All about change.

A wonderfully succinct thought about art.

Just saw this quote on a friend's site and thought it sums up everything very well.

"The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." Albert Einstein


An overdue Sunday walk helps reinforce a sense of place. Regardless of which amazing camera you choose.

You purist out there are going to hate me for this but for the last week I've gotten stuck on a silly, post processing mode in Aperture that Apple calls "Toy Camera." It ramps up the contrast and saturation of an image and then applies a whopping big dose of vignette. I think I started playing with it because my images were looking meek and soft and I wanted to experiment with a more, "in your face style." I'm sure I'll get over it and go back to my flatter and less frantic post processing.

I spent my week doing portraits (stills) and interviews (video) and I was ready for some "non-human" photography time. Many people seem to think that cityscapes are boring unless you do them in one of the "great capitols" where imposing, august and intimidating buildings that were made many years ago live. Cities as populated with interesting architecture the way Palm Springs is populated with golfers (and from time to time, photographers...).  I might agree with that assessment if my goal was to catalog and show off the architectural achievements of my fair city but in fact I walk and photograph to reinforce my sense of place. I see the city as constantly growing and changing. Not always for the better but not always badly. Having a mental image of what local places look like gives me some sort of comfort that I find hard to explain.

On the day of this walk I took the (relatively) new Sony a58 and the muscular 16-50mm f2.8 lens with me. I like the camera just fine but I love the lens. And I love it even better when I watch through the electronic finder after I take the shot and watch the camera's processor apply the corrections in it's little memory banks to the image. The lines straighten out and the corners lighten up. But then I just mess it up again in post processing with my Toy Camera Mania.

I spent all week in the studio so when I went out I looked for all the places where the central Texas sun does it's hot, bright, bully light all over everything. The images above and below were taken up on the third level of the Austin Convention Center. Interesting thing, the ACC is open every time I go there. Whether they are having a car show or meeting or nothing at all the building seems constantly accessible to me. Given the long halls with flooding sunlight and all the blandly interesting post modernist touches I am amazed that it's not full of film students doing guerilla photo shoots, without permission or permits. At the very least some exploratory fashion photography? Whatever. But the bathrooms are convenient and the water fountains are cold.

One benefit of keeping track of a city center growing like a weed is knowing which locations you want to put in the background of a location portrait and what the best time of day is to make it happen well. 

Our downtown never seems to sleep. There are multiple art and music festivals just about every weekend, and something like 120 music/night clubs in a one and a half mile strip. The problem for diurnal shooters like me is that most of the big events take place outside, during the day. The sun is harsh on faces  but looks great on buildings. I guess I need to go out later and haunt the few interior venues with interesting interior light....

I like walking the city with a small camera and a good lens because it allows me to get seriously good images when I see them while making a casual and lightweight enough package so that it feels as though it's just along for the ride. If I don't find anything to shoot then no big deal.

Okay, I think I'm over my "toy camera" phase. Just had to get it out of my system...

Changing my mindset from the "loner, creative photographer" to the "team player immersed in creating content". Now there's a leap.

I think it's a quirk of the human mind to always be looking in the rear view mirror at where we've been and what we've done, and how we did it. And, in an anthropological sense it's logical. Learn from the past. You have to take into consideration that for the vast majority of the time we've been wondering around this planet (as a species, camera-less)  the rates of profound changes in process and tradition for most generations of humans were....glacial. So I think we're pretty much hardwired to look for future solutions by mining our past experiences. What that leads to in an age of hyper-change and accelerating process evolution is a never ending set of schism points between people who "get" the lastest change in X and people who just pull up hard and stop in place. No bandwidth to go any further. Shut down and operating on whatever brain operating system version was in place at the moment they hit the wall of progress. 

You see it everywhere. There are some people who don't want to learn how to pump their own gas. Others who've never adapted to using the web. Still others that "don't get Twitter" and millions who aren't sure why their otherwise rational sons and daughters walk around in a haze staring at their phone screens as though some benevolent technology god was just about to impart the "final secret" through that medium. Remember the shock, disappointment and lost sales BMW suffered when they first introduced the "i-drive" to a generation of series 7 car buyers who were baffled by the interface? And why they might need/want it?  Maybe we could chalk that one up to crappy interface design. 

