When I get a new lens everyone always asks me if it's sharp. The smart ones ask me: "Is it fun?" This one is....

The TTArtisans 50mm f1.2 lens for APS-C (so many 50mms floating around these days I feel I have to make that distinction) is far from a perfect lens. If and when you use it wide open you can only expect the central core of the lens to be at all sharp. Many will grumble that the only reason to buy a fast lens is to use it wide open all the time but that's just silly. Why would the makers have taken the time to put all those other apertures on the f-stop ring if they weren't also useful? 

The lens also has more vignetting when used at f1.2-f2.8 than I'd like but Photoshop does a good job handling vignetting so it's certainly not a "deal-killer." Oh, and distortion. It has a nice serving of barrel distortion. But the lens also has a lot of personality. And, if you use this lens in a rational manner you can get some really nice photographs from it. If you point it in the right direction and you point it at interesting things. 

I was in an odd mood yesterday afternoon. I felt a bit disconnected. So, after I took care of getting important information to a new client who arrived yesterday with a platinum level recommendation from a valued client, and arrived with a hot/short deadline/high stress project (next week, next week), I wanted to take advantage of the cool, rare Autumn weather and walk downtown from just before sunset to that period that just settles in to full darkness. I took the Leica CL and the new TT-A 50mm since it's hardly a burden and I didn't have anything on my walk agenda that would dictate one camera or another...

So I walked down a few different streets and caught a few new angles of a building that's been under construction for quite a while. I'm not an architectural photographer but I'm happy with my latest shots of the "Sail" building. I also walked into a music memorabilia store on Congress Ave. that I'd never really paid attention to before and loved it. Then I went next door to a coffee shop/live theater that has been in the same location on Congress for decades but the surroundings always looked a bit seedy and unwelcoming. They make a great latté and I should have been patronizing them for years. But mostly it was a disjointed walk in a cool evening.

Funny times. I was walking south from the Capitol and I stopped at a cross walk to take a photo of something across the street. A young woman in a bright red hoodie, a pair of jammers and odd white shoes stopped to wait for the light next to me. After I took my photo she smiled and said, "It's so beautiful and peaceful down here. I just love downtown Austin at twilight." We walked along and talked for a little while. She's young, just moved here from Albuquerque, NM and is still discovering all the things that make Austin different. And interesting. 

And after we parted ways I started thinking about my walks downtown and how calm and happy almost every one of them has been. Camera or no camera. But maybe better with the potential a camera brings in tow. 

So, here are some photos I took. I think the 50mm f1.2 works really well when stopped down just a bit. I won't be trading in all my full frame cameras and going completely APS-C but it's a nice package for walking and just having a nice camera to catch weird and angles and weirder moments. 

When I got back home there was an e-mail waiting for me. It was a request for a bid on a large project. The budget they're mulling over is $ 50,000 to $75,000 but there are a lot of moving parts and a lot of agency and client politics to maneuver around. Five years ago I would have jumped on it but now I think I'll just tell them that this isn't the kind of project I want in the moment. This impetus to decline complicated projects is part of a process I've going through which I hope will give me a good roadmap to follow. Funny, I only want to do fun stuff with short fuses. 

I'm tired of managing bigger projects because the pay off is about the same as stringing together a good collection of smaller, but more fun, projects. I think I'm just spoiled. 

Reminiscing about Wednesday's Photograph Job. And stuff.

 We had fun yesterday. I worked with my friend, Amy. She's assisted me on and off for over a decade now and we've worked together enough so that the mechanics of photo assignments are pretty much autopilot. She's one of those great assistants that works as a grip on TV commercials and also shoots her own assignments so she's very aware of how to make a day of shooting smooth and efficient. 

