

The Sigma VF-XX loupe finally showed up and I put it on my camera. It increased the overall size of the camera package by 2X. It's a great loupe, optically, but it's really big. And if you want to see the naked screen, without magnification, you have to disentangle the entire thing from the camera. After a few weeks I stopped using the VF-XX and put it in a drawer. I figure I'll use it on more controlled studio type shoots but never as part of a walk around system. 

And this renewed a desire to just have a hood. No big magnifier, just something to shield the rear screen enough to make it highly usable in sunlight. I kept looking at the Movo.... 

Then I got an e-mail from a reader by the name of Bob Autrey. We talked about loupes and he told me he'd modified the same model Movo loupe to make it serve the very purpose I was pining for. I asked how and he gave me instructions. A little while later I took a hack saw to the Movo and finally ended up with the product I didn't know I wanted all along. A nicely compact hood for the rear screen that doesn't interfere with the camera's buttons and provides all the light shielding I could ask for while keeping the overall camera package small and light. 

I am appreciative to Mr. Autrey for providing the necessary push and the guidance. Now the Sigma fp is one step closer to perfection. It's a great package to carry around and, since firmware 2.0, I'm trusting the camera's autofocus with the 45mm to the point where I'm not using the rear screen to check on that. 
It's strictly an exposure and composition device. And that works. So, $50 for a perfect camera hood that fits just right over the screen but above the necessary camera buttons. Seems like a bargain to me. 

Now looking for other stuff to saw.... There is a danger I could get carried away with hack saw power. Is that bezel around my iMac Pro a bit wide?  I might be able to fix that.....



 Sigma fp now good to go.

Final accessory for full control of reflections?
A black, cotton baseball cap with a nice, dark brim. Perfect.

Here's how I'm doing my portraits this morning. OT: It's just a post about gear. No other subjects covered.

An actor at Zach Theatre. 

Oh boy! It's Monday morning and I get to do two studio portraits. I've got the studio scrubbed and the hand sanitizer assembled next to the extra face masks and the disinfectant wipes. But, more important to my task this morning, I've got the lighting I want set up and I've selected the perfect camera and lens. So, without further messing around let's talk shop.

When it comes to work the genre I feel most comfortable with is studio portraiture. You can do it rain or shine, and if you pay attention you can have complete control over the lighting. But there's also a part of the process which is about hospitality. You are inviting someone into your space and you are hosting them there. It's your job to make the person you are working with feel at home, comfortable, and like the important part of the equation that they are. Only when you get them at ease in the space and comfortable on the posing stool are you ready to engage with the gear. And that part should be almost invisible.

Today we'll be working with one of my favorite camera and lens combinations for corporate portraits; the high resolution, Lumix S1R camera and the Lumix 70-200mm f4.0 S Pro lens. This lens is sharp and visually pleasant throughout its focal length range. In a controlled setting, like the one we've set up for our ongoing client's radiology practice, I have each physician sit on an adjustable posing stool and I set up the camera on a tripod to be at eye level. Lately, when I check the exif information I see that my typical focal length for most sittings is about 135mm. It's a good compromise between establishing a safe working distance and getting a head size that fits with all the previous portraits I've done for the same practice. 

We're working with modestly powerful LED lights lately. I'm using them at medium power settings. I know most photographers' impulses are to buy the biggest, most powerful lights they can get their hands on, and that makes sense if you are lighting big spaces, but for portrait subjects there's only a certain intensity you can go to before the people in front of the lights get uncomfortable and start to squint. My lights for today's sessions are three Godox SL60 W's. They are daylight balanced LEDs and the way I use them and modify their output means that I'm working with ISO 1000 @ f5.6 on the camera. I used the shutter speed to hit correct exposures. If I'm set up right I can hold a shutter speed of 1/50th - 1/60th of a second and, with good instructions to the sitter, we can get most of our images without subject motion. 

Yes, bigger lights would get me higher shutter speeds but there is a point (a bit different for each person) at which the increased light intensity is going to be counterproductive/uncomfortable for the subject. I don't worry too much about lower shutter speeds because I'm using the camera on a tripod.

