11.21.2011

Late afternoon and into the evening with two good friends and a Nikon V1.


My friends, Andy and Frank are photographers.  They are as interested in the art and craft as I am and they are quiet and fun to spend time with.  We decided to meet downtown at Medici Cafe late this afternoon and go for a walk, have a little dinner and spend some time playing with our "miniature" cameras.  I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to see how my new little Nikon handled low light so I stuck the 10mm to 30mm kit lens on the front, crammed the 10mm into my shirt pocket and ventured into the land of "no parking."

I thought I'd be early but the guys were already there.  They were both in an Olympus micro mood today.  Andy was sporting an EPL1 with a Panasonic 20mm and Frank brought along his EP3 and switched between his new 12mm and his 45mm 1.8.  No tripods.  No flashes.  No other stuff.
We headed for South Congress Avenue and we were reveling in the sweet light that skims across the lake just before sunset.  On the Congress Ave. bridge we met this "Occupy Austin" protester waving a flag and waving at cars.  He said he wanted to get away from the city hall crowd and do his own thing so....there he was.  We approached and asked if he would mind us photographing him.  He didn't mind in the least.
 As far as I can tell the Nikon focuses quickly and accurately. One thing I've noticed is that I like to dial down the exposure by one third to two thirds of a stop under the indicated values in order to get files I like.  In post processing I always add a little bit more black with a the black slider in Lightroom.  And I am likely to use the "punch" preset with some of the files as well.  It imparts a fun grittiness to the images.
When we first started out there was a strong wind and low clouds whipped through the late autumn sun like a slow motion movie effect.  
 Everywhere we turned in downtown the light and cloud mix created little dramas on the faces of the buildings.  We were shooting and walking.  Shooting and walking.  Pretty soon we got our cadence down and  were able to walk in some sort of coherent pattern.  I'd been looking forward to our walk because Andy has a style that is untainted by previous exposure to the traditions of heavy, film based photography.  He's a natural with the LCD screen on the back and consistently tells me not to depend on the viewfinder but to "use the force."  I wanted to open myself up to new ways of photographing and looking and so I was purposely studying his approach.  Using the live view on the back screen he would maintain a loose and fluid methodology, making little adjustments with his feet or the bend of his knees.  The live view allowed him to make almost unconscious corrections to exposure and shoot quickly.  I tried to follow his lead and not be as rigid as I know I am.  Too many rules in my brain.  Reminds me of my favorite bumper sticker about dogs:  "More wag, bark less."

 Another odd thing about this evening.  Usually when I'm in a crowd of photographers I'm the odd man out, shooting with a bag of single focal length lenses.  This evening I was the odd man out for shooting with the only zoom in the trio.  The 45mm 1.8 on the Pen EP3 is a wonderful combination....Must.....resist......buying.....temptation....

When I got back home I downloaded my files and started to edit them.  I saw several things.  The Nikon was a bit too warm in many of the downtown building files.  It may be that it was really accurate to the way the scene was being lit, a low, late sun is very warm.  But the scenes all looked better as I made the color bluer in my raw conversions.

The second thing I noticed is that the Nikon has a very fine, black pepper grain to images shot over 640 ISO.  It's not apparent until I zoom into 100% but it's there.  There is none of the chromatic noise that causes the color sparkles in older camera images.  And, even though this very sharp and monochromatic noise sneaks in it doesn't seem to affect the sharpness of the files.  I'll stand by my original observations and say that you are good using ISO's up to 800 without much restriction (DON'T underexpose) and, with care, at 1600.  3200 is reportage with the intention to convert to black and white.  Even the files at 250 ISO have a little bit of this black pepper noise but it's not at all intrusive and doesn't seem to effect the image at reasonable print sizes.

Shooting in a group, no matter how small, always entails a bit of compromise but tonight was smooth.  One of us would linger behind to explore a reflection or something in a shop window and would catch up.  One person would find an interesting subject and go off on a tangent.  And we'd all come back together again, minutes later and compare notes.  I like to see how people photograph.  We're all so different.  Since we weren't lighting or directing each shot came and went quickly.



This is a close up of the forearm of the protester on the bridge.  That is not a temporary tattoo.  It's the real deal.  Still fresh and red around the edges.  He had other interesting tattoos as well.  If you want to shoot something specific sometimes you just have to ask.....

As we headed south on the bridge I turned around to snap a few images of the downtown skyline.  Austin has changed so much in the last five years.  Our downtown has been totally revitalized and is now the interesting place to be.  Many of the new skyscrapers are resident towers and I look forward to a time when we have a real, 24/7 downtown to move through.  The one thing we lack right now is a good number of 24 hour restaurants....




As we worked our way toward the food trailers I found myself falling into the familiar pattern of looking for familiar patterns.  The Nikon EVF is a perfectly suited for the process of grabbing graphic nibblets.  You see, essentially, the finished photo as you are previsualizing it and visualizing it on the screen.  It's kind of like seeing the future and the present simultaneously.

But I have to consistently practice my people engagement skills even if I flub the technical stuff.  The camera might be up for 1/8th second exposures but I'm not sure I am and I'm pretty sure this couple was moving a bit as well.  (Lit with very, very low incandescent lighting coming through a shop window.)


I photographed this flower/vase because I liked the combination of textures but when I developed the image in Lightroom I liked it more as an example of the graceful highlight transitions I could see in the different tones on the white ceramic.

The combination of streetlights and the afterglow of sunset makes for wonderful color contrasts.  I wish the skies would hang there, in this balance, for hours everyday.  As it is you have only glancing opportunities to catch a perfect balance and then it's gone.  Makes for a bit of a challenge.

I can't speak for the other guys but for me this was a welcome photographic vacation from my long day of photography related stuff in the studio.  One of the banes of modern commercial photography is the long hours spent in front of a monitor doing things like, clipping paths, black and white conversions and fine tuning large files destined for print.  I spent hours this morning taking 40 megapixel raw files, converting them into beautiful color files, making masks to drop out backgrounds while leaving wisps of hair intact and then uploading nearly a gigabyte of files to my client's FTP server.  Once you add in following up on some billing and putting together a few bids you find that you've spent the bulk of the day in a chair at a desk.  Which is decidedly not what I really signed up for in the beginning of this whole photography lifestyle thing.  But it's cathartic to get out as the light changes and the wind changes and walk down a busy street with the wonderful feel of a camera in your hand.  And even if you come back without any images you want to show to anyone else you know you've spent time well.  

I must confess that the photo above and the photo below were intentionally shot into light sources to see if the Nikon could be coaxed into showing off "red dot syndrome."   I think the camera passed this test well but I offer no guarantees for people who want to include the sun in their frames.  I do love the mix of street lights and ropes of bulbs against an evening sky.

We stopped at the end of our route and ate a jovial dinner at a fish taco restaurant.  We talked about cameras and we talked about life, and our plans for the holidays.  It was a simple moment but one without a care in the world.  And that's a rare thing to be able to say these days.  Our intention from the beginning was to walk.  Everything else would be whipped creme on top of the sundae.

This shop on south Congress Ave. had a display of old cameras.  35mm and other odd formats from the 1940's and 1950's.  The coolest thing I saw in the shop was this giant camera.  Every once in a while the flash bulb would light up.  The rubber ducks were a nice counterpoint.......

