10.23.2014

When it rains it pours. The perpetual motion of running a business and trying to do art on the side....

Renee Zellweger from the old days. Just a nod
to unalloyed beauty. 
Back in the day we colored black and white prints for fun...

I got back into the office on Monday and it's been a marathon ever since. We're currently booked solid between now and about the 11th of November. Shades of the late 1990's. I had a fun time yesterday. I shot a portrait of a CEO in a small conference room. I lit him by blasting a 200 watt HMI light through a 4x6 foot diffusion scrim from one side. That was the whole lighting rig. Oh yeah, I did have to tape some black cloth on the wall opposite the light to bring down the shadow side of his face just a bit... It was beautiful. And the color on the files was just what I wanted. 

When I finished photographing the executive we bounced one HMI off the ceiling and another one off a white board positioned right behind camera, directly in front of the products and then proceeded to photograph six or sever servers, a couple of cool circuit boards with sexy heat sinks, and some interesting connectors, on a white sweep laid out on top of the big conference room table. I shot yesterday with the Nikon D7100 partly because I am a glutton for self-inflicted punishment and partly because I have to admit that the ISO 100 files, when created by an old, 55mm Micro Nikkor, are richly detailed and easy to grind through the raw processing software on their way to becoming advertising materials. 

I hated using the Nikon live view on the camera so much that on the way home I dragged the case with an assortment of lenses and the offending camera into Precision Camera to see how much I could get for the lot in trade for an Olympus OMD EM-1. Not enough to make it worthwhile. It's worse than cars now. Shoot with the stuff for four months and it's nearly worthless for resale. So I decided to work harder on liking the camera and the lenses. And being one of those guys shooting four mismatched systems deep.

I drove out to Johnson City today. Birthplace of LBJ. That president. I needed to quickly scout a location for several shoots that are coming toward me at speed in November. I was there for thirty minutes and then back to Austin in time to spend the entire afternoon and part of this evening retouching and creating clipping paths and masks for the product images I shot the day before. I was going to pace myself and do some of the work on Friday but my very helpful iCalendar reminded me that I'd booked most of tomorrow to shoot marketing images on location at a private school. When we wrap that up I need to head back downtown to attend an advertising agency open house for a firm I work with regularly. If the economy is still bad these folks haven't heard about it, this will be their third move, driven by quick expansion, in three years. Cocktails and face time from five till eight. 

I'm pressing the HMI's into everything. On Saturday one of my favorite people and models, Fadya, is coming over and we're going to spend the afternoon making HMI driven portraits. I hope I can find time somewhere in the schedule to clean up the studio....

As business gets more compressed and frenetic I'm gravitating more and more to using the GH4 as my primary production camera. It's quick and easy to use. The files are great and the lenses are wonderful. I'm smitten by the look and feel of the Oly EM-1 but my comfort zone is definitely in the Panasonic camp. 

No Lawn Jockeys in my area of Texas. It makes me smile when I see this image.

Finally, a wonderful sign of the times in business: I did a major job the week before Belinda and I went to Saratoga Springs. I was half way into the trip before I realized that I hadn't sent the client a bill. I hadn't even written one. That's unlike me since I'm always trying to bill quickly to get the payment clock running. I put that piece of billing on my "to-do" list and was all set to get busy doing paper work when we returned.  But first I checked my mail. There was a check from the client. Issued two days after the job wrapped, before the agency post production had even begun. They paid the full amount of the estimate. And there was a little note attached. The accounting person wrote. "This is the amount we had on the estimate. If there are other charges we need to pay please let me know and we'll send out a second check....."  Nice.


Something is wrong with trees in the north. The leaves become discolored and fall off. 
I hope it isn't some sort of wilt or blight.....

Nature planted these trees too close together. 
Which one am I supposed to focus on?





10.22.2014

Brick Wall with Windows.

 Saratoga Springs, N.Y. 2014

Lots of changes coming up. On Monday (10/27) I turn one year older. I'm setting goals for the year: Swim better, swim faster. Shoot tons more photographs. Write the next book. Make more portraits. Meet more and more interesting people. Socialize more. Use smaller cameras. Make more friends. Play more. Share more. Blog more.

If you can help me with any of these goals jump in and let me know.

Tech notes: Taken after drinking Brazilian Santos coffee. Panasonic GH4. 12-35mm. Ektachrome.



