There's a setting on my new camera that I like to play with...

It's called: Rich Tone Monochrome.

It only works in the Jpeg file setting. It's basically noise reduction and HDR combined for black and white.  It can produce dramatic files with high sharpness and very little high ISO noise.  And since the frame rate of the camera, in normal daylight, is so fast, and the processor in the camera is so powerful, the mode can be used hand-held and the camera will "micro-align" multiple frames and stack them into one finished file.

I normally dislike the religion of HDR.  But I'm finding more and more uses for some of the in-camera options, as long as they are used intelligently. This is not intended to be a promotion for Sony or any particular model but an admission, based on long meditation during my break, that some stylized processing can be useful and fun.  Especially when it is controllable and customizable.

I was sitting at Medici Caffe, drinking a cappuccino, watching the beautiful people downtown, and reading the owner's manual for my Sony flash when I decided to explore the rich tone monochrome setting on my camera. I was reading the owner's manual for the flash in vain.  There is no control on the flash for setting exposure compensation.  That has to be done in the function menu, on the camera.

But I was amazed at the results of my test.  The coffee cup has an extremely wide range of tones and none of the highlights are even close to burning out.  Even with a .75 stop push to get the exposure I was looking for.  What a wonderful tool this might be for portrait work in the studio on a sturdy tripod, with a patient subject.  I say "patient" because the downside of most of the in-camera modes is that the file is processed right after you take the picture and can take up to ten seconds to render.....

While I still find "over the top" HDR offensive,  I am giving up my one person crusade to persuade people to have good taste.  If you want to try an effect then who am I to say you are wrong?  If you want to wear mutton chop sideburns then I think you should  go for it.  If you think pink is a good color for your car then more power to you. Go Pink. In fact, with the adoption of the Sonys I'm joining the parade and using the little settings with so little discretion it amazes me.  Digital is different.  The technique is everything.  I'm trying to bend the device to my will.  Then it will be photography.

I call this one, "Street lamp bending in the hurricane winds."  And any pixelazation you see is intended.  Rock on a77.

At some point it's really all about having fun with photography.

Renae (on the right) was my assistant back around the turn of the century.  She was amazing and brilliant.  And when we finished long shooting days on location she'd invite a friend or two over to the studio sometimes and we'd all share a bottle of good wine and set up lighting gear and make portraits.  Kinda weird when you consider that most days we'd just spent eight or nine hours setting up and taking down equipment somewhere in or around Austin in order to make portraits for work.

But shooting portraits of people like Amy and Renae was the perfect way to wind down a day and leave the studio on an art note.

We had just finished shooting an annual report for a dot com company whose stock had gone from a dollar a share to fifty four dollars a share, overnight.  (A few months later it made the round trip back to a dollar when the market popped...).  We invited Amy over, uncorked a St. Emillion Grande Cru Classé and started playing with cameras and lights.

I used a 35m Leica R8 film camera with a 90mm Summicron lens for this shot.  At the time I was happy using Ilford's Pan F, 50 ISO film.  The light of the day was a four foot by six foot softbox used in close and just to the left of camera. Powered by a Profoto box.  A small softbox slapped a little light on the gray, canvas background and we fired away.  We probably shot ten or twelve 36 exp. rolls of film that night and shipped it off to the lab the next day without a thought.

When the film and contact sheets came back I took a cursory look through and ordered a few favorite prints from some individual portraits we'd done.  Today I was looking through this work box of film and contact sheets and this time around it was the shots of Renae and Amy together that caught my attention.  I grabbed a strip of negatives that looked promising and put them on the scanner.  This is what we ended up with.

It's instructive to me that somewhere in the last five years we started doing just what we needed to do to survive.  And the art got lost.  But the magic is that with a little elbow grease, some heart and some imagination, we can get the art back.  It's a process of reaching out to people and fighting the entropy that whispers in your ear, "you've already done this.  Why do you need to do it again?"

But the reality is that even though I've made portraits before, each new person in front of the camera is different and interesting in their own way.  I'd forgotten for a while just how satisfying the process of making a portrait is.  Doesn't matter if you're playing for happiness or playing for the money.  The important thing is to play well.  And play often.

I saw that bumper sticker again yesterday.  It said, "Bark less. Wag more."  I like it.

We're back. Both of us. Now. Howdy.

Thanks for your patience.  I needed some time away from the VSL blog and from all the noise on the web in order to really assess where I am and where I want to be....as an artist.  When I look back over the last ten years I regret that I focused only on the nuts and bolts of getting the jobs done.  At times I was too conscientious about a client's time. I presumed they only had time to get done what we had in the contract.  But I come into contact with so many interesting people that by doing "just what the job required" I missed the opportunity to supplement each project with my own "take" and my own point of view.  I became really good at following the "instruction manual" of image making without giving enough thought to stepping outside the boundaries of our proscribed relationships and asking, "Can I take a really cool photo just for us?"