11.14.2016

Marketing in the time of e-mail overload. Buying stamps.

©2013 Kirk Tuck. All rights reserved.

In one person businesses the ebb and flow of financial success has a tendency to either make marketing seem superfluous or mission critical. I hate getting behind on basic marketing for my business but it can be hard to keep up with day to day keeping in touch when big projects loom. In the best of all possible worlds I'd have a marketer on staff and we'd be relentless but I can't stand the idea of having employees anymore so....

Because of all the turmoil in the USA recently we've had a number of projects delayed and some cancelled and now my attention is where it should be: on marketing towards the kinds of projects of which I would like to see more.

The perennial question is, how to best market in today's web centric environment?

Let me step back for a second and set out what I'm looking for. Two weeks ago I did an event photography assignment for AmeriCatalyst. We did a thorough reportage of their private conference on banking and finance at the Barton Creek Conference Center. It was a three day program with very interesting speaker and good stage design by Media Event Concepts. I had a blast learning new information, shooting a variety of cameras, and hanging out with lots of smart folks.

This reminded me that I've always enjoyed being invited to drop into the middle of conferences about subjects outside my areas of expertise and becoming a temporary part of much larger teams. Sadly, I haven't done a good job of marketing these services in the past two or three years. I have been more or less focused on advertising and portrait projects. But can an assignment to photograph metal gears in a factory hold a candle to photographing former presidents giving speeches? Are the sandwich platters from Jason's Deli any match for the delectable lunches and dinners served at the best restaurants and hotels? Maybe not.

So, when I woke up this morning I had two plans. The first was to go for a run around Lady Bird Lake and the second was to claw my way back into the event photography market. I can clearly identify the 30 or 40 locally headquartered companies I want to work for here and I can make good assumptions about the 60 or so on the next tier. I have a number of contacts at some of the companies and also a good collection of names via LinkedIn connections. But how to reach them with a sticky message?

I could try buying advertising on social media but there's really no way to micro-target the message to the right audience on the e-media that I know about. I could try an e-mail campaign but my perception is that people are overwhelmed with the sheer amount of daily e-mail they already receive.

I've decided to go decidedly "old school" and craft a direct mail letter, on stationary, with a printed sample, and make a direct contact through the U.S. Mail. A well written letter can be a great vehicle as it allows for a quick marketing message in the first paragraph but also gives readers who want more detail additional paragraphs that make the case for using me as an event photographer.

My business has had much support over the years providing images to Dell, Inc. and the city of Austin is full of people who've become financially secure working for that company. I've decided to select an image from one of the big events we covered and to use that as the sample image for the e-mail.

The first mailing will go to 90 select prospects and, if the response is good, we'll send to 90 more in a second mailing.

The nice thing about first class mail is that you are pretty much assured that it will get to the addressee and there is a more than even chance that it will get opened and at least lightly read. If my mailing list is less than accurate I'll get back the undeliverable and that's helpful too.

I like getting letters. It's different from getting more e-mail. Perhaps the difference also differentiates my message to the prospective customer. I guess we'll see. At any rate, the budget for a targeted mailing like this is relatively low. Less than $100. And except of the very top executives there are no real "spam" filters for regular mail.

I'll let you know how it all works out.

P.S. Nice run this morning. 56 degrees and thick fog everywhere. It was a nice, slow run; 10 minutes a mile, at best. But we didn't have swim practice today so what are you going to do? One of two goals accomplished. Now on to the writing segment of our day. KT

11.13.2016

Just a Monday Morning portrait from book #2.

πŸ’£πŸ’‘πŸ’ πŸ’πŸ‘œπŸ‘“πŸ‘‘πŸŒ΄♧πŸŒ€☂🎀🎩🎩

Wow. Blogger now has emojis.

Staying on the topic of gear catastrophes and close calls I thought I would share my Leica M3 story.


Many years ago, here in Austin, Texas, I was working the night shifts as a short order cook at a diner/restaurant called, Kerbey Lane Cafe. I worked the Thurs., Fri., and Sat. night shifts because they were the busiest and those shifts paid the most. They also left my days free to go out and show my portfolio to the handful of magazines and advertising agencies sprinkled around our (then) small town.

