Still at the banking and global finance conference but I thought I'd put up one of my favorite portraits, just for fun.

Thanks for coming by. I'm shooting at a conference until Wednesday evening and I'm just in the studio to charge some new batteries that arrived today for the Olympus cameras. They are Wasabi Power batteries that I bought from Blue Nook. I've been buying their Olympus (and Panasonic) batteries for a year or so and have yet to have any problems with them. No problems at all.

I first took a chance on them when Olympus has a supply problem with their batteries. I couldn't get any and I needed them for a trip I was taking. The Olympus batteries, at the time, were about $54 each. The Wasabi Power batteries are priced like this: Two Batteries, One Really Nifty Charger = $28.

I deleted a comment yesterday from someone who (with very little actual knowledge of the profession) scolded me for shooting with Olympus and Nikon cameras if my goal is to do great portraiture and make "big money". He was wrong but I didn't have the time, inclination or energy to tell him why he was full of B.S. I've been doing this commercial photography thing for a long time, have made (and continue to make) good money doing it, have as much technical expertise as anyone in the market, and know advertising and marketing forward and backward. Not looking for career advice right now.

Next week is a bit zany. We're having a new roof put on the house and the studio. We're having attic fans installed. We're having a retrofit to our back porch. We're having new gutters put up. We're having our fence re-painted. Just a little Fall maintenance to keep this Austin property humming along.

This weekend is the first weekend of the great two week traffic jam we also call, ACL Fest. Look for most of the major roads that serve our part of the city to be closed, detoured, rendered unusable. Look for about a quarter of a million people paying big money to mostly sit in the dirt and listen to music in a park that will then be closed to the public for months as the city tries to grow back new grass.

Look for a general slowdown of all central Austin productivity for the next two weeks, minimum.

Thank goodness both this economic conference and the dress rehearsal for Zach Theatre's play, Evita, will be done before the music mayhem starts. Yes, we can hear the bass line (only) for most of the bands at ACL Fest even though we are a mile from the park.

On another note...

The Olympus cameras are working very, very well for the conference. I have finally mastered flash with the mirrorless miracles. Thanks for asking.

Need some cheaper batteries? Try the Wasabis. Here's a link:


Portrait. Fade to black. Career, hard turn.

I had a little epiphany this week. I'm tired of accepting diffuse and unchallenging work. Especially as regards portraits. I'm pretty sure I can make a living, in the future, by doing portraits in the way I want to see them, not in some commodified style that just fills space and "describes" the person in the frame. I want people who view my portraits to feel as though they have come to understand something about the subject, even if it's only the nature of their patience. Even if it is a visual and emotional illusion.

Something happened to a lot of the artists I knew when the economy collapsed in 2008. They became fearful of their commercial futures and let that fear dictate the terms of their engagement with their art and craft. I don't expect the 90% of American people who never lost their jobs to understand the emotional impact on people who lived a more precarious existence as freelancers. It's as though we scrambled, en masse, to do the lesser biding of agencies, companies and commercial audiences to compete for the few remaining projects of the time. We became afraid to push back and lobby for the quality each piece deserved because our collective fear of jinxing a deal by pushing for parameters that would continue to move the aesthetic we had created forward. Clients cut budgets and they also, by extension, cut the potential for excellence.

I talk to so many people in related communication crafts and most frequently what I hear is that they are nervous about raising rates back up because they feel that clients have become used to holding the upper hand and dictating the construct of the engagements. But what I hear from the actual clients---a step beyond the ad agencies and intermediaries---is a dismay that all creative work has become boring and diminished, and that they resent their agents and proxies for disregarding the need for great work in order to pursue a budget number that they think their clients will----tolerate. 

"We never asked them to limit the budgets. We never demanded that things be done on the cheap. We want the best creative resources we can buy and we're willing to pay for them." That's what the good clients are saying. The cost cutting happened because the intermediaries felt the fear they were partially creating and embraced it in their own dealings.

Seems it's time for a cathartic throwing off of the budget harness. Time to step up and tell people that we are no longer interested in doing homogenous crap just to keep the doors open. It's time to pull out the stops and get back to the real work of our work----making people look at what we've done with a sense that they are seeing something new or expertly seen and translated. And making sure that what we have done is exciting enough to merit getting our client's marketing work a second look. Even while it means asking for more money and rejecting demands to commodify.

Use of stock photography is a form of creative cowardice. Presuming a client is part of the legion of cheap, petit bourgeois culture, hellbent on the bottom line (at any cost) is passé. The brave new world of commercial art is all about standing out, again. Leading the charge. Innovating and not being afraid to demand workable budgets for hardworking art. The clients feel it. The rest of us need to get on board. Or get off the train.


Hey Dude! What cameras are you gonna use for that corporate show coming up? Will it be the D810?

I've photographed the upcoming conference a number of times in the past. Two years ago my schedule didn't match up and they had to use someone else but the client came right back last year. Over the five or six years I've been involved with this very private conference of bankers, federal regulators, finance experts, commercial and residential real estate investors and economists I've mostly documented the event with some form of four thirds or micro four thirds cameras and lenses. Last year I mostly used the Olympus EM-5s, with a smattering of Panasonic. When I first started working the event I was using the Olympus E-3 and E-30 cameras along with their fast f2.0 zoom lenses. (Still miss that 35-100mm f2.0, but what a weight monster...).

This year I thought to change the whole paradigm and use the full frame cameras but I just can't bring myself to hoist the bag of what feels like lead weights yet again. I'm remaining loyal to the small cameras for this one. I also dreaded massaging those enormous full frame raw files. Totally unnecessary for this kind of work.

