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More spontaneous portrait photography

A friend of my daughter sent me an email with a few observations and a question, which in turn, set of a much longer train of thought about portrait photography, and making it more spontaneous. My portrait photography tends to be controlled on some levels. I don’t strictly pose, but I do control the pose and the lighting and composition – while still trying to retain some spontaneous reaction from my subject.

Here’s Terry’s email (which was titled: Intrinsic Splendor)

I was thumbing through one of your books to brush up on something and something struck me. Do you feel that there is an intrinsic splendor to the human experience? I very much get the impression that you either think everyone is in some way a beautiful person who deserves to look good … or you at least fake it well.

Some photographers take pictures of people where others take pictures of someone’s skin, their environment, and what they’re wearing and you seem to be one o the former.


My reply, as often happens, ended as tangential up-in-the-air thoughts, still shaping even now, months later.

I’ve never consciously analyzed it on those terms … but yes, people fascinate me.

But on one level, there is a superficiality perhaps in the photography I do for myself – I prefer pretty people. The aesthetics of physical beauty.

Then again, it would be weird not to be drawn to that – beauty in all forms. Animals, nature, architecture, technology. Anything really. It would be strange not to admire the sleek design of an Apple product, or a high-end motor car, etc. This is why the Fuji X100 was such a landmark little camera with its retro design – it is just so pretty to look at.

Back to people – they do fascinate me. It is part of why HONY is a site to check out every day. The unexpected stories. But I’ll have to give this some more thought.


This set off a train of thought that camera up again during a long car journey with my friend Annie Sullivan. The conversation meandered around spontaneity in portrait photography – something I want to move more towards, allowing myself a style that is freer when I shoot portraits on location.

I recorded the conversation, and thought it might make an interesting conversation starter here on Tangents.

By the way, Annie took the photo that appeared as my author’s photo in the updated edition of my book, On-Camera Flash Photography. The photo also made its appearance in this article: Inspiration, and overcoming fears as a photographer. It seems like we are wont to long, meandering conversations.

But before we get to that – I would like this to be a conversation that involves everyone. I’d like to hear your story – what is it that you want to change up in your own photography? What are you working towards as a photographer? How do you want to improve? Post your reply as a comment here to come into consideration for an awesome book prize! (Entries close on Thu, Dec 03.)



The Creative Fight, by Chris Orwig

The Creative Fight is an inspiring work-book on how to grow as a photographer.

Through 40 chapters, each ending in a set of exercises, Chris Orwig steps you through an ongoing process of growth and self-realization. He sets forth with the idea that creativity isn’t just a gift for a select few, but this is available to anyone who puts in the effort to pursue the spark.

Through this book, he show you how to find meaning in your work, be inspired, and discover the life the life you imagine.

If you are curious about the premise of this book, you can order it through Amazon USA or Amazon UK.

The entries for the book prize will close on Thursday, Dec 03, and as usual, I will pull the name of the winner via a random number generator. The only rule – inspire us too!


  • camera settings: 1/250  @ f/11  @ 100 ISO … off-camera flash


a conversation about becoming a more spontaneous photographer

I read the emails to Annie, and she replied …

Annie:  I think it is more of a technical side than it is a passion. (laughing) I think “pretty” just happens. You have a chemistry with the models you photograph – I think when you take pictures, there’s not a lack of emotion, but I think it is more of a technical side than a passionate side.

Neil:  I don’t like to think of it as being overly technical, but it is controlled. With the posing – even when I work with models like Anelisa and Adrienne – they know how to pose, and they are super-easy to work with – but I still adjust their pose a little bit.

Annie:  You’d rather work with someone who has that knowledge – that base.

Neil:  Yes, because it makes them more accessible, because I can improvise on what they do. In a way it is like music – the interplay between two people is like improvisation, and this becomes easier than if one person is stodgy or immobile.

Annie: But what Terry is asking is more – you’re talking about “studio recording”, while he is talking about “acoustic coffee-house stuff”. More off-the-cuff.

Neil:  That portrait I took of Petra was unusual for me, in that it was more emotionally revealing. There’s a story there, where most of the portraits I take are about the “pretty”.

Annie:  … for you! This is where I think you wouldn’t enjoy shooting kids or things where you can’t just say “stay here, turn this way, chin up, lean forward” … because kids are running and moving around. You now have to capture something within that spontaneity.

Neil:  I could do that. I really enjoy kids, and it would be fun photographing them in a free-flow way, running around on the beach and such … but I feel intense pressure shooting for a client. They are expecting a certain baseline, and I am now concentrating hard on achieving that baseline as a minimum. To be solid, and then improvise from there. This now becomes an overriding concern for me, because I have to make sure this works. For example, I can’t be on a beach for an hour, trying to photograph this magical moment of a kid running around with a balloon, with seagulls all around … and only get a frame or two.

Annie:  How do you get that then without it being false or contrived?

Neil: I would love that free-flowing energetic moment that just happens … even if it is initially set up. But you can’t get to that spontaneous moment if it is so over-controlled. This isn’t inherently me, being overly controlled, but it is the pressure I feel from having to deliver for a client. I can’t just relax during a shoot for a client, and pick out a handful of shots. But perhaps I am not giving clients enough credit that they will understand the creative process.

Annie:  Right! Because you like to control the process. You have an expectation of a certain outcome.

Neil:  Yes, I feel like I need to control the process – the photo shoot – because it is for a client. I can’t just go, “eh, it didn’t work this time.”

Annie:  Welcome to the photography world! This is what I have to deal with when photographing children. And it isn’t really winging it, because you do know what you’re doing. But when you’re dealing with an uncontrolled situation, there is a lot of room for error, and yes, there is that pressure to deliver something in a constantly changing environment.

When you’re photographing a child that isn’t going to sit still for more than a few seconds, you have to rely on catching those moments in-between. And those moment in-between give are the emotionally connected moments you have. And I think that this is different than the chemistry you have with your subject. You have chemistry with the models you work with, and how you bounce ideas back and forth. That rhythm.

Neil:  With a model though, there is no pressure. I’m shooting for myself, or for my blog, or for portfolio. So the model will go along with the ideas. And if nothing happens during the shoot where I get great images or something inspired, that’s okay. But with a client, there is the difficulty of reading their expectations at times. They might have Pinterest-y ideas. You now have to figure out what they actually want. Perhaps I should trust my own process and shoot in a more free-flowing way …

Annie:  We’ve talked about Street Photography before. Would you ever do that?

Neil:  If I won the lottery, and had the luxury of only shooting for myself, I would have minimalist gear, and do street photography as a lifestyle, for fun.

Annie:  Like Vivian Maier? I look at her work – she has a connection with every single person, whether they know it or not. It isn’t chemistry. There’s an emotional connection to the people in her images when you view her photos.

Neil:  She taps into something else where she recognizes within the frame, the individual elements that make up the composition, but at the same time the people are balanced within the frame. Not just in terms of the compositional balance, but also their expressions, and who they are.

And the beauty of her work is that she didn’t just get lucky a few times, but she nailed it every time. Obviously she shot a lot, but she had a real talent. It was important too that she has this perseverance to go out and constantly shoot, and build up this massive body of work.

Annie:  She did this for no reason other than shooting for herself. Not because she was getting paid.

I think perhaps things sometimes get over-thought. I over-think. You over-think.