 It is funny to remember that when I opened my first little studio I was doing portraits with an old Calumet 4x5 inch view camera and sometimes did available light sittings with shutter speeds as low as 1/4 or 1/8th of a second. Some photographs turned out quite well. Some looked like "art." With slower shutter speeds timing and watching the subject carefully become more important. But the added challenge makes the process more fun.

I'm shooting 14 bit, 47.5 megapixel raw files so I have a fair amount of latitude when it comes to color correction and dynamic range. Even so I do a custom white balance for each set up. Especially in my studio where the overall lighting environment is supplemented by exterior daylight. As far as exposure goes it seems best, with modern cameras, to aim for a slight underexposure which allows one to maintain detail in highlights while raising shadow values in post for a better look. 

The main light is a Godox SL60W in a small, 30 by 30 inch soft box coming from the subject's top right hand side. I've feathered the soft box so that a good amount of spill light hits the silver reflector on the subject's shadow side and provides a nice fill. 

There is a light aimed at the white, seamless background paper and I'm using that one without a modifier as a wash. I have added a set of barn doors just to keep extra light from spilling everywhere. The light on the background is about 2/3rds of a stop brighter than the main light. 

The final light is yet another Godox SL60W used at lower power in a small 16 by 20 Chimera light box that I've had hanging out in the studio for at least two decades. I want just enough soft light on the top of people's heads to add some motivation for the background light. This light isn't absolutely essential for portraits against white but as long as you are judicious and don't let anything burn out it's neutral. I use it because the client's art director will often drop out the white background put the doctor's photo against a different background which might be much darker. If they do this then the effect of the hair light helps to create separation from the new background. 

Once I've set up and tested the lighting, camera and lens, I'm ready for my subject when they walk through the door. I think this is essential because it keeps the process (in the eyes of the sitter) focused on the interaction between the two humans and doesn't introduce "gear" as a distraction. My instructions to the sitter are all about positioning them and getting expressions I like. I'm never happy to interrupt this process in order to tweak a light that I should have taken care of before starting. Of course, it's not always possible to be so perfect. You do find things that need fixed during the course of the sitting. You may notice something about the client's complexion or hair that needs a slightly different approach with lighting and you'd be silly to depend on fixing that in post. But, as a general rule, I like to have all the nuts and bolts of lighting a session taken care of before we start. 

When it comes to camera operation I feel the same way. I don't want to distract a sitter with technical mumbo-jumbo. If I need to make an exposure adjustment I rarely announce it. If I do I state it in terms like, "I just want the image to be a little bit darker..." Instead of, "I'm going to adjust the aperture to f 7.1 for better density..." I want to keep the conversation  moving and learn all about them, not teach them all about my process. Mostly because --- they don't care. And they shouldn't have to care. 

My two best questions for the physicians today were: "Why did you decide to become a radiologist?" And, "How to you like Austin, Texas so far?" 

Once we're finished and we're unwrapping ourselves from the actual shooting I will ask for the sitter's forbearance while I spot check just a few files to make sure I haven't missed something important or something that would be easier to shoot a few more frames to fix rather than heading into a post production rabbit hole. I quickly check ten or so files to make sure we don't have too many blinks, sleepy left or right eyelids, or too much subject movement. Once I've got a preponderance of keepers I walk away from the camera and let the client know that we've got some great stuff. Then they are out the door and onto their busy day. Any friction I can reduce in our collaborative process is one less sub-routine they'll have running in their heads later. 

A few more small ideas: I like to keep the studio cooler than normal for sessions in the Summer because Texas heats up quickly and the cooler interior temperatures help the client get comfortable quicker. The cool, dry air cuts down on shiny complexions and is more inviting. More relaxing.

I turn off my cellphone and mute notifications on my desktop. Even though I would never answer the phone during a session both the client and I are probably acculturated to think one of us should answer the phone. And we'll wonder who was calling and why. A quick and easy way to break my concentration and my client's focused participation for what's probably just another robo call.

