2.08.2019

This afternoon's swim. Also, the commitment to staying in good health via exercise is not a "new year's" resolution but should be a decade by decade promise to oneself.

Warm ups at the master's nationals indoor swim meet at
the Jake Jamail Swim Center at UT Austin.
Ahhh, the luxury of an indoor pool.

I can't shake the image of a bunch of fifty and sixty year old men moving from debating about various cameras to debating the relative "charms" of an exercise treadmill. I think a whole bunch of people either spent too much of their lives chained to desks or they were too easy on themselves, underestimating how much good work a body can do and how invigorating and renewing (physically and spiritully) pushing one's fitness boundaries can be. I'm not suggesting that anyone who has been relatively dormant for decades at a time rush over to a pool and pound out a quick couple of miles in the next hour but I'm very much in favor of people pushing themselves enough to get out of their comfort zones for an hour a day. 

It was cold in Austin today. We woke up to temperatures under the freezing mark and scattered sleet showers. The wind gusted from time to time and the wetness of the day made it feel chillier than the mercury might suggest. A good day to make a cup of tea and hew to the easy chair to leaf through some books about landscape photography from the 1950's? Not on your life.

I worked in the studio until about 11:30 am. The place was in desperate need of a cleaning and with people coming in tomorrow for portraits I had already pushed my self-imposed deadline. With the last bit of vacuuming done I hopped in the new Subaru and headed out to the pool. I left a bit early so I could drop a check by my bank and then some letters to the post office. I got to the (outdoor) pool at ten minutes till noon and changed in the locker room. 

When I left the locker room the sleet was coming down hard and pelting me in the face. The sleet was also starting to stick to the cold ground. I looked ahead and thought I could see the first little icicles forming on the horizontal bars of the lifeguard's chair. When you are wearing a swim cap, a swim suit and a pair of goggles a sub-freezing temperature and biting windchill factor is ........ bracing. I didn't stop on the deck to chat with my fellow swimmers; we just jumped right into our respective lanes, did a quick couple of hundred yards to get warm and then read the workout that was written on the white board at the end of the pool. 

There was a thousand yard warm up followed by 12x100 yard swims on 1:30, alternating I.M.'s (individual medley = fly, back, breast, free) and fast freestyle. After that was a set of 12x75 yard swims alternating between one's best (or favorite) stroke and freestyle. After the two sets we had the option to warm down with a two or three hundred yard swim. So, about 3300 yards. 

During the middle of the workout the sleet storm went bonkers and ice pellets started piling up on the roof of the main building and all over the grounds. The swimmers laughed, plunged under the surface of the 80 degree water and then popped up and kept swimming. A little sleet is hardly anything to worry about. Now hail would be a completely different story. 

By one we'd finished with our midday swim and were heading to the locker room to change back into our street clothes. But I can still see the little drops that popped up an inch or so above the steaming surface of the pool each time a piece of sleet struck the surface. It was fun and kinetic magic. 

We swam a hard enough set and got in nearly two miles of swimming over the lunch hour. But this wasn't a "new years resolution" swim for any of us. It was another swim on a massive foundation of previous swims. An almost daily routine for the past 56 years (I started swimming in a year round club at six). It helps keep me right at 158 pounds, keeps my blood pressure and heart rate slow, keeps my joints and muscles happy and improves my general attitude by 1,000 %. It seems like a tremendous advantage to me. Not something I have to sell to myself. 

In a small business, as in staying in good physical shape, the key ingredient is the discipline to show up and do the work. If you do that everything else falls into place. 

So, what's the real cost of swimming in a six days a week, masters swim program? About $50 bucks for a Speedo Jammer Endurance swim suit and a pair of goggles. If you're good to yourself you'll refresh those basics every year. Then there's the $90 per month dues. That's a total of $1,170. per year. 

We have workouts that fit most people's schedules: 7-8:15 am, 8:15-9:30 and Noon to 1pm on weekdays and then 7:30 am - 8:30 and 8:30 - 10:00 on Saturdays and Sundays. You can choose one per day or come to all of them, the financial cost is the same. 

But focusing on one exercise exclusively is not the most productive way to go. I also try to run a five mile trail course a couple times a week and then walk through our downtown area with cameras two days a week. My idea of hell? Sitting at a desk and staring at my computer for eight to ten hours a day. 

63 is the new 25. You just have to reset your brain to accommodate for the bad habits of the past. Just about any medical problem you want to bore me with (bad backs, sore necks, insomnia, anxiety) might just be curable with enough exercise. But it starts with commitment. You have to want to make your life better. And who wouldn't?

How good is the Eterna Profile in the Fuji XT3? I thought I'd try it out and see.


There's a profile in the Fuji XT3 that's called Eterna. It's intended for use as a "straight-out-of-camera" solution for video shooters who don't have the luxury of shooting in a flatter, Log profile and then spending time in post production to color grade the resulting files. It's a flat profile but not in an unattractive way. I decided to see if it was a useable solution for two different shooting situations I encounter; shooting high contrast interiors (usually in a commercial facility) and also making portraits on bright locations. The test shot I am looking at today is from a quick, handheld interior test.

I was in the JW Marriott Hotel on Congress Ave. with my Fuji XT3 and the XF 14mm f2.8 lens and I walked into a room that had floor to ceiling windows on one side which gave me a view of several downtown office buildings; two in full sun and one (on the right side of the frame) that was in full shade.

The interior was unlit as the room was not being used. To add to the wide dynamic range of the scene the window supports were brushed aluminum with bright highlights. I switched the camera profile to Eterna and, with the camera set on "fine, jpeg" I proceeded to do a three stop bracket. When I got back to the office I opened the file I thought had the best histogram and took a look.

