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After Dark photography education – Cincinnati, anemia

In an earlier post I mentioned how impressed I was with After Dark’s workshops & seminar series in Las Vegas. I was invited by Dave Junion to teach at the Cincinnati venue this past week as one of the Mentors.  I presented 4 seminars and shooting sessions, infection
and another impromptu demonstration late the one night. It was exhilarating and energizing to be a part of it.

After Dark has a certain structure –  10 areas / pods set up for seminar presentations; and 10 studio bays set up where Mentors can teach in a direct hands-on manner. But all this doesn’t really describe the easy-going flow of activity and learning and sharing that goes on. In that earlier post I described After Dark as ‘controlled anarchy‘. And that is what makes it so unique. You can move around between presentations and shoots, and learn from anyone. You can even ask any of the Mentors or attendees to help you. It’s an incredibly supportive and nourishing environment for any photographer.

Just as cool is that there are studio bays that are open, which might not be busy at any point. You can then mark down that you want to spend some time there. You also get the opportunity to play with a huge variety of lighting gear. You can play around on your own, or have someone help you. You can make mistakes. You don’t have to impress anyone. You just have to learn and have fun with it all …

This fairly straight-forward portrait above was taken with just a single Westcott 7′ Parabolic Umbrella (B&H). This massively large umbrella isn’t something I’d normally be able to play with – the studio space I can scrounge in my home is far too small for this impressive light modifier. So it was interesting to play around with it. I really really loved the light from this parabolic umbrella. The way it wraps light around your subject is just wonderful. Oh, and yes, there were models available.

By placing the light fairly close to the background, I got enough light on the background that I didn’t even need to light the background to bring it up close to white. This shot from behind will give you some idea of the size of this monster light modifier. (It is surprisingly inexpensive too.) It just seems like one of those can’t-go-wrong ways of lighting your subject in the studio.

Finally, here is another image that I grabbed at one of the studio bays. Our gorgeous model was lit by a ring-light (continuous light), giving that typical Fashion look with the very even light on her. I shot this with my Fuji X100, so I didn’t have the telephoto reach that others had, so I decided to include the ring-light as part of the composition.

By the way, that is the out-of-camera JPG from the Fuji X100, shot at 1/500 @ f4 @ 800 ISO … and it looks wonderful at 100%

Anyway, the point about all this is that you get to try various lighting setups and equipment and techniques on your own, or with a Mentor or any other knowledgeable photographer. After Dark is just a cool place to be if you’re considering a lighting and photography workshop. Check their website, or join them on Facebook, to be kept informed about the future dates and events.

If you find these articles interesting and of value, then you can help by using
these affiliate links to order equipment & other goodies.   Thank you!

Stay informed of new articles via the monthly newsletter.
Also join us on the Tangents forum for further discussions.

now available on iBooks : on-camera / off-camera flash photography

I’m very happy to announce that both my books on flash photography are now available on the Apple iBook Store. The image quality is very good, sale
and like the other books available on iBooks, the readability is excellent. There is a difference in price between the two books that I can’t explain – these things are out of my hands – however, the off-camera flash book is available for less than $20.00

So for those who have requested an electronic version of these two books … there they are now!

Of course, the printed books are available via Amazon, or can be ordered directly from me for an autographed copy.

initial impression: Fuji X100 – not quite the review yet

The Fuji X100 must be one of the most eagerly awaited cameras in recent times. The camera just looks beautiful. Retro-cool. With initial reports being mostly very favorable, endocrinologist
I was quite keen to get my hands on one of these. My X100 arrived last week, just before I was to leave for the After Dark Photography Education workshops in Cincinnati, OH. What better time to geek out over a camera with gorgeous models around and so much opportunity to play with photo gear and lightning techniques.

The photograph above of Alyssa, (one of our models), was lit by LED video light. Now, when using video lights for photography, you’re dealing with wide apertures and high ISOs. An immediate challenge for a camera. And the Fuji X100 excelled. The image above was from the in-camera JPG, with the color balance tweaked slighting in Photoshop. The image was also slightly straightened.

camera settings: 1/60 @ f2 @ 1000 ISO … manual exposure mode

Now before I show the 100% crop of the shadow areas in that image …

here is the camera itself:

Clearly designed with an eye on the classic cameras, the Fuji just looks beautiful. But the camera’s looks wouldn’t mean much if the image quality doesn’t hold up.

image quality of the Fuji X100

For an overview of the camera’s specifications, the best place would be Fuji’s official site. What is important to note here, is that the Fuji X100 is a 12 megapixel rangefinder-styled digital camera, with an APS-C size sensor. So you wouldn’t expect digital noise to be as well-controlled as it is.

Looking again at the image at the top:

From the area below her left elbow (camera right) – 1000 ISO
(not sharpened in Photoshop)

But this in itself wouldn’t be impressive if the low level of digital noise was achieved at the cost of detail. Now, this isn’t a proper review yet, so there aren’t comparative images yet, but the next image should give you an idea of the amount of detail this camera can capture. This next image was shot at 800 ISO. (Close enough to 1000 ISO to still give you an idea of the way the noise is controlled vs potential reduction in detail.)

Also shot at the After Dark workshops, I bumped into the group that my buddy Chuck Arlund was leading around the plaza in Cincinnati. He had somehow convinced a model to get into the fountain. Using only the available light at the fountain

camera settings: 1/125 @ f2 @ 800 ISO  … manual exposure mode.
Available light only.

A 100% crop of the statue under the fountain:  (not sharpened in Photoshop)

The detail is there! With a further in-depth review, we’ll definitely have a look at how the camera performs at higher ISOs than merely 800 and 1000 ISO. With the initial images I shot with the X100, I am quite happy with the image quality.

controls, operation & handling of the Fuji X100

Here I have to confess two things immediately:

- I have no experience of range-finder cameras aside from briefly playing with Leicas that friends owned. But I never shot with one. So, no experience of rangefinders. But then, the Fuji X100 isn’t a range-finder camera. It is styled like one.

- At this point I haven’t read the manual yet. I’ve been too busy to sit down with the manual and figure the camera out from start-to-end before using it. I’ve also been too excited about the camera to not just go out and just use it. I also think it might be easier to read and understand the manual when there is some familiarity with the camera already. So, I’ll get there.

But in the meantime, I have used the camera already.

So for all that, being a complete noob with rangefinders in general and the Fuji X100 specifically, I found the camera easy to understand. I am sure there will be more details and functions that will be revealed once I delve deeper and properly into it. But for now, the camera isn’t a mysterious awkward camera. The operation and the menu is simple enough to decipher from just placing your fingers on it.

So how does the camera feel? Surprisingly light. From the metal used in building the camera, you’d expect something more hefty, but the Fuji X100 is both light and fairly compact. (And have I mentioned yet that it looks beautiful and elegant?)

The shutter dial and aperture dial and exposure compensation dials, all feel solid with a silky movement. This camera quietly tells you that it is a quality machine when you handle it. It feels good to hold and use. Even the lens cup comes off with a soft gliding movement.

I should also mention that the Fuji X100 has a fixed 23mm f2 lens, which is the equivalent of a 35mm f2 lens when compared to a 35mm or full-frame digital camera.

What I will have to adapt to in using this camera, is that the X100 isn’t a Nikon D3. The Nikon D3 is a fast, responsive brute of a machine. The X100 needs a more considered approach to taking a photograph. The simple act of looking through the viewfinder to the side of the camera is quite different than looking through the viewfinder of an SLR. The controls are also different than a DSLR. I am used to having the ISO selection immediately available. For me, choosing the ISO is as much part of exposure metering as is it is to change the aperture or shutter speed. With the Fuji X100, I changed the Fn button to bring up the ISO so I didn’t have to go through the menu to find it first.

Now, much mention has been made of the Hybrid viewfinder of the X100.
To quote from Fuji’s site:

The Hybrid Viewfinder combines the window-type “bright frame” optical viewfinder found in high-end film cameras, such as 35mm or medium-format cameras; and the electronic viewfinder system incorporated in fixed single lens or mirror-less digital cameras.

You have the choice of the electronic viewfinder (which I dislike a lot in every camera that I’ve encountered it), and the optical viewfinder. What you do need to actually see for yourself, is how bright this viewfinder is. Even better, it has all the info you need .. aperture, ISO, metering display … and best of all, a histogram overlay in the one corner.

Every photographer that I’ve shown the camera to, has responded with an “oh wow!” or “holy crap!” when they look through the viewfinder. Reading about it on a website or on a brochure doesn’t quite describe how impressive it is when you actually use it. Fuji really did their home-work on this.

Better yet, it is possible to set the View Mode of the camera, so that the live preview can be seen on the back of the camera (like pretty much all compact cameras behave) … but the moment you lift the camera to your eye, the camera senses it, and moves the display inside the viewfinder. So the camera (for one of the View Modes), will do that – flip between LCD preview on the back, and the view inside the viewfinder. Elegant!

So far I really like the camera. It does have a few quirks which I’ll get to with the proper review. (I also need to familiarize myself properly with the camera.)

You may well ask why I bought the Fuji X100 and what I might use it for. Since Fuji is billing this as The Professional’s Choice, one may well wonder where the Fuji X100 would fit in with a working professional’s kit. Here I can only answer for myself – currently I shoot with Nikon D3 bodies, and I would not want to hamper myself in any way during a paid shoot or event, by using a camera that is less responsive or is limited to only one fixed lens.

For my personal photography, I wanted a camera that is a point-and-shoot, but without being too simplified that I have no control over it. I also wanted image quality that wouldn’t fall down entirely in comparison to a camera like the Nikon D3. And this is where the Fuji X100 fits in perfectly. It is small enough to be  walk-around camera. It has superb image quality (going by the first images I’ve taken with it.) And then it offers something that most smaller cameras don’t have – a classic elegance and stylishness that was meant to appeal to the serious photographer and connoisseur. The Professional’s Choice.

But we’ll come back to all this with a more complete review of a camera that is destined to become a modern classic.

The Fuji X100 and accessories can be ordered from B&H
through this affiliate link.

If you find these articles interesting and of value, then you can help by using
these affiliate links to order equipment & other goodies.   Thank you!

