12.31.2019

Happy New Year to Everyone!!! Thanks for reading and sharing this year. More next year.



It's certainly been an interesting year. I'm glad we all survived it. 

Here's my list of goals for 2020:

Give more to charities.

Give more time to charities.

Become a better portrait photographer.

Spend less time spending. 

Spend more time doing.

Always consider: "What if the other guys is right?"

Get some mileage on all the cool cameras I bought in the last last year. 

Celebrate each victory and milestone with appropriate gusto!

Learn what's most meaningful to me in life right now.

Help young people learn the ropes in the creative life. 

Print more beautiful photographs and hang them in more places.

Write more positive stuff here on the blog and worry less about pillorying the idiots that dot the landscape.

Read more novels. Read fewer "how to" books. Read even fewer websites.

Think more about "why" and "what" and a lot less about "how." 

Become a more empathetic portrait photographer.

Love my dog as much as she seems to love me. 

Eat something scary every once in a while. 

Go hear live music that I didn't know I'd like. 

See a Rosini opera in some great opera house somewhere in the world.

Figure out how to migrate the files on my old Mac to my new Mac in less that a week.....

Keep cash in my pocket since the homeless don't accept credit cards.

Learn to tolerate the opinions of others instead of vilifying them and rejecting them.

Speak up when I know what's right. 

Try not to ever have to shoot at 12500 ISO. 

Mat whatever I decide to frame. 

Never tell a young person: This is how we used to do it!

Photograph more ideas and fewer proofs of concept, or proofs of mastery.

Spend more time with Belinda and less time with Tony Northrup, Jared Polin, Ken Rockwell, and that whole crew of lightweights over at DP Review. 

Forget that there are camera specs and remember that you only really need to know six menu settings in order to do fine work.

Remind myself often that the more we pack into our camera bags the fewer good images we'll come back home with.

Finally, it's more important to be a good person than it is to be a good photographer. I think Eugene Richards taught me that this year.

I hope I get to meet more and more VSL readers in person this year. 

Happy New Year! Don't wait, get busy and have more fun. Warmest regards, Kirk

Preparing for a high performance 2020 with a computer upgrade for the New Year. It's about time.

VSL Laboratory's newest image and video processing workhorse. 

My CFO and I had a long talk about workflow efficiency and how it relates to profit and optimized workplace happiness. We looked at how long it was taking for my existing (circa late 2013) computer to dig through a folder of 1500+ files from the new Panasonic S1 and S1R cameras and convert them from raw to Jpeg in Adobe Lightroom and realized that we were losing out on gobs of productivity benefits. Plus... I wanted a cool, new computer for my desk...

I've been intrigued with the iMac Pro since it was announced and decided to stretch a bit from my usual frugal way of doing things and just bite the bullet and get what was for me a somewhat aspirational upgrade. I also wanted to kick the old, internal spinning disk HD technology to the curbside and take advantage of a much faster SSD drive.

I bought the Apple iMac Pro machine online and arranged for same day (same hour!!!) pick-up from my local Apple store. I buzzed into the mall with all the info in my Apple Wallet and was heading back out of the store about seven minutes later. With a massive box in hand. Now I'm trying hard to clean up everything on my actual (real, physical) desktop before I fire up the new machine and use the "migration" tool to transfer files and applications to the new Space Gray w√ľndermakina. 

I calculate that this machine is about 4X faster than my old machine in file conversions and about 8X - 12X faster than the old machine in terms of video editing and rendering. That should save me some time. 

We'll put the old machine in the boy's recently vacated room which I am converting to a second home office and hopefully a guest bedroom. I figure guests should have some internet access and a screen that's big enough to watch movies on.

Studio Dog is totally indifferent to the purchase but then I didn't expect her to get too excited about it....after all, she can't eat it.

Now that I've got the main part of the computer equation settled for this next year I'm researching some large SSDs for short term and intermediate file storage, and intermittent access. That might be the one situation in which big, spinning hard drives still make sense. Someone geekier than me will have to step in and explain the pros and cons.

Going quiet now. I have some migration to accomplish. I'll let you know how it goes. One more post till the new year.