My take was that this profile did a good job maintaining color saturation while giving me a more expansive range of shadow detail (see the shadows of the chair on the table in the foreground or the carpet detail in the far corner) while preserving the highlights in the uprights between the window glass.  Given the correct, full daylight exposure on the building mid-frame I think this is a very good result.

I would not hesitate to use the Eterna profile in any overly contrasty situation. With a few tweaks to the midrange contrast I get images that seem well balanced and keep me from having to resort to less elegant "tricks" like in-camera HDR.

Next time around I'll show you how well it works in portrait settings.


2.07.2019

Reconsidering the Fuji XE-3. Bought as an emergency back up camera but winning me over as a general "walk around" tool.

I think my writing will be conceptually blurry today because I spent the first five waking hours at jury duty. No big murder case. No industrial treachery. Just a couple of people in civil court with their respective attorneys trying to convince the six person jury whether or not the plaintiff should have her (very inexpensive) medical expenses and lost work time paid for by the defendant.

It's interesting to come out of my comfortable cocoon to see what the real world feels like. It's not nearly as glamorous out there as I wish it was... I can't believe the jury worked for nearly five hours with nary an offer of a cappuccino or some fresh croissant. Call me spoiled but when the attorneys are getting paid, as are the judge and his staff, I think it's a bit much to ask taxpaying citizens to drop everything, rush to the courts and decide the futures of our fellow persons in exchange for nothing more than $10 from the state of Texas. Really? Would it take much effort for them to at least buy a nice coffee making apparatus for the jury? I don't think so...

But, as some bitchy reader out in the webspace instructed me to stop talking about anything not directly related to photography I guess we won't go into any more detail about the care and feeding of the people ensnared in the production and delivery of justice.  To the reader who "suggested" that I get back to writing just about photography I say, "Have A Nice Day."  

Housekeeping. See below for our standard policy on you directing my writing. It comes from the footer of the comments section:

Comments. If you disagree do so civilly. Be nice or see your comments fly into the void. Anonymous posters are not given special privileges or dispensation. If technology alone requires you to be anonymous your comments will likely pass through moderation if you "sign" them. A new note: Don't tell me how to write or how to blog!

Now, on to the topic of the day; that cute little APS-C camera from Fuji; the XE-3. 


Last fall I made the "mistake" of buying a Fuji XT-3. I say mistake because I liked the files I got from that camera and wanted to bring it along and incorporate it into a project that was already in progress. But I have a and hard and fast rule about not going on assignment without a back up camera that will take the same lenses. Even better, the same accessories and batteries. 

I trudged back to the camera store to spend more money that I really didn't want to spend and opted for what I thought would be only a dire emergency back-up camera, the XE-3. It had a very similar menu, the same battery and everything else that would make it a functional reserve camera so all the boxes were checked and it rode up mountain roads and into rough weather with us, unused until the end of the year. During the holidays I was looking for a camera that was small and light and unobtrusive enough to take everywhere and I rediscovered this one in the side pocket of one of the camera bags.

So, what is it? The XE-3 is a small, light, rangefinder-styled APS-C camera that trades a bit of functionality for a diminutive overall package. The camera uses the same 24 megapixel sensor you'll find in Fuji's XT-2 or the X-Pro-2. From what I can get in my research it also has the same imaging hardware as the bigger cameras in the Fuji family. You still get the exterior dials for shutter speeds and exposure compensation and you still get to control aperture via the ring around the front of the lens. You just get to do this with a camera that has a fixed rear LCD (the anti-blogger-cam) and a usable but fairly pedestrian EVF. That's pretty much it. 

If you are truly a minimalist and looking for the highest imaging performance in the smallest and simplest package (and one that's not too menu driven) then this camera, or one like it should be on your list of camera to evaluate. While it's a bit small for a heavy duty user camera (and I say this only because a camera this small is harder to hold at times) it absolutely disappears at the end of the camera strap; in a good way. 

There are a few indications that this is not meant to be your "flagship" camera, such as the top manually settable shutter speed is 1/4000th of a second, and the top flash sync speed of 1/180th of a second. The EVF is also a bit small and allows too much ambient light to interfere with comfortable viewing on bright days. The flip side is that, when used with the best Fuji lenses, the image quality is just as good as all the current higher end cameras. Well, maybe the XT3 is a bit better but if it is it's not by much. 

I started taking this camera out for walks in late December and have paired it with a number of different lenses. My favorite Fuji lens on this one is the Fuji XF 23mm f2.0. It gives me all the automation  needed and matches the camera for size and low weight. But the most fun for me is pairing the camera with the new generation of inexpensive but ridiculously fast-apertured, manual focus lenses that mostly come to us from China and Korea.

In the image above the camera is sporting the 7Artisans 35mm f1.2 lens and it makes for a nimble package. Since there is no in body image stabilization in the camera (or lens) there's no reason to set things like a focal length in the menu. I turn on the focus peaking and, when I really care if something is OCD sharp I use the back dial up near the top right of the camera to punch in to maximum magnification. In that mode it's pretty obvious when you get focusing just right. 

Another favorite is the 7Artisans 55mm f1.4. It's actually a good performer once we leave the maximum aperture and venture into the more useful ranges. But please note, while I have weird and cheap 25mm, 35mm, 50mm (Kamlan) and 55mm lenses that remind me of my misspent youth with Leica rangefinder lenses I am rational enough to have the Fuji XF AF 23mm, 35mm, 50mm and longer auto focus, auto everything lenses for those times when it's time to stop experimenting, and playing around, and I have to actually deliver results of which I know clients will approve. 

