8.04.2015

The formative years teach you to like things a certain way. You may change subject matter but the style and approach stays intact.


Everyone gets into the craft and art of photography at a different point in the continuum. The history of photography is like a stream which amateurs and professionals alike enter at different points as it runs through time and technical progress.  People entering the field now are looking at a whole series of references that draw almost exclusively on color photographs and color centric photographers. It just makes sense since there's no premium for color and the displays everywhere are optimized for color reproduction. Working in color is easier than working in black and white because a photographer is transferring the color from the object of his observation to the photograph with very little need for interpretive thought or multi-step cognitive processes. 

Photographers who were raised in the digital age work predominantly in color and see the process of making black and white images as an after-thought process. Something that can be done in addition to post processing the color files and making them ready for online sharing or inkjet printing. The way their consciousness has been formed around the practice of making black and white images is to see the process as very much a post production decision, as in: "this image might look cool in black and white." There is also much momentum for the argument of shooting everything in color even when the initial intention is to produce black and white as

8.03.2015

Having fun shooting art reflected in downtown buildings. Getting pissed off being harassed by the petty functionaries of the oligarchy.

Photographer and downtown reflected in giant windows.

It's been too long since I just put the office computer to sleep and headed downtown to take a walk and see what's new. After I retouched some portraits this morning and got a bid on getting the house painted I grabbed the favorite camera of the last few weeks (the Nikon D610 and Tamron 20-40mm) and escaped from the clutches of responsibility. I always tell myself that I'm walking to exercise my body, my mind and my eyes and that it's not important even to bring the camera to my eye. The camera is just coming along for the ride. It's there in case I see something that desperately needs to be photographed. By me. 

There was lots of context floating around downtown just not a lot of new, visual content. I was on the return leg of my usual loop when I came back to a big set of windows on a building called the Colorado Tower that I had first photographed earlier in the year. I can't see through the windows with the bright daylight outside and, frankly, I really don't want to. I use the windows a a giant, multi-dimensional reflector that shows everything around me and behind me as I shoot into it. I like the confluence of the blue sky, a green tinted wall somewhere off to the right and the repeating vertical lines. I snapped a sequence of handheld shots and then ambled off to the opposite corner of the intersection to see what the building would look shot at the widest setting of my lens.

That's about the time the happy photo buzz I was enjoying got blindsided by the idea that the wealthy in America enjoy special privileges and can interfere with our joyous rights to freedom of expression and the freedom to take photographs on the streets (indeed, any public place) with impunity. A tall, wide man in an ill-fitting black suit ventured out of the building I was photographing into the 100(f) degree temperatures and

7.30.2015

Using it up. Getting your money's worth out of your gear.



If you are like me then there are some products in your inventory that you buy once and use almost forever. You use and abuse light stands right up until the moment they succumb to metal fatigue and collapse in final exhaustion. Who goes out impulse shopping for sandbags? And background stands? I'm still working on the set I bought nearly 30 years ago. Yeah, they're a little bent but they still work.

I keep some stuff around forever, like Super Clamps and "A" clamps, and the arm that holds up my collapsible reflectors, and my twelve year old Canon ink jet printer. All the stuff that just works and does basically the same job it's always done just seems to stick around and keep helping me make new photographs.

I looked at my set today in Johnson City and started tallying the ages of the gear I was using. With the exception of my D810 and the 24-120mm f4 I had on the front of the camera everything else was at least five years old. The panels and flags and scrims? Closer to ten years old. The light stands? It's not polite to ask when stuff gets that old....

But here's the thing that I've been thinking about lately. Since I have to spend so much money to get a state-of-the-art camera body every year to eighteen months I tend to baby the best stuff I have for nearly all of its time with me. Let me explain: I buy a Nikon D810 because I research it and convince myself that it's a spectacular performer. But after dropping $3200 on the body I think to myself that I should "save it" for the big, paying jobs. Wouldn't I feel depressed if

Heat Wave. Texas Summer Finally Arrived.


