Looking backwards. Looking forward. It's all good.


Ben. Circa 2008.

I've been cleaning out hard drives today. It's amazing how much stuff accumulates in those anonymous metal boxes over time. I've tossed away at least a terabyte of old, unneeded client files but also at least two terabytes of personal junk. Many, many repetitive "test shots" of downtown street scenes, multiple tries at graffiti documentation and many, many old videos that were a blend of personal art projects and also videos made for non-profit clients who were aiming squarely at social media. I tried not to trash photographs of people unless they were included in project files for clients who have fallen out of favor or whose companies disappeared at some point in the last five or six years. But I can't bring myself to cull out very many images of people I like or people from companies that I still work with. Just can't feed everything to the little trash can. Not yet.

The image above, viewed at the end of a year that was good for me (2022), reminds me that we don't need much at all to do images that we can really like and cherish. This photo of Ben was done a long time ago. It was done with a flawed digital camera and a cheap, consumer MF lens. The lighting was one 1K tungsten light aimed through big layers of soft diffusion and nothing else. A classic one light portrait. 

The camera was the ill-fated Kodak DSC-DSLRn. A 14 megapixel, full frame camera that had more firmware updates than I have cameras. The lens used was an ancient Nikon Ais 135mm f2.8 manual everything lens. It was small and had a wonderful focusing ring but it was sure a pain in the butt to focus on the SLRn camera. The focusing screen in that camera was definitely in NO WAY optimized to make manual focusing either easy or accurate. But in the end the combination of trial and error and persistence worked. The eccentric lighting worked. The weird sensor worked and was actually really good for portrait work. Sadly, that was one camera that fell apart in my hands. I don't mean that it physically disintegrated. 

No, it was more discreet than that. It would just...hesitate and die from time to time. Then, after a while, it started randomly introducing artifacts in the files. Then... well, you get the idea. After a while Kodak figured out that they couldn't fix it or wouldn't fix it and so after two years of my use they bought it back from me. I was glad to see it go; from a business point of view. I was sad to see it go from an artistic point of view because the files really were nice and it did have one superpower. It was the first digital camera that used focus stacking/image processing to create super resolution, super low noise, low ISO (down to 6) files. 

I did a series of 4x5 foot, point of purchase, color prints with the camera using that low ISO mode and they were super sharp, bereft of any visible noise and had perfect color. Now...they did take a long time to shoot and everything you shot had to be very still and the camera had to live on a stout tripod. But hey, most of the photographers in my age and proficiency cohort cut their teeth on 4x5 view cameras in the beginning so it was hardly unmanageable. 

But then again, the darn camera did stop working after a while. 

I think about things like this on days like today which inspire both wish lists for the future and assessments of the past. I've watched a few videos on YouTube where well know Tube-O-graphers talk breathlessly about Sony adapting the new AI AF module into the next generation of cameras. How Fuji must MUST update their product line to stacked sensors and then turn around and update all the lenses to match the resolution of the new sensors.... How Leica will shortly introduce either an M series body with an EVF or a Q body with interchangeable lenses. God, I hope they are still L mount lenses for that mythic interchangeable lens Q3..... but I'm sure not holding my breath.

But the conjecture is so tiny and weak. The merchants of lust are talking small potatoes updates and tweaks but nothing that will really reach out and punch you in the face as being new and super exciting. We're in the mature stage of digital now. Time to deal with that. 

And, the photo above reminds me that we supposedly got into this racket because we loved making the photographs. If that's true and we've already squeezed most of improvements we "needed" out of camera technology then who will lead the charge back into the thrill of making wonderful photographs?

Or will we all just become really diligent camera collectors?

My message to reviewers, blogger and internet "experts" :

Show more work. Not less work. Every blogger and YouTuber should have to prove their work to their customers/audience. Prove that they know what they speak about and what they write about. Show me the work. Not the camera but the work. And once I've seen that you know what you are talking about...then you have permission to show me the camera. No more empty influencers. No more last century experts. No more golden agers. Just show us what made that camera you are reviewing better.

But mostly show us how it helped you make better photographs. That's supposed to be what we're interested in. 

Getting up to speed with a really nice combination of camera and lens. Sometimes you just have to get out and shoot a lot of frames to get comfortable with gear.

Once again: A heartfelt "Thank You!" to the W Hotel for the unfettered use of 
their remarkably nice restrooms. An oasis of relief for downtown photographers
who drink too much coffee too often.

While one photography blogger I follow everyday is writing about his intention to use one camera and one lens for one year in 2023 I can't imagine not having the free choice to use a variety of cameras and lenses over the course of even a week! Perhaps I have camera attention deficit disorder or some other non-deadly disorder that pushes me to value a rotating and ever-changing inventory of cameras. I have been more judicious, I think, this past year. I've narrowed down my usual overflow of brands and models down to mostly the various Leicas, lightly seasoned with one Sigma fp and one Panasonic S5. Both are useful and have their places but when push comes to shove, and I then shove myself out the door for a camera enhanced walk, I generally default to a CL, the Q2 or one of the SL twins. These represent the sweet spots for me. 

This year I've played around with wider lenses (see: Q2) but hard experience or a short leash keeps bringing me back to the 40-60mm band of focal lengths. I had recently been trying to press the Q2 into everything. I guess that's normal. It's the latest purchase and the thrill of newness hasn't completely worn off yet. But yesterday, as I was contemplating a walk downtown through rolling clouds of virulent cedar pollen (to which I am, sadly, quite allergic...) I looked across the chaotic studio floor and my eyes came to rest on a Domke shoulder bag filled with APS-C stuff. I pulled out a Leica CL and held it in my hands. The size was perfect and the addition of a thumb grip and a handgrip made it even better. I remember why I was smitten by these little devils in the first place. 

I put the Q2 aside and assembled my "camera of the day" for my one camera, one lens, one afternoon routine. The 40mm Voigtlander lens was begging to be included. I left the house with the CL and the 40mm hanging off my shoulder. It was just what the photographer ordered for a day that was bright enough but covered by both overcast and the dreaded shadow of cedar pollen. Nemesis to the outdoor photographer. Driven to fill the pockets of my utility trousers with extra Kleenex...

