Mr. Contradiction. "The camera doesn't matter." "Lenses don't matter." But I have a new favorite lens. And I'm having fun with it just walking around shooting pretty pictures.

Can't remember if I mentioned it but recently I traded in the Olympus m.45mm f1.8 lens and bought myself a Panasonic 42.5mm lens. No, it's not the ultra sexy 1.2 version it's the smaller, cheaper f1.7 version but as of about an hour ago it's my favorite lens. (If you are new to the blog you may as well add this to the last sentence: "for at least the rest of the day....").

I've been regaling you recently with tales of productivity that revolve around the full frame Nikon cameras, and you could be forgiven for assuming that my allegiance to them was complete and air tight but nothing could be further from the truth. The Nikons are amazingly proficient in the same way that my Kenmore washer and dryer have been amazingly proficient. I take them out and set the controls correctly and they return to me big, technically perfect files. That's all very well but technically perfect gets boring quickly. It's eccentricity that sells.

When I've had my fill of routine, day to day work with the Craftsman power tools of my profession I like to relax and sink into fun photography with the quirky but powerful Olympus m4:3 cameras. In fact, I had so much fun shooting with an EM5.2 today on my walk through downtown that I am already changing my Tues. plans to dump the Nikons back into their drawer in the studio and instead bring only the smaller cameras along with me on an industrial assignment, because there is nothing in the assignment that leads me to believe I'll need the "ultimate" files. The client has evinced no desire or even interest in me manufacturing Ultra Prints (tm) at this juncture. 

I am sure that the ad agency I'm working for will be happy with the micro contrast either system delivers but I have an intuition that the Panasonic 42.5mm f1.7 might just give me the edge where ultimate NANO ACUITY is involved. I know that the Panasonic/Leica 25mm f1.4 is a masterpiece of Nano Acuity as well. And I'm just a little bored with the bigger cameras since I shot them for four assignments last week (proof that professional photography is waning, right?). 

Why the new resurgence of my interest in the smaller cameras? Some of the lenses, like the 42.5 (either flavor) the 25 Panasonic or Olympus, and all of the pro, f2.8 zooms for the micro four thirds cameras are exquisite and much more fun to haul around. The image stabilization in the EM5.2 is magical and the EVF, for me, handily replaces the crystal clear but dumb OVF in the Nikons. I'm of the mindset that you have to have both. Maybe it's a Texan thing; a Tesla or cute little BMW for week days in the city and a Ford F150 pick-up truck for weekends hauling crap the dump or firewood out to the ranchette. I love shooting the M4:3 cameras and lenses for just about any thing but I also love the steeper de-focus ramp of the bigger format and there are times when nothing will do but the higher res files of the bigger cameras. 

Sometimes you go to the pool to compete and other times you go to float around, stay out of the heat and have fun. I can't give up either modality. And most of the times, with the smaller format, it's hard to see that I'm giving up anything at all. 

What prompted me to make the lens change? I've had two different copies of the Olympus 45mm f1.8 lens and wide open I always found it to be good but not great. Stopped down a couple stops and it's as sharp as anything out there but with the smaller format and the more limited options for controlling depth of field it's more important to me that those first two f-stops be functional. No, better than functional, I want them to be as good as the lens's optical performance at f5.6. I want it all. 

I borrowed the Panasonic 42.5mm f1.7 and tested it on the new Olympus EM5.2. I found it to be sharper wide open and I liked the form factor much better. The crowning determiner in the trade-in? Those smart marketers at Panasonic throw in the lens hood as an included accessory. (kidding? maybe...). 

I've shot a few things with the 42.5 but I've been enmeshed in some video/photo hybrid shoots and that's something the D750 and D810 do with greater ease (and longer battery life) than the Olympus cameras. Today was my first day to spend three or four hours shooting with nothing but the 42.5mm economical Panasonic. When I got home from my walk I shoved the Large Super Fine jpegs into the absolute latest rev. of PhotoShop CC and took at silly look at 100%. The lens convinced me that it's in the class of High Nano Acuity along with a select smattering of other lenses. When I start investigating my own brand of ne plus ultra prints (tm) it will be one of my "approved" optical tools. 

