Storm Clouds on the Horizon. Walk Down Third St. What's Next?

©2021 Kirk Tuck. Please don't re-purpose. All rights reserved.

I always dread these words: "The pool will be closed for three days next week for maintenance." Especially when they are coupled with: "We're trying out a new pool maintenance company for the first time in 25 years. I'm sure everything will work out just fine..." 

So, if you happen to see me curled up in the fetal position after Friday of next week you'll know that something has gone horribly wrong with the plan. Horribly wrong. And the three days will have stretched out to three weeks or worse...

Our beautiful pool will be closed on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of next week for "routine" maintenance. The more dedicated (compulsive?) among our masters swim team are already researching and planning for trips to alternate pools. We hope to stay wet and out of breath throughout the closure.

Storm Clouds Indeed. 

Speaking of storm clouds, it's been unnaturally cold here lately. This morning it was in the upper 40s when I got up for swim practice. It's been chilly all day. So I checked the weather forecast only to find that we'll have a strong weather front sweeping through the area tomorrow around midday. Wouldn't you know it? I've got a new car and the forecast includes "likely" enormous hail, torrential rain and even possible tornados. But the risks exist only in a thin, two hour slice of time. Say from 11 am till 1 pm. It's the hail that bothers me. As a reader of ancient Greek literature I can't help but wonder if I'm being punished for the obvious hubris of having bought a new car.

Photography: Yesterday I had a wonderfully fun and uplifting photoshoot with my good friends at Esther's Follies. Esther's is a comedy troupe that does laugh till your sides cramp skits about current culture, politics (both sides get skewered equally) and celebrity shenanigans. There is also a magic show. They are an Austin treasure and have made people smile and laugh for going on 50 years! They've made it through the pandemic and are getting ready to open again in the early Summer. I'm sure they'll do it safely and with reduced audiences but it's thrilling to see their perseverance pay off. I asked them if they needed new visual content and off we went!

We used to shoot the rehearsals with whatever props or set pieces were on the small stage but lately their advertising and marketing designer has gone down the deep rabbit hole of image compositing and from what I've seen he's got talent. So yesterday I came by, in the maiden work voyage for the Subaru Forester, grabbed a free parking space on Red River St. and dragged my usual case of lights and stands into their theater. While doing so it dawned on me that I've been photographing their shows a couple times a year for nearly the last 20 years. 

The cast had a nine foot wide green screen set up on the stage and the plan was to shoot everything in front of the green screen. Now, at the outset I should say that these folks move quickly. This is not like a corporate shoot where we can test and test and tweak and tweak. We shot something like 35 set ups in a bit under three hours...and that included my initial lighting and exposure tweaks and the tear down at the end. It's a brisk pace and it calls for lighting that works well without further major adjustments. 

I lit the stage with two 300 W/S lights (monolight electronic flashes) from the front, positioned about eight feet away from my central camera position. I got them up as high as I could and put smallish soft boxes on these two fixtures. Then I put up two more lights (same kind) at more rakish angles to the stage and used them direct with 7 inch reflectors. I set the ratio between these side lights and the center lights at about 1.5:1. I admit it; the light ratio was flatter than I usually work but it felt just right for the space, the stage, the actors and the final use. 

I used the Panasonic S1 camera and it surprised me. I'd almost forgotten two things: First, how good the camera is and how well it works for this kind of project. And second, that I hadn't used it since I did the most recent firmware update which tweaked the AF and more fully implemented the dual ISO feature of the camera. I chose to use the low ISO range and set the camera to the top of that range at 800. 

The 24-105mm f4.0 zoom from Panasonic was perfect for this photo-adventure since I could go from a wide stage shot to a "waist up" personality shot while standing in one position. Nice. The lens was set to f7.1 (based on an incident light meter reading from the center position on the stage, facing the camera) and the shutter speed was set to 1/100th of a second. Since we were pretty tightly tested and locked in, and I had set a custom white balance for the flashes, the client and I decided to try our luck and shoot the entire project in Large, Fine Jpegs. No horsing around with raw files yesterday! 

And, interestingly enough, this is the first theater shoot I have ever, ever done where in post processing I didn't have to tweak anything. No changes at all to the files as they were shot!!! Instead of making tweaks here and there and then saving out a whole new set of Jpegs the files I uploaded to the theater client (all 1500+) were camera originals. SOOC. Inordinately large time savings. Much happiness. 

Now let's talk about autofocusing. 

I didn't bring a tripod and I worked with the camera handheld yesterday afternoon. It's vital on people shots, and even more vital for people shots done on green screen, for faces, eyes, etc. to be in sharp focus. It's far easier to composite images with sharp edges and then soften the transitions than trying to start with a soft image to composite into a background. I opened the S1 menu and went to my usual AF mode which is usually "1 area." I typically work by moving the little AF square around the frame, trying to put it over people's faces to get good AF. I had never seen the ability to modify the single area control before. 

When I've used face detect in the past I've done it by selecting the control on the far left of the row of options; the one with the person and bird icons in it. When I'm selecting that mode I have a choice of face or eye detection. But when I saw a new sub-menu of controls come up under "1 Area" I thought it would be interesting to give it a try. It's obviously a new update to the system so we gave it a spin. 

Here is the menu set up in the traditional way I use the AF modes.
Single area. Movable focusing target. 

Now you can select "1-Area (Human Detection) and....

We can also choose "1-Area (Human/Animal Detect). 

I swear, these additional menu items were not there the last time I used this camera! I went with Human detection and also found out that you can still set the default AF square's size. The camera will default to the area in that square if it doesn't find a human to lock onto, so you are basically covered. 

When the first person walked on to the stage to be photographed I brought the camera to my eye and pushed the shutter button half way down (don't forget, I still use S-AF and not back-button-mania) and, as it was a full length shot, the camera positioned a large outline box completely around the subject and turned the box green (AF confirmation). I spent the afternoon with the camera set to this setting. 

