Playing with a new (used) lens while I am waiting for Lightroom to chew through 750 files. Hello Contax 28-85mm f3.3-4.

Summer Haze over downtown Austin. From the south side of the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge.

I am so suggestible. On a whim, earlier this month, I bought a used Contax 50mm f1.7 lens and an inexpensive adapter. I was charmed by the lens's brightness and sharp character and I did what I would guess about 90% of my readers here would do and started looking through Amazon, KEH and the other usual suspects to see what other C/Y (Contax/Yashica) Zeiss lenses might still be circulating out there in the wild. That led me to a "Like New" Contax 28-85mm f3.3-4.0 Vario Sonnar. But I resisted the lure for a few casts....   I went into the research mode (because it's kind of fun, while tinged with anxiety) and started reading whatever I could about the lens. 

According to the wisdom of the web the lens is somewhere on a continuum of "pretty decent" to "omigod!!! If you are even considering it rush out and get it. It will change your life!!!." So, we discount the hysteria at one end and the "meh-ism" at the other end and try to analyze the median results. I was given to believe that the lens (at least a good copy) is sharp throughout the focal range, with a bit (3.5%) of distortion at the wide angle end (simple barrel) and a bit less sharpness at the long end. But then the cosmic marketers conspired with the web writers and I read some stuff about the lens on a site dedicated to people who use Red video cameras. They seem to really like this lens because ---- wait for it ---- it is less contrasty and more organic in its rendering that the current "state of the art lenses."  The Red user writing the review conjectured that the lower contrast goes a long way to providing more usable dynamic range and a softer/gentler roll off to white in the highlights. 

And the hook was set. As I am currently in the mode of getting rid of clutter and useless junk I was torn by my weakness and desire, on one hand, and my downsizing minimalism streak on the other. I vacillated for a while. Finally, one of my friends pointed out the low price and the general parsimonious bent I'd been on lately, vis-a-vis gear, and I pushed the button to make it mine. 

Things rarely work out the way you might want and so the lens did not come in time for yesterday's big shoot, where it would have been tossed right into the deep end of shooting without the due diligence that every professional should practice. (And so I guess things did work out in terms of protecting me from myself...). The lens was sitting at the front door, nicely packed in cardboard and puffy plastic and just waiting for me to excavate it. 

Ben and I unloaded the car, got the mail and, in general wrapped up the working day, and then I sat down at my desk to open the box. The lens was well packed and the camera store that sent it also packed in a lens cleaning cloth and a lollipop. The lens was as advertising and looked brand new. No use marks were visible anywhere and the glass was perfect. How disappointing to get any great new toy at the end of a long working day. There's little or no chance of rushing out to play with it before the euphoria of unpacking wears off....

As a compromise I worked on the image files from yesterday until about ten p.m. last night in order to buy myself so down time this morning. I still needed to get a gallery uploaded and online by the end of the day today but at least I had a running start...

After breakfast I rubbed some sun screen on my face, found a big hat and headed downtown with my latest treasure. Funny, the lens is about 1.5 times as heavy as the camera body I was using; a Sony A7ii. I worried about the lens mount and so, instead of hanging the camera over my shoulder I just left the strap in the car and carried the camera around by the lens. Kinda comfy. 

It's hot and hazy in Austin these days. The sky blues up quickly until mid-afternoon when the clouds build up and threaten rain. I was out on the streets by 8:30am and once again noticed that Austin is an extreme car culture and that our downtown streets look as vacant as the day after the apocalypse, when it comes to pedestrians. It's just not like a real big city where people lope along with their coffee in one hand and their satchels in the other, weaving in and out of a crowd. There's nothing to weave through on our sidewalks and all of the coffees are in the drink holders of the cars stuck in long lines, anxiously trying to get into parking garages and lots. The nice thing is that, unlike NYC, you don't need to pull out of the walking traffic to stop and take a photograph. 

On the other hand you are more or less out of luck if you are hoping to photograph someone interesting on the street. A few midwestern tourists and some homeless guys. But both those sub-genres went out of style years and years ago. I looked in vein for super models, or just regular models and when they never appeared I thought I could even be content photographing someone wearing black and sporting an interesting hat. No luck. So I went back on my promise not to shoot architecture downtown because of my pent up desire to --- play with the new lens.

