Self portrait with crazy 50mm lens and my new hat. Which is just like my old hat. Which I gave away. And then I realized....I need a good hat.


Have you ever purchased a lens, the price of which was outside your comfort zone, and hesitated to use it because it might get broken? Lost? Stolen? Or prove itself not worth the purchase price?

When I decided to invest in the Panasonic S1 system I felt like I just had to have a 50mm lens. It wasn't enough that I had an old (but very good) Zeiss/Contax 50mm f1.7 that I could use along with an inexpensive adapter, no, I wanted a lens that seemed up to the promise of  the system's big 47.5 megapixel sensor in the S1R. So, the choice at the time came down to the Sigma 50mm Art lens for the L system or the Panasonic S-Pro 50mm f1.4 for over twice the price of the Sigma. Truth be told, the performance of the "kit" 24-105mm f4.0 Lumix lens is completely fine for almost anything I could think to shoot but I have an old assumption that the "ultra" cool prime lenses in some systems are just head and shoulders above everything else. I should stick with facts and test results and perhaps I'd save some money....

At any rate, the economy was firing on all 12 cylinders, clients were lining up to pay for my services and I thought, "what the hell? I should buy the "cool" lens." So I splashed out for the 50mm S-Pro. It didn't hurt my rationale to flip the lens over and read, "Certified by Leica" on one side... But the reality is that the lens is massive, the $2300 is a lot of money, and the types of photography that are open to us now don't necessarily demand a ne ultra plus, super-deluxe, fast prime lens. In fact, my most pleasurable photos from walks seem to be coming from much different cameras like the Lumix GX8. And the Canon G16.... and much cheaper lenses.

So the 50mm f1.4 fell into relative disuse which is incredibly sad given its potential (and its cost!). I had swim practice this morning and then a coffee meeting with my gimbal benefactor. I had some billing to do that got all procrastinated for the last two weeks. But by three this afternoon I'd finished everything on my metaphoric plate and I was ready to take a walk through the cooler weather! It was only 103° this afternoon. 

As I looked around the studio I decided to push through my anxiety about tromping around with an expensive and underused lens. I put the 50mm S-Pro on the S1R and headed out the door to do my usual route through downtown. I really enjoyed using the system and that lens --- even though the combined weight might turn out to be a real shoulder killer.

The camera is as close to perfect as I could wish for and it and it's sibling, the S1, have done a great job at curing my camera desires (for the moment). It's been nearly a year since I changed systems and this one is going stronger now that when I first bought it. But I must say that the lens is a fun revelation. It's sharp everywhere and the colors are terrific. I'm going to keep the lens glued onto one of my S1R bodies for a while and give it a thorough exploring. Something about it feels special to me and that's fun. 

I feel a bit silly having coddled the 50mm lens for so long but I'm happy to have broken through my irrational lens fear block at last. Has that behavior ever happened to you? You bought something and then were afraid to use it? I hope I'm not the only one who does this...

Swim notes: The club changed up the schedule for masters swim practices for the Fall. Now they've eliminated the 6 a.m. and reconstructed the 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. practices during the week days. They've also added noon to 1 p.m. practices on Tuesday through Friday. Weekends just move to a 7-8 and 8-9 pattern. I went to the 8 a.m. workout today and being able to sleep two hours longer was paradise. No more 6 a.m.s for a while! 

I swam with my friend, Patty, and we got along.....swimmingly. 

Cultural notes: If you are worried about social distancing and good public health practices then don't go to the ever popular South Congress Ave. neighborhood for walking and general outside-ness. They seem to have attracted every "deplorable" from out of town who has come to the big city to stare at the hippies and generally walk around staring at a culture which must seem like something delivered by a time machine from twenty years in their future. I've never seen so many ghastly out of shape people festooned in the Walmart remnant sale wardrobe from yesteryear walking in groups that cover the side walks from building to street, bellowing like walruses in pain and not a single one of them wearing a face mask even though it's required by the current city ordinances. Now I totally understand what the news media are talking about when they reference the deep and unsettling divide between groups in our country. 

And it's not at all pretty. I headed back to my neighborhood where people take science and a profound sense of collective responsibility seriously. I hadn't seen such a selfish display of the worst of current Americana in person yet and didn't believe so many people could be so indifferent to the people around them. There oughta be laws.......oh, wait, there are so that makes these people not only uncaring but also criminals. Hoping for enforcement in the future. And while we're at it can we also work on some sort of dress code? The size XXXXLLL t-shirts with political messages strewn across the front, laced with profanity, erupting over massive, sagging cargo shorts, or acres of spandex, are a bit of an assault on the eyes and sensibilities. 

But I guess, It is what it is...

Video: We're shooting more video tomorrow and even more on Sunday. We're doing our V-Log testing for our most important number on Friday. We'll have everything figured out by next week when we shoot the big stuff. Thanks for the input on this!


"When they go low we go high resolution." 


Okay. I'm convinced. I need a gimbal for moving shots. We never have time to lay down dolly track....

 Backpack of gear for video. Moving quickly is sometimes important. 

We completed our second day of video shooting for our Zach project today. Everything is working out okay but in this situation I am working as camera person instead of the director which means that even if I think lots and lots of moving the camera shots are...over done I need to be a team player and deliver what the director wants. After all, he's doing the editing and he's in charge of the style the Theatre will be presenting. And I volunteered so you kind of understand that you're not in charge... (hard for me). 

The combination of the Lumix S1 and the 24-105mm lens gives me about 5-6 stops of image stabilization because the system uses the stabilization in both the lens and the camera body for more effective control. That's really great for hand held shots that are static or have slight (intentional) movement but no matter how much I practice I'm never going to be buttery smooth while moving backward with the camera while shooting video,  or trying to do a long tracking shot with the camera as opposed to a simple pan.

