11.11.2016

A re-posting from 2012. I think we called this one just right! Read on.

5.27.2012

Will the DSLR die? Will small cameras rule the world?

   (edit: for people who don't know the basic history of digital cameras:  The camera above is not a film camera, it is a digital camera from Kodak that was marketed in 2001-2002 and was one of the first "affordable" interchangeable lens digital SLR's to offer a whopping 6 megapixels. About $7,000 on introduction.)


I've just read several blogs wherein the writers pose this very question and then take the middle of the road argument that, "there's room in the camera cosmos for everyone..."  Which is a nice way of side-stepping the intellectual honesty of actually taking a stand, but might just be the wrong answer.

Not to enrage the creationists of photography who feel that all cameras are locked into whatever form they exist in now by some edict,  I'd like to make the case that, in order to survive, today's big, hungry and macho DSLRs will evolve by co-opting the best features of their current predators and keeping the goofy and lovable features that marketers think we all want...

I think that much of what we accept as necessary in a "professional digital single lens reflex camera" is there via precedent, vestigialism and ritual.  Most of the voodoo of bigger SLR's is based on what we needed in the early days of digital.

Consider this, in 2002 if you wanted a camera to shoot with professionally at six megapixels (or thereabouts), with the capability of changing lenses (itself partially a conceit from the primitive film days...) and the throughput or frame rate to follow even rudimentary action (buffer), you had very, very few choices.  In fact, you had the Nikon D1x and the Kodak DCS760.  Both were large body styles.  You had to be happy with a large body style because no one had anything else on offer with the same features.  Really.  So, marketers presumed in their "looking forward calculus" that, since the big bodies were selling well (remember, they were the only form factor widely available with the feature sets needed) consumers must like the big bodies and therefore it was good marketing to offer more big bodies in the future.  No matter that the cameras were widely considered to be too heavy and too unwieldy to be comfortable...especially for most woman and men with smaller hands...

It's kind of like being GM in the 1960's and presuming that everyone needed a big, V8 motor because you built lots of big V8 motors and put them in most of your cars and people bought the cars, ergo they must want big V8 motors.  And would never change.

I look at the Kodak DCS 760 as one of the seminal, professional, digital cameras because, well, Kodak (using big Nikon bodies and making them even bigger) was there first.  And since some of them sold well their competitors, not wanting to take chances, followed suit.  I think the first few generations of Kodak digital behemoth cameras were big not because the engineers wanted them to be but because nearly every part, including the electronics, was made by hand and breadboarded circuits take up a lot more space than VLSIs.  I also think the engineers were constrained to use a certain body size in order to accomodate the enormous (relative to today's technology) primitive batteries and the large sized industry standard connectors of the day.  Not to mention the big, dual slots required for PCMCIA memory constructs.

So, in early big camera engineering form indeed followed function.  Now form follows convention.  Form is following history.  Form is part of marketing that plays on a nostalgia for the past in the field of cameras, to the detriment of your pocket book.

My Kodak DCS760 batteries weigh more than my entire Panasonic G3.  One PCMCIA hard drive is bigger than the biggest LCD screen on my best camera. And yet those cameras didn't shoot faster than my current consumer cameras, didn't have as big buffers, don't have the same resolutions and on and on.

I fully believe that Canon and Nikon could both make a camera with the same capabilities as their D3's, D4's and 1DX's, etc. that are much smaller than the ones they currently make, without making any engineering sacrifices.  Same waterproofing, same basic handling and the same performance but they choose to make them big to connote their level of professionalism.  Size is now analogous to the fins on a sedan or raw horsepower.  Making the cameras bigger and heavier adds to the weight and the cost but not to the usability for most buyers.

In the ten years since the introduction of the big professional digital cameras the top models have remained the same size and weight even as technology has advanced considerably in every metric.  The batteries have ten times the capacity of the early ones (measuring in shutter actuations).  They weigh less than half of their predecessors.  SD cards hold hundreds of times more files and write them thousands of times more quickly than their predecessors. And the engineers have had a decade to leverage the efficiencies of scale for processors, shutter mechanisms, etc.  So why do people still think they need to tote a brick to be taken seriously?

Well, as I said above, I think we're about to see the big dinosaurs evolve instead of just capitulating and becoming instantaneously extinct.  If the camera makers are smart they'll make "smaller" a new luxury feature (as Pentax did with their LX system back in the days of film...).  You're already seeing that in coveted cameras like the Fuji X1-Pro.

