11.17.2018

Welcome to my office. It's "Post Production Friday."


I started my week of photography in a coat and tie for the Zach Theatre, Terence McNally event and ended up on Thursday evening back in a coat and tie at the Texas Appleseed, Good Apple Awards at the Four Seasons Hotel. In between I was near Sacramento, California photographing experts in fire hazard remediation and wildfire prevention and then ankle deep in mud out in the middle of nowhere in North Texas photographing engineers and construction people at a project to build a new lake from scratch. From coat and tie to steel-toed boots, a hard hat and a weathered sweatshirt. Photography can be a multi-wardrobe adventure. 

The Terence McNally event was a blast. The high point for me was when McNally (and, by extension the audience) was serenaded by the amazing Christy Altomare, who is currently starring in the role of Anastasia in the Broadway musical by the same name. 

Christy Altomare.

Also on stage were Richard Thomas (Waltons, The Humans, and Tell Me Your Secrets), Chita Rivera (anything that ever hit Broadway, including one of the original leads in West Side Story), Lauren Lane, Michael Learned, John Glover and many others. Recently I've been shooting the stage work with the Panasonic GH5 and G9 cameras but I thought I would give the Fuji camera a try so I brought along the X-T3, an 18-55mm and a 55-200mm thinking I'd toss them into the mix once in a while. I ended up shooting all evening with that system and ended up really enjoying both the process of shooting (although the G9's are better handling cameras) and the post production I did later that evening. The Fuji has a bit more dynamic range and holds onto highlights a bit better. I delivered 600+ files to the Zach marketing team about three hours after the show. I really didn't have a choice; they needed the files sometime on Tuesday and I would be traveling on my next assignment early in the morning. I shot entirely in Jpeg and depended on my prior knowledge of the theater's lighting system (and styles) to nail color balance and exposure. The EVF on the X-T3 is great and seems to match up with my studio monitor pretty accurately. I shoot a bit conservatively when it comes to exposure so I tend to always be under exposing by a third to a half a stop and then compensating in post production. I fear blowing out the highlights... It wasn't a problem on Monday night. 

Here's how I used the Fuji system: I bought the 55-200mm f3.5 to 4.8 a few days earlier, anticipating that I might want to use it on one of the out of town assignments. I thought I'd switch between the normal zoom (18-55) which is a very good optic and the longer zoom but most of the presentation and the performers fell into the range of the longer lens. I used ISO 3200 as my base to compensate for the slower lens and I was happy to find that the X-T3 files are not very noisy. I'm presuming that the camera is kicking in a good amount of noise reduction but I didn't lose as much sharpness as I have when using that ISO with the Panasonic cameras, and most of the Nikon's I've shot with. I shot in Jpeg and took advantage of the 200% dynamic range boost. 

As is my habit I used the single point AF in the "S" mode and was happy to find that the camera focused quickly and well under the stage lighting. While I know that lens is supposed to be at it's best under 150mm I didn't hesitate to use 200mm when I thought it was a compositional advantage. I'm not sure if the higher ISO or the lens is to blame for any lack of sharpness but all the images were usable and technically acceptable at the longest focal length. All in all it was a nice evening of photography and stellar evening of live theatre and well deserved tribute to a theater genius. 

I headed to Sacramento on Tuesday morning. Delighted to find my favorite breakfast taco provider, TacoDeli, with a eatery at the airport. The taco was perfect and the coffee not too bad. It was a nice start to a long and stressful day. This is the same client that I traveled extensively for in October. Most of our work for them revolves around environmental portraits and I've been fine-tuning and narrowing down the kit with each flurry of assignments. I now have my gear down to two cases. One is a Manfrotto rolling light and grip case which I've shown before. It's a bit longer than 48 inches and can hold three traditional moonlights, three light stands, various modifiers and a bunch of grip equipment. 

On the first few jobs I did for this company I was dragging around a couple of monolights, multiple diffusion frames, soft boxes and more. I also dragged around a separate rolling duffle for my clothes, extra shoes and toiletries. On the trip this week I replaced the bigger, heavier monolights with two Godox AD200 flash kits, I kept the same two, smaller Godox shoe mount flashes and I pared down to two light stands, one diffusion frame, one soft box and one small umbrella. This left me room in the case for my extra clothes, an extra pair of running shoes, my toiletries and a warm jacket. 

