11.22.2013

Knowing when to say "NO" and get out of a project before it starts.

All projects look beautiful at first. But look at the details before you say "yes."

Sometimes I get it right and sometimes I get it wrong. Balancing a happy and productive working  experience with the siren-like lure of money attached to a bad project is the tricky part of being in a creative business. But one of the things that helps people to be successful over the long term is developing a sense of smell for "stinky" projects and developing the proactive ability (willingness) to remove yourself quickly and with finality.

I recently got invited into a project by a good client. They were working with a large vendor of theirs who needed to make a video in my client's facilities and with my client's staff and customers. The vendor brought along their own video production company to "supervise" the project.  They needed resources here in Austin as both the client and the production company are located in another part of the country.  I would be working under their direction.

In the course of several phone conferences it became clear to me that the production company saw my company as a very generic cog, not the "creative partner" that my client values. They were more interested in asserting their control and ownership over the project than in collaborating to create a great product for the client. The producer also felt like "good enough" was good enough. No need for fancy lighting and no need for interesting camera work.  To top it off the producer sounded bored and reticent to listen to any input. In his mind my role would be to assemble a crew and operate a camera.

When I got off the call I knew that the hierarchy and the producer's lack of enthusiasm would make this entire project an endless pain in the butt. And I've learned that working for people who are more than happy to settle for good enough create projects that are never good enough to go on one's reel. I also understand that being the new guy in the mix makes one the target of blame for anything that might go wrong along the way. The stink of a failed project, your fault or not, follows you forever with the client. None for me, thanks.

I declined to be involved. The producer will have to find a different resource. I'll have to find something more fun to do with those few days in January.

You get to choose. If a proffered project sucks then it's smart to walk. The universe isn't in the habit of replacing miserable days with fresh ones...


Family Photography: Candid Moments & Storytelling

11.20.2013

Kirk's Krazy Kameras of the Year. What I like. What I want and what I used.

From "Janis" at Zach Theatre. Newly Antiquated Sony FF Camera.

If you've read the blog for any length of time you'll know that I love to try out new cameras but I have strong prejudices about what constitutes a "good" camera and the metrics I use to determine what "good" means don't always have direct connections to a camera's technical specs or DXO-type ratings. I also value a camera with personality, simplicity and understandable design----inside and out. I buy them and test them. I sell the ones I don't like. I borrow cameras from friends and from camera makers and I test them and give them back. Turn offs? Crappy sounding shutters, Impenetrable menus, Stuff that gets in the way of taking pictures. Turn ons? Eccentric design and great usability. Total turn offs: GPS as a lauded feature. NFC in cameras.....as in: "let's just bang this sh*t together and maybe they'll share."

Learning how to use new cameras and their sometimes insanely designed menus and buttons can keep your brain fresh and quick---just like doing tough crossword puzzles. One of my friends took me to task for learning new camera stuff and insisted I would be better off just mastering one solid camera for a long time. But that seems to me like doing the same crossword puzzle over and over again. Where's the challenge there? (Yes, dear literal reader, I know the challenge is really in taking the images....).

As we're in the fourth quarter of what seems to be a fast moving year I thought I'd take a moment to talk briefly about the cameras that hit my radar this year. The wacky ones, the solid ones and the one's I want to buy.  The ones I'm very tired of hearing about, etc. First up is a camera I spent a lot of time with over the last three months...