The director likes long tracking shots that end with me circling around the talent from a profile perspective to a "straight into the camera" perspective. That's a lot of movement and a thousand opportunities to glitch and wobble and generally screw up. In my early days of moving pictures we'd have a team of "grips" lay down dolly track and put a curve at the end to complete the movement. With a good dolly grip, a costly production team, and a $4,000 dolly we could do a rock solid tracking shot that curves into a straight-on shot at the end. With my size 10 feet and caffeine addled hands in control? Not so much. 

We worked hard at it today and after two or three rehearsals and four or five separate takes for each set-up we feel like we got enough solid footage to make the moves work but boy-oh-boy it would have been much easier with a modern gimbal and smaller, lighter camera like the Lumix G9, with a little cine lens on it. I'm borrowing a Ronin S gimbal tomorrow and I've got a day or so to get up to beginner speed with it. I don't want to do anything super fancy I just want a smooth lateral move and a curve or two. Time to speed read those manuals instead of looking for a new movie to watch on Netflix tonight....

The director and I are plunging into the world of V-Log not so much by choice but out of necessity. We've got a big scene on a pedestrian bridge coming up at the end of next week and the head honcho for the theater decided that 8 am in the morning would be a great time to shoot a specific shot because, maybe, it won't be too hot in that last week of August. In Texas. Nice to think about the comfort of the talent but some thought needs to be given to the direction of the light as well.

Our big cast of singers and dancers will be coming across the bridge with the sun a little behind them and over to one side. Hardly the best way to light.....anything. We're testing out some V-Log files this week to see if we can make anything work (more dynamic range?) or if we need to go back and cleverly manipulate the ruling creative cadre into scheduling the giant, spectacular shot of our program at a time when the light is more cooperative. I get the impression that this effort to re-orient schedules based on lighting and time of day will be akin to turning an ocean liner around in the Panama Canal. That's why we're testing our file options well in advance. 

I must, once again, sing the praises of the Panasonic S1 with the V-Log update installed. The files we're getting out of that camera (for video) are spectacular. No banding at all. I only get blown highlights when I've made grievous errors in judgement and the flesh tones are....to die for. 

The combination of a variable neutral density filter and the safety net of the in-finder waveforms makes setting exposures a breeze and the camera, so far, has been rock solid. Occasionally we'll have a dancer who waves her hands in front of her face and we lose focus for a moment but since we're shooting in strong light and we can be down at f7.1 or f8.0 I'd be a lot smarter to just use the manual focusing on the camera. The ability to punch in before rolling makes for sharp images and the focus peaking during shots means we can make on-the-fly adjustments if we need to. Better than not knowing you went "soft" until you review the take.

We spent about an hour and a half shooting, reviewing and composing during the three different locations with three different talents today and I was still on the first battery as I downloaded video files to my desktop. I brought three batteries along, just in case. Someday we'll need them. I just know it.

I am temporarily becoming a video junkie and deep diving from subject to subject. A lot has changed since the days I when I was hauling around a Bolex Rex 5...  We'll be back to "real" photography in no time... Stay tuned. 

Thanks, Kirk

Good source of techie videos on stuff like V-Log and external recorders: Gerald Undone on YouTube.


We've started the video project. Now we've got stuff to do and it feels great.


Renae. At one time the world's greatest photo
assistant and manager. 

We're on schedule to shoot three set-ups tomorrow morning. The temperature promises to be about five or six degrees cooler, overall, tomorrow and our first set-up is early; a 7:45 call time for the talent. We'll work the first shoot in the full shade of the big theater building and we've got ample space on the big plaza to move all over, without restriction. Then we move on to several more urban locations but all are within about a two mile radius and they are in the "laid back" neighborhoods south of the river in Austin. 

I worked with the Panasonic S1 today, along with the 24-105mm Lumix lens, and I have to say two things that stuck out to me. First, the dual image stabilization is as advertised. I'm not the most accomplished hand holder when it comes to camera shake but this combo made me look like the rock of Gibraltar. We rehearsed and did several camera moves where I had to handhold and walk backwards as our actor walked towards me. It was a ten or twelve foot move and our choregrapher, Jen, spotted me from the back, putting her hands on my back to guide me so I didn't run into anything or miss the pace. The camera nailed focus throughout. I used it in the focus tracking mode with the face detection feature enabled. 

Secondly, we tested out the Like Rec 709 profile today because it compresses the highlights and works hard to prevent them from blowing out. It worked incredibly well. 

We were a almost backlit by the sun but a lot of the shot was in the shallow shade cast by the 3D "ATX" sign we were using as a background. An assistant was directing bounced light from a silver reflector into the shot and when we did our first check on the Atomos monitor we could see detail (by a thread) in the sky and good, open shadows where we needed them. We also shot some V-Log but as I'm a newbie at color grading from Log files I wanted to hedge my bets with the Rec. 709 just to be safe. I'm glad I did since it's already looking nice on the studio monitor and only needs modest tweaks. And man... that profile clung to highlight detail like a Sony fan to his brand...

It didn't hurt that we were able to shoot 10 bit and 4:2:2 so that if we do need to exaggerate the shadow curve we'll have extra data to play with. 

Tomorrow one of my friends is lending me a Ronin S gimbal to play with. I've never worked directly with a gimbal but I've learned that a Lumix G9 with firmware 2.0 is supposed to be a killer gimbal camera. Not too heavy, full on 4k, 10 bit, 4:2:2 and the best AF of the entire Lumix family. We'll see if I can learn a few new tricks and then use them on some of the upcoming parts of this month long shooting experience. 

But I did lay down some important ground rules: All shoots must be schedule around my swim schedule. Some things are sacred. 

It's supposed to cool down a little this week. I've been valiantly and doggedly trying to keep our lawn and our wonderful trees alive and happy. A drop in temperature would make my job as lead gardener just a bit easier. 

Rave reviews and a new booking from the bio-tech client of two weeks ago. A bit of studio testing before heading out on location is just the ticket. Or maybe they just liked hanging out with my son. 

Hope you are staying cool, safe and happy. 


Oh Boy. We're having a heat wave. It's just before noon and the temperature is already over 100°. Can't wait to be out shooting video tomorrow, it's supposed to be even hotter....


