12.30.2014

Nikon D610+NIkon 85mm f1.8 G at the Austin Graffiti Park and Downtown.


I like the Graffiti Park in downtown Austin. Today I finished up lots of stuff in the studio. I went to the noon swim practice. It was unsettling to exit the pool in 40 degree weather with a chill wind blowing and walk, soaking wet, to the locker rooms. I ate a wonderful left over lentil and ham soup. I had a square of dark chocolate with almonds and sea salt as a dessert. At 3pm I got in the car and drove over to my favorite parking place, near Treaty Oak, and walked over to the big walls. 

I didn't have any sort of mission in mind I just wanted to get out of the house and out of the studio. A true workaholic can only take so much holiday cheer before one's thoughts turn to taxes and marketing....

I took along the newest camera and one of the newer lenses to arrive in the studio. It was the Nikon D610 and the 85mm G f1.8 lens. I wanted to play around with depth of field and see what the real difference is in every day shooting between the larger format and the smaller formats. I also wanted to see how the 85mm lens looked when shot wide open. DXO rates it as the second best medium telephoto portrait lens in the entire Nikon Pantheon. I wanted to see what that looked like, not how it read.

It was much colder than I thought it would be and on the five minute walk to the wall the wind cut through the zipper on my hoody like a squirt gun filled with ice water in the hands of a crazed account executive. I stopped by the Goodwill store on Lamar Blvd. to see if they had any hats. They didn't. I pulled up the hood, stuck my gloved hands in my pockets and trudged on. 

The park was hopping today. It's become a stop on the out of town family tour of Austin. It was also "selfie central."

I think the focus in right on the money with this camera and lens combination.

BFFs taking a moment between making selfies to compare notes.

The Graffiti is international.

Children on adventures, mothers in distress and artist shutting it all out.

 
 This family brought a special stick with which to position their designated cellphone/camera
far enough in front of the group to do an extended, multi-generational selfie. 

From this angle it appears that the family is worshipping the little white box. Or they are 
all fascinated to find that "The Grinch that Stole Christmas" was playing just then
and they had all promised each other that it was a very important movie 
that they would all catch together during the holidays.

I thought the glowing red nipples made this one a PG-13 mural. 
You know, for suggestive content....

But at the other end of the walls we have the G rated section, 
home of endless selfies. 

Graffiti Tourism is so right now. I'm glad I was there to document it.


A few walks through the graffiti du jour and I was ready to head downtown to Caffe Medici to meet a friend and have a redemptive cup of milky coffee. On the way there I say this red chair in a shop on second street. They always have very cool chairs and lighting fixtures but they are very pricey. I thought it would be fun to see how the lens and camera would handle the mixed light and the narrow depth of field from using the lens at f2.8. 


In the end I learned a few things. I learned that I should bring along a hat when I get out of the car and am already cold five steps away from it. I learned that 85mm lenses can be fun and that this one is sharp and nails focus. I learned that the Graffiti Park gets old when the work is chaotic and you haven't brought along your own model. I guess that means the trend is winding down. I learned that Medici makes a very nice Latt├ę and that the woman behind the counter making my coffee is still very beautiful. I still have her contact information in my wallet. I guess I should follow through on my suggestion that we get together for a portrait shoot. There's always next year. It's right around the corner. 

The main thing I found out is that I like the sound of the D610 shutter. It's subdued. It's not like the gun shot shutter of the D700 which is one of the reasons I fled the Nikon system five years ago or so. I'm happier with this one. 

On a final note of the year (maybe) I am reminding my daily VSL readers that the sale price on the novel of the year, "The Lisbon Portfolio" Kindle version goes back up from $3.99 to $9.99 on the first of the year. You have about eighteen hours to purchase your copy at the lower price. You'd better hurry and get an electronic copy before they run out......




Here's a blanket, end of the year, post that covers my new equipment choices, what we got done this year and what I hope to get done in 2015.

photo: Amy Smith.