And I'm packing as light as I can. How's this? Two EM5-2 bodies with grips attached. One Panasonic 12-35mm f2.8 zoom and one Olympus 50-200mm f2.8-3.5 FT zoom (used with an adapter but originally made for the Olympus Four Thirds, mirrored cameras).  Add to this two of the tiny flashes that shipped with the Olympus cameras and one, bigger Panasonic flash. The final addition to the inventory? A nice monopod for that monster, long lens. Someone has to carry the weight, right?

We'll do social photography on Sunday night at a nice, downtown conference hotel and then begin the show in earnest on Monday morning. Early. Too early. We shot from sun up till sun down on Mon., Tues. and Weds. and we'll have another year's show in the can.

I'm selecting the diminutive system once again because it's small, light and delivers great results. Nearly 100% of the client's use of the images will be on the web and in electronic presentations. It's another area or niche where the absolute "best" can be a hinderance to productivity and workflow.

Also, I may want to switch into video and capture some movement. I'd love to be able to do that handheld. That's playing right into Olympus's strengths...

The end of the week and some thoughts about lighting

Sarah. Post swim, in the studio.

I love the control that knowing how to light gives to photographers. The character of light is a big part of the success or failure of an image. But in the same way that cameras have evolved, and styles of shooting have evolved, the way we light is changing and moving forward from project to project. 

For the assignment I wrapped shooting on today I talked an ad agency out of the "easy" way of doing portraits and set myself up for a lot more intense work instead. They had come to me with the idea of making portraits of 30 attorneys in front of a gray background; or something similar to that. The idea was that we'd set up a standard background, maybe three flash units (main light in a big box, an accent light and a background light) and we'd dutifully stand in a naked and boring conference room waiting for a cattle call line of subjects to arrive, smile at the camera, and then leave.  And we would do this over and over again on the first day and then repeat the whole exercise on the second day. 

I'm sorry but I have to say that I think the factory approach to shooting innocuous and unchallenging portraits has seen its day. We can do better than that. We can light better than that. And even though we may work harder getting there, the ride will be much more fun. 

I asked a few weeks back, just after we sat down to estimate the project, if we could do a quick scout. The folks at the law firm were happy to have me look around their space and the firm's contact person (also an ardent photographer) was more than open to the idea of shooting an available light style and doing the set-ups in different locations around the offices. They have brand new


Look where my photography is being used...


I love working with scientific companies because they tend to be logical, sensible and I understand them better than more ephemeral commercial niches, like experiential software. We've been working with the folks at Cerilliant for many years and I thought it would be fun to show how my images are being used on their website.

My client's business is all about chemistry. That's why nearly every page on their website has a portrait of one of their people. They really understand that while the science of chemistry is their business it's the chemistry their people have with customers and partners that drives the business.

Lots of photography bloggers talk a good game in their reviews while showing lots of stacks of crayons, fuzzy stuffed animals and photographs of significant others (almost uniformly in poor lighting). I like to show real world stuff when I can so that when you read something I've written you can see a certain amount of proof that I might know what I'm talking about.

All of the images were shot on white backgrounds and then dropped out with hand made clipping paths. Selected images are also used on large, printed posters.

Cerilliant makes me smile when I think of chemistry. That's cool.

Wyatt McSpadden to Speak about Photography and his Career, This evening at Precision Camera, in Austin, Texas.

A Polaroid Portrait of Wyatt McSpadden from a few years back. ©1999 Kirk Tuck

If you woke me up in the middle of the night and asked me who the best photographer working in the portrait realm today was I wouldn't hesitate to yell out, "Wyatt McSpadden!!!" He is the quintessential "photographer's photographer. No sidetracking into video, wide ranging workshops or other dodges. Just straight forward, thoughtful, imaginative photography. Brilliantly done.

If I had ever had the opportunity to acquire a photographic mentor I would have picked Wyatt. Alas, that train has sailed....

If you are near Austin today you will have the opportunity to see him in person, see his work and hear some of the stories that I think make him the funniest photographer I know. He's speaking for FREE at Precision Camera on Anderson Lane. If you work as a photographer you MUST see his talk. If you are a photo enthusiast you'll love this presentation and the value will be amazing. Join me from 6:30 to 8:30 tonight. I'll be there with a grin on my face and all my attention focused on my favorite photographer/BBQ expert and modern music aficionado. 

Below is what the Austin Photo Society wrote on their Facebook page: 

"Please joins us Thursday, September 24 for an evening of images and stories from Wyatt McSpadden's incredible 40 year career.  

“It’s somewhat miraculous that I’ve managed to make a living doing this and still love what I do” McSpadden says of his career. “I’m of a generation of photographers who witnessed the transition from film to digital. A lot of folks dropped out of the biz and some of us made it through.”

A native of Amarillo, Wyatt began his career there in 1974 as the photographer for eccentric arts patron Stanley Marsh 3. McSpadden photographed the creation of Marsh’s Cadillac Ranch and chronicled the work’s evolution from local curiosity to state landmark. In 1992 he moved to Austin and turned his focus to editorial photography. His portraits of governors, golfers, musicians, millionaires, and more have appeared in scores of publications nationwide, most notably in Texas Monthly, where he is a contributing photographer. His work resides in the permanent collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Southwestern & Mexican Photography Collection of the Wittliff Collections in San Marcos, the Amarillo Art Center, and in the homes of many private collectors. McSpadden’s photography has garnered awards from professional stalwarts such as the Society of Publication Designers, Communication Arts, and the Print Regional Design Annual. His 2009 book, Texas BBQ(University of Texas Press)—a photographic celebration of classic Texas barbecue joints—is in its second printing.

Don’t miss this opportunity to see Wyatt’s work and hear the stories behind the images. It promises to be an inspirational evening. 