We wound up back where we started and we sat at the bar and watched people and talked to each other, and to the baristas.  In one of those, "Only in Austin" moments we were informed that salsa dance classes would be starting, in the coffee shop, in "just a few minutes."  When we left the salsa was already in progress and Austinites in black t-shirts with band logos on the front were dipping and dancing with women in skirts.  We each shook hands and headed off to find our cars and return to our homes.  I felt like a tourist in my own town.  And it was good.  There are always more attractions to see.  And the price is just right.


Funny to write about my adventures with the little Nikon.  Yesterday I was shooting portraits on black and white film with my Hasselblad and the 150mm lens.  The day before I was shooting still life with the Canon 1DS mk2 and a 90mm macro lens.  I guess I'm just destined to shoot "all over the map." But it sure keeps my job AND my hobby fresh.  
By the way, our protester with the "Occupy Austin" tattoo also sported this one.  I was thinking of getting one like this myself.  But my friends convinced me I should get a Leica tattoo instead.  I'm still pondering.   :- )

Final report on the Nikon:  I like it.  It's sharp.  It's no more or less infallible then any other comparable camera.  It does nice detail and has good color.  It's fast.  It's light and small and I can carry it all evening without a thought.  In all I think Nikon should do well with the new format.  It might not be the camera for you but.......it's not a bad camera.



11.20.2011

Talented Reader Spot Light. Tripod Strap.

I'm so over black.  And I'm tired of synthetic everything.  I guess you can see that when you see the tripod I use for my work.  It's one of my two Berlebach tripods, handmade in Germany from aged Maple.  I take my tripod everywhere and consider it VR/IS on steroids.  Recently a VSL reader named Gordy, noticed my affection for old tech stabilization and wrote to ask me if I'd like a tripod strap to go with it.  I accepted.

I'd never really carried a tripod with a strap before but I thought I'd give it a try.  I like it a lot.  It's snug on my shoulder and frees up my right hand, which used to bear the burden of the tripod as I tromped along to a job site.  But most of all, I like the aesthetics.  The leather is thick and gives the impression that it'll supply years of service.  I carry it so the tripod hangs horizontally.

In the interests of total disclosure I must say that Gordy sent me the strap as a gift.  He did not ask me to write this but I wanted to after having used the strap for a week.  It's a niche product that feels both retro and useful.  I'm putting the link to Gordy's strap site in case you want a non-traditional (or should I say previously traditional?) camera or tripod strap.

Gordy is smart.  He hooked me by sending the first one for free.  Now I've been back to the site several times and I'm in the process of deciding which straps I need for a few new cameras.  I just can't stand the promotional straps that come in the boxes with the new cameras.......

http://www.gordyscamerastraps.com/index.htm

Talented Reader Spot Light. Tripod Strap.

I'm so over black.  And I'm tired of synthetic everything.  I guess you can see that when you see the tripod I use for my work.  It's one of two Berlebach tripods, handmade in Germany from aged Maple.  I take my tripod everywhere and consider it VR/IS on steroids.  Recently a VSL reader named, Gordy, noticed my affection for old tech stabilization and wrote to ask me if I'd like a tripod strap to go with it.  I accepted.

I'd never really carried a tripod with a strap before but I thought I'd give it a try.  I like it a lot.  It's snug on my shoulder and frees up my right hand, which used to bear the burden of the tripod as I tromped along to a job site.  But most of all, I like the aesthetics.  The leather is thick and gives the impression that it'll supply years of service.

In the interests of total disclosure I must say that Gordy sent me the strap as a gift.  He did not ask me to write this but I wanted to after having used the strap for a week.  It's a niche product that feels both retro and useful.  I'm putting the link to Gordy's strap site in case you want a non-traditional (or should I say previously traditional?) camera or tripod strap.

Gordy is smart.  He hooked me by sending the first one for free.  Now I've been back to the site several times and I'm in the process of deciding which straps I need for a few new cameras.  I just can't stand the promotional straps that come in the boxes with the new cameras.......

11.19.2011

Ginger Rogers had to do everything Fred Astaire did only backwards and in heels.....


I laugh and shake my head when I hear about photographers who can't function without "fast" autofocus, total exposure automation and instant chimp-o-metric confirmation at all times.  It's painful to hear about professionals who can't cope with composition if they don't have a zoom lens on the front of their camera. I laugh derisively at people who think modern day "flash-ists"  invented basic techniques like balancing flash with ambient exposure or using back light.  And I especially "thumb my nose" at photographers who feel the need to travel with a big, pouty, noisy entourage.  Who the hell needs all those people around them these days?

I'm shooting some people in my studio tomorrow and I generally use that as an excuse to do some major cleaning up.  I've wiped away the stacks of stands and piles of power packs that were brought home and tossed into the corner after last week's long flurry of location photography.  I was going through a filing cabinet drawing, tossing out mementos of yesteryear in order to make room for future junk when I came across a contact sheet and a page of negatives.  Big, juicy, medium format color negatives.  ISO 100 Fuji Reala negatives, to be exact.  I remembered this shoot with my assistant, Anne.  We were setting up to do shots of Dell executives in various locations around their beautiful executive briefing center.

So I thought I'd pop a negative in the desktop scanner and see what it all looked like back then.  This was old school photography all the way.  Our assignment was to find five or six fun locations and then guide our executive thru each location in order to build a catalog of public relations shots the company could use for the next two years.  Anne was standing in for a test shot.  She's holding our medium format camera with a Polaroid test back on it.

Anne and I met at the studio in the dark part of the morning  to pack and get on the road to Round Rock.  That's where Dell's main offices are.  We carried along a Bronica SQai System which was a fun and inexpensive (by comparative standards) knock off of the venerable Hasselblad 500 series.  The system entailed three bodies,  waist level finders and hoods,  lenses from 50mm to 200mm, and eight 120 film backs.  We also carried a Polaroid back and a couple boxes of 100 ISO speed, black and white test film.  We used black and white for several reasons:  1.  It was a better match, tonally and exposure wise with the Fuji Reala film than was the color-roid.  2.  It was quicker to process.  Ready in 30 seconds under most temperatures.  3. It didn't generate discussions with clients about color.  Many a working photographer will tell you stories of hours spent fine tuning the color on the Polaroid tests they were shooting, in order to please the client, only to have the color be nowhere close on the film.  We pretty much knew what we were doing back then with light meters and such so the color part of the Polaroid wasn't very necessary.  Why open up a big can of worms if you don't need to?

We packed three or four Profoto monolights, with (OMG) optical slaves, and an equal number of stands and reflectors.  We also packed large and small soft boxes, some flags to flag off spill and a bunch of odds and ends.  In fact, we took everything we thought we might need if it would fit on our cart.  And a lot of stuff did.