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mixing the white balance of different light sources

While we would do well to gel our flash when working in a very warm or incandescent spectrum, here
(such as when shooting at a venue bathed in Tungsten light), the last few articles showed how we can use it to our advantage when using different light sources with different color balance. The effect can be quite dramatic.

The examples shown have been varied:

In the first example (with Bethany as our model), we looked at using random found available light as portrait lighting. With the next example, the effect was purposely sought by gelling our flash for effect. A similar contrast in white balance can also be found by using a Tungsten-gelled LED video light in a non-tungsten environment, forcing all the daylight colors to go toward a bold blue tone. The most recent example showed how we could use the modeling light in the studio with additional flash as rim light, to give a punchy image with warm colors.

Those four examples all had entirely different scenarios, but the same idea was used in all  of them to get punchy colorful images – using light sources with different white / color balance.

This image here at the top was shot with a similar set-up as the sequence where we gelled our main flash with 1/2 CTS gels to allow the background to go blue

With this first image, both the foreground flash and the background flash were ungelled, and shot at Cloudy WB. The blue tint of the drapes in the background, were from lights in the ceiling. This is exactly the same light that gave the strong blue background in the other article on random found available light as portrait lighting.

With this image which is the starting point, I decided we could make the background far more bold by once again gelling our main flash (in the Lastolite Ezyboz softbox), with two 1/2 CTS gels.

And this is how we ended up with the final image shown at the top, where the background goes to a neon blue. Quite striking.

The main flash on her was a speedlight in a Lastolite Ezybox softbox, set to camera right. The background light was a speedlight bounced straight up into the ceiling to the left here of our model, and further back than our model’s position.

The motion blur seen there was purposely done by shooting at a relatively slow shutter speed while there was such movement.

camera setting: 1/60 @ f4 @ 500 ISO … TTL flash @ +0.3 FEC

Finally, all this is to bring home again the idea that we could use the same thought-process in a variety of situations. While each situation was different with different light sources used, there was a similarity in the approach to the lighting (or even recognizing the lighting). This gives us a method and thought-process to come up with striking images under a variety of conditions – by creating and using light in our images which have divergent color balance.

Equipment used with this photo session:

Nikon D3;  Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 AF-S II (B&H)
(3x) Nikon SB-900 (B&H);  (2x) Nikon SD-9 battery pack (B&H)
(3x) PocketWizard FlexTT5 transceiver (B&H)
Lastolite EZYBOX Softbox Kit (24?x24?) (B&H)
(2x) Manfrotto 1051BAC light-stand (B&H)

If you find these articles interesting and of value, then you can help by using
these affiliate links to order equipment & other goodies.   Thank you!

Stay informed of new articles via the monthly newsletter.
Also join us on the Tangents forum for further discussions.

photography: mixing different light sources in the studio

While playing around in the studio late this evening with a group of attendees at the Treehaven workshop, this
someone challenged us each to come up with an idea, web
using any of the lighting equipment there …

I decided to rim-light our model, Amy, with a studio flash behind her. The main light on her is the modeling light in the large softbox that everyone else was using. I preferred to disable the studio light’s output, and just use the modeling light on her as the light from the camera’s point of view.

The modeling light, which is a continuous light source, and is quite warm. I expected it to be close to Tungsten / Incandescent, but it wasn’t quite as warm. Still much warmer than the ‘cold’ light from the studio flashes … or the speedlight I eventually used as a rim lighting.

I intentionally under-exposed her, wanting the rim-light to etch her against the out-of-focus (and darker) backdrops. In the first shot I took of her in this pose, I liked the light, but the gridded light on the floor behind her, cast too much light on her chin from beneath, causing too large an area to blow out. Overall, the image looked good, but it needed to be fine-tuned.

The fine-tuning took place as I replaced the gridded light on the floor with a speedlight on a light-stand directly behind her. In carefully positing myself and Amy and the light-stand with the speedlight, I was able to completely hide it behind her. No editing in Photoshop needed to remove any part of the back-light. I didn’t gel the speedlight behind her, since I wanted the rim-light to be more blue than the light from the front.

About the exposure:

There is no one specific “correct exposure” here. It is just whatever looks good … or is preferred. And I liked it like this. So even though it is technically “under-exposed”, the rim-light is what defines her. The light on her from the modeling light inside the large softbox is just there for a touch of detail. It could’ve been brighter or less bright. It’s a matter of taste then. It is the rim-light that does all the work here.

The speedlight was set to 1/16th power. It doesn’t quite matter though. Since the rim light is there to blow out the very edges of her form in this photograph, the flash’s brightness can vary, and it would still look great. As such, it need not be correctly metered.

camera settings: 1/125 @ f4 @ 1600 ISO

More about the choice of white balance:
This image is very warm. Again, intentionally so. I used Daylight WB, knowing that the light on her would go quite warm as a result. I liked that bit of a red glow the light at this exposure and chosen White Balance.

This brings us back to the idea about things needing to be “correct”. Just as the exposure here is a matter of choice, the White Balance too, is a matter of preference. What supersedes the idea of “correct”, is the need that the image looks good. I’d rather have pleasant WB than correct WB. (Although it is easier to get to a pleasant WB if you have correct or near-correct WB.) Someone else might have chosen a much cooler WB, but I have a preference for warmth.

In that sense, this article ties in with the current series on different situations where the difference in White Balance in the image was used for effect.

Equipment used with this photo session:

Canon 5D mk II (B&H); Canon 70-200mm f2.8L IS II (B&H)
Canon 580EX II Speedlite (B&H);
Canon ST-E2 Speedlite Transmitter (B&H)
Radio Poppers
Photogenic studio light

If you find these articles interesting and of value, then you can help by using
these affiliate links to order equipment & other goodies.   Thank you!

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using a gelled LED video light for a change in color balance

Continuing with the theme of combining dramatically different color balances in a single image, order
there is this striking portrait of Rebekah. She is one of our models at the workshop at Treehaven, visit this site
WI, therapy
this week. Working in the fading evening light, I had Rebekah pose somewhere in the middle of a large clump of trees. I knelt down so that I could shoot up and catch the last remnants of the evening sky as the background.

The blue light filtering through the trees was then exaggerated by using an LED video light with the deep Amber gel on it. LED video lights are balanced for daylight, so the light from them is quite ‘cold’ compared to Incandescent light. By now using the specific gels that are supplied with it, you can change the color balance of the video light to match Incandescent / Tungsten light. It is normal to work with the Amber gel to shift the LED video light towards the warm spectrum of Incadescent light.

In photographing our model here, I wanted to use the warm light from the Amber-gelled LED video light to create a big jump between that and the color of our background light. (I specifically didn’t want to use the LED video light as daylight-balanced light source.) This now caused the blue-ish tones of the evening light to go to a much deeper shade of blue. The rapid fall-off in the light from the video light, gave that typical spot-light effect. This really accentuated her face.

The pull-back shots reveal just how big a jump it really was in the color between our surroundings and the video light …

I love the way her face is now that single spot of warm color in the pool of blue light and dark tones. It really draws your eyes in.

camera settings:
1/125 @ f2.8 @ 1250 ISO

equipment used:
Nikon D3; Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 AF-S II (B&H)
Litepanels MicroPro (B&H)

more articles about the use of video light for photography

If you find these articles interesting and of value, then you can help by using
these affiliate links to order equipment & other goodies.   Thank you!

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multiple off-camera flash – gelling your flash for effect

All the light you see in this image here, disease
is from two speedlights. The blue color in the background is because I gelled my one flash. While that might give you the idea that I gelled the background flash with a blue gel, what I actually did, was gel my main flash with two 1/2 CTS gels. That’s all I had with me, but I wanted those hard cold blue tones to the background.

A single 1/2 CTS gel would take the flash to 3700K. Adding a 2nd gel didn’t take it as far as a full CTS would’ve, but closer to 3350K, going by my settings with the RAW file.

By having my main speedlight (in a softbox) now at a color temperate of around 3350K, meant the background shifted towards blue in comparison. Intended effect achieved!

Now, about the placement of the speedlights, and to explain what the spectactular background actually is ….

Photographing Bethany in the foyer of the night-club where we did these photo sessions, I saw this curved wall lined with small mirror tiles. Just like one giant curved disco glitter ball. All kinds of awesome. But it needed light. This club, outside of hours, was dark!

In this first pull-back shot, you can see the main light on the left – the Lastolite EZYBOX Softbox Kit (24″x24″) (B&H). In the middle you can see the blue hot-spot on the mirrored wall as the other flash lit it up.

This pull-back shot, shows Bethany in relation to the flash providing the background light. The area was too small to do a complete pull-back shot, getting everything in a single frame. This background light had a black foamie thing on to flag (block) any direct light from it hitting Bethany.

Without the blue background, the results were nice … actually pretty good … but not as other-wordly as the final images.

Adding the blue background (via the un-gelled flash), immediately gave it an unusual feel. Something like a modern-day Marie Antoinette in a futuristic night-club.

The statically posed shots we came up with looked really good … but then Bethany suggested some movement to get her jewelry swinging around … so we did a sequence of photographs were Bethany spun around on the spot. Quite a few missed shots as I mis-timed or she blinked … but in the end we got several shots that worked. The image right at the top of this page is a favorite, as well as this next image.

A fabulous model in an unusual setting … all sweetened with some interesting light, and I think we have  some eye-catching results.

Technical details & settings:

The two speedlights were both fired via two PocketWizard FlexTT5 transceivers (B&H). I had another FlexTT5 transceiver on my camera, on top of which was an SB-900 controlling the output of the two speedlights.

The light on the background was adjusted to taste by looking at the camera’s preview. I’m not even sure it would be possible to use a light-meter to meter for that, since there is so much reflection of light. So it was quicker for me to set a low power setting of around 1/16th full power, and adjust from there. I controlled the output with my on-camera (with TT5) SB-900 speedlight which was the Master controller. (I don’t recall the exact final power setting of the background light though.)

As mentioned earlier, this background light was flagged with a black foamie thing to make sure that there was no direct flash on her from that side.

Both speedlights were set to manual output since it was much simpler controlling the exposure like this. There was no real way to predict what TTL flash would do here with such a reflective background.

Camera settings: 1/60 @ f6.3 @ 200 ISO

another article on Tangents, featuring Bethany:
available light portrait

Equipment used with this photo session:

Nikon D3;  Nikon 24-70mm f2.8 AF-S (B&H)
(3x) Nikon SB-900 (B&H);  Nikon SD-9 battery pack (B&H)
(3x) PocketWizard FlexTT5 transceiver (B&H)
Lastolite EZYBOX Softbox Kit (24″x24″) (B&H)
Manfrotto 1051BAC light-stand (B&H)

If you find these articles interesting and of value, then you can help by using
these affiliate links to order equipment & other goodies.   Thank you!

Stay informed of new articles via the monthly newsletter.
Also join us on the Tangents forum for further discussions.

random found available light as portrait lighting

With the recent trip to California for the workshops, buy more about
I was also keen to meet up with another favorite model, order
Bethany. We were allowed to shoot in a night-club on a Sunday afternoon when it was all quiet with no one there. It’s an interesting place to work with a beautiful model, vitamin
finding interesting spots and then figuring out how I might adapt my flash setup. I had 4 speedlights with me and 2 softboxes and a slew of the new PocketWizards.

The first series of photos of Bethany however, was shot with just the available light there. But first I had to recognize the light as being interesting light for a portrait. I had to “see” it first. As it happened, I only saw that this might be useful light for a portrait when I did a few test shots while Bethany was having her hair and make-up done.

As photographers we should always be aware of the light, and how the interplay between light and shade affects our subject. And how the quality and color of light changes.

Sadly though, I didn’t recognize that the light was interesting just by looking at this scene. I only saw it once the test images popped up on the back of the camera, and I went hmmm!

Here is a pull-back shot a little bit later on, when Bethany was completely ready. The main light was simply that bare incandescent light-bulb which the make-up artist used to do Bethany’s make-up. Simple as that.

But the magic happened in how the warm Tungsten light worked with the much colder existing light within the night-club. I’m not sure what the other light source was, but it looks like it might be Daylight balanced light-sources in the night-club. Perhaps more blue / colder than that. Whatever it was, it looked great in that first few shots of Bethany’s prep.

When Bethany was ready, this is then where we started.

posing and directing a model

When working with hand-held video-light, we most often work by moving the light until it falls onto our subject in a way that is flattering. But with the single light-source now being static, I had to direct Bethany so that the light shining on her was flattering. It helps in that Bethany is an experienced model, being able to work with very little direction from the photographer. But she, like most models, will have no immediate idea what the photographer is attempting in terms of lighting. I did show her the test shots during prep, so she knew what I was after, but she still needed to be directed.

In posing her, I had her leaning into the light a bit, taking care that I got loop lighting. The way that the shadow falls  under her nose, means it is just that ‘loop’ of shadow there. It is most often the way that I use a hard or small light source. It keeps from weird shadows falling over your subject’s mouth, or a strong shadow of your subject’s nose falling across their cheek. So I tend to keep it simple like this, since it is usually the best place to start and get good results immediately.

Now it was just a matter of a few quiet instructions like, ‘drop your chin a little bit’; ‘turn your head slightly more to me’ … until the light looked good falling on her.

And there’s the result:

camera settings:  1/60 @ f2.8 @ 1000 ISO
Nikon D3;  Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 AF-S II (B&H)  … zoomed to 155mm

That was just the start of the photo session though. What I really was after was working with multiple speedlights in those interesting nooks in the night-club. But that’s for another article.

If you find these articles interesting and of value, then you can help by using
these affiliate links to order equipment & other goodies.   Thank you!

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MiniTT1 & FlexTT5 for Nikon by PocketWizard on Vimeo.

using the PocketWizard MiniTT1, viagra sale
FlexTT5 and AC3 during photo sessions

While in Vegas earlier this year during WPPI 2011, PocketWizard recorded a video clip of me while photographing two photo sessions.

The first part of the clip shows the sequence while I work with my friends, Natalie and Chris. The final image was a dramatic B&W portrait of the couple, in the vein of old Hollywood Glamor style portraits. My description of this photo shoot appeared in that article on Tangents.

Afterwards I photographed model, Shawna, still with the idea of getting a dramatic and glamorous portrait of her, using the new PocketWizard MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 units.

In watching this clip now, I realize I was speaking too fast. A combination of nervousness and my usual manner of speech. So be ready for a rush of words.

old Hollywood Glamor style portrait with Natalie & Chris

dramatic and glamorous portraits of Shawna

The PocketWizard MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 radio slave system for Nikon:
(B&H affiliate links)

MiniTT1 transmitter

FlexTT5 transceiver

AC3 ZoneController

The PocketWizard MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 radio slave system for Canon:
(B&H affiliate links)

MiniTT1 transmitter

FlexTT5 transceiver

AC3 ZoneController

If you find these articles interesting and of value, then you can help by using
these affiliate links to order equipment & other goodies.   Thank you!

Stay informed of new articles via the monthly newsletter.
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Continuing the photo session with Ulorin, dermatologist
we worked inside the hotel room for the next part. The photo above is a candid shot of Ulorin fixing her hair between changes in clothing. Ulorin’s next outfit shown in this article, was more revealing than the previous outfits during the photo session. (Just a heads-up for the Tangents readers who are surfing from their workplace.)

Photographing inside the room, I initially tried to work with just the window-light, but hit a small snag. The indirect light through the window kept changing on me as clouds moved in and out. Instead of changing my settings continually to match the light, I decided to revert to using flash to mimic the window light. This would give me consistent light.

off-camera flash as window light

This is the quality of light that I was after … soft directional light that still added a sense of drama. The light shown here is mostly flash, with a bit of ambient light. It took a few adjustments though to get to this point where I really liked the look.

camera settings for both images:
1/250 @ f5.6 @ 800 ISO … manual off-camera flash.

The slight change in contrast that you see in the light on her face, is because Ulorin shifted in position relative to the light as she changed her pose. (I edited out the white bedsheets in the top image to see if the image was improved without the distraction of the white bed sheets.)

This is where we started. In these test shots you can see the table and clutter in the background. This is before we moved everything out of the way. What is also immediately noticeable is that the exposures here are different, even though my camera settings were the same:
1/200 @ f4 @ 650 ISO

The available light looked good (as in this image below), but it was too inconsistent. I’d rather be concentrating on the photography, than have the rhythm of the photo session be broken by constant adjustment of settings.

1/250 @ f3.2 @ 800 ISO .. available light.

I then thought I could mimic the window light by placing an off-camera flash in the window. The flash pointed outwards and up, bouncing off the glass of the window. I had the flash-head zoomed wide.

The result was a flood of light into the room. I guess this would’ve looked like window light on another sunnier day. And with the room not facing another hotel across the narrow road. It just didn’t look like I wanted.

The next step was the Big Adjustment. I moved the light to the left of the window frame, and rotated the flash so that it pointed to the left. Now the light bounced off the glass towards the top of the window pane. Yes, even though I am pointing the flash outwards, enough light will bounce off the glass to make the difference.

And now the direction of the light is exactly what I was after. I had zoomed the flash-head to a tighter angle to make the swathe of light less broad. I wanted the light to accentuate Ulorin’s face. And here is the result …

And in case anyone needs convincing that bouncing the flash off the glass had any effect, here is the shot without the flash.

Camera settings for both images .. in fact for all the images with the flash positioned here:
1/250 @ f5.6 @ 800 ISO

The manual off-camera flash was controlled in the same way as for the photo session with Ulorin in the red latex outfit. The speedlight was controlled via a PocketWizard FlexTT5 on which the flash was mounted. The output of this flash could be controlled as manual flash via the FlexTT5 and AC3 ZoneController on the camera.

As photographers we needs to pre-visualize what we want to achieve with our lighting .. and work towards that by figuring out where we need to place our light. Then we also need to figure out what we want to achieve with the light.

As shown in the previous post with Ulorin in the red latex outfit, the lighting set-up that we end up using can be quite simple. It needs some thought and adjustment and experimenting to get to where we want to be with the lighting. As in the previous post, a simple speedlight offered unexpectedly good results.

other articles on Tangents, featuring Ulorin:

model – Ulorin
Ulorin in red
manual off-camera fill-flash  (model – Ulorin)

Equipment used with this photo session:

Nikon D3;  Nikon 24-70mm f2.8 AF-S (B&H)
Nikon SB-900 (B&H);  Nikon SD-9 battery pack (B&H)
(2x) PocketWizard FlexTT5 transceiver (B&H)
PocketWizard AC3 Zone Controller (B&H)
Manfrotto 1051BAC light-stand (B&H)

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these affiliate links to order equipment & other goodies.   Thank you!

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There are many interesting articles on the net however some of them are better that the others. Here you can find list of syndicated articles from several photo blogs i like the most such as Niel vN, sickness
strobist, pharm
nikon cls guide. Some more Visual science lab, tooth
wedding photo workshop.

Some of them does not have RSS feed however I really belive you should have a look there:

One Perfect Moment – wedding photography

I have opinions. This time, wedding photography. Greg Riccardi, one of the top wedding and event videographers in north Jersey, asked me a few questions in this interview – my start in photography, as well as what a bride and groom should look for in wedding photographers. He also asked me about trends I may have noticed in wedding photography.

My business name is One Perfect Moment for specific reasons. The name is derived from Henri-Cartier Bresson’s ideal of the decisive moment. That slice of time when everything just comes together perfectly for an image that resonates with the viewer. The other reason, as you can see from the video titles, is that everyone struggles to spell my name correctly. ‘One Perfect Moment’ is so much easier.

I want to expand a little bit on my off-the-cuff replies. I mentioned that there is a trend away again from details-heavy coverage. This isn’t something that affected my own style or approach. It is an observation on the influence of wedding blogs and wedding magazines, which tended to feature detail heavy coverage in their articles. This is because these magazines and blogs act as idea-reservoirs for their audience – the prospective brides. I have noticed a trend with photographers where there is a kind of push-back against this – that it is more important to capture people and moments which help relive the emotions of the day, rather than focus so much on the wedding reception details.

The part of the wedding day that I enjoy the most as the photographer, are the romantic portraits with the bride and groom. I feel this is one aspect of the wedding where the photographer can really show a distinctive style.

I also try to look for sequences of images. This especially helps us connect as the story-tellers of the day.

