At one point in my career as an aspiring photographer/artist I was attracted to the process of hand tinting black and white photographs.

I photographed  this image in the Paris apartment of a friend's friend. My friend Penelope had been invited to have lunch with the father and daughter and she asked if I could come along. Penelope fired up her motorcycle, handed me a helmet and told me to "hop on the back and hold on tight." 

As we raced through wide streets my small camera bag swung from side to side behind me as I clung on for dear life. I survived, the lunch was pleasant, and I asked in my atrocious French if it would be okay to take a photograph or two. When I got back home and headed into the darkroom this one grabbed me right off the bat. 

I made a series of 16x20 inch prints and did some judicious and, I hope, restrained hand tinting with Marshall's Oil Colors and tightly rolled cotton.

I took the photograph with a Canon EOS-1 and the 85mm f1.2. It was the very original version of the lens which focused more slowly than any other autofocus lens I have ever used. It was a brutally expensive tool and not at all accommodating, mechanically, but I sure loved some of the images I got from it. Obviously, I did not use it wide open as the only thing that would have been in focus would have been the little girl's eyes. At f4.0 it was just right....

I sold the lens when I got home because life is too short to wait for a ponderous lens to get to its business. And at f4.0 I can think of any number of lenses that would have done just as nice a job. 

Lesson: some stuff is supposed to be super good. It's usually also super expensive. But if it doesn't work for you it's okay to kick it to the curb. 

No Comments on this one.

Always remember, whichever side of the political aisle you find yourself, that we the consumers pay for the tariffs. Not the Chinese or the Mexicans or the Germans. We do. The tariffs are paid on the imports by the American buyers and distributors. And passed on to the consumers.

Before you go off on the media be aware that Deutsche Bank is not a hot bed of liberals but the last bank with branches in the USA that would lend Donald Trump any money.

And remember that every single camera worth buying is made somewhere outside the USA...

What do you do when you've flown on an overnight flight and you get to your destination in the morning all jet-lagged? You go out and shoot.

I love to travel but I seem to be more prone to "arrival" jet lag than a lot of people. Even in my 20's I would arrive in an exciting city with one desire... find a hotel room and crash. Hard.

But if you do that your sleep pattern gets all screwed up and you wake up in the middle of the evening hungry and circadianly confused. It never worked well for me.

Now, when I travel, I make a point to dump my luggage at whatever hotel I've booked, grab my camera and a wad of cash, and head out the door to walk through my destination city and take photographs. I allow myself to sink into the flow of the streets like an old man lowering himself into a hot bath.

This image (above) was taken on one of my trips to Paris. I was traveling alone (yes, it is possible to take a shooting vacation solo, even if one is married, and I highly recommend doing so for photographers...) and hit Paris on a warm, Fall day. I was photographing at the time with Canon EOS film cameras (EOS 1n) and I was dragging along an 85mm f1.2, a 20-35mm f2.8 and a 50mm f1.4. All the cameras were loaded with Agfa film of one sort or another. My preference then was for the ISO 100 Agfapan APX but I also carried around rolls of ISO 400 as well. In a second camera body I was shooting Agfacolor Portrait film, a nice, ISO 160 film with a long tonal range and graced with the smoothest of gradients.

As I walked along one of the parks I passed by a large fountain and was amused to find people sleeping on the ground around it. In Texas one rarely sleeps on the ground for fear of ticks, scorpions, fleas and other critters. But Parisians are brave and hearty and omni-nap-ready.

I snapped a few frames and moved on but later something about the image sitting on one of hundreds of contact sheets from the trip caught my attention and I printed it large (16x20) to see why I was interested. I haven't gotten to any sort of final understanding but I"m still interested in the image. I recently put it up on the wall. Maybe it's just that it reminds me of how good it feels to take naps.

The shooting vacation was successful, did not impact my marriage, and helped me retain a certain wonderment and attraction to the process of making photographs. A "booster shot" as it were...

A Magazine called, New Texas, hired me to photograph a big game hunter. I'm not a fan of hunting; especially not "big game", but I enjoyed making the portrait.

The only challenge in making good environmental portraits is in gaining the willing complicity of the person you've been sent to document. Since I'm not a big fan of hunting any image I make of its practitioners is going to have some sort of subtext that questions the whole pursuit. While it may be too subtle to rise to most people's attention I made the image above as a caricature of a portrait hunter. A bit too serious and a bit too intense for a man sitting on a porch just outside a comfortable house in central Texas.

It was a different time in publishing when I made this image. We spent time. We had time. I set up a large soft box with a flash head powered by an 1200 watt second power pack. The box is just out of frame to the right and used close in. I didn't use any fill on the left side of the frame. I set up a Hasselblad camera on a tripod and made twelve shots with 120 film, using a 150mm f4.0 lens.

