8.31.2017

Wouldn't it be cool if someone made a really nice super wide angle to near normal zoom lens for the M4:3rd cameras?


Oh, I just remembered that there are three or four to choose from. Seriously though, I started looking around at wide angle lenses to pair with the GH5s as we're pitching an architectural firm on doing some dynamic video. The firm in question does lots of big spaces and there would be many opportunities to really stretch the spaces with the right lens.

When I last used the Olympus and Panasonic systems the primary choice in the super wide to wide niche was the Panasonic 7-14mm f4.0. I didn't own one but the consensus at the time was that it was pretty good but suffered from a magenta artifact in the middle of the frame if the lens didn't like the way light was coming in. The corners could be a bit soft, depending on the type of material you might be shooting...

The other choice was from Olympus and it was the 9-18mm f4-5.6 lens. It's build didn't inspire enough confidence in me to spend money on the lens but I'm told it's not a bad choice for the price. But that was then, in the age of noisy, 12 megapixel sensors and this is now, in the age of 20 megapixel sensors and the kind of ISO invariance that we've come to expect from new generation sensors.

But, voila! There are two recent lenses that seem to be the new contenders for the wide angle crown in the land of smaller sensor, interchangeable lens camera systems:  The Leica/Panasonic 8-18mm f2.8-4.0 and the Olympus Pro Series 7-14mm f2.8.

I'm pretty certain, having read numerous reviews and having played with each at my favorite bricks-and-mortar camera store, that both will provide the level of sharpness and detail that I require (but your mileage will surely vary). So, how to choose?

On paper the Olympus Pro lens is obviously the one to have; if you are wide-wide angle fan. It's got a full millimeter more wide angle capability and a constant aperture, f2.8 with which to suck in maximum   light across the range of focal lengths. Neither lens features (or really needs) built-in image stabilization so you don't lose anything there no matter which direction you take.

Of course one would always choose the Olympus --- after all, it even has "Pro" in the name...

But not so fast. What if you want to use it to shoot mostly video? Does the Olympus product win with its constant aperture lens? Well...maybe. But it does have one fatal flaw where my use parameters are concerned. It has a very bulbous front element; so bulbous that it doesn't allow for the use of screw in filters on the front of the lens. So, no polarizing filter can be used and, more importantly, no variable neutral density filters need (or can) apply.

The Panasonic/Leica loses that one millimeter of wide angle coverage but amply makes up for it with...a front of lens filter ring. A 67mm front filter ring. A quick test shows that my thin profile VND filters work without further darkening any corners. A clear win for the Panasonic/Leica for anyone interested in shooting good video.

In the end it wasn't a tough choice for me. The Panasonic/Leica seems like a perfect accompaniment for the GH5s and the filter ring was the critical consideration. I will confess that as a long time Leica R and M user I also loved the design and graphic elements of the lens. This particular win, for me, goes to the Panasonic/Leica.

How is it in actual use? Preliminary tests are promising but we'll know more after spending a few hours out and around shooting stuff. Coming soon to a blog near you.

8.30.2017

Schooled again by the kid. Want more video jobs? Practice your craft instead of reading about it!


More and more I find that "wisdom" is not necessarily an outcome of the aging process. There is an old saying that always makes me smile. It goes like this: "With age comes wisdom. But sometimes age comes alone...." At times I can be a shining example of that disconnection.

We were in the car yesterday heading home to Austin after a quick trip to San Antonio to check on my nearly nonagenarian parents and, curious to hear Ben's opinion, I asked him in what ways did he think I might get assigned more video projects from clients. His first thought was, "do more marketing." but he stopped and did his usual long consideration before delivering his core advice...

"You know, you've probably read every book out there about video production, directing, lighting and audio, and you've probably watched every video on Lynda.com about video but you still come to get me when you're sitting in the studio editing. And mostly when you ask my opinions it's about aesthetic stuff like where to cut or what clips to  use. My advice is to stop learning from the books and the video and all the other stuff and start making fun, small videos."

"When I first started out Jack and Graham and Cade and I would sit around and come up with these zany little story lines and then we'd grab whatever video camera we could get our hands on and go out and act out our ideas. We'd make crappy props and try obvious special effects. And then we'd come back and edit the stuff together. When we did our edits we'd figure out that we needed a different angle or a whole different clip and we'd rush out the door and shoot some more and then come back and work it in. After a while it just becomes second nature to make sure you've got what you need while you are actually out shooting."

"I probably shot and edited 200 short, fun pieces before I was even out of high school. You learn best when you actually go out and apply all that stuff you think you know. You learn best when you screw up. But you really learn best when you are just having fun." 

"If you did more hands-on stuff you'd end up with a lot more stuff you'd want to share and the fun stuff is probably what prospective clients really want to see. They want to know that you can have fun with their stuff. And that the edits and stuff are natural and practiced." 

"There is such a thing as knowing too much....and doing too little." 

We were just passing the outlets malls in San Marcos, about a half hour from home when he summed up: "Write and shoot a few hundred projects just for fun and then start the marketing. That should work."

When he finished his mother (the source of all his intelligence genes) smiled her typical Mona Lisa smile and added, "Sweetie....it's like you've always told people, it's all about time in the water."

I drove on in silence. Ben was in the back seat zoning out to his trying to fall asleep in the car playlist on his phone while his mom turned her attention back to the novel she'd been reading. As the giant pickup trucks roared by in the left lane I was busy thinking about some of the fun stories I needed to start telling. It took my mind off the search for my next ultimate lens.

You may not believe me but I've found Ben's quotient of common sense to far exceed whatever meager supply I was given. When I follow his advice I am usually successful. When I rebuff it I generally have no one but myself to blame for the outcomes.

He's heading back to school on Saturday. I'm comforted to know I can always text him when I hit the next roadblock.

8.27.2017

Rainy Day Camera.


