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I've been so side-tracked by non-photo stuff lately that when I finally had the opportunity to do some fun, personal  work I felt a bit paralyzed and this led me to meditate a bit about the nature of sustaining my motivation to do my own, personal work. Cash flow is obviously a powerful motivator for doing the commercial work but after 40 years or so of shooting personal work it's interesting to understand the ways to keep a current or pulse of inspiration going during times of sloth or times of stress, or just during normal life. Mostly it's about honoring the work you feel most compelled to do for yourself.

I've always had the good fortune to make my own schedule and to lard in plenty of free time in which to play with my photography. Lately though life changed a bit, tossed in a quite a few curve balls and caused me to need to pay rigorous attention to things outside my areas of expertise (if they exist). I've learned a bunch more about banking, investing, elder care issues, probate law, and finance in general. 
I've spent a lot of time arranging care and participating in care for family members. But when one part of life gets detailed and takes more time something has to give. For me, in the last three months it's been my own, selfish, personal photography work. Perhaps that explains my buying outburst of ancient Nikon products.... A projection of the desire to grab back my previous freeform engagement with the craft...

Now that I've engineered a quantum more free time I still feel hobbled because as the little gems of my free time get more precious the artificial and self-imposed demand to become more picky with the resources I have left sets up some sort of false paradigm that pushes me to take everything more seriously. Or too seriously. What is photography, as a passion, if it's not laced with fun? Schedule be damned!

After much thought it was clear that my interest in photography is almost solely related to making images of people. At one point, reviewing my older work, it seemed that I was really most interested in studio portrait; encounters in which I had the main share of control --- at least technically --- but on reflection it's always just been about having the intimate interchange with the person on the other side of the camera, however fleeting and coming away with prints and other constructions with which to share the emotion and theatre of the interchange with an audience.

Brooks Jensen at Lenswork Magazine conjectured in one of his essays that the work his magazine sees fit to publish comes from people who have a depth of work in the genre they have come to focus upon with a sense of purpose. In his research he finds that the most interesting work has either come from people who have put in the time to evolve and then perfect a vision, with years of work and development,  or from the people who dive deeply and with almost single-minded application to their work; especially if they are pursuing a contiguous project. The people who do not get published are the people who sample every kind of image making, making glancing approaches to different styles and subject matter but without the requisite endurance of a singular vision. Aimed at a single kind of subject.

Resistance to doing your important artistic work is strong, according to writer, Stephen Pressfield. When I am really stuck and have photographer's block then, ironically, I waste a bit of time (not really a waste) re-reading Pressfield's, The War of Art, and my renewed understanding of my own resistance to doing my work abates for a while and I actually get good things done. 

My work is really about making images of people I find interesting, captivating, beautiful, strange and wonderful. The reality of life is that these subjects aren't available on short notice, they aren't sitting in a small room somewhere just waiting for my phone call. Since my schedule is variable and, to a certain extent connected to the whims of my clients and other chance responsibilities, it's not always possible to have a delightful person in front of me when I have a fleeting amount of open time available. My dodge over the years has been to grab a camera and go walking. I'm always hoping, on some level, that I'll meet someone during the course of my walk who needs to be photographed by me and somehow understands the value of the chance meeting and who emphatically wants to pose for me if for no other reason than to have moments of spontaneous exercise of their own subtle performance art. It's a pipe dream that rarely has fulfillment. 

But I walk and I shoot for the sake of shooting and then return home like a net fisherman examining the contents of my erratically flung net to see if anything interesting wandered into the catch while my brain wasn't paying attention. And it's gone on this way for years. 

This morning, over pancakes and scrambled eggs and sausage and hot coffee I realized that the majority sum of my "street photography" was a ruse to assuage my own psychic complicity with resistance to getting more organized, identifying the people I want to photograph and to move those studio or environmental portrait encounters to fruition. In a sense, for me, I'm beginning to see modern, random street photography as a place holder or addictive substitute for the photography I consider "real." The photography I should be doing.

Street shooting days have become peppered with ennui. It's like watching a video of Kai reviewing a camera on YouTube and of him taking random shots in the streets of normal people in interesting cities in order to show off some feature or performance aspect of some camera; the work is numbingly the same but, surrounded by his spoken (and sometimes humorous) manifestos you can almost see something interesting in it. But in the end it's just entertainment for his audience and a placeholder of the real photography he would no doubt love to be doing instead. 

The more I dabble across genres the less I get done. 

Leaving the house without a plan and a project is like shooting off an unguided missile in an unknown direction. it will get messy. It probably won't be productive. 

One of the things I hate about thoughtful writers like Brooks Jensen is that if I read carefully I almost always see where it is that my resolve has fallen apart. His words sometimes lay bare the shortcomings of my discipline. I generally always resolve to do something but sadly it's not always the thing I wish I were doing or need to be doing. 

I guess that's the nature of this whole undertaking. 

Bottom line today? If you are moving between making images of cats, then flowers, then buildings, then street scenes and then baby pictures and then food and then back to cats you might not really be doing photography, you may just be systematically testing your camera and lenses along with the state of your skill set. You could do that until you die but you might be better off thinking about what it is you are really interested in and finding a way to pursue that. 

