Neely. Circa 1995.
I've got a backlog of printing to do but none of it has anything to do with commercial photography. Nope. I wanted to make some prints of my late dog, Tulip, so I've been going through thousands and thousands of family image files looking for photographs ranging from puppyhood to sparky oldster. I have lots and lots of digital files but never got around to actually making prints. That's something I thought I'd do if I retired and had some downtime...
I'm not retiring yet but there's nothing I can do, photographically, for the business right now and, from a marketing point of view I'm trying to keep my advertising budget "powder" dry until I can see the path to recovery appear. Why advertise when no one is even thinking of buying?
But what this enforced stoppage of business has delivered is plenty of time to get my family files in good shape, take a few laps around PhotoShop and Luminar 4.1, and get some printing done. And, in the process of memorializing Studio Dog, I've also found little treasure caches of Ben and Belinda images that have never been printed or even post processed well. When you are a busy-busy everything not tied to a job gets pushed forward to a vague time in the future; which generally means --- never.
I bought extra ink yesterday for my Canon Pro-100 printer. A printer that's about ten years old and still functioning well enough to kick out decent prints. I know there are much better printers on the market but printing has been such a low priority for me over the last ten years that I haven't even looked around to see what's available. If I find emotional success from my current printing jag and I find a project that just screams out for prints then I'll start researching in earnest. As a percentage of the overall budget printers are pretty cost effective; especially if you consider a 10 year + replacement cycle...
I've decided to use Canon's Photo Paper Pro Lustre for the moment. I'm sure there are wonderful art papers from a number of companies that I don't even know about but this is functional and the printer profiles for it are embedded in the system. My first tests look just fine. As with cameras I'm coming to suspect that the qualities of individual printers are very much secondary to having something interesting to print.
I'm happy to report that Precision Camera in Austin, Texas is still quasi-open for business. No one is allowed into the store so you have to go online to look for specific items and see if they are in their inventory. Once you've found what you need you have the option of ordering online or, if you are local and want to get your hands on your purchase today, calling them up on the phone and transacting that way. It used to be convenient and quick to order some things on Amazon but now that all shipping priorities go to delivering groceries and essential products I'm finding the stated delivery time for photographic items is stretching out to infinity. (I ordered a Leica R to L-mount lens adapter about a week ago and the stated delivery date --- and only shipping option available --- was April 28th. And that's a product that's fulfilled by Amazon...). If I want to wait I guess I can stick with Amazon but if I want to use something right now I'm thrilled to still have a local merchant.
Anyway, I ordered a box of 50 sheets of 13 by 19 inch paper as well as a box of 8.5 by 11 inch paper (on which to run tests) and a complete set of inks plus some extra black ink. I gave them my credit card information and requested that I do a curbside pick-up. Half an hour later I was sitting in front of the store calling on my phone. My sales person came out with a bag filled with the products. He was wearing a mask and gloves. He put my purchases on a table just outside the door and when he re-entered the store I got out of the car, sprayed the package with alcohol and took it back to the car.
When I got home I wiped down the packages inside the bag. Now I'm ready to print...
Exercise notes: We're very fortunate to live in a long established, west Austin neighborhood complete with wide suburban streets, loads challenging hills and lots of towering trees. Since there are no "cut through" streets we have absolutely no traffic through the neighborhood other than local people going to the grocery stores. We've also been here for nearly 23 years and know most of our neighbors quite well.
Every morning Belinda and I pick from three or four routes which are mostly about 2.5 to 3.0 miles total and include at least one vicious and unkindly steep hill, and several long, leisurely inclines. When I saw "leisurely incline" I mean a half mile of ten to fifteen percent grades. You will be huffing and puffing a bit to get to the crest, if you are walking briskly enough. We walk now measured by time instead of just distance and we generally allocate an hour to our morning walks.
Afterwards Belinda practices yoga and is now watching and following along on one of the many yoga programs offered free on Amazon Prime Video. They range in difficulty from workouts aimed at leisurely stretching to tougher, "sweaty" yoga aerobics. During yoga time I tend to do my regular "dryland" exercises and stretches. Some crunches, some push-ups, as much planking as it takes to get through five or six classic rock songs on my phone. Then it's time for breakfast and chores.
