5.31.2021

Domesticity and thunderstorms. A quick post. Also, any readers interested in owning a "Kirk Tested" Panasonic S1R body with a battery grip? Details in the post.


Sitting at a traffic light in Dripping Springs, Texas. 
Waiting to drive into the storm.

 After the giant deluge of rain and the huge winds that raced through Austin a couple of days ago we were left with gutters covered with debris and yards full of fallen ball moss and broken branches of all sizes. I got to work on it right after coffee and a meager breakfast, yesterday. I was up on the roof with a leaf blower dislodging the gutter debris from the screens that keep the trash out of the actual troughs. 

I hate being up on the roof because I'm a bit acrophobic and there ain't no guard rails up on the roof. But the thought of mega-gallons sloshing over the tops of the gutters and into the flower beds steeled me for the ordeal. I do take a mischievous delight in jumping off the roof at the point where it's on five or so feet from the (soft) ground. Makes me feel like a kid. 

My leaf blower is electric. Can't stand the noise the gas ones make. But the trade-off is carrying around a 100 foot extension cord. Thank goodness we keep a couple of those in the studio.

My two hours of bending over and grabbing ball moss and sticks have given me a new appreciation for manual labor and I'll never take a bunch of grapes for granted again. After we finished with the final clean up Belinda and I agreed to pay our yard guy more money per visit. It's insurance against me having to do this again... Yes, I'm sore today. 

After serving my sentence in the yard I took a shower to rinse off the grime, had a super-healthy lunch (yogurt, muesli, pumpkin seeds, walnuts (lots of them) fresh pineapple and fresh blueberries); all washed down with one more cup of coffee, and then I decided to get the hell out of Austin before any other chores popped up. 

I've wanted to really spend time testing the combination of the SL2 camera and the Sigma 24-70mm Art zoom. I'm tired of, worn out, with downtown Austin. So I thought I'd take a leisurely loop through the Hill Country. I mapped a course through Dripping Springs, over to Johnson City, then to Blanco, and back to Hwy 290 on the wind-y, twisty, two lane Henley Loop and then finally back to Austin. 

I only made it as far as Johnson City because I found a treasure of a gallery and spent nearly two hours exploring every nook and cranny of the space. It's the most eclectic gallery I've ever been in and I had a blast, shot lots and lots of images, and met two of the nicest gallery owners you could imagine. Both are refugees from Texas's most boring city: Dallas. We all agreed: life is too short to live in Dallas...

The road back was a bit perilous. There were huge thunderstorms and, for about 10 minutes, a lot of hail. When I first heard the pea sized hail strike the roof I started looking for either a dry cleaner's shop or a bank branch. Both have covered drive throughs and both are generally closed on Sundays. I was lucky to find a dry cleaner's drive through in minutes and pulled in so my new car wouldn't gain a free "pebble" finish. I put Elvis Costello on the audio system and looked up the current weather radar on my phone. About 20 minutes later the late afternoon settled back into steady rain and the threat of hail dissipated. I came home with tons of great photos from the gallery in Johnson City and am nearly through with the break-in period for the car. That clears me for a longer adventure in the near future. 

Gallery images coming in the next few posts. 

Why do U-Haul trailers seem so strange to me?

For sale:

So, at the end of this week I'll have a brace of Leica SLs and an SL2 camera and I need to thin out some other inventory to make space and offset the cost (partially). I'm selling my unbruised Panasonic S1R camera body, with accessory battery grip (also Panasonic) for the bargain price of $2200 plus the cost of shipping. I'd like to sell it to some one who is a blog reader so I'm listing it here first. The camera comes with a body cap, the charger and original battery. I'm not including a battery for the grip; you'll have to add that yourself.

We'll do this via PayPal. Unless you want to send hard currency.  

I'll post some images of the stuff in a short blog post tomorrow. Thanks. 




5.29.2021

Amazing storm here yesterday evening. Now the skies are clear and calm. The only camera I would have taken out in the storm yesterday would have been a Nikonos.

 

So nice I posted it twice...

This seems to be the year for high drama weather in Austin. We had the week of the "Great Freeze" back in February and, strange as this will seem to non-Texans, there are still a number of people waiting to have their pipes and other plumbing replaced from that disaster. It's been the wettest Spring I can remember and, when it does rain, Mother Nature seems in a hurry. Gone are the long, gentle rains; they've been replaced by torrential downpours. Like the rain we had at 6:15 yesterday evening. 

A strong West-to-East cold front brought 75 mile per hour winds and dropped nearly three inches of rain in our area in less than an hour. Then the winds died down and we had on-and-off thunder and lightning for most of the night. When I got up to drive to swim practice this morning my front yard was covered with small branches and a blanket of ball moss that had been blown right off the trees. Miraculously, we had no real damage to any of the trees or the structures on our property. Our neighbors all over the place were not as uniformly lucky. Four enormous trees were uprooted in the surrounding blocks. Every where I looked there were downed branches; some up to ten inches in diameter. In three places the road was partially blocked by large, heavy, fallen branches or the remnants of split trees.

