Absolute Amateur Error at the Pro Photographer's Fifth Day of Shooting on this Job.

Yeah. You guessed it. That professional photographer had the air conditioning set on "Antarctic" in the hotel last night, drove to the shoot in a big SUV with the air conditioning set cold enough to chill beer, pulled into this rural gas station to get gas and decided to pull out a camera to capture the facility's rustic charm. I pulled an ice cold camera and lens out into the hot, humid air outside of Tampa, Florida and it immediately condensed and the whole front element of the new Panasonic/Leica zoom when into massive "fog filter" hysteria. It quickly dissipated and I looked hard to make sure I hadn't done any lasting damage. 

Lesson relearned. I left the camera bag outside for the rest of the day. It just makes sense since we were shooting outside all day....

What a dumbass move. Grrrrrr. 

Minutes later....  


Lots and lots of travel today in order to shoot one set of photos...

When you live in a big, bustling city you don't always remember that it's a lot harder to get in and out of smaller towns in rural and semi-rural areas. Just getting to New Bern, North Carolina to take a photograph today was an undertaking. There is a small airport there but there are only two airlines that fly to and from it. I started my day in Knoxville, TN. and flew to Charlotte, NC. At the Charlotte airport they called for boarding and we walked down stairs and across the tarmac to a small 50 passenger jet parked on the runway. When we landed about 45 minutes later in New Bern we exited the airplane and walked across their tarmac and into the airport. There are two gates at the New Bern airport. The same people who work at the front desk to check you in and check your baggage close the front dest about a half hour before the flight is scheduled to depart and hustle out to the gates to also act as gate agents and baggage handlers.

I got to New Bern around 12:15 in the afternoon and my portrait subject came by in his pickup truck and we headed off to a job site to make his environmental portrait. We were working in direct sun, at midday so I put together a 4x4 foot Chimera scrim panel and "flew" it over my subject's head to block the harsh, direct sunlight. A bit of wind picked up so I grabbed the backpack I've been carrying and tied it to the light stand to anchor it. Then I set up one of the Neewer Vision 4, lithium battery powered mono-lights, and a 2 foot by 3 foot soft box and used it as a main light, coming in at a nice angle under the scrim.

I had my subject in the foreground and the background was filled with heavy machinery; earth movers, bulldozers, and some stuff I was even sure what it was supposed to do. I was rushing myself a bit because my guy had a meeting after my session and it was something he really couldn't miss. I made a few mistakes but nothing I can't "fix in post." I caught one of my mistakes about half way through the session and fixed it. I'd set a high kelvin value yesterday for an interior shoot lit mostly by diffuse cloud light and I'd forgotten to do a color balance reset before I started today. And it's embarrassing because I teach people all the time and stress the need to "zero out" one's cameras before every new shoot.... I felt too rushed to follow my own advice but I caught myself and actually started repeating to myself "slow down. Do this right."

Of course, I ended up overshooting and we walked away from the demolition site with about three hundred variations on a theme. My subject (an employee of the company I'm working for on this trip) was patient and never rushed and when we were finished he dropped me back by the tiny airport on his way to the meeting.

Someone at the home office must have imagined that we'd spend all day photographing our person because they booked me on the last flight out of town (7:30pm) heading back to Charlotte and connecting with a flight to Tampa, FLA that arrives just after midnight. I got to the New Bern airport at around 2pm and walked in with my two 50 pound cases and my small backpack, confident that I could sweet talk my way onto an earlier flight instead of cooling my heels for the next five hours....
And it would have been nice to get into Tampa early enough to actually enjoy my hotel room rather than using it as a napping way station... But when I walked up to the front desk at this international airline outlet.......there was no one there. As in: no person anywhere behind the counter.

They had all assumed their various roles in expediting a departure. And guess what? Since there is no food service at either of the two gates the TSA shuts down the gate area between flights. You can't even check in and cool your heels at the gate. The gate and the security check area open about an hour before the flights. Then, when the last flight arrives from Charlotte (all flights go through either Charlotte or Atlanta, depending on whether you are flying American or Delta) the airport stays open for about a half hour longer before turning off the lights and locking the doors. If you miss your flight you will not be spending the night at the airport...

When the staff finally returned they let me know that the next flight, the one before my flight, was full. They actually can't fill the whole plane, they told me, because the runway is not long enough to handle a fully loaded jet. Kind of fills one with confidence, right?

Thank goodness for one thing though. Even though the New Bern airport has only one food service establishment (outside  TSA security and the gates, right next to the tiny baggage claim area) it's actually pretty darn good and never ever crowded. It's called The Triple Play Oasis and the young woman who works there (my one data point) makes a good cheeseburger, crispy good, fresh French fries and on Thursdays you can get a beer for $3.50.