I'm of a generation that loves to talk about how we did it, pre-digital. And really? No one gives a shit. I'm also of the generation of imaging specialists who think they might just skate through their entire professional lives doing just one thing or one process really, really well. And why not? They won't have to expend any additional time learning more. I read a "Pro" forum today. A traditional wedding shooter was bemoaning the story that he had "booked" nineteen weddings last year but only four this year. You could feel his anguish. He went on to say he just couldn't understand why everyone wanted to mess up their images (taken with phones) by dragging them through the filters in Instagram. He just knew that if he could show them the pristinely sharp, perfectly color corrected and (yawn) perfectly posed portraits that he was able to knock out and print onto canvas with his Nikon D3X and such and such lens he felt certain that they'd want his product. A backward look at a product that sold well in the 1980s.

So, where am I going with this? Well, it dawned on me that most businesses do better when they listen to the customers they aspire to serve. I've just come off what I would have described as a schizophrenic week just a few years ago. Schizophrenic in that I got to wear many hats. I bounced back and forth between working as a still photographer, a portrait photographer, a script consultant, a video lighting designer, a director and a DP. The two video interviews I helped create were for businesses who felt ready to up their sell on their websites. One was for a law firm the other for an executive coach. Both mixed together my long term lighting skills with new stuff I keep learning about video in the digital age. We also produced a TV commercial for an entertainment client. When I say, "produced" I mean that I worked with a creative person and my part was to set up the lighting, engineer the sound and then run the camera. My partner created the script, ran the teleprompter and did the edits.

During the same week I shot an ad image, several portraits and did some fun art documentation. In the last few days, when I've dropped by agencies that I've worked with before, either to drop off work, or to drop by some promo, my creative counterparts ask me what I've been up to. When we talk about making video their eyes light up and conversations moves from polite banter to full attention. What just about every creative person and corporate marketing person is looking for is a full on content provider rather than a breadbasket full of disparate cogs that require assembly. 
But this is not the way we used to do it in the rear view mirror.

I spoke with a regular client about an upcoming project next week. He's used my video services for interview recently and has hired me as a photographer many times over the past ten years. We discussed his need for "B-roll" video as well as still images in our upcoming location at a tech manufacturing facility. He wanted to know if I could light my set ups with continuous lights, shoot the still images and then roll some video for inserts. It was a good discussion. He's designing the new website to use only horizontal image content. That means we can go in with a video tripod and fluid head.  We'll lock it down for the stills and we'll move for the video. The budget gets a bump as well. 

This was the lighting package I took to the location ad shoot. 
Big flash and lots of power. But for the rest of the week it was...
....all continuous, continuously.

I dropped off a couple DVDs to another long term client today who asked me, "What's up?" We dove into the video conversation. When I explained to him what I was doing he got excited. "I didn't know you were doing motion." We talked about shooting video with DSLR's and we talked about sound recording and editing. He was excited. He likes the way I direct and light people in stills and was ready to incorporate those looks in video. His company is all interactive. All website design. His take on the market? People are demanding a mix of media now. Static images are not enough. They are required but the are not sufficient to hold viewers' attentions. People want both. I want both.

As part of my continuing education I'm learning the in-depth craziness of Final Cut Pro X, which is a non-linear video editing software product. I knew it was more than I could be able to figure out by brute force so I signed up for a service called, Lynda.com. They specialize in video based instruction for creative people of all stripes. They have modules for just about any imaging software from In Design to Nuke 7 and everything in between. They even have a tutorial for learning how to optimize your YouTube channel.  I've watched the basic, six hour FCPX video editing module twice and my last two edits were better, quicker and more controlled.

The cross platform "money maker." Bright, soft and powerful.

I've got a lot to learn but then I'm expecting to live a long time so I figure I'd better adjust to my ever changing surroundings. One part of me wishes that nothing had ever changed and that everyday I could go into the studio, set up my signature light, drink coffee and yak with my assistants, shoot a corporate exec on a standard background and get paid big bucks. But, on the other hand once you figure something out well enough so that the operation becomes subconscious don't you get incredibly bored and ready to move on to something new? Isn't that the true nature of a creative business?

On one of the video shoots I couldn't use my preferred microphone method which is to put a lavalier microphone on my interview subject's shirt or lapel. We ended up using an inexpensive shotgun mic on a boom instead. I spent a lot of time in the editing process cleaning up the sound. That led to a shopping trip last Sunday which culminated in an upgrade. A new, much better shotgun microphone. You can hear a difference. I hear the sound of less work in post processing. Another part of the learning curve.

