Variation on Jaston #3.


Jaston Williams. In Studio. August 2022.

Variation on Jaston #2.

Jaston Williams. In Studio. August 2022.


Variation on Jaston.


Jaston Williams. In studio. August 2022.

Another morning in paradise. A walk to the bank.

Some mornings the light looks delicious. When I have checks to deposit at my bank, and I have the time to forgo electronic banking, I like to park on the edge of our downtown and walk to the center where my bank has their offices. It's old fashioned but I like handing my deposit slip across the counter to a teller, discuss the weather and get a receipt. It's another excuse to walk instead of doing things the easy way. 

It was warm and as humid as ever this morning. But the light was really sweet. Not too intense but not gloomy either. I photographed a few little scenes until I got to the spot above and then I realized that I really liked the giant chimney in the foreground and the cloudy speckled sky in the background so I stopped and comped up a shot. As I was started to shoot a woman walked through the small patch of sunlight that was illuminating a small part of a wall. It was just right. 

I liked the square of light just in the right spot so I walked closer and tried a few variations. I liked all of them. It only takes a day or two of rain in Austin for all the green to stand up straighter and look refreshed. The clouds were right out of "landscape photograph central casting." 

I traveled light today. No big camera and no big lens. Just a diminutive Leica CL and the quirky looking TTArtisan 17mm lens. After walking around with bigger, heavier cameras I was barely cognizant of the CL's presence. But I like the way it renders photographs. It can be really nice. 

I moved on after I got a decent vertical, got coffee at a newly opened coffee shop and then wended my way back home to answer some e-mails and also to send a folder of theater images to a creative director in Switzerland. I was in such a good mood by the time I wrapped up my morning chores that I bought a new pair of my favorite Summer pants on REI.com. They were on sale. How could I resist? 

MJ is playing with a monochrome version of the Sigma fp over at theonlinephotographer and I'm very interested to see how he likes the camera and the 45mm lens he's using. I never thought about it before but it might be the perfect black and white camera. Mods or not. Worth taking a look at...


"He was never overburdened with conventional good taste."

 Phone photo. 

I've been reading a series of essays in the book about Richard Avedon called: 

Evidence: 1944-1994 Richard Avedon

In one of the two major essays in the book writer Adam Gopnik is reporting on a walking adventure through Manhattan with Avedon. As a tangent to their walk they are looking for a small, witty gift to send to a friend's wife. They walked into a tacky, little gift shop and found some costume jewelry which Avedon considered and then rejected. The writer noted that: "Avedon was never overburdened with conventional good taste." I love the turn of phrase. 

In another essay in a different book Avedon was quoted as saying this about portraiture: “All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth.”

I think I usually spin my wheels too quickly and don't take enough time to pause and really soak in everything that goes into our ideas of what photography is and where we find the whole construction of it right here and right now. In our present moment. We are living through a profound change in our cultural perceptions of what constitutes a legitimate photograph and how our photographs should look. 

On a domestic note we had a double door at the house fixed yesterday by a good carpenter. It was a french door with two large individual doors paned with big, solid pieces of glass over most of each. One needed to have some wood damage removed and fixed while both needed new sweeps. The doors are out of intensive care now, thanks to the carpenter's skill, but the responsibility for putting a couple coats of primer over the repaired parts, and then painting the doors, falls to me and B. 

In preparation for applying primer we had to sand and smooth the doors and prepare the surfaces so that our upcoming painting will create a seamless finish. There is a lot more work than it seems when you stumble into another professional's field of expertise...

But it was such a non-photographic thing to do that it effectively separated me from my mania to go out each day and look for photographs. And I think that's a good thing. 

After we got the second coat of primer on not just those two rehabilitated  doors but also on four others we were done for the day. Not physically exhausted so much as mentally fatigued from the rigor of doing something outside our areas of expertise. Thank goodness I had the good judgement to hire a professional to do the expert work. 

We did the exterior work early when it was still cool and almost comfortable outside. When we finished the inside work the day had turned hot, humid and cloudy. It just didn't feel like a day for me to be wondering around aimlessly, outside, with a camera. The reading chair and the soft light through the window pulled on me like an attached rope harnessing me into the air conditioning. 

The Avedon book I picked off the shelf; this one in particular, has always seemed to be to be the roadmap to understanding his approach to his best work. A cryptology key to the roots of his process and his deep emotional and intellectual connections to portraiture. Adam Gopnik's essay felt different today. As if I had slowed down enough to actually consume it at a pace that, for the first time, allowed me not just a literal reading but a reading with enough pause and pacing to savor the texture of Gopnik's thoughts. To make his observations stick like epoxy to my usually restless mind. 

When I walked back out to my studio a bit later all the lighting gear looked new and fresh and I felt a renewal of passion for my own portraiture. 

It seems good to take a break every once in a while to let my appreciation catch up to my experiences. Too often we move too fast for the satisfaction of our work to really stick. I'm generally guilty of having my eyes too firmly fixed on the project just a few feet into the future to really savor what we've already done. 

But not today.


The Canon 50mm f1.4 FD lens I ordered came in yesterday evening. I walked around with it today and shots some tests. Mixed results. I love it and am keeping it. It does create some green fringe on highlights at the two widest apertures. Not a "deal-killer" for me.


Here is my test for center sharpness when used wide open. This  lens, circa 1972, does very, very well as you can see from the rendering of the type on the front of the lens. That's where I put the focus. This was shot at f1.4 to show off the bokeh in the background. I don't know how to describe bokeh but it looks pretty cool to me. 

This sample and the  enlargement of the center rose was shot with the lens at f1.4.

this image and the one just below were shot at f2.0

Interesting...Adobe still has a lens profile in Lightroom for the Canon 50mm f1.4 FD lens. A lens that's fifty years old. I think it's pretty wonderful. And for all the people who've been sending "hate" mail about the usurious prices of those "damn" Leicas... this lens came in a package with a mint, black, Canon FTb camera, also from the early 1970s, for the princely sum of $150. So, if I divide out the package and resell the camera body I'm pegging the price of this lens alone at about $75. The Leica SL body did not refuse to work with the lens. It did not reject it or try to destroy it. They just worked it out. And I think the results are good. Except for the green fringing on the white chairs.  Yeah. There's that.  I expect that I could have gotten the same overall results with a Panasonic S5 or a Sigma fp. The Leica was just convenient. 

So much hate for such good gear....


I photographed last evening for a group called, "Local Opera, Local Artists". Their logo reads: "LOLA". But this is a review of a camera and two lenses, not of the opera...

Liz Cass as "Dinah LeFarge"

This was an assignment I walked into blind. I'd never met the people at the production company before. Never been to the "theater" where I'd be photographing the dress rehearsal of "Lardo Weeping." A modern opera. I had no idea what to expect. 

It rained for the first time in months here in Austin yesterday. A good solid, multi-hour rain. A soaker. We all ran outside when it started and cheered. But then I went back in to pack up my stuff and make a change to my gear package. I was going to shoot the show completely in raw but had a change of mind and added a second memory card to each camera so I could shoot raw+jpeg and have the two file types on separate cards. Partly for back-up and partly because I wanted to see how good (or bad) the output from the cameras, in Jpeg, would look. Would it be useable? Could I save some processing time and some storage space? At least I'd be covered either way. 

The gear selection included two Leica SL cameras, one Leica Vario-Elmarit 24-90mm lens and a Panasonic 70-200mm f4.0 zoom. As an afterthought I tossed in a Sigma 65mm lens but that never came out of the case. I scaled back on batteries after I read the opera company's website and realized that the entire performance would last only 88 minutes. One in-camera battery each and one back-up battery for each camera should be plenty. I packed everything in the Gitzo backpack which works well but is a bit over-engineered. It's probably too well padded so the internal space is smaller than one would think when looking at the outside of the backpack. But on the flip side the backpack certainly does a stellar job protecting the cameras once you've stuffed them inside. 

Since it was pouring rain, and since Austin drivers are famously skittish drivers in any kind of weather other than "sunny and dry" I left an hour before I promised to be there. Sure, it's only nine miles away according to Maps but the straightest path is through downtown and, well, rush hour. I got there about ten minutes in front of my scheduled arrival time. 

But where was I? My last live performance photography was done on the main stage at Zach Theatre which sits just south of downtown on an incredibly valuable couple acres of land, adjacent to the park. The theater has seating for 400, a plush and roomy lobby with a soaring ceiling, a giant fly tower for backdrops, a huge stage and lavish bars;  all the features of a newish, world class theater. But yesterday I wound through downtown and snaked east of the freeway through a couple of detours and found myself looking at an old line of garage-doored, single storied shops from the 1970s. The final one on the row was Crashbox Theater. It's a dodgy space. Maybe 1500 square feet in total. The "auditorium" seats 40 and the air conditioning and electrical connections are all on their last legs. But after a few minutes it didn't seem to matter because there was a palpable excitement in the space and everyone I talked to was smart, focused, experienced, talented and carried great credentials with them. 

I talked to the lighting designer after getting a quick-run of-show brief by the director/stage manager. The main lighting was all tungsten. Not tungsten balanced LEDs but full on tungsten. And the lighting designer reminded me that as the tungstens dim they get warmer... Got it. I asked for a lighting cue and stepped into the stage with a white card to get a reading. Yep. 3200K. Pretty much right on the nose. They mentioned that they did have some LEDs for color effects but not as a main light source. All good to know. 

I got there early enough to have ample time to fine tune the cameras and get used to the feel of the room. The small crew, and the photographer (me), were all masked. I sat and went through the camera menus once again. I set the camera for Large Jpegs, standard saturation, one move less of contrast, and standard sharpness. I set the noise reduction up from my usual "low" setting to the standard (middle ground) noise reduction setting, figuring that if I didn't like the effect in the Jpegs I could change it in the raw files. The camera was set so only the EVF was live. I didn't want a bright set of rear screens antagonizing all the crew sitting behind me. It worked just fine because even with "EVF only" set as soon as you push the review button and your eye is not behind the viewfinder the camera defaults to the rear screen. 

I am a not a modern focuser. Sure, I use AF like almost everyone else but I've never learned to be comfortable with continuous AF or letting the camera select focus points or follow people. I like that center focusing square and I like the AF to lock when I push the shutter button half way down. Lately I've played around with back button focusing and it works well but when I have a lot to shoot in a short amount of time my brain defaults to what I know best. 

I sat three rows up from the floor level stage. I had one camera with the wide-to-slight telephoto zoom sitting on a chair to my left and the other camera with the telephoto zoom on a chair to my right. I spent the evening going back and forth between the two but most of my use and emphasis was on the camera with the Leica zoom. Its wide angle to mid-tele reach was just right for the smaller space. 

With the white balance set to 3200K, with raw potential in reserve, the only thing I really needed to consider beside composition and focus was getting the exposure right as the light level changed. One surprising attribute of the SL cameras is how precisely the exposure and color on the EVF track the color and levels of my computer screen back in the studio. With other cameras I consistently get back home to find that most of my images are about a half stop (or more) darker than they appear in those camera finders when shooting on darker locations. 

My target is always the exposure on the main actor's face. If I get that right I think everything will usually fall right into place. I think most theatrical photographers live in fear of blowing out highlights and each of us has some sort of method or process in place to prevent that. Since we're trying to catch constantly changing expressions bracketing isn't as useful as it might otherwise be. A really well calibrated viewfinder goes a long way toward helping you see just how close you are getting to the edge of highlight burnout. While histograms can, I guess, be useful, it only takes a few bright white props in a frame to peg the histogram and encourage one to wildly underexpose. Blinking highlights are good if you have them. As are zebras that you can set to 100%. In the absence of those measurement tools a well calibrated screen is your best ally. 

The EVF tech of the SL cameras is the older LCD stuff. The newer cameras, like the SL2 and SL2-S have the latest LED EVFs and it was tempting to bring along the SL2 but I was set on using the older cameras because 24 megapixels (raw or Jpeg) is the sweet spot for quality, speed, storage and...quality... for adventures on which you'll be shooting a lot of frames in a short amount of time. Also, the sensor in the SL, while not perfect for raising shadows in post, has bigger pixels and I think it handles lower light and higher ISO settings better than the newer camera. It's probably a moot point if you are just shooting Jpegs and are downsampling the SL2 in camera at the time of photographing to the 24 megapixel size. But you can't create smaller raw files so....

There were times I needed to quickly change ISO and that's handled pretty neatly on the SLs. I have the top left of the four buttons on the back set to go straight to ISO setting with a long push. A short push gets you to the "favorites" menu and a two quick pushes of the button gets you to the main menu. So, one long (two seconds?) push and I'm ready to switch from 3200 to 6400 without delay. The next button down is set for white balance. They are the only long settings I have to memorize since I rarely change anything else while shooting (except aperture and shutter speed but those are both on main dials). 

The top button on the right side of the rear panel is set to be the play back button if you give it two quick pushes. While a long push gets you straight into exposure compensation. The bottom button acts like the display button on other brands. It takes you through all the screen modes as you press it quickly. Long press it and you get metering mode (spot, all area, face detect, etc). 

Batteries worry me. I'm too used to grabbing a camera for a walk and leaving it on all the time so I can grab shots at random. But the batteries continue to drain and always faster than I think they will. But yesterday evening the entire show was in one long act and the way I was using the camera then seemed to be parsimonious with battery power. I have also found that native Leica SL lenses allow the camera to conserve battery power better than Sigma or Panasonic lenses on the same bodies. Manual lenses seem to be best of all because you're only using power for live view and shutter work but not focusing/moving big elements. Both cameras had at least half their battery power left after the show and I thought that was a great thing. And I have to say that they are the most comfortable cameras to have in my hand for shoots like this. But considering haptic while shooting a show is a bit of cheating since, during parts of the show that aren't made for photographs I can put both cameras down on their respective chairs and relax. Or settle my favorite one in my lap for a relaxed but higher state of readiness. 

I have three battery chargers for Leicas on the corner of my office desk. When I come back in from using the cameras I drop the batteries into the chargers. Usually, when using a charger, the battery sits in the holder and a green light eventually goes out, or it stops blinking and goes solid when the battery is fully charged. But the Leica chargers have a second, orange light that comes on at the 80% charge zone. If you are willing to forgo always charging to 100% I believe the batteries, when charged to just 80%, have a longer, healthier life. I notice the same thing on some mobile phones; you can set your phone to pause at 80% charge instead of always going for the "gold." The phone makers (and they should know) are quick to tell you this saves your batteries for the long haul.

Two of my desk chargers are for the SL/SL2 batteries while the third one is for CL batteries. I like to make sure we're playing with at least an "almost" full deck when I go out. That's the one thing about old film cameras that I really miss = their battery independence. 

There isn't much else to be said about the cameras. They do a good, yeoman-like job. With good exposure they are highly usable up to 6400 ISO and with lousy exposure you can still hit the 3200 mark. I ended up using the Jpegs for all the deliverables today since they were nicely exposed and had good noise reduction baked in. I'm sure, if this was a portrait assignment where we needed only one or two frames for final post production, the raw files could be made better but the Jpegs really do look nice. And they were quick and easy to work with in post.

So let's talk lenses. I used all kinds of standard zoom lenses starting, back in the dark ages, with the well regarded Nikon 28-70mm f2.8 lens. It was a great one. Others have included the 24-105mm Zeiss for Sony, the Canon 24-105mm L series, the latest Sigma 24-70mm Art lens, and the Panasonic 24-105mm S lens. All are pretty good. All could be used for just about any project that would call for the middle focal ranges. But, and you knew this was coming, the Leica 24-90mm is just wonderful. It's too big. It's too heavy. It's way too expensive. But it's also way too sharp and way too optically near perfect. 

This praise is based on the fact that I spent my time with this lens last night shooting everything handheld and at the lens's maximum aperture (which ranges between f2.8 and f4.0 depending on focal length). It's as sharp or sharper at the wide open settings than any number of prime lenses I've used in the past. When you add in the rendering and the contrast it just smokes most lenses in its focal range class. zoom or prime.

I have to say though that it's absolutely not the lens you want to use for casual street photos because it's too ungainly. You know the saying "the elephant in the room"? Well this lens is the "elephant in your camera bag." For something like theater work that's mostly meaningless because you're not traveling around and you have the opportunity to set the camera and lens in your lap in between scenes with good that have good,  photogenic action. And just being seated while shooting takes a lot of the strain off your muscles. But dropping this one into your backpack in anticipation of a ten mile hike is almost absurd.

If I need to travel lighter I always reach for the Panasonic 24-105mm or, even better, the Panasonic 20-60mm lens. But when I want to do my best work wide and normal I have to say that the Leica lens is superior. Is it $5,000 more dollars superior? All depends on how much money you make by shooting it. 

My longer lens has been, for me, a well proven and reliable tool. It's more than adequately sharp when used wide open at f4.0 and only when shooting portraits in the studio to do I bother to stop it down. It's nice to have the longer range and I use it a lot when I have to shoot from the center of the house in a bigger theater but last evening it mostly saw some tight head and shoulders cropped images that weren't essential but were nice to have. It's also a big and heavy lens and, again, would not be my first choice for scampering over rock faces at the state park. I'd choose something like the Olympus 40-150mm f4.0 pro instead. About the same weight as the 70-200mm's tripod mount collar.... But I'd have to give up some sensor real estate. 

At the end of the show I headed out and drove through some more intermittent rain. That was actually a nice thing. By 8:30 traffic had died down and over on the horizon the last vestiges of daylight were peaking through. It made for a visually different drive home than the relentless, clear sky sunsets.

How was the show? Delightful. Funny, smart and all sung as an opera. I'll probably buy a couple tickets and head back for the premier. The actor is extremely talented, has perfect comedic timing and the material is wonderful. A blend of bitter and hilarious. All mixed together. 

I'm very happy with the files and have not even bothered to crack open the raw files. I guess I should take a look at them next...

Peter Stopschinski, Composer/Pianist
In his red pajamas. Tungsten light is great for reds...

I've missed shooting for theaters. Now that we're hitting lower Covid numbers here in
Austin I hope the big shows come back. And that we all feel safe photographing them.



Bog Note: It's now raining!!!! It's raining with gusto. Happiness.


Live Theater Assignment this evening. Packing up. First live performance photography since 2020.

 This evening I'm heading over to a small theater to photograph the dress rehearsal of a modern opera. I have no idea about the content or the extended storyline but I'm thrilled to be back shooting live theater. The space is smaller than the main stage at Zach Theatre....by a factor of 4. I won't need much in the way of really long telephotos but I did pack judiciously. 

I'm stuffing  two cameras and three lenses into that Gitzo photo backpack I got earlier in the Summer. And it seems like a good idea since we're forecasted to have rain this afternoon/evening for the first time since June. Really. June.  (Finally, the forecast actually came true. Good rain this afternoon and more on the way!!!).