The next step (look to Sony)  will be for Canon and Nikon to "reinvent" the finder.  They'll move to EVFs but they'll rename the EVF and make it a professional feature.  A "must have" for pros who need to see all the information.  How will they sell it?  With fear and uncertainty.  You'll hear over and over again that all still photography is  nearly dead (and it might nearly be for commercial applications) and that you MUST be shooting video and "we're putting this EVF here to help  you be successful!!!!!"  And, they'll create (make up) some new feature set that can be construed to be even better than seeing stuff through an "outdated" OVF.  You watch them.  When they tip the point for sports shooters the marketing will go into overdrive and no one will ever want to go back to the "bad old days" of glass pentaprisms ever again.  Not because 99% of buyers need what sports photographers profess to need but because halo advertising works...

The next thing to go will be the mirror.  No need for a mirror if you're looking at the image directly as it appears to the sensor.  Right?  But again, it will be couched as an advantage because of "high speed performance" metrics.  Faster and more reliable.  Who doesn't want that?  Nikon has already mastered the focusing issues in their lowly V system.  They'll roll it up (as they always do) into their pro-sumer and then pro cameras just as quickly as they think you're ready for it....from a marketing point of view.

In a short time we'll have a professional, weather-sealed, mirrorless, EVF'd live view camera with a full frame sensor and a whole raft of new marketing "miracles."  How about this information that lens designers have known for decades? :  The shorter the flange to film plane distance the easier it is to design higher performance lenses.   And it's true.  The moving mirror made/makes for many optical and mechanical compromises.  Another linchpin for marketing.

Think it will never, never happen?  Look to the moving picture industry where real money changes hands.  Real directors and their directors of photography (DP's)  have abandoned the moving shutter, moving film cameras of just a decade ago to embrace (now 50% or more of all new movie production) digital video cameras with EVF's and direct-to-sensor technology.

So, the process will look more like evolution.  It might start with a lowly Canon Rebel Eyeview.  That camera will use an EVF because it's cheaper to build and looks bigger and better than the current tunnel vision optical finders on entry level cameras.  The consumer sees a bigger image.  And it's brighter!  And the camera is lighter! And it's a little smaller so it fits in a purse or a man bag.  And the marketing...

A giant campaign.  NOW YOU DON'T NEED  SEPARATE CAMERAS FOR VIDEO AND PHOTOS.  THIS ONE CAN DO IT ALL!!!!! Make a movie, shot an ad.  And the ads will extol being able to see what you get, before you even get it.  Once the great mass of the market speaks with their Visa cards the prosumer market will follow.  And when people embrace the new products the pro stuff will come out at the next big sports event (Formula One?  World Cup? The Superbowl?) with tremendous and heartfelt testimonials from a whole new generation of content creators, who will gush about being able to follow action at 15fps with no vibration, while seeing a perfect image and never loosing an opportunity because of the ability to pre-chimp!

Blogging photographers are just as susceptible to nostalgia and tradition as everyone else.  We grew up with a certain form factor and we're well acculturated to believe it's the holy grail of camera designs.  But we actually exist in a giant swirling cosmos of alternate designs that are presaged on the evolution of technology as well as consumer taste.  When the vast majority of buyers used point and shoot cameras as their daily recorders of events and milestones the DSLR was seen as the "step up" to professional quality.  Working photographers knew that the medium format cameras were the magic beans.  Now the vast, vast majority of people who snap photographs do so with cellphones. Even for rudimentary business use.  Their perception of stepping up, big time, in quality is to step up to a 16 megapixel camera with interchangeable lenses. (the interchange of lenses being the driving metric...).  And now the momentum goes to the mirrorless sector.

And, ultimately, we have to look at our societal shift for every image's final destination.  The prevailing use is also fundamental in determining the form.  (Form still follows function).  If the end destination is a screen, even a high res screen, then ultimate image quality is no longer the marketing driver.  If photography is becoming relentlessly homogenized then sophistication of the instruments takes a back seat to convenience and functionality.  That means using equipment that's easier to handle and easier to shoot with.  It also means that fast access to the web trumps ultimates in image size and resolution.s

As the number of full time professional photographers relentlessly shrinks more and more photography will be that of opportunity.  And I think you'll agree that opportunity favors those who have A camera with them over those who own incredible stuff that requires multiple sherpas for transport.

