Prepping for tomorrow's shoot, and the shoot the next day and the shoot on Thursday. Hmmmm. A lot to keep track of...

Tethering for the hell of it. 
"How collaborative!" 

 We're photographing small, metal, medical products tomorrow. The kind you need a good macro lens to do right. We'll also be shooting some products that have fine catheters/wires that will need to show up when the images are dropped out against white. On Wednesday we're photographing the models we've been casting over the last two weeks. They'll be dressed in scrubs and will play the roles of medical pros, even to the point of inserting stuff into dummy cadavers (no. not real dead people!). The two shooting days are for the same client but could not be more different. One with intensely small products and in the quiet studio. The other with models and make-up and big locations. Oh boy.

After much research and playing around I've decided to shoot the products (day one) with a camera that tethers to my MacBook Pro laptop. I've spent a lot of time working with the Lumix Tether software in the last week and it is exactly what I need on a couple levels. It's rock solid running on the MacBook Pro. It's a slim program that seems very efficient. It loads Panasonic raw files very quickly. It will allow me to write files to either the Laptop, or the in-camera cards, or to both. In fact, I think it will allow me to set up the two in-camera cards to record simulaneously, backing each other up, and still write to a folder on the laptop. So, a three way back up while shooting. 

I looked at the demo version of Capture One rev. 23 but it only allows for file ingestion into its mysterious folders and not to two sources at once. Remember all those folks who were screaming and crying about only getting a single card slot on their cameras? Why doesn't the same emotion hold true for tethered images? Just curious...

I'm using the Sigma 70mm f2.8 macro Art lens as my primary product lens. I have an older Nikon 105mm f2.8 macro lens sitting in the drawer as a back-up. It's a nice lens as well. Maybe not quite as capable of the detail the Sigma can capture but it's close. 

The Leica software for tethering that I could find is a bust and the plug-in they made back in 2019 for Lightroom of that age doesn't play well with the current version of Lightroom. I could use one of the Leicas with Capture One but it's just rudimentary support with no live view and very little control of the camera itself. Not that it matters much since I would use the same lens on the Leicas...

Instead I am using the Panasonic S5. Twenty four megapixels from a really good sensor is more than enough resolution and the camera, like the tethering software, is rock solid. I used the Panasonic S5 a lot in the last ten days and I feel right at home with it right now. That counts for a lot. I've got two fast SD cards in the S5 and the computer I'm tethering to has a 1TB SSD that's pretty spiffy. It's wired together with USB 3.1 so I can't think that I'll be waiting much for images to pop up. And that's wonderful. I remember tethering with the ancient Kodak DCS760 C cameras and a G4 laptop and you could take a coffee break waiting for files to wend their way across a SCSI connection. And by the time they did you'd need to change the camera battery again. Ah, those were the days when pure persistence in the face of crappy technology really was the main thing that separated professionals from wannabes. 

Since we're shooting in my studio tomorrow there are lots and lots of cameras sitting around just in case something craps out. My secondary/failsafe set up is to press the Leica SL2 into service along with an Atomos Sumo monitor hooked together with a stout HDMI cable. It's a fast set up as well and will give us more than enough clarity to assure everyone that the composition and basic exposures are on the money. 

I wish that Sigma made tethering software for the Sigma fp because it would be nice to sub that camera in for a set of files for a direct comparison to the images from the S5. If you read this and you know that Sigma snuck in some tethering software that I couldn't find, please let me know right away!!! Such a nice camera. Even if you are only using it for color shots. 

Lighting for the products tomorrow? I'm using two NanLite LED units. One is a 300 and the other is a 200. If we need additional sources we've got three Godox SL60s on one shelf and two Godox SL150ii lights on another. I'm blasting them into fairly small soft boxes since our products are pretty small to begin with. 

For the still life stuff we can shoot at ISO 100 and f16 all day long. If we don't need the depth of field we'll drop down to f11 and try to avoid diffraction effects. Works for me. And triggering the camera from the laptop eliminates a major source of camera shake. 

I'm now officially set for tomorrow's shoot. I've cleaned the guest bathroom, gotten the old Krups coffee maker polished up, bought snacks (both healthy and naughty) and we're in good shape. 

After the shoot tomorrow I'll repack for Wednesday. I have an assistant who just came back from working for a few years in NYC. Up in the city they tend to make every shoot a huge production with lots of entourage. And, it seems from our chat, that most people are still shooting with flash... Commercial photography theater.

