Going all the way into a system.

Yeah. This will come as no great shock to anyone who's been following the VSL blog for any appreciable about of time. It's the part in our program where I rationalize switching systems yet again. So, buckle up and lets get started in the big, happy game called, Fantasy Camera Bag rationalization.

Emphatic disclaimer: I have received absolutely nothing from Panasonic or Sony. No free gear. No under the table or over the table money. In fact, the money flows in one direction: from my wallet to their accounts. I am not being loaned any gear, I have not requested any gear. No one is putting a gun to my head to make this switch nor are members of my family being held hostage awaiting the outcome of this anticipated trade. 

As many of you know I started doing video projects back when I owned the Canon 5D mk2 and I upgraded to the Sony a99 because, on paper, it looked to be a great hybrid solution for someone who wanted to shoot both high res stills and very controllable video. By controllable I mean that the interface would be simple and straightforward enough to handle manual control of sound levels from external microphones, focus easily via live view through the viewfinder (EVF) and yield beautiful, sharp files. The Sony a99 does two of those three things very well. The front programmable control meant that I could change sound levels on the fly with on screen confirmation. If I wanted to ramp up my sound control I could ante up an additional $800 and have XLR inputs and cleaner pre-amps. The focusing set up was also good and allowed for AF while shooting or magnified focusing during set up, along with focus peaking (not available during video shooting). But where Sony stumbled was in the visual part of the equation.

The video was fine for interviews with decent head sizes but had a tendency to look soft and detail-less with wider shots. The video was not as good as the video Ben and I were getting out of the $600 Sony a57.....

I struggled with this until last fall when I bought the first of my Panasonic GH3s. That camera was an eye-opener for me. It checked all three boxes and checked them well. The audio implementation is straightforward and the sound files are clean and full. The AF works as well in video mode as the bigger and more expensive Sony and the image files absolutely blow away the a99. It's night and day. Now, I have to preface this by saying that I am comparing what's coming out of the cameras on my memory cards. I understand that I can pull uncompressed files out of both cameras that look really, really good but I am looking for a very straightforward work flow and I much prefer not having to have an outboard digital video recorder in the loop. At all. Much for the same reason that I usually don't use my Zoom HN4 digital audio recorder....too many steps for no enough reward.

I did several projects for Zach Threatre with the GH3 and several for Austin Radiological Associates as well. In each case the GH3 delivered better files than the Sony a99 I had used previously. And, with the Panasonic I was able to use a much wider array of really decent optics from as far back as the 1960's. I am even able to repurpose the Rokinon Cine lenses for use with the GH3.

I recently did three jobs with different cameras and the net results were enough to push me over the edge and make me consider finally dumping the Sony stuff and going fully back into m4/3. One job is a video that I shot here and in Chicago for a technology client. I was able to use two of the GH3s to shoot two different POV's simultaneously. The system packed down so well it fit under my airline seat. The footage was wonderful.

I shot portraits a few days after the completion of the video shooting with the same cameras and loved the look I got with the GH3s coupled with the old, adapted, Olympus Pen F lenses. The raw files were just great! And the footprint was much reduced. Both on the shooting days and in post.

Finally I looked at my perception of Sony's roadmap into the future and I came to the conclusion that, rumors to the contrary, that Sony's support for the traditional Alpha DSLT line of cameras and lenses would waver and then fall of the side of a crumbly cliff. Regardless of what Sony say I believe that they will put all their resources into cameras like the A7 and A7r as well as fixed lens cameras like the Sony RX10 ( which I still love ) and the R1X. Neither solution really made me happy.

I could be wrong and Sony could come out with a replacement that fixes everything but I think it will cost too much and require new lens purchases to realize its potential.

Looking into the equipment cabinets I realized that I had to make too many choices when going out to shoot jobs and I'm still of the mindset that so much of our work will be web res and video going into the future.

Tomorrow the Sony stuff will get boxed up and sent away. The next time I step out of the studio and head off toward the land of super models and caviar it will be with two GH3's, a 35-100mm f2.8 and its companion, the 12-35mm 2.8.  Joining them a bit later in the second quarter (waiting just long enough to see if there are any big gaffs) will be a GH4. Everyone in the equipment drawer (with the exception of the Samsung) will be able to use the same lenses and the same flashes. Joy!!!

