Labor Day weekend festivities do NOT include a post on Monday. That day is for swimming and running. See you on Tuesday morning, bright and early. There will be a test on camera stuff. Come prepared and bring your own coffee.

 Lara Wright as Akela, leader of the wolf pack.
In the ZachTheatre.org production of JUNGALBOOK.

My big plans for the weekend start in an hour (6pm). I went to Whole Foods grocery store today and got a couple of "bone in" Rib Eye steaks to offset the pervasive vegan influences wending their way through the web like an opportunistic virus. I'm pulling out the big, cast iron pan to cook them with. I fire it up pretty hot and sear the seasoned steaks for about 90 seconds per side and then slide the pan into a pre-heated, 425 degree oven. The cooking time for a moderately thick cut, assuming medium rare, is about 12-18 minutes. It's not exact so you have to perfect your technique of poking the steak with your finger to see how much "give" or "spring" it offers. The springier the steak the more "well done" it is. But friends don't let friends or family eat well done steaks. Especially not organic, grass fed, free range beef. YMMV but I won't be cooking your steak well done no matter how plaintively you ask...

I'm also making a roasted, multi-color, fingerling potato side dish that's simple and fun. The only ingredients beyond the potatoes are olive oil and sea salt. Yes, I'm also making a salad and will be making my own balsamic vinaigrette dressing. 

I'm taking my turn to cook dinner tonight because I see it as an enticement to get Ben over to the house for a visit. And studio dog really likes a nicely done ribeye. It's her favorite cut. 

I only hope I raised the boy well enough so that he'll bring a decent bottle of red wine to share. If not, we still have lots of the Stag's Leap Merlot left....

Please, don't worry about my diet. I'll choke down a handful of Lipitor pills before bedtime to offset the big dose of saturated fat. I'm sure everything will work out just fine.... After all, what could go wrong?

I was talking to a swimmer friend yesterday, we were discussing the very, very spartan diet plan one of our famous swimmers has written extensively about. It requires that adherents reject anything with meat, fat, including nuts, oils, and, well, anything else fun. Recent, large scale studies show that adherents to the plan "might" live about 90 days longer than the general public. If they don't die from gustatory boredom beforehand. At any rate, my non-compliant friend mentioned that he thought any diet that had to be forced on humans and animals, in general, was highly suspect. He tossed out this: If you threw a big, fresh head of broccoli into your backyard one evening you would be able to go out and retrieve it the next morning and find that it would be no worse for wear; untouched by the woodland animals. Not even surveyed by ants. He also say that you may notice that no one has to fence kale plants off from the multitudinous deer here in central Texas as they won't touch the stuff unless it's the last green plant in the ecosystem and they have no other choice. 

But hey, toss a burger onto the back lawn and the possums and raccoon will square off over it....unless the hawks get it first. But they all better use dispatch because the ants are surely heading that way in force. 

Before you go into full attack mode,  please be aware that I'm mostly just kidding around and offering a different opinion from another more popular photo blogger turned health food maven. Belinda and I eat meat very infrequently and are prone to eat kale more often than I would really like. I'm actually researching single origin kale in order to start a whole line of kale-based coffees, which I think will take the world by storm. (again, kidding).

On the other hand I guess I should stick to the two things I know anything about: photography and swimming. I guess I'll leave the diet debates to the cardiologists and the nice folks at Archer Daniels Midland...

I met a tiger on stage yesterday. Thank goodness she wasn't hunting photographers at the time.

 Amber Quick as Sherakhan in ZachTheatre.org's JUNGALBOOK

I don't know if it's me or if it's the people picking productions at Zach Theatre (I suspect that I really only like fun, happy uplifting plays and get quickly bored with bitter sweet or message-y dramas) but lately I've really enjoyed watching, photographing and doing video of the kid's plays much more so than the "grown up" fare. The kids are just so darn good at acting and dancing and having fun. And, by extension, infecting their audiences with a sense of joy and good energy. 