After souping the film in my darkroom I carefully printed the full square on a number of sheets of 8x10 resin coated paper until I narrowed in on the look and feel I wanted for the print. Then I translated the settings under the enlarger to print the photograph in a larger scale on 16 X 20 inch, fiber based paper. As was my practice in the day I made one print just a little light, one right on the money and one a bit darker. The reality was that paper "dried down" to a different density than what one saw in the developer or wash trays. The idea was to bracket what you saw in the soup so that one of the prints would, in its drying trajectory, hit the spot you wanted to see.

I was happy with the image after it dried (the lighter initial exposure worked best) so I made a point to print two more for myself. Sadly, magazines rarely returned black and white prints after use; I wanted to make sure I had a good copy.

Could I have done this digitally? Of course, but it was the work itself that had merit for me. The whole process is what sharpens the vision, not just the outcome.


A Few Environmental Portraits I Did for a Client Last Fall.

Up on the side of a mountain in Virginia.
November and freezing cold. A sleet storm just firing up.
A slick, one lane road in the middle of no where, starting to ice up and 
me trying to get good portraits and still make a flight at an airport 
three hours away.....

I did a lot of domestic travel last Fall. All of it for work. Very few of the photographs were made in big cities, near airports, near nice restaurants; hell, most weren't anywhere near a wall plug or a decent hotel. But it was fun nonetheless. Problem solving on the fly. 

The photographs just above and just below were done at about 7500 feet of elevation in weather that was starting to turn nasty. I'd hit the airport in Charlotte, NC about three and a half hours before, grabbed a Camry rental car and hauled ass up the through the Smokey Mountains. I needed to met up with a large crew of people who were stringing high voltage transmission wires through the mountains. 

Thank goodness for cellphones and GPS. I just made our rendezvous and followed a crew up the side of a mountain at the end of a small caravan of white, crew cab, pick-up trucks. When we got to the near the top I started scouting for a good location. I knew the client, back in Knoxville, would want to see some "product" in the background so I found a spot that showed transmission lines and pylons going off into the distance. By the time we got organized it was sleeting. We found a window screen in frame in the bed of one of the trucks and used it to keep sleet from hitting the portrait subject's face. I put my Godox flashes in a plastic bag, on top of a light stand and the guys who were waiting to be photographed took turns holding the light stand so it wouldn't get blown off the side of a cliff. 

The wind picked up and the temperatures were dropping into the 20's. Somehow we got everyone just before the crew chief got a call that a potential blizzard might be cutting through the passes. He took one look at my rental car and advised me to make a quick retreat if I was going to have a chance at making my next connection back in Charlotte. I headed back another three and half hours watching the gray get darker and darker in my rear view mirror.

Sometimes luck is with you and you stumble into an idyllic setting just about the same time you also have twelve guys who need to be photographed. That was the case when I was photographing the construction leads in a remote location in North Carolina. We were on the site of a dam project which required a bit of travel on unmarked, unpaved roads. We drove through some pretty countryside and the into an open spot when we descended into a scene that was just gorgeous. A lake, with mountains in the background and a bridge out to the middle of the lake. 

I took advantage of the early morning light, a small flash and a Panasonic G9 with a Panasonic/Leica 12-60mm lens to create the two images just below. At first I cropped lighter since that's become, more or less, a style with me. I generally like tight portrait compositions better than loose ones. But as I played around with composition in this setting I just had more and more desire to go wide and to really see the space. 

The two shots just below were in the same location but I had a different reaction. I changed angles in case the images were used at some time in the same publication but I never liked the tall grass in the frame. I finally went with a tight crop and it seemed just right to me. Same G9 and Pana/Leica 12-60mm. 

The image just below was taken on a steaming hot Summer days just outside the Florida Everglades. Again, we wanted to show "product" along with our portrait so we found a suitable location which showed transmission lines going off into infinity. I moved my portrait subject into the shadow of some thick trees to block direct sunlight and then came back in a created a main light with a Godox AD200 flash in a white 20 by 30 inch softbox set over to toward the left of the frame. I tried lower shots, tighter shots and more dramatically lit shots but this one, for me, captured the space, the outdoors-ness of location and the serious look of my guy. If you judiciously fill portraits and balance them with sun drenched backgrounds you are, in fact, increasing your dynamic range. I love it.

Some locations aren't glamorous and all you can do is channel your inner "Annie Leibovitz" and use a bit soft flash to creat a nice key to separate your subject from a so-so background. Again, I used the Godox AD200 flash blasting into a bigger soft box and the exposures were set to match with a small priority (1/2 stop?) given to the subject on the left. And then I got back in the car and headed back to the airport for the next leg of the adventure.

On all these trips I had three parameters to work within. I would need strong enough flash to overcome direct sun. I would need to use a diffuser to kill the contrast that would have been created with direct sun in the photos. I would need to be able to handle all the associated gear; getting it through airports and on and off shuttle buses, and into rental cars working completely solo. I chose two Godox AD200 flashes. One to use and one for back-up (which I did end up having to use...). Three light stands (one for the main light, one for the diffuser, one in case I needed a bit of back light, and one to hold the round diffuser over the top of my subject's heads in order to block direct sun. The lights, stands and my clothes (with a winter coat) all packed into a long Manfrotto roller case. My two Panasonic G9s, an assortment of batteries, radio triggers for the lights, and three lenses (8-18mm, Panasonic/Leica 12-60mm and the Olympus 12-100mm) all fit into a small, Think Tank backpack. One checked bag and one carry on bag. It couldn't be simpler.