12.30.2019

First Test Foray with the new (to me) Panasonic GX85 and its Little Coterie of Lenses....

Old School Selfie.

It's funny. I keep getting comments from people who seem to think I'm on the search for the perfect camera system and that once I find that system I will settle down and use it until the end of time. They think of cameras in a different way than do I. They apparently view a camera as an "investment" that they make which should last them a number of years; like a house or a car. I stopped thinking that way somewhere around 2010 when I realized that a certain level of improvement, innovation and development would continue in the photography world for years to come. That every year or so, if you were interested, you could buy a camera that would do some things better than ever before in the digital camera space. Also, the value of cameras became more codified and uniform which makes trading in and selling cameras much easier and more risk free. 

People have different use cases for their cameras. Someone who works as a doctor, accountant, lawyer or engineer, and has a traditional 40 hour a week (or more) job, might use their cameras in pursuit of what we used to call a "hobby" but now call, "our passion" will probably only pick up their camera to shoot on vacations, weekends and in little chunks of free time. The rest of their time will be consumed by practicing their professions, nurturing their families and sleeping. 

Their cameras don't get used up. Don't become too familiar. Don't wear out their welcomes in quite the same way as ours do.

A commercial photographer, or full time fine art photographer, can have a totally different relationship with their cameras and lenses and, sometimes, the needs change depending on the types of jobs that arrive on the doorstep, like orphaned children.  On a given week of conference/event/convention photography I might have a camera in my hands from 7 or 8 in the morning until late into the evening for four or five days in a row. Even in just the production of images for live theatre shows we'll spend three hours a night shooting something like 1200 to 1500 images per evening. We come to know our cameras (and the files they create) too well in some respects and whatever we don't like starts to feel like that blister forming on our heel from that pair of dress shoes that never fit as well as they should have... Could be a button in the wrong place or a neck strap lug that falls right where your hand should go. Do a specific motion with a camera hundreds of times in one day and I can almost guarantee you that you'll find the burr under the saddle pretty quickly. And that's one reason we might change cameras or systems. 

Another reason to change is just the ability to try something new and interesting. Like my plunge over the last few years into 4K video and the cameras that do it well. A still photographer using a Canon 1DSmk3 from a while back won't see a huge benefit to moving up into newer cameras for making fine images in quite the same way a videographer might when moving up from an 8 bit 4:2:0 camera to a 10 bit 4:2:2 camera that also comes with a higher bit rate. A new series of really cool lenses might be a good reason for some to switch. But on a different tangent it may be that the change of camera scenery every year keeps the overall occupation more fun and more interesting. And that's hard to put a price tag on.

A lot of photographic work can be repetitive and mundane. The injection of a new camera system can put some life into a project which might be the kind of job you've done hundreds of times before. Moving from an existing system to something new can put the excitement back into the equation. 

There are as many ways to rationalize changing systems as there are system changers but I think there are two different personality types in play in these kinds of conversations. There are the conservers and there are the risk takers. The conservers like to find the most cost effective and efficient gear possible and then use it for as long as they can before mildly upgrading, usually under duress. They tend to be logical and are the stock market equivalent of the buy and hold investors. As long as the gear works and helps to create a competitive image then the owners are holding onto them for the long term. 

The risk takers are easily bored and are more comfortable (for some strange reason) with constant change and constant flux. They like to hedge. They are the ones who started shooting DSLR video back when Nikon first introduced the D90 with 1280 by 720 HD video. They experimented with very shallow depth of field which was much, much harder to do with the dedicated video cameras of the day. They may have invested earlier in mirrorless full frame for the same kinds of benefits. These folks like to grab the latest tech, wring it out and test it to death and then move on. They'll never be able to really justify the expenses in terms of total cost but they might be the ones first to market with a new way of seeing stuff and that's also hard to put a price tag on. 

