Calm images. Palette cleanser. Remembering how nicely the Fuji XE3 and the 60 macro worked together.

I love the feedback I sometimes get from other professional photographers who read the blog. Mark sent a comment gently suggesting that I use a light gray background on Thursday's shoot instead of green screen or white. And considering that keeping detail in white lab coats is important I thought I should test his suggestion. I shot some tests against a light grey, seamless background and they were just right. It will be easier in the set-up to shoot this way instead of on white, and it will be easier in post than shooting against green. Sometimes I get stuck into one way of doing things and forget how important it is to learn new stuff. The motivator for me is how much Photoshop has improved its selection tools. Getting the right background means a one click drop out (with some "refine edge" fine tuning) versus the old school methodologies I learned early on. 

I was doing a deep dive through the older hard drives that live on my desk to see if there were more photos that needed to be backed up to the cloud yesterday and I found this series of images which were done with a Fuji Xe-3 and the 60mm macro lens. They're nice. Kind of calming a relaxing. I don't think they need to do more than that. 

I've looked at the Xe-4 from Fuji and I really like the non-stylistic body style. It's just so spare and utilitarian in a 1960's Russian industrial design way (albeit with rounded corners...). It seems like the perfect answer to people who like the overall idea of the Fuji X100V but would never get around to using the bright line finder and who really would like a choice of which lens to use for each situation. 

The camera uses the same 26 megapixel X-trans sensor as most of the rest of the line and has lots of the same, juicy film simulations that goad us into shooting Jpegs but it's so small and light. The body has been stripped down to its essentials which means no mf/af lever on the front and no built-in flash. I think the black body is minimal but at the same time a classic small camera camera. Grab a 23mm f2.0 and a 50mm f2.0 and you've got one of the smallest and most practical travel-cam systems I can think of.

OT: I have a quick question for anyone who has already gotten both doses of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine: Did you have any symptoms of temporary depression or depressed thoughts? Asking for a friend who could not get to sleep last night, even after dosing with Melatonin and milk. He was up reading a book in the living room at 3 in the morning after tossing and turning for hours.... 

He even missed swim practice.... Just curious. And, of course, asking for a friend. 



I announced this on LinkedIn and I thought I'd also announce it here. We're back.

Got the gear. Now it's time to use it.

 I've been on an extended hiatus from the business for the better part of last year, and the first few months of 2021.  I  was waiting on the vaccines to arrive so I could work safely and also provide a better level of safety for clients and crew. 

I've now gone through the vaccine regimen and the 25th will be two weeks since the last dose; as recommended by the CDC and other experts as the time period for optimum immunity.

As of March 25th I'll be accepting new projects from new and existing clients. We're offering one-to-one portraits in the studio as well as environmental portraits and commercial photograph for advertising and marketing on locations. I've also sourced a good rental studio hosted by a team that is dedicated to Covid-19 best practices. 

We'll continue to work with face masks and to practice good social distancing but it's time to start working on something more challenging than leisurely walks through the Austin downtown. 

We have already been booked for several larger projects and are working with clients to ensure that our health standards are shared.

I can't speak to markets outside of central Texas but it certainly seems like the second half of 2021 is going to be.....busy. 

Prepping for our first full day project of 2021. I hope I'm not too far out of practice...

On Congress Ave. 

I watered small trees and plants today and took an inventory of what's gone from the dramatic freeze and which ones appear to be coming back to life. The two Japanese maples look fabulous, the sage is popping some green leaves out from under the brown stuff and the lantana had already been cut back and dormant. It's hardy; I think it will survive. Just this week everything that survived is splashing out green everywhere it a flora celebration of Spring. 

A couple of weeks ago I booked my first "full size" commercial project of the year. It feels so weird just to write that... 

I figured it's safe as it's with a client that makes incredibly complex medical testing gear and they've proven themselves in the recent past to be incredibly careful about Covid-19, and diligent in all aspects of prevention. I might not have been as happy to accept the job if I hadn't already factored in the fact that I'd be fully vaccinated + a week out by the time the day of the job arrives. 

We'll be photographing six different models in a classic advertising fashion. Each person will be featured in an ad, individually. They'll be expressing an "over the top" emotional reaction (joy? happiness? surprise? elation?) toward a new product. Each ad will feature only one talent, and that's also the way we'll schedule them and photograph them. One at a time. 

