A quick report on the Olympus EPL

There is something absolutely exhilarating about shooting wonderful images with a camera that cost 1/10th the amount I paid for a Nikon D2x in 2005. 

If you look back over this blog for the past three months you find that I love shooting with the Olympus EP2 very much.  It's a very fluid camera to shoot with.  The EVF is great.  The image quality is great.  Even the industrial design makes me happy.

So there really wasn't any reason to go out and buy an EPL, was there?  Well, not so fast.  Even though these cameras aren't specifically aimed at working professionals I use them on just about every assignment that comes along which doesn't have, as a parameter somewhere, the need to impress and art director or a client.  In fact, on my recent trip to west Texas, in search of ART, I used my EP2 almost exclusively.  And when I use cameras in that fashion I really like to have a back up camera.  If something goes wrong a thousand miles from home I want to make sure the project doesn't have to end prematurely.  Reminds me of a job on a hot, dusty day in August in the desert outside Palm Springs when two Hasselblads in a row jammed up on me in the space of an hour.  Didn't I look like a boy scout when I was able to pull a third one out of the bag?!?  I really like the idea of redundancy when it comes to critical gear.

So, when Precision Camera got a new supply in I went by to play with one.  The camera is obviously the result of two previous learning curve.  Buttons are bigger and clearer.  The shutter button has a better feel.  The mode dial, while not as spiffy of a design, sits right on top of the camera and is clear and easy to read.  The flash is utilitarian and surprisingly well designed.  If I hold the erected flash back with one finger I can bounce it straight off the ceiling.  The camera looks.......utilitarian.  It just doesn't draw the eye the way the Japanese Sixties Minimalist design ethos of the EP2 does.  It's a black brick that works.  And that endears me to it.  It feels like a working tool

Three warnings so no one will come back and bitch:  1.  The mounting flange on the back of the lens is made of a composite (nice word for tough plastic).  I don't think it makes any difference in quality on the file but it's.......plastic.  There.  I said it.  2.  The rear screen is a bit smaller than the one on the EP2.  I use the big screen only for menu items so it doesn't bother me.  I use the EVF for everything else.  The one plus this might have is that it takes less battery power to light up a smaller screen.  3.  There is not a separate wheel to adjust shutter speeds or apertures independantly.  You have to use the "left/right, up/down" keys on the back to change the settings.  Sounds gruesome but in reality I mostly use the "A" mode so all I want to change is the aperture or the "+/-" compensation.  And the lack of a back mounted wheel means fewer accidental changes.

While I haven't had time to test it out myself, early adopters have mentioned that the anti-aliasing filter over the sensor is less aggressive which means that the images right out of the camera should have much better fine detail or should look sharper with less post production.  Sharper images are always welcome.

Some other features that we can't dismiss too quickly:  The flash can be set to full, 1/4, 1/16 and 1/64th power so you could actually use the in body flash as an optical trigger for your studio flashes.  It can be also be used to control Olympus "R" flashes wirelessly.  This means you don't have to choose between using your EVF and triggering your lights!!!!  Course they could have made it really simple and put a sync socket somewhere on the camera body.  They will probably save that for inclusion onto the new professional mFT body they'll announce in the Fall.  Oooops!  Did I just say that out loud?

The cost.  This cameras, which also doubles as a great HD video camera, cost me the princely sum of $599.  With a very good zoom lens.  That it outperforms my $5000 from only three and a half years ago is astounding.  If you are practiced and careful with your technique you should be able to get absolutely professional results with this piece of gear.  At that price, if you are confronted with a shoot that presents a hazardous environment for gear but comes with a good budget, you could easily consider this little system expendable.

I have a fantasy of dumping everything else and doing business with a couple Pen cameras, some adapters and some other lenses.  The business is changing so quickly.  Content is moving inexorably to the web and to electronic tablets.  I feel like putting to the test the old saw,  "It's not the tool, it's the photographer behind it."

By way of full disclosure:  I went into the local store and bought this camera with my own money. No one offered me any money or equipment to coerce me to like this camera or to say nice things about it.  All the stuff written on this blog is here because I like photography and I like to write about it.  It would be nice if you clicked on some of the product links but you sure don't have to.  I'll disclose that as well.  All those annoying links have returned something like $100 this year.  Not getting rich writing fun content.  But it's nice to know that you stopped by and took a look.

All the best, Kirk


A change of sensibilities.

Image from Eve's Organic Bed and Breakfast in Marathon, Texas.  March 2010

Back in ancient days I shot a wide range of subjects.  While portraits were always my favorite I was often pressed to shoot architecture.  One of my first big magazine projects for a national magazine was a two week trip thru Texas and Louisiana shooting historic homes and plantations.  I took the trip with an editor from Harrisburg, PA.  The magazine was/is called Early American Life Magazine and they are still going strong (niche markets work!).  I spent those two weeks mostly either driving, sleeping or shooting interiors and exteriors with an old Calumet 4x5 inch view camera.  We only shot transparency film back then.