For a quick headshot session I prefer not to play music. I know a lot of studios are jamming all the time and there's always something playing in the background. I'd rather focus on the client and be able to give instructions and good feedback without having them strain to hear me. Also, you never know what your client's taste in music might be. You might think that Lady GaGa's 2008 album, The Fame, is the greatest assemblage of music since Mozart but that country and western fan sitting on your posing stool might think it's the Devil's work. Not an argument worth having. Silence is ultimately the best audio curation for short sittings.

Finally, I've learned that the "goodbye" of a session is as important as the "hello." Once the session is over I want to tell the client exactly what will happen next, how they'll get access to their gallery and what kind of retouching I anticipate doing on their photos. If they are a new transplant I want to welcome them to Austin and see if any of our interests intersect so I can suggest resources. I always want to thank them for taking time to come to the studio.  Finally, I want to offer them a bottle of water or a cup of coffee for the road, if they want one. 

The last question many younger clients ask in parting is: "Where is the nearest Starbucks." I have a quick answer ready. 

When you are working over the long term (decades?) for a client you want each session to go as well as you can engineer it. Each person who returns from your studio to the home office is a data point for the marketing people. Their individual satisfaction is one part of a cumulative measure which either keeps you in the fold or finally pushes your client to look elsewhere. If you don't service your clients well they may not continue to be your clients.... they are a gift and not an entitlement.
Ready to work. Camera set, lights measured, attitude adjusted. 
I bought my first Godox SL60W about a year ago and was impressed by the build and performance for the price. I've since brought two more and they've become my default lighting choice for quick set ups in the studio. The light is good and the Bowens speed ring compatibility is efficient. Makes them easy to use in soft boxes. 
Having a routine set up and having a digital read out of power output makes replicating set-ups from week to week easier. I keep a note in the client's folder about the lighting set up. Better than re-inventing the wheel. 
The new normal for studio supplies. Hand sanitizer, disposable surgical masks and wipes. 
Even a small spray bottle of isopropyl alcohol for spraying down objects...
Here's the view from the camera position. I haven't raised the hair light yet but I'll have it roughly positioned by the time my sitters get here... I measured the distance from camera to subject today. It's 10 and a half feet. That should work. 
I'm using a silver reflector for a fill light source. Used pretty close it's just right.

Since I started writing this blog post this morning I've had both the scheduled people come by to be photographed. The first session was at 9 and the second was at 10:30. Each took a bit less than 15 minutes. Lots of time in between to clean up and re-prep. They appreciated the short time commitment. Seems like they were both looking forward to busy days...

One blog note: Just a reminder that this blog doesn't accept advertising and doesn't sell anything. You won't get hit up for Patreon cash and if there's a link to click on it's because I'm presuming that the thing linked is interesting to us as photographers (or swimmers). I don't have an affiliation with any gear manufacturer, camera maker or otherwise. If I write about something it's because I'm interested in it. 
You are always welcome here but your attendance is not mandatory. If you don't agree with what I've written that's fine and you can leave a well considered, even tempered comment. I don't get paid to read rants or participate on the losing end of ad hominem attacks. 

Like most humans I thrive on feedback so try to leave some from time to time. 

Stay well and soldier on. KT

7.05.2020

Reading in the quiet of late afternoon. A book about art makes for a nice break.

This is one of my favorite corners in the house in which to read. And to look at books of art.
And it's nice when you can combine both reading and art in one serving.
I've been domestically busy today. I've oiled tables, cleaned bathrooms, written letters and trimmed bushes. At some point in the day it's good to just sit quietly and relax.
And few things are as relaxing as a good book.

There is a Spanish or Mexican custom called, Marienda. It's a snack or small meal that fits in between lunch and supper. In Belinda's family it's a long standing custom on Sunday afternoons to have something sweet with a cup of coffee. It's a ritual I love to embrace. Today I had another slice of 
apple pie. I can't remember ever having had a better apple pie than the one that sits, half eaten, in my refrigerator. Any excuse to have another slice.  And, you've seen the coffee cup before. It's my favorite because it's big so you can put in more coffee, and it's bright red so it's harder to lose. 

Today's book is called, "Matisse, Picasso, MirĂ³ As I Knew Them"

By Rosamond Bernier. 