I was happy and underwhelmed at the same time. The color handling of the lens is superb. Love it. But it's harder to focus accurately than is the 50mm from the same maker. I thought, when first viewing the files on my 27 inch screen that the lens was unsharp. But it's really just my old eyes and my misplaced reliance on in camera focus peaking. All of the images on which I took my time to punch in with focus magnification and really rivet in are gloriously sharp. I guess even the ones that were haphazardly focused with focus peaking are acceptable if I don't peak at 1:1. If I nail focus though I get a lot more excited about it. 

Accurately focused with focus magnification. 

This lens also brought up another subject for me, and that's the indiscriminate use of image stabilization. The Sony A7x cameras with built-in image stabilization do a good job with dedicated lenses. They do a superb job with combinations of image stabilized lens working in tandem with the image stabilized bodies, but I'm not sure the implementation is good with non-system zoom lenses. In the Steady Shot menu on the A7x cameras you have the option, when using older, or non-system lenses, to set the focal range of the lens you intend to use on the camera and that tells the camera and sensor how to approach stabilization. But there is no "automatic" setting for lenses with multiple focal lengths. 

I tried some images with the feature on and they off and I felt that the "off" images, if the shutter speeds were high enough, were a bit sharper than the images created when using the Steady Shot. As though the SS was trying too hard to correct and leaving me with images that were less sharp rather than more. I'm pretty sure that we are all better off using some form of image stabilization at lower shutter speeds, where hand shake and camera movement is most prevalent but I'm equally sure that there is an upper shutter speed level where the curves of image improvement flatten out and fall off. 

The issue did send me to the studio to grab a stout tripod and run a few tests with the SS turned off and the camera focused with precision. That laid to rest any misconceptions I might have had about the sharpness of the system; the real issue is the integration of a much older lens, and lens design, on a very modern camera whose sensor and circuits are expecting something entirely different. 

One of the reasons I had for wanting this lens was my recent total immersion into video. If I could bore down to one persistent issue in using non-dedicated video cameras (hybrid cameras?) to shoot video with it would come down to focusing. While everyone complains about bad sound ruining their productions I think my nemesis is getting to sharp focusing and staying there. If I tried focusing using focus magnification on the Sony cameras the issue (especially with smaller sensor cameras) is that there isn't enough acuity or difference between tones or areas with a 5.8X maximum magnification. 

If I went into still mode and set the focus with a much higher (and more accurate) magnification and then switched back to the video mode one accidental touch of the lens focus ring took me right out of the correct focus and threw me back onto the rocks of uncertainty. What I found when using totally manual focus lenses was that I could do the same exiting and re-entering dance, use the more powerful focus magnification, and switch back to video mode with absolute certainty that the lens would not move with a casual touch of the focusing ring. 

The next factor, still in the realm of video focusing, was the inability with focus by wire lenses to do any sort of focus pull. A focus pull is the pre-meditated, smooth change of focus from a near subject to a far one or vice versa. With "old fashion" mechanical manual focusing systems the ring always turns the same amount when going from near to far or far to near. There is always a hard stop at infinity and at the closest focusing distance. I can rehearse a focusing move by first focusing on the closest subject and then marking the ring with a piece of tape at the exact spot. I can then pre-focus and mark the ring at the focusing distance at which I want to end up. During the actual shoot I can use my two marks to go back and forth between two subjects with every hope of getting both of them in good focus. Can't do that with fly-by-wire. 

So, while I love the 24-70mm f4.0 Zeiss lens for the Sonys, it's a nightmare for video focusing. 

There's one more thing that bugs me about modern lenses. Some of them are designed with horrible distortion left intact, which is then masked by in camera lens profiles that use data to correct for output. Yeah. Unless you use one of these modern lenses on a camera that doesn't correct for lens distortion during video. Ouch. The older lenses didn't have the "benefit" of getting corrected by the camera or, even after the fact, in the image processing software. What was the solution? Lens designers spent more time and money making sure the older lenses had much lower levels of distortion. Which means that when you use them on modern cameras there is less need to depend on corrections that may rob one of resolution in the corners as well as lost imaging real estate. 