So, what am I packing? I decided to take the two Leica SL camera bodies, set up identically. Raw on one card and Jpeg on the other. The camera does good high ISO and I've gotten a lot of experience using them on every kind of project. I've packed four extra batteries --- because you never know.

The wide angle lens I packed is the Leica 24-90mm f2.8-4.0. It's sharp wide open. I'll use it there. The second lens is the big (but not too big) Panasonic 70-200mm f4.0 S-Pro. The reach might be overkill for the smaller space but it's better to have it and not use it than to want it/not have it and be disappointed because it got left at home. The third lens I packed is the Sigma 65mm f2.0 lens. Just because. 

For an opera this one is going to be short. About 90 minutes. Straight through with no intermission. Just the way I like it.

After a long hiatus it seems like the arts groups are getting back into action and ramping up their shows. I think I'll take along a face mask. Just in case...

Mural Artist Working on the Streets of Berlin. And why I didn't buy a camera today...

 This is an image I took in Berlin in 2013 while on a trip to test out Samsung's failed Galaxy NX camera. I would have liked the camera pretty well if it hadn't "featured" an Android operating system and had just stuck to producing photographs and video. But when it worked it worked well. The 20 megapixel sensor was actually very good and the color science in that camera, and then the even better color science in the NX-1, were both highly competitive. No gripes about the lenses either. 

What killed the NX? I will probably never know for sure but the complexity of the OS was probably a big part of their problem. Too much horsepower running too many unnecessary apps which caused some reliability/ freezing issues. But as Thom Hogan seems to always tell us, those consumers really, really want Wi-fi, Bluetooth and Cell capability all crammed into their cameras so they can share..... I still don't buy it. And neither did consumers at the time. But it was novel to be able to play Candy Crush on one's camera....

But the camera was capable of producing nice images...

Why I didn't buy a camera today...

After wading through Michael Johnston's latest post, all peppered with links about monochrome-dedicated camera stuff, and reading David Farkas's article (on Red Dot Forum) comparing the black and white performance of various Leicas, I got it into my head that a Leica Q2 Monochrom in the "Reporter" finish might be a fun place to start my own dive into discovering the (well) hidden joys of strict black and white photography in the digital age. 

Now, I've read for years and years that Leica is a failed company with antiquated products and produces Luxe cameras solely for trust-fund hipsters with "daddy's credit card" and is also a maker of favorite toys for orthodontists, west coast plastic surgeons, and hedge fund managers. The common theme among photographers is that the Leica cameras are so expensive that no "real" photographer would ever buy one and use it for commercial purposes. There is also the assumption that since their M series cameras don't autofocus nearly as fast as Sony cameras the company will soon be bankrupted because....who wants a camera that can't AF?

I was going to wake up today and prove everyone wrong. I'd buy that Q2 monochrome in "Reporter/Kevlar" regalia and start using it for paid jobs. And personal work. And that's taking into account that I've never held a medical license or been investigated by the S.E.C. I was on a campaign to take my black and white work to a higher level and after seeing all the buzz about the Leica monochrom (and being highly impulsive) I thought it would be a good place to start. 

No more fiddling with the monochrome settings in the SL or SL2 or the CL or the TL2. From now on it would be the pure discipline of the majestic two colors = black and white. 

But then reality interceded. All of the Q2 Monochrom Reporter edition cameras are sold out. No more are available. Sure, you can still get a "regular" Q2 but with all that icky color potential who would want one. And you can still get a monochrome version but who doesn't want a great paint color and a Kevlar body wrap?

I guess if Leica were more successful at making and selling cameras they would have been able to make more of the Monochrom Reporter models. Now I've resigned myself to just going back to work with the less glamorous and obviously less desirable Leicas. I'm so disappointed. 


The business changes but the joy of it seems to remain. Why photography is not "dead" yet.

A trucker trying to figure out where to park in a tight, urban shopping center.