I've honed a lighting style that consists of using available sunlight as a back light and then filling from the front with a main light in a small soft box.  If the sun's position doesn't work for the backlight I bring out the diffusion frame and two layers of white silk diffusion and use it to tone down and soften the sun exposure while angling in my main light to create effective short lighting. Since we're working mostly outdoors in regular sunlight I've ditched the tripod entirely and depend on the image stabilization and my hand holding skills (such as they are) to compensate. This allows me to create a convincing portrait lighting set up with only one light and one additional modifier.

The second "case" is the Think Tank Airport Essentials back pack which I bought at the start of these projects. I have other cases but I knew I'd be flying some of the smaller regional jets into the (very) secondary markets and wanted to be absolutely sure that I'd be able to put the cameras and laptop under the seat in front of me in any imaginable scenario. It's worked out great. The case fits perfectly under the seat with no overflow. I keep my cameras, lenses, memory cards, batteries, computer and phone in this case and one pocket serves as my "filing cabinet" for receipts that will need reimbursement.  

When we landed in Sacramento I grabbed a rental car and headed to the small town of Newcastle about 35 miles away. The smoke from the wildfires reduced visibility down to about half a mile; at the most. I got a Ford sedan and was miffed that I couldn't fit the light case into the trunk. I had to toss it across the back seat. Otherwise the car was great and the trip non-fiery and non-eventful. 

When I get to a location the first thing I do, after talking with the client on the ground, is to scout for multiple, possible locations. We needed to photograph eight different people at this location and my client likes wide, establishing shots along with "waist up" shots and also tighter (head and shoulders) portraits. I always need to find a background that will accommodate each version for an individual subject. In Newcastle we had a good selection of backgrounds and I was able to "personalize" the scene for each subject. 

Which brings me to a discussion of lens choice. I started with the 18-55mm because I knew I'd want wide and mid shots. But when I thought about changing lenses to the longer zoom I realized that I'd need to duck into the car over and over again to change between the two. There was just too much airborne particulate matter to take a chance on an out in the open lens change. I ended up zooming in with my feet and using the 55mm end of the lens for my tightest portrait cropping. That worked very well and I never had to expose my camera's sensor to the nasty elements of the moment. 

The haze was amazing. It diffused the sun and probably dropped the overall exposure down by two or three stops. While it didn't affect the portrait the haze did subtly blur the close by background in an interesting way. But with the light so diffused and low I decided (rightly) that I just needed to use one of the smaller Godox V850 shoe mount flashes, firing into a soft silver umbrella, as my main light. I brought along two and had two triggers as well. The first one fired up perfectly and worked as planned with the associated trigger in the hot shoe. I don't use TTL but it's great to be able to change power levels on the fly with the trigger on the camera. 

These days I'm always trying to build "short lighting" into the overall project. It works well with smaller flashes and is mostly flattering for my subjects. I always imaging a line that runs parallel to the sensor plane, at the subject location. If the subject's nose is perpendicular to that line I want to be on one side of the perpendicular line while keeping my main light about 45 degrees around the other side of that perpendicular line. I guess it's just geometry but it works. 

I photographed each of my Newcastle people, chimping furiously as this is basically a week old camera system for me and I wanted to catch any mistakes before we got too far down the road. Everyone was great and cooperative and so, a couple hours later I was heading back down the road towards the airport. 

I dumped off the car and went through TSA PreChek (Thank you, Global Entry!) and grabbed the best burrito I've ever had; airport or not, and then made it to my American Airlines flight which stopped in Phoenix for fifty minutes and then continued on to Dallas/Ft. Worth. 

The second flight is when a totally unexpected catastrophe (almost) struck which would have made me scramble to get the job done. Talk about cold sweat.....  

Have you ever lost your smartphone? It's karma. I know it. I've always teased people for their cellphone addictions and their compulsive use of them. It was bound to catch up with me. I made a connecting flight from Phoenix to Dallas on Tuesday night as I moved east from Sacramento. I generally choose window seats on airplanes and this flight was no different. I got to my seat and put my jacket and my iPhone on the still vacant seat next to me. I turned around to shove my camera backpack under the seat in front of me when I heard a thump on the floor. Lots of things go "thump" when airplanes are loading up so I didn't pay much attention. Then I turned back to the middle seat to find my jacket sliding off and my phone nowhere in sight. 

I figured it just hit the floor. The plane wasn't moving so I was pretty sure the phone didn't slide far. The other people in my row hadn't arrived yet so I swung around like a monkey and looked under the seats. No phone. I asked the people in the row behind me to check. No phone. I asked the people in the row in front of me to look. Again, no phone. And then it dawned on me; the success of my business trip depended as much upon logistics as it did my skills with cameras and lights. If I couldn't get to the right place at the right time then everything would be for naught.