First a quick housekeeping note: There were four comments awaiting moderation for me this morning and I tried to approve them on a cellphone. My clumsy fingers brushed the "delete" button instead of the "publishing" button and there is no way for me to reverse the process. If you left a comment this morning, or over the night before, I apologize for sending it off into the netherworlds. You are, of course, welcome to repost and I'll be careful to do my moderating on a real, full sized computing machine today. Sorry about that.

Marketing.

It's the end of the year and seems to be a clich├ęd and routine time for reflecting back over the year. I'll plunge right in. First of all, my most successful marketing effort of the year was a simple letter writing campaign that I did last January. I sent out letters to 30 or so handpicked clients letting them know I was looking for some fun work in the field of video. Those 30 stamps were a good investment. We got calls from a handful of clients almost immediately and quickly got to work on an assignment which had me connecting, writing, shooting (and traveling to shoot), and finally, editing. It was a good project for a good client and it is still being used in all of their trade show and web marketing. Other, smaller (but no less profitable) jobs came from other clients as well. 

The video projects helped to remind clients that they could depend on me for a range of creative content which also led to increased billings per client for regular still photography assignments. 

Given the success of the letters and the minuscule cost of generating them I'll certainly be starting off the marketing this year with a letter writing campaign (or two). I am also planning to make more use of my Vimeo membership to create projects aimed at advertising clients to sell them both content services (writing, photography, etc.) and video production services. It's a wonderful time to market and the recovering economy in the sectors I mainly serve means that opportunities exist right now.

Equipment.

I am so well equipped with camera equipment that I am starting to turn my eyes more and more to marketing material as equipment. Just as I have drawers filled with cameras and lenses I'd love to have drawers filled with great mailers, great video programming on memory sticks and lots of promotional stuff meant as "leave behinds" and small, visual gifts. Always remembering that the best marketing is a job well done and client who has fun in the process.

But there's always a play to add a few more pieces of gear to the treasure trove. First thing that comes to mind is the 40-150mm f2.8 Olympus lens for micro four thirds. I'd like one just for the extra reach it would give me over the existing Panasonic 35-100mm f2.8 I've been using. I don't suspect that it will be a "better" lens when it comes to sharpness, contrast, etc. but I would like the ability to get tighter on actor's faces from a stationary position in the theater. It also looks like it would be a great lens to pair with the GH4 for some exterior video shooting. Yummy. 

I'm also looking into the possibility of picking up a used Nikon 24mm tilt/shift lens for the D610. I know the Canon is supposed to be a better performing option but I'm not a heavy/habitual T/S user and just want one in the "tool box" for those times when a corporate client presses me into doing some cool wide portrait shot in an architectural wonderland. Don't worry, I'll test anything before I buy it. If the Nikon T/S isn't the right one maybe a Rokinon 24mm T/S would do. 

I am more and more interested in video production and would like to buy an outboard digital recorder. Most of the recent cameras I've bought from Nikon feature a clean HDMI signal that provides 8 bit 4:2:2 video and I'd like to see if those files, recorded in ProRes, stand up better than straight "write to card in camera 4:2:0" files in post production when color correcting and sharpening. 

Perhaps a little Atomos Ninja Star. I'll also pick up an portable, outboard monitor after conferring with video-saavy Frank, who researches these things. And tries them. 

A reader wrote asking what, to me, were the differences between the Nikon D7100 and the Nikon D610. In other words, "why did I grab a 610 when I already had a perfectly good 7100 which has the same basic body, better AF and just as many megapixels?" Since we're talking about gear I thought I'd take a stab at answering that. 