I'd been hired by a client we worked for back in 2015. They wanted a refresh of their website photos. This is the first full day shoot I've done in years on which I used only one lens, one camera body, and one light. The lens was the Leica 24-90mm f2.8-4.0 and the body was the Leica SL. I used one Godox AD200 Pro electronic flash and I was finally able to draw down one battery completely. Usually the battery lasts and lasts but I managed to shoot about 1,600 frames yesterday and that seemed to be the limit for the single, rechargeable battery. Seems like you can light just about anything with a good flash and a 60 inch, white umbrella. 

We spent our time photographing lawyers and staffers at a law firm. They office in a large, three story, historical house that's a stone's throw from the state capitol building. The windows in the house are big and beautiful and I made full use of the great natural light flowing through them. I walked around carrying the camera on a tripod while Amy trouped along behind with with the light and umbrella on a stand. 

The SL generates raw files that seem to love the whole idea of nice flesh tones. Not the pinkish tones of one popular camera brand and no problems with shadow banding, or vaguely yellow skin tints as in another brand. Just straight up, sweet files that don't need much in the way of post processing.  And that lens.....so sharp. Too sharp, maybe. I'll be softening skin during the entire retouching process.

I spent a few hours today trying to edit down the take to a manageable number of frames but here I am, finally, at 11:30 at night, uploading about 800 files for them to choose from. However, in my defense I did photograph fourteen people and most of them we photographed in multiple locations. I would photograph someone in one setting only to stumble on to an even better setting and I'd go back and round people up and photograph them again. It was fun. It can be good not to be too satisfied too quickly.

Amy and I are still being careful with the dreaded virus so we wore our face masks and tried to maintain a nice distance from anyone who was unmasked; even if they had also been vaccinated. 

In the "good old days" we would have taken a break for lunch and gone to one of the downtown restaurants. Not this time. Most of the lunch restaurants we liked, and which were in driving distance from the offices, closed down during lockdown and have yet to re-launch. The restaurants that are open are understaffed and that means long waits and slow service. So, the night before we conferenced and decided that we'd each just pack a lunch and eat in the lovely, tree-shaded courtyard at the client's office. 

We seem to have been on the same wavelength because I pulled a peanut butter and jelly sandwich out of my canvas lunch bag at about the same time Amy pulled out her peanut butter and jelly sandwich. We also packed some fruit and some really nice trail mix. Water all around. 

A far cry from some of the indulgent lunches we had in the past. 

I traveled so light, gear-wise, yesterday that I surprised myself. Amy was even more amazed. She's used to working with me back when I thought it was prudent to bring everything along; just in case. We didn't even need a cart to bring out stuff into the location from my car. It all packed down into a roller case (lighting), a backpack (cameras and lenses) and a skinny stand bag. A side benefit of going full on minimalist is that we moved like sprinters through the project. No fussing with cables, no over engineering.

I especially liked working with the AD200 Pro light and an on-camera trigger. I know it's old news but it's so efficient to stand at the camera position and turn the power of the flash up or down using the radio trigger on the hot shoe. My big goal for the day was to integrate the ambient light with the flash. Generally keeping the ambient lighting about 1/2 stop lower than the flash. It's a sweet way to work.

If I could change one thing about the shoot I would have left more room around some of my subjects instead of composing as tightly as I did. I guess I was subconsciously channeling the times when camera resolution was much lower and cropping seemed egregious. I'll remember for next time. But I'll remember mostly because I wrote it down here. Addressing stuff like this on the blog is a good way to reinforce information for me. Once I write it down it seems more real. 

Financial note: I didn't think much about inflation until I started putting together a bid for this job. When I got in touch with Amy about assisting I asked her for her current fee. When we first started working together ten or twelve years ago she was charging $200 per day, as a subcontractor. When we worked together a few years ago it was $350 per day. Now, with TV commercials and other projects she's in high demand and her going rate for photo assisting is $450 per day. 

I'm fine with that. I understand inflation and I'm getting a bargain since she's busy and learning new stuff all the time which will ultimately benefit me. But it did make me pause and reconsider my pricing. I try to add 5 or 10% per year to my fee but this pushed me to increase it by a lot more. I've bid three jobs in the past week and a half, all at a new, higher fee and experienced zero push back from any of the clients. Makes me wonder how much money I may have been leaving on the table.

