Giving the "old" stuff time to deliver.

I was feeling all jangly this morning. I've been writing articles this week that speak to the idea that there will always be technical progress but that learning to use your equipment wisely is so much more important to your work than having the latest lens or camera.  What if I was wrong?  What if every new permutation of camera moves your game forward?  How silly I would feel. 

When I left the house this morning I had the idea that I should just give in to the pressure of the market place and buy one of the new cameras. I should get an OMD or a Fuji Pro1 or a one of the new and wildly popular Canikons.  Ben and I left the house around 6:45 am this morning.  I drove him to cross country practice (don't know how he can run 7-10 miles on a glass of water and a spoonful of honey...) and then I headed to swim practice, visions of Michael Phelp's performances dancing in my head.  On the way out of the house I slipped into the studio to grab a camera and a lens or two. I grabbed the Pen EP3 (predecessor to the OMD) and I made a conscious decision to grab my absolute favorite Pen lens, the 60mm 1.5, to see how it stacked up to the new 75mm lens I played with earlier.  I didn't do any side by side comparisons but by now I've developed a retinal memory of how lenses perform and that's how I was gauging the relative performance of the 40 year old lens.

When Ben's team runs they finish at the Austin landmark, Barton Springs Pool.  I was waiting there for him at 9:30 am (wow, that's a long workout...).  I was a bit early so I snapped a few shots of the big pool and the spillway at the end of the pool.  Then we headed home.  I ate a breakfast taco and had a cup of tea while Ben made a monumental smoothie, a cheeseburger and a half a cantaloup. I guess running fast for a couple hours helps one build an appetite.

The spillway into Lady Bird Lake.

A construction made for spending afternoons in the cool water.

The temperatures soared up past 100 this afternoon so around 5pm I decided to take the same camera and lens combo and head back over to Barton Springs to show you how real Austinites cool off on these Summer days.  The water that flows into the one eighth mile long pool is a constant 68 degrees (f).  It was also a chance to continue testing the camera and lens combo.  Was I missing out entirely by not having the latest and greatest? I'm going to say no.  The stamina required to walk around in the blazing sun and actually have energy to shoot certainly trumped the  advantages of the new bodies.  At least I think so since no other photographers were out braving the weather with their cameras....

I think that the bottom line is this:  There is a point at which cameras really don't have to be any better.  If you check out the 100% crops on the leaves in the images further down I think you'll agree that sharp is sharp and sharper becomes less real, less believable. The EP 3 is fun to use in manual.  Hit the magnifying glass button twice and you enter high magnification for great manual focusing.  At f5.6 the lens is as good as anything on the market.  To my eye it's as good as the new 75mm.  While the 75mm might outperform it at wide open apertures I continue to be amazed at the performance of a lens that's been around for such a long time.

Even though I've had the EP3 for almost a year I feel like I'm just now coming to grips with what that camera is capable of doing. Part of that is my fault. I made a mental demarcation between my "professional" work cameras (Canons and Sonys) and my fun, "art" cameras (Olympus and Panasonic) and I spread myself too thin to master everything. 

The strengths of the EP3 are the traditional things people like about the Olympus cameras:  The in body stabilization, the incredible Jpeg files and the small, discrete design.  If the camera has weaknesses they are the performance at high ISO's and the lower resolution.

In the moment, while I'm rational and thinking about it, I think I should declare a moratorium for myself on buying or selling cameras.  I think it takes a long time to learn how to get the best out of every camera.  At least 18 months.  I'm almost there with the EP3 and I'm resisting the lure of upgrading to a new art camera at least until I've mastered the one in my hand.  Nothing is sadder than selling off a camera only to later stumble across a frame that's incredible. I've had too many incredible frames already out of the Pen cameras to think about abandoning them yet.

The EP2 and the EP3 are incredibly good shooting cameras.  I'm sure the OMD is better but I'm equally sure that, right now, I am the weak link not the cameras I'm shooting with.

If I'm the weak link it's because I'm not pointing my camera at the right stuff.  I know how to do all the technical steps to take accurate photos, now I need the courage to point them in a new direction and take chances with failure in order to pull out images that are more about me than about the process.  Honestly, it's not the camera...

Edit:  I just stumbled across this blog post from two years ago. It's still relevant. Maybe more so than ever....


Medical Images: A fun and challenging advertising photography niche.

Way back in my advertising agency days we serviced a handful of medical clients.  A big hospital and a couple of medical device manufacturers. They weren't very much fun but they were reliable and straightforward. But in the "old days" medical practices in general didn't do much advertising and doctors did none at all because of various laws and "codes of ethics."  All of that has changed. Doctors, especially in specialties, are competing head-to-head with other practices and, in some cases, even against luxury goods.  Think: Elective plastic surgery.

But the genie is out of the bottle for most hospitals, radiology practices and other specialties like oral surgery and dermatology. The more affluent the market the more competitive the marketplace. While the referral is still a major part of the mix brand advertising to the general consumer is the growing trend.  The profession, in general, is not going to go back to an era when it was considered unseemly to do direct advertising and brand marketing.