Neil: The ideal that I want, is some freewheeling creative spur-of-the-moment style, tapping into some cosmic energy type of thing that just channels through me … but I currently I am so far away from that. My work isn’t mechanical, but it is controlled.

Annie:  It’s definitely controlled.

Neil:  I tend to strip away everything to the simplest elements. I simplify the background by throwing it out of focus. Simple composition. If I look at my personal photography I did over the years, my style has gradually become even more simplified.

Annie:  Do you like photographing people?

Neil.  Obviously.

Annie:  In a controlled environment.

Neil:  Not necessarily … but that’s how it turns out to be when I shoot for clients, because that’s what I feel I need to do. It becomes, not quite a straight-jacket, but a recipe. I have to feel what the clients want, but I have to try and read what they want, and then deliver even better than they want.

Then, in terms of the technique, there are some thought-processes that allow me not to think about the technical side of it, but just ride on top of that, so that I can better improvise while shooting.

Annie:  Don’t you think there is an emotional level that is missing because you don’t have to think about the process? Because now it is second nature?

Neil:  I don’t think so … I don’t panic now, because I don’t have to think about apertures and dials. My test shot at this point nails it. I can now connect with my subject

Annie:  Okay, I think when you ask people what they want to know about photography – people want to see how you get to the final point where things fall into place and you capture a magical moment. People would like to see how you got that. You may lose the point of how you got there, because perhaps it just happens for you at this stage.

At times, do you see something and then go back and recreate it?

Neil:  Yes, and no. For example, if I shoot in the same area with engagement sessions, I know what works. I always have this idea in mind with engagement sessions that I want to give me couple 10-12 different setups. It’s a minimum target I set for myself. I don’t just want to aimlessly wander around. Instead, I count off how many successful sequences I’ve shot … and then as I count down to the baseline I set for myself, I start to relax. I have the minimum, so now we can play around and try goofy stuff and try different compositions.

So even though I shoot in the same locations, I aim to get other images as well. I don’t want a photo session to be cookie-cutter. The photos that I shoot initially, where I know they will work – that builds up the couple’s confidence in themselves, and they get used to being photographed. Then I aim for more. Something different. I need to show variety on my website and blog.

Annie:  How many times do you repeat the same thing during a session? For example, with a couple, they exchange a quick kiss – do you ask them to kiss for a second time? You go oh, that was so cute, let’s do it again.

Neil:  It is often better the second time, because you can now expand the expression and the gesture.

Annie:  But isn’t there now the possibility that your subjects would now be over-thinking it?

Neil:  It could be. But I do think people tend to move their bodies and hands in more a conservative way if they know they are being photographed. Tiny gestures, and small movements. So I ask them to expand their movements – big gestures. Big movements. It might feel ridiculous to them, but it photographs better.

So there is that flip-side where working the second time around with an idea, works better than the original hesitant movement.

Or were you talking about the more spontaneous moment that now becomes contrived?

Annie:  Yes, it just seems that you would now lose that initial spontaneity. You won’t have that same moment back.

Neil:  But if you think of a photo session with a couple – it is set up, and can’t ever be entirely spontaneous and candid. The photographer, the observer, affects their behavior. So then the photographer has to nudge things forward, and keep things rolling, coming up with ideas. So there is that interaction already.

I think for a portrait to be truly spontaneous, you’d have to be observing from a distance. Then it becomes something else.

Annie:  Vivian Maier was right up there though, shooting close-up, getting in their space, and still remained candid.

Neil:  You can’t do that with an engagement session couple – try and surprise them 50 or 60 times, as they remain unaware of you. Obviously this consideration – truly candid vs controlled – depends on the field of photography you’re in.

Annie:  Kids are always spontaneous though. I have a formula in my mind when photographing families: little kids, little kids together, parents with the kids … and then the whole family. There’s definitely a pattern or routine that I work to. But it’s still different every time, no matter how I try and keep it within my control. There are so many different elements that are constantly changing.

For example, when I photograph a family in a park, I can’t be carrying around lights with me everywhere. The kids are running around, and the light varies between sunlight and overcast. Control over the shoot is now out of your hands, other than changing your camera settings, your fingers flying on the dials. You have to give up that control. But I don’t know that you’d like that.

Neil:  Well, I like the idea and that is where I want to move towards – more spontaneity.

Annie:  When I started doing this as a business, my friend Amanda said to me, “you have a connection with people that some photographers often lack.” So there will always be something that your clients will connect to. They might like my personality, and that helps with the connection. They are drawn to the pictures because it is their family, but they might be drawn even more if they have a connection with the person who took the photos.

So I think certain photographers lack that skill, and it shows in their art. The things that they are really good at, are not people … and their photos of people have a forced feeling. Yours don’t have a forced feeling – yours have a controlled feeling, which is different. People like you, and people respond to you.

Neil:  This also comes back to the work we show on our websites – we need to show work on our websites. We should always work with the idea that we need to show clients the type of work we want to shoot in the future. So with my wedding blog, the first three images at the top are usually romantic portraits. I always enjoy that part of the wedding – perhaps because I have control. But I also feel that that’s where the photographer can show their specific style better, since the rest of the day is presented to you.

What would your suggestion be? Advice to move towards more spontaneous portrait photography?

Annie:  I think you just need to shoot people for fun. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’d make more money doing it. But have some sessions that are not sooooo … maybe just leave your lights at home.

Neil:  There is a friend who is a performer, who I wanted to photograph this year as a longer-term project. An ongoing portrait series – a continual day-in-the-life portrait series of her, without the costumes and masks.

Annie:  Unscripted?

Neil:  Unscripted! I need to shoot unscripted.

Annie:  You do!

Neil: Because with a photo session with a couple, there is a script in a way, isn’t it? Even if it is staying with ideas that I know will work.

Annie:  But you go into it, knowing what works for *you*.

Neil:  Back to that portrait of Petra – was that unscripted, yet controlled? We moved the chair closer to the light, and we angled the chair, and I used a specific lens – the 85mm.

Annie:  But I wouldn’t say that was unscripted. Unscripted is a much more natural way of shooting.

Neil:  That’s actually very much my style then, isn’t it? Controlled.

Annie:  Yeah, very much. It works. The proof is there in your photos. But it’s not always as spontaneous as it could be.

Neil:  I need to shoot a lot more spontaneously.

[ We then discussed me photographing her kids at some point in the future. ]

Annie:  Just don’t have them jump, then “get back up again, shift a little this way, and jump again.” I think you’ll surprise yourself by letting them jump, or run or do what comes naturally to them … and allowing it to happen.

My favorite is to surprise my clients when their child is seemingly naughty for 45 minutes, yet I can show them 40 pictures of their kid smiling and looking adorable. They love the pictures and spend a million on the photographs. (We hope!)

Neil: What should my aim be? My trajectory for this?

Annie:  Lose the control, and “unscript” yourself. There’s a time for the script, and there’s a formula that works for you that let’s you go into auto-pilot. But setting this aside, and shooting more spontaneously, will infuse the rest of your photography and help shift everything to the better ideal.