After our chat I had a bit of trepidation. Models on location. In a medical/tech environment. Should I be shooting with strobes as well? I pulled out the two big 400 watt, plug-in-the-wall monolights and the three Godox AD200 Pro lights and gave it all a good, long thought. After playing with both sets of lights and also messing around with the LEDs I decided to go continuous. Somebody made a really good case for LEDs about a decade ago in a book. Seemed to make sense then. More so now. 

Assist arrives at my place early on Wednesday to help pack up the car and then we head down the road to the client's offices. I dropped by the client's campus this afternoon to do a quick scouting and the place is fantastic. We've got our choice of a 6000 square foot meeting room AND two high tech medical test labs. 

We'll meet up with the client and the make-up artist at 8:30 and start our set up. The talent starts arriving at 9:00. I'm sure the assistant will be surprised by the way I mostly operate, which is a bit eccentric. I dislike working with big crews, never have a digital tech on site (since cameras and laptops are pretty easy to parse these days), and I have my own way of lighting stuff and working with talent. I hope the assist is able to chill out, relax and go with the flow. I never like a shoot to be harder than it needs to be. 

I had a "Merry Christmas!" moment today during the scouting. The client is going to handle the hard parts of the post processing. I get to edit down the files, color correct them and correct for density, etc. and then hand over 16 bit .PSD files which the client will take and do the drop outs/selections/clipping paths and incorporate our images into their backgrounds. It's like a really nice gift. I should remember to send a "Thank You" card. 

The camera package for this day will be similar to the one in the studio. I'll use the S5 and the MacBook Pro but I'm changing lenses to the Leica 24-90mm because it did a beautiful job at the end of last month when we were making environmental portraits for the accounting firm. The back-up/emergency cam will remain the Leica SL2 and the Sumo and I'll bring along the Panasonic 24-105mm zoom for my just in case the Leica lens dies back-up.

Four of the big, beefy LED lights for most of the lighting and a couple smaller ones for accents. I'm eschewing soft boxes in favor of big and medium sized umbrellas mostly just to do something different and tangibly retro with my light. The 200 and 300 series Nanlites will do great bouncing off the ceilings but I do like some directional quality to my main light...

The big tragedy for tomorrow and Wednesday is that I will miss my swim practice on both days. Can't be helped. Well, I guess it could be helped if I just turn down jobs that start before ten a.m. But I was so excited to get this job that I just couldn't pass it up. Nice art director, great budget, fun stuff. 

I'm excited about having a real assistant to help me pack it all up at the end of the day and help me drag all the lighting stuff back into the studio. I'll make sure the files are all backed up from both days before I hit the rack on Wednesday night and the gear will sit on the floor in the middle of the studio until such a time as I am motivated to mess with it. If ever. 

Thursday is a completely different style of photography and a very, very familiar one at that. In the morning I'm photographing two employees of Texas Appleseed which is a non-profit, legal defense organization trying to make the laws in Texas less brutal and regressive. Things like oversight on zany payday loans. Battling the school-to-prison pipeline in underserved neighborhoods, issues surrounding educational equality. We've been doing their portraits in the same outdoor spot for the last ten or fifteen years. No big set up. Just a light on a stand with a small soft box and maybe a "cutter" to block sun from hitting my subjects directly. 

That's the warm-up shoot because later in the day we go to the Four Seasons Hotel for Texas Appleseed's big, yearly fundraising gala. I have shot this event for the past 22 years. This will be year #23. 

It's an old school event. During the VIP reception and the following general reception I'll use a flash on camera and try to get as many posed mini-groups, couples, quad-person shots, etc. as humanly possible. I'm not shy and I probably know about half the people who will be attending from seeing them in years past. The head count is around 450 and at $10,000 a table plus a wild live auction the non-profit should do well. 

I'm also tasked with photographing all the speakers and award winners as well as any surprise entertainment. 

I haven't decided on which camera yet but I do know that I'm planning to use those zany, silly, eccentric Godox Lux Senior flashes. The ones with the retro, fold out, circular reflectors. I'll pack a conventional TTL flash though, just in case. It's typically a fun evening in which I get to circulate non-stop and shoot whatever I want. Making photographs of anyone I find interesting but also getting the images I know the client needs for future fund-raising. 

The Four Seasons Hotel are experts at cooking up wonderful food, even if they are doing it for nearly 500 people at a time. I always enjoy the dinner and the wine pairings are always a step above those at lesser galas. I can't wait. It should be another fun evening and a chance to give some lucky camera, lens and flash a really good, concentrated workout. After I finish up the gala pix I'm off the clock for the entire week of Thanksgiving. Already planning a small out and back trip somewhere just to ....... take a few images with one of my cameras. Thinking pointedly about making it back to San Angelo to see what it looks like in November. I keep seeing stuff from the art scene there and I'm always impressed. 