It's nice for all of us artistes to pooh-pooh sharpness with a Cartier-Bressonian dismissal when we notice that the corners of the images we're taking with the cheap, junk lenses aren't as sharp as we thought they'd be but when the petite bourgeoise are actually the ones writing the checks then corner sharpness may become much more valuable than manifesto.

The camera is small and light. Purists will hate that the SD card lives in with the battery. Fuji users will love that they camera's battery is the same as the battery in most of the rest of Fuji's serious cameras. Impatient users like myself will grouse about the start movie function being rudely hidden in the drive menu. Fuji lovers will continue to love the color and tonality of the files. 

If you want to join the ranks of indecisive camera owners with your own Leica M4 substitute you can pick up a new body at one of the usual camera stores for around $700. If previous gens are any indication then this is a body style that depreciates like all hell so if you're a cheap bastard just wait until the XE5 comes out and go to town in the used market. No predictions on how long you'll have to wait for that one. 

One more vital point: the camera fits with much room to spare in the center console of my new Forester automobile. And.....Subaru and Fujifilm are both owned by the same corporate conglomerate. Isn't that weird coincidence? 



2.06.2019

So, how are those Fuji XH1's working out for event photography? Eh?


I was sitting here waiting for big raw files to become manageable Jpeg files (There's 987 of them) and it dawned on me that instead of staring blankly at my screen or watching the rantings of one of my favorite YouTube photo-celebrities I could just crank up the steam powered keyboard and tell you about my event photography experiences while they are fresh in my mind. I did the shoot last evening and just finished processing the files after my noon swim...

The project was pretty low key; I was hired by an Episcopalian Seminary to come over to their place to make photographs of: a lecture, a series of "goodbye, happy retirement" speeches for one of their retiring bishops, and then to photograph the usual group shots and earnest interaction shots between attendees and honoree's that are the bulk of most event that are nice enough to have a "wines, champagnes and heavy hors de oeuvres+dessert" sort of reception. 

At the last minute the client e-mailed to ask if I could also make three exterior, outdoor portraits before the event began and, since I practiced doing that all last quarter, I was happy to oblige. 

I brought two cameras and four lenses. I intended to use three of the four lenses and bring the fourth as a general back up. Both cameras were Fuji XH1s with battery grips attached. The lenses were: the 18-55mm f2.8-4.0, the 55-200mm f3.5-4.8, the (OMG delicious) 90mm f2.0, and, along for the ride, the 35mm f2.0. I also brought a Godox flash that's dedicated to Fuji cameras. 

I brought along a big light stand, a soft box and a second, manual Godox speed light with one of those insanely good dedicated lithium ion batteries. This gear was specifically for the three pre-event portraits. It all went back to the car before I ventured over to the auditorium and reception hall. 

I won't bore you with all the details about the outdoor portrait sessions except to say that I've gotten proficient at this kind of work and can do it quickly and painlessly. Painless for both the subject and for me.  The lens I used for this was the 90mm f2.0, used at f2.8+2/3 stops. I handheld the camera at 1/125th of a second and worked at ISO 200. It was dusk and I was trying to get everything balanced and working correctly with the goal of: Sharp Portrait. Soft background. It worked well. 

After the portraits I broke down the soft box and the portrait specific gear and put it back into the new car. I didn't want to carry around a second flash and I didn't want to keep track of extraneous gear while I was creating high art at the event...

I'm using a Fuji Adaption of Back Button Focusing when using telephoto lenses to photograph speakers at podiums in auditoriums, convention ballrooms, etc. Here's how it works: there is an "AF-on" button on the back of the camera. If you use the camera control on the front to switch from S-AF or C-AF to manual the lens won't focus when you push the shutter button halfway down. But if the camera is set to manual focus and you hit the AF-on button the camera and lens will autofocus on your chosen subject. Now, if you don't change camera-to-subject distance you can keep shooting happily until such a time that this is no longer the case. Push button---get green square---release button---shoot. I guess that's pretty much how everyone's back focus button works, right?

The first order of business when shooting the speaker shots was to assess the main color temperature in the auditorium (theater style seating). The speaker's podium sat in a nice wash of all tungsten balanced light. Easy-peasy, the cameras get set to tungsten; or, the little lightbulb icon. Works pretty well. 

Second priority is to figure out the exposure on the speaker, and that probably won't change much either. I had the facility's lighting guy show me the light cue they'd be using for the speakers and used the palm of my hand (plus 2/3rds of a stop) to get a faux incident light meter reading and then found a good compromise between shutter speed (1/160th), aperture (almost always f4.8 on the longer zoom) and ISO (usually 1600-2000).  

The final pre-production priority is to find a restroom and pee 15 minutes out from show time. Hate to forget this because cameras don't get any more stable if you are hopping from one foot to another...

The way the room was set up (and the way the audience distributed themselves) There were three good angles in the room from which to get good speaker shots. One was a high shot from the top of the room at the opposite corner from the podium. This allowed me (when zoomed in tight) to get a nice shot of the speaker head-on and, with a little less cropping in camera, to get a nice shot of the speaker with the facility's logo showing on the front of the podium. I would get lots of speaker shots from this angle for each of the five (six?) speakers. I practiced my handholding techniques with this camera and lens and can generally get down to 1/30th or (worst case scenario) 1/60th using the 55-200mm lens on the XH1. Since subject movement becomes problematic at shutters speeds under 1/125th I didn't press my luck. 

So far the Fuji XH1 has the screen that gives me the closest approximation of what I'll see on my monitor back in the studio. This takes a lot of the apprehension out of the mix. You pretty much know that if you see something looking good on your camera's rear screen or EVF chances are pretty good that you'll be well inside the bounds of what you expected to end up with. 

The second shot was from a position down near the front of the auditorium but on the opposite side of the room from the podium/speaker. The third shot was on the side aisle on the speaker/podium side of the room; as close to the speaker as I felt I could get without calling too much attention to myself.

The camera helps to make me less obvious. Even just using the mechanical shutter the camera is quieter than just about any camera ever made. You'd have to be sitting right next to me to hear it. If you do find yourself right in the middle of the audience the silent, electronic shutter mode is absolutely silent. 

When the program starts that's when the fun (and challenges) start. You'll want images that show people making good eye contact with the crowd; not looking down at their notes. You'll want to show the subject's lips parted so that in each image it seems as though he is speaking. Extra points if you also get good hand gestures to go along with the look of speech. 

Before the audience gets into the room you should do a quick sweep for clutter than might work its way into the frames if not dealt with ahead of time. I moved some cardboard boxes and a couple of mic stands out of the room in advance. Light switches? We'll have to get those in post production. 

I worked the speeches with two cameras. One camera functions as described above but I think of the second camera as a photographic b-roll camera. I used the wide-to-not so wide zoom on the second body and got crowd shots, reaction shots, room shots with that rig. In this case there was some fiddling that needed to be done re: exposure. The EVF made that pretty easy. 

The 55-200mm f3.5-4.8 did a really good job nailing the needed images and also stabilizing everything well. I shot the lens mostly at wide open apertures. It's plenty sharp there all the way out to the longest focal length.

The most stable shots came when I sat on the side steps to the auditorium and pressed my back against the side wall. I think I could have disabled the I.S. and still had good shots. 

My overall strategy was to provide coverage of each speaker from three different angles, and, if I had time, to make images that were tight, a bit looser and also wide (think: head and shoulders, full length with podium an wide enough to show some audience in the foreground) from each angle. The client suggested before the event began that he would like to have shots in a vertical orientation as well as horizontals. The organization puts out a magazine (printed!!!) and he wanted to make sure we'd have images shot to fit on a vertical magazine cover. I over shot this part of the assignment but I'd rather overshoot by hundreds of frames than to walk away from a venue with one shot too few...

The last part of the job was to photograph the post speeches reception. The caterers did a great job with both decor and the food and one of the first things I did when we moved from auditorium to lobby was to shoot the food set up and the table decor.

With everyone moving around in a mostly dark meeting room accented with blue and magenta lights it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that I would need to use flash to clean up the light on faces. I used a Good/Fuji dedicated flash in the hot shoe of the camera and covered the front of the flash with an orange filter which converts the daylight output of the flash to a tungsten color temperature. This allows the light from the flash to mix almost seamlessly with the ambient light in the space, which was predominantly also tungsten. You just need to set your white balance to tungsten as well and then you are set to go. I love spaces with white ceilings and I took advantage of the ceiling by bouncing the flash off it. This gave me a soft overall wash of light. I also used a tiny bit of white card (maybe and inch and a half square) rubber banded to the rear of the flash head opening so it worked as a forward bounce card to get enough front fill to make everything look a bit more natural. 

If you have a white ceiling and a camera that's good with high ISO noise reduction I recommend ramping up your ISO to something like 3200 and you'll get a better mix of ambient and flash while reducing the amount of power your flash kicks out each time. That means a lot longer battery life and quicker recycling. 

Parts of the room were lit better than others and I started to have difficulties getting the camera to lock focus on people when I wanted it to. I did something I rarely have done before and enabled the AF illuminator to assist me. That worked in many lighting situations but was not foolproof. I finally defaulted to using manual focus and it worked much better than I thought it might. When I grabbed the focusing ring on the 18-55mm lens the camera was set to automatically zoom in an allow for magnified focusing image combined with focus peaking. That's going to be my preferred method in the future for this kind of work.... I've never had good luck with autofocus or automated flash under these conditions but that a blog post for another day.



The XH1 was a great performer. The longer zoom was perfect for capturing speakers in front of an audience while the 18-55mm is pretty much a perfect party lens. 

I enjoy this kind of work. I get to play with my cameras, hear interesting lectures, eat fun food and occasionally have a glass of good Champagne. Working with two matching cameras is heavenly as they are so easy to go back and forth with. No confusion about settings or controls. And, bonus! I think I've pretty much memorized the menus.





2.04.2019

OT: VSL acquires new vehicle for its celebrity owner.... Aston Martin? Bugatti? Bentley? Click Baitmobile?


After every six or seven years of hard use I like to sell off my primary work car and get myself something new, fun and (very important) practical to use for my own general transportation. I'd love a cute little sports car like a Miata or an Acura but I still do physical work to earn my living and I need my car to do more than just slip around corners nimbly and sip gas. I need a car that will get me and a couple hundred pounds of photography and/or video gear all over Texas in relative comfort and safety. And I want my car to be economical because buying all of those fun cameras adds up so quickly....

I also want a car that's filled with safety features so I can dodge as many crazy drivers and weird, Texas highway situations as possible. The Honda CR-V (thanks for the years of mostly trouble free service!!!) was a good photographer's car. I enjoyed driving it but it's aged out of modernity and needed to be updated. Also, cars tend to get sloppy over time and I was starting to hear squeaks and rattles that sounded as though they might presage some future maintenance with which I would not want to deal.