Our basic modus operandi was to walk through the entire location first and make little sketches in a notebook about which sites and which angles we thought would work best.  Then we returned to site one and started setting up.  First thing is to find your angle and establish the subject/background relationship you want.  More important than anything else.  Once we had the lens, distance from camera to subject and subject to background figured out we'd start to light.  My first step is to light the background or, in the case of the image above, to see how we'd use the cool light already existing in the scene.  I metered the background and established a base exposure for that.  From memory I'd say we were looking at f8 at around 1/15th of a second with the ISO 100 film.  Next step is to figure out how to light the subject.  We went with a small (32 inch) umbrella with a black backing used to right of our subject.  A white reflector, used close in, provides fill from the other side.  Our final light is a small flash ( probably a Metz ) dialed way down and used on a stand right behind Anne's head.  Only when we had moved all of the lighting components into place and had metered them with an incident light meter did we pop our first Polaroid.  Why not pop one at every step?  Easy, they cost about $2.50 each to shoot at the time and I'd rather do the technical stuff with a bit a of rigor and pocket the money we'd waste on iterative and unnecessary tests.

At this point we'd bring the client into the mix (they generally sat in one of the conference rooms during our quick set ups and caught up on work...), snap one more Polaroid and then work through two whole rolls of film.  A whopping 24 frames.  Sometimes, when we were running low on film we'd call it a wrap in twelve shots.  Confidence in your own technique was a requirement back then.  There weren't many other alternatives.

Once we got what we needed we'd talk to the client about how long it would take to do the next set up and where we would rendezvous.  Then Anne and I would label the film from the location, bag it with the relevant polaroids and move on.  At the end of the shoot we'd divide the film up into two batches.  One roll from each set up.  Then we'd have the lab run one batch, and then the other.  This was like cheap insurance that let us know we'd know that, even in the face of abject lab failure, we'd have one roll of images to fall back on.  For the most part the labs never failed (except on one of my biggest assignments on 4x5 sheet film for IBM.....but that's another story...).

The role of the assistant on shoots like this was more involved than it is today.  They'd be responsible for labeling and keeping track of the film.  They'd pack it, load it, unload it, label it, bag it and keep track of it at all times.  We trusted our meters back then and the assistant had a meter as well as the photographer.  I could stand at camera position, pop a light, and depend on my assist to meter the pop from the right position, holding the meter in the right spot and then jotting down the readings in a little notebook in case we changed cameras and lenses and needed to go back to our reference exposure.

On shoots where we shot lots of images loading film backs on demand, always correctly, was a skill in demand.  When we got back home we'd unpack and the assistant would take the two batches of film to the lab and give them any necessary instructions.

I use assistants far less often for interior shoots these days.  And usually it's in the capacity of setting up and tearing down lights.  There's very little else productive for them to do while we're shooting.  My current assistant sometimes operates more as a producer, lining up models, getting props and figuring out logistics.  As we relentlessly downsize both the type and quantity of gear (and the budgets) the rationale for using assistants on a frequent basis also shrinks.  On outdoor shoots you need a good assistant (if you are lighting) to keep the light stands up in the wind and to carry the sandbags to the location from the car.  It's also good to have an extra set of eyes on the gear when out with the public....

Well, that's all I really had to say.  I was just struck, when I saw these photos, with the memory of how much work and skill it used to take to do a shoot versus what is required now.  I recently did a hospital shoot and mostly used a Canon 5Dmk2.  Our most rigorous lighting challenges were easily handled by a clean ISO 800 or 1600 and a little foundational supplementation with a small, TTL cabled flash.  Our value add had nothing to do with technical stuff and everything to do with directing and building quick and effective rapport.  That and seeing the right angles, composition and gesture.

When people talk about the challenges of photography today, as they relate to technique, I just roll my eyes and think of the quote about Ginger Rogers.  That's probably why so many older photographers are a bit resentful about having learned so much good stuff in their careers. Stuff that is being tossed by the wayside.  We'd like to be able to show off just how elegantly we could dance backwards with a view camera......

11.16.2011

You're only as good as your last job...

The universe is a tricky place and plays by a different set of rules than transient beings like us would like.  I had coffee recently (when do I not have coffee??) with a very famous photographer who was bemoaning the fact that his work had gone from super-renumerative-award-winning-globe-spanning to zilch in an arc of about five years.  And he couldn't figure it out.  We talked about market changes, the death of magazines (we both cut our teeth in the heyday of editorial work), the move to a more and more granular set of markets and age-ism (the ebola virus in the room).

But as we picked our way through the seemingly chaotic vagaries of happenstance we both saw a pattern emerge.  We'd been resting on our laurels.  We thought that a great project, done for a "show" client would have infinite legs.  That, say, a cover of the New York Times magazine would be a client magnet for years to come.  Or that a bestselling book would cement business relationships, down stream.  I'm consistently guilty of presuming that local clients know my long history in the market and that it must provide for some future business traction.  

 It's rough when you hit the wall of reality and have to confront the fact that.......you are only as good as your last job.  And that everything technical you've learned over the years is losing value faster than your dollars.....

In swimming, competitors can brag and trash talk and walk through memory lane to their heart's desire but the real test, the only test, is that time on the clock and who touches the wall first.  Nothing else matters.  You can carry your old wins gracefully but they won't help you in this race.  They won't give you anything more than a psychological advantage.  Mythology doesn't trump "now."

When we have been in the business (or the craft) for a long time we have a tendency to believe that the things we were taught and the "best practices" techniques that we embraced are both objective and right. Above opinion and obvious.  But every new style is, de facto, a destructive technology whose sole intention is to kill off the status quo.  That's the nature of art, life and business.  We can admire what came before but we achieve by inventing the new. 

I am hardly above reproach and never infallible.  I had (have) a knee jerk reaction to everything new that comes slamming down onto the photographic pike.  I hate HDR.  I loathe all the silliness of iPhone-o-graphy and above all I wish I could freeze the market and the prevailing aesthetic right at 1995.  I was pretty good at that style and comfortably understood the business....

But had I stopped there I would long since have migrated into a less.....kinetic.....industry.  The fact is, I am only as relevant to clients as my last job and my last portfolio show and (here comes the coup de grace) and showing my greatest hits from yesteryear only reinforces, to potential clients that I am frozen in amber and not swimming at pace through the stream of current commerce and style.  Without constant course correction we might as well swim to the side and exit.  They may admire my old work but it may have no relevance to the projects in front of them today.

I am not saying anyone needs to abandon their core style or walk away from decades of experience but I am saying that it needs to be incorporated into an ongoing journey of discovery which includes shooting for  oneself, trying new technologies and showing new work.  Even if the work is in a style you've done forever there is a resonance that emerges which communicates the freshness.  We can never step in the water in exactly the same way we did the day before.  Life continually changes us and you can't help but reflect those changes in your current work.  It's not important to be trendy.  It's important to let the comtemporary "you" seep into your work and the only way you can do that is to work contemporaneously. 

My readers here don't need to be reminded that I pick up new cameras all the time.  Part of it is the barely subjugated hope that the new gear will deliver the power of a cult talisman and improve my work by its magic, but another part is my belief that technology and aesthetics are joined at the hip and move in a staggered lock step.  I've talked lately about "fluid or fluent" photography by which I mean that the technology and the interface of your chosen camera doesn't interfere with your seeing.  That it regresses and becomes automatic.  That's the promise of many of the new, smaller cameras.  You look at the screen on the back (or in the EVF finder) and see the image already brocaded and prepared.  Previsualized, if you will, for you, by the machine.  All that's required is selection and timing.

