10.16.2018

I'm just off the first flight and the job is already evolving. Interesting. The gap between ending this project and heading to Iceland just narrowed by another day.

Ben and Studio Dog at home.

The weather, the vagaries of scheduling. The whims of fate. Whatever. When I got off the first leg of my flight to Asheville, NC. I had a message on my phone asking me to call my client. We have some smaller changes to schedules this week but we're dropping next Monday and.......adding next Thursday, in Alabama. I may yet get to see all 50 states before I hang up the cameras. 

I'll be home this coming weekend and also on Monday but hopping on a very early flight on Tuesday morning and returning to Austin late, late, late on Thursday. This gives me just enough time to do some laundry, re-loading the camera packing and having a (single) nice dinner with the family.

This client is usually well organized but they are involved in multiple states with emergency operations pursuant to hurricanes Florence and Michael. Those activities take precedent over the photographer's schedule (and that's as it should be). By the end of the day tomorrow I will have been in four cites and in three different hotels. It puts packing logistics in a spotlight. I've got enough gear to do just about anything I can think of (in terms of lighting and cameras) but with the new backpack and wheeled cases I can still handle getting the load wherever I need it by myself. 

Today we shot images outside of Ashville, NC. and a couple hours later I was shooting portraits in Knoxville, TN. Tomorrow I'll spend the day shooting portraits and projects in Knoxville again and then I'm heading to New Bern, NC. and from there on to Tampa, FLA.

The Think Tank Airport Essentials backpack, in concert with the G9 twins, is just about perfect for a job like this one. I can actually get all the camera gear and accessories (plus laptop) into the case and it really does fit under the seats on even the dinkiest regional jet. I'd give it three thumbs up if I didn't think that any backpack which costs $200 is overpriced. I was willing to pay the toll for peace of mind. I'm glad I did, so...two thumbs up.

I'm also quite happy with my decision to choose the Panasonic G9 and my best lenses for m4:3 instead of bringing my full frame Nikons. The colors are wonderful and the lenses are superb. But the most delightful thing is having everything I need in such a small package. Smaller sensor cameras are  hardly obsolete just because there's been a recent rash of FF mirrorless cameras. Far from it. I think more and more people are discovering that marketing and reality don't always converge where choosing the best imaging solution is concerned.  Too often rampant ego gets in the way.

No complaints so far on this trip. 

Finally, I love that hotel chains are finally delivering really fast wi-fi. I'm uploading six hundred high res Jpeg files as I type this. Thank you, Hilton.






10.15.2018

I packed a lens that I've come to appreciate for portraits in the age of small sensor cameras.

I think we're always comparing the work we do now with the work we did in the days of big sensors and longer lenses. The image above was done on a Pentax 645 camera with a 150mm lens. Today I'm traveling with a small Think Tank backpack filled with today's favorite cameras, the Panasonic G9s. I've been playing with lenses that give me a look similar to the portraits I've taken with older gear and I've come across a few winners.

While I love the old Olympus Pen FT lenses, like the 60mm f1.5, they aren't as sharp at their wide open apertures as some of the newer lenses. I've tried using some of the older Nikon 50mm lenses on the m4:3 cameras but they don't seem to match as well as I'd like. I've come to believe that most of the older, manual focus lenses were computed for film and not for sensors with a very high pixel density. The results look fine viewed small but when I enlarge the resulting photos there's not as much detail as I'd like.

A while back I bought a couple of lenses that were designed for the Contax Y/C cameras. They are Zeiss branded and most reviews done over the years have given them high marks. The one I like best is the Contax/Zeiss 50mm f1.7.  I originally bought it to use with the Sony A7 series cameras, and it was okay but it really comes into its own as a portrait lens for my Panasonic cameras.

The focus peaking works well and the ability to punch in to high magnifications to assure good focus is great. I'm fine using the lens wide open for portraits but the really great performance starts at f2.8. You could look at my collection of dedicated, modern m4:3 lenses and realize that three of the high end zooms cover that focal length and the 40-150mm Olympus Pro also provides a starting f-stop of 2.8. So why would I both to schlepp the Contax lens around and also put up with using an adapter?

Hmmm. Could it be that different lenses and different lens formulations have different looks? Different visual characteristics? (Of course....). But it's also the need to carefully focus the older lens that is part of its allure. There is a tactile pleasure in the eye and hand working in tandem to get bring a photo to life in the finder that has the look and feel you wanted but maybe didn't know you wanted it in exactly that way.

I packed the Contax 50mm just in case I have the opportunity this week to use it for individual portraits under controlled lighting. It doesn't take up much space in the bag so it's no big deal if the lens never sees the light of day this week. But if it does come out of the case I fully expect to be wowed....but in a very subtle way.

Travel news: I expected the worst this morning heading to the airport. I was out here in the middle of last week and it was crowded and chaotic. The Austin City Limits music festival wrapped up last night and I expected to see massive crowds at the airport with overwhelmed SkyCaps and long delays. I asked Belinda to drop me at the airport early and we left the house in a steady rain ( a cold front blew in early this morning and dropped the temperatures from the 90's yesterday to the low 50's today) and made our way through the morning rush hour traffic to Austin-Bergstrom Airport.

