The agony of unpacking. The near opposite of the joy of unboxing.

I see videos everywhere in which the main subject is "unboxing" a new camera, lens, flash or other object of desire. They pull out each piece and remark about how great it will be for their work, which seems a little off since there work seems to consist of.....just unboxing things on YouTube. Sometimes they will also read off the specifications of the new object in an attempt to....flesh out the droll nature of their content.

Today, after two large production shoots in two different countries, and one smaller production shoot piggy-backed on top, I have the displeasure of pulling all the gear out of a collection of black cases (some "rolling", some not) and assessing each piece before putting it back in its rightful spot. Only by putting things back where they go will I be able to figure out where they are next time I need them.

Leaving gear in the travel cases is not a good option for me because I am certain I'll be packing a different selection of equipment the next time I head out the door.

I start with the easy stuff first. Those are the stand bags and tripod bags. Yesterday's shoot called for a total of 9 light stands, 2 flex fill holders, a giant scrim frame and two tripods. All of those things come out of the dark recesses of the bags, are examined for breakage or missing parts and then put into the stand holder or tripod holder near the door of the studio. This makes it easy for me to select just the right stands in the future. If they lived in the bags I'm pretty sure I'd forget about them entirely. Why do I check the condition of this gear? Let me answer that with my own question: Have you ever gotten to a shoot only to discover that you've lost the quick release plate for the head of your tripod?

Next up is the case full of cameras and lenses. I blow off all camera bodies with compressed air to get rid of dust and junk that may have attached to the gear. Best to get rid of it before I take lenses off bodies. I check the fronts and backs of every lens for dust or surface marks. Any lens that needs cleaning gets it right way. The quicker you handle a nasty thumbprint on the glass of your lens the less chance that the acid in the oils from your skin will etch into the coatings of the lens and degrade its performance. A clean lens is a happier lens.  But if the lens doesn't require wet cleaning don't do it reflexively  ---- better to keep your lenses clean than to keep cleaning your lenses.

Once we've separated lenses from bodies I pull the batteries from the cameras and put them on their chargers. Better, in my mind, to have topped up batteries in the equipment drawer because you never know when a good client might call and ask if there's anyway you could come over soon? Or you might have the opportunity to do a fun, spur of the moment project. Why wait for exhausted batteries to recharge as a reactive response to an opportunity?

I also pull the memory cards and download all needed files, backing the content up initially in two new places. In this way I never get to a location, find my only card already loaded with valuable images, rendering me incapable of doing new work. Having a workflow or post shoot process keeps me from making unintended errors.  Better to just get stuff done than to try and remember what you did and did not do. And what you might need to do next.

Next up, cords get wrapped, (or re-wrapped, if a non-cord certified person offered to help by (mis)-wrapping your cables at the last location) so they don't develop unruly kinks and bends. Re-wrapping your extension cables, power cables and microphone cables also lets you know when a cable has gotten dirty or greasy from a less than tidy location and needs to be cleaned. If you take care of your tools they will take care of you.

Portable electronic flash gear and battery powered LED panels get checked to make sure all the parts for each unit are in their cases and that everything is functional. Now is the best time to find out sad news about the operational status of a piece of gear. You may have time to replace or repair it before it is needed again. Mostly, I'm looking to recharge all the batteries and check for breakage.

Finally, all the cases are cleaned out and sometimes vacuumed. You pick up a lot of dust working in busy industrial sites and you might as well keep it away from your equipment if you can. Once the cases are emptied and cleaned they go back onto the shelves they came from. If the cases are empty I can quickly pull down a preferred case and fill it with new gear rather than having to unpack under what might be a future tight schedule.

All of this takes time on the day of unpacking but being organized is much more efficient than "winging" it. If everything goes into cases in a logical order it's so much easier to work on busy location. If you did your packing well you know where every component is at all time. Your unpacking gives you the chance to see just how good your organizational skills were and to make improvements for the next time. Works for me.

At this point I am done stowing the photo gear and ready to reward myself with a nice cup of coffee.


Small child grows up and gets ready to graduate from college...

I took this photograph of Ben when he was in kindergarten. The school was celebrating Texas history and had asked the kid's to dress like "Texans." Ben wore his boots, of course, and what little Texan doesn't have a selection of cowboy hats? I thought the bandana was a nice touch as well.

