The agony and the near ecstasy of using the FZ1000 for an event. (note: for rain, low light, and flash, keep your DSLR at hand).

Just a fun photograph. Not even tangentially associated with the 
subject matter of the blog. Shot by me for a telecom company in 
the earlier days of digital.

Ah. It was the ultimate in hubris from a smart ass photographer who thought his skill and talent could overwhelm and cheat the laws of physics only to end up chained to a rock, waiting for the eagle to come by and gnaw at his liver....

So, I had a little luck in some nice light in the middle of the day and shot a few images I liked with the Panasonic FZ 1000 and then I went off the deep end. I capriciously decided that I could press the one inch sensor into any job at any time. My luck held until the second day of a four day long job. I showed up bright and early for an assignment in a hotel ballroom to discover that someone had gelled the ballroom down lights of part of the room with orange theatrical gels. Other parts of the ballroom were lit with naked fluorescent can lights and at the back of the room was a 10 by 16 foot, high output LED video screen which would show massive versions of speakers' PowerPoint presentations.  

The lights were turned down low to prevent washing out the LED screen, but honesty, the screen was so bright they needn't have bothered. The room had four color sections: One part was cast in deep orange with scant little from any other part of the spectrum. The second were the outposts of greenish, unfiltered fluorescent lights. The third color section was the ever changing wash of mostly blueish light coming off the amazingly powerful video screen. And finally, there were areas where attendees at this large, roundtable discussion were not lit. At all. This was a location designed to kill the spirit of any photographer. Especially one who had accepted the client request not to use any sort of flash. 

I was early and as I stared around the hellish ballroom (both figuratively and color wise) I got angry, frustrated and a bit nervous. I still held out hope, however, that by sheer dint of experience, I would be able to pull it off. "It" being gorgeous, thoughtful photographs of people engaged in the give and take of spirited debate and conceptual sharing. 

Well, the problem with orange gelled anything is that it narrows the available spectrum for the camera sensor. Essentially the wavelengths being delivered to the sensor in this case are almost entirely in the red spectrum and any attempt at color balancing causes the camera to push the blue and green channels to the limits. That's where the noise lives. And then the noise reduction kicks in and everything is a mess. I gave it a valiant try but I could tell the files were always going to be either mostly orange or mostly noisy. Especially above 1600 ISO. 

Fortunately, a stint in the Boy Scouts back in the 1960s left me with the mindset of always being prepared. I tossed the little(?) Panasonic back into its bag and went up to my hotel room to fetch the "safety" camera; the Nikon D750 and it's pal, the 24-120mm lens. The images will still be mostly orange but the camera handles the noise better at the elevated ISO at which I had to shoot. 

I learned a lot by pressing the wrong camera into the wrong job. I learned that the one inch cameras are good at low noise file production if the circumstances are optimal. That includes full spectrum light sources and enough light to register. For the record, the fz 1000 had no trouble focusing on anything I wanted it to focus on. It was at least as good in focusing as the Nikon D750. Maybe better. 

I learned that I can only get the flash exposures I want with the consistency I need if I use flashes in a manual exposure mode on the mirrorless cameras (a lesson I learn again and again). I set the flash at 1/8th or 1/16th power and use the guide number method for determining exposure. It works all the time but it's not automatic. Your brain has to be engaged. When I switched over to the Nikon the flash on full TTL auto was right on the money time after time. 

Does this mean I'm over the fz1000? Not at all. But I'll use it more intelligently in the future. It's a great walk around camera and a great daylight camera but it's hopelessly outclassed by the D750 when it comes to creating files under mixed light at ISO 6400, no matter how badly I wish it wasn't so. 

But, let me tell you where the fz 1000 does shine; it's a wonderful and inexpensive 4K video camera. My kid's birthday was last week and he's off at school 2,000 miles from home. I thought it would be fun and would make him smile if I could put together a video of his Austin friends wishing him well for his birthday. I went around with the fz 1000 and a small microphone and interviewed as many of his friends as I could find. I also got on camera birthday wishes from the chefs and owners of his favorite restaurants, etc. In every case the video was perfect. Highly detailed and wonderful skin tones under lots of different available light sources. 

I wish Panasonic had given me a headphone jack so I could monitor what kind of sound I'm getting but it's not a deal killer for a camera that generates such nice files. I'll work around that one oversight. 

I mentioned the ecstasy of using the fz 1000 as well as the agony outlined above. Here's where it shines: I needed to photograph two concerts. I used the camera as an available light concert camera and having a 400mm equivalent along with massively good I.S. meant I could zoom in and create tight headshot without having to huge the stage and be in everyone's face. The images were great.

We also did a "grip and grin" session with a band and some clients, against a step-and-repeat background and once I dialed in an off camera flash correctly the camera was very easy to work with and the files matched the quality I would expect from a much more expensive camera and lens combination. Use this camera at ISO 200-400 and you'll get wonderful images. Use it at 1600 ISO in the right light and you'll still get wonderful images. Use it in an impossible situation for any camera and it's guaranteed to fail.

