Monday morning. Just checking the roadmap ahead.


I keep reading about the dwindling numbers of camera sales, year by year. Compared to 2010 camera sales in 2020 were down by over 90%. It makes me stop and think about the future of the business of photography (not the hobby!). We hear over and over again that the figures are misleading since they don't include the number of iPhones and other camera-centric smart phones get sold each year. And that's something I do agree with. There are certainly no fewer people taking photographs and, compared to the film days I'd say the difference in quantity of photos per capita in most societies is now off the charts. 

It's interesting to see how photographs get used these days. One could make the argument that the use of photos hasn't changed much but that's not true at all. Yes, there are still glossy magazines being published and sold but their circulations have shrunk and the use of photographs is neither as extensive or as adventurous as it was in the past. Magazines are more an adjunct to the content that's already on websites. The printed materials serve as a feeder or teaser to the bulk of the creative content which is firmly planted on the web. 

With the march toward video everything static print loses it's primacy because, well, the magazines can't do moving pictures. They can't change content at the drop of a hat (do people still have hats?). They have sunk costs in paper, ink and physical transportation, none of which impacts web content. Even on photo centric websites there is an inexorable march toward more and more video content. Just look at Digital Photo Review; five years ago it was surprising to see any video at all on their site. Now, they have over 1200 individual videos on YouTube and the number is growing quickly.

The flip side of the move away from print and to web imaging is that there are more venues to enjoy online than ever before. Some are actually pretty good. 

While the future is always much harder to predict than the past I'm of the belief right now that we'll see a schism in the visual arts universe. All the topical content will continue to head to the web but we're going to see a resurgence in traditional, physical,  gallery and print oriented work by artists. By the people who make stuff for the long haul; not just for a few hours of "like" harvesting on the usual sites. 

This belief is fostered by the observational evidence that shows me, once again, that people are irrepressibly social and no matter how much they are told not to gather they continue to gather. There is so much pent up demand for human contact, socialization, and physically shared experiences that I think we'll see a gallery explosion that coincides with  (and is enabled by) a majority of people in each country being vaccinated against Covid-19. Especially in the demographics that value the experience of shared art.

I'm a great believer in diffusion intuition. And by that I mean that we spend our time enmeshed in a culture and even if we don't have facts and direct observations to cite we absorb the zeitgeist of the time through some communal, and shared, thought process. A commonality of the momentum of desire which we come to understand emotionally long before we can tag it rationally. 

Recently, as I walk in the city and observe the people shopping, meeting for dinner and drinks at outside venues, and even traipse through museums (while masked), I've also started to feel the overwhelming desire to make art that I can share via big prints. I'm asking people if they would feel comfortable coming into the studio again once I get the second dose of vaccine and wait the requisite number of days to manifest practical immunity. The responses are overwhelming. People want, badly, to reconnect, as long as it's face to face and not over a Zoom call. 

My thoughts these days go back to various gallery print shows I've had at different times in my career and how much more poignant and impactful the work was for the audiences. How much the event of an opening solidified my exposure and connection with potential clients and also, on the other side, with potential subjects. 

I know that I'm not alone in my thoughts about this. I hear it from many people with cameras and a passion for the art of photography all the time. 

I'm now sourcing printers who can print very large. I'm preparing to shoot more and more with my highest resolution cameras to take advantage their efficacy for larger print sizes, and I'm working diligently on the more exacting post production of the small amount of work I can do right now. It all feels like momentum in a certain direction. 

For every action (the lockdowns, the restrictions, the isolation) there is an equal and opposite reaction. Yes, we are patient enough to wait till things are safe(r) but at some point the reaction will be concentrated and powerful and we'll once again revert back to our basic need to be out in society, to be seen, to see people and to truly experience their work. Human nature rarely changes for long. 


Work notes. It was a prodigious task but I cleaned the studio this weekend and sorted all the mess that had been piling up. I can once again set up a background and walk far enough back from it to make portraits in my style. I've been practicing with my long suffering family so that I feel comfortable working with the Leica SL2 and the Lumix S1R in a square format, in black and white, and with a selection of longer than average lenses. It was an exercise in overcoming entropy. Mostly emotional entropy connected with the restrictions of the moment. 