Now I have to come to grips with the idea that my kid has grown up and is about to graduate from a nice little college and head out into the real world. I'm pretty sure he is more ready than I ever was at his age. He has the benefit of having inherited a distinct level-headedness from his mother, as well as her common sense about money and hard work. I have no doubt he can handle pretty much anything.

We're heading up to New York in a couple of weeks for the graduation ceremonies. If I had my own airplane I would certainly take Studio Dog along for the show. She'd enjoy it but she is averse to flying. She refused to fly coach. Much less the cargo hold. I'll just have to Skype with her...

The big question, of course, is what camera to take along to a college graduation. I've never been to one before. I left school as soon as I got my degree and spent the next few months backpacking. The whole process seemed silly to me then. It's another story now, I actually paid for this one. Maybe that's why parents feel so invested in attending their kids' graduations.

I'm thinking I should take the old Nikon F2 out of the drawer, drop the 105mm f2.5 onto the front of it and load it up with Tri-X. Maybe take an extra three rolls along in my pants pocket. Either that or head to the opposite extreme and take a Sony RX10iv. You know, for the extra reach...

Then again, this photography thing at the event, it's not my job. Perhaps I should leave the cameras at home and just support whomever the school hires to take the official photos of the young adults getting their diplomas. That would be the ethical thing to do. And I wouldn't have to pack more stuff.

On another topic, I've been trying to decide what to get my kid for graduation. I thought, because he is such a good kid, I should spring for something special, like an Aston Martin Vanquish but my banker put the kibosh on that one and the insurance company offered supporting testimony for my banker's reasonable stance. Another dilemma to ponder....

At any rate. Another chapter in life closes. Another one begins. Funny, I was just re-reading Ian Fleming's novel, Goldfinger. The first chapter is entitled, "Reflections in a double bourbon." I guess everything can be a chapter. That one just sounds so......Mad Men.

I always remember the final line in "Diamonds are Forever" by the same author. The line is about the life of secret agent, James Bond. It says, "It reads better than it lives." don't know why I find the line so entertaining, but I do.

If you haven't read an Ian Fleming novel, and all you know of James Bond is the movies, can I suggest you pick up a copy of "Moonraker" and make yourself very, very happy? It's ironic. "Moonraker" is Ian Fleming's best James Bond novel and yet it's the worst of the many James Bond movies. Go figure.

(And don't tell me you never read fiction or you'll be pilloried in the comments section. Really!).

Self Portrait near the painting booth. Matamoros, Mexico.

Happy to see that the self timer on my new camera works.

I spent Thursday doing post processing for my images from Matamoros. I shot everything as raw files in the Nikon D800 and ending up with 600+ huge photos. The photos got imported into Lightroom and had some shadows lifted, some highlights tamed, and most got little nudges and tweaks to the color. It's nice to have the full, 36 megapixel files when doing post processing but once you've gotten the file the way you want it I think most people who use commercial images are happy to get photographs that are about 6,000 pixels on the long side.

I set that as the output size and converted the photos to Jpegs using 96 as the quality setting. This results in files that weigh in at about 13-14 megabytes. Today I am post processing work I shot this morning on the main stage at Zach Theatre as full size, 7360 x 4912 pixel files. After conversion to Jpegs these weigh in around 22 megabytes of info per. This morning's shots will certainly be used in print, and also blown up large as Duratrans for exterior signage, and perhaps even used on life-size posters in the theater's lobbies. I'm sure that today's art director will welcome the extra information in this case.

I like doing my basic post processing as a quality check, and I like doing it the same day or the very next day because the feedback loop is so powerful. Every time you shoot and then look at the results you see what worked and what did not. Did you need more fill light? Less fill light? How's your focusing technique? Did you estimate the coverage of depth of field correctly enough to keep two actors, one standing a few feet in front of the other, in sharp focus? I was shooting full frame today and I'm coming from nearly a year of shooting M4:3 format so as I've buzzed through the files on the large screen I've cringed occasionally when I've looked through a series and seen how many I misinterpreted, in terms of depth of focus. But the feedback makes me aware of how I screwed up and how I need to proceed the next time I photograph in the same way. I find that I shoot enough frames, and focus frequently enough, so that there's always some good frames that hit the mark. But until I find them I get a little nervous....