I have a range of clients. Some are practical and want images wherein the subjects evince nice rapport and where everything that should be sharp is sharp and well defined. Then I have clients who follow trends and fairly often I'm asked to do my style but with the added request to, "get that really, really narrow depth of field look!" Well, if I have room to use longer lenses and to control my camera to subject and subject to background parameters I really a have no problems getting the kind of look they are referencing with either a fast medium telephoto lens (85mm?) on an APS-C sensor camera or a really fast (50mm f1.4?) on a micro four thirds camera. It gets tricker when I work in smaller spaces where the distances between the three main factors are constrained. In those situations I may need to use wider angles of view to get what's needed but my client might still want "the look." 

I once wrote a review about the Leica 35mm f1.4 Aspherical lens that was lent to me for reviewing. I conjectured that the reason for the existence of what might be the world's best corrected semi-wide angle lens (especially when used wide open at f1.4) was the need of some photographers to show a subject in an environment with enough discretion in depth of field choices to show the subject sharply etched while pushing the background sufficiently out of focus to keep the details from competing with the main subject for visual attention. The trick is to use a wide lens that's sharp wide open... 

If I use a 50mm f1:1.2 Nikon lens at f2 (the point at which good correction sets in) to make a portrait of a person in an environment using a full frame camera I'm certain to get a reasonably sharp person in the foreground and the kind of popular mush in the background that makes clients feel like they are part of the current milieu. It's a different look than that which I can achieve at the same angle of view (getting the same amount of background at the same distance) with current (affordable) lenses in smaller formats. There are also times when I would like more isolation in the theater when shooting actors with longer lenses. 

The $1200, like new, Nikon D610 is a wonderful camera for that but it's really just a temporary fix. What I really would like is a bigger sensor. Like three or four times bigger. But I'll even settle for a 645 variant. But seriously, $1200 bucks for a camera with a sensor that kicks serious butt in all metrics? That's dirt cheap. 

So, to compare the 610 and the 7100 is pretty straightforward. The 610 has more ability to get a specific kind of look. It's also a stop better in low light. And that's it. No other magic. Since both of the cameras can be had together for less than $2,000 and both also shoot video it's just a good business decision. One is a nice shooter of stylized portraits and the other a wonderfully proficient back up camera that's rugged and reliable. This week I'm working with them to see what the video really looks like. I have a feeling we'll continue with the GH4 as would main video tool but might want to supplement with the D610 when shooting in dim, available light or at those times when we only want the narrowest slice of focus in a shot.

I like two things about the pairing of the two different Nikon cameras. Both bodies take the same batteries so there's one charger and one battery inventory. The second thing I like is the fact that the two menus are almost identical so no new learning is required. 

Someone else asked why, since I like EVFs so much, didn't I just buy a Sony A7 at around the same used price. My quick reply is that the D6210 is a better build camera that focuses quicker, has a much, much nicer sounding shutter mechanism and handles very well. For the same price it's just a better built tool and I think Nikon has done a much better job with their implementation of raw files and Jpeg artistry. When Sony fixes that awful shutter I'll be a bit more interested. And while they are adding space to the A7 series with bigger grips they might also think about putting in a real battery. 

The most used (profitable) gear of the year of 2014? That would be the Panasonic GH4s and the three really good X lenses, the 7-14mm f4, the 12-35mm f2.8 and the 100mm f2.8. Those and my Sennheiser wireless microphone set were all flawless and efficient, even if they do lack a palpable sense of excitement. The runner up was the Nikon D7100. I suspect changes in 2015.

The one big change is my focus on getting a Pentax 645z and a few portrait lenses for that camera. I'm not sure when but I'm pretty sure that camera is on the horizon. Remember, I consider the Nikon D610 to be a temporary fix....

Any other gear? Yes. Always more lights. LED, Flash, HMIs, Fluorescent. You name it, I'll find a use for it. That's the secret cool gear of photography (and video). And one can never have too many good microphones. 

Writing. 