We started our departure and I sat nervously fretting for the next two hours and fifteen minutes about my paralysis by (lost) cellphone.

When we got to Dallas I waited impatiently for everyone to deplane so I could get down on my hands and knees and do a complete search of the airplane. One of the flight attendants jumping in to help me. By sheer luck (and experience) the flight attendant bumped the bottom of an under seat floatation device and the phone tumbled out, none the worse for the fall. Apparently the phone bounced and got trapped by something under the seat. 

But the event made me realize how thoroughly dependent business travelers have become on their smartphones. Before we found the phone, as I sat on the plane, I tried to plan out what to do until I could replace the cellphone. I decided I would pick up my rental car and get to my hotel where I could then gather critical info using my laptop. But...how do I get to my hotel? Does anyone have a map of Dallas? Does anyone have a physical map of anywhere?  

So I went to plan B. I'd grab an Uber or Lyft to the hotel and then wrestle with information on my laptop. Only...how do I get an Uber without my phone? And once I got to the hotel I would need to get up at the crack of dawn (and it was already midnight...) and head north into a sparsely populated part of Texas. Part of my path to the next project was on dirt roads. I would need turn by turn instructions for most of the trip and my notes for the last 15 miles. But the notes were on my phone. 
I could get another phone from AT&T but the stores didn't open until 10 a.m. and nothing at AT&T gets done quickly. If I left at 11 a.m. to get to my project destination I'd be at least three hours late. And that would be critical since eight people were traveling to converge at the spot for photos. 

My Hilton Honors account info? On the phone. My banking app? On the phone. My telephone? On the phone. 

It was an overdue lesson in how dependent I've become on my phone. It can't be logical to have a back-up phone can it?

My rental car was a Nissan Pathfinder which turned out to be the perfect vehicle for my jaunt through  the emptiness of north Texas. More so because the last dozen or so miles of the journey was on dirt roads. I got to my location outside of the unincorporated town of Honey Grove, Texas by mid-morning and hopped in a pickup truck with a construction supervisor to do a scout for photo locations. We found two different spots and I realized we had time to make portraits of the same 10 people in both locations. On that day wind was a problem. I like to use a 4x4 foot scim to kill direct sunlight but with 20 to 30 mile wind gusts there's not a lot of ways to sandbag a diffusion scrim effectively. But we needed the scrim for our angles and lighting to work (especially since were trying to be in the stylistic ballpark with the dozens and dozens of images we shot in other locations and the dozens yet to be shot elsewhere) and we needed something to block some of the breeze to keep peoples' hair from blowing around. 

I convinced the assembled engineers, construction supervisors and regional managers to take turns holding the stand and scrim in place against the wind and made sure we rotated people to keep arms from getting tired. It actually worked. We got great photographs of construction pros both with big equipment behind them and on a cliff overlooking the project (which is the construction of a recreational lake and water source). I packed up and asked where a person might get lunch in the area and the crew laughed. Then someone mentioned Dallas. About 2 hours away. I'm happy I brought along the bottles of water from my Hilton Hotel check in gift bag along with the PowerBar that constantly gets restocked in my camera pack.....

When we started working outside of Honey Grove, Texas, the temperature was in the low 30's (f) and the wind was stiff and constant. I was happy to have on my favorite boots, with wool socks, and my Heat 32 long underwear. The gloves were also appreciated. 

When I got ready to leave I calculated the total time to drive straight to Austin versus returning the car to the DFW airport at rush hour and then waiting for my 9 pm flight. Driving had a potential 2.5 hour benefit for arrival time so I opted to drive. But before I left the location I paused to back up all the raw and Jpeg files to my laptop and to a 256GB memory stick. You can't take too much for granted.

The drive home was non-eventful and I got a good night's sleep on Wednesday. On Thursday morning I decided to see just how good (or bad) the raw files might be from the Fuji XT-3 so I fired up Lightroom and attempted to import the files and build previews. I figured that the XT-3 had been out for a while and Adobe Camera Raw had to have been upgraded already. I came up a bit short when my version of Lightroom wagged it's metaphorical finger at me and let me know that these were an alien raw format. Not accessible by my version. Gulp. Would I actually have to use a less efficient processor? Would I be able to batch process the files at all? But, of course, the internet is your friend and since I've been traveling I missed seeing the last update to the app. The update that added Fuji XT-3 raw files to the mix.  Big calming breath and sigh of relief. A quick upgrade and everything worked like a champ. 

I spent the better part of the day selecting images to import, batch color correcting, labeling and uploading the two sets of files (Sacramento and N. Texas) to individual galleries at Smugmug.com. My take? Lovely flesh tones, less noise and more forgiving files than I usually get from the G9s. I can just about duplicated the look and feel between the two sets but there's that niggling 3-5% difference that could vex an OCD photographer. 

Flush with good feelings about the camera (and the first good night's sleep in the week) I headed downtown to the newly re-styled and refreshed Four Seasons Hotel to photograph the annual fundraising event for Texas Appleseed; a legal advocacy charity. I used a Godox 685 (f) on the XT-3 and shot mostly with the camera in the manual mode (1/60th at f5.6) and the flash set to TTL (-.3). I bounced the flash off the ceiling but also had a little two inch card rubber banded to the back of the flash for a bit of front fill. We shot bunches of posed shots; groups of two, three, four or more, during the hour long reception and then covered all of the speakers, awards and the presentation of the "Good Apple" award to the honoree. It's a great event and all the biggest law firms in Texas buy tables and attend. 

The surprise musical guest, the capper to the evening, was blue's legend W.C. Clark. He did a great, short solo set and had the room full of attorneys, spouses and donors on their feet for a long standing ovation. It was wonderful. And, given my status as the only photographer in the room, I got to photograph Mr. Clark from any angle I wanted; as long as I didn't use a flash. I finally got to put that longer zoom to good use. Sure, I used it on the speakers but this was my favorite utilization since purchase. W.C. Clark is a legend for good reason. I'm glad I got to hear him in a such a great venue.

Once again, I was happy with the files. How happy? Well, I headed to Precision Camera the next morning and bought a Fuji XE-3 to use as a back up, along with one serious lens; the 50mm f2.0 XF, and one play lens: a used Kamlan 50mm f1.1. I can't wait to see the work near f1.0....

Now I'm back into the double system quagmire but at least neither system is ruinously expensive or precious. I'm keeping them both. They are both virtuous and effective. But maybe the Fuji is a bit more aimed at portraiture. We'll see as we go.

Friday is the day that all the serious post production gets done. I've got a week off over the Thanksgiving holiday and then it's off to Virginia, Indiana and other points east to continue my documentation of some of the people who make massive infrastructure projects happen. While I could give or take the actual travel I'm absolutely loving the problem solving each location needs and I'm always thrilled to have my expectations about the capabilities of people and companies exceeded on nearly every working day. I love photography. It's still the most fun I've ever had working. 

Someone recently asked me what I'll do when I retire. It took less than a second to respond: "I'll start doing more photography." 

W.C. Clark at the Four Seasons Hotel. 

Other blog news: Our workshop/tour of England got scratched.  Not enough people followed through. It's a blessing in disguise as I was starting to worry about juggling the onslaught of (well) paying work with my nine day absence... Maybe we'll do one next year.

But it does give me more bandwidth to write the blog. Please stay tuned. 

11.12.2018

Sure makes me happy to get flesh tones just right.

It all starts with good custom white balance. Correct exposure helps too...

Shot with a Samsung 60mm macro lens on the Galaxy NX camera.

Organizing around a zany schedule. Getting locations and timing right is just as important as working the shutter button...


I've got a long slog ahead of me this week. I'm always optimistic but then again, I always try to plan out every step. This evening I'll be photographing a fundraiser honoring playwright, Terence McNally, at Zach Theatre. I'm shooting the stage show while someone else handles the "red carpet" arrivals, etc. When I finish my job at the theater I'll rush home to post process the results of the 70 minute long program of actors, singers and speakers. My goal is to get the entire edited and color corrected take uploaded to the marketing people at the theater before midnight. I kinda have to because I'm supposed to be on a plane out of Austin the next morning....

I have multiple sets of camera batteries. Two each for cameras tonight and two each, packed with chargers for the cameras that will travel. Not calm enough to put things on chargers at midnight and then remember them early the next morning.

On Tues. I'm heading to Sacramento, CA. where I'll snag a rental car and head to a small, small town where my clients has a large, large infrastructure project underway. I'll make environmental portraits of the key personnel, as I did in other locations in late October and, when we wrap up I'll head back to the Sacramento airport and make my way to Dallas, Texas. 

I'm scheduled to hit Dallas around midnight and I have a reservation at one of the chain hotels for that night. But before I leave DFW airport I'll snag another rental car. We've got one reserved. On Wednesday morning, after breakfast, I'll pray that the GPS gods don't let me get lost and I'll head to a rural location that is dozens of miles from the nearest small town (two hours from Dallas) where we'll spend the afternoon making environmental portraits/photographs at another infrastructure project. The weather is freezing in north Texas; in fact, we have a freeze warning here tonight, much further south, in Austin. 

Once we get the photos we need out in the middle of nowhere it'll be another race back to the airport in time to catch one of the late flights back to Austin. Any time I have in airports goes towards importing files into Lightroom on my MacBook Pro and then making galleries to share with my clients on the east coast. 

I've got everything mapped out, I've got pin drops on all my map coordinates. I've liaised with the managers at every site and I've confirmed locations and weather with everyone. For north Texas I've got long underwear and a good parka. Gloves and a hat. I'm packing two different cameras systems because I want to lean on my experience with the Panasonics but I want to hold a try out for the Fuji XT-3. Since I might want to shoot the XT-3 in earnest I've also added a second Fuji lens, the 55-200mm f3.5 - 4.8. I know I'll hear howls of derision from the Fuji loyalists who believe in their hearts that I should have sprung for the 50-140mm f2.8 but they'll have to be patient with my awkward learning curve. Also, the cheaper lens is lighter, and fits in my Think Tank travel backpack a bit better. 

I'm traveling with one pair of boots on and one pair in the gear case; I've already been warned that both locations are just a bit muddy.... Worst case scenario? One pair of boots is old enough and worn enough to leave behind...

So, when I get back to Austin I'll get (hopefully) a good night's sleep and then Belin and I will drive down to have an early Thanksgiving Lunch with my dad in his very nice memory care facility in San Antonio, Texas. After lunch and a nice visit we head back to Austin where I have a charity event to photograph in the evening at the Four Seasons Hotel. So I start my week in a suit and tie and end my working week in a suit and tie. The middle part in a ragged sweatshirt and old jeans.

Friday is reserved to wrap everything up, send out files to those who need them immediately, and then start working on the bigger galleries that my Dallas/Sacramento client needs. I might take Saturday off but I'm worried that the sudden deceleration might be harmful to my system. Swim days include: Thursday (early practice), Friday (executive practice = after 8 a.m.) and, of course, Saturday for one of the long, tough ones. 

Here's new tip for time pressed travelers going in and out of the Austin airport. For $4 more per day you can now get reserved parking in the parking garage adjacent to the terminal. You need to go online and purchase the reservation. You'll still need to pay the $29 per day rate when you exit to go home but you won't have that cold chill of anxiety and the accompanying knot in your belly when you pull up to the airport with lots of gear only to discover that all the close-in parking is filled to capacity. I'm trying it tomorrow. 

With Pre-Chek (via Global Entry), and now reserved garage parking, we're finally getting back to a more predictable beginning for each trip. Now, if only sheer will power could make all the planes fly on time then we'd really have something. 

It just dawned on me why I never watch sports or anything else on television....who has time?

Kinda looking forward to navigating across north Texas
in search of a huge project in the middle of nowhere. 
Sounds like the beginning of a new novel about a photographer. 

Trying out, new this week: 

Reserved garage parking at the airport.

The Fuji XT-3 camera.

The Fuji XF-18-55mm and 55-200mm lenses.

Reckless disregard for sleep...

If my blog entries slow down it's probably because I'm paying more attention to finishing up projects in the short term. Like most things in life my attention span is cyclical. Stay tuned to hear about 
any disruptions in the schedule. 

Kirk



11.11.2018

Don't eat all that candy, it will spoil your appetite for dinner...

some stuff gets shot not because it's interesting but because you have a camera in your hand, you are there, and you feel as though you might as well get something --- just in case there's nothing better around the bend. Filling up on junk, metaphorically.

When I was in Iceland ten days ago I noticed a pattern among photographers from everywhere. They would arrive at a destination and immediately begin photographing whatever was in front of them. The more technically skilled they were the more they tried to squeeze something "profound" and "artsy" out of each thing they came across. There seemed to be a fear that they'd miss something if they didn't turn over every leaf and document each pile of rocks. But the reality is that all of us were "time-limited" in one way or another. Either we had to compromise to meet the schedule parameters of a group tour or we had to fight against fading light and physical fatigue. But the reality is that there were generally one or two significant visual subjects that really merited a closer look and a longer engagement. 

If a cool waterfall was 800 yards from the bus park one would find photographers strewn along the pathway to the waterfall or scenic overlook, diligently searching for a chance reflection in a pool of water, an "interesting" growth of moss on the side of a rock, or another wide shot that showed everything and nothing (see image just below). Of course, I am as guilty as everyone else, I just tend to be faster at identifying something (anything) that might be an acceptable photo and making short work of the process. It's a rare photo that can't be made to "seem" better than it was by some judicious post processing...

But on rare occasions, when I had my wits about me and had come to the realization that I'd just tried to make an overflowing trash can look like great art, I would hew to a tried and true methodology of photographic discovery which is this: 

Arrive on site and take a deep breath. Get set in your mind what brought you to the site in the first place. What is the real treasure that your tourist soul seeks in this particular engagement? What did you really drive or ride all this way to see? What is the "important" shot. Generally, the thing you seek is furthest from your arrival point. If you aren't clear on your objective you'll likely get sidetracked and arrive at the true destination with only minutes to spare and then you'll rush through the process of getting an acceptable photograph. 

Better to set a good pace, keep the lens cap on and make your way straight to the "alpha" subject. Use all your time to get something you can be proud of at the "peak" of the attraction. Then, with your primary goal well met you can go back along the trail, stopping to photograph the things that caught your eyes as you made your way to the "good stuff." 

When we sequence a commercial job we try to schedule our most important shots of the day at the very first of the day and work along toward the least important shots. This ensures that we're not rushed on the important "money" shots, but if we do our jobs well (while we are fresh) we'll end up having more than enough time to get the lesser shots. If you do it in reverse you'll find yourself trying to "perfect" shots that most likely will end up on the cutting room floor (that's a film era reference but it means you'll end up deleting a lot of crap in the post processing).  Get the monster shot first. Hike to the top of the waterfall first; get the accent shots on your easy descent.

There are so many reasons that this makes sense. First, spending lots of time trying to get a banal shot morphed into something vaguely interesting robs you of the time and energy to apply your talents to scenes with much more potential and appeal. Secondly, it's just a reality of time management. If you have limited time you absolutely have to prioritize. And, finally, you know that editing through all those images takes lots and lots of time. Seeing thousands and thousands of images dilutes your enthusiasm and your honed ability to separate wheat from chaff; selfie from portrait; landscape from snapshot.

Better to have the discipline to keep your lens cap on and search for the good stuff than to promiscuously shoot 10,000+  in the course of a week and then spend another week looking for the pony buried somewhere in the pile of droppings. 

This is a lesson I have to keep learning. I'm not anywhere near as disciplined as I could be about what gets shot and what gets passed by but I know there are some subjects that will never have real value to me even if I push the clarity slider to 110 and add saturation like crazy. Those subjects are just time and energy wasters and it's our battle (mine included) to fight against shooting everything that appears in front of us. We'll inevitably run out of time. It's the only thing that's certain.


VSL reader and ace landscape photographer, Tom Judd, interpreted the photo I posted above. His version is just below. There are things I like about each. I'm curious how other VSL readers see it. Let me know in the comments (added in the afternoon). 
Kirk's photograph interpreted in post by Tom Judd. 


11.10.2018

What FujiFilm gets just right that all the other camera makers royally screw up on. It's a big deal and it may affect the way you interface with your camera. #Scandal.


I've endured the same insult from camera company after camera company. If there was ever a way to decrease your pride of ownership just enough to give you pause it's this. It's a side effect of relentless and sometimes tasteless branding...

It's those damn camera straps that come packed into the boxes with our brand new cameras. I've bought four Panasonic cameras in the last year and each time I am disappointed and aesthetically insulted when I pull out the plastic wrapped, nylon camera strap that has bright yellow on it and huge white, embroidered letters, all over it, contrasting with its black background. They are nothing less than a garish advertisement for a camera you've already bought.