I think one of the things that makes professional photographers more "fluid" or "visually efficient problem solvers" is the fact that they shoot much more, and much more often than most hobbyist shooters. A case in point is my work this week. I did a fast moving event on Tues. which required using on-camera flash. I tried to use all my little tricks (learned over several decades) to make the lighting work without the telltale artifacts of direct flash. I did a lot of bouncing from walls and ceilings. I shot all the speakers on the stage using the available light which required balancing to the color temperature of the stage lighting, and the process made me pay attention to the inevitable compromise between using higher ISO and getting too much noise in the files. In the course of two and a half hours I shot about 600 shots which I edited down that evening to about 400. Looking through showed me immediately how well I was doing with all the technical juggling required for event work.

I spent the next day walking around a working factory and shot in a reportage style, using a camera on a tripod but not setting up very many shots. Most were more or less "found." If you shoot and review a thousand images shot over the course of a day you'll quickly see that one angle works better than any other in terms of light. Some actions are too quick to catch with a non-flash rig.  If you do use flash this higher volume of on your feet shooting gets you to distill down the best filter pack to use on the flash in order to color balance it with the color of the ambient lights. "Working" a scene for a while nets you a better selection of expressions from camera shy subjects. You need to stop and eat lunch because you need the nutrition to help you keep your focus....

The near constant feedback loop quickly lets you know that you aren't the slow shutter speed, handholding god you thought you were. You also learn that perfectly sharp backgrounds, supplied by advanced image stabilization lenses, don't mean much if the subject movement in the frame makes your main subject unsharp!!!!!!! A lesson I keep learning over and over again. All praise the noble tripod.

Today we shot on the main stage at Zach Theatre. Two great actors.  I supplied the lighting. We lit with six LED fixture; two into a 6x6 foot diffuser for soft fill, two into 42 inch flex fills for soft main lighting, and two as background/accent lights. Why did we use LEDs? Why continuous lights for stage shots? Easy answer: the entire still photography shoot (done for marketing and advertising) was being filmed on multiple video cameras by a video production company that is working with the theatre to create a program about the "making" of the play that will open at the end of the month. I figured that weak modeling lights in electronic flash units would make the filming more difficult and I also like the WYSIWYG nature of continuously light sources. Finally, we were trying to make the images look as though they came from a stage-lit shooting situation. I shot about 450 shots over the course of several hours while a giant storm raged outside the theater. I edited down to 325 to send along to the client. My feedback loop here was all about calculating the minimum shutter speed needed to freeze my subjects enough to make sharp images that would stand up to magnifications up to life-size size. Examining the files after the fact showed me that, on a tripod, and with medium focal length lenses, I could get away with shutter speeds in the 50th-125th range and stay nicely sharp. Getting near the lower end of the range I shot more frames to cover myself.

In all I've shot through over 2,000 frames this week, almost all with one cameras and mostly with one lens. I've looked, in a cursory way, at every single frame and I've looked in depth at over 1,000 frames that I touched in some regard during my post processing phase.

If you want to learn the craft all the way down to the subconscious level you might think of shooting several hundred frames per day, in all kinds of shooting environments, for all kinds of final uses, and then sit down after every shoot and examine everything you just did in detail. And do this every day.

In fact, maybe I should do a workshop in which all we do is shoot assignment after assignment and then sit in a quiet, dark room and review every salvageable single frame. The workshop would be over when the last student loses patience with me and storms out. But that's okay because I'll be back the next day doing the same evaluation and post processing on the next shoot. And then writing a blog about it so I'll have an additional resource to remind me later of exactly what I've done and how to do it better the next time....

I have a day off tomorrow. I think I'll go out and shoot.

P.S. Editing is the act of removing frames from the folder which you do not want to post process, just as editing in movie making means cutting out frames you don't want to use and tossing them. Editing: the process of shortening and clarifying through distillation or discard. Post processing is the act of changing the frames you've already chosen to keep. Post processing includes color correction, tonal correction, shadow lifting, highlight salvation, and anything else that you do AFTER you've edited down your take. Because you only make your post processing moves on frames you've chosen in your EDIT. 


