Last post of 2015 at The Visual Science Lab.

 For me, a visual reflection of the passage of time. One super power of photography...

Another prediction: People on the web will grow bored and tired of the techno savants. Audiences want to be entertained and enlightened; not lectured to.

In the field of photography there have always been "technical masters" who take it upon themselves to instruct all the unwashed masses of photographers in exactly how they should use their equipment to make photographs. Part of the faux pedagogical practice seems always to be the obsession that the students use the specific tools used by the "master." 

The Professional Photographers of America more or less codified what they passionately thought should constitute a "good portrait" and taught generations of people how to slavishly copy their lighting, their techniques, their posing and, of course, suggested the appropriate cameras and lenses with which to make these cookie cutter pictures. 

And in each generation the images that become iconic, and the images that are most appreciated, are the ones that break the rules, break convention and express a new way of looking at the external (and even internal) world. 

A number of self proclaimed "masters," "experts" and "technical geniuses" have figured out how to market to the enormous pool of less experienced photographers who come to the web to learn about making photographs, selling them on a program of technical exceptionalism that has nothing whatsoever to do with the creation of great (or even interesting) photography. The "masters" spend weeks shooting charts and test still lifes. They "field test" the equipment and then rush back to their computers to stare at the images and make cultish pronouncements about the presence or absence of a lens's nano-acuity or a camera sensor's asymmetrical noise assimilation overfill resistance and they push people to feel as though they can't enjoy photography, or even do it properly, unless the masses surrender to the regimen of looking at the craft through the uncomfortable lens of the master's shared obsessive compulsive disorder.

Perhaps 2016 will be the year in which the self-appointed technocratic elite of photography gets generally ignored and people relax a bit and become more interested in how to make images that are new and different. Images that thumb their collective noses at a play book of rules, preconceptions and gear fetishism that is generally unhelpful.

I just looked at a book I was given for the holidays. It's some of the work of Sheila Metzner. She was a wonderful art and fashion photographer who worked in the previous century. She used a printing and shooting technique that yielded color saturated, grainy images that were the antithesis of the teachings of our modern techno-masters but most of images were beautiful and emotionally immersive. 

The work of Deborah Turbeville also comes to mind as does the work of fashion photographer, Peter Lindbergh. 

There are so many great role models in photography who made their marks without being slaves to technology. Might it be time to reject the pursuit of metric measures and replace them with interesting subjects, shot in a new and interesting way?  Just a thought for the new year. 

Watch out for those third order harmonics, especially when they mix with the hemholtz patterns.

A prediction I can make with confidence: People will continue to make fun, interesting, disturbing, compelling and banal photographs in 2016. Another prediction I feel certain of: We will buy more cameras and lenses.

Image by Chuck Close. Photo realistic painting.

Photography is less like bubble wrap and more like pizza dough. You can't just pop all the bubbles and be done with images. With dough, if you squeeze in one direction the dough will flow out into another direction. You can't eat bubble wrap but you can sure make tasty pizza from good dough. Especially if you practice. 


My most fun camera purchase of the year. The Olympus EM5.2. There

I made most of my income last year shooting with Nikon cameras. One in particular; the D810. But it was not the camera that made me smile most and pushed me to do fun pictures most often. That honor goes to the Olympus OMD EM-5.2. And I'll try to tell you why. 

There is a reason people pay crazy amounts of money for really cool watches. Most of the really cool watches are mechanical. Automatics. Self-winders. We collectively like the idea of precision machining. Of distilling down mechanical engineering to its quintessence. And, apparently we like the same feeling and design aesthetic in our cameras; at least I do. 

The Olympus OMD line of cameras is an interesting milestone in camera development because these cameras, along with cameras like the Nikon 7X00 series, the Pentax K-3s and the Panasonic GH4, represent the point at which most of us will agree cameras became transparently good. To echo a word used by blogger, Ming Thein, all of these cameras have reached and surpassed the point of sufficiency. They are more than adequate for the imaging needs of almost everyone. 

The desire for more megapixels and bigger sensors may have its place in practice for professionals who must, on occasion, be ready to deliver enormous files (while most of the time they will also find 16 megapixels more than adequate....) and for ardent amateurs and artists who have a need to print their images at very, very large sizes. But clearly, for most of us, the sensor and image pipeline development of cameras hit their Honda Accord or Toyota Camry level of sufficiency with the introduction of Sony's low noise 16 and 16+ megapixel sensors, nearly three years ago. The need for the "Bentley" version of a standard camera is largely fiction. 

The one thing my Olympus cameras don't do with my current m4:3 lenses that would make them a match for my full frame cameras is to have an exciting ramp from in focus to out of focus with the lenses I currently own. Friend Frank has consistently shown me that I can get the same effect with faster, higher quality glass on the smaller cameras. I have used his Leica/Panasonic 42.5mm f1.2 lens wide open and I've seen the light (and a wonderfully shallow depth of field portrait rendering).  There are more and more very fast lenses coming onto the market for the smaller cameras which help mitigate this difference between formats. 

But cameras are more than just the sum of their sensors and their lenses. I like the Olympus cameras for several other reasons. I love the tactile feel of the EM5.2 control knobs, as well as their prominence on the top panel of the camera. The size and dimensions of the camera, with the added battery grip are absolutely perfectly sized for my hands. The EVF is great. The image stabilization is one of the wonders of the photographic world. And, counterintuitively, the file size of the raw files is just right for my workflow, and the workflows of nearly everyone I know who is seriously interested in photography. 

Add to all this a sophisticated color rendering, that seems to be a consistent Olympus hallmark, and you've got a great shooting system. Good handling, good color, good viewing, great imaging and metering. It's a powerful system and the camera, currently, brand new, is $899. The EM5.2 ticks every box for me. It's why even though I may stray to other camera systems from time to time, I always come back to the Olympus OMD series for the sheer, exuberant fun of taking photographs. 

I upgraded from the original EM5 cameras to the EM5 version 2 cameras this year. I have two of them. One is black and one is silver. Both are equipped with grips because we shoot video with them and the grips add an input for microphones. I have a fun collection of lenses for these cameras and I'm only sitting on the fence about getting one more lens. I want a serious 70-200mm equivalent and I'm torn between the Panasonic 35-100mm f2.8 (which I have owned and found to be more or less flawless) and the newer, bigger, very well reviewed Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 lens. The Panasonic is smaller and lighter but the Olympus has 50mm of extra reach, which can come in hand. It also has a tripod mount --- desirable for shooting vertical portraits while on a tripod. I'm sure I'll go back and forth until the next project and then make a choice. The only other thing I need to buy is more batteries. Always more batteries. 

But I am comfortable with the cameras and I don't consider the rush to higher megapixel counts in these cameras to be necessary for me. Most client uses for image files haven't changed much since the days of six and twelve megapixel cameras. Yes, used at the bleeding edge of commercial applications, the bigger files are great. But most of us can go through a year or so, professionally, before a project with such stringent and lofty requirements come up.

