Yeah. The other stuff I shot with the S1H while I was out tooling around.

In a way my time spent downtown yesterday with a single camera and a 50mm, normal lens was a throwback to my early roots when I only had one camera and a 50mm to start with. How many things was I able to shoehorn into the frame with those limitations? More than you might think. 

At least, when you are walking around with a very limited kit you don't have to choose which other lens to pull out for this subject or which different lens to use for something else. You either make the lens at hand work or you pass up shooting said scene and move on and photograph things that fit in your "frame". If you have only one camera you shoot with it and make allowances for any weaknesses it may have.

This time out I was paying attention well enough that I could see the differences in camera processing between the S1H I was using in the moment and the Sigma fp I'd been using earlier in the week. But the two cameras also influenced how I was shooting. With the Sigma fp and the 45mm lens, with its f2.8 maximum aperture, and a small screen on the back for focusing and composing I found myself not trying to constrain images into exercises aimed at creating ever more narrow depth of field. I was happy to shoot at f8 or f11, but that was also a result of shooting in brighter light. With a lens like the 50mm f1.4 you subconsciously really want to see for yourself if the maximum aperture you paid dearly for is really as good at resolving and being sharp as it's promoted to be. 

I learned from both experiences. With the Sigma fp + 45mm at f11 I learned just how amazingly sharp an image out of the new generation of camera could be. Once you head toward the conservative side of the aperture ring all the "good" lenses you've collected become great image makers. In some cases, with no added sharpening stuff like letters on signage seemed almost laser etched. I filed those capabilities away in my head for future projects. The same attributes surfaced last Sunday evening when I shot some trial video on the Sigma fp and used the same lens at f11. Depth of field with moving subjects in a dark but also patchily spotlit environment were a revelation to someone used to shooting video with lenses much closer to wide open. 

But the secret for video shooters with cameras like the fp is that they are low light monsters. Very capable of shooting well above 6400 with little noise impact on the files. 

When I shot with the S1H and the fast 50mm I was reminded that shooting at wide open apertures is most rewarding when the lens is more than acceptably sharp, at least in the middle two-thirds of the frame, when used there. The S1H was capable of giving me files that looked appropriate even at f1.4. And I was reminded once again of how little depth of field there really is when you are shooting close and with a fast aperture. You needn't lust for fast 85mms or fast 105mms to get the universal, zero depth of field look. If you are wide open with a 50mm and within five feet of your subject you're going to be amazed at how few things are really in focus. 

On another note... I share images with you here in a different way than I do with clients. I don't consider this to be a portfolio site and I'm not trying, here, to make one perfect shot of an idea or a scene I've found and then move on forever from that photograph. Instead, I'm sharing my process with you. And just as I do with people I find interesting and beautiful I might visit an idea or a tableau I find fun or captivating or a good companion for written text, again and again. 

That's the case with the image below. A dinner jacket and bow tie on a mannequin against a red, velvet curtain in a shop window. I love the contrast, color and nod to a more elegant social time. I've shot this in black and white, in the middle of the night with the illumination coming totally from the display lighting and again yesterday with a mix of late afternoon light and the lights inside the window. Eventually, they'll change the display and I won't get to practice seeing in this way again. The store owners might display something equally fun or it might be something that doesn't resonate with me at all but until then I'm going to drop by and practice (almost like playing scales on the piano) until I get it perfect. And as we all know that will probably be never. But then again for Weston to label his famous "Pepper" shot "Pepper Number 30" you have to know that he tried at least 29 previous shots before he got what he wanted. 

The secret to all work in a creative career is to keep changing and experimenting. Someone who has mastered a technique or vision in a year and then does the same vision for the next 20 years hasn't garnered 20 years of experience and reinforced talent. They've just lived through the same first year twenty times. 

Don't begrudge older photographers their experience; it's all they have. And some of it is valuable. 

I keep working on this one. The more subtle the effect becomes the better I like it.

I find this one hilarious.

 I was surprised to walk by this bar on Congress Ave. and see this sign. The bar association has tried everything to stay wide open. They even passed a law in Texas exempting restaurants from closing when the state closed down bars which declared bars TO BE restaurants as long as over 50% of revenue came from food. The bars rushed to sell wings, queso and chips and anything else they could to their customers.

I guess with the arrival of a vaccine the bar owners realized that getting more people vaccinated means more people back through their doors. Enlightened self-interest. 

The S1H handles the color red very, very well. Maybe the lens has something to do with that as well.

folding "Coke" chair at a new, South American café.


An afternoon with a decidedly inappropriate camera and lens for street photography. Too big. Too heavy. But I got to watch a big production, car photo shoot...

A large scale photo session for a Chevy SUV.
I'd never seen a bigger crane arm attached to an automobile before. 

