10.14.2011

We'll be back on Monday. Stay tuned.

When, in a period of frustration, I quit blogging on October 3rd I had no idea that my decision would be met with 260 comments from disappointed readers and over 200 comments directly to my e-mail account asking me to please reconsider my decision.  I talked to my friends and business associates about it and got some really good feedback.  I've decided to resurrect the blog.  I'm making some changes.  If you want to comment you have to be a follower (or use Open ID).  That means you have to click the button on the side and be a public follower of the blog.  What does that get me?  It gets me your feedback and a contact so if I misconstrue your good-hearted jab for vicious character assassination we can work it out off line.  It's also makes it easier for me to block you if you decide to be a real dick.  All the anonymous people are resigned to a hellish existence of non-commentary.

If, for reason of your geography, you are constrained from joining you can send me a personal e-mail and, if I feel your comment has validity or humor I may, at my discretion, post it.  I'm taking most of the advertising totally off the site (I'm leaving links to my own books).  As soon as I can figure out the programming I'm going to add a donation button to the site.  You don't need to donate anything but if you are exuberantly wealthy and the value of the site is proportionate to your wealth I want to create a pathway for you to share your largess.  I reserve the right to put some links in the copy but you never have to buy anything to read my blog.

I change my mind a lot.  You are forewarned.  I may like Nikon next week and hate it the week before Christmas.  Ditto any other brand.  If you came here to kneel in worship with me to some brand of camera or light you have me confused with a church and need to re-read your Google Map.

But here's the bottom line.  If I don't hear from you I'm basically working in a vacuum and it's not very much fun to toss pebbles into a pond without seeing some ripples.  If you like something a little then check a box under the post.  Like it a lot?  Tell me why.  I actually wrote something that changed your life?  Wow.  I'm not sure I can handle that level of responsibility.

As before, I will write what I want and when I want.  One of the reasons I'm not eager to accept sponsorships is my feeling that they'll change, however subtly, my relationship with the site and I'm not into it.  I'm writing because I like to write.  I write about photography because I love photography and I think we have some standards and some points of view to uphold.  I also think the gear affects our vision and I like writing about the connection, the attraction and the frisson.

You are free to drop out at any time.

Finally, I've been hearing an interesting line from about 25% of the people I meet when I do public speeches or photo meetings or walks.  They keep telling me that I seem "joyful, funny and light-hearted" in person.....less so in my writing.  I'll work on being more serious in public...

Just kidding.  Please know that what I write is from my experiences.  It is always meant to be light-hearted and exuberant.  I'm not writing any of this for you.  I'm writing it for me.  And I have come to find out that is what most of you really value.

Thanks for reaching out and giving me a reason to write and share.  This time around could you drop me a line from time to time and tell me how I'm doing?

See you Monday October 17th, 2011.

10.12.2011

Interior with Nikon D100. How did we ever survive?

Kitchen.  The Nokonah Condominiums.  Nikon D100.  17mm Tamron lens.  Some light.

New Career!!!! Teaching people at serious companies how to play air guitar.


Working on a Holiday Card for a client of nearly 10 years.  Putting together the card with a background illustration and 70 individual people photographs sprinkled through.  Someone needed to make the scientists and engineers smile and laugh.  I was showing someone my air guitar technique when "Lightning Reflexes" Amy Smith grabbed a Canon 1dsMk2 and popped a couple shots.  If you can't be silly you really shouldn't be around other people.  Arch seriousness is just annoying.....


Interplay of Dark and Light.

Agfapan APX100.  Leica R8.  90mm Summicron.  Printed on Agfa Portriga Rapid.  The film, paper, camera and lens are no longer made.  This is officially an antiquity.  I can't make the same photograph with a newer camera and newer materials.

10.11.2011

Austin Autumn. Earlier times.

I called Lou up on a cool autumn day and asked her to go with me to Laguna Gloria Museum to make a little art, apropos of nothing. She wore an old courderoy coat and smiled beautifully as she looked down at her feet.
Hasselblad 500 CM, 180mm f4 lens. Agfa film.

10.10.2011

Thank You.


Thank you for all the kind posts that followed my announcement that the VSL would stop or at least radically slow down its output.  I'm re-a-musing myself.  I'm taking portraits and finishing projects.  It's my intention to post images and brief haikus about them here as time goes on.  To share the art instead of the recipe.

10.03.2011

End of the road.