I would walk into a room, figure out the composition, meter the ambient light and then set up a couple thousand watt second Norman strobes, bounced into big umbrellas and then work on getting a good balance between the existing light and the fill light my flashes were producing.  I'd generally use up three big, black and white Polaroid test shots to get into the ball park and to get approval from my editor.  Then we'd do a bracket of five frames in 1/3rd stop increments.  While not totally necessary the tight bracket also gave us close back up shots in case something happened to a random piece of film during processing.  Then we'd break everything down and move a hundred pounds of gear to the next location.

Back then I only had twenty film holders (two sheets to a holder) so every eight shots I'd have to stop, pull out the changing bag ( a black fabric construction that worked as a sweaty and uncomfortable mini darkroom.  Your hands would fit into sleeves with tight elastic and you would unload and reload strictly by touch.  Nasty part of the job, especially in the summer in rural Louisiana where it always seemed hot and humid.)

I describe all of this so you'll understand why I never pursued architectural photography with any rigor.  People could be reasonably well shot with quicker, lighter cameras and a lot less lighting.

When I went on a recent road trip I found myself shooting more and more architecture and I wondered why.  Here's what I think:  With the new EVF cameras (electronic viewfinder) you get to see exactly what the camera sees.  Imagine a view camera with a lens that's stopped down to show you the exact depth of field but with a bright and detailed view.  Combine that with a camera that you only have to reload after nearly 500 raw shots (on an 8 gig card) and you start to see the appeal.

Add in real time levels and customizable grids and you're on a roll.  Then throw in incredible depth of field (from the short focal lengths) and image stabilization and you have a camera with which you can shoot interiors as fast a you shoot portraits.

I had coffee with my friend, Paul, on Sunday.  We were sitting at Cafe Medici talking about stuff when he pulled out the Panasonic 7-14mm lens for the micro 4/3rds cameras.  The lens has some bragging rights.....like a perfect score of 10 on SLRgear's reviews.  It was wonderfully small.  It would be amazing to shoot architecture with.  One of those on an EP2, stopped down to 5.6 and you'd have everything sharp at 7mm or even 14mm.  The only thing you would be missing is perspective control.

I'm this close (holds fingers tightly together) to getting one and expanding my horizons.  Literally.  Doesn't hurt to plan ahead.  Now, if I can only figure out how to shift the lens......



Taking time to smell the flowers. Then getting back to work.

Eve's Organic Bed and Breakfast. Marathon, Texas.

I would bet that egos destroy more businesses than recessions or acts of war.  I say this because I nearly destroyed mine by letting my ego convince me that I could write four books in two years and that my business of taking photographs would run itself.  It almost did.  Right into the ground.  Fortunately I went on a little journey to write a fifth book only to find that there is no book there.  And then it struck me like scalding coffee thrown in my face.......it's time to get back to work doing the thing I love.  Taking photographs.  I grabbed the controls and pulled up just in the nick of time (I hope).

The lure of writing a book is the little voice that says, "Someone thinks you are smart enough to write a book." Photographer friends say, "I wish I could write 'cause then I would have a second income stream."  And publishers tell you, "If you put enough of these out there you'll finally stack up some royalty income...."  All of these things may be true (or they may not) but the bottom line is this:  Now you have TWO jobs.  One of them is seductive.  Nothing on the schedule?  You could do some marketing, pick up the phone and call some clients, or.........you could put on your jacket with the patches on the elbows, head to your favorite coffee shop and......work on your book.  The choice is too tasty.  Hot coffee and crowds of the beautiful people or the quiet desperation of the cold calling and all the rejection it implies.  I chose the coffee shop way too often.

It wouldn't have mattered if the economy hadn't tanked.  I probably could keep going along on marketing fumes and royalties for years in the old days.  But just as I was adjusting to life in multiple lanes it became very clear that cash flow is king.  The route from writing to royalty is a perilous journey that takes about a year to bear any fruit.  The best part of photography is the instant gratification on so many business levels.  The jobs come quick and they finish quick.  If you take credit cards you'll be paid quickly.  And then you are on to the next job.  If you do that marketing thing.

It finally hit me as I was thinking about a book project I'd been offered by a publisher who had stalked me since last fall.  I didn't like the terms but we negotiated those.  I was ready to leave when I hit one more stumbling block.  It was the final straw.  I balked and forfeited.  In retrospect, being a curmudgeon and refusing to compromise on the way I write saved my business because it made me realize just how many hours I would have to spend in the creation, formatting and editing of the project.  Not to mention the shooting and photo editing.  All for the promise of a small share of future profits.