Ms. Bernier knew all three of the artists. In the case of Matisse she became a good friend and a decades long student of his work. The book is written in a literary style that's more formal than I would have expected,  given its publication date of 1991. But once you immerse your self into Ms. Bernier's cadence the stories come into focus quite nicely. 

One of the pleasures of this book is that it's very well printed, and illustrated with an abundance of lovely color plates. The plates are referenced in the text and add so much to the experience of armchair learning and savoring.

Today I was working through Matisse and, if there's time tomorrow afternoon I'll give 
the chapters on Picasso a whirl. 

I had a great time taking my mother and father to the Picasso Museum in Paris in 1994. Years later my father would still smile when he thought about the bicycle with the bull's horns...
Everyone should take their parents someplace special while they have time and health.
It's nice way to create memories that live on after they are gone...
Who ever thought we'd bond over art?

So, this corner of the living room is rarely used by anyone but me. It feels like it's distant from the rest of the house and the high ceilings and ample light make it seem like a reading room in a nice library.
Sometimes, after reading for an hour or two, I just close the book and look at the windows that line the opposite side of the room and watch the wind wend its way through the line of trees.
The leaves jittering and the branches waving gently. 

The corner is getting regular use by me during our isolation from the outer world. 
My guilty book pleasure from last week was still hanging around on the ottoman in front of my chair. It's one of the many Avedon books that came out in the first part of this century. 
This one is, "Avedon Fashion: 1944-2000" and it's really interesting. I love the forwards and commentary in Avedon books almost as much as I enjoy the photographs. Everyone who writes a piece for an Avedon book sounds so smart, so cool, and so tied into the chic-ness of the moment.

I keep a small tripod hidden behind the couch on the presumption that you'll never know when you'll need a bit of extra support. When I saw all the diagonals and the contrast of the light, and the reflection from the floor, I had to make a photograph. Not my usual style but then these are not usual times...

Oh yes. I also did laundry. This pile is bedsheets. The photography of the sheets is in service to my procrastination. I figure I can't be blamed for unfolded sheets if I'm busy making some sort of profound art documentation of them. We'll see how long that argument will work ...

Yes, I oiled all the butcher block tables in the house as well as the cedar pillar that holds up the entry hallway. It's a satisfying job because the aging and weathered wood becomes vibrant and more saturated. It's almost as if I PhotoShopped the table back to its former glory.

We have a lot of art history books, books about graphic design, and books about and by photographers. There is something calming and inspiring about visiting each of the genres and I always come away with a different gift of discovery than I think I will when I sit down and open each book. 

What Avedon tells me is to focus on the work.

What Matisse tells me is to take care of both the business and the sensual sides of life.

What Winograd tells me is to get the fucking horizon straight....

The next book on the stack is another plunge into what is quickly becoming a distant past. 

It's a book called, "A Propos de Paris"

It's a book of photographs by Henri-Cartier Bresson. It's for when you get exhausted at the thought of  looking through "The Decisive Moment" one more time.

Tomorrow we've got portraits to do. Good to get all the cleaning and set up done ahead of time...

Have a great week!


I keep reading about the Leica Q2 and whenever I read/watch something great about it I take my Sigma fp out for a jaunt.

just a GX8. Not under discussion here. 

I don't know how the Leica QP didn't make it on to my radar until after it was discontinued but I've just become aware of its existence and now it's mostly gone. Much to my chagrin...

I came across a nicely filmed Youtube review of the Leica QP by a fellow named Evan Ranft. Here's the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zESfiXqUJZE  He did a good job elucidating his attraction to the camera and seasoned his review with the reality that he uses it in conjunction with other cameras, not as his "only" camera. 

The Leica QP is pretty much a version of the Leica Q which was an immediate ancestor of the current Q2. It's a body that's designed and built to look and feel like an M series rangefinder camera but it's not a rangefinder; it's a contrast detect AF camera with a full frame (35mm) sensor and a permanently attached 28mm f1.7 Leica lens. The regular Q was nice and all but the QP is stealthier and does away with the red dot (Leica branding) on the front of the camera and makes up for it with  a nicely engraved logo treatment on the top plate which is far less showy. The camera is also differentiated from the conventional Q cameras because it's finished with a highly durable, matte-like paint finish that has a high resistance to scratching, brassing etc. 

