Old School is good school.

Back in the film days we made lots of portraits. Now it seems like everyone is only interested in documenting their lunch. Do we really have that close a relationship with our lunch?

Belinda in the 1970's with an OM-1.

Over the last seventeen years and 364 days Ben has been photographed with an enormous variety of cameras and lenses...

....and I've loved every minute of it.

Tomorrow Ben turns 18. He'll be a full fledged adult (at least in the eyes of the government...) and I am amazed at how quickly the time has gone by. When he was tiny most of my documentation of his every move, burp and giggle was done with Leica and Hasselblad film cameras. He inaugurated the first Kodak professional digital cameras to hit the studio, patiently posed for Nikon 100's, Fuji S2s, 3s and 5s, and a whole litany of Olympus digital cameras starting with a DL 2500 and progressing through the e10, the e1 and the e3. He sat patiently while I fiddled with Canon D70s, d60s, 5dmk2s, and even a 1DSmk2. I can't begin to count the m4:3 versions he grimaced at and lately he's tolerated (barely) the Sonys and the Samsungs.

This was taken at Asti Trattoria, his favorite restaurant for at least the last 14 years, with one of my all time favorite camera and film combos. It was a Leica M6 (.85ttl) using a 50mm Summicron and ISO 400 black and white film.

I've made prints. Lots of prints. So even if GoldenEye goes off in the upper atmosphere and the EMF blast wipes out all the digital information I'll still have the actual artifacts, the black and white and color prints.

On a sad note tomorrow will be the first birthday for him at which I will not be present. I will be traveling to New York for the Photo Plus Expo. We'll celebrate when I get back on Sunday.  Maybe I'll have a bag of free samples to share. One can only hope.

Have kids? Whip that camera out and make some beautiful images. At the core that's what this is really all about. Then, take that next step and have a bunch of prints made. It's the only current future proof guarantee. And they're fun to have around.

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If you are in New York at the PhotoExpo consider dropping by the Samsung area to say, "hello." I'd appreciate it.


New Look for VSL blog factory. Logo Mania.

A week ago I sat in the offices at Clutch Creative and looked at 13 really cool logo designs that my friends had created for this site. I instantly loved the one above. I think it sums up the "feel" of what I want the Visual Science Lab to be about. There was only one problem, the dynamic template I was using from Blogger isn't really customizable without a great deal of skill and patience. I wanted to use the new logo but the site conspired against me. I decided I liked the logo more than the template so I switched to one of Bloggers simpler and more customizable templates and now we're right here....

Positive feedback always welcome!


The new life of professional photographers: Endless, shameless self-promotion.

Self portrait for PhotoPlus intro.

Little known facts about me: I like to wear suits or jacket and ties. I like vintage ties best but I've bought four ties in the last few months and I found a nice source of knitted silk ties that are understated and look great. The tie in the image above is not one of them. It's what Ben calls my "candy cane" tie. 

Another little tidbit about me is that I loathe self promotion on any scale larger than that needed to keep basic projects coming in the door. I always feel weird about it. But I think that for the working professional with the need to generate income from multiple sources the grim reality of self-promotion will be the wave of the future for everyone who has something (however remotely valuable) to sell. 

Five or six years ago most of my time was spent meeting with clients who bought or licensed photography and then doing the pre-production, actual production and post production for those projects. I spent a good deal of my time with my nose in PhotoShop followed by a witless romp through QuickBooks Pro and then on to the next job. When things slowed down I sent out post cards to clients and people that I wished were my clients and then when things slowed down more I would get out the contact list and make those dreaded cold, lukewarm and also comfort calls. Comfort calls are those you make to clients who you already work for, who consider you a friend and are always happy to go out to lunch with you and look at new work for a few minutes followed by a long, enjoyable and mostly social meal.