The time period was in the waning years of the 1970's. At the time all of my photography heroes, Garry Winogrand, Alan Pogue, Ralph Gibson and William Klein used Leica M series rangefinder cameras and I was certain that if I could just get my hands on a nice, clean Leica M3 with a 50mm, dual range Summicron that I'd be equally famous in no time at all. With the fame would come lucrative assignments and I would finally be able to quit my job in the restaurant and become a full time photographer. I'd never have to come home smelling of gingerbread pancakes and bacon again.

I finally lucked into a few small writing jobs for the healthcare industry and for a home builder (I'd shown a portfolio of photographs but they liked the writing better....) and I scraped up enough cash to buy a used, but minty, Leica M3 (single stroke) camera and an un-cloudy seven element, dual range Summicron, for the princely sum of $345. It took every cent I made from the writing I'd done over the course of several months. But, at last, I had the tool of the imaging demigods. I too would enter their rarified Pantheon and take amazing images that would cause the users of lesser cameras to gasp in astonishment. Or, at least that was my hope...

In the first few weeks I took the camera everywhere. One evening I went to a pizza place at the corner of 19th Street and Guadalupe St. and my (then) girlfriend and I had a large cheese pizza, and we split a salad. I was new to the art of carrying a camera everywhere and since I was focused on the pizza I carelessly hung the camera over the uprights of my chair. Since I was a camera-carrying neophyte in the presence of an attractive young co-ed I quickly forgot all about the camera as I looked into her big, sparkly, hazel eyes.

We finished our pizza and walked, hand in hand, to my old, beat up, blue Volkswagen Fastback automobile and headed back to my place. When I walked in the door of my apartment I immediately realized that my prize camera; the M3, was no longer attached to my shoulder. I was devastated. I thought of the money I'd spent and the time it took to accrue that money. I headed back to the pizza place more or less certain that I'd be met with blank stares and NO camera.

I went straight to the table we'd been sitting at. No camera. I looked on the floor but no happiness was found there. Finally, I walked up to the front of the house and asked for the manager. "Did you happen to find a camera in the last half hour?" I asked. I was nervous and distraught.

"Actually, we did." the manager said. "Can you describe it?"

I said, "I think it's probably the only Leica M3 camera in your lost and found."

He smiled, walked into the office and emerged with my camera in hand. I was so happy. So absolutely happy.

And you would think after this experience I would never leave a camera behind again, right? But many years later, when Ben was a young child, we all went to eat at a restaurant called, Asti. I'd upgraded cameras by then and was toting a Leica M6 .85ttl with a 50mm Summilux on the front of it. We sat at a banquet and I took numerous photos of my young son during the course of dinner. We always requested the table next to the front window because the late Summer light was so good....

We had a delightful meal and headed home. When I walked into the house I noticed the answering machine had a blinking light on it indicating a message. I pressed the button to hear it and there was the voice of Asti's owner telling me that I'd left my camera behind, on the banquet, and that it was safely awaiting me at the hostess's station. That camera didn't seem as precious as the older M3. It was less of a struggle to buy. But I was still very happy not to lose it. There was a photograph on that roll of film that has been one of my favorites now for at least 15 years. That one frame is worth (to me) the entire value of the Leica and lens I had carelessly left behind.

Absent minded, but that's how I roll.

Tales of catastrophic gear loss...


VSL reader and now contributor, Kurt Hansen, suggested that automatic file transfer from cards in cameras to alternate storage, while shooting, traveling, having coffee, etc. would safeguard valuable files from loss in the field. He used as an example the scenario where a camera is accidentally dropped overboard on a ferry crossing. A few literal minded readers immediately went to the position of, "I've never dropped a camera overboard from a ferry." I suggest they take a wider view and assume that a ferry accident is "stand-in" shorthand for any kind of camera-tastrophe. And I imagine we've all had one or two, at least.

