8.02.2020

Prepping for a job on which I need to photograph toaster oven-sized products. Part 2. Testing, testing. 1,2,3...


B.Y. @ the Metropolitan Museum.
My corporate supervisor.

Well, the afternoon of testing is over and so is any nervousness about the upcoming job. Amazon delivered my ten foot, USB-C to USB-C 3.1 Gen2 cables right on time. I read about software issues between the latest version of Lumix Tether 1.7 tethering software and Mac OS Catalina 10.15.0 so I immediately updated my Laptop OS to 10.15.6. The combo seems to work fine with the S1R right now. I ran it all for an hour with lots of full-res and high-res raw test shots and nothing glitched. That part of the job seems locked down nicely. 

 The post focus feature of the camera is a bust for me on this job. It's just not reliable enough to be workable and just being able to pull 18 MB Jpegs is not going to work for this client. There is also a vicious frame crop when using it.  After evaluating the post focus feature I spent a little while testing different lenses for the different shooting situations but my real focus (yeah, yeah) was to see what I could do when it came to the still life shots that require more depth of field than my usual subjects.

Using the normal 47+ raw mode I shot the camera at one second and the lens at f16 and brought the raw files into PhotoShop for some eye-watering inspection. If I leave space all  around (lower magnification) the product/target I can get sharp front and back edges most of the time. But the winner in this race is clear. It's best to shoot with the high-res/multi-shot mode and get the angle I want and the comp I want but leave about 1/3 of the total frame empty. This means I am shooting further from the subject and gaining depth of focus as I move back and making the object smaller in the frame. Works well almost without fail. And the amount of detail in those huge files is breathtaking.

If they throw something at me that's enormous and needs more depth of field I'll shoot it with manual focusing stacking, using raw files, and go back to blending the frames in Photoshop. But I'm pretty certain I've got it wired with the super high res + distancing protocol. 

The next thing I wanted to check was how much sharpness I'd lose stopping down to f16 with my current lenses. The short answer is....not much. I was oversold on the idea that f16 isn't particularly pretty or useful with current digital cameras. That's not true with the lens I have in mind for the product shots. 

I picked up a 24-70mm f2.8  Lumix S Pro lens back in February and have used it sparingly but every time I do so I'm surprised at its high performance. I did test shots at the medium focal lengths (28-50mm) and the results at f16 are just fine. I might want to push in a bit of texture sharpening and boost the low radius sharpening a bit in post but the images I'm pulling out of camera are quite nice and sharper than any I would have gotten from whatever I was using a few years ago. 

If I start with a 180 megapixel shot, using the center 2/3rds of the lens circle, I'll have tons of detail to play with when I downsample to useable file sizes. Another problem solved? Naw, just a bit of anxiety squashed. 

The second part of the job is almost the polar, technical opposite. The clinician shots will be done with very narrow depth of field (gobs of background blur!) and a desire for flares and optical artifacts in the frame. Here's my only issue with that kind of work, so far: None of my current lenses seem to want to flare; even when used wide open with a light source in the frame. And none of them like to show off any artifacts. But the A.D. and I discussed this "issue" and we are both comfortable adding some of those effects in post. We'll start clean and dirty them up as we work on them. 

I've selected four lenses for the shots of a clinician working with each product/device. I like the Sigma Art 20mm f1.4 because it's the obvious choice for any shots that we decide must be both wide, sharp and still drop the background out of focus. While a 20mm isn't a logical choice for limited/shallow depth of field we'll be working close enough to the subject make it do what we need. I tested that lens today and it's plenty sharp by f2.0. Nearly perfect by f2.8. A far cry from the old 20mm's I started with many years ago. Those might have sharpened up enough, generally, by f8.0 or so. The Sigma 35mm f1.4 Art is a good, all around lens for tighter shots that still require soft backgrounds and it's as sharp as I could ask for wide open, getting cleaner and sharper all the way out to f4.0. It always earns a place in the mix.

The 50mm f1.4 Lumix S-Pro is sharper wide open at f1.4 than my Leica 90mm Elmarit is at f5.6. I'll use it for as many of the shots as I can. I'm not worried about the clinician shots because I know it's easier to select and drop areas out of focus than it ever is to try and make something that's already soft in a file sharper. The 50mm f1.4 Lumix was a splurge but every time I shoot with that lens I get two benefits: Tangy sharpness, even wide open, and a nice workout for the bicep and forearm muscles on my left arm. The lens is a big, heavy piece of gear but it was made for style controlled advertising shoots like this one. 

Finally, I have to include the Sigma 85mm f1.4 Art lens because of all the lenses I own the combination of performance and focal length is as close to perfect as I can imagine. I don't think we'll really need something that long and at the same time delivering such a narrow depth of field but you never know, and it would be nice to have an opportunity to stretch my time hanging out with that lens a bit. Especially since, in this case, I won't be carrying it around in the heat at the end of a strap, married to a dense and heavy camera. 

In shoots like these the shoulder mounted camera bags stay home and the cameras + lenses travel in a wheeled Think Tank case. We'll move maybe 50 feet in three days. I think my assistant and I can handle that. 

That's all I have to share about the upcoming assignment and the process of selecting and testing the candidates for the gear inventory. I hope this was somewhat entertaining and explained my thought process in getting ready to go on location. I've missed the mental exercise.

Self-casting. I needed a person to do something in the frame and there wasn't anybody around.
I cast myself and made good use of the self timer on my camera. It was easily 100° in that factory in Matamoros, Mexico. This week's job will be in pleasantly filter A/C. 

A historic shot of Austin which predates about ten new high rises. 

A favorite crane shot. With Apple expanding in Austin and Tesla coming here too I'm guessing these cranes will not be an endangered species for a while...






The boy and I had a pre-production meeting this afternoon. 
He'll be assisting me for the last three days of the work week. 
It won't be his first rodeo by a long shot...
a trusty collaborator.

Getting the depth of field right for a product shot
 is....everything.

That's all I've got for now. Hope the week goes well for everyone.


Gearing up for our first "real" job since the end of February.

From a lab shoot in New Jersey. 
A couple of years ago...