I'm a bit chicken. Burned by the devastation of the last economic meltdown. I'll use the Nikon D810 not out of necessity but as extra layers of insurance, when I shoot for clients. But when I go out for the joy of taking images and I have no one else that I have to please, except for myself, my choices are much different. It's an important distinction. Work - Play. All the emotion in these kinds of discussions is mostly wrapped up in the artificially binary nature of thinking. Lots of people believe that you MUST make a choice. You must select one system and give it your allegiance at all times. 

I've said time and again that Texans often own a big pick-up truck for hauling crap around and doing work but also own a nice sedan; Honda, BMW or Mercedes --- maybe a Ford Fusion, for those times when parking a dually truck in a downtown parking space just doesn't make sense. 

For my fun camera system of the year I am highly recommending the Olympus OMD cameras. They fill a great niche, are fun to use, and very affordable. 

After almost a year of using them for business and pleasure I am 90% able to navigate their one, non-fatal flaw: the menus. 

Curious to know if you have a dual camera inventory. One for business, another for pleasure. Or am I the outlier here?

A small image gallery of stuff shot commercially last year
with Olympus EM5.2 cameras and M4:3 lenses
(plus an adapted Nikon or two).


Does your lens really need to be the sharpest one in the world to take a photograph of this? I think people will get the content even if the micro contrast is just a little muted.... But that's just me.

From Austin, Texas. The Graffiti Wall. A thought for the New Year. 

Austin is an interesting town to walk around in. Beautiful in its creative energy.

I was walking around the Clarksville area when I saw this. I thought it was beautiful. I walk around here a lot and had never seen this before. Normally it's the kind of shot I'd make with a longer lens like and 85 or a 100mm. But today I had only the 28mm lens I was testing with me. I got pretty close to the painted rock and that allowed me, at f5.6, to take the sharp edge off the leaves in the background. I'd put little red arrows on the image and lie to you about how I spent a couple hours with a calculator and a protractor computing the various angles that might best draw your eye into the picture but that's such rank bullshit you'd probably never believe it.

I saw it. I responded to it. I shot it. Any pretense to pre-shot analysis and planing is just  Monday morning quarterbacking. Anyone tells you they planned it all out is really just saying, "I got lucky and there were some diagonal lines that worked for me."

There's a time for deep dives into design and a time for reaction. The time for deep dives into design is mostly when drawing out the plans for a house or office building. The time for reaction is when you have a camera in your hand and something interesting in front of you to shoot. Go. And try a few variations while you are there....

OT: What do you get the dog that has everything, for Christmas?

If you really want to do the holidays right for Studio Dog you might consider.....tennis balls. She loves them. Really. Just loves them. We have one hallway that's about 50 feet long and when the weather is awful she loves it if you throw balls down the hall. Her main goal is to catch them on the bounce. She'll bring em right back, too.

Tennis balls make dogs smile.

Photo: Studio Dog with tennis ball. Nikon D750. Nikon 50mm f1.8 G. 

How does the 28mm Nikon 2.8D lens stack up? Or should we all just wait for the Zeiss Otus 28mm 1.4?

I think we all do a lot of work with zooms these days and the current thinking is that zooms have caught up with prime lenses (single focal length lenses...) and so there really is no reason to own anything other than each camera makers holy trinity of ultra wide, wide to slightly long and medium to about 200mm telephoto zoom lenses with their f2.8 apertures. Hmmm. I'm not always convinced. 

It's got nothing to do with sharpness or test scores but my reticence to put everything into the zoom lens box is more about size, weight, handling and maybe even native contrast. With a little bit of micro-acuity thrown in for good measure. 

I've been buying single focal length lenses for both the Nikon full frame system and the Olympus OMD system because I think they can be more fun to shoot and that usually translates into more interesting images. I'd recently added a 135mm f2.0 Nikon manual focus lens and a 35mm f2.0 Nikon manual focus lens to my shooting collection and as I looked at my inventory of lenses for the full frame system the two focal lengths I felt I was missing were a 28mm and a 24mm. 

I'll confess that I've never before liked the 28mm focal length. I always felt that it was too long to be strikingly wide angle and too short to isolate primary subjects in the way I'd trained myself to like. But I'm always trying to improve myself and I've seen some really good work done by friends who insist they shot it with 28mm lenses. I have no reason to think they might be lying to me so I decided to start looking around for something in that range to play with. There is the newish 28mm 1.8 G lens from Nikon and it looks nice, in a very pedestrian sort of way. I thought I might just save up for the inevitable Zeiss Otus 28mm f1.4 that's sure to hit the market in time to keep five more bloggers afloat writing "first impressions" reviews and "hands on" reviews, as well as "my review at two weeks."

Then I figured if I waited until after the launch of the 28mm Zeiss Otus it would be followed in short order by the Sigma Art lens and I would have to wade through the new, "My Otus versus Sigma 28mm comparison" reviews before I could make up my mind. Since the pursuit of extreme optical sharpness is more of a dilettante's pursuit I decided to give my avaricious mind a break and think about other stuff instead. So I took Friday off from optical musings and dedicated myself to narrowing down the field of digital audio recorders that are actually convenient to use. But that's another blog...

By Saturday the joy of spending every waking hour with family was growing less alluring and I decided to head over to Precision Camera to torture the sales people with endless questions about digital audio recorders. But every trip to Precision starts with a quick peek at the used camera case for older, film camera and manual focus lenses. Then it progresses to the case with more modern, auto focusing lenses and usually devolves into something totally tangential to my original mission. 

I made it to the modern, used lens case and narrowed down the lovable lenses from a large field of slow zoom lenses that span vast focal length ranges. I was left with two; a 35mm f2.0D lens and a 28mm f2.8 D lens. I played with the 28 for a few minutes, bargained a bit with my exhausted (worn down by the holidays) sales associate and paid a bit over $100 for a nice, clean example of this particular beast. Oh yeah, I also bought another microphone but that's not particularly relevant here. 

I took the lens home and read a few reviews that told me it was quite sharp in the center but less sharp and somewhat mushy on the sides. I laughed a bit, wondered who was so concerned about the corners of a wide angle frame and stuck my new purchase on a shelf. 

Today a cold front hit. Rain poured down this morning and thunder and lightning kept us out of the pool (we swim outside year round). When the rain slowed down I decided to do a long Sunday walk and I looked around for something fun to shoot on a dark, damp and chilly day. The Nikon D750 and the 28mm 2.8D non-perfect lens seemed like a perfect combo. 

I'm betting that most people think of dark and stormy days as crappy times to shoot images and test a lens but I can't think of a better time to do so. You get to use medium apertures (f5.6) and you don't have to worry about huge contrast ranges. Plus you don't have to get all sweaty when you are out walking around. It was 42 (f) this afternoon, and I know that for you living in Colorado or areas of north Texas and New Mexico, that 42 doesn't really count as "cold" but for us in Austin it's comparatively a deep freeze after our near 80 degree Christmas Eve.  

I'll start out by saying that I think this lens is pretty groovy and that I think I'm ready to play in the arena of wider lenses. I actually didn't find the focal length that long today. Don't know why. I guess some people get fatter when they get older while others learn to adapt to wider focal length lenses.

As far as handling goes the lens is a dream. Small, light and relatively bright, it's a pleasure to carry and nice to look through. 