In a way, fluid practice is Zen practice, is mindful practice, is stream of consciousness practice.  It precludes setting things up.  It precludes the disruption to the creative process by affectation.  It is negated by spending time setting up strobes.  It's a direct reaction to the scene in front of you or the scene in which you also exist as a player.  The 2006-2010 small strobe fascination,  was a style.  It was a manifesto.  And now it's old fart.  The techniques of HDR will be incorporated into the tool kit of photographers but, as a recognizable style, it will join the ring flash and colored filter gels on the scrapheap of photo-art-history.  The current technique of using small cameras and fast lenses, and moving and responding rapidly will also cycle through.  But it will be the prevailing style for a while.  And then it will killed off by the next disruption.

This doesn't mean that older styles don't soldier on like Zombies on the Night of the Living Dead, fashion isn't instantaneous, globally.  But you can already see the sea changes.  Scott Bourne is all feverish about shooting portraits in the studio with, gasp! an Olympus Pen camera!!!!! Thom Hogan (the big Nikon guy) declares his love for the Pens. Every guy I know is rushing to buy a Fuji x10 or x100 or the Nikon or the Panasonic mirrorless camera of choice.  Images are starting to crop up all over the place shot in the new ethos.  Camera Minimalism is rampant...

And it's all part of the process.  But you need to swim your own race.  Training methods change.  The hard work doesn't.  And the hard work has always been the incorporation of change into your own art.
Finally, to all the people who will rush in and talk about the sanctity of style I can only offer up Picasso.  He mastered seven distinct and wonderfully different styles over the course of his career and was prolific.  More work.  Less resting on our laurels.  More output and more change.  Less talk about how we did it in the old days.  Not discounting the art but no one can live on laurel leaves....

Our existence always hinges on our ability to change....well.

note:  I like this blog: http://mftadventures.blogspot.com/  it's called "High Fidelity Compacts."  It's well written and thoughtful.  Most cogent for people who are interested in smaller cameras.  Nice.

another note:  I laughed so hard I almost spilled my coffee....  On some comment stream someone was taking me to task for saying nice things about the Nikon on my blog.  Someone else responded that my blog was there to sell mountains of my books and also for my commercial photography clients.  I'm still waiting for the mountain of book sales but I hope to God my clients don't read the VSL blog.  I'm not always kind here....

Post edited. 11/17.

11.15.2011

Some images taken on a rainy day with a camera.

Those of you living in London, Seattle and other semi-liquid environments won't get why I think rain is so cool but.....absence makes the heart grow fonder.  I woke up this morning and went to swim practice and, just as I was getting out of the pool the first peal of thunder sounded and minutes later a gentle rain started.  It lasted for almost two hours.  It's the first time we've had a good, soaking rain in......a long time.  I grabbed my little Nikon V1 with the 30-110mm lens on the front, threw the 10mm in my pocket with an extra memory card and headed out the door.

I kept my camera under my jacket when I wasn't shooting and pulled it out when I saw stuff I liked.  I think the 30-110mm is my favorite lens (for the moment) for the mini system because it's faster by a stop than the 10-30mm lens is at it's long end.  I went full amateur today.  I set the camera to P and the ISO to 100-800 Auto and blasted away.  The only concession I made to my controlling and domineering rational mind was the ocasional nudge on the exposure compensation ring.  I find that the camera likes "bright and sassy" while I prefer "somber and glowering."

There weren't a lot of people out and about and that was okay since I spent my last entire week in close proximity to mankind and I was ready for some solitude.  I stopped in at Cafe Medici to get a cappuccino and to let my not very waterproof jacket dry out a bit.  At the risk of sounding like an endless loop recording in a greeting card, I really like EVF's.  It's so nice to see what you're getting as you're getting it.  And it's nice to see what the camera has in mind so you have the opportunity to massage the outcome a bit without compulsive chimping.

Even though I reflexively feel the need to adjust the exposure compensation dial I find that the meter is right on the money most of the time.  Much more accurate, for instance, than my Canon 1DSmk2.  Today I ventured even further into the real of the rank amateur and used the auto area autofocus.  It's quick and, for some reason it generally decides to focus on what I was planning to focus on if I'd been doing it myself.  It must be the new beta upgrade I just installed that does auto-composition....A real time saver.

There's really something magical about walking around downtown in a pair of shorts and a jacket when the temperature is at the perfect 68 degrees and water drips off your black baseball cap like a kinetic curtain of sparkles.  I was worried about the detail capabilities of the camera but after shooting this gas tank of a motorcycle and seeing the results I think I'll stop worrying about it for a while.  

My photo friends have been going back and forth, burning up the transponders on the cell towers.  The pressing question of the week:  Go for the Nikon V1 or the Sony Nex5n or the EP3 or the Fuji X-10? Or, as one of the well to do wags suggested:  "Just pony up and get one of each."  Used as a casual shooting camera, for art and happiness, I think they are all equally good.  I vacillate between my EP3 and the Nikon.  I like the way the Nikon springs to life when I rev it up and start shooting but then I'm seduced right back over to the EP3 when I see it there in the bag with the 60mm 1.5 dominating the front.  Where are the fast lenses?  They are in my bag.....  I haven't played with the Sony but ATMTX swears by it and the stuff I've seen from his projects is wonderful.

And that brings me to the Fuji X-10....

 I've always liked Fuji cameras.  Even squirrelly and eccentric ones like the S2 with it's battery melange.
The S5 was a great camera for portraits and I resent myself for ever selling it.  And I wanted to "power-like" the X-10 because, really, it is just so beautifully designed.  It oozes market research.  And is a never ending nod to the M series Leicas.  But the finder....Why couldn't they step up and do the finder right?
It needs to be bigger.  Right now it's a 0.85 % view of reality and there's no built in parallax correction.  That makes it a vestigial nod to an optical viewfinder more than a working optical viewfinder.

I played with the camera for a while on Saturday and Sunday but I just can't bring myself to buy one when the Nikon needs to so thoroughly field tested first.  Too many cameras and not enough of the important resources: time and money.
The rain gave up and with the show over I headed to Whole Foods for lunch.  The pulled pork BBQ sandwich was on sale today.  When I sat at the counter and ate my sandwich, nursing cold lager, I made the mistake of checking messages on my phone and the fish hook of work sunk itself right back into my lip and cheek.  One client needs prints. Another needs a bid.  And a third one can't open the tiff I sent.

Back in the bag goes the play camera.  Off comes the "Ron Howard/Steven Spielberg" patented "creative" black baseball cap and out comes the client service "gimme" hat.  The details of business is the part I hate....





11.14.2011

A memory of a time immersed in photography.



It was 1998 and the American century was blazing bright as we strode, puff chested, toward the odometer flip of time.  The internet was blossoming into thousands of fragrant start-up companies, each more audacious and absurd than the one before it. Two, in particular, I remember laughing about.  One would search for stuff for you, all over the internet, for free! and the other start up would let you search for and buy books.  Then they'd stuff the books onto Fedex vehicles and get them to you.  Both seemed pretty silly since Barnes and Noble was just down the street and there were so few websites out there that you could just type in the addresses to find them... And I was booked to go to Lisbon to shoot.

I was booked on a shoot just before this one in Lisbon.  Another company, at the time famous for their cellphones and tactical radios, had booked me for a week to cover their conference in Orlando.  I rushed home from Florida and dropped my film at the lab and my clothes at the dry cleaner.  I read some bed time stories to my small child and kissed my wife and then picked up the needed dry cleaning on the way to the Austin airport two days later.

