Public Dogs.

I wouldn't think to take Studio Dog to a downtown event with tens of thousands of people. I don't think she'd like it and I think she might be overwhelmed by the stimuli. But apparently there are many people who love to bring their dogs with them anywhere they can. I get it. I love my dog, even more than any camera. But terriers seem to have minds of their own.

At any rate I was enchanted by some of the dogs I met as I walked through the downtown festival yesterday. I was just cruising with a Samsung NX30 camera and cheap 50-200mm Samsung zoom lens but it turned out to be the perfect combo for dog watching and (photographic) dog catching.

After watching the owners and their even tempered canine friends I decided that I need to take Studio Dog with me on my adventures more often. When the temperatures moderate I'll see how she likes the Sunday "route" through the downtown area. I wonder if someone makes a small camera bag for dogs?

After the gold rush. Where is photography headed?

Almost a year ago I wrote a piece called, "The Graying of Traditional Photography." It has been one of the most read articles I have ever written and along with lots of page views came lots of comments from photographers who insisted that nothing has changed, that big, DSLR cameras would continue to sell to "serious" photographers in record numbers and that I just didn't get the market. Well, I'll admit one thing, I underestimated just how quickly the market for traditional cameras, and the penchant for making traditional photographs, would erode. 

I am convinced that the market moves like huge schools of fish. The vast majority of the market travels together in a tight pack and when the direction of the pack or school changes it does so almost instantly and dramatically. It's not like market acceptance that follows a certain curve. In embracing new products or new product categories there are early adopters who live to discover the next cool thing. Then there's the group of cool kids who start the buying process. They are followed by the bulk of the market and trailed by late adopters who are careful and good at resisting change. 

But what we're seeing in photography right now is not really the adoption of a new standard or product. People are not just moving from one type of camera to another they are moving to a new mental space about personal imaging and they have just done it en masse. 

The market for traditional, stand alone, cameras started to fall off a cliff last Fall and the evisceration of the market has just continually accelerated. I contend that this precipitous drop is NOT because the market for cameras as "one purpose" appliances is saturated but because it is being abandoned by an overwhelming number of the (non professional) buying public. They have met their phones and they are now in committed relationships with their phones. 

It's not that new cameras aren't filled with great features it's just that they only do one thing. They just take photographs. With your Samsung or Apple smartphone you can shoot stills, switch to video, send and receive images, check the weather, call your boyfriend, get a stock quote, pay for your coffee, shoot amazing slow motion videos, call your mom, group text your friends, watch a movie or read a book. Once you take a photo you can share it instantly, post process it right on the spot and directly upload it to Instagram or another of the thousands of sharing sites spread across the internet.

Here's my anecdotal evidence supporting my contention that the bulk of people are no longer interested in buying stand alone cameras or pursuing "serious" (non-social) photography anymore: Every year the City of Austin holds a festival on east Sixth Street. It's called the Pecan Street Festival. There are blocks and blocks of tents and booths selling arts, crafts and crap. More turkey legs and gorditas and assorted fried food than you can imagine.  And, of course, this section of Sixth Street is famous for it's concentration of bars and night clubs. It's the long time center of the day to day Austin music scene. It draws a huge crowd.  I drop by most years to enjoy the weird crowd vibe. 

In the last five or six years the photographers who descended on the festival nearly outnumbered the regular audience. Everyone had a Canon Rebel or a the equivalent Nikon. When Strobist flash craze hit its peak nearly every other photographer had at least one flash in their arsenal and a friend to hold it far off camera. Collectively the photographers worked the crowds like tuna fishermen with huge nets. It was not uncommon to meet up later at a favorite coffee shop to compare greatest (photo) hits from earlier in the day. Many times the same subject would come up over and over again. The musician wearing a fake wolf head, the dog in the guitar case, the enormous woman shoveling funnel cakes into her mouth, the guy with the big sombrero. 

In the two years previous to this one the video craze hit full blast and every fourth or fifth photographer was now accompanied by a "sound man" who held a microphone on a boom and they waded through the crowd looking for people to interview and performers who would perform for the cameras. Every festival downtown looked like a media event.

That brings us to yesterday. Same festival, new year. The weather was great with temperatures in the low eighties and the humidity mild. The Austin economy continues to be robust. The festival attracted a huge audience. So what was missing? Well, the traditional cameras. And the mirror less cameras. And the high end, cult, point and shoot cameras. In the two hours that I walked through the same eight or so blocks filled with people I saw, at most, five people with cameras.  Of the five four were well over fifty years old. The fifth was a father with a young family. He had the camera strapped across his chest and his focus was on his kids. 

Of course I am not making any statement to the effect that all of a sudden ALL photography dried up and went away but I will contend that the vast, overwhelming majority of images taken throughout the event were selfies or groupies taken with cellphones. The "school" of casual photographers followed the pilot fish and turned on a dime. And now they've headed in a different direction. 

