7.25.2021

Sunday Afternoon Street Combo. A Leica SL2 and the Sigma Art Series 24-70mm f2.8 DG DN. Add some blue skies and a few people and you've got some potential street photography.

 


I've owned the Leica SL2 for a number of months now and I'll admit that because of the pandemic and the inability to do the volume of work I've done in years past my learning curve with the SL2 has been longer, slower and less immersive than I expected. Part of my hesitation is that old puritanical concern about "using the camera up" on stuff that isn't important. And by "important" my subconscious really means, "doesn't generate income." But I think I'm over that now. I've been warming up to the camera more and more lately, and taking it with me everywhere. It was in the car this morning while I was swimming. I grabbed it after practice and made some photographs of the pool. I keep it with me most of the time.

After a late breakfast and some light office work I grabbed the camera and the Sigma Art 24-70mm and headed over to see what the social scene looked like at the South Congress Ave. area. I wanted to get there well before noon because the most "photogenic" side of the street; the one with the most shops, old architecture and restaurants, faces east. 

It was impossible to park on S. Congress Ave. proper. Everyone from everywhere had already arrived. Parking is by permit on the streets just to the east and west of the main drag so I drove in three or four blocks to the west and found a spot in front of an old church.

My usual routine for carrying gear is extremely minimal. I limit myself for all personal work to bringing along a lone camera and only one lens per excursion. I think that the more you carry and the more options you have at hand the more you question your choices. Your attention quickly gets divided between "right gear" and "subject" and a decision-making paralysis intrudes into what should be a smoother process. For me, today, the camera of choice was the Leica SL2 and the lens was the 24 to 70mm f2.8 Art lens. Added to that is an extra battery, contained in a small plastic bag, stuck in my left pants pocket. That's it. If you are afraid of running out of card space I would say that it's past time for you to invest in a set of memory cards with a lot more storage space. I have two V90 SD cards, which are each 128 GBs, loaded into the card slots of the camera. If I'm making photos for myself I'm using the cards sequentially. Fill up one and go on to the next. No redundant back-up here because the chances of me suing myself are minimal if I happen to lose a file while out shooting... 

Happily, it's a lot easier to photograph when you are just one person in a big and ever moving crowd. I find that a guy with a camera and a hat, who is over 50 years old, is largely considered a harmless eccentric. A "Boomer" hobbyist holdover. And with a large and fluid crowd out on the streets and sidewalks it stands out so much less if you adapt the technique of finding a background you like and planting yourself, with the camera obvious and up to your eye, as if patiently waiting for people to pass by so you can make the shot, while all the while the shot is continuously evolving and is, of course, the people passing by.

When I'm working in full sun I find working with the SL2 can be optimized by shooting only raw files. They are chock full of dynamic range and I know I can shoot a bit dark, not burn out highlights and then bring up the shadows after the fact in post. I set the camera to Auto-ISO and set the range from ISO 50 to ISO 6400. I raise the minimum shutter speed in Auto-ISO to 1/250th and let the camera keep track of exposure. I am always ready to step in to dial in some exposure compensation if I feel it's needed but at the same time I have much faith in the accuracy of this camera's metering system.

I'm using the camera's AF system in a zone orientation. There is a series of boxes within a zone and the camera chooses the right box or boxes for me. I don't work this way in low light but in bright light it works well. I always use S-AF and have little-to-no use for C-AF. I can work quickly and with a certain amount of confidence this way and I generally keep track of exactly where the focusing is taking place within the frame. 

Knowing that I was going to shoot raw and also that I would be working in unchangingly daylight I set the white balance to 5200 K and left it there. If I use AWB I find that the day's files vary too much in terms of color consistency and I spend a lot of time in post processing corralling the color back to a neutral or pleasing setting. Each frame becomes a custom project. Unhappily.

So, I walk down the street with the camera set and the lens zoomed to 35mm or 50mm and I look for static backgrounds and dynamic groups of people. I set myself off to one side and frame how I'd like the background to work. Then I stand still and use my peripheral vision to keep track of groups of people as they approach the frame. I keep the camera up to my eye and wait and usually the people ignore me and continue on without a second, or even first, look. Occasionally someone will graciously stop and wait for me to take my "shot." I oblige by firing the shutter, smiling and then looking down at my camera's rear screen. Then I re-engage into the process and try again. Eventually, hopefully, I get what I wanted all along. But I'm quick to let go of pre-conceived notions of what my frame "must" look like and try as much as I can to just go with the flow of the moment.

Instead of trying to get "the perfect shot" and then move on I like to stay at the scene and in the moment shooting frame after frame as the people come together and then break apart. I like to watch for different gestures and different "poses" as people talk to each other, queue up for coffee and generally present themselves to the world out in the great theater of the public. 

I shot a lot this morning and worked through the files after a late lunch. Instead of considering the images below as some sort of gallery or final presentation, I've included, in some cases, a series of exposures to show what I mean by "waiting for things to change in the scene." Like a contact sheet this might better show how I like to build shots and wait for luck. I hope you'll view them with that in mind. 