I consider the Samsung Galaxy NX camera to fall into the "wacky" camp. I've been using a pre-production (tester) model which I sent back a week ago but I'm waiting for a finished, selling version to hit my doorstep this week or next. If you haven't read about it yet it's a product that is soooooo aimed at people who are intrigued/consumed by the idea of being connected that it's unreal. As a camera-only the interface is so foreign to me. All touch screen and very few buttons. While it's nice to have a huge screen on the back for some stuff I'd much prefer that the EVF be the primary viewing portal and I wish that the Samsungers had put more resources into the EVF.  Here's my quick take on the camera as it existed for me. The sensor is very nice, generates very good files and it's pretty much like the one in the NX 300 which is a camera I like. The lenses are very competitive and some, like the 60mm macro (which I have also returned) are exemplary. But I actually don't enjoy being connected all the time and I'll confess that I used the camera as a camera a lot in the "airplane" mode. I did use some of the connectivity features such as the wi-fi capability to send a few images out and to test on locations but really, I kept the camera in the "airplane" mode for most of the time I used it. Probably says more about my age and work experience than anything else but I want the camera to pay attention while we're photographing and not be absentmindedly downloading some new update for the copy of Angry Birds I loaded in a moment of weakness which I am now unable to trash.

I'm not in the target market for endless connection. I can imagine some people find the ability to shoot, connect and do just about everything on the go enchanting. This camera may be their dream machine. I dread sitting behind them in the darkened theater as they surreptitiously attempt to check their e-mails and surf the web during a live performance.....on a super bright, five inch screen. What's a five inch screen really good for? It's a hell of a lot of fun in the studio.


The Samsung Ultra-Connected Camera has Launched at Amazon.com

If you think GPS, Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr are as valuable as oxygen you might want to consider this camera. If you are into pure photography and want a Samsung......I'd get an NX 300. Put the left over cash into a 60mm macro.... and the 30mm.

What is my current crush? My unrequited infatuation?



The Panasonic G6 is perfectly priced and insanely full featured

To be honest, while I've looked longingly at the Leica Vario X and thought about the Sony RX1, the smaller camera that has my finger hovering over the "buy with one click" key for the past week and one half has been the Panasonic G6. I wasn't the least bit interested until I handled one first hand at the show in New York last month. The camera is small, light, perfectly grippable and darling. While we all have different ideas about what constitutes good camera design I come down on the design side that calls for haptic nirvana---even at the cost of retro trendiness. The basic design reminds me of the Leica S2 and all the controls seem to be where I want them to be. According to several video websites the camera just flat out kicks the butts of most (much more expensive) DSLR implementations out there.

The 16 megapixel sensor is the same one as on the GH2 but the processing electronics are much faster. There's a wickedly good (almost as good as the Sonys) EVF and the camera has focus peaking, microphone input with manual sound controls, all for a whopping $598.  And that includes a new version of their kit lens which is (according to the lens testers) vastly improved.

If I were smart I'd go click that link now because every time I write something like this (hello Pentax K-01.....) the prices jump back up to wherever they were when I couldn't afford the product. And when I pause I lose.

Speaking of the Pentax K-01....



The Pentax K-01 is the coolest Clown Camera with the highest performance

I bought a Pentax K-01 this year on a lark. The camera shop had a used yellow one sitting on a shelf and I made them an offer they decided not to refuse. I walked out of the store with the whole package for less than the price of a lens. And now I'm really glad I took the leap. The camera is as slow and loud to focus as anyone has ever described it. And I still don't like having to do all my framing on an LCD screen.... But generally all is forgiven when I look at the images that come out of the camera. They are great. Thick and rich files that have colors which seem to go on forever and ever.

And I've gotten past both the raucous focus noise and the lack of an EVF. I use the lenses in MF to take advantage of Pentax's focus peaking feature (yes. it's silent and works perfectly). I use a Hoodman Loupe of my new Darth Vadar loupe for viewing.


I've enjoyed shooting the camera so much that I bought a brand new black and silver version to go with the yellow one. It's for those times when we're going formal....

My continuing work fascination with Panasonic. The country cousin of the Olympus clan...

Let's just be frank. The little cameras are good picture takers but the full frame cameras do straight forward work in the still rodeo very, very well. I love the a99 and think it's better than a GH3 right up until I switch work modes from still-o-graphy to video. Then the GH3, for almost a third the price, comes along and just kicks the Sony camera's butt in an embarrassing and thorough way. I know. I have both.