Of the Sony collection I'll be keeping some Sony stuff I'm holding on to the Sigma 70mm Macro because it's the single sharpest lens I own right now and the best macro I could imagine. I'll get rid of the 58 flash with the funny shoe but will keep the 60HVL to use with the RX10. The RX10 isn't going anywhere!

The idea of 24-200mm equivalent in a small package is a wonderful thing to savor and roll around on the tongue of one's mind.  One small bag. Many possibilities.

Had I never started shooting video for money I'm not sure I would ever have made the leap. But when I compare even the stills side by side my feeling is that some lenses make more of a difference than even the sensor size or the pixel count. I am ready to downsize.....again.

Let you know how it all turns out. 


Photographing the Dress Rehearsal for the Gospel at Colonus. The Zach Theatre Production.

I left the studio with a motley selection of cameras and lenses. In a break with my past process I left most of the zoom lenses at home and went to shoot the dress rehearsal of The Gospel at Colonus with a motley selection of ungainly manual focusing prime lenses. Seemed a bit risky as my 58 year old eyes aren't the quickest manual focusers and the screens in digital cameras certainly aren't set up to aid in getting the best focus. But what the heck?

I grabbed a Sony a99, a Sony a850, the 35mm and 85mm 1.5 Rokinon lenses, a Hasselblad 150mm f4 with an adapter for totally manual use on the Sony cameras and, to hedge my bets just a little, I brought along a sleeper lens; my little Sony 24-105mm 3.5 to 4.5. Everything fit snugly in an old, black Domke canvas bag.

From the right spot in the theater the 35mm covers the entire stage. From halfway back in the house the 85mm is great for small groupings and the 150mm is a good focal length for head to toe shots of one or two actors.

I walked into the theatre about fifteen minutes before the doors opened for the audience and spent a few minutes chatting with the person who shoots video documentations of each dress rehearsal, Eric. He's a freelancer I've known for decades and his work is great. He was using a Canon C100 with the 24-105 as a wide camera and a Sony F3 with a long zoom for following actors and doing closer comps. Eric was taking a feed from the sound board into one channel of each camera and on the other camera he had shotgun mics. The shotguns were to capture room ambience should he need to layer that into the sound mix. Always good to have stuff up your sleeve if your primary audio is too good...

When the show started I realized that the 150mm, from my chosen position, was a bit short for more dramatic close ups so I bit the bullet and implemented the clear image zoom for some of the shots on which I wanted a tighter composition. Yes, I could have cropped the images in post and gotten the same effect but I don't always have the luxury of touching every file if we have a tight newspaper deadline so I wanted an in camera solution. It actually worked well.

My biggest concern was the ancient Hasselblad lens but it functioned very, very well. I shot a lot with it wide open and the rest of the images from it are one stop down at f5.6. I missed focus often enough but I do tend to shoot a lot and refocus a lot and my excess of zeal worked to my advantage in covering my butt. In retrospect I should have magnified the focus frame every once in a while just to double check. I'll do that next time.

The 85mm worked exactly as I expected it would. I tried to stay around f2.8 leaning to f4.0 and when I did that I was rewarded with sharp files and good exposures. It's nice to shoot theatre with a click less aperture lens on an EVF camera because you can slide in small exposure changes in a very fluid way and with an instantaneous feedback loop. It's nice.

The hard lens to focus was the 35mm 1.5. There's too much depth of field at the stopped down taking aperture to really nail focus the way I'd like. Again, a bit more time spent with the focus magnification on the a99 would have helped. And, again, there are plenty of sharp frames for each scene to chose from. I'm just used to AF lenses nailing everything you point them at.

I ended up editing down from 1200 images to 580 images to submit to the theatre's marketing team and out of those I gleaned the images shown here. Nearly all of them are from the Hasselblad 150mm lens. Beyond the focal length the tonality of the lens seems very pleasing to me as does (dare I write it? the Bokeh). 

My happy surprise last night was just how well the Sony a850 and the 24-105mm lens play together. I finally got the camera dialed in for theater work. The secret is to turn the noise reduction down to low or off entirely and do your noise reduction in post. It's also wise not to go higher than ISO 800 with this camera. But the trade off is that when you follow these simple rules you can make the sensor produce very, very sharp files. The 24/105 may or may not be a sharp performer on its own but it shines when coupled with the sensor in the a850. I shot the lens wide open or nearly wide open all evening long and was impressed with the files at 100% on my monitor. Glad this lens didn't leave in a recent purge. Today I'm walking around with the a850 and the 24-105 and I feel like I got stuck in a time machine and transported back to a different imaging era....

