5.08.2011

Saturday at Lady Bird Lake. And stuff.

public piano on the pedestrian bridge in downtown Austin.

Love this crazy city.  As an art piece, these fully tuned and playable "art" pianos are cropping up all over downtown Austin.  People are encouraged to sit down and play.  I was downtown shooting a few cityscapes,  I need to drop one into the background of a portrait.  The bridge is my favorite place to start.   I was traveling "light" with the 1Dmk2n and the 24-105L.  Nice combo.  Nice files.

Wedding?  Prom? Graduation?

There's a great spot for downtown shots right next to the Palmer Auditorium.  The city made a hill there and people go up and look across the lake at the buildings.  I was heading there to fill in my needed shots when I saw this mass of people rushing about on top of the hill with lights flashing.  The guy in front of the lightstand with the shorts is the photographer.  I never figured out what the event was but he had a nice angle working and his fill flash seemed pretty well thought out.  I shot some BHS shots and moved on......





I never saw this reflection in the glass of the Long Center before.  I guess I just wasn't paying attention.
That's it for the Saturday blog.  Why didn't I post a "walking around Austin Sunday blog?"  Well,  truth be told I spent the afternoon painting four paintings on beautifully gessoed canvas.  One is an instant winner.  Two are honorable mentions and the fourth gets scrapped and earns a "do over."  It's fun and purging and challenging and different to paint instead of photograph.  But not so fun to blog about.....

Kirk Tuck Spends Some Quality Time With The Fuji X100.


I've just had my hands on the X-100 for a few days so this is not intended to be an exhaustive review.  Nothing in depth.  Just a general appraisal that may be followed by a more finicky look.....

I first saw the X-100 in person at lunch on Weds.  Will and I were having Vietnamese BBQ sandwiches at a food trailer called, Lulu B's, on South Lamar.  We sat at a little metal table under the canopy of a giant oak tree and drank Mexican Cokes.  We do things like that here in Austin.  I'd dragged along my latest crush, a massive Canon 1dmk2N and Will brought his new squeeze, the supple, subtle Fuji X-100.

First impressions?  Styled like my old Leica M3,  silent shutter,  very nice EVF and lighter than it looks.  Now I'm a sucker for heft but I have to admit that, as I get older and spend more quality time in the Texas heat (will it hit 100F today?  Will it ever rain again?) I'm starting to believe that we can offset whatever inertial dampening benefit we get from heavy metal cameras with well done, in body image stabilization.  And that's not on the check list for the X-100 (which I will just refer to as "the Fuji" for the rest of this Sunday afternoon keyboard ramble) but with a wide angle lens in the mix it's not as crucial as it might be for a slow zoom.

 In many ways this camera is just what a legion of art-inclined photographers have been begging for since the beginning of the digital era:  the exact equivalent of a Leica rangefinder with a brilliant 35mm focal length lens (in "film talk" equivalents) and hands-on controls for the primary, important stuff.  Throw in small, light and relatively affordable and I'm sold.

Let's get the big stuff out of the way first.  The images out of the camera are very good.  Close to M9 and Summilux good.  And that's about as good as it currently gets for light and portable cameras.  I haven't done exhaustive tests but up to 1200 ISO and down to 200 ISO this camera just flat out rocks.

External dials:  Back when Rollei introduced the first modern 120mm medium format film camera they did something simple and novel and fun.  They gave us an aperture ring around the lens that also had an "A" setting on it.  They gave us a shutter speed dial that had all the usual shutter speeds (and electronically controlled in 1/3rd stops, no less) and the shutter control also had an "A" setting on it.  If you wanted to switch to "shutter priority" you chose a shutter speed and then set your aperture ring to "A" letting the camera select the aperture.  If you wanted aperture priority you set the shutter speed ring to "A" and you chose the aperture, allowing the camera to select whatever shutter speed it deemed necessary.  And.....wait for it......if you wanted programmed exposure  (in those few cases when you wanted to hand the camera to a small child or your grandmother so they could get a shot) you would set both controls to "A" and you'd be sporting a mighty heavy and sophisticated "point and shoot" camera.

That's how the dials work on the Fuji.  And that means you don't have an annoying dial with M/S/A/P/little duck/Clouds/Fireworks, etc. taking up valuable camera top real estate.  Amazingly simple and you'll master the rythme of that in minutes.

From the other end of the spectrum (well, maybe in the middle) Canon got lots of kudos when they introduced the G10 for having a separate, external, dedicated knob for exposure compensation.  Also present and most appreciated on the x-100.  Set up the camera menu for the settings you want and you're ready to head out and do some fun, candid, street photography while channeling the HCB look.  And you could do a lot worse than that.  While the menus are different than my previous S5's or anything from Canon and Nikon the controls themselves are really straightforward so if you're just shooting away in raw and doing all the image tweaks in PS you'll be ready to go after a fairly quick browsing of the manual.  The one thing you'll need to study is how to toggle back and forth between the eye level EVF and the screen on the back of the camera.