I took the exploratory trip to parts west just for myself. I wanted to be sure I wasn''t missing out on a great thing.  And as I was driving back to Austin I had a coffee induced epiphany:  No matter how smart you talk yourself into believing you are you aren't smart enough to do every at once and do it well.  At some point you have to decide.  I looked out over the landscape of corporate clients and advertising agency clients and it became so clear that there are hundreds and hundreds of accounts just waiting to be harvested.  Ready for me to come along in my combine and snap, snap, snap them up.

I had to take my eyes off photography for a while to understand just how much I like taking photographs and working collaboratively with really smart designers and marketers.  I've smelled the flowers.  Now it's time to roll up my sleeves.


Bidding Jobs Requires a Big CheckList!

I recently got a phone call from an ad agency asking me to bid on a job for a multi-state  utility company.  We were being asked to do an ad campaign that would consist of five print images that would be used in direct mail, statement stuffers, newspaper and city lifestyle magazines, as well as their website.  There would be one person in each set up as well as photoshop prop additions.  

The lazy way to bid a job like this is to go all “day rate” on them and then do a rough assessment of expenses.  This would be a wonderful way to leave some fee on the table while creating a lot of accounting bad blood when you realize that you’ve left a lot of stuff out of your bid that someone has to end up paying for.

The smart way to go would be to provide an estimate that starts with a description of just how you’ll tackle each part of the job.  If you have to write out how you’ll shoot it you do two things:  you assess every step and every piece of material you’ll need to create, make or buy.  And secondly, you’ll show the client just how thorough and thoughtful you were when considering their project.  If you are bidding against other people you might well teach you client why you are more valuable that the competition.  If your competitor leaves an important and expensive article out of the bid the bad surprise hits the client when they least expect it and can least correct it.….right in the middle of the project.

By describing your methodology in a step by step method you’ll create your own master check list.

For this project we needed to cast five people in very specific demographics.  This is not something you want to do over the phone.  We called a meeting and the creative team sat together with the ad comps and a source books full of people photos.  We also brought our laptops so we could go to model agency sites and have a shared conversation about specific types and even specific models.  By the time we left the meeting we’d already reached a consensus about four of the five models.  

One of the account executives was kind enough to remind me to include meeting time in the bid.  She needn’t have mentioned it because that line item is at the top of my checklist.

Here’s a breakdown of my process and a rough checklist.  Yours will vary depending on the kind of shoots you do and how complex they are.

Creative fee:  This is what you charge to show up and actually think about the shoot, in the moment.  This is what you charge to bring to bear all you’ve learned in XX years of doing the business.

Usage fees:  This is a fee additional to the creative fee and is based on how many different media the images will be used in and for how long.  See David MacTavish’s book, Pricing Photography, or Craddock Software’s, FotoQuote, to see how to price each individual media use.  This is where your profit lies.

Casting fees:  You or a casting director will have to communicate with agents, agencies, and individuals to gather the talent you’ll want to use.  Make sure you charge for it because putting schedules together is long and frustrating.  If clients want to do a casting call with photos you’ll want to charge for the day(s) involved.  I can get a casting director for about $800 a day.  I’ll charge more if I handle it myself.

Who will pay for the models?  I’d rather have the client contract with the talents so that I don’t need to have the liability for payment if the client bonks.  If I have to include models in my bid I’ll make sure that there is a mark up of their fee to cover my exposure.

Meetings:  Ad Agencies can “meeting” you to death.  Each time the ad campaign changes direction they’ll want to meet with you.  Sometimes for hours!  Make sure you include meeting time in your fees.  They’ll respect your time and not waste it if they have to pay for it.

Locations:  Someone will have to find the five different locations we'll use, contact the owners of the locations and negotiate with them to use the spaces.  A location scout will probably have a whole catalog of locations which will be a good starting point for the selection process.  You might need to constantly remind the client that there isn't a giant resource of ready locations.  You might need to manage their expectations.  

Production scheduling is really part of bidding:  You'll need to know how you'll get from one location to the next, where your make up person will set up and who will bring props and also food and coffee to keep the production rolling….If you map it all out at the outset you'll find glitches that may cost you time and money when you get the green light to go ahead.

Assistant(s):  I've gone both ways.  I've done the one man show and I've done the entourage and I find the best way for me to do a shoot like this is to have a really, really good first assistant who can also produce.  They can help handle casting, propping in addition to the work that they do on the working set.  The best assistants are bulletproof and unflappable.  The worst are chatty, disorganized and needy.  If we're doing equipment intensive shoots outdoors it's good to build in a second assistant to help anchor scrims and keep softboxes from being blown over.  More than two assistants is more than I can generally handle.

Make up:  Be sure to budget a make-up artist for every shooting day that has human talent in it.  I work in a lot of high temperature locations and find that having someone there to powder shiny faces saves me tons of time in post processing.

