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The obligatory self-portrait.

Since I shoot a fair amount of video with the lenses I have for my Panasonic GH5 I've bought a good number of variable neutral density (VND) filters. One's options for shutter speed settings outdoors in full sun are limited if you are shooting video. Especially if you are hopeful about using faster apertures...

I'm cheap when it comes to some parts of the photographic buying frenzy. I could never bring myself to spring for +$250 for a 62mm B+W VND is I can buy one that works well from Zomei for less than $40. If there are color inconsistencies that result from using the bargain filter I haven't found them yet...

So we use the VNDs all the time in video production but I rarely read about people using them in still photography. Especially for non-technical stuff like street photography. Come to think of it I haven't used them very often for that either. This morning I decided I'd see what I was missing (if anything).

Of course, if you are using a camera that offers electronic shutter capability you may already have the ability to set very high shutter speeds in order to shoot wide or nearly wide open with fast lenses in the sun. But you might find that the freeziness of those fast shutter speeds has a different look --- and you may not like it. I wanted to work with a solution that would give me: A. Low ISO. B. f1.2 or 1.4. And shutter speeds in the range from 1/125th to 1/1,000th. 

I took along a GH5 and the Rokinon 50mm f1.2, as well as a Zomei 62mm VND. I was able to stay at f1.2, where I remained throughout the morning - with only one or two exceptions solely to get more depth of field... I would comp a subject, look at the exposure numbers in the finder and then twist the VND front ring until the shutter speed numbers dropped right into my preferred range. What I found is that the Rokinon 50mm f1.2 is better than I thought. Previous test were done as such low light levels that it was hard to separate out which weakness in technique was giving me crappy results; bad focusing, subject movement or camera shake. With daylight, faster shutter speeds and ample light with which to focus it turns out that the actual performance of the lens is quite good. 

I'm excited about the technique but the very next time I go out to do this I'm bringing along a beautiful and mysterious looking companion/model so we can make better use of the subject distance to out of focus background. It will also give me a much more interesting subject to photograph. I just need to find someone fun and relatively immune to the wretched heat. We will always be looking for open shade. Although a sweating model would be novel.... Happy to try new stuff. Nice respite from the harsh reality of real life.

Subject too far from camera to show off effect well.


The second door from the left side of frame is my target in the image just above.









Nicely sharp wide open. And look at the pavement in the background....







Don't get me wrong. I really like all that Nikon stuff. The full frame, at 36+ megapixels makes for lush files and a fairly easy working process. Big, juicy files, laden with detail, make work at the edges of the ISO envelope a bit less of a nail biting experience. But the cameras and lenses are huge. The lenses, even the good ones, aren't perfect and the lack of an EVF means there's more screwing around to get just the right exposure. Shoot. Chimp. Shoot Again. Chimp Again. Repeat.

I was heading to the Blanton Museum on the UT Austin campus yesterday morning and I wanted to bring along a camera with less physical gravitas. I was getting tired of the bundle size, the irrefutable effects of gravity and the extra layer of work involved in using an "old tech" camera so I decided to bring along the smaller Panasonic and one lens. I looked into the m4:3 drawer in the equipment cabinet and passed over the alluring prime lenses; the single focal lengths that always promise I might get one glowing, razor sharp nugget of visual joy. I went straight to the 12-100mm; my interest in it stoked by an hour's use of it for the video project done just the day before. 

I loved the show of art from modern Australian Aboriginal artists. It's a great show and  a celebration of interesting patterns and symbols intertwined with beautiful colors and textures. When I had gone through the galleries twice, with the camera hanging over my left shoulder, I went back and walked the galleries one more time cradling the camera in my hands and shooting images of the gallery itself.

With the Olympus Pro 12-100mm I believe the system defaults to using the image stabilization in the lens. In any event it all works well to deliver a very stable and handholdable package that I can use down to something like a 10th of a second with no discernible artifacts. The lens is supremely sharp and is well corrected at most focal lengths. At 12mm there is some noticeable (but not excessive or complex) barrel distortion but it's easy enough to handle in Lightroom or Photoshop if you need perfect geometry. The thing I like about the lens is it's feeling of confidence. No matter what the subject matter, if it's in the range of 12-100 you can shoot without a neuron wasted wondering if your lens is up to the task.

This lens, in combination with the really tight and capable GH5 body is a great all around system. It's my default and my basis. While the Nikon full frame system ( or Sony or Canon ) is great for those times when you just have to have all the clutter in the background disappear courtesy of the magic of limited depth of field, in many way the smaller format is better. Easier to stabilize. Easier to ensure image quality across the frame. More physically manageable. 

In the end they are all just cameras. The show at the Blanton shows me the real nature of art work. It's the WORK. It's getting up and thinking about the work you want to create and then committing to doing it with all your attention. Making time to work is work. But doing the work is good work.

