Some observations after having walked around for a few weeks with a fixed, 35mm lens camera.

I stopped by the edge of the pedestrian bridge to watch dogs
and their people in this dog park. It's a popular spot for canines and their 
charges at the end of the day. As I was standing with my camera this particular 
dog seemed to notice that I was unsupervised and took it upon herself
to come over and keep me company. She sniffed me and then sat down
on the wall next to me and waiting until I finished looking at the action.
I said "Goodbye" and she nodded and trotted right back to her 
pet human. It was... comforting.

I think I finally figured out why I fought so hard against adapting the Fuji X-100V in one of its prior incarnations. They all seemed a bit tinny and thin when I handled them and the human/camera interface always seemed a kind of clunky and counter-intuitive. But I've decided all of that changed with the current model of the camera. It feels solid and well built. It's nicer to hold and shoot with. And at 26 megapixels, instead of 12 or 16, I actually feel comfortable enough cropping the frame to get a bit closer to a 40 mm angle of view. 

The thing is, my first "real" camera, bought with my hard-earned money, was the Canon Canonet G-III QL (the QL stood for "quick load") and it was a camera that quickly became about as transparent as a camera could be. I bought mine in 1976 and I still have it right here. It's about as solid as I imagine a camera could be, and the 40mm f1.7 lens on the front of it was sharp and at the same time voluptuous. I shot prodigious amounts of black and white film through that little camera and focusing with a bright line rangefinder was as natural as walking. I learned everything I ever needed to know about photography with that camera in my hands, or nearby. 

It's still here in the studio long after a raft of M series Leica cameras and lenses have come and gone. It's my "reference standard" for what a good, all around, affordable street shooting camera should be. I took it to Europe in 1978 for a multi-month backpacking trip and the only bother was replacing the PX 625 battery that powered the meter and made auto exposure (shutter priority) available. But the camera was and is fully functional without its battery; you just have to know how to estimate exposures in your head. And, as to "build quality" it is still fully functional today, forty four years after I bought it brand new from Capitol Camera, here in Austin. Sad though. The camera is still here but one of my favorite cameras stores is long gone.

Subconsciously, I guess I just kept making a comparison between the older Canon rangefinder, film camera and all the previous generations of X100 cameras from Fuji and the Fujis always came out on the losing end of the comparison. I never thought about my affinity for the Canonet until yesterday when I was looking for an old Nikon F camera body in the "film" drawer and stumbled back across it. In an instant I realized why I have always been uninterested in the Fujis. They had a lens that was just a bit too wide for me at the time and a sensor that was just too low res to consider cropping tight portraits at 50mm, 60mm and 70mm. It's different now. The crop is no big deal with the right sensor. I frame tight and a bit of crop adds up to "just right."

I've also found, when looking through the photos I've been taking in the last few weeks that I'm finally learning to come to grips with the 35mm focal length as it is. While I think Fuji "should" have made this line of cameras with a 40mm lens instead I get that I'm a bit of an outlier where focal length choices are concerned. But the camera is wearing my focal length prejudice down; bit by bit. Frame by frame.

One of the things I'm enjoying with the X-100V is that the lens, when used as I like to use it, is wonderfully sharp and holds up well with a bit of cropping. The images that are cropped to a 40 or 50mm frame don't seem degraded or less technically sound to me. 

On another note, I thought after having used EVFs for such a long time now that I would be most comfortable framing and shooting with the EVF engaged but that's not how things have shaken out. I've been using the OVF with the bright frame lines almost exclusively and I love it. There is an emotional connection to the rangefinder aesthetic that I find comfortable and, for me, saturated with a nostalgic and lovely remembering of my first embrace of photography. Can't explain it better than that but every peek through the bright line finder takes me right back to my time first photographing the people who have been most important in my life. 

I haven't begun to dive into the depths of the X-100V's capabilities; I like using the camera in much the same way I used my old Canonet, but I am lowering myself into its clutches the way one sinks slowly and carefully into a really hot bath. I love the Astia profile for color shooting and I've tweaked the Acros profile to get black and white images I like. I have the important controls set up to the buttons that make sense. I can quickly click the ND filter in and out. The aperture ring around the lens is exactly where it should be.

