3.31.2017

Gearing up to shoot another little video project for Zach Theatre. Putting the Panasonic fz2500 through its paces.


I have a project to do for Zach Theatre. They are producing "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill." It's a musical play about Billie Holiday and from what I've heard so far it's amazing. We thought it might be a good idea to expand on the idea of the quick interviews we did of three actors for the previous "LBJ" play and do a nice video interview with Chanel; who will be playing the role of Billie Holiday; and a second interview with director, Michael Rader.

I'm trying to be more strategic in my approach to these video projects so we don't get rushed into producing a bunch of (mostly unusable) footage under tight schedules. We haven't scouted shooting locations for the interviews yet but we know they will be somewhere on the Zach "campus." Before we schedule the actual interviews I want to see what kind of b-roll we can get of the two interviewees  in the context of the play. The "behind the scenes footage."

Tomorrow afternoon is the last rehearsal before the tech rehearsal on Sunday. I'm heading to swim practice in the early morning and then will get to the theater around 12:30 pm to get ready for some very discreet, candid video shooting while Michael and Chanel go through a full run of the show.

I won't be lighting any of this and I don't need to record sound. I'm shooting with the fz2500 on a monopod so I can move quickly and get as many angles and compositions as I can. I've mapped out a list of shots I want, everything from tight shots of Chanel's face while she sings to much looser "two" shots of the team working through the fine-tuning that always happens. I plan on taking this footage and rendering it as black and white. I'm not worried about noise because I love the look of grain in black and white and have been testing in post with files from the fz2500 to get a very similar effect. I'll use it in conjunction with the color footage from the interviews. It's a luxury I didn't have with the previous projects. I'll have about two hours to get as much good stuff as I can.

Today I tested my set up. I'm shooting in 4K with the idea of downsampling to 1080p (Pro-Res 4:2:2) in post. At ISOs all the way up to 6400 I'm fine with the way the noise works in black and white. I wouldn't really consider going there in color. I'm shooting in color with the Cinelike D profile instead of shooting black and white in camera because I'll have a lot more options for the conversion to monochrome in the editing software.

The image stabilization in 4K is pretty good. Not as crazy good as it is in 1080p but the use of a monopod more or less equalizes the stability advantages of the 1080p, five axis performance. I've also been working on focusing for high sharpness with longer focal lengths and longer distances. Frank and I played with all the variations this morning and we found an interesting and weird anomaly. When using the mechanical shutter I tend to get a tiny bit of secondary ghosting that only becomes obvious when I chimp the files at 16X (this is in the "stills" mode/photographs) but the ghosting goes away if I use the electronic shutter setting. It makes sense that if we were going to see vibration induced image destruction it would happen at the higher magnifications. Something learned for the next still shoot.

While I am using the Cinelike D profile I am fine-tuning it by pulling out some of the noise reduction. I'm working at minus three right now and can see more detail; especially at higher ISOs.
This reportage style of shooting should be a nice test of the camera's video functionality and I'm happy that I've tested most of the parameters in advance.

I'll go to the other extreme next week when I shoot the interviews and bring a bunch of good lighting; aiming to shoot as close to the "native" ISO of the camera as I can and with an aim to get wonderful skin tones. I want the contrast between the black and white b-roll and the color interview footage to be very obvious.

With a pocket full of batteries and a 128 Gb card in the slot I should be able to get as much b-roll as I'd ever want to dig through.

From my tests so far the 4K video from the camera is really, really pretty. Nicely detailed with few motion artifacts. I'm ordering an Atomos Ninja Inferno monitor/recorder to use for the interviews; I'd like to see how the footage looks writing the files directly to 4k Pro-Res files instead of the H.264 internal files. I'll flesh out a report as soon as I test it out.

The fz2500 is a camera with a very nice, very camera-esque personality. I like it a lot even if I think the files coming out of its closest rival, the Sony RX10iii are just a hair sharper and contrastier. Once I drag the Panasonic files through post processing you'd never be able to tell the difference. Remember? We're adding grain...

I'll keep them both. Interesting personalities and perfect for two different project mindsets. More after the shoot........

Trip to the Blanton Museum #93. Confronting the red furniture.


It was a luxurious, warm Spring afternoon. I'd spent time blowing oak pollen out of the gutters with a leaf blower. I had a leisurely, late lunch of cheese enchiladas, corn and beans washed down with a grapefruit soda. It seemed like a good time to go to a museum. 

The Blanton has been closed for the last few months to revamp, re-fit, and re-imagine the space. Some galleries got reconfigured. A giant wall got painted a blue-ish purple. Three pieces of red, seating furniture arrived.

I brought along a camera just in case I saw someone who was so beautiful that I couldn't bear to go through life knowing I had no photograph to prove such beauty existed. I settled for images of the red couches. They are not so much beautiful as overpowering. 