If I was photographing a waist up or closer shot the camera would detect the face and put a box around the face. If there were multiple faces on the stage at one time it would lock on the closest one but I could override it by tapping the face that I actually wanted to be in perfect focus on the rear screen. If I was closer still the camera would automatically default to focusing on the closest eye. 

Now, I was not shooting under bright stage lights. In fact, we didn't have a theater lighting tech on tap so I was focusing using the illumination of 150 watt modeling lights, all of which were about 20-25 feet from the stage and two of which were shining through soft boxes. Not an optimal way to shoot face detect in AF  but contrary to almost everyone writing camera dreck on the web the Panasonic camera nailed every single frame. We were 1500 for 1500. 

Okay, so it always looks good on the screens on the back of the camera but how well were the frames really focused when we popped them open on a 5K Retina screen at 100%? Well....they were perfect. Every eye on the individual shots was right on the money. All the group shots were perfect compromises and all the people were sharp. I even zoomed into some of the full length shots and looked at the eyes and they were perfectly sharp. 

The web seems to pick up a meme about particular cameras and brands so as to slot them into some hierarchy and no matter how much the cameras improve it seems they are always destined to wear the tag they caught when an early reviewer casually tested and then tossed in a  throwaway review with little science or experience behind it. The slag for the S1 series of cameras is twofold but only one of the parameters is objective. Yes, they are bigger cameras than most of their competitors. If you must have a lightweight system you'll need to look to one of the other brands and also limit yourself to slower lenses. 

The second ever-prevailing black mark on the S1 cameras is to say that they struggle to focus. My experiences show me that they focus very, very well. Accurately and quickly. At least in every still photography assignment I have used them on. 

This particular outing with the S1 was another reminder to me about just how wrong online reviewers can be and how they often find a small nit and then sabotage a great set of tools in service of their own favorite brands. The only issue I found with focusing on S1 cameras was when trying to do AF-C in video, in low light situations. The first few firmware fixes helped but didn't cure the problem. But the issue was never one that should have caused concern for the enormous majority of photographer who aren't doing video or the subset of professional videographers who understand that AF and most kinds of video production are oil and water. 

Yes. I want good C-AF I'm going to put a camera on a gimbal. But a smaller, lighter camera works better in that use case. (hello Fuji X100V). For just about everything else I do in video we're well enough lit to make focusing a breeze. Even manual focusing!!! Heaven forfend.

Bottom line for me is that for the way I shoot the focus for photography is perfectly fine. Just as good as I need it to be. And the same goes for the two Leicas as well. Perhaps it's because I mostly use the 24-105 in fast moving situation like the one I described above, and it's probably the fastest focusing of the native Lumix S1 lenses, but I've also used the 50mm S-Pro for a number of shoots and it does fine as well.

When all is said and done the proof is in the tasting, or the integrity and look of the finished files. I'm happily satisfied. 

Now, what to do about the hail?

A related post from last year: https://visualsciencelab.blogspot.com/2020/02/a-quick-after-action-report-on-hybrid.html


Bokeh Monster. The Nikon 105mm f2.0 Defocus Coupling Lens. Wanna see the background disappear into a luxurious blur? Maybe get one...

 Two interesting tools. The Kodak DCS 760C camera with its amazing 6 megapixel CCD sensor and the Nikon 105mm DC lens. I photographed this person for an ad campaign for the Austin Lyric Opera. The background is way, way far away. It's lit with a 1,000 watt tungsten light shining through two layers of 6x6 foot silk on a frame. The background is also lit with a tungsten light. 

It's a nice look even now. Today's highly corrected lenses are too linear in the way the background focus falls off. It looks too "cookie cutter" even with (or maybe even more!) with today's highly corrected lenses. The sharp is too sharp and the transition to "blur" seems too obvious.

The Nikon 105mm and 135mm DC lenses had it just right. Designed at a time when unique-ness was more highly valued? 

Essential Flash Trigger Trick for the Godox X1T Wireless Trigger.

Radiologist in a reading room.

Shot quick with totally manual, battery powered, hot shoe flashes.

I struggle when there are too many options on a flash or a flash trigger. I guess it's from coming of age in photography during a period when the biggest control on a studio flash was "on or off." I mostly buy "dumb" flashes for everyday use and I'm generally confounded when I'm setting up a monolight or battery powered flash on a location, under a deadline, and my hand accidentally brushes against a button and all of a sudden the flash throws itself into some mode where it triggers five times at some weird power whenever I hit the camera's shutter button. I race through the menus trying to figure out how to turn off all the weird menu features that I can't imagine any photographer actually wanting, just trying to get back to a fully manual configuration. Sometimes I just can't seem to persuade a unit to relent and let me have some say in its settings. 

Where am I going with this? Well, I have two flash triggers that vex me whenever I use more than one flash at a time and use the Godox X1T trigger to fire the flash. What I want to do is set each flash individually and have them stay where I set them. I guess I can do exactly this if I sit down, read the manual, then put each flash into a different group, set each group to manual on the trigger device, and then adjust each group to a manually set power output. But it seems far easier to me to just reach up and set each flash to the power I'd like it to put out as I set each flash up by using controls on the flash itself. Sure, doing it all from the trigger on the camera's hotshoe is probably easier than going to each monolight and setting a dial with one's fingers but in the middle of the shoot knowing which flash is in which group can get fuzzy. I just want them to stay set in the mode and power output I've chosen and to stay there. I know that's not au courant or cool or particularly efficient but can't a trigger be just a trigger?

Well, apparently it can. After owning these things for years and cursing them repeatedly I've finally decided to find a solution. As it would turn out, if I had just read the f-ing manual I would have already known. 

There is a procedure that will allow you to render your trigger into a dumb, one trick pony. You can go into the custom functions, go to custom function # one and turn off all the electrical contacts except for the actual, standard triggering contact. The big fat, center contact that works on almost all cameras. Once you do that you can ignore all the other stuff (as long as you match the channel settings on the flash and the camera). Now you have the equivalent of my ancient, Wein, infra-red trigger. There are no settings to think about, you push the shutter button and the shoe-mounted device sends a radio signal to the receiver unit in every flash set to the same channel and just makes them trigger. No ever-changing settings, no fuss.

