Family Life Takes Precedence.

A Momentary Hiatus While I Take Care of Family.

Dad. Eight Years Ago.

We’ve discussed many things here on the Visual Science Lab blog but dealing with family and loss hves never been among them. I consider myself lucky; I’ve made it to sixty-two and have only lost two close friends, and until now, no one in my close family. There have been brushes with mortality but always followed by successful recoveries. I haven’t given enough thought to just how much a death in the family can affect the day to day routines and expectations of a self-employed person’s life —- until now. 

It was the morning of Christmas Eve and family was getting ready to converge on my parent’s house to celebrate. My father has been dealing with dementia for years and, for the most part, my mother was his primary caregiver; keeper of the finances, scheduler of the doctors appointments for both of them, as well as the social director for them both. My sister and brother-in-law were in town and staying at my parent’s house.

Just after breakfast my mother, who has been dealing with C.O.P.D. for many years collapsed, unable to catch her breath. My sister called 911 and off to the hospital she and my mother went in an ambulance with lights flashing. Mother suffered cardiac arrest in the hospital but was revived after six minutes of CPR and other procedures. Once stabilized she was intubated and sent to the intensive care ward under sedation. My brother-in-law (the man is a blessing!) stayed at home with my father.

My little family was still in Austin. Our usual Christmas ritual was to have Christmas Eve dinner with a family we have known and loved for decades. We planned to ring in Christmas with nice wines and better company. One phone call from my sister and I had a bag packed and was heading south on highway I-35 as quickly as I safely could. 

Ben and Belinda could handle anything that needed to be done in Austin. 

When I got to the hospital my mother was sedated and unconscious and there was nothing for me to do there. My sister insisted on staying by her side so I headed to the family home to check on my father. He was agitated and having trouble understanding or processing what was happening. My older brother lives in San Antonio and he was at my parent’s house adding his help in caring for my father and sorting out our next steps. All the grandchildren were arriving in town, there were hams and tamales and holiday food in the refrigerators. None of that mattered anymore. 

My mother got progressively worse. When she was taken off sedation all she wanted was to come home. She was inconsolable. We talked to the doctors who were pessimistic about her chances and they agreed to send her home with hospice care. She died quietly and without pain in her own bed yesterday at 12:52 pm. 

Earlier in the day yesterday, Belinda, Ben and I had taken my father to a well regarded “Memory Care” facility for evaluation. If you are familiar with the term “memory care” in this context it’s basically an assisted care facility with emphasis on patients with memory loss, Alzheimer’s and dementia. We have a small apartment reserved but it won’t be ready until the end of this week —- and making the reservation will be the easiest part of the battle; dementia patients can have big mood swings and may go from liking a place to having paranoid delusions, anger and panic later in the same day. 

My sister and her family have gone home to the east coast. She needs to take care of herself as she has a serious cancer battle to fight and is overdue for her chemotherapy. My brother and his wife are school teachers handling some student debt for their three children’s recent college work and they need to get back to work as well. 

Many years ago my parents, in their wills, divided up the duties of their children as regards medical directives and estate management. The burden of medical decisions falls to my older brother (he lives in the same city as my parents) and he’s been wonderful in jumping into all kinds of situations with my parents and helping. He’s the one they call at 3 in the morning when my father has ended up on the floor and is unable to get back up. He’s the one they’ve called when the pipes froze or the electricity went out. Proximity ends up meaning “more responsibilities.”

My duty is to take over the financial end. To sort out to whom my parents owe money, from whom they receive money, which insurances need to be changed or renewed, to pay their bills and to be a good enough steward to make sure they don’t run out of money before they run out of life.

My mother kept things running, financially, and never shared information willingly, but in the last few years she allowed me to set up things like a durable power of attorney. Her filing methodology consisted of paying the bills as they came in and then putting the paperwork into shopping bags, trash bags, random desk drawers, under the sink, etc. 