At some point in the afternoons I had been going to the hike-and-bike trail that runs along the river which flows through central downtown to get in either a 4 or 5 mile run but that's on hold now. They closed all parks thru the holiday weekend and there's a rumor that the parks might stay closed for the rest of the "stay at home" order. Which might cause an insurrection. One in which I am almost certain to participate.... At some point there has to be a calculus as to whether or not life is worth living if confined solely to the most boring and mundane existence. I get the concept of flattening the curve but really, running the trails? Absurd.
Sometimes, when we feel we've seen everything good on Amazon Prime and Netflix we just do another long, slower walk through the neighborhood after dinner.
A note on buying and selling gear right now: I've bought a few small camera oriented things during this time of isolation but nothing big or earth-shattering. I bought a nice, used Panasonic GX8 for $350 and a Leica R 90mm Elmarit for $300. That's pretty much it. But I keep watching the market and reading blogs in which people write about selling off gear. I can't help but make a connection to the stock market and wondering why these sellers waited until everyone was afraid to spend money to sell, or more precisely, offer... their gear for sale. It's a classic "buy high/sell low" proposition right now. I guess it makes sense for people who might be feeling like they need the cash in the moment but it might make better economic sense to wait until the smoke clears and the all clear sirens sound before divesting of the good stuff.
I've been waiting to buy a Leica SL, which I may or may not do, depending on whether the metaphoric P/E ratio for those used cameras falls into a range that I find attractive. At some point every used Leica SL in inventory could be converted to a rent payment by a merchant. That's the calculus that makes sense for buyers. But for sellers? If you have the ability you might want to hold tight. Besides, by removing attractive venues in which buyers can actually use the lens or camera the situation at hand effectively removes most of the motivation for buying in the first place. Right?
So I am continually amazed when someone announces that they are putting (very good) lens X on the market right now. Put it back on the shelf and try selling it when the country is open for business.
On Writing: Several people have expressed surprise that I am able to write so often and so much (which also sounds a bit like a critique....but I pay myself by the letter...NOT), and on a daily or near daily basis. They conjecture that I either spend hours and hours a day on a post or that I am speaking as fast as I can into a speech dictation program (which also edits and spell checks on the fly).
Neither of these things is correct. I spend no more than 45 minutes to an hour on any one post. I used to write more when I was doing camera reviews but we don't do that so much now. So, from the time I grabbed my red cup of coffee and started typing; to this point today, the total time elapsed is 48 minutes.
People who write more slowly usually make the mistake of endlessly revising. That might be great for the creation of a novel but it's overkill for a daily blog. The other impediment is over-research syndrome. A blog isn't meant to be the authoritative text about a subject but more of an overview. I know some people who over-research for days and still only end up with a paragraph or two. And generally too many facts get in the way of reading. Get your big facts straight and stay out of the woods with the minutia.
Writing quickly comes solely from practice. Daily practice. I've written some 4,460 blog posts in the past ten years, actually hundreds more if you count the ones I hated and took down or decided were too inflammatory... I've also moderated nearly 70,000 comments; mostly positive and happy, but some accompanied by seething and senseless rage fomented because someone might like a different camera brand better....
But like running, swimming and photographing, writing is a discipline in which the practitioner gets faster and (hopefully) better the more they do it, and the more often they practice it. It helps to read other blogs in the subject field to see what resonates in their work and what doesn't work at all. Keeps me from re-inventing another "Pontiac Aztec."
Now, off the printing races. Praying for no ink clogs....
The end of the story about the Lumix S1R sent in for repair and returned with a big-ass fingerprint on the sensor...
This it the S1R that I bought in October and which failed completely in January.
I was excited to plow into the Lumix S1 Pro system in the last quarter of 2019, not the least reason was because I'd read over and over again, in Panasonic's marketing materials and in reviews, about the "fact" that the S1 series was built to a very, very high standard of quality, with superior materials and workmanship. The shutters are rated to deliver something like 400,000 actuations and the bodies are dust and splash resistant. They are stout and feel solid when you pick them up.
