5.23.2010

The cloak of invisibility.

                              Paris Museum.


It's in the Harry Potter books and in super hero comics.  It's the cloak of invisibility.  And in addition to foiling rogue magicians and killer aliens from alternate dimensions it is also highly prized by photographers who would like to see without being seen.  Problem is the cloak of invisibility doesn't exist.  We have to create our own.  I've shot in many places and in the midst of many cultures and there are a few things I've learned about becoming invisible.  I think about this when I head out to shoot.

For a street shooter I'm blessed to be "only" five feet and eight inches tall.  This is pretty average for most of the world these days.  If you are very tall or very, very short it can be harder to blend in.  I am of average weight for my height.  Not rail thin.  Not too thick.  I don't stick out because nothing sticks out.  No jutting ribs, no belly over belt.  Nothing to take a second look at.

When I go out to shoot I try to think about the way most people dress in the city I'm shooting in.  I like to buy work clothes.  I try to never wear running shoes.  I tend not to wear shorts unless the city I'm in is routinely hot and most people wear shorts.  I tend not to look at people unless I am photographing them but I also try not to look away.  I don't wear sunglasses when I shoot.  People need to see your eyes to gauge your intentions.

I don't wear clothes with big logos or bright colors.  I'm interested in never attracting attention.  I even try to buy boring eyeglasses.

All of this would be undone if I dragged along a big camera bag and lots and lots of gear.  The reason I shot with Leica M cameras for many years is the same reason I like the new micro 4:3 cameras.  They are low profile.  Not showy.  Certainly not professional looking to the casual bystander.  Nothing like a Canon 1DS with a 70-200mm 2.8.  I want my camera to be as uninteresting as the aspect I'm trying to create for myself.  People are wary of your intentions when you bring the whole cyclotron array along with you.  You look intent on capturing something.  You distance yourself from the crowd by dint of inventory.  You move with a different cadence and a different demeanor.  You become "them" and not "us".

I'm spending more time street shooting in San Antonio.  I'm practicing my invisibility.  Why? Because if you can leave the ego in the trunk of your car with all the rest of your high end photo gear you'll have access.  And access beats glamor gear every time you go out to shoot.  One camera.  One lens.  One intention:  To look and to share.  Not to capture and harvest.

    Lottery ticket booth in Rome.  I've been spotted.  My cloak of invisibility was torn open by    the Nikon f5 and the 85mm on the front.   



Favorite Focal Lengths. I don't have many.

                             Shot near the Spanish Steps in Rome.  Nikon F100 and the
                             Nikon 85mm 1.4  Tri-x  Printed on Paper. 


Michael Johnston's been talking a lot about lenses lately, over at TOP and he got me thinking again about the "desert island" lens.  Which one could you live with forever.  But this time, rather than waxing romantic and conjecturing which lens yielded the best stuff for me, I decided to go through the collection of my prints that seems always float to the top of my attention, and actually do a quick rough count and see, realistically, what I end up using without thinking about it.

I presumed it would be one of the many 50mm lenses that I seem to take with me almost everywhere.  But after a bleary eyed stroll through the nostalgia laden Ilford Gallerie boxes it dawned on me that almost every image I've ever shot, that I like, was shot with a fast 85mm lens.  The one lens which I don't own today!!

                              Image taken in a Paris Apartment on a cold, rainy November
                              day back in 1992 with a Canon EOS-1 and the first iteration of
                              the Canon 85mm 1.1.2 on Agfa 400 film.  Paper Print copy.


If I remember correctly the first 85mm lens I owned was the original FD breech lock mount Canon 1.8.  It was big, heavy and very well made and I used it extensively to photograph my then girlfriend, now wife of 25 years, as we were dating.  I don't know what I traded it for or why I got rid of it but I remember what a delicious combination it was when paired to the almost forgotten Canon EF SLR body.

I used it to take photographs of Belinda when she was taking print making classes at UT and she looked like this:

                            Belinda at UT studio class.  Painting.  Canon FTB or EF with the 
                            85mm 1.8 FD.  Tri-x.  Probably bulk loaded.


I can't remember ever leaving my apartment without the camera over my shoulder and an extra roll of bulk loaded tri-x or HP5 (whichever was cheaper at the time) in my pocket.  We lived with our cameras in an almost fetishistic way back then.....but we knew them like the backs of our hands.....