We never lost power but the swim club and the surrounding residential neighborhood has been without power since 6:30 p.m. yesterday (I'm writing this at 2 p.m.) and they are still without electricity. All the traffic lights between here and there are blinking red and that's a very, very hard thing for Texans to cope with, intellectually. They all want to go at once at most four-way stops. 

When I got to the club the locker rooms were dark and, outside at the pool, the digital pace clocks were blank. We got our money's worth this morning from our coach on deck. She had to keep the repeat times for all seven lanes and call out to send us off for each set. We got through our usual yardage but there was no hot water in the dark locker rooms so no showers today. If you needed to rinse off the chlorine you could always wait your turn and spray off with the chilly water coming out of a nearby garden hose...

I spent a good chunk of my post workout time walking through the yard with a giant trash bag gathering ball moss and small branches. I'll spend the rest of the daylight hours breaking in the Sigma 24-70mm Art lens on the front of the Leica SL2. The city is progressively becoming unmasked so I might actually get to photograph some smiling faces. That's my hope anyway. 

I'm trying to learn to be more "camera-dexterous" and expand my camera preferences from just the SL to also include the SL2. Familiarity with cameras is good. 

Maybe, with a little practice, I'll be able to make portraits like this one...


5.28.2021

Sometimes the camera makers get it right with the first model. Then they change it. The changes might appeal to new buyers but what if you love the old one?

 


You can start with the presumption that I'm crazy as a rattlesnake on a sun drenched, asphalt road in August but I think there are some things that don't necessarily get better as they are changed and "improved." A case in point for Leica users of a certain type would be the differences between the Leica SL and the newer "much improved" Leica SL2. I prefer the older model. It's more "pure." 

The newer camera (and the even newer SL2S ) delivers a higher resolution viewfinder and a faster processor. It also changes the back-of-camera, physical buttons. While the original SL as four unmarked buttons the SL2 has only three main buttons, all of which are labeled. While I have been told that few changes were made to the actual camera body between the SL and the SL2 there are enough differences that stand out to me that I know they are not the same. The SL is a bit more industrial and most of the front of the camera is not wrapped in leather. It also feels thinner than the newer camera and it doesn't have the same indent in the grip area which so many people seem to like. I prefer the less sculpted grip. (who walks around carrying a big camera one-handed, and by the grip?). 

When I bought the SL2 the 47 megapixel flagship, I was torn between it and the more video-oriented, 24 megapixel SL2S. But both the bodies are identical, except for the blacked-out logo on the 24 megapixel model (which I think is a huge mistake...). 

If one had never used an original SL and acquired first the SL2 they would not understand my assertion that the SL was pretty much perfect by the time its production run ended. While the finder is inarguably better on the newer camera, just by dint of improved EVF screen tech, the new camera seems "softer" and less defined to me. And while the menus are prettier in the SL2 I like the way the menus are accessed and presented in the SL much better. I also like the look of the older camera better too. 

There are several design touches that appealed to me on the older body as well. One important feature being the way the strap lugs are incorporated flush to the sides of the camera. On the newer camera they stick out from the body of the camera which is something that will catch on clothes, etc. It also looks cheaper and as though the lugs were tacked on as more of an afterthought. 

While the SL2 was far more expensive to buy than a used SL I quickly found that I was keeping the newer camera in the top drawer of my filing cabinet but taking the SL out with me on just about every outing. When I shoot in the studio the SL2 is nice and fine. But for walking around in the streets the industrial aesthetic of the older camera seems more apt. 

If I could only choose one Leica mirrorless camera as a professional tool I'd instantly choose the newest SL2S because it's a great 24 megapixel, full frame photography camera and it's also the best of the bunch for video production. But, if I already owned a camera like the Panasonic S1H, which is a wonderful video camera, and just wanted a camera to shoot fun, zany, abrupt street photos, fine art photos and stuff like that I'd be searching for a nice, mint, used SL. There is just something about it that is more magical than its successor. 

After a day of shooting with the SL I bought (originally as a back-up camera for the SL2) I fantasized that the perfect way to shoot ART photography, in the streets or in remote locations would be to have two identical camera bodies that are truly amazing fun to shoot with, along with two smaller, prime lenses. I think two Contax/Zeiss lenses would fit the bill nicely, for me. Just a 28mm f2.8 and the 50mm f1.7.

One on each of two identical camera bodies. One over each shoulder. Or perhaps both nestled side by side in an old, battered Domke bag. 

Every time I shoot with the SL I come back to my office with a smile on my face, sit down and comb the web, looking for another "perfect" SL body that's available at a reasonable price. A few days ago I came across one that looked interesting and contacted the dealer. The camera has the usual Leica "wear" profile in which the sharp edges start to lose their black paint. But it also just came back from Leica in Germany where the dealer/owner had asked for a full-on CLA (clean, lubricate, adjust) at about $370 US. The camera comes with a one year warranty from Leica. 

I couldn't resist and decided that the purchase would be a great way to celebrate the continuation of the VSL blog. I'm sending each of you a partial invoice for the new camera in order to share the cost burden since I'm certain you'll love hearing about these camera in hundreds of posts yet to come.... check your mailboxes. Please send cash!