I test drove all the small SUVs in the category I think is most effective/efficient and still fun. That includes: the Toyota RAV4, the Mazda CX-5, the AWD CR-V from Honda, the VW Tiguan and even a Mini-Cooper Countryman. But the very last car I test drove was the Subaru Forester. It felt the best. It had the most solid ride, had the best interior layout, and comes with a great reputation for reliability and safety.

I test drove one on a Saturday and then sat down with a sales person to configure my version. All Foresters have the same engine and drive train. You can spend $25K or $35K but you will get the same overall performance. The only options that affect handling are the tires and wheels.

I have had my fill with sun roofs, moon roofs and other useless holes cut into the tops of cars. I don't like them, don't use them and don't want them. I wanted a solid roof.

The Forester I wanted didn't quite exist the day I shopped so we made one. I started with a base model (specifically because it is the only version with no moon roof) added alloy wheels and bigger tires. Added in all the safety features and added a roof rack, and upgraded seats. The dealership did a search and found one configured exactly as I wanted it locally. I went in this morning, test drove it, liked it, bought it and took delivery. I'll need to take the car back to the dealer in a couple of weeks to have the window tints applied. Darker in the back but light enough in the front (driver and passenger) so that a west Texas sheriff will be able to see both of my hands on the steering wheel in the dead of night as he approaches with his .44 magnum drawn and ready...

The car is white. Pearl white. The interior is light gray. I live in Texas and anything I can do to diminish the heat load is a very good idea. That's also why I am adding UV and IR blocking window tint.

The interior space is perfect for a photographer. The lack of a moon roof adds almost an inch and half to the interior height. The rear seats fold down quickly and easily and almost completely flat. A cargo net comes standard. There are ample tie down points in the cargo area. The cargo area and rear seat backs are finished in a thick, black rubber-like material that should hold up well when confronted with big Manfrotto gear cases, gear carts and loose C-Stands.

It's not a race car but it holds its own on the freeway and still gets about the same gas mileage as my old (non-AWD) Honda CR-V. Of course, it's all wheel drive and has the standard 185 horsepower motor and a 7 speed CVT.

The Honda CR-V wasn't all used up yet but the car was handling a lot of emotional baggage for me. It's the car I used to rush to the hospital when my mom went critical. It's the car that helped clean out my parents' forty years of accumulation from their house, and it's the car that's taken me on nearly eighty 150 mile round trips to visit my dad (and his attorneys and accountant) in San Antonio
over the last 13 months. I was starting to have Palovian episodes of depression every time I got in the car lately since it's been the facilitator in my journey of heavy responsibility and, well, grief during the hardest parts of my recent life.

The new car is like a clean sweep. I'm starting from scratch. I'm also starting to rotate cars for trips to San Antonio. Sometimes I'll borrow my wife's Subaru Impreza for the trip. On rare occasions I'll borrow Ben's Toyota Corolla. For bigger business meetings, house sale closings, etc. I generally rent something for the day; like a Suburban or an Audi. I don't want to put the burden on just one car anymore.

The Honda bore the brunt of my long 2018. I'm handing it off to someone for whom its baggage doesn't exist.

I have my first location shoot tomorrow. Not a lot of gear but a fun, local introduction to the car in its support of a photo shoot. I'm already happy.

Least favorite feature: the engine shuts off at stop signs and stops in traffic in order to save on gas.

My most favorite feature: the button that turns off the "feature" that shuts off the engine at stops.

Best interior feature: The driver's seat is great. Some it the visibility.

Back to our regularly delivered programming.


2.03.2019

The Best Thing I've Written About Street Photography (I think). A "reprint" from 2010.

Street Shooting. Part One. Why the hell would you want to do that?

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    Just hanging out at the Vatican soaking up the ambiance.


For a  generation of old codgers, raised on the images of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank, and that new upstart, Josef Koudelka, street photography is photography.  Those artists fostered two or three generations of Leica M toting,  Nikon F toting, Tri-X shooting fanatics.  What were these guys thinking?  I guess they were thinking that the world around them was going through tremendous upheavals caused by wars, human migration, the conflict of generations, the smell of the new,  the evolution of fashion and so much more.  And all of it was playing out right there on the streets.

Well, guess what?  The world, right now, is going thru tremendous upheavals caused by wars, human migration, the collapse of the world economy and the move from post industrial service economies to a future we're not sure about yet.  Gee.  It all sounds very familiar.  Except now it's playing out for the most part in front of big screen televisions in the service of endless video games, shopping and social excursions to ubiquitous and homogenous malls and in the sealed, air conditioned cars streaking back and forth from home to mall to quasi-fast food restaurants and back again.  Makes it a lot harder to be a visual "cultural anthropologist" on the street and yet photographers are reconnecting with the old tradition of trying to get a handle on what is "now" by documenting the evidence of their eyes.  Or maybe the thrill of street shooting never left us.........it was just napping through the Flickr age of endless cat whiskers, chunky girls lit by off camera flashes at dusk, and ninja's with smoke machines.

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    People at the Termini train station in Rome.

I've absorbed books like, "Why People PhotographNr96wSe3Ov9iOz7jtH7qvHMd8g4F6a7Sl3XNL5b2SL0RzDTksQJelv0SVKLGvzXWDw5VyqbSZCsU7OJYsnoOsloKL0ewGaejuG3Mmk--z9mpt99sVOAusxCd_4QtzBsJbzNraOCL-pHByu3-Gf77di-q444=s0-d.gif" by Robert Adams and I have a huge collection of photo books by Richard Avedon, Robert Frank, Garry Winogrand, Danny Lyons and many, many more.  All of them shot in the streets.  Many of their images are stunning and provocative.  I appreciate them on two levels.  The first is as a time machine to the immediate past.  The descriptive content of these fractions of seconds shows me a time that seems so foreign now and yet it was occuring during my early childhood.  But I appreciate more the well seen graphic images of humanity as a visceral force of emotion and motion.  Flux and decay.