With my sister out of the picture and my brother heading back to work I am currently shouldering the 24-7 task of both caring for my father ( from first coffee and oatmeal to changing adult diapers and repeating (with a smile on my face) the same answer to the same question that he may have asked twenty or thirty times in the last hour. He is sometimes quite lucid and pleasant and as he wears down over the course of the day will sometimes become agitated and disoriented, insisting that “this is not my house! Take me to my real house!” and then deciding that I am a stranger coming to rob him. It’s a tough change from my (last week) previous life which mostly consisted of swimming on my own schedule, having coffee with friends and colleagues along with bouts of judicious napping. 

Last night was a rough one. As his agitation grew it dawned on me that while I might be able to get him checked into the right facility but it might become a big battle or even require me to get legal help to keep him there. I woke up already tired this morning and started doing laundry and making an inventory of the food on hand and planning what I’d make for him to eat through the day. I need to get on the phone to make funeral arrangements for my mom and then I need to find and collect bills and get them paid. 

I get that these are events and situations that nearly every child will face one day. Maybe it’s a warm-up, or training, for our own inevitable demise…

How does this relate to photography? Well, the stunning thing I am beginning to understand, now that my time is being swept away by a resilient and relentless tide, is that I must continue to work and be financially productive in order to get my own child through his last year of college, to keep putting money into my retirement accounts and to pay for the lifestyle my wife and I have created. I never realized that what I saw as “tons of unspecified free time” was really tons of flexible time during which I billed, wrote blogs, wrote books, stayed in touch with clients, maintained batteries and gear, practiced the new or hard parts of my craft, and so much more.

I have my first job of the new year booked for Friday the 5th. Pre-catastrophe I’d be planning out how I wanted to actually produce the video shoot and start gathering and testing the equipment. I’d have a plan. I’d have gotten a great night’s sleep and had a healthy breakfast. Now I’m frantic to line up paid caregivers and some of my parent’s younger friends to cover that day for me and then to have my brother come from his job as a school teacher to handle the “night shift.” I’ll be back in the car (instead of in the pool — newly reopened) heading back down to San Antonio to take the reins from my sibling to give him some respite.

I’m hoping this brutal schedule is as temporary as I imagine it might be but I know there will be the frantic phone calls from the senior living facility, the long weekends of digging through a chaotic melange of paper without a roadmap or logical guidance, and then the sheer drudgery of taking over their accounts with my paperwork in hand and being responsible for getting their taxes done, their bills paid, getting my dad to future doctor’s appointments, and so much more. I can’t shake the feeling that my life will never be the same. 

The next job starts on the 10th. And then more jobs follow. The extra stress of not knowing what roadblocks or emergencies will arise and hamper my ability to commit to work schedules drives my anxiety. The “not knowing” if my dad will go willingly into memory care is a fear the size of a grizzly bear hugging my back.

Thankfully, my brother and sister are logical, kind and caring. We are all a united front. We all like each other and we don’t squabble. Thankfully, my wife is amazing and patient and logical and so very supportive. Thankfully, my son is incredibly responsible, helpful and compassionate (especially toward his father—-me). Another area of gratitude is that my parents leveraged their depression era fears of poverty into enough resources to last for any foreseeable needs my father may have. 

My career as a photographer/film maker/blogger/writer? I have to believe that I’ll be back in the saddle by the end of the month. Shouldering some additional obligation but at least able to get back to the work. 

Thanks for your patience and advice. It’s all welcome. Keep it coming; it makes me feel connected...

I have this sinister little lens in the top drawer of the equipment case that's never been satisfying. I think it's because it's hard to get focused right.

I've discussed many of the Olympus Pen FT half frame lenses that I enjoy using but I've mostly glossed over one. It's the 20mm f3.5. When I used it on its intended half frame Olympus film camera my results were always hit and miss. Mostly it looked soft and mushy. I had better options among the autofocus lenses that came along with each generation of m4:3 lenses. The poor 20mm just basically got side-lined. 

But I am nothing if not persistent. I decided to give it one more try on the front of my favorite photo camera, the G85. The Olympus Pen FT 20mm lens is from about 1968 and was the widest focal length lens made for the half-frame cameras (which have a crop factor of 1.4 with ff 35mm and 2.0 with m4:3). 

Each newer generation of Panasonic G cameras seems to be getting better and better at implementing focus peaking. And it's getting easier and easier to enable focus magnification while manual focusing. 
This is all good for older, manual focusing lenses.

