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.


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...