Doing it with a camera you enjoy using takes a bit more friction out of the process.

So, what's on tap for today? Well, I was the subject of a fun interview yesterday evening by Gary Friedman, I signed lots of paperwork for the sale of a house in San Antonio. I caught up on billing and client correspondence, got a bunch of video files over to the Fedex office for a client in Florida and a bit more. But over the last week I missed my traditional walk through the city of Austin with a camera and I'm afraid this weekend might be similarly tricky so I'm taking the morning off to recover, stroll with mindless (mind free? unmindful?) abandon through the familiar streets of the city and take a (metaphoric) deep breath before stumbling back into the strange world of self-employment I've constructed for myself. Some moments feel as though I am hanging by my fingertips while other moments feel like I've just walked into the most spectacular party on the planet. But I'm never sure which agenda is ascendant and which is on tap for the present.










Into every photo a little light must fall. It can fall well or poorly; that's up to you.

I think we tend to make big presumptions about why photography is popular and enduring. As a culture we tend to collect objects and creating, printing and collecting images of our food, our fantastic experiences and our unique (ha!) possessions fulfills a bevy of urges constructed by our existence within a mercantile culture. We are also fond of using photographs as symbols of our relative wealth and overall social status. The image of a cruise ship is not about showing your friends or relatives the design and displacement of an ocean going craft it is about a photo becoming a souvenir which, when shared, says, "I had enough money to do this. My social status allowed me this freedom." The same could be said for our images of landscapes taken while on vacation or as the focus of our vacations. I believe that legions of older men feel the need to take their fine cameras somewhere remote from their daily lives in order to give weight and provenance to their artwork by embuing it with a cost of time and travel that is extraneous to the merit of the art itself. 

Our prodigious outpouring of images, spewed across the web, are really two dimensional advertisements for our achievements. We collectively create the understanding that, in order to create a landscape or urbanscape that is of a certain quality, we are  required to travel away from our daily lives in order to see nature/life/monuments in a new and fresh way. 

In effect, the majority of landscapes, cityscapes, and photographs of our stuff  are merely postcards that gather like progressive graffiti to shout, "Kilroy was here. Kilroy had his wallet out. Kilroy traded his time and some of his money in order to position himself to see in real life what you can only see via this small postcard shot I've shared with you"

We've also moved from the idea of sharing being a benevolent act of giving something of value and desire to our fellow travelers. Now sharing has come to mean, in many instances, "I will show you that I am more worldly, more tied in and more able than you are, have more and better friends than you,  and I will do so by making you look at something I have done which does not benefit you and is, almost certainly, of no interest to you. And you will look and act interested in order to preserve the parts of our relationship that you do value. Or you will suffer my need to strut through my catalog of experiences in order to maintain a social equilibrium. 

This is in no way a new thing. People have dreaded for decades the idea of sitting through some horrid evening consisting of uncle Bob's slide show of his trip to the edge of the Grand Canyon, complete with running monologue, "You can't really see it here very well but that spec on the other side of that cluster of trees on the other side of the canyon is actually a bear!!!!!" "You really had to be there to understand it....." And that, of course, is the real message. 

I love Rome and have visited and photographed there perhaps a dozen times. But I can't think of anything more boring that sitting through someone's travel video about the city.

The worst permutation of all this new sharing is the insensitivity of sharing anything visual on the  screen of a cellphone while standing around in bright ambient light. I've given up being nice. I just tell people, "I don't look a pictures on cellphones. It sucks too much."

No, if we are honest, with the exception of commercial work which clients need in order to push their businesses forward, no one really loves anyone else's work. Not wholeheartedly. We do this photography thing because we love our own work. Sure, there are ten or twelve or maybe twenty photographers whose work you admire and wish you could compete with but it's not Joe at the camera club and it's certainly not that guy who has photographed Mount Bonnell in every season and from every angle and with every camera. Robert Frank? Maybe. Richard Avedon? Sure. But that guy who keeps buying those monster zoom lenses and takes shots at the kid's football games? Not on your life. 

So, if I'm such a curmudgeon and so grumpy about photography why do I even bother to practice and share it? Well, my interest is in people and what I've found after working through a lot of life is that there are polite ways of looking at people and then there are interesting ways of looking at people. There's the quick glance and there's the long stare. 