The images I take will need to have the backgrounds dropped out so the client can composite each selected image with a trademark background. I'll do the dropouts/Photoshop selections of the final images and deliver them to the client as large, layered Tiff files. To make the object selection process most efficient I'm going to photograph each person against a green screen background. I originally planned to shoot against a white background but the comprehensive layouts show each talent with a white lab coat and I know from experience that separating a white lab coat from a white background is harder than it needs to be. 

I'm happy this isn't a video project because I can create an optimum green screen set up for vertical still photography with a simple and inexpensive eight foot by ten foot, fabric green screen. And I already have one in stock. If we were shooting video I'd need a much wider screen to conform to the aspect ratio of the frame. 

I've practiced with green screens for years now and my secret weapon against the background color contaminating the foreground object is to do a subtle back light with a magenta filter (30M) on it. The filtered light is pretty effective in neutralizing any sort of wraparound or contamination.

I've been photographing set ups like this lately with LED lights but I think the talents are going to be fairly kinetic and I'd like to freeze their motion entirely and get ultra-sharp images of them while using middle-to-smaller apertures like f8.0 and f11. In the shoot I did with Jaston Williams in late October of last year I used LEDs but Jaston was portraying specific characters and would get an expression and a pose just right and then freeze while I shot. Working with the LEDs in that way meant working at wider apertures, slower shutter speeds and higher ISOs. It worked on his project but on something more mainstream and commercial like this week's project I feel like doing it with electronic flash is safer and will help me get the look I think the client wants. 

Working at smaller apertures is helpful when doing Photoshop selections since softer edges are harder to separate convincingly. A good, sharp edge, captured in camera, always seems more realistic in a composite. We can always feather the edges after setting up the composite in layers, if we want, but it's mostly impossible to make soft edges sharper after the fact.

We'll be working in a huge room with high ceilings but the set will actually be relatively small. I'll drop a background behind the talent on a set of background stands and a cross bar and then light the background as evenly as I can with up to four separate flashes. I'll have three more flashes on tap for the actual subject. I'm planning to use a large Octabank as a fill light and a smaller, 32 inch Octabank as a main light. I'll use the final light as an accent. The back lit can be as simple as a hot shoe flash at a quarter power aimed from the background position towards the back of the talent. Since we are not doing full body shots I could actually place the small light directly behind the talent. 

I'm working with the same assistant I used on three of the shoots I did in the fourth quarter of 2020. He's careful, safe and an artist with lights. He does much of the lighting design for Zach Theatre as his "real" job. I'm also working with a talented make-up person who will wear a face shield, in addition to a face mask, while working with the talents. She's amazingly good. She'll make the talent and my meager photograph skills look top tier.

I'm excited to be back at work. I feel like I'm opening the steel door on an underground bunker and walking out into the sunshine for the first time in a year. Light at the end of a long tunnel...

For this project I'm using the S1H Panasonic camera. It's got great image quality, the file sizes are manageable and it's the most usable of all my cameras when shooting on very controlled sets. As most of you know I tend to overshoot so the idea of banging away with a 47.5 megapixel camera just didn't seem practical. I'm testing three lenses but no matter which one wins in my tests I'm taking all three along to the shoot. They include the Sigma 65mm f2.0, the Sigma 85mm f1.4 Art lens and the 70-200mm f4.0 Lumix S-Pro zoom. At the last minute I might also add the Sigma Art 70mm Macro lens; it's just so wicked sharp I have to give it a spin....

We'll set up and shoot on a tripod and I'm bringing two Atomos 4K monitors with me. I'll daisy-chain them off the HDMI socket on the camera. I've found that setting up two "client" monitors about 15 feet apart is effective in spreading people out. The product manager can look at one while the art director checks out the other and I get to keep track of everything with the (amazingly good and detailed) EVF on the S1H. It's a nice way to work and much more practical than trying to deal with a camera tethered to a laptop. It's just so much faster. 

The clients on this project are great and hospitable. The talents they've selected are NOT crowd-sourced but come from reliable, professional talent agencies. My crew are folks I've worked with for years at the theater. And the gear.... It's just so good. 

I'm hoping 2021 is just filled to the brim with projects like this. This is the fun stuff. 

