Lonely hunter. Better hunt.

 I did a trip to Paris solely to take photographs for myself back in 1992.   That sounds selfish but I didn't have any children to take care of and my wife was enmeshed in a busy career as an art director for a prosperous advertising agency.  I was approached by Agfa that year to be a tester for their line of APX films and I requested a case of their 100 speed film and another of their 400 speed film.  They asked me where I wanted to photograph and I said, "Paris."  A month later, in late October, I was there with a camera bag full of new Canon EOS lenses and a couple of camera bodies.  Oh, and a big shopping bag full of black and white film.

I have a Friend who is French and lives in Paris.  We've hosted his family and his kids here in Austin a number of times.  When I travel to Paris I stay in a small "maid's apartment" above his home in one of the central arrondissmonts.  The apartment is near the top of the building and is very spare.  Just a shower, a sink and a bed.  But what more do you need?  My friend is like a lifeguard at a pool.  When I visit he tells me what has changed and what's remained the same.  Areas to avoid and areas to visit.  While he is always busy with work and a family we make time for one really nice dinner when I visit.

On this trip I spent every day doing much the same thing:  I would get up early and have coffee and a small breakfast at the cafe around the corner.  I stood at the counter.  My order was always the same:  cafe au lait and a croissant.  Then I would put a 50mm lens on one EOS-1 (the original Canon pro AF body) and an 85mm 1.2 on the other and I'd head out into the streets just to hunt for fun images.  I'd stop for lunch at the Fauchon cafe or duck into McDonald's on the Champs Elysee when I'd get nostalgic for American haute cuisine.  In the evenings I'd connect with American friends who were temporarily living in Paris and we'd go out to neighborhood restaurants.  It was always an adventure.

On that trip I shot thru 100 rolls of ISO 100 and 100 rolls of ISO 400 APX.  When I got back to Austin I sent all of the film to BWC photo lab in Dallas and they developed it and made contact sheets, courtesy of Agfa.  I still look through the notebooks I put together, pull negatives and make scans of new favorites.

But until I did this trip on my own I had always traveled with, first my parents, then my college girl friend and finally, with my wife.  And in all those scenarios photography takes a back seat to the social appeasement of travelling with people and spending time with them.  You might want to wander aimlessly but the other person or people you are travelling with might have an agenda.  A list of museums to visit and stores to shop in.  They want to ride on the Bateaux Mouche and climb the Eiffel Tower.  Try as they might they don't really understand your desire to walk around, stop, turnaround, click the shutter, walk ten feet and then do it all over again.  Friction arises.

I must say that Belinda is the best traveling companion any photographer could ever want.  She can be totally autonomous.  I'll wake up and ask her what she wants to do when we visit a foreign city and she already has two itineraries devised.  One if I am tagging along and one if I'm not.  If it's the latter option we make plans to meet up for supper.  

But in 1992 it was up to me, continuously.  These were the days before the internet so there was no need to "check in."  No compulsive e-mail checking.  No silly/obnoxious tweets.  And no cellphone either.  I could go days without speaking to anyone I knew and that was cool because it concentrated my attention onto taking photographs or getting myself into position to take photographs.  I came to know the feel of the EOS-1 in a way that I can barely fathom now.  It was an amazing camera. (But this is certainly not a camera review!!!)

Here's what I learned:  If you want to do photography at a level that really satisfies your soul and your ego you'll need to do it alone.  Forget having the spouse or girlfriend or best friend or camera buddy tagging along.  Forget the whole sorry concept of the "photo walk" which does nothing but engender homogenization and "group think."  Leave all electronics in your hotel room.  Cut off all communications, during the day, from or to the "real world" and immerse yourself in the hunt for images.  Learn what makes your brain salivate and why.  Learn to operate that camera by braille. And make your decisions based on what your inner curator wants you to say.

Everything else is just play time bullshit. 

None of your non-photographer friends will understand, and that's okay.  Your real photographer friends will either be jealous or nodding their heads in appreciative approval because they've been there. When you see the world unfold in front of you, unencumbered by the social construct of the group, you become freed to see differently and make different decisions about what you'll photograph and why.  In the end you'll come home with intensely personal photographs.  Quirky photographs.  Powerful photographs.