I'm very excited. And a bit nervous. I accepted a project for a company that makes all sorts of top tier bio-tech testing equipment. They make some of the machines that are used in Covid-19 testing, blood pathogen testing and cancer screening. They sell the diagnostic products around the world and they need photographs of some new products that are rolling out, along with stylized images of a clinician using the machines.

I'm excited because I think it's going to be fun getting back to work but I'm also nervous because it's been a while since I've done table top sized product shots and I want to try out some of the features of the S1 and S1R Lumix cameras that I either have not used or used only once, to test, months ago, and have largely forgotten how to use.

I'm waiting for a current technology USB-c 3.1 to same cable to arrive today so I can set up and test the first important feature. The client and I would both like to shoot the actual product shots (machines against white backgrounds) with a high res camera tethered to a laptop. The cable I ordered is a high bandwidth cable that's designed for camera to computer transfers. Once I have it in hand I get to download the latest version of Lumix Tether and figure out the best way to make it all work.

I know I can get the actual camera controls to work with the program but I need to be able to quickly review the files and I'm pretty sure I'll need to use Lightroom or Capture One and set up a watched folder for that. So, working on that and then practicing the set-up over and over again is on the agenda for this afternoon.

The one other feature, in camera, I'm interested in is the focus stacking/post focus capability. I have high hopes of making this work for all my stationary product-only shots but I'm a bit bummed that the system is limited to a max of 18 megapixel files (they are blended from 6K video files...). I have a suspicion that I'll want to hedge my bets and shoot with this post focus feature but also back-up each set-up with a high res file in the S1R. We'll see which one gets us the best focus depth+detail. I have a sinking feeling, after playing around with earlier Panasonic cameras that I'll want the higher res file, in raw, as the starting point for our post production. I just wish I could have both the focus stacking with range selection AND a 47.5 megapixel file... Maybe that will happen on the S2R.

Again, I think I'll pull my Canon Pro 100 printer onto a white seamless sweep this afternoon and play around with various lenses and camera to subject distances to see just how much of a typical product I can keep in sharp focus with the high res camera and then with the focus stacking. The funny thing is that I know I could stop down the lens on a Canon G16 to f8.0 and get total coverage but I'm pretty sure my client is counting on a big, juicy raw file to play with once we get through the photography process and into post. I'm putting time in experimenting today because I don't want to get caught short on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of this coming week. We've got a lot to accomplish.

Another thing I haven't thought of for quite a while is the effect of diffraction on sharpness with small pixel/high density sensors like the one in the S1R. Yes, you can get tons and tons of detail at optimum apertures but...you have to be cognizant of the potential sharpness robbing issue of lens diffraction at the smaller apertures one needs to achieve deep focus. Extended depth of field.

In the best of all worlds we'd want to use f16 and, if available, f22 for all of the product shots in order to get good sharpness from the leading edge of the product all the way to the back of the cabinet. My hope is that the Leica certified Panasonic lenses and the Sigma Art lenses I'll bring will be well enough corrected to make the effects of diffraction less obvious, but I know that a lot of the effect is down to the physics of aperture size and focal length. Still, it would be nice to be able to use smaller f-stops.

Again, we'll spend some time testing to make sure we're not setting ourselves up for disappointment.

One idea that came to me while working through all of this would be to back up the camera a bit from the subject and make the products smaller in the frame, overall, but to then enable the high-res mode (multi-shot) in the camera to generate those huge 160-180 megapixel files the camera is capable of and then cropping in to provide a right sized image in the frame. If I can double the resolution of the frame and move back to make the object smaller (half size?) in the frame I could still end up with an equal amount of resolution but with more depth of field on the product. Again, this is something else I need to test today.

We'll be using our collection of LED lights for this assignment since the products and the products+clinician aren't really moving fast....

I've enlisted Ben to assist me on this one because we've been inhabiting the same safe "bubble" for the last ten days or so and I feel comfortable with him. I was hesitant to hire an assistant that I didn't know well, or even one I did, since you can never know their actual chain of connectivity to a wider group.

I did a walk through with the client on Thursday. We'll be shooting the products in a large media room at the facility. There is no one officing there now as their media team is working from home. Ben and I will be the only ones in the room for the set-ups and, once we've got something to show, we'll bring in the A.D. to look at the image on the laptop and either approve it or advise us about changes. The rest of the offices and labs around us are also unpopulated and will remain so during the three days of the shoot.

We have two models but we will only be photographing one of them at a time. As usual, most of the time will be spent with Ben and me setting up the basic structure of each clinical setting shot and then bringing in our model once we're ready to shoot. Since the company is a bio-tech engineering company the models (who are also clinicians) will be dressed for their typical lab work: with face masks, face shields, lab ware and gloves. The room we'll be photographing in is about 2500 square feet and totally bereft of anyone but our small team.

As I was thinking about writing this I was so focused on our current reality that I was going to say something like: "One of the reasons I'm nervous about this project is that it's the first time I've had to work with a face mask, etc. for three full days in a row!!!" But on reflection I've spent (cumulatively) many weeks in full "bunny" suits, with hoods, goggles and gloves -- even Tyvek shoe covers --- while photographing various processes in semi-conductor clean rooms over the years. Several years ago we also did a multi-day shoot for another Bio-Tech firm in Houston; one that handles deadly pathogens, and we were fully suited up for most of that project as well. By comparison, this is much less cumbersome.

Ben and I are both up to the physical task ahead of us but I haven't had to pay attention and use my brain in this way for months now. I hope I don't get distracted and wander off. Or get bored and go looking for a swimming pool. But, if we handle this successfully then it signifies to me that we're back  in the mix.

Wish me luck with that depth of field issue. It's kind of new territory for me with this particular camera system but, I guess we've done it all before with lesser cameras so with a bit of luck we'll find it as easy as it should be.

Nice to get back into the mix, have P.O.'s cross the desk, scout locations and re-find some daily purpose; besides swimming and those dreaded downtown photos....

Hope you've got a good week planned. Don't let your guard down but don't forget to mix in some fun.

7.31.2020

Old lens. New flowers.