    Same combo.  I love the OOF background.  Not an expensive lens but so much more fluid than 
    today's defacto zooms.  I can't think why I moved on from this lens and camera combo.....


Then there was the Leica M period and I have to say that the only lens that makes sense for me to this day with the Leica M cameras is the 50mm.  And the best expression of this was probably in tandem with either the M3 (100 % finder image) or the M6 .85  camera.  I wonder if I moved on from the M's because the 75 was to short and unwieldy while the 90's were just a hair to long.  Not to mention that dropping one's 75mm 1.4 on to pavement was horribly expensive and traumatic.

We'd all like to think of ourselves as fearless photojournalists but I doubt many of use are like James Natchway or Don McCullin, ready to dodge bullets and shrapnel to get in close to fierce fighters with a 21 or 25mm lens.  When I walk the streets I use the 50mm but sometimes, on a warm up day, while recovering from jet lag and still street shy, I found that I have a tendency to take......the 85mm because I can stand off a bit and take shots I might not be ready to take closer.  It's kind of a chicken thing and after the warmup day I make myself get a little closer.  But it's a comfort to start shooting with a little distance and work your way in......

                              Man carrying a loaf of bread home in the evening.  Low light 
                              long before the days of high ISO's or IS.  A quick shot.

                               Louvre.


I've been shooting with the Olympus system lately and the lenses are fantastically sharp and nuanced.  But here's a downside, there's nothing like an 85mm 1.8 in the system. There's the 50mm f2 but it's too slow to focus and it's a bit too long for my taste.  The 14-25mm only reaches out to a 70mm equivilent while the 35-100 covers the focal length but at 3 pounds is much too big and unwieldy for a street shooting lens.  If they want to capture/retain the serious shooter it's time to unleash those fast primes we've all been waiting for.  They were able to do it quite nicely with the Pen F lenses from the 1960's and 1970's, there's no reason they couldn't do a 42.5mm f2 lens for the e cameras today.  I know they'd sell a couple to me......

                                Just in front of Printemps, in Paris.  A blind man and his dog.


In the meantime I guess I'll snap up something from another system to make due.  Most of my photographer friends see the 85mm as a portrait length and I agree that it's a great casual portrait lens for loose compositions.  When I get serious about portraits I usually reach for a 100 or a 135mm but sometimes the 85 can be handy......

                             One of my favorite shots of Renae.  She was the world's absolute 
                             best assistant.  And not only because she was telepathic and charming.


That's my case for the 85mm.  Blame Michael Johnston for revving me up about lenses.  I do agree with him that they are the critical gear.  Cameras are fun, lenses do the heavy lifting.  I've used 85mm's from Canon, Nikon, Contax,and Leica R (actually an 80mm Summilux but I let it slip in....)   and I'd love to tell you which one is the ultimate optic.  But here's the problem, they're probably all better than all but the most recent high res cameras so they would all qualify as equally good.  The cheapest one I shot with was the old Nikon 85mm 1.8 ai I got used for $105 years ago.  The most expensive one I used was the Leica Summilux at around $1800 new when I got mine but if you want one today they are $4695.  The slowest one I played with the was the first generation EOS 85mm 1.1.2 which took several seconds to lock focus in good light and an eternity in bad.  The fastest auto focusing 85mm I've owned was the Nikon 85 1.4.  It focused fast in any light, and on an F5 it was peerless.  The one that shot the best images for me was the old FD 85mm 1.8.  It was new to me and very exciting.  It was the first lens I owned that did wonderfully shallow depth of field.


Okay.  I've talked myself into another one.  I'll get it figured out in the morning.  


      






A Public Examination of a Private Process.


I'm thinking thru things today, weighing a new venture and the new intersections on the great ven diagram of my life.  The process started me down the prickly path of self-exploration that we usually leave untrodden because we have to confront a topology that's at odds with our unexamined version of self.  And that implies making real choices based on our higher vision and against our default positions which usually represent the paths of least resistance around the more interesting rocks and boulders in the streams of our consciousness.  And sometimes just becoming very clear about the things we know we should be doing is a red flag invitation to nervous anxiety, stress and internal rationalization and pain.