I love shooting outside. It's always a challenge and I always like the play between almost out of focus backgrounds and the main subject. I'd hate for the gear to slow me down.

Odd contraptions that make handholding heavy cameras easier. Made for Video. Usable on Photography Cameras?

A production photograph from a video shoot at Zach Theatre. Videographer, Jake Fordyce, (center) is shooting with a rigged out Sony FS-5 (extra heavy duty batteries, follow focus gear, and an Atomos monitor) which is...weighty. The thing strapped to his back makes a four or five hour shoot bearable...

Those video guys are pretty ingenious. The device being used by the camera operator (above) is called an, Easy-Rig. It's a backpack with support belt and extra strength connections which support the strong metal bar you see running up over his head and ending up above his head and about a foot in front of him. At the front termination of the bar is a cable (capable of adjusting closer or further from Jake's face) that reaches down and supports the weight of the camera and its accessories. This adds a lot of stability to the handheld camera and keeps the operator from having to support all the weight with his arms. I watched Jake work with the Easy-Rig and it seems like the right compromise for a lot of shooting. It's more controllable than most gimbals and seems to require less experience to use. I can also be used in conjunction with in lens or in body image stabilization. At the same time the Easy-Rig allows more fluid movement than any tripod or monopod.

I've been playing around with gimbals for video and find them fussy and hard to control. I'm a much bigger fan of "dumb" shoulder mounts, monopods (with or without feet) and, of course, tripods. But I wonder if some enterprising company might realize that sports photographers, and some other specialist photographers, spend a lot of time holding heavy gear up in front of their faces in a handheld fashion and might benefit from a device that suspends the camera right in front of them while supporting the weight of the camera and lens with a system that transfers that weight to the hips and body's core.

I'm sure it would look a bit "dorky" for photographers but if it worked to make camera handling more comfortable and at the same time more stable I'm sure a fair number would give it a try; especially those who frequently work on sets and in other controlled environments. Yeah. I think it would be embarrassing to see a street photographer in one of these rigs but it might be just what the doctor ordered for a guy shooting a football game with a 300mm f2.8 and a big-ass camera body...

Blog notes: 

I want to thank everyone who wrote to offer condolences and other good thoughts in connection with the recent passing of my father. I enjoyed reading them all. It made a difference to me that you all cared enough to write and share.

I've been busy since I wrote that post about my father; I've made funeral arrangements, closed out accounts, cleaned out his room at the memory care facility (with the help of my older brother...) and have had two phone conferences with my family law attorneys. I've pretty much done all I can do for right now since just about everything surrounding the disposition of his estate requires either/and/or a death certificate and letters testamentary.

For the first time in at least two years I feel unconstrained by the familial responsibility to be "on call" and also to not venture away from contact and proximity for more than a work week at a time. I can now check in with my close "nuclear" family and then head out for a road trip or a flight to someplace more exotic than Austin, and spend time both in transit and away from home. It's odd to feel the weight of "availability" lift off one's shoulders.

Many have written about their grief. I rarely hear anyone say (out loud) that a family member's passing is accompanied also by a sense of relief. Relief from the schedule restrictions and restraints, yes, but also a relief from the long term and incremental drip of grief and sadness that must accompany anyone sharing a loved one's accelerating mental and physical decline. And one understands, on some level, that the person "departing" is also enjoying a sense of relief. In a moment all responsibility is removed, all expectations evaporate and someone else picks up where they left off.

While we photographers are sometimes the record keepers and curators of our families, by dint of creating and housing a visual archive, I think it's important not become a museum curator for your parent's memory since that pushes you to constantly live in and re-live the past. While the photos are bittersweet reminders of people who have gone ahead of you it's important to remember that all of these things that happened to you and your family are now in the past and your life is best lived in the moment in this day with an eye to the future; and a plan to make your every day from now forward count. No parent would want their child moored to one spot in the continuum instead of constantly experiencing the joys of life right now.

It's been an interesting experience for me, to be there for my father. But while many have suggested I somehow sacrificed a bit I would say that just as children teach us patience and kindness the elders teach us the value of this life. This moment.

Walk out the door and live. It's our best gift to and from ourselves.


A Portrait of my Father.

My dad passed away today. He was 91. He lived a good, long life and then left it quickly and comfortably. I spent the last 70 or so Sundays visiting and having lunch with him. We spent many weekdays going to doctor's appointments and on errands of one sort or another. We had lots of time to say "Goodbye."