Am I full of crap? You could get all scientific and ask for statistics from the camera industry. Thom Hogan posts numbers from CIPA and other industry sources all the time. What do they say? They clearly say that sales of single purpose cameras (traditional cameras of all kinds) are falling and have fallen over the edge of a steep cliff and they continue to decline. There may be a few bright spots in the numbers but mostly these bright spots are occurring at the high end of the market and not at the lower end or the middle. Leica sales are up! All point and shoot sales (with the exception of Leica) haven fallen so far that it's shocking. And it's not just that camera sales are down (or views on major photo sites have dropped) my day to day experience is that people are no longer carrying their conventional cameras with them as everyday tools. Non-phone cameras are drying up in the living urban landscape

My feeling is that photography in it's traditional form, when practiced as a hobby, has changed permanently. The emphasis is now (for the masses) on recording the experiential high points in everyday lives. The snap of your lunch. The snap of you and your bestie shopping. The snap of just about any event you happen to live through, from concerts to minor surgery. The difference between this kind of imaging and the work we did before is that it's the sharing that matters and not the actual form. Content? Yes. Rules of thirds and high dynamic ranges? Not so much. The vast majority of imaging is no longer even shared on computer screens it's consumed on phones. On small screens, in various locations. The photo is no longer an artifact or a historical residue it has now become, fully, an instant consumable. Each person seems to be creating their own personal, day by day advertising campaign----for themselves.

So where does that leave all of us who love the idea of creating a lasting visual artifact. A piece of art that can stand alone away from the commentary of its original creator? I'm going to say that your guess is probably as good as mine. 

But I will echo something I've been hearing from people who are on the business side of photography: the market for paid assignments is starting to improve and budgets are starting to improve. The overall market for imaging content seems to be regressing to its normal state. The huge success of digital imaging in popular culture in the last decade created a boom in the industry, the likes of which we hadn't seen since the easy-to-use SLR started showing up in every college student's backpack in the early 1970's. Everyone wanted to be a National Geographic photographer until they saw the movie, "Blow Up." and once they saw the movie the real desire was to be a fashion photographer. Photo programs at colleges and high schools blossomed, no ERUPTED at the time and the professionals of the day felt the press of endless new entrants to the market. But eventually the novelty wore off and the reality of the work sunk in. 

I think we have just gone through a similar period in which everyone was amazed to find that the new cameras took away a huge chunk of the technical impediments to doing sellable photography. With the ease of photography increasing at the same time the overall financial markets devastated the jobs market for a whole generation of college students many who couldn't find jobs tried to make a go of various freelance oriented professions. Since photography (on its surface) didn't seem to require a proficiency in either math or writing it was a natural for people with a low portfolio of general skills to at least try. 

At the same time beleaguered companies who could have benefitted from original, branded imagery got scared and fell back on an ever cheapening collection of stock images. At one point in the not too distant past it seemed as though photography as a career would disappear, except in the most specialized niches. 

But we seem to be in the middle of a course correction. Clients who need inventive product images that require good lighting understand the value. Clients who need great shots of their people have come back to request expertise in lighting, posing and getting the right expression. And a generation of people have found that they much prefer a steady paycheck to the wild gyrations of being self-employed in an arts field. 

I think there is a sense of some sadness amongst those of us who liked being part of a global love affair with photography in that the core audience for our images is shrinking and changing. The love fest on Flickr and other share sites is less effusive and feverish. The loss of a massive audience also means that product introductions are slowing to a crawl from our traditional camera makers (see the recent Photokina...) and that has an effect on a nascent industry built on the breathless anticipation of the next technical breakthrough. It almost feels like someone let the air out of a balloon...

Me? I'm still just working. I'm reminding clients of how much expertise my company has in providing lighting for still and video imaging. I'm reminding decades loyal clients of how at ease we help make their people feel during portrait sessions. I am reminding agencies of the skill sets we've developed to do larger production shoots with many moving parts. And I am showing new clients who are making a first time move from "good enough" cellphone imaging providers fun things like just how much difference a tripod makes on an architectural shot. How much sharper and better an image can be when you use the right lens, etc. We're also showing them that we can give them repeatable results and that a cohesive look is critical in effective branding. 

So, is the decline of popular popularity of photography a worrisome thing? No, not really. The general population now uses imaging as a kind of language. That's the nature of the kinds of working images they want and use in their personal lives. It's a living language. As professionals we do something different. We translate creative concepts into two dimensional images. In video we don't just show how things look we create visual narratives that tell a complete story. 

Where does that leave me as a hobbyist? Actually, it feels nice to have a hobby, love, appreciation, desire for a field that is undergoing diminishing popularity. The flood of endless stuff seem to have slowed down. If we speak a different language than the other 99% of image makers (mass culture) then there's more signal and less noise in the marketplace for our vision. 

It's a sea of constant change and I won't pretend that I understand it better than anyone else but so much of what's been done in the last decade was really about the creation of a new visual language that the man and woman in the street could speak fluently and own. It's been assimilated. But that doesn't mean that other art forms in photography can no longer exist. The cameras that people cut their digital teeth on were predicated on the last century idea that images would be printed, large. The reality is that they are shared, small. That's another reason for the shift in cameras and camera sales. 

It doesn't mean there is NO market for a Nikon D810 or an OMD it's just that the people who need and want those cameras are speaking a different language from the majority of users who are happy to share on a five inch screen. Nothing wrong with that. 

What happens when the "gold rush" is over? Um. We get back to living our lives and adjusting to the new realities in the market place.  