The short answer is that the camera, and the practice of photographing people, gives me a certain permission to really look at and absorb the beauty or presence or energy of the person who stands or sits on the other side of the camera. I photograph (for myself) only the people I find beautiful, interesting, compelling, engaging or scary. Because in this way I can spend time circumventing the polite (and necessary) rules of our culture and stare a little longer, sit a little closer and engage people on a different level than that which is part of our social contract in everyday life. That's why portraits are so captivating. Not necessarily only mine but everyone's. You can stop and look. If you are of a certain generation you might be looking to see if the surface details disclose some evidence of the subject's soul. From another generation you might be admiring aesthetic balance and form. For others it's all about expression and connection. But the bottom line is that the attraction to images of people is our innate curiosity about what makes the person across from us both different and the same. 

My images give you permission to stare. And it's an invitation to see and understand what I find interesting. Fields of blowing cornstalks versus faces directly engaged. No contest. 






The two lenses I used today to complete a job that required stills and video. 

I'm always impressed by the delusional pursuit of perfect lenses. There is a power in the process that is capable of sucking money out of my bank account faster and more frequently than any other part of my expensive photography habit. I recently acquired a Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art lens. It's spectacular. You'd think I would use it for everything but it's only been out for a few walks and it's been toted along but unused on a handful of assignments where I imagined that it might make a critical difference in ..... something pertaining to my work but it ended up staying in the bag and mostly just taking up space.

Over the years I've made the same kinds of errors in critical thinking over and over again. The acquisitive/rationalizing part of my brain tells me that the ultimate lenses will help me make much better photographs. It persuades me that all my clients will see and appreciate the difference that an ultra-cool-expensive-flashy-fast lens will make in the work I do for them. And I follow that bad part of my brain and rush to the store or to my computer keyboard and throw caution to the wind in my breathless desire to own the best. Almost without exception the most prestigious lenses I ever buy inevitably get sold off a while later. Always at a loss that exceeds any sort of depreciation.

I think my least wise purchases over the course of my career were the purchase of a brand new 80mm Leica R Summilux 1.4 for my (also bad choice) Leica R8 system. There was nothing wrong with the lens. In fact, it was really, really sharp, had flawless bokeh (I measured it on the same brand of Bokeh-Meter used by the savants at DP Review -- It was a 9.5 on the Kroniform Thyquisty Coefficient of Wunderblur. Beaten only by a Lens Baby...) but the cold hard reality was that 80mm is a shitty focal length for me and I should have known better before casually tossing down north of $2500 for a lens I used maybe three times and liked maybe once.

The second was an Olympus 14-35mm f2.0 zoom that was made for the now deceased Four Thirds system. It was supposed to be a beautiful lens. It was $2200. I could never get it to focus on the sensor plane. It loved the space behind the sensor and enjoyed the space in front of the sensor but it plainly reviled the actual focal plane of any Olympus camera I ever owned. I even
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Last week, and all weekend up until the end of Monday, sucked. My dad didn't like being in the hospital and I sure didn't like spending nights and days there trapped in a small room, with bad coffee and worse decor. But we've moved past that now. My dad is home from his stint in observation and, according to my sister, is back to his (recent) old self. Happy and adjusting quickly to being back in his senior living center. I'm now on to other parent care initiatives such as selling the "ancestral" home. We are on schedule to close next week. There goes another day.

But for now I'm happy to have work and I'd rather write about packing for tomorrow's shoot. I'm heading to the Driskill Hotel in the middle of downtown to both photograph and make video of a team building exercise for a national engineering firm. We've got a short time in which to work and lots of stuff to capture.

The client spec'd 1080p video and that's something the GH5 excels at; especially when you set it to do 1080p in 10 bit, 4:2:2, All-I. I don't think I'm going to have much time to dick around with lenses and settings so I've got the camera set up with the Olympus 12-100mm f4.0 Pro lens and I'll most likely spend the morning shooting it wide open at f4. Why not? It's monstrously sharp there, has more than enough depth of field and I'll have a fighting chance in lower light situations. I'm taking a couple fast primes in case the client throws me a curve ball and we end up in a room with next to no light.

We're not doing interviews, just capturing the flow of the team building episode but it's still important to grab some ambient sound during the process. I'm using the Aputure Diety shotgun microphone mounted on top of the Panasonic GH5's audio interface and I'm toying this evening with the decision of bucking best practices and setting the module to use Automatic Level Control (Satan's setting) so I don't have to ride levels while I'm shooting.

I have a small cage for the camera, and the image stabilization in the lens is great, but I know I'm not Superman so I'm going to depend on a Benro video monopod. It's one of those that has the little "chicken feet" at the bottom to help with overall stabilization and it has a nice fluid head on the other end. I practiced with it today for half an hour and I think I've got the hang of it. 

I did the firmware update on the GH5 last week and the AF tracking seems much improved. I may trust it this time for a bit of an assist. So that's it for the video portion of our morning but I also have to capture much the same progression of event with still photographs as well. 

