Sigma, Cindy Sherman and pricing models.....

I read, with great amusement, the announcement of Sigma's newest DSLR camera, the SD-1.
It looks like a very well designed digital camera body.  They claim that the body is carved out of magnesium and is weather sealed.  It will bang out 44 megapixel files at five frames per second.  It will take a full line of Sigma SD lenses.  It has a three inch, 460,000 LCD on the back.  I like the little strap lugs.  But the aspect of the announcement that brought a smile to my face was the revelation of the MSRP.  The price of this camera, sans lens, is just under $10,000.  The rationalization (and I think this is such a far stretch that it could only have been thought up after a long evening of heavy, heavy drinking...) is that the three layers of APS-C sized sensors each record pure color for each of the RGB colors instead of using a Bayer Filter with Interpolation for digital capture.  This also does away with the need for an anti-aliasing filter which, in theory, should make the files sharper.  When you do the math this way (3x15 megapixels = 45 megapixels) you can say that your camera captures the same size image files as the Medium Format digital cameras on the market.  Indeed, if this camera made images just like a 40 megapixel Phase One back it might  be worth less than half the price of the Phase One.

But all things are not equal.  While photographers like the high res files provided by MF cameras they also like and use the depth of field effects provided by a large sensor.  And the Phase One sensors are nearly four times the size of the SD-1 sensor.  Another benefit of bigger sensor wells spread over a larger surface area is that lenses don't have to be designed to ultra high tolerances in order to deliver the goods to the sensor as a whole.  To get the same system resolution in the SD-1 that you'd get with a big Phase One sensor you'd need lenses that were computed and manufacturer to be at least four time higher resolution.  Much better corrected for CA and other issues and you'd need much tighter tolerances because all geometric physical deviations would be amplified by a factor of at least 4.  (Quick.  Some engineer check my work here.....).

I've used Sigma lenses.  Some of them are good.  None of them are good enough to make use of the implied resolution of this sensor system.  Maybe a few of the Zeiss lenses.  Perhaps the M series Leica lenses (which would not work on this camera) but not the typcial 18-250mm zooms.  So, what were they thinking?  Will we ever know?

Here's a scary thought for all of us nay-sayers:  What if it really does what it says and we have so much gear hubris that we can't let ourselves believe it?  Naw.  Size is size.  But you have to admire their courage for putting it on the market this way.  Now when they drop the price to $4900 it will almost seem like a bargain....

So, ten thousand dollars for an APS-C camera body.  Now I think we have a real handle on just how bad inflation really is in America. ( proffered as a joke...).

With that in mind let me move on to the other interesting news of the week:  The world's highest priced photograph.  A Cindy Sherman self portrait (mise en scene) sold at auction in New York for $3.9 million.  Everyone on the web is outraged.  The "pro" forum on DPreview is bristling with "photographers" who are frothing at the mouth and exclaiming that "no photograph is worth that much money!!!!"  Even normally open minded Mike Johnston at the Online Photographer opined that the pricing was probably the result of ridiculous pissing match on the part of two collectors with too much money on their hands.

I'll take the opposite side.  I think Cindy Sherman's work represented the vanguard of work that pried open the museum market and made collectors and curators consider photography as a real and bonafide part of the art world and all that entails.  The spoils go to the pioneers.  Just as Steve Jobs and Apple reap the benefit of being first and best in the tablet market (and make billions!!!!) Cindy Sherman was part of the first wave of photographer/artists whose photos were about an idea, a manifesto, a dogma, a thought instead of being purely representative.  With Cindy Sherman, Sandy Skoglund, and a handful of others it became okay to make art about a thought instead of about a thing.  And this opened the door to current masters of the large inkjet prints who, incidentally, are getting up to half a million dollars a print for large works.  And those works haven't withstood the tests of time, nor are they revolutionary in the same sense as their predecessors of thirty years ago.

Why is a Rembrandt worth one hundred million dollars?  Why is a Van Gogh worth forty million dollars?  Why are Leonardo da Vinci paintings priceless?  In a sense, it's because they represented a giant tectonic shift in art which reflected a related shift in culture and society.  They are a visual artifact of our collective evolution.  They are our monolith on the moon in the movie,  2001 A Space Odyssey.  These works are the signposts of change in our civilizations.  That's why they are prized.  They are prized as ideas not as paper talismans.  And the world market now sets their price.  Can you really argue with the power of ideas?  Isn't that what drives corporations from Xerox to Apple to Google?

The idea moves all people forward.  How to put a price on that?

