8.31.2021

I've got this week off. I'm getting ready for the three weeks to come. And, man....it's hot today!

My mannequin friends. They are never impatient. 
They never need coffee. But it sure is hard to get them to 
change poses...


 I've been testing and testing my Leica 24-90mm Vario Elmarit zoom lens on a variety of Leica and Panasonic cameras and other than the fact that it is damn heavy it's pretty much without any optical flaws. It just starts sharp and gets sharper. But it's not the lens I'll be using to make 50 portraits over the course of three weeks. Nope. I'll be using the Panasonic 70-200mm f4.0 S-Pro lens on a Leica SL for several reasons. First is that the 70/200 covers all the portrait lengths I'll probably use. For most headshots I find 90mm to be a bit short; especially for studio work. I generally end up shooting somewhere between 105mm and 135mm but since people have different head sizes the zoom is a good tool for equalizing the size within the frame. The 70/200 is sharp wide open and even sharper stopped down. I tend to shoot right around f5.6 and the lens is super well behaved at that f-stop. 

The SL has face detect AF (but not eye detect) and since I'll be using LED lights (Continuous) there will be more than enough light for the camera to be able to focus optimally. I'm testing right now to see if the Panasonic S5 has the better focus via it's eye detect capabilities but I'm leaning toward the SL cameras because I like the raw files better. 

I've finished up my (small and inconsequetial) trauma with the IRS today. That's out of my hair. 

Tomorrow my handyman is coming over to install a new A/C unit for the studio. It's not a split system nor is it central A/C. It's just a very modern window unit with a high enough BTU rating to keep the place as cold and dry as I'd like no matter what the Texas weather has in mind. And that's a good thing because we're slated to see hot weather through the weekend. For me the most vital part of air conditioning, beyond my comfort and the comfort of my guests, is keeping the humidity in the studio nice and low so nothing grows (haze, fungus) on the lens elements in my collection of lenses. 

The de-install/install operation should be very straightforward since I measured the dimensions of the hole in the wall and the exterior of the new A/C unit about ten times. I thought about doing this all myself but I remembered how heavy the last unit was to drag up to the seven foot mark. That meant standing on a ladder and hoisting 60 or 70 pounds over my head. I'm in good shape but not that good. Or maybe I just have too much to lose...I'd hate to injure my lower back and be sidelined from swimming for even one day!

I'd be remiss not to mention swim practice this morning because I changed my routine. I usually get up about an hour before the start of practice and have a cup of coffee with some milk in it and a piece of multi-grain, sourdough toast with peanut butter and blueberry preserves (low sugar variety). Just enough to provide good energy through the hour swim... While eating my toast and drinking my coffee I read the news on the Washington Post, the New York Times and the Wall St. Journal sites. And I check today's weather. Then I leap up and rush to the pool just in time to make it into the water as the clock strikes the hour. 

Today I got up a half hour earlier, ate and drank my stuff, skipped all the news feeds and spent half an hour doing quiet meditation and breathing exercises. Also some time mindfully visualizing my overall stroke mechanics for freestyle swimming. Sounds new age-y but I thought it might help me be more relaxed in the water during a harder workout. 

It worked well. I was more relaxed which means I wasn't fighting against tight muscles which robs one of endurance over longer distances. I may experiment with substituting decaf for the pre-swim coffee just to see if cutting down that first dose of caffeine will take me down one more notch into the paradise of calmness and relaxation. But rest assured that the first post-swim cup of coffee will be laden with as much caffeine as I can cram into a cup. 

So what happened during my experiment in training? I learned I could slow down my stroke, pay more attention to the exact dynamics of how my hands grabbed the water and pushed it toward my feet. I found I had been turning my right hand slightly and not catching as much water as I should have been able to. This simple thing made the stroke more efficient and added some power which meant I could make the intervals with less effort. That made the whole swim different because I had the ability to increase my speed through the sets without an endurance penalty. It's a huge difference. It probably computes out to about 3 to 4 seconds faster per hundred yards. But that seems like a difference when you are trying to stay up with the faster people in your lane. I also had less fatigue in the early afternoon; after workout. 

Reducing external stress and working on visualization of the swim mechanics is something I keep hearing about from top swimmers in our program. It seems to actually work. I'll try more meditation and less media ingestion before swim practice. It's a nice effect. That, and a concentration on stroke mechanics. The physics of presenting the best cross section of my hands and forearms to the highest resistance of the water.... and pushing straight back.

I've set up the schedule for the next three weeks so that no photo sessions happen before 10 a.m. I'll get out of daily swim practice at 9 a.m. and back to the studio by 9:30 at the latest. Coffee in hand and two hardboiled eggs in the system with time to spare. Should I need more time I'll switch to the earlier swim practice but that will mean cutting off an hour of reading time at night. I guess we have to make sacrifices somewhere...

That's all I've got for today.

8.30.2021

A casual portrait of the chef at Ab Astris Winery.


 An available light portrait of the chef at Ab Astris. Taken with a Panasonic S1 and the Sigma 24-70mm Art lens for L-mount. No big set up, just a quick three or four frames and a bit of engagement.

Some older, manual focus lenses work perfectly well with the Leica SL. This one in particular is nice and sharp...

The building on the right of center is a brand new Bank of America tower
and I noticed, only when processing the files, that they restaurant on the first floor
has already blackened part of the exterior with their exhaust vent. Kitchen fire?
Or just too much smoke?