The lens is also small and light. Works well on both dominant m4:3 systems and even comes with I.S.

You should rush right out and buy one now. They may become scarce.....

Guess which company gets a delivery of Sunday New York Times newspapers in downtown Austin!?? Why it's Google Fiber, the subsidiary of the world's biggest aggregator which is helping to kill real newspapers and journalism around the world. I guess when the elite companies who are changing the "paradigm of tomorrow" really need solid news for their own research they still depend on the wonderful resource of well researched and well written journalism from one of the few sources left standing..... And they like to put on their white gloves and read it on paper, the way the gods intended.

Fun line-up of live music at the Moody Theater/Austin City Limits. Sorry to let you know that Jill Scott is sold out. But I notice that Weird Al Yankovich is on the list....

We love taking our friends for walks around the city so they can see for themselves how beautiful and special Austin (the new Dallas) can be. The construction clutter is everywhere. No one's mom is teaching them to clean up after themselves anymore...

To sum up. Lens very good. Walk always healthy for your eyes and your heart. Construction currently ubiquitous, makes me think the bursting of the bubble is coming sooner rather than later. Finally, nice to walk on days where the temperature stays away from the triple digits. 

VSL is an Amazon Affiliate site. If you click through a link here to Amazon.com and buy something we get a small commission which does not affect the price you pay. As with any blogger's recommendation, take everything you read, that suggests you buy something, with caution and trepidation. We are a predatory group of blood suckers, for sure....


I remember how good an older camera can be when I look at this image from "A Midsummer's Night Dream" performed by the Austin Shakespeare Company outdoors at the Zilker Hillside Theater.

I was deep into my first micro four thirds romance when I took dress rehearsal images for this play. The lighting was primitive compared to the stage lighting we had at Zach Theatre and the light levels were uniformly low. My camera of choice at the time was the EP-3 and it was "backed up" by an EP-2. But what made it work was the lens, or the lenses. At the time I had adapters for all of my older Pen FT half frame lenses and was determined to make them shine.

This shot was done at 1/30th of a second, at f2.0 or f2.5 with the ancient 60mm f1.5 lens. I focused carefully and held my breath while caressing the shutter button. The old sensor in that camera did its job very well and, it seems, twelve megapixels was more than enough for the marketing people who were helping to sell the play.

It's really not the camera but what you get to point it at. Opportunities abound but you have to stop reading the camera and lens reviews long enough to show up and shoot.

What makes this shot special for me? You already know the answer... It's the awesome, third order, nano acuity of this special lens. I couldn't have expressed this with a lens possessed of lesser nano acuity. I would have known every time I looked at it that it wouldn't measure up to my critical eye....

Penny's Pastries. An old favorite from an assignment for Entrepreneur Magazine.

It's fun to look back at assignments that generated images I really like and try to understand what commonalities that exist with the work I am doing today. This was shot on location for an article about "failing" and getting up and trying again.

I'd never met Penny before we got the assignment to shoot and I walked into her small, commercial kitchen in central Austin cold. The first thing I did was to put the gear down and ask for a tour. We walked through and while Penny pointed out things that would be of interest to a chef or baker I was busy looking at the angles and "props" that might tell the story we needed to share in one image. Part of taking a tour is that process of looking for common touchstones. Austin was a smallish town then. Who might we know that intersects both of us? It was Patricia Bauer Slate who started the first real European style bakery in all of Texas.

These were the film days and we worked with big lights and big cameras. As Penny and I chatted and shared connections my wonderful assistant, Anne, set up lights and a medium softbox which would be out main light for Penny. We used several other lights with reflectors fitted with grids to put sufficient light on the background areas.

By the time I started setting up the shot and positioning Penny we were chatting like old friends. I chose a 100mm f3.5 Zeiss Planar for my Hasselblad 501, took a few black and white Polaroids and started shooting. Penny's look is absolutely perfect. The magazine loved the shot. We made a new friend. We got paid. Almost two decades later the shot looks fresh to me and I remember the afternoon as being fun and productive. I also left with a bag of outrageously good cookies.