Many of you will throw your hands up and complain that you have kids and obligations and can't possibly get away by yourself.  Others will whine that "their spouse would never let me go to Paris without them."  But you only get one life.  If you have a spouse like that you might think about a quick divorce.  If you have kids you might think about the example you are showing them.  That life is the adventure and you either sit at home and watch or you get up and participate.

When my son was six months old I had the opportunity to go to Rome to shoot in the streets for ten days with free film provided by Kodak.  I was out the door as soon as I could find my passport.  My wife is a strong person who doesn't need my constant presence for validation.  She was thrilled for my opportunity and again I came home with images I love.  Make the time.  Go out to shoot.

I know people who will only travel on tours or cruises.  They are missing out on so much.  It's like being guided through paradise with a blindfold on.  

My favorite story from the Paris trip in 1992 was when my friend's wife took me to lunch.  She met me somewhere near their home with her Vespa, handed me a helmet and stuck me on the back and then zoomed through the streets like something out of a movie chase scene.  I was riding "bitch" on the back and terrified.  We parked on a sidewalk and went through an ancient pedestrian corridor to a restaurant that I'd never be able to find again.  The table tops were covered with white butcher paper and the waiters would come by and ask what we wanted and then mark it in pencil on the paper.  If we ordered wine that would go on the paper.  The meal was incredible but even more incredible was the people watching in the ancient dining room.  Professional waiters addressing the kitchen.  Lovers leaning over the table to share a kiss.  Business men in dark suits sharing bottles of wine over boisterous lunches.  And me, clicking away with the 85mm.

My lunch companion asked me what I'd like to see that afternoon.  I said, "Paris."  And she kissed me on the cheek and left in a puff of smoke.  I headed out to see more.  Always just a little bit more.  

What do I do with all these images?  I look at them.  I remember my feelings of "thought" freedom from traveling unecumbered.  And I incorporate the feelings of freedom, from time to time,  in whatever work I am doing at the moment.

It's important to travel outside your usual visual space. Outside your cultural comfort zone.  Outside your social network/safety net.  It's important to learn to be comfortable by yourself.  Many psychological studies point to the power that groups have to subtly and even unconsciously push you into conforming.  Into synchronizing into the pattern of the group.  If you want to express an individual vision you have to become individual.  There's no other way to do it.

And if you want to take images just like everyone else, and tag along with everyone else, you might as well just stay at home and download some stock photography from the web.

Reject the idea of the "Photo Walk" unless it's a solo walk with your camera. 

Leave the social anchors and straight jackets at home.  There will always be another time for an inclusive family vacation.

Experience the joy of unique discovery.  More powerful in many ways than the shared experience.

And do it NOW before your life has passed you by and you regret the choices you never made.

Cameras may change but the hunt goes on, unabated.  Don't wait for all the stars to line up.
Don't wait for the lottery.  We feel richer from our experiences than from any item we buy.
It's just our human nature.

A quick nod to Ben who turned 16 on Sunday...

 Ben at Emma Long Park.  Contax G2 with 21mm Biogon Lens.  Kodak T-max 400 CN  (C-41 process, black and white film).

Ben at Asti.  Leica M6 .8TTL,  50mm Summilux.  Tri-X film.

Ben.  A few weeks ago.  Dining room table.  Hasselblad 501 CM.  80mm Planar.  Tri-X.

I guess everyone likes their kids.  I really like the one I got.  He's smart and kind.  And he's very patient when I ask him to help me with photographic stuff.  I find it funny just how many photographs of Ben are done in black and white or with the intention of black and white.  I also find it amusing that he's been photographed with such a wide range of cameras.

He just turned sixteen years old and he's still socially adroit and happy.  I know, I know, it's only a matter of time before the rebellion kicks in.

Ben likes "hand me down" cameras, but only if they do video.  Extra points if they have microphone inputs.  He's got a collection of Canons super zooms that he and his friends use for video projects.  He owns his own Gitzo Tripod, complete with side arm and fluid head, because he used mine way too often.

Will he become a photographer?  Naw.  He's way too smart for that....

Some fake words that we should all avoid.

"Really?  You think that sounds cool?.....right."  Lou.  Hasselblad camera.  150mm lens.  Agfa black and white film.

Here are words (and concepts) that drive me nuts when I read them. Language has meaning. These words subvert meaning and are too cute by far.....let's shy away from ever using them unless some Englishman is holding a gun to your head.....