I've got some mental organizing to do. I'll get on it just as soon as I finish my paying job at the golf course this afternoon. I hope the wind dies down, I'd like to use a softbox for some of the outside portraits....

It's Monday. This is probably the extent of my "deep" thoughts for the week. 

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

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

I am very happy with the results. No
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Nikon D700. Old School. No Drool. 

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

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

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

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

Curious to find if you, gentle reader, have a similar eccentric favorite. Let me know.
Shot with a Nikon D2Hs many years ago.

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

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

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

I'm jumping down another rabbit hole so I guess we'll see. Beats talking about cars again...
From Esther's Follies in Austin, Texas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With all the hoopla the Blanton is putting on about Ellsworth Kelly you would have thought he was a famous photographer, but no, just a painter and stained glass window designer... But I figured I'd go and check out the new show anyway. (kidding. just kidding). Right on the UT campus is a new permanent installation of a Kelly "chapel" with remarkably cool, stained glass windows. About one hundred yards away, tucked into the main gallery on the first floor of the museum proper is an robust show of Kelly's two dimensional work and a smaller collection of his 3-D "Totems." The work is good and the installation is fun. If you like to take photographs
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a shot at Esther's Follies from midway back in the audience.
Panasonic GH5 + Olympus 40-150mm Pro. ISO 1600.

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

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

--- Homeless.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

grain of salt?

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

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

After receiving the bid request from the industrial concern I did a little digging
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An image from a previous SXSW. Shot with a traditional DSLR. Shown here just for fun. 
©2012 Kirk Tuck

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

On the other hand I have to say I was negatively amazed at
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I got tired of sitting in the studio retouching and writing letters to insurance companies and, when the sun came out last week, I took off a few hours to walk around Austin with my ancient Panasonic FZ2500 super-zoom camera. It's really pretty wonderful. We're long past the point where there is any hesitation about its sharpness or the competence of its lens. The image stabilization is great, the exposures are accurate, the color is wonderful. The camera is big and bulky but not heavy. It's pretty cool to be able to sling a 20 megapixel over your shoulder (that doesn't feel burdensome) and have, at your fingertips, a 24 to 450mm lens that delivers good detail. 

It's a good camera for lazy still photographers who would rather wear polyester than carry an old fashion camera bag with a collection of heavy lenses; it's an even better choice for videographers who work in good light. The 1080p video is sharp and juicy. The three steps of ND are highly useful. And there is so much more. I have a selective memory; when the camera is not in my hands I tend to forget just how much I like it. When I pick it up my interest is renewed. Click to view em big. 

See: What I bought today (down below at the end of the blog post) for a good laugh!

I've been mucking around with a Nikon D2XS lately and it's a blast from my sentimental past. But I'm already tired of just using the 50mm lens I bought. I wandered into Precision Camera today and looked at some ancient zoom lenses to stick on the front. I bought one but when I put it on the front of my camera it would not autofocus. I took it back and they were appropriately chagrined, but I thought well, if I'm not going to have AF I should just buy an even older zoom that doesn't have auto focus to begin with. I ended up buying an ancient 35-70mm f3.5 ai and it's a beast. Just a beast. I can hardly wait to take it out and put it through its paces..... About the cost of a really nice lunch....

I've got this friend who is a genius. Yes, he's a photographer who was profiled in Communication Arts Magazine, he's shot for McDonalds, Quaker, Canon and ESPN. He's photographed for National Geographic too. But I call him a genius for the way he cooks ribs. His name is Will Van Overbeek and his homemade smoke pit would give Aaron Franklin's pit a run for the money, that is if Will barbecued for money.... He only cooks for his friends. I am lucky to count myself among the ranks having known Will since the early 1970's.

We talked recently and we were sharing stories about losing parents and dealing with both the grief of loss and the unending minutia of settling a parent's estate. Last Friday I got a call from Will announcing his intention to fire up the pit and make me medicinal, healing ribs. I accepted the invitation in a nanosecond. 

We were at his house yesterday evening, sitting around the picnic table in the backyard and having a feast of fresh corn muffins, smoked ribs with homemade (as opposed to "house made", a term I can't stand!!!) barbecue sauce, pinto beans with avocado and Mexican white cheese, and a spicy slaw. I brought a couple bottles of Chilean Malbec others brought lagers and amber ales. It was amazing. Will doesn't cook politically correct mini-portions. We stuffed ourselves with perfect pork and there was enough left over for our hosts to send all the guests home with goodie bags of outrageously good left overs, complete with small jars of (precious and mysterious) homemade sauce.

The combination of great food, great conversation and the warm camaraderie was amazingly curative, I woke up this morning feeling more positive and alive than I have in weeks --- maybe months.... I ate my take home ration for lunch today. My blood pressure dropped by ten points, my bank account glowed happily and my hair turned one stop less gray. I'm waiting for Will to retire from his job as a full time photographer (yes! there are still some of these out in the wild) so I can convince him to open a BBQ restaurant where I'll always be able to access this supreme, platinum level of rib euphoria. We'll see...