The camera was a battered example of the Sony A7ii. A pedestrian, 50mm f1.8 on the front. It felt simple and perfect. For once I didn't mind that it is goofy loud. the noisy camera seemed to aurally match the visual scheme in front of it. I tossed some mezzotint all over the photos, in post. 


3.30.2017

Sometimes walking around with a camera in your hands is the best way to figure out how to use it well. Some cautionary experiences with the fz2500.


I'm going to dive right into it. There's something going on with the Panasonic fz2500 but it's not that the lens on the front of it is unsharp. I turned off the rear (touch) screen and set the camera to focus with the pinpoint focusing mode and I was able to get frame after frame of sharply rendered images from the camera. But there are several things that give me pause. The first is my suspicion that having the touch screen enabled can cause focusing issues because if your nose is touching the screen while you are pushing down on the shutter button there is the possibility (and I think I've experienced this...) that the focusing point changes or moves during the exposure process, confusing the camera. Almost as if there isn't a lock out of the focusing point movement control when you initiate a shutter press. This is only a "defect" if you think you should be able to have both an external control interface and be able to swipe the interface with your nose at the same time. Kind of like having two fully engaged steering wheels in one car.

A second focus/interface issue I've noticed is something that occurs if you have the camera to your eye and push the shutter button halfway down while gripping the zoom ring. The zoom ring seems to be always active and is not locked out during exposure. I've locked focus, taken my hand off the zoom ring and witnessed a slight compositional "jump" in the finder. Of course, the remedy is to keep your hands off the ring when not zooming but that's not the way most of us have trained ourselves to use the camera. Any camera.

Additionally, I have noticed that when using the multi-point options to AF, locking focus and then switching to manual, I must fine tune the manual focus ring in order to set sharp focus. I have noticed none of these issues on the Sony RX10 series of cameras.

Finally, I have noticed that most of these issues only occur at longer focus distances and become worse near infinity. It could be that, like many AF lenses in bridge cameras, the focusing discrimination (or number of discrete steps for AF) are more concentrated in the closer distances where it is presumed depth of field gives less coverage, and become less concentrated at longer distances, where it is presumed that d.o.f. will help cover the gaps. 

Reader, Casey, suggests that even if the lens is not the ultimate culprit that Panasonic ought not to have launched a camera with these kinds of flaws. Whether or not some of these issues can be fixed in firmware is yet to be seen. The biggest help for users who may want to use multi-point autofocus is to disable the touch AF on the rear screen. The biggest help for single point AF fans is to either use the center point with a small target selected or to use the pin-point focusing mode. 

I am still testing the camera but feel confident that I can get still image results from it that I want. 
All of the (above and below) files here were uploaded in their original file sizes so you can blow them up as large as you want to look around the frames. They were all shot handheld. All started life as Jpegs.

With these glitches in mind why on God's green earth would I consider keeping the camera instead of racing to the store to return it? Mostly because I bought it for the video features and my tests while shooting video have not shown up the same kinds of issues in video focusing that I've gotten shooting stills. When I shoot video I tend not to rest my hands on the controls.... Just thought you'd want this clarification. I'm interested to hear from other Panasonic fz2500 users. I'd like to compare notes. 


Taken with no intervention on my part. Just a snapshot. But it is sharp and perfectly exposed. 
I love the colors as well. Mmmmm. Cupcakes!




3.29.2017

The perils of big site reviews and the complexity of new cameras. DO YOUR OWN TESTS!!!



I hesitated about buying a Panasonic fz2500 because of a disparaging review on the website, DPReview. They "reviewed" the camera and decided that the lens was soft. The first camera they had in-house was "too" soft and they requested a second copy that was "less soft." Now, I get that early batches of new and very complex cameras can have some quality issues and variations but I kept hearing echoes of this "soft lens" refrain all over the web along with counter comments that claimed the lens was sharp. This early denouement is probably the reason why there are so few examples and samples of files from this camera model on the web. The bad review scared buyers into buying RX10s instead...

A long time Panasonic user whose opinion I trust very much was an early buyer of the fz2500 so I called him up and asked him about his experiences. "It's sharp." He said. I wanted the features the camera offers for video so I took the plunge and bought one from my local merchant, Precision-Camera.com. They have a 30 day satisfaction guarantee so I had a financial safety net, if the brain trust at DPReview turned out to be correct. 

My cursory experiences with the camera, early on, were good and I felt smug about my buying decision until I went out for a Sunday afternoon stroll with the camera, headed for the Graffiti Wall to shoot and wound up frustrated and feeling foolish. Every frame I shot looked fine on the rear screen of the camera but when I brought them home and looked on a 27 inch iMac none of the images were anywhere near sharp when I blew them up. And I did not need to get to 100% to see the faults. Images on which I knew I'd focused sharply on faces were so blurry you couldn't see eyelashes; hell, you could barely see eyes!

