Why I like the Canon 60D.

I bought my second Canon 60D last week.  I thought I would explain why.  This Spring I undertook a large (for me) video project and I ended up doing interviews with 14 oral surgeons in 7 different locations.  I kept the lighting as simple as I could.  Most of the venues had a mix of sunlight thru the windows and florescent lights from the ceiling.  In most cases I filtered small, battery powered LED's to daylight and mixed them in.  If I was careful enough to do a custom white balance before I started shooting then the color looked just fine.  If I depended on AWB I won sometimes and I lost sometimes.

When I started the project I assumed that the Canon 5dmk2 would be the preferred shooting camera for the best quality.  But it didn't work out that way.  I found the menus in the 60D to be easier for me to understand.  I found the deeper depth of field of the smaller sensor to be a godsend in most set ups.  But most of all I found the simple, manual control of audio to be easiest to use.

I have a 7D and it also shoots nice video but it doesn't have the option to control sound levels manually.  I use it to shoot "B-roll" when we don't need sound, or to shoot fast moving stuff when operating the camera in a "live" situation overrides overriding the automatic level controls.

The Canon 60D also has a big, bright LCD monitor on the back that flips out and is positionable.  It's a big plus for shooting a seated subject.  I always tend to use a Hoodman loupe when I shoot view.  It's easier to see the screen if you block out the ambient light.

I'm sure that you can tweak out a full stop better high ISO performance with the 5Dmk2 but for the kind of interviews I was doing it would have been inconsequential.

My working methodology was pretty simple.  I'd clip a Sennheiser lavalier microphone to the person's shirt button plaque or white coat lapel and put the microphone transceiver in their pocket. Then I'd put the microphone receiver in the hot shoe of the shooting camera and plug the cable into the camera's microphone socket.  I'd ask the doctor some questions for practice and check and set levels while we chatted.  Once I had good levels that didn't clip I would push the button at the top right of the camera (from camera operator's point of view).  That button gives two levels of magnification which makes fine focusing any optic a piece of cake.  On the third push of the button you're back to the live frame and ready to push the dedicated button to start recording.

Sometimes I would use a 50mm lens on my primary interview camera but I would want a second camera angle at the same time so I would have something different to cut away to.  It would keep the video from being so static.  I noticed that, when I used a 5Dmk2 the footage looked different.  Even if I did custom white balances in the same spot.  I decided I wanted two identical shooting cameras.  It would also be good for those times when I have a second video shooter and I want everything to cut together well.

I was looking on the used shelf at Precision Camera for bargains and I found a lightly used 60D with an extra Canon battery and a 16 gigabyte Delkin SD card for a whopping $675.  At a time when camera bodies seem hard to come by I thought it was a good deal.

I shot the two 60D's with different lenses on the front at a big Freescale Semiconductor event on Tues. this week.  I shot raw files and did lots of unnecessary pixel peeping as I post processed them in Lightroom yesterday.  What I saw was all good.

The camera can get noisy at 1600 ISO, especially so if you underexpose.  I'm not perfect.  Underexposure happens to me.  But the nice thing is that the grain is well behaved.  Very little color splotching occurs and there's just an increase in what looks like monotone noise.  It's handled very well by the noise reduction menu in LR.

When I shot on a tripod and used normal, reasonable ISO's like 200,  400, and 800 I got rich, saturated colors and high resolution.  In this case I was mostly limited by the cheap Tamron 11-18mm lens I was using for ultra wide angles.  I was pleasantly surprised with the high sharpness of the 24-120mm  L zoom.  And I was generally pleased by the performance of Canon's cheap, kit zoom, the 18-55mm version 2.  All of the lenses had various geometric distortions but the two Canon's were pretty well corrected by the profiles in the lens correction menus in LR.

The camera handles well, sips battery power conservatively (same battery as the 7d and 5d2), does nice live view and feels good in my hands.  Your hands may be bigger......

What I like a lot about the cheaper cameras  is that they use SD memory cards.  I can buy tons of 8 gigabyte cards at around $13 a whack from Amazon and the class 10's seem to handle all the video I throw at them very well.