To that end I'm bringing a Nikon D800e and the 24-120mm lens. One lens, one body. I'm also hedging my bets by bringing along a small, shoe mount, electronic flash unit to bounce off the ceiling for the times when I feel like I've just got to have a little more illumination....

Everything packs down into a small backpack (except for the monopod) and I like that because I'm working without an assistant and I want to get in and out fast. I'll shoot raw for the stills and deliver corrected Jpegs but I'm sending along the video as OOC (out of camera) files and letting the client's team in another state incorporate it into whatever project they have in mind. 

I'll head to swim practice first thing in the morning and then see if I can't catch the bus downtown. It's so much easier (and cheaper) than trying to find weekday parking in downtown Austin. For a couple of bucks I have convenience and a nice break from having to pay attention to anything. Should be a nice change....

One reason I am looking forward to working at the historic Driskill Hotel = they have really good coffee...

Young Ben at Asti Trattoria. 

It will be nice to get back to something I am reasonably good at, for a change. And I love having engineers as subjects. Then it's back home to put on my "real estate" hat and get a house sold. We've got some contract stuff to get through but should be closing on the property next week. It's actually fun to keep checking stuff off my list. 

Dad is in good hands back at his memory care facility. The staff is great. The nurses are great, and my little sister flew into town to spend the rest of the week visiting him and catching up. No panicky sub-routine running in the back of my brain while I'm trying to navigate two different system menus. 


I also wanted to write a quick bit about owning one's own copyright. I know a lot of people will tell you that owning the rights to your images and charging additional fees for licensing is extinct or somehow last century, but we still do it. Case in point: we photographed for an architectural firm a few weeks back and we billed them for my time and usage fees for public relations and marketing use of the images. Late last week the multinational construction company which built the project I shot for the architects got in touch with me having been referred by the architect. 

They needed images from the project as well and it dawned on them that our images were real, not future tense or virtual, that they reviewable and that they could have the option of licensing (not buying---just renting) the images individually for their PR and Marketing as well. I checked with the first client and we have no conflict. My offer to the construction company for the use of the images was $125 per image or $1250 for the use of the catalog of images from the half day project. They looked at the galleries and quickly chose the second option. Getting paid twice for the same job is the best way to make this profession profitable. It's not cheating anymore than selling multiple tickets to the same movie is cheating. 

If you aren't currently estimating and bidding based on usage fees and secondary or shared usage you might want to give it a try. Five minutes of phone time for a good fee seems worth learning how to explain this business method to potential and existing clients.


The Summer shooting season is picking up. We've got three theater productions to photograph as well as some fun stuff for several of my medical practice clients. Now, if we can just all stay healthy I think this might work out...


 The rest of the images are just here (below) because I like looking at them. You could stop reading here if you like. ..



back lighting mania.

Crusty old photographer. 



Dad is back at his Memory Care/Assisted Living Facility. My sister is in town handling stuff for the rest of the week. I made it back to Austin late this afternoon in a little over an hour. Can't wait for dinner with Ben and Belinda, with Studio Dog in attendance under the table, leaning on my feet and waiting to see if anything is left over for her. I was only gone since Thurs. but I think that dog used up all her saliva licking my face in welcome when I walked in the door....

Photo of Ben from 20 years ago.

Job on Weds. Stock sale today. Lunch with a best friend tomorrow. Momentary recovery.



Hey. I drove to San Antonio on Weds. for a meeting, got a call from my dad’s cardiologist, rushed dad from assisted living to the hospital. He has a pacemaker/ICD with cellular telemetry that indicated ten cardiac arrests in the middle of the night. The ICD revived him each time. I’ve been  sleeping on a chair in his room since then. Being there makes it easier on him and the nurses because his dementia is exacerbated by the absence of familiar faces and routines. It is taking a toll on me and reduces blogging as a priority. Dad is getting discharged today (finger crossed) and things will return to normal soon. I sure miss swim practice. And I hate writing this on a cellphone. 

I’d very much appreciate any supporting and well intentioned comments.

With a bit of luck you’ll hear more from me soon! Kirk

I think I enjoy this one because there is so much blue in this shot that the red construction elevators just seem to come alive by contrast. I see the buildings as large waves and the elevators as small fish. It's kinda crazy but endless building is a topic of art exploration that will become more and more interesting as population growth heads toward geometric and there is an ever mounting pressure to build enough living and working spaces to accommodate everyone. It will be ever more relentless.

Documenting the growth of a city is like taking a long term pulse....

On a different note, I was comparing images taken with the same wide angle zoom on the D700 and D800 cameras. I like the files from the D700 better --- at least if no one is going to blow them up really large. They just seem sharper and more topographically juicy.

At the Breakers in West Palm Beach.