I am on hold this morning with a federal government agency. I was informed that the wait time would be between one half hour to one hour. I am currently 23 minutes into the wait time. But it's business that has to be resolved so I have the ear buds in and my computer in front of me. Just wanted to let you know some of the exciting ways in which I pass my time in the office... 

I took a camera for a walk with me yesterday and when I got home to post process the files I realized that I hadn't erased the files on the card from the previous two walks and that was a good thing since there were photographs from a close friend's 66th birthday dinner and a few portraits of B. Also meshed in between yesterday's rambling stroll and the birthday pix were a small collection of images I'd made with an very likable, older, manual focus lens. 

The lens is the Carl Zeiss 35mm f2.0 ZF lens that was originally made in a Nikon F mount to be used on their DSLRs. It quite a heavy lens with a fully metal build and heavy glass elements. I used it on one of the two Leica SLs I keep here on the desk. I'm using an Urth adapter that allows for fully "dumb" use of Nikon F mount lenses on any L mount camera. When I say "dumb" I mean that the lens transfers no information to the camera. In the menus of the SL cameras  you do have the option of choosing one of the Leica R or Leica M series lens profiles and having the camera presume that this is the lens you actually have mounted. It won't give you f-stop information or any exif but in some cases where optical designs are similar I imagine it will do a few corrections to your files on the way to Lightroom. For the most part I'm too lazy to go into the menu every time I mount a non-communicative lens but I thought I'd let you know that this option is available. I'd just as soon do the corrections in post and get it right. For me.

The Carl Zeiss 35mm has two operating methods that will vex Canon and Leica users. The aperture ring and the focusing ring go in the opposite direction from the other two systems. I usually don't change apertures continuously so that doesn't bother me and my brain seems to adapt to the focusing ring change without too much stress but for some people the reversed rings are a complete non-starter. 

I picked up the 35mm f2.0 ZF for about $500, used and prefer using it to the Sigma Art series 35mm f1.4 even though I suspect that the Sigma is optically "better." There's something about the heft, the operational haptics and the slimmer diameter that appeal to me. And even though the Sigma might be better at the widest apertures I find that most of my use, these days, of semi-wide to wide angles happens at f-stops between f4.0 and f11 and try as I might I can't find a meaningful difference between the two lenses. 

I think the advantage of the manual focus lenses comes mostly for users who have long practiced hyperfocal distance pre-focusing. I'm more of a seat-of-the-pants estimator, when it comes to distance. In a crowd I like to set the lens for f8 or f11 and set a workable distance on the lens's focusing scale. That way I can pick the camera up to my eye and shoot absolutely instantaneously. No AF lag, no hunting. 

If I have time I might rough in the focus a little tighter by using the camera's focus peaking but generally, you have more depth of field at smaller apertures than you might imagine. For photography of non-moving subjects I take my time to place the focus exactly where I want it by punching in and using the camera's magnified focus capabilities to nail the plane with as much precision as I'll ever need. 




I used to pride myself on being a contrarian in most things and that extended to photography. While all my friends happily embraced 35mm and 28mm focal length lenses I was pretty steadfast in my intellectual allegiance to the 50mm and 85mm focal lengths. Maybe it was just my deeper interest in portraiture than in landscapes and street scenes. But the pandemic and the resulting paucity of working with people in casual portraiture these days has reformed my overall appreciation for different focal lengths and I'm coming around to enjoying the look of the 35mm. I still have a long way to go to appreciate the 28mm so, at least for the moment, I am safe from the siren call of the Leica Q2 camera with its fixed (too wide) lens. 

Even though I've had the Zeiss 35mm for about six months the honeymoon period does not seem to have worn off. It's still my "go-to" lens when I grab for a 35mm.

I wonder how it is that we get entrenched into our lens focal length silos. I have friends who swear by the 28s and some who have only a 24mm as their workaday lenses and they do excellent work with them but I wonder, how did they land in that wide view camp? I plead early adult poverty as my excuse for adopting and adapting to the 50mm focal length. The 50mm came along with the first SLR camera I ever owned and it was a couple of years until I really could afford a second lens. When I finally had the extra cash (this was during the student years....) I bought a good, but inexpensive 135mm lens which did an admirable job with the kinds of portraits I liked making then. It was another couple of years before I bought the third lens; a 24mm. I bought that one specifically to shoot interior shots for a homebuilder who was an early client.

The view into a distorted, plastic, convex parking garage safety mirror.

When I went out yesterday I took along a lens I like very much. It's the Sigma Contemporary 65mm f2.0. I didn't have a photo mission in mind, I brought the camera along out of habit. I wanted the walk more than the photos; but I can't resist snapping away at possible scenes that represent snapshot moments of our ever mutating culture.

When I got back to the office and realized that I had photographed my friend's birthday party with the 65mm and then, later, shot a loop around downtown with the 35mm, and then book-ended those shots with the 65mm (again) yesterday. I started to get more interested in lens pairing with two primes. Assembling a shooting kit that would consist of just two lenses; each mounted on its own identical camera body.

It seemed to me that the pairing of the 35mm f2.0 and the 65mm f2.0 is more or less exactly what I would choose for travel, street and documentary photography all the time. At least with my current mindset. With each of those lenses mounted on a Leica SL body (my current favorite!) and all the settings matched it seems as though it would be a perfect combination for my quirky and tighter personal vision. 

Just curious, what would your perfect combination be? No fair substituting a zoom. We'll cover those later. 

 I just hit the hour mark on the wait time. I guess I start on another blog shortly. Jeez.

