It was somber and rainy yesterday. What a perfect time to go outside (yes, yes, taking all precautions and obeying all the rules!!!) to photograph with a nearly forgotten 20mm f1.4.

Lady Bird Lake at Twilight. Austin, Texas.

The whole of yesterday was boxed in by rain and mist. I drove to Dripping Springs with the wipers beating time to NPR and fresh coffee in the cup holder. I walked with my friend in a friendly, peppery rain shower, along with his kind dog who was just thrilled to be invited along. When I got back to Austin it was still raining and gray (although looking out the window just now is like watching a sunny scene from a Disney cartoon) and by the end of the "work" day I was ready to get out again; stretch my legs; play with a whimsical camera and lens. 

Sometimes I feel that certain lenses are like neglected children. The bright and vivacious ones get all the attention while the ones that are hard to handle get the perfunctory nod and just enough support and affection to keep them well. The 20mm focal length is perennially one of my "neglected children" mostly because I don't know how to handle it well. It seems like such a specialty focal length in the scheme of lenses. 

Last year when I was buying into the Lumix S1 system I greedily bought all my favorite lenses. I'm so well stocked for medium and short telephoto lenses. My zooms range from 24mm up. But...I remember a fair number of times over my career as an image maker for profit when I needed a little bit wider lens to get impromptu interiors or dynamic wide shots. Or those times when I just could not back up one more step without accidentally trashing someone's million dollar lab, or plunging off the edge of a high roof. I seem to have always grudgingly included a 20 or 21mm focal length lens in my bag and more often than not it's the lens that actually pays off the quickest....at least in terms of expanding opportunities. 

So when it came time to commit to the new system I picked up an interesting 20mm; it's the Sigma 20mm Art Lens and the crazy thing about it is the f1.4 max aperture. Every 20mm I've owned from other makers thus far has been limited to f2.8 or even f4.0. The trade off, of course, is that the Sigma Art 20mm is enormous and heavy. I guess you just can't have it both ways. 

I bought the 20mm lens assuming it would only come along with me on commercial assignments and would not be a frequent companion on long walks on hot and dusty trails or in soggy, chilly weather. All business and no self indulgent artwork. So in a fit of contrarianism that's exactly the lens I reached for yesterday. A big, fat, heavy lens with no promise of weather proofing or water resistance. The perfect choice for a mindful walk in the early evening rain...

A different angle, five minutes later. 

In defense of my battered intellect the rain had stopped when I left my office. But by the time I reached the psychological point of no turning back it started up again with a mix of big, random, splashy drops and a non-stop, near mist of smaller, more consistent droplets. 

I parked by the Theatre and started walking towards downtown. The rain was like a musical piece that ebbed and flowed. Now harder, now softer, now a break altogether and then back again. I had the lens attached to an S1 and I didn't have much fear for the S1 but I was a bit nervous about water+lens. I took off my faded and battered black baseball cap and used it to cover the whole assemblage from the rain, pulling up the hood on my rain jacket to pick up the slack. The cap did a good job diffusing the water into the fabric and creating a barrier from the more aggressive rain.

Downtown was barren and still. Nearly bereft of humanity except for a tiny fleet of cars waiting to pick up and deliver to-go orders from restaurants. These would be the drivers for Favor and Door Dash who are trying to make ends meet as the mobile intersections between customers and what remains of the restaurant industry...

Nothing to see in the grid of tall buildings and empty sidewalks...

But the lake trail seemed ready to collaborate. I kept seeing little scenes that seemed almost custom made for wide angle capture. Lots of leading diagonal lines, odd colors in the sky and a few near/far combinations that seemed almost natural. 

When I bought the lens I had the idea that the fast, 1.4 aperture was just there as an exercise in one-upmanship by Sigma. Not really usable and probably soft and blurry, especially in the corners. But that's not at all the case; in fact most of the images I shot were done at f1.4, 1.6 and f2.0. Every once in a while I'd want more in focus and I'd revert to previous wide lens experiences and stop down to f5.6 or even f8.0.  But when I started looking at the images I'd shot while I was post processing I was impressed at just how sharp and contrasty the lens was at f1.4. 

The Sigma 20mm Art is not perfect. You can see that if you are shooting in Raw and processing in Lightroom. The lens profile isn't automatically selected in that case; it's up to the user to enable it in the software. And because of this you can see just how much distortion and vignetting is going on "under the hood." 

But once you click on the profile everything tightens up and brightens up. 

And that brings up an interesting (to me) topic: Just how perfect do I want my lens to be?

While I was shooting part of the allure in what I was seeing was exactly the wonderful corner and edge vignetting and distortions which seems to add some excitement and drama to a lot of the images. Clicking on the "perfecting" button felt like I was taking some of what caught my eye in the moment of  taking out of the picture. The rush to perfection somewhat crippling the wonder I saw in the moment. So I stopped automatically clicking the lens profile button each time I started working with a file. I like most the images better that way. Completely raw, raw.

If I was shooting interior architecture for a client I'd be exhilarated at just how well the profile corrections work but, for myself, I'm just not so interested in a "perfect image." YNMV (your neuroticism might vary). 

In the end I felt like I got some images over the space of my hour and a half of walking around (very few other people were out on the trail in the rain ---- a sighting every ten minutes or so) and I'm actually surprised at how much I enjoyed using the 20mm focal length. I may even do it again. But not today. That would be too soon...

Lamar Boulevard Bridge. Austin, Texas. 
 Trailing edge of twilight.

Multiple arching.

This image, and the one below it, is part of a memorial to homeless 
people who have passed away in Austin. It's adjacent to the First St. Bridge and
the south side of the Hike and Bike trail. 

How many years I've run this bridge in blazing heat and freezing cold...
Today it was just cool and mellow. And wet.

Unfulfilled promises in the frosted windows at Lambert's Restaurant in Downtown.
It looks like they tried the "to-go" strategy for a while and then ultimately 
gave up and closed the doors for now...

But damn. Why did they have to advertise pie? It would have been just right, in that moment...

This is where my path on the trail ends. It's just north 
of the Zach Theatre complex. It's sad to walk by the dark and empty 
buildings. "This too shall pass" they say. I hope it's soon 
enough that we don't lose the potential of a generation...

20mm. Not just for work anymore....


Monday morning adventures. How to mess up your car with coffee...

It's not sunny here. But I like Pikachu and I put him at the top of the blog to 
spark oceans of sunny joy for my readers....

So, I have a friend who is a restaurant owner and because of the current crisis he and his wife/business partner decided early on to close down the business temporarily. Financially they'll be fine but he's such an extrovert that the "social distancing" was getting to be a burden for him. We texted each other and he invited me to come out to his place and do a long walk. I'm a tiny bit of an extrovert as well so I jumped at the chance to change the scenery...

I made a mediocre cup of coffee at home, along with some pancakes, then tossed a camera and my phone into my car and headed out. As I drove up our street, my senses still stinging from having to endure such a below average cup of coffee, I remembered that our neighborhood coffee shop was still making coffee to go. I pointed the Formula One worthy Subaru Forester Race Car in the right direction and 30 seconds later I was at the front door. I bought a medium coffee to go and, in an ongoing attempt to support Trianon Coffee's business, I also bought a pound of Organic, natural Ethiopian coffee beans. 

I opened the passenger side door of my ultra high performance vehicle so I could put the coffee beans on the seat. A seat already crowded with a Sigma fp camera, an iPhone, a small notebook and pen, a rain jacket and two Bob Dylan CDs ("Blood on the Tracks" and "Highway 61, Revisited"). I was in the process of leaning in over the seat to put my beverage in the center holder when I gripped the top of the cup too hard, the top started to come off, and fresh hot coffee gushed out over the resident contents of the seat. 

Grrrr. Sigh. I had a swim towel with me and started mopping stuff off. It was raining so I put the Sigma fp on the hood of the car to let the mist and gentle drops clean off the coffee. I sprayed off the iPhone with some alcohol. Luckily, most of the liquid was caught up by the rain coat. 

The owner of the coffee shop must have seen my minor catastrophe because he came out and handed me a second cup of coffee (which I did not spill...). After a bit of a wipe down I headed the exhilarating and svelte Subaru toward Dripping Springs, Texas. 

I met up with my friend at his ranch/house and we suited up in rain jackets; his pristine, mine painted with fresh coffee, diluted with half and half, and headed out into a mild misting rain. During our hour walk my rain jacket got cleansed and my attitude improved mightily. But on my way back home I discovered an as yet, sinister further downside to the crisis: With all the places closed to customer traffic there are no places with available restrooms. So, you've got a 64 year old guy with three big cups of coffee sloshing around inside and no place to pee. Actually, that would make for a really funny short film---if it wasn't starring me. 

I made it back home with seconds to spare. Could have been tragic. I can deal with spilled coffee....
Ah, the indignities of progressively becoming more "mature." 

I've swabbed down the Sigma fp now and hit the passenger seat in the highly competitive Forester so everything is back to normal in my little, secluded chunk of the universe. 

By the way, "Blood on the Tracks" is the best of all Bob Dylan's work. If you've never taken time to listen to it now might be a great time to become a renewed fan. Nobel Prize. Just sayin. 


The second in a series of seriously over-processed images. Intentional?

How do you know where the boundaries of good taste are if you never push against them?

I think back over the course of my dalliances with photography and have come to realize that pushing into total failure was a remarkably good way to learn.

Homage to an anonymous MFA candidate. Limited edition.

Deliberation concerning dictum mesh dimensionality. 

Deliberation concerning the negative energy of mis-focused reality
and its relation to hermeneutical inquiry in optical praxis. 

For my next trick: Alec Soth. Debate.

Just what would you consider "over the top" post processing? A candidate...

I shot this photo on a walk through downtown a couple of weeks ago. I had just downloaded and started using Luminar, a fun and easy to learn image processing application. The original photograph was no great shakes. While there was sun the sky was bald and cloudless and everything was a bit drab. I pushed some buttons and yanked some sliders and it got better. But where the seatbelts came off and things went over the edge is where I started playing with the sky replacement feature.

This is the part of the program that will take you right over the edge into kitsch territory. Yes! "Dramatic Sky." And then you can use the A.I. Sky hyperzang filter to add in stuff to your sky such as: The Aurora Borealis, a mountain range, a flight of birds, or, in this case, your own eagle.

Yes, the program encourages one to go right over the top but in defense of the apps designers I have to say that you can populate the sky gallery or the hyperzang ultra-chromatic exteringnator filter (not the official name...) with your own images and they can be as subtle and calm as you want them to be.

I think software makers of products like Luminar 4.0 and Portrait Professional 37 include over the top stuff to get you to play with their applications and see how they work. You can also use things like Sky Replacement in conjunction with layers and masks in order to tone down effects and have more control.

It's fun to play around with this stuff and I can see commercial applications galore. Everyone wants a beautiful sky behind their building or their factory. It's just human nature. Not much call for low contrast, gray, rainy day filters...eh?

Looking for silver linings. Found two that qualify in my office closet. I thought I'd need them when I put them there 22 years ago....

Here, wait, let me focus this thing......

That's better. Can somebody hit the lights?

Does any one here remember slide film? Kodachrome? Ektachrome? Fujichrome? Agfachrome? Those little one by one and a half inch squares were all the rage until digital stuff showed up. We shot slide film and sent it to clients. They had it scanned on drum scanners. They made the images into magazine ads and brochures. It was all so lovely. 

But the most fun thing to do with slides was to put them in a slide tray, turn down the room lights, and project them through fantastic optics onto a nice, white screen. Slides were really cool. At ASMP meetings sometimes we'd have everyone pick their ten favorite slides and bring them to a meeting. We'd sit around eating chips and hot sauce, washed down with a beer or two, and watch a slide show of everyone's favorite/show off stuff. 

And forget digital projectors, when you tossed 300 watts of light through a Leica projector lens the dynamic range of slides looked amazing. And slides themselves were amazing. They weren't waiting around for added color science, they were color science

In the early days of my career in photography we used lots of different Kodak Carrousel projectors and lookalike knock-offs of Kodak projectors. They worked just fine most of the time but they were not perfect. Most of the lenses that came with the everyday machines weren't stellar and you could see it mostly on the edges of the projections. But most people had never seen better so we accepted a bit of slop here and there. 

One day I sat through a pleasant slide show that seemed crisper, snappier,  had more detail and more color richness. At the end of the show I walked back to the rear of the lecture hall and looked at the slide projector. It was a Leitz Pradovit CA 2500. And, just like Wayne Campbell in the movie, "Wayne's World" I found myself saying, "One day it will be mine. Oh yes, it will be mine."

The first Leica projector I bought was a half measure. They made a consumer model called the Pradovit P150 which had a lower output, an overall smaller size and came with a less pricey lens; a Hector 85mm f2.8 P2 which was made by Leica in Germany. The P150 was/is great and worked well. But I still remembered its bigger brother. 

Somewhere in the early 1990s, when I felt secured in my career, and bills were getting paid on a regular basis, my local drug camera dealer offered me a deal on a demo Pradovit CA 2500 machine. I couldn't get my credit card out fast enough. For the next handful of years we used that projector for so much stuff. I'd drag it to client presentations, have photographer friends over for group slide shows in the living room and generally made slides the focus of imaging around the house. 

Then we moved into our new house and my new office. The projectors got stacked in the office closet and forgotten. We invested in lots of short-lived digital crap. We shared images on computer screens (and they routinely looked like garbage compared to slide projection --- until better monitors and higher res camera options came to market in the last few years) and by 2002 had given up shooting slide film entirely. We still shot medium format transparencies, and Hasselblad made amazing projectors for that film size, but the writing was on the wall and we knew that tossing the cost of a small car at a slide projector for MF would be a waste of money. By 2005 our lives were in a rush and slides were just a memory that still lived a few feet from my desk in a filing cabinet. But no more slide shows. No more gatherings to see sparkling images in dark rooms, surrounded by friends and family, and.... sniff... no popcorn.

Today Belinda and I walked around the neighborhood, hit the big hills, and she talked me off my anxiety ledge about the present economy and the pandemic. She reminded me of the promise I'd made to myself after I spent half a year cleaning out my parent's massively cluttered house: "I'll start clearing out all the stuff I don't need or use as soon as I get back home!" What better time to dig in and delayer the clutter than right now when we are more or less constrained from doing much else?

As I cleaned out stuff from the closet (do I really need tax return documentation from 1987?) I came across not one, but two Leica or Leitz slide projectors. I've cleaned them up and now I'm thinking about having a "one tray" slide show. Just for nostalgia's sake. 

Does anyone still use slide projectors? Would anyone have a use for one of these? Do you still project old work? Do your family and friends tolerate slide shows well? Just curious....

Another thought I had was about the Leitz 90mm f2.5 Colorplan CF lens on the professional machine. I wonder if I could adapt it to an L-mount camera? I assume it would be as sharp as a pin and would make a great portrait lens. Has any one had experiences with that kind of conversion?

The CA 2500 weighs a ton, it's built out of Leitz metal so it's well nigh indestructible. There are all kinds of sockets on the back for syncing with sound and doing multi-projector slide shows. It's just amazing. And it's quiet too. I wonder if you could actually make darkroom prints with one.....hmmmm. 

I also just remember that we used to use them as hard edged spot lights in the studio. Ah, this is becoming an instantly expanding universe for me...

Feedback? maybe I'm just wasting my time...


Posted just to make my eyes happy.

What do you do when your camera is too small and your lens is too big.

Chihuahua mates with Great Dane.

Yes. I was going to use the Sigma fp camera to shoot some video this evening and I decided to use the Sigma 85mm f1.4 Art lens as the primary lens. But after a few seconds of trying to put the Sigma fp directly onto a video tripod with that giant, honking lens sticking out front I realized that we had a crazy mismatch. The lens must be five or six times heavier than the camera body and even if the lens mount can stand the strain the whole assemblage felt so out of balance it make me laugh.

I grabbed some cage kit "tinker toys" and got to work. I've got a set of 15mm rails mounted directly to the tripod and then the camera is mounted to a plate on top of those rails. The lens is supported by a little device that also fits on the rails (to the front). Its sole task is to prevent the dreaded lens droop.

I have the lens support further back in this example so the front ring on the lens, which is the manual focusing ring, is unencumbered. That's a mandatory thing because I'll be focusing manually.

Once I finish the set-up I'll have a monitor up on the top bar and an SSD drive hanging close to the side of the camera. It's a nutty set-up but I think it's better than letting an unsupported multi-pound lens hang way off the center of gravity. Talk about front heavy...