Somewhere on Sixth.

I was out this morning scouting our upcoming filming locations. Our first video shoot is scheduled for 10 a.m. tomorrow morning and our second is scheduled for 11. Both are exterior. Both are fully sun exposed. No shade. Our talents are meeting us at each location since we can't carpool. We expect our shoots to last about a half an hour each and on the second location we're about 400 yards down a trail from the closest parking. I only want to haul the minimum amount of kit but I want to be sure and pack some shade for me and my camera. 

Here's what I'm doing for my Japanese maple tree. 
It was getting sunburnt from all day exposure. It's now selectively covered by 
a 50 inch diffuser rigged on a C-Stand. Yes, there is a sandbag at the bottom.

My friends and relatives often ask me why I take long walks in hot weather all Summer long. "Don't you get enough exercise in the pool?" 

My answer is that it's born out of necessity and long habit. For years we stayed busy all year round and assignments happened in all kinds of weather, and many in remote and uncomfortable situations. The more acclimated I became to the heat and physical effort over the years the easier it became to concentrate on the job at hand instead of worrying about becoming nauseated and faint. Or exhausted and distracted. If you work all the time in air conditioning, and then come-and-go in an air conditioned car, the stress of suddenly working on a location with heat indexes hovering over 105° can be downright dangerous. It's like trying to climb a mountain without becoming acclimated to the altitude...

When we walk into our second location tomorrow it will already be closing in on 100°. I'll need to bring a couple of S1 cameras (never travel without a back up) and a couple of lenses. The director will want to see the shots as we build them with our actor so I'll also bring along an Atomos digital recorder and some extra (and heavy) Sony NP900x batteries. I'm thinking of also packing in an LED panel with its batteries. And water. A good amount of water. 

But in situations like the ones we'll be shooting in tomorrow around midday one of the most important sets of gear is portable shade. I want enough good shade to cover myself and my camera. For me it's about comfort and safety. For the camera it's to ensure solid and less noisy operation (excess heat causes visual noise in digital files). Leaving a black camera and lens exposed to the sun for long periods of time is just asking for trouble and since tomorrow's shoots are part of a bigger project with lots of tight deadlines and very limited availability of the actors we really don't want to take a chance that our camera will overheat and shut down our shoot. There are few opportunities to reschedule.

I'll leave the round diffuser and C-Stand at home and opt for a very stout Lowell light stand, a knuckle head, and a 60 inch, white umbrella. Used in a straight up configuration it should be resistant to breezes that angle in from above or are directly horizontal. We'll look for heavy gear to anchor the base. The important thing is being able to carry it in.

We're making short movies of young (18-25) actors dancing in front of iconic Austin spots. Murals, Signs, Statues, Swimming Holes and even a Landmark or two. 

I'm using the Lumix S1 for the video. It's been upgraded to firmware 2.0 and we've also bought and installed the full V-Log upgrade. We'll be shooting 10 bit, 4:2:2, 4K files but our final edited target will probably be 1080p. I've experimented --- and down-rez'd (4K > 1080p) files have more detail and better color than originating the files in the smaller format. Might as well start with the best quality we can.

Other than shade, and of course the cameras and lenses, our most important accessory will be neutral density filters. I'm hedging my bets on that. I usually just go with a variable ND filter for personal work but I've found most V-ND's are susceptible to flare if there is a light source anywhere in front of them. I've had many fewer problems, optically, with discreet, single strength ND filters so I'm bringing both and I'll trudge onward with my V-NDs until I hit a snag. If I hit a snag...

Speaking of V-ND filters I forgot to mention which lens I'll be using them on. I've settled on the 24-105mm f4.0 Panasonic because I can cover all the focal lengths we'll need without having to change lenses. I don't need the higher speed of the faster 24-70mm f2.8 and I think trying to juggle primes in a fast moving and short time-framed shoot like the ones we have in mind just overly complicates matters. The 24-105 is very respectable for 4K video resolution and the extra image stabilization (dual I.S.) will give us a leg up for the handheld shots the director wants. 

One of the reasons it's so nice to use Panasonic cameras for stuff like this is the inclusion of waveforms with which to meter. While waveforms are also available on the Atomos it's nice to have them on the camera too for those times when you might want to go very mobile, and hand the director the monitor at the end of a ten foot cable...

I was out shooting this morning and after reading all the reviews about the Sigma 85mm DN lens I wanted to try a few more set ups with my small, light and brilliant, Leica 90mm f2.8 R Elmarit lens on the Sigma fp camera. It's a revelation. First of all, I can't think of a time when I would be working under f4.0 with that combo in bright light. And when you work around that aperture with the Leica lens you are in a sweet spot that practically guarantees that anything you point the lens at is going to look better. I find it to be a very solid performer and a nice match for the slow-to-work but easy-to-love Sigma fp. It's a nice portrait rig. 


The mysteries of bidding, billing and saving. Photography mysteries I'd love to see demystified.

I'm starting to assume that many people are unfamiliar with the whole underbelly of freelancing; the part where we figure out what to charge clients and also what we can charge clients. And how to get paid. And what to do with the money when you finally get some. 

Let's de-mystify: 

If you happen to be a very famous photographer with a very famous and unique personal style, and you have a super professional representative in NYC or on the West Coast then this blog post probably is largely irrelevant to you and your financial condition. But regular, commercial photography business is a bit different in that you are offering services that can be duplicated, pretty much, by a larger pool of practitioners in your chosen market. There might be only one Annie Leibovitz but there are at least 20 or 30 people in Austin, Texas who have nice websites and enough experience to photograph a CEO, and a "toaster oven" on white seamless, and a decent exterior shot of the Super Amalgamated Widget Corporation's headquarters. When you bid for various local and regional jobs these will be some number of the people you will bid against. You probably know them from time spent together at ASMP meetings and other industry events. You might even count some as friends.

