This is the best wide angle lens I've shot with in a long, long time. For APS-C camera owners it's a treasure.

Above is the Rokinon 16mm f2.0 wide angle lens for smaller than 24x36mm cameras. It's very good.

This is an article written to talk about the virtues of one lens. I buy Rokinon lenses because I've never been burned by the company. Everything I've owned has performed flawlessly. I bought three lenses from them that were sold when I abandoned the Sony a99 and it was sad to see them go. The most used of the three was the 85mm 1.4. I used it almost exclusively to photograph the partners at three different law firms in town and I used it at or near its widest aperture many times. It was reasonably good wide open but stopped down to f4 it was remarkably good. Better than the Zeiss 85mm 1.4 (MF) that I used to own for the Canon system.

The second Rokinon lens I bought was the 35mm t1.5 Cine lens for the Sony Alpha mount. It too was a fine performer. Not perfect wide open but by f2.8 it was darn sharp and didn't have many visible flaws, even hanging over the from of a full frame 24 megapixel camera. The final lens, also a cine version was the Rokinon 14mm t3.3. While that lens had geometric distortion galore it too was very sharp and there were many resources for lens profiles that tamed the honking big barrel distortion with no sweat in Lightroom and PhotoShop.

As I dive deeper into the world of APS-C it becomes obvious that the underserved part of the lens spectrum for those cameras is fast, wide angle primes. They mostly don't exist from the big name manufacturers. There are variations of zooms galore but damn few fast single focal length lenses. And the wider you go the fewer the choices.

And that leads me to......

The lens I wanted most for the Nikon D7100 and 7000's, a fast focal length around a 24mm equivalent (based on traditional 24x36mm). I looked through the Nikon inventory and the Tamron and the Sigma catalogs but I didn't find the "Goldilocks Formula." I found it in the Rokinon offerings. And, frankly, I trust the lens design and construction of these simple, manual focus lenses a lot more than I trust everyone else's over featured, zooming and stabilizing lenses. Call me old fashioned but my past life training tells me that the simpler the design and the few the number of moving pieces the more reliable a piece of equipment will be. I nosed around on Amazon and found just what I was looking for; the Rokinon 16mm DX f2.0 Asperical lens in a Nikon mount, complete with a chip that tells the camera what the f-stop settings are and enables autoexposure and accurate exposure.

The lens is solid but purists will gnash their teeth and rip their garments when they discover that the filter ring is plastic as is a fair proportion of the body of the lens. I don't care because I know plastic can be more indestructible and reliable than metal. The lens feels great in action because it features a smooth, wide throw focusing ring that's as smooth as Hollandaise Sauce. The lens is made up of thirteen elements in eleven groups and that includes two aspherical elements. The front of the lens has a 77mm filter ring and comes with a hood and a pinch style lens cap. 

Since I never take an untested lens for granted I could hardly wait to get out and put it through its paces but Austin weather hasn't been cooperating. It's been unseasonably cloudy and gloomy here, not nearly the usual paradise of sunshine and open outdoor bars that December has featured in the past. So after I finished all of my work and answered my e-mail and went to swim practice (yay! swim practice...) I grabbed the D7100 and the Rokinon  16mm and headed over to the Blanton Museum where I could act like I was enjoying the new, James Drake: Anatomy of Drawing and Space (Brain Trash) show (which I actually did like very much) but instead I was using my attendance at this venue as a foil for my real purpose, the testing of the lens.  Here's what I found:

While it's never easy to manually focus a fast, wide lens on a small sensor optical screen with no good focusing features like peaking or split image focusing aids live view makes up for a lot of that. The lens is very, very good wide open. Sharp as a lancet over at least 66% of the frame, from the center out. Stopped down to f2.8 it's sharp everywhere and by f4 and even more so by f5.6, it's a monster of exquisite sharpness over every nanometer of the frame. Top to bottom, left to right.

I started with wide shots at f4 and f5.6 and went from there. Here's the ceiling (above) over the main atrium at the Blanton Museum. I looked at the image at 100 % and I can't find the flaws. If I can't see them there then they don't exist for me. 

The above image of the square tiles is a great test of left to right, edge to edge sharpness. I hope I've given you a big enough file to look at. I can see lots of texture and detail in the original 6000 x 4000 pixel file. The lack of an AA filter really does benefit the fine detail at lower and low/middle apertures.

