Ranch Weather. Ranch Lenses. Texas Girl.

Selena.  Zeiss 50mm Planar.  

It's been in the triple digit temperatures here in Austin for the last twelve days in a row.  It was 96(f) here last night at 10 pm.  And I don't know why but that always makes me think of west Texas ranches.  I remember driving out I-10 toward El Paso in some cranky old Buick and watching the wiggly heat waves shimmer up from the ribbon of black top up ahead on the horizon.  And whenever you got somewhere you got there thirsty.  Even though Selena and I did this shoot on a cool Spring day it has that feel.  And I think it's my brain putting together the long drives of my youth, done in the Summer months when school faded away with my memory of ranches owned by the family of friends.

I've shown some images of my shoot with Selena before but the soft focus shimmer off the road outside my studio at 10:30 in the morning put me back into that little niche of combined memory and I went back to my library and started to look for images that resonated.....

Selena.  Zeiss 50mm Planar.

I like and fear the Summer in Texas.  Seems that all the clients head out on vacation and the ones who don't wish they had and sit quietly in their offices staring out the window.  The heat slowing them down and slowing down the entire process of commerce.  I like the Summer because in the one hour of swim practice we go from cool breezes and the first glow of sun over the trees by the pool to full on sun and a warm set of rays caressing your back.  When I get out I'm ready for the day.  Summer means the kid is home from school and I can't be totally selfish.  I have to make concessions.  I have to drop him off places and pick him up.  If he's around the house I make sure he gets lunch.  When Belinda is working I spend more time walking the dog.

I fear that we'll never get rain to break a long drought.  My lawn is like fresh bread left too long in the toaster.  Getting crisper and crisper as the time drags on.  We're on voluntary water rationing and we take it seriously.  But I get out every evening and hand water the flowers and shrubs and I try to get some deep water to the trees because I'd hate to lose them.

I like that Summer makes everyone a bit more casual.  Shorts and flip flops are the norm.  Suits are gone.  Well, that's not totally true.  The state capitol was wall to wall lobbyist suits a few weeks ago.  All anonymous grey with bright red power ties...  But my friends, my people are in shorts and flip flops and lightweight ball caps.  Sunglasses become really important.   And I like that the heat wave gives me an excuse to try different Riesling wines.  I like the dry Rieslings, they're refreshing after a day of.....well....kicking around town trying hard to look productive.

Selena.  35mm Zeiss Lens.

I've done a good amount of work already this Summer and I guess another reason I dug up these images was to see what the Zeiss lenses look like.  When you are finishing an assignment you've been working on you've seen all the images too much in too short a time.  You're in and out of Lightroom and burning DVD's and all that and you really don't have time to just sit with the pictures and decide what it is you like and what it is that you don't like about them.

It seems like every job I've done recently, and especially the stuff I've shot for myself, I've been shooting with my little collection of Zeiss lenses.  And it's nice to go back and look at older stuff like this and compare it side by side with stuff I shot a few days ago.  I've also been looking at stuff I shot with Canon lenses and even Nikon stuff.  And I've come to the same conclusion I always do.....
Selena.  35mm Zeiss.

All the cameras we have at our disposal are very good these days and the difference between a Zeiss 85 and a Canon 85 and a Nikon 85 is like trying to define the difference between three good beers.  They may taste different but there's no good, better, best.  It's a matter of taste.  They all get the job done.  
Once I stop the lenses down to f4 or f5.6 they are, for all intents and my purposes, identical.  Even the slower, cheaper ones.  So much of what we buy is vanity.  Or self delusion.  Or the ubiquitous search for that talisman of optical power that may (in our dreams) confer some of its power to you or me.

Selena.  35mm Zeiss.

I really have come to understand that 90% of success is showing up.  The other 10% is asking for what you need.  That doesn't leave a lot of space for the influence of "great glass."

Selena.  35mm Zeiss.

Lenses trump cameras.  Lighting trumps lenses.  Gesture trumps lighting.  A good idea, well executed wins the hand.

Selena.  85mm Zeiss Planar.

Photographers as a group seem obsessed with whatever is next.  It could be the look of HDR.  It could be the anti-camera fashion of shooting everything with iPhones.  It can be prodigious post processing.  But in the end if the subject matter and the idea are boring your audience will soon discover that what you've done is create a costume for an idea that might be better savored without the embellishment.  Without the little paper umbrella.

Otherwise we'd have nothing but "manifesto" art.  And while that's great for MFA candidates to talk and write about it's about as satisfying staring into a funhouse mirror.  

If the subject and the idea are great you could probably make a good image with even.......a Samsung phone.  Ring, ring.  Your camera is calling.  You might want to answer that.