Finally, there really is a melding of video and still photography in the image making of generations under us. My readers and I represent generations that straddled the shift between film and digital.  Most of us (not all, I get that) had opened up the back of a film camera and dropped in a roll of something and made sure the film was progressing through our cameras as we shot.  But we also were there for the birth of widespread digital and if we are honest with ourselves we can see the thread of yet another change that is all about the rejection of a useful but used up paradigm of "Big, Expensive, Complex" that is being replaced by a new paradigm of "Small, Agile, Useful, Egalitarian."  Especially if the quality is maintained at a constant.

If you really think that we'll never de-embrace from big, OVF, professional DSLRs try a bit of introspection and after some painful probing you might find that it's the mastery of past camera and photography traditions and the growing irrelevance of those mastered traditions that causes us to emotionally reject the inevitable evolution.

Finally,  I don't want to get side tracked by sensor arguments. I've written a lot here but I am NOT making the argument that we all will be using smaller sensor cameras.  Not at all.  Sensor size is a whole other issue and one that still speaks to aesthetic elements of the differentials.  I won't deny that a larger sensor camera has different "drawing" characteristics (based on object distance and depth of field, combined).  I'm presuming that Nikon and Canon and Sony and Pentax will also come out with evolutionary, EVF, mirrorless cameras that use all three of the major, consumer sensor sizes just as I am certain that medium format digital will continue to sell to service the tiny subset of user for whom perfection and ultimate control trump issues of size, cost and usability.

No one is trying to pry your hands off a full frame (e35mm) sensor.  We're just gently suggesting that form factor changes, driven by technology, are inevitable.  Just as cellphones shrank from big ugly boxes in cars to slender, pocketable products while expanding their power at the same time.

It's fun to be in the middle of a swirling set of changes.  Never fun when your own "ox" gets gored but change is amoral and nothing if not anti-nostalgic.  We'll get over it if we have the intellectual strength to change with our culture.

Dogs and Freelance Photographers. Joys and Challenges.


It's 10:15 in the morning. I've been to swim practice while Belinda and Studio Dog have had their long walk through the neighborhood. I'm sitting on the couch in the living room writing this blog while Studio Dog is curled up tight and wedged against my left thigh, snoring softly. If I get up to make coffee she'll hop up and follow me into the kitchen, ostensibly to supervise, but mostly to see if more treats might be had. Our home has been graced by this dog for over eight years and we got her when she was a little over 16 weeks old. Over the years our family routines have changed and that is what prompted me to sit down and write today. 

We got Studio Dog (she won't let me use her real name; prefers anonymity...) when Ben was in middle school. She was a rescue dog and her "headshot" on the rescue site immediately grabbed us. One day the foster parents showed up, interviewed Belinda and me for over an hour, inspected our house and our yard, and approved us as fit dog parents. Ben came home on the school bus, walked through the door and instantly fell in love. During the first few years with us I was out shooting assignments all the time but Belinda was doing graphic design from her home office and Ben was home right after school. Between the two of them they showered Studio Dog with attention and affection. We all came to the rescue when she got "skunked" and, until very recently, she had never spent the night alone.

When Ben hit high school things got busier. Ben and I would get up at 6:00 am most mornings and I would drive him to cross country practice and then go on to swim practice. Belinda walked with Studio Dog before heading out to work at a new job downtown. Life was changing for everyone. 
In the early years of the recession I had time to sit home, blog, walk with her and be around when Ben came home from school but as the recovery slid in for Austin I started spending more and more time working on locations for clients. There was still ample time for Dog/Photographer time together during the post processing phases. And the boy was usually back and engaged by 4 pm or so. 

Now we have a new dynamic and I worry about Studio Dog getting left out. Belinda is designing at an ad agency downtown five days a week. Ben is halfway across the country at college. I'm doing more multi-day assignments away from the studio and the house. I'm sure, from the dog's point of view, that she feels the pack is slowly abandoning her. 

In order to stem my feelings of guilt at leaving her alone for long hours during the day I've found and retained a dog sitter who comes in on the days when Belinda and I will both be gone. Our dog sitter and Studio Dog seem to really adore each other and it's good to read the daily note from the dog sitter with its recap of what the two have done during their time together. Usually it's a long walk and some play in the yard. If it's raining there's an extended game of tennis ball fetch down our long hallway. 

I'm not sure how other families and other freelancers handle the whole situation with their "stay at home" dogs but "dog wellness" has become part of my basic workflow for projects. I schedule the shooting dates and times, fix a budget, decide on gear, style, etc. and then I book the dog sitter for every day I'll be out. This adds $25 a day to my overall cost of doing jobs but the reward is an assuaging of my guilt at leaving such a dedicated and affectionate member of the family alone for so long. 