The lens does have some gentle barrel distortion that I found easy to correct in PS. I left the frames intact, as shot, so you can see what the lens actually does when you shoot it without corrections. 

My friend, Ross, at the pool just before noon workout. I thought I'd switch to black and white to neutralize the effect that color has on our subjective appraisals of sharpness and contrast. Shot wide open on a gloomy day and you can see the limited depth of field as you look at the background objects. 

More below....

This is a look down the walk way in front of the Blanton Museum. I find the lens and the huge depth of field at f5.6 to be amazing. At the very end of the frame is a mom and a small, young girl who are heading to the museum. I thought it would be interesting to go more than 100% and see how the lens handles blow-ups and detail. See below for a small part from the image above...

I think the response of the lens and the camera sensor is pretty amazing and I can only imagine how much better it might have been had I had the camera securely attached to a stout tripod. Again, at 100% the sharpness is very, very convincing. 

Below are two interesting tests. On one hand I wanted to see just how much I could open up a severely underexposed frame from the D7100 before experiencing banding or objectionable noise. I was able to bring the image up directly below by 2.5 stops to create the image just below it. An amazing feat, and indicative of just how far digital cameras have come, and how close we are to seriously "good enough" technology that serves to stave off the rhythmic buying of ever newer products. 

The frames just above and just below were shot at the widest aperture of the lens and an ISO of 800 in a dim room. I was really getting premium practice in hand holding a camera and lens at between 1/15th and 1/25th of a second. Nice to know I can still manage a few sharp frames....

Since I love the Battle Collection of statues I spent some time photographing the heads. I switched to the monochrome setting and tried to use the lens to its highest purpose: Images with enormous feeling of depth. That calls for one to get as close as possible to the primary subject. While I don't shoot this way often I was really feeling it today and I love the effect in the black and white image of the heads just above. Be sure to click in--- the eye closest to the camera really is quite sharp.

After I exhausted my targets at the Blanton Museum I went across the street to the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum and tried my luck with an airplane engine. Below I have two versions. The top image is shot wide open at f2.0. Where it is in focus it is critically sharp. 

I then did the same basic shot but with the lens stopped down to f5.6 and I am still amazed at how sharp and satisfying this lens is. 

Shot at f2.0

Hand held and shot at f5.6, brace against a railing. 
And, of course, let's zoom in on the same frame and see the real details.....

A crop of the image one above the image just above. Sharp enough for me any day of the week. 

In the end what do I really have here? It's a trade off, of course. The lens is slow to focus and you have to have your technique down to get a sharply focused open aperture frame. Live view is your friend with any fast, wide optic. For around $300 I'm getting a razor sharp, eye slashing acutance and a nice, wide frame that seems to have been designed to be just right on an APS-C camera. I love the lens. It's great and I'll keep it in the bag along with its 14mm brother that I replaced this Summer with a Nikon mount version. The 16mm is a stunning lens for the price and I can hardly wait to press it into service at my very next architectural or lifestyle-ly shoot. For $300 it's a classic bargain. And it makes me really curious about Rokinon's new 50mm t1.5 Cine lens in the Nikon mount. Everyone here should know that I'm a real sucker for 50mm lenses. Especially fast and sharp ones.

Added the next day.  While I lay in bed this morning I had the idea to try this lens on a totally different camera from a different system so I grabbed the Panasonic GH4, along with a converter/adapter and put the Rokinon 16mm (Nikon mount) on the camera. Now we're peddling in the right gear! The lens is a 32mm equivalent with a fast aperture and the EVF+focus peaking makes operation and viewing an absolute joy. Now I'm able to use this lens in a quick, snapshot mode, with impunity and immunity from mis-focus. Is it sharp enough for m4:3? We'll look closely at some tests but I'm already thinking yes, just based on reviewing a few test shots on the nice rear screen of the GH4. Much better handling situation that any MF lens on just about any non-EVF camera. KT


Martin and I did too good a job on our Zach Theatre " This Wonderful Life" Holiday photo shoot last year....

Mr. Martin Burke, Master Thespian...

