5.21.2018

How did my "take" from the 2006 production of "Rocky Horror Picture Show" stand the test of time. Twelve years later.....


I've had an interesting re-entry into daily work life. One of my clients whom I have worked with for nearly three decades called to see if I had "the files" for a project I'd done for them in 2000. They were preparing 50 year anniversary campaign and were looking for images taken in each of the five decades during which their company had flourished. I went over to the CD and DVD archives, stuck on a Metro shelf in the corner, and looked through the material. Nothing. No sign of the work. Perplexed, I looked at my notebooks from the time to see if they held any clues. Of course they did. Making notes is the secret to long term understanding...

2000 was a transitional year in my business. It's the year that 35mm film started to jump the shark and morph into digital. Somewhere in that year I abandoned 35mm slides and color negative film almost entirely and started depending on digital cameras as a replacement. There were still a few years left in which I worked with medium format film for the more intricate and very high image quality assignments but, as digital cameras continued to improve, these too fell by the wayside and were replaced with ever advancing digital images.

I found an entry in the notebook about the job in question. We'd done the pre-production marketing images (the highest value stuff) with medium format film and a little assortment of Hasselblad cameras and lenses and then had done the higher volume, less exacting work with a 35mm SLR film camera and Nikon zoom lenses. By mutual agreement the client had held onto the film as it was proprietary and they had bought exclusive usage rights, paying in 1990s prices. 

I talked through this turn of history with the client and they went through the process of contacting a procession of previous marketing directors until one of them led the current custodians of corporate branding (over the phone) to a small closet in the basement of headquarters, where the images languished in black notebooks, in banker's boxes, on a series of shelves. The original requestor had scanned the images he needed at the time and filed the "take" very professionally and with every intention of revisiting the work. But that was two careers ago. 

I wondered how the old work would stand up in today's market. Would the old 35mm slides and plastic pages of big square transparencies seem hopelessly outclassed

A self portrait. Narcissistic or exploration?


There's something about mirrors that calls to me like a moth to a flame. When I walk by a mirror or a highly reflective window, and I just happen to have a camera over my shoulder, I feel a compulsion to pull the camera off and document what I look like. I think it's mostly curiosity; to understand how I look to everyone else, who live outside my brain and ego. 

I was in the Tang Museum at Skidmore College last week and I kept finding mirrored surfaces. I had a camera with me that does wickedly well with image stabilization and I tried every permutation I could. Now I know what I look like when I'm in a museum on a cold, rainy day and I've found a way to understand what my exterior presentation is all about. Does the Columbia rain jacket make me look fat? (implied smiley face emoji). I think we should all post some self-portraits. (And we should call them "self-portraits" unless we shoot them with a cellphone.....then we can call them "selfies").



I'm back. We're back. It feels strange to be back at work after a big weekend celebration. But there it is......




Heading into the Special Events Center for commencement. 

I've been out of pocket for the last five days but it was for something important. At least it was very important to me and my wife, Belinda. We headed up to Saratoga Springs, NY to watch the kid graduate from Skidmore College. He looked dashing in his Converse All Star High Tops, dangling his honors cords (both Magna Cum Laude and English Honors...) from his black robe. 

I took it easy, at least from a photographic perspective. I brought along one camera and one and a half lenses. I decided to take the GH5 because I continue to be impressed by just about anything that comes from the Olympus 12-100mm f4.0 Pro lens. It's a big lens but it's damn sharp and it just floats in place with its I.S. The half lens refers to the Panasonic 42.5mm f1.7 lens which is so tiny that it only counts, in my estimation, as a half lens. But it's as sharp and well behaved as any lens I own and its combo image stabilization (body+lens) means that the camera+lens combo is probably steadier than putting a non-stablized rig on any number of cheap and spindly tripods. Toss in a couple of batteries and a coupe of memory cards and you've got a powerful kit for traveling through the weekend. 

We worked until midday on Thurs., checked in to the airport and whipped through the TSA Pre Check line. Our flights brought us into the Albany airport a bit after midnight and we spent the night at an adjacent Hilton property, picking up our rental vehicle the next morning. After a good breakfast and nearly enough coffee we got into a Chevy Equinox and made the 25 minute drive to the northeast. 