I wish my clients were well enough trained to allow Studio Dog to attend photo shoots but most corporate workplaces, law firms and businesses are not set up to welcome visiting canines and, truth be told, she would find a way to get into trouble. I am looking forward to the long winter break with Ben at home so he can keep her company while I'm out on jobs. 

For the most part she is doing well with our situation. On days like today, which are all about writing the blog, cleaning the studio, billing and organizing, she is delighted to be involved in the business. We'll choose a lunch spot today that has a dog friendly patio. Many days I'll head out, grab something to go, and come back to the house to have lunch with her. My favorite burger place even has a large glass container full of good dog biscuits on the counter and I always bring one back for her. 

I wish I could train her to do clipping paths or to pack and unpack the gear cases but I fear that, without opposable thumbs, it's a lost venture. 

There is a danger to being a freelance photographer with a chummy dog. Many times I'll head to my favorite chair to read or write only to have her curl up next to me and will me into napping. I'll wake up an hour later as she barks and barks at the mailman only to find that I've gotten less done than I intended and more napping done than is practical. Sometimes her interruptions are healthy. When we're in the studio and I'm editing photographs I tend to get engrossed and work for hours at a time. At least once an hour I will feel a paw on my leg; a small nudge, and I'll look down to see the urging brown eyes of my studio mate looking at me expectantly with a bright green tennis ball in her mouth. You'd have to be made of stone not to take the time to head into the back yard to toss the ball, and chase each other around. 

I wonder how it would be if we didn't have Studio Dog around. Would I really get any more work done? Would I be the least bit more profitable? Maybe, maybe not. But I'm perfectly happy with the bargain as it stands. With work being less organized around small, repetitive jobs and more organized around concentrated, episodic immersions, followed by long periods of relative quiet, I'm sure we'll find a good balance between the necessity of work and the pleasure of spending quality time with a priceless canine companion. Her main job is to help establish our family routines and keep us on track. She also scours the floor of the kitchen for dropped food. And she does her best to keep our Squirrel Alert Levels at Def-Con 5.  I would not trade her for all the Hasselblads and Leicas in the world. 

I only hope that someday I will be half as good a person as my dog seems to think I am.

Any tips I may be missing?

Studio Dog carefully instructs Ben in giving high quality belly rubs. 

Riding shotgun on errands to the bank or the coffee shop.

Supervising Ben during vacations.

Remaining vigilant against the possibility of squirrels.




11.10.2016

The Sony RX10iii as a photojournalism machine. Impromptu coverage of a political protest.


I was downtown meeting with a client yesterday and I got in my car to leave the parking garage; I turned on the radio and the local station had a quick traffic segment that informed me many streets in the downtown area were closed to accommodate a political demonstration protesting results of the election. I was at ground central and figured I wouldn't be exiting the downtown area any time soon (at least not with my car) so I grabbed my camera and headed out to Congress Ave. The camera I just happened to have along with me was my trusty Sony RX10iii. 

The protest was mostly young people from the University of Texas at Austin. They started their march at the Lady Bird Lake/Congress Ave. bridge and made their way up Congress Ave to the state capitol and then turned onto Guadalupe St. to continue on to campus. There was an enormous but unthreatening police presence all along the route. For the most part everyone was quite civil. The police didn't over react and, even though taunted by some small handfuls of opposition protesters, the main group of marchers was peaceful and did not go for the bait. 

Protests are old hat for me. I've been covering them for decades. Whether you believe in the cause or not the emotions are real and the energy in a good protest march is amazing. Back in the 1970's, at UT, the bulk of the students would protest at the drop of a hat. I remember people chaining themselves to several trees that needed to be cut down to accommodate a new building on campus. It was a protest that drew thousands.... But I wasn't at this one to participate as much as I was to just document it for my own sense of Austin history. 

One thing that made me so proud to live in Austin was police chief, Art Acevedo. He was not in uniform (although his black fleece wind breaker had an embroidered badge and his name on it) and he was strolling along just in front of the crowd, casually chatting with protesters, young media people and even counter-protestors. His presence inside the crowd was a signal to both the protesters and the police that we could still have a peaceful and open dialog with each other. (Go Art!!!). 

Until recently I would have thought that the best way to cover something like this would have been with the digital version of the cameras and lenses I used to cover the democratic conventions in Chicago in 1996 and Los Angeles in 2000. That would have been two cameras (or more) with an 80-200mm f2.8 on one, a 28-70mm f2.8 on the other and a 300mm f4.5 telephoto with a  2x teleconverter in the (heavy) camera bag. That, and about 30 rolls of film per day....

