An interesting article about lighting. With an interesting conclusion.

This article is from Michael Reichman's amazing, Luminous Landscape site.  A treasure trove for people interested in medium format digital.  The article is a short history of lighting culminating with a very interesting conclusion that involves LED lighting.

It's from 2010.


Hard work is hard. Everything changes.

The sky behind this construction person was there.  It's been enhanced but it wasn't dropped in.

I'm usually as resistant to change as anyone else I know.  You find stuff that works and you try to stay in that groove until something pushes you out.  I'm coming to grips with the idea that post production isn't just a way to fix stuff we didn't get right in the shooting, it's also a way to finish out your illustrative  vision.  Maybe a path to completing what you had in your head when you were out shooting but what can't be done by camera alone.

There was a time when, by necessity, most everything was done in camera.  At some point in the 1980's or the 1990's the art of photography starting to diverge along two pathways.  One path was litered with the saints of documentary photography and its religion called on followers not to crop, not to heavily burn and dodge and never to change the contents of a photograph with retouching, air brushing or other methods.  And it was good.  And these people were called, "photojournalists."

The second pathway was engendered by the relentless needs of the marketplace.  Here anything you could imagine could, with time and budget, be done.  This was the land of top technicians and people with visions that couldn't be easily realized with regular, in-camera techniques.  This has become the land of post-processing.  In the past it was the land of air-brushing.  Nothing in the photograph could be taken as "truth" but it sure did look cool.  These people were imaginative.  And what they do we called, "Photo-illustration."

I was always in the first camp.  Henri-Cartier Bresson implied, to an entire generation of photographers, that only pussies needed to crop.  Real men saw the composition in the decisive moment and leapt upon it like panthers.  Generations of magazine picture editors forbade radical color changes because they would not be objective.  Never mind filter effects or added grain.  Anything that broke down the presumed objectivity of an image was forbidden.  And this was not just the provence of journalists.  The most powerful advertising icons, from the Herb Ritts/Calvin Klein underwear ads to the "Marlboro Man" ads to Bert Sterns Smirnoff ads were all done in this manner.  As are many ad images even to this day.  Sure, we retouched the frazzled edges but we didn't light em up.

PhotoShop changed everything for professionals and the ardent.  And now programs like Snapseed* are changing it all for everyone else.  It's everywhere.  The unspoken mantra is that a photograph is not ready for viewing until it's been dipped in the magic pool of post production.  Every image.  Every time.

I used to fight stuff like this.  I used to make impassioned arguments that photography should remain "pure" but I've given up.  This  change feels permanent.  When we came to a cultural conclusion that, if all the stuff coming off a camera sensor is already filtered, manipulated and color tweaked by firmware and software then wasn't it already "retouched" for all intents and purposes?  If you shot jpeg and you liked your files with a little extra sharpening and more saturation and you set your camera that way weren't you already toeing over the line of strict objectivity?

But it was all just an academic construct in the first place.  After all, even in the early days of color you could choose between the palettes of Kodachrome and Ektachrome and even Scotchcolor.  You choice of film speeds could buy you some extra grain and so one.

It's always tiring to tilt against windmills.  I'm tired of trying to bail out the Titanic with a small plastic bucket.  And I'm equally tired of trying to catch a two edged sword with no handle.  From now on anything goes.  Everything goes.  If it sells better with a coat of psychedelic paint spilled on it then who am I to question the marketplace?

I've written my last column disparaging HDR.  If you like it, more power to you.  I'm taking a psuedo-intellectual sabbatical from taste.  I'm working my maximum Zen and trying to live in the land of "no judgement."

We'll see how that works out.  I'm off to figure out how to automate Snapseed so I can churn my whole catalog of images through the "grunge" filter.  With enough grunge and tilt n shift I may even be able to pass myself off as one of the crowd.

*Snapseed is an app that was developed for use on the the iPhone or iPad which would allow you to tweak you images with contrast, color, sat and sharpness corrections but it also enables you to apply filters to create trendy looking images.  You can control the effects and combine them.  It's $20.  Now they make a version for the desktop.  I've taken the plunge, stopped lighting or even trying very hard during the shooting process, confident that I can just "auto-grunge" any of my images to save it.  You can too.


Snapseed for the Mac Desktop. Is it art? No. Is it fun. Sometimes.

When used as a quick contrast, brightness, contrast, etc. and sharpening tool, Snapseed works about as well as iPhoto or any of a large number of simple image tools you'll find on the web.  The magic is supposed to happen with the filters.  They have names like "Grunge" and "Drama" and "Vintage" and "Tilt and Shift."  They do most of the trendy stuff you'll see on the web.  I gave it a spin this evening.  While it's fun and makes stuff look different it's canned so eventually the effects will get old.  That shouldn't keep you from having fun.  Afterall, it's only $20.

I'll run the effects by the art directors who deserve them.

But once you've found a cute model.  Found a cute dress.  Gotten her on the floor with her legs in the air, you've really done all the hard work.  Why give a boxed software effect all the credit?

I'll keep it.  But like cheap alcohol I'll use it sparingly.

Roman Food. Roman Chef.

     The morning market at the Campo di Fiori, Rome, Italy.  

The man in the image above was/is one of the partners who owned a wonderful, little restaurant in Rome called, al Grappolo d' Oro.  If rumor is to be believed, it was at a table there that the famous song, "Volare" was written.  I was led to the restaurant on the recommendation of a native Roman back in 1985 or 1986 and I've returned for a meal on every trip since.  When my friend, Paul, and I shot in Rome in 1995 we ate there twice in one week. And that's says volumes in a "food city" like Rome.   I haven't been in a few years so I can't vouch for much now but I will always remember how fun it was to watch Carlo arrive at the Campo di Fiori market one day and carefully hand select the produce his restaurant would serve later that day.

He was, of course, a regular of the market and knew everyone there by name.

I was walking around the small piazzo with a Mamiya Six in hand.  I recognized him from one of my recent visits to his restaurant.  I took two frames and then walked off to see new things.  I ate at his restaurant again that night.

Walking through the markets in old towns is really nice.  There's a comfortable rhythm that feels organic and right.  The good ones dispay food with style but without too much flash.  I'm hungry.  I think I'll wander into the house and see what's for dinner.

These are medium format color negatives that were scanned at low res with an Epson V500 Photo.  With a little practice it does a good job with color negatives and even black and white negatives.  The images were taken with a Mamiya Six medium format camera and its normal, 75mm lens.  The images are nothing special to anyone but me.  I remember now the cool breeze of a cloudy day, the smell of the fresh fish and the vivid red of the strawberries like the day I took the images.


An Afternoon at the Theater with the Nikon V1.

I was supposed to shoot a dress rehearsal for an incredible musical, last Tues. night.  I had to call in sick.  We missed the chance to do a dress rehearsal shoot during a rehearsal.  Tues. was the last night without an audience in the house.  So, today I attended the afternoon matinee and sat in a seat that sits a little bit away from surrounding seats, on the side of the center section.  I wasn't able to move around the stage the way I usually do but we really needed the marketing images so this was our option.

Not wanting to distract my fellow show-goers I opted to use the Nikon V1.  I turned off the backscreen, put a little smack of black tape over the green status light and set the shutter to its electronic setting.  Once I turned off the sound, that camera was ultra-stealthy.  Silent.  Small (compared to my 5d2 or 1DSx) and unobtrusive.  I brought all three of the civilian lenses but I shot exclusively with the 30-110.

These are mostly shot at ISO 3200, out of necessity, and are SOOC Jpegs.  Shot in Jpeg.

Just put here as a real world thing.  Take em or leave em.

Sometimes we just take a photograph because it feels right.

The intersection of my dining room 
wall and the floor.  

We love to talk about gear so much it's easy to forget how important it is, every once in a while, to just put down the test chart mindset and look around at the world.  I was under the weather last week so when I got bored I puttered around the house and looked at what the insides looked like in the middle of the day.   I like the way the reflections from the sun on the tiles cast cool swirls into the middle tone shadows on the wall.  But I also liked the strong shadows on either side.  

Deep, Rich Color.

    Chair at Marti's in the Mercado, San Antonio. Cloudy day.  Panasonic GH2.  

"THE SQUARE IS EVERYTHING !!!" Wait, that's not what I said......

Even in moments of quiet reading I am still haunted by the square.

