Getting Rev'ed up for the New Year. Hit the ground running.

From the Blanton Museum.

It's a new year and it's time to hit the ground running and do the art and the business we all know we have to potential to do. I made a point to get back into the office on Friday the 2nd and turn on the proverbial taps. I left a lot of stuff un-done last year and I'm out to make sure that my inherent laziness doesn't give me pangs of regret down the road.

I like to have a few layers of plans in front of me when I ramp back up after the holidays. I didn't ignore my swimming and walking so I don't have any of the usual goals that seem to get tagged into the New Year. I don't need to lose any weight or get more exercise. I'm already eating healthy and getting to sleep on time. The plans I need to work have to do with better time management, being better at following through and completing tasks that are important to me.

It's so easy to let the minutes and hours of a day drip by. There's always someone who is fun to talk to and would love to meet for lunch. There's always someone to have coffee with and grouse about the state of whatever. And, of course, there's always time to check in with our favorite five or six blog sites or websites and when we look up from "researching" (which generally means following endless links to more endless links down to the molecular level of information) we discover that another hour or two has slid past and we're no closer to getting that personal project of shooting nudes or portraits or landscapes started, much less done.

We know we need to reach out to our clients, personally, but it's so much easier to endlessly compose and worry an e-mail blast to death rather than really taking the risk involved in getting connected.

I've mostly ignored my actual photographic business in the last year and luckily for me it's sailed smoothly along on its own momentum. But I know that won't last so the first thing I started working on was a plan and schedule to actually promote and advertise the creative content and the services that I offer. My business is most profitable when I can do a mix of large and small projects and when I can also pepper in event photography that generally gets done in the "after work hours" parts of the day. That would include weekend gala events, evening business and fundraising dinners and corporate customer events.

To get the right mix I need to continuously advertise portrait work (the smaller projects I like the most) and I need to do this as a separate function from the kind of marketing that is aimed at bigger projects. The markets are different. The top tier of the portrait (head shots, environmental portraits, etc.) is the corporate enterprise client and professional services clients (attorneys, medical practices, architects). We reach these people with a combination of postcards and e-mail promotion as well as a weekly reminder presence on LinkedIn.  We send out marketing to potential customers but our most important marketing goes to past customers since they will, potentially, constitute our word of mouth clients. I met with my graphic designer (Belinda Yarritu) this morning to discuss postcards.

The second half of the mix is to reach out to advertising and marketing people for the projects that become part of a company's marketing and communications. These projects include both printed and online capabilities brochures, website content projects, corporate image library assignments and direct advertising campaigns. We generate separate post card and online materials for them. The images and the messages are different. We aim at the big picture and talk about visual branding with these folks because that's what they do.

In addition to the still photography I'm working harder at doing more video production work this year. I'm partnering with more people and learning to let go of some parts (editing? music?) in order to become better at my core strengths but also to offer clients better and better products. Video is a much different marketing target than stills because it requires from me and from clients a bigger commitment of time and resources and it's harder to re-do if something doesn't gel correctly. In this field a good "reel" is half the battle and that's something that comes from a blend of self-assisgned, aspirational work blended with real client work. Sometimes we have to show clients what can be done before they know they want it and need it. We've got a mix on the calendar already. The next step is to find the best ways to get the work in front of clients.

Collaborating with a good editor and shooter as well as a good sound person takes a lot of the stress off interviewing, directing and concepting, but I'm finding that some of the secret sauce is in the bidding. The more roles I can share with others the more I can handle. I guess that's what they mean by team work.

I'm pretty sure I understand the business side. It goes like this: Make work that people want to use. Bill for it. Do it. Share the successful results with more and more clients and potential clients. It's always the motivation to keep moving the whole circus along that often goes AWOL. Making a calendar for the year, and putting marketing signposts in, goes a long way toward making the journey smoother and more automatic. Giving my designer six images with which to make six different printed greeting cards means I'll have some momentum staring at me every time I open the filing cabinet door and realize I have stuff to mail out, and should be doing it at least every eight weeks. Getting the designs and printing all done at once makes it more consistent and uniform and saves time. Getting it all out over the course of the year is always the goal. But at least if I've already spent the money in advance to do the design and the printing I can depend on a certain amount of guilt to help get the stuff out the door.

