Art Monday. Daniel Johnston's work writ large..

This was the scene just off Congress Ave. The Daniel Johnston mural officially "opened" this 
week and a steady stream of Austinites cruised by to document the wall. 
The mural coincides with a full gallery exhibition of Johnston's work on 
the first floor of the museum. 

 The Contemporary/Jones Center in downtown Austin is having a show of Daniel Johnston's art. Johnston's bio can be found here: Artist's Bio. His work is lo-fi, distinctive and sometimes biting.

The first public art by Johnston that I saw was on the side of a building on 21st Street, here in Austin.

Here's a photo: 

Photo courtesy of Carol Highsmith ©Carol Highsmith. 

Here's the story behind this mural:

"Original caption: ""Hi, How Are You," while one of the simplest murals in Austin, Texas, is also one of the city's favorites.  Also called "Jeremiah the Innocent," the sketch on the side of the Sound Exchange music store was commissioned in 1993 by store owner Craig Koon.  According to several stories, Koon paid a local musician, Daniel Johnston, $100 to spray-paint the image of the happy frog that had appeared on the cover of one of Johnston's albums.  The frog image had recently become nationally recognized from media images of Kurt Cobain wearing a "Hi, How Are You?" t-shirt during Nirvana's promotion of their 1991 album "Nevermind." After the record store closed, the building remained unoccupied until 2004 when a Mexican grill franchise called Baja Fresh took ownership and decided to remove the wall that held the mural. Following street protests, a group of people who lived in the neighborhood convinced the managers to leave the mural intact. "
It's fun being in a city that celebrates art the way Austin does. 

In other news: It looks like the annual South by Southwest Conference will be held, live this year, sometime in March. If it comes off as expected it will finally seem like a fledgling return to normal life. The show producers are emphasizing that vaccinations will be required and all events will, additionally, require face masks. If it happens I think the Chamber of Commerce will breathe its first sigh of relief in a long while.

Financial stuff: Looks like the stock markets are taking it on the chin right now. The S&P Index just hit a 10% correction this morning, off its record highs. I'd love to jump in and buy some "bargains" right now but I think I'll take wiser advice from B and wait to see what Vladimir Putin has in mind before I do anything rash. A lot of people seem to be taking a lot of money off the table...

It's interesting to watch consumer behavior when the markets go in one direction or another. When the stock markets and real estate markets were marching ever upward people enjoyed the feeling of being wealthier and, over the last year, adjusted their overall spending upward to match. A lot of new homes were commissioned on the irrational premise that stocks would spiral ever upward. Hondas got replaced with BMWs and Teslas. New, custom homes got a lot pricier. People started drinking better wines and taking better vacations. And the debt load of upper, upper middle class families increased with the promise of low interest loans forever.

Funny (but not in the "ha, ha" sense...) how two weeks of stock market losses and profit taking change sensibilities. I wonder how this will affect luxury goods like cameras? And lenses? Locked in a weird dance of inflation driven cost increases and rapidly declining wealth it seems that consumers will soon be tightening up on their pleasure spending and start "treading water" instead. 

Putting off that Bentley delivery van purchase for the foreseeable future....


Mirror Selfies. Keeping track of which glasses I wear when.


I was feeling mighty minimalist today. On days when that feeling hits it's time to revert to the absolute basics. Old, dark green sweat shirt. Analog watch. Trash glasses from the back-up pile. A single credit card in the back pocket of a worn pair of jeans. Grab a "no frills" camera and put a manual focusing 50mm lens on the front. Set everything to black and white. Go out and see if the world looks different. Yeah. It  does.

I shot a lot of stuff out and around town. Some good and some just bad. I had tacos at three in the afternoon and coffee at five thirty. It was a gray day complete with grayscale images. But it felt just right. 

I keep coming back to the most cosmetically challenged Leica SL body I own and I keep re-discovering how great the TTArtisan 50mm f1.4 lens is. Extra battery in one pocket and the adventure is on.


A Saturday of Leisure and an appreciation of an inexpensive lens.


Last week I walked around at dusk photographing in the downtown area and returning once again to the "Sail" building (future home of a complete battalion of Google employees) as the remaining daylight whispered away and fell off over the horizon. This is an angle I particularly like because of the curve. It's not a "fisheye" shot and you can tell that from the straight lines throughout the image. It was done with an odd combination: The Leica SL2 (used in APS-C) mode and the TTArtisan 17mm f1.4 lens. 

Many will struggle to understand why one might put a lens designed for a crop format on the front of a full frame, high resolution camera, but my instant rejoinder would have to be: "Why not?" Or, "Just to see how it works." 

I was photographing at the edge of the acceptable technical envelope for the SL2. It's a camera that's happiest at ISO 50, ISO 100 and other settings in that ballpark. But with no light I needed to let the camera take its chances at ISO 6400. I wanted to stay around 1/125th of second so I could handhold the camera and get all the edges sharp but a high resolution sensor gets noisier as we go up the ISO scale...