In the end, the conversation had no definitive start or end – it was just the journey. There are more conversations to be bookmarked … and if we never run out of bookmarks, that’d be fine too.


related articles


  • camera settings: 1/400  @ f/1.4  @ 100 ISO … available light only


The post More spontaneous portrait photography appeared first on Tangents.

review: Canon 50mm lenses – bokeh

This photo of a street performer in New York was shot with a 50mm lens. That should be fairly obvious from a quick scrutiny – the perspective (which is not wide, and neither tight); and the shallow depth of field. That sort of gives away that a 50mm lens was most likely used for this loosely composed candid portrait.

Now, I have to admit that I have this strange love-disinterest relationship with the 50mm focal length. Not quite love-hate, but more a frustration at times with the 50mm as the main lens to use. It feels like it is either not wide enough (to get more of the environment in, or to get an interesting perspective), or that it isn’t tight enough (for a tighter portrait that includes less.) With most of my photography work, I rely on the 24-70mm and 70-200mm zoom lenses.

Yet, for all that, the 50mm lens is an essential lens that deserves a spot in your camera bag. Their optical performance are usually of the highest order because there are less demands on correcting for various optical aberrations. Also, the budget 50mm lenses are very affordable, and a superb entry into the super-shallow depth-of-field look that give some photos such visual appeal.

When I posted the review of the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART lens, there were questions about when I would post the review of the Canon mount lens. As if the change in the mount would make the Sigma ART lens less or more spectacular. But, fair enough, we should have a comparative review of the Canon-mount Sigma 50mm ART lens against the other 50mm offerings. A direct comparison might tell us how this lens performs in relation to its price to other Canon mount 50mm lenses.

With that in mind, my friends at B&H kindly loaned me these lenses for review purposes:

With such a wide range in price (and build quality), it might seem slightly ridiculous in a way to compare these lenses. Yet, it might also be a good way to see what each lens offers in each price bracket. What would the Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens (B&H) offer that the f/1.8 lenses don’t? And would the f/1.8 lenses still appear good value when compared to the more pricey lenses?

Hopefully, some of these mysteries will unfold in this review which concentrates on bokeh, and the follow-up review in which we will look at the sharpness of these lenses. (Comparing various optical aberrations and such, is outside of the scope of this particular review.)

For those who are the kind of people who flip to the last page of a book to read the ending first, here’s the final summary …

Considering both the sharpness and the bokeh, for me, the Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART lens (B&H) has that perfect intersection between price and quality. Next in line, the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 (B&H), is surprisingly good. It really holds its own, and is the best value for money for those wanting to buy a 50mm lens. The Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L (B&H), as you might expect, is a somewhat of an outlier – it gives a unique, if sometimes subtly different result than the other lenses.

So, no real spoilers there, but let’s take a closer look at these lenses. As mentioned, in this, the first of a two-part review, we’ll specifically be considering the bokeh of these lenses.



Before we go any further, a few notes about ‘bokeh’:

  • Bokeh is the description of the quality of the (background) blur. There’s no such thing as a lens “giving more bokeh”. Bokeh is usually described as harsh or smooth. Or other such descriptive qualities. Buttery or jittery. Something like that. There is no such thing as a lens having “more bokeh”.
  • Also, while shallow DoF and bokeh are slightly related, shallow depth-of-field is not the same as great bokeh.


Looking again at this photo – even though it shows shallow depth-of-field, the bokeh can be described as jittery or harsh. Look at the railings in the background – there is an intrusiveness to how they appear in the photo – as if there is a “double edge” to the blur. Same for the building in the  right-hand background.

All of this makes the image appear “busier” compared to how it would’ve looked if we had used a lens which gives us a smoother background bokeh. If you don’t quite recognize it here, it will become more apparent in the next section where we will directly compare similar images.  We will specifically look at the bokeh of each lens in the next section, as long as we are okay with the idea that ‘bokeh’ and ‘shallow DoF’ aren’t interchangeable phrases!

Whether this – the bokeh of a lens – is important to you, is something you’ll have to decide for yourself. For example, both the Canon and Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses have fairly busy bokeh. Not really harsh, but definitely not smooth. However, their versatility and usefulness far outweigh their bokeh as a consideration. For many photographers though, the bokeh is an important deciding factor in choosing a lens – it can definitely become part of the artistic palette you use.


A note about these tests – I tried to keep things as similar as possible between photos. However, since these were shot on location, light can change between photos. For the most part, I worked with a tripod to help keep the framing exact.


comparing the bokeh of the Canon 50mm lenses – example 1

I shot several sequences with each lens, at various apertures. For this comparison, I chose just the apertures at f/1.8 so that we have some kind of equivalency.

Cropping at 50% from the left-hand corner, the differences should be immediately obvious. The Canon 50mm f/1.8 STM has that jittery, busy look to the background. The Canon 50mm f/1.4 improves slightly. Then with a big jump in improvement of the background bokeh, both the Sigma 50mmm f/1.4 ART and the Canon 50mm f/1.2L lenses are about on par here. But with further comparisons, the 1.2L has the advantage over the Sigma in having a slightly smoother rendition of the background.

(I messed up entirely on the sequence with the Yongnuo 50mm f/1.8 lens. Don’t ask!)


comparing the bokeh of the Canon 50mm lenses – example 2

As another test to compare the bokeh of these lenses, I photographed Melanie in front of this shrub. The thinner leaves are ideal to show how the bokeh would appear – smooth or busy. Again, for this comparison, I chose just the apertures at f/1.8 for some kind of equivalency.

Cropping at 50% from the left-hand corner, the differences should still be obvious. The Canon 50mm f/1.2 and the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART lenses are about the same to my eye. The Canon 50mm f/1.4 looks busier than those two lenses, but not too horrible. Then, the Canon 50mm f/1.8 STM predictably has that harsh bokeh, giving a type of double edge to the lines. To my eye, this looks intrusive, especially compared to the f/1.2 lens. The Yongnuo 50mm lens has approximately the same look – a distractingly busy feel to the background.



comparing the Canon 50mm f/1.2L to the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART – bokeh

As you can see, looking at the bokeh of these two lenses – the Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM ($1350), and the Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART lens ($850) – there isn’t much to separate them. The bokeh looks different under closer scrutiny, but not in a way that I would say is better or superior. They just look slightly different. But the bokeh for both lenses appear smooth. I’d be happy with either.



Where the Sigma does fall down, as mentioned in my review of the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART lens, the Sigma is consistently under-exposed by a third of a stop, for the same camera settings. An aperture of f/1.2 optic is half a stop faster than an aperture of f/1.4 … so if you have correct exposure with the Canon f/1.2 then for a similar exposure with the Sigma ART lens, you’d have to have a shutter speed nearly a stop slower. (Or, the ISO nearly a stop higher.) That could be crucial if you shoot in low light, and need that extra bit of shutter speed to reduce camera shake, or help freeze movement.

In terms of the bokeh alone, I would say the the Canon 50mm f/1.2L and the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART are about on the same level.

The  Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM, which sells for $330, has a fairly decent bokeh. Not as smooth as the other top-end optics, but much better than the bokeh of the f/1.8 optics.

The two budget optics have disappointingly distracting background bokeh … but they are so affordable, that they would appeal on price alone if the bokeh isn’t of any importance to you.


related links


you can purchase any of these lenses through the B&H affiliate links



a little bit of homework

This photo above of Olga, was taken at f/1.8 with the Yongnuo 50mm f/1.8 (affiliate). Even without being told that, if we look at the busy-ness of the background in the bottom right, a good guess would be that either the Yongnuo or the Canon 50mm f/1.8 STM was used. The bokeh is a big clue here as to which lens out of the fives tested here, might’ve been used.

