8.17.2012

A long day in the trenches of photography. Food and drinks.

Beer. American for....Beer.


I spent my day today shooting food and beverages for Hilton Hotels. The shot above was one of the last shots of the day. I backlit the beer glasses with medium size softboxes, put a diffused and warm filtered light low and aimed at the backwall, as a background light and had my assistant hold a while card above and in front of the beers to put some light into the head. I'll lighten the heads and whiten them in our final retouch.

For the majority of the day's shooting I used Elinchrom D-Lite 400IT monolights aimed through large diffusers.  For the drinks I used the backlighting described above. I used a Sony a77 camera set to RAW and, after some experimentation, came to rely on the good performance of the 85mm 2.8 Sony DT lens.

I am happy with the Sony a77 with one exception: While the sensor cleaning works perfectly (vibrates at shut down) nothing is ever cleaning off the fixed mirror.  When I shot at f11 I found two big dust spots and was unable to dislodge them from the mirror with puffs of air. I'm taking Sony at their word that we shouldn't use anything to physically touch the mirror surface. But it will bite if I can figure out a way to clean dust spots off, short of sending the bodies back to Sony for periodic cleaning.

The Nex 7 is superior in this regard.

We shot a ton of stuff today. I've downloaded my SD cards and backed up the files and I'm pretty wiped out. Been up swimming and packing since 6 am. I need to hit the pillow so I can get up tomorrow and do it all over again.

Nice to have an "old school" controlled lighting, equipment rich assignment.  We filled up the element with lights, stands, modifiers, steamers and all sorts of food photography paraphernalia. Right down to my favorite set of chop sticks for poking and prodding stuff into position. Clients are still grateful that the knowledge and application of deliberate lighting still exists.

Night, night.

8.15.2012

I do the unthinkable and actually buy a photo back pack.


When I was younger everything in the universe seemed so much more black and white. Real photographers didn't carry around backpacks. We carried camera bags. We shot primes, wanted quick access from a bag that would hang off our shoulder, looked down on wonky-tographers who sported big, chunky, foamy backpacks carrying everything they could imagine, just in case like grocery shopper picking up all three kinds of whipped creme, just in case. We cut some slack to the nature photographers since they actually had some righteous hiking to do.  Now my universe is upside down because I've started leaving the big cameras at home and just leaving the house with small cameras.  A few months ago it was an EP3 and now it's a Sony Nex 7.

Now my walks are more wide ranging and I spend more time wandering from urban place to urban place. When I take a break it's at a coffee shop or the big Whole Foods. I might want to bring my iPad. I'll probably want my phone in case young Tuck calls. And lately I've been breaking in the  Nex system so I like the idea of carrying a few lenses and an extra battery.  And all of a sudden I'm back in bag land.  But the reality is that I do a lot of walking before I change a lens or crack open the iPad (or buy a bottle of Bourdeaux that needs somehow to be transported home).  

In the novel I'm writing the protagonist loves and hates his camera bag. It's been a constant companion and it holds his treasures. It's part of his memories. There's even a bullet hole in one side. But he hates the bag because all the weight on his left shoulder is wearing him down after decades of hauling around old style shooting iron. I'm sure it reflects my changing perspective, though I can't speak for the book's main character.

I've looked at photo back packs from time to time but most of them are too big, too heavy, too pricey and too BLACK. Remember? I live in Texas and I walk in Texas 365 days a year.  I don't want a black backpack because it will cook that bottle of wine I just picked up on my way back home. I don't want a black backpack because it sticks out like a sore thumb against a white or khaki Ex Officio shirt. And a black interior is like black magic for losing little stuff that you'll scramble to find later.

But then I stumbled upon the Tenba Discovery (etc. etc.) and I decided in a split second that I liked everything about it so I bought one, with the proviso that I could return it if I came back to my senses and realized that the backpack made me look like a class "A" nerd.  You may not care about how you look because of your extremely evolved state but I still would like even just the fumes of coolness lingering over me if I can keep them around...

And now my trips out of the house and into the wild include the Tenba. Be aware though that it comes in two color schemes. One is called "black/grey" and the one I like is called "sage/khaki."  The Sage/Khaki just sits there looking like it's reflecting 100% of the infrared the sun is throwing at it.  The unit has a good padded pocket for my iPad. The top compartment carries my Nex-7 with shooting lens attached while I'm traveling or shucking the thing off my back and into the cargo area of the high performance Honda Element Studio Vehicle (HESV). The bottom half carries as many Pen and Nex lenses as I want to carry.  The elastic side pockets are great for water bottles, wine purchases and sunscreen.

