Way too hot outside so I'm inside getting ready for a portrait session with physician. Thank goodness for air conditioning!

I knew we were in for an uncomfortable day when I was driving to the swimming pool at 6:45 this morning and the announcer on the radio told us that the current temperature was 79 degrees with 96% humidity. The high today should top out at 102, which would be pleasant if we had the desert dryness of someplace like Tucson, AZ., but heat index indicates that it's going to feel more like 108. These are all Fahrenheit temps.

Crazy as I may be I'm loathe to go out walking in this stuff and even a bit happy that I don't have to drag a couple hundred pounds of gear in and out of a remote location. There are some days in Texas when it makes sense to swim early, have coffee at the chilly-est coffee bar in the neighborhood and then get home and work in the studio before the sun climbs high. But I guess it's not just Texas that's dealing with the heat today but most of the contiguous U.S. Is this literally or metaphorically welcome to hell? 

My portrait appointment this afternoon is with a doctor from a large radiology practice in Austin, Texas. It's a practice with about 150 doctors and we've been making portraits for them for nearly fifteen years now. When we started I used a pop up background that I wasn't thrilled with but it became our official background for hundreds of engagements. Lately the art director for the practice has decided to go back and change all the backgrounds via PhotoShop. That's freed me up to totally get rid of the old background and to now shoot the headshots against a white seamless paper. Easier to cut people out and drop them into different backgrounds. Easier for me to get consistency.

My main light today is the Neewer 400 watt second flash I wrote about recently. It's in a collapsible 48 inch softbank. My fill is just a passive reflector to the opposite side of the subject. I've got Neewer Vision 4 light aiming into an umbrella as a single light on my background and an additional Neewer Vision 4 with a standard reflector and diffusion sock as my accent/backlight. The background light is flagged off with a black flag to keep it from spilling onto my subject.

Since the art director is dropping out the subject from the overall image in PhotoShop I'm making her job easily by shooting at a smaller f-stop than I usually do. My lens on the D800e is stopped down to f8 and 1/2 so we can keep hair in focus. It makes getting believable selections easier...

I took a few minutes to meter the lighting set up. I'm using an incident meter and getting f9 from my main light, f9 on my background and f7.1 from my hair/accent/backlight. Once the doctor steps in to the set up I'll fine tune a bit.

I'm nearly always set up and ready to go when my clients arrive. I like to offer a bottle of cold water and let my subjects take some time to get acclimated to the space. For a nice headshot we can usually get started, fine-tuned and finished in about 20 to 25 minutes.

I just finished shooting "Alan" a few minutes ago. I'm going right into the ingestion and post processing of the images and should have a gallery up for the art director in about half an hour. Once I know we've got a range of good keepers, and that the gallery is live and functional, I'll send along an invoice as a .PDF. 

"Alan" came today in a nicely tailored, navy sport coat, pressed dress shirt and perfectly tied tie. He also had on a pair of seersucker shorts and some sandals. His nod to the oppressive heat. A perfect combination for the season, and the purpose of the appointment. 

One more project done before the holiday!


It's fun to see how the work gets used. Here's an ad for the upcoming Zach Theatre production of "Beauty and the Beast."

There were a lot of different uses for the image above. A full page newspaper ad. Website illustration. Marketing materials to partners and affiliates. Large post card mailers. Full size lobby posters. Who knows what else?

We shot the image on the main stage at Zach Theatre using a Nikon D800e, a Nikon 24-120mm f4.0 lens, and we lit the shot with three Neewer Vision 4 monolights. Design of the above ad was by Rona Ebert of Zach's marketing team.

It's always fun to do a project like this one and to see how the images end up being used. We'll be back to photograph the dress rehearsal and more the beginning of next week.

Now it's time to get back to work on the next project.....

Some strange conjecture about a future collaboration between Samsung and Nikon.

Wiring Harnesses. 