I understand that you might want to control everything from camera if you are working in a situation in which you need to change ratios all the time (although I can't imagine the scenario off hand). Then, I guess it makes sense to have the control from the camera. But being fluid in that methodology requires you to practice using the gear this way more frequently than I do.

There are a couple of benefits to turning off all the unnecessary electrical connections and just having signal at the center post. 

I bought one trigger when I was using a lot of Olympus cameras. That trigger is dedicated to that system. I bought another trigger to use the flashes with Fuji cameras and that trigger is dedicated to the Fuji hot shoe configuration. There's a chance, when using a trigger made for one brand on a camera that has different signals at different contacts, of either messing up your exposures and settings or even frying the tender electronics in mismatched cameras. And that would be really bad. Especially on a quick action shoot.

By turning off all the automatic contacts on each trigger and allowing only the simple, universal contact that allows the camera to trigger the trigger, each X1T becomes a safe, universal trigger across all the cameras I own and use. 

By turning off the automatic stuff I can use either trigger on my Leicas, Panasonic S series cameras or even my Fuji X100V's. No excess brainwork required. All concentration can be centered on working with the subjects and working on composition. I wish every flash device had a big button on it somewhere that hapless photographers like me could just push and go straight into a "bulletproof" manual mode; no questions asked. Till then, at least with my X1T triggers, there's always FN 2. 


My weeks start on Tuesdays. It's a swim thing. I've made Monday the recurring "day off." I hope my boss is okay with that...

A Portrait of Suzy W.

It's the start of the week for me. It's Tuesday. We normally swim Tuesday through Sunday each week and then the pool is closed on Mondays to "rest" the water and chemicals, and so the staff can do maintenance without interference from pesky and demanding swimmers. Since I'm up pretty early (for me) most mornings, in order to hit the 8 a.m. swim practice, Monday is the only day of the week I can sleep in, eat a leisurely breakfast and sit in the backyard reading novels. I guess everyone needs a day of leisure and rest.

The 7 a.m. practice was packed today and the 8 a.m. practice was near capacity. If you count me then there were four people in my lane today but all of us in lane four have swum together for at least the last ten years so we fell right into a good order and circle swam without a glitch. Up on the right, back on the other right. Yeah. Okay, just imagine the lane as a circle and imagine us swimming it counter-clockwise and five seconds apart (which translates into a little more than a body length between swimmers). 

Our lane "leader" was Matt and he's the kind of swimmer that never slows down, always chooses the tightest intervals, and keeps the pedal down throughout the hour. That's why we like to swim with him. There's no chit-chat, we just get to work and follow the leader. It's a maximal workout.

This morning was beautiful in Austin. It was 55° when I rolled into the pool and the sky was crystal clear and untinged blue. We cheated and stayed in the pool at the end of workout to get in a few extra yards and to finish up the workout the coach had written up on the pool side white board. If you did the whole workout you made it through 3400 yards; that's about two miles. Not a bad way to start the day.

According to my Apple Watch health app my maximum heart rate during the swim was 154 bpm and my minimum heart rate during the workout was 88. Ten minutes after the workout, sitting in my car checking messages, my heart rate dropped back to 68. My VO-2 max was 38. I'm pretty sure I burned up some calories on this one...

After a quick shower at home (the showers at the pool are off limits during the pandemic) to rinse off the chlorine or bromine or whatever with a product called, ThinkSport Body Wash and Shampoo (which is supposedly formulated to remove chlorine and other chemicals that make skin itch) I put on some decent shoes and walked up to the end of the street to Trianon Coffee where Emil made me a cup of Kenya coffee and I bought an enormous apple danish from the pastry case. 

The weather was perfect so I pulled a couple of chairs into a shady spot to drink coffee, eat a pastry and read articles on my phone. It was a great way to savor 45 minutes of happy down time. 

I'm waiting for Jason from the Subaru dealer to deliver my new car to my house around lunch time. He'll also pick up the loaner car I've been using and take it back to the dealership. Once I've accepted delivery I plan to drive downtown and head over to Whole Foods for a slice of pizza and then I'll take a walk through downtown with one of the Fuji X100Vs. Of the cameras I've mentioned in the blog lately it's the model that most people have requested I write more about. I thought I'd shoot it some additional frames just to stay fresh.

Once I get all the fun stuff out of the way I'll start packing for tomorrow's shoot down at the Esther's Follies Stage on East Six Street. Yeah, the seedy part. 

We've done rehearsal shoots there for years and I have a really good idea of what to pack as far as lighting goes. Unlike the giant organization of Zach Theatre, with its $24 million main theater and acres of computer controlled lights, Esther's Follies is pretty bare bones. And the lights they have are a jumble. I usually default to setting up electronic flash and trying to freeze as much action as I can while letting some of the stage lighting bleed through. 

Tomorrow I'm going to drag in four 300 W/S Godox flashes, put small soft boxes on them, arrange a couple as side lights and a couple as a main and fill light. We're not trying to be fancy here and I generally need to shoot groupings of at least two actors and sometimes up to ten people on the stage at a time so I try to get f8.0 if I can make it work. I'm trying to keep everyone in focus. Much as I'd like to use one of the Leicas to shoot with I haven't really mastered my flash techniques with either the SL or the SL2 and I'm not even sure if I have a flash trigger that will work for them so I'll choose the Panasonic S1 (with the newest firmware update) instead. It hardly matters since the lenses would be the same. 

When I'm making images on the Esther's Follies stage I usually like to work with the 24-105mm lens. At f8.0 I'm pretty sure I wouldn't see that much of a benefit trying to use a bunch of prime lenses and we tend to go through the skits and routines at a pretty fast clip so using the zoom helps keep the flow running smoothly. Since I'm a bit rusty (we haven't done one of these in more than a year!!!) I'll shoot raw+jpeg just in case I trip over my own two feet (metaphorically). 