My takeaway from carefully processing the huge raw files from the SL2 is that its ability to render and deliver detail is amazing, and state of the art. The colors are wonderful and the files are malleable and rugged. Pushing shadow and highlight sliders all over the place in post does nothing to "break" the files and that's wonderful for people who need to process a lot of files in a short amount of time. Direct sun and uncompressed raw files seem to have been made for each other! 

I'm using the Sigma lens in such an optimized way that I'd be embarrassed if any one of the images wasn't sharp enough, or possessed of sufficient nano-acuity. I spent my several hours at the location working at f5.6 to f8.0 and at ISOs like 50, 100 and 200. Done in this way the SL2+Art lens is overwhelmingly competent and delivers better results than I even expected. I hope you have fun looking through this work. It's a tiny fraction, numerically, of what I shot today but it's very representative of the work I did in general. Thanks goodness I warmed up with a good swim....

bawdy murals at the Italian restaurant, Vespaio.

lining up 50 deep for coffee? I guess so....




Going out exploring with a camera and coming back home with treasure. A quick post on a Sunday acquisition.


a rarity in the United States of America. an independent bookstore!

Sunday morning around 11:30 and I've parked my car blocks away and journeyed over to South Congress Ave. I started photographing and writing about this area in earnest last week. It may, currently, be the most popular tourist destination in the city if one is to judge by the sheer density of the crowds ambling along the brightly sunlit street, on their way to boutiques, hat shops, Sunday brunch, and coffee. Much coffee. 

Earlier in the week I spied this little bookstore and stopped to look at the books in the window. One in particular caught my eye; it was the first collection of images from Lee Friedlander. I was deep into my photography at the time and while I noted the book I moved on to see more stuff. It's hard to do photography on a busy street while holding a shopping bag with a hard cover book in one hand. 

When I went back today, in between photographing the street scenes, I stopped in to see the interior of the shop and to inquire about the book in the window. It's a nicely maintained, collectible, first edition copy of the book and it was priced fairly. I bought the book as soon as I saw its condition and then asked the clerk to hold it for me. I'd pick it up from them on my way back to the car. I have a few other, almost untouched Lee Friedlander books but this is one I've always wanted in my collection. It's not particularly rare but it is getting harder and harder to find pristine copies of first editions by most of the 20th Century photography legends. The book store on South Congress Ave. has a small but nicely curated selection of photography books. I'll be making a trip back there soon.

Don't know about Lee Friedlander? Start here: https://fraenkelgallery.com/artists/lee-friedlander

 

When the evening cools off I'll settle into my favorite chair, flip on my favorite lamp and dive into the book with an appetite for a visual feast. Yeah. Occasionally I collect things that are not cameras or lenses...

Sunday morning in paradise. Cameras take a rest till later.

Catie.

The sky was clear and blue this morning. I woke up early, made coffee and read an essay in Robert Adam's thin book, Robert Adams: Beauty in Photography: Essays in Defense of Traditional Values which I enjoy very much. I think Robert Adams is one of the most overlooked and under appreciated writers about photography that we have had. His writing is, to me, both succinct and engaging. Another Adam's favorite for me has always been: "Why People Photograph".

These books are filled with comfortable writing presented in a way that's so much more accessible to me than the sensationalism of current writing that's presented online. 

I closed the book, rinsed out my coffee cup, brushed my teeth and headed to the swimming pool. 

There was a slight breeze and the temperature hovered in between cooly comfortable and just right.

The water in the pool was clear and still cool but the weather forecast for the week ahead calls for more typical Summer temperatures so I think our respite from the heat might be coming to an end. Still, we've had a much milder Summer than any of us expected here. We have no little gratitude for that. Even so, the water will be warmer in a week than it is now and we'll adapt. 

Will was our coach today. He's still young. He's still faster than the rest of us when he comes to participate instead of coach. He writes interesting workouts. He gives good technical advice. He's encouraging to the full range of swimmers who show up, like addicts, every morning. He gave us a set with lots and lots of kicking. That's a nice balance to the endless sets of non-freestyle strokes we did yesterday. 

I shared a lane with two of my favorite fellow swimmers, Matt and Ed. Both are good swimmers and slightly faster than me. Ed led our lane, Matt followed in hot pursuit and I hung back at a more measured (lazy?) pace, going just fast enough to make the intervals but not pushing too hard. We got in some fine yardage, got the heart rates up, tuned up some triceps muscles and began the guts of our day ahead breathing hard but with smiles plastered across our faces. Swim practice is an absolutely wonderful way to start the day and it's also a way of pushing back on the inevitability of mortality. We'll eventually succumb...but NOT today.

We checked off about two miles of diligent swimming, high-fived each other and then headed out in the usual post swim practice diffusion which returns us, individually, to our families, our Sunday habits, and a happy embrace of a clean, clear day; kick started vigorously with like-minded and much valued friends. 

I'm heading out to photograph some of the store fronts on S. Congress which face east, before the sun crests and the shadows change the presentation of the more whimsical architecture found there. It should be a nice activity before the sun heats us all up too much and boils the fun out of being outside. 

One last portrait from Catie's shoot. A look of happy exuberance fostered by the sense of purpose that drives all good artists....