Back in the happy zone. The second swim of 2018. The thrill of setting up the studio for a portrait. The excitement of a proposed TV commercial that's got a tough deadline and will require teamwork. So much so quick.

I spent the morning cleaning up the studio. I know. It's a recurrent theme in the blog. But if you work on location a fair amount there will come a time when you need to sort out the gear you used that was specific to each shoot, get the batteries charged, put the pieces back in their cases all so you'll know where to grab them the next time you need them. 

At 11:45am I leaped up from my desk and headed to the door. The swim gear was already in the car. I smiled as I left our street and headed that one mile east to the Rollingwood Pool. I pulled into the parking lot and almost cried, I was so happy. The pool sparkled on the other side of the hedge and the fence. My fellow masters swimmers were pulling their gear bags out of their cars and meandering toward the pool for the noon masters swim. This would my first noon swim in the newly renovated pool. A swimming refuge I've been drawn to for over 20 years now. This would be only my second swim since the fateful night of Christmas Eve when my mother was rushed to the hospital. The time in between seemed to blur. All the nights spent in San Antonio with my father. The meetings with attorneys. Evenings at my dining room table with stacks of paperwork and bills...

With the pool in front of me all the drudgery and sadness seemed so much more manageable than I could have only imagined two weeks ago; or even a week ago. We chatted on the deck. We adjusted our goggles. We teased each other about the weight we gained over the holidays. And then, one by one, on no particular schedule, we jumped into our various lanes and began to warm up. 

The water was perfect. Neither cool nor warm. It enveloped me and caressed me. I swam with Wilson in my lane today. We trudged (happily) through the warm ups and then through the sets. I actually enjoyed swimming backstroke with the sun in my eyes. I could feel the weeks of relative inactivity expressed as soreness and quick fatigue in my muscles. But all the technical stuff was right on the money. Every flip turn neat and economical. I even luxuriated in a bit of cheating; I pulled on the lane lines when we swam backstroke. For an hour the only thing on my mind was the swim. The trajectory of my pull. The cadence of my kick. The modulation of breath. And it was superb. 

Not a pretty swim by any means, but just the right thing at just the right time. And then my favorite sandwich shop for a late lunch. It was two hours that felt more luxurious to me than a vacation at a five star resort. I'll be back tomorrow. I remember now how addictive good activity can be. 

Setting up the studio for a portrait to match some previous portraits done on location. 

We (Ben and I) recently did a series of portraits for an accounting firm called RSM US. They have offices in various cities around the country and we've got one here in Austin, Texas. We started the first round of portraits in December. We did another round two weeks before Ben headed back for his last semester of college. But there are always people whose schedules don't fit neatly into business calendars. 

I got an e-mail from one such person and we set up an appointment to do her solo portrait session here at the studio. But we wanted it to match what we'd done on location at their offices. No problem. When I do portraits on location or portraits that are intended to match up, person-to-person, for businesses I like to make little drawings that are maps showing how to get back to a core style we're using over time. I'll do drawings that show the kind of modifier I was using, how far it was from the flash to the subject, notes about light ratios and power settings as well as the exact name of the background (storm grey, steel gray, studio gray, etc.). I will even make notes about what worked and what did not! 

This way I can go back to the gallery on Smugmug to see what everything looked like as a final piece and then refer to the notes to see exactly how we got there.

For tomorrow it's a Phottix 48 inch octabox as the main light, a 60 inch umbrella as the fill light, a gridded 7 inch reflector on the background and a small speed light as a hair light. All the big light modifiers are powered by the battery powered Neewer Vision 4 mono-lights. I'll be using a GH5 but in a break from the previous set ups I'll be using the Rokinon 50mm f1.2 lens instead of the 12-100mm Olympus Pro lens. My goal is to make the final gallery look consistent but to make each portrait different enough to show the individual personality of the sitters come through. 

A blast from the distant past. A photo of my wife as a young university student at UT. 

Digging through boxes of stuff at my parent's house put me in a nostalgic mood so when I came back to Austin a few days ago I started looking at the work I'd done over the years. Especially the "family" portraits. I remember shooting the image above in the very early days of my interest in photography. It was shot with a Yashica 124G, medium format camera that had a fixed, 80mm lens. The film was something slow and relatively grainless and it was done with my first real studio flash unit; a Novatron 220 pack with a standard head. All my stuff from that time was done with flash blasting through a white, translucent umbrella. I used it close in and the same way most of the time. 

The T-shirt was an old one of mine from my days at Summer camp as a kid. 

I include the above photo because I spent today marveling at what a wonderful partner I have. She's been helping organize my parent's paperwork, visiting my dad in memory care, getting Ben's travel squared away and still has the bandwidth to work on creating a logo for one of her graphic design clients. I need to stop every once in a while and realize just how lucky I have been; at least where my spouse, wife, partner is concerned.

I've just been back in the office for a week and some change but am already having to turn down work. One thing I will not turn down is the chance to do a 30 second TV commercial for network broadcast. The folks at ZACH Theatre have a new production and wanted something really kinetic and visual to launch it with. I'm going over to scout the rehearsals tomorrow but this will be a big deal, a big time investment and the chance to make the cameras and Final Cut Pro X really sing. I'll pull in several of my friends to help. At least I hope I will..... Lot's of Panasonic gear gonna be floating around that Main Stage next week. At least that's the plan.