An editorial note: I've discontinued my use of Facebook and Twitter. If you've used those platforms to communicate with me in the past you might just want to e-mail me. Otherwise, leave a comment. Everything changes!  Thanks.


played with a camera yesterday that really captured my attention. I want it just for the finder....

I bought the Sony RX10 last winter and loved it. A really great concept, well executed by Sony and capable of handling a wide array of professional work. That camera has a "one inch" sensor, a Zeiss 24-200mm f2.8 lens and a fairly robust set of video features. And for a long time it had zero competitors. With no one to challenge the category it sold for the princely (but worth it) sum of $1299. 

Then along came Panasonic with a pretty compelling answer: the fz1000. It gets a lot of stuff right. But the truth is that neither camera is perfect and if someone could meld the features of both product together they'd have an amazing product to sell. 

Here are the basics of the fz1000: 

On the plus side: 

1. One of the best, clearest and most enjoyable EVFs I have ever looked though. Almost twice the resolution of the Sony RX10 (or Olympus OMD) finder and it shows.

2. Sony has a Carl Zeiss designed lens. Tit for tat, the Panasonic has Leica designed lens. Sony chose to keep the aperture constant by limiting the long end of the zoom to 200mm (equiv.) while Panasonic chose to use a lens that goes all the way out to 400mm (equiv.) but sacrifices the constant aperture. In reality, most of its range settles for f4.

4. The Panasonic camera features consumer 4K video while Sony settles for 2K but with, perhaps, a better (via a firmware update) codec in that space. (I'd call it a draw except that you can grab 8 megapixel still frames from the Panasonic...)

5. While both cameras are designed to be formidable video machines the Panasonic's one flaw is the lack of a headphone jack that would allow you to monitor audio. One clear + for the Sony RX10.

6. While the Panasonic looks and feels bigger than the Sony it's mostly mirage. Both are as large as any of the m4:3 pro-ish cameras on the market and the long, fast lenses make them appear even bigger. But when you hold each in your hands the Panasonic feels best and the extra real estate makes the control interface feel less cramped.

On the negative side: 

1. The Panasonic feels....cheaper. That shouldn't bother any of us because experience indicates that most buyers will use the camera for two seasons and then move on to a new, flashy model afterwards. The camera is probably equally resistant to wear and tear as compared to the Sony, it just feels plasticky. 

2. The lack of a headphone jack riles me because it was intuitive to include one and it seems like a cynical upsell ploy not to include it. The overt message is: "You want a pro machine?  Buy our GH4..."

3. The camera uses the same battery as the G5, G6 and GH2 and while it's not a bad battery it has a shorter useful life in the 1000. It's rated to provide about 350 shots. The bigger battery in the GH4 gets me closer to 1,000 shots. And the camera is big enough so that engineering in the larger battery should not have been an issue. 

But putting all that aside let me tell you about my half hour experience playing with the camera at Precision Camera. I was handed one at the counter and spent half an hour walking around their very well lit store, sitting on one of the big, leather couches going through the menus and controls (so close to the GH4 as to be nearly interchangeable) and shooting. 

The camera sits so well in my hands it's as though it was made for me. I switched on the five axis image stabilization and did multiple test shots. The camera was amazingly stable. If I stayed in the middle focal lengths or shorter I could (with trial and error) get exposures all the way down to 1/10th of second that were reasonably sharp. The lens is obviously being corrected in camera software because it made all the straight lines I aimed the camera at stay straight. 

In Jpeg the camera can shoot up to 15 frames per second. Yes, it locks focus and exposure but it also provides a nice, long burst. Set the camera to a smaller jpegs size and switch on the electronic shutter and the frame rate can be more than doubled. 

In all I liked the camera and I thought the lens was cool and well done. But for me the high point of the experience was to meet such an incredible finder (EVF) in a relatively inexpensive camera. It gives me hope that successive generations of finders from all the camera companies that are smart enough to implement EVFs in their cameras will use screens of this quality and better. It will go a long way toward laying to rest the debate between the EVFers and the OVFittes. 

Will I buy one? Hmmm. That's a bit tougher. I've heard recent rumors that Sony will leapfrog the Panasonic in late October (PhotoPlus East announcement?) with an RX20. It's reported (rumored) to have 4K video and a much improved finder as well. The headphone thing is the crux of my hesitation since I'd only want to own one of the two. With several Panasonic GH's in inventory I'm not in a rush to adopt more wayward cameras (especially those with yet another battery type) so I guess I'll wait and see what Sony launches. 

In all though, for a person who wants a good video camera with a lot of reach, good codecs for 1080p and a pretty darn good still feature set the fz1000 is an interesting camera to look at. 

I've always liked the idea of a single "Swiss Army Knife" of a camera that you could pack for an extended road trip or adventure instead of dragging around a couple of bodies and a small collection of lenses. If I were a "telephoto" guy and wanted a single product package for my work this would be a useful choice. 

I've used the Sony RX10 on magazine assignments and in commercial video projects and, with the exception of the headphone jack, the fz1000 would be totally interchangeable. 