It's wise to continue to raise rates. Even when inflation is lower it's a process that you share over time with your clients and it smooths out the effects, shocks and momentum of economic shifts. 

Domestic note: B and I have been on a tear with home improvement stuff. We've finally gotten around to ordering new windows for the house. We hoped we'd have them installed before winter but home improvements are so popular in central Texas now that we'll be waiting about 20 weeks to see ours. That puts us somewhere near April or May for final installation. Now, when I look around the house, the older, single pane windows in the back half of the house look so dowdy to me. Funny, I didn't really notice until we started researching custom windows. Glad I'm raising my rates. (Smiley face icon here!). 

Swim/Health notes: I'm trying to summon up a modicum of courage in order to go and get a shingles vaccine this month. I'll probably do so right after the Thanksgiving weekend. I'm trying to stay on top of recommended vaccines so I don't inadvertently stumble into nasty stuff that can be prevented. Apparently shingles is a very sucky malady to deal with and even the vaccines can leave on feeling puny for a few days. After the shingles vaccine I'm also going to get a pneumonia vaccine. I may have to retire just to keep up with immunization and doctor appointments. As a light complected, life long Texas swimmer I'm always running to my dermatologist to discover whether some new spot might kill me or just needs to be burned off my body... such fun. 

Swimming: I was watching one of our coaches swim and noticed that her freestyle had a different recovery method for each arm. Her right arm did a classic "high elbow" recovery which takes stress off one's shoulder as the arm heads back toward its very front reach point. The other arm was recovering with a high, straight movement that puts lots more stress on the shoulder. Having swum for many decades now I asked her, at the end of workout, if she was having shoulder pain. She was. 

She's a very competitive swimmer and is always going hard and swimming at speed. That leaves scant time to really work on stroke mechanics. And once your stroke falls apart it gets harder and harder to swim well and comfortably. Brute strength isn't always the answer....

I suggested that she take a couple days a week to pull over, out of the fast lanes, into a slower, quieter, non-competitive lane where she could practice stroke drills and perfect form. She followed my advice and came back three weeks later to thank me and let me know that her shoulder pain was abating and her stroke was easier. Nice. All of which started me thinking about how I've been training lately. I'm 66 and I'm trying to hold onto my place in lane four with a bunch of younger swimmers. I swim some workouts to the point of exhaustion and I'm sure it was having a negative effect on my stroke as well. I've started doing what I'm going to call: Stroke Drill Sundays. 

Instead of being competitive and trying to knock out maximum, fast yardage on Sundays I get in an uncrowded lane in which the swimmers are slower than me and I hang back at the end of the pack and just work for an hour on crafting as perfect a technique as I can. I get out at the end of the session feeling as though I've gotten away with something. I guess it's all the years of swimming in competitive programs that makes me feel a bit guilty. But the improvements, already, in my stroke are noticeable...and I like that. Good mechanics should mean that I make it well into my seventies with no shoulder injuries and a continued love affair with swimming.

I set a new goal for my competitive swimming. I'm just going to outlast everyone else. Then, when I turn 90, I'll be in the 90 and over age group and I'll just clean up at the USMS Nationals. The only things I'll have to do is finish each race and not get myself disqualified.... Should be a piece of cake. 

Ultimate swim goal? Dominate the over 100 year old age group at nationals. It could happen. As long as I get that pneumonia vaccine...and barring civil war.

Final thought for now: I'm really enjoying photographing with the Leica CL camera. It's tiny and inconspicuous. The equally small TTArtisan lenses are great. And, when the camera is used with non-AF lenses the batteries last and last. As far as files go....they're nice. I'll post some from the little 50mm f1.2 a bit later. But today I'm learning how to mix mortar and I'm filling in the spaces between our sidewalk and our new raised planter beds, near the front of the house. It's all about leak prevention. Who knew?