The 28mm Summilux lens is purported to be worth the price of the camera. I'm sure it's a great performer and it has a few other tricks up its sleeve. There's a macro switch and their is also a manual/autofocus clutch like you'll find on the S-Pro lenses from Panasonic and the Pro lenses from Olympus. The value is in the rendering of the lens and the sensor but the sizzle is the stealthy and low profile body. 

The reason I would want one would be for the look of the product and the quality of the files. But there's one horrible flaw to this camera that keeps me from searching for a pristine, used one. It's a fatal flaw in my estimation but... not everyone will share that viewpoint. 

So, what's the dead fly in the punchbowl? It's the focal length of the permanently attached optic. It's a 28mm. That's just too wide to make this camera an all terrain street camera for me. I wish it had a 35mm equivalent; or, even better a 40 or 50mm lens. Then it would be absolutely perfect. 

I sure wish Leica would make a camera like this in two versions. One with a 28mm on the front and one with a 50mm on the front. You could buy one of each, take a deep and satisfied sigh, and then be happy and content with your small and effective two camera system. Heck, if I never go back to working for clients that duo is exactly what I'd buy and use for my perpetual and indulgent personal work. But sadly, everyone seems transfixed with the "idea" of wide angles. 

You know my take on lenses wider than 35mm: They are for people who just can't make up their minds about what they might want to see in the frame. 

A true Leicaphile's response would be that I should just buy a Q2 with its 47.5 megapixel sensor and use it in various (available) crop modes to get the 35mm and 50mm. Even at the 50mm crop the higher res sensor delivers a 20+ megapixel file. But I'm stubborn and I'd rather have full resolution of a less densely populated sensor at the long end, not the short end. I know it's largely theoretical but that's how my brain works. 

When I watch the video I noticed that Evan uses the camera nearly always at arm's length and by viewing on the back screen into of using the (very, very good) EVF. When I remember that I have an "aha!" moment and I grab my newly customized Sigma fp with a 40mm Sigma lens and head out the door to practice my own style of "dirty baby diaper" hold and realize I already have a small and perfectly made camera for Q style shooting and it's arguably as good or better at making photographs. 

I'll tell you how I modified the camera, with the help of a VSL platinum reader, in the next post.

Day notes: It's been a busy day here. I chose to sign up for the 9 a.m. Sunday swim practice so I slept in till 8. I had a piece of that scrumptious, Whole Foods apple pie and a cup of coffee for breakfast and left the house in great spirits. 

The workout wasn't crowded and coach, Dale, was on the deck. He wrote a workout with a long warm-up and then introduced us to a nice "ladder" set. We went up and down a ladder of distances with a 50 meter kick between each distance. It went something like this: kick a 50, swim a 100, kick a 50, swim a 150, kick a 50, swim a 200, kick a 50, swim a 250, kick a 50, swim a 500, kick a 50, swim a 250, kick a 50, swim a 200 and so on. A nice way to lard a bunch of different distances into the meat of a work out.

We were diligent and had time at the end so we did a set of never ending 75 yard swims until we ran out the clock.

After a long and leisurely breakfast back home I started on my pre-shoot chores. I have two different physicians coming over at different times tomorrow for portraits. They are the safe kind. They are radiologist who are working remotely. We'll still follow all the safety rules...

But I've cleaned and mopped the bathroom, scrubbed the sink and toilet and outfitted the area with hand sanitizer, paper towels and extra surgical masks. I was feeling energetic so I also oiled the big, butcher block dining room table and the big butcher block prep table in the kitchen. I cleaned the Saharan Dust off all the air conditioner heat syncs and re-insulated the A/C piping in the house. After I finish this post I'm heading out to trim back some sage bushes and one annoying Japanese maple branch so my guests can find their way to the studio door. 

Then I'll reset the lights to the style we've been doing for the client over the past three or four years. Heady stuff, right? Beats sitting in front of the computer and searching to see if Leica has come out with a "P" version of the Q2... 

