12.31.2021

It's the last day of 2021 and I'm still thinking about photography. I guess it's time to make some resolutions. Maybe talk about my favorite cameras of the year. Stuff like that.


I've come to believe that if one does photography long enough and with a deep enough immersion eventually the act of constantly looking at life around you in a certain way changes the way one's brain works and processes visual stimuli. You discard certain subjects and hone in more tightly on the one's that remain interesting, or beautiful. Photographers can also be guilty of letting their immersion in specific subjects become overwhelming and circular. I find that when I go out without camera I'm still, on some level, making continuous compositions, cropping in and zooming out of the scenes in front of me. It's a blessing and a curse. 

If the last two years have taught me nothing else they have taught me to make the most of where I am right now. Many people live to go out on adventures to far-flung places and reject the idea that you can make good, fun or happy images where you are most of the time because the novelty or newness of your own space has long since worn off. I find that with the exception of genres of landscape photography there are endless great potential photographs every where you look. If you are a "people" photographer the potential for great images in your own home town is always high. 

I was asked once again, while walking around downtown last week, if I lived "here" or if I was just visiting. My stock reply is always: "I do live here but I'm a tourist in my own town." I enjoy the flow of progress in our downtown but I should do a better job photographing the people. 

One thing I've become aware of though is my addiction to photographing. And to looking at the images I've made. Most of the time it's like practicing scales in music class but sometimes I'll hit a chord that really makes me happy. The days and years of practice are part of a joyful practice with the aim of being ready for the images that actually work.

Resolutions. I rarely make resolutions because it's like admitting that you've been half-assed about stuff in the past. If I want to do something I want to do it well. But there's always room for improvement so I thought I'd make a few small resolutions for 2022. 

But my resolutions are divided between personal stuff and photography stuff. So, I'll lead off with the personal. I'd like to write another book this year. I bought a writing desk as a "carrot" to the process. I'd like to continue the "Henry White" series but I'd also like to write small and easy to read book about the personal process of photography.

I want to take my swimming more seriously, miss fewer workouts, swim harder, be more diligent in my dry land weight workouts and, when possible, enter  more competitions. I've been phoning it in recently and blaming it on aging. But excuses suck. The difference between decent and good performances in the water are largely the result of just setting goals and being disciplined. We have the potential in our program to swim about 312 practices in a year (based on our schedule and making one practice per day). I'd like make as many as possible in 2022. And I'd like to see my competition times drop back down.

One of my bigger goals for 2022 is to finally do the rest of the maintenance my house needs. We've ordered new windows but I need to sand and paint the exterior and replace at least one exterior door. I'd also like to renovate one of the bathrooms this year. 

I refuse, on the grounds that it's impossible, to make any resolutions about how many more or less cameras or lenses I'll buy this year. I'll buy just enough. And whatever I buy will be of intense interest to me...for a least a few weeks.

And then there are the business/photography resolutions. The top business resolution is to fire any client that I don't fully enjoy working with. Working has stopped being necessary for financial survival but it's still something I enjoy ---- when I enjoy it. But overly controlling clients, panicky clients, cheap-ass clients and inattentive clients suck the fun out of the process and this might be a good year to be stricter with the ones on the edge. 

The second goal is to do better work. This means only accepting work that I think I can do well. Work that is challenging but also has a good chance for success. 

A tangential goal is to get out of the studio mindset. The idea of shooting yet another portrait against a gray seamless background or a muslin background is chilling and borderline revolting. Style has moved on and, frankly, as a lazy person, I'm tired of having to clean, organize and straighten up the studio all the time. I want to shoot more than ever on location this year. Location portraits, location lifestyle and, well, all location work. An offshoot of this is that my office becomes just that - a dedicated workspace for photographic post production and for writing. And to that end I'm getting rid of lots of junk that was made and meant for studio work. The premise being that if I don't have the stuff needed to shoot in a studio style then I won't accept the jobs that might call for those things. 

In 2022 I want to charge outrageous fees. Just to see if I can. I'm tired of working in people's fictive budgets and want to see where the edges of the envelope might be. 

I've been selling off other cameras and am considering only buying Leica equipment, for cameras, going forward. Lenses? I'm a bit less constricted on that front. There's so many interesting and fun lenses outside the Leica compound. I'd hate to artificially limit myself. We're down to only two remaining non-Leica digital cameras in the office right now. 

We're well past the point of what Ming Thein always called, "sufficiency." All the cameras on the market now are really good. Really capable. Really high quality. I can use what I own mostly interchangeably which, to me, means we have the opportunity to play with crazy gear. Or to step outside the mainstream and buy crazy cameras. I'm looking at the Leica S2 medium format cameras right now. Need em? No. Want them? Maybe. 