A quick note on viewfinders: When I wrote about focusing manual lenses on AF DSLRs I got some suggestions to try using viewfinder magnifiers made for the various Nikon cameras. I ordered a DK17M for the D810 and a DK21M for the D750. They magnify the viewfinder by 1.2 times which gives you a little more leeway in diopter adjustment and magnifies the viewfinder image. While it doesn't really help with AF focusing the viewing is more fun. I also used the magnifiers in conjunction with a Rokinon Cine 85mm f1.5 this week and was able to discern sharp focus more easily. Thanks to the people who made this suggestion. 

I mention the magnifiers because it makes the view bigger and that's more fun when composing images. The downside for people who wear glasses is that the whole finder is not visible without moving your eye around to see the edges and the corners. 

So, the viewfinder image with the 28mm f2.8 was bright and clear. How is the image quality? Well, sadly, Ken Rockwell doesn't like the lens and thinks that the 24-70mm is sharper. But I found it to be pretty darn good-to-wonderful just walking around and shooting the way I like to shoot. I've set the D750 up with auto ISO to use 1/100th of a second as the lower limit for shutter speeds and I pretty much set the lens at f5.6 for the whole day. While the ISO may go up and down as long as it stays under 3200 ISO it all pretty much looks the same after I post process it.  (more below...)

While Photozone.de and Ken Rockwell bitch about the corners and edges I found that the edges were quite sharp if I kept the lens stopped down to f5.6. I didn't test it wide open but I'm guessing that most of us use a lens like this on 3-D objects and we mostly want the center subject matter to be exquisite and we have various levels of interest in other parts of the image as it ripples away from our primary subjects. I shot an image of this mural about art in Austin and looked pretty closely at 100%. It all looked very sharp to me. Seems to me that a 28 is all about foregrounds and backgrounds, I can't think of a 28mm lens designed for use on 35mm cameras that is optimized for flat field macro work.

In fact, I found the lens delightfully sharp and, more important to me, I found the contrast to be very good, with great micro-acuity and above average nano-acuity. Used on a camera like the D810 I would have no fear in using images of 3-D objects from this lens for my premium, "Hyper-Platinum-Collector's Prints." See my storefront to order... (don't look too hard, we don't really have a storefront).

When I shoot with single focal length lenses it takes my brain a while to get dialed in but once I do I kind of automatically look for scenarios that work well for the focal length. This particular 28mm lens seemed to have a lot of character and it pushed me to get looser with my shooting. So loose, in fact, that I changed from using the single point AF modality to using the automatic, all points AF system in the camera. A nice way to give your brain a vacation as you walk around town.



I hadn't been to the Graffiti Wall in a while but I knew it would be a great place to try out this lens. Be sure to click on the image above (anywhere in the image) to see it larger. I've uploaded the files at 2100 pixel wide images so you won't see them at 100% but you will see them at a decent size for screen viewing. 

The image above showed me that the lens is fun to shoot from the hip. You can focus quickly with a wide angle lens that has a short focus ring throw and the depth of field at 28mm makes up for little faux pas. The color in the images is crisp and saturated and the detail is certainly satisfying for me. 

I think the lens has a little bit of barrel distortion but it seems pretty consistent and not like the mustache distortion on some of the more complex lenses. It's easy to fix in Lightroom and I can imagine that the various Nikon software tools would automatically correct for distortion. I only corrected raw files but didn't see a need to correct Jpeg files; perhaps my camera corrects for them automatically. 


I guess one could get out their digital loupe and really squint at the files looking for the ultimate in resolution and perceived sharpness but I will say that just looking at the images on a well corrected, 30 inch monitor leads me to believe that the lens is as sharp as I would need it to be for professional work. Even wide open at f2.8 the central area of the frame is nicely sharp and contrasty. One only needs to stop down to bring in the corners and far edges. The wonder of using digital cameras is in the post processing software, and with that in mind I ran a few images through my copy of DXO (9.3?) and evaluated the images as well. With some time spent sharpening and correcting the images in that program I would be hard pressed, comparing lenses at f5.6, to understand how much better a lens might need to be. Since this one handily passes my criteria I'm just going to put it into the mix and run with it. Just thinking what a fun combination the 28, 50, 85 and 135 would make, and how much I can do with them. 

Now I'm keeping my eyes peeled for a nice, clean 24mm f2.8D and maybe a 20mm as well. We'll see what the New Year brings. In the meantime I hope we all get more of the message below.....


My Most Profitable camera purchase of 2015. And a nod to a lens that has become an unexpected, almost irreplaceable, ally in the same year.

I've owned a lot of cameras since I started doing photography full time, as a for profit business, back in 1988. I've run through a number of camera systems and I'm here to tell you that there's always one camera in every cycle of business that is the one you make most of your money with.

In the film days I could have tossed out most of the cameras I'd craved and bought and just used a Hasselblad 501 CM over and over and over again. In fact, I think that's what I pretty much did.

In the digital age there are certain cameras that stuck out in their time period as workhorse tools that I always turned to when we needed to get stuff just right, and be reasonably certain that our bills would get acknowledged and paid. For a while it was the Kodak DCS 760. After a few years the megapixel counts increased and camera usability improved enough to make the purchase of a Nikon D2Xs seem practical. That camera turned out great files over and over again....

Then things got hazy for a while as I galloped through mirrorless cameras, mirrored 4:3 cameras and various Sony, Canon and Nikon APS-C cameras. But early this year the equipment drawer got thinned out and two new cameras stepped in to take over image making duties; the Nikon D750 and the Nikon D810.

While I enjoy shooting the D750 more because of its lightweight, more manageable file sizes, slightly better video implementation (and cheaper purchase and replacement price) it's the D810 that I turned to for pretty much every advertising shot, every environmental portrait, and even nearly every video project I touched this year.

There's are reasons why the D810 is my go-to money maker. Usually, when I am shooting commercial, corporate and advertising jobs (as opposed to multiple day events) the size and weight of a camera is NOT a consideration. The supporting gear is far more bulky and cumbersome, and everything travels in cases to prevent breakage. We have a large cart we used to bring everything we need for a shoot into a client's environment. It's efficient to carry stuff this way and, if you are working near enough to arrive by car (as opposed to packing for air travel) the cart allows you to bring stuff you might not consider essential but which may come in handier than you thought it might.

On most locations we light rooms, portraits, processes and most other routine photographs so we're pretty much anchored by lighting in one spot at a time, for a while. The camera can sit on a tripod while I do most things so, all in all, for the most profitable jobs the camera's physical configuration is neutral.

On these kinds of shoots I carry the following lenses: 20mm, 20-40mm zoom, 25-50mm zoom, 24-120mm zoom, 35mm f2.0 prime, 50mm f1.4 prime, 85mm t1.5 prime, 105mm f2.5 prime, 135mm f2.0 prime and an 80-200mm f2.8 zoom that has stood the test of time.

The D810 is highly configurable for shooting. I can put a 50mm f1.4 lens on the front and change the angle of view by changing the crop from 1.2 to 1.3 to 1.5 (DX) and I can do this with raw or Jpeg files. This means the 50mm can be it's regular self or a tighter portrait focal length of around 75mms.
The density of the sensor is such that there is very little quality loss even with the biggest crop in camera.