A quick trip to Mexico to add vital images to a client's marketing library.

We have several clients who are manufacturers of parts and products for very large, multinational companies. One of them has industrial production facilities in the U.S., Mexico, China and India. The plant in Mexico is a recent addition and, other than some quick cellphone images, my client did not have any images that showed the scope and diversity of services they offered there. They asked me to make a quick run down to Matamoros (which is on the border, just south of Brownsville, Texas) and spend a full day making photographs, as well as doing a couple of quick video interviews with the plant manager and the CEO. 

Moving through a working, heavy industry facility means being fairly agile so I packed light enough that I could move gear through the 100,000 square feet in one Think Tank roller case. I brought along extra gear in case I needed it but spent most of the day rolling the single case around with me and dipping into it for different lenses or charged batteries.

Growing up in Texas meant doing a lot of driving around. It's kinda dumb but it's kinda imprinted in my brain that any trip of 5 hours or less is well suited to driving instead of flying. I figure it like this:
To fly you have to get to the airport, which takes half an hour or longer with traffic. Then, if you are traveling with multiple cases of gear you'll need to check most of it. In the current state of air travel you really do need to arrive at the airport two hours before your flight is scheduled to leave. In the last sentence I wrote, "scheduled to leave" but there's no guarantee that your plan with work with the airline's reality. I have often arrived at the Austin airport, checked in and then been disappointed to read on a sign that my flight has been delayed for an hour or more. You may be in the air for only an hour (Austin to Brownsville) but you'll have to wait for your gear to arrive on the luggage carrousel and then schlepp the whole mess to the rental car counter. In bigger cities you'll waste even more time getting on the crappy shuttle to get over to some vast parking lot to find your car. It can eat up any time you might save over driving and is, at best, frustrating. 

I drove to Brownsville for my photographic adventure. It was kind of fun. I spent most of my time listening to music. I start with Blonde on Blonde by Bob Dylan, continued with Nashville Skyline and finished up with Blood on the Tracks. If I'd had more B. Dylan on my iPhone I would have made it a complete marathon but when I ran out I checked out some of the K-pop my son put in the library. Topical Korean music fun. 

My schedule on Tues. included a midday shoot here in Austin for the Boys and Girls Clubs so I didn't get on the road until 2pm. I cruised into Brownsville around 7:45 because I stopped for the best Whataburger I've ever had in some small town, the name of which I'll never remember.... In the space of six hours I went from the luxurious environs of the new Fairmont Hotel in Austin to a nondescript residence hotel near the border. Sometimes contrast is fun...

The CEO of the company drove me across the border and to the plant the next morning. We started early, went through the visa process on the Mexico side, and pulled into the facility in Matamoros ready to get started. I love this client because they like my work, and my experience with this kind of project and they just walked through the facility with me talking about their wish list and then let me work on my own. I become my own creative director. 

While my Spanish is not exemplary I had not issues whatsoever in engaging the working technicians and getting them to collaborate with me on the photographs. 

So, what was in the rolling case? One Nikon D800 (which I used all day long) and one D800e (which I had as a back up) along with a small assortment of Nikon lenses. These included the 24-120mm which I used for 90 % of the images, the 20mm, 24mm, 28mm (which seemed pretty perfect for certain shots) the 55 macro, and the 85mm. I also carried two flashes with remote triggers, a bunch of batteries for the cameras, two small light stands, two small umbrellas and a Gitzo 2220 tripod with a Manfrotto bullhead on the top. 

In a separate case I brought a GH5 and the 12-100mm Olympus zoom, and several sets of Sennheiser wireless mics for the video interviews. They all worked perfectly. 

At some points during the day, like during the scene at the top of the blog with a person grinding out cool sparks, I wanted to shoot a little video of the action but didn't feel like heading back to the conference room to grab the Panasonic camera so I learned how to switch the Nikon to video live view and trigger the video. It looks fine for the industrial work I was shooting and the 28mm f2.8 was a good match for the scenes. 

I didn't get any use from the flashes I packed but did use several small LED panels which were perfect for adding a "puff" of fill light. 

