Why are we so preoccupied with new work?

In an e-mail recently another photographer took me to task for showing work that I'd done in years past.  I understand the fascination with new gear and all things digital but photography didn't just start in 2003 or whenever it was that Canon introduced the D30 and Nikon introduced the D100.  Nope.  Many people were taking photographs even earlier than that.  And we're not anxious to relegate everything that we did before last year to the deep archives.

In fact, if you look at the work of Robert Frank in, The Americans, you'll see that people were doing great work before I was even born.  And to ignore it is a form of "hyper present time" chauvinism.  In fact, I'd conjecture that before people were inundated with social media, cable TV, cellphones and instantaneous news they actually had a lot more time to work on their hobbies, their passions and their core professions.  It may be that the 1950's and 1960's (before my time as a photographer) gave birth to nearly all the social constructs and road marks we hold dear as a culture today because their focus was more intense and more acute.  Their time less fragmented.  Their anxiety less lethal.  Their lack of pressing and immersive contact may have given artists of that age the space they needed to understand themselves and by extension their relationship to their vision and their art.  A golden age of humanistic introspection mirrored by art?

Why else would the Beatles and the Rollingstones still be relevant?  Why else would Robert Frank, Henri Cartier Bresson and Richard Avedon still be influencing each successive, educated generation of would be photographic artists?  With the exception of Annie Leibovitz (who arguably straddles that generation and my generation) can you honestly name a new artist working today as a photographer who has even a small percentage of the influence and sway of so many image makers from the age before hyper cultural consumption?

I'm not saying that this snapshot I took of Ben, with a Contax G2 and a 45mm lens, on Tri-x film, is in the same league as David Bailey, Irving Penn or Victor Skrebneski but I am making the assertion that almost all of the work we see today is entirely derived from a generation that's passed and left a legacy that we've yet to match.

Argue all you want but today's carbon fiber cellos and violins don't compete with the instruments made over a century ago by Stradivarius and today's frenetic lighting geeks don't hold a candle to the work done by men of their grandfather's generation.  Sure, there will be exceptions that people will put forward, but it's almost as if we're in the middle of a de-evolution of photography, which is braced up and given credence by the ease with which the masses can achieve technical proficiency.

I've said it before and I'll repeat it here, crowd sourcing art on a grand scale, with an inexhaustible feedback loop, serves to homogenize vision and rationalize a pervasive complicity wherein everyone copies everyone else to gain a universal sense of approval.  That's why each day's "style of the day" goes viral by the end of the day.  The quote from Dash, in the movie, The Incredibles, says it best,  "When everyone is special, no one is...." (paraphrased).

If you are an Ayn Randian you've come to know that phrase as being the distillation of 1100 pages of, Atlas Shrugged.

Am I saying that nothing new can be done and that we should close the patent office?  Of course not, but while I am being hyperbolic I do believe we could move the game forward by sharing less on a day to day basis while working diligently on subjects and points of review that are more organic to ourselves and less affected by the overwhelming momentum of narcissistic oversharing.   Just a thought.

I'm not very smart. But I pretend to be smart on the internet......

I'll admit it.  I find most of the controls in PhotoShop daunting.  There are only a few dozen that I like to use with any regularity at all.  I have to look up the steps every time I go to make a mask or invert a selection or whatever.  I've been working with the program since it came on to the market many years ago and the stuff doesn't stick.  When I do post production on most of my images I find good white points and good black points.  I try to find a pleasing color balance.  I try not to sharpen too much or with too heavy of a hand.  But if you were to ask me to make multiple layers and then use the path from one layer onto an inverted copy of another layer so you could do something tricky and fun with the alpha masks.......I would look at you like a dog trying to make coffee  (and I speak from experience since I've tried to train my dog to make coffee with no good results.....).

But I get away with being a photographer because I can keep pushing buttons till I get something that's close to what I want and you guys don't know how many buttons I've pushed or how many pleading phone calls I've made because you just get to see the small (1500 pixel) samples I've put on the web.  Since you can't quiz me I can look smarter than I really am.  Up till now.

Now I'm much smarter because I'm using Lightroom 3.0 for just about everything.  If the damn photo needs a layer or a layer mask with delta or omega masks I just use the  "remove" tool and use some other file that I didn't mess up on as badly.

This is not a review of Lightroom 3 but it's an admission that I am captivated by the presets that run down the left hand side column,  just to the left of the photograph.  My absolute favorite is "Old Polar".  I select that preset and everything gets much closer to my original vision with very little intervention from me.  One exterior construction scenes I prefer "direct positive"  because it makes my images saturated and meaty.

I still have to do a little work.  I take out a bunch of the orange color that "Old Polar" adds and sometimes I have to tame some skin tones when I notice that a preset crunches the clarity slider all the way over to 85%....  But largely I've come to see Lightroom 3 as pre-programmed fun.  A clever starting point.

Nice to take a break from the relentless oppression of having to be acceptably knowledgeable about PhotoShop.  It saves the brain cells I desperately need to use in learning Final Cut Pro.

The image above is of Jana from back in June.  I was working on a folder of images to give to Jana and I decided that I really liked this one a lot.  It was done in available light with a Canon 5d2 and the 85mm 1.8.  Can't tell you much more than that since I shot it in RAW and let Lightroom dance all over it.

It's been a rough week because I've been immersed in an annual report shoot that has been mostly about taking environmental portraits on construction and roadway sites.  The temperature and humidity have been very high and it makes the whole process very physical when we start dragging around 20 pound sandbags and 35 pound light cases.  Most construction sites are far from ADA compatible and our luggage cart is useless in a vast field of mud and rocks.  But the images have been great.  The client is great and the subjects have risen to the occasion.

Here's one bright spot:  I bought a used 20mm Canon lens a few months ago and last week I noticed that it had developed a very distinct rattle.  It wasn't just the aperture blades, something was moving around on the interior of the lens barrel.  I thought about repairing it myself but then I remembered how costly my last DIY repair became, over time, and so I took it into Precision Camera for repair.  They looked at it, logged it in and told me they would take care of it.  But I was shocked to get a phone call this Thurs. (one week later, exactly) telling me that the lenses needed a part, it had been ordered, it came in, the lens had been repaired, tested and was ready.  One week.  With a part order.  Amazing.  It's good to know a great camera repair shop.

Almost as much fun as playing with "Old Polar" in LR3.

One more week to go on the AR.  Hope everyone has a nice week.