Once I get everything packed and ready I'll take some downtime to walk over the the neighborhood Ace Hardware to look for lawn sprinklers. They seem to die off every year, no matter which ones I buy. Cheap or dear.  They just stop doing whatever it is they are  supposed to do. 

And that should be enough to get my week started. 

Apropos yesterday's post about the Mac OS...

My first experience with computing was in a calculus class in high school back in 1972. We had a small office on our campus dedicated to telephony and some students were allowed to use a modem connection to a mainframe computer at Trinity University. It was punch card days. And the padded cradle for a telephone hand set was always a strange part of the set up. I don't remember the baud rate but I'm guessing it wasn't very impressive. We all got assignments to do some simple programming that would require main frame access. It wasn't until I got to the University of Texas, College of Electrical Engineering that we really had to start a serious engagement with computers. 

Now, where did I put my circular slide rule?

Ah, to channel my inner nerd.



The scary process of changing something vital to your business. Something which already works "just fine."

 I am not a particularly brave person when it comes to technical "progress." For many years most of us were in the position of being our own I.T. Directors and the experiences seem to have left many psychological scars. Some of my son's early memories of his dad with a computer come from the times that he would venture into the studio only to find me down on the floor, under the desk, with the chassis of some tower-type computer wide open and me muttering and swearing under my breath trying to track down SCSI conflicts or issues with aftermarket memory modules. 

In the earlier days of "computing" there were no real resources to consult on the web because the web didn't really exist for normal people back then. There was no recourse to go online and watch a video on YouTube because.....same. We learned by trial and error and via articles in printed magazines devoted to computing on various platforms. During the pre-historic days of computing the machinery was expensive and there were few people who could clearly claim to have "grown up" with the technology. In fact, there were far, far fewer people around who actually owned personal computers!

In those days new operating systems arrived on multiple floppy disks or, a few years later, on CD-ROMs. The process of updating a dodgy system was anything but straightforward and each upgrade came complete with incredibly frustrating, new incompatibilities. Many days of real work were sacrificed in the pursuit of just having a machine that would turn on and run with acceptable stability for even a day or so. In many more ways even the applications were fraught with perils galore. Imagine trying to figure out layers in PhotoShop for the first time after having used the program for several years before layers were even introduced! And no documentation. The book would come out months later...

Many machines were temporarily or permanently bricked after unsuccessful update attempts and no one was around to revive them. They sat as slowly deteriorating fossils of a time before ... support. 

Damn. Those were bleak times. At various junctures I am amazed that we didn't toss our hands up and decide not to embrace the demonic compromise that was....computerization. It's not as though film didn't work!

But I mention all this so you'll understand that those early memories, like some childhood trauma, haunt me to this day. I've been running an iMacPro for about 1.5 years and it's been remarkably stable. It never crashes. But I try never to give it any reason to crash. I try to make sure than only the most pure electricity is introduced to its power cord, even if that means the children go shoeless and hungry. I never turn the machine on without touching the rabbit foots dangling next to one of the hard drives; just for luck. I talked to one of the product engineers and wrested from him information about optimal performance temperatures and so for the last 1.5 years I've tried to keep the temperature around the computer at 66° Fahrenheit. Plus or minus half a degree. Once a week we burn sage outside the studio door and chant positive mantras to the computer. And all this is part of our effort with an Apple computer product. Can you imagine what we'd have to burn to keep a Windows machine even marginally usable? It boggles the mind. 

At any rate, last Fall Apple announced a big operating system upgrade. You could take your machine from "Catalina" to "Big Sur." Most of the benefits clustered around better security and better rejection of trackers and other forms of unwanted surveillance. Stuff/features that I value. I wanted to update right away but my computer therapist, my analyst and my psycho-therapist and my attorney all dissuaded me from the horror of being an "early adopter." 

Stories were seeping onto the web about updated computers slowing down to a crawl. Or of updates just failing altogether. Most stories recounted what seemed like a dystopian landscape of disappointment. Centers opened up to deal with SUD (system upgrade depression). Expert Counselors from the Windows world could only suggest their favorite remedies to Apple users: Cold Dominos Pizza and Mountain Dew.

Since my wanton attraction to cars tossed my work schedule into a deep fissure and diminished my work reliance on my desktop computer to nearly nothing last week I decided that I'd take the leap. I would either end up renouncing the bane of the 20th century (computers) or be elated by new capabilities and speed. I didn't even want to consider that there might be middle ground. That the update might work fine but there might be no discernible performance differences. 

I backed things up. I ran disk repairs on all hard drives. I pulled tons of trash off my internal SSD. I formatted a new, external SSD to run Time Machine and backed up all my critical files....again. And then, early Saturday when the bandwidth hog family was still slumbering away, dreaming of massive online multi-player games, I snuck out to the office and, making the sign of the cross over my heart many times (even though I am not Catholic) I pushed the right buttons, on screen, to begin the process. The upgrade to Big Sur. AKA: MacOS 11.2.3.

My anxiety was apparent from across the street. Dogs howled in fear. Birds fell dead in the street.  I put down my mug of hot but un-drunk coffee and grabbed a handful of Xanax instead. And then I spent the next two hours blearily watching the little "progress" bar slowly, slowly, ever so slowly, make its way across the center of an otherwise black screen. 

But....it was successful and everything is fine now and even my passwords and junk made it across the void. I'm breathing a sigh of relief and will probably have to take the rest of the week off to recover. 

Maybe a retreat to one of those places where everyone meditates all day and no one speaks for a week.

Naw. I'd never make it.

Around Austin with a comfortable camera and lens.

Stay human. Stay.

I was certainly out of sorts yesterday. Probably not enough high intensity billiard workouts. Or too much pondering about cars. So, when I feel drained and directionless I think the best thing for me to do is to grab a life-affirming camera and lens combination and go for a long walk. Lately my walks have been getting longer and longer. Not the length of time but the distance. I'm averaging about 4 miles now and I blame my Apple Watch for that. It keeps track of my activity and my goals and I'm always trying to beat its expectations. Yesterday I gave up and strapped on a cheap, dumb, Timex. It has three functions. It keeps track of hours passing, minutes passing and seconds ticking by. That's about it. And it's an old one; I have to wind it if I want to use it. 