Here's a look at the play as marketed on Zach Theatre's site: http://www.zachtheatre.org/show/wonderful-life

They used the image above, with type and design elements, on posters, duratrans and direct mail last year. The response to the advertising images was so good that they didn't want to mess with success this year and re-used what we'd created previously. Feels good to create images that stand the test of time....until you realize that you just cost yourself an assignment.  :-) What the heck, I love the image too. And I loved working with Martin Burke, one of Austin's amazing dramatic talents.

The play is an amazing blend of the old Frank Capra classic, It's a Wonderful Life, and a madcap recap with Martin playing all 39 main characters+narrator. It's warm, funny and joyful. Just right for the holiday season. I'm hoping to get tickets for one of next week's shows. See you there?

sony a99 and 45mm lens.

Saying goodbye to a system. Wishing its creators the best of luck.

I was pleased when Charles asked me if I'd like to participate in Samsung's Imagelogger program. The program aimed to put new Samsung cameras in the hands of bloggers and photographers of every stripe and to provide them with a venue to show off images (and videos) made with the cameras. I worked in the program from Spring of 2013 right up until October of this year. I was given the opportunity to shoot a very quirky but very brave and innovative product, the Samsung Galaxy NX, in Berlin for nearly 10 days and I was asked to present work and shoot with the product at the 2013 Photo Expo East show in the Samsung area along with brilliant photographer, Nick Kelsh. 

While I didn't always agree with some of the Samsung camera designers when it came to feature sets I was always very happy with two aspects of every system they gave me to work with: 1. The sensors had great color and tonality and made beautiful portraits. And, 2. A number of their lenses are absolutely competitive with the best from their competitors. In fact, I fell in love with the 60mm Macro and the 85mm 1.4 lenses. They are both lenses designed for photographers. 

But with every camera I had a bit of (non)-buyer's remorse. While the NX 300 was very well designed and, in combination with its kit lens, a reliable and accurate camera I could never understand why they didn't include an EVF. Even if the EVF had to be an accessory in a port like those on the Olympus Pen cameras. Having to shoot solely by composing with the LCD on the back of the camera moved me to almost permanently graft a loupe on the back to I could see the image and not look like a hipster doing the "dirty baby diaper" hold. When the NX300's tenure in the program came to an end it went promptly to a nephew who needed a good camera and still has the eagle eyes of youth. 

The very next camera I got was the Samsung Galaxy NX. It was (is) an interesting product and one aimed at just about anyone but a professional photographer. It is based around a big rear screen and hosts a full on Android operating system and the operating system was, without a doubt, its Achille's Tendon. Its John Edward's Haircut

Every full on operating system, like Android, is powerful and capable of running many different kinds of apps in addition to the camera control app that a pro would consider to be the mission critical app. But the very nature of having a big system like that means it requires lots of time to start up and load. Like 25 or 30 seconds. The implied benefit of the camera was its connectedness which for me was also its main flaw. All the wireless nets and additional apps were memory hogs and a drain on the dynamic system. This led to freezes and periods of enforced non-engagement. Over time Samsung made great strides in fixing many of the issues and that's great for new buyers but for cranky pros once a camera lets you down in a shooting situation you never really trust it again. 

I wish that camera had come with perfect firmware and a headphone jack. It could have been a remarkable video camera. The big screen on the back would easily have made a fine monitor and the almost vestigial (because of color issues and low resolution) EVF would have helped in high ambient light situations.  I think a photographer who grew up with a cellphone in his crib would have loved the camera as the interface was all touchable and swipe-able. Everything about the user interface was screen centric and therein lies the curse for a person who has used a wide range of cameras for many years = a prejudice for the immediacy and binary nature of physical buttons. 

What else did I like besides the giant screen? You have to go right back to the stuff they got right, the sensor and the lenses. Mighty fine features. And to be fair other photographers love this camera for workshops and demos because they can upload big, delicious files in real time to enabled HD monitors and have an interactive workshop situation that's fast and seamless. Linking via wi-fi or cellular data or blue tooth. Amazing for something like the shooting demos we did in NYC. (And you'd better have your shooting chops together when you are shooting live in front of dozens or hundreds of picky spectators....).