We had chicken and beef fajitas from a local restaurant for lunch, along with black beans and little salad, and the finished up our work late in the afternoon. My original plan was to go back to the hotel in Brownsville and chill out, then drive to Austin the next morning, but I kept seeing the possibility of severe weather in Austin the next day and I didn't relish being on a busy highway during possible hail storms and tornados. I looked at the time. It was 5pm. I had a full tank of gas and decided to just hop in the car and drive straight through. 350 miles later I walked in the door of my house, grabbed a Fireman's Four light ale from the fridge and called it a day. I was tired but happy with the 645 photos that made it through the first round of editing..... 

How was your day?

A "selfie" test shot.

A "Kirk Tuck" interview about photography just got posted at "Dear Susan"; the site for travel photography. Link in the body copy....


Paul Perton interviewed me for the travel website: DearSusan.net. We covered topics ranging from changes in commercial photography to thoughts on new tech. Paul also posted lots of my favorite photos; most of which loyal blog readers have seen before.

Let me know what you think....

P.S. We shot all day yesterday in Matamoros, Mexico and then I made the five hour drive straight through to try and get ahead of vicious thunderstorms that never materialized. At least I'm back safe and sound. I even had time to sit on the couch for a while and have a beer in the good company of Studio Dog and Perfect Spouse. A long, good day.

Okay, so don't skip Paul's interview....


A VSL reader asked a question: "Why did I choose to buy a D800e, a D800 and a D700 instead of a D810 or D850?

It's a fair question and one which I actually have a well thought out rationale for.... So, without any further delay...

I owned the D810 a few years ago and did much work with it. Where it beats the pants off the D800s is in its video capabilities. But I struggled to get some of the Nikon lenses I was using at the time to focus correctly. They liked to focus just a little further back than I would have liked. We went round and round with the fine-tuning dance and, to be fair, most of the lenses worked pretty well after we spent an entire weekend coaxing them into compliance. The shutter in the D810 is quieter and sounds off at a lower (hence more pleasant) frequency. But when it comes to ease of use and image quality there isn't much difference between the older models and the D810. But here's where the "working commercial photographer" rationale comes into play; I could buy two D800 series bodies, in good shape, for the cost of one D810 body. I still believe that no professional image maker should go on a paid assignment without a back up body. And the best back up body is one that is nearly identical to your primary camera.

Since I already own another complete system (two Panasonic GH5's and a bag of lenses) I wasn't in a hurry to drop $6800 on a couple of D850 bodies, or $4,000 on  a couple of used D810 bodies when I could have two D800 series bodies for only $2,000. The buffers in the newer cameras are probably better but I'll never know because I'm not a sports photographer and just use single frame advance.

I am, sometimes, interested in being a low light photographer but when I went exploring on DXO Mark I found that the older d800's are within a gnat's whisker of matching the high ISO performance of both newer bodies. Not much of a difference in the quality of the raw files either....

All in all, the more I use the D800 cameras the more I like them. So much so that they are the cameras I packed up in order to do a P.R. shoot at the Fairmont Hotel at midday and to also haul down with me today to Matamoros, Mexico for tomorrow's photographic assignments. In fact, if all goes well I intend to shoot most of my work tomorrow with the D800 and the 24-120mm f4.0 VR.

I hope I get smarter someday. I decided to drive down here to Mexico. I grabbed a rental car from Avis, packed it up with photo goodies and headed over to the Fairmont Hotel to photograph the Boys and Girls Clubs of Austin Spring Luncheon (a nice fundraiser). I used the D800 and the above mentioned lens, along with a manual flash to cover the event. I was floored this evening, when editing the take, to see that what I saw on the rear screen of the camera as I chimped through the job matched what I ended up with in post production almost exactly. A first time for everything.

But back on topic. After wrapping up the event around 1:30 I got in the rental car and started the long trip to Brownsville, Texas. With one stop for nature and one stop to get a Whataburger hamburger with jalapeƱos it took right at six hours and fifteen minutes of steady, more or less 75 mph driving. That's a lot. And that only gets one halfway across the state (measuring from north to south). I logged nearly 400 miles today! No frequent flyer miles, no bags of peanuts but no groping by the TSA and no idle time sitting stationary on the tarmac.