Thought I'd share one of my most depressing. I was working with an assistant on an annual report for a company that does water and waste water treatment plants in cities and regions across the U.S. It was early days for digital so we were supplementing our digital camera gear with a few well chosen pieces of film gear that still seemed better suited to outlier shots. One day our team of client, ad agency representative, assistant and myself found ourselves at a plant with a large, primary wastewater intake tank.  A catwalk stretched about 60 feet across the tank, about 35 feet above it. For some crazy reason we decided that it would make a great image if I climbed up the ladder and walked across the catwalk to the center of the tank and then shot directly down with a super wide angle lens.

Wide angles weren't as wide on the APS-C sensors of the earlier cameras so I grabbed a Leica M6 rangefinder camera with its usual 50mm and, in a small shoulder bag, a 15mm f8.0 Hologon lens along with a circular, graduated neutral density filter on the front and a (not very accurate) bright line finder. I kept the expensive 15mm in the bag as I climbed the ladder so it wouldn't accidentally bang around.

I've never been particularly comfortable in high places but we used to push through our lesser phobias on a routine basis in order to get the shot for the client. The catwalk flooring was made of metal deck plate with the usual diamond shapes on it and it had metal railings on either side that camera up waist high. I slowly edged my way across to the center and surveyed the scene. My assistant and some of the others would be in the final shot unless I moved them. I pulled a small Motorola walkie-talkie off my belt and toggled the talk key to get my assistant's attention. We spoke and she moved the group out of the shot. I put the walkie-talkie back on my belt and started to prepare the camera.

I took the 50mm lens off the front of the camera and tucked it into the bag. Then I pulled the 15mm out and started to put it on the camera. I can't remember if it was a gust of wind or just a momentary lack of courage but I felt a bit of vertigo and, in a panic, grabbed for the railing. But in order to grab for the railing I had to ..... drop the lens. It all seemed to happen in slow motion. The lens turned over and over again as it rushed toward the churning contents of the tank. It hit with a plop! wavered for a second or two and started to sink. By this time I'd regained whatever composure I had left and pulled the walkie-talkie off my belt again. I yelled to my assistant, "Quick, jump in there and grab the lens before it sinks too far!!!" Of course, I was kidding. She grabbed her walkie-talkie and replied, "I quit."

While the lens would not have been saved by an automatic back-up I think Kurt's approach has much merit. I am reminded of a first world tragedy that struck one of my peers. He placed his new, super deluxe camera and zoom lens on the roof of his car as he took a cellphone call. He became so engrossed in the call that he got in, started up the car and drove off. The camera finally slid off as the car was negotiating a turn at around 45 MPH an it hit the pavement with lethal impact. My fellow photographer didn't realize what he had done until he pulled into the driveway of his home and went to unload his gear.

He would have been well served with an automated, remote back-up system for his files....

But I am assuming that none of my readers have ever done anything nearly as zany with their cameras, right?

11.12.2016

A VSL reader takes issue with my diminution of workflow as an issue for camera buyers. I think he's on to something. Well thought out.

VSL reader, Kurt Friis Hansen schools me a bit in response to my comments about workflow not being  important to camera consumers. I liked his e-mail to me, and the fact that it educated me, so I asked his permission to publish it as a "Guest Blog."  Here's what he had to say....

**********************


Hi Kirk Tuck

I decided against including this in my comment on your web site, but I think the old saying: “What you don’t know is possible, you cannot ask for!" - or something to that effect. 

I think you need to visit and review the camera-image workflow from another viewpoint. You wrote:

"Thom Hogan repeatedly takes Nikon to task for "workflow." To summarize his position he seems to think that the main issues holding Nikon back are a paucity of APS-C lenses (side issue) and the inability to push one button on the back of a Nikon camera and instantly send images directly the social media or other sharing applications. I'm too old school to appreciate this point of view and disregard it just as I disregard GPS on cameras. Since this tech doesn't require much in additional hardware costs I'm all for its inclusion but I think a much more important impediment to Nikon's success, even with existing cameras, is their foot dragging approach to video."

I think you simplify the things - especially in lieu of what modern software already delivers to milllions and millions of people in all walks of (professional) life. Let me try to describe one - my - future scenario. My dream..