We've cleaned up everything from the winter storm that marched through Texas. I've stopped tracking sand indoors from the sidewalks and walkways around the house. For those who were worried, our electric bill for the month was about $65. Groceries are back in stock everywhere around our neighborhood. We've got ready access to everything from fresh salmon to fresh blueberries.

As things return to normal there's a tendency to want everything to return to normal. Counting the days till I once again meet with the Moderna vaccine. Probably the middle of next week. It's progress and we are finally starting to feel the progress more viscerally. And that can only help our practice of making portraits. 

No longer driven by the $$$, now driven by the desire to create.

Currently reading two books: How to Train a Wild Elephant and The Intelligent Investor.

Both, in their own way, are very beneficial. 



I'm a sucker for new lenses but sometimes I come across images from unappreciated lenses which make me stop and wonder why I keep looking. Here's one...


An Actor from Zach Theatre. On Halloween 2019.

In October 2019 I was still halfway into one system and on the way out with another system. I'd been shooting with Fuji XH-1 cameras, and some of their (optically) really good lenses but the Panasonic S1 system caught my attention and just seemed to make so much sense. 

I started out with one S1 camera and the 24-105mm f4.0 zoom and on my first week out with the new camera I shot the image above, hand-held and in low, mixed light, with the lens wide open. A few days later I was at the Day of the Dead celebration, downtown, and I shot a bunch more images that I liked right way. In fact, there were dozens and dozens of keepers. I wrote a blog and showed a bunch of the images here: D.O.T.D.

The upshot of these two sessions was my wholesale abandonment of one system and my embrace of the new system (which I should note is still my primary photography and video system with nothing new on the horizon). 

I bought a number of amazing lenses, probably motivated by the "idea" that an "all in one" zoom lens like the 24-105mm couldn't possibly be as good as, say, a Sigma prime Art lens. But as I look back through everything I've shot I have to say that the zoom is just perfect. On almost every level. Just perfect. 

If I could go back to early October 2019 in the VSL time machine I'd convince my younger self to just buy the 24-105 and the 70-200mm f4.0 (which is also superb) and then I would snatch the credit cards right out of my past self's hands and declare a buying embargo for either five years or until such a time as one of the lenses experienced a catastrophic failure. They are both that good. 

If I were to recommend a "system" to an aspiring professional on a limited budget is would be to just buy the 24-105mm lens and an S1 body and then add to that inventory only as needed and when the work paid enough to cover the additional costs. 

I recently bought a Leica SL2 and have been using it as much as possible so I can become familiar with it. I have an embarrassing admission to make. Embarrassing since I spent $6000 on the Leica.... But at this point in time I still like shooting with the S1 a bit better. Might be a case of being more confident with a camera one is most familiar with but...there it is. 

Heading out the door to walk and think about all this. After having written of my high regard for the 24-105mm lens you'd think it's a "no brainer" that I would take that lens along with me but---no. I'm walking out the door with the 70mm Art series macro and the S1. Trying to get comfortable with that lens right now. Later on I'll slip the 24-105mm onto the SL2 and see if I can learn to love the camera through my familiarity and respect for a great lens. All conjecture at this point. 


Yes. These are intended to be "dark." I shot them after the sunset. A tour through the sidewalks with the SL2 and the 50 S-Pro. All shot at f2.2. ISOs from 1600 to 5600.

I can sense that all of you have been waiting pensively to hear about our return to swimming. I shouldn't have kept you waiting for information for so long!!!


The Arctic Blast closed down our swimming pool for the better part of ten days because, at first, the management (rightly) decided it was too dangerous on the roads to ask lifeguards and coaches to travel to the pool. When the temperatures went sub-freezing it was also decided that leaving the insulating covers on the pool was a prudent conservation of energy already spent. Finally, the bitter cold damaged pipes in the changing rooms and some ancillary equipment. 