I bought a small, canvas Domke camera bag last week. I was looking for a small bag and I found this one lightly used at Precision Camera (with which I have no affiliate relationship, all cash goes in only one direction...). It's just the right size to hold one black and one chrome X-100V camera, with their metal lens hoods attached, along with a couple of extra batteries and a little box that contains the original lens rings and lens caps. I can hardly wait to do at a trip somewhere to make photographs with just the "twins" and nothing else. Seems like the perfect cameras for exploring the world. 
All of a sudden I'm not concentrating on small details but I'm actually 
enjoying taking in wider landscapes. Even if they are desolate and cluttered.

I'm not sure why but I'm currently fixated with any sort of back light. 
I was just a little disappointed not to get enough lens flare on this one.
I guess that's the trade off. A better lens cheats you out of 
tasty abberations. I guess a couple fingerprints on the front 
element would fix that right up....


Choosing how to get back to work. The contemporary dilemma for a generation of freelance artists.

I've walked across this bridge hundreds of times and never 
experienced the reflected light off an apartment building shining directly 
across the lake this way. It was exciting. I'm glad I thought  to bring a camera.

In a little over a month and a half we'll be coming up on the first anniversary of the pandemic in the USA.
When the news first started breaking we were expecting the first few months to be bad but we calculated that if we all wore our masks and stayed home for a couple of months we'd keep the curve of the spread low and give our health care professionals time to work out live saving best practices to keep deaths at a minimum then, we presumed, we start getting back to more normal routines. Few expected things would be much, much worse nearly a year down the road.

I think many businesses have determined that they now must get back to work, aggressively, as soon as possible, if they are going to survive. It's very much an existential dilemma.

The choices seem to be to shut everything down and watch your business collapse and die or risk going full blast and potentially contracting Covid-19 and then collapsing and dying --- personally. 

I'm old enough not to have to make these kinds of life and death choices. I can decide to retire from the field if I feel the personal risk is too great. I assume most readers here are either retired or have put away enough to do so. But what about the younger photographers and videographers who must work to survive financially?

It's interesting to see the host of "over 60" retirees talk with authority about "making the right choice and "hibernating" until everyone is vaccinated but it's rightly compassionate to realize that, statistically, quite few people can actually choose "the extended vacation" option offered by not working and not having income.

What would I do if I was once again 35, had a recently acquired mortgage, and had recently added a new child to the family? 

Many smart photographers had money in the bank for emergencies but who could have predicted that they would still be hampered from working almost a year later? I would presume, by this point in time, that I would have already used up most, if not all, of my non-retirement savings and I'd be digging into my SEP now. 

In our society, with few and tattered safety nets for the self-employed, I would have made the decision that working would be necessary, not just preferable. I would not consider losing the house or giving up my family's standard of living without a fight. But I want to get back to work as safely and sustainably as humanly possible. 

On the other hand, if I had an enormous trust fund I would begin my new career as a "fine art" photographer or novelist. Ah. If only we could all have been born into families that were comfortably ensconced in the one percent zone!

So, for most of us it would boil down to choosing option #1. Back to work as safely as possible. 

But, how to do it?

I'd say that your first and best move would be to create a sound working safety methodology and write down how your will operate, in the future, with clients. How you would operate in a new environment of commercial engagements.

Having written and shared policies is the best way to avoid slipping back into cutting corners, getting complacent, allowing clients to erode your procedures out of a misplace sense of economics, or for expediency's sake. Being able to fall back on your company's policies is something every business client will at least understand and it could help prevent them from pressuring you to take unnecessary chances. 

I would suggest operating with a healthy dollop of paranoia; along the lines of thinking that everyone I might come across on the job is a potential vector for infection!