Uni. Meant to be an abbreviation for university. But really just the Latin root for singular or one. After investing several hundred thousand dollars in an education would you really want to say "when I was at Uni..." ????

Brolly. One of those whimsically stupid abbreviations that make my skin crawl like fingernails on the proverbial chalk board. It really means: "umbrella." Brolly Box is the worst iteration. Boycott anyone who refers to their product this way. What next? The "Bumpershooter!" ????

Doco. Just read this bastardization on Phillip Bloom's website. It's meant to be a shortening of the word, "documentary." Given enough time the English will attempt to abbreviate anything they can. That doesn't make it right.  "He shot a doco!"  No.

Tog. Meant to be an abbreviation of the time honored word, "Photographer." The problem is that "tog" has a previous meaning. It refers to apparel or articles of clothing. Both confusing and diminutive. Let's all promise never to use it in reference to picture taking again.  Makes us sound like toys.

Strobist. Nice business name but a poor description of people who have cameras and also have the ability to light things with small lights. One man may call himself a "Strobist" if he invented the term. When others appropriate the word it garners the same slimy veneer that "Members Only" jackets had in the 1970's.......a big flashing, neon sign that screams:

PhotoWalk. It's a walk. You just happen to be bringing your camera along to exercise it. PhotoWalk sounds so......clubby. It's okay to ask a friend, "Do you want to grab our cameras and walk around downtown?" Photowalk sounds so single minded and pretentious.

MeetUp. HookUp. BangUp. It's a meeting. It's sex. It's a wreck. Just use the right word. Meet Up implies that people will get together for a meeting. There's a real word for that: meeting.

Blog. (noun) It's really an article. You've written an article.  Why does it need a new word just because it lives on the internet?

Add words to this list as you desire. But those are the ones that make my jaw ache.  To each their own?  I think not.

Article edited for good taste at 12:37 Texas Time.


Using the toys. Making art and making money.

Sienna.  Hasselblad 500 C/M.  100mm 3.5 Zeiss Planar.  Tri-X.

In the past few days I've used a surprising number of cameras for a surprising number of uses.  I used a medium format camera with a mediumish long lens to shoot an available light portrait that just had to be one slice of sharpness in a sea of smooth tones.  I used a high resolution, full frame camera for an advertising project where the final manifestation of our work will be large posters and print ads.  I used an older full frame camera with a firewire socket to shoot twenty pieces of various kinds of artwork, yesterday.  I like to see the focus and cropping on a tethered screen to make sure I'm not getting small reflections that might go unnoticed on the small rear LCD of a camera.  The firewire connection is fast, mature and reliable.  Not as fast as "live view", just better.

I grabbed a small sensor camera with a built in flash to catch Ben blowing out candles on a chocolate birthday cake from Sweetish Hill Bakery.  The camera was fool proof and quick and I used it on the "P" setting. Last Friday I used a camera with a slightly cropped frame to shoot a cross country race.  It's the same camera I use for swim races.  It focuses faster than even my newest cameras and shoots 8 frames every second.  I'm bound to get something good....

And I used an old view camera because I needed a camera with which I could control both the front and the rear standards.  Plus, I had the nostalgia to see another one of those chubby, juicy transparencies.  I've come to believe that the Apple iPad screen experience was modeled after the look of a four inch by five inch transparency on a light table.  In the short space of a week I've used a collection of cameras not because it's what I had lying around but because, over time, I've selected an assortment of cameras that all do different things well.  Some get out of your way.  Some provide a technique that is unavailable elsewhere.  Some make my jobs easier.  Others make up for my aging reflexes.

Some people are happy finding "just the right camera for themselves."  I'm not sure every professional has that freedom.  We could pretend that we only do our very specific vision but that's not fun and it's not fair and, in pursuing that "one-ist" dogma you'll find that the more generalist market of a second tier city will beat you down with the demand for variety.

None of my cameras needs to be the latest.  My sports camera and my firewire full frame camera both were born in 2005.  They still amaze me.  My newest camera is also my cheapest one.  My favorite camera is my oldest one.  But they each serve a wonderful purpose: to realize my vision efficiently.

I have the same relationship with my lights.  I cannot imagine trying to do all the different things the average photographer is called on to do with only a bag of speedlights or only a Pelican case full of studio lights.  Each choice is rife with compromise.  About two weeks ago I set up and shot 70 people's portraits, from their toes to their heads (some even jumping into the air..) against a white background.