We've got an early call tomorrow and we'll shoot all day. I'll get back to the hotel, eat dinner and crash. But if I can get myself out of bed by 5:30 am I'll have a fighting chance of getting back to Austin on Thursday just in time for the noon swim. Won't that be nice?

The short answer to my reader is that the D800s do everything I need from them and they handle really well. I'll save the bucks and see what Nikon launches in the Fall. Night....


The color is always brighter on the other side of the fence.

I've watched with great interest as the internet gushes with praise for the Sony A7iii. The new high priests of video camera reviews on DPReview (Chris and Jordan previously of thecamerastoreTV on YouTube) created a delicious program about the new camera and "suggested" that this would be the camera that people who previously shopped for Nikons and Canons should be shopping for now...

I must say that I've been amazed at the speed at which Sony went from having two really crappy original A7's (the A7 and A7R) with jackhammer like shutter noise and pesky handling to becoming the pre-emminent selection of the world's biggest and loudest camera website.

It seems like digital cameras have always had a back and forth consumer movement, mostly driven by marketing, but sometimes by features, or the lack of them. Nikon's D1x was a very popular entry and probably the first pro camera that felt really usable in the way film cameras had been but Canon jumped ahead by offering a full frame pro camera (Canon 1DS) that moved a large number of photographers to switch systems. Soon, the white lenses were everywhere.

The introduction of the D2X, with it's APS-C sensor, was a decent parry to the Canon 1DS but Canon soon leapt ahead with a newer 16 megapixel, full frame 1DSmk2 and it seemed that Nikon's days as a camera makers for real pros were winding down. Many more people jumped ship until Nikon took the wraps off the original full frame, low light monster; the D3. Its four million fewer pixels (than the Canon 1DSmk2) were offset by the camera's ability to shoot in amazingly dark circumstances and still deliver really good results. The models continue to arrive with various new features and performance metrics but with enough differentiation to make an "apples to apples" comparison hard.

It's been a back and forth battle that continues to this day. I've shot with both systems and both are remarkably good if you just want to make photographs. If you are a professional camera tester I guess there is enough difference between the current offerings from the two brands to keep one typing daily.....

While I think the Nikon D850 is pretty cool, and armed to the teeth with features and performance, I also think that a basic Canon 5DmkIV hits a very good sweet spot for most photographers and brings it's own unique look and feel to the game. Along with excellent but more manageable files sizes.

To my mind, the only two things Sony got perfectly right, and the reason they seem to be gaining on Canon and Nikon, is that they opted to build their full frame system around the magic of the EVF and the low noise, high dynamic range of their own Sony sensors. The cameras themselves are fairly clunky to use and don't have the polished feel of their competitors. C&N products feel like the well finished iterations that are the result of decades of design trial and error while my Sony's felt more like prototypes. Good prototypes but unfinished products all the same.

Sony is a couple of body design iterations away from achieving what experienced photographers need/want from their production cameras. They had some great design advantages in the Minolta camera designs that came along with the purchase of that company but abandoned them for their A series mirrorless line designs; and I think it was a wrong turn.

People choose cameras for different reasons. I keep juggling my own calculus of what constitutes the perfect camera, and the leapfrogging of performance parameters has not been helpful in that regard. As far as the way the cameras feel in my hands I'd have to say that the Canon 5D2 was the most comfortable for me in the last ten years. The Nikon D800 is close but not quite as well done. My A7Rii needed to have the battery grip attached to make it a comfortable camera to use over time.

In the early days of the century things were changing so quickly that the switching back and forth between systems was amazing and almost non-stop. A doubling of resolution in another maker's new model seemed to be the clarion call to jump from your current system. When we all subconsciously decided that all cameras north of 30 megapixels were equally sufficient to most photographic tasks (where resolution is concerned) the inflection points for system change became more nuanced, the amplitude and frequency of the swings from system to system became less dramatic. It was harder to get people all excited about dynamic range but the camera makers have been working at it.

I'd like to say that I've given up chasing the changes but I'm nearly certain I'll change the tool kit a few times more before I switch careers and start working as a greeter at Walmart. Until then I'll try to ratchet up my skepticism and not lunge at every dangled specification change.

The colors always seem better on the camera systems you don't own. You chase them and discover that there's some other feature on the new system you just bought that lags behind the system you just sold. It goes that way all the time.