Better put that Sigma fp around my neck and carry it around as a reminder that I've already got this part of the gear party covered. Can't wait till it's safe to go everywhere to photograph. Happy enough now but really looking forward to 2021. All new, all the time. 


7.04.2020

A warm but refreshing walk through a mostly deserted downtown Austin. A quiet and solitary celebration of the 4th.


It hit 100° Fahrenheit today in Austin. When we factored in the humidity it felt more like 107° so it was a sweaty afternoon for a casual stroll. But what are you going to do? On the positive side, at least during the pandemic, I find that oppressive heat and humidity makes for radically good social distancing since few people want to leave their air conditioning to amble through an area that's currently shuttered.

But I love being outside walking; especially if I have a fun camera and a new lens with which to play. 

Today's combination was the Lumix GX8 and the Sigma 16mm f1.4 Contemporary lens. A very nice street shooting combination --- now that I'm learning to leverage the wider focal length. My one nod to nerd-dom was the addition, on the lens, of a circular polarizer, of questionable quality. I say that it's of questionable quality because every frame I took showed the same low contrast when I got back to the studio and started playing around in post. The images looked pretty good when reviewed on the EVF but much, much flatter on the iMacPro. I would guess that several things are at play here. One is that the filter is an off brand called a "Niko". Second is that the Niko polarizer in question is at least 20 years old. And finally, I think importing raw files directly into Luminar 4.0 gives a different look than importing the same files into Adobe. Almost as if the developers intentionally go for a flatter profile when importing raw files in order to show a greater contrast between the "before" and the "after" when using their "looks." No proof, just conjecture on my part. 

For work I keep using a combination of Abobe Lightroom (classic) and Photoshop. They're ultimately predictable and give me a lot of repeatable control over imaging changes. But for my "fun" photographs I really like playing around with programs like Snapseed and Luminar because they can make my stuff look different in ways I hadn't through about or experimented with. Seeing work in a new way might lead to incorporating some of the pizzazz while rejecting other more kitschy parts. I especially like toying with the files that I put up on Instagram because I think the limits of that app mitigate against the need to try for "ultimate" image quality, and invite more playfulness. 

I had an ulterior motive in walking downtown today. I'd gotten a promo e-mail from Whole Foods/Amazon.com that listed a bunch of holiday specials and I wanted to get one of their really tasty apple pies. With my Whole Foods app and my Prime Membership the pie was 35% off the regular price. It's my contribution to this evening's dinner. I think we're having something healthy like an Asian chicken salad - with much emphasis on the salad. I guess it's my underhanded attempt to mitigate the arch healthiness of the low fat/high vegetable content main course with a full fat, chunky and crusty pie as a balance. Mission accomplished. 

It was nice, after an hour and a half of walking and shooting and fiddling with a polarizer, to step into the massive air conditioning of the Whole Foods store. I was hot and thirsty so I also bought a bottle of sparkling grapefruit soda. I rarely drink sodas (pop? soft drinks? whatever your dialect calls sugar infested, carbonated beverages) so the sugar in the Izzie soda gave me a bit of a sugar rush. It reduced my inhibitions to the point where I had my phone out searching for more cinema lenses to buy --- right now. But the rush was followed by a sugar crash just in time to keep me from more and unnecessary negative cash flow. But there is something about that 12mm Meke cinema lens for m4:3 that interests me...

It's nice to have a camera in my hands. I suspect the same is true for you as well. It's both a passport that allows us permission to look and investigate the visual components of life and it's also a security blanket which allows us to carry and demonstrate one of the entertaining purposes in our lives. 

Everyone in downtown today was behaving well. Even the generation Zoom kids riding on electric scooters were wearing masks as they terrorized pedestrians on the sidewalks. Maybe there's hope yet. 

