Fun times for me this week. I photographed Governor Rick Perry.

Texas Governor and potential presidential candidate, Rick Perry.  Canon 5Dmk2 with a 24-105mm lens and two Canon flashes.  And now for the BIG NEWS you've been waiting for......how I used the flashes.

The week started with some telephone meetings with book publishers and editors.  And by Tuesday I was moving with dispatch on other, unrelated projects.  I had an assignment to photograph "some people" with our governor for "some companies and organizations" so I packed up my black Domke F2 camera bag and headed over to the Texas State Capitol.  The governor uses a room on the second floor for all kinds of public and private receptions and small presentations and ceremonies.  I was no newcomer to the governor's press room as I worked for Governor Mark White back in the early 1980's and photographed Governor Ann Richards there back in the 1990's.

The room is wide from side to side and narrow from front to back.  From the door behind me to the wall with the flags that faces south the depth of the room is probably 25 feet.  The ceiling is pretty high and the walls are all a nice off white.  I'd be shooting with at least two other professional photographers and one camera crew.  The camera crew brought a Lowell Omni light which they threw some diffusion over and then feathered toward the main shooting area.  Hello shadows and orange light.

I learned long ago not to use direct flash in that room.  Better options exist.  But my main goal, since I was tasked with getting good group shots, was to get an good wash of soft clean light that would flatter the crew in the group with the governor.  The flash would have to overpower the indirect, non continuous lighting that rimmed the high ceiling and the warm light coming from the chandeliers hanging just above head level.

I placed one Canon 430ex2 on a table to my left and bounced it into the white wall there.  I used it in the "slave" mode and it was triggered by the Master, a Canon 580ex2 flash.  I turned the business end of the flash around and angled it up so it illuminated the wall and part of ceiling directly behind me.  Using the Canon 5Dmk2 meant it could easily handle ISO 800 with very little noise.  I used the flash on TTL and the camera on manual.  All the frames were easily within a good range of exposure and color. The current Canon flash system is pretty good.  Probably as good as Nikon's if you take time to read Syl Arena's book, Speedliter and understand how to make it work.

We arrived at the capitol building at 1 pm with the intention of checking out the room and setting up our lighting and arranging furniture with the idea that we'd be starting to shoot at 2:10 pm.  (I'm always early.  It's much better than late.....).  We ended up starting our "program" and getting our photo ops around 3:15 pm.  Pretty much par for the course.

So, what do you wear when you go to photograph the governor and leaders from other countries?  Pretty much the same stuff we wear to corporate receptions for visiting foreign dignitaries.  Charcoal gray suit, a shirt with thin white lines on a French Blue background, and a muted burgundy tie.  Just for this occasion I wore my best jet black cowboy boots. (Now I have to change my "about me" on my website to reflect my wardrobe upgrade).  One media producer wore jeans.  He was the only one in the entire room to do so.....

I got what I needed and headed back home to the office to color correct, edit and upload.  The client dropped by an hour later to pick up the entire take on DVD.  Job done.

Now,  I'm sure you all want to know:  "Is Rick Perry running for president?"

How should I know?  I just take photographs.

Olympus EP3 is announced. I want one. Available in August.

Keep your VF-2's ready.  Here comes the latest micro four thirds camera.  Olympus announced the new EP-3 and it seems to cover two of the most important bases Olympus needed to cover in order to stay relevant to a huge number of photographers.  It now (according to Olympus and the people who've had the camera in hand) has been re-engineered to focus as quickly as a regular DSLR and there's a new sensor that is reputed to be at least one stop better in high ISO noise performance than its predecessor.  In my mind the EP2, which I assume the 3 will replace, was a really fun shooting camera and it had only those two faults.  If the performance of the 3 matches the hype then this might be the camera that all of us Olympus fans have been looking for to carry the brand forward.

Why is this important?  Because my belief is that consumers want smaller cameras, the vast majority of non-rabid photographers don't really give a darn about the sensor size in theory or practice as long as the camera works and works well.  Most people are less concerned about dropping backgrounds out of focus than they are with getting everything they want in focus.  And smaller sensors do that better.

Anecdotally I can attest to the popularity of this format in general, and these Olympus cameras in particular, by looking at the metrics on this blog site.  Though I've written over 625 blogs and covered many cool cameras the run away, most read, most debated and most linked article I've written to date is the review of the inexpensive EPL2 from Olympus.  The article has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times in the last several months.  

This really is a convergence of what people in general (90% of the camera buying population) want:  It's small, capable, has great image quality, beats the pants off their cellphone cameras, lets them change lenses, make movies and much more.  Will this particular camera be a winner?  I think it's a slam dunk.  It's beautifully designed and Olympus seems to have finally delivered the kind of performance that camera junkies crave and measure.