But I quickly came to grips with the reality that the Sony RX10iii was head and shoulders above that kind of kit; both in my ability to carry it with no effort at all, and to effortlessly zoom in to 600mm and handhold perfectly stable shots with accurate focusing. The camera had a 128 GB SD card inside and I had an extra battery in a small Baggie in my pocket. The light rain didn't worry me in the least as the camera seems well weather sealed (same camera used extensively for the video of torrential downpours and flooding at the beginning of the Summer --- still clicking away). 

The ability to go from really wide to super-tight with the twist of a lens ring was amazing. Setting the lens to f8.0 and the equivalent of 24mm meant depth of field forever. Setting the lens at 400-600mm and using it wide open meant lushly out of focus backgrounds. Not having a camera bag swinging around my waist meant I could move through the crowds with all the grace of a ballerina. Not having a bag full of lenses bouncing around meant I could sprint a couple of hundred yards forward to get a different look without breaking a sweat. Having gray hair meant that the cops weren't interested in me and neither were the students. I felt nicely unencumbered and invisible. 

The RX10iii is not perfect. At the longer focusing distances the movement (body shake?) of the camera makes it a bit harder for the camera to find focus. At ISOs above 400 the camera gets just a little noisy --- but the noise isn't bad, color splotchy noisy, just grainy, film-looking noisy. Face detection works until you want to focus on one specific face in a crowd and then you are better off with a spot AF setting. If you are working in raw you can deal with the noise quite easily. 

I only wish I'd brought a nice, handheld, interview microphone and a beautiful assistant; it would have been nice to interview some of the kids and see what they had to say. Each generation gets to protest because that's a healthy part of growing up. What I would have liked to have heard is their particular point of view at this exact moment in time. 

This was my first protest photography since smart phones have completely assimilated all local humans.  (yes, a Star Trek "Borg" reference...). Many protesters, anti-protesters, police and media were busy shooting the event and enormous number of selfies. Phones were everywhere. Some how I got the phrase, "just phoning it in.." stuck in my head and it rattled around there for the rest of my time downtown. 

If I were running a media/news content business I'd forego all the traditional cameras and hand each content producer on my staff an RX10ii or RX10iii and a hand held, dynamic reporter's microphone and teach them the rudiments of operating those cameras as both still and video cameras. They could pretty much cover anything but fast sports and motor car racing. Soon enough the PD-AF tech will even allow that. It's an amazing time to be out taking photographs. 

As the parade progressed the rain got stronger and as the crowd moved on the side street where my car was parked opened up again. I turned around and headed back to the car. I still needed to get a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon and a half pound of kale and brussel sprout salad at Whole Foods (my turn to cook dinner --- the salad was a good counterpoint to my wayyyy too rich version of Fettucini Alfredo with prosciutto ) and my camera and I were wet enough.  The march reminded me of the rich tradition of free speech we have here in the U.S.A. and how fortunate that yet another generation feels strongly enough about something to exercise that right. 

This post is about my experience in photographing a march with my Sony RX10iii, it's not an invitation to weigh in about politics. We'll leave that to someone else's blog. Enjoy the photographs, I think the camera does a good job with reportage... Click to see bigger. 








Center: Police Chief, Art Acevedo.


















How Zach Theatre Uses My Images in Advertising. Just A Quick Post to See Actual, Commercial Photography in Action...




Click on the images and they will enlarge.

A strange inflection point for the camera industry. Nikon starts the layoffs.

cup more than half empty?


We've been hearing this week that Nikon will layoff ten percent of their workforce in the next two to three years, through attrition and early retirement. The cause is the collapse of the camera market and their concentration of resources in two shrinking industry sectors. Why is this happening? What did Nikon get so wrong? And who's next?

First some predications: Nikon will not go out of business. Sales are down but they are no where near the point of hemorrhaging money like some dot com start up delivering cupcakes via Fedex. They still earn a profit. No one is rushing to buy Nikon (the company). Samsung put a hard stop on that kind of thinking when they wisely exited the camera market after studying the numbers. Photography is changing faster than most camera companies can imagine but most will catch up in one way or another. Finally, Nikon will likely continue to diversify just as (working) photographers have been doing over the last decade.