One of my biggest photography goals this year is to print a lot more and try to have a show of my work where people can come into a physical space and actually see the photographs the way they were intended to be viewed. At my last printed show each of the images was printed at 36 inches by 36 inches. I'd love to make work that would look great at larger sizes. And I'd love to see it up on some walls. 

Final resolution. Only drink the very best coffee. Only sip very good wines. Life is too short now to drink swill. 

Those are my resolutions/plans for 2022. I'd be interested to hear what other folks consider important in their own lives. In their photography...

I've recently become a fan of the CookBook Cafe at the downtown public library.
They make good coffee, fun pastries and healthy sandwiches and wraps.
It's a nice place at which to sit outside and enjoy good food and a nice view. 
They also make addictively good cookies...

This bridge is sweet. Love photographing it.
All the images in this post were done with the TTArtisan 35mm f1.4 APS-C
lens and the Leica CL cameras as in camera Jpegs.

the lens is okay wide open. Stopped down to f5.6 and it becomes
ferociously sharp. And contrasty.

The lens is also good when used at its closer range. 
















 Hope everyone has a Happy New Year celebration tonight. We're throwing caution the wind and heading to a big dance club where we'll throw ourselves into the mosh pit and dance drunk for hours and hours.

No. Wait! We actually have plans to stay at "Club Home" and eat fun food and watch a nice movie. Be safe and be happy. 

See you in 2022.

12.30.2021

It's eighty degrees and we're shooting on the street in short sleeves and shorts. So much for Winter...

 


The more I photograph with it the more I am growing to appreciate what the designers at Leica had in mind when they connected and created the CL camera. It's small, discreet and efficient and it feels just right as an adjunct to just being outside. I've been pairing it with the TTArtisan 35mm f1.4 lens which gives me the same old feel of a 50mm lens on a classic M series film camera. My concession to modern times is the addition of a thumb grip in the hotshoe. It helps me get a more secure grip on the package. 

I've given up on the "power saving" function because it takes too long for the camera to wake up. I just set it to be live all the time and carry a couple extra batteries with me. I'm probably being too paranoid since I was out with the camera for a couple hours and the battery was at least half full by the end. 

Every time I shoot into the big, round, convex parking garage mirror it looks different to me. Ah well. 

Glass ornaments in a shop window. A restaurant worker thru the window.

Family on Second Street. 

Family on the turf at Seaholm.

Some days are just casual. Some days are intense. Some are just right in the middle; like today. 

Health note: To all those thinking of moving to Austin: a friendly advisory... We have this thing here called "Cedar Fever." It's a wide spread allergy to juniper cedar pollen. It hits us most years around late November but it waited until the day after Christmas this year. 

The symptoms are: itchy eyes, red eyes, bloodshot eyes, a runny nose, ample sinus congestion, a bit of fever, headaches, the desire to sleep --- all the time, endless sneezing and a feeling of relentless fatigue. But some people get even worse symptoms...  The Cedar Fever symptoms can go on for months. Everyone who moves here eventually becomes sensitized to the cedar pollen and deals with the effects in their own way. I know some people who buy multiple HEPA air cleaners and lock themselves into their houses until the pollen passes. Some people move to remote islands after two or three seasons of dealing with the scourge. And some just give up and sit on their couches, cradling a box of Kleenex and weeping. 

I've tried every over the counter medication for allergies known to man and right now I'm trusting my continued existence to Zyrtec. It's helpful. I've also bought three big, HEPA air cleaners for the house and one for my office. If I sit in the stream of clean air and am very careful not to open doors and windows it's all just bearable. The walks outside are rough. Sometimes my eyes itch so badly after a walk that I can't drive home. I sit in the car, running the filtered air conditioning until the symptoms abate and then make my way back to my house, through a stream of tears. 

So, given that our house prices are now rivaling those in NYC and the West coast, and that we are largely incapacitated in the middle of Winter, and subject to intense heat and humidity in the Summer, it should be obvious that you might reconsider moving here... It might actually be one of the meaner levels of purgatory. 

Or maybe I just wrote this because traffic is getting so bad again and the license plates of the cars that seem lost, erratic and dangerous are all from out of state..... Whatever.

If that was your car from Kentucky that weaved from one side of the road to the other while speeding up to 60 and then slowing down to 10 mph in the middle of the day......please move back home. And to the woman eating ramen from a bowl, with chopsticks, while driving her BMW SUV and talking on the phone --- from Maryland; please consider never driving again and be sure to put a note on that bicycle you accidentally ran over. But, of course, you can wait until you finishing texting and can find a place to double park....