When I look at the picture now I realize that I've let life speed up the process of taking images and I'm not reaching as deeply into the process as I once did. I'll start working on regaining that sense of engagement and depth first thing Monday morning.  We think it's about gear but it might really be about spending more time working with people and sharing the joy of making art together. Pretty cool.

A Portrait to commemorate the last day at Ben's first, college, Summer job.

We have this kid named, Ben. He went off to college in New York state last year and did well. Learned stuff. Made the Dean's List. When the Spring semester ended he came back home to Texas. He wanted a Summer job and a friend of mine offered him one at a well established, international software company. Ben has spent the last two+  months helping the marketing department make videos, proof press releases and even do some writing. He looked so grown up leaving each morning in a nice shirt and clean pants, computer bag over one shoulder and a travel mug with coffee in his hand.

Gleaning information from both sides (my friend and my kid) I've pieced together the idea that it was a successful engagement for everyone involved. Ben signed an NDA and he took it seriously so I know little more about the company and its products than I did before. My friend met me for coffee and told me the boy did well.

Since this was his last day I decided to take some portraits of him in the studio when he came home. I set up some lights and dragged him away from his laptop long enough to photograph him looking serious and very focused.

We have loved having Ben here this Summer and it's so much fun around the dinner table nearly every night. We all work in advertising now in some capacity and we understand each other's shared stories in a deeper, better way than before. When he and his mom talk about infographics it's because they are both working on different aspects of infographic design or content creation. When Ben and I talk about technical writing we both see the same markets and issues. I troubleshoot Ben's computer and he gives me sage advice about Final Cut Pro X and the mysteries of editing.

Ben's boss (and my friend) is one of the few consummate professional sales people I have met. I think Ben has learned so much from him by ongoing, direct observation. From osmosis. He's learned to take care of clients and to deliver what you promise.

The kid made good money and I was stunned to see him "brown bag" his lunch each day in order to save a good portion of what he earned. His discipline and frugality are a good example for his own father.

I've had a fun Summer with the kid. I've got two more weeks before he hops on a plane and reconnects with college. I can hardly wait to hear his plans for next Summer.... 

Muted Portrait from film. 2011.

Camera: Rolleiflex SL 8008. 150mm Sonnar. 


Renae in the leather chair. Studio at 500 San Marcos Street. Hasselblad, Hasselblad, Hasselblad. Click directly on the image to see it unencumbered.

I know how I'm supposed to do the blog but I got bored with it and decided to post something big and beautiful. This is Renae who transitioned over the years from one of the smartest women I've ever met into the world's best mom (after Belinda, of course). I adore this photo of her because her expression is wonderful and the chair I chose is perfect. The take-away? Work with the smartest and most creative people you can find and always find a great chair. Background matters in photos.

Thanks, Kirk

I'm taking credit for a new photo-geek term. While Ming Thein and Lloyd Chambers have appropriated Erwin Put's "Micro Contrast" I am officially laying claim to "Nano Acuity." Which I will now describe as the detail within the micro contrast....

"I have such high standards that most people can't even understand the parameters around which my standards are fabricated and brought forth into this world; like Aphrodite born in perfect form from the forehead of Zeuss."

--technically proficient photographer with a Jones for the clarity slider......

People talk a lot of shit about lenses and they use all kinds of words to make their observations sound very, very important and official. Transparent versus veiled. Micro contrast versus gross edge contrast. Acuity. Etc. It's just like "wine experts" who have their own exclusionary language to describe various wine attributes. But the great chefs and real sommeliers tell you, "It's all in the drinking."

Point a Sigma Art lens at a pile of dog crap and it's still a pile of dog crap. Point a poorly made Chinese 50mm Canon knock-off at Aliens abducting Madonna and Barrack Obama while they are intertwined in a passionate embrace and the image is a Pulitzer Prize candidate. Right place, right time, right story, right intention. That's all that counts.

I am amazed at the number of people who really believe that they would be unable to share their vision with the world in the absence of a certain lens, a certain camera or a certain system performance.  To my mind it may mean that their vision isn't ready for prime time so they need to dress it up in lace and lipstick.