I could have gotten a lower ISO with f1.4 but I wanted to use f4.0 so I could get the whole structure in reasonable focus. That "three legged stool" of exposure parameters is a strict set of compromising options...

Of all the weird, manual focusing, made in China, lenses I've bought brand new, this year the 17mm f1.4 is clearly the tremendous bargain of the bunch. Even wide open the center of the frame is sharp enough for most fun work and when stopped down to f5.6 or f8.0 the performance is...awesome. If you enlarge the image above (by clicking on it...) you'll see that it does have a lot of noise in it but you'll also see that the lens has performed very well and there are few artifacts to pooh-pooh over. 

Swim. Damn. It was hard getting out of bed this morning. It got cold last night and I was toasty and sleepy under a stack of covers. The air in my bedroom was in the 60s and by comparison with my warm nest it felt freezing. I stuck out a tentative toe and then turned off the alarm clock and hauled myself out of bed. I'm always running against the clock in the mornings. I needed to make sure we didn't lose any water pipes to the surface of Neptune-like low temperatures we had overnight and I needed to grab something to eat and some half caffeinated coffee to begin the thawing and coffee-hydration process before the Saturday morning swim. I have a little check list. It goes: Coffee. Toast with peanut butter and blueberry preserves. Swim suit and thermal swim cap. Swim bag. Big towel. Brush teeth. Water bottle. Keys.

My unflinching iPhone told me that it was 25 degrees when I left the comfort of my rambling house. That's pretty chilly for an early morning, outdoor swim practice but it's better than no swim practic at all. I was wearing a new winter coat from a company Dan Milnor pointed me to called, Beyond Clothing. They specialize in techie, layered winter clothing and support stuff, like gloves and hats. The jacket is warm and bulky enough for a sweatshirt or down vest underneath. I like it. Today was its maiden voyage to the pool. 

There's the pool in the photo above. I took that image a while ago, in warmer weather. Today there were clouds of steam rising up from the water's surface. The water temperature was 82° and the air temp. was 25° and that vast spread makes for pretty dramatic vaporous fog at the interface between air and water. 

Our coach was bundled up and had one of those restaurant-style, radiant gas heaters going at the end of the pool. It was too cold to write the workout details on a white board so he just called out the sets as we went forward. That's fine, even at my advanced age I can remember workout sets and intervals because it's part of the fun. We did a lot of backstroke and freestyle today. It must be I.M. Season (individual medley = all four strokes) right now because we've been incorporating a lot of non-freestyle strokes into our workouts. 

The hard part of working out early, in a warm pool, on a freezing day, is the emotional difficulty that comes from pulling oneself out of a warm, comforting body of water onto a freezing pool deck and walking as fast as you can over freezing walkways to the far off locker rooms. The next worst thing is waiting an eternity for the showers to finally warm up. After that, everything else is a piece of cake. 

I was lazy for the rest of the day. I was re-reading a Tom Clancy novel about a Russian invasion of Lithuania for most of the afternoon. It was my turn to buy lunch so we ordered our favorite subs from Thundercloud Subs. Then it was back to the action/adventure page turner. (Commander in Chief by Mark Greaney). We barely won this time...

I spent the entire day NOT doing anything with or about photography. Well, if you overlook writing this blog. It was fun to blaze through an action/political thriller novel today. Since the plot of the book was about a Russian invasion it was eerily close to geopolitical events of the day.


An evening with the SL2 and the Sigma 18-50mm. An afternoon spent with the Leica CL, the Sigma 18-50mm, a warm hat and nice gloves. Pretty much alone on the streets of Austin. The cold weather scared off the regulars....

Mannequin embraces dystopian afternoon. Unmoved by the weather.
Leica CL

As I become more selective about which clients I want to continue working with I'm also finding that I'm becoming more selective about the equipment that I'm interested in and finding my previous mindset of wanting to be prepared for any kind of assignment (equipment-wise) is crumbling quickly. As I talk to clients about new potential projects I'm more and more convinced that by NOT having every possible contingency covered, gear-wise, it becomes easier and easier to turn down the projects that I don't want to do. Projects I used to accept just because they paid well are being consciously replaced by projects that I want to do whether I am being paid or not. And I'm finding that these projects, the ones I want, only require the most rudimentary equipment. 

In the past many buying decisions were made with an eye to fulfilling some unique and maybe even arcane decision of a client or ad agency. If I were still eager to accept advertising still life assignments on which we try to make tech products look good and exciting there's no doubt that I could quickly convince  myself of the need for a Fuji GFX 100 S and a handful of lenses. After all, doesn't the client's project deserve the best? Well, probably not. At least not if it's something I need to keep in inventory for only a handful of jobs that I'm not really motivated to shoot, or disposed to enjoy in a given year. 

In the past I'm sure I owned too many camera bodies but it was easy to rationalize that I needed them for video projects on which we used multiple cameras to catch multiple angles simultaneously. But I hate editing projects like that, hate collaborating with the larger number of people needed to do jobs like that, and finally, dislike that whole complicated process. Don't get me wrong. I like shooting video projects but only for myself and only with me, and only me, behind the camera. No extra gear needed if there's no client to please. So, no need to have multiple cameras just in case. 