The details:
• Date: Thursday, September 24, 6:30-8:30 PM at Precision Camera & Video
• Address: 2438 West Anderson Lane, Suite B-4, Austin, TX 78757
• Map: http://maps.apple.com/maps?q=30.357792%2C-97.732277
***Note the change of venue.***

This event is free and open to the public. Bring your friends! See you there!

Join the Austin Photographic Society on Facebook at


I worked with a great combination of equipment yesterday. It all worked even better than I expected.

Every working photographer (generalist) needs
a folder full of all kinds of cloud-jeweled skies.
I call it the Cloud Folder. 
Perfect when the sky 
is not cooperative.

I shudder to write anything nice about any gear anymore because as soon as I do people remember a nice article or review I wrote four or five years ago about a different brand of equipment and they go ----what is the phrase I am looking for ???? ---- oh yeah, Ape Shit Crazy.  And then the furor starts.

"Gear Head." "Fanboi." "Indecisive." "Camera addict." "Equipment butterfly." etc.

It seems, in the world of cameras, that you are only allowed to select and use one system for the entirety of your engagement with digital photography. To use different cameras is to be in some way adulterous, not only to the cameras you owned but to the other owners of that brand who may still cherish them. I think it's even more difficult to the hard core brand loyalists when people like me shoot with three or more systems in a short amount of time. Well, the critics can go pound sand because to me, using the same stuff all the time does two things: 1. It keeps you from finding out about cameras, lenses and lights that could improve your photography either by providing a new feature, or level of performance. Or, 2. It keeps you from trying cameras which have menus that sync with the way you think, or grips and control placements that fit your hands (and working methodologies) exactly.  And, B: It makes one dull and bored doing the same thing over and over again. You wouldn't eat the same food every day, would you?

Someone in the comments inferred that what I wrote a week ago about not suffering pangs of desire for new gear was already moot and, because I wrote positively about it I would be rushing off to order my Sony RX10-2 as soon as the keyboard released me. Didn't happen. May not happen. But it doesn't dampen my enthusiasm and respect for the RX10-2. Or the fact that it may be a perfect camera for some clearly defined projects. Mad that someone buys gear "too" often? Get over it.

But I'm going to go ahead and write some nice stuff about my real world engagement with a Nikon camera and two lenses. Neither of them are particularly new to me but all of them keep worming their way into my shooting consciousness because they keep delivering the goods. 

It's remarkable that I feel the need to justify writing about gear that's been on the market for at least a year at this point. But I think we've gotten far too used to people writing "reviews" after two weeks of casual shooting and faux "lab measurements." In my humble opinion most of the stuff that gets written in the heat of launch is mindless drivel. To really understand how it is to shoot a particular camera I think you have to spend time with it, and shoot it on lots of real jobs to see how it handles...how it performs. 

There are so many variables that only show up over time. If you live in Phoenix, AZ. and you review cameras there you may never learn about how a camera handles high humidity environments. If you live in Montreal, Canada and get a test camera in the dead of winter you'll likely never know if it's going to overheat in heat saturated environments. And if you are a casual, bumbling reviewer with no particular work pressure, or pressure to deliver real images for pay, you may find the access to hidden controls or contrary menus just fine and dandy. Always time to figure out the mysteries with a cup of coffee in one hand, some scones in front of you and a good view of a cute barista in your line of sight.
But trying to remember the custom WB sequence in the intense noon day sun, with the temperatures climbing into the hundreds (fahrenheit), with a nervous marketing director looking over your shoulder and a CEO in front of you, starting to grow perfect little drops of sweat across his face, is a totally different way of appraising the performance, holistically, of the camera under consideration. 

I've used the Nikon D750 on thirty eight paid assignments, to date. I've also spent many days shooting personal work with the camera and attendant lenses, and I've learned a few things about the camera. 

My copy, without micro-adjusting, nails focus with every lens I have in the bag. When I pair the D750 and any lens for the first time I test them out by shooting my inclined test target and also by shooting a close up portrait with the lens at, or near, the maximum aperture. It's a good test for the way I shoot. I prefer to use the central area in single frame AF, and use Nikon's group focus feature. The camera seems to know what I want to focus within the square formed by the four focusing boxes and I have yet to be disappointed. It is on par with the AF of the D810 and that camera is the best phase detection, DSLR autofocusing sensor camera I have ever used. 

The 24 megapixel sensor is just right for most portraits. Too much bigger a resolution (I'm looking at you, D810) and the files become too big to fit enough of onto a memory card, take up too much space on my redundant back-ups, and take too long to process and convert into useable files from the raw files.  Anything smaller than 24 megapixels and I lose the sloppy tolerance of sharpness and detail that covers my ass. 

Coming from either the Sony RX10 (1 or 2) or the Olympus cameras you'll be convinced that the battery life of the D750 is miraculous. It's not as good as the batteries in the big, pro cameras but it's better than anything in the mirrorless realm except for the remarkable, Panasonic GH4 (which I still consider one of the finest all-around cameras to grace the marketplace). 

The finder isn't "phenomenal" but it's good and workmanlike. The control layout is very logical for someone who has owned many previous generations (and concurrent generations) of Nikon digital cameras. (For those keeping score: D100, D2H, D2X, D2XS, D200, D300, D80, D610, D750, D810, D7000, D7100, D3200, as well as four different Coolpix cameras, the model numbers of which elude my frail memory...).

The camera is smaller and lighter than the D810, or even the D610s I owned. And the exposure metering has yet to fail me as long as I believe the histograms instead of the rear screen. All in all it seems to be a well done camera and is available at a fair price point. Final, positive point: The rubber eyecup has never come off. Not even come loose. 