Craft Service:  Craft service means food.  Everything from coffee and protein in the morning to lunch to M&M's in the afternoon.  A shoot runs on food.  If clients are there the food has to be a number of cuts above McD's or Costco snack mix.  On big shoots craft service is a full time job.  You might even consider hiring a service.

Props:  This project called for many domestic props like, a bathrobe, bath mats, towels, a washer and dryer, the right clothes, a step ladder (but just the right kind…..) and a lot more.  And here's the deal:  An art director wants choices available at the shoot.  Three different bathrobes in various shades of blue.  Just the right coffee cup for a kitchen shot.  This must be budgeted because it can be wildly time consuming.  I did a shoot recently that called for just the right set of wrenches.  Took half a day to find this $75 prop…….

Also include time for prop returns.  I don't really need three extra sets of bath mats…..

Rentals:  When you sit down and think through the job be sure to keep in mind that you might need to rent specialized pieces of gear that you don't own.  This could include foggers, giant scrims, grip trucks, generators, additional lighting, perhaps even an RV in which to do make up and wardrobe changes for clients.  Rentals should not come out of your pockets.  Understanding the availability of rentals also expands your vision for what the job could be!!!!

Archiving, editing and post-production:  Most photographers lose their collective shirts because they give away one of the most time intensive parts of the shoot process.  Everything that happens after the actually shooting!  When you get back you'll need to dump all the raw files onto your computer.  And then you'll need to put them on two different backup sources as well.  Then you'll need to edit down the images into a manageable number for the clients.  When you've narrowed down an edit you'll need to get the color and exposure into the ballpark and convert your files to jpegs for client selection.  These will either go on a web gallery you'll create or on a disk you'll deliver.  One the client has chosen their favorites you'll need to go back and do a very careful conversion for each file and then retouch and prepare them in a format the client can use.  Tiffs for print and Jpegs for electronic.

Organization:  You'll need to keep track of all the model releases, property releases, agreements and contracts.  You'll need to provide the client with a final contract that makes sense.  And this take time to.  Time that you should put in your bid somewhere.  

Always resisting the temptation to cut costs because at some point you'll end up doing parts of the project for free.  And why you'd want to provide free work and free intellectual properties to profitably multinational corporations is beyond me………You are in business.  You should be making a profit.  The more complex the shoot, the bigger the pay off for the client, the more your should take home at the end.

If you want to know more about the biz of photography you could do worse than getting my third book:  Commercial Photography Handbook

yes,   this one:  

Good luck on your next bid or estimate.


Marfa and the great beyond.

Mr. Rob Hogan.  Singer and songwriter.  Shot just outside the Marfa Table Restaurant on Marfa's main drag.

After my time in the Davis mountains I stopped back through Ft. Davis. spending just enough time to get stopped by a state trooper for speeding.  For some reason,  probably my honest and like-able face,  he let me off with a warning.  A short while later I passed the world's most productive hydroponic tomato farm and then slid into the sleepy, west Texas town of Marfa.

I had lunch at the Marfa Table, and it was good.  My friend, Bridget, made me a BLT on ciabatta bread with a spicy chipoltle mayo and a great bowl of Porcini mushroom soup.  Wonderful.  Maybe the best reason to head out to Marfa!  Anyway, I struck up a conversation with the table next to me and it was delightful.  One of the pleasures of being out on the road.  Two men and a women were nursing coffee and chatting away.  One was a doctor who also keeps the NPR station  on the air for the entire area.  He'd just interviewed the other two people at the table, Marie and Rob, who are traveling musicians.  They'd done a performance the night before in Terlingua, would be performing in the evening at the Gage Hotel in Marathon and Sunday would bring them back to Marfa to play on the patio at the El Paisano Hotel.

I shot Hogan as he was talking to the good doctor.  For the technically inclined, this was an available light shot using the afternoon sun from the subject's back, right side.  The glorious fill light was provided by the bounce off the wall just behind the photographer (that's me).  I was delighted with the dynamic range of the EP2 sensor which did a good job including the direct sunlight on the right of his face while providing good exposure on his face overall.  Not to mention nice detail in the dark tones of his jacket.

As usual  on this trip, the camera was used with its humble kit lens.

I spent a while talking to these guys and getting a dose of what it's like to spend weeks and weeks on the road.  Little things become big questions.  Like,  "Do you think the hotel will have a laundry service?   If not, do you think there's a laundromat close by?

"If there's no vacancy when we get to the Gage do we sleep in our cars......again?"

I thought photography was a dicey way to earn a living until I hung out for a while with musicians.  Yikes.