10.21.2014

The rewards for stumbling around the back streets with a camera can be silly or startling. I like the surprises I find off the beaten paths,


Like any old city Saratoga Springs has its share of attractions. There are the springs, of course. Then there's the oldest thoroughbred horse racing track in the U.S. and, of course the shopping and architecture. Let's not forget Yaddo, the writer's retreat. But I am loathe to tromp through where so many have tromped before me. I'm always on the look out for the interesting Kitsch that makes life feel like it's got an ample dose of whimsy and cerebral clumsiness. 

I headed west from downtown and found lots to look at. One place that was particularly fun with Saratoga's Florist. In a side yard adjoining the flower shop was a cacophony of visually engaging relics. Saints and naked nymphs frolicked together in the fenced in, open air, warehouse and I was able to move through with my little camera and try to pull out things I liked as visual candy. 

My favorite was the vaguely Medusan flower pot shown above in black and white. Just sitting there on the ground in front of colorful lawn fdic-frac decor and just behind a rickety cabana table. Now that's what I'm looking for when I'm roaming with a lens....



"Adoration of  naked breasts."

Shooting houses and landscapes makes me nostalgic for the era of the 4x5 inch view camera...


...but in when I remember the workflow without the overlay of nostalgia I realize that I wouldn't have gotten very many photographs taken in the time allotted. When I first had the thought that it would be fun to make images again with transparency film and a Linhof, equipped with my favorite Zeiss 250mm f5.6 Planar lens the memory all seemed so---magical. So I did what I usually do when I remember optimistically, I dissected the process in a step by step fashion to help me rationally remember what a pain the ass it really was. 

To take the image above I would have had to extend the legs of the Gitzo tripod I used out to the sides in order to get the head and hence the camera close enough to the ground to get this comp. That presumes that I would be carrying my 18 pound 5 series tripod with me. Yes, it was required. I would have assembled the camera from its carrying case and mated it to the tripod. I would open up the lens shutter and open the aperture and then crouch behind the camera with a dark cloth so I could evaluate the image on the ground glass screen. I would figure out how much tilt I needed to add (positively) to the front standard and how much to detract (negatively) from the rear standard to use the Scheimpflug  principle to distribute the plane of sharpness correctly. 

Since there was no efficient way to correct for color temperature with transparency films (and many times we needed to send original transparencies to clients or magazine....) I would pull out the Minolta color temperature meter to figure out what combination of Wratten gel filters to put over the front (or the rear) of the lens in order to get the right color in the final image. Of course, I would pull out a different meter and use the incident dome to get a preliminary reading of the overall exposure. 

Since I am within 10x the distance as a ratio of the lens focal length I would have to modify any meter reading with a bellows extension factor. I'd want to verify that by using a Polaroid test or two. While I was waiting for the Polaroid to time out and to dry a bit before evaluating I would simultaneously be praying that the lighting would not change. That no clouds would come by and mess up both my exposure readings and the color temperature readings. A big change would require a "recalibration" and maybe a new set of filters taped to the front of the lens. 

Once we got all the metering just right I'd hop back under the dark cloth one more time to put a loupe onto the ground glass, stop down to the taking aperture (so I avoid focus shift) and then fine focus at the taking aperture before cocking the shutter.

When the stars all lined up I would grab four film holders from the case and proceed to do a bracket in 1/3 stops. Two exposures over. One exposure under and one right on the money. Then I would reverse the process, making sure I'd flipped the dark slides before re-seating them in the film holders, taking the camera apart and putting it into the case and an then gathering in the tripod. Sounds easier when you write it but I'd guess that each of the shots would require about 30 minutes after you discovered the subject and angle you wanted. The move to the next subject would most likely involve putting all the gear into the trunk of one's car and driving to the next location. Back then, on a good shooting day with a view camera we'd be happy with six of seven good images for consideration. And we would have truly earned anything we shot. 

The reality is that for most of our current presentations the image quality of the m4:3 or APS-C cameras we have at our disposal are nearing the same technical quality that we would have gotten from all the hard work back then but the time period from recognition of the subject to final shutter click could be measure in dozens of seconds rather than in dozens and dozens of minutes. 

And, of course, the image on the transparency was only share-able with one person at a time. Maybe two. It would still have to be printed in the darkroom or scanned and uploaded to achieve sharing "parity" with modern images. Ah. The large format image. A romantic memory of a process that was, in reality, fraught with hard work and, at times, heartache. I think I'll stick with digital for right now. 





We don't see many lawn jockeys in Texas. 

I'm sure the natives thought it funny to see an person bent over their camera and fixated by a lawn ornament. But that's really the nature of cross cultural explorations. 


The One Camera, One Lens Weekend. Just Making Snapshots in Saratoga Springs.