The final feature of the backpack is the included rain cover. I don't worry about that here in Austin....it never rains.

Cute backpack with iPad sticking out.

Nice, wide straps, no waistband that 
I would find aesthetically challenging and 
would one day cut off with my Swiss Army knife. 
Hooray!

Field test:  I gave it my first field test last Sunday. I walked from my house to Barton Springs Pool (about two miles and change) in the afternoon. The temperature with a good dose of humidity hovered around 102ºf. The pack felt light and cool. Unpacked it weighs 2.1 pounds. Fully Nex 7 configured, with iPad, it tipped  the scales at a little over 8 pounds. Not too padded, not too lightly padded. Just right.

From Barton Springs Pool I headed towards downtown, stopping at the bridge over Barton Spring to photograph the teenagers jumping (illegally) from the bridge into the water forty feet below.  I changed lenses there and it seemed easy enough. I eventually crossed the lake and made it to Luke's Locker (a running and triathlete supply store) where I bought Ben a new pair of sunglasses that won't slip down his nose when he runs. They went into the top section of the backpack.

From Luke's I continued on through downtown to the legendary, Caffe Medici, where I had a small Pellegrino water and a decaf cappuccino. While there I wrote a quick blog on the iPad (electronic keyboards are not optimal) and met a new, potential portrait subject. Before leaving the coffee shop I switched lenses to my 25mm Pen 2.8 manual focus lens and then headed out to test that optic, with adapter, on the Nex7. Not bad.

I looped through downtown, pulling a small terrycloth towel out of a side pocket of the test unit to wipe sweaty hand residue off the camera. I ended up at Whole Foods where I drank more water, tasted three wines and two beers, bought a nice Argentinian Tempranillo (wrapped in several layers of paper to insulate it from the heat), stuffed it into a side pocket, just under a compression strap for stabilization, and then walked back through Zilker Park and up the big hill on Bulian to my house. My rambling walk covered about eight miles but it was spread out over four hours. Not an Olympic pace.

The backpack was a success. My shoulder didn't hurt, my balance was good and my access to the guts of the unit was fine. It worked well enough that I think I'll eventually become a convert to this method for my own personal work. Finally, a relatively inexpensive carrying device that does pretty much exactly what I wanted it to. It's still more elegant to go out with just a camera and a lens...










The Sony 50mm 1.8 is the icing on the cake.

I came for the EVF's.  I stayed for the lenses. Like this one, the 50mm 1.8.
(©2012 Kirk Tuck, do not appropriate)

This will not come as a surprise to anyone who is already shooting the Sony Nex system but...the 50mm 1.8 lens is a jewel. A really wonderful lens. I picked one up when I bought the basic camera kit and I'm absolutely pleased. You can go to one of the test sites to read what they found out when they aimed it at a two dimensional chart a meter away or try one for yourself and see what you think.

Here's why I like it: 1. It has a very long and very efficient lens hood that should do a really nice job of shielding the front lens element from any sort of non-image forming tangential light that may degrade contrast by causing veiling flare (that was a mouthful of words).
2. On the APS-C sensor cameras it is nicely longer than normal.  Not too long to be almost universally useful to selective shooters but not too short as to be too all inclusive.  3. Stop it down one or two stops and you've got a lens that goes toe to toe, performance wise with just about any normal or long normal lens I've owned. 4. It's beautifully and minimally designed. 5. It has an efficient, in lens, image stabilization feature and that means you can see the effect in the finder. I miss that on my bigger Sony cameras.

I wish they made this lens in black but it's so good I can't even hold the lack of color choice against it. My recommendation, if you shoot with a Sony Nex 5n or a Sony Nex 7, is to buy this lens and enjoy the heck out of it.  On my first journey out with the lens I dropped by Whole Foods bakery in the store at 6th St. and Lamar Blvd. and took some casual shots of their decorated cakes.  The light was low and mixed but the camera did a fine job sorting that out. I did the "stinky baby diaper hold" on the camera which means I wasn't doing the stabilization control any favors, and this is what I got, nearly wide open.



These shots do what food photographs are supposed to do; they make me want to go back to the store and buy a cake so I can reach out with my index finger and slide off a hunk of frosting and lick it right off my finger.  

Silly but fun.  Anyway, it's a great little lens and I'm pretty sure it will become a classic for the system.  If it's not already.