Now it feels like it's all changed. Part of the new reality of being a photographer trying to make a good living is that we feel the need to diversify. The need to branch out. I was thrilled when I started writing books and I was happy when the royalties would roll in because it helped keep the enterprise afloat and gave me a new reason to buy and experiment with fun toys. It's been two years since I started writing the book on LEDs (my most recent book) and I'm almost ready to get started on the next book. 

But what that really means is that I'm trading time and freedom for the feeling of security and in reality I"m feeling more and more pulled apart and separated from the thing I love about photography which is just the pure act of taking photographs. Or more clearly, making portraits. So far this year I've spent a lot of time outlining photography courses for Craftsy.com and then flying to Denver to do the production for days and days at a time. I've also traveled for Samsung in order to help them get the word out about their new camera. I'll be a paid speaker next week in NYC for them as well. But it's not just the presenting days that stretch me, there's also the time spent getting to know the new cameras and the fourth new menu structure I've memorized so far this year. When you add a book project on top of those things it starts to feel like I'm something other than a working photographer. And that's scary for me since I've spent the years since 1988 doing mostly nothing but photography. I'm not sure I'm good at career multi-tasking and I guess I need to figure out where all my boundaries are as I move forward. 

I put on a coat and tie today and went out to meet with a prospective client. I got there early and walked into the business with my little notebook and my favorite pen in hand. I listened intently, offered suggestions where appropriate and went over the possible financial arrangements. I jotted little facts in my notebook.  It felt so streamlined and elegant. It's only one day of shooting and one day of post production. The project has a clearly defined start and end. The expectations are well laid out. It's a job that's perfect for me and I hope I get it. I know it's right because I felt that old anticipation and nervous energy that I always used to feel when meeting straightforward clients. It's just straightforward  photography business. I didn't even bring up the possibility of video because I wanted to savor the purity of the job in its most direct form.

In a sense I think I've been fooling myself in the execution of my multi-threaded career for a number of years. I'm not good with long term projects. They are like bad shoes that blister your ankles or the back of your heel. They go on and on long after the thrill has dissipated like a vodka martini in your blood stream. But if you do good work on them, if you exercise your Calvinist tendencies and work till you drop  you always get invited back. And that's a blessing and a curse. A blessing because money comes in, but a curse of sorts because you believe that you've traded your freedom and poverty for some security only to find that it's bound with Sisyphean routine. You now have resources but no joyful quarter in which to spend them.

And, if you are an artist the thing you originally chased after the money for was to buy the freedom to do your own work on your own terms. But that always gets short circuited as  your lifestyle grows and mutates to take advantage of whatever level of income you become used to. And you find yourself limited by the time obligations of the projects that incessantly bookend your photography...

How does one handle multiple projects across diverse disciplines? You have to change gears a lot and that's tough on the clutch. I've completed three projects for Craftsy.com. I'll be inviting you all to sign up for the free hour long course I did on photographing family. Next week is the culmination of my Samsung project and I'm looking forward to working with the final permutation of the Galaxy NX camera. But the truth is that I'll welcome the break from doing both projects for a little while. And I may decide to hold off the next book for a little while longer, too. 

I really think I'd like to see if I can re-invent my business as a portrait business for a whole new cultural era. I'd like to see if I can make the nut with only my cameras and lights as my tools. And I've been thinking back to the early 1980's when I was teaching. A student and I were talking and he said to me, "If you were really as good as you think you are you wouldn't be stuck here teaching the same shit over and over again....you'd be out doing it." And it was that conversation more than anything else that led me to abandon teaching and embark on a wild adventure in freelancing. 

I can hear echoes of that same challenge today. Can I step back from all the things I've been embracing to assuage my anxiety about the economy and the changes to the industry and practice the pure craft again? I'm willing to try. My current mantra is "to re-invent the portrait."  And even if it's not entirely possible to do it would make for a great book project on the other side. 

It's easy to sell a product or even a service but selling one's self is difficult. It requires many periods of reflection and recharging. And in the end it's probably inefficient to have a "product" that is self aware.