Today...it's all about the pool.

 Because I have such fond memories of the time spent there. 

One more thing. How sharp is that Rokinon shot wide open?
Sharper than this Exacto knife blade......


A quick review of the best high speed, 50mm lens designed specifically for smaller format systems. Hello Rokinon.

I was looking and looking and I think I found what I wanted. I wanted a very fast portrait length lens which was also very, very sharp when used at its maximum aperture. I have a number of lenses in house that are close but not quite there. Either they are too slow or they aren't sharp enough when used wide open. I've been eyeing the premium lenses in the same general focal length range but each had something that kept me from buying. Or maybe I've become too frugal to just splash out big, hard cash if I can convince myself that there might be other, better options. 

I recently stood at the counter in one of my favorite camera stores and played with the Olympus Pro 45mm and the Panasonic/Leica 42.5mm lenses for the better part of an hour. I shot stuff. I focused on stuff. I tried to make them flare. I was rude to them. I was sycophantic to them. I tried out the full range of photographic emotions on them just to see. But I came away not entirely convinced that paying a thousand bucks for either one, for those times when I wanted to blur portrait backgrounds, was really worth it. The Panasonic/Leica is too short a focal length for the way I like to shoot portraits. The Olympus was closer but it lacked something in its visual personality that gave me pause. Too perfect? Too vanilla? I can't quite put my finger on the vibe it gave me. I just wasn't seeing  personality.

Several weeks ago I met with one of my favorite, ongoing clients to discuss a series of day long photo shoots we'd be doing in medical clinics around  central Texas. The samples the client showed me were all images wherein the backgrounds were out of focus. In anticipation of creating lots of images in this style I started assessing the abilities of the lenses I currently have in inventory. I was missing the right combination of speed and high sharpness in three areas; one of which is going to be a stretch...

The first was in convincing portrait focal length. When I took delivery of the 50mm Rokinon the first thing I did was to put it on a GH5 and walk around the house shooting stuff at various camera to subject distances. Wide open the lens is capable of doing good work: high sharpness already at f1.2. Considering that nearly every shot I'm planning will involve a person the sharpness well exceeds my threshold for high quality. 

After playing with the lens all day yesterday and a good amount of time today I'm comfortable with it. In conjunction with the Panasonic 42.5mm f1.7 I'm confident I've got the longer end of the assignment well covered. 

The lens is sweet. It's small and light for a 50mm. Much better balanced that adapting a legacy, 50mm designed for full frame would be. The idea that the lens is designed for the smaller formats is appealing as I'm presuming they would calculate the optical formula to provide more resolution to counteract the effects of the smaller frame size. While the lens is made of "plastic" I can't feel the difference between that an a metal lens through the rubberized focusing ring. 

The lens is completely manual. You will not get exif information in your files. You won't be able to look in the rear view mirror of photography to see what shutter speed or f-stop you used. You probably already know that stuff anyway, right? The lens has no communication with the camera. When you turn on a Panasonic GH5 or G85 a menu comes up and asks if you want to dial in the right focal length with which to optimize the camera's built-in image stabilization. If you've set the right focal length previously a quick touch of the shutter button cancels that window and you are ready to shoot. Being manual, the user sets the aperture on a classic aperture ring on the lens. There's no auto focus. 

With the Panasonic cameras it's pretty easy to set a button that brings up focusing magnification which allows very precise focusing. You can also enable the focus peaking feature which also works well with the Panasonic cameras. My proclivity is to use the magnification if I'm working at wide open apertures as, even with the smaller sensor, the depth of field can be small and focusing should be as precise as you can make it. 

The lens is a modern design with 9 elements. Two of them are aspherical and the icing on the cake is Samyang's version of nano coating or zero coating or whatever your current company's buzzword for really good anti-reflection coating might be....

The bottom line is this: for around $380 you get a lens that is extremely sharp even at its widest aperture. I saw little or no difference in test files with this lens and many test files I've looked at from its two closest performance competitors. You do give up autofocus and, in the case of the Panasonic badged lenses, you also give up dual I.S. But you gain anywhere from $800 to $1100 (depending on what's on sale this week...) and you get to do your photography as a fully hands-on adventure.

If you also dip into the pursuit of video you'll find that the focus ring has a nice, long through which makes exacting (and repeatable) focusing easy. There are hard stops for minimum and maximum focusing distances and there is much lens of the high ramping that exists in the faux manual focusing of AF lenses. Basically, you'll be able to use this as a cine lens but without the benefit of gearing for focus follow attachments. You can get a cine version for a hundred dollars more but I'm happy pulling focus with this one. It's nice and smooth.

While I continue to be very impressed with the auto focus and handling performance of the two Olympus Pro zoom lenses I have I am really enjoying coloring outside the lines with third party lenses from Sigma, and now Rokinon. They have been uniformly delightful and good performers. 

The two camera illustrations in this blog were done with my natty, little Sigma 60mm 2.8 DN DC art lens. As you can see it is sharp and has reasonable good out of focus characteristics. It's a wonderful still life lens and it also does well when you don't care as much about blurry backgrounds. 