Note about old, nasty, cheap lenses:  I was at Precision Camera and I glanced through the used Sony equipment last weekend. I found an old, old, Minolta Zoom lens that looked and felt kind of cool.  It was a 24-85mm 3.5 to 4.5.  I bought it.  Some reviews say it's sharp and some reviews say it isn't. The only way I was ever going to know for sure was to bayonet that pup onto the front of my a77, put it on a tripod and aim it at something. I shot the image of the 50mm lens at the top of the blog with the lens.  My evaluation? Sharp enough for me.  In fact, sharper than the 16-80mm Zeiss lens (by a good margin) that I bought and returned last week.  The price? Around $100.

I may have gotten a bad copy of the Zeiss, it was used. I may have gotten a good copy of the Minolta...luck happens.  One thing I do know is that they made lenses out of much heavier materials back then.  It may not always translate into performance but the heft is reassuring.

A strange confluence of sensor resolutions. Bizarre fun with high resolution.


I was sitting at my desk this morning finishing up the final touches a self-promotional folded card with images of food on it and I was browsing through a recent collection of food images I'd taken. As I looked through some of my most recent favorites I checked the exif info and was mildly surprised to find that I had candidates from three different cameras taken within the same month. The thing that struck me as funny and strange is that all three of the cameras, the Sony Nex7, the Sony SLT a77 and the Nikon D3200 use the same size and same resolution sensor.  All three are 24 megapixel sensors with at least two of them being absolutely identical. So, within the last six months I've gone from a bountiful selection of  cameras with sensors that range from 12 megapixels to 21 megapixels straight to situation wherein my highest resolution camera sensors and my lowest resolution camera sensors are....identical.

I love using the two Sonys. I think EVF's are the way the entire camera industry will go for the mid to high end prosumer and professional cameras and I think the changes will happen faster than anyone imagines. I like the Nikon because it's silly good and silly cheap and that makes it the perfect knock around camera to keep on the floor of the car for all those times when you want to shoot spontaneously, in fast breaking muck,  but don't want to risk a more expensive unit. The D3200 would be perfect if Nikon had replaced the small optical finder with an EVF but at $699 for the kit I won't argue.  The camera makes great files, works without a hitch and can sometimes be....amazing.

So here I am. All of the micro four thirds inventory is gone. All the sub 24 megapixel cameras are gone. The 16 megapixel a57 is in Ben's hands now. When I go out to shoot it's all big file stuff now.  Not big like a Nikon D800 but twice the resolution of the nifty Nikon D700 I was carrying around only four years ago.  And all of them at half the price of a D700, or less....



The big question is: Do I see any real difference in the files versus the stuff I was shooting with last year?  And the wishy-washy answer is "yes and no."  If I'm out walking around and handholding my cameras pretty much every camera from 12 megapixels up looks pretty much the same in terms of overall quality. I think my ability to handhold a camera steadily is really the deciding difference in perceptions of quality we have between cameras.  That and the quality of the lenses that we use.  Of course there are more dots in the files with a higher resolution sensor but are the dots anything particularly useful or are they just there to take up space when we shoot handheld, or in low light?  

Where I do see a difference in sensor resolution and it's impact on quality are situations were I am using the camera on a tripod and practicing good technique. On a recent product shoot I tried to pull out all the stops and do everything by the "high quality results" book.  I used a heavy tripod, focused carefully with the focus peaking in the a77.  I used a known to be good lens and I used it at what I knew to be its sharpest aperture range (5.6-11) and I even used a wired, electronic remote release.  The ISO 100 raw frame, ministered to in Lightroom 4.1 was stunning for the sheer amount of detail presented in the product image.  Was it necessary detail?  Hardly, the images will be used on packaging and will run half the size of the original files (or less).  Was it observable detail with real information?  Yes.  You bet.  Was this a make-it-or-break-it parameter for the product shot or the client? Gosh no.  We could have done files with an older Kodak 6 megapixel camera that would have satisfied the final use but it sure was fun, given where we've been in the digital spectrum, to see just how much resolution the "normal" camera of the day delivers.


In my mind the benefit of all those megapixels comes into play when you're looking for tonal smoothness combined with a high impression of sharpness, delivered by endless layers of detail. For me it's in the studio portrait. Shooting at 24 megapixels gives me files that have so much detail and so little "grain" that the skin tones take on the smoothness that we used to associate with medium format color negative film and that makes it a whole different look.  And the funny thing is that all three of these cameras can deliver that.

Another benefit of the newer sensor technology is the increased dynamic range in the files. If I shoot everything at ISO 100 (or even ISO 50 in the a77's) I see a definite difference in the range from light to dark vis-a-vis my EP3 or GH2 files.  The newer cameras also do a better job on the light to dark tonal transitions than did my Canon 5Dmk2.

