12.11.2018

Who is my current, favorite, smart blogger writing about the side of photography that has to do with thought and theory and not "nyquist-crappola-equivilence-gear." ???

Oh yeah. That would be Mr. A. Molitor. He's been writing great stuff over at "Photos and Stuff" for a enough time to prove to me that he's on to something good and that he had a great, cynical sense of humor.

Try this one out for size: http://photothunk.blogspot.com/2018/12/synergy-ii.html

No disclaimers needed here. He's not trying to sell you anything and, on this post, neither am I.

Go read some of A. Molitor's stuff if you are getting bored here. Warning: I think he's smarter and funnier than me. Sad. For. Me.

Damn mathematicians....

http://photothunk.blogspot.com

A snippet from his most recent: A common thing that happens on the Internet where n00bs appear is that a n00b shows up with a need to take some photographs of products. His girlfriend is making artisanal crack pipes or something, ....


I just read a fun, smart book about photography. Not about gear; just about photography. You might like the book and it might be a nice holiday break from....THE GEAR.

What I'm reading now....

I have to say at the outset that I love reading K.B. Dixon's work but sometimes his style catches me off guard. He doesn't write in long, sweeping, detail oriented academic prose; instead, he's the master of making a quick point, writing in brief but contagious paragraphs and, well, getting right to the point.  But instead of re-inventing "what the book is" I'll just copy the blurb on the back to get the idea moving in the right direction:

"IN A NEW COLLECTION of idiosyncratic essays on the subject of photography, Too True, K.B. Dixon offers a close-up look at an enduring fascination. A writer and photographer, Dixon comes at his enigmatic subject from every direction---from the experience of reading Roland Barthes to the question of posing, from the art of the author photo to a real time history of the Vivian Maier phenomenon. He provides the reader with a distinctly personal take on the many mysteries of a maddening medium."

I have read his books, "A Painter's Life" and "The Photo Album" and enjoyed them both very much. But a word of warning, these are not "how to" books. They are books about ideas, feelings, and the flow of life--- in the life of an artist and a writer. In this book Dixon discusses topics ranging from a critic's appreciation of photographer, Garry Winograd, to the writings of Janet Macolm, to ideas about Vivian Maier and her awkward posthumous legacy. The essays are like interesting meals in that you can sit down, read one and feel satisfied and then return again and have a different dish the next day. I particularly like his observations about posing. Not physically posing, per se, but more the affectation of posing. 

If you like terse, dry, non-fiction then this is NOT the writer for you. If you want to be amused and understand something we all have a passion for (photography) from another (smart) person's point of view then you'll likely love the book. At 130+ pages it's not going to tire you out. You won't have to revisit your studies of Claude Levi-Strauss from the philosophy courses ALL OF YOU SHOULD HAVE TAKEN IN COLLEGE in order to enjoy the essays. They are, for the most part, light-hearted and non-destructively cynical. Fits right in with the VSL POV.



12.10.2018

Just Landed. A First Look at the 7Artisans 55mm f1.4 Lens for Fuji Cameras.


Around here there's a never ending curiosity about 50mm lenses. Not 50mm equivalent focal lengths; just lenses in the 50-55mm ballpark. On a full frame camera they do one thing and on a smaller sensor they do something different. I'm working on a small stash of eccentric adaptations for both of my camera systems but the system that seems to have the energy this month, and the hunger for 50mm lenses, is the Fuji and I'm playing with a rich treasure trove of lenses I can adapt, or use directly, on the Fuji X cameras. (Go mirrorless, go focus magnification, go EVFs!!!). 

So far I have the Fuji-cron 50mm f2.0, an adapted Contax Zeiss 50mm f1.7, a Kamlan 50mm f1.1, I'll fudge it a little bit and allow the Olympus 40 and 60mm Pen FT lenses, an adapted Nikon 50mm f1.1.2, and now, the latest arrival: The 7Artisans 55mm f1.4. It's supposed to have a zillion aperture blades for yummy (real) bokeh (not just shallow depth of field; which is an entirely different thing....) and it's all metal and glass. I first saw it on Amazon.com but the site was so wishy-washy-ness about their ability to deliver it before the holidays that I did a quick search and sourced one at B&H Photo & Video. It came to the office this afternoon; two days early. 