I wasn't expecting to like the combination of the Panasonic Lumix GX8 and the 40mm f1.4 PenFT lens quite so much. The lens is around fifty years old and was made for the original half frame film cameras. It's worn in places on the barrel and is fitted to my camera with an inexpensive adapter.

But when I used it to make raw files yesterday it seemed like a brand new (to me) lens. I shot it mostly at f2.8, which is two stops down from wide open, but I think it was the latest upgrades to the raw conversion program I was using that made the final image resonate so well with me.

There is delicate but discernible detail in the white flowers and the color rendering of the green leaves is, to my eyes, superb.

It's sad to think that a company/division that could produce a lens this good in the late 1960's-early 1970's has just been sold to non-photo-centric company.  I hope everything works out well for them.

Someone mentioned that the new company should make far fewer camera body models and concentrate on making world class lenses for a wider market of lens mounts and formats. I think that's a great idea. In the interim I'm thinking we'll play across the best of two worlds: we'll find our favorite, current, Olympus lenses and mate them with Panasonic cameras like the G9.

Of the current lenses I've used from Olympus my favorites are the 12-100mm f4.0 Pro and the 40-150mm f2.8 Pro. Both are wonderfully sharp and have some nice magic to them.

If you shoot with Olympus lenses I'm sure you have a favorite...


Recent portrait. In the current studio in Westlake Hills.

B.Y. 

7.30.2020

What I saw on my vacation this morning. The travel agent said it would be exciting but Expedia never prepared me for this! I should have brought my Lonely Planet guidebook.


Many people commenting on the blog say I should take a vacation. Many more suggest I work too hard.  Or that I'm going stir crazy in the house and studio. I thought I would take everyone's advice so I grabbed my passport, packed a small bag, grabbed a favorite travel-oriented camera and lens and headed to the airport right after swim practice. I didn't know where I would go but I thought I'd get the process rolling. I pulled into the half empty parking garage and grabbed my stuff. Excitement building by the second. I thought I'd splash out for a premium level vacation with no regards for cost or time. 

I walked up to the American Airlines counter. The person behind the counter looked up from the novel she was reading, took another bite of her chocolate chip cookie, washed it down with some Earl Grey tea, cleared her throat and asked, "Can I help you?" A tumbleweed distracted us for a moment as it billowed across the airport lobby and headed toward the Southwest Airlines counters...

"Yes. I'd like to book a first class ticket to Rome, Italy." I thought it was a prudent vacation request since Rome is one of my favorite cities in which to photograph. I pulled several platinum cards from my wallet, trying to remember which one paid back the most points for miles flown. But when I looked up to see the progress of my ticket request I saw the clerk standing there, nearly motionless but with a sardonic half smile on her face. 

"Yeah. No!" She said, looking at me like I was daft. "The E.U. isn't allowing Americans to travel there right now. Try someplace in this country." 

"Okay." I said, disappointment dripping from every word.  "Any suggestions?"

She went on to explain that I could go to NYC and quarantine in a hotel room for two weeks but that once I emerged back into the sunlight I'd find all the great restaurants closed and the museums mostly shuttered. Oh, and all the public bathrooms are also closed. She guessed I could walk in the park.

I asked about San Francisco and she let me know that all of the restaurants, every single one of them, were closed forever, same with the art galleries, and all the rich people in the city had already moved to their fortified places in Napa, etc. so maybe there wasn't much to do there either. 

I asked about Seattle but all the five star hotel rooms there are currently booked up by anonymous agents of the federal government so.....that would be a long shot too. Same in Portland. But at least, she mused, there would be ample outdoor activities...

We went through city after godforsaken city until finally we winnowed my choices down to lovely Des Moines and spicy Oklahoma City. I was a bit frustrated at that point and I asked her where the bulk of trendy, chic, affluent, artsy, elitist travelers were flying to, statistically, for vacations this Summer. She replied...

"Well, there is this one city in Texas that's really cute and desirable and has some great little take out places, and outdoor live music, and some cool private swim clubs, and some gorgeous/enormous houses in the western hills that catch the evening breezes. It's surrounded by lakes and rivers. It's pretty trendy but so many of the folks who live there are into outdoor sports and coffee. You might like it!"

I told her that sounded like the best option and asked her to book me a first class, roundtrip ticket on the next flight. 

"So, you just need one roundtrip ticket to Austin, Texas? Is that right?" She asked. I said that it was and slid my credit card across the counter to her. I thought the fare was a bit high for such a short trip but she was right, it's a charming place in which to spend time during a pandemic. I was able to find a number of very good coffee shops in my first few hours after arriving here today. And the place I checked into is nearly as comfortable as my own house at home. That's a nice thing.

But right now I'm investigating traveling the country in a giant recreational vehicle, just to assuage the worry about my non-vacation which so many of you have expressed. I kind of like the idea of traveling from small, rural town to small rural town (bereft of culture, restaurants, attractions, etc.) while driving something bigger than a Greyhound bus. I like the idea of getting 6 miles to the gallon (unless there is a hill or a head wind) because gas is so cheap right now. I'm just grappling with the whole concept of me having to keep up with something called a "black water" tank. That, and the whole idea of cooking with propane. But I'll let you know how it goes. I've always wanted to visit Montegomery, Ala. and then there's always Universal Studios in Orlando....  

Let me know about your vacation plans...

One of the first things I did on my vacation this morning was to channel my inner Alec Soth and find something mundane and featureless to "interpret." This building worked for me. 
I'll send a large print along to the HRC and see if they need it for their permanent collection. 
And, of course, Austin is known for its trees.
I admired this one for a while. I wonder why the gift shops don't have
post cards of it.
I toyed with the idea of living in a high rise loft space for a while.
The shared air conditioning sounded quaint and cozy.
I guess these are rides for tourists. I'm a little acrophobic so I didn't bother finding out 
how to get a ticket. 








All of today's "vacation" photos were taken with a black, Panasonic GX8 camera and an ancient, PenFT 40mm f1.4 lens which settled in nicely at f2.8 for.....every image. It's a sweet lens. Better than a Zeiss Otus or a Leica Summicron. I love mine.

OT: Hey, did everyone see what Apple, Inc. stock did in after-hours trading? It popped over $25 per share on news that they had double digit growth y-o-y for the quarter that just ended. Maybe we should hire them to deal with the pandemic. They sure know how to get stuff done!!!