High wind. Endless rain. Cabin fever. A combination that might lead one to exit their comfy and dry house and head out for another Sunday walk. As usual, the burning question is, "What camera to take?"
I wanted  today's camera to check several features on my list. I wanted it to have a wide ranging zoom, a weatherproof build, really good 4K video and a total price tag (camera and lens) so that I wouldn't feel dismayed if the driving rain tricked the weather sealing and bricked the whole system. So of course I reached for the Panasonic G85 with its companion lens, the 12-60mm f3.5 to f5.6. The combination cost me around $900 and since the lens and body work the image stabilization in concert the system is rock steady and perfect for handholding a camera for video and stills in 50 mile per hour wind gusts.

video

An umbrella is of little use in driving rain coupled with high winds. It will wiggle out of one's grasp with the first gusts. I came back to my car an hour later thoroughly soaked but happy to have had the exercise and adventure. 

While Austin has been subjected to nearly continuous wind gusts of 30, 40, and 50 mph the central and west parts of the city have seen less total rain than was expected. The people in Houston and between Houston and Corpus Christi have not been so lucky and are in a world of pain right now that just seems to get worse and worse. The storm is currently predicted to be circling around to hit them once again and drop even more rain. If you have the extra cash you might take a moment to send a donation to the Red Cross. I have a feeling people are going to need help for months or even years to come. 

We are safe and dry here at VSL. Our thoughts are with all those millions of people who are still in harm's way...



8.26.2017

I read with great interest the 12th "thought piece" about the new Nikon D850 camera on DPReview. I started looking through my files to see what I've been missing all these years...


When the Sony A7Rii came out it was a revelation and a (mostly) finished product. Along with the A7R it was the first big jump up in useable, focusable resolution in a mirrorless camera platform. The Nikon D800 and D810 were the first big, dramatically increased resolution cameras in the DSLR space and they were also worthy of praise for the sheer technological leap they pulled off. Bravo to Nikon for elevating cameras from the 24 megapixel range to the 36+ megapixel range; a real plus for all those who needed (or thought they needed) a lot more detail in their files. As a bonus both Sony and Nikon users also benefitted from a huge jump in dynamic range in both sets of cameras. The winning point for the Nikon D810 was the ability to squeeze out the last shreds of insanely good dynamic range at the lowest ISO (64). The winning points for the Sony

8.25.2017

A few quick program notes from the VSL H.Q. Re: Weather Prep.


Just a situational report from Austin about our weather event:

We're being told on the news reports to expect between ten and fifteen inches of rain in the next 72 hours as a result of Hurricane Harvey, which is now a category 4 storm event. The reach of this system is pretty massive. So, what does this mean for Austin, Texas?

Based on past events we'll see flooding in central parts of the city. We'll see a dramatic rise in the level of Lady Bird Lake, which is part of the Colorado River system and we'll see hundreds of roads closed because they have low water crossings at certain points. For people in low lying areas of Austin, such as Dove Springs, there will be wide spread flooding.

The VSL headquarters is located to the west of the city of Austin in a separate, small community called, Westlake Hills. As the name implies these are the western hills bordering Austin. Our semi-secret laboratories are on a property that's about 450 feet above sea level and about 430 feet higher than any flood level in the history of Austin. Our bigger concern in storms such as this is wind damage.

We may also experience some water on the floor in the main office because the studio sits a bit lower on the property and depends on a French drain to direct water away from our east wall. In previous storms like this we have gotten water on the floor. Our jumbo shopvac is standing by.

We have stocked the pantry with lots of low prep food items that keep well. The wine cellar and liquor cabinets are well and recently stocked. I've been charging batteries for LED panels all day and will stage the panels around the house in the event that we lose electrical power.

We have a library of several thousand books, some of which I have not yet read, so I don't think we'll succumb to boredom even if the event turns out to be protracted. We have had to cancel several weekend events and will sorely miss the income but I am certain my readers will avail themselves of some "must have" purchases from Amazon.com, using my links, and helping to salve the pain of my lost fees.

The gas tanks in the cars are filled and we seem ready. Please wish us luck.

I've heard from VSL friends in Calgary, Paris, Moscow and Saratoga Springs who inquired about our status and that is so nice. If we screw up and were unprepared we'll let you know.

Please remember in your thoughts and prayers all those folks who live in Corpus Christi, Houston and other coastal towns as they will bare the brunt of the storm's impact. And for months afterwards.

The perfect storm camera? That would be the GH5 with the 12-100mm. Both are weather sealed.

Hope everyone rides this one out successfully..... Thank you for the inquiries and good wishes. Kirk

Saturday morning update: Of course, swim practice was cancelled. Sad. The rain didn't start here until about 5 am today and most of it has been brief flurries of rain interspersed with wind gusts. Predications are that the bulk of the rain will start up after noon and go through Sunday. No leaks or incursions to note. I have two different sets of portraits to retouch today so cabin fever probably won't set in until tomorrow. We'll see just how long I can go without swim practice.....

It's the kind of photoshoot that goes to the dogs, quick. Plenty of fur flying on this one...

Sand bags are NOT optional. 

A friend called and asked if I would come over and take some photographs of her kids. I've known the children in this family for at least ten years; they swam with Ben every year at Summer Swim League and I swim with their dad, year round, at our club's Masters Swim Team. Of course I said, "Yes." And once she had me on the hook she dropped the other shoe, "Oh, and I'd like to get the three kids photographed together with ten very young, golden retriever puppies....can you do that?" 

What a crazy afternoon! I got over to the house around 5:30 pm and set up one big flash in the middle of their terraced back yard. We unleashed a puppy stampede through the middle of my friend's house and worked to corral the puppies into the back yard, then we worked on corralling the three teenagers. Once we had the whole crew together my friend worked hard at interchanging fussy puppies and acting as a defacto stylist for the kids. 