I haven't had time to go wring it out on an extended walk and I don't have a pressing artsy project on which to give it a go but I can make a few observations about the look and feel of the lens. It's small but dense with no rattles or shakes. Since there is no automation and no image stabilization there's really nothing to bounce around inside. The finish is nice and the focusing ring turns easily enough but it also nicely damped. I made a few casual, handheld shots of thing three and four feet away that were festooned with small type and the lens seems to resolve whatever is in focus pretty well. 

I've got it (obviously) on my X-E3 and, after swim practice tomorrow morning, I'll take the rig out for spin and see if it really does earn those five stars that early adopters/reviewers have awarded it on Amazon. It's not really rocket science to design and produce a conservative six element, five group Sonar variant lens in 2018, and to polish its performance with some decent coatings. If it's not perfect I won't cry; the lens came well packaged and in a nice box and cost, brand new, a whopping $119. But if it works for portraits......

We might be very happy. 👍🏼

Product shots courtesy the outrageously good Panasonic G9 with 
the (now) $149 25mm f1.8 lens. Nice.

12.09.2018

Sometimes you just want a new "beater-cam" to take with you when you know it might rain, camera might get banged around, etc. You know; a camera you like but don't care about....


Sometimes people's agonizing desire for a brand new camera is a mystery to me. I wonder what they have at home, in the moment, that makes it imperative that their next purchase be a "new in the box" latest thing. I get it if you are working professionally and stumble across a wonderful series of assignments that could be done even better (or easier) with the latest camera model in your brand's line up. Most of the time, though, we're just scratching the itch to buy something. Anything to satisfy that urge to have more. 

You should read this with a grain of salt because even though I resist the "brand new" temptation from time to time I'm as big a victim of reckless desire as anyone else. But that doesn't invalidate my contention that most people want, and should have, a beater camera. A camera that could get accidentally run over by a car and not cause too much grief or inconvenience in your every day life.

I finished up some big jobs recently and I was pleased with both sets of cameras I'd been using. The weather forecasts for Austin were basically calling for a week of rain and general ick. I felt restless and was procrastinating on all fronts. The end of a long string of jobs was giving me something quite rare; a sense of boredom. And when most of us are bored we think about things we can buy and use to alleviate the momentary ennui. 

If you are a regular reader here you probably have read that I'm now flirting (heavily) with the Fuji cameras. I bought an X-T3 and some lenses, liked them and bought some more lenses, and then the growing lens inventory led to the rationalization to have a back up body so I bought an X-E3 (which I  also like). But both the X-T3 and X-E3 are brand new, still shiny and, having been purchased at retail, still feel too new to expose to the elements if fees and paying jobs are not on the line. 

I wanted a used camera that has the same basic menu structure, the same basic color family and which also takes the same Fuji lenses. I remembered seeing five or six X-E1 bodies up at Precision Camera, on the used shelf, that looked to be unbrutalized and still very functional, and they were priced at $199 each. Now that's in line with what I think you might want to spend for a camera whose existential mission is......to potentially be destroyed. So I got in my car and headed north to put my own hands on the inventory and divine which of the five or six bodies emitted the best aura of usability for me. 

I played with them. I played with a Fuji X-Pro-2 (not loving that one....although it's the camera that should be the most interesting...). And then, nestled in the cluster of X-E1s I came across a very well maintained X-E2. It was priced at $295. I leaned on my sales associate and got a slightly better price. I'm sure it bugs him when I do that but I did live in Turkey for two very formative years and I can't bear to buy used stuff without a little bit a ritualistic bargaining....
It's all black except the camera. And the gloves.....


I brought the X-E2 home, charged its battery and read the actual, printed owner's manual cover to cover. Then I put on the 35mm f2.0 lens and went out for walk in the hazy drizzle to see how I like the whole assemblage. I did. 