There really was no reason to my walk other than to get out and walk. I'd done my swim practice in the morning. Got the ole heart rate up there. Got the triceps sore and screaming. So the three or so miles of the walk were more of a warm down than anything else. A chance to let my eyes focus on infinity instead of the usual 30 inches to the screen. The camera was just a companion, a foil, a co-conspirator to the fact that I just didn't want to have to do anything productive. I just wanted to get out, see people in real life, see the new building projects, and stop by Peet's Coffee for a latté.

But in fact, the CL and the 40mm were a very nice combination and pushed me from time to time to just take a shot and see what I got. I started out thinking black and white and set the camera for my favorite B&W formula. That would be B&W-HC with bumped up contrast and sharpening (medium high). Of course I shot only Jpegs because I knew I could get into the ballpark of good exposure, didn't need super accurate color balance and certainly didn't need more raw files of downtown filling up my hard drives...

But walking with a different camera and lens than those on my previous walk got me thinking...

I think the OCOLOY idea is based on the idea that a laser-like focus on the fewest possible parameters or  variations in your gear provides a much greater/deeper mastery over that gear. And, in a vacuum it would be hard to argue with the basic concept. If we have only one car and it's our daily driver then in a matter of weeks commuting we master the few knobs and switches remaining in a modern car until the process of driving that car really does become transparent. Automatic.  The application of this concept to photography reveals its flaws. Instead of removing technical hurdles to getting the images one wants this artificial limitation of resources kills the creative potential by limiting what one can bring to bear to make images. 

If you are a continually working professional photographer and the kind of work you do can result in hundreds or thousands of exposures taken on a given working day you will most likely master the functions of your camera in a short amount of time. It's hardly brain surgery. You will also sample a wide range of focal lengths necessitated by your work and learn, through constant shooting, the strengths and weaknesses of the lenses for the kind of work you want to do. And all of this quick and deep learning is reinforced by the commensurate amount of time you'll spend working with the same files in post production. You'll be problem solving, observing and judging many, many more data points than you would if you are a hobbyist who only picked up your camera in your spare time. After work. After family obligations. Only on weekends? Maybe mostly just during vacations. 

Were I to suddenly be restricted to one lens, one camera, during the course of one year I can't imagine all the cool (to me) stuff I would miss. The ability to see a potential portrait and know (as a result of tens of thousands of observations derived from active and ongoing experimentation) that a 90mm or 100mm lens would be the perfect choice for what your brain wants to see from that moment. Sure, if I followed the ONE philosophy I might only have a 35mm lens on my one camera. I could still see and understand how the potential shot might look when photographed with a 90mm lens but there would be the static momentum of self-imposed limitations that might conspire to make me just pass on the potential shot rather than deal with the crippling instant of awareness that my chosen limitations precluded me from doing right justice to the image my mind conjured. 

I might shoot the shot anyway with the lens and camera in hand but I would have to deal with the prissy logic stream that would nag me. That the cropping required would result in lost image quality. That the perspective might not be right. That I misjudged my composition based on too little magnification of the preview. That I might not be able to get the image I wanted no matter how much time I spent in post. Especially if the image was somewhat dependent, for my use, on higher resolution and low noise. I would regret not using the longer lens instead. 

But if I persisted with the ONE plan I would almost certainly start limiting myself only to subject matter and compositions that could be comfortably accomplished with the basic system. Inertia would conspire to rob me of my ability to go outside the formalist boundaries of the "plan." An arbitrary series of ever smaller choices would serve to rob me of my ability to choose, in the moment, the photograph I wanted to see. 

Yes, if you chose to spend a year with a single camera and lens you would probably either master the set or become so bored and frustrated that you resigned yourself to never picking up a camera again. You might have hit the spot where your hammer made the entire world of photography look like a nail only to be endlessly confronted by screws or bolts. Same applies with black and white versus color. 

I set out today to find photographs in my city that would accentuated the qualities of black and white imaging. That's how I set my camera. But in the course of walking reality started teasing me, messing with me, tossing me potential images that were about color. I guess I could choose to ignore those chromatic images but I'd have to ask: WHY? If I am able to see them and they have an effect on my brain why should I seek to rein myself in and pass by something that might be a lot of fun to shoot? If I were being paid only to shoot black and white images and the Museum of Modern Art was waiting breathlessly for my selections to include in my one person retrospective; like Robert Frank's "Americans" I guess I could force myself to walk on by all the fun color oriented scenes, the interesting objects I see in color, and by doing so morph what is currently both a job and a passion for me into strictly a job. But why?

For some the idea of minimal-izing their gear and distilling it down to the barest of essentials might be a cry for the need to feel completely in control of the process. To eliminate chance. To eliminate the potential guilt of having but not using other gear by dint of making the distillation into a philosophical system. The age-old capitalist imbalance between too much and not enough. 

On the other hand I am probably being far too judgmental. Far too conditioned to look at photography only from my perspective. I've never been able to winnow down my cornucopia of interests only to one thing. When it came to writing non-fiction books my publisher indicated that I could keep writing book after book for him for as long as I wanted. But after getting a good handle on how to write the books I exhausted my interest in writing in such a limiting format. One book really needs to concentrate on one part of photography while a blog allows me to bounce around from subject to subject, from interest to interest, on a daily basis. But if I didn't allow myself to write the blog and only limited myself to doing commercial photography as my sole creative outlet I'm sure I would quickly be in full scale rebellion. 

I don't have the same ADHD when it comes to things I consider appliances. I don't change cars often. I tend to buy reliable, affordable, basic cars that just work. Same with household appliances. My kid teases me about buying an AppleTV Pro device but not having a 4K TV to use it with. My refrigerator was largely chosen because it fit into the odd-sized, pre-existing space. But cameras.... that's different because they are tied into one of the branches of my creative output. They are to me a means to an end but each one delivers something different and each one delivers its own momentum in one direction or another. And by their very nature one is more intimately connected to one's cameras.

If all my images were done from the same perspective and were mostly of immobile objects I would quickly become so bored that I'd be moved to start painting instead. 

So, back to the Leica CL and the 40mm Voigtlander. I came to really like the lens when using it on a full frame camera during my time in Vancouver. But yesterday I was more interested in what this lens might look like on a cropped sensor camera. On the full framers it's a slightly wide normal lens. A look I've come to really like. But on the CL it delivers more like a very short telephoto lens and that's a look I like as well. The equivalent of a 60mm lens on the CL. A slight telephoto point of view but with a bit more depth of field. A nice mixture. 