Bridget and I made plans to meet up around five and share a bottle of wine at the big hotel and then head out for a nice dinner at a place called, "The Blue Javalina".  I did what I love most and spent time wandering around Marfa looking for buried treasure.  The kind that's right in front of you.  You just have to be in the right mindset to get it.  What started to appeal to me are what I call the Marfa Ruins.  For some reason these rail side pillars from a structure long ago rendered unnecessary seemed to evoke visual memories of the columns at the Forum in Rome.

Once I got the vibe with these I spent some time looking for images that incorporated that feeling of disuse and decay into some sort of feeling of the desolate southwest. I had fun photographing this old stock pen that sits beside the railroad.  The historical marker indicates that in prime days 70,000 head of cattle a year were processed through the pens and onto railcars here.

I love the look of the sky with the thin, diaphanous clouds high over head.  This is near the edge of town but still in town.  I spent and hour nosing around here without seeing a single person.  Without answering the old, "Can I help you?" from a law enforcement officer.  That may be because Marfa doesn't have its own police force.  They call a county sheriff if there's a problem.

Here's what I see when I drive through places like Marfa: There's a continual process of discovery and abandonment.  People come to Marfa on the way to somewhere else and they stop for gas and a sandwich.  While there the quiet and solitude work on them.  Maybe they're running from a big city and a crappy, stressful career.  As a counterpoint the west seems tranquil and manageable.

After they've been here for a while, fixed up a business or renovated a house the sameness starts to get to them.  Once bitten by the convenience of getting good phone service and coffee, good coffee, within five minutes of wherever you are, you get spoiled.

You go to one of the two tiny markets and look for fresh fruits and vegetables and you get misty eyed for the giant Whole Foods with its almost infinite choice of stuff.  And you might miss your doctor and you dentist because there are no full time ones in the area, etc. etc.  But the heck with all that.  I'm not a socialogist, I'm just a photographer.

For some reason, and it may be because I'm so resolutely anchored in a frenetic urban space,  I really love all these old farm and ranch supply buildings.  I love the corrugated siding and the tanks and pipes against a pure blue sky.  When I walk around small, Texas towns I spend a lot of time trying to make this stuff into some kind of art.  Might be nice as a contrasty monochrome image.

My friend's house is right across the street from an obvious artist's house.  I say obvious because everything in the yards, front and back, have an artful look to them.  This is a detail shot of the side fence which is made up of layers of rock and huge nuggets of colored glass.  It lives better than it photographs.
Marfa sneaks up on you.  At first you think, "desolate desert town, move on."  But given time the quality of the light and the obvious depth of the people give you pause.  They you get stuck and think, more.  Give me more.  Somewhere there's a balance.

So, what have a I learned so far?  I've learned that I adore shooting in the square.  Seems so natural and easy.  I've learned that there are very few things that in body image stabilization can't handle.  I've learned that the EP2, either by processing or by the nature of its sensor chips, nails exposure 95% of the time and greats images with great details in the shadows and the highlights.

While I'm pretty certain that I'm instantly pegged as a tourist with my jeans, black Target ($7) tennis shoes and my black t-shirt, I'm equally sure that my photographic profile is as slim as I can make it with my little black camera kept tucked in one hand with no strap intersecting my haberdashery or waving like a flash.  I watched people from the "big city" who'd come to do photo tourism (like me) but they wore their big cameras like badges, challenging people.  One fella I saw had on his photo vest and wide brimmed safari hat.  On one shoulder was the latest fat Canon with a 70-200. Around his neck, promotional strap wide and flaglike, was a second fat body with a plump wide angle zoom.  The exotically scalloped lens hood looking vaguely evil in a "Star Wars Storm Troopers Darth Vadar" way.  He marched through the street daring images to show themselves......

I learned on the trip to come first as an interested person and secondly as a photographer. Rather than barging in blazing, shutter clacking like an automatic weapon, perhaps it's more effective to smile, talk, share coffee and then lift the camera almost as an afterthought.  An easy and extemporaneous afterthought.  For years this was the province of Leica M cameras. Small and unobtrusive.  Now it's the province of a new generation of small and capable cameras.  If only we can get the shutter noise down a bit.............

I packed extra camera gear, but not much.  I hedged my EP2 and kit lens with an e30, a 14-35mm and a couple of Canon G cameras (the 10 and the 10) .  Pretty much everything but the EP2 stayed in the bag.

Wish list:  A direct, inexpensive flight from Austin to Marfa with a good car or motorcycle rental shop close by.  A noiseless Olympus EP2.  An Olympus 25mm f2 lens.  Not a 20!  (Too short.)  A nice public swimming pool in Marfa for lap swimming.  Time to enjoy it all.  Next up.  Adventures in Marathon.


A gem in Marathon, Texas. A mini-DisneyLand for photographers.