Will I buy one?  It's already on order.  I haven't played with one yet but the guys at Olympus know I'm ready to get my hands on one.  If they send a test model to me soon I'll have a review up that will be so in depth I'll be giving Atlas Shrugged  a contest for page count.  Confession:  I love these Pen cameras and have done some really fun work with them.  I also love using them with my large collection of original, manual focus Pen lenses from the 1970's.  Go Olympus!!!!

Added at 10:40pm the same day.  I respect Bill Beebe.  He wrote a great perspective piece about the endless introduction of new gear.  His inspiration was this product launch.  His piece made me stop and think about gerbils on wheels.  You should read this too.  Just for a bit of gear perspective:  http://blogbeebe.blogspot.com/2011/06/olympus-e-p3-too-little-too-late.html


Proud father documents award winning swimmer boy.

So.  Ben has been swimming with the Rollingwood Waves for ten years.  Since he's now fifteen that means he started when he was five.  He doesn't miss workouts.  He always has a good attitude and he's had some awesome coaches.  I'm proud of him for following through on his commitment to swim.

 For the last three years he's been coached by Whitney Hedgepeth who is also the Masters Swim coach for the University of Texas swim program.  Whitney was a swimmer at UT and she went on to win one gold and two silvers at the Atlanta Olympics.  Ben has also been coached by All American, Chris Kemp and gold medal winner (Butterfly) Tommy Hanan.

This has nothing really to do with photography other than my usual comment that learning how to be disciplined is important in everything you undertake in life.  Ben is remarkably disciplined and self-reliant.  He knocks out homework early.  He practices to win.

Yet another image of Ben.  This time he's clutching his "most improved swimmer" award.

Will he swim for the high school or college teams?  Right now it looks like swimming is losing out to cross country.  Running 6 or 7 miles a day in this heat?  It just takes some discipline and some acclimatization.  I'm confident he'll do fine.

Some random stuff I like about Austin.

Sadly, for a photo oriented blog, this is a pretty damn mediocre photograph.  But it reminds me that while people are working in offices all over the place a large number of young adults are off playing in the middle of the day.  This is the Lamar Bridge.  It spans Lady Bird Lake in the center of Austin.  Today I watched as dozens of trim, athletic adults paddled to the bridge on standing paddle boards, climbed the spans and jumped into the slow moving water.  It reminded me that we were all enjoying active participation even though it was 3:00 pm on a toasty (near record) Summer afternoon.  Today's camera:  a Canon 1dmk2n with a Zeiss 35mm f2 ZE.  This is what I get for shooting into the light.....

Let's not be affected and call this a "photowalk".  Instead let's just say I went out for a walk and I took along a camera....

This is the view from the new pedestrian bridge addition.  The ped bridge spans the lake and provides lot of "no car" access to the 12 miles of pristine running trails that border the lake in the center of our town.  The road for cars is on the right.  The road for bikes and walkers is on the left.  This is an additional bike way.  The running trail it actually next to the water, just to the right of the car road.
It really was a blue sky day.

We may be in the middle of a severe drought but you wouldn't know it by looking at the premier city parks.  It's emerald as far as the eye can see.  The power plant has been closed for years.  Now it's used for trendy/cool parties and as a set for dozens of movies.  

These are water coolers.  They are two of dozens and dozens that Luke's Locker and Runtex (running stores) put up around the lake to augment the old, warm, permanent fountains.  I like it when businesses in our city do extra stuff for their clients. For free.  Without a subsidy or tax abatement.  And check it out,  no one steals the paper cups and no one throws the paper cups on the ground.  Little stuff makes a city more fun.  When it gets super hot (over 105) there are still a lot of runners (dozens?) who brave the mid-afternoon heat.  Sometimes Runtex sends people out on big three wheeled bigs with coolers of water attached.  The ride up to the huffing-puffing runners and ask them,  "Are you staying hydrated?  Need some cold water?"   It's like having a lifeguard on the running trail.  I forget there are obese people when I'm hitting the trail.  Out of sight out of mind.

I love the Pfluger Bridge.  It's the pedestrian bridge I keep talking about.  And since it's a wide open space with no cars on top it's become more of a hanging out, sightseeing, balcony to the downtown skyline in both directions.  I use it as a portrait location.  I run across it.  I park south and head north of the lake to get to Whole Foods.  Sometimes, when the light is cool and fading quick in the winter, and the sky starts turning purple and orange I just stand on the bridge and watch the day fade.  And it's beautiful and doesn't cost anything for the show.

I love the fact that all over central Austin there is spontaneous street art.  Chalk drawings.  Stencils.  Political statements and free form sculpture.  A culture that takes time to do art is robust and doing well. If you don't like it don't sweat it.  It's all ephemeral.  It wears off quick.  If it's not nice it'll get cleaned off  with dispatch.