I have a couple of people coming in for portraits (one at a time) on Monday. I guess it will be time to put the m4:3 stuff on hold for a day and re-engage with the bigger cameras. I'm thinking of going to the other extreme and bringing out the Lumix S1R. Every web portrait needs to start out as a 47.5 megapixel file, right? (Sarcasm strongly implied). 
This is me out for the July 4th walk. It's the first time in years that I did the walk in a collar-less t-shirt. It felt...so casual.  The broad brimmed hat is a given in full sun in the Summer. And the mask is all the rage this season. I'm wearing one of the ones I saw on the runway at this Spring's fashion shows. (Kidding).

Early last week I bought another box of 50 face masks. Belinda thought I was coming close to hoarding since I still haven't run through the first box I bought a while ago. But then the revised lock down suggestions hit, along with the upward spike of infections in our city and now I look prescient. Since the governor and mayor have mandated masks in public I'm sure there will be another run on them this week. I'm not wearing glasses in this image because the GX8 has a diopter that works for my optical pathology. Nice. Double pane glass so there's a multiple image....

Kind of nutty but since we've had lots of Saharan dust and an abundance of cloudy days as well I was so delighted to see actual blue skies today that I had to document them. But that's something I guess I've been doing for years...


 Green Food Trailer. 

The traditional July 4th celebrations are cancelled this weekend here in Austin. I'm sure some neighbors will set off fireworks and that's okay. We'll plan on a quiet evening at home. Just like last night. And the night before. Etc. 

Still, the house is big and comfortable. The neighborhood is safe and beautiful. The refrigerator is stocked full of great stuff, and then there's that pie. I know what I'm having for breakfast before swim practice tomorrow. Coffee and Pie. Just like they used to have on Twin Peaks.

Hope everyone has a modicum of fun on tap for this evening. I wonder which camera I'll walk with tomorrow and where we'll walk. Might be time to call my guy out in Dripping Springs and see which one of us can get to the top of the hill first...


7.03.2020

It's Friday. It's Hot. Time to catch up.

My writing must seem morose lately because a number of kindly readers have called, texted, and e-mailed to "check in" with me and to offer "words of encouragement" and "emotional support." I want to thank everyone who responded to what is mostly just my bad writing. But the compassion extended seemed real and is appreciated.

I want my VSL readers to know that I am no more or less frustrated, mildly depressed, and somewhat apprehensive than any other adult who can still crack open a newspaper or spend too much time looking at news feeds online... But, I am not globally out of sorts or impacted as much as I am topically. And I am pretty good at compartmentalizing most emotional baggage while embracing what my friends and family might call a natural exuberance and a joy of many small and large things in life. I am not gobbling down Prozac nor am I paralyzed by angst or sadness. I'm going to be as okay as the rest of you --- at least if we average everyone in our demographic together.

I am, however, wrestling with how the pandemic is changing my work life. I think a lot of people whose work intersects with their art are going through the same thoughts. To wit, How much will the business of photography change? As more friction is added to the process of taking images for business will there be an inflection point at which clients decide that the added cost and complexity makes continuing the old way of doing things prohibitive? Will the pandemic have forced companies to find new ways to acquire content and will these changes mute the need for external suppliers to do the work? Will the people we've worked with in the past retain their jobs and will they still have the budgets to spend for the kind of work we do? Has the look and feel of images for popular culture changed both in value and style?

My spouse advises me that I should stop thinking in terms of making money and instead reconfigure my brain around the idea of What would you do with your time and energy if you never needed to earn one more cent?  To which I generally answer: I'd spend my time making beautiful images of interesting people. But it's sad to know, in the moment, that I can neither do the kind of work I enjoy in exchange for money nor the kind of photographic play I like to do for my own satisfaction.

People who comment here and suggest new ways to morph my business in order to continue to make money are missing the point. I don't think I really need to do the business as much as I know I really don't want to change the look and feel of my work. I'm not going to start doing used car commercials, or steal work from Peter Lik by doing odd landscape work. I'm not going to segue to shooting weddings or making cinegraphs. I'm just not.

I guess my strategy is to wait out the initial, societal trauma of the pandemic and, at some point in the middle future, sniff the air, check the tea leaves and figure out a way forward. To rush into making pronouncements and plans seems a bit presumptuous. We don't have much clarity of what life will look like a month or even a year from now.