While clients will tolerate a range of rates they have a general idea of what a project might cost and how much they are able to budget to produce the project. They might value experience and track record more than taking a chance with a less proven supplier and if that's their point-of-view then the scales tip towards someone like me. You get bonus points if your client has consulted with their peers at other companies and they've all given you a collective and enthusiastic "thumbs up." If that's the case the potential client will usually tolerate your bid or estimate being at the higher end of the budget range. 

But it may be that the company asking for the bid is a young, brash start-up with a collection of younger partners who are looking for freshness, risk taking and more trend-conscious imagery and in this case a 64 year old coming in with an extensive (and time-tinged) portfolio may be at a distinct disadvantage to a much younger but well accomplished competitor. All bets are off if a relative or spouse is on the other side of the bid process from the photographer. 

If you bid against the spouse of the marketing director you will nearly always lose. Talent does not always take top priority and emotional attachment filters perception. Be prepared to walk away gracefully.

When you make a bid (as opposed to the fast vanishing animal called, "estimate") you are making an agreement to do a certain amount of work within a certain amount of time for a specific amount of money. If you are a real estate photographer and you bid to photograph the front elevation of ten homes in bright sunlight for $5,000 then the only thing that matters to the client is that you deliver ten usable, sunlit home fronts along with an invoice for $5,000. And not a penny more. 

But what if you made your bid when the sun was shining and the weather was good but when you got started on the job all nature would allow for was days and days of driving rain and intermittent fog? You might have ventured out to see what you could accomplish on many different days but none of those days are billable to the client. All they care about is getting their ten, sun drenched architectural shots for $5,000. 

You might have thought you could shoot five house fronts on two different days until you found out that they are in neighborhoods far away from each other (do more homework before bidding?). You might arrive to shoot a house at 10 a.m. only to find that the house faced away from the sun and would only have direct light on the front after 1 p.m. And this might be a recurring theme in your bad luck. Perhaps, due to unforeseen and un-bid circumstances, it takes you ten long days to finally get the images you need. Will the client compensate you for all the extra time? Will they listen to your tale of meteorological woe and hand you a bigger check? Not likely. 

You'll get the $5,000 you originally bid. 

Now, if your brother and sister and mother and father are all attorneys you might get the advice that you should estimate that job instead of being locked into a fixed bid. This will be fun. I'll pull up a chair and watch....

So, you ( and your family of lawyers ) want to charge $5,000 to do this job but you want to cover yourself for any and all contingencies that might reduce the value of the job to you; right? So you tell the client, "I don't do bids but I can give you an estimate." In this estimate you calculate that you can do ten shots over the course of the next few days but you'll need to put in a few provisions to your agreement to cover things that you just can't predict. You add in a cost for "rain days" in case you wanted to shoot that day but couldn't because of inclement weather. You add in a potential fee for any time you have to spend driving to each location to see which direction the house faces in relation to the sun. You put in a few waivers in case you messed up and need to go back out and reshoot one or more locations. And you put in a clause that allows you to hire a driver and pass along the costs. 

So, potentially you could have decided that you'd like to shoot this Thursday, Friday and Saturday because you have to go to that big house party at the lake on Sunday. But, sadly, it rains all three days. You add $4,500 to your bill because you have included rain days in your estimate. You went to the house party and it was great but now you have a fever and chills and a bad cough so you have to hire a driver to hit the rest of the houses. You add $1,000 to your bill. The driver insisted on getting lunch while working for three days. Add $45 to the bill. You were in a rush and shot Jpegs with the wrong color balance at three of the houses so you had to go back and do them all over again. You added another couple thousand dollars to the bill. 

You were in a hurry to finish one day and while your were on your mobile phone and driving your car to the tenth location you accidentally hit an ornate, stone work mail box and destroyed it while also damaging your car. The family lawyers tell you it happened "on the job" so you include the damages to your car and the resurrection of the mailbox to your bill. Another four or five thousand dollars. 

Finally, you turn in the ten shots the client asked for along with a bill for somewhere between $15-$20K and you run as the client chases you out of their office screaming obscenities at you. Your family declines to offer you their services pro bono and gives you the card of an attorney who is just starting out and who might help you collect. Good luck with that because no client in their right mind would sign a unlimited buffet contract like that in the first place.

So, how do we bid? First we identify all the costs of a project. The time spent. The mileage. The meetings. The post production. The delivery costs. 

Then we add a profit, called usage fee that is based on the value of the photographs to the client. Anything that can be easily shot and has a basic commodity value will have a commensurate low usage fee. Some types of work, like basic headshots against a neutral background may be so utterly generic that they have no value beyond your time and expenses. Some shots, like location photographs of CEOs in a style that you do very well may have lots and lots of value to the company and, if the CEO loves his image, the photographs may also have a long life. In these situations the usage fee is higher than it might otherwise be. 

Some dinners are McDonald's Happy Meals™ and some dinners are Aged Ribeyes at the Four Seasons. Each has a different value to the buyer. It's the seller's job to get top dollar while it's the buyer's job to get the best value. 

You're a rare bird and a great salesperson if you can get the same high rate you'd charge for an on location portrait of a top, Fortune 500 CEO when shooting this month's top sales person at car dealership. Most of us base our jobs on an internal estimate of: how much time is involved? + how fun is the job? + what is this client's payment history? + is this a job I can use in my portfolio? + how complex is the job? + does this job fit in with the brand I'm trying to project? = the basic budget. Then add in your usage fee. Calculated on the perceived value of the images to the end user.

At every step of the way you'll need to factor in things I can't know for you. Stuff like the cost of studio space in your area, the demographic composition of your region, your own brand's position in the market, your level of experience, the prevailing competition for jobs like this in your city, and even your level of experience. 

I would not be anyone's top choice as a sports photographer in the Austin area. No one has every asked me to photograph soccer, or a football game, or even kid's Little League baseball. I have photographed national swim competitions but that's only because of my deep knowledge about the sport and how to photograph that specific sport. 

