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When I first moved here to go to school at UT you could get a decent apartment for about $85 a month and the cost of living was nearly the lowest in the state. You could not get a freshly baked croissant but you could find decent biscuits just about anywhere. The town was small enough and compact enough that most students didn't see the need to own a car. In fact, it was so cheap in the early 1970's that my parents could afford to have three kids at the University at the same time; including graduate school. And with fifty cent Shiner Bock beer in bottles and $7 ticket prices at the Armadillo World Headquarters (famous music hall) it was very cost effective to take a date to see the Talking Heads open for the B-52's. Or was it the other way around? And yes! we generally walked there.

All that has changed. You can get croissants pretty much anywhere in Austin but sadly now McDonalds arguably has the best biscuits in town. You need a car if you live and work anywhere outside of downtown, and it better be a comfortable car because the same magazine article points to traffic and road congestion as one of the few big cons of living here. I'll list another big con: the price of housing has been sky rocketing for years. 

We have the mixed benefit of living in a very nice neighborhood in the middle of the school district that just got named (again, and for decades running) as the best overall school district in Texas. Usually in the top 50 school districts in the USA. Demand to get kids into one of these top flight schools is red hot which means that we're deep into "tear down" territory (buying and tearing down an existing house to build a bigger, better one on the lot). People are moving here in droves from the west coast and they don't even blink at the thought of paying a million dollars for a basic 3 bedroom, two bathroom ranch style house just to tear it down and use the lot as the foundation for their new, multi-miillion dollar dream ranch style homes. There are currently five or six houses heading that way just on our block.

We are actually starting to think of selling our house and moving somewhere else. But we'll probably be overcome with nostalgia and laziness and just hunker down and wait until we're 65 and can lock in the homestead tax exemption....

I think the biggest attractions of Austin, beside the circus we call the State Legislature, are the beautiful blue skies, the great Tex-Mex food, and the fact that you can still paddle board right through downtown... 

If you decide to move here just remember to bring a big bucket of cash. Home prices continue to rise and, sadly, so do the property taxes...


Infinite growth. Like bacteria in a Petri dish...
All images: West Palm Beach. Nikon D300 + 18-200mm. 

I provided photographic coverage for an executive retreat for Freescale Semiconductor in 2008. We ended up at the Breakers Hotel in West Palm Beach. The accommodations were lovely. During part of the event, I guess to blow off steam generated by days of arguing and debating over corporate strategy, someone arranged for everyone to go out fishing. I'm not sure why as most of the participants were not big fishermen and most came back to the dock, hours later, with varying degrees of seasickness. 

When I found this folder of images I was reminded that the two cameras I used during that week long event were the original Nikon D300's, Not the D300Ss. The lens I used the most was the Nikon 18-200mm which was more or less the state-of-the-art for image stabilization at the time. It promised (and generally delivered) about four stops of stabilization ---- mostly useful for objects that don't move around a lot). 

I also brought along an 85mm f1.4, a 35mm f1.4 and a 20mm f2.8 for all the work that I had to cover in a sometimes dim conference room. 

Reviewing the shots this afternoon; and running a handful of them through the latest raw converter, reminding me that we already knew what we were doing with digital cameras back then and that the D300 was a damn fine photographic instrument. My interiors and exteriors evoke photography just the way I always thought it should be. I was also reminded that the cameras had great battery life and comfortable handling. 

I made the (ill advised?) switch into the Canon system by the time the upgrade, the 300"S" came out so I never got to compare the cameras directly but I knew the general themes. The newer camera offered remedial video, a much faster and larger buffer and an HDMI out for monitoring. I've been told by various sources that the imaging quality was either "the same" or "much better" on the newer model,  depending on who you wanted to listen to....

What you essentially were offered in the final D300S was a 3 inch LCD finder, a very, very robust camera body, an imaging sensor that was much better at higher ISOs than the previous "flagship" body, the D2XS, a lighter package, card slots for SD and CF (and the CF upgraded to UDMA for much faster read/write speeds) at about a third the price of the earlier D2XS or the D3 that came along around the same time. In many ways the D300S was the APS-C version of the D3 series!

I found one (300S) a couple days ago at Precision Camera. It's cosmetically near perfect and has about 25k shutter actuations on it. I asked them to put it on hold yesterday but got busy today with more family administration stuff. If it's still there tomorrow I'm thinking of picking it up for the princely sum of >$300. That is, unless you guys know some deep dark secret about this model and you're quick to talk me out of it. 