(For the more literal and less imaginative readers: I am not sending invoices. I am not asking anyone to pay for my latest acquisition. It was meant to be a joke). 

I am still making plans for a jaunt out to Roswell, NM. I'm thinking somewhere around the 6th through the 11th. I'm waiting on hearing from several clients with pending projects before I finalize. If not that week then almost certainly the week after. Two Leica SLs, a bag of fun lenses and wads of cash crammed into every pocket. That's the way to have a fun ART vacation. Let's see if I remember how to have fun...

Oh, and someone will certainly ask, "Which of the Leica SL bodies has the best image quality?" Hmmmm. They are all so good that each of the cameras exceeds my ability to discern any differences in quality on my 5K monitor. But the images from the SL are marginally less "perfect" and so have more mojo. And you have to have the mojo. 

An interesting take on the original SL by Kristian Dowling: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1deP6lY7OXk

5.27.2021

The new "Kirk" (post the 1st 5k blogs) is mellower, more approachable, more laidback. And less prone to relentless blogging. Relax... I'm still writing, just not at such a feverish pace.

Jennifer. After swim practice. At the studio.

I'm making a few lifestyle adjustments. I've decided that it would be in everyone's best interests if I relaxed a bit more and tried to be less opinionated, elitist, impatient, vitriolic and driven. I like writing and making (and sharing) photographs so I'm loathe to give up the blog any time soon but...I want to ratchet down expectations that I'll have something new to post every day. The new schedule is going to be a non-schedule. The introduction of new posts will be a bit less regimented and regular. 

It's tough to change pace on short notice but it's part of a whole lifestyle change which includes more meditation, an abstention of alcohol (toasts at weddings, funerals and democratic victories in Congress will, of course, be excluded), an increased commitment to swimming and a huge ramp up in making portraits just to make portraits. 

The alcohol thing isn't related to any misguided morality play or even a baseline health concern but is tied to my swim goals. I want to make several cut-off times for the USMS short course nationals later this Summer so I have to get more serious about training. Alcohol decreases oxygen uptake and retards muscle growth so giving it up is low-hanging fruit for better endurance and speed gains. 

The relaxation imperative is also aimed at swimming improvement. And general, mental well being. A more relaxed Kirk is a better sleeping Kirk and that makes for a faster swimmer.

I need to give up having to be right about being right. It's okay to just know I'm right. 

As to photography... all I can say is that I want to do far more portraits like the one above and far fewer assignments for other people/entities.

I'm pretty mellow today. I swam fast and listened to the three coaches (Two from UT and one from Harvard) we had on deck this morning. After workout I was starving so I found myself slipping through the local McDonald's drive thru for a bacon, egg and cheese biscuit and a large coffee. It was a smooth and quick transaction and, I'll be damned if McD's doesn't make a good biscuit. Sure, it's not at the top of anyone's diet suggestions but it was fun, tasty, easy and in line with my current idea of countering a lifelong elitism that's not conducive to being a very nice guy. 

Now, it's anything goes. But that doesn't mean I'm slowing down on Leica acquisitions. Au contraire.

I've swilled enough coffee and answered any important messages, post swim, so now it's off to the Blanton Museum for a circuit through the fine art. Maybe something good will rub off. And when I get back to HQ I need to call three or four friends I've been neglecting and take them up on their offers for lunch. 

Hope you are having a mellow day. 

 

5.25.2021

And you thought Leica cameras were expensive?! Also, congratulations!!! We hit the 5,000th published blog post with this entry.


I am always amazed at what Leica can get away with. And how I am taken in by it all too! I bought an SL2 on a whim and then I bought a used (but wonderful) SL as a back-up. I use the back-up about 80% of the time because I like the feel of it a bit better but the one thing I don't like about the SL is that when you use it with AF lenses from Sigma or Panasonic (L-Mount) it drains batteries pretty quickly. Using image stabilization on an I.S. equipped, non-Leica lens speeds up the battery drain even more. My philosophy with cameras and batteries (especially when using battery hungry cameras) is to have three batteries per camera body. That way, if you are using the camera as your primary photography tool on a day long commercial job you'll hardly ever be in danger of running out of electric juice. When I bought the SL2 I added two extra batteries to the already outrageous invoice. 

But when I bought the SL I found out that batteries for the two cameras were suddenly in short supply. Apparently the SL2S was selling much quicker, and in greater quantity, than Leica anticipated and the batteries had to go there first. I really wanted one extra battery to pair with the SL but I had to wait patiently. Or impatiently; I don't do patience very well....

I had orders in at three dealers but I finally got a text from our local guys at Precision Camera (not a sponsor) and was told they were holding a brand new Leica BP-SCL4 Lithium Battery for me. I spilled out the change jar on the floor in the studio and started counting out the cash. It's best to start with the half dollars and quarters and work your way down to the nickels and dimes. I'm not sure they'll ever appreciate the pennies at the store. 