We got the all clear to schedule new workout times and to get back to work swimming at the pool this past Tuesday. The workouts on Tuesday mornings are traditionally the most crowded of the week but this past Tuesday seemed almost overwhelming. Swimmers were so anxious to hit the lanes and get moving again that even chilly water didn't dissuade. The covers came off at 6:55 a.m. and 30+ hardcore athletes hit the water for an hour of hard work under the watchful but somewhat sadistic (kidding, just kidding...) supervision of one of our favorite coaches. 

I loved the pain, the fatigue and the muscle soreness so much I made it back the next day for another dose. At the end of that workout I'd kicked off enough soreness and stiffness to start feeling like normal again. Two days, four miles and change later. I slept very well on Wednesday night. 

But yesterday was the first day that I felt "back to normal." I swam with my favorite lane partner, Matt, and we plowed through 3200 yards with no breaks in the action. We swam many sets of 125s and 75's and finished up the day's workout with four underwater shooters. That's four times 25 yards completely underwater (a long time to hold one's breath after an hour of fast swimming...) with 25 yards of recovery heading back to the starting wall. 

By the time of yesterday morning's workout the water had stabilized and the temperature was a perfect 79 degrees. What a luxury!

I'm sticking with my new tradition of cross training on Fridays so I skipped today's swim and I'm lacing up my running shoes for a leisurely run around the three mile loop at the downtown lake. Slow and easy. Trying just to look like I'm not struggling too much. 

I hit on the idea of mixing up Fridays so I can rest up for a harder effort on Saturday mornings. That seems to be the rhythm of the days. Hard on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. More concentration on technique and turns on Wednesday and Sunday. Something outside the pool on Fridays and Mondays. 

I did a bunch of resistance and weight training during the big freeze, as well as long walks when the weather wasn't too intimidating, so I lost less endurance over the last ten days than I thought I would. Still, it's icky to have too much down time. At least we very rarely have to close down for weather. 

Just FYI for Austin swimmers: Both Barton Springs Pool and Deep Eddy Pool have opened for lap swimming again and admission is free until further notice. Be aware that strict adherence to a waiting in line protocol is expected and enforced. Play nice. Swim well. 

Playing around with f1.4 at twilight. Always interested to see what lenses do.

I was feeling glum yesterday. It turned colder and gray after a couple days of warm sunshine. While the weather wasn't nasty, like the week before, it was gray and misty and gusty enough to be...unwelcoming. I spent most of the day tracking down documents to send to a CPA in order to close the books on an estate account and that probably didn't help my mood. And, of course you know how sensitive I am to criticism about what I put on the blog....

At any rate, by 5:30pm I was ready to get my nose out of an Excel spreadsheet and out of my messy and storm trashed office and get some more fresh air. A morning swim and a midday walk with Belinda was good exercise but I needed some alone time to just walk with a camera. 

I've been enjoying the new SL2 and figured that while I am still in the "honeymoon" phase with that camera I should use it as much as I can. It seemed like a good, low light evening to finally pair the camera with the Lumix 50mm f1.4. It's a heavy package but still manageable. Not what I might take if I tried to climb Mt. Everest but certainly portable enough for a couple miles walking through the urban jungle. 

The top photo isn't a "portfolio" candidate but instead is a personal test to see how well the camera and lens work together when the lens is set at f1.4 and the whole system is asked to focus on a small, bright target; the actual light on the streetlamp pole. This test gave me an idea of what I can expect from the lens in terms of point source light flare and the relative ability to soften the background.

I shot the top image in natural color but then decided to try it again in black and white so I switched to the camera's monochrome setting. Of the two photos below the top most is focused on the light itself while the second is focusing on the windows behind it. I am impressed with the overall performance of the lens and camera under these conditions. The lens is entirely usable wide open while the camera's focusing and metering work well in a twilight shooting environment. So far so good. 

Smoking on a bench.


I was out messing around with my camera last Friday afternoon. The weather had broken and we finally had sunshine and temperatures warm enough to start melting off the snow. We're all unaccustomed to walking on icy sidewalks here so I was moving slowly and carefully.