I thought I'd have more use for the Nikon D3200 camera than I've gotten so far. Its files are no better (and probably not quite as good) as the stuff I'm getting out of the Sonys but I am very comfortable about tossing it into a bike pack or the aforementioned car floor, or even in the swim bag and expecting it to work without a grumble when I get to wherever it is I'm going.

While I think the 24 megapixel sensors work well for a guy like me who doesn't give a rat's ass about shooting at 6400 ISO I don't think it's a magic metric or indispensable. In fact, the 16 megapixel performance of the Sony a57 is largely indistinguishable under all but the most controlled circumstances.  The same is true, I am sure, of the Olympus OMD.  Oh, but wait.  That's a Sony sensor as well.  Has Sony become the digital equivalent of Kodak from the film days?  

So, why my ongoing fascination with the Sony cameras? Especially when I can get the same practical level of performance out of a $600+ Nikon?  It all boils down to the finders.  Once you've done EVF (Sony style) you'll never want to go back. Even if someone comes along with a lot more megapixels.  It's nice to be ahead of the curve once in a while.



8.14.2012

Continued Motivation.

The boy. Kodak DCS-SLR/n camera. Nikon 135mm f2.8 ais lens.

I like to own nice gear. I am as avaricious as the next guy when it comes to cameras and lenses.  I like having options to work and play with. But if you are looking to the gear to inspire you as a photographer you might be trapped in a nasty closed loop that will inevitably disappoint. The gear should always work in the service of the subject. And your motivation should come from your interest, curiosity or love for the subject. The image exists in your brain as your art.  When it's stuck in your brain it's just for you. The equipment helps you make your ideas and inspirations physical and share-able.  That's the only power the camera has, to make art share-able.

A Post From January 2011 That Came Up Yesterday in a Discussion of the upcoming Photokina...


 

Perception and reality are intertwined.  And what is reality for one person isn't necessarily a reality for the person standing next to them.  The way in which you think about things determines the outcome.  If I know a technique will work, it works.  If I think being nice is hard then it becomes very difficult.

I find that many people have a thought process based on a search for a magic bullet or magic series of steps or charms or products that will unleash that person's creativity or allow them to live forever.  In their minds there is a need to do "research."  They cloister themselves in a library created from materials they find in the orbits they search and they proceed to read everything they can get their hands on.  They put off exercising or practicing or enjoying making art until they've accrued the "critical mass" of knowledge.  And it becomes like peeling an infinite onion because with every layer they peel back another layer of knowledge and detail is revealed.  And when that layer is dissected they move on to the next layer.  And when that layer has the juice wrung out of it they progress to the next layer.

The layer peeling in photography is prodigious.  And I find myself doing it in every facet of the business that I find frightening or unpleasant.  I don't like going out of the studio to show a portfolio.  Few people really do.  Instead, I spend time researching new ways of reaching out to clients.  We all do.  We rush to do e-mail blasts because it's easy and it gives us the impression that we're doing something smart.  We're reaching all those people on our list with an example of our work.  But we know that everyone else who fears rejection and face to face encounters to ask strangers for work first and then money is doing exactly the same thing:  sitting in their office, facing a screen and wracking their brains trying to think of something clever to say about a photo that's topical and hopefully interesting to a stranger.

When we finish with the e-mail blast we know we can't do it again for a few weeks so we "research" other ways to circumvent the stuff we fear = the face to face portfolio show.  Next we might turn our attentions to a postcard or start peeling the onion about presenting materials on our iPads.  We'll research which iPad to buy.  Which programs to make our portfolios in.  Which leather cover conveys the right message of coolness and affluence?  And, if we do our research right it should take up enough of our time and attention so that we've sliced thru a few weeks and we can now go back and start working on that next e-mail promotion without fear of saturating our audiences.  Of course we have no idea of how many people sent e-mail promotions to our intended victims yesterday or earlier today or the day after we do ours.  And, really, all marketing is contextual.

When we tire of the "marketing onion" there's always the "gear onion" to fall back on.  We might convince ourselves that our current equipment is no longer competitive with the rest of the photographers chasing the same clients.  We resolve to differentiate ourselves by "upgrading" which takes a lot of research....because, of course, we want to make the right investments....So back to the websites and the books.  Once that injection of courage is absorbed and we find ourselves still stuck by our own fears and our focus that tells us we don't know enough about the magic bullets, we take the next step which is to find a mentor.  Usually at a workshop.  We focus on the mentor's success and hope that by spending time and energy with him a process of osmosis will occur that causes the mentor's creative powers to undergo a mitosis that allows him to share that power with us.  We'll learn not only what the magic bullets are but also how to aim the creative gun and go "full automatic" on our prospective clients.

