11.29.2019

I spent some time a week ago photographing some new material for Esther's Follies. They have a new cast member. She's great!!!

Chelsee J. On a magical apparatus. Part of her performance is assisting with 
Ray Anderson's magic.....

I love photographing theater. Especially good, funny, topical theater. Like the kind I find at Esther's Follies, on Sixth St. in Austin, Texas. I've been photographing for Esther's Follies for a couple of decades and a recent book published about the incredibly talented troupe is filled with my photographs from over the years. https://www.esthersfollies.com

The cast at Esther's Follies does hilarious political satire and comedy (nailing both sides of the aisle) and, for as long as I've been going there a big draw is an irreverent but wonderful magic act by renowned magician (seriously: internationally famous!) Ray Anderson. 

When he does his feats of magic he calls on the services of one of the glamorous cast members to serve as his assistant. Chelsee J. is his able assistant these days. She gets chopped in half, defies gravity, is levitated out of a pool and much more. Since she's a recent recruit I got to make some images of her (Above and Below) along with our regular show documentation. . 

Photo assignments at Esther's are the antithesis of many Zach Theatre shoots. At Zach I mainly shoot in a documentary style during a technical or dress rehearsal (or both). I don't do any lighting and we don't set up shots at the rehearsals (we might do set ups in a separate session....). At Esther's I drop by and set up three or four lights (generally electronic flash mono-lights into generous umbrellas) and we run through fun set-up shots that showcase the current skits, gags, magic, and ample song & dance. 

We give the flashes a real, old fashioned workout; sometimes shooting six or seven hundred shots during an afternoon session. 

Last week I photographed everything with one Lumix S1 camera and the 24-105mm f4.0 Lumix S lens. The combination worked perfectly and the AF never missed a shot. 

I love going back and forth between the theaters. Keeps me from getting rusty, or too complacent with one style or the other. If you come to Austin you owe it to yourself to catch a show at Esther's Follies. Soft-brained liberal or cold-hearted, cruel conservative? Doesn't matter = you'll leave with a big smile on your face, certain that the other side got it worse....


Funny sometimes to go and look at the analytics to see what posts from the past are trending on any particular day. Like one of my favorites from 2011....

From today's walk through downtown and around the lake...

but here is the post from 2011.


I was so much smarter then....

Walking in a soft, Fall rain with a camera and an old lens. Getting wet is part of the process. Makes you appreciate getting warm and dry....

This is the view of downtown from the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge just west of downtown proper. 

We had a lovely Thanksgiving and I hope you did too. But after spending a lot of time socializing it's nice to spend a bit of time doing some walking meditation with a camera. Even if it is raining and a bit chilly. 

Natives like to think of Austin as a first tier city where everything is super-cool and something outrageously fun is always happening, but I'm here to tell you that it was like a ghost town in downtown the day after Thanksgiving. I walked through about two miles of tall buildings and shorter shops and only saw a few dozen people out on the streets. Well, a few dozen in addition to the homeless. 

I did a few assignments earlier in the week which involved people and some lifestyle and I got a lot of use out of my new ├╝ber lenses (the Panasonic S Pro 50mm and the Sigma 85mm Art) but on a walk through a quiet urban environment, wrapped on all sides by a gentle, misting rain, I thought a more subdued and understated lens would fit better. I reached across my chaotic desk and grasped my older 50mm Contax f1.7 lens and put it on the front of the S1R instead.

It's actually a good fit. Literally and figuratively. The cheap adapter seems to do the job just right and the lens is really pretty good at making photographs. Okay when used wide open but much, much better at f4.0 and f5.6. Still, in a side-by-side comparison the Lumix lens is like tech from an advanced civilization. Not that you'd really see much difference looking on a website...