We took photos of the three kids each holding handfuls of puppies and also surrounded by puppies. The puppies didn't seem to understand my commands to stay still and smile but we worked around their recalcitrance. Can't go two minutes horsing around with ten puppies and not a have a big grin on my face. Did I mention that photography is fun?

"Quick! There might be treats."
Double checking the sand bag for me.

Photographer under close supervision!

M.C. Ecsher Dogs.

Camera: Sony A7Rii
Lens: 24-70mm f4.0 Sony//Zeiss
Light: Neewer Vision Four battery power flash.

8.24.2017

A Few Thoughts About the Nikon D850. From Someone Who Owned the D810.

A portrait I shot in the Samsung booth at Photo Expo back in 2013.
You remember, that's when Samsung thought they wanted to be
in the camera business...

Camera marketing seems to me, sometimes, to be like a gunshot wound. One minute the person was standing there minding their own business and minutes later they are bleeding profusely. Just like a gunshot the Nikon D850 news seems to erupt like gunfire. I woke up this morning to discover three articles (in one day) from the excitable boys at DP Review, live interview coverage of the camera from The Camera Store TV (love Chris and Jordan) as well as a long and involved overview from Tony Northrup. Did I leave out a quick overview and opinion piece from Thom Hogan? Yeah, it was there too. The headline that seemed to sum up the introduction of the D850 best was, "D850 Saves Nikon." I think I saw that headline somewhere on YouTube. 

So, every thing from every outlet dropped into the photo media simultaneously. Like a gunshot. And hundreds of people who held the camera in their hands for a short, short period of time rushed to tell everyone in earshot (and screen range) just what a terrific new camera this Nikon beauty is. Now that's pretty decent marketing. If your goal is instant recognition...

Now that I've read the specs, seen the previews (thanks Kai!) and read through the comments on the three different articles on DPReview I think I'll wade in and tell you what I think about the latest DSLR from Nikon. Why not? All the people who've touched it are under NDA not to talk about things like high ISO image quality, etc. Most couldn't even put in a memory card.

I grew up with cameras like the D850. Big, robust, effective. I'll cut right to the chase, if you want a camera that delivers near ultimate image resolution, very high dynamic range and a traditional interface/operational process, then the D850 might be the camera for you. If you want nearly the same image quality but need/want an EVF then the Sony A7Rii is still a good choice.

Choosing a Nikon DSLR like the D850 is a good, conservative choice for traditional image makers. If it's any bit as good as the D810 it will deliver wonderful raw files with amazing resolution and dynamic range that just can't be beat. While I'm not sure a single Canon or Sony user will be swayed to switch systems I do think the D850 is a sure Fuji GFX or Hasselblad X1D killer. After all, the difference in sensor size is really marginal while the Nikon just trounces the two medium format cameras when it comes to lens choice, focusing speed, frame rate and, of course, price.

I can't imagine a rational photographer choosing one of the "medium" format system cameras over the Nikon D850 while maintaining a straight face. Or a convincing business rationale.

Let's assume that the Nikon D850 is at least as good as the D810 when it comes to dynamic range. Let's also assume that the sensor in the new camera really does deliver the stated 45+ megapixels of resolution and let's take for granted that the camera hits all the other specs in actual operation. 

Who wouldn't want one?

Well, I've got to say that I would still rather shoot with a Fuji or a Sony for the kind of work I do. Why? Because I love the workflow process engendered by a really good EVF. I also like the idea that the Sony and Fuji cameras will focus with great accuracy on the exact thing on which you are aiming. And, as far as resolution is concerned, I'm already overwhelmed by the 42 megapixels of the Sony A7Rii and more than happy with the 24 megapixels of the A7ii. I'm part of the possible market for the D850 that would probably take advantage of the reduced raw files size option in the new camera almost all the time. 

I am certain that, barring recalls, dirty sensors, focus shifts, and design issues, the D850 is a camera that all of us would be standing in line to buy ..... if someone had not invented mirrorless cameras and EVF viewfinders. Even more so if Panasonic and Sony had not enabled everyday cameras with amazing 4K video, smaller profiles and reduced size and weight. The D850 checks off so many boxes for people who are mostly focused on ultimate performance, file quality and resolution. 

Being able to shoot 20+ 45+ megapixel images in 14 bit raw at 7 fps is a far cry from the Nikon D100 I owned at the dawn of digital (4 raw frames to hit the wall of the buffer). The addition on the D850 of decent (though not class leading), full frame 4K video is a huge step forward (though not anywhere near the same class as Sony and Panasonic). And no one can really argue with the battery capacity, the body integrity or the potential results...

So why is it that the Nikon D850 reminds me so much of the Chevrolet Impala that my parents owned in the early 1970's? Is it because it's so big and unwieldy? Is it because the full frame lenses of a certain quality weigh a ton? Is it because it seems so much like a tiny collection of iterations and the moving forward of a hoary design aesthetic? Or am I some sort of outlier who overly values fewer moving parts, smaller footprints and the instant feedback loop of magnificent EVFs? Maybe all of the above. 

The Chevrolet was a fun car to borrow when I was a high school kid and wanted to make a run up to Austin, Texas to see Janis Joplin or Clifton Chenier. The Impala had a big and powerful 350 cubic inch V-8 and "keep your beer cold" air conditioning but in reality it was a pig of a car. Lots of useless metal and huge bench seats that only derived value when the car was at a full stop. It sucked down gas with reckless abandon and took fast corners like a bowl of Jello. But it was the standard at the time. 

I'm sorry but there's nothing the D850 can do that a camera like the A7Rii can't do better, for me. If you prefer an OVF the D850 is probably the best camera option for a traditional high-res DSLR on the market for the foreseeable future. But if those parameters don't match your use profile then the point is moot. 