To recap:  Good video.  Good audio.  Light and small but with a good finder.  Uses cheap SD cards without coughing or sneering.  Wonderful LCD monitor with swivel.  High megapixel count with very pretty files in raw.  Graceful handling of noise.  CHEAP (compared to the 7D and the 5Dmk2).

I'm glad I bought another one.  I'd like to do more personal video projects in the west Texas desert (once the Summer is over.....in November) and it's nice to have ten or twelve SD cards to play with so I don't have to spend valuable shooting or sleeping time downloading cards and backing up files.  With SD card prices so low it's just like buying rolls of film....

I like cropped frame cameras.

I also like shooting video with these cameras.  So much so that I've decided to write an ebook about how I do it.  I'm spending July with Ben going thru everything I ever wanted to learn about video and the way these cameras can be tweaked to do video as part of my research on the book.  It should be done, designed, edited and ready on the first of Sept.  I'll keep you posted.


Different formats. Different treatments. Same Vision?

I took this portrait of Michelle with a medium format camera and a long lens.  I used a Norman Beauty Dish and a large softbox for fill.  The background is lit by two small softboxes.  I love the long, soft tonalities.  And I love the quiet look of the whole thing.  

This portrait was shot many years ago on the outdoor patio of the old Sweetish Hill Restaurant.  Light filtered through the translucent skylight panels and bounced in from reflected sunlight in surrounding shop windows.  I used an Olympus Pen half frame camera with a 40mm 1.4 lens.  A relic of the early 1970's. Just like the photo above, I used Tri-X 400 film developed in D76.  This is NOT lit with a beauty dish.  Just natural light.

And, I guess my point is that the "feel" of the photograph, the quiet stare out to the camera :::: out to me, is similar in both.  The body position in both images has similar energy.  I think they are both contemplative images.  And what I am coming to find is that no matter what camera I use to do portraits with and however I light them, there are common threads.  There are little things that tie the emotion of the photographs together.  Beyond the tones and the postures and the look there is also the inclusion of a background that is both soft and present.

I never thought I had a style until I started looking back twenty years and then laying old prints next to new ones.  I have found one thing.  There is a difference between images shot to be printed and images shot to be looked at digitally.  The digital ones seem more sterile.  Quieter.  Less depth.  They seem flatter to me.  Just an observation.

Digital image.  EOS-1D mk2.  50 2.5 macro.

And yet, there are similarities.  The backgrounds feel similar to me.  And the  portrait of the coffee is quiet.  Funny to have a quiet style for such a boisterous and chatty blog writer.  

How do you create a style?  You don't.  It evolves over time.  When you AREN'T thinking about it.
I guess that makes the acquisition of style some sort of Zen thing.

Ten Top Tips For Getting People Say Nice Things About Your Portrait Photographs.


We all work in relative isolation and we crave the positive feedback from strangers (we wouldn't dare sit next to if we ever had to ride a bus)  even though we have no way of gauging it's value.  I've carefully looked thru many forae and online resources and I have a quick guide for generating good feedback.  Do these things and you'll have a fighting chance at having someone mark one of your photos as a "favorite".  You might even rise to stardom and be asked to shoot for free by a prestigious media outlet.

1.  Only shoot young, famous musicians and actors.  The higher up on the "A" list the better.  Put their names in the metadata and labels and descriptions.  When the blind name searches occur......instant stardom.  More points for unusual (read: stupid) poses and expressions.  Outrageous costuming is expected.

(Want to learn about access and how to photograph Justin Beiber, Brittany Spears, Lady Ga-Ga?  You'll want to take my upcoming $25,000 workshop, Shooting Stars.  We're limiting the class to the first 100 applicants....)

2.  Have a video crew shoot everything you do.  From nose wipes to model fluffing to spectacular farts.  Everyone wants to see how it's all done.  Bonus if you include footage of actual portrait shoots.  Extra bonus if you are shooting the portraits.  Be sure to grow trendy facial hair and own a collection of really stupid (proto bohemian) hats........