On another topic: It seems chic to be personally confessional these days on photography blogs. I note that MJ has published an essay mentioning his use of online dating services. Lloyd Chambers has gone into amazing detail about the aftermath of his concussion.  I'm joining the party! No. I'm not using dating services, and I'm not a bike rider; just sharing a bit of personal information. To wit, B. and I are celebrating our 33 wedding anniversary tomorrow. Yes, Friday the 13th. Odd omen, for sure. 

Since my wife and I worked together and dated for five years before taking the matrimonial plunge this means we've been getting along (pretty damn well, considering my idiosyncrasies) for a whopping 38 years. We'll have a quiet celebration and then get back to work...




James at Cantine shooting food with the Oly EM5ii and an ancient 
40mm f1.4 Pen FT lens. See the restaurant video one more time:




I tend to be blinded to the virtues of the stuff I'm shooting in the present by the promise of the stuff I might be shooting in the future. Here's a case in point: the Olympus EM-5ii. I bought two of them back in 2015 when the camera was introduced. I knew I'd probably want to take advantage of the new video codec that yielded an All-I file at 77mbs, which was a much bigger file than the ones coming from my Nikon or Sony cameras at the time so I ante'd up for the battery grips which, in addition to doubling the shooting time also provided a headphone jack with which to monitor audio. 

My friend, James, and I used the two cameras to do a video for our friends at Cantine Restaurant. While I didn't really appreciate it at the time the cameras, and the combination of contemporary and legacy lenses did a great job capturing the unrehearsed clips that we moulded into what I think is a very nice video about the restaurant. While the EM-5ii files aren't as detailed and rich as the best files from the Panasonic GH5's they are absolutely perfect for what was made to be a web-only, 1080p promotional video. Unique at the time (and maybe still....) was the camera's uncanny image stabilization which worked as well in video as it does in still photography. The files were sharp and detailed and easy to edit in either Premiere or Final Cut Pro X. 

But most of my readers don't give a rat's ass about video, and that being the case I thought I would also make the point that the photographic files were in no way shabby either. I've included three images here from the daylong shoot we did at the restaurant. The brilliant I.S. in the cameras made tripods mostly superfluous but we did use them from time to time; especially if we were using really long focal lengths. 

I shot food and pours and people during the course of the day and used whatever ISO was necessary to get the shots I wanted. I mostly worked between 640 and 1600 and found that the files were as good as any other camera I've shot---as long as I used good lenses. We had high success rates with the Sigma 60mm DN Art lens (this will be the fourth time I have owned that lens....) as well as getting great images from a contingent of older Pen FT lenses from the 1970's. 

When I think rationally about the EM-5ii I wonder 1. Why I ever got rid of them? And, 2. What more could a photographer really want in day-to-day work? If you've never tried one you should. They are pretty delightful. After playing around with the focus on the newest Hasselblad MF cameras I can tell you honestly that, given a choice, I'd take a couple of EM-5ii's and the Olympus zoom lenses I got to use on the Panasonic cameras before I'd consider the H-Blad. Your kilometers may be more scenic....





For a few years I did little every day other than take photographs or print photographs. Most paid jobs called for portraits or "headshots" of people looking directly into the camera and smiling as well as they thought they should. But many of my favorite images were taken when the person in front of my camera looked away for a moment. I stumbled across these three yesterday and thought I would share them with you. 

The top one is of Belinda and was taken so long ago that it was done with a Nikon FM film camera and a Tamron Adaptall 28-80mm zoom lens. The quality of the image is quite secondary, in my mind, to the way the light works and the wonderfully disordered lock of hair hanging down on her forehead. 

The image just below was taken during a silly "fashion" shoot for a Texas lifestyle magazine. We were shooting winter clothes in the middle of a heat wave and, since we were in Pedernales State Park, one of the models took a few minutes to put on some shorts and stand in the middle of the Pedernales River ( a tributary of the Colorado River) to cool off. I took the photo at that moment when the shock of the cold water had worn off and the delight of being in that moment caused our model to clothes her eyes and savor it. The image was done with a Leica R8 and a 180mm f4.0 Elmar on AgfaPan black and white film. 


The most recent shot of the three was done at a coffee shop on Congress Ave., just a few blocks from the state capitol. I was working with a talent named Jana Steele (who also graces the cover of my LED Lighting Book) and we were going for a realistic, but posed, shot of someone waiting for a first date to show up. The image was done with available light and a Canon 5Dmk2 along with the 100mm f2.0 Canon lens.