My latest project is to keep a running tally of just how many "preview", "hands-on preview", "first impressions preview", "pre-review preview", and full reviews of the camera Digital Photo Review will complete and publish in the next few weeks. How many brief "introductory videos" and real "field reviews" will grace the pages of their news column. Based on the Sony A9 introduction I'm going to say that we're probably in for a real treat and should expect between 15 and 20 articles and videos in the next 30 days. None of which will be as illuminating or valuable as heading to a retailer to handle the camera and take some test files. 

Ah, the poetry of overkill. 









8.23.2017

The process of making portraits is the most fun part. Getting to talk to someone talented, interesting and engaging is such a wonderful job perquisite.

Vincent Hooper. Actor. Austin, Texas

I'd seen Vincent Hooper in several good productions at Zach Theatre over the last year; most recently in "In the Heights." He's a talented actor and he's got that special stage presence that seems to be something you either have or you never get. It's become a habit for me to reach out to people I find interesting and ask them if they'll collaborate with me and make some portraits. 

When I reached out to Vincent he was enthusiastic and ready. We met here at the studio yesterday afternoon and got busy shooting. I was using the shoot to test out a lighting design that revolved around the new Neewer Vision Four monolight flash, firing into a big, umbrella and the Godox AD200 doing service as a background light into the Steel Gray seamless paper background. Most of the images were augmented by fill light from a 50 inch, round, pop-up reflector.

We shot tight head shots, looser portraits and even some full length images. I worked mostly with what has become my favorite studio portrait combination, the Sony A7ii coupled with the 70-200mm f4.0.

At the end of an almost two hour session I turned off the strobes and used only the window light coming in directly behind me, filtered by a 4x6 foot Lastolite diffuser spread across their solid, aluminum frame. I switched out the lens I'd been using for the 85mm f1.8 FE lens so I could shoot at a wider aperture; f2.5.  

This is an untouched image from the camera, converted from a raw. I'm not sure if it will be a favorite of mine from this project yet but I put it here as a reminder that experimenting during a session can give you a different look or change your mind about how to light or how to photograph entirely.

Impressed by Vincent's ease in front of the camera, and remembering his solid, sometimes inspired performances on the stage, I asked him his age. I was stunned when he told me, "22." 

I can only imagine how far he'll go...

progress report on the lights. They work well together. They triggered flawlessly with the Newer trigger. I ran the Neewer Vision Four at 1/4 to 1/8th power, shot over 600 images and still have a full battery indicator on the flash's info panel. Using the bare bulb head on the AD200 with the standard reflector and the diffusion disk over the end of the reflector I was able to get the power I needed at 1/16 -2/3 setting. Again, the battery indication on the AD200 also shows as full. A nice performance. 

I have come to rely on manual focusing with the 70-200mm. No worries about the camera selecting a different focusing point than the one I intended. With the EVF and the automatic punch in when turning the focusing ring, it couldn't be easier --- or more accurate.

I'll post more when Vincent and I narrow down our choices and I get to retouch a few images. 

8.22.2017

No good assignments coming in the door? It's time to self-assign and build up a collection of new work.

"Texas Rancher". From a production at Live Oak Theater.

For a number of years the portrait above was an example of my preferred style of photographing people. I loved working in my big darkroom, shifting between my 35mm Leica Focomat enlarger and my Omega D5 enlarger. The D5 was the one that saw the most use because I kept feeding it medium format film. I experimented with condenser heads, cold light heads and diffused (but not cold light) heads. I loved black and white film and I really liked the look of lighting that could cast deep shadows to one side while keeping skin tone and texture perfect on the other side. When I made prints I used a device called a Pictrol under my enlarging lens to disrupt parts of the frame with semi-controllable pools of soft focus. I felt, at the time, that burned in corners made a print. I may have been right; in the context of this style.

But lately I've felt the need to make a portfolio of new work that reflects all the shifts I've made in both lighting and visualization over the last ten years. My target for final display is no longer the fine print but the immense audience on the web. My lighting has changed and my approach to subjects has changed as well. 

So, how do you create a whole new portfolio?  A collection of work that clients have never seen from you before? I think it would be very difficult to depend on the outcome of commercial engagements to ever distill down the work you might want to show while keeping clients happy (mostly because you get hired for work you already showed....).

I try to do it by reaching out to people that I specifically want to photograph and then inviting them into my studio or out into the world to collaborate with me and help me realize a visual concept I have rattling around in my brain. If we work from the idea that beautiful portraits have value then our collaborations are win-win situations because I'm happy to make meticulously retouched files for my sitters in exchange for their time and shared energy.

Last week I reached out to an actor whose current work on stage I really admire. I've worked with  him in the creation of marketing materials for productions at the theater but I wanted to bring him into the quiet refuge of the studio and spend an hour or two making images that would make me happy and might be helpful to him in his public career. 

We're shooting this afternoon. And when I realized that this would be a good shared experience for both of us I started getting in touch with other people on my list of "wanna photograph" people to see who else might be interested in playing along with my explorations of portraiture. Surprisingly, no one has yet to turn me down. 

There's no cost to either of us, just an investment of time. But a new collection of images moves me forward just as it shows a different side of the actor's range. This is how we used to do it when we wanted to explore new work. It's a good thing.

8.21.2017

Another difference between "the good old days" and now. Wardrobe.

David Sim and his wife listening to the audio portion of his interview for Ottobock Healthcare.
Photo: courtesy of ODL Design / Toronto, Canada

I love this image from our video shoot earlier this year. David Sim (above, left) lost a leg in a tragic accident and was speaking about his experiences using the latest microprocessor-controlled prosthesis from my client, Ottobock. I had the pleasure of working with one of our VSL "family" while in Canada and he was gracious enough to make some behind the scenes photographs of our work process. It's fun to see what I look like when I am trying hard to look smart and thoughtful. It's an expression that is fleeting for me, at best.

