A brave new world, and time for gear change!

I can’t believe it is already 2017. It even sounds strange saying “Two Thousand Seventeen”…

After going through quite a bit of intensive testing and comparison, I have decided to go with the Olympus OM-D system to replace all my Canon gear. I may have given up some of the ultra low light capability with the 1Dx, but I have also given up more than half the weight as well. I’m finding that the M. Zuiko lenses love being shot wide open, which winds up giving me those extra two stops of light I was looking for at the higher ISO’s.

But enough of the techie-talk, I’m absolutely loving taking the Olympus gear out to shoot with! It’s like going from driving a three-quarter ton, nine passenger van to a Miata. The handling and responsiveness of the new OM-D E-M1 Mark II is off the charts. It is light enough to carry all day long without fatigue and yet is one of the easiest cameras to use well.

I’m also able to do something that I’ve never been able to do before; walk around and hand hold (without a tripod) at an effective 840mm! I was shooting early morning and was able to keep up with a little Kingfisher that was out in search of breakfast. The more amazing part of this is that I was shooting at a slow shutter speed and the focus was spot on in a backlit situation. I am not a wildlife photographer by any means, and yes I do photograph motorsports, sporting events and action, which are all much more predictable than my little feathered friend!

I’m also finding that I don’t need my high-powered studio lights as much any more. In fact, I am finding ways to cut the light and replacing some of them with lower powered options for portraits! I also like the fact of how quiet and unobtrusive the Olympus system is. Where as before when I would be shooting with the old gear, just the shear size of it called attention, and once I pressed the shutter button and the loud “Ka-Thunk” echoed out, there would be no going unnoticed. Now I feel more like a photo-ninja!

All this to say that I’m feeling like my 16 year-old self, wanting to get out and create more memorable photographs, and having more fun doing it too! I’m looking forward to this next step in my photographic journey, traveling smaller, lighter and smarter. If you all have any questions about the gear, please let me know!

Until the next time, be well!

As time goes by…

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It has been over a year since I have last blogged. I feel like I should be at confession. “Forgive me father, for I have sinned!” I would say. “What have you done this time, my son” would be the response from Father Martin. “Well, for one, I haven’t posted to my blog in over a year! And I’ve been remiss in updating my website…”

I can see Father Martin, his wizened, white haired visage, pondering momentarily and then pronouncing my penance in his delightful Irish tenor. “Okay then, write three blog posts, make two Instagram postings, a Facebook update and sin no more.”

Where has this year gone? I feel like I’ve walked into the other room and seven more months just went by! Since last posting, Charleston elected its first new mayor in 40 years, which was quite fun since I was the photographer for the campaign of Mr. John Teckenburg (the new mayor of Charleston).

Time to get caught up!

New gear?

With time flying by, new gear and software comes around at an almost blinding pace. I just finished paying off the last round of gear acquisitions and now it’s time to look at new stuff. A few years ago, I started taking a serious look at going smaller with my photography equipment, hoping to find a workable solution that would reduce size & weight without durability and image quality.

Seeing all the amazing offerings from companies like Sony, Fujifilm, Olympus and Panasonic, I started to check them out in earnest. The Fuji cameras are beautiful to look at, especially their rangefinder-styled X100T and X Pro-2. Try as I might, they just didn’t fit with my style of shooting. A buddy of mine loaned me a Sony A7r to test, which produced beautiful files but I hated the way they felt and handled for production work, and was off balance when using the large full-frame lenses.

I’ve always had a soft spot for the Olympus cameras since my first OM-1n. Always smaller than the others, the OM-1n was built like a tank, and their glass was smaller and sharper than most. They served me well for years until I found myself using mostly medium and large format film cameras. Fast forward to 2003. My friend Jay Dickman, National Geographic, Conde Nast Traveler and Pulitzer Prize winning photographer, introduced me to the new Olympus E-1. Engineered from the ground up as a complete digital system, there were no carry-overs from the film days. All of the lenses were designed specifically for the new FourThirds sensor, which made for incredibly sharp images in a compact package.

From 2003 until 2010, I used the E-1 and E-3’s professionally. In taking over a million images, I never had to dust spot any, thanks to Olympus’s patented Ultrasonic Wave Filter. Life was grand… until the professional support, OGPS, went away. Reluctantly, I switched to Canon, as things seemed to be stagnating at Olympus.

There are days that I really get tired of hauling around the fifty or so pounds of Canon gear, especially when shooting events. Don’t get me wrong; the Canon system is brilliant, with depth to their glass, the best wireless speedlite system on the market, and wonderful support from CPS. I haven’t found any gear that I have felt could match the success I’m having with the 1Dx and 5d Mark III, until possibly now.

For the past week, I’ve added the OM-D EM-1 and M Zuiko 12-40 2.8 Pro to the mix, in anticipation of the EM-1 Mark II showing up for evaluation. A few years ago, I checked out the pro-grade EM-1, and felt like it just wasn’t quite up to snuff. The pro lens line was only partially complete, and there still wasn’t any pro service. Since then, Olympus has issued several firmware updates to their pro body, which has transformed it beautifully! They have also fleshed out the pro lens lineup and added a brand new “Pro Advantage” service. Check, check and check!