I thought, and Michael Johnston thought, that I'd written a pretty clear and straightforward article for his "The Online Photographer" web magazine, yesterday.  If you haven't read it, here's a synopsis:
In the film days photographers had many different aspect ratios to choose from.  When digital destroyed film camera making we had most of our choices removed.  We were mostly relegated to shooting with a 3:2 ratio in professional, 35mm style cameras, and a 4:3 ratio in "amateur" or "point and shoot" cameras.  I made the argument that it's hard for some people to compose in formats they don't enjoy and, I expressed happiness and relief that electronic viewfinders have allowed camera makers to bring back the choice of seeing, framing and shooting in multiple image ratios.  I also professed my personal attraction to the square, or 1:1 ratio while calling on people to experiment and find the ratio that was right for them.

Most people got the basic ideas just fine and either agreed or disagreed.  But there were two camps that mystified me.  And one of the camps highlighted to me how differently people's brains are wired from mine.

One group must have read too quickly or, perhaps had been multi-tasking at the time, but they came away with the idea that the whole of the article was a fierce defense of the square and a damnation of every other combination of geometric borders.  Even though calm and patient editor, Mr. Johnston, posted several comments reminding them that the whole point of the article was, "Freedom of Aspect Ratio Choice."

But the group that disturbed me, and perhaps only because their thoughts seemed industrial, analytic, mathematical and process oriented while mine are not, was the camp that insisted that the whole idea that a camera need have a set aspect ratio was "absurd".   I, we, everyone, should be able to look at a scene, figure out exactly what the future use of the image will be, capture it with sufficient space around it and then unerringly crop it just so in post production.  Done, neat, finished.  No muss, no fuss.

I imagine their universe is one of tight order and high cleanliness. Every decision perfunctory and binary.

I can't imagine that people don't understand the friction and momentum that tools create in a creative process.  No matter what format camera you select there are two forces at work.  One is the way you like to compose (your inertia) and the other is the implicit idea, perhaps very sub-conscious for some but not for others, that perhaps you should take the boundaries of the supplied finder into consideration as you try to decide what to include and what to leave out. (There must be a reason they made the finder this way.  Right?).  Even if you are a square guy and you know you want to crop square in the end, having to include more areas than you want, wrapped in  configurations you're not comfortable with, means having to constantly choose and evaluate more parameters than you need.  It's all wrapped up in the tyranny of choice.

I think artists (and we'll entertain the conceit that photographers count too...) establish formalist restrictions for themselves in order to cut down on an infinite number of choices, to remove paralysis, to help them get started.  An amorphous or "hostile" frame is one that pushes on a photographer an infinite number of choices by dint of having to "float" some intended, future composition, unanchored in a framework that doesn't conform to character of the artist's intention.  It's a fight from the start.  The choice of a camera with a friendly aspect ratio helps one concentrate on timing and what to include.  The form has already been chosen.  It's like making a mathematical equation less complex.  Less time consuming.  Removing variables helps us narrow down with greater speed and certainty.  Then again, it could just be the way my brain works and everyone is wired differently.  

I don't care if you like or don't like squares but I don't understand why people think their choice of tools is meaningless to the empowerment of their best vision.  

I had a funny thought, just now.  People talked about cropping to the subject matter.  But in all the years and years that people experimented and made art with Polaroid SX-70 images I never saw examples of cropped ones.  Never.  Nor have I seen Holga or Diana images cropped.  What to make of that?  

Just a few thoughts after reading the paper and drinking coffe on a bright, Sunday morning.


A nod to the square.

Kitchen Cabinets in the afternoon sun.

Panasonic GH2+Olympus PEN FT 40mm 1.4 lens, ISO 160 or 320,  Daylight white balance.  Manual Exposure. Manual Focus. Handheld.


The Week in Review. Chaos.

Wow.  What a week.  I started getting really sick on Sunday and by Weds. had descended into a bleak underworld of doom and gloom so depressing (as expressed in my column) that world renowned photographers (I had no idea they were even reading my blog) sent me private e-mails asking if I was okay.  I was touched.  And, while the meds my doctor gave me Tues. afternoon have been progressively effective it wasn't quick enough to prevent the staff at VSL from gleefully pushing me out of the way (under the pretense of encouraging me to rest) to make room for that annoyingly gleeful, Charlie Martini to come in and do his mischief, yesterday. 

You know you're really ill if even your collection of original Nick Fury and the Agents of SHIELD comic books doesn't bring you back into balanced contentment.

I know some of you were worried so I though I'd give you an overall update.  I'm back to 92.5% of my usual self and recovering on a geometric trajectory.  I might even make it back to swim practice in the morning, tomorrow.

The world of photography is not imploding.  Everything will be fine.  They just stopped serving the buffets during the shoot.  You know, like in the good old days.  With the iced filled bowls the size of larger beauty dishes, packed high with freshly boiled and peeled jumbo shrimp and the elegant plates with the careful stacks of black caviar grains.  Back when they served Champagne to the cast and crews instead of this cheap Prosecco we're getting now...  But it will all be okay and we'll all adjust.  Just cast that net a little wider and toss it a little harder.

I'm taking tomorrow off from blogging here but sent a scintillating article to Michael Johnston for his blog: the online photographer, that should run tomorrow.  That's providing, of course, that it passes his rigorous editing and high standards.

I know today that it's not the fever so I know I'm really trembling with anticipation as the first copies of our new book:  LED Lighting are being rushed to Amazon.com and other vendors across the United States.  The book has a cover price of $34.95.  The Amazon price is currently so low I don't even want to show it here but it's certainly less than the price of many lunches I've had.  And not really incredible lunches either. 

I can't really think of any big launches or products that hit this week and there's nothing much that I think we all need to run out and buy.  Next week I'm planning to write a bunch of short articles about specific uses of the LED panels and I think that should be fun.  I've used them for all of my assignments so far this year and I'm kinda thinking that I'll persevere through the year just for the hell of it.   I just found out that I paid my lab bill twice last month so now I have enough credit to run through another 20 rolls of MF tri-x.  If you see me out with the Hasselblad and a smile, that's why. 

I'm turning the comments on.  I'm around.  Say hello.  Check in.  Be heard.  


The book is landing.

I have one copy.  I like it.  Amazon, Barnes and Noble and the your neighborhood camera stores should be getting theirs any day now.  Kind of amazing but the whole project stayed ahead of schedule.  And the book looks great.

Things change in the time between writing the books and having them come off the trucks.  I'll update info as necessary here on the VSL blog.  Not too much has changed in the overall market.  But we'll talk about it.

The effects of my illness seem to be fading.  As does my hazy fog of pessimism.  Now I need to have a conference with the interloper, Martini.  What was he thinking?  Was he thinking?  It's all a mystery to me.

Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy. Imaging makes me warm and tingly.

From time to time, when Kirk is indisposed, the VSL staff sometimes has guest columnists step in and take the reins.  After the massive dose of gloominess he subjected readers to today we asked comedian and lead VSL researcher, Charlie Martini, to step into the Office Depot discount swivel office chair and give it a go.  Unlike Kirk, Charlie is remarkably optimistic about everything.  But then he's also on a cocktail of three different SSRI's and takes Absolute liquid vitamins throughout the day.

By Guest Columnist, Dr. Charlie Martini  

When last we saw Kirk he was heading off in the specially equipped racing Honda Element (with lasers, machine guns and ejection seats) vowing to find happiness in the world of photography.  We have every hope that, when the prescription drugs, triple strength coffee (you know he goes through a pound of Jamaican Blue Mountain every week day.) and the bottle of Jack Daniels give out he'll be back demanding that I get my scrappy, punter butt out of his chair and let him get back to work.  And, of course I will, because of my profound respect for his diligent visual research and my deep personal fear of his temper.

His last foray of this nature was aptly chronicled here:  Kirk's Crazy Journey.  I can only hope this one is shorter in duration and less fraught with litigation after the fact.

But first, a brief introduction.  I have a doctoral degree in astrophysics,  I'm into racewalking,  as a native Englishman I root for my local football club (that means soccer to you world-ravaging yanks) and love a good cuppa in the morning, with biscuits, if you please.  I am masterful with my version of iPhone-o-graphy and am a big, big fan of the wide gamut world of HDR.

Today I'm going to talk about the things that make me positively hopeful and enthusiastic about the practice of photography.  My goal?  To take the nasty aftertaste of defeatism left by Kirk's last column out of your mouth and put it back where it belongs.  And not a moment too soon, eh?  What say we get along with the tale.