We were both surprised at the light traffic we experienced heading into the terminal drop-off area. I pulled the big case of lighting gear out of the back seat of Belinda's small Toyota (proud of myself for keeping it under 40 pounds!!!) and pulled the rolling suitcase out of the trunk. I tossed the new Think Tank backpack over one shoulder and pulled everything over to the American Airline's curbside check in.

There was no line. None. I had immediate and direct access to two Sky Caps. They checked me in immediately, charged me for my checked bags and wished me a pleasant trip.

I walked into the terminal expecting to see endless lines at the TSA security areas. I looked at my boarding pass to make sure I got the TSA PreChek label and headed to that line. Only there was no line. I walked in and placed the backpack on the conveyor and headed through the metal detector with my shoes and belt still on. Ten seconds later I was in the terminal and bewildered. What would I do with the extra time on my hands? Ah, I know, I'll write a blog post.

All kidding aside I was pretty stunned by how easy and quick the whole process was. The antithesis of my last journey during which I arrived two hours ahead of time and barely made the flight because of the overwhelming crowds.

I hope the whole trip goes this way. I'll be delighted.

Also, happy to report that I Vini, a restaurant in the Austin main terminal, has really, really great coffee. And exemplary service. At a reasonable cost.

Hope your day is off to a good start. I'm happy with the first fraction of mine.

10.14.2018

Heading out tomorrow. Back on the road. Making images for a new client. I'll be back late Friday night.


I'm packing my laptop. I'll try to make little missives from the road but the schedule is a weird melange of work engagements marbled with commuter air flights to the next in a series of destinations. The packing is done and everything seems to fit.  I have eight flights scheduled between tomorrow and friday and will also have some driving to do between two locations. I'm thinking I'll need to pay attention to lots of little details in order to get everything squared away.

I have next Saturday to recover and do laundry; also to download files and start editing images in Lightroom. Sunday I visit dad in San Antonio and then come back home to re-pack. I'm back on planes Monday, Tues. and Weds. (the 24th) and then I spend the rest of the week finishing up the editing and making sure I have warm, clean clothes to take with me to Iceland. I'm starting to sound like a traveling blogger. Now, if I can just get invited to one of those media fandangos in Hawaii......

I already know which cameras and lenses I'm taking on the fun trip so that's not an issue but it's a lot of travel in a concentrated span of time.

One of the biggest issues for freelancers is managing cash flow. I'll need to pay as I go in the next week and a half for baggage fees (two checked on American Airlines = $70 per trip) some of my hotel charges and all of my incidentals. I won't see reimbursement for at least 30 days. And then it's straight to Iceland where most of my expenses are covered but there are still some (expensive) meals and optional things to see that will add up. With a little luck the cash from earlier jobs will flow in and we'll be buzzing right along. If not, we'll pull some cash from reserves and replenish the piggy bank in the near future. Keep your credit clean! You never know when you'll need it.

Also, I've called my primary credit card issuer to let them know about my travel plans. I'd hate to have a card turned down at a critical juncture..... just because....

Revving up the G9's and charging batteries. We've now entered the countdown.

An Angsty Sunday. Too much stuff that has nothing to do with photography. Understanding that living in a popular city means constant change.

If only all of the construction was limited to downtown....

Sundays are harder than other days. I check in with my dad, who is dealing with dementia, by driving down to San Antonio and having lunch with him at the facility I selected to manage his care and general happiness. I check in with the what's left of the rest of the immediate family (older brother, younger sister) and hear the news of the week. And I make decisions about financial issues concerning my father's money and the management of my mother's estate. It seems like heavy stuff to me, full of responsibility and, in some cases, no good choices. I think the time on the road, the time spent sorting things out, and the time spent being a responsible agent are enough without added stress from things that crop up in my own neighborhood. 

Let me explain. 

I live west of downtown Austin in a bedroom community that just happens to have the best public schools in Texas, the highest household income in Texas and the fastest appreciating property values in Texas. When we bought our home nearly 23 years ago it was an absolute bargain (although, at the time, we thought the amount we paid was well above our comfort level). It was in a neighborhood that was filled with live oak and red oak trees and consisted mostly of three bedroom, two bathroom homes, custom built in the early 1970's; each on about a half acre of land. As a succession of billionaires moved their families into the zip code surrounding us the value of the houses everywhere soared and now seems to be accelerating even more. 

Our neighborhood has the envious distinction of being close in to downtown (about a ten minute drive during most of the day ---- all bets off during rush hours) but is up and away from the congestion and traffic. It's on Austin's high ground; the start of the Hill Country, and our little neighborhood is surrounded by islands of hyper prosperity in the form of gated communities with home prices that span the low $3 millions up to the $15 million range. What this means is that we have a big, big target painted on the roofs of our middle class houses by all sorts of real estate developers. Many of the residents in our little neighborhood are the original home buyers who are now hitting their eighties and nineties. They are in the process of transitioning to assisted living, or worse. So now there small (relatively speaking) homes are coming onto the market. These are homes that sold for a little more than $100,000 in the late 1970's which then sold for the low $200,000's in the 1990s. Developers are rushing to buy them just for the land. The houses and their fitness or condition or aesthetic value are meaningless to the hordes of custom builders engaged in the feeding frenzy. 