First order of real business was to meet Ben, and my friend Fred, at a favorite sushi restaurant in the small, downtown area. Fred is a VSL reader, musician, photographer, instrument maker, bon vivant, and swimmer who lives in Saratoga Springs. He introduced himself to me when he put two and two together and realized that my kid intended to be in his town for a while. It's been great having someone you know on the ground.....just in case. He's saved me tons of analyst's bills by cutting down dramatically on my separation anxiety from the kid. Fred is funny and bright and we're planning a secret foray to Michael Johnston's place sometime this Summer. 

We might be mature, call in advance, have a genteel lunch with Michael, chat about heurmeneutics related to the worship of all things photographic or we may go to our default and just show up to toilet paper his house. You never know.... But Fred would be a great accomplice either way...

After lunch and a break to check into our AirBNB (first time for us and first rental for the AirBNB homeowner!) we headed to the college for a "Brick" ceremony. One of the things the college does to raise money for scholarships and grants to less affluent students is to raise money by having your kid's name inscribed on a brick which is then laid out into an ever growing sidewalk or plaza area. Kind of a permanent reminder of each alumni's time at the school. From 485 participating families the school as able to raise $1,300,000 this year. A pretty amazing total for the 2018 Parent's Fund Donation. 

Having surpassed their goal by several hundred thousand dollars the Parent's Fund committee went ahead and had a brick made for each graduate. It was a warm gesture of inclusion and appreciated by everyone involved. The brick ceremony was short and sweet and followed by a reception for students and parents at the college president's house. I brought my camera along but didn't find anything compelling so I let it swing on the strap, kept my Champagne glass in my left hand and left my right hand for greeting a shaking. 

We knew all the restaurants would be packed full on Friday night because a number of students come from families that live "in state." We rightly assumed that many would come in to town for the evening, do a big dinner celebration, hit the commencement activities the next day and then scoot out of town in the mid-afternoon on Saturday. We decided to do our fanciest dinner on Saturday night and it turns out our plan was flawless. That left us to D.I.Y. on Friday evening.

Since our AirBNB was spacious and well appointed we headed to a little specialty food shop called, Putnam's Market, and bought wonderful sandwiches; some with roasted vegetables, goat cheeses, and fresh tomatoes, others with various Italian meats and dressings. We tossed in a chocolate torte and a bottle of Champagne and had a wonderful, casual dinner at the house. We talked for hours.

The next day the college prepared breakfast for anyone who cared to come by and eat before the commencement event. The quality of the breakfast was a good summation of why my food oriented child chose this as his school over plenty of academically equally good schools. Skidmore is consistently rated as having some of the finest food in the country in their sprawling and beautifully design dining hall.

Coming from Texas, where the temperatures had been in the upper 90's last week, the commencement was an interesting change. It was cool and rainy, and the rain picked up just as the event started. The speeches and ceremonies were held at an outdoor amphitheater which is covered. We were safe from the rain but we Texans were happy that we had been warned to bring warm clothes! It was in the high 40's to lower 50's all morning long. OMG, it's the end of May!!!

Belinda and I shot photos of the commencement; me with the Panasonic and Olympus blend, Belinda with her ancient iPhone, and we hugged each other in mutual congratulations for getting the kid at least this far and this well. Then we gathered the kid and headed back to the campus for yet another reception and a wonderful lunch back at the dining hall. 

We dropped Ben off at his apartment to continue packing and we headed back to nap and listen to the water play on the roof of our temporary home. We picked Ben up at 7:00 pm Saturday evening and headed to our favorite restaurant in the area, Max London's. We had a wonderful meal and, in a first for Ben, he was able to order a glass or wine without being carded (asked for I.D.). He took it as a sign that he had truly graduated. 

We all flew back together on Sunday and Southwest Airlines worked like a Swiss watch. The capper to the weekend was the incredibly joyous reception between Ben and Studio Dog. She just couldn't believe her eyes and her nose. The (un)prodigal child had finally returned. 