But when I chug my way through the contents of the thought process and then examine the dregs at the bottom of my cranial container, in yet another attempt to read my own tea leaves, I'm left with the same old questions:  What am I doing?  What do I know I would rather do?  Why aren't I doing that?

I'm pretty well convinced (and I'll admit it's easy to sell myself on ideas and rationalizations.....) that, on some level, I'm trying to do what I consider my art.  But I feel like a baker whose core business is mixing the cake batter and baking the cake only to find that I can't concentrate on, or finish with any panache, any part of the baking process because I'm too busy answering the phone, meeting the flour delivery at the back door, rushing a check over to the gas company to prevent the untimely interruption of my fuel supply....and just as my cake mix hits the perfect consistency and needs to be hurried into the greased pans and married up with the ovens the process is interrupted by the metaphoric tinkling of the bells over the front door and in comes that customer who always needs more than just a cake.  They need a tangible, fungible affiliation and bond with the artisan baker.  Then I'm torn between batter separating and the necessary massage of the littered, languid egos that also need artful attention.

In the end the resources that promise an ultimate confection are squandered and diluted.  The timing is off.  The resources misallocated.  The cake is "okay", the frosting "serviceable".  And the customers, who were partly culpable, overlook the mediocre product because they've convinced themselves that they are part of the process and that, by extension, we are all bakers and all part of a confectionery team.

The emotional need to defend the choices of their patronage assures that the doors stay open so we can go another round and the ragged process will continue....but always at a level of distraction and dilution....until the only time I can really make a cake is when the shop is closed.  Where there is no customer for the cake but me.  Baking in the early hours of the morning before the heroin-like cellphones compel my patrons to share into the process and keep me multi-tasking while the milk curdles and I ask myself "why the hell did I open a bakery in the first place?"

Most of us have too many choices.  Too many ways to communicate.  And face it,  if you are paying hundreds of dollars a month for your smart phone don't you feel guilty about wasting the money you pay if you don't use it?  And we have so many choices in PhotoShop.  Don't you always try working with an image in two or three ways before you finally commit?  Just because you can?  You could eat a sandwich on the loading dock of your studio and then get back to work on that project or you could break up the momentum and rationalize that lunch with the intriguing but long-winded colleague.  Of course you need to run out for coffee.  Of course you need to compulsively check messages and e-mails and "research" that next camera, on the web.  You could also write a novel while you are at it.  Or bake a cake. Or climb Mt. Everest.  But the reality that really bites you on the ass when you reach your 50's is that you can't do all these things and do them well.  In fact,  I've met very few people who can really do more than one thing at a high level.  I mean a really high, kick ass, level.

Where do we get the hubris to think that we can do so many things and keep any proficiency at all?  So, why am I writing all this?  I told you in the title that I'm making a public examination of a private process.  How do I decide what to do and what not to do?  Everything sounds pretty cool when it's presented.  All invitations are both a logistical communication (where and when and what) as well as a gentle, seductive touch on the ego (they really want me!).  A manipulation. But if you are the least bit presentable and sociable the invitations and opportunities to fragment and dilute are nearly endless.  So how do you choose?  What to do and what to leave?

You need some quiet time to figure out your priorities.  I recently turned down a book project.  It sounded fun.  But it didn't move my process forward.  Didn't have anything to do with MY art.  It was another project that was really an attempt to monetize a knowledge base.  To squeeze some extra profit sharing stuff I found out the hard way.

I know that some people can compartmentalize stuff so they can have their cake and eat it too.  But I'm way too linear. I can't just do a project for the  money anymore.  At least not projects that will take four to six months out of my life.  If I'm not shooting for clients I want to write stuff that I'd love to read and I want to shoot images that I love to look at.  I may be out of touch with the times but the idea of monetizing everything is as appetizing as cake frosting from a can.  But every time I accept a project that branches off from my core I resent it, I regret it and I vow never to do it again.  Until the next time someone tells me that I am smart and creative and we should do a project together.

New rules:

1.  Projects should be an extension of your long term artistic goals or you should leave them on the ground for the person you are not.

2.  Life is short.  Do real work.  Not work about work.

3.  Photography is about the creative process.  Teach that and stop teaching the plumbing side of it.

4.  Money isn't everything but creative freedom almost is.

5.  Time is more precious than anything but love.

5.20.2010

Getting it right before you go to post processing!