Finally, older, manual zooms tend to be Parfocal. That is to say that they don't shift focus as they zoom. Very, very few modern, AF zooms are Parfocal. The makers can save money on designing and producing the new lenses because the AF modules focus the lenses after one zooms. Try doing a test on your $2400, miracle 24-70mm Nikon lens. Focus at the long end with a wide aperture. Then either switch to manual or use S-AF and hold the shutter button halfway down as you zoom to the short end. Shoot a photo there and let me know if it is still in sharp focus. Probably not. Yay! Old zooms. 

Obviously I haven't had the lens long enough to shoot important things with it (portraits) or to make any sort of in-depth evaluations. I'm not interested in doing "tests" but I'll be shooting with it as much as I can for the next few weeks we'll dig down and see what this particular lens can do and how it handles on different bodies. One benefit I already know I like is the extra 15mm of reach over that of the 24-70mm lens. I'm always in favor of longer focal lengths and don't really care about those four pesky millimeters of wide at the other end. 

I don't know what this sign really means. Will some product at this store take 30% off my best times and make me that much faster? Will I swim up to 30% of my body fat off? (At which point I would be dead). Or is it some misguided advertising message that supposes people will make the jump to understanding that something in the store having to do with swimming is now 30% off. I had ambiguity in advertising. I don't think it is cute....

Look. There's flare. You would flare too if I pointed you into a mirrored reflection of the sun.

All skies "as shot" no blue-hancements were made.

If this lens pans out to be as good as the 50mm f1.7 then I'm hooked on old Zeiss lenses and will begin foraging for them. If it's a keeper I might also invest in a higher quality adapter; if there is one. I'm okay with this one but I've been trained to believe that more expensive ones are better....

That's it.

Color control via custom white balancing in camera.

We were shooting in interesting light yesterday. And it was fun. We were using CooLED lights in soft boxes, and in shiny reflectors covered with diffusion "socks." There was ample sunlight coming through windows all around us, and in some spots there were little ceiling can lights --- but we turned those off. As a rule, when shooting in the mixed light of LEDs and indirect sunlight, we try to get our white balance on the money, in the camera for a couple of reasons. While it's true that we could probably arduously wend our way toward a pleasing white balance by shooting raw and spending hours and hours in post production; correcting file after file (no two of which would be exactly the same...), we prefer to get it right for a whole sequence of images and have the wonderful joy of opening up the files in Lightroom and not having to do any color correction for any of the files. And secondly we know that if we take the time to get the color balance right before shooting we are also able to get much more exacting exposure results as well. Why? Changing color balance in post also changes exposure values.

Yesterday we were photographing people and shooting for expressions. That's different than shooting landscapes or still life. You can't really bracket any of the portraits since the one you will like the most will almost always be the one that's too dark or too light. If you are working with non-professional talent you might need to shoot a lot of frames to catch a fleeting expression. You might also need to shoot a fair number of frames just to get the person in front of your camera used to the process. When you deal with even small groups of people, if you are thorough, your frame count goes up times the number of people in the group.

We came home with about 1,500 frames yesterday. We worked


One more one light portrait before we extinguish the studio lights and go into the house...

©Kirk Tuck. All Rights Reserved.

Renee Zellweger and I were just playing around in the studio and I decided to do a portrait with one big light only. I used a 4 foot by six foot softbox driven by a Norman 2000 flash system. Back then I put extra layers of diffusion on the front of the soft boxes because I liked to soup my film a bit contrasty and I needed to tone down the light. 

This image was done with a Pentax 645 and Agfapan APX 100. Lost to the ravages of time is my memory of exactly what printing paper I printed this one but it's a good bet that it was Ilford Multigrade fiber, toned in selenium. 

Night all. I have to get some sleep so I can spend the day tomorrow the same way I did back in 1993. Making portraits. 

Standing around in Sienna. Just waiting for something cool to happen.

Damn, it's hard to be inconspicuous holding a big, silver Hasselblad in front of your chest. But sometimes you just have to decide that discretion is overrated.

I saw this photograph earlier today and it inspired me to go home and make a fettucini Alfredo with smoked salmon. I have to get off this recent pasta kick or I'll need to start going to two swim practices per day to ensure that my pants fit...

One light portrait. Light emerging from dark.