My favorite image that I've made in the long years I've been doing this is a black and white image of a girl with a portfolio under her arm and a cigarette in her hand, walking through Paris. Love the image. But it's out of focus, grainy and was done with a Canonet camera and some moldy Tri-X film. Would it be better with a Phase One and a super Leica lens? Naw, it would ruin the whole feel of the image. It would be in focus but it would be as dull as yet another street scene of a triangle shaped building at dusk.

So, I figure every great photo blogger needs a phrase. In car racing it's Ricky Bobby's immortal, "Shake and Bake." (reference to Teledaga Nights, the movie). In my blog, from now on, if I am able to make a really sharp image with a lens it will, for all time, be known as a lens with High Nano Acuity. Which is the detail within the detail of micro contrast.

I'm sure Ken Rockwell will approve.

Yes, this one.

And the way I sometimes feel now. 

Sorry for the brief absence. Unlike the permanent workshop guys and gear reviewers I actually like to work in the field of commercial photography. It makes the stories more true.

Portrait of Kirk amidst the crane trucks.

How am I defining "professional photographer" these days? It would mean: the people who go out with cameras and earn the bulk of their living taking photographs on assignment for clients, or making photographs to sell to prospective clients. It's cute that we can all play around in the sharing economy and make some pocket change blogging, or earn a meager living hosting workshops but the reality of commercial photography is that it's hard work, the aesthetics of the imagery change all the time, and the way we engage with clients is always evolving. To make it financially one must be in the game. To understand how best to use the gear we write about the quickest, surest education is spending long days with the camera in your hands or the lights on the set. 

The funny thing for me is to read about the photographic adventures of other photographers on various websites. They make the profession sound so alluring, so glittery. Some make it sound like rocket surgery because that plays well with the math, tech and toy geeks. Some paint a picture of the profession as a never ending series of care free travel assignments complete with five star hotels and daily meals with Michelin-starred chefs. Still others make it sound like a glorious way to meet fashion models and rock stars, and in the process, make a fortune. 

I'd like for my writing to project what I experience as the truth of professional photography as I live it. How do I do the work? Where am I working? Who am I working for? What does a real day look like? How is commercial photography different for the thousands of working stiffs compared to the work of the trust funders who dabble and demand to be taken seriously?

I was thinking about all of this as I headed to my job today. I was hired to take photographs of crane trucks. Those are the trucks that have various sized cranes attached to them which are used to load materials at construction job sites, to hang signs up high, to elevate workers who fix telephone and electrical wires and much more. Sounds sexy already, right? Well you wouldn't be getting cable TV without the crane trucks, that's for sure...

A few days ago the client mentioned to the ad agency that they'd like to shoot in the afternoon. I lobbied to start at 8 am. It's not that I'm an early bird who loves to get up with the sun but more that I'm a self-preservationist who wants to stay out of the heat. It hit 105(f) yesterday here in Austin but with the moisture in the air it felt like 110)f) by 2:30 in the afternoon.  I knew the weather pattern would be the same today. The bulk of the job was outdoors, shooting trucks in a large parking lot. A parking lot covered with black asphalt. The perfect heat sink. 

The client was located in Georgetown, Texas and according to Google Maps the travel time was supposed to be about 43 minutes. But traffic is zany in the area. The population has grown like weeds and the number of roads has remained mostly constant. The round the clock road construction doesn't help either. I hate to be late so I left the house at 6:30 and headed to Starbucks for a 1/2 caffeine coffee and one of their little "hockey puck" egg and sausage sandwiches which I ate on the road. 

I drove up Mopac with the flow of traffic heading north to Dell, IBM and Apple, intersected with IH-35 for the last lap of the journey and then slid through the sleepy town of Georgetown until I found Manitex; makers of fine crane trucks in almost all sizes. 

I went in and introduced myself and was led to a small conference room where I was asked to read a very short safety booklet and to attest that I had been offered steel toed shoes (brought my own), safety glasses (brought my own) and a hard hat (thank you!). We headed to the manufacturing floor right after stopping by the dispenser for ear protectors. 

I spent a bit of time photographing various steps in the mating of heavy duty cranes to heavy duty trucks and then we headed outside to photograph the finished product. An editor from a trade magazine that specializes in heavy duty crane trucks showed up to guide me in what she might need for a cover image. 