3.  Use a camera no one has ever heard of or that is largely unavailable.  Like the guy who puts banks of lights on either side of his subject and pounds away with an 8x10 view camera.  Extra points if you go bigger than 8x10 and super extra points if you use non-conventional film.  (See next point).  If the camera is too big to carry by yourself make sure you see point #2.  Get lots of footage of the crew positioning and setting up the camera for you.  "Quick Bob, a close up of that rare lens I'm using."

4.  Combine the big camera with super large format Polaroid and you can shoot the most boring portraits in the worst imaginable light and be lauded in magazines across the country.  But again,  don't try this without your Behind the Scenes video crew.  Proof that you went large and instant is usually more important that the actual portrait.  (see point #7).

5.  Shoot everything in black and white.  Talk about how important it is to shoot in black and white.  People don't really get black and white anymore but they know they're supposed to like it.  Kinda like Cadillac Escalades.  Or automatic watches.....  If someone mentions SilverFX fix them with a withering glare and denounce canned actions as "hobbyist affectations."  Let everyone know that if they aren't printing on fiber photographic paper they are pond scum.  Don't forget to mention that every print must be toned in toxic and radioactive toners.  By hand.

6.  Shoot naked people.  This is harder than it sounds because only thin, healthy people look good naked and in most of the U.S. and for that matter, north America, municipalities and society in general have outlawed "thin and healthy".  Much as you love your sweet partner the camera is a vicious bitch when confronted with an extra 50 pounds of love handles..... (When searching for good looking naked people try to pay attention to point #1)  The double chin is only adorable to your cat and your equally pudgy partner.  Believe me, all that physical egalitarianism doesn't translate.  Unless you are Joel Peter Witkin.......and he OWNs that niche.

7.  When asked about your intention, motivation, philosophy, relationship to art be sure to talk only about technique.  Extra points for cataloging which lens, camera, settings, lights and modifiers you used.  Want fans for life?  You'll want to supply "before and after" photographs as well as three dimensional lighting diagrams of your every move.  No one gives a panatomic X negative about why you shot something, they just want to know how they can reproduce exactly the same thing with their Canon Rebel.

8.  Hot Babes. If you can't ante up the money for my workshop about working with "A" list people you'll want to stick only to photographing young women.  Preferably in randy outfits, in suggestive poses and forget the "come hither" eyes.  You'll be looking to capture the "do me now before the commercials are over!!!" eyes.  At the Visual Science lab we measure the number of "likes" for super saturated, twilight-with-outrageous-fill-flash photos/portraits of recent post-teen women in skimpy outfits and compared it to similar photos of men in the same poses.  The difference in "likes?"  Female subjects= 253,017 versus 3 for male subjects. Don't ask.

9.  Use a radical new light source.  There's a hierarchy of lighting coolness.  Top of the heap are HMIs ala Victoria's Secret calendars.  Next is anything new = LED's.  Then outrageously expensive strobe systems warranted by the atomic energy commission to produce light that is slapped out in doses with less than .00001 % color or intensity shift.  Then florescent lights.  Then the screen  (yawn) of your iPad (yes Bob, I see you got and iPad.  I am very proud of you. ) or the (yawn, moan) screen of your iPhone 6.    I've noticed a new trend.  I saw this in a forum about using small flashes.  It's still kinda new but may catch on......People are using the light that exists, without augmentation.  They are calling this "natural light" but I don't know what could be more natural than 27 small, battery powered flashes, covered with filters, festooned with  radio triggers and plastic drinking straw modifiers, and hung like Christmas tree lights on a light stand........ But no one can tell from the images so that's where the "Behind the Scenes" crew comes in.

10.  When in doubt try to incorporate as many of these techniques as possible.  Naked, small flash, big camera, super sized polaroid, only of a future "A" list, barely legal, stars shot with a super wide lens.  Then torture the image in PhotoShop and HipsterTRAGIC and print it out on black and white paper.  If this still doesn't work then register a few more untraceable e-mail accounts and prime the pumps by "liking" your own "favorites".    Museum quality, baby.  Works for the big dogs.