We used four lights on the background for an even wash, two lights in front of our subjects and two sidelights for a total of eight fixtures.  We set up at 8am and shot, altogether, 1,400 shots by the end of the day.  We needed to shoot generously to loosen up and emotionally involve our amateur talent.  We needed modeling lights to see the effect of the lights.  We had twelve light stands because we needed scrims to block light from hitting our subjects in the wrong way, and to keep light out of the lens.

After Amy and I shoved all the equipment back into the studio I hopped in the car and headed off to shoot a small shoot with two speedlights and a few 48 inch diffusion panels.  We needed one good portrait and I needed a fast set up.  The speedlights were my answer.  The next day we spent ten hours shooting video interviews with A/C powered LED panels.  We'll do it again next month and the month after and the month after.  Yesterday I spent the morning shooting ceramic art and two dimensional art.  I used a set of tungsten spot lights.  I used them because I could see exactly what I'd be getting all the time.  I used them because the tight spots keep spill light in the studio to a minimum.  They were exactly the right tool for the job.  Not the latest tool.....these lights are twenty years old.  But definitely the right tools.

And in the afternoon I was setting up a 4x6 foot softbox and one of the monolights because that was the right tool for a portrait I wanted to make.

I play with lots of cameras and lights because I'm curious about what they do and how they do it.   But I really own just the tools I've come to understand I need for the range of things I shoot.  And I don't apologize for having them, they are part of the business.

It's important to understand that I don't own all of the cameras I write about.  When I wrote a review of the Fuji X100 I borrowed a copy from my friend, Will.  When I reviewed three different medium format digital cameras in 2009 and 2010 I was using cameras loaned to me by the manufacturers.  While I appreciate what they can do I wasn't compelled to keep any of them around.  Not right for my business.

I think it's important to trust your tools.  And the only way to do that is to use them and find out what they do well.  You may need more than one device to do paying work.  If you do architecture you're pretty much going to need a shift lens.  You can try to make due but I never works out well and not everything can be replicated in PhotoShop.  If you are going to take commercial/advertising portraits you'll need some studio flashes with enough power to go big.  If you really want to shoot action you'll need a camera with lightning reflexes and tenacious focusing powers.  That's more important than file size.  Every thing is a compromise.

But clients don't like compromise when it comes to their projects.  If you are shooting for you the sky's the limit.  Or the ultimate in minimalism is that limit.  Your choice.  If you shoot for money you need to be open to finding the right camera, not just the latest or coolest camera.

I had an odd thought as I was reading over this blog to find errors (of which there are many, I'm sure).

I found myself wondering what camera different writers might choose if they lived in our time.  What, for instance, would Hemmingway shoot with?  And what about Dylan Thomas?  Would Tolkien shoot with an 8x10 Deardorf?  Would Sylvia Plath favor a Leica?  Don't know why it came to mind.

Program Note:  I'll be doing two demos each day at the Austin Photo Expo.  I'm planning to do portrait sessions with my LED lights.  I'd like to show what I do with them.  I also think it will help to build interest for the upcoming LED book. The Expo and the seminars are free.  If you are in Austin it would be nice to see you there.  Here's some info:  http://austinphotoexpo.com/


Branding. Photography based on logo love.

The icon above is the symbol of my business.  It's not a household visual referent yet but, at the rate I spend on advertising and marketing, give me another two hundred or so years and I'm sure I'm make some sort of dent in my target markets.....  But the whole idea of branding and trademarks and consumer acceptance of the power of brands is something I've been thinking about lately.  What makes photographers buy the cameras and lights they buy and reject other brands?  Why are we so adamant in the defense of our choices?  And how much does one brand's supposed technology advantage over other brands inform our picture making?

I'm sorry.  I don't remember what camera and lens I used to do this shot and I don't really care to search the "exif" to find out.  The client and I agreed that the shot worked fine.

In the earlier days of cameras the choices available to us were more quixotic and more vertically nuanced.  If you wanted a cheap camera you had a bunch of choices and if you wanted an 8x10 inch view camera you also had an embarrassingly rich array of choices.  In the big (literally) leagues of view cameras you had Toyos, Linhofs (in several flavors), Sinar (in even more flavors), Deardorf, Wisner, Calumet and probably ten other brands of hand made folding 8x10 cameras I never heard of.  All were good.  All were eccentric and charming.  No flame wars erupted between the users of, say, Linhof and Sinar.  All that mattered was the film that came sliding out of the holders and into the soup. But that's because the magic didn't belong to the glorified boxes.  It was the operator that made the difference.