Back in January 26th, 2009 I got side tracked.  I was a book writer and a working photographer.  The economy had just ground to a halt and I had time on my hands so I started writing this blog.  I'm not sure what I intended to say, what the long term goal was or what I thought I would get out of the practice.

To date I've written over 720 entries; some bad and some good.  Some popular (the gear reviews), some contentious (anything about the death of the commercial photo industry), and some largely ignored (the ones about inspiration, art for arts sake, personal growth and inquiries into what propels and sustains us).

I've been lifted up by a dedicated core of readers who like my style and what I've written and I've had days when I wanted reach through the web and throttle the hit-and-run, anonymous posters who can be insulting and belittling.  A fair tradeoff given that no one signed a contract, no one has expectations and people can sign on and off at any time.

I know I could "monetize" the blog and make some money from the content but that's not really what I had in mind when I started.

Yesterday I posted a piece about the Olympus EPM1 camera (which I liked) and, mixed in with genuine responses was a post by someone who liked the photos of an attractive woman but felt that the rest of the blog was of little value.  His/her comment really bothered me.  In the age of free content I guess we need thick skins but it made me step back and really think about how I was spending my time.

I should have been on the phone continuing to make calls to prospective clients.  I should have been working on the two book projects I have in front of me.  I should have been swimming or running.  But instead I was writing a piece about a $499 camera that will be obsolete in a few months and lost to nearly everyone's memory in a year.

Sure, there's an ego reward that goes along with putting out a blog.  On a good day we'll have 12,000 pageviews of the material here.   My name recognition among photographers is currently strong. If I liked doing workshops that would be a good thing.  If I had products to sell to other photographers that would be a good thing.  But the time spent here is time stolen from things that are more important for me.

We had a good run.  Now I'm turning my attention back to where it should have been all along:  How to re-invent what I do to make it fun and sustaining for my family.

I'm done spending time creating content for free.  It's a great way to make friends I never get to meet.  Putting something out to the public is a two edged sword.  Some people love it and some people will argue with anything.

I'm keeping the VSL blog site open because people seem to be coming more and more to also read the older articles I've written.  I intend to drop by from time to time to toss in something I think is important but the era of daily posts, equipment reviews and the wide open embrace of anonymous barbs and arrows has come to an end.

Thanks for reading.  Thanks responding.  Now get up off the damn couch and go shoot.

10.02.2011

My First Sunday Afternoon with the Olympus EPM-1. Yes, the EPM-1. I'm "Pen Ready."

When the e-mail arrived I assumed that I was being scammed.  The return address was a G-Mail address instead of an Olympus address.  I picked up the phone called the number on the e-mail and talked to a live person at the Mullen Company (the PR firm for Olympus USA).  He confirmed that the e-mail was legit.  Here's the deal:  If you get invited to participate in the Pen Ready Initiative you fill out  few forms on line and they send you a brand spanking new camera.  In particular, the tiny EPM-1.  You also get the 14-42mm kit zoom (revised from the original one that came with my Pen EP2 to be quieter when shooting video), a tiny little flash that uses energy from the camera battery, a 4 gigabyte Sandisk Extreme SD card,  all the usual manuals and papers and disks and a really cool little backpack to store it all in.  At the bottom of the card board shipping box I also found a medium size "Pen Ready" T-shirt which made me smile.  I smiled even bigger when I realized that, rather than send out the ubiquitous large or extra large shirt (American demographics nightmare!!!) they sent along a medium.  I can actually wear it an not look like it was meant to be a small pup tent.  I won't go into the details of the contest they are holding but you can always Google it.  They'd like each person to whom they have given a camera to upload twenty or so of their favorite shots but it doesn't seem to be required.  One way or another the whole package of goodies is free and I mention that because I want you to keep that in mind as I write about my experiences.  Free camera.  Full disclosure. 

First I want to comment about the size.  It's about as small as the ZX-1 but it feels bigger and much better constructed.  It also takes the bigger, BLS batteries.  That means the batteries are interchangeable between my EP2,  EP3,  EPL1 and the EPM-1.  The camera is a bit tiny for me but my wife's eyes lit up when I showed her the camera and I can tell you right now where the whole thing is going to wind up.  She picked up the camera (she has small hands, but not freakishly so.....)  and declared it "perfectly sized."  That means it's not to heavy to lug around and it will fit somewhere in her purse.