As I walked around and shot frame after frame with the G85+20mm f3.5 combo I came to realize just how tricky it was in the pre-EVF days to really focus a slow, wide lens accurately. The visual depth of field on a focusing screen seems to obscure the real limits of the "in focus boundaries." 

No matter how much I love to romanticize older lenses there is a basic fact that their maximum aperture performance falls behind that of more modern lens options. With that in mind I mostly shot the lens at f5.6 since stopping down nearly always improves the performance of any older lens; up to a point. 

When I returned to the studio to evaluate the lens' performance I noticed several things. First, the lens is not particularly sharp wide open and also shows some green and magenta fringing at tonal junction points. Stopping the lens down gains sharpness but it's the old fashion sort of sharpness formula that combines lots and lots of resolution but at a lower contrast and acutance than any modern lens. It's a good candidate for post production, with an emphasis on a good sharpening routine coupled with a liberal use of the clarity slider to add back contrast and edge snap.

Unlike software corrected wide angles of the present the lens is much better corrected for geometric corrections right out of the box. It had to be; there was no firmware correction available when it was designed and sold. 

If you go into this lens with the idea of using it for substantive work you'll need to be comfortable shooting either at f5.6 or f8.0 with m4:3 cameras. Those are the sweet spot apertures for this lens. I should also note that it amply covers the APS-C format as it was originally designed to cover the wider (1.4x crop) area of the half frame film cameras. With a decent adapter and with the caveats I mentioned above it should work well on any of the Sony APS-C mirrorless cameras. It may even cover the full frame, but only at the closer focusing distances.

In all, I like the lens for photographs of people and may use it for something but I'm being progressively spoiled by the wide open clarity of lenses like the Olympus 12-100mm f4.0. It's harder now to rationalize using some of these older wide angles on the smaller format cameras when there are so many better modern alternatives. But it's fun to see that it's still highly usable on the latest cameras. Nice delayed obsolescence. 


Taking a break from a tough week to go to the museum with Ben and Belinda.

My wife and my son decided I needed a break from parent and sibling drama and could use a ration of calmness so my little nuclear family decided they would take me to the Blanton Museum to get a second look at 

The Open Road: Photography and the American Road Trip

Once again the prints were exciting to look at. I have a new appreciation for Joel Sternfeld. His work is beyond great; especially when seen in its 40 by 50 inch, printed glory. 

We each set our own pace through the gallery and then walked together through the contemporary galleries on the second floor. 

After a bout of art we headed over to our favorite Chinese food restaurant and had lunch. We've been taking Ben there since he was three years old and everyone called him by name when we walked in. I've worked on a project for one of my favorite law firms this afternoon.

On a photographic note: the Sigma 60mm f2.8 DN showed up three days after the first promised delivery date and it's as good as I remember. The files are bright and sassy and the focal length is great for my point of view. A nice bargain for $240.

On an off topic note: Does anyone have a successful strategy for getting elder parents to give up the single family dwelling and move (willingly) into assisted living? If so, the suggestion might be worth its weight in gold... I could shoot more if I worried less...


The last of the old Christmas Nostalgia Prints. "Young Woman with Camera."

Shot with a Canon TX camera and an 85mm f1.8 FD lens. Copied from an existing print. My ride on the time machine is over for now.

Back in a few days with something different.


A Photo From the Distant Past. Copied From a Print.

I've been spending some time lately looking through boxes of prints. I have several thousand black and white, 11x14 inch, double weight fiber photographic prints that I rarely look through because everything became digital. Everything is accessed on the web. The prints seem to me to belong to a different age; a different aesthetic.

There was something about being a photographer in my 30's that felt as though we had all the time in the world as well as the ability to block out all the distractions and just do our work. We weren't frantic to churn it out in order to get it up on the web as soon as possible so we could start garnering "likes" and variously disguised "attaboys." I would shoot for the pleasure of shooting and the equal measures of deriving pleasure talking to the interesting people in front of my camera.

Nothing was ever finished or "showable" until it was printed, toned, washed and dried. Once I made an 11x14 print I could go out into the world and show it. The audience was limited but, for the most part, appreciative.