Ergonomic answers.  Took me ten minutes to make the grip and the hold all mine.  The camera feels very good in hand but my one complaint is the quick review.  I'm used to shooting at eye level and then looking at the screen on the back to judge the shots.  When you use the EVF on the Fuji and you have it set for instant image review the electronic finder stops showing you what you're pointing the camera at and shows you your last shot.  You'll want to turn off the review for serious, continuous shooting.

Another point I need to make about the set up is about the histogram.  You should be able to set the camera so that every time you review the shot the screen comes up with your preferred information on it.  In my case that would include a histogram.  Unless I'm dumber than dirt and haven't  found the right setting yet, you have to toggle thru the information choices to the fourth item before you get a histogram and it's not sticky.  You'll need to do this each time you need a histogram.

Worst feature of the camera?  The video tease.  Yes, there is HD video (of the 720 variety) but no, you'll never want to use it.  Unless aliens land in front of you and bribe Barack O'Bama at raygun point to have  tea with Sarah Palin......   Here's why:  It's totally automatic.  No audio level controls, totally auto exposure and totally auto ISO.  Even totally auto autofocus.  Just not professionally usable.  But then you really won't be lining up to buy this camera if your number one priority is video.  For that you'll want a Canon 60D or a Panasonic GH-2.

Now let's talk about the big ass elephant in the room, the price.  Would we all like this camera to be $495?  You bet.  Is $1200 out of whack?  Nope.  The camera has a lens that is on par with stratospheric lense like the Leica Summi series lenses in the equiv. focal ranges.  It has a much bigger sensor than any of the cult series pocket cameras like the G-12, S-95, Olympus ZX-1, etc.  That means its image quality is going to be on par with good DSLR's and it's noise performance as well.  But the added benefit is the design.  Isn't that getting to be more and more the case with better products?  We're finally acknowledging the important role of good design as a metric in hand tools and appliances.  And this camera has handling design in spades.

The settings you might be looking for to add nuance to your photos might be hidden in some menu pages but the actual "hands on" shooting controls are right where they should be and the handling is good.  The EVF is not quite up to the electronic viewfinder for the Olympus Pen cameras but then nothing else on the market is either.  There's a little jitter as you pan with the EVF in use but it's nice to see a reasonably accurate approximation of what you'll end up with.  If the jitter annoys you it's always easy to turn off the electronics and use the finder as a direct optical finder.  You'll lose the on screen menu items and focus points, etc. but you'll get a clear, uncluttered and direct view of your subject.

Is this camera a great all around camera?  Can you recommend it to your mom?  Not likely.  It's actually aimed at advanced hobbyist, professionals and artists who depend on being able to gracefully immerse themselves in a scene, shoot inconspicuously and come away with great medium wide angle shots.  If you shoot sports don't even consider it.  If you are into conventional portraits, take a pass.

But if you dragged a Leica M2 and a 35mm Summicron with you as you back-packed thru Europe in the 1970's and you've been looking for the same experience ever since electrical engineers killed true photography (just kidding???) then this is certain to be near the top of your list.

Faster and much better in the hand than its $2,000 Leica rival, the X-1 and light years ahead of the Canon G's and their friends, it's actually in a class by itself.  Know what you are buying and why and you'll be almost guaranteed to like it.  Buy it because you are bored with your DSLR and your huge collection of zoom lenses and I can almost guarantee you'll go one of two ways.....either you'll grow to hate its formalist restrictions and turn it back into your dealer or.....you'll learn the incredible value of a minimalist approach to core photography and you'll never turn back.

It's the camera most of us wanted.

How about me?  Will I buy one after testing Will's for these past few days, and in light of all the nice things I've said about the camera above?  Sadly, it's probably a big no.  And not because of any faults of the camera.  I don't like shooting wide.  I don't really need the context of all the stuff in the background for the work I like to do.  I love the 50mm focal length and I'll wait (probably forever) for a camera maker like Fuji to come out with a version that has a 45 or 50mm lens welded onto the front.

When I pack for work I take long lenses, sometimes even two versions of my favorite focal length, the 85mm.  I always pack and almost always use my Zeiss 50mm but my Zeiss 35mm keeps the stuff in my camera bag company more often than not.  If I want to go wide I want a 21.  If I want longer I grab the 50.  I've spent decades trying to learn to love the 35mm focal length and I'm giving up.  But that's just me.

My final advice?  If you are already a Leica user you'll love this camera.  If you've never used rangefinder style cameras you NEED to go to the camera store and handle the camera.  That's the quickest way to know whether it's for you.  Really.