But that will drive us back into research in order to find a new order of clients who are perceptive enough to share the vision you siphoned from the mentor.  It's a cruel and endless loop.  And in the end your lack of success will probably lead you to reject the mentor and his arcane magic and go off in search of a "real" mentor.  And that might mean getting some new equipment which will, of course, mean new research.

But by changing the focus from "learning" to "doing" we change our reality.  We stop looking for subjects that will resonate well with our technical tool bag and start out with the magnetic attraction to things we love to see and love to look at.  And then we'll figure out, through trial and error, how to share, visually, the point of view we alone have that makes the subject magical to us, personally.

When we have a focus that comes from curiosity about the subject that focus drives our unique vision.  Impediments fall and we become so enthralled by being able to share our version of the story about that thing or event that we get over our reservations about showing our vision to the right people because we allow ourselves to become invested in the story not in the material reality of the book.  The book is just one vehicle for the story.

I guess this is my way of saying to many of my friends, and even to myself, that all of us have all the gear we need and all the research we need to be able to shoot just about anything we want to shoot right now.  We need to stop the endless cycle of research because it does three things:  1.  Our focus on "research" creates a comfortable pattern of procrastination from the actual doing.  2.  It robs us of our real power which can only come thru actualization.  Reaching out and doing.  Because it is within the process of doing that we evolve a feedback mechanism that allows us to learn and fine tune what we really like to see.  3.  Research, and it's buddy "the search for the magic bullet," rob us of our power by investing power into the idea that the people/artists that we aspire to mimic  operate creatively by a set and sellable formula and that the search for the formula trumps our search for ourselves.  But if we let go of the edge of the pool we could actually swim.

It's all about the doing.  Not the learning about doing.  I can teach someone to read a meter but I can't teach them how to feel about life and how to translate those feelings into art.  No one can.  It's only thru the process of exercise that the body becomes fit.  It's only thru the process of creating your own art that your creativity becomes fit.  And nobody wants a pudgy creative spirit.

8.13.2012

A re-posting of an article about shooting in the summer. Circa 2010.


 

I know I'm probably being bitchy but the first thing to do if you want to have fun street shooting and you want to spend less time thinking and strategizing and logisticizing, just choose one camera and one lens and leave all the other crap at home.  This is me.  This is all I take.  One camera and one lens.  Why?  Because my brain works in mysterious ways and I'm going to guess yours does too.  If I bring two lenses my brain is constantly evaluating possible shooting scenarios and trying to wedge them into one lens profile or the other.  Wide? Long? In between?  How long?  How wide?  How in between?

If you have one lens on one body you certainly get to know that lens.  Especially if you are a "prolific" shooter.   Do it enough and the scenes appear like magic, ready made for the focal length you just happened to bring.  You know the old saw that goes, "When you have a hammer everything looks like a nail?"  Well when you have a 50mm lens on your camera everything looks like a normal lens shot.  Your mind likes formalist restrictions as much as kids love boundaries.  Wanna hedge your bets because you're a bit scared?  Bring a zoom as your one lens and then you'll have it covered.

But don't do what countless legions of rank hobbyists do.  They load up a Tamrac or Tenba bag originally designed to hold microwave ovens and assorted furniture, with every piece of camera gear they can find.  In goes the wide angle zoom.....because you never know.  In goes the mandatory 70-200mm f2.8 zoom (just the right aperture and weight combo for mid day street shooting).  And, just because people have an irrational need to "cover" all the in between focal lengths, in goes the 24-70mm f2.8 zoom.  But of course none of these is a  real macro lens so that's the next thing to go into the bag.  And having read someone's gear site recently, all the filters go in the bag.  Polarizers, "protection" filters, gradient filters,  and wild filters that I don't understand.  We're talking bags that tip the scales at a good 15 to 20 pounds.  Good news for chiropractors but bad news for photographers.  Adding weight to your shoulder is like adding bags of concrete to the trunk of a Prius.  All of a sudden the gas mileage goes down dramatically.  By the same token your imaging productivity also drops through the floor.  You'll want to rest more and leave sooner.  None of which is conducive to being there and making images.

I know all about the "Strobist" thing.  Love the little flashes.  Love the SB-900's and the 580ex2's and the fl50r's, but let's just go ahead and agree to leave them at home.  If you're fly fishing you don't generally dynamite the stream.  Let's use the same logic when shooting real life.  Just bring your rod and reel and some waders and go looking for images that fit.  Flashes work best when you have a photo in mind and you have the time to set it up and recreate your alternate reality.  Using flash for documentary or street photography is like "bringing a handgun to the opera."  (Credit to Henri Cartier Bresson for that one....).   