But the real tough part of getting what I want out of the time I have is doing the personal work I really want to do. Not the stop gap stuff that we do just to click the shutter in the business down time, but the real stuff. The trips that get planned but somehow the time never gets taken and the tickets never get purchased. The interesting personal portraits that never get booked. The Greyhound bus trip across the Southwest that you'd love to do, with a battered, old camera and one backpack but can't seem to pry enough time out for. The film you want to make about lost love and living unencumbered that seems so impossible to put together and shoot. The secret to all of this is to set a schedule and make the time. If you are like me you'll end up having to prioritize because there are so many things you want to do. But so what? Set the priority. Jump in.

My big personal goal this year is to write the follow up to the first Henry White novel. I'd like to have it ready for my birthday at the end of October. I think I can do it. But I'll have to find the discipline to write whenever I can take my hands off the reins of the business.

But whatever you do try not to make the mistakes I've made in years past. Don't anesthetize yourself by buying more and more gear and rationalizing that the purchasing process is part of the creative process. It's not. Nor is the equipment research. Nor are the arguments about which camera or lens is better. Speaking from experience I've found out the hard way (over and over again; I'm a slow learner) that the experience or the process or the actual immersion in doing your art is the only important part. It underlies the business, the happiness and the feeling of accomplishment that makes everything work. Whatever once in a life time gear you are looking at now won't even be a memory in two or three years. But whatever you've gotten done, and done well, you'll cherish for a long, long time.

It takes more than planning. At some point you have to push the button and get it started.

My goals?

1. Shoot more
2. Sell more
3. Write harder
4. Figure out how to make a movie from the first book (or get someone else to do it)
5. Connect more. Locally. Regionally. Globally.

Things I'm trying to avoid?

1. Shoulder injuries
2. Doubt
3. Self-doubt
4. Worry
5. Procrastination
6. Sitting around the office thinking about stuff
7. Lost opportunities
8. Time spent covering the same ground over and over again
9. Clients and associates who waste our collective time
10. Regrets

What are you doing differently this year? How will you move your art and your projects forward?
The biggest fear any artist should have (if artists need "fear") is of getting too comfortable.


A New Year at the Graffiti Wall. Austin, Texas. My continuing adventures with manual focus lenses on modern cameras.

Clark. ©2015 Kirk Tuck

It was a nice day to go walking in Austin. The temperatures got up into the high 50's (f) and the skies were either clear or tinged with tiny, thin clouds. It didn't seem like a "downtown" day to me so I headed over to the Graffiti Wall to see what was new. I took one camera and one lens. The ones I chose today were the Nikon D610 and the (new to me) Rokinon 85mm f1.4. I just hung out and soaked up the vibe. That's where I met Clark (above). He was working on some very nice stuff and took a few moments to chat. 

I set the camera for aperture priority, set the f-stop at f4.0 and set the auto-ISO to start at 100 and go up from there where necessary. That left my brain free to help with focusing the lens. You probably know that manual focusing (at least doing it well) takes some practice. I got better and better at it as the day went on. I think it's probably cheating to use a fast, slightly long lens because you can see pretty quickly when you've hit your focus. Sometimes my eyes got fooled but most of the time my average was pretty good.

I was happy to see the place crawling with artists. Some of the work isn't my cup of tea but there were little flashes of humor and genius tucked all around. I'm just happy to see people out doing the process. Happy to see people enthusiastic about making art, and coming to see art in progress. After reading too often on the dreaded photography forums about people still "researching" and "getting the right gear" and all the other procrastination that goes on amongst people with too many resources and too many choices it's nice to be around a bunch of people who did pull the trigger and get started. Mediocre artists may learn with practice to become okay by imitation, and some good artists may become better by being around the people who have already stepped up their game. It's kind of fun though to understand that this is a public art venue and the people spraying paint on the walls are doing it out where their work, their output, can be compared and judged. 