I counted out $275 for the battery. That's what I paid for one a few months ago. But when I got to the store I was sad to find out that the batteries had gone up in price to $285. It was touch and go but I had some change in my swim bag, out in the car. But in all seriousness, $285 for a single camera battery is just highway robbery. And the painful part is that I'd just bought a couple of generic batteries for the Fuji X100Vs, along with a dual charger, for the whopping "big" price of $27. And I have every expectation that the Wasabi Power generics will last just as long and work just as well. 

But, of course, Leica made the battery with "special" features, like an interlock and a rubber gasket to seal it in the bottom of the camera --- for ease of exchange on the one hand and for weatherproofing on the other. I doubt, given the smaller production quantity of the Leicas whether we will ever have a generic battery to compete with their proprietary battery scam. But, if you are dumb enough to buy a current Leica I guess you've willingly invited yourself in for the whole treatment. I'm beginning to feel like this is some sort of karmic penalty for something, I'm just not sure what. 

I also bought a charger, on David Farkas's (Leica Store Miami --- also not a sponsor) recommendation which charges the Leica battery and can be powered by PD Anker Power Banks. It was only $50 and works very well. Everything else feels like such a bargain now.

The 5,000th post. I'm celebrating the completion of a goal. I've pounded out well over 5,000 posts but I've only been counting the ones that are currently on the site. It would feel like cheating to take credit for blog posts that have been taken down because they became obsolete or served a short time purpose and didn't need to hang around. The blog has had nearly  28,000,000 direct page views and over 100,000,000 direct, referred and linked-to page views. I've fielded over 70,000 comments (some real stinkers in the bunch) and currently about 55,000 comments are resident here. It's taken a lot of time and energy but it's always fun and, I think important, to follow through on goals you have set. 

Thanks for reading along. 

 

This was a portrait done on assignment. It was also done on the first day that my kid drove a car.


 Dr. Cunningham practices oral surgery in Austin, Texas. He's also a rancher. When the marketing people at his practice planned out their advertising one year they wanted to show each of their doctors doing what they enjoyed doing in their spare time. Dr. C. rides horses competitively. And he's very good at it. So we decided to photograph him with one of his horses, out on the family ranch. 

I was between assistants then and my kiddo was off from high school for the Summer break. I enlisted him to drive out Southwest of town, to the ranch, and assist me on the project. He was happy to help out. I guess he would have been 15 years old at the time. 

We loaded up the boxy, silver and black, Honda Element with photo gear and headed out. 

To do the photograph I set up a battery powered strobe in a big soft box. It was a Profoto Acute 600B. I positioned Dr. C. in front of the horse and we made a bunch of photographs. The one's that ended up being used were in color. At the time I thought I'd enjoy this retro look and so I added some sepia filtration to the mix. I've always liked the portrait because it seems so....Texan. 

The ranch was pretty big and had nicely paved, private roads so I asked if it would be okay to let my son, with his learner's permit,  practice driving around a bit. The boy was extremely cautious but finally got the hang of it. We had a blast slowly cruising by big cows and nice horses. Goats were less cooperative...

This photograph is a nice reminder for me of a day spent doing what I like best; making portraits and hanging out with family. 

Good days in the pool and bad days in the pool. Good days and bad days on the blog.


 It's interesting that some people regard the human existence as being rather mechanical. Waking up is like throwing a switch. Eating breakfast is just the re-fueling of an engine. Performance is consistent. Sleep on demand. Worried? Just hit the "stop worrying" switch. 

As you could probably tell I was out of sorts yesterday. Why else spend an entire blog talking about bad dreams and anxiety? I wish I could tell you that my anxiety abated the moment someone told me to "stop worrying" but the day just got worse. I had to go to the dentist and have two very, very old fillings replaced. I think the original ones were done with an amalgam of spent uranium, lead and mercury. They looked awful. 

But the problem with dental improvements (the white, pristine and carefully color matched composite replacements look great and my smile is now incredible...) is that I have an extreme fear of the whole process of numbing the area of the work with injections of Lidocaine, or whatever they use now. While my blood pressure is usually something like 115/70 when I went, with hands shaking, into the dentist's office the assistant took my blood pressure, which is routine for them. The reading was something like 160/90!!!

After the injection the rest of the procedure was a piece of cake. I really like my new dentist and think she's an artist. Also, she gives the most pain free injections I've ever experienced (and God knows I've had some really painful ones in the past). So, rationally I should have had no fear and no trepidation about the visit. But that's not the way non-machine people's minds work. Not at all. 

I always have some sort of mild physical reaction to pain blocking medications. I feel tired and out of sorts afterwards. And yesterday, through the afternoon and evening, was no different. I just felt off. 

This morning I headed to the pool and still had some residual anxiety from the day before. It's harder to swim will if you are already on edge. I swam so much slower today than I did on Friday or Saturday or Sunday of last week. It was harder to catch my breath. I lagged a bit behind. 

And, in a way, my experiences in the last 24 hours were like an analogy for the blog. I liked the images I posted over the weekend which some people took exception to. I know they didn't like the juxtaposition between the image and the caption of overweight people walking into a bar. I know I shouldn't care about critics. But it's one of those personality defects that goes along with being self-directed and having a distinct point of view. 