In all three images my intention was never to create a traditional portrait that people would hang on a wall but to create small, opened ended visual stories that presented a tableau from which an audience could launch into their own personal conjecture.

Nothing more than a visual poem with very few lines....



It's been an interesting day. I've been getting e-mail comments about the flower images and graffiti images from people who want to know if I really shot them with an "old" Nikon D700. They mention how rich the colors are...

Now....I owned a D700 back when it was a "new" camera and got a lot of good use from it for several years but I never remembered it as being such a good camera. It didn't have any big flaws but the files seem humdrum. Well balanced but nothing to write home about. Nothing remarkably better (other than the full frame sensor) than the color or tonality I was getting from a D300 or a D2Xs. But here we are nearly ten years later and I'm loving the color and tonality I'm getting when I process the raw files in the latest revs of Lightroom and PhotoShop. The colors, especially, seem nearly foolproof. And they've also got character.

I know that no one went back and retrofitted all the D700s on the used market to make the hardware much, much better so I started following the chain backwards. I count well over a dozen major upgrades to the Adobe raw converters in the past decade. It's possible there have been more.

Could it be that the cameras we've been working with were packed with potentially great hardware even a decade ago but we could only unlock a small percentage of the imaging potential because the limiting factor was in the software? In camera processors were much slower and less capable ten years ago which slowed down throughput and encouraged camera makers to optimize Jpeg files for speed rather than ultimate quality. The raw converters of the day were running on older processors, supported by slow and pricy DRAM. Who doesn't remember all the third party programs like Bibble that were marketed because the camera company raw programs were so slow and doggy at the time?

Each improvement of the raw converter software on the market (Adobe+DXO+Capture One) was in part a response to bigger camera files but also faster processor speeds, higher throughput on the desktop and the need to make each successive generation of cameras appear as though they were worth the money to upgrade to.

But an rise in the software "water levels" lifts all "raw file boats" because, at their core the files are all just binary information until they are de-mosaiced and interpreted.

It's entirely possible that the files I am seeing now are not just looking better because I'm remembering the old ones incorrectly but because the newest software is able to squeeze and massage so much more from the raw information provided.

Remember when we used to see movies like "The Wizard of Oz" on broadcasted television when we were growing up? We loved seeing the movies on our old TV sets with their almost square aspect ratios and their low resolution. Except in actual theaters we had never experienced better imaging. Then TVs got bigger and the color got better and better. Finally we're at a point where we can see old classics spread across 60 and 70 inch, 4k monitors and, if the movie has been remastered (re-interpreted using the original information existing in the actual film media) we find the quality to be a good match for modern sensibilities; at least when it comes to sharpness, tone and color.

Did they go back and re-film? Heck no! They just used the latest processing to wring out some more of the potential that was in the original capture all along. Isn't that what happens when we take a raw file from an older digital camera and re-imagine it in the most contemporary and advanced raw converter software? Some things won't improve dramatically. Noise won't get that much better, but color, tonality, sharpness and anything that can be interpreted and augmented by improvements in software will benefit the older hardware and the work we create with it.

Test this out yourself. If you still have an older Canon, Nikon, Sony, etc. digital camera hanging about as a door stop, charge up the battery, pop in an old CF card, shoot a test and then open the file in the absolute latest rev of your favorite flavor of raw converter and see if the camera doesn't transcend your older appraisals of its quality.

Kinda kicking myself for not thinking more about this sooner. Thoughts? Into the comments below!

For some reason my brain grabbed hold of the idea that shooting with a Nikon D700 would be fun and, like a dog with a bone, my brain is refusing to let go of my latest fascination. It didn't help when my friend, Paul, brought a coveted 50mm lens to lunch and bequeathed it to me on an infinite loan. 

I've been having trouble getting back in the work mix since my two month daily on the job training of extended family administration started back at the end of December. I was banging my head against the desk in the office, working on some marketing, trying to move people off the idea of moving projects back a bit on the calendar. It's not that the need for cash flow is a particularly pressing issue but when some great part of your self-identity is wrapped up embracing the persona of a working photographer then not working just.....messes with your brain.

At any rate I figured I'd done enough for one day and needed a break. Something different that shuttling between house and office in an endless search for the next cup of coffee. I stood up, stretched and grabbed the Nikon D700 and the Sigma 50mm Art lens and headed out the door toward the graffiti wall and other fun parts of downtown Austin, Texas (named by U.S. News and World Reports as the best city in the United States of America in which to live --- for the second year in a row...). 