Another lens that is tweaking my sensibilities right now is the Rokinon 12mm f2.0 lens; also designed for small sensor cameras from the major makers. If it's as sharp wide open as the 50mm Rokinon it would make for a good wide angle solution for the upcoming shoots. I have no illusions though, even wide open at anything further than about four feet the depth of focus will still render much of any scene in sharp focus. I guess I'll master the PhotoShop selection and masking tools if I need to take more control of the backgrounds in wide angle shots. Maybe the control will become addictive...

That leaves one more gap for me to fill in for fast, focus control lenses with high sharpness and that's the area of semi-wide. The old full frame equivalent of 28-35mm or thereabouts. I am currently looking at the Panasonic/Leica 15mm f1.7 lens as well as the Olympus 17mm f1.2 Pro lens. At this juncture I'm leaning towards the 17mm but would love feedback from the braintrust that is my readers and commenters here on VSL. I'm not really interested in how well these lenses perform in a stopped down mode as I have good zooms that are capable of handling the f4.0+ ranges just fine. 

What's out there that's 17mm or less and fast as can be? It also has to be good to great when used wide open because its whole raison d'ĂȘtre is to create sharp images with limited depth of field. Otherwise I'd just use the Olympus 12-100mm f4.0 Pro for everything....


Partially Off Topic. But a nod to two new pieces of equipment now being zero'd in...

I don't know the first thing about probate law but my attorney does. I got up this morning at 5:30am and stumbled into the ole Honda CRV and made my way to San Antonio, Texas to meet my elder law attorney at the Bexar, county courthouse, just across from the very photogenic and historic St. Fernando Cathedral. I answered a few questions in front of a judge, made a few statements under oath and am now the designated guy to wind down my mom's financial affairs and to be the guardian for my father. Interesting times and something I wasn't quite anticipating as the big starter for 2018.

I raced back to Austin and in seven minutes I have to stop typing and go meet 14 oral surgeons who need to be photographed; individually and as a group.

In gear news I bought a Benro monopod with an S4 video head. It's one of those monopods with the little feet on the bottom. I have high hopes for increased portability but with stable results. We'll see. More to come after I use it on a project Thurs.

The other piece of gear that arrived yesterday is really, really cool. It's the Rokinon 50mm f1.2 lens for cropped frame cameras. It's not a full frame lens but it is a lens that's sharp wide open and so far looks very promising. I'll shoot with it this evening and then next weekend at a theater rehearsal and then we'll chat about it.

Hope everyone is having a crisp, happy and productive Monday. Time's up. Out the door to shoot some......


Portraits versus "Headshots." Images made expressly for commercial and social media consumption versus portraits made for more thoughtful consumption.

I had an interesting week last week. Over the course of three days, in a temporary studio "constructed" on location, I made headshots of 85+ people. Some of the engagements were hurried. At times people were waiting in a line to get in front of the gray, seamless background where they would flash their best smiles and try for a good image to put up on LinkedIn or Facebook. Some encounters were more leisurely with people coming at random times while their business comrades were huddled together in break-out sessions and seminars. 

When time permitted we could make finer adjustments to the lighting and spend more time in conversations meant to put the subject at ease and reveal some side of them that would make for a more pleasing headshot. But, in my mind, a factory approach to portraiture never renders more than a headshot. Only with great luck will one pull from quick, almost fixed light, sessions like these anything that approaches what I think of as a portrait. It's the not necessarily just the lack of time that limits the final quality or depth of the image but the intention to make so many consistent headshots in a set way; and in a set time.

During the busy periods the routine went something like this: I would be at the camera position holding my tethered GH5 with a 12-100mm lens on it. (This was a departure for me as previously I tended to always shoot from a tripod. But with a line of people, some tall, some short, some with glasses, shooting handheld meant I could more quickly line up a composition and position the subject in the frame with a measure of consistency and adaptability).  I was using a Phottix 48 inch Octobox as my main light and a 48 inch, white umbrella as my active fill light. It was a simple lighting set up mandated by our lack of space and need for a lighting scheme that was instantly adaptable, at least enough to suit all kinds of people. I could vary the lighting ratio by increasing or decreasing my fill light. I could move a light a bit to the left or right to get rid of reflections or enhance a shadow...

We were shooting against a steel gray, seamless, paper background and were unable to put it nearly far enough away from the camera so I changed gears and worked closer to the background, illuminating it with the spill from the main light. 

Ben manned the laptop computer and kept an eye on two pieces of software: The Panasonic Lumix Tether app and Adobe Lightroom. I'd shoot and Ben would make sure the files were brought in by tether to a watched folder and then into an open Lightroom window. From there the images were displayed on a 32 inch 1080 HD TV screen so people could see multiple images at a time and make a final selection from there. Ben guided each person through a selection process that was relatively quick and painless. We'd note their choice on a paper form and go back to the studio at the end of the day to retouch their file and deliver it via e-mail. That all worked pretty well and we ended up delivering about 115 images (some people couldn't decide between two final poses so we just did both). 

While I like to think of myself as a portraitist in my capacity last week I was resolutely a "headshot" photographer. And all week long I thought about the difference between the two. My idea and practice of portraiture involves trying to make each portrait image unique. I rarely set up my lights, camera or backgrounds in quite the same way. I try to find a background that matches the intended "feel" of the portrait and which is a complement to the lighting. 