But more importantly, what camera and lens might one take to a social event dealing with BBQ consumption and red wine oversampling? Seems logical to me that one would limit oneself to just one camera and one lens. It should be something easy to operate and simple. Maybe it would be a good idea to select a combination that's more or less weather (or wine) resistant. 

I chose one of my recent, all time favorite combinations: The Panasonic G85 and the Sigma 30mm f1.4 Art lens for micro four-thirds. 

my starter plate.

I have a few other cameras and I like them all but when it comes to easy handling, small size, great features and like-ability there are no other cameras in my studio that I like as well. Sure, I am happy to shoot all day long with Panasonic GH5's but I'm thrilled shooting all day long with the G85. 

The different choice for me, this time, is my new appreciation for the Sigma 30mm f1.4 dc dn "Contemporary" lens. It's relatively small and light, has a focal length that makes me so very happy, and is sharp, sharp, sharp. Since I put it on the camera a week ago I've been loathe to pull it back off. 

Mary made us crispy, crunchy corn muffins. Choose with jalapeños or without.

The aforementioned spicy slaw. 

No Texas picnic is complete without fresh avocado...

I sliced the radishes while we were hanging out in the kitchen talking about our college kids.

Huge thanks to Will and Mary for an evening with great friends, great food and a reprieve from worrying that I've missed some critical step in the administration of life. 

So, where else to we take our little camera and lens combo? Well, how about a first, exploratory visit to this year's SXSW?

Signage inside the convention center.

I did something so out of character today. I gave up the need for constant and overwhelming control of my camera settings and decided to set the dial on the G85 to "*IA" which stands for (I think) intelligent automatic. The camera decides where to place the focusing squares, what exposure to set and what music to play on my earbuds.  (just kidding about the earbuds...). 

What this means to me is all I have to be responsible for is seeing something and then pointing the camera in the right direction. It worked surprisingly well. In fact, I preferred the camera's exposure decisions more often than I might have preferred my own. 

The problem with yesterday's walk through the heart of Austin's downtown and the home of SXSW is that no one seems to have shown up this year for the conference/concerts. At least not yet...

Usually, at the start of the second week, the unofficial start of the "real show" the streets, coffee shops and cafes are packed to the gills and people are queuing up the length of football fields to get into the sought after venues. Not so this year, in fact sidewalk traffic was about par for a first clear, cool day of Spring. Pedi-cab operators were lounging at intersections with no fares in sight. Seats at Medici coffee shop in the middle of Congress Ave. were widely available and the expected throng of millennial and their moms, captivated by iPhone screens while ambulatory, were conspicuous in their absence. 

It's no secret that SXSW peaked a few years back and has become a less and less popular event. One more or less abandoned by many of their traditional (and highly profitable) corporate sponsors. No big, breathless showcases that I could see for the likes of Samsung or Google. No throng of swag dispensers ranging through the street giving away insulated can holders, pens that light up or free passes to a venue serving dead pizzas. It was just wide open side walks as far as the eye could see. And as far as the camera could shoot. I gave it a couple of hours but the expression of disappointment on my camera rig's face confirmed that the lack of interesting targets had soured us both on the undertaking. Still, even when the fish are not biting it's fun to travel light. One small lens, one small body and a clean pair of bifocals. Maybe today will be more visually productive (sounds like a doctor's description of a hacking cough...). 

One can see the crowds swirling around this car display on a blocked off, downtown street. 
You couldn't swing an obsolete Nikon around without hitting someone? 

When in doubt (bored by lack of street life) snap a hew pics of historic buildings in the late afternoon. 

Why, in a brand new Mercedes SUV, fully festooned with Blue Tooth, would one need to break the law and operate their motor vehicle with a cellphone in hand? Why? Just Why?

Again. Beware the thronging crowds on Austin's popular 2nd Street...

This is how an event melts into an inconsequential footnote...

Swimming Pool. Lisbon.

A lot of cameras have come into the market lately; most are iterations of existing models with various added features or specialized feature sets. It's nice that almost everyone is busy iterating new models but there is little, newly launched, that propels me from my chair at the dining room table to my office computer to engage in pre-ordering much of anything. 

Sony announced the new A7iii and it looks great. Key features are improved video chops and the new battery. Both are nice, and welcome, but hardly a big enough jolt to move existing A7ii buyers to  rush to the camera store. The "nerd" feature of the new model is a sensor that is purported to have wider dynamic range and I'm sure there are a few people out there who feel that this would be welcome for their work. For me? Heck, I'm not using up all the dynamic range I've got right now. As a first time buyer into the Sony system the new A7iii would be a smart acquisition. You get ample resolution from a full frame sensor as well as a myriad of little improvements that should make photography more fun. But in the end it's the same resolution as the A7ii, the same color family, the same EVF resolution, the same rear screen resolution, and pretty much the same stabilization parameters too. If all you want a camera for is to generate a nice, big file you might be a thousand bucks ahead to just source the previous generation (A7ii) and learn to put a couple of extra batteries in your pocket...

My thoughts about the A7Riii are about the same. A bit more dynamic range, a bit faster throughput but mostly the same imaging performance one can already achieve with the A7Rii. Already have the A7Rii? Save your money and wait for the next generation after the iii and you'll probably feel smarter. As always, if there's something unique for you in the new model (can't think of what it really might be....) and you have the cash then go for it. 