I was feeling a bit glum most of last week but usually a nice long walk with a camera helps to clear my head and adjust my attitude. After my swim today I feel chipper and optimistic. Funny how that all works. But yesterday, with my head in the fog I selected the least appropriate lens and camera body to drag along through the streets of my home town. It was the Panasonic S1H and the 50mm f1.4 Lumix S-Pro. If ever you feel untethered from gravity this combination will hold you down tight to the firmament. 

Don't get me wrong; the S1H is a wonderful production camera and, I think, the state of the art for video cameras designed for professional quality/state of the art video in small crew,  commercial environment. I absolutely love working with this camera when I have it snugged onto a good tripod and plugged into a range of supporting peripherals. I find the 50mm f1.4 lens to be the sharpest lens with the cleanest and most transparent output of any lens I have ever used - even across all formats. 

But carrying the combination around, over one's shoulder, with a shoulder strap, is an exercise in masochism. And this opinion is coming from a photographer who used to carry around a Hasselblad with a medium format Zeiss lens on it through the streets of many cities for hours and days at a time. The S1H + 50mm S-Pro just isn't at all comfortable for easy and casual photo walks. I'll take it along on days when I have a mission in mind and need its special attributes, and I'll take in on just about any kind of commercial job I can imagine, but as a fun camera for leisure walking and snapping? Ahhhh. NO. 

Before I move on to the story about car shooting I will say that of all three of the S1x model cameras I think the S1H has the best out of camera color and tonality in the files. Even the Jpegs are crisper and richer. I can only conjecture that this camera has faster processing, or more nodes for parallel processing, and so is engineered to apply more complex corrections to each file as they fly through the camera's processing pipeline. I'm sure Panasonic would demure from confirming this because of the torrent of feedback they would no doubt get from S1 and S1R owners but I own all three models and find a small but notable difference between the S1H and its siblings. No data to back this up but that has never stopped us before. 

Car Shoot. I don't often work in big teams and I have never, ever had to do a high end shoot where the car was the star, but I'm always amazed when I see an "old school" photography production in full bloom in this day and age. I ran into just such a shoot around sunset on the "Butterfly" bridge that connects downtown proper to the area around the library. I've posted countless images of the curved, yellow spans here on the blog so I'm sure you'll remember it. 

I knew I was heading into a big time photo zone when I came to the intersection just to the east of the bridge and found it blocked off. I knew it was a legit project because there was an off duty police officer manning the blocked street and a set of orange cones set to restrict access. Pedestrians, however, were unconstrained. 

On the outsides of the curved spans are sidewalks while the two lane road runs between the spans. The sidewalk with the sunset in the background was blocked both for this shoot and because of some adjacent building construction but the north side walk was accessible.  

As I crossed the bridge I saw ten or twelve people clustered around a Chevrolet SUV and was immediately struck by the insanely long crane arm that was anchored to the right side of the vehicle and extended across the front and about eight to ten feet past the left side of the truck-ette. It was a large, square arm made, I'm sure, of lightweight aluminum and as you can see in the photo just above it has a right angle connection to the car over on the far side. At that junction point a technician can raise or lower the angle of the arm to give the camera at the far end of the arm the ability to shoot at a low angle or a high angle --- or any angle in between. The crane arm is also assembled in spans so the crew can make the main arm longer or shorter. 

more below

There were a couple of guys whose job it seemed to be to fluff the actual product. Between takes they'd get to the car and dust it or shine the edges or clean some part. When they were done they'd hand the set back over to the art director and photography crew. I presume at some point they took

Back in control. Back in the pool. Back to stasis.


flower pots in a Roman window.

The alarm clock on my phone went off at 7:15 this morning and I finally grappled with the age old battle between comfortable sloth and dutiful discipline. I dragged myself out of a warm bed on a cold, foggy morning, drank a cup of instant coffee with gobs of milk and then, with a bit of hesitation thrown into the mix, finally got myself to swim practice. I've been out of the pool for nearly two weeks and my first inclination, fostered by fear and uncertainty (how quickly do 65 year olds lose their edge? how slowly and carefully should I embrace re-entry?) was to demote myself to a slower lane and take a lackadaisical approach to the first, post operative workout.

But almost predictably true to course I decided that if I was in for a penny I was in for a pound and I chose to swim in one of the faster lanes with two younger swimmers who have a propensity for going fast and hard. Even on my best days I could never match their performance. I'd love to say that today was exceptional and I drove my young lane mates hard but that would be a lie. Fake swim news. 

I did swim all the sets on their intervals and I made each repeat on the interval, but just by the skin of my teeth. Still, it felt great to hang with the fast folks and to return to a pursuit in which I've been able to delude myself into believing that it's something over which I have complete control. 

It was foggy and cool outside and everyone seemed to be in a good mood. I had negotiated a quick return to the pool with my surgeon on the proviso that I wear a waterproof bandage over my incision site. The waterproof bandages actually work! No leaks. 