This all calls for a re-doubling of your efforts to always follow universal best practices in dealing with Covid. No hand shaking. Control the number of people allowed on your set. Make sure everyone who is not actively in front of the camera being recorded is properly masked. Enforce proper mask wearing: the masks must go OVER the nose (not under) and extend down to the chin. No bandanas, just masks. A we'll bring extras in case anyone "forgets" to bring one. These rules must extend all the way up to the CEO and the company's roster of "heavy hitters." 

The higher most people rise on the corporate "food chain" the higher the probability that they are greater than average risk-takers. You don't want them sharing the results of their risk tolerance with you and your family. 

Have a plan to keep people well separated and make it a rule not to set up in small rooms or work in them for any amount of time. The "plan", written down and shared with clients gives you the authority to enforce your rules. After all, if the client signs off on your plan it becomes part of your agreement, part of your contract with them. If they traditionally relied on you to be responsible for the outcome of each shoot you have a right to rely on them to make each shoot safe. 

Part of my plan, should I go back and start working on commercial projects again is to have the right PPE. The single biggest personal protection device we use right now is the face mask. 

I have three different kinds of masks. I use a three ply, cloth mask when I am "off duty" and walking around outside with a camera. These are for times when I'm outside, walking alone on sparsely populated city sidewalks and quite capable of avoiding coming anywhere near six feet of other people. Low population density in downtown is achievable right now in Austin because the vast majority of the people who worked in the big office buildings are still working from home. Most of the people I see in the downtown space are masked. That's certainly true of the tech workers who have much to lose; if I do see unmasked people they are invariably tourists from less progressive towns. Mostly, I assume, Fox News watchers...

I have boxes of the ubiquitous light blue "procedure" masks that are three ply and meant to be single use masks. I use these for trips to the grocery store (our Trader Joe's is still mandating masks, with no exceptions, and also requiring density control in the stores. You might have to wait in a socially distanced line to get in but you will have the assurance that you are a hell of a lot safer than you would be in a grocery store that's regressed to an all comers group scrum. I also keep a box of these blue masks in the car and provide them to anyone I might be meeting with or working with outdoors. 

Then I have a supply of readily available, non-medical, N-95 masks that fit tight and purport to filer out 95% of...everything, all the way down to 2.5 microns. I stocked them in anticipation of projects where I'll be a client's facility, working on a portrait set up or some sort of environmental imaging. Even though they are well made and fit well wearing on of these N-95 rated masks doesn't obviate the need to follow all the other rules.

There are some clients I don't think I'd want to handle right now. These would include clients bent on doing traditional, convention style gatherings (shows, trade events, etc.) Nor would I want to photograph in occupied classrooms or other tighter, static places. 

If a client or one of their employees violates my company mask policy I'll ask nicely, once, for them to fix the problem and comply.  At the next infraction I'll be packing up my gear and heading out the door.

I'll relax a bit after I get both doses of a vaccine (can I please have the Johnson & Johnson version?) but will continue to mask up to help insure I don't become and inadvertent carrier. 

If we set firm rules and are willing to enforce them with no exceptions I believe we can return to doing certain kinds of work. The biggest rules are to limit the number of people in any area, make sure everyone is suitably masked, and to limit the amount of time spent in any interior space. 

If I were asked to make portraits for a law firm I would want them to schedule one or two people on days when everyone else in the office is working from home. If the firm is closed over the weekends and we want to do environmental shots in the offices then a Saturday or Sunday makes much better sense. 

The thing I dread is clients pushing to do too many people in too big a rush. We're going to have to train them to think more about safety and a bit less about efficiency. At least until everyone is safely vaccinated. 

I think many, many older photographers (over 40) are already economic victims of the pandemic and have or will have to leave the field. When the economy recovers it might be an unwelcome burden to try and rebuild a clientele from scratch. With a huge number of knowledgable workers pushed out of their industry a quick recovery in a year or so will find a vacuum for skilled photographers. It's the ebb and flow of a market disrupted by events beyond our control. 

But if you are going to serve the market right now you owe it to yourself, your peers, your competitors and your families to understand the risks and to minimize them in every way you can. Work healthy by design. It beats the crap out of dying. 