My question for the moment is: Where is Sony going with the A6x00 series cameras. While the A6500 and A6300 are very capable image generators and both are very good at AF and video do we really need to keep iterating all that imaging goodness in a body design that is so tortured? It was novel to make a camera with such great output as tiny as possible five or six years ago but I think we've learned our lessons. If you want to have a camera body that's comfortable to hold and use you need to make it big enough to fill the average user's hands, to provide enough square centimeterage 
of surface area for good controls and enough mass to help make the camera stable. Not to mention that a bigger body gets you a bigger, better battery and much better thermal management. I'd love to see an APS-C version Sony mirrorless in the A7 body style; or even bigger. The APS-C sensor is a logical choice for great video capture and a bigger body (a la the Panasonic GH5) would allow for twin UHS-ii card slots and the ability to run the camera in the sun without shutting down or compromising imaging performance. 

I'll sign the petition for a "pro" style body that uses the newest Sony A7xx battery and the faster cards. That, and a much bigger EVF window/magnification. Let's make sure when they get around to producing it (inevitable) they remember to put that headphone jack on the side....

I won't go into the A9 because it's just a stupid camera for the kind of work I do. To pay more for less capability than an A7Riii in every regard but speed is just amazingly stupid for anyone not requiring some zany speed metric for some highly specialized task. It's not sports. No one needs 20 fps to track most any sport. I conjecture that they make this camera just to torment Nikon. 

Nikon. In my mind, for my potential use, Nikon only makes two cameras. But both of them are still very useful and bright arguments for sticking with the lens system or for staying with DSLRs. Conservative but capable. I'm thinking mostly of the D850 and the D750. I've owned the D750 (the most recalled camera in recent history) as well as the predecessor to the D850; the D810. After playing and working with a D850 for the last few days I can honestly say that when it comes to sheer image quality it's probably the best all around camera you can buy in 2018. And considering the competition that is saying a lot. If I shot high end products or fashion all day long this is probably the camera I would own. The files are amazing when wrung out to their maximum potential. 

I was even impressed by its the overall look of the video files. But even as I was playing around and shooting test shots with the camera I could not help wondering how much better the camera could have been with a super high resolution EVF installed in the place of the traditional eye level prism finder. Wanna go into the photography business with one camera and one lens? Buy a D850 and the Nikon 24-120mm f4.0. Then put your credit card away and go shoot. 

If you haven't had the religious conversion to the power of the EVFs yet and you don't need endless resolution then the D750 is the perfect all around compromise of: traditional DSLR, sweet spot resolution, great handling and very nice, mature color. The one I owned went back for service once too often for me but I have many friends who love theirs and have made kilo-bucks in the past four years shooting them. I've seen them new for around $1700 but if you are on a budget and must go Nikon be advised that D610s use the same basic sensor, have the same color response and are dropping in price toward the $1200 mark, new. 

If you enjoy studying the history of photography you might want to buy a Nikon for your historical collection. If they don't come out with a convincing APS-C or full frame mirrorless camera in the next 12 months ----- they are toast. Not right away but ----- toast all the same. 

Canon. Canon is such an enigma to me right now. Some great lenses. Some good lenses. Some mediocre lenses. A lot of good, nice handling and mature bodies (the 5D series, the pro bodies), some great AF technology and an interesting approach to sensor tech. Less low end DR. Shadows that recover into pointillist noise patterns. But when I walk out of my door and embrace the wide open world of photography it's the female segment of the market that is remarkably almost all Canon.  Every woman photographer I meet seems to be driving a 5D2, 5D3 or 5D4, nearly without exception. I get it. The color is pleasing and easy to work with in post production. The 24-105 + the 70-200mm combo is universally embraced and there's nothing else to buy (except for the A.I. powered new Canon flash). 

Seems the gear nuts are unable to embrace the Canon multi-verse because of the dynamic range controversy but the non-gear nuts are happy with tried and true technology that just works. I've shot with Canon cameras and they are, for the most part, great. Just think how much greater they'd be if Canon delivered a model with a really nice EVF. Since they've been introducing rank consumer models with APS-C sensors and EVFs I conjecture that it's only a matter of time before they begin to join the worship services already in progress over in the sanctuary of EVF-ness for full frame. They need only look to Sony for guidance....

If Nikon and Canon were the only two choices in solid cameras today it would be interesting to think about choosing one over the other. The Canons are fun to shoot and pleasant while the Nikon's are the precocious lab rats of the two. It all comes down to mindset ----- and the (perceived) need for super wide dynamic range. Confession: surging nostalgia for the Canon 5Dmk2+100mm f2.0, but equally balanced by the same kind of Nostalgia for the D610+85mm f1.8. 

Wouldn't it be a more interesting photo environment if both Nikon and Canon started introducing a choice in new camera lines? A D850 for traditionalist and a D850EVF for cognoscenti?