He had no interest in cameras or photography whatsoever. I remember showing him the very first magazine assignment I'd done for Texas Monthly Magazine, at the beginning of my career. The editorial photo spread was printed in black and white. He said (drily, tongue-in-cheek) "Doesn't your camera take color photographs? Do you need mom and me to buy you a better camera?" 

I take a camera with me everywhere. This is a photograph I took after a family dinner at Cappy's Restaurant in San Antonio. We were all getting in our cars to head to our homes. The light was nice and I asked him to stay still for a moment. It's one of my favorite portraits of him. I take a camera with me everywhere...

Working in Black and White and Loving it All Over Again.

When I first started working as a photographer in what was then a very secondary marketing (Austin, 1978) ads or editorial work shot in color were a rarity. Nearly every photographer I knew spent most of their days then shooting in black and white and delivering 8x10 prints to their clients. Almost all of us had our own black and white darkrooms, or shared darkrooms with other photographers who were also just starting out. 

Assignments rarely ended when the cameras were put in the bags and the lights were packed away. The actual taking of photographs was the quickest part. It was followed by time in the darkroom rolling film onto reels and then into tanks for development. When the film dried we cut it into strips and put it into plastic pages so we could make contact sheets. The contact sheets went to clients for image selection and were usually returned with china marker indications of which frames to print and, in some cases, how to crop. We'd hustle back into our darkrooms, mix up print chemistry and try to pull really great black and white prints for our clients. Not too contrasty and not too dark. We aimed for a beautiful range of gray tones because those prints ended up getting through the half-tone screening process best and then printing best in newsprint, magazines or on offset presses. 

By the time the digital age rolled around color was ubiquitous and, frankly, in digital, much easier for most people to handle and get printed. Black and white was (at least for me) harder to do in digital than by traditional methodology. I could never get those mid-range skin tones exactly the right gray and exactly in balance between the shadows and the highlights. I know some people swore by their own PhotoShop methods but try as I might I could never get close. 

Now I feel like I'm living a little larger when it comes to black and white. I've been using Fuji's Acros Profile with their green filter finesse added in. The profile does a great job nailing the skin tones and gets me right in the ball park, overall. I still apply a bit more contrast to the mid-tones but the files are so much better balanced, overall, that it's easier now. I could apply the profile to raw files in post but much prefer to pretend I'm shooting totally old school and trying to get as close as I can in camera. 

I photographed a long rehearsal at Zach's rehearsal space on Sunday. Nothing fancy but we wanted to capture the process of rehearsing a play whose actual content is still partly in flux. I spent all day shooting what I think are very beautiful black and white images with a Fuji X-H1 along with the 90mm f2.0 (used almost exclusively at f2.0) and the saucy and able 16-55mm f2.8 for everything else (used mostly at f3.5). I'm not sure how the files will do with Blogger's resizing algorhythms (yes, I know I spelled it differently; I'm shooting a musical...) but the photo just below is from the shoot. At full res and viewed at 100% it is absolutely beautiful with massive amounts of detail and great tonal transitions. 
I may never shoot color again.... (just kidding. I'm afraid my clients will insist). 

I love that Fuji provides such nicely thought out profiles; not just for black and white but also in the color space as well. It makes shooting Jpegs so much fun for me. 

A blog note: I may be publishing sporadically during this week and the next. My father is in hospice and we are nearing the end. Family is, of course, my first priority but I'll write when I can because it's nice to stay in touch. Comment at will. I'll read them all. Even the ones I choose to delete...

Seat Hat. 


Just Spending Some Time Reminding Myself What It Was I Really Liked About Medium Format....

 ©Kirk Tuck.

A Few Thoughts About Fuji's GFX100 and Why I Think This Product Will Change the Commercial Photography Industry (while blunting the sale of high end 35mm sensor cameras).

If the GFX100 performs close to its specifications and features list this camera has the potential to change the higher end of mass photography. It's less expensive, in inflation adjusted dollars, than previous flagship cameras from both Nikon and Canon and it also promises a return to greater control over depth of field, focus ramping and other optical signatures that professionals enjoyed when photographing with medium format cameras in the days of film. While it's true that Leica (S series) and Phase One have continued to offer cameras with the same sensor size they've been priced high enough to be out of reach for a vast number of photographers who still struggle to recover from the downturn ten years ago and the more recent collapse of parts of the overall market for images. Getting a camera down into this price point, along with an accessible selection of good lenses, means that photographers who are able to stretch a bit, financially, will have a system that helps to differentiate them from the majority of practitioners.

There are a number of features that make the GFX100 more desirable to more users than the more expensive offerings from Phase One and Leica. These include in body image stabilization that promises up to 5.5 stops of anti-shake improvement. It's the first of the medium format cameras to offer truly useful focus tracking and it also provides a feature that I think has been the "missing link" for current medium format digital cameras; a great EVF. The camera features Fuji's really good color profiles and, while some people might disparage the use of a 100MP camera to shoot Jpegs (in order to use the DR expansion and color profiles) I would say that they are blinded by the megapixel count and overlooking the fact that the real strength of the larger sensor, for most people, is the different look the longer focal lengths give for the same angle of view.