As I crossed Congress Avenue I saw this guy on a bench and we nodded at each other. Basically saying, "I see you and acknowledge you."  I was walking by and he said, "Hey. Take my picture." 

He liked the idea that he was smoking and continued to pose with his small cigar up to his mouth. I shot three frames and thanked him and walked on. It was fun. 

That was my day to shoot with the SL2 and the 65mm Sigma lens and this shot was done with the lens wide open at f2.0. The entire encounter took 10 seconds but, in retrospect, I really like the image. 

Thawing out. Feeling spunky after my first dose of vaccine. Counting the days till the second dose...


How does the Leica 90mm Elmarit R look on the Leica SL2? Let's find out.

One week ago today we'd just suffered through two nights of near zero degrees, the wind was howling and our expectation for the low last Wednesday night was somewhere around 12°. What a difference a week makes. It hit 87° Fahrenheit here in Austin this afternoon. Time to put on a pair of shorts, grab a sun blocking hat, and hit the streets. What better reason to go out than to try and divine just how well a 40 year old lens might work on a brand new, big res, camera body?

The lens in question is one that pops up on the used market every once in a while. It's an Elmarit-R, 1:2.8, 90mm and it's old enough that they lens is inscribed "Leitz" instead of "Leica" which was used on more modern lenses (but not on Elmarit Rs). Mine is worn such that the numbers on the aperture ring are faded but the lens is physically solid with a silky smooth focusing ring and no play in it at all. I bought my well used 90mm Elmarit from a photographer friend for around $350 but a pristine, late model, three cam version can go from anywhere from $500 to $750. While the optical design is simpler than modern lenses picking up the lens informs you that the optics are dense, even though the system is comprised of four elements in four groups.

Mine is a type 2 variant which was a redesign adding a built-in, collapsible lens hood and, after 1983, a third cam for sending the camera lens information. The one I own, according to serial numbers, was built in 1983, and the entire run of Elmarit R 90mm f2.8 type two lenses, over a decade and a half, numbers about 16,000. 

The camera of the day today was the Leica SL2 and I mounted the lens to the camera with a Novoflex R to L lens adapter. It's a "dumb" adapter so the lens is used in a totally manual mode but interestingly enough, if you dive into the sub-menus on the camera you can set the actual lens model, letting the camera know the basic characteristics of the lens. This is a good feature since the information is used for image stabilization as well as exposure metering. As a result, the camera actually records the aperture used and this is shown in Adobe Lightroom. I don't know but I wonder if Leica has also included in their in-camera lens profile information about the basic characteristics of each lens; including its amount of vignetting, and geometric distortion. If I used more R lenses on the camera I'd probably be motivated to find out but I'm happy with the combination as is. More information won't improve or reduce the quality of the lens...

I owned a copy of this lens back when I was shooting with a bunch of R series cameras in the 1980's and 1990's and I found that I was most successful if I stopped down to f4.0. Using it wide open was hit and miss and mostly limited my contrast and overall sharpness. An aperture of f4 cleaned up most of the performance issues--- but the lens really comes into its own at f5.6 and f8.0.

Since there's no autofocus I depended on the SL2's focus peaking. The FN button on the back of the camera allows one to toggle through four screens for shooting. One screen is totally clean with no information, one has basic information and a level while yet another one includes focus peaking. You needn't dedicate a separate button for this, you just toggle through the available screen options. 

Today I shot almost exclusively locked in at f4.0. I like stuff to go out of focus in the background so it's a nice compromise. All of today's images were shot in the Natural profile as large, fine Jpegs. I did not apply sharpening to the images but did mess with highlights and shadows where I was looking for a different balance for a few of the shots. 

Older lenses tend to have been computed and designed to perform best at certain distances. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that this one performs best when used between 6 feet and about 30 feet. That's not to say it can't be used at infinity or at its close focus distance of approximately 25 inches, it's just that entering the range I described above gets me the best optical performance. 