The feedback loop here can be brutal. If someone's work isn't working chances are someone else will bring a roller and paint right over whatever got thrown up and then they'll use the new white space as a fresh canvas as soon as the primer paint dries. It's like having freeform critiques from total strangers.

But it does speak to the idea that almost all art is ephemeral and fleeting. Art that is here today and gone tomorrow always reminds me of the English poet, Sir Andrew Marvell, whose carpe diem poem, Ode to His Coy Mistress, is one of my favorites.  "Had we but world enough, and time, this coyness, Lady, were no crime.......  But at my back I always here Time's winged chariot hurrying near."

Art and love. Both blessed and cursed with the boundaries of time. 

Box. ©2015 Kirk Tuck

Tools. ©2015 Kirk Tuck

Appraisal. ©2015 Kirk Tuck

Fence Art. ©2015 Kirk Tuck

Reckless Geometry. ©2015 Kirk Tuck


A tale of three lenses, one camera and a curious photographer. How do the old Nikon 55mm Macro lens the 16mm Rokinon lens and the 85mm Rokinon lens do in the real world? Let's find out.

I am always curious how the real world matches up when compared to web or coffee shop hyperbole. When I buy lenses I like to take them out for a spin (no matter what the weather) and see what they do in my own hands with my own exposure techniques. This article is about three recent lens acquisitions that I wanted to get to know a bit better. The first is the old, used Nikon 55mm f2.8 macro lens. This is an older, ais, manual focus lens. The better Nikon bodies allow you to mount the lens and dial in the focal length and maximum aperture and then when you shoot the camera can read out exif information about the shot. With the information keyed in the camera knows what aperture you are setting when you shoot. I've owned plenty of variants of this lens and had high expectations for it. I shot it handheld on a gloomy day with a Nikon D7100 body. I let the camera choose the ISO up to 3200. 

What I noticed very quickly with this combo is how easy it was to achieve sharp focus in spite of the camera's smaller finder and smaller focusing screen. The "green dot" confirmation method was pretty much perfect. And I thought the lens performed very well. The two images above are from the same file. The top one is the full, uncropped frame and the second image is an approximate crop of 100%. Pixel peeping territory. I think the lens does a great job from f2.8 to f8.0 (and maybe beyond---I didn't test it there).  Certainly it's sharp enough for any use I can think for it.

All the images above are done with the same combination described above. It was a cold and rainy day and the light was low. I kept the camera and lens in a neoprene ever-ready case and pulled it out to make images as I went along. I was happy with everything I shot on that particular afternoon. 

Next up I put the Rokinon 16mm f2.0 on the front of the same camera because I had only had the opportunity to shoot inside the museum and to make a few twilight shots the first time I took the combo out. Today we had glorious sunshine and a high temperature of 63 degrees (f). All of Austin was outdoors running, biking, walking or gawking. I was right there with them.  Here are a selection of the images I took with the 16mm.

As with the Nikon macro lens above I wanted to show off how sharp the 16mm f2.0 lens could be in actual use on a high resolution camera. So the two shots just above come from the same image file. The upper frame is the full frame as captured. The frame just above is a 100% (approx.) of a detail on the right side of the wall. I was shooting in the range of f5.6 in full sun. It's the sweet spot of the lens but what it tells me is that the combo of the D7100 and the Rokinon 16mm is perfectly suited for corporate work where wide angle shots are needed. These would include factory interiors, sweeping conference room shots and many exterior location shots. The images below are sample made, handheld and focusing with the "green confirmation dot" method. The lens is a manual focus only lens but in the Nikon version it has a focus confirmation chip and the aperture ring can be set to the minimum setting which allows the user to set the aperture using the camera control dials. Nice. And it works.