Ben made it into the college he wanted. They like him, he likes them. We went up to see him last weekend and I took along one camera and one lens. The camera was a Panasonic GH4 and the lens was a Panasonic G Vario 12-35mm f2.8. It's a lovely combination. Not too heavy and not too big but packed with features that help it compete with bigger sensor cameras. Usually when I'm shooting images for myself (non-client work) I shoot jpeg files. For some reason I decided I'd spend this weekend shooting in raw.  I also decided to set up the profile in the camera to be pretty flat. I used the shadow/highlight curve settings to make a custom curve that brought down the highlights and boosted the shadows. Then, in post production I brought the contrast back up, selectively. It seemed to work well for me. 

As we all know, the benefit of using one card, one camera and one lens is that you never really have to make a choice when you head out the door of your hotel. Oh sure, you may decide to set the camera up to shoot black and white or something but in general you've already made your choices and now your real choices are: what to point the camera at and when to push the shutter button.

I was amazed yet again at the stamina of the Panasonic battery in the GH4. I brought along a spare but I may as well have left it at home. I was able to do over seven hundred raw files before the first indicator on the battery icon (menu screen) disappeared.

I had fun making photographs in the northeastern United States. The leaves were turning. It looked like daytime fireworks in the trees. I enjoyed the weather too. It was in the 60's during the days and the upper 40's at night. Perfect for a photographer acclimated in the Texas summers. 

We stayed in Saratoga Springs while we were up north. The only thing I really knew about Saratoga Springs, NY came from reading the James Bond book, Diamonds are Forever, by Ian Fleming. In that 1950's book Ian Fleming writes about the mob connections in Saratoga Springs. The main attraction of the town at the time was horse racing (which is still enormous there) and James Bond was sent their by the mob to get paid for smuggling diamonds into the U.S. The chapters about Saratoga Springs are like a time machine snapshot of 1950's Americana. Go back and read the book. It's so different from the later James Bond movie by the same title that was produced much later...


I think it would be fun to be an architectural photographer in rural New York state. A lot of the houses and buildings have their own history and their own aura generated by sheer temporal endurance, but the neat thing is the way the buildings are situated in their space. They've mostly been there long enough for nature to have settled in comfortably around them. It's a nice look. Maybe I just feel this way because it looks so different to me, having come from flat, quick, rudimentary Texas.


Here is the view from the penthouse floor at Ben's dorm. In every direction you look you see nothing but an ocean of tall, majestic trees. When you look directly north you see a view of the southern edge of the Adirondack Mountains. The land undulates and then sweeps up to the mountains just a few miles away. 

Yes, I know it gets incredibly cold there in the winters. We had many lighthearted and serious discussions about it and when I miss the kid I reflexively order him insulated hiking boots and extra extreme gloves from Amazon.com. They generally arrive two days later just in time for northern style heat wave (that's when the mercury vaults up to the high 70's (f)). 

When I think about my young Texan living so close to the Arctic Circle I remember something he told me after his initial visit to the campus during a cold snap last Spring:  "Dad, all the buildings there are heated. Get over it."  We'll see who has the last laugh..

I'd like to thank a VSL reader who prefers to remain anonymous. This gentleman answered by query a month or two ago when I asked if I had any readers who lived in this area. We corresponded and he sent me good information about the town and the logistics of getting there. Then he offered to pick Belinda and me up at the airport in Albany, drive us over to Saratoga Springs and then give us a wonderful insider tour of the area. He and his partner are wonderful and we look forward to spending time with them during every visit over the next four years. His generosity made our trip so enjoyable and worry free, and knowing that he's close by to my kid also calms my opportunistic anxiety. Dear Anonymous, Thank you very much!

Finally, I want to make one more observation. Based on the three meals we shared with Ben on campus a lot has changed since I was a student at college. The food has gotten really good. Beyond restaurant good. On the way home to Austin I was musing that after Ben finishes and moves on Belinda and I should register to go back to school there. One can always use another degree or two and the food might just be worth it. 

We're getting back into the flow of work here. I got a swim in today. I had a meeting with a colleague about upcoming collaborative projects, a meeting with seven people to map out the hour by hour agenda for next weekend's four day shoot and I've lined up yet another CEO portrait for tomorrow afternoon. This Saturday I'll be shooting a portrait of one of my favorite talents, Fadya. Only this time I'm planning on shooting with the K5600 Lighting HMI units (a third fixture is on its way to me) and I might even get around to borrowing my friend's Leica S camera to see what all the MF fuss is  about. We're back in God's country, back in the saddle, all caffeined up and ready to go. Stayed tuned and we'll talk.