I was reading an article over at Andrew Reid's website, EOSHD.com and it seemed both obvious (in retrospect) but also very prescient. Here's the original source for today's thoughts https://www.eoshd.com/2018/06/samsung-joins-forces-with-fujifilm-will-apply-new-tech-to-large-sensor/

If you read all the technical papers about the chip technologies used in the late, somewhat lamented, Samsung NX1 you would be amazed to see that, at the time, Samsung was bringing to market some incredible design and manufacturing prowess. The sensor in the NX-1 used fast copper interconnecting technology, was BSI before BSI was a buzz acronym, was based on 4.5 nanometer technology which surpassed other makers by orders of magnitude, and much more. The marketing problem was that Samsung lacked experience and panache at haptics, desirable industrial design and an ability to relate well to ( or to even understand ) their primary buyers. 

They had the state of the art sensor but every previous camera they made had serious handling or firmware faults that crippled their ability to frame the sensor well. Kind of like dropping a modern, high performance car engine into a Yugo chassis and expecting people to applaud the performance of the motor alone....

According to Andrew's sources Samsung has continued to push serious money into sensor R&D ($13 billion thus far....) and could whip out an incredible full frame sensor at the drop of a hat. It seems that they are partnering with Fuji to advance the technology but that doesn't necessarily mean that Fuji will end up being the primary user of a full frame version of the joint sensor technology. They would have to re-tool their entire line of lenses to introduce a full frame camera wrapped around that sensor. It might happen; there might be a product extension down the road, but for some reason the first camera maker that popped into my head was Nikon. 

They source a lot of sensors from Sony and like any other business it can be downright dangerous to find yourself wedded exclusively to one supplier. A new, state of the art sensor that can go toe-to-toe, or even surpass, the current Sony product line could be an important differentiator for Nikon at a time when proving their continuing tenure as a cutting edge photography company is vital. It would be interesting to see Nikon roll out a flagship mirrorless camera with a unique and powerful new sensor at its heart. 

If Sony and Canon finally have a large and powerful competitor at the top of the innovation mountain it can only benefit consumers across all camera brands. My experience with Samsung showed me that while they were still immature as a maker of easy to use and easy to handle cameras their sensors were first rate. In fact, reviewing some of the work I did with their (ill fated and over engineered) Galaxy NX camera was a revelation. They had the sensor tech nailed down. It was betrayed by an odd fascination with infecting their late cameras with an Android Operating system...

And no one wanted their camera to automatically update Candy Crush (shutting down camera operation temporarily) just as they were about to photograph the final goal of the World Cup...

It will be interesting to see how Samsung caters to the existing camera market. It may be that they come back into camera manufacturing with a new understanding that the real money (for right now) is either in Phones (which they have covered) or in the high end of the stand alone camera market. Could be another game changer.  Just some Monday Thoughts. 

A nod to Andrew Reid for the topical awareness. 

Self Portrait While re-Testing a Gift Lens.

Yeah. It's July in Texas. You feel it especially well on the humid days when the heat index rises up into the triple digits and you sweat walking from the house to the car. For the last week we've also had a weird atmospheric haze caused (absolutely true) by an enormous dust cloud that arrived from the Sahara Desert. Air quality dipped to "moderate" which is never a welcome sign. 

I'd gotten a cool old lens from a reader and fellow blogger and a few weeks back I did a cursory test of the lens. At the time I was having a brief love affair with polarizing filters and had one on the front of the new (to me) test lens. When I posted the images more than one person commented that the photographs had lowered contrast, or a hazy veil over them. I blamed the lens and moved on. But my sloppy test technique was keeping me up at night and so on Friday I took the lens back out and shot some more, but this time I ditched the filter. 

The lens in question is an inexpensive, older Nikon. It covers a focal range that I really like. It's a Series E 36-72mm f3.5 and is manual focus. I've posted some new samples here and I am growing to really like this lens. It has personality. It also has vicious barrel distortion at the wider focal length settings. It corrects with about a +3 slide in PhotoShops Lens Correction distortion panel. But here's the deal, you can have less distortion in a lens design but something else has to give, usually it's overall sharpness. This lens is very sharp in the center two-thirds of the frame and that suits me fine. 

I have a lot of lenses that cover this range but none are as petite and amiable as this one. Of all my lenses in this range the one that continues to surprise me for it's high sharpness and lack of distortion is the Nikon 35-70mm f3.5, two touch, manual focus zoom. It's built like...well....an all metal lens, and there are no design "nods" to small size or light weight, it just performs well vis a vis image quality and is remarkably accurate when manually focused on a D800e. It's refreshingly retro-technical. 

I can't counsel anyone to buy the smaller, 36-72mm Series E lens if their main interest is in capturing rectilinear architectural photos, although I've included one I corrected below. I can suggest that it's very fun to use and the limited range of focal lengths works well to focus your attention. 

Without the polarizing filter (Bad lens tester. Bad!) the sharpness is absolutely fine and I don't see the veiling haze or low contrast that I experienced before. I'll definitely keep it around for those times when the walk is necessary but the need to haul around "professional gear" is not. Thanks Stephen!


The quick and successful search for an affordable and feature rich monolight. Why and what.

Neewer Vision VC-400 HS.

Last year I got rid of a lot of old, battered and obsolete monolights. It was a clean sweep. I got rid of ancient Profoto units as well as orphaned Elinchroms and a pair of Photogenic monolights. It felt good to push out stuff from the "early" days of studio flash lighting, to streamline my studio space and to rationalize the inventory. I don't regret the "massive purge" for a second. 

And while I'm happy shooting most portraits and non-moving subjects with a brace of Aputure LightStorm LED panels there are times when I do need to use flash to do some of my work. After a bit of dancing around on Amazon.com I came across a product from a company called, "Neewer" that seemed to fit the bill. It was the Neewer Vision 4 and it had features I wanted at a price just about anybody could afford. At the time the light was $289 but I noticed (probably due to a decline in general interest in lighting) that recently they've been priced as low as $189. A full featured monolight for a fraction of what we used to pay for a brand name, hot shoe flash. 

I bought one Vision 4 to try it out. Here's what I liked: It doesn't have a power cord, all power comes from a big rechargeable lithium ion battery that's nicely incorporated into the body of the flash. The interchangeable battery is rated to provide up to 700 full power flashes. Nothing to sneeze at since


Yesterday I was putting together a slide show of theater photographs to share at a presentation. Then I thought I would also share the images with my readers here at VSL. I thought you might be interested in what we show.

Jill Blackwood in Xanadu. Zach Theatre. Austin, Texas

I write a lot about photographing for theaters here in the blog. Probably so much so that some of you think I must have an office at Zach Theatre, or that I do nothing but shoot for them. The reality is that most work done for private corporations is more tightly controlled and I sometimes have to jump through hoops to display it. But theater is different because the images are made with wide and diverse distribution in mind. The shelf life (from a show marketing point of view) is very short; about six weeks to two months for most work. But there's a pressing need to get it into as many media and social outlets as possible. 

This makes it easier for me to share with my readers on a regular and frequent basis.

I love these photos because they require me to be quick on my feet, always thinking ahead, yet at the same time reacting to the constant changes of lighting color temperature, exposure, blocking, composition and timing to make good work. If I do stuff well I get happy clients. That's a dangling carrot in which I am always interested. 

Today I built a gallery with a couple hundred images on my Smugmug.com site. My thought was to share it not only with my VSL readers but also the corporate clients who may never see my other work beyond my regular,  meager marketing efforts. I'll share it with them via an e-mail blast and a few handwritten letters. 

I'd love to know how you like the gallery and whether I should do more galleries of different photographic subjects. We have a pretty extensive archive to play with. I'd hate for all that work to just sit there and not pull its own weight......

particulars for this image: shot with a Sony a99 (yes, I even had one of those) and the Sony 70-200mm f2.8 (which, so far, has been the best of all the f2.8 zooms I've owned). 

Here's the link to the gallery: 

Type. Type. Type.


Why do I feel more comfortable with Nikon cameras rather than FujiFilm cameras? I never really gave it much thought till...