The old, Carl Zeiss lens does one thing much better than the Lumix Pro S, it lightens your walk-around burden and makes the camera/lens package pretty perfectly sized for recreational imaging. For some reason I've warmed up to it on the S1R body more so than I have developed any affection for the Sigma 45mm f2.8. But I'll chalk that up to being more comfortable with a lens I've owned across years and camera systems rather than as a mark against the Sigma.

I didn't have a rain cover for the camera and lens but I tightened up the neckstrap so the camera would sit up under my left arm (I wear the strap on my left shoulder). My arm, in my voluminous hoodie, blocked most of the rain and mist and I also cover the top of the camera with my favorite bandana as an extra layer of protection. I understand that the camera is supposed to be splash resistant but the lens and adapter are bare and bereft of casketing and protective engineering so I'm loathe to take chances. No matter. It barely slows me down. 

I do love these kinds of days. It's one time at which all the dynamic range in the world is largely meaningless as the water in the atmosphere and the close cloud cover render the shadow/highlight ratio as 1:1. You won't really be worried about blowing highlights on a day like today...




Curious to hear if anyone (besides me) took advantage of the open box sale at B&H on the S1R. I paid $3700 for my first one so I couldn't resist dollar cost averaging and paying $1800-something for a second one. We'll see if "open box" is all it's cracked up to sometime in the middle of next week.... I hope that great return policy is still place. Just in case. 

It's a cold and rainy day in Austin, and I guess everywhere. A perfect time to check out the Die Transfer print sale over at Michael Johnston's site: theonlinephotographer.

Here's a link: https://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2019/11/master-dye-transfer-print-sale-one-week-only.html

Michael's artist friend, Ctein (one name only; like "Cher") is a master die transfer print maker and photographer and he's selling off his collection (built over decades of hard work and mastery) of gorgeous prints on Michael's blog. A look through the work is a fun way to spend time on a post-Thanksgiving Friday. Sitting in front of a nice, warm monitor with a hot cup of coffee in your hands while taking in the results of what might have been the most beautiful print process every invented for color photography....now very rare.

Can you say, "collectible"?

I don't want to compete, visually, so I'm tossing up a black and white print here just to stay with my tradition of always putting a visual image in the blog post.

If you don't know Michael Johnston's site; https://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/

You should. He's a great writer and one of the few writers on the web who understands both the art of photography, the art of art, and the art of writing about photographic art. His past experience also makes him a steady hand when it comes to discussing and dissecting cameras and (especially) the lure of lenses. Try his site. It's free. You'll thank me. He's a better writer than me but I hope you'll come back here, at least sporadically, after you've discovered his work, just to see what new camera system I might have changed to in the interim...

Seriously though, a sale of die transfer prints like this, by a master printer, is a rare thing and worth a look. Costs nothing to browse...

Here's my somber photograph from today's walk:


Ooops. I snuck in a second shot. (Below).
Both with a Lumix S1R and the adapted 50mm Carl Zeiss 50mm 1.7



https://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2019/11/master-dye-transfer-print-sale-one-week-only.html

11.28.2019

A very short observation about the Nikon z7 camera and the 50mm f1.8 Nikon Z lens.

This image is not from a Nikon z7. It's from a Lumix S1.

As hard as it might be to believe, I have a friend who is just a few years younger than me who has been in the photography business for a few years longer than me (darn; I spent too much time teaching and in advertising!!!) and who probably buys equipment more frequently and more dramatically than me. I know, after the recent purge that must be hard for sane people to even comprehend...

He's been through more high-end systems than I have at this point having shot professionally with medium format Hasselblad and Leica systems; sometimes even overlapping them. He was an early adopter of the Leica SL system and he's been through most of the Canon and Nikon catalogs. But spend as he might his income from his work keeps surging ahead of his expenses. I tell him that it's not fair, he never had a kid to put through college. He laughs and says that everyone has to live with their choices. 