I've reviewed the photos shown here at 100% and I find them to be sharp, but not in the way my more modern Lumix 50mm f1.4 or the Sigma 85mm Art lens are. Those two show off a very high level of resolution along with a well balanced contrast. The Elmarit doesn't resolve anywhere near those lenses but the simpler design goes a long way toward delivering high contrast. It's a different look. Probably part of what gets described as a "film" look. But it is different from modern optics and so has a place in the equipment drawer for those times when contrast and acutance are more aesthetically important that a tamer, high resolution look. 

In the end I have to say that I find the look the lens delivers to be really nice. I feel that many of the R series Leica lenses shared that high acutance and high contrast look but it was mainly attainable in the 35mm, 50mm, 80mm and 90mm lenses in the R catalog where you can really see this. The wider lenses were good in their day but nothing special compared to current wide angle primes. 

If I intended to put together a group of R lenses to use with the SL2 I would have a small list. It would include the 50mm Summilux 1.4, the final version of the 50mm f2.0 Summicron, the 80mm f1.4 Summilux, this 90mm Elmarit and the 180mm f3.4 Apo-Telyt. While there are other good lenses in the range these are the ones that always delivered the best looks for me. If you are a real portrait geek you'd also add in the 90mm f2.0 Summicron but you'd be aware that it's softer wide open than the others. Not a fault, more of a feature. Stop it down and you'll find it fits right into the family.

When adapting wider lenses to the SL cameras I think I'm happier with some of the Contax Y/C and N series lenses. My current fave being the 28mm f2.8. But when considering wides I always come back to modern, well corrected zooms for the few times I use them. 

Take a look at the images and tell me what you think. Do they look different from the zoom lens photographs I usually post? Maybe it's all in my head...
The camera does quite well at ISO 5,000. I did drop down to f2.8 just to stay under ISO 10,000. 
Not bad for such a high megapixel camera!


What I have learned from a mentor.

Amy Smith. Assisting on a photo shoot with me many years ago. I'll save this one.

 It sounds a bit silly to have a mentor at 65 years of age but there it is. My mentor is not a photographer and has nothing to do with advertising, imaging or freelancing. He was a successful business person who made his fortune and retired. But he has also been a world class athlete since his years in college. 

Lately, when we've talked on the phone I've tried to push the conversation toward things like "legacy" and "happiness." These are buzzwords in our generation and they have different meanings for different people. For most photographers of a certain age legacy seems to mean getting your photo archive in shape to leave something behind. This gives many folks a reasonable sounding excuse to putter around their office, looking through sheets of slides, contact sheets and online galleries, spending time reminiscing and taking photos from one stack and putting them in another stack. There are all kinds of strategies that the usual "experts" on line will share as if these strategies are a bold and effective battle plan. 

We're told to rank images and put them into "keep", "maybe", "probably not" and "throw." The web-visor usually convinces us to put aside one "platinum" pile of images that will have resonance with your family and, perhaps, collectors. This stack is generally limited to one hundred images which have "stood the test of time." It's the artist equivalent of having a park bench named after you....

I asked my mentor about this at one of our casual meetings. He had recently completed a 10 mile open water swim race (at age 74) and he was very direct with me. This is a paraphrase of what he said (but it's pretty much accurate): 

"All that shit you are supposed to do when you "get older" is rank bullshit. When people get old they tend to get stuck in their own comfort zones. The idea of sorting stuff is just an excuse to sit comfortably in a favorite chair and aim your whole being toward your impending death." 

"You only have X number more years to live. If you are lucky! Do you want to spend them sitting on your ass waiting for the big decline or would you rather head out the front door every morning in search of a big adventure, a new adventure, a thrill, a challenge, a kick in the ass? Because I can guarantee you that aging isn't a process whose pace is carved in stone. You can speed up aging or you can slow it down but the secret is that if you aren't dedicated to enjoying RIGHT NOW to the hilt you are already deep in the sordid process of dying." 

"If you want my advice you should take everything that isn't absolutely precious to you and toss it now. Do it the day they come to pick up the garbage so you can't change your mind and go retrieve it. Throw away everything you don't use, don't want, haven't played with and haven't shown to people. That way you break the leash. You pop through the protective barrier and you startle the people around you who thought you should just slow down, and shut up, and age gracefully."

