5.28.2017

An interesting possible solution to the overheating problems many find in Sony's A7X series of cameras.


While the Sony A7 series of cameras brings many great features to the table there are two "flaws" to the camera for many people. The first one is almost universally mentioned; the small batteries don't come close to matching the stamina of the much larger batteries in cameras like DSLR Nikons, Canons and the mirror-free battery champ = the Panasonic GH4. The second, more egregious failing of the series is the tendency for them to overheat; especially when shooting 4K video.

In the first instance there is a cheap and relatively efficient workaround; just buy some extra, third party batteries like the Wasabi Power models. Keep a couple extra in your saddlebag and you're good to go for the day. Unless you are shooting video and then you might want to consider increasing the size of that saddlebag... But, if you stock up on batteries you won't be caught short with a non-working camera.

The second fault is much more vexing for a working photographer, or for any photographer that expects reliable camera operation, and that's the tendency for the cameras to overheat. Once that overheat indicator becomes visible

5.27.2017

The agony of video editing is the fact that there's always something somewhere that could be improved.


I've been working sporadically for well over a week on editing down a 4 minutes and 8 second video project for a corporate client. I haven't spent every hour of every day on it but I've put in way, way more time than I estimated. It's not because there is so much work to do that makes it an amazing black hole process, rather it's the reality that no matter how clean the original material and no matter how meticulous you were at recording sound and getting good video there are always details that can be further finessed.

I've spent the last two hours trying to eradicate a rustle noise from the moment at which our interviewee crossed his arms and created a quick rustling noise with his shirt. I didn't notice it on the first ten passes but on a final review, with the volume turned way up I could hear it plain as day.

After skimming the audio with the timeline stretched all the way out I found the audible culprit and also found that it stretched across two clips. I detached both audio tracks from their video tracks and started blading around the area in order to get just enough of the noise but not so much as to grab part of the dialog. There was a lot of trial and error involved. I watched the waveforms to see just how tightly I could make the cuts. I tried version after version until I got

5.26.2017

If only Sony had taken one more step.... (A7ii).


I've been shooting the A7ii a lot. I've had mine for less than a year and have already put about 25,000 exposures on it. I love the form factor. I love the EVF. I'm very happy with the uncompressed raw files it generates. I'm even neutral about the small batteries.

But there is just one thing I hope they fix when they come out with the A7iii.....I want a quiet shutter like the one in the A7rii. I don't need "silent." I'll take quiet.

The camera they may want to purchase and learn from is the Panasonic G85. It has the nicest sounding shutter of any camera with which I've played. It's sublime.

Please, Sony! I don't need a million frames a second. I don't need ten thousand PD-AF points. Not looking for a buffer deep enough to bury Jimmy Hoffa in. I just want a camera that makes a pleasant sound when the shutter goes off. With 24 megapixels on a full frame sensor. Oh, and 4K video would be nice but I'd settle for 1080p if you could make it 10 bit 4:2:2.

That's all.

Oh, I forgot to mention, my birthday is in late October so if you can get the upgrade in stores by the end of September that would be super.

Thanks, Kirk

P.S. Not kidding around here. KT

Self-Awareness is a constant battle. My own sense of enlightenment is mostly elusive. But I look for it from time to time.

Today.

Today I took out a camera that reminded me of the small but potent cameras we shot in the film days. If you are of a certain age you'll fondly remember the wonderful feel and the great images that we all created with Olympus OM-1's, Pentax LX-1's and MX's. Most of us had something like them, or a Nikon FM or a Canon AT-1, that we kept in our hands whenever we didn't need some weird feature on our bigger "professional" cameras. In a way, my trashed copy of the Sony A7ii, when used with the Zeiss 45mm f2.8, reminds me very much of the Leica CL and the 40mm Summicron I carried around for years. Shooting in a monochrome setting takes me right back to the feel of my favorite Trip-X film.

When I go out shooting with this camera I feel like I did when I was a young instructor at UT walking down the drag at lunch time, channeling one of my previous instructors, Garry Winogrand. I was never in a rush, was endlessly fascinated by whatever I saw in front of my camera, and anxious to capture everything that seemed transient and beautiful in the world directly around me. Deep down, the feel of today's current small, cheap camera in my hands is a direct link to the insouciance and vigor of unfettered youth. And the joy of just existing.

So it's always a moment of jarring self-awareness when I happen upon a mirrored window on the side of a tall building in the middle of downtown and I stop to take a self portrait. The person looking back at me isn't the kid with the long hair and a scraggly beard, or the middle aged man with curly brown hair. It's an older guy. And it reminds me of how long I've been on this road. This process of looking for images and sharing them. The process of spending time with myself; in the darkroom, in the studio, on the street, in a different city.  There is a strand, a string of continuity between all the past selves but each one is a little different and the perspectives divergent. 