In the end it was a combination of things that helped me enjoy my afternoon walking and shooting. A new pair of Keens hiking shoes made the walk so comfortable. The latté at Peet's was just the thing for a quick break on a cool afternoon. The need to manually focus the 40mm lens provided a subtle but consistent momentum to pay more attention, to be more mindfully involved in my picture taking. And the manual exposure setting pushed me just a bit to pay more attention to f-stops and shutter speeds. Not to just mindlessly plink away at stuff. By the end of the walk I was completely satisfied with the experience the camera and lens combination provided. It was a nice addition to the process of "the walk." 

But when I got up this morning I reached for a different camera and a different lens. A Sigma fp combined with the counterintuitive TTArtisan 50mm f0.95 lens. A lens made for APS-C but capable of covering all but the corners of a full frame sensor. My work around? Set the aspect ratio in the camera to 7:6 -- more square than rectangular but still not completely square. The rest of the day I'll let this camera and lens add amusement and creative potential to my day. Can't wait to try shooting wide open on a mismatched system just to see how it all looks when it comes together.

And, in writing this last paragraph (above) I figured out what bothers me about artificially limiting myself to a smaller subset of gear. That formalism or spirit of relentless distillation is, for me, a quick way to kill curiosity altogether. I am always in the market for a different solution and a different set of problem solvers when it comes to my own photography. Anything that dampens my ability to be curious and to experiment is wrong for me. 

Now, before you get upset and worked up, I want to say that this is meant in no way to be a personal attack on MJ and his 180° different way of looking at photography. He is as right for himself as I am for me. Each of us are different personality types to a large degree. We each come from different backgrounds and from different photographic experiences. What works for me might not work for him and vice versa. And that's okay. I write this more as a way of expressing the differences in our approaches and in some way letting photographers know it's okay to do things your own way. MJ was clear about that in one of his own posts about this dichotomy. It's all about choices but sometimes we pass on making choices and follow those who we see as thought leaders. Even if it's not in our best interests. That's why it's important to find your own path and your own comfort zone and not depend too much on external influences. What's right for one person might be the death of pleasure for another. One thing I do think we agree on is that it's important to just get out there and shoot. 

Gone formal for New Year's Eve.

My guy won. Again. 

tree branch-ography. 


I just finished the post production on the very last big portrait project of 2022. I photographed people for a national accounting firm. Adobe is making it easier and easier to do great color grading and retouching for environmental portrait work.

 There is one thing I do know. I really like making portraits for people. I'm not a fan of the "factory headshot" production method of herding a never-ending line of people onto a gray or blue seamless background and trying to get everyone through quickly, although I did a lot of that in the 1980s and 1990s. More recently I've worked toward a style, or a family of styles, that clients seem to really like and prefer. Even if the process is slower and less client controlled. 

From law firms and accounting firms to associations and medical practices we've moved away from photographing people in front of plain backgrounds and have been, instead, photographing them in their work locations. Environmental portraits as pioneered by photographers like Arnold Newman and evolved by more contemporary portraitists like Annie Leibovitz. 

A good example is the last big portrait project I produced this year. Back on the first week of December I started on the second shoot of the quarter for a national accounting firm. The company is in the process of totally revamping their website with new portrait images that do away with the previous, dated, heads against seamless and replacing all of the staff and partner photographs with images of their people taken in the offices. My job was to come into the space on one day and scout possible locations which didn't have a lot of clutter, had interesting shapes, colors and lighting which would render beautifully when shown out of focus in the backgrounds and then map out those locations and divide up the 18 people I needed to photograph amongst five or six locations. 

My client asked me to give recommendations about wardrobe and I gave it my best shot knowing all along that most people would just default to showing up in their favorite clothes and winging it. I've written about the shift in how I light these environmental portraits in an earlier post but if you missed it here's the short form:

I shot on two different days. On both days I used a big scrim, or light blocker, on a stand and positioned it directly over the subject to block out direct light on their faces coming from ceiling installed fluorescent lights or MR16 spot lights. I used one light in a big umbrella as my main light and used a second light to illuminate backgrounds that needed some extra photons. I color balanced for the faces and let the backgrounds fall where they wanted for color. 

For decades I worked hard to match the background and subject white balance because, in the film days you were stuck with whatever imbalances occurred if you didn't match. I threw all that away this year on these kinds of shoots. I used daylight balanced LED lights on the subjects and if a background area rendered green or sickly yellow I let it go knowing that with the new selection tools in Lightroom and PhotoShop I could easily separate the subject from the background and color correct each area, during the raw processing, to have pleasing colors or, in the case of the faces, neutral colors, with very little hard work. 

There are three tools I use a lot when retouching portraits that I've taken in this way. The first is the set of subject selection tools. In Lightroom I can easily select the foreground subject (the person being photographed) and create not just a single mask but a series of masks for face, hair, body, eyes, lips etc. Each of these masks can be retouched for color, exposure, saturation, sharpness, etc. The backgrounds can be selected in a second automated mask and can be extensively corrected for the same parameters. Most benefit from changes in WB settings but also can be further softened via the sharpness sliders and the shadows and highlights can also be extensively modified. 

The real magic of the new selection tools, masking, and fine-tuning of multiple masks is that the settings can be copied and applied to all the photos in a folder. Instead of trying to explain how we'll retouch an image and providing a gallery of 25-50 images for the subject to choose from --- with a promise of all the things we'll correct in post --- we can now, efficiently and accurately, fix those things in one selected frame and apply/sync the corrections to every other image from a similar set up and pose using a batch. This way we have a much higher likelihood of providing previews that are near enough to the finished, retouched final image that people don't have to guess or imagine what the final image is going to look like. In my experience this goes a long way toward reducing or eliminating re-shoots for small, correctable things like a bit too much shine on a forehead or nose.

I do this kind of blanket retouching in Lightroom, working with raw files, when I'm doing my basic edit (elimination of unwanted or unneeded frames). From the edited and batch processed files I export my keepers as large Jpegs and send a folder for each subject to its own gallery on Smugmug.com. The clients can go there to review the images and make their final selection. Once they've selected from one of the full resolution Jpegs they give their selection numbers to someone on the client side whose responsibility it is to gather up the selects and provide all of them to me in one go. I absolutely hate being given file selections piecemeal and the requirement to provide all of them at once is written into the first paragraph of any proposal or contract. It's just so much easier to provide continuity (and to be efficient) if I can work serially and at one time on all the retouching required at the final stage. 

