Book Notes. Getting a fresh copy of The Lisbon Portfolio.

Just a few notes about the novel. It's selling well despite the fact that our first version had too many typos and some inconsistencies. The vast majority of the glaring faults have been corrected with help from VSL reader, Michael Matthews (good eye!) and design elbow grease from Belinda. If you buy the Kindle book from Amazon.com today you will be getting the latest version. But if you bought and downloaded the book a week ago you probably got the first version. But don't worry, it's a pretty easy fix.

The neat thing about Kindle books (app available free for all kinds of tablets, laptops, regular computers and even phones....) is that a book becomes upgradable. Like firmware its content can be updated by the author and re-downloaded by users. In order to get a fresh version here's what you need to do:

Go to your account on Amazon.com and click on: Manage Your Content & Devices. Once that page comes up you'll see three different headers. One says, "Your Content", one says, "Your Devices" and the tab on the right hand side says, "Settings." You want to go to "Settings."

Once you are in settings scroll down to a selection that says, Automatic Book Update. By default this is off. You should turn it on. It lets you upload the latest version of a title that you've bought but may have subsequently deleted from your device. The default to "off" is for people who have done detailed annotations of books and who do not want to lose those changes by getting a new version...

Once you've made those changes go back to your device and delete the current book. (DO NOT DELETE THE BOOK IN THE "YOUR CONTENT" SECTION OF YOUR ACCOUNT PAGE ON AMAZON OR YOU WILL LOSE THE BOOK UNTIL YOU PAY FOR IT AGAIN!!!!!). Then head back to the cloud on your device and download the book again. This will be the new version. 

Thank you to all the hundreds of people who've purchased the Lisbon Porfolio and a special, extra thanks to the people who've gone to Amazon here in the states and in the U.K. to leave reviews. While most of the reviews are currently five stars even the three star reviews (generally nicking the typos) usually end with, "But all that aside the story is really fun and I'm already waiting for the next book."

For everyone who doesn't like reading on an electronic device we will have the paperback version up on Amazon shortly and it will have all the corrections of the current e-copy. The book comes in at around 480 pages. It should be fun. I am ordering a case. You know what I'll be giving out over the holidays.....

Thank you, Kirk

A Follow Up on an Earlier Post for People Who Like Buildings. The Olympus OMD EM5 and the ancient, but still alive, Olympus 150mm f4 Pen FT Lens designed for half frame film cameras.

This is a follow up to the article on the 150mm f4 from earlier in the day. I wanted to shoot some images of objects that weren't moving. I like these buildings so I thought I'd use them as a good test of the sharpness of the old Olympus Pen FT lens on the EM5 sensor. When it comes to architectural photography I'm a pretty easy sell. I think the image is a lovely example of a long lens going for details. 

The city bird of Austin is the crane. I'm showing this because the skies in the images done with the 150mm are different in color and saturation than what I get from more modern lenses. Interesting (to me) that the rendering seems more natural in the older lens. It's almost as though we've developed a taste for saturation that is at odds with our endless declarations that we are just looking for the highest accuracy in our photos.

When I stopped down to f 8 the detail from this ancient lens was astounding. 

Bridge Compression. 

The State Capitol from nearly a mile away. The detail on the dome is still sharp. Might have been sharper but for the heat waves and atmospheric clutter....

This late afternoon shot was done from the pedestrian bridge under the Mopac Hwy. Nearly a mile and a half from the buildings in the image. An interesting test.

Weird Combos for an Austin Summer Day. The Olympus EM-5 and an Ancient Olympus 150mm f4 Pen FT half frame lens.

Austin can be a really fun town when things slow down in the Summer. There is a whole series of Lakes around Austin including one which runs right through the center of downtown and is part of the Colorado River system. I'd just gotten a second Olympus OMD EM5 camera last week and in a fit of eccentricity I decided to put an ancient lens on the front of it and go out in the hottest part of the day for a walk. The lens is one I have written about before, it's the 150mm f4 made for the Olympus half frame film cameras from four or five decades ago. 