I'll get into my Airport Hampton Suites in Tampa well after midnight and my client's Florida representative is scheduled to collect me there at 7 am tomorrow to begin our last day of shooting this week. It's been a long one but it's fun. It feels like the way we used to work back in the 1980's and 1990's but with cameras that are more fun and easier to use. But the secret to doing good, quick work like this is to have an almost intimate relationship with your flash equipment. You should have a good idea exactly how the final image is going to look and what the flashes will deliver before you even pull a case out of the rental car trunk.

I guess I should wrap this post up as my flight leaves in about two hours and I wouldn't want to be late. The gate is about 150 feet from the restaurant.

I have no idea what we'll be photographing tomorrow but I know it will be mostly people and all the images will be on exterior locations.

Since we were moving fast and were on a dusty demolition job site I put my camera and lens together in the pickup truck to avoid getting dust on the back of the lens or the sensor. I chose a G9 with the Olympus 12-100mm, thinking I might want or need the longer reach to compress the background for some of the closer, more classic portrait compositions. I took a chance and tried syncing at 1/320th of a second and it actually worked. But then, after the realization of my white balance imbroglio I switched down to 1/250th just to be conservative. Looking through the images just a few minutes ago I couldn't see any downside from my little sync experiment, but be forewarned, every flash system is different. Test, test, test.

One more thing. Mr. Katz asked about the variable aperture characteristics of the Panasonic/Leica 12-60mm f2.8-4.0. I thought I'd answer. Just consider it a 12mm f2.8 prime and the consider the lens for the rest of the time to be an f4.0. It crosses the line pretty quickly. By 25mm you are well past the f3.5 zone and heading toward f3.8. When I use a variable aperture zoom I just assume I'll set it at the max aperture of the slowest setting and shoot like that. So, in my mind, since I shot between 25mm and 60mm mostly I instantly presume that the lens is a constant aperture f4.0. And it still seems nice and sharp to me.

I get Saturday, Monday and Tuesday off but I'm heading back out of town again for Wednesday and Thursday, packing and bill paying on Friday next week, and then off to Iceland. Maybe I'll sleep on the plane......  Did professional photography just get popular again? Seems like I'm working all the time. 

Morning edit. 10-19. 

Got to Tampa a little late and checked into the hotel around 12:45 am. Quick shower and then right into bed. Got a solid five hours and then up for breakfast. Client arranged to meet me in the lobby at 7 sharp. It's now 7:15 am. We'll see just how much sleep I gave up in order to be punctual....

Looking over the photos from yesterday I was very happy with the performance of the G9 and the 12-100mm. It's a nice combo.

Today is the end of this week's march through the Southeast. I've been in four different hotels and by the end of the day today I will have flown on ten different flights through eight airports. I guess it's good practice for my baggage handling skills in anticipation of my trip to Reykjavik and points beyond. I have re-remembered one critical point: The more you carry the less you photograph. I look forward to the Iceland trip because there are really no expectations that I will (or have to) come back with great photographs nor do I have to cover every photographic opportunity that presents itself. 

If I do a good job teaching a bit of technical and aesthetic stuff to my fellow workshoppers and help people translate motivation to fun and engaging photographs I will have done my job. While I want to photograph the adventure as well I have the distinct and delicious privilege of taking just one camera and lens, or even no camera and lens and just enjoying the process. Of course, I won't go camera naked because the minute I step off the plane I know my decades of photo-lust would kick in and drive me nuts.

Field Notes: When shooting in direct sun it's good to bring along a dark, cotton baseball cap with a bill. Works well to additionally block light on the EVF and the rear screen giving one a fighting chance to see meaningful information. 

Getting ready to work one more day and then get home to the center of the Universe. That's Austin, Texas (your location may vary.....). 

And to end this blog post, just got a text from the client this morning. Remember that 7 am rendezvous? The text read: "on the way." 

My text: "ETA?"

Response: "About an hour." Oh, the lost sleep....sad.


Sitting in another hotel room racing backward in time through a folder of images.

When I've finished shooting for the day, the client has dropped me off at my airport hotel, I've stumbled into yet another Hilton restaurant and looked for something remotely healthy to eat, I retreat to my room to re-pack for a trip to New Bern, NC in the early morning and then a flight through Charlotte, NC. to Tampa, FLA. I've been practicing the packing since Sunday; actually for years and years and it really doesn't take long once you've established a daily pattern...

I've uploaded the Jpeg files I shot, in tandem with the raw files, today. They're in a gallery on Smugmug.com ready for my client to review. I've charged batteries, checked the front elements of lenses to see which might need to be cleaned and generally gotten all of my housekeeping out of the way. That's when I feel a bit empty and a bit like I'm in a holding pattern. And when that feeling hits I like to just look back over random but favorite images I've shot in the past. 