The image below was added by request. A more traditional rendition.

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Love the sky after a good rain. Love a crazy billboard.

Thinking about New York and planning for next week.

from the Blanton Museum, Battle cast collection. 

I'm totally amped up about heading to New York City next week and being an active participant in the Photo Plus Expo. My goals are to do a great job for Samsung in showing off their new flagship camera, the Samsung Galaxy NX (and their best lenses!!), I'm also looking forward to meeting a giant crew of Visual Science Lab readers, fellow blog writers and world renowned photographers. If I get out and have some really great meals I'll consider that a big plus. I've been using several variants of the Galaxy NX camera as the company continues to improve software and firmware and the cameras just get better and better. My kid is really helping me wrap my brain around the connectivity features and he's starting to get across the benefits of having a  highly connected camera to me. He would have been somewhat proud of me if he knew that as I was walking around shooting this morning I was also listening to some of my favorite music.....on the camera. 

I left my cellphone in my car and when I got to Caffe Medici I logged onto to their wi-fi network to check my e-mail and then download a free copy of Snapseed for Android so I'd have it on the camera for quick edits on the fly in NYC. I did pause, push the shutter button to get back to the camera app so I could snap a quick shot of an incredibly beautiful woman as she shimmied out the door with a small assemblage of paper coffee cups. The downtown "my turn to get the coffee" shuffle. I could get used to have everything in one device. At least the pockets of my jeans weren't crammed with extra stuff and that made me look a bit thinner....which is always nice. 

So, I'm hitting NYC on Weds. and I'm heading to the Javits Center way early on Thurs. the 23rd. I hope to have my "vendor" badge in hand so I don't have to help be the line and wait to check in with some guy who has a clip board and can't spell or read names. Been there too many times.

I'll be in the Samsung booth which is supposed to be fairly huge and I'm setting up big softboxes and my favorite shade of gray seamless and I'm going to show off what this system can do..... live. No big fixes in PhotoShop and no army of postproduction engineers standing by with live preservers to save me from making mistakes. As I shoot the images will feed wirelessly into a network and be presented on huge, 4K screens all around the booth. I got to select the model I'll be working with and I have that nervous feeling of anticipation that generally precedes the projects which you know will be challenging but incredibly fun. I'll be doing some variation of this (probably better and better with more and more practice) every day for about half a day and then I tag team out and Nick Kelsh takes over and lights stuff his way and does his shooting. I'll probably stick around and see what I can learn from a portrait master. We're both out to be the best shooters in the show. I know, I know, the competition at this one will be rough. And my wife has already calmly and sweetly told me that making beautiful portraits is NOT a competitive sport....we'll see what my swim coach has to say about that....

So, the rest of the time I'll be hanging out in New York and while I am incredibly shy and retiring I would love to meet some new people, hang out and drink coffee or good red wine.

If you are planning to be in the city for this thing then by all means, get in touch! We'll make time. At the show or somewhere else.

I also heard that they have a few good museums I might try to go look at.

And finally, when I get back home on Sunday I'll be celebrating my birthday. Huge and overwhelming gifts are always welcome. You know the systems I shoot with and you probably have a good idea of which lenses I might need......I'll drop some hints if you need me to...

See you there.


A small child in Colorado. Sometimes (usually) my favorite shots are the unplanned ones.

We were filming a video course in a beautiful house somewhere outside of Boulder, Co. The course is on how to take better family photographs. The young girl (above) was one of our models and she was in one of the work rooms watching the make-up person apply the finishing touches to one of the adults. When I'm not in front of the camera on projects like this I like to roam around and shoot production shots in a more or less random fashion.

I walked into the room and found my small model standing next to a window so I got down on my knees and smiled and took a few shots. It was already a cold, wet, dark and rainy day so the light levels were low. I was using my Sony a99 and letting it run free on auto ISO. When I came across this file later I had a look at the exif info. The ISO was 5,000 to give me a very hand holdable 1/160th at f3.5 with my favorite, lightweight 85mm 2.8 lens.