I love the trigger word, "disappointed." It was invented so parents could shame and embarrass their kids but more indirectly than just saying, "what you did was morally or ethically  wrong and must be fixed." It's more dismissive. It's on the road toward contempt. Had someone couched their difference of opinion with my image and caption selection in a different way I might have had a different reaction. But by taking the role of a parent and expressing "disappointment" the commenters were working a deeper agenda. And that attitude of greater knowledge, and the presumption of standing more firmly on the moral high ground sucks. 

The human engine here at VSL is running rough this week. Must be the low octane fuel. I'll try to opt for some premium fuel and see if that helps the system. Making big life decisions (career change? retirement? full contact martial arts? jackets with leather patches on the elbows? More fiber?) is always anxiety provoking so bear with me. 

I have every expectation that tomorrow's swim will be better. Back to normal. And, I have every expectation that the next time I "pen" a blogpost it will be so amazing and insightful that even hard core rationalists will swoon with delight. 




A good lesson to learn about clients....


I came across this on Instagram a while back and it resonated with me so much that I took a screen shot and added it to my little collection of business insights. I've experienced a thousand variations of this example over the years. It's why I no longer contractually agree to archive any image for any client. If you save everything and create a precedent by always bailing out clients who can't keep their hands on their assets you will eventually have to go digging through mountains of past work to find a tiny, old file for a "budget-oriented" client from twelve years ago. And they will expect it for free....

When a client tells me they only have a fraction of the budget a good photograph should cost I'm resolute about declining the "opportunity" to spend a lot of time for very little reward.

 If you find this cruel or insulting please go away.

5.24.2021

A Portrait of Danny Young, AKA: the Mayor of South Austin.

 

 I met Danny Young when I was working on a project called, "Keeping Austin Weird" back in 2006. He was the owner of the Texicalli Grill in South Austin and was a well loved local. He passed away in 2008 but I still remember his kindness and patience. When I came to photograph him I had just purchased a new digital camera and was a bit "unsteady" about the menus and controls. To be frank, I was fumbling. He made me feel about half as dumb as I must have looked in the moment. It's always been one of my favorite portraits. 

Here's another variation: 


It's not a contest. You don't have to have a favorite...


Introspection. Photography. Fear and nightmares.



 It's embarrassing and somewhat painful to admit but my career in photography led me to experience a recurring type of nightmare or "bad" dream. It's the same kind of bad dream I used to have post college. In my post college dreams I would see myself waking up late on the day of the organic chemistry final exam. In my dream this precipitated great fear of failing and subsequently being forced to leave college. In my dreams I would run barefooted across campus wearing only white underwear and I'd arrive at the class with only fifteen minutes left in which to complete an hour long exam. I would also discover that I had neither a pencil or a slide rule with me and at that point I'd generally wake up in a bit of a panic.

Lately, my nightmares have centered around my job as a photographer. In one dream I would be trying desperately to get to the final session of a big, corporate presentation. One obstacle after another would be thrown into my path. The taxi I'd tried for hours to hail would run out of gas. I'd show up at the wrong building, and finally, with the session just about to wrap up I'd make it to the venue only to discover that I didn't have a camera or even any film. 

I understand pretty well the "college" nightmare as I often felt a bit guilty about not studying enough or not making a 4.0 GPA each semester. It was all about fear of failure. And I guess the subsequent nightmares are about the same underlying issues. 

When the nightmares are not about corporate photography failures they are about letting down individual friends and clients. I often have a dream in which I've been asked to photograph a wedding for a friend. It's always the bride who is requesting my help. I always agree. But the church where the wedding is to be held is far away, it's in a rural setting, and getting there becomes more and more difficult as the time for the wedding approaches. In most of the dreams I am dressed only in shorts and a t-shirt and have no shoes. Invariably the dream continues with me arriving and then searching through donated clothing in charity boxes in the church basement where I find some oversized and mismatched clothes that are worn and ugly. When I finally make it to the wedding I've lost my camera and have to find someone among the guests who has a camera; any camera. I find someone who let's me use their point and shoot camera. There are twenty two frames of film left on the roll. It's a disaster.

Last night I had a long dream that was a miss-mash of these sorts of dreams. I wasn't undressed or half dressed but I was trying to photograph another wedding. I had made some images in the morning but somehow found myself across town from the next phase of the wedding and desperately looking through a giant version of my house trying to find a camera and a lens that I could work with. I found an ancient Mamiya Sekor lens but it didn't fit any camera. Every where I looked there might be small bits and pieces of camera gear but nothing that could be used to take photographs. It was then I also realized that I needed to change shirts. I don't know why but in the dream this seemed important. 

I looked in closet after closet but all my shirts and clothes had been moved and I couldn't find anything. Time was pressing in and my inability to find either a shirt or a camera made me more and more agitated. I knew the bride and her mother would be devastated if they couldn't get photographs. But no matter how hard I tried everything was out of reach. Then, in the dream, it was twilight and the event was over and I arrived only to have to apologize and suffer through their anger and sadness. The dream/nightmare was quite vivid and I woke up from the dream at 4 a.m. last night anxious and unsettled. 

