Juxtaposition. Out of time out of place.

So, would you believe that I was looking at some August Sander images from 1930's Germany and was so enthralled by his portraits of bakers that I decided to create a composite from a baker portrait made long ago; in the black and white film years?

Of course the original image of the baker  might have shown him standing at attention against a stark kitchen background, but a little time spent in a modulus molding program imbued him with the appearance of movement. And then, of course, to make a statement about the confluence of two time streams I had to composite him into a modern scene. But I am such a perfectionist that I needed to control every square centimeter of the image and so I created each person in the scene individually, using a three D modeling program. I went so far as to make authentic SXSW badges for each one of the secondary people in the composition and then calculated the exact amount of defocusing each would require, depending on where they would exist in the construct.

I didn't like the original carpeting so I had this carpet designed and produced. I photographed the carpeting at the final size I would use it and then dropped it into the construct. When I finished creating the image, after several months of intensive PhotoShop,  I worked with several curators from famous museums who helped me craft convincing and plausible artist statements. Armed with the images and the artist statements I embarked on the process of securing an embarrassingly enormous grant. This required the local government to divert several millions of dollars from programs to feed starving children but it allowed me the time and space to really refine my vision of hermeneutically colliding psycho-social spheric containment realities and then have them master printed large enough to attract top galleries. Imagine my lack of surprise or even registration of emotion when, Baker #7, Harbinger of the Duality Apocalypse, sold for a cool $10 million....

But it was all worth it because I can feel the ephemeral sense of reticence that is the foundation of the work.

Sorry, just feeling snarky today. Too much reading of works about modern artists via modern magazines about ART. My bad.

SelfieVision2015. When our universe became a mirror.

I'm throwing in the towel on elitism and snobbery. I'm ready to become a selfie taking, fully realized, modern human being. I pledge that everywhere I travel I will document me having fun, or being miserable, or whatever. I will not only use my phone to document every meal but will also shoot a bit wider as well so I can be seen....with my meal. I will document myself getting out of the pool in my slight pair of Speedo jammers. I will document myself pumping gas and yelling at the talk show people on the radio; with whom I disagree. I will document myself shooting assignments with other cameras. I will get a selfie stick. I will get a selfie wrench and a selfie hammer. I will get tiny flashes to fit on either side of my phone as it sits on my selfie stick so I can do minimalist, selfie lighting for more ART. I will get tiny, selfie soft boxes for my tiny lights on my selfie stick.

I will open a gallery and every print will be a selfie I have taken in some artistic fashion. If my own creative juices prove ineffective I will used the canned filters in Instagram with extreme (lack of) prejudice. I will lobby to have my selfie portraits used on the dollar bill, and the Euro. I will have selfie toilet paper made so I can admire myself in the most private moments, and share the gift of my image while others are takin' care of business.  I am trying to train Studio Dog to take her own selfies (but she seems stuck in the 1990's with the Zone System and the fine black and white print).

I will seek out my friends and acquaintances, and future friends and acquaintances, while I slide through public life and I will stop them and help them experience the ultimate in visual joy as I hold the small phone in my shaking (from excitement) hands and show them every image in my film roll. Sometimes I will stop and do the swiping motion that makes images bigger so I can excitedly zoom in and show them this great expression, or that great detail of clothing or jewelry.

I want to take it all further so I am getting a second cellphone so I can help my first cellphone take selfies of my cellphone and vice versa. And a third phone so I can document the first two phones selfying each other. This is all so exciting.

I am certain that I will dominate the searches on Instagram and other sharing sites. Who in their right mind would not drop everything to see a grey haired man in an anonymous, button down, blue broadcloth shirt, sipping coffee at a Starbucks?

Soon I will break into selfie movies and will regale everyone with programming. Watch me as I get frustrated trying to read the small type on the Netflix screen on our TV from across the living room. Sit captivated as you watch me take an enteric coated aspirin, some vitamin C, and some CoEnzyme Q10 with a glass of water at night.

Watch my video as I explain escrow to myself. I'm all so fascinating!!!! Why haven't we done this before?


When photographing seriously, seriously, take off your sunglasses. Especially if you are using an EVF....

If you wear polarized sunglasses you will have difficulties using an EVF. There is a cancellation effect that makes viewing the whole frame well pretty much impossible. And I'll have to say that when you are in a dimly lit convention center, even with an optical viewfinder I think you'll find composing a photograph easier if you are able to get your eye close enough to the finder to see the edges of the frame.