I've never been a shrinking violet so I talked to the company about what I liked and what I didn't and that led them to send along the next camera in the timeline, the NX30.  That camera had a lot of promise but for me it failed to deliver in the early months. The firmware that shipped in 1.0 was a bit buggy and, most perplexing, slow. Once the final version of the firmware got delivered the camera was a good shooting tool. The eye sensor that switches between EVF and LCD was still too sensitive and flaky but the general operation of the camera was competent and actually quite fun to use. 

I used the camera with the 85mm 1.4 lens for a number of professional, paid assignments and everyone from the client right down to me was very happy with the results. I'm not sure the camera ever got traction in the market and part of that was probably down to the early firmware (when will manufacturers learn that the first opinions of early adopters make or break products?) and the fact that the value proposition versus price point was a little out of whack. The camera should have been introduced at a lower price point to take into consideration their newcomer status. Trust and value is earned. So is market share.

My interest in shooting with the products waned a bit as other cameras from other makers offered a combination of performance and features that were a better fit for my needs. But take that with a grain of subjective filtering salt; I'm a luddite when it comes to accepting and using some of the new sharing technologies and to be fair the interconnectivity of the Samsung cameras is one of their strongest suits. 

By this time I'd amassed a little collection of lenses and the bodies were piling up. Along with Olympus, Panasonic and Nikon gear. As each Samsung camera neared the end of its promotional tenure I sent them off to various friends and family. The NX30 went to a hard working and generous brother in law, along with a couple lenses I thought he'd get good use from. He's already using the camera to produce video and from what I've seen the old saw of,  "It's not the camera it's the videographer" is quite true. The camera is capable of great imaging in more capable hands than mine...

Then I was sent a couple of cameras that really make no sense to me at all while being perfect for lots of other people in other market segments. The NX Mini shown above is a one inch sensor, interchangeable lens system that fits into the proverbial jean's pocket and certainly into all but the most microscopic purses, and it does a really good job of making photographs, especially selfies. It came with the ultimate selfie lens, the 9mm (24mm equivalent on a full frame camera) and a screen that flips up over the top of the camera so you can compose yourself. Wink at the camera and it will shoot a burst. Who doesn't need that? Well, me for one. Especially in white. I took the camera out and shot with it and it's a great performer, on par with the image quality from the Nikon 1 series cameras, and I've kept it around. Why? because it's a great loaner camera for friends who need something small and light for a trip somewhere. Go selfies! And of course it comes complete with ample interconnectivity options. 

The mini was followed by another white camera which came complete with a white strap and a white flash. I am amazed that Samsung didn't follow through and finish the system off with a white lens cap. Inside this camera body is an improved version of the sensor that was in the NX 300. It's a great sensor and the camera came packaged with a white lens (which I initially disparaged) that is one of the best kit lenses I've ever shot with.  The camera, while capable of shooting great images was once again a handling catastrophe for me simply because it once again depended entirely on rear screen viewing and composition. The screen did flip up into selfie mode but once again, I am hardly the target market for selfie creations. 

After playing around with it and testing it the camera went to a swimmer friend of mine who just retired from work, survived a couple serious bouts of cancer and needed a new camera to do art with. I still feel guilty because I kept the white lens (high performance!) and switched out an 18-55mm lens (very good) onto the white camera.

I have found good homes for all of these cameras for one profound reason; I couldn't commit to the time the program would have required if I had accepted the new, NX1 camera and the premier zoom lenses. Also, while I wanted to believe that Samsung has gotten everything just right in this camera I didn't relish having to bring along two camera systems to every shooting experience until I got to the point where I totally trusted the new product. It would have been too much information and too many concurrent menus to handle for my admittedly limited bandwidth. Something had to give. 

Will I have regrets when the NX1 turns out to be the best APS-C camera system on the planet? Or the best mirror less system on the planet? (could happen).  Probably not. I'm happy being unfettered and unobligated at this point. If the NX1 is the promised camera (the Neo of photography gear) I can always sell off other gear and inflict more damage on some poor unsuspecting credit card. But for now I am happy to mess around with multiple systems unencumbered by the guilt of any obligation to shoot with one over the other.

The folks at Samsung are incredibly nice to work with and I can sense them zeroing in, camera model by camera model, to the sweet spot of the whole market. The processors in the NX1 are at least a generation and maybe two generations ahead of their competitors. The video, once the software support is in place, should be amazing. I'm just a bit tired of being too close to the cutting edge. 