Double OT: And the stock is splitting 4:1 in August... now that's a decent vacation!!!!!!!!!!

added end of day: And...Apple stock gains 10% in one day. Now that's a real vacation. 

Advertising on 2nd St.

Thursday. Walk and Look. 

7.29.2020

A shoot with two cameras.

From "Hairspray." 

(The image above is a fun one from the archives and has nothing to do with the written content of this post). 

We're trying to keep all client engagements short and sweet. To that end I spend time setting up the studio well ahead of time so no one is waiting around. This morning we were photographing one person on a white background. I chose to light with LED fixtures because we followed the "main course," portrait photographs, with a short series of video captures. The continuous lighting worked both ways.

While it's easy and possible to switch a couple menu settings on the Lumix S1 camera and go from photographing to filming (?. We need some new words here that don't use film analogies) when you are working quickly it's even better to have two identical cameras and set each one up to shoot a specific type of file. I shot the photos  in raw and in the "natural" setting, with a few tweaks. I shot the video in 10 bit 4:2:2 .mov files at 4K and used the flat setting, with a few tweaks. The video camera was preset for shutter speed, aperture and ISO so all we had to do in the switch over was swap cameras on the tripod. Nothing to overlook in the heat of the moment. 

It's a good way to work. If we were back in leisure times it wouldn't have been a big deal at all to use one camera for both and to take a break between the two parts of the session to make sure the settings were exactly right. But now time seems more critical.

I shot the video in a fairly high light environment and I used the 24-105mm f4.0 lens on the S1 with the V-log upgrade loaded (it offers other capabilities besides V-Log) and I used the face detection mode in the AF settings. The camera and lens locked in like an armadillo on a grub. There isn't a second in five minutes of video where the camera loses focus lock or hunts. 

Later in the afternoon the advertising agency/client got an online gallery with 310 color corrected Jpegs and a WeTransfer.com file transfer of 1.3 GB of 4K video. Now we're just waiting for photo selections. Once I get them I'll retouch the images and drop out the backgrounds to provide Tiff files with layer masks. Everything we shot will eventually go to the web.

Camera news. 

My videographer buddy texted me this afternoon to let me know he was pre-ordering the Sony A7SIII from B&H photo. I was amused. Only a week ago he was all ready to spring for a Canon C300 mk3.
I can't fault his choice (yet) since we haven't seen any reviewers do a deep dive on the Sony camera yet. And he does have a complete selection of the best Sony lenses. But I'm gun shy about Sony cameras right now. There always seems to be an undisclosed weak spot. It will be interesting to see if they've finally delivered a flawless video camera. They have gotten a lot of stuff right this time: starting with the menus...

After using my S1 for today's video I have no current camera lust. There's not much out there I really feel like buying. I'm sure that will change. I'm sure I'll let you know. But I can assure you it won't be a Canon M5 or a Sony A7Smk3. Just not in the mood...

There is one cinema lens I wouldn't mind having but I won't mention it for fear the price will go up before I commit.

Hope you are safe, happy and have decided not to send your e-mail to me that starts out with: "You Should...."





Sliding progressively into the right moment. Prelude to shooting.

Marketing photo for "Immortal Longings", the last produced play of Terrence McNally.
@Zach Theatre.

One of the things that disappoints me about working in this time of having to be conscious about being safe is losing some of the social niceties of photographing people. While we try to be efficient when making "headshots" against a seamless background when time permits I like to take a bit of time to get people into the set, spend some time chatting or having a cup of tea (coffee!) and letting the subject comfortably immerse themself in the environment in which we'll work. 

The current protocol calls for spending less, not more, time engaging with each other. Under this regimen it seems most practical to spend as much time as possible setting up all the lights I'll use for a session and relentlessly testing them with a stand-in (usually me, via self-timer) so that we can maximize our results in a prompt fashion when the talent arrives. 

We're doing a shoot in about thirty minutes and I've gotten the shooting space as well set as I can. I've swept out the space, done the custom white balance, carefully checked exposure and even gotten down on my hands and knees to scrub the shiny, white boards that I use under people's feet when we're shooting against white and dropping out the background. When today's CEO and her creative director walk in we should be able to bow to each other, give a few instructions and then position her on the background and start shooting. 

It wasn't always this way. In the absence of face masking and fear of contagion we would have had the CEO's make-up done here. I would have had time for a coffee with the C.D. and we would have gone over all the things he'd like to get from the shoot once again. He'd add in any new information that might help. 

The talent would spend 15 or 20 minutes being ministered to by a personable and charming make-up professional and I would come by and have a conversation aimed at winnowing out her past experiences as well as the things she likes and dislikes about photo sessions. 

We'd have craft service which, for a morning shoot would consist of muffins, coffee, tea, water, fruit, and little cubes of cheese for people who needed some protein but forgot to eat breakfast at home. Today, not so much. We have bottled water because it can be dispensed with an eye to safety. 

Ah well. This too shall pass. I'm looking forward to our session this morning. It's nice to glide back into a routine that I know well and like even more. 

As so our recent comment-fest: Sorry to unload on you with two different posts but sometimes a bit of negativity goes a long way. I feel like all of us would love to get back to real life but suggesting we substitute one activity with another can be annoying. I may have given someone the impression that I was desperately looking for advice about how to fill my free time but, looking back at recent posts, I sure don't think that was the case. 

Like any of us I despise discrimination in most forms; especially when it is aimed at me. The not so subtle age-ism of the one post was a lively trigger. The implication seemed clear: I'm too old to be taken seriously as a photographer. I had to answer that one or stop blogging altogether. 

Yesterday's last post exhorted me to "get out more." I was stunned. I'm always working, always meeting (either outside for distanced coffee meetings or by the wicked screen meeting tools) and always shooting. The idea that I need to stop what I'm currently doing to go to a small town to photograph a Dairy Queen is laughable. Certainly not on my radar of fun or interesting things for me to photograph. I generally leave the glorification of the cliché and banal to people like Alec Soth. 