Note/Warning for the "Hard of Humor":  This is intended to be cynical humor and does not really reflect my recipe for doing good portraiture or having that work widely appreciated.



My recent adventures in San Antonio.

I had fun today.  I had fun yesterday.  I blame photography.  I was heading to San Antonio to take photos today at the JW Marriott Hill Country Resort.  My favorite production company was producing a show for 2000 people.  I went down to SA last night so I could get an early start.

Packing for a shoot is always interesting.  Tomorrow I'm shooting a portrait of a political candidate for a high end production company and PR agency.  I'm packing a bunch of Elinchrom lights, spiffy triggers, breathtaking modifiers and, even a beauty dish.  I'll take a couple of Canon 5Dmk2's and the Zeiss 85mm 1.4 and 100 f2 Macro Planar.  Yummy glass.  And that's the way I like to walk in for a high profile job.

But today I was whipping thru a show, having fun and taking documentation photos of stuff.  Wall treatments, plasma displays and even an interaction display that sensed movement via IR sensors and made things happen on a twenty foot wide screen (see above).  I knew three things:  1.  I'd be moving fast and soaking up all kinds of details and shots.  2.  I wanted to use live view to line up walls and generally previsualize the final images.  3.  18 megabytes was more than enough to make my client happy-happy.

I grabbed two 60D's.  (Cameras are like rattlesnakes, they like to travel in pairs.  Matched pairs.)  I grabbed a motley assemblage of lenses.  No Zeiss glass.  Why not?  Because I'd have the luxury of putting the cameras on my tripod, stopping down to f8 and shooting at slow ISO's like 200 and 500 and occasionally 1250.  At f8 every lens is good.  And all the popular ones are easily and automatically corrected in Lightroom.

Big plus, if I dropped one from the top of a 16 foot ladder while grappling with my acrophobia, and it smashed to pieces on the floor I'd be much less devastated than if it had been a pricy German uber lens.

I shot a lot.  I had fun seeing them on the screen.  I got back to Austin in time for supper.  And then, for excitement, I took Ben out to practice driving.

Listen carefully:  Ben got his learner's permit.  This means he's operating a motor car.  With my lackadaisical supervision.  If you are in the our area watch out for a silver Honda Element with a small madman at the wheel......and a larger madman in the passenger seat.  We're learning together....


How to make your Canon 7D (or lesser camera) shut up and be stealthy. Cheap.

Here's a garden variety Canon 7D.  I like the camera because the shutter is already far quieter than the 5Dmk2 or the 1D series cameras and it's noise characteristic is less obnoxious than the 60D's.  But sometimes you'd like, or need, your camera to be a lot quieter,  more unobtrusive.

The camera as seen in the wild. Held by primo assistant, Ben.

I grabbed an old Zing camera cover I'd bought to protect camera bodies back in the days when we did a lot more travel.  I thought the neoprene would dampen vibrations on airplanes and keep splash and dust off the machines when not in use.  They worked pretty well.  But we started using one expensive digital camera instead of four comparatively cheap film cameras and I stopped using the Zings.  They sat in a box with other "one time use" stuff like Manfrotto tripod leg "shoes" designed so your tripod doesn't sink into sand at the beach.  For a while there was a raft of products designed to fit on your tripod legs to create a little cradle beneath the center column.  You were supposed to put things there you might need in a hurry.  A light meter, extra film, the polaroid back or even your loupe.  But as film dimmed so did the need for these accessories.

The box now provides a home for small flash accessories that people sent me to test.  Most were used once before I came to the conclusion that I could do this or that better with stuff that was already on the market.  I called the inventors or makers and they weren't interested in paying to have the units shipped back.

Here is the Zing Camera Case made from very thick Neoprene.  This case was made big enough to fit a full sized professional film camera with motor drive to it is more than roomy enough for an unadorned 7D. Notice how the top flap comes over from the back of the case and encircles the lens....