Just a few thoughts I had while waiting for my local Subaru dealer to service my car. I actually went long hand today. I brought a notebook and a ballpoint pen. Refreshing to go "old school" for a blog. 



Another little part of traditional imaging crumbled off the structure of photography. Costco kills the in-store printing departments at 800 stores.

For the first twenty years of my photography career everything (EVERYTHING) revolved around the darkroom and the making of good prints. When I first started out I rented time in a co-op darkroom we set up in the Farah Fawcett's old room in what used to be a sorority house, just West of the UT campus. The Tri-Delts had long since vacated the complex and it was, during my time there, the Ark Co-op. For a while I lived at the co-op while student-ing at UT. And I mostly lived there to be close to the darkroom that we helped build.

That's where I learned to roll film onto reels, develop the film, make contact sheets and, finally make the best double weight fiber, black and white prints I possibly could. In those days every available dollar (and they were few and far between) was spent on printing paper and bulk black and white film. If the sign up sheet didn't exist I could have spent weeks in that small, dark space. That space with the ungrounded paper drier that routinely shocked the crap out of me if I forgot and touched it while printing barefoot. 

When I built out my dream studio in 1988 the biggest expense in the whole 3000 square feet of the project was the darkroom. I equipped it with a Leica Focomat V35 enlarger for printing 35mm and half frame film, and an Omega D5 enlarger for 4x5 and medium format film. One of my favorite productivity tools was my sodium vapor safelight. Oh, and my Advent Radio. 

Eventually we started embracing digital cameras and the enlargers were only important for making prints from my "legacy" negatives. When we built the current office/studio on the same property as our new house in West Austin (1996) I opted to sell off the darkroom equipment and make do with a series of film scanners. It was a reasonable compromise since I didn't want to plumb another space and so much of our work was already moving to digital. That, and the fact that medium format transparencies had become far more relevant to the business than B&W prints; at least from about 1994 onward. No more need or desire to rush through black and white prints overnight for clients on short deadlines. The labs took care of our medium format transparencies and I finally got dinners with my family back.

By the turn of the century I'd already spent way too much time and money trying to make inkjet printers a viable option for turning out color prints when one of my associates mentioned that he was getting great prints from a store called, Costco. The first Costco had opened in Austin and soon people all over the place were singing the praises of their photo department. 12 x18 inch chemical prints for about $2. The "Two Buck Chuck of Prints!"

I tried out the in-store Costco labs and liked them. I liked them even better when they started profiling each store's printing machines and then sharing the color profiles with their customers. Then the prints got really good. Or, if they weren't good it was generally my fault. Chalk it up to early days of monitor calibration....

I've probably had printed something like a thousand of the 12 x18 inch prints over the first decade of the 2000's. We used to make and send printed portfolios and often needed to have four or five available for different client requests. We supplied wall prints from Costco to commercial and non-profit clients who wanted to decorate their offices with the work I'd done for them. 

I even used their printing/proofing services for event work. I'd shoot on 35mm Kodak Ektapress 400 film and have my local Costco photo department proof 30 or 40 X 36 exposure rolls for a given event, put the resulting 4x6 inch prints into binders and deliver them to my clients. 

Once, I was covering an event for Motorola in Orlando, Florida when my direct client got tasked with setting up a celebrity grip and grin photo session (not on the original schedule...) for about 200 people; all V.I.P.s in the eyes of the company. She promised her boss that we could get the film processed and get back one 5x7 inch color print of each of the 200 participants standing next to the celebrity by 6 am the next morning. 

I called around and found the local Costco and got the location. We did the fast breaking photo shoot from 2-3pm and then I grabbed a limo at the front of the Ritz-Carlton and rushed over to Costco. I handed over seven rolls of 35mm film and asked the lab manager if it would be possible to get them at any time up to the end of that day. He laughed and said, "Go shop around the store for a while, give me your cell number and I'll call you when they're ready. Maybe an hour?"  By 5:30 I was back at the conference with an envelope full of really nice 5x7 inch prints. My client was thrilled because she and her staff had also been tasked with stuffing the images into hastily purchased picture frames and getting them delivered to the clients before they left in the morning. 