The lens is slender and compact and fabricated totally from metal. There is nothing particularly impressive about its exterior design or finish. I had done some test shooting with the lens back when I owned a Panasonic GH2 and an Olympus EP-2 and either my technique at the time was flawed or the lens and the sensors of the day did not play well together. It seemed at the time to be lower contrast than modern lenses and less sharp. I don't know what I expected when I took it out last week but life is full of surprises. 

Sprinkled through this post are an assortment of shots from the lens and the EM5. As I was out walking for fun I did not bring along a tripod so all of these shots are handheld. Most are shot either wide open or one stop down. Several are two stops down from wide open. I set the camera for "vivid" and shot on automatic in the "A" mode. 

It's rare that I shoot with longer lenses but I am a fan of compression so I guess I should try it more often and work on my proficiency. Lady Bird Lake (formerly "Town Lake") was a "target rich" environment for a person with an agile camera and long lens. There are some niggles to working with the lens but for the most part I find it to be a good performer. As I began my walk I had not yet figured out how to magnify the preview image for fine focusing. I finally realized I could apply that feature to a function button. After than my keepers (at least for sharp focus) went up. 

One benefit of Olympus's implementation of IBIS is the ability to stabilize the preview image which really helps when the field of view narrows down. I used the IBIS for every shot. 

The lens is actually pretty sharp but wide open and near wide open it does suffer from some magenta or purple fringing and a bit of chromatic aberration. Fortunately these are both easy to fix in Lightroom. The lens was a much better performer on the EM5 than in previous generations of cameras. I also used this lens recently for a dress rehearsal of Tommy at the Zach Theatre recently and it was there that I first realized that it really was a good (with caveats) lens. 

It crested 100 degrees on this shooting day so everything was pretty much shot around water. The image just above, with the beautiful, red canoe is underneath the old Lamar Boulevard bridge. After a longish paddle from the boat docks people use the shadow of the bridge to cool down and take a break. They also crawl up on the arching pillars and jump into the water. Spotters help the jumpers navigate so they don't end up hitting a paddle boarder or canoe-ist. 

Jumpers on the Lamar Blvd. Bridge.

Jumping from a rope spring in the tributary that runs from Barton Springs into Lady Bird Lake. 

In the spillway just under Barton Springs Pool. 

The ubiquitous phone. Under the Barton Springs Rd. Bridge.

There was a big crowd at the Barton Creek Spillway. 

It's interesting to be self-employed in the Summer in Austin. There is so much inertia to just give up on commerce and join in the three month long vacation that so many people seem to be on. I try to skirt work as much as possible by limiting my marketing and just accepting work that comes in "over the transom." At some point the cash flow slows down to a trickle and I realize that I live in an expensive town and then economic self-preservation kicks in and I get back to business. 

But a little part of me always imagines how wonderful it would be if I could spend the whole Summer just swimming, walking, napping and eating Frontera Fundido tacos at TacoDeli. All with a little camera over one shoulder.  

When I wake up happy from a Summer nap I always have the idea that work is over rated.


A well lived life is a stubborn pursuit of doing the things you love no matter what the impediments.

Life is always throwing up road blocks or celebrations. 
Friends pass away and new friends are made. 
Finding happiness in the things I do makes every
thing worthwhile. Photographing whatever I want, 
however I want to is part of the joy that balances 
out the equation of life.


Work flow thoughts from a job for architects. The hero of the story is the Panasonic GH3. Not 4. 3.

Portrait Machine Part.

Earlier in the year I got a phone call from the marketing director of a well known and very respected architectural firm here in Austin. I'd done a portrait of one of their principals the year before. They liked the portrait and kept my name on file. Now they were interested in getting a bid to make portraits of their full staff and their partners. The really nice thing for me is that they wanted to do environmental portraits that looked as though they'd been made with available light and they wanted to make the portraits in locations all over their offices. They were not interested in having people stand in front of seamless paper and endure the same light in frame after frame. The second part of the job was to create scenarios of people in the offices working collaboratively on projects. That was not very difficult to set up since they seemed to work collaboratively all day long whether I set them up or not. My main job in this part of the project was just to gently turn them toward the good light.

