Another lovely morning (not) wasted at the swimming pool.

A VSL reader sent along a link to a blog post from Neil van Niekirk the day before yesterday. It was sobering. Neil was the person who helped me decide to become a Craftsy.com contributor and he also provided a great section of photographs and writing for my book on LED Lighting back in 2010. He's a great photographer and a popular blogger about photography but this blog from him was completely different. 

In it he talked about having a heart attack on his first day of vacation in Italy. It sounds like he was treated promptly and got great care. He's on target to make a good recovery. But his post sounded alarms that should be heeded not just by photographers but by anyone who has let their diet, fitness and stress management get out of whack. Just what Neil admitted he had done in his post...

Neil and his cardiologist partly blamed the sedentary lifestyle of most visual creators for causing his cardiac event. Photographers and videographers spend long days sitting almost motionless in front of their workstations editing their still images, making precise corrections and, in the case of videographers, working an edit over and over again to get it just right. Sitting, it seems, is as bad for us humans as smoking cigarettes or knocking back Scotch and sodas. 

And I've noticed that the more focused we get on these sedentary tasks the more importance (and stress) we attach to what we're doing and the deadlines surrounding the processes. When we're stressed time management tends to fly out the window and we fast track our food consumption, replacing healthy meals and snacks with things that are highly pleasurable,  and easy to eat with one hand while keeping the other hand on that all important computer mouse/pen tool/touchpad/phone. Pizza. Chips. Soft drinks, etc.

It's a killer combination. Business stress, large periods of sedentary isolation, junky, convenient food.  

I had my own health scare a long time ago and I've never forgotten the lessons I learned back then. I used to think of my time in the pool as a bit selfish and self-indulgent but now I think my disciplined approach to exercise is a benefit to me and my family on which I cannot put a price tag. Swimming every morning has kept me healthy and focused. I am within five pounds of weighing what I did when I left college nearly forty years ago.  And my blood pressure is probably lower.

Swim practice started right on time this morning at 7am. I was in lane three, leading my three other lane mates through the workout. I felt like I could accomplish anything. But I also realized, after reading Neil's blog post, just how important the ongoing camaraderie is as well. The joking around during the short breaks between sets, catching up during kick sets and checking in with each other as we leave the pool. 

Most people have ample opportunities to socialize all day long in their workplaces but creative people tend to spend a lot of their work lives in solitary pursuits. I remind myself how important it is to hit "sleep" on my computer and head over to the coffee shop to catch up with friends. How vital it is to my general health to meet Paul for sushi on Thursdays or to meet a few other friends for a stroll through the salad bar at Jason's Deli. 

Exercise, diet, sleep and community. It's worth remembering that none of these things are wasted time. None of them are diminished productivity. It's the opposite. We should work just enough to be able to do these things. Everything beyond work should be play. 

I'm sending all the good thoughts and positive energy I can to Neil. The great thing is that creative people tend toward resilience and discipline. I think Neil will do well. It sounds like he's focusing on creating a healthier lifestyle.

It's a reminder to me that taking time to take care of yourself is not selfish. Remember that when cabin pressure drops it's vital to put on your oxygen mask first and then help the people around you. That's just how it works. 

Think good thoughts! I think I'll head back over to the pool and get in a few more laps before lunch....

The "Aspirational" car. The "Aspirational" camera. Do you age out of that paradigm?

I was having coffee with a friend and we went down the conversational path of..."What if money was no object....?" It all started because we were talking about cars. Now, you have to understand that both of us have spent the last thirty or so years pursuing photography as both a hobby and business so it's not like we're going to wake up next Monday with some uncontrolled impulse and rush out to buy a Bentley or Ferrari, (or the cash with which to do so) but when the question, "If money was no object and you had to buy a new car what would you get???" came up we both paused to think about it.

When I was in my thirties I could have blurted out a laundry list of cool cars. I could go vintage with a fully restored Sunbeam Tiger. I would have been equally thrilled with a restored 1967 Pontiac GTO with the triple carburetor set-up. There were a couple of BMW Alpinas that I would have lusted after and, of course, there was always the gull wing door Mercedes. I might have also tossed in a Lancia Beta Scorpion and, of course, one of the perennial Porsche 911 variants.

In my more practical forties I thought the BMW 5 series cars were the right blend of comfort and performance along with having a trunk big enough to haul around gear for most photo shoots and, at the time, I was happy to buy one. I was even happier to trade it in four years later after and endless series of repair bills....

But somewhere in my mid fifties my perspective about cars changed and I started thinking about them less as toys, status symbols, and fun and started thinking about them in much more practical terms. My interests had more to do with how much photo gear I could get inside, what kind of gas mileage could I get and how small my total cost of ownership could be.

So when we played the "What if money was no object?" game this time I just blurted out the first thing that came into my mind and it was: A Honda Accord. That was it, my "aspirational" car.

I guess I've realized that Austin traffic will never get better, all cars on the local highways spend the majority of their time going less than 20 mph and, as long as the air conditioning, the radio and the bluetooth connection all work well then I think I would find most sedans of a certain size more or less interchangeable. I've owned Hondas for the last ten years, have found them to be cheap to own and reliable and, so, why would I want anything else? Besides, if I had gazillions of dollars I think I would just contract with a luxe car service and never have to worry about parking, dead batteries, pumping gas or getting lost ever again. No car ownership needed.