Olympus. It's time for Olympus to make some interesting "special edition" EM-1mk2s. Let's talk. 
I have a feeling we're going to be living at 20 megapixels in m4:3rd-land for some time to come so "new and improved" is going to have to come from features and style. I would love to see an EM-1 mkV that had a permanently attached battery grip, beautifully integrated into the overall design, that added all the capabilities that videographers who also moonlight as photographers would want. That would include space for a full size HDMI port, headphone jack, mic jacks, and a battery outside the core body of the camera in order to isolate the good stuff (sensor) from heat. I would also love to see a menu that you could choose in order to optimize for video. That would be separate from the Klingon language menus now being used for their mostly still photography control. 

Where Olympus is totally rocking it right now is in the lens department. I have experienced it first hand in the 12-100mm Pro and the 40-150mm Pro and I continue to be impressed and awed. I've been playing around with the Rokinon 50mm f1.2 for cropped cameras but it's just not quite there when used wide open. If anything the Rokinon has become my emotional brain's prime ally in the quest to buy the Olympus 45mm f1.2 Pro lens, which would be quickly followed by the 25mm Pro and the 17mm Pro. 

I teeter on the abyss of plunging back into the Olympus camp via an EM-1 mk2 just for the dual I.S. I'd get with the 12-100mm. I can't imagine it could be even better than it is right now.....

Which leads me to thoughts about Panasonic. The GH5 (classic) impressed me last weekend when I shot for a radiology practice. Batteries that last all morning long and then half of the afternoon. A perfect EVF finder. A great, flippy screen. And, at the end of the project, a great set of big raw files that are jam-packed with detail and perfect color. These guys get color science in a big way. 

My only regret was that there was not more video to be done. It's that camera's ultimate wheelhouse. 

I know they just introduced the G9 and it's fast and perky but what would I really like to see in the next generation of GH cameras? Um. The only thing I can think of would be the high res mode. Everything else about the GH5 is perfect for its format. 

But what about the GH5S? This camera is ultimately interesting to me but only as a curiosity. It's so obvious where the designer's inspiration came from. This is the micro-four-thirds version of a Sony A7S or A7Sii. Lower pixel count in exchange for higher ISO performance. But I think the performance improvement mostly pans out only in the video area and so it becomes only a specialty camera and not an everyday user. My friend James has one but every time he heads out to shoot something he seems to default to the GH5. It may be a compromise but life is made up of compromises and he seems to feel most comfortable with the classic... 

I'll wait for the G90. A rangefinder styled version of the G9. 

And that leads us to the eccentric system. Fuji. Like Olympus I think Fuji does lenses really, really well. They seem to have their fingers on the pulse of what higher end consumers would like in lenses and they tend to deliver it. I want to like Fuji but I'm a little afraid of them. You see, I was one of their early, unintentional beta testers. I worked with a couple of Fuji S2 cameras for while. When they worked they worked well and the color and tonality of the files was really great for the time. The S3 was good as well. But the S2 had two faults; it had two different sets of batteries and their individual exhaustion rate was never synchronized. Those cameras corrupted more CF cards than any camera in the history of my camera use experience. To this day I don't trust the bodies. 

And, in fact, I'm not sure I trust the camera body designers. I saved up all my money from returnable bottle deposits and from begging on street corners just to buy the original Fuji X-Pro-1 when it came out. I rushed to the store with my bags of nickles and quarters and dimes, I asked to see the demo model and pulled it up to my aging eyes. Blurry finder. I asked the salesperson to help me find the diopter adjustment knob only to be told that this particular camera did NOT have an adjustable eyepiece diopter. After that I've never been able to take Fuji cameras seriously as "user" cameras. Just not contenders....

I understand that they've improved by leaps and bounds. And, of course, the lenses... So I tried once again and bought a X-100T. That was a nightmare of a camera and one I could not understand, tolerate or appreciate. It's tainted my perspective ever since and that's sad because I've heard such great things about the XT-2 and even the X-H1. You go ahead and buy one. I'll go with the theory of "thrice burned means I am an idiot."

Great color. Great lenses. Nice styling, but I keep checking under the bed for monsters...

I think the overlooked Fuji camera right now is the EX-3. A nice body style with a reasonable price and the same sensor as the top of the line cameras. At around $1299 with the good 18-55mm what is there not to like? If I was to test the Fuji waters yet again it would be this camera that I'd pick up and put through its paces. Ah, here in the EX-3 is the Fuji gateway drug.

Who have I left out? Well, there's Leica but I won't go there. I believe they make insanely good lenses and that they used to make insanely good film bodies. I tested several Leica M series digital bodies and I'll have to say that the translation from film to digital didn't do Leica any favors. For the price of an M digital body and a standard lens you could pretty much equip an entire studio using other brands. When I make my next million I might reward myself with an M10 (or by then, M22) but maybe I'll just keep the money in the bank... 

Finally, there's Pentax. They lost me, existentially, when they came out with a camera that had a grip that lit up. Really! A light show on the handgrip. Amazingly tacky. Trump level tacky. In fact, had they come out with gilded version I think we could be hawking a bunch right now on Pennsylvania Ave. While the newest K1 mk2 might be an exemplary full frame body with the heft and density of a classic I falter when I look through their inventory of full frame compatible, designed for digital, lenses. 