With practice, and an external monitor that allows for focus peaking, the D810 is a great video interview camera. The color science is really good and the camera provides a big and solid base onto which we can connect microphones, headphones, big lenses and larger HDMI cables. I can punch into the scenes before I start shooting to establish that I've achieved sharp focus at nearly 1:1.

But the main two things that make the camera a first choice in critical picture taking are the resolution of the sensor and the dynamic range of the sensor. Clients are extremely pleased when they can keep zooming in on a large monitor and continue to see more and more detail. They always want to err on the side of "too much" rather than "not enough." While most projects can be well accomplished with a 24 megapixel sensor there's a "shock and awe" confidence booster to having more than one needs. I learned this when pressing a smaller, m4:3 files to poster sized, print blow ups, in the previous year.

The second parameter, dynamic range, isn't usually on client radars but comes in handy to me if I over or under expose frames. The very wide dynamic range enables me to cover my ass without embarrassment. The dynamic range also comes in very handy when I do photographs of people out in the Texas sun. Holding both bright highlights and shadow detail to an almost natural degree (especially with the "flat" camera profile engaged) is almost like an advertising magic trick. Client don't know why they appreciate the looks so much but they do.

When you bundle the above with a decent size, a good battery life and great reliability you've got a package that you come to trust. If you are working on a personal project you can hide your mistakes, the shortcomings of a camera or lens, and anything else embarrassing. You can go out and shoot something over and over again until you get it right. You can save stuff in post. Or almost save it. You can state that the image is the way it is because you intended it "to be art." But when the ability to make the mortgage or the tax bill is on the line there's a satisfaction in having a tool like the Nikon D810 in your inventory. It just flat out delivers. And you'll pretty much always know that it's overall imaging quality is within a percentage or two of all the other top cameras on the market.

For work it was a bargain at $3200.

Now, this doesn't mean that the D810 is necessarily the fun camera to shoot. In terms of real fun that honor falls to the Olympus EM5.2; and, if I am being honest, I have to say that the files from that camera (which I use for event work a lot of the time) would work just as well for about 90 % of the jobs. It's just that I'd have to be on my game all the time to pull off the kind of technical  work that I can just phone in with the D810.

My other favorite camera is more of an emotional choice. I shoot the D750 because the file size is optimal, it's not so expensive if the camera gets trashed or stolen but at the same time I get the look of the full frame sensor,  coupled with endless battery life and a fun sized package to carry around. Where the D750 shines is shooting in low light. But that's not a very big percentage of what I do.

I don't love the D810 on an emotional basis but I do LOVE it on a commercial basis. It's a business camera in every respect. Once the D810 and I make some money I can always sit back and play with the more interesting cameras. It's a comfortable schism and one I respect.

And that's why I have a D810 and keep it charged up and ready.

Oh yeah. The lens. I have to confess that I bought the latest version of the Nikon 24-120mm f4.0 VR lens as a stop gap to file the gaps in focal lengths as I grew my Nikon full frame system.  I was a little skittish about buying it since I had briefly (very briefly!) owned the very first version of the lens and found it to be a complete dog. A reminder of the ancient 43-86mm zoom lens Nikon made in the 1970s that was guaranteed to be unsharp at any aperture or focal length.

I have subsequently found that they've made up lost ground quite nicely and the model I now have is at least up to the standards of its Canon competitor, the 24-105mm L series lens.

I use it for lots and lots of stuff because it's wonderful to have such a wide range of focal lengths at your disposal and even at f4.0 it's pretty sharp in the center. Certainly nice for quick P.R. shots of workers or executives. The wide end is usable for most subjects, at least where sharpness is concerned but you'll need to make sure you have a good custom profile for the lens if you intend to use the wide end on anything with straight lines. Perhaps a good argument for owning a copy of DXO's software.

It's a great lens to use for walking through an industrial plant and stopping frequently to make images of processes or really cool machinery. The VR gives me between 2.5 and 3 stops of image stabilization, which is quite helpful. It's also a great lens to pair with on camera flash for fast breaking, news style images.

The lens sells for around $1,200. I found one taken out of a kit but with a U.S.A. warranty new for around $900. I didn't think I'd use it too much but it goes with me on most jobs and I end up using it a lot. The only place I'm not thrilled with it is for portraiture where I always want more control over depth of field and a different handling of tones and details for faces. I find most modern lenses to be so well corrected that they are vicious at rendering skin tones and at creating pleasing portraits. If I'm traveling light and working mostly with the 24-120mm I then also take along a 105mm f2.5 ais lens as it seems to be the aesthetic opposite; lots of resolution without the harsh, baked in contrast. But then adding contrast is the one thing we can generally do well with almost all of our post processing.

I give the 24-120mm my second highest ranking: A worthwhile lens that returns profitable images for commerce. Just under my ultimate ranking: Damn! That's an incredible lens. But it quickly passes my base level test: Would I buy it again? Absolutely!

Getting my mind into 2016.

I think it's human nature to consider life in temporal chunks. The work week. The fiscal year. The semester. Overtime. The day rate. Etc. We create plans and goals and we set times and dates for their undertaking and their completion. If the project isn't tied to a paycheck the likelihood of getting it done on time (or ever) is less likely than the projects we plan for clients.

At the end of every year I like to sit down at my desk and review what I've done in the past year. I go through the receipts for the paying work because they are a good trigger for my memory of exactly what I shot and how the jobs went. I look at the jobs that weren't as much fun and factor that into my plans going forward. I look at the jobs I really enjoyed and try to plan ways to work with clients to create more like them. At the end of the invoice exercise I look at what I got paid versus the time and energy the job took, and just how profitable each job was when I consider the trade of time for money. I almost always resolve to raise my fees the next time around.

But the most valuable exercise for me is to look back and try to gauge whether or not I made creative work for myself that I really liked. Work that might end up in my portfolio, or on my blog site of the top 100 portraits I like best. This is the category that usually causes little tickles of sadness because I usually end up trading out the time and energy I need for personal portrait projects to take paying assignments instead. Some years the tickles of sadness are more like sharp jabs in the ribs.

While 2015 was a wonderful year in which to pursue client projects and make good money it was a fallow year for personal projects,  for great portraits and for a sense of artistic well being and accomplishment.

But that's what today's introspective exercise is all about. Reviewing all the work (person and professional) helps to show me where things have become out of balance, and it gives me a fighting chance of righting the listing ship before the whole thing capsizes and everything just goes to hell.

There are so many excuses. I keep waiting on edge to jump in a be a dutiful son as my parents age and become less independent. I'm reticent to trade the opportunity to do paying work for the time to do personal work because I worry that the cash flow machine that funds the boy's college adventures will grind to a halt at the wrong time. With Belinda having worked downtown for most of the year I'm torn sometimes by.......the idea of leaving Studio Dog alone for long periods of time. (To dog lovers that will make perfect sense, to non-dog people that will seem insane).

But all of the things I've listed are just excuses. If you are passionate to get something done you can work to create the space and time to do the work. I seem to always make time to swim but I rationalize that it seems harder to find people to photograph now that general interest in photography seems to have waned these days. The glamor seems to have melted away from the portrait process when the newness and mystery of it dissipated like fog in the sunlight.