The final group that falls somewhere in the risk taker camp are those photographers who are good business people and sales people who can make enough money in the commercial niche to be able to afford whatever camera they want for whatever time frame they want. They might bounce from a Nikon D850 to a Leica SL2 but the camera is more transparent to them. All will work (within in certain class of cameras) equally well but the impulse to change is the same one that drives people to order different dishes at different restaurants every day. They love the experimentation and the variety. It's what makes life meaningful to them. Look at what experimenting with new tech Canon 5dmk2 in 2009) did for Vincent Laforet and his career.

Most people think camera system changing is all about the money. There are people for whom a camera purchase is a carefully considered luxury that can only be purchased after saving up for a long time. There are others for whom a camera and lens is no more consequential (as an expenditure) than a bottle of great Bordeaux wine. Open it. Experience it. Move on. 

I think I fall somewhere in the middle of all these things and, at 64, I don't think I'll be changing my camera explorations any time soon. Just thought I'd let you know.

The Panasonic GX85. So, I bought the Panasonic full frame cameras hoping to make them my only cameras and to stop horsing around with multiple systems. I love them for work and find the files better than anything I've already shot with when it comes to file quality from each of the two resolutions. But I also find the first generation of L mount lenses to be a bit heavy and cumbersome for some applications. For work it's just not an issue. Our lights and stands will always weigh a lot more and take up more space. But for walking down the street, checking out the changing scenery and making images for the blog sometimes an S1 with a honking big 50mm S Pro is a bit....out there. 

For my casual, personal work I started looking around for something fun to shoot with. I wanted something small and light but familiar. I looked at some used Olympus mFT cameras but finally settled on the Panasonic GX85, which is a three year old, 16 megapixel camera. It was a bargain at $447 when accompanied by two good lenses!!! And the nice thing is the ability to use my older Pen FT lens with an adapter I already had in house. 

I took the camera out for a spin today and loved it. Small and light. Cheap as dirt. The menus are as familiar as I could have ever hoped for. 

Here (above and below) are images I made during my walk today. Yes, another day in downtown paradise where the temperature hung around the 60 degree mark and the sunshine and blue skies were just showing off. I don't know what else to say about the camera and lenses but that they are pretty competent and almost invisible as I walk along in my navy blue hoody looking for the next great cup of coffee. 

These images get larger if you click on them. Don't forget to stock in your favorite bottle of Champagne today so you avoid the rush tomorrow. Or the stinging disappointment when your favorite bottle is sold out. Bravo to the non-drinkers who have saved themselves $50 to $100 dollars. Savings that will put them in good stead when they decide to become greater risk takers and change systems later this year. 

I wonder how that Leica SL2 camera comports itself......

45-150mm 





The main living room at the compound.
















12.29.2019

I love taking photographs in museums because there's always so much line, color and texture. I'm careful to use quiet cameras so people can enjoy the respite from all the noise of daily life.


These are all from my favorite Austin, Texas museum,
The Blanton Museum on the University of Texas campus.




A few more bizarre shots from the Pentax K-1.

Outside a shop on a street in the Old Town area of Montreal.

Early morning in our suite at the L Hotel in Old Town Montreal.
Highly recommend this property for anyone visiting. 
Get a suite. Roomy, quiet and comfortable.



2019 was the year that I had a lot of fun photographing at a food market in Montreal. I'm not a stranger to food photography and as long as the light is good and the food is high quality it's hard to make a bad image.


When Belinda and I were on vacation in Montreal in October we visited a famous outdoor food market. We don't have anything like it in Austin so we stayed for a long time and looked at pretty much everything. 

I've done a number of food photography assignments for magazines, did my first cookbook (Creative Mexican Cooking, by Anne Lindsey Greer) for Texas Monthly Press in the early 1980s, contributed many, many photographs for the internationally awarded, Fonda San Miguel: Thirty Years of Food and Art, cookbook and art Latin art collection book in 2007. Recently I've done several videos for restaurants that are centered around beauty shots of the food and food preparation. In addition to those experiences I also love to eat food. 

Our photography in Montreal was mostly done with my Pentax K-1 camera and the 50mm f1.4 lens or the 28-105mm f3.5-4.5 Pentax lens. It worked well. The color and the detail in the files are the equal of any 35mm format camera currently in the market. We can argue about usability and lens availability but the ability of the camera to make absolutely beautiful files is argument-proof. The full frame sensor helps with limiting depth of field in order to focus attention on main subjects while the camera's in-body image stabilization is great and provides a good platform for longer than normal exposures --- which help keep the ISO down.