The hardest part of the workout was a set of ten 75 yard swims. We started out doing two on a 1:15 interval then two on 1:10 (these were to be any stroke but freestyle-I chose backstroke) then two on 1:05 and then two on 1:00. The last two were snappy and I'll admit that I got my pulse rate a bit above 130 and was out of breath for a minute or two at the completion of the set. The rest of the workout was moderately hard but not outside my normal comfort zone. 

With a successful swim under my belt I felt, mentally, that all the jigsaw pieces of my regular life were falling back into place.

I'm signed up for a full roster of workouts in the week to come and anticipate that as I get back into good shape there will be naps galore.

It's not as though I've been inactive since the day after my medical procedure. I've tried to walk five or six miles a day. Once with a friend, or Belinda, and a second time with an amiable camera in my hands. It's just that swimming hard is a whole different adventure. Don't worry, I won't dwell on swim posts, or snooker tables, too much in the next week or so. We've got other things to cover.

Hope you are all happy and well and continuing to move. -Kirk


Hanging out at the old Sweetish Hill Bakery on a Sunday Morning. Back when we had so few responsibilities or worries that it now seems like paradise.

B. has always been a reticent subject for portraiture. She thinks the process should be quick, painless and infrequent. It may have been misguided for her to marry a photographer. Especially one who is much more interested in making portraits than taking landscape images. 

We went to Sweetish Hill Bakery at least once a week for about 30 years. Coffee and pastries. Eventually the beloved owners and originators aged out of the business and sold it to a fashionable but mostly soulless restaurant group. They've turned what was once a neighborhood bakery into a frou-frou enterprise; Doubling the prices of the products and cutting the quality in half. Pre-pandemic it had become newly chic.

I can't recall ever going to the bakery without a camera over one shoulder or the other (usually the left...) and on this foray I'm sure it was a Leica CL. I used the 40mm lens and got a bit too close. I should have bought a 90mm for that camera but I always considered it to be a quintessential point-and-shoot camera. I  also didn't think the finder was very accommodating for use with longer lenses. 

At the time I probably overlooked this image because I didn't like the wide angle perspective and the way it worked to change the geometry of B's face. Now I find the image a wonderful artifact/treasure from an age where cameras were always full frame and nearly always just eccentric enough to enjoy. 

Tri-X all the way. And, no, that's not a digital frame edge, that's the effect of filing out your own personal negative carriers. Unique. 


Inside the Ellsworth Kelly Chapel at the Blanton Museum.


Documenting the stained glass "windows"

I like scrolling through old folders marked with cryptic words like: "Desktop Blog Art late 2018"

I find things like a batch of perfect photos done with the last GH5 or GH5S I owned. Makes me feel good that I still like the photos. Makes me feel silly and a bit dumb to realize how good this cameras were in the moment and how unwise it was to sell them off and then have to buy them again. 

Funny, if you wipe all the projects off your calendar then all of sudden you stop dreaming about how X piece of gear would be "just the ticket" for upcoming job Z. I've been shooting video with three and sometimes four cameras at the same time. Now I have zero video projects on the books or waiting in the wings. The extra cameras I bought end up cooling their heels. 

This time around I'm keeping them. If I don't feel compelled to use them I'll just pull the batteries out, wrap them in paper and shove them in a drawer. The next time I'm anxious to buy something new I'll reach in and unwrap one of them. Like getting a new camera all over again.


I can't believe I'm making good on my resolution not to work in December. Everything banished from the calendar. It's an unsettling exercise.

Sometimes I think I have the same expression on my face as this robot. Stress.

Austin, Texas is on the cusp of having the top tier of pandemic alert levels triggered either this week or the next. Cases of Covid-19 are once again accelerating and the public health department changed the daily number of hospitalizations that will prompt "level five" from 75 down to 50. The reason? An overwhelming of our local medical professionals along with an ongoing tightening of available ICU beds. I think my decision to keep clients and members of the public well beyond arm's length for now is a sound one. I'm even questioning my return to the pool; and that's a big thing for me. 

But for what might be the first time in my adult life I'm not busy with work. I basically have tossed out the majority of structure that gave shape to my daily life. I feel like a leaky row boat that's broken its tether and is now aimless drifting on whatever currents there might be. 

One somber realization is that with free time comes a lot more time to indulge in endless news reports, New York Times updates, Washington Post analyses and a potent mix of mindless photo and video dreck on YouTube. 

I'd love to be spending the time off making wonderful portraits of beautiful people but I'm sure you can see the disconnection. Yep, public safety. And my family's safety. Just because you want to do something doesn't mean you should. If I needed to work to put food on the table I might be tempted to roll the dice but just as a salve for my own boredom? I consider it reckless.