My first question, when looking at the camera specs was, "Is there a reduced raw file size?" I'd love to shoot raw files at half the camera's maximum resolution while maintaining the potential to blow a client's mind with the full 100 MP resolution for highly detailed shots (not portraits) that would be used at very large sizes.

I'm seriously considering scraping together the cash to get this camera to use as a dedicated portrait camera. I would acquire the camera body and one lens; the 110 mm f2.0. With this sensor size that lens is the equivalent (angle of view) of an 85 to 90mm lens on a smaller format camera, like a Sony A7xx.
With a system like this I'd be able to get back to the look I shot for well over a decade when using Hasselblad and Rollei cameras with lenses from 110mm f2.0 (Zeiss Planar) to the 180mm f4.0 (Zeiss Planar) as well as the more esoteric lenses created for the focal plane series of the Hasselblads, like the 150mm f2.8. I'd spend something like $13,000 for the combination but it would put me right into the sweet spot of the style I made a living with for many years.

I'd continue to use the Fuji X series APS-C cameras for all the things that require fast, light cameras with a wide and high quality selection of lenses.

I applaud Fuji for design touches like the virtual control wheels in the top LCD and the permanent base with room for two higher capacity batteries. There are a few things that I'd change; especially if I were to buy the camera in order to do video. The biggest of these would be to make the HDMI socket a full sized one instead of a micro-HDMI. But all in all, from what I've seen and read, Fuji seems to have gotten a lot of stuff right.

We can argue forever about the price but if the camera allows one to market their imaging business as a top line supplier instead of an interchangeable commodity then the camera investment should pay back the photographer in a handful of bigger production projects.

My company had one project last year that would have paid for the camera, a selection of lenses and still yielded enough profit to also pay the mortgage and all the bills.

Will I rush out to buy one the minute the GFX100 becomes available? Naw. I have too much other stuff on my plate right now. I'm spending a lot of time with my father (hospice is great) and dealing with the extended family's business and financial stuff. But once the camera has been out for a while, in the real world, I'm sure I'll stumble into the spiderweb of desire that Fuji is effectively weaving and end up with one on the top of my favorite tripod. In the meantime I'm still trying to become perfectly comfortable with my 90mm f2.0 on the X-H1.

This is a turning point for working photographers. While the GFX has all the gingerbread people want (phase detect AF, Face AF, AF points across the frame, Super High resolution, and IBIS) the reality is that if your real rationale for owning a camera with this sensor size (geometry, not MP) you can dip down in the Fuji line up of three cameras (all using the same lens mount and batteries) and grab a 50R and a great lens for a little over $5,000 and get the same look for portrait work. All of a sudden medium format digital is accessible to a lot more people than it was two years ago. And it may shine a guiding light forward for camera makers like Nikon who desperately need to regain their old position (branding) as tools made for professionals.

The bittersweet part of all this is that the profit in the business has almost been completely sucked out by changes in media, the economy, crowdsourcing, and ever changing advertising and marketing. I guess the real question is, "Will there continue to be a place in paid work of ever higher quality or would we be better off learning how to make decent work with our phones."

Since I'm past the mid-point in my career I'll vote for optimism. Perhaps recklessly exuberant image quality will be the next big trend. It would certainly be novel across most of today's media.

To the last point in my headline: How will this affect Sony, Nikon, Canon and Panasonic with their lines of high resolution, full frame cameras? If the mantra we always hear when full frame users slag smaller formats ("Clients deserve the very best image quality you can deliver!") holds true and the internet is suddenly full of great work from the larger format cameras, more and more aspiring professionals will want to acquire the bigger format cameras to assuage their own self-doubts. Why invest in a format that anyone can own if you can differentiate yourself with a larger format which would prove the point you've been trying to make to APS-C and Micro4:3 users all the time on the forums? (Not that I think this rationale holds water...).

All kidding aside I think people will see a difference in quality and style. Not necessarily driven by more megapixels but by the different optical effects of larger lenses for the same angles of view. That, and with the 50 megapixel MF cameras, a larger pixel size per overall resolution. Being about to buy a 50 megapixel MF camera for the same or a bit more than a Sony A7Riii or a Nikon D850 AND having a clear upgrade path to the higher resolution/ higher performance body should encourage a lot of photographers to make some hard decisions about what might help them drive their businesses forward. I can tell you right this minute that if my choice was between a high res 35mm style camera or a camera with the same res and a bigger sensor for nearly the same outlay I would not hesitate to go with the bigger sensor.

Am I suggesting that VSL readers rush out and acquire one of these new GFX cameras? Only if you want one. I still firmly believe that most stuff can be well photographed with a one inch super zoom camera from Sony. Can be done even better with a good APS-C system and can be done almost as well with a full frame camera (compared to an MF). Technique, vision and creativity continue to be the defining metrics of success. A new camera might give you new ways to express yourself but it's not going to suddenly make everything you currently point a camera at look magically better. That's down to you and your skills.