I went over my settings. I was shooting in RAW, using the center AF sensor (albeit in a wide mode, not a tight spot), I was using the image stabilization, and my slowest shutter speed was 1/80th of a second, with most exposures ranging in the 1/320th to 1/1,000th range. It's not that the frames were in focus in a plane in front or behind the intended subject, they were uniformly unsharp throughout. "I guess the boys at DPReview got it right this time." I thought. Maybe Panasonic really did toss out a crappy lens on this go around.  

Then I got into the problem solving mode and starting testing in earnest. The first thing I did was to turn off the ability to touch the screen to get the camera to focus. Bang. That was it. All of a sudden every image I took the time to focus was in the same league, for sharpness, as my Sony RX series cameras. With the camera on a tripod and the I.S. turned off I shot a bunch of different subjects and became aware also that, even though the camera has a one inch sensor, shooting fairly close up with a long lens yields a very narrow depth of field. I started using the smallest sensor target in the center sensor mode and it made quite a difference in terms of precisely targeting where I intended to have sharp focus.

I didn't want a crippled camera so I spent this afternoon testing around the house and found that, with the touch screen focus turned off the camera was able to achieve accurate focus and great detail 95% of the time. The culprit, it seems, is not a defective lens but a conflict between rear panel focus and eye level focusing. It might be a conflict in the software...  If you keep your eye away from the eyepiece and use the touch focus alone it also seems to work fine. Put your eye up to the screen and use your finger to guide the rear screen sensor to your desired focusing point and there is a jump or disconnect when you click the shutter. It's almost like the entire frame is jumping out of focus. 

The takeaway is to test and use the controls the way the engineers no doubt intended. Touch screen for those times when you feel compelled to use the camera at arm's length (dirty baby diaper hold) and turn off the touch screen when you are intent on using the EVF (like a photographer). 

Had I depended on my cursory shoot on Sunday and the "findings" of the DPReview team I probably would have ended up returning the camera. As it is I can now take advantage of all the features, get sharp images and avoid cross programming induced foibles.

I've supplied samples here on the blog but they are about 1/3 the size of the images I originally  shot. Believe the written testimony in this case instead of the images (Google/Blogger compresses everything....too much).  The camera provides really nice images (albeit with too much default noise reduction) and it's a pleasure to use for everyday video work. Especially run-and-gun stuff. 

The armchair reviewers are hardly infallible. It takes time and elbow grease to get the best out of any modern, menu driven camera. And when you hit a roadblock a bit of time doing some trial and error testing  can go a long way to get you happily shooting again. Do your own testing!

All samples shot at f5.6, all handheld, most with I.S. Auto ISO





















3.28.2017

One More Video Project From Our Assignment in February.


Marty Robinson, Clinician. Discusses the Ottobock C-Leg. from Kirk Tuck on Vimeo.

In this video we interview Marty Robinson who is a clinician with expertise in fitting prosthetics. He discussed the evolution from mechanical knee/leg devices to microprocessor controlled ones.

Our primary footage of Marty was shot in 4K with the Sony A7Rii but the video was created in the 1080p space. All of the b-roll footage was shot with the Sony RX10iii camera. The microphone was a Sennheiser MKE600 suspended on a boom pole, attached to a cart.

Processed in Final Cut Pro X. Music from PremiumBeat.com


A Few Thoughts About the Soon to be Released Panasonic GH5. Maybe we should all rush out and get one....


I have some experience with Panasonic GH cameras having, at one time owned two or three of the GH4's and various other G cameras. Two of my favorite lenses from the system were the 12-35mm and the 35-100mm f2.8s. Really nice stuff. I had good success shooting a large video project with the GH4 but at some point I sold them all because, while they were very good video cameras there were better conventional photography cameras on the market and most of my focus at the time was still photography, not video production.

I've been quite happy for the last year with my decision to settle on Sony cameras and now, along comes Panasonic to upset the apple cart and to fire up the somewhat irrational desire to make yet another (probably) ill-considered equipment overhaul. To squander a bunch of cash. To follow the siren call of the spec sheet; down the next rabbit hole.

Since few of us (and NOT me) have shot with the GH5 camera we're still getting all excited about the features and specifications alone. We haven't had an honest and detailed review yet about the actual image quality and performance of the new camera by any except the usual review suspects --- who like pretty much every camera they've ever touched.

My first reaction is that if you are a still photographer

3.27.2017

A Minimalist's Approach to Video Production in The Present Moment.