I love the fact that we have so many outdoor venues.  And that people don't carve their initials into the picnic tables to often.  And that they are mostly painted bright and cheery colors.  This is at Flip Happy Crepes.  They have blue tables at P. Terry's Hamburgers.  I love businesses that aren't afraid of bright colors and bold statements.

I hate to say it but I really like the tall buildings that keep springing up all over the downtown area.  It may not make a big dent but ever residence building that goes up means less traffic on the roads outside of downtown, less suburban sprawl and more concentrated night life and restaurant choices.  Now it's fun to go downtown and hang out.  Twenty years ago there was, like, one coffee shop and the streets were deserted after 5pm.  Now it feels like a big city.

And every open space seems to get more and more trees.  Don't care which side of the political spectrum you're on, no one hates trees......I hope.

So, what was I doing downtown?  Well, I worked all last week and all the way thru the weekend. I finished up video projects, I shot in San Antonio for two days.  I did a big slide show for the kid's swim team. And I didn't spend any time shooting just for myself.  In the same way runners and swimmers crave a workout when they've missed a few I missed just walking around with my camera looking at stuff.  I also wanted to get to REI and buy some "technical" shirts for Ben and Belinda.  You know the ones I'm talking about?  They use a special thin fabric that breathes and wicks off moisture and they have a built in SPF of 40 or so.  They keep you feeling about ten degrees cooler than a cotton t-shirt and they keep the UV off your skin better.  I found a bunch on sale at the downtown REI store.  Score.

And who could miss a quick walk over to Whole Foods for one of those chocolate, coconut and toasted almond bars, washed down with some fresh Sumatran coffee?

Add in a little walk thru downtown and you've got your own event.

Do we choose to sacrifice everything to make a dollar?

I don't know what the answers are.  I'm not sure how photographers should market this year or in the next few years.  The markets are changing.  Things are not the same as they were four years ago.  Nothing ever returns to a previous stasis, where markets are concerned.  But even though I'm not the sharpest blade in the knife drawer I do know instinctively that some stuff doesn't work for everyone.

There's a wedding photographer in California named Jasmine Starr.  I've never met her.  I've seen her work all over the place.  It's no better or worse than tens of thousands of current wedding photographers who shoot "day of the wedding" stuff with Canons and Nikons and very little controlled flash.  When I see her work on the web it's a style that mixes very narrow depth of field, lots of emotion and movement (which can be cool and is probably what people are happy to pay for) and very little technical wizardry.  All the brides are beautiful and all the venues tasteful in a "lobby-of-the-Hyatt-Westin-JWMarriott-Ritz Carlton" way.

Consensus says that it's not Jasmine Starr's photographic work that led Photo District News to proclaim her as one of the "top ten wedding photographers" in the United States but her prowess as a marketer and her emphatic approach to reaching prospective clients.  In other words, the "magic bullet" of marketing.  The one every photographer in the business seems to be looking for.

Her secret?  According to many articles about her and her messaging it's all about her blog.  She combines false modesty with faux intimacy.  Brings together pop consumer culture with a "behind the scenes" tableau of her own personal life, writ large.  She is gabby and takes prospective clients into her "confidence."  She is not afraid to talk about crying.

Her blogs have discussed shoe shopping (she says mentioning top brands is important = Manolo Blahnik),  house hunting with hubby, what she had for dinner and which designer dresses rock.  She describes every wedding she blogs about in gushing prose that makes every couple's story sound like a love epic that rivals Dr. Zhivago  or Gone With the Wind.  And she implies that, once swirled together by the fortunate commerce of wedding photography, she and the couple have become, and will remain fast friends for life.  As in, "put on your cutest sandals and let's head to Nordstroms for some lunch and casual shopping."

Lately, web bloggers and pundits have distilled the "gold" from her marketing and are selling it to photographers at large in massive doses that include frantically twittered "top ten" lists of things to do and not do.....

And photographers, who have nothing to do with the wedding business, are on the forums (fora?  forae?  Chat bars?  Comment sections of image sharing sites?) talking about trying to showhorn the Starr message into their businesses of shooting kids sports or shooting advertising or other commercial work.

Here's the general advice:

1.  Be happy and bubbly all the time.

2.  Blog a lot (I've got that covered) and only talk about successful success stories.  (Crap, I missed that part....)

3.  Blog about yourself in a self-deprecating and accessible fashion.

4.  Breezily discuss popular status brands in cars, clothing, phones and zip codes.  (What if you live in Des Moines or Waco?)

5.  Gush about how great work is and how "super" you feel to be able to do it.

6.  Tell stories that people can related to.  Personalize your marketing.  Talk to your sorority sisters.

It goes on and on.  It's relentlessly positive and glossy.  And, if you are a young and passably good looking person booking weddings in the environs of L.A./Santa Monica I'm going to guess that this is a superb marketing strategy.  It's just important to never get old, never gain weight and never look over your shoulder......