I was loyal to Costco for the bulk of my commercial printing ever since that day. 

Now, that's about to come to an end. The labs are being shut down and the space will no doubt be relegated to something more profitable. According to the Costco press release the number of people asking for lab services had fallen dramatically and quickly to a point where the service was no longer profitable. Most people are happy to "archive" their images to their phones. Printing is now unimportant to the vast majority of shoppers.

Costco did mention that members who still want prints can get them from Costco's online print service. But it's not the same thing as being able to walk in with film and walk out with prints. Or to send in a set of digital files and pick them up the same day, along with your roasted chicken and 55 gallon barrel of pickles. 

Every day the remnants of traditional photograph disappear or are diminished. Sure, there are still a number of online printing services available and, if I need prints in the future, I'll probably just order them through Smugmug.com since I also use their service to make online galleries for current clients. But again, it's not the same. If you need something re-done, or done differently, it's hard to explain to a web interface just what you had in mind. 

As prints go away it changes the nature of what we do for our craft. And the tools we need to use. Does super-high resolution matter as much in a time when nearly everything is viewed on a screen? And when the most popular screens are no bigger than about 13 inches? I know most of us still make prints but then what?
Will the generations right behind us consider printing?

I guess I was hanging onto my Costco membership mostly because I thought I might need some prints from time to time. I have't been in a big box store since the earliest days of the pandemic so I'm thinking this might be a good time to drop my membership. With just the three of us here at the house it's rare that we can make it all the way through a ten pound apple pie, and we only need so many large screen TVs. 

But there are those good deals on tires.... I guess I'll give it a bit more thought.



Why I have absolutely no interest in acquiring a medium format digital camera at this time.

 Just for info here's what I wrote about MF digital cameras back in 2012:

A reader of the VSL blog recently wrote to suggest, after reading my post about photographing Lou with my film Hasselblad, that I try out a medium format digital camera before making the assessment about which path will ultimately yield better results. I thought I would remind my readers that I've been down that road before, for months at a time, and with three different systems. In 2009 and 2010 Studio Photographer Magazine commissioned me to test and write about three of the MF digital cameras that were just coming on to the market.  My two most memorable tests were of the Leaf AFi7 with a 39 megapixel back and the Phase One 45+ because, at the time, they were the state of the art.

I also reviewed the less expensive Mamiya entry MF digital camera.

Once you got over the fact that you'd just signed for a $45,000 system (when the two delivered lenses are factored in) the Leaf camera was nice.  It made beautiful files.  The 180mm f2.8 Schneider lens was superb.  It gave really nice out of focus performance and even better in focus performance.  But it's autofocus was slow like paint drying and the tandem batteries in the camera and grip did their best to die often, and always out of sync.  Would I still be shooting with the camera if someone bestowed it upon me for free?  Yes.  Was the calculus there for me to buy it and make more money with it? No.

The Phase One was as close to being the perfect medium format digital system I've shot with so far. The camera is much lighter and better set up than the Leaf and the lenses+body were small enough and light enough to be used handheld and to be carried around town.

The Mamiya was heading in the right direction price wise and I thought the files were just fine.

But with each of these cameras I kept coming back to the idea that I could dump the $25,000 or more into film and processing with cameras I already owned and get files that were just as good.  And I could side step the handling and battery problems. The bottom line is that my clients didn't need the bigger files and I didn't need the additional expense.  Not in the middle of the great recession...

At the time the medium format digital cameras were ponderous and pricy beasts. They were also slow and mostly used CCD sensors which made them gluttonous battery hogs. But they did have some redeeming attributes such as true 16 bit color capture. I also used one of the Aptus II 80 Meg backs (33 by 54mm) on a Mamiya camera and that convinced me that the smaller sized MF sensors (32 x43 etc.) were mostly a small bit different than 35mm and more of a compromise than a real upgrade. 