Back in 2002, long into my current career as a photographer,  we did a campaign for a local hospital that specializes exclusively in cardiology. The image above is one from that campaign and was shot with a Nikon DH2.  The graininess comes from a SnapSeed post processing effect ("structure").  We set up and lit a number of shots of people at work over two days of principal photography but the majority of shots were done with available light and fast lenses.

During the same shoot we did a few outdoor shots and, as in the case below, we used a Kodak DCS 760 C which is a six megapixel camera and, at the time, the highest res digital camera we could buy for less than $8,000. I looked at the file as I reduced it for this blog insertion and it stands up remarkably well across a big screen.  No noise at ISO 100, just good, crisp, saturated files.

In the shot above we used a model for our "patient" but the rest of  the team was legit. We were up on the roof with a loaned helicopter when the call came in that another medical helicopter was inbound with a real emergency.  We were rushed off the roof with all of our gear and we waited in the elevator lobby while the first crew revved up the helicopter we'd been shooting and took off to make space for the one incoming. We watched a group of emergency medicine people charge through to the roof to receive the patient and get him into the hospital ER. We never found out what the final resolution was because the HIPA laws protecting patient privacy were already in place at the time.

One of my favorite medical shots in the one just above. We were photographing a radiologist in an office little bigger than a closet in the basement of a local hospital. I added portable flashes (SB-800's outfitted with radio slaves) at very low power to light the walls behind the monitors and to backlight the (real) radiologist but the main light came from the glow of the screen she's facing. It was shot with a Fuji S5 and an old, used Sigma 24-70mm f2.8.  I used the lens at f4.  It's really sharp.  And the camera (advertising to the contrary) was really only a six megapixel camera.

Consumers have a choice now and we're seeing practices evolve and upgrade their clinics and consumer facing spaces. If for no other reason than the nicer waiting rooms, exam rooms and front desks lessen the angst of going in to a strange office for a series of tests that may result in unhappy tidings for the "customer/patient." We shot the lobby above with a Nikon D2X and whatever cool Nikon lens we had that did wide angle at the time. I'm gong to guess it was my 12-24mm zoom.

Earlier this year we also shot extensively in a San Antonio hospital. When working in busy ER's and around expensive diagnostic equipment you need to practice working fast and staying well out of everyone's way. Shoot no faces that aren't model released and you can't really, legally get a release that will stand up to a legal challenge from someone under physical and mental duress; meaning: no real patients. Shot with a Canon 5Dmk2 and a 20mm Canon lens.  Nice, smooth and color rich.  

I like medical gear and I like close up stuff. Several diagnostic tests require the injections of radioactive materials into the bloodstream. This syringe (above) is largely encased in a lead protector to minimize radiation exposure.  I'd love to say I used some very impressive camera and lens but on that day I was shooting with an Olympus e300 and a 14-54 mm lens.  A couple of flashes bounced off the ceiling. Art directors still like this one years later. At some point all the gear is good enough. 

The image above relies on a clean, high ISO to work.  You've got to use high shutter speeds to freeze action and you have to have the action so the poses and gestures are authentic.  We have some that we did with motion blur but I think this one works best in the application we had in mind.  Canon 5D mk2 with 24-105mm L lens.  One nemesis of photography in hospitals is the ubiquity of white sheets and white blankets and white coats. They demand good exposure technique and/or really, really good sensor latitude. The newest rev of Lightroom 4.0 helps a great deal with highlight recovery but I think a real photographer should learn how to do good exposure in the camera, just in case you have to shoot fast and send the image directly to a customer or a magazine.  Isn't that why they invented Raw+jpeg?

The nurse and baby were photographed in a section of the hospital that works with premature babies. We didn't add light we added f-stop. I opted to shoot a series in this area with a Canon 1DSmk2 and the Zeiss 85mm 1.4 ZE.  Made sense to me.  ISO 400. You have to get the written permission of the parent and you have to be a good, no pressure salesman because the nurses are busy, they are not paid to be there for you, and if they agree to be part of the shot they do so because you were able to communicate your empathy and gratitude. No other way to do it right.  

Surgery. The makers of medical instruments, artificial knees, hips, pace makers, and much more really seem to like photographs of surgery. I'm not comfortable with blood and exposed guts and all the other stuff that goes with possible mortality and operating rooms.  When we shoot "surgery" we find a willing volunteer from the surgical staff or from our own entourage to be a surgical model.  It's important to make sure that the scene looks authentic because people who work in these environments can also be an audience for the final use of the images. 

In both the image above and below we used no other lighting but the surgical lamps and the standard lighting in the room.  We could have made it more dramatic by turning off everything but the surgical spots and plunging the background into darkness but it's not really authentic and people are getting smarter and smarter about phony shots.  One exception is in a Cath Lab (catheter lab) where the room lights are turned down so doctors can "read" the video images on the flat screen monitors which give them the real time view they need of a patient's veins and arteries.

The image just above was done recently for a radiology practice. We used a Sony a77 and the 16-50mm kit lens (which is wonderfully sharp and corrects perfectly in Lightroom 4.0). The scene was lit with a combination of existing room light and two of the small, battery powered Fotodiox 312AS LED panels.  These are the panels with controls for changing color temperatures.

I like making images for this industry.  The majority of the people I meet are highly skilled and very committed to what they do. If you are affluent in America, and live in the right cities, you really do have access to the very best medical care on the face of the earth. And the interaction of patients and professionals along with state of the art imaging technology means that there's lots of great material to photograph.  

