Old School Street Photography at SXSW and the Surrounding Area. No modern amenities exploited.

I thought I was going to go out and shoot today with my newest acquisition, the Nikon D700, but when the time came to exit the palatial Visual Science Lab headquarters I waffled a bit. I just didn't think I'd spent enough time yet getting to know my previous breathless acquisition, the Nikon D2XS. I figured I didn't really need or want to be discreet and low key in the middle of SXSW because there would be hundreds of people with cameras wandering around shooting with reckless abandon.

I checked the battery in the D2XS, put on an ancient Nikon 35-70mm f3.5, entered the information for this non-CPU lens and headed out. I spent the better part of the afternoon with the camera set to raw, aperture priority and ISO 100. With my new nano-coated, ultra acutance bifocal sunglasses focusing the hoary old manual focus lens was as easy as eating angel food cake. I did no intervention with the camera's exposure settings. If it wanted to use 1/650th I was just there for the ride. 

I am very happy with the results. No


I had a fun day flashing back to 2008 in my favorite camera store today. Bought another Nikon classic for a fraction of the price I paid for the same model a decade ago....

Nikon D700. Old School. No Drool. 

As I mentioned in a post this morning I've gotten into some sort of thought-loop about older cameras from the glory days of digital. More specifically I've become convinced that the move to higher resolution with ever smaller pixels versus lower resolution with big fat pixels is not an improvement but a compromise or trade off. 

Before you rush to vilify me for what might seem to you to be an obvious blind spot in this whole thought process please be aware that while I did own this camera once before (the year after it hit the market I bought one new) I have also owned and worked with both the Sony A7Rii and the Nikon D810 so I am not a complete stranger to either side of the pixel size discussion.

I found this D700 lounging in the used case over at Precision-Camera.com. I bought it along with two extra batteries. I always buy extra batteries. I've got a 50mm f1.8 on the front and I'll start reacquainting myself with it tomorrow after swim practice. Should be an interesting diversion...

I had forgotten how big, heavy and loud these cameras are. But I guess there are compromises everywhere.

Curious to find if you, gentle reader, have a similar eccentric favorite. Let me know.

What is it about the huge pixel size cameras that makes me want them? Instead of the high resolution/tiny pixel cameras I've owned?

Shot with a Nikon D2Hs many years ago.

I've been digging through my archive of digital files lately and appreciating the search options available in programs like Adobe's Lightroom. Over the past few days I've been researching the work I did in the past with big pixel cameras. Cameras like the Nikon D700, the Kodak DCS 760, the Kodak DCS SRL/n and the Nikon D2Hs. All of these have pixel sizes that are at least twice as large as the high resolution cameras we are served up today. 8 microns across instead of 4 or 3.8 or 2.5. It's obvious that the higher res cameras can resolve a lot more detail and can be blown up to larger sizes in a way that's more convincing (for highly detailed subject matter) but are there image qualities that the bigger pixels give that smaller geometry pixels have taken away? 

Once I started looking I started seeing that in portrait work in particular the smaller file, bigger sensor-ed cameras of yesteryear had a look that I really, really loved. It's hard to put into words exactly but it's a feel of there being a natural and defined edge between tones. Not a hard edge that comes from over-sharpening but a natural looking edge that more closely resembles the look of the acutance in film files. A look that may just appeal to people who cut their teeth on the older film technology.

At any rate I'm sourcing some of the cameras that I abruptly discarded in the mindless pursuit of endless consumerism to see if they still hold sway in the way I see them reflected in the work I'm looking at. With well over half a million images in my libraries there is a lot of material with which to do direct comparisons. I'm not saying one technology is clearly superior over the other but there may be visual differences that trigger different responses from viewers across the spectrum.

I'm jumping down another rabbit hole so I guess we'll see. Beats talking about cars again...

A morning of info-purging and space management. Mostly the space in my brain.

From Esther's Follies in Austin, Texas

Jobs these days seem more focused and people-oriented around my studio these days but it wasn't always so. In the early part of the century my business was that of a photographic generalist, I would make headshots one day, images of semiconductor image dies the next day and maybe circuit boards or finished high tech products the following day. There was more of a flow then to the work instead of the stop and start of the bigger but fewer projects we handle now. 

Those were the days when all of our archiving was done on CD-roms. Tons and tons of CD-roms. The CDs eventually gave way to DVDs as the camera files grew larger and DVD technologies and reliability improved. In a given week, while working with CDs, I or my assistant might burn up to 30 or more disks in order to do a 3X redundant back-up of a project. More if we were returning from a multi-day annual report shoot carrying envelopes packed with CF memory cards.

It was time consuming but having come from film we understood that digital file storage at the time was much more fragile and transient and we had yet to really experience the ever accelerating rise and quick fall of stat-up businesses. Most of our clients were venerable "blue chips" and we had every expectation that they'd be around for the long haul and might expect us to be able to access photograph from a decade or so past. 

