Early Work. The First Book Cover. Arrival in Santa Fe.

Some time, way back in 2008, I finished writing and photographing for my first book. All except for the cover illustration. The subject matter was "professional lighting on location" and the hook of the book was using small, battery powered electronic flashes for the lighting. Seemed appropriate to make a portrait on location and to use small, battery powered flashes. I went online to look for an appropriate model and then called the historic Driskill Hotel to ask if I could use one of their nice august banquet rooms for a location. 

I guess the usual way of doing a photo like this would be to shoot a bunch of poses and then move to multiple other locations and shoot more bunches of poses. I am not so indecisive. In this case I had an idea of what I wanted. We shot the image. I paid the model and we were done.

It's not the most spectacular portrait I've shot but I liked the red dress and the model's expression and importantly, I shot it in an aspect ratio that worked well for the proposed cover. I did a bit of retouching that is not reflected here and then sent the image to the publisher as part of the whole book package. The publisher provided no feedback and ran the image as sent. So much for the idea of a tight relationship between editors and writers...

Looking back at my gear from that period I'm fairly certain I used a large umbrella on one side, a reflector on the other and a couple of flashes aimed back toward the background. The flashes were Nikon SB-28's or something similar and I used a Nikon trigger in the hot shoe to make it all go "flash!"

I thought to write about this right now because I was asked to deliver some images quickly after an event tomorrow evening and I wanted to make sure I had the latest rev of Lightroom on the laptop I brought with me to Santa Fe. I wanted to make sure I had the right password for the Adobe Creative Suite in my brain and I wanted to get a folder set up to streamline the process tomorrow evening.  And this photo was sitting in a folder on the desktop. A sign from the blogging gods…

I often think of myself as someone who flies by the seat of my pants but really I might be overly prepared instead. Why else would I bring along two quarts of Subaru's synthetic motor oil (just in case) when the car has only 8,000 miles on it and was serviced by the dealer last Monday? If I were scattered and relied mostly on luck then why do I have eight fully charged back-up batteries for the cameras I intend to use on the job and four back-up batteries for the third camera I brought along....just in case? And what about that first aid kit in the rolling duffle bag? And eight pairs of socks for six days of travel? And the portable fusion reactor?

Seems my self-image is awkwardly skewed. 

How's the trip going so far? It's been pleasant. Over the course of two driving days I think I've discovered a long lost state of calm existence. Being quiet with myself for hours at a time. No music on the car stereo, no texts, no e-mail, no phone calls. Just driving and musing about life, love and the process of existing without an overarching agenda. The drives turned out to be peaceful, non-eventful and reflective. 

The hotel is very nice. The client was thoughtful enough to put me in a room on the second floor that opens out onto a private patio which in turn opens out onto the swimming pool area. The pool isn't long enough to swim good laps in but I could practice endless flip turns --- with a breath in between each one. 

I got into Santa Fe around one p.m. and was able to check right into my room. There followed a pleasant conversation with my client and with the event director and then I got to go have coffee with a famous writer of thriller novels, John Camp. That was a wonderful two hours over coffee. He's a remarkable man.

I hope I listened well enough!

I've got 24 hours now to do with as I please. I think I'll pull out a camera and go out for a long walk. Watching late afternoon evolve into evening and then into night. 

Sometimes the benefit of getting away is just re-learning how to spend time with myself. Nice.



Packed. Car serviced. Previous work completed. Next week is a clean slate.


I'm heading West to Santa Fe in the morning. Fun stuff on the agenda.

On most trips I've undertaken in the past there was nearly always the undercurrent of "jobs still in progress" "clients rushing to complete selections before the lights went out" and odds and ends of everyday life that seem like tentacles grabbing my consciousness and bifurcating my attention. But not this time. No...not this time. 

All the grunt work of small-businessing has been done. I also got in a full week of six swim practices in a row so....no guilt in grabbing a walnut scone and a coffee on the way out of town. B and B are handling the home fires and even my car seems anxious to get out of town and have some sort of adventure. Two days of business and five days of self-propelled recreation in Santa Fe, NM.