While the Lumix S1 and S1R are at least equal in their sensors' abilities to make beautiful files where the new cameras really shine for me is the selection of lenses I've been able to put together. They transcend most of the available Pentax lenses and let me work right out to the edge. 

That being said, I have a warm spot in my heart for the Pentax K-1. It's definitely designed and built to be one of the most useable and comfortable cameras I ever had the pleasure to shoot with --- even when it didn't quite hit focus....









Two totally different self-portraits. Two different cameras.

Montreal, Quebec, Canada. 
L Hotel mirror. 

Third Street, Austin, Texas, USA.
Downtown building reflection.



My Two Favorite Architectural "Studies" of the Past Few Years....



Both shot with a Sony A7R2 and the 24-105 f4.0 Zeiss zoom.
Corrected in Lightroom. 

12.28.2019

Zilker Park. In the Summer. Haze included.

On the way to Barton Springs Pool.

The end of every year is a great time to look through all the folders of images you've curated in the past 12 months to re-see and maybe better appreciate images that got lost in the hustle and bustle of life and work.



I photographed a bunch of material for a play called, "Immortal Longings." I didn't care for the play itself but I did have a great time photographing the ballet dancers who performed in little bursts in the production. These images are from a shoot at the very beginning of the rehearsals; done in conjunction with a TV commercial shoot. 

I grabbed "the greatest hits" at the time and sent them along to marketing but I always meant to circle back and look at the dance images more closely. Yesterday I was cleaning up my physical desktop, which is a boring and mundane task, and to break the boredom I had a Lightroom window open on my computer and I was intermittently browsing through images from 2019. I liked them many of them better than I remembered. 

Mostly photographed in dreadful light (I wasn't able to light the scenes...), and at high ISOs, with a Fuji XH-1 and the very, very, very good 90mm f2.0 lens. 

Photographs always look different after appreciable time has passed since their creation. Sometimes better than we remember and sometimes worse. 

And sometimes they match what I remember. 




This last shot, of the ballet slipper, is my favorite. The texture of the tights and the wonderful out of focus highlight in the background make it for me...

12.27.2019

A step up from the point-and-shoot universe but a step down in price. The 16 megapixel GX85 is currently on sale everywhere as a two lens kit. $477.


I read the reviews. I saw the gushing on YouTube. It was 2016 and the GX85 had just been launched. A new shutter mechanism fixed "shutter shock," a condition that reared its head in the much more expensive GX8. The new camera "featured" 16 megapixels on its m4:3 sensor and it was the first Panasonic Lumix camera to forego the anti-aliasing filter on the sensor, which meant it could (and does) resolve more detail than the same sensor as it was used in the GX7 and the Olympus EM-5 mk2.

The camera was never on my radar until about a week ago when my sales pro at Precision Camera, responding to my questions about a $900 point-and-shoot camera, steered me to this camera kit. It's the body and two lenses. One lens is the 12-32mm shown above and the second lens is the venerable 40-150mm kit-ish lens. If you consider the current retail price of the lenses alone the kit is a wild bargain. When you discover that the camera is really, really good it becomes an insane bargain.

I've been playing with the GX85 since yesterday and it's a great "carry everywhere" camera. You might need a couple of spare batteries to get through the day with it but Wasabi Power batteries seem to work just fine and you can get two and a charger for about $20 on the interwebs. Maybe it's just the nutty way I overshoot that makes me so battery sensitive.

If you're toting around a Lumix S1R and the Lumix 50mm f1.4 S Pro lens all the time (or a Nikon D850 and the 24-105mm) you might want to get one of these kits to make leisure time with photography just a little bit less daunting....

But then again, if you are training for the USMS National Swim Championship in San Antonio in April in 2020 then the weight training with the bigger camera, and the lens with the glandular problem, might be part of your training regimen.