At some point I hope to discover and distill what all this photographing means to me. And when I do I hope it brings along some clarity to my images. I still wonder why I do this photography thing and what I ultimately hope to accomplish. Even if it's just the understanding that the only important thing is to enjoy the process. At least the process provides a framework on which to build one part of my existence. 

I know one sure thing. The camera I shoot with has nothing really to do with my expectations for the image I'm shooting and everything to do with my affinity for the way it feels and operates. One thing that having owned and used hundreds of cameras can provide is the enlightenment to know that the camera is just a foil for the process. A reason to enjoy looking. Nothing more. We all grow old. Everything will become "old school." And then, it will get re-invented just the same, a little while later. 

Before.















For the ultimate in quick composition and follow through try a single focal length and manual focusing.

A man running east on Sixth Street. 

Any researcher of brain science will probably tell you that having multiple choices slows thought processes down. When presented with many options the brain would always like to explore them. By the time the exploration is complete, and all the parameters have been locked in, it's a good bet that whatever you were considering doing is now in the immediate past. 

I'm not anti-zoom lens. I am not anti-AF. But I have to say that they fail me, in my quest for immediacy, more often than they deliver the goods. I was thinking about that after I shot the photo above. I was walking with a 35mm frame camera with "normal" manual focus lens on the front. I looked up as I was walking down this pedestrian walkway, just east of Whole Foods, and I saw a bald man running towards me. I thought that the repeating pattern of studs and poles that made up the walkway would make for an interesting photograph if I included the runner. I set the camera's focus distance to about 25 feet. The aperture was set to f8.0. My depth of field was wide enough to convincingly include the closer construction features of the temporary structure while getting sharp focus on the runner. 

He ran by and I turned, put the camera to my eye and clicked at exactly the spot I wanted. 

Now, I am sure that many photographers can set up a camera with fast AF and tracking features, and a zoom lens, and nail a couple hundred decent frames of a scene like this. In the process they will certainly get something akin to the frame I captured. At least I think they will find a close one after they pull their memory card, toss it into the card reader, open Lightroom, and look for the one out of one hundred that they like. 

But as they shoot they will go through the process of micro-waffling about which focal length at which to shoot. Then there is the micro-indecision about where exactly to place the point of sharp focus in order to keep everything sharp in the parts of the composition that wants to be sharp -- close and far (hint: it isn't exactly on the back of the runner...). If they are carrying more than one lens there will be a micro-moment of hesitation as they wonder whether or not they really have the right optic on the front of the camera. 

It's a process and the more available steps there can be in a process the more likely it is the brain will want to investigate them all. And, even if you are stern with your brain and you have more discipline than an Olympic swimmer, the desire to analyze choices is hardwired into your thinking system and there is a friction of decision that interferes with the ability to react without undue hesitation. 

The simpler the system the more streamlined the process. The more streamlined the process the more uncluttered the path is between recognition and action. Perhaps this is why so many of the great documentary photographers of the last century were so happy to find one camera and one lens that resonated with the vision they overlaid on their subjects. 

This may be another reason why time spent mastering the many focusing modes of modern uber-cameras might be an even bigger waste of time. But that's just my simplistic approach. 

Muggy Day Exploration with A Basic Camera. May 26. 2017


Yesterday I wrote a bit about the idea of my process being akin to dreaming. How coincidental that I would start my walk today by seeing a bit of type on a step I've walked over many times and never noticed. While Michael Johnston writes that it's good to look up from time to time the universe seems to be telling me that it's also important to look down.

This week has been rocky. I've had a couple false starts on a video project edit. I've rolled up my sleeves and ratcheted down my typical need to be right all the time and ended up with a better product as a result of actually collaborating with my client (as opposed to just giving lip service to the idea of collaboration...). 

I photographed attorneys for one of the downtown law firms I work with on Monday. And then, of course, there is the required post production afterward. I made portraits here in the studio on Tuesday of a tech giant with a need for new images to attach to a rash of new projects. Which, of course, required the usual post production afterward. 

I worked on a bid for an advertising agency. Normally I can estimate a job in five or ten minutes but a job that entails shooting lifestyle images on seventeen different locations with 25 different models/talents needs to be attached to a bid that is far more comprehensive. When I finished factoring in usage rights (yes, agencies and their clients still pay these) and craft service for the six shooting days the bid is right as the boundary of six figures. I may or may not get some work from this. Usually the ad agency will have a budget figure in mind and we'll start cutting and pasting the bid for while until we hit the point where the need for the images in an ad campaign outweighs the pain of paying for them...

