Car Struggles to help photographer complete one more assignment.

The poor studio car has been struggling lately. It's been getting harder and harder to start. Every day as Ben and I trudge out to the VSL motor pool at 6:15 am we never stop to think about our reliable transportation but then came the decline. Every day the starter has been wheezier and wheezier. I crossed my fingers for luck and whispered a silent prayer to the saints of economical SUVs asking for just a few more days....

Yesterday Ben and I headed out to start our day. The car started but it let me know that the line in the sand was coming. I dropped Ben off at Zilker Park to run and I headed north to do a daylong photo assignment for a chemical testing laboratory. At the end of the day I loaded the last of the gear into the cavernous rear area and stopped next to the front left fender. I said a small prayer to the saint of electric starters, took a moment of silence and then crawled in to try my luck.  Two failed attempts. I stopped and gently stroked the top of the dashboard and gave the key one more twist. The car ground a bit and then sprang to life. In forty five minutes we were home. Assignment successfully managed. The odometer nearing the millenium mark, times 100.

Today we had a respite from the early wake ups. I slept in and Belinda took the boy to school. I went out to start the studio Honda.  A quiet, pensive rain coated everything with glistening drops. I turned the key and sadly the Honda Element tried its best before sighing and resigning itself to a melancholy feeling of failure.  I could sense a small tear drop tenuously hang and then drop from its left head lamp.

I did all the things guys do when their cars won't start. I jiggled the battery terminals. I tried to jump start it. I muttered and looked stuff up on the web. Finally I capitulated and called the Honda dealer. They sent a tow truck and trundled off the Element for service.

So, now, the question to my readers:  Do I buy a new studio car?  Do I continue to repair and replace the noble Element's bits and pieces? Once cars hit that ten year/one hundred thousand mark are we really at the point of hugely diminishing returns? Will I like a CRV? Is there something else out there that will haul a bunch of photo gear and still get good gas mileage?

You collectively helped me fix my back (thank you for the advice about Advil and Ice Packs!!!) now will you help me decide my auto-conundrum? I'm sure you must have an opinion....let's hear it.

Final Edit: I traded the Element in and bought a CRV. The ten year old Element brought almost 1/3rd of its original purchase price in trade. I'm happy to have a newly reliable car. The car makers have made a lot of progress in 10 years.  Thanks for all the advice.

Photographing at Esther's Follies is fun. Lots of fun.

Somewhere in the previous week I took an afternoon to photograph a bunch of marketing images for the folks at Esther's Follies. EF is a live theater located right smack dab in the middle of Sixth Street (the Austin eq. of New Orlean's Bourbon St.) and they specialize in hilarious satire skits of current politics, Texas archetypes, weird reality televison shows and much, much more. The writing is biting and witty. The cast is wild and pretty. And they have Ray.  He does incredible magic tricks.  Think David Copperfield only better and smarter.

I tossed a bunch of lights in the car and headed downtown but when I got there we decided to do all the shots with the stage lights. I brought along the Sony a57 and the Sony a77 with the idea that I'd end up using the a57 if we went low light. I pretty much ended up shooting everything at ISO 800 and using both cameras. Weird revelation: If you expose corrrectly there's a lot less noise in the a77 files that we're led to believe. And the a57 files are clean at 800, given the same care of exposure.

Live theater rocks. If you're in Austin you owe it to yourself to check them out:

I used two different zooms on this job. I used the remarkable and amazing 16-50mm 2.8 and I used a worn and dusty Minolta 24-85mm lens. Both of them were more than adequate. The former is sharper overall than the later but unless you are pixel peeping like a maniac I don't think you notice much difference, if your technique is sound....

If you want to get good practice comping, riding exposure and focusing on the fly then find an exuberant and energy filled theater group to work for. Get your cameras set up and then dive right in and start making photographs real time. It's tougher and funner than it generally looks.... And I've got to say that auto exposure is a non starter with a predominantly black background.