8.28.2021

Primitive, slow, but virtuous street shooting camera for eccentrics.

This is the Sigma fp. I looked in the closet and found a demure cage for it.
This allowed me to attach a strap to the camera and brought it 
forward into the "frequent user" category. 

I like it best in this minimalist dress. Just a small cage, no finder
and the impetuous, surprising and supremely adequate 
Sigma 45mm f2.8.

I've written about the Sigma fp many times before. I think it's still the smallest, full frame, 24 megapixel camera on the market. I was toying with buying a Leica TL2 today thinking it might be nice to have an L mount camera that's much smaller and lighter than anything else I've seen. Sure, it's "only" an APS-C camera but that's never been an issue for me. I was toying with the keyboard, looking intently at a nice, used TL2 complete with an 18mm f2.8 Leica lens and imagining all sorts of use cases that mostly revolved around long walks on hot sunny days with a tiny camera. And I started to convince myself that not having an EVF to go with the conventional rear screen wouldn't really be an issue. Especially if the screen was bright and sharp. 

In the middle of this latest round of nonsensical buyer rationalization I realize that I already had a camera that in many ways is far better than the TL2; mostly because it duplicates the advantage of smallness but it does so while delivering one of the highest performance full frame sensors. And the additional advantage that was most crucial --- I already owned one. 

The latest stumbling block in my motivation to use the Sigma fp for street photos was the issue of the lost camera strap lugs. Gone. Hard to replace. time consuming to source. But, as I was cleaning up I came across an inexpensive cage with a walnut grip that I'd bought for the Sigma at least a year ago. It felt superfluous when I had access to the original strap mounting hardware but all of a sudden its useful reappearance put the fp front and center. 

The last time I used the Sigma fp it was set up in an almost ridiculously bulky configuration. I had the big loupe bolted to the rear of the camera and the Sigma 24-70mm f2.8 Art lens clicked onto the front of the camera, the combination of which made the camera....daunting to carry. Especially without a shoulder strap. Fine for focused, intentional work on a paying gig but nowhere near optimum for a congenial walking partner. 

I stripped all the accoutrement off the camera, pulled the big lens off the front and went back to the very basics. Camera > 45mm f2.8 lens > Small Rig cage = done. I figured I swam hard this morning, 'why punish myself with a heavy rig for a casual, hot, afternoon walk through the city?' I couldn't come up with a good reason. 

Every time I use the Sigma fp, after I return home and toss the files into Lightroom, I come away thinking, "This camera is better than I remembered. In fact, it gets better every time I use it." 

Captioned images sprinkled in with uncaptioned images below: 
I love art with words. These prints were leaning against the wall at the 
West Chelsea Contemporary Gallery. They are hanging a new show to 
open next weekend but they were happy enough to have me 
walk through the space while they worked. 


shopping on Second Street. Young people seem to like being in herds these days.
You'll rarely catch a gaggle of old, grey-haired guys hitting the boutiques 
en mass these days....

Above and below, my ongoing captivation with mannequins and reflections. 
Don't know why yet but I love the combination. 

Probably my favorite so far...

I love that this wall of wonderful mural art has been up and exposed
for at least a decade and yet it seems immune to graffiti and other 
willful damage. I also like that the fp is one of the few cameras I've
used that makes an accurate differentiation between the blue sky and the 
blue of the wall on the roof which is more teal....

Not everything needs a caption but since I already wrote this 
I would also add, I am impressed by the dynamic range of the system.
The female figure on the right is in full sun. The devil, to the left, is
in full shade. No issue at all for the camera's sensor.

Sixth Street Melange. 


I've seen many tacky gift shops around the world. 
This is one of the top five tackiest so far. Just in the middle of
the Sixth Street bar zone. Apparently people will buy anything if
they are drunk enough...

I love public art. I was happy and amused to find this small family just stopped
on Fifth St. to watch a painter sketch out the bones of a new mural. 

One of the birds from the animated, Disney version of Snow White?

Early art appreciation. And it's art you can touch!

 This is Luis. He's the artist who is painting the latest mural. 
Here's his info:

Luis Abreux was born in 1971. He earned his Master's degree   in Fine Art,   specializing in Painting, in 1995 from the San Alejandro Art Academy in Havana, Cuba and attended the Taller de Tecnicas Subliminales en el Arte y la Publicidad.
Abreux  resides since 2005 in  Austin , Tx. US. 


Represented by: 
www.thegalleryongreene.com (Key West, FL. US)

See more at: Abreux.org


Luis told me, "You have a happy and genuine smile."

But so does he!




Finally....does this camera make me look fat?

Need more time in the pool.....

 

8.27.2021

An interesting lens that seems like the "Goldilocks" 50mm lens of the current era. The Panasonic 50mm f1.8 L mount lens.

Taken with fun in mind. The Leica SL2 + Leica 24-90mm 

 I'm a 50mm lens junky. If we are going by the angle of view of a 50mm lens used on a full frame (35mm) camera. There's something really comfortable in that focal length for me. But from the beginning of the L mount alliance (Sigma, Leica, Panasonic) until recently if you wanted a fun, sharp, but easy to walk around with option right at that focal length your options were limited. Extremely limited. In fact, until Panasonic launched the 50mm f1.8 your choices were mostly either intramural weight-lifting exercises with over-engineered, fast and expensive lenses (Sigma Art 50mm f1.4, Panasonic 50mm f1.4 S-Pro or the Leica 50mm f2.0 SL). Each one of those choices is big; really big. And heavy. And expensive. And probably the quickest way to dissuade people not to become L mount, 50mm street shooters!