I took a different route from my favorite parking place to the graffiti wall and it took me past a lovely garden plunked down right next to the hike and bike trail that runs right through the middle of the urban concentration of high rise apartments and endless, chic, office buildings. 

It was an overcast and gloomy day and I did what all photographers probably do on days like this --- I pushed the "WB" button and set the white balance on the camera to the little clouds icon which, I'm pretty sure, means "overcast." When I saw the gardens I was immediately attracted to the red and pink blossoms waving back and forth in the breeze against their field of green. I thought that a deep depth of field would ensure that nothing stood out as special so I took the opposite tack and went for "wide open." 

I'm not sure what the "Deep Roots Garden" is all about but I can sure say that I like it. Seemed like an oasis of calm and tranquility in the middle of an indifference to organic aesthetics. 

I don't know if you'll be able to see it in the images as shown here; all compressed and mushed up on the web, but I can see all the little "hairs" and details running down the stems of the in focus flowers. My understanding? It means the lens has no front of back focus and that even wide open it is impressively sharp. 

Spring is in full bloom in Austin. Everything is green and growing. Trying to savor it all before the bleak heat waves of Summer and the arrival of the carnivorous mosquitos...

It was still nice to have a jacket with me yesterday. Hovering between comfortable and chilly. 








Something about gloomy days in Springtime that make me want to grab a camera and go photographing. I have a route I walk and I like it because I can do it in about an hour and a half (if I don't pause to chat too long...) and even though I've walked it for years it changes enough, week by week, to be continually interesting to me. 

On a different note: After swim practice today I decided that I needed to replace my 55mm f2.8 Micro lens because it had come down with the widely known affliction associated with this lens; the dreaded "oil on the aperture blades." The lens no longer stops down reliably and the repair folks say that the repair price isn't much less than finding a new version without the special "oil appliqué." 

I found an older 55mm f3.5 Micro Nikkor that is Ai (auto indexing = a must for use on cameras put into service since the 1970's). The focusing ring is smooth and the glass is clean. It set me back a whopping $60. The A7iii has arrived at my local dealer. I'll call and arrange a "borrow for testing" and see what Sony fixed and what they broke...

I also put my name on the waiting list for the new Black Magic 4K Pocket Camera. It's purely a video camera but it does 4k to a full on raw file (if you want to...) and has a huge screen on the back. It takes m4:3 lenses and it's reported to generate very nice video files. It's only $1295. We'll see when it gets here; Black Magic is always a bit iffy on final delivery. I have a friend who bought the original Black Magic Pocket Camera (not 4K) and he loves his. Super nice files....

If you click on these photos they will enlarge to 2199 pixels X some less amount. The look dandy on my big screen; the full res versions even more so. 









This image is not from the wall just off Lamar but is a downtown shops genteel interpretation of public art. 2nd Street.

So I leaned over from the desk and shot a quick frame of the bright metal ring towards the back of the lens. This was a good test for the accuracy of the focusing area of the sensor chosen as well as the overall accuracy of focus. No front or back focusing here at f1.4. So my next move is to focus on something at the far middle distance. In the shot below I focused on Michelle's face on the 16x20 inch print, sitting just to the left of my filing cabinet. And so far it's right on the money when used with the Nikon D700. Mark me "happy." 


The next step is to go outside and shoot some stuff at all kinds of different distances. That's up next.


DPReview tossed out some topical clickbait today about the death of the DSLR which was occasioned, I believe, by discussions they had with camera makers at a trade show in Japan. According the their various discussions the market for cameras seems to have reached a tipping point and the trends point to a rise in the acceptance of mirrorless cameras at the expense of traditional mirror bangers. Lots of people weighed in but most them seem side-tracked by tangential images that have little to do with the relative features and benefits of both types of cameras.

I believe that there are only two fundamental reasons why the mirror-free cameras will eventually become the more numerous and popular of the camera types and these two reasons have nothing to do with the presumptions of the general camera buyers.

First, I think the market is not driven by the camera buyers, as we often believe, but by the camera makers themselves. The camera makers, from Canon to Olympus, are ready for a wholesale change to mirrorless cameras because each camera requires many fewer parts and many less manufacturing adjustments in order to function within workable tolerances. If camera makers can maintain pricing within market segments while replacing higher cost DSLRs with lower costs mirror-free cameras they win on manufacturing savings alone. Canon and Nikon have always known this was the case but wanted to wait and see if the buying audiences could be willingly dragged in the same direction that the makers' accountant deemed more profitable.