So.....back to work.  I'll need to sell a lot of photographs and videos if I'm going to get on that long list for the SD-1, let alone my own copy of a Cindy Sherman.

One last thought.  It's not important that we all own a Cindy Sherman but it is important for art in general and photography in particular that our culture is still able to celebrate expression and art as having value.  That's the real meaning of the auctioned Cindy Sherman photo.  Now just think how much more it would have gone for if she'd made it really, really big.......


A visual repudiation that "Strobism" and off camera flash were invented in 2006.

A1141699 by KirkTuck/photo

Love David Hobby.  Love his whole crazy bus thing.  But some of his followers have become rabidly zealous.  I just had a conversation with a follower who swears that David invented the whole idea of "off camera flash" and that the popularity of flash photography owes it's birth and subsequent burst into flame because of the Strobist blog.

Well......I have to differ with that.  And I scrounged up this image of moi (taken by Alan Pogue) as proof that we were slamming around photons off the camera for at least a couple decades before.  In fact, I'm going to bet that this photo,  showing a Canon EF film camera actually dates from the very  early 1980's.  What we have in this picture is Kirk Tuck in his twenties, a Canon EF with a 50mm lens and a six foot coiled cord connecting the camera to a Braun flash.  Sorry, I can't remember the model.

I was at the Sheraton hotel for the election night party with the then (obscure) Texas Republicans.  They lost.  Badly.  Really badly.  I am absolutely certain of one thing.......I was using hand rolled Kodak Tri-X film.

Off camera?  We didn't even have a name for it.  That's just the way we rolled back then.  We could figure out manual guide numbers faster than kids can text on an iphone.  And no screen on the back for a crutch.  I'll say it.  Photographers today are wimps when it comes to using flash.  Just wimps.  Turn that screen off and shoot some manual "off camera" flash.  It's not nearly as hard as everyone makes it out to be......  Did I mentioned that we were also able to focus our own cameras simultaneously with our guide number calculations?  Amazing.

Did they invent photography just so we could photograph our kids?

I already had a big octabank set up, along with a small softbox for a hair light.  I'd done a portrait earlier in the day of a new executive at one of the transportation agencies I work with.  At dinner Ben asked me if I had a recent photograph of him sitting around.  What is recent?  For me it's yesterday.  I don't know about anyone else.  I said, "no." But we could take care of that in minutes.  We walked out the front door of the house and marched the long ten steps into the front door of the intergalactic headquarters of The Visual Science Lab and proceeded to Mega Studio One.

Ben sat down on the pneumatic posing stool, turned to the camera and flashed his signature smile.  One click and we were done.  Seconds later I'd converted the file and sent it to his computer in the house.  He walked in and printed out what he needed.  It was part of an assignment for school.

I like working with Ben.  He's a pro.  He's produced about 60 video projects to date and has to direct people himself.  He now understands how important it is to get the right look in camera.  Before his last assignment for his cinema class at school he came into the studio for a quick discussion about best practices with microphone placement.  We popped open a Pelican case and he chose a mic for his project. He selected the Rode Stereo Mic.  Then he grabbed a Canon 60D with an 18-55 lens on the front, the "fishing pole" for the microphone and some cabling.  As an afterthought he also popped an LED light into his Domke bag  (yes, the kid has his own brown Domke bag....).

I was about to tell him which parameters to change in the menu but he gave me one of those looks that says,  "Thanks Dad but I had this memorized the first time I used it."

I wanted Ben to be interested in photography but he's not playing along.  His focus is film and video.  He's a freshman this year but his PSA about diabetes and peer pressure won third place overall in his school and they handed him $250 in prize money.  The judges said the production values looked like film.  The thing that made me proud is that he turned around and split the money with his crew.  When I finally grow up I want to be just like Ben.


Hand colored Summer.

Hooray! The Swim Season is Upon Us.

 I grew up in a pool.  Started swimming on a swim team in elementary school.  I lived with the wonderfully clean scent of chlorine wafting thru my nostrils twice a day from age 14 to age 22.  And I loved it.  After a long hiatus I got back into swimming in the early 1990's with a master's swim team here in Austin.  Masters swimming provides coached workouts for ex-college and high school swimmers, triathletes and just regular people who want to get into really, really good shape.  If you've done triathlons you've probably found that the people who excel and win are the ones with the best swim performances.

Our club has 14 coached workouts over the course of a typical school year week.  We have a 7am, an 8:30 to 9:30am (which I have dubbed "the executive workout" because you pretty much won't get to work until after 10 am....), a noon workout and then longer workouts on Saturday and Sunday mornings.  While most people hit a workout a day and then one of the two weekend workouts there are some "motivated" people who cram in some "two a-days".

