Cameras, Lenses and Other Voodoo.

Eddie_Wilson_1, originally uploaded by kirkinaustin.
This is a photograph of Eddie Wilson. He's the owner of a famous restaurant/music scene called Threadgill's. When I eat chicken fried steak I eat it there. Mr. Wilson is a revered fixture in the Austin music scene and the Austin restaurant scene and he was a perfect candidate for inclusion in the play, Keeping Austin Weird, by David Steakley. (The play was performed to rave reviews at Zachary Scott Theater a few years ago.)

I can't remember what lens I shot this with or what camera. I'm sure you can find it in the exif info but I didn't check it before I uploaded it. I could have shot this with a Leaf AFi7s or a Canonet QL17 and it wouldn't have made much of a difference. Why? We shot it in the studio under controlled conditions. The ISO was probably set to it's lowest setting. The lighting was tested and tested. The lens was carefully protected from flare. The light came from Profoto flash units. And the real kicker, the image was separated and used in a press printed brochure at about 5 by 8 inches.

If you do the math you'd see that any camera since the Nikon D1x could handle this image with aplomb. With a bit of trial and error it could probably be done with a Canon G10.

I'm as guilty as the next guy of chasing the latest and greatest cameras. At least I was until the recession hit and I sat down and got all accountant-y with myself.

Then I decided to work with cameras that were ideally suited for a new age. I'd love to be a very high end advertising photographer but I'm not. I do a lot of corporate work and a lot of public relations photography. A bunch of portraits for B to B and a fair amount of studio work for design studios and regional ad agencies.

Most of my output these days ends up on the web. Or in smaller direct mail pieces that are cheaper to mail. I haven't shot a double truck spread in a magazine for a long time. But my work is consistent and we're able to pay the bills and even sock a little away for the kid's college and a subsistence retirement.

So why do many of my peers feel the need to run out and buy the latest and greatest cameras. Just last year they were singing the praises of the Canon 5D. And clients were loving the files. The paper they printed on hasn't changed since then. The print sizes haven't changed since then and the art directors haven't suddenly become unhappy with files they raved about last year so why have so many abandoned the 5D for the 5D mk2?

I think that the bleeding edge upgraders are constantly looking for a magic bullet that will differentiate their work from everyone else's. But what no one seems to get is that the majority are moving in lock step to each new generation of camera. In a sense, based solely on cameras acquired, photographers are commoditizing themselves in the eyes of clients.

What do I mean? Well, they are making the power of the camera part of their "sell" or their "pitch" to clients. In a sense they are giving credit to the camera for their photography. As they give more power to the camera they are subliminally telling the client two things: 1. Some of the magic power resides in the camera. That means for shots that are like the one above, shot on white and requiring no special skills or effects, just about anyone with the magic camera will turn out nice work. And 2. That creativity behind the camera is no longer important as long as the magic camera can generate a big file with high quality. Everything else can be fixed by the magic elves in post production.

If you poll working pros you'll probably find that most are working either with a Canon 5d mk2 or a Nikon 700. The Canon users have the megapixels and the Nikon users have a body that does good auto focus, good high ISO and the best flash on the market.

But coming back to the majority of non-sports uses none of those parameters is particularly important. Most studio and corporate shooters are locked down on tripods and lighting stuff because clients perceive the lighting to be a point of magic that separate pros from the guy in the IT cubicle with a similar camera. So really, does the camera matter at all?

I contend that it really doesn't. Once we hit 8 to 10 megapixels we hit the sweet spot for 98% of the images we produce. I won't argue that a 24 megapixel sensor doesn't resolve more but if you map out those pixels you'll find that you can only print about 6 inches longer on a side than a camera with 12 megapixels, given a 300 dpi resolution.

I buy it if you say you need the extra bang for printing huge and that all of your clients want huge prints. But that's not my market and when I talk to other commercial photographers I find that isn't really their market either.

This may sound a bit wacky but I'd rather have a great set of lights and lighting modifiers and try to do all my jobs with a Canon G10 than have a fortune invested in quickly depreciating uber cameras and no cash in my wallet.

I think I hear a lot of people telling themselves that it's time to step off the upgrade escalator. But it may just be me talking to myself.

And the picture of Eddie Wilson worked for my client because we got an expression that is "classic" Eddie, and he has antlers and an armadillo on his hat. I don't think anyone cares what camera i used.


Beautiful faces make the photo world go around.

_8044327, originally uploaded by kirkinaustin.

This is a hodgepodge of fun trials. I shot with my 35-100 Olympus lens in earnest. I tried my hand at intentionally flat lighting for a change. I used a new flash for the background in a small softbox from a company in Malaysia. But mostly Emily and I had fun getting comfy with the camera.

Sometimes it's fun to shoot just for fun.

Man with Sausage in Elgin.

36, originally uploaded by kirkinaustin.

Tough to find sausage in Elgin? I don't think so. And everyone is opinionated about who serves up the best. Nice thing is that there's no bad sausage in Elgin either.

I did a profile story on Elgin for Texas Highways Magazine and BBQ loomed large. It was an odd magazine story for me because it was the last story I did using predominately 4x5 inch sheet film. And boy did I have a good time. I was using a Toyo field camera and the usual trio of lenses: 90mm, 150mm and 240mm. I hauled around three or four Profoto monolights but can't recall using more than one.

Nice to see a story run more than two or three pages. Still like sausage. Even after I saw it being made.....


Sometimes available light is just fine with me.

I was doing a brochure for a non-profit here in Austin. The assignment was to photograph kids in an enrichment program. At a certain age most kids are cute. We were trying to make them look hyper cute so that even crusty old curmudgeons would think twice before cutting funding for the program. Oddly enough I was shooting with a Pentax 6x7 film camera and color negative film. I might have wanted some fill flash but the mechanics of the large focal plane shutter on the "Pentax on Steroids" meant that the fastest sync speed was 1/30th of a second.

I opted to "zone system" my exposure by over exposing the color neg film by a full stop and having my lab pull the development time by 20%.

As you can imagine, four, five and six year olds on a playground move at a speed that would take a NASCAR driver's breath away. While it may seem impossible to those raised on high speed autofocus and built in Image Stabillization we routinely manually focused fast moving subjects while hand holding fat cameras back in the old days.

Was there a reward for that? I can't say for sure but I know I really like the way the depth of field falls off just past the front little boy's head. I know I had to edit through many fewer frames to find keepers and, I know that my arm muscles were toned.

I shot this project with two of the Pentax 67 bodies. A 150mm 2.8 on one body and a 55mm on a second body. One old incident light meter around my neck. No lighting. No assistants. No entourage. Just pure photography.

Had to get it right in the camera though because we went straight to the print.

One of my favorite kid photos.

Minimalist Lighting: A rare rimlit Tuck shot.

85852389-M, originally uploaded by kirkinaustin.

I don't like the gratuitous use of rim lighting or halo-like back lighting in photographs even though I am guilty of it from time to time. I was photographing an executive at a company called RackSpace in San Antonio for Accelerate Magazine (published for AMD) and I was in the throes of writing my first book on lighting ( Minimalist Lighting: Professional Techniques for Location Photography ). I wanted to show readers how much you could do with just a few battery powered strobes and this seemed like a fun place to start.

I'm using a small softbox to the right of the frame to provide main light for my subject. I've got a small flexible fill reflector over to the left of the frame for fill. It's being illuminated by a light set a 1/4 the power of the main light. I have two lights, zoomed to their widest reflector settings on the warm wall in the background and a fifth light aimed at the back of the subject's head as a separation or halo light. I thought it would be useful in separating the tone of the wall from the similar tone of his face.

There is much that can be done with small lights, and even though I've changed systems from Nikon to Olympus I try to keep my lighting bag full of small, battery powered flash units that can be used maually with power set in ratios. Currently I'm using a mix of Metz and Vivitar flashes. The Vivitars have built in optical slaves and a slave setting that overrides the energy saving programming of the the flash. This makes them great as secondary flashes for things like back wall washes and accent lights.

The photo session included a number of shots taken around the Rack Space facility and was well used by the magazine.

After writing the first book I had a reaction to all the battery powered, small light stuff. I took a hiatus and embraced my big, clunky, powerful Profoto lights for a while. My recent system change has re-energized my interest in the small flashes. I'm currently having fun figuring out how to conquer Texas sun with just a handful of Metz units. More details to come.

Best, Kirk

P.S. The Commercial Photographer's Handbook should start shipping from Amazon this coming week. I'm thrilled with the printing of the book. The colors are wonderful.