Wouldn't it be great if the K1 Mk2 was similar to the Sony A7 series in that one could use just about anyone's lenses on the front of it? If I was an artist instead of a commercial user I'd love to try the K1-2 with a single, hand selected lens. Perhaps the perfect 50mm. It's a camera whose ethos cries out for a tiny handful of prime focal length lenses. As such it's a "pass" for most working stiffs.

So, where do I see the whole industry moving? 2018 has started out with a cough and a wheeze when it comes to sales. Maybe it's because we finally like and are satisfied with all the stuff we just bought. Maybe it's because official unemployment numbers dropped to something like 4.1% and everyone is too busy working to give a shit about cameras anymore. Maybe photography has become boring. Everyone is heading over to YouTube to glaze out on videos. Maybe, just as it's too much trouble to read it's also too much trouble to look at still images. Maybe it's like the Matrix where everyone is hooking in and endless video feeds them their reality. I think the malaise is because we've collectively decided to stop shooting literal and start shooting figuratively, shoot surreally, shoot impressionistically. Shoot ideas instead of proofs of technical process. All of which means that hyper detail, hyper sharpness and perfect focus are becoming much less important than having an interpretive style. And maybe we don't need new cameras if we're going to actively mess stuff up and post process the crap out of it. Maybe that's the short term future.

editor personal notes: Sorry to be out of touch this week. Taking care of a parent's entire existence seems to be a full time job. I've diversified investment accounts that no one has paid attention to in perhaps a decade this week. I've arranged for physical therapy and then, with feedback from my father, cancelled it as well. I've made claims on half a dozen insurance policies for my late mom's estate. I'm trying to clear out a house that's packed with 38 years of memories and memorabilia. I'm working with my parent's CPA on this year's taxes (while working with my CPA on my taxes!). And all the while I'm trying to visit and have meals with my dad at the memory care facility an hour and half from my home, at least twice a week. Throw in a few swim practices and something has to give. Last week the blog got short shrift. The week before it was just lack of sleep. Who knows what next week will bring?

Thanks for waiting and thanks for coming back. We'll keep writing. It's good practice for thinking. 

If you know where photograph is headed drop a line and let me know. I'm pretty sure cameras will follow along if we are smart enough to identify the trends...

Just a quick heads-up that I'll be teaching a small-class lighting workshop in Washington, DC this June 7th. It is part of the Focus on the Story International Photo Festival being held June 7-10.

This class is small — a maximum of 16 people — and we will be shooting all day. It is designed for people who are new to intermediate in their lighting skills. If you are comfortable with shooting in manual mode, you will not be out of place. If you already have some experience, we will happily stretch you out a bit.

If you have your own lighting gear (small flash only, please) feel free to bring it. But you need not, as lighting gear will be provided for the class. Just bring a camera, normal range lens (a kit zoom would be fine) a storage card and batteries and you are good to go.

I teach this class a lot; it's my favorite course. But oddly, almost never in the U.S. In fact, this is the only time I am scheduled to teach a small shooting workshop in the U.S. this year.

Here is my promise: if you show up as an "available light" photographer, you will leave as a lighting photographer. Period. I guarantee it. (In fact, I won't let you leave until you understand it. So if you are intimidated, maybe... bring a sleeping bag.)

The class, which includes lunch, is $230. You need not sign up for the whole festival to take this class. (But the festival has a really strong speaker lineup, and a 40% off early bird discount until March 18.)

Links below, hope to see you there. (Hit me on Twitter if you're coming!)

FOTS International Photo Festival
My Lighting Workshop

How to bounce flash

An elegant portrait of a delightful young woman, Supriya, taken at her Sweet 16 party. With events there isn’t always the opportunity to use involved lighting setups, and to keep the interest of your subject, you need to shoot fast. Yet the results need to look top-class. For this I most often revert to on-camera bounce flash. How to bounce flash – this is a topic we have covered thoroughly here with previous articles. This time I want to I want to highlight an aspect of that – the direction of bound flash – and this is best served by showing a correct and less-than correct examples for comparison. For more tutorials on the topic of bounce flash photography, check the links to related articles at the end of this article.

There are a few things which have to come together for successful portraits – the expression of your subject; the lighting, and the context (or background). This is very similar to the checklist for portrait photography on location. Some things just need to come together to predictably give you best results – and these are exactly the same three factors that were discussed there for great portraits on location … and they remain true for any aspect of portrait photography, whether indoors or outdoors. Or whether it is an event or a photo session with another intent.

When these factors come together – and they should, if you have any control over the photo session – then you are most likely going to get superb portraits. Predictably.  And that is important when you aim to have a recognizable style – you should be able to easily recreate a look and feel which is consistent with the greater body of your photography work.

That first element – your subject’s expression – might not be entirely under your control always, but there is much that depends on your demeanor and approach as a photographer. Some of that has been discussed in this article: People skills for portrait & wedding photographers

Now, about the lighting used here – I used on-camera bounce flash. It’s a simple technique which, when used correctly, can give you studio-quality lighting on location.


On-Camera Flash Photography

On-Camera Flash Photography – revised edition

This book is explains a cohesive and thorough approach to getting the best from your on-camera speedlight.