This ain't a pokey group of seniors either.  We've got four recent gold medal winning Olympians who swim regularly, a bevy of recent NCAA All Americans (mostly from my Alma Mater, UT Austin) and, even some retired professionals from other endurance sports on the roster.

We had a fun workout this morning at the executive session.  We started with a 400 yard swim, a 300 yard pull, and then six 75 yard swim/kick combinations.  Our main set was something like this:

200 swim
8x50's on :45
200 pull
6x50's on :50 (with times descending from the first set of 50's.)
200 swim
6x50's  kick on a minute
200 swim fast
200 warm down

That's about 3200 yards.  A little short of two miles.  We plowed thru it in about an hour.  I love finishing workouts because that means I can go and get coffee and... that I made it out of the pool, alive.

I've never photographed my master's group but it seems like a project just begging to happen.

I put my son, Ben, in the water at around six months.  He joined the Rollingwood Waves Summer League team when he was five.  Of course I was there with cameras around my neck.  He's on his tenth year now.  Somewhere at the beginning of his swim career the parents on the team found out that I was a photographer.  Since every family has to do a volunteer position at five of the seven swim meets they invented the position of "official team photographer" just for me.  My real responsibility is to produce a slide show for the end of the year awards picnic.  I go to every meet and try to get good shots of every single kiddo.  Belinda is my editor and she keeps track of what goes into the slide show.  The slide show last for about 12 minutes.

I also upload images from each swim meet onto a private Smugmug gallery and the parents can order (and pay for) prints or downloads for personal display use.

I've been looking forward to this Summer's season ever since I bought the two Canon 1dmk2 cameras.  I love the way they lock in focus and I love the way they nail exposures.  My Lenmar aftermarket batteries chug right along and give me enough juice to shoot 1200 exposures in each camera, per charge.  I love the frame rate.  I love the split second response of the shutters.

Our first meet was an evening meet.  And, unusually for Austin, the temperature was in the upper 70's for most of the time.  It dropped into the 50's later in the evening.  I left the swim meet around 9pm.  Ben's events were over and the light had faded to a soft glimmer on the horizon.  I could hardly wait to get back there the next morning at 8:15 for the Saturday morning workout.

What's the benefit of shooting swim meets?  You get to work on your timing.  You get to meet your kid's friend's parents.  You get to photograph great looking kids achieving and smiling and working on goals.  It re-energizes my optimism.  The world may be falling apart but these kids will have the discipline to excel.

And what's the benefit to a photographer of actually getting in and swimming hard six days a week?  Lower blood pressure, optimum weight, better endurance for those long shoots, the discipline to work toward long term goals.  A bitching set of abs. :-)   And the ability to eat lots of food and not gain weight.  Seems like a good trade off to me.


Keep your lenses clean. Don't keep cleaning your lenses. And for God's sake don't stick a filter in front of them!!!!

See how blurry the photo got over on the left side?  That's because I had a UV filter on the front of my lens for protection and..........

Okay, not true, but..... I've experimented many times over the last few decades and I've proven to myself that filters in front of lenses degrade the quality of the final images.  Here's how I understand it all:  Every air to glass interface causes a slight loss of resolution and contrast.  This tends to make a lens look "flatter" and less sharp than it could be.  Lens designers have understood for over a century that adding more glass elements increases the compromise.  In the 1940's and 1950's they were willing to compromise things like corner sharpness and flatness of field so that they could design lenses with fewer corrective optics that had much more "snap" and "sparkle" than lenses of equivalent focal length designed with more elements.  

Everything in lens design and manufacture is a compromise.  If you add more elements you can correct for more distortions but you inevitably compromise contrast or resolution.  And contrast/resolution is an equation.  You can have one or the other or a mix but not high apparent acutance and high resolution in the same design.  Really.  Macro lenses need to have flatter fields and greater correction of geometric distortion.  They have more elements.  But in order to keep the image quality very high they have slower f-stops and smaller elements.  Smaller lens elements are easier to machine with high accuracy than larger elements.  They are easier to correctly assemble in barrels.  Faster lenses have bigger elements.  According to optics expert, Erwin Puts, every time you double the diameter of an optical glass element you increase the manufacturing complexity by something like a factor of 8X.