As a sub-feature of manufacturing it is also easier to make smaller and lighter zooms and wide angle lenses if the flange to sensor distance can be reduced sharply (as in the design of most mirror-free, cameras). Being able to offer good quality (optical quality) lenses which are less costly to make (and ship) but which fulfill the same niches as more expensive to make lenses for traditional DSLR cameras is another profit plus for the makers.

There is something similar afoot in cars. Electric engines have far fewer parts than combustion engines and require orders of magnitude less maintenance as well. The result should be less manufacturing complexity and far fewer recalls and expenses. A plus for car buyers but a huge plus for car makers. (Note that the battery side of the equation is different from the issues involved in engines... don't argue the whole car...).

So, Canon and Nikon let Olympus, Panasonic and Sony work out most of the kinks of creating mirror free, interchangeable lens cameras and are now poised to step in and grab the lion's share of the profits. That's just the way it typically goes.  But it's important to understand that the simplification of the basic camera is a much bigger win for the makers than it is for the consumer who might have been quite happy with the older technologies. Mirrorless is not necessarily the way forward in cameras but probably seemed to Panasonic and Olympus, and more recently Sony, to be a way of using manufacturing costs efficiencies as a disruptor to the overall camera market. A way of dislodging the iron grip of the two comfortable leaders in the business.

The second fundamental reason people are moving from OVFs to EVFs is that being able to see in advance exactly (more or less) what you will see after you push the shutter makes iterative learning in the photographic arts much easier for people with little previous education in image making. Look at the little "TV" and turn the dials until you get exactly what you want!" Early acceptance of EVFs worked for people interested in video but at the time the video performance of mirrorless cameras was no great shakes (Panasonic GH series excepted). Perhaps that's why initial sales floundered.
Now that an EVF is for all intents and purpose the equal of the optical finders in most consumer DSLR cameras there is less and less reason for users to have a preference for traditional technologies and a somewhat more pressing case for always on live view. 

To serious amateurs and professionals the EVF offers a number of benefits but most of them are in the field of helping pre-visualize a final shot or in taking advantage of elimination mirror slap, and its attendant lowering of image sharpness, from lowering sharpness.

To hear the unwashed masses tell it these reasons are minor and the big differences between traditional cameras and the newer, mirrorless ILC cameras is all about the size and weight of the cameras. They could not be more wrong.

If that was all people cared about then mirrorless cameras would have died on the vine within a few years of their introduction into the markets, skewered on the sharpened pikes of many generations of cellphones.

Most people who buy stand alone cameras in addition to smart phones have, as their primary intent, the desire to take better images, and to take images that have characteristics that set the final images apart from what a typical user can get from a cellphone. Not just better high ISO/noise performance but also enhanced focal length ranges and better control over the results of depth of field decisions.

One can not help but notice that some popular mirrorless cameras (The Panasonic GH4, GH5, GH5S, G9, G8, the Olympus OMD EM-2 and others)  have grown in size and weight but have also grown in greater consumer acceptance during the same time frame. I also see many of the more serious mirrorless cameras, like the models I listed, being used frequently with battery grips to actually enhance the camera's handling performance by increasing its overall size. At the same time you've probably noticed that Canon and Nikon's very capable entry level DSLRs have shrunk down to the point where they compete, on physical volume, with most mirrorless offerings.

And while these smaller DSLRs are, in terms of overall image quality, very, very good you don't see many professionals and serious hobbyists rushing to dump their much bigger "professional" cameras in order to embrace the benefits of the single metric of size. Diminutive is not all it's cracked up to be.

It would be folly for camera makers to listen too earnestly to a vocal few who have determined that small size is the compelling reason for the market's embrace of mirrorless cameras. Reflexively making cameras smaller and smaller, without mindful regard for "haptics" and performance is the epitome of tossing the baby out with the bathwater.

All the Nikon and Canon have to do to overwhelm and re-dominate the market is to repudiate the trend towards tiny and instead replace expensive optical viewfinders with state of the art EVFs in the models that work well today. The Nikon D850 has been in high demand and short supply since its inception. Transition that picky market segment by creating a twin product that uses an EVF instead of a moving mirror and prism. The same across the entire line. Let buyers vote with their credit cards.
I'd vote for a D850evf over a plain D850 any day of the week.