After a much wetter than average Spring we're on record for one of our driest Julys. As of last week the first big high pressure system rolled in and it's been driving out clouds and driving up temperatures every day. Yesterday it was over 100 and now the weather people are forecasting afternoon temperatures over 102(f) for the foreseeable future.

Funny thing is that I've been booked on more outdoor shoots than anything else for the last month. Some of them are executive portrait assignments and so far we haven't lost anyone from the heat. I try to get to locations by 7 am and get set up and ready to work by 8 am. Most shoots don't go much

7.29.2015

I love the stairways that flow down into the pool at the Balmorhea State Park Pool. Cold springs and lots of space to swim or float.











All images: Olympus EP-2 camera.








Leaning heavily on the Elinchrom Ranger Pack this month. If it's not the need for power it's the need for enough power and fast recycling. Over and over again.

I think it's funny how some photographers use the same exact gear for everything they do while others use different gear all the time. I count myself in the second camp and I'm starting to see a pattern in my use of lights. It starts when a client decides they need to do photographs outside with people. They want the people well lit and they want the lighting on the people to blend with the direct sunlight falling on everything else. 

We bring out scrims or flags to take the direct sun off the subjects and then use a powerful flash in a nice softbox or umbrella to put more controlled and flattering light back on the subject. And since we need power without squinting and blinking we tend to use electronic flash. But the simple truth of Murphy's law is

The self timer. An important tool for photographers who work alone.


This is me. Or at least it was me this past Spring on a rainy day inside Zach Theatre. I'm sure you're wondering why I am standing in the frame with a loony grin on my face and the word "dream" over might right shoulder. Well, I am not really trying to fill up my selfie portfolio, I am trying to make sure the lighting I've set up, and the composition I've set up for my interview with singer, Jennifer Halliday is exactly what we need and want for the video interview we'd be doing ten minutes later.

I was using four fluorescent light fixtures and trying to make sure that the levels were correct and that the color matched the look and feel of the background without any weird color casts. I'd arrived about 45 minutes before the interview was schedule to start and the first thing I did was to put up the camera I'd be using to record a 5 to 10 minute program. It was a Nikon D810 with and 85mm f1.8G lens. Once I had the background framed I started working on how I would frame Ms. Halliday. The next step was to put an "X" of gaffer's tape on the floor to market the "sweet spot" of the composition so I'd be able to move Ms. Halliday into place with a minimum of indecision.

When the composition and camera position were set I started setting up the lights, aiming for a nice bright interview area with lots of soft and flattering light. I've set up lots of portrait lights and interview lighting designs but I always want to see how the end product will look on a human face before I have my subjects walk into the set and get started. I think it's rude to do a lot of fine tuning while everyone waits on you.   So I put the Nikon into its still mode, turn on the self timer and set it to a ten second delay, manually focus by intuition and then step onto the "X" on the floor.

A few seconds later and the shutter fires. Now I have an image I can look at, dissect, etc. which gives me a reference for fine-tuning the lighting, the composition and everything else. I might go back and forth to the camera a handful of times doing an iterative process of correcting and verifying, correcting and verifying, until I am satisfied that what I've done will work for the job.

I leave all the lights on while waiting for the subject to arrive. I want the room to appear as it will be throughout the interview. No changes = less resistance.  Once we've got the tech set I do one more self-timer shot to double check all the final adjustments and then switch the camera over to video capture.

Lots of people work with crews of three or four (or more) people. I dislike having lots of people on sets. There are too many places for our subjects to look; too many eyelines, too many distractions. Certainly I'll bring along enough people to help if there are lots of moves to be made, lots of gear to be transported, and lots of things happening almost simultaneously, but I think a lot of photo and video shoots are wildly overpopulated by "staff" and that photographers and videographers are fooling themselves if they think having a bustling entourage is always helpful. A full room diminishes your hopes for any sort of intimacy or connection with your subject.

This is why the self-timer is an integral part of my set up. It allows me to have control over the look and feel of my lighting and composition without the need for a bevy of warm bodies wandering about the sets.