The idea of substituting landscapes for portraits just because portrait shooting is less available than last year doesn't make sense to me at all. It's like telling me that since swimming pool time has become less readily available I should take up pole vaulting in earnest. Or, that instead of exercising I should take up a sedentary pastime like playing pool (snooker?). The one is no substitute for the other and trying to press against the emotional inertia and friction would probably cause one's head to combust. 

I appreciate the support of the majority of readers as expressed through the comments. It helps me remember that I am not only writing for the socially impaired but for a larger audience of people who are similar to me. Thanks. 

Now, client arrival imminent. I've got to grab a mask and be ready to greet them. Have a great day.

7.28.2020

Okay. So everyone is concerned that I might be sitting on the couch eating bon-bons. Here's what today looked like. And yes, I did take some photographs.


I was working in the studio when the last comment on yesterday's blog post came in today. I guess I'm not being clear enough about my intention to work at my profession for a while longer. Here's the comment: 
"Dear Kirk -

While you are spinning your wheels you could go over to Archer City and shoot the Dairy Queen, if it's still there. Walter Benjamin and Larry McMurty may appreciate it.

But don't do it on my account. I respect your need to spin wheels. Street photos of Austin must be getting a bit tiresome; you need to get out more."


And, once again, here's my response: 

I woke up before my alarm clock today and headed to the pool for the 6 a.m. swim practice. It was coached by Chris who is a 6 foot 9 inch tall All American swimmer. The workout was difficult because I love to sprint but today Chris rolled out endless sets of 200 yard repeats. That's eight lengths of the pool times however much time we have. Oh, and to make it more interesting we were supposed to descend our times through the sets. That means we had to get faster and faster with each 200. A couple miles before 7 a.m.

I got home and hosed off the chlorine in my back yard. We can't use the showers at the pool right now because....Covid-19. I toweled off, made coffee and eggs with potatoes and bacon. Then I drove to Dripping Springs, Texas to walk fast through the rolling and steep hills for five miles with my friend, Emmett. I took an iPhone with me. I stopped once in awhile to photograph puffy clouds against azure skies...

Then back home to sit down and work on dropping out backgrounds in photographs of lawyers I'd previously photographed on a white background, in the studio. I took a break for lunch around 1 p.m. I had a California Club sandwich from Thundercloud Subs which I ate at my dining room table while returning e-mails from four clients, on my laptop. 

I headed back into the studio to finish my composites and to send layered Tiff files to the ad agency that's handling the lawyer's website and advertising construction. I made a note on my white board to bill them for the time I spent photographing and in post production. 

Next was a check-in phone call with the marketing director of a big radiology practice to make sure she got the files for the five physicians that I retouched and sent over via FTP yesterday. This thing where you call to make sure your client is happy is called: follow up. It's not necessarily a sexy part of the business but it sure helps one keep up to date with clients and to be very responsive is there is anything they would like to change in the product you've delivered. I jotted down our conversation on my daily journal and added a line to the white board reminding me to bill for five different sessions as soon as time permits. 

Around this time my phone let me know there was a text waiting. It was from the marketing team at Zach Theatre. They usually do a fund-raising gala each year that raises a ton of money for programs but this year they are unable to do an actual, in person gala. The text was to confirm that I would be on a conference call tomorrow from noon to one p.m. so we can discuss my participation all through August and early September. We'll be doing a virtual fundraiser that will culminate in a two hour show with lots of programming as well as live content.  At this point it looks like they'll need some pre-recorded video to showcase the live auction, to showcase the pre-professional company actors doing music and dance on stage. They'll need interviews with celebs and "commercials" to get people donating. Think: a combination of a telethon and a series of short movies. There will be video programs with up to 50 people that will need to be shot across three or four cameras. Some of them moving, etc. 

They'll also need hundreds of images of actors, donors, stage sets, etc. I'll find out more in our hour long conference call.

I RSVP'd affirmative and put it on my calendar. That should be good for a couple weeks of hard, complicated work. No bon-bons there... And a lot of the time will be pro bono.

I took a break to get some coffee and came back out to start setting up the studio for two projects I'm doing for an advertising agency tomorrow. But as I was pulling lights out of cases I got a voice mail. I'd bid a large job with an international bio-tech company yesterday. The client and I go all the way back to when NXP was called Motorola. It's a job with lots of moving pieces so I assumed it would take a while for him to get back to me. I returned the call thinking we might need to go over some details; or that his bosses wanted to negotiate down the price I quoted. But no. He was calling to award me the job and ask if I could come by their facility to scout on Thursday or Friday and possibly shoot three days next week. 
This will be a combination of heroic product shots of half million dollar test machines bundled with clinical shots of the machines being operated by scientists. Real scientists. 

I shrugged, smiled to myself and agreed to hold days for him. I pulled out my daily journal and made contemporaneous notes of our conversation so I didn't get any of the information confused. After we agreed on a scouting day and time I hung up with him and texted my favorite assist to lock him in for next week. 

Then it was back to the cleaning cycle/studio reset for tomorrow. We have two tasks to complete. One will be taking full length, then mid-length then classic portraits, all against white, of the CEO of a new tech start-up. She'll have make-up done remotely and I limited the engagement to the CEO, the ad agency creative director and myself. I can handle that safely. Everyone masked until the shots are set. 

After we do the photographs we'll switch over to a video camera (from the S1R to the S1 with V-Log upgrade) and shoot footage of the same CEO both for B-roll, and also doing a classic acting job of being a keynote speaker in front of my white background. 

I spoke earlier today with that company's CFO to get credit card information for direct payment on the day of the shoot. Another piece of the puzzle that has nothing to do with steering cameras and everything to do with running a healthy creative services business. 

I need to make sure the studio is set and ready and the bathroom is clean before I jump in bed tonight because everyone will be here around 9 a.m. and I don't want to miss tomorrow's 6 a.m. swim. 

It's 7:30 p.m. right now and I think I'll take a short break to head in for some dinner. 

But that's what I've been doing this week while "I've been spinning my wheels" and pondering "retirement." 

 How are you doing?


7.27.2020

My response to a comment on my blog. Title and name edited.