I'm as guilty as anyone of putting a camera in RAW mode, setting the white balance to AWB and flailing away with the idea that I can fix it all in post.  And from a purely scientific point of view I am sure you can fix color in post given enough time and a discriminating eye.  But since the eye is a great comparator and a lousy rememberer wouldn't it be better if that was one of the things that we figured out up front?  Makes for one less step in post production and it's a step (in post)  that can adversely effect exposure settings, contrast settings and more.

I started to take this seriously when I sat through one of Will Crockett's workshops and heard him talk about his Jpeg centered process of "Kill it and Bill it." His philosophy is that careful incident exposure metering, coupled with nailing white balance at the outset means that you can use images right out of camera.

I didn't go jpeg but I put the time savings of correct, upfront, white balance to the test yesterday on a commercial shoot.  My friend, Lane, hired me to take photos of doctors and clinicians for a local sports medicine practice.  I wanted to make sure my flesh tones were consistent from set up to set up and I wanted to spend less time doing corrections before putting up web galleries for selection ( you can tell people til you are blue in the face that the uncorrected galleries are just thumbnails and will be color corrected but you will prevent much friction and second guessing if you just get the color and exposure on the money before you make the jpegs for the galleries.....) so I could efficiently spend time with the finals instead.

I used a Lastolite collapsible gray target to set my white balance for each set up.  I like to use the gray because the white requires you to really nail the exposure for the most accurate color.  Cameras seem to nail gray better....... My Lastolite is custom made for Will Crockett and has a focus target in the middle so I don't have to set my camera to manual focus or let it hunt.  The regular ones don't have the target but you could add your own with a Sharpie.

Long story all summed up.  Using an incident light meter let me know that there was a half stop difference between what I saw on the back of the camera on the LCD and what the actual exposure was.  The calibration out of the box was one half stop dark which made my files half a stop too light.  The gray card custom white balance setting meant that every single frame matched and required NO tweaking.  Interesting how a sensible shooting workflow can save hours on the back end.  Very nice.
I'd gotten lazy.  I'll fix that.  We're getting busy again so it's time to figure out all the ways to be more productive in a fixed time frame.  Ahhhhhh.

5.19.2010

Have you ever had one of those days when things took a turn for the better?

                             Fun Test Shot with a friend.


I'm out of practice.  I tried to keep shooting portraits as last year devolved into one of the circles of Purgatory but it's hard to keep the creative wheels turning when doom and gloom looms all around you.  My portrait lighting skills were starting to take a hit.  Then I ran into Selena at a coffee shop and she needed a headshot and I wanted a model.  I think we both won.

We met last week and spent an hour working on posing and lighting.  I ended up using my big Octabank and my Elinchrom Ranger RX AS pack with one head for the main light.  My studio is all white so it's pretty "live".  I'd been lighting my fill too much lately, no doubt because some corporate client I took on in a moment of self induced desperation bitched about my shadows being too dark.  I remember the conversation so well.  It was short and it went like this:

Client: "What's wrong with the light on Bob's face?"

Me:   "I'm sorry, I don't understand.  What do you mean?"

Client:  "Well, it's a very nice picture but the light on his face isn't even.  It gets dark over to one side!"

Me:  "We call that modeling.  It's a way of adding some dimension to peoples' faces.  Makes portraits look more three dimensional.  Gives the light a sense of direction."

Client:  "Can you fix that somehow?"

Me:  "Well, it's supposed to be that way.  It's a creative thing."

Client:  "Is there some way to fix it in Photoshop?  I'm pretty sure Bob's not going to like being uneven...."

Me:  "But that's the same style that's in most of the portraits on my website...."

Client:   "Hmmmmm.  So you don't think you can fix it?"

It's exchanges like this that make me appreciate my wife's adamant rule of "no guns" in the studio.  But it's weird how a few toxic clients can subtly shift that line that makes an insecure portrait photographer dilute and devolve their own style.

Before Selena came over I looked over some of my favorite work and the work by some of the photographers I really admire.  I decided to aim my taste meter in the right direction and to resurrect what I liked with the hopes that it will find its audience.