Panasonic take the title as best video production camera under $1,000. (And it's a really good photography tool as well!).  It's a GH3

I've now used the GH3 on remote locations as the primary camera in an annual report shoot and also in makeshift portrait studios in corporate offices and its still photography chops are really good. The files take direction well in Photoshop and the camera shoots under most lighting conditions with grace. But when we switch modes to motion and do an interview it just sits up and shines. I bought two last month, brand new, from a bricks and mortar retail camera store for $998 a piece. Will they make it past client snobbishness? They already passed muster with a big, east coast production company....

The files are big, less compressed than most of their competitors and the camera just flat out works for video. I'm hooked. I'm using it as a primary system and using the Sonys when I need narrow DOF or very high ISO work.  And that big frame in the Sonys still knocks it out of the park for most AD's.

I try to pay attention to cameras with moving mirrors but it's hard to maintain focus. Bazinga.



I played with a Canon 6D and think it may be one of the nicest full frame cameras out now at a decent price. And it focuses rings around the new Sony a7's....

So. I'm not a big fan anymore of cameras that don't have EVFs but if I had to make an exception or, if I wanted a full frame DSLR that focused faster than anything in the mirror less space with moving targets I'd probably go with the 6D. The image quality is pretty much on par with all the more expensive FF cameras with the possible exception of a tripod mounted Nikon D800. The camera is small enough, light enough and unencumbered with a bunch of extraneous stuff.  But I've used one several times and everything is where it should be. I owned that 24-105 lens and that, coupled with a longer lens is all most people would need for a dandy career of shooting social stuff and general commercial work.  It's the camera and lens combination I'd probably be using if I wanted high quality and I was a confirmed minimalist. Don't know why I like this body so much but it's cheap and one of the better feeling cameras in the full frame pantheon. And the shutter sounds so much better than the Sony A7r's....

Sometimes it is all about the lens. This is the first one I re-bought when I stumbled back into the Panasonic world. It's sharp and flaw free. It's also fast. I wish it had image stabilization but you can't always get (exactly) what you want...




Here's a lens I've bought twice now. It may be the best of the m4:3 lenses. At least at the most usable focal length....

The focal length is a 50mm equivalent and that resonates for me since I was brought up shooting normal lenses on 35mm cameras. If I want to go a little wider and keep that amazingly sharp look I'd be looking into the 15mm as soon as it hits the market...


Lofty Dream Cameras? There's one on my list...


My friend, Paul, recently sold both his Hasselblad HD-4  and HD-3 cameras and most of his Hblad lenses in order to buy what he considers to be the best of the medium format cameras, the 37 megapixel Leica S2. I'm pretty much in agreement with him although we differ over preferred lens sets. He's an architectural shooter so he's rounding up wide angles and having amazing glass adapted to the S mount. I'd be happy with a 70mm, the 120mm and the 180mm. And I'd also like to drive a small Bentley....But it's always good to have an aspirational tool in the back of your mind. Maybe after I put the kid through college I'll move something like this to the front of my mind. And yes, it's a different look than that which you would get from a D800. But I would swallow hard before I dropped the $ 27K on a new one.

Many of us are in pause mode now with cameras. If you own one of the newer ones you are probably coming to grips with the idea that there's not much more improvement to be had. That said, there's always room for lens improvement. These are the two lenses that are on my radar right now.....

Heart Throb lenses for regular cameras. The Sigma Art Series 35mm and 85mm...

Cameras I am tired of hearing about no matter how good they may be. Everyone loves them. Everyone has them. They are like the Kardashians of cameras.... The D800. Yes, we know. Awesome, awesome sharpness...especially on a tripod. Kinda like the Brooks Bros. suit of 35mm style cameras. The Olympus OMDs....will everyone end up driving the same Mini Cooper? Do they have a Berlitz guide out for the menu yet? The Nikon Df.  I'm sure it will make great images....if anyone uses it for something besides photo vest bling. Price to value ratio?  I'd give it a D or an f...