©Kirk Tuck. All rights reserved.

We read all the time about the need for separation from backgrounds in photographs but sometimes the dogged pursuit of how we "should" do things becomes an affectation. I think you should light stuff the way your brain thought you saw it in the first place. In real life not everything has perfect tonal separation. But the graphic balance of light and dark is fun. 

Packing for tomorrow's shoot. Working in an historic house; photographing attorneys for a website.

Tomorrow Ben and I are booked to go on location and make photographs for a law firm's website. It's different than recent portrait-oriented projects because the main graphics for the website are very horizontal banners with a main element; a single person or a group of people, placed to the right of the frame with some free space to the left of center to use for headlines, pull quotes and other content.

The look is very informal. We'll have mixed light sources and informal groups of people at work. We have a good list of shots to work from and we're pretty confident we can get what's needed in an eight hour day. Since the location is rich with ambient light we've made a conscious decision to travel light on lights. I'm bringing three fairly powerful LED lights to use as fill lights and, in spots that don't get exterior light, we'll use these lights with soft boxes as our main light sources. There is inevitably a color mismatch when using constant, one temperature light sources mixed with daylight; mostly because the daylight is constantly changing. Direct light bouncing into the space (at least from 10am to 4pm) will usually be around 5500K, while open shade or indirect sun can be as cool as 6500K to 7200K. All bets are off if it's heavily overcast like the weather outside just now. The light could be warm or it could be even cooler than 7200K. No matter what the outside light is our fixtures are constantly 5600K.

In a shooting situation like this one I like to start out making a custom white balance with the target at the main subject position before we start shooting. We don't bracket exposures so an upfront measurement of the white balance and the exposure (in that order) is the preferred method.

My soft boxes are a bit warm and will probably bring the color temperature of the LEDs down by 200 degrees or so. It should work in my favor...

The lighting kit is simple: Three LED fixtures that plug into the wall. Two 25 foot extension cords with multiple connectors on the end. Two 24x36 inch soft boxes (internal baffles removed) and one polished reflector for direct application of hard light (for effect). Three light stands complete the set.

We're bringing a tripod that goes up about a foot taller than the top of my head so we'll also pack along a two step ladder. The tripod is like a security blanket for me. I'm sure we could actually do without it the way I have the shoot planned, but I just feel naked if I don't bring one....

I'll be predominantly shooting with one camera and one lens. My camera of choice is the Sony A7Rii and I'm using it because the 42 megapixel resolution will help with any tight top to bottom cropping the agency making the website might wish to try. I'm also happy to use it because I am throwing my usual shooting style to the wind and cranking the ISO up to 1600 as my base setting. I'll come down if I have to but I am also ready to go up to 6400 if the situation warrants. For someone who has always stuck with lower ISOs and a pursuit for ultimate quality this is a big departure. But I'm confident with this camera and my raw post processing skills and I really want to be able to shoot high shutter speeds and medium apertures for a lot of what I'm capturing. That way I can freeze most movement and still have adequate depth of field. We'll see if it works.

But the technique does play to the strengths of the lens I'll (mostly) be using. The Sony/Zeiss 24-70mm f4.0 is a very good normal zoom and I like the overall look of the photographs I've made with it. Since the frames are so wide I don't really see myself shooting any longer than 70mm (although I will bring a 70-200mm zoom along, just in case) but I may need to shoot shorter so I am also packing a 14mm lens. I'll think of it as a wide angle zoom since the camera's prodigious resolution allows for lots of cropping after the fact. In effect, the 14mm is really my 14-21mm zoom.

Of course I am brining along an A7ii as a back-up camera, along with some prime lenses that cover the focal lengths I think I'll be using most often. It would be simpler, I know, just to leave all the other cameras at home and bring the all purpose Sony RX10iii instead but ---- I really want some focus drop off in most of the images and we have no need for anything with that kind of range tomorrow.

Everything but the stands, soft boxes and the tripod fits into two roller cases. One for Ben and one for me. I'll give Ben an a6300 with the 18-105mm just in case he sees stuff that looks good while I am busy elsewhere; that, and a bit of behind the scenes documentation....

That's what we're doing for fun around here today ---- packing for tomorrow. 

Studio Portrait with one light.