The developers have one consistent vision for all these elegant and perfectly sized homes. They want to buy them, tear them down completely (including demolishing the foundations) and then build the biggest houses for the cheapest costs they can engineer. Now the going price for a lot has just hit the +$1,000,000 mark. The reason is the lot size (and the schools, and the proximity to downtown, and the proximity to the super-rich) which is a result of our neighborhood being on individual septic systems. 

Some devious land shark had a slathering of lawyers lobby the county to allow much more square footage of new housing on the older lots by changing the septic field size requirements with the promise that each new home owner would enter into a contract with a septic services provider to pump out their septic tanks up to four times a year (this is something that most people with right sized homes only need to do once every four or five years.....). I'm sure that as soon as the first year is over the contracts will expire and the rest of the home owners will have little to no recourse against the hapless owners of the new monstrosity houses when they abandon their contracts and take their chances. 

We have one developer who bought a house in the neighborhood about three years ago and then tore it down and had the world's ugliest house built on the site. The neighbors call it the "Ramada Inn." He doubled the square footage and has lived there just long enough to reap the rewards of the tax laws for owner occupied sales. The house and lot he bought back three years ago was priced at $650,000 and he's just put that house on the market for $2.5 million. But the horrifying thing is his vision and actions going forward. He bought a house near us earlier this year, tore out the oaks that had been growing there for decades and decades in order to build the biggest house the county would allow him to build. Gone are the lovely trees and in their places another "Ramada Inn" style house is going up. Nearly to the lot lines. 

When I got home from San Antonio this afternoon my wife was almost in tears. The same rapacious real estate barbarian had just bought the house directly across the street from us. The renters who lived there ( and who were some of our very best neighbors...) were given thirty days to vacate. The new owner let them know that he couldn't wait to get them out so he could tear the beautiful four bedroom, two and a half bath home, built in the 1980's, to the ground. No doubt that he'll take out most of the fifty and sixty foot oak trees in order to realize his vision to.......make the most money he can with no regard for the aesthetics of the existing neighborhood. Austin, as we've known it, is crashing down around us as people with too much money and too little common sense seem hellbent on making this real estate market the very next San Francisco. Certainly they are in league with the devil.

There are hordes of like minded developers who are fixated on converting every wonderfully livable and affordable neighborhood in central Austin into an endless series of Mc Mansions. Horribly ugly houses with five to ten thousand square feet of interior space and three and four car garages. There is little we can do about it other than to reminisce about the great old days and to talk about where to move next. Greed and more greed. They are quickly killing off every aspect of Austin that brought people here in the first place. 

The Austin we knew is largely dead. Small and quixotic restaurants replaced by haute cuisine wannabes. The new land of $30 dollar cocktails and $125 ribeyes. Great locally owned shops gutted and re-actualized as yet another Starbucks or Gap. 

We're supposed to be thrilled that property values are skyrocketing. But the positive value only applies if you want to sell your house. If you want to stay put you are looking at ever escalating property taxes in a district that has some of the highest property tax percentages in the country. 

I guess we should abandon our (lovely, wonderful, perfect) house, take our million+ bucks and hit the road but there's no where else I'd rather live. I guess I'll just have to work harder as I get older in order to pay the taxes and stay. It's a no-win situation. Maybe we were engineered to grow old and die so younger, stupider people could destroy the nice parts of the world without us bothering them with our criticism. 

And yes, I get that this is very much a "first world" problem....





10.13.2018

OT: we haven't done a swimming post in a while so what the hell. Let's talk about freestyle technique.


When I swam in college the prevailing style  was to have one's head angled forward about 30 to 40 degrees to the surface of the water so that your forehead was breaking the water line. Don't know why this was the prevailing style but that's how we swam. Especially the sprinters. I was habituated to swimming with a high head position and many recent coaches have preached, lectured and screamed at me about my poor "head position." I didn't care as long as I could go fast but here's what I learned as I got older and couldn't rely exclusively on muscling through the water:

If your body is in a straight line, parallel to the bottom of the pool you will swim as fast but with much less effort because good body positioning means you are expending NO energy keeping your legs up or in trying to maintain that high head position which puts strain on your upper and lower back, and you will not struggle to stay up on the water.

A high head position will cause your legs to drop down as you get tired and create resistance. Much better to stay flat on top of the water and use all your energy for forward propulsion.

I've recently worked very hard to lower my head position which allows the rest of my body to maintain a flatter profile on top of the water. I find that I am much less fatigued swimming this way and can go longer distances without just crapping out and cheating. You know, pulling on the lane lines, walking on the bottom, etc.

The trick is to look straight down at the bottom of the pool. You gaze is perpendicular to the line of your body. This keeps your head down which keeps your butt and legs up. You present less surface areas to the water in front of you which lowers resistance which means you swim faster and better.