Street photographs are so different than set up photographs.  For some reason I get the impression that millions of "enthusiasts" who, in our father's day, would have been roaming the street and putting in time hoping to become informed observers of the human interplay have abdicated the exterior life in preference for trying to "create" art in their basements and living rooms.  Everything has become so self-referential as though we, as a culture, have lost our ability to attach to things outside our selves or to people outside our isolated, one degree of separation spheres.  We seem to have lost the feeling that we are all part of an interconnected bio system that's interwoven and interdependent, not just physically but also spiritually.  We've become a generation afraid to travel.  Even if it's just travel across town.  Or even fifty feet from our cars.

And so, in some ways, we, the new generation of street photographers, are like explorers out to show the mall and house trapped people what the world outside looks like.  We're trying to show how people exist without cars or credit cards or iPhones or Blackberries or large bank accounts in order, I think, to find the common intersections that will allow us to have renewed faith in the intentions of all the people who seem less like us.  Shooting in the streets gives us access to characters we wouldn't meet in the halls of our normal jobs in white collar America.  It shows an existence without the intangible safety nets of privilege that most of us have hovering below us.  But these images can show the same desire for fun, joy, love, affection and potential that drive us as well.  And by finding the common touchstones of being human we can understand more about ourselves.  

That's the big, philosophical point of view but it's not exactly why I photograph in the street.  I do it because there is some energy there that I'm trying to capture, like a lightning bug in a jar, to take back to an audience I'll never know and show them things in the way in which only I can see things.  I want them to acknowledge that I've looked at things from my very unique perspective and, by showing them, I can help people better understand me.  What my mind must be like. What I think has aesthetic value.  I'm sharing my perspective.  I'm sharing what interest me now.

I don't always photograph people.  Sometimes a Mexican fiesta banner of deep magenta flapping wildly in front of a talkative blue sky is enough to say, "look at what I see."  An altar to Hispanic pop singer, Selena, surrounded by saint candles and flowers allows me to visually shout,  "Do you think this is as weirdly different from my daily life in Austin as I think it is??????"  But the very bottom line,  figured out after years and years of intensive, daily pyscho therapy I've never had is this:  Shooting on the streets gives me a chance, an excuse to walk around and just stare at interesting stuff without having to have a real reason.  And it gives me something to share.

I think the best fiction writers and the best street photographers are the same.  We love to tell stories.  But we don't need to tell the whole story right away.  Sometimes it's better to just tease our audience (and I include myself in my audience) with a snippet that tells a little part of a story but tells it in a way that's so poignant that it's worth savoring in it's unanchored and compartmentalized whole.

Can I tell you a story about "the one that got away" and how it has haunted me ever since?  I was in Russia for a few cold weeks in February of 1995.  The country was in tremendous distress at the time and no one was sure where the next food or money would come from.  Times were very desperate.  But just typing these words makes the scene so banal.  What does desperate really mean?  Everyone's mind and their own history create a subjective mental story when we use words to describe despair.....So let me tell you what I saw.

I left my hotel on Nevsky Prospekt one afternoon with the intention to walk the streets of St. Petersburg and take photographs.  It was so cold you could see the breathe you exhaled ten minutes ago as it formed into snow and gently settled toward the earth.  I was out of place in my western, technical, cold weather gear.  My Contax camera dangling from its neckstrap.  And as I walked down the street the light was fading and becoming a dark and dusky rose color.  Street lights were flickering on and the cars crunched by on hard snow with their little headlights flickering.  

And then I came upon him.  Huddled against the stone wall of one of the ancient gray buildings was an old man.  He was wearing bits and pieces of an old uniform.  I could see a bit of newspaper tucked in around the tops of his worn shoes, put there as extra insulation from the biting cold.  He was worn just like a photos of every sun damaged homeless person living on the streets past a certain age.  His face had deep clefts and his eyes were worn, sad and vague.  Battered by the chill wind of hopelessness. 

He'd lost one arm.  His coat sleeve was pinned up to his shoulder.   This wasn't some faux display to evoke sympathy from tourists because I'll tell you that in the dead of winter in 1995 there weren't any.  At least none that would leave their hotels without chauffeurs, body guards and cars.....And he stood there in the freezing cold.

In front of the man was a very small and delicate wooden table, painted a fading french blue, faded away by time.  On the table was a glass case.  The glass itself was old and filled with romantic imperfections and bubbles.  The seams of the glass case were soldered bronze.  All crude handwork.  The glass case was the size of fairly typical home aquarium.  Inside the case were three littles vases of flowers.  Just two or three stems in two of the vases.  The third held a small bouquet of flowers and the smallest sprig of baby's breath.  In each corner of the case were small, white candles which gave off a peculiar, warm glow.  

I say it was peculiar because the slight warmth of the inside of the case caused just enough condensation to diffuse the candle light as it would be diffused through the living room's winter window of my house back home. The job of the candles was to keep the flowers, and the water they sat in, from freezing.  And as I stood there, riveted by this site the ambient light continued to drop until the streetlights, the daylight and the candles seemed to provide even amounts of illumination and the points of candle flame seemed so much warmer in the purple blanket that was slowly falling through the sky to cover the quiet city.