The exercise of seeing where I've been and figuring out where I want to go is bountiful because it reminds me of the power of intentions. If I intend to stay in good shape then I usually find a way (and the time) to do so. If I intend to be more profitable I tend to find pathways (consciously and unconsciously) to get there. When I find an area where I've fallen down I learn to look past the excuses I've made and look to see where my intentions were. Was it comfort over risk? Am I using all the easy excuses to hide the fact from myself that everything worth doing has it's own momentum?

My desire for 2016 is to totally refresh my vision of what a photographic portrait is. My intention is to experiment with the process, the lighting and the subjects with much more passion. To do so means working on my collaborative skills; not just in working with portrait subjects, but also in finding people who help serve as conduits between me and potential models.

We all tend to get tunnel vision when we work from a place of fear or nervous apprehension. My block last year was mostly about being sure I made the money to make the wheels of family life turn. Making sure to fund retirement accounts (because the reality of aging was made more real and clear to me) as well as to invest wisely for new ventures (because too much reading on the web had me believing that imaging was a "dying" industry).  And in some sense, replenishing the accounts that got punished by the economic collapse of 2007-2011.

I did a good job with those anxiety driven goals and I think I've proven to myself that there is still a rich market for all kinds of commercial imaging (still photography, video and combinations of all media). I've come to grips better with the relentlessness of our individual demise. The thing that sticks in my craw is all the lost opportunity of shooting portraits for myself last year.

So the culmination of today's work/art/life meditation is the understanding that an artistic goal is like the "object" in the physics lesson; an object at rest tends to stay at rest unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. My intention to create new work has to be translated into the unbalanced force that creates momentum (inertia) for the object = goal. It's a psychological re-understanding of the law of inertia.

It's also good to understand that objects in motion continue to stay in motion unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. Momentum with no decay or entropy only happens in a vacuum. In real life physical objects are acted upon by gravity and friction. It's good to identify what constitutes "gravity and friction" in your creative practice and be on guard to offset the effects by adding more energy to whatever it is you intend to do. In other words, you can't just depend on getting the creative passion ball rolling and then presuming it will keep on rolling without your active intervention. You may have to re-group in order to push the ball up a steep hill or two. But, if you want to make your own art you really do have to grapple with the psychological laws of conservation.

It's all a matter of balance. Add up all the minutes you spend randomly checking your cellphone screen or tablet for new e-mail or texts, add that to all the boring TV shows you watch in the evening, and all the inefficiencies that slide into our days and you'll likely find you do have the time to get everything you need done. You just need to add the intention and the energy. And a goal.

More challenging portraits in 2016. Your goals may be different. 


Merry Christmas to all my Christian readers, Happy Holidays to my Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and Jewish readers, and "Have a nice day without desire" to my Zen Buddhist readers. I hope it's a great day for everyone, whatever your faith or philosophy.

 I got everything I wanted. The bills are paid. The dog got a bath and Ben came home for the winter break. He smiles just like his dad. 

Best wishes to everyone, especially the people who disagree with me. Without them this blog would be damn boring. A bunch of people all standing around shaking their heads "yes" in unison. 

I can't blog any more today. I have to play with all my cool presents. And hang out with the kid.

Happy Holidays! And beyond!!!


Thinking long and hard about the relevance of "old school" print versus a new paradigm of photographic presentation.

Just a few thoughts about the direction of the fine art aspect of photography. The litmus test has always been "the print." A physical, paper print with all kinds of parameters involved; from archival keeping quality to issues having to do with the surface of the paper. Since the days of Ansel Adams the holy priesthood of photography has made the print the test of a photographer's ultimate relevance within our own culture of photographers.

In the days of CRT screens and the days of 13 inch monitors this made a lot of sense. But try this little experiment: Find yourself a friend or colleague who has made the plunge into working on a 5K monitor. A big one. Something like 27 or 30 inches. One that's perfectly calibrated. Find your absolute favorite photographic image. Make the file large and meaty. Make the best print you can. Then put the image up on the 5K monitor.

I can't vouch for your response, reaction or point of view but..... I will say this: If I were to have a show of my work next month and budget was no object I would not spend the time or money getting each of my precious images printed out on paper. I would buy or rent twelve or fifteen 5K systems and put a rotating selection of high res images on each one. I'd put them up on the walls in a gallery, just as we did for hundreds of years with prints, and I would watch a fascinated audience stand in front of them.

If the audience liked the images on the screens I would arrange to make a duplicate file of their favorites and put it onto a memory device and charge them exactly what I would charge them for a print. They would get a license to show the work on their own 5K system for the rest of their lives.

Yes, in some respects the print is a wonderful thing. A beautiful artifact. A collectable souvenir of a vision shared. But the last ten years of artists working on screens has mutated our understanding of what it is to make art and what it is to make....a print. And those two things have been revealed to be separate processes with separate methods and separate aesthetics and rules. Optimize for one or the other in your mind but you can't really do both.

Just a few thoughts upon seeing some of my recent work displayed in the new manner. YMMV depending on how emotionally dependent you may be on the nostalgia for the existing/older process. We are now evolving into two segments of artists; the traditional printmakers and the media agnostic photographers who have grown up wedded to the screen.  It changes everything.

Where was your subconscious aiming?

Some predictions for 2016. Some might happen. Most won't be exactly what I predicted. It's harder to predict the future than the past. Warning. Lots of words.

Kind of a tradition here to make a few predictions about the upcoming year. I'm not skewing into politics or global economic issues so I'm pretty much going to stick with photography. Nothing I write here is informed by any sort of insider information so if you are looking for verified rumors you've come to the wrong place.

1. 2016 is the year Sony throws its weight around and makes life even more miserable for Canon and Nikon at the higher end of the product mix. Everywhere I look people are just coming unglued about the A7R2. (By "people" I mean working photographers and working videographers who cross over the borders into still imaging too...). The nature of the warfare is sneaky and simple on the part of Sony. Build a really, really good camera that outperforms its competitors when it comes to image quality. Get some of the marketing magic that comes with the buzzy-ness of being "mirrorless." Show people how easy it is to use manual focus, and other people's branded AF lenses, on this kind of body. Show the pros what they've been missing by not having focus peaking and instant magnification for manual focusing. Help people discover how much better and faster work can be with an EVF.

Here's how the creeping contagion will inevitably work:  A guy who is a dedicated Nikon shooter will get a couple of older, Nikon manual focus lenses on a whim. Perhaps a 50mm f1.2 and a 135mm f2.0, because, you know, he's a portrait shooter. He'll try to focus the lenses on his Nikon D810 and Nikon D750 and find that you either have to go to live view, or make significant sacrifices to the manual focus gods, to even have a chance of accurately focusing them. Then the photographer starts reading about that 42 megapixel sensor in the A7R2 and the ease of working with live focus peaking in the big, bright EVF and he will think, "Oh, I'll just buy that one Sony body and a lens adapter and just use it when I need to focus with the manual lenses." But that process will be more fun than he ever imagined. He'll start using the camera more often. Over time the Nikon bodies will be relegated to just shooting fast breaking action out on sports fields, etc. The one place where the autofocus difference makes a difference.