We had a list of images of trucks and cranes to shoot. We shot everything in the direct sun and positioned ourselves so we always had clear, blue skies instead to trying to shooting into the sun. I carried a tan Domke camera bag with three lenses and two cameras in it. I shot with the D810 and had my D750 along as a back up camera --- because professional photographers never go on assignment without a back up camera. Even in the digital age. The bag also contained a couple extra batteries, a polarizing filter and a bottle of water. 

The web experts would tell me that everyone travels with an entourage. They would chide me for going out on location without an assistant. Without an assistant (and their second assistant) who would carry the ninja props and the mini trampolines? But this was a one camera, one lens job. I couldn't think of minimizing another human's potential by having them tag along just to carry my camera bag for me. Can't carry your own camera bag? It's a sure sign you are ready to retire from commercial photography on location. 

Our budget was our budget. It was the most I could talk the advertising agency out of for this kind of work and this kind of usage. I chose to take the job because I wasn't booked for today and I'd rather have "good enough" money than to hold out for the elusive "spectacular" money. I rather be working than reading the web fiction about someone else's amazing trip to Nassau to shoot a bikini catalog for a camera company. (Those are actually called "junkets" not jobs...).  If I included an assistant in my mix today I would have had congenial company driving up and back, someone to carry my camera bag for a couple of hours, and a $300 hole in my budget. 

I shot the stuff we agreed upon during the time we'd budgeted and I headed back to Austin around 11 am. I got to the Thundercloud Sub Sandwich shop in my neighborhood a little before noon and had a tuna salad sandwich on whole wheat. I read the Austin Chronicle while I ate my sandwich. I was nutritionally bad today and bought a Doctor Pepper to drink instead of water or tea. 

When I drove back to my house there was a pickup truck parked mostly across my neighbor's driveway and across some of mine. I squeezed around and into my parking place and then I started the search for the owner of the pick up truck at the job site next door. I explained to the 100th different person, just as I have countless times to others the last two years, why he couldn't park on my driveway while working on the house construction next door. His excuse? "I was only planning to be here for a few minutes." He moved his car and my mood darkened by two stops. I sent an e-mail (one of dozens) to the owner. He'll promise to take care of it but will forget his promise when the next wave of new subcontractors show up. 

I downloaded the files from the shoot. There were about 400 from this morning. They were all big, raw files from the D810. I tossed some duplicates and some I didn't like and then I had 330 files. I pulled them into Lightroom and started color correcting and making small tweaks to the images. They seemed to be in groups of three. I'd correct, apply the corrections to all the ones with the same exposures and then move on to the next sequence. 

I took a break to go out and talk to our yard guy, José. He cut our grass and stuff a couple of weeks ago but none of us were home at the time to pay him so we owed him for both times and I wanted to make sure I didn't miss him again. He tends to knock on the door of the house and avoids the studio door. I put the two checks in an envelope and brought them out to him. Thank you for asking, he's doing well. 

Around 3:00 pm I got all the files of trucks with cranes color corrected and converted them to full size (36 meg.) jpegs as my client requested. I thought that the quantity of files would come out to a little under 2 gigabytes which would have been great. I could have used WeTransfer.com's free service to deliver the files. But the files came in at almost 7 gigabytes so I decided to just toss them on a memory stick and deliver them myself. 

I called to confirm that the person I needed to hand them to was still in his office and then headed over there immediately. If everything went to plan I might be able to get there and back before the worst of the Austin rush hour traffic started. I was successful and the images are now in the client's hand but the job has eaten yet another hour that I was loathe to give it.  When I got back to the office I sat down and wrote out an invoice which I sent over via e-mail as a .pdf.  That job is now complete. 

Which gives me time to prepare for tomorrow's job which is a continuation of yesterday's job. We're working with a P.R. agency to help them create a website to promote their specialty of executive training. Yesterday we had eight models and two trainers in two borrowed conference rooms and I shot a mix of video and still images. All of them will be used as strongly horizontal visual content on a WebPress style website.  It sounds "glamorous" but really it is straight forward project that requires me to do a lot of set ups in a short amount of time and to go back and forth from my still photo brain to my video brain, over and over again. 