Providing more than photographs requires every photographer to look to their native skill sets. If you are a natural leader you might aim at doing more and more directing. If you are an introvert who loves the process of things you might aim to be more involved in editing and special effects. If your alternate talents lie in writing then I see scripts in your future. If you love to light you'll probably figure out how to leverage all the cool stuff you learned lighting photographs into more work as a lighting designer/camera operator. Are you really into music? You could be leveraging your assets into sound design.

There's no question that the market for just still photography, especially from mid-talent people in mid-tier markets is tightening. But it's hardly the end of the world. It's just an ever accelerating marketplace's way of encouraging you to spread those creative wings, open your mind and expand the range of stuff you do.

I like doing all these different things. It's more profitable than just sitting around changing camera systems willy-nilly, hoping the latest system has some sort of magic that will get you business. And even the time I spend learning via the web or editing the work has some benefit:  I get to spend more time with my noble dog. That's a nice, stable part of the process. And yes, I do look for her advice on everything from the moral character of the people who come into the studio to whether or not a cross dissolve would look cheesy for a certain transition. She hasn't let me down yet.  Go out and be prolifically creative. It's all fun.

I'm not saying I'm great at any of this...yet. But I'm committed. I'm enjoying the teamwork of shooting video and making interviews work. I grudgingly admit that editing is not the satanic process I originally thought it might be. It's all fun. And making motion ties right into all my research about continuous light sources over the last four years. Synergy. Growth and Change. Like baking a cake.


My favorite portrait technique? Simplicity.

One light. One 12 megapixel camera. One 85mm 1.8 lens.

Just put the light in the right place and then work on seeing the person in front of you. At that point the technical stuff should take care of itself.

Back when we printed just about everything every photographer worth his Dektol at his own filed out negative carrier to use in his enlarger. The idea was that you could print everything that was on the negative. It was proof that you saw perfectly at the moment you pushed your fickle index finger down on the shutter release button. Shades of Henri Cartier-Bresson!!! While there are probably a thousand ways to make your own custom frames to fit around you digital images I find it easiest just to hop into Snapseed and customize one of their handy, pre-fab frames.

Most of the time they serve no purpose other than eliciting the ethos of printing in the wet days. But in this situation the background toasted up to white and I needed a frame to define where the white background stopped and the Blogger background begins.

I did some work on this photo in Snapseed. I turned down the saturation a bit. Because I think skin tones look more natural when they aren't Disney-saturated. I opened up the shadows and brightened up my subject's eyes to match the perception I had of her eyes while I was shooting. I was moving from objective reality to my subjective reality, via sliders.

I look at most of my RAW files as a vague starting point. And when it comes to portraits I'm willing to use every trick in the book to bring an image from the vague muddle of data that comes from my cameras into line with the pristine and always optimistic view my brain seems to store of my subjects. On any given image I might spend some time in Aperture (for just the right color and tone), PhotoShop (to repair blemishes and dust spots and meteor dust) as well as Portrait Professional (to get the eyes and the skin tones just right), and finally a wallow through Snapseed because I like the judicious use of the structure filter and the ease of adding frames and vignettes.

It's my job to guide your eyes and your intentions. I am not an forensic documentarian. My job is the opposite of strictly recording the median. That's for robots and surveillance cameras.

I suggest that we use the tools we have at our fingertips. The trick is to know when to stop. That's probably why I'm not showing the other ten variations. The bottom line is that the value lies in your original vision, not the cameras literal compulsions. Drag the image to the reality you saw in your heart and mind and the hell with the purists.


A Portrait. The way I think my portraits should look.

The portrait is a collaboration.

A.Z.  ©kirk tuck

I met the woman in this image a few years ago. We were shooting some big graphics for a trade show and she was one of the talents the ad agency selected as a principal for the ad campaign. I was smitten by her quiet and unusual beauty when she walked through the door. After the project was completed and the 9 foot by 12 foot panels were installed I sent her an e-mail and asked if she was willing to come into the studio and have a portrait made, as a fun project. 

I set up my usual lighting. A big, soft light coming from the left and used in fairly close. At first there were the obligatory smiles and poses but as we got into the session I found that the quieter, more serious expressions were the ones that made me happy. People remark that my portraits can be too serious but the bigger the smile the smaller and squint-ier the eyes. And A.Z.'s eyes were one of the features that attracted me in the first place. Why hide them behind a smile?