During this chaotic week I also fired a client who was too cavalier with my schedule and I seem to have done most of it with the worst Summer cold I've had in years. No wonder I felt the need to turn off the phone, put the computers to sleep and head out the door with a demure camera and lens to clear my head and get some non-swimming exercise done. Shutter Therapy indeed (credit to Robin Wong).


The camera I chose was the battered Sony A7ii I bought used last year. The lens that looked the coolest riding on the front was the Contax Y/C Zeiss 45mm f2.8 planar. And the setting was all Sony monochrome with two tweaks; plus one on contrast and plus one on sharpness. As I close the door to my studio I always take a moment to shoot a random test shot with whatever camera I've chosen to bring along, just to make sure I've remembered to insert a fresh battery and to confirm that there is a functional memory card along for the ride. That's the side of the studio on the left, the kitchen side of the house on the right and two of the towels I take to the pool. I hang them on the gate to our backyard to dry. Today everything was fully operational. (above).

The black and white matched the day and my mood. It was gray and cloudy outside and I was tired of multi-party decision making. A walk is something I can more or less own and do however I see fit to do it. I guess that's why I so infrequently walk with other people. 


Yesterday was the last day of school for most of the kids in our city and it's also Memorial Day weekend. The downtown area was as unpopulated as I've seen it in a long while. Few runners were on the trail and even the world famous traffic seemed tame and mellow. 


I parked at Zach Theatre and headed across the river toward downtown. For the first time in several weeks I had no agenda, no deadlines, no meetings. The air was soupy and the heat index is supposed to be around 105 when the sun comes out this afternoon. I was glad to be out walking in the morning. I'll get to that last motion graphic later; when the sun is beating down out side. 


The Contax/Zeiss 45mm is a small, pancake style lens that is fully manual on the Sony a7 series cameras. The focusing ring is tiny and positioned right around the front ring of the lens. The camera has a green hyperfocal marking on the focusing ring. It's right around the 10 foot mark. The f8 aperture is also marked in green and this is intended to be a quick setting for street photography and documentary news photography. If you are working close in with your subjects it gets you a zone of focus that's fully sharp from about 7 feet to about 25 feet. I left the lens set to f8.0 but I used focus peaking to quick focus most shots more carefully. For some reason I felt like I should always return the focusing ring to the green spot index mark after every flurry of photographs. At least this way I was always starting at some neutral point.


When I got back to the studio I looked carefully at a few of the images; especially the ones with trees and leaves, or chain link fences. I wanted to see if the lens was as sharp as I had been led to believe when stopped down to f8.0. I can confirm that it is. It's exquisite at that setting. Today's walk had a nice, calming effect on me. I talked myself out of the need to buy a Panasonic GH5 and talked myself into shooting for myself more often. And when shooting for myself to do it more often in black and white. 


I hedged my bets a bit. I shot in Raw+Jpeg just in case I didn't like the way the camera's monochrome profile worked on some of the images. I needn't have bothered. I think the camera and I see black and white in much the same way. That's nice to know. 

The little A7ii and the tinier 45mm lens are the perfect combination for roaming around shooting at random. With only one focal length there's very little extraneous decision making to suffer through; you basically line up your composition (stepping backward or forward to adjust), take your chances with zone focusing or take a moment to dial in focus peaked focus and then bide your time until the moment is right and push the shutter button. My only other control was to ride the exposure compensation dial while watching the enchanting black and white images in the finder. 

"Dream to See Anew." Coincidence or message? I'll go with message. 

5.25.2017

Blog Post Removed. I'll save it for next time.



I wrote a blog post earlier today because I was stunned and amazed that DP Review had posted a video for general consumption that had obvious and recurring audio problems. Problems so big that it made the program unwatchable.

After I posted the site took down their video. Since it's no longer there and you can't go see (hear) it my critique of their dicey publishing move is no longer useful. I've taken it down.

Thank you to everyone who posted a comment. I hope to see much better production value (and judgement) from what has traditionally been a well produced site.


Re-connecting with photography. It's hard to separate the gear hysteria from the practice.


Eeyore's Birthday Party, 2017. Austin, Texas

There's something magical and fun and immersive about photography. While you glide through the streets of your city, or slip through the landscape of more rural environs, you are constantly seeing and capturing things from a unique point of view, a personal perspective, an aesthetic that's a reflection of your own experiences. Some of the personal images I take are just for me while others fall into the category of images I want to use to help me share a vision with an audience.

In our culture (U.S.A.) it seems selfish or indolent to leave your home just with the intention of taking photographs for yourself. The over-riding imperative seems to be that productivity is the most important measure and, "why the heck would you do anything that didn't have as it's primary motivation immediate profit?" That may be why so much of the photography we do is wrapped around the concept of "a walk." Or "a Photo Walk." If we intertwine the passion for our craft with the medically proven necessity to get more exercise we at least rescue a little bit of virtue from the time spent with a camera in our hands.