The play is directly by Zach's artistic director, David Steakley. It's absolutely beautiful. He is a master of directing dramatic musicals and his cast had the audience on their feet more than once. The Gospel at Colonus is an adaptation of Sophocles' original telling of the Oedipus Rex story but this story of forgiveness and redemption is set in a church tent revival. The mostly African American cast includes so many of Austin's finest vocalist that the show is really an embarrassment of riches.

I had photographed a production of the Gospel at Colonus 16 years ago in a smaller Zach Theatre. That production was also directed by David Steakley and it too was a wonderful production, but in a different, more intimate way. When last night's performance was over I mingled with the actors and realized that nearly a dozen had been in that first production so many years ago. It was like a homecoming for us. Many hugs and smiles!

As I sat through the play I realized that most of us, in our own ways, could use a bit of redemption and forgiveness from time to time.

Before closing I must say that the stage design, the costumes and especially the lighting are magnificent. Lighting is a tough thing for production photographers in that the lighting on stage is designed to appeal to the human eye and the dynamic range and color shifts are beyond the sensors in our cameras and our skills to change convincingly sometimes. We do the best we can to approximate the feel of the show but seeing it in person is so much more powerful than photographs can ever be. I look forward to going back again and again to see this play without a camera in front of my face so I can study the intermixed play of light and and expression on the faces of the actors. What a great workshop for anyone interested in the craft of imaging.


Gearing up for a dress rehearsal.

Can't leave well enough alone. That's me in a nutshell. The above image was shot for Zach Theatre a year or so ago and I absolutely love everything about it so why, a year later, did I sell the 70-200mm lens I created it with? It was one of those weeks where it seemed so logical to purge everything and just commit to a micro four thirds system. And the lens was getting long in the tooth. And Sony was just about to introduce a new one, etc. etc.

At the time I felt certain that I'd fall in love with the Sony A7 or A7r and I'd want the new, native 70-200mm ex lens for its smaller size and newer glass. My brain is generally too optimistic. Either that or I just don't think through things very well.  After handling the new cameras I was pretty darn sure I'd be waiting for at least gen 2.0 on those puppies.

Soon after I sold the big, fast lens I engaged in a bout of small sensor hubris and photographed a dress rehearsal with the new Sony RX10. The client was delighted and I was pleased (overall) with the results but there's something bite-y about the above image that I didn't get out of the small camera. And, so here I am getting ready to shoot another dress rehearsal tonight and wondering what my wandering proclivities will serve up this evening.

The play is the musical, The Gospel at Colonus, and it's filled with great singers and wonderful costumes.

I'm shooting the dress rehearsal with a couple of a99's. I have no doubts about the wider angles. I've tested and tested the Rokinon 85mm 1.5 and the 35mm 1.5 (wide stage shots) and I love em. One or two stops down from wide open and they might as well be macro lenses....

But what about the longer end as represented by the above image? I've been thinking about this since Friday. My first thought was to borrow my friend, Frank's 35-100mm f2.8 and use the Panasonic GH3 but I wanted to keep all the files in the same color and tonality family. I could rent a lens but that seems like cheating to me...

But last night I was looking through the seldom used but much appreciated equipment drawer and I found a 150mm f4.0 Zeiss Sonar lens for Hasselblad sitting near the bottom smiling at me. And, in a sign from the photo gods it already had a Hasselblad to Sony Alpha adapter on it. I didn't want to depend on my last vague memory of the lens's performance so I spent some time this morning shooting around the studio and in the house. I've looked and looked and looked and what I see is a sharp lens with high contrast at f4.0 which becomes even sharper and contrastier at f5.6. Couple that with the clean ISO 3200 on the a99 and I think I'm ready to go. Yay! Focus peaking.

Of course, I could crash and burn but either way I'm sure you'll be reading about the adventure tomorrow.

I am also taking along the new Samsung NX30 and the 50-200mm zoom lens I wrote about last week. I'm anxious to put it through its paces and see how it handles both the focusing in contrasty stage light and the higher ISO's that the slower apertures will require.

Breaking with my traditional process I'll probably shoot the big Zeiss lens on a monopod. Not because I need the extra stability but because the thing is so damn heavy.....

Adventures in mismatched and eccentric equipment continue. Stay tuned.....

Balancing the load.