I brought along an SL2 and a Contax 28mm Zeiss Distagon that works on the L-mount with an adapter. It's such a pleasure using a manual focus lens if there's no pressing schedule or breathless assignment. You can kind of wing it if you want to. I set my manual 28mm to f8.0, focus it to about six feet, and just assume that most of the stuff I point the camera at will be in focus. If it's egregiously mis-focused I might intervene. But sometimes I might not. 

Austin was an odd mix yesterday. Half the people were masked and half were not. There was no really logic or rationale to the distribution of maskers to non-maskers; certainly nothing by age or any other demographic that I could divine. Just a random distribution of human data points. A stochastic mix of lip and non-lip people peppering the urban landscape.

There is a large art work downtown called, Tau Ceti at 2nd St. and Brazos. It attracts photographers and their "models." Today it was busy. People were lining up to photograph their loved ones against Austin's largest piece of outdoor art. I don't have a photo to show of the whole work but it's pretty easy to Google. 

I loved the image of the guy with his dog. And then I looked over to my right and saw that he had a whole pack of very, very obedient dogs just waiting patiently on the side lines waiting their turn on "stage." 

Phone-tography assessment at Tau Ceti art. 

These guys were having a blast photographing each other in front of the soaring, painted mural. I saw them checking stuff out on a phone and went to photograph them. They looked up and smiled but I wanted the shot where everyone is checking out the results of their "shoot." I shot some frames and then asked them to replicate their stance the way I first saw it. They were incredibly cooperative and one took the time to ask, "Is that a Leica?" I should have hung out at Tau Ceti longer because people were getting really creative. And everyone had such a nice vibe. But I like to keep moving so off I went. 

Now that's a tagline you don't see much. 

If you get nervous about the safety of your camera gear, or if you are uncomfortable with combative street people and people who are addicted to alcohol and drugs (and therefore not very predictable...) you might not want to walk down East Sixth St. You will be accosted for money and occasionally you will be the target of some loud and aggressive verbal abuse. But as the story about the Dalai Lama goes, you should run toward the snarling dog. (metaphorically). If fear keeps you from taking your camera somewhere that fear shows and I think it creates a victim persona that actually attracts unwanted attention. My attitude is that if you fear for your gear you probably shouldn't take it to the places that cause you that kind of duress. 

My take is that the camera is part of me and it goes with me everywhere. If keep track of my personal security correctly it's rare that anyone hassles me. If someone asks me a question I always answer. If someone greets me I always return the greeting. It seems more dismissive to ignore someone than to answer them honestly. And directly. 

As the weather warms up more and more people are out on the sidewalks and some small number of them are just relentless about making trouble. But there's a difference between people who unfortunately find themselves temporarily homeless, and people with addiction and/or mental health issues. It's the unpredictable people what you need to keep track of as you glide through the space. Being confident and at ease seems always to be the best strategy. You should always know where everyone is around you. And be alert. Calmly alert.

But East Sixth Street is part of my walking route and I don't plan on changing it. Even if it does get a little uncomfortable from time to time. Dicey areas are a great argument for keeping your gear minimal and portable. No big camera bags (do people still walk around with big camera bags? I don't see people doing that much in Austin now...) and just one camera + lens and you'll be quicker and more agile. But the fear of loss? Naw. That's not really a concern.

Austin has now been officially overtaken by scooters.

By the time I finished my walk I was refreshed and ready to get back to business. Just finishing up some job details here and working through some routine document shredding. Tomorrow the new car gets delivered, swim practice happens, blog writing continues and preparation for a photo job at Esther's Follies (comedy theater) gets done. Wednesday is a "shoot day" with a super talented troupe of actors and I'm so looking forward to it. Something new to think about and write about.



My original goal was to write and share photos on 5,000 blog posts. We have about 55 to go before we hit that number.

First blog image actually saved on the server.

First, an apology. When I started writing this blog I was focused on writing about cameras and lenses, and how the nuts and bolts of the photography business worked; at least for me. Over time I moved from writing about the gear to writing about "how I felt about the gear." and from there, recently it seems, the writing has become about  "how I feel about everyday stuff." In this transition I've unintentionally minimized the experiences of others in this incredibly trying time and become somewhat blind to my own privileges. That I let my own hubris and (misplaced) sense of entitlement come through in my writing is regretful and insensitive and for that I am sorry. 

A blog about photography should be a respite from the angst and trauma of life; especially during a pandemic. My insensitivity is a result of too much isolation and not enough empathy for those who haven't been as lucky as me over the last year. It's also "off message." 

In the next 55 blog posts I'll try to make amends, or at least keep from going off the rails. No more posts about politics, cars or swimming. No more emphasis on luxe camera brands when an article on the actual operation of cameras is more relevant. But I do reserve the right to discuss stuff like...raccoons. 

I'll try to make the next 55 posts well worth reading for my core audience: photographers. 

Not sure what will happen when I hit the target of 5,000. We'll see when we get there.

Sorry for mucking up some of the posts. 


It was Black and White day today. I Celebrated the occasion with a black and white walk.


News that's largely meaningless to you but significant to me: 

Raccoons. AKA: Trash Pandas. Humanely removed by nothing more than a smelly rag. An interesting and low impact solution for my chimney dwellers. The chimney got two layers of heavy duty, metal mesh masonry-ed into place along with the regular top-of-chimney cage, also cemented in place. 

I now believe that raccoons are smarter and stronger than humans and can really only be stopped by half inch steel bars but the current construction is a strong deterrent. I now worry that the baby raccoons will not have as nice a place in which to grow up...  Not that I'll be inviting them into the office.

