The Fifth Book Has Finally, Officially Landed at Amazon.com. Finally.

LED Lighting.  Kirk's Fifth Book.

Of all the changes that technology's brought to photography one of the most interesting to me is how it's changed the way we light things.  The tools are transforming the vision of a generation.  Cameras with faster ISOs require less light but the light you do bring to the table is so much more controllable and easy to use than ever before.  While most still photographers use flash in some form I'm pretty certain that the future will call for more use of continuous light and more flexibility in choosing our tools.

I started using LEDs when Canon and Nikon and Olympus and Sony started putting really cool video capabilities in their cameras.  I wanted to see if I could open up some profitable markets for myself by adding video to the product mix I offer my clients.  While I'm not setting the world on fire with video, the simple interviews and web videos I've done put an extra $10,000+ in my accounts last year.   Not big money but if we work hard on improving every step I'm sure we can make those numbers grow, year by year.

So I got my first set of LED lights to augment available light with video but on the way to becoming the next Steven Spielberg I noticed that I was attracted to using the LEDs, more and more, for still life work where the WYSIWYG nature of continuous lighting made my shoot more efficient and productive.  Now I had a reason to jump in and learn with both feet.  So I bought more and bigger panels.  In effect, I slid into LED lighting the way you slide into a hot bath....just a toe at a time and then finally, the commitment, and the  plunge.

Now, a year and a half later, I've used the LEDs to light executive portraits, twilight portraits, complex (for me) food shoots, studio shoots with actors for Zachary Scott Theater, and some really fun and fast moving corporate reportage.  A few days ago I was asked to photograph some books in a three dimensional sort of way.  A few years back I would have been reaching for the electronic flash monolights and I'd start the "chimping" process.  I'd be setting up soft boxes and umbrellas and blah, blah, blah.  

With my bigger LED panels I just flipped the switch to "on,"  lined up the shot on the live view screen of my camera, set the aperture I knew I'd need to cover the book with sharp focus, adjusted the shutter speed until the live histogram looked correct and then tripped the shutter.  A quick, magnified look at the file and I was on to the next set up.  Color?  Perfect.  Just using AWB.  Perfect?  I finished in two hours what had taken me, in past "flash centric" shoots, perhaps four or five hours.

In the book I've written about choosing the right LEDs.  About the accessories that seem to work best for me working with the lights.  About using them for my favorite subject: Portraits.  There are over 250 images that illustrate every point.  The book is 160 pages long as is the culmination of a year and a half of research and "real world" use.  And then six long months of writing a re-writing.

I hope you'll take a chance and add this book to your library of photographic books.  I'll continue to update my knowledge base about LEDs and what's changing in the market place and share that information here.  What every writer in this day and age needs is the support of his audience.  In a way the books pay for and are the prime impetus for writing this blog.  Every book sold gives me time to explore, write and shoot more.

thank you.


Canon Designers Fail Again. My Overdue Review on a "Retro" Product.

When will all this retro nonsense stop?

I watched the Nikon rollout of the D800 a few days ago and it reminded me that Canon is on the ropes. For good.  Oh sure.  They're the biggest camera company in the galaxy (right now), design and produce their own incredible sensors, and just a few years ago the Nikon users were jumping in droves to get the white lenses, the super video, the full frame, the high ISO.  But now everything has changed and there's no such thing as continual "leapfrogging."  Canon is doomed.  DOOMED !!!  We all know it.  And I think I found the genesis of their hideous decline.  Someone asked me to review this camera (above)  and I was shocked with the primitive feature set.  I know it must be a current camera because it's so........retro.

It's called a Canonet QL17.   How cutesy.  It sports a prime 40mm lens with a fast, 1.7 f-stop but that's just about where the feature set ends....

Well,  here's my review:  The damn thing is unusable.  Let's go down the list of unredeemable flaws.  To start with, all that satiny metal finish is way too retro-ly conspicuous.  I've applied ample stealth tape in an attempt to tone down this grasping, faux modern design aesthetic as best I can.

The lens is FIXED.  Not that it was broken but,  I've learned now that any camera with a fixed lens is inferior to an interchangeable lens camera.  And zooms are best of all.  Who can do any kind of work without a fisheye and an extreme telephoto?  Read no further.  I'll warn you off right now.  This is not a birding camera.  Unless you relish the idea of tiny birds hidden in the recesses of your frames.  Dots, really. There's no reach at all. The lens is just a 40mm and that's on full frame !!!!  

But I just found out that the "full frame" imager is the same as the one used in the Nikon F full frame that we reviewed earlier.  It's not re-usable.  It's WORO.  Which means "write once, read once."  They used a sensor called "film."  It's very noisy over ISO 400,  and the camera doesn't have a lot of post processing tools built in.  In fact, it has none.  It's a very expensive way to run a camera.  But it's offset by having a MSRP of $149.95, new.

Continuing with the flaws you would have to add the lack of autofocus.  See the little knob just to the right of the lens in the photo above?  You pull that up or down to effect focus.  And the confirmation that you're doing a damn bit of good in the pursuit of focus is in a little window you look through.  Apparently this is a "rangefinder" camera.  Like that other retro copy, the Leica M9.  Come on, if you need the retro styling just get a Fuji X-100.  That's the real retro deal.

This camera may be one of the very few in the world without a menu. In fact, there's no electronic interface I could find.  You wiggle the stick for focus.  You watch fuzzy yellow blocks come together for focus and while I think there used to be a meter in the camera but the designers chose a battery that didn't "jump the shark" into the 21st century.  So your meter is all mental.  Kind of an "Abundance Metering" philosophy.  If you "think" good exposure then surely you will manifest good exposure.

The camera has a limited range of shutter speeds and those are only available in full stops.  Wanna shoot outside?  I don't think so.  The top shutter speed is 1/500th and God knows you can't do anything with that.  And get this.....the slowest shutter speed is 1/4th of a second.  Jeez.  No star trails here.