As a little bit of homework, let’s look at the 50% crop of a similar image to the one above. Let’s see if you can accurately place which Canon 50mm lens was used for these –  the f/1.8 STM, or the f/1.4 or the f/1.2L lenses. The neon lights in the background did change their display – but look at the overall smoothness, or the lack thereof. All three these images where shot at f/2.0


The post review: Canon 50mm lenses – bokeh appeared first on Tangents.

All images here today are from the Panasonic fz 1000, taken for my downtown art project.

It was early this morning when I dragged myself out of bed, microwaved a sausage, Gouda cheese and egg breakfast taco, fired up a double cup of coffee to go in the Keurig, and hit the road. I'd loaded up the CRV yesterday evening and all that was left was to drag the camera bag out to the car and head the car in the right direction.

I hit Johnson City at 8:15 and headed to the LCRA Park to meet up with a bunch of people from my favorite electric utility company for some photographic fun. We arranged 13 Kubota all terrain vehicles in an attractive, modified chevron pattern with the Pedernales River in the near background, and then the Hill Country in the far background. Each Kubota vehicle had an lineman standing next to it, in the company uniform, wearing shiny, new hard hats.

We photographed from ground level and it was good. But we had more resources available in the form of two, large bucket trucks. These are trucks with boom arms that allow one to rise to any occasion; up to about 50 feet in the air. We directed one bucket truck into the area behind our formation of ATVs but in front of the river. We positioned the other one just behind the point at which I had set up my tripod. One of the linemen handed me a harness and a hard hat and I climbed up on the truck and into the bucket. A few seconds later my Nikon and I were about forty feet above the ground, shouting  directions down to our art director and getting everyone positioned for a shot that encompassed a lot of space and a lot of detail. 

Par for the course, we shot with the linemen wearing hard hats, and also holding the hard hats under one arm. We shot with the second truck in the background, and without the second truck in the background. Then I made a series of detailed photographs to accompany the big, wide, group photograph. 

For this morning's shoot I felt that using the Nikon D810 was an obvious camera choice. The sharp, detailed files it is capable of creating are perfectly suited to a wide shot with 14 vehicles and 13 different people scattered across a fairly big field. It also helped that, at ISO 64, the dynamic range of the sensor is pretty much unmatched by other cameras in the same price range. I paired the D810 with the sometimes maligned, sometimes praised, Nikon 24-120mm f4.0 lens. 

While some find that the lens has too much distortion; especially at the short end, the reality is that the lens is very sharp and there were no obvious straight lines when looking down at a landscape of yuccas, scrub brush and a meandering river. The main attribute I was looking for in a situation like this one was sharpness/resolution, followed by focal length flexibility. Lack of geometric distortion wasn't even on my radar.

With the camera set to an optimum ISO and the lens set to an optimum aperture the only thing that remained on my check list was to toss as much fill light as I could into the front vehicles and the men standing next to them. The sun was coming in at a 45 degree angle from one side. I placed an Elinchrom flash head with a 42 inch silver umbrella at the camera position and turned the power all the way up. All 1100 watt seconds. But since the umbrella and light were easily thirty feet or more to the closest subject the effect was barely noticeable. I would be depending on accurate exposure and the combined power of the camera sensor's great dynamic range, and the power of the shadow slider in Adobe Camera Raw, to pull up detail on the shadow sides of the ATVs and the men who drive them. 

I worked around f8.0 and f11 as my preferred apertures to get the depth of field I would need as well as the optimum performance from the lens. Being used to working with EVF enabled cameras made me miss the LCD loupe I neglected to bring along. I had to use my black baseball cap as a light blocker so I could see what was on the rear screen more clearly. I used the histogram as my crutch of last resort. But I needn't have worried as the images matched the metered value given by my Sekonic incident light meter. 

After we wrapped the Johnson City shoot we paused first for breakfast tacos (from a local place called, Charro's. Very, very good) and then we paused at the office of the client so I could download 17 gigabytes of very juicy raw files to her company's server. The client will be doing the post production on the files for this project. It's a rare thing for me to let go of but I trust the client and it was the only way to make the budget work for everyone. 

With the car packed and a fresh cup of coffee in the central cup holder I tuned into NPR on the radio and headed back to Austin. When I got home I downloaded the files onto my system ( you can never be too careful...) and put the Nikon camera battery on the charger. 

I swung by the house to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and have a big glass of milk. I unloaded the car, grabbed a new camera and headed for downtown. You see, I've been waiting to shoot a second project that I think is crazy good fun, but it is a project that depends on nice, clean skies to work the way I envisioned it. I've educated the client and agency about the need to patiently wait for the light to get neat, and the way I figured it I had about 2.5 hours of excellent sunlight of which to take advantage before I could switch everything off and head out for Mexican food and a local IPA ale. 

I'd spent the morning shooting "big" and traditional so I was ready to switch gears and embrace smaller and more modern. Almost jet age. A camera with a great EVF. The Panasonic fz 1000. 
I shoved a couple extra batteries in my pocket, put a polarizing filter on the front of the lens and headed over to the wedge of Zilker Park that butts up to the south side of the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge. There's a little parking lot there that's free and, if you get there on a weekday before school and work let out, there's almost a 50-50 chance of getting a space. Today the parking gods were benevolent and ushered me in to a prime space. 

I spent the rest of the illuminated afternoon walking around shooting interesting shots that may or may not end up, in rotation, on my adventurous client's website. Large. Across the screen. 

I generally set the camera to ISO 125 and shoot in the Aperture priority mode. The dial on the back of the fz 1000 has a push button incorporated. It's how one switches between setting the aperture and setting the exposure compensation with the same dial. I was mostly shooting raw but every once in a while I'd find something that would look better with a more extended range to the highlights and shadows and I would engage the in-camera HDR. I usually set the HDR app to give me a three stop spread and that better be enough because, on this camera, you only get the choice of 2 and 3 stops and I always err on the bountiful side. 

It's harder to feel loose and unrestricted when you realize that your photo walk has the prospect of money-in-exchange for performance aspect to it. Suddenly the kinds of images I usually see on a downtown walk become more important (and seemingly more scarce) to come by.  For the most part the built in HDR works well with landscapes and building-scapes. 

By the end of the day I'd been moving from 7 to 6:30 pm and I was ready to call it over. I'd found some new angles in the old town and I was feeling as though the Panasonic camera and I had really bonded. The Nikon D810 has better looking files, technically, for sure. But the Panasonic is super fun and tremendously easy to use as a "sketch book" style camera.  A fast shooting and stable platform from which to go out and blaze away at everything that catches my eyes. 

In the end I made a handful of good images this afternoon. I'll keep banging away at it until my client looses patience with me --- or until I need to get a check to cover some silly expense or another. The day is supposed to be sun filled and magnificent tomorrow and I'll try to shoot for more hours between a location scouting meeting in the late morning and a gala shoot starting at 6pm.  

Tomorrow will be the flip of today where cameras are concerned. I'll shoot with the Panasonic for the exterior building project for most of the day. I'll give it two batteries worth while working around the scouting meeting. Then I need to get home, change into a dark suit with a loud tie, and get over to the Four Seasons Hotel for the annual fund raiser for Texas Appleseed, a charitable organization that matches pro bono work from major law firms who work to provide social justice. In our state they have been taking on the Juvenile justice system and, most recently, payday loans. I like their work and more importantly they get results. 