Over the next month, I’ll be comparing the Canon and Olympus systems to see which direction I will be going with. So far, it is a tight race, and I’m finding myself wanting to shoot with the Oly about twice as much. Things could get interesting!

The cost of doing business as a professional photographer…

Adrianne Killin

Another delightful (and favorite!) model; Adrianne Killin helping with a lighting test.

Lately I have had some interesting conversations when I’m at various business and networking events. After exchanging the usual pleasantries and asking the person that I’m talking with about what they do, invariably (at least most of the time!) the other person will ask me what I do for a living. I like to answer that I’m a problem solver for my clients and that I help make them and their product or service look their best. I do this through my photographic services and knowledge base.

The first question I’m asked is about what camera gear I use. I have found that the answer I give can have a polarizing effect, from “Oh, yes, those cameras are the best and they take great pictures!”, to “How come you don’t use a XXXXX camera? My dad / Mr. Professional / I used to have (you can fill in the blank) always uses an XXXXX and they take the BEST pictures!” The conversation can sometimes take a turn for the worst; with the other person deciding they will tell me what’s wrong with my gear and why brand XXXXX is so much better. What fun!

The second question I get, is why professional photography is so expensive (in their mind)? To them, a camera and a few lenses from Costco or Best Buy and we’re in business! Yes, it’s true, expensive gear a photographer does not make. But the gear we use are tools, just like any other professional. Most top end mechanics use Snap-on, SK or another top of the line tool set. They invest in their craft because they want to be able to do the job without having tool failures and when there is a failure the tool is guaranteed for life and is replaced. Unfortunately, even though we invest in the top of the line professional gear, it is not warranted for life (not even close). So we invest in servicing said gear. A shooting pro can invest tens of thousands of dollars in camera bodies, only to have them wear out or become obsolete in only a few years. At least lenses have a longer life span.

Professional lighting, lighting modifiers, grip (light stands, booms & support), camera supports (tripods, monopods, studio stands) and computers and their software all cost money. And speaking of computers and software, there is always another upgrade waiting in the wings thanks to planned obsolescence. There are things like memory cards, batteries, radio remotes and a whole host of other necessities for day to day photographic capture and production. What about utilities? Power, phone and internet access come to mind. Commercial versions of these cost considerably more than their household counterparts. What about the lease cost for a space? Travel costs, even when in town, like fuel, parking, etc.?

Then we get to the things that most people forget about; insurances, licenses, professional memberships, accountant and attorney. What about marketing and advertising? All of these things add up, and are not much different from any other “professional” business. So why do people think we as photographers should do our livelihood for cheap? Don’t we deserve to put a roof over our head? Send a child to school? Pay for health insurance? Take a vacation? But I digress…

Just the other day I wound up sending in a couple of camera bodies, a lens, two small flashes and a battery grip all for servicing. Thankfully the team at CPS (Canon Professional Services) takes really good care of me! They sent me out loaner gear and covered all of the FedEx shipping both ways, had my gear all repaired within a week and with our Platinum membership it all cost me less than a thousand dollars. Again, one more example of the cost of doing business, and a place I recommend not skimping!

I guess all this is to say, running a professional business or any business for that matter, has expenses and if that business is a specialty it can get quite expensive. Maybe take a look at it from the standpoint that you are investing in great photography rather than the cost of the service, and that way we professional photographers may invest in your product or service too!

My professional photography support group

A funny thing happened to me the other day. I had been at a SCORE business workshop (for us creative types, something I highly advise going to!), wanting to energize my business brain. The speaker mentioned how businesses should make it a point to use images unique to their own company. While she was speaking about not using stock images (as everyone has the same image, what sets you apart?) I was nodding my head in agreement. And then she said something that stuck in my brain; “Don’t steal images to use on your website and marketing materials.” It got me to wonder, as I am a long time professional photographer, if anyone had stolen my images to use on their site in the digital age.

So I decided to do a rudimentary search using Google, and low and behold found a batch of wedding images I had done for a client / friend a few years back. The problem was they were showcased on another photographer’s blog, with their watermark, and some bad editing, and a statement telling her reading public that I had given my client the images without editing them. That she “had come to the rescue!” and had just finished these wonderful “edits” for them. I felt like I had been kicked between the legs and slightly nauseated. Who was this person I had never heard of telling people that I wasn’t professional enough to finish the images before presenting them to my client. That hurt. (The client had been given finished files plus an archive of the RAW images for safekeeping at their request.)

Enter the calm, cool, collective thoughts I had; Why, I’ll sue! I’ll make a scene! I’ll call Professional Photographers of America! Copyright infringement! Argh! Sputter….

Maybe before I fly off the handle, I should get another perspective on this. I belong to a great group of photographers located in beautiful Charleston SC. So I thought I would put the question to them, especially since my friend and fellow pro Chris Smith had just posted yesterday about image theft. I made it a point to make screen captures of the offending site, just in case.