Cars: I was roundly pilloried by an anonymous commenter whose mission seems to be two pronged: to attack any post I make with which he disagrees and also to force everyone with whatever pressure he can exert to only buy electric cars which you will then be required to drive for the rest of your life. No replacements and no exceptions. I've had my fill of asshole commenters so from now on when I come across a petulant post from an anonymous commenter I will discard it post haste. Now, this doesn't mean that my loyal readers who are also brave enough to leave their names will suffer the same treatment. You are almost family and can slag me to your heart's content, as long as you stay away from the ad hominem stuff, and continue to take credit for your brutal critiques. I would not want to rob friends of the opportunity to tell me how wrong I am. That's what friends are for. 

I'm currently driving an "undercover" looking sedan from the dealer. My new car, prior to wreaking unbelievable havoc on the environment, is traveling to Austin on a car-carrying truck and will be here to begin its destruction of all we hold good and noble by, maybe, Wednesday. Just look for the black clouds of smoke over the '46 zip code. That'll just be me starting up my new, 4 cylinder, low emission, inexpensive car for the first time. I'm pretty sure I'll keep the new one for a much longer time frame. I hope that makes him/her/us/them happy. 

Here's what I'm tooling around in for the rest of the week: 

I swear to God that it doesn't run on coal...

Cameras and stuff: I'm pretty happy with the stuff I've got in-house. But you know how that might go. Still... we're entering what I usually see as a "breathing spell" after a period of rapid acquisitions. I'm already planning an out of town foray when the new car arrives. I'm heading to San Antonio to photograph out on the street. I'm going to get back into the practice of making portraits on the street. I plan to spend at least one overnight there. Since I no longer have parents with nice houses in that city I'll be booking my overnight at one of the nicer downtown hotels. I can't wait to get out of the city. It's been over a year since I've been to San Antonio and I've missed the way it looks, smells and feels. I hope it hasn't been damaged too much by the pandemic. 

Current lens crushes: I'm very attached to the 65mm f2.0 Contemporary lens from Sigma. Damn. It's very sharp wide open, improves a little bit as you stop down, and just makes images that sing beautifully whether I use it on a Leica or an S series Panasonic. If I didn't own one I would be sitting at the computer with my favorite credit card in one hand, ordering one right now. I'd even pay for the expedited shipping. 

Camera crushes: While I own the Leica SL2 it's the SL that's got me wrapped around its right hand grip. I can't put my finger on it exactly but the camera just feels perfect. I paid about $1990 for the camera, used, and it's right in line with the same price as an entry level, full frame, Sony, Nikon or Canon. But it's worlds more luxe when it comes to the body design and construction. The colors coming straight out as Jpegs are stringently neutral and the hand feel is almost so good as to be illegal. I've been shooting it in the Jpeg+DNG mode but I keep using the Jpegs, being satisfied and the then trashing the raw files. I wish the batteries lasted longer and, as an adjunct to that wish, I also wish the batteries were about a third the price. But everything else makes me smile so big I could rival the Cheshire Cat. If you've always wanted to play with a Leica get an SL and a Sigma 45mm f2.8 and go to town. It's one of the most fun combos I can think of. 

Camera crushes continued: Get a Fuji X100V. They are just really, really good for the price. I fall in love every time I shoot with mine. 

Finally, I used the interval shooting feature of the Leica yesterday. It was so simple to set up that I thought I might be doing something wrong. I was not. But it allowed me to get a funny photo of myself that I put up on Instagram with an appropriate caption. Here's the pic: 

It's my "Senior" portrait. I can hardly wait to see it in the yearbook.

It was shot by S. Tymer. 

Daylight Architecture at f2.0. Now that's different. At least for me.


I never thought to photograph a building at f2.0 in broad daylight. Logic would tell me that I have lots of light, could use a modest ISO and still be able to get a shutter speed that would freeze any camera motion at a range of apertures; any of which might get me deeper depth of field and greater lens correction.

But today I was exploring the edges of the gear. What happens if we shoot everything at ISO 50? How do the files look? Are they very different than all the stuff we usually shoot at ISO 100 or 200?

What happens if we photograph buildings with an aperture of f2.0 instead of f5.6 or 8.0? Will the entire building be in focus? Is the lens sharp enough when used at its maximum aperture? 

After working with both the Leica SL and SL2 I have a small theory about sharpness and image stabilization. I think it may be a good idea to turn it off when you don't need it and see if that actually improves the work you might be doing at 1/1,600th of a second or so. Surely, with a static subject that's a fast enough shutter speed to freeze just about any camera movement or shutter shock. And an engaged image stabilization feature in combination with high shutter speeds may create more problems than it solves. If you don't test it you won't know, right?

This was f2.0, 1/1600 shutter speed, and ISO 50. Jpeg with a little saturation boost in the shooting. Click on it and look at it bigger. See if I learned anything or if it's just another building shot.

That's Scott Newton's Photo of Leon Russell Behind Me. It's over at the W Hotel. Which is connected to the Austin City Limits stage.


I'm enjoying doing self portraits with my new Leica cameras. I think I do it to see what I've looked like for all these years to all the thousands of people who waited patiently for me to get my shit together on the other side of the camera. It's also a learning process but it's a small one. It's mostly how to get the camera hold correct to be able to get sharp photos without image stabilization. 


Disk Golf at the park in a gentle mist. Everything is green again.


The importance of seeing artwork in the flesh.

Sculpture at the Blanton Museum. 

Memory fades over time, of course, but I still have a memory of being very young, probably not even in first grade at the time, and going with my mom and dad and my brother and sister to see show of "modern art" paintings at the Amon Carter Museum in Ft. Worth, Texas. I have a memory, which may or may not be a construct of a combination of visits over time, of seeing a painting of Pablo Picasso's "Peace Dove" on a gallery wall. It was a sunny day and there was a bank of windows somewhere behind me. I distinctly remember some random,  older man saying, out loud to no one in particular, "Hell, my nephew could have drawn that and he's in third grade."  