So, recently two of my photographer friends bought current, entry level medium format cameras. Both bought Fuji GFX 50Rs. One friend, who doesn't shoot for a living, is very happy with his purchase and posts about it frequently. My other friend is a hard core professional who has shot with a previous, larger format Hasselblad MF digital system and he also shot for several years with the Leica S2 MF system. He used the 50R for a couple of weeks and immediately put it up for sale. Why? Because if you are already shooting with a Nikon D850 or an Z7, a Lumix S1R, or Sony's new A7RIV camera (and the best lenses you can lay your hands on) you're probably not going to see much difference between those and the files from the 50R. The lower pixel density might give a different impression of sharpness but there's really not enough difference in the sensor geometry to get you the kinds of wonderful out-of-focus backgrounds we loved film MF for so long ago. 

Shoot your 35mm, high res cameras at one stop further open than your smaller MF sensor cameras like the HBlad X1-D or the Fuji GFX'ers and you'll pretty much match the focus fall off between the two formats. If you are buying the very best lenses for your particular system they'll probably be equally sharp at the corresponding f-stops.

I was offered a Fuji 50R camera with the 50mm f3.5 lens, three batteries and some extras for the very sensible price of $3500 but I still can't see the value of that camera over the performance of the Lumix S1R for my work. That, and the fact that we'd be right down the same rabbit hole of buying lots of new and overlapping lenses, batteries, etc. for very little (if any) gain. 

Yeah, you might see some differences if you routinely print very large but I'd guess that most of the raves about the pixie MF format images is all about the quality of the lenses more so than it really is about the sensor or the color science being lightyears better than that in the slightly smaller 35mm format.

No, I'm keeping my powder dry when it comes to the MF digitals. I'm holding out for larger sensor sizes (not more resolution, just more real estate). Now... I know it's probably not going to come from Fuji since they are three models and many lenses deep in a commitment to the smaller MF format. Hasselblad is all over the map but their only affordable MF system cameras are also of the pixie sensor variety. You'll still have to cough up good used car budgets for their larger sensor cameras. 

I'd much rather spend the extra money (is "extra" money really a thing?) buying supremely good lenses and putting them on very high res 35mm bodies than buy into what I consider to be a compromise format. 

But you could look at this from another direction. If you don't do this for a living and you do want to carry a camera around that makes super good images, and you want a different look to your images, and you don't currently own a camera I'd argue that one of the Fuji or Hblad cameras might be a heck of a lot of fun. Just doesn't make sense in this era of lockdowns, diminished engagements and limited opportunities to make commercial images with. Not for me anyway. And I saved $3500 into the bargain. 

About half the price of a decent 50mm Leica lens... Oh boy.

Got some color from Monday's late afternoon walk with the Sigma fp and the Carl Zeiss 50mm f1.7. Thought it was nice.

A last look at downtown's edge before getting back in my car and heading home.
Low light, hand held. Happiness.


We Blew Right Past Our 4,800th Published Blog Post and I Didn't Even Notice. Time Flies When You Are Having Fun!!!


Huddled here in my tiny, shabby office, my fingertips blistered from typing millions and millions of words, shivering from the arctic cold slipping through the cracks in my little building and making a joke out of North Face fleece-wear, I noticed, with bleary eyes, that we passed the 4,800th mark for published blog posts. Scintillating, cerebral and riveting are never words used to describe the content here but then, how many 2000+ word blog posts have you written in the last ten years? How many people have you been able to piss off with your arrogant, know-it-all writing style?  So there. 

We closing in on 5,000. That's the new target. 200 more posts to go. 

You can help us in this endeavor by donating either a new Bentley automobile or a complete collection of Leica cinema lenses (in PL mounts). Let me know which you choose to gift us with in the form below....

form. not found. probably never created. Oh well.

Exercises in growing out of previous knowledge and conceptions about process. Turning off the rules from the 1990's.

Much of the way we approach photography seems to be predicated on obsessively looking into a rearview mirror. From trying to be a "modern" Henri Cartier-Bresson or Edward Weston down to how we choose our ISOs. The knowledge of current technology and past technology is sometimes built on the presumption that all advances are additive and can be layered onto old practices when, in fact, the layering slows the process down and codifies our routines even when slavishly following old rules is no longer necessary. 