But the one thing that doesn't change is that when you've proffered a bid you are obligated to hit that price regardless of whether or not you took all the variables into consideration. If the client changes any parameters you have every right to go back and add to the price or renegotiate the project. If you screw up then...you screwed up. 

I live in a very prosperous market but by its very nature it attracts a lot of very good competition from all over the country. The money flowing through the market helps keep prices competitive nationally. The fierce competition keeps the prices from getting overheated. Almost like clockwork we'll have a big name come in from NYC or some other first tier market and they'll assume they can continue to charge the same prices that are attached to national advertising campaigns while shooting jobs that can be readily handled by local competitors. The newcomers find themselves readjusting. So many of our jobs here are direct to the corporations as opposed to jobs done through advertising agencies for worldwide ad placement. There are different pricing structures and ranges for each type. 

On the other hand we are occasionally asked/invited to bid on bigger, national advertising projects and we have to overcome our built in, mental pricing barriers to deliver bids that are high enough to be in the acceptable range of pricing for those kinds of projects. All too often our own restraint (self limitations) based on local pricing causes us to leave lots of money on the table. 

I write all of this because of a comment on the blog (which I assume was in jest; but I never know...) that suggested ( or "hoped") that I doubled my bill to my client after the international travel went to hell after a job. I wish I could  have gone back, added to my fees and extracted money for the time I spent on the set of The Blade Runner Hotel, and in a stuffy airplane, and begging for a reservation miracle to get me home.

But I had bid the job. The client's offer to book flights was a "favor" I should not have accepted. But nothing that happened was the client's fault and none of it was billable to them under our agreement/contract/bid. 

I did learn a valuable lesson and that is to book your own travel if you hate mistakes. 

I did have a client several years ago which needed me to do a lot of domestic travel. Occasionally, after a particularly long day, I upgraded myself to a first class or business class ticket for a long haul home from one coast or another. I would not consider sending along the bill for the upgrade unless invited to do so as a favor from the client. Most upgrades at flight time were running around $250. If it's a client you like and you feel like you must fly first class I suggest that be part of your negotiation when bidding the job. If they balk your other option is to raise your rates and see if they'll go for that. Billing is like water and goes to the path of least resistance. Either way, first class and economy passengers seem to arrive home at about the exact same time...

Another note: A reader commented today on my story about the excruciatingly long flight which I wrote about yesterday. He said, in his lead-in, that my story was "not credible" because the flight crew should have invoked some rule about length of time they can fly. I deleted his remark because it was insulting. The passengers and myself have no way of knowing, during a three or four hour layover, if the flight crew of a 747 has been changed out while we sit on our butts at the other end of the plane. When I say, "The captain said...." I meant a generic captain. Whoever is in the pilot's seat at the time. If I have to keep tabs on the flight crew's duty schedules I surrender and will never write about an actual situation ever again. It's too much work pushing back against "not credible" accusations. 

The story is exactingly accurate. My understanding of crew dispositions is non-existent. None of the crew invited me into the airport bar for a drink. Nor did they offer to let me stay at their homes while we waited for the airport to open the next day. How the fuck would I know who had command of the controls at any given time...?

One analogy about bidding a job. Think of a job as a restaurant meal. There's a menu (analogy = a proffered bid). You order an entreé and a salad and a bottle of wine. You are shown the prices for each item. You are aware of the local sales tax percentages. How would you respond if, after the meal was served and happily consumed, you were given a bill for 25% more or 50% more than the stated menu prices? Would you pay that bill? Would you ever go back to that restaurant again?

And, what to do with all the money after you get paid....

First, put aside all the money you need to use to pay for the expenses incurred on the shoot. Assistants, food, travel, lodgings, etc. Pay those bills so nothing stacks up on a credit card.

Put aside a percentage of the fees for time, and fees for usage, to defray fixed costs such as studio rent, insurances, assistants, permits, travel, rentals, etc. 

Put aside a percentage of the payment for the job for income tax and self-employment tax (percentage based on last year's tax obligations) and any local taxes that are recurring. 

Pay yourself. We compute a "household"  budget amount which is due each month and paid by me into a household account on the first of the month. It covers groceries, utilities, rent or mortgage, and miscellaneous things like entertainment.

Put 10% of the fee in a savings account. When you hit a certain balance over your needed emergency fund (one year's worth of expenses) sweep the excess $$$ into your brokerage account. Invest wisely. 

Put 10% in your SEP or other tax advantaged retirement account. Again, invest wisely.

Finally, have fun with the $5 or so dollars you might have left.... rinse and repeat.


More photos from my romp around downtown channeling my mid-1970's black and white documentary persona. Cue the G9 once again. And a saga of the worst plane flight home EVER.


I love trying new (old) stuff with my G9. The walk I took last week with the G9+60mm f1.5 lens and the camera set to L. Monochrome yielded some of my favorite architectural photos of the Summer. Not aiming for technical perfection but working toward a style is a mentally freeing experience in which one can just sample the scene in front of the camera and try to assemble the pieces of the puzzle in interesting ways. I do find that I play more when I'm knowingly and obviously photographing in black and white.

When I see the mostly empty streets of Austin and look around at the masked people, whose underlying faces hold so much unleashable photographic potential I start pining to take a trip somewhere else. Some place where well dressed men and women converge socially without masks and with knowing and informed expressions. Sitting at serious cafés together, sipping serious coffees and making nuanced small talk. And I would chance by with my little camera all preset to make the perfect exposure...

And then I remind myself that not all parts of travel are so pretty. To quench my misguided and rose colored memories of the glories of travel I have only to remind myself of the worst plane flight/travel experience I have ever had....

We'd just finished a corporate trade show with an IBM subsidiary in Lisbon, Portugal. I was traveling home with two hefty cases of gear and some carry on. I was excited to be heading home because on the day after I was scheduled to arrive back at the house my wife and I had tickets to take our three year old son to see the circus for the very first time...