This would be my last corporate shoot done entirely with film.  I packed three cameras.  A Nikon F5, a Nikon F100 and a Leica M6 ttl 0.85.  For the Nikon I brought along the 80-200mm 2.8, the 24-85mm zoom and the 85mm 1.4AF.  For the Leica I brought along the same lenses I always packed, the 35mm Summicron, the 50mm Summilux and the 75mm Summilux.  I brought an ample supply of color negative film for the trade show and a special cache of 50 rolls of color transparency film for my person shooting (with the Leica).  Of course I packed a Gitzo tripod and two Nikon SB flashes.

The show had originally been scheduled to take place in Istanbul that year but a few terrorist bombings threw a wrench into those plans.  It was deemed to be a bit of bad planning to place several thousand of your best clients close to potential mortality....  Lisbon was the city with enough vacant hotels and a mothballed convention center that the omniscient planners were sure could be put back in service in time.  I was being hired by the client company but my check would come from the production company that designed and built the stages, signage, pedestals for hundreds of demo products and more.

When I arrived, exhausted from the time changes and time spent in a metal tube at 40,000 feet, I had the immediate and disquieting realization that Portuguese and Spanish were actually.......quite different.  Not that my Spanish skills are incredible....  But I was able to make it to the 300 room, 1960's era business hotel on my own steam.  I'd booked in two days before the show in order to head into the city to take images for myself.  Texas disconnection.  In our land we air condition the crap out of every room.  Kinda feel like it's our divine right to live well chilled in the face of any heat wave.  But we've been spoiled by cheap (to the consumer) energy.  In Lisbon, I swear, there's a functionary whose sole duty is to slip into each American's hotel room, minutes after the American leaves it to go out, to find and disable the air conditioner with urgent dispatch.  Every day I would leave the tiny unit on, praying to the Texas gods that the room would be under 80 (f) degrees upon my return.  But every time I was foiled.  Gone down the hall for three minutes?  Off.  Into the bathroom for a shower?  Off.  I finally gave up.

One the first day I walked down every street in downtown.  On the second day I took the train that runs along the coast and headed in the direction of Porto.  I made it as far as Nazare before I turned back in the late evening.  By the end of my second day in Lisbon I'd walked probably twenty miles and shot all of my little cache of chrome.  And then the show started in earnest.

On the first day most of the Americans in the hotel took taxis or car services to the convention center.  Wanting to conserve my per diem I figured out the subway and bus routes and lunged out of the lobby with a big, black canvas Domke bag over one shoulder and a tripod in the opposite hand.  I found the subway station two blocks away and even figured out how to pay at one of the machines for a ticket.  The final mile was on a city bus.  I understand the security of taking a cab or car service but you sure see a lot more of a city and its people when you go on public transportation.....

The first thing a smart corporate photographer should do is to make friends with all the people at the main production company.  This includes the people who run the image magnification cameras that record the show and also put up big video feed on giant screens on either side of the stage.  They also design, build and rig the lighting for the stages, which can be quite impressive and complex.  They do the sound and they direct, speaker by speaker and demo by demo, the unfolding of the show.  My desire is more pragmatic:  They are a source of free coffee and donuts in the morning and, they have a tasty crew lunch at noon.  No lines, no waiting and a chance to eat out of range of the company's show staff who could use you 24/7 for "a PR opportunity".

I got into the hall and got my bearings.  Found the production center and figured out where my bag and extra gear would be safe and then I got a camera and a short zoom, a pocket full of color neg film and I went off to do the ritualistic vacuuming of details....  What does that mean?  Well, you show up on the main floor of the venue and record stuff that the market team might want to look at and think about later.  Signage, especially three story tall signage, is always a popular item.  The look of the hall empty and then, full.  The stage look with a few different lighting variations and, of course, the exterior signage.  I'm there two hours before the show begins because I want the donuts while they're fresh and the freshest of the coffee but I also want to spend a few minutes listening to the show director brief his staff.  That way I'll know the show agenda. I'll be ready for "impromptu" demos, "surprise" appearances of tech celebrities and stuff like that.  And the donuts.  The people in Lisbon do good donuts.

When the "main tent" session kicks off I'm usually in the second or third row, on the aisle.  That way I have some freedom of movement and I'm close enough to the stage to get good use out of the 200mm end of the zoom.  I shoot each speaker and presenter as tight as I can and then in various compositions as they move about the stage.  I'm estimating exposure on the fly.  You had enormous amounts of breathing room with color negative film....

As the show progresses I go up into the "nose bleed" seats to catch some overall shots and I shoot from each side of the stage for the "looks-like-you-were-there" point of view.  When the session breaks we usually head to lunch and then, in the afternoon, a never ending set of "break out" sessions.  This is always intermixed by frantic requests for PR photos of handshakes, contract signing and letter of overwhelming intention by upper level attendees.  We go strong until 5:00pm and then, like magic, everyone but the production crew heads back to their hotels to get ready for the "special event / social interaction" part of the program.

Tonight it's at a historic convent on the edge of Lisbon.  The big silver buses (dozens and dozens of them) are disgorging attendees in long streams as one of the officers of Cisco Systems shows off his rock climbing skills on the rock wall of the four hundred year convent....  The talk among techies is the hurtling pace of new technologies that will make the web accessible to all comers.  The talk among the sales people in the crowd, and the marketers and money people is about what car they will buy when their company IPO's.  The attendees with the special glow are the ones who've been on the receiving end of the first round of IPO's.....and they're talking about cars they already have and houses in Napa that they are either in the process of buying or renovating.

I am on the parapet of the convent listening to the tenth wife say, "Make me look thin!!!" when I look at the horizon and see the most beautiful light I've ever seen. Warm oranges and gold layered with purple painted in broad strokes across the sky, all topped with an azure blue.  I'm desperate to have a beautiful person to put into the light so I can "own"  a tiny fraction of its magnificence.  And I find the hot, young marketing vixen with the long, dark hair and wonderfully engaging eyes and convince her to stand in a certain way and to not smile and, for a few minutes I'm thrilled to see how beautiful the light can be as it pours, in liquid, languid slow motion, over another beauty.  And thrilled that I can still recognize it.

The dinner is in the central courtyard of the convent and the environment is magnificent and weathered and filled with stories.  The table settings are wonderful and regal. Candles and oil lamps blaze as an amiable ensemble coaxed Mozart melodies out of their violins and cellos.  And the crowd is still chattering away about what's happening on the TV show, 90210, and whether Tori Spelling will be back the next season... (of course she will be, her father, Aaron Spelling, owns the show).

As the light fades I switch to flash from available light and I watch my batteries like a hawk.  In the medieval times of the late 1990's we used nicads and they were nothing like the miracle metal nickel hydride batteries we have today.  50 or 60 big flashes and we're ready for another set.  Believe it or not but flash worked much, much better with film.  The cameras measured auto exposures right off the film.  And the films had remarkably consistent tones.  The sensor would monitor the film and then shut off the light at just the right time.  Nikon owned flash. And the Nikon F5 was the Jupiter in the pantheon of flash cameras.  I could point and shoot with ease.  And the lab would gracefully hide any of my own craft shortcomings.