I'm usually a very disciplined person and I hate it when my personal schedule gets wrinkled but sometimes you have to roll with the course of life. I planned to start the year off the same way I always do: Swim practice in the early morning, office work till lunch, writing or shooting until family supper and then a few hours of reading before bed. It's not necessarily an exciting life but it's satisfying and comfortable.

But right around the first of the year one of my siblings was diagnosed with cancer. My octogenarian parents needed some help and my business inexplicably increased back to the levels we were used to before the great recession. You can't do everything. Something has to bend.

Family comes first. That's a given. And, since I have a kid on a trajectory to a private college in the northeast this Fall it seems important to take full advantage of the income opportunities as presented. That leaves swimming (or not swimming) as a safety valve. I've had to miss many aqua days for travel and for projects that just flat out take time.

But even in that there is some sort of blessing. I've cut my swimming days from six to about three a week. I could use more endurance training but the extra days of physical rest mean that I have more opportunity to recover between swims and that leads to faster swims----while the endurance lasts.

And all of this started me thinking about balance. Life balance. Work/play balance. Responsibility and reckless abandon balance.

There is an anomaly in many freelancers' brains that grew in power during the lean years of the economy. It's an new few thousand lines of brain code that basically says: "Take every job that comes through the door because you never know when the bottom will drop out again!" And this brain code makes it tough to enjoy any down time. I know that when I finish an assignment; any assignment for any budget, a hour later my brain is badgering me and saying: "Hey! Yo. Lazy boy. When are we going to work again? Get on the phone. Move or starve!"  And yes, my brain is very bossy.

But I think the balance is the key. My sibling is making a good recovery and responding well to her therapy. My parents are back at home and doing well. The gracious firehouse of business is mostly unabated but thankfully all the jobs so far are good and creative and fun. I missed some swims. And I missed some walks. But I'm not missing the chance to spend time with Ben or my parents. And there's the balance.

My world didn't fall apart when I ratcheted down my swimming. I know it's hardly a permanent state of affairs. In fact I think I've put the same level of discipline and enthusiasm into learning a new craft (video) and fine tuning an old one (photography). The rewards are different but they are rewards none the less.

I have a tendency toward anxiety and it comes to the fore when I am confronted with change. This first quarter has been rife with change. But I'm happy to find that I am handling it better than I thought I would. Take care to banish Ambiguity, Loneliness and Indecision from your process and everything else seems to fall into place.

Life can be hard work. I have to remember to balance in some down time.


A wish list for those wonderful folks at Panasonic, Olympus or some cool third party lens company.

photo: ©Alan Pogue.

I wish the systems I want to shoot with came with all the lenses I want to shoot with. But they don't. And here's what I want from the genius lens designers I know are out there somewhere. I'm tired of all the half-assed pancake lenses. I want some stuff we can sink our teeth into. And I want stuff we can use to make big money with our cameras. It's one thing to adapt lenses hither and yon but an entirely different thing to have perfect optics for the things we need. 

When I ask for lenses I am not asking for an adapter to use an existing other system lens on my micro four thirds camera, I am looking for lenses that are made for the joint system. I want the lenses to AF (where appropriate) and to meter in the automatic modes (where appropriate). And I want them all to just work...

Let's get started. 

First off I want a 10mm tilt shift lens that opens up to f4 and looks equally good at f11. Forget the laws of physics and the too often touted effects of diffraction. Use magic/science/firmware to give me what I want. This would be an all around lens for people who shoot small cameras but still want to keep doing architecture. This focal length is long enough for just about anything real and would be easier to make than a 17mm equivalent. Make this one sharp and elegant and watch the hordes of architectural shooters bail from the Canon system and rush to embrace. 

Then give me a 50mm tilt shift lens with a fast f2.0 aperture so I can do lots of fun product, table top and weirdly focused fashion stuff. Can't be that hard. Why isn't it here already?

I want a fast 10.5mm prime that starts at f 2.0 and has no rectilinear distortion whatsoever. I had an Olympus 11-22mm lens that was nearly flawless and if Olympus can do that in a zoom just think what they should be able to do with a single focal length...

Next up I want a long fast lens I can use for video projects. The 14-140 focal length is just fine but what's this chicken-poop changing (slow) aperture nonsense? Let's make this one an f2.5. I know it will be bigger and heavier but video is all about being on a tripod, being on a jib or being on some sort of support for dolly work. I don't really care if it's big and heavy as long as the focus doesn't change through the zoom range and the aperture doesn't shift either. Make this one in a PL mount and make it cover super35 in the video game and you'll have the world beating a door to your factory. Especially if it's affordable. Say.....under $5,000. 