I spent half an hour this morning doing some retouching that was required because we're losing some aspects/guidelines of public personal presentation that used to be more rigorously followed in the past than now. At some point in the not too distant past nearly everyone who had made it to the level in their field where a business portrait was required took some care to make sure their shirts fit, their ties were clean and properly knotted and that their suit coats or sports jackets were appropriately sized and well pressed. When someone from the legal, medical or business professions walked into the studio they were, for the most part, well polished. Their clothes fit.

Over time the casual nature of Austin (and I'll assume most other locales) has caused a loosening of standards. Now suit coats are more or less bought off the rack and worn without having the sleeves properly shortened or lengthened. Many men have jackets or suit coats they acquired back when they were twenty or thirty pounds thinner and which have not be altered or replaced. Some of these issues are easy to deal with but the harder one, for me, is a situation in which the man in front of my camera has a shirt which frankly, does not fit. People have become  ever larger without compensating for things like an increased neck girth and how it affects the fit of their dress shirts. 

My nemesis is the shirt collar that is now far too small to allow its owner to button it properly (at all). The shirt collar gapes wide while the necktie is tasked, unsuccessfully, with camouflaging the gap. The problem is that the camera sees everything. I've recently had to work with images that required me to create multiple layers, grab a wide flung collar on one or both sides and transform the grabbed collar image so that it fits over the initial gapped image and is more or less accurate and presentable. It's time consuming and nitpicky work but it has to be done if the image of my portrait subject is used publicly. 

There is a simple solution. Men could pay attention to changes in their size and upgrade their wardrobe to match the here and now. I wear a size 15 and 1/2 collar. If that collar becomes to snug to button I know that I need to head to the store and buy a shirt with a 16 or 16.5 collar. Whatever it takes to be able to comfortably button the collar and provide a nice nesting place for a good tie. I can handle a person showing up with a bad tie; I have three or four dozen on hand from which to choose.

Once you know your shirt's required sleeve length and your neck size buying shirts becomes more of a science and less of an art. You can order a shirt on line or call your favorite men's shop and specify what you want. They'll ship to you. Just about anyone will. 

You may find that you've gained a lot of weight and it may be that finding a shirt with the right sleeve length and neck size doesn't give you enough shirt to get around the middle. You should be aware, especially if you need to wear a coat and tie frequently, that there are companies that will make custom shirts to your size requirements. If you are not an average size this is something you should really consider since a good fitting shirt can really make a difference in the image you project to the world. A well tailored shirt starts at about $125 and can go much higher depending on the fabrics you choose. The efficient part of the equation is that once you are properly measured and fitted, and the custom tailor knows your preferences, you can order more shirts in the future over the phone. 

A shirt with a properly fitted collar gives the impression that you are trimmer than having shirts with collars that defy comfortable (attainable) closure. Not to mention that your tie will also be much better presented. 

This sounds silly to people who work in casual industries but it makes a big difference to people in a wide range of professional occupations where one is required to speak publicly, meet with the public, and socialize with peers and clients in business situations. Whether this requirement is "right" or "wrong" a poorly assembled shirt/tie/suit can be the difference between closing a deal or walking a potential client. Given that many of the people we photograph are working with transactions worth millions and millions of dollars it seems a bit careless (negligent?) to disregard sartorial standards when doing it right can be so easy. 

Don't get me started on shoes. Or shoes and belts. Or where a pant cuff should break. It's a slippery slope. 

Get three perfect shirts. Two white and one light blue. Keep them laundered and wrinkle free.  You'll be ready for your close ups at any time.


8.20.2017

One of the features I've always valued in the Olympus and Panasonic cameras is the option for a 1:1 aspect ratio.

A journal of Lewis Carroll.

Every so often I'll write about how enjoyable it is to shoot with a camera that can show a 1:1 aspect ratio, with black borders, in the EVF. Before the blog ink is even dry someone always posts a comment telling me that all frames from any camera can easily be cropped into a square in post production; the ability in camera is, to them, meaningless. These individuals suggest I should, therefore, reject the wonderful advantages of being able to see the boundaries of the square at the time of composition and instead see the square within a more awkward flabby frame at the time of capture, and then be able to replicate same cropping, after the fact, while working with the image file in post production. This fascination with post capture cropping might have H.C.B. spinning in his grave.

Persons peddling this preposterous proposition are, of course, insane. Having black on all four sides of a square composing tool is heaven for anyone who values the perfect symmetry of the square frame. In fact, psychology professionals use this particular choice scenario to determine who might be a danger to themselves or society. In some countries having to use a camera with no changeable aspect ratios and no electronic viewfinder is punishment for petty crimes such as shoplifting or jaywalking. 

All the images here were shot with a fully functional camera. They were shot square because the photographer determined that he wanted to shoot square and he set the camera to show him a square frame in the electronic viewfinder. Shooting in Jpeg he was able to go from initial capture all the way to the final sharing on the web without ever seeing parts of a greater scene extending sloppily outside the confines of the 1:1 aspect ratio. It was great. Comfortable. Logical. Reasonable. Fun.

Going to museums with a square capable capture device seems normal and sensible to me. If you want to see the kind of havoc caused by a camera unable to realistically show only a square competition you need look no further than to the last image in this series; at the bottom of the page. 
Just image how much better that image would look if the 3:2 ratio of that camera's finder hadn't intruded in the process.....




The image below is from a Nikon D610. No 1:1 aspect ratio.

But the heart of the composition is still a square.

Dare to be Square.

Behind the scenes at the Theatre. Using an Olympus EM5-2 camera and two Panasonic Lenses. The 25mm Summilux and the 42.5mm f1.7.


Back in 2015 I was using the Olympus EM-5.2 cameras and a bevy of lenses from Panasonic and Olympus as second system alongside my full frame Nikons. Needless to say I enjoyed the process of shooting with the Olympus cameras much more. It was the combination of a great EVF along with state-of-the-art image stabilization that made that format so much fun. 