      

Approval. Tacit Approval. Implied Approval and "Street Photography."


I read a comment this morning, in connection with my recent blog about Eeyore's Birthday Party, asking me to explain the process of getting the approval of people we photograph on the streets.  It's actually a fascinating subject for me and one that seems "highly flexible" depending on the operator and their intention.

First, let's talk basic law in the U.S.  (different in different parts of Europe and Asia!!!).  As a photographer you are free to take photographs of anyone in a public place.  No one has a reasonable expectation of privacy if they are in public.  This includes grisled old men, very beautiful women and even children.  So, on  the face of it,  you can go about shooting people as they walk down the sidewalks and cross streets and play Frisbee in the park and as they sit under the umbrellas of the sidewalk tables of cafes which have put tables on the public right of way, which means the public sidewalks.

Here's what you can't do:  You can't photograph people on private property who can't be seen from public property.  You can stand in the street and photograph the man standing in his front yard, if you can see the image from the street.  But if he is behind a fence you cannot breach the fence to take the photo.  Nor can you photograph, without permission, in restaurants, bars, aforementioned cafe interiors, book stores, coffee shops, etc.

The government can claim that certain areas cannot be photographed because of national security concerns and that makes a certain amount of sense......as long as you can't just print off the same locations from Google Earth or Google Street View.  Lately, when the government over reaches they've been pushed back by the courts.

Now, all of this is predicated on the idea that your photograph will only be used as "art" or as editorial content.  Things that happen in public can be newsworthy or have artistic merit.  As soon as you get ready to sell the photo of a recognizable person for any commercial use you are in a whole new ballpark, and one that might get your fingers burned.  The image above was made during a rambling walk in Rome.  I've used it as art piece for articles meant to illuminate or instruct but have never licensed the rights to use the image for any commercial venture.  I could not

5.05.2011

Bad Clients. Good Clients. Great Clients.

A group shot for one of my favorite clients.  They listen.  They show up.  
They treat us with respect.  And we do the same for them.  

Your business lives and dies based on what kind of clients you have.  Good clients make work fun and keep you in the black.  Bad clients make you wish you were in some other field and the time they suck away from you eats into your profits and your will to live.  A very sage photographer told me twenty years ago...."You don't succeed because of the clients you keep.  You succeed because of the clients you fire."

I'm pretty slow on the uptake and it took me being in business for a few years before I really got what he said.  Now I'm quick on the draw when it comes to giving a bad client his or her walking papers because I know that the longer I hang on the more miserable I'm going to be.  And once a client shows their true stripes they never seem to change.

So, what's a bad client?  They come in lots of shapes and sizes and the stories of their particular flaws are photo legends.  Let's start out with some easy, "no-brainer" distinctions.


1.  Any client that doesn't pay you on time isn't a client they are a thief.  The longer it takes to get paid the less money you make.  And, as anyone in the collections business will quickly tell you, an invoice that goes 90 days beyond the due date is likely never to be paid.  And if, by an act of God or the courts, it does eventually get paid I can pretty much assure you it won't be for the full amount and you might end up sharing the bulk of your final payout with your attorney.  The first rule = if they screw you once, walk.  If they screw you twice it's your fault.  I remember complaining to the CFO of one of the world's biggest computer companies about 120 payment on invoices that were contracted to be paid in 30 days.  His reply?  "My job is to keep your money for as long as humanly possible."  We required all future work for that client to be prepaid by credit card.  We're still working for them years later....but only when they send over their CC information.

2.  The "bait and switcher."  You know the client.  You show up for the "simple" job that you bid a pittance on and all of a sudden it's grown up to be a "big boy" job.  It might start out as, "can you come over and do a few headshots?"  When you get there you find out that they need to shoot the CEO on the side of a billboard seventy feet in the air and you'll be shooting from a helicopter and, "by the way, can you rig the helicopter with some giant battery powered lights because we're going to do this at twilight, and since you're here already and it won't be twilight for another six hours we'll be shooting some products in the meantime."

If this client isn't willing to sign a "change order" or "modification agreement" they'll keep doing this to you until they run you out of business.  This client LOVES the half day rate and the day rate.  Because he equates it to an "All You Can Eat" buffet of photography.  He's the one that books you to shoot ten portraits on Weds. and then lines up 25 more people "because you work so quickly!!!" What this client never sees is the massive amount of post production you'll be doing if you fall for his ploy.  The antidote?  Make specific contracts that call out exactly what you will do and for how much money.  Your prices might be based on a day rate but it's not the same as slave labor.......