More to follow as I remember more and more of the stuff I used this year and went.....sigh.




11.17.2013

OT: Butterfly clinic. Swimming with both arms in sync.


Our masters team did a butterfly clinic today with coaches, Josh and Kristen who are both accomplished swimmers. Butterfly, done correctly, is perhaps the most beautiful of the four competitive strokes and it's also the hardest to swim well. It requires an undulation of the body that seems hard to learn in later years. Part of the difficulty in learning to swim it well comes from the sheer effort required to swim it incorrectly. The stroke requires both arms to pull through the water simultaneously, the rhythm of the breathing is critical and the two pulse dolphin kick must also be integrated into the mix at just the right times. Until you master the timing you mostly get through the water by brute force. If you master the rhythm and undulation then your whole body creates forward thrust and the stroke becomes easier.

We started with a short, 600 yard warm up and then proceeded through a series of kicking drills. It can be frustrating to dolphin kick on your back with arms by your side. Compared to regular swimming you have the feeling that you're just not making much forward progress. But the kick and the timing of the kick (which should start at the shoulders and roll through your body to your legs) is critical to getting everything else right.

After the kicking we integrated the arms into the whole stroke with a series of sets that mixed up butterfly with freestyle and backstroke. Near the end we put on fins and did a series of 50 yard swims in which we dolphin kicked under water halfway down the pool then came up to the surface and swam butterfly with a fast arm turn over to the wall, turned and swam back down the pool (recovering) with a easy, loose freestyle.

What I've decided is that my weak spots, and the weak spots of many other swimmers who'd like to improve their butterfly stroke, are the power, or lack thereof, of my kick and my overall lack of flexibility. To get faster means I'll have to work on keeping my back, shoulders and hips flexible and I'll have to get by the pool on my own to get a lot more yards in doing the dolphin kick.

We learned and we swam. We all walked away with a good aerobic workout and some new ideas for improving our butterfly stroke. At the end of the workout the coaches brought out a crate full of PowerBar products and we stood around eating protein recovery bars and talking about technique.
A great way to start a Sunday morning. Not as a passive spectator but as an active participant.


11.15.2013

The "sky effect" lens. 14mm.


We got lost a couple of times. Once when trying to find the wastewater treatment plant outside Abilene and another time trying to find a park but when we finally got our sense of the layout of Abilene we had no trouble finding the pistol and rifle ranges for the Abilene Police Department. It was fun (in a very American way) to photograph cadets and officers firing magazine after magazine at various kinds of targets. Some targets were engaged from static positions and others required the officers to move laterally while shooting.

I may have been wearing my safety glasses and a set of ear protectors but it didn't stop me from seeing this amazing cloudy sky just a quarter of an hour before the onset of sunset. I put down the GH3 and the telephoto zoom and grabbed the Sony a99 with the zany Rokinon 14mm and tried a few shots. I was happy with the result. This is one of those fun lenses that pushes one to try it over and over again with all kinds of subject matter until you basically burn out on the effect and go back to your regular way of engaging. But I'm still in the fascination period and having a blast making skies look dramatic.

The Rokinon 14mm Cine t3.5 Lens. Fun.



I had fun in Abilene and enjoyed using a new system and a new lens on an existing camera.

Concrete Expert. From an Annual Report three years ago.

I'll quickly admit that I'm more comfortable with medium telephoto lenses than with very wide angle lenses any day of the week. But that being said I'd like to talk about my new "favorite" lens, the 14mm t3.5 Rokinon Cine wide angle.  It's a lens I bought in anticipation of an upcoming project. I've been talking to a potential client who makes CT scanners about making video programming in some very tight spaces where their machines are installed. We're talking about very large machines in very small spaces. I've done a number of still images in similar installations and no matter how wide a lens I bring I always wished it was just a little bit wider...