But after we do the fun stuff I have to sit here next week and do post production. I guess it's the universe's way of balancing things out...

That's all I've got today. Back to testing everything. More later. 



Best overall value for MY money? This past year it would have to be the Fuji X100V. A camera so nice I bought it twice.

 This is one of the first camera lines whose charms I resisted right up until the fifth generation of evolutionary refinements. I've played with all the previous generations and always found something about each one that kept me from buying it. With the X100V I think Fuji have finally made a nearly perfect digital version of Canon's much beloved Canonet GIII QL17 mk film, fixed lens, rangefinder camera. And I write that as high praise since the Canon GIII was my favorite of all film cameras when it came to being the perfect camera to just walk around with and document life as it endlessly unfolded in front of me. 

I just pulled the GIII out of a drawer to look at it while I write this and the one thing that immediately struck me was how much more it weighs than the Fuji X100V. The Canon has a density and a heft that belies its size! Perhaps the insanely great build quality of that camera is a prime reason that now, some 40+ years after buying the camera new, it still works as well as it did when I pulled it out of its box and loaded in the first roll of home-rolled Tri-X film. It's never seen the inside of a repair shop and has endured not only the ungentle college years but also endless roadtrips tucked into a primitive and unpadded backpack. What a wonderful highpoint in mechanical camera manufacturing. 

While my current flame, the X100V, is a bit lighter it's still so much more solid in feel than Fuji's first generation of the X100 series. It's solid enough now to feel like it will stand up to rough situations and inevitable wear and tear without having to be babied. On the flip side of the comparison with the older film camera the X100V is crammed full of digital goodness and its imaging abilities far outstrip anything I could have dreamed of back when the Canon GIII was my daily carry. 

Lately, I've been vacillating between using the Leica SL2 and the Fuji X100V as my camera of choice when heading out the door with no official photographic mission in mind. With the Leica I have the unspoken promise of getting the highest quality files for the format size. With the Fuji I have the guarantee of using a smaller, lighter, camera that's still capable of filling the quality bucket to the brim. In some regards it's a contest between an overflowing bucket of potential versus a "fill to the brim" approach combined with the handling advantages or constraints of each. And lately, once we fill that bucket we end up trying to pour the contents into a shot glass to put it on the internet...

I have to be totally honest and say that, so far, I'm having more luck pulling files that I love (color, sharpness, saturation, snap, crackle, pop) out of my little $1400 Fujis than I have had with the $6,000+ Leica. All the usual caveats apply. I think the Fuji was designed from the ground up, and then evolved, to become one of the most ferociously good street cameras on the market at any price. As long as you are happy with a 35mm equivalent focal length being your widest option. 

I think the Leica was designed to be a heavy duty platform with which to show off the excellence of their lens line. It's a camera that seems most at home in the studio, on a tripod or applied toward a specific assignment. The kind of assignment that provides opportunity for total control of most photography  parameters. Realistically, it's not the best street shooting camera and the weight of the camera, the weight of the usual lenses and the overall size profiles of the "best" combinations thereof fight the need for the camera to be transparent and agile for just walking around with a camera.

Sure, you can strip the SL2 down to its essentials. You can put the small and light Sigma 45mm f2.8 on the front to reduce the profile. You can use a wrist strap. You can minimize the menu options, etc. A good photographer, in sync with the SL2 can make great photos, but in a different way that one might with the X100V. When I use the SL2 for quick, instinctual photos on the fly, I have to make some mindset adjustments. There isn't enough flexibility in settings to make it a convincing/comfortable Jpeg camera. The settings for sharpness and contrast are coarse. Two settings above and two settings below the neutral/center position. None of the nuance provided by the Fuji. This means I must change gears and shoot my files in raw. But in raw there's no way to shoot a reduced resolution, full frame raw file. You're shooting in 47.5 megapixels every step of the way. There's also no ability to select between compressed and uncompressed raw files. So, if I want the color, sharpness, noise, saturation, and sharpening control in a Leica file I'm constrained to go for the whole enchilada of the hand's-off raw file. And I'm pretty sure that the designers in Germany wanted it this way. 