I used my camera of choice at that time. It was a Nikon D2x and the exif info tells me that I was using the 85mm 1.8 Nikon lens. I know this will sound monotonous but I shot all the images in the session with ISO 100 because it's the optimum ISO for that camera. 

We shot a lot of stuff in a short amount of time that evening and I sent along a few of the best images but lately I've started to go back to my favorite images and re-work them. Funny how four or five years passing makes such a difference in my perspective about how faces and lighting and post production should look. 

Here's another version:

 We are all attracted to different ideals of beauty. You work better when you work with the kind of human you find most amazing. Knowing your creative muses may be the most important aspect of making great portraits. Not commercial, sellable portraits, just great portraits.

Please use our Amazon links to buy your camera gear (and anything else you like at Amazon). We'll get a small commission which helps defray my time and cost while costing you zero extra.
Thank you very much.

Why the reset? Here's my quandary: My market and my interests are shifting...

We live in a world of insanely fast changes and I work in an industry that changes even quicker. The things I've written about for the past five years have all referenced a continuum of photography that more or less reflected the viewpoint that digital didn't really change any of the underlying structures that made photography what it is, digital was just a new media to write the images to. A new kind of film that's infinitely cheaper to buy and process, and equally easy to share. And that was a comforting construct for me but it's just not true anymore.

A large number of the skills a lot of us spent decades honing are no longer relevant or even desirable. Who, in this day and age, needs to know the fine points of selenium toning Seagull Portrait fiber printing paper? Who will make use of your dissertation about the Scheimpflug formulas for calculating rear film and front lens standard movements for a view camera? And really, who gives a shit about which version of a 50mm Leica Summicron lens is really the hidden gem in the cosmology of lenses?

Much of the blog space on the web that has to do with photography has devolved into an endless review of cameras and lenses. The bloggers have discovered that talking about the latest equipment introductions is fun for the majority of readers to read. They've also discovered that most readers will click through the product links and return some income to the bloggers. It sets up an UN-virtuous circle wherein we start to customize our content to encourage equipment purchases instead of encouraging an exploration of the art. And that started to bother me. The websites I used to go to in order to read about technique or new works by ascending thought leaders have changed their mixes to be almost all commerce all the time. And while I know that's the basis of the American system (Oh...yay capitalism!!) it's also a subject line that decays quickly and irreversibly. That wonderful review about the Olympus EPL2 already seems antiquated. Like listening to Abba.

When I first envisioned writing this blog I thought I'd be writing about a handful of subjects. I wanted to show work I'd done and talk about the commercial photography world. How we make work. The challenges of keeping our personal visions alive while making a living doing images that weren't necessarily germaine to the visions that drove us into this commercial niche. I wanted to talk about the personal journey of creating art. Of shooting on the street. Of making portraits of wonderful people who made our hearts pump faster and our eyes perk up.

Here's the wonderful thing about writing a book: You only get to see the sales numbers twice a year and once you've written it and put it out there there isn't a hell of a lot you can do to change it if you get lots of good or bad feedback. Here's the really crappy thing about writing a column for a blog: You get hour by hour feedback in the form of comments, pageview metrics and even click through numbers which you can't really help wanting to see. If they are good on an article you wrote yesterday your ego is massaged and you feel vindicated and smart and dialed in. If your numbers fall over the edge of a cliff the next day you become frustrated and you subconsciously start edging in the a different direction. Which direction? Obviously, the one that protects your fragile ego.

A number of years ago I wrote two blogs that I really love. One is called "Lonely Hunter, Better Hunt" and the other is, "Coffee Time is Over, Shut up and Shoot." Both have been moderately popular in terms of pageviews and comments. But, of course, the numbers are dwarfed by anything I write that covers, reviews or even just mentions the gear. Write a long Olympus review and the numbers are amazing. Write something that discusses our motivations and watch the numbers fall through the couch cushions with all the spare change.

But here's the disconnect, a vocal faction of readers tells me how much they love the non-gear columns while the vast majority of visitors turn off and head for more gear-like pastures.  

The next problem for the blog is that after nearly 30 years in the business I feel that I can clearly see, both in art and commerce, how much bigger video is becoming. And how important it is to the whole sphere of visual communication as we plunge into the future. I like cinema and video and the art of the moving image. I like scripts and writing and acting and everything that goes with it but my audience sometimes makes me feel locked into being that guy who wrote a book about using small flashes or the guy who wrote a book about LEDs and they give me (metaphoric) disapproving looks when I mention video/motion.