I bought the D800s recently because, in still photography, they seem like the financial analogy of buying certificates of deposit. The cameras are already depreciated, they'll hold some of their value for another cycle and they'll do what you need for the term. When they fully mature you can sell them and move on. I want to step off the System Exchange Cycle and catch my breath. I want to see what the next big thing is in the photo market (if there even is a next big thing) and then, when I have a higher degree of certainty, maybe I'll be ready to jump back in....

In the meantime we keep pumping out video after video with the GH5 cameras. I'm not system shopping them because so far no one can beat the quality and operational smoothness at anywhere near their price. They are swing-proof for the moment.


A Laid Back Saturday in Austin in the late Spring. Camera at hand.

Woke up early this morning and made coffee and waffles with peanut butter before the dog or the spouse stirred. I was out the door by 7:15 and in the pool by 7:30 for the first workout of the day. The water was a little warm and my goggles fogged up from time to time, but we got in about 3,000 quality yards and that's enough to keep me happy.

I had a camera in the car (of course) so after I got dressed I went back into the pool area to take a few snaps of the pool and the swimmers at the 8:30 practice. The object in the foreground is a starting block. We use it to practice our racing dives; just in case we feel the need to race....

The 8:30 workout was lightly attended today. I think it's because the annual 2000K race in Lady Bird Lake is tomorrow morning and people are saving their energy for a long, cold race. I'm not swimming that one, the water isn't clean enough....

Today's swim camera was the D700. I used on older, manual focusing 55 macro as my normal lens. It's a nice and compact combination. The lens is nicely sharp from f4 on down.

We got new lane lines in January. Can you tell? The colors are nice and vibrant and none of the lane lines has too much slack. 

At right about this point in time, while shooting little volleys of swim photos, it dawned on me just how hungry I was and I started thinking about moving on. There is a fast food place near me with a drive through. I could not resist....

So, after banging off a few more meaty, saturated frames I got in the car and headed over to McDonalds where I ordered an egg, bacon and cheese biscuit and a medium coffee with one cream. I took my (second) breakfast home with me so I could enjoy it while reading the Washington Post (online) and I can never resist the charms of Studio Dog who loves little scraps of scrambled eggs.

After my leisurely (second) breakfast I headed out to the studio to do some organization and packing for next week. I have a crazy schedule: I'm down in San Antonio taking my dad to a doctor's appointment on Monday. Tuesday I pick up a rental car at 8 a.m. and load it up with all the gear I'll need for my assignment in Mexico. Midday on Tues. I photography a lunch event for a charity and then immediately start the six hour drive to Brownsville and Matamoros. When I get there I'll need to have dinner and then post process my coverage of the charity event. The next day is a full day of industrial strength commercial photography and some video interviews. I'll be using a mix of cameras and format.... Thurs. I'll be up at 4:30 a.m. to drive back to Austin. My plan is to make it back in time for the noon workout at the pool. Then unload the gear and get the rental car back to the rental agency.

The rest of the day will be dedicated to post processing the Mexico photos and video. I'll also throw in the unpacking and re-packing of gear for a full day of photography at Zach Theatre on Friday. It's the kind of week that doesn't have much spare time layered in...

After dabbling in the studio Belinda and I headed over to our favorite sandwich shop, Thundercloud Subs, and had lunch together. That's something we've been doing for about 34 years straight. Every Saturday. Different lunch places, but every Saturday... I switched out lenses before lunch. The image above was taken with what I consider to be one of the very best zooms I've used in the Nikon system; it's an ancient, manual focusing, 35-70mm f3.5. The resolution is marvelous and it works well on the D700, even wide open. 

After lunch I dropped back into the studio to pick up an extra battery and I headed to Pease Park for the annual Eeyore's Birthday Party. It's a mini-one day Woodstock without any of the cool bands or the rain or mud or ...... it's actually just a big party in the park that gives Austinites a chance to wear costumes, go topless and pretend to be old school hippies. But I've been going for decades; even back when the crowd numbered in the 20's or 30's so I had to drop by. But before I did I walked over to the Graffiti Wall since it's midway between where I like to park and the Park.

