Isn't it time to concentrate a bit more on light and lighting than on cameras? Aren't nearly all cameras good enough by now?

It's funny to me, thinking back to 1980 when I was a teaching assistant for Reagan Bradshaw and Charlie Guerrero's commercial photography classes at the University of Texas at Austin, that no one at all talked about camera brands; all we really talked about was lighting. How to light. What to light with. How to modify light. Why to make the light on our subjects look a certain way. We mostly defined our styles by our approaches to light and lighting. Now we seem to have collectively abandoned our pursuit/understanding/appreciation of light and lighting and lean mostly on trying to capture whatever circumstances have provided us. It's kind of lazy and kind of stupid, if you are trying to earn a living as a photographer (or videographer) and you want to differentiate yourself from the vast hordes of people who are also trying to become photographers.

This is just one small post and I can't teach much about lighting here; other than trying to get across that I think understanding how to manage or create lighting is vastly more important than whether the camera you choose has 12.8 or 12.9 stops of dynamic range. But I can ridicule you for continually spending mega-dollars on soon-to-be-obsolete cameras when the purchase and mastery of a handful of lighting instruments (which, really, are never obsolete) can make you a much, much better image maker.

Once in a while you might be able to wait around for the light to get neat and you'll trigger the shutter just as golden hour becomes platinum hour and the light gets so neat that you think you are going to wet yourself, but if you do this (commercial photography) for money the real trick goes beyond recognizing that "once in a lifetime natural lighting" and heading over into the productive camp of people who can make lighting absolutely fabulous on command. 

My first recommendation would be to read up and understand the logical underpinnings of controlling light. Buy your own copy of "Light, Science and Magic" and get reading. Don't depend on watching endless YouTube videos about how hacks light and they try emulating them; most of the stuff on YouTube about lighting is worthless dreck. Thirty minute of mindless chit chat for about thirty seconds of barely usable lighting tips. Just read the book and start experimenting with real lights by putting into practice what you've learned from the book. 

My second recommendation is that you buy a continuous light (a cheap tungsten work light at Home Depot is fine) and then experiment using it at every conceivable angle in relation to your main subject. See what happens when you move lights up, down, to the side, etc. Then experiment with modifiers. Start with small umbrellas and then get bigger and bigger and bigger. Umbrellas are cheaper than workshops. Buy umbrellas from 32 inches in diameter all the way up to 72 inches in diameter. Put the light into them so the beam fills the entire umbrella and then marvel at how different a small umbrella, used at six feet from a human subject, looks when compared to a 48 inch, 60 inch and 72 inch umbrella. Then see how each umbrella's look changes as you move it closer and further from the subject. 

Lighting is a life long learning exercise and I'm not about to tell you everything I've learned over the last 40 years here on the blog. But if you don't pick up a light or two or three or four and get started you'll never master a look that you love and that you can create almost anywhere. The beauty of lighting instruments is that the basics don't change based on the price you paid for a light, nor on how ancient the light fixture might be. Doesn't matter if it's Chinese or Swedish. Once the photons leave the light source they don't remember where they came from. 

The web is heating up now with discussions about what might be in the new Nikon. There are dozens of videos by self-proclaimed experts who are comparing $3300 cameras to other $3300 cameras. There are a million sites trying to suss out the minor differences between lenses. But the reality is that none of this is meaningful if the lighting you shoot in is ugly and plodding and....boring. 

I may change systems more frequently than you change your Depends(tm) but what doesn't change is my appreciation for lights and lighting. I buy cheap lights and I've owned expensive lights; coming out of a good umbrella they are all perfectly usable. The real things to invest in are knowledge and experience in making the light your bitch. No one gives a shit about your A7Riii or your D850 if you light like moron. No Otus lens will save you if you can't create a great look with a good fixture and well chosen modifiers. It's all excuses and credit card abuse unless you follow through and master the light. And nearly all of the professional digital cameras made since 2008 are more than adequate.....as long as the light is good.

I once met a guy who could light with a bed sheet and a 100 watt lightbulb screwed into a twelve dollar work light fixture. He could shoot with a Canon Rebel and a kit lens and his images would absolutely mesmerize and gob smack legions of hacks who were shooting in poorly made light with the world's best cameras. Don't be part of the legion of hacks when a little bit of brain work and some evenings experimenting can get you closer to the amazing guy spectrum. 

Decent cameras and great lighting beat the crap out of perfect cameras and shitty or indifferent lighting. Every time. 

You can't wear most photographic lighting equipment to a gallery opening or studio party (as you can a new Leica or Sony) but it lasts nearly forever, costs less and is a lot more important in the creative process than "sexy" cameras. 