 I've been involved with photography for a long time and here are the things I've seen change for the better:

1.  I no longer have to pay for film.  Now every frame I shoot is free.  Like the wind and water and my spirit.  I am free to express who I really am with no economic consequences.

2.  I no longer have to pay for processing.  Since I live alone, and am too ugly to effectively date, I used to resent all the time I "saved" by having a "lab" process my film.  Now I get to do the processing on my own computing machine and it serves to fill up the empty hours of my "bad part" of the day; that part that spans from the time they force us out of the VSL labs at the end of the day til I come dancing back through the air locks and biometric security in the next morning.

3.  With the magic of the internet I can share my images of turtles and cat whiskers and blooming flowers and artistically blurry waterfalls,  and members of full contact poetry slams, with people around the globe.  Often I will receive the honor of a request that a photo of mine be used in a book or magazine or on a website.  Even though there's never really a "'budget" to pay me I find the magic and rush of seeing my work spread across the internet as magical as the moment in Titanic when hero and heroine find themselves together on the deck as the ship goes down. It warms my heart so to be integrated into the discussion.  And there's tremendous value in that!  Just an amazing feeling of well being.  I'd like to have a credit but have been reminded many times that space on the web is just so expensive.

4.  Cameras have gotten so good that I can take fabulous photos anywhere.  At anytime.  For any reason.  And that makes me feel empowered.  Just last night I was sitting across from a couple in a nice restaurant and they were breaking up. It looked so sad. I put down my copy of Flat World and watched keenly.  It was pretty quiet but she was crying a bit and it looked so dramatic and real and great that I leaned across the table and shot a bunch of frames to put up on facebook.  I know they won't mind.  It's part of the new universal ethos of maximum share.  And, as we learned in lower school, sharing is always good.

5.  The ISO performance of our mighty plastic recording beasts have become so superb I can even take photos of things I can't see.  It's an amazing approach to art and one that works from time to time.  Kirk has tried to explain how the quality and direction of light are critical to a photograph's success.  But we all know what a curmudgeon he is.  It's just another one of his time wasting excuses.  If I point my camera at the general vicinity of something that seems like it may be exciting and set the autobracket just right I always come away with something I can rescue in Photoshop.  If I didn't shoot I'd never know.

6.  When I'm not in the lab trying to join up string theory with photographic composition I sometimes get to do free "imaging" work for my bank.  I'm so proud that they let me submit photographs for their use as they are one of the biggest bank holding companies in the world. Mucho prestigo!  But they're nice and I like to help them out.  They appreciate the work I do and they are very nice about explaining the paperwork that helps me give them all my rights to the material.  I'd try to charge them but, hey! we're all like family and it just seems like the right thing to do.  When Kirk's last paycheck to me bounced they were so sweet about only charging me $80 for my bounced checks.  That's what real love buys.  You watch my back and I'll wash yours.  I'll tell you this! Back in the good ole days this was an opportunity we never had.  Especially if we had to pay for film!!!!  Now I can say I've had my work used by XXXXX bank. (The contract I offered to sign said I couldn't actually use their name....)

7.  Have you ever noticed that just owning a really good camera gets you invited into cool places?  Since I'm pretty well known as "uncle Charlie" by everyone on staff, here and at the bank and, oh, at my favorite restaurants (love American style bangers and mash).  I'm often asked to attend marvelous weddings and bar mitzvahs and office parties. (I'll never forget that really swell Christmas party in the Denny's "private" room.  Those Walmart assistant managers can parteeeeee.)  Funny thing is they always ask me to bring along my camera, you know, "just in case".  But, would I be out on a Saturday night without it?  Would I?  Not bloody likely. To stay on the "A" list I've gotten into the habit of sending everyone a DVD with all the photos on it.  Sharing brings me closer my fellow man and it spreads something we at VSL call, name recognition.  When a real job shows up I'm sure they'll remember me!

8. Potential riches.  Kirk has harped long enough on the his old song about the deflating value of photography but I've heard there's still a path to riches via a little bit of magic they call, "stock photography."  It was a bit expensive to get started in since the stock photo companies wouldn't accept images from any of the cameras I had at the time but twelve thousand dollars later I was ready to get rich.  I had a new, top of the line, approved camera and a couple of really great lenses.  Now, all I have to do is to shoot whatever I want, keyword it, process it and upload it to the stock photography company's website.  They have a skyscraper filled with crack editors who will help winnow down my submissions to a tight group of "super-winners."  With a bit of elbow grease I've been told we'll be able to make at least a dollar for every image we sell, and possibly thousands of dollars.  Honest, it's happened before!!!  Logically, the stock company will take their 70% (it's only fair for all the hard work they do) but that still leaves me with 30%.  I don't need my calculator to tell me that if all 6 billion people in the world pull out their gold credit cards and buy just one of my pictures just one time that's a whopping one point eight billion dollars!!!!!!!  And don't worry, I am upping my chances at unimaginable wealth by uploading dozens and dozens of images at a time.  If Kirk would turn off his "rainy day rants" and get to work he could potentially make billions as well.  You can drag an old horse to water but you can't always resuscitate him.  At least that's what my mum used to say.  Tuck just doesn't seem to get the new economy.  It's not about the big deal anymore.  It's about hundreds of thousands of very, very, very tiny deals all coming together nicely.

9.  Unlimited inspiration.  Did you ever have one of those days when you left the house and you just didn't have any idea what to shoot?  Or why you even brought your camera with you?  Doesn't happen to me anymore because I use the Inspiration Image Juggler on Flickr and the Random Greatness button on 500px to see what everyone around the world is shooting, right now.  And then I go out and try to shoot exactly the same thing.  Most guys on the sites even provide equipment lists to help me and instructions on how they shot.  Takes a lot of the guesswork out of the process.  And it gives you a much greater chance of artistic success.  We certainly never had this in the good old days.

10.  Never before, in the history of all photography and even art, have we had so many experts  on the web tell us exactly how to do really good and unique photography.  The one thing they all share is a remarkable optimism. They exude hearty confidence.  They are indeed, the confidence men.  They want to help us make photography fun.  And part of the fun of photography is buying stuff.   And so they teach us stuff we really need to know to be successful in being happy and we reciprocate by spending thousands of dollars a year on really cool gear that they talk about on their websites.  It's amazing how much you can learn absolutely free.  Just last week I learned that I really couldn't do effective portraits without this 45mm 1.8 lens from Olympus three of the guys were blogging about.  The hard part was deciding whose link to click through.  Never had this kind of "free" education before.  And no strings attached.  The real winner?  Me.  Now I've got the tools that will make my portraits sing like Madonna. (She's Brit now, you know?)

11.  HDR.  Oh my God!!! Have you seen this kind of photography?  It makes every photograph look like a really, really cool painting.  Seriously! Technicolor on steroids.  Oh yeah, there's a learning curve but that's beautifully handled by that free education aspect of the new web 3.0.  Essentially you find just about anything that might make a decent photograph and then you shoot three or more exposures.  One for the shadows.  One for the highlight.  And one for the mid-tones.  The more different exposures you shoot the more information you have to play with when you get back to your computer.  But it's worth it because just about every photo will end up with the same ultra cool look.  Almost like magic.  (I have to make a wee confession here.  I always wanted to be a painter but I didn't have the time or stick-to-it-tiveness to learn exactly how to do painting.  Probably my ADHD... but now all my work can look like paintings and I've even used these incredible tools called "actions" to make the whole process almost automatic.)  When I show the images to my friends they are always amazed.  But I can walk them through the process pretty quickly and in no time they're knocking out these colorful masterpieces by the bucketload.  What's not to like about that?

12.  Really, really great workshops.  Thousands and thousands of them.  (If Kirk weren't so glum and bitchy and anti-social he could have a whole, new career in the new part of heaven I call workshops.  That would take the gray air out of his negativity balloon!!!)  In the old days there were one or two groups that held workshops and they were very prissy.  They had the gumption to demand portfolios in order to get into a class.  Hello!!!!!!  I'd like to have a portfolio.  Isn't that why I want to take your class???   But now there are thousands and thousands of them and they're on every topic you can imagine.  And the amazing thing is that they're all taught by super busy, super hard working pros who have so many clients it's amazing they can even squeeze a random weekend in.  I've taken  42 in the last five years and at least half of those were about how to use my "porty" flash.  I've learned a remarkable amount.  One teacher was so helpful in showing me what the manual for my camera really said.  Another helped me find a method that would trigger my flash when I take it off the camera!!!! Really.  I can't make this stuff up.   Usually we see a slide show of the teacher's work and I must admit I've spent some time in the shadows of giants.