I was glad to finally be able to handle one in the flesh. It's always different when you read the product reviews. It's hard to ever really know if the camera will fit your hand or if the interface will mesh with your personality. If meteors destroyed all of my cameras tomorrow I'd probably rush out and buy one of these as a stopgap while I come up with a brand new road map....

Update to original article: I bought on in Fall of 2015 and like it very, very much.

If you were waiting for the printed edition of "The Lisbon Portfolio" you are in luck. The novel is now in stock at Amazon.com

I stayed up all last night re-reading the novel. It's a different experience reading it on paper. If you were waiting for the trade paper back edition it's HERE NOW.  It looks great and it reads well.
466 pages of action and adventure in a 5.5 by 8.5 inch package. Stock up now for the holidays!


Red Flowers in the Hill Country.

Stop and smell the flowers?

It was an unusual day yesterday. I got up and went to swim practice. Had breakfast with Studio Dog and did little webby things. Then I went to the noon swim practice and afterwards had lunch with one of the young star swimmers. We were talking about the direction that "enterprise" seems to be taking. We each had anecdotal stories to tell of efficiency over humanity. Plans by major companies to eliminate as many human jobs as possible, replacing, for instance, retail clerks with iPad-based ordering systems, robots, consumer self-order software and the like. The gap widens.

We also looked at his iPhone 6. Specifically at the still camera and video capabilities. Suddenly, a thought jumped into my brain. I looked down at my Olympus EM-5 and what I saw, clearly, was a typewriter. Or a Burrough's data entry console.

I went home and took a nap. It's been years since I swam a double. I was tired. But recognizing social shifts also takes it out of you.  It's clear to me at this moment that we're going through a structural change. If you are smug about it then it just hasn't hit your area of expertise or your industry yet....

Typewriter. Do they even make the ribbons anymore?


Connection. Collaboration. Creation. Realization. Sharing. The five steps of creating portraits.

Connection is the first step. Out in the real world you find people who look interesting to you. But that's not enough. You then have to engage with them and convince them to be a part of your project. Which then because "our" project. Connection can be tough because it can cause you to need to step out of your comfort zone, out of your neighborhood and out of your demographic. You have to approach the person for whom you feel the connection. There is a very big (and ego deflating) possibility that they will turn you down. Then you have to move on to the next person with whom you feel a connection. It's a process.

Once you've made a connection you have to bring them into the realm of your ideas. Your vision. In making them an ally you may need to compromise. You give. They give. They try your idea and you try theirs. By working and sharing over time you can create an understanding and unspoken agreement that makes the process of creation flow.

The creation is the process of making the ideas real and tangible. The creation of a portrait is about lighting matching mood which matches pose which matches props and costumes. It's the process of working together until the expression is just as you imagined it would be when you started the collaboration. The light is important. The emotions are important. The camera is less important.
You have to capture the essence of your ideas and visions during this phase because you really can't fix much after the fact. Unless you decide to become an illustrator.

The realization is everything above with the added ingredient of editing. And by editing we mean choosing just the right image from everything you've created together. First you find the image that most closely matches the best outcome of your initial concept and work and then you distill it down by working with the file until it fits happily into or onto the medium you want to use to share the image with your audience. It can be different if the images is destined for a print than if it is destined to be viewed on a small screen. But the medium must be conducive to sharing. Both your connection and your realization will be examined via whatever avenue you choose. A big print demands quality. A small image demands impact. There is a sliding scale of subtlety and nuance.

Finally you get to share. What you are asking your audience to do is to step into your shoes and see a person as you see them. Or as you and the subject both saw the subject in collaboration.

What do you hope to get when you share? Insight into how different everyone's ideas of portraiture are. How different we are when it comes to selecting our collaborative partners. How different our engagements. And how much alike we are when confronted by one or another idea of what is beauty.

I think the person in the image is very beautiful. I want to share my feeling that there is beauty everywhere for us to find. Happily, what is beautiful is subjective. Sadly, what is beauty is subjective.

The Lisbon Portfolio, The story of photographer, Henry White, is now available as a 472 page, 5.5 inch by 8.5 inch printed book from CreateSpace. To get a copy right now click here.  In about a week the book will be in stock on Amazon.com in addition to CreateSpace. If you'd prefer the Kindle version, click here.

I was first alerted to the arrival of the UPS truck by Studio Dog. She leapt from the couch where she had been getting the space behind her ears scratched and raced to the front door either barking out an alarm or, maybe expressing unfettered joy perhaps because she knew what the man in the brown uniform might be delivering.

I brought the box into the kitchen (all important boxes seem to get opened in the kitchen) and sliced it open. Inside were the three proof copies I'd ordered of the novel, The Lisbon Portfolio. Belinda insisted on proof copies as she wanted to make sure that the cover printed exactly as she designed it. When she got home from her real job as a professional print graphic designer she gave the book a thorough exam and declared it fit for consumption. 

Frankly I am shocked at how elated I am to see the book in actual print form and to hold it in my hands and turn the pages. I guess it's because I grew up reading real, paper books with the fervor of a true addict. Something about having a print version makes it so real for me. You've got to consider that I've worked on the story for so long and in an electronic format one's reality is comprised of one visible, tangible page at a time. With the printed copy I could feel the weight and promise of all the pages in my hands.