...someone asked me about my preferences at last evening's talk in Dripping Springs, Texas. I gave a cursory answer at the time but I've thought about it more today since we are in the period wherein all the blogs, photo websites and YouTube channels promoting cameras begin the concentrated glorification of the newest Fuji; the XT-100. For the next week or so we'll learn that this new, small, inexpensive camera is "Surprisingly good!!!" "Worthy of Serious Consideration!!!!" "A sleek and beautiful RETRO design" "Punches far above its weight class!!!!!" and, "Has a REVOLUTIONARY bayer pattern sensor!!!!!!" It's that magical period in which every writer newly discovers that cheap and simple can be really good. Especially if the site is in the business of getting click throughs and profiting from generating sales for giant camera stores and, well, Amazon.

If I were a fan of Fuji and already owned some of the lenses the breathless adulation for this $599 camera might have already pushed me to pre-order it. Indeed, it looks like a pretty good deal if you are just interested in taking photographs. But I'm not interested, which begs the question: What have I got against Fuji cameras?

The answer? Either: Absolutely nothing. OR: I've had some less than gratifying experience with the company's cameras, going all the way back to the Fuji S2.

In the early days of digital I shot a lot with the Kodak DCS digital cameras. My first experiences were with the DCS 660 but my favorite early digital camera was the DCS 760 with its 6 megapixel APS-H sensor and removable AA filter. It was a beast in more ways than one. It was built on a Nikon F5 chassis which meant it was rugged and fast. It weighed nearly five pounds so it could hardly be called convenient, but the most beastly factor for owners was that this 6 megapixel camera cost $7,000 and could only really be used at ISO 80 and ISO 100.

When the market for APS-C digital cameras from other makers took off there were competitors like the Nikon D1X, but it was still a pricey unit and didn't offer any real image performance advantages over the DCS 760. Enter the Nikon D100, a camera that never gets mentioned today.

The D100 hit the market at around $2,000 and made very nice images. It had a tiny raw buffer of four. Yes. 4. It took a while to write to the card but the camera was well behaved and rarely crashed or froze. I bought one and used it for a while. But it was (on paper) outgunned shortly afterwards by the Fuji S2. The S2 employed a novel new sensor that promised the equivalent of 12 megapixels. The sensor was continued with additions and improvements in the S3 and the S5.

But let's look at the first camera I bought, the S2. It was based on a Nikon N80 body but it required two different sets of batteries. Four double A batteries went in the extended bottom segment of the camera while the regular camera portion used two (non-rechargeable) CR123 lithium batteries (which we ended up buying by the bucket load ---- not an efficient energy user...). You could load all the batteries at the same time but it was almost guaranteed that they would die in opposite cycles from each other. And with alarming frequency. Change the double A batteries, shoot some more files, change the CR123's, shoot some more files, etc.

And when one set or another died they did so while corrupting whatever files were still left in the buffer. In fact, the S2 and S3 corrupted more files than any other camera, or camera system, I have ever owned. Regardless of CF cards used.

At the time the lure of the S2 through S5 was the idea of getting what might be considered a 12 megapixel camera at a time when there was only one other 12 megapixel camera on the market; the Canon 1D full framer (nearly $7.000). We were paying about $2400 each for S2 cameras that extrapolated 12 megapixels from a six megapixel sensor, used an amateur camera body with a 92% viewfinder, and had raw files that, upon introduction, were only usable in the world's worst raw processing software.

But, hope springs eternal, so we gave it a go when the S3 came out. Bought two. There were two things to like about the newer camera: first, the sensor kind of really had 12 million pixels on it. Half the elements were big ones and half were small ones. The big ones were good for low light while the tiny ones were optimized for highlight detail and the combo provided better dynamic range than many competitors. Second, the camera did away with two sets of batteries and settled on one set of 4 double A batteries instead. It came with a set of metal nickel hydride rechargeable batteries which might get me through a hundred or so images.

I did a lot of work with the S3 cameras but the files never had the detail and ease of processing that I could get from the then competitor, the Nikon D2X. I finally switched to Nikon, which wasn't that difficult as both systems were DX (APS-C) and both systems used Nikon lenses. This was before the magic time when Fuji started making lenses for their mainstream consumer products (Fuji has been a supplier or professional film and video optics for decades, and they have a sterling reputation in that field).

The choice was all about camera bodies. The Nikon blew the Fuji away for handling, speed, battery life and focus. It wasn't a hard decision.