 There is a bulb setting and a self-timer but my test camera's self timer was obviously defective.  It buzzed like a savage honey bee every time I tried to use it.  Notice the steel and alloy construction.  Sadly it adds a lot of weight to what should have been a lightweight camera.  Don't those designers know about the joy of plastic?

Speaking of hopelessly retro, get a load of this.  It's a PC terminal for a sync cord.  And it's a "dumb terminal" not an interactive connection.  All it's good for is triggering flashes.  And, you guessed it, Canon "cheaped out" and didn't include any provision for "smart flash."  (Although they do have a provision for a primitive "guide number" flash.) Could they be more painfully retro?

And I'm sure you saw this coming...No LCD screen.  No way to preview or review your images.  It's almost like this camera is "capture averse."

This unit may represent an older part of Canon's line but it's an example of the company's obvious misdirection.  If they had launched products like this in the 1970's do you think they'd even still be in business today?

I'm waiting for an improved, eighty five megapixel verison with auto Hipstergram, auto HDR, auto Compose and auto Banter.  And, if Canon ever dumps the tired ass retro thing and comes into this century of camera design, let them know that I'm waiting for a red one.  Fire Engine Red.

In All Seriousness...The Canonet QL17 was my first real camera and was a constant companion for years.  I finally retired it to a place of honor in the equipment drawer when I bought my first Leica M3 with a 50mm Summicron.  The Canonet went with me to Paris back in 1978 and many of my favorite images came from that little, wonderful box.  It loaded quickly (hence the QL) and it gave me easy to print Tri-X negatives, roll after roll.  It was small, unobtrusive and quick to use.  The meter was acceptable but we took advantage of a useful tool, provided by Kodak, when we wanted fast and accurate exposure setting advice.  Every roll of Kodak film came packaged with a sheet of paper, and on that sheet was a little set of illustrations showing different light sources and recommended settings.  We'd tape the little paper strip onto the bottom of the camera, under Scotch tape, for quick reference.  And it worked better than matrix metering nearly every time.

The fast (and sharp)  lens and vibration free leaf shutter (flash sync to 1/500th), in concert with ISO 400 film, let me shoot with impunity in low light.  The rangefinder never front or back focused and was equally good in bright or dim light.  Your battery could go completely dead and all you would lose is the metering.  In all it was an incredibly condensed and compressed tool for shooting real life.  If you find one in good shape for a good price you might consider snapping it up.  It's a good intro camera for people who've never had the pleasure of using real film.


A time out from the new product mania.

I finished shooting a box full of books for one of my clients who publishes books about real estate and I was looking for something to cleanse my "visual palette."  I found this old Kodak folding camera that my mom sent me.  Apparently, it's been living in my parent's closet for a few decades.  It came from a relative's collection many years ago.

I cleaned it off and put it on one of my tripods and then thought about lighting.  I set up a different lighting design than I had ever tried before.  I placed a big, 1,000 LED light panel (the cheap, Chinese variants) on either side of the camera and used the barn doors to keep spill light off the gray wall that was, maybe, five feet behind the camera.  The LED panels were pretty close.  You can see the placement in the image below.  I expected the chrome parts to burn out and the dark areas to be noisy but it didn't turn out that way.  Even though the camera sits directly between the two lights I thought the overall effect was dramatic and pleasing.  I shot the set-up with a Panasonic GH2 and the 14-140mm lens.  When I opened the raw file in Lightroom I was delighted.  There wasn't much post processing to be done.  

My favorite aspect of the shot on top, and even more so in the middle frame (above) is the way the light falls off as it goes down the tripod legs.  I'm equally happy with the way the light falls off so quickly to the background that the wall goes black.  And, at ISO 160, I'm not seeing any noise in the shadows.  It's really nice performance for an inexpensive little system.  Once I finished shooting this I wrapped up everything and went into the house to have dinner with the family.  I can't decide which of the two above images I like the best.  The camera alone is nice and clean but the second image resonates with my inner photo nerd.  I wish I'd done the shot earlier because it would have made a nice addition to my book.  I'm anxious to try the same kind of lighting in a portrait set up so I can get that same rapid fall off.

Today was totally insane.  We had nearly 20,000 pageviews of my Olympus OM-D introduction.  This followed yesterday's big, web wide announcement of the Nikon D800.  The lure of the new cameras was palpable.  There was clearly credit card adrenaline in the air.  But when I looked at the new stuff I had a sense of having been there so many times before.  I'm starting to feel like Pavlov's sad little dog because I find myself drooling at the internet signal that tells me that new camera dog food is heading to my bowl.

In both instances the camera makers are moving their respective balls forward.  The Nikon may be the camera that pushes the medium format either off a cliff or into making a price competitive product for people who want or need a really large sensor.  It will certainly be strong bait for people who want the best you can get (conditionally--meaning: the best for under $5,000).  The promise of a 30+ megapixel camera is tons of detail and smooth tonality.  It may be overkill but that remains to be seen....  Wait a month and Canon will, no doubt, debut their answering salvo and the race will be on to lock down customers.  It's pretty much an easy sell.  Lots of dots and lots of good numbers for a pretty affordable price.  If you're an aspiring pro this is the kind of camera that popular wisdom will lead you to.  

The Olympus OM-D is the magic camera enthusiasts have been waiting for.  It's small and sexy and by all accounts it's going to be a very, very good picture taker.  But what is the real appeal of this whole micro four thirds niche?  Do you get it?  Can I explain it?  I'll try...

First of all, it's no longer "cool" to carry around huge cameras and lenses over your shoulders anymore as you go about day to day life.  It's kind of the equivalent of dragging around a huge laptop just to be able to cruise the web and read your e-mail at your favorite local coffee shop.  Get a tablet.  Save some table real estate.   