When I light a portrait I move back to my preferred style (as opposed to an expedient method of lighting for consistency and faster throughput) and I play with the lighting throughout the session, making adjustments in response to what I see in the frames as I shoot. I might move the main light closer to get a softer look but one with a quicker falloff from light to dark. I might increase the intensity of a background light on a darker gray background to get better separation.

But the important difference to me between the headshot and a portrait is one of intention. In the first instance I'm basically creating product. What's called for, generally, is a good representation of the person in front of my camera, inserted into a uniform background and a uniform presentation with the premise that each of these images will live on the same web page as other people from the company and that consistency of presentation is a good thing in web design. A consistent headshot style can be part of a company's overall visual branding....if the people commissioning the portraits take time to think about what it is they want to convey...

A portrait, in my way of thinking, is much less about a corporate branding strategy than it is about making an interesting representation of the person. The singular person, separate from the social/corporate construct. 

Making a portrait that really works takes time. It's not a particularly efficient or time effective undertaking. There is a give and take that evolves over time and each frame taken builds toward a final image. A good session has to be open to failure during the process. Sometimes what worked for one person is anathema for the next. One has to experiment to the point of failure and then admit defeat on that track, drop it and start over again in a different way. 

Emotionally, too, I think a good portrait session is a building process. In a technical sense one creates a foundation for the session (lighting, lenses, etc.) and builds in the details, but it's also a building process in the way that movies build to some sort of conclusion or climax at which point you understand the actor's journey and the story's resolution. Not as dramatic with portraits but one does find a moment at which there is something more revealed and one must be ready to react at that moment and make the shot. And sometimes it's the taking of that particular shot the breaks the spell both sitter and photographer have been working to create. You have to get the pivotal moment the first time because, in my experience, it's impossible to build back to that moment in anything approaching the same way. Or with exactly the same feeling.

Pre-social media our industry had curators and gate keepers who made assignments for editorial portrait photographers. Corporations filled the same functions with in-house creative teams that understood the art of presentation and the value of a unique and powerful image of a person. Except for the highest reaches of corporate communication that understanding and embrace of  visual value is being forgotten or left untaught and unappreciated. 

In a sense the need for cost efficiency and the impatience with the unmeasurable process of connecting, "human-to-human" is rendering most conventional (outside of the art world) portraiture into a diminished and diluted replica of its former self. It's become a rapid distillation process that boils down so many possibilities into the blandest and most homogenous approach to cataloging humans' faces for quick, online documentation. 

I cringe now when new, potential, clients call and ask me to bid on multiple "headshots" in a day. The clients, driven by profit goals and bosses who view everything as a commodity, are largely more interested in finding out the cost per head than in finding a value proposition in which the actual aesthetics of the work provide enduring value. Their dream bid is an "all you can eat" approach in which they want to know just how many people they can cram into a day at a fixed day rate. Can you do ten? How about 50? How about 300? Do they understand, at all, how long it would take to retouch all those images?

Fortunately, my experience tells me that there will always be a market for people who have the discrimination to demand work that falls out of the narrow commercial boundaries. They understand the value that differentiation brings. They understand the benefits of customized approaches to lighting, engaging and post production. It's our responsibility to supply these clients with wonderful, amazing, compelling and engaging work. Perhaps these clients will lead others by example...

I have two quick stories about both customization and commoditization as it applies to portraiture and photography. The first is about a photographer named Aaron Jones who created a very stylized and technically innovative style of lighting back in the 1990's. He used time exposures along with selective lighting and selective image diffusion to create images that wowed people. He commercialized his approached by making a machine called, "The HoseMaster" (a light pipe or "light hose" that had a shutter attached to open and close the device, and the stream of light, at will) which he sold to all the thousands of photographers whose clients demanded that they copy (sometimes slavishly) Aaron Jone's style. Within months the style became ubiquitous and, since many copy cats had little understanding of aesthetics, most of the work was crap. The style died completely soon afterwards. A cautionary story for the legions of "shooters" who believe that lighting faces with ring lights is revolutionary? (Actually artists like fashion photographer, Anthony Barboza, were using ring lights in fashion and portraiture decades ago; it's a style that keeps revisiting us--- like the flu). My point is that copying a prevailing style isn't the same as forging your own path and, in the long run, will instantly date the work done for clients who demand it. 

My second story is about a close friend who is a great portraitist and an even better on-the-spot adapter. He was commissioned to do a photograph of a doctor for a magazine. It would be a cover shot and he was chosen because his work and his lighting was impeccable. He and I had many conversations about photography and his main point was that every situation is different and you must remain mentally flexible and try new things if what you are doing doesn't work.

In preparation for the doctor's portrait he set up his studio with state of the art electronic flash lighting in various modifiers which he had designed and perfected himself. The doctor showed up and they got to work. The photographer soon realized, and the doctor confirmed, that the doctor could not tolerate flash and had fast enough reflexes to blink on every single exposure. The best they had gotten after 15 or 20 minutes of trying was a photo with droopy, half-opened eyes. It just wasn't working. 

My friend didn't miss a beat. He opened the black out curtains on the North facing windows of his studio, rearranged the background and set his camera to shoot at five frames per second. Minutes later they had a card full of perfect images. The continuous light worked. The magazine was thrilled. The doctor was thrilled and to my friend it was just another day of problem solving and style shifting. 