While we were looking for an available light aesthetic I knew that to make portraits of the quality we all wanted I'd have to supplement the light coming in from the windows and create fill light for the locations that were lit with over head fluorescent lighting. In order to get the look they wanted, which included defocused backgrounds I needed to shoot with very fast optics that were still sharp near their wide open settings and I would need the ability to focus with precision. 

At that time in the continuum I had not yet jettisoned the Sony full frame cameras and I had not yet bought the fast zooms for the micro four thirds cameras. I spent an evening weighing each direction and in the end I decided that I was a good enough photographer to work with the cameras that were the most fun so I tossed the Panasonic cameras and Olympus Pen lenses into the snake pit to see if they would walk out alive. 

There were three lenses I used for the entire project; these were the 60mm 1.5, the 40mm 1.4 (both older lenses for the manual focus Olympus Pen half frame cameras from the late 1960's and early 1970's) as well as the Panasonic/Leica 25mm 1.4 Summilux, a modern lens.  I brought along two Panasonic cameras and a light meter as well. Just to cover myself for impromptu group shots I brought along the much maligned but actually pretty good, Olympus 12-50mm kit lens.

I shot all the images in the raw format. For images mostly illuminated by window light I supplemented the light by filling in with large, white or silvered reflectors. I put theses on stands with adjustable arms so I wouldn't have to have an assistant tagging along in the crowded space. For the images that were predominantly lit by fluorescent lights I used multiples of the Fotodiox 312AS LED panels (with adjustable color balance). By the end of the day I was very proficient in getting reasonably good matches between the panels the artificial light of the fluorescents as well as getting a very good match between the LED panels and the diffuse, open shade, window light. With four LED panels at my disposal and twice as many batteries as units we made it through the day with power to spare. 

I probably don't have to tell you that everything I shot started with a camera well anchored to a favorite, old wooden tripod. I know that IS is magical but nothing beats really working in one's composition and having it stay during all the expression permutations of a portrait session. I shot hundreds of frames that day; maybe 650 in all. That might seem like a lot to people who don't photography real people for a living but what it really means is that even with the shyest or most difficult portrait subject I had a number of selections that would work well for the client's end use---marketing. 

After a long day of shooting portraits, small work groups, two person teams and an "all hands" working session in a large conference room I headed back to the secret underground processing laboratory of the Visual Science Lab. I ingested the images into Lightroom, did quick edit, then a series of mini-global color and exposure corrections before exporting a folder of images that I burned to a memory stick for delivery to the client. The client is very computer savvy and preferred to have galleries on their system rather than a web gallery. 

Not all clients are in a rush and not all clients need their stuff right away so several months passed between the time I delivered the images and the moment at which they sent along an e-mail with their 72 selections. I sat down yesterday morning to continue the process of making and delivering the final files. In between the time shooting and then receiving their selections I added DXO Optics Pro to the workflow. I thought I'd share yesterday's process. 

I sat down with the list of images to be delivered and opened Lightroom where I located the images and exported them as original raw files to a folder. I brought that folder into DXO and let the program run automatically for all the files. Then I went through, file by file, to see whether I agreed or disagreed with DXO. Since two of the lenses I used don't have modules all the program could do was assess the original file, coupled with the camera sensor information and make corrections based on that. All of the images were improved in one way or another. I made a few tweaks and changed to a "portrait" profile for some images, not for others. Then I exported .dng files to a new folder. 

I opened every file in PhotoShop CC and fine tuned where necessary. Then I sent selected files to Portrait Professional for some light handed retouching. Nothing like what you see in their ads. No giant structural changes to face shapes, no mono-textured plastic skin. Just a little help with rough skin tone, blemishes and small wrinkles. All of these files were output to Tiffs as were the files that didn't need to go through a final step of retouch. I took the folder full of full size Tiff files and, in PhotoShop, used image processor to make a set of high quality, full size Jpegs. The final deliver to the client will be a set of two folders; one with Jpegs and one with Tiffs. 

Again, I'll deliver on an eight gigabyte memory stick at a cost of less than $6. 