For years I railed on and on about the need for all cameras to have eye level viewfinders. Now it's almost (almost) second nature for me to consult the rear screen on my Sigma fp or one of the Fuji X100V cameras. There are times when the enclosed, eye-level view is critical but those times are generally just when shooting in bright sun. The rest of the time, if your eyewear prescription is current, the LCD works fine.

I'm also having second thoughts about focusing. Or the need to focus. Or, at least, the need to focus as obsessively as we have done for the last couple of decades. I think focusing speed and accuracy are currently the two most referenced specifications listed as "crucial" for new cameras. And I'm not sure the value of being able to focus in micro-seconds on a moving object in low light is as high as we imagine it to be. In fact, the obsession with critical focus might be one of the things that distracts us from having a really meaningful engagement with the joy of photography.

When I first learned film photography, and then re-learned photography when digital cameras became available, there were certain rules that we mostly hewed to because they had worked well for us in the past. Rule #1: Use the lowest possible ISO at all times for the best "quality." Back in the day "quality" meant one over-arching parameter and that was the ability to generate a photograph with the smallest and least obtrusive grain possible. 

For years I ignored the higher ISO settings available on each successive generation of digital cameras because my "fear of noise" was so ponderous. Lately, I've decided that noise and grain are integral to the process and that total removal of noise and grain was only important to people when it was very difficult to do well. It was a mark of professionalism, in a certain era, to be able to produce noise free files and grain free film. Now it's becoming passé in art circles to consider grain as any sort of impediment to making successful images. 

Yesterday evening I found myself toying with ISO 25,600 and being pleased with the results. 

In recent times we've become more and more acculturated to thinking that images with very narrow depth of field were a higher achievement/better end target than conventional photographs that might include more detail, front to back, in our photographs. I thought I liked this look better as well until I started actually going back to a 50mm lens and using f-stops such as 8 and 11. The results were revelatory for me. It seems that seeing lots of your image in focus can be equally compelling; it largely depends on the nature of the content. 

Freeing oneself from always shooting near the widest aperture of your lenses also conveys advantages in that by f5.6 (maybe) or f8.0 (almost surely) or f11 (positively) your lens is working at its highest level of imaging performance (for most lenses) and best combatting the visual effects of field curvature. So the photographs look more convincing as......photographs. The contrast in your frame is higher, the sharpness more convincing. It's a win, if you don't need to visually isolate a subject from everything else in the frame. 

But the use of these smaller apertures brings with it the benefit, especially for subjects ten feet away and further, of the user being able to relax a bit about the mania for critical focus at a critical point. If I'm using a 50mm or 35mm lens at f11 I can reasonably set the focus manually to about 15 feet and be almost certain that a wide swath, front to back in the frame, will be sharp and useable. 

Yesterday I walked with a camera in a way that was casually designed to reduce my reliance on old rules of photography. I took the Sigma fp and used it without an auxiliary loupe. It was back screen or nothing. Early on I was concerned about fine focusing but after a few snaps of the shutter and a couple reviews I put my bifocals in my pocket and mostly used the finder for composition. I cheated a little by enabling the focus peaking indicators but, hey! I was using a manual focusing lens.

I wanted to see how the camera made black and white images so I set it to do Jpegs at the best quality and eschewed raw files altogether (another recent rule that needs to be demoted to "suggested if shooting under duress"). The Sigma fp has a nice monochrome setting but no gingerbread. No emulated color filters to add or augment contrast or tonal mapping as in film. The best control comes from being able to set shadow and highlight curves in a different menu.

Once I decided on those parameters I set the camera to aperture priority operation, set my Carl Zeiss 50mm lens to f11, and distance to 10 meters (I felt so naughty going metric!) and set the ISO to auto ISO with a cap of 25,600. I did adjust focus for closer subjects but I did so by estimation since the lens designers had the good graces to include a highly readable distance scale right on the lens! 