If I was smart enough to be retired I'd like to think I'd end up somewhere like the locale in the photo above. Next to a beautiful, clean pool which is itself next to a beautifully manicured beach, sitting in a comfortable chair daydreaming as the sun sets and the sky glows impressionistically, and the waiter approaches with my light snack of foie gras on whimsical crackers and my evening bottle of Louis Roerderer Brut Champagne; chilled but not too cold...

Instead I am sitting in my small office watching the heat waves waft over the asphalt on the road outside and wondering why work always slows down in the early part of Summer and how I can compensate for the trickle of engagements with an increase in the frequency and scope of my marketing.

I've found a nice, thick printing paper that works well in my crusty Canon ink jet printer. It's Moab Lasal and it's a matte surface stock in a heavy, 235 GSM weight. I've been getting it in boxes of 13 x19 inches to make large prints for my portfolio and also in boxes of 5 x 7 inches which I use to make small, custom prints for specific clients and potential clients.

It's getting rare to show an actual printed portfolio anymore. It's just not a very efficient path. If you have a great "book" and you can get an appointment with an art director, you'll have a really good chance of nailing down some work but it's a labor intensive proposition and cold calling reminds me lately of Willy Loman in Arthur Miller's play, Death of a Salesman. I maintain the printed portfolio for all those times when agencies or clients call in multiple portfolios from two or three other photographers in order to drill down and decide with whom they'd like to work. Or when someone calls and asks to see work in a different way than via a website.

The marketing that seems most productive to me is to make small prints of beautiful subjects, be they portraits, products, architecture or industrial scenes, writing notes on the reverse side and sending them in hand addressed envelopes to carefully selected people. I've sent along a few downtown shots today to various principals at an architecture firm and I've sent along a few shots of people working on an assembly line to an art director at an agency that just won a similar account.

I try to maintain a list (ever evolving) of 100 people (not companies) that I'd like to work with and, once I put someone on the list I like to mail to them at least four times a year. I intersperse physical mailings with e-mails that show off recent jobs that I think will resonate with the recipients. I also send out letters on stationery to announce things like recent awards, and the addition of new services (different types of imaging or different levels of video production).

Invariably the personal letters work best. Each one is unique because they are written directly to one person. No boilerplate. No over-arching template. When you engage a person directly, and they know it, they appreciate the time and energy you've taken to reach out. You might not nail down a job immediately but the good will accrues over time.

Once, in an unusual moment of despair, I asked my all knowing spouse why no one was calling to book me (this was about ten years ago). Was I over the hill? Had photography vanished as a form of profitably business? Would I ever work again?

She sat me down and was very patient. She reminded me that she had worked for large ad agencies as an art director for nearly 20 years at that point. She pointed out that a lot of "creative" agency work is repetitive, not very creative and, and sometimes built around stock photography or illustration. She remarked that she had the opportunity to generate about 4 or 5 jobs per year that required high end photography services. If I got the five jobs from her in a given year that was about all I could count on. It wouldn't matter if I sent along an extra hundred mailers or blasted her e-mail way too often. The number of jobs just wouldn't change.

Her message was clear: You can't depend on a small handful of loyal clients. There might not be enough work from them to make your bank account happy for the year. You have to remind former clients you still exist and are working well. You need to find new opportunities and start the long process of reeling in new clients (sticking with our literary theme) like Hemmingway's, The Old Man in the Sea, reeling in the big fish and hoping to hold onto it long enough to land it.

It's a matter of providing both a personalized engagement with your current clients and a constant outreach to new clients that makes any business work. Different prints for different purposes.

So, I'll set a goal to knock out ten individualized marketing pieces in a given day. Once I've done that I allow myself to escape the office and work on something that makes me happy. It usually works...

And...yes. I've learned by know that the first few weeks of June are when many people take vacations. I should put this knowledge into next year's calendar and do the same myself.

Okay. I'm having a blast shooting this big, bulky lens. It's the Tokina 16-28mm f2.8 ATX Pro lens. It's the cheapest of the big, fast wide angle zooms and while nobody is going to insist that the corner sharpness, wide open, is anything to write home about I am starting to understand why so many people like shooting this wide; you can get a lot in the frame and that makes you work harder at trying to pull good compositions from chaos. 

When I stop this lens down to f8 I become fearless about
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Ellsworth Kelly Installation on the UT Austin Campus.

One of my earliest memories of my maternal grandmother was a visit to her house in the Ben Avon neighborhood of Pittsburg, PA. I was probably five or six years old and I was fascinated that a house could have three floors and an attic and basement. Even more fascinated that every room was filled with newspapers, furniture, housewares, books, lamps, etc. And when I say, "filled" I mean that each room had small walking pathways through the stacks and clutter that occupied the majority of the square footage in each room.  I remember walking into one room on the third floor that had been my grandfather's home office for nearly 50 years. It was filled with IBM typewriters of nearly every vintage. When a typewriter broke my grandfather would put it on a shelf and pull a new one out of a box and continue typing. He never trusted a machine once it failed him. I'm sure he always meant to have the dozens and dozens of typewriters repaired, or at least donated, but he never got around to it.