The first moving pictures project in which I played a significant role was a television commercial for BookStop, Inc. (the first "category killer" book store chain) in 1985. I was the advertising agency creative director for the project which used: a television commercial, a multi-page, four color printed mailer (magazine style), radio commercials, and newspaper advertising, to open three, 100,000 square foot, retail stores in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. With my creative team we concepted the commercial and the campaign materials. I wrote the direct mail as well as the TV, radio and newspaper ads. We hired producer/director, Bruce Maness, to handle the television commercial production. 

As creative director for a big advertising campaign you should be involved in all the major steps and creative decisions. You are responsible for maintaining a consistent "look and feel" throughout. The TV commercials were the big chunk of the media buy and, since my print production team in the agency were all consummate professionals, I paid the bulk of my day-to-day attention to the TV commercial production. 

For the spots we created an 18 foot tall replica of the monolith from the Stanley Kubrick movie, "2001, A Space Odyssey." The monolith was created almost entirely of hard cover books. We hired animators to animate a comet flying through a star field which then exploded and coalesced into a our client's logo (with a bit of shimmer added in...).  The bulk of the footage was shot at night in a rock quarry (our "surface of the moon"). It was my first experience with huge, manned, cinema cranes and also with giant generators, and enormous 18K lighting fixtures. 

The entire production was shot on 35mm film stock with an Arriflex camera and then mastered on two inch tape. It was a time consuming process and presented an almost logarithmic learning curve for me. It was my very first TV project and we were out of the gate with a $100,000+ budget. It was highly successful. The campaign generated results that far exceeded our client's sales goals; the TV, radio, and direct mail each won gold ADDY awards that year, and the most exciting thing for me

3.24.2017

Photography provides reasons to leave the house, and an invitation to mingle with artists.

Choreography, Christa Oliver-Torres. During a long rehearsal at Zach Theatre.

I love being part of the marketing team at a (non-profit) theater. Like most of the arts people who aren't involved don't always know what goes on the behind the scenes. They don't understand the time and energy it takes to make art at a high level. I love getting involved with a theatrical production in the early stages so I can really understand both the surface drama (or comedy) as well as the underlying ethos. 

Last Fall, I wanted to see a series of rehearsals for the upcoming, Zach Theatre twist on Dicken's, A Christmas Carol.  One of the rehearsals centered around the dance segments for the production. It wasn't just a half hour here or there but a full day of precision drilling, fine-tuning and then more precision drilling. I was exhausted just watching and I was only a witness to one part of the rehearsal; and on just one of the many days that the ensemble rehearsed. 

I was standing in front of the long mirrored wall watching and snapping photographs when I saw the choreography pause to watch a group of dancers practice and intricate move. Her focus was intense. I manually focused the 135mm f2.0 lens on the front of my Sony A7Rii and shot a few frames. This image is one of my favorite images from the day. Just wanted to share it. 

There is value in putting yourself in the right place and then....just standing around until you see something you want to photograph. 

3.23.2017

An inexpensive light that seems to work pretty well. And which matches my other lights...

Aputure Amaran HR672W. A medium size LED panel that can run on battery power. 

Late last year I decided to upgrade all of my LED lights. I did my research and decided that the price and performance compromise that made the most sense to me was the one offered by Aputure with their LightStorm series of panels. They have turned out to be great lights even though I find their A/C to power brick to panel connections a bit cumbersome. The light quality I am getting from them is quite good, and they seem to be living up to their press as 96+ CRI units. Flesh tones, especially, have been easy to nail in post processing. That's always a good sign. 

When I upgraded I spent a bit over $2,000 to get four units. Two of the LS-1S units (a high output, narrower beam fixture, with barn doors) and two of the LS-1/2 units (a broad beam, high output light that's half the size of the LS-1S). After using them on twenty+ projects I feel comfortable with the workflow involved and I'm pretty darn happy to have them. 

But recently I did a very detailed product shoot against a white background and I stumbled into the truism that every studio photographer knows well: "You always need just one more light for this project...."  With two LS-1/2s lighting up the background that left me only two lights to do the heavy lifting of contouring the product while ensuring I had controllable fill light to the opposite side. A couple of times I wanted a bit of front fill as well and had to resort to a much smaller panel ---the kind you would use mostly mounted on a camera--- in order to get just a bit more fill to the front of a decidedly three dimensional product. One more panel, with more power and surface area, would have been just right. 

At the same time I was also looking for a smaller, less cumbersome panel solution for really quick, one man video interviews. Something I could put batteries on, toss some diffusion in front of and bring up the illumination on a subject who is being mostly lit by ambient light. One concern I had was that I didn't want to spend a lot of money on "one more light." 

Once I did my research I was fairly certain I found the right candidate. It's a light that's also marketed by Aputure and it's the one I'm showing above and below. It's the HR672W. As you can probably discern from the product name it has 672 very color accurate LEDs. The "W" indicates that it has a wide beam spread. And I have no idea what the "HR" means...