There is more to this business than making commodity headshots. There are still clients willing to pay for good work. We have to be able to see the difference and up-sell our clients from "headshots" to portraits. But first we have to remind ourselves that there's a difference


Working on shallow depth of field with fast lenses on smaller formats.

The usual hit on micro four thirds format cameras is the lack of control over depth of field. Not that you can't get everything you want (usually) in focus but that you can't drop enough stuff OUT of focus to get the kinds of results you might be used to if you are coming to this format from a full frame camera and moderately fast lenses. The lens I have been pining for is the old Canon 100mm f2.0 which is fairly (but not perfectly) sharp wide open but really seems to be more comfortable when used stopped down to f2.8 or lower. It's a great focal length for my work and there are three contenders in m4:3 that I've been considering. I just initiated ownership of one of these three. It's coming from Amazon.com and I'll be testing it on a series of portrait assignments over the next week. 
If it doesn't meet my "stringent" test results I'll send it back and go on to choice number two and, if that doesn't work, choice number three (the choices being order by the decreasing desirability of increasing cost). 

I've been on a cheap lens buying jag for the last couple of months and I'm not really slowing down much. I (re-)bought the small and beautiful Sigma 60mm f2.8 DN Art lens because I've always liked the ones I owned before. I like this one as well but even at f2.8 there's more in focus than I would like in some situations.

I thought the Sigma 30mm f1.4 would get me into sweeter territory, and


The sun is shining this morning but the thermometer still reads 19 degrees. Packing up for our last day of shooting for our event client.

 We had a slow day of portrait making yesterday. The company we're working for decided not to schedule appointments but to let people show up on their own volition. We're set up in an area at the conference hotel at the end of a long hall and across from a small conference room that is being used for video interviews. We've been there for two days and so far have seen no one come for a video interview. The video team heads out into the hallways to try to recruit people but they end up settling for "man on the street" interviews, on the run, in the public spaces...

We're set up to do portraits and we've got our camera tethered to a laptop and then to a bigger screen so the portrait subjects can see their images as the photos hit the monitor and make a selection on the spot. It's a good system but one that requires a bit of time to first make the images and then to walk the "customer" through the selection process.

I'm sure the marketing team who set this up thought that booking three days would allow for good flexibility with everyone's schedules but it looks like everyone is waiting for the last day (which would be today). If human behavior is any clue we'll have a packed house in the very last hour we're scheduled to be there, with stragglers begging (demanding?) that we stay later and keep shooting.

Unfortunately we have a hard stop at 6:30pm. When we accepted the job we were scheduled to be done earlier and yesterday we got the request to stay right up until 6:30. We've already got something else schedule downtown at 8pm so it's going to require some precision to make everything work as it is.

Yesterday we averaged about 1.5 headshots per hour. Not a particularly scorching pace... Today we'll both bring books to read during the slow times and then try to wade through the last minute rush.

Here's my new set of guidelines for clients who might request this kind of service again:

1. Forget the three day scheduling and select one day and, more exactly, four straight hours.

2. If you figure out that everyone will come at once let us know and we'll arrange for at least one more photographer and workstation. More, if needed, so no one has to wait.

3. Make sure clients understand that schedules are not infinitely flexible for end times. We can work faster but not always longer. A hard stop is a hard stop and throwing more $$$ at it won't change the schedule.

4. Get as many people committed to scheduled times as possible to avoid the mad rush at the end. Perhaps offering "V.I.P." scheduling on the first day so people don't have to wait, and associate the appointments on the first day as a special privilege.

5. Put up signage to direct people to the temporary studio. If you are offering free headshots to your employees and partners then knowing where to go for one's portrait will make the process work more effectively.

6. All details and agreements before the shoot have to be via e-mail or on paper. We can't commit to time, budget or detail changes based on a hurried cellphone conversation in the car. We can't take notes at 70 mph.

If you sense a bit of consternation on my part I have to say that it's partially self-inflicted. I had worked with a person in the marketing arm of this company for well over a year and we both had a very good (and matching) understanding of how to plan and produce a photo shoot so it worked well for everyone. Sadly, he left the company just a couple of weeks before this show. He and I had conferenced about all the parameters of this week's job but somehow his notes didn't seem to convey, linearly, to the next person at bat. There was much "winging it." Much wasted time. Much misguided energy.

It was almost like a job from the early days of my career when all of us seemed to be feeling everything out for the first time. But for many event situations like this it's too late to change the direction of the ocean liner once you get to the location. You just have to understand that at any moment you might meet up with the iceberg and need to abandon ship.

On the second and third days Ben and I both brought our metaphorical life vests along, and good novels, and we made the best of it; right up to the very end.

At a certain point you do come to realize that you've hit a point where endlessly re-training clients isn't exactly fun or cost effective. Then you realize it's time to do something different... or you can stay put and bang your head against the proverbial wall. Always your choice.


Making the weather call. This will seem silly to people north of Austin.

Martin Burke for ZACH Theatre. Austin, Texas. 

I just walked out to my driveway to find my car covered with ice. I don't have a real windshield scrapper but I know enough not to use a piece of metal. I used one of the plastic hand paddles we use in swim practice and, along with my rear window defroster, de-iced the back window and the windshield. The car's instrument panel indicated that the temperature outside is holding steady at 25 and we have a light peppering of ice/sleet (but not freezing rain) dropping down in staccato drops.