Here is a comment from a commentor on our blog:

"A few entres ago, you started to “gear up” to business again. You’ve shown, that you also can handle a G16 and other nice cameras on tourist-like walkabouts to keep fit mentally and physically. Very commendable. And you have, of course, shown historic work in portraiture and from the Zack theatre. But... but... where’s the video business, you also wanted to keep going? Where’s the entries, that show, that you even master video and sound on a “shoestring” - or if you like: “fully geared up one man show”? Where’s that?

In many ways, your recent days, weeks and months remind me of a man, who has retired In reality, but still avoids admitting it to himself.

Acting more or less like a tourist on a walkabout for weeks on end is hardly preparing for the future, is it? Will that enable you to show any of your future corporate clients - theatre, engineering, construction, production and whatnot - that you “still have it”?

Let me provoke (you don’t have to take the following literally, but you’ll get my drift): Why haven’t you “borrowed” a pigs head, put it on a broomstick and mounted it on tripod. Give it a hat, and start experimenting with various kinds portraiture, lighting, angles etc. Use this to create a video story, that edited down tells both portraiture behind the scenes - or call it “Stillleben” for all I know - and via sound and video deliver a story of the hard work involved in pig head portraiture. You could make it funny, real life sounds could involve the curses and hurt, if you trip the tripod holding the head or a Ishtar or... and on and on.

Now you have a product to show potential future newcomers. A product demonstrating your abilities and that you “still have it” in spite of lockdown, COVID-19 and all that follows.

I’d love to see your real and CURRENT creative “product” - not only what comes your Way during your “pensioner rounds” in downtown Austin ;-)"


Here is my response:
Mr. H_____ seems to take me to task here for not moving forward with bold new video material and fresh essays about state-of-the-art assignments for national and international clients. He exhorts me to spend time experimenting with anything and everything at my fingertips. He questions why I've been spinning my wheels and walking around downtown with doddering cameras when I should be studiously and single-mindedly preparing a new portfolio of cutting edge materials aimed at the new legion of clients who will surely be waiting (just off stage) to hire hordes of creative people in twin quests for profitability and overall economic growth.

My hiatus from serious engagement is detrimental, he insists, to being able to show my clients "A product demonstrating your abilities and show that you "still have it" in spite of the lockdown, COVID-19 and all that follows." 

The gist of his comment is that everything in my life is starkly binary: either I am continuously productive and writing about my constant process of creation or.... I have thrown in the proverbial towel, put myself out to pasture and am reduced to shuffling around in my bedroom slippers (which I do not own) waiting on a pension check (which we don't really have anymore in America...) and waiting for my nurse to prepare me the "early bird special" of soft foods and weak juice. In a brief five months I've been reduced from an engaged artist and business owner to an aimless and grizzled husk just marking time with a series of silly old cameras. Even for someone as over-the-hill as me that's a pretty fast slide from productive to defeated. Being a Texan that sounds like my horse died under me, my ten gallon hat blew away in a gale and left me crying in a ditch in the west Texas desert...

So, let me break this down for Kurt and anyone else who may have noticed a "slow down" in the quantity and quality of my work...

It's true that we've been on hiatus from actual face-to-face photography and video work with clients. While I have watched (with dismay) some local, small time shooters skirt the health department rules and keep on working with like minded, individual clients I have taken the pandemic lockdown seriously, as have my clients. While Karen may still want to have her daughter's senior portrait done NOW!!! My clients tend to be larger companies and national corporations, many of whom are still having their employees work from home and have discouraged face-to-face contact across the board.

I'm not eager to spin the roulette wheel and take my chances with a nasty virus just to earn a buck, and happily (and with much gratitude) I don't have to. While many in my country feel a pressing need to return to work to earn money in the moment I have the luxury of not needing to rush in until w've got enough safety valves in place to make work fun, productive and non-life-threatening. I am my own mini-German government subsidizing my own lost income.

But as I related in a post Mr. H_____ mentions, I am working towards re-opening the business, step-by-step, and am proceeding towards that goal with diligence. But...that doesn't necessarily mean that the first and only thing that will make a real business successful is the generation of exciting new material to showcase.

We're a bit more methodical than that. The first step is to reach out and see who is still standing and which companies are planning on success in the future and which are furloughing entire staffs and shutting down operations from a lack of capital and sustainable income.  I want to create a curated client list that reflects where we are and who will be able to go forward with us. Who will be able to continue advertising and who will be able to pay for our services. That takes time, research and networking.

The next step is to reach out to those clients in the "going forward" category and re-establish or newly create our relationships with them as a trusted vendor. This requires the creation of marketing messaging and materials, which we have been doing in concert with a favorite graphic designer and with the consultation of several advertising professionals. These are time consuming activities but I think they are crucial to the marketing/ongoing branding of a creative services firm.

In the interim several of our clients have reached out to me to discuss near future projects. One is a multi-national biotech company that recently acquired a smaller company which makes state of the art testing tools. Today, after I write this, I will put the finishing touches on a project proposal and estimate that, if accepted, will require pre-production days, three shooting days and multiple days of post production. Another is a national medical services specialty practice which has affirmatively engaged me for several projects in the early Fall.

We are now currently providing portraits for a regional medical practice and will have produced portraits for five different physicians who are joining their practice this month.

On a more local scale I have been retained to photograph and create video product for a law firm here in Austin. The photographs are environmental portraits of partners and associates while the multiple video products are interviews and former client testimonials.

Most of these kinds of projects come with restrictions and embargoes on sharing publicly. I would love to show you the portrait of a physician I made last week because it was fabulous but the firm gets to use it first. That's part of being a business instead of just a dizzy artist.  

In Mr. H_____'s comment is the idea that clients want to, and must see, absolutely new work on a continual basis in order for me to win their current favor and secure future jobs and so I should abandon all work older than, say: three months, and supply a relentless pipeline of dazzling new work that shows I haven't lost my capability to actually do work between doses of stool softener or Metamucil™.  

I find that charmingly naive. Clients who work in fields other than tweener music, bargain fashion and social media have much more important considerations when it comes to hiring freelance creative resources than whether or not they fired up a video camera and made a selfie video for Tik-Tok last week. These considerations include mundane things like whether or not the person or firm in question carries enough liability insurance and whether they have the experience to provide effective producing skills = getting stuff organized. Getting scripts done. Financing a production. A history of delivering solid product. An ability to work with management teams and marcom teams and, even the ability to endure a major financial crisis and still have the tools and resources at hand to do the work during the recovery.