3.  "I'll know what I want when I see it...."  This one is tricky.  You probably got the job because you showed your portfolio and the client seemed to like it.  Now your on the set and the client has just changed the model's shirt for a different color for the 15th time.  You've changed angles seven times and you're also running out of batteries from shooting a million variations.  Each time you shoot a few frames the client demands to "see the little screen" and evaluate each frame.  At first you feel like you can't fault them.  After all, they're just trying to get it perfect.  After a dozen iterations you start to realize that they don't have clue what they want and it may be something that's beyond the realm of possibility.  I learned this lesson while standing knee deep in Polaroid test materials, shooting for an art director who rearranged the flowers on the set over and over again; each time asking for a new test Polaroid.  And she worked for a world class ad agency.  When it was all over I vowed "never again."  I lost money on the Polaroid alone.  And I think I wore out the shutter on one of my view camera lenses....  Your contract can protect you here but you really need to have the "talk" before the problem begins.  The antidote?  You specify that you charge additionally for every additional set up.

4.  The bully.  This person "knows" more than you'll ever know and he'll tell you exactly the way he wants to do the job.  He'll pick the worst angles and the worst props and the worse colors.  He'll decide that being a client means that the rented location owes him the adulation of a king.  That he can be loud and "assertive" and he throws little barbs into the conversation like,  "That better not be on my bill."  Or, "For the prices I'm paying you I should get (fill in the blanks).  There's a reason he showed up at your studio door.  The last photographer probably threw him out.  If there's a constant psychic battle on the set no one will ever have fun, the work will suffer and the models will stop caring.  Even if he pays his bills on time the bully will (intentionally or unintentionally) make sure that you never get anything from his shoots that will end up in your portfolio.  His constant excuse?  He "knows what his boss wants!"  And his constant reminder?  "I know a guy who's starting out and will do this kinda job for half of what you're charging."  I wonder why he didn't just call his "guy" first...

5.  The "Nickel and Dimer."  This is the client intent on making sure he doesn't spent a cent more than he or she has to.  Even to the point of ruining a project.  This is the one that wants to use his chubby daughter as the fashion model, his brother in law as the assistant and is positive that all the props CAN be acquired on Craigslist.  He is amazed that you charge for mileage, doesn't understand why he has to pay sales tax and thinks that assistants and make up artists should be paid out of your fee.  If you need wardrobe he'll volunteer to "source" it rather than paying for a stylist.  He buys "the latest fashions" at the local Walmart and cautions your models not to take the tags off the clothes so he can return them for a full refund.  When you make coffee he asks,  "Am I getting billed for this?"  Usually it's not his own money at stake anyway, he just can't stand the idea that having the right stuff at the right time is perhaps more long term cost effective than "making due."  Wanna work for this guy?  Then be sure to get every line item in your budget approved before you move forward and make sure you get an advance.  You'll earn every penny........

I remember the client who booked us all into a La Quinta 58 miles away from the town we'd be shooting in the next day because he "did his research" on the web and found that it would be $20 per room cheaper than the motels in the location city.  If you factored in gasoline he was saving $16 per person per day!  Then we found out we'd all be sharing rooms......think of the savings.  Think of the hour and half drive....

You work a long day and find out that the client's idea of a good, solid meal is the McD's on the strip.  Yum.  Gotta love the McBBQ sandwich.....

6.  Finally, at least for now,  the final client.  The one who can't commit.  You know the type.  You get the call,  you write out the proposal.  Now you're on hold.  Now you recompute the budget with new parameters and you book a date.  Then just outside the date where they're on the hook for deposits the shoot gets re-scheduled and re-scheduled.  At some point, a year later, you realize that this client is the kind of person who won't head off to work in the morning without the assurance that all the traffic lights will be green on their morning commute.  I have a "potential" client who has spent the last two years rearranging schedules and re-bidding projects.  We've never worked together but we're "this" close.  Once you start to add up all the phone calls and the time re-bidding and re-writing contracts you realize that you've spent a solid work week for.......nothing.  And you wonder if this is a new hobby for them....

Not bad for a hobby.  Terrible for a business.

I guess that's why the old photographer told me to "fire em quick."  Let the bad ones go before they ruin your business.  You know.  While you still have a choice.

And then there are good clients.  They have a need.  They want your input.  They want your suggestions.  You shoot for them and the like everything.  They pay on time.  Hell, they pay early.  They get good results.  They give you credit.  They pick up the tab for lunch occasionally.  They say, "thank you!" when you pick up the tab.  They ask, "how much more should I budget?" when they change the parameters of a job.  They return your call.......even when they don't need something.  They pass your name along to other good clients.  They make suggestions but not orders.  They understand the value of real models.  They get the idea that one hour of great make-up beats six hours of post production.  They understanding the idea of licensing.  The love collaboration.  They say,  "You tell us, you're the pro."  They sign contracts.  They have the actual intention of abiding by the contract.  They understand that they need you as much as you need them.  It's called a relationship.  It can be amazing, fulfilling, functional and fun.