All camera sales are dropping even though there are bright spots chocked through the market. Nikon's drop seems the most dramatic, in part because they are one of the "big two" in terms of market share. So, what are they doing more wrong than everyone else? From my point of view (having surfed through most of the major systems on the market since the dawn of digital imaging) their biggest sin is a rigid clutching to their own recent history of making cameras. In the early years of digital just having a camera that worked reliably and also felt familiar (DSLR-like) to consumers was enough to allow a company to ride a heady wave of ever increasing sales, happening in ever shortening product cycles. Nikon strived to make cameras that looked and worked like decades of previous Nikon film cameras with the only change being a transition from film to ever improving image sensors.

This worked so well for so long that they now

11.09.2016

I woke up this morning ready to get back to work. But first I want to discuss anxiety.


I am an anxious person by nature and genetics. I tend to be hyper-vigilant and overly reactive. I've come to understand, over the years, that there are three main triggers to anxiety (and also depression). The triggers are: Ambiguity, Loneliness and Indecision. I would have to say that the election cycle of the last full year has caused most of us, regardless of party, to grapple with continuing doses of ambiguity and no little measure of indecision. Not knowing how to proceed or what challenges might lie ahead causes businesses and people to worry, slow down and become more cautious. My year in 2016 has been a textbook example of the results of these psychological barriers. The loneliness comes when we adapt a "bunker" mentality and sit in our offices, behind closed doors, refreshing news sites to try and discern some sort of rational pattern in all the noise. Only to find that there is no rational pattern. 

When the results of voting started to be broadcast last night I have to admit that I was crestfallen because, as a very liberal democrat, my party was losing; badly. But miracle of miracles... I woke up this morning without a psychic hangover. I didn't get my electoral wish but I did get the twin bastards of indecision and ambiguity out of the way and off my back. There's nothing I can do to change the results and so I am now ready to get back to my own work and recapture the pleasure of living without the dread of "what might be."

Instead of feeling depressed or angry I felt a sense of resolve and direction. The things I can control (to some extent) are my own actions and my own art. I'd put so much on sub-conscious pause to await the outcome and with the issue decided I feel freed up to engage again. I was up before my alarm and in the pool by 7 this morning. Most of my pool mates were glum but we didn't rehash the election we put our heads down and swam well, and fast. We exercised our control over something we enjoy.

I have made it a policy here not to discuss politics. We all have different points of view and there are ample places to argue out the issues of governance and social order but there are fewer and fewer places to read and comment about many different aspects of photography without having to wade through an endless stream of advertisements. While I have admitted my own affiliations (above) I make no judgements here about the U.S. elections other than to say I was disappointed. I'll be moderating comments as usual. I have deleted several this morning of a political nature but, happily, none were virulent or combative. In fact, I agreed with the sentiments expressed but felt the need to hold to a line of neutrality that, I hope, makes this space a fun and stress free resource for people who want to mostly read about my adventures in photography and the ecosystem that surrounds those adventures. 

So, what is the calming thing for me that allows me to move forward with enthusiasm and a sense of meaning? It's just doing the work. The everyday work of photography. Looking, seeing, understanding, recording and sharing. Taking care of the business I can take care of...

On the blog today we are featuring a set of images from a shoot I did many years ago in New York for a company called, Primary Packaging. The images are of skilled craftspeople who come in everyday and do their work. They do it diligently and well. The work provides structure, continuity and belonging. It's not much different than editing images or making clipping paths.

I would imagine that most of the people in these images have retired by now. But it's a reminder to me that while the world swirls around outside our walls the work is the thing that sets our routines and mastery of the work gives us pleasure and a sense of continuity. With the elections behind us I am hoping we can all turn our attention back to things we truly love and enjoy. The pursuit of photography is near the very top of my list. 









A side note: If you are experiencing anxiety over which you feel you have no control I strongly suggest seeking help from a trusted health care professional. It is possible to learn strategies to cope with or even remediate anxiety. I'm also a proponent of some short term pharmaceutical assistance to reduce the horrible feelings attendant with anxiety so you can get a handle on fixing it. See your doctor! See a counselor or mental health expert.  Talk about it. Getting help is far preferable to sitting alone too nervous and distraught to participate in the richness of life. I know. I've been there. And I never want to go back.  end of public service message. Just say "NO" to panic attacks.

11.08.2016

OT: It's election day. I hope all my smart, compassionate and well educated readers rush to the polls to make their considered decisions count!

Ben assisting with critical white balance in an off white room...

I rattled out of bed early this morning, drank a big glass of water and headed to the pool for the 7 a.m. Master's workout. A lot of extra energy out there today. Everyone seemed to be about five minutes ahead of schedule and most of us were in the water right at 7 a.m. 

