Lisbon Pool. Snapshot.

I'd just finished shooting for five days at a trade show for Tivoli Systems (now part of IBM) and I was out walking through the streets of Lisbon with an old Leica M3 and a 35mm lens.  I walked by this pool and shot just as the boy jumped.  Of course, since the camera was already focused at its hyperfocal distance there was no delay for autofocusing and no shutter delay. I was able to capture the action as it unfolded.

I didn't have a light meter with me but I had the paper with the exposure pictograms that used to come in every box of Kodak film taped to the bottom plate of the camera and covered with Scotch tape.  I'd set the shutter and aperture for sunlight and didn't need to change the exposure again until I walked into the open shade.

Because of these two technical aspects my film shots from 14 years ago are more consistent and more in focus than what I get from the most advanced digital cameras.  Besides the immediate gratification have we really come so far?

I know that the feisty ones among you will immediately respond that all the current cameras can be used in manual exposure as well.  And that's true.  But I sure am finding fewer and fewer lenses with distance scales and even fewer with depth of field scales.  And that's a pity for street shooters.

Getting Theatrical. Do you go to the theater or does the theater come to you?

The Majestic Theater, San Antonio.

Belinda and I went to see a performance of Dividing the Estate at Zachary Scott theatre last night.  I wasn't there for a shoot so I had to leave my camera at home.  As I sat in the theater I started really thinking about the positive, symbiotic relationship I have with the theater.

Zachary Scott Theatre has a collection of over 100 framed and matted, 12 by 18 inch, color prints of my work spread across three buildings, in public traffic areas.  Each one has my credit boldly displayed.  My work for each production gets prime newspaper display with a large credit line next to each image.  The marketing people chose one archetypical image from each dress rehearsal shoot and make it into a beautifully designed, printed postcard that gets mailed out to sometimes as many as 25,000 very well targeted and very affluent house holds (approximately 250,000 local impressions per years in print). I am listed in every program as a sponsor.

And I am well presented by them on the web:  http://www.zachtheatre.org/show/dividing-the-estate  http://www.zachtheatre.org/show/xanadu  http://www.zachtheatre.org/show/fully-committed

I get all the comp tickets I can handle and last night there were four complimentary drink tickets paper clipped to my tickets.  I love a theater where you can take your glass of wine in for the performance...

Every year Zach sponsors a Christmas party for me at their production of Santaland Diaries  which means I get to invite 100 or so of my friends and business associates to an incredible night at the theater.  I've learned more about lighting than I can possible imaging by watching the ultimate lighting pros of live theater.  I've learned at the actor's feet.  They've taught me about the importance of gesture and timing and even improvisation.  I've gotten an advanced education in theater with over 200 different plays under my belt.  And they've taught me so much about marketing.  Because they do it non-stop.  And they do it well.

And I've recruited the actors as paid talent for advertising campaigns and even a corporate trade show presentation, all with great results.

The performance last night was so much fun.  Real people, acting, just a few feet from my seat.  Every show, every performance is an original piece of art.  Nothing is canned.  Nothing can ever be perfect but it can make you laugh, make tears drip down your face in public and move you emotionally in a way pre-recorded stuff never can.  In short, it's always amazing. Even when it's a genre I don't usually care for it's amazing. And Zachary Scott constantly expands my idea of what it's like to be alive and unique.  From Angels in America to Jesus Christ, Superstar every single play examines what it is to be a part of humanity.

As I sat in the theater last night I remembered the first time I shot a dress rehearsal for them so many years ago.  It was a play called, Six Degrees of Separation.  In those days we'd shoot "set-up" shots on medium format color transparency film.  We'd put the cast into a scene or a close up moment and then light it and shoot with a Hasselblad on a tripod.  We shot the actual dress rehearsal with whatever 35mm camera I was shooting at the time.  And the dress rehearsal shots were done in black and white because that's what the local newspaper and all the smaller publications printed at the time.

I shot Six Degrees of Separation with two Leica cameras.  I used a 35mm f2 Summicron on one body and a 90mm f2 Summicron on the other and almost certainly I was shooting Tri-X.  I had a Pentax one degree spot meter and I'd use it sparingly.  The light changes weren't as dramatic in the days before programmable lighting boards...

How much fun it was to see my work, just a few days later, splashed across a quarter page in the Austin American Statesman newspaper!!!  The cherry on the whip creme was the large cut line right under the photograph.  I can't remember what I got paid for that first shoot.  Iy couldn't have been much because the theater was struggling 19 years ago.  This year we're about to open a new, $20 million theater.  It makes me smile to think that all those past evenings of shooting in some small way helped to make the theater successful enough that we could raise $20 million for the new theater complex in the middle of the biggest economic downturn our generations have ever seen.

If you don't get out to see much live theater you might consider giving it a shot.  As a photographer you'll find the lighting very interesting.  And the way people move through light.  But I think you'll also have a growing appreciation for gesture, expression and movement.  It's one of the arts.  We might as well integrate it into ours...

The 50mm focal length (or its 35mm equivilent) continues to be my favorite focal length.

Odd that I've only had the Sony cameras for a short time but I have already acquired two 50mm lenses, one 35mm lens and one 30mm lens, along with a zoom that also covers the 50mm focