6.15.2018

After a dalliance with some full frame Nikons, a joyous return to the Panasonic GH5 and the almost perfect Olympus 12-100mm lens.


Don't get me wrong. I really like all that Nikon stuff. The full frame, at 36+ megapixels makes for lush files and a fairly easy working process. Big, juicy files, laden with detail, make work at the edges of the ISO envelope a bit less of a nail biting experience. But the cameras and lenses are huge. The lenses, even the good ones, aren't perfect and the lack of an EVF means there's more screwing around to get just the right exposure. Shoot. Chimp. Shoot Again. Chimp Again. Repeat.

I was heading to the Blanton Museum on the UT Austin campus yesterday morning and I wanted to bring along a camera with less physical gravitas. I was getting tired of the bundle size, the irrefutable effects of gravity and the extra layer of work involved in using an "old tech" camera so I decided to bring along the smaller Panasonic and one lens. I looked into the m4:3 drawer in the equipment cabinet and passed over the alluring prime lenses; the single focal lengths that always promise I might get one glowing, razor sharp nugget of visual joy. I went straight to the 12-100mm; my interest in it stoked by an hour's use of it for the video project done just the day before. 

I loved the show of art from modern Australian Aboriginal artists. It's a great show and  a celebration of interesting patterns and symbols intertwined with beautiful colors and textures. When I had gone through the galleries twice, with the camera hanging over my left shoulder, I went back and walked the galleries one more time cradling the camera in my hands and shooting images of the gallery itself.

With the Olympus Pro 12-100mm I believe the system defaults to using the image stabilization in the lens. In any event it all works well to deliver a very stable and handholdable package that I can use down to something like a 10th of a second with no discernible artifacts. The lens is supremely sharp and is well corrected at most focal lengths. At 12mm there is some noticeable (but not excessive or complex) barrel distortion but it's easy enough to handle in Lightroom or Photoshop if you need perfect geometry. The thing I like about the lens is it's feeling of confidence. No matter what the subject matter, if it's in the range of 12-100 you can shoot without a neuron wasted wondering if your lens is up to the task.

This lens, in combination with the really tight and capable GH5 body is a great all around system. It's my default and my basis. While the Nikon full frame system ( or Sony or Canon ) is great for those times when you just have to have all the clutter in the background disappear courtesy of the magic of limited depth of field, in many way the smaller format is better. Easier to stabilize. Easier to ensure image quality across the frame. More physically manageable. 

In the end they are all just cameras. The show at the Blanton shows me the real nature of art work. It's the WORK. It's getting up and thinking about the work you want to create and then committing to doing it with all your attention. Making time to work is work. But doing the work is good work.

Doing it with a camera you enjoy using takes a bit more friction out of the process.

So, what's on tap for today? Well, I was the subject of a fun interview yesterday evening by Gary Friedman, I signed lots of paperwork for the sale of a house in San Antonio. I caught up on billing and client correspondence, got a bunch of video files over to the Fedex office for a client in Florida and a bit more. But over the last week I missed my traditional walk through the city of Austin with a camera and I'm afraid this weekend might be similarly tricky so I'm taking the morning off to recover, stroll with mindless (mind free? unmindful?) abandon through the familiar streets of the city and take a (metaphoric) deep breath before stumbling back into the strange world of self-employment I've constructed for myself. Some moments feel as though I am hanging by my fingertips while other moments feel like I've just walked into the most spectacular party on the planet. But I'm never sure which agenda is ascendant and which is on tap for the present.









6.14.2018

Lou. A reminder that we all knew how to light a long time ago. The new cameras haven't changed the need for that...


Into every photo a little light must fall. It can fall well or poorly; that's up to you.

Photography is an excuse to look at people in a way which might be uncomfortable without the construct of the camera in between.


I think we tend to make big presumptions about why photography is popular and enduring. As a culture we tend to collect objects and creating, printing and collecting images of our food, our fantastic experiences and our unique (ha!) possessions fulfills a bevy of urges constructed by our existence within a mercantile culture. We are also fond of using photographs as symbols of our relative wealth and overall social status. The image of a cruise ship is not about showing your friends or relatives the design and displacement of an ocean going craft it is about a photo becoming a souvenir which, when shared, says, "I had enough money to do this. My social status allowed me this freedom." The same could be said for our images of landscapes taken while on vacation or as the focus of our vacations. I believe that legions of older men feel the need to take their fine cameras somewhere remote from their daily lives in order to give weight and provenance to their artwork by embuing it with a cost of time and travel that is extraneous to the merit of the art itself. 

Our prodigious outpouring of images, spewed across the web, are really two dimensional advertisements for our achievements. We collectively create the understanding that, in order to create a landscape or urbanscape that is of a certain quality, we are  required to travel away from our daily lives in order to see nature/life/monuments in a new and fresh way. 

In effect, the majority of landscapes, cityscapes, and photographs of our stuff  are merely postcards that gather like progressive graffiti to shout, "Kilroy was here. Kilroy had his wallet out. Kilroy traded his time and some of his money in order to position himself to see in real life what you can only see via this small postcard shot I've shared with you"

We've also moved from the idea of sharing being a benevolent act of giving something of value and desire to our fellow travelers. Now sharing has come to mean, in many instances, "I will show you that I am more worldly, more tied in and more able than you are, have more and better friends than you,  and I will do so by making you look at something I have done which does not benefit you and is, almost certainly, of no interest to you. And you will look and act interested in order to preserve the parts of our relationship that you do value. Or you will suffer my need to strut through my catalog of experiences in order to maintain a social equilibrium. 

This is in no way a new thing. People have dreaded for decades the idea of sitting through some horrid evening consisting of uncle Bob's slide show of his trip to the edge of the Grand Canyon, complete with running monologue, "You can't really see it here very well but that spec on the other side of that cluster of trees on the other side of the canyon is actually a bear!!!!!" "You really had to be there to understand it....." And that, of course, is the real message. 

I love Rome and have visited and photographed there perhaps a dozen times. But I can't think of anything more boring that sitting through someone's travel video about the city.

The worst permutation of all this new sharing is the insensitivity of sharing anything visual on the  screen of a cellphone while standing around in bright ambient light. I've given up being nice. I just tell people, "I don't look a pictures on cellphones. It sucks too much."

No, if we are honest, with the exception of commercial work which clients need in order to push their businesses forward, no one really loves anyone else's work. Not wholeheartedly. We do this photography thing because we love our own work. Sure, there are ten or twelve or maybe twenty photographers whose work you admire and wish you could compete with but it's not Joe at the camera club and it's certainly not that guy who has photographed Mount Bonnell in every season and from every angle and with every camera. Robert Frank? Maybe. Richard Avedon? Sure. But that guy who keeps buying those monster zoom lenses and takes shots at the kid's football games? Not on your life. 

So, if I'm such a curmudgeon and so grumpy about photography why do I even bother to practice and share it? Well, my interest is in people and what I've found after working through a lot of life is that there are polite ways of looking at people and then there are interesting ways of looking at people. There's the quick glance and there's the long stare. 

The short answer is that the camera, and the practice of photographing people, gives me a certain permission to really look at and absorb the beauty or presence or energy of the person who stands or sits on the other side of the camera. I photograph (for myself) only the people I find beautiful, interesting, compelling, engaging or scary. Because in this way I can spend time circumventing the polite (and necessary) rules of our culture and stare a little longer, sit a little closer and engage people on a different level than that which is part of our social contract in everyday life. That's why portraits are so captivating. Not necessarily only mine but everyone's. You can stop and look. If you are of a certain generation you might be looking to see if the surface details disclose some evidence of the subject's soul. From another generation you might be admiring aesthetic balance and form. For others it's all about expression and connection. But the bottom line is that the attraction to images of people is our innate curiosity about what makes the person across from us both different and the same. 

My images give you permission to stare. And it's an invitation to see and understand what I find interesting. Fields of blowing cornstalks versus faces directly engaged. No contest. 






6.13.2018

In Praise of the All Purpose Lens for most Commercial Work. Video or Still.

The two lenses I used today to complete a job that required stills and video. 

I'm always impressed by the delusional pursuit of perfect lenses. There is a power in the process that is capable of sucking money out of my bank account faster and more frequently than any other part of my expensive photography habit. I recently acquired a Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art lens. It's spectacular. You'd think I would use it for everything but it's only been out for a few walks and it's been toted along but unused on a handful of assignments where I imagined that it might make a critical difference in ..... something pertaining to my work but it ended up staying in the bag and mostly just taking up space.

Over the years I've made the same kinds of errors in critical thinking over and over again. The acquisitive/rationalizing part of my brain tells me that the ultimate lenses will help me make much better photographs. It persuades me that all my clients will see and appreciate the difference that an ultra-cool-expensive-flashy-fast lens will make in the work I do for them. And I follow that bad part of my brain and rush to the store or to my computer keyboard and throw caution to the wind in my breathless desire to own the best. Almost without exception the most prestigious lenses I ever buy inevitably get sold off a while later. Always at a loss that exceeds any sort of depreciation.

I think my least wise purchases over the course of my career were the purchase of a brand new 80mm Leica R Summilux 1.4 for my (also bad choice) Leica R8 system. There was nothing wrong with the lens. In fact, it was really, really sharp, had flawless bokeh (I measured it on the same brand of Bokeh-Meter used by the savants at DP Review -- It was a 9.5 on the Kroniform Thyquisty Coefficient of Wunderblur. Beaten only by a Lens Baby...) but the cold hard reality was that 80mm is a shitty focal length for me and I should have known better before casually tossing down north of $2500 for a lens I used maybe three times and liked maybe once.

The second was an Olympus 14-35mm f2.0 zoom that was made for the now deceased Four Thirds system. It was supposed to be a beautiful lens. It was $2200. I could never get it to focus on the sensor plane. It loved the space behind the sensor and enjoyed the space in front of the sensor but it plainly reviled the actual focal plane of any Olympus camera I ever owned. I even

6.12.2018

And just like that....we're back. And packing for a hybrid shoot in the morning.


Last week, and all weekend up until the end of Monday, sucked. My dad didn't like being in the hospital and I sure didn't like spending nights and days there trapped in a small room, with bad coffee and worse decor. But we've moved past that now. My dad is home from his stint in observation and, according to my sister, is back to his (recent) old self. Happy and adjusting quickly to being back in his senior living center. I'm now on to other parent care initiatives such as selling the "ancestral" home. We are on schedule to close next week. There goes another day.

But for now I'm happy to have work and I'd rather write about packing for tomorrow's shoot. I'm heading to the Driskill Hotel in the middle of downtown to both photograph and make video of a team building exercise for a national engineering firm. We've got a short time in which to work and lots of stuff to capture.

The client spec'd 1080p video and that's something the GH5 excels at; especially when you set it to do 1080p in 10 bit, 4:2:2, All-I. I don't think I'm going to have much time to dick around with lenses and settings so I've got the camera set up with the Olympus 12-100mm f4.0 Pro lens and I'll most likely spend the morning shooting it wide open at f4. Why not? It's monstrously sharp there, has more than enough depth of field and I'll have a fighting chance in lower light situations. I'm taking a couple fast primes in case the client throws me a curve ball and we end up in a room with next to no light.

We're not doing interviews, just capturing the flow of the team building episode but it's still important to grab some ambient sound during the process. I'm using the Aputure Diety shotgun microphone mounted on top of the Panasonic GH5's audio interface and I'm toying this evening with the decision of bucking best practices and setting the module to use Automatic Level Control (Satan's setting) so I don't have to ride levels while I'm shooting.

I have a small cage for the camera, and the image stabilization in the lens is great, but I know I'm not Superman so I'm going to depend on a Benro video monopod. It's one of those that has the little "chicken feet" at the bottom to help with overall stabilization and it has a nice fluid head on the other end. I practiced with it today for half an hour and I think I've got the hang of it. 

I did the firmware update on the GH5 last week and the AF tracking seems much improved. I may trust it this time for a bit of an assist. So that's it for the video portion of our morning but I also have to capture much the same progression of event with still photographs as well. 

To that end I'm bringing a Nikon D800e and the 24-120mm lens. One lens, one body. I'm also hedging my bets by bringing along a small, shoe mount, electronic flash unit to bounce off the ceiling for the times when I feel like I've just got to have a little more illumination....

Everything packs down into a small backpack (except for the monopod) and I like that because I'm working without an assistant and I want to get in and out fast. I'll shoot raw for the stills and deliver corrected Jpegs but I'm sending along the video as OOC (out of camera) files and letting the client's team in another state incorporate it into whatever project they have in mind. 

I'll head to swim practice first thing in the morning and then see if I can't catch the bus downtown. It's so much easier (and cheaper) than trying to find weekday parking in downtown Austin. For a couple of bucks I have convenience and a nice break from having to pay attention to anything. Should be a nice change....

One reason I am looking forward to working at the historic Driskill Hotel = they have really good coffee...

Young Ben at Asti Trattoria. 

It will be nice to get back to something I am reasonably good at, for a change. And I love having engineers as subjects. Then it's back home to put on my "real estate" hat and get a house sold. We've got some contract stuff to get through but should be closing on the property next week. It's actually fun to keep checking stuff off my list. 

Dad is in good hands back at his memory care facility. The staff is great. The nurses are great, and my little sister flew into town to spend the rest of the week visiting him and catching up. No panicky sub-routine running in the back of my brain while I'm trying to navigate two different system menus. 


I also wanted to write a quick bit about owning one's own copyright. I know a lot of people will tell you that owning the rights to your images and charging additional fees for licensing is extinct or somehow last century, but we still do it. Case in point: we photographed for an architectural firm a few weeks back and we billed them for my time and usage fees for public relations and marketing use of the images. Late last week the multinational construction company which built the project I shot for the architects got in touch with me having been referred by the architect. 

They needed images from the project as well and it dawned on them that our images were real, not future tense or virtual, that they reviewable and that they could have the option of licensing (not buying---just renting) the images individually for their PR and Marketing as well. I checked with the first client and we have no conflict. My offer to the construction company for the use of the images was $125 per image or $1250 for the use of the catalog of images from the half day project. They looked at the galleries and quickly chose the second option. Getting paid twice for the same job is the best way to make this profession profitable. It's not cheating anymore than selling multiple tickets to the same movie is cheating. 

If you aren't currently estimating and bidding based on usage fees and secondary or shared usage you might want to give it a try. Five minutes of phone time for a good fee seems worth learning how to explain this business method to potential and existing clients.


The Summer shooting season is picking up. We've got three theater productions to photograph as well as some fun stuff for several of my medical practice clients. Now, if we can just all stay healthy I think this might work out...


 The rest of the images are just here (below) because I like looking at them. You could stop reading here if you like. ..



back lighting mania.

Crusty old photographer. 



6.11.2018

Evening report.

Dad is back at his Memory Care/Assisted Living Facility. My sister is in town handling stuff for the rest of the week. I made it back to Austin late this afternoon in a little over an hour. Can't wait for dinner with Ben and Belinda, with Studio Dog in attendance under the table, leaning on my feet and waiting to see if anything is left over for her. I was only gone since Thurs. but I think that dog used up all her saliva licking my face in welcome when I walked in the door....

Photo of Ben from 20 years ago.

Job on Weds. Stock sale today. Lunch with a best friend tomorrow. Momentary recovery.

Where the heck is Kirk?




Hey. I drove to San Antonio on Weds. for a meeting, got a call from my dad’s cardiologist, rushed dad from assisted living to the hospital. He has a pacemaker/ICD with cellular telemetry that indicated ten cardiac arrests in the middle of the night. The ICD revived him each time. I’ve been  sleeping on a chair in his room since then. Being there makes it easier on him and the nurses because his dementia is exacerbated by the absence of familiar faces and routines. It is taking a toll on me and reduces blogging as a priority. Dad is getting discharged today (finger crossed) and things will return to normal soon. I sure miss swim practice. And I hate writing this on a cellphone. 

I’d very much appreciate any supporting and well intentioned comments.

With a bit of luck you’ll hear more from me soon! Kirk