That's exactly what I experienced yet again at the dress rehearsal of JUNGALBOOK at Zach yesterday. I went to the early swim workout so I wouldn't have to rush to make it in time for the 11 a.m. start of the dress rehearsal. I was packing three cameras and three lenses and I'd read the script this time, trying to script engineer how the play would unfold in front of me.

The lighting was contrasty and peppered with deep pools of shadow that switched almost at will to spots of bleachy brightness. It kept me guessing and had my fingers glued to the aperture ring so I could constantly make on-the-fly adjustments as actors moved through the space or lights dimmed or brightened. 

My favorite lens and camera combo of the day (the camera won by default since it hosted the favorite lens) was the Fuji X-T3 coupled to the 56mm f1.2 APD lens. I tried to use it mostly at f2.5 but occasionally I weakened and gave into the lure of f4.0 with its promise of safety in the form of more depth of field. 

I kept the shutter speeds up around 1/125th and above to mitigate potential camera shake and, with this camera and lens combo, I was shooting around ISO 640-1250. 

When I got home and looked at the images I was very happy. Happier still that the play was so good and so immersive. Amber Quick is one of a small cast of adults in the play and she matched the kids for sense of humor, energy and sheer acting chops. 

Okay, the kid's play restored my interest, passion and delight in live theater. The adults are now on notice. 

Why would a working photographer want (need?) three identical camera bodies?

Cases and cases and cases of gear. No, it's not mine.

This particular blog post isn't really aimed at all you photographic artisans who are not consigned to making a client other than yourself happy. You can go on shooting with one perfect camera body and one exquisitely well chosen lens and be as happy as a clam. No penalty involved, in fact the "one camera/one lens" mindset is a wonderful way to hone a vision, and set of pre-visualization skills, that most working professionals will envy. So much envy. No, this particular post is just an explanation of why a commercial photographer, and especially someone who does both theatrical photography, event photography, and corporate reportage might actually need three cameras bodies. And, the more "identical" the bodies the better. 

Some of this thinking (on my part) was triggered as a result of Michael Johnston's acquisition of a Fujifilm X-H1 and lenses. Several people, myself included, left comments on his blog that more or less say, "if you like a camera body a lot you might consider buying a few extras..." On one hand we were making light of the idea that there is "one" perfect camera and it exists only in this one form and  only be available for a limited time before being replaced by something that's not quite as nice or quite as beautifully realized. 

If that is really true then it does make sense to buy up a few more and not suffer the opportunity loss as cameras age and become irreplaceable. This may have made good sense back in the days of film cameras but with imaging sensors being the core differentiator in modern cameras, maybe not so much anymore. But on a different level I guess I was subconsciously channeling what I see as a real advantage to professionals who need to work quickly, juggle different focal length lenses and who also need redundant back up equipment in case of loss or failure of a critical component while on the clock for a paying client.

It all came back clearly to me as I packed for yesterday morning's photo assignment at Zach Theatre. I was heading out to photograph a production of "JunGal Book" (I swear I didn't misspell the title; it's a variation of the Rudyard Kipling story, with a young woman in the role of Mogli, and a title that's familiar enough to potential audiences but doesn't cross the Disney Copyright "We own JUNGLE BOOK" Boundaries. 

At any rate I knew I'd want a fast, standard zoom (cue the Fuji 16-55mm f2.8) and a fast longer zoom (cue the Fuji 50-140mm f2.8) and I also thought it would be handy and fun to have ready access to the super fast Fuji 56mm f1.2 APD lens. If I tried using all three lenses on one camera body I'd have to work frantically; switching lenses (in the dark) over and over again as the play only lasts for one hour and the action moves quickly. I'd probably miss about half the shots I needed during the lens transitions. Just the thought of it reminds me of the one triathlon I tried; the hardest parts were changing "gears" between swimming, biking and the running. Jeez. How many times does one want to change shoes, clothes and equipment to do one race???