Tripods are only acceptable for street shooting at night or with view cameras.  That's all I'll say about that.  If you are hauling a 4x5 or 8x10 out and around your city you already know what you need and you probably don't want any advice from me.  

Next up.  Let's dress for success.  You won't be interfacing with clients so you can leave the pressed chinos, button down,  and dress shoes at home.  But you do need the willing complicity of various people you meet so you'll have to look a bit respectable.  If it's 95 degrees and the humidity is in the 90% range you need to dress right or you'll drop quick.  Let's start at the top.  If you don't mind looking like the kind of guy who still wears a calculator on his belt and makes his own trail mix at home you should go ahead and opt for the bucket hat.  It'll protect your head and the tops of your ears.  And you'll feel fine, fashion wise, about wearing it to Sea World or one of the fabulous water parks.  If this isn't you then let's go with a light weight and light colored baseball cap.  Black ball caps look cooler but they get a lot hotter and that pretty much defeats why you're wearing it in the first place.  The visor will keep the sun off your face while the rest of the cap covers the rest of your head.  Toss some sunscreen on those ears or your dermatologist will yell at you down the road.

Next up, let's talk about sunglasses.  My best advice here is to not wear polarized or colored lenses.  A pity too since I have a beautiful pair of Revos I bought in the airport on the way home from the 2000 Democratic Convention (I covered it for a newspaper) in LA.  But the glasses strike out on both counts.  Too much color tint and very polarized (are there degrees of polarization?).  Too bad because when I wear them everything in the world looks better.  But that's the point, your eyes should be calibrated to your camera.  Who cares if the screen looks sexy if it bears no relationship to the images you're capturing?  Same thing with the sunglasses.  It's like having a really great preview with no way to get there in the end.

I've got an old pair of RayBan Wayfarers that fit the bill.  They're neutral, non-polarized and they save me from squinting and getting those little lines in the corners of my eyes.

Next we're into controversial fashion statements.  I like shirts with collars.  They protect more of your neck and they look better.  So, if you are overcome with heat and exhaustion and you just happen to be down the block from the Four Seasons Hotel you'll feel better about flopping down in the Lobby Bar and sucking down a Margarita while you wait for your energy to return.  And the staff will feel more comfortable too.  Living in Texas and working outside a lot for the last twenty years I've discovered that time and research have largely made the cotton T-shirt obsolete.  Cotton sticks to your skin, is heavier and wick moisture much more slowly than some of the new, super lightweight nylon blends being used in what are being called, "technical shirts".  

I've gone both ways on successive 105 degree days and I'm here to testify that the synth stuff is miles ahead when it comes to breathability,  moisture wicking (and its attendant evaporative cooling powers) and general comfort.  I'm wearing a Columbia shirt in the photo but I don't like the styling all that much.  The sleeves are too long and I don't need two big pockets.  The medium sized shirts are also cut too fat.  Do the manufacturers really believe that everyone now is five foot eight with a 40 inch waist?

I've narrowed it down to one brand and one shirt.  My current shirt of preference is the Ex Officio Trip'r.  It's a short sleeve, blocks UV radiation, has a vent in the back and one sleek pocket on the front.  I just bought out their current stock on Amazon in white mediums.  It's wonderfully comfortable and I could put it under a navy blazer and go into a restaurant without a moment's hesitation.  It is also the coolest (termperature-wise) shirt I own.  I get white.  It reflects the most heat.  If I were heading to the desert I'd get the long sleeve version for more protection.  The pocket's not too big but will hold an extra CF card and your driver's license and Amex card.  Now you're all prepared.  Except for the bottom half......

Golfers know a bit about comfortable.  I wear thin, nicely tailored Alan Flusser golf shorts made out of cotton.  Somehow they're  just right.  The shorts variant I abhor are the ubiquitous "Cargo Shorts" which would even make a buff, 23 year old model look like crap.  Cargo shorts are sometimes given out as punishment in more enlightened societies.  Try not to be caught dead in them.  They scream, "I bought these at Costco/Sams/Sears/Old Navy because they are loose and hide my bulk, and I can bring a big fat wallet and all my batteries and my iPhone and my iPad and a box of matches and a flint and a flask and a screwdriver set and........"  They do serve one important purpose.  They keep stylish young woman from breeding with geeks.  Sometimes.  Just because we are photographers doesn't mean we need to look bad.  
Amazing thing is that decent short pants cost about the same as monstrous short pants with hundred of pockets.  The Swiss Army knife comparison does not apply to all things.  Your pockets really only need a credit card, a small bit of paper cash and,  if you live in a police state, your ID card.  With current cameras you're good with one battery in the camera and a nice 8 or 16 gig card nestled in the right slot. Don't make walking a chore by loading up your britches.