Particular care was taken to present it all with a logical flow that will help any photographer attain a better understanding of flash photography.

You can either purchase a copy via Amazon USA and Amazon UK, or can be ordered through Barnes & Nobles and other bookstores. The book is also available on the Apple iBook Store, as well as Amazon Kindle. Also check out the Amazon Kindle store.

Learn more about how the cover image was shot.


Most of you will already know that I eschew most of the on-camera light modifiers that are available on the market. The vast majority of them will work against you getting the best results that you are capable of. Just use simple bounce flash. But somehow people want to spend money to try and solve a lighting problem, instead of considering the underlying lighting principles – Direction & Quality of Light.

Here is a video comparison between various light modifiers for on-camera flash. It will go far in explaining why I avoid most light modifiers. In summary – I want to avoid any tell-tale signs that I used on-camera flash.

Here are two photos – the first one is one of my earlier shots of Supriya, but I had bounced my flash too high up. This caused too much contrast, and shaded her eyes. Not flattering. You can also see that the shadow of her nose blends with her lips. That’s not good either. The beauty of digital photography is that instant feedback which allows you to correct your lighting.

Lowering the angle at which I am bouncing my flash – probably about 30 degrees or so up from horizontal, allowed the light to come in from a more pleasing angle. I also turned the flash so it didn’t bounce at such an angle away from her. This more conservative way of bouncing the flash, gave much better results. And this is how we continued shooting the sequence of photos here.

That is essentially it – find the best direction in which to bounce your flash. You want to bounce your flash into the direction from which you want your light to come. Not necessarily the ceiling or a wall. You need to consider the direction which you want the light to come from. That is where you will bounce your flash into.

Here I might have used the infamous Black Foamie Thing, and probably had it on my flash, but it wouldn’t have had a specific effect here. I would have achieved the same results with bare bounce flash.


Photo gear used during this photo session

  • 1/80  @  f/2.8  @  100 ISO



About the specific background in the photograph at the top – obviously it is out-of-focus highlights or light-bulbs. But even then there is a specific course of thinking here. When I photograph these types of events, whether Sweet 16 parties or Bar / Bat Mitzvahs, or weddings, I have to get a few portraits before the event starts. I don’t often start with the longer lens. There is too much distance to my subject. It just works better if the first few sequences that I shoot, are with the 24-70mm lens (and usually around 50-70mm.) This shorter focal length make it easier to communicate with my subject, and quickly build up a rapport … as opposed to using a longer lens and being further away.

When I have a few good images, and I have shown my subject how good it looks, then I might start to use the 70-200mm lens. So here is one of the first images I took of Supriya with the 24-70mm lens. Also with bounce flash. It looks good, but I knew we could get better photographs of her.

I knew that if I worked at 200mm, the compression would make the background appear larger. That’s how it works … if you move your subject a little bit away to create separation, and then you zoom to your longest focal length … the background will appear much bigger in comparison … as opposed to how it appears with a wider focal length, and working closer to your subject.

I therefore purposefully zoomed to 200mm and stepped further back until I got the composition I wanted. Note, I didn’t stand in one spot and zoom to get my composition … instead, I moved back. This line of thought helped get the background I wanted, with those highlights much larger, and out of focus. It isn’t random. It was done with intent. Make your background appear larger (and more defocused), by zooming in to your longest focal length, and stepping back for your composition. Only when you can’t move further back should you zoom your lens. And no, you can’t “zoom with your feet”. That’s entirely impossible.



Applying a few straight-forward techniques will get you consistent results if you apply them with thought. Diligently onsidering your subject’s expression, and the lighting, and the background, is a recipe for getting good results every time.


Video tutorials to help you with flash photography

If you like learning by seeing best, then these video tutorials will help you with understanding flash photography techniques and concepts. While not quite hands-on, this is as close as we can get to personal instruction. Check out these and other video tutorials and online photography workshops.


Related articles


The post How to bounce flash appeared first on Tangents.

This shot is here to illustrate what I write about in the blog below. 
It is not a "finished" "polished" portfolio piece. You didn't pay for that.
We'll fine tune and enhance the final image that the client chooses from 
this set up. We don't routinely polish everything that gushes out of the camera.
There's not enough time for that. But I think this illustrates a point 
I'm trying to make below.

GH5+Olympus 12-100mm f4.0 Pro.

Amy and I were on location by 9:00 a.m. on Saturday morning. We were shooting another radiology clinic in Austin, Texas. Our shot list was ample but that's par for most image catalog shoots these days. These kinds of assignments can be done with just about any good interchangeable lens camera made in the past few years, anything from 16 megapixels to 50 megapixels will work fine. And based on the metadata associated with the files the quality of the lenses you use is a lot more important that the advertising impressive fast apertures. Most of our shooting through the day was done with a wide ranging zoom and it was used almost exclusively at f4.0. That's not f1.4, that's f4.0.

But the unforgiving piece in every scene is the lighting. Nearly every room we worked in had a combination of fluorescent lights, each with their own unique color characteristics and light properties. The long, ceiling mounted tubes gave off a softer, greener light, with a mix of blue. The compact fluorescent bulbs in the recessed ceiling cans had a deep yellow cast to them. Mix them together and you've got a real Rubik's cube of a color puzzle to solve.