Of course, an armchair, amateur psychologist will have no trouble making the connection between the fear of failure and the existential financial fears in all of the "work" dreams. For so many years in my career we lived on tight budgets and a non-payment by a client for a long and involved job would mean lots of scrambling and belt-tightening. We only get paid for the jobs we successfully complete. 

Perhaps I lacked the temperament to be a freelance business owner all along,. When presented with difficult situations my mind often (usually) goes to the worst case scenario. But now, at this point in my life, I have more financial stability and the kinds of jobs (weddings) that pop up in my dreams were never the kinds of work I pursued. 

While I am no expert I think most humans are mentally wired to look for trouble in order to prepare for it. It's probably a remnant of survival instincts from tougher eras. But the intrusion on everyday life of random impediments is still uncomfortable. Will always be uncomfortable.

I can't presume that we all share these fears, and the manifestations of negative effects caused by uncontrollable situations but it's something I have experienced for decades. Not so often as to diminish my joy in life but often enough to be unsettling and to make me question why I've taken the paths in life that I have. You may be far luckier and have a more optimistic bent. I envy you.

Being a business owner is hard enough but being in the business of selling an art or a craft is harder still. It requires so much commitment in order to do it honestly. I can only imagine that most other people understood the pitfalls of this kind of work better than I did or would and were clever or self-preserving enough to choose more stable careers; careers less fraught with little catastrophes that are often outside our control. 

I often wonder if my obsession to keep myself surrounded by cameras is an extension of my unconscious fears of being without one when it's important to have one. I wonder if my fears of missing the important moments of a job drive my compulsion to always arrive laughably early for just about everything. 

I'm always the guys who, when an airline says, "Arrive two hours before your scheduled flight" arrives three hours before --- just to be sure. It drives my wife nuts. I rarely have to grapple with missing a flight. But that behavior follows through my everyday life. I have a dentist appointment this afternoon. The dentist's office is about 20 minutes away by car. But Austin traffic is unpredictable and it's a rainy day. I'll leave early. Too early. But I'd rather sit in my car in the dentist's parking lot and read a book for half an hour than be five minutes late...

Most of my fears center around a loss of control. I am unable to control life's hiccups. I can't prevent traffic accidents that snarl traffic just when I am trying to get somewhere. I can't control weather. I can't control for other people's incompetence. I can only pre-compensate for all the clutter life throws into the paths of those who just want to get the job done. But there is a line between rational precaution and reactive fear and there are times when I find myself on the wrong side of the line. It's an interesting realization. 

Many people think that the critical parts of being a freelance photographer are to become technically proficient or to have "a style." These things help, sure. But I think the most critical component is the ability to handle the fear of the uncontrollable situation. That's something that we don't teach in workshops and it's something you can't buy and but into your camera bag. I'd conjecture that the truly successful in this business are the fearless but I know it's not true. I think the successes are the people who were constantly in a dance with fear but managed to overcome it and go forward. 

I know this kind of post is a not what most signed up for but it felt important to me to write about this today. Funny, I am at a point where I don't need the work but I still can't turn off the trepidation of the unknown. 

A very, very smart friend who is a practicing psychiatrist once told me that anxiety was caused by three interrelated things: Those are: Ambiguity, Loneliness and Indecision. Sadly, she forgot to tell me the cure.


5.23.2021

Tale of two lenses. Why I like the Leica SL as much as I do. How it feels to shoot in the rain.

 

This is a tight, center crop of the image just below.

There is a certain sweetness to having the time to spend time doing not much. I used to feel guilty when I'd leave the office and go out for long rambling walks. Testing a newly purchased lens or camera was always a good excuse for an outing but now I'm not even sure I need an excuse to spend at least part of the day just walking, looking, exploring and playing. It's almost like I'm subconsciously trying to unwind decades of compulsive and constant activity aimed at financing life. And feeding an ego.

I'm married to an introvert. She enjoys time alone to work on paintings, fabric design and other graphic design derivatives. My spending time in the office typing (as I am doing right now), or walking through a familiar urban-scape, are important periods of time during which she can recharge her introvert batteries. It makes for a happy relationship.

The walks serve the purpose for me of staying informed about life outside my close-in suburban neighborhood. Yesterday I learned that this Summer's big fashion trend for women in Austin is the return of a 1970's standby, the cut-off denim short pants with the frayed hem. And of course, they have to be "faded."  I walked by a bar that has a huge outdoor patio and which caters to college students, and just post college students, and witnessed a crowd of thirty to forty women standing around the bar, all wearing the some variation of the classic cut-off denim shorts. I also cataloged a larger than average number of young men wearing 1960's style, short sleeve shirts over T-shirts. Another observation is that fewer and fewer people walk down the streets anymore. That's not to say that the streets aren't populated it's just that a growing number of them are riding on rental, electric scooters. No helmets, riding on the sidewalks, barreling through red lights at intersections and, essentially acting like bullet-proof youngsters. You can read about stuff like this but it's different to witness trends first hand. It's easier to understand. Easier to assimilate the knowledge. 