Sometimes favorite photographs become that way over a long time. It's almost like they earn their place in your pantheon of pictures....

I was tooling around Rome after doing a side project for IBM.  What's a side project?  Well, I was originally booked in to do a project in Monte Carlo.  I did that job for the better part of a week and then, on the last day of the project one of the public relations people asked me if I could make room for Rome.  Of course I can make room for Rome.  I cancelled my train tix on the TGV to Paris and booked a quick, direct flight on Air Littoral.

When I work in Rome I head straight for the Hotel Victoria, just across the main road from the Borgeze Gardens at the top of the via Veneto.  It's an old hotel but it's very reliable.  Belinda found it first on a trip eight or nine years earlier.  Paul B. and I stayed there during a long project in 1995.  They put me in a room up on the fifth floor with a view of the park.

I spent three days tracking down and photographing IBM employees at their EMEA HQ just outside the eternal city and then tacked on a few personal days for walking around in the streets with my camera.  If memory serves correctly I was bouncing back and forth between a Nikon F5 with an 85mm 1.4 and a Mamiya 6 with a 75mm.  This image is definitely from the Mamiya stack.

The image above is a scan or copy shot from a print.  It's random and yet I've come to love it for the rich gestures and the wonderful juxtaposition of the train and the women.  I also love the liberal use of polka dots.

I got this photography because I didn't have an agenda.  I was walking around Termini station because that's where people come and go and the comings and goings are always rich ground for photographers.


You have to get wet if you want to learn to swim.

If you want to swim competitively, at a very high level,  you'll need to spend time in the water.  A lot of time in the water.  When I swam in high school and college we hit the pool at 5:30 am every morning.  We swam for two hours and then went to class.  When classes ended we headed back to the pool for another hour and a half (if you were a sprinter) or two hours (if you were a distance swimmer).  During the middle of the December we averaged 10,000 to 12,000 yards a day.  Five days a week.

Today, swimmers focus on just as much training out of the pool.  They work on flexibility and strength training.  I'd venture to say that they think about swimming technique a number of times throughout the day.  Before the last Olympics Michael Phelps swam workouts 365 days a year.  That's what it took to be the best in the world.

But here's the interesting thing:  When college football is over the players who didn't make the pro cut stop playing. Same with baseball players and gymnasts.    Most swimmers never stop.  I swim six days a week with a masters swim team.  We have members who are in their sixties who are fast, highly competitive swimmers.  They never give up.  They rarely miss practice.  They know that if they miss a week or two or, horrors! a month!  Their conditioning and feel of the water start to decline.  Even a week out of the water means a rough re-entry.  Because physical technique requires constant practice.

So why is it that many photographers don't get that constant practice is really required to perform photography well?  Too many people put off taking photographs until it's "convenient and then wonder why they don't improve.  Why their craft seems to plateau.  Why they don't "feel" the flow of their creativity in the way they want to.  I think photography is every bit as demanding as competitive swimming but in a different way.  It's so much more multi-sensory.  You have to be able to look with rigor and, at the same time, block out the distracting thoughts of everyday life that dilute your intention and your conscious focus.

You need a clear head so your hands and eyes and feet all operate together as a unit.  So you can capture the image you want at the exact millisecond you want.  I'm not saying you need to do exercises or drills to become better but you have to spend time in the water.  You have to spend time with your camera.  You have to spend time practicing seeing.  And maybe most importantly, you have to spend quiet time with yourself, alone, thinking about why you photograph.

I conjecture that only by knowing what really motivates you to pursue photography will you be able to channel the energy and spirit to ignore the mental and physical roadblocks that every day life tosses in front of each of use like a never ending shower of kabers. Because only when you are clear about the real value you get from exploring photography do I think you will overcome the impediments to clearly seeing and capturing images that move you with passion.

Here are a few things I find helpful when I hit a creative block:

1.  Lie on the floor and clear your mind of everything.  Go blank.  When thoughts come into your head look at them in a dispassionate way and then let them go.  Pay attention to visual constructions.  And then let them go.  Get back off the floor when you feel the desire to create come back.

2.  When you are clear about why you photograph and what subjects give you pleasure (as opposed to subjects that serve to gratify your ego because you know that others will respond to them) visualize an end result for your work.  It could be the construction of a private book of images just for you or a show of your work in a public place.  You might even send prints out to people as anonymous gifts.

3.  Everyone has their own cliche images.  But if we try to avoid the sticky cliches we give them a certain perverse power and they become more dominant in our field of view.  Instead, shoot all of your cliches and then move on.

4.  Edit down your vision.  If you try to do every aspect of photography well you dilute the things you do extremely well.  Every swimmer has a favorite stroke.  That's the one they work on.  Boil it down to its essence.

5.  Find a kindred spirit who can be a mean son of a bitch and be politely but firmly critical with each other's work.  Having all nice critics around makes for a lazy artist.  Sometimes you need someone else to tell you what you don't want to hear about your work or your approach to work so you can get past it.

6.  Once you are clear on what you want and how you want it you have to make time to do it.  That means you have to make photography a priority in direct proportion to how much you want to get out of your photography.  

7.  Don't do it for love or money, do it because you feel compelled to do it.

8.  Like eating, breathing and swimming, do it everyday.  Doesn't have to be hours and hours.  Just enough to keep you fresh and loose.

9.  Don't compare yourself to  other artists.  You are on your own path.  Your life is different from mine.  I might hate your work and you might hate mine but it doesn't matter.  Neither of us is right and neither of us is wrong.  If we're being true to our real vision.

10.  You can't swim without a pool.  You can't shoot without a camera.  Don't leave it at home.  The camera is like your shirt or your shoes.  Take it everywhere you take your body.  Then you'll be ready when the image you love arrives in front of you like a gift.  Be gracious.  Be ready to accept the gift.

Penny's Pastries. Looking for connection.

I think we all love to photograph people on location but how do we decide where to pose them, how to pose them, what to say to get just the right expression and how to go about lighting it all?  When I photographed Penny she let me know right up front that she was pressed for time, didn't like to be photographed and expected to stand next to a wall and have a mug shot done in about five minutes.

My first mission was managing expectations.  I started with mine first.  I knew right away that I wasn't going to get an hour for pre-lighting and then a big chunk of Penny's time to play with while we performed some leisure dance of mutual exploration aimed at carefully extracting the "real" Penny for a portrait.  It was going to be a quick process.