The creation of the "cemented pair;" two elements bonded together, is an attempt to reduce the number of air/glass interfaces to cut down on light loss and the tendency to increase "veiling flare" at each intersection.  Lens coatings are also an attempt to cut down on light lost at the interface of each element. They also prevent (by the process of wavelength interference) light from hitting the element and bouncing back to cause ghosting on the surface of the glass element thru which it just emerged.  Yikes.  A lot of design goes into making glass and coatings that nullify various wavelength "bouncebacks".  

Practically speaking, when you buy "L" glass or premium Nikon or Leica or Zeiss glass you are buying a system that's tweaked like a race car.  Really.  Like a Formula One race car.  It's optimized to produce stunning images as part of an overall optical system.

So you drop a few grand on your dream lens, put it on a tripod, lock up the mirror and trigger the shutter with an electronic cable release and.........you don't see the huge difference between the deluxe optic and the old beater you've had in the bag for years.  You know why?  To use the race car analogy you just put on aftermarket hood scoops, spoilers and fancy wheel covers on your race car when you stuck the damn filter on the front!!!  You introduced two air/glass interfaces that the lens designer didn't include in his calculations.  His computer didn't compute for them either.  You added weight and drag to your race car.  

And to make matters worse the coatings on the filter may interfere with the coatings on the lens and cancel out parts of the spectrum that you might really like to have on your imaging sensor.  They also introduce more chromatic aberrations because now the various color frequencies don't line up as well on the imaging plane.  

The idea behind the desire to use a filter is to protect the front element of the lens.  In days of old, when people would sit around on their davenports and immerse themselves in the latest novels of Nabokov and Kerouac while sipping cognac,  the coatings and the glass used on lenses was......soft.  Rigorous and frequent cleaning degraded the coatings and could scratch the front surface of the glass which led to flare and other nasty optical business.

But lenses have been hardcoated for years and years (five decades?).  And the infinitely expensive fast telephoto lenses from Nikon, Canon and Leica are designed with a neutral front element that is, essentially a built in protective filter.  The difference being that the systems were designed with that component as an integral part.  Not an after thought that's only benefit is to increase the commission of your camera sales person or to increase the margin on your internet purchase.

Finally, too many people who decide they must have the glass make the stupid decision to save money and buy cheap filters.  Back to our analogy, it's like putting retreads on a Ferrari.  You might be able to go but you won't be able to go fast.  

If you live in constant fear that your lens will become damaged you have obviously spent too much money on your lens and should return it and buy something that won't cause you unbearable emotional distress should it become damaged.  Really.  Like buying a nice car and always having to park it across three spaces because you don't want it to get door dinged.  It's karmic.  It's the quickest way to get your car "keyed."  And your fear for your lens attracts calamity to your lens like a magnet.

Stop.  Take the filters off the lenses.  Shoot like a real man.  Or a real woman.  And if your lens is destroyed then make sure you have a good story to go along with the loss.  That's the way it's done.

I've been doing this for 25 years and I've never had a front element damaged.  The protective filter is an urban legend.  It's also a huge profit add-on for the camera sellers.  My advice?  The only filter we really need in the digital days is a circular polarizer.  And that should stay in your pocket til you need it for something aesthetic.  

added after:  Here's what Lloyd Chambers, noted writer about optics, has to say about the filter imbroglio:  http://diglloyd.com/articles/Filters/quality.html

A second chance at writing a competent review of the Zeiss 21mm lens.

Several weeks ago I borrowed a 21mm Zeiss ZE lens from the local Zeiss representative.  I'd been asked by a client to shoot interiors and equipment installations at a very private and very exclusive country club somewhere in central Texas.  I own a Canon lens but I'm all too familiar with its limitations.  I wanted to make really great images for this particular client and I thought the 21 Zeiss would do it for me.  Most of the images from that shoot were really good.  In fact, the art director said she could see a difference in quality and sharpness when she looked at the small images on the back screen of the camera.  I felt that the optic was very, very sharp but it a few of the images with bright light sources (sunlit windows especially) I saw too much flare.  Far more flare than I would have gotten with the Canon lens.  I wrote a brief paragraph or so on the blog and stumbled off to work on something else.  One afternoon my friend, Paul, who is a renowned architectural photographer, called to see what I thought about the lens.  I gave him my impressions and he said, "That doesn't sound right....do you mind if I take a look at it?"  I met him for coffee and handed the lens over.

Now, if most people questioned my judgement I'd take it with a grain of salt but Paul owns and uses the newest Canon 17t/s the 24t/s a bag full of Zeiss Biogons and other wide angles and just about every exceptional optic that's ever been pressed into the service of photographing the interior and exteriors of buildings.  Is he knowledgable?  Absolutely.  Lately Paul's upped his game by buying a complete Hasselblad MF digital system.  Five or six of their best lenses and a really nifty shift adapter.