If you woke me from a deep sleep and asked me what the best all-around digital camera I ever owned was I think we'd all be surprised at my answer...

The Fujis are super competent and the line of lenses is pretty superb. The Nikons work great, have great color and can be tough as nails. The Canons are great in the hand and some of their 2.8 zooms are best in class. The Leicas are....Leicas. The Panasonics are a traveler/user's delight. The Sony A7 series has lots of resolution... Olympus cameras pack a lot of punch for their size (excepting the newest one....). But the camera that I personally used that was good at more stuff than any other camera, the one that I could press into service for 4K video, for long range telephoto work, for decent theater work and even portraits is the ....

....Sony RX10iii. I played with a Sony RX10IV a few weeks back and it's even better. If this were not the age of mass hypnosis about full frame cameras I think most rational photographers would chuck that closet full of mismatched lenses, unknown battery chargers, horrible owner's manuals, weirdly configured old camera bodies, and just get themselves an RX10XX and be deliriously happy that they were able to get great photographs, great video  and even great audio with their video, without ever having to think about what lenses to select and carry or what accessories to buy (beyond a backpack full of batteries....).  I've used the RX10iii for so many projects of so many different kinds (most in exchange for hard currency) that I've lost track. In a moment of madness, in concert with my retreat from Sony's deeply flawed (haptics, tsk, tsk) A7  series cameras, I sold the "golden baby" along with the bath water. I have no doubt that in the next month of so I'll pick up the new RX10IV and pick up where I left off. It's just too good of a camera NOT to own. There. I've said it. 

Now, what camera would you say is the best all arounder you've ever used?

Some Thoughts About Lighting Equipment and What I Might Buy Today if I Was Just Starting Out in a Photography Business. (Learned from decades of buying the "wrong" stuff...).

Relentless Shopping is the Human Condition in the new Century...

I could make so many smart choices, when it comes to photography equipment (and stocks, and clients, and hairstyles, and diet, and exercise), if I could just hop into a time machine and go back twenty or thirty years while retaining everything I've learned over those decades...

Let's start with studio electronic flash. I learned on big, heavy Calumet units that sat on the floor and had piggy back turbochargers that seemed destined to destroy themselves in a dramatic sound and light show with much drama and danger involved. This was ancient technology, complete with heavy transformers and, I would estimate they actually generated about as much power as a couple of bigger hot shoe flashes today. 

After I quit teaching and could no longer depend on the University to buy and (routinely and frequently) service the aging Calumet behemoths I had to make some purchases with my own money; which, for a photographer entering the commercial market for the first time, was a very scary experience --- financially. Hubris seems to cover most technical missteps at a certain age.

Many of the more experienced photographers I knew here in Austin used Speedotron Black Line electronic flash units and another cohort used Norman's. A few daring and really cheapskate operators took a chance and used the Novatron brand of flash. The cheapest flash system out of China would have been like a Lexus in comparison to the Yugo-Like quality of the Novatron flashes. They were truly dreadful. I know, I owned one.

The reality back in the days of film was that there were no Chinese "innovations" (knock-offs, copies) from which to choose. No monolights priced affordably and, with the exception of the unglamorous Novatrons, no pack-and-head systems that were priced in line for entry level users. Maybe that's why so few amateurs maintained home "studios."

Everything has changed. We have an embarrassment of lighting riches and, frankly, I'm shocked that some of the premium brands from our past are still surviving, given the performance and pricing of many, many newcomers. If you still need 2,000 to 4,000 watt seconds through one or two heads your choices are quite limited. You'll no doubt be looking at Speedotron (4800 W/S = $2900; box only, no heads), Profoto (anybody up for the 2400 W/S, two head outlet Pro-10 Air TTL pack? It'll set you back $14,990 and heads are $2,560 each...), Of course there is always Elinchrom or Broncolor (a bargain if you get their "Senso" kit; 2400 W/S and two heads for a bit less than $7000). 

These all kind of made sense back when I was shooting with a Linhof Technika, a 360mm f5.6 @ f22 or f32 and a film holder with sheets of ISO 64 color transparency film. Now? With clean ISO at 800, 1200, 3200, even 6400? Lunacy. Craziness. Most just specialty gear. I can't imagine dropping that kind of money on electronic flash for use only in the vicinity of a convenient wall socket. Especially for the way clients want to use images now. 

So if Ben, my kid, came and asked me about starting a photography or imaging business (God forbid!!!) right now how would I instruct him in his choices for lighting instruments? What makes sense for someone with a meager budget who is just starting out?