I need to recharge LED panel batteries, clean the cameras from the truck dust, charge the camera batteries, pack the portable green screen and find a fresnel spot that I am sure I have sitting around here somewhere. I guess I also need four or five C-stands, some scrims and flags, the video monitor and that black case full of microphones and cables. 

Once we finish with the shooting I'll need to do the same kind of edit and post production on the still photographic files and then string all of the videos together in Final Cut Pro X,  importing them as Pro Res files, stabilize them, add some contrast, do a bunch of color adjustments and output them for the art director at the P.R. agency who will select snippets as infinitely revolving gifs (or something) for inclusion on the website. 

When we finish up tomorrow evening with the actual shooting I'll tear all the lights down, pack em, load the car, unpack them at the studio and start the routine of charging the batteries and cleaning the gear. 

I work a lot. Most of the jobs we do are pretty routine. The locations change and the players change but the nuts and bolts are straightforward and logical. We might try new styles and new approaches now and then but most clients are pretty conservative and stick pretty closely to what they know. I do dozens and dozens of jobs like the ones I described above for every one outlier job that features a former president or a gorgeous portrait subject. But that's how I can call myself a professional photographer. I go to work every day and make images. I solve (admittedly low level) visual problems for clients and help them show off things like trucks with cranes. Or executive training. And then I do the paper work. The marketing. The tax accounting and the maintenance. 

Maybe I am just missing out on the juicy stuff that goes to everyone else but I don't think so. I stay connected to other photographers. For a while I was a chapter president for the ASMP. Everyone seemed to be waiting for the big pay off that rarely came. At some point I realized that what we do is a job like everyone else's job. We trade off some security for the illusion of free time but we either fill the free times with all the tasks that are required to make the business work or we trade that security for free time to embrace the abject fear that we'll never be asked to work again. 

It's a funny business. Photography. The companies that make money are the ones selling photographers the lights and the cameras and the lenses and all the gadgets that we are convinced will make our pictures better, our clients happier and our teeth whiter. The other people who make money are the ones who prey on our insecurities and offer "education."The gear companies have found that giving those people cameras to review helps them create a mythology about how the business of photography works. Getting the gear also implies that the people receiving it are "special" members of the clan. But do they ever really work with the cameras in a commercial way?  People who are web and blog savvy have found ways to make compelling stories of exciting photographic experiences that become part of the current legend and seem to make becoming a "professional photographer" something culturally aspirational.  The more people who aspire to become sports photographers (in reality a tiny, tiny market at the high end = high end meaning average American middle class wage level) the more long, light gray lenses Canon sells and the more D4s Nikon sells. 

The more people who aspire to torture other people as wedding photographers the more Canon 5D mark 3s get sold, along with the almost "required" 24-70mm f2.8 and 70-200mm f2.8's. And those stupid, ugly Black Rapid straps...

Generally, when I see amazing photography, or work done in amazing places, I dig a little deeper and find that it is inevitably "self-assigned." Nothing wrong with that. We do it all the time because I like photography; both the process and sometimes the results. There's a freedom in shooting for oneself that is vital in this age of homogeneity in almost all things visual. We all shoot for ourselves but I wish everyone was honest about the work. I wish the web gurus would step up and say "I shot this for myself." Instead of, "Here's the kind of work we like to do for clients." When, in fact, they have probably never done anything of the kind for clients. 

I read one person's blog nearly every evening because he's great at speaking the geek talk. He can go on about micro-contrast and nano acuity as though they are  ubiquitous measures in the general consumer market. He sees bokeh even through brick walls with lead lining. He talks about international clients. But we never see any work actually done for clients; real clients. The blogs are entertaining but he paints a picture in which all clients are amazingly well educated about aesthetics and equally, they are uniformly demanding when it comes to the revelation of micro-contrast, sharpness across all fields, and dimensions known and unknowable in the work being delivered to them. To believe his writing is to imagine that all the clients you will meet will demand you use a Nikon D810 as the minimum acceptable standard. Better yet if you can stitch twenty or thirty frames together to form one archly perfect and micro-contrast encrusted file for just those clients who must make billboards which you will approach with loupes; then and only then will have you entered the "envelope of acceptability."