Wanna see readership drop off your photography blog? Shift from writing about which camera and lens combination currently has the most magnificent bokeh in the world to writing about how to light faces in video and watch the current readership shrug and trundle off for another cup of Sanka.

The future is coming at us fast. Four of my work days this week will be consumed shooting video for clients. I haven't changed my branding or advertising; my clients just assume I will be able to bring the same lighting effects and personal rapport to the video table. And I feel that the wave is just beginning to swell. 

Sony announced a 4K television set at NAB this year that should be priced under $5,000 so it's only a matter of a year or two until the high end of the market (where the juiciest clients reside) are totally saturated with screens that deliver a much higher level of detail and tonal integrity than even the best units we're using today. And that will change so much. Levels of production will have to rise and the next generation of DSLRs (or, if you shoot with Sony, DSLTs) will have to incorporate the new 4K level of HD video. And the potential to show work on a high quality medium will become ubiquitous. But if we sit around and argue about the death of the traditional photo industry or how we need to go back to printing our own black and white photos with chemicals, or which camera is the best one right now! Then we won't share in the fun.

I don't want to create a site like Phillip Bloom's where everything is a commercial for every video gadget that's offered for wannabe movie makers. And I don't want to be a blog where we worship our past at the expense of the present. I also don't want to turn my back at timeless good work either. 

But in my mind the first step in rehabbing the VSL blog was to take down as much product specific stuff as possible. I'm no longer in the business of reviewing the tools. I'm not any smarter than many of my readers and I think they can figure out which camera works best for them. I'm no longer flogging my previous books. I've worked and worked on that and there's no rhyme or reason to their selling pattern. If I flog a book it will be the upcoming novel or a new e-book after that. I don't want to sell people workshops. I don't want to sell my audience prints.

In fact, I don't want to seek out an audience, I want my audience to seek me out. 

So what do I intend to substitute for all the decaying and moribund content that used to live here? It's easy. I want to write about my experiences making portraits and shooting motion picture projects. I want to write about how this one freelance content creator lives his life and makes his work. I'd like to showcase and interview more and more interesting people in the way I did with Michael O'Brien's video.  And I'd like to talk about this whole life and undertaking as a process that's done with thought tools and not just the cameras and lenses we buy for sport. I want to make portraits that are exciting or seductive enough to make me forget the gear.

You can come along for the ride or you can find somewhere else to live. You can join my imperfect search to bring meaning to my photographs and the work of people that I think are doing good stuff. Going forward I will be much more direct in my opinions (I've felt myself toning things down to keep the virtual peace around here) and if enough people don't like it vocally enough I'll just turn off the comments.

I'm old enough to know that all the stuff we buy is irrelevant if we don't have anything to say. And we'll never know what it is we want to say with our work if we have our collective heads up our butts chasing the latest light, lens and camera stuff. Mea Culpa. I got sucked in by the magnetic attraction of pageviews and the lure of the cash. Not anymore. 

It's hard to write for an audience you don't know. I would sincerely like to use the comment section on this particular post to hear from you, my readers. Who are you? What do you do to make money? What do you do to make art? Why are you here? What do you think the future will bring for you and for the rest of us....in a photographic sense? I'd like to hear from as many people as possible. I'll open up the comments even to the anonymous commenters. Share with me who I've been writing to for the past five years.

Thanks, Kirk

Please use our Amazon links to buy your camera gear (and anything else you like at Amazon). We'll get a small commission which helps defray my time and cost while costing you zero extra.
Thank you very much.


I spent part of my week with a very interesting artist. Take a look at Marja Spearman's latest project: The Forget Me Knots.

I got an e-mail a week and a half ago from Marja Spearman. She introduced herself as a sculptor looking for a photographer to document her project. We exchanged a few e-mails and I decided that I'd be delighted to meet with her and help document her project. The project involved making 1,000 ceramic Forget Me Knots, painting and glazing them different shades of blue and purple and then creating an installation that weaves across three properties in west Austin. Each ceramic piece is a wonderful and visually alluring metaphoric knot. The pieces seem to have different meaning for every viewer. One person who as driving by as the pieces were being installed stopped to look. She shared a quick story with us. She had a knot in her colon that had to be repaired surgically. She wanted to know if she could buy one of the knots. 