It's operationally a bit less refined then the model "3" but it's largely speaking the same user language. 
It's sixteen megapixels instead of 24 megapixels but if you've followed the blog for any length of time you'll know that I may consider that a strength rather than a weakness...

Drizzle landed on the camera and lens and I brushed it off and kept shooting. It's a pleasant package and the light weight of the unit makes hauling the X-E2 around a burden-less experience. I like the files I got from the camera and I like using it in the totally manual mode. So, less than $300 bucks for a fully functional, 16 megapixel camera with nice colors in the files. A good beater camera for sure.

And the yellow is nice.























12.07.2018

Final thoughts on using the Fuji X-T3 and the 55-200mm Fuji zoom for my 2nd rehearsal shoot of "Santaland Diaries" at Zach Theatre.

Jimmy Moore as "David" in David Sedaris' cynical, hilarious, one man holiday play, "Santaland Diaries." At Zach Theatre. 

I photographed a previous rehearsal of this play (with no audience in attendance) last Saturday. We felt like we needed the energy that having an audience would bring to Jimmy's performance and so we added a second shoot to the schedule for this past Tuesday. I like to switch cameras in order to compare the handling and the actual output of each. On Sunday (see blogpost here) I used several Panasonic G9 cameras and (mostly) the Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 Pro zoom. On Tuesday I relied exclusively on the Fujifilm X-T3 and the "pedestrian" Fuji 55-200mm f3.5-4.8 zoom. These are my observations about the latter system; the Fuji.

There are trade-offs between the two camera systems. Let me get those out of the way first. The G9 is much better designed to hold and to operate. The grip is bigger, the body more solid and the controls logical. The feedback loop is also better. I never worry, with that camera, if what I'm focusing on will be what the camera focuses on. I never worry about the image in the viewfinder matching the image I anticipate seeing on my monitor when I get back to the office. And I know that my raw file will be better than my Jpeg file (although that's certainly a mixed blessing...).  The G9 has a sensor that's smaller than the X-T3 and so, shoots like this one that happen mostly with the lens on each camera used wide open and both camera set to ISO 1600 (+ or -) show up the technical differences between the sensors. Since the Fuji lens is at least a stop slower (it's variable) I give up one stop of technical difference in sensor performance between the two....But...

The Fuji files are a bit softer, or less contrasty, right out of the camera, either in raw or in Jpeg. This makes them easier to do small (and large) corrections on. The Fujis dig into the shadows a bit better than the Panasonic files but in both cases the almost pure black of the background causes both camera to show small, white, noise dots in the black when I dial back the noise reduction in order to get more details in the overall files. They are both about the same in terms of producing the little dots but since the Fuji has a bit more resolution its files don't get enlarged as much so the dots are a bit less obvious. If I were looking for one perfect image and had infinite time to do post processing to the one "keeper" image, I'd select my main object (Jimmy) and invert my selection and then hit the background with noise reduction --- just in case --- with either camera (no real winners here). But... I need to deliver many files and so I compromise and split the difference between the ultimate sharpness and detail with a pleasing "calming" of the edgy shadow noise. Both cameras do well with noise in the mid tones and in the highlights.

The Fuji files have a smoother roll off in the highlights which means having to take less care to avoid clipping. Both the Fuji and the Panasonic have highlight and shadow controls which allow one to change the characteristic curve of each parameter separately; which is an advantage over cameras which only provide a "contrast" control which affects both sides of the curve equally.

If you provide the right input to the camera, vis-a-vis white balance, both cameras look very similar in their final files, color-wise.

The Fuji is less sure footed in a shoot than the Panasonic which means I trust it just a bit less. When you switch from S-af to C-af the X-T3 finder brightens as you make exposures. It's disconcerting in that I want the finder image to constantly display the preview image that reflects exposure (and color) settings. You have to wait until you finish with a continuous burst to review the final image in the burst to be sure that the camera really did hit your intended exposure.

The Fuji grip is smaller which makes handling the camera for two hour straight through is less comfortable and secure than is the G9.