But I needed to manage her expectations as well.  I quickly told her what the intentions of the magazine were.  How they were likely to use the image.  What the advertising rates in the magazine were like, and how great it was that she would get this editorial coverage for her business.  Then I told her how much time I'd need and what I was trying to get from the shot.  I have a good friend who also owns a bakery so I was able to ask her some questions without coming off like a complete idiot.  When she got that I really was interested in her and her business she settled into the shoot just fine.

My biggest challenge was finding the right spot to set up and shoot in.  We were in the middle of a working commercial bakery!  I wanted to show the ovens and some product so I started to narrow down the real estate.  I found the right spot but I needed to have Penny leaning on the table to make the whole frame work and to show the ovens in the background.

I lit her with a 4 foot by 6 foot softbox over to the right of the camera.  I used a much smaller box with home made, black foamcore barndoors to keep the ovens from going too dark.  Once I showed Penny a preview she was excited and ready to work the shot.

Our total set up time was 20 minutes.  Shooting time, 10 minutes.  Tear down and packing 20 minutes.  She was cautious about her time when we came in but by the time we finished she was smiling and handing us bags of cookies.  Really good cookies.   We both managed each other's expectations and we both won.

When on location it's best to walk in looking for what you know you need.  I always look for the right background first.  Then I look for the right middle distance setting and then I figure out the position I want my subject in.  To a large extent the pose is based on how the subject fits into the constraints of the space.  The pose (for my work) has to be comfortable, realistic and calm.  Once we have lighting that brings the space together instead of accentuating three different planes we're ready to shoot.

How do you make them smile?  You can't make them smile.  You earn the smile.  You do it by making them comfortable and collaborating with them.  You earn the subject's smile and good wishes by making sure that you are sharing your "A" game with them and not just knocking out another job.


Spelling Bee. It's a lot like life. Distilled.

Photo above from a postcard for the Zach Scott Theater production of:  The 25th Annual Putman County Spelling Bee.  All shot with Olympus e-3 and 40-150mm lens.  Lighting:  Profoto Studio Flash.

I've spent the last few days working on the kind of job I really love.  It's an annual report for a large governmental agency that builds roadways in central Texas.  And I love the job because it combines portraits, done on locations outside, with enormous earth moving machines and the elements.  The photo of the Spelling Bee production has nothing at all to do with the current job but when you are working on commercial projects you are usually subject to an embargo.  It basically means that you can't publicly show the work you're currently doing until the project is printed and out from the client.  But I wanted to write about a few things while they're fresh in my head, so you get to look at the photo above.

One of the things that makes this current project wonderful is that I'm working with a kindred spirit.  She's a project manager with the power to make judgement calls and not be second guessed.  She's a former English major so she gets that everything doesn't need to be linear or to rigorously follow a pre-ordained game plan.  She's open to my suggestions and I am open to hers.  If a particular shot has to be done in a particular way to appease someone further up the org chart then we usually agree to do it their way and our way.  I guess I'm just saying it's nice to collaborate instead of being tightly comped.

Instead of the old school way of trying to shoot as much as possible in an eight hour day we're working by the shot.  We all get that shooting in the heat and humidity wears us down quick and that four good shooting hours beat the hell out of the death march for the sake of the mythical "day rate."  We have a budget.  We have a schedule.  We're out for efficiency and quality.  Yesterday we started way north around 1pm.  I know this might be an affront to all the old guys out there but once again I chose not to drag an assistant around with me.

We hit the location, a big hole in the ground, and looked around.  Loved the big earth moving machines and the poured concrete pillars that will someday soon be an overpass or span.  That would be our background.  Our brief on this location was a photo of the very experienced concrete expert.  I lit the guy from about six feet away with an Elincrhom Ranger RX AS pack and one head.  The head was fired through an Elinchrom Varistar which is a small, (32 inch) shoot through umbrella box.  I taped a one quarter CTO filter over the flash head to warm up all the light that the flash provided in the photo.  I set the exposure so the flash would be two thirds of a stop brighter than the ambient exposure.  Not too tough since we had massive clouds and it was threatening rain.  It took me three attempts to tape the filter on the unit as the humidity was near 100 % and the sweat would drip down my arm and slurp across the front of the filter gel.  Eventually I got everything to stick together and we took off and did some images.  The reason for the 1/4 CTO is to make the foreground subject a bit warmer than the (in this instance) glowering sky in the background.  When I take the images into PhotoShop and correct for the color temperature on the subject's face the background goes a nicer shade of blue.  The contrast is more interesting.

I shot with the Canon 7D instead of the Canon 5d2 because the 7 syncs slightly faster, 1/250th versus 1/200.  I've also come to appreciate the flexibility of the 15 to 85mm EFS zoom lens which only works on the smaller sensor cameras.  I shot most of the images at 1/250 with an f-stop ranging between f11 and f14.  The camera was locked at ISO 100.  And I will say that at ISO 100 all cameras are good.  The 18 megapixels in the 7 are certainly enough for a double truck spread, if my designer goes in that direction....  The 15-85mm might not be one of Canon's "L" lenses but when you apply all of the auto lens correction in the cameras and in Lightroom 3 it's performance is nothing to sneeze at.  Everything I've inspected, at 100%, is sharp and meaty.

I've been using Sandisk Ultra UDMA 8 gig cards in the 7d and find the throughput to be a whole world of difference vis-a-vis the older versions of CF cards.  When shooting full RAW files the camera writes the files in less than half the time when compared to the fastest of my previous selection of cards.

As we progressed through the day we put the Elinchrom in some nasty situations.  Down in a freshly dug twelve foot deep trench where the contractors were laying pipe,  on freshly dug up dirt,  and on the edges of concrete pours----always in high ambient temperatures----with nary a misfire.  The real test came with a freak downpour and thunderstorm.  The pack was splattered with fat raindrops and the surface it was resting on instantly pooled about 1/2 inch of water.   The head was mostly inside a softbox so I was less worried about it.  The plug covers worked and the engineering that places the battery in the bottom of the box but the connectors in the middle also worked.  The top cover is gasketed and uses touch switches which are also sealed.  I wiped the unit off with a rag and, as soon as the rain stopped, we were back in the business of banging out photons.

The other interesting thing about the big Elinchrom pack is this;  we got at least 600 half power flashes over the course of the last two days without drawing down the power indicator from full.  From my experience we would have been through the Profoto battery on the Acute 600b at least four times in the same shooting situation.