An easy example would be this sequence from Tressa & Tyler’s wedding. I made the road trip up to Wisconsin to photograph their wedding, and the best way to describe this is to say that the entire bridal party were characters! So much laughter from everyone there. This sequence is from the toasts at the reception where Tyler’s other brother took over, regaling everyone with anecdotes. Tressa’s expression says it all.


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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...

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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...

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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:

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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....

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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....

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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!

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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...

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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.

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Best fill-flash settings

The best fill-flash settings can be summarized with this one idea – we want to better expose our shadow areas. While this will depend on the situation and also personal taste, we are going to walk through some scenarios and get to a wider understanding hopefully of what we want to achieve with our fill-flash. But essentially, that is it – we want to lift our shadow areas to approximately the rest of our subject … or scene. There is some wriggle room in interpreting that idea of ‘correct exposure’, but in this article we will get to a better of understanding of what we want to do, and how to get there.

The photo above of our model, Scharmarie, is a good example. We had the sun setting to our left (with her back to the sun), and some low storm clouds rolling in. Her face would have been in shadow, and would have appeared too dark in a photograph without fill-flash.. So we had to lift the shadows to a level where it suited our intentions with the final photograph.

When we think about what might be our best fill-flash settings, we need to understand that there is a whole range of ratios in which we can balance available light with flash. We could range anywhere from correct ambient exposure with just a touch of fill-flash … all the way to where we under-expose the ambient light, and use flash to give us the correct exposure.

There are of course numerous possibilities inbetween those two scenarios. None of which are particularly more ‘correct’ than the other ways we match flash and available light. For simplicity of explanation though, it is easier to describe the two ‘extremes’, and hopefully this will make it easy for us to figure out the in-between scenarios … where we mix some flash with the available light, and still get good lighting and great exposure.

This range of scenarios we deal with, are discussed in this article – Balancing flash with ambient light.

Now, when we talk about ‘fill-flash’, we’re usually describing the scenario where our ambient exposure is correct, and we’re just lifting the shadows with a hint of fill-flash. Or maybe a little more. Just enough for our best choice for fill-flash.

At the extreme end of this, we need to know how to overpower bright sunlight with on-camera flash.

In previous articles we have discussed: on-camera TTL fill-flash. This article on Flash Exposure Compensation (FEC) is a step-by-step workbook on how to get to the best settings, depending on the look you want. If you’d like to know a short-cut setting, then FEC setting of -2 EV or -3EV should do it. But go through that article on FEC to get a better understanding.

That was for on-camera TTL flash. Going with off-camera flash, the thought-process would be very much the same. There are some crucial difference in using TTL flash vs Manual flash. The techniques are related, but there is some slight change in our approach with any of those choices.

We have covered off-camera TTL flash before, so with this article then, we are going to achieve our best fill-flash settings using manual off-camera flash.


The photo above, with fill-flash. The photo below, without.
Let’s have a look at how we got to our camera and flash settings:

For anyone who wants to know the best fill-flash settings, you have to think in terms of your ambient exposure first and foremost. That is your starting point – correct exposure for the available light. Then you can add flash to it. But just a touch of fill-flash. In other words, “best fill flash settings”, would revolve around your camera settings for correct (or close to correct), ambient exposure.  And then adding a touch of flash to even out the shadow areas or lift the contrast.

Using the camera’s built-in meter, and doing a test shot or two (without flash), I found that 1/180 @ f5.6 @ 100 ISO exposed the ocean and beach well. The tonal levels looked good. Scharmarie, our model, was in shade, so she was a bit under-exposed. This is where the off-camera fill-flash would step in.

The question then is, how did we get to the flash settings?
The better flashes on the market will tell you on the flash’s LCD screen what aperture you should set your flash, depending on the distance (and ISO and flash’s zoom setting.)

Set your flash to manual, and then select an output – perhaps 1/2 power? The flash should tell you what distance you need to have your subject for correct flash exposure. Now change your flash’s power setting to get to the correct distance that your flash is from your subject. Simple as that.

Let’s say that you find that for f/5.6 you need to set the flash power to 1/4 power (for that specific ISO and flash zoom setting.). Now, if you need less flash, change the power down by a stop to 1/8th power. Or 1/16th. That would be -1EV or -2EV “flash compensation” comparable to using TTL flash. Except that the manual flash is more consistent than TTL flash.

This article – getting the most power from your flash – discussed this from the point of view of figuring out what distance you need to be at with your flash at full power to get correct exposure in bright light. It is a similar thought-process for other scenarios too. If your flash doesn’t show you the power / distance relationship, then you will have to figure this out by using the guide number of your flash. Similarly, this article applies the same ideas: the Sunny 16 Rule & Flash Guide Number. These concepts are inter-related.

With this pull-back shot, you can see that we used bare flash, so the power setting shown on the back of the flash would have given us the proper settings. A softbox or any kind of modifier would change the effective power of our flash, making the readout on our flash useless … and we would have to rely then on other methods to get to correct flash exposure – perhaps the histogram, or better yet, a hand-held meter.

Oh, don’t be distracted by there being 3 flashes on that monopod – there were three photographers, and I rigged this so that all three of us could shoot simultaneously, without affecting the other.

Details & photo gear (or equivalents) used during this session


Off-Camera Flash Photography

Off-Camera Flash Photography

With this book, I wanted the material in the book to flow as a truly accessible introduction to off-camera flash. The techniques here are within the reach of everyone.

As always, the aim was for those aha! moments when things become clear and just makes sense. And then, hopefully, inspire the readers of the book to see how easily off-camera flash lighting can expand our photographic repertoire.

You can either purchase a copy via Amazon USA or Amazon UK. The book is available on the Apple iBook Store, and Amazon Kindle.




To make complete sense of this, you will have to sit with your camera, and your flash on your camera, and see how changing the aperture and ISO, will affect your flash output. And conversely, how changing the flash power will change the distance.

In finding that balance between aperture / ISO / distance / power, you will see that you can control your flash output as your ambient light changes. It is all easily under your control. Taking the flash off camera, is then the next easy step.


Related articles


Video tutorials to help you with flash photography

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


The post Best fill-flash settings appeared first on Tangents.

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Performer at SXSW in Austin, Texas. Several years ago.

Sufficiency. It's a word that Ming Thein uses and I'm starting to warm up to the concept. The nature of many photographers over the years is to continually strive to own and use the absolute best gear they can possibly afford at any given time. My pursuit of the Nikon D810 and then the Sony A7Rii is an example of that. My clients were perfectly happy with "lesser" cameras like the D610 and the A7ii but something vulnerable in my psyche kept pushing me toward potentially "better" cameras. 

My recent purchases of two cameras has stopped me in my tracks. Two cameras, one ten years old and the other one twelve years old, made me pause and consider. How did the two different 12 megapixel formats stack up to the cameras I'd been reflexively buying since owning them? Were there files better or different? Was my photography better now? Or worse? Or the same?

When we are trying to justify new camera purchases, especially if we already own perfectly good and reliable ones, we mostly talk about resolution, and the way the cameras handle low light/high ISO situations. With the exception of things like in-body image stabilization and different viewfinder options there's really not a lot else to compare. 

Like many other photographers I presumed that the cameras I used nearly ten years ago would have been eclipsed by the newer models and that the differences in actual performance (in "real" use) would be so glaringly obvious that one would have to be a dolt not to see it and want the newest magic sauce, if for no other reason that the color improvements in the latest sensors. Right?

Then I found a folder of images I'd taken a while back at our local music festival, SXSW. There were a bunch of images of performers on stage. I know they are nearly ten years old because the camera data in the files shows that they were done with a Nikon D300 camera and a (non-stabilized) Nikon 80-200mm f2.8 zoom lens. I started clicking through the hundreds of images I'd taken (on assignment) that at the festival that year and I have to say that I think the skin tones and colors are as good as anything I've taken since. In terms of dynamic range I am fascinated that the camera (and I) have nailed exposure on the performers face (above) but the backlight on her blond hair is not blown out at all. I can also see into the shadows without much strain. 

The D300 had a more limited raw buffer than we are used to today and the finder was smaller as well, but the body itself was stout, reliable and easy to handle. 

I guess the question I keep asking myself is: Why did I continually upgrade? What metric was so bad on the older generations of cameras that I felt compelled to keep buying and selling them? And, controversially, where was the sweetest sweet spot and how do we get back there?

I had an interesting comment on the blog yesterday. I'd posted an image of the Nikon D800e sitting on a tripod in the studio with a 105mm lens attached. One daily reader (MM) wrote to ask what I had done differently when shooting the image. What new sharpening routine had I embraced? 

All I had done was to put an "ancient" Nikon D2XS on a firm tripod, focused a 30 year old, manual focus 28mm f2.8 lens as well as I could, locked up the mirror and shot at f8.5. The file started life as a Jpeg. I tweaked it a little bit (as I normally do...) in SnapSeed, dialing in some shadow lifting and a little bit of "structure." No more or less than I would do with a file from a Panasonic GH5 or a Sony A7Rii. But something in the file from the ancient Nikon resonated with an experienced and savvy viewer. 

Did we hit the peak of camera performance for some subject matter, use targets, and points of view a decade ago? Were we so focused on the "potential" of new technology that we failed to see what we actually had? I wonder. 

I know the improved high ISO performance of sensors has helped many. The higher resolution comes in handy for some demanding applications. Live view can be handy. But if we come to grips with the nearly universal experience that the web is our real target for 99% of photographs then the larger pixel wells and various other attributes of the older cameras might be a better match for much of what we do. 

I point to recent cameras from Sony and Panasonic as examples of a re-consideration of larger pixel aesthetic pursuits; both in the GH5S and the A7Sxx cameras. Perhaps more camera makers will embrace the offering of cameras with sensors adapted for more than just resolution horsepower. 

Me? Just snapping up old D2XS and D700 cameras as fast as I can find them....Might look at D3S cameras as well....

Thanks to Ming for introducing "sufficiency" into the dialog. It's an interesting and worthwhile concept to consider. See Michael Johnston's ruminations as well: http://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2018/04/whats-adequate.html

Buy yourself something nice at Amazon. I have an idea.....

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An image made for the Pedernales Electric Cooperative's Annual Report in 2016.

This image was done in a medical center near Kyle, Texas. It's one of dozens and dozens we set up and shot for an annual report project. A nicely "old school" assignment on which photographs were printed nicely across two page spreads and the design and printing were first class. 

