A Collection of Really Good, Used Photo Books has Come to My Attention. I'm posting the link to a classified ad on the Rangefinder forum. I can vet the seller personally...


Our friend and fellow photographer, Dave Jenkins (a long time part of the VSL family) collected photo books for most of his career and is now selling them. Dave is still a working photographer and his collection of books includes many titles

 that I have on my own shelves. There are some real gems in his list and he's selling them at incredibly low prices.

While the web keeps trying to kill physical books there is tremendous value in sitting down in a nice chair, with a cup of coffee or tea, or a glass of wine, and looking through a well curated collection of images all in one place. All well printed and made to exactly the right size for immersive viewing.

I am posting this list because I think you might find a lot of value in these books. I already have the Skrebneski book but it is so good (and Dave's price is so low) that I may have to pick up a second copy unless someone beats me to it.

disclaimer: Dave is not affiliated with VSL. I am receiving no payment in either financial instruments or gifts of books to post this on VSL. There is no affiliate commission  to be earned. Dave Jenkins is totally responsible for each transaction and fulfillment. Given my long tenure of friendship with Dave I can recommend him wholeheartedly as a person and a vendor. 

Treat yourself and buy some books. The classifieds at Rangefinder are very well done and I think you can burrow down into the offering and see the cover images. Get reckless. Buy some history in the art that you love.


Testing a cheap lens under the conditions I would normally use a lens like this... A Rokinon 85mm f1.4 on a Nikon D750 body.

Please don't rush to help me select a "better" lens. I've owned two versions of the Nikon 85mm 1.4 (MF and AF-D), I currently own the very good 85mm f1.8G and I've owned literally dozens of Canon, Leica and Zeiss 85mm lenses. This article is not a plea for anyone to step in and "guide" me. I am not woefully undereducated in what is currently (or previously) available in this focal length, for Nikon. 

I was curious. That's why I took the particular lens out to shoot in the near dark. About a year ago, just after wedging myself back into the Nikon system, I came across a used Rokinon 85mm 1.4 lens in the used case at Precision Camera. They didn't think much of the lens and sold it to me, willingly, for around $125. I had owned the later, "cine" version of this lens for the Sony Alpha system so I was more or less familiar with its general characteristics but I was happy to have this lens instead of the cine version for Nikon precisely because this one has click stopped aperture settings and it also has a chip that transmits f-stop information to the Nikon cameras, as well as enabling focus confirmation. 

What that means is I can focus wide open and when I hit the shutter button the lens stops down to the aperture I've set using one of the control wheels. In short, the lens works just like one of the regular Nikon AF-D lenses ---- minus the auto focus. 

I've done a little bit of work with this lens and, like most modern, short tele lenses in play since at least the 1960's it can be very sharp and contrasty at f5.6 and f8.0. It was difficult to focus the lens on an APS-C body but I no longer have any of the smaller sensor Nikon bodies and I'm finding that I have a better chance of hitting sharp focus on the D810 and D750 focusing screens. 

What I wanted to find out is whether or not the lens is good at its widest f-stops in real shooting situations to which I can relate. I headed out the door for a walk on Saturday evening, just as the sun was setting. By the time I got to downtown there was only an afterglow of sunlight. 

Then I saw the space aliens try to kidnap Madonna from her Bentley and..


If you have not yet read "The Lisbon Portfolio" I've put up a small excerpt with which to entice you. It's from the last section of the story.


A Gallery of Sixth Street, SXSW images from earlier. A small, Friday portfolio.

flowing through the streets of downtown Austin watching the swirl of people.
Small, black OMD EM5.2 + Panasonic 12-35mm f2.8 X
You can click on any of these and see them in a gallery 2100 pixels wide...

The Olympus EM-5.2 and the Panasonic 12-35mm f2.8 lens. A very nice combination to shoot with everyday.

The beauty of owning several camera systems, one big and super high res, the other nicely sized and brilliantly portable, is that you can select the one you feel aligned with in the moment and leverage both the emotional connection to the camera as well as the technical attributes you feel you need in the moment. 

I've owned a couple of the Olympus EM5.2 cameras for many months now and find them to be wonderfully compatible with my nature when it comes to ambling around aimlessly, waiting for unexpected images to fall into my lap. I use the camera with the optional battery grip and find the combination just right. Without the battery grip parts of my right hand just don't fit anywhere and hands hate to exist without good operational boundaries. The grip with the extra battery also provides that existential calm and reassurance that one's camera won't become useless halfway through a walk, presaged by the orange, blinking battery symbol. 