The best working methodology of photographers working in the medical world:  "Go in smart, work fast, be discreet, be honest, stay out of the way, show people in the best light."  Bottom line? The patient is always more important than the guy who showed up to do advertising images.

I would add that these situations call for minimalism with gear.  Recently I've been shooting with fast lenses and small LED panels that can be quickly and effectively repositioned, the brightness is controlled by one dial and the color temperature by another dial.  All without power cords or extension cords.  Tailor made for moving quick.

It's fun for me to look at the images over time. To see what difference (if any) the changing equipment makes a difference in the way I work and the images I get.


The view of downtown from the north balcony of Zach Scott Theatre.

I've been documenting the progress at the new Zachary Scott Theatre which sits just across the river from downtown Austin. So much of the documentation consists of inward looking images: The new stage, the lobbies and amenities... But I think one of the overlooked attractions of the new building is its close proximity to Austin's downtown.  The heart of Austin.

I stepped out on the balcony, stuck my Sony a77+16-50mm lens on an old, wooden tripod and did a quick, three shot panorama. The PhotoShop file, in layers, is a whopping 150 megabytes with a long edge of nearly 30 inches.  I think it looks pretty cool. I'd love to have a view like this right off my living room or dining room.

On another note, I had to return a lens today. I'm glad I bought it locally since taking it back was beyond painless. I'd read some good stuff about the Carl Zeiss lenses for the Sony Alpha cameras and I'd had my eye on the Sony/Zeiss 16-80mm 3.5-4.5 zoom.  Seemed like the perfect range for an "event documentation" lens.  The old school equivalent of a 24-120mm.  I bought it on Saturday and immediately stuck it on a camera and walked around shooting familiar stuff with it.  Loved the range and the resolution but hated the obvious corner vignetting at the wider focal lengths and the lilting lack of snap.  The details were there but there was none of the snap, crackle and pop one expects from a great optic. When I got back to the studio I compared the results with similar images I'd done on the Sony DT 16-50mm lens.  The difference was pretty big. The 16-50 has the snap and acutance I love to see in a lens.

Taking the Zeiss back was a no brainer.  Why keep as lens that doesn't make you sit up and take notice?  I bought it at Precision Camera and the return was this simple:

"I'm returning this."

Ron:  "What's up with it?"

"No pizzazz."

Ron:  "Okay. Sorry it didn't work for you. Let me credit your account."

Reverse transaction complete. It's pretty comfortable to shop locally.  Nice that Amazon is now charging sales tax.  Now our local merchants can compete on a level playing field.  And if they are competitive tax revenue flows into our communities.  If they aren't competitive the tax revenue still flows into our communities. For our kids, our roads, our urban transportation resources, and our city governments it's a total win-win.  Nice.

Next step.  All on-line businesses should collect sales tax for the states to which they are shipping product. We're all obligated to pay sales tax (at least in Texas) even if the out of state merchants aren't required to collect it.  This just makes it easier.


Staying ahead and getting behind. Why the current gear buying model is bad for individual businesses.

Shot, pre-digital, with an old 35mm camera 
and some film.

Lordy. We all love our cameras. As long as they're brand new. I'm stunned at how often I hear (and say) stuff like, "I'm waiting for the new XXXXXX camera.  I just sold all my YYYYYY stuff and I'm switching over as soon as it comes out."  Boy oh boy! Are we ever great shills for the camera industry? (I am pointing my finger at myself and every photo blogger out there who consistently reviews all manner of digital cameras...).  Remember back when camera companies had to do their own advertising?

There's an old saying in political advertising.  It started with Karl Rove. It goes something like this:  "If you lie about something consistently and persistently it becomes, in the minds of the masses, the truth."  From the dawn of digital cameras there's been a mantra that grows each year in intensity and scope.  It says, "The newest technology is the best technology.  You must own it and use it if you want to remain competitive."  For the amateur the mantra is the same but ends with, "....if you want to live up to your artistic potential."

The last ten years has been somewhat of a revolution in the world of buying and selling cameras. With the ubiquitous nature of the web, the ease of blogging, the cult of photographic personalities and the magic of affiliate advertising programs (the 800 pound invisible carrot in the room) we've turned a quasi-logical process (evaluating and purchasing cameras for our hobbies and businesses) into a frenzied entertainment process.  Bored with your subject? Buy the latest camera. Too lazy to learn good technique? Buy the latest camera. Too scared to get out and show your portfolio? Stay in, buy a new camera and push some stuff out onto the web. But by all means, get a new camera.

We've all done it so often we've all come to believe it.  I've owned more different cameras in the last ten years than I owned in the previous (and very, very busy) twenty years. Probably by a factor of two.  And the tragic thing for me is that while I've "mastered" the process of discerning which cameras have the highest coolness quotient I've produced the least amount of really good work.  When your focus shifts from the art to the tools it's an inevitable consequence. I spend way too much time reading the goo on the web about cameras now than I do actually using them or getting myself into the right position to use them.

At this point two or three commenters usually rush in to tell me that they are the resolute masters of their impulses and that I don't have to look.  Let's not be so literal.  While I'm writing from my own experience I am using myself as a foil to discuss something that I think is very, very wide spread. People are becoming convinced that a constant churning of cameras is part of the photography business because that's what they hear at every popular portal.  Hobbyists are convinced that the success of the current "hot on the web" photographer is the result of the new camera he or she is touting. (Of course the logical assumption should be..."If they are such good and successful photographers why the hell are they wasting hours and hours a week on the web talking about photography equipment instead of spending their time making art?" I don't buy the "I love to teach so much I'm more than happy to walk away from hundreds of thousands of dollars of assignment revenue from world class clients, shooting the things I love to come to this mildewy general purpose room at the Red Lion Inn here in Des Moines in order to help middle age professional IT people get more out of every shutter snap.  It's my life's calling."  You've got to call "bullshit" on that).

It's worse for the professionals who think their lives depend on getting their hands onto the latest Nikon and Canon offerings, even though the cameras in their hands have been satisfying good clients for a year or more.  The majority of the time photographers are getting zero push back from clients on which camera they bring to bear.  It just doesn't make a discernible difference in most situations.  Very few projects ever hinge on the "per pixel sharpness at 100%" which is a goofy way to look at most imaging. 

But it can be highly detrimental to the financial health of their businesses because they lose money with every trade. They divert money that could desperately be used to do more marketing and advertising into equipment that merely duplicates the performance they already had in hand while perhaps adding 3 to 5% more of something vaguely worthwhile.  A slightly faster focusing system for the still life photographer, more art filters for the corporate shooter who will never use the filters....

But here we are. I have a friend who is an amateur photographer.  Three years ago the Nikon D3 was his "everything" camera.  The camera he dreamed of owning.  That was until the D3x came out and then the D3x was his everything-I-ever-wanted camera. The new camera of his dreams.  When we talked a few months ago I asked him how he liked his D3x.  His quote, "I could be happy with this camera for the next ten years. It's that good."  And now, last month?  "I've got to get my hands on a D800. Do you know anyone who's got them in stock?"  

The amazing thing to me is the way Olympus has managed to steal and transform the process yet again with their EM-5 camera. I've talked to otherwise rational people who bought Canon 5D3's and Nikon D800's who've turned around and added a OMD as, "Their walking around camera." They are not necessarily abandoning their traditional cameras as much as they are adding to the inventory.  And once you buy a OMD camera how can you bear not to have the 45mm 1.8 and the Leica 25 and the Panasonic 14, etc, etc? Now the second, smaller system is almost mandatory.  

And then, of course, you also have to have your state of the art pants pocket companion camera to stick into your skinny leg jean's pocket.  The start of the moment?  That would be the Sony RX-100.  For those times when the micro four thirds camera is just too big...  And the cost is the same as 1,000 big post card mailers with postage...

In days of old we would have settled on a system and nursed it for a decade but now we're convinced it can't be that way.  To not move forward would be too painful to our own imagined process.  Amazing. The bottom line is that the churn rate barely allows us to get to know our cameras as tools, much less develop a sense of mastery about them.  

But you know what I say......"Be sure to use our Amazon links!!!!"  right.

Note:  Comments are now open to everyone. But they are being moderated. If I don't like em I chuck em.  If you think that's not fair get your own soapbox.


The ever changing perspective of the marketplace.

Chanel boxes at Primary Packaging in NYC.
Was my camera "unprofessional"?

It's funny how perceptions change over time. In the higher ends of advertising photography no one wastes time trying to divide cameras into categories. There is no litmus test as to what might constitute a "professional tool" versus an amateur tool.  The new fascination with classification seems to have accompanied the rise of the quantifying class.  The information technology workers who are desperate to make sure they have just the right Swiss Army Knife of cameras to cover their every "creative" impulse.

The shot above was done with what was (and still is, in some circles) considered a reasonably good camera, in the early 1990's.  It was done with a Hasselblad camera body and a 120mm Makro Planar lens. It might, in some circles, be considered unusable today because of all that it lacks.  It didn't have auto-focus and by extension it didn't have lots of focus points or focusing programs.  It didn't follow focus at 10 frames per second (you'd be lucky to wind one frame every two seconds...).  It didn't have a motor drive, you had to wind the film for your self.  There were no automatic modes.  The camera I used didn't even have a metering prism.  You used a thing called an incident light meter to calculate your exposures.  Of course there was no LCD screen on the back to facilitate "stinky baby diaper camera hold" and there was no EVF for the enlightened.

The real deal killer is that you actually had to know what you were doing. What you wanted to come out of the whole exercise and how to make the right adjustments to get what you wanted without the endless iteration of the screen-o-roid.  But the biggest deal was that each click of the shutter cost you about a buck.  You actually had financial skin in the game.

The trade-off is/was that you were able to get images of spectacular technical quality and, in the right hands, brilliant visual poetry. The camera was there as a transparent facilitator of your vision, not as a prosthetic for the otherwise hobbled diletante. 

In the present when I write about or mention my attraction to a new camera and it's inevitable that someone will jump in and scream that the camera mentioned cannot be used for professional work under any circumstances because: (you fill in the blanks...) it's not weather-sealed, doesn't shoot at 8,10, 12 frames per second, doesn't autofocus quickly, is made out of plastic, is too small, has small batteries, isn't a Canon, isn't a Nikon and so many more tiring and gratuitous parameters.