Retro is Looking Modern When it Comes to Cameras. Just Look at all the People Embracing ancient Nikon D700s....

It's funny to watch progress march on in the field of cameras. Camera makers are learning how to get more and more profit from less and less expensive-to-manufacture cameras while using the lure of "newest" to hook generations raised on the worship of technology. Pull apart a mirrorless camera like the A7Riii and you'll be amazed at just how few parts reside in the actual body. There are very few moving parts, beyond the shutter mechanism, and even the shutters are drop in modules made in bulk by companies like Seiko. Linkages that required mechanical sophistication and precise assemble have been distilled out of the process and replaced by software (not that eliminating parts is at all bad!). Lens design is following along. Lens makers can choose different design compromises than they have ever been able to before because they can use software to fix heavy vignetting or vast amounts of geometric distortion. As megapixel counts climb one of the benefits


Slightly OT: Apple, Inc. amazes the financial world with strong quarterly profit report and record setting market capitalization of over one trillion dollars.

Ben with his first Apple Computer. A Blueberry iBook. At his own desk in my studio.
Ben with his current Apple Computer. A MacBook Pro. At the dining room table.

I was reading the financial news this morning, over coffee, and this was the story that jumped off the screen. Apple hit ultimate financial unicorn territory and hurdled over the one trillion dollar mark for valuation to make market history. I'm thinking that Michael Dell's advice, given in the late 1990's, that they (Apple) just shut the company down and give the shareholders their money back, is one of the few utterances that Mr. Dell has come to regret...

Why am I writing about financial stuff? I'm just a photographer... but I've always followed a good piece of advice I got from a financial heavyweight back in the early 1980's. He told me that the mantra "invest in your own business" was misguided and that one should direct as much of one's independent business profit as possible into investments outside one's own company. 

Over the years we've had many opportunities to invest in photography stuff that would have probably bankrupted the business instead of helping it gain momentum. I'm thinking of the first few generations of digital backs for medium format and large format cameras that hit the market in the 1990's. Or giant, multi-page sourcebook ads.  Giant, fancy vehicles. Esoteric optics that I might actually use only once or twice a year. An army of office managers and assistants that I'd need to pay whether business rose or fell. Or the early, professional Apple


Cruising around with what was, until recently, the world's best camera for image quality .... Also, the right way to take the day off.

The remnants of a good lunch at the Red Bud Cafe in Blanco, Texas.

I remember just a few months after the Nikon D800/800e was introduced to the market reading the review and scores from DXO. They gave the camera an overall score of 96 for image quality; a score that was only bested at the time, if I remember correctly, by a $40,000 medium format Phase One camera (which was subsequently removed and replaced by the Pentax 645Z at 101). After reading all the current gushing over new models and new sensors across the web I went back to DXO last night thinking I would see dozens of newer cameras easily bettering the scores of the 2012 model Nikon. After all, it's been six years since that camera was debuted. 

Interestingly enough there were very few cameras, across all brands, which even came close to equaling the potential image quality of the D800e (or the D800 which sits one point behind its  sibling). The new Nikon D850 is sitting at 100 points along with the Sony A7Riii, the Nikon D810 is a hair behind those two at at 97 points and the Sony A7Rii is two points ahead of the D800e at 98 points. The latest Pentax ties the six year old Nikon and the latest Sony A7iii is also tied with the D800e. So, Sony might have all the magic and has an eight year advantage over the D800e and.....the score is a tie. Nice. 

These cameras are all so good as to be interchangeable when it comes to image quality. The difference between scores of 96, 98 and 100 are small, almost insignificant, and yet to hear the review sites and $$$-bloggers talk about it the current/new cameras are somehow just so much more spectacular.

It's all nonsense. Slow news days. The market obviously hit a wall at the high end of the camera spectrum back in 2012 and everything since then has been a series of tiny and mostly insignificant "improvements." Nice to know that picking up low mileage used 36 megapixel cameras for around $1,000 each can put one in the same image quality league as new models in the $3200+ category. If you didn't much care about resolution you might also be shocked at just how good the Nikon D700 is when compared to the current $2,000 micro four thirds models. Especially when taking into consideration that the D700 is well over a decade older and currently sells used for around $500. It's enough to make you convert over to buying nothing but used cameras for a while ---- which is exactly what we've been doing around here.

OMG! Health Issues!!! I woke up on Sunday with the beginnings of an ear infection. An annoying discomfort that kept me from swim practice. I woke up the next morning and it was worse. I called my physician and he saw me within the hour. I've been using antibiotic drops since then and will be administering them to myself for a full seven days. I've been out of the pool since our Saturday morning practice and the withdrawal of endorphins has been......annoying. So annoying that I've been out running the trails just to burn off excess energy. I've given up on naps because....why bother? I'm heading over to the drugstore to find some wax earplugs. No one should have to go a full week without swim practice. 