I was sorting and deleting old files and folders in Lightroom when I unexpected came across these images. I'd almost forgotten that I'd taken them. We did it for a project that never found its footing but it's alway instructive for me to look back and see what we were doing two or three years ago. We build mythologies about cameras and lenses but it's alway nice to be able to go back and sort fact from fiction. Fact: Those two little lenses were very, very good and the files from the Olympus cameras were so easy to work with. 

Now I find myself doing the same thing with Sony and Panasonic (with an Olympus lens tossed in for good measure). I hope to look back in two or three years and be happily surprised at what we were able to accomplish. 








Part of Austin's Downtown Skyline.


Channeling my inner "Walker Evans" to study "surban" life in Austin.

 "Surban" is suburban living in the midst of an urban environment. I thought it sounded cool so I went with it. I'll try to think up some sort of artistic manifesto later; if I need to...

Camera: Sony A7Rii

Lens: Zeiss / Sony 24/70mm f4.0





A nod to one of my favorite, high performance, camera and lens combinations for just walking around and looking at stuff.


Trying to escape from the political news, the dreaded heat, the August doldrums. My Sonys were on the chopping block on Friday but a last minute pardon kept them from  becoming trade-in fodder. The Panasonic GH5 was in ascendancy and my computational faculties were in retrograde. At some point, over the course of the weekend I'm back to the sort of stasis I'd created a couple of weeks ago: Panasonic for the heavy lifting of deep, rich 4K video and the two Sony full framers for the art of the still shot. 

Many years ago a friend of mine bought a crappy used car from a car rental company. He thought he was getting a great deal but it turned out he was getting a car that could only get itself sold as part of a highly discounted fleet purchase. But, after procrastinating too long he was stuck with it. He bitched and moaned about his "Walmart" car. My advice to him, if he planned to keep the car, was this: Take it to a car wash and wash it thoroughly. Then, dry it off and wax it till it gleams. He did this and was able to bond to the car well enough to keep it around for the next two years. The car met its demise when my friend braked hard, from Texas Highway speed, to avoid hitting an armadillo crossing the road in the middle of the night... The car flipped twice, left the highway and came to a stand still, upside down, in the middle of a cactus-y field. My friend unbuckled his seat belt and walked away without a scratch. 

He was thrilled. Now he would be able to buy the car he really wanted. 

When I find myself ready to sell a camera and my friends point out to me all the reasons why I should not, I think of my advice to my friend. The analogy in the camera world is to join the unappreciated camera to a favorite lens and then go out and shoot with the combo until you like it again. 

That's what I did today with the Sony A7R2. It's a camera I've used sporadically for video and for photo assignments that benefit from big, big, big raw files. But for the past year and a half in which I've owned this camera I've found myself reaching for its less detailed sibling, the A7ii nearly every time I shoot a portrait and I've spent much more time shooting video with the RX10s, the a6300 and the fz2500. Even in the theater I've come to appreciate the features of smaller cameras with bigger lenses more. 

Part of my reticence always revolved around the awkward price-to-usability ratio that existed when I dropped $3200 on it, new. I didn't want to "use it up" on smaller projects or in circumstances where any other camera would do just as well. I kept "saving" it for those sporadic projects that needed all the gusto a digital camera could muster. It's just that the projects were sparser and more widely paced than I anticipated at the time of purchase.

In retrospect, I should have been using it for everything; every project in which it was even remotely called for. The sensor is great, the format is great and, when used in concert with three hand picked lenses, the performance is stunning. The heck with trying to prove to the world the efficacy of using smaller, less specified cameras all the time...

So, that was my mindset today as I headed out the door. 

I've changed my routine to compensate for the wicked hot Summer we're having. While we won't break any records (hope springs eternals) for actual temperature readings the combination of high temperatures (over 100 each day) and the high humidity this season makes for a deadly combination; if you aren't careful.

I used to just grab camera and lens, my good hat and my car keys and head out the door. I carry a credit card with me for coffee or some unforeseen purchase but that's it. Today was different. I grabbed a small, brown leather backpack I'd picked up in the Geneva, Switzerland airport back in 1995 and I put some newly considered essentials in. The main reason for the backpack addition (it's small, really...) was to make carrying my 16 ounce, double-walled, stainless steel water bottle easy and convenient. I loaded the water bottle up with ice, water and a hydration tablet (Nuuns; lemon lime) so I could hydrate if I felt the need. I tossed in a notebook and a pen in case I had a fleeting inspirational idea (none to report) and I tossed in the house keys, a couple of extra camera batteries, a cloth handkerchief, some sunscreen and a couple hundred dollars in small denominations. 

I joined the Sony A7Rii to the Zeiss 24-70mm f4.0 and headed downtown. I think it takes some training to discipline your mind to pay attention to camera work when it's uncomfortable outside. Direct sun and high temperatures drains one's energy quickly and it takes some work to stay on task and to ignore the discomfort. I guess the trick is to be able to gauge dangerous discomfort from just basic wimpiness. 

It's one thing to be hot and tired but a whole other thing to be disoriented, slightly nauseous, light-headed, dizzy or worse. You want to make sure you plan to stay out of the bracket in which these symptoms exist. Nothing on a casual walk is worth heat exhaustion or sunstroke. 

I parked the car in the old Whole Foods parking garage where I know I can leave the car for three hours without having to pay or worry about being towed. I love having the car inside a parking garage because when I return after a long, hot walk I know the car will be hospitable.  I pulled the leather straps on the backpack over my shoulders and headed down Lamar Blvd. to see what was happening at the graffiti wall.