Added to this, my previous experiences with a long line of micro four thirds, Panasonic Lumix cameras convincingly led me to believe that my newest acquisitions would be ultimately reliable. And it's good, in this context, to remember that I am not a photojournalist with a collection of cameras swinging from my neck and shoulders as I run from disaster to disaster with multiple cameras dangling from straps, willy-nilly, while banging into each other with gusto and creating that "great" patina of brutal wear you often see on cameras owned by P.J.'s, or other people who mistakenly believe that cameras are designed to be more like bumper cars than precision instruments....
No, I mostly use cameras one at a time. I carry them to and from advertising and marketing shoots in padded, Think Tank cases or backpacks. I don't drop them, toss them or neglect them. In fact, when I trade in cameras the general comment I get from store clerks is, "This camera looks practically new."
Imagine my chagrin when I was in the middle of a portrait shoot (in studio, camera on tripod) when the camera became sluggish and slow to respond. Then slower and slower. And then altogether dead. Later, after I finished the shoot with a back-up camera (yes, they do come in handy) I tried every trick in the book to bring the camera back into normal life. Batteries switched out with known good batteries. All manner of card changes. Reset tricks. Everything. What I had in my hands was a catastrophically crippled, brand new camera with fewer than 1,000 actuations on it.
I sent it back to Panasonic for their official repair service. In less than two weeks the camera returned and I put it through its paces. Everything worked just as it should. The sensor and the main circuit board had both been replaced, the firmware updated and all functions checked. All good. Until I took off the body cap to put on a lens. And there is was... like a turd in a punch bowl... a big fingerprint right in the middle of the sensor. I was shocked at first and then just pissed. And I got in touch with both the local dealer and the Panasonic rep for our area. The store offered immediately to clean the sensor.
I pulled out the Eclipse sensor cleaning fluid and a fresh Cinema Sensor Swab and did a good job of cleaning the sensor myself, but the carelessness of it all really irked me and I pressed the Panasonic rep to just replace the camera with a new one. One complete product failure followed by a clumsy repair failure seemed to add up to a jinx'd camera.
Communication with repair was dicey and the rep told me several times that they would take better care of me if I paid a couple hundred bucks and registered for their pro services service. My feeling was that every customer who buys a top of the line camera model deserves the same kind of service. They can't possibly have enough pros signed up yet on a brand new, not so popular product line, to be overwhelmed by priority repairs.
After several attempts to escalate I was finally contacted by someone at Panasonic service. Here was their offer: "We might consider replacing the camera but you need to send it back to us and we will investigate all your complaints and may or may not agree and may or may not make amends. In the meantime we'll send you a loaner if you give us a credit card number and agree to guarantee the cost of a camera in the meantime.
I would essentially be sending multiple cameras back and forth with no guarantee of either a stated timeline or final resolution. I told them I would think about it.
Then the Corona virus hit. Then the shelter in place hit. Then the world seemed to deliver me a much more compelling set of issues to deal with.
One day I walked into the studio and made up my mind to let it all go. I'd shot non-stop with the repaired and personally cleaned (by me) camera and, after over 1,000 actuations in less than a month I figured the camera would probably be fine. I've been using the repaired camera instead of its twin brother just to put enough frames on it to help me trust it once more.
I think we're just about there. It seems to be doing everything just right. And it's a perfect companion for the 35mm Art lens from Sigma.
I'm lucky to have three other bodies (one other S1R and two S1s) in case the camera acts up again. But my warm and fuzzy feelings for the company itself (Panasonic) are now less warm and much less fuzzy. They need to work harder to regenerate some good will. But for the moment it's all water under the bridge. Considering how much really tough stuff so many people now have on their plates it seems downright churlish of me to give this even a moment's worry.
I thought I'd let you know what finally happened. What happened was my capitulation to the idea that the camera is fine, the pictures are great, and all the logistics of replacing it are too silly and burdensome to consider.
But when the crisis is over and we're all flush with cash again it's probably Leica or Sigma that's getting more of my L-mount money. Panasonic is on a time out where my cash is concerned.