We've known each other for decades and have done some travel assignments together. He might be a bit obsessive about gear but he's a great guy. And a brilliant photographer. When we're both in town we usually meet up for coffee or lunch once or twice a month, a bit more during the holidays. And we're always comparing notes about the state of the health of the professional photography business. 

We met for coffee yesterday at Trianon Coffee House which is just around the corner from my stately office. Usually we bring along some interesting new acquisition to share. I figured it was my turn to have the latest and greatest so I brought my Lumix S1R and the 50mm Pro S lens. I showed it off and we talked about the potential of the system, etc. Then he reached into his charcoal grey camera bag and pulled out a smaller and lighter body. It was a Nikon z7, a camera I'd more or less overlooked. 

And when I write, "overlooked" what I really mean is that as I got more and more into the Lumix S system I developed more and more tunnel vision. It's a defensive mechanism most people develop when they are in the late stages of decision making. It keeps them from constantly reviewing potential choices in a wider category before finally being overwhelmed by choice and delaying making a decision, or giving up deciding altogether. 

He handed the z7 to me, equipped with a new Nikon 50mm f1.8 and I was....impressed. It's half the weight of the S1 and smaller to boot, but it has a nice handgrip and feels very good to hold on to. I like the basic body design very much. I clicked on the power switch and focused on a nearby cup of coffee with the lens set to its widest aperture. 

The click of the shutter was aurally beautiful with none of the slappy, tinny, bang-y sound of a mirrored camera. I clicked the shutter a few more times to confirm --- that Nikon finally got the shutter sound and feel just right. The photo (viewing just on the rear screen) was wonderfully smooth and ran from nicely sharp at the point of focus to liquid-y soft as it ran out of focus in the foreground and background. In fact, if the lens were longer and still maintained its look it might be a perfect portrait optic. 

While the EVF is not quite as detailed as the one in the S1 it's close enough to be de minimis. 

So, what are the main differences between an S1R and a z7? The resolutions are close enough to be meaningless. The z7 would be a much more comfortable (size and weight) all day long street shooting camera. The 50mm 1.8 Nikon lens is about 1/3 (or less) the weight of the Panasonic 50. So, for the most part, where imaging specs are concerned they are on par with each other. But when it comes to comfort the Nikon gets the nod.

The S1 is better for video but the S1R is also equipped with better video specs than the Nikon and two very fast card slots, along with an audio interface unit for professional microphones and a full size HDMI port. But the Nikon is smaller and lighter. (I haven't compared video from the z7!).

If I did not want the higher spec video capabilities, and if one can live with one card slot ( I can) then I think the Nikon might just be the better "fun" all around art camera. But for some reason I'm into the brute force build of the L-mount products. Still, the z7 is much better "in person" than on paper....

Just thought I'd toss a bit of positive non-shade on the Nikon mirrorless stuff. It feels a lot better (menu and operation-wise) than the Sony cameras. But I'm optimistic, some day Sony will hire a haptics engineering team from Pentax or some other traditional camera company and they'll finally catch up and make a nice-to-use camera. They did it once before with the Sony a900 and a850 cameras but they must have early retired the team they must have inherited from their Minolta acquisition. 

Now I can't make unequivocal statements about which mirrorless FF camera is the best. I'm split. 

An Assortment of Images (cropped square for Instagram) of Jimmie Moore as the Macy's Elf in "Santaland Diaries."


There are two theater assignments that seem to be most difficult for me. One is shooting theater in the round, where the audience completely surrounds all 360 degrees of the stage. Since the actors need to give equal time to all quadrants of the audience a stationary photographer will have to work hard to get good images because, unlike traditional stage/audience set-ups, he or she will only have about 1/4th the amount of visual content to work with. About 3/4ths of the play will happen with the cast facing in a different direction from the photographer. 

We try not to shoot rehearsals of productions done in the round without an audience because no matter where the actor faces and no matter what the relation to the camera there will be nothing but empty seats in the background. We've found that's not the optimum way to create visual advertising in order to  sell tickets....