But the bottom line is this: The Fuji makes better image files. The files at ISO 1600 are more robust. There is less pixel whiffle to see when you inspect and image at 100%. The roll off in the highlights is a very positive thing when shooting under stage lights. And this is inspire of me using a variable aperture zoom lens on the Fuji which is less than half the cost of the Olympus 40/150mm Pro. I'll eventually get the Fuji 50-140mm f2.8 to use for theatre work and switch to the X-T3 to do stage photography with. Also portraits.

I've yet to compare video to video but I think handling issues in that arena would supersede any visual quality difference in that arena.

But now, on to the unexpected takeaway: 

I am starting to distrust online reviewers and data-driven reviewers of cameras, and especially lenses, more and more. I bought the Fuji 55-200mm as more or less a placeholder to use while I was introducing myself to the system. I wasn't sure I'd stick around to play with their more expensive glass and I was mostly interested in seeing how the bodies would perform. The 55-200mm, I thought, would do a decent job under bright studio lights and out in the bright parts of the world but after reading various reviews (with one exception) I came away expecting that: A. the lens would not be very sharp when used wide open. B. the lens would be even less sharp at any focal length longer than 150mm and that, C. overall the lens's ability to resolve detail with enough contrast would be much lower than a more expensive, professional lens. 

Interestingly (to me) I used the long end of the Fuji lens for many (most) of the images I'm showing here. Go down three images from here and click on the image to see it larger. The detail and then the almost three dimensional differentiation between Jimmy's arms and hands and the background is so amazing. Even more so when you consider that the frame was shot of a moving target by a moving camera (not on a tripod) at 1/125th of a second at a wide open aperture. In every parameter this is where the reviews online led me to believe that I'd be met with abject failure. But it's plain to see that this is not the case. Going further down in the stream of images are two profile shots of Jimmy. Clicking in on these to 100% showed me good detail in the skin on his face, the stubble on his chin, the fabric of his costume and each individual strand of hair. This is the kind of sharpness I would only expect if I was shooting with flash. It's not what I would expect in a fast moving show with a handheld camera at ISO 800-1600.

The one person who had the spot-on review of this lens, and insight into its potential was good, old Ken Rockwell. He basically nailed it. The lens is sharp at every aperture and focal length until it hits the point where it is diffraction limited (different f-stops at different focal lengths). Hammering home once again the importance of taking the time to test this stuff instead of believing pundits on the web who may have pulled the lens out of a box in their poorly lit living room, handheld it at 1/4 of a second while trying to snap a photo of their escaping cat, and then pronouncing the lens's performance as ........ soft.

So, as of now, having used Canon, Sony, Nikon full frame cameras extensively I would say that if I was starting over from scratch and wanted to put together ONE system that could do the best job in video and stills (instead of one or the other exclusively) I'm afraid I'd have to go with the Fuji X-T3.

Caveat: If you don't need to blow stuff up big, or work at the edge of some strange performance envelope (shooting everything at ISO 6400), you'll be able to get as close as most of us need to with your current m4:3 camera or equivalent. You won't see much difference (or any at all) jumping up to a full frame camera from the Fuji either. Right now, with the exception of ergonomics, I declare the Fuji X-T3 to be the sweet spot. 

Final Thought: I was so happy to see the Fuji combo do so well that I rushed over to Precision Camera to pick up a X-Pro-2 I'd seen on the used shelf. The price was right and the camera was in good shape but when I spent half an hour operating it and holding it I had my sales guy put it right back in the case. It's not really a Leica for modern times. It's too big and clunky and the operational manner of the camera isn't my cup of tea (or, being from Texas, not my Big Gulp Cup  of Dr. Pepper). It went right back onto the shelf. Not every camera that is insanely well reviewed is that great either. Your mile will vary. Until you put a camera in your own hands and bring it up to your eye level it's all just fiction. Test em. Reject them. Embrace them. But understand WHY it's right or wrong for you.

It's not physics or optics or anything esoteric. It's like cars, girlfriends and pizza --- people like what they like and you may not like their choices.

I did pick up a very clean, used X-E2 to use in tandem with my X-E3 when I'm doing the prime lens shuffle (a different lens on each body...).  It's cute and set me back less than $300, with a natty leather strap (that is too spindly to use). It felt much better laid out than the X-Pro-2. Sad, on paper I always wanted to own an X-Pro-2. Having spent time with it in my own hands I'm happy to move on.