At the heart of it the appeal of the small, mirrorless cameras in general is that for all intents and purposes the image quality of these cameras is more than adequate for 95% of the kind of shooting and sharing that 95% of the people who are ardent photographers, want to do.  Really.  We might be shackled by nostalgia into thinking that only a "full sized" camera will work for us because "our" needs are specialized.  But really, if you aren't shooting a job or assignment you're probably sharing most of your photo output on someone's computer screen.  

I did another job today for the "book" client.  The first time we shot together I shot all the books with a full frame, "professional" camera and a dedicated macro lens.  But the client's only use for the images was as illustrations on their website and as product illustration on Amazon.com.  I'd be shocked if they were used any larger than 800 pixels on a side.  Today we shot the same kind of stuff on the Panasonic GH2 and, after I finished dropping out the backgrounds and doing my post processing, the images were equivalent to the earlier full frame shots.  The one difference I noticed in the actual shooting was that the increased DOF for the same angle of view meant that I didn't struggle to keep the product in focus at the cost of the effects of diffraction.  Oh, and the live view was much easier to use.  Oh, and the touchscreen was pretty cool for moving the AF sensor cursor around.  I guess my point is that while huge print sizes and ultimate quality are still the provence of the biggest camera sensor you can get it's not a binary equation for all photography.

The users of the m4:3 cameras that I know have all graduated from bigger cameras.  They are looking for great image performance in a package that's a good companion.  Small, easy to pack, light enough to carry for a full day and not in your face. Having graduated from the mainstream they seem to have left behind the idea that the camera itself conveys some level of competence to the photographer.  Now they just practice their craft for the joy of practicing their craft.

The other thing that seems attractive about m4:3rds is a side effect of the lack of the mirror.  The lens mount flange to sensor distance is much smaller and that means that every lens designed for longer sensor-to-flange or flange-to-film plane distances can, with an adapter, be mounted for use on these cameras.  That appeals to the experimenter, the do-it-yourselfer, and the glass epicureans who understand that all lenses have their own personalities and styles.  People routinely mount everything from long, fast Nikon telephotos to jewel-like Leica M lenses.  

But now the m4:3's have come of age. Both Olympus and Panasonic have started revving up the optical workshops and they've been introducing cutting edge prime lenses than can be designed to be optically better than lenses hobbled by having to clear a mirror.   A big gap between the lens and the sensor means that lens designers have to use retrofocus designs that are a compromise.  The new lenses made for the smaller format can be optimized for better wide open performance, better sharpness and higher contrast.

I think the graduates get that.  Maybe not the exact engineering but surely the idea that the lenses, even though small, are heavy hitters.  And they return really superb images.

Smaller, lighter, cheaper, designed for the hand, fully implemented EVFs and lots of other intangibles.  What's not to like?

Do I want one of the new OM-D's?  You bet.  Do I need it?  Not for a second.  I'm still happy with the Olympus EP2, spoiled by the EP3 and well satisfied with the workmanlike GH2.  Can we shoot jobs with these?  Of course.  Look to the destination.  Heading to the web?  Perfect.  Prints up to 20 inches? No problem.  Super impressive to clients?  Nope.  But that's a whole other story.

I'm not preaching for a total takeover of the market by mini-cameras.  I think there's a place for everything.  And I'm sure lots of other pros will be able to make the case for big Canons and Nikons and that may be true for them.  But the market isn't homogenous.  I think it's smarter to choose a camera that's fun and facile rather than following any of the herds and buying a camera that's just right for someone else.

Hope you're having fun.  There's never been a better time to enjoy photography.  Just don't let the obsession with gear ruin your fun...


Olympus Fans Rejoice !!! The OM-D is real. And it might be awesome.

It'll be here in April and it's just what everyone said they wanted in 
an Olympus mirrorless camera.  Really.

The Olympus faithful (myself included) have waiting a long time for this one to hit the market and it looks like we'll get the m4:3rds machine we wanted from Olympus afterall.  I loved the EP2 and the EP3 but in each introduction I shook my head at the lack of insight into professional and advanced amateur usage patterns on the part of Olympus.  I've been very, very clear that no pro in his/her right mind would buy a camera that didn't have an EVF.  And the VF-2 EVF attachment is a good tool.  But dammit, if you wanted to use the EVF on the EP2 and the EP3 you used up the hot shoe and the only two way terminal on the camera.  Wanna use the VF-2?  Then you can't use a hot shoe mounted flash.  Wanna use a outboard microphone to do good sound with your video?  Not is you need to use the VF-2.  It drove me nuts.  

We were also starting to chafe under the constraints of the 12 megapixel sensor.  And if I had a quarter for every time I heard the Olympus fans decry the lack of weather sealing on the Pens I'd be driving a Bentley.  

The ultimate wish list looked something like this:
1.  Built in, high quality, fast refresh EVF
2.  16 Megapixel Sensor (preferably one that could be used in various aspect ratios without cutting into the pixel count.  Like the one in the Panasonic GH2 (which is very, very good....).

(2/9 edit:  I asked, point blank if the sensor was usable in different aspect ratios without cropping.  The official Olympus source said, "yes."  However, no one is infallible and many, many on the web are of the opinion that my question was misunderstood or incorrectly answered.  If you're only criteria for buying or pre-ordering the camera is the sensor particulars you owe it to yourself to check this before buying.  I'll try to get further information from Olympus about this.  You've been cautioned!)

3.  Weatherproof and dust proof.
4.  Super fast AF.  Like, fastest in the world, fast.
5.  Fun to handle for small and large hands.
6.  Bigger battery capacity than the Pens.

So, the wraps are off as of 9:01 EST February 7, 2012 and now it's time to unwrap the little metaphorical jewelry box and see what we actually got.  Will there be crying and weeping and ritual tearing of clothes or will there be joy among the steadfast?
Weather proof.  Whether proof. 