The lens I took out yesterday was that old Canon FD 50mm f1.8 that I talked about a lot a couple of weeks ago. I like to think I'm a contrarian (I'm not) and that by choosing to use an ancient lens with a frictionless focusing ring I'm making a statement of protest about the newest generation of insanely over-engineered 50mm lens on the market right now. But the reality is that trying to make photos with older gear might be a way of adding necessary (for me) friction to a process in order to make it more "challenging" and therefore more satisfying. It's also an interesting, personal assessment of just how good the old glass can be if you are using it in an optimum way. 

Five years ago I was of the mindset that everything had to be "technically" perfect and I bought specific lenses to pursue that belief. I pored over charts and reviews to single out the best lens designs and spent way too much time showing off the lenses' prowess instead of showing off the actual work....the reasons to photograph. The photographs.

But over the last year something has changed in my approach that was unexpected. I found that lenses from the film days were satisfying to use if I didn't try to make them do things at which they did not excel. The 40 year old Canon 50mm is a great example. It's not sharp at its largest apertures. It wouldn't be a top ten choice of lenses to use if you wanted to have a very sharp central subject while tossing the rest of the frame out of focus by using the lens's widest f-stop. Why? Because the central subject wouldn't be nearly as sharply defined as it could be and then the contrast between in focus and out of focus would be compromised and less dramatic. And it's that obvious distinction between sharp and soft that makes wide aperture photography work.

The lens is fine when used at f2.8, even better at f4.0 and excellent at f5.6 or f8.0. I started shifting my style of shooting from one in which vast areas of a frame were bokeh-ed to death and starting roaming the streets shooting at bizarre apertures like f11. I learned to love disregarding the whole notion of diffraction induced softness in favor of more stuff in focus. It was pretty freeing and it coincided with my newly found indifference to high ISO noise. 

Yesterday I experimented with f8.0 and f11. When I used f11 on my full frame camera I was finally able to make good use of hyperfocal distance settings to eliminate the need to focus almost altogether. I'd set the ISO to auto and let it ride all the way up to 12,500, if that's what a scene called for. I set the minimum shutter speed to 1/250th and I'd walk down the street with the camera pre-focused at 10 feet. When I saw something of interest I jockeyed into the right distance (between about 7 feet to about 30 feet), pulled the camera up to my eye to frame and then tripped the shutter. The only fine-tuning I found myself doing was to use the EV compensation dial to lighten or darken the image in the EVF. If the image was slightly dark I let it go. I was shooting uncompressed raw and figured I could fix one or two stops of underexposure. And, hell, since I was shooting for myself did I really care if the files did get a little noisy? If something was on the verge of burning out I'd dial in some minus compensation and pull back the highlight detail so it was readable. 

I've marked with captions (way down below) to separate the images shot with the old Canon 50mm and the old, manual Leica R 28-70mm but both lenses respond well when sticking inside their performance boundaries. 

It's funny to me that I just bought the Sigma 24-70mm f2.8 Art series lens for the L-mount cameras and when push comes to shove, when I'm standing in front of that drawer full of lenses, the one I want to shoot with (almost always) is the 28-70mm which was a rebadged, manually focusing, adapted Sigma lens from all the way back to the 1980's and wasn't renowned for its optical performance even in the day. I use it because it's smaller, lighter and I enjoy using manual lenses far more than I expected I would in this day and age of ever faster autofocusing.

The lens vignettes a lot when used at maximum aperture and the barrel distortion at 28mm is atrocious. But, if you go back to what I said about using it within its performance boundaries it starts to shine. For "found object" or "street still-life" work there is also the easy practice of being able to really magnify the viewfinder image when fine focusing. Combine this with an aperture like f8.0 and you end up with photographs that look like photographs. Sharp, even, nicely textured and contrasty. 

In the early days of using the Leica SL and SL2 I felt as though I should only use them with the "best" modern lenses. Otherwise, why bother to buy them? But as my point of view shifted I realized that in the digital age one camera doesn't make demonstrably "better" photographs than any other as a result of sensor technology or, even color science. But the haptics, the handling, and the bond between a camera body and a user provides an assist in getting a good image. A logical menu eliminates the mental clutter around making an image and that helps too. I'm starting to get a kick out of making wonderful images with an expensive and brand new camera coupled to a lens that costs less on the used market than a really good bottle of wine, and which has infused into itself the mojo of four decades of picture making. 

I was at the furthest point of my walk yesterday when nature decided to provide a cleansing shower of rain for me, my camera and the streets. The temperature was mild so I didn't mind getting wet. And as I walked through the rain with the camera swinging on a strap by my side I didn't bother to worry. I have finally internalized the idea that most of this equipment can handle half an hour of gently rain and the world won't come to an end. But there is a visual beauty that comes from walking in the rain without an umbrella, without a hat, without a rain jacket, that comes from the whole of the experience. 

I like the experience of walking and photographing without an agenda. What I really like about it all is the intertwining of the processes. I walk with a spring in my step and a nod to balance and physical pleasure. The running of a nicely tuned engine. I photograph only what I'm interested in seeing more of over time. And jointly I survey the Austin downtown culture because it makes me feel more connected to everything when I go out and experience change first hand. Instead of seeing culture and life "reported" by some third party with a perspective that is probably completely different than mine. We intuit by combining lots of "data points" and experiences and processing them faster than conscious thought. But it's important that the data points be original to our experience and not just an anecdotal story of someone else's reality. 