We have a pretty ironclad rule for our group: No political discussions during workout or in the locker room before or after. We've learned from elections past that few people are happy to listen to "common sense" from the "other side" and switch choices because of some brilliant argument made during a long kick set. The strife imperils too many long friendships to be worthwhile. 

Even though this particular election has been a strange one I'm happy, and proud of our swimmers, that we were able to make it all the way through --- including today --- without any blood on the deck. 

I cast my vote at the earliest date possible via early voting. I think most of my friends did as well. I think we were all looking for a bit of closure. A break from the "Nikon versus Canon" or "Apple versus Microsoft" nature of having to make political choices. 

After a breakfast of Cheerios with walnuts and fresh blueberries, and a walk with the dog, I'll try to ignore the whole media spectacle today and get some work done. On the agenda is some photo editing, lunch at a Thai restaurant with an art director friend and then some retouching. This evening we'll keep the TV off and maybe catch up on some novel reading. I also need to send the boy some cash for an upcoming trip to NYC.

Tomorrow I think people will get back to work and, with a little luck, life will return to normal over the next few weeks. I hate the freelancer role of financial "canary in the coal mine." No matter what ultimately happens we're the ones who are in the first wave when it comes to project delays and cancellations caused by the ambiguity and indecision of the electoral process. The paralysis on the part of our business partners is almost tactile at times. 

I'm grabbing a small camera and a smaller lens and heading out to run errands but I hope all of you have good strategies for combatting the anxiety that psychologists are saying is currently affecting 55+% of the American adult population right now. Good luck out there. 

11.07.2016

OT: Blown Election Strategy. New Plans Under Construction.


I thought I had it all figured out. Get through the entire year without single post on politics. I voted early just to get it behind me and then I looked back over previous elections to try and identify the worst times near the end of the race so I could have a plan in place to combat the rising anxiety I always feel as these things come down to the wire. My plan was to turn off the TV on Tues. work all day on portrait retouching and then take Belinda out with me to the Alamo Drafthouse to see the new Dr. Strange movie in 3-D.  We'd catch a 7 pm-ish show and also have dinner while watching the movie. Date night instead of the horrible self torture of watching the election results seesaw.

I even stocked in some Trader Joe's cinnamon rolls to cook up on Weds. morning. Something to take the sting out of our new political reality if my candidate was unsuccessful....

But today I woke up with an uncomfortable level of anxiety and I realized that I could go two ways. I could drive out to Precision Camera and buy a whole new camera system. This would keep me occupied and engaged through the worst of the media meandering of Election Tues. but it would also leave me with an economically costly hangover. Were dousing the pre-election jitters really worth ten or fifteen thousand dollars?

The second choice was to move up my schedule on the movie. Since that would only cost me ten bucks I decided to give it a go. I hit the 11:00am show at the theater on S. Lamar Blvd. I settled for the 2-D version, realizing that the enhanced excitement of the 3-D version might be enough to push my frail psyche over the edge...

So, how was the movie? It was actually pretty darn good. The other five people in the theater seemed to enjoy it as well.

Now I need a new plan for tomorrow. I think something along the lines of a good swim and maybe the longest dog walking episode I can imagine. Or maybe I'll just ride around and enjoy my new tires.

Either way I hope we don't have to go through anything like this again in the near future. It's hell on my ability to stay on task. And I wouldn't want to short change photography.

11.06.2016

An anecdotal story about "build quality." An often uttered "feature of cult-y cameras.

In response to recent debates about the relative value of the new Olympus EM-1.2 camera many commenters were quick to trot out "build quality" as one of that camera's winning features. I get the whole idea. Here's what build quality seems to mean to most of us: The seams where external parts of the camera come together are almost seamless. The fit of the interconnecting parts is so precise that the hobbyist carpenter or machinist can hardly believe it. The camera has a certain heft that people associate with the use of stronger or "better" materials. The knobs and dials seem to be made of metal and have a "dampened" response that makes them feel more "assured" and sturdy. The cameras have a reputation for some combination of waterproof-ness or sturdiness.

It's very important to understand that all of these "features" are subjective and the quality quotient cannot be objectively measured. We don't have ready access to rates of repair or MTBF. We are allowing our sensory input to prejudice our "feelings" about a camera, inferring absolute qualities that might not exist or, if they do exist, might not exceed the same list of qualities in similar products.

Here I will tell a story and hope that the camera buyers can make a connection.