Once I get the selections I pull/export a 16 bit .PSD file for each from Lightroom and put it into the "retouch for final use" folder. Then start working on the individual files in PS. 

I use one of the Adobe Neural filters on just about every file. It's called skin smoothing. It's not so much a filter to take out texture or skin faults, it's more of a way to remove variations in tone, color and texture across a face. To smooth out differences in color mostly. But it's also an effective way to smooth out rough skin texture. I use "liquify" to even out the usual differences in size between the left and the right eyes. But mostly I try to fine tune to a higher degree the color temperature and hue of the person's skin tone and make the color of the background more harmonious. I use the "rubber stamp" tool to clone out flyaway hairs and I take away skin anomalies that are obviously temporary (pimples, sore spots, etc.).

If you haven't played with Neural Filters yet I strongly recommend them. Some are a bit hokey but several allow you do speed up a portrait retouching workflow by being able to match colors between files (good for flesh tones) in addition to the skin smoothing. One filter that's still listed as a "beta" is the ability to fine-tune the way backgrounds drop out of focus. 

I love making portraits with three dimensional backgrounds and try to find locations that accentuate depth in the final photograph. Long hallways, big lobbies, stacked up rows of cubicles and anything else that has leading lines and apparent depth. It's fun to play with focus. It's fun to play with the relationship between the subject and the background. Sometimes moving one or two inches one way or another makes big changes...

One mandate from the big accounting firm's marketing department is that peoples' faces, from the tip of the nose to the backs of their ears, be in adequately "sharp" focus. I interpret that to mean the edges you can see need to be in focus to make it easier for us to drop out the subject should we need to repurpose the images. Since they want a deeper focus than I could get away with on a purely "art" portrait I need to use apertures like f5.6. This means it's important to use longer lenses and also to make the distance from the subject to the background as far apart as possible. But....

Instead of shooting in the old, classic, vertical orientation we're shooting horizontal images which means, if one shows the subject's shoulders, the head size is smaller. This more or less precludes (at least for me) using any lens shorter than 60mm to do this work to my taste. I've leaned heavily on the 85mm lens but I've also been working a bit closer to my subjects with the 65mm f2.0 Sigma lens. It has a unique three dimensional look to it. The longest lens I've used on this project is the 90mm end on my 24-90mm zoom lens. All three lenses work well but each had a different "look." 

Once I've done the post processing and I like what I see I save a 16 bit .PSD file for myself, make an 8 bit .PSD file for the marketing department. Make a Tiff and a large Jpeg file for the local office use and for the use of the individual subject. Finally, I make a smaller Jpeg (3200 pixels on the long side) for the web designers. The smaller Jpeg is at least twice as large as they will use in the final website construction but I deliver it that way just in case the designer would like to make various crops.

The accounting firm is the last client I have who won't "white hat" any file delivery sites. No Dropbox, no Smugmug, no WeTransfer. I routinely write all the files to a thumb drive and mosey over in my car to hand deliver. I often try to time my delivery of the files at lunch time. The client caters lunch for the accountants ( there will be 180 in Austin by 2023) and they always order good stuff and more than they need. Invariably they invite me to grab a lunch. If it's great I happily agree. Over the course of shooting for this client for about a decade I have become good friends with the local office manager. I'm happy to do little extras for her such as the in-person delivery of the files. On the flip side she trusts me to do photographic things in the best way possible and these days that means applying my preferred style to their work. 

Masking for fine corrections in Lightroom. Batching corrections in Lightroom. Neural filters in PS. Liquify in PS. And good old fashioned cloning and carefully measured flesh tone values in PS. 

I found myself really enjoying the enhancing and retouching of these last two rounds of photos. It was fun to compare just how different three top quality lenses can be when used side by side. I used both an SL2 and the Sigma fp and I'm still on the fence about which camera body I like best. And that's a good thing since I think they are both superb image machines. I love adjusting things like mid-tone contrast just to see how it works with peoples' faces. I enjoy being able to adjust the subject and the background separately for much more control and some artistic fooling around. I love being able to see, while working in post, just how well I got along with a subject and how authentic and present the person looks. Out of a batch of 18 there are two where I don't think I made a perfect connection. Those images are fine but they lack the connection the subjects and I were able to make the other 16 times. I should slow down a bit and take more time next set of sessions.

Since I just finished the work and loaded files onto the thumb drive for delivery I can't show the images from the last job of the year to my readers; the photos haven't yet been published by my client! But I've added my usual "author" photo just below and then, below that, some examples of the styles I'm talking about and selling to clients going forward. 

I have a new goal for 2023. I'd like to do 100 environmental portraits over the course of the year. That's only an average of two per week with some extra time built in for weeklong vacations. I'd like to average $1,500 per portrait and do this as my sole work for the year. It'll take a bit of marketing but it seems very do-able. I think I've boiled down how to make this job; photography, more fun and engaging for me in the near future. We'll see what I can pull off. It's fun to have a goal. Now to put the processes in place.

Heroic photographer shoots a selfie in his wet weather gear. 
Somewhere on the Skidmore College campus in upstate NY. And, FYI,
they have a really nice indoor swimming pool there....

One of my earlier environmental portraits. 
From an industrial project in NYC which culminated
in a show of huge black and white prints at the Javits Center. 
Hasselblad. One 1K hot light into an umbrella. 
And yes, I did know how to print black and white back then. 

Former CEO of Ottobock, Canada. Visiting the Austin offices. 
An early example of my new trend. This one done about five years ago.

Healthcare V.P. on a visit to Austin.
Natural light augmented by a small flash in one big umbrella.

An attorney  portrait in a downtown office building, on the 23rd floor.
This project marked my move to using LED lights almost exclusively for
portrait work. One of 40+ portraits I've done for this client over the 
past four years. 

My favorite example of a workplace environmental portrait
done on an exterior location just before (and during) really bad weather 
moving in. We ended the shoot running to the car with big, 
battery powered flash packs in our hands. 

An environmental portrait at Dell. The challenge 
here was to hide the glare from the lights on a whole 
wall of screens in the background. Pre-LED shot done
with a Nikon D700 camera. The camera was kind to portrait subjects. 

Above and below, software executives in yet another enormously tall 
building in downtown Austin. Small flash/big umbrella.
Lots of funny stories to get those smiles...