Ho-hum. You've heard it all before, as have I. 

So, now that I'm feeling comfortable with the camera, know where all the controls are and such, I've started taking more chances and pushing the ( Ming-patented) performance envelope just a bit more and that's what I really wanted to write about. 

Yesterday I spent the quality core of the day, those wonderfully productive hours from 11 am to 5 pm, setting up in various locations on the twenty something-th floor of a new, downtown office building, making quasi-environmental portraits of lawyers. I'd love to show you a sample but, well, they are lawyers and they haven't even seen the images yet... Suffice it to say that the photographs are "awesome, amazing, artistic, cutting edge and worthy of many awards," or at least might be after I've done some post production to them. If, indeed, they do fall short I'll take the blame instead of the camera or lenses as I really did see some flashes of genius in their camps. 

Why was yesterday a departure? Well, I was using a combination of available (diffuse) daylight through floor to ceiling windows, augmented by some new LED lights to make some of the images. I used two LED lights as main lights (though plane of diffusion) for shots done deeper in the interior of the offices where there was not sunlight component AND I shot almost every frame of 950 frames with the lenses either wide open or, at the most, one stop down from the maximum aperture! Take that!!! all you experts who routinely advise shooting portraits at a dismal and boring f8.0.  (Like I did last week with the images destined for clipping paths---- oh! the inconsistency of this blog...). 

Daunting? Well, I probably wouldn't have tried this with a film camera loaded with slide film, I can tell you. The mixed light alone was like mixing an atonal musical piece from Karlheinz Stockhausen with something melodic from Ravel. It was difficult and, at times, discordant. In each situation I designated the LED lighting as my primary, or main lighting and then corrected it with a delicate touch of gel filtration to nudge their daylight balance into closer compliance with whatever was coming through the windows or beaming down from the ceilings. I did use a Chimera 4x4 foot ENG panel with a black, opaque fabric, to kill hot, direct and sharp top (overhead) lights. 

I started out using the Nikon 85mm f1.8 G lens (a nice lens but not a subject of this discussion in any primary sense). It was too short for the compression I wanted to get in some set ups and too long for the tight rooms I had to work in for other set ups. After a short time experimenting I settled on using the world's most appropriate lens for people photography, along with the Sigma 50mm f1.4 art lens. 

The primary shooting lens was the older, Nikon 105mm f2.5. It had the best combination of "perfect" focal length, good sharpness at and near wide open and an indescribable mellowness within the sharpness that is flattering when used for portraits of real (not "model") people. 

The issue with using a manual focus lens of a longer telephoto range, near its maximum aperture, is that the sliver of area in sharp focus is rather small, and with most of the AF cameras there are no optical focus aids built into the eyepiece/finder/focusing screen. Depending on the green, focus confirmation dot can be a dodgy game of hit and miss. I used the Live View with image magnification to do my initial focusing and had my subjects stand behind a chair so they would have something (the chair back) to put their hands on and also put them into a relatively stationary position. For the most part it worked very well. I probably stopped and re-checked focus more often that I should have but I have worked with medium format and large format cameras so the slowdown of shooting pace wasn't totally foreign to me. It probably kept me from overshooting. The majority of shots done with the 105mm were from about mid torso to just over the subjects' heads (composed horizontally) which is a good compromise between the ability to do flexible cropping while using enough magnification to keep depth of field narrow; just the way the client, agency and I wanted it. 

Having looked at several hundred images taken in this way today I have to report that the Nikon 105mm f2.5 is seriously sharp at f4.0 and sharp enough even wide open to satisfy most people. The only thing that really prevents me from wanting to use it wide open is my paranoia that a slight shift in the subject's stance will throw the system far enough out of focus to make the image too soft. 

All of the shots done with the 105mm f2.5 were

The Flip Side of Managing Client Expectations is Exceeding Them.

Blue Skies. Puffy clouds.

We did a job recently for a client I have worked for now going on 20 years. We don't do a lot of work for them but last year we shot beautiful portraits for a series of ads, a bunch of product shots that are now in catalogs, on posters and on spec. sheets. But the thing we consistently do for them is the photography for their holiday cards. They love to show off their employees by figuring out (along with the advertising advisor) clever ways to include all 125 people who make their high technology company run. Last year we shot images that were stylized like Andy Warhol's lithographs. The card was stunning. This year we were on to something else.

I contracted for two days of shooting and I went to their location, with an assistant in tow, and we set up a lighting design with a light blue background that would make cutting out (creating clipping paths) people from the background to composite them on one of the card panels easy. We had a very enjoyable time and the client schedule people and breaks, people and lunch, etc. perfectly.

The client was as gracious and genuine as could be and the staff kept the good coffee flowing. They ordered a really wonderful lunch (sandwiches, salads, etc.) both days, along with tantalizing desserts and snacks that I'll be swimming off for weeks. You just couldn't ask for more from a client.

But there was a glitch for them. They had three people who could not attend either day. One was ill, another traveling and I'm not sure about the third person. Whatever. The client seemed okay with the missing people at the time of the shoot but after they saw all the other fun images they realized that it would be demoralizing for the absent people not to be on the card this year.

I got an e-mail asking how much it would cost to shoot each of the three individually, at my studio. Well, we're on opposite ends of the highway, a trek of at least half an hour (if traffic cooperates) and I thought it would be a mess to get their people here. And, the funny thing was, I wanted to see all the staff included, as well. In a way it felt like including them would provide an extra layer of closure for the job.

I responded and let them know that I'd be (honestly) happy to head back up to their location this morning to get the three remaining people photographed, and that I would do it at no charge. Not only did the marketing V.P. and CEO personally thank me for thinking like part of their team but the people I photographed also let me know how much it meant to them.