I'd say raucous celebration is in order  because, by the look of the specifications, we got everything we asked for.  (Note:  I haven't handled the camera yet.  I did get a complete walk through from the tech folks at Olympus USA.  I will test a full production version in the near future.)

If you want the executive brief  it goes something like this.  Back in the 1970's Olympus introduced a line of very compact and very elegantly designed 35mm  cameras.  People were ready for a new size of camera that didn't weigh a ton and handle like a brick.  The OM-1 and OM-2 cameras were wildly successful.  And many of the lenses supplied for those cameras became legends because of their optical performance.  Now Olympus is doing the same with digital.  This is a direct backlash at all the bloated "professional" bodies and systems on the market.  A small but powerful game changer.  

When packaged with a new generation of high performance prime lenses it is a system that offers a good and creative alternative to a market crowded with "me too" APS-C DSLR camera variants.  The mirrorless systems are useful, easy to handle and fully capable of giving professional results.  The market is shifting.  

According to Olympus the EVF is the same spec as the VF2 and that's good news for me because I think the VF-2 is one of the best EVF's I've used.  And this one is built in.  Right there in the pentaprism hump, just like the photogods always intended.  And that leaves the hotshoe free for all the wonderful gadgets we've got stuffed into our bags.  That includes remote triggers for flashes, bigger flashes for PR events, the stereo microphone adapter (which allows me to use a Rode StereoMic right there in the hot shoe for video work.  Yippee!).  Finally, happily.  I'll be able to use this camera with my studio flash equipment and still have unfettered access to the eye level finder.

Camera with slave flash attached.

The folks at Olympus don't make it a habit to divulge the provenance of the sensors they use.  I guess it's supposed to be a trade secret.  So I asked a few probing questions.  As you can see from the specs the sensor is 16 megapixels.  I wanted to know if, similar to the Panasonic sensor in the GH2, you could use other aspect ratios such as 16:9 and 3:2 without losing resolution.  The answer I got was "yes."  All but the 1:1 aspect ratio.  If this is true (and I have no reason not to believe it) this will make me happy.  (See my "caveat emptor" above.)

I'd take a chrome version if they gave me one.  If I pay for it then it has to be black. YMMV.

The AF is supposed to be the fastest in the world. For now. While I wasn't blown away by the speed of the EP2 AF I found it to be workable and very accurate.  Indeed, the accuracy of the AF is a great selling point for all of the mirrorless cameras using CD-AF (contrast detection autofocus).  The EP3 was a huge step forward and works well for me in all but the darkest and lowest contrast situations.  In normal light it's right there with its Canon and Nikon peers.  If the OM-D is even faster then they've done some wild engineering.    Along with fast AF there's something we haven't tasted yet in m4:3rds and that's fast frame rates.  The OM-D will do 9 fps at full res.  The only catch is that you lock focus with frame one.  There's no continuous AF with your blistering frame rate.  If you want C-AF you'll need to drop down to 4.1 fps and turn off IS.  With all the stuff implemented you'll still get a respectable 3 fps.  All of this is based on using their MSC lenses.

With the 12-50 you've got a 24-100 equivalent and the who set up is spit proof.

My cameras have always had weatherproof capabilities, including all my Pens.  It costs a dollar.  It's called Ziploc(tm) Plastic Bags.  When it's wet outside you put the bag over your camera.  It's impervious to moisture....  But for everyone who needs the real thing this camera is the real deal.  They sent along an image showing all of the gasket points in red but I'd rather look at the exterior body stuff.   So, the OM-D is dustproof and splashproof and generally weatherproof.  But as with the pro cameras from every manufacturer, all the camera body weatherproofing in the world isn't going to help completely unless the lens and lens mounts are also weatherproof.  The newly announced 12-50m zoom fits the bill and there are several other lenses that are coming soon that will boast full weatherproofing.  The one many people with no doubt lust after will be the 60mm 2.8 macro.  A quick note:  According to my Olympus source that lens will also have a control on the barrel that will control the rendering of out of focus areas as well as full macro capability.  Sounds like an all purpose portrait lens to me.

I know most of you aren't really interested in video but I am so I'm just going to take a moment and talk a few specs for the other video ready people out there.  From all indications this will be a great little movie camera.  The sensor is just the right size and the throughput is there.  The specs indicate full HD (1920 by 1080) at 60 fps.  You also have the choice of .MOV and .AVI.  Whatever your editing set up one of those choices should work for you.  The camera will go for 29 minutes if you have enough memory stuffed in.  Why else do I think the camera is ready for good video?  Well, you've got the EVF for full sun.  You've got a movable, ample LCD panel on the back with lots of real estate and you've got the ability to connect external microphones.  With the m4:3 lens mount and zillions of great manual focus and specialty lenses to choose from you should be able to get pretty much exactly what you need.

Add a battery grip and you'll also have long run times.

Ah......yes....there's a battery grip.  You'll be able to cram two batteries into the mix for twice as much service time between recharges and yes, the batteries for the OM-D are different from the Pen batteries.  They are bigger than the BLS-x batteries but not as big as the BLM-x batteries used in the bigger E series 4:3 cameras.  The grip also gives people with bigger hands a lot more real estate to hold on to.  And it duplicates some function controls from the body.  But it does make the camera bigger.  Not sure where I stand on accessory grips but we'll just have to play with one and see.

The movable screen on the back makes the camera thicker than an EP3.  Take off the screen (don't!!!!) and it's just about the same size.

It's hard to tell from the images  here because there's no scale for comparison but I've seen images of the camera next to the E-5 and the E-620 and it's much, much smaller than either of those cameras.  It looks to be about 1/3 the cubic volume of an E-5.  