Technobabble:  The sensor chip seems to be identical to the one in the EP3 which is purported by test sites to be an improved and newer version of the sensor in the EP2.  The EPM-1 showed the same performance characteristics of the EP3.  Since I'd already worked for a while with the EP3 I was familiar but still not completely comfortable with the menu in the EPM-1.  When I shot downtown this afternoon I kept the camera in the RAW file mode, auto white balance, Aperture preferred, single shot AF mode,  and I mastered the exposure compensation (hit top of control wheel, turn control wheel  to increase or decrease exposure compensation).  The same controls work with the aperture but you push the top or bottom of the control wheel as though there were buttons there to change your settings.

I know some of you will scream and shout and gnash your teeth when I tell you that I immediately put a VF-2 in the accessory shoe because I refuse to hold the camera out in front of me like a stinky baby with a dirty diaper.  The VF-2 functions perfectly with the EPM-1 and makes it comfortable to shoot by providing a sharp, clear image as well as diopter correction for those not blessed with perfect eyes.  You may use the camera in any configuration you like.  The screen on the back is big and bright and I suppose you could use it to put together a shot.  My wife videotaped Ben running a cross country event with the camera on Saturday and did the whole thing with "arm's length" composition in bright sunlight.  Since she too has aging eyes I'll assume the screen is fine for this purpose.  

Speaking of video, Belinda was able to capture good video of the running event and the lens was able to adjust focus to compensate just like a dedicated video camera.  We watched the resultant "footage" on a 50 inch LED TV and it was pretty darn good.  She doesn't drink coffee so her results were much less shaky than mine would have been...I'll say more about the video when I've actually had my hands on it for that purpose.  This is just a first day overview of the whole package.

I put a fresh battery in the camera.  Clamped on the VF-2.  Stuck an extra battery in my pocket along with a 60mm f1.5 Olympus Pen F lens.....just in case.  I never needed the extra battery even though I shot nearly 300 images, using the EVF for everything.  The camera still shows a full charge.   I used the 60mm for several photos but mostly stuck with the kit lens.

The first set of photos below came later in the day.  I'd already sorted out how to change settings and figured out the minor operational differences between the EPM-1 and the EP-3.  I stopped by Cafe Medici on Congress Ave. to take a break as it's the halfway point in my walk.  I ordered a Cappuccino and sat down at the bar when I looked up and noticed a very beautiful woman just a few seats away.  Remembering my recent post about permission I got up from my seat, approached her and told her what I was doing.  To wit, I was out testing and shooting a new camera to make this blog post.  I asked if it would be okay to take a few shots.  She agreed and, over the course of our shooting and conversation, it came out that she is a friend of Emily who worked with me on my fourth book, Photographic Lighting Equipment.  I gave her my contact information and thanked her.  With some luck I'll be able to hire her to be one of my models in my (long overdue) books on Minimalist Video Production.  

 The image above is of "Dani" who graciously agreed to be photographed.  One of the technical things I did differently than I've ever done before was to set and use the "auto-ISO" setting.  I set limits so the camera would only use the range between 200 and 800 ISO.  The shot above was my first attempt but I didn't like the broad lighting so I started directing Dani into the big wall of light coming from the big windows facing east onto Congress Ave.  The camera seemed to like shooting at ISO 800 for this series.
 Once I got the camera and the light up and running I shot a whole series of images and, on several I substituted the 60mm for the kit lens.  I let you figure out which is which.




I'm glad I got over my shyness and asked Dani to pose because it was a good test for flesh tone and general portrait parameters.  She has exactly the kind of face I love to photograph and is also very beautiful.  Most of the shots were in the range of 1/50th to 1/80th of a second and I had the IS enabled.  

Earlier in the day I went by the Texas state Capitol to see what was new.  I think the camera does very well with blue skies and bright sun....but then few cameras seem to have trouble with this kind of shot.


 The dome was a great subject.  I was able to tilt the VF-2 toward my eye so I didn't have to tilt my head back to shoot straight up at the dome.  The relaxed posture and IS helped keep the shots sharp.  I was shooting in mode 3 (iEnhance) which tends to open up the shadows.  That introduces a bit more noise as the shadows are electronically amplified.  I only see the effect at 100% on my monitor and you can cure that noise by "crushing" the blacks as a normal exposure would have done or you can just live with it.  The noise was not the "color speckle" noise we see in many similar cameras.  It looked more like monochromatic grain and was not intrusive.  For the most part I'm very happy with what I'm seeing between ISO 200 and ISO 800 and that's where I stayed today.  I'm not in a hurry to see what the camera does at high ISO's.  But I'm sure it's much like the EP3.  I'd be happy to use 1600 as long as I can shoot raw but I'd rather not have the noise "cooked in" in the Jpegs.  So, my new rule of thumb with this whole class of cameras is to shoot up to 800 if I'm using Jpeg and up to 1600 ISO if I'm using raw.
Column Detail at Capitol.  Kit lens.  800 ISO.