I tried to buy one from my local Aputure dealer but it's not a stock item for them. I defaulted to Amazon.com and waited two long days to get my package. When I finally got the box open I was delighted to find a nicely thought out soft case holding the system together. I'm always delighted to get several more Sony NP batteries because there are so many products in the inventory I can use them on.....including my portable monitor. This package comes with two of the husky NP970 batteries. These will run the unit at full power for about one hour and thirty minutes, and at lower power settings for longer periods of time. They charge while connected to the panel via the power brick, which also supplies A/C power to the lights if you opt not to use the batteries. 

The light comes with a neutral diffuser that's good for taking the "edge" off the highly collimated LEDs, as well as a filter that converts the light temperature to match tungsten. A step-less dial on the back can set the output power from 10% to 100%, and your settings are easily repeatable because there is a big panel adjacent to the control that provides a numerical power indication. The panel also provides charging indicators for the batteries. 

The final cool thing that this light can do is that it can be remote controlled with a supplied, wireless remote. It's the same remote that comes with their bigger, more expensive lights. In fact, I can now control all five of the bigger panels with one remote control. I mostly leave the remote in the case and just set the control with my fingers. It gives me time to think about what I really want the light to do. But hey! if you are a tech junkie and love remotes,  then there you go. 

The bottom line on any light purchase is the quality of light that the product delivers. Aputure has done a good job getting the message out that their line of lights provides 95+ CRI; from the smallest model to the top model. In comparing the output of the Amaran HR672W to that of the more expensive lights I previously purchased, I would have to say that they nailed the consistency feature. The lights are all daylight balanced and they all match each other. That makes my job easier and more fun. 

The only downside of this light is the build quality. While the more expensive lights are all metal and have gloriously big heat sinks on them, this model is made mostly of plastic and might not stand up to a lot of wear and tear. If you are a precise and thoughtful person the robustness, or lack of,  is probably not going to be an issue. If you are the kind of person who runs around with cameras slamming together across their chest, and who literally tosses his stuff into cases without a thought for the effects of gravity or inertia, then you'll probably be bitching about stuff breaking in no time. 

The bottom line. Would I buy this product again? Yes. It's a perfectly good compromise between build quality, performance and cost. The price? Around $275. I give it four out of five happy camper awards. The one "camper" deduction is the build quality. I'm good with it.

the business end. 


3.22.2017

I'm speaking to a college class tomorrow evening. The topic is "The Business of Photography." What will I tell them?

The future of the business of photography is all about mixing media. 
My number one piece of business advice for photographers is to become a better writer. How? Practice every day. How about a blog?

BLOG WARNING: THE INTENDED AUDIENCE FOR THIS PARTICULAR BLOG IS THE GROUP OF STUDENTS I'LL BE SPEAKING TO. ESTABLISHED PROFESSIONALS SHOULD FIND THIS BORING.....

I have the lofty responsibility of talking to some advanced students who are near completion of their degrees in commercial photography. I have been asked to speak to them because of my hoary and enormously long tenure in the local photography market. And, probably, in no small part, because I am on the advisory board for their discipline at the college. I've done this every semester for as long as I can remember. Every semester I give a slightly ( or greatly ) different presentation. 

This year I'll be stressing the changing nature of what constitutes the photography industry. I maintain that we've left that traditional and narrow niche behind and that the key to success in the current economy is to embrace the role of "creative content creator" by learning a collections of inter-related skills, like film making, programming and marketing. These are skills that can be bundled for more potency and sold to a wide variety of end users. 

But mostly I'll talk about pure business. Supply and demand. Marketing. Positioning. Even branding. And the place I'll start my talk is about conservation of resources. I submit that most photographers who fail to thrive are victims of ignorance about money. The making of it; and more importantly, the conservation of it. 

The key to success in photography is to: (a) find clients who will pay you what you are worth. (b) do the job. (c) market the mutual success you shared with your client. (d) get paid by the client. (e) find the next client (or better yet, do more jobs for the original client). But the primary key for long term success isn't the photography part at all, it's what you do with the money you get for doing the work. 

I hear over and over again, from younger photographers mostly, that they are re-investing in their own businesses. From what I've distilled, based a life  spent in photography, this may be one of the worst investments you can make. 

Sure, you need to spend some money, regularly,  on marketing; and every once in a while it's probably a good idea to upgrade your camera gear, but the long game calls for a much more disciplined, and much less fun (in the short term) strategy. That strategy would call for putting money in investments that are totally outside  your business. Maybe even outside your industry. 