And all the top teachers seem to know each other and recommend each others workshops and that makes me feel more comfortable, taking advice from a trusted source.  Pre-web it was just a shot in the dark.  If I ever take the step to "Pro" I'll be ready.  One light.  Off Camera.  HDR.  And now maybe even LED.  What more could any client want?  And it's not so far fetched.  There's a big ad agency in our town and I've actually toyed with the idea of putting together my best work and showing it to the person they call the "art buyer."  I'm trying to narrow down my portfolio so I'm only showing my best work (I learned that in a workshop).  So far I have vacation golf photos from Maui,  animals shot with DOF at the local zoo  (workshop), a few different photos of plates of food I ordered at restaurants (when I thought the plates looked good), and lots of street photography of people's backs.  If I can interleave some waterfalls and some dramatic HDR sunsets and some shots of my neighbor's kid playing in the hose I'll have a pretty cool and well rounded selection of images.  And I know most of them are good because we had critiques at a number of the workshops. It's like a stamp of approval.

In closing I have to say that the promise of the internet and of photography is that the markets have never been bigger or wider or more open.  I can sell my images anywhere in the world and feel safe that the U.S. Copyright laws are there to protect my work at all times.  If I can assemble my 1,000 true believers and they can feel good about my work then I can throw it all out onto the market with a healthy dosage of abundance energy  and it will come, unerringly, back to me a million fold.  And that's the real promise of the new economy.  You just have to have a little faith.  And, as I'm finding out, a lot of patience. But, it will happen.

Whether you are a pro, an aspiring pro, or an enthusiastic enthusiast there's never, ever been a better time to be a photographer.  New markets are opening up everywhere.  The education process is practically free and the barriers to getting in, either as an insider enthusiast or a new pro, are all gone.  Let's face it:  Anyone can do this and everyone needs photography.  Saturated marketplace?  That's what the glum experts said about gold ten years ago.  Who's laughing now?

Thanks for reading.   Hopefully Tuck's not working on a big doco and will be back to take the reins this Friday, coming.  Cheerio.   By the way, he's not really as glum as they make him out in the comments section and he does have a life outside of his blog.    Oh well.  My task is done and Bob's your uncle.


Some predictions about the future of photography.

I think we're just about there.  The point where photography, for the most part, becomes so ubiquitous, surrounds us so completely and, through its own total familiarity, loses all of its power to surprise and delight.  Which means, necessarily that we're ripe for re-invention.  Wholesale reinvention.

It's not that the cameras have gotten better, or easier, or more accessible that makes this inevitable, rather it's the unceasing firehose torrent of exposure to everyone's photographs, via the web, that'd sucking the life out of the medium.  Really.

Yes, yes, I know that you'd never have come as far as you have without the resources of the web but at the same time you would have worked in a state of more relative isolation and you might have developed a very, very unique vision that was transformative instead of just being a check box for a style.  HDR? Check.  Joel Grime's Style? Check.  Chase Jarvis Style (does he really have one yet?) ? Check.  Street Photography? Check.  Panos?  Check.  Hot chicks? Check.  Moody black and white? Check.

We are able to become so aware, minute by minute, of what everyone else is up to and what everyone else is posting that we've become a giant stew pot of randomly seen, homogenized images.  And I'm certainly not immune.  If I were immune I'd still be shooting roll after roll of sweet medium format tri-x in an ample sized camera with a achingly beautiful, long lens instead of dicking around with a Panasonic this or an Olympus that.

It's not the cameras anymore it's the hypnotic access to images and the funneling of tastes into some twisted Bell Curve of merit that's sucking the life out of the art while at the same time spreading it out to a larger and larger audience.  An audience of narcissists, just like me, who all want to have their time on your screen.  But why?  Why is a "nice capture" sentiment from a total stranger such a lure for so many?

I'll venture to say that most people are intent to show off their level of mastery.  "See what I can do."  "Watch me. Watch me."  They are not so much sharing the content or feelings encapsulated in the image as they are showing off the technical mastery of the wrapping. Is this basic human nature? Are we, as a species, wired for maximum distribution?

So what does all this mean for the business of photography?  You can see the effects everywhere.  There are little silos or islands left for professionals to cling to.  Knowing how to effectively use shift lenses and how to beautifully light interior spaces keeps some architectural photographers' noses above the water line.  And there will always be a need for highly technical specialities that require techniques that are demanding but not "sexy." Like macro work with microchips or food photography for advertising (as opposed to the "anything goes" food photography for editorial clients).  So, technical work is a safe island.  Being on the cutting edge of massively detail oriented PhotoShop Compositing and retouching techniques might also be a safe haven, until one company after another automates what you've spent years learning to do...

The landscape for commercial photography looks a lot like an inverse Bell Curve.  A big spike near the "cheap/free" axis and another spike in the opposite "high tech/high touch" access and a giant abyss in the middle.  Which is decimating the traditional markets as the middle of the curve is where most of the job volume came from.  No matter how good your game is "cheap/free" at 90% will always beat "really/really good at 100% if you are selling to a price sensitive market.  And that's 99% of the market.

I was reading a link on a forum today where a member was asking for technical help.  He needed to take a photograph with a huge background, cars and motorcycles and people and dogs in the foreground, all beautifully lit and perfectly done.  His issue was that so much stuff, required in the frame, killed the detail he could resolve overall.  But here's the deal.  This wasn't his real job, he was a work "volunteer." Even though he was doing the job for free he wasn't in the planning meetings for the photo nor was his input valued.  But, bless him, he was as anchored as a bulldog to a stick and ready to do a great job for the reward of doing......a great job.  For free.  Not as part of his job.

He got some suggestions which he really liked.  One of which called for shooting each part separately and combining them together in post processing.  Now, I don't know if you've done this before but he's likely looking at a couple of days to shoot everything, retouch it and composite it.  On his own time.  For the reward of showing off his chops.

This "altruism" is rampant all over the place and what it means is that it cost most companies nothing at all to give their employees a shot at doing something which might have previously cost them several thousand dollars.  Their worst case scenario would only be to reject his work and hire someone working as a professional who has experience in doing these kinds of images.  And owns the right tools to do them well.  But more often than not the rank and file managers don't have the filters to see whether the work is good or just passable.  They like the idea of getting their pizza for free as long as it's warm.

I have no doubt that the person who queried the forum will spend nights and weekends doing this project.  I also have no doubt that his employers, having paid nothing for the project, will not be in the least bit appreciative of his efforts.  And one less project will go to a kid out of photo school or a pro trying to keep his business up and running.

But this is not a problem that the clients are required to fix or even acknowledge.  This is the new normal.  Now, the number of exotic and highly technical jobs isn't increasing.  It's pretty much a fixed number.  So, if the trained specialists have those markets locked up where's the market for other photographers supposed to come from?  Maybe there is no solution and the market segment will slowly dissolve as it did for typesetters and color separators.  And color labs.  And medium format film camera makers.

So, on to the predictions:

1.  Wedding photography, baby photography and general retail photography has already become totally homogenized and every quarter the pricing, income and profit from these specialties will drop quickly.  There will always be a high end market of buyers somewhere but they'll continue to seek out fine artists whose vision coincides with the aesthetic tastes of the buyers.  A tiny 1% of the market, at best.  Already  the vast majority of child photographers are employees in national companies that inhabit the malls and provide tightly controlled and regimented photographic products for relatively low prices.  They make their money on volume and the occasional upsell to "canvas" products with higher margins.  Wedding photographers will come to grips with the fact that the new generations of clients have no real interest in a print book and want to have all the images turned over to them on a disk.  Most clients know they can design and produce their own books at a fraction of the price and with total control.  Resale?  You gotta be kidding.

2.  Advertising photography.  This was never as big a market as most people think.  And it's becoming smaller and smaller for dedicated photographers.  We have a new phenomenon at play here as well.  Give a designer or an art director a camera and some lessons, couple that with hours and hours of meticulous post processing and they will come out with something really good.  Most of the time.  Again, slicing into the inverted photo Bell Curve.  Let's face facts, these people have a really good eye to begin with, they know what they want to see in an image and they can use the little screen on the back of the camera to iteratively experiment until they get what they need as raw material.  The raw material goes into making an assemblage which becomes the ad.