I know they would have been willing to pay me a fee but they have been such a good client for so long I wanted to do something to thank them for the years of happy collaboration. This seemed just the thing. I finished up the new images and uploaded them this afternoon. The happy end to a nice project. No loose ends for me and no regret on their part that their project could have been better.

The aspect that made it seem sensible to me to volunteer was that no one asked me for a favor. That's why I felt that it was appropriate to offer.  A good client/photographer relationship is where you both win.


The lure of the Sony RX10.2. It's the opposite of full frame but that doesn't mean it lacks its own compelling sales pitch.

I shot the image just above on the way back from an assignment on a ranch, just outside of Fredericksburg, Texas, last year. I'd been hired by a "shelter" magazine to document the house of a collector whose specialty is early Americana. Her house was filled with art, furniture, and utensils that dated back to the earliest days of our country's massive European immigration.

I took other, statistically more capable cameras on the assignment and I only brought along the original Sony RX10 with me because it was still a novelty camera in my collection. I hadn't really put it through any sort of exhausting "break-in" ritual; but I was up to speed on the menus and settings, the features and foibles.

When I got to the house I'd be working in I noticed that the light coming through the windows was very good. Most frames just needed a nudge of additional light to open up shadows and clean up crossed color casts. For some capricious reason I put the RX10 on a tripod and lined up a shot on the rear screen. I shot it and it was pretty good. Then I clicked in the DRO settings that increase apparent dynamic range and the shot looked fantastic. At ISO 80 and 100 the shots were noise free and wonderfully saturated. While I intended to bring out the "big guns" and shoot the rest of the assignment with "real cameras" (meaning full frame or at least micro four thirds) when Iooked up from the screen, after the last of many, many shots, I realized that I had just completed my first full assignment with the smallest sensor camera in my inventory. And one with a fixed zoom lens at that.

I was a bit nervous as I drove back to Austin. I'd been shooting for this particular shelter magazine since 1981 and in the past I had delivered images to them on four by five inch, transparency film and then on Hasselblad, medium format color transparencies. Even as late as 2004 I was delivering large format (fueled by a short re-engagement with big film) before I regained my senses and realized the sheer time and film costs involved. To shoot this interior architectural assignment on a "bridge" camera seemed ---- one bridge too far.

I was ruminating about this when I spied the field of red flowers just off Highway 290, between Fredericksburg and Johnson City, Texas. I grabbed my baseball cap to keep the sun out of my eyes and I grabbed the little Sony and went out to grab a few fun shots. Over time, this has evolved to become one of my favorite central Texas landscape photographs. At least, one of the favorite images taken by me.

While I had other good adventures with the camera it was removed from inventory during one of the never ending purges in which I try to rationalize my equipment into smaller and smaller circles of confusion. Fewer menus, fewer options = less user error; that's the theory, at any rate.  When the smoke cleared this year I woke up one day with no small, play cameras. Just the serious big cameras and the serious smaller cameras. The two Nikon full frame cameras and the very professional Olympus EM5.2 cameras. I will say that a stripped down Olympus OMD camera can masquerade pretty effectively as a "fun" and whimsical camera but there is still something about the IDEA of having an all-in-one machine that can make great, high res images, kick out remarkably good video and do it all without me having to make a single lens choice. I get the trade offs in visual style and high ISO capability in comparison with something like the Nikon D750 but there are always those scenarios that play around in my head were the knapsack with the combo-cam and a neoprene bag full of batteries is delightfully seductive...

I had effectively fought off the siren call of the über all-in-one camera until I made the mistake of agreeing to meet a friend for lunch. I had been forewarned; I knew he intended to bring his latest purchase. I knew he meant to come sporting the new iteration of the Sony; the RX10 type 2.

At the outset I'll say that part of the subliminal attraction of the camera is the fact that it is externally almost identical to its ancestor. To me this means that the engineers and the market agreed that this design was as nearly perfect as it should be. Why wouldn't it be? There would be a move to change it if not. The difference is, of course, in the guts.

I handled the camera and put it to my eye. I'd forgotten what a nice job Sony had done on the EVF finder. It's not truly transparent, but damn close for the money. I remember using the camera almost exclusively with the eye-level finder, using the rear screen only when using the camera on a tripod at some squirrelly angle or altitude. I grudgingly remembered the utility and addictive ease of having a long zoom (24-200mm equiv.) at my fingertips.

Then I started diving into the menus and playing with the video. The camera's implied selling point is its 4K (UHD) video which is very well done and makes very nice imaging. Another selling point is the ability to run the camera at higher frame per second rates to yield fun slow motion. In practice the 120 fps (most usable without calling attention to itself in a leisure suit sort of way) is fun but it operates in bursts of about 8 seconds which makes it less useful for most traditional slow motion work. The real value of all this video power is the fact that using the camera at 4K and downsampling to 1080 makes for wonderfully detailed images that work now, in the real world.

When one considers this camera one must also consider the downsides. You'll be charging batteries as an ongoing hobby. At all but the longest focal lengths you'll be getting ample (more, more, more) depth of field than most people might want in this age of edgy slivers of sharp focus. And the zoom is a bit slow in operation.

But the flip side is the fantasy of traveling around the world with only one camera in your hands (and, of course, the identical back-up camera in your camera bag or backpack. The rich part of the fantasy is that the camera's actual performance leaves bigger cameras we were using just a few years ago moaning in the dust. The 20 megapixel sensor is part and parcel of the new Sony Supremacy. Rich saturation, low noise and market leading dynamic range. It's a lovely mix. If you shoot this camera the way I like to shoot you'll be working at the lowest ISO ranges and taking advantage of the well implemented in body image stabilization to get convincingly good files.