Post Project Blues.


If you follow this blog you probably know that this Fall has been extremely busy. Not busy in terms of writing about new gear or hip lenses, but busy taking existing cameras, lenses and lights out into the field and working for multiple days, and multiple weeks, for real, traditional, conventional clients who need photography. I've been tightly focused on the logistics of actually getting to locations that most people don't travel to. Places beyond paved roads and coffee shops, and conveniently located camera stores. 

Making tight travel deadlines can be stressful. Driving an unfamiliar rental car to a rural waypoint, guided solely by the GPS on your phone can be nail biting when you loose that cellphone connection. Getting to a project miles and miles from the nearest small town only to find that there are no restaurants, no gas stations, and not even a convenience store in which to get a microwaved burrito, can be a sobering experience for a photographer who spends the majority of his time in a modern, urban hub. While we love to bitch about the hardships of the road  most people who do this kind of work secretly love the challenge and the access to an alternate existence the likes of which most office dwellers are largely unaware. I know that I have a current of anxiety that runs through me at some level every minute that I'm on assignment outside my lifestyle comfort zone. 

But there's a weird reality on the other side of the assignments. I'm calling it post partum project depression. It's when you've been running full steam on a serial collection of intense work and client engagements and then, all of a sudden, you come to the natural end of the projects and all that adrenaline and feeling of connection to your work,  and basic sense of purpose ebbs. Now you have time to linger over a cup of coffee at the neighborhood coffee shop, time to read the latest news, but there's also a feeling of being disconnected... sitting in neutral.

I always feel a bit lost after a big tranche of work. I've been engaged in work pretty much non-stop since the beginning of the Fall season and one gets into the habit of packing just so, and doing quick research about the next destination on the schedule. I've gotten efficient at shooting on locations and then using my "downtime" waiting for the next flights to do global color corrections of the resulting images and uploading them to galleries for my clients. 

When I finally unloaded my mental baggage this week (and literally unloaded all the lighting gear and camera gear I've been using) I realized what I miss out when I'm on the road. I miss the Friday lunches with Ben (he works from home on Friday and we head to the local sandwich shop for Texas Tuna sandwiches = Whole wheat buns, tuna salad, guacamole, fresh sliced jalapeños, provolone cheese and all the usual condiments) and I miss family dinners. I miss my other clients. I miss the friends I usually hang out with and I miss my fellow masters swimmers. I miss Studio Dog.

The cure, for me, for the whole post project blues is to re-engage with all the things I love about being home. That, and buying another camera or lens... Yes. Yesterday I bought a Fuji X-E2 and ordered a 7Artisans 55mm f1.4 for the Fuji cameras. Why? It was all cheap stuff and it was motivated by seeing the results I got from my second rehearsal shoot of "Santaland Diaries" at Zach Theatre. But that's all in the next post......


Freelance work is so different from a steady job. If you work for a big company chances are you labor in a familiar framework from day to day. You might invent new stuff or market new products but you generally arrive at a certain time, you know where the office coffee maker is, you have a certain amount of time for lunch, you know what traffic will be like in the evening, etc. You know your familiar process.

If you work as an independent business, like photography, you'll find that nearly every assignment from a range of clients is different in large and small ways. From location to billing, from lighting style to deliverables. And then there are the opaque stretches of time in between. The uncertainty is more or less a consistent mantra. The allure of the "next" job seems predicated on the amount of time you waited for it to manifest...

I actually bailed on a job this week. I'd talked to a client that we do event work for about photographing their Holiday Event on the 15th. It would have been easy work with a decent payday at the end. But as the holidays progress I/we had conflicts with the date. My new neighbors are having a big party that evening. My swim team's annual party is also that evening. I talked to my client and they understood. They found someone to take over. Maybe the new guy will be so good the client will never call me again. But my post project sense of priorities gives greater weight to getting my social connectivity and quality of life back into balance. You only get so many good neighbors in a lifetime. You only get so many opportunities to hang with your fellow swimmers. 

Work-Life Balance versus the lure of work. It always seems a bit off. 

Just had the Texas Tuna Sandwich at Thunderclouds with Ben. Easily worth a day rate fee. 

12.05.2018

Oh Dear. And then there's the Kamlan 50mm f1.1. And a folk cure for acid reflux.

Low light, hand held photograph of my nightstand taken with the Kamlan 50mm f1.0 lens. 

There are too many books and pens and film cannisters and stuff on my nightstand. My favorite things there are the packs of Juicy Fruit chewing gum. It's really cool And it's a Kirk-io-pathic cure for acid reflux. Seems your own saliva (which chewing gum does a good job helping create) is one of the best antacids "on the market." Occasionally I'll have something that makes my esophagus complain and rather than reach for a "Tums" or something more malevolent, like Prilosec..." I'll grab a piece or two of Juicy Fruit chewing gum and chew away my discomfort. I keep it handy for those late night occurrences that seem to follow a plate of french fries washed down with tannin rich red wine.... Try it. And when it works go back to your gastroenterologist and scold them for prescribing deadlier stuff first...

(Disclaimer: I am not paid by the makers or distributors of Juicy Fruit in any fashion. Not even free gum. But I'm ready for them to hire me to create a campaign for their medical use of the product. If you work for the chewing gum company then call me, I'd also like a new car....).

But I digress.

How's that Kamlan 50mm f1.1 lens working out for me? I've shot it more and more often lately and it's a lot of fun. Sharper than I thought it would be (in the middle of the frame) at wider apertures but falling apart pretty quickly as you move to the edges of the frame. Nobody will mistake this for a modern macro lens but it's at least as much fun as anything LensBaby ever came out with and more controllable.

I'm doing some fun portraits in studio next week and I'm determined to mix this lens with a liberal dose of constant, LED lighting to really see what I can squeeze out of it. I guarantee it won't be "sharp in the corners."


Fuji-cron 23mm f2.0. Nice lens.

Ben at Thundercloud Subs.

Just another update on my dalliance with the Fujifilm XF camera system here. I previously purchased two of the compact and virtuous f2.0 prime lenses from Fuji; the 50mm and the 35mm. I used them both and found the center sharpness to be wonderful and the overall look to be very pleasing. If there's a downside to the lenses the camera's lens profiling capabilities make it invisible to me. In fact, I liked them so much I decided to pick up their matching sibling, the 23mm f2.0. All three are small and light, have high center of frame sharpness and, by going a couple stops down you can even have sharp corners ---- if you really want them. 

I got the 23mm during a period when I was totally engaged in a long photography project, shooting portraits, and relied exclusively during that period on longer lenses and zooms. You'd think I would have pulled the 23mm out of the bag and used it on some of the locations, just to see how well it worked, but you would be wrong. My recent schedules have been so tight that my choice would have been to screw around with the new lens and miss my next flight or keep the lens in the bag and make the schedule work for my client. 

But over the last weekend and in small chunks of time this week I've been able to bring the lens along (riding on an X-E3 body) and give it a few tries. 

The top photo is handheld (which means there's no image stabilization anywhere - in camera or on tripod) and shot at f2.0. I used the Acros color (B&W) profile and I see what all those Fuji fans mean when they say, "You gotta try it." It's probably the best black and white processing I've seen from a camera since.....wait for it.....Tri-X film in my Leica M6. After shooting a bunch of frames with the Acros B&W setting I'm coming to look at the X-E3, with the trio of compact primes, to be my digital Leica substitute. We'll see how that goes. 

But I'm also interested in how the lenses perform when used on middle ranged and distant subjects and so I took the lens out for a walk on Monday, when we had clear skies, and shot some of my usual subject matter. It's convenient though boring to see the same bridge and buildings show up again and again in the posts but having them in multiple tests and posts means I can switch back and forth between posts to see how different cameras and lenses handle the same basic subject matter. 