Why I took today off and when road-tripping to Blanco, Texas with Belinda. So, I did four proposals yesterday and we have two approved and two more heading to clients for final approval. It's going to be a busy August and September. I felt like we've been working and taking care of family stuff non-stop lately and, after the successful ( and labor intensive) sale of my parent's house, I just wanted to step off the hamster wheel for a day and chill. 

I've been driving back and forth to San Antonio a lot and my most frequent trips are on Sundays. When I head home the "back way" I go up Hwy. 281 through Blanco, Texas and then through Dripping Springs, Tx. On Sunday afternoons (after 3 p.m.) my favorite café in Blanco (Red Bud Café) is already closed and so is my favorite bakery/coffee stop in Dripping Springs (Thyme and Dough). I also wanted to visit one of the breweries and one of the distilleries in Blanco as they've been winning awards, generating great press and turning out really good products. But Sundays......

Today, after a long morning walk in downtown Austin I came home and asked Belinda what was on her schedule. Nothing earthshaking. So we left Ben (waiting to hear back about a couple job offers) and Studio Dog (patrolling the perimeter of the VSL compound, and begging for treats from Ben...) and we headed through the Hill Country to Blanco. I took the above mentioned camera (D800e) and the 24-120mm f4 VR along for the ride. 

This is barrel #1 at the Ben Milam Whiskey distillery. I first sampled their 
Whiskey at my local Twin Liquors Store and it was pretty amazing. 
I have a swim coach who is a partner in a competing whiskey business 
so I won't make any claims for ultimate drinking satisfaction.
I'll just say that all good whiskey is subjectively appreciated. 
I appreciate Milam...a lot. 

It was early in the day so we didn't sample. But we did get a quick tour of the facility and heard about their plans for expansion. Double Gold Medals at a international show go a long way toward spurring growth....

Not yet labeled. 

I don't know what this does but it sure looks cool and industrial chic. 

53 Gallon Barrels of Texas Whiskey. 

Our next stop was at the Real Ale Brewing Company just down the highway. (by the way, I'm renaming Hwy. 290 West = Liquor Lane because there are so many start-up distilleries, breweries and wineries along that road. Idea = photo tours from Austin, going from distillery to brewery to winery all day long, with lots of stops for camera work and beverage sampling...). We went through their tap room and out onto the catwalk overlooking their very modern production facility. Amazing how big the giant tanks are. There's a lot of good stuff going on around Blanco which belies its 1800+ population numbers....  Mmmmmm. Fireman's Four. MMMMMM. The Devil's Backbone (two great ales).

Adding something to the mash at Milam. 

Belinda and I had lunch at the Red Bud Café and then headed back to Austin. I couldn't resist two more activities before we got back to our respective offices and re-joined the U.S. workforce. One was to wash my car at the car wash in Dripping Springs (I think my car really likes it...) and the other was to stop at Thyme and Dough bakery for some good coffee and their "Cadillac" cookie = oatmeal, chocolate, walnuts, and pecans. Since we did all of our driving outside the expansive rush hour times in Austin we had smooth sailing in both directions. 

Nice day to just tool around Texas. Glad I brought my (current) favorite camera along for the ride. 

flare test with the 50mm Sigma ART, from this morning's walk.

Finally, I think I've written too much about the Nikon D700 at this point. Two of my favorite readers let me know this week that they've ordered D700s and are looking forward to checking out the magic. I can only think that this new demand will spike pricing on the dwindling stock of D700s out there in the used market, depriving me of future bargains. Ah well. I can't fault my readers for their good taste. 


My favorite graphic designer in the whole world just launched her new website. Take a peek.


Belinda in Siena, Italy in 1994.

Belinda started her graphic arts career by getting a degree in commercial art from the College of Fine Arts at the University of Texas at Austin. She's worked for a number of large advertising agencies and a fair sampling of Fortune 500 clients, as well as many "mom and pop" clients in Austin, Texas. 

I worked with her in an ad agency in Austin back in the 1980s. She helped us win Addy Awards. She gave our shop credibility.

She's freelancing and doing contract work these days, and focusing on taking work she likes instead of doing every project offered.

Her new website is simple and spare. The copywriting there was done by Benjamin Tuck. 

We have to be careful here; with an award winning graphic designer, an ambitious new copywriter and a ne'er do well photographer/video maker we've almost got the makings of another instant advertising agency. All we're missing is the account executive. But wait; we do have a cute dog. That might work....

In all seriousness, give Belinda's site a look and leave a nice comment. If you have a million dollar logo project that you think she might like by all means drop it by to her; I'd love to retire.