I seem not to be able to resist at least a walk through at the Wall and today was no exception. The 35/70 is a great P.J. lens and it seems to crank out happy sharpness at every setting. And guess what? Since the pixels are so big on the D700 I can stop down to f11 or f16 and not worry about diffraction robbing me of sharpness. How cool is that?

People love taking photos of each other in the middle of graffiti chaos. And they all have a special "photographer's stance"........

Krazy Kolors Kourtesy of Lightroom's new profiles. 

Above: This is a traffic island just north of the world famous Clarksville neighborhood. It's well tended and overwrought. I love people who make public spaces more visually interesting. Velvet ropes and a red carpet for the cross walk. Nice.

And then it's on to Eeyore's Birthday Party. Everyone comes to show off something.....

For the images below I decided to switch from raw to Jpegs and to turn up the ADL control to high (expands the dynamic range via crazy, artificial exposure magic...). Thank goodness I was able to recover some shadows....

To be truthful, when I got back to the studio I was a bit bored by a lot of the stuff I took. The festival/party seemed to have finally achieved mainstream blandness this year. So I did what all trendy web artists tend to do and made everything from that point on black and white. Lightroom now makes it easy and provides an incredible range of control. I've barely scratched the surface. 

 When the 90 degree heat and the throng of gawkers hit critical mass for me I headed back toward the car with stops at Book People to pick up the latest copy of "American Cinematographer Magazine", to look at cool hiking shoes at REI, and to see if the flagship Amazon/Whole Foods store still had any vegan, lemon, hazelnut scones left. Sadly, they did not.  

I headed home to see the Spouse and Studio Dog and to eat salmon with a caper and butter sauce for dinner and to drink Fireman's Four beer. I'm finishing this blog up before heading back into the house to watch a movie with the family crew. This is my idea of a nice day in paradise.

Camera battery recharging. Cards emptied. Blog written. All done. Night John Boy....


I just watched a movie on Netflix called, "Kodachrome." If you remember the film days you might want to see it too.

Special thanks to my good friend, Frank, for mentioning this movie to me over coffee this week. He recommended it highly so this evening Belinda and I sat down and watched it. It's about a  famous photographer who is dying and his road trip, with his son, to get four precious rolls of Kodachrome developed before the last Kodachrome development line in the world shuts down.

I cried near the end. Not for the plight or pathos of the characters but because the movie did such a good job reminding my how much I really miss shooting Kodachrome and Tri-X with my old Leica M4 and its attendant 50mm Summicron lens, and how much we've collectively lost in our changes of process and intention.

The shutting down of Kodachrome really seemed to be the signal that an era had ended and it was a time when we were young, idealistic, full of energy, and we worked hard at the making our visions special and real.

At the end of the movie I felt a deep and painful sense of loss. I'd put off grieving the end of my tenure with film and Leica M cameras and the weight of it hit me right between the eyes tonight.

After the movie I came out to the office and looked into the main storage closet. There are metal boxes in there with thousands of color slides; mostly Kodachrome. Next to them on a bookshelf are three different Leica Pradovit projectors. I haven't used then in years.

I'm going to load a tray of slides tomorrow and sit in the dark and look at them the way God and Kodak intended for us to look at color slides; projected large on a clean, white wall.

And then I may just have to reconsider my whole relationship with photography in its current manifestation....

Important reading material over on The Online Photographer today. Take a read and, if you want to, report back.

Yesterday on The Online Photographer I read a short piece about the horrifying pitfalls and endless travails of being a professional photographer. 

I found humor in some of the hyperbolic responses to the post and when I read all the comments (most about how difficult the life of a professional photographer is....) I thought I would provide a counterpoint by writing a comment about how much fun I've had in the business and stating that I'm not yet resigned to eating dog food in my "autumn" years, nor am I begging on street corners.

Michael Johnston liked my comment and called me to ask if he could use it as a counterpoint post to the original post. I was delighted. Even more delighted to be able to chat with M.J. on the phone for a while...

Here's how The Online Photographer presented my comment this morning:

If you are not a daily reader of "The Online Photographer" I highly recommend it. Michael is one of a tiny handful of photography-oriented bloggers that I read, religiously, almost every morning. I don't even mind his off-topic forays into the sport of pool...

Here's the index: