OT: Kirk's ramble about stuff. Today we start out with swim goggles...

This is the usual time on Friday's during which I look at the stats for the blog and wonder where everyone went. We had been averaging 4,000+ readers per day but now it's slipped to about 2,500. Maybe, in a way, this confirms my post from yesterday about the state of the market. Fewer people (who read English language blogs) are interested in photography than at any time since I started writing blog posts. Either that or the quality of my writing has finally fallen through the bottom of the web content safety net and we're plunging toward the abyss of irrelevance.

I guess I don't really care what the reason is since I enjoy writing the blog and will continue to do so until Google pulls the plug on Blogger and entropy keeps me from turning to some other publishing  substitute. And since that's my attitude I think I'll just proceed with what I had in mind to write after I made a cup of coffee for the afternoon.

You think the switch to digital changed photography? Well, just imagine how big a boost it was for swimming when, back in the very early 1970s, swimmers started finding workable and semi-comfortable goggles to wear while working out in chlorinated pools!!! I've been swimming long enough to remember when goggles were a rarity in most programs. We'd pound away at swim practices and then head home with bloodshot eyes and a hazy cloud reducing our visual acuity. It's a wonder most of us can still see today.

Now there is an avalanche of choices in the goggle "sector" and it's dominated by Tyr, Speedo, Arena, Roka, and Barracuda. My pair right now are the Speedo Vanquisher 2.0 goggles. They provide a tight seal around the eyes without having to be strapped on too tightly. I also like the Tyr version with the red surrounds but I have no idea what the model name (or number) is; I only know that I have six pairs of the Tyrs in various states of utility so I must have liked them a lot for a while.

It's possible to pay up to $100 for a pair of swim goggles but, get this! I've been swimming with competitive programs for decades and have never spent more than $18 on a pair of goggles. Can you imagine if I could maintain this sort of discipline in my pursuit of cameras?

The Speedo Vanquisher 2.0s ($16-$18) that I have now come in an optically clear version and a dark shaded version and I have one set of each. I've been using the clear ones lately for the 6 a.m. workouts so I can actually see my lane mate at the other end of the pool in the early morning darkness. Yes, we have underwater pool lights but in breaks between sets it's great to see your partner and yell back and forth about the particulars of the next set. Better still, you can see them getting ready to take off on the set which is your cue to also start.

If I go to a later workout, at a time when it's already light outside, I switch to the deep gray lensed goggles which are also UV resistant. It's a lot more comfortable that dealing with the glare of the sun through non-tinted plastic.

Why does anyone need more than two pairs? Because all the swim goggles are made of plastic which eventually becomes scratched and optically marred. You never know when you'll hit that tipping point of no longer wanting to look through a visual mess of scratches and surface abrasion to you keep a new pair around in your swim bag for the day you find yourself ready to switch.

Why bring a second pair with you to the poolside? Goggles are unpredictable. A pair can work fine for a year; maybe even two, and then one day without warning the seal along the eyecup will no longer seal properly and you'll have one or the other eyecup fill up with water as you push off the wall, flip turn, etc. Once you do swim practices with goggles in a chlorinated pool you'll never want to try to go the distance again without having that back-up pair stuffed in with your other swim paraphernalia at poolside and that means you can do a quick change and not miss the sets you've signed up and paid to swim.

What other failures do goggles exhibit? The weak spot for me with goggles has always been the rubber or silicone strap that holds the goggles onto your face. Now that new materials are being used it doesn't happen as often but the combination of chlorine and UV radiation breaks down most elastic materials and eventually causes them to fail. Tugging too hard on a strap end in order to tighten it is the prevailing cause of strap failure. This is another reason to keep a second set poolside. Sure, in the quiet comfort of your own suburban home, surrounded by your nicely mowed yard, it's pretty easy to replace the broken strap with a new one. But in the middle of a workout, in a shared lane, during a coached session, it makes a hell of a lot more sense to grab your back-up, deck-resident goggles and get right back into the mix. You can fix the casualties over a quiet cup of coffee on your own time.

I keep goggles everywhere. There are three pairs in my main swim bag which I take to every workout. The swim bag also has hand paddles and a pull buoy as well as a set of fins and a collection of different sunscreens.

I keep two pairs in the car in case (God forbid!!!) I forget the swim bag or lose it. I'll still want to swim and with the car goggles and an extra pair of jammers (swim suit) in the trunk of the car I can still make it through a workout without stressing over lost swim opportunity.

Oddly enough, I also keep a couple pairs in my main camera bag on the presumption that I might find myself near a pool or clean lake, waiting for the light to get cool, or a client to show up, and decide to take advantage of the scheduling gap to hop in the convenient body of water for a swim. With two pairs in the camera bag I can always be magnanimous and offer a pair for the client to use.

I realized the importance of goggles for workouts back in high school. We put in a lot of yardage. We hit the pool five days a week at 5:30 in the morning and had a second practice each afternoon. We also did a long Saturday morning practice. By the end of a typical day our eyes looked like Zombie eyes. Read and weepy. Sometimes a bit painful.

I had a date once with a beautiful swimmer on whom I had a crush. We went out to a very fun and trendy Mexican food restaurant on our first date and I would have loved to have stared into her eyes and she into mine. But we'd both spent too much time in the pool and both of us were so visually impaired by the time we got to the restaurant that our eyes watered too much to even read the menu. I figured that when swimming goggle-less hampered one's dating life it was time to take definitive action. I bought us both goggles and we started wearing them to every workout. After a while it became standard.

And, that added equipment was a good thing for teenage swimmers. The last thing you want a police officer to see if they pull you over for a traffic infraction is a kid with bloodshot and bleary eyes. And back in the days of hot cars and cavalier teens the "pull over/stern lecture" happened more often than one might imagine.

So, how do you keep your goggles from fogging up when the water is cold or the outside air temp drops? If you have no other recourse you let a few drops of water in each eyecup, put on the goggles, and then, when swimming, you tilt your head down and let the water wash across the inner surface of the lens. There are also anti-fog liquids you can buy that are specifically made for swim goggles. Speedo makes the most popular formula. I find that it doesn't work much better than a bit of human spit and a quick clean with a human tongue.

Hope your swimming is coming along well and that I can offer you other swim oriented tidbits when the photography entries become too boring. After looking at today's stats I decided it was an appropriate time to start....

My brain tells me to constantly pursue improving gear. My ability to look back at older work lets me know my brain's advice is often futile.

Once upon a time I liked to do live demonstrations about lighting. For a while, after the publication of several books on the subject, I would be invited to do a question and answer session about technique as well as a demonstration.  In 2011 I was very interested in the quickly growing acceptance of lighting just about everything with LED lights. Seems so normal now but nearly a decade ago the standard working protocol for just about everything photographic was to trot out a flash or two and bang away with them. Right or wrong, I thought LEDs and continuous light would become the preferred working methodology for many kinds of photographic projects.

I was right about some of the photographic uses for LEDs and wrong about others. For portraits, products and just about any subject that doesn't move around quickly continuous lighting has many benefits. It's wonderful to see what you are getting as you go along without resorting to frequent "chimping." It's great to easily work at bigger apertures without having to worry whether your flash can be turned down far enough. And, while working with big, soft, multi-diffused lighting it's great that a new generation of LEDs is much brighter than the modeling lights on most flashes; that makes composition and the visualization of the final image much easier. 

But in the early days I was caught short a few times by the unexpected need to freeze fast moving action, like dance, or kid's at play. I learned to really dig into a project's brief and to ask pointed questions about subject movement. If the marketing director at the theater suggested that the actors would be dancing and gesticulating wildly I swapped in conventional flash in the place of the LEDs. 

The image above represents one of my favorite ways to light people, and one of my favorite ways to use LEDs. Looking at it closely these days the image also tells me that most of my camera chasing is an exercise in futility. That the tools we had a decade ago were fine. 

To light this photograph I set up a canvas background and then, to one side I put up my favorite 6 by 6 foot scrim. I covered the scrim frame with two layers of white diffusion material which sucked up about three stops of light. On the side of the scrim opposite my talent (Amy Smith, now ace photographer!) I placed two large LED panels that each had 1,000 individual LED bulbs. I used the panels far enough back from the scrim so that they illuminated it fairly evenly from one side to the other. I angled the scrim so it was 45° from Amy's eyeline. 

She is as close to the scrim as she can get without me having to show the rear edge of the scrim. 

I used a well worn Canon 1D mk2N camera and the pedestrian Canon 85mm f1.8 lens. The ISO was 640 and the exposure was 1/125th of a second at f3.5.  

The set up took about ten minutes and the photography another ten minutes. Then we tore everything down and put it back in the boxes. If there is anything I'll remember with absolute clarity about how we used to do photography it will be the non-stop setting up, tearing down and moving to the next location to do it all over again. Photography of a certain kind has always been about managing the packing and moving of gear....

When I did this particular demo I remember someone asking me why I bothered to make the switch from flash to continuous light. Of course I had a number of rationales but what I really wanted to say was something along the lines of: I get bored easily. I like to try new things. This is a new thing.

And it's also really an old thing. But we all love the look of cinematic lighting work when done well in movies. I was watching the last Jason Bourne movie in bits and pieces last night. When I first saw the film I was watching the action and the choreography of fight scenes. But last night I was so enamored of a quiet scene of Alicia Vikander, lit at a 45° angle, in what was made to look like a vast office flooded with daylight, that I paused the Blu-Ray disc just to look more intently and to deconstruct exactly what was so wonderful about the look of the scene. One could tell that the DP had fallen in love, at least for the duration of the movie, by the look of that actor's face. His lighting was in service to her look and at the same time it was a rich gift for the viewer. 

All of which is to say that it's the final look that counts and all the stuff that happens behind the scenes is meaningless to the final viewer. 

I haven't written a book in ten years so I haven't been asked to do a demo in quite a while. Sad, because I think you learn to lock in whatever style you take time to demonstrate. 

Finally, one of the things I love about working with Amy is that she is so perfect as a talent for demonstrations. As a wonderful photographer in her own right she understands exactly what I'm looking for from a talent and she walks right into the sweet spot of a scene and flashes the perfect look for me. I hardly feel like I'm working. 

45° and 45° is like magic. The final magic dust? The biggest diffuser I can find.