I know some of you think that my office must just be a warehouse for gear but I wanted to write this to let you know that inventory moves along. Some things are given away to good homes and to people who care a lot less about state of the art than in just getting stuff done. Most go to good homes that are brand agnostic. Some gear gets sold back into the used markets (goodbye everything I ever bought from Canon) and some stuff gets stored for continuing and future use (hello Sony R1s).

I know one VSL reader in France will be happy to read this. She never approved of my camera promiscuity.

A reminder: The Lisbon Portfolio, my action/adventure story of intrepid photographer, Henry White, is currently on sale for the meager and insubstantial sum of $3.99. It will be available at that price as a Kindle book on Amazon until the beginning of 2015. Get your copy before they run out. When you get to the book's page you'll see that you can also get a printed copy (not on sale). It's your choice...

Support VSL at no cost to you by buying the stuff you need from the link below.
Doesn't need to be cameras, it could be anything from long underwear to sunglasses. If you start at the link below I'll get a little referral fee which
I'll use to spruce up the site....

A nice walk around the city on Monday, dragging around a comfortable camera and a pre-historic lens.

My always hungry consumer brain would love it if I tossed caution to the wind and rushed out to buy a Nikon D810, or, better yet, a brand new Pentax 645Z MF digital camera in the kit with the sweet 150mm f2.8 lens. In the pre-let's pay for college years I think we'd already be reviewing and trading in one of those two cameras by now----or maybe both. But right now I'm actually into a dirt cheap retro mode that started when I opened up a drawer in the equipment cabinet that had been welded shut by dust and indifference and I saw just how many older Nikon lenses I had collected and kept over the years. 

This probably precipitated my tripping and falling, in a small way, back into the sway of the Nikon system. While it is interesting that I don't quite trust it enough to even consider getting rid of the other camera systems the Nikon system is beguiling because its long history means that there are so many fun toys out there to play with that just don't come close to breaking the bank. I've jumped in to the part of the pool that is shallow and fun. It all really started when I bought a Nikon D7000 as a back up for the D7100 I acquired earlier. I won't go on assignments outside the studio without a second, back up camera that takes the same lenses, batteries and memory cards because I believe too strongly that the fates are just waiting to swiftly punish the unprepared. I bought a second D7000 after I saw evidence of great happiness in the 16 megapixel sensor the cameras sport. That, and the fact that Amazon recently had the camera new in a box for about $484---less than the price of a crappy point and shoot camera. 

The real fun has been using that camera with older Nikon lenses. The kinds of lenses that still seem to be coming out of dusty closets and into camera stores as arcane and undervalued trade-ins. Of course I have loaded up recently on perennial favorites like the 105mm f2.5 and various 55 and 60mm macros but I came across a zoom that I remembered fondly from the film days and decided I'd give it a try as well. Why not? It was far less that $200. About the price of a good polarizing or neutral density filter. 

The lens is the 25-50mm f4. It's a very heavy, very indestructibly built cylinder of metal and glass and its weight is addictive in that my primitive brain seems to conflate the mass and density with optical quality. The lens is special but nothing special. I like the way it renders detail. Lots and lots of resolution but at a lower contrast level than current lens designs seem to have. That means I can carefully add contrast (in discrete areas of the tonal scale) in post to get exactly the balance of high definition and snap I want. 

The colors are also less saturated and, to my eye, a bit more accurate than what I see from the newer zoom/camera combinations which seem designed to deliver more saturation than I really want. The higher saturation effects the interplay of colors. Sometimes for the better but mostly for the worst. Again, I get to add just as much saturation as I'd like. It's interesting because for the last year or so I've been pulling saturation out of my portrait work pretty consistently. Even from images that were spawned using the "neutral" settings on my cameras. While the lens is nicely shape through the very, very limited zoom range (which I'm sure helps the performance) the lens is not without it's faults. It does have different geometric distortion profiles at the different focal length settings. The most obvious being pretty pronounced barrel distortion at the widest setting of 25mm. It's not the wacky mustache distortion that's present in an overwhelming number of modern zooms (which makes them harder to correct in post) but a classic barrel distortion that responds well to a quick control slider slide in PhotoShop.