Next up, bring back the Olympus 42mm f1.1.2 high speed optic that was made for the Pen system but upgrade it with sparkling new magic glass and make it diffraction limited (super sharp) at its wide open aperture. The PanaLeica is a good start. More like that!

I could also use a 25mm f2.0. I know this is the same focal length as the legendary 25mm Pana/Leica I already own but as a Panasonic shooter I want this one to have lots and lots of "bite" and I want it to include a new generation of in lens I.S. that's as good as the best I.S. on the market. I don't care if it's as big as the Pan/Leica or even bigger as long as it's shake free and full of aggressive sharpness. 

Moving on. Olympus went all sissy on us with the longer lens. Panasonic too for that matter. They assumed that people who were buying these smaller cameras would chaff at having to do a little lifting and straining. Screw that! Give me back my 35-100mm f2.0. I'm not interested in the milk toast version that Panasonic camera out with. I want the speed. We've seen that Olympus can to it now we need them to get their balls back and come out with an m4:3 version. Wanna make it lighter and more affordable? Make some of it out of industrial plastic instead of heavy metal. Wanna make it even more esoteric? Make most of the components out of carbon fiber. If you haven't shot with a 35-100mm f2.0 you need to borrow, rent or steal one. They are frightfully expensive (not really when compared to the lenses from Canon and Nikon) but they are wicked sharp at f2.0 and they stay at f2.0 all the way through the zoom range.  Come on boys! Suck it up and make some glass again that spanks the competition. It's not like you haven't already figured it out once.....

Along the same lines we need a really fabulous, powerhouse lens in the 12-60mm range. Something as sharp and contrasty as the Olympus 4/3rd system zoom but screw that lame shifting aperture. Get with the program and give us one that's f2.5 all the way through. Again, if the lens is sharp enough and draws beautifully enough to bring tears to your eyes I don't care if it weighs two pounds and it twice the size of the camera with a goofy grip on the bottom. I'd buy that. In fact, I did buy and use the Olympus 12-35mm f2.0 and it was an amazing lens. They can do this but Olympus is acting all skittish and cowardly because their market research shows them that delicate people want weightless lenses. Well, yes, that is one part of their market, but there are some of us who really want to rock the optics. Especially when we're using them to make videos. 

Again, lose the culottes, put on your big boy lens designer pants and get with the program. An ultra-fast, high performance, extended range normal lens that puts to rest all those stupid arguments about "equivalence" and how much light is hitting the sensor. Make the lenses faster and sharper and we'll make the full frame boys cry. Honestly.... How many fucking collapsible 14-42mm lenses will you make before you get a semblance of your pride back?

Moving on: I'd like a 90mm f1.4 for theatre work with the GH4. I don't care who makes it as long as it's good and delivers the images. Can't seem to shake the love I used to have for the 180mm lenses for my Leica R cameras. A lens like a 90mm f1.4 would go a long way toward making me forget...

One more....and it already exists in another related mount....Where the hell is the 150mm f2.0 lens from Olympus????? They made a great one for the 4:3 mount. Same sensor size!!!!! Just re-mount it and make it work with the AF in the new cameras. Use the carbon fiber idea to make it light and happy. But get the damn thing back on the market to compete with everyone else's FF 300mm 2.8's. 

Of course no one wants to shoot sports with your cameras; you haven't given them the OPTICS they need to make it all work. I don't really care if I have to manually focus the lens as long as someone keeps giving me focus peaking. It really works. 

Well, that's the list of stuff I want that isn't on the market in a non-adapter environment. If some of these camera guys want to stay in the market they'd better think of ratcheting up the excitement in the glass department. More new bodies are like farts in a hurricane. More new lenses. Real lenses. Now that would make people sit up and take notice.


How good does "good" have to be?

This has been a month of contrasts and it makes me wonder at times just how good "good" has to be. What do I mean by that? We tend to carry around presumptions about professional photography that were true in the days of print delivery but may not be true in today's practice. I shot a job in the Fall that entailed shooting many interiors in a period ranch house outside of Fredericksburg, Texas for a magazine dedicated to historic homes and crafts.