But why do they do this if it's easier to hire a photographer?  Well, for one thing more and more clients are scoffing at paying any sort of mark up for outside supplier used by their ad agencies.  If the agency keeps all the work in house they can charge their clients for the photography and all the hours and hours of post processing and keep all the proceeds in their own profit stream.  Let's face it, the ad agencies have been squeezed like everyone else and they're jumping at saving where they can and profiting where it's possible.  They'll still rely on the current "A-list" of photographers for their high profile projects but the days of people making money shooting products on white are quickly coming to an end.  Unless they do it in a way that's very, very compelling.

3.  Everything else.  There will always be sports photographers....until the 4K video cameras with high shutter speeds  hit the market along with "best shot" selector programs to narrow down the streams.  As it is the vast majority of sports shooters work for Getty or Corbis, aren't paid even the same wages their counterparts in the 1970's made (real dollars! Not inflation adjusted), and don't own the rights to their own images.  Same with the "red carpet" celebrity photographers.

It's not that photographers have fallen down on their respective jobs it's just that photography is technically easier than ever before, more people have more time on their hands to practice a kind of amorphous pro/pro-lite/advanced amateur/will work for:  tickets, access, food, a pat on the back style of photography.  And the total saturation of photography supports this.  It won't get better.

The attitude I've described above is exactly why the camera markets are in flux.  The mirrorless cameras do about 90% of what the full sized, traditional DSLR's do and they are fun to play with and cheap to buy.  They'll work for most of the stuff people want to do.  With the right lenses they have certain advantages that make them perfect for portraits and pretty darn good for wide angle work.  But the buy in is in just the right spot:  Under $1,000.

I predict that the market for traditional, pro level DSLRs (the Nikon D4, the Canon 1DX) will remain strong as a status symbol for doctors, dentists, software engineers and trustfund enthusiasts.  But they've long been out of the reach of aspiring professionals building their first systems.  The rest of the DSLR market will plunge into the abyss as quickly as film did.  In ten years there will be few, if any, mid-curve or bargain DSLR's.  They will all have been replaced by smaller, cheaper but nearly as good, mirrorless cameras.

The bottom end of the market, the little Canon, Fuji, Sony, Nikon, Olympus point and shoot cameras will be entirely replaced by the very next generation of iPhones and their competitors because the "good enough" of those imaging tools and their addictive use as communications tools will be too good a value proposition.

I also predict that the sale of inkjet printers will follow the same trajectory as film.  The idea of making a print at home or in the studio will appeal to a very small niche that enjoys complete control over every step of the process but the vast majority of people will rarely have prints made, will enjoy their images on screens scattered hither and yon around their homes and, when they feel the need for a print they'll send their digital files to Walmart or Costco or some other discount provider.

So, what does this mean for the future of "enthusiast" photographers?  In previous generations we looked to the print as the gold standard.  And, printed large, every wart or imperfection of process rang through most clearly.  We worked not only on our "vision" but on our ability to translate it well to the print.  We could all view the same print in the same way and in that sense we had a promise of objectivity about its "consumption."   But the jagged rift in the the expectation of generations means that we know have an entire generation who will have grown up as "enthusiasts" who have never really seen a beautifully made prints.  Their entire experience of photography other than their own comes from looking at low res images on the web.  And that's a medium that really doesn't provide a fixed, objective viewing experience.  It also covers up a myriad of flaws and defects.  In this way it works against the acceptance of pricier camera options such as medium format digital cameras.  Afterall, if the image will only be viewed on a screen whose maximum resolution is 2500 by 1280 pixels with 8 bits of information per channel why would anyone need or want a slower operating camera whose reason to be is wrapped around providing 7,000 or 8,000 pixels on a side?  Why indeed?

Is the print even relevant to most people anymore?  Is it still part of our collective consciousness? I think not.

I think the role of the historically typical professional photographer is now relegated to that of mythology.  We want to believe that there's still space for them to exist because that reinforces our notions that when we make art we're competing with a known and revered quantity that elevates us in some way.  It's targeting.  We also harbor the inner conceit that someday we're going to "tell the boss to get screwed and launch ourselves as pros."  And we can't let go of the myth without sabotaging our "back up" strategy that, if we thought rationally about, we'd never consider.... Witness that all camera manufacturers couch their cameras as tools for professionals and showcase pros in their ads.  Especially Canon and Nikon.  When, in fact, pros are a tiny, tiny fraction of all buyers.

That's not to say that there aren't swashbuckling photographers making their way in the world scaling mountains and selling the story and pictures of their six week adventure to a magazine for a couple thousand dollars. But the clinical reality is that they either have a spouse to help support them or they leverage their exposure in low paying magazines to breathe economic life into their endless series of workshops.

My overriding prediction?  That in the next ten years photography will slide into the warm goo of modern culture and have no more relevance than the background music in the fast food restaurant in which you are having lunch.  A small number of professionals will be shooting the images of crispy tacos for Taco Bell, the burgers for McDonalds and the power tools for the online catalog of your favorite manufacturer.  The fashion magazines will be full of stock or "volunteer" photography, if the magazines still exist.  And every workplace in the world will buy a photo booth for executive and employee photographs.  Select your background and it will be seamlessly applied...

Some will say that I'm being gloomy and pessimistic but I think I have a pretty good vantage point from which to look at the market.  But, I could be totally wrong.  It's happened before.

I started this column talking about wholesale reinvention.  What do I mean by that?  I wish I knew because it's going to come from someone a lot smarter than I.  Think about what works for advertising and understand that lots and lots of cultural affectations come from there.  Keep your eye on younger and younger people because they'll lead by example.  And, while I see them snap, post and discard lots of cellphone images I rarely come across anyone in my kid's generation who has any desire to own a "pro" camera, much less the inventory of lenses.  They are the unencumbered generation.

Their only attachment seems to be for gaming.  If I were a camera maker like Nikon I would try to push the development of a Wii game that has a "camera controller" and the the player can select what kind of photographer he'd like to be and then "go" to a shooting adventure and snap images from a video loop that then gleans out the captured still frames and ranks him on style and timing.  Additions to the program could include post processing options via Hipstermatic.  Live the experience without untethering from your console.  Hmmm.  I might have a marketable idea there.

What's my strategy?  Sell stuff other people aren't.  Black and white portraits done on MF film.  Technical work for the tech clients.  Executive portraits for people who aren't yet ready to make the march of shame into the photobooth.  Shoots that require really good lighting and really good technique.  And, of course, books that talk about the same.  Or, maybe I'll chuck it all and move the family to a little fishing village on the coast of Belize.....

Don't argue with me too much.  I'm sure I'll feel much better about the whole business tomorrow....

Edit:  Do I harp on "too much free?"  I am not alone:  http://blog.allklier.com/2012/01/penny-wise-pound-foolish.html

New Addition:  More information about the LED Lighting Book....


Hanging around at home. Sick. And bugging everyone around me.

Joe York.  Actor.  Lead Role: Rocky Horror Picture Show.  Zach Scott Theater.

When you have a fever (with some chills thrown in) and a throbbing headache, and the room seems to spin every time you stand up, it seems comforting to write a blog.  I'm willing myself to get better as quickly as possible because I have an assignment tonight at 8pm to shoot a dress rehearsal of a new play at the Zachary Scott Theatre.  That means I have to be able to focus on something other than how crappy I feel for about three hours straight.

When I was feeling dandy and in the pink it was my intention to get all experimental and shoot with stuff like the Olympus EP3 and the GH2, along with a bag full of the manual focus lenses I was talking about in my previous Saturday blog.  But when I feel like crap I default to the easy, bulletproof stuff.  So I'm loading up a couple of Canon 5Dmk2's and a couple of L zooms and I figure, unless we're doing the play by candle light I'll come back with the stuff I need.  Funny how your health determines the gear you reach for.

I've been reading the forums this week and everyone seems focused on what Olympus is planning to launch on the 8th of February.  From all signs it looks like an OM-1 body style stuffed with, depending on whom you believe, the best next Panasonic sensor, a super high res EVF and acres of weather sealing.  The Olympus fans think it will focus on something before you even decide to focus on it.  It's going to be that fast.  Me?  I don't care about it at all today.  That'll change.  But even though the OM-1 was Belinda's film camera of choice for many years I never really warmed up to the body design to the extent that I pine for its return.