I abandoned everything else I had scheduled last night and crawled into my favorite chair to see how the book reads. As a book, book. I was intrigued to find that the story seemed so new to me, so exciting. I stayed up late and read my favorite parts. The part with the weaponized Leica. The chapter with the bloody restroom. The mysterious woman in the glowing shaft of light. Every passage, translated onto paper seemed almost new to me. I loved the experience.

We are producing the book at CreateSpace. It's Amazon's print on demand company. You will be able to source the book from CreateSpace at the first link above, right now. In about 4 days the book should (almost) magically appear on the regular Amazon.com site, right along with the list of other books I've written. When that launch happens I will announce a link there as well. Finally, CreateSpace distributes books to most major distributors so there's a good chance that you can order a copy through your own favorite bookseller if you'd like. Fulfillment should be pretty quick.

After reviewing the book I ordered a case of 12 copies to give out to reviewers and my favorite bloggers. I am thrilled with the way the electronic copies of the book are selling and I'm hoping that our readers really come to like the character, Henry White. I'm already hard at work on the sequel.

One thing checked off the bucket list of life. A novel. Now I need to start training for Everest...

Here's the link for the Kindle version: The Lisbon Portfolio



Just how sharp and contrasty is that Olympus 70mm f2.0 lens from 40+ years ago? Well, after I got a flu shot I thought I'd find out...

Thought I'd go to the most compelling example. Here's young man at the Graffiti Park (Hope Outdoor Gallery). The image above is a 100% crop of the image just below. Click on any of the images to see them larger and to launch them as a gallery. Do I think the 40+ year old lens acquits itself nicely? Yes, I do. It doesn't auto focus but other than that I find it to be.... in the same league as the new optics. These were all shot on an OMD EM-5 at ISO 200-ish and using f2.8 and f4.0. 

I know what I think after seeing them but would love to hear from the assembled, crowdsourced, super resource of brains and experience... The lens is the Olympus Pen-F 70mm f2.0. It was made for the Pen half frame film cameras sometime between 1968 and 1974. I like it.

I have a 75mm 1.8 Olympus lens on loan from a friend, and on a whim, I also pulled out the old 70mm f2 Pen lens....Yikes.

It's fun to try new lenses. I've been walking around with the Olympus 75mm 1.8 lens on the front of an OMD EM-5 and I have to say that it's just wonderful. I shot an image wide open yesterday that made me really stop and look at the out of focus areas. But the killer stuff is the area of the image that is in focus. Very sharp and detailed. But after reading so many people praising this lens I really didn't expect much less. While I have the lens on loan from a VSL reader (Platinum Level) for the next two weeks my first, knee jerk, response was to think about pulling out the credit card and ordering one for myself.

I was half way to the computer to order when an odd thought stopped me. 'What about that old 70mm f2.0 Pen lens you have sitting in the cabinet with its peers? Wanna give that a side by side kind of thing?'

The last time I tried out the older 70mm was on an EP-3 and the EP-3 wasn't exactly a darling camera for the use of manual focus lenses. No focus peaking and the ability to magnify the frame seemed different than our current cameras; certainly less convenient. I'd tried it and gotten so-so results and the truth is that I probably missed focus more often than I nailed it. Since I was shooting nearly wide open a near miss is as good as a mile. After more than my share of fuzzy files it went back into a drawer. Until Monday.

I decided to give the 70mm a fair shake. I'd seen what the 75mm could do and I figured that there was no way 40 year old, half frame film technology would come close. I evened it up as well as I could. Off came the front filter. Then I spent half an hour carefully cleaning the lens. I found the Pen-f to M4:3 adapter that had the best track record for reliable performance and I was off. At f2.0 the lens was okay but by f2.8 it was right in line with modern lenses. At f4.0 it was difficult for me to see much difference between the 70mm and the 75mm. By f5.6 we were slicing electrons to see the difference.

While the 75mm modern lens is much more resistant to flare with light sources in the field of view the older, 70mm lens stood up quite well at most apertures. How well? Hmmm. Yesterday I had an assignment to shoot 4 executives (individually) in the same way that I'd shot a previous executive for the company a few months ago. They have an east facing conference room and we were shooting in the afternoon. The wall of windows facing east was like having a tremendous soft box at my disposal. The last image was available light so I tried matching up the same look and feel for yesterday's shoot.

When I left the house to go to the client's location I was hell bent on using the Nikon D7100 and the 85mm f1.8 G lens. It's sharp and methodical. But I tossed the black EM-5 and the 70mm Pen lens into the bag just so I'd have a fun play camera to use around the edges of the primary shoot. But when I got into the conference room and got my tripod set up, opened the blinds and measured the light I decided, "What the hell..." and pulled the Olympus combo out instead of the Nikon critical mass ensemble.

I locked the lens at f2.8, did a careful custom white balance, and proceeded to shoot all four of the executives with the same set up. What I was seeing on the rear screen was very nice. I took time to hit the image magnification often to double check critical focus. On the way home I had one of the "Oh my God, what was I thinking??!!" moments. My anxiety is never too far away and perhaps it's because I take chances instead of doing the logical and rational thing each day.