You may have noticed that I don't like to carry multiple lenses with me on these unstructured walks; usually I select an normal focal length, which for me is a 50mm to 90mm equivalent, but I am equally happy with wide to short telephoto zooms. On the day I took the image above I intended to walk into downtown to see what was happening in the streets around the SXSW conferences and musical stages. A light rain had been falling all day and I decided to use the 12-35mm Panasonic lens on the camera to take advantage of the weather sealing provided by the pair. 

The camera function perfectly and, when I was immersed in non-photographic moments, hung almost transparently by my side.

Emotionally I love the little Olympus and Panasonic cameras most of all my gear. Intellectually, I like the Nikon D810 and the 85mm f1.8 best of all my gear. I'm sure people who have reconciled the two sides of their brains, and the emotional versus intellectual frisson can be happy with one well researched choice. But it certainly is fun to order up something a little different every day. 

After shooting the flowers I trudge downtown and shot on the slick streets. But that's the next blog...


I saw this video on PetaPixel and thought it was so frustratingly fun. Been there, didn't do that....

Spending the day printing portfolio photographs with the Canon Pro 100 I recently bought (dirt cheap...). Success.

I've been guilty, over the last few years, of not printing nearly as much as I should have been. Partly, I avoided printing because my older printer had seen many miles on the print head and it just wasn't giving me the quality of prints I wanted. But even more probable is my (perhaps misguided) idea that prints had lots their cachet and their primacy.

My older printer, a Canon Pro9000, temporarily gave up the ghost about three weeks before the start of the one job I do each year where I need to print a bunch of prints overnight. While a reader supplied the magic fix to revive the printer the next day, I had already pushed the button on my computer and bought a replacement. The older printer, full of brand new ink, got passed along to a younger photographer who desperately needed any printer she could get her hands on.

I bought a second set of inks and plenty of paper and one stormy Saturday night, two weekends ago, I sat in the studio at a little after midnight and started printing out 70-80 color prints to deliver a bit later in the morning. I was printing right out of PhotoShop and I got the color and density dialed in pretty quickly. The client spilled Diet Coke over some of the prints which required a quick reprinting but that's a different story.

The new printer, a Canon Pro 100, was good for seven or eight dozen 5x7 inch prints and a handful of invoices and it still was running on the original ink cartridges.

In the second half of the week things finally slowed down and I was able to start thinking about marketing once again. I decided that it would be good to update my printed portfolio and show off some of the work I've been doing in the last year. This would give me something interesting and new to show to existing clients; a reminder, if you will.

Looking around the studio I realized I had several empty 13x19 inch, leather portfolios as well as a nearly full box of 13x19 Moab Lasal Photo Matte inkjet paper. Now it was time to really zero in the new printer and get some work together to show off. I've spent time today, between swimming, napping and lunch, printing twelve different images. Some came out of the printer just perfect and some required a print or two more to get just right. The printer is not fast but it's also not slow. It takes three or four minutes to print out a 13x19"  print at the highest resolution.

The colors seem to match what I'm seeing on my 27 inch iMac screen pretty faithfully. And, looking at the prints, I realize how much I like the ritual and pleasure of looking at prints. Holding the large prints in my hands and walking over to the good light coming through four large windows makes me realize the actual improvements in the cameras I've been using. The prints are remarkably noiseless and there's no banding anywhere.

My goal between now and next Monday is to have 20 beautiful prints done, sequenced and in the portfolio binder. I can hardly wait to go around to the various agencies and clients I provide photographs to in order to share this new work with them. It's so different than sending a link on an e-mail and hoping that someone clicks through and sees the work. Often, I think, people get an e-mail like the one I envision and, while sitting over coffee at the local coffee shop, open up the link and quickly scroll through the work on their phone. Sitting in a conference room flipping outsized pages and being able to really look into the details of a printed photograph should be a totally different marketing (and viewing) experience.

The printer is nice. So far it's problem free. It does like to eat the gray inks more than anything else but the complete ink sets aren't too expensive and I doubt I'll evolve into a "power user," going through $$$$ worth of ink each month. We generally only update portfolios once or twice a year.

If I were printing fine art prints for sale (wishful thinking?) I'm sure I might have been better off getting the new Epson 800. I'm pretty sure it's a great 17 inch wide printer but I'm equally sure that, if I made that big of an investment in a printer, I'd quickly be off in the tall grass, spending hours and hours trying vainly to make each print perfect. In the end I would end up with a big, big stack of wonderful prints but a big, big hole in both my wallet and my diminishing store of spare time.

Still though, it felt great to be printing again. I will say, I think the Canon consumer printers are for people who just want to push a button or two and get a really decent print. The Epsons seem like printers for people who love to fuss and chase that last 5%. In the end any direction you go with these ink sponges is a compromise. 