When I set up the lighting I re-acquainted myself with a favorite old tool, subtractive lighting.  I grabbed a black panel and put it on the opposite side of her face from the main light.  I brought the black in pretty close because I wanted deep shadows.  I grabbed a little Alien Bees ringlight that I use all the time for a background light and put it on the gray seamless at a really low power.  MMMMMM.  Just right.

Then I shot with a longer lens than I've used in a while.  I'm happy with the light and the skin tone.  When we finally decide on an image I'll fix the stray hairs and the few wrinkles in the shirt.  But count me happy with my lighting and the general look.  And I think her expression is just wonderful.

My portrait lighting is back and it's really changed my mood.  It's devastating when your mastery takes a vacation without putting it up on the scheduling board.  It's always wonderful when it comes back home with a nice tan, a few pounds lighter.  I don't know if Selena likes the work we did.  I haven't talked to her yet.  But for a change, the only validation I was looking for was mine.

5.18.2010

What I learned doing five talks.....

     Model at a Paris Fashion Show at the Louvre Carrousel.  Contax S2  135mm f2.8 


.......in two days.  Wow.  I think one thing I learned is that one hour is a long time when you are standing up in a room in front of 60 or 80 people and trying to entertain, educate and pitch.  But I didn't come to that obvious realization until after I came home on Sunday evening and fell asleep on the couch.

So let's start at the beginning:  I was asked by the people at Olympus to be a speaker at the Austin Photo Expo which is a weekend long mini-trade show that's sponsored by Precision Camera.  Just about every major photo company had a booth or a table and they were showing off all of their photo candy.  Tech reps from the manufacturers were there to answer questions and sales people were there to ring up sales.  We had speakers like Hanson Fong, a very talented wedding photographer from LA.  Kevin Ames, the author of Digital Photographer's Notebook:  A Pro's Guide to Adobe Photoshop,  and Rolando Gomez, author of Garage Glamour (published by Amherst Media) and Rolando Gomez's Posing Techniques for Glamour Photography.  And then there was me.

The talks between Olympus and me were vague.  I don't think they knew what to expect from me and I have very little input from them.  They may have wanted me to talk about the way I use the e series DSLR cameras and why I like them but I don't know.  Instead, I decided that I was much more excited about the little micro four thirds Pen cameras so I decided to talk about them.

First lesson:  If you are going to spend five hours talking about a camera system it's a really, really good idea to shoot a wide range of photographs so you'll have something of interest to a wide audience.  I'd shot a lot of buildings and a lot of landscapes in west Texas (something I practically never do.....) and I thought that would be good.  In retrospect, I wish I'd shot hundreds of beautiful portraits as well just to fill in the nooks and crannies.

Second Lesson:  Get there early and make sure you know how to connect your computer, how to calibrate it to the projector and how to make the sound work for you.  I did get there early on the first morning.  About an hour before I was scheduled to speak and nothing worked.  I was saved by Kevin Ames.  He stepped right up and went thru a mental check list:  Step one, find the right setting to make the projector talk to the computer.  Step two, make a grayscale step wedge with 20 steps from black to white and proceed to use the brightness and contrast controls to tweak the images on the LCD projector. Step three: Set the right color space for the projector.  Doh!  Step four:  Plug in mini plug to mixer for sound from the computer.  Set sound levels for computer output.  Step five, Adhere lav mic to shirt (I tried on my own....Kevin fixed) and then set levels for the wireless mic.  Step six, breathe deeply.

I made up some ground on Sunday when I brought my own 42 by 72 inch black Lightform panels to block light from the screens in my rooms to boost saturation and contrast in my projected slides.  Kudos from Kevin Ames....

Lesson Three:  If you are showing video make sure it's captivating (Yah! The camera clamped to the skateboard got laughs and gasps every time)  but (Boo! Five minutes is three minutes too long).  Get Will van Overbeek to give you good interview quotes to spark up your otherwise uninspired content. (Thank you Will).  Take out most of the sound FX that you thought were really cool when you were staying up late and working on edits in iMovie.

Lesson Four:  Don't curl up in the fetal  position and cry just because someone walks out during your talk.  Maybe they have a week bladder.  Maybe they'll be back.  Maybe you're just kidding yourself.  Thankfully, very, very few people left before the end of each talk.  I want to thank everyone for this.