I brought the files into Lightroom and started looking around. I was impressed. Then I jumped into wholesale pixel peeping and I was more than a little shocked to find the files to be pretty much critically sharp right there at f2.8. I shot a few frames at the end with the 75mm 1.8 in exactly the same way and setting. f2.8 etc., same camera. And while the newer lens might be microscopically sharper it's not, "Oh Gosh! Let's drop another $900 for something we've already got covered."

Will the new lens out perform the old one? Probably in every single metric. Do I really care? Not as much as a might have in years past. If the eyes in the portrait are critically sharp and the expression is wonderful and expressive then I think we've hit the bullseye in most portrait set ups. Both lenses are great. I'm glad I gave the old one another chance. It now has a new leaf on life. Right now it's glued to the black EM5. The 17mm 1.8 Olympus is on the chrome body. I'm saving the Panasonic GH3 and GH4 for use with the zooms. All is right with the universe.

Thanks for all the great feedback on the new 75mm. When the 70mm gives up the ghost or gets run over by a horde of Austin bicyclists it's the one I'll buy as a replacement. In the mean time the A/B test continues.


Creating portraits is an interesting occupation. So much depends on the kindness of strangers---and on your kindness toward them.

I love portraits of young people because they keep my own connection with the joy of my own youth strong and present. A portrait of a young person can seem filled with promise and energy. But then so can a good portrait of someone at any age.

I did this image of Victoria in Denver a year and a few months ago. I was using a Sony a99 at the time and almost certainly shot this with a 70-200mm Sony lens. I've moved on since then but it was a camera with a lot of promise. As was the lens.

For me the camera was less important than the realization, even as I was shooting, that the image needed to be in black and white. I could see the tones in my mind as I set up the lighting and looked through the finder. The rest of the process was just going through the steps to get what I could already see onto the sensor.

I find a big, soft, directional lighting design so comfortable...

I am always happier when I remember that my cameras can make black and white photographs. Not just color.

 Susie W. 

I'm out shooting portraits today. When I have the time I like to look through folders of my favorite images before I head over to a client's location. It makes me reconsider what I really want to do and what outcome I'd really like to enjoy. I've packed light. My concentration is not on the technical aspects of making a portrait---that should be second nature by now---my concentration is focused on figuring out how I can make each sitter my accomplice. How we might make some fun art, together.


A note to myself: You must continually update the printed portfolio. Whether you print it or the lab prints it, you must keep moving forward. Like a Shark. You must have new work to show.

I've had a number of new clients ask me to come by their offices and show them work. They'd like to integrate my work further into the work that their companies are producing. They are looking for a pairing that would be advantageous for both of us. But implicit in the invitation is the assumption that I'll bring along a really great portfolio which they will be able to share with their teams. The portfolio is the cement that makes the working relationship initially bond. It provides a concise statement to their peers that says, "See, I told you this guy could do good work!"

But I've fallen down on the job. Like so many other photographers and visual artists I've let myself believe that the web could be a good, all purpose portfolio. "Need to see my work? Head on over to the website." The sad thing is that I know better. I know how important it is to sit across the table with someone and be there when they look at the work. I also know how much more appealing two dimensional art is when you show it big and well. We should all have up-to-date portfolios that we can toss in the car and go show at a client meeting. It's like bringing your own welcome mat.

I have a number of printed portfolios here in the studio but most of the work in them is older, and that makes no sense at all. I've done about a hundred projects (both personal and business) in the last year and at least half of those projects produced work that I like and which I would enjoy showing. But there's an inertia against moving through the process to a print.

I wrote over the weekend about buying a 50 sheet box of matte surface, 13x19 inch ink jet paper and my intention to fire up my personal printing press and see if the truly ancient Canon Pro9000 was still capable of outputting acceptable prints. Well, as it happens I am not as unorganized as I sometimes pretend to be. There's a folder on my desktop entitled, "Portfolio Files to Work on and Print, 2014."
I opened that folder up today and started fussing with work in PhotoShop.  I downloaded and installed the printer profiles for the exact paper and printer I am using. And, with more than a little anticipation, I did a test print.

Why "anticipation?" Because getting a good or a bad print will also tell you volumes about the quality (or horrifying lack of quality) of your monitor profile. I waited the five minutes or so it takes to print out a high quality, 13x19 inch print and then I exhaled happily and held in my hands a print that is so exactly like what I am seeing on the screen of my current model iMac 27 inch monitor that I almost cried. I'd presumed that printer tech had moved on in the last six years but I wasn't seeing much wrong on my output.

I have a 13 x19 inch portfolio book just waiting for dry prints. By the end of the week I should have a hundred new prints from which to choose. I'm promising myself that I'll keep up with my promotional materials from now on. I love seeing big, detailed, wonderful images come inching out.  For the first time in months I feel like grabbing the phone and making some dates to show off the work. That's how it's supposed to feel. That's when you know you're on the right track.

And I'm happy to see that I don't need to run out an buy a new printer.  More ink? Yes! But more printer? Not so much...


Random Sunday Evening Notes. Wrapping up Summer in Austin.