 Finally, as luck would have it, I wrote about the Rokinon series of lenses yesterday, extolled the virtues of their inexpensive 85mm 1.4 and put it on my list of "lenses I want to acquire" only to stumble upon a "like new" sample in the used equipment case over at Precision Camera. With a modicum of haggling (didn't break a sweat....) I was able to purchase the lens for $200. The universe works in mysterious ways.  I didn't use it as much as I would have liked to this afternoon but I did stick it on the front of the D7100 and take it for a little spin the in the downtown area. I also have a full frame versus 100% of the same frame example right below so you'll see what I'm talking about when I say that the lens is adequately sharp. Go ahead, take a look.

Close to wide open it's looking pretty good to me. I'll know more when I put this particular sample to the test in the studio with a wonderful and patient model. But for right now I have two different 85mm lenses and I'm anxious to see the difference between them. I do know that I like using manual focus for some portraits where narrow DOF is part of the concept. It allows me to get the area of sharp focus exactly where I think it should be instead of dancing around it with the AF squares of the cameras.

Here are a few more images from the 30 minutes or so I spent with the lens. Would I buy it again? In a heartbeat. But this doesn't necessarily mean you need one...

The holes in the two images above are the impact of assault rifle rounds aimed at a guardhouse at the federal court building here in Austin. Last month an individual shot multiple rounds at various buildings in Austin before being killed by the police. It was a sad and tragic affair. I had presumed that the bullet proof glass would be repaired within the week but it's been nearly a month now and it's still in this condition. Be careful out there.

More to come.


Cold, Wet and Rainy here. But I'm celebrating something new...

Ben in his favorite chair 16 years ago.
Contax G2, 45mm Zeiss lens.

You may recall that I did three photography courses for a company called, Craftsy.com a little over a year ago. Craftsy.com is an online learning company that offers a range of arts and crafts instruction. They are putting together an impressive selection of video classes about photography and are attracting some really great teachers. One of the paid courses I taught is about Studio Lighting and Portraits. The second class is about Being Your Own Family's Photojournalist. I've included links to each if you want to go and watch the trailers and check them out.....

But the thing I'm excited about today is the third class. It's one I did about Location Portraits. It's one of the few classes Craftsy.com offers absolutely free. Their strategy is that if you like the free photography class you might come back and take a paid class. At any rate, my free class on Location Portraits has, in its first year on the site, garnered over 100,000 students. As of today 100,900 individual users have signed up and watched that class! I think that's absolutely amazing and something I want to celebrate. 

Craftsy.com classes are unique because once you purchase a class it's your to watch again and again forever. You can stop and start the program to make sure you really get the material down pat. And I think one of the biggest bonuses is that you can ask the instructors questions in a forum dedicated to your class and they will personally answer your question within a few days time (at most). 

The links above will give you $25 off the full price of the class---if you are interested. 

Kind of fun to look at the class reviews for the Location Portraits class. Not often I get thousands of five star reviews. I'll take em.

Great lenses should be great values and fun to use. I know which one I liked best in 2014 and which one will see some hard use in 2015...

The Battle Collection. 

Photography is an interesting thing right now. All the focus for the last ten years seems to have been firmly placed on cameras. People wait breathlessly for reviews of the newest camera bodies. They place themselves on waiting lists to make certain that they are in the vanguard of early recipients. Hobbyists agonize over various camera faults. They boil up into angry mobs when they discover red disk reflections in mirror less cameras or, as in the current case, shaded flare, when shooting the new Nikon D750. But I am rediscovering something that I've always known and seem to keep forgetting; the real magic is in the lenses. (Actually, the real magic is in just showing up and doing the work---but that's a whole other subject).

