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. 

10.20.2014

Moving past career paralysis. Pro or Amateur.




I thought I hated traveling but I've found recently that I only dislike traveling when I don't have a good reason in my head to go. Last week we took a couple days off, added them to the weekend and went off to visit the boy at college. His mom and I wanted to see how he was doing. Neither of us had seen the college he chose so we were doing that "anxious parent" thing of making sure he was safe and well. We needn't have worried. He seems to have made a series of good choices.

But the trip served to take me past traveling just for client service or with some sort of art mission in mind. I was traveling for non-photographic reasons probably for the first time in 25 years or so. Because of that I took only one camera and one lens. That's also very unusual for me. I usually take at least a back up body and a secondary choice of lens.

I made due with a Panasonic GH4 and the 12-35mm. I only shot when I wanted to. I depended on Belinda to do most of the "Ben in dorm room, Ben in dining hall, Ben with friends" shots and I pulled the camera out sometimes mostly just in response to things I found beautiful.

I felt blocked in my career lately. I was suffering from the paralysis that comes from, "been there, done that" syndrome. In a nice way taking a break from the expectation of photography helped me see more clearly the deep rut I'd allowed myself to fall into and the quick method of course correction for rut stuck people. It's to stop working and to start playing. 

That's it. That's all. By subjugating the camera to the reason for my travel (to see Ben and his new environment) I was able to defuse the single-mindedness of the relentless photographic process and use it the way I used to. And that was to make photographs that I liked of things that seemed important or beautiful to me.

Traveling with no photographic purpose is a way of letting go for me. Fewer cameras and fewer expectation of photography served to distill the pleasure into digestible little doses and helped me stop being obese with imaging.

Less investment of purpose. More enjoyment of being in the moment. Photography in the service of what I love instead of being in love with photography and scrabbling to find ways to express that misguided love. Who knew?