It may seem trivial but some of the financial considerations on the client side are real deal killers. If you, the photographer, were financially devastated by the lockdown and had to liquidate your working tools for cash you'll have issues getting the work done. If you don't have a financial reserve for production you can't very well accept projects that pay in 60 to 90 days. If you can no longer afford office and studio space then you might not really still be in business no matter how creative yesterday's test Instagram movie was.  And without liability insurance of two or three millions dollars you may not even be allowed on a potential client's property.

So, in the past five months I've tried to set the stage for a recovery in the business and have successfully engaged or re-engaged with a number of ongoing clients. I've worked on new marketing (which I almost never share on the blog) and I've done assignments in situations where the clients and I agreed felt "safe."

But beyond all this I wonder where in the fuck people get off telling me I'm not entitled to have a bit of time off as well. I lost both of my parents in the last three years and spent lots of high stress time caring for each of them. Then I spent time right up until this month settling their estates and being the administrator for my siblings and nieces and nephews. Sure, I would rather have spent the time on the beach proving I can still film scantily clad models and drinking frozen daiquiris but I wouldn't be proud of myself for dropping the responsibility ball. (Oh the joy of working with multiple accountants for estate tax preparation in the middle of a public health crisis. So fun. So creative!)

So, while I'm juggling clients with privacy concerns, bereft of my favorite theatre client (for the rest of this year) which was a fun and regular source of material I liked using in the blog, as well as being a great test bed for new equipment and sharable videos, I am taken to task for enjoying some walks around town with a series of camera and then, for free, writing about the cameras and my experiences with them. Seems like a bit of a slap in the face to me.

I have a tendency to compartmentalize parts of my life. I rarely talk about finances and investing. I spend a tiny percentage of time writing about swimming (a true and sustaining joy in my life). I try mostly to protect my family's privacy. I rarely discuss politics. With that said it seems beyond presumptuous to assume that I am not currently working on projects that leverage my knowledge of photography and film.

Some projects are long term. Some don't come together the way we'd like and end up getting shit-canned. And some we don't share on the blog because I don't think there is an audience for long form video that exceeds 90 seconds. At least that's what the perennial feedback indicates.

I'm sorry. As a reader you don't get a license to inspect and approve or disapprove of everything I do in my daily life. You don't get to dictate content. You don't get to publicly shame me as a pensioner hung out to dry. Or a person who is retired but unable or unwilling to admit that to myself. Sorry, you just don't.

If you know where to buy a pig's head then you are a few steps ahead of me. If you want to buy one and regale us with its creative awesomeness then please do so.

My plan is to re-engage with business safely and, from a marketing point of view, effectively. I'll stay in the business until such a time as clients no longer return calls and write purchase orders. At that point I'll volunteer to do photography and video for the Theatre exclusively. I'll stop swimming when I float to the bottom of the pool having breathed my last breath. And I'll stop writing the blog as soon as I get a few more comments with recommendations for how I should live my life and how I should function, day-to-day, as an artist.

I'd like to write more but right now I think I'll take a walk through downtown with an ancient and shitworthy camera and see what it might be like to be a worn and cast aside "pensioner" with nothing better to do than bother random, bored strangers with his images of life. Now, where did I put my cane, my trifocals and my shuffling shoes?

Just thought we needed to have this "talk."



note added: Let's take the vitriol in the comments down a few notches. Mr. H_____ is a long time reader and consistent commenter and it's my belief that he meant his comment in good faith. We don't need to be too quick to divide and conquer here. Just wanted to be emphatic about the idea that we welcome well intentioned comments from our regulars but we are also emphatic that they may get the "push back" delivered above. 

In his defense, I wish I had the opportunities right now to photograph like those that used to be part of normal life. We're all a bit frustrated. Let's not make it worse.



7.26.2020

I love playing a guessing game. "Which camera and lens did I use to photograph these?" I usually lose. I presume most were made with stellar cameras.

From a Zach Theatre Production of "Harvey." 

I find I'm as susceptible to group think as everyone else. When I look at older photographs that I've shot; especially the ones that are technically very good, I presume I made them with some sort of full frame, 40+ megapixel camera and a lens lovingly crafted by German elves. Then I imagine that I was working in some sort of optimum envelope at the time which would allow me a rock bottom, low ISO and the fastest shutter speeds I could ever want.

Well....

I found myself putting together a collection of images that span 15 years of documenting performances at the theater. I pulled images based on what I liked instead of picking "most popular" shows or some other metric. And I kept coming across images that were both technically quite good and also captured at just the right moment. While I have used all manner of modern full frame cameras from Canon, Nikon, Sony and now Panasonic the images I most admired and wished I could take consistently came from the oddest assortment of cameras which were not even considered "state of the art" at the time of purchase. 

Some of the front runners have been (surprising me to no end...): The Panasonic GH4, GH5 and G85. The Olympus OMD EM-5 (both I and II), The Panasonic FZ2500, The Sony RX10-2, and several ancient, pre-mirrorless Sonys. There is even one long shot that I did of the kid with the Red Rider BB gun in "A Christmas Story" with an ancient PenFT 150mm f4.0 lens adapted to a Panasonic GH3. Sharp and nice even though it was shot under trying conditions and with no I.S. anywhere!

The images I've included here are all from a Zach Theatre play called, "Harvey." I presumed I'd done them with a Sony a99 or one of the Nikon D800s, along with a $2,000 70-200mm f2.8 but that was NOT the case. All the images I've included here were done with an inexpensive Sony SLT A58 camera. It's a camera that was introduced in 2012 and more widely available in 2013. It featured a "new" 20 megapixel APS-C sensor, a semi transparent, stationary mirror and a pop-up flash. I used it NOT with a prestige lens but with a very consumer oriented 50-200mm f4.0-5.6 zoom lens. I think its one nod to high performance was a metal lens mount on an all plastic barrel. The amazing thing is that all of these images are straight from the camera Jpegs which have not been kissed by post production. And all of them were shot at or near the longest focal length on the zoom lens and as close to wide open as I dared at the time. 