Just a public service, education posting. Sunglasses. Hmmm.

The camera I just recommended to everyone who asked me this holiday season, "Which camera should I buy for someone who.......????"

It happens. You are a professional photographer. Your friends have this idea that you must know everything about every facet of the imaging business. I get phone calls asking me about weddings. I get phone calls asking me about shooting baby photos, and twice a year I get a lot of phone calls from friends asking me what camera they should buy for: Their spouse, their graduating senior, their college junior about to do a semester abroad, their small business, their once in a lifetime trip to XXXXXXX. Very few of these people really wanted to get mixed up in the sticky spider web of photographic technique practiced at the highest technical level. Those I send to Ming's site. To the rest I end up recommending the camera above. 

Interesting thing about the Nikon entry level, APS-C camera line, is that they all pretty much have the same absolutely excellent, Sony, 24 megapixel, imaging sensor. This means that the camera is 90% of the way to fulfilling the real technical needs of just about anyone out there. The camera represented above has shared the same basic body design, with a host of similar cameras, for fifteen years; ditto  the menus. Nikon has had a lot of time getting things just right. And to understand how to craft a camera for beginners.

But the reason I recommend the package consisting of the D3300 body and the lens above is that the kit lens, the VRII version, is sharp and well corrected, and adds vibration reduction to the system. It's the equivalent of a 28-70mm. The camera is small and light and pretty much bulletproof. Plus the batteries last twice as long as most mirrorless camera batteries. 

One of my friends came to me yesterday and wanted to know what to buy. He'd had someone recommend a Sony RX100iiii to him, or, at a lower cost level, the new Canon G5X. I looked at both of those cameras and laughed. My friend didn't want to spend $800+ on a camera. He's got big hands too. I know the one inch sensor in both of those cameras are really good but, to someone who is a casual shooter I know they'll be more comfortable dropping $395 and getting a camera that has the potential to outshoot both of the above mentioned cameras. The Nikon focuses faster, the chip has better high ISO capability and, down the road my friend or his kids, can add a flash, add more lenses or use the same lenses on updated or upgraded bodies. 

I've had neophyte friends buy trendier cameras and struggle to use them well. The Nikon line just works. If a person has been indoctrinated in believing in Canon cameras I am happy to research the equivalent Rebel. I just believe that this class of cameras are the best bargains out there today and that they provide the best platform for people who are just starting their photographic journey, beyond the cellphone. 

I was looking at yet another little camera as a possible "take everywhere" camera when I started researching cameras like the D3300 as well. Half the price for more performance, and I can put a Sigma Art lens on this puppy and get amazing results. No sense recommending more. You'll just have nominated yourself as the "camera support/teacher/coach for someone's longer learning curve. 

That's my stock recommendation. 

A triptych from Berlin in Fall of 2013.

Need to do some online shopping? Here's a link to five good photo books and one fun novel:


In a San Antonio shop window. Near the San Fernando Cathedral.

I love walking through the streets with a camera. It's a great excuse to get some exercise and stay intimately familiar with your camera and lens. Sometimes you see things you wouldn't see if you stayed home and watched TV.  If you've grown accustomed to the sights in your own city that gives you a great excuse to travel to the closest big or small city near you and start a walking exploration all over again.

To recap: Walking keeps you from getting fat and out of shape. Seeing new things keeps your mind interested. Sharing images gives you an intention that drives you to walk and see new things. I guess that makes exploring with a camera medicinal. That's my prescription for today.

Need some gift suggestions for photographers on your gift list?


Taking a new look at an older lens. The Nikkor 135mm f2.0. ai.

I've been on a search for the right 135mm lens for a while now. I've had the Rokinon 135 f2.0 in and out of my shopping cart on Amazon a couple of times. I've tested the Nikon 135mm f2.0 Defocus Coupling lens and I spent a day with the Zeiss 135 f2.0, shooting around town. Through all of this I had a niggling thought in the back of my mind. I kept thinking that the lens I really wanted was one I'd owned many years ago. Decades ago. 

I like old Nikon lenses. The fully manual ones. The ones you have to manually focus. The ones with hard stops at infinity. The ones with external aperture rings. The ones that were so well built they might never fail. I'm tired of the plastic exteriors. I'm tired of complexity. I have really come to love the big, accurate focusing rings. I wanted a fast aperture.