I liked this image because I added a tiny bit of front flash fill to the two men on the right of the frame and even I can't tell I did it. I needed the extra puff of light to pull up the darker tones but I worked hard to not get any telltale shadows in the rest of the photograph. 

This was a quick set up using the Nikon D810 on a tripod, along with an 85mm f1.8 lens set to about f2.8. I wanted to shoot the "let's look at the iPad!!" shot in this location because it was such a nice way to show depth. Having the hall go on forever in the background makes my eyes happy. 

I tweaked the color a bit this afternoon with the new controls in Lightroom. Nothing earth shattering but every little step they improve means one more bit of control you have over your work...


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About a year ago I saw Rebecca L. in a production of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and I asked if I could make a portrait of her. She agreed and we were off and running. Since we met at Zach Theatre we thought it would be appropriate to take the portrait there too. We asked permission to use the Serra Lounge (best bar in town...) and the Theatre graciously agreed.

I lit this with with one LED panel blasting through a 50 inch, round, collapsible diffuser and depended on the ample ambient light streaming in through floor-to-ceiling windows to provide the fill light and background light.

At that time I was photographing with the Sony A7Rii and I used the Rokinon Cine 135mm f2.2 lens because I loved the compression I could get in that space.

Last year I wasn't into contrast the way I am now. I've ramped up the contrast and saturation to achieve this effect.

There was a new update to the Adobe Raw converters in PhotoShop and Lightroom today. The update adds some profiles and looks and is a quick way to get started on a look which you can then fine tune as you like. I've got a few more images I'm re-imagining using the new updates. It's fun.

I love this portrait not only for Rebecca's eyes but also because I really like her hands. 

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Studio Dog's eyes say it all. "If there's nothing you have to do shouldn't you be taking a nap?" After a disjointed but fairly busy couple of months, beginning just after the New Year, I was as busy as I needed to be but then, about two weeks ago, everything just seemed to go quiet. The e-mail machine lay fallow and the text unit docile and a bit forlorn. Of course, as an optimistically pessimistic freelancer I immediately started to panic and started walking back into the house frequently, imploring my (still hard working) spouse to assure me that I would work again---one day---in the not too distant future. She assured me that we go through this same song and dance just about every year, right around tax time.

I called one of my best friends (who is also a professional photographer) and I immediately regretted it as he launched into a tale of work woe that eclipsed mine by several orders of magnitude. I think we could sense each other's discomfort and we both worked to change the conversation around to, "So, what new gear have you snapped up lately?" He's a long time Canon and Leica shooter who is making a seemingly happy transition to the Nikon D850 along with a bold selection of new Nikon lenses. The turn in our conversation took the edge off but later reminded me that if we worked more we could buy more gear....

Having a master's degree in anxiety I am quick to panic and am always making alternate plans which I hold in the ready just in case everything goes to hell. As I wrote notes to various client this morning I daydreamed (day-nightmared?) about possible "twilight" jobs for which I might be qualified should this whole 30+ year experiment in self-employed photography not work out.

Obviously my first thoughts ran to Barista but I dismissed this one as too cliché. I was also thinking neurosurgeon but a quick peak on the Google informed me that I'm a tad under qualified. I batted around a rewarding stint at Costco.com but couldn't quite come to grips with what department I might enjoy most... Selling big screen TVs? Wearing a hairnet and serving up pure beef hotdogs, and fresh hot pizza? Studio Dog stepped in to remind me that I dislike interfacing with the general public, and that none of  these jobs provided the freedom of schedule needed to both walk with, and then nap with, the Dog at random hours during the afternoon.

Seriously though, the life of a freelance artist/photographer/videographer is like a random chance generator. Some weeks you have so much on your plate you feel as though you need bigger forks. Some weeks there is so much silence it is deafening. There is no middle ground. Feast or famine. Ah well, at least we're through paying for college...

On a different but related note, I've come to trust Studio Dog's taste in many things and so, as an experiment today, I laid out all of my cameras in a row and had her come into the studio to sniff test them. You know, to see which ones pass the "smell" test. Sadly, we might never know her true feelings re: Nikon vs. Canon vs. Panasonic because she snatched a Milk Bone right out of my hand, chewed it up, and then curled up in front of the cameras and took a nap. I took her general disregard for the assembled gear as a sign. It's time to stop thinking about cameras and get serious about that afternoon nap. At least she didn't pee on any of them...

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Canon 7D.

I've recently been playing around with two interesting cameras. One is a Canon 5Dmk3 and the other is the D800, a predecessor to one of my recent favorite Nikons, the D810. My romp with the cameras comes shortly after having divested all of my Sony mirrorless cameras and lenses. I have now shot professionally (and as an enthusiastic hobbyist) with full frame cameras from both Sony lines (DSLT and mirrorless) as well as many of the recent (and older) Canon and Nikon cameras including 1DSxx cameras and  D8xx cameras, I think I've come to some conclusions. 

Both the Canon and Nikon cameras are mature products which, when used to create raw format files, deliver very good results and very detailed images. But why, with all the competition out in the world do these two brands still dominate the marketplace and what might change?

If we look at the niche in which the two brands have the most dominance it's in the higher end, full frame markets. It's no mystery that a full frame sensor can deliver extremely good files with less noise than other formats but the real idea most people have is that by using the bigger sensor it's easier to create good files while using smaller formats might require more shot discipline, better technique and more attentive processing in order to get the same quality results.

That being said my first two brand examples (above and below) are both from APS-C cameras and are from older products that have not been on the market for a while. It's obvious to me that both are capable of capturing very good color and, for the web at least, very satisfying levels of detail. I am always surprised when I revisit the photo just below and remember that it was taken with a 2003 vintage 4 megapixel camera, the Nikon D2H.

I think that if everything else was equal and people wanted cameras to use to most easily create day-to-day images of their family, friends and events in their lives that most people would be better served by a mirrorless camera like the G85. It combines an affordable purchase price, a good kit lens with lots of range, wonderful image stabilization (which I think is much more of a boon to casual amateurs than to working pros) a more than ample file size for both social media and actual prints, all combined with the highly useful, constant feedback of its live view system. What you see is mostly what you get... But instead people tend to end up with Rebel Kits or Nikon 3x00 kits because, like an incumbent president or congressman, these brands have much more name recognition, and because of their long tenure in the market and their overall market share they have bigger budgets with which to advertise. Most of the other brands and their current models just get lost in the noise.

But I also tend to think that looking at the bottom or middle of the market really isn't interesting to people like us, who have a keener interest in photograph. The place to look is in the upper middle and top of the market. It's interesting to understand what drives people in this sector to select the big two instead of other options.

The best answer is that most people who are in this market are more likely to have been in photography longer and to have made some selections that created a pathway to future purchases long before mirrorless options where even available. Chances are you started out with a Nikon FM film camera or a Canon AE-1 and upgraded from time to time as new models came to market. When digital came into vogue you selected from one of the big two because they came to market with what looked like more mature and usable products. Plus you already had some lenses that worked. 

Nikon and Canon users traded systems back and forth, depending on their photographic specialities, until both systems had in place full frame cameras with more than 20 megapixels, then the system abandonment based on ever changing standard specifications slowed down. People locked into their lens silos more faithfully. There were a number of bleak years for Nikon in which Canon had full frame bodies with 16 megapixels counts while Nikon's flagship offerings topped out at 12 megapixels in a cropped frame body--- but that's all history now. 

I think reason for overarching market segment loyalty is that for the longest time people have been taught and marketed to that full frame represents a gold standard for formats and one that pros and serious hobbyists aspire to in their tools. For the longest time they were really the only game in town. Yes, Sony came out with their a850 and a950 but they were already considered obsolete by the time they hit the markets and, by comparison, there was nowhere near the number of branded or third party lenses available for that mount. It's only since the second generation of Sony's A7 series cameras that Nikon and Canon have had any competition to speak of in the full frame space. 
Nikon D2H.

Obviously the big disruptor since 2013 has been the ever expanding line of Sony A7 series, full frame cameras along with an increasingly well filled out lens offerings. They are new, novel and fun and Sony's success seems to have taken Nikon and Canon by surprise. For me the advantage of the Sony line has little to do with the size of the camera bodies or the inclusion of various features; it has everything to do with the inclusion of an EVF as an eye level viewing mechanism. I was lured into the Sony system because of the potential of combining high image quality with the distinct usability of the constant live view of the electronic finders. 

I am still a big fan of the EVF but I'm not so sure anymore that there is an image quality advantage to the Sony line when it comes to the character of the files; raw or Jpeg. Sony seems to make some color and tonality choices that are less advantageous for portrait photographers than the color and tonality from cameras in similar price and performance ranges from Canon and Nikon. 

One of the benefits of having shot with a variety of cameras when wearing my "professional photographer" hat is that I have a rich store of "test" shots and "real world" shots I can go back and examine when I get in my head that one camera or system has better or worse color or tonality than a competing system. I can look a ten or twenty thousand examples, shot in a range of job types, from low light, available light to studio flash and just about everything in between. 

During my recent down time I started looking in earnest at lots of old files across systems. One observation is that nearly every camera I've owned is able get into the "excellent" ballpark without much effort. Some are better than others, some are easier to use than others.

If I look back through all the modern cameras I've used (from 2008 onward) I'd have to say that there are two that really stand out as portrait cameras. One is the Canon 5Dmk2 and the other is the Nikon D610. Both had their foibles but with the right lens on the front both made files that made peoples' skin look better than other cameras I've shot. Both were capable of high sharpness tempered by good handling of highlights. Both were solid and reliable. 

In an age with lots of good choices I can see why wedding, baby and portrait photographers are drawn to traditional cameras. I think it has a lot less to do with usability and mirror versus no mirror and a lot more to do with how the two big players have optimized their files for rendering humans more beautifully. I don't have extensive experience with Fuji cameras so I can't really compare them.
If I were to counsel someone today whose goal was to make the best possible portraits, budget not an issue. I'd direct them to either the Canon 5Dmk4 or the Nikon D850. 

You can do good work with any good camera and across formats. It might just be easier to make a classic portrait with one of these two cameras. Mostly by dint of the sheer amount of color science research and development that's gone into them over decades. 

Which one is the best? The one whose lens system you already own.....