I think humans crave simplicity. Photographs are one of the most efficient ways to tell a story quickly. Instead of endless paragraphs of description and discussions about how to use things, or do a certain process, a photograph or two makes quick work of communication.

Add a good, brisk caption to the photo and you've got a story ready to transmit to someone else's brain. 

But an endless parade of very similar images gets stale quick. When we want to stand out from the crowd it's incumbent upon us to come to the commercial world with a different point of view. That's how new work shows its value. It breaks through the clutter of copycat work.

I have a small index card on my bulletin board. It's Apple's branding message. It just says, "Think Different." 

I read posts every day that seem filled with anguish. The photographers writing them opine that all the subject matter in the world has been photographed a thousand or a million times. There's nothing original left to shoot. Which is like saying billions of people have fallen in love with other people so we there's nothing new there...

I laugh. Seems like there are only a handful of musical notes and yet songwriters have been using the same notes to make beautiful songs for thousands of years. And they do so, with great relish, even today. And each new artist comes with a new point of view. A new voice.

There are so many books published every year no one could possibly read them all. But they still get published. And the new stories reach new audiences. The stories, at their core, reprise but handful of subjects and narratives honed over centuries but every writer brings their own individual voice to their project. And we crave hearing the stories told in new ways. And we buy new books.

Great songs keep getting made. Great books keep being written. The Muses continue to show up at the sides of artists who are intent on making their own, unique voices heard and their work seen. Inspiration continues to flow. Each generation has its "golden age."

The utility and purpose of an image isn't meant only to satisfy an inquiry into the technical process of photography rather it's meant to be a message from one human to one or more other humans who are all  unique because they exist at a point in time that's never existed before and they draw from references that continue to morph as quickly as a virus. Both the artist and the audiences alive today, right now, are unique.

When we talk about the trillions of other photographs that exist we have to understand that the vast majority are tiny messages from one human to another. In many cases the audience is just the creator. But for dedicated artists every encounter with images is a brand new day. One that's never existed before. And if the artist can resist the desire to copy what everyone else sees then they are creating a message with a certain, albeit, temporary power to rise above the clutter. Even if only for a second or two. But it's the communication and the uniqueness that give a great image wings. 

The photo above is just a truck. I was walking along and it looked interesting to my audience = me. I snapped a photo. I'm sharing the photo. No one else will ever see a truck in exactly the same way. That doesn't make the image great. But it does make it different. And the fact that it was different and pleasing to me is all I can ask for in the moment. 

If we can remove the unnecessary drama from our adult lives we can simplify our existence. A simple existence means more time to look, experience, and curate the fun things we come across. Life should be like a good, happy walk through a vibrant downtown. Made even better with a camera in one's hands.


Today's portrait: Jaston Williams. Playwright, actor, novelist


Jaston Williams. 

Jaston Williams is a legend in theater. Especially in Texas where he and Joe Sears invented and starred in "Tuna Texas", a long running, hilarious send up of small town Texas. The show toured nationally to sell out crowds. And did so year after year. His college alma mater is inducting him into their version of the "hall of fame" and he needed a new portrait for the honor. 

I have been photographing Jaston for at least 20 years now. We've collaborated on many projects and I seem to have become his "go to" photographer for portraits as well as show photographs and marketing. When he called I was delighted to book him as quickly as possible.

Because it was Jaston and because he respects the processes of fellow artists I decided to reach back to a different style of lighting than that I have fallen into lately. I wanted to use my big, 6 x 6 foot, double layer, white scrim as my main light source. It's flattering but also can provide a bit of lighting drama if you control the intensity of shadow on the unlit side of the face. 

So, there was one strong LED fixture aimed into the center of the 6 x 6 foot scrim construction placed at a 45° angle to Jaston with my camera peeking through the front juncture between fabric and c-stand. The light is 6 feet or so behind the scrim and Jaston is about five feet from the front of it.