There is the option of using the Sigma 45mm f2.8 but I'm choosy and if I was going to pick a lens that was "close enough" I always want to err on the longer side of 50mms. Say 55mms instead. Also, there are times (frequently) in normal shooting when I feel that I really, really want that one extra f-stop that the Sigma just doesn't have. I'm not trying to disparage the Sigma 45mm iSeries lens here, after all I have two or them. But that's another story...

I have had success with several "legacy" lenses and lens adapters. My favorite, so far, has been the Contax 50mm f1.7 which is quite small (though made 50% bigger when adding the necessary adapter), followed by the Nikkor F 50mm f1.4S and then the ancient Canon FD 50mm f1.8. All of the legacy lenses were computed for use with film so there are always some weak points in their delivery but I chalk it up to the lenses introducing more "art." 

I'm an American so of course I want it all. I want everything both ways. I wanted a smaller, lighter lens; something in the ballpark of the Contax, even with the adapter, but I also wanted the high sharpness and great correction for use with digital sensors that I was getting in the huge, premium lenses. And I wanted it all at a price I could feel good about. I wasn't looking for the barebones performance of the traditional "nifty-fifty" a la Canon and Nikon. I wanted a better optical system. But then again, I didn't really relish spending anything north of $500. 

The Panasonic L mount 50mm f1.8 is a great example (along with the Nikon 50mm f1.8) of a thoroughly modern optical design that yields very, very high performance by changing away from the standard 5 element four group, or 6 element five group, modified Guassian designs of the last 100 years. The Panasonic features 9 elements in eight groups. Three of the elements are aspherical, one is ED glass and another element is an ultra high refractive element. Essentially, I am getting the same performance (minus 2/3rds of a stop) that I was getting with Panasonic's "reference" lens, the 50mm f1.4 S-Pro --- but at 1/3rd the weight and one quarter the price. 

When people look at the Panasonic 50mm f1.8 L they see a big lens and jump to the conclusion that it is ungainly. Too big and probably too heavy. But it weighs in at 10.6 ounces which is not outrageous at all for an f1.8 normal lens. The lens looks big and it does have a 67mm filter size but the overall body is uniform to other lenses in the family, such as the 85mm f1.8 and (hopefully) soon to be launched 35mm f1.8. The rationale is to make them externally uniform so they are easy to use for video artists. But the bigger overall size also means that they can more easily be made weather proof, cold proof and physically robust. Miracle materials add the lightweight option!

I traded-in the faster L mount lenses with a bit of trepidation. I worried I might be trading down. That I would miss some sort of magic sauce I had yet to discover with the 50mm Sigma Art or the overweight Panasonic miracle 50mm S-Pro. I felt I was creating some sort of performance mismatch when using the $450 Lumix lens with the Leica SL2 camera but in the end I realized that it balanced perfectly on that camera and for the first time in my experience with that camera and a 50mm lens it actually felt just right. The camera and lens are more manageable and so are more fun. But the real important part is that I have yet to find a single point of real compromise with the less pricey option. But I am realizing much better system haptics.

For work I've been using the Leica 24-90mm lens and it really is an amazing lens. Brutally sharp at every setting and every focal length. No compromises anywhere. But when I head out for fun now that lens hops back into the chinchilla-lined drawer (artificial chinchilla --- I'm not cruel) and the lighter, more ebullient 50mm f1.8 Panasonic takes precedence. 

In recent photography sessions I've been using the 50mm almost always either wide open or close to it and I'm loving the look I get from it. I hope the 35mm sibling comes out at something close to the price and equal to the optical performance because I have several much more expensive and much heavier 35mm lenses that I'd like to say "goodbye" to. But for now I'm cozying up with the 50mm f1.8 and happy as can be. 

Performance? See below: 





The care and "feeding" of a portrait studio. Gotta keep it cool.


I think there must be a universal expiration date for window-type air conditioners. It seems that every ten years, on the hottest and soggiest day in August, whatever unit I have mounted up on the long wall in the studio starts to fail. One unit just progressively stopped blowing cold air. It ran and ran but it never caught up with the heat. Others just give up the ghost altogether and some soldier on valiantly while mortally wounded. My current Sharp branded unit is in that latter category. It's still cooling the space but it's dripping water into the studio at an accelerating rate. I've tried cleaning it but I think we're past the point of redemption and heading, rapidly, toward the agony of replacement. 

This morning I did a portrait of a radiologist and the studio was a nice and cool 70°. But even now I hear the drip-drop-drip of water that's condensed on the interior coils and is exiting the unit, headed for the little tray I put on the floor. There's nothing else on the calendar that requires studio space till Monday, the 6th so I've decided to give the little A/C unit last rites and head over to the hardware store to get a replacement. 

The A/C unit sits up about seven feet above floor level. The last time I needed to replace one I still had the hubris of imagined youth swirling about me and I got up on a ladder and hoisted the older, 70 pound unit out and then rescaled the ladder dragging the new one up with me. There were several moments during which I thought neither of us would make it. Now I won't even try. The wisdom of age is starting (in fits and spurts) to settle upon me and the thought of struggling up a ladder with dead weight no longer holds even the slightest appeal. 

I'll go to the hardware store with the dimensions of the opening carefully scribed onto a piece of paper and I'll pick the unit with the most promise. It's the end of Summer so most of them will be on sale. I'll try to pick the one with the least offensive industrial design. If only Bang and Olufsen made air conditioners...