In an effort to take my writing more seriously I bought a mid-century, small writing desk for the studio. Not a camera.

A favorite reading table at Zilker Park.

As some of you may have become aware, I love to write. I carry a little notebook with me all the time and while I record facts and observations I like to mix those building blocks with more imaginative stories. When I sit down to write on a serious project, like a book, or a presentation ghost written for a business leader, I like to do so while surrounded by my notes and lots of clutter. But when I write fiction or when I'm making an outline for something I might write for the blog I enjoy writing in an environment where nothing beyond my own imagination triggers my thought processes. 

I used have the bad habit of buying a new laptop every time I started on a new, non-fiction book for my publisher. Each generation was a little faster, a bit more assured, and as clean as could be. It seemed to mark the beginning of a project and, when the project was completed, I generally put a coda on a project by giving away the laptop to a much younger relative who could make a much longer use of the machine. 

When I write blog posts these days I generally do it at the desktop using an iMac Pro computer filled with a big and fast SSD drive and lots of speedy memory. In the nearly three years that I've had that computer it has never crashed, never faltered. When I sit down to write a blog post I like to imagine that it's so fast it makes my writing faster. The computer is surrounded by big, eight and ten terrabyte drives filled mostly with photographs so finding images with which to illustrate my blog posts is a bit easier. But the clutter isn't conducive to serious writing...

I have no issues with limited attention span or distraction in general. I have worked on some things for 18 or more hours straight through, getting up from time to time to stretch, pee or drink more coffee. I've never missed a publishing deadline. I've never been late. 

Recently, I've walked by a trendy furniture store more than a few times and always stopped to look at a very small desk that I can see clearly through the store's big, plate glass windows. Over the course of a couple months I've ventured by the store maybe ten times. The appeal of the small desk has grown with each visit. I mused that I would buy the desk in order to create small area in my office that was mentally cordoned off from business. 

When I sit at my usual (ordinary) desk I feel the resonance of all the past jobs. The high speed gateway to the web is alluring and tempting, the projects on hold call for review. The billing looms large. And the clutter can be overwhelming. I sit at that desk to do photographic post processing. And video editing. And billing. And scheduling. And indulgent/indolent web surfing. Worst case scenario? I sit here looking at Leica dealer websites and trying desperately to resist the temptation to click on "buy." 

But I've never been able to write a book at that desk. Never. I can write parts of one in a coffee shop, or at a desk in a hotel room, or while balancing a laptop on my lap on the expansive sofa in our living room, but I've never been able to do long form writing projects at the "big" desk. 

So it seemed logical to me to buy a desk that's just big enough for a laptop or maybe a legal pad and a notebook of source material. The desk I bought today (on my way home from a walk) is small but it's quite beautiful in its minimalism. It has one central drawer which is very flat and shallow. Just big enough for a scattering of pens and a few small notebooks. I'm already clearing out a corner of the office for it. I've been informed that it will be delivered early next week. I can hardly wait. 

In the meantime, between holiday duties and pleasures, I've read through Andy Grundberg's book on how photography morphed, enabled and winnowed its way into the pantheon of contemporary ART. It was a good read although Andy G. is a bit self-indulgent in places. But it reads well. 

Most of my serious reading is done outside the house and office. In fact, I've recently become cognizant that the pandemic has shut down my safe access to coffee shops and the library which, in turn, has reduced the number of spots where I like to read down to but a handful. In good weather I mostly grab coffee from Trianon Coffee and head to Zilker Park. Once there I search out one the old, stone picnic tables that have been there forever. I like to have a view of the disk golfers walking through the greenery but mostly I like reading under the very old but very accommodating live oak trees. 

I get engrossed in the reading and rarely notice how long I've been there until I take a break and reach for the coffee only to find that it's gone cold and bitter. I look at my watch, that signifier of boomer-ism, and realize that hours have passed and the sky is fading away and doing its progressive vignette. Then I mark my last read spot in the book at hand and walk, with a certain amount of resignation, back to my patiently waiting car. 

Andy's book at twilight. 

Parks are wonderful places for reading but they are only really good within a certain temperature range. In deep and toasty summertime you have the issue of sweat running down your arms and staining the pages of your book. In Winter, no matter how warm you dress you realize at some point that sitting still just makes you a target for the discomfort of the cold. Then you have to find the refuge of a well padded and well positioned chair in a warm and charitable room. 