One of the coolest things about the older lenses and something that became all to apparent when I was trying to fine focus an auto focus 60mm f2.8 micro lens via live view at 100% a few days ago is that the older, manual focus lenses have conveniently long focus throw that promotes careful and accurate fine focusing, especially with the live view image magnified. A long focus throw slows down the focusing process so if you always need to focus quick like a bunny you'll hate it but if you do tripod work with cooperative subjects or you do video with controlled focus pulls you'll absolutely love a long focus throw. 

For me it's the reason to have several of the Nikon macro (micro) lenses on hand. The 60's with AF are both fairly quick to auto focus and are both finicky about fine manual focusing because the band of the focus ring from about one foot to infinity is very, very compressed. Not so in the MF 55's. The band is wide and gracious and encourages one to find that exact focus point. 

On my walk through downtown I either focused by setting the actual estimated distance on the focusing ring and trusted to depth of field or I used a combination of eyeballing it and using the focusing indicators. The direct setting method was the best. 

Having a limited zoom range was fun. Fewer choices and fewer exotic but showy spectacle shots. The images above and below certainly aren't great art but they are a good example of the potential that lies dormant in so many of the masterfully built lenses from a different age. Amply available and cheap as dirt. If you have a vision that fits the focal length I believe you wouldn't see a difference in quality between one of the old lenses and the latest Aspheric, UD, ED, IF, AS, DX wonder lenses. Well, you might see a lower price tag.  

It's good to do some stuff for yourself. Like focusing. And these lenses just beg you to play along.

A note from the manager: We are cleaning the house, shopping and getting the banners and marching bands ready for the arrival today of the boy. Ben should be heading out to the airport in an hour or two and beginning his long journey home. We're all very excited. Studio Dog senses the excitement but doesn't understand the event. I expect her to be overwhelmed when the boy steps across the threshold. I hope to have a camera at the ready.

In the meantime I am still selling the books. Gotta pay for that plane fare, etc, somehow. :-)

A reminder: The Lisbon Portfolio, my action/adventure story of intrepid photographer, Henry White, is currently on sale for the meager and insubstantial sum of $3.99. It will be available at that price as a Kindle book on Amazon until the beginning of 2015. Get your copy before they run out. When you get to the book's page you'll see that you can also get a printed copy (not on sale). It's your choice...

Support VSL at no cost to you by buying the stuff you need from the link below.
Doesn't need to be cameras, it could be anything from long underwear to sunglasses. If you start at the link below I'll get a little referral fee which
I'll use to spruce up the site....


The importance of launching your dream without delay. Start now, not tomorrow.

Everyone is waiting for the stars to line up. They have a project or a scope of work in mind but they seem to need some sort of cathartic sign from the heavens to actually wake up and say, "today I start making portraits that I like and showing them to an audience I have chosen." 

The problem is that no one seems to want to grow their work organically. Step by step. They seem intent on going right from the purchase of a cool video camera to the creation of a feature film without going through any interim steps. They seem to feel that a good still camera and a couple of months of technical instruction via YouTube or Creative Live will make them into a full fledged artist and they want to come out of the gate with a one person show at a name gallery. It's the same in every field, kids go to chef school and want to come out the front door of their school and walk into the kitchen door of a Michelin three star restaurant and take over as the executive chef. At some point everyone realizes that this isn't the way a long career really works and since the true processes seem risky and time consuming they resist ever starting so that they never run the risk of falling in a big and unglamorous way. 

Photography may seem easy to a clueless accountant who ignorantly distills everything down to its technical skeleton and presumes that all images are commodities. The thickest ones try to find a template which would insure them that one size of experience will cover every photographic contingency equally. And it's so laughable. The grown ups in the room realize that nothing is as simple as it seems and that while the technical (step one, step two, step three) stuff is as simple to learn as math they don't get that non-linear and non-quantifying approaches to craft and art are as powerful as their opposite numbers in the realm of hard science. We don't all respond to the same subject matter in the same way anymore than every movie director directs in the same style. The differences between one brand of computer and another are not in the technical components anymore but in the design sphere and in the gracefulness of the interface and each company's ability to make products that people both enjoy owning and using and which are also the most efficient tools to learn and to bring to bear on tasks. This is why Apple dwarfs Dell now. Why the iPhone spanks the Samsung offerings and why people would much rather drive certain brands of cars, given the economic choice. 