I'd rather think about lights today.  LED lights.  And there are two reasons for my interest.  The first is that I've received my advance copy of the LED Lighting For Photographers in the mail.  It's the book I started working on in late 2010 and finished up in mid 2011.  Judging by past books (and the fact that the book is now printed in the U.S.) I expect that the bulk of the books will be delivered to the publisher and to Amazon.com in the next couple of weeks.

The book looks good although I already found my first typo.  I'm not sure I made this public information in past discussions of the book but there is a four page section by noted wedding/beauty photographer, Neil van Niekirk.  He writes about how and why he's adapting LED light panels to his work and he was kind enough to also send along some examples.

Neil's work in consistently good as is his website: http://neilvn.com/tangents/  He also has written several really good books for my publisher and you can find more information about his books, here:  http://www.amazon.com/Off-Camera-Flash-Techniques-Digital-Photographers/dp/1608952789/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1327430737&sr=1-1

The second reason I'm into my LEDs is that I added a second, big, cheap 1,000 bulb LED fixture to my inventory and I've gotten great use out of all the gear shooting product in the studio.  Wonderful to work with WYSIWYG lights instead of flash when you are fine tuning stuff that stays still.  You can track down that nasty little reflection on a book cover and fix it before you get all the way into PhotoShop.

I used one of the 1k bulb units, along with a 500 bulb unit,  on location last week to shoot some portraits and I was very happy with the general look.  With one layer of color correction and one layer of diffusion in front of the bulbs I got the same effect I'd get from a small softbox with a flash.  But since there weren't any flash pops I didn't really have to worry about blinks and such.  It's really a nice way to work unless you specialize in sports or fast moving children...

The photo above was taken as an ad image for the Zach Scott version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  We shot on both 35mm film and medium format film  using 1k tungsten lights, pushed through diffusion panels, as our light sources.  The film was Kodak 64T which was a tungsten balanced film with an ISO of 64.  We worked on a tripod and Joe gave us lots to work with.   I stumbled across this 35mm image as I was searching in the equipment closet for aspirin (don't ask) and I wanted to see it again so I scanned it with the old Epson V500 Photo scanner.  We could have done better with a dedicated film scanner but the last  Nikon LS-4000 got donated to somewhere almost a decade ago.

Amazing to think how much preplanning went into shoots in the film days. You had to figure out how you were going to handle the shoot in order to decide which film to bring.  And how you were going to "Polaroid" something if you used a 35mm format.  Since most of the theatre lighting back then was tungsten it was easiest to mix and match with similar lights and balanced films.  Plus the fact that 64T was a beautiful emulsion.

Uh oh.  Belinda just came out to the office to take my temperature.  She gave me the "strict doctor" look.  I better sign off and pretend to be resting....  


Weird-o-graphy for Restaurant Business Magazine.

A while back (early 2000's) I got a phone call from one of my favorite clients, the art director at Restaurant Business Magazine.  When she called I usually got to shoot things like a premier chef showing off his chops while making an incredible duck recipe.  We'd shoot and talk and then, after we were pretty sure we had the shot. we'd all sit down, crack a nice bottle of wine and take a crack at the duck as well.  Other assignments introduced me to the brothers who own the legendary San Antonio restaurant, Mi Tierra.  I even drove the six hours to Laredo once to photograph the one great chef in the region, at the time...

This assignment was different.  Austin was one of the first cities in the country to ban smoking in restaurants and the gentleman in the photo above, Vic,  (owner of Vic's Restaurant) was the protest hold out in the implementation of the law.  Seems smokers comprised an overwhelming majority of his clientele and, according to Vic, they spent more per person than non-smokers.  His basic philosophy could pretty much be distilled down to, "I don't require people to smoke.  But they can if they'd like."

I packed the usual jumble of lights and stands and softboxes, and I packed a couple of Mamiya Six medium format cameras along with the trio of Mamiya Six lenses, and headed over the the "Y" at Oakhill.  That's where two Texas Highways come together just west of Austin and just outside the front gate of Freescale Semiconductor's front gate.

I walked in, met Vic and looked around.  Half of the restaurant was kinda cordoned off and I learned that this was where Vic practiced his second business, repairing computers.

The bar at which Vic is sitting faces a wall of windows so I immediately discarded the idea of lighting anything and instead went available light with the 75mm lens and camera on a tripod.  I shot two twelve exposure rolls and ended up with just the look of defiance the magazine was looking for.

I packed the car and headed to the lab.  That's how we did things back then.  The next morning I picked up the MF transparency film, edited it and chunked it into a Fed Ex envelope because, that's how we did things back then.

Of all the cameras I've owned and sold I regret most selling the Mamiya Six cameras.  They were absolute magic.  They could make a photographer better.  No matter what people say.  Some times the Indian likes to shoot with a really perfect, absolutely straight arrow.  Especially a magic one.

GH2 Officially Rocks. Kirk likes it. So much so that he's typing in the third person....

Bitchin Impala.

After a month of messing around with the GH2 I finally sat down and went through every word in the poorly written manual and mastered the settings on the GH2 that had confused me but which I really wanted to use for my photographs.  I did a portrait assignment on location with the camera and its 14-140mm lens last week and, at ISO 160, the images were just right. (go figure).

But the big revelation to me was to set the preview to "constant" if I wanted to see real time changes in exposure, on the screen, when I changed camera parameters.  I also found the "sledge hammer" settings in the film modes for sharpness, contrast and saturation.  No fine tuning allowed.  The jumps are big.  But in Jpeg the one jump up to higher sharpness helped me zero in on what I wanted in my files.  More apparent sharpness.

My lens test, on Saturday, showed me that all of these cameras and most of the lenses are pretty darn good.  Even lenses from the 1960's and 1970's.  You just have to eliminate operator error or operator laziness.

I ran into a large group of photographers who were doing the downtown "photo walk" thing and I was surprised to see that none of them had embraced the smaller, mirrorless cameras yet.   Each participant was carrying a full sized DSLR.  One person was walking around, shooting handheld with a Canon 24mm tilt/shift lens on a big Canon body.  They all seemed to be having fun.

I was happy to be traveling light.  Just the GH2 and the Olympus 60mm 1.5.  Fast and easy.  


Nice Day for Photography with a 60mm 1.5.

Olympus Pen F 60mm 1.5 used at f2.8 to photograph chairs at Congress Ave. Restaurant.  GH2 Jpeg.

I'm slowly getting the whole process of shooting with manual lenses on the Panasonic GH2 dialed in.  First things first.  You set the preview to "constant."  That will show you exactly what happens, vis-a-vis color balance and exposure, when you shoot in "M."  When you shoot in any other mode the GH2 ignores the constant setting and gives you what it thinks it the correct exposure.  Good to know.  Now I can walk around an use manual exposure and when I bring the camera to my eye, with my favorite shutter speed already set I can quickly fine tune with the aperture ring (or vice versa).  The Pen F 60mm 1.5 has a lot of throw between f-stops and you can actually make adjustments in tiny increments and see them with feedback in the EVF.   Perfect.  And once you have the settings figured out you don't have to change anything until you shoot under different light.

Next up is the manual focusing routine.  Since my adapter rings don't give me a correct infinity focus with Pen lenses I generally want to zoom in and look at the focus integrity before I shoot.  I'll skip this step and squint a lot if the action is moving quickly but, in most situations like the chairs and door above, the subject isn't moving so fast that I don't have time to double check exact focus.  With the camera at my eye I put the little dial that controls shutter speed and aperture.  It sits on the top right of the back of the camera.  You can push it straight in and it will increase the live view magnification to 8X, which is perfect for fine focusing a fast, moderate telephoto lens.  One quick, slight touch on the shutter button and you're back to full frame in the EVF.  Couldn't be easier and it's quicker to do than to read.

GH2 and Olympus Pen F 60mm 1.5 @ f2

My goal on today's walk was to dial in and learn the focus technique and the exposure technique forward and backward until I could do it without thinking.  I worked hard on it and I think, in another few weeks, I'll have it nailed.  We've talked here about time in the water so many times that I'm sure you're getting tired of hearing it but....part of good photography is being fluid with the tools in your hands.  You can't let ineptitude and lack of practice rob you of opportunity.

I'll have my next practice session on Tues. night at Zach Scott Theatre when we do another dress rehearsal for a play that opens later in the week.  Feels like an  all m4/3rd's project to me.