Damn the bad clients.  May they have clients who are equally bad. God Bless good clients.  May they flourish.  

5.04.2011

Getting busy. Staying busy. Being happy.

I've got a lot of friends who are photographers and they seem to have a lot of time on their hands.  That's a bad thing.  People are happier when they are busy....even if they aren't making money.  I'll be very honest, 2009 was an incredibly slow year in my photography business.  Looking back I don't think we logged more than 39 jobs over the course of the year.  That's less than a third the number of projects we did in previous years.  That's very scary and fear is as good as curare at paralyzing people.  So, with the blow dart hanging off the back of my neck and cortisol rising I had to come to grips with several facts:   Very few people were returning phone calls and even fewer had anything they wanted to talk about with me that might have a check attached.

I'm sure I panicked as much as anyone out there but there were a few things that really helped take the edge off.  This blog may have been the most calming thing I did that year.  I was able to analyze, out loud, how I was feeling and what I thought was happening.  And you were my feedback loop.  And that helped.

I also (ironically) wrote and produced my Commercial Photography Handbook for Amherst Media that year.  Of the five books I've written so far that one has elicited the most "off the radar" direct e-mail response.  One person described it as a manual for working photographers who were missing the (previously available) low hanging fruit.  One local reader claimed to, A.  Follow the suggestions in the book about marketing to the letter, and, B.  Doubled his income in 2010.  The book is in use in several college photography programs and is being considered by several more.  I also started my book, Photographic Lighting Equipment that year.  And it's been a steady seller, which makes me and the publisher happy.

While I'm happy to have the royalties from the books, and I appreciate every single sale, I have to be straightforward and say that it was the continuity of the work experience that was the most valuable by-product of both books.  They added a frame to my working life and a reason to head into the studio and plink away at the keyboard and to shoot "proof of concept" photos with my cameras.  They kept my hands and my head busy and kept me off the ledge of panic.  At a time when people were burrowing down in their photo bunkers and buying dried food the books forced me to engage with models and assistants and clients.  They pushed me to be out in the world.  They were a mild antidote to the corrosive effects of random cortisol release.

Which brings me to right now.  My work this last quarter has started to climb back to the same levels we enjoyed, pre-bust.  But there are still the occasional dry spells.  Same for most of my friends.

I finished writing and producing photography for my LED book back in April and I'm warming up to my next book project but the thing that's occupying most of my time now (and the thing that keeps me from panicking about every little dip....and the recurring bad economic news) is my desire to master every facet of video.  From concept and scripting thru to mastering the intricacies of tweaking sound.  If I have a spare moment it's spent playing with sliders or shoulder mounts.  Or trying new effects.  I can feel a book coming on about the convergence of video and photography.  And that makes me happy because it shows me, like the beam from a lighthouse, that there are still swaths of the economy that are moving forward and adjusting to the new ways.

I met with a former CD from GSD&M this morning for coffee.  He sees the changes.  He sees big agencies who didn't adapt quickly enough playing out their own Darwinian dramas in real time.  He's jumped.  He's out.  Our shared vision of the future is more and more video content for the web.  More stories and narratives.  More eye candy backed up with content that moves the game forward for the clients who've also adapted and moved forward.  It's heady times if we can make the leap across the chasm that spans the space between a media mix from yesterday that was heavy on stills and print to  tomorrow's mix that combines video, writing and stills to make addictive and alluring selling messages for media that never existed before.

Crazy goals?  How about being the first creative person to make a full length, feature movie solely for smart phones?

I guess my message is that I'm surviving  thriving because I couldn't sit still and wait.  The pendulum may swing back to mostly print in the years to come.  I doubt it.  But now I'm diversified and continue to diversify.  I'm writing in three forms:  Books, Blogs and Advertising.  I'm shooting two media:  Still images and video.  I'm sharing knowledge in workshops.  I'm helping equipment manufacturers present their gear to eager users and students.

If your business is floundering.  If you do the same thing you always did and you just applied a glossy coat of varnish  (social media)  and new advertising and it still isn't taking flight the way it once did,  now is the time for re-invention.  And it sure doesn't have to be my schizophrenic model.  Teach more.  Tell more.  Become your own media outlet.  Be your own magazine.  Take yourself back to your own school by fleshing out the subjects you wish you had more depth in.  Do it organically.

Maybe you're a photographer who's already mastered the skill of motion picture camera man (with your Canon 5dmk2 or your Panasonic GH-2)  now it might be time to master sound.  Or start your own production company.  Maybe you are also a foodie.  Wouldn't it be weird to be a photographer who also owns a craft service company (food service for creative productions)  on the side?  If you still have a studio and the main thing you lack is a gaggle of traditional clients to fill it up couldn't you couple rentals to amateurs with a value added package of mentoring?

Everything changed but nothing really changed.  It's a weird idea.