It was hauntingly beautiful and sad all at once. Deeply sad.  And I couldn't figure out how to include all the pieces of the scene in a frame of film without impinging on the dignity of the old man.  This was his life.  He knew it was his life.  It was all he had.  To photograph it seemed wrong.  It seemed exploitive.  It seemed like trophy hunting.  I left my camera dangling around my neck and I walked over and, in broken Russian, bad French and pantomimed English I bought the small bouquet of flowers.  I paid the man much more than he asked.  He gave me a memory that would haunt me for the rest of my life.  What was that really worth?  What can we ask from others except to make us kinder, more empathetic and more grateful?

What happened to the flowers?  I was out shooting.  I didn't want to carry around flowers.  I walked several more blocks and then turned a corner and gave the flowers to the first young couple I saw.  It was a beautiful day of street shooting and I returned to the hotel without having fired a frame.......


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    Detail of the entry lobby at the Alexander Palace in 
    Pushkin, Russia.  1995.

2.01.2019

A quickie lens review of two or three lenses. The 50mm f2.0 X WR, the 90mm f2.0 WR and the Zany 7Artisans 55mm f1.4.

50mm f2.0 WR.

I bought Ben some new headlights for his car. They were a Christmas present. Part of the gift was that I would have them installed. I don't personally do anything with automobile maintenance other than find dealers who have barristas and who also serve pastries while you use their high speed wi-fi in their nice waiting rooms. I prefer even more the ones who automatically give you a loaner car while they work on yours. But when it comes to maintaining a 15 year old Toyota Corolla those sorts of dealerships and perks are a bit of a mis-match. 

Belinda had been having her car (now Ben's car) serviced by a local place called "Rising Sun Automotive." They specialize in Japanese cars and are knowledgable, laid back and fair on pricing. I called and they said they'd be happy to install the headlights. I arranged to get the car in last Thursday. Ben was flying to San Francisco for a few days for a business meeting and, if I took him to the airport at five in the morning I'd be able to take his car over to the shop in his absence.

I drove the car over after morning swim practice. Belinda was at work at the ad agency downtown by then. I decided to drop off the car, walk down Lamar Blvd for about a quarter mile and then catch the bus back to my neighborhood. As I walked down the big hill on S. Lamar I came upon a giant mural painted on the retaining wall across the street from me. I had the XT3 with the Fuji 50mm f2.0 WR lens on it which was just the right combination. I shot a few frames and then walked on; not wanting to miss my bus. 

When I got back to the office I popped the memory card into my computer and pulled up the wall/mural image in Lightroom. The color and resolution were flawless. When I pulled up a detail of the eyes from the mural I was happy because I could see all the surface texture on the wall. 

Wall detail. 

I've subsequently shot a number of different subjects with the 50mm lens (which is small and light) and in each instance I've been happy with its performance. I can't ask more of a long normal/short tele lens that is both economical and also weather resistant. I recommend it!

Then I went for a walk and shot some stuff with the &Artisans 55mm f1.4. Below is an image of a plant that I photographed at f2.0 and I liked it as well. Other photographs of flatter subjects show me that the lens is soft on the edges when used wide open but gets better edge sharpness as you stop down. At f2.8 and higher I'm able to use the lens interchangeably with any of the Fuji lenses and, while it's not quite in the same class when it comes to sharpness and performance at wider f-stops it's a great lens for portrait work if you keep the subject away from the edges. It's much superior, image-wise compared to the more expensive Kamlan 50mm f1.1. I'm not in any rush to move the 7Artisans lens out the door. I'll want to spend more time with it shooting portraits in black and white before I make any hasty decisions. I'll give this one a neutral rating. The price is right but some will have issue with edges and corners. It does have the latest photo buzzword: Character. (which largely means it's less sharp than ultra modern lenses and perhaps the lens coating flattens out harsh detail on portraits better than the best coatings. Let's call that a plus for portraits; a minus for other subject matter......

7Artisans Plant-ography. 

And that brings me to the lens I took out for a stroll this afternoon. The Fuji 90mm f2.0. Based on what I saw after shooting about 60 photographs I would recommend that every Fuji user who makes portraits, and likes a longer focal length for a tighter angle of view, should run out right now and buy their own copy of this lens sometime between now and the end of March while there is a $250 rebate on it. It's that good. I'm officially smitten. 

There are really just three lenses I've used in the past two years that have surprised me with their near perfection. Of course, the first one is the Olympus 12-100mm f4.0 Pro. I can't understand why any m4:3 user would not have this amazing and highly flexible optical system in their camera bag. It's just so good. And the built in image stabilization works so well on Panasonic cameras that most would not miss having I.S. in body if this lens was their primary shooting tool. 

The second lens is the Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 Pro. Fast, super sharp, easy to handhold, and did I mention sharp wide open? I thought I'd have to rummage through the Olympus catalog any time I needed a superlative lens but the 90mm f2.0 from Fuji is their equal. It's sharp wide open, the out of focus areas behind the main subject are sublime and while the lens is hefty you know it's that way because it's packed with optical magic. No I.S. but so usable on the XH1 with in-body I.S. 

If I hadn't experienced the lens first hand I wouldn't believe what I had construed to be hyperbole. I do now. It's the best of the lenses I've used on my Fuji cameras.





Today I was inspired to look all over downtown Austin, Texas to see how the landscape has been littered with rental bikes, scooters, mopeds and electric bikes. These are shots from my adventure.






"A Poor Craftsman blames his tools." And, "A Poor Marketer Blames the Market."

One of my favorite images but not one I'd send to marketers at IBM or Dell. 

One of my favorite executive portraits and one that I'd happily send to corporate clients.