When I got to the check in counter in the Lisbon airport there was the usual back and forth about the two, large Pelican cases I needed to check. The United agent insisted that they were too large and too heavy and couldn't be checked at all. Which flew in the face of their own rules and necessitated that we get a supervisor involved. After a bit of wrangling and the onset of anxiety about missing my flight altogether we "negotiated" a higher bag fee. It was pure usury and I resented it strongly. But I would have resented even more having to abandon thousands of dollars worth of camera gear. I paid the fees hoping that my client wouldn't bulk at the added cost. 

When I looked at my itinerary I was depressed to find that I'd become a victim yet again of some cost cutting corporate bean counting travel pro from the client side. Instead of a two jump return flight (Lisbon to Miami; Miami to Austin) I was booked on a painful excursion that would in the end take nearly forever and cover almost double that mileage. My ticket had me booked from Lisbon to London, where I would have a long lay over, and then on to Chicago where I would have a very, very short layover and then on to Austin. Of course it didn't work out very well. 

The flight to London was passable. The plane was crowded and even though corporate employees were entitled to fly business class overseas the same courtesy was never extended to contractors who were, of course, welcome to upgrade to business class at their own cost. I didn't want to suck up nearly $9,000 extra dollars for the flights so I crouched in my middle seat, in a middle row of a very large and noisy plane. 

London is always a mess. It was worse back then. When you arrived you de-boarded and were shepherded into buses that move you from one terminal to another with a pass through customs and immigration. Then into a great hall filled with seedy shops and duty free shops but a strange paucity of decent, and decently priced, restaurants. 

As has become routine for me and Heathrow, my flight out was delayed for hours and hours. I was already exhausted from eight days of dawn-to-midnight-shooting and at that point might have considered paying a fortune for some place in which to lie down and take a nap. But that didn't exist. 

Finally we were called to our flight and we lined up to take our places for the great transAtlantic journey. My seat was mid-plane and I felt fortunate to be sitting on one side (the left) and sharing seats with only two other passengers. One was plump and grumpy and seemed to have carry-on parcels everywhere. They overflowed like the fake lava of a child's model volcano. The person on the other side (yes! Middle seat, arggggg.) was gaunt, unnaturally quiet and looked pale, perhaps a bit...ill. 

The flight over the ocean was typical. No one got too drunk and no one raged about the cabin making deranged political announcements. The food service was slow and sloppy and felt less like "service" and more like "punishment" for those having the temerity to actually purchase "economy class" tickets. 

We arrived in the Chicago area around four in the afternoon but we did not land. Instead we circled the two hundred miles surrounding the airport for nearly three hours waiting for a band of huge thunderstorms to abate. At a certain point the continual right hand turns started to make many of the children on board air sick. Finally, our captain decided that we might run out of jet fuel before the weather actually cleared and we were re-routed to the airport in Toronto, Canada. 

We made a bumpy landing (sorry kids!) in a rain storm there and then taxied to a gate....which we were not permitted to use. The plane's captain came onto the intercom and explained that if we exited the plane we would all have to go through customs and immigration to get to the restrooms and the food courts and that there were no planned agents available. Not to worry, he assured us, we were going to refuel and get airborne soon!

Three hours later, darkness having descended over our Boeing 747, and the air getting stuffy and thick inside, the captain had someone deliver bad pizza to the plane to distribute amongst the now starving economy captives. The giant person next to me started to softly cry...

At this point, according to the schedule, I should have been home with my family having a fine dinner at one of our favorite restaurants and catching up on the events of the previous week and a half over a nice bottle of wine. We'd laugh as I told stories about some 'now funny' corporate mishap or another. But this was not in fate's plan for me this time.

The captain came back on the intercom around 9 p.m. and suggested that we "might" be getting ready to continue our flight to Chicago but warned us that the weather had "messed up" a lot of the connecting flights and that there might be a lot of people trapped in the terminals...

He was so right. We finally arrived a little after midnight. By this time I'd been traveling for over 18 hours but we weren't done yet. 

We arrived to an airport in which all the amenities, shops and restaurants were closed up tight. We made a long and painful slog through the entry formalities before entering into a scene of travel madness. Thousands and thousands of stranded passengers. Some slept on their luggage and others begging whoever would answer the phones at Unitied to help them get on a flight. Any flight.

I saw the situation was hopeless so I started calling too. Finally, I found a United agent and asked him about hotel accommodations. He agreed that they airline would arrange for hotel and a meal but let me know that all the hotels within a twenty five mile radius of the airport were sold out. At one in the morning, with no guarantee of a flight later in the day, I was willing to take a hotel room outside that magic circle. 

After a long, long shuttle ride I checked into an ancient Chicago area hotel that looked so much like a scene from Blade Runner. I hauled up two Pelican cases and my luggage to a room on the fifth floor and checked in. The room hadn't been made up but I was willing to put my Pelican cases end to end and sleep on them, using my suit coat as a blanket. 

Within ten minutes of checking in a loud and very physical fight started in the room next to mine and two or three men punctuated the fight noise by screaming, in turns, "You cheating M. F._______er! I'm going to kill you."  Some one got thrown against a wall and when I heard someone say, "Watch out! He's got a knife!" I decided that my insistence on a hotel room was misguided and that this might be my cue to get back in a shuttle, any shuttle, and head back to the airport. 

I dragged the cases backdown the hall and waited, with no little trepidation, for the ancient elevator to come and rescue me from homicidal chaos. And I was very, very hungry. 

The hotel arranged a nice, 4 a.m. shuttle for me and about five other guests who had come to believe that there rooms were also part of a remake of Taxi Driver, and we took the long ride back to the place from which airplanes are supposed to land and take off. 

I stepped carefully around the various piles of people noisily "luggage sleeping" and planted myself next to the gate from which the mythical Austin flight of the morning was supposed to originate. Hours and hours later an agent showed up and as gray daylight oozed in across the piles of airport refugees I began pleading my case with the jacketed dream killer they call: gate agent.