It's a weird universe of new camera users who are dogmatic in their beliefs.  And underlying their belief system, vis-a-vis cameras, is the idea that a "professional" photographer swings from shooting weddings (which must, in their minds, always be shot with fast lenses and cameras with high ISO capabilities) to the next day shooting professional sports to the following day shooting architecture with a bag full of shift lenses.  In their minds every professional camera must be proficient at every thing ever imagined.

But it really doesn't work that way.  Most professionals I know don't shoot weddings and have never shot sports. The majority of the good incomes in the business still come from shooting advertising concepts and architecture and people, in the studio and on location.  We almost never need fast autofocus. Rarely need weatherproofing. And absolutely never need 12 fps.

I bring this up because DPReview.com had a lead article yesterday about a photographer who'd been hired to "cover" the Olympic games with the new Panasonic G5 and a bag of Panasonic lenses.  The usual culprits rushed to the comments barricade to foam at the mouth about the idea that this little camera "wasn't professional" and had no place at the august sporting spectacle.  Someone added that if the photographer were good enough he might struggle mightily and pull something decent from the camera. Of course every one conveniently forgets David Burnett's remarkable coverage two Olympics ago using a 4x5 inch speed graphic camera----which is loaded with one sheet of film at a time...

There's no way to really soft peddle this.  Those people are just full of crap. They have no idea beyond the theater of the web  with what or how professional photographers really do their work or what the ultimate client in this case is looking for.  Performance (speed) can't be the defining parameter because at some point quality is also an issue.  IQ can't be the sole parameter because at some point being able to carry the gear all day and point it at the right stuff is more important.

Here's the contextual reality they always seem to miss:  The stuff we can buy now for $899 (G5) or $1299 (The Olympus OMD) is so much better when it comes to on sensor performance than anything that pros shot at the Olympics four and eight years ago that it's laughable.  And the two targets for the work haven't gotten one lick better.  All the images are destined for magazines or the web.  The paper and ink are the same.  The magazines  are not using high density ultra gloss papers.  Magazines are printed on high speed web presses. On mediocre paper.  Quality is a fixed equation.  Just having a better camera is in no way going to improve the line screen of the press blankets or the alignment of the dots. The images, from a quality point of view, whether from a 16 meg Nikon D4 or a 16 meg Panasonic G5 are both ultimately limited by the conversion to CMYK (much more limited gamma, weaker blacks), the transfer to a lower line screen resolution, the lower reflective value of the cheap paper and the vagaries of matching inks to an electronic sensor output.  

The images that make it to the web, because of the bandwidth constraints, will hardly ever be shown bigger than about 1200 pixels at their widest and any of the current camera sensors from all of the majors can double or triple or quadruple that.  Bigger isn't going to make a difference.  Same with relative noise performance.

I spoke with a swimmer friend who is in London, at the Olympics, right now. He told me that the venue for the swimming is lit for television.  It's bright.  Really bright. Big HMIs bright.  Shooting at ISO 200 bright.  Makes sense since many of the broadcasters and their attendant advertisers are aiming their take at 60 fps 4K video.  That takes a lot of light.  What it means for the photographers is that this venue is nothing like that experienced by "uncle Joe" at the local Boys and Girls club gymnasium, lit by a few old sodium vapor nasty lights up in the ceiling. The still guys at the Olympics can use lower ISOs, coupled with fast lenses to make incredible photographs.  And they can do it well with just about any camera. Granted, the sports cameras are fast focusing and good at follow focus.  They also have massive buffers.  But, believe it or not the Sports Illustrated guys are shooting Jpegs for faster workflow and greater throughput.  Limited to 8 bit capture!

But my basic point is that these two hundred photographers out of the millions and millions in the world are doing something that is not routine for the photographer working in Des Moines or Cleveland or even on the beach in Miami. 

What makes for a "professional tool?"  It sits in the hands of someone with a vision and a client.  The camera facilitates that vision and the photographer delivers his point of view to a client, who, in all probability, hired the photographer precisely because he liked what he saw in the photographer's portfolio. Which probably came from the same camera he's using right now.

To hammer down my point.  If the mark of a pro camera is speed, waterproofing, high ISO functionality and big ass battery capacity then how do we explain the success at the top end of our business by the elite photographers who are shooting work with very slow medium format cameras and pricey, slow medium format lenses?  None of these cameras are weather proofed, none excel at high ISO shenanigans and none of them shoot faster than about a frame per second.

But people using these kinds of cameras are making the majority of high end ad images that you see in international advertising for cars, perfumes, fashion and consumer products.  People are also still using larger format cameras with tilts and swings and they are not using them to do low end jobs shooting soccer for kids clubs.

The idea of the professional camera in this day an age is really all about marketing. No one will keep one of the new bodies long enough to get fair use out of their implied indestructibility.  They are purchased, in part, by people who really do need the performance they offer (1% of the market) and the rest are bought by people who "want the best."