In defense of the SL2 workflow, if you are inherently a raw shooter you'll more than likely love the camera because it presents a minimalist workspace that allows for concentration on getting the shot at the front end coupled with having complete control and an almost insane potential for high resolution quality in the post production back end. When you want that personality in a camera you'll find the Leica in the top tier. And, when I'm working on client jobs that's pretty much what I want. I crave a camera that's so over the top in image quality and post production potential that it works to safeguard me from my own mistakes and misjudgments in the field. The SL2, and a really great collection of lenses, is heaven for commercial work. At least the kind of commercial work I like to do. 

But it just isn't as warm, friendly and enthusiastic as the X100V for the kind of work I crave for myself. That's why I have both. 

Yesterday I took the little, silver finished X100V out for a walk with me. I have an older, Canon Powershot neck strap on the camera because it's such a well made strap and it's so "right sized" for this camera. For most of the time walking around and hanging out I wore the camera tourist style with the strap around the back of my neck and the camera square in the middle of my torso. Not the paranoid tourist style where the strap is over the neck and over one shoulder, all bandolier/cross body style; (otherwise known as fearful strap style). 

When worn with the camera just hanging down right below one's chest (in tourist style) it's a simple movement to grab the camera with your right hand, operate controls with your left hand and grab a quick shot. Once the moment is passed you just let go of the camera and move on. No hysterics involved. No strap wrestling necessary. 

If you walk with any grace at all your X100V will not bounce against your chest and call attention to itself. In fact, I think of it as a feedback loop device that helps teach one to walk smoothly. 

The camera, when worn in that mode, looks like a cheesy tourist camera from the 1970's and no one pays attention to it. Worn in this way no one supposes that you are a devious journalist out to humiliate your subjects with unfairly revealing images. Not hiding the camera defuses the idea that you have nefarious goals for your picture taking and mimics the aspect of the happy tourist venturing about our fine town making photographs of his new discoveries. At least that's how it feels to me.

Yesterday I had fun just walking around with the camera. I've been practicing using the optical viewfinder with the bright frame lines. The biggest part of the practice is to turn off the image review and just trust that either I or the camera have judged the exposure and color correctly (enough) and to shoot just as fast as the camera can hit focus (which is pretty fast). It's a style of shooting that I used out of necessity when working with rangefinder film camera since there was no such thing as a post shot review or the representation of the frame with color and exposure overplayed in a preview mode. What I've found over time is that, unlike the way I worked with a camera like, say, the Mamiya 6,  with which I framed and committed to the shot, then walked away, modern cameras that allow previews and reviews (like most of our digital cameras) break the cadence of fluid shooting. They introduce a fear of missing something we could have controlled because we now have the ability to instantly quality control each frame. So we do. 

We stop the process of shooting, or anticipating shooting, in order to look at what we've done just a few seconds before. The act of interrupting the active process and looking at the finished frame also invites the ponderous part of our brain along for  an instant critique of the shot. The brain hems and haws and suggests. Did you try this? Did you try that? Can I see it just a little wider/tighter? Could you step left/right and try it again? Are you sure that's the composition we want? Hey, human, can we try it again with a different focal length? Do we look funny doing all this stuff? Are people going to like this photo enough? Should we try it in black and white?

And the process of iterative re-evaluation puts a pillow over the face of subconscious creativity and attempts to smoother it. I can see with my experience using any number of digital cameras that, while looking at the potential image in an EVF there is an undeniable urge to start fine-tuning the image before I shoot it. To tweak the color or exposure. And there is another layer of indecision that comes from seeing the image in its "finished form" that manipulates the photographer into shutting down the usual interactive shooting process because "the image in the EVF is "exactly" what I want." Because, in my experience, the happy accidents created by continuing to shoot even after you feel you "have one in the bag" is one of the joyful aspects of loosening the tight grip of the need for control. 

I'm liking the Fuji more and more as I use it more and more. With some cameras the charm is front-loaded and a few months later I'm looking for something new. With cameras like the Fuji I'm a bit diffident and stand-offish at first; almost challenging the camera to win me over, and then, months later I really don't understand how I could have lived without it.

Besides the optical viewfinder with the bright lines the other thing about the camera that endears me to it is the ability to use the in-camera crop to see a 50mm version of the file and to commit that to a Jpeg. 