But I'll use one of the ever proliferating "handyman" services here in Austin to pull down the old unit and hoist up the new one. Screw it into place, surround with with weather stripping and make sure it's all secure. I find that these days when I do something by myself, to save money, other issues arise and reinforce the idea that hiring pros is the most cost effective avenue.

And to be frank, anyone in central Texas would probably tell you that money is no object where air conditioning is concerned; especially in August. But I think I'll wait till after lunch to go shopping, it just started pouring down rain. 

ART: So this set of photographs is also from my visit to Laguna Gloria Art Museum yesterday. It's an installation piece nestled into a small clearing and surrounded by jungle-like vegetation. It was done in 2016 by Terry Allen who, in addition to being an artist, is also a well known musician. The work is called, "Road Angel." The headlights glow and there is music as well. 

I love old cars. They had such character. Kinda like old cameras. 






 Photo notes: All shot with a Leica SL2 and the Panasonic 50mm f1.8. A very nice combination. 


Added: A humorous aside about acquiring and installing A/C in Austin right now. It's the end of the season for air conditioner sales. I was able to find the unit I wanted at a discount of about $70 which made my total purchase price about $300. I called the first "handyman" service which was recommended to me and they indeed can install the unit for me. But their first available opening is on September 28. Of course I need to have everything up and running by the 6th to handle the job I committed to....

I finally found a service that is well reviewed and can do the job on the afternoon of the 1st. That works well for my schedule and gives me ample time to panic if something goes amiss. But the price to install will be around $375. Funny to live in a time when the installation service is more costly than the actual product...

I asked the first vendor, "why so long till a service opening?" The person on the other end of the phone said, "Well, everyone in Austin seems to be trying to get their house ready to sell. Everyone who is not selling a house seems to have just bought one and is now slogging through all the fixes and improvements they wanted to do. A few are fixing everything that made their houses vulnerable to last February's freeze." She added, "Too bad you didn't want to do this last Fall. We could have been over the next day..." 

It's only time and money...

8.26.2021

Photographing sculpture at Laguna Gloria's sculpture gardens.

I was procrastinating again this morning. Sure, I went to swim practice, blew the leaves off the sidewalks at the office and house, and brewed a nice cup of coffee, but I just didn't feel like tackling the never-ending  task of cleaning up the studio and sorting all the junk so I can make a nice portrait of a radiologist tomorrow morning. There are some tasks that I just love putting off. Organizing my space is one of them. 

So, instead I grabbed a handy camera and headed over to what used to be called "Laguna Gloria Art Museum" but is now called "The Austin Contemporary at Laguna Gloria" .... or something like that. Basically, it's an art museum inside an old mansion on ten or twelve prime acres of West Austin real estate with hundreds of feet of lake front on Lake Austin. One of the ultra-prime real estate locations in all of central Texas. And, no. It's not for sale. 

The interior space of the museum was closed today and I'm not even sure if there is a current show there but I didn't really care; I came to walk through the gardens and see the outside collection of sculpture. One of my favorites is this one (above and below). It's called, "Water Woman" and it was created by Wangechi Mutu. Bronze cast. It was created and installed in 2017.

It's currently my favorite work of art in the gardens but there are plenty of other good pieces as well.




I used the Leica SL combined with the Panasonic 50mm f1.8 lens and I'm very 
happy with the sharpness at f2.5-2.8. The main benefit of photographing 
subject like these in mixed light with the SL2 is the enormous 
dynamic range of the camera. It's pretty amazing. 

It looks like Blogger broke the lightbox function for 
viewing multiple images in a post so if you want
to see one larger you need only click on it and then use the back
button on your browser to return to the main body of the post. 

now fixed.

It's too hot today to do anything else. It was 94° by the time 
I left the gardens at 11:15. The combination of heat 
and humidity made it feel already like 102°
Nothing as crummy as working up a good sweat before lunch.


The heat index just hit 108° here in Austin, Texas. My little A/C for the office is struggling. 
Maybe we should just stop doing business in August.....

8.25.2021

Using a quick video to inform a large group of how to use my services for an upcoming, "all hands" project.


 I'm getting ready to schedule 50 different people for portraits. They'll make individual appointments and will need to come to my studio. We (the client and I) don't want overlap between appointments so we can ensure that we're working safe during this flare up of Delta Variant Covid. We're letting everyone know that we can only have one person/subject/customer in the studio at a time. This kind of scheduling, across 50 people, creates some interesting logistics. (and yes, I will be masked the whole time!).

From a photography point of view it's a fun and straightforward job. We're following a style of lighting and background that I created for them about four years ago. The studio will be set up and ready so really the only difficult aspect is getting everyone to chime in, schedule up and follow directions. They are all bright professionals but it dawned on me the other day, as I was putting the schedule template together, that my usual practice of writing a long page of instructions, dates, times and other details might not be the optimum way for everyone to access the information. Not everyone enjoys reading the details and since we have the technology I thought it was high time to make a video which could be used interchangeably with the printed material to get all the important information out efficiently. 

I wrote a quick script outline, taped some talking points to the legs of a tripod and got to work. I used the Panasonic S5 with the "kit" 20-60mm lens and an ancient, Olympus stereo microphone clipped to my shirt placket. I stood in front of a white background and made the video of myself. I introduced myself, then the project, then the way we were planning to handle appointments, then what the client's dress code is, a few tips about having portraits done, and a quick segment on locating my studio. At the end I thanked them for listening and told them I looked forward to working with them. 