I looked through my images today in Lightroom and nothing rises above rote documentation and family memorabilia but I share a few here just because a fair number of readers have watched me and Belinda raise Ben over the years and I wanted to put a chapter marker on this phase of our lives. 

That, and to write that it's possible to work in the arts and still have the normal middle class expectations we grew up with pan out. Not everyone needs to be an accountant, a doctor or a lawyer in order to get through life. (Not that accounting is in any way a bad thing....). Artists tend to hear an unceasing drumbeat from family, acquaintances and media that tells them they will be poor, live poor and die poor but it doesn't have to be that way. We just need to do a better job teaching our artists about handling money. 

The camera choice was, in this case, totally immaterial to the event. I could have done just as much with my phone and few gimmick add-on telephotos. In one regard though the weekend was very re-freshing. I could not wait to get back home and get back to work on my own stuff. Sometimes even a short break is enough to prime one's creative engines. 

The hardworking, ever present content creation professionals do their thing.

Ben gets his degree from the president of the college.

We all file out into the rain and temperatures in the upper 40's. 
A day very unlike the day prior in Austin, Texas, when it was 97 degrees..

The Parent's Fund raises money to provide scholarships to economically
disadvantaged students to ensure diversity among the student body.
Some of the funding comes from donations given to get a "named" brick for your student.

485 families donated to the fund via the "Brick" fundraiser.
They were able to raise 1.3 million dollars....

Ben's Brick has been placed.

5.17.2018

I love it when the media picks up one of our public relations photos for the Theatre and does a beautiful job showcasing it.

https://www.blacktexasmag.com/home-1/2018/5/14/zach-theatre-announces-cast-for-sunday-in-the-park-with-george

This shot is one of the promotional images we did two weeks ago for Zach Theatre's upcoming production of Sundays in the Park with George. 

I used Aputure LightStorm LEDs to light everything because we also had a video crew shooting some behind the scenes stuff and low powered modeling light alone would have made the video crews' job a nightmare.

If you are in Austin this production promises to be really stellar. We'll be shooting the dress rehearsal and tech rehearsal the week after next.

Fun to see work published all over the place... still.

5.16.2018

An Image I made back in 2009 with a Leaf A7i medium format digital camera. It's time to make a print....

This is Ben ten years ago. 
Leaf sent me an Aptus A7i, 40 Megapixel camera
to test and I started photographing everyone in sight.

Like all other nerds I can't keep from comparing things. In my world some of the most fun and easiest things to compare are the files from various cameras. When I acquired a Nikon D800e and a D800(vanilla) I first shot a bunch of test frames and then I sat down in front of the computer and started to compare the files from the medium format cameras I've shot over the years, wondering how they would stand up to the Nikons. I'm not sure I can see a real difference and I'm not sure that, if I saw a difference, it would be anything more than a visual placebo. Then, of course, I would have to figure out how much difference lenses make in the overall appraisal of image quality in a given set of photos. 

At their lowest ISO settings I think I prefer the older, medium format files but it's a difference that's so minute that even a slight discrepancy in focusing would be enough to massively skew the results. And therein lies the whole problem with hobbyists and professionals who embark on trying to test and judge the differences between cameras. Tony Northrup once did a video in which he talked about this subject and noted that even the give of a wooden floor beneath a solid tripod might me enough to grossly affect the results of any rigorous test. A slight focus shift. Differences in temperatures between tests. And I think it's a fool's errand to do any sort of test of cameras if you must use different lenses for each format or each model. 

Having "tested" and written about three different medium format cameras in the past, and having compared those files with newer files from the D800, D800e and my old D810 convinces me that using any of those cameras without the assistance of tripod, or at least the image freezing aid of a short duration electronic flash, lowers the effective resolution by enough of a percentage that these 36 and 40 megapixel cameras are then reduced to competing with their 24 megapixels competitors when it comes to how the photographs look in various media and how resolution is experienced.