While I was downtown I ran into Stephen N.  An accomplished photographer.  He was so skinny I hardly recognized him.  He's been biking all over the place.  Love the way I get a little control of DOF with the 60mm. f2.8

minimum focus distance. 60mm 1.5

For some reason I was looking for close up images this afternoon.  Here a glass vase I found in a window on Guadelupe St. between 2nd and 3rd.  This is as close as the 60mm will focus.  I think it's adequate.  And the performance is still very good, even close to wide open.  And hand held.

The glass vase.

It must have been vase day for Kirk's blog because I kept running into them all over town.  This one was in one of the retail shops at the bottom of the Monarch Residence Tower.  I like the blue facets.

All manual.  All the time. 60mm.

Love the satanic glow from the building that overlooks the Whole Foods HQ.  Nice with the sky.  WB set at daylight right after sunset.  That makes the sky more blue saturated and accentuates the warmer lights on the buildings.  You might be able to find noise if you peek "hard" but then I'll just call you a nerd and insist that your can "smooth it out" in post.  

It was a wild day downtown from 4-6pm.  I saw no fewer than 20 photographers out with bags over their shoulders, monopods gripped in their hands.  Appears there was an organized "photo walk" happening.  Looked like an engineer's convention to me.  Meant in the nicest way possible.  Loved seeing people out and shooting and sharing the experience.  I hope that means more in the future.

The Panasonic has been officially pressed into service for a real job and it did just fine.  In fact, it was easy to use and quick.  The raw files were splendid.  I lit the entire job with LED panels as well.  It's one thing to write about them, it's an entirely different thing to put their money where your word processor is... The proof is in the pudding.  Or on the web galleries.

If you don't like reading about Olympus and Panasonic stuff, don't despair.  I'm sure some other shiny object will capture my attention, sooner or later....

note: I am now a member of 500px.  My address is: http://500px.com/kirktuck
It would feel more like home if you would follow me there.  Thanks.  Lots of fun.


Pure retro on my Panasonic and Olympus Cameras. The manual, Pen FT Lens test EXTRAVAGANZA.

I'll start with a little bit of background.  In the 1960's Olympus starting making cameras that used a half frame of 35mm film instead of the full frame.  They called these "half frame" cameras.  Most of the cameras were little compacts that were very light weight and easy to use.  People who made small prints bought them to save money.  And, even back then, people were trying to shove cameras into their pockets...

The half frame is really the same size as a "full frame" frame of 35mm movie film.  Honest.  What we consider full frame is actually "double frame."  But I don't want to head down that rabbit hole right now. Having enjoyed a certain amount of success in the market the designers and dreamers at Olympus thought that there would be demand for a more sophisticated camera system that would keep the half frame film size but include some really cool things like a rotary, titanium shutter that syncs at all speeds, interchangeable lenses that are really, really good, and a mirrored reflex finder.  Which made the camera a genuine "SLR."  This was known as the Pen F system.  

The camera was used by plenty of photojournalists who embraced the camera for the same reasons people are flocking to mirrorless cameras in the present:  They were smaller, more discreet, easier to carry and very capable.  In fact, one of the most famous photographers in the 20th century, Eugene Smith, appeared in ads for the Pen F's and shot with them on assignments.  My favorite ad for the Pens is one in which Olympus showed how the whole system can fit in a shoe box.

But the reason the system had legs and sold reasonably well was the lenses.  That's something Olympus has always done well.  I won't go in for the standard hyperbole and suggest that they made lenses that are just as good as the current Leica M lenses but they were damn good and the half frame lenses were specifically designed for the smaller rectangle of film that the smaller cameras shot so they were optimized for higher resolution than the typical 35mm lenses of the day.  It makes sense, the frames would have to be enlarged to a much greater degree in order to make the standard, black and white 8x10 inch prints that were the lingua Franca of the day.

What finally killed the Olympus half frame cameras?  In a word?  Color print film.  Why? Because the labs begged for automated printers and those printers were never designed to deal with the odd ball size of the negatives.  If people couldn't get film printed cheaply they weren't really interested.  So what worked well in the days when people did their own lab work, and when labs handled each negative individually, didn't work as well in the age of automation.  Too bad because it's a great little system.  I should know, I have five of the Pen FT bodies and the collection of lenses in the first photo, plus some duplicates of my favorites in the Olympus equipment drawer.  The one guarded by angry black Mamba snakes...

When the new, digital Pens came out I realized that the shorter lens flange to sensor dimension would make mounting lots of different lenses on the bodies a pretty straightforward deal.  When I heard that adapters were already being made I jumped into the micro four thirds cameras mostly in order to breathe new, digital life into a collection of lenses that were interesting and, in some cases, a little exotic.  And I have not been disappointed.  But I'd never done the real test where you mount the lenses on the highest res digital camera you own and put that on a tripod with the self timer engaged and start looking at how the glass performs....wide open.  And stuff like that.  So I did.  And I found out some interesting stuff.

Two 1,000 bulb LED lights make for a quick and simple photo set up with lots of lumens for stopping down and using the slowest ISO on the GH2.  I think that's 160.  The black flag to the right is serving no purpose whatsoever.  It just happened to be there when I was setting up.

I chose to the Panasonic Lumix GH2 for  my tests because the sensor is acknowledged, at this juncture, to be the highest res of the m4/3 tribe.  It's also easy to use in a studio setting.  Set preview to constant and shoot in M and you'll see each change you make to aperture, shutter speed and ISO right on the screen.  Tap on the screen to increase magnification for fine focus...

Let me introduce you to the motley crew of lenses and say a little something about each one.  I feel like I'm introducing family.  Why am I in so little hurry to snap up the new primes coming to market?  Because I think I've already got cooler ones.  Take the 60mm 1.5, for example.  No other company makes anything nearly as cool for the smaller cameras.  Center sharpness is okay at full aperture and, like most lens designs of the time, you'll want to add some contrast to your files.  These lenses are not post processing free but when done well you can squeeze really good performance out of them.  When you hit f3.5 you are sharp from corner to corner and it's a very convincing sharpness.  Hell yes, I use it for theatre shots.  And portraits in dark and moody coffee shops and more.  It uses the same lens hood at the 50mm to 90mm zoom lens.  It's becoming rare and a bit costly but if you find a clean one you might want to put in on your camera and give it a spin.  If you shoot portraits I can pretty much guarantee that it's a struggle your credit card will win.

Reader Note:  you can click on any of the photos and they will come up much bigger in a separate window.  I uploaded files that are 1200 pixels on the long edge so you might want to depend on the text for my observations about their performance.

 above and just below:  the 60mm 1.5

In every system there's one lens that shows up everywhere.  Like the ubiquitous 50mm 1.8's for 35mm cameras.  Or the 18-55mm kit zooms for APS-C cameras.  In the Pen F hierarchy that lens would be the 38mm 1.8.  It's small, light, fast and well corrected.  This was my everyday shooter in the film days.  While most of the Pen F lenses are able to be used wide open they tend to mimic standard gauss designs in that the center is sharp at or near wide open and stopping the lens down brings greater and greater corner sharpness.  By f4 the lens is really good and by f8 it's as perfect as you could want it to be.

 Above:  think of the 38mm as the budget "system lens"

I think of the 70mm f2 as the equivalent of the standard 35mm 135mm lens.  In particular, I think of mine as the 135 f2 L series of the Pens.  It's not nearly as sharp as that much more modern lens, when used wide open but it sharpens up nicely one stop down and, by f4 is monster good.  If flares a little in contrajour light so I try to always use it with a hood or shade the front element with my hand...  It's a great "candid" shooter.

the 70mm.  half the weight of the chunky 60mm.

There are really two lenses that haven't jumped through the time travel portal with the same success as the longer focal lengths.  Those are the 20mm 3.5 and the 25mm 2.8.  The 20mm is widest Pen F lens that ever got made and it's really nothing to write home about until you stop it down to f5.6.  And alarmingly, at least with my copy, it tends to start flying apart with diffraction softening right at f11.  By the time you get to f16 you'll think you forgot to focus.  Which actually brings up something we need to talk about.  There's a lot of focus shifting, as you stop down, in some of these lenses (especially the zoom).  If you focus wide open and then stop down you may or may not have some safety with depth of field but you'll be way better off to stop down first and then focus.  Which is how the older lenses work on the mirrorless camera anyhow.  If you need a 20mm you might want to pass on one of these and head straight of the Panasonic.  The 20mm 1.7 Panasonic may be one of the most beloved optics of the entire family m43 system...