I have a partner/spouse/mentor who is much smarter than me about the big picture. It's because of her that, many years ago, I started an SEPP (single employee pension plan) and put a set amount of money into it every month. Rain or shine. If you look at the meager balance back in the early years and then look at today's balance you'd think I was a genius but it's just the power of compound interest. And discipline, combined with the knowledge that, as a freelance business owner, no one else is saving up to provide a pension for you. You have to do it yourself.

At the end of every year my freelance friends will tell me that their accountants have counseled them that they need to spend XXXX amount before the end of the fiscal year on equipment. In this way they'll be able to take an accelerated cost recovery (depreciation) and avoid paying taxes on this money. But the weak spot of this argument is that the gear they buy (especially in the digital age) begins a quick and somewhat sickening depreciation in resale value the minute they pull it out of the boxes and charge the batteries. 

My people have always told me that it's best to figure out how much "extra" money you have at the end of the year and to stick that into a tax advantaged retirement account, or to bite the tax bullet and put some of the money into an (after tax) Roth IRA account. After all, once the cameras grow old you can't sell them for much, or eat them, but the money you stick in an SEPP or traditional IRA is money that: A. You get to keep. B. That appreciates in value. and, C. Reduces your total income tax liability for the year in which you save it. OMG!!! You get to keep the money and, if you can keep your hands off of it then it also grows in value. 

My investments seem to follow the basics of investing. Nothing dramatic and nothing too risky. Most experts advise sticking to mutual funds (bundles of stocks) or, at worst, stocks in companies whose products and strategies you really, really understand. For instance, if you have been an Apple Computer user since 1984, and understand their products and their strategic value, then you might want to invest a modest percentage of your savings in that stock. Had you invested in Apple stock back in the late 1980's, say to the tune of about $10,000, you would not be reading this right now because you'd be trying to figure out how to spend the enormous amount of money you've accrued. Hint: It's millions and millions of dollars. What is your stock photography library worth just about now?

The same thing applies to financing your kid's college education. Every other thing I read today is about the impending student loan crisis. But, if the average college educated and professionally employed parent of twenty one years ago started saving about $250 a month in a 529 college savings plan they would have an ample supply of money today to cover the cost of in-state tuition, as well as room and board, for their current college student. Add $100 more per month and you'd pretty much have the $65,000 per year you'll need to pay full pop at a prestigious, private, four year university. 

Sure, sure, this is long term, old guy advice. But what if you are planning to live fast and die young and leave behind a beautiful corpse? Why would you bother to save anything in that scenario? Good question. I'll answer it with another question: When is the last time you felt like you needed to settle for a lower fee and a crappy assignment because you had your back up against the wall to pay rent? How many annoying, low budget clients have you accrued along the way because you couldn't afford the risk of not having their (meager) check by the end of the month to pay bills that you knew were coming? How poorly have you leveraged your artistic freedom (and your free time) by having to service an ever growing debt in your business? 

That new medium format camera sounded like a good idea when you put it on that credit card but it really didn't increase your business much, did it? And you keep making payments on that credit card so you can eventually "own" the camera, and by then you may have paid a quarter to a third more than the original purchase price just in interest. On a depreciating asset which will probably be obsolete by the time you pay it off. Make the minimum payments on that credit card and you may NEVER pay off that camera completely---even long after it's gone. 

The over-riding plan? Earn money, save money, and make the money work for you. If you start early enough, and keep yourself debt free, at some point you'll be able turn down all "stinky" jobs and still sleep well at night because your investments will keep growing and (best case scenario) pay regular dividends that can either be reinvested or enjoyed. You'll get to pick and choose the projects you work on and the clients you work with. You get to set, and stand by, your rates.  By being a disciplined saver you buy back your own freedom and can give yourself the "bonus" of free time to work on your art. Or you can just lie on the couch and read novels. Being a good steward of your money is a smart business strategy. 

Freelance businesses are not for everyone. If I didn't have a smart, frugal and strategic partner I'd be a dead man by now. Or at least dead broke.  Yep, that's what I'm thinking about telling the class of college commercial photography students. 

Glad someone told me. 
Studio Dog can count the treats in the jar on the counter. When we're running low she comes by and scratches me on the leg. I refill the jar. Her investment strategy pays off. 

the lavish bokeh of a micro four thirds camera and a Leica 25mm Summilux lens. 
Expensive gear is meaningless and its value is fleeting. Learn to use good, inexpensive gear.... or rent. 

More good investment advice: If you smoke cigarettes give up the habit for two years and save enough to travel through Europe taking photographs with the proceeds. It's a win/win. 

Always marry someone who is much smarter than you are. 

Don't spend a fortune on a rented space. I was paying $1,800 a month for downtown studio space from 1988 to 1997 then I bought a house and built a studio on the property. My mortgage for the house and the studio space cost less than my previous studio alone. We've done about 2,000 jobs and five book projects out of this 675 square foot space since 1997. And the coffee machine is just through that red door and 12 steps into the house beyond it. 