Finally, the S1 and S1R are two of the finest cameras I've had the pleasure to shoot with. In almost every respect they are a perfect match for my idea of what a camera should be in 2020 and beyond.
B. In "stay at home mode."
Patiently standing still at the window while I fiddle with yet
another camera and lens...
I've been slowly training myself to use wider and wider lenses. It's been an exciting exercise. Since discovering the Sigma 45mm f2.8 I've embraced the fascinating world that exists just a little wider than 50mm. Today I felt oddly compelled to pull out the Sigma 35mm f1.4 Art lens for the L-mount and give it more love. What have I found?
After using some of the bigger and heavier lenses like the Sigma 85mm f1.4 Art and the Panasonic 50mm S Pro I am now considering the 35mm Art to be compact and lightweight. Funny how much context matters. I like the way this lens feels and balances on the right-sized Lumix S1R bodies and I find it an interesting focal length to match with that camera's sensor. I can stand back a bit, frame wider than I do with my traditional (and well loved) 50mm lenses and then, if I find there's too much "air" or clutter around my subject I have ample left over pixels with which to crop.
While the Sigma 35mm 1.4 is competently auto-focused by the S1R (center point, S-AF) I am much happier with this particular lens if I manually focus. The focusing ring is at the front of the lens and is wide and ample. Manual focusing doesn't seem to be "focus by wire" and if it is it does the world's best job at imitating a nearly perfect mechanical, manual focus.
On the S1R, when I turn the focusing ring with the camera's AF switch set to "M" a window pops up in my finder with a magnified view of what's at the selected focusing point. The magnification of the image at the point of desired focus is the best implementation of manual focusing I've experienced since I've been buying cameras. The image comes into sharp focus with no messing around and, as you might expect, zero hunting. Hitting perfect focus is wonderful; especially if you are shooting with the lens at a wide open aperture where, in close up images, the plane of sharp focus is as thin as Calista Flockheart.
I was sitting around my office, which is twelve feet removed from our house, when I remembered that I had a somewhat willing model just on the other side of two doors. I took the camera and lens in and asked in my most pleasant voice. B. agreed and I asked her to stand next to one of the windows in our long hallway. I set the camera to take a large Jpeg in a monochrome color profile and I added some tint to the image in post. What you see is pretty much right out of the camera at f1.4.
I've re-sized the file to 2198 pixels at its widest length so I don't have to pay a fortune to Google for extra storage but I can say that at 8000+ pixels in the original the sharpness and the fall off to out of focus are both pretty neato.
Of all the lenses I've bought for the L-mount cameras the 35mm Art is far and away the best bargain; the best compromise between price and performance. I'm still happily amazed to think that I only paid $695 USD for a brand new one, late last year.
Wide open the center two thirds of the frame are critically sharp and, when used four or five feet away from one's subject, while using the maximum aperture, you see that the focus drops off beautifully in the background. I'm happy. I'll keep this one!
Eleven years ago I was shooting a lot of portraits and writing about them in some magazines that still existed. Actual printed magazines. On paper! And everyone who was making medium format digital camera systems was sending me product to use and review. One of my favorites was the Aptus II-7 which was a 36 by 48 mm, 33 megapixel back on a Rollei body. Along with the Schneider 180mm f2.8 lens it was a superb combination of parts. One afternoon, as I was working on a photo book for Amherst Media we decided to make some test shots of Heidi, my model who was collaborating with me on the book. My assistant, Amy, helped me get the lighting set up and we shot about a hundred frames. Then the batteries for the camera gave out and we stopped. I just found the files again and thought I'd make few prints. They stand up pretty well, even in the age of breathless Sony sensors and the madcap rush to super high ISO....
Joyful Portrait of Alaina V.
My Walter Mitty-esque day dreams...
I spent a good part of the morning today looking through current and older hard drives trying to round up a big collection of photographs of my dear, late dog, Tulip. There are twelve years of images scattered across a dozen or so hard drives and probably dozens of DVDs. Had I been wise (retrospection is so piercing...) I would have created a folder on Smugmug.com and put photographs up there from week to week so as not to get this far behind. But I promised my son I'd make a really nice print of our best dog ever last Christmas and I've been dragging my feet since she passed away.