Once my grandparents filled one house they eventually bought a bigger one nearby. I remember visiting years later to find that the new house was now so full of stuff that the family was storing a mahogany table that would seat 16 under a tarp on the front porch. I don't know where all the stuff came from but it seems that once it entered the house it was trapped their forever...

But this is not a story about my grandparents, it's about my own parents. They bought a modest house in San Antonio about 38 years ago. I never lived in that house as I was already in college and firmly ensconced in Austin, Texas. I would come down for holidays or dinners and I never really paid attention to my mother's tendency to save everything in the event that a greeting card or jelly jar could be repurposed or in case the IRS wanted to see some detail of a return filed 37 years before. 

Most stuff ended up layered in boxes which were layered in closest and in the garage. When I say, "layered" I mean that a box might have old Christmas cards from friends and family, circa 1982 on one layer and under that might be some series EE savings bonds and under those might be a cache of credit card receipts from 1993 and under those might be some photographs from the end of the 19th century. These seemingly endless boxes of stuff were everywhere but since my parents seemed to be competent to handle their own lives the "archives" never hit my radar. 

That all changed at the end of 2017. My mom, the curator and essential content creator for most of the saved material passed away rather suddenly. Then it became glaringly obvious that my mother and her housekeeper had been keeping my dad's progressive dementia and memory loss from the three of us kids. My dad hadn't signed a check, balanced a checkbook or participated in financial record keeping in the better part of a decade. He had no idea what was in the boxes, or, more importantly, where to find important documents and things like checkbooks or bank statements. 

At the time it seemed a herculean task but we were able to find a very good memory care facility for dad. I thought that would be the toughest task to get done in this tumultuous and emotion laden transition... But it paled in comparison to the enormous process of cleaning out my parents house and finding, and securing all their legal documents and financial instruments. 

Belinda and I took on the task of sorting through everything to find all paper with account numbers and social security numbers on it. Anything that could be used for identity theft or information theft. We would head down to San Antonio once or twice a week, from January through May, to both visit my dad and to also sit for hours opening and sorting through boxes, filing cabinets, desks and cupboards. We looked through every nook and cranny. We had a three bin system. One bin was for all things with identifiers on them but which did not need to be saved for legal or financial purposes. This box was called, "Shred." A second bin was for memorabilia. Anything from family snapshots to class rings, old watches, cards from various grandchildren (my brother seemed incapable of tossing anything his kids had made as presents for our parents....) notes, letters, etc. This bin was called, "Memorabilia" and had a note: "to be sorted by Alison and Ned" my siblings being more attached to the nostalgic residue than I.  The final box that Belinda and I worked to fill was for recent tax returns, property deeds, stock certificates, life insurance policies, financial accounts and medical records. All of this material went into a bin called, "Save and File." 

We have, just this week, finished our primary filtering of all the boxes, desks and hiding places. Belinda and I brought the ten moving boxes of shredding up to Austin and called a service that will come to your business or home and shred documents in a big truck fitted with a powerful, industrial shredder. They charge by the pound. We handed over to them 420 pounds of material to shred. It was sweaty work for the technician to pull the boxes out and into the hot interior of the truck but we were overjoyed to get our space back in the studio and in Belinda's office. 

My brother and his wife have taken care to mine all of the memorabilia and to sort it for "keep" and "throw." 

All that's left in the house now is the bulk of the furniture (some rescued by my two siblings and their kids) bedding, kitchen ware and old clothes. We thought of having an estate sale but no one was up for spearheading that so we're working with a charity to have then come and take anything of value.  After that we've found a service that will excavate the house of all trash, unwanted items, unclaimed stuff, pile it all into a dumpster and haul it away. 

So, what is the tangential lesson I've received from the universe by doing this process? First, that most of the stuff we're probably hanging on to is worthless to nearly everyone else in the universe. Second, that over time we spend enormous amounts of money accruing crap we don't use up and don't store well. And, finally, that after we die someone else has to take responsibility to put aside sentiment and radically downsize the ever growing piles of things we thought we'd take out and look at sometime in the future which have laid, untouched, in boxes for decades. In fact, I'm pretty sure my parents had no idea what was finally in most boxes and could not have found anything particular thing which they had not used or seen past two years. 

Two things struck me as odd. One was that my mother and father were fond of Bonne Maman jams, jellies and preserves. I like the look of the jars just as much as the next person but when I opened a cabinet in their kitchen I came across several hundred empty jars which had been used, cleaned out, had the labels removed and were stored with their lids on. There was no sign that my mother had ever reused even one but the collection grew right up until near the end of 2017. 