Opening these boxings and carefully shuffling through the prints is, for me, like looking back in a time travel device that doesn't allow you to go back in time but rather to look back in time. 

All those beautiful people in all those prints are now twenty or more years older. Most of the people I still know and see around town. Most of them have aged very, very well. All are still interesting to me.

The more that life changes the more I struggle to figure out how to translate and integrate what we did for our craft, and in service of our vision, into a modern idiom. To translate from a unique and physical treasure into a fleeting mosaic of tiny squares of light and color on a fixed screen. Mostly immovable and in its own way unshareable.

Sure, you can walk around with your phone and annoy people by showing them tiny and compressed images but I rarely see artists walking down the street dragging a cart with computer and a thirty inch monitor behind them, ready to show off their work on the sidewalks. Ready to put a black hood over the monitor to chase off the reflections and glare so the people who assent to view the work can see it in all of its modern glory.

The image above is of my friend of 30 years, Michelle. She has always been wonderfully beautiful.
I photographed her with a medium format camera and a medium telephoto lens. This image started as a color negative and is progressively being re-seen in more and more monotone variations.

As was my custom then the lighting was done with only two lights. One in a small softbox directed at the background and the second in a huge softbox (4x6 feet) and used over to one side. There was no fill and I'm happy with that.

The opening of the boxes and the re-examination of my own past is proceeding, driven by the loss of both family and friends which seems to be the human lot in life after 50. It's also motivating me to start printing again.

Not because I think anyone will notice or care in any productive way but because it seems so much more "real" to me than stacking up images on a magnetic disk. Locked away as potential, but not actual, pieces of art and craft.


Anybody getting something outrageously fun and photographic for Christmas?

Ben Puts the Star up on the Tree. 

For about five minutes on Weds. I was enthralled by the idea of buying a Fuji GFX-50S camera and the 110mm f2.0 lens to go with it. As I have a world class capability to rationalize camera purchases my brain started in earnest to construct the argument I might use with my partner about what a great investment it would be to drop $8200 on a first generation camera along with a largely unproven lens. 

I had a daydream about walking into a client's conference room, setting up my lighting and then pulling the GFX-50s and the miraculous 110mm lens out of some sort of pretentious Billingham bag and listening to my client suck in their breath and marvel at the obviously impressive camera I would have in my hands. Surely they would intuit just how wondrous each photograph would be when taken by such a remarkable camera, backed by such superior technology. 

They would call in their associates from accounting and marketing to see the light sparkle off the enormous front element of the lens. Doris, in client services would swoon when I casually mentioned that the sensor was 50+ megapixels. Chet in I.T. would walk in to see what all the excitement was with his new Nikon D850 hanging down by his pants pocket on a Black Rapid strap. He'd be ready to make the argument that the D850 was so close in performance AND only half the price. But then we'd shoot a test frame and he'd look at it on the rear screen of the Fuji, recognize its awesome superiority, and then cast a crestfallen look at his Nikon and slink out of the room. 

Then I got an e-mail and the cloying beep from the computer brought me back to the present. It was one of my clients and they had a complaint. The files I'd delivered to them "were way too big." They were having trouble making them fit into their website. "Could I re-work them and send the files back over with the longest side being 1200 pixels?" They also wanted to know if they needed to do anything special to the files to use them in a PowerPoint presentation...

It all reminded me that most of our clients don't care about which camera we use to take our photographs with. We could do the job with a Nikon D3300 or a Rebel 7ti. We could use the kit lens. As long as the photo is well lit and the CEO has a pleasant look on his face the marketing guys would be happy as clams. 

I usually buy myself a cool camera for the holidays but this year the "new" has yet to wear off of my GH5 cameras. Maybe our relationship will have cooled by Valentine's Day. A box of candy and a bottle of Champagne for the spouse, perhaps a pleasant little Phase One camera for me....?

I am curious to hear if someone is actually going to go for it over this holiday season and buy something that will make me and the rest of the readers on VSL jealous. If you are I'm pretty sure we'd all like to hear about it, tell you why you screwed up and tell you want we would have done instead. But if you have a thick skin and a good rationale then share away in the comments.

We'd love to know what's trending under your tree...

It's been a fun year for lights and lighting. Let me introduce you to my new flash system...