Thank you for the built in EVF.  This makes it a "real" camera.
The offset to the right leaves room for an auto eye sensor.  Bring the camera up to your eye and it automatically switches to from LCD to EVF.

No Flash in the guts.

 Olympus giveth and Olympus taketh away.  There is NO built in flash.  That will make some people happy and some people sad.  But it's pretty hard to get everything else you wantrd in a small and lightweight camera without compromising a feature or two.  I'm guessing the camera will ship with the little pixie flash you see in the hot shoe above.  I have one like this that arrived in the studio bundled with the little Pen EPM and it works as well as any built in ever did and gives you the option to bounce it off the ceiling.

While you're crying in your beer over the lack of yet another weak built-in flash let's switch gears and look at two other things that sparked me right up.  One is a brand new implementation of image stabilization.  In the first systems to hit the market the gyros and computer chips would detect motion in two directions:  Up and down, and side to side.  The latest implementation from Olympus detects and remediates motion and shake from five axis.  That even includes rotational tremor.  Coupling this with much faster processing basically means that it should be the market leader for IS for the moment at least. And BIG PLUS !!!!! Now you can see the effect of the image stabilization in the finder or on the LCD while you are shooting.  That was the one remaining advantage of in-lens image stabilization.  It was nice to be able to see the effect you were getting.  Now you get that and you maintain the ability to bring IS to every lens you put on the front of the camera.  AF or not.  Got a Nikon lens from 1962?  If you can get it on the right adapter you've just turned it into an image stabilized "optic."

The screen.  OLED, of course.

 So, where are we?  We've got a small, stylish camera.  Built like an alloy brick.  With a full 16 megapixel sensor (just like we demanded).  Maybe the sensor will even do the "no-cost-cropping-to-your-favorite- aspect-ratio" trick.  If you really love the camera and you've mounted a weatherproof lens to it you can take it into the shower with you.  Or out in the rain.  It's built on a metal alloy body shell.  The hi-res EVF is built in.  The ports are available for all of our toys.  What else could there be?

Well.  There's a new 3D file format and a couple of new art filters.  And there are some actually cool filters for video production.  But really, isn't this every single thing we asked for in a new camera?  I'd say it is. But the proof will be in the shooting.  The camera is very scarce right now but it's slated to ship in April.  I pushed hard to get a test copy before the intro but I got the polite, parental, "we'll see what we can do."  If the camera just does what the spec sheet says I think most of us will be pretty happy.

Got remote control if you want it...

 A note or two about the new flash.  It works with a small Olympus remote if you want to use it off the camera.  It will also be controllable by the built in flash in the EP3.  If you are into run and gun movie making the flash also has a built in, LED video light. Only powerful enough to focus with and brighten a nearby subject's eyes.  The OM-D syncs at a respectable 1/250th of a second and with a small controller flash or unit will control all the previous "R" series Olympus flashes. I personally will continue my practice of sticking a Flash Waves radio trigger in the shoe and using whatever flash I want, in manual mode.  Or a convenient LED panel.

For the vampires among us let's sink out teeth into a few specs.  The technical guys at Olympus were very excited about the low light capabilities of the camera sensor and file output.  We didn't go into detail in our fact finding interview but the camera is capable of being set to ISO's of up to 25,000.  I'm an ISO cynic and I'm going to say that I'll be happy if 3200 is pretty clean.  Time will tell.  But I think more and more of us are becoming aware of the role of computer processing in the production of "clean" files and the OM-D is using a new iteration of processors.  They'd have to be to get the frames per second rates they've achieved in still mode and the frame rates in HD video that they're touting.  I have high hopes that the high ISO performance is great.  Not because I'll really make much use of it but I know any perceived shortcomings in ISO will be a source of endless and emotional discussion across the web.

I like Olympus bodies but lenses are what they are really all about.

Olympus did some really right stuff in 2011.  And I think they're getting ready to build on their success.  The launch of the 12mm and the 45mm lenses was invigorating; both for the company and for their "installed customer base." (Us.)  Now, in concert with lenses from Panasonic, we're on the cusp of having a full system of pro caliber optics.  The rumors you've heard about the 75 mm 1.8 and the 60 Macro are true.  They'll be along, if all goes according to plan, some time in the fourth quarter of this year.  And by all measures these lenses should be stunning.  I own a Pen 70mm f2 lens from the late 1960's or early 1970's and I can tell you that it's really good.  Just imagine what fifty years of research and development can buy us.  Add a few more well thought out primes and some longer lenses and you're in the sweet spot of a system that can do just about anything.  And that includes shooting professionally. With this camera the system has come of age.  I've got my fingers crossed that it's as good in the hand as it is on paper.  Amazing how far m4:3 has come in such a short amount of time. 

Now.  On another subject that's somewhat related:  What's going on with the original "e" series of 4:3 cameras and lenses?  I asked that question directly.  The answer I got is that they are not throwing in the towel. They have, "product under development."  There you go, Frank.

The new lens mount adapter will bring weatherproof performance to the 4:3 lenses.  And, with new firmward updates I would expect the AF performance to get better and better.

The grip is a mixed blessing.  You'll get more to hold on to.  More to grip when shooting verticals.  More battery power.  But the camera gets bigger and starts to look.....bigger.

At this point I think Olympus can take a deep breath, accept a few pats on the back,  and then get to work rolling out these improvements all down the line.  I can hardly wait for an EPL-5 with the same sensor and the same IS.  Hello Canon and Nikon !  Are you guys paying attention?

Getting back to work. The part I hate.

Canon 5D mk2.  20mm f2.8

I love sitting here writing blogs.  I get to talk about anything I want and I get to "discuss" with those who disagree.  I love walking around the city on a brisk day, the wind pushing against my ski jacket and making me squint a bit. The feel of a familiar camera in my hands.  I love having a leisurely lunch with Belinda, or one of my friends.  I love the reticent thrill of jumping into the water in the outdoor pool at 7 in the morning while a bold north wind tickles my bare skin.  I love those dark mornings when temperatures in the 30's bring a frothy cloud of steam just above the surface of the pool.  And I love the warm glow of the water with the pool lights lit and the sky still purple and deep blue.  I love the bite of a good cup of coffee and the richness of an afternoon cappuccino.  I love checks that come in the mail.  On time.  And I love curling up on the couch with my dog and a good book.

But there's one aspect of being a photographer that I hate more than anything.  It's the marketing. Plain and simple.  In a one person business there's nothing worse than having to continually sell yourself.  In fact, all the things I listed above are just ways I procrastinate about dealing with the big elephant in the room.  The fear of actually trying to engage new clients.  Think about how lucky the marketing people are at companies with products.  They have something real and substantial to sell.  It may not be the best product in the world but a good salesperson will find a convincing combination of selling propositions that makes even a mediocre product sellable, at a price point.

On the other hand, a freelance photographer is selling himself.  He can point to previous work and a track record but the product he'll produce for the future client hasn't been created yet.  And the future client will have to take a leap of faith that his choice of photographer will be able to pull off making just the right image in just the right time frame.  At some level we're in the business of making (and hopefully keeping) promises.  And that's a tough sell.

We can point to a track record but imaging is a moving target and just because you could do sharp and perfect yesterday doesn't mean it's relevant to the distressed and retro aesthetic today.  I could talk about decades of experience but that's a two edged sword as it instantly puts me into an age group that's anathema in today's markets.  I could trot out my books and talk about my industry expertise but that muddies the waters.  Then, instead of being someone's "go to" photographer, I send the mixed message that my business is about writing and publishing and marketing that product.  The bottom line is that I have to show the work I've done and I have to present myself in a way that makes people want to work with me.

And that's scary.  Have you ever tried picking up the phone and telling a stranger just how great you are while at the same time trying to convey that you're just one of the guys and you'd love to work with his team and have a jolly time talking about an assignment over a cold beer?  It's tricky.  Really.

So I've done my New Year's procrastination.  I've worked on the mailing list.  I've had my designer design some 5.5 by 8.5 inch four color over four color postcards, with an image that's proven to be popular.  I've sent out some e-mail blasts with links to some custom galleries.  But now it's time to do the real work.  The heavy lifting of my business.  It's time to strap on my most congenial personality and start making the cold calls.

Reality?  No one makes it in this business without venturing into the real physical world and shaking hands with the people who control the assignments and write the checks.  You have to meet them.  You have to show them your stuff.  You have to show them that you'll be good to work with.  None of the other stuff really has the horsepower to close the deals and push people to commit.

So, I've loaded up the iPad with various portfolios that I can conjure up at the drop of a hat.  I've had my designer create a nice "leave behind" piece.  Now it's time to stop writing this blog.  Drop into my comfortable chair.  Strap on the earphones and microphone attachment to my phone and start dialing.
Notes in front of me on my screen.  Deep breath.  One more sip of coffee and then.....it's game on.


Cool, futuristic lobby.

Canon 5Dmk2,  20mm Canon EF lens.  Available light.

I think I've posted this image before but I came across it today and it reminded me how much photography could be done with simple tools.  Earlier in my career this would have been shot on 4x5 inch sheet film but with careful metering and a few clicks of the transform tool in PhotoShop I am very happy with this rendition.  The only hold over from the earlier days is the need for a stout tripod.

Some people decorate with flair.  I really enjoyed being in this space.


Revisiting, "Oh My God, That's Sharp!!!!"

I've been fooling around with lots of different cameras over the past few years.  I guess I've been looking for the Holy Grail of cameras.  We all seem to want something small and light, fast and sleek and almost infinitely flexible.  And, most of us (myself included) are drawn like moths to the newest and trendiest of inventions.  I know we're looking for a magic bullet that will make our photo work shine.
 But I've learned a lot over the past two weeks.  I learned that I can be wrong in a blog and it's okay to change my mind.  I learned that most people are interested and kind and patient and I re-learned that the world seems to keep assholes around for balance.  But mostly I learned that we spend a lot of time spinning our wheels reading stuff like this and trying to divine some meaning in it all that probably isn't there.  We (myself included) tend to think that photo bloggers are exceptional photographers.  In a recent forum someone mentioned my 500px gallery and suggested people take a gander.  Started a skirmish as one person jumped in to say he found nothing exceptional about my work.  The battle was on as people friendly to me took umbrage and pushed back.  But the happy or sad truth is that I'm not better a photographer than hundreds of thousands of people all over the world.  In fact, you may be much better than me.  But it doesn't matter.  And I don't care.
 The real secret of photo bloggers is that we (tend to) write well (otherwise people wouldn't bother to read) and we're  early gear adopters and we seem to be able to tap into what's hot in the market. And that may be because we are, for the most part, the same demographic as you.  We're photo entertainment more than photo education.  If it's fun to read and you get something out of it, who's to judge?
But to make the jump from "a fun read" to "great photographer" is a daring and foolhardy leap.
 I like little cameras and, if you read the blog you know that I'm partial to the Olympus m4:3 cameras for a number of reasons.  I have a happy history with their previous PEN products, I've made a good number of images I like with the current cameras and they are easy on the shoulder.  But the blog drives me to extremes.  A few popular articles about the m4:3 cameras and the "good blog ratings" drive me to write more and more about them.  Perhaps a subconscious desire to "own" the subject.  To grab mindshare.

But it makes me blind to all the other great stuff out there.  So today I left all the trendy, tiny cameras at home and went out with the camera that I reach for almost every time I head out the door for a paying job, where I'll have time to use a tripod or tether my camera and use studio lights.
I picked up my heavy, boring, bad menu, bad LCD screen, Canon 1DS Mk2.  
I also put the Zeiss lenses in the drawer and stuffed the "L" lenses in there with them.  The lens I took out with me today is one I don't talk much about but use all the time.  I haven't really mentioned it because it's not sexy.  It's not "L-ish" and it's not German or even faux German.  It's a Tamron 90mm f2.8 macro lens that I bought used for about $300. A really nice focal length for me and as sharp and easy to use as it was cheap to buy and boring to talk about. It's a lens I can use wide open at f2.8 but it spends most of its time in the sweet spot around f5.6. So, a little walk today 
with a heavy, ancient camera and an inflexible, cheap lens.

Because at ISO 100 and a decent, hand holdable shutter speed, files from this combo remind me just how good and sharp and detailed files from professional digital cameras can be.  I own a Canon 5D Mk2 but for my money the older 1DS mk2 is better at ISO 100 and 200.  Much better.  In fact, I like the files better than just about any other digital camera I've shot.  
They (Canon) seem to have gotten that one just right.
 So, today wasn't a manic day dedicated to shooting stuff to share with you on the blog.  It was a return to my old walk around downtown, shooting my old favorite sites. Watching the clear, winter sunlight play across the buildings and remembering what it's like to shoot with a camera, not because it's cool but because it works like you expect a camera to work.  Not a scathing denouement of Pens or Panasonics or Fujis or anything else.  Just me shooting with a comfortable, old favorite.
 I had no intention of writing a blog today.  But I liked the images in an amateur way, not a professional way.  And I wanted to share them because I liked all of their technical qualities.  And it seemed fresh to me.  I've written some blogs recently that people misinterpreted as depressing or negative or hopeless about photography, but nothing could be further from the truth.  In each article I suggested that the old way of doing the business of photography is dying.  But I also suggest, with great certainty, that the business of photographers will be re-invented and eventually thrive.  I just don't know what the new paradigm looks like and even though I write a popular blog I don't have any more insight than you do about what will happen next.  But I'm generally happy, thrilled to be along for the ride and still confident about putting a kid through college with my creative businesses.  
Both shooting and writing and consulting.

It's hard to write a blog that works for professionals and hobbyists at the same time.  There are bound to be conflicts.  I'll say truthful stuff that I think other pros need to have a dialogue about.  Some hobbyists think, when I talk about the "death of the existing photo business", that I'm talking about the end of all photography and that's just silly.  Photography is the most popular hobby in the entire world......next to jabbering away on cellphones.....  You have to pay attention and understand when I'm talking in general and when I'm making a point about what we do on the commercial side of the coin.
When I got back to the studio I downloaded the raw files and looked at them in Adobe Bridge.  I chose the ones on this blog and added a bit of contrast and a little bit of saturation.  The files from the 1 series cameras from Canon are, by default, a bit flat.  Perhaps more room for post processing....

I was very pleased at the high sharpness.  In fact, there's even some moirĂ© on a few windows of the Frost Tower which tells me that the balance of the anti-aliasing filter is just right.  Does this mean I'm abandoning the smaller cameras?  No.  But I'm trying to find a better balance than all or nothing.  Maybe pursue the middle path.  Some people look to me for an "expert" opinion about cameras and lenses; I am anything but.  All I know is what I see and what I feel and how the files will work for the things for which I want to use them.  That's it.  Collectively, this group knows far more.
Finally, let's talk about what I want out of this blog.  I've tried to be very transparent.  I write the blog because I'm interested in photography and I like adding to the dialogue.  I write the blog because I like to write.  But truthfully,  I write the blog because I hope that people will like the way I write and buy one or more of my five books on photography.  When I stepped away from the blog last Fall many, many loyal readers posted asking what they could do to help.  Some suggested adding a paypal "gift button" while others suggested making it a subscription site.  A few people sent unsolicited donations. (Thank you).  But the reality is that I hope that once a year you'll take advantage of the very inexpensive pricing at Amazon.com and take a chance on one of my books.

Right now I'm suggesting the LED book.  It's a very current topic.  I think I did a very good job presenting an overview of how photographers might best buy and use LED lights and there are hundreds of photographs as examples.  If you do photography as a business it would seem that a book about lighting would be tax deductible (check with your accountant).  If you do photography as a avocation/hobby/joyous art form/distraction from cold hard reality, etc. it would most probably be the absolute cheapest photo specific expenditure you would make in all of 2012.

Buying one of the books means I get a royalty from the sale. Buying the book through the link below means I'm get a small percentage of the sale from Amazon, which will cost you nothing.  It's one of the ways I support my family and this blog.  There is no membership fee here and no one is required to buy anything.  

Reading is fundamental.

From Last Week. Not last decade.

Panasonic GH2.  Elinchrom monolight into Photek Softlighter 2-60" with diffuser.

Amanda is one of our swim coaches.  She agreed to sit for a portrait.  She's an amazing swimmer with a perfect butterfly stroke.  She also has tremendous energy.  I'm busy writing and shooting.  I'll be back to the blog soon.


A quick post. Staying flexible.

I was pretty flip (cynical, sarcastic, dismissive, etc)  about the effects I was getting with Snapseed when I last wrote about my adventures in post processing.  But today I had a mini-lecture from a great swim coach about the need for enhanced flexibility if we intend to keep swimming butterfly into our middle ages... (wry smiley face implied...).  Then I looked up at my analog bulletin board and saw the quote from creativity consultant, Ian Summers, which reads, "Grow or Die."  And I thought I should sober up and take a hint from the converging messages I'm getting from the universe.