Working against 55 years of contra practice takes patience and the new practice still feels a bit...odd. On the other hand I seem to be making much progress in evolving more into a distance swimmer than just a sprinter. And for someone over 60 that can be important.

I can feel a positive difference so I'm willing to keep at it until I master the current body position techniques. Life is too short to swim slow.

We got in about 3500 yards today; a mix of sprints and middle distance. It felt great and the soreness in my middle back (which I routinely ignored because I refused to believe that I needed to change) has mostly gone away. If something hurts there's probably a better way to do it that doesn't hurt or hurts less. Consult a pro. Change your stroke. Get better. Swim fast.

You've got to test the stuff you pack for your next assignment. It's not optional. Test or be very, very embarrassed.


I finished packing the gear today. I leave on Monday for locations in the east and southeast part of the country. Places like Ashville, NC and Tampa, FLA and points in between. My flight into Charlotte, NC will be on a normal, big airplane but my connecting flight to Ashville will be on a tiny jet. In anticipation of baggage squeeze I've purchased a backpack from Think Tank which they call an Airport Essentials. It's about the same size as the Amazon backpack I used last year and most of this year but it's built to a more robust level. In my mind it's all about the zippers... I've been able to pack two G9s, a 12-60mm Pana-Leica, a 12-100mm Olympus Pro, a 40-150mm Olympus Pro, a Panasonic-Leica 8-18mm and a Panasonic 42.5mm f1.7 lens.

The Think Tank bag also accommodates four extra batteries, two double battery chargers, a 13" MacBook Pro, and computer odds and ends like a small, external SSD drive and a card reader/multiport dongle. It's all in a small package that, under duress, should fit under even the smallest airline seat. 

I've also packed the lighting kit but talking about lights can be boring and I don't want to pester you with a laundry list of the flashes, stands and modifiers I've packed. 

As I was packing I realized that I had not yet tested the newest G9 body nor the 12-60mm Pana-Leica lens (which is alarmingly pretty...).  That's a bit no-no for professional photographers. Every piece you take into the field while working for a client should be tested before it goes in the backpack to make sure that you didn't get a lemon and that you aren't starting with a big glob of snot on the sensor. It's also good to make sure the lens you just shelled out mega-bucks for focused equally well ( and concurrently ) on both sides of the frame. Oh hell, it should focus well everywhere on the frame. 

With these thoughts in mind I braved the horrifying Austin event (Austin City Limits Music Festival draws in 500 million people over two weekends, all of whom want to park in my neighborhood and all of whom brought a car to drive through the city in a random and aggressive manner...) traffic and went downtown to try out the camera and lens on some familiar scenes. 

I used the lens at its shortest and longest focal lengths and shot mostly at f4.0 or f5.6. I am happy to report that the charming colors I experienced in the first body are exactly replicated in the second body. The newest camera is right on the money. It's going straight in the bag. 

The Leica/Panasonic 12-60mm f2.8 to f4.0 is also a keeper. In good light (all I've shot in so far) it's a pretty even match with the Olympus 12-100mm Pro. They are both sharp and contrasty, even wide open, and the selection of focal lengths is great. I could do the job ahead with either lens and it's nice to know that, as of today, neither is hobbled by any visual or mechanical issues. Further, the dual I.S. of the G9+the Leica/Panasonic 12-60mm is phenomenal. As advertised, you could use this in the middle of a earthquake and get sharp shots. 

Now all I have left is to throw a couple pairs of jeans, a few work shirts, a rain jacket and an extra pair of waterproof boots into some luggage and I'll be ready to hit the airport. 

When the client made the reservations for my flights I had forgotten that Monday is the day everyone who came to the music festival will be scrambling to get back to their homes and to their jobs. I have a feeling that it's going to be pure chaos at the Austin airport for most of the day. I'm asking Belinda to drop me off and I'm heading over 3 hours before my flight. Before you tell me I'm crazy I have to tell you that Ben was flying back to college the day after the big music festival last year and even having arrived three hours before his (domestic) flight he almost missed boarding because he got stuck in an endless TSA line and was then pulled out for random screening. I'd rather have breakfast at the airport than to take a chance that I'll miss my flight. It's going to be a strange travel week. I guess I need to learn to embrace the chaos and government control. I'm hoping my enrollment in Global Entry will be helpful. 

Get a G9 and the Leica lens. It's like the old days when cameras were really fun and cool to shoot. But do remember that there's a 30 minute time limit on the video...... I should have mentioned that before...

Click on the photos and look at them big. They are gorgeous. The G9 works really, really well. I trust it and I'm putting my money where my keyboard is..... Off we go.


















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10.12.2018

Welcoming some new gear to the fold. What I bought and why. (But don't discount "fun" as part of it).


I've spent the last two weeks putting Panasonic's newish G9 camera through its paces and I've been impressed. It's fast, has great eye detection autofocus (which makes it a really good portrait camera), has great color, delivers lots of detail and is an all around winner when it comes to still photography. It's less a "hybrid" camera than it's sibling, the GH5 and looking at the files I think it's obvious that the package has been optimized for photographers. That's not to say that it's an incompetent video camera; it's better than most DSLR video out in the world, and not that far behind other cameras in the family. And that started me thinking...