Over the years that I've been in this business I've found that it continually lives up to the tired, old saying of Ancient Greek Philosopher, Heraclitus, that Change is the Only Constant. I've heard over and over again that people just want to find their style and then continue along forever doing their photography in exactly the same way. I guess that's fine if their style is something their market will embrace forever but for most commercial artists ever changing styles and fashions drive current sales. Resting on one's laurels can be....ill advised. I think the only artists who can spend their days rehashing their greatest hits are the ones who are already dead and were lucky enough to have made it to the big time before the Grim Reaper punched their tickets.

For the rest of us success comes not from just staying visually and conceptually relevant but also (and probably most important) constantly fine tuning our marketing. But the biggest marketing error I see, beyond putting up inappropriate samples, is not having a flexible but scheduled advertising strategy. 

There seems to be a depressing trend among small businesses in general, and freelance artists in particular, and that is the tendency to completely ignore marketing when schedules are full and days are busy, then, when the big job is over and the e-mails turn from clients to spam a panic sets in and the realization hits that Bob the Photographer desperately needs to get some sort of marketing out to quickly prime the pumps of commerce. Inspiration seems to strike just as the last of the cash flow gets parceled out to necessities and there's little left for any sort of campaign.

In a panic one tends to fall back on what might have worked to get business in the past. I've watched a certain arc occur when the panic from no work hits. The first impulse is to totally revamp the website. This is a black hole where time in concerned and misses the primary idea that something needs to drive clients and potential clients to the website in the first place (Please go see my website: kirktuck.com ).

After days or weeks of toil on the website (while the bank account continues to dwindle) the photographer turns to social media as the next (free) step and starts pelting his fellow  SM users with random images, disjointed stories and too many posts. Yes, someone on Instagram will give him a few "nice captures!" but delivering new work right now is not a superpower of social media. I think one's desperation and one's success from social media are inversely proportional. The more panicked one becomes the less effective the free media becomes....

The next step for the marketer-behind-the-eight-ball is to go to the lowest common denominator and cut prices on commodity work. A strategy that rarely works and still requires a buyer who needs something right now. Most good advertising projects are planned far in advance --- 

At the end of this progression Bob ends up sitting at the local professional photographer Happy Hour nursing a cheap beer and joining in the chorus that's busy blaming "market conditions" for their lack of income. The premise being that we're in a continual downturn and there's absolutely nothing we can do about it.

A few words of advice. Figure out who your markets are. Introduce yourself. Send marketing information that's useful to potential clients. Send it regularly. Market across multiple media. Some direct mail, some social media, some public relations, some direct meetings to show new work (and to show off your winning personality...). Be consistent with your message. Be consistent with your logo and the look and feel of your branding. 

I have so many friends who work in advertising. I hear so many stories of random e-mail blasts showing off "boudoir" style photos aimed at art directors who work in technology or medical fields. I hear about the same art directors getting one great postcard but no follow up, no further signs of life.
And I hear at every lunch meeting about some new creative talent who is making himself/herself persona non grata by e-mailing weekly, even daily. 

Notes from experience: Instagram is fun and breathless but the corporate clients spend their time over on LinkedIn. One post card is a waste of time and money. Six postcards mailed over a six month time frame is bound to get one noticed; as long as the work is targeted to the recipient. Facebook is great if you are hunting for wedding photography or children photography. Facebook sucks for corporate and commercial work. And it's a good place to waste days and days of time.

Start by identifying the people you want to work with and then reverse engineer the process. Figure out what accounts they work on; what kind of clients they have. Craft messages/include photos that let potential clients know you understand their markets and can provide what they need. Figure out a way to create a consistent campaign and follow it over time. The creative arts are not a business known for instant success (even though the general press would like to have you think otherwise) so you have to plan for campaigns that build over time. And then you have to engage.

Usually, when I hear another photographer blame the market, or I hear myself bemoan an economic slowdown, I know we're trying to blame something we can't control. We can only control how well we market and how well our marketing changes with change. 

Yes, there are bad markets. Yes, there is constant change across industries. Your job, should you wish to be financially successful, is to spend less time and effort trying to figure out the ultimate format or the "camera of the moment," or how many dancing angels can be in focus at f1.0, and to spend that time staying in touch with the people who can write you checks. Figuring out where your market is moving next and how your messaging (not brand) needs to change with it.

I think it's true that a poor marketer blames the market. 

1.31.2019

I'm not a fan of flat lighting. I nearly always feel as though photographic light should have direction. Especially for photographs of people.


Two things I like in portraits seem contradictory. I like big, big light sources and I like to see them bright. I never want to go to "paper white" with my highlights but I want to them to be bright enough to offset deep shadows.

The second thing I like in a good portrait is a deep, inky shadow somewhere in the photograph. When I photographed Michelle with her hat in my studio I used a four foot by six foot softbox on one side of her and put up a black velvet curtain, just out of frame, on the opposite side. I love the contrast. I love the fall off into darkness. For me it's all about balance.

But nothing technical matters at all if you don't connect with your subject. "Clicking with people is more important than clicking the shutter." - Alfred Eisenstadt. Photographer for Life Magazine.

Michelle and I worked on making cool portraits for several hours on the day that we got this image. We'd share gossip and chat and forget the camera for a while and then I'd see something in her gesture or expression that would make me think, "That's a great look. I need to get that!" and we'd get back into the photographic groove. I'd shoot two or three 12 shot rolls of film and then the conversation would veer off in another direction and we'd abandon the camera again until we were ready.

People don't seem to take enough time these days. They go into a shoot with all this stuff pre-planned and they doggedly persevere with their game plan no matter how off the rails it ends up being. I like to think of real portrait photography as the stuff we do in the interludes between grown up conversation about more important things; life, love, food. The images flow from the connection two people make. Not from superficial storyboards....