Canon 5Dmk2

Nikon D610.

Nikon D2H.

Sony a850.

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Everyone needs a hobby. Even professional photographers. My hobby is photography and in the pursuit of this I sometimes follow Alice through the mirror and have adventures that are....less than rational.

About a month ago I was bumming around Precision Camera, handling all the lights, asking to see weird lenses in the used case, and generally making myself an annoyance. Didn't seem to phase the staff who are either used to my shopping habits or just had nothing better to do at the time. They dutifully pulled out old Hasselblad lenses and ancient Broncolor flashes so I could play with the focusing rings or the knobs and controls before shaking my head and moving on to the next shiny object that caught my eye.

And that next shiny object was a very nice, relatively unscathed Nikon D2XS which was sitting, unloved, in the glass case with other cast off Nikon DSLR bodies. I had someone extract it from the case and I played with it for a spell, all the while remembering when I had owned and extensively used one, many years ago. The price was minimal so I bought it, rationalizing that I'd use it with some of my older Nikon manual focus lenses.  I came home and charged the battery and re-familiarized myself with the old and simple menu and then shot with it for a while.

There are a few things I remember from shooting murals with this camera back in 2007, one is that this camera is exuberantly happy at ISO 100, relatively content at ISO 200 and starting to get a little edgy at ISO 400. By ISO 800 we're veering into full blown noise anxiety. Shooting raw and post processing with finesse and experience might get you a relatively decent ISO 800 (if you nail exposure!) and a fairly usable ISO 1,600. I also remembered that when I shot my original D2XS at ISO 100 and used my best techniques the files that I could get were pretty much perfect on many levels and could be easily enlarged to just about any end application. I find that is even more true today with all the Adobe PhotoShop's constantly improving re-sizing tools.

The D2XS is huge and heavy and the shutter is loud like banging trash can lids together. But the whole package certainly has its charm for an old school photographer. I give muscle memory a nod for a certain amount of my current nostalgia --- decades of form combined with function make re-accessing old cameras just like getting back on a bicycle....

A week or two later I ran across another old Nikon I remembered from my past. It was a nicely preserved D700 and after I played with it for a while I remembered the beauty (especially for files used on the web or used smaller than 11x17 in print) of the large pixel files I routinely got out of that model. I decided to add it to my growing collection of "hobby" cameras. This purchase engendered a secondary purchase of a smattering of older lenses, hand-picked for their cheap pricing and their under appreciated sharpness and general performance.

The one lens I had that I wasn't entirely happy with was a used 50mm. It was too new and I wanted to find a nice, older 50mm f1.4 ais model to augment the plastic AF model. So I pointed the car north and went back to the store one more time----- just to look. As far as lenses go I came home empty handed but continued my collecting lunacy by buying a nice copy of the more recent Nikon D800e.
And that's what I wanted to write about today, the D800e.

The D800 and D800e were interesting cameras. At a time when 24 megapixels seemed like the resolution end game for 35mm framed cameras these two cameras took the whole industry up a notch to 36 megapixels of resolution. They were also the leading edge of a generation of cameras that, along with the Sonys, were becoming ISO invariant (sensor noise floors low enough that they could be raised dramatically in post production without provoking the shadow noise that has plagued digital cameras from the beginning).

One thing I did not remember from earlier research on the D800 series was the availability of uncompressed, 4:2:2 video from the clean HDMI set up. I'll be testing that when I have some down time....

I set up some studio flashes and used the Nikon 105mm f2.5 on the D800e to test the camera. I was fairly conversant with the menus having used a D810 extensively and relatively recently. For all intents and purposes the files I created in the studio were on par with those I had routinely gotten from my D810; noiseless at ISO 100 and with detail that just goes on and on. But the thing that I had forgotten, after my long immersion with Sony, Olympus and Panasonic, is just how good and mature the color science of Nikon cameras is. They've been doing digital for a long, long time and even though I wish they'd make the leap to mirrorless in at least some of their APS-C and full frame models I have to admit that they (and Canon) know the formulas for pleasing color.

Many articles recently have been tossing around the topic of "Color Science." The general understanding (at least how it pertains to Jpeg files from cameras) is that Olympus is a master at making colors that please most users, as is Fuji, and, that while Canon colors are warmer they too have a huge fan base of photographers who find the Jpegs from their 5Dx cameras to be subjectively, visually wonderful. Nikon has the reputation for generating files that are a bit more "analytic" and less pleasing OOC but which can be edited into submission without too much of a struggle. Panasonic was, for a long time, dinged for crappy skin tones but have made huge strides in fixing their Jpeg renditions in the newest series of cameras (GX8, GH5, GH5S and G9). Sony got low marks for their Jpegs until this latest generation and they finally have circled around and started delivering much nicer skin tones and generally pleasing color.

Many years ago Kodak and Fuji both dove deeply, and with huge budgets, into the "science" of creating two kinds of color for their film stocks. There were two different objectives in the making of color films and the objectives were often at cross purposes. It turns out that there is accurate color and then there is pleasing color. Accurate color is based on delivering a recording medium in which the colors match known references as closely as possible while delivering a saturation and contrast that also matches measurable targets. Kodak and Fuji both delivered several transparency and negative film stocks that were as accurate as their science could make them. But there was an issue with acceptance by the general public.

Seems that their general consumers (the people who made up the overwhelming bulk of the film buy-in market) didn't care nearly as much for accuracy as they did for what Kodak called, "Pleasing Color." And in North America that meant much more saturated colors, warmer skin tones, less accurate but richer yellow and blue hues and, in general, a much less "correct" approach to accurately capturing a photograph. I don't know exactly how this cultural vision evolved (and, yes, it is somewhat cultural according to studies by Fuji and Kodak...) but I conjecture it had to do with what people were seeing in regional movies and on television at the time. I think domestic advertising was also pushing more saturation and color in their work at the time of the "pleasing color tipping point" as well.

This led to a decline in popularity of accurate film stocks and something of an arms race to create film stocks with ever higher levels of saturation and candy color. Not at all accurate but happily embraced by millions and millions of hobbyists, moms and dads and even some pros. But Fuji and Kodak were kind enough(?) to continue to make and provide color accurate films to working professionals who might be working with critical color requirements (the Cheerio box, fashion make up or car interior color samples needed to be a close match to reality to prevent client revolt!!!) and we made good use of the neutral stocks, especially when making color ads for book covers and when shooting floor material catalogs.

So now we're in the age of digital imaging and the software of our cameras can be tweaked to deliver a range of colors, tones, saturation, contrasts and hues from the available sensors. Having precise metrics to aim for makes it easier, on one hand, for camera makers to proceed when creating a color/tonal menu assortment for their cameras if the end goal is accuracy but if the goal is pleasing color or most acceptable color ("color" including: saturation, hue, tone, and contrast tweaks) then the design of a camera's color space becomes more like gourmet cooking and less like slavishly following the recipes in "The Joy of Cooking." 

There are qualities such as the angle of the curve of the highlight rendition, mid-range contrast tweaks, color responses in the twitchy red and blue spectra, and a lot more. Fuji had a head start in the "pleasing" color race since they could access so much data from the film days. In almost every camera with pleasing color reponse there is a gentler roll-off in the highlight areas, a bit more contrast in mid-tones and a pleasing red/yellow combination in the area close to skin tone. The one area where there is more differentiation is in the depiction of blues.

If we move from Jpegs to Raw files some of the differences between cameras become less obvious as much of the color "flavor" is provided via the interpretation of the Raw processor being used. Files from Nikon Capture, DXO and Adobe are obviously different if one uses each Raw processor's defaults.

While it should be possible to create profiles or even LUTs (look-up tables) to make one company's line of cameras resemble another company's line I think it would take a deep foray into the camera's software to match them more precisely. A deeper foray than most photographers have the time of inclination for...

Camera companies decide where on the spectrum their spectrum will exist. There is a range from "very pretty color" to "absolute color" and it will be affected by things as disparate as the coloration of lens coatings to the regional markets in which the cameras sell most profitably. The bottom line is that companies are taking pretty much the same raw data off the same kinds of CMOS sensors and overlaying a look and feel that they feel will sell best.

It seems to make sense that cameras aimed at the lower end of the buyer demographics will have punchier, more saturated and more culturally nuanced color aim points than cameras aimed at much more exacting and demanding users such as advertising professionals. The files straight out of a Canon Rebel will look, to most consumers, better than the files from cameras with lower saturation levels and flatter profiles. Since the expectation is that most consumers will perform less post production the color science of a Rebel or Olympus EM10-iii is a "win" for sales. A more accurate color response would probably reduce sales, within specific markets.

If you are curious about the color accuracy or color delta of a camera you can use controlled and known lighting to shoot known color targets and judge the results on a vector scope which can show you how far the camera's response is from the accuracy of the original color as well as the degree of saturation for each color of the target. This, of course, presumes that your camera is able to output HDMI.

What it mostly boils down to is that Jpeg shooters should have a keener interest in just how the different camera companies choose to craft their Jpeg color science because, in Jpegs the color is "baked in" and harder to change without consequences than a raw file.

If you are a raw shooter who sometimes needs real color accuracy to produce accurate results for commercial client you may need to use a camera aimed at more absolute color renditions even though you might not like the "straight out of camera" Jpegs as much as cameras from other makers. But when shooting raw it should be possible to create settings that will get your camera closer to pleasing color and further from absolute color without too much effort.

So, what do I think about the files I'm getting from my collection of Nikon's older cameras? Interestingly the Jpeg files when used with Nikon's neutral profile setting (in camera) are pretty darn accurate. They got a lot correct back in the day. If you want to get closer to a Fuji, Canon or Olympus "look" you'll need to make changes to blue hues, overall contrast, mid-range contrast and parts of the red and yellow color saturation levels and a few other things. And none of what we've discussed here includes the various sharpening settings to which the cameras default....

Interestingly enough, the more controls camera makers include for videographers (see a Sony RX10iii menu to understand just how changeable files can be, in camera, before you poo-poo the idea) the more controls you have at your disposal to transmute the Jpegs to your taste (assuming you can access these profiles in regular photography!!!). Some folks on the web have even created mini-idsutries in fine-tuning camera colors.