I've overpacked my suitcase but I'm ready for warm weather, cold weather, formal banquets (coat and tie?) or tromping over rough ground with my recently waxed, favorite pair of hiking boots. I've got credit cards just begging to be flogged and a case full of gear that I'm dying to point at West Texas and Northeastern New Mexico. Running shoes for the hotel gym and maps to all the swimming pools in the Santa Fe area. 

My client checked in last week and all systems are "go." 

I stuck with my previously stated inventory of "work" cameras which will be all Panasonic (S5, GH5ii and GH6). I packed a separate camera bag for personal work. It's got a Leica SL2 body and all four of the Sigma Contemporary prime lenses I own. Those would be the 24mm f3.5, the 45mm f2.8, the 60mm f2.0 and the 90mm f2.8.  I also stuck in the Sigma 56mm f1.4 APS-C lens....just in case I have a hankering for something fast and sharp. Sure, the camera will drop down to the APS-C format automatically but with a starting point of 47 megapixels I'm not too worried. 

If I find fun stuff to photograph or if I stumble into an interesting adventure and survive it I'll try to blog at least a couple of times during the week. But this will be my longest out of town since the start of the pandemic. And I can't wait.

With luck and planning I should be back in one week. Wild stuff. 

(always while remembering that what matters is "here and now.")


A small but growing collection of L mount lenses that work across all three brands of available cameras and are also affordable.

When I first dove into the L mount system I did so because I thought the Panasonic S1, S1R and S1H were compelling tools for professional image makers. They obviously weren't designed for old duffers who complain at every turn about the size and weight of the cameras. The cameras all met my expectations admirably. The only thing that gave me pause was the paucity of the kinds of lenses we used all the time in the film days. Small, sharp and economical. I can tolerate a heavy camera if I'm getting something in return but most of the lenses that were available for the L mount in 2019 were very fast ones and because they were mostly f1.4 or f1.2 aperture lenses, and designed to be top of class, they were enormous, more expensive and, because of all the heavy glass inside, they were slow to autofocus.

What I wanted was lenses like the ones from the past. I wanted to be able to buy a selection of lenses with much less glamorous f-stops and much less impressive and complex optical formulas. I wanted lenses like the Contax 28mm f2.8 Y/C lens which traded lens speed for great optical performance and smaller size. Not tiny-sized but right-sized. Same with the Contax (or Nikon or Pentax) 50mm "normal" lenses. Even the well regarded Contax/Zeiss 50mm f1.4 from the film days was about a third the volume of something like the Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art lens or the Panasonic S-Pro 50mm f1.4. And most 50mm lenses from back in the day were about 1/4th the price of the new hyper-lenses. Sure, I get that they didn't autofocus but I can do that on my own and in fact often prefer it. 

It was thrilling when Sigma announced a wildly different kind of lens for the L mount systems. It was part of their "Contemporary" series. It was the 45mm f2.8. I bought one, shot it for a couple of weeks and then bought a second one (which came as part of a bundle with the then newly released Sigma fp camera). Mindless critics mostly trashed the lens for one reason; when focused close (within five or so feet) and used at its maximum aperture it was less contrasty, less snappy than other lenses from various makers. Subtlety is lost on the masses of YouTubers. The lens performs magnificently at f4.0 but more importantly it has its own way of rendering images that is lovely. Calm and sharp simultaneously. Stopped down to f5.6 and beyond it can actually become quite clinical. But not in a harsh and frantic way. 

That lens set a style for a whole series of lenses that's been introduced over the last two years. It's well crafted out of metal, has great feeling controls and each of the lenses in the series has a wonderful and well damped aperture ring. But the real beauty is that this lens and the ones that followed are easy to use by dint of being right sized for both my cameras and my hands. While delivering good and even great performance. 

After using the 45mm f2.8s for nearly a year I ordered the 65mm f2.0 lens the minute it was announced. It's a focal length I really like and early testers were uniformly impressed by the lens's optical performance. Sharp and contrasty even when used wide open. A wonderful, short portrait lens!