There are four different lighting needs that my business has these days. The first is lighting in the studio. There are sometimes when you just have to use flash and it's great if you can plug your lights into a wall socket and run them all day long. I don't need a lot of power, in fact, 400 watt seconds per instrument is about the most I'd ever need. But I do want good, strong modeling lights. I'd look to a well known Chinese brand like Godox. They have a nice 400 watt second monolight called an SK400 ii with all the power and control real studio workers need. It's fan cooled so it's probably a bit more reliable and it comes with a 150 watt modeling light. That's what I miss when I use battery powered flashes in the studio; a modeling light that's bright enough to focus by and can be left on all day long. This light, with reflector costs about as much as a power cord for a Profoto flash = $139. You can buy three of them for less than $500. This would mean you are set for studio lighting and can now concentrate on finding the right modifiers for your work. The Bowens style mounting ring means your ultra-cheap (but highly presentable) strobes will work with just about every front mounted accessory made. You win.

If you want to leave the studio and do fashion work or commercial work outside and you occasionally need to battle with the sun you'll need one or two lights that can bring the photons while running off batteries. I used to have an 18 pound battery pack with a built in converter for my outdoor flash stuff but that was a super pain in the neck. Too heavy to carry and too heavy to ship. It also made for an ungainly package. When makers started coming out with flashes that had big, built in lithium battery packs I was very happy. I found some by Neewer that I bought over a year ago. They traveled with me on 26 flights last year. They got in and out of rental cars all year long and they even saw duty in a snow storm. They are only 300 watt seconds, which is right on the edge of keeping up with sunlight but at $175 each for a monolight with full controls and an LED modeling light they are a bargain and a good traveling companion. Put two of them into one umbrella and you can even conquer direct, Texas sun. 

Beat the hell out of my battery+converter or my 18 pound, $2700 Elinchrom Ranger RX AS system...

A good, two light location kit for less than $500 with soft boxes and stands? Pretty much perfect for the kind or production work one does as a singleton operator on remote locations. Too many more lights and you won't be able to make weight limits on airlines or be able to drag them up a hillside on your own steam. I've used smaller, speed lights but I need to bundle them to get the levels I want in a lot of situations. Speedlights have their own reason to exist. The best equalizer for direct sun is enough power and also a diffusion grip to fly in between the sun and the subject. Scrims help to pull down the exposure a bit and control the contrast and to make clients happier. (Neewer Vision 4 monolight). 

Sure, you could drag the Godox SK 400ii flashes out into the field but you'll need a big battery pack and an inverter to run them. Either that or a generator. And you only have to haul a gasoline generator somewhere in your car or SUV one time to enjoy that gas smell for the rest of your car's life.... Plus they are loud, heavy, fussy and so not "portable" in the sense that we understand portability in 2019. 

Just get a couple of battery powered units and bask in the joy of having the right stuff for the projects at hand. A pricier by equally proficient solution is the Godox AD200. It's a bit less powerful than the Neewer but you can easily pop two of them into a soft box or umbrella to get the power you need. Smaller to pack. Easy to use. And just a bit more than my ephemeral and fictive $500 budget per light type need. 

If you are the type of photographer I seem to have become you'll need one more different kind of electronic flash device. You'll need a dedicated TTL flash that fits into your camera's hot shoe and can be used to shoot event photographs in big, dark ballrooms, small meeting rooms, portraits on factory floors and all those times when you just need a bit of sparkle in someone's eyes and a light touch of fill light in bright but contrasty situations. Just a speed light. I'd get two. Exact matches. The same controls. 
I've had my fill of $600 flashes from the manufacturers of cameras. They are almost uniformly underpowered, slower to recycle, quick to overheat and expensive to buy. My last Sony flash tipped the scale at nearly $600. That's now outrageous. Just silly. 

I've since been buying much less expensive flashes. I bought a Godox V860ii F for about $170 from a vendor on Amazon.com. It has a large, proprietary, lithium battery that is purported to supply over 400 full power flashes (never checked as that's too many to count...), it has full TTL control with Fuji cameras and also has HSS. I also bought the  Godox XT-1 F trigger that allows for convenient off camera use of the flash. How do I use this stuff? I put the flash on my camera, go to galas, corporate meetings, social events and fun stuff and blaze away with the flash set to TTL -2/3rds stop. I sometimes use a white bounce card to soften the light but sometimes I'm just mean and use it bare. I generally put a daylight to tungsten conversion filter on the front of the flash if I'm working a space that's lit with tungsten and the "drag" the shutter to balance between flash and ambient light. It works great if the colors match.  I also use any powerful, shoe mount flash for exterior portraits if we're working at night or in cloudy, overcast weather. In those situations even a small, white umbrella doesn't suck up so much power than I'm unable to balance between ambient and flash. It's a nice way to work. HSS also allows one to work at larger apertures outdoors. But when push comes to shove I'm always ready to use a more powerful flash and a neutral density filter on the lens......

If you get a couple of the V860ii's for your system you'll spend about $400. Much less that in "the good old days."

My final lighting suggestion is for photographers who've selected the correct answer to the question: "Should I also offer video services?"