Medium format aficianado plowed through the same kind of landscape. If you used either a Hasselblad or a Rolleiflex you couldn't stand on any higher ground than people who chose the other European brand because, after all, Schneider and Zeiss made the lenses for both of them.  If you weren't enamored of the square you could always toss in your net and fish out a bunch of rectangular aspect, medium format cameras and you could choose between a number of good brands and a number of aspect ratios.  Like it "stubby"?  You might want a Mamiya or Pentax or Fuji 6x7.  Like 'em longer?  How about a Fuji or a Mamiya or a Linhof?  Maybe even a Plaubel.  And no paucity of panoramic machines.  One shot panoramics, just like the photo gods ordained....

Even in 35mm it was a-okay to like Pentax, Olympus, Minolta, Nikon and Canon equally.  They all had good glass and it was all the same three or four brands of film that squirted out of them.  But then along came digital and the emotional landscape changed.

We've been trained by the manufacturers to believe that one company at a time has the holy grail of digital camera technology and we rush like drunk sailors in a storm, from one side to the other, based on what came out last month.  The people who invent, nurture and control brands have done a great job inculcating fear of failure and shame of non-conformity.  They've made any effort to step off the rat race of perpetual camera upgrades seem terrifying and career threatening.....even to people who don't even do this for a living.

Lighting up the night looking for the secret camera.

I've been researching and reading all the ads for "professional" digital cameras I can find (and believe me, I can find alot...) and I've been analyzing them to find out how the manufacturers sell them to us.  They do it with the combined forces of fear and shame.  The ads all infer that it's your clients who drive technology.  They imply that if you aren't willing to step up to the plate again and again and embrace the latest tech toys the makers of "your" brand have to offer then there is a horde of talented people standing in line behind you waiting to "wow" your best clients with six (no, that's not it) eight, ten, twelve, eighteen, twenty four or thirty-six megapixels and they tease you (mercilessly) with the idea that the industry as whole proceeds in lock step and that falling behind in any one area will doom you to the quick decline from star to Willy Loman in a few short steps.

It's only been a few years ago but do you remember when we were shooting with one megapixel cameras and the mantra from Kodak was that when we hit six megapixels we would have equalled film?  And then we did.  And we stopped there for a few moments and people did amazing work with the six megapixels.  Joe McNally dragged National Geographic (one of the print magazine "gold standards") into the 21st century with a story on air power done with an interpolated 5.3 megapixel Nikon D1X.

Canon ruled the wedding roost when Denis Reggie started showing off the incredible wedding photographs he was taking with a brace of four megapixel Canon 1D cameras.  And at that time a bunch of us asked, "How many megapixels would be enough?"  The answer I heard from top pros was, "Double it to 8 megapixels and we're there!!!!!"  And the camera makers did just that and for a little while we stopped and savored cameras that so exceeded our expectations for noise and resolution and sharpness that it seemed like science fiction.  But the ads kept coming.  And the new product kept coming and what was once "remarkable,"  "better than medium format film!!!" and "the peak of technology." quickly became yesterday's fish.  When Nikon unveiled their D2x it was almost as if their ads for the D1x never existed.  Front and center were ready pros who told us stories that seemed disconnected from the photos in the ads.  And the stories said, in breathless prose, that the amazing (generally not) images shown here were only made possible with the latest evolution in picture making. And now, for the first time ever (ever) you could join the ranks of the pros who'd been beta testing a new paradigm of performance that would change the face of photography forever.

We were gripped with fear.  We didn't want to be left behind.  We didn't want to be the guys who could "only" shoot at 8 megapixels.  We didn't want to be the guys who couldn't shoot at 16000 ISO.  We didn't want our clients to follow the guy with the magic talisman of visual power.  So we bought the message in the ad and we bought, for the second time in two years, the new camera.