Here's what life looks like right now: I get up every morning around 5:20 and turn off the alarm I set the night before. I've been hitting the early swim practices at the pool (6 a.m.) for nearly eight weeks now and though I set an alarm clock each night for 5:30 I have yet to be awoken by the chirping audio of the phone. I seem to have an internal alarm clock that comes into play about 15 minutes prior. 

I drag myself out of bed, ingest about 20 ounces of water mixed with iced tea and then head to the pool. I swim with a group of nice people. The age range is lower 30's to a bit over 70. I am obviously not the youngest person in the pool but nor am I the elder of the bunch. Comforting, in a way. 

Since it's too early to be awake and chatty I find that I'm getting a better, harder workout in than I have in the recent past. That's a good thing. But less chit-chat is less social so that's a bad thing. 

In moments of indulgence I'll head by McDonald's after workout and get a big coffee and a Bacon, Egg and Cheese Biscuit. This is, maybe, a twice a month occurrence. The rest of the time I make a healthier breakfast at home. Either way this is the point at which I should have more personal control in order to reduce anxiety and frustration. I should NOT read the news while having breakfast... But I do. 

At 8:35 a.m. I check the stock market news and see if I am richer or poorer than I was the day before. Belinda tells me to check my portfolio a couple times a year and NOT a couple times a day. When the stocks and index funds are up I'm elated. When they swoon I fall into a temporary funk. Not a clever way to start out the day...

The rest of the day is ultimately unstructured. I try to write a blog post every day to stay in touch with the friends I've made here and to keep my fingers and brain limber. My dear, late dog, aka: Studio Dog taught me how to take naps in the afternoon and she ingrained in me the habit of laying down on the couch in the living room, under the big ceiling fans, and chilling out for 30 minutes each day. It's not necessary to go to sleep, just to lay quietly and try to empty out my brain.

Since the early part of March Belinda and I have eaten ever single evening meal together. And that always gets me thinking about gratitude. 

I am grateful for so many things. For my fun career. My wonderful family. My good health. My dear friends and the countless solid acquaintances who are just waiting to be friends. I'm grateful that I don't have to worry about whether or not I can afford to buy an interesting lens. I'm grateful that I can still swim an acceptable butterfly stroke at 64. So grateful that I'm filled with energy and curiosity. 

When I go to bed at night I don't spend sleepless moments thinking about what "I should have done" or "what the future holds."  Instead, I take an inventory of all the fun a wonderful things, big and small, that have happened to me or with me over the course of the day. And I generally fall asleep with a smile on my face...

I got in my car and drove around today. After swim practice and breakfast I tossed a GX-8 with a modest wide angle lens on it in the little, white Subaru Forester and drove in a big circle. Out Highway 290 thru Dripping Springs, Texas and then on to Hwy 281.  I followed the highway south to Blanco, Texas and then headed East on the road to Henly, Texas which took me back, the scenic route, to Dripping Springs. There's several things I like about the town but the thing I never miss is stopping in a the self-serve car wash to spray the dust, dirt and bugs off my car. Today the Forester is sparkly and I can actually see the gloss of the white paint.

I took the camera, lens and a polarizing filter because I thought I might see something new and different. But I didn't. The ride alone was the real draw for me. The car wash was just the cherry on top.

Sometimes the camera comes out and sometimes it doesn't. But as long as the drive is fun and continuous it's good for your distant vision, you sense of freedom and it's even good for your car battery.

When I got home I ordered sandwiches from a favorite shop and picked them up curbside.

Our governor finally (FINALLY!!!) mandated that everyone wear masks when out in public and, so far, I'm seeing pretty good compliance. The parks and even the hiking trails are closed down this weekend to try and tamp down virus spread.

I'm trying to recharge and get motivated to work on something/anything fun. My friend, James, wrote a script for a short video. The issue, of course is not being able to work safely on the project with a cast and crew. We commiserated over coffee. But boy, will we have some stories to tell when this is over.

Stay fit, healthy and happy. Feel the joy in what you have. Play with the cameras that you love. Savor every bite. And, look for another blog post on Sunday or Monday.