As to lenses I think the only directly comparable testing situation is one where a tester only compares results from two cameras that share the same lens mount. In that way the same lens can be used during each test. If each camera is focus at high magnification, in live view, with all other parameters being tightly controlled then we can tell something about the differences between two models or different generations. 

When it comes to lenses I think the scores and DXOMark are more interesting than the scores they apply to cameras. I was comparing several 50mm lenses on their site with all lenses tested on a D800e. Their lens tests show the actual lens resolution on the sensor, in terms of megapixels, versus what one would expect from the full resolution of the sensor. Using the Nikon D800e as a test base I compared the Nikon 58mm f1.4G lens with the Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art lens. The Nikon lens allows a user to take advantage of only 25 megapixels of actual resolution. The Sigma lens scrapes out 35 of the 36 possible megapixels of resolution that the camera can deliver. 

Now, more than every, it seems that cherry-picking your lenses can make a drastic difference leveraging the image quality and performance you pay for in today's state of the art cameras. And, you can imagine, that if a testing site uses a perfect lens on one brand's camera and a similar but less perfect lens on a competitor's brand, that the stated results in the review would be much, much different. But how much at fault is the sensor and how much degradation is the lens really responsible for?

I remember one site that used the Sigma 70mm f2.8 Macro lens for every camera test. They invested in hand-picked and tested units of the same lens in order to eliminate as many variables as they could. To not test this way is tantamount to just throwing your hands up and declaring, "It's all subjective!"

I wonder if the folks at the bigger test sites think about things like this or whether they interpret the results they get from a myriad of different lenses through the lens of their own preferences. 

But here are my thoughts about the differences between the MF and the Vintage Nikon 36 megapixel full frame bodies: In stringent test I'd probably select the images from the MF cameras as slightly superior, but this would only apply at base ISOs and at optimum apertures, and each test would need to be rigorously vetted and repeated a number of times in order to null out frame by frame anomalies. I do remember that the image of Ben (above) was shot with a $7,500 Schneider 180mm APO lens. I can only assume that was a big "assist" to the file quality. My 85mm Nikons aren't quite in that class but the images I've taken lately with the Sigma Art lens (50mm) seem to rival the pricier glass. 

After looking at a bunch of work, printed and otherwise, I'm going to say I'd be happy with any of the full frame, 24 megapixel cameras. In the sizes most of us actually work in the differences between the 24 and 36 (or even 40) megapixel files will only show up in the most critical and disciplined sort of work. 

A bit of news. I'm leaving tomorrow afternoon for New York to watch my kiddo graduate from college. He texted me this afternoon to let me know how the semester turned out and I'm very happy to say that he is on the Dean's List for the seventh consecutive semester and will be graduating on Saturday Magna Cum Laude. 

We'll have a busy schedule as there are dinners scheduled, as well as many receptions and ..... the ritual clean out and packing up of his apartment. This means I may post fewer blogs than usual and be even slower on moderating comments (which I love to get...). 

Following on this happy news.... I have made my last payment to the college and we are all celebrating Ben earning his degree without anyone taking on debt. I feel like I just got a huge raise!!!
(Let the unfettered camera buying begin!!!).

Studio Dog, the VSL security team, and the house sitter will remain in Austin to prepare for the boy's auspicious return. Some one has to dig the BBQ pit. Right?



5.14.2018

All of a sudden we're getting tons of spam comments. I'm spending too much time moderating them.


 One of the glorious benefits of writing a blog for anyone who cares to read it is that sometimes your open access leads to being slimed and spammed by gutless anonymous web wankers. I'm getting so tired of it that I'm considering drastic measures. Maybe drinking a lot more red wine so that I can't even bother to care about the recent groundswell of trash, I'll be too busy thrashing out medical problems.  Or perhaps the best approach is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to hunt down the physical location of the spammers and then drop in with Mitch Rapp, Court Gentry and Dominic Caruso (all of their "heads on a swivel" ---swear to God, I've read that line in every action novel out there) and laying waste to their homes and offices with heavy weapons and even heavier action text and dialog. (reference to action heroes from three different novel/thriller franchises).