I won't even mention go into the folly of wearing "photographic" vests, especially in the Summer and especially over a nice,Ex Officio shirt.....just don't do it.  Not for street photography.  Save it for the Outward Bound adventure or the software engineering team building exercises.

What should your assistant wear when you are out shooting in the street?  I don't know.  I guess it depends on how she'll be spending her day because she shouldn't be traipsing around with you if you are out shooting your art.  As Elliott ErwittLee Friedlander, and Garry Winogrand would all tell you, shooting art is a solo gig.  (Guess Gregory Crewdson didn't get the memo...).  Maybe the assistant has gone to a career fair.  And you sure don't want to bring along your spouse or your kids......

Now we've come to the shoes.  This part is tricky for me.  I'm a sandal wearing southerner who loves to feel the hot breezes on my feet.  Also kinda goes with the rest of  the outfit but feet are infinitely varied and somewhat fragile so I'm willing to compromise and sanction the wearing of running shoes or cross training shoes with short, appropriate socks.  Nothing over reaching.  Whatever you wear on your feet should be comfy and discreet.

I know that artists as a rule hate to hear this, and photographers wedded to their dark, cool caves, even more but;  shooting great images in the streets means moving around alot,  paying attention and being ready physically.  Not only ready to carry gear and pounce but ready to be socially conversant.  And all of this means you should be in good shape so you're not panting and sweating buckets while asking polite permission to invade someone's space and steal their soul with your magic box.  If you are wavering from the heat there's no way to nail a great shot.

Even though I'm a swimmer and stay in pretty good aerobic shape, when the thermometer heads skyward and the grass starts to turn brown I add two or three days a week of three to five mile walks to my exercise schedule.  I do it during the hot times.  I always carry a camera.  I want to be in good enough shape to spend time in the heat looking for people and stuff I want to photograph.  That way the physical stuff goes to autopilot and the looking and shooting are unfettered by discomfort.

Now, admittedly, this is my personal take on shooting in the Austin Summer.  Everyone will have their own fashion point of view and, as long as I don't have to stand next to you, I really don't care what you wear.  The stuff I've picked works for me on a wide ranging social level as well as a survival level so I'll stick with it.  Funny that this particular blog got started when a famous photographer e-mailed to let me know he'd passed through Austin on a plane change.  He was amazed that it was 95 degrees with very high humidity.  He mentioned that murders rise the closer you get to the equator.  I think we could cut down on the hot weather murder rate just by changing people's shirts.  But as you no doubt know by now I'm pretty opinionated and you have to take everything I say with a grain of salt.

The Fed Ex man was here earlier today delivering two more white shirts.  Just in the nick of time.  I'm photographing a swim meet that starts on Friday afternoon and goes till sunset.  Should be in the mid 90's with enough water in the air to fill a pool.  Might have to break out the soaked bucket hat for this one.  That way I'm sure my kid won't want to come up and ask me for money for junk food.

Marketing Note If I survive the swim meet I'll be meeting people and signing books over at Precision Camera in Austin .......

Be sure to drink some water and save the beer for the end.

Minimalist Lighting: Professional Techniques for Location Photography Photographic Lighting Equipment: A Comprehensive Guide for Digital Photographers Commercial Photography Handbook: Business Techniques for Professional Digital Photographers Minimalist Lighting: Professional Techniques for Studio PhotographyRichard Avedon: Portraits of Power
Avedon Fashion 1944-2000Woman in the Mirror: 1945-2004The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative BattlesGates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of ThermopylaeThe Face of Texas: Portraits of Texans

8.12.2012

Still feeling my way around the Sony Nex 7 but getting more comfortable with it by the day.


One of the reasons why so many experienced photographers are drawn to mirrorless cameras is the short distance between the lens mount and the sensor. This smaller distance allows for users to mount many different lenses from a large universe of camera systems to their mirrorless cameras. One of the reasons I bought the Olympus EP2 was the ability to mount my large collections of very good Pen F manual focus lenses to the camera and to be able to continue to use them and benefit from their unique capabilities.

The Sony shares this short flange to sensor attribute and has become a very popular camera/vehicle of using Leica M series lenses, various Zeiss lenses and a raft of Cosina/Voitlander lenses.  I recently discovered that several companies make Pen F lens to Sony Nex adapters so I bought one and I've been testing various lenses from the 1970's on the camera.