Styles in photography tend to ebb and flow but seem to always come back around. If I stay employed long enough we'll probably cycle back to dramatic black and white portraits with dense shadows and neutral backgrounds. But for now? Let's play with locations. It's actually fun if one can resist the temptation to over produce and bring along every light and lens you own. For this style minimalism is definitely a plus....

putting the "mental" in environmental? Probably NOT a good tag line....


The Leica CL was an underappreciated camera system. But it does, in some ways, repudiate the idea that everyone wants smaller and lighter cameras.

I bought a CL camera last year and I use it mostly with third party lenses; some of them completely manual and some AF lenses from Sigma and Panasonic. The camera is small and relatively light. At least compared to the SL cameras with which it shares a lens mount standard. Just before the start of the holidays I bought a 16mm f1.4 Sigma Contemporary lens in the L mount that was aimed specifically for these kinds of APS-C camera bodies. That lens completed my well rationalized (for me) collection of Sigma AF lenses for the CL system. The lens line also included the 30mm f1.4 and the 56mm f1.4. All fast. All very good performers. All relatively inexpensive. The 18-50mm Sigma zoom is the one stop shop for focal lengths and it's quite good as well.

In the days of film cameras the film itself was the "sensor" and the "color science" was separate from the camera itself. You might like the way a film camera worked but you could duplicate the color or look with any similar camera from another brand by choosing to photograph with the same film and by processing the film in the same way. 

Leica's marketing in that era was aimed at convincing photographers that Leica lenses were made to much higher standards than lenses from competitors and so the reason to buy Leica cameras was for the ability to use these great lenses. Leica was thought by its adherents and fans to use better and more expensive glass elements and also to have a greater mastery of lens manufacturing and tighter tolerances than the other guys.

While their lenses are still considered by many to be class leading the real reason for me to photograph with Leica cameras now hinges on the opposite marketing proposal. One that says Leica's color science is the most desirable. These observations are related to which family of Leica cameras one uses. I'm partial to the whole L mount concept, even working comfortably with different bodies from each of the three signatories of the L mount alliance. I have used an M8, an M9 and an M10R Leica rangefinder bodies and I found them an odd mix-and-match solution for the digital age but I have had much deeper and more satisfying day-to-day experiences with the Leica SL, SL2, CL, TL2, Sigma fp and various Panasonic S system cameras. My observations about color science are mostly about what Leica's L mount cameras bring to the table. Specifically the CL. 

The CL is a modern, digital Leica which shares its file looks, Jpeg output and raw file potentials, in part, with the SL and the SL2 cameras. In the standard setting profiles the cameras all deliver skin tones that are not oversaturated and have have a neutral color balance when the WB is set correctly. They create  images with a perceptual sharpness that's different than other makers' cameras. There is what seems to be a higher level of acuity and, at the same time, greater very fine detail and texture. At the neutral settings this does not give the appearance of files that have been over-sharpened but instead the look is of something that's sharp the way we see things in the "real world." At the same time the noise from these Leicas, when used at higher ISOs, is more monotone and plagued by fewer chromatic aberrations and color noise.

I find the raw files from the SL2 and the CL easier to correct and bring to a neutral look than I have found in the past with my Sony and Nikon cameras. Canon cameras seem to be the easiest to use if getting "pleasing" color is the top priority. But with Leica's raw files, across those two cameras, the process of getting pleasant color from each is fairly straightforward. And the image structure is more compelling to me than that delivered by Canons I have used.

Getting the color and contrast of a file right is important. But so it usability of the product across the range of bodies and lenses. 

This is a big plus for the L mounts. I like the fact that purchased lenses can be used across a wide range of L mount cameras. I can use, for example, the 24mm f3.5 Sigma i-Series lens as a 35mm AOV equivalent on the CL or use its full frame coverage with a full frame camera and get really good results in each scenario. Likewise I can put a 16mm APS-C lens on an SL2, use the crop mode in the camera and get a nice, perfectly usable 22 megapixel file from that camera. My brilliant 65mm Sigma lens turns into a super-sharp and compelling 90mm equivalent portrait lens on a CL. Switching zooms between the two formats offers the same changes in angle of view. 

One might question the use of APS-C lenses on a full frame camera like the SL2 but they can be great tools for videographers who want to get absolutely the best video performance by using the cropped frame for faster focusing and more depth of field. Or higher frame rates. They also provide more depth of field for the same angle of view. And a longer reach with longer lenses. I think of the switch to APS-C sometimes as having a built in tele converter. 

The CL really comes into its own as a high quality, high portability system. Coupling the camera with a small selection of prime lenses, or with the Leica 18-55 zoom or the Sigma 18-50mm zoom lens give you a very compact but still powerful imaging system. I sometimes use the system when out hiking in the wilderness or exploring new urban environments during long walks. The system can handle almost anything but the highest resolution (SL2) or the lowest light levels (get a Lumix S5 or SL2-S). When I go out to shoot with intention and have opted to make one of the zooms my choice for the day I also bring along a second CL body and several really fast 3rd party prime lenses. Something like the TTArtisans 23mm f1.4. It's very small and performs well, even at wider apertures. Nice for people who like 35mm on FF.  Another favorite is the Sigma 56mm f1.4. That gives me the equivalent of a fast 85mm with none of the bulk or weight. 

What most appeals to me is the feel of the camera while I'm using it. It seems to fit my medium sized hands pretty well. That being said it turns into a even better handling camera when I add an accessory grip and an accessory thumb rest. Then the camera is almost an extension of my hand.

I understand that the big money in cameras has moved on from APS-C format. Even Fuji is hedging their bets by bringing out an ever growing mini-medium format system of cameras and lenses to appeal to people who really have fallen head over heels for the 35mm and larger formats. I get that Leica is a relatively small company and needs to concentrate on the areas in which it can show off its greatest strengths. The areas of expensive, very well designed lenses, and premium full frame cameras. The CL never achieved the glow of desirability that Leica seemingly bestows on its bigger cameras. 

I'm disappointed to see Leica exit the smaller format (APS-C) market altogether. I like having the choices and since I work with cameras almost every day it's nice to have choices. It's nice to match as close as possible the camera to the intended usage. 