But mostly I think I'll just use this space to ask the spammer nicely, "Please Stop." Go and spam someone else. Maybe Tony Northrup or Jared Polin. They probably have staff that have time to read your stuff...

If it continues (and seriously, I'm getting from dozens to massive dozens per day) I'll just shut down the comments for a while and you sweet and loyal VSL readers can call me on my land line and give me your comments and thoughts directly.

I  hope it doesn't come to that. Not that I don't want to hear from you but I'd be chained to my desk. And I'd have to presume the spammers will start calling too..... grrrrr.

Have any of you ever, ever had your e-mail spammed (big cynical smiley face implied)?

Nikon D800x known weakness and cheap fix.


I recently bought two used Nikon D800 series cameras; a plain vanilla D800 and a spiffy D800e. I'm happy with the handling and the file quality and I've read on the web that these cameras are rugged and well built. There is a caveat to that though... According to my most trusted expert on used cameras and camera repair (he runs a very busy rental, trade-in and repair counter for a very successful camera store) the D800 (and above) cameras have on weakness that he's seen repeatedly over the years since their launch. Where the D700 camera had a solid, metal construction across the inside, bottom of the camera, which made it nearly impervious to blows to the bottom of the camera, the D800's+ have a two piece construction that is fairly susceptible to a hard knock delivered to the bottom of the camera. Once a camera gets a hard enough impact to the bottom it becomes, for all intents and purposes, dead. Yes, you could get the unit repaired but at a cost which would most likely exceed the cost of replacing it with another used copy.

While I am pretty careful and conscientious with my cameras (I don't hang three around my neck and do the photojournalist hustle, with cameras banging against each other....) I have made mistakes from time to time which may have endangered a camera or two.

So, how to protect a usable tool from accidental, deadly impact damage? I thought about this long and hard and decided that the answer lay in more armor. When I bought the D800e it came with a Nikon Branded MB-D12 battery grip. This seemed like the perfect solution to prevent bottom of camera impact and so I've left it on. I went to buy another one to put on the bottom of the second camera only to find that price for a new Nikon MB-D12 grip is the princely sum of $429, at new, retail. While that might be reasonable (probably not) if you were buying a new camera package, and also were interested in using bigger batteries in the grip, it is certainly not rational to pay what amounts to the price of a decent APS-C camera for a bit of extra structural "padding" at the bottom of one's camera!

I checked around on the web, found and bought an aftermarket version that got mostly 5 star reviews on Amazon.com, for a whopping $39, delivered in two days. It fits on the bottom of the camera and seems made from the same materials as the Nikon version. It works well and did not drain the camera battery overnight, or do anything else untoward. While my interest is only in camera protection I'm a bit happier having the battery grips on when it comes to shooting in a vertical orientation. It's nice to have the vertical shutter release...

My intention is to use it as I use the Nikon grip on the other camera; as armor plating against possible impact damage to the camera's bottom. My Nikon branded grip came to me used and did not have the battery trays for one extra lithium battery or six, in-grip, double "A" batteries, but the new one has trays for both. I'll load up both kinds of batteries just as a test but I find that one battery, in camera, makes the overall package lighter and lasts for at least half a day of heavy photographic work. If I were to use the cameras for video I'd see a much, much faster battery drain but that's not my intended use for the Nikons.

That's my known issue report on these particular Nikons. There was one other issue with early D800s which was well covered in the media and that is a focus issue where one part of the frame is not exactly parallel with the other, resulting in one sided focus issues. I've tested both new/used cameras and they are free of this malady.

Now we're back out into the real world with the cameras and even less concerned about their safety...

5.12.2018

Join me in late October for a really cool (literally and figuratively) 9 day workshop in Iceland. Pretty amazing stuff. Photography, travel and food. What else can you ask for?

http://www.crafttours.com/trips/?page=iceland_photography_1018

I'm ready.



All photos ©ODL Design. All ©ODL Design. 


After shooting through a winter storm in Canada, in February, I've learned how to dress for the cold. I'm practicing eating Icelandic fare and I'm looking forward to exploring all the nooks and crannies of photography with like minded shooters. Come along for the ride and we'll have a great time.