The photographic requirements of this job call for many "grip and grin" images of attorneys and their spouses hanging out with other attorneys and their spouses, as well as documenting the speeches, the giving of awards, and the giving of more speeches. There will be the typical, elegant, Four Seasons dinner and ample open bars. I'll be pressing the fast focusing D750 and the 24-120mm lens into play, along with a TTL flash from Nikon or Metz. The real secret to success in these situations has very little to do with gear and everything to do with how confident you are, how fast you can work and how authoritatively you are able to move people into small groups and get them to face the camera and have everyone in the group flash you a winning smile at the same time.

I'll put some sort of little bounce card on the flash to soften its light but mostly the evening's toil will swirl around establishing a nice rapport with many of the same people I've seen at these events since the early part of the century. That, and not over thinking the whole thing. It's sometimes very important to know how to stay out of one's own way. 

That's the long and short of it. Hope you are having fun with your projects.

I was depressed on Saturday when I heard about the attacks and deaths in Paris. I watched the news and looked at the stories on Google but it was too much to absorb all at once. It looked like it would rain outside and the day was getting on but I decided to pick up a camera and go out for a walk. I was curious to see what people were up to at the Graffiti Wall near Lamar Blvd.

The sky was dark gray and every few minutes I'd feel drops of rain. The "Wall" was filled with people. They were there to take photographs of themselves, their friends and their families, in front of a new painting that had just gone up that morning. It was a giant French flag with the Eiffel Tower/Peace Symbol on it.

I took some photographs. More to document the moment in time than to make any sort of art. I just felt, at the moment, that it would be good to have an image to remember.

Here's the straightforward photograph I ended up making:

I cropped out the people in the front and the color confusion at the top of the frame.

After I shot different angles and different groups of people the rain decided to fall less intermittently, and more emphatically, and I took off my cap and covered my (non-water resistant) camera preparing to walk the quarter mile of so back to my car. 

As I was leaving the park I noticed the riot of colors represented in the top photograph and pulled the camera out for a moment to capture the saturated mess. It seemed like a nonsensical counterpoint to the heavy implications of the photo I had originally come to take. It's an awkward balance.

Portrait of the back of my head, by Amy Smith.
On a shoot for the Pedernales Electrical Co-op.

I'll admit it, I abused my iPhone 4S. I decided that the industrial design was so beautiful that putting it in a protective case or sleeve was inappropriate. Sometimes it lived for days on the floor of my car; even days when the temperatures crested 105 degrees. It got dropped and it got rained on. In short, I was a test case for real world use.  Sadly, that cute, perfectly sized phone gave up the ghost on Sunday and went to phone heaven, where the ambient temperature never gets above 68 degrees (f) and the humidity always hovers around 50%.  It just wasn't up for another week of overcharging, coffee drenching, etc. 

So, when I knew the end was nigh I pointed the car to the AT&T store, near downtown, and threw myself on the mercy of one of the clerks who was most helpful, and who walked me through the process of spending even more money on phones that I had ever imagined to be possible in the days of yore. 

I played with the big screen iPhone 6s+ but I already have an iPad so I couldn't imagine why on earth I would need two tablets with big screens. Then I played with the 6s (regular size) but compared to my 4S the phone seemed positively monstrous. I finally settled on the iPhone 5s which felt just right. I figured that all of them were capable of making phone calls in real time, right?

We set up my Space Gray, 16gb, iPhone 5s and it was a fairly quick and convenient procedure. The salesperson was so fun that I popped for buying a protective case there even though I was pretty sure I could get the same case on  for a lot less. I headed home with a happy feeling of sheer, unadulterated consumer joy.

After dinner I headed back out to the studio to play with the incident light meter iPhone attachment that someone at Lumu had sent me. It's a really cool incident light meter which has an app for the iPhone. The incident dome plugs into the auxiliary (headphone) jack of an iPhone. I meant to try the meter a few months ago but my iPhone 4s headphone connector stopped working nearly a year ago. I wanted to set up the Lumu and use it for the rest of the week so I could write a review about it....

Sadly, the new iPhone 5s had one defect; the headphone jack didn't work. No sound and, by extension, no meter. It's always vexing to buy a new product and discover something wrong. I called the AT&T store but they quickly disavowed any responsibility, even though I'd made my purchase there just a few hours before. Nice but unhelpful. They sent me to Apple. The AT&T point of view was that this would be Apple's problem. But at the moment it felt very much like my problem. 

I went online and looked up Apple's customer support for phones. I had the best online chat I've ever had in the history of the web, with the Apple representative. I explained the problem and the service representative suggested I take the phone right back to AT&T. I explained to her that AT&T had just pointed the finger at Apple. I expressed frustration. The Apple rep rallied immediately, making the statement, "We will make this right for you!" 

I don't know what sort of agreement they have with AT&T but the support person from Apple immediately assumed all responsibility for the rest of the transaction. She set up an appointment for me with the closest "Genius Bar," she guaranteed, in writing, that they would be happy to swap out the phone and do all the set up for me. She basically held my hand over the internet and made everything okay. If you depend on your phone for business you know how fragile I was feeling in the moment. How abandoned I felt by AT&T, how I was pessimistically waiting for this to all turn into a customer service debacle in which I would be relegated to sending the product back to Apple for "warranty repairs." 

I was still reticent and paranoid when I headed to the Apple store at Barton Creek Mall with my plastic bag full of receipts, the box, and the accessories for the damaged phone. Then an in-store Apple service rep sat down next to me, shook my hand and introduced herself. She listened attentively to my tale of consumer woe. And, when I finished my rant, she looked me in the eyes and said, "I am so sorry. I understand how uncomfortable it is when something is wrong with your phone. I'm sorry you had to experience this. We'll take care of it right now." She looked on her iPad to see if a replacement was in stock. It was. She went and got the replacement and then walked me through the paperwork to switch phones. At this point store procedure mandated that she turn me and the new phone over to someone at a different station to do the transfer of all my info from the old phone to the new phone but! she sensed that I was uncomfortable being passed off to someone else and immediately decided to do the whole transaction herself. Everything from setting up my thumbprint I.D. to making sure my music library transferred and that my headphones worked perfectly. 

They did. 

I felt.....taken care of. I felt that Apple was honoring their commitment to a customer. I left the store with a working phone and a good feeling about an American company. 

Had I tried to do the logical thing and make AT&T responsible I would have had a bad aftertaste for the whole transaction. The product and service would be equally tainted. But what I found at Apple was an incredibly consistent (and wholly successful) effort to satisfy an aggrieved customer and make things right for me. It was the right thing to do. 

The simple message is to deliver what you promise.  Maybe even delivering a bit more than you promised. All the time. In a way that makes the customer feel wanted, needed and special. But this retail "magic" was happening all around me. 

Across the table, at the Genius Bar,  sat a young couple and they were waiting for a service person to help them with their issue. The guy had an iPad mini and it had some issue which made it shut down randomly. He was a military person and told me he was deploying to the middle east on Sunday. He wanted a working iPad so he could send messages back home. His Apple "Genius" arrived,  listened to his story first (an important part of the formula of making people happy) and then informed him that they'd be happy to swap out the product.... if they had the product in stock. She checked and I could see, looking over at her screen, that they did not have the base model in stock. The Apple rep asked the couple to wait for a few minutes; she said that sometimes they got in new stock that hadn't been entered into the system yet. She would go and check. 