I have a job starting Monday, and continuing for the next eight days, on which I need to do quite a bit of airline travel. Most of the flights are between smaller cities and the majority of them will be on dinky commuter jets which lack overhead compartment space, or any space at all. I've been down this road before and it usually ends up with a very insistent flight attendant demanding I either gate check my rolling camera case or, perhaps think about renting a car instead of flying....

Yesterday I wrote that I would try to pack up a complete Nikon full frame system with two cameras and five or six lenses and I'd try to stuff them, a laptop, and a bunch of batteries into an Amazon Basics photo backpack. Well, I stuffed everything in and weighed it and it tipped the scales at 22 pounds---which is just too damn much. Then I looked at the skinny zipper that the Amazon backpack uses and couldn't get the vision of a a failed zipper and spilled camera contents out of my mind. So the little wheel in my head started turning faster, looking for other options.

I went back to the eighteen portraits I shot this week in raw in the G9 and had a good look. Then I spent some time looking at some G9 street photos and urban landscape photos and comparing them with similar shots from the Nikon D800's and several old Sony's. I squinted at images at 100%. I looked at them sideways. And I decided that the G9, used with great glass (hello! Olympus Pro lenses) would be more than just "capable" of doing the kinds of images I need to do on my upcoming project. In fact, the G9 files are some of the best photographic images I've seen, and the image stabilization, in concert with some Panasonic lenses almost obviates the need to bring along a tripod. I decided that it was time to pack lighter and smaller if I am to continue to enjoy the profession while on the road without running myself into the ground physically. I'm also not looking to create any shoulder or lower back issues while trying to emulate a youthful Sherpa with a weighty backpack. 

The camera that made the most sense to me, for both this assignment and also the upcoming adventure in Iceland, was the G9. That, and the really great Olympus Pro lenses I keep praising. But there were a couple of flies in the ointment. First of all I like to travel with a certain amount of redundant back up gear. Nothing sucks more that being on a remote photographic location, surrounded by clients and their bosses, and having a camera or lens brick and become nothing more than a tool for weight bearing exercise. One camera and three really cool lenses (the 8-18mm Panasonic/Leica, the Olympus 12-100mm, and the Olympus 40-150mm) is a great start but..... we can do better.

With my mind made up I hustled up to Precision Camera, oblivious to the Austin music festival traffic, and found my personal camera sales consultant, Ian. In short order we assembled the following: A second G9 body, a Panasonic/Leica 12-60mm f2,8-4.0, a Panasonic/Leica 15mm f1.7 and a Think Tank backpack. Now I have an identical back up body, a back up standard zoom lens (the workhorse focal lengths of the system: if the other lenses all bite the dust I could actually do the job, somewhat uncomfortably, with either of the mid-range zooms. The Pana-Leica 12-60mm gives me a wide ranging back up lens that covers critical focal lengths well) and, with the 15mm, a fun lens to leave on one of the cameras during travel. The last step was my acquisition of a much hardier backpack with a much more robust zipper. And a better internal layout for my computer.

It's kind of funny that I don't take the two card slot camera thing seriously but always demand to have a back-up camera while traveling on jobs. Now I've extended my paranoia by adding the need for a back up standard zoom to the mix. Having already angered the kitchen gods with my hubris this week ( couldn't find the coffee scoop) I'll avoid taking chances and cram 128 GB Delkin V90 cards into every available  card slot on both cameras and attempt to back up everything.

What ultimately pushed me toward the Panasonic G9's instead of twin Nikon D800's? A combination of things. The size and weight, of course, but also the eye detection AF for perfect portrait focus every time, and also the glass. The lenses. The optics. My two Olympus Pro lenses are the sharpest zooms I've ever used, in any format. The Pan-Leica 8-18 is much better than the 16-28mm Tokina lens I've been using for my full frame, super wide needs, and I surmise from various reviews and from my nascent trials with it that the Pana-Leica 12-60mm f2.8 is no slouch either. Finally, if we have the opportunity to try a little video sample, on location,  with this client I'd much prefer to do it with the 4K ability of the G9 instead of the cumbersome process and much more parsimonious video codecs of the Nikons.  

The Think Tank backpack is a result of anxiety. Once I'd decided on the Panasonic kit for the assignment the Amazon Basics backpack became the weak link in the system and I couldn't sleep until I replaced it with a more robust option. 

Now that I have this camera inventory squared away I can get back to worrying about how to best pack the lights, stands and grip gear. That's a different nightmare. 

Did I bend the family financial rules and toss thousands of dollars of photo gear on a convenient credit card? I did not. I paid for it directly. No interest accrual that way. Paying cash helps one keep a lid on reckless spending. And even if you blow the lid off you don't have the credit card hangover to contend with once you realize what you've done. 

Big, traditional cameras and lenses. Beginning to think that as time speeds by they'll be relegated to studio work and only location work steps from the car. Work that doesn't have to be done quietly. 

We're in an age of hyper change and we need to constantly question what we need to bring to the table. Today, for me, it's this. Some Panasonic stuff.