Final thought for the day:  I've been doing traditional head shots since we started in the business.  You know, line em up in front of some seamless paper or a nifty gray canvas and bang away with two or three lights and whatever your favorite style of lighting is.  But do people want that anymore?  Are we selling what clients want or just what we know how to do?  I'm changing that in my business.  I'm going to listen harder to hear what clients say they want.  I'm going to re-invent the headshot.  That's my newest goal.  Probably easier than the feature length movie for the iPhone.....WHAT'S YOUR NEW GOAL?  WHAT DO YOU NEED TO RE-INVENT?   WHAT DO YOUR CUSTOMERS REALLY WANT?  That's what we need to be asking....


And if you are really stressed then go out, fly a kite and enjoy the quiet moments.  

5.02.2011

My elastic analysis of "favorite" cameras and lenses.

After I posted my Eeyore's Birthday blog I got several e-mails asking me why I wasn't using a better camera.  Each, in some way, presumed that I was using the best camera I could afford but were concerned that perhaps my budget wouldn't stretch to cover the cost of a "real", "modern" camera with "full capabilities."  I thought I'd explain why, for some months now, the Canon 1dmk2N has been my favorite camera.  My camera of choice.  The single camera I would choose from among those I own right now for one of those "lifetime on a desert island" questions.

First I should declare that I can afford other cameras and that I do own various other Canons, including:  a 5Dmk2 (which I press into service when shooting very wide angle images or images that require extreme enlargement.) a 7D and a 60D.  The last two are really more like production video cameras to me although their image files (especially around ISO 200) are very, very, very good.  But at equivalent sizes (up to the uninterpolated limit) the 1dmk2N is very much up to the same level of imaging performance.  But really, in my mind, that's not even part of the equation.

So why am I so smitten with this big, clunky camera from the mid-decade?   Let me count the ways.  But first let me say that there are two things I've added that make this camera more fun to shoot than a stock version.  I added a split image rangefinder screen that makes manually focusing easy and fun.  I bought an aftermarket battery that never runs down.  Really.  I swear it's got a small arc reactor inside.  I'm getting up to several thousand frames from a charge.

Here are the reasons I like shooting with this camera:

1.  The heft of the camera adds inertia which means that "an object at rest tends to stay at rest....etc."  A solid, heavy camera dampens user vibration well and that's a plus for those of us who like to shoot with manual focus lenses.  That's because I haven't come across any MF lenses that have IS (or VR).  I guess I could be shooting with Sony's a900 but that's a whole other story.

2.  The finder is very nice to look thru and makes it a pleasure to focus manually.  At least as good as the Canon 5Dmk2 with the upgraded screen and better with wide angle lenses.  Sexy finder.  Luscious.

3.  It focuses better than the other cameras.  Maybe even better than the 7D, which is supposed to be good at focusing.  The 1Dmk2 focus isn't complicated to use in AF and I've never had problems getting sharp focus in the plane I wanted it to fall in.  Doesn't really matter for the most part as this is the camera I tend to use with the manual focus Zeiss ZE lenses.

Take a look at the close-up view of the back:


That's where two more reasons reside.

4.  See the open card door?  There are two card slots.  One is CF and the other is SD.  And the SD slot does SDHC.  That means I can put a 16 gigabyte card in each bay and have the capacity to shoot over 2800 raw files.  Without reloading.  That's cool.  And in my studio we buy both kinds of cameras:  those with CF and those with SD slots.  So I always have both at hand.  I call it planned "un-obsolescence."  And lately I've been buying  SD cards to shoot video on.  Recent Amazon purchase was three 8 gigabyte cards at $12 each.  24 gigs of fast storage for a whopping $36.  Hmmmm.  Sounds good to me.


5.  See the contoured grip to the left of the card slots and just above the big wheel?  This camera body was designed to be comfortable in your hand.  And when you have it in your hand for four or five hours that makes all the difference in the world.  Canon makes pro cameras for people with normal hands, Nikon makes pro cameras for people with gorilla hands.  If you have big hands seek out a D3 instead....



6.  The screen is pretty good for such old technology.  I can almost accurately judge a shot from the screen unless I'm in full sun.  Then all bets are off.

7.  While my other three, newer Canons brag bigger numbers of pixels I'm not convinced that it makes too much difference for 90% of what most people shoot.  Great to have on client jobs but on jobs where I have only myself to please I find that the eight megapixels of the 1d2 are great.  And each pixel is twice as big as the ones in the 7 and the 60.  It's a different feel and a different equation when it comes to optical diffraction.  But the neatest thing about having just enough pixels is that post processing becomes a quick pleasure rather than a time consuming chore.