I have several wishes about the whole X100V line. First, I'd like to see several more models of the camera. Especially one on which the actual focal length is 35mm giving me a native 50mm equivalent lens, in full frame speak. It would be especially cool if the finder magnification was matched to that focal length. I would also like to see a version of the camera that's got a 14mm lens giving me a 21mm equivalent focal length. It would come bundled with a 21mm bright line optical finder that fits into the hot shoe. The combination of the 21mm and 50mm lensed cameras would be an amazing system for a super-light travel system for professional and addicted aficionados of quick photography. 

Also, I would love for Fuji to lose the Q menu button altogether. It's poorly placed. They might consider what Leica have done for a quick menu. With the SL2 one press of the "menu" button brings up the user customizable quick menu. A second press of the button takes you to the full menu. It's a very elegant way t  get rid of an extra button on the back of the camera which inevitably gets accidentally pushed just when you don't need or want it. 

That's pretty much my complete wish list for the camera. 

I bought a used one in chrome and always thought I'd like the black better. So when I had a little extra cash I picked up a black one as well. Now I have both and to be honest I always like shooting with the chrome one better. It's more "obviously" an amateur carry-around camera in appearance and because of that it's better ignored by most people on the street. The black looks really nice but the chrome matches my earliest perceptions of the "rightness" of cameras. I can't wait until Summer when the lighter finish of the chrome camera delivers more value by staying cooler in bright sun. Nice to have a choice. 

Here's some photos from yesterday: 

The photographer is not wearing a headlamp she is wearing a plastic face shield.
Shot next to the Austin City Limits Studio at the W Hotel. 

Brushed metal for nice reflections at night.

This book was tossed in the car to look at while having coffee at the park.
I'd forgotten how bad the writing and commentary was but how 
beautiful some of the black and white photos of famous fashion 
models being casually nude were.

Austin is a patchwork of dead plants and plants that survived all odds. 

A hardy little fellow down by the convention center. 

Crusty, old photographer with a shiny camera. Face mask is from Van Gogh's "Starry Night." 


My ambulatory testing of the Panasonic Lumix 20-60mm lens. With support from the Leica SL2. Walking off the effects of the vaccine...

I've had none of the sinister side effects from the Moderna vaccine that I hear so much about. I'm about 28 hours out since getting the shot and I'm happy not to be suffering. But I did have one side effect that dogged me all day yesterday. I'm not sure it's totally a result of the vaccine since I had trouble sleeping the night before (rare for me) but after I came home I was incredibly sleepy. I took a nap for half the afternoon and fell asleep on the couch after dinner while trying to read a book. I went to bed early and slept in a bit later than I normally do. That's it. That's what I've been dealing with. But, since I didn't schedule anything else for the second half of yesterday or for all of today it's not like getting some extra rest is an inconvenience. Also, by way of supplying additional data: my arm is no longer sore. Unless something untoward occurs I'll be thrilled to be back in the water swimming tomorrow morning.

Okay. I wrote yesterday about my change of heart about pursuing all the super high performance lenses and decided to be more measured and scientific in my approach to lens acquisition and use. Part of this new "restraint" comes from bountiful successes with ancient Contax/Zeiss lenses and partly from the realization that I've been carrying around the "prime lens prejudice" since the film days. And it seems to be mostly an irrational carry over of lens preferences from the days before every (every thing!) got so good. 

With this in mind I've started paying more attention to one particular, inexpensive but good zoom lens. It's the 20-60mm f3.5-5.6 lens that I picked up from someone else's "kit dissection" during the recent S5 camera craze. I think we have a tendency (at least I do) to sometimes dismiss a lens out of hand when  popular and well regarded reviewers drops remarks about the corners being unsharp or the build quality of the lens (as if they'd taken it all apart and assessed each component under their microscope) isn't up to their standards. But I convinced myself, at least in this instance, that I'd just go ahead and buy the lens and see for myself what the fuss or non-fuss is all about. 

I've been walking around with the lens all week.  Here's what I like about the lens in general: It's mostly plastic so it's half the weight, or less, than the 50mm f1.4 S-Pro Lumix lens but it covers focal lengths from 20mm (as wide as I like to go --- comfortably) to 60mm which is a good, long normal focal length for me. The lens is chubby instead of long so it looks well proportioned on the SL2 body. The zoom ring is very smooth and well laid out. It's got a long throw and the focal length markings are well spaced out around the barrel of the lens. This makes it easy for me to set a focal length of something like 35mm and pretend that I'm shooting with a single focal length lens. I like having a AF/MF switch on the lens barrel so I can quickly change between the two settings without having to hit the menu or find the right switch on a camera body. I like that the lens hood locks on and has a button you push to release it. This means far fewer episodes of the lens hood dropping off the lens at an inopportune moment, clacking loudly on a concrete floor and then rolling under the theater seat in front of me or under a table at a social event. Nothing like crawling around on your hands and knees trying to find your lens cap to make you look like a real pro... especially while the keynote speaker is at the podium.