These were shot at f4.0 or 5.6 so I expected them to be sharp and they certainly were. If you need flat field lenses with high sharpness across the frame and no vignetting then these are not the lenses you are looking for... but if you understand how lens design and sharpness work and like the character and contrast of a good, all purpose lens then you might enjoy these. I'm beginning to think the mania for "flat field" lenses is a result of declining enrollment in college humanities programs; that failing is making our culture into a society made up solely of linear thinkers who value absolutes and technically measurable specifications above less tangible (and more lovable) qualities. Soon we'll all be programmers and engineers and society will die off from the ensuing sheer boredom. 

At any rate I think Fuiji made (at least) three lenses that have a solid reason for existence in the bags of independent photographers and provide me personally with many reasons to appreciate them. I'll keep them. 

The 23mm is the same angle of view on APS-C as a 35mm lens on a full frame camera. Not always my preferred focal length but when I feel like going wide it's a perfect starting point. 


These Fuji lenses are currently on sale. I got mine for $50 less than it would have been the week before. It makes a nice stocking stuffer...


12.04.2018

Were those ancient digital cameras really unusable? I found this quick photo of Elton John and was pleasantly surprised at the capabilities of the "primitive" camera.


Elton John©Kirk Tuck 2005.

Andy Roddick started a foundation, and what better way to kick off a new foundation than to invite a friend like Elton John to come to Austin, Texas to do a fundraising concert at the Four Season Hotel?
I was asked to come along and take photos of Sir Elton John with Andy, and his friends and family, (not for public display) and also to cover the dinner and concert for the 250 people attending.

The camera I was using at the time was the Olympus E-1 and the lens was an Olympus 14-54mm. So, about 5 megapixels of resolution with an older CCD sensor. Should have been a noise machine; right? But we didn't know any better back then so I persevered. We also read a lot of stuff on the early web about how hard it was to do flash with digital cameras in 2004-2005 but most of us found that using manual settings made short work of good exposures with flash...

Of course, I would love to be able to send back a couple of current cameras in a time machine so my younger and handsomer self could make great use of those ISO "invariant" Sony sensors everyone seems to gush about. But I can't currently afford even a Sears time machine so I'll just have to be happy that the images came out, were well used, and assisted the Foundation with their fundraising goals.

Rick Perry was there too, but that's another story. He sure look groovy in his black turtleneck shirt...

Sometimes you just have to use the camera you have on hand. Waiting for the future is too expensive.

12.03.2018

The two times I met and worked with former President George H.W. Bush.


I first met President George HW Bush in Scottsdale, AZ in 1998 or 1999. I was photographing a conference of CEO's and the big event of the week was a dinner at a private airplane museum, out toward the dessert, with a special speaker. The guests would have a cocktail reception and look at the aircraft. At the end of the reception they would line up (about 75 people) and meet the former president. They'd get to say a few words, shake his hand, and then the two would turn toward my camera and I'd take commemorative photograph with Mr. Bush and the V.I.P. guest.

I got to the venue a couple hours ahead of time to get the lighting set up and ready. I put up a canvas background and three lights. I pulled a Hasselblad camera with a Polaroid back out of a bag to test my exposure over and over again with sheets of Polaroid, and a patient stand-in. When I figured I had it nailed down as far as I was going to get it I marked spots on the concrete floor with gaffer tape so the president and the guests would have marks I could keep leading them back to. 

About an hour before we were to start I got a visit from the secret service. It was low key. I was already in the system for the jobs I'd done early in my career with another president. They also figured I'd been pretty thoroughly vetted by my client. And yes, I had been. I also had a ten year history with them by that point. (And I'm still doing work for them in the present....). 

Fifteen or twenty minutes prior to my start time I looked up to see Mr. Bush striding in my direction. He came over and shook my hand, asked me my name and asked me to walk him through my picture taking process. As we were talking he looked at my suit and I looked at his. As it turned out we were wearing the same color and style of suit. We looked at our labels and they were both from the same maker. Mr. Bush laughed and complemented me on my taste in clothes. I did the same to him. 

Soon we started the line up and greeting process and we worked as a good team. It was the film days and I didn't want to leave much to chance. I had pre-loaded three cameras and equipped them with three similar lenses. All three cameras were pre-set for aperture and shutter speed. I had unboxed a few more rolls and had them standing by. At one point I got ahead of myself and finished the third roll of film too soon. I needed to rewind and re-load in order to finish photographing all the people still in line. Mr. Bush had been paying attention. I think he saw my look of impending panic. He smiled, nodded and asked the person in front of him --- the next guest in line --- to tell him about his business. He was giving me time to get the camera ready! I re-loaded and looked up, giving Mr. Bush a quick "thumbs up." He nodded and thanked the gentleman in front of him and got back into the rhythm of moving people through; respectfully but also efficiently. 

After the last person in the reception line shook the former president's hand Mr. Bush walked over to me and stuck out his hand. "Thanks for that," he said, "That was a smooth as it gets." I thanked him for bailing me out by spending a bit more time with that one guest. He just smiled and said something like: "film doesn't load itself."

He walked into the dining area and a few minutes later he was giving a speech. The planners of the event didn't feel like they needed to have a photographer in the dining room. Too much distraction from the speaker everyone had come to see. I understood but I really wish I'd been there to hear him hold that room...

He was so gracious in his dealings with me. At that moment my admiration for him transcended any sort of political dogma. Now I am nostalgic for the time in American politics when he was at the helm. I guess it's true. What the old blues singers sang: You don't miss your water till your well runs dry....

I didn't think I would ever see Mr. Bush again but I was wrong. It was Fall of 2004 when the folks at Dell, Inc. invited Mr. Bush to speak at one of their conferences that was held at the Barton Creek Conference Center, just West of Austin, Texas proper. The conference was like most others; various speakers came with their PowerPoint presentations and every once in a while we'd break for coffee and snacks.

Near the end of the afternoon Mr. Bush took the stage and gave a wonderful 30 minute speech. My brief called for me to photograph him while he spoke and while he shook a few people's hands in the main conference room. Then he and his security folks (just two) would get into a waiting elevator and head to the penthouse for a meet and greet with a small handful of Dell executives. I rode up in another elevator and entered the penthouse after the president's entourage. We would be waiting 15 minutes for our host, Michael Dell, and his team, to give the final wrap up speech downstairs and then they would come up for a very casual question and answer session with Mr. Bush.

I walked into the penthouse suite and realized that the only people in attendance (at the moment) were me, the bartender, one secret service guy (the other one was positioned outside the door of the suite) and the former president of the United States (and at that moment the father of the current president!). I was a bit intimidated. But Mr. Bush came right over, shook my hand and asked/said, "You look familiar, have we met before?"

I reminded him of the show in Scottsdale and he smiled and said, "Ah, that's right. We were wearing identical suits!" I smiled and got it that he really remembered. I was amazed.

Mr. Bush was having a glass of white wine while he waited for his hosts. It was a very, very nice Sauvignon Blanc. He took a sip and then turned to me and asked, "Would you like a glass of wine? This is really good!" I was quite touched but I explained to him that if the Dell people walked in and saw me with a glass of wine in my hand, chatting up their guest, it might ------ limit my future freelance activities with the company. He said he understood but he also rubbed it in a little. He said, "You don't know what you're missing...."

The rest of the afternoon I tried to be a fly on the wall and not to disturb the flow of the intimate meeting. I waited until Mr. Bush exited the room before I started packing up to go home. On the way home I thought about my afternoon. Mr. Bush was not just the usual politician we saw in fast glimpses on the news. He was brilliant, a great conversationalist, a fairly fluent French speaker and an appreciator of good wine. I was happy to be able to spend more time in his orbit. And I was thankful that my work with Dell, Inc. put me in the position to have that experience. I was struck by how much emotion I felt when I heard of his passing this week. I think he will eventually be regarded as one of the great American presidents of the 20th century. He was a man of my father's generation. Not distracted by glitz and excess but a man who served us with honor and dignity.







And he was the only president who has ever offered me a glass of wine. That's so cool.

Unbelievably, the camera I was using that day was a Nikon D2h. Two lenses. An 80-200mm f2.8 and a 16-85mm. No I.S. and only 4 megapixels......