But no matter how good a concept or story or vision or design is the value of it is relatively meaningless (frustratingly so) unless the artist, designer or writer brings it into the real world and shares it. I have thought long and hard about this and it's always been my contention that every art form and every endeavor exists as a continuum. If nothing has been started there is no continuum, only conjecture and desire. By actually starting on a project, product or story there is a power that flows into the artist. Every step forward reinforces this power to create. And here is the important part that I know to be true, the more I practice and shoot and write and explore the better I get. The process itself informs the final product. You have to produce and produce to improve and to grind and polish the vision so that you, the artist, can finally get what you want instead of settling for a shadow of what your vision could be. 

If you've always wanted to produce a portfolio of fine art prints then as soon as you decide on your subject matter you need to head out the door and start shooting. You may reject the first 10 or 100 or 1,000 images that you shoot but by the 2,000th image you'll probably have tried all the stuff that wasn't going to work and you'll have narrowed down into a groove of stuff that is working. By your 10,000th image you'll probably have figured out just how you like beautiful women or landscapes or videos about coffee to look and you'll be refining more and more with every image you shoot and every second of video you commit to. And then you'll start having some nice choices to put into that portfolio. A portfolio that becomes tangible and real when you start showing it to the audience you always wanted. 

Real life is littered with people who wanted to do something really cool but put off doing it "until they knew they were ready." The problem is that there's always just one more thing you could justify doing, learning or buying until you feel that you are ready. If I were to counsel someone on the creative process I would ask them what they love to look at and what they want to create. Then I would tell them to go start now. To use the camera in their hands, or the one they borrowed to get started because the process will inform them at every step of the way to a much greater and much more personal degree than any class, workshop or equipment review will. 

I love to photograph people. But clients don't always want to have photographs done in the styles I want to pursue. I could sit around and wait until the right clients present the right subject in the right setting and ask for exactly the style I want to shoot. If I wait for that I'll be 80 years old have nothing to show and nothing to cherish in the body of my work. When the work doesn't come to me I go to the work. I ask people (strangers, friends, acquaintances, real people) to come and collaborate with me in the studio. I try to get them excited about the prospect of having their portrait made in my style and we shoot and share and the process helps me continue to grow. The work I do for myself is the work I like to show to clients because it moves their future requests forward too. But mostly, just like swimming, the arts require constant practice and being immersed totally in one's art requires much more courage than accepting the security of a job the output of which you don't truly enjoy and don't really control. 

While engineers are necessary and bright and help create things they are not heroic. Neither are accountants or administrators. They've chosen a different path. A path of problem solving for someone else overlaid with the vague promise of financial security and the security of repetition. I think the creative people who are totally dedicated to their art (music, design, writing) are the true cultural heroes of our time because they show us a vision of our culture as it is, as it might become and as it could be in its highest and best expression. They generally make their contributions without safety nets and without the general appreciation of mass culture or the worker bee layers of corporate culture. But at the highest levels of corporate endeavor there is an understanding that art, design, vision, creativity and coloring outside the lines works in concert with the hard science problem solvers to create products that thrill and brands that return wealth to stock holders. The hard science can't exist without a person in the mix who looks from the mountain tops with a big vision of what we could do and how we might leverage it into our daily lives. 

It all seems like play from the outside but from the inside true art and creative creation is a deadly serious undertaking. We will value the reality of movies far longer than we will value the outmoded technical delivery models of movies from the past. The content and style always have more lasting value than the technical details, even though they are unavoidably intertwined. That's why we value books from three hundred years ago but not the presses that created them. 

But the only way to enter the creative arena is to push the door open and walk inside. Everyday. That's where the real courage comes in.

(Photos included as illustrations only. They may not be at all related to the writing other than they are styles I like).

Go here and read something from someone far smarter and more accomplished than me: 

Turning Pro. If you are failing to launch then you NEED Steven Pressfield's latest book, called, "Turning Pro."

No books have had as much impact on my career as a writer and a photographer as have Steven Pressfield's two small books, The War of Art and Turning Pro. I have read and re-read The War of Art until my copy is falling apart. It is so well read that even my Kindle version of the book is dog-eared. 
Back in 2006 and 2007 I suffered from terrible and debilitating anxiety. I tried every imaginable solution and prescription. I talked to a therapist and a psychiatrist until I ran out of words. Then, one day I sat down in a comfortable chair in my bed room and read that thin book cover to cover for the first time. 