She came back a few minutes later with a new iPad mini. It was the 64 gigabyte model, not the 16 gigabyte model that the young couple had brought in. I had already calculated the difference in price between the two and was ready to offer to pay the difference for them. It seemed like a kind and cool thing to do. But Apple beat me to it and offered them the more expensive model at no extra charge. Just to make it right. Then the rep sat down with them and helped them set everything up. 

I was impressed. Floored, actually. I have worked with lots of more mercenary and short sighted technology companies who would never have "thrown away money" on something like this. What they don't understand is that the story is the most important part of both of these transactions. That each person walked away being more than satisfied with the end result. That doing the "right" thing took short term precedence and will probably mean two life long fans and customers. And each of us who were well served today will tell our stories to our friends and our families. 

And now for the embarrassing coda to my part of the story. I brought the phone in because the headphone plug wasn't working. Neither the headphones or the incident meter accessory worked in the first phone. When I plugged into the second phone I had a similar problem and the Apple person adjusted the protective case I'd bought and realized that the first phone was NOT defective, the jack just was being blocked from being fully inserted by the depth of the case and an off center hole in the case where the jack would go in. 

I was embarrassed and I said to my Genius, "I feel so dumb. You must have realized that it was the case that was the problem." She said, "I wasn't sure and you seemed pretty upset and pretty certain it was the phone. My job was to make you happy with our product. Doesn't matter if we needed to give you a new phone. As long as you leave satisfied, and remain satisfied." 

By this point we had already transferred all the data and reset all the passwords. My rep went out of her way NOT to make me feel like a dumbass. She was also 100% intent on fixing MY immediate problem. My complaint. She was far less concerned about proving me wrong and her right. 

Would I ever buy a phone from any other company? Not likely. But more importantly the Apple rep (and by extension, Apple) showed me how good gracious customer service could feel. That's what I want to do for my customers. Not necessarily for more profit but mostly because----it's the right thing to do. 

I'm a little embarrassed. Not that I didn't troubleshoot my phone correctly but that I sound too much like an Apple fanboy. But I have to tell you, there are only two companies I know of that consistently give me this kind of service. One is, of course, Apple, and the other one is Precision Camera. The owners of that camera store have trained their staff to have the same dedication to customer satisfaction. 

I count myself lucky. And I will pay attention and try to apply the same philosophies to the companies I serve. I just re-learned how good exemplary service makes our customers feel. And why that is important. Bravo Apple.

disclaimer added today: Since I wrote about Apple and praised their service I think I am duty bound to state that while I am not paid by Apple, or given free product, and am not an employee or contractor of the company, I do own stock shares in the company. 

Boudoir photography – posing in increments

During a boudoir photo session for a friend, Christy, I wanted to include more of the studio environment. My natural tendency during most photo shoots, is to veer more towards a more straight-forward portrait idea. Even with boudoir photography. I have to self-correct every so often during a photo session, to push myself to look for more. To change it up – to shoot horizontally and vertically; tight and wide; from low-down to a higher viewpoint. I also have to nudge myself to look for interesting off-center compositions.

With that motive to look for more, I pulled out my ever-amazing, but seldom-used Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G (affiliate), and go extreme wide-angle and include as much as I can. The Nikon 14-24mm is the sharpest ultra-wide lens I’ve used, and was one of the things that tipped me over into going back to Nikon at the time. (I’ve briefly played with the recently released monster Canon 11-24mm f/4L (affiliate), and I was very impressed!)  But this kind of ultra-wide look, while I love it with an appropriate subject, it doesn’t see much use during my photo shoots. It’s just not a lens that lends itself to portrait photography … which is the reason I had to try it here to get a different look and vibe.

The image above was shot at 14mm on a full-frame camera, so yes, there is huge amounts of perspective distortion as you get towards the edges of the frame. In that sense, it isn’t a lens to use for a representative look of someone, although with this framing, the lens elongated her legs even more. The point is that you have to embrace the perspective distortion, but use it with some purpose.

A bit about the thought-process on posing Christy.

I’m attentive about how I pose my subjects, but here, enthralled with the look of the images I was getting on the back of my camera, I was a little sloppy. Wanting to quickly brag a bit about the photo sequence, I texted a few friends an iPhone shot of the back of my camera – and then Petra Herrmann (who is absolutely brilliant with boudoir posing), called me back immediately boss me about a few things I need to fix.

Similarly to how I described how I adjust a pose with incremental changes, let’s go through some of the suggestions that helped improve the photo sequence I was shooting here:



This is a central crop of one of the first images, just to see if the idea would work.

Immediate improvements could be made to how I had Christy’s arms and legs positioned.

First of all, I asked her to change her arms and hands for a more dynamic pose.

And it is about here that Petra called me. Notice the differences between this and the next image. (Both are central crops of larger images.)

With her left leg straight-out like that, resting on the side-table, it flattens her left calf. Pulling her heel up like that, immediately reinforces the shape.

The other major change was that I had Christy slumped in the seat. Her back needed to be more arched. Definitely a more dynamic pose with her back arched! To help with this, her right foot was pulled in closer so that she could balance better and help push her body up a bit. Placing her foot like this, helps the composition, and also strengthens her pose because she now has more control over positioning her entire frame.

Another change to the pose was having her lift her head a little higher, and point her chin a little higher. We also had her sweep her arms back, with both hands in her hair, and on her left temple.

In the final sequence of photos (as shown below again), I asked Christy to drop her shoulder a bit so that there was more space between her upper arm and chin. This also helped avoid the shadow falling across her chin here.

Popping the colors and contrast in Photoshop, and vignetting the too-bright ceiling, we finally have this image that I just love.



camera settings & photo gear (or equivalents) used

  • 1/30  @  f/3.5  @ 1600 ISO  … available light only




Clearly a lesson I had to relearn – to not get swept away by the moment and a partial success – but to concentrate on finessing the image further. In this example, the posing had to be tightened up to create a more successful photograph worthy of the time and effort that my subject, Christy, had put into this collaboration.


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books on boudoir photography

The post Boudoir photography – posing in increments appeared first on Tangents.

Photographers looking into the mirror.

It's easier than ever to make a photograph these days. It's easy enough to send them as well. And pretty much anything you screw up can be fixed, to a certain extent, in post. So is there anything left to the industry of taking photographs for money? And what is going on in the enthusiast's space?

I just read some numbers from the video/cinema world (Futuresource), the sales of DSLRs into that world (video) fell over 40% in 2014 in Europe with steeper declines expected this year. At its height adaptation of DSLRs for professional video projects comprised about 31% of their total market. Now the rate is closer to 3%. According to the study ( the reason for the decline is a retrenching back toward traditional camcorders (with XLR connectors, long run times, built-in NDs etc.) or in the other direction toward mirrorless compact system cameras like the Samsung NX1, Panasonic GH4 and Olympus OM5.2. The introduction of less expensive 4K cameras like the Panasonic G7 will accelerate this trend.

In the world of still imaging the numbers, world-wide, are equally bleak. And this in the face of a huge economic recovery in the U.S.A.