The Canon advanced amateur line could be overhauled in the same way. In either the Nikon or the Canon camp or both they could retain their lens mounts if they wanted since it's my belief that the desire or demand to be able to use all sorts of legacy lenses is, frankly, much overblown on the web.
I'd conjecture that most users, especially in the younger audience segments, are generally less interested in using old, crusty manual focus lenses that we remember from out initiations in photography than we avid practitioners of a certain age profess to be.

A Canon 5Dmk1V or a Nikon D750, fitted with an EVF would become a better video tool, a more practical educational took and still, with PD focus on chip, be able to handle traditional DSLR strengths like continuous AF for sports.

Canon and Nikon benefit by being able to offer more things people seem to want, such as faster frame rates, more finder overlays, continuous live view while holding onto their embedded audiences by dint of those audiences' lens investments. They can attack previous mirrorless competitors head on, with the same features and performance options while still offering a vastly bigger selection of dedicated lenses which are optimized for their mount and their systems.

Canon and Nikon could also benefit by having their most advanced models available in two styles; with and without EVFs. The OVF version would become deluxe and limited edition tools of a certain percentage of users, continuing the halo effect enjoyed by both in the sports arena with very little downside.

Sure, a Sony, Olympus or Panasonic camera might let you use a Nikon 43-86mm zoom on the front of it but...would you really want to?

Nikon should have learned the hard way with their first mirrorless foray (V series) that tiny isn't necessarily the first feature most serious users demand. In fact, for sheer handling something like the Panasonic GH5 is the smallest camera that still feels reasonable comfortable and well laid out to me...

I think we're counting down the months until we see the vision laid out for us by Nikon and Canon for the replacement of their cameras in the $1000-$6000 price range. I'm hoping they don't base their market research on the whims and unicorn chases over in the forums on the world's most contentious camera website. I'd hate to see un-holdably tiny camera bodies and a raft of equally tiny and bland little lenses as the offerings for the future.

Big and bold is good. With electronic viewfinders it could be even better. And all that legacy glass....

What do you think the camera future holds? I hope I'm able to buy stuff that's big enough to wrap my hands around. I'm tired of the miniaturization compulsion disorder amongst some users. Let's not sacrifice good ergonomics just to add some mostly useless features.






The ones with the background light are from the D800e + 105mm f2.5 and the ones with no background light are from the D700 + 85mm f1.8.




Studio Portrait. Wholly unrelated to this post other than 
as a continuing example of my work....

Just before I went to bed last night I took Studio Dog out into the backyard and we smelled the air and luxuriated in the warm, quiet feel of the night. When I crawled out of bed this morning there were wind gusts of 25-30 miles per hour and the temperature was a soggy, cold 43 degrees. There is still condensation on the glass panes of the front door. 

I dragged myself out of the house and over to the pool where it was still 43 degrees and, after standing on the deck marveling at our collective insanity, I plunged into the water with the rest of my aquatic crew. The water temperature was a balmy 80 degrees and we had our usual Saturday morning fun; getting in 4300 yards of good swimming. I must tell you though that getting out of the pool, with the wind and cold, was a bracing experience which motivated a fast walk to the locker rooms some hundred yards away.

When I got back home I turned on the heater, something I thought we were finished with until the Fall. 

back to photography. I was feeling a bit unmotivated to re-engage with my own photography lately. I'm sure it's a result of what has been my very divided attention. I knew that the best medicine was to shoot something I would really enjoy, with someone I would really enjoy photographing. I sent out a text to my friend, Michelle, in hopes that she would have time to come by for a portrait session. She was happy to oblige and we hit the studio on Thurs. afternoon. 

We did what we usually do when shooting for me or for Michelle; we sat in the living room of the house with Belinda and caught up. We've known Michelle for decades. She was talent for dozens of our ads and TV commercials back in the days when I was working as a creative director at an ad agency and she's been an enthusiastic fan of my portrait work since our first sitting. 

After our long conversation we headed out to the studio and got to work. I'd set up a flash with a 47 inch, deep Octabox on it and it was positioned about six to eight inches behind a 4x4 foot Chimera panel frame that was covered with a 3/4 stop silk. The silk was there just to add one more layer of diffusion to the already soft light from the box. My studio is pretty "live" when it comes to light bouncing around so I placed a 4x4 foot black panel to the opposite side to lower the shadow values. 

The main light was about 45 degrees to one side of Michelle and up high enough so that the bottom of the Chimera frame was about six inches above her chin. This ensures that the neck just under the chin falls into shadow; it's a flattering look for just about everyone. I moved Michelle in as close to the light as I could get her without the light appearing in the frame. 