Is it any wonder that there are now two camps firming up in the market place?  One camp are rational users who've found cameras like the Olympus OMD and the Panasonic GH2 and the Sony a77 and Nex's who realize that new paradigms are at least as good in an all around sense as the older genre of cameras that came before them.  The second group are people who worked hard to join a club that is quickly becoming more and more irrelevant. And now they are dismayed that the implied exclusivity of membership which they think they bought is turning out to be largely irrelevant.

I always remember the story of artist and amazing photographer, Duane Michals, who showed up for a job with his camera and lens and twenty rolls of color slide film stuffed into a Macy's shopping bag.  He sat patiently while his client waited for the "professional photographer" to show up. He finally spoke up and they got to work.  That day Duane Michals, with one camera, bereft of ANY of the fey little miracles we take for granted on our present day cameras, knocked the socks off the client and the ad community by creating an ad campaign for multi-national client, Eli Lily (Pharmaceuticals). A campaign that still holds up well thirty years later.  

When the gadgets and over weaning capabilities of the cameras are more important than timing, vision, ideas, access and skill we have truly hit the point of ultimate wimpy-ness amongst photographers.  How will they ever function without automated tripods and built in "art detectors?"

A proficient craftsman masters the right tools.  And more times than not the right tool is a big slow camera with lots of magic.  Or big bright lights with no automation. Or a new pint size camera with outsized performance. Suck it up.  The "professional camera" can often be more of a crutch to the process than a panacea for being creative.

Edit:  I rarely indulge in "featured comments" but I loved this one by reader, George:

"When I stumbled across your site a few months ago I knew I had found a photographer who was concerned about the beauty of the final product as viewed in the real world (not at 100% pixel peeping zoom). If the same critics had examined Georges Seurat canvases only with a magnifier they would have tossed them into the waste bin; now they hang in the finest museums around the world. People forget that the human eye/brain system is incredible complex and subjective. What is pleasing to the eye is not necessarily the sharpest, exact image. I recently visited my son who had the latest and greatest HDTV and HD signal coming into his house. I found in watching a movie on his system that the images were so sharp and clear it somehow the actors seemed separate from the background as if they had been superimposed on the image. This is just my perception. Keep up the good work."


Just another photo of the boy.

I had the lights set up and the studio ready. Why not take a photograph of the boy? It's the same lighting I used on Amy, the triathlete.  Super large umbrella to one side blasting through multiple layers of diffusion.  Black, light absorbing panels on the other side and a gridded light aimed at the back wall of the studio. I shot twelve frames and released the boy back into the wild.

Camera: Hasselblad 501CM medium format film camera. Fuji 100 ISO black and white film. 150mm f4 lens shot at 5.6. Sharp in the middle of soft.  Scanned on an Epson V500 scanner. I love that there's detail in the white t-shirt.

If you want to learn to do better portraits I'd recommend setting up a small studio in your house or garage and getting a good book, like one of Chris Grey's on basic portraiture and just practice. Once you understand the basics you only get better by doing it over and over again, learning what looks good and doing it more often.  Learning what looks bad and figuring out how to avoid it.
The control you develop is half the fun.  But it's still a collaboration because you'll never be able to "control" your subjects...unless you threaten to withhold their allowance..

Triathlete on film. A second version.

I posted an image of Amy on the blog yesterday that I'd done with the Sony a77 but I promised you I would post an image from the two rolls of film I shot, as well. This is a pretty straightforward version of a frame from my twelve chances on Fuji Acros 100 black and white film. It's been scanned on a flatbed scanner and sharpened a bit. This will sound very quaint but I also spent some time eliminating dust spots. We used to call this, "spotting." It was necessary in the days when everything was film.  It's much easier to do now with PhotoShop...

This is as close as my 150mm Zeiss lens will focus on the Hasselblad without extension tubes.
The film was developed, with no special instructions, by Holland Photo Imaging, here in Austin, Tx.

I know what it is I like about the film version but I'll let you draw your own conclusions...

I want to thank Amy for being patient with me while I sprayed here in the face with (hopefully) warm water in order to get the water drops (click on the image to see them clearly).  I hope she doesn't return the favor by smacking me with a kick board at practice tomorrow.

I am happy with the image. I love the tonality.


Portrait of an Athlete named Amy.

I swim with Amy at our master's workouts a few times a week. Amy is a dedicated and talented triathlete and she divides her time between swimming, biking and running (when she's not working at her job...).  I'm more linear, I'm usually just swimming. One day I asked Amy if I could photograph her as I see her sometimes, soaking wet, right after a tough workout. She agreed.

We met at the pool after the normal work day and she pounded out some yards.  Then we headed to my studio.  She's quiet.  I talk too much. But it worked out for me.  This image was made in my Sony a77 camera with an 85mm 2.8 Sony DT lens.  I shot at 50 ISO using a Profoto Acute B600 pack and one head bounced into a 72 inch umbrella.  The umbrella had a diffusion sock that softened the light.  Then the light went through another 3/4 stop diffusion fabric on a 48 by 48 inch Chimera frame before flowing across Amy's face. I used an Elinchrom monolight on the back wall of the studio, which is painted gray.  That light was turned almost completely down and projected through a 20 degree grid.

To get the water drops to show I would occasionally stop and spritz her with warm water. An interesting change of pace for most subjects... calls for closing your eyes and holding your breath...