Nikon shooters had been waiting for what seemed like half a lifetime for their company to launch a twelve megapixel camera to match the performance of the Canon 1ds and they finally did.  The D2x offered much better performance on a number of levels including: Noise performance at base ISO's, speed, sharpness, raw buffer and amazing compatibility.  In fact, even when Canon issued their newer, 16 megapixel camera DPReview said, in a review that pitted the two competitors, that the Nikon was "convincing" and hairsplitting close to Canon's new flagship, and $3,000 cheaper to boot.

Did that assuage Nikon users?  No, Canon came out with ads that showed off their lenses at sporting events and the shooters switched systems faster than some people switch underwear.  Now Canon was the focus champ.  It was the new fear inducer for Nikonians.  What if their lenses and bodies didn't focus as fast as Canon?  Would the clients dump them?  Would they be relegated to shooting only Little League while the Canon shooters held court at the Olympics and Wimbledon?

Light, subject, intention;  they all trump "camera."

Everyone in the sports world switched.  And the company raced to the ad machine to toot their horn.  Then Nikon came out with a camera that could do all that and do it at ISO XXXXXXXX.  It was called the D3 and people embraced it even though it was "only" twelve megapixels.

You could make a shaky case for this kind of frenetic churning among professionals if it were even true that clients cared just a little bit about what you are using to create their small ads on the web but what about all the people who do this thing (photography) for the fun of it?  People with no expectation that they will be paid by someone to bring "the right stuff?"

What's around the next corner?  Does it matter?

People who study markets tell us that one of the biggest fears of consumers, after death and shame, is to be left out.  To be marginalized. The desire to be part of the dominant group comes from millions of years of social evolution.  To be "in the group" meant you got to share the kill.  You grouped together for protection from other tribes or predators.  And marketers have done a great job subliminally convincing their markets that there are tremendous benefits to being part of the pack.  If you choose a camera brand that is in apparent decline, such as Olympus was perceived to be in the last two years,  you become dissatisfied.  The camera you bought hasn't changed.  It can still do all the things for which you originally chose it.  It still makes images that are as high a quality as you experienced during the selection process.  But now it seems your choice is a one of declining market share and popularity.  You have only to read the popular Olympus forums and blogs to see that the tribe of Olympus is upset.  The lower the sales the smaller and less powerful the tribe.  Which, of course, has nothing to do with the use of the cameras or the quality of the files.  But there is the real fear that, if Olympus exits the camera market,  the users will be cast adrift on a digital ice flow, adrift and alone in dangerous seas.  At some junction they might have to bury their past and join a new camera tribe.  Which one will it be?  How long will it take to learn the new lore?

But we're really just talking about products, right?  Box with a sensor and a lens on one end.  I know the ads show famous photographers using and talking about Canon and Nikon's current digital wonder cameras but you understand, if you think about it, that these "famous" photographers largely made their reputations by using the cameras available five years ago or even ten years ago.  Some garnered their name recognition in the days of film!  But the ads are engineered to make us believe that the only way to achieve the fame and fortune (and the adoration and acceptance of a camera tribe) is to make the same choice that the spokespersons have.  The spokespersons whose signature images may have nothing at all to do with the latest tech or the even the brand of camera they are currently shooting.

Am I immune?  Am I sitting here laughing at all the people who've bought into a camera tribe for the comfort of sitting around the campfire and telling stories that glorify the past and future history of the tribe? No.  Of course not.  I am only human and I'm probably even worse.  I find myself trying to hedge all my bets by keeping a foot in many camps.

I am part of the Olympus Pen tribe.  I feel the call of my little sensor people because of my good memories of their older film cameras.  I have some Hasselblads because, for many years, their tribe ensured in a way that I'd share in the feasts of photography.  I keep them in case I find ways to use the power locked inside of them.  And I've embraced the Canon tribe because it's so big.  I can find my frat brothers and sisters almost everywhere.

But what does all this do to us?  It keeps us afraid, on edge and waiting for the witch doctors of our tribes to bring out the next great tool to keep us warm and safe.  And we are willing to throw down the tools that have fed us for several years in order to embrace tools that promise us just a little more.