Open inner courtyard at Capitol.  ISO 200.

I kept looking in Lightroom for the Olympus lens corrections.  They aren't in there.  (Yes, I'm using the newly released ACR 6.5 raw module).  Then it dawned on me that the camera and lens talk to each other electronically and automatically correct lens issues, making the same auto corrector redundant in the RAW converter.  You are still welcome, of course, to do as much correction manually as you might like.  I find that, geometrically and in terms of corner shading, that the onboard program does pretty well.



 Just giving the IS a good workout in a gallery space.  Big space, sparse show.  The ultimate in Minimalist aesthetic satisfaction.....

 Of course I'm very shy but I get over it from time to time.  I saw this couple walking down Congress Ave. and immediately asked them to pose for me.  They were more than happy to do so.  I guess the camera seemed less than lethal...
Of course, once you open Pandora's box and start photographing strangers on the street you'll have em lined up to pose.  This was a group in from Dallas.  They came to party.  This is how I found them at 3pm on Sunday afternoon.  I obliged and took several images of the whole crew on someone's iPhone and then asked them to pose for me.  I hope they found the party they were looking for.


 For some eery reason these random rocks looked 3 dimensional to me.  I leaned over and shot them so I could print them, look at them and divine their three dimensional secrets.  We'll see what we can uncover here in the Visual Science Lab.
The camera has very few dedicated buttons on the back and for the most part that's okay.  You come to depend on what Oly calls the Super Control Panel to make most of your changes and it works pretty well.  The one button that I kept hitting by mistake was the "info" button which sits just above the all purpose wheel on the right side of the back of the camera.  I tended to hit it with my thumb when using the top of the control wheel in its "button" mode.  All it really does is screw with how my finder display looks.  I like some information.  Like the aperture and the shutter speed.  But when I accidentally pushed the info button the next variation on the menu is a clear, uncluttered screen.  Sounds great but I hate to be left in the dark.

Looking at the images on my calibrated, super deluxe and ancient Apple 23 inch display I find that they look just like what I saw in the EVF and that what I saw in the EVF is just about what I saw when I looked at the scene with my own two eyes.  That's a good thing.

Bottom line?  You get the same imaging performance and focusing performance as the top of the line EP3 but if you pay for the camera and lens (EPM-1) you get all that for about $400 less.  Give or take a few bucks.  If you have small hands you'll likely love the ergonomics.  If you are over six feet tall you'll probably have to work hard to find some place to keep all your extraneous square hand footage under control.  The best compliment I can pay a camera is that it becomes invisible to you as you use it.  This one was starting to fade toward invisibility by the time I ended my walk and headed to Whole Foods for a wine tasting.  The camera and lens together weigh next to nothing and you won't notice them when you are out and about.

Of course, it's not a DSLR so there's no dedicated sync terminal and when you use the accessory shoe for the (nice) EVF you won't be able to use the flash....and vice versa.  If you are a dedicated street shooter this camera and a nice 20 or 25mm lens would be very unobtrusive while providing really nice files. It's really quite a lot of imaging performance for not a lot of money.  Add in the video capabilities and you have a nice production tool for unhurried projects.

When I walked back into the house Belinda was ready to have "her" camera back.  I'll pick it up again soon and give the video some time to show off.  But I find my blog readers are lukewarm on video, at best.

Final note:  I did not try pointing the camera directly at the sun while stopping the lens down.  I do not know if it will make the "red dots."  I didn't see them in any of the other light sources I shot. If you are concerned about the "red dot issue" you might check else where to see if someone has done a definitive test......



10.01.2011

The new/old Canon 1ds2 is back in the house.


I was going to buy this camera from my friend, Paul, but when I tested it the camera froze up.  We sent it back to Canon, they fixed it and I bought it.  I like the idea of a big, professional, full frame camera for some of the advertising stuff I shoot and I wanted a full frame back-up camera for my Canon 5Dmk2.  I shot with the 1DS mk2 on Tues.,  Thurs. and Friday and I thought I'd throw out a short review of a nearly six year old camera.  Not that I think people are going to rush out and buy one but because it is kinda nice and some historic perspective is always fun.