Do I want one? Now that I've actually handled on in person, a resounding yes! Am I going to run out and buy one? Hmmm. We'll see.

Here's my current rationalization: I have two big event jobs coming up. One at the end of this month and the next in the third week of October. Both are for clients I've worked with for years. Both need images almost exclusively for their websites and for presentations in PowerPoint and in video programming. It's basically faux journalism but it takes place in the well lit, climate controlled environs that our corporate types enjoy. Most of the speakers and panels will be well illuminated with stage lighting, etc. How delicious it would be to show up with just one camera, lens already permanently selected, and to shoot the entire show that way. No camera bag over the shoulder, just a pocketful of batteries and memory cards.

There are a couple of flies in the ointment. I think I might get tired of the deep focus compared to the full frame cameras or even the more narrow field of focus I can get with fast lenses on the OMD cameras. While I know the noise beats the pants off cameras like the Nikon D200's and D300's, Canon 7D's, and Olympus E-3's and E-5's I've used for shows like these in the past, the new Nikons and the new Oly cameras are bound to be much better.

If you have too much time on your hands and too many choices it's so easy for your brain to turn against you and start fomenting new plans; even though they may not be in your own best interests. Smart money says, "stick with what you have and use it well..." but the brain is always trying to fill in what should be calm moments between assignments with more excitement and adventure. The hard cost is to your wallet. The second cost is that plunge back into multiple menu hell. The long term damage comes, inevitably, from the hubris of trying to wedge all these "square cameras" into the round holes of assignments --- just to prove that you can do it. It's a sucker's bet.

But that's never stopped me before.


Unsharpness as an unintentional mistake that made me very happy with the photograph.

Austin 1988.

Camera: Pentax 6x7
200mm Pentax lens
Tri-X film.

The Joyous capabilities of the 85mm f1.2 lens. On film.

Le Bouillon Chartier. Paris. 1992
Canon EOS-1 + 85mm f1.1.2

 Do you make photographs of people with wide angle lenses? We can cure that shortcoming. Buy a fast 85mm lens and feel the enlightenment surge through your entire system. Breathe. Then slightly compress your subjects.

I'm on the search for the perfect, fast, high quality 135mm f2.0 lens for my Nikon bodies. Any suggestions?

Latin Fashion Show on the Beach at South Beach, Miami 2001.

I'm 90% sure I'll be buying one of the Nikon 135mm f2.0 DC (defocus coupling) lenses in the next month or so. I keep stumbling across images from as far back as the first 135mm lens I owned for a Canon TX, in 1977, and being amazed at the pictorial effect of the focal length and the background rendering. I should have listened to my friend, Bernard, a few years back when he was extolling the virtues of his fast, Canon EF 135. He was certainly right to elevate this focal length's status to near legend. Especially the faster versions...

Like I said above, I'm pretty certain I'll get the Nikon DC lens because I had a loaner Nikon 105mm f2.0 DC  from Nikon for nearly six months, a few years back, and shot some of my favorite portraits with that lens. The image above is from one of the many 135mm's I've owned but I can't remember off hand which one. The sad thing is that the FujiFilm color negative film I used for the above image must have had a defect because I can't read the exif data....

It would either have been a Contax 135mm f2.8 or a Leica R series 135mm f2.8. Both were really good, but hardly stellar lenses.

Zeiss makes a nice 135mm f2.0 for Nikons as does Rokinon, but the problem is that they are both manual focus lenses and I want this particular lens to be an auto focus lens. When you are playing around with really tiny slices of sharpness, surrounded by intentional blur,  it's really nice to get the focus nailed down quickly and correctly.

Among the brain trust that constitutes VSL readers I am curious to hear of peoples' various experiences with appropriate 135mm lenses. Can you chime in and give me some advice?

I'd like to get this purchase wrapped up before my upcoming birthday.... I can't imagine a better self-present and I can probably stretch and afford a good one.

Thanks in advance.


Be Honest. What Gear Would You Buy If You Were Starting Over From Scratch and Price Was No Object?

I was thinking about this today as I stood in the middle of Precision Camera and contemplated all of the new camera gear. All of the Leicas and Nikons and Canons. All the smaller cameras and used cameras. The overwhelming wealth of choices that would be available to someone with a totally empty camera bag and a totally limitless bank account.

What would I buy?

I played the game as an enthusiast and artist instead of falling into the tired role of commercial photographer. In this role I would not need an extensive inventory of lenses and accessories. I would not need to impress clients. I would not need fast focus or fast frame rates. As I deleted the preoccupations of my occupation I started to change directions entirely. My needs would be so different.

I wouldn't worry about high flash sync or access to a really cool flash system. I wouldn't need cameras with special modes or bracketing features.

I could sit back and look at the way I shoot for myself and start making some adaptations to help my innate style along. After looking through the exif date of the 140,000+ images I have up on Smugmug.com and the 240,000 images I currently have in Lightroom libraries I can see that, among my personal work, I use four focal lengths almost exclusively. Those are the 50mm, the 85mm, 100mm (+/- 5mm)  and the 135mm. Nothing else comes close. Concerned about wide angles vanishes into the void.

So I would want a system that gives me the focal lengths I cherish. Not a zoom or a range of zooms but real, actual prime focal lengths.

I want a body with a full frame sensor and

Trends in Photographic Retailing as Seen in Conversations With One Shop.

I have a friend who has been a photographer for as long as I have known him and that's about thirty seven years. A few years back, in the great recession, he decided to get a job in a camera store. A wise decision, I think. His specialty is working with professionals, state agencies, schools and other areas that are both retail in nature and not directly consumer driven. He handles purchase orders and large order fulfillment and stuff like that. He's a smart guy and he's been around the block a few times. 