The one thing I wanted to discuss was the color I ended up with. I was struck with how accurate and pleasing the color of the portraits was. There was no global cast or global "feel" to the colors. They seemed separated in a way that I don't always see color from digital cameras. And not always from film cameras either. I don't know how to describe it other than to say that there was not a subliminal cast holding all the colors in a bounded camp. The colors were individually distinguished in a way that added depth to the files. In the moment I was quick to assign the credit to this to the Panasonic GH4 camera, which I've come to respect a great deal. But when looking at the metadata I quickly remembered that this shoot predated the GH4. 

Interestingly, the firm I was shooting for added some new employees and hired me to come by again and make portraits in the same fashion to add to the roster. On this outing I used the (new to me) GH4 and mostly the 35-100mm f2.8 X lens. In the course of processing the files alongside the GH3 files I found the same basic, non-globalized, color rendering of the previous camera. The main difference overall in the files was the use of the new lens. It is in the DXO modules and adds another layer of overall correction to the files. 

I am on my way out to deliver the images to the client. I am old fashion and still like to deliver the work into their hands and say, "thank you" personally. I may end up having to leave the package with the reception person but I'll be sure to thank her as well. 

What I learned in this job is that careful use of known, good lenses and the subsequent use of state of the art processing tools goes a long way to ameliorating any advantage or disadvantage between cameras. While the Sony cameras would have given me a different look it would not necessarily have been a better look. I am of the belief that color accuracy will emerge as the new metric for those of us obsessed with measuring the toys we shoot with. I also believe that Panasonic is doing something very right with their implementation of color. That, and the very sharp, detailed files certainly made my day of post processing pleasant and straightforward and I am sure the client will be pleasantly surprised at just how much better the images look than the proofs we started them out with. 



Everybody likes something different in photography. That's what makes the business so much fun.

As crazy as it might sound there's nothing about the business I like better than hanging out in my studio photographing people against a stark, white background. The kind of camera I use really doesn't matter anymore and as long as the lens doesn't flare like a mad bastard I'm pretty happy shooting with any 85-105mm equivalent lens I can get my hands on. If there is a challenge around shooting white backgrounds it's not to overdo the lighting on the background. Unless we're aiming for a clipping path/masked drop out I like to see a tiny little bit of detail in the backgrounds. It's almost like we're acknowledging the three dimensions.

But what the near absence of a background does is to make you really think about how you want to light the foreground. The biggest mistake I see in student work or with photographers who haven't spent a lot of time in the studio is the tendency to get the subject too close to the actual background. It limits lighting options because so much of the background light wraps around. My goal is to always put as much distance between my subjects and their backgrounds as humanly possible. What that does is allow me to light each plane as a totally separate operation. Why is that valuable? Control.

By separating the effects of light on the background from the foreground subject I can light each one exactly the way I need to for the look I am trying to convey. I like dark shadows on faces and that means I also have to be careful to make sure that the lights hitting the background don't bounce around a "live" room and reduce the overall contrast everywhere. Too much fill light destroys the look I'm usually trying to go for. To prevent this I use four umbrellas on the background instead of two. This means I can work the background lights in a little closer which means I have quicker fall off. All four of the umbrellas are soft silver interiors with black backings. The black backings kill any light bleed through which would hit the walls.

I'm currently using inexpensive, 43 inch, collapsible Westcott umbrellas. Since the center shaft collapses they can be packed down really small and tossed into a suit case for long distance location work. But my obsession with spill light doesn't stop there. I "flag" the subject on either side with black 4x6 foot panels. The panels kill more of the total spill and also help even a mediocre lens be a bit more resistant to flare. I pull the black panels as close as I can to the subject without them being in the final composition.

Lack of something interesting in the background does motivate me as the photographer, and most of my subjects to do more interesting things. More intense expressions. More fall off with my main subject lights. More extemporaneous acting. We are all subconsciously compensating for the "missing" background.

Why am I talking about this today? Well, I spent last Thurs. shooting a very fun ad campaign against white and I was really happy while I was shooting and even happier with the results. Then, this morning we had another shoot with a model on a white background. The shoot itself could be considered boring. We were shooting a selection of T-shirts. But working with the model to make fun, angled compositions with her body against the clean canvas of the white was like doing pure sketching with a camera. I had clear marks for her on the floor so as long as she stayed within the marks I didn't have to worry about the technical aspects of the lighting.