The second most difficult assignment for me is to shoot a one person play. There are only so many shots you can pull off that are different enough to make an hour or two of earnest photography worthwhile. An actor will have different expressions and gestures, and may work with different props, but without the dialogue and sound effects the photos, in isolation, quickly become repetitive and boring. While frequent costume changes help the reality is that most one person plays hinge on the quality and humor of the script. And the effective delivery of the dialogue. Neither are particularly (or even marginally) in the wheelhouse of still photography. 

So, when we combine a one person performance with intimate theater in the round, I get a bit nervous about my ability to deliver the same value of content that we can get from a traditional production. But that doesn't keep me from trying my best....

Here's a sampling of my assignment at the dress rehearsal of Santaland Diaries on Thursday evening starring my good, friend, Jimmy Moore.  Click on the images to see them larger!!!














11.27.2019

A quick, Tuesday evening photographic assignment is the perfect time to test two lenses. The Lumix S Pro 50mm and the Lumix S 24-105mm.

jimmy moore at 1:1. Some pixel peeping.
See image below for the full frame....

I shot the dress rehearsal for the David Sedaris play, "Santaland Diaries" last night. It's a one person play and it's being performed on the Zach Theatre's smallest stage which is in the round. Since the actor needs to play equally to all quadrants of the theater, and since we had an audience in attendance, I was positioned in one spot and had to pay rapt attention and shoot while the actor was facing me. The one exception is the shot I include at the bottom of the blog (which is not supposed to be a "great" photography but rather a photographic example of lens performance). 

I used two Panasonic S1 camera bodies. One was paired with the S Pro 50mm f1.4 lens and the other was equipped with the S 24-105mm f4.0 zoom lens. Both were set to large, fine Jpeg and both were set to a color balance of 4,000K. 

The lighting in the smaller space is lower output which means lower shutter speeds and wider apertures than when I'm working in our premier theater. The walls and ceiling are also painted matte black so there is no reflection to provide any additional fill light. Still, it wasn't a big problem. 

The image above is a 1:1 crop of the image just below. This image was taken with the 50mm f1.4 lens, stopped down to f1.6. Not bad. You are looking at a small crop of a file that was downsized to 2200 pixels on the long side for Blogger. The original Jpeg file yields distinct, individual beard stubble and dramatically defined eyelashes. The lens and camera together constitute a formidable image tool. I think the lens might actually be worth the $2,300 asking price.....


Jimmy from behind. 

I wouldn't normally include an image of someone's back but this photo fulfills two objectives; it shows just how sharp the 24-105mm f4.0 lens is when used at maximum aperture ( you can see the threads and weave pattern in his sweater and the thread stitching on his jeans) but it also show the resistance to a bright, direct light source that appears in the scene itself. While there is an artifact to the right side of the frame and there is a bit of contrast lowering around the light the contrast and detail are impressive considering that the image was capture at the widest apertures of the zoom lens, used handheld. Works for me. 

Just a random set of observations about last night's paid job. New cameras and lenses make me sit on the edge of my seat until I'm certain that everything will work out.....

Loving the spate of holiday plays!!!!! Ready to see my favorite holiday movie, "Love Actually." 

Do you have a favorite holiday movie? List it. Thanks!

11.26.2019

I had lunch with a fellow photographer today so I brought along the Lumix S1 and the 50mm f1.4 S Pro. My friend brought a handful of cameras as well.


I saw a film about W. Eugene Smith, the incredible Life Magazine/Magnum photographer who was at the top of the game in the late 1940s through the 1950s. The documentary movie is called, "Jazz Loft" and is available on Amazon Prime Video. The two things that were most striking to me were, 1. The almost insane level of commitment of Smith to his craft and his photographs. The man worked nonstop; constantly shooting, developing and printing his work. One peer who was interviewed told the story of Smith going through a box of 250 sheets of photographic paper to get one perfect print with which he was satisfied. 