If you've followed the Visual Science Lab blog for any period of time then you probably know that one of our recurring themes is the ongoing change, and pace of change, in the photographic industry. Every single year since 2007 there has been an accelerating shift in advertising from traditional media such as direct mail and print of all kinds to internet advertising and e-mail advertising. We are nearing the point where the vast majority of advertising from all industries is being sent to your phone, your iPad or your computer.

This has consequences for working photographers. More channels with more diversity among the channels means more total number of ads but generally driven by the same budget numbers. That means the time and money resources for each ad are reduced. We might be as busy as we ever were but the granular nature of what we're doing means we're moving faster to make the same payday.

I looked at the way we were handling projects like annual reports and one of the things I decided was that we were wasting too much time (and incurring to much liability) by plugging big moonlights into wall sockets and running extension cords across data centers, executive suites and through the farmland of cubicles. I decided to move to a cordless solution for lighting but I still wanted enough power in a single head to power a large soft box and grab good depth of field with lower ISO settings on my cameras.

I looked at some of the premium offerings from companies whose products I'd used extensively in the past. I looked at the battery powered Profoto mono-lights and also the newer, shoe mount lights from this Swedish powerhouse of flash and just laughed. With budgets dropping quarterly and the future moving to video I found the idea of dropping thousands of dollars per flash ludicrous. Laughable.

I was looking at a Godox battery powered mono-light (also available under other brand names) and I was ready to pull together three of them into a system when I found the lights I'm showing above. They are the Neewer (not a typo. I wish spell check would stop trying to correct me...) Vision 4 lithium battery powered electronic flash units.

When I first looked at them they were dirt cheap. About $279 per unit, which included a remote trigger and a Bowens-type, standard reflector+diffusion sock. I took a chance and ordered one.

When it arrived I sat down with the manual and my initial thought was the same one I have when I am confronted with massive feature overload in cameras, cars and on phones. That thought is: I wonder if most consumers would actually pay more for a simplified, easy-to-use, more elegant product? How about a flash with an on/off switch and a knob for power settings?

At any rate I soldiered through the manual amazed that people might actually need a "stroboscopic" mode in a workaday flash unit. Or that they might need to program in a delay for use with red-eye reduction modes on flashes attached to cameras. At a certain point I figured out how to turn off all the extras and master the feature I bought the unit for originally; to flash at a certain power level every time I fire the shutter in my camera.

The unit delivers 300 watt seconds of flash power to a circular flash tube. It uses an almost universally standard Bowens S mount for speed rings and reflectors. The modeling light is an LED located in the center of the flash tube's circle. The unit recycles in about 2.5 seconds when used at full power and in less than a second at half power. In my testing (well over two months) I've found that the unit is very consistent with color and output in even the longest series of flashes. Remember to let the flash fully recycle and you'll be rewarded with exemplary consistency.

The specifications say that we can expect around 700 full power flashes before we run down the battery. I tend to use the unit at half power in order to get faster recycling times and I've never been able to drain a battery over the course of even the longest shooting day. Once you do run down the battery it takes about five hours to recharge. Since the battery has to be removed from the flash to attach the charger there is no capability to run the flash from A/C power while charging. You either buy back up batteries or you remember to fully charge your units before you head out for the day.

The last time I bought replacement, lead acid batteries for my battery powered Profoto Acute 600B they were nearly $300 apiece and would deliver about 250 flashes. The lithium battery for the Vision 4 flash is about $69 and weighs less.

When I shoot corporate portraits I tend to shoot in bursts and I want to make sure my exposures are consistent (after all, I'll be the guy post processing the work....) so I turn on the beeper that signals a full recycle. Whether I actually pay attention to the beeper all the time is a different conversation.

The flash weighs in at just under four pounds, with the battery, and seems to be very well built. The unit comes with a very simple flash trigger and some traditionalist at Neewer even decided that the company should also toss in an old fashion, ten foot sync cord.

The menu is complex and allows you to fine tune the flash to your working methods. You can change the flash duration from 1/1,000th of second all the way up to 10,000th of a second. There is also an FP (focal plane shutter) mode which allows for higher shutter speed syncing with most modern digital cameras. Befuddling to me is the menu for various stroboscopic settings. I ventured into that menu once and couldn't get back out. It was terrifying. Now I bring the owners manual with me.