My sense is that photography as a 21st century hobby is in major decline. At the recent math conference I attended there wasn't a traditional camera in sight (except for mine). If someone made a photograph of a newly made friend, or to document a demonstration, the whole adventure was done with a cellphone. When I attended the Freescale FTF show it was pretty much the same story. Now, these shows were never overwhelmed by photographers but there were always a contingent with Canon Rebels or Nikon Something DSLRs who were making their own documentations, playing with the camera gear as a "side bar" to the main convention function. Not so anymore.

I've also noticed that among my friends, the ones I would call "committed photographers"; both professional and amateur, have largely stopped carrying their cameras around with them when we meet at restaurants, coffee shops and other routine places. It's only big events where the shooting is easy and the risk of seeming to be an outsider is low where I routinely see any remotely interesting cameras anymore. It seems more of a psychological burden to introduce your conventional camera into regular society now. People are used to, conditioned to, being randomly photographed by camera phones but being photographed by someone with a conventional camera has quickly fallen from the mainstream and become---less usual. More suspect.

But will this change toward fewer public cameras, and fewer hard core pro cameras continue given the introduction of a new generation of "Super Cameras" like the Sony A7r2, the new, beefier Canon 5d's, and the older timer of the group, the Nikon D810? Will the new capabilities of these high performance cameras cause  renewed excitement and bring a wave of new professionals into the fold?

I wouldn't bet on it. While I have no first hand information (having severed my ties with Samsung and their public relations agency over a year ago) I'm inclined to believe the recent rumors swirling about the web-o-sphere that Samsung is withdrawing from the consumer camera space in Europe and north America. After making enormous investments into the NX-1 it seems that they've done new market research that tells them that the overall decline of the camera market coupled with their inability to get any traction at all in these markets with their "ditch the DSLR" campaign, have led them to the conclusion that it's better to exit a dying (or downward trending) market rather than continue to lose money and reputation trying to buy acceptance and market share.

And that's too bad because the NX-1 was actually a good camera: at least after it received numerous firmware updates....

I am paying attention to sales numbers out of idle curiosity but I find it interesting that most of the innovation is coming from the mirrorless space. The exceptions are the cameras from Sony but even there I'm not sure they are gaining new customers to the industry but instead are just capturing Nikon and Canon customers who crave better video, the ability to use a wider selections (and mixed brand selection) of lenses while taking advantage of the always on, live view nature of electronic viewfinders. The CIPA numbers and other measures say the overall market for the "Super Cameras" is still on the definite decline but that Sony's entries are helping only to rearrange the deck chairs on the decks of the Titanic.

There will always be the stalwarts of the industry who will embrace the highest and best of the camera breeds and create an (almost delusional) rationale for the features and benefits of the "best" cameras and lenses on the market but I think the rest of the enthusiasts --- the ones more interested in making photographs rather than comparing test charts --- have come to understand that sufficiency  or good enough is just fine for huge swaths of the profession and general requirements for our hobby.

I think there is still a place for top end equipment if you are willing to leverage the benefits of the gear into your work, and if the work requires that level of quality to be successful aesthetically. Examples would be people who print large or people who require a noiseless final image. Landscape photographers, product photographers, and portrait photographers who want smooth skin tones without having to selectively blur the crap out of their images in post processing.  But things like sharpness and resolution are largely available, across formats and brands, in enough capacity and capability to provide a professional image for most uses, and especially almost any use on the web.

But here's the deal: My observations (anecdotal and statistical) aren't meant as a rending of cloth, a cry of anguish or a note of bitter despair. Far from it. As photography shifts and swirls around from popular to diluted and ubiquitous (but lesser quality) there are fewer and fewer people doing the kind of work I do with the cameras I like to use, and it's clearing out what was once thought to be an infinitely expanding pool of images and distilling new work into a more manageable collection of  high quality content.

There are more and more phone images. More and more manipulated phone images, but fewer and fewer large, printed images. Fewer instances of great lighting design and control. Fewer constructed photographs and more "caught moments of generic exchange." Fewer images that are directly competitive; especially in the professional space. It's almost as if the age of: "I only shoot available light..." photography is coming to an end of sorts, as a viable, full time, commercial venture. Replaced by a return to discipline and control.

The same things are happening in video. There's a movement toward shooting everything with iPhones or their competitors. At the same time the higher end practitioners are moving from the lower budget options of hybrid still/video tools back into video cameras made to work in the traditions of the industry (pro audio inputs, long run times, higher quality codecs, higher bit rates, etc.). It's a shift that's leaving the vast mid-section of the market behind.

All I really know is this: As camera sales have declined my business has returned on almost the same tragectory (but in an opposite direction). We're up in terms of sales and profit per engagement in an almost direct inverse of equipment sales by manufacturers. I can only conjecture that a great number of (talented) amateurs, and in-house enthusiasts at corporate offices,have moved on to other pursuits or have gotten too busy in their core jobs to volunteer to make the critical photographs that move enterprise forward. That's fine with me. I'm happy to be welcomed back.

His work inspired me to roam the streets looking for images for the last 40 years. Like the one below from a Paris Metro station...

©1994 Kirk Tuck.

I found the perfect commercial use for the Panasonic fz 1000 camera. A client that I just finished shooting 30 beautiful, environmental portraits for followed up the portrait assignment with a request for artistic detail shots of corners of buildings with dramatic skies behind them, abstract urban and construction photographs and other images that would make wonderfully engaging backgrounds for the main pages of their website. Since it's the kind of work I also love to shoot for myself I was very happy with the commission. It sounds to me as if someone just said, "Walk around downtown Austin and shoot anything that catches your eye. Be sure to leave a bit of clean space in the top left corner for our logo treatment."

The only impediment, currently, to full scale fun is the weather. We're having zany weather in Austin this Fall. Lots of cloud cover and lots of on again, off again rain showers. The photographs that the client and I have in mind are more likely to work with some deep blue sky peeking around striations and puffs of clouds. And I very much want direct, slanted sunlight on the buildings to jack the saturation and contrast to the right levels, without having to go nuts in PhotoShop.

I found some great structures over near the state capitol building ( actually, just south) and I shot as much as I could until the gray sky cover rolled back in to douse the sparkle. I looked up the weather report on my phone and it suggested that the clouds might burn off. Since I was near the capitol grounds I strolled on over and planted myself on a bench on the main pedestrian thoroughfare and indulged in some people watching while keeping part of my brain committed to the task of observing the weather.

As the clouds moved around and suggested that more visual opportunities may be nigh I gathered myself together and started walking back toward Congress Ave. and the promise of downtown. Over to my right I spied this little tree and, though I am not a landscape photographer by any means, I decided to give it a shot.

During the course of my first day out shooting the abstractions and buildings I have come to appreciate the true value proposition of the fz 1000 camera and its one inch sensor and gorgeous (for the money) EVF. The camera is fairly light (east to carry)  but it's big enough to provide a stable platform that encourages good handholding techniques. The one inch sensor means Panasonic could design a really long and good lens for the camera --- one that's perfect for shooting outside in daylight. I could go from 25mm to 400mm (all equivalent focal lengths based on 35mm) and get the perfect crop for every shot I saw.