The case, as delivered, has a snout on the front that covers and protects a short zoom or normal focal length lens.  A flap comes over from the back and wraps around the lens snout to secure the packge.

Lately, the box has started to fill up with video camera stabilizer grips.  Cheap ones and expensive ones.  I've come to the conclusion that the cheap ones are most effective while the pricy ones look best.  But most of the time the tripod wins out.....  And, of course, the box is also home to many connecting cables.  I recently threw out all the SCSI cables when I realized that the last SCSI peripheral left the studio circa 2001.....

I took a pair of scissors and cut the snout right off.  Just did it.  No guilt.  Actor/Model/Patient Son is showing how a lens will stick right thru the newly created hole.

Anyway,  I cut a hole in the Zing camera cover so the lens could stick out and then I cut a hole in the back so I could look throw the finder while the whole package is bundled up and now I have a home made blimp.  It actually does a fairly good job of turning a noticeable noise into just background clutter.

Here's the raw case.  It's been modified before to work with a Nikon F5.  See the hole just about in the middle?  That was for the previous camera's finder.

Amazing what you can do with stuff from the box.....and a pair of scissors.

The lens is shoved thru the front opening and the rest of the case wrapped around the camera.

I've cut a new opening so I can see thru the 7D finder.  The case is open at the top because of my previous experiments but that works because you can look down through the top hole and see the screen for a quick preview.

Finally, the whole package in the hands of an expert.  There's enough play to get a shutter finger in under the top lid and enough play to reach in and make control adjustments.  The neoprene is dense and almost one quarter inch deep so it does a good job dampening noise.

It's not that much fun to shoot with but when in a stationary position it certainly serves it's purpose.

And that's the whole story of the sound deadening device (SDD) that I created to shoot during a live performance at Zachary Scott Theater.  You asked.

Ben's first babysitter writes a best seller.

If you've read the blog over the last two years you've probably seen this photo and other photographs of a young woman named, Lou Ann Lofton.  I met Lou Ann at a coffee shop called Quakenbush's Intergalactic Bakery and Coffee Shop on the main drag across from the University of Texas campus, here in Austin back in 1991 or 1992.  How did we meet?  I looked up when she walked into the coffee shop, her arms loaded with books, and I though to myself, "this is the most beautiful woman I've ever seen in my life."  I walked up, introduced my photographic self and handed her a card.  A few weeks later I made a portrait of her in my studio and we became friends.  In addition to being beautiful she was and is one of the smartest people I've ever known.

When we visited her house I was constantly amazed at shelf after shelf of books that surrounded a comfortable chair in her living room.  She read constantly and, even in her early 20's, was fascinated by financial markets, commodities markets and especially equities markets.  I cast her in one of the first commercial videos I produced and I used her in several ads and editorial projects.

And when Ben was born she volunteered to babysit for us and.....was Ben's very first babysitter.

She moved out of Austin over a decade ago and is one of the brains behind the Motley Fool financial website.  And, she's written a book.  And I am certain it will be a good book on at least two levels.

First, it will be a rare product.  A very well written book that will reward avid readers with elegant and addictive prose.  Second, it will teach people how to invest for the long term......from the view point of a successful investor.  The book is entitled, Warren Buffett Invests Like a Girl, And Why You Should Too.
I've pre-ordered it from Amazon.com because everything Lou Ann ever told me turned out to be right.

Hit the link and see what you think.

And yes,  she was a great babysitter.


What to do when the mercury hits 105. Get shooting.

Rollingwood swimmers go round and round in the baby pool at Barton Creek Country Club to stay cool while waiting for their events at the swim meet.

It was very, very hot yesterday.  There was no breeze.  The glare off the water was not helpful.  But the cameras kept working, the kids kept swimming, the parents kept timing and judging and the staff manned the full bars.  Ah, a Texas swim meet among the captains of industry in the citadel of privilege.

Two 60D's.  One with an 18-55 kit lens and the other with the 70-300 IS.  Nice and light.  Cheap enough to be splashed without panic.