Then he'll decide to get a back up body, you know, just in case. After that he'll start reading the DXO info for the Zeiss lenses that autofocus on the E cameras and he'll compare them to the Canon or Nikon lenses he's been using. He might see some real differences. And after a while he'll start to buy lenses in the Sony system as his first priority. Eventually he'll tire of owning two systems and he'll make their choice. That's when he'll start bitching about battery life.... But there are workarounds for everything.

By the end of the year  (2016) the swell of pros, and advanced amateurs, making the switch from their traditional DSLRs to the newer Sony cameras, will hit critical mass. The sale of Sony bodies, and third party lens adapters for Canon and Nikon, will be one bright spot in the cratering camera market.

The professionals left out of the above scenario (by their own choice) will continue to buy what they were always going to buy until the whole cohort ages out of the picture entirely. Once Sony matches AF performance with the two leaders for fast action the days of the DSLR will effectively be over. By that point I'd be incredulous if Nikon and Canon didn't have competitive products that provide the same stuff: A great EVF coupled with focus peaking and great dynamic range.

2. Can the medium format field narrow down any more? I had an interesting e-mail recently from a photo department head at a huge and very prestigious museum. They were a power user of MF cameras for documenting art. They are buying up D810s as fast as they can. That's the hot camera that was in the pipeline when they did the comparison between the Nikon product and what they were currently using (MF). He stated that the D810 (and now, by extension, the Sony A7R2) matched what they had been getting from their current MF systems. Once the power users go the rest of the market will follow. And coincidentally, the power users have always constituted the safety net for medium format camera makers; the segment that actually needed their products...

Phase One may or may not be the last one standing. It'll be a toss up between Phase One and Pentax. Doesn't really matter much since they both end up using the same sensors. At least in the camera models that are actually selling to paying customers.... All in all it will mean fewer choices for photographers at the high end.

What about Leica's MF? They'll end up using the 42 megapixel Sony chip in an SL variant and announce the demise of the MF versions because the SL, 35mm variant will have "achieved technical parity." The choice will end up being Sony, Phase One, Nikon or Leica. Sony and Leica have a better shot at filling the market because the shorter film to lens flange distance means more different lenses fit and work, across more lens brands. Canon will rejoin the competition as soon as their sensors achieve overall parity with the rest of the market as far as read noise and dynamic range go.

Only about 1200 hundred people worldwide will even notice that more MF makers have left the party.

3. Lighting manufacturers will start dropping like flies. Big flashes and big anything for big flashes will go away except for the highest end companies who will continue to supply big, power users. So, Broncolor and Profoto stay but Photogenic, Norman, Genesis, Photek, Speedotron,  Comet, Bowens and all the rest exit the big flash market and the ones who survive spend their time and capital going after the portable, battery powered location markets. The bulk of working photographers have moved out of studios and into the real world. With hammered budgets there is no longer the stomach or the cash to hire the ancillary people to haul and set up the big lights. And as sensors and lenses get better and better the bigger units become much less desirable.

Don't get me wrong, people still need to design lighting and bring good lighting to most commercial jobs but they just don't need the sheer quantity of photons they used to in the days of slow film and large cameras.

When we sold off our 2,000 watt Profoto electronic flash units I thought there would be times we'd miss them. Those times have yet to materialize and it's been six or seven years since they left. By the same token, I have several complete sets of lower powered mono-lights sitting around the studio but those are generally only fired up for group portraits or to keep the capacitors formed. Location work is left to smaller, battery powered flashes which are much less expensive but mostly equally capable.

The one exception continues to be our powerful 1100 watt Elinchrom power pack and two heads. The unit runs on (heavy) batteries but is a job life saver when shooting in the sun with big modifiers like soft boxes. We run the D810 at ISO 64 in order to shoot at lower apertures and keep within the 1/250th of a second flash sync; sometimes I'll even add a neutral density filter, but it takes a lot of lumens to match sunlight. And to do it 200 or 300 times in a row. We'll keep that one around but with the better and better color balance, along with falling prices, of the new SMD LED lights I'm starting to think we can do just fine without any of the mono lights. The world of imaging has changed. Bigger isn't really better for most stuff.

4. Photographers by and large will start redefining what they need in a camera by assessing how and what they shoot instead of emulating the styles that continued on from the last century, like shallow depth of field and super high resolution. It may actually be apparent to a lot of hobbyist moving from iPhones to a real, stand alone camera that the depth of field on an m4:3 camera is much shallower to the same angle of view than what they've grown up with on their phones and that it's a sweet spot for them.

5. Canon will come roaring back in the second half of the year. Why? Because they finally got their new sensor fab online and they'll start pumping out a brand new generation of sensors that have both PD AF on the chip as well as the dynamic range their current sensors lack. A killer sensor in the 50mp range, with class leading DR would bounce the ball back into their court. I also think they will learn their lessons from the current mirrorless EOS cameras and their miserable still/video hybrid, the  XC-10 and they'll start buying great screens to use in "must have" EVF configurations. It's only a matter of time before they get it right and launch a full frame, EVF endowed, mirrorless camera with a great sensor and a dedicated M to EOS adapter that brings with it all the good focusing and exposure camera integration needed. Overall, Canon will still be part of a declining market but they'll effectively grab more market share from everyone else. Nikon better get moving.

6. Speaking of Nikon...  I like the stuff they are making right now. Specifically, the D810, the D750 and the D7200 but a little part of me (celebrating a good year in the business of actually taking photographs; as opposed to selling gear..) would love to see Nikon come out really strong with a 4K enabled D5 camera that is elegantly designed as one of the optimum "crossover" cameras. It would have a full sized HDMI connector along with the usual microphone and headphone jacks. It would provide a useful codec for both the 4K and 1080p files. It would have really killer focus peaking. It would have zebras and out-of-gamut warnings. And the finder would have lines that appear describing the 16:9 crop in the regular finder as well as on the back screen. There would also be an output on the camera that connects to a Nikon EVF finder that could sit in the hot shoe of the camera. If you'd rather have a flat screen, the adapter would work with that as well. But the EVF would be portable and run off power from the camera. I'd be looking for a 20 megapixel sensor and, best case scenario, the sensor would come with some of those darling PD AF elements to enhance live view focusing.

7. Along with the new D5 it would be really cool if they could introduce one video lens; something like a 28-120 f2.8 that had a servo focus control on it. That, and a manual f-stop ring. Just for the hell of it.

8. Olympus will upgrade to the 20 megapixel sensor the Panasonic is using in the GX8 but the real news will be a rash of new, faster primes. I expect to see a 60mm f1.4, a 28mm f1.2 and a 14mm f1.2. All sharp wide open. I would also love to see (and hope to see) at fast (f2.0) zoom that goes from 14-60mm. I don't care if it weighs a ton as long as it's state-of-the-art. I would also like to see a new battery grip that, instead of using one additional, regular BLS battery, uses a big ass battery that takes up the whole of the grip. Something with enough oomph! to power three or four thousand actuations. They had one for the E-1 Four Thirds camera and I thought it was a great addition. Some people need pixie cameras and they can use the EM-5.2 naked. Some people would rather have the power to shoot all week. Let's give them the option.