A total non-sequitur. I just happen to love big scrims. 

It is possible to raise a child,  from infancy to college, with a freelancer's income. If you are disciplined, and not addicted to the unnecessary trappings of a complete consumer lifestyle. Cook at home more. Watch free TV. Always choose necessities over wants.



Surround yourself with people who value art, creativity and camaraderie over trendy, expensive stuff. 

choose wise friends. 

And finally, never go out without your camera.


Have I left anything important out? Chime in and let me know. Class is not until 6 pm, CST, Thursday night.


































3.21.2017

Best Article I've Read on DP Review in Years. A debunking of some MF mythology. A nod to current full frame camera tech.

https://www.dpreview.com/opinion/2341704755/thinking-about-buying-a-fujifilm-gfx-50s-read-this-first

I'm so used to seeing advertorial writing on DPReview that I was a bit amazed to see this reasonably well written article that calls into question whether the investment(?) in a (smaller than) medium format camera, such as the new Fuji, is really going to deliver the things you might think are exclusive to the larger format.

It would be nice to see more writing like this and less gushing about sponsored Canon topics. Give it a read and see if you agree.


How learning about video improves your still photography story-telling. How good portrait lighting translates into more interesting video.


Every time I practice lighting portraits I end up porting that knowledge over into video lighting. After all, what is an interview but a nicely lit portrait that moves and has sound? By the same token, as I learn more about shooting video I learn that there's more than one angle and more than one visual point of view in a photo session. More options give me more choice. And, by being a better interviewer in the video world I've learned how to "lead" a portrait subject into a pose and expression that is more exactly what I am aiming for rather than being a session of endurance; predicated on random connections and fast reflexes.

It goes both ways. In doing both I find I am more prepared for each discipline. The more fluid I get with each practice the better my results get for each. Being able to blend the strengths of the two media is a fun exercise and a real plus. Try doing a great interview and following it quickly with a great portrait in the same set up. You'll already have the rapport on tap.....

3.20.2017

Accidentally passed a landmark. Also came to understand why people think camera preamplifiers are so noisy....

I should have noted that the Visual Science Lab blog hit (and passed) the 3200 post milestone. I did the math, that's millions and millions of words and thousands and thousands of photographs. How do you get to 3200+ posts? One post at a time.

On a different note you may have noticed that I'm diving deeper and deeper into the discipline of recording sound. Every good videography needs to know about audio. It may be the most important component of video and probably the hardest to get just right.

I have one little kernel of opinion that I want to pass on. I've been told for years now that still cameras which feature video capabilities all have very noisy and low quality preamplifiers in them and that the only way to record "professional" sound is to skip using the camera's input and start recording to an external audio recorder which, presumably, has cleaner preamplifier stages.

Hmmm. In theory I'm sure that the good digital audio recorders do have somewhat better circuitry and, perhaps, demonstrably better noise but I also think there is a prejudice floating around that has more to do with noisy headphone amplifiers than noisy camera preamps.

I've noticed for some time now that when I monitor the sound coming into my Sony cameras (including the RX10 series and the A7rii) with headphones I get some low level hiss and noise. It's there whether I've matched the microphone to the camera inputs or not. I always freak out when I hear it but I'm usually on a remote location and don't have another option.

The funny thing is that when I get back to the office, import the video files to my editing software and then listen to the output on my studio headphones I don't hear the same, obvious noise. What I hear is fairly clean and accurate audio. I have a short attention span so I hadn't tested my hypothesis until recently. My hypothesis is that the "dirty" audio is a result of crappy headphone amplifiers; not only in the consumer, all purpose cameras but even in most of the separate digital audio recorders I've worked with.

Recently I bought and received a new microphone. It was a well reviewed Aputure Diety shotgun microphone. I was anxious to test it out and wanted to give it every opportunity to excel. That would mitigate any post cognitive dissonance I might have had about spending yet another $360 on my always expensive occupation.

To that end I ran the microphone into the Zoom H5. It's a portable audio recorder that is well known to have low noise preamplifiers. The Zoom H5 supplied phantom power to the microphone and the recording I did was right in the optimum level area for voice (between minus 6 and minus 12 Db, as shown on the meters). There was no indication of overload and the levels were high enough not to be anywhere near a noise floor.

When I monitored via the headphone jack I heard a similar kind of noise that I often hear with signals coming from the camera headphone jacks. A high frequency hiss that's not terrible but not optimal. I was taken aback. All other owners/reviewers of the H5 were effusive in their praise of this model's low noise. Ditto concerning the noise profile of the microphone.