The back story is that I always wanted to play with the one series cameras.  I'd like to own the 1dmk4 but I'd hate to pay for it during a down cycle.  Right now everyone is sold out of the current body because they came from plants in the hardest hit area of Japan.  I couldn't buy a new one today if I wanted one and had money burning a hole in my pocket.

One day I walked into Precision Camera and scanned the used shelves.  They test and guarantee the used gear they sell.....  I saw this clean 1D2N and an equally clean 1d2 original.  But there was a problem.  I wanted the N version for the screen but it came sans battery.  The older version came with the charger and two batteries.  I bargained and bargained and walked out with both cameras (and the charger) for right around $1,000 or about $500 per camera.  My rationale was that I'd sell off the older camera and have a fun toy for a low price.  Then I shot the cameras.  And then I fell in love.  Didn't sell the older one either.  I'm rationalizing but I'd like to take them as a pair on my next road trip-shooting adventure.  They'd make a nice set.

My decisions about cameras are rarely logical.  If they were I'd still be shooting with a Nikon D700.  The files from that camera were great and I'd made my peace with it's handling.  But like the Canon 5d2 I never liked the feel or the sound of the shutter.  See what I mean? Totally irrational.  Seems not to make sense to shoot with an eight megapixel camera when I already own two 18 megapixel and one 21 megapixel cameras but there it is.  It all comes down to the feel and the fit for me.  I can always seem to tolerate smaller files better than bad or sloppy handling.  And I know that sentiment will be different from person to person.

Back when I was successfully shooting magazine covers with the 4 megapixel Nikon D2h all the photographers I knew saw the 8 megapixel cameras as the holy grail.  We said we'd stop there because that was all we'd need.  And I'm right there right now.  For most stuff.

The only thing I miss when I pick up these two classics and head out the door is the potential to shoot video.  And that's okay because it constrains me to always make fewer choices.  And, as I'm sure you know, more choices is hardly ever a good way to go.

Finally,  why the 50mm Zeiss ZE?  Two things.  I love to focus manually.  The focus stays where you put it.  And secondly,  It just looks better than the Canon normal lenses from 2.8 to 11.  And that's where I tend to shoot.  All personal choices.  I have my eyes peeled for a 1dmk3.  Besides the AF issues I've heard the image quality is superb........and they're going for a song.

5.01.2011

Belinda and Kirk go to the museum.

We went to the Blanton Museum this afternoon to see the new show about portraits.  It was okay.  The show felt small, haphazard and weakly curated.  But we didn't care because after we studied the portraits we headed for a show on the first floor called, Rediscovering Beauty: the 1990's in Buenos Aires.  We hadn't paid attention to that show before but it was wonderfully powerful.  The blossoming of democracy in the 1980's and 1990's led to an explosion of beautiful art.  And art that was about beauty.  Unapologetically about beauty.

Here's a link about the show:  http://www.blantonmuseum.org/exhibitions/details/recovering_beauty_the_1990s_in_buenos_aires/

We saw work by artists we'd never heard of that was powerful and inflected with joyfulness and optimisim.  Nods of appreciation to artists like Keith Herring, Warhol and Lichtenstein were seen scattered about.  But the work was beyond a modernist reprisal.  The artists of BA seemed to fling off the quasi-academic "manifesto art" and trade it for "exuberance" art.

If you're in Austin head over to the museum some Thursday this month.  That's when the Blanton Museum is open to the public at no charge.  You're sure to agree that the trip across town was worth it.

Something about museums always makes me smile.  The first thing I imagine is how cool it would be to have about two acres of open, air conditioned space to make into my own portrait studio.  Then I smile because people are much more reverential about art spaces than they are even about libraries these days.  Everyone was whispering and staring hard at the art.  Almost as if they were trying to force meaning out of the work by dint of powerful laser eyes.  Another thing that makes me smile is the similarity in postures that people assume when looking at the artwork.  It's almost as if there's a handbook of additudinal poses for proper art viewing.  Except for the older codgers who walk up to a piece in their shorts and Teva sandals (with socks), turn their heads sideways for a squint.....then shake their heads a bit and hike off to the next piece.

After our "art encounter" we headed over to the Galaxy Cafe on West Lynn for a mozzarella, prosciutto and roma tomato sandwich (with fresh basil).  We talked about the shows.  We talked about museums and we talked about making art.  I'm supposed to have two shows in May.  One is of some big images I shot in Rome back in the 1990's.  That show is framed, matted and ready to go.

The other show is one in a local coffee shop that I committed to over a year ago.  I'm thinking about taking a short break from my obsessive-compulsive relationship with photography, gesso-ing a couple of big canvases and doing some whimsical acrylic paintings instead.  A nod to art school from decades ago.
We'll see......  If I do you all are invited and I'll have a virtual opening here on the blog.

Happy Sunday.