I also ordered and have been shooting  most of my recent portrait assignments in the studio with the 90mm f2.8 model. It's almost as small as the 45mm and even wide open is probably sharper that every competitor's 90mm lens. 

The fourth Sigma Contemporary I bought was a used one that a friend bought on a whim and never used. He coveted a particular lens I had and we traded. It was the ultra-diminutive 24mm f2.8. I immediately stuck the lens on my Leica CL and used it in the crop mode for a while as a 35mm equivalent street shooting lens. It autofocuses quickly and gave great results. It's just as good on a full frame camera like the Leica SL2. 

All four of these lenses together weigh less than my Leica 24-90mm zoom lens. That makes them comfortable to carry and easy to use on daylong, multi-location shoots. 

Each of the lenses costs somewhere between $549 and $700. There is a 35mm f2.0 version which I don't yet own and also a fast 24mm f2.0 in which I have no real interest. There is one missing focal length which I hope they fill in soon and that would be the classical 135mm f2.8 short telephoto. 

When I packed for a fun couple of days of personal shooting recently I grabbed the Leica SL2 and all four of the Sigma Contemporary L lenses I own and put them into one Domke F2 canvas camera bag. Heaven. 

Another interesting Contemporary lens which I am using in a very counter-intuitive way is the 18-50mm f2.8 that is designed only to cover an APS-C format. I'm using that lens on my SL2 as well. The camera automatically switches to the APS-C mode for me and gives me a file that's still around 24 megapixels. Its small size makes the entire package very manageable and you get great image performance in that tiny package. All for around $600. I know some Leica owner somewhere is reading this and trying to figure out how to censure my heresy but it's wise to understand that just owning a Leica camera body isn't a pact to the death to only equip your SL2 with Leica branded lenses and accessories. Though I'm sure Leica appreciates it when you do....

Can't wait till some third party comes out with cheap batteries for the SL2. I'll buy them....

But for now it's all about the joy of the lenses. 

Final packing for my trip is tomorrow. Monday I'll be heading west into a big storm and then, further West, into the land of wildfires. I hope for the best. 

The two images just above are of the sub-structure of that big curved building I've been showing you for the last several months. These images are from three + years ago and were made with my 45mm lens.



One of my favorite current photo quotes...


"As photographers we are only as good as the opportunities we create." 

-- Kristian Dowling, Photographer

One of "Murphy's Laws of small business." And ruminating about packing.


It's tough getting out of town for a week. One of Murphy's many laws that covers small businesses is that all clients will wait until the very last day you plan to be in the office to finally choose folders full of images that they desperately need post processed right away in order to meet some deadline that didn't even exist when you actually photographed for the job.

The requests will be couched in such a way that one couldn't disagree with the need. "We just got the CEO's selections and the annual report is due at the printer in days..." So you look at the options. Send the material to a good retoucher and hope all goes well or burn the midnight oil and finish out the project as you intended it to be. If you pick the first option there's little recourse should things go wrong while you are out. If you pick the second option you start your out of town adventure tired and already a bit burned out.

Fortunately I have a trusted retoucher and I don't mind if they work with the client directly. I'm just too busy deciding on which flashes to pack for my next project. 


Many of you have offered advice as to which cameras and lenses, etc. I should pack up and take with me to Santa Fe. All are good suggestions but I know myself pretty well; I'll have a range of options picked out and lined up on a table in the studio and I'll vacillate over and over again between now and Sunday night but by the time I head to bed I'll have made my choice and solidified my determination to see my decision through. It's a silly problem to talk about but there it is. 

The leading candidates in the running this morning line up like this: The Panasonic S5 combined with the 24-105mm Panasonic zoom and the 70-200mm zoom. The S5 with the longer zoom lens gives me a good option for the inevitable podium shots while the 24-105 is just coming along for the ride as a back-up for my other choices. The other two cameras currently in the pole position are the GH5ii and the GH6. I liked the files from both when I shot them last week and I'm happy with the small range of lenses I'm pairing them will. I'll mostly stick with the Panasonic 12-60mm f2.8 on the GH6 body and the Panasonic/Leica 25mm f1.4 on the GH5ii. Small and light for all the non-speaker at the podium shots. And for tromping around town with event participants.