The solution for me, as usual, was to put each lens I intended to use on its own, dedicated camera body. I set up each body to be identical in terms of selected menu items and overall settings. Yesterday, with no ability to pre-scout the show, I depended (for a change) on the additional latitude of raw files across all three cameras. Since there was no audience for this dress rehearsal I was able to put one camera on the seat to the left of me, the other camera on seat just to the right and then one in my hands. If I anticipated a wider shot coming up I could exchange cameras immediately and all I'd need to do in able to get off a quick series of shots with the new camera would be to fine tune the exposure and then get after it. Dance scene completed? Ready for a close up of the main actor from across the stage? I grab the camera in the other seat; the one with the longer zoom, and blaze away. 

Having all three cameras within easy reach and ready to go was the best way to handle this shooting situation. The only thing that would have yielded a higher hit rate would have been to put three photographers into the mix and assign each one a different focal length range. They could all shoot the entire play and never miss a shot because they would not be busy grabbing a different camera. (No. We're not going to do that because the (non-profit) theater doesn't have the requisite budget....).

If I were disciplined enough to work only with prime lenses (in order to squeeze out the very last vestiges of quality....) this three camera motif would be even more logical and sensible. Any number more than three cameras becomes a bit unwieldy but anything less than three would limit my flexibility too much. 

Much the same happens when I shoot corporate events. I might need to go from getting a tight head shot of a speaker on an expansive stage to getting a wide, establishing shot of the same speaker while showing the entirety of a one hundred foot wide stage, followed by turning around and getting a crowd "reaction" shot with a faster lens. Many times I can make do with just two cameras and two well chosen lenses but I would still want to have that third body close by. 

If you are working a business showcase that is three days long there are so many "opportunities" to have someone destroy a camera body, or lens. I still remember the sad photographer who was sitting down and changing the lens on his mirrorless camera body when, with the sensor fully exposed, he involuntarily sneezed. Right into the open lens mount of his camera. Rendering it useless until such a time as he could get the sensor professionally cleaned (I hope). I also remember putting down a camera to dig something out of my bag, a few years ago, when someone spilled a pitcher of ice tea over it. That camera and lens were never quite right again.... and that was mid-job. Woe be unto the working stiff that doesn't come with extras!!! Then there was the time an assistant accidentally dropped a Hasselblad body onto a concrete floor..... and the time we had two cameras die as I was trying to shoot on a super dusty baseball field for a large hardware store chain. Lucky we had on more camera in the case. 

You've heard it all before, and the reasons to have multiple, identical bodies at photo assignments remain as valid today as they've ever been. There are different points of failure now but there are failure points nonetheless. Being a Boy Scout or a commercial photographer it's good to know the scout motto: BE PREPARED. 

But wait, there's more. Now that we've added video to the repertoire we've added more layers of complexity to the mix. The falling price of cameras has led to the rise of the "two and three camera" shooting strategy. In the days of super pricey video and motion film cameras a production could rarely justify having a second camera in the mix. If you wanted to shoot a tight shot, a wider shot and a reaction shot in an interview setting you'd do it sequentially, serially. Shoot the tight shots and then move the one camera, or change the lens, to get a tight shot and then move the camera again and get reaction shots. With the advent of much less expensive (but still highly capable) cameras which come complete with outstanding 4K video, productions can save tons of time (and time = $$$$$) and get all three shots simultaneously, using three cameras. But, of course, this is predicated on having three (or more) cameras on hand. The best case scenario is to have all three cameras of exactly the same brand and model and all calibrated and color corrected to the same targets to make blending the footage together in post production that much easier. Which means we're back to "needing" (wanting?) three (or more) cameras in the cases...just in case. Four, if you want a back up in case of failure. 

Considering that my first (and only) 16mm movie camera cost more than a car back in the 1980's and that one can currently buy three Fuji X-H1 bodies (which are very, very good video cameras!!!) for about $3,000 (total!) the duplication I've outlined is actually not wasteful but, indeed, a smart strategy. 