Some people who bought into the CL system feel abandoned by Leica and resent that their lenses seem to be orphaned. It's hardly true. Right now a TL mount user (lenses that cover only APS-C but share the L mount) can put any of those lenses on a Leica SL2 or a Sigma fpL, switch the camera to APS-C mode and get nice 22 megapixel and 26 megapixel files that will squeeze every bit of quality from those lenses. Using the same lenses on lower res cameras like the S5 or the Sigma (original) fp camera gets you better low light performance than you'll get with the smaller format cameras. You give up resolution but you gain bigger pixels which give you less noise. 

My hope, at this point, is that Panasonic will embrace the retreat of Leica from the APS-C market and see an opportunity to fill that vacuum for an APS-C system of their own built around the L mount. I'd love to see Panasonic come out with a rangefinder style camera, sporting a 24 megapixel sensor; or, even better, a 32 megapixel sensor that takes all of the lenses and let's users have a less expensive entry point into the system. By the same token, but even less likely, I'd love to see an APS-C version of the Sigma fp with an APS-C sensor and the addition of state-of-the-art IBIS. 

I'm never 100% correct with my predictions but I think we're going to see a new camera or two from Panasonic, in the Lumix S line, and also a new camera or two from Leica. Sadly, I don't think either of them will be APS-C centric cameras. 

I think we'll see a more advanced version of the S5 (probably calle an S6...) with a 40+ megapixel sensor and a vastly improved EVF. We'll probably see the newest Q camera from Leica with a bump up to a 60+ megapixel sensor, and an improved Lumix S1 with the same resolution as the previous model but with a stacked sensor and much more enhanced processing. It seems to be the one Panasonic camera that's pretty much perfectly sorted but just needs the final fine tuning of a second edition. I've so rarely seen that particular model (S1) on sale anywhere. Even now at what I'm guessing is near the end of its run. 

I'd love to see a Leica Q camera with a 40 or 45 or 50mm lens on the front instead of the less useful 28mm. But it just doesn't feel like the moment for that one. We'll see how much luck Ricoh has with the GRIIIx and its 40mm equivalent lens. They may be the trendsetter when lens rationality is concerned. 

It's time to see some fun variants in the L mount system. The L mount alliance. 

Me? I'll mourn the loss of new CLs for a while but I'm always scouting for one more used body. Unless Panasonic comes out with an APS-C dedicated product for the system. A boy can always dream...


B. Paris. 1986. Leica M3. 50mm Summicron.


Swimming in the great pools of the world. A counterpoint to the current weather...


The "Prince Rainier Memorial Pool" in Monte Carlo. 

Bad luck here in Austin. The pool staff did a half-assed job of getting ready for our three nights of hard freezes and now we have some broken pipes that need to be repaired at the club. The water has been turned off. The repairs are supposed to start today. With divine intervention and fervent prayers (and payment of a large invoice) we hope the pool is swimmable for our masters practice tomorrow morning. I am an eternal pessimist when depending on others to get stuff done so I'm assuming the whole process will take the better part of the work week. The sad thing is that a bit more up front effort could have prevented this from happening in the first place...

But all this got me thinking about swimming, of course. And since I was already going through a folder of images from scanned slides coincidence conspired to toss in the image above just to rub my nose in my "no swim practice" dilemma.

I worked on a week long corporate project back in the late 1990's for a prosperous software company. They had high hopes that if they did a five star show in a cool place like Monaco their EU clients would be so impressed. Even with "A" list speakers and great planned dinners, etc. attendance was a fraction of what the client expected. They shortened their program from full days to half days, supplemented by lots of golf, sightseeing, etc. But for "below the line" people like me it meant, mostly, mid-afternoon to early evenings with lots of free time. I immediately researched swimming pools within walking distance....

The Prince Rainier Pool is a 50 meter pool situated right in the midst of the harbor area. It's maybe 50 feet from the dockside. Gorgeous yachts everywhere. The water was perfectly clear and kept safe via salt treatment instead of chlorine. The only downside was no lap lanes and no lane lines so dodging kids and slow moving swimmers became part of the entertainment. I can't remember exactly but I seem to recall that admission was $2. A bargain for one of the nicest pools I've been in. 

It was late Spring. The weather was perfect. The pool was maybe a twenty minute, brisk walk from the Loews Beachfront Hotel, which was adjacent to the Grand Casino. The better bet was always the swim. 

Did I have a swim suit and goggles? You might as well ask if I breath oxygen. 

I have fond memories of five really nice, laid back swims in the Monte Carlo pool. And also nice memories of nice cappuccinos on the balcony of my room afterwards. Traveling with corporate officers is always a nice way to see the world. A bit skewed, but nice nonetheless.

But now here we are in 2022 and my local pool is on the fritz. This afternoon I'm going to brave the cold water and swim a couple miles at Deep Eddy Pool. It's a public pool. 33.3 yards long. Water supplied by deep underground wells. Chilly in the best of times. Chillier after rain and freezing temperatures. I'll really need to make it a double cappuccino when I finish with today's swim...

...just came back from our walk. It's 48° and sunny at about noon. Should hit the high 50s this afternoon. We had three nights with hard freezes but as a weather optimist I'm thinking that's just enough to kill off a lot of the bugs here in CenTex. But sadly, it will trigger more cedar pollen. Zyrtec and Kleenex at the ready. 

I've been shooting a lot with the Leica Q2. It's a really nice camera but sadly it's no "magic bullet." Using it has not made my selections of images any smarter, better or more creative. The 28mm is nice enough but I find myself almost always switching to the 35mm frame lines. And often to the 50mm lines. 

Just as I feared. A really, really nice camera that really should have been made with a 50mm focal length lens as a standard. But that's just me. I'll get used to the wider frame. I'm just a slow learner...

Off to find out if I can still stand ice cold water. Hope I haven't aged out.

No coached swim workout today with my crew. Sad. But currently my biggest problem in life. Maybe I should stop complaining.


I thought we had it made with digital imaging in 2022. But then I found a scan of a slide taken with a manual everything camera back in the 1990s and I realized that....


If you could nail exposure and all the basic settings when shooting color transparency film (slides) and you didn't lose the frame in the chemical processing the results could be quite good. On par for use online with the best of the current digital cameras. It's an awkward realization; for sure.

Photos of a restaurant serving up a ton of pink-ness. And thoughts about the positive role of friction in our modern lives.

On Sixth St., near West Avenue, there used to be a pizza place called, "Frank and Angie's." They served great pizzas for a couple of decades and then closed about two and a half years ago. I noticed a new restaurant in its place on one of my walks but never strayed from the walking route to really take another look. I presumed the location had devolved and become yet another inside/outside bar serving odd cocktails to students and wannabe cool people. 