Something I wrote about using gear, over on LinkedIn a while back.


Today is "estimate day" around the office. I have three potential projects that need estimates and all three clients would like to have them today. How do we estimate?

I love to hear from clients. Especially clients with whom we already have an relationship. And I like it best when they call and talk to me about future projects. After all, that's what I'm in this business for.  But even if I've been a proven and reliable supplier in the past I still have to provide a gameplay and an estimate or bid for each new project; after all, every ad agency is representing a client and those clients all have budgets they're trying to meet. we have to really sharpen our pencils sometimes  when a fun project is attached to a smaller budget. And sometimes we have to let stuff go because the money is just not there to support the project. The happiest days are when the fun projects directly intersect with ample budgets. We bring out the gold plated lenses for those assignments.

My first step in estimating a photographic or video project is to determine whether it's the right fit for me or not. It doesn't make a lot of sense to spend time photographing something that doesn't interest you at all, even if you are being well paid to do so. You'll do a better job on a subject which holds real interest for you. Fortunately I'm interested in a lot of different subjects and I also find people consistently fun, interesting and entertaining. There are few jobs that include people that I'll turn down, as long as there is enough budget attached to do the jobs well.

Once I decide to commit I grab a legal pad and write notes as I try to envision how the whole project will come together. One of the projects I'm estimating today


Why Canon and Nikon Might Crush the Life out of Sony in the Full Frame Market Place. Blame Engineering and Physics.

I don't know how many people remember all the discussions way back in the mists of the distant past when Canon ABANDONED their long time, FD, bayonet lock lens mount and put all their chips and bets on the new EOS EF lens mount. It was a crazy brave thing to do when they were locked in what was basically a two way sales contest between Canon and Nikon. But do you remember all the white papers and marketing rationales for this cataclysmic change? No? Let me do a refresh...

The old Canon mount was close to the size of the Nikon mount and both worked very well as long as super fast lenses were not required. Remember that back in the mid-century film days an f2.8 lens was a routine and daily user. People generally accepted that lenses performed best at two or three stops down from wide open so speed wasn't the obsession it is today and photographers were happy to get great images at a relatively low cost per lens. Photojournalists and others who worked in low light pushed camera makers to get faster lenses but mostly because having more light pouring into the dimmer DSLR viewfinders meant it would be easier to achieve quicker and more accurate focusing; even if they eventually stopped down to f5.6 to take the photographs.

With Canon and Nikon competing head to head,


Why I will absolutely rush to buy the new mirrorless Nikon but will probably never take possession of one...

why pine for unavailable cameras when it's really the lighting stuff that 
makes the real difference?

Breathlessly waiting for the big announcement of Nikon's mirrorless delivery date.  I can't eat, I can't sleep, I can't even drink coffee because I'm so excited to finally be able to buy the camera(s) I've always really needed. Right? Yawn. Not so much...

I'll rush to Precision Camera and put my name on the Nikon waiting list the minute we find out when that mirrorless, premium camera has a ship date! But, I previously put my name on lists for the Nikon D850 at Precision Camera and at Amazon.com (it's a race!!!) and that was months ago. I still don't have one of the "world's greatest" cameras in hand with which to shoot. At this rate the mirrorless camera from Nikon might be available to average consumers like me in late 2019... But by then someone else will most likely have announced and actually delivered the very next "miracle" camera and my choice will be to grab something that exists and is purchasable versus waiting for an object of desire that seems to be more "vaporware" than attainable, own-able hardware. Yep. just checked again and both outlets are still showing the D850 as backordered. Wasn't that camera launched like six months ago?  I guess once they sent one to every


I always get a kick out of the angst visited upon industry experts when something new is on the horizon.

I was busy being amazed at how well the refurbished Nikon 24-120mm lens was working for me on an ancient, used Nikon D700 (see above) when I chanced to click on Lloyd Chamber's camera site today and read the back and forth between him and Thom Hogan. All of a sudden it seemed that camera design and camera marketing were life and death issues.There was a mini-argument about whether or not Nikon could actually do innovative design work and then more wonkiness ensured.

If we could harness the human potential squandered across the web, reading tea leaves and trying to guess about future camera introductions, we would have already landed on Mars and cured cancer.

I'm pretty much ignoring all the misspent energy about future cameras this month. It's too hot to argue with anyone about much beyond who drank the last beer? 

Eric Rose asked me 'how much better a Nikon mirrorless had to be than a GH5 before I switch systems?'

I thought about it for a while but I'd just come back from a very warm walk with the D700 and the recently acquired (but still ancient) Nikon 105mm f2.8D micro lens and I was busy being re-amazed at the incredible sharpness and