The flights for the next two days were fully booked. I was crestfallen. I asked if they could check on avails for other airlines and the gate agent just gave me a withering look and then gazed over my shoulder at the long line forming. At that moment good fortune smiled on me. A couple walked over and asked the gate agent if they could give me one of their spaces on the flight. They decided to take advantage of the airline's offer to give up seats in exchange for some credits and a nice stay at a local hotel (not my most recent, I hoped). The gate agent relented and got me onto the flight. It was also delayed. 

At this point I was able to scrounge the airport for my first food since the frozen pizza on the tarmac at Toronto. What I found turned out to be a very stale bagel, some iffy cream cheese and a cup of lukewarm coffee. Just a perfect micro-encapsulation of my last 24 hours. 

I arrived in Austin a day and a half late but figured I had time to make it to the circus. I called Belinda from a payphone (the days before universal cell phone service) and arranged to meet at the Performing Event Center at UT. She would bring Ben and the circus tickets. I would show up in a wrinkled and distressed business suit. I'd parked my car at the airport so I dragged the now one ton apiece cases along and put them in the trunk. I started up the car and headed west.

It was 104° at 1:30 pm on the day of the circus. Thankfully, the show was inside an air conditioned space! We waited outside for 20-30 minutes with me progressively dying of thirst and heat exhaustion. When we got in and got seated I went to look for water. The vendors had giant Cokes instead. 

At some point, after the circus started, I must have fallen asleep. Or descended into a light coma. The next thing I remember is a very tiny and young Ben tugging on my sleeve saying in his most excited voice, "Wake up, Daddy!!! ELEPHANTS!!!!!!!"  I wouldn't have missed it for the world. It was good to be home.

So, on days like today, when I pine for places filled with fun people to photograph and ancient buildings to put seductively in the backgrounds, followed by infusions of near perfect cappuccinos, I just remember that dreadful and endless trip back to the circus and I'm just fine sitting in my spacious and airy office watching the deer gambol on the front yard. I can learn to make nice coffee.....


You've got to hand it to vintage lenses. In concert with black and white camera settings they make something as mundane as a mannequin's hand seem mysterious and somehow consequential.


I've walked by the poorly merchandized shop where this mannequin has languished in the window for several seasons. Each time before I had my camera set to record color. I had a lens on the front that was contemporaneously vying for world class status. But I never noticed the photograph lurking there. Then, when I went down the same street again but with the purpose of making black and white images firmly in mind the photo pretty much leapt out at me and said, "Hello."

Even though I was shooting with a micro four thirds camera the longer focal length of the lens (60mm) and the close camera to subject distance allowed for a depth of field shallow enough to effectively separate the hand from the dress in the background. 

The Panasonic G9 has a black and white setting called L. Monochrome. I start with this setting and then I tweak it to taste. For me that means adding one step more of contrast, one step more of sharpening and dropping the noise reduction down by two steps. I also set the "filter" to YL (yellow) to darken skies. Finally, the camera lets me add grain to the files. I choose the lowest setting. 

Once I get the image into Lightroom I do add a bit more contrast and open up the shadows a bit.

I like what I get in my straight out of camera Jpegs. They just need a tiny bit more camera tweak. I guess I could do it all in camera but I might have to slow down my walking pace and my shooting pace to tweak stuff for each individual frame. I'd rather walk fast and enhance images in post. 

But the important thought I was dancing around today is how my setting of the camera (defining it as, at the time, a black and white camera) came to influence what I chose as subject matter. The brain is a tricky collaborator. It takes some stuff literally....

When I take photos in downtown Austin I like to pay attention to signs. Store signs. Sale signs. Informational signs. And signs from the universe...

At some point last week I was brushing up on my relationship with the Panasonic G9 camera. A camera that is actually too good. I actually say that because no matter what lens I put on it and no matter how I handle it the camera does everything perfectly and becomes completely transparent. I feel inadequate. I feel like I don't need to put any effort into making a great shot because the camera is quietly busy just making me look good. If you ever engineer a relationship like that with a camera I'm going to suggest you keep the camera. You might be tempted elsewhere and sell it off to pursue some flashy, bejeweled unicorn of a camera but you'll end up wanting that other, special camera back and you'll have to pay for it all over again. 

Anyway, I was trundling along with the G9 and an old, favorite standby, the Olympus Pen FT 60mm f1.5. And for some reason I felt compelled to photograph just about every funny sign I came across. The one just above is of a perennial sign in front of a cute little boutique that sells women's clothes. Some times the content of their sign is straightforward and at other times it just makes me smile. I originally photographed this one head on, looking down the street, but I circled back around and made this shot at an angle because I though the mildly out of focus store was more interesting than an empty street. 

I came across the image just above at the very end of my walk and it just struck me as so funny; two women just playing around with their teeth. It's too literal, too obvious. And I think that what makes it humorous for me. The mind wonders... were they picking spinach out of their teeth? Was there a flossing failure that day? And why does the person on the left need two hands while the person on the right only needed one? Unsolvable mysteries, I guess. 

The two signs in the restaurant window were one above the other. They seem to be telling passersby that because they are currently closed it's okay to urinate (or worse) in the planters just opposite the sign... I can't look at the duo of signs without a grin on my face. I'm an easy audience...

And finally....the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young advice for the pandemic. Shades of the 1970's.


Back at work and having a really good time. Getting productive in different ways.

I touched base with last week's client yesterday. Just a check in to see how they are dealing with 938 very large image files. They are doing the post process retouching and I'm always kind of amused when I hear about "how big the files are!!!" Of course, we covered this in our proposal and our pre-production meetings so I'm not sure what they were expecting. 

On the other hand they seem to really love the files because of the endless detail contained therein. And the sharply focused back edges of the product photos make it so much easier to do perfect subject selections.

I always like to do an "after action" report to myself when I've finished a project so I can make changes to the way I operate; if necessary. Sometimes the after action reports are just good reminders of how you did something on a shoot so you can replicate the production technique for the same company when you get invited back for another round.