Today was too nice to waste indoors so after a late breakfast I grabbed a handy camera and headed out the door. I think it hit the low 60°s this afternoon. You could walk without having to drag along gloves, a parka, snow boots and other accessories. I was out to walk off the residue of Christmas indulgence. Too much flan. Too many cheese and jalapeño tamales. Too much bacon wrapped shrimp. Too much driving back and forth.

One of the first places my walk took me was closer to this restaurant. I might not have stopped but I noticed they had a pay telephone on the front corner of the building and this anachronism struck me as delightedly silly so I was immediately drawn in. According to a manager who came out to see what the heck I was doing and then chat for a while, the cuisine is a mix of breakfast dishes and contemporary Tex-Mex. Their stylistic differentiation is that any food that can be made to be pink will be pink. Pink cocktails, pink waffles, pink tortillas, etc. I asked if the enchiladas were also pink but the manager shook his head and related that the actual Mexican food was not pink. At least not yet. 

I think I am intrigued enough to go try it out. Seems like a very laid back and mellow place. At least they've got style. Some kind of style. That pushes them up to a higher level in my mind.

Here's some exterior photos:

I saw an interesting lecture this morning on one of the psychology channels. It was very insightful about what causes depression, anxiety, and sadness in very affluent, modern cultures. To distill it down to its essence, the program's idea was that humans have evolved to work best when they are challenged. Really challenged. Food, shelter, safety and defenses from precarious, life-threatening situations. They did not evolve to be passive and bored. If you have free time and you are unchallenged you start looking for external things to engage with. What we really need are authentic and meaningful challenges.  But for most of us in the most affluent societies we've lost the thread.

Our jobs are mostly routine, our lives safe and our extra time and energy is channeled into pursuits that give us momentary dopamine hits which serve to take the place of authentic challenges. We play video games, watch kinetic, action movies, watch videos, and then, afterwards the dopamine wears off and we need another hit. Again and again. Until we no longer get the same reaction at which point we become anxious, depressed, unsettled, suicidal, distraught and on the prowl for something or anything that will once again give us that dopamine high. 

What we've lost in most of our pursuits is a natural challenge that gives up a healthy dose of real accomplishment. Like a sine wave our modern lives bounce back and forth from apathy to unhealthy experiential addictions from which we inevitably come back down from in a funk. This got me thinking about why some of us use cameras that are more difficult to master; harder to use. We seem to need a certain amount of friction, or push back from life to work against in order to do our best work. Our meaningful work.

When I rail against a camera that can focus at the speed of light on anything, at any velocity I think what my brain is really trying to say is: They made this far too easy and in doing so sucked out the emotional value that is inevitably introduced by the struggle. Some of us need a level of external resistance to an exercise or effort in order to do our best work. If everything falls easily in place for us we don't feel as though we've accomplished much and the value of the work suffers in our own eyes. 

It's almost like the dichotomy of Watching a movie on TV with the remote in one hand and a cold beer in the other versus sitting down and working on a difficult project that requires total engagement. Finish the movie and you feel a bit let down and start looking for the next movie in the hope that it will be the game-changing program you yearn for. Finish writing a novel, printing a photo essay that is meaningful to you or volunteering for Meals on Wheels and you feel a sense of accomplishment that sticks with you and builds real satisfaction instead of a transitory dopamine bump. Sometimes a dopamine hit with an adrenaline chaser. 

It's interesting to see research that shows far fewer mental health issues or issues about life satisfaction in most of the poorer (but not the poorest) countries when compared to the most affluent countries. For a while young adults from Switzerland, one of the most affluent societies in our world, had the highest rates of suicide anywhere. Seems that having everything and lacking real challenge in life is a bit soul sapping. 

It's widely noted that men who retired from jobs they found to be challenging and at which they excelled by making prodigious efforts at mastery tend to die quickly if they retire into lives of leisure. Lives with no defined and authentic challenges attached. 

Some say that youth is wasted on the young which I always took to mean that crotchety old men would love to have the benefits of youth because they would know how best to leverage said benefits. It's becoming more obvious that many wouldn't escape their own youth in good mental health if those formative years weren't at least somewhat filled with the usual challenges and disappointments. Perhaps the assurance of a cushy safety net trades a set of advantages with a bucket full of its own downsides. 

Maybe having everything handed to us doesn't make our lives better but sets us up for an addiction to shallow external rewards that are unhappy exactly because they are basically unearned. No pain, no gain?

Having to make hard choices instead of easy ones might be the secret to personal and artistic growth. 

How often have I heard people I grew up and worked with for decades talk about how, after they retired, they would pursue their photography with gusto only to see that when the opportunity to stop working occurs the inspiration and resolve don't come along for the ride. The law practice or medical practice or entrepreneurship was a way of building financial nest eggs that would eliminate the friction of doing photography. Why? Because my friends could throw money at any part that was hard. They might try to shortcut their learning process by becoming  addicted to workshops and paid, one-on-one mentoring instead of the more painful but effective approach of learning through hands on trial and error. 

The learning seems to stick best if it's glued snuggly into the brain by failures. Try and fail at a technique nine times and two things happen by the tenth (and first successful) trial. One is that whatever thing you finally learn is much better wired into your brain than if you are handed a bulletproof solution at the outset. Second, you traded blood, sweat and tears and got back discipline, skill and purpose instead. None of which need an additional endorphin dose to enjoy. It's good to take the middle way between the pleasure and pain to enjoy a more fulfilling life. 

You probably know someone that bounces from adventure to adventure. From a first wife to a progression of wives. From bungee jumping to sky-diving. Motorcycle racing to mountain climbing. They are constantly on the prowl for excitement but when you really engage them you find they are sad, and the experiences empty. Mostly because they could afford the seamless indulgence of whatever exciting thing they wanted to pursue at the time. There was no friction. No real investment in the process. 

Friction might slow you down. That might be a good thing. 

On the simplest level, and relating this to our photography, the very pursuit of the camera that makes taking photographs the easiest might be the thing that degrades our own satisfaction with the pursuit. If it was more difficult to do the hobby or art or work the friction might just be the thing that warms you up to the task. Diligent discovery time from behind the viewfinder pays off with experience and is the sole component that eventually delivers to the user a personal style.