Love the out of focus background areas.  Refuse to write the "B" word about that.  The 50mm Zeiss ZE, in conjunction with the re-screened 1Dmk2N is my favorite shooting combo.  When I look thru the finder the whole rig just screams at me,  "HEY PUNK! DO SOME ART."

4.30.2011

If you don't own the company this one is NSFW: Eeyore's Birthday Party. Austin. 2011. Photo Insanity. In a good way....

My favorite party of the year is Eeyore's Birthday Party at Pease Park, here in Austin.  For the last 30 years or so it's been a wonderful excuse to dress up (or undress) and officially welcome Spring and craziness to Austin.  This year was no different.  The barely clad women danced inside the drum circle.  Live bands played all over the park and the smell of pot wafted thru the air like incense in a head shop from the 1970's.  If your city doesn't have a party like this one  you might want to start one.  Or buy a plane ticket and come join us.  

This is, maybe, my 25th Eeyore's party.  In the early years I was a more active participant but for the past few years I've been more of a spectator.  One thing I'm pretty adamant about for my own work is rejecting the easy way out, photographically.  I see a lot of guys with big-ass zoom lenses, trying to take photos of characters and nymphs from far, far away.  I think that's cheating.  I think you should be of the crowd and photograph with the tacit approval of the subjects.  My advice for photographer attendees is to "grow a pair,"  leave the voyeur-zooms at home and get in close.    

To make it easier and to keep from being paralyzed by having to make choices I take one camera and one lens.  If you've read my blog for a while you'll probably guess that the lens is a 50mm.  It makes you get close.  And it's more fun.  My choice of cameras for today was the Canon 1Dmk2N.  And I'm glad it doesn't have a video mode because it would be another layer of choices.....  The camera I pulled out of the drawer is the one I'm using the split image screen with.  It was great with the Zeiss 50mm 1.4.  I set the lens on f4.5, put the camera on "A" and the ISO on 160 and shot raw.  On an 8 gigabyte SD card you get 772 raw files.  I must be slipping because by the time I called it quits (in the heat of the afternoon) I still had a couple hundred images in reserve.  

The party goes on till dark.  But I got hot and thirsty so I walked down the street to Whole Foods for an incredible light ale, full of hops, and then called it a day around 6pm.  Following are my quick edit favorites with captions (when I felt like a caption was called for......).   Will we see you down there next year?  Help us keep Austin Weird !!!




The woods on the west side of the park are like a magnet for the......alternative, alternative lifestyle people.  I spent some time up there photographing but eventually the pot fumes started to make me woozy (and hungry).


The variety of butterfly and fairy wings attached to beautiful women was amazing.  I love the blue.  And the sunglasses...

Moving away from the Milne books this person decided on a darker interpretation of Christopher Robin's childhood stories.  More of a Norse Prince of Darkness vibe....


No public gathering would be complete without the minstrels.  And they sang.

Some people dress up with wings while others have "live snake" bling.  Funny to hear women asking, "Can I pet your python?  Very inappropriate.

While all manner of face and body painting is expected I saw so many tatoo'ed people I thought I was in prison.  Really.  And the piercings were awesome too.





The star of the dance and drum circle.  And she never spilled a drop of beer.





Austin photographer, John Langmore, tests the limits of the social contract by stepping inside the dance circle and inside the five foot interpersonal space boundary to feed his hungry film Leica.  No, really, right in the middle of the dance circle.  Yes.  In the middle.  


This young lady has a very big unicycle.  I didn't care whether or not I shot the unicycle but her face was too adorably cute to pass up.  Angelic?

The dance circle princess leads her people to the western hills.  Right out of a Tolkien book.

This couple forgot to bring their drums or any other musical instrument so they decided to play percussion on her butt instead.  I couldn't hear much but they did have the rhythm "down pat."

The Alpha leader of the main drum circle.  

Part of the Eskimo drum circle.  Did I mention that it was, like, 95 degrees this afternoon?  But still, it was a more seasonal outfit than the guy in the giant Winnie the Pooh outfit......


Thing One and Thing Two.  Perhaps different than Dr. Suess imagined them.... I vote: Most creative.

Hundreds and hundreds of dogs.  Largely, they were not amused.




And no Austin festivity would be complete without......the guys who wear Dickies T-Shirts and give me caps.  Ambidextrous beer handling skills?  Check!



On my six block walk to Whole Foods I went along the hiking trail, under Lamar and saw this wonderfully calm image.  After four or five hours with the nobility of Austin this was a welcome respite.  There's something about industrial piers I find comforting.

What a wonderful end to a busy and corporate sort of week.  It's stuff like this that makes Austin special.  And Eeyore's also serves as a fund rasier for many local charities.  Every beer, turkey leg and waffle cake you buy helps support one non-profit or another.  If you don't like to watch people having fun you should probably steer clear.  It's a judgement free zone for the day.  And that's nice.