I may or may not have agreed with him but I didn't really know any third graders and didn't have any idea what they might be capable of doing with paint. I don't remember discussing any of our family visits to museums with my family members but I know that my parents diligently took us to area museums whenever an appropriate exhibition was presented. But the "reward" for a visit to the Amon Carter Museum in particular was always an early dinner at a BBQ restaurant called, The Black Angus, which had saw dust on the floors and some of the best tasting BBQ a youngster ever ate. If we'd been really cooperative at the museum my brother, sister and I would get an additional treat of having a sparkling glass of cold ginger ale with our BBQ. It was primary school gustatory heaven.

When we were growing up I don't remember seeing a lot of artwork in our family home in my early years. Then we lived in Turkey for a couple of years in the 1960s and my mother went on a shopping spree, buying up dozens of original canvases by all manner of Turkish painters. I learned about primitive painting, naive painting, representational painting and even a bit of photo-realism. My mother also collected Turkish pottery, Turkish carpets and works in brass and copper. When we came back to the USA it was almost like a light switch had been flipped and our homes from then on were filled with art of all kinds. It was an interesting transition; from bare walls with an occasional family snapshot to a mini-museum of middle eastern eclectica. I still have small, brass chariot from neighboring Greece, a curved dagger with an inlaid wooden handle and brass sheath from Syria and a large and heavy brass tray table from somewhere near Antioch.

When I decided to pursue photography in the 1970s there were few ways to share one's work. You could load up a slide projector and project your Kodachromes on a white sheet or convenient wall or you could learn how to print. As a student watching every penny I chose printing. And as a student owning two pairs of Levis and one pair of shorts I could only afford to pursue black and white prints. 

As part of learning to print better I went to every gallery show and museum show of black and white photography I could find. It was such a transformative experience to go into the Humanities Research Center at UT and actually hold original prints from the Helmet Gernschiem collection in a cotton-gloved pair of hands. The photo curator would sit with me in one of the small, upstairs galleries, and allow me to hold Edward Weston prints, Strand prints and even a few Henri-Cartier Bresson prints in my hands to better examine every square inch of the surfaces. Imagine my surprise when I was handing an HCB print of one of the Catholic Popes in the middle of a crowd only to realize that my photographic idol of the time had missed hitting sharp focus on the main subject. And then realizing that...it didn't matter. 

Years later, while teaching photography at the University of Texas, College of Fine Arts, one of the high points of each semester was my tradition of taking the students in my studio classes over to see the Gernschiem collection; under the watchful eyes of the curators.... It was usually a revelatory experience for those overly confident students who thought they had nailed the art of printing in only a few short months.

I thought I had become jaded about seeing art after the arrival of the "digital revolution" and the ubiquity of all the images on the web but a show a few years back of Arnold Newman's work, also at the HRC, set me straight. I could stare for ten minutes or more at work he did for commercial clients and magazines which, over time leapt right over any sort of label to become pure photographic art. The tones, the textures and the remarkable detail were all "what was missing" from the same works when reduced to presentation on the web. 

It was interesting to read comments from people and see scholarly reviews about Richard Avedon's remarkable show, "In the American West." It was originally presented at the Amon Carter Museum in Ft. Worth, Texas but almost everyone with an opinion saw a "minimized" version of  the work in popular photography magazines and tiny images in magazines like "Art in America." The documentation photographs were mostly small and in many cases badly printed and seeing the subject matter of the photos without the context of the presentation, size and context led to the usual uninformed grousing and posturing. And the idea that it was fashionable to dislike Avedon's non-fashion photography. 

My wife and I were invited to an evening opening reception for the "In the American West" show where we immediately encountered the reality of photographs printed in a way that dwarfed even my most optimistic understanding of how wonderful, powerful and dramatic photographs could be. Entering the main gallery was like opening the door to a newly discovered dimension. 

The black and white prints were magnificently made even if one discounted for the size and presentation but when you saw a perfectly printed (on photographic paper!!!) eight foot by ten foot portrait supported by a steel backing under perfect lighting the power of it would take a normal person's breath away. It was just that different. Just that amazing. 

Added to the excitement of the prints was the fact that Avedon had invited many of the subjects of the photographs to attend the reception. To see "normal" people utterly transformed by Avedon's art, and standing right next to prints of themselves, was another elevation of understanding that never was adequately represented by the work shown small in magazines. Or in the reviews that accompanied them.

It was in that moment that I think I realized how important a direct assessment and appreciation of any artwork is. It's the reason why art lovers make the treks to see original artwork all over the world. Would a  six inch tall,  plastic model of Michelangelo's  Pieta inspire the same wonder and appreciation in generations of art lovers as the magnificent and powerful original statue, situated in the context of the grandeur of the Vatican? 

When I have done shows of my own work in the past I've printed mostly larger black and white prints. I have one such "show" print on the wall next to my desk. You may have seen the image shown here before. It's the one of the Russian Model on the Spanish Steps in Rome. If you've seen it here, on a screen, you saw a version that is about 2200 pixels on a side. Reduced to a Jpeg and presented in (based on most monitors) 6 bits of color or tone differentiation. If you came into my office and walked over to my desk you would see the print made on double weight fiber paper, printed as a 36 x36 inch print, matted and framed. I guarantee that the contrast between the two viewing opportunities would be jarring. 

We have fewer and fewer opportunities to see original art in the flesh (so to speak). But we inflate our experiences and contact with art on the web as something equivalent to appreciating direct and original engagements with art work that also include its context; its actual prescence.

I had seen Caravagio paintings in books like "Jansen's History of Art" often enough to recognize his style and subject matter easily. I thought I knew what there was to know about Caravaggio from art history classes in which our professors projected slides of his work and talked about his use of chiaroscuro at length. But when I walked into small gallery in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence I saw the paintings as if for the first time. I was riveted. It changed my perspective on his accomplishments entirely.

I had the same experience in a gallery in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg in 1995 when I saw, for the first time, a painting of "the nursing" Madonna by Leonardo Da Vinci. I kept circling back to the work again and again, seeing something fresh and intriguing each time. So different than a tiny four color process print in a book...