Pleasure and pain are two sides of the same coin. A constant pursuit of pleasure is no less damaging than any other, conventional, addiction. And constant pain is the opposite but equal problem. Working with purpose and diligence seems to be the antidote for our angst. It's seems to be the middle way.

Buying cameras relentlessly is part of the endorphin cycle. So is endlessly watching videos that might teach us something we don't know about photography. You always have to ask yourself: To what end?

An interesting video with some good takeaways. Not everything should be easy. Maybe the pursuit of ease and efficiency is our modern trap. Or maybe we're just living in the matrix and it's the way we're programmed. 


Merry Christmas! Five wonderful things photography provides that don't have anything to do with the "magical powers" of any specific camera or lens.

Stand-offish guy. 

Happy guy with his mom.


 1. Making photographs of the people you love and the times you enjoy gives you the happy power to revisit those moments and enjoy them all over again. The superpower of photography is being able to stop time. To remember how things were at a specific moment in time. When people go on vacations it's rare that they photograph naked landmarks. They almost always include a loved one in the shot; nearly always front and center, because it's being in that place with that person you care about which, for most people, makes the moment great. 

2. Cameras are momentum machines. If you really, really enjoy taking photographs as a hobby or happy obsession then you usually find yourself looking for excuses to get out into the world to look for and to make the kinds of photographs that make you feel good, competent, skilled, insightful. Without a camera tugging you along you might give in to entropy and stay home checking out the latest "interesting" news on some screen in some warm corner of your house. Your camera seems to provide that extra boost that gets you out of the "floatie" chairs and out into the mix. Thank your camera for helping to ward off agoraphobia. Even if you don't come home with any great images....

3. Tools for augmented socialization. Cameras, and the intention to photograph, can be ice breakers. A reason to photograph someone doing something interesting. For instance, I often come across people painting murals. I love to photograph the people at work on their painting. I don't need to ask permission to make the photos but I ask anyway because I want to know more about the painter. About their motivation. About their message. They, in turn, seem happy that someone is interested and that someone cares. This sparks conversation and that's part of the rich fabric of curiosity and discovery. But it mostly starts for me with having a reason to be there and a reason to ask questions. 

4. Camaraderie. Shared interests are good social glue. When we get together at camera clubs, ASMP meetings, at planned coffees or chance encounters two photographers identify each other because of the camera worn over the shoulder or strapped across a chest. The cameras instantly confer "permission" to break the stranger silence and at least greet each other. Many times, when I am out and about with a camera another photographer will use my camera as a starting point to strike up a conversation, which turns into that person being a familiar sight out on the street, which turns into a fun acquaintance who turns into a friend. 

I met one person who is much younger than me at a coffee shop. She asked me about my camera. I asked her about her interest in photography. We traded Instagram info. We had the chance to see each other's photos. I ended up making portraits of her and we are now cross generational friends. She enjoyed learning about lighting as I was having great fun taking her portrait. 

I gave a lecture once about off camera lighting. It was at a book store. Afterwards I was approached by a person who spontaneously interviewed me. We've been friends ever since. We go out for Tex-Mex lunches and talk about all manner of things beyond just cameras and lenses. It's fun and a good cure for isolation. 

But mostly, the shared experiences of photography work to provide  common ground between people who enjoy the hobby/art/practice. When photographers come through Austin they call and we have lunch. Some people can be a chore but the vast, vast majority of photographers are fun to hang out with and often I learn something new. Maybe not just about photography but about whatever their other interests are. 

Photo connected friends seem to stick around for the long haul. There is a cross connectedness that's hard to explain. But it keeps us coming back and catching up over and over again. 

5. The feeling of mastery is empowering. Once we master something we get two things: A push to keep pushing and keep mastering different aspects of our passion/hobby/profession. And an increasing confidence in everything related. Mastering composition might push us to learn more about art. About painting and sculpture. If we are of a certain mindset of which story telling is important then allegorical photography might push us to read different literature or investigate uses of photographs for narrative projects. For instance, after seeing the work of Duane Michals I became much more interested in multi-image takes. Staying with a scene and making a progression of images that transmit an idea. Now I get into personal projects with the idea of progression, culmination and some sort of reveal. 

By writing a blog about photography, cameras and life I got better ( or at least faster) at my writing. My interest in photography propelled that part of my brain to do better. The payoff has been a wider audience of friends and an ability to lay out in words what I used to be constrained to only showing in pictures. 

Photography adds an extra measure of purpose for me. If I go out for coffee with a friend the addition of a camera often means adding on a walk with the friend which often leads to the discovery of a new thing to photograph. And often, through the friend, I am introduced to new people to either photograph or learn from. 

A camera taken to a boring event is an effective antidote to the boredom. The camera gives me something to do with my hands, my eyes and my head. Like a time machine being engaged in thinking about making images makes the time pass more quickly. And a camera turns one from a bored attendee into a bold sociological anthropologist. With all the curiosity attached. 

I am now endlessly fascinated with light and composition (mastery?). Early on in my life as a photographer my focus was always more about content and context. It's a difference. In the latter mode you "must"  have an interesting subject to feel satisfied about making photographs. In the first mode; having things be about light and composition (or design), everything becomes satisfying to photograph. I find myself progressing from documenting to creating images. It's nice to make those changes.

Finally, my cameras allow me to have access to and interesting conversations with people who I would not meet in the normal progress of life. Across age and education levels. And almost everywhere I go I find people more and more interesting. The camera can be like an engraved invitation to always learn more..

Day notes. Christmas is mellow here. I slept in. We made cinnamon rolls (a ritual from all the previous years of parenthood). Ben came over mid-morning. We all shared scrambled eggs, cinnamon rolls and coffee. We opened gifts. The gifts were thoughtful and happily received (as they should be). At some point, after our walk through the extended neighborhood, we'll get in my car and head off to meet with our relatives and have a loud, fun, kid-filled dinner and ritual opening of gifts. Then back home to prepare for whatever comes next. 

No one gifted me a camera. And I sure didn't need another one. But I have a feeling this will be a wild year (2023) for bold camera introductions and much fun stuff in the lens category. Keeping some powder dry for the unexpected but alluring...

I hope everyone stayed happy and warm through the week. It's sunny and 50° today in Austin. I wish it would stay just like this for a good long while. We'll see what happens...

Did anybody get anything photographic and newsworthy? If so, feel free to share in the comments. I love to live vicariously through other people's good fortune!