But if it is all a lie or an artful untruth predicated to help sell more cameras, more blog clicks, more workshops and more secondary engagements then what, in the long run, does this exaggeration do to our markets, your egos or your pocket books. It's so cool that people get who have a big photo website get to go to the Antarctic to photograph ice flows (not for long) and penguins. But no one other than the workshop attendants will be paying them for this service. And so there is no reality to their recommendations, to their prescriptions for photography as it relates to the business of taking images. 

It's exciting to think that someone can make a profit creating and selling workshops all over world but if you have time to do workshops all over the world you have surely run out of good paying clients to work for on a regular basis or you could never afford the time away. Surely, if your work is so majestic that it should be the center of workshops don't you have an obligation to yourself, nay, the world, to go out and keep creating the work instead of squandering your potential and your productivity teaching the unteachable to retired programmers? I am a believer in the idea that art is a combination of personal vision, first person knowledge acquisition and a healthy dose of self-directed trial and error. Through which you learn better lessons that form the foundation of your art. Are thousands of dollars spent "workshopping" a faster way to mastery than doing the time? I don't think it's the same... And I know the results are not the same.

I am equally suspicious of "best selling" landscape photographers or fine art photographers. I would like to see their tax returns to see just what their spouses do for a living...

In the end I have as narrow a point of view as anyone else. I think being in the act of creating and making money with the cameras is a different way of looking at the world. The decisions I make are not always clouded with reason but are many times clear, crisp windows into self delusion. I am as sellable as the rest of you who spend time wandering around the web with our wallets open to the charlatans who sell the promise of artistic fulfillment and riches to be garnered, if only we had their special camera, their special advice, or one of those militaristic straps. 

Maybe I am just tired from spending too much time working the work of photography. Maybe I'd feel better if I just insinuated my talent and leveraged the insinuation to sell something people think they want or need that doesn't require me to move away from my computer keyboard.

But every time I consider doing a workshop or getting chained again to another camera brand I feel this incredible resistance that tells me I'd rather be out, wandering around, taking images that I love and then writing about them to as much of an audience as might care. And never being tied down to the necessity of talking about it instead of doing "it."

It's a bizarre lifestyle. Like being a chef who only wants to cook for himself. Or a writer of books who knows the "formula" for success in a genre but chooses to write what his muse suggests instead. But really, if I'm going to follow the meanderings and teachings of a "professional" photographer it is, for some, reason important to me that they actually have paying clients....


In Praise of good, cheap lenses. Let's start with the Nikon 50mm f1.8G.

I had a little revelation on Friday. I'd been getting comfortable with the new D750 but in the momentary compulsion to aim for perfection (not a trait I usually aspire to in my work...) I had, of course, stuck the Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art lens on the front of this willowy camera. I liked everything I shot with the combo but it sure got heavy quickly and it really felt front heavy. Out of balance. I'm totally okay with that when I'm working because I'm willing to make some compromises to get the clients what they need. That's especially true if the compromise is a little extra weight and a little less balanced of a hand holdable package.

But walking around shooting for fun in the 100+ degree heat and just photographing stuff for my own pleasure is a whole different issue. It's too easy for my hands and shoulders to compare the burden of a bigger camera since they still have pleasant memories of recent forays with Olympus EM5.2s. (And you may be interested to know that much as I like the battery grips on the EM5.2s when the Summer temperatures crest 100, and I am out walking instead of driving an air conditioned car, the grips come off and stay in the equipment drawer).

With all this in mind I looked into the Nikon drawer and spied a lens that was definitely not getting its fair share of love since the arrival of the Sigma 50; it was the Nikon 50mm f1.8G lens that I picked up back when I first re-entered the system. I switched it onto the front of the D750 and instantly rejoiced. The balance is perfect. Just perfect. I put on the hood, tossed the lens cap in a drawer, and went out for a long walk. The camera is just right with this smaller, lighter prime.

While the Sigma is significantly better at the widest apertures the Nikon is not at all bad and by f2.8 it shapes up nicely. When I start shooting stuff in the f4.0 to f8.0 range, handheld, any difference between the two 50's is so effectively masked by my human frailty that there is no reason to choose one over the other except for parameters of handling and weight--- one area where the Nikon 50mm just walks all over the front heavy Sigma.