And my reactions have been the same every time I come face to face with the actual art instead of the highly diluted proxies for the art that we are "treated to" on the web. Here, on the web, we know the broad outlines. In person we can look down to the brush strokes, to the grain. To the intention.

We talk a lot on these blogs about things like pixel peeping or dynamic range or sharpness but these parameters are all secondary to an artist's actual and complete culmination of a work. We're picking at little threads instead of standing back and seeing the costume in its entirety and its intended manifestation. Just as telling a scary story is wildly different that living through one. The parameters we discuss these days about lenses and cameras are engineering decisions that I think are aimed at maximizing a screen based experience over providing the best matrix of features for making transformative art.

When photographers discuss printing many are dismissive and predict that the physical print will soon be dead or will only be the preference, or "gold standard", of old farts over 50. I disagree. Well made prints have a power, when seen directly, to be transformative and, well, exciting. That power hasn't gone away. If anything the proliferation of endless mini-replicas of photography on our devices works to lower our expectations in such a way that when we finally see (are confronted by?) the work in the flesh it's even more powerful for the current generations of viewers. It just takes more energy to get today's viewer off the couch and finally standing with full attention in front of actual work. We don't have an NFT for that yet....

I posted some images yesterday from a gallery that I wandered into last weekend. The size of the work, its immediacy and its relationship to adjoining work made it more accessible and valuable to me than any experience of seeing it on the web, on a screen, and especially (God Help Us!) on a cell phone screen. 

It's something to consider as we roam around collecting our own photographic images. Maybe we should always work with the material's highest and best presentation potential in mind instead of just accepting the qualitative restraints of the lowest common denominator of display. Hmmmm. I might be making a case here to shoot with more exacting intention and capturing with the greatest potential for display printing and physical sharing. Even if that means everyone will have to come to an actual show to see the "real" work.

And that's why I go to the Blanton Museum each month, the HRC whenever there is any new, public show of any kind, the Contemporary Museum in downtown, and at least once a quarter to my favorite museum in central Texas, the McNay Museum in San Antonio. Lucky you if you live in Ft. Worth because the Amon Carter Museum is one of the finest in the country. But seeing art directly almost anywhere will reset your expectations in a good and usually unanticipated way. Click, Click. Print. Show. 

Were wine and cheese invented to bolster the gallery experience? Just wondering.


Gone out to shoot some squares. Back in a while.


SXSW Television Programming Promotion.

We are currently out of the office playing with 
a fast, 35mm lens and a nice camera body. 

Please check back later for more posts.

Wildlife update.

 On the beach. Iceland. 2018.

The raccoons have officially left the chimney. We stopped hearing anything the day after our Critter Control person dangled the "coyote cloth" down the chimney. The mom hissed at it's arrival and there was a lot of chattering from the kits but later that night things quieted down. By the next evening everything was silent. 

A technician came by earlier today to confirm and spent a lot of time making sure that nobody got left behind. Once he was certain he called in the exclusion expert who applied thick screens and other barriers to the top of the chimney. He also did a couple of 360s around the house to look for any other weak spots. 

We are now sealed up and ready to resume life in a more relaxed fashion. Apparently, no raccoons were harmed in the process but they were inconvenienced and are probably paying high rent in their new digs. 

While I liked all the people that Critter Control sent by I hope not to have to see them in their "official" capacity in the future. 

Just thought it was important to loop back on this topic and provide some closure for those who were tracking the progress of my encounters with wildlife.

Thanks for your interest. 

An art gallery and other expressions of popular culture in Austin. Oh, and a few images just because we like the pretty colors.... Oh, one or two pix? NSFW. Unless you work from home.

Tired of raccoons, tired of cars, tired of tax accounting, and tired of being cooped up. I took a lightweight camera out on Saturday to see what might be going on outside these days. Here are a few images from a dubious art gallery show called, "Provocateurs." And then a few images from the bar scene. And a few images of questionable fashion photography and then just some nice, bright colors. 

When you don't have anything in particular in mind it's nice to take a small camera like the Fuji X100V along with you. Put that sucker on auto and remember to look up above eye level every once in a while.

Bummed to have the end of the month show cancelled, postponed, rescheduled or whatever. Happy the raccoons seem to be gone.

I've been watching the Canon, Nikon and Sony announcements with some interest since this is and Olympics year and if Japan pulls off the Olympics the three big camera companies will all want to be on site in force. It seems like the new, Canon R3 is a nod toward sports photographers who want to go with a mirrorless option and, I'll be surprised if the Nikon Z9 isn't designed with sports photographers in mind as well. Sony has already shown their hand with the Alpha One. I'm still reeling at the idea of 50 megapixel files shot at 30 fps. And that's raw+jpeg, not just one or the other. I'm still trying to imagine how the poor editors sitting in trailers around the various Olympic venues are going to edit that stuff... Talk about filling up hard drive space. 

The problem for Nikon and Canon, and to a certain degree, also Sony is that there are actually very, very few long, fast lenses available for any of the recent mirrorless systems. I'm thinking about the much used sports optics like 400mm f2.8 or f3.5s, the 500mms, 600mms and 800mms that I saw in use by many shooter in the last two games. When push comes to shove I wonder how many photographers will have to retrench into the D6s and 1DXmk3s to get the job done the way they want it done. And how can Sony retrench? It should be an interesting time.

I'm not sure it matters that much these days. I keep hearing from my younger photography friends who are shooting sports professionally that so many of the resources are being aimed almost completely toward the video crews. Many of whom will be originating in 8K and 6K this year. If they increase the shutter speeds and frame rates there is real potential to pull stills from the video footage that rival the generation of 24 megapixel still cameras still in wide use for events like these. 

When one considers how close a 30 fps in stills and a 30 fps in video are it's largely a toss up except that still photographers can opt to shoot higher quality raws. I can't imagine film crews choosing the shoot raw for events like this. The would need cargo trucks to haul off the storage drives...

Mirrorless for pro sports will have arrived when the long, fast lenses show up...

Another shot just because I wanted to see the difference between Leica color and Fuji cameras. Straight out of the camera? Fuji in first place.