Finally, I like that the lens is slow (smaller aperture). I guess that doesn't make any sense but a slower lens formulation might be much easier to both design and also to manufacture well so my rationale is that image quality doesn't need to suffer much when a camera company is trying to hit a certain price point. 

The only thing I don't like much about this lens is that it trombones as you zoom to the longer focal lengths so it does increase in length. If I'm not actively observing the tromboning I don't really care. It just looks funny when you are sitting around playing with the lens and getting to know its feel. 

For the kind of found scene photos I like to take it focuses quite quickly and silently. I've loosened up my stance on slower lenses for another reason; cameras like the S1, S1H and the Leica SL2S are all low light monsters, capable of being used at ISOs like 12,800 with very little image degradation. At least very little that I notice. Now that the constraints of noise have been largely removed from our gear (across nearly every line of cameras) the differences between fast and slow lenses start to blur and then the only difference becomes...the blur. 

With wider focal lengths such as the range on this lens, or the native focal length on the Fuji X100V, I've started really embracing the idea of getting deeper focus. Shallow focus and wide angles of view are rarely as convincing an effect as I want it to be and I'm starting to consider the teeny-tiny slice of sharp focus with massive blur in front and behind to be the provenance of the longer, faster lenses. If you like the super-blurry background/foreground effect you'll get it with much more ease if you stick with super fast 50mm lenses, very fast short tele lenses, like the 85mm f1.4s and then just about any lens longer than 100mm with an aperture of f2.8 or larger. 

Today I mostly set the 20-60mm lens to f8.0 and left it there. If I moved in close that aperture worked to give me a sharp main subject and a subtly blurred background. If I moved further away from the main subject I got more and more of the overall frame in focus and this worked well for me. 

Even though it is considered a venal sin in some circles I did use the camera in Jpeg today and I cranked down the resolution to "medium". My idea was that the reduction in size would both reduce noise and increase overall sharpness and, secondly, that I'd spend much less time futzing around with the enormous 47.5 megapixel files in post where they would end up needed to be reduced for web use anyway. I'm pretty sure 20 megapixels will give me enough quality on the blog....

When I actually looked at the files at length I was quite happy with the results. The lens didn't disappoint me with its corner performance and I found most of the frames to be snappy, contrasty and filled with juicy detail. In all it's a lens that I'm using more and more of the time. 

Next week, when we're photographing models for a very large medical devices manufacturer, I'll switch back over to shooting raw, using a series of really good single focal length primes, and lighting the models with sharpness, contrast and color in mind. For a gentle walk around the city I think it's fair to forego the 15 pound camera bag full of primes. I really just need one camera hanging off my left shoulder, equipped with a lens that isn't so front heavy that the bottom of  the camera rests against my side. The 20-60mm fits the bill nicely.

Outside everything is the current rage in Austin.
Those are not coasters under the plants, they are 
QR codes to make ordering easier...

New businesses are starting to move into Second St. 
There is a presumption that we're getting closer to 
a time when we'll all feel normal again and want to 
shop like badgers on amphetamines. 

The Willie Nelson statue at the W Hotel and Austin City Limits
Stages is now, officially, a tourist destination. Maybe now 
more popular with some groups than the Capitol. 

As you might guess, today was signage day.
I gave myself bonus points for every sign I liked and shot. 

Adaptive re-use of public parking spaces. 

Why not place your tables and chairs right on the handicap parking 
sign? Really, who in their right mind wants to sit with their 
back to four lanes of traffic? Especially with those new-to-Texas
drivers who don't quite understand the rules yet....

The restaurant, North, seemed to understand the right way to 
surmount the lockdown early on. Ample enough outside 
seating to allow for social distanced dining. 
The safety of which fell apart as non-podded couples met 
for dinner and drinks and sat across from each other.