I even tuned up my mindset and allowed myself to just walk with no quota of compulsion to bring home a bunch of images. I just wanted to be outside and in motion. Nothing wrong with that. But I found that having the camera in my hands and as ready as it was ever going to be freed me from "gadgetting" and allowed me to look more and act quicker. It was refreshing. 

The final thing I did in this exercise was to work in the boundaries of a new aspect ratio. I've been going on and on about squares and I do believe the 1:1 aspect ratio is marvelous for individual portraits but sometimes I feel that non-portrait images need a little "breathing room" on the sides. But I nearly always find that the 3:2 frame is hard to fill well. The Sigma fp offered me a 7:6 ratio and I took it. When I came home and started working with the files on the computer I didn't need or want to crop any of them. I may have found my new "street photography" aspect ratio. At any rate, I had a high number of keepers today and I wanted to share the black and white ones with you below. 

The Sigma fp must have some slight yellow filtration built into their monochrome profile; how else to explain such great skies (none of which were added or materially augmented in post production)?

Looking out the side window and trying to understand
how cold 30° really is. Cold enough for gloves; I know that!

Palm trees in front of Waterloo Tapes and Records.
Yes. An independent record shop (vinyl still stocked) right 
in the middle of Austin. Thanks John!

SOOC clouds without auxiliary filtration. Or post processing.

A late afternoon look at the Frost Bank Tower 
from an angle I rarely see.

Some plans have fallen by the wayside. 
I think I'll open a bar when the pandemic subsides....

I'm very happy with myself at ISO 25,600.
Plus, I like my new hat.
A nod to the W Hotel for their unwitting and continuing support of my art.
I thank them.


Snow Day in Austin, Texas. We got something like 5 inches of snow. It was pretty cool till the power went out.


So. It snowed. And snowed. The trees bent over and fouled some power lines. Everywhere across the city. 

Then the power went out. We thought it would come back on in minutes. Nine hours later it was dark and we 

were starting to feel the temperatures  in the house drop. I brought in a couple of big, battery powered LED 

panels for the living room and dining room. Smaller panels for bathrooms and the kitchen. 

We have a gas range so Ben was able to make his fantastic curry beef recipe (served over rice). 

About an hour after dinner was served, eaten and cleared we were on the cusp of getting the Scrabble game 

down from the closet when the power came back on. Belinda was disappointed that our enthusiasm for 

board games immediately vanished but Ben and I were thrilled to be re-connected to the world through

the miracle of fiber optics.

I know our experience is extremely anticlimactic for our friends who live in the Northern climes but it was 

a change for us. We have winter clothing but no flame throwers, automatic bonfire makers, no Krups hot 

chocolate machines, etc. We don't even have engine block heaters! Can you imagine our primitive existence?

On a happier note, the pool is still heated at precisely 82° Fahrenheit, the coffee shops have dug themselves

out of the snow drifts and opened the doors, and it should be back in the 70's by Thursday. 

The top link will show you how hard it was coming down. The bottom link: https://vimeo.com/499343411 is just a 

bit of footage out in the neighborhood.

Hope all my friends up North don't have to deal with this often, the touch screens really slow down when the

temperatures drop....


Every once in a while it snows in Austin. Like, maybe, every five years. Today is one of those days.

It's snowing here. It started with thunderstorms at 6:15 a.m. so I turned off the alarm and went back to sleep. No sense getting up if swim practice is cancelled. When I finally stirred around 9 I could hear the spitty sound of sleet on the roof, then, while making coffee I looked out the dining room windows to see chubby, slow snowflakes cascading down. 

It's weird, it's 34° but the snow is sticking to a lot of stuff. Now it's about 12:40 and the snow is still coming down. Probably not a good day to drive around Austin. Texans have enough trouble driving well on dry roads, rain makes the confused and I think a bit of ice would be most debilitating. Just looked out the window again and it's coming down faster than ever. 

Glad I'm not catching a flight to some odd assignment somewhere. Seems like a great day to sit by the fireplace, drink more coffee and read a good book. 

Wow. Just heard a huge peal of thunder. See you when we dig out.