The camera was a Leica SL2 fitted with the 90mm f2.8 Sigma i-Series lens set to f4 and 2/3rds. The ISO was 400 and the shutter speed was 1/30th of a second. I shot with Raw+L.Jpeg and the Jpeg was set to high contrast monochrome with added contrast. It's a look I like a lot. 

Recently a lot of internet "ink" has been spilt discussing the best way to get black and white images out of digital cameras. I come down firmly on the side of finding exactly the right camera for your way of working and then learning that camera with intensity, vigor and dedication and daily use. There is no "magic bullet" black and white camera on the market but having a methodology and routine will allow one to make the best use of any camera for making black and white images. Fine tune your recipe for the best results.

Now I'll let you in on the only secret I know about photographing interesting people. People like Jaston. Here it is: Invite the person into your studio but be sure you have set up all the lights, cameras, etc. beforehand. When they come into your space offer them a chair, hang up whatever wardrobe they've brought along, bring them a bottle of water or a really nice cup of coffee, and sit down in a chair across from them and catch up, socially, for half an hour or so. Don't touch the camera until you've had a good conversation, shared, listened and enjoyed the camaraderie. Only when you sense that your subject has become completely calm and at peace with the environment you've created do you move them onto the set and talk them through what you both hope to get out of the shoot.

Start photographing. Photograph a lot. If something's not working stop and change direction. Let them know when you see something you really like. Work that pose until it becomes fake and then move on again. If they brought extra stuff to wear try working with as many outfits as you can. You'll probably find one that makes the subject feel completely comfortable. 

Give your subject something to lean on. A table. A posing table. Whatever. Just don't have them stand alone in the middle of a room. Untethered. Give them a home base to exist around. Anchor them. My favorites are old photographic posing tables from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. They provide a good place to position your subject to keep them from pacing all over the place. They provide a sturdy surface on which to place hands. They are a convenient piece of furniture to place eyeglasses on. If the lighting style calls for it they can even  be a perfect place to put a white fill card for "under the chin" reflection. 

Guide the shoot. Ask questions. Listen.  Acknowledge. Then stop talking and shoot some more. 

Even though the light never changed this morning and the exposure was consistent we spent about two hours together to make our portraits. The first third of the shots I could probably toss without guilt but the middle third and the last third were speckled with great poses and expressions. In the two hours we worked most of it was conversation punctuated by, "Wait, that looked perfect! Hold that for me please. A little softer smile. A bit more serious." And then back to whatever topic we had been discussing in earnest. 

When Jaston left the studio I dived right into editing the images and dropped our frame count from about 422 to about 250. We had done four different wardrobe changes so maybe 60 or 70 images per shirt or sweater. I'm currently working with the black and white Jpegs but I'll make color Jpegs from the raw files so I can send Jaston the images in color first. Once he makes his choices I'll retouch and do any additional color corrections. 

When he got ready to leave he (paragon of virtue...) asked if I wanted his credit card number for payment. But you know what? I had so much fun and felt so good about the shoot that I declined to be paid and instead suggested that I should pay him. After all, this is always what I really wanted to do with my art.

It takes two to tango but it's even better if you actually learn how to dance.

And that's what I did today after swim practice but before lunch. The gallery is already up. Yay. More like this.

A Few More SOOC black and white Jpegs from Yesterday Afternoon...

Richard Avedon book: Evidence. At my third desk. The one in the living room.
That's mostly where I browse art books...

the back porch. If I were really wealthy I'd air condition it even though it's just screened in.
Then I could have breakfast out there every morning.

Caught this image quickly. It was hot soup. The bowl was burning her hands... almost.

I bought two of these coffee mugs in Santa Fe in April. Lost to black and white is the lovely, 
deep yellow inside the cup....

No filter needed when the Leica SL2 is set correctly.
I call this my SL2 Monochrome setting...

I must be losing weight. Those shorts look baggy.

 some camera brands are just much, much better at making monochrome images. Some are set up to shoot black and white as a horrible afterthought.