I bought the kit partly because of the low price, partly to use as a platform for my beloved Pen FT half frame lenses (from the 1970's) and mostly to have something decent to shoot with while running out for groceries, to the pool, and in situations where discretion is called for.

At least this time it's all in the same (menu) family.

What did you get yourself for the holidays? Just curious....

I don't do links but if you want one of these you might head over to Michael Johnston's site: https://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/blog_index.html
and order one from there. He'll get a small $$$ and that's cool because he does a wonderful job entertaining me with his writing about photography.....and diet....and addiction.....and (sadly) the game of snooker.

Work I did decades ago still drives my search for the right digital camera and lens. Odd how that happens. I'm finally narrowing it down.

L.L.

This was photographed in my favorite, old studio at 500 San Marco St., over in east Austin. I was renting about 3000 square feet of space which came complete with 20 foot ceilings. I got the space when the company that owned the building was converting it from warehouse space to office and studio space. I think my rent was somewhere around $750 a month and included righteously good air conditioning and electric power + water service. Now $750 would barely cover utilities on a space that size....

I still have a recurring dream that I inadvertently left a bunch of gear and paperwork in the space and also that I forgot to tell them I was moving out. I wake up worried that I've lost precious negatives and that I owe tens of thousands of dollars in back rent, starting from 22 years ago... But the reality is that I renovated a new space at a property we bought and settled out with the previous studio landlord with all the paperwork done nicely and properly.

But it was such a fun and expansive space in which to shoot. I could set up a portrait subject ten or 
twenty feet from the front of my camera and still have a space of 25 feet behind the camera for the background. With those kinds of distances one could use longer lenses and the focus fall off to the background was nothing short of exhilarating. I make due in a much smaller space now and for the most part it works out because: A. We own the space. And, B. The vast majority of projects I do these days are on location. Would I still like a studio with 60 feet of linear space to work in? You bet. Would I like to pay thousands of dollars per month to occasionally shoot a portrait with absolutely no constraints? Hmmm. Maybe not so much....

The image above was shot in the studio just for the hell of it. We went through so much medium format film in a month that burning through ten or twelve rolls of color transparency film photographing a beautiful subject was a tiny drop in the bucket, financially. 

This one was done during a test session. We were breaking in two new lenses for our Hasselblad system; one was the new just then 180mm f4.0 Zeiss lens and the other was the 250mm f4.0 Zeiss lens  (I was replacing the 250mm f5.6 version with the faster version made for the 201F and other F cameras). The image is a look that I liked (and still like) very much. A long, fast lens on a big chunk of film. 

In fact, it's been the gold standard I still use to judge how successfully a current camera and lens system comes to matching or even getting close to what we could do with MF film, without breaking a sweat. So, my system from 24 years ago drives me to look at particular cameras and lenses, in a particular way, even now. 

When I used the 180mm f4.0 lens on a 6x6cm square Hasselblad format the corresponding 35mm equivalent angle of view was about 100mm. It always seemed just right to me. The 250mm was equal to about a 135mm on 35mm which was wonderful in my longer studio but would be unmanageable in the current space. 

I'm currently trying really hard to fit the Panasonic Lumix S1R, coupled with the Sigma 85mm f1.4 Art lens, into the mix and trying to set up the smaller system to best emulate what I used to get from the bigger film system. It's tougher work than I thought it would be but with every model encounter I get closer and closer. The first big step for me was to limit the S1R to shooting in the square, 1:1 format. That makes the 85mm effectively about 10mm longer by comparison. The next thing is trying to find the right imaging parameters with which I can get deep, dark shadows but wide open, airy highlights. Not exactly trying to leverage the ultimate in dynamic range at both ends of the curve but mostly just at the lighter (shoulder) edge of the tonal range. It's all a compromise but then again, so was film and film processing. 

I'm in the studio today trying to reverse engineer my own lighting from the 1990s. I'm afraid I really will need to re-buy one more five by six foot soft box. Somethings just can't be substituted...

I hope you are making good use of your vacation. I'm re-branding and re-strategizing for 2020 and I'm working hard and locking down what I want to make. It takes new work.