But it's nearly the same with writing. You need to be cool enough to hold a pen without it sliding around in a nano coating of sweat in your hands. But you also need to be warm enough so your hands don't shake and your teeth don't chatter as you try to come up with the right words. I love my own office because it offers solitude and a controllable resistance to intrusions. When I shut the door behind me I know that B and B won't "drop in" without a good reason. They value their solitude at least as much. 

When I start to write something in earnest I turn off the phone and deactivate the wi-fi on my computers so I can't be summoned perfunctorily. As much as possible I control the environment. The new, tiny desk is just a small adaptation. An indulgence. A tool. It's well made and well designed and priced far lower than a good camera. What a blessing for anyone who still writes from time to time with a pen....

I guess it's a holiday gift for my writer self. It's a nice break from cameras and lenses. 

The park roof over my head. 

Book photographed with a Leica CL. Coupled with the $80 TTArtisans 35mm f1.4 lens. 

The view off into the middle distance. 

I finished reading this book on Friday evening. 
It's worth the price of admission. You will be forced to 
learn more about "modern" art. 
But you will be rewarded by understanding Photography's Victory.



 

12.28.2021

Holding a small camera.

 


I discovered yesterday that when I'm using a smaller and lighter camera I don't let it hang over my left shoulder on a strap when it's not in use. Instead I do the "ultimate tourist" carry instead. I use the least over-engineered strap I can and I hang the camera around my neck and let it ride on my chest, or mid-torso. When I get ready to shoot I bring it up to my eye from chest position and it's a clean sweep. 

Once I have the camera in front of my face I use my right hand more or less underneath the body of the camera to support it while using my thumb to stabilize the camera and to push it into my left hand. It's a hold I've practiced for years and I find that I'm able to hold the camera quite still that way. 

Sometimes, when I'm out photographing, you'll notice that I shoot my own reflection in mirrored glass or in a convex mirror at the exit of a parking garage. Partly I like to see how I'm presenting myself to the world that day but mostly I'm anxious to later analyze my camera hold technique to see if there are things I could do to improve my stability or even my own comfort with the camera. For example, in the image above I can see that my arms are positioned out in front of my body; my elbows are extended out and my forearms are angled back in order to bring the camera to my face. In theory I could get a more stable hold if I brought my arms back toward my body more. Shooting with bad technique is unconscious while fixing bad technique must be done consciously. And reinforced through repetition. Posture in entropy continues to devolve unless you practice better form with awareness. 

It's probably silly to dwell on because I'm not sure it makes enough of a difference to influence either the way you shoot or the way you approach your subject matter but there it is. 

As swimmers get older they can no longer depend on brute strength to maintain their speed. Instead they have to renew their concentration on technique. Everything from hand placement to ankle flexibility while kicking contributes or detracts from speed and efficiency. Sometimes a coach can explain something but the swimmer doesn't get it. If that's the case the coach might resort to making a quick video of the swimmer's stroke mechanics and show it to them. Actually seeing the mistakes one is making goes a long way toward making things right. Getting the techniques locked down. 

I think it's the same with photographers. And I think each camera, with it's weight distribution and overall volume, requires some modification of the basic handhold to make the camera feel more transparent and more aligned with the photographer. That's my assumption. But again, I'm not sure it really does much to improve the quality of images --- it's more a method of getting maximally comfortable with actually operating the camera. 


One aspect of camera design that seems to attract certain photographers is having a rangefinder or EVF window up on the top left hand side of the camera instead of centered (as in the Leica SL2 above). The position of the finder also modifies both the hold and your presentation to human subjects. With the top left finder position you don't have to worry about positioning your nose behind the camera and you have the advantage of being able to open that right eye and make contact with your subject that way. 

I notice that my left arm is being held out to the side too much. It's apparent in both photos by exaggerated in the color image just above. I could work on relaxing my left arm a bit and it would probably bring a better overall balance to my stance and my own stability.

Given a choice, and all other technical aspects being equal, I will always prefer the off center finder because viewing that way makes the entire hold of the camera and its position in front of my face seem more open and flexible. It also seems to cure that feeling of eventually developing tunnel vision. 

Finally, I think the smaller cameras, if they are sufficiently dense, are easier to hold better. I wish the CL would evolve. The same size body but a 35mm sized sensor. Maybe for next Christmas...?

Just a few things I thought about while at swim practice this morning.

And, by the way, five or six days out of the water, a too rich, holiday diet of too much pie, candy and other desserts, compounded by too many glasses of red wine or Champagne, is a fiendish recipe for making your first day back at a competitive workout seem like an aquatic hell-scape. I was so slow and sloppy. Exhausted by the end.  This calls for emergency measures! Bring on the blueberries, walnuts, kale and coffee. Add plenty of water, and sleep any time it's possible. I hope it doesn't take long to get back into shape but I find it usually takes training twice as long as the amount of time you've slacked off to regain your previous fitness. 