9. Video. Folks, this is not going to go away. You can insist that you'll never shoot a second of video but the numbers on Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo and most other sites show that video sharing is growing at a very rapid pace. A quick survey of working photographers would also show you that many are providing (at their clients requests) some sort of video content currently and fully intend to increase their video offerings to their clients. I feel kind of silly buying a camera these days that doesn't support at least good video and hopefully, really good 4K video. This is one of the main reasons I keep skirting the Fuji APS-C cameras, the video is just not there. It's also the reason it kills me to buy cameras without headphone jacks ---- Panasonic! Hello, first no headphone jack on the 4K capable fz 1000 and now no headphone jack on the GX-8??? Are you guys serious?

10. The commercial market for photographic and video services. Now that most of the workforce is headed back to work at full time jobs the market for photographic services seems to have stabilized and is, in fact, recovering nicely. I expect that more and more clients will want to take advantage of their websites by rotating topical and contemporary video and images through on a regular basis and will need a constant supply of fresh work. Gone are the days of the static website that contained mostly the same content, month after month, year after year. People go to lots of websites for entertainment now and expect to see new work, new information and newer styles on every visit. This should keep a new generation of photographers quite busy. And if the new photographers have any sense at all we should see rising prices. The market for their work is strengthening. The number of people actively pursuing a full time living in the field is dropping and that should mean that it's our turn to take advantage of the supply and demand curve.

11.  The future of photography blogs. Readership of my blog continues to rise and fall depending on how many equipment reviews I write versus how much I write about the process or the art or business of photography. If my income depended on this blog I would need to write two or three blog entries a day and focus just on the most popular cameras and lenses to have even a fighting chance of making money here. Since that's not (thank God) my motivation for writing this I give myself a pass and will continue to write whatever I feel like. But.... I think the days of plentiful, and frequently refreshed, blogging are coming to an end. All bloggers are linked to affiliate sites like Amazon and B&H. We are mostly showcasing the same new equipment and the affiliate fees are spread out over more and more channels. The smarter bloggers like Thom Hogan and Michael Johnston are diversified. I would bet that Thom derives most of the benefit from his highly focused blogs as an advertising vehicle for his ever deepening collection of e-books that tell photographers how to squeeze the very best value and performance out of their gear. I'm impressed that Michael Johnston has helped people put their money where their reading glasses are by focusing on things like collaborative print sales with Peter Turnley and others as well as launching a portfolio review service.

But for every blogger like Michael (whose content is generally superb and aimed at a literate and engaged audience) and Thom (whose technical expertise and writing skills are obviously great) there are tens of thousands of equipment review sites who mostly just parrot each other and all do a funky crowdsourcing mash up of camera talk. Most of these sites depend on volume of camera and lens sales that have been cut in half (literally) over the past two years. DPReview will emerge as the leader and, as such will get the lion's share of the click throughs and affiliate cash. More so as the audiences for the written and video reviews continues to shrink. The rest will have to go and re-invent themselves as something else, or.....actually learn how to take decent photographs and try to make a living actually doing what they've tried to write about.

But all this is just by way of saying that Photography is no longer a self standing and hugely relevant undertaking for as many people as it was. The cultural sea currents are shifting away from the enthusiasm and devotion to the art that found us almost deifying anyone with a bit more knowledge that we ourselves possessed. David Hobby is no longer a buzz name in the field. Chase Jarvis is no longer sitting on top of the pedestal of industry workers, and Trey Ratliff's work has been absorbed, diluted and degraded by a Borg collective that is losing its interest in the whole ball of wax anyway.

In 2016 we'll see a greater division than ever before. Millions will make descriptive narratives of their daily lives while a much smaller percent will continue to true and find true meaning in their work as exemplified by the workers and the work of a previous century. Photography has become ultimately ubiquitous. There is still a market for great content. And good content. But our industry is becoming more and more like every other industry. The people inside will know the names of the people who are sought after by real, industry clients but they will be largely unknown to everyone outside the industry. Just as you know your own medical doctor's name none of the doctors you might know are really well know by rank and file people, living life in the center of the Bell Curve. They are  working in a field and their relevance is totally dependent on the value they add to individual people's lives. People working in the photo industry will matter to the people who create ads and websites but will have no real relevance to the hobbyist who pursues his hobby.

2016 is the year when most workshops aimed at entertaining hobbyists and wannabe's dries up. There will still be great workshops left but they will be aimed at serious workers and they will teach more serious stuff. The truth is that most of what is taught in workshops right now could be learned better, quicker and more objectively by bundling together a series of worthwhile web sources. In many ways it would alleviate the misplaced reliance on one person's style and methodology.

Final prediction from me for 2016: Photography will keep on being amazingly fun and satisfying long after the bulk of casual hobbyists, attracted by the fizzy exuberance of rapidly evolving photo technology, move on to the next thing. Looks like the next big trend will be video gaming, as a sport and profession. I can hardly wait to see the workshops.

Disagree with something I wrote here? Try sharing your point of view in the comments.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. The New Year will be full of surprises. I hope most of them will be happy. 


Photographer as visual anthropologist (not apologist) and visual story conduit.

I think I knew this all along but it was veiled by technical considerations in the early days. What I know is that my compulsion to shoot out in the streets is driven by some sort of desire to leave my cozy construction of relative affluence, and my wasp-y world views, and to go out and see other people's visual story; as related by their presentation in the public, on the streets, and share what I've seen with an audience that I think is largely similar to me. 

For the most part we (dedicated photographers that I know) live safe and cosseted lives. We grow up and go to college. We get, or invent comfortable jobs or careers that keep us at least resolutely middle class (economically), and because we work all the time, insulated by the corporate safety walls that are created to keep interference and interruption of the workflows to a minimum, we presume that most people are like us. 

We presume that they are looking for the two car, nice house, cool vacation, kids in private college, retirement savings safely in the bank, low crime neighborhood with good schools, lots of groceries, private health club existence that we take for granted. That they read the same stuff we do in the Sunday New York Times. Watch the same shows on PBS. Vote the way we do. Etc. 

And most of the people we know work all the time so they aren't out on the street in the middle of the day, or the middle of the night. Slowly and eventually we retire to the comfort and security of the big screen TV and the endless cable content, provided in the comfort of our well appointed living rooms. 

But there's a heck of a lot going on outside, all the time. And it's profoundly different than our own experiences. The thing that made documentary photography and cultural reportage so interesting; compelling, in the 1950's and the 1960's is that it showed average people what life looked like for people who were less comfortable, who were in war zones, who lived as starving artists. People who were less or more than average. And it showed the privileges of the fabulous rich. Now the rich are on television shows while the most vulnerable members of most cultures are on the nightly news. But there's still a giant swatch of demographics that we only see when we go outside. When we walk along a downtown street. When we go on vacation and get lost in the "wrong" part of someone else's town. 

Photographers rarely look to their own cultural or social peers as subject matter and inspiration because familiarity makes most subjects boring to us. But when we get immersed in something new and different our conscious minds filter out most of the commonalities of the intersection and concentrate on the aspects that are different. Our brains help us distill down new scenes into visual snapshot components that emphasize the differential, the deviation from our mean. 

I think these are the things (the differences) that most of us want to shoot when we walk down the street with our cameras. 