At some point we woke up and realized that even clients like IBM and Motorola were not immune to the ravages of the markets. One of my biggest clients, Motorola, started bleeding resources like something had opened one of their arteries and in a short time span they spun off their body parts (different product sectors) like crazy. Our big piƱata was the semiconductor sector and it was sold off as Freescale which was then taken private, then relaunched as a new public company and then bought by NXP who may or may not end up selling the very diminished and debt laden remainders to Qualcomm. Each successive owner downsized the company and cut expenses. We've gone from working for them once or twice a week to once or twice a year. 

So, when I looked through my archives I found over 100 pounds of CDs and DVDs with old photos of microprocessor products long since obsoleted from the market, headshots against boring backgrounds of people long retired and even CDs of candid photos from holiday parties. The 100 pound archive/anchor is just images created before 2005. All of these went into the trash this morning and the process has just started but man oh man does it ever feel good to rid my brain of the task of keeping a running, sub-conscious inventory of all that stuff. The sense of closure for the previous decade is euphoric. 

We did a similar "cleansing" last year with old 35mm negatives. Mostly headshots against early century backgrounds like our "Dell Blue" headshots and our "Motorola Gray" headshots. Images that were uninspired at their time of creation and even more so today.

So, we're down to two cameras we work with and a jumble of drives. I no longer look at this profession as one in which we save images beyond three years. I'm thinking more like a consultant whose work has value in the moment or a carpenter who builds a project and then walks away. Keeping "forever" archives is like a permanent babysitting job with no pay off. 

We've amended our paperwork to limit the time we save and keep client files to three years. Don't like that? Don't work with me. Or learn how to save the files we send you. 

Unless all your work is done at the highest level you'll surely generate a fair amount of crap along the way. Nothing says you are required to keep the stuff that's starting to smell.


Start at the Blanton Museum for the Ellesworth Kelly then head down Second to the Convention Center and back on Sixth. Camera in hand. Intelligent Auto engaged.

The main gallery at the Blanton Museum. 

With all the hoopla the Blanton is putting on about Ellsworth Kelly you would have thought he was a famous photographer, but no, just a painter and stained glass window designer... But I figured I'd go and check out the new show anyway. (kidding. just kidding). Right on the UT campus is a new permanent installation of a Kelly "chapel" with remarkably cool, stained glass windows. About one hundred yards away, tucked into the main gallery on the first floor of the museum proper is an robust show of Kelly's two dimensional work and a smaller collection of his 3-D "Totems." The work is good and the installation is fun. If you like to take photographs


If you are planning on being a real freelance photographer have you decided on which car you'll sleep in?

a shot at Esther's Follies from midway back in the audience.
Panasonic GH5 + Olympus 40-150mm Pro. ISO 1600.

There is a joke that's always going around Austin, Texas. It goes something like this:

What do you call a musician who has just broken up with his girlfriend?  

--- Homeless.

And there is a joke we photographers tell when we get together for (discounted) beer at the end of a long and impoverished week of working as freelancers. It goes like this:

How is photographer different than an extra large pizza with all the toppings?

--- You could actually feed a family of four with the Pizza....

As you may have noticed in a recent post I called the kind of business we do, "freelance photography." What I and my colleagues think this means is that we are not connected, in a business sense, to any company or association as employees and are not indentured servants. That we are non-exclusive. That we'll work for anyone who meets our criteria and who can write the right check. A regular commenter made the point that labels can have a certain amount of negative power, especially in the minds of the clients who hire us. He suggested that "freelancer" conjures up an image of the starving artist who lives in a crappy apartment and drives a 15 year old Corolla. He also suggest that a freelancer fears his clients and is willing to roll over and show his belly the minute a clients starts to negotiate.

I'm pretty sure his observation was meant as mostly a tongue-in-cheek response with a bit of truth larded into the meat of it.

But it got me thinking about the way photographers and most of the general public see people working in our gigantic "tent" profession. Perceptions run the gamut from the idea that every photograph is, at heart, a wedding photography who might also do some other, more specialized photo work when they are not grappling with and bowing down to bridezillas. Others imagine most photographers being creepy guys with dark glasses who have promoted themselves from driving ice cream trucks through neighborhoods to shooting "glamour" and other forms of hard and soft core porn.

Then there are "moms with cameras" and "soccer moms", all of whom shoot exclusively with Canon 5Dx cameras and the ever present 70-200mm zoom with the lens shade stuck on backwards. And we can't forget the pot bellied, blue collar male tech workers who shoot kids sports. And wears baggy, shiny athletic shorts.

But the common thread that unites the public imagination about each of these stereotypes is that they don't make real money,  are moonlighting from a "real" job, or spend their daytime hours making up loose ends with a shift or two at Starbucks. Or, if you are from the Boston area, as a "barista" at Dunkin Donuts.

