The hardest part of the "shelter in place" regimen is not being able to make portraits.

I've had enough to keep myself busy this week. Today I fixed a broken gate to the backyard. I also retouched ten really nice portraits I did on location for a law firm, just before the pandemic reared its ugly head in the U.S. I made my own lunch. I said, "yes, yes, yes!" when someone e-mailed and asked me if I'd like to bid on a nice video project we might do in August. I talked my friend, Joe, off the financial ledge for the second time this week ( a bad time, I think, to sell everything and buy an RV).

The house is stocked and the bills are paid but the one thing that's driving me a bit nuts is not being able to call a friend and set up a play date for taking portraits. I have all these great cameras and lenses just burning a hole in my camera bag and I can't really leave the neighborhood to point them at people and get them to smile. Can't have them in the studio either...

I did have fun retouching today and I do have a suggestion that should be in compliance with our current social distancing rules while being a breath of fresh air.

On the retouching: I photographed individual attorneys in an office that had a great view out the window of one of the offices looking out to the central Texas hill country. I lit each attorney as well as I could and tried my best to create lighting that would suggest a connection between interior and exterior. I also worked hard (but somewhat unsuccessfully) to keep a reflection of me and my camera out of the big window. But the new selection tools in P.S. make fixing that a breeze.

I shot the files with a Lumix S1R and the 24-105mm lens, mostly at 105mm. Knowing how well the camera's raw files handle the shadow areas, and how well they respond to the shadow sliders in post, I purposely underexposed the images by about two thirds of a stop which gave me a good degree of safety in terms of preserving highlights and the look outside the window. I used a variety of Godox flashes to light the subjects and the interiors and they all worked perfectly with the little remote controller/trigger in the hot shoe of my camera.

I brought them into PhotoShop via the raw converter and did the big lifting of exposure correction in the raw panel. I also did some rough cropping and a lot of color correction before opening the files into PhotoShop. It's my philosophy to do as much correction as possible in the raw files and then pray for forgiveness in the application.

Today I did a split of the controls between PhotoShop and  Luminar 4.0. I used Luminar as a plug-in so I could take advantage of its sky replacement feature to add a bit of glamor to the view outside the window. I've found Luminar to be pretty good as a sky replacer and general tweaking tool; even more so since I found the control that lets me put the cloudscapes and imported skies controllably out of focus with yet another slider. At some point the haze of boredom crept in and I started using a second Luminar control that allows you to add stuff to sky backgrounds you've put into files. I knew I had gone way too far when I put an eagle in the sky just over the shoulder of a younger lawyer. I laughed at myself but I made a copy of the file to share with him, just for fun.

Some of the controls in Luminar are very useful and I'm happy the program handles raw files.

I delivered an assortment of Jpegs, .PSDs and Tiffs to my clients at the end of the day and finally had the feeling that I'm getting something done while working at home.

On the first sunny day this week I'd had enough of walking through the various wings of the house, and looking out over the "estate." I got in my car and went for a medicinal drive. All the windows were sealed tight and all of the outside air comes in through a HEPA filter. I brought my own coffee so I'd never have to stop. I drove west and headed for Johnson City.

It was a beautiful day to drive through central Texas. The wildflowers are starting to bloom and, because of all the rain we've had, along with the mild temperatures, everything was lush and green. And the sky! With most people just hanging out in their homes the roads are essentially empty and there's no pollution or yellow haze at the horizon. The skies were the kind of luxurious blue that I remember from driving the Devil's Backbone highway in my youth.

I looped through Johnson City and the headed South to Blanco, Texas. Of course absolutely nothing but gas stations was open. But the empty roads, the forty thousand foot sky, and the splashes of roadside color were amazing. It was almost like moving through a living painting.

I never took a camera off the passenger seat to take a photograph. There were no people. But when I got home a couple of hours later I felt lighter, happier and less anxious. It was a good process. No one was hurt in its undertaking.


How far are we taking our family commitment to social distancing? Well, we usually order pizza on Thursdays (a ritual left over from Ben's school years...) and I usually call in my order and then go pick it up. Today I went online to make my order and I pulled up short. There was no longer the option to drive over to the pizza place and pick up our order myself. Our only option was delivery.

I filled out all the order stuff online and paid for it with a credit card. I added a generous tip for the driver. But then Belinda asked me how I was going to deal with the box. Multiple people will have touched the pizza box by the time the pie make its way to me.

We actually had a quick meeting and worked out a plan. I would accept the box from the delivery guy and bring it to the welcome mat at the front door. I would then open the box and spread out the sides of the box. Belinda would bring our big, wooden pizza peel to the door and slide it under the pizza while being very careful not to touch the edges of the box. It worked! Once she had the pizza securely in the house I took the box to our recycling bin and tossed it in. Then I stepped into the open door of the house and drenched my hands with the sanitizer on the ledge near the door. Then I went into the kitchen and washed for 23 seconds with soap and lots of attention to every square centimeter of my hands.

Then we ate good pizza.

Life. It's a process.

How are you handling this day-to-day stuff?

Staying Home and Playing with My Time Machine.

If you are anything like me your rate of photographing far outstrips your rate of printing or post processing the pictures you are making. I have about ten banker's boxes filled with black and white negatives from the 1970s-2000. That's the amount left after fierce rounds of tossing out commercial stuff that no longer had value to me. (Every year I try to wipe out all the rote commercial work from the files that's five years old or older. Better for me to get it into the trash than burden the family with making choices later....).

While there are few to no silver linings to our current pandemic crisis the total pull back of work and projects certainly gives me time to search out and rediscover images I made twenty or thirty or more years ago and to evaluate them through the prism of years of experience.

This (above) was a small print I came across when I was looking around like a studio archeologist this morning. It's a photo I took back in 1984 or 1985 with a Pentax 6X7 camera and the 150mm f2.8  Pentax lens. I scanned the black and white negative sometime in the late 1990s and played around with selective gaussian blur in Photoshop. I was trying to match the feel of darkroom prints I used to make using a selective blurring tool called a "Pictrol."

I think my interest in selective blurring came from reading about how Richard Avedon achieved certain blurring effects in his prints in his earlier days, when he actually spent time in the darkroom. My techniques were different but motivated by the same aesthetic ideas. Pools of blur to put more attention on the sharper part of the images.

I love coming across tiny test prints like this one because it helps me to see a certain trajectory that still influences the work I do now.

I understand we may be socially distancing for quite a while longer and it's disheartening because...well...at heart I am a portrait photographer and that's pretty much off limits to me now. But as a  consolation I have a huge backlog of wonderful images to explore and the gift of time in which to explore them.

Being the eternal optimist I imagine a time in the very near future when we'll be unleashed from our isolation and the positive energy will flow back into every second of work we do going forward. "You don't miss your water till your well runs dry." It's up to you to dig a new well.