  1. Camera design as such is not affected, but enhanced with a communication interface (standardized, fast, not slow and proprietary as today).
  2. Camera can use memory cards as today (a kind of a belts and suspenders solution - especially intended for pro's).
  3. Your preferred "talk to" device is selected by powering on the device and the app (iOS, Android aaand Windows, macOS). Once paired, connection is automatic in the future - unless blocked by camera setting.
  4. Capabilities, configuration,  storage targets, behavior etc. is defined in the app/program - any camera settings required is handled by the app/program as needed.
  5. If no connection exists, camera behaves as normal.

Now we have "intelligence" in a place, where it is easily handled, extended and modified. Imagine named custom settings for your camera.

In theory any number of custom settings, not just three,  that need redefining on a frequent basis. Imagine customized prioritation rules regarding aperture preference and range, shutter speed and range balanced to ISO, focal length of lens, and situational requirements (sports, landscape, walkabout etc.).

Camera side

When a connection is active, and sync is activated (not just remote control), the camera saves any image/video on card. When save has completed, whether a new image/video is made or not), the camera starts transferring/syncing recent data to the connection controller (smartphone/computer) and so on for new images/videos.

Running in the background - selectable mode to sync only when camera inactive, concurrently or manual only. Akin to the workings of Google drive, OneDrive, iCloud etc. with an extra twist.

Optionally, data acknowledged as received by the controller can be deleted as required (oldest first), leading to "unlimited" camera memory.

Optional streaming and streaming quality can be activated by controller.

Whatever happens to the data in the connection controller is of no concern to the camera.

Until connected (or paired), the camera behaves as a standalone camera.

Connection controller

The last connected controller is active. To switch from i.e. computer to smartphone only involves stopping connection on computer and starting smartphone connection (no re-pairing is necessary second time and onward).

In addition to remote control and camera configuration, the sync behavior is controlled. I.e. (Examples) as one or more simultaneous options:

  1. Data is saved locally on controller.
  2. Data is saved (backup) to one or more connected resources (i.e. USB 3 HDD or SSD)
  3. Data is saved to one or more resources (NAS) on local network.
  4. Data is sync'ed to one or more configurable cloud storage providers.
  5. Configurable/pluggable extensions to other targets (i.e. Facebook etc.) may activate a manually "clickable" touch-button on camera screen, allowing targetable sync of individual images to special targets on an individual basis (one-click push to local press/media account possible).

Combinations and implementation is controlled solely in the controller app/program (and options allowed by the camera).

Whether you use the camera by hand or remotely is of no consequence to performance.

The general view is, that the camera can be activated as a controller extension - a specialized image/video extension delivering special powers and capabilities to i.e. a smartphone. Similar to an AirPlay device, that can be controlled and/or extended in scope by an iPhone.

I'm not naΓ―ve, but I still have the dream, that the communication protocol would be an open standard. Alas…

I have the impression, that camera companies prefer to risk their own future for even a remote chance of making life difficult for a competitor. The camera industry would never, ever have invented web and mail protocol standards, and the web and mail based internet we have today, would never had existed, if camera manufacturers had been in charge.

But… maybe the "camera makers" will begin to learn to sow - otherwise they cannot be helped, and deserve their self-inflicted decline.

Real life

Imagine you have been shooting all day. On your way back to base, you accidentally drop the bag with your camera over board on a local ferry. Properly set up, your images and videos - all of them - would have ended up on your phone, and optionally also on your home server, your cloud service, and the one special image or video you kicked along would already be visible online at your business connection. Whatever. Depending on preferences and options.

Camera, gear and memory card with contents may be lost, but without any extra effort on your part, your data, your income and livelihood, would be safe and sound. No affordable insurance would help on that front.

You have worked just as you usually do - except for kicking one image along to the right receiver - and you've lost no work. When you arrive home at your base, all your data is already stored as expected, ready for work. Accident or no accident.

Now you only have to handle the insurance company.

Addendum

A similar solution could have been in use today, if camera manufacturers had had the slightest interest in the well being of their professional and consumer users. It's nothing like rocket science; just intelligent use of known and working technology.

Venlig hilsen - Sincerely - Mit freundlichem Gruß
Kurt Friis Hansen

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