In my rush to make sure I had lighting equipment to cover every possible contingency I lost sight of my understanding that simplicity was essentially the key to the style I like best. Every light I add to a portrait seems to diminish its intimacy and its power. I keep trying to remember the lessons I've learned. It's not important to use all the gear at your disposal. In fact, it may be injurious to seeing your style clearly.

Just a thought.


Rome. In the age of pay phones.

Stalking the street scene with a Mamiya 6 Medium Format Camera. 

Ah. The halcyon days of the square frame....

Transitioning to a new way of thinking about the imaging business. Part of the process is letting go....

On a bright and sunny afternoon, recently, I was cleaning my little studio and office space when I came across two reminders of time past. One was a tax return from 1997, and the other was a box of 8x10 inch color transparencies; mostly still life work for customers like Dell, Power Computing and Domain Magazine. 

The numbers on the tax return were insane. While so much more money flowed through the business back then so much of it went back out to pay for film, processing, polaroid test materials, printing, huge studio rental and assistants. The overhead included a full darkroom, 3,000 square feet of downtown studio space and multiple sets of camera gear: Everything from 35mm (rangefinder and str) to an 8x10 inch view camera. Not included in the numbers was the insane learning curve investment (without the benefit of the internet) to master so many processes and so many ways of making images. 

The odd epiphany for me is that when we distilled down all the costs we were on set or on location working about 250 days a year to net about what we do in the current time period working 60-70 days a year. The present business model is so downsized by comparison. My current studio and office occupies about 650 square feet (which I own instead of leasing), I can currently fit all the cameras I own into one roller case. I still own way too many lights. There's no darkroom. There are orders of magnitude fewer assistants and professional services involved. We seem to have done a good job of shedding costs while increasing the core, fee based income. 

Those changes, from big space to small space, from lease to own, from many assistants to solitude, from huge investments in cameras to a meager (but smart) selection, happened gradually as we steered the business into digital imaging, starting around 1999. But what opened my eyes to the changing models was the diversification from "just" photography to writing books and articles about photography. One could make good, sustainable, renewable money with nothing more than a $1,000 laptop and the knowledge already gained. If that's all it took to add a significant amount of income to the business could we not also get rid of the hard costs and winnow down photography to its essentials and, in the process, spend less time to make the same final, net income? Seems like the answer is yes. As long as the changes you are making are in line with your market. 

My son, Ben, was fascinated when he saw the 8x10 inch color transparencies. I talked him through the whole process of shooting large format and he was amazed at the complexity and craft basis for the work we did in those formats. But we both agreed that those were different times and those times weren't coming back. That train of thought led me to believe that the business itself continuously makes opportunities to take advantage of those ever reductive changes, and that basing a business on the last century concept of "needed"  inventory, old school methodologies, and old school marketing would seem to be a financial dead end. Which led me to question why we, as a professional services industry, are in reality, very slow to change. 

I liken it to Wayne Gretzky's famous line about not skating to where the puck is but skating to where the puck will be. If the gravity of change forces you to change because you've become ensnared in its grip you have arrived where the puck used to be and not where the puck is now. And waiting until a new norm has been safely established and proven to be correct is now more financially dangerous than constantly pushing forward to learn the new ways. 
Now there are really only two things that imaging businesses must excel in; one is marketing and the other is creative creation. Nowhere in the equation is it any longer cost effective to horde an inventory of quickly depreciating equipment, nor is it an effective strategy to constantly overbuy. 

In the realm of cameras I can easily and quite convincingly make the case that the vast majority of professional work being done has, as its final target, placement on the web. That could include banner ads for client websites, images for social media, portraits for LinkedIn, Facebook, and company websites or photographic illustrations for web advertising. Of the remaining placements most will be print advertising at one page or smaller and direct mail at 6x9 inches and smaller. For editorial photographers (we always seem to hear about sports photographers...) the target is generally the magazine website and the printed magazine page. Most images are used one page or smaller but even if they were used as double trucks the magazine are printed on high speed web presses and on the cheapest (read: low ink saturation, low res) papers. The takeaway is that none of these uses would be the least bit taxing to a top line Micro Four Thirds system like the GH4 or the EM5.2 and would certainly represent horrible and wasteful overkill for medium format cameras and 50 megapixel cameras; unless they were being used for an aesthetic consideration like the degree of focus ramp available. 