At some point looking through all the photos just made me sad so I did what photo nerds and people who love shoes do, nationwide; I went shopping online. It seems especially dangerous right now because I'm trying to convince (delude) myself that we've done such a good job of eliminating debt and accruing a motley handful of assets that nothing seems really out of reach right now (vast hyperbole). All that actually stands between me and financial armageddon is my very rational fear of that disapproving look I know I'll get from my spouse if I come home with something silly and impractical like a Porsche 911 Turbo S. Or something even sillier, like a pool table...
But what about a lightly used Mini Cooper S? Or maybe a great deal on a medium format Leica S3 and a couple well chosen lenses? How about that custom street bike from Mellow Johnny's Bike Shop? A new "Cheese Grater" Mac Pro, all tricked out with $40,000 of RAM and SSDs? Would it really be that bad to come back home on a Ducati Multistrada motorcycle? Especially if I got a good helmet?
In the end both practicality and need stepped in to bring me back to reality. I order some more ink for my ancient but still workable Canon Pro-100 inkjet Printer and a packet of 50 sheets of 13 by 19 inch Pro Lustre paper. I'll pick it up curbside from the usual photo/crack dealer in the morning. And to enforce the message of exercising practicality I dug up a $50 coupon good off the purchase price.
I've got some printing to do and I've run out of excuses to put it off. Gotta get some parental controls on my office computer and block any "for profit" sites. Self-preservation...
Every once in a while I like to post this image of Amy to remind me that I can make really good portraits. If the stars are lined up just right....
I've made portraits with so many different cameras and lenses but the thing that's always made the most difference, in the end, is the lighting. That and the rapport you are able to engineer with your subject. I photographed Amy one afternoon in my Westlake Hills studio when my assistant, Renae, and I were between jobs and a little bored of photographing each other. Renae called Amy, who came right over, and we did an impromptu session just for fun.
No stylist then. Our models mostly did their own make up. The light was a Profoto strobe in a 4x6 foot soft box hung up above Amy's head level. Angled down and slightly to one side. There was a tiny bit of light on the background. And no fill except the studio walls.
I can't remember what we were talking about when I took this frame but we were all in a fun, playful and worry-free frame of mind. This was the most serious frame of the day. A few minutes later everything devolved into Happy Hour.
Shot with a Leica R8 on slide film. The lens was probably a 90mm Summicron but could well have been the 135mm f2.8 Elmarit instead. The camera didn't print the shooting info on the cardboard slide mount.... (must have been defective).
Seeing frame like this has the effect on me of "steadying the boat." When I doubt myself I remember I can do portraits like this and then I take a deep breath, slow down and start lighting.
Hope your day is nice and cheery.
All the best, Kirk
I really wouldn't call myself an extrovert. I mean, sure, I love to swim every day with 30 or 40 or my closest swim friends, can't bear not meeting somebody to have coffee with, mid-morning, and like to have a lunch date booked with a friend or client (or in the best of all worlds, both) two or three days a week... but "extrovert"? Well, I have made a career out of being in the middle of events, cajoling grumpy executives into looking their best, and always tickled to go out for a happy hour with colleagues; or anyone else who will have me along... But I've never really thought of myself as outgoing. Couldn't live without blogging, and answering comments, and rarely make it back from a walk around downtown without meeting at least a couple of new people, but isn't that pretty much the same for everyone? Can't wait to get to the theater to watch shows and mix in the lobby during intermission with a drink in my left and and a friends all around (leaving the right hand free to shake hands --- oh. Yeah. That's so last year. No more handshaking, must learn to bow).
So being "locked down" and "sheltering in place" for over 30 days in a row is becoming an amazing exercise in endurance for me. And it's made all the more difficult by having a spouse who is quiet, self-contained, calm, not chatty, and happy to be isolated in her rambling, comfortable home, taking advantage of her home office to do "all of the projects I've never had enough time to get to." And after that? "I have a stack of books this high (motions four feet off the floor) that I've been wanting to get to."