I pulled out all the stops with my camera and lens. I set the camera to shoot uncompressed (enormous) raw files and set the lens to somewhere between f5.6 and f8.0 where I knew it was superbly sharp and vignette free. I worked on my stance and my camera hold. I worked on my slow release of breath when actuating the shutter and I worked without too much regard for the heat and glare to find compositions I liked. I kept the zebras engaged even though I was shooting in aperture priority just so I could see where the highlights started screaming. I notice when shooting in big raw that the EVF will show me a review image quickly and then, if I continue to watch it, the review image gets a bit sharper and more saturated a second or two later. It's as though the camera is taking time to process the file and write the embedded Jpeg that it will present. 

As I write this I'm sitting in my office and the air conditioning is cranking. I'm slowly draining a big glass of iced tea while I'm playing with the eighteen files I edited down to from today's walk. You don't have the benefit of seeing them the way I am right now so I'll write a bit of observational description so you can see beyond the compressed files I'm presenting here and understand the value of the A7Rii. 

When I look at a file on my monitor I am already happy enough with what I see but then I click into 100% and realize just how much detail is resident in the files. In the photograph above I can zoom in to 100% and see every hair on the young woman's head clearly defined. I can see the woven texture of her companion's t-shirt. In frames were I've under exposed to preserve all highlights (no blinking zebras anywhere) I can pull up the shadow areas as much as I want without any appearance of noise or color shift. Even in frames with the zebras blinking at 105% I can pull the exposure slider down and recover all the detail in the highlight areas. 

After nearly two hours of shooting the Wall, the Capitol, Congress Ave. etc. I finally got really comfortable with the camera and realized that I wasn't going to break it or use it up all at once. I could concentrate on little tactile features I found I liked. I found my fingers feeling the gentle curve of the body on the left side of the body. I got comfortable using the front dial to move the exposure compensation up or down. It became a transparent operation. 

Left to its own devices the camera will usually underexposure contrasty scenes by a third to two thirds of a stop so most of my compensation was to the plus side. That might bug me on another camera but with the wide latitude of this camera's files, especially at the lowest end of the ISO range, I saw it as part of a comprehensive tool set that works together to maximize the strong points of the system. Being able to accurately reproduce the brightest highlights along with capacity for almost unlimited shadow recovery. It's a pretty amazing thing. It reminded me of the freedom I used to have when I was shooting events with ISO 400 color negative films like Kodak's Pro line of color negative films make for press work. The lab could do miraculous things with those frames....

I finished off the water in the bottle in four separate stops. Near the end of the walk I went into the Royal Blue Grocery at the Austin 360 tower for coffee and one of their scrumptious walnut and chocolate chip cookies. Why coffee on a 100+ degree day? Because (par for central Texas) when the temperatures rise outside Texans seem to love dropping the temperatures inside. It must have been 60 degrees in the Royal Blue Grocery today. With the rapidly evaporating sweat from my clothes it's kind of a miracle I didn't get hypothermia. When I got back to the car it was perfect inside.

I'd accomplished what I set out to do. I took the final mystique and hesitancy out of the A7Rii and figured out its place in my hierarchy of cameras. It's fabulous and perfect for narrow depth of field, for times when I need technical perfection (not as frequently as you might think) and when I want to shoot in the same fashion and with the same disregard for operational awareness that I could get away with when shooting the old film cameras loaded with color negative films. 

I love the lens. Anyone who has every written a review dissing this lens (Sony / Zeiss 24-70mm f4.0) is just plain wrong. It's superb. Perfect. Balanced. Neutral. And there's nothing wrong with the corners if you are coupling it with a 42 megapixel sensor. 

Nice to bond with a lens over some fun photos and a disciplined approach to working in the heat of the day. I'm happy it's still here. 






8.18.2017

I'm bored with Summer. That's dangerous. Too much time means bad equipment decisions.


Self portrait.

I think everyone has a few screws loose, if you look hard enough, or long enough. I know what one of my main hiccups is; I love change. Even if it doesn't make sense I still love change. Every once in a while I catch myself. About a week and a half ago I bought a Panasonic GH5 and the Olympus 12-100mm f4.0 Pro lens. I immediately used the combo for a paying gig and loved it. The camera feels pretty perfect in my hands and those crafty engineers seem to have put all the buttons exactly where they thought I'd go looking for them. But the real shot of espresso shot in my experience with the camera and lens combo was just how nearly perfect the lens turned out to be. This of course whetted my appetite for more Olympus Pro lenses. Many more Olympus lenses. 

I wasn't nearly busy enough last week to stave off boredom of the most pernicious kind. Sure, I had another Philip Kerr novel languishing next to my reading chair, and I had a few lunches with clients lined up but it's August in Austin and that means everyone is doing everything in their power to avoid dealing with the relentless heat. Everything slows down. Business slows down. Socializing slows down. Naps get longer....

Like many of you I gravitate toward a path of least resistance. For me, last week, it meant cruising all over the web looking for anecdotal evidence to support my contention that owning as many of the Pro series Olympus lenses as I could gather up would irrevocably result in me becoming the world's greatest photographer and videographer. Then yesterday I went to the Blanton Museum and saw an amazing three screen, video/multi-media exhibit called, "GIANT" by Teresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler. The video presentation and the accompanying audio was amazing (if you're in Austin you MUST go). I walked out of the museum after seeing the presentation three times, newly convinced that I would spend the rest of my life trying to do video art like the work I'd just seen. 

By the time I got home I (and boredom) had convinced myself that the way forward, at least for now, would be to buy a second GH5 (the two camera angle set-up) along with the 7-14mm 2.8 Pro lens, the 25mm f1.2 Pro lens and maybe also the 42.5 Nocticron --- just for good measure. An easy way to finesse the whole deal in less than 24 hours would be to take my Sony gear to my local camera store and trade it in on the whole ball of Panasonic/Olympus wax. 

After swim practice this morning I came home and packed every vestige of Sony product up in a big hold all and headed to the camera store. I had previously arranged to meet my friend and video mentor, Frank, for coffee on the way to my own private Shop-A-maggedon. So I joined him and filled him in on my new plan for personal photo and video domination. He asked a few pointed questions and then smiled and laughed and said something along the lines that this would be the 8th big system switch I'd undertaken since he's known me and it hasn't changed my style much at all, anywhere along the line....