I've got a fair amount on my plate right now so don't worry if it takes me a little longer to moderate comments or to disagree with misguided commenters. You're not that lucky yet. I will be back

A list of cameras I am interested in right now: 

Leica is having a promotion right now for former customers. $1300 off the price of either a Leica SL2 or an SL2-S. I tried to buy an SL2-S today after I found the sale (announced by Leica this morning) but they were already sold out of that model. I'll keep trying. I can replace my older SL bodies with two of these....

The Sigma fpL keeps bubbling up to the top of my acquisitive consciousness. Don't know why but I thought I should give one a try considering how much I've enjoyed the basic Sigma fp.

Prices are dropping on Panasonic S5s. I logged onto B&H today and tossed a $1697 priced S5 into my cart and it automatically included the (really quite good) 50mm f1.8 into the cart for free. That's a $450 lens which, if you need the lens, makes the actual price of the S5 (which is a great camera) about $1247, brand new. 

Hell of a deal for someone. I bought my S5 from the local store and cajoled a couple extra batteries from them. The free lens would have been an even sweeter deal. 

Finally, I am interested in trying out the Nikon Z6ii. A friend bought one on a whim, along with the 50mm f1.8 and he's been raving about the color and overall image quality. 

If you have experience with that camera I'd love to hear about it.

Well, it seems from my current schedule that I have not yet been able to convince myself to retire. That's okay, the cash will come in handy if anyone gets stuff back in stock.

Good Hotels are fun. What makes a good hotel?


The Paradox Hotel in Vancouver.

I love staying at nice hotels. As an advertising person in a past life, one of my clients was the Austin Raddison Hotel and another was the Austin Four Seasons Hotel. They spoiled me. 

My biggest benchmarks for a good hotel are: very clean rooms, very comfortable beds, very, very quiet rooms and hallways, prompt room service, congenial staff, a concierge with great knowledge of local treasures like interesting, independent restaurants, small galleries, interesting clothes shops, etc. And...relative affordability --- which is highly contextual.

We spent our previous week at the Paradox Hotel in Vancouver. It's a five star hotel that hit the target in every one of my categories but its most outstanding feature was the almost dead quiet hallways and rooms. Someone paid attention to the room designs and basic sound abatement. But the thing that helped most was that each of the upper floors had only 6 or 8 guest rooms on it and, by their own admission, the booking staff tried to spread out guests over many floors where possible to create sound buffers. 

For someone with a heightened level of pervasive, general anxiety the calm and quiet in a room is conducive to relaxing and also getting a better night's sleep. Nothing is as grating, to me at any rate, than two loud and half drunk men carrying on a loud (outside voices) conversation while walking from the elevators and past your room at two or three in the morning. 

Our trip was during the "off season" so the hotel wasn't at max occupancy and I'm sure that helped a lot. 

The hotel is in the middle of the best part of downtown, bordered by Georgia St. on one side and Alberni on the other. The side streets are Thurlow and Bute. It's a five minute walk to one seawall and a ten to fifteen minute walk to the opposite side; to the other seawall. There are five or more coffee shops/donut repositories within eyesight of the property and a great restaurant which serves a fabulous breakfast one block away. That restaurant is called "Tableau" and is attached on one side to the Loden Hotel --- which also looks to be great. 

While the Paradox is a five star hotel it is nowhere near as tony and expensive as the downtown Fairmont Hotel which is a hotel enthusiast's dream. A magnificent old building, grand and soaring public spaces, great art in the lobbies, and, I can only imagine, really great rooms. It would be a splurge but next time up to Vancouver I hope to spend at least one night experiencing it. 

In my travels as a working photographer I've stayed in a huge range of hotels. From The Breakers in West Palm Beach to a run down, no name motel in a tiny town in rural Indiana. In every instance I would much prefer the former to the later. But sometimes a destination will be so sparsely populated and so far off the map that you have one choice. On several occasions I traveled to construction projects that were so far off the maps that the only hospitality was bedding down in the back of the rental SUV. Not optimal...

B. knows that I don't care much about how we fly. Sure, Economy + or Biz class is always a treat but the plane gets to the destination at the same time no matter the cost of the seats. But if we're going to treat ourselves to a fun vacation the real priority is always the hotel. Why scrimp? I'd like my temporary environment to be at least as nice as my own home....

Just a note about photography: I was the only person in any of the hotels we stepped into who had a camera with them. No other visitors seemed to have any interest in taking photographs. None at all. 

And, a well rested and well cared for photographer takes better photos... sometimes.