These were the days before "Strobiosity"(tm, sm) and we made our own modifiers.  My favorite was the large size white index card and rubber band combination.  We called it, "large white index card and rubber band."  I'd bend the top edge a bit into the path of the light.  It worked well.

Back in the days of the "dot com boom" the liquor flowed freely, all the wine was good and all was right in the halls of corporate America.  Even when it was playing "out of town."  We lurched back to town at witching hour on silver bus after silver bus and then the lobby bars of every hotel in town filled up with fun loving young tech people from across Europe and North America who were anxious to have a few drinks and make a few.... connections.

The show photographers who lasted in the business always knew when to beat a hasty retreat.  Once ten pm and fifth round of cheer came into view we pretty much knew that nothing good or picturesque would be happening from that point on and we'd get lost.  Nothing keeps you from being rehired quicker than a sober marketing director who's pretty sure you might have taken images of her sitting in the wrong lap in the wrong venue from the last go around.

The show went on like this for days.  And then the after glow show of the people who stayed on for "meetings" and what not.  I packaged up the color negative film and sent it along with a friend in production who needed to head back to Austin early.  My assistant picked it up and sent it along to the lab.  I stocked up on $15 per roll Fujichrome 100 and headed back to walk the streets for a few more days to investigate the city.

One day I carried just my M6 and a 50mm lens with me as I walked.  I came into a large town square.  I think it was Placa Dom Pedro VI.  It was full of commerce and the light was bright and hazy.  I walked around and photographed people shopping and sitting in the cafes that spilled tables out into the walk ways.  I was getting ready to leave and the light was changing from bright sun to the more nuanced and color rich light of late afternoon when I turned and saw one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen in my life.  She couldn't have been more than twenty two or twenty three. She was dressed simply: blue jeans and a white t-shirt.  She had her feet tucked into a conservative pair of cordovan colored loafers and she was perfect.  Her face was like the angel in the Leonardo Da Vinci painting, the Madonna of the Rocks, but with dark hair that streamed down her back.  And bounced when she walked.  Her eyes were alive and penetrating.

I pulled my Leica up halfway to my face and adjusted the shutter speed and f-stop, anticipating; hoping that she would stay on her course and that it would take her into the one shaft of warm, gold, magical light.  And as she stepped in that column of heavenly illumination and turned her head slightly to look over her shoulder I brought the camera to my eye and clicked the shutter.  I don't know what happened to that piece of film.  I never found it.   But it still doesn't matter since not a day has gone by without me remembering how beautiful and fleeting that one gesture was.  The photograph is burned into my memory like a handful of others I've taken in my life that transcend everything else I've done.  A conceptual masterpiece, un-shareable except through my woefully inadequate story-telling, and yet a cornerstone in the building of my aesthetic.

And, for the rest of my life I know I'll be looking for a moment like that again.  And if I capture it that will be my masterpiece,  the sum at the end of this equation that I put together, ultra thin slice by diaphanous layer when I practice my looking each day.

And then I went back to my hotel room to pack up all the spent trappings of a week at work. In the morning I was on the plane for what would turn out to be a very exciting 26 hour flight back to Austin. I knew I should have spent one hundred dollars more and booked through Miami......

I saw an image today I'd shot minutes before shooting the one I lost.  It was in my archives and I glanced at it this evening and it triggered this flow of memories in the same way a bittersweet memory triggers the flow of tears.  I need to wear blinders as I walk through the office....




Hunters and gatherers versus farmers and factory workers.

I'm not a cultural anthropologist but I'd love to play one on TV.  I do have some theories about humanity in aggregate that explain to me the vast differences in the way we think.  The theories also extend to the reason some people hunger for the safety of the group while others prefer the practice of solitude and personal action, divorced from complicit coercion of the hive.  People who study humanity say that for the first 99% of mankind's existence we survived in very small, family tribes and made our way in the world as nomadic hunter/gatherers.  We ranged far and wide, ate mostly vegetables, fish and small animals and we spent time embroiled in adventure.  There were dry spells and disasters but there was also plentiful free time and solitude.  Most decision making was left up to the individual.  You rested when you were tired and ran after game when you were hungry.  And it was the hunters who were the early artists in places like the caves of Lascaux and Chauvet.

At some point our people experienced a split.  Agriculture was discovered and with it the promise of a buffer from future hunger.  Many grain crops could be harvested and stored for long periods of time to offer a hedge against the uncertainties of nature.  Mankind had to choose between adventure and security.  Between the individual and the group.  Between shared sacrifice and autonomy.  Between spirit and subjugation.  Bellies were fully but diseases were more easy spread.  The concentration of populations gave rise to hierarchies of privilege and control. And the world has been spinning out of control ever since.  Our world population growth was turbo charged by the family farm and the community farms of the past 5,000 years.  More offspring meant more hands to till soil and gather in crops. Now the patterns remain but the need recedes. The equation has turned and now the surplus of workers threatens to upset the whole apple cart.

On a global level you can argue that agriculture, geographic stability and the like are what led mankind to make discoveries and inventions and even art and music and I'm not here to argue which state of existence is better but I do strongly believe that, like a tendency to be left or right handed or a proclivity for adventure or conformity, that each human carries inside a genome or DNA for one or the other type of living.  The farmers and stabilizers were, early on, able to concentrate numbers to create overwhelming armies which pushed nomads out of their territories.  The farmers and grain accountants now far outnumber the hunters. But there still exists a part of population that finds it impossible to conform to a lifestyle that many more people find perfectly acceptable.  Even preferable by dint of it's stability and security.  They are farmers and, the modern analogy/permutation, office and factory workers.  They are interdependent.  Not just for food and shelter but also for thought and intention.  

You hear the mantra all the time: "Team Work! Team Work! Team Work!"  That means "Think together, sit together, eat together, band together."  Great for building the Great Wall of China, the Pyramids or the Hoover Damn.  Not so great when it comes to re-imagining existence and creatively re-ordering our existence.  Which we are obligated to do with each new generation.....

And, as civilization continues to homogenize, the outliers and hunters seem more and more strange and different to the masses.

So, where am I going with all of this?  I really believe that non studio bound photographers in general, and photojournalists and documentarians in particular represent the expression of the hunter/gatherer gene.  And without them society and civilization, as a whole, would capitulate to their own self-serfitude.  (I'm pretty sure I made that word up...)

Why else would millions sit at home, even on their days off, and watch TV?  Why do the masses throng to the malls to buy the same stuff as everyone else?  Why do they stampede out to the sports arenas to cheer on total strangers who they identify as "my team."?  They do it because they've been trained from birth to depend on the mass, the hive, the extended tribe to provide purpose, organization and relative security.  In exchange they surrender their creative freedom, their individual initiative and their curiosity.

Now, I'm obviously making sweeping generalizations because, of course, the mix of our genes is nothing if not convoluted and mixed up.  We all have the species memory as stored in our DNA to function as hunters and gatherers as well as farmers.  But within the general population their are propensities that are obvious and can be plotted.


We've become so interdependent that it's (nearly) impossible not to have a foot in the "Borg" quicksand.  And it's the relentlessness of the campaign to snuff out dissent and opinion that scares me.  Artists seem to be classified as "unusual" along with serial killers, saints and people who talk to invisible people on the streets.  In American culture you are less likely to know about art history than calculus and, damn few people in our country are up to snuff in calculus.  When we squish out the outliers we make life more emotionally comfortable for people who fear change and challenge because we eliminate scary, aspirational role models.  When we lampoon artists or paint them all with a wide brush we are doing what we do with the monsters in fairy tales.  We are trying to rob them of their power.