But no trip is complete without an irrational "outlier" camera for recreational use. For that role I'm contemplating bringing along the Leica CL with the Sigma 18-50mm f2.8 and the Sigma 56mm f1.4. My rationale is that I need a "front seat" camera for the drive over and, if I decide I really need to get even closer to a speaker at the podium during the conference the CL's APS-C sensor gets me a 300mm equivalent focal length with more pixel density than the S5 offers with a crop. 

The tiny CL, along with the Sigma zoom, is a perfect package for walking around aimlessly during my personal time in the town. And I additionally have the excuse that I'll need every advantage I can find since we'll be at seven thousand one hundred and ninety nine feet above sea level. 

When I was there in October with B. I was carrying around an SL2 with the 24-90mm lens and it wore me out quicker than I thought it would... Cut that weight down by two thirds and it's got to help. I guess I'm spoiled by an oxygen rich environment here at 400 feet above sea level. 

All the "work gear" fits into one Airport Advantage XT rolling case from Think Tank. I'm taking a small Domke bag for the "personal" camera and lens. 

The lighting gear is simple and no alternate choices are necessary. I'm taking a couple of Godox V1 flashes (dedicated to Olympus/Panasonic) along with a Godox X1-T flash trigger. Those, two stands and couple of umbrellas and I'll have what I need for on-camera flash (events) and the last minute requests for nicely lit portraits for people who.....forgot to submit headshots. I've also tossed in a favorite small flash. It's the Godox TT350 (O) which is a petite, light shoe-mount flash that takes two double "A" batteries and kicks out enough light for fill flash or higher ISO event work. I like it because it's "right-sized" for the smaller cameras. 

Clothing is easy. 3 X dress shirts for the event. 3 X dress trousers for same. One dark sport coat for events. Two ties in case any one event is more formal. One pair of black dress shoes. One pair of brown dress shoes. And with those we have the event covered. Of course there needs to be an inventory of underwear and socks but that's assumed. Everything else is comfort wear. Three pairs of REI all terrain long pants and a stack of breathable, long sleeve shirts with collars. Two pairs of lightweight hiking boots. And, looking at the weather reports, a warm jacket and a hat. That all fits nicely into a rolling case. 

The final touch is a small bag of swim gear. But it's hard to forget the swim stuff since it mostly lives in my car...

You can probably tell that it's been a while since I packed for a week long trip out of town. Writing this blog is analogous to creating a packing list. In fact it might substitute for one. Thank you for your patience as I work through my selection process. There is one thing that might cause a slight deviation to the camera mix... I was witless enough, while at the camera store yesterday, to handle a "like new" Olympus OMD EM-1 mark 3 for a few minutes. It's a lovely camera.... I've never owned one..... Yet..... Curious how owners of this camera like it....?

I have to say that after having been in very close quarters with my family for the last 2+ years I am feeling a guilty pleasure at getting away by myself. I have missed the days of those corporate trips if for no other reason than...autonomy.  YMMV. I don't mind driving and I enjoy staying at nice hotels. I even like the social atmosphere at good conferences. Sometimes it's nice to get away...


Above and below are more photos from the Iceland adventure. I guess one of the reasons I thought to post these photographs and others this week was to get myself inspired and revved up for the upcoming trip. A reminder of sorts that much photography can be accomplished in and around other obligations so long as you remain diligent and think in terms of a gestalt sort of speediness...


Still working through the North Atlantic catalog. And...packing for the trip to Santa Fe. Indecision is rampant.

The only hard part of photography is getting to the locations you want to shoot. Everything else is just a math problem or an emotional equation. Photograph is nothing more than the messy intersection of physics and art. 

This is another small bucket of images from the 2018 trip. I think I'll head back there in 2023, in the dead of winter, just for another taste. But in the meantime there are other trips I need to take first. 

For example, next week I'll be in Santa Fe for five days. I'm working for one evening, one full day and one half day. Mostly photographing speakers and attendees at a banking and economics conference but also a few out and about assignments like a group adventure up through the galleries on Canyon Rd. As usual I am radically overthinking which cameras and lenses to bring along. Part of the reason is that I'm driving instead of flying so I can take along anything I'd like. I just don't know what I like in the moment. 