The second odd thing concerned a chunky collection of U.S. Savings Bonds. Series EE. My mother seemed to collect these as well. She worked for a large insurance company for many years and, in addition to the generous pension that was part of her compensation she also seemed to love the month ly purchase of these government bonds. Since I had been designated as the administrator and executor for both of my parents my mother brought out a thick 9x12 inch envelope on day in 2016 and asked me what she should do with these bonds. It was the first time I knew of them. I told her she should take them to her bank, cash them and put the proceeds into one of her accounts. We never spoke of them again but I called the bank after her passing to see if she'd ever completed the transaction. No. Now the search was on for the envelope. 

We looked in every nook and cranny. Every strong box. Every moving box. Nothing. Finally, I was gathering up clothing and accessories to take to Goodwill or their church's thrift shop as donations. One old canvas bag that hung with some of mom's well used leather purses seemed a bit heavy and bulky so, of course, I looked inside and there was the envelope we'd spent months looking for. 

I can't wait to sell the house. I never liked it. And I'm tired of writing checks for taxes, utilities and maintenance for a house that no one lives in. I'm meeting with a realtor who my elder law attorney has recommended. I hope the sale can be handled with as little intervention on my part as possible. 

I hate projects that go on forever.  I'm stacking up my banker's boxes with old tax returns in a corner of the studio. When I pull out all the old paper from the filing cabinets I'll call the shredding service again. It's cathartic. And it's something you should try not to pass on to your children. Not when they'd rather be walking around testing a new lens....

I liked Abraham's (ODL Design) suggestion that I source an inexpensive Olympus EM-5.2 and use the hi-res mode in conjunction with the 8-18mm Panasonic/Leica lens to make very high resolution shots for my upcoming architectural photography projects. I have one modification that I'd make to his suggestion and that is to try the process with the Panasonic G9 as I like the finder better and it can generate equally large (or bigger) raw files.

The detail that remains to be see is whether or not the 8-18mm lens will actually resolve 45+ megapixels of resolution on the camera's very dense sensor.

I'm working on getting a test camera to see just that. Stay tuned and we'll see if we can't do a head to head comparison. Either that or I can just bag the whole idea of shooting architecture and keep making portraits. Might be a better use of my time.....



We were doing marketing photographs for the new play and we were warming up with with some individual portraits. Jill was my first subject of the day and she stood patiently as I fine-tuned the camera and lighting settings.  I've photographed Jill many times over the years and really admire her acting talent. And her tolerance of photographers who fiddle with their cameras too much.

We were doing a shoot within a shoot on that rainy Friday. I was photographing the principal actors while a photographer from the local newspaper was photographing me photographing the models  and a video crew was also filming the actors, me and any other other B-roll they thought they might need in order to complete their production.

Since we had a three camera video crew in tow I decided to light the stage and the set with continuous lighting to make the motion shooting easier. If I had used flash on the dark stage there's no way my skimpy modeling lights would have provided the right illumination for noise free video, and the video is a big part of ourmarketing push.

I set up a bunch of Aputure LightStorm LS-1 and LS-1/2  LED panel lights, some shooting through a six by six diffusion scrim on Jill's right and several more bouncing off multiple 48 inch reflectors on Jill's left side. There is also a "wink" light on the top of the camera just to add a little catchlight to her eyes.  Just a small and inexpensive LED panel...

The video crew did their jobs well and we are closing in on 20,000 views of their opus: Zach Sundays in the Park. Here is more information from Zach about their production: http://zachtheatre.org/shows/main-stage/sunday-park-george/

This is not one of the frames the marketing team chose. I use it here because it's one of the quiet moments in a shoot that is a photo of the transition to the next moment. It's just a quiet moment.

I used a Nikon D800 and the 24-120mm f4.0 VR lens to take the series of images and I used an Gitzo tripod for system support.


20mm. f5.6

I did a P.R. job for an architectural firm. We were there to do a ribbon cutting and to make photos of VIPs making speeches. I got to the location about an hour and a half early, no one was there yet, so to stave off boredom I pulled out a tripod and a 24mm lens and made a series of images of interior spaces and exterior glamor shots of the building. I'm not exactly a neophyte at shooting architecture and have a couple dozen magazine covers to my credit from 4x5 view camera work of buildings and historic homes from back in the late 1980's and early 1990's. You know, back when you had to know a bit more, technically, than how to set the HDR function on your DSLR...

I sent along the building images with the photographs they'd requested and didn't give it much thought until I got a very laudatory e-mail telling me how much they loved the work. We exchanged a few e-mails and the next thing I know I'm bidding on a full day of shooting; and the almost promise of future work. 