I'm keeping mine around. It's a perfect casual shooter and a seriously good video camera. Just don't be experimental (stupid) to the extent that I was. There are laws of physics that are not changed by even the grandest hubris.

The taboo subject that no photographer or blogger really wants to write about. But it's part of the spectrum of our professional (and personal) existence...

Self Portrait on my Sixtieth Birthday.

It is often said that "photography is a young person's job." There are few professional football or baseball players who last in the leagues over 40, much less 50; and sixty year old sports stars are almost unheard of in professional sports. Same thing with photographers. Most of them are smart enough to find something better to do by the time they hit their forties. The drop out rate of professional (working) photographers gets higher as the years advance. Many people credit aging with the greater and greater market acceptance of smaller, lighter mirrorless cameras: they are easier to carry around on battered shoulders and by people with bad backs.

We also live in a youth culture that has a difficult time believing that anyone over thirty has anything useful to say about visual culture. The younger people in our business and our avocation tend to think of older photographs mostly as "landscape" photographers rather than as people who can still have a vital connection to popular culture. We venerate some older advertising photographers but we also relegate them to being workshop producers, club speakers and people busy cobbling together various retrospectives.

In one regard I get it. We tend to shoot a lot of the same kinds of assignments over and over again. I just finished photographing a conference with software executives who are convinced that everything they are working on is new and groundbreaking. That it will change the landscape of modern business. That they alone are gifted enough to pull it off. "It" being the industry and financial success of another "unicorn" business. I shot earnest business meetings and included lots of shots of men in sport coats looking serious and engaged. I sat through dinners and presentations ad infinitum. I laughed (weakly) at the same kind of jokes I heard from the same basic cohort of people thirty years ago. I was happy with the challenges of working with low and drifting light but I was bored by the content and almost resentful about the huge gaps of lost time between and around the various events. It was deja vu all over again. The documentation of the ephemeral nature of commerce...

As we age we tend to get pigeonholed by younger generations based on the stereotypes the media creates about people who are our age. One mythology is that few people at sixty can program a remote for their own television, troubleshoot their own computers, or text with admirable dexterity. They presume that we all have bad backs, heart conditions, hearing loss and need to pee all the time.  The younger photographers are mostly convinced that we are all bitter wedding photographers who've lost our relevance to modern photographic commerce and are coasting unhappily toward retirement with fond memories of our time spent with Mamiya RB67's and portrait films. Pass the Metamucil and the Centrum Silver vitamins and let's rehash whether Dean Collins or Monte Zucker was the better lighting teacher.

Well, I hate to push back on the stereotypes but I'm not ready to give up, get a mini-van and a Naugahyde Lazy Boy Lounger, and sit back watching "Good Morning America" with a cup of Sanka in my hands. Fuck that.

Some of us can still knock out a good, five mile run without reaching for the AED paddles. Some of us can swim faster at 60 than the general population could....ever. Some of us still take the stairs two at a time with a camera bag filled with dead weight, without falling over, panting. And some of us can still take really good photographs.

If I'm sounding a bit put out today it's because it's my birthday and I turned 60. I hate the idea of getting older. I hate the idea (with a white hot passion) of ever retiring, quitting, stopping or slowing down. And I will resist, with all my energy, the entropy that renders one irrelevant. I'm not ready to drop the bag of stands and bag of cameras in order to start the decline into the "quiet and thoughtful" workshop routine. I have no desire to put together a big show of my life's work. I never got into the field of photography to preen and display. I do this because I love the process more than I love the trappings. I show images to prove my value--- in order to get new access, and to gain entrance to new conversations. I shoot the images because they touch something in my heart or my brain.

The human condition is in constant flux. The nature of human physiology changes with the intermingling of our races and societies and creates new faces and new cultural identities. It's a rich mix of ingredients that make portrait photography and documentary photography new and magical nearly every day.

I've come to understand that the best way to prevent sliding off the map is to resist embracing the dated mythologies of the people in my general age group and social strata. Embracing the constant change keeps one in the flow of change rather than on the outside, tutting derisively about "the way things have become." If it's common knowledge it's generally so dated it is now wrong. Discovery.  It's why I shoot with new cameras. It's why I embrace street art and it's why I refuse to do photographic things the "old, proven" way instead of pushing a bit harder at the parts I never liked in the first place.

I plan to shoot and work until no one else will hire me. I intend to go out into the world in the spirit of visual exploration until they stop making cameras and outlaw serious photography altogether.

So, what am I doing for my 60th birthday? Same stuff. Walk the dog. Have coffee. Swim with the master's team. Take a long walk through downtown Austin with a fun camera in my hands. Finish the post processing from a long, four day job and then wind down and have a nice dinner with Belinda.

That, and fight against the stereotype of the aging photographer.

added after posting: http://visualsciencelab.blogspot.com/2013/04/up-in-smoke-burn-past.html