In using the lens and in comparing it with the 18mm Zeiss Paul was able to duplicate my flare results.  We met at my studio to shoot some additional comparisons.  As we were putting the lens on the front of a Canon 5dmk2 Paul put on his reading glasses and looked carefully at the front of the lens.  There were two small spots on the front element.  Could have been water marks.  Or dried spit.  Or some outer space goo.  But we're talking maybe one or two millimeters in diameter, tops.  And quite transparent.  Paul wiped out a cleaning cloth and ministered to the front element.  Minutes later we were shooting amazing tests with absolutely none of the flare I'd seen previously.  As Paul explained (and I should have known) flaws on the lens surface are magnified with wide angle lenses.  It's imperative to keep the front element cleaned.  Does that mean hanging a filter on the front?  Absolutely not......but that's fodder for another post.

My next tests were night and day.  The lens performed the way Paul and I expected it would.  By f.5.6 it was sharp and detailed and bright in a way that zoom lenses and my 20mm Canon wide angle can never match.  The distortion is well controlled and there is a profile of this lens and most of the Canon pro cameras in the Camera Raw panel in both PS CS5 and in Lightroom.  That extra nudge from the profile makes the geometry pretty much perfect.  

The lens is both heavy and slow to focus.  Slow because you'll be doing it manually and it's harder to see the in and out of focus as easily with a wider angle optic.  The discrimination between zones of sharpness is less obvious.  But the way I used this lens was to put it on a tripod and use the magnifier in Live View with the Canon body.  Many decry the addition of live view as a gimmick or a "feature" that adds extra complexity and cost to a camera but Paul and I find that, for architecture and other carefully considered uses, the Live View transforms most cameras into miniature view cameras with most of the control that implies.

If I were to use the lens for traditional (I'll take the picture without telling anyone and I'll try not to get caught) street photography I would rely on zone focusing it and depending on the wide depth of field that results.  It's not a lens you whip up to your eye and whip into focus quickly.

The summation?  It's at least two levels of magnitude better than the Canon 20mm.  It's better at 21mm than any zoom I have used.  That includes the Nikon 14-24 and the Canon 16-35L.  If I decide to add more architectural photography to my menu of services this lens would be my "go to" lens.  Will I buy one?  I think so.  Should you care if I buy one?   Probably not.  As a matter of fact the previous review points out the foible of taking people's web opinions too literally.  My first impression was a lens with flare issues.  I was ready to give the lens back.  Obviously my test procedure was flawed.  I should have checked the front element carefully when I saw the first evidence of flare.  That's a mistake I probably won't make again.

It's an incredible lens.  Made in a fashion that is quickly becoming rarer than cheap, full frame camera bodies.  It's a sharp tool.  But a very specialized one.  If you need  that focal length you need this lens.  If you love shooting with longer lenses and you don't have clients to please then it's a lot of $$$$.

That's it. Off to lunch.  Today is Chinese food at Lotus Hunan on Bee Caves Rd.  If you live in Austin please try this place.  It's wonderful and the family that runs the place is sweet as can be.  Lots of interesting specials.


It's the twenty-first century and I'm working with a bad set of assumptions.

Just have to get this out of the way and clear the air (and apparently the majority of my readers....) but I was stunned at the responses, both in the comments and in my personal e-mails, from readers of this blog who confess to never reading fiction.  Silly me.  I'm dragging around academic constructs of art photography from the 1960's and 1970's.  They go something like this:  Art is important.  Art moves cultures forward.  Art enriches lives.  Art enriches whole demographics.  All forms of art are interlinked.  Music is intertwined with visual art which is intertwined with literature, which is sleeping with dance and theater.  In other words, all art is art.

The idea that one picks and chooses from one category or another like a Chinese menu is so foreign to me.  I can't conceive of having lived a life as a university student and not have relished reading the works of Nabokov and Pope and Hemmingway and Wallace Stevens.  Or the poems of Billy Collins.  Can't imagine getting thru a tough month of work without having a novel on the bedside.  Maybe a detective novel by Ian Rankin or short stories from J.D. Salinger.  It's like getting a free ticket to other worlds and other universes.  Getting to temporarily borrow another person's mind and point of view.  I read Atlas Shrugged and was appalled.....but fascinated.  Now I know where some of my acquaintances came up with some of the ideas that move them and scare me.  But at least I understand them.