I keep downsizing cameras and lenses here. We have three pairs of Sony cameras and a handful of lenses. When I pick a camera pair for a project I like to consider the parameters of the project and then match the system. The smallest format is the one inch sensor family of Sony RX10s. The middle format is the APS-C family of the a6300 and a6000. The big format cameras are the A7x bodies. It's rare that I mix and match. If resolution and sharpness are the only criteria I can select from any of the three families of cameras. If I'm shooting documentary video the RX10s get first crack. If I'm shooting classic portraits with lush, out of focus backgrounds then the A7xs get tossed into the camera bag. The process is pretty simple. 

If I need anything else I will rent it. And in many cases, if I need something else I might also rent the operator that comes with it. If a client wants me to show up for a client interview and they have to see a prestige video camera on the set I'll hire an FS7 camera and its owner operator rather than try to get totally up to speed on yet another camera from yet another field. If  client demands medium format photography (right.....) then I'll rent the system I need and toss it back to the supplier the minute I am finished with it. Ownership, maintenance, mastery and depreciation are no longer worth it so renting gear we might only use once or twice a year is my strategy. 
Many years ago I read about a German fashion photographer who was at the very top of his game. I was stunned to read that he had no studio, no lights, no stands, no gewgaws and no car. I couldn't imagine it when I overlayed the demands of my studio at the time onto his approach. It seems that the only things he owned were: a camera body he had mastered. a favorite lens (that he shot with 90% of the time --- not a zoom). And a light meter he trusted. Everything else was rented for the project right in front of him. The wonderful things for him were the elimination of overhead and the lack of mental inertia that would have required him to use the equipment he owned instead of the new lights (or whatever) that he wanted to try. To, you know, push the limits of his current creative envelope. 

A couple of weeks ago I looked around my space and the clutter appalled me. My desk was covered with paperwork. Two hulking filing cabinets were constantly in my left side peripheral vision as I sat at my desk. Over against one wall were two rolling tool chests filled with either cameras or junk. Perhaps the two categories were so intertwined I couldn't see the differences. 

I finally just couldn't take the visual clutter anymore. I've totally cleared out one of the rolling tool chests. I found filters for old series 50 Hasselblad lenses, batteries for cameras that hadn't been made in years, a viperous nest of cable releases that I was certain I might need again one day, too many broken watches or watches with dead batteries. Old, battered cameras that had been given to me by some other suffering photo wretch in an attempt to declutter his own life; and way too many cables. Everything from SCSI connectors to VGA connectors. Stuff Mac users haven't needed in decades.

The process of paring down in arduous and not for the meek of resolve. Once I started in on the red tool chest I would not let myself stop. I filled trash cans. I sent stuff away to the next unlucky photographer bastards. And, in the glow of triumph, I hauled the tool chest off in the car to the local Goodwill. What a victory. Now I'm hard at work on distilling down flash equipment. I am equally overweight on things that flash. 

There is a certain logic in using flash but more and more I am finding that interior work gets done with LEDs and florescent lights and the use of flash is more or less relegated to fill flash in sunlight. But so much of our buying wisdom is predicated on what was essential ten or twenty years ago when everything was lit by flash and ISO 100 was de rigueur. Not so much now. Even less so when I'm shooting with one of the RX10 cameras that sync at over 1/1.000th of a second. In that situation just about any flash will do. So why do we have six or seven 400 watt second mono-lights, in their requisite cases, cluttering up the studio shelves? Am I pining for the days when we needed 4,000 watt seconds to get the depth of field we needed with our large format cameras? I am not. The flash gear seems ripe for thinning next. 

The new business model is to become the opposite of the old business model. Where before we came loaded for bear, with every possible (high dollar) solution to any imaging situation, it would be a lot more fun to turn down the stuff I never enjoyed doing anyway and then figuring out less burdensome ways of doing the stuff I do love to photograph. Smaller and lighter stuff along with creating a kind of imaging that looks simpler and more direct. A few pocket strobes instead of a cargo bay with a forest of C-Stands and Pelican cases of lights. A couple of RX10x cameras instead of a Think Tank roller full of big Nikon bodies and fat, fast lenses. A tripod and a new appreciation for less light rather than the ability to create a complete sunrise in a studio. 