I had occasion to spend some time with him this afternoon and I asked him what was new. Now, when I first met him he was an avowed Nikon shooter. At some point, when he became interested in architecture he switched to Canon for the wonderful tilt/shift lenses. But when I talked to him today he told me that, "what was new" is that he just purchased his own Sony A7R2 and he's been shifting his institutional customers away from Canon and Nikon in favor of Sony and Olympus cameras. With dubious innocence I asked him why. His response was more nuanced than the one I have the time and energy to write here but essentially the combination of brilliantly done electronic viewfinders, the absolute accuracy of the on-sensor focusing and the magic of 5 axis image stabilization makes the Sony and Olympus cameras much more usable and virtuous that the cameras with flipping mirrors. 

He mentioned one school district that conceded the superior value of the mirrorless cameras for most things but sighed, "We still need the high frame rate cameras like the Canon 7D mk2 for sports and stuff like that." My friend gently pointed out that the mirror was the roadblock in effective frames per second and went on to tell them that a number of smaller, less expensive cameras had


Thoughts after spending two days with a Nikon 750 in my hands.

This image has nothing to do with the content of this blog. 
I shot it with my friend, Noellia, for fun. 
It was done with the Nikon D750 and the Nikon 85mm f1.8G lens. 

I've spent the last two days shooting portraits for a company in Georgetown, Texas that does chemical engineering. We photographed 125 of their employees, one at a time, for use on a holiday card. It's an elaborate card that folds out and is used as a primary piece of marketing for the company. 

I set up a nine foot wide, soft blue seamless background and created a lighting design that would make people look good while minimizing skin texture. The background was lit by an Elinchrom 500 watt second moonlight that was suspended from the acoustic tile grid on the ceiling by a scissor clamp. We wrangled the cord over to the wall with a second scissor clamp made specifically for cable wrangling. We did this because the light needed to be exactly there and, as a side benefit, it kept a long cable run off the floor --- which makes for a safer set. 

I brought a flat, white three foot by four foot shiny masonry board for people to stand on. This contained the portrait subjects and kept them in the area that represented the "sweet spot" of my lighting design. It also made each engagement totally repeatable, as far as lighting and exposure were concerned. 

On either side of the subject I had black light absorbers parallel to them. These helped to put a darker edge on the white shirts everyone wore which should radically reduce the post processing work of making clipping paths. 

Finally, I had two 3 foot by 4 foot soft boxes set up as main light and fill light in front of and at 35 degree angles from the subject. These were both up high enough to cast shadows under the chins of my sitters which is a flattering way of defining the chin and neckline. Since the images would be clipped from the background we were highly uninterested in experimenting with shallow depth of field or experiencing the "bokeh" of our taking lens. We shot at f11 in the interest of keeping everything sharp and tidy.

The two front lights were Photogenic Powerlight PL1250 DR mono-lights in Photoflex soft boxes.

My assistant and I had some interesting times during


Sometimes I really, really like my job. This morning comes to mind... In the Hundred Acre Wood at Zach Theatre...

Sara Burke as "Piglet" and Russel Taylor as "Eeyore".

My parents read Winnie the Pooh stories to me and my brother and sister when we were young kids. They were the perfect bedtime stories. For a period, about fourteen or fifteen years ago, I read the same stories to my own son and it always brought back memories of my mostly happy childhood. I love the story where Pooh and Piglet are out tracking 'dangerous animals' and keep following their own tracks in a circle. Every time they go around they are convinced that a new animal has joined in with the pack they are tracking, unaware that they keeping making and following the new tracks. 

My favorite characters are Piglet and Eeyore. I still have the crayon-marked, hardback compendium of Winnie the Pooh stories on my bookshelf. I pull it down once in a while and sit in my most comfortable chair and re-visit some of the stories. They always bring a smile to my face...

That's why I was delighted when the marketing director of Zach Theatre called and asked me if I would be "open" to photographing their production of a Winnie the Pooh play. No, this is not an adult version of W.T.P. it's a play for children and families and people like me who seem to have never grown out of our fondness for Milne's wonderful stories. 

Back to the question: Would I submit to sitting through a one hour play of my favorite childhood (and parenting) stories, done by brilliant actors, and would I be willing to be paid for my time? Would I mind if there wasn't an audience and I could move around and photograph from any angle I wanted? In other words, would you mind if we produced a show just for you?  To be honest, they had me at "Pooh."

I drove over to the theater this morning with a Nikon D810 and one lens. It was the 24-120mm f4.0 (latest version). I laughed and smiled and photographed my way through a really wonderful production. As I drove away I kept thinking: "I can't believe I get paid to do this."

I had lunch with a friend who wanted to sit and talk to me about the Sony RX 10-2 and then I went home to spend the afternoon petting the studio dog and processing image files. Now, where did I misplace that nap??? A sincere "thank you" to the cast and crew for a wonderful morning away from corporate image making.

Sara Burke as "Owl."

J. Quinton Johnson as "Rabbit."

Big Firmware News from Olympus! Camera bonus!

Go read the details here: http://www.olympus-global.com/en/news/2015b/nr150915omde.jsp

Olympus has announced some firmware upgrades there's one exciting add on for each of the top two cameras in the line up. The EM-1 gets upgraded to version 4.0 and to my mind the stand out feature is the addition of FOCUS STACKING. When shooting macro images (and I assume it would work for any image...) the camera shoots 8 images, varying the focus point between each shot, and then processes them together automatically to create an image with deeper focus. It's all done in camera.