When I first started working for this magazine in 1979 we aimed to make every shot a cover shot. The magazines were printed on the best paper the printers could find and no expenses were spared in the color separation stage either. In those days it would have been unthinkable to shoot the assignments with anything less than a 4x5 inch view camera. Partly for the quality of the image latent on the very large piece of film but just as importantly for the image controlled provided not only by tilts AND swings but also for the ability to do perfect double exposures (this comes in handy if you'll be doing one exposure for the interior and a second exposure for the exterior on the same piece of film---we call that smart man HDR).

Over the years the content and the production quality (not the design quality!!!) have undergone changes. Many pages in the magazine are no longer on a glossy stock. The printing has been economized in order to match budgets. The images are used smaller. And the new style is to ask for more images from a day's shoot on location which means there's no time to do the painstaking lighting set-ups we used to do as routine. The bottom line is that clients tasted the Kool Aide of no film costs and no Polaroid costs and no separation costs and they won't go back so they made a bargain with themselves that they would forgo the advantages of film and the flexible camera movements (plural) and all the other trappings that made our old way of working able to turn out such perfect images.

Once you abdicate full view camera flexibility with all focal lengths and once you bid big film goodbye you are already in no man's land. When we worked for the magazine in the early days of digital they were delighted to use the files we sent them from six megapixel Kodak DCS 760's (shot scrupulously at ISO 80) and then images from the Fuji S2 with its fake 12 megapixels and then they were happy with the 12 megapixel Nikon D2X images and finally, they were happy last fall with 16 megapixel images from a Panasonic GH3 and a 12mm lens.

But I hear from so many people that we must pursue perfection at any cost. Really? Even when we're being paid less for each working day than we were ten years ago? Even when the perfect images will end up on imperfect paper, on an imperfect press? Even when the usage size renders all files more or less equal? Interesting bargain we seem to be making. We maintain our part of the "ultimate equation" while the rest of the transaction mutates and flails to our disadvantage around us.

In the effort to pursue a perfection, most dubiously "required", many are rushing to buy the highest pixel count cameras they can get their hands on. Maseratis and Aston Martins for the daily commute on the over-crowded freeways. Nikon keeps selling D800s and Sony is making progress (but less than they'd like...) with the A7r. Both generate giant files. Files that will be reduced, converted to 8 bits, rendered into CMYK and then subject to the tender mercies of digital printing. Each step tossing up a lowest common denominator filter which makes all technically proficient files equal to each other; regardless of the cameras that spawned them.

I'm heading out this month to shoot another assignment for the magazine. I'll do it again with the GH3. I'll do most of it with a Panasonic 7-14mm lens. The client will most likely have warm and fuzzy feelings about the images for several reasons: 1. The camera and lens combination is head and shoulders better than the ones from the early days of digital. 2. The 7-14mm used at 5.6 and f 8.0 will yield a remarkable depth of field which will allow readers to see whole rooms in good focus, letting them make a detailed inspection of all the fun artifacts and nuances. 3. Much of the quality of the work depends on my point of view, my composition and my lighting skills and these have not diminished since 1979 but, in fact, have improved---- a lot. And finally, the client will like the take because they will get a great selection of images for the same budget which used to yield "only" 8-10 good images a day.

If the images exceed the threshold of my client's needs (by a good margin) when using an inexpensive camera that is fun and convenient to use then it's good to remind ourselves that there won't be more budget coming along if we choose to buy and use a more expensive camera. And, you never know, we might want to shoot some video content while we're there....and what better camera could you want than the GH3 for those multiple uses?

So, how good does good have to be? Does every assignment need to be a re-painting of the Sistine Chapel ceiling? Even at house painter rates? Does every image have to have the potential to be printed 8 by 10 feet at 600 dpi to have value? Do we need to kill ourselves financially in order to assuage our egos and our need to present status to our peers?

I think not. Times have changed and it's good to know how the x/y axis of performance and return really work for our businesses. A case in point is the video project I recently completed. In my earlier career in advertising the shoot would have been done on 16mm file and necessitated a crew of six to ten people. It would have taken twice as long to produce. And the only place it could have played was in an auditorium with a projector or as a iteration on a VHS tape. And we all know it would have been disseminated on the VHS tape.... seen on a 20 inch CRT. With tinny little speakers....