In my gear-addled state I took that all to mean that he massively approved of my basic camera logic and wished me godspeed to the camera shop. But a funny thing happened as I drove away and the coffee kicked in; I started thinking with some basic logic for the first time this week, about the whole idea of yet another massive equipment turnover.

If I thought about it rationally my reason for buying the GH5 and the 12-100mm was to make better video. When I drilled down into the lode of logic so recently surfaced I realized that the 12-100mm was enticing specifically because it held the promise of being an "everything" lens (and a damn good one). From the widest focal length I am normally comfortable using to the longest. All in one package. With great performance at every stop and every focal length. All the other "Pro" lenses I was considering were desires motivated by that hoary hold over from the film days: covering all the focal lengths. They weren't lenses that would necessarily get much use...

When I looked into the bag full of Sony stuff I started matching up memories of past successful jobs and stellar shots done with the individual cameras and lenses and I realized I'd be decreasing my shooting and creative options, not increasing usefulness. 

The two lenses that punched me in the face and stopped me in my tracks were the Sony 70-200mm f4.0 (which ends up being my default headshot lens) and my very recently added 85mm f1.8 FE lens which has quickly endeared itself to me as one of the fabulous portrait lenses whose eloquent performance I've had the pleasure of knowing. I had less regard for the 28mm f2.0 FE but mostly because I'm indifferent to the actual focal length. I'm stone cold neutral about the 24-70mm f4.0 Zeiss lens but mostly because I see it a very utilitarian tool. Not a glamorous formulation. A workhorse but not a diva.

I was halfway to the store by the time I realized that my impulsiveness had nearly cost me one really good and useful system while trying to hypnotize me into believing (once again) that new gear would yield entirely new outcomes for my engagement with my craft. I took a deep breath and realized that I liked my Sony stuff. A lot. And I've had two years in which to get used to it. That's almost a record for me in the realm of digital camera systems and I thought to extend the record instead of crashing and burning. 

So, Frank, if you are out there reading this: I got halfway there and turned around. I might add a few bits and pieces to the Panasonic stuff I've recently acquired but you were right when you (pointedly) asked if I might not miss having the full frame stuff. I know my rationale was glib but, HEY! I used to be an advertising copywriter. If I can't figure out a sellable rationale for buying something then I will have totally lost my advertising touch.

So, this afternoon I pulled out the Sony A7Rii, pried the battery grip off the bottom and stuck in a freshly charged battery. I put the 28mm f2.0 on the front and tasked myself with the responsibility of getting to at least know that much maligned and ignored focal length. It was hot and humid in Austin this afternoon but the camera and lens were balanced, trim and almost dainty. Much less of a burden than the GH5 and the 12/100mm lens. 

I didn't shoot much but I did come to understand (yet again) that it's okay not to do everything in an "all or nothing" manner. 

Now I have the luxury of two groovy systems. What a nice problem.


Not a literal self portrait.

8.16.2017

I bought a new light for my location kit. I thought you'd want to know about it.

Neewer Vision Four with Radio Trigger. $279.

In the distant past I owned two different flash systems that were designed from the ground up to be used on location and powered by batteries. Both were pack and head systems and both were cumbersome but very useful. I owned the Profoto B600 power pack and head as well as the Elinchrom Rangers RX AS power pack and two heads. Both were older tech. They used sealed lead acid batteries for power and as you can imagine they were both heavy. The Profoto was 600 watt seconds and a nice little system but the batteries only provided between 80 and 120 full power flashes, depending on the ambient temperatures. I had to carry a bunch of heavy and expensive batteries with me to get through a day of shooting. Recharging the batteries took five hours and each replacement battery was about $250 plus shipping. The current Profoto system, with newer battery tech, is well over $2,000.

The second light was my super heavy duty system from Elinchrom. The Ranger RX AS pack and head could belt out 1100 watt seconds at full power and a single (very heavy) battery could pump out about 250 full power flashes before it needed recharged or swapped out for the second ten pound ballast I hauled around as a back up. The pack with battery weighed in at 18+ pounds and, yes, I've carried the system over rough terrain for miles, at times. Not a pleasant way to roll. 

As styles changed and the jobs that required massive amounts of battery fueled flash power declined I sold both of the units and was happy to

Two more weeks and the kid goes back for his last year as an undergrad.

A much younger Ben.

I've come to see the last weeks of August as bittersweet. We love having Ben at home for Summer vacation but when the calendar starts to slip into the second half of August I know that I'll only have a couple more weeks to enjoy his company before he heads back to school. This is his senior year. His academic achievement has been just what we expected it would be. I have a row of Dean's List Honors certificates which he has earned each semester hanging across the wall behind my desk. His excellent performance led him to the stint at S. Korea's prestigious Yonsei University last semester. 

I thought we'd struggle to make all these experiences work out financially but every step has been manageable and his commitment and discipline makes the investment rewarding.

In the first week of September he'll pack his rolling duffle bags and head back up to Saratoga Springs, NY. He's looking forward to cooler weather, rolling hills, and the camaraderie of a bright and engaging group of fellow students.

Someone asked him a week or two ago, when he was assisting me on a video project, if he was planning to follow in my footsteps as far as business was concerned. He smiled and shook his head. I think he realizes that the markets have changed, flattened, whatever and he's interested in so many other things. Too bad; he's a great director.

Ah well. I'll miss the runs around the lake with him in the Summer heat. His mom and I will miss his dry wit at the dinner table. But the family member I feel the most sympathy for is Studio Dog; she will miss him with the kind of intensity only a loyal and totally imprinted dog can feel.

I see more time with Studio Dog in the near future. I'd better stock up the treat jar...