When shooting in sunlight I've learned to do two things to make the shoot work better.  First, I put up a 4x4 foot black panel, centered behind the camera.  This means the subject will have something dark to rest their eyes on and I think it helps prevent blinking and squinting.  I also "fly" a black panel over the subject's head to shade them from hot, nasty, direct sun which enhances the directional look of the softbox light from my Elinchrom set up.  If we do anymore shoots that last more than an hour in the sun I'll start bringing white umbrellas and light stands to provide shade for me and for the art director.

Several shots required me to climb over really, really rough ground, through some mud and up the side of a mountain of dirt.  I thought about taking the Elinchrom but I just didn't feel like dragging the kit and two twenty pound sandbags and 1/8th of a mile, uphill, so I took a Canon 580ex2, covered with a 1/4 CTO, nestled inside a small Speedlight Prokit softbox (maybe six inches by 10 inches of the front?)  and used the flash/camera's ability to do FP flash.  By this time the clouds had all but occluded the sun so the flash didn't have to make any really heroic efforts.  I was using an aftermarket TTL cord that gives me eight feet of leeway and the PR person who accompanied us on this particular day kindly agreed to act as a mobile light stand.

We have about five more days of shooting to do on this project and I'm really looking forward to them.  As a bonus, the marketing director tells me that on two of the days we'll actually be shooting in interior locations.  How wonderful is that?



And so we had this big brouhaha! About free. But what matters to me is how much I like the photos.

Father and son.  At a photo shoot for the Austin Lyric Opera.  Camera: Kodak
DCS 760.  Lens:  Nikon 105 defocus coupling.  Light:  Profoto tungsten, 6 foot
diffusion panel.


That Looks Good Enough to Eat

That Looks Good Enough to Eat  (originally written in 2008 for www.prophotoresources.com)

Much of my day to day work involves photographing people.  I photograph executives.  I photograph workers on production lines.  I photograph people doing the things they do in every day life.  And I photograph people to see how they look when they’ve been photographed.  But sometimes I photograph things other than people.  My next favorite subject is food.  I’ve been photographing food every since I was thrown into a fabulous cookbook project by an editor at Texas Monthly Press back in 1982.  The book was a comprehensive look at the best Mexican food in Texas, created in such lofty venues as The Mansion on Turtle Creek (Where the valets kindly asked me to park my disintegrating and ancient Volkswagen bug around the back in the employees’ parking lot),  El Mirador in San Antonio, and, of course, Fonda San Miguel in Austin, Texas.

Back then I knew the rudiments of lighting with strobes and I was okay at mixing daylight with strobe but I’d never shot a plate of french fries, much less a beautifully presented bowl of Tortilla Soup.  A week before I left for the job I read every book I could find on the subject.  There were very few and they were mostly written in the 1950’s and 1960’s with much emphasis on eight by ten inch view cameras and thousands of watts of tungsten light.  What I gleaned in my research was how important it was to keep everything in sharp focus.  As Grandpa Simpson (The Simpsons/Fox TV) would say,  “That was all the fashion in my day.”  The other two things I learned that have worked over the years are:  1.  Food looks better if the main light is big and relatively soft. 2.  Food looks better is the light comes from at least a 90 degree angle from the camera and preferably from slightly behind and above the food.

Hudson's on the Bend.  Mixed Grill.

Over the next two decades, on the strength of that bestselling cookbook that eventually went into five editions, including a paperback, I have been called on repeatedly to shoot food.  There have been some massive changes in the equipment we use now and even more profound changes in the style and look of food photography.  The look has evolved from an ethic that kept everything on the table in sharp focus to a look were only a sliver of the featured dish need be in focus at all.  Gone are any visible lighting artifacts such as sharply defined shadows or bright specular highlights.  Now food is lit to emulate the effect of gentle, north light cascading through a large, conveniently placed window.

My four by five inch view camera is long gone. My camera of choice for food is my old Kodak SLR/n, one of the few 35mm style digital cameras that did not employ an anti-aliasing filter.  No reason to worry about moire when shooting food.…….  But lately, for expediency’s sake, I’ve been using a D300 and have general been pleased with the results.  Plus it plays well with dedicated flash.

 And speaking of flash, my collection of Profoto Strobes and their attendant accessories have been relegated to semi-retirement in my equipment closet.  When I go on location to shoot food for editorial clients my lighting kit looks light this:  One SB-800 flash, three SB-600 flashes, one SU-800 wireless controller, one forty-eight inch white, pop up diffuser.  One piece of four by four foot white foamcore and plenty of batteries.

(photo:  Four Seasons Dessert.)

The camera/lens combinations I’ve used for the images showcased here is mostly the Nikon D300 with a 70-300 VR lens, or the 16-85mm VR lens.  I also pack the new Nikon 60 AFS macro lens for extreme close-ups or situations when I need very narrow depth of field with very high sharpness.  That’s really it.  All this stuff fits into on Think Tank Airport Security case.   Of course there is a stand bag with a motley collection of stands, stand adapters, an arm to hold my diffuser and a small Velbon carbon fiber tripod.
So, on to the shooting.  Editorial food shooters really do most of their work from 2pm till about 5:30pm.  Most restaurant people aren’t up early enough to do anything coherent in the morning and evenings are when they make the bulk of their income.  We tend to slide in after lunch and slide back out a bit before the first seating at 6pm.

The first thing on my agenda is to get with the chef and explain just what the magazine and I are interested in.  I really try to resist heavy handed art direction because I think it is important that the food be a realistic representation of what our readers can expect when they go out for a meal.  Once the chef and I are on the same wavelength we establish a time line for the shoot.  The last thing I want is a manic chef bringing out a ton of food at once.  A shoot can only go so fast and I never want to shoot a plate that’s not hot and fresh.  Ten minutes out from the kitchen and the food just seems to die on the plate.  Once we’ve established our timing I start my process by looking for a good background, because when I’m shooting tight on the food the only things that will show are the food, a small bit of the table top or shooting surface and whatever background I’ve chosen.    (photo: Driskill Hotel.  Dessert)

With the background selected I drag an appropriate shooting surface into position and stick a plate that will match the “hero” plate into place.  I’ve done these kinds of tight, one plate, “hero” shots often enough that I’ve developed a routine for the lighting set up.  I start by placing my large, white pop up diffuser on a arm, attach it to a short light stand and place it as close to the plate as possible 90 degrees to the side of the camera position.  It’s important not to tilt the diffuser over the food because you will inevitably get broad, bright reflections on the plate.  In most set ups the plane of my diffuser is inches away from the side of the plate.
Hudson's on the Bend.  Crab Cake.

