Just another balmy day in paradise.

 There's one fun thing about being freelance (well, there's probably more than one fun thing.....) and that is the reality that you can "call" the holiday vacation whenever you darn well feel like it.  Our last job got delivered on Sunday along with an invoice.  At that point I started telling people that we were done for the year.  And what a great day for it.  It's the winter solstice and it was also 80 degrees (f) here in Austin today with a blue sky full of sun and long, lingering shadows and caramel colored sunsets.  What a perfect time to ditch work, grab a camera and go for a walk.

I haven't played with the Canon 5D2 enough so I pulled it out of drawer and stuck the 85mm 1.8 on the front.  I walked around from 3:00 pm til 5:00 pm and I only shot stuff that I liked.  Which brought me back to a basic truth about my kind of photography.....it's little more than an excuse to stare at stuff with an intensity that's otherwise frowned upon.

Rational intention ruins art.  Or something like that. I've found that you really can't go out with an agenda and come back with anything close to what you had in mind when you set out to shoot.  Or as Woody Allen once said, (paraphrasing from a monologue in Manhattan) "Nothing worth knowing can be understood by the mind."  You really just have to be there.  The image above is the front door of the Red Fez, a bar in downtown Austin.

So I walked the route I usually walk and I looked at a lot of stuff I didn't photograph.  I wish more people spent time outside in Austin.  We're great for concerts in the park but not so great for the passagio.  Lots of cars but not a lot of foot traffic.  I spent time looking at windows. And doors.

And sometimes I found seed pods on magnificent trees against French blue skies, just begging to be photographed.  And aluminum windows with cool and warm tones, framed by black.  And I was happy just to be outside and moving.  And the camera in my hand felt like a tether.  Keeping me connected with everything I was seeing.

Belinda asked me to be home on time.  We were having a Mexican chicken soup with squash.  White cheese and tortilla chips on the top.  Garnished with fresh avocado.  Quesadillas on toasted whole wheat tortillas and a bottle of Cupcake Red Velvet wine.  I paused as I walked back toward my car, over the pedestrian bridge.  I was loving the contrary rhythms of the city.  The worker bees commuting home, air conditioners separating them from the warmth and vibrant glow of the outside, while the free spirits docked their kayaks under the bridge to frolic in the cool water of Lady Bird Lake.  And I was somewhere in the middle.  Vaguely trapped by the idea that I should be doing something "productive" but all the while knowing that I was already on vacation in my mind......

Life is short.  And can be sweet.  And all I really want for Christmas is the time and energy to enjoy it fully.  I wish the same for you.

Tech:  Canon 5D2.  85mm 1.8.  That's about it.

Book buying guide. "Which one should I get?...."

It's the holiday shopping season and everyone's running around looking for last minute gifts and stocking stuffers.  A fair number of people have e-mailed me with a remarkably similar question.  "If I could buy only one of your books which one should it be?"  Hmmmm.  Like asking someone which one of their children should be left behind....  But what I think they are really asking is,  "Can you give me a little synopsis about each book so I can decide?  Personally?  I think it's sad to break up a family.  I'd get all four.  And that's the most self serving answer I could drum up.....

First up.  The first book.  There are now two books that have the words, "Minimalist Lighting" in the title but the subhead tells the difference.  One is about location lighting and the other is about studio lighting.  They are not versions of the same book.  The book above is the location lighting book.  The emphasis is on using small, battery powered "smart flashes" like the Nikon SB-800 and the Canon 580EX2.  But using them as a professional would have used studio lights in the "old days."  The back of the book has descriptions of five or six different actual jobs with diagrams and shooting info.  The book is intended to take someone from a shy and unsure user of "flash on camera" and give them the brain tools to take the flash off the camera, stick it on a stand, attach a radio trigger, add a couple more flashes and get everything to work the way it's supposed to.  All the samples are on location.  Many (most) of the examples are from actual paying assignments.  This is a great starting point for people who want good lighting on location.  And a good primer for using Nikon's CLS, all different kinds of slaves and diffusers.

The Second book is also called "Minimalist Lighting" but the subhead explains that it's aimed at studio lighting.  This book is mostly about lighting in the studio and I do several exercises like taking an orange and a cheap work light and show the way direction and diffusion affect the way images look.  We take one of my favorite models, Heidi, and show permutations of portrait lighting using everything from giant umbrellas, small reflectors and even bounced sunlight.  I cover florescent, flash, daylight and tungsten light and by the time you're done you have a good idea of how to outfit a home studio or a small working studio and how to do basic studio photography.  I like this book.  I wish there had been one out when I started oh those many years ago.  Instead I reinvented many wheels.....

I stuck these pipes in just for fun.  It was a classic annual report shot from 2002.  Somewhere between Gulfport and Biloxi.  

I rarely think of myself as an architectural photographer but one of my first professional assignments was a ten day, large format gig for a historical architecture magazine shooting plantations across Louisiana. The magazine liked the work so much we spent the next ten years driving around Texas, Lousiana, Mississippi and New Mexico shooting architecture with a 4x5 view camera and a box full of Schneider lenses.  This pool was for a feature on water features for a little lifestyle magazine called, Tribeza.
Back to the books in a moment........

You've probably divined by now that I'm a bit of a heretic when it comes to photographic lighting.  David Hobby may have popularized the small strobe craze but, believe me, a bunch of us corporate shooters were all over that in the 1990's when corporations were flying us all over the world and depending on us to hit the ground running in places where the A/C only worked for five hours a day or not at all.  We got used to improvising. That's young Ben holding a homemade florescent bank 
for book #2.

If you are trying to do photography as a business or you have a friend or relative who is this is the book they need.  It explains all the voodoo pricing and why it happened the way it did.  It explains model releases, contracts, marketing and specializing.  It's well illustrated and reads fluently.  Pick up John Harrington's book on business practices to round out your selection of good, solid photo business books. I'd buy either of our (mine or John's ) if I didn't own them.  Mine is a reminder to do the right thing for your business.  John's is how to do the nuts and bolts that go along with doing the right thing.

Okay.  You have no interest in becoming an underpaid, overworked professional photographer.  You already read all you needed to know about flashes and any more would be overwhelming.  You know enough to run a studio but you've got other stuff you'd rather do.  Skip the first three books and get this one.  It's a fun romp thru what kind of lights are out there on the market, what accessories help you get the looks you want and why you want a certain kind of light for a certain situation.  If you like knowing about gear this the book that will work.

Now I don't expect anyone to take my suggestions without a grain of salt because, let's face it, I'd love to sell more of my books.  I'll get a bigger royalty check.  But if you are on the fence and you'd like to make both of us happy over the holidays you might take time to read the reviews.  Here's the link to my author's page on Amazon

If you do decide to order one it would be cool for me if you'd click thru to Amazon from one of the links below.  I'll make a few dimes and you won't pay a cent more.  In fact,  if you click thru from here to Amazon for anything from diapers to giant TV's I'll get a small percentage and it will have no impact on the final price that you pay them.  Just want to be transparent.

Here are the links.....


Thanks for shopping.