Some folks scoff about the need for back ups against failure in "modern" digital cameras but I think they vastly overestimate the resiliency of the actual imaging sensor bundle. While most dust is easy to clean off I had to change lenses in the field this year and one drop of moisture hit the exposed sensor and bonded with some sort of evil, otherworldly dust to form a spot (visible in any file shot at f5.6 or higher) that even my wet swab cleaning skills could not eradicate. That body had to go in for service and was out of inventory for the better part of two weeks. This in-field-failure didn't hamper our project because we still had two more bodies in the bag, but I did start changing lenses in the car with the windows closed.

Finally, I think there is a very valid point to locking in continued access to cameras you've come to enjoy using and which you know backwards and forwards. There are so few things in consumer life that deliver on their implied promises. When you find a product that seems custom made to fit the way you like to work, and the way you want your user interface to function it seems logical (and ultimately comfortable, psychologically) to want to ensure some ongoing continuity with that product; especially if it's a tool you depend upon to make your living. Every change in process tends to reverberate throughout your workflow and even little changes and differences can disrupt your smooth flow. 

Having used the Fuji X-H1 cameras for the better part of a year now; almost daily, I've learned them and their "personalities" very well. I can pick one up and start shooting without hesitation. It's entirely possible that a Nikon Z7 or a Panasonic S1 might give me a better image, or even better video, than the X-H1 but would the small margin of difference actually be discernible by the clients (or even myself)? And would that difference be enough to offset the requisite learning curve I'd have to live through to get up to speed on yet another new system? My belief is that, for most work where we are not flirting with the ragged edge of the envelope of shooting parameters, nearly every current camera, from micro four thirds models right up to medium format, is more than adequate and each comes with their own sets of compromises; from investment to portability, from color profiles to lens availability. 

To duplicate my current working set of three X-H1s and one X-T3, as well as a drawer fully of genuinely wonderful lenses, I'd have to spend appreciably more money in another system with no guarantee that my results would be any different in the final outcome. So much of the quality of a photography assignment depends more on lighting, composition, styling, casting, and point of view than the final output of one or another camera sensor. And people seem to always forget that.......

So, when I suggested to Michael Johnston that he get extra bodies I was actually conflating two different ideas: one based on the needs of current commercial image makers who shoot certain kinds of assignments, but also the idea that having a "perfect" camera comes (for some of us) with the fear of not being able to buy the same camera or duplicate the same experience at some time in the future. 

Of course, some of you are more conversant with imaging tech than others. I'm fascinated with the people who seem to know every line of the Olympus menu system or the Sony menu system and can get their cameras to operate in wi-fi within seconds. Those people have a gift of knowing almost intuitively how to make digital cameras work. They are probably able to transition from system to system without much more thought than is required to go from one rental car to another. 

There is a different set of photographers at the other end of this largely imaginary spectrum who resist change, hate having to re-learn stuff they were comfortable with in one system and see changing systems as exacting a huge friction of trade. This is who I have in mind with my advice to buy three of anything you love. Be it shoes, cameras or lights. You'll be so happy to have extras when the product you really liked much more than other, comparable products vanishes from the market, replaced by a new model with a flimsier build, a cheaper set of materials but a newer sensor and some inane electronic feature you'll never learn (or want to learn) to use. 

I think I'll go out today and buy one more set of Tyr swim goggles. The pair I have is the best I've owned in the course of 50 some odd years of swimming. And, when I get them I'll be sure to photograph them with one of the Fujis.....

Above and below: a three camera video production with Taylor Holland. 
Edited in multi-cam mode. Fun with multiple camera angles!

The wide shot. Not possible with my 70-200mm equivalent zoom lens.
But imminently possible with a 24-85mm zoom on a second camera.

A tighter shot from mid-house. The perfect use for a longer focal length.

The Sony RX10IV or III solves the "lens change" issue nicely
but introduces its own compromise of sensor geometry and the 
need to have a second, identical camera with lens for back up.
(above and below).

Yes. We have back up meters.

The wider shot. 

The tighter shot.