Whenever I put an inexpensive 50mm lens on the front of a full frame camera it takes me right back to some of my very first film camera experiences and gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling. The combination of the 50mm 1.8G and the D750 reminded me of one of my first good camera and lens combos in that the lens is a chameleon (it can be "wide" or "long" depending on how you use it...) and the body becomes invisible. Everything just works.

We always assume that the lenses made in tiny batches and selling for ruinous sums must be much superior, optically, to the everyday, pedestrian lenses but I think this is not so. I think that producing a lens like the 50mm f1.8, in bulk, flattens out production problems over time and gives the maker a lot more metrics to work with in engineering improvements to both the designs and the manufacturing processes. The more "hand made" lenses are these days the more "leaky gaskets of error" there must be. Humans can be so fallible and I sincerely doubt that many of the lenses we might consider to be "luxury" models in a maker's line are subject to any more testing than the regular product lines.

Of all the different focal lengths I've shot over the years I always find the disappointments or flaws to occur in the lenses that have cost me the most money. The fewest "bad samples" come from the basic and inexpensive prime lenses. There's just a heck of a lot less to go wrong. And since most of them are modified designs of optical classics that have been around for years, you are getting decades, maybe centuries now, of R and D benefit in even the lowliest standard prime. Something to think about when you want to travel lightly and without excess financial frisson.

Just a few thoughts I was having as I was fixing the family's clothes dryer... One hint: It's always the lint traps...


Elinchrom Lights Need a New Home. Too Crowded in Their Current Environment. Swiss Flash, Cheap.

I was out impulse shopping last week and came across a set of lights in a case that I couldn't pass up for the price. It was a lightly used set of Photogenic Powerlight 1250 DR's (monolights) , complete with brand new, medium sized Photoflex Platinum soft boxes, Chimera quick release speed rings and an almost new, Kata large rolling case. Turn key for about $600. I brought them home, played with them. Liked them and decided that having two different sets of monolights is NOT downsizing. One set has to go. Since I'm still in the honeymoon period with the Photogenics it looks like I'm breaking up with the Elinchrom monolights. 

I sold off my Profoto strobes to buy four Elinchrom D-Lites because I was also using an Elinchrom Ranger RX AS power pack and heads and they all shared the same reflectors and other accessories. This model, the Elinchrom D-Lite4 it has a lot of great features. First of all, each one of these is about 1/3 the weight of my older, power equivalent Profoto monolights. The interface on the back is digital and the lights have built in thermal protection and cooling fans. The D-Lite 4 it is a 400 watt second unit with a recycling time of around 1.6 seconds at full power and a full power flash time of 1/800th. 
You can use the digital controls on the back to change the power settings from full down to some small minimum in 1/10th stop increments. You can ratio the modeling light, use it on full or turn it off altogether. 

I bought all four of my Elinchrom D-Lite 4 it flashes back in June or July of 2011 but they came at a time when I was omitted with LEDs and then fluorescent lights so they haven't seen the daily, hard work they would have had they arrived on my scene back in the earlier days. All four work well, haven't been dropped and aren't beaten up. They come with a protective front cap made of some space age polycarbonate. They come with a 100 watt modeling light and a sync cord. They have a built in optical slave but, unlike the model replacing them now, they don't have built in radio slaves. 

I am hoping to sell them to someone who needs a good set of lights and who lives somewhere within 100 miles of Austin but if that doesn't happen I'll be happy to sell them and ship them anywhere in the Continental U.S.A. I'm asking $125 for each one. Buy all four and you can have them for $400. Since I don't offer Kirk Prime there will also be a packing and shipping charge of $15 per light or $25 for all four lights shipped to the same address. 

If you are interested send me along your queries via the moderated comments on this blog. I won't post your comments if they are about the purchase of these units but will use it to get in touch with you so be sure to leave me an e-mail address to respond to. 

Help me downsize yet again!  

Edit: August 10th. Thank you! The lights have been sold. 

Extra bonus: free personal delivery and free coffee conversation for purchaser 
located in Austin.