I'm beginning to think that if I didn't try to pull her into conversations she might go days without uttering a word...
So, as hard as it's been for me not to be out, around, deep in conversation with everyone I know, it's probably been equally hard having me around constantly trying to....engage. Chat. Reminisce. Question. and generally disrupt everything just because of cabin fever and lack of continuous social contact. Did I read somewhere that humans are social animals? Did introverts not get the message?
If the virus doesn't kill me I'm thinking a nearly complete shut down of my social network will. Don't jump in and suggest I "Zoom" with people or "FaceTime" with people; it's just not the same. Not into online socializing beyond the blog and a few texts (mostly to make sure Ben is still okay...). What I really look forward to, and what you can help with, is a bit of life on the blog. If you are an introvert (and who knew there were so many of you?) have a little sympathy for quasi-extroverts like me. If, in the back of your mind you thought for even a second about posting a comment, gird up your firewalls and grit your teeth and belt that comment out. I may not love what you have to say but I will be grateful to know you are out there....
I don't want your money and I don't have anything to sell you but I love to hear from fellow photographers and creative people. Maybe I just need to write more clickbait-y stuff and get into arguments about "Sony versus Fuji" (the current current) but maybe I just need to ask you to join in. We'll see.
Happy Good Friday, tomorrow.
In the time before COVID-19 it was so easy to order, receive and enjoy a freshly made pizza. You'd hop online, enter your order, enter a delivery time, toss in your credit card information and then get back to retouching something or cleaning off your swim goggles until the delivery driver appeared carrying a box with a hot, fresh and topping rich pie. We kept an envelope of $5 bills next to the front door so we'd always have tip money ready to go. If work was slow and the coffers were running low we'd save the delivery cost and order the pizza as carry out. Then we'd flip a three headed coin to see which of us would go and collect dinner.
The delivery would happen and we'd pop that box open right on the table and start the wonderful process of truly appreciating freshly melted cheese, a robust tomato sauce and whatever savory toppings we craved in the moment. No muss. No fuss.
Now though we have a virus/pizza box intervention process that we have to go through. Once the pizza is delivered to the front door a family member receives the box and the driver scurries away (we add the tip on line so the driver is pre-tipped by the time he gets here). Once the driver has retreated to his idling car we begin the process.
It goes like this: The designated pizza box holder remains outside the house and places the box on the welcome mat on the front porch. The same person, who has already been potentially contaminated by whomever before has touched the box, opens the box and folds the sides down to make space for a person from inside the house to approach the box and without touching any part of the exterior of the box and the person on the house side slides a pizza peel (the big spatula used to pull pizzas out of ovens) underneath the pizza until it's stably situated on said peel. At that point she (it's usually Belinda, she's a pro at tossing coins) takes the pizza into the domicile and leaves the door ajar, just a bit .
The pizza "intermediary" takes the box and places it into the trash can outside. After the box is properly disposed of he (it's usually me messing with stuff that goes in the trash = bad coin tosser) approaches the door and opens it fully with his foot. There is a bottle of hand sanitizer just inside the door and he uses it liberally to disinfect his hands. Then there is a trip to the bathroom to wash hands for at least 20 seconds. Next up is grabbing a Chlorox wipe from the kitchen to wipe down the sanitizer bottle and pump mechanism, and finally the front door knob gets a proactive wipe and the door is closed. Only then can the (now lukewarm) pizza be enjoyed.
It's a process. And anybody who tells you the journey is more important than the destination is full of shit. Getting a hot pizza is definitely a luxury which I'm looking forward to A.C.-19 (after Covid-19). But lukewarm, safety pizza is definitely better than nothing.
Side note, if you think the writing here is getting daffy and distracted you might not be all wrong. Monday the 13th will mark our first 30 days of "sheltering in place." Other than a weekly pizza, enjoyed by tradition on Thursday nights, we've been doing all of our meals at home. A strange and quixotic break from the recent good old days of favorite restaurants and favorite fellow diners. I'm not sure how long it will take me to re-socialize.... But I see why there are 400% more mental health issues per capita in rural areas than in cities. One's mind doesn't get pulled into "normal" if there's no social group around to help maintain healthy boundaries.