As I mentioned, I liked the way the unit worked so well that I went back to order another. I was delighted to see that the price had dropped, which made the unit less expensive than the Profoto beauty dish I bought for that system fifteen years ago....

A few weeks ago I glanced at the Amazon page for the Vision Four unit, trying to find little "spill kill" umbrella reflectors. I didn't find the reflectors but immediately noticed that the Vision 4's had dropped in price to $199. I rounded out my system with a third unit and promptly sold off every plug in the wall, flash unit I've accumulated over the decades.

All three units fit into the Manfrotto case I bought to transport things on a video assignment to Oklahoma City. I can fit the three units, reflectors and speed rings into the front side of the case and three light stands, three umbrellas and a small tripod in the other side of the case ---- with room to spare for clean socks and odds n ends.

I have now used the trio of elegant but inexpensive lights on all day portrait ("cattle call") assignments as well as on fast paced advertising assignments; including one assignment that called for freezing the actions of a person jumping on a mini-trampoline. In every regard the units have worked flawlessly. I am happy to have them.

The days of Euro-overkill flash units are over. Dead and buried. Unless you are operating a large and busy studio and are one of a handful of practitioners using medium format (and even large format) cameras; digital or film, the likelihood that a Broncolor system or Profoto system is better for anything other than massaging your ego is remote. There are certain jobs that might require more power than these units can must but once you go beyond 600 watts seconds or so (buy a Godox or similar) you are into specialist territory and probably shouldn't be taking advice from a generalist like me.

My goal is to "right size" my expenditures to match the realities of my clients' budgets. An equally important goal is to be more efficient by bypassing the need to haul extension cords and to find empty plugs in order to get power. I want stuff that works, is portable, easy to operate and is inexpensive to replace if an assistant accidentally drops it off the back of a truck. The Vision 4 does all these things nicely.

On really fast paced assignments; ones on which I am working solo, I still depend on a ThinkTank roller case with a collection of a half dozen camera mountable speed lights and a Ziploc baggie full of remote triggers. But when we are providing high quality images for law and medical practice and lots and lots of advertising agency projects the Vision 4 units are doing a good job filling the bill.

For anything bigger or more complex there's always rental.

Here are some additional images of the lights and the manfrotto case I am using:

Big Manfrotto Case. ( I need one more....).


Eye Contact. Something I like very much in portraits.

Odd self portraits and three of Studio Dog.

Sunday Morning at Sweetish Hill Bakery in Austin, Texas. Camera unknown.

It's rare that I forget which camera I used to take any particular photograph. I always assumed that people's memories created packages so that a photograph and a camera+lens would be meshed and all part of the same whole upon recall.

This image was taken at Sweetish Hill's old location, right on Sixth St. Later the bakery moved half a block east in a much bigger building which they actually owned. Now it's the site of a trendy oyster bar.

We spent many, many Sunday's sitting at the tables here having excessively good coffee and some of the best pastries available in all of Texas.

I've been going through several boxes of large, double weight fiber photographic prints; mostly 11x14's. This box was marked, "Belinda, Portraits." I'm finding that it's enormously fun to have a time machine that looks back into my own life and the lives of my closest friends and family members.

If I had to guess at the camera I would say that it was a Leica M series body with a 35mm Summicron on the front of it. You can probably guess about the film...

Looking back. A fun thing to do during some holiday down time. One can't swim all the time...

The Third Time is a Charm? Lessons from the camera bag.

I have just purchased a lens that I have owned twice before. This will make my third go-round with the Sigma 60mm f2.8 DN lens. Why? That's probably a question for my analyst...

I bought the 60mm when I re-entered the Olympus m4:3 system for the second time. The EM-5 had been out long enough to get some pretty spectacular reviews so I bought a couple, along with the usual Olympus lenses and I liked everything pretty well. Then Sigma came out with there series of Art lenses for the smaller formats and I tried all three (the 19, 30, and 60). The 19 and the 30 were both decent, workmanlike lenses but they were really nothing great. The 60mm, on the other hand, was pretty impressive. Even wide open it was sharp and detailed. A bonus was that the focal length was just right for portraits when using the m4:3 format cameras. It was a nice, long focal length and, at its wide open aperture, it had a nice way of throwing backgrounds out of focus. 