But how does all this relate to us?  To the photographers who want to do advertising work? To the photojournalists?  To the editorial shooters?  To commercial photographers?  To the people who were born with lots and lots of visual talent but average bone structure? (No problem here, of course.)  People whose primary customers are not retail?  Not once in a lifetime sales?  Not 18-26 year old women?

Well, there is one primary disconnection.  Most clients (other than those in the market for "retail photography" which consists of weddings, portraits and weddings) don't spend time looking at photographer's blogs.  But more importantly the above advice may require you to change your personality, change who you are and change what you sell.

If you do wonderfully complex still life work your clients probably value your mix of creative vision with your focused technical abilities.  Trying to appear all bubbly and excited might cause them to question your technical skills or your thoughtful approach to your work.  If you are a corporate photographer you are likely not selling the "fun/sizzle" of your projects as much as you are selling your ability to work under time pressure and to be as reserved and attuned to hierarchy as possible.  To fit into the corp. gestalt.

If you are an advertising photographer you are likely to be prized for your ability to do big and complicated productions with many people.  Another attribute might be your ability to lead.  More so than your ability to share and cry.  In fact, crying might be a deal killer.

But the bottom line is that the bottom line isn't the end all and be all of existence.  We might prosper by changing each of our personalities but at the point when "gush" becomes a selling tool at what point do you lose your lunch and surrender the last vestiges of what made your choice of profession a good idea?

Maybe I'll succumb.  I can hardly wait to go on a highway construction job site and gush about the supervisor's really cool Red Wing boots.  Or his Dickies work trousers.  I wonder how that would go over?  Next time I'm photographing Michael Dell I might cry tears of joy at our "special moment" and see how that goes over.  Fun times ahead thanks to groupthink marketing.........

But I'm not here to pillory Jasmine.  That would be nuts.  She's mastered her market and it's as tough a market as anyone else's.  I think her basic messages are the ones I also talked about in my book, The Commercial Photography Handbook:  1.  Develop good personal relationships with clients and potential clients.  2.  Be like your clients as much as you can be without abandoning your own personality or values.  3.  Stay in touch with your clients.  And need I say it?  Ask for the sale.

Rock on Jasmine.


A quick post about a menacing problem for event photographers. Blogger shares trade secrets.

Hear ye.  Hear ye.  Proceed with caution.

I've photographed a lot of events.  Over twenty years worth of events.  And I always seem to over pack, over prepare and carry around a lot of pre-event anxiety that has to to do getting all the gear just right.  Yesterday evening I photographed a reception for two really great kids, James and Debra.  The come from well to do families and had gotten married in Napa Valley.  But they wanted to have a party for friends and family here in Austin who were unable to get out to California.  I'd been booked on this event for the better part of a year by one of my favorite meeting planners.

I spent hours trying to decide on just how to use flash in this instance.  We'd start out the evening with good natural light but the sun would be fully gone by 8:15 and I'd need to add flash.  I tested five or six modifiers before settling on a small, Speedlight ProKit soft box.  I went thru my collection of brackets and decided on the Alzo bracket that extends up.  After an hour of actual use I jettisoned the bracket and went hand held with the flash and the box.

I packed cameras three times.  Finally went with two Canon 5Dmk2's and mainly used the 24-105L lens.  Four extra batteries and 60 gigs of memory cards in the bags.  Extra cameras and lenses in the car.  All this for a four hour, low key reception.  But I wanted to look good.  The father of the groom is an old friend who is also the CEO of a bank chain.......

So what was the horrible menace?  What do I want to save other photographers from?  HEARING LOSS.  While the guests may go to a big party with an amplified band once or twice a year event photographers tend to go to these things about once a week.  And if you brought a decibel level meter with you to most venues you'd find that they all exceed the safe limits to prevent hearing loss.  All of them.

If you are a young photographer you've probably chalked this blog up to the philosophy of:  "If it's too loud you're too old."  But you'd be fooling yourself.  All hearing loss is cumulative.  Happens over time.
I used to not pay attention to this either.  We'd be doing a photo set-up next to the band or across the ballroom from a band and get pounded for hours.  One evening I went home with my ears ringing and I did some research.  I won't bore you with it but a few exposures like that and you'll have trouble hearing your kids talking when you hit your thirties and forties.  Really.  Just about everyone.  Few are immune.

So twenty years ago I started wearing in ear ear protectors anytime I was in an environment where people had to shout at each other to be heard.  I pass em out to my assistants too.

Well, back to last night.  The last three years have been more about book writing and advertising jobs for me and I'd done very few social event functions.  I meticulously packed up all my stuff and headed to the venue.  I got there early.  Just in time to hear the band warm  up.  They weren't over the top but you had to lean in and shout to have a conversation with anyone.  I started looking for earplugs.  The venue was a big golf resort and corporate meeting center west of downtown Austin.  I hit the gift shop in the lobby.  No dice.  I found the A/V department hidden away in some back hall.  No plugs.  I even went to the catering department.  Again, no luck.