10.11.2018

Embarrassing story about overlooking a small but critical piece of gear.

New Rule. When packing gear it's not enough to look at a device, I need to touch it.

In a way, I'm betting this story is really about karma. My son and I love coffee and we have a special coffee scoop that we use to measure out our exacting quantity of ground, Italian coffee for that critical morning cup. Yesterday afternoon I was in the studio working on some post production and I started feeling a bit fatigued so I went into the house to make a cup of coffee. But I could not find the scoop. I made a  cursory look everywhere I thought it should be and then I grabbed a measuring spoon and used it instead of the (precise) dedicated scoop. As soon as I had the coffee brewing in the filter I sent a group text to son and spouse asking if either knew where the scoop might be....

The coveted scoop was in the dishwasher. I had overlooked it in my abbreviated survey of kitchen repositories. Just for grins I grabbed one of the tags I use for labeling memory sticks and made a label for the scoop:


I thought I was being clever and humorous, and my patient family took it in stride. Little did I know that my petulant tagging had angered the gods of domesticity who almost immediately sought to punish my hubris....in kind. A missing tool...

The assignment today was to make portraits in the offices of a national accounting firm, at their location here in Austin. Yesterday afternoon I'd loaded up all the lighting gear in a Manfrotto rolling case, mostly to see how it might fare as my primary travel case for lighting stuff on my multi-stop journey next week. Then I decided to move everything to the slightly bigger Tamrac case to see how it might work. I also loaded up the cameras and lenses into a smaller case, dragged out a roll of seamless paper to match the same sort of seamless we used at the shoot we'd done for the same company earlier this year, and I loaded up the car. 

The sun wasn't up yet this morning as I finished with breakfast and headed out to my job site, just south of the river from downtown, about 10 minutes from my house. I brought all my gear up the building's freight elevator on my cart and started to set up, happy that I would have a full hour in which to set up and fine tune my working environment so I could leisurely shoot the ten or twelve scheduled portrait sessions before lunch. I might even have time to grab a coffee before people started rolling in...

I set up the three monolights last. Then I looked into the bag for the flash triggers. No dice. I looked harder. I looked in the camera bag. I double checked my pockets. No triggers. I tried using a shoe mount flash to trigger the optical slaves and that worked for the bigger light I was using but not the smaller, Neewer Vision 4 lights. They have a complicated system that lets one set up the optical slave to deal with pre-flashes from a master flash but I had never set that up that function on the lights and realized that the setting is just a number in a menu, and it was a number of which I had no memory. 

Then it dawned on me that I must have gotten sidetracked as I was moving the gear from one case to the next the day before and that the triggers were probably still resting in the warm comfort of the previous case's built in pocket. Back on the floor of the studio.  I can't recall the last time I forgot to bring the right triggers, or at least a physical cable, to a photoshoot but I can tell you it's been....decades. 

I explained the situation to my client who calmly rearranged the first person on my list of appointments. I hopped in the car and sped through rush hour to get home. The triggers were right where I suspected. I grabbed all three of them and headed back over to the client's building. We started with our first session about twenty minutes behind schedule but quickly made up any lost time. The client took it in stride but I was pretty disappointed in myself. It's rare I go off on a project without checking my gear list and confirming I've packed what I need. 

I have a new rule: it's not enough to have a list and think about the list, I need to touch the piece of gear and then mark it off the list from now on. I don't always have the opportunity to rush back and grab stuff quickly. Over looking mission critical utensils could have ruined a full morning, if I'd been somewhere farther from home base. 

I'm convinced the kitchen gods were punishing my obvious hubris of putting the snarky tag onto the scoop. It was a lesson well delivered and one I won't forget (soon). 

Just wanted to share. You might be packing for something important and this could be a good reminder...

10.10.2018

Short lighting. It's a nice look for portraits. Packing for five flights in the next week. Sticking to my guns in disparaging over-connectivity.


This blog post will be a bit of a collage-y mess because I've been working a lot and I'm a little wrung out like a wet washcloth. But writing feels good so I may as well do it. 

I came across these portraits of Kara when I was looking through folders of portraits for good examples of short lighting. I photographed Kara for a potential book cover but my publisher had other ideas and, well, publishers own the book covers.... We did these on the steps that lead up from my living room to our dining room and I was happy with the combination of flash and coming in from the French doors in the background. These were done around 2009 with a Kodak SLR/n, 14 megapixel, full frame camera and I liked the look of the skin tone very much. Pretty typical for the Kodak professional digital cameras which all seemed biased to deliver great color for portraits.

I've been on a portrait roll lately. We did portraits for a large software company last Thursday, a telecom company on Tuesday (yesterday) and I'm just packing up now for a shoot with a national accounting firm tomorrow morning; and yes, it's another portrait shoot with 8 to 10 individual portraits on the schedule. I shot yesterday with the G9 and the Olympus 40-150mm Pro lens and I really liked the overall look of the files so I think I'll use that as my starting point tomorrow. We're shooting against a middle gray, seamless background so a large part of the look is predetermined because we're matching what we did last December and earlier this year on similar shoots for the same clients. I like these kinds of shoots because I've done them often enough that I feel comfortable with the process.