So, that was my early history with Fuji digital cameras but what about now? Now Fuji seems to be the "Gold Standard" for many advanced amateurs, and lots of pros are starting to shoot with them as well. Why not give it a try since I've dragged myself through Panasonic, Olympus, Canon, Nikon, Sony and Samsung in the last eight years......?

I rushed out and bought a Fuji X-100 when it first hit the market and hated it. Passionately hated it. The shutter sounded cheap and frail. The software was half-baked in the first production cycle and the finder was an insult to any Leica user. It went back to the store and I was even happy to pay a re-stocking fee just to get it off my depreciation schedule.

When the X-Pro-1 came out I decided I'd been too harsh on the Fuji cameras and, knowing the solid reputation for their lenses, I read all the reviews of the camera and the new lenses and went to Precision Camera with a checkbook in my hands. I was sold by the incredible marketing. I loved the look of the bodies which was a nod to the Leica cameras I'd used all during the 1990's. We were just coming off some big project and I had the extra cash with which to scratch this Fuji itch.

I played with the camera. Loved the overall feel. But the finder looked blurry. I couldn't find the diopter adjustment, you know, the eyepiece control that comes even on the most basic point and shoot cameras... Right? I asked the sales person. Nope. There was no built-in eyepiece diopter. I would have to order a screw in lens for the finder. Did they have them in stock? No. Could they be ordered and delivered quickly? Maybe in six months.....

Later a rep for Fuji insisted that I try the revised X-100T. A "much improved" product. It wasn't. I sold it to a friend who really wanted to want it. He too was less than bowled over.

At that point I called it quits, at least temporarily, on Fuji cameras. I'll give them another generation or two to sort out everything and then I may dip my toe in with whatever their flagship camera at the time is. That and a 50mm equivalent lens. I'm sure it's all vastly improved at this point and will be even better in the next rev but... snake bit three times and you want to give yourself a rest and let the anti-venom do its job...

If you want to read stuff about the Fuji XT-100 give DP Review a few days and no doubt you'll have dozens and dozens of "first impressions" "hands-on" "is it a Nikon F killer???" and other articles to plow through. Some might be interesting. A few might even be helpful. But we're not really interested in covering it here.

It's Friday. I'm looking forward to the weekend.

Finally, why is the Nikon F at the top of the article? Hmmm. It's a symbol for what I really want in a professional digital camera. I wish we had a digital camera with ISO, WB, RAW and a review screen. All the other junk you want could be done in post. That's the camera I have consistently wanted. A simple to operate, fully manual camera with about 25 million pixels of good, solid resolution and dynamic range. No more decisions to make on set. The antithesis of most cameras offered today.

"Thank you" To The Photographers of Dripping Springs. We talked. We shared. We had great Tex Mex food.

My friend, Dave Wilson, invited me back to Dripping Springs, Texas again this year to present to their organization, The Photographers of Dripping Springs. They left the topic up to me so I decided to talk about something I had never done a workshop or presentation about before, and that was: the nuts and bolts of photographing live theater.

I put together 187 photos I liked and presented them as a slide show, running continuously in the background while I spoke. The venue had a great projection system! I also showed a video we did for Zach Theatre; it's the one I posted yesterday afternoon on the blog. The purpose of showing the video was to point out how we integrate still images as b-roll in motion projects.

The talk seemed well received as the group then invited me to their favorite Mexican restaurant to continue, more informally, our discussions about photography, cameras (one question that came up was, "Why don't you like Fujis?") and life. The Tex-Mex food was great but the conversations were even better.

The most important thing I focused on was to not ramble on for so long that we missed the open hours of the restaurant. That happened when I came up two years ago and I learned my lesson. Speak for 45 minutes, answer questions for 15 minutes and then shut the heck up. It's a good, working method if you also want to get a nice dinner.

Thank you to PODS for making me feel welcome and for listening. And thanks for showing me another good Mexican restaurant that I'll keep in mind for those times when I am coming home from San Antonio on Hwy 281 (the scenic, back way) and hit Dripping Springs starving. All very well done. I only hope I didn't bore my fellow photographers and that they were too polite to heckle..... (smile emoji strongly implied...).