To cut one's self off from literary fiction is either some remarkable act of penance or folly.  Like saying you only eat meat.  No fruits, no vegetables.

So I marvel that  we can even see making images in the same way.  And maybe that's another construct that's in my head.  Maybe while I'm walking around just letting images come to me by some sort of inefficient osmosis all those left brain people out there have drawn up matrixes and ven diagrams, plotted their "creative development" out on graphs and have measured their "artistic" productivity on a scale I can't imagine, all the while chilling out with a glass of chardonnay and a good book on The History of Iron or Understanding C++ Compilers or Nuclear Remediation for Dummies.  But I may have it even more incorrect than I first supposed.  Perhaps people who don't read fiction don't drink wine either.  If they did, how would they converse about it?   Would it be like, "I analyzed the chemical constituents of several Pinot Noirs, did a regression analysis taking into account weather, average soil acidity and the trade winds as reported by the Economist and decided I would be best suited to drinking only wines that start with the letter "S" and "L" and then only if I could find them within 6 miles of my home.  That's the only way it makes scientific and economic sense....."

Maybe the need to do photography,  take workshops, and to try and get in touch with the artistic side of your technical art is really your soul screaming out for you to pick up a damn fiction book and lose yourself in another way of thinking.  Maybe it's the horribly repressed right side of your brain making a last gasping attempt to save itself (and a whole half of your own brain) from entropy and atrophy.

I end this column with a sense of despair.  If my readers, who have come across to me as worldly and educated and socially sophisticated have given up on fictional literature,  I fear that the Barbarians are already past the front door and heading for the library.  Bent on destroying anything that can't be measured.

What does this have to do with photography?  Apparently, everything.....and nothing.

Writing books or doing the work? The quandry.

My favorite front doors with the wide angle zoom on the wrong camera.

When I wrote my first book I predicted (to myself only) that we'd sell several thousand copies over several years and then I'd have a book on my resume, a mild dose of quasi-success and I'd get back to work.  It was never a dream of mine to write a non-fiction book in the first place.  The whole process more or less fell in my lap because of the confluence of my work experience, my writing for a few magazines and the topical coincidence of my subject matter.

In spite of my pessimistic predictions the first book did quite well and was, in the first year of publication, reprinted.   Another reprint happened a year later.  And now I'm sitting down with the task in front of me of revising and re-writing that first book.

As a reader of the Visual Science Lab blog you are probably aware that I've subsequently written four more books about various parts of photography.  In each case I wrote about things that were of interest to me.  And that interest fueled my work ethic and provided my motivation because, truth be told, very few people are making big money writing books for publishing companies.  And good sales of a book might translate into 10,000 total sales.  If you do a book, no matter how fast you write and no matter how quickly you can do the 200 to 300 "proof of concept" photograph that readers and book marketers now require for these industry specific tomes, the best you can hope to do (if you want to turn out something that isn't pure crap) is to take six months to produce the project.

So that's half a year.  If you have multiple degrees and decades of experience you probably expect to make over $100,000 in a year.  If you spend half a year writing and photographing for a book you've just invested about $50,000.  The great idea you wrote about will probably take your publisher the better part of a year to get to the shelves.  That means the investment generates no income for a calendar year following your six months of work with no income.  Suppose, theoretically, that your book has a cover price of $30 and you get a (very generous) 10% of the cover price as your royalty.  That comes out to $3 per book for every book sold.  The average photo industry book has a short life because the technology changes so quickly (witness my publisher's request for a revision after a short three years of sales.....) and the average photo industry book tends to die after the first 5,000 copies.  At this point you've probably gone three years and accumulated royalties of $15,000.  That's IF your publisher sold all 5,000 copies.  Now, based on the time you invested, you are only $35,000 in the hole.

But, of course having the book conveys prestige and authority to its author.....

Well, here's the real story:  Unless you are selling something ( a lighitng dingus for a popular flash?)  or speaking about something the book conveys very little  prestige or "oomph!"  to your market.  If you spend time telling art directors about this "great book" you wrote about small flashes they don't leap from their seats to pat you on the back and find a new stack of purchase orders. No, they think you're angling to become a copywriter.  Or that you're making out financially ( like a bandit ) and you don't really need the money from their little jobs (but I do.  I really do!!!).  If you have a retail clientele it's because they are NOT photographers, budding photographers or related to photographers.  That's why they are considering you for the job of taking wonderful photos of their chubby children in the patch of wildflowers in matching outfits in the first place, instead of uncle steve or aunt judy.  The chances that they've seen or heard of your book in the first place are tiny.  Like "needle in a football field of haystacks" tiny.  And generally, be they art directors, marketing directors or Westlake moms, they are going to hire you for your "value proposition" (see book #3:  Commercial Photography Handbook), meaning the weird calculus of the quality of your work, it's difficulty being copied by less talented hacks, and the dollar amount you are willing to accept.