There are advantages to buying the most modern lenses from the company that makes your cameras. They fit together precisely and the lens and camera are programmed and firmware calibrated to take advantage of all the nuance-y feature sets they each bring to the table. But it's good to understand that lens design itself can be a trend or depend on a style of design and construction which gives the camera/lens system a specific look. A really specific look. And it may be a look that doesn't necessarily correspond with your way of seeing the world. 

Everyone seems crazy for Zeiss lenses lately but even though I've owned the ZE version of the 35mm f2.0, the 85mm f1.4 and the 50mm f1.4 I can't say that any of them really knocked me out and generated a set of images that wowed me. The 50mm and the 85mm both have a lot of focus shift as one stops down from wide open to about f4.0 and that can make them hard to use when manually focusing. Wide open they are smooth and mellow but not particularly bite-y. I like some of the current Nikon primes but they tend to be too snappy and saturated for the portrait work I like to do. Don't get me wrong, I like a sharp lens but I don't need the lens to add more snap to my tonal pallet or to make my reds look raunchy with saturation overkill. But here's my real beef with a lot of modern, autofocus lenses: They are too imperfectly perfect.

There are two ways to design a lens like a high speed 50mm lens. One method is to bow to the market and try to make a lens that is sharp all the way across the frame at as many aperture settings as possible. The idea is that a "good" lens should have the same resolution and contrast characteristics across the frame and into the corners. But since all fast 50mm lenses depend on large, spherical front elements the design parameters and the nature of lenses is in conflict. All spherical lenses are sharper in the center third than on the out two thirds of their frame field. As one stops down a greater and greater amount of the frame comes into higher sharpness. 

But current users believe that the lenses should have homogenous sharpness across the frame so designers have to do a number of things which ultimately compromise a different style of performance characterized by an extremely sharp center core and a natural fall off of sharpness in the corners and on the edges. I prefer a fast lens that loads tremendous sharpness in the critical middle section of the lens for the fast apertures understanding that the curvature of the front element mandates that performance style. It means the stuff I want to see most is very well defined and the stuff I don't care about falls out of sharpness and out of focus quicker and with a natural looking slope. 

To achieve high homogenous sharpness requires a more complicated design with more elements and more esoteric kinds of glass or grinds, or, in less expensive lenses, more plastic coated variations of aspherical lenses with their own compromises (plastic/glass interfaces and interference patterns). More elements creates more issues with manufacture and assembly which is troublesome at a time when most lenses are made with plastic cells with no tolerance correction fixes and are machined to fit a range of tolerances in a design that can't be hand tuned. The short version is that the cells that contain the glass elements have to have enough wiggle room to accommodate slop which makes the designs more vulnerable to decentering, depth discrepancies and angular positioning errors. 

What you end up with are generally lenses with less bite wide open and a more plastic rendition of tones in the range of usually useful apertures. Part of what people pay for when they buy Leica high speed lenses is high sharpness in the center brought to you by designs that are made to be adjusted for ultimate performance, by hand. While both choices are compromises the lenses we seem to love best have nothing to do with corner to corner acceptable sharpness and a lot more to do with high amounts of micro contrast over most of the frame and a convincing profile of sharpness that is diffraction limited at the maximum aperture. At this point it's almost all theoretical since the lens makers in Japan are going to go on designing most of their lenses based on the base marketing preference for measurable uniformity over ultimate center performance and decent edge performance. Apparently most people would rather have the uniformity throughout rather than the brilliance in the sweet spot. But that brings me to my topic: What lens did I buy last year that wowed me the most?

While the two fast lenses for the Panasonic G cameras, the 12-35mm f2.8X and the 35-100mm f2.8X lenses are good performers they are a bit bland because their interpretation is more aimed at frame homogeneity and less at imperfect brilliance. I like them for most work but end up shunning them for personal stuff. 

The same is true for most of the modern Nikon lenses except for the 85mm 1.8G lens. It's so sharp across the frame at f1.8 that it's seems it has a foot in both design camps. Perhaps that's an advantage of a longer focal length. But the family of lenses that is more like the alternative of design----high center sharpness  with improving sharpness in the edges and corners when stopping down---came to me in the form of the Rokinon/Samyang lenses.