I'm hoping to use the lens on a Sony a99, mounted on a slider, for the wide, overall shots that are critical to establishing the video.  Like all projects, nothing is certain until the ink is on a contract and we're watching the red light blink on the location. But it's always best to get some practice with a new tool so you have and idea of what are can do with a lens when you get onto an actual location. With that in mind I stuffed the 14mm and the Sony a99 into the left side of my big Domke bag and took it along with me on my assignment in Abilene, Texas.

Right up front you have to know that this $400 lens is not going to be anybody's first choice for architectural photography. It's got a lot of geometric distortion. Really....a lot. There are several shareware profiles out on the web that will go a long way toward correcting the distortion in Lightroom but I didn't really care about the distortion for the shots I was working on the last two days and in video the 16:9 crop takes away the worst of the distortion which occurs mostly along the edges of the full frame.

What the lens does have is very, very high sharpness in the middle of the frame, and, at f8, excellent sharpness over the entire frame. A bonus of the super wide angle of view is really deep depth of field. I found that I could get sharp focus at 10 feet and use a quick hyper focal calculation to essentially make the lens a "focus free" optic. By that I mean that if you focus correctly and set the aperture to f8 you'll have enough depth of field for just about anything you can think of.

I used the lens a lot yesterday to do full body shots and group shots close to the camera and leaned on the lenses ability to do dramatic wide skies in the background to add interest to the shots. It was a technique that worked really well.  I anticipate that most of my use with this lens will call from cropping down to a focal length of around 21mm since that seems more comfortable to my eyes.

The lens is very well built and fun to handle. Even though the front element is huge it's fairly well protected by the built in lens shade and there's a decent lens cap as well. The lens balances well on the a99 but may be too front heavy for a smaller camera. I'm not sure I'd be comfortable using it with an adapter on a smaller system like the Panasonic m4:3 cameras. But as a specialty optic is sure delivers what I wanted: Lots of information in the frame and a very dynamic way of rendering subjects in space.

My recommendation?  I'd buy it again.

That brings me to the primary system I used in Abilene, the Panasonic GH3.  I wanted to travel lighter this year. Last year I brought along a couple of Sony a77 cameras and a bag full of fast Sony lenses. I also brought along too many lights and too many accessories. This year I wanted to pack smaller and shoot smarter. And let me emphasize that by not being a "lens snob" I was able to largely accomplish those goals.

I packed a couple of GH3 bodies, two kittish lenses (the new 14-42 and the 45-150mm) the PanaLeica 25mm 1.4 and several manual focus half frame lenses (which I wound up not using), and a couple of manual, battery powered flashes. A much, much lighter assemblage of gear! And I had no trepidation about its ability to perform after having shot nearly 2,000 images with the same system under available light conditions last Saturday.

Here's what I liked about using the GH3 all day long yesterday: It's lightweight but it doesn't feel under built. It's rock solid, only lighter rock solid. The EVF is great and is also adjustable for luminance which means you can match it more exactly to match the image on the rear screen. The lenses focus quickly and surely. The flippy screen is great when using the camera low on a tripod and with an external loupe.

I've had the cameras for a very short time but the menus have already become second nature to me. I liked being able to move the AF point anywhere on the rear screen. You can also use your finger on the touch screen to set the AF point while looking in the EVF. Nice.  I got a lot of use out of the standard kit lens and it was more than adequate. Quite sharp in the middle and good on the edges, even near wide open! The longer zoom is optically very good and, at f8, sharp beyond my needs.
But my go to lens was the 25mm 1.4 which I tended to use at f3.5 or f4 for single subject shots. It's a really good lens which I reviewed about a year and a half ago. Nothing has changed my initial high regards.