But, tonight is pizza night! Yay. It's like a mark on the prison wall that let's us understand a relative passage of time. If you order pizza tonight I hope yours comes piping hot.
We're doing a veggie pizza tonight. With a salad and a bottle of red wine. Takes the edge off self-isolation. Now, if only we can find something fun to watch on Netflix....
How to cut your own hair during the crisis. From someone whose been doing so for about thirty years.
I can't give you advice on how to cut or maintain long hair. I only do "short."
Blog post by reader request....
I'm the most frugal photographer in the world when it comes to haircuts. I bought a set of electric barber's clippers and guards thirty years ago and started cutting my own hair. Something like this https://www.target.com/p/wahl-clip-n-groom-men-s-haircut-kit-with-built-in-finishing-trimmer-79900-1701/-/A-579774 which I found online at Target.com works great. When I heard from one of my friends that he was spending over $100 a month on "hair care" I almost fell on the floor. And when I heard from one of my female fellow swimmers that she pays around $200 a month for her "hair care" I became light-headed and had to sit down. If you invested those amounts in an index fund......sigh....
Okay, so if you have a hair style that requires much complex cutting, trimming and manipulation I probably am not going to be much help. But if you are a typical guy who doesn't really give a hoot about styles then I'm your cheap haircut mentor. I can be capricious, sometimes I just can't be bothered cutting my hair and it grows out like weeds in a garden. But before big client engagements or when I get tired of flying a flag of white hair (which makes every young person around me talk louder and offer to help me cross streets...) I grab the clippers and go berserk.
Well, not really berserk but I have little fear of failure in this regard. I start with a #4 guard on the clippers. This translates to leaving your hair about a half inch long. The guard keeps you from inadvertently getting it too short....
So, put your #4 guard on the clippers, don't stand on the shag carpet (my bathroom is saltillo tile so it's easy to sweep up...) and start clipping. Generally, I find it most efficient to go against the grain of your hair. Who knew that hair has a natural "grain"?
Take some time to get all that head of hair more or less uniform and you are ready to move on to step two; the hair in front, above and behind your ears. Most of the clipper sets come with guards that are slanted and meant for each specfic ear. They are generally labelled something like, "Left Ear" or "Right Ear." Start with your favorite ear. Mine is the left and that makes sense because I am left-handed. These guards are like graduated neutral density filters; they allow a closer cut on one side and a longer cut on the other. Obviously you want the close side next to the ear and the far side away from your ear. This will get you a close cut near the ear but a feathering into the rest of your hair. Now do the other ear using its specific guard.
Now use the shallowest guard, going with the grain of the hair on the back of your neck. You don't want to start low and go high you want to start at the hair line and go down. After that you might just look in the mirror and tune up any rough spots.
At this point you are done. If it takes you more than ten minutes you are either paralyzed by fear of failure or you are overly obsessed with perfection. If you really screw up you can wear a hat till it grows back.
Should you want an easier approach you can do as my old pool manager, Brian, used to do and grab the #2 guard and use it everywhere. Once all the hair is uniform you are done.
Take a shower. Sweep the floor. Put a drop of oil for clippers on the blade and then box up your clippers till next time.
So, how frugal am I when it comes to hair cuts? Well, I will tell you that Studio Dog (Rest in Peace) and I shared one set of clippers for the past twelve years...
this is a "Kirk" haircut about 10 days later. Curly hair. No way it stays flat.
this is a "Kirk" haircut maybe two and a half to three weeks on....
This is from a time before haircuts...Or razors. And yes, it's a black Canon AE-1
I wouldn't take a chance on cutting hair like this unless I had a iron clad waiver and
a team of liability lawyers on retainer.....
If you screw up (doubtful) you can always wear a convenient and stylish hat.
If you are amazingly good looking no one will even be looking at your hair.
Why pay extra to maintain it? At $100 a month that's equal to a couple of good lenses
or really cool used camera bodies per year....