Our assignment downtown starts at noon today which means we should aim to be at the Westin Hotel by 11:30am, and that's where the Texas-Traffic-Roadway-calculus comes in. We're not precisely sure that we'll be about to make it out of the neighborhood and onto the main roads. If we do we're not sure how many cars we'll encounter, filled with baffled Texans, which have lost control and may be blocking intersections and roadways. We're not sure if all the overpasses have been closed. 

Ben and I have mapped out a route that requires us to travel over zero overpasses and transit only one bridge; the main bridge to the downtown Capitol. It's the Congress Ave. bridge. We hope that enough people have gone over it to provide some guidance ruts....

From there we wend our way through the one way streets of downtown. But, at least today, I'm reasonably certain we'll find street parking, and even more certain that parking enforcement will NOT be out today writing tickets for expired parking meter loitering.

Choice number two is to call the client and admit that we, like most level headed southerners, are frightened by the freezing weather and out of control fellow drivers and would prefer to stay home by the fireplace and drink coffee laced with bourbon and watch old movies on TV. 

We're an adventurous sort and will probably take the middle ground: be willing to give it all a go but ready to surrender to reality at any time and turn around. I'd hate to see a billable work day go fallow after my rough start to the year but I think health and safety trump micro-calendar cash flow issues.

To stay almost on topic I have to give a nod to the GH5's face/eye detect AF. It works well. It was one thing I didn't have to think about during yesterday's portrait shooting. 

If you are reading this in the northern hemisphere I hope you stay warm and cozy. If you are one of my wonderful readers in Australia I hope your heat wave has broken and you are staying cool and enjoying the great outdoors. 

The adventure continues. At least we don't have to shovel snow....


A zany day of shooting. More zaniness to ensue.

The GH5 worked well in our tethered shooting today. We used the new, Lumix Tether software and it recognized and shook hands with the camera instantly. We were less lucky with our final destination software, Lightroom Classic. Though we'd practiced the set up and connection routine a number of times in the studio something wasn't working this morning when we set up at the location. The one failure always happens when the clock is ticking down toward an impending start deadline.

Seems that the Lightroom Classic needs to check in with the Adobe mothership when going one I.P. address to another and, of course, I'd forgotten the password. That brought everything to a screeching halt until Ben reminded me that one could check in with Adobe products by using a Facebook account. We did so and for the rest of the day Lightroom was well behaved.

You can do all the usual stuff with Lumix Tether, as far as controlling the camera goes. The files go from the camera to a watched folder and Lightroom takes over from there. We did drop a connection two or three times during the course of the day but troubleshooting traced the issue down to Kirk's bad cord management. The micro-USB three connection was fussy. We'll fix that before we go back tomorrow.

The images on the calibrated laptop looked great. On the big TV monitor they were quite acceptable but a little cooler, more contrasty and subtly flavored with mild sharpening halos. The clients all thought they looked great. I can only wonder at whether they will like the final retouched files in the same way. After all, discrimination of quality tends to be subjective. And contextual.

The laptop and connected computer brought us a lot of speed and control as well as providing a third tier of redundancy (card slot A, card slot B and the laptop hard drive).  I'm finding that shooting tethered somehow puts the brakes on my rapid shooting style and I'm making due with 10 to 12 images per person instead of the 25-50 I usually shoot.

Ben is walking each client through the post process and helping them choose a perfect selection. We'll take each select and do a mild retouch overnight and then deliver via e-mail. It's actually a perfect compromise.

Tomorrow promises new challenges. I just saw a weather report that says we probably won't get above freezing for the next 36 hours (starting tonight at midnight) and new forecasts are calling for rain, sleet, snow and the possibility that the temperatures will hit 18 on Tues. night. People up north are used to this kind of nasty weather but in Texas we'll see hundreds of car wrecks, thousands of broken water pipes and a total shut down of all commerce and government. The schools have already announced closures everywhere.

Along with the client we've changed our schedule for tomorrow. We'll start later (noon, if we can get up the hill from our house) and go a bit later in the day. The premise being that by noon most of the roads will have been made passable by coffee addicts and workaholics who feel compelled by their addictions to get out early and tempt fate. My hope is that they've bought enough coffee and risked enough lives that they roads will have drivable ruts through the ice that allow us to reach the client by midday.

We'll bring extra food, blankets and a compass just in case.

Wish me luck, it's going to be a Revenent kind of day out there...

P.S. just heard from the swim club. No practice tomorrow morning! You know it's bad when they close the pool !!!

An Early Morning of Packing and Some Notes From the Week.

After the trauma and drama of my family's "holiday" it felt so good to get back to work last week. My first project back was to create video of an interview with Abe Reybold, who is one of the artistic directors at ZACH Theatre. I went "old school" with my audio, running two inexpensive Audio Technica AT70, wired lavaliere microphones into the Panasonic DMW-XLR-1 audio interface and then into the GH5. Say what you will about the miracles of wireless technology but the hard-wired microphones were very clean and the audio from the session is impeccable.