But I secretly think that buying the first 1DX has nothing to do with need at all.  If you are a sports photographer I believe that the current Canon sports camera (or any one of the last three generations) would do equally well.  If you are a studio shooter you probably could soldier on with any of the 1DS offerings or a 5Dmk2.   No.  The real reason to buy the first 1DX is that the tribe elevates the early adapters to a higher level within the tribe.  The power of your opinion rises.  People pay attention to you and you are given more status.  Which is a reward cycle that doubtless gives you huge pumps of dopamine which drives you to find the next reward.  Which is doubtless the next body.  And people who either can't afford the new camera or don't really need it but want it hold the buyer in higher regard because they also aspire to be thought of as a "master" of the tribe.  One of the inner circle.  Because when you are in the inner circle you are less likely to be pushed out or marginalized.  

When you separate buying into a tribe and buying tribal status from the business equation of adequate equipment acquisition to do what you really need to do you free yourself from the tyranny of marketing and branding and make decisions that are rational and leave you more time and energy to use your camera for it's intended purpose....not to win popularity contests and tribal acceptance...... but actually taking photographs.  If only I were wise enough to take my own advice.

So, which camera company is the Honda Accord (which logically I should want?) and which one is the Porsche Panamera (which I should avoid?).  I hate it when I realize that I've been played.


Ten Ways to Shoot Better Portraits.

Neely in the old studio.  MF.  180mm f4.  AgfaPan 100.

1.  Stop worrying about technique.  Set up your lights before your subject gets to the studio, test them, test them again and then let it go.

2.  Spend some time letting everyone get settled in.  Don't feel like you have to rush through a portrait session.  If you are doing it for money you're obligated to do a good job and that means slowing down and doing it right.  If you are doing for the satisfaction then make the session like a lollipop.  Lick it slowly instead of biting right in and chewing it all up.  When you feel rushed it's hard to feel relaxed.  Don't do rush yourself.  My good sessions take at least an hour...

3.  Do your own style.  If you are trying to shoot the exciting "flavor of the week" style you are already doomed to mediocrity.

4.  Don't be afraid to fail.  But don't be afraid to succeed either.  You can't force someone to have a good day but you can be relaxed and empower them to have a better day because they are in front of you.  Experiment with extending and improving your own style.  Experiment hard with your listening.

5.  Really talk to your portrait subject.  Not just generic chit chat from behind the camera but real stuff.  Ask what they love.  Do they have kids?  What do they do for fun and fitness?  Share feelings.

6.  Use a longer lens.  There really is an optimum focal range for a flattering portrait.  Too long and faces look one dimensional and smushy.  Too short and noses get bigger while ears get smaller.  If you are shooting a classic headshot portrait with anything shorter than a 50mm on full frame you're just being mean.  Conversely, if you can't have a normal conversation with your subject because of the distance between you then you are being too skittish. Be less like a scared rabbit and more like a best friend.  100mm on a full frame camera makes me and my subjects happy.

7.  It's easier to compose well in a square. Try it.  No reason to be captive to the dreaded 3:2.

8.  If you are shooting portraits for pure recreation/art/hobby/happiness then never photograph anyone to whom you have no attraction whatsoever.  Just having a warm body in front of you is not enough.  You must be interested to find out more about the person.  In a sense taking a portrait is just a pretense to find out more about the person in front of the camera.

9.  If you want to see beautiful people in your final images then you'll have to start by either finding obviously beautiful people to put in front of your camera or.....find the beauty in the person and put that in front of your camera.  Warm bodies for "practice" is not enough.

10.  The best way to become good at taking portraits is to do it over and over again.  It's like any other pursuit in life.  Practice makes fluid.  When you've been through all the permutations of Murphy's law, both physcially and mentally, you start down the path of figuring out solutions to anything that might hamper your highest and best portrait expression.  To love portraits......shoot more portraits.

Bonus tip:  Everyone looks better in black and white....


The pre-production and production of a "simple" group shot.

I was contacted by an organization that needed a photograph of a large group of people, in a neighborhood where the houses had solar panels, with some Chevy Volt automobiles.  I won't go into the specifics of the use or the program for which they needed the images.  I'm more interested in talking about how a "simple" shot like this comes together.  Someone has to organize it all, get the people there, figure out the best location and the best angles, etc.

In this case the client knew the neighborhood they needed to shoot in.  We had several "phone meetings" to discuss dates and details and then arranged to meet on site several weeks before the shoot to determine a location.  We met.  We drove around.  We got out and walked a few streets.  I used a compass to roughly determine the direction the sun would be rising.  We were using people from the neighborhood to comprise our group of nearly 100 and we needed to shoot early enough so we didn't interfere with peoples' work schedules, but late enough so we had good sunlight.  We aimed for 7:45am.