The Nikon straps are particularly ugly. They stand out like a beacon which says of the wearer, "I have absolutely no taste when it comes to carrying my camera in public." But hey, Canon users, don't get smug because Canon straps are just as ugly and poorly visually designed as most of the rest of the camera makers. I'm guessing the camera makers were all sitting around in velour hip hugger jeans in the 1970's, Dingo boots up on the conference table, and someone said, "Well, we'll always be including camera straps, let's just buy tens of millions of these groovy and far out straps with our logos in big, bright, poorly chosen typestyles. That way we'll have a fifty year supply and we'll so beat inflation." And the whole design group agreed and then went out to celebrate with Boone's Farm apple wine and PinĂ¥ Coladas. Leaving generations of camera buyers either so embarrassed about the straps they are provided that they went elsewhere and fostered a whole third party industry aimed at making better camera straps; or alternately their design decision created a public eyesore as people with horrible taste just ignored the hideous type and offensive colors of the straps and used them anyway, thinking, I am sure: "Well, I already paid for this I might as well use it." 

I'm guessing camera companies got together and had a contest for who could not only design and produce the most visually offensive shoulder strap, but whose oafish customers they could convince to actually wear them along with the camera. I'm guessing Nikon for the overall loss...

I was already stripping my understated, all black Tamrac camera strap off another camera to use on the new Fuji XT-3 in the house when I opened up the box to see the camera and check out the accessories. I was stunned and elated when I found the included strap. It's black on black. Not too wide. And the only branding on the strap is a discreet and almost invisible debossed logo on the non-slip strip of material that rests on one's shoulder. I had to turn the strap in the light to even see the debossed logo.

The strap is just about perfect. From an aesthetic perspective it IS perfect. It's quite enough that Fuji has their logo in white against the black of the finder assembly on the front of the camera. They didn't feel the (desperate ???) need to festoon it in a heavy handed, heavy metal manner all over the strap.

Had more makers focused on making their straps discreet and functional accessories instead of embarrassing shoulder mounted billboards (complete with "exploding balloon" logos) it's likely that abominations like the Black Vapid straps would never have hit the market. So many cameras would have been saved from accidental destruction. So many owners spared the agony of a camera getting loose from the tripod mount....

Kudos to Fuji for having good taste and for finally being one of the cameras manufacturers to provide us with a usable accessory. Black strap. Demure debossing. Perfect size and width. Well done.

Now admit it. One of the first things you do after you open the Nikon or Lumix box is to toss out (into the trash) the abomination of a strap that comes with your new camera and get online to shop for something that doesn't scream out, "I'm a cheap-ass moron with very bad taste." 

Thank you Fuji for getting a small detail correct and, by doing so, bringing a genuine smile to my face.


11.09.2018

Like a dog with someone's favorite slipper....I just can't let go of all the landscapes I shot last week. Here's another one...


Note to self: Next trip to Iceland, bring a car full of supermodels to act as close foreground subjects in my photographs. This would give my images a heightened sense of depth that I'm afraid they are missing at the moment. But I do like this craggy sunset shot. The very end of the day, after the crowds headed to their buses.

Some one asked a serious question on the blog a few days ago and that was whether it's worth it to bring a large format camera on their expedition to Iceland. I can only answer for myself but my advice would be absolutely not.

Now, I am presuming they are referring to a large format, view camera. Something with a bellows and front and rear standards. Something that requires a dark cloth or a hood under which to focus. Something that takes 4x5 or 8x10 inch sheet film.

The simple reason I would advise this way is the prevalence and unpredictability of the wind in most places; especially near the sea shores. I think most bellows cameras are in their happiest zone with no wind and get progressively more anxious as the winds pick up. Somewhere around 15-20 mph the bellows+wind would make stability impossible and higher gusts than that would eventually cause the bellows to lose its structural integrity and its ability to be light tight.

Bring a camera you are ready to carry all day, deploy quickly and use mostly handheld.


One of the major appealing features for me of mirrorless cameras is the ability to set a 1:1 aspect ratio and see it, without clutter, in the evf.


Many of us spent years operating square aspect ratio, medium format cameras. It's always a delight for me to find that feature in a new camera; the ability to see and take photographs in the square. It's one of the things I didn't like about recent generations of Sony A7 series cameras; the technology was there but the Sony engineers didn't seem to understand that adding the 1:1 aspect ratio was important to many photographers.

How many photographers? Hmmmm. I'm not sure Tony Northrup has done an authoritative study on that parameter yet but I can guarantee that the group who feels very positively about square crops has at least one avid member....

The 26 megapixels of the Fuji sensor adds a bit more information to the square frame. The shot above is from a Panasonic G9. It's a good time to be a square shooter. Or a shooter of squares.

As to the image: Diagonals, depth, color contrast and nice sky; who could ask for more?

(well, it would have been even better with a beautiful model in the closer foreground. Next time).