But instinctively we know that we need the outliers to push our society into continuous evolution and change.  Without the Steve Jobs hunter gatherers we have only Scully's who measure and horde without moving the game forward.  Without the Picassos we have only the status quo and blue bonnet painters.
Without Ferrari we'd have only Chevy Novas.  Without Jeff Bezos we'd all be lining up under the lime green glow of the Walmart ceiling fixtures looking for the approved products.  Without Henri Cartier Bresson and Robert Frank we might still think our role is the vacuous documentation of cat whiskers and sunsets over suburban backyards.

Cities know they need art to survive.  They need people to metaphorically walk in the desert for years and then come back to tell us what it's like.  Someone needs to climb into rockets and let themselves be flung into space.  And it's the same in the arts.  Normal people flock to cities that nurture artists.  Museum spring up eternal.  Television and movies haven't replaced live theater.  People still play musical instruments and artists still make paintings.

I single out photojounalists and documentarians because it's imperative that they operate outside the system in order to see it clearly and reflect their observations back to their audiences.  They are the outsiders who report on the insiders to the insiders.  They call mass culture on their foibles.  And they do it with images.

But nothing reminds me of the legacy of our ancestors more than the urge to pick up a camera, put on a pair of walking shoes and head out the front door in search of individual adventure.  To track down an image and later share it on the wall of a cave to remind everyone else that adventure is as important to our civilization as air and water.  And you'll find plenty of both out there.  That content is at least as important as the technology used to create it.

Is it any wonder we're fascinated and drawn to the smaller tribes and cultures in our midst?  Like Rappers and Navy Seals and Athletes.  (and by athletes I mean real athletes who challenge the clock or race against others, not a bunch of people who do gladiatorial teams sports for cultural mind control).
Tiger Woods is fascinating because he plays golf really well but also because he only plays golf, does it on his schedule and reaps the rewards for himself and a small tribe.

I think the sudden interest in this century in photography coincides with a breakdown of the consensus culture.  People are resisting becoming part of the "giant team" because it seems to represent a walking death.  The rise of entrepreneurialism really represents a repudiation of the mega corporation model and a harkening, a desire for the autonomy of our ancestors.  The camera, worn on a strap for efficient travel, has become a symbol and artifact of our pent up desire to push away from the cloying crowd and rediscover what it means to make your own decisions about what is good and beautiful.

And even if you work for a big company at a "real" job you understand when you throw the camera over your shoulder and walk outside your front door to find adventure that this single act is helping you achieve a personal voice, a freedom of choice.  To be a good or bad artist isn't the question.  The real question is:  Will you create on your own terms or will you capitulate to what society at large has to say about what's beautiful and what's not?  The hunter gatherer would counsel you to smell the wind, read the signs and find out for yourself....

The more we bring art inside the corral the blander and weaker it gets.

11.13.2011

Fun with portraits. Audience in tow.

I was showing portrait lighting as I like to do it.  This is a very quick (five minutes) set up with my assistant, Amy, some big LED panels and a nice diffusion scrim.

I'll admit to being a being a closet introvert.  I'd teach more workshops but I really don't like to spend a lot of time in crowds and I always feel like I'm responsible for people learning something.  Some days I just don't feel like much of a conduit between information and it's intended targets.  Yesterday and today are good examples.  I walked into the Austin Photo Expo, where I'd agreed to do four workshops, and I hit the wall from all the silly stuff I'd been doing all week.  You can only go so far, so fast before you run out of emotional gas and find yourself running on fumes.  I hadn't put together a slide show and it showed.  I tried to talk through it but....as I predicted....major fail.  I sat down over lunch and hammered together a rudimentary Apple Keynote presentation with 60 slides and I went back at 1pm and had a great time with the audience.  I had another show this morning at 10:15 and did equally well.  This afternoon the audience was thin so we all just had a good time.

I set up a demo in which I used panels and Amy to show how I would light a portrait for myself.  We fooled around with the silly lights (fill, hair, backlight) and then we stripped it all away and did it right.

Amy is sitting about ten feet in front of a grey canvas and just behind her is a 500 LED instrument, covered with some white, nylon ripstop, diffusion material.  It's set to full power. Over to Amy's left (the right side of the frame) I've set up a 6 by 6 foot diffusion scrim and I'm lighting it with one 1,000 LED panel and one 500 LED panel.  That's it.  I love the way the big, soft light transitions from the highlight side of her face to the shadow side.  I love the little triangle of light just to the right of her nose and I love the little kick of light under her chin.  It's actually bouncing off her chest.

I'm using an older Canon 1Dmk2N because it has a firewire connection that gives me a fast and stable connection to my laptop, which, in turn is connected to the projector so the people in the class can see the shots as we progress.  I also like that even when shooting RAW the files aren't very big and they download into the tethering program very quickly.  I shot at ISO 640 just because that's where the camera was set when I picked it up.  I was using the Zeiss ZE 85mm lens.  I meter directly through the camera.

Amy is an accomplished photographer in her own right and she intuited exactly the look I wanted in the photograph and locked right into it.  We shot two frames of this pose and moved on to show what the image would look like with more fill light, etc.  But for me the two frames were the synthesis of how I want to shoot people.  Direct, unaffected and focused.  No extra effects.  No theatrics.

We wrapped up each session except for the last in the same way.  People who were too shy during the session came up to the podium to ask me their personal questions.  That's okay.  I like to have a personal connection too.  The fun people were the dozens of attendees who went out of their way to thank me for continuing to blog.  It felt good.

Amy and I wrapped all the equipment back up and carted it out to the Element.  We hugged and then drove off into the growing twilight of the Fall night.  In a way I felt that I'd come full circle to the way I always wanted to photograph.  An older style that might not have as much relevance today but seems so nice to me.

Which brings up a bittersweet observation.  Most of the people at the Expo seemed to be the same older photographers I see everywhere.  Many of them sporting big cameras and big camera bags.  They came to look at this year's iteration of their generations'  cool tools.  They flocked to the Canon and Nikon tables in droves.  And yet the younger generation, though not as well represented, were flocking to the smaller cameras.  There was palpable disregard, in their ranks, for the "big iron."  And it signalled to me that we were at a generational disconnect that presages a new age in both the hobby of photography as well as the business of photography.

The dependance on the big tools is fading.  No one in the emerging new group seemed to care about the stuff that we craved when we first were dragged, kicking, screaming and denying, into digital.  They don't care about big cameras or enormous lenses.  They aren't captivated by more resolution.  They look for cameras that are fast and fluid and casual.  They want good high ISo performance and small overall profiles.  They are looking for good industrial design to be coequal with good technical specs.  Think iPhone as opposed to the original Motorola "brick."

For them, the camera is an extension of hand and eye, not a puzzle or equation to be mastered. They want their cameras to be as operationally transparent as an iPhone or an iPad.  And while I have an emotional and nostalgic attachment to the tools and trappings I grew up with I'm quickly coming to recognize that it's a style and a set of tools that's quickly losing its legitimacy these days.  Smaller and more natural is the main thrust of our art these days.  The cameras in ascendency are the Panasonic G series, the  Olympus Pens, the Nikon 1 series and, most recently, the little Fujis.