I owned the previous camera from Panasonic, the GH2 but the GH3 seems like a completely reworked camera that's been upgraded, modernized and made more highly functional. They paid close attention to making buttons the right size, getting the auto switching between the EVF and the rear LCD just right and lots of other small details. One of my favorite things about the new camera is the battery life. The camera uses a much bigger, higher capacity battery (which may account for the increased size of the camera overall) that's about the size of the battery in my Sony a99.  I was able to shoot a bit more than 16 gigabytes of RAW-Jpeg information yesterday and still have the 2/3rd full indicator left on my original battery. For a mirror less camera that is nothing short of amazing. If I'm shooting more or less continuously and not chimping all the time I can get an enormous number of Jpegs. Last Saturday I shot well over 1,000 files with each of my two GH3s and never changed a battery. Nice.

There's one feature I did not even know the camera had and that's the auto switch in the hot shoe that senses when a flash is attached and turned on and sets the view screens to give one a bright finder image regardless of the camera settings. It's what you get when  you use a Sony a99 and switch "Setting Effect" to off. If you use an EVF or Live View camera you know that when you attach a flash you generally need to switch to a different viewing mode to get a scene bright enough to focus and compose in when you are in a dark environment. It's nice that his camera will do it for you. 

Take off the flash, or just turn it off and the camera reverts to your previous viewing setting. 

I originally bought the two GH3s for my video projects but they've grown on me as still cameras. I didn't find any situations (other than the lack of a super wide lens...) that made me want to grab another camera at any time during the whole shooting assignment. I did use the a99 sparingly but only as a partner with the new 14mm lens. 

Here's my short list of "pros" for the GH3:

1. Small size and happy weight
2. Good EVF and good auto switching with LCD
3. Nice selection of lenses, both Panasonic and Olympus
4. Wild and crazy good video performance
5. Best in class battery life
6. Optimum files size for long run still jobs

Here's my current shortlist of "cons" for the GH3:

1. 

Edit: I'm removing my paragraph about Formula One in Austin. While I am vigorously opposed to the government subsidies larded out for this event I've come to realize that some people like it. I don't but then I don't really like most mass gatherings so I've decided to remove my judgmental comments and the e-mails they engendered and we'll hew to the topic of imaging instead.






Studio Portrait Lighting













11.13.2013

Packing up and getting on the road.

Berlin.

It's Weds. morning and I'm moving through the studio with a sense of purpose. An art director I've worked with for years is meeting me here at 1:30pm and we're heading up to Abilene, Texas, about four hours north of Austin. We'll be shooting images for an annual report and I'm in the sorting and packing mode. What will I need and what will fit in the Honda CR-V?  

We'll cruise up at a leisurely pace this afternoon, spend the night and then get right to work first thing in the morning. If past assignments are an indication we'll be shooting people working indoors and we'll be shooting big public works projects outdoors. Last year we did photos of giant fire engines and first responders at the start, shot airline maintenance somewhere in the middle of the day and finished up shooting alligators at the zoo. What it means is that we have to be prepared for a range of things.

I'm packing light. I'm taking a couple of Panasonic GH3s and four m4:3 lenses that range from 14 to 150mm. I'd like to shoot as much as possible with the 25mm Summilux and the 60mm Olympus Pen FT 60mm 1.4 but I have a suspicion that the wide end is where we'll see the most action. I finally tested the Rokinon 14mm Cine lens yesterday and it's fit for service so I'll bring it along attached to a Sony a99 body for stuff that needs to be really, really wide. I know that this lens has a lot of distortion but I've found a really good profile that I can use in Lightroom to straighten out the edges...

I'm going equally light on light. I've packed a few battery powered, on camera flashes but I'm also packing the enormous and heavy Elinchrom Ranger RX AS flash unit and two heads. This system is capable of belting out 1100 watt seconds about 250 times in a row, if needed. I plugged in the batteries last night (primary and a spare) and we've got green lights everywhere. I'm bringing along two Elinchrom modifiers. They're like enclosed shoot through umbrellas. One small, one large. 

The lighting kit gets rounded out with two light stands and, of course, a tripod. A wooden one since it's going to be cold up there and I hate touching the bare metal on tripods when we get down to the freezing zone.