I cut my digital teeth on Kodak's ancient DCS 660 and DCS 760 cameras which worked in raw only in Kodak's software for a long time. You had more control but you had more options with which to fuck up. The Nikon professional DSLRs seem to be set up to be conservative in their overall color responses --- a neutral color science. While it requires more tweaking before we can put it in the same "pleasing color" ballpark as some competitors the neutrality is welcome for demanding applications where built in casts are less welcome.

What will I buy next? It's a toss up. The 45mm f1.2 for the m4:3 system or a 20mm lens of the Nikons. All depends on what kind of job hits the inbox next...

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Studio portrait of Sarah, post swim. 

I couldn't sleep in this morning. Too much stuff whirling around in my brain. So I grabbed a towel and my swim bag and headed to the early morning swim practice. Not EARLY MORNING like we did in high school and college, when the first workout of the day was at 5:30 a.m. but a more civilized early workout (on the weekend) at 7:30 a.m. 

When you swim regularly and frequently you just feel better and better until you almost start to believe you might be bulletproof and immortal. But when life intrudes and other priorities push daily swimming off the calendar things fall apart. I went from a five to six day a week, 15,000+ yard schedule to, well, zero for the first two and half months of this year. Oh, there were times when I'd rush by the pool on my way out of town and try to get some yardage in for half an hour. I could count those days on the fingers on one hand...

For the first couple of weeks off from swimming the conditioning remains largely intact. The next couple of weeks you feel soft and physically ineffective, and by week six you start to feel like Jabba the Hut (Caution: Star Wars reference!) on Benadryl. Those pants with the 32 inch waist start feeling tight and you start thinking you might need to go up a size. You get progressively grouchier. 

By the first of March I started making plans in earnest to get back onto a consistent workout schedule.  At 62 the loss of fitness comes quick and regaining it takes time and discipline. And naps. Lots of recovery naps...

At the end of December I was swimming with a group of friends at the spring fed Deep Eddy Pool. The water was freezing but we managed to knock out 3K to 3.5K each day. On my first few days back to our regular pool, in March, I was struggling to even reach 2,500 yards and taking breaks; a 50 off here, a 50 off there, just to catch my breath. I came home tired and felt a bit depressed that I'd shed that much everyday fitness so quickly. 

Last week was the first week in which I felt like things were heading back to "normal." I started getting back my motivation and hitting the earlier workouts in order to better manage my schedule. I moved back up to a faster pace lane today and hung with the kids better than I have since December. It was a tipping point back into happiness for me. 

Today, under the watchful eyes of coach Kristen, we knocked out 3,200 yards in an hour. A lot of freestyle today and a lot of fast sets with descending intervals. Felt like old times!

Putting my schedule back together is vital for me and for my mental health. Swimming and fitness create a foundation and I've always added on to that. 

Now I need to figure out how to get my passion for work back. If anyone has any suggestions (which don't interfere with swimming) I'll be happy to have them. It would be great to be fired up and ready for some work challenges again. 

I'm motivated to swim. Now I need to sharpen my focus for doing my paid work; taking photographs. 

Circle Swimming at WHAC.org. 

It's not enough just to get wet.
You have to want to go fast.

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210mm on a D2XS at f6.3.

I've been on a nostalgia buying spree lately and every once in a while I'll head into downtown Austin and walk a circuit I've done so many times I could probably do it with a blindfold on. The funny thing is that every time I walk it (about 4 miles) there is so much that's changed. Just in the last week a ten story building I've walked by since I arrived in Austin in 1974 has vanished. Last week it was there and today it was gone. Imploded. New restaurants open and close quicker than live theater productions. And the weather makes everything look different nearly every day. 

I like to walk it for the exercise and to see what people right now. I also like walking it with a camera in hand because I can shoot tests that I can compare to similar shots I've made in weeks, months or days past with a collection of different cameras and lenses. Finally, I like the walk because you get to meet interesting characters. Out in the suburbs the best you can usually do is to meet interesting cars.

Today part of my walk was about casually testing an older, used lens I bought a week ago for my growing collection of ten year old Nikon digital cameras; it's a 70-210mm f4-5.6 AF-d that uses a push-pull mechanism to change the focal lengths. By current standards it is considered to have too small a maximum aperture, it's too heavy and the focusing motor makes actual noise. The biggest knock against it for most people is that there is no image stabilization. So, why did I shell out "big bucks" for this lens (which hit the market in 1992)?

I guess I should first point out that my primary camera system, the one I'm using for the lion's share of my paid work, is the Panasonic GH5, along with a cool collection of Panasonic and Olympus Pro lenses. The vintage Nikons are more a dalliance or a "days off" camera. Something familiar from the ancient days of early digital. 

Because the cameras exist in a secondary tier I'm not that anxious to toss around major cash building a system around them. I'd like to put together just enough of a lens family to be able to toss all the Nikon stuff in a bag and go shoot an art project or personal project with them. A way of taking a break from the day-to-day commercial shooting and re-connect with a different kind of shooting. 

In this vein I've tried to limit myself to an average lens acquisition price of around $100 per. Once I picked up the D700 I started thinking about getting a longer lens than my 105mm and a shorter lens than the 85mm. A 70-210 fills both requirements in one package. A week and a half ago I saw a lens I should have bought at Precision Camera's used department. It was the 70-300mm f4.0 G VR lens. I owned one back when Nikons were my serious cameras, and it was a great lens, but I hesitated because it would have busted my fictive budget of $100 (it was priced at $249). By the time I overcame my good sense and fiduciary responsibility and circled back to snag it fate had interceded and someone else had become the lucky owner. 

While I looked through the rest of the used lenses I came across two minty examples of the 70-210mm. It was a lens I bought and sold during my last foray (D810, D610, D750) into primary Nikon shooting. While I mostly used the 70-200mm f2.8 lens for my work I added the 70-210mm f4-5.6 as a "beater" lens to use in rain, snow, sleet and dust storms. Something I could use in environmentally stressful situations and then toss if it became in operable. Three or four years ago I was surprised  at just how nicely the lens performed. 

When I checked the prices I almost laughed. $79. I asked my sales person to pick the best of the two and bought it. 

There were two things I wanted to test today. One was the 70-210mm and the other was how the lens would perform on a DX (cropped frame) camera. I put the lens on the D2XS and headed out in the crisp Spring air. 

Hey! Guess what? This lens works really well. It will flare if you point it at the sun. It will be unsharp if you miss focus. But for the most part it's nicely sharp, snappy, well behaved and does a good job when used wide open; a great job when stopped down a stop or two. The performance is all the more impressive when you consider that everything here was shot on a cropped frame camera which means that the lens becomes the equivalent of a 105mm to 315mm lens and that all of these images are handheld by a man with a coffee addiction. For all but the most demanding work this lens is a good complement for either the D700 or the D2XS.

Another building block in the Minimalist Photographer's B-team lens collection. 

Go ahead. Find the longitudinal chromatic aberrations. Tell me why this will not end well....

210mm on a D2XS at f6.3.

210mm on a D2XS at f6.3.

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 C.W. Tuck

I spend Sundays visiting my dad. I also visit him when I come down to San Antonio to meet with our attorneys or dad's tax guy. It's interesting to me that I've developed a closer relationship with him in the last three months than I had in the past, when my mother was alive. I think it's because, for the first time in my life, he needs my help. But at the same time he's teaching me patience and empathy.

I took this photograph after a family dinner last year at Cappy's Restaurant in San Antonio. We were celebrating my parent's anniversary and lingering in the parking lot afterwards saying goodbye. I looked over and liked the light falling on my dad so I asked him to stop for a moment. I shot a few frames. 

I like the expression. I like the background. I like the contrast of the color of his shirt and his skin tone. I wish I had taken more photographs of my parents over the years but my relationship with them was different from all the other people of whom I make portraits. 

I remember just before their 50th anniversary, well over a decade ago, I felt that we needed a definitive portrait of my mom and dad together. I didn't feel I was able to do the best job with them. I hired the firm of Parish Photography and asked that Mr. Parish himself do a session with my parents. Parish Photography had been an old guard studio in San Antonio for decades and had a wonderful reputation. Mr. Parish was also closer in age to my parents. I thought they would listen better to him; follow his directions, give expressions not nuanced by their need to be "my parents." 

Mr. Parish took them to a local park and made a series of beautiful portraits. I went through the proofs and selected my favorite shot and had 8x10 inch color prints, beautifully mounted, made for my mom and dad, my older brother and my younger sister. I also had a print made for myself. 

It's the last professional portrait I remember being taken of my parents and I'm happy to have it. 

It was an interesting exercise to actually select a photographer outside my circle of friends and acquaintances. I didn't ask about pricing, I just wanted the best fit, and to select a photographer who had a long track record of making the kind of portrait I was looking for. I have no idea what kind of camera he used. No idea about what lighting he used. All I cared about was the final result. I was looking for a mix of kind memory and aesthetic balance. It's always a learning experience to hire someone to do the thing that you do. I learned that portrait photographers can provide a very long term value to families for any number of reasons. The cost of the portrait is forgotten almost immediately, the photographs grow in value daily. Something to remember.

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 The one thing I regret about the demise of the Samsung camera division was the discontinuation of a particular lens. They made an 85mm f1.4 that was one of the finest portrait lenses I ever used. We shot the image above in a tiny trade show booth at the 2013 Photo Expo in NYC. Even though we were surrounded by crowds and the noise in the exhibit hall was crazy loud we were able to achieve moments where my model and I felt as though we were the only ones in the room.

It's about a connection. The connection can be one of shared purpose, a physical or psychological attraction or a shared interest. Some how both sitter and photographer must bridge the gap between each other and enter into the moment with a sense of play....and give and take.

If you don't get some sort of spark or connection that goes in both directions you haven't made a portrait, at best you've made a document...

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Texas Highways Magazine is the chamber of commerce publication of Texas. They have sent photographers to the corners of this huge state, and just about everywhere in between, to photograph the weird, the traditional and the ultra-normal. I did a couple of jobs for them in the early part of this century and had a great time. The first project they tapped me for was to photograph in Elgin, Texas. The digital photography age was just getting fired up, six megapixel cameras were the only affordable option and film was not yet dead. 

I've often sung the praises of our all terrain film format, the 6x6 cm square medium format, but I really haven't written much about the 4x5 view cameras that constituted "platinum level" imaging from the early 1950's all the way up until the creation of true 12 megapixel cameras and the final substitution of the web for printed magazines. 