We needed to get approval from the city to block a street.  The client took care of that.  We needed to go house-to-house to let the people on the street know what would be happening so they could park their cars in alternate locations (since there were only houses on one side of the street and a park on the other only four houses were really affected...).  To lure volunteers for the group we needed to have breakfast tacos and hot coffee ready.  And some sort of "swag."  The client chose T-shirts as their giveaway.  Our client was amazingly good at all the detail stuff leaving me to concentrate on the photo stuff.
The morning of the shoot was glorious.  I got to the location at 6:30am to make sure no one inadvertently parked an unwanted car in the middle of our location, and also to walk around and savor the space before anyone else got there.  I love the quiet period before everyone starts piling in.

My set up and equipment was relatively simple.  When I scouted I found this angle which would let me fill the street with people and still reference the houses, with solar panels, off into the background.  Par for the course in shooting large groups it's important to get up high.  I brought along an extendible ladder and placed it (marking my territory) on the spot I would shoot from.

When I shoot from the top of a ladder I generally use a Manfrotto Magic Arm to give me another two feet of extension and to hold the camera still for longer exposures.  I love my ladder.  If folds down to around five feet and extends to nearly ten feet.  And it's sturdy.

This is my pile of junk.  I always use Domke bags.  You can't be a pro if you are using something made of ballistic nylon.  It just doesn't translate.  Got some Australian bag or a some shiny black bag?  Just drive by the nearest dumpster and drop it in.  Get a Domke bag.  (I am unaffiliated with Domke!).

The flash is an Elincrom Ranger RX AS 1100 watt second pack.  Battery powered for my convenience. Please note the two twenty pound sandbags over the legs of the tripod.  Before I started shooting I also hung the 18 pound Ranger box on the Lowell stand as well.  And I'm glad I did because we had a couple of wind gusts that made me twinge.....

Just in front of the power pack is a little waterproof Pelican case that holds my Flash Wave radio triggers.  Two sets, just in case.  The case also holds all the batteries and assorted cables and alternative connectors.  The open, gray case next to it is filled with grip gear like Magic Arms and clamps of many varieties as well as rope, tape clothespins and more.  Just in case.

The tripod belongs to the video crew who documented the shoot and did some after the shot interviews.

I used a 28 inch metal beauty dish reflector for the shoot.  I was depending on ambient light from the glorious sunrise for most of the light but I wanted to make sure I had a good strong light for fill light aimed from the camera position.  I was easily thirty or forty feet from the front of the group so I had to select a light and a modifier that would have the reach I needed and still not toss in ultra hard shadows.

The light stand is not fully extended here.  I did that just before I started to shoot.  But I knew that the higher the stand the more leverage the wind gusts would exert on the whole construction......

Once I had everything set up and tested I left a Canon 5Dmk2, with a Zeiss 35mm lens, on the tripod/ladder, pulled a Canon 1ds Mk2 out of the bag and walked around shooting some of the people and the last minute car preparation.  Not only did we have a video crew in attendance but also a stringer from the New York Times.  Nice guy.

Everyone, myself included, was interested in the Chevy Volts.  We had four of them.  It's really cool technology.  At no time does the gas motor directly drive the car.  The motor is used at a constant and highly efficient RPM to drive a generator that powers the car after the original battery range of 40 miles is exceeded.  You won't get stuck somewhere.  Also, there's tons of new, smart technology that helps them make the power grid more efficient.  If they were in my price range I'd buy one.  

Once everyone had arrived I pulled the group together and placed everyone where I wanted them.  I shot twenty or so shots with the 5d2 set at ISO 100, f8.5 and 1/125th of a second shutter speed.  Then I got down off the ladder and let the video people (shown above) use the ladder to get a moving shot. The single hardest part of my job is always the part where we wrangle crowds of people....

This final shot is of the dignitaries in attendance as well as staff members of the organization that hired me.  The morning's event got coverage in a number of places, including the New York Times.  I had some coffee and a breakfast taco with a University of Texas physicist and we discussed interoperability between the car batteries and the electric grid.  Interesting stuff when you realize electricity can flow in both directions.  Then I packed up the stuff, tossed it in the Honda Element and headed home to do some post production.

Not a glamorous shoot but fun, clean, and successful.  Just the way I like them...