I bought the Rokinon 14mm f2.8 last year (a new Nikon version to replace the departing Sony mount version) and while it has plentiful distortion and fall off it's also amazingly sharp, even wide open. But where it is sharpest is right through the middle two thirds of the frame. After my positive experiences with the 14mm I bought the 85mm 1.5 in the cine dress and was delighted with that lens. I was saddest to see that one go when I got rid of the Sony Alpha system (the a99 and a77). While I am happy with the performance of the 85mm Nikon f1.8G lens I am still planning to get a copy of the Rokinon 85mm f1.4 because of its distinctly different sharpness profile across the frame. It's the style I like.

I would have been happy just to stick with the Nikon lens had I not stuck my toes into the Rokinon/Samsung inventory once again just last month. I bought the 16mm f2.0 lens in a Nikon mount with the intention of using it as a wide angle on the Nikon APS-C cameras and as a wide/normal lens on the micro four thirds cameras. The images in this post are both from the 16mm f2.0 Rokinon and they re-sell the lens to me every time I look at them. These were shot on a Nikon D7000 and with that set up the combo is equivalent to a 24mm lens on a full frame camera. While there is a bit of distortion in the frame (easily correctable in DXO or Lightroom) the camera, even at f2.0 has a center sharpness that's very, very good and a fall off that appears natural and even tempered.

The image below shows the lens at f5.6 and I am very happy with the performance there as well. The rest of the frame comes into very acceptable sharpness. In fact, in the full resolution version of the file I can almost read the type on the thermostat on the far wall behind the man leaning on the pillar. It's a different style of lens that Nikon's and Canon's. The performance wide open in the center is very high with lots of good detail. For some reason, to me, it's more photographic. But everyone's taste is different. It may be that most of my early photographic experience was with lenses from the alternative design school of letting the spherical reality of the lens exist and designing around it rather than disquising it's basic personality under layer after layer of design additions meant to average out the performance characteristics. As I said above, both approaches are compromises and the members of the mass market get to pick their own poison. 

I'm looking forward to acquiring more and more of the Rokinon lenses to use on the front of the Nikon D610 on which I will see the differences most clearly. I love the look of sharp faces coming out of a blur of defocused side areas which are partly created by lack of depth of field but also (and maybe even more interestingly) transformed by the focus shift toward the edges created by the very sphericity of the primal lens. (And yes, I will be trade-marking "primal lens.").

This year I look forward to adding the following Rokinon lenses in Nikon mounts:

Not to replace the lenses I've collected for the Nikon cameras but to give me a wider choice of rendering so that I can overlay my own sense of photographic style and voice to various projects. Not everything I shoot needs or wants to be homogenous across every square millimeter of a frame. And I'm pretty sure I'd rather have a big chunk of imaging that's breathtakingly sharp and detailed for some stuff, even if it means that the stuff in the background of an image, at the edge of the frame isn't "perfect."

A look back at my favorite project from 2014. The website for a school.

Butterfly release. Nikon D7100+18-140mm lens+flash.

Looking back over a year's worth of assignments there are some that really stand out. It may have been the subject matter or the environment, or just that the people being photographed and the photographer were all in their own perfect grooves on that one particular day. For me the project that made me smile the most was the couple of days I spent making images of the kids at St. Gabriel's School in Austin for the school's website. Here the website, browse through and see for yourself. 

Working with clay. Nikon D7100+85mm f1.8G lens. Available light.

As is the case with most successful projects I've been involved with it wasn't that the photography was the star but that the producer of the whole project carefully crafted every single component; from the writing to the design, to the pacing and even the cropping of the images. In many regards this assignment represented a "dream job" for me. The school is in my community. I know some of the families whose kids attend the school. I'd done a video (with my friend Will van Overbeek), for Glasstire Magazine, about the art teacher. I felt at home.