The car conversation naturally led my mind around to the idea of aspirational cameras. Cameras that you lust after but are just way out of reach. Cameras that are a decided luxury but nevertheless keep calling out to you like the sirens of Greek mythology...

In the film days there were no cameras that were so outlandishly expensive that we could not afford them. I was never drawn to the silly cameras like Leicas cast in platinum and wrapped in the hide of extinct animals but I rarely met a high end Hasselblad I didn't like. But in those days crazy expensive was less than $5K.

When we hit the digital days I'll admit that it became much more difficult to afford the newly developed, stratospheric level cameras. I lusted after the medium format Leaf A7i and some of the very pricy Schneider glass for quite a while. The system I'd mapped out would have run me a bit shy of $60,000 but I could never pull the trigger because my CFO could run the numbers every which way and show me how I would never re-coup that "investment." Not with a practice photographing mostly people for mostly Austin clients.... And in the back of my mind I realized that the tech in the camera would be superseded (not obsoleted) by something better and cheaper within 18 months. But I still wanted that camera. I had the brochure in my desk drawer for a long time.

Then fate stepped in and a photo magazine called and asked me if I would like to review that very system. "Would six weeks with the system be enough time?" I jumped at the chance to be one of the very few people to play with the 40 megapixel, medium format camera and its near perfect German lenses.  But you know that line from the movie "The Adventures of Buckeroo Bonzai Across the Eighth Dimension"? It goes, "Wherever you go....there you are." 

When I actually started working with the camera and lenses there was no big change in what I shot. Of course the images had more detail but it was detail that was only useful in certain use scenarios. I shot a couple of images that I had the local lab make some large prints from. At 30 by 40 inches you could readily see a difference in resolution when compared to the 12-16 megapixel camera files of the day.
The difference in sensor size was nice as well. In terms of focus ramping and that special, out of focus background look one gained about as much as one would going from an APS-C format to a 35mm full frame format. In the end I came to realize that while owning a $60,000 system might be fun and ego gratifying it wasn't really going to change my game as a photographer and it wouldn't be a very smart long term investment.

I also got to test the Mamiya and Phase One cameras in their age of ascendancy and found too that they might provide the potential for better files (where larger print sizes were needed) but not so much better than they shifted any business paradigms which might make them financially productive. As far as personal work went I spent a day walking around shooting with the seven pounds of camera and 180mm f2.8 medium format lens and quickly discovered that the medium format digital cameras were too slow, too heavy and too......ponderous for any sort of normal street shooting. That and, at the time, about one hundred shots per battery charge.

The Leica S2 camera was another camera I considered "aspirational" until I played at length with one. Same issues as above. Different logo.

But now that we've hit the age of sufficiency  I'm finding no cameras that I lust after and can't readily afford to buy. My choices have so much more to do with what the cameras will do for my day to day work than anything else. I am in no hurry to step up (or sideways) from my Sony A7ii camera as my mainstay portrait camera because it just works. And it was cheap. And it works. I've used it on 14 portraits in the last two weeks and each one exceeds the technical parameters I need. Hell, it exceeds the best I could get just a few years ago for any reasonable price. It's a camera I bought used last year for about $1,000.

I guess I should want a Zeiss Otus 100mm f1.4 (if they made one) with which to make portraits but, again, it's the age of sufficiency and I'm finding the all purpose, 70-200mm f4.0 G lens is the perfect lens for almost every work portrait I shoot. I lock in at f5.6 and just blaze away. That gets me just enough focus at the 110-135mm focal range I seem to work in to get sharp focus on lips, eyes and almost back to the ears. Any less depth of field and I'll spend my life explaining to clients why "Bob" isn't totally sharp......

I wasn't chomping at the bit to rush out and buy a Panasonic GH5. It's not the ultimate portrait camera. It's not as good as the cheap, used Sony I bought used when it comes to handling most of my still imaging work. I bought it to make my video look better and to provide video features that make my work in video more productive. Hardly an "aspirational" camera.

But I'm starting to realize that all my notions of "dream" cameras seem to be vanishing. Just like my appraisal of cars. If meteor hit the studio today (and I wasn't there to see it...) what cameras would I buy to replace the splintered and melted remains of the meteor impacted previous cameras? Would I rush out and buy a Phase One 100F? I'd probably buy another A7ii and another 70-200mm f4.0, along with some wider stuff. If the Sony gear was out of stock I'd buy a Canon 5D mk4 and the same kind of lens. And if all the video oriented cameras went up in smoke then the next time around I might just buy a really cool video camera like the Canon C300ii. But the idea that all of these digital cameras will soon be superseded by more able cameras diminishes their allure as "ultimate" cameras after which we just have to lust. Maybe it's the impermanence of the new gear that removes it's sparkle as something you might cherish for 20 years or more.

I still remember when the camera I wanted, and had to scrimp and save up for, was the Leica M5. That, and the 50mm Summilux lens. Once I was able to eventually write the check for that combo the glow of satisfaction lingered on for years and years. I conferred a relative immunity to camera lust.  Every time I pulled the M5 out of the camera bag to use it I appreciated it more and more. Sadly, that feeling about current, digital cameras as left the building. Now my emphasis is on practicality and use parameters and not much more.

I'm curious to know what your aspirational film cameras were and if you've got cameras that you'd love to own in the digital age that give you the same feeling.

I can't be the only one thinking this way, right?