The way I like to work is very dependent on one thing in particular: I want all the set up, the sausage making, to happen before my subject(s) steps into the room. An actor, model or real life human should be able to walk into your shooting environment, find their mark and do their part of the job without waiting for you to get ready. I guarantee that this sort of pre-production makes everyone happier.

Self-timer. Set lighting. Composition.  Finally, a constructive use for the "selfie."

7.27.2015

Just a few more photos of "Sophisticated Ladies" from Zach Theatre in Austin, Texas.

Jennifer Halliday on the Topfer Stage at Zach Theatre in Austin, Texas

I really enjoy photographing live theater. The stages and performances are usually beautifully lit by premier lighting designer, Michelle Habeck and that's such an important part of the success of the photos. Then there is the hard work of set designing which was done in Sophisticated Ladies by J. Aaron Bell. I have to credit the action/choreography to Dominique Kelley and the costume design to Susan Branch Towne. Takes a real collaboration to make this all work well for the photographer. And, of course, for the audience. 

There are so many other people involved but these are the ones that make the visual stuff shine and that's the biggest help when it comes to getting good photographs for publicity.

I shot these images with the Nikon D810 and the older, push/pull version of the 80-200mm f2.8 D lens. I've pixel dived down to 100% and I must say that not only is the D810 an impressive performer but so is the ancient lens I've put on the front of the camera. 

If you live in Austin and love live theater this play/musical is another one to love.







7.26.2015

untitled. Location: Graffiti Wall. Austin, Texas.


A random visual observation from the Hope Outdoor Gallery a few months ago. Love the catchlights in the eyes...

Sky and tree. The Sigma 50mm Art lens + the Nikon D610. My review of a camera body that's nearly discontinued.


When I first got interested in photography, back in college, the choice of cameras didn't seem nearly as extensive as it does now. I don't mean that there were fewer brands or fewer models to choose from but that for every serious beginning photographer no  matter which brand you decided on you were +98% likely to choose a model that used 35mm film. Leica M, Canon G17, Nikon F2, Canon F1, Olympus OM-1, even the old Pentax Spotmatic were all using the same, spooled, 35mm film and creating negatives and slides that were 24 by 36mm in size.

To be sure, there were outliers who were using medium format cameras and a few precocious beginners who went straight to the large format cameras, but a walk across campus or a stroll through town would quickly convince you that almost the entire world was working in the same basic format size. There was also no such thing as the 18 month product cycle with most of the SLR cameras. Nikon updated their professional camera body about once every ten years which generally created an even stronger demand for their previous models. Canon extended their line with more gusto but even they were measured when it came to changing their flagship product.

The uniformity of format even extended to the most basic point and shoot cameras. The Olympus Trip35s and later, the Stylus cameras, tiny though they were, still took the familiar 35mm rolls of Fuji, Agfa and Kodak film. Another commonality was the fact that the focal lengths of the lenses had the same "meaning" across all lines of 35mm cameras. A 105 mm on a big, pro camera had exactly the same angle of view as the 105 mm setting on the zoom on the lowliest point and shoot.

I owned a number of different 35mm camera bodies from Nikon, Canon, Leica and Contax. The common thread between most of them was the uniformity of construction and operation. The bodies were all built from solid metal, had a certain heft in your hand and all worked in much the same fashion. From a quality point of view all of the top cameras from the top brands were equally capable but just as today there were rabid fans of the optics from each brand.

It is against this background that I select and embrace the cameras that I use in the business. I am used to the DSLR form factor since it is the direct descendant of the many cameras I have used over the years in the SLR form factor. While I keep pushing and pulling and stretching the various mirrorless cameras with their addictive EVFs I seem to have come full circle to re-embrace the capabilities of the traditional cameras. (Note: I have not sold or given away the Olympus EM5.2 cameras and use them extensively for my personal work!). The primary reason for me to use the full frame Nikon cameras that I do use is for the quality of their sensors and the more rapid retreat of focus with fast lenses.  The newest Sony sensors are visibly better than previous generations, and also better at the ISOs that I am used to using when compared to the Canon