I chose to go with "lavs" because the room we worked in can be noisy and the close proximity of the omni-direction microphones goes a long way toward damping down background noise. There's also an argument to be made that fewer electronics (mic transmitters and receivers) in the pathway of the audio makes for a cleaner sound.

The next day Ben and I headed over to our favorite, big accounting firm to do another flurry of headshots for them. We set up the cordless monolights (Neewer Vision 4) and a neutral gray background and had a very pleasant morning just meeting new people and easing them into the process of looking great.

It was so much fun to have Ben there to help me set up, tear down and cover all the minutia that I find burdensome. From there the rest of the week was about post processing and video editing. We knocked out a two minute rough for one project (with Ben at the editing helm) while creating web galleries for our accounting client (my purview...).

Having distilled my selection of working cameras down to just the GH5's is very liberating. There's no question which cameras and lenses will be in attendance when we head out the door on an assignment. I keep rounding out the lens selection but keep coming back to the 12-100mm Pro and the 40-150mm Pro (both from Olympus) every time I fire up the cameras and point them at profitable subjects. The more recent lenses, and the primes, seem to be my "hobby" lenses.

I photographed an unusual children's play on Saturday. It was done with puppets and puppeteers. It was done in two languages. Again, the 12-100mm was the lens of first choice but I also got some shots from the 30mm f1.4 Sigma that arrived last week. I shot with that lens wide open or stopped down to as low as f2.2 and I was impressed by how sharp the resulting files are. The GH5 is perfectly adept at making good looking photographs at ISO 1600. Not too much noise in the blacks. Not at all.

Sunday was a day dedicated to family stuff. I headed down to San Antonio right after an early breakfast and visited my dad in the memory care facility. That was yesterday. It was a good visit; my dad was sitting in is favorite easy chair and was dressed in pressed slacks, a nice shirt and a sport coat. Yesterday, at least, he was telling me that he is at a very nice conference hotel and has been attending continuing education sessions about hospital management. He was a little embarrassed because he didn't have any cash with him but I reminded him that I had "borrowed" twenty dollars from him and brought the money with me to re-pay him. That was a big relief... His room is well appointed, large and filled with his own stuff. Family photos, books, knick knacks and a small bowl of Hershey's Kisses; his favorite. He seems to have settled into the "perennial" conference quite nicely but would like me to check and see what happened to his subscription to the New York Times.

I spent the rest of the afternoon pulling out bags and boxes of receipts from closets and drawers around the family house in order to get all my parents' financial papers together and stored safely in one of my lockable filing cabinets back in Austin. I think my mother's approach to filing and organizing financial papers was to put everything in a big stack in one room, toss in a hand grenade or two, and then close the door. At least that's the way it seems in the moment.

We've created a process for paper processing the involves three big boxes. One is for trash (store coupons, solicitations, junk mail), one is for financial papers and the third is for "memorabilia" which could be letters from grandchildren or cards or photographs. The last box are things I would normally toss but which need to be seen by my other siblings before any action is taken. Not in the business of generating regrets...

This morning Ben and I are packing up for our three days of tethered shooting. You are reading this because of a personal error I made this morning: I woke up and mis-read my watch. I turned off my alarm clock and took some satisfaction at having awoken without the alarm. I was drinking coffee and looking the news when I glanced at my watch and realized I'd gotten up for my shoot an hour early.

Ah well, I guess that gives me one more hour in the day.

We are packing too much for the shoot. We are setting up at the end of a public hallway, in a Westin Hotel, adjacent to a wall of windows. I asked that the windows be draped so we aren't fighting the sun the whole day but we'll see what happens. Since we are in a public space that can't be secured it seems like I'll be pulling down the set and packing the car for each of the next three days. Every shoot seems to present some glitches but this one has been glitchier than most. It stems from a changing of the guard. The person who booked us was a great client and one we'd worked with for the better part of a year and a half. With changes afoot at the company my ally decided to resign and start his own marketing firm.

The person replacing him was caught, I think, a bit off guard and has a lot on her plate. We have not been able to get the kinds of details we normally get when doing a project of this scope; headshots of large numbers of upper management and sales pros. We're more or less taking the creative reins and implementing our own style. This could mean "course corrections" at any time during the process.

Ben and I practiced our tethering techniques several times last night and Belinda designed us a log sheet that makes organization of the selected photo files a breeze. Now we'll see if the location works and the scheduling is effective. It's all random chaos now but then that's part of our purview: to bring visual order to corporate chaos. We relish the challenge...

A few tech notes: The 12-100mm f4.0 Pro Olympus lens continues to distinguish itself with a blend of flexibility and optical happiness. The Sigma 30mm f1.4 DC DN is as sharp wide open as advertised and super at f2.2, 2.5, and 2.8. Well worth the $339. The Panasonic "Lumix Tether" software works well and is very straightforward. The integration with Lightroom works well too.

The Vizio 32 inch TV/Monitor I bought could be operated while blindfolded and it seems like it will come in handy for all kinds of stuff down the road. A nice addition to the usual set ups.

All of this prep may be undone tomorrow morning when we are expecting ice storms and dropping mercury. The forecast for Tuesday's early hours is: "rain, ice, snow, and temps falling from 32 down to 23." In Austin that means all travel grinds to a halt. Snow tires? Never heard of them. Salt on the roads? Nope; only on the brisket. Fingers crossed......