But that doesn't mean I'm not thinking about making portraits. I'm revisiting some of my favorite work and playing with lighting in the studio. I can't remember the name of the cinematographer who came and gave a talk to our local ad club chapter about his motion picture work back in the 1980s but I remember being so profoundly impressed by his work lighting people for movies that I spent an hour after his presentation listening to him tell a very, very small group of interested photographers just how he did the lighting that we found most captivating. 

If you have seen the movie, "Dangerous Liaisons" starring John Malkovich, Uma Thurman, Glenn Close and Michelle Pfeiffer you will have seen, in the bedroom seduction scene with Uma Thurman, the kind lighting that we were all marveling over. In a sentence, it's "hard light within soft light ---  with a very large dose of controlled fall off." 

We all thought we were masters of soft light back then. We all had the requisite 4x6 foot soft boxes for our electronic flashes and we used them in close and smiled as we saw the light wrap around our subjects. But what the cinematographer showed us was lighting done on a whole new level. 

He explained that (in his opinion) the light we were using fell off at far too rapid a rate. We were using our soft boxes extremely close and so, given the constraints of the inverse square law, the light from one side to another of our subject fell off very quickly which reduced any sense of realism or authenticity for the light. 
He was right; our lighting looked canned. 

He walked us through an image he'd made as a test. In a huge space he'd put up a 20 by 40 foot diffusion curtain that was either quarter stop or half stop diffusion material. He put his model close to one side of the diffusion material and then, on the other side, he moved a huge movie light as far back as it could go. Think fifty or sixty feet, easily. 

For his example he was using an 18K watt movie light with a front fresnel to concentrate the light a bit. Conventional logic would suggest that the distance from the light to the diffusion material is not pertinent and that it's only the distance from the surface of the material to the subject that determines the rate of fall off, but he suggested/claimed/demonstrated that quarter or half stop diffusion, and in particular some of the diffusion materials made for cinema, would allow through a mix of direct and diffused light simultaneously and that the thinner/looser the weave of the diffusion fabric the more the ratio is tilted to direct light. 

The result is that the direct light has a less steep slope of fall off from one side of the scene to the other; because the light source is so far away. It also looked much more like natural light than a fixture and modifier being used much closer. The added softness to the light comes from the percentage that is diffused by the material.

The cinematographer was also less willing to use any more fill on the shadow side of a subject's face than was minimally necessary. In fact, in some of his work he was happy to let the shadow side of a subject go wherever it was going to go without any interference. 

The effect was like being in a room lit by enormous windows which were themselves lit by strong but diffused daylight. It was beautifully lighting. I'm still envious of those professionals from the 1980s and 1990s who could afford huge studio spaces that would allow this sort of experimentation. 

This was the opposite of some of the very dramatic and almost harsh lighting that Albert Watson used for some of his black and white people work. Some of my favorite work from Watson in the 1990s was also done in big studios but for different reasons and effects. 

He would work with one smaller soft box and use it just above the subject's head, letting the light fall off very quickly because of its very close proximity. With a forehead tone that was just a mouse squeak from blowing the highlights one found the light almost plunging into blackness by the time it got to a subject's chest. The ramp of the fall off, in accordance with the inverse square law, yielded, almost, the very dramatic effect of  a spotlight. A spotlight with the character of a small soft box...

But he valued the larger spaces for a different reason. He loved the depth. He would use long lenses for his portraits, usually on a medium format camera, and place the camera far away from the subject. Then he'd place the subject very far away from the background. The effect was subtle but exhilarating because it married compression with an increased sense of depth. But it required maybe 100 feet of linear space to achieve a look in exactly the way Watson wanted. 

I can only get a shadow of these effects in my smaller studio but I do have a few tricks up my sleeve. I have a big square of windows on my west studio wall that measure about 10 by 10 feet in all. The top edge of the windows is up at about 12 feet.  If I place my main light outside the studio and up high on a stand, shining back down through the windows, and then into the same kind of diaphanous diffusion the cinema guys use I can get a much better overall lighting effect than just using a modifier and light in closer proximity to my subject. 

I spent many years doing my own, watered down version of the cinematographer's design. I use a 6x6 foot panel with one sheet of diffusion on it as close to my subject as possible and then put as many LED lights as I can on the opposite side and as far away as I can. My diffusion is a bit too opaque and the distance less that half of what it should be for the lights but it's more consistency interesting to me than pulling out a soft box. Too bad the diffusion panel and LEDs require so many light stands. In a much bigger space I would be able to leave all that equipment set up and just walk in on a day-to-day basis and take spur of the moment portraits. 

Life is full of compromises. We're lucky when we get to choose the compromises we want. 


Spending time with a very enigmatic camera. One that's both potent and at the same time "under-spec'd" for a photographer.

this window on 2nd St. is a Holiday Display for a law firm. Interesting.