Marja insisted that she just take one. In talking about the project she shared with me that she still has a relative in Holland who carries a rope around with him just for tying "forget me not knots" to help him remember things that he has to do. That was part of the germination of this project which I think deal with memory and loss. 

Documenting this project called for making photographs of the installation from a number of angles and at a variety of scale. From close up clusters that really show the form of the individual ceramic objects to wider shots that show the scope of the installation. Of course, effective documentation has nothing to do with camera capability beyond that the camera needs to have a relatively decent wide angle to short telephoto range and that the camera be able to handle the range of colors and textures. Most modern digital cameras would qualify.

A second part of the project, which just seems like a natural adjunct, was to do a video documentation in much the same way. I documented the same range of scales but introduced movement and sweep to the coverage. Video also allowed us to interview Marja and her assistant, Christina. Our edit will be very straightforward: A few title slides to open, a few interviews and then intercuts of the installation with a continuation of the sound track from the interviews over the top of the images of the knots.

To make the video interviews I worked with a Sony a99 camera (but any of the equivalent Canon, Nikons, Panasonic or Olympus cameras with video would do equally well. For me there were two big considerations. One was that the camera be able to accept external microphones while giving me real time controls over audio levels and, second, that the camera have a headphone jack so I could monitor the quality of sound we were getting. 

For the interview I worked on a tripod and used a manual focus 85mm lens. I used a set of Sennheiser wireless microphones. I would pin the microphone onto the person I was interviewing (or fallowing around during the installation) and they would be free to move around while they spoke. We got some good material by keeping the microphone attached to either Marja or Christina while they were engaged in installation. Their remarks about why they were placing the objects in such a way illuminated my understanding of their vision. 

While the process of documentation was very straightforward I think there is so much that could be done in the video edit that I'm feeling a bit intimidated about it. I'm torn between how much could be done and how much I'll be able to do under my time and budget constraints. We'll make something good for now and pass along the raw video to Marja in case she wants to push the program further or cut it in a different way.

Working with other artists engenders a good feeling of sharing and opening one's eyes to a different angle and a different perspective. I love that this artist, Marja Spearman, had a singular vision and combined her art, her management skills and her ability to build a collaboration into a overarching project of making art. There is no discernible business return. The knots required months of hand production, and because of the variations in color and glaze there was a high failure rate. Her team experimented over and over again with different glaze formulations and different firing parameters. In the end she understands that some of the objects will be stolen, other broken and many given away. That's what makes documenting the project so important.
The installation itself is temporary and will only exists in the collection of images and video that we capture during its short tenure.

This is a busy time in Austin. This weekend and next are the West Austin Art Studio Open Houses. You can drop by and see the installation, and speak with the artist. A direct connection with an accomplished artist. You can also make your own documentation of her work. Just go this afternoon or the afternoons of next weekend to the intersection of Lamar Blvd. and 31st St. The installation starts just a few feet from Lamar on the west side.  You can turn into 31st St. and you'll probably find a bit of parking along the street. Next Saturday Marja says there will be a bit of catering for people who drop by. Go see a fun installation. If you aren't in Austin, don't worry...I'll post the video as soon as I finished editing. Hope you are having a fulfilling and artistic Sunday. Best, Kirk

Interesting angles. A black and white Eeyore's Birthday Party.

I try to go to Eeyore's Birthday Party at Pease Park in Austin, Texas every year. It reminds me of the Austin I loved when I came here in the 1970's to go to school. Janis Joplin sang in a local club and you could pretty much ride across town on a bicycle. The city has grown up a lot since then but the people who come to Eeyore's do a great job channeling that old spirit.

I usually grab a camera at random, stuff maybe $20 in the pocket of my jeans and head over to Clarksville to park as close as one can and then I walk an easy half mile to the park. I didn't stay too long. I didn't need to. I soaked up some good feelings, watched the drum circles and the unicycle football games. Saw the kids decorate the Maypole and watched everyone and their mother snap away with their smartphones. And that was fine by me.

Usually I wander around directionless but today was different. I was drawn toward a different end of the park where I came across this young woman and her partner doing aerobatic yoga and I just stopped. I love people who defy gravity. I love photographing beautiful people who are turning upside down. Who doesn't? So I photographed their improvisational routine with delight.