I was using the GH4 with face detection AF enabled and I quickly learned to trust the camera 100%. The strong modeling lights made AF fast and solidly accurate which eliminated another layer of basic administration. With each layer peeled back I felt freer and freer to do the thing a creative photographer should be doing the most of: interacting with the model and working on expression, composition and timing. All the mechanical stuff started taking care of itself. And what are we really charging for? The ditch digging or the landscape design?

I had so much fun today because I love working with the art director who represented the ad agency. We've worked together for years and our respect for each other is 100%. I had fun with the model. She was smart, beautiful and interesting. Even more interesting when I found out that she is the mother of three kids! I had fun using a camera that does more of the heavy lifting than any camera I've worked with in the past. From selecting focusing points to flashing me highlight zebras when my lighting got too carried away. My Elinchrom lights are four years old and I largely take them for granted because they never hiccup or fart.

My mind set over the last few weeks is that we've come out the other side of the camera maze. We spent the last fourteen years watching digital improve and constantly changing our response to the cameras and the metrics of technical success. Now, in my estimation everything is good and automatic and flawless. If you aren't already shooting with an EVF camera you probably will be soon. If you shoot in studio and you aren't using face detection AF (with eye preference) you will be soon.

We are at the point now which one of our readers described in a comment this morning about computers: All the fun and change and challenge is over. They have now returned to being reliable appliances. Now we don't look to the cameras for the magic we look to ourselves for the fun and the challenge. It's actually a nice, comfortable place to be for a working photographer.

Later this week I'll be shooting something totally different: An action-y video project with interviews but also with B-roll footage for statewide television news use. Unrehearsed video action as it's happening. Good thing I'll have crack assistant, Ben Tuck, in tow. More later.

Editorial note: I usually write my blogs after I've made a bunch of raw conversions in Lightroom and I am waiting for them to exports. With my current computer I enjoy a leisurely interval in which to write my brilliant thoughts. This will all change when the new computer arrives on Thurs. I've been told by my geek friends that the whole export process (based on specs and metrics) will take about 75% less time. So, I either have to write 75% faster or I have to write 75% less. We'll see how all of that works out.....


Wow. What does vivid look like?

I went out for a walk this afternoon. The lake that runs through the middle of downtown was buzzing with paddle boarders, kayakers and rowing sculls. Even though we were scraping 100 degrees the hike and bike trail was filled with walkers, joggers and serious runners. The clouds were doing that dramatic against bright blue sky thing that's getting rarer as the ozone gets thicker or richer or whatever it does. 

I had a new (to me) Olympus OMD EM-5 over my shoulder, complete with a Sigma 30mm f2.8 DN lens and I was eager to put the combo through their daylight paces. The day was so much about a mid-summer, Technicolor(tm) reality that I just had to switch the camera's color profile from natural to vivid. These images are the result. I think I'll call it "The Ken Rockwell Technique."

I hope you had a wonderful weekend lazing about and diving into a great novel. 

The "Noah's Ark" syndrome of buying camera bodies.

Berlin 2013.

Back in the days of film one of the most productive photographers in the New York advertising and editorial scene was a guy named, Jack Reznicki. He had a very successful ad campaign aimed at creative directors and art buyers. He'd send out cool stuff for promotions and everything would have the tagline: "Just call me Jack!" on it. A nod to the idea that people kept misspelling or mispronouncing his last name. At any rate Jack wrote a wonderful book called, Studio and Commercial Photography; it's out of print but there are still lots of copies floating around. I just ordered a new copy from one of third party book merchants at Amazon...

The book is a wonderful over the shoulders look into what the business was like back at the end of the last century. Jack's crew was building great sets in the studio, working with top talent and hiring amazing prop makers and riggers to make the images work right in the camera. The photographs themselves were good, solid advertising and editorial images. Almost everything he showed in the book were photographs of people. While his style wasn't cutting edge or even edge-y is was technically wonderful and a perfect match for the demographics of the markets in which he worked. 

For me this book was like a primer on studio work with people. I'd been doing my own style for years before I saw his book but it really helped me up my game as a photographer. These were the days before digital imaging was wide spread in that part of the industry and most of the work Jack showed was made with medium format film cameras. Hasselblads.