I bought a GH5S camera recently to use on video projects. We'd been doing work that required our video camera to be on a tripod and to run for anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half without stopping or overheating. The GH5S is actually considered a "pro" camera by Panasonic and it was the perfect tool for the job. In fact, after the first go-round I made it my flagship standard for work not requiring in-camera image stabilization. In most of these projects it was one of three Panasonic cameras rolling simultaneously and it matched the look and feel of the GH5 and S1H pretty much perfectly. 

I've been shooting a lot of full frame stills lately and I decided to change things up on my walk today and take something in the micro four thirds range. I was all set to head out the door with the G9 or GX8 until I glanced over and saw the GH5S lingering on a case, wearing its battery grip. I put the little Sigma 56mm f1.4 on it and exited the studio. 

The reason I say the GH5S is under-spec'd is that the sensor resolves all of 10 megapixels. In an age where our full frame cameras start at 24 megapixels and cap out at 47 megapixels the "paltry" 10 megapixels seems insufficient. And I guess if I were out shooting landscapes or incredibly detailed tableaux I'd find it to be lacking. 

But the reality is that the camera's sensor produces amazingly sharp and detailed files while adding an extra "snap" that seems to be missing from more muscular cameras. 

I shot sparsely today. I had a lot on my mind. I was mulling over a client situation in which I could have acted better. Not necessarily my fault but perhaps my response was out of proportion in the moment. At any rate that's one things walks are good for; introspection and a calm distance to parse stuff. Unlike our world leaders I am not adverse to apologizing where appropriate...

At any rate I was curious to see how much post processing I'd end up doing to the files coming out of the camera so when I got back home I made some coffee and sat down to play. Amazingly, none of the files I selected could reasonably be improved by my attempts at enhancement. They looked perfect right out of the camera. I'd shot Jpegs and was a bit surprised to see that the colors and especially the acutance of the files was just what I wanted. I've included a few here but no doubt Blogger will compress and darken them to take some of the glamour away. 

The funniest part of the shoot was my brain's insistence of shooting everything at f2.0. Everything. I was impressed at least as much by the lens. I think the sharpness at a nearly wide open aperture is pretty much state of the art for a short telephoto lens.  Take a peek. See what you think. Click the files to make them bigger. 

I met a guy named Shawn who had six or seven various vintage iPads on his bench.
At his feet were all these chargers and battery banks. We chatted for minute.

I asked him which was his favorite among the iPads. He pulled a phone out of his pocket and
said, "I like my new, 5G phone best." Shawn comes downtown to charge stuff on the 
city's dime and then goes home and plays with the gear. 

More mural painting under the 2nd St. overpass at Lamar. 
I was nervous for the artist when he climbed up on the very narrow 
scaffolding. It seemed precarious to me. 

Another painting crew on the other side of the street. The murals are fun. And bright.

That's all I've got. Don't "hold any thoughts" on my account.


My long awaited preview of the Leica SL2-S.

 The SL-2S has been announced. According to the press release from Leica it will basically be a collage comprised of the guts of a Panasonic S1 and the body, styling and color science tweaking of the previous SL2-S but with the white logo switched out to black logo type on the front of the pentaprism. 

A few small video details have been upgraded. 

Leica has made cameras for a number of years. Many were good. The lenses are supposed to be really, really nice. Some are.

The products are relatively expensive for normal people but are well priced for the luxury market at which they are aimed. 

With the exception of earlier M models and most screw mount models the products have a lower than average history of reliability. 

There. Was that so hard?

Eight minutes of posturing and pontificating to get to the point of talking about a camera the reveiwer had never seen in person. Breathtaking.

 I was lured over to Hugh Brownstone's YouTube channel today by a tag that indicated the subject would be the newly announced Leica SL-2S. If web-info can be believed the camera is basically a Panasonic S1 with  a custom body and some little software touches to tweak the interpretation of the final images. 

I presumed, given his much trumpeted relationship with Leica (free trips, lots of loaned test cameras, etc.) that he'd have substantive things to say about the new camera. Color me unamused that he spent a the first 8 minutes and 14 seconds giving us another in a series of overly hashed and overly re-visited stories about the early years of Leica. The faux history lesson was larded with an enormous Hugh-narrated ad for some sort of online service to which I paid no attention. 

I skimmed to the 8:14 mark, guided by his sponsor's watermark on the corner of the screen and prepared to hear something new and different about the product only to be given a press release version insulated on all sides by a smug projection of familiarity with the camera that was wholly unearned. 

The argument, of course, is that all YouTube videos are less about learning and information delivery and more about entertainment, and I can't argue with that. 

Sometimes Hugh can be quite entertaining but the  schtick is wearing thin and the callow disregard for the viewer's time in this instance was poignant. Time to become choosier about what sort of YouTube material I look for. Another one off my list.


A few more black and white street shots which once again pose the question: Are any of the advancements in camera operation really critical?