When I hit the last page and realized that my anxiety was a symptom of my own resistance keeping me from doing exactly what I wanted to be doing; what I knew I should be doing, I stood up, walked into the studio and got to work. My anxiety diminished as a I worked with only a few brief situational flare ups. In the next four years I had written five books about photography, recharged my photography business and gotten back to work on a long side-lined novel. I don't know how life would have been different had I not read The War of Art and I'm not sure I ever want to know. I do know that the book was instrumental in my grabbing the reins again and getting back to work and happiness. It's a cheap fix. About ten minutes worth of a therapist's time.  If you are stuck and can't seem to move forward or if your life seems to be engineering in all kinds of seemingly random drama that keeps you off track I suggest you buy and read the book immediately. I've given this advice many times over the last few years, mostly to artist friends, and everyone who has listened has ended up thanking me profusely. But of course it's Steven Pressfield who deserves the thanks. 

And that leads me to the next book, Turning Pro. This year I finished up my novel, The Lisbon Portfolio, and decided not to give into perfectionism but to launch an admittedly imperfect book rather than give into resistance and self-doubt and never launch the book at all. It was a big step and one I am grateful I took. But when you've launched something you think is big and scary there's a period in which you can fall into an artistic entropy. You might be waiting to be discovered. You might want to sit back and savor what you've done. You might imagine there are people who want to get together with you, have a beer or coffee and discuss the book. You go back to the same paralysis that most of us had in the first place. Before we launched. Before we pushed forward. Post partum project depression? 

I found myself in that place lately and nothing seemed to be exciting or fun. Nothing seemed like a logical next step until I found myself on an airplane with no physical books, no iPad, no magazines, nothing to read....except for the Kindle app on my iPhone 4s (with its tiny screen). Ever hungry for something new to read I remembered that I had downloaded Steven Pressfield's new book and had not yet cracked it open. The idea had been to wait until I had (mythical) free time to read it on my Kindle in a comfy chair; a glass of red wine on the side table and the cool winds of Autumn blowing outside the French doors of my bedroom. 

And here I was wedged into a middle seat on a Mesa Airways small jet heading back to Austin from somewhere else. I opened up the book and read it in the three hours while bouncing through the middle atmosphere. The message was simple. At some point you turn pro or you give up and put everything off until tomorrow. The only difference between pros in any field and everyone else is that they get up every day and do the work. Head cold, allergies, appointments, distractions, ego, addictions, love, sex, greed, new equipment, etc. are all secondary to the act of getting up every day and doing the work. Of starting everyday. And of finishing every project without "pulling the pin." (I'll let the book explain that). 

I finished the book as we landed in San Antonio. I headed to a book store and bought myself one of the familiar little black journals I use to map out and take notes for all of my writing projects and I sat down at a Whataburger fast food restaurant to have a jalapeƱo burger and to map out the entirety of my next novel. Two hours or three hours just writing and sipping on a Coke. I don't remember because I was so into the process. Then I drove up IH35 to my home in Austin and started mapping out the timeline for the story. Now I'm refocused. 

I know I need to split my attention between the photography that pays the bills and the writing but I've got a book on the stovetop and it's starting to simmer and everything else is settling back down and getting focused in my world. 

Some books are amazingly powerful. Especially when they come from people who speak from experience and decades of grappling with these universal issues of artists. But the books aren't just antidotes for artistic failure to launch, they apply to anyone who wants to pursue a passion but cannot get started. The excuse may be the need for long preparation or "just waiting for a part" but the difference between success and failure is starting and finishing. Not just talking about how cool it could be.... 

There's a resistance to doing the work we most love because in some respects we know it might fall short and disappoint us. But the Pros push through that and create the work. If it's flawed we'll get it right on the next one. And we'll start on that next one the minute we finish with this one. 

I remember reading about Steven Pressfield finally finishing the writing on his first real novel. He rushed to his friend's house, a fellow writer. Pressfield asked his friend, "What do I do now?" To which his friend replied, "Tomorrow morning you sit in front of the typewriter and start writing the next one!" And that's just what Pressfield did. Over and over again until he started to get each one just right.

What's on my Kindle? Some good stuff. But none better than those two books.