I used a bunch of photographs for b-roll. Some funny and some just straight forward. I used a bunch of type in the lower thirds of the frames to reinforce important things like due dates, my contact info, scheduling info and the like. 

The video was created in 1080p and I was surprised when I pulled the footage into Final Cut Pro X and saw how detailed, sharp and perfectly color balanced it was. I didn't monitor the audio with headphones because it would have looked so dorky but I did a few tests, before starting, to find a good level setting that would not overload the meters. I sure don't think a video for this kind of project needs to be shot in 4, 6 or 8K and I sure wouldn't want to waste the bandwidth hosting it. 

My intention with the video is to make sure everyone has the information they need to get scheduled and get here on time for their sittings. Some people like to read and some people like to watch so I'm trying to deliver content in both media to accommodate different information acquisition styles. And it was fun to play around with. 

The video took only a few minutes to roughly script, about five minutes to shoot, 30-40 minutes to edit and I ended up with a tight program of about 4 minutes. I'm hosting it on a private link at Vimeo. I'm working with the marketing team at the client firm to broadcast all the information (text and video) out to their folks. My hope it to get everyone scheduled into the earlier (second and third) weeks of September so I have enough time to create individual web galleries for selection and the time to retouch the final choices. 

It's a different approach for me but maybe it's long past time that I created a secondary method of client communication. Times they are a changing. 

One note about the Panasonic S5: I've read reviews that still diss Panasonic for their C-AF performance in video. I had the camera set up for face recognition and during all five minutes of filming I didn't see a single "hunt", "wobble", "glitch" or other focus fault. The camera locked in on my face immediately and never let go. That's not to say that it will follow a runner wending his way at high speeds through a dense forest of thick trees but for the kinds of interview stuff most people use their hybrid cameras for I could not have asked for better performance. My guess is that some of the people writing these harping reviews are so lazy they'd love to hire someone to chew their food for them... Want absolutely perfect focus? Get a cinema lens and hire a focus puller. Or just use your S5 correctly

My goal this week? Get the information to the customers in any media that works. And find out which one does work. It's an experiment. I'll try to circle back here to share the results.

Other notes: I bought a HEPA filter appliance for the studio. It came yesterday and was easy to set up. I ran it overnight in the studio at a low setting and when I came in this morning I noticed that the studio smelled better. Cleaner. This particular filter is supposed to filter out very, very small particles, down to and including possibly viruses. I bought it so I could run it on high whenever I have a client in the studio. It will exchanged the air in my space every thirty minutes. In conjunction with the air conditioning it should help keep me and my customers a bit safer. 

I like it so much I'm buying another one for our bedroom. 

Virus news: Austin's numbers have sky-rocketed and most of it is the Delta variant. A few days ago we members got an e-mail from the swim club that about half the staff had tested positive for Covid. We're still operating on a skeleton crew but we're re-instituting our mask up policy for the locker rooms and when checking in at the front desk. I just hope we don't run out of staff and have to close down again!!!

If you look at our Austin/Travis county dashboard you'll find we're currently at a higher level of positivity in Covid tests than at any time in the entire pandemic (Thank you! Asshole Governor Abbott...). 

Since I'm not a risk taker when it comes to preventable illness I've canceled my client lunches for the foreseeable future. I had one tentatively booked for today and when I called to cancel my client was exactly on the same page. He sounded a bit relieved. We'll do lunch in late September or early October. Maybe when it's cool enough to sit outside again.

Some of my friends aren't taking the resurgent pandemic as seriously. They believe that being vaccinated confers on them all the immunity they need to go back to restaurants and get on airplanes. I think your chances of contracting symptomatic disease are directly related to the cumulative load of virus you are exposed to. The less, obviously, the better. 

I wish my cavalier friends good luck but I think I'll depend on caution instead. The numbers will eventually subside. The variant seems so contagious that we'll soon hit a point where everyone will have either caught and recovered from the virus or have been fully vaccinated; or caught the virus and died.  I'll watch the numbers and also the progress of distributing booster doses. When the dust settles we'll hop on a jumbo jet, head to some swanky locale and dance the night away at some ultra-packed disco. But not now.

Masks please.

8.21.2021

It's Caption Day at the VSL Tower in Austin, Texas. It's a time of very brief intros and labored captions.


My current selection for best post of 2021:

Which one have you enjoyed?

Everything is under construction again. Streets blocked, Cranes craning and sidewalks detoured. Office buildings and parking garages keep going up in Austin no matter what the news of the day is and no matter how much office space analysts think is enough. 

It was hot outside and I'd done all the lazy Austin hippie stuff on my agenda today. You know, swim practice, buying pecan oil at the farmer's market, drum circles, scones at Whole Foods, playing Frisbee golf at the city park, getting gluten free sandwiches from Thundercloud Subs for lunch, some couch meditation, sage burning cleansing rituals, walking meditation, liberal chanting, organic smoothie making, Birkenstock polishing, Tai Chi, and even some Tie-Dyeing so I could have some new t-shirts to wear. After I listened to some Willie Nelson and some Stevie Ray Vaughn tunes I got bored...or maybe it was the CBD oil...and I decided to go for a walk to clear my head. Maybe just tune out the "MSM" for a while and think for myself...

It's blistery hot outside and the humidity adds an extra layer of Wow, this feels like shit! to the afternoon. But what are you gonna do? I grabbed a chrome Fuji X100V from the giant box full of the cameras nobody seems to want anymore and made my way downtown. I had the camera set up so I could shoot it simply, even if I became cognitively impaired by the relentless sun and heat. I tossed in using raw files for good measure. 