What I got in response was amazing! Within minutes there was an outpouring of support from my fellow professional photographers, with many recommendations on how to proceed. I decided to start by requesting the offending photographer remove the post with my images that they had post-processed and added their watermark. I dug around and also found their phone number and proceeded to call. Without going into all the details, let’s just say the first call wasn’t as fulfilling as I had hoped, with a rather curt response, no apology and finally an agreement that they would take down the post. Well, I thought, at least that (post removal) is done. Fifteen minutes later, the phone rang. It was the photographer, sounding a little nicer this time. I actually think I got an apology, in between the justifications for why it was done.

Two things came from this for me. The first was that we should all remain diligent in protecting our intellectual property and company reputation. Yes it is a little time consuming, but know when these things happen and dealing with them quickly and efficiently is key.

The second was much more meaningful for me. The power of support and friendship from my peers in a tough industry that has such a profound impact on my wellbeing, that it actually put me in a much better space which carried over into the rest of my day! Sometimes we don’t realize how many people we have out there willing to take up the charge for us or cover our back. How do you even put a value on that? Pretty cool, indeed!

B&W Photography

The least desirable position on a WWII B17G heavy bomber was the underbelly ball turret. Only one way in and one way out, so if the ball should jamb in another position, the hatch could not be operated. Part of my Black & White Photo Challenge series.

Next week, The ProActive Photographer; Why I love being the second shooter at weddings.

Safe journey!

And now for something completely different…

I’ve had the primal photographic urge to expose some black & white film lately. I do love all film formats, but the one that I have enjoyed most since the 1970’s is medium format. Back then it was split up between my trusty Mamiya 645 (later added the 1000s model!), a friends Brooks VeriWide, and a Bronica S2.

Back then, my best friend at the time Scott Champion, had the darkroom at his house where we were able to experiment with different developers & processing times. I wonder how many people at that time besides us were working with Tri-X and pushing it to 8000 ASA (ISO) with very acceptable results?

I know that we have ultra high ISO’s these days, and there is no need to mix chemicals, testing with varying developer temps and times. Yes the digital age is a wondrous thing for sure, but I keep getting the feeling that there is something missing; something tactile, something surprising and most definitely something unique. In the days of film, each roll of 120 film would net me 12 frames. I could of course utilize my Polaroid back to verify that my exposure was good and the camera was working properly. Most of the time, I would just pull the back off the camera and look through the back of the camera to see if the lens and flash were syncing because Polaroid was expensive!

There is something refreshing and wonderful about having to wait and see my work instead of just looking on the back of my camera. This isn’t to say that I don’t love being able to check on each image while on a commissioned photo shoot. Two different animals for sure, digital is the way to go for me to create client work in the commercial world.

To help push me along, the other day my friend Mahmood passed along a couple rolls of Ilford FP4 black and white film so I could break out the Bronica and dust off my film shooting cobwebs. Hmmm, twelve images… What to photograph?

In the mean time, here’s my film weapon of choice and a few images (scanned from prints!) created way back when…

Is it time for you to break out an old camera?

All cleaned up, loaded and ready for action, my trusty Bronica SQ-B medium format film camera waits for me!

All cleaned up, loaded and ready for action, my trusty Bronica SQ-B medium format film camera waits for me!

Medium Format Medium Format EPSON scanner image  Medium Format EPSON scanner image  Medium Format

The ProActive Photographer ~ Meeting new People, Finding Light & Telling a Story

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One of the many wonderful things about living a beautiful place like Charleston is that there is always something fun going on, giving me an opportunity to practice. That’s right, practice. Like anyone wishing to improve their skillset, whether an athlete, musician or artist, I enjoy my practice time.

This past Sunday, I took my trusty camera equipped with a 50mm lens and set off to not only capture some fun images, but also practice looking for light and meeting new people. A lot of photographers have asked me over the years why it seems so easy for me to walk up to a stranger, have a conversation and be allowed to photograph them. I guess it’s because I’m more interested in my subject’s story and learning about them, rather than telling them all about me. And the really cool thing is that I usually wind up making some very interesting acquaintances and eventually friendships!

Once I have gotten to know my subject and they are comfortable with allowing me to photograph them, I like to make sure to see where the light is coming from before taking the first frame. Since I am traveling light and not bringing lighting gear, I need to make the best use of the existing light. Open shade with a reflection off a building or sidewalk is a great place to start. The next step is to have an idea of what message I am trying to convey to my audience. What is the emotional response that I wish to elicit? I usually have a pretty good idea based on my conversation and watching their body language. This is what helps me be at the top of my game when it comes time to work with my clients. My client’s time is very valuable (and for that matter so is mine and yours!) so by being able to work with efficiency while creating compelling imagery shows them respect. It also allows me to shoot less, saving more time in post processing, and time is the only thing we can never get more of.

I hope you enjoy these, and until next time, have fun!