Lesson Five:  Don't bring lots of props and lots of things to set up.  It's not that visual aids aren't warmly appreciated by the audiences it's just that the management usually has a speaker booked right after you and the two of you have 15 minutes to both tear all your stuff down and pack it away while setting up his stuff and getting his computer to do all the things we covered above.  Simultaneously.  Compounded by the fact that all the shy people who didn't ask questions during the alotted Q&A will probably surround you as you are packing and pepper you with questions.  And follow up questions.

Lesson Six:  Try not to sit in on other people's talks.  I know it makes me nervous when the really smart guy sits in the back of the class with the smirk on his face.  And I'm sure it's usually the same guy who has the weak bladder and needs to leave just as you are getting warmed up.  But the real reason I say this is that I'm such a contrarian.  If the smart guy is speaking about highly technical parameters of calibration that are "absolutely required" for any photographer who doesn't want to shoot absolute crap I'll feel compelled to change up my next talk to emphasize how much technical crap gets between our heart felt shooting and our subjects.  And then, since this is obviously not a rehearsed part of the presentation I promptly get lost and have to depend on the unsettled fan who's already sat thru the first two of my talks.  He's got it memorized and is eager to prompt me from the front row.

I can't emphasize this enough!  Bring your own food.  The organizers are looking for  quick food intake and low price.  Can't blame them.  They dropped the prices to the public on all the gear and they certainly have no interest in Platinum Level wining and dining for the Tech Reps and the speakers.  But BBQ sandwiches and diet Coke aren't Kirk Tuck jet fuel.  Next time I'll bring a sandwich from the Sweetish Hill Bakery.  Oh hell, I'll just bring a peanut butter and jelly on whole wheat from the house and some coffee from Starbucks.

Along these lines, don't presume that everyone has the same taste, abhors flavored coffee creamers and flavored coffee.  If you have any doubts bring your own thermos or do a hard target search for the closest good coffee shop.

Lesson Seven:  Before you get started with even your first speech put your head together with the sales team from the company you are pitching and beg or demand that they give you swag to give away.  For the uninitiated "swag" is all the giveaway stuff people bring to trade shows and conventions.  This would include regular swag such as T-shirts and pens as well as premium class swag like coffee cups and flash lights.  The most sought after swag is memory sticks.  You know, USB Thumb Drives or whatever they call them now.  Get as much of this stuff as you can force them to give you.  It's a great buffer to reconnect with your crowd after you've found yourself spacing out, forgetting where you are and what you are talking about.  "Hey, who would like some Olympus Pens?!"  or "If you can tell me what reciprocity failure is, I've got a memory stick to give away....."  It actually works.  Just beware of your friends who will try to twist you to the dark side by inferring that "no one will know if you give us the memory sticks......."

Lesson Eight:  Anything that can screw up will and you should be prepared for it even if there is no way you can be prepared for it.  The 60 year old man that decides to take up streaking.  Projectors hung too close to the ceiling that start to smoke.  The crazy person who jumps up and claims that your sponsor is a "tool of Satan".  That rising tide of nausea from lunch.  Tripping over the audio cord and breaking it just before you get ready to play the video that will give you a four minute respite during which you can try to tamp down the panic and regroup.  Just carry the pepper spray, a pocket full of $20's and some gaffer's tape.  Wear comfortable shoes and nonflammable clothing.

Lesson Nine:  Just as you are starting to believe that you are a genius and the audience is enraptured by your discussion of the hermeneutic circle and its relationship to the mystical effervescence of street photography someone will raise their hand and ask you if you think it wise to buy a monopod.  Be flexible and be prepared to change gears and direction at a moment's notice.

Lesson Ten: An important lesson in public speaking. After you've sat around soaking up the bonhomie of the other speakers, sipping coffee and making fun of the petit bourgeois of photography, it's imperative to slip in a little time to find the restrooms and make a graceful pit stop before the class. Hopping up and down on one foot isn't as graceful as you might think you are making it appear.   Seriously though, I learned that doing this (photography) every day for twenty years gives you an enormous encyclopedia of knowledge and you have to judge where in the cycle the majority of your audience is and then head there. Only then will your talk be successful.

Whatever you do, don't forget to pitch your books.......










5.13.2010

Genuinely Excited Nerd Post. Tangentially about photography....

Chief Nerd in residence contemplates screen.... What a messy desk!