But more importantly the marketing director trusted me to make the aesthetic decisions for the photographs. She gave me a list of the kinds of images she needed but left the selection of subjects, locations, lighting and gestures/expressions up to me. I was free to move from classroom to classroom and to stop and spend time where the images were working and to cut short locations or activities that didn't quite gel.

This was one of the first projects that I did in 2014 entirely with the Nikon cropped frame camera, the D7100. Over the course of the two shooting days the majority of the images were shot with either the wide ranging 18-140mm or the 85mm f1.8. I shot in raw but and trusted camera at all ISOs from 100 to 3200. I processed my files in the most up to date version of Lightroom and delivered high resolution Jpegs. I came to trust the performance of the camera and the zoom entirely. The 85mm needed some mid-course auto focus fine tuning, now it's perfect too.

The school is lovely. The buildings are pristine and inviting and the campus is situated in the middle of an very affluent neighborhood with rolling green hills to all sides of the school. The kids were great. They all seemed thrilled to be at school, curious and ready to learn. For the most part they ignored me and I got on with the process of taking pictures and they got on with their lessons. Most of the time I had only one camera out and in my hands. I kept a second camera and a few other lenses in a small, easy to carry bag. The only light I brought along was a Metz flash which was used mostly to fill in outdoor shots. Even the post processing was direct and straightforward.

Definitely my favorite project of the year.


Winter swimming and today's workout.

Young Ben. Nikon 50mm f1:1.2. On a warmer day.

It was windy and cold this morning in Austin. Oh, the northerners won't think so but 34 degrees, air laden with moisture and a snapping wind all add up to the Texas version of a cold, cold day. Especially so for outside swimming. The truly hardy swimmers in our town get to Barton Springs Pool in the early morning, before the eighth mile long, spring fed pool is officially open, that way they never have to pay an entrance fee to the city. The masters swimmers who still want to push the envelope of high performance and relive the glory of their Olympic or near-Olympic years get up earlier still and head over to the UT Swim Center to be lovingly tortured with long sets, short intervals and high expectations by coach, Whitney Hedgepeth (one gold, two silvers....). 

But those of us who have transcended our need to swim so hard and so fast that the rest of the day is consumed with yawning, napping and recovery stretches head to the finest masters program in the entire world. It exists at the Western Hills Athletic Club (aka: The Rollingwood Pool), nestled in the heart of Austin's two most affluent and desirable neighborhoods, Rollingwood and Westlake Hills. The pool is the heart of the club. It's a 25 yard pool situated on a slight rise, surrounded by majestic live oaks and shielded from view by a grand hedge that fences in the property. The pool is outdoors and we swim there all 52 weeks of the year. In the summer the water is chilled and refreshing. In the winter the water is heated to a consistent 80 degrees and the pool is covered at night with insulating covers to efficiently maintain its thermal bounty.  Yeah, there are tennis courts and basketball courts but those are only there for the people who can't swim...

It's the holidays and I'm taking time off from work and obsessive exercise. I bailed on the 7:00 am practice this morning when I heard the wind slapping the branches around, and besides, it was still dark then. But some hardy band of my swimmers made it to the workout, took the covers off the pool and did their yards under the watchful eyes of coach Dale.  It was no warmer when I showed up at 8:15 and headed toward the new locker rooms to change into my Speedo Jammer. I grabbed my fins (in case we needed them for kicking drills), my hand paddles and buoy (for pulling sets; my fave) my swim cap (black with pink butterflies on the side) and my low profile goggles. I moved quickly up the stairs and across the deck, pausing to grab a kick board from the bin next to the digital time clock at the south end of the pool. No one wasted time hanging on the deck or procrastinating about getting in. It was far too cold and windy to spend time equivocating...