What else do I do to prepare for a couple days on the road? I make sure to get a fast, hard swim in so I hit the pool with a bunch of people from my master's swim team at 7:00 am. It was 36 degrees and steam was coming off the pool. It's a heated, outdoor pool. One of my favorite coaches was on deck and writing the workout on a white board. Her name is Kathleen Hersey and she swam butterfly in the 2012 London Olympics. She has amazingly good energy and a cheerful heart. We swam a bunch of different sets and knocked out a couple miles at a good pace.

I'm happy that I'm still excited about hitting the water on a cold day and pounding out the yards. You'd think that after over fifty years of swimming up and down various pools and watching the black line on the bottom one would get bored but every time in the pool is exciting and fun for me. It's active meditation, it's competition and it's concentration. Lots of good stuff for your body and brain to do before that first cup of coffee...

As an afterthought to my packing I realized that I needed a good, fun (non-work) camera to drag along and take silly snapshots with so I stuffed one of the K-01 Pentax cameras into the car. I'm taking the black one with silver knobs. I think of it as my "formal" clown camera. And just to be different I've stuck the kit zoom, the weather resistant 18-55mm version, on the camera. I know it seems pedestrian but I've come to like it pretty well. 

I can hardly wait to go shoot. This is the kind of straight forward work I really like doing. 

Stay warm!

11.12.2013

14mm sunset.








Every once in a while you have to stop and scrape all the extra stuff off your plate and start clean.


I've been doing too many disparate things this year and I've found, to my dismay, that I am not a good multi-tasker. I am not able to shift from craft to craft, from camera system to camera system. From industry to industry. And it's been hard for me to shift from my role being behind the still camera to the role of being in front of the video camera. I got too scattered and too distracted. I tried to be too many things to too many people and the thing that suffered the most was the time I had available to spend taking my photographs and writing the stuff I like to write without the slightest even ephemeral pull of a client's gravity impinging on my thought process. I was drowning under hats and subtle currents.

But we're all done. The cameras I agreed to test have been returned. Collected by FedEx only an hour ago. The Craftsy.com courses are complete and online. A recent book project politely declined. A workshop left unscheduled.

And I feel free for the first time in a long time. I don't compartmentalize well. If there are ongoing projects on my plate I find my brain including them in an inventory of subroutines that uses up precious brain cells I can hardly spare. Not having the compartments occupied has given me a huge sense of relief.

At a time when executing a profitable career as a photographer has become ever more difficult financially I find more and more of my peers have done what I have recently done and jumped on every opportunity that's been presented to them, in and out of their field. They've become workshop leaders even though most of the best shooters I know are loners and the least adapted to enjoy working with groups of people to help them improve their craft. They embrace the books. They look for sponsors. In short, their (our) careers stopped resembling a straight line of intention and became a series of part time jobs that are remotely aligned with imaging but in the end have little or nothing to do with moving our own work forward. The jobs set up new barriers to becoming the artists that we always hoped we would have the courage to work toward being.  Distraction is my number one nemesis. I'm fatigued by distraction.

I have a certain amount of fear that belts will be worn tighter around here if I only do the photos and videos and writing that I want to do but it seems like a challenge I'll have to deal with because I need to be committed and working toward a goal or a series of goals for my photography to work for me.

I'm using the gear I'm comfortable with. I'm looking for projects that seem to leverage my way of working. I'm looking forward to more personal work. I'm looking forward to the equivalent of swimming without floaties in the career I always wanted in the first place.

I'd rather labor well in obscurity than feel like a hollow actor in a role that doesn't fit. I feel like I'm coming home again to my craft. Not as an "expert" but as a beginner.

I'm not selling anything here today. I'm not suggesting you buy this camera or that camera. I don't care what kind of lighting you use. I'm not impressed by any camera. I am writing this today to say that the real challenge is to peel back the layers of distraction and fear we create that keep us from doing what we love. Life is too short for everything else.