We have plenty of images of the child smiling sweetly into the camera but I like this one best.

Minutes later our model was joined with a horde of other small models and they proceeded to illustrate exactly how futile the best plans of grown up photographers can be when confronted with 2, 3 and 4 year olds.... I had fun anyway.

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The latest descendant from the Sony R1. The best bridge camera ever?

Sony's new RX10. The Ultimate Bridge Camera?

Let's see. First you take the sensor from the new Sony RX100ii (which is widely acclaimed as being.... a great sensor), couple it with a zoom lens designed specifically for the characteristics of that sensor by the people at Carl Zeiss, add in full bore, high def video capabilities and then package the whole thing with a very good EVF and a great LCD. Give it 10fps at full Jpeg with an unlimited shooting buffer and you're starting to put together a damn good camera. Not just good for the category or a good value for the price/performance matrix but a damn good camera overall. 

Of course we'll have to wait for it to ship and then we'll have to shoot it for a while to make a final determination but it seems to me that Sony has a pretty exciting camera on their hands. In one quick release they've redefined the current bridge camera market. People will bitch about the price but I remember reading the review of this camera's predecessor on DPReview when it came out in 2005. 
The editor hemmed and hawed and finally proclaimed that he was giving the camera two thumbs up because the quality of the lens alone justified the full price of the camera. This is the spiritual descendant of the R1. Sure you can get a Canon Rebel for less cash but does it come with a Carl Zeiss 24-200mm stabilized f2.8 lens? Not on this planet...

Who will this camera appeal to besides me? Well, with mic and headphone inputs+1080p HD video,  new higher quality video sampling, focus peaking even during video operation, and image stabilization as well this camera is an obvious contender with the Panasonic GH3 (or with the larger new Sony cameras) as a solid production video camera. They've even seen fit to supply a clean, uncompressed video output via the HDMI port! I'll try one just for the video.  But I know, I know.... you hate video and you wish it was never shoved into your camera.

So lets look at other applications. An all purpose, high quality travel camera with a Zeiss 24-200mm f2.8 lens on the front. After several recent trips with lots of gear I'd sure love to toss this into my carry on backpack and gleefully march through several major capital cities snapping great images to my heart's desire. It's not the lightest of the bridge cameras but it certainly will be one of the highest performing where overall I.Q. is concerned. Of course, if you're in it for superior/ultimate I.Q. you'll probably also be looking at the Leica Vario X. Hmmmm. The Leica might be a bit sharper but I'm betting the Sony will focus quicker, it obviously has a lot more lens range and the lens range it offers is so much faster than the Leica's. I'll trade that last one or two percent of potential quality for a image making monster like the RX10 any day.

Now, if they tell me it's also weather resistant we've almost certainly got a deal. Why? Because I've found these Quixotic Sony bridge cameras to be great values. Huh? Yes, I still have and still shoot with the original Sony R1 bridge camera from 2005. Why? Because a 10 megapixel APS-C size sensor (based on the sensor construction of that used in the Nikon D2x) coupled with an insanely good Zeiss lens means the camera is still a formidable picture taker. I bought the camera (actually I bought several of them) for around $899 back in 2005. I've shot it now for eight years. I've done high end commercial real estate brochures with it and have a glorious annual report for a large financial services company shot solely with R1s. Wonderful images and it was fun using the camera to take them. Those cameras have paid for themselves many, many times over and they're still rolling along making great images.

If I got that kind of use out of the R1 I can only imagine how useful the new RX10 will be when it comes to the new hybrid video/still approach we're taking with my business. The market is changing. If one camera at $1300 can do double duty and do it as well as the multiple cameras it replaces it seems logical to swim with the  tide instead of fighting against it. Maybe it won't work out this way when we have product in our hands but can you imagine running an entire imaging business with just two of these?  Nice.

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