Five years ago, at events like the Austin Photo Expo, we would have seen lots and lots of manufacturers showing off their electronic strobe systems.  Their monolights and traditional pack and head systems.  We would also have seen lots of booths offering a wide array of softboxes and umbrellas.  Most of that was gone this year.  In their place were endless Speedlight modifiers and attachments. There were more compact florescent fixtures than monolights and everywhere I looked people were figuring out how to use small cameras with smaller lights.

Austin is trend forward.  The Walmarts and Costcos and Best Buys will probably still sell millions of Rebels with kit lenses and Nikons with kit lenses.  But the tsunami is building from here.  And in cool towns all over the world.  And the trend is smaller, faster, more fluid, more liquid, more automation, more stealthiness.  It's cameras you can carry without burden to match a direction that implies that your camera will go with you everywhere and create mini-masterpiece series instead of one masterpiece at a time.  It's a brain shift.  And I understand it.  The days of carrying your Canon 1DS mk3 to the coffee shop are as over as carrying in your CB radio.

If you are waiting for the cycle to return and big cameras and static images to be back in style you need to start thinking of evolution as three dimensional spirals instead of two dimensional circles.

Added this morning (Monday Nov. 14):  For another version of Amy, by atmtx try this link:


http://www.mostlyfotos.com/2011/11/amy-smith-at-austin-photo-expo-2011.html

Ah. The friendly advice. How to improve my blog....


I ran into a photographer I know at the Austin Photo Expo and we spent a few minutes catching up.  He's a nice guy and fun to talk to at parties, etc.  But after five minutes or so of comparing notes he smiled and told me he was glad I'd decided to get back to blogging.  That felt nice.  But then I left myself wide open.  He asked me if I wanted a little advice about improving the blog.  I should have said, "no!"  but instead I politely nodded and said, "sure."  And he proceeded to give me the same advice that I've heard from every "blogexpert" and web source you can imagine.  I tried to will my ears to close and my brain to shut down but it doesn't really work that way.  Damn primitive human physiology....

In a nutshell his advice was this:  1.  Many of my blogs are too long!  He felt that I should work on trimming down the content to make it more manageable.  He added that he has twenty or so blogs that he reads everyday and that the length of the articles means that many times he can only skim them so that he's able to get on to the next blog.  Hmmmm.

2.  I shouldn't post so frequently.  He suggested that, if I felt compelled to be.....productive (like a cough) that I might want to warehouse the overflow and dribble out the content in some sort of "just in time" delivery scenario like a discount warehouse.  Again, if I post more that once a day this puts a burden on the reader who, with twenty or so bloggers on his radar,  gushing forth a torrent of somewhat disconnected content, may not be able to match pace.  Interesting leap of faith here.  That I can write faster than my audience can read.....

So, I'd like to address this as it may further focus my intentions as a "blogger."  Or even better, my intentions as a writer.

First of all,  I use just enough words to get across the message and the inflections of my messages.  No more.  No less.  While breathy and gushy quick hit blogs may be just the thing shallow readers crave, like Hallmark Greeting card sentiments,  I only want to write for an audience that's comfortable swimming in the deep end.  If a paltry 2,000 or 3,000 words is more than one can handle in a few minutes, with coffee already coursing through the system,  then the length of my blog is not the only problem bubbling to the surface.  We must, as a culture, be  developing an epidemic of ADHD.  

If my writing is too long and vapid to hold your attention then, by all means, give yourself permission to change the channel.  But in various chats with lots of followers, the majority indicate that they like the meaty, chewy and satisfying length we at VSL give to a fair number of our articles.  Like a juicy, marbled Ribeye, hot from the grill....  And let's be frank.  If everyone is following the "web savvy" advice and writing, like, two paragraphs,  where are all the people with "abnormally" long attention spans going to go for their photo reading enjoyment?  It's an ethical conundrum for sure.

As to the second point.  The frequency of posting.  That is even more interesting to me because it indicates that my web educator might not be fully aware of how the world wide web works....  It's like a giant capacitor.  You can keep throwing information at the web and it will keep storing up the charge. And when you aren't reading it the web (through the magic of Google, et al) will patiently sort it, rank it and even vet it for you.  Then, just like Tivo, you can come back at any time and enjoy it on your own schedule.  BUT....big news flash!!!!!  We annoying artists and writers don't work on a schedule, really.
We write stuff when it comes to us, post it and move on.  Clearing our palettes for the next thought.  We are NOT administrators.  We are not we traffic managers.  Managing your dosage is your responsibility. I ain't gonna start spreadsheeting my writing on some punch clock schedule just so you can use the web in "live mode" only.....

So, in a nutshell,  I will write as long a post as I'd like and as many posts as I like AND I will post them all willy-nilly and leave it up to my peeps to learn how much they can drink in at one sitting.  But I'm not dumbing it down any further than it is right now because I don't want to lose the kind of readers I'm happy with in the pursuit of gaining a class of readers I am less happy with. (And the second group is certainly more numerous....)  Some people shop at Walmart and I'm okay with that but I like a different experience and I'm even more Okay with that.  (Too bad I can't "smarten it up" but this is all I've got.  Just like power to the warp drive engines on Star Trek.  I can hear all the Scotty's in the brain engine room yelling into the intercom:  "We're giving her all we've got, captain!")

I'm certainly not angry or upset that my photographer friend offered me his opinion but I'm sure pissed at myself for agreeing to hear it in the first place. Everyone who comes to photography from the real world of business is hobbled because they see photography through the constructs and vicious metrics of profitability.  Photographers who came to the business because of their love for art and expression may be hobbled when it comes to making the maximum financial profit from each effort but at least when we are at work we're not looking at our subjects through layers of spreadsheets.  We run unfettered.  (maybe there's a class on creativity stuck in there somewhere....we expunge the math brain, the profit brain and the judgement brain and send people out to shoot things that are pleasing to themselves...).

You may have noticed a scant number of ads on the site.  As the VSL becomes more "popular" we've been getting approached by more and more companies which would like to advertise on our site.  And it's tempting but there's a trade off for everything.  And I know I would not be above the subtle, subconscious manipulation of a vendor's gracious largess.  And then you'd have to "read between the lines" (which would double the length of the articles).  When people write novels they don't sell ad space between the pages.  I know I'm not writing a novel here but every time I sit down to write something I like to start with a clean "piece of paper."  I think I'll keep pitching my books here, toss in an Amazon link for a product I've bought myself and leave it at that.  Then, at least my motives will be above reproach even when my grammar and spelling is not.

Finally,  everyone over thirty who thinks they know dick about how things "really" work on the web is full of crap.  Marketing on the web is a constantly moving target and all the metrics in the world will only tell you what worked yesterday, not what's going to work tomorrow.  Every site is different.  Every demo absorbs the web in a different way.  We use a proven method at VSL.  It's called, "Throw it at the wall and see if it sticks."  Our only metric is:  "Did Kirk want to write this?"

The above photo was taken in a studio, under a .25 Watt light bulb with the V1 at 1600 or 3200 ISO. 

(Can he write, "dick" on the web????)