I got a lot of use out of that optic but when the system moved out to make way for the Sony a99, the a850 and the a900, that lens went into the "for sale" category and moved on to some smarter new owner.

At a later date I bought a Sony a6000 and then an a6300. I was pleased to find out that the Sigma 60mm  DN also came in a Sony "e" mount and also was in the middle of a (temporary) price reduction so I thought it would kinda stupid not to pick one up for the princely sum of $149. As a "90mm" equivalent on the APS-C frame it was just right. I got a lot of use out of it right up until that system too went on the chopping block to pay for some other shiny system of objects. 

Lately I've been toying around with finding a nice portrait lens for my Panasonic GH5-based system and I stumbled back across some portraits I'd made on my first experiences with the Sigma. I've been playing with the Panasonic 42.5mm f1.7, the 50mm Zeiss 1.7 and a few other lenses and I noticed that the Sigma imparted a different look to the photographs. I had recently done a photo assignment making portraits for a large accounting firm and decided to look at the data in the files to see if it would tell me anything. It did, with this format, it seems that the "sweet spot" or "where I end up in focal lengths" when shooting m4:3 is somewhere around 60mm. 

I went back and did a little research to convince my rational brain that my irrational brain wasn't being too heavy-handed with rationalizations and flawed memories of the lens's performance. I looked on DXO and found that the lens performed well for them. Then I read the review on Lenstip.com (which I really like for their lens reviews....) and it turns out that this lens is one of the best all around performers for Olympus and Panasonic cameras that they have measured! 

Of course I've ordered one. Which is kind of embarrassing if you think about it. But, well, um... I've done more stupid and expensive things. I'm calling it "My Christmas Present." I would call it my "Lens of the Year!!!!!" but I already gave that honor to the Olympus 12-100mm f4.0 Pro lens (well deserved). And it would be a bit silly since the lens has been around since at least 2014. 

Note to self: If I sell off the m4:3 system (for the fourth or fifth time) DO NOT SELL THE LENSES! More than likely I will return to the system in short order... I guess that means I like it --- mostly. 

The lens is cheap. Buy yourself one for the Holidays. I did.


Revisiting your archive of older photographs is a great way to illuminate possible avenues for future work...

A copy shot from a fiber based photographic print made in my old darkroom back in the 1980's. 

I had almost forgotten how much I used to enjoy setting up a neutral background in the large living room of the house, or in the adjacent studio, and pulling friends and family in for quick portraits. It's something I don't do enough of these days...much to my chagrin.

I'd work all day on client projects, have dinner, and then grab a camera and a willing subject and shoot a few rolls of film. If I was excited by what I was getting from the light, the sitter and the camera I might hop in the car and head over to the darkroom in the late evening to "soup" the film so it would be ready for contact sheets and maybe prints the next day.

After seeing some of the older work that's been in boxes for years and years I've gotten interested in doing the same sort of process now. I've just set up a seven foot diameter, white umbrella with black backing and I'm rigging up several bright LED panels to bounce into the umbrella. I can hardly wait to interest someone in sitting for a portrait.

At least now I won't feel that I have to scamper off to the darkroom...


A simple and candid portrait of an artist. At the beginning of a career.

Belinda working on a canvas at art school.
Now a 30 year veteran of graphic design.

Posted for fun.

This image was a copy shot of a black and white print made years ago...

What is it that gives a portrait a feeling of depth; an invitation for immersion?

There is a trend that I see in the portrait work of many photographers that I think is counterproductive or at least blandly homogenizing... It's the tendency to light everything with very flat, omni-directional light sources. It could be a big beauty dish or softbox right above camera with gratuitous fill light coming from below camera and it could be as goofy and aesthetically flat as two big soft boxes; one on either side of the camera, giving a 1:1 lighting ratio. 