"Swim harder, train faster, and if you have to be a photographer then go out and be a photographer because, as I understand it, your best work is always, always just ahead of you. The stuff you already did is finished. It's a race already swum. It's already given you your time on the awards stand. Do you think if you play with those pictures over and over again they'll give you another ribbon or a trophy? Dude, the magic is in the race. It's in the experience and the practice. It's certainly not resident in the snapshots of you standing on the award blocks."

"Do you know what you should do every time you finish a great race? You should start training the very next day for the next race. And when you swim that one you should start training the very next day for another one." 

"There are two kinds of people in life. Those who do and those who sit on their ever growing butts and watch everyone else have the real fun. Which one would you rather be?"

And with that he stood up, thanked me for the coffee and (literally) ran off to get started on his next project. Starting a running program for kids at risk.

Later in the afternoon I looked at a pile of stuff on my desk that I'd been trying to sort. Mostly ancient headshots for big companies that made up my client list for most of my career. I carefully pushed all the old envelopes off the side of the desk and into a convenient trash can, put on some walking shoes, grabbed a camera, and headed out the door. There might be gold out there. Just maybe. But I know I've got better things than to find places for images I never want to see again. Or move statements around from desk to filing cabinet to trash.

This blog is just a thought as I get ready to go out today. And I had one last thought about my mentor, the swimmer. If people could transfer, just for one day, their consciousness into a 74 year old's body that was in infinitely better shape than their own, full of strength, energy and endurance, free of all pain, would the experience inspire them to change their lifestyles the minute their consciousness switched back into their own bodies? Would they start walking with the goal to start running? Would they take up Judo or long distance swimming? Would they live their lives at the peak of their potential? --- once they discovered that it felt great and WAS possible? 

I'd like to think they would. But I'm always haunted by the idea that most people are complacent enough to prefer just embracing the entropy and giving in. 

Everyone, it seems, gets a choice.

Fond memories of corporate events past...


We spend a lot of time at the dining room table talking over dinner. Ben, Belinda and I have been sharing nearly every evening meal together for the better part of the pandemic. Breakfast is different. Ben and Belinda are grumpy when they wake up and I find it's more efficient (and better socially) if I head to swim practice before they get up. They mumble answers at the breakfast table and, sadly, I am the only "morning" person in the family. Best that we all keep a quiet and respectful distance until they are fully awake.

But dinner is much more lively. They are completely conscious; animated, and we discuss everything from exercise, diet and politics to sociology, technology and advertising.

Last night I got off on a tangent about corporate events. How they were held just over a year ago and before that all through time immemorial.

The image above triggered a memory for me of an over-the-top event I photographed for a high technology company in the first decade of the new century. We camped out at the Breakers Hotel in West Palm Beach, ate Lobster at Mar-a-Lago and sat through presentations on  How to Save your Company given by professors from Stanford and the Wharton School. (ironies of ironies...)

While always physically in the middle of things but on the periphery of relevance I loved these kinds of events where I was well paid to be a social documentarian. Catching nuance of the meetings and events for some unknown, future use. 

My favorite part of the whole show (after the bits of high strung corporate drama and posturing) was waking up early in the mornings to see the sunrise or walking down the beach in the late afternoon with a camera in my hands and a break in my schedule. 

I'm sure events will come back at some point soon. Everyone will have their vaccine passports and we'll gather once more to munch on crustaceans and guzzle expensive liquor. I hope the photographers will be invited back, along with the caterers, meeting planners and various other barnacles clenching tightly to the bows of commerce. 

The Breakers' breakfast nook?

It was one year ago when I made this portrait of Kriston Woodreaux for his one person performance of "Every Brilliant Thing" at Zach Theatre. It seems like a decade.


Kriston Woodreaux.

Photographed with a Panasonic S1 and the first version of the Sigma 85mm f1.4 Art lens. 

I liked the results very much and this early success led me down the path toward cementing my creative feet into the Lumix system.