I am so excited about a piece of software that I can hardly believe it.  I'll jump right to it.  No need for suspense.  It's Keynote, from Apple.  It's part of their iWorks suite of productivity tools.  I think that absolutely loving a piece of software is sooo geeky, but there it is.

Backstory:  I was asked by Olympus USA to give four hour long lectures at the Austin Photo Expo this year.  It's coming up this weekend.  I figured I'd fire up a Power Point and put together a one hour presentation with the requisite slides and copy.  I dreaded this.  I've used Power Point and the generic versions on Neo Office and Open Office as well.  They were all pretty kludgy.  I kept putting off doing my presentation preparation until the anxiety alarm bell rang in my head and my chest and I realized that, if I walked in without some sort of prep and practice, I would be setting myself up for a big case of stage fright and perhaps........even.....FAILURE.  Failure in front of hundreds and hundreds of peers, friends and future competitors.  Abject failure.  Epic failure.  Rather than swearing off coffee and sucking down Xanax I committed myself to a Weds. start.  But I could sense it was my dread of the whole presentation software morass that made me procrastinate.

As part of the procrastination exercise I figured I needed to research that genre of software.  That's when I fumbled into the Apple website and watched the Keynote demo.  I was hooked.  I headed to the local mall and ducked into the Apple store right across from the Gap.  Just down the walkway from the California Pizza Kitchen.  A couple doors down from Banana Republic.  You get the drift.  I walked the gauntlet of black shirted young sales clerks with their white name tags.  I checked out.  "Did I want a receipt?"  "Should I send it to your e-mail address?"  Sure.

I loaded the whole suite onto a Macbook Pro on Tues. night and hit the ground running after swim practice the next morning (yesterday).  By the end of the day I was past the whole learning curve and making type, photos and movies, slide onto the screen, shimmer and explode, burst into the screen and go infinite explosion and so much more.  I wanted to add some video.  I dragged it from the media browser into a window.  It played perfectly.  I wanted some music bed under a few parts.  I dragged it in from the media window and it played, perfectly.  In fact, everything was pretty much drop and drag.

And the templates were beautiful.  I could have cried.  I might still cry.

So, now it's Thurs. afternoon and I'm fine tuning.  But I had time to take a break and photograph a brilliant singer/actress.  I had time to have lunch.  I have two hundred perfect slides ready to go for the weekend.  I've been through it three or four times.  Time flies when I work on this.  I like Apple but I love Keynote.  Couldn't imagine going back to anything else.

My advice?  If you are on a Mac and you need to do presentations head straight over to the Apple site and download the 30 day free trial.  I think you'll be amazed.  And happy.  And more productive.  If you've already tried it you can probably save some money buying a copy of the whole suite (Numbers, Pages and Keynote) on Amazon.com.  It's called iWork.  If you want to see it in action then come to my lectures at the Austin Photo Expo this weekend.  I have a copy on my laptop.  We'll play with it right after we do some online gaming.  And afterwards we can have an in-depth discussion of best practice strategies for Dundgeons and Dragons.  I warned you.  It's gotten nerdy over here.........

5.11.2010

Flash back to the early part of this century. The long goodbye.

front porch

It's pretty easy to get typecast as a certain kind of photographer these days.  But recently we've been getting more and more jobs that require me to use some of the old skills.  This is from one of the last jobs I did almost completely with a 4x5 view camera.  And it wasn't that long ago.  I think it was 2004.  Camera:  Linhof Technica,  135mm Symmar lens,  Fuji 4x5 transparency film.  No lights.


I got a call from Michael Murphy who at the time was the photo editor for Texas Highways Magazine.  I'd done a piece for them about the little town of Boerne, Texas previously.  Mike must have liked the work because he invited me back to do a feature article on Elgin, Texas.   I read the writer's first draft to get an idea of what to cover and then I thru my camera gear in the car and headed down the road.

It was summertime so it was nice and hot and sticky just about every where I went.  I shot the rodeo one night and it was probably the only part of the job job I shot on 35 transparency film.  Everything else, from photos of people barbaque-ing to profile portraits I did on the big camera.

