8.09.2015

Reader, Ken, helps me open a new bag of worms. "Do I miss the GH4?" Do I feel I have the right tools for the job? (worms no longer come in cans....).

August. Every day over 100(f). This is the month to spend time at Barton Springs.

Everything seems to move so fast for photographers and videographers and yet everything seems to move glacially slowly for client adaptation. Get photographers or videographers together and many times the subject of conversation circles around to the latest technologies; and is accompanied with the implicit understanding that we must continually upgrade to the latest stuff just to survive in some sort of ultra-Darwinian marketplace (wrong assumption, IMHO). I'm a part-time victim of that process. I buy into the excitement and fear of tech advances and then I rationalize my way back out again. I sing the praises of the Nikon D810 and then do a wonderful job on a project with the tiny Olympus cameras. In the end it helps that I am married to an award winning, and very wise, graphic designer. 

She is currently working in a large, good ad agency in Austin, Texas. She is part of a team working on national and international ads. Her point of view on gear and camera tech?: Nobody in Advertising Cares as Long as the Image Looks Great.  And when she says, "Looks Great." she is never talking about resolution or even dynamic range but always about: gesture, pose, expression, color design, composition, propping, styling and timing. People who work with images everyday in their jobs and are responsible for knowing how things will print and how they will look on posters, or brochures, or as tiny web snippets, have long known, or sensed, that our cameras hit the point of sufficiency years ago. They laugh at us for worrying about the difference between 16 pixels and 18 pixels or 24 pixels. Doesn't matter as long as the image looks great. 

Let me explain the term: sufficiency. 

The first time I read it I was over on Ming Thein's website reading some

8.06.2015

What sort of camera madness have I participated in today? Oh, I remember, I swam the masters workout and then headed to Precision Camera to buy a brand new camera. I really, really needed one. Hmmm.


August is a dangerous month. Fraught with all kinds of odd impulses. Way too hot for rational thought to prevail. What's a guy going to do? But let's set this up first and at least give me a chance to rationalize yet another zany and seemingly inexplicable camera purchase (full price, no special dispensation for brilliant blog writers...).

I've been playing diligently with video this year and I'm mixing with bad company. These video guys make photographers look like depression era shoppers. And when they add stuff to their "carts" the prices seem astronomical to me. According to them you can buy a Sony FS7, 4K super 35 video camera for a bit less than than $9,000 but in their opinions the camera requires another three or four thousand dollars invested in cages, follow focus stuff, monitors, memory cards and such before you can really, you know, use it. And then you'll need a lens. Or lenses.

These days all the video guys are excited and fidgety about the newest Sony camera, the A7R-2 and they are lining up only to be told that it's now effectively backordered. Amazon.com had them yesterday but today they are saying "deliverable in one to two months." But you know how those guys over at Precision Camera are always looking out for my best interests so they took it upon themselves to place me at the top of the pre-order list for the Sony A7R-2. Yesterday they called and let me know that they'd gotten a handful in and they had one with my name on the box. Did I

8.05.2015

Since the buying of lenses has become akin to seasonal fashion shopping I thought I would re-introduce one of my favorite lenses from many seasons past. And talk about it a bit.


When I first read about the Samyang (Rokinon, Bower, etc...) 14mm f2.8 lens I was very skeptical. The lens has a focal length that has been historically hard to design and equally hard to build without a lot of sample to sample variation. That it was also a fast (relatively speaking) f-stop lens also gave me pause because, from what I've read about lens design, the faster the maximum aperture the harder it is to correct for any number of things. By the time my overactive curiosity gland kicked in there were several hundred passionate reviews on Amazon.com which variously described the lens as 
"incredible" and also "mediocre." 

When I happened to find one used, with box, in perfect condition (the Cine Version) for about $200 I decided that any risk was minimal and the upside could be interesting.

My first forays with the lens were in the nature of a gear packing afterthought. If I was going to go photograph attorneys and their new, wonderful offices, I would take it along on the off chance that a super wide shot of their lobby might be different and effective. I also took it along on several industrial projects but my experiences with ultra wide lenses was not deep and I couldn't get the hang of composing with so much stuff in the frame. 

At this point though I could make a complete catalog of the good and bad points of the lens. To start with it has some severe distortion that is often described as "mustache" distortion because

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."