He would work on projects for months, sometimes for years, shooting tens of thousands of rolls of black and white film. Ultimately, he abandoned his family to concentrate 100% of his time on his work. The movie also incorporates the story of the Jazz improvisations and jam sessions that took place in the NYC building he lived and worked in, and talks about his passion for making audio recordings of.....everything.

The second most striking point to me, in looking at the large number of images done by Smith that the filmmakers present to the audience, is the superb technical and aesthetic qualities of the images. He was routinely working under dim lighting conditions; shooting jazz sessions that lasted all through the night. Looking at the edge print of the film he was using shows a mix of Plus-X and Try-X black and white film. The former had an ISO of 125 while the later was 400. Given the quality of the lenses available in the 1950's and the fact that for many of the images he almost certainly had to be working wide open I found myself thinking that even with the best of the modern gear we have available I have yet to see work that surpasses his technical shooting abilities. 

And remember, this is way before auto focus, saving stuff in PhotoShop, or even having auto exposure. And yet the work is uniformly great. No zoom lenses either. He is often shown with three cameras with three different focal length lenses on them, hanging off his shoulder and his neck, positioned for quick access --- the old school way of "zooming." (Maybe this is why "old school" photographers still feel a phantom need to use multiple camera bodies....). 

Here we are, surrounded by the latest technologies in cameras, able to make up for massive problems in post processing, gifted with cameras that shoot at 6400 ISO and above, and yet only a tiny handful of people seem to be able to make anything decent, photographically, with all that implied progress. Sad, in a way...

While I won't be leaving my family and dedicating all working hours to shooting and printing I was moved by Smith's laser-like focus and walked away from the film recommitting to the original passion I had for shooting my own work as well and as often as I can. 

To that end I brought my camera to lunch today. My lunch companion trumped me by bringing three cameras! We spoke about the state of photography for a good while. It was interesting to go back to such an important "mile marker" in the history of photography and to make it a current topic of discussion. I highly recommend setting aside one hour and twenty six minutes to broaden your perception of what could be accomplished so well in our field already nearly 70 years ago....

One thing my lunch mate pointed out, and which I believe to be very true, is that there were so many fewer distractions in Smith's time. No social media, no continuous and instantly breaking news, in fact, no television at all. A person's immersion into any field then could go on uninterrupted for periods of time that would seem impossible today. And mostly to our loss. 

Ah well. Here are a couple more images from lunch at El Mercado on S. First St. All shot at f1.4.

A mystery camera makes an appearance. 


11.25.2019

There's a powerful argument to be made that the most effective, minimal system would consist of just on Lumix S1 body and the 24-105mm f4.0 Lumix lens... It's pretty self-contained.

The buying philosophy I seem to adhere to...

Not really an oppressive package to haul around. The kit lens is lighter than it looks. 

Love being able to go from wide (above) to tight (below) without a lens change. 




Nothing really amazing but when I blow stuff up and become a pixel peeper in Photoshop I am impressed by the sharpness and resolution of the 24-105mm lens. Maybe I should have just stopped there?

Some samples from the Sigma 20mm f1.4 Art lens when used on the Panasonic Lumix S1. Nothing very formal. No tripod required.


I've been photographing as a career for decades, have written a number of books about technical aspects of photography and also do it as a hobby. But I'm still trying to learn how to use ultra-wide angle lenses better. I know, we're supposed to put stuff in the foreground, etc. but my brain just doesn't see the logical answers to the visual puzzle with so much going on in the frame. But I bought one of those lenses wide angle lenses anyway. And now I'm trying to learn enough tricks to rationalize working with one. It's by no means my first wide angle but regardless of pedigree or specs the wide view still leaves me cold. Tips always welcome. 

Anyway, here are the wide images I shot on my walk around the lake and through downtown today. Maybe we can salvage something?  It is sharp and I don't see any real issues.... but.....