In the past I did a lot of assignments that couldn't be easily repeated and I always felt the need to have duplicates of everything (lights, cameras, lenses) in the studio and in the field. I'm pushing back from high stress jobs like that which means the rationality of having three really good zoom lenses that cover the same range from 24-70mm (and longer) is....less rational. I could easily pull back from the ample edge of redundancy and just own one perfect, standard zoom lens for my full frame cameras. And I could happily sell the other two. Especially the fast one that doesn't have image stabilization....

Pulling back from the hard charging edge of commercial advertising photography also means that I never need the "features" of the latest and greatest camera systems. I've never been held hostage to super fast AF and I've never felt the need to have the absolute highest resolution in my cameras either but now I seem happier to buy older versions of the current cameras (Leica SLs over Leica SL2s, for example) because I know they fit my style of shooting and my output targets just fine. It's almost fun just saving the money. 

I'd like to narrow down the gear but I'd also like to see a few new product introductions. I'm waiting to see if Sigma ever reconfigures and redesigns their 50mm f1.4 ART lens for the L mount cameras. The current one is great but to make it work with L mount cameras Sigma just took a DSLR version and added some length (and weight) to make it workable on the mirrorless system. If they redesign the lens for mirrorless they might be able to trim at least an inch from the length. And if they are redesigning for the current cameras they might also be able to make the lens smaller and lighter by moving some of the image corrections from the optical design to in-camera software instead. 

I'm also interested to see what Panasonic will do with their S1 line of cameras. I liked them very much and would consider picking up a newer model if they make certain improvements. I'd like to see a lower resolution model (staying at 24 megapixels) with a BSI sensor and a thinner filter stack over the sensor. Making the new model a worthy contender (and good match up) with the Leica SL2-S camera. But these are just niggles in the bigger picture. That bigger picture being my recently started downsizing of gear and engagements. 

A tighter focus on projects that really speak to me instead of just continuing to look for assignments that pay well. We'll see how it all works out. And we'll see if I can really put my camera buying on a diet...

The photo in this post are a mix of cameras but all done with the same lens. The Sigma 18-50mm f2.8, which is an APS-C lens. I normally use this lens with the CL and the TL2 cameras since they are both cropped frame cameras but I wanted to see how the lens would perform on a full frame camera like the SL2. So, for the twilight shots, I put the Sigma on the bigger camera and gave it a whirl. I think it works quite nicely. In both sets of cameras. The SL2 adds IBIS back into the mix. Points for that when handholding in twilight. One afternoon we're in the 80s. The next afternoon it's 26° Winter is interesting here.

Amazed that the battery in the CL handled the cold so well. 
Out walking for an hour and a half and still had 3/4 battery power in reserve. 

The 18-50mm is nice and sharp at f4.0 and well behaved in the corners. 
I really like this big, red rabbit. He's been on 2nd street for years now. 
Love the way the CL handles the color red.

The message of the past decade?

Handheld exposure with the SL2 at twilight. 

A different viewpoint for the "Jenga" building. 
In downtown Austin. Leica SL2

Leica SL2 + Sigma 18-50mm in APS-C mode.

Looking good at ISO 3200-6400. 
Leica SL2 + Sigma 18-50mm in APS-C mode.

Leica SL2 + Sigma 18-50mm in APS-C mode.

Leica SL2 + Sigma 18-50mm in APS-C mode.

Leica SL2 + Sigma 18-50mm in APS-C mode.

Leica SL2 + Sigma 18-50mm in APS-C mode.

Leica SL2 + Sigma 18-50mm in APS-C mode.

Leica SL2 + Sigma 18-50mm in APS-C mode.

Leica SL2 + Sigma 18-50mm in APS-C mode.

Leica SL2 + Sigma 18-50mm in APS-C mode.

 A daily walk with a camera and lens keeps your hands familiar with the camera's operation and the iterative process of shooting and evaluating what you've shot keeps you aware of what the limits and potential of your gear is. I recommend some hands on time for photographers with their gear every day. 

As my favorite swim coach used to say: "It's all about time in the water." 

"You Chattered on and on About the Sigma 65mm f2.0 Lens...Where are the SAMPLES?

All these images were done with a Sigma i-Series 65mm f2.0 lens for full frame cameras.
This one was used on a Leica SL2 camera body and all the images were shot as Jpegs.
Remember: you can click on the images to make them full screen. 

I wrote about the 65mm Sigma lens earlier in the week but I didn't include nearly enough samples to illustrate why I think it's so good. If I really wanted to wow you I might have put the camera and lens on a tripod and consistently stopped down to f7.1. But the lens is darned good at f2.0. Perfect at f2.8 and it maintains that level of performance all the way up to f11. It's a wonderful lens and I think its rendering is very neutral -- and sharp from side-to-side.

Next up. How's that 90mm f2.8 Sigma working out?