Thank God I don't smoke....


12.27.2021

The Leica CL camera, paired with the Sigma 45mm f2.8 Contemporary Lens Is a Great Combination for Casual Photography.

 

this is Charlotte. That's Minh. They're exploring downtown with cameras. 
We stopped to chat and I found them to be fun and quite knowledgeable about
photography. Minh's work reminds me of the black and whites of Alan Schaller

I'm really loving working within the L Mount Alliance of camera gear. Two weekends ago I was videotaping a live performance with a Panasonic S5 and a Leica SL2 along with a Panasonic lens and a Leica lens. Last week I was making portraits for an ad agency with a mix of Leica cameras and Sigma and Leica lenses. Yesterday I was having a blast shooting a funny Lithuanian women and then food with the big Leica and a fast Sigma 35mm. Today I winnowed down a bit and put the small and beautifully made Sigma 45mm lens on the Leica CL and went out photographing in downtown with that combo. My rationale for being downtown? Sunny weather and the need to deposit a few checks into my bank. The downtown branch just happens to be my favorite....

I mostly photographed old and new buildings in downtown which is totally counter-intuitive with a lens that's a 67.5 mm equivalent (in full frame language). It's too long for wide vistas, too short for far details. But it did a nice job rendering the soaring buildings and old brick work buildings with high sharpness and resolution. And the camera, used to make .DNGs, was able to dig into the shadows without banding or much increase in noise. 

The total package is small, light and unobtrusive. And at this point the operation of the camera is becoming second nature to me. It's much more like using a Leica SL than it is like using a TL2. I spent an hour and a half walking around with the camera turned on and I came home with a nearly full battery. I guess I really didn't need to stick two extra batteries in my pocket. I wish though that I'd stuck the TTArtisans 17mm f1.4 lens in a convenient pocket. I seem to be seeing more and more potential images that are just begging for a wide angle treatment. I am getting spoiled by auto focus with the CL and TL2 so I should probably look into the Sigma 16mm lens for APS-C. Every review I've read positively gushes about that lens. But I guess I could also just pop a 20 or 21mm on an SL or SL2 body and be done with it.


I guess what I really like about the L Mount Alliance is that I can pick and choose between camera bodies, camera types and the lenses from three different, very good, manufacturers as well as a larger selection of eccentric but very decent primes from the likes of Voigtlander, TTArtisans and others. It's interesting to know that, should you want to just experiment with a specific focal length, you can buy a $100 lens and use it to gauge your interest. If the focal length and look really speaks to you then you have an open range of options priced anywhere from $100 to $5,000. You are only limited by your own perceived need for unflinching performance. 

In the case of wide angles I'm more than happy playing around with all manner of "under $300" lenses. But at the same time I feel the gravitational pull of stuff like the Summicron 75mm f2.0 Apo lens from Leica. Can't quite convince myself that $5100 would be happier if it was converted into a lens or more comfortable just left snuggly in an index fund. Right now I'm still of the second belief but it's a short and treacherous trip to the edge of the cliff....

But the real reason for playing with the cheaper end of the product world is that clients are few and far between in the rocky world of professional photography right now. Mostly because of the surges in the pandemic, and it just doesn't make much sense to buy stuff for outrageous prices if one can't at least rationalize said purchases with a straight face. The 45mm Sigma falls into the luxe camp. When used correctly it's premium. That's why I have two.... But acquired at prices that bridge the two camps.


another flawless Texas sky. 



See? It's a small and lightweight package. 
Even I can handle it okay.




Late Afternoon Repast. The day after Christmas and 68°. Perfect for outside dining (and photos).

Must be something in the air. I got two bottles of one of my favorite red wines as gifts this year. 

We were invited to our friends' house for dinner. In what has become a tradition we ate and socialized outside. Our hosts made two sets of appetizers so we could have food within easy reach while still giving us some distance. There was a fire in the pit near the table. I thought it was unneeded when we first arrived but as the evening flowed the temperatures dropped into the lower 60s and the fire was quite welcome. 

I nearly always bring a camera with me to dinner and I like to play around with quick compositions and causal documentation. Sometimes I send along photos in an e-mail as a "thank you." 

I played around yesterday with the same combination of camera and lens I used on my walk just before. It was the Leica SL2 and the Sigma 35mm Art lens. So much fun to shoot at wide apertures and still get sharp detail where the focus hits.












Such a relaxing way to spend part of the holidays.