The hardest part of corporate location photography now in Austin is finding parking close enough to the client's building, getting your gear loaded up and down the street, and then reversing the process. I got lucky yesterday and found a metered parking space adjacent to the Westin Hotel, right in the middle of downtown. Since it was pouring down rain I didn't even worry about paying the parking meter. No one checks them in the middle of a series of thunderstorms. But the lightning and drenching rain made pulling a cart with a couple hundred pounds of gear down the sidewalk that much more exciting. I'm practicing my use of rainwear for my upcoming adventures in Iceland....

But before I get to head to Iceland and have fun with photography I've got a solid week and a half of travel ahead of me. An client from a few years ago circled back to me recently. She is now the V.P. of an large, national construction company that does giant infrastructure projects across the country. She's been saving up some photography assignments for me that revolve around photographing corporate officers on location with their infrastructure projects behind them. A challenging combination of dramatic landscape photography combined with editorial style portraiture. Just the kind of stuff I love doing. Except that we're pursuing this work in cities all over the eastern part of the United States. Next week we start in Asheville, N.C. and by the end of the week we wind up in Tampa, FLA. Each day involves waking up in a different hotel, rushing to a remote job site, figuring out how to shoot it and then wrapping up and rushing back to the airport in order to bunk down in a different hotel, in a different city, by the end of the night. Dams, electrical generation, bridges and more. It's the kind of work that makes one happy to be a problem solving photographer. 

Much of this work is destined for very high quality (printed) annual report publication, editorial submissions and even some big trade show graphics so I've decided to use the D800s for this project. About half of my flights will be on smaller, regional jets so I've been thinking a lot about how best to pack for the project. I want to be bring along several self-powered mono-lights as well as a 4x4 foot diffusion scrim and three stout light stands. I know I'll need a tripod, batteries, mafer clamps and some other modifiers so I'm planning to drag along a big, wheeled case like this:



I don't need to do video on this job so I can fill the case with cool lighting gear and useful grip gear. If I need more than three light stands I should be hiring a crew anyway. The real magic will come in trying to keep the load+the bag itself all under 45 pounds. I'll have an assortment of flashes and triggers but there's not going to be anything in the case that's super valuable or irreplaceable. I've got two versions of the big case; a Tamrac and a Manfrotto. The Manfrotto (above) is lighter weight by at least five to eight pounds but the Tamrac is better padded has a bit better layout for gear distribution.

I'll pack them and weigh them and then make my choice. I'm sure the airlines will be gentle and respectful regardless of which case I choose......  I'm also packing a small suitcase to check in filled with.....clothes and shoes. But the real issue is: how to pack the cameras and lenses.

Any way I slice it I come back to the (almost) fact that any rolling case is going to end up getting gate checked as soon as we leave the comfortable confines of a 737 and venture into the smaller jets. You know, the ones you can't stand up straight in even if you are only five foot, eight inches tall...the jets with seat so small they make me feel fat. I learned the hard way with a Think Tank Airport Security International rolling case a few years back. It's a dandy case and holds everything I need but it doesn't fit into the shoebox sized overhead compartments and, even with much protest, I had to check the case if I wanted to ride on the plane and make it to my next destination. Can carbon fiber tripods bend? We found out the answer....

My fall back is either to a conventional Domke camera back (the big one) or to a non-wheeled backpack like the one I took on my adventure in Toronto in the winter of 2017.

Into this case (Amazon Basics Photo Backpack) I will attempt to stuff two Nikon D800 series bodies, a 24-120mm f4.0 VR lens, a 70-300mm VR lens, a Tokina 16-28mm f2.8 lens and a few juicy prime lenses, along with as many batteries as I can fit in. I'll also fit in the new (ultra slim) MacBook Pro and a few chargers (extra chargers go into the clothes luggage. it's a hefty package to carry around all day but we're going to each location in cars or trucks so it's not like I'll be hiking the Appalachian Trail with this 20 some pound monkey on my back.

I will also wrap up a D700 in bubble wrap and stick it in one of the other bags as a final back-up. 

Five flights (actually more, if you count connecting flights) seems like a lot of travel to me. But we do three more out of state shooting days the following week and then head off to Iceland at the end of that week, on the 27th. I already know what I'm packing for that: Two GH5S cameras and two Olympus zooms. If I don't have the right cameras for the tasks at hand then I'll just change tasks. Good to remember that I'm there to teach not to return with pristine photographs for picky clients.

Finally, some of you guys took me to task for ripping on the Zeiss hyper-connected concept camera announced at Photokina. Hmmmm. I thought about it a lot after reading your critiques. I took them to heart. And then I decided that I'm definitely correct in my assumptions and that time will prove me prescient about the real need for features that only distract from paying attention to the image right in front of your cameras. If you need to make a call on your camera then you need some real intervention. Or you could just quit photography and start reading Michael Johnston's quirky new car review blog site. It's still called: theonlinephotographer.com

Believe me, you'll be better off ignoring fluff like wi-fi, gps, and bluetooth and just knuckling down and making the photographs better. Multi-tasking is the devil's work.