I jumped into lane three with two guys who are both named, Mike. One is a life long competitive swimmer (and finance professor) the other is a well regarded younger triathlete who is also an electrical engineer. Our warm up was something like this: Swim 400, Pull 400, Kick 200 yards. We put our heads down and got to work. The swimmers are distributed through the lanes by their repeat times. The fastest people are in lanes 6 and 7. The slowest in lanes 1 and 2. But every day is different and the mix changes based on who is in attendance. Some days (when I am motivated) I might swim in lane 4 or even lane 5 but no matter how groggy or tired I am I try never to drop below lane 3. Today, at the end of a string of long and hard workouts the slower pace was just right for me. Kind of a celebratory last go for a good year. The warm up was 1,000 yards.

The next set was 15 x 100 yards, freestyle. As usual there was a pattern. Go the first three on a tight-ish interval (maybe 1:25) then drop five seconds from the interval on the next three (maybe 1:20) then come back to the first interval for the next three (1:25) then drop ten seconds from the interval for the next three (maybe 1:15) and then go back to the original interval of the last set of three. There are no rest intervals between the sets, you just go straight through. It's a fun, tough way to crank about a little less than a mile and keep a brisk pace. 1500 yards.

The next set was 15 x 50 yards with a different pattern but also on a tight-ish interval like 50 seconds per 50 yards. If you swim them fast you get more rest between each one but the higher degree of effort will make you appreciate every second on the wall. The pattern was kick/stroke/freestyle. That translates to a 50 kick with a board, a 50 of a stroke other than freestyle (we alternated butterfly and backstroke) and then a 50 freestyle. You repeat that pattern five times for a total of 750 yards.

At the end of the workout we did a set that was all about breath control. The entire set was designed to discourage negative thinking about oxygen deprivation. We did 15 x 25 yard sprints on a tight (25 second) interval. What makes this set hard is that on the first 25 yard sprint you get to take three breaths, on the second 25 you get two breaths and on the third 25 yarder you get one or zero breaths (depending on your ability).  There's another 325 yards. Then we warm down; usually something like a 200 yard easy swim----gives you a chance to cool down and work on your technique and your flip turns. While not a long distance work out we sure kept moving, had little time for chatting and were pretty tired by the end. Total=  3575 yards, a bit more than two miles and change in an hour.  I like the Saturday and Sunday workout where we get to go from 1.5 hours. You just get more done.

I stuck around to get some coaching on my butterfly stroke (watch out Michael Phelps :-)). No matter how nice you think your stroke must be it's always nice to have a learned set of eyes appraise it regularly. Sure enough I was coming a bit high out of the water and not getting my head down quick enough after my breath. Something to correct in the new year. 

The hardest part of the workout on a brisk day like today is getting out and making the minute long hike back to the locker rooms and the hot showers. My feet were thoroughly cold when I stepped over the threshold into the warmth of the new bathhouse. How can life be anything but wonderful when you start each day out like this? I've got to write a note reminding myself to pay our club dues for the year before the 15th of January. Wouldn't want to mess up the delicate balance of life.

A thank you! to Fred for reminding me that I haven't written nearly enough about swimming this year.

Ben during his swim team tenure.

A work photo of a zero edge pool in Westlake Hills.

Emily at the pool.

Off season swimwear.

Masters swimmers don't use ladders. If you can't pull yourself out of the pool without 
using your knees or a ladder you might as well give it up.

Summer at Barton Springs where the water is always 68 degrees. 

Start them swimming young and they'll get fast.

Mixing Photography and swimming on assignment.

Perfect head, arm and body position for freestyle.
Don't forget the body roll! Critical for speed.

One of the most fun pools I ever swam laps in, 
The Prince Ranier Commemorative Pool in the bay 
at Monte Carlo. 50 meters of straight up fun.
Personal yacht parked just outside, optional.

You might want to consider making a New Year's resolution to stay in great 
physical shape this year. It sure helps when you are carrying heavy photo
gear around all day. Keeping the waist line in check is an asset.
This is a visual business, after all.