The speed bump for me was the immediate realization that I'd need something wider than the ancient 24mm f2.8 AF Nikon lens I used that afternoon. I'd already bumped into limitations in that first, informal shoot and knew I needed a lens that would allow me to get a wider frame. More so because I knew I'd want to go a bit wider and then use the lens tools in PhotoShop to correct geometry and keystoning, after the fact. (When you make fixes in post you inevitably surrender a bit of the frame in the process. Starting wider and allowing for a post production crop is the smart way to proceed.  Especially if you are using 36-45 megapixel cameras. You can afford a bit of slop space...

Since this all came up I've been tormenting myself with a bit of recreational lens research. I have the very good Panasonic/Leica 8-18mm lens but I'd like to take advantage of the higher megapixel count for work like this, just as a hedge against my own missteps, and use the 36 megapixel, Nikon D800e.  It would be an added safety factor for the extra cropping I anticipate.

No. I'm not going to invest in Tilt-Shift/PC lenses so don't bother lecturing me on their mandatory use....

I narrowed down my search to a small selection of lenses which included: The Sigma Art 20mm f1.4. I like the idea of one prime but....there's that whole "give me wider so I can crop" argument. For similar reasons I also rejected the Nikon 20mm f1.8. I looked hard at the Sigma Art series 14-24mm f2.8 and, to be truthful, it's still on my radar. Every test I've read gushes about it and the idea of a zoom in that range with high sharpness and minimal distortion is tempting; even at a price of $1299. 
I rejected the Nikon 14-24mm out of hand because it's getting long in the tooth and the value proposition just isn't there. It would be the most expensive of the lenses I'm considering...

A strong contender at a (somewhat) reasonable price was/is the Tamron 15-30mm and I may yet test it. 

In the middle of all this someone suggested that I look at the Tokina 16-28mm f2.8 ATX Pro lens. Apparently lots of people think it goes toe-to-toe with the Nikon 14-24 but at nearly 1/4 of the price. I added it to the reading list and eventually tracked down a bunch of conflicting reviews. "Sharp in the middle but not in the corners...." "Wild and crazy flare!!!" "A great lens at 1/3 the price of...." "bad QC." "Great results." I priced a new one at Precision Camera and at Amazon and found I'd spend about $629 to get one brand new. I filed the information in some unused part of my brain and went back to my "research." 

Earlier today a friend called me to let me know he'd been up to Precision Camera, scrounging around, and had seen a used 16-28mm Tokina in mint shape languishing on the Nikon used shelf. I called and asked the salespeople to put a "hold" tag on it and made the hot journey north to check it out. The sales person reflexively dropped the price for me and I walked out with the lens having spent less than $400. 

Even though we hit the century mark this afternoon for the high temperature I was anxious to check out the lens and see for myself just how good or bad it would be for the work I want to do. I shot it either at f5.6 or f8.0 for everything today because that's where it's sharpest and there's no reason for me to try shooting wide open if I'm always going to be on a tripod. By the same token there's no reason to stop down past f11 because any sharpness I might gain from depth of field I'll probably lose to diffraction. 

The center of the image in the focal lengths I am interested in (16-21mm) is nicely sharp and very, very presentable. The corners are a bit soft at 5.6 but get better at f8.0. Of course it takes pixel peeping at 100% on the 36 megapixel files for me to really see this. At normal sizes it's all fine. 

There is also a conundrum involved in shooting super wide with bigger and bigger formats. The corners are much further from the exact point of focus than the centers of the frame and, even with the extensive depth of field provided by the focal length, there is always going to be a discrepancy between the furthest point in the frame and the focus at the center. 

I need a point of comparison so I'll borrow the Sigma Art 14-24mm and shoot them side by side to see what I'm missing. If the results from the Sigma don't beat me over the head I'll be keeping the Tokina. It's fun. And it seems sharp enough for the kind of work I'm imagining for it. Even in those pesky corners. 

You could say the corners are not as sharp in the photo just above but the bottom corners are so much closer to the camera than the point of focus on the middle walkway that you can't discount a certain differential in focus coverage. 

Sharp? yes. 





So. Here's the flare test. Direct Texas sun in the frame. Minimal ghosting flare overall. But look in the bottom right hand corner and see the "prismatic" flare presenting itself as curved rainbows. Kind of fun but not what most architects are looking for. Perhaps a good reason not to shoot directly into the sun.............


The hoary and dated "brick wall test."


And what camera/lens test would be complete without the obligatory self portrait in reflective window? 

Your thoughts on wide angle zooms?

Am I missing something vital?

Should I just buy a bag full of Zeiss primes?

What if I decide I really do hate photographing buildings?

Then what?