I just got off the phone with the boy. It's his first semester at college and he seems to be handling everything in stride. He's got a small amount of work study which provides him with his first menial job, working in the dining hall. Funny to think of my distinguished scholar scrapping congealed food off plates, chopping vegetables and cleaning stuff. Nothing he was trained for at home... (humor intended). I've adjusted pretty well. The Studio Dog has made peace with his absence and she follows me around like a furry shadow.  

We've had a lot of much appreciated rain here over the last week and there's a small area at our back yard fence that gets a bit muddy after prolonged rains. The Studio Dog has a daily routine that she very much enjoys which consists of listening intently for the arrival at the fence of a pack of hostile chihuahuas that come rushing from out of our neighbor's back door. When she hears their barking she begs to get out, rushes to the fence and runs back and forth, growling ferociously. The chihuahuas respond in kind and it gets very dramatic. Then Studio Dog turns her back on the pack, walks back toward the house, stopping ten or fifteen feet from the fence to urinate. I think she does this as an additional insult or slight to the other dogs. Then she hustles back into the house. I don't know what all these dogs are saying to each other but it's pretty clear that they are talkin' trash.

I asked Ben today if he misses his parents and he artfully deflected my question and volunteered that he did miss his dog quite a bit...

Last week and the week before have been busy ones for the studio and I'm taking a day or two off to get the car inspected and the registration renewed. I'll do some more book keeping and a bit of marketing but it's nice not to be committed to being anywhere at any specific time this week. It gives me an opportunity to catch up with my swimming. And walking. 

We have press proof copies of the novel coming on Weds, and Belinda and I will pore over them to make sure nothing is out of place. Once that's done the print version of the book will be available for ordering on Amazon.com. I will also order several cases of the books for the studio, just in case someone needs a signed copy (hint, hint).

I've gotten a follow up call from K5600 Lighting which means the review loan of the cool HMI lights I've been playing with is probably about to come to an end. I haven't had as much time to play with the lights as I would have liked and I have to say that the portraits I've shot with them show some incredible tonality. It's almost as though HMIs were custom made to make camera sensors sing beautifully. I'll hold onto them as long as I can. I'm searching for beautiful people to shoot and I'm dying to get some images up on the blog. The first three portraits I've shot were all done for clients and are embargoed until they use them. If you are into continuous lighting (as I am) you will find these lights to be pretty darn perfect. The only conceivable downside is the price. But that's what you get if you want to use professional gear made for the movie industry. It makes our little photo toys seem lame. 

PhotoKina is drawing to a close and so far I have a very short wish list of gear I want to get my hands on. Top of the list is the Samsung NX1. If it does all the stuff the spec sheet promises I think it will be a seriously competitive camera and perhaps a notch or two better than the APS-C offerings from Nikon, Canon and Sony. If they have the EVF perfectly figured out....I'll be thrilled. 

I took one look at the Panasonic LX100 and pushed the pre-order button. It seems like the perfect point and shoot camera. If it performs we may be looking at a new, compact cult classic. I doubt I'd use it for video but for a bus ride across the western states or a side trip to Marfa, Texas it seems like the perfect, little camera. 

The other camera I saw that I liked, a lot, was the silver version of the Olympus EM-1. After shooting in the Moody Theater (black walls, black drape, black high ceilings) and being in the audience area (dark) facing the stage I found that my chrome EM-5 was easier to navigate than my black one. It all had to do with being able to see the buttons and dials in the dark. The EM-1 in silver looks like an entirely different camera to me. I found myself hovering over the pre-order button on that one as well.

That's about all I saw in the Photokina new feeds that interested me at all. It was a quiet show.

Finally, I went to Precision Camera today and did something I haven't done for several years. I bought a 50 sheet box of 13 by 19 inch, matte, ink jet paper. Don't know what possessed me but I thought I'd try cranking out 20 perfect portfolio prints from recent work. I don't know if my older Canon Pro 9000 printer is up to the task but I thought I'd give it a whirl. If it doesn't work out I have my eyes on an inexpensive Canon Pixma Pro-100. We'll just have to wait and see. 

All Images Shot With Samsung NX30 and 85mm 1.4.

Re-visiting a camera after a firmware update. A new lease on life for my Samsung NX30?

(Disclosure: I've been given the Samsung NX30 and the 16-50mm lens discussed in this review by the manufacturer to evaluate. I am not bound by agreement or contract to write reviews or content on my blog about the camera or lens. Samsung has hired me in the past to demonstrate their cameras. I am not currently being paid by Samsung for any consideration, demonstration, etc.)

I am using the Samsung NX30 as an example in this article because my experience with the bounties of firmware upgrades was just reinforced by the enhanced usability a recent firmware upgrade brought to my use of this camera. A camera I had mixed feelings about until....yesterday.

The Samsung NX30 is a very decent camera for its price point. The camera's shutter and AF are quick and I find the sensor to be at least equal to the APS-C sensors in current Nikon and Canon cameras. The Sony and Toshiba sensors in the Nikons might be a tad better in low light but certainly not by any huge margin. Where the camera always fell down for me was in the implementation of the EVF.

You see, the sensor that tells your camera when you've brought it up to your eye was...stupid. You really had to cram your eye into the eyepiece to block out enough ambient light and there always seemed to be a long gap between that action and the camera actually grudgingly switching over to show you a live image in the EVF.