When I was printing traditional black and white prints (in the darkroom) I had dozens of little tricks to make a print pop or sing or look sexy.  I had a Pictrol which is a little contraption you stick under the enlarging lens to soften the corners in an artistic way.  The blurred spilled light also enhanced the black tones around the edges.  Of course we would burn and dodge but we also stole a technique from 1940's Richard Avedon in which you place very thin tracing paper in contact with the print during printing.  You could also do it selectively.  Just in areas.  The parts that touched the paper were sharper than the parts that didn't.  Primitive darkroom "tilt-shift" technique?

We selected paper for effect.  And we did full contact, radical toning.  With selenium, sepia, gold and even coffee (which never worked as well).   And for a while we did lots of art on the print with transparent Mashall's oil paints.

So why the burr under my saddle about modern post processing?  Can't imagine it would be anything but jealousy in not having discovered it first, followed by curmudgeon tendencies.  So I'm coming clean.  I actually like playing around with this stuff and I've been re-working some recent images to re-interpret how I used to print.  After all, the Snapseed generation had to find their inspiration somewhere.  Right?

If you are bored with your photo work right now you might want to change processing.  The water's fine.  Jump on in.

edit/addition feb. 2:  An interesting article from www.luminous-landscape.com about the "RULES OF PHOTOGRAPHY."  http://www.luminous-landscape.com/essays/rules_of_the_game.shtml  A fun read, in light of our continuing discussions here.

Are you working too much? Are you going crazy? This is an oft requested post from about a year ago. I'm not saying you're "bad."


Working 24/7 and slowly going insane? Join the club? No Thanks!

I was rather shocked when I listened to a person from a company that makes all kinds of electronic products the other day.  She made the pitch to me that her company helped stressed out, over-worked moms by making products (like phones and tablets) that would allow a frenetic mom to "disconnect from her office" and be able to "take her work along with her" so that she could be present for her children's activities.  From what I could understand this person believed in the 1990's mantra of "multi-tasking" which has been so thoroughly discredited by psychologists and process experts over the last decade.

The idea was that, between tweets, urgent e-mails, progress reports and modifications to mission critical spreadsheets, the newly unfettered mom would be able to look up from the screen and instantly enter into her child's world just at the moment when Sally hit the game winning home run or when Poindexter cinched the national Spelling Bee with the correct spelling of "Delusional". 

The more grievous idea I came away with is that now it's no longer good enough to give a company a stress and anxiety filled 50 or 60 hours of your week.  No.  The new norm is total ownership.  The excuse is that now so many people in finance, tech and commodities work in a world market and they must be accessible to their counterparts in Malaysia, must not miss the opening bell in Berlin or Kerplakistan, must be electronically present for those important clients in Kathmandu....

I have a sneaky feeling that chronic unemployment is not caused by a lack of jobs but that many jobs are being handled by one person.  The manically compulsive super workers are stealing more than their fair share of jobs.  And they are training their companies to expect "work till you drop" dedication that trades health, family life, hobbies, community involvement and the basic richness of existence for quarter by quarter profitability.  And here's the kicker:  Those super employees aren't being compensated for doing the work of three, they're giving their employers undeserved charity.  

In the self employed world we read books on negotiation.  We learn that you never give up something without getting something in return.  That's the foundation of good negotiation.  And as self employed people we never work for free (unless we are donating our time, services, goods to a needy and beneficial cause.)  But that's exactly what the super workers of today are doing.  They are giving it away for free.  And, of course, their companies are encouraging them.

It's time we took a good long look at the American work ethic and got rational.  The unions got it right back in the coal mine strikes and the meat packers collective bargaining days:  Forty hours a week is the most you can work in a reliable and sustainable way.  And by that I mean being able to preserve your personal dignity, your physical health and the health of your family and relationships.  

If you are routinely working 60 or 70 hours a week and you don't OWN the company you work for (and, in my mind, even if you do) you might consider that you are your own "scab" and you are in some ways responsible for the downward spiral of the American dream.  That spreadsheet WILL wait until monday.  Your real life can't always be on hold.  If it needs to be done over the weekend your company needs to hire a weekend shift.

So, this is a photo oriented blog, why the hell am I talking about workplace issues?  Because from time to time I write columns that talk about some of the outrageous schedules I work.  But the difference is that my projects stop and start and there's lots of in between time for rest and rejuvenation.  Joy and pleasure.  Family dinners together and weekends puttering around helping Ben with homework and Belinda with some gardening.  Couch time with a novel.   If a freelancer in a struggling industry can do this and keep his head above water then so can the valuable employees of all sorts of companies.

The electronics that we seem addicted to are also a secret weapon that helps bosses (and clients)  suck more and more from their people by blurring the lines between what is and what isn't work.  The cellphone is not referred to as "An Electronic Leash" without good reason.  

It's all about setting limits.  Isn't that what we tell our children? 

The shot above is of Belinda in Montego Bay, Jamaica.  The way I negotiated a series of projects in the Islands was to work for a week, for my usual rate, and then go back later with Belinda for a second week of vacation and downtime.  No phones, no internet, no emergencies in Patagonia.  The vacation opportunity defrayed the travel time and longer working days of the actual project.

Shot with a Rollei medium format camera on Tri-X film at a place called "The Pork Pit."  Really good pulled pork.  A quiet week by the sea.

Added half an hour later:  I read this on Kim Critchfield's FB page and loved it.  I sent a copy to Ben and to a friend who needed to read it.  I'll post this on my wall, just to the side of my computer.

One evening a Cherokee elder told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.

He said, "My son, the battle is between the two 'wolves' that live inside us all.
One is Unhappiness or Evil - It is anger, jealousy, fear, regret, greed, arrogance, sorrow, self-pity, resentment, inferiority, false pride, superiority, weakness and ego.

The other is Happiness or Good - It is joy, love, hope, serenity, benevolence, peace, empathy, kindness, generosity, truth, humility, faith, strength and compassion."

The grandson thought about it for a while and then asked his grandfather, "Which wolf wins?"

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed." - Cherokee Elder