11.11.2013

A fun assignment and a tale of three cameras: The Sony a99, the Panasonic GH3 and the Pentax K01


I had the good fortune to be hired to take images for the "Thinkery." The Thinkery is the new name for our newly relocated Children's Museum, here in Austin, Texas. The assignment called for me to head over to the museum this past Saturday and take photographs of kids, parents, staff and everyone else trying out the new museum and all the new exhibits and interactive features. It was a "friends and family" experience meant to serve as a shake out or test run for the official opening in early December.  I was to work as discreetly and minimally as possible and that meant no tripod and no light stands.

At first I decided to go entirely minimal and take only the new Panasonic GH3's along with a small collection of lenses that included: the 25mm Summilux, the new kit lens (18-55mm) the longer entry level zoom (the 45-150mm) and a few fast Olympus Pen FT lenses. At the last moment I hedged my bets by bringing along the Sony a99 fitted with the 85mm 1.4 Rokinon Cine lens and a few extra batteries. Then I figured, "Oh what the heck?" and I stuffed the yellow Pentax K01 along with its 40mm 2.8 pancake lens into the bag.

During the course of the day I took about 2500 images. Some were just motor drive sequences where I was trying to catch the peak of action or the best expression and some were gratuitous color studies. But I did use all three of the cameras under the same conditions and it went a long way toward me understanding the differences between the cameras; or at least the differences between three Jpeg engines.

The Sony a99 was a known commodity and it did its stuff correctly. It was the most cumbersome to use and I expected the image quality of the big, gnarly full frame sensor to squash the other cameras but the reality was that while there might have been less noise in the files all three cameras performed quite well and the images from all three were equally usable.

The GH3 is like a trim athlete that knows its regimen cold. It focused quickly, the lenses were uniformly sharp and the colors and metering uniformly pleasing. I saw very nice files and very nice skin tones under mixed lighting at ISOs all the way up to 3200 ISO. For a camera system purchased primarily as a video toolset I am happy to see that it's also a very usable still imaging system. Much nicer files than I remember getting when shooting stills with the GH2 several years ago. And the batteries lasted all day long!

Finally there is the case of the Pentax K01. The "clown car" of the camera collection around these parts. I used it in a cavalier way. I set the ISO to auto and let the camera roam from ISO 100 all the way up to ISO 6400. I set the mode dial to "P" and set the autofocus to face detections (till I got bored and started to play with focus peaking in manual focus...). In other words this was the camera of the three that got the least in the way of controls and mindful direction from me. I would see something I liked, bring the camera up to frame and then flail away with a volley of three or four quick exposures.

All three of the cameras were set to deliver the largest and less compressed Jpegs available on the menu. All three were processed in Apple's Aperture program in much the same way.

I was happily editing and there were no surprises until half way through the edit when the files under went a change. The colors got richer. The images got sharper and more detailed and the files got more robust to changes and processing.  I wondered if the dog had changed a setting in Aperture when I left the office for coffee so I double checked. Nope.

I had just gotten to the section of the folder that was filed with Pentax files. Even at ISO 3200 (and, under the right circumstances---a bit above...) the faces were free of noise but invested with detail. The files had a different look and feel than the files from the other two cameras. The images of one and two year olds just glowed! And I remember how freeing it felt not to totally control my camera when I was taking those particular shots.

My friend, Paul, reminded me not to read too much into the files. He reminded me that I was mostly just comparing the different ways the cameras rendered Jpegs. But given that all of my favorite files from the day came from a camera and lens combination that cost me about $200 used gave me pause. Lots of pause. Had I spent the last 26 years doing this whole photography thing incorrectly?

Should I have eschewed the technical tunnel vision from the get go and just concentrated on being in the moment and trusting to the machine? Or did someone build a machine for taking pictures that works best for me and I just now found it? Or maybe it was just one of those days but it did make me give more thought to the idea of just what is creativity and what is mastery?