I did not know that our industry was in such dire straits when I joined its ranks more than 30 years ago. And since I'm sure the economics of our industry have declined even more since the time I arrived I am predicting that the majority of freelancers will no longer be living in crappy apartments but have moved, by necessity, to their cars.

This tidbit allows me to take my focus off cameras for a while and concentrate on another part of the gear equation. To wit, if you are going to make the choice to live in your car in order to save on rent (and how else will any of us ever be able to afford a Leica SL and lenses?) then what car should we choose?

Most will probably have to stick with the car they are already making payments on but I believe in dreaming big so I'll pretend that I don't have a car payment or a car and I'd rather have both than to shell out the $4,000 per month that the average two bedroom, one bath apartment rents for in downtown Austin. And I can't imagine the cost to live in the pricey parts of Austin.

On first blush I'd probably want to go with something like a Chevrolet Suburban because of the interior space. But there's the issue of fuel economy to think about. Still, a white one (to reflect the Texas sun during the day) with blacked out windows (for privacy during the evening and overnight) certainly has its appeal. But a quick check at Car Max clearly puts even used ones far outside the budget constraints of most of our peers.

My next best choice would have to be a smaller SUV. Something like a Toyota Rav 4 or a Honda CRV but, again, a quick check shows that, dammit!, these models hold their value really well and probably the most $$$ most of us freelancers can scrape together would only cover a maroon Pontiac Aztec. That would work for older, more established photographers because you fold down the back seats and stretch out a bit to sleep after a day on your feet chasing brides and bagging donuts.

But our commenter is probably right in that most entry level shooters will have to make due with the 15 year old Toyota Corolla they got in school. Except for the ones who went to state schools ---- they'll probably have to settle for 15 year old Hyundais. But, in due time they'll be able to tell their kids about the golden age of sleeping in cars because, with the relentless downward spiral in the freelancing industry it's only a matter of time when the average photo industry worker will be sleeping in a DIY lean-to in the park and riding their Walmart bicycle to the next job...

At some point I was in the same economic boat as the rest of the freelancers. Sleeping in my AMC Gremlin and begging for film money on the main drag. But then, one day, after reading an inspirational business blog, I became a Photographer/Consultant/Studio Owner. It was as easy as reprinting my business cards (or writing in my new title with a Sharpie) and now I've got it made in the shade.

I've got two cars but I rarely have to sleep in them. I have a real office and it has air conditioning!!! We live in a house in the middle of the posh Westlake Hills area with indoor plumbing and a dog; one that we've never had to look at as livestock. Once I took the word "freelancer" off my card we were off and running. Ma and I haven't had to sell plasma in years! And we even got to send the boy off to a four year college in a nicer state.

But I feel like I have the moxie to start over again if I have to. But this time around I wouldn't settle for anything less than a Chevy Impala with bench seats. Comfortable enough to sleep two and a dog.
With enough room in the trunk for cameras.

Tip to the wise: You can always store unused cameras at the pawn shop. Just remember to get them back before the next wedding.

There's a big spectrum in our industry. Re-define yourself and enjoy unlimited success...

They laughed when I sat down to play the piano. Until I started to play.

grain of salt?

Can we talk about the business of freelance photography and the need to be picky about the jobs you accept?

To hear it from some "experts" in our industry all that matters is nailing down a job, assignment, project or purchase order for anything with a check attached, but the reality is that clients will let you work nearly for free, against your best interests, and on poor terms for as long as you want. And it probably won't be a long or happy tenure in the business as you must make enough money to turn a healthy profit (or why else be in the business?) and you must honestly enjoy what you do for your living. Right?

I've had two recent potential clients approach me, offer projects and request bids. One was a full day photographing people in a retail location and the second was a three part request that would have me shooting in industrial environments here in Austin and in northern Mexico, as well as acting as a supervisor or consultant for a second photographer in a different country. 

After receiving the bid request from the industrial concern I did a little digging

A quick, three paragraph "review" of the Panasonic G9. Well, more like a few observations.

An image from a previous SXSW. Shot with a traditional DSLR. Shown here just for fun. 
©2012 Kirk Tuck

I played with a Panasonic G9 yesterday. It was a glancing and shallow appraisal, but I did come away with three or four thoughts about the new camera. The first is that the new body is really grippy. By this I mean that it seems to fit into my hands more or less perfectly. The actual grip is bigger and more pronounced than the one on the GH5 and it allows for worry-free one-handed shooting; you just feel as though you'll never drop the camera. That's a good thing. The G9 is also moderately big. It's bigger than a typical Canon Rebel or one of the Nikon 3xxx series entry level cameras. This is also a plus because it makes the camera easier to operate; the controls are bigger and better spaced and the top panel, pooh-poohed as extraneous by many, is quick and easy to read and a nice addition to rear panel only shooting. I adore Panasonic for not screwing around with new batteries on every new generation of cameras and that's a huge plus as well. 

On the other hand I have to say I was negatively amazed at