I made corrections to the color file in Lightroom for exposure and contrast but I used Snapseed for my black and white conversion.  I like this style of shooting.

I also shot two rolls of 120mm black and white film in a Hasselblad 501 CM with a 150mm lens. The film will be back from the lab tomorrow and I'll make a few scans and see how it all compares.  To date, this is my favorite technical rendition of a digital portrait file converted to black and white.  I plan to keep working on it.


A great video about portraiture with Nadav Kander

Where portraits are concerned smart people always seem more interested in what goes on in a photographer's mind instead of just what kind of gear the photographer is using.  Here is a 13 minute video in which renowned South African photographer, Nadav Kander, talks about how he approaches the art of portraiture.  It's a calm and compelling piece.

In a sentence?  It's more emotion than logic.  I think you'll enjoy this.


Canon missed the whole point. Really.

The mirrorless, interchangeable lens Canon.  Really?

I'm sure that many people will buy this camera.  But why?

Let me back up and say that this camera will probably be a nice camera. Why? The promise of good high ISO performance which seems to be so important to so many amateur photographers.  The familiar name.  The minimal design. A nice bright screen on the back.  A normal hot shoe and.......that's about it.

I'm amazed at both the price and the offering. Let's start with the ultimate deal killer:  At $799 you get a point and shoot camera, with an interchangeable, single focal length lens, that you must hold at arm's length in order to focus or view the image. There's not even a port for an add-on EVF.  Have Canon not been paying attention to the growing legion of photographers who have figured out just how great EVFs are?  How cynical.  The cunning corporate concept seems to be that the iPhone and iPhoneography have so dumbed down picture takers that now the dirty baby diaper camera hold is considered a reasonable standard?   I guess no one shoots in the sunlight anymore. I guess no one wants a really stable camera hold.

It's basically a re-do of their boring G1X bloated compact camera but without the swivel screen, without the pop-up flash and without even the benefit of a creepy, point 85 plastic optical viewfinder.  So you actually get a lot less stuff but the same performance for the same basic price point?  And this makes sense to rational photographers? How?

I want to ask the people who have already rushed to pre-order one of these from Amazon, "What were you thinking?  Have you never seen a Panasonic G3 or G5 or GX1? or Olympus EPL-2? Or even a Canon rebel T3i?"  There are so many great bargains out there that this camera seems unbelievably cynical.

For the majestic price of $799 for what is basically a box camera you could have a Nikon D3200 with 24 screaming good megapixels, a very decent VR kit lens, a real optical finder,  a built in flash, and four 32 gigabyte SD cards.  You'd end up with a decent and flexible zoom lens and a camera with a real finder and an LCD screen.  Two for the price of one.

Is it the size? Surely people have read the reviews of the Sony RX 100 which is about 1/3 smaller and probably makes images that are just as good.

I hope someone can explain it to me because I'm mystified. What is the appeal?  Is it just "safe" because it's a Canon?

If I were in the market for a small, mirror-less camera I'd be waiting for the next generation of Olympus Pen cameras.  If they incorporate the IBIS and sensor of the OMD EM-5 Canon buyers who later compare will probably be reduced to tears.  Oh well.  To each their own....I guess.

edit:  July 24:  a more detailed discussion of the new Canon can be found on ATMTX's blog:
http://blog.atmtxphoto.com/2012/07/23/the-canon-eos-m-how-does-it-stack-up/   It's a good read.

edit:  July 25th.  ATMTX adds one more good column to the Canon mirrorless discussion:


What do you look for in a model?

I've been thinking about this a lot lately. As I post more portraits I'm sure you can see that I love people with beautiful eyes.  And I seem to love women with dark hair and dark complexions.  Brassy blonds and curvy figures are photographically less inspiring to me.  When I search for models to shoot I am attracted more to people who are uniquely interesting than classically beautiful. I think that interesting is beautiful.

And this will sound strange but I also think that smart is beautiful. You might ask how an intrinsic quality has anything to do with an extrinsic exercise of craft but I know that I can connect with smart a lot quicker and a lot better than I can connect with run of the mill sexy.  So I guess I select people to photograph that are the same kind of people I'd want to have around as friends.  I value interesting, smart and unique much more highly than perky and cute or "hot."

The subject in the photo above, Renee, was introduced to me by a woman who is an artist and a painter.  She knew we would hit it off as artist and muse.  And she was right. The first thing that attracted me, as a portraitist, to Rene was her quiet intensity and self assurance.  Then her eyes.  And finally the shape of her face.

I have several male friends who are art directors. They call me from time to time to tell me about a woman they've met that "you just have to photograph!!!!"  Invariably, when I've agreed to do a test in the studio the woman shows up and we seem to have no rapport whatsoever.  The energy is all wrong.  The aesthetics skewed.  What I've learned from the fashion photographers who gave us incredible photos in the 1980's and 1990's is that the "go see" is vital.  The photographer and model have to have some good energy together or any future session is frustrating and fruitless.

My most intriguing and enduring subjects have always been people that I've found for myself.  People I've met in coffee shops or restaurants.  People on the street and even people at lectures. The process of making a good portrait of a beautiful person depends on each of you falling a little bit in love for just a little while.  Nothing else will work. At least that's how it is for me.