People have an understandable tendency toward avoiding engagement with strangers. But it's exactly the engagement, or the willingness to engage if needed, that are critical to making good work. If you have armed yourself with the latest tools but have not armored yourself against potential rejection, or even abuse, then all the great camera gear in the world will have no good effect for your work. 

When I walk through the streets to take my photographs I go with the idea that I might embarrass myself, be the victim of someone's outrage at them having been photographed, and I'm further bolstered to accept that all the shots I take might be abject failures. Unsalvageable by even hours of arduous and expert post production. 

All that seems to really matter is having the will to go out time and time again, to smile as graciously as possible and just react (don't think!) to what you see in front of you. Instinct and reflex being the magic beans.

I love this early evening photo of a group of older Italians on the sidewalks in Siena. The light was dropping fast and the group and handshake was fleeting. I was using an old, fully manual Hasselblad, with a 100mm f3.5 Planar lens. I focused by looking at the focusing ring and setting it to an approximate distance based on previous experience. I didn't have time to meter but guessed that the exposure was something like f5.6 at 1/15th of a second. I'd been watching the light fall and was aware of the range. I tugged down on the the neck strap to stabilize the camera and then, composing through the dim waist level viewfinder, I clicked off two frames. Only one of which caught the handshake.

Everything happened quickly. You can see by looking at the woman just to the back of and to the right of the man in the light colored suit how slow the shutter speed was. Her face was blurred by her quick movement during the exposure.

Would a modern camera make a better shot? It might make a sharper or more noise free shot but at what cost? I think the motion and softness of the image, as well as the two-and-a-quarter inch, square format's trademark depth of field, is at least as important as those other parameters. But the essential piece of the puzzle is always just to be present with your camera and to keep your attention on the swirl of life around you. Nothing else really matters. 

OT: My favorite kitchen appliance. And, a report on my health progress.

 Only my close family knows my secret breakfast proclivities. Until now. Being in a confessional mood I feel compelled to let you know about my ardent affinity for toast. And by extension, my deep respect for our toaster.

We've had our current toaster for years and years. While my spouse is convinced that this particular toaster is a prankster that will often change its settings, mid-toasting, to antagonize her I am equally convinced that the toaster, though an inanimate object, is possessed of some specialized "toast knowledge" (machine learning?) and is merely over-riding Belinda's naive settings in order to offer her a chance at even better toast.

I adore the toaster. Even when I am absent minded and not paying attention it's rare that the toaster willingly destroys any of my toast. In fact, in times of stress I depend on its consistency to bring early morning order to my life. 

The toaster is a mid-priced Breville brand with extra wide openings that can accommodate bulkier breads such as bagels. My use of it is utterly routine and almost unwavering.

After decades of experimentation I've found a magic formula for perfect toast to have with my pour over coffee; both usually enjoyed just minutes after attaining consciousness each morning. To wit: I've found that the very best bread for toast is a variant of white bread. It's the sourdough sandwich bread from Trader Joe's. It's sliced thicker than most commercial breads and it's both denser and less sweet than its competitors. 

I drop two slices into the slots, set the dial for "5" and push down the side handle to start the process. If it's really cold in the house, judging by the feel of the Saltillo tiles under my bare feet, I might set the control at "6" instead. The toaster and the microwave oven are on the same circuit and, used in concert, they might trip the circuit breaker. That being the case I start the day heating water in the microwave. While that is in progress I open the bread package and pick two fairly well matched slices of bread, putting them into the toaster but not yet charging the lever to lower them into the heating zone and initiate the process. 

Once the water in the microwave comes to a boil that's the signal that it's time to engage the toaster in earnest. While the bread toasts I proceed with a careful coffee pour over. The toast is ready at some point near the middle of the pour over cycle and that gives me the chance to cover each piece of toast with a light glaze of crunchy, organic peanut butter and then cover the peanut butter with a lumpy layer of my favorite blueberry preserves.

By this time the last of the filtered water has wended its way through the coffee grounds and everything is ready for a sybaritic breakfast. The two essentials; coffee and toast, are often joined by eggs or yogurt but the first engagement is always the crunch of perfect toast intermittently washed down by nearly perfect coffee. To brew the perfect cup is impossible. It's a life long mission to work toward the perfect cup but it's the journey of constant experimentation and not the daily resultant nectar of the gods that we embrace. 

A post operative, post recovery memorandum. 

It was only a week ago that, with much fear, I went under the surgeon's knife to excise a cancerous growth on my left cheek. Against my usual hard-headedness I actually followed the physician's post op instructions and resisted all vigorous exercise, going so far as to inveigle my temporary plight into a full scale flight from my usual domestic duties. I suggested to Ben that the stress of taking the large trash can to the curb on Friday might be a bridge too far - at least according to my doctor. He's taken over the logistics and actual labor of transporting both the garbage and recycling bins to the curb. After all, it is a steep drive way... I also convinced him to carry the boxes of newly acquired LED lights from the front of the house into my office. 