If you're reading on your phone the quality context of the images will be lost. But if you are looking on your desktop click on them and see them enlarged in a bigger window. A really great performance for a camera of its price and era. But no more visually substantial that photographs from similar cameras through the years.  Kinda proves the concept that being at the right place at the right time with the right training is the most important combination.



Every so often I mark a milestone for the blog. Yesterday I wrote and made available the 4600th published blog post to VSL. I guess I am more disciplined than I imagined...


I estimate that I write an average of 2,200 words per blog post. Some are much longer and a few are compassionately brief. If you take the 2,200 words and multiply by 4,600 posts this would mean that I've pounded through ten million, one hundred and twenty thousand or so words in the past 11 years. Hell, I could have written a book... (oh wait! I did write six books during that time span...).

By now you should know that I am occasionally given to hyperbole and that I love to use ellipses (because no thought is really ever fully baked and ready to be permanently archived). In the last eleven years I've gone through four laptop computers and three desktop computers. On my last desktop I had to replace the keyboard at the system's half life because I'd worn the paint off the letters. Whether that speaks to my discipline for work or the fact that the keyboard was repeatedly and accidentally doused with coffee is largely immaterial. 

Over the time in question I've accrued fewer and fewer readers but the ones who are here have gotten smarter and more pleasant. I've long since given up expecting to monetize the site which leads to many, many people asking me why I persist. I have to say that I think it's a mix of stubbornness and a desire (somewhat universal, I believe) to share the ongoing story of my life, and my thoughts about how a middle class person in the United States has muddled through a life spent in the commercial arts for the past several decades. Parenting, traveling, marketing, eking out time for my own work and my own visual pleasures.

What have I learned? Not much. That being in good physical shape is good for the brain. That daily practice of writing makes for much faster and much more efficient writing (I spend about 45 minutes a day on posts). That general camera buyers are poorly educated and led by the nose by camera manufacturers who've trained legions of amateurs to think the camera is more important than the process or the vision or the affinity/attraction to specific subjects. That love for the cameras as objects is the overwhelming motivation for most people's avowed interest in photography. And that most people, when pressed can't name 20 great photographers whose work they love right now. Even fewer understand or care about the history of the previous century of photography and photographers. People in general are not very curious about things outside their specific area of vocational training. Technical nearly always trumps Art, for them.

This used to make me sad. Now it makes me understand how lucky I have been. How rich the supporting fabric for my own career has been. 

I've developed a thicker skin for the majority of visitors who wish I would just tell them if this sensor/lens/camera or process is the best and plainly call for me to edit my words much tighter. They want the bullet points and don't want to hear "a story." To most readers all that matters are the facts and the potential prestige that might come from the ownership of this or that. But to me the words are the most important part of the whole structure because they (and the eyes of my portrait subjects) are the only thing I really care about in each post. The images are just gift wrapping here. Bows and decorative tissue. 

On one hand keeping up a blog is work. But work born of passion is easy and happy work. On the other hand I know it will come to an end in one way or another. But not today.  Nope, not today. 

I believe the architect who designed this building got so much just right.
Why else have I returned for nearly two decades to photograph it in every
way I can?

The reflections have featured Leicas, Nikons, Canons, Olympus and Panasonic cameras,
Hasselblads and a bevy of point and shoot cameras. To me it's a reminder that 
I am the consistent part of the equation. All the other stuff is interchangeable. 
I can't make photographs without...me. 

Love the sign but unfortunately not a big fan of fried chicken. 
It's the message that's important, not the chicken.

A portrait done in the early evening on medium format color negative film. Not quite the dynamic range I remembered.



I photographed Kara for a book cover. The publisher had other ideas and, since they "own" the cover, we went in that direction. But I like to look back at some of the shoots I did around creating "candidates" for the book covers to see what I was thinking in the moment.

The first thing I thought about when pulling this shot back up was that it is surprising that I was still using medium format film in 2009. I had almost forgotten that I kept a drawer full of black and white and color negative film right up until 2012. I'm not sure what emulsion this particular film was but I'm amused to find that my own color correction in the scan from the file is so far off. Kara's flesh tones have way to much red and magenta in them. I'm also chastened by the much lower dynamic range than I now easily get from native (non-scanned) digital files. I don't have a densitometer but I'd guess that this image has about 65% of the range I would currently expect to get from a digital file from one of my front line cameras.

Also of note is that my dining room (in the background) has changed so little in the course of a decade. I'm pleased to see that I got a fair balance of exterior light playing across the floor in the background, good exposure in the lawn outside and a nice progression toward Kara. She doesn't appear to be "comped in" to the shot but seems to be an integral part of the scene even though she is brighter than her immediate surroundings.

The one aspect that I am happiest with in this shot is the (to me) perfect expression on Kara's face. That easily transcends any of the gaffs I made when constructing the nuts and bolts of the portrait.

It was taken with simple tools. A Hasselblad 500CM and an 80mm lens. That, and a small flash with a medium sized umbrella. The take from the session was done with about 24 exposures; not the hundreds and hundreds of frames I might shoot with digital today....

Hope your Sunday is refreshing and pleasant. Today is my day to retouch a newer portrait...


7.25.2020

Random stuff that I shot while playing with my small camera. I love the flexibility of it. The Canon G16. If you find a mint condition one for $250 or less.....

If you are living life well there is always a "Fall Risk." 
The passion is in the risk. Still, it's odd to come across such a literal reminder. 

 Birds. Version one. Getting close. 
Birds. Version two. Medium shot. 

Birds. Version Three. The establishing shot. 

The Tiniest Bar in Texas. Just across the street from the Whole Foods H.Q.
(Killer prices right now on Prime Rib Eye Steaks. I know what I'm' cooking up 
on my turn this Wednesday...). 

Yes. At times stuff just floats in front of me. 

Bridge. Version one. Establishing shot.

Bridge. Version Two. Medium close up shot. 

Near the bridge. Version three. Detail B-roll. 



there's a building frenzy going on downtown. 
Usually happens just before the "big bust."