Now the job was done with the assistance of one 18 year old person (with an exhaustive knowledge of film production) and an animator. Potentially viewable on millions of screens of various quality, certainly viewed by thousands on three 50 inch HD monitors at a trade show and all at much higher image quality standards. We did it with less than $10,000 worth of equipment= from camera to final edit. And we did it in less time too. Could we have done a better project with an Arriflex Alexa, a truck full of lights and crew of dozens? Maybe the production values of the final presentation on the big 50 inch screens would be marginally better but would the enormous increase in budget passed the client's assessment of the x/y axis curves of (marketing) performance versus financial spend? And if they won't pay for it we certainly won't show up and add gratuitous layers of "production quality" and complexity just for the heck of it.

Perhaps a new mantra for projects is to right size the tools to the job and not try to size the jobs for the tools. Invest in what you need to do the job. Disregard the gear's peer-to-peer blingization. 


No accounting for taste.

This is one of my favorite photographs of the week...

We seem to think we just discovered "real" Art in our generation. What do we tell the really old guys?

Photographers tend to be a hardy and foolish breed who feel that technology, in part, imparts the magic in the art (if photography is even real Art...). In nearly every other artistic endeavor the participants go through a formal education that goes beyond the tremendously simplified, "Part A goes into part B and then push button C." Most of the workshops you see for photography are about a technique. It might be how to use only one light to light portraits. It might be how to process multiple files into HDR so that your images can look all screwed up and weirdly colorful. But the training is nearly always about the process.

Painters, sculptures, mosaic artists, film makers and musical composers tend to come from more formally educated backgrounds and have a certain historical grounding within their chosen fields. They study the works of current masters and they study the works that have survived through centuries of change and human drama. For them the medium is rarely separated from the idea and the style. But we hardy band of photographers seem to have come from the fast track aisle of art creation.

A quick peek at the owner's manual and a few videos on YouTube and we tumble off to make our art based on what we saw Chase Jarvis do last month or Trey Ratliff do the month before. They may have had an idea behind their shooting and they may also have had context but that seems to get lost in the race to get some stuff on the memory card.

How much more interesting photography might be if people would do some prep work before hanging out their art shingle?

Would it be that onerous to crack a few compendiums about the history of photography? To see what those old timers were doing back in the 1890's or the 1920's or even as recently as the 1960's? I sat in my car waiting for my kid to get out of school and I'd brought along a little book of Josef Koudelka's Gypsy work and was reminded just how powerful his vision was and with what rudimentary tools he worked. And yet, his work is head and shoulders above nearly all the work I've seen in the digital age from anyone, anywhere.

Would it kill the erstwhile new arrivals to take a moment out of their busy lives as programmers, administrators and help desk operators to crack open one of the many great collections of Richard Avedon's work to see what a truly masterful and forward thinking artist really does?

Would it ruin lives to prod people into museums to see how far away the cultural boundaries are from the much more narrow, self inflicted boundaries?

I was photographing for the Texas State Museum several weeks ago and I walked across the street afterwards to look at the new shows at the Blanton Museum on the UT Austin campus. Eventually I made my way to the permanent painting collection on the 2nd floor to look at some details in painting made hundreds of years ago. I was looking at the way angels were lit and represented by several painters. It soaked in and made me think more about how we light people in our day to day work. The lighting in the paintings had a purpose. The purpose was to draw attention to the action and to separate the spiritual from the earthly. What a lovely workshop.

Too many people seem happy to be blissfully ignorant of what has come before. No wonder they are disappointed when they show off their work and find that it's been done (a million times) before.

I had one moment of despair in my adult life. It was when I stood in the Borghese Gallery. The Sculpture Museum in the Borghese Gardens and I stared at the Bernini sculpture of Daphnis and Apollo. And in an instant I knew that no one would ever be able to match Bernini's incredible skill at making marble come alive. There are leafs on branches sculpted out of marble that are so delicately crafted that light comes through the marble and the statue becomes truly alive. Hundreds of years later no one has been able to match Bernini's skill and vision. Sculpture didn't change and become more modern as a result of a cultural evolution but out of shame by comparison. And the realization that, in this instance, the final word had been delivered. What else was left to say?

But I cannot imagine a sculptor plying his art today without knowing about, understanding and somehow, even if it is unconscious, striving to do something even remotely as good as what has already been done by a master like Bernini.

I'm not saying that there's no future for photographic art but I am saying that to do good work requires that we have historical benchmarks for what really constitutes good. The style without the message is pointless and the message without style is just conceptual art.