The mania for lens speed is limiting our rational choices...

I used to carry around a 135mm f2.8 lens for my Contax film cameras. It was a nice companion to the 85mm f2.8 lens and, when I also had the 50mm f1.4 lens along for the ride, I felt as though I could cover anything in my usual style. It's only in the age of rampant generalism that I feel the pressure to also cover the desperately wide focal lengths as well.

But something nasty happened when we ventured into the populist age of digital photography; the masses adored the idea of zoom lenses, and they love the basic 70 or 80 to 200 mm versions best of all. At some point I guess the single focal length lenses that were covered by that range just fell off the radar entirely. At one time Nikon made a 135mm lens in f3.5, f2.8 and f2.0 variants. If you needed the speed you carried the weight. If you needed the focal length without the speed you were rewarded with a choice of two very well corrected lenses at two lower price points. My favorite was the ais version of the 2.8 which was small and not too heavy. It fit nicely in a bag and compressed images well. Best of all, being a single focal length lens it was very well corrected and very sharp for the price.

My first 135mm was a Vivitar 135mm f2.8 that was in the original Canon FD mount, and though it was only $79, brand new, it was a great lens and could be shot wide open with reasonable results. The camera I mostly used it on was my first SLR, the Canon TX, a fully manual, all metal camera body with shutter speeds up to a whopping 1/500th of a second... That camera had one great feature: It was impossible to break.

I dragged the combo across Europe one Fall and came home with a number of great Tri-X images.

Lately I've been hankering (Texana) for a 135mm lens that fits those same parameters. Not too heavy and not too big, but plenty sharp and better optically than the "fast" zooms. Sadly, the only prime 135mm left in the Nikon catalog is the 135mm f2.0 DC lens, which I consider a specialty optic. Yes, it's very sharp and also has the feature of being able to dial in spherical distortion for a more pleasing bokeh, but the damn thing is three times as heavy as the old 135mm and three times as expensive. Great fashion lens --- crappy lens for walking around.

Almost every 135mm lens out there is a variation of a fairly simple optical formula so I can't think that the mid-speed ones are expensive to build, but because of the influx of people into the craft who always think, "faster is better" and "zooming is better", the choices we used to take for granted have disappeared. If you happen to have an old 135mm Nikon f2.8 ais or ai lens you'd like to get rid of you might want to drop me a line. It's the current gap in my portrait pantheon that's driving me a little nuts.

Are there focal lengths that you loved that have disappeared? Would you buy it if it re-appeared? Or are you as happy as can be with the "holy trinity" of f2.8 zoom lenses?

Sometimes you have to build stuff to get the shots you want.

A couple of years ago my friend, Chris Archer, talked to me about a project he wanted to do. He'd just bought a Sony F55 Cine Alta video camera that was capable of shooting pretty decent slow motion and he had a friend who was an accomplished dancer. He wanted to shoot her in front of a wall of cascading sand as she dropped into the frame from above, and he wanted everything but the sand and the dancer to drop into total black.

During the course of his experimentations he decided that he really needed to shoot with a Phantom camera for even slower, slow motion. He also decided that he needed to build this rig to drop the sand evenly across two, large intersecting planes. Chris had carpenters build the entire rig/set for this in an airplane hangar at the old, Mueller Airport, here in Austin.

Chris asked me to help out with the lighting. We wanted a semi-hard source that was somewhat directional but had soft edges. I figured a 24 by 36 inch, heat proof softbox with a 2,000 watt, open face tungsten light would be good. I skirted the box with black fabric to cut down on spilling light so we didn't contaminate the background of black felt. We were able to pull f2.8 at our high speed settings something like 600 frames per second. With the fast, Zeiss cine lenses we were using that aperture was the perfect combination of sharpness and depth of field control (sharp subject, sharp sand, not sharp black material). We added a few highly controlled spots for fill in light but they had little overall effect on the scene. I could tell they were there but they were subtle...

Once Chris had his angles figured out we started placing the two thousand pounds of sand on the set.

The resulting video was pretty amazing. It takes eight or ten seconds from the point the dancer enters the frame until she lands on the sand. Every grain of sand that puffs up is clearly delineated. I liked the concept. I loved the fact that Chris was so committed that he engineered every piece of a custom set that took weeks to concept, design and implement. Sometimes that dedication to doing things exactly right goes missing when clients show up with budget restrictions and a general lack of understanding just how much goes on

Get your light high enough to put a shadow under your portrait subject's chin. That's all I've got.

Dani. ©2013 Kirk Tuck

A fun list of Henri Cartier-Bresson quotations. All of them perfectly suited to the discussion of the week...