Fully a third of a recent video project's profits were generated in concept and writing. Another third in editing. Only a third of the money generated from the project actually came from the shooting. As shooting engagements get shorter and easier it's incumbent upon us as business owners to see where we can add value outside the time spent shooting. Concepting and testing concepts are valid tasks that can be billed. Storyboarding and story creation are perhaps more valuable than the actual shooting. Wouldn't it be just as much fun to be paid for thinking about a photography project in addition to just being paid to spend a day with a camera in one's hands?
I want to work toward the day when my studio is four white, bare walls punctuated by a small camera on a tripod. One light aimed into the right modifier. Nothing more. But I would like to bill insanely well for the creative vision that we'll bring to each project. Billing for what we know and feel rather than just logging in the hours or the days. 

The disconnection of this concept for most photographers might be the idea that we have to do our business encounters the same way we did in the past. In the advertising scenario we worked for the advertising agencies. They created the concepts. They sold the concepts to the clients who approved and paid for the production that made those concepts concrete. Our power was limited by our need to be invited into the game by intermediaries. But over the last ten years the industry has been unceasingly flattened. Now, in many cases, the clients are working as though they are at a buffet. They've been selecting "vendors"; people they are comfortable working with, outside of the traditional agency paradigm. Outside the agency tent. We might get integrated into a job well before an agency to create a public relations image that subsequently gets pushed into an advertising project. 

More and more often we're getting engaged to produce image catalogs for expanding uses. And these uses need curation, implementation and imagination. I think my days of waiting for oppressive purchase orders from advertising agencies are coming to a close, choosing instead to work more as part of a collaborative team instead of as a vendor brought in after the cake has been mixed and relegated to working the controls on the oven.

But everything requires a change of thought. A move from a business with an inventory of machines which stamp out "creative parts" and towards a consultancy that creates the ideas behind the creative parts and then produces them as an integrated part of a marketing process.

We should be licensing "looks" and "feels" and "styles" and "taste." Not just twiddling the controls on the machines. 

When your space is cluttered your mind is cluttered, and in a panic you attempt to do everything exactly the same way you did on the very last job that turned out very well. But--- that previous job was done in a previous time and the currents of culture and commerce morph and change. I have come to believe that decluttering the physical space gives my mind more freedom to plan and create rather than reactively accept the confinements provided by people proffering visions that are different than mine.

I was reminded by the tax return and the sheets of 8x10 film just how little time there is to think when fear convinces you that one must be always working. Always working to an exterior agent's specifications.

And that, in a nutshell is why we're engaged in the current minimalist purge of studio clutter.


Taking a break from the camera excitement to focus on making food. My favorite chef made a house call.

Ben gets a lesson from Emmett Fox. How to make three different sauces for pasta.

My son, Ben, has been off at college for the last two years living in the dorms. In the Fall he'll get to move into an on campus apartment with three of his friends. He's thinking he'd like to try his hand at making his own meals instead of depending entirely (--- safety net implied) on the fare at the dining hall. He can cook basic stuff and he worked in the dining hall in his freshman year but our friend, Emmett Fox, thought it would be good for the boy to learn a repertoire of good, solid dishes. 

Emmett (who is the head chef and co-owner of two of Austin's favorite fine dining establishments: Asti Trattoria and Cantine Italian Cafe and Bar) made a plan to come over to our house today and give Ben a lesson in making pasta and sauces. Emmett sent me over a shopping list several days ago and then, yesterday, he sent a "prep list" over to Ben. While Emmett and I hit swim practice at the Rollingwood Pool this morning, and coffee afterwards with our swim buddies, Ben was dicing pancetta, sectioning tomatoes, slicing garlic, grating Parmesan cheese, dicing celery and carrots and onions. 

Emmett patiently showed Ben how to make three different sauces (carbonara, Amatriciana, and Neapolitano). Emmett also guided Ben in making the sauces by himself. I hung out in the kitchen with a Sony A7ii and a 50mm lens and just snapped away at the process. 

After the first volley, the Neapolitano, came out and was beautifully plated, Ben, Belinda, Emmett and I sat down and savored it, along with fresh Italian bread accompanied with olive oil from the Saratoga Olive Oil Company. They ship. 