Finally, over chicken sandwiches in the green room I asked the members of the band (sheepishly) if anyone had any earplugs.  Great Luck.  The lead singer had a set in his bag and he was happy for me to use them.  In my head I thanked him a dozen times as I angled myself between the speakers in front of the stage and the subjects I wanted to shoot.  Thank you, lead singer.

When the evening wound down I  pulled the plugs, so to speak, and instead of that dull wongy feeling you get when you've been listening to loud music, unprotected, I was able to hear accurately and crisply again.  I know I'm losing some hearing as I get older but that makes it even more important to keep what you have.

Every live music venue in the world should have ear plugs available.  But they don't.  Head to the drug store and buy in bulk.  Or find a supplier of safety ear plugs for industrial use.  Keep a stash in all of your camera bags.  Use them early.  Use them often.

But if you forget, and no one else remembered either some dampened Kleenex, rolled into a small cone will work better than nothing.  When you can hear your child's voice clearly you'll thank yourself for having JUST THE RIGHT GEAR.

And that's what I re-learned last night.

Lest anyone think I'm just a music hating grouch I must say I've been to more live concerts in my life than movies.  And I don't think anyone doubts that I love live theater but during dress rehearsals for big rocking musical shows I always try to remember to pack "foam".  I don't want to unfairly accuse Ben of mumbling........


Why I like the Canon 60D.

I bought my second Canon 60D last week.  I thought I would explain why.  This Spring I undertook a large (for me) video project and I ended up doing interviews with 14 oral surgeons in 7 different locations.  I kept the lighting as simple as I could.  Most of the venues had a mix of sunlight thru the windows and florescent lights from the ceiling.  In most cases I filtered small, battery powered LED's to daylight and mixed them in.  If I was careful enough to do a custom white balance before I started shooting then the color looked just fine.  If I depended on AWB I won sometimes and I lost sometimes.

When I started the project I assumed that the Canon 5dmk2 would be the preferred shooting camera for the best quality.  But it didn't work out that way.  I found the menus in the 60D to be easier for me to understand.  I found the deeper depth of field of the smaller sensor to be a godsend in most set ups.  But most of all I found the simple, manual control of audio to be easiest to use.

I have a 7D and it also shoots nice video but it doesn't have the option to control sound levels manually.  I use it to shoot "B-roll" when we don't need sound, or to shoot fast moving stuff when operating the camera in a "live" situation overrides overriding the automatic level controls.

The Canon 60D also has a big, bright LCD monitor on the back that flips out and is positionable.  It's a big plus for shooting a seated subject.  I always tend to use a Hoodman loupe when I shoot view.  It's easier to see the screen if you block out the ambient light.

I'm sure that you can tweak out a full stop better high ISO performance with the 5Dmk2 but for the kind of interviews I was doing it would have been inconsequential.

My working methodology was pretty simple.  I'd clip a Sennheiser lavalier microphone to the person's shirt button plaque or white coat lapel and put the microphone transceiver in their pocket. Then I'd put the microphone receiver in the hot shoe of the shooting camera and plug the cable into the camera's microphone socket.  I'd ask the doctor some questions for practice and check and set levels while we chatted.  Once I had good levels that didn't clip I would push the button at the top right of the camera (from camera operator's point of view).  That button gives two levels of magnification which makes fine focusing any optic a piece of cake.  On the third push of the button you're back to the live frame and ready to push the dedicated button to start recording.

Sometimes I would use a 50mm lens on my primary interview camera but I would want a second camera angle at the same time so I would have something different to cut away to.  It would keep the video from being so static.  I noticed that, when I used a 5Dmk2 the footage looked different.  Even if I did custom white balances in the same spot.  I decided I wanted two identical shooting cameras.  It would also be good for those times when I have a second video shooter and I want everything to cut together well.

I was looking on the used shelf at Precision Camera for bargains and I found a lightly used 60D with an extra Canon battery and a 16 gigabyte Delkin SD card for a whopping $675.  At a time when camera bodies seem hard to come by I thought it was a good deal.

I shot the two 60D's with different lenses on the front at a big Freescale Semiconductor event on Tues. this week.  I shot raw files and did lots of unnecessary pixel peeping as I post processed them in Lightroom yesterday.  What I saw was all good.

The camera can get noisy at 1600 ISO, especially so if you underexpose.  I'm not perfect.  Underexposure happens to me.  But the nice thing is that the grain is well behaved.  Very little color splotching occurs and there's just an increase in what looks like monotone noise.  It's handled very well by the noise reduction menu in LR.