10.08.2018

I laughed my ass off when I saw the camera Zeiss was proposing at Photokina. Don't these manufacturers ever learn from each other?



The Samsung Galaxy NX. How many hundreds sold worldwide?

I laughed and laughed when I saw what Zeiss was proposing the build. It's a camera with a fixed lens, a huge screen on the back and the ability to run apps like mobile Adobe Lightroom right on the back screen of the camera. If I read the promo material correctly it's based on the Android operating system...

Can you say, "Deja Vu?"
I sure can because I was part of the crew that tested and shot with the Samsung Galaxy NX camera. It featured a big and bold screen on the back. It ran Android's Jelly Bean implementation. It could run many apps. It was the most connected camera of all time and included: Bluetooth, Wi-fi, and full on Cellular connectivity. It even did the Zeiss pipe dream one better by providing an interchangeable lens system that could take advantage of some really well made and impressive lenses. But it was one of  the biggest camera failures in recent history and, in my opinion, was a strong component in Samsung's decision to exit the camera making market altogether. Be careful Zeiss. Be very careful.

Why did it fail? I'm sure there were as many reasons as their are photographers with opinions but for me it was all about actual usuability. Since the camera ran a consumer operating system with many installed apps (feature or sabotage?) it took a long time to start up once you hit the power switch. On the first samples we're talking as much as thirty seconds from switch flick to useable. If you had cellular enabled and you didn't change the default which asked the camera to look for software updates upon resuscitation you could doom yourself to longer waiting periods (with little or no recourse) as the camera downloaded and installed the usual patches and crap. Nuts to you if you saw a scene with Lady GaGa and the Pope making out on main stream with UFOs landing in the background ---- you weren't going to have a camera that would take photographs until your Galaxy NX finished downloading and installing the latest rev. of Angry Birds. 

So, if you have a camera in which the controls are apps and they are embedded with communication apps and gaming apps you just got yourself a menu that makes the Olympus OMD menus look like, "See Jane run. Run Jane run." I made notes. They hardly helped. And I guess I should have expected it because every software update meant new application icon positions and permissions. 

And while the IDEA of a really big screen sounds enticing (yes, you could probably watch a movie on Netflix on your flight home from wherever) it's a shitty idea on many levels; or at least in the levels that have anything do to with taking photographs. 

I'll admit that the screen was nice when shooting stuff in the studio but only until you experienced one of the (regular and frequent) OS crashes and had to restart. Again. And Again.

But shooting out in the streets you quickly realize that the screen is for shit in bright sunlight ( and will be equally or nearly as bad on the Zeiss --- no matter what the sales brochure says.... One Million Nits....!!!!!) and all the money spent on the big rear screen meant scrimping and saving on the low res and slow refreshing EVF. You may think you love doing everything on the rear screen because you are young and stupid and don't know any better, having cut your teeth holding a phone out in front of yourself like a dolt, but when you start photographing with intention you discover how important and enabling a good eye level finder can be.... That's why we don't use twin lens reflexes or view cameras anymore. 

I hope Zeiss doesn't scrimp on the EVF, it will kill the camera before it hits the local Hermes shop. Perhaps they'll stock them at Gucci as well....

Thom Hogan and some small handful of tech-y photographers constantly pine for massive interconnectivity but I'm betting that when they get a bad taste of the distraction and cumbersome nature of their phone, laptop and camera having sex and giving birth to a Frankenstein-ish all purpose appliance they'll want to go back and edit out everything they ever wrote about wanting to process images on their cameras and then uploading them to the millions and millions of buyers who are, in their imaginations, just waiting for their photographic produce to come banging over the bandwidth to their (tiny phone) screens. Multi-Tasking is just another conglomeration of words that essentially means, "I like the gimmicks more than the art. I can't concentrate on one task for more than a few seconds. And, everyone wants to see my stuff RIGHT NOW. Even surgeons pause their procedures just to take a gander on their phones of someone's latest ferret foto)

I can see it now. Legions of people misled by false technology messiahs spending Frustration Fridays uploading a new version of Lightroom to their camera. Uploading new versions of Android to their...camera. Playing Angry Birds and  Candy Crush on their cameras.  Waiting for their cameras to reboot so they can catch the last few moments of the asteroid that is about to decimate the planet. 

Me? I'll laugh and photograph them slamming their new interactive, interconnected cameras down on the hard concrete in frustration as they come to understand that real creativity requires real, undiluted attention and focus. Yeah. A one tool per job mentality. It's why we don't have Sporks in Michelin star restaurants. Multi-tool camera clutter is why Zeiss's latest grasp for the gold plated ring will result in abject failure. 

I'd go the other way and make a camera with three controls: Aperture, shutter speed and ISO. Everything else we'd handle in post. It's true. If you don't believe me go find a Samsung Galaxy NX and give it a whirl. Yes, I can write this because I used one for a year. And yes, I'd never buy another camera like that again. Even with YOUR money. 













Most photos above: Berlin 2013. The launch.