I walked along looking at the "scenery" and pondering all the things you guys probably think about when you are out doing a photo walk. I thought about carbon offsets. I thought about pivotal books by Stanley Karnow. I thought about the rare earth mineral reserves in Afghanistan. I wondered why thread counts in sheets is such a big deal to people. But mostly I wondered who designs the menus in Pentax cameras. And if we'd still be able to get coffee beans after the world finally burns down. And how much more will they cost? I also thought about how my swim fins caused a blister on my left foot and how it was negatively interfacing with my Austin Hippie hemp socks. Ouch. 

It was at that moment of painful reality that satori struck and I decided I go with captions for the rest of the blog post. You know, just to change things up. We aging Austin hippies do that to throw everyone off balance.   Oh. You can click on the images and they get bigger. It's like magic. 

there's this bar on West Sixth St. that had (and still has) a giant, plastic elephant in the entry way. 
Now the elephant has been joined by a plastic, full-sized Panda. There's a clown head in the background that I think doubles as an entry way to the restrooms. I can't quite figure out why. Maybe it's the "Moe" theory of retail marketing. See the Simpsons episode where bartender Moe opens his own kitchsy theme restaurant. I don't know. I don't care. But I felt some sort of spiritual kinship with the panda...

A side wall of a restaurant that one of our friends designed during the previous boom years. It went out of business during the pandemic and it has a sign in the window that basically says, "We're closed. Don't bother us." Nice. Topical, and to the point. 

Most (all?) of East 6th Street, from Congress Ave. to the Highway, has decayed and declined into sad crap. Forty years ago it was the center of the Austin restaurant and high-end bar scene. Now it's cheap drinks, people passed out on the sidewalks and barkers hustling people into the bars for dollar shot specials. It's sad because some of the old, original buildings are classical, Centex turn of the century (no, the century before...) architecture that's slowly succumbing to wave after wave of abuse and neglect. No problem. I guess when it runs its course someone will buy it all up, tear it down and build more....you guessed it....high rises.

The Fuji X100V is a good, solid, no nonsense camera. If  you didn't do photography as a business this particular camera might be the only one you'd really want. The 35mm equivalent focal length seems super popular amongst street photographers and it's very, very sharp and well corrected. The battery lasts a long time and the whole package is a joy to carry and shoot. I like the optical finder; it's a nostalgic play, but I have to confess I mostly use the EVF. In some ways it's the current descendent of cameras like the Canonet QL17. It's simple and it works. Only now it has more features. I haven't used the video feature yet. Or really anything other than the aperture, shutter speed and ISO dials. Oh, I do use the exposure compensation dial but only because I think it makes the people around me think I know what I'm doing.


Apparently, according to what I just read at Michael Johnston's TheOnlinePhotographer blog, tomorrow is Annual InterGalactic Street Shooting Day. People are encouraged to go out and emulate HCB, Robert Frank, William Klein and Chase Jarvis. So, if you are a snotty trust-funder photographer be sure to blow the dust off your Leica M10-R, click that 35mm M series Apo Summicron onto the lens mount and drive your Bentley SUV down to your favorite street, valet the car, and start shooting. Might as well take your M Monochrome as well. Things might look even better in black and white. 

The rest of us can carefully charge that one wavering battery that came with our "wannabe" rangefinders, nurse that ancient but still usable 8 GB SD card into the slot and head somewhere fun in our inexpensive and wholly pedestrian Subarus and Toyotas. Better yet, borrow a bike and ride it to Street Shooting Day. You'll instantly have claim to the moral high ground. Even better, some kindly home owner might spray you off with a garden hose so you don't keel over from the heat. Kindness is rampant here.

But....I might be mistaken....I thought every day was street shooting day. Like 365. Seems I've misunderstood yet another aspect of the magic of photography. Glad I got the heads-up so I could practice today and then be on my game tomorrow!!

I am constantly amazed at the bars down on Sixth St. They remind me of scenes from the Great Depression. Or the movie, "The Midnight Cowboy." And I can't blame their current existence on the pandemic shutdowns. These places started to slide toward sleazy about twenty years ago and every ensuing year has been worse. Some people ask me if I'm nervous taking cameras down there. In truth, though we won't admit it on most blogs, nobody wants to steal cameras anymore. 

Maybe there's still a demand in other places but most people here think regular cameras are so passé. They have come to represent part of the ensemble or signaling of men (and some women) who didn't get the memo that traditional photography is quite dead. Cameras of any non-phone type are as exciting as leisure suits, Members Only jackets, White golf shoes with tassels, big, bright running shoes, bucket hats (although those are making a tongue-in-cheek, retro comeback. At least for this Summer). Cameras are now the badge of the "team" that orders "black, drip coffee" and gets up before the sun to watch the early weather reports on cable TV. It's sad and tragic but there it is. And I hate to tell you this but DSLRs, those big hulking cameras with the zoom lenses attached to them? Those are the size 38 cargo shorts of this time period. Horrifying to GenZ folks everywhere. But the bars. What about the bars?


I have a confession to make. The only time I try to use black and white modes with any of my cameras is when there's no sunshine. If the sky is bald and filled with mushy clouds and mushier light I always delude myself into thinking that shooting in black and white (or, as the experts might say, "Monochrome") and jacking up the contrast and clarity for the files might magically save the day for me and get me cool photos that look like Art. It never works. It just doesn't. Photos tend to be most easily taken when the sun is shining, the skies are blue, and sometimes dappled with little puppy-like puffy clouds that break up the monotony of all that blue. 