Every time I go out for walks down streets and have the bad fortune to be in the company of other photographers I am reminded that, since we live in comfortable social cocoons for most of our lives, there is a time period of discomfort that comes with trying to blend in and get into the mindset that allows us to work fluidly in the streets with our cameras. Even more time and experience needs to go by for us to work comfortably. People who can plunge right in without having to adjust may be psychologically different than the rest of us. Further along the curve toward sociopathy and away from the position on the curve that describes normal, empathetic reaction. 

On the other hand perhaps the reticence to dive right into photographing comes from a fear for our person security or, that we feel that we might be confronted for our actions, which causes us distress and anxiety for whatever rebukes and resistance strangers provide back at us as a result of their own emotional distress. 

But if we are able to change the dialog in our own heads and come to understand our desire to document our world, and the swirl of cultures that comprise our social mix, then we can rationalize our actions in a better way. One that is less about selfishly capturing charactures of social difference, replaced by a desire to document, and perhaps better understand the metamorphosis of cultures. 

I've walked through a lot of streets over the years and there is always something confusing, different or alien to me that I am curious about and want to capture. In the best of all worlds there would be ample time (and social opportunity) to walk up to people who look, dress and act differently than the people I am usually surrounded by and engage them. Talk to them about their lives, the substance of their beliefs, their experiences that are different from my mainstream. We would get to know people on a deeper level. Sadly, there are so many reasons why this doesn't happen. 

And yet, for me, the dissatisfaction of not taking a deeper dive and gaining a greater understanding is made more acute by the media training of my youth. I grew up on the photography of magazines like Life Magazine, Look Magazine, Geo, National Geographic and others. In the heady days of the 1960's and 1970's it was not rare for photographers to spend days or even weeks on assignment, getting to know and work with their subjects. 

I am reminded of a story that's been included in the general lore about magazine journalism over the years. It is Career Girl  in a 1948 edition of Life Magazine. The photographer was Leonard McComb, and he shadowed a 23 year old woman named, Gwenyth Filling, from sun up to sun down over the course of several days. Maybe a week. The story was about Fillings attempt to launch a career in NYC.  Here's a link to an overview of the story and a gallery of the images: http://time.com/3456235/career-girl-portrait-of-a-young-womans-life-in-1948-new-york/

This Life Magazine story from 70 years ago set my brain to think of this kind of immersive photo-journalism as the gold standard of pictorial story telling, and it gnaws at my artist's inclinations every time I go out with a camera and make mostly random images of life. The deeper connection provided by more time and more experiences with a subject is so critical to the ability to get anything that approaches "real" in our work. Perhaps that's why, over time, the photos we make of our own friends and families is sometimes our strongest work. We so rarely are rewarded with long stretches of time with other interesting people, stretches of time that would allow us to understand the characteristic gestures and expressions that make the person so real to the people who know them best.

I've written many times that the first hour of a portrait session is wasted for photographs but invaluable for getting to know the person you'll be photographing and vital in establishing the kind of bond that leads to a real collaboration.

I am also drawn to early images by Annie Leibovitz. I'm writing here about the work she did early in her career for Rolling Stone Magazine before being smothered and ultimately encumbered by her entourage and the enormous budgets of her later productions; the very financial nature of which ultimately limits her engagement with the later subjects.

No, earlier in her career she worked alone. No assistants and no entourage but the slight difference in technical production quality was a wonderful trade off which delivered intimacy and access. She often spent full days and even multiple days with photographic subjects before bending them into collaborations that produced amazingly connected work. Once the crew came along for the ride all the intimacy and real connection with the people on the other side of the camera more or less went right out the window.

She still does amazing work but it's different. It consists of constructs and acting rather than reportage and honest exploration.

And that, all of the above, is what I tend to think about, in between taking shots, as I walk down a street in Berlin or Austin or Denver or Mexico City with a camera in my hand, and the intention of taking photographs of people I encounter.

I have some basic rules that I enforce upon myself when I go out and walk the streets in my role as a visual anthropologist. I am fairly religious about taking one camera and one lens only. I want to understand how the singular camera package will frame and capture the scene on the street. If I were fanatical (in a good way) I would take the same camera and the same lens each time. But I am more of a "reform" visual anthropologist so my leisurely and lax hermeneutics allows me a wider interpretation which includes the ability to randomly substitute different cameras and lenses (but only one at a time) into my working construct.  If I were zealously formalistic I would inevitably choose the 50mm focal length on a a full frame body. Thank goodness my solipsistic view of existence allows me to make random determinations instead.

I am never confrontational. No means no. I can't go all Bruce Gilden on people and not feel as though I haven't in some way damaged their contemporary peace of mind while muddying the waters for all future visual anthropologists. Probably a prejudice hung around my neck by dint of my protected and insulated upbringing. If someone is uncomfortable being photographed and there's no overwhelming value of the photograph to mankind, I apologize for intruding and walk away. No arguments, no rationalizations.

One of the basic rules that I shoot by is that while photographs of the backs of people might be inevitable (especially when first getting acclimated to the street or public environment) they shouldn't be shown, or regarded as real work. I know of one photographer who is brave enough to get everything technically perfect but a bit too delicate to approach human subjects head on. His subjects are nearly always silhouetted or shot from behind, or with long lenses. He's got a rationalization for that but it doesn't wash in my version of visual anthropology.

Another rule (and one which I break from time to time to my own embarrassment) is to shoot with nothing longer than 100mm. Anyone can stand on a street corner with a tripod mounted 400mm lens and pick interesting faces out of a crowd, but........ Conversely, I hate shooting with anything shorter than a 35mm lens because then I am just depending on a scattered composition to cover a nest of visual sins. The greatest of which is a nonchalance about rigorous composition. I guess you can crop but it seems more diligent to get it all together at the time of capture. After-the-capture work always reminds me of someone endlessly reworking a piece of art not because it's necessary but because ultimately, they lack a point of view. When you take up a camera you should be able to commit to your visual gestalt.

My final rule, and it's one I become more adamant about with every passing day, is that this street photograph experience should be a solitary undertaking akin to a solo, walking meditation. Once you bring along a spouse, a friend, a fellow shutterbug you've moved from an intention to capture your singular vision to an intention to have a social outing. Most people bring along a second person to bolster their courage in shooting strangers and the unknown, but all they generally succeed at doing is to create another unnecessary layer between themselves and their ultimate intention --- getting an honest image that describes the scene that tweaks your curiosity.

I spend most of my time in the studio. I can control the lighting. I can spend more time with my subject. I can try to build emotional bridges, anchored by finding our common touchpoint of experience and humanity. But I love the process of walking through the streets and documenting the people that catch my eye. They do so because, inevitably, they are different enough from me to spark my curiosity.

The images here are taken in a number of different cities and with cameras ranging from big Nikons to a Panasonic G5 and even the late, unlamented,  Samsung Galaxy NX (which made surprisingly good images --- once it woke up and loaded its Android operating system....). I like to think that my style of shooting is more or less consistent. I wish I had more time to explore life with everyone I've photographed. At least enough time to understand how they fit into the big jigsaw puzzle.

Something to ponder in my free time.

Use the force? Oh yes.