Hit the above link to see what else has been added to the EM-1.

The EM5.2 gets something that I am overjoyed by! The firmware upgrade to version 2.0 gives the camera a FLAT profile for video. It has been suggested that my writing here about the camera as a video tool may have been instrumental in this offering. (Go VSL blog). What this means is (hopefully) a file with much more usable dynamic range with which to edit. The lack of a flat profile was one of the big omissions on this camera as a video production tool. I will be downloading and testing it as soon as possible since I have a production coming up quickly and would love to use EM-5.2 because of it's amazing image stabilization. THANK YOU OLYMPUS.

To read about the rest of the details for all the cameras benefitting, again, hit the link above...

Nice when new, useful features are added to a camera you already own and like.

Hope everyone is having a happy Tuesday.


We've reached the 20 million page view mark. Add in everyone who reads on a feed and we've probably doubled that. I'm celebrating.

This is one of the first self portraits I put up on the blog. Shot in a convex mirror on the corner of a parking garage in downtown Austin in 2009. An Olympus EPL1 in my hands.

The nicest thing about my career as a photographer was being available to go to my kid's school, to all his soccer games, all his swim meets, all his cross country meets, his martial arts practices and even the saturday mornings when he would drag me (he was five at the time) to Toys R Us for the weekly Pokemon card game matches. Screw work. Spending time with your kids is the greatest gift you can give yourself. It may also turn out to be good for the kid. 

I'm sure I could have made twice as much money if I worked a relentless corporate job but I'd gladly trade all the money to live my life exactly the way I just spent the last 19 years doing it. 
No regrets and no big projects I missed out on.

(above photo taken at the Zilker Kite Festival by Ben Tuck)

With Ben now away at college for his sophomore year it's me and the dog holding court at the studio every day. We entertain each other pretty well and when we get bored we send prank texts to Ben. The Studio Dog is getting as grey as I am. It's well earned. 

In the last six years I've written five books, taught lots of classes, written over 2,400 blog posts and I still had time to do hundreds and hundreds of photographic assignments in cities across the country. If you keep moving you stay skinny. That, and a good dose of daily swim practice.

The image just above was taken during a lighting workshop I did at the University of Texas at Austin for the Texas Photographic Society. I'm still engaged with classes at UT and ACC. Maybe I have something to give back. Maybe I just tell entertaining stories. 

The blog has allowed me to meet interesting photographers. Here I was a model in a lighting workshop run by Will Crockett. Will took this photograph of me grinning like a fool.

I think that being a freelance photographer can be a very lonely profession. That's why this photograph I took in a Paris Metro station, with an old Leica M3 and a 50mm Summicron, resonates so acutely with me. But I have to thank friends (and blog readers) like Frank, Keith, Bernard, Andy, Will, James, Paul and many others for making sure I showed up for lunches, coffee in the late afternoons, and the occasional excessive BBQ adventure. It's the connection between so many people that makes this blog so worthwhile for me.... It's all about connecting with people who are both like me and not like me----in a good way. 

The love of my life and the glue that holds everything together for me and Ben is Belinda. 
Wise, kind, smart and ...... pretty much perfect. She even takes great care of Studio Dog. 

I've had lots of great photographic assistants over the years but none so smart, beautiful, creative and intuitive as Renae. She was so much smarter than me it was embarrassing.... I still rue the day she left to pursue her career in NYC and LA. 

How many pairs of glasses does one photographer need?

I've come to believe that the reason so many people come here to read the blog is that in a uniform world they enjoy encounters with eccentric people. I've always tried to be as normal as possible but it rarely works convincingly. Why else the fascination with orphaned old tech?

About a half an hour a day makes for a disciplined engagement with the blog. More time spent moderating comments than actually writing stuff down.

It was a Canon Canonet QL17 that dragged me kicking and screaming into a life (mis)spent taking pictures and hanging out drinking coffee. It was Tri-X that kept me honest for a couple of decades. 

Photo by Ellis Vener. 

It was my success with the article I wrote about Leica rangefinders, on Photo.net that eventually persuaded me to start writing a regular blog. That article, written in 2000, still has legs sixteen years later. That's something a writer can be proud of... 
Damn. Those were great cameras. And lenses.

Photo of me taken by Will van Overbeek with the camera and lens just above.

And a sunburned Belinda with the same combination. 
Go ahead. Try shooting with a Leica rangefinder. You will be drawn to the dark side. 
It's a powerful and addictive combination of the world's best glass and the world's most logical camera. 

I still have thousands and thousands of pages of slide to go through and organize. The march of progress is the bane of photographers who survive long enough to regret their lack of earlier organization. 

Early, wild, Austin photographer photographed by documentary photographer, Alan Pogue. 
Circa 1980. Tell me again how the Strobist community invented off camera flash just a few years ago......

An image that inspired a number of pages in the Novel, The Lisbon Portfolio. 
R series Leica always over the shoulder back then.

Ringlight portrait courtesy of Keith Kessler.
I guess photographers deserve their reputation for looking scruffy. 

Why cameras should go with you everywhere and why you shouldn't care about correct exposure. 

It's one giant continuum. 

Thanks for reading all the stream of consciousness blogging I've churned out for the past six years. I've enjoyed having the smartest readers on the web and I've learned a lot from all of you who come by and read and comment and then e-mail me to help me edit my excesses. 

A special thanks to my friend, Fred, for watching out for my kid, Ben, while he enjoys college some 2,000 miles away from home. Such a comfort to Belinda and me.

Photograph is not dead or dying, it's just getting started. 

I hope you'll stick around for the next 20 million page views and the next 2,400 blog posts. 
I'll keep writing if you keep reading.....

Thank you, Kirk