My biggest coup was being excused from having to cook dinner, even though it was my turn, on Wednesday evening, by suggesting that the medical procedure has been so stressful to me that I was in fact balanced on a knife's edge between a full life and PTSD and that both cooking and cleaning up might be enough to push me over the edge to the wrong side. 

The reality is that except for the initial injection at my cheek of lidocaine, fending off any subsequent potential pain, I have been agony-free for the entire experience; from procedure to the removal today of the stitches which were, presumably, holding my face together. But who can blame me for trying to milk the most out of the experience that I could?

So, here's the coda. The procedure was successful in its mission to eliminate a squamous growth. I followed all the instructions, choked down a course of antibiotics, cleaned and bandaged the wound twice a day and used a special antibiotic ointment to promote epithelial healing. The stitches were removed by a chatty and charming nurse around noon today. The original surgeon examined the wound and declared himself both an artist and a genius and then, under my insistent pressure, yielded and gave me his blessing to return to swim practice this Saturday morning. The one proviso is that he'd like me to wear a waterproof bandage over the wound during the workout. Don't tell Benjamin but I'll be cleared to take out trash and lift boxes from Saturday onward. We'll see just how long I can carry forward my guilt-driven advantage.

Knowing that episodes like this might reoccur I've purchased futures in the sunscreen commodities markets and started ordering in cases of zinc based product. 

It wasn't as bad as I thought the experience would be. It almost never is.

"Worry is a price we pay for a future that may never come." - Ian Fleming. 

Hard Edge in Black and White.

 I don't need a chart to figure out if my lens is sharp.

`A Mere Shadow of My Former Self.

anonymous day in photography.

letting go of technique.


It's a cliché by now but I'm making a list of all the stuff I want for Christmas. Surprisingly, the list is fairly short. Perhaps I'm not being strategic enough.

 It should come as no surprise to anyone here but I do like my cameras and lenses. When December rolls around, and the consensus is that I've been better not worse, I like to think about acquiring just a few more things to tuck in around the corners of what I already have. 

The first thought is always that it would be an exciting holiday if I just did a full system change. That would keep me busy for a while but it's definitely not going to happen this year. I keep playing with the new "toys" my more advantaged photography peers buy and parade in front of me and, to be frank, with the exception of a Leica SL2 there's not much out in the market that piques my interest. The SL2 itself is only interesting to me because of what I think is a very beautiful implementation of industrial design coupled with a minimalist operating menu. That's the long and short of it. Because underneath I believe that the SL2 is really a re-bodied Panasonic S1R. Sure, the colors and tones are tweaked with Germanic special sauce but after playing with raw files from an SL2 I'm pretty sure, if I spend hard time in PhotoShop, I can make some profiles that will get the differences in looks between the two cameras pretty close.

Then there are the stand alone cameras, like the Sigma fp and the Fuji X-100 V. The X-100 V is tempting. And after reading through a torrent of comments in response to Michael Johnston's article about the monochrome Leicas I went so far as to reserve the last new Fuji X-100 V (in black) at Precision Camera. I thought it might be interesting to work with the monochrome profiles represented in that camera's menu. I stopped myself when I remembered my low level distaste for the 35mm equivalent focal length. I quickly texted my guy and cancelled the hold on that one. Much to his relief as he had someone standing right in front of him ready to buy it. The Fuji camera was the group collated choice for "poor man's Leica Monochrome" in the comments at MJ's blog.

Paul (photographer and friend) texted me this morning to tell me that Precision Camera had just taken in trade a minty Leica S2 (007) and what is reported to be a fantastic Leica S zoom lens; the 30-90mm. I could have the pair for the paltry sum of only $12,000. I knew better than to consider dropping $12K on a camera and lens from a company that is legendary for taking its time to repair their ailing medium format cameras and I also realized that without access to a functional warranty that camera might just break me financially. And, of course, I'd want to supplement that zoom lens with some faster and longer optics; all at breathtakingly high prices. Pass. 

But that put me in the mindset of getting something medium format-ish. Being cheap and frugal I started researching the Fuji MF line and nearly settled on the 50R and a 110mm f2.0 lens to go with it. About half the price of the Leica stuff and with a much more Kirk like lens. I thought about this combination while I took a brief nap on the couch in the living room. And, by the way, the light coming through the doors in the dining room and reflecting off the Saltillo tile floor onto the high ceiling in the living room was just gorgeous today.

When I regained consciousness, surprisingly, the Fuji medium format lust had passed. Too many systems and too many rabbit holes to burrow down. While those pixie format MF cameras might seem "medium format" to most digital camera users I would always know that it could never compare to a "real" 2.25 inch by 2.25 inch negative or sensor. Just not the same thing. Plus, I'd done a few comparisons with files from the 50R and the S1R I own and found very, very little advantage to make grasping for mild sensor size upgrades even a thing.