When I shot on a tripod and used normal, reasonable ISO's like 200,  400, and 800 I got rich, saturated colors and high resolution.  In this case I was mostly limited by the cheap Tamron 11-18mm lens I was using for ultra wide angles.  I was pleasantly surprised with the high sharpness of the 24-120mm  L zoom.  And I was generally pleased by the performance of Canon's cheap, kit zoom, the 18-55mm version 2.  All of the lenses had various geometric distortions but the two Canon's were pretty well corrected by the profiles in the lens correction menus in LR.

The camera handles well, sips battery power conservatively (same battery as the 7d and 5d2), does nice live view and feels good in my hands.  Your hands may be bigger......

What I like a lot about the cheaper cameras  is that they use SD memory cards.  I can buy tons of 8 gigabyte cards at around $13 a whack from Amazon and the class 10's seem to handle all the video I throw at them very well.

To recap:  Good video.  Good audio.  Light and small but with a good finder.  Uses cheap SD cards without coughing or sneering.  Wonderful LCD monitor with swivel.  High megapixel count with very pretty files in raw.  Graceful handling of noise.  CHEAP (compared to the 7D and the 5Dmk2).

I'm glad I bought another one.  I'd like to do more personal video projects in the west Texas desert (once the Summer is over.....in November) and it's nice to have ten or twelve SD cards to play with so I don't have to spend valuable shooting or sleeping time downloading cards and backing up files.  With SD card prices so low it's just like buying rolls of film....

I like cropped frame cameras.

I also like shooting video with these cameras.  So much so that I've decided to write an ebook about how I do it.  I'm spending July with Ben going thru everything I ever wanted to learn about video and the way these cameras can be tweaked to do video as part of my research on the book.  It should be done, designed, edited and ready on the first of Sept.  I'll keep you posted.


Different formats. Different treatments. Same Vision?

I took this portrait of Michelle with a medium format camera and a long lens.  I used a Norman Beauty Dish and a large softbox for fill.  The background is lit by two small softboxes.  I love the long, soft tonalities.  And I love the quiet look of the whole thing.  

This portrait was shot many years ago on the outdoor patio of the old Sweetish Hill Restaurant.  Light filtered through the translucent skylight panels and bounced in from reflected sunlight in surrounding shop windows.  I used an Olympus Pen half frame camera with a 40mm 1.4 lens.  A relic of the early 1970's. Just like the photo above, I used Tri-X 400 film developed in D76.  This is NOT lit with a beauty dish.  Just natural light.

And, I guess my point is that the "feel" of the photograph, the quiet stare out to the camera :::: out to me, is similar in both.  The body position in both images has similar energy.  I think they are both contemplative images.  And what I am coming to find is that no matter what camera I use to do portraits with and however I light them, there are common threads.  There are little things that tie the emotion of the photographs together.  Beyond the tones and the postures and the look there is also the inclusion of a background that is both soft and present.

I never thought I had a style until I started looking back twenty years and then laying old prints next to new ones.  I have found one thing.  There is a difference between images shot to be printed and images shot to be looked at digitally.  The digital ones seem more sterile.  Quieter.  Less depth.  They seem flatter to me.  Just an observation.

Digital image.  EOS-1D mk2.  50 2.5 macro.

And yet, there are similarities.  The backgrounds feel similar to me.  And the  portrait of the coffee is quiet.  Funny to have a quiet style for such a boisterous and chatty blog writer.  

How do you create a style?  You don't.  It evolves over time.  When you AREN'T thinking about it.
I guess that makes the acquisition of style some sort of Zen thing.

Ten Top Tips For Getting People Say Nice Things About Your Portrait Photographs.


We all work in relative isolation and we crave the positive feedback from strangers (we wouldn't dare sit next to if we ever had to ride a bus)  even though we have no way of gauging it's value.  I've carefully looked thru many forae and online resources and I have a quick guide for generating good feedback.  Do these things and you'll have a fighting chance at having someone mark one of your photos as a "favorite".  You might even rise to stardom and be asked to shoot for free by a prestigious media outlet.

1.  Only shoot young, famous musicians and actors.  The higher up on the "A" list the better.  Put their names in the metadata and labels and descriptions.  When the blind name searches occur......instant stardom.  More points for unusual (read: stupid) poses and expressions.  Outrageous costuming is expected.

(Want to learn about access and how to photograph Justin Beiber, Brittany Spears, Lady Ga-Ga?  You'll want to take my upcoming $25,000 workshop, Shooting Stars.  We're limiting the class to the first 100 applicants....)

2.  Have a video crew shoot everything you do.  From nose wipes to model fluffing to spectacular farts.  Everyone wants to see how it's all done.  Bonus if you include footage of actual portrait shoots.  Extra bonus if you are shooting the portraits.  Be sure to grow trendy facial hair and own a collection of really stupid (proto bohemian) hats........