I moved the audio file to my computer, plugged in some Audio Technica headphones and took a listen to that set up. The noise I was hearing went away. It dawned on me that the real culprit in many cases might not be the camera but the camera's headphone circuitry. How could this be?

Well, I looked no further than to the car industry for an analogous comparison. Takata airbags were defective across a range of manufacturers and models, from Toyota and Honda to BMW and Ford. Seems like one airbag maker supplied a lot of different companies. By the same token the headphone amp is probably a feature on a small chip. Easier to spec a universally used microprocessor than to create a custom one for each camera line. And, an inexpensive product to make and sell.

The engineering/marketing rationale for using a noisy preamplifier chip is probably that, historically, so few people who purchased "hybrid" video/still cameras ever ended up shooting video, and the ones that did probably didn't use external microphones. Few would complain about the sound and, if they did complain then customer service could tell them that while it may affect monitoring it would not have an effect on the sound being recorded. Everyone saves money, no sound quality on the video files gets sabotaged.

But, of course, the product manufacturers omit any caveats about monitoring performance and so the urban legends are born and spread. And the legend in our industry is how awful the audio is on our cameras.

My experience reminds me to test, test, test and not to rely on urban legends.

I'll tell you right now that the audio I get from the Zoom H5 or the Tascam DR60ii is better than the audio I get from the RX10iii but in the same breath we are talking about 88 versus 85 and not 95 versus 42. You can do good work with the built in audio circuits of most current Sony and Panasonic cameras. I had good luck, audio-wise, with my Nikons as well. It's more a question of maximizing every step of technique than it is searching for the one "magic" solution.

Do your own tests. Listen to the output of a good system. Listen to the way it sounds through a set of monitor speakers, or through good headphones plugged into a high quality playback source. Don't blame your camera right off the bat.

3.19.2017

Sunday. Walk with a Camera. Good exercise. Nice antidote for sitting around staring at a screen for most of the week.


I finally had some free time this weekend to get out and try the fz2500 in some freeform shooting. I made the same rookie mistakes many people make with a new camera. I lost a good shot because my nose touched my touchscreen and moved the AF cursor over to one side. Couldn't figure out for a few seconds why the nice young lady directly in front of my camera would not come into focus. I put the camera in "A" priority and shot, blithely unaware, for the better part of an hour never checking the shutter speed the camera was setting. Ooops! All of the moving/action/street scenes were recorded at 1/80th of a second. Too bad good image stabilization can't save photographers who don't pay attention to subject motion blur.... And then I started processing some of the images shot later in the evening and, of course, I was having so much fun shooting and weaving in and out of the enormous SXSW crowds on Sixth St. that I never bothered to check the ISO, and I have to confess; this camera gets a bit noisy at ISO 800. More so at 1600. 

Of course the noise reduction kicked in and I had the factory preset engaged. Hello water color detail at 100%. Of course I know better. I should have been in control of the ISO. I should have set a faster shutter speed. I should have fine tuned the noise reduction for the Jpeg setting. But in reality I didn't  care. I was out walking on a beautiful day and I had a camera in my hand. The stuff I was watching right in from of my face was a hell of a lot better than anything I see on Netflix or Network. In addition to endless action, drama and comedy you get a couple more dimensions of sensory candy that no (current) screen gives you. The smell of cigarettes and perfume, and sausages sizzling over a butane flame; all mixed in with the smell of the disinfectant the bars use to clean. The yeasty smell of spilled beer and the glorious aroma of pizzas cooking all over the place.

You also get multi-layered sound. Dialogue. Chanting. Rapping. Flirting. Clapping. Sirens. More flirting. Verbal posturing. Different music blasting through portable speakers every ten feet or so. A guy playing an old, upright piano at the corner of Congress and 4th. More sirens. 

You walk in and out of shadows. You keep one eye peeled on the screaming homeless person wrapped in blankets like a Caesar's toga even though it's 85 degrees outside. 

The camera gave me a tertiary reason to be there but my real goal was just to sample.....the multitude. To see what was making this little corner of Austin tick on this particular day. To slip into the crowd and walk with the flow.  And then, like a hungry homing pigeon, disengaging and "flying" toward  my car, parked two miles away. And then home to the quiet and serenity of affluent suburbia. And a decent restaurant. Cameras are fun. But they are largely meaningless if you don't have something interesting to put in front of them...






Is all social exchange about the smartphone now?




I met a student. I think his name was Justin. He was shooting a project with this 4x5 field camera. He was smart and engaging. He knew all about Richard Avedon. His camera was on a rickety tripod. If he remembers to get in touch with me I have an extra Benro tripod that I'd be happy to pass along to him. It would be better than the skinny Manfrotto the school loaned him....




Google took a beautiful and iconic building downtown and did everything in their power to make it fucking boring. Not swearing, really, it's a technical, architectural term.

At the W Hotel.