Keep the coffee flowing and the shutters clicking and we'll settle back into the new normal. Thanks for reading along. I hope all of you have a great and productive day.


Something I hate to do but must do for three days next week: Tethering. A fool's errand.

I am aware that many photographers like to shoot tethered to their laptops or tethered to their studio PCs. I'm sure this makes sense in still life shooting situations that require exacting compliance to a client's comprehensive layout or when working collaboratively with an art direct bent on arranging props within a static scene in just the right way. But I have never warmed up to the idea of shooting portraits while tethered to a monitor or laptop. It would seem that one loses control over implementing one's own style and the conviction that they understand and can assess the value of the "right" frame in a better, or different, way than can the portrait sitter in front of them. 

So it is with sad resignation that I am approaching a project next week. One of my clients is having a sales meeting. It's an "all hands on deck" function that will bring people in from all over north America for the week. The marketing folks have decided that it will be an opportune time to provide portrait photos for anyone who needs them or wants them. This request falls on the other side of the line from "Large and beautifully crafted prints to be displayed proudly" and resides on the side of the use field that includes: headshot for LinkedIn and Facebook, small snap for electronic proposals and (maybe) use on a website. In other words there stated expectation is that we'll take about five minutes per person to get a good shot. Not much more. 

But here's the kicker: they want us to shoot tethered so we can show the portrait sitters the images immediately after we've shot them. They want the sitter to select an image on the spot and they would like us to send the image directly to them via e-mail, on site. 

The tight scheduling means I have to work with an assistant. I choose Ben. The real issue is the throughput and the inevitable delays as people hem and haw over exactly which frame they should choose. I don't like to work this way because there is always some retouching that can be done in post to make each person look better. It just be a judicious crop but it may also be removing a pimple or smoothing skin. 

Recently Panasonic delivered a new application that is free to GH5 and G9 users. It's called Lumix Tether and it delivers tethered shooting and camera control. It's very straightforward software so it doesn't create a gallery of images; it just shows them one at a time. In order to make it easier on the people who will be choosing the images I decided I would take the tethering one step further and combine it with Lightroom so we can look at images side by side, zoom in, etc. After much trial and error I was able to get the three pieces (camera, Lumix Tether and Lightroom) to work together. I can shoot, pull the images into a "watched" folder and then share them on the screen with the "customer." 

Then I ran into another glitch of sorts; my MacBook Pro laptop has a 13 inch screen and the display images in Lightroom are just too darn small to be easily readable. I'm not about to haul my primary computer off my desk and leave it in a Westin Hotel meeting room for three days so I started looking around for other options. It dawned on me that I could use the Thunderbolt connection on the laptop to create an HDMI port, via an adapter I have in my toolkit. Then I could attach a TV to the whole shebang and people could adore themselves, large scale. It would be a much more cost effective alternative to buying a new, fully spec'd 15 inch MacBook Pro with a i7 processor. 

If I could send the image from the laptop to the TV I could provide enough square footage to make selection easy. I could go straight from the camera to the TV with an HDMI cable (thank you! Panasonic for giving me a full size HDMI port!!!) but that would complicate the process of then sending the selected file via e-mail, on the spot. For that I'd need the laptop in the mix.

We have one TV in the house. It's an older 50 inch Vizio 720p unit and I am loathe to disconnect it and bring it along, mostly because I think a newer model would have a much better and more detailed screen image but also because the size of the unit is painful and our space on site is limited. With all this in mind I headed to Costco to buy a current TV. I bought a 32 inch model that's LED, 1080, wi-fi enabled and has a convenient HDMI port. It's also a Vizio (my other choice was a Samsung...) and it set me back less than $200.

With the whole mess assembled together my number one priority is to remember not to wander off with the camera in my hands and thereby pull everything crashing down to the floor. At peak times the TV image will no doubt attract a "peanut" gallery who will attempt to "inspire" the sitter with exhortations and catcalls. I can hardly wait. Yes, the space the meeting planners have chosen for us is mostly public...

The client and I are still flirting with negotiating a different process. I would be happy to keep the TV in the mix, happy to allow for immediate, on site image selection too, but I am trying to sell them on allowing us to record the frame number of each person's selection on a form, along with the person's e-mail address, and then touching each file with some magic retouching spells at the end of each day and sending along the improved images. We'll see how strong my powers of persuasion might be. 

The lure of the paycheck so far outweighs my righteous indignation at having an external force willfully change my workflow. We'll see if we can't maintain that rational approach as the situation devolves into the unknown by the end of the first day...

On another note, below are images I made yesterday on my first walk through downtown in the new year. Actually, since the 22nd of December. 

The rationalization for the walk was stress relief but the underlying reason was to put the Sigma 30mm f1.4 DC DN (haven't a clue as to what those abbreviations might mean; if anything) through its paces. I was very happy to have it along and I find myself liking the files at least as much as I did when I owned the same basic lens (different mount) for the Sony APS-C, Nex cameras. 

A corner of the kitchen in my parent's house. 
Image shot with the Sigma 60mm f2.8 DN art at 3200 on G85 with no processing. 
Nostalgia included in the mix.

Final thoughts on tethering: Don't do it unless you have to and you're going to get paid for it. Tethering is a pain in the ass.