3.  Use a camera no one has ever heard of or that is largely unavailable.  Like the guy who puts banks of lights on either side of his subject and pounds away with an 8x10 view camera.  Extra points if you go bigger than 8x10 and super extra points if you use non-conventional film.  (See next point).  If the camera is too big to carry by yourself make sure you see point #2.  Get lots of footage of the crew positioning and setting up the camera for you.  "Quick Bob, a close up of that rare lens I'm using."

4.  Combine the big camera with super large format Polaroid and you can shoot the most boring portraits in the worst imaginable light and be lauded in magazines across the country.  But again,  don't try this without your Behind the Scenes video crew.  Proof that you went large and instant is usually more important that the actual portrait.  (see point #7).

5.  Shoot everything in black and white.  Talk about how important it is to shoot in black and white.  People don't really get black and white anymore but they know they're supposed to like it.  Kinda like Cadillac Escalades.  Or automatic watches.....  If someone mentions SilverFX fix them with a withering glare and denounce canned actions as "hobbyist affectations."  Let everyone know that if they aren't printing on fiber photographic paper they are pond scum.  Don't forget to mention that every print must be toned in toxic and radioactive toners.  By hand.

6.  Shoot naked people.  This is harder than it sounds because only thin, healthy people look good naked and in most of the U.S. and for that matter, north America, municipalities and society in general have outlawed "thin and healthy".  Much as you love your sweet partner the camera is a vicious bitch when confronted with an extra 50 pounds of love handles..... (When searching for good looking naked people try to pay attention to point #1)  The double chin is only adorable to your cat and your equally pudgy partner.  Believe me, all that physical egalitarianism doesn't translate.  Unless you are Joel Peter Witkin.......and he OWNs that niche.

7.  When asked about your intention, motivation, philosophy, relationship to art be sure to talk only about technique.  Extra points for cataloging which lens, camera, settings, lights and modifiers you used.  Want fans for life?  You'll want to supply "before and after" photographs as well as three dimensional lighting diagrams of your every move.  No one gives a panatomic X negative about why you shot something, they just want to know how they can reproduce exactly the same thing with their Canon Rebel.

8.  Hot Babes. If you can't ante up the money for my workshop about working with "A" list people you'll want to stick only to photographing young women.  Preferably in randy outfits, in suggestive poses and forget the "come hither" eyes.  You'll be looking to capture the "do me now before the commercials are over!!!" eyes.  At the Visual Science lab we measure the number of "likes" for super saturated, twilight-with-outrageous-fill-flash photos/portraits of recent post-teen women in skimpy outfits and compared it to similar photos of men in the same poses.  The difference in "likes?"  Female subjects= 253,017 versus 3 for male subjects. Don't ask.

9.  Use a radical new light source.  There's a hierarchy of lighting coolness.  Top of the heap are HMIs ala Victoria's Secret calendars.  Next is anything new = LED's.  Then outrageously expensive strobe systems warranted by the atomic energy commission to produce light that is slapped out in doses with less than .00001 % color or intensity shift.  Then florescent lights.  Then the screen  (yawn) of your iPad (yes Bob, I see you got and iPad.  I am very proud of you. ) or the (yawn, moan) screen of your iPhone 6.    I've noticed a new trend.  I saw this in a forum about using small flashes.  It's still kinda new but may catch on......People are using the light that exists, without augmentation.  They are calling this "natural light" but I don't know what could be more natural than 27 small, battery powered flashes, covered with filters, festooned with  radio triggers and plastic drinking straw modifiers, and hung like Christmas tree lights on a light stand........ But no one can tell from the images so that's where the "Behind the Scenes" crew comes in.

10.  When in doubt try to incorporate as many of these techniques as possible.  Naked, small flash, big camera, super sized polaroid, only of a future "A" list, barely legal, stars shot with a super wide lens.  Then torture the image in PhotoShop and HipsterTRAGIC and print it out on black and white paper.  If this still doesn't work then register a few more untraceable e-mail accounts and prime the pumps by "liking" your own "favorites".    Museum quality, baby.  Works for the big dogs.

Note/Warning for the "Hard of Humor":  This is intended to be cynical humor and does not really reflect my recipe for doing good portraiture or having that work widely appreciated.



My recent adventures in San Antonio.

I had fun today.  I had fun yesterday.  I blame photography.  I was heading to San Antonio to take photos today at the JW Marriott Hill Country Resort.  My favorite production company was producing a show for 2000 people.  I went down to SA last night so I could get an early start.

Packing for a shoot is always interesting.  Tomorrow I'm shooting a portrait of a political candidate for a high end production company and PR agency.  I'm packing a bunch of Elinchrom lights, spiffy triggers, breathtaking modifiers and, even a beauty dish.  I'll take a couple of Canon 5Dmk2's and the Zeiss 85mm 1.4 and 100 f2 Macro Planar.  Yummy glass.  And that's the way I like to walk in for a high profile job.