Manual focusing is more fun.

This is the full frame of the image just above.

This is a woman zooming through the streets of Austin's downtown, driving a scooter 
with one hand while looking at her phone. I hope she survived. 

This is also a photo of a woman zooming through the streets of Austin's downtown, driving a scooter 
with one hand while looking at her phone. I hope she survived. 

That is not Kendra Scott. I've met Kendra Scott and she looks nothing like either of these guys. And I'm betting she doesn't drive a rickshaw.


An homage to Chris Nichols. 


Dog helping her human figure out what the best camera mode might be for photographing 
smart dogs. She suggested: "Bark."

"I'm ready for my close up. I'm not sure how much longer I can hold this pose..."

Fashion.


"done!"




Photo of a restaurant worker taking a break. 
The restaurant he works at dresses their staff in 
funny looking pants and high, black boots. 
This man seemed happy to de-boot for a few minutes and just chill with his phone.

I asked permission...


It rained on me for about 30 minutes. 
I was ready for it. I was using the Canon 50mm and I wrapped the intersection 
of lens adapter and camera lens mount in electrical tape earlier. 
I figure if I plug the most obvious point of water intrusion the SL camera 
can fend for itself.




Love the "gun fighter" arms.

Sacred Taco Art. 




The images below were done with the Leica R 28-70mm lens.
The images above were made with the Canon lens.

Yes. We have a train in Austin. 
It carries nearly 7 people a day from north to south and back again.
It cost a billion X a billion dollars. We can't call it "mass transit" 
until we get more people than can fit into a Dunkin Donuts to 
ride on it every day. Jeez.

Loving the way the Leica SL and the Leica R 28-70mm lens render blue skies and
bright colors. Happy magic for me.



Tau Ceti. This is where the white dog was posing.




Oh damn. It's that same bridge again. 
But yeah, you've never seen it at this exact time on May 22nd before. 


Paean to Texas skies. Sometimes nice. Always different. 


Image added the next day for Robert Roaldi: 

electric bike tours of downtown Austin. Helmets given out to clients to comply with safety regs and insurance. 

Forgotten text added after the fact: In my headline I said I would write about why I like the Leica SL so much. And why I like it more than the SL2.  Here goes: 

The Leica SL seems to me to be more "industrial" than any of the other cameras and, by industrial, I mean it in the best way possible. It's largely bereft of features that are added to cameras to appeal mostly to the uninformed or the lazy. No panoramic modes. No fireworks modes. No access to 50 different ways to configure twenty different buttons for silly crap. If I could rip out the antennae for bluetooth and wi-fi I gladly would. What you get in return from a body that's been weaned of junk is an incredibly solid build and an interface that a poet would love. The camera feels, to me, more focused on just getting on with photography than even the SL2. I like putting my hands on bare metal instead of textured plastic and I like the fact that the strap lugs are flush with the body and don't stick out. To my mind the strap lug configuration is a big reason to select an SL over the SL2 if you can't swing having one of each. 

As a contrarian I am aware that most people are put off by the simplicity of the body and the paucity of the offerings (modes, AF configurations, "looks" and multi-dimensional bracketing) and that endears the camera to me even more. 

I've read reviews (DPR) in which people whine (whing: for the UK-ers) endlessly about how uncomfortable the camera is to hold. I think they are weak and spineless. I have medium sized hands and I've consistently found the camera to be comfortable to hold; whether its sporting a small, 45mm Sigma lens or the big, 70-200mm zoom. I'm of the belief that Sony reset people's expectations that a full frame camera should be small, light, clad with thin metal, assembled with lots of plastic, have tiny buttons that even a person with tiny hands would find frustrating, and be absolutely painful to hold well precisely because it's too darn small. To add insult, all these "features" are paid for by the compromise that the bodies have no engineering aimed at wicking away heat and tend to shut down at the first breath of hot air. Then there's the embarrassingly small lens mount. 

Like an industrial tool, the Leica eschews mindless miniaturization and opts for unimpeachable build quality and ease of use. The larger body and minimalist physical controls make for a less complicated structure and give the Leica the right to actually use an IP rating for weather resistance as opposed to vacuous claims that are backed by.....advertising copy and little else. 

I'm currently using the SL with an inexpensive wrist strap for my street shooting and recreational photography. That's the stuff you do with small, discreet lenses. To my mind anyone trying to handhold monster telephotos and then complaining about the hand grip on a camera is clearly brain damaged. 

Again, this is my recurrent and ongoing problem with "reviewers." To hold a tool for a few days or a week and expect for it to reveal all of its secrets, and the best way to hold it, is insane. That's not the way to review a camera. Hold the camera in your hand every day for weeks and weeks at a time and then you'll really know if it's a good or bad design. For you. 

I like the camera because it works with the simplest of inputs. The color I get in .DNG files is perfect. The automatic WB is perfect. And the feel in my hand makes me want to go out every day and take photographs. That's the best reason I can think of to own a particular camera.