My first view cameras was a Calumet model which was one of the budget cameras available in 1980. I bought one along with 24 film holders and three lenses; a 90mm f8.0, a 135mm f5.6 Schneider Symmar and a 210mm f5.6 Schneider Symmar. And then there was the associated hardware with which to make it usable: a dark cloth to provide a dark space in which to view the (usually dim) ground glass on the back of the camera, and a cable release to trigger the shutter. Oh, yes, and a Polaroid back for shooting Polaroid test materials. 

By the time of the Elgin assignment I'd being shooting at least weekly (and for some few years, daily) with the larger format camera. My first portrait for the founder of Texas Monthly Magazine (Mike Levy) was done on that old Calumet camera. All my architectural shots and many of the product shots right up until 2002 were done with it as well. 

By the time I hit the streets of Elgin I had upgraded cameras to a Linhof Technica and while I was still using the same two longer lenses I'd replaced the older 90mm with a much better 90mm f5.6 Super Angulon. Sweet glass, for sure. 

I think the art director would have been just fine with me shooting on medium format film, or even, with great care, the new digital DSLR cameras but for some crazy reason I insisted on using the older, bigger tech for the Elgin assignment. With 24 film holders I could pre-load 48 sheets of color transparency film (one on each side of the film holder) and be ready for a good day of shooting. Generally, when I hit the 48th frame that was a sign that it was time to go home for the day. I did carry along a changing bag that would allow me to offload shot film and reload my holders on location but we always worried about dust and debris from the inside of the changing back ending up on the film. 

I was working with the writer's submitted story draft so I knew which places would end up in the article. How I photographed them was left up to me since the art directors never traveled with us or gave us suggestions in the field. 

Elgin had two big industries back then (2002), one was sausage making/BBQ selling and the other was a giant brick manufacturing plant. We shot both industries. The brick making was interesting but the BBQ was delicious. 

Both these images were done on BBQ locations and I used an electronic flash to get them. Both were done with the 135mm lens which was more or less analogous to a 28mm to 35mm focal length on a 35mm "full frame???" camera. I'd get to a location, get a mini-tour from the owners or managers and then brainstorm a shot. In the top shot we had been discussing the fact that some customers had a daily BBQ habit. They'd come in and eat sausage or brisket or ribs every single day of the week. I thought it would be fun to set up a shot about "excess" and an Elgin citizen was game to play along with me. 

One figured out the basic angle and coverage of the image to be photographed long before one pulled the large format camera out of the case. You created the shot in your mind and then you constructed it. After years (decades) of working with the larger format I got to the point where I could get it set up and ready faster than most people can find something on an Olympus digital camera menu these days. 

I'd set up and rough the shot in and then toss the dark cloth over my head, and the back of the camera, and fine tune the composition. Then I'd grab the loupe hanging around my neck, stop down to the taking aperture on the lens and check the fine focus. It was always a challenge to hit focus and one of the primary reasons most pros bought electronic flashes with power modeling lights. You really needed the extra lumens to see the point of exact focus!

One of the nicest things about the larger format images, beyond the endless detail and endless dynamic range, was the ability to quickly get the overall perspective correct. Make the front and rear standards parallel to the walls of the location and then use the camera's rising and falling front standard to get the composition back. We've got tilt and shift lenses now but people seem to have relegated them only to "architectural" work. The camera movements were used so much more frequently in the days when knowledge ruled and "easy" was a pejorative. 

A few test flashes, a meter reading or two, and then confirmation via Polaroid and we'd be off and shooting. We went overboard on the top image and shot FIVE frames. Total indulgence. 

The frame below was done on the same day at an establishment across (the small) town. I'd been shown the sausage factory and found this guy hoisting a tub of sausage. He was perfect. So was the sausage. I had the Linhof out and the 135mm in action in minutes. The light was actually done on this location with a Vivitar 283 flash into an ancient and tattered, white umbrella. The whole set up and shoot took ten minutes and I was satisfied using three frames of film. You paid attention back then. It was a thing.

The sparse shooting made editing much easier. I'd look through the day's take after the lab processed it, curse myself if I forgot to make adjustments for bellows extension, or reciprocity failure, and then chose the single best shot for each set up. One frame of large sheet film per encounter, and that's what I would hand in to the art director. 

Knowing it was going to be my last, sentimental working journey with the larger format I blew through nearly 120 sheets of film over three full working days. We had about 95 keepers. I turned in 30 shots. From brick making, sausage making, antique shops, bed and breakfasts and a bunch of historic building shots, the 4x5 was fluid and effective at every step. My final shot was a veteran at the town's only donut and coffee shop. He was seated at a table with an American flag behind him. It was a nice shot. I wish I could still find it but I have a sneaking suspicion that it never came back from the magazine. 

That's one of the few blessings of using digital, you always have a copy of everything you've shot. Unless a hard drive goes suicidal and eats everything.  On the other hand we never had the drudgery or paranoia of having to do back-ups with film. You either had it or you didn't....

People who have only shot digital will never understand the lure of big, slow sheet film. Ah well. Itty bitty digital cameras? The Soylent Green of photography. 

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As you may remember I picked up a Nikon D700 a couple weeks ago with the intention of seeing whether or not I was missing something distinct or magical from the old days. Was there something in the older cameras that was basically right but then got ameliorated by our mindless lust for resolution? I've had lots of other stuff on my mind but I've been systematically mixing the D700 and some vintage Nikon lenses into my work mix (golf pro last week, studio portrait of doctor this week) and today I had time to step away from work, and family administration, and just go for a walk with the camera and one lens. The lens I chose today was the 85mm f1.8 AF-D lens. It's a lens many of us have owned, either in the digital age or in the days of autofocus film Nikons, and it has a solid reputation as being fairly good at the wider apertures and very good at f5.6 and beyond. It's one of the noisy autofocusing lenses that uses a little screwdriver drive cam to move the lens elements. Being an older prime it has no image stabilization.

In contrast to the mirrorless cameras and lenses I normally use the D700 feels at least twice as heavy and the lens is heavier that the Sony counterpart as well. It always takes me a while to dial in my subconscious understanding that the image in the finder is NOT what the final image will look like once it's been through the exposure and digital processing chain so chimping is a more frequent practice in actual use, as is making iterative exposure and color adjustments. 

All in all the camera and lens are well balanced and fairly compact (especially compared to the D2XS) and they didn't constitute any real burden over the course of a two hour walk through an urban landscape. 

I'm always surprised when I get back home from a walk with a vintage camera. I think I am expecting a much more primitive or less complex file with which to work. But lately, with either the D700 or the D2XS, I am surprised at just how modern, detailed and rich the files I'm getting seem to look. I did a color check with a vector scope on the Atomos monitor and in the "neutral" profile setting the colors were remarkably accurate. Much more so than similar test shots done on a much newer Sony A7Rii. Kind of amazed that two cameras that are each over ten years old nailed the basic color science to a more accurate degree than a much more recent generation competitor. Almost makes me want to try the same test with a Canon 5D mk2.....

I shot mostly at f3.5 and was surprised to see again just how shallow depth of field is for that particular optic when combined with a full frame sensor. 

How well have I filled out my (totally) vintage Nikon system? Well, I always want two bodies so I have a useful back-up that takes the same lenses, so I have the D700 and the D2XS. I like the color and file depth (richness) out of both of them. They both need more sharpening than the current cameras I am used to but once post processed from RAW they look very competitive if I stay in the native file sizes. I'm guessing the need for more sharpening comes from the use of stronger anti-aliasing filters that were required because of the lower pixel resolution and the danger of moire.

Here are the lenses I have sourced to date (all locally, from Precision Camera): the 24mm f2.8 AF-d, the 28mm f2.8 ais (manual focus), the ancient 35-70mm f3.5 ai lens, the 55mm f2.8 ais micro lens, the 85mm f1.8 AF-d lens, the 105mm f2.5 ais lens and finally, the 70-210mm f4.0-5.6 AF zoom lens (which I have owned before and found to be quite good; it's a push pull design with auto-focusing). 

Were I just starting out I believe I could handle most photo oriented jobs with just this small assemblage of gear. While none of it is "stellar" (with perhaps the exception of the 105mm) it's all very workable and all the bodies and lenses deliver acceptable results. No one will write home to glorify the high ISO performance of the D2XS but isn't that why the photo gods invented flash?

Will this assemblage morph and grow to replace the Panasonic GH5s and assorted lenses? Not likely. The Panasonic collection is too insanely good at video to even think of jettisoning. And it does a better job in most respects for still imaging than either of the ancient Nikons. If I were to consider a switch I'd have to give the D850 a workout, only for its potentially good 4K video performance. But then I'd be back down the rabbit hole spending more on individual lenses than I've spent so far on my entire collection of old, used stuff. Total system expenditure so far for the vintage Nikon collection is less than $1800. The flip side of that reality is that either camera could give up the ghost at any moment and would cost more to revive than to replace.... The 55mm micro already is showing intermittent signs of sticky aperture blades; a known flaw.

Whether or not owning the aging Nikon gear is sensible is something I'll leave to each of you. I love the nostalgia of it and the surety of it when I use it within its performance envelope. They are not, in this day and age, anywhere near the ultimate performers but then again they are not nearly as far behind as I would have imagined before going back and re-testing. See the images for more subjective evaluation.

If I were starting out, young and broke, today I think a couple of D700s or Canon 5Dmk2s and a handful of older lenses would be the best use of limited funds for me. And a useful introduction into the basic work life of most photography. It's an interesting option versus newer and more consumer oriented base model cameras, and certainly more cost effective than some of the mirrorless options out on the market. Sure, there's no video and no EVF but $$$ for $$$ this old stuff is as basic as a good hammer. It's usable and gets the job done. You can always ask for more, the question is whether you really need it or just want it. 

Funny, Austin is an MSA (metropolitan survey area) with nearly 2 million people and yet there was almost no one on the streets of downtown today. I guess they were all hunkered down in coffee shops, fearful of the rain and the chilly 70 degree temperatures....

The last remnants of "old" Austin. A window A/C unit at the #1 Fire Station. 

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What does Kirk sound like? How does he pack for Zach shoots?

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