Then, rather than stay and look for more stuff, I decided to leave on this high note. And I am completely satisfied with my experience at the celebration. In the past I would have hung around hoping to find more, more, more. But I've learned that it's almost self defeating to keep going after a certain point. And that point is a moving target.

The camera I took today was my Sony a850. It's a throw back to the same look and feel of my old film SLRs from the dark ages. Big and heavy in the hand. A big, optical finder and a mirror that goes "boom, boom, boom!" when you hold down the shutter button. But I now get why I am partial to that camera. The longer I shot with it today the more it reminded me of those days of shooting Tri-X in a Nikon F3 or a Canon F1 (original). Big, brawny cameras that felt like they'd outlast your car or your house. That association, coupled with the fact that I shot so much black and white back then must have triggered some sort of mental muscle memory.

I set the camera to shoot black and white jpegs and I shot without looking at the indecisive consideration screen on the back of the camera. In this way I could shoot and move on. I removed the step where I reflexively stop after each flurry of activity to check the screen.....As though I'm so inexperienced that I fear I may have missed the shot or mis-set the important controls and screwed up everything. It was purging not have the instantaneous feedback loop engaged at all times. And it felt great to start looking for the form of a shot instead of the emotional triggers of color.

I used an old lens today. I selected it because I found it sitting on my desk this morning when I came back from an early Saturday morning public relations assignment for the regional gas company. Maybe Ben borrowed it and put it on my desk to return it to me. Maybe I put it there yesterday to get it out of the way of our video shoot. It doesn't matter. I grabbed it and put it on the Sony on my way out the door. It's a cheap, old Minolta 24-85mm 3.5-4.5 zoom lens. Very old tech. But a nice look, on sensor, when used as a black and white translator.

I had a long talk with my friend, John, this morning over our after-swim-practice, decaf coffees. We were talking about the need to keep adapting to and understanding the advances in technology as it relates to culture. Neither of us needs to understand dynamic power management of redundant web servers but we both feel like any knowledge that is diffused into the mainstream creates a cultural dialogue and that to be left out of this dialog is what separates and isolates generations. My friend doesn't need to use Twitter all the time (for example) but he needs to understand the twitter basics and how they mould the prevailing cultural structure. It's vital as we grow older to continue to embrace the translation of technology to culture to remain relevant and engaged. The alternative is a separation from our clients, our potential future clients, and a whole number of generations that will inevitably launch themselves into the world and inadvertently change our lives.

But continuing education doesn't mean everything changes completely. It's good for me to check in at things like Eeyore's Birthday Party or to make black and white prints that I really like so that we don't lose our personal relevance, which may be anchored at the other end of the progress paradigm. Know the future. Raid the past. Embrace the fusion.

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How did you really intend to have your images seen? Who would you like you ultimate audience to be?

When professional photographers go out to shoot they always have an audience and a venue in mind. The acknowledgement of this audience and venue inform the way they shoot technically and, if they are smart, it also informs the way they take the images. If they know that the highest and best use of the material will be a point of purchase display they take special pains to use the highest resolution camera and lens system they can in order to make a product that withstands inspection from as close as you (the consumer) want to examine it.

If the work is for the web and needs to be delivered and used quickly the professional photographer may dial back the promise of ultimate quality and use jpeg files at medium resolution settings to deliver a product that's quick to use and still has oodles of quality for the intended medium. The audience still informs his aesthetic intentions.

But what happens when the professional photographer takes off his "pro" hat and settles into making art for his own enjoyment? What is his target then? And as an amateur or hobbyist (or full time artist) who isn't constrained into hitting a specific, final target what is the way you want your images to ultimately be viewed? How do you want your audience to savor those images that you spend so much time and effort on? What is your highest and best display aspiration?

Most of us have a choice. We can aim for the widest audience imaginable and put our wonderful work up on the web. Potentially millions of people will have a chance to see it...but what are they seeing? At the other end of the spectrum we could go for the highest intrinsic quality but we'd have to be content with a tiny (by comparison) audience. In this scenario we'd capture our images as raw files and we'd practice our best techniques and our most present attention. We'd print as large as the image wants us to and we'd choose a medium that insures the integrity of our work.