What light like that does is to wipe out any real dimensional modeling on a human face and takes with it any interesting photographic sensibility in the photograph. The way one of these flatly lit documentations gets help to finally appeal to consumers is with tons of make-up or metric tons of post production work. I may be a rank traditionalist but I like a sense of depth in a photography and one way to achieve that is to create lighting that shows off the true contours of the face with light that comes from one main source. And though it is ubiquitous advice, the other tenet is to move your light away from the camera axis if you want it to be interesting. 

I cringe when I see the work of a (self-proclaimed) famous headshot photographer who lights every one who comes into his studio with the same triangular assemblage of ultra soft fluorescent light sources. He uses them to wrap the light from top to bottom and side to side, as evenly as possible. All the heavy lifting to add any sort of three dimensional interest to the sitters' faces is done by a make-up artist. The flatly lit image giving the stylist a more or less blank canvas on which to paint. It certainly is an effective way to automate one's approach to making portraits but it rarely serves the final recipient as anything more than mundane documentation. Even the expressions the photographer coaxes from his customers are boringly the same and hopelessly contrived.

But maybe when we talk about a feeling of depth there is a

I often hear that one has no real depth of field control with small sensor photographic files. I'm not sure that's right...

It was a typical Sunday morning back in the film days. Belinda and I headed down to West Sixth St. to have brunch at Sweetish Hill Restaurant. We sat on their lovely patio under a translucent awning and waited for our waiter to bring over the most addictive coffee I have ever known.

As has been my habit for well over thirty years I had a small camera dangling off my left shoulder, just in case I saw something that wanted to be photographed. I was running an advertising agency back then so there were no external constraints on which cameras I carried. On that day it was a small, black Olympus Pen FT half frame camera, loaded with Ilford FP4 film and sporting a smart little 40mm f1.4 lens. The same one I own and use now.

I liked the way the light came through the awning so I pulled my camera up, adjusted the exposure from experience (the meter in the camera had long been non-functional) and shot two or three frames at f2.0.

The dim finder of that camera (ancient even back then) coupled with the greater depth of field of the frame area meant that focusing was at it's best with the lens wide open, or nearly so.

I have printed this image onto 11x14 inch paper many, many times in an attempt to get it just right. This is a copy image of a fiber based print that I made sometime in the 1990's. The FP4 film contributes to the higher contrast of the photograph but at the same time it keeps film grain (analog noise?) to a minimum.

The film frame is hardly any bigger than today's micro four/thirds sensors but the lens does a good job carving out lots of detail while delivering good contrast.

To my eye the background areas are well out of focus and have a pleasing out of focus characteristic to them.

I couldn't have gotten a "better" image with any other camera. I might have gotten a different image; a sharper image, a more detailed image, an image with more dynamic range, etc. but this is the image I ended up with and have come to love over the years. As long as my subject matter is highly captivating to me no other metric or feature of photography matters.

The Pen F series of film, half-frame cameras of the late 1960's and 1970's were the precursors to a whole niche of current cameras. They are no less valid now than the Pen FT was to me back in the 1980's.

I never made a habit of dragging around a Hasselblad or motorized Nikon f4 when we were heading out to have a nice meal, just as I would never take a cellphone into a nice (or any) restaurant today. A small and sleek camera is acceptable, a giant, noisy power tool is out of place. And a ringing phone or a loud and loutish conversation is never welcome.

I love small cameras with big capabilities. Thinking about Sony RX100's today.... Nostalgia or practicality?


I've been going through my archives and I found this image of Ben destroying a fruit danish in the studio. Black and white still looks better from film.

This was taken 18 years ago with a film camera. You can see the edge print along the top of the frame. I shot the photo with a Pentax 645n and a 150mm lens. The distribution of tones seems just right to me. So much better than I am usually able to get no matter which software program I use to try to squeeze pretty black and white images out of any number of digital cameras, across a wide range of digital formats.

I have a stack of about 100 11x14 inch prints sitting on my desk that need to be scanned. Just thinking about preserving the tonal ranges.

Having a short re-romance with black and white film tonight as I try to find the box filled with old negatives from St. Petersburg, Russia.

As we get closer to the end of the year I keep talking myself out of driving up to Precision Camera to see just what they have in the way of medium format film cameras. I hope someone talks me out of it before I stick my foot back into the tar patch of film...