The road trip saga continues.  I made the Austin traditional pilgrimage to Marathon.  I must confess that I still don't get the appeal.  I guess if you spend your days glued to your cellphone, soaking up radiation and keep an iPhone in the other hand ready at all times to text, then you might have a profound and visceral response to a town of 250 people with two restaurants and one fancy hotel surrounded by miles and miles of desert.  I don't get it.  There is a photographer there by the name of James Evans.  He's really good.  He moved out there in 1988 to document the Big Bend area.  By all accounts his work in that genre is unsurpassed.  But my God!  The relentless isolation and only one choice for coffe........

Then I found an alternate to the Gage Hotel.  Two blocks away is a little stucco hippy refuge run by ephemeral naturalists and grumpy conservative utopian farm folk.  It's called Eve's Organic Garden Bed and Breakfast.  I walked in and looked around and found every square inch of stucco covered by a riot of paint.  Can you say "complementary colors"?
This kind of environment is what the Olympus EP2 camera is made for.  Vivid colors, lots of detail and wonderful shapes.  I spent the better part of a morning just walking thru the, maybe, ten thousand square feet being fascinated and clicking away.  This made the trip for me.......in a photographic sense.  Would I go back?  In a fast plane.  You bet.  In a car?  I'll have to think about it.  Marathon would be the perfect place to work hard on a novel.
As I blazed through frame after snicky little frame I did find myself longing for the days of the 4x5 view cameras all loaded up with juicy Provia Transparency film.  Nice as the colors are my optimistic memory of the past wants me to believe that the colors would have been deeper and richer on large format film.  In a more sober sense,  I think that's just a case of nostalgia.
As you might expect, I love to burn bridges.  That's why I did two things that drive my photographer friends crazy:  I shot everything in Jpeg Super Large fine Happy instead of RAW.  And I used the square crop.  In RAW you can always disregard the crop, it just shows up as an indication.  A suggestion.  But in Jpeg you've succeeded in wiping out any information that ends up outside the crop.  There's no way to change your mind and get it all back.  And I wouldn't have it any other way.  I think art photography takes guts and that means being willing to crop and burn without fear.


Another simple shot from Eve's in Marathon.

This is a close up of a towel rack leg.  Shot with an EP2 and the 14-35mm at 6.3.  Sometimes the light looks nice and you slow down enough to notice the detail instead of the forest.  (How's that for a chopped salad of a metaphor?......)  The wonderful thing about Eve's in Marathon is the endless supply of beautiful colored backgrounds at one's disposal...........

A brief interlude to actually show a photo I like to look at.

I shot this in Eve's Organic Garden and Bed and Breakfast in Marathon.  I'm not there yet in the arc of my story but I thought I'd throw in something I really liked to look at for fun.  I love the fortunate juxtaposition of colors.  It really doesn't matter what kind of camera one uses for shots like this............but it was an EP-2

Stay tuned for Marfa.

From great eggs and biscuits to outer space within an hour.

The continuing story of my short road trip to west Texas.  I left Ft. Davis shortly after breakfast and headed over to the Ft. Davis State Park.  Did the skyline road and then headed over the McDonald Observatory to see what was happening at the highest point in the Davis Mountains.  The observatory sits at just about seven thousand feet......  I saw a lot of cool rocks like the ones above and I tried my best to make images that were unique and different but I had to realize at some point that I'm not really a landscape photographer, so...........

I tried my hand at buildings.  This is one of two observatories on the top of the mountain.  I was supposed to go to the visitor center and join a group tour but I'm pretty bad at following directions and even worse as a team player (pointed out by a disgruntled editor just last week....) so I went straight to the main observatory where I met the lead electrical engineer for the entire facility.  No joke,  I told him I wasn't into group tours.  He gave me a private tour.  We talked about the proprietary Kodak CCD sensor they use in the main telescope and how they cool the sensor with liquid nitrogen in order to reduce noise.  Now I'm carrying around a tank for the Olympus e1 and dousing the sensor just before I shoot in order to reduce noise.  When I have the sensor totally immersed the low noise performance of that old Kodak sensor makes the new Nikon D3s look like a Roy Lichtenstein print......(Just kidding.  No tank of liquid nitrogen for the e1 ---- yes for the telescope.)

The main observatory which uses a Kodak chip (not kidding!) and the whole telescope assembly is cooled during the day to the temperature that is predicted for the night.  In this way they don't have to deal with the differing coefficients of metal and glass expansion or contraction which would alter the focal length and aspherical properties of the telescope's optics.

The silver dome houses a curved mirrored array that acts as the data collector.  It's a very cool looking building.  I imagine that people go in thinking that there's an eyepiece to look thru.  There isn't.  Here's what the business part of the telescope looks like:

The fascinating thing about this image for me is the exif info.  This was shot with the EP-2 handheld at 1/3rd of a second.  Either I am as steady as a large block of ice or the IS in this camera really works.  (I paid full price for my own EP-2.  It is not a loaner.....).