9.29.2011

What happens when all the air comes out of the balloon?

I talked to three different photographers who used to make good livings in recent years teaching workshops across the United States.  All of them say the same thing.  Basically, the air is almost totally out of the balloon.  The current expression of the photographic workshop is being killed off the same way bacteria in a petri dish die out when the food in the dish is all eaten up. 

I thought about making workshop teaching part of my pie chart of doing business but I could never figure out how much of my life I wanted to give up traveling and pontificating/teaching when all I really want to do is to take photographs. Every once in a while I teach one for the guys at Precision Camera and it's great because they handle the registration and all the details.  But I'm careful to only commit to one day workshops because I know I can make it through one day and deliver a certain amount of value to students but two days always seems like a stretch.  A full week would seem like a prison term.  To me.  I can only imagine how bad it would be for the students.

My problem with workshops is that every student comes with a different set of expectations and levels of experience.  And what they think they want to know is so different than what I think would be best for them to know.  Most (not all) of the workshops I see and hear about, and most of the ones they want me to do are about technical stuff:  How to use small flashes.  How to use more small flashes.  How to use small flashes, part 2.  And of course, Using small flashes for a number of different images.  

While not connected to workshops my publisher recently asked me to do a revision of my first book, Minimalist Lighting, Professional Techniques for Lighting on Location.  But really,  I think the whole category or subject is played out.  Neil van Niekirk has two great books about the subject from the same publisher.  And there are ten or twenty more from that one concern.  When my book first came out in early 2008 the only competitive book was Joe McNally's but it wasn't so much step by step as it was photos with explanations.  Now the same niche has nearly 50 similar titles available at Amazon.  I'd probably make some money reprising the book, just from name recognition,  but I think that petri dish is well populated.  And so is the niche for similar workshops.

But there's a big ass niche that stands empty.  I think the next wave of workshops (and one I enthusiastically embrace and invite) will be workshops and books about "WHY PHOTOGRAPH?"  How to get in touch with "why" you feel compelled to spend the money on gear and why you want to take images.  Knowing the answers to these questions will be much more valuable in the long run to every photographer.  And it's the idea that knowing ourselves and our motivations will give our images their real power and their real meaning.  How do you learn inspiration?  I think it comes from falling in love with the subject....

The problem is that there are a lot fewer people out there who have the chops to teach something like this.  Don't look at me I wouldn't know where to start.  And that's why something like this would be so valuable.  The most valuable creative experience I ever paid for was a two day workshop by a guy named Ian Summers.  He did a series of workshops called, "Heart Storming" workshops and he really did a good job making you look inside yourself to see why you do what you do and how to excel at it. I went in as a skeptic and came out changed.  In a good way.  What did I learn?  "Be true to your own vision."  Find the thing you love.

But the problem is that there are lots of technicians who can teach you about lighting ratios and using one light or no light or ten lights, but there are damn few teachers who can take you to the next level of inspiration.  And even fewer who can teach you to have the courage to take the path less traveled but more in line to your own inner core.  If you find a workshop like that, take it.

Lately I've been seeing the typical, cyclical return of "Zen" and photography.  And the inevitable workshops that teach you how to be dispassionate about being passionate.  I understand but I don't understand.  How's that for a Zen koan?  These workshops might be useful to slow you down and make you more mindful.  But mindful of what?  Your unhappy childhood?  Surely you can find something you love more than that....

In the long run a good weekend spent sitting in a beach chair, staring at the ocean,  and clearing out your brain may be the best medicine.  Or it could be that you just need to stop reading blogs like this and go out with your camera and let your muse come to you.  After all, if you make yourself inaccesible to passion and inspiration how will it know where and when to strike you?  

Here's what I've come to believe about writing and photography:  The more you do it the better you get at it.  The less you think about it the happier you are.  The less you think about technique the better your art looks and reads.  The less you care about it the better and more sincere it becomes.  Put the brain on autopilot and shoot with your heart.

Wanna take a workshop?  Don't look at me.  I don't know what the hell I'm doing.  And that's okay with me.


These photos have nothing and everything to do with what I wrote up above.



I just like the way they look and I have a lot of respect for the art of four color printing.