I'm pretty much settled on taking a full frame camera and a big, long, heavy 70-200mm zoom for those tight speaker shots at the podium and I'm toying with dragging along the big, fat Leica 24-90mm zoom just to assuage my current masochistic photography tendencies. Which will require me to bring along a couple of full frame SLx bodies and accoutrement. Which will cause me, midway through the trip to wish that I'd opted for the micro four thirds cameras instead. An ongoing leitmotif this week, what with the Iceland G9 images being front and center. At this juncture I'm guessing it's likely going to be a mix of stuff. And that's okay too. 

If I go full m4:3 and eschew all the FF cameras I do need to source a longer zoom for the mini-system that I currently own. I have the 12-60mm Panasonic/Leica lens but I found myself gasping for more millimeters during a similar corporate shoot just last week. I have an Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 Pro on hold over at the camera store but I'm vacillating because of the embarassment of having owned and sold this lens once before. My brain hates to admit to patterns of waste and indecision if I'm the target of my own withering judgement.

But I'm sure I'll get it figured out before I leave the city limits on Monday. At least I'm pretty sure which car I'm taking... 

When you look through the images below you'll find some that are variations of the same shot. I thought I'd include them to give you an idea of the way I work a shot instead of always just showing the final output. 

Two off topic notes. OMG!!! Property values in Austin are sky rocketing. How do I know? I just got my property valuation this year from the local taxing authority. I'm now officially "property rich" but if I sold my house there's no way I could afford to buy a better one in Austin. I'd have to convince B. to move someplace else instead. And we have deep roots here. The alternative is to convince ourselves that it's cool to live in Austin and just suck it up. Pay the taxes and bitch...like everyone else. 

Second. Gotta say that yesterday's noon swim practice was one for the record. Not the swimming on my part but the pantheon of swimmers in attendance. The practice was lightly attended. Just seven swimmers and a nice coach. But... of the seven swimmers two were gold medal winners from various recent Olympic Games, four of the seven were former UT hot shot/elite swimmers and three of us were just floating around watching superstars swim with perfect technique and at speeds that defied the apparent ease of their aqueous locomotion. It was pretty stunning. On the way home I thought about how irrational it is for me to even try to compare my splashing and sputtering with the performance of the "Henri Cartier Bressons and Robert Franks" of swimming. Especially the ones who are still in their 20s. Ah well. You have to have role models...I guess. 

On to the photos. Remember to view them on a tightly calibrated 27 or 30 inch 5K monitor in a darkened room and be sure to click on the images to see them larger still.... Or use your phone...


Some more images from Iceland and the amazing G9 cameras. And a few more thoughts about shooting.


It's always a bit daunting to arrive somewhere with a work agenda, dog tired after an overnight flight, and in a country and a season where daylight only stretches from 9:30 a.m. till a little after 4 p.m. During the six days I was in Iceland we had rain and overcast skies on three. In situations like this, when you have the free time to shoot, you might consider moving and exploring constantly and quickly instead of just drifting along at a leisurely pace and dallying over a small handful of shooting opportunities. 

As I mentioned yesterday I shot a huge amount of frames while there. A bit over a thousand images per day. I shot this way with the idea of going back later, in post production, and panning for whatever "gold" there might be in and amongst the mud....But more importantly, I shot an image any time I was the least bit interested in whatever was in front of me rather than waiting around for divine inspiration to strike. 

Regardless of format the real beauty of digital is having endless capacity for images at your disposal. So, in this post and the last one combined you are seeing far fewer than a half a percent of the images I took in a very compressed time frame. There are many more I could post and which I like just as much. The takeaway being that working fast and practicing seeing are two valuable skills to have.

Another advantage goes to people who can move fast, with endurance, and don't mind carrying gear with them. My suggestions for successful immersion in a location are: Walk a lot. Move constantly. Shoot anything that catches your eyes. Move some more. Explore off the beaten path. Fill those memory cards.