The worst set of problems come when you need to photograph a scene like the one above in which you are showcasing an MRI machine. An MRI creates a very, very powerful magnetic field which requires the room in which it sits to be shielded. It also means that any ferrous metal isn't allowed anywhere in the room. The magnetic field is strong enough to wipe out your camera's memory cards and can also damage both the imaging sensor circuits in your camera, as well as the electro-magnets that drive the shutters and aperture blades in modern cameras.

We could not put lights in the room and we had to shoot from just outside the door which isn't the best recipe for composing a great image!

Our strategy was to figure out the dominant light temperature within the room and then supplement, through the doorway and via the heavily screened observation window about eight feet to the right of the camera position. The overwhelming majority of the existing light in the room was about 3,000K with a small dose of green. In most situations (those without MRI machines to deal with...) we'd just turn off the room lights and re-light the room with flash, or our choice of continuous light. But turning off the room lights in this situation meant that the back half of the room would go dark, which would look unnatural.

I filtered a strobe with a 3200K correction gel and put the strobe into a 24x36 inch softbox, positioning it near the top of the doorway, about three feet above the camera. Then we took one of our battery powered LEDs, covered it with the same gel material and aimed it through the observation window. The combination did a decent job lighting our two techs and their "patient" but there is more we can do in post to enhance the photo. We'll select the people and get their flesh tones into a pleasing color range and then inverse our selections and balance the light in the room a bit more. But the filters and the additional light went a long way toward cleaning up a visual catastrophe.

During the day it became (once again) very clear to me that the lighting in situations like this is nearly always more important and harder to achieve than getting the camera gear right. In retrospect I could have shot all day long with one GH5 and one 12-100mm f4.0 zoom lens but over the course of the same day we used five different flashes and three different LED panels in order to get a natural and pleasing look to the light in each scene.

Had we brought a $100,000 Phase One medium format camera and no lighting we would have been much less successful. Color balance works the same across all formats. Mixed light nearly always needs to be corrected. With no lights and a super high res camera we'd have many highly detailed unusable files to play with. Conversely, I could have brought along that old Nikon D2XS and some ancient, manual focus Nikon lenses and, together with a box of strobes, could have done photographic work that would fit into the use envelope of my client, regardless of the media selected for final output.

Everyone seems to couch their shooting needs in terms of camera capabilities but in the commercial field it's generally lighting that rules the day. You can spend a fortune on a great camera and I'll concede that with the same lighting you'll make images that are fractionally better than images made with a lesser spec'd camera. The differences might not make any visual difference at all in most uses; for instance if the images are to be used on websites or inserted into video programming, etc. But for most of the work I do, which is profitable and fun, there is no need for fast frame rates, no need for super high ISO performance, and no need for spectacular resolution. There is always a need for good lighting even if it's just to clean up the lighting inconsistencies of a tough room.

We used a collection of cheap speed lights to do our work on Saturday. Nothing over $150 per light. All of the flashes could be sync'd to radio triggers or slaved from each other. Having five (an investment of about $700) meant I could put them in small places and add light to areas that needed more light without running cables. We use the lights in the same modifiers we've bought for our bigger mono-lights. Softboxes, umbrellas, diffusion disks; you name it.

One thing we lean on a lot is the intertwined use of LEDs with the small flashes. Most mono-light have tungsten modeling lights and when we need to drag the shutter in a combination flash and ambient light exposures used to make the screens on computers or the panel lights on machines glow correctly we get tungsten contamination in our daylight leaning shots. But it's nice to have a modeling light as a work light for focusing. It's common practice for us now to just grab a daylight balanced LED and bounce it off a ceiling, or even off the front end of the modifier we're using for flash. We get the focusing benefits of a modeling light and no color contamination of our mostly daylight flash exposure. Nice when it all works together...

During most of the day I worked the camera around ISO 200 and ISO 400. Using a smaller format meant I could use wider apertures and still get the depth of field I needed to get both techs, patients and machines in acceptable focus. All of our lighting units and modifiers fit into one, big rolling case and, since the battery powered strobes are small and light, we were able to use smaller, lighter light stands which helped us keep our overall footprint smaller and the overall weight load lighter.

Generally, on locations, the use of the camera is never a puzzle or mystery. Use the lens that gets you the composition you want and you are good. Lighting is a totally different story. Some rooms are filled with reflective surfaces that have to be tamed. Lights have to be placed just right for best effect, and all of it has to be balanced so nothing sticks out and beats our viewing audience over the head.

Think you need a kick ass camera? Think again; what you really might need are some kick ass lighting skills. Nine time out of ten it's the lighting that makes you the money.

At the end of the day we'd done 36 different shots (nine locations with variations in each) and amassed 1585 raw files. I can't think of a single shot on which I did not use at least two lights. Usually three or more. We edited the take down to about 600 and delivered the online gallery on Monday. This was our third day of shooting for this client in the last 30 days. We are scheduling additional shoots for this client in April. We must be doing something right.... maybe it's the lighting...

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