11.08.2018

I blame it all on my birthday. Why else would I decide to buy a new camera once I got home from Iceland?


It was a strange moment. I had a long layover in the JFK airport before my flight to Reykjavik. That's sometimes the nature of living in a city that's not a hub for a major airline. I was cooling my heels and reading some work by Emmaneul Kant (doctrine of transcendental idealism) when I decided to take a mental break and pander to the primordial side of my brain. I wanted something vapid and easy, like cotton candy, to read. Of course, my first thought was the lugubrious equipment reviews at DP Review.  So I pulled out my laptop and went for a look. Morbid curiosity? At any rate they had a review of a camera from a company whose cameras I haven't used since well before 2006, and that would be Fujifilm. So, there was the new review for the XT-3 and looking at photographs of it sure reminded me of dozens of old, film type cameras I remember playing with. It's festooned with all sorts of dials and buttons that harken back to the days when living, and shooting, was easy and straightforward.

I made a mental note to do more research when I got back to Austin. In my sometimes jejune manner I reasoned that a long journey, with arduous periods of enforced inactivity, on my birthday, had somehow earned me the right to pop for a new camera. A 63rd birthday present to myself.... I knew no one else was going to get me one...

In the intervening nine days I worked with my Panasonic G9 and was delighted by the technical quality of the files. The color, especially, is exactly to my liking --- even in Jpeg files pulled directly from the camera. But once the glands in my brain that secrete hormones regulating (or accelerating) acquisition come into play my desire for something new and different can be very difficult to dislodge.

I was back home for a couple of days and decided to go to Precision Camera...just to replace the Godox AD200 flash unit I demolished in Fayetteville, North Carolina. I had a little free time so I handled the new cameras I'd been reading about. They had the Nikon Z7 and I liked the way the shutter sounded and felt,  and the quality of the EVF, but I wasn't crazy about where my pinky finger ended up when holding the camera; with my average hands that finger falls right off the bottom of the camera.

I took a look at the new Canon R but it didn't budge the excitement meter that should at least register when one holds a brand new camera in one's hands. "Have you played with the Fuji?" Asked my professional camera equipment consultant. No, I had not. For some reason I'd been subconsciously been avoiding contact with the brand, even though my friends who own them have raved about the files they get from theirs.

I guess it's the tales of weird and wacky raw conversions from the X-trans sensors and solemn denouements of the older Fuji cameras' autofocus that stopped me cold. I kept waiting for stuff to smooth out over successive updates to the line. But with a nice, new BSI sensor, new AF performance improvements and a total revamp of the video capabilities, the XT-3 camera suddenly became interesting to me.

I bought a black one with the basic (and well reviewed) 18-55mm f2.8-4.0 OIS zoom lens. I thought about having it gift wrapped for me but decided that was one step too far.

I've had the camera for three days now but I haven't shot anything with it yet. I've had so much to catch up on, including downloading about 100 Gigabytes of material from Iceland and another 50+ GB of material from my corporate shoot before that. I also needed to head down to San Antonio for a first hand visit to my dad. I wanted to be sure he had been well taken care of during my absence. He was.

I took the camera along with me today to shoot some promotion images for a renowned magician but I ended up lighting everything with studio flash and, at the time, didn't know what Fuji calls the setting which gives you a bright view of a scene instead of a preview. You need that if you are going to shoot with studio electronic flash. Now I know what they call it and where it lives in the menu. (Vital info). I keep meaning to head out the door and head downtown to do a circuit with the new camera but it's gray, cool and rainy outside and I'm still a bit jet-lagged (actually, make that: Lay over lagged). I have time tomorrow, I'll give it a good workout then.

I've already identified a missing lens from the Fuji line up. I want a 70mm f1.4 or f2.0 as a portrait lens. I might order a Pen F to Fuji adapter and see how the ancient Pen F 70mm f2.0 and the 60mm f1.5 work on the new body. I hope I warm up to the camera and lens soon. I really can't return it as it was a gift from someone special...

Seriously though, does this presage a plunge into the Fuji camp? Only time will tell.

If you are a Fuji user and feel like providing me with good, operational tips or lens selection tips I'd love to read them in the contents.

A big wind up here but no big pay off. Just another somewhat irrational camera purchase. I wish I could tell you I finally broke down and bought a 100 MP Phase One camera and a box of lenses to go with it but I can't bear the idea of working with those huge files.

Just getting work done here. Four days booked next week and I'm still behind on laundry. Some things never change.