Many, many years ago, when I was an electrical engineering student at the University of Texas at Austin I supplemented the money my parents contributed to my education and upkeep with a part time job at a hi-fi store. For people too young to remember hi-fil stores were specialty shops that sold home audio equipment. Stereo receivers, turntables, cassette decks, reel to reel recording machines, loudspeakers, component amplifiers, pre-amplifiers and tuners.

At the beginning of my part time sales career almost every

The Sony 50mm FE 1.8 is just right on the A7ii.

Choreographer for Zach's "A Christmas Carol." 

It was Saturday afternoon. I could sit alone in my office and keep refreshing Nate Silver's 538 website to see how the election polls were changing or I could pack a couple of cameras into my little Tenba backpack and head over to the theater to watch a choreography rehearsal for one of the holiday musical plays. I chose the sane option and got packing. 

In days of yore I was far too busy schlepping Ben around to various activities on Saturdays to ever have time to attend early rehearsals of Zach productions. I'd arrive on the evening of the final dress rehearsal and shoot the images for press and marketing cold. No clue what would come next or how each dance number might end. It's not the optimal way to do good photography. One of the things we emphasize to advertising clients is the importance of pre-production and scouting. Now I've got the time to do that with my theater clients too.

I didn't have anything specific in mind, image-wise, but I did want to get the feel of being totally immersed in the rehearsal. The actors were working with the show's choreographer for most of the afternoon so I pulled my two cameras out of my pack and got them set up. A 70-200mm on one body and a nice, pedestrian 50mm f1.8 on the other. I'd watch while, see something I liked and then wait for the next round of that rehearsal. The beautiful thing about shooting a production early on is that, unlike the final shows leading up to the opening, when you see something you think is cool you can be sure you'll see it again and again as the actors work to get the moves and timing right. It's much easier to put yourself into the right position to get a good photograph once you know what to expect.

Shooting with a 50mm is sweet because when you get close to a foreground subject, like the choreographer above, you get this wonderful feeling of depth in the image. Part of it comes (in this instance) from shooting close to wide open (f2.2-2.5) but another factor is the relative size relations as your eye wanders back through the frame. 

Because this was an early rehearsal and none of the images I shot as "notes" were mission critical I played around more with cameras settings. In my advertising work I tend to enjoy tight control of all camera parameters. Manual exposure and usually manual focusing are a given. I rarely get to practice with all the AF modes on my cameras but I'm getting more adventurous. Today I set the A7ii to continuous AF with a wide area. I also took a chance by setting my taking aperture at f2.5. That set a higher bar for the camera's focusing system. I had a custom button set up for focus locking so I wasn't totally without a pair of water wings...

Another thing I did, which I would not do on an ad shoot, was to set the shutter speed to 1/160th to help freeze motion and to set the ISO as above. The only thing I used to vary exposures was the Auto ISO setting and the exposure compensation dial. I was a bit nervous in situations where I saw the ISO ramping up toward the 4,000 to 6,400 range but as I kept reminding myself, these were just visual "notes" to set me up for the final rehearsal in a couple of weeks...

I came away from my afternoon at the rehearsal with a bunch of fun shots. I've edited down from 600+ to about 211. Most just required a little pop via the clarity slider in Lightroom or a nudge on the shadow slider. Everything looked pretty good even though the lighting in the rehearsal space can only be described as DISMAL.  When I peep at shots made with the cheap Sony 50mm ($199?), shooting close to wide open, I am very pleased that I haven't thrown down hard cash on one of the more expensive models in the 50-55mm range from Zeiss.

This inexpensive lens is very nice and very capable. I'll save the difference in price between it and the super star lenses and buy myself a new set of tires. The set of Continentals that came with the car is past its prime and our tread wear indicators are smiling at me. I have my eyes on a set of Michelin tires at Costco but no idea if any one brand of tire is actually better or worse than another. Perhaps someone out in VSL land is a tire aficionado???
Chime in if you disagree on my tire choice...

So, back to the photography. I thought I'd be shooting so much more with the longer zoom but, to be honest, except for single portraits, I am getting a bit tired of compression for the sake of compression. Relaxing the frame and getting physically closer felt just right. Who knows? I may bend as we continue onward and even starting using something ridiculously wide, like a 35mm.  But that strikes me as a bit radical. Anyway, props for a cheap Sony lens. It's about time. Now, perhaps they would consider re-releasing that wonderful Alpha 85mm f2.8 in an FE mount. I might even cry tears of joy....