I love Central Austin. No matter where you look there's something funny and happy.

I love living in Austin because there are people who make their lives into art, don't care what the people in the suburbs think and take pleasure in living large.  How else do you explain an upscale trailer park in the middle of the most expensive and desirable property in the city, occupied mostly by people with a flair for fun?  I've seen this mannequin on top of this RV for months.  It's been dressed up in Christmas costumes and lights, Valentine's Day finery and sporty Summer outfits.

I always mean to stop and go introduce myself and thank the person for helping to stave off the growing menace of mediocrity and group think.  I want to thank them for keeping Austin Weird, which is synonymous with keeping Austin fun.  Even the most curmudgeonly church goer probably understands on some level how important it is for society, culture, technology and even business to have a cadre of people who are still capable of thinking outside the box.

I finally met Jim.  I was doing a photo assignment across the street at Barton Springs Bike Rentals and I'd parked down the block behind the original Chuy's.  On the way back to my car I stopped to chat.  Jim was fun, smart, and happy.  And he does art all the time.  But he doesn't do it after work.  It is his work.  And there is no stop and start.  He lives it.

I think the name of his RV sums it up best.  On the top, over the driver's window there's a logo.  It says, "Flair."

It's stuff like this all over Austin that reminds me that life is short and the real goal is to have maximum fun without hurting anyone else.  I think of displays like this as reminders to me not to get too serious.  The pathway to serious is lined with migraines, ulcers and, eventually surrender.

Let's not just shoot more fun stuff, let's participate and do our share to keep all of our cities weirder and more creative.  After all, the wealth of the 21st century goes to the culture who creates content.  And I would conjecture the funnest kind of wealth goes to the cultures who create the funnest content.


Sometimes lighting up a room takes some real power.

Power cables running from four diesel, truck sized generators into a 20,000 square foot ballroom.

You think professional photographers are insane about back-up and the need to prevent failure at all costs?  I recently did a corporate show in a splendid new hotel that was still working out a few kinks.  I am good friends with the production company that turned a bare exhibition space into a high tech wonderland for a week.  Acres of computer controlled, color shifting LED accent lights.  Computer controlled moving lights.  Hundreds of pedestals with tech products and demos as far as the eye could see.

They did due diligence months ago to make sure that the hotel was wired with enough juice to handle everything but that was all...........theoretical.  The day before doors opened they brought up all the lights and in a few minutes the exhibition space went dark.  Everything shut down.  The hotel worked on it.  The production company immediately got on the phone and arranged an alternate source of power.  No questions asked.  No prayerful hoping.  All business.  All on.  All the time.

Turned out to be a programming glitch and the hotel ended up having more than enough power on tap.  But the generators stayed in place.  Just in case.  The production company's motto?  "When the credits roll make sure that heads don't."  And that motto is trademarked.  They don't have shows go down.  It doesn't happen.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars, millions over the years, are at stake thru reputation and word of mouth.

Next time someone tells you that you don't go on a job without mission critical back-up please remember how the big boys roll and save yourself from that possible career ending failure.  Pack twice as much as you need.  Make sure it works.  Get ready for Murphy's Law.  


Additional information about my Elinchrom lighting adventure....

The last time I wrote to you about lights I'd just dumped a two decade accumulation of Profoto lighting equipment and ventured toward the cheap side of the lighting universe.  I started out with one Elinchrom D-Lite-4 IT monolight and I decided that I liked it.  Pretty well.  It took a while to get used to handling a lighter and less robust lighting machine but the upside was the novelty and the digital controls on the back.

On friday I did my first corporate portrait with three of the D-Lites.  I used one as a main light in a 28 inch Fotodiox Beauty Dish, covered with a diffusion "sock" and feathered quite a bit.  I used a second light into a 60 inch Photek Softlighter with it's diffusion cover and, I used a third light with a couple layers of diffusion over an 8 inch, 50 degree reflector as a background light.

I had all the modeling lights on full and things were zipping along well.  I was shooting quickly and banged off about 35 frames over the course of five minutes.  That's when the fan came on in the fill light/Photek box.  A few minutes later the fan came on in the beauty dish assemblage.  All the lights kept banging away until we finished frame #110.  Then I was done.  The fans ran for a minute or so more and then stopped.  I looked at the frames on my monitor.  Even though I was shooting quickly I got into the pattern of waiting for the recycle "beep" to sound before shooting each frame.  The frames on the monitor were absolutely consistent.

The optical slaves worked fine on the two flashes not connected to the sync cord.

I'm using them again on Monday to make portraits of fourteen people at a medical practice here in Austin. I'll have them up and running for the better part of the day.  That's about it.