I also had a gridded light aimed at the Thunder Gray background directly behind Michelle. It served as a separation light. Both lights were triggered by a radio trigger in the hot shoe of the camera(s). 

I started out photographing with the Nikon D800e and the ancient Nikon 105mm f2.5, mostly nestled in at about f4 and worked with that combination for a while. Then, because I wanted to compare files, I switched out camera bodies and started using the 105mm with the D700. Then I switched lenses and tested the waters with both the 85mm f1.8 and the 24-120mm f4.0 zoom. 

I'll post some images when I get back to work on Monday. Right now I'm too excited to sit in front of the computer to post process. I'm anxious to get out and see how the Sigma 50mm Art lens comports itself. 




Black's BBQ on Guadalupe St. in Austin.

I'm having a blast with the Nikon D700 camera and a small assortment of lenses. Nothing is new, nothing is luxe and nothing would turn heads if I was sporting it over one shoulder at a workshop or expo. 

One of the lenses I picked up recently was a nicely used 24mm f2.8 AF-d lens that was languishing on the used shelf at Precision Camera. I'm betting that if I made an enormous enlargement after shooting the lens wide open and I looked into the corners with my handy, dandy Zeiss 5x loupe I'd probably find the extreme corners to be a little soft. I wouldn't care because the lens seems to be nicely sharp and well behaved for the situations in which mortals photograph. 

I took the lens and the D700 camera with me when I went to Black's for lunch with art director/friend, Greg. The sliced brisket sandwich was sublime and the sausage link filled in the few empty spots not assuaged by the sandwich. Oh, the lens? I shot a couple of handheld shots of my lunch, just like a hipster, and I'm happy with the way it looks, works and focused.

As is my habit, whenever I have acquired a new lens, I took a spirited walk around the Austin downtown area, snapping away with the same camera and lens. I find it to be a nice combination even though I am usually averse to using wide angles for my personal work. I am thawing toward the wide angles and, at the same time I am softening on the whole issue of optical view finders. I still hope Nikon launches a professional camera with an EVF and that they decide to keep the current lens mount but I'm not holding my breath and I'm not holding these views against the D700 because it's from another era....




The other lens I'm having a good time with is the now elderly 24-120mm f4.0 zoom (the newest version).  It's funny, when I use this zoom I sometimes check the focal lengths I am using and typically find that I'm normally hanging around in the 35-70mm range. That's fine with me. I keep the longer and shorter focal lengths in reserve.

All the images below are from the 24/120mm f4.0. The lens has a plastic shell but is dense and seems solidly constructed. It's also pretty heavy but the zoom doesn't droop when you walk with it dangling by your side from a strap. Optically it's nicely sharp but does have ample distortion at the wider angle settings. The distortion should be correctable in Lightroom or PhotoShop but as with all camera and lens combos a software corner correction always spreads pixels and lowers sharpness. Starting with a high resolution sensor is preferred if you care passionately about perceived corner sharpness. 

The image just below is a handheld image from the long end of the 24/120mm. Again, I'm sure that a giant enlargement might show up all sorts of issues but anything smaller than 20x30 probably won't trigger your criticism.

Nikon D700 + Nikon 24-120mm f4.0. At the long end.

All the images below were done with the D700+24/120mm f4.0. It's a pretty fun rig. I don't mind the weight when I'm shooting for $$$ because there's so much else we're bringing along on a shoot that the heft is meaningless to me. But after spending a week getting used to the bigger Nikon stuff it was a relief to grab a Panasonic GH5 with which to shoot the product photo at the top of the blog post and to also take along to coffee in the late afternoon. Viva la difference.










It was supposed to be a casual lunch with one of my best friends. We'd eat some good Mexican food and just catch up a bit about business, photography and the business of photography; as well as the state of the world, families and everything else.

As soon as we order our combination plates (enchilada verdes, enchilada mole, shredded pork, pickled onions and rice and beans, my lunch companion pulled out a bubble-wrapped package and handed it to me. I unwrapped it to find a pristine Sigma Art Series 50mm f1.4 in a Nikon mount.

"Since you're back into some Nikon gear I thought you might want to re-evaluate this lens. I believe you owned one not too long ago...." He said with a devilish grin.

I'd forgotten just how big and heavy this lens is but I've never forgotten the amazing performance this lens used to deliver for me. As you know the 50mm normal lens is the sweet spot of focal lengths for me and I'm happy to have this one in the fold instead of relying on the on the 50mm AF-D 1.8.