I can remember today driving slowly down the main street looking for just the right view of the historic buildings before parking the car and hauling out the battered Gitzo tripod and setting up the camera.  I'd look through a monocular viewing hood (like a modern Hoodman loupe only ten times bigger) then hoist the tripod over my shoulder and head in closer by ten feet or so and then look again.

When I found a composition I wanted I'd stand there in the heat, a little breeze flapping my shorts against my legs and jiggling the bellows, and focus my camera, mindful of the need to distribute the sharpness carefully.  Then I'd stop down and re-check focus at my taking aperture.  Usually f16 or f22.  Then I'd mosey back over to the car and pull a couple of film holders out of my Coleman cooler.  Didn't need Polaroid in direct sun.  It was always pretty much the same exposure parameters and the Texas Highways Budget wasn't rich.  I'd do a three sheet bracket:  1/2 a stop under, 1/2 a stop over, and one right on the money.  I used the shutter speeds to bracket.  Sometimes I'd use a China marker to write a note on the white space near the business end of the film holder but most times I just ran sheet film thru the lab at their normal settings.

Then I'd hoist the camera up over my shoulder and head back to the car.  I always took time to put the camera back in the case.  I'd hate to mess up a ground glass by having it rattling around exposed.

I don't remember the view camera being too difficult.  I'd worked with one since 1978, for a while almost daily, and I'd gone thru the routine thousands of times.  What I did like about the view camera is how it slowed everything down.  You spent a lot more time considering shots and then considering the best way to shoot something.  You almost never had difficulty editing down your take.....

And there was a lot to love.  Literally.  If you nailed focus and exposure you could do mind boogling enlargements in magazines and in the darkroom and you could crop till you were using a tiny quarter of the frame and still pull off a good image.  I used the view camera a lot for shooting flash outdoors.  With a nice 2000 watt pack and a convenient wall outlet you could almost work miracles.

And all the lenses sync'd at all the shutter speeds.  But the great thing about using a view camera was all the range of movements.  Tilts, shifts and swings on every standard.  Not just on the front standard like the TS lenses for Canon and Nikon.

The new digital cameras are fun but I think someone should hold a workshop to teach old view camera techniques.  We'd get together enough cameras for everyone in the class, put normal lenses on em and then head out and learn to use all the movements.  What a great way to learn theory and exposure.  Probably only want three people in a workshop as that's how many would fit in an Element besides the driver.  And it's a pretty good number for a nice, leisurely lunch.

Anyway, after we did this article the tide washed over us and we started having clients finally demand the new, free, immediate digital stuff.  Not better or worse, just different.

Still remember my first days with those old cameras.  That's back when no self respecting photographer had a fancy focusing hood---we just used black focusing clothes.  The real trick was---how long could you stand up on an August day in humid, 105 degree heat under a black cloth before the sweat rendered the controls uncontrollable and before you fell over...

5.10.2010

Meanwhile, over at TOP........

http://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2010/05/olympus-zd-zooms.html


Michael Johnston has just posted my review of the two Olympus f2 zoom lenses, the 14-35mm and the 35-100mm.  I'm sure there will be some controversy.  I had nice things to say but also so critical points to make.  I'll be jumping in and out of the comments on The Online Photographer as the discussion continues.  Michael puts together a great blog about photography and he is a generous but discerning clearinghouse for lots of good material.  Please check it out.


Random Monday Photo:  Executive from Bromley Communications.



5.06.2010

The best portraits aren't about photography. They're about connection.

This is my brother in law, David.  He's bright, fun, super-smart, and twenty one years older than this image of him.

Shot with a tiny Novatron 220 flash in a tiny studio with a Yashica Mat 124G camera on medium speed black and white film.  I like this portrait of David better than most of the portraits I've subsequently shot on systems many multiples more expensive and sophisticated.  When did we re-aim our focus and our attention from the subject to the equipment?  How can we move it back?

I expect that the remedy is looking to our early work and finding the things in it that we like.  That's a good reason to sift thru stacks of old prints from time to time.

The outpouring of posts this evening isn't from any hypo-manic compulsion. (Well,  maybe just a little) Rather it is the result of sifting through an enormous number of old favorite photos in order to put together a presentation due up in June.  And of course there is always the five presentations I'll be giving at the Austin Photo Expo the weekend of the 15th and 16th of May.  Maybe it's also the presentation I'm giving to another group this Sunday.   It's fun to see the full circle.