Lately I've come to think of my process of photography as having the same function as dreaming. It seems that our subconscious does most of its heavy lifting while we sleep; replaying the day's events or perceived slights to our self-fabricated sense of reality in order to help some quadrant of our brains make sense of the things we experience. In one sense the dreams keep us healthy and safe but in another sense way help us figure out why we are what we are. Dreaming is almost always a working through of impressions, mixed with ideas.

Now, when I leave the house with a camera I think of the activity not so much being a rationale for play while living in a productivity-compulsive environment but more as a way to freeze and archive the things I see in order to make sense of them over time. To re-see them over time.

Riding in a car and looking out a window as we rush from place to place feels like tremendous visual overload. But walking with a camera in our hands allows us to control the amount and pacing of our visual experiences. We can stop and, with our cameras, experiment with angles, exposures, juxtapositions of objects, and movement. If we leash our desire to over-think our process and just let our intuition and sense of playfulness take charge we can sometimes come home with images that are both in our style but also somewhat like a gift-wrapped surprise, one that we know we bought but are unwrapping and re-examining in the quiet of our own comfortable space.

One thing that makes a contemplative approach to the process of photograph seem comfortable and fluid is our reflexive ideas about just how important it may be to have just the right gear. There is something about our left brain celebrating culture that gives priority to any part of a process that can be measured or dissected. No where is this more evident than in any intersection of art/craft and technology. We have a cultural tendency to STEM stuff to death. (STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). It's the byproduct of being told for decades that anyone without a technical specialty will die a cold, lonely death; mired in abject poverty.

This has given rise in my generational cohort to a group of photo practitioners who measure their own self-worth as potential artists by the depth and primacy of their toys. Over the last two decades I have been as guilty of this as anyone else. And as much of victim of this kind of thinking as anyone else. I've spent so much time "researching" the gear and commensurately less time actually using it.

I think this is because it's much easier to have opinions about what constitutes a good interface than it is to pursue the actual taking of photographs. We love the buzz words that make us appear to be skilled technical experts but it comes at the expense of not really immersing ourselves into the art we profess to love.  It's tough in any enterprise to serve two masters but it is especially so in the world of creating subjective visual work. It's rare that, in a group of similarly priced or specified cameras, one tool will be profoundly better than another. But it's the deep dive into the tool; even after we have purchased and acquired it, that puts up roadblocks to creativity because it robs us of our time; and our belief in our own powers. We need to give more respect to the role paid by our ability to "see" and bring home interesting work while we need to look at our tools as just tools instead of magic charms that will bring us luck.

I have some good tools. Statistically, the best of them is the Sony A7rii. But it's not my favorite tool, or even one I pick up at all for the pleasure of shooting. I bought it to ameliorate my own sense (fear) that I needed to have a camera with a high degree of specification to satisfy my clients and make my living. But I'm drawn to much different cameras when I shoot for myself. It's all a bit crazy. But when I am enjoying the scenery the camera I have in my hand becomes less and less significant. After a while it becomes transparent and I work with what I have. It's almost always more than enough.


5.22.2017

A new flash rushes into the studio and its form factor, flexibility and functionality win me over almost instantly.


"Be careful what you wish for..."  A couple of years ago I started thinking that it would be a good idea to supplement my traditional photography business by adding video services for clients. The idea was that I'd be able to offer a turnkey solution so that we could efficiently do photographs as well as video on various assignments. The job acquisition and actual shooting/directing/editing/photoshopping is going well but I wish I had given more thought to the packing and production end of the hybrid photo/video idea. 

It's all very well to say that we'll use LED lights for everything since we have a bunch of LED lights but sometimes reality bites you on the butt and makes you realize that there is no "one size fits all" strategy when it comes to shooting photographs. Much as I would love

5.20.2017

How my work with video is now affecting my photographic lighting.


It's odd. I have been a working photographer for more than 30 years and in most of that time, while I may have dabbled in constant light sources (LED, Tungsten, Fluorescent..) my commercial work was done mostly with electronic flash. In the early days it was because film was relatively insensitive and the bigger formats we worked in demanded smaller apertures to keep everything we wanted to have in focus sharp.

Our first studio electronic flashes were huge and heavy. I remember why we needed assistants so desperately, a Norman PD 2000 power pack weighed in at over 30 pounds; we traveled with three of them. Add in the flash heads and the heavy light stands and there was no way one could survive going out of the studio solo.

Eventually flashes got smaller and more efficient. In tandem we moved from large format to medium format and then; mostly, to a 35mm style of camera (this transition coinciding also with the advent of primitive digital cameras) and the overall gear package shrunk in size and weight.

I never truly abandoned studio flash and up until very recently