Some seem as though I shot them only yesterday and when I check the data I find a favorite image might be two or ten or even twenty years old. I've been uploading images to use on Blogger since 2009 and there is quite a huge collection at my Google pictures folder. I don't use everything I upload because sometimes, when I see an image in conjunction with a blogpost's content, it just doesn't seem to match up at all. 

But I like to look at them and remember what I was shooting with, and thinking, and eating and walking in at the time of the shot. Random bits of memory. Picture framed on the screen of my laptop.

I was riding back to the hotel today when I realized how few moments each of us has. It's enough to make me abandon work altogether and just spend my days roaming around with a camera. But, who am I kidding? Even the perfect pursuit would get old when pushed to excess. Instead, I'll just rummage through the online collection and see if any of the older work pushes me to do better current work. Maybe it's all a building process and one of us will be lucky enough to finish before we finish....

A Preliminary Review of the Leica/Panasonic 12-60 mm Lens.

An early morning shot outside of Asheville, NC.

I recently bought a brand new Leica Panasonic 12-60mm f2.8-4.0 zoom lens as a back up for the Olympus 12-100mm Pro zoom lens I purchased last year. There are a number of reasons to have two different versions of your most used lenses, not the least of which is the security of having a back up in case a lens is damaged in transit or accidentally dropped. Also, from time to time, even the best lenses can have a defect that renders them unusable and in need of repair. 

I bought the Panasonic/Leica as a second lens because I'm been using the Olympus lens non-stop and rely on it for most of my video and photography projects (both personal and professional). Since the Panasonic/Leica covers most of the range it was a good choice. An added bonus is that it works with the dual image stabilization feature on the G9 cameras. With the two camera bodies and two lenses I feel prepared to handle just about anything a typical job tosses my way...

I had read a few reviews on the web that suggested the P/L lens was less sharp than the Oly, and just as many reviews that praised the P/L for its sharpness, so I decided to find out for myself. I would never use a camera body or lens which I have not tested myself on a job so I did a general test last weekend. I found the new lens to be sharp and have good imaging characteristics. It also feels a bit better balanced on a G9 than my Oly 12/100.  But the real proof is in day-to-day use.

I have now used it for the last two days and find it to be a very good lens. Interchangeable, for the most part, within the focal length range, with the Olympus lens. It does a great job rendering flesh tones and, like the Olympus, can be too sharp for portraits of people unless their skin is perfect and the light is gentle. Using with correct profiles settings gets you a lens with good fine detail and nice micro-contrast. 

I'll keep using it and shooting with it and report what I find. 

Floods and Endless Rain in Central Texas.

I'm sitting in a hotel in Knoxville having breakfast and watching the television over the fireplace in the dining room. The news right now is all about the horrible flooding all over central Texas. It's mostly to the west of Austin (and, not to worry, our house and studio are at a high elevation - 400+ feet above the surrounding lake levels) but the flooding seems at least as severe in the towns out along the Hwy 290 and Hwy 281 corridors. An important bridge collapsed in one town and flood gates are being opened all along the Colorado River, including the one at the Tom Miller Dam which holds back the water that flows through downtown Austin. There is no doubt that, as the flood waters rise, parts of Austin's Downtown will experience some flooding, especially around the intersection of Lamar and 12th streets. Shoal Creek always comes up fast and vexes that area.

I feel a bit powerless being out of town. I know that Ben and Belinda are always on top of things at home but I still worry. At least Studio Dog is there to guide them.....

Work here is easy and fun. The G9 cameras are performing well and I'm developing an appreciation for the Leica/Panasonic 12-60mm lens. It's very nice and quite sharp. Occasionally I need to go longer so I reach for the Olympus 12-100mm instead but I'm loving life lived mostly without my tripod because the 12-60mm is so rock solid when used in the dual-I.S. mode with the G9.

I did get some use out of the 8-18mm but it was a scene which could have been handled with the wide end of either standard zoom. More and more I'm thinking Iceland will be a two cameras, two lens affair with the G9s and the two mid-range zooms. At least I'll have redundant back ups for each component...

I wish I had known more about the scope of this week's fast changing assignment. I would have packed less gear by about 25%. But I guess we always say that. It's easy when at home to want to pack for every contingency --- then the reality of having to carry what you've packed sinks in an spoils the fun. Ah well, at least I'm working out of cars for the most part.

Moving quickly and having fun but a little part of my brain is on constant worry about that pesky, cold, wet weather in Austin. What an insanely wet and unpredictable month it's been.

Curious to hear from Austin based readers: How is everything going vis-a-vis the rain?


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.


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.


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....


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.