If I was less lazy I'd have polarizing filters for all my lenses and I'd use them all the time. My hope would be that mundane photographs, with the intervention of polarization, would leap up to a higher level of coolness. But every time I try there's some reason why it just doesn't work. I don't know why camera makers haven't zeroed in on this yet but instead of those silly filters like "miniature toy train filter" or "hazy, glossy girlfriend filter" they might want to invent a software based, built-in Polarizing Filter filter. Then we wouldn't have to buy a different sized real filter for all those different filter sized lenses we keep buying.

And since I have two left eyes when it comes to doing Photoshop "magic" it would be lovely if they could also work on those black and white in-camera filter settings as well. I'd love to look smarter than I am when I show people black and white images that really look like the black and white images we used to get without trying very hard, back in the film days. 


I tripped over a curb and dropped my camera today. It fell on a grassy area between the street and the sidewalk on one of the streets just East of Lamar Blvd. I was crestfallen. I picked up the camera (the chrome Fuji --- don't buy that one from me as we'll never know if it will continue to survive....) and wiped off a bit of mud and some dead grass and, with much trepidation, fired it back up. It seemed to work fine and that's a good thing because it happened just as I started my walk, not 25 feet from my car. I should pay attention better to where I'm walking instead of concentrating on what I'm thinking. 

Austin is interesting right now. The city basically made it's reputation for being an artsy, music forward town in the 1970's and 1980's when rent for venues was cheap, everyone had a friend who'd let 'em sleep on their couch if they ran out of money to pay the rent. The cover charges to see great bands were, like, $2 and you could buy Shiner Bock beers at happy hours for about fifty cents. We all loved each other. We all hated war. We all thought it would be cool if the tax code was fairer. We'd never heard of sunscreen or matcha or ramen. We were mostly vegan except for the chicken fried steaks, the burgers at Dirty's Come Back Burgers on the drag, and the BBQ at House Park; or any meal we could get for free. We walked most places because the places that new Austinites rave about now were just cow pastures back then. It was a compact city then. And girls swam topless at Barton Springs. All that's what made the city fun, livable, happy, and a beacon for like-minded, counter-culture hippies. 

Now it's all pretty much gone but the city still sells the sizzle to rubes from California and New York every day. Now we're the most expensive big city to buy a house in outside of the nicer parts of California. I'd venture to say that a nice big loft in Austin is pricier than the same sized fun palace in NYC. But the magic is all gone. It's all faux, culture tourism now and it's reflected in the street culture. But that's okay because we all bought our houses so long ago and we got as real a job as we could stomach instead of doing something fun. 

The car of the 1970's was a bike. Now it's an Audi or Porsche SUV. But I guess I could write a grant proposal and start photographing that part of the new Austin culture. $45 dollar lobster rolls and $1,200 cowboy boots. I guess that could be photo-centric catnip for curators from the hoary bastions of East Coast academia...

I'll get to work on the grant writing right away. 


One of the things I thought about as I walked around in a pair of used shoes I bought at REI yesterday (seriously) was something I read on DPR. My web nemesis. I read that I used to be interesting to read but I got snobby and when I bought Leicas (again, for the fourth time) I signaled that I was in a different class than most photographers and had become (almost instantly) even more snobby and so, now, unreadable. It was a relief since now that no one is reading what I'm writing I can write whatever I really want to and can even consider occasionally saying off color stuff like: "What the fuck is up with that?" 

 But in all seriousness, when did buying two old,  used Leicas (and one new one) become a litmus test for entry into the 1%? I thought you also had to have hoarded away lots and lots of $$$. And drive fancy cars and live in places like Telluride and Aspen or West Palm Beach. Geez. Some of us still even have to fly commercial... 

Speaking of flying commercial, here is Austin's answer to mass transit. It's a one line light rail train that goes from a god-forsaken suburb in far northwest Austin to downtown...and then back again. I watch it frequently. Usually there are one or two riders on the entire train. Three days ago, when I was walking around, I saw five people on the train. But I corrected down by one because I realized the fifth person was the train driver. (Not really an "engineer," right?). I guess the idea was to bring cheaper workers to downtown and then dump them back home after the work day. Might work better if there were a lot more routes. But at least we have a train. 











I guess that's all I've got for now. Oh, but I forgot one further splurge. In a moment of weakness I decided I wanted a baseplate for one of the Leica SL cameras. I like having Arca Swiss baseplates for the camera I use on tripods. Plus the extension looks so cool. So...custom. I looked to Leica for the product but the prices were scary. So I found a used Really Right Stuff baseplate for much, much less. It came today just after I got home from my walk. It's really boring but it's really nice. And I'll probably get some use out of it. Accessories will kill your budgets. Best to keep your cameras stripped down and naked. But I just couldn't help it. You know how it is. Or maybe you don't.






I thought I was finished writing and I was proofing my work. That's something I very rarely do. It seems boring to have to read stuff twice; especially since I already know what it is I'm going to say. But when I was looking through I remembered that I took the photo just above for a reason. Here's the reason: It's the most poorly written headline I can remember seeing in...decades. Just so passive and poorly done. Embarrassing. I can't believe they used it. But the photo is no great shakes either. Sorry, I hope this isn't your work. If it is you might consider applying for some federal aid for job retraining. Or you can do what we always do and blame it all on the client. 

Shade. A valuable commodity in today's downtown.