It's a perfect match for the D700. And the D800e.

I picked up the check at lunch. It seemed the right thing to do...


Behind a solid core door with a deadbolt is a secure closet on the south side of my office. I used to keep equipment in there when equipment was "valuable" but now that it's run of the mill it hardly seems worth the effort to lock it up. One stack that has been on the shelves in the secure closet for nearly 22 years is a series of 16 metal slide cases. Each case holds hundreds of 35mm color slides. It was always my intention to go through the images one day and pull the gold out from the dreck but not once in the last two decades have I even opened one of the cases, much less made any real effort to edit down this ponderous pile of transparencies. 

All that changed when my mom passed away and my dad moved to an assisted living facility. My siblings and I ended up being with responsibility for going through the house where my parents lived for 38 years and separating things that could be donated from financial and personal papers that needed shredding or filing, from memorabilia that one or another of the siblings might actually treasure. We've saved nearly all of the snap shots from over the years and my brother has taken on the role of image archiver. The job of clearing out the house is overwhelming because my mom saved just about everything; from New Yorker Magazines as far back as the 1970's to boxes of pens which no longer write. Drawers and drawers of letters (old school social media!) and closets full of clothes which my sister routinely sent to my parents has holiday and birthday gifts. 

My brother-in-law has worked at Barnes and Noble Bookstores for many years and, as a direct result, the house was also filled with thousands of books; mostly on politics and history. After three months of diligent work by my spouse and my brother and his wife we're finally seeing light at the end of a long and cluttered tunnel. A few more weeks and we'll be able to donate everything left over to various charities. 

But this whole exercise has taught me a lot about our habits of acquisition and storage for all the material details of our lives. On a drive back home from one of my episodes of sorting and cleaning I started thinking about the sheer volume of photographic material I've generated over the course of my (happily) long career. In the last fifteen years almost all of the work has been done on digital cameras so much of the recent material exists only on CDs, DVDs and now in cloud storage and on large hard drives. But there are still tens of thousands of negatives, color slides and various format transparencies in little stashes all over my office. I've always had the best of intentions and figured that one day I'd sit down and sort through everything with the idea of ending up with a tidy little pile of stuff equaling about 100 of my best pieces. But, of course, I've never lifted a finger to get started. 

But here's the deal, if I was to drop over dead tomorrow it would fall to Benjamin and Belinda to sort through my stuff and make the same hard determinations that I and my siblings are making about my parent's stuff. It hardly seems fair to make a young person, or your partner of many years, shoulder the burden of trying to decide what possessions of yours you would have wanted preserved and what to throw away. It almost seems like a prison sentence. 

With that in mind I pulled the first box of slides from the closet and started sorting. There were hundreds of images; most of which I barely remember shooting and now realize that if I had really thought they were good I would have been using them and showing them from the moment of their creation. I tossed pretty much anything but photos of close family members. Images of Belinda were safe. There were no images of Ben in the mix because he came after these were all "safely" stored in their boxes and largely forgotten. 

I thought there would be more hesitation on my part to part with all this material. It's images that I took at parades in San Antonio, parks in Mexico city and endless urban landscapes. Most of it is the kind of horribly bland work we used to create in our early years before our vision started to narrow down and become more selective. After I went through the first box I started on the second and then stacked the third and fourth boxes next to my desk in readiness for their execution. 

Over the past few weeks I've tossed nearly 150 CD's that contained client work from the early days of digital. Most were files of headshots of people who might be retired but who most certainly no longer work for the start-ups that hired me and then evaporated into the industrial afterlife where bad ideas reside. If the contracting company no longer exists then there is no obligation of any kind to hang on to old work. Out it went. 

My family's goal is to have the parent's house cleaned out and placed onto the market by the end of May. This goal setting led me to set my own personal goal of having all the old materials I've unconsciously let pile up here in the studio sorted and tossed by the end of the Summer. Reducing the clutter is already helping me be more economical in my image creation. And more vicious in my editing. But mostly I see my newfound vigor for tossing old work (and older paperwork) as a gift to my son and my wife. The more stuff I dispose of the less of their lives they will spend digging through it all and grappling with the guilt and uncertainty of what to keep and what to throw. 

Fortunately we're not packrats in the house. We don't bring new stuff in unless we get rid of old stuff. If only I'd used the same rules in the studio.....


Friday. A good day to take out the trash.

If you want to save stuff for the kids try CDs, bonds or stocks, they'll appreciate them
more than a framed print of an anonymous space in downtown San Antonio.