I was thinking about Jack's book as I bought a second Olympus OMD EM-5 camera from a close friend today. I was wondering (until I remembered Jack) why it is that I always feel compelled to buy cameras in pairs. Then I remembered. It's all about the back up. It's all about redundancy. It's all about being a "Boy Scout" for your clients and always being prepared. Or, as one of my favorite photography professors/artists, Dennis Darling, once wrote in his book, Chameleon with a Camera, "Cameras like to travel in pairs, like rattlesnakes..."

While cameras seem much more reliable now than ever before they are still electro-mechanical machines with moving parts and all machines fail at some point. Murphy's Law for photographers indicates that the rock solid, reliable workhorse camera that you swear by will fail and it will choose to do so at the least opportune time and at the highest cost to you, personally.

In Jack's book he goes to great pains to talk about his back up strategy. When he went on location he would always take two of each important piece of shooting gear. If he was shooting portraits he would have two lenses that, in a pinch, could each be used to cover the assignment. For example a 120mm macro and a 150mm or a 150mm and a 180mm. He would always travel with two bodies and anything else that the failure of which would bring the whole shoot to a halt. 

I've always tried to make sure I have backups for everything. When digital bodies were frightfully expensive it wasn't always financially reasonable to have two identical cameras. When we entered the 6 megapixel arena with the Kodak DCS 760 the bodies were around $7,000 each. Buying two in a  quickly evolving market just didn't make sense so I would bring along an Olympus e-10 camera as a last gasp back-up. Just enough ummph to finish a job and not a pixel more. 

Today, with the price of good, solid, usable cameras well below $2000 (and many under $1000) I am back to the practice of buying two of the same cameras. Two weeks ago I bought a black EM-5 from a friend whose vast camera inventory means that camera won't even be missed. Today I bought a second body. The rationale? Same menus, same settings, same controls, same batteries, same everything. If I need to grab a back up camera I won't miss a step getting used to a new interface, and staying in the same family means effortless interchangeability of lenses, flashes and other accessories.

I have a project I'd like to do out on the road and I wanted to try it with the EM-5 and the three Sigma dn Art lenses. But I would never go out to remote locations with an "only" camera. I am happy to have the second body. 

But it goes beyond just having a back up. When I shot events in the film days I used three cameras. One with a wide lens, one with a normal lens and one with a long lens. As we progressed some of those lenses were replaced with fast zooms. That meant quicker access to the moment. Rather than having to dig around in a camera bag to change focal lengths one could drop one camera and let it dangle on the strap and grab another one with the lens needed for right now. Bring the next camera to your eye and shoot. 

I still do it that way. A recent conference saw me hustling around with three Panasonic GH cameras festooned around my person, along with a flash and extra batteries in the pocket of my jacket. Over time you get used to placing the cameras with specific lenses in the same locations. Fast normal around my neck, hanging down on my chest; fast, wide zoom on the left and fast, long zoom on the right. 

With the EM-5 cameras I'll probably start out with one over each shoulder and the 17mm on one with the 45mm on the other. We'll see how that works and then go from there. 

So my theory is that we proceed just like Noah loading animals into his ark. Two of each. Not that I expect to leave the cameras in a dark bag with Barry White music playing in the studio and have them multiply. But at least I'll know I have a pair that's perfectly matched. 

The other reason Olympus owners might want multiple cameras is to minimize lens changing. We tend to think that there's no downside to the marvelous 5 axis IBIS but it's good to keep in mind that if something nasty sticks to the sensor and the shaking device can't dislodge it you will have to send the camera in for sensor cleaning. You can't use the old Q-tip and vodka cleaning method that a well anchored, full frame sensor might withstand. So having one lens on each of several bodies and leaving them almost welded in place might, in the long run, turns out to be a much less expensive strategy than going cheap on bodies and changing lenses over and over again in raging dust storms. 

Are the Panasonic cameras in danger of being displaced and discarded? Not on your life. Those GH cameras are video and still photography money makers. The Olympus cameras are my new dilettante shooters. For fun and art. Remember, it's an open lens standard and we get to pick and choose. With the un-stabilized lenses the Olympus cameras give the caffeine addicts a fighting chance...