The regular workaround for this particular issue in just about every other brand of camera that uses an EVF is to allow you to manually choose whether you wanted to use the EVF, or the LCD screen on the back of the camera, or stick with the automatic switching. Adamant about using the EVF? No problem, just set the menu control to make the camera always default to the eyepiece. But the initial menu of the NX30 didn't give you that choice. Your choice on the camera was to decide between the rear LCD screen or the fully automatic setting. There was no option to lock into the EVF. A big oversight.

With this limitation the camera was only really useful to me in the studio while what I really wanted to use it for was walking around in the street making Kirk-Art. Grabbing quick images from the rich parade of everyday life. Or something like that. Shooting in the Summer, in the streets of Austin, is different than shooting in the cloudy, northern climes. We have hours and hours of brilliant, intense sunshine and really, no ambient light facing, exposed, flat screen is any match for that kind of mid-day candle power.

I tried using a big loupe but at that point I might as well be using a hulking, full frame camera. I tried mashing the camera to my eye with gusto but all that accomplished was to give me a big ass headache with gusto. I used the camera less and less even though I really liked and wanted to make pretty images with the Samsung 85mm 1.4 lens. I got a copy of that lens earlier this year (again, as a test optic, for free) and I am pretty captivated with its overall performance. It's a nice bokeh machine. But I didn't feel like the camera was reliable enough to switch viewing modalities for me when needed.

A secondary point was the fact that the brightness of the screen was at odds with what I ended up seeing, after the fact, on my pretty, new, calibrated 27 inch monitor back in the office.  Since we live in a time of too much plenty I pretty much gave up and started using cameras from makers who'd figured out these two parameters. Until this week.

I was made aware that there was a new firmware update available for the Samsung camera so I charged up the battery and did the file upload shuffle. Once I updated it I noticed that the EVF and the rear monitor track more closely. It's still not perfect but now the color and tonal preview through the EVF is quite usable. But there was no mention in the update notes about a menu change in the view/monitor selections. I stumbled across that yesterday. Now you can select to lock in either to the rear monitor OR to the EVF or you can default to letting the camera auto select.  I almost jumped out of my seat. But then I would have spilled my glass of sangria.

All at once the camera had value to me again as a street shooting tool and general art camera. I tried out the "new" system with the 85mm and smiled. Then I decided to take the white, 16-50mm f3.5 to 5.6 OIS zoom lens Samsung sent along with the white NX3000 body and see just how well it worked on the NX 30. I'd tested the lens before and found it to be much sharper and nicer than the original kit lens (and better than the Nikon and Sony kit lenses I've played with)  and it also gives one a bit of extra wide angle coverage; now 24mm instead of the typical 28mm equivalent.

The camera and lens are now a highly functional picture taking duo and I'm finding working with the two to be very enjoyable. This gives me great hope for the upcoming release of the new Samsung NX1 camera body. The view menu is, perhaps, the first thing I'll look at in the new camera... Well, actually I'll check out the resolution and time lag of the EVF first...

Now, none of this should be construed as a new review of the NX30. It's not a camera that will persuade higher end system jumping (although the NX1 might be, if it lives up to expectations) rather I'm writing this to encourage everyone to keep up with firmware updates in every system. On all the cameras in which  you might have an interest. Sometimes a few mid course corrections on an initially flawed camera can have the overall effect of turning around your perspective by materially enhancing the holistic shooting experience of a camera and lens.

I can now shoot the Nikon D7100 and get distortion correction with the 18-140mm Nikon lens, thanks to a firmware update. And believe me, as much as I like most of the things that lens does, it definitely needed the in camera geometry corrections.  The EM-5 seems to have been cured of its "shutter shock" with a recent programming enhancement. And it seems as though the EM-1 is ready to move up to firmware 2.0 with a raft of usability enhancements. All good news.

So now I can use my NX30 at eye level all the time. The function button on the side of the lens allows me to toggle through WB, ISO, Ex. Comp, Aperture and Shutter Speed quickly and easily without having to consult the rear screen. An amazing difference for a dedicated EVF photographer like myself.

Fun when your gear gets better on its own.


HOLY BOOK UPDATE! BATMAN!!! Print version arriving soon.

Just wanted to update you all on what's happening with my insanely fun, vanity publishing adventure, the photo novel: The Lisbon Portfolio

Belinda finished fine tuning all of the interior design and building the print version from scratch. We could have gotten up quicker if we'd just taken the short cut and uploaded the e-version. But we knew it wouldn't look as good. She's done an incredible job but that shouldn't surprise anyone who knows her since she's been the lead graphic designer on countless magazines and books for corporate clients.  Can you say #BrilliantDesigner ? 

So, we uploaded the print version and passed all the publisher tests and formatting double checks with flying colors. I ordered three proof copies today and they should be here early next week. We'll go through and make sure everything from the front cover to the last manuscript page is perfect and then we'll push the magic button and let Amazon.com come publish the printed version (all 472 pages of it) and make it available to an international audience of photo spy book cognoscenti. I'll post the links to the print book the minute after we launch. 

Thanks to my readers for their patience and support with this project. All the help and encouragement behind the scenes has been wonderful. What a nice group of people we've got here!