With the Amatriciana simmering on a back burner, Ben and Emmett made a classic carbonara with pancetta, fresh eggs, black pepper, oil and parmesan cheese. They served it up in big, white pasta bowls and if there is any left over in the fridge I have first dibs. 

At the end of the (very happy) meal Emmett presented Ben with a very professional looking apron. 

It was great of Emmett to share his time and expertise (and great taste) with Ben. In fact, Ben has been going to Emmett's restaurants since he was four years old. He's a long time Austin regular at Asti and his early experiences with great food at Asti constantly influence his adventures with food. Emmett was feeding him escargot, cocoa sorbetto and bread sticks before Ben could read.

If you are in Austin and you want good food I highly recommend you try both of his restaurants. I've even produced videos for both of them. Here and Here. 

It was a great way for my family to spend the middle of our Saturday. More like this....


Thursday is museum day around here. Makes for a nice break from "who has the best cameras?"

Thursday was interesting. I was recovering from post-project depression. It's that malaise that strikes one when a challenging and fun project is over, delivered and billed, and there is a lull in the work because you left some time blocked out, just in case...

I filled my time in the morning (after mandatory swim practice) by throwing stuff out. The excess included old cameras (a Leica 3c that's been absolutely brutalized and an Alpa 10D that's had the skin scraped off and lacks a coherently working shutter. Lots of weird adapters for stuff I haven't owned in over a decade, many batteries to cameras long since traded away, old, dedicated flashes and lots of rubber bands. After a morning of equipment purging I grabbed a Trek 7000 bicycle off the back porch and donated it to Austin Yellow Bike. Having at least paid lip service to the battle against "the desire for physical manifestations" I chilled out and headed to our favorite Austin museum, the Blanton. 

There are two great, new shows on the first floor. The first is a work by Xu Bing, called, "Book from the Sky." A Chinese artist has spent much time hand carving blocks of characters (over 4,000 in all) that are used for printing his "book." You can read the Blanton Museum's explanation here. But I was captivated by the intricate detail on the blocks he carved.

Next door to "Book From the Sky" was an exhibit called, "Goya: Mad Reason" and it was amazing in a whole other way. Over 150 paintings and prints by Francisco de Goya, considered by many to be the first modern artist.  After looking at the Goya show for nearly two hours I headed to the galleries upstairs to see some of my old favorites. But I had to confront a sad change. The Battle Collection of Sculptures is now gone. They have rotated the Greek and Roman sculptures out in order to make room for new shows of paintings. I guess you won't be seeing the same Greek busts every time I test out a new lens or camera in the future. Ah well, life and art move on....

Just below is the start of the installation in the old sculpture room....

I spent my afternoon in the museum with what has quickly become my favorite, "go everywhere" play and shoot camera; the Sony A7ii with the 50mm f1.7 mounted on it. Such a nice blend of size, Herculean capability and dense, physical integrity. I love it. It's my "ultimate" hobbyist camera --- (my lawyers asked me to add the following): "ultimate" ...for the moment. Subject to change or modification at any time. The expressed enjoyment of the camera named above is not a binding agreement or legal or moral obligation to use that camera ad infinitum or exclusively. All superlative reviewing comments are solely the provenance of the writer who may or may not be influenced by hysteria, insanity or artistic and non-linear modalities of thought. Further, this should not be interpreted as an encouragement, enticement or sales pitch aimed at motivating any person or their chattel, living or surviving in some stasis, to also buy or otherwise obtain and use said aforementioned camera. The existence of this blog post does not imply or promise that your meager skills can or will be improved by acquiring and using said camera.  No bailment is being constructed or offered. If you are inclined to use the (non) word, "meh" in any discussion of the camera, or its use in connection with this missive, you should consider punishing yourself by eating too many jalapeƱos at one sitting, far, far from a functioning water closet. 

The camera seems like a perfect blend of resolution, color reproduction and handling; especially when paired to smaller, single focal length lenses. 

I admire the small images and the large matts. Definitely a move in the right direction..

There is no sense in going to a museum if you already know what you like and believe what you know. But for the rest of us the experience of experiencing something new and different is a real experience.