So, you invest $50,000 to get $15,000 over a three or four or five year payout schedule.  Locked in during a time of escalating inflation.  And it doesn't do much, if anything, for your present or future business.

So what does a book really buy you?  Well, if you are a photographer you can always peddle workshops to other photographers.  The kind you want are the ones who are well enough off to buy your books and to attend your workshops.  That rules out most working photographers so your real market becomes amateur photographers.  And that can be a really nice group of people.  But did you really get into the business of taking pictures and then throwing away $35,000 just to buy entry into the business of spending Saturdays telling people stuff you already know when you know you should be out doing your work? Or learning new stuff?  Or practicing your art?  Well, the honest answer is that we never thought it would come to this in the first place.  If we did, some twenty or thirty years ago, we'd have all become rock stars instead.  I mean really, how hard can that be?

So I just finished writing a book about LED lights and it was fun because I think that LED lighting is going to be the most important lighting trend of the next ten years in film, video and digital photography.  I love the book and the thoughts in it but someone at the publisher's office took a big ass pin and stuck it in my balloon.  I turned my manuscript in early but even so the book won't make it down the chute, thru the rendering factory and thru the printing presses and into the inventory at Amazon until next Spring.  A virtual lifetime when measured against the progress of digital photography.  A big sigh.  I had the depressed realization that I once again allowed my fragile ego to goad me into doing a project in a traditional media when an ebook might have been a cobra strike quicker and perhaps more profitable.  And who knows how many hungry authors are pitching their own LED books right now....

Now I'm supposed to re-write the first book.  And shoot ALL NEW images.  But I've already vacationed there,  I've already been down that road less traveled.  I've already shared the ideas that I had at the time, on that subject.  And now the landscape is as littered as a dog park with similar books.  And some really great writer/photographers have used my shoulders to  stand on a write more nuanced or polished or encyclopedic versions of that same book.  Where, in 2008, my book stood relatively alone, now there are a dozen version from different authors in my publisher's camp alone.  And two dozen more from other publishers.  Am I the only one in our camp who sees a tremendous dilution in potential going forward with a revised book on little flashes?  Wouldn't all you photographers like to see what's going to happen next instead of hearing once again how to master something we all figured out a couple of years ago?

What's the book I really want to write now?  To be honest it's a novel about photography.  With an anxious commercial photographer as the protagonist.  There's action and drama and behind the scenes vignettes and gunplay and spies and cameras.  Does anyone want to read something like that?  Should I finish up the first in the series and put it on the Kindle list?  Does anyone care?  Or is my publisher right?  Are people hungry for an updated and revised version of my 2008 edition of Minimalist Lighting:  Professional Techniques for Lighting on Location?

In the grand scheme of things, if photography had not taken a five year hiatus ("thank you" world bankers....)  to discover its own mustache wax industry dark side,  I wouldn't be having this conversation because we'd all be too busy criss crossing the globe, shooting for art and commerce and not depending on a hodge-podge of like careers, cobbled together, to make a living.  We can't be all things.  I think it's tough enough just to take good, interesting photographs; adding in speaking, writing, teaching, copy writing (a much different animal than books) and whatever else we need to do to keep the doors open and the AC humming makes it so difficult I can barely imagine why, beyond the paralyzing fear of the unknown career path, any of us go on this way.

And all this is just my rambling way of clearing the rocks out of the yard before I decide whether or not to mow down another book.

You may think of this blog as being rhetorical exercise but nothing could be further from the truth.  If you have an opinion about what I really should be doing in this whole book thing I'd love to hear it.  If you are really brilliant and thoughtful I'm REALLY glad of the feedback.  There's a whole comment section below, use it to give me some honest feedback.

More after the walk......


fun time at the theatre. A quick discussion of tools.

We spent part of Thurs. evening making photographs for Zach Scott Theatre.  The images will be used to promote four upcoming shows.  I like shooting stuff for Zach because they really know how to do their part of a photo shoot just right.  They're a dream client.  For me, at least.