And the strange secret is that it goes for both genders.  You have to be interested, really interested in that person on the other side of the camera or you're just going through a workflow and none of the magic energy that we agree exists in great images shows up in your work if you really don't care about the subject other than the fact that you needed someone to sit there and they didn't have anything else to do with their time.

Pick some one you could fall in love with and make your images a poem to their attractiveness.
The spirit of collaboration works best when the laws of attraction work in your favor.

The process of making a beautiful portrait is much more about empathetic understanding than it will ever be about objective workflow.  Leave the engineer brain at the door to the studio.  Let the artist brain run the session.

A really lovely set of portraits of American Olympians from the 1948 Olympics.

A Sunday Reprint. Bad workplace negotiations.


Working 24/7 and slowly going insane? Join the club? No Thanks!

I was rather shocked when I listened to a person from a company that makes all kinds of electronic products the other day.  She made the pitch to me that her company helped stressed out, over-worked moms by making products (like phones and tablets) that would allow a frenetic mom to "disconnect from her office" and be able to "take her work along with her" so that she could be present for her children's activities.  From what I could understand this person believed in the 1990's mantra of "multi-tasking" which has been so thoroughly discredited by psychologists and process experts over the last decade.

The idea was that, between tweets, urgent e-mails, progress reports and modifications to mission critical spreadsheets, the newly unfettered mom would be able to look up from the screen and instantly enter into her child's world just at the moment when Sally hit the game winning home run or when Poindexter cinched the national Spelling Bee with the correct spelling of "Delusional". 

The more grievous idea I came away with is that now it's no longer good enough to give a company a stress and anxiety filled 50 or 60 hours of your week.  No.  The new norm is total ownership.  The excuse is that now so many people in finance, tech and commodities work in a world market and they must be accessible to their counterparts in Malaysia, must not miss the opening bell in Berlin or Kerplakistan, must be electronically present for those important clients in Kathmandu....

I have a sneaky feeling that chronic unemployment is not caused by a lack of jobs but that many jobs are being handled by one person.  The manically compulsive super workers are stealing more than their fair share of jobs.  And they are training their companies to expect "work till you drop" dedication that trades health, family life, hobbies, community involvement and the basic richness of existence for quarter by quarter profitability.  And here's the kicker:  Those super employees aren't being compensated for doing the work of three, they're giving their employers undeserved charity.  

In the self employed world we read books on negotiation.  We learn that you never give up something without getting something in return.  That's the foundation of good negotiation.  And as self employed people we never work for free (unless we are donating our time, services, goods to a needy and beneficial cause.)  But that's exactly what the super workers of today are doing.  They are giving it away for free.  And, of course, their companies are encouraging them.

It's time we took a good long look at the American work ethic and got rational.  The unions got it right back in the coal mine strikes and the meat packers collective bargaining days:  Forty hours a week is the most you can work in a reliable and sustainable way.  And by that I mean being able to preserve your personal dignity, your physical health and the health of your family and relationships.  

If you are routinely working 60 or 70 hours a week and you don't OWN the company you work for (and, in my mind, even if you do) you might consider that you are your own "scab" and you are in some ways responsible for the downward spiral of the American dream.  That spreadsheet WILL wait until monday.  Your real life can't always be on hold.  If it needs to be done over the weekend your company needs to hire a weekend shift.

So, this is a photo oriented blog, why the hell am I talking about workplace issues?  Because from time to time I write columns that talk about some of the outrageous schedules I work.  But the difference is that my projects stop and start and there's lots of in between time for rest and rejuvenation.  Joy and pleasure.  Family dinners together and weekends puttering around helping Ben with homework and Belinda with some gardening.  Couch time with a novel.   If a freelancer in a struggling industry can do this and keep his head above water then so can the valuable employees of all sorts of companies.

The electronics that we seem addicted to are also a secret weapon that helps bosses (and clients)  suck more and more from their people by blurring the lines between what is and what isn't work.  The cellphone is not referred to as "An Electronic Leash" without good reason.  

It's all about setting limits.  Isn't that what we tell our children? 

The shot above is of Belinda in Montego Bay, Jamaica.  The way I negotiated a series of projects in the Islands was to work for a week, for my usual rate, and then go back later with Belinda for a second week of vacation and downtime.  No phones, no internet, no emergencies in Patagonia.  The vacation opportunity defrayed the travel time and longer working days of the actual project.

Shot with a Rollei medium format camera on Tri-X film at a place called "The Pork Pit."  Really good pulled pork.  A quiet week by the sea.

Added half an hour later:  I read this on Kim Critchfield's FB page and loved it.  I sent a copy to Ben and to a friend who needed to read it.  I'll post this on my wall, just to the side of my computer.

One evening a Cherokee elder told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.

He said, "My son, the battle is between the two 'wolves' that live inside us all.
One is Unhappiness or Evil - It is anger, jealousy, fear, regret, greed, arrogance, sorrow, self-pity, resentment, inferiority, false pride, superiority, weakness and ego.

The other is Happiness or Good - It is joy, love, hope, serenity, benevolence, peace, empathy, kindness, generosity, truth, humility, faith, strength and compassion."

The grandson thought about it for a while and then asked his grandfather, "Which wolf wins?"

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed." - Cherokee Elder