While I'm not sure the image stabilization in this camera is quite the equal of the vaunted, Olympus EM5.2 it's no slouch. When I push the shutter button half way down the image in the finder becomes very stable and still. Having examined hundreds and hundreds of stabilized files at this point, from this camera, I can say that I have yet to find a photo that was shot at a reasonable setting which is not tack sharp. Since the lens is well corrected and since these kinds of scenic shots don't call for very narrow depth of field I am happy to leave the lens set at f5.6 for almost everything. Again, looking through the take each afternoon, I am happy with the detail and sharpness of the lens. The only thing it requires in post processing, to be totally competitive with my other cameras is a boost of contrast and a little nudge on the clarity slider in Lightroom. A little correction and the files pop.

So far the camera meter and I agree almost all the time. There are instances where I want my image to be darker and moodier but my thumb falls right on top of the exposure compensation dial and the amount of correction is displayed in the finder. I am certain that (barring camera boredom syndrome) I will be able to handle the whole project quite well with just this Panasonic camera.

And the other attributes speak for themselves: A full range of focal lengths in one. No need to carry any extra accessories or lenses in a bag. I brought along an extra battery in my pocket but even after shooting over the course of three hours yesterday I still did not need to grab that spare. The one accessory I did take with me, attached to the camera at all times, was a circular polarizing filter. It makes the skies more fun.

It was cloudy most of this morning and, while we have a break now, it's supposed to cloud up a bit later on. I'm not concerned, the client understands the nature of this kind of shooting and is the picture of patience. I'll shoot until I have a nice catalog for them, then we'll know when the project is really over.

I'm not saying you personally need one of these amazing bridge cameras but I'm pretty sure if I didn't have an fz 1000 I'd be working harder and not getting anything that would please me more, as far as the files go. An alternative? The little Sony RX10.2. I've been playing around with one and it is at least as nice as the first version I owned. Each camera has its strengths and weaknesses. Right now I'm just appreciating that wonderful reach of the Panasonic's Leica designed zoom lens. It's really well done.

Hope you are having a fun Wednesday. I'm spending the rest of my day retouching portraits. But nice portraits of interesting people...  I'll share with you when their site goes live.

Virtually every photographer has to include some aspect of video into their work whether its for weddings, events, behind the scenes, or just to add a little “something” to their slideshows. The problem is that most photographers are not well equipped to get good, smooth video. Camera gimbals are big, costly, and can be hard to handle. What has been needed is a small, handheld, stabilized video platform….and DJI has given us Osmo.

Read the original post at DJI Osmo Handheld 4K Camera and 3‑Axis Gimbal (402 words)

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Our friend and fellow photographer, Dave Jenkins (a long time part of the VSL family) collected photo books for most of his career and is now selling them. Dave is still a working photographer and his collection of books includes many titles

 that I have on my own shelves. There are some real gems in his list and he's selling them at incredibly low prices.

While the web keeps trying to kill physical books there is tremendous value in sitting down in a nice chair, with a cup of coffee or tea, or a glass of wine, and looking through a well curated collection of images all in one place. All well printed and made to exactly the right size for immersive viewing.

I am posting this list because I think you might find a lot of value in these books. I already have the Skrebneski book but it is so good (and Dave's price is so low) that I may have to pick up a second copy unless someone beats me to it.

disclaimer: Dave is not affiliated with VSL. I am receiving no payment in either financial instruments or gifts of books to post this on VSL. There is no affiliate commission  to be earned. Dave Jenkins is totally responsible for each transaction and fulfillment. Given my long tenure of friendship with Dave I can recommend him wholeheartedly as a person and a vendor. 

Treat yourself and buy some books. The classifieds at Rangefinder are very well done and I think you can burrow down into the offering and see the cover images. Get reckless. Buy some history in the art that you love.

Please don't rush to help me select a "better" lens. I've owned two versions of the Nikon 85mm 1.4 (MF and AF-D), I currently own the very good 85mm f1.8G and I've owned literally dozens of Canon, Leica and Zeiss 85mm lenses. This article is not a plea for anyone to step in and "guide" me. I am not woefully undereducated in what is currently (or previously) available in this focal length, for Nikon. 

I was curious. That's why I took the particular lens out to shoot in the near dark. About a year ago, just after wedging myself back into the Nikon system, I came across a used Rokinon 85mm 1.4 lens in the used case at Precision Camera. They didn't think much of the lens and sold it to me, willingly, for around $125. I had owned the later, "cine" version of this lens for the Sony Alpha system so I was more or less familiar with its general characteristics but I was happy to have this lens instead of the cine version for Nikon precisely because this one has click stopped aperture settings and it also has a chip that transmits f-stop information to the Nikon cameras, as well as enabling focus confirmation. 

What that means is I can focus wide open and when I hit the shutter button the lens stops down to the aperture I've set using one of the control wheels. In short, the lens works just like one of the regular Nikon AF-D lenses ---- minus the auto focus. 

I've done a little bit of work with this lens and, like most modern, short tele lenses in play since at least the 1960's it can be very sharp and contrasty at f5.6 and f8.0. It was difficult to focus the lens on an APS-C body but I no longer have any of the smaller sensor Nikon bodies and I'm finding that I have a better chance of hitting sharp focus on the D810 and D750 focusing screens. 

What I wanted to find out is whether or not the lens is good at its widest f-stops in real shooting situations to which I can relate. I headed out the door for a walk on Saturday evening, just as the sun was setting. By the time I got to downtown there was only an afterglow of sunlight. 

Then I saw the space aliens try to kidnap Madonna from her Bentley and..
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flowing through the streets of downtown Austin watching the swirl of people.
Small, black OMD EM5.2 + Panasonic 12-35mm f2.8 X
You can click on any of these and see them in a gallery 2100 pixels wide...

The beauty of owning several camera systems, one big and super high res, the other nicely sized and brilliantly portable, is that you can select the one you feel aligned with in the moment and leverage both the emotional connection to the camera as well as the technical attributes you feel you need in the moment. 

I've owned a couple of the Olympus EM5.2 cameras for many months now and find them to be wonderfully compatible with my nature when it comes to ambling around aimlessly, waiting for unexpected images to fall into my lap. I use the camera with the optional battery grip and find the combination just right. Without the battery grip parts of my right hand just don't fit anywhere and hands hate to exist without good operational boundaries. The grip with the extra battery also provides that existential calm and reassurance that one's camera won't become useless halfway through a walk, presaged by the orange, blinking battery symbol. 

You may have noticed that I don't like to carry multiple lenses with me on these unstructured walks; usually I select an normal focal length, which for me is a 50mm to 90mm equivalent, but I am equally happy with wide to short telephoto zooms. On the day I took the image above I intended to walk into downtown to see what was happening in the streets around the SXSW conferences and musical stages. A light rain had been falling all day and I decided to use the 12-35mm Panasonic lens on the camera to take advantage of the weather sealing provided by the pair. 

The camera function perfectly and, when I was immersed in non-photographic moments, hung almost transparently by my side.

Emotionally I love the little Olympus and Panasonic cameras most of all my gear. Intellectually, I like the Nikon D810 and the 85mm f1.8 best of all my gear. I'm sure people who have reconciled the two sides of their brains, and the emotional versus intellectual frisson can be happy with one well researched choice. But it certainly is fun to order up something a little different every day. 

After shooting the flowers I trudge downtown and shot on the slick streets. But that's the next blog...

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