I started shooting video when we lit just about everything with tungsten lights. It was a dreadful time of hot rooms, burned hands, triggered smoke alarms and heavy electrical power use. I could hardly wait to try out LEDs. I liked them so much that I wrote a book about them that was published back in 2012.  You can learn more about it here: 

It's the first (and only) book I know of that was all about LED lighting for photographers. In the ensuing years I've played with so many different LED light devices that it would boggle the mind. I've owned LitePanels, Fiilex, Lowell, Aputure, Fotodiox, and Godox lights. The most practical of all the light sources for still photographers who want to do video have got to be the latest Godox SL60W units I've been buying lately. They are a loose copy of the Aputure 120D lights but with a bit less power and a bit less build quality. They do have several strengths though. First of all they are available at a fluctuating price range of between $135 and $160 dollars, depending on who you source them from. This compares very favorably with the $650 price of an Aputure unit. The Aputure 120D does give you the option to use the lights in the field with professional Sony V-Mount batteries or Anton Bauer batteries but it adds a bunch of accessory complexity with a power brick, a control brick and two extra sets of cables. 

While you can only use the Godox SL60W with an A/C power source you get a modern and efficient appliance that has one power cord, directly connected. With either the Aputure 120D or the Godox SL60 W you get the benefit of a small but powerful light source that lives inside a Bowens speed ring mount. Instead of modifying with a panel on a separate light stand you can put a soft box, umbrella or other modifier that works with a speed ring directly on the unit and go to town. No second stand necessary. That is a huge plus for a singleton operator who, at times, has to carry his own luggage. In conjunction with the current crop of cameras (all capable of great image quality at ISO 800 to 1600 and beyond) you'll have more than enough power for just about any interior video project short of stage work. 

The Godox SL60W has all the good specs. CRI is 95+, TCLI is high and red values are strikingly better than previous generations. I've purchased two and am using them both on interior locations all over the place. These are my basic suggestions for any photographer starting out in a commercial field. There will always be outlier projects that will require specialty tools but the lights I've talked about here will most likely get you through 90% of the paying projects that you come across in the first five to ten years of your career. If you stumble into a project that requires super high flash power it's easier than ever to rent the gear you need for a project. The same in video. Nearly every major city has a gear rental facility jammed full of powerful HMIs, Kino Flos, and big tungsten lights for those times when you need to light up the entire town square. And believe me, you don't want to own all those specialty lights that are used once or twice a year; not when you can bill the rental of such units back to your clients. 

That's all I've got for you now. I'd write about light stands but I think that might put most people to sleep. Shoot more, you'll get better quicker.

One more past article ribbing Nikon about recalls. Appropriate given the contemporary recalls of the Z System.


I think Nikon makes great cameras. Sometimes it takes a while to get them sorted out and functioning properly. This is just a playful jab. Don't read too much into it...


I've changed the day I go to San Antonio to look after/hang with my dad. The Sunday Downtown walks are back with a vengeance.

In the recent past I spent nearly every Sunday afternoon walking around Austin's vibrant and strange downtown, documenting everything I could find that either changed or stayed the same (hmmmmm). That ambulatory pleasure fell to the wayside when my dad entered memory care about a year and a few months ago, victim of vascular dementia. I spent my Sundays bringing him chocolate and the New York Times, hanging out with him and sharing lunches. 

Now we're into a new phase and Sundays aren't the best days to meet with doctors, nurses, administrators and even lawyers. Mondays seem to work better for everyone involved in my father's care and I've re-oriented the schedule. He no longer is interested in reading the newspaper. He hasn't requested chocolates in a while. Nothing that ties me to "Sundays Only." 

Today was typical of the new scheduling, I headed down this morning to supervise the delivery of a hospital bed for him. Of course some stuff got fucked up and I had to jump in and motivate people to get things done in a timely manner. But that's okay; that's one of my jobs right now. But being there on a Monday returned to me the area pleasure of the Sunday walk.... So that's what I did yesterday.

This time I went wildly minimalist. I took only a Canon G15 and a couple extra batteries in the pocket of my khaki shorts. I never needed the extra batteries because I seem not to shoot with the wild abandon I once did. I'm also getting used to finally accepting "dirty baby diaper hold" and using the rear screen on my camera (since the little tunnel finder is less than optimal). Maybe I am more accepting because I finally got a new prescription for my glasses and, with bifocals, I can actually (mostly) see what's on the screen...

But the little camera is surprisingly good. Really good. Well, if your  final target is images on a (very cool) blog or scattered through Instagram. I like shooting with the lens nearly wide open all the time and I keep being amazed at the really good image stabilization that's built into the system. I try to shoot my G15 mostly at ISO 80 but really had no fear popping up to ISO 200 or even 500 to shoot interior spaces (see library pix below). 

Wow. It's so different to carry something the size of a deck of playing cards instead of a brick around one's neck. And still being able to come home and make nice photographs from the raw files.

The image above, and all the images below, are 
from the new Austin Public Library.

 all handheld and unburdened by deep thoughts.