My friend, Paul, had been in Precision Camera yesterday and called to tell me that, as a result of a recent expo at the store, there was a lot of great used gear getting put out on the shelves. When I woke up this morning I had visions of the old 135mm Nikkor f2.0 lens I used to use, mostly welded to the front of my F4s camera. I shot many of my favorite portraits with that lens and many more with that focal length across other brands. I walked into the store and straight to the used, manual focus shelf at the back of the store. There it was. Perfect glass. No abuse. Light use. 

My favorite store clerk uses a Nikon D600 to do great food photography and he's a good judge of lenses. He's never steered me wrong. And, to his credit, he's steered me away from more lenses than he's steered me towards. His pronouncement? "That lens is incredible!"

It's really not incredible but it is very good, has lots of personality and feels good to use. There are several 135mm f2.0 lenses that might be a little sharper, if you focus them just so. And that's only at the widest aperture.  All of them have some field curvature designed right in so none of them will be sharp across a flat frame from the center to the far corners, wide open. All of them get sharper as you stop down. But for a lens designed back in the late 1970's it's nicely competitive with the rest, once you factor in price and intended use. 

You know how I'll use it. I'll be shooting portraits under continuous light, from a tripod. I will summon up the courage to shot it wide open as long as I'm on the tripod and using the live view function of the D810 or D750 to nail critical focus. But that's how I've always intended to use every fast, long lens I buy. That's also how I use the sibling of this lens, the 105mm f2.5 ais. It works well. 

If I only shot still images with these cameras and lenses I guess I'd be happy to have autofocus capability but I keep shooting interviews and fun video and I love being able to shift focus while shooting, and to preset two focus points and rack between them. It's something these older optical systems do very well.

I could parrot what others have written or I could rely on my faulty memory of shoots done a long time ago, but I prefer to get the lens on the front of the D810, round up the usual suspects (beautiful people) and do my own optical testing with this particular sample. My preliminary shots are making me happy. Stay tuned and I'll have more to say about this one after I've gotten some portraits done. 

Feeling a bit giddy. It's not every day that you conjure up the image of the perfect portrait lens and then walk into a store that has just what you wished for. And at a price significantly lower than anywhere else. Merry Consumerism! To one and all.


An old blog post about making portraits. Reprised by popular demand.


I just re-read it and I like it better than I did when I wrote it.

Thanks Andrew.

It's getting to feel a lot like Christmas....

Nothing warms me up for the holidays quite like bouncing back and forth between seasonal plays like David Sedaris's, Santaland Diaries, and Dave Steakley's pop infused, re-envisioning of Dicken's, A Christmas Carol. 

Above and below I've assembled some of my favorite photographs from Zach Scott's recent Holiday plays for your visual enjoyment. I wish I could label each one with the camera and lens it was taken with but those details are lost to the passage of time. Just think: Sony and Nikon and Canon and Samsung, Olympus and Panasonic and Kodak and Fuji. You're bound to be right some of the time. 
As usual, click to see the gallery of bigger images. They should click up to 2100 pixels on the long end...

On Tuesday I found a good reason to use the Nikon D750 and the Sigma 50mm Art lens. NEA.

Dave Steakley, artistic director of Zach Theatre (left) shows
NEA Chairman, Jane Chu, around the Topfer Theatre.
The full frame. 

Late Monday I got a text from the P.R. person at Zach Theatre asking me, urgently, if I would be able to come by and take some photographs the next afternoon. I love working with everyone there so I checked my scheduled and confirmed. 

The event was a newsy one. Zach Theatre was being visited by Jane Chu, who is the chairman of the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts). NEA grants have made it possible for the Theatre to produce work with amazing playwrights like Anna Deavere Smith and Susan Lori-Parks, as well as enabling spectacular renditions of Ragtime and Angels in America. 

I didn't have a specific brief but I was there early to greet Ms. Chu and to follow the group of Zach board members and executives through the tour and while conversing over tea. 

I used a Nikon D810 with the 24-120mm and a flash for many of the photographs but in the lobby I could see the benefit of working with the available light and a fast, sharp lens. I like the image above so much more than the posed group shot that was hastily organized below. 

The Nikon D750 seems to nail exposures nicely and the lens is nicely sharp at f2.5. The image below is from the D810+24-120mm combo. 

Working with existing light is fun as long as you keep yourself at the right angles to both the subjects and the light....