For many that might mean shooting with a full frame camera at its lowest ISO and using a well made lens at its most effective aperture. To take it a step further it would mean being locked down on a tripod. The resulting image might start life as a 14 bit file and be meticulously post processed and then optimized for a well profile printer. We'd print it on the paper that matched our original intentions and then we'd matte the print and frame it appropriately. The final step would be to put the print into a gallery environment that allows our audiences to view the work without distraction. This would require attention to the height of the work, the angle and distance of the illuminating lighting and even the ambient light of the gallery space itself. If we are really meticulous we would carefully regulate the temperature and humidity of the space for the optimum viewer comfort.

How incredibly different that viewing experience would be, in terms of experiencing the work, than flipping open a 13 inch laptop screen at a noisy and frenetic coffee shop and trying to see work at 1,000 pixels wide while mixed light sources bounce off your screen. Even worse...imagine that you spent months researching a venue. You traveled and spent a fortune. And then, after days of waiting and looking you shot a really wonderful image with lots of energy and layers of meaning....and then you had to reconcile yourself to the idea that most of your audience was looking at your Pietá on the fingerprint swirled screen of an older iPhone. Or worse.

All that work and intention smashed into the never ending blender of images coming directly to your audience tiny, compressed, unprofiled, and, well.....just a mess.  Yes, you may reach millions but with what? 

I come from a generation to which the finished print, hanging on a wall, or the printed page in a book or magazine in front of you, were our ultimate aesthetic targets. We wanted to always share the highest and best representation of our work with you. And it seems that in art circles that presentation imperative has never gone away. The exodus toward all content being solely on the web is being undertaken by the masses but not by the chosen few, the artist. In the realm of fine arts the paper print still reigns supreme as the Lingua Franca of the collectors, gallery owners, museums and enlightened viewers.

Two years ago I was on a photographic assignment and a fellow photographer joined me. We knew each other from the web, from seminars and from casual coffees. His exposure to my own work had been, up to that point, exclusively here on the blog or on my website. Perhaps also in projected images at talks and lectures. That day, when we ended up my work for the client at hand we walked back to my car to pack up. I also wanted to show my friend a printed book of 10 by 10 inch black and white portraits that I'd carefully printed. He was shocked. He was absolutely shocked by the presentation. He took the book and wandered back into the country club we'd been shooting at and sat in a chair and looked through the book several times.

"It's so different to see this work in print." He exclaimed. "There's a sensuality to the images that's incredible in the prints." And at that moment I knew I would never abandon the printed image. Because while authorship on the web is efficient and empowering by dint of sheer numbers it loses something real and vital in the translation. Maybe when we're all looking at 30 inch Retina ™ screens it will all be different. But right now? I don't think so.

I'm not saying that anyone needs to make a choice and certainly they don't have to make my choices. I share images with you on the web because, effectively, that's all I can do to stay in touch with most of you. But in the back of my mind, with every frame I shoot I find myself thinking, "Would this be worth printing? Would this shot merit my time spent working the files and making a large paper print?"  I'd like to say I never push the the shutter button unless I can answer "Yes!" but we all know it's not true. But that doesn't keep me from aiming at the ultimate quality or making files that can stand up to the technical tests. I think photographers and artist should have an intimate show of their physical work about once a year. 

In this way you have to have yourself and your resources invested in the process. And instead of typing and uploading in a dim room you stand, nervously, in the middle of a room full of people and await their judgement of your work. 

On the other hand if you look for other people's approval you put yourself under their control. Better to enter the whole idea of a show as a sharing instead of a judgement. So the question really becomes, "Do you have the balls to share your work directly? Face to face with your audience?" If you do I think you'll find ample new energy to create your vision. And refine it. And create again. An intimate show with a real and present audience beats yet another dropping into the cavernous and insatiable jaws of the anonymous web. At least in your physical gallery space a nasty critic will have to really summon their courage and spleen in order to even try and make a nasty remark. And if the wine is really flowing you can answer their irreverent critique with a kick to the seat of their pants as you propel them out the door. That's got to provide some satisfaction... But seriously, a good show is one of the best highs an artist can get. And each showing raises the bar for the next one.

In fact, 
I don't think you'll ever know just how good your work is until you 
print it large, frame it and put it in front of 
a real human audience.

They (the audience) won't tell you. 
they won't need to.

You'll know.

Images from 2013 Eeyore's Birthday Party. Camera: Sony a850
Lens: Minolta 24-85mm 

Intention? To share.

Please use our Amazon links to buy your camera gear (and anything else you like at Amazon). We'll get a small commission which helps defray my time and cost while costing you zero extra.
Thank you very much.