I have extra time to figure this stuff out in advance now. Moving at a leisurely pace and already dreading the editing on the back end.

Consider this your dose of "Rube Goldberg" engineering for the moment.

A long overlooked, but delightful, small camera got some attention today and got out for some fresh air. Here's what my Panasonic gX85 saw today.

Of all the cameras I've owned over the years I've got to say that some of the smaller (m4:3) models have been among my favorites; at least where digital cameras are concerned. I've been shooting with the full size Lumix S1 cameras for a while now and I feel the weight of the combined body and lenses when I go out for just a casual walk. As an alternative to always having a full size camera along I bought myself a very small and very "on sale" camera just before the holidays last year. 

It's not a brand new model and it "only" has a 16 megapixel sensor but I think it does a fine job making photographs. And it's nicely size-matched to the two lenses that came in the kit. I parted with a bit less than $450 for the camera body, the 12-35mm, collapsible kit lens and also the 45-150mm zoom lens. 

All three of the products are small, light and very good performers for the money. Obviously, the small sensor camera, coupled with smaller aperture lenses, is not going to be the ultimate low light camera but I rarely go out for long walks in low light so maybe it's a better match than you might think. For an "only" camera system it may not have all the bases covered but I am fortunate that it's only one of the tools in the box for me. 

I haven't played with this little system as much as I should have but I'm out to remedy that. The menus are similar enough to the S1 and the (sadly missed) G9 cameras from Panasonic so there isn't that discordant hesitation that comes from crossing over from one brand of camera to another in day to day work. 

When I left the house it was still raining this morning and even though it wasn't coming down hard I took along a rain jacket with a hood for me and a small, plastic bag (as a rain cover) for the camera. 

I parked in the now totally empty parking lot at Zach Theatre since the complex is adjacent to the lake and the trails. I pulled up my hood, retied by old Ahnu walking shoes and headed over to the trail. The rain dusted my camera from time to time but I kept a well worn and washed-a-thousand-times handkerchief and wiped off the drops from time to time. I kept the plastic bag in reserve for more dramatic downpours. 

I brought only the wide to short normal kit lens (12-32mm = 24mm to 64mm on an FF sensor) and was happy with my choice. My brain seems to just adapt to whatever I end up bringing along and I rarely have much remorse about not having X or Z lens along with me. You just start looking for things that fit the lens parameters and start ignoring the stuff that might have required a longer lens...

I've been noticing that on recent walks I've done with a camera I was so intent on replacing the lost exercise of swimming that I was trying to walk as briskly as I could and ended up with one or no photographs as a result. I also noticed that the faster I walk the less I look up and the less frequently I look side to side. I guess I'm so intent on keeping a faster pace that I tunnel in and start ignoring things outside my primary peripheral vision. Today I gave myself conscious permission to take it a bit easier and to pay more attention to the visual rewards along the way. 

There may also have been some teething about how to walk in a time of pandemic that influenced my paucity of images from previous walks. I was being more careful about spacing around people which meant I was paying much more attention to boundaries and anticipating moving around people in a judicious way as I passed them. I was also factoring in people coming from behind on bicycles who would be passing me as well. I can normally hear the wheels as they crunch over the cinder trail but since I was giving more space around people in front of me I needed to plan earlier and take the bike riders into consideration further in advance. 

Today I stayed as far to the right of the trail as possible since I wanted to pull off to the edge of the trail more often to make photographs. 

The GX85 is a small, unthreatening and anonymous-looking camera. It's the quintessential point-and-shoot camera of the digital age; except that it does take interchangeable lenses. Compared to the denser and bigger S1 cameras, and even the small but densely packed Sigma fp, the GX85 seemed almost weightless. Even with the 12-32mm collapsible lens extended for business the whole package is smaller in one profile than my phone! If this thing hurts your shoulder it may be time to find a willing sherpa for your walks. 

I put the camera on P for program and trusted it, for the most part, to suss out a decent exposure. From time to time I'd nudge it into a darker exposure compensation but then again, I was shooting in raw and knew I'd be better off protecting the highlights with a little underexposure and then lifting shadows in post processing. 

I used center focus, S-AF and was never let down by the system. The deeper depth of field is interesting and somewhat happily compelling after flirting for months with the extremely shallow depth of field offered by the bigger format cameras and the faster lenses I have for them. 

Another benefit of the camera is its very good dual image stabilization. It just works. I feel like a walking tripod sometimes. 

The sun started to peek out just as I finished up mile five of the walk so I trudged back to my car and headed home for lunch. 

Belinda and I can never finish a large pizza from our favorite pizza shop; we always eat what we want and toss the rest into the freezer. Now that there's no business or cash flowing in we've found a treasure trove; literally pounds and pounds, of frozen pizza already on hand. Today, in our ongoing attempt at frugality and cash management, we had a nice lunch of oven-revived pizza. We each got to select our own, personal favorite slices. I had two. One was spinach, mushroom and feta cheese while the other was a blend of vegetables like spinach, green peppers, red peppers, mushrooms and diced tomatoes. 

Regardless of the virus or the financial ruin we're enduring I feel duty bound to have a camera by my side. But in an age (hopefully very temporary) of diminishing expectations it's sometimes nice to have that camera be small and light.  My one day review? The GX85 was a good buy and a nice take-anywhere camera. Not quite state of the art but very much capable of making great images with relative ease. If you can find the set for around $450 new, it's pretty compelling --- unless you already have a camera you are happy with....

Here are some images from this morning with lots of experimental post processing. What are you walking around with this week?

Spring has been so wet and mild that the H&B trail feels like a jungle.

Can't make up my mind but I think I like the color version best....

Social distancing and a small group of cross country runners in the distance. 

Got a text from an old friend who is a bit depressed about the state of the world and 
also his isolation from it. He lives about a half an hour west of Austin. 
We're meeting at his place to re-invent social coffee. 

I'll park at the end of his driveway and bring a lawn chair. 

He can bring a lawn chair from his back yard and we'll sit about seven or eight feet 
apart to drink coffee (I'll bring my own so we don't get into the weeds 
about cup logistics and washing....) and try to solve the problems of modern times. 

Be there for people so they can be there for you. 

What works for a mostly suburban, mid-sized city is probably not going to work in a city of ten million people. We still get to go outside. Officially.

South shore of the hike and bike trails that runs around our downtown river.

Staying inside all the time sucks. Kids hate it. People interested in fitness hate it. Maybe the only people that are enjoying this self-isolation are highly addicted, online video gamers... We're all staying out of shops, restaurants and bars because we're nervous about everyone else and, well, because almost everything is closed.  Besides, we're mostly all freaked out about not having enough money to last long enough; better not to spend big chunks of what remains on stuff we don't really need.

But since we small city people mostly don't live in high rises that force us into small elevators and cramped stairwells, and since there are far fewer of us per square feet in small to medium sized, spread-out cities, we do get to go outside and get exercise. Sanctioned by local health authorities and supervised by our friendly police force.  I'm bummed because all the pools are closed but I'm very happy that we're still able to make good use of the hike and bike trails. As long as everyone follows the rules and uses good judgement... 

To make sure we get the message(s) the Trail Foundation of Austin has been putting signs all around the trail and it's hard to miss them. They aren't strident or preachy but they do get the important messages across.

The signs are everywhere and, in case some people are too lazy to read them there is plenty of group "encouragement" to get the message across. Veteran trail runners are quick to ask people to "stay in their lanes." It's important for new walkers to learn to treat the trails as they would a two way street. In the USA we drive on the right, we walk on the right. Not in the middle of the trail. "On your left!" is a nice way of saying, "I'm about to pass you on your left and you've got your big, fat ass hanging way over the middle of the trail." 

People learn pretty quickly, especially when subjected to repeated reinforcement. "Share the road out there." The trail is nice and wide but it was never intended for entire families to walk side by side and cover all the square footage from one side to the other. Hopefully, in a few weeks, people will be able to get back to work and stop tormenting mid-day runners. Or they will learn the etiquette of sharing our open spaces.

Just a note: If you bring your camera (and I think you always should) be sure not to stop in the middle of the trail to leisurely focus and compose. Pull over to the right and stand at the edge of the trail while photographing so people still in motion can get by. When you are done take a look over your shoulder before re-entering the trail --- just as you would when pulling your car back onto the road.  Thanks!