So far, the 60mm 1.5 and the 40mm 1.4 have come through with flying colors.  Or really good colors. Once each of these lenses is stopped down at least one f-stop from their wide open aperture they become competitive with current lenses.  Once they are stopped down two or more stops they become premium quality lenses for most applications.  I liked working with the lenses on the Pen digital cameras but it was always a process of framing, enlarging the frame for focusing, reducing the frame to shoot.  With the Nex 7 I have the  focus peaking feature engaged for manual focus lenses so it's really just a matter of focusing and checking to see where the color outline occurs to confirm focus. Bravo. That make things a lot easier.

I decided today to test a lens that I've had mixed results with on the Pen digital cameras. It's the Pen F manual focus, 25mm 2.8 lens. Hitting sharp focus with it on the Pens was always problematic and, at a certain point, I began to suspect that the optic itself was just sub-par. I thought today would give me a make it or break it finality with the easier discretion of the focus peaking.

I've re-evaluated the lens in light of the three photos you see here and from many other samples I took during the course of a hot and sweaty walk this afternoon.  When accurately focused the lens can be very sharp.  The colors in the lens are more muted than modern lenses and I don't know whether that is a difference in coating or a design philosophy in lens making that's evolved over the years.  I do know that I can take a "quieter image" and do quite a bit of manipulation to it before the manipulation becomes obvious.  In some ways a flatter and more neutral image rendition gives you more latitude to make changes in post without suffering much.  The files don't seem "fragile."


The adapter I got came from Fotodiox and it's much more accurate at infinity that some other adapters I'd gotten for the Olympus digital Pens.  That means I can use the depth of field scale on the lens to calculate a hyperfocal distance. In bright light, at f8, I can get a field of focus that's relatively sharp from about 5 feet to infinity when set to the correct hyperfocal distance.  That's a real plus for street shooting.  With the electronic front shutter curtain of the Nex 7 and using manual exposure control, I can bang out an image with absolutely no lag time whatsoever.  And if I've metered correctly (and who couldn't with a camera that "pre-chimps" for you???) and set the correct distance I can shoot without making any adjustments and be sure of a sharp and well exposed frame every single time. Old school meets new tech.


The Pen 25mm does have a few issues when shooting a wide shot with uneven daylight across the frame.  I shot a bridge and noticed some color shift to magenta from edge to edge.  Other than that the lens is a good, straightforward performer.  If you can find one cheap you'll have a nice 35-37mm equivalent focal length for a really high performance camera.  That being said, I'm happy with the performance of the kit lens in that range of focal lengths.

Nice day in Austin. Everyone was at Barton Springs pool.  Ahhhhh. 68 degree water on a 102 degree day. Perfect.

Projection, reflection.


I was all packed up to spend my afternoon walking around Austin, making photographs with a Sony Nex 7 and a small bag full of interesting lenses and adapters.  I stopped by my favorite sandwich shop for a tuna sandwich on whole wheat with jalapeños and cucumbers, lettuce and tomatoes.  In the early afternoon the over head sunlight bounced off the windshields of the vehicles parked out front and projected all the lettering from the windows onto the ceiling of the shop. I liked this very much.  So I took a photo with the Sony and a 40mm 1.4 Olympus Pen F lens.  I set the camera to black and white.  Being the nerd that I am I will admit that I looked at the file at 100% just to make sure I could see all the crisp detail in the acoustic tiles. Then I headed out for a long, hot stroll...

An insightful look at what may be happening to the world of art. A video. Not by me.


I'm not particularly relevant to photography anymore but I take consolation in knowing that no one else is either.  Have a look at this very powerful, very thoughtful video about the changing nature of popular art and tell me what you think.  http://vimeo.com/34608191  

It's called PressPausePlay and it was produced by House of Radon, a creative agency in Sweden. I happen to agree with nearly everything in the video but I am especially interested in the idea that we are in a "crisis of democratized culture" that could lead to a new, creative "dark ages."

While it's true that more people than ever before have access to the tools to automatically create art what it's given rise to is a tsunami of mediocre work the sheer volume and noise of which hides the very few truly talented artists. It's not enough to "up one's game" unless the intended audiences for your work are savvy at the rigors of data mining and are hell bent on finding shining needles in vast, oceanic haystacks.  One of the interviewees in the piece states, in a matter of fact way that, "most people don't have talent."  But because of the outpouring of work in every genre "People start to become comfortable with mediocrity."  At some point we lose our ability to discriminate between genius and hollow imitation.  

These seem to be almost universal beliefs among both artists and critics. Don't argue with me until you've watched the video.  It's very well made and I think it's worth your time....