One thing I wasn't sure of before last week was how seriously our clients would take the health considerations that come along with the pandemic. People do have a tendency to get fatigued and let their guard down as things like Covid-19 drags on. But I have to give all four of my clients of the past ten days high marks for good natured compliance with mask wearing, distancing and hand sanitizing. In retrospect I should have guessed that a huge radiology practice and a bio-tech company that's fully immersed in making testing equipment just for this kind of public health emergency would come with a heightened awareness and a mindfulness of the important protocols. 

While I know I would never attempt to photograph a sales convention or a wedding in the current time frame I am becoming much more comfortable getting back to work with medical practices, large corporations and also the folks at the theater. They are all taking prevention steps seriously. I am too.

In some ways the seriousness of the situation seems to have been good for more proven performers in the business. I think larger companies who still have cash in the coffers are understandably reticent to take chances on less established providers of photography and video production. Their way of thinking about it is that it's better to pay a bit more and get everything done right the first time than it is to save a few dollars but potentially need to do parts of jobs over again. One of my clients also remarked that a fast and sure working methodology means that everyone involved in an assignment has less overall exposure to each other and also that many parts of a project require less client supervision. That means more potential safety for everyone. 

In the part of last week's shoots that involved photographing product our client stayed out of the shooting studio until we had a product set up, lit correctly, polished and cleaned and a test shot up on the laptop screen. We'd call them in to see and approve the shot, or give us feedback. Once they approved, or improved our understanding of the concept, they exited our space and went back to work on something else (making them more efficient). With less experienced photographers there would need to be more interaction and supervision along with more exposure between client and photo crew. It's a pertinent and valuable selling point. 

Thanks for the suggestions on keeping masks fog free. I'm experimenting with some of the methods and will report back about which ones work for me.

Zach Theatre News: My marketing specialist and partner in video over at Zach Theatre had a successful hour and a half online meeting yesterday to iron out all of the tech details for the project we find ourselves totally immersed in right now. We're essentially producing creative modules for a part live/part pre-recorded online fundraising show that will happen on September 26th. 

We wanted to do a "detail" call without the rest of the team on the line to slow things down. We covered the basic storyboards he created for the three projects and we discussed the scheduling logistics involved. Some of the scenes include up to 30 people, dancing and singing as they move across a bridge and head toward the theater. We spent time trying to figure out how to keep chatty actors socially distanced, how to handle craft service, and most importantly how to film the sequences. How many cameras to use. How many medium shots versus tight CU shots. How to handle syncing the actors with the (pre-recorded) music. 

And even the minutia of which frame rate to use and which codec will work best for the large amount of editing that will need to be done in a short time frame. And who will start the city permit process and who is in charge of providing insurance for the public area shoots. 

While the theatre's creative team deals with casting, scheduling and rehearsing actors I've gotten hold of a preliminary B-roll list. Since the "big shot" of the 30+ actors on the bridge will take place on an early morning I'm trying to shoot all the B-roll to match the time of day. I've scheduled myself to do 30 or 40 quick shots all over Austin around the same time of day. It works out well. I can swim until the sun comes up, grab coffee and then get a handful of shots each day before breakfast. 

We settled on using the S1 cameras with the V-Log upgrades. A lot of our shots will be in full sun and I felt that working in V-Log would help us keep the highlights intact. We're testing now to make sure our editor is comfortable with a basic LUT and his ability to color grade the files. We're still going back and forth on whether to shoot 4K or 1080p. The 4K gives more flexibility and it sounds sexy to the marketing director but we're also looking at "day of" bandwidth requirements for uploading and streaming on Facebook and YouTube. Might just shoot the big, wide opening numbers in 4K and save the heavy lifting on the close ups...

I just finished up buying variable ND filters for all the different lens diameters. Those 82mm filters can get pricey... 

I hope we're able to raise a bunch of money with the online show. I'm happy to be shooting video. I'm even happier not to have to edit it. (But, in a pinch I'm a soft touch to take at least one part of their hands). 

Swim News: We're into week thirteen of socially distanced masters swimming and so far we've had no cases of Covid-19 emerge. We still get our temps taken each morning before hitting the water and we still wear our masks to the pool edge. The big new is that with the kids going (virtually- in our district) back to school we're able to change up and add to some of the practice times. 

We're ending the 6 a.m. workouts and shifting to 7 - 8 a.m. and a second workout from 8 a.m. - 9 a.m. And we're adding a noon hour workout Tuesday-Friday. This should ease up on the pool "traffic."

We got in 3,000 yards in our 55 minute slot today and everyone was in good spirits and seems to have returned to their pre-CVD-19 swim endurance and performance. I can hardly wait to lard in some noon swims just to ramp up my vitamin D intake/metabolism. 

Finally, I was just about to buy another pair of clear goggles since the 6 a.m. swim is mostly in darkness but the revelation that the swims are changing schedule means I can save that money and put it towards new lenses.... (that's a joke).

Errata: I have two Japanese Maple trees on the property and the bigger one has branches that are in sun for most of the day. It's been over 100° here for days and some of the leaves are getting sunburnt, shriveling up and dying. The tree isn't too tall; about 12 feet at its highest point, and most of the branches are fairly low --- especially the branches with the sunburnt leaves.

I've taken to setting up a couple of C-Stands and topping them with 50 inch diameter diffusion disks. I go out from time to time and adjust the diffusers based on the position of the sun (as it move around the earth -- at least that's what Fox News says...) and the tree seems to exude a sense of relief at my intervention. I also read up on Japanese Maples and discovered that they like damp, moist soil. Who doesn't? So I have sprinklers on them early in the day. Fingers cross that they make it through the hot spell. 

Lighting: Does anyone have experience with the new Godox VL150 and VL300 LED lights that came out recently? They've gotten great reviews from Curtis Judd and also from Gerald Undone (both on YouTube and both smart/ non-time-wasting reviewers) and I'm thinking of ordering a couple for higher output stuff -- like lighting up the stage at Zach for this project (usual lighting crew all furloughed). If you've them and either love em or hate em, please let me know. 

Another noon call today and them I'm free to roast in the heat. May even take yet another walk. They don't seem to last much past the day you take them.