We set a date for the shoot weeks in advance. In the course of the two weeks I received:  1. Confirmation on times and schedules.  2. A flow sheet detailing set up times, make up schedules and each actor's appearance in the make shift studio we created in their rehearsal studio. 3.  A detailed list of props that needed to be pulled together along with a list of who would be pulling props.  4.  A very pleasant e-mail asking me what wine I might like to have during the shoot.  5.  A "day before" reminder.

When I got to the theatre people were there to help me load in.  I set up a white background with two Profoto monolights, fitted with standard zoom reflectors, on the  background.  I used the absolutely great Fotodiox 27 inch beauty dish with diffuser as a main light and passed on fill light altogether.  The main light was powered by what has become my absolutely favorite flash system, the Profoto Acute 600b.  It's a battery powered pack and head system and I drag is around with three extra batteries.  When used at 1/4 to 1/2 power the batteries last and last.

For the shots of Ian, above, we used a small trampoline to keep him airborne.

All of the images were shot as raw files on a Canon 1d mk2N camera fitted with a 24-105mm L lens.  The shutter speed stayed at 1/125th and we settled in at f7.1 as our optimum aperture.  All of the smaller Profoto stuff does a good job (at lower power settings) of freezing action.  The secret is to make sure you don't have too much ambient light which will show off any blur inherent in the shot.

By relying on the blinking highlights and a few checks with a Sekonic light meter I ended up with digital files that needed no post processing at all.  I ran the file thru the raw converter in Lightroom 3.4 so I could apply a lens correction profile to each file.  I converted everything to .PSD files because the Zach designer is a very advanced Photoshop user and I knew she'd want to have the best quality to work with.

Over the course of the evening we shot:  1.  A woman illuminated entirely by the candles on a birthday cake.  2.  Very close up eyes.  3.  Ian jumping and posturing with his microphone. 4.  A woman in a cute, pink ballet/roller derby costume on roller skates and, 5. A woman in the role of a Houston socialite with a martini in her hand and high "Texas" hair.  When we wrapped we had 700 usable images.

Why did I use the 1dmk2n instead of the 5d2 or the 7D or 60D?  They all have more resolution and that's usually a good thing but the shutter release on the 1D2 is super fast and I like being able to anticipate the arc of a jump and get it at the exact point I want.  Not a little later. I also like the faster sync speed on the shutter (as compared to the 5 and the 60).  I like the heft in my hand and I like the split screen in the finder.  Finally, when we were shooting the portrait by cake candlelight, I was amazed at how quickly and precisely the AF of that camera locked in on the eyes of my subject.

Wouldn't the files have been much better with the higher res cameras?  At high res usage they might be but when the camera is set to 160 ISO and the files are used at a size equal to or smaller than the non-interpolated maximum I find that the quality is equivalent.  In fact, I find the 1dmk2 files to have higher apparent sharpness and snap.  Maybe bigger pixel wells have a look that's different from the smaller pixel wells of their younger brothers. And it may not even be a matter of better or worse but a matter of taste.  In the same way that photographers of the past shot either Kodachrome 64 or Ektachrome 100 but not both.  A slightly different look and feel.  Part of a style.  Whatever it is I find myself drawn to shooting the older cameras much more often.

What would I like to see in a brand new camera from Canon?  I'd love to see them come out with a more stripped down brother of the 5Dmk2.  I really want to see what Canon could do with a full frame chip that has only 16 megapixels spread out across the sensor.  Much bigger pixel wells coupled with the current processing capabilities.  Might that not give most users the best of both world's?  A fast camera, not plagued by as much diffraction,  not hampered by such huge files, with a higher color purity and lower noise.  It's a camera I'd buy and I'm tempted to believe that the larger sensor wells are part of the Nikon strategy and why they've kept the D3 and D700 resolutions at 12 megapixels.

The camera that intrigues me right now is the 1dmkIV.  I'll confess to liking the frame size as it relates to lenses and I like the speed and the files sizes.  I've heard that the image quality actually nudges out the 5d2 but this is probably more related to newer processors and tightened processing algorithms than any superiority of the physical parts.  And I like the feel and heft of the body.

The very next day I photographed the kids at the Rollingwood Waves first swim meet of the season.  I used two Canon 1d2 bodies.  On one I had at 70-200mm L lens and on the other a 20mm EF lens.  I experimented with the AI autofocus, using all sensors.  When I finish up this blog I'll start downloading the files from the meet.  Should be fun to compare them to the files done over the last ten years.  Almost like a living history of the development of digital cameras.  Whatever will I do when I find out, that for all practical purposes, there is not much of a difference between the Olympus e10 and the Canon 5dmk2?  Hmmmm.