The next shot is not nearly so impressive since it was shot a boring 1/6th of a second.  Unthinkable before IS in cameras.

Love the way the exteriors look when you underexpose them with the 14-35 on the e30.  Makes me want to re-do my place with silver foil :

Well.  So much for cool science stuff.  A big "thank you!!!" to Hans Kreel for the personal tour.  Spectography rules!  And then back on the winding road to Marfa, home of Bridget and the Marfa Table restaurant.

Camera notes:  After the first day I abandoned the Canon G10 and went straight for the EP-2 with a side of the e30 thrown in from time to time.  Here's why:  small. light.  good files.  fun to use.  great finder.  The downside:  you get around 300 shots per full battery charge.  Good thing I brought four batteries because the power was out at my friend's house.  But that's a story for later.........

Day Two. High Altitude Photography. With eggs.

So this is the first thing I see in the morning when I get up in my campsite in Balmorhea State Park.  It's this wonderful tree against a cold blue sky and it sets the pace for the day.

I didn't bring along real food or cooking equipment so I figured I'd get some coffee in Balmorhea and then head off on the day's adventures.  Silly me.  There's only one restaurant in town and it only opens for lunch and dinner.  It's called "The Bear Den" and it serves pretty good Tex-Mex food.  The first real coffee will be in Ft. Davis which is 45 minutes away through the mountains.  For those of you who know me and are convinced that I can only sleep in a four star hotel room that a client is paying for, here is my campsite:

I shook myself awake.  Put on my wrinkled and frozen Khaki pants and revved up the car.  I'm not use to mornings without coffee but I figured that this was supposed to be an adventure after all.  I was not so comatose that I failed to see how beautiful the light was along the road so early in the day.  As mine was the only car I saw during the entire drive between the two towns I thought nothing of stopping alongside the road, at random, to take photos like these:

After driving all day and then sleeping in my car I would like to take a moment to praise it.  In over 1200 miles it never missed, coughed, surged or otherwise provoked the city boy anxiety of getting stuck in the some desolate place.  The seats were comfy, the drive was stable and sure and it housed my cameras like a giant Pelican case. (Not currently sponsored by Pelican!).  In fact, I promised it (while talking to myself near Sonora) that I would show you its photo:

The noble and long suffering car.

The trip thru the mountains was wonderful.  Forty five minutes of photo-Disney.  Big ridges, raw cliffs and energetic fauna.  But I was getting hungrier by the moment and beginning to fantasize about what the world would be like with a Starbuck's shop every ten miles or so.  ( I would be a bad world dictator because I would mandate silly things like:  There must be a good coffee shop within twenty minutes of any destination.....)  But I finally pulled into Ft. Davis and started looking.  If you aren't a local it sure is hard to know what your options are.  This time it was dumb luck.  The writing on the door said, "Nel's Coffeehouse" but a handwritten paper sign also added, "Hot Breakfast now being served".  I parked the dynamic beast/car and went in with much trepidation.  The first person I saw was a state trooper right out of central casting, with a Stetson hat, a big belly and a pair of black, ostrich skin boots.  He nodded that authoritarian nod right when I came in the door and then settled back in to his coffee and the skinny newspaper.

Luck was on my shoulder that day.  Nel's had inaugurated hot breakfast that day!  And to paraphrase Ernest Hemmingway,  "......and it was good."

Doesn't look like much in the photo but that was the best biscuit I've ever had.  Foreshortened by the wide angle setting of the 14-42, it was really ample.  Just to the left of the biscuit and the potatos is a portion of refried beans.  Just thought I'd explain that for any of my readers from the great northern reaches of the country.

This is what happens when the camp out is chilly and the food is delicious:

Nel's was a contrast at every step.  The food was great and the service was disorganized.  The coffee was incredibly good even by Austin or Seattle standards but it was served with pre-packaged dairy creamers......

And lots of them.........

Stumbling into Nel's was dumb luck but three days later I am still congratulating myself for not judging a book by its cover.  In a small town, with limited resources, it's not always possible to build the most impressive infrastructure.  But believe me, if you are headed in that direction you'll have one of the best "regular guy" breakfasts that you can imagine.  If you are traveling with hoity toity people be forewarned that there will be no eggs Benedict nor will there be scones.......at least not until you get to Marathon. But that is a story for another day........

Yes,  This is Nel's.  Love the signage?

All images done with the EP-2.

Getting Wet In The Desert.

I always promised myself that when I went to West Texas on my trip I would take an afternoon to swim in Balmorhea Springs.  So I did.  I started my journey west from my parent's house in San Antonio.  We'd eaten a great dinner the night before at a wonderful restaurant called, Bistro Vatel, in Olmos Park.  I hoped into my old 2003 Honda Element and headed out to highway 10 about 8:30 in the morning.  Six and a half hours later I pulled off I-10 into the tiny, tiny town of Balmorhea and went looking for the springs.  Now, I should preface this by reminding you that I am from Austin.  I swim year round in a heated pool and even on the worst weather days we have anywhere from 15 to 20 hardy swimmers show up for swim practice at seven in the morning.  We also have Barton Springs, where urban rumors tell constant tales of the beautiful sirens who, in the days of Janis Joplin and blotter acid, used to sun topless on the banks of the mystic waters.  Even in the crisp chill of January Barton has it's faithful crowd.

When I got to Balmorhea Springs I walked into the pool area and took a look at a really magnificent fresh water pool.  Clean, crisp water fed in from an underground spring.  The pool is huge and goes to a depth of 25 feet.  Catfish swim lazily along the bottom.  As do black puffers.  And schools of little Mexican tetras zip along and try, enthusiastically but unsuccessfully, to nip at your with their tiny mouths.  But there were no swimmers.  The only public swimming pool for miles and miles in any direction and not other swimmers!  Eventually a tourist came.  Looked at the pool and floated around for a bit before getting out, drying off and heading out for some other adventure.

(Do you see the vicious tetras just under the surface?  They wait to feast on the unsuspecting...well, maybe not.)

I put on a swim suit, grabbed a pair of goggles out of my swim bag and hoped into the pool to swim some laps and spend some time unwinding from my manic drive.  And the surprisingly good latte from McDonald's a couple hundred miles back in Junction.

The water was a pleasant 72 degrees.  No lifeguards on duty.  No teenagers doing cannonballs from the edge.

After a bit I got out and dried off and started taking images for my "project".  I used all three cameras in a short period.  I started with a Canon G10.  No matter how good the new EP-2 and its compact cousins are I just can't give up the G10 yet.  It charms by its industrial design and it's huge and detailed files.  It's the camera to have if you can have only one and you're not allowed to have lenses.  Thankfully, there are no rules like that so you can have any dang camera you want.

I was amazed at the pool.  So clean and clear.  So unused.  The things that make it endearing are the archaic touches light the design of the railings. And the wonderful signs warning against diving in shallow water.

I started out using the G10 and it was good but I segued into using the EP-2 and, in fact, that camera and the humble kit lens account for 85% of all the photos I took on my trip.  The ability to do instant visualizations in the near perfect EVF adds something magical to the process.  It's fun to see, in real time, how the shift of exposure or the change of a color temperature setting will affect the image before you even trip the shutter.

I also used the Olympus e30 and my favorite Oly optic, the 14-35mm lens.  But no matter how alluring the optical qualities I couldn't resist the EP2.

I shot a lot in the afternoon sun and then left to search out the ONLY restaurant in all of Balmorhea.  Don't like Mexican food?  I can only suggest  that you consider driving the 40 minutes to Ft. Davis if you crave some variety.......

After dinner I came back to see how the light looked.  I stayed shooting until the sun tucked under the collaring mountains and the last of the light was extinguished.

At one point a motley crew of scuba divers showed up and spent some time lurking on the bottom.  They seemed to have the same sort of "gear nut" mentality that photographers sometimes evince.  They talked about their tanks and their regulators and how cool their neoprene suits were.  I could tell that the whole process tickled them and made them happy.  One college couple came and walked around the pool making art of each other with their shared point and shoot camera.

It's a long way to go just for a swim but it is one of the nicer and more organic pools I've been in.  If you have to go to Marfa or El Paso or some such city you could do worse than to pull off the highway and cool down a bit.  Just don't expect lifeguards or concession stands.  No lattes after this swim.  Not for another 45 miles at least......
You might notice the ducks in this image from late evening.  They weren't their when I swam my laps but the scuba guys say they are pretty territorial.  I'd hate to say I lost an encounter to a mean duck.....

All the hardware is this kinda crusty, WPA feeling stuff. Overengineered and under maintained.

Of course, I love the square.  That's so cool being able to set the aspect ratio that works for you.

Once the sun goes down the park shuts the pool.  No night swimming for these people.

After the pool closed I walked back to camping space number 19 and got my bed ready.  I flipped up the back seat and spread out my orange sleeping bag.  Then I started a small campfire in the little cinder block circle next to the campsite.  I sat cross-legged and drank a glass (styro cup) of red wine and watched the giant white stars pulsing against a nearly jet black sky.  The fire burned down to white dusted red embers and the wind picked up.  As soon as the sun went down the temperature dropped like a rock.  I wrapped up in a sweat shirt and a parka shell and finally got up, kicked dirt over the last of the embers and went to sleep.  The wind picked up and, at times, rocked the car.  When I woke up in the morning every breathe I exhaled made white clouds of steam even inside the car.  Damn it was cold....

That's it for day one.  More to come.