I looked around the studio and thought about lighting. Hard to argue that one can ever have too much lighting gear. Hard but not impossible. That's why I've given away five or six big flashes and four or five smaller flashes this year. I also keep throwing out tattered light modifiers and crippled light stands. No, I'll have to look elsewhere for a satisfying addition to the pile this season. It's not going to be in the lighting field. Not unless someone invents something so exciting and new that we all have to have one.

And believe me, it won't be a flash.

In short I've looked and thought about the rich assortment of stuff in the market place and I've come up with only two things that I really think I want this year. Happily neither is pricy or prestigious. In fact, they are both kind of anti-prestigious in the current age of photography. 

Both are lenses. Both are from Sigma. And both are infinitely interesting to me. In this moment.

I've already mentioned the Sigma Contemporary 65mm f2.0 lens. I like the focal length very much and would love a lens that's engineered more to be good than to be fast. I don't mind carrying the fat Lumix S-Pro 24-70mm f2.8 around with me for work, or hoisting the ample 70-200mm around just to get close to that focal length but for my own jovial and relaxed personal work I think it would be really nice to have a lens that's slightly portrait-ish, smaller and lighter, while also highly corrected and ready to replace any number of 50 and 55mm lenses. So, that's my first choice and it's already on order. I hope I get one from the first delivered batch.

I know most of you would rush to get the matching 35mm f2.0 Sigma lens but I can hold off on that. It's so close to the 45mm and in a contest for my admiration the 45mm would always win. No, the other lens I want from the newly announced Sigma i line would be that delightful 24mm f3.5. It seems just right. No heroic measures taken to make it super fast! I'm happily surprised to see a wide lens like this enter the market with such a slow aperture became I interpret that to mean that Sigma compromised on f-stop and not on image quality. It's reasonably small and three or four copies of this would tilt the scales about as much as the one copy of my Sigma Art series 20mm lens (which I always find to be just a touch too wide for me...).

There are two configurations I imagine for the new batch of lenses. For work, where appropriate, I could arrive with an S1R body along with the 24mm, the 45mm, and the 85mm f1.4 (a recent purchase) and be ready for the kind of projects I really enjoy. The second configuration would be my "artistic" travel system which would include a solitary Sigma fp camera, the 24mm f3.5 and the 65mm f2.0. Those and a little plastic bag filled with additional camera batteries. 

All small enough to fit in a very small shoulder bag and all competent enough to make me look like a better photographer than I may be. 

I thought about buying a sports car instead and I drove two of the ones that interested me from Subaru. One was the WRX and the other a BRZ. But as I was test driving each in turn I kept imagining how frustrating it would be to actually own an exciting performance car in a city with one of the worst cases of traffic congestion in the country. A heavy clutch and a responsive six speed manual transmission might be a joy on winding country roads but in stop and go traffic, with the required cup of coffee in one hand, it's a recipe for nightmarish scenarios and disappointment. And, sadly, as a very practical person every time I exited the sports car/driving experience and re-entered my pedestrian Subaru Forester I found my comfort and joy level rise. I think I found the appropriately sorted vehicle for me already.

Truth be told I feel unsettled buying anything for myself this year. We've been fortunate in this economic down period and pandemic but I watch the (real) news and see so many suffering and I can only imagine how desperate things will get for people when the rent moratorium ends and the last of the money runs out. 

Something tells me it would be karmically a bit wiser to save some dry powder and be ready to help out. At least locally. There are bound to be people I know in the arts who will need a helping hand. Not sure how I'll feel trotting out new gear knowing a friend or acquaintance is grappling with profound need. 

Maybe I'll just get that set of replacement inks for the printer and call it a day. Hmmm. Somehow that seems better than yet another lens. 

I know almost all of you would love to donate to me this year. That's why I've established here on the blog a Patreon account, created numerous affiliate links to online retailers, started to accept PayPal and Venmo donations and am begging for you to send me hard cash so I can pay for and write about more photography gear. 

Oh....wait....none of that is true. I don't need any donations. But if you feel overwhelmed by your own good luck and wonderful personal situation perhaps I could suggest a donation to your local food bank instead. The people who benefit will likely never know you did it but I don't think that's really the point. 

Me, I'll suffer along with the meager gear I've managed to accrue so far. Hope you have a happy holiday season and I hope you take a moment in these rough times to make the holidays a little happier for someone less well off. 

End of soapbox.

Sorry, that's it for the "must have holiday gear listings."

Interesting results with black and white files from the Sigma fp; along with some dynamic range enhancement by the Sigma's "fill light" setting in the shooting menu.

We're heading into the holidays. Is it any wonder people's thoughts are rushing to black and white photography?