I've gotten detailed shots from the 20mm Pen F lens but I've had to boast contrast a lot to make them work.  And adding a bit of saturation won't hurt either...

 Above: the 20mm 3.5.  Not quite the sharpest of the flock.

Now.  Someone get me a drool bib.  This is one of my favorite lenses of all.  The fabulous 40mm 1.4.  I think of it as the high speed standard of the entire small camera universe.  There was faster and very rare 42mm 1.2 but it wasn't as well corrected as the 1.4 and weighed nearly twice as much.  I shot some flat stuff in the studio today which is represented below.  At 1.4 it's decent.  Not a lot of micro detail in the files.  But one stop down brings it to parity with just about anything out there.  At f2.8 it's sharper than the Canon 50mm 1.4 at 2.8 and even a little sharper, to my eye, than the Zeiss 50mm 1.4 at 2.8.  When you hit f4 it's like you put a macro lens on the front of your camera.  Sharp and contrasty over the whole frame.  Kinda like that Olympus 45mm 1.8 they've been shopping around.....only this puppy is a two thirds of a stop faster.  And it looks even better because it's black.

It's my photojournalist wannabe lens.  I love it for portraits and candids and street shooting and just about anything that requires a slightly longer prime optic.  The Panasonic camera seemed to swell with pride when I put this on the lens mount.

The crowning achievement of PenF lens design.  
Not because it's exotic but because it's nearly 

Reader tip about lens adapters:  I have three different adapter rings that allow me to mount Pen F lenses on the m4/3 digital cameras.  All three of them will allow the lens to focus past infinity.  That means that the focusing scale on the lens barrel becomes meaningless.  And that reduced the lens's usability as a zone focusing "street shooter".  If I had the time I'd probably figure out the positions for hyperfocal distances and mark them on the lens barrel with a red dot but.....I'm too lazy.  Or I spend too much time writing.  At any rate you are now warned not to trust the infinity setting on any legacy lens mounted via an adapter.  Test before you set to infinity and go out for walk.  Even with the wide angles.  Especially with the wide angles...

And, Olympus knew how to do hoods.  Nice hoods with 
thumbscrews.  You tighten, they stay in place.

Which brings me to a lens that is an enigma to me. The 25mm.  For the longest time I thought this lens and the 20mm lens were not very good and not very sharp.  Today I changed my mind.  This is the first time I've put them on a tripod and then used live view to focus.  My focusing skills with the smaller format are a pale ghost of my medium format focusing skills and I think it's because the finders on the Pen F cameras are old tech, very dark and the DOF of the short focal length makes everything look like it's in focus in the viewfinder (when viewed tiny) while it's not sharp if blown up.  

Today I put this lens on the GH2 and focused at 8x magnification and shot test shots.  And I like them.  There's good detail everywhere.  It's not going to replace a fast focusing and bright lens like the Leica/Lumix 25mm 1.4 but it's very well done and, when stopped down to 5.6 it does a very nice job with subjects that give you enough time to check focus.  Sad about the lack of true infinity on the adapter rings because it's a focal length that would lend itself to zone focusing and shooting from the hip.

 the 25mm 2.8.  Beautifully made.
And now revealed to actually be sharp.

Which brings me to the longest half frame lens in my collection, the 150mm f4.  If you play the equivalent game this optic gives you the same angle of view on m4/3 as a 300mm on a full frame film or digital camera.  This is another lens that never really satisfied me until I put it on the EP2.  With the benefit of adjustable (by focal length) image stabilization I was able to hold it still enough for distance shots to discover that it is really well corrected and sharp.  One reader of a previous post about this lens pointed out what might be veiling glare but I think it's really just the lower contrast of a design from the late 1960's when a lower contrast lens with good sharpness was actually a benefit to people who shot black and white film in contrasty situations.  You could always add contrast in the darkroom with graded papers or multi-grade papers but you couldn't bring back blown highlights or blocked shadows.  

It was an epiphany to actually put the lens on a tripod and do the two second self time as a release mechanism.  The magnification works against hand holding.  Especially on the GH2 which doesn't have IS in the body.  If used correctly I find the lens to be quite good wide open and at its best when used at 5.6.  With a judicious boost of contrast and a moderate dose of saturation in your favorite post processing program you'll have snappy photos with some nice compression.  And it works well as a long lens for video.  As long as you're on the sticks....  A big benefit, vis-a-vis full frame, is that it's 1/3 the size and weight of the bigger format's equivalent.
 Go long.  And pack light.
I like the 300 f4.  Especially now that I know
the sharpness issues were really just 
my lazy technique.

Back in the late 1960's zoom lenses were really just a novelty and most of them (with the exception of the Nikkor 80-200 f4.5) were unsharp and unsatisfying.  But this lens from Olympus is pretty good.  Not nearly as good as the single focal length lenses above but head and shoulders above most of the dreck that was available way back then.  I wasn't old enough to shoot back then but I used the older zooms when I was on a budget in the earlier times of my amateur career as a photographer.

The focal length is not long, is corresponds to about 100mm to 180mm's but it seems just right for a guy who likes to do classical portraiture.  While it's not stunningly sharp at 3.5 it's pretty nice by the time you get to f5.6.  And.....it's a constant aperture zoom.  Nothing changes as you change focal lengths.  It's not a true parafocal zoom.  It does shift focus as you zoom which means you'll want to refocus every time you shift focal lengths.  If you press it into service for video you'll find that it shifts the image a lot as you focus.  The way to use this lens is to line up your shot and lock in your parameters, then shoot your scene and move on.  I wouldn't try to follow focus with this one.
An early telephoto zoom that acquits itself nicely at 
f5.6.  And it's less than a quarter the volume of
a Canon 70-200mm L lens.  This one I could
carry all day long....

While I'm not going to review it because I never really use it I also have a 2x converter for the system.

I haven't been able to suspend my belief that 
older teleconverters suck so I've only tried this
once, on the 150 and handheld.  If it's not sharp or
if it is sharp, how would I know?  I'll try it sooner or later
and let you know.

 40mm wide open.

 40mm at f4

60mm wide open.

60mm at f3.5

 70mm wide open

70mm at f4







50 on the zoom.

60 on the zoom

70 on the zoom

90 on the zoom wide open

90 on the zoom at 5.6





90 on the zoom


Physical Construction:  The Olympus Pen F lenses are made in the way we've come to expect products from the height of the industrial age to have been made.  Knurled metal barrel that are designed to offer just the right friction for your fingers, with areas of small indents alternating with big scallops to provide the sense that you'll always have a great grip.  The lenses are small but dense and feel as though they are made to last a photographer's lifetime.  And the proof is in the pudding.  Several of the lenses I have trace their origin back to around 1968.  And they were well used.  But the focusing rings are still smooth and sure in operation, the spring back for the auto aperture is still free of drag and the mounting rings look brand new.  Even the stop down button and the locking buttons are made of well crafted and robust metal.  If there is plastic anywhere on any of the lenses I've not been able to find it.

If Panasonic and/or Olympus introduces focus peaking in their next generation of cameras I'll be in heaven and will probably put off buying the current, popular primes for a long time.

Recommendations.  Of the lenses I've listed, most, beside the 38mm's, are going to be too expensive to be practical purchases.  Both Panasonic and Olympus have better performing (and easier to focus) wide angle and wide/normal lenses than the 20mm and 25mm.  The sweet spot for me would be the 40mm 1.4, the 60mm 1.5 and the 70mm f2.  All are wonderful lenses that are competitive with just about anything you'll find today ( provided that the glass is in good shape and not fogged in the least).

If I had to choose just one it would be the 60mm 1.5.  It's physically beautiful on the camera and the view through the EVF, or even on the rear screen, of the GH2 is wonderful.  With one touch of a button I'm able to fine focus at 8x and, one stop down the lens doesn't miss a beat.  A far cry from the slow kit lenses that most of us suffer with.

Since I own the 40 and the 60 Pen F lenses I've put off buying the 45mm 1.8.  But I keep seeing images that impress me.  If I do buy one it will be because I have become to lazy to manually focus my 60.  But for now, I'll persevere.

So why do I write this when probably no more than a few handfuls of people have any interest in MF lenses for mirrorless cameras?  Because the Pen F lenses deserve some recognition.  They set a standard in their days that's taken forty years to be re-invented.  And that's very cool.

Thanks for reading.

Below, the full sized, 4000+ pixel test of the 60mm at f3.5.  Jpeg (8 quality) sharpened. click it and see.