The elephant in my humble hut is my writing. I have to confess that I loved the process of writing The Lisbon Portfolio (Novel about photographer, Henry White) almost as much as I'm loving having published it and having it read by friends, family and the VSL crew. Now comes the big marketing push to try and reach a bigger audience. I just got in another case of the hard copy books and I'm sending them out to bloggers, reviewers and anyone who has a power connection with Creative Artist Alliance in Hollywood (kidding? Maybe not...).

But the real question is: "What's next?" It's hard to juggle too much stuff but I think I have the bandwidth and discipline to both earn a decent living as a photographer (defined by keeping the mortgage paid, the SEP funded and the child in an exclusive private college in the northeast) and still be able to finish all the writing and coffee shop haunting required to produce the next book in the series. I have the plot and the outline and I've been writing encapsulated scenes since last Summer. 

I wish I knew whether or not I have the talent to make the novels really work but I don't think it's important. Not as important as actually having the fun of writing them. 

In the meantime the existence of the blog is pretty safe. I would love to get more reader comments and feedback but that's also a two edged sword, because, frankly, I really only want to hear fun stuff and don't want to have to deal with moderating all of the assholes.

This subject is almost certainly in the "wait and see" category so I guess we'll just take it one step, one book and one blog post at a time. 

Goals.

The perennial goal is to make more portraits that I like of people that I am interested in looking at. But I do have goals beyond that. 

     Swimming.  

I'd like to be disciplined enough to make every weekday, 7 a.m. workout offered. That's Tuesday through Friday. And, barring work or family obligations, I'd like to make every Saturday and Sunday 8:30 a.m. workout offered all year long. My goals are to get my 100 freestyle time back down around one minute and my 50 butterfly time down to around 30 seconds. Kind of crazy but everyone should have some painfully aspirational goals. I've added some weight training to the mix so we'll see what happens. I'm fine with small, incremental improvements. My long term goal is to outlast everyone else so I can sweep the USMS Nationals when I'm in my 90's. With that in mind I am pacing myself...

     The Writing Goals.

I'd like to have the next Henry White novel written, edited, designed and ready to go by next October. If you read the first novel and liked it you can help by pushing me from time to time in the comments to get this project done. The story takes place and St. Petersburg, Russia and is based to some extent on work I actually did there in the mid-1990's. You will like it. 

I'd also like to write and produce photographs for a small book that I envision publishing only as an e-book, about portraits. The How and Why of taking portraits in the digital age. It's been banging around in the back of my mind for a couple years and I think we can toss this into the scheduling matrix and complete it. 

     Business Goals. 

Hmmm. Everything I said coming into last year still counts. I think we're in a good recovery period and that allows me to be more of a specialist and less of a generalist. That means a lot more corporate and editorial portrait work. It also means finding the "art way" to make better videos for the same kinds of clients. Lyrical, visual poems about the same people we photograph. The money panned out fine in 2014 so the real secret will be to get paid in the same ball park while being more selective and having more challenging fun. 

The wrap up. The kid loves college. He's making good grades, connecting well with the other students and the faculty and he's managing his money well enough so that we got no panicky calls for more cash. I'd love to see more semesters just like that one. My spouse and partner is brilliant, relaxed and manages the financial side of the business like a banker from Goldman Sachs. She's also fun and wonderful to spend time with. For 2015?  More just like that.  The Studio Dog is, of course, absolutely perfect. No changes necessary on that front. 

I think I could be a bit more disciplined and definitely spend a heck of a lot less time this year on the web and in the online forums. And I could expand my circle of non-virtual friends and contacts. I had a great time last year just getting to know new people------and a good number of them came from right here on the blog. Almost magic. More like that.

One thing I don't want to change is the amount of walking and personal shooting I do. Even if no one else likes what I come home with. 

I hope your year wrapped up nicely. Y'all come back again for more in the New Year. I'll be as happy as a pig at the trough if you do. 

No more blogs planned until the New Year (not that it's ever stopped me from piling on at least one more....). I hope you have had a great 2014 and are planning on an even better 2015.  

Happy New Year! 

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