But today I was whipping thru a show, having fun and taking documentation photos of stuff.  Wall treatments, plasma displays and even an interaction display that sensed movement via IR sensors and made things happen on a twenty foot wide screen (see above).  I knew three things:  1.  I'd be moving fast and soaking up all kinds of details and shots.  2.  I wanted to use live view to line up walls and generally previsualize the final images.  3.  18 megabytes was more than enough to make my client happy-happy.

I grabbed two 60D's.  (Cameras are like rattlesnakes, they like to travel in pairs.  Matched pairs.)  I grabbed a motley assemblage of lenses.  No Zeiss glass.  Why not?  Because I'd have the luxury of putting the cameras on my tripod, stopping down to f8 and shooting at slow ISO's like 200 and 500 and occasionally 1250.  At f8 every lens is good.  And all the popular ones are easily and automatically corrected in Lightroom.

Big plus, if I dropped one from the top of a 16 foot ladder while grappling with my acrophobia, and it smashed to pieces on the floor I'd be much less devastated than if it had been a pricy German uber lens.

I shot a lot.  I had fun seeing them on the screen.  I got back to Austin in time for supper.  And then, for excitement, I took Ben out to practice driving.

Listen carefully:  Ben got his learner's permit.  This means he's operating a motor car.  With my lackadaisical supervision.  If you are in the our area watch out for a silver Honda Element with a small madman at the wheel......and a larger madman in the passenger seat.  We're learning together....


How to make your Canon 7D (or lesser camera) shut up and be stealthy. Cheap.

Here's a garden variety Canon 7D.  I like the camera because the shutter is already far quieter than the 5Dmk2 or the 1D series cameras and it's noise characteristic is less obnoxious than the 60D's.  But sometimes you'd like, or need, your camera to be a lot quieter,  more unobtrusive.

The camera as seen in the wild. Held by primo assistant, Ben.

I grabbed an old Zing camera cover I'd bought to protect camera bodies back in the days when we did a lot more travel.  I thought the neoprene would dampen vibrations on airplanes and keep splash and dust off the machines when not in use.  They worked pretty well.  But we started using one expensive digital camera instead of four comparatively cheap film cameras and I stopped using the Zings.  They sat in a box with other "one time use" stuff like Manfrotto tripod leg "shoes" designed so your tripod doesn't sink into sand at the beach.  For a while there was a raft of products designed to fit on your tripod legs to create a little cradle beneath the center column.  You were supposed to put things there you might need in a hurry.  A light meter, extra film, the polaroid back or even your loupe.  But as film dimmed so did the need for these accessories.

The box now provides a home for small flash accessories that people sent me to test.  Most were used once before I came to the conclusion that I could do this or that better with stuff that was already on the market.  I called the inventors or makers and they weren't interested in paying to have the units shipped back.

Here is the Zing Camera Case made from very thick Neoprene.  This case was made big enough to fit a full sized professional film camera with motor drive to it is more than roomy enough for an unadorned 7D. Notice how the top flap comes over from the back of the case and encircles the lens....

The case, as delivered, has a snout on the front that covers and protects a short zoom or normal focal length lens.  A flap comes over from the back and wraps around the lens snout to secure the packge.

Lately, the box has started to fill up with video camera stabilizer grips.  Cheap ones and expensive ones.  I've come to the conclusion that the cheap ones are most effective while the pricy ones look best.  But most of the time the tripod wins out.....  And, of course, the box is also home to many connecting cables.  I recently threw out all the SCSI cables when I realized that the last SCSI peripheral left the studio circa 2001.....

I took a pair of scissors and cut the snout right off.  Just did it.  No guilt.  Actor/Model/Patient Son is showing how a lens will stick right thru the newly created hole.

Anyway,  I cut a hole in the Zing camera cover so the lens could stick out and then I cut a hole in the back so I could look throw the finder while the whole package is bundled up and now I have a home made blimp.  It actually does a fairly good job of turning a noticeable noise into just background clutter.

Here's the raw case.  It's been modified before to work with a Nikon F5.  See the hole just about in the middle?  That was for the previous camera's finder.

Amazing what you can do with stuff from the box.....and a pair of scissors.

The lens is shoved thru the front opening and the rest of the case wrapped around the camera.

I've cut a new opening so I can see thru the 7D finder.  The case is open at the top because of my previous experiments but that works because you can look down through the top hole and see the screen for a quick preview.

Finally, the whole package in the hands of an expert.  There's enough play to get a shutter finger in under the top lid and enough play to reach in and make control adjustments.  The neoprene is dense and almost one quarter inch deep so it does a good job dampening noise.

It's not that much fun to shoot with but when in a stationary position it certainly serves it's purpose.

And that's the whole story of the sound deadening device (SDD) that I created to shoot during a live performance at Zachary Scott Theater.  You asked.