I place an SB-800 six feet away from the diffuser  and use the zoom feature on the flash to tighten the beam so that it efficiently lights the surface of the diffuser with very little spill.  That’s all there is to the main light.  I may tweak it after I see how it works with the food but it’s usually just right.  I hate using a second lighting instrument for fill so I rely on a white foamcore board or an additional pop up reflector place on the opposite side of the plate to bounce back some of the main light to open up the shadows.  I’m a sucker for a nice dark, dramatic shadow so many times I’ll back the bounce fill away four or five feet from the set.

When the main light and the fill are set I turn my attention to the background light.  This light fulfills three requirements:  1.  Lighting the background adds depth to the shot.  2.  Lighting the background provides valuable separation between the hero and the rest of the image.  3.  Used correctly the light will fall off from side to side and from top to bottom and provide a nice vignette for the main subject.  The background light is usually a Nikon SB-600 used on the little plastic foot that comes packed with the flash.  If I need it a bit higher I’ll use a stand or just place the flash on a convenient chair.  Then I go back to the camera position, pop a frame and evaluate the effect.  The background light generally requires the most finesse and careful attention needs to be paid to the spread of the light so that the beam opens up the space around the hero but still drops off sufficiently around the edges of the frame.  Once the background light is set you are 90% done with your lighting and any additions at this point are just accent lights.

With delicate entrees that have some height to them I always like to bring in a third light that acts as a backlight.  This light should be much weaker than the other two and should just showcase the translucency in delicate greens and other food stuff.  It can also provide a nice (hopefully subtle) edge lighting to the entrée to increase the snap or overall contrast of a shot.  Beware of lens flare from this one.  When I use a lens with a complex amount of air/glass interfaces like the 16-85 mm Nikon zoom I have to carefully shield the front element of the lens from any backlight or it will flare and reduce the overall contrast of my scene.  A snoot made of black aluminum foil or a grid attachment on the front of the flash is an effective way to focus the backlight and limit spill light.

When the last light is in place you test until you are certain you’ve got what you want and then you have the chef bring out the first plate.  If you have a good collaboration the chef will make you two plates.  The first is the the “stand-in” and you’ll use it to fine tune your lighting and composition.  You’ll also be able to evaluate the direction the plate should be turned in relation to the camera to best show off the food.  Now is the time to tweak composition by raising or lowering the camera to best look into the bowl or plate.  When everything is ready you’ll signal the chef to “plate” the hero and bring it on to the set.  Have a clean towel and some toothpicks standing by.  The towel is to wipe off any errant spills or fingerprints while the toothpick is there to gently pull at small parts of the presentation that might need to be moved a bit or “fluffed”.

Now shoot like crazy and bracket a bit while the food is hot, fresh and juicy.  After you have the keeper you pre-visiualized try changing camera angles and camera heights.  Also try to zoom in and get close on a detail that may act like “shorthand” to describe the entire dish without having to show the entire dish.  If you and the chef have both done your jobs well the actual shooting should take five minutes or less.
Camera settings:  We always shoot raw when doing food.  I know that we’ll only be shooting ten or fifteen frames so buffer and card space is never an issue.  I can use the D300 at ISO 400 and get really nice results.  I can’t really see a difference between the two when the image are printed so I always choose ISO 400 in order to use less power in each of the flash units.  Since I’m rarely trying to shoot stopped down beyond f5.6, and usually more like f4,  I can use my main light at 1/2th  to 1/4th power, my background light at 1/4th to 1/8th and my backlight at 1/16th power.  With settings like these I don’t even worry about external battery packs.  Internal flash batteries will last for several shoots before needing to be changed out.

While I’m shooting raw I want to get as close as possible to an accurate representation as I can so I don’t have to chain myself to the computer and monkey around with an image that needs gobs of post production help.  I know from experience that the color temperature of the strobes is around 5600K so I go ahead and set that manually.  If I’m using one of the new Nikon cameras I try to always take advantage of the Active D-Light control to create greater dynamic range in the image. (Everything helps when you will eventually be converting your images to CMYK and seeing them printed on cheap, matte paper.…….)

I try to set a shutter speed that’s slow enough to allow some of the ambient light to seep into the shot but not at the expense of the color control provided by the speedlights.   I never really mind when daylight shade is added to an image but I try to stay away from mixing strobe and tungsten light sources.  Food should be rendered with as little aberrant color shift as possible in order for it to be visually engaging.
Many are the urban legends about the process of food styling for a shoot and no doubt many of them were true at one time or another.  You hear stories about stylists or photographers painting roasted turkeys with shoe polish,  concocting scoops of lard and powdered sugar mixed up to make ice cream and applications of motor oil to steaks to get just the right glisten.  If the food is the hero it’s not only unethical but it is illegal to alter its general appearance if the shot is destined for advertising.
Hudson's on the Bend.  Berry Shortcake.
We use just a few things to help food along:  1.  a clothes steamer place under a plate cover will revive a dying entrée for a few more moments (but will wreak havoc with raw vegetables and garnishes).  2.  Olive oil or canola oil, delicately applied with a brush, can spark up meats and grilled vegetables.  I think anything else should be done in the cooking itself.  If a plate is not up to snuff figure out a kind way to redirect the chef and try again.  Remember, if you are working for a magazine you are providing the restaurant with an incredibly valuable bit of free advertising and the cost of another steak or chicken leg is downright negligible in comparison.  Most chefs will be happy to accommodate you when they understand the long term benefits of a good relationship with the media.

There is one truth to the rumors surrounding food photography.  You generally do get to eat the props when you are finished!  I must tell you that the hashimi at Uchi and the crab cakes at Hudson’s on the Bend were both absolutely first rate.

Food is not complicated and it’s photographic presentation has  changed from the days of big film and big lights.  The approach I’ve outlined here is best used for editorial clients where you are working without an assistant or stylist on the set.  For advertising shoots with their layers of approval and their “stop and go” nature you should probably default to traditional lighting if for no other reason than to provide your art direct with the luxury of modeling lights and the perception of more professional rigor.
(photo: hashimi.  Uchi.)
I hope that between the descriptions I’ve provided and your ability to “reverse engineer” lighting from the supplied images that you’ll be able to understand the way I used the lighting and cameras.  I wanted to provide diagrams but scheduling reared its ugly head and I find myself writing this on the way to Pasadena California on a Southwest Airlines flight.  No time for drawing!  Until next month, Bon Appetit!  and Light Well!

Kirk Tuck


The one instance in which working for free is justified.

Lou.  In the studio.  Scanned from a print.  

I wrote this because I read John Harrington's post on the perils of working for free and then I read Don Giannatti's rejoinder to John's post and then Don and I went back and forth a few times in semi-private and I thought, "Oh, what the hell?  Let's start at the core and work out from there."  What John is essentially saying is that any time you work for free, regardless of the reason, you are devaluing the whole industry of commercial photography (photography done to make a living....).  What Don is saying, in a nutshell is that John has used too wide a brush to paint his arguments and that there are indeed times when working for free is okay.  

When I pressed Don a bit (maybe I'm a lousy reader) we came to a clarification:  It's okay to work for free if it's something you want to do, you initiate the photo because of your desire and you get tangible benefits as a result of your work.  Maybe it's the access to shoot someone you admire.  But the important thing in Don's point of view boils down to this:  If they (potential client) call YOU then THEY pay.  If you call them and want something from them then maybe YOU pay in some way but you win something too.

Well.  I agree with both of them but then my head started hurting so I laid down on the couch with my dog and took a nap.  When I woke up I decided NOT to think of all the shades of gray entailed in Don's approach or the high contrast blacks and whites of John's post.  I decided to start out easy with one example and then, after I write this, head back to the couch and re-nap.

Here's the one time I'm sure it's okay to do work for free:

I was sitting at a coffee shop on the main drag in front of the University of Texas at Austin, wasting time, thinking about business and wondering how I could do more portraits that were in the style I wanted instead of having to do them in the style that clients of the moment demanded.  I'm pretty sure I was drinking drip coffee because I've never really developed a taste for milky, espresso based coffee drinks.  I know I was at a place called, Quackenbush's Intergalactic Coffee Bar and Bakery because that was one of the early and magnificent Austin independent coffee houses.  They had lots of tables and their cakes and pastries were pretty good too.  I did a lot of reading and thinking there.

Anyway,  just as I was bemoaning my own lack of initiative and spunk, and wishing I could shoot more fun stuff and giving myself the excuse that I just didn't have access to the right people, I looked up and say the most beautiful young woman I had ever seen.  Amazingly beautiful.  Not in a "hot goddess/garage glamor" sort of way but a refined, sophisticated, perfect Audrey Hepburn sort of way.  I remember her light gray corduroy pants, her rough, deep blue sweater with a white shirt collar peeking over the top.  And a look for brilliance in her eyes.

At the time, she was 18 and I was about 36. For a moment I processed all the reasons why a beautiful young girl would not possibly want to entertain an invitation for photography from a stranger twice her age.  Then, because I sensed this was an turning point of some kind for me as an artist,  I wrestled up the courage to walk up to her, hand her my business card and roughly outline what I wanted.  Which was the chance to make a portrait of her.  Nothing else.  

Now, this was before the age of the web, and so there were no ready references I could send her to which would vouch for my skills and intentions.  The best I could do was to provide a reference from a female art director at a well respected magazine.  I'd done my best.  I could only wait.

In a few days I got a phone call from Lou.  She agreed to come to my studio and pose for an image.  A portrait.  Her payment would be whatever prints she would like from the shoot.  From the first moment every frame was something wonderful to me.  We worked together on and off for the entire four years she was going to school in Austin.  I used her commercially for a magazine cover, an industrial video, and a bunch of print projects and all these were paid gigs for both of us but all the images that we did for my portfolio were done for fun and art.

If the assignment was commercial I paid her for her time and usage.  If it was for me I paid her in prints.  When my kid was born she was our first baby sitter.  If everyone were as beautiful, kind, smart and funny I'd be working for free for an awfully long time.  The benefits to me?  She made me look better than I was as an artist.  The images we made together opened doors for me.  The friendship was wonderful.  The memory of making the images is a treasure.  Who would have paid me for all this?

If you feel passionate about photographing someone or something you find a way to do it.  Not everything can or needs to be "monetized".

The rest of the hypothetical scenarios are just that.  Life is short.  You make your own roadmaps.  You decide.

You might want to do some reading about the business..............



Style is substance and vice versa.

Dr. John Clarke, Annie Laurie Howard Regents Professor in Fine Arts, Ph.D.   Former Chairmen of the UT Austin College of Art History.  Photographed for the University of Texas at Austin.  Two lights.  One point of view.

While one can overlay faux styles onto any project there is a richness of style conferred to an image that has its own substance, its own reason for existence.   If the image exists only to show off the skills of the creator and the effervescence of the "style of the minute" the viewer can generally sense, on some level, that the image is more like a trick or a gimmick instead of the heartfelt representation of the object photographed.

On a confluent vein,  I took my son along on a photo assignment this afternoon and on the way home we were discussing what we'd seen and done.  I was tasked with taking a portrait of a doctor on his ranch here in central Texas and then interviewing him in order to write the ad copy.  I asked the doctor, who is a second generation surgeon,  why he followed his father into the practice of medicine.  He responded that he had always wanted to be just like his father.  I know his father and it's a wonderful goal.

On the way home I asked Ben what he thought of the interview.  He said that it was interesting but that he hoped I wasn't expecting him to follow my example and become a photographer.  I assured him (with a great sense of relief on my part) that his being a photographer was not something I was pushing for.  As the conversation continued Ben asked me why I became a photographer.

I expected him to think that I loved making and sharing photographs.  Or that I loved problem solving or playing with fine pieces of equipment.  But the truth is that I'm drawn to the experiences and privileged points of view that life gives image makers in its pageant procession.  The camera is a passport into a wildly rich assortment of experiential episodes.  It gives me the license to be present and aware in a way that other professions don't.

What a glorious and charming way for an avowed fiction writer to assemble the raw materials for books and stories.  I realized this when I realized that I didn't really care if the images came out perfectly as long as the clients liked them and kept inviting me back.  And then I realized that when I stopped caring about perfection the images got better and better.  And once I gave up thinking about anything but the subject, and my reactions to the subject,  my pictures became an extension of my style and became my art.

Photography is the messy intersection of art and physics.  For it to become art it must be informed by a creator's unique point of view--about the subject.  That's the magic stuff.  Something to think about.

Where does style come from? How do I get some?

Shot in 1993 with a Canon EOS-1 and the first version of the 
85mm 1.1.2 L lens.  Paris, France.  Agfapan 400.

There's two ways to look at style. One is tied to the idea of fashion and what is fashionable.  This idea rewards constant changes of approach in order to incorporate the lighting of the day, the subject matter of the moment and the presentation of the minute.  Just last year many photographers rushed to make images that made liberal use of the "clarity" slider in PhotoShop, along with multiple backlights and a healthy dose of dynamic range manipulation via the shadow and highlight sliders that showed up, en masse, in most image processing programs.

The other way to look at style is to perceive it as the leitmotif of the long term arc of an artist.  How do they routinely like to approach and display subjects.  And what are the pervasive consistencies over time.  We like artists who can innovate while staying true to their basic nature.  That's what makes them powerful.

In time, given the number of monkeys typing and the vast spending power of the marketplace, people in the first camp will, within weeks of the birth of a new style, be able to buy a canned filter set that will allow them to make work that superficially looks like the work of the latest "wunderkind". (When did we go German?????).  Take a shot, dump it in PS, hit the art filter button and sit back while the little magic squirrels on the wheels take control and make your work look like everyone else's.  Indeed, we can see this all over the share sites right now.  And there's a huge number of self-promotion videos in which today's acknowledged instant photo celebrities show you have to look like them...

It's not so easy in the second camp.  It requires shooting and shooting and looking and shooting.  And watching the natural evolution of a style that is demonstrably both yours and long term at the same time.  And it may be nothing like what you expected when you started.  There is value to playing scales and learning method but it's all just filling time if all you ever do is sit around playing the opening measures of "Stairway to Heaven" for the rest of your life.

Nabokov became rich and well known by writing like Nabokov.  None of the rest of a generation of Nabokov imitators made it out of the gates.  The style that counts is the style that comes over years and decades, not the one you can get out of can.

I'm still working on mine.  But it's one of those miserable Zen things.  If you focus on style it eludes you.  It only works when you forget to work on style and just respond to the things you attract to the front of your camera......

A rare portrait of me by Ellis Vener, Monday.

A rare look at a crusty blogger.  ©2010 Ellis Vener.   In my front yard....

I've known photographer and writer, Ellis Vener, for......decades.  We were in school at the same time at UT and we intersected at the Ark Cooperative Darkroom pretty regularly.  Ellis moved to Atlanta from Houston a while ago and he's doing well with both his commercial photography business (http://www.ellisvener.com)  and as a writer and equipment reviewer for Professional Photographer Magazine.

He's in Austin this week and dropped by my studio to pick up a tripod.  He does these incredibly complex image assemblages (far beyond a typical stitched panorama....) and he needed some stout sticks.  I lent him the big, black Berlebach tripod.  Like a consummate pro, he brought his own tripod head.....

As is our habit, we sat around the studio and swapped stories about outrageous bids, even more outrageous clients and equipment nerd stuff.  When the conversation slowed down Ellis announced that he was sporting some new technology and wanted to try it out on me.  Here's the technospeek about the technique used to do the portrait, above:  http://www.fredmiranda.com/forum/topic/919822

The new TTL Pocket Wizards have the capability of giving your Canon camera's FP flash sync at much higher shutter speeds than before.  Interestingly enough, it's a technique that rewards flashes with fairly long burn times.  We hauled out the Profoto 600b with a head and a small Elinchrom shoot thru, umbrella modifier and headed toward the stone wall the runs along the street at the front of the property.  Goal:  Get portrait with cool, out of focus sky.

After some playing around Ellis added a backlight from a Canon 580 EX2, also equipped with one of the Pocket Wizard TTL transceivers.  We found that solid, Texas live oaks can block radio signals but we eventually get everything worked out.

Ellis was shooting with a Canon 1D mk4 (a camera I am very interested in) and the new 70-200mm f2.8 IS lens.  Fun to watch another photographer at work from the point of view of the subject.  However, as it was close to 100(f) in the shade we quickly headed back into the cool, dark cave that is the studio.

See the shirt?  It's one of the Ex Officio technical shirts doing its job and keeping me from sweating.  Now if I could only figure out why Ellis PhotoShopped my hair gray........ (humor intended.  Signal provided for the painfully serious....).

This is a great way to try out product.  I don't have to invest anything till I see how it works, what the tradeoffs are and how I might be able to use it.  Another fun topic of conversation was the Paul Buff, Einstein monolights.  Ellis showed me some great footage he'd done using the 10 fps of his Canon 1dmk4 along with the fast recycle of the Einstein.  Cobbled together from hundreds of jpegs into a Quicktime movie-----it was an eye opener and presages yet another paradigm shift.

Say what you will about Paul Buff but he is single-handedly keeping an entire industry on its toes.......

On the calendar today,  Young Ben will be pressed into service as an assistant for another Dr. shoot out on a ranch.  I have high hopes for something as fun as the Dr. feeding the baby deer shot I showed a week or so ago.  We'll see how the boy does as a videographer and general assist.


Street shooting in San Antonio.

Renae on Commerce St. in San Antonio with a wedding dress and tanned shoulders.

I blame Robert Frank and Richard Avedon equally for my love of street photography.  While the Robert Frank reference is obvious to anyone who's looked through a copy of "The Americans" I'm sure people unfamiliar with the breadth and depth of Avedon's career are probably scratching their heads.  Rush out to a well stocked book store and browse through a copy of Richard Avedon, " An Autobiography" and you'll be surprised to find a bunch of wonderful street photos from New York, Paris and Rome.  Were they all staged?  Probably, but I don't find them any less powerful.  Part of the power in the work of both artists no doubt comes from their conversant ease with graphic black and white.  They were working directly in the process rather than trying to divine how to shoot in RGB and then make the right gyrations to unlock their vision, after the fact.  

Both Avedon and Frank were masters of seeing and capturing gesture.  And gesture is one of the unsung foundations of a great portrait.

So, after sitting around brainwashing myself with my book collection I called my friend and transcendent muse, Renae and suggested a street shooting foray in one of our favorite (financially) accessible cities, San Antonio.  She mentioned that she had a wedding dress we could use as a prop and we were off.  

As you've probably come to expect by now, we didn't do anything by the numbers.  Instead of a box full of gear I dragged out a Hasselblad 2003 FCW and an 80mm lens.  Instead of our typical Provia color transparency film or our old standby, Tri-X,  I threw ten rolls of Agfa Scala film in the bag.  Sink or swim.  All my stories seem to have the line....."It was a hot, Texas day...." and this one is no different.  By the time we banged thru the ten rolls we were shot and heading toward the bar at the Havanna Hotel.

For people who never had the privilege and pleasure of shooting film I guess I should explain Agfa Scala.  It was a black and white transparency film.  No chance at redemption if you weren't able to hit the exposure.  And it was a latitude cheapskate.  Half a stop over and you were in white territory.  One stop under and you lost your lower mid-tones in a sea of black.  Once you shot it you had to send it off in pre-paid mailers so you didn't know if you were a chump or a hero for about ten days.  I'm always optimistic on the front end and pessimistic on the back end.  Love it while I'm shooting and critical when I see the mess I've made.

But the whole exercise was more for fun than anything else.  I figure if photography is so fun that it's the world's biggest hobby I should consider my life one perpetual "Magic Kingdom" of fun.  So we shot and settled for what we got.  Even the stuff that was blurred by subject motion or photographer inattention.  Like the one below....

note:  After I started writing this I went into the house from the studio (fourteen steps....) and grabbed the Avedon book off the shelf to make sure I had the title right.  I plugged it in and checked out the Amazon.com link for the book.  OMG!!! The first (and only?) edition of this book is going for a lusty $500+ dollars.   Very good condition used copies are around $350.  Amazing.

But I guess I shouldn't be too surprised as the first edition of "The Americans",  inscribed by Robert Frank, is going in the neighborhood of $16,000.

 I better stock up on some more first edition, Minimalist Lighting (location) and Minimalist Lighting (studio) books before they run out.  I'd hate to be an author who couldn't afford his own first and second books..........

I have one Summer reading suggestion to all you readers who like historical fiction.  If you haven't read Stephen Pressfield's, "The Gates of Fire"  you should.  It's a brilliant version of the Greek battle at Thermopylae against the Persians.  I've re-read it three or four times and I'm always sucked into it.  You've probably read my recommendation of his smaller but no less brilliant non-fiction book,  "The War of Art"  which I believe should be on every artist's night stand or bookshelf.  It'll save your artistic life......

Hope you're having fun.  People will want to know what you did over the Summer......


A re-appraisal of the Olympus Pens as fine art cameras.

You may remember that on my little journey to west Texas I rashly took my EPL-1 and my EP-2 and a little bag of lenses and batteries.  While the older, film camera lenses saw some use I was most at home using the little 14-42mm kit lens that shipped with every Pen camera you could get your hands on.  It was a wild roller coaster back then.  The economy was still very uneven (yes, worse than today...),  I'd just basically told a publisher I couldn't work with them on a project (the West Texas Road Trip) that we'd been discussing for the better part of two months and I felt at loose ends.

When I got home I posted some images from the trip and did a little write up of the experience but I don't think I really burrowed down to discuss the nuts and bolts of the little cameras in much detail.  I think I was still processing my own intellectual fallibility and hubris.  You see, I thought any project I could think of I could make work.  But by actually going out on the trip, even without the restrictions of a publisher or commercial, outlined project,  I came to learn that I just don't have much of an affinity for the aesthetic of the wide open spaces.  I'm not in love with the ethos of the cowboy as is Robb Kendrick or Kurt Markus.  I don't think Marfa is mystical or Marathon magical.  I couldn't wrap my interests around the endless miles of driving and the vast desolation.  I felt like a character in Jack Kerouac's, "On The Road", destined to drive on mad, nonstop, junkets back and forth across the United States with only a bag of cheese sandwiches and whatever rest stops I could find.

But in retrospect I brought back quiet photographs whose code I hadn't cracked yet.  Like the one on top which speaks to me about the ebb and flow of "colonizing" territory and then letting it slip back toward its sustainable chaos.  Other empty landscapes made me think, pretty much for the first time with any diligence, about how thin the slice of our livable environment is when measured against the volume of the earth.  A few feet of soil and then rock below.  Two feet or fifty feet of vegetation, sparsely scattered around, and above that only the ether.

I guess that not every photo needs to be of craggy faced celebrities, pretty girls and buff men to have it's own subversive impact.

This tree is next to a dammed up spring.  The spring was corralled in the 1930's during our last, national economic catastrophe by people working for the FSA.   It's on a piece of public land miles from the tiny town of Marathon, Texas, at what seems to be the very edge of the earth.  If the stream hadn't been dammed would this tree exist?

And, so what does any of this have to do with dinky cameras?  A lot.  Nothing.  I know that I wouldn't have gone looking for pictures in quite the same way with a different camera.  I've harped on this but the ability to compose and see in a square format removed friction for me.  It lubricated the seeing process in a nice way.  And it's one of the reasons I come back and pick up the Pen cameras over and over again.

I love the fact that they are tiny and light.  I can carry them without regard for their weight, their bulk or the imperialism of their intention.  What do I mean by that?  I mean that a Canon 5Dmk2 or a Nikon D700 is a professional tool that commands a way of confronting subject matter.  They suffuse situations with an expectation of "serious" photography.  They are not airy and exploratory cameras the way the Pens are.  The Pens seem to defy an easy categorization and they seem to morph themselves to match your intention.  If you need them to be serious cameras you can pull off serious photography with them.  If you need them to be "Lomos" or "Holgas" you can do that too.

I find the electronic viewfinder indispensable.  I would never want to shoot one without it.  The only time I can make that work is when I'm shooting video on a tripod.  I use a Hoodman Loupe on the back LCD when I need to use the hot shoe for the microphone adapter.  If I can get away with using the built-in microphone I will.

Of the two cameras I have to say I prefer the EPL's imaging quality and quickness.  I prefer the elegance and retro design of the EP2 as an object.  Of all the lenses I've tried I always seem to come back to the kit lens.  I try to shoot at ISO 200 and I nearly always use the large/fine Jpeg setting.  I only shoot raw if the lighting has incredibly mixed color temperatures.  I try not to use either camera above ISO 800 because, no matter what the reviews say, you'll have a hard time reconciling the noise.

It's a perfect camera for an artist.  It's not a perfect camera for a commercial photographer.  And maybe that's why it's a perfect camera for a commercial photographer.  Its quixotic approach to imaging pushes us outside the confines of our usual, self bounded boxes enough to make photography serious in the opposite way that commercial photography is serious.  It's serious in the,  "I want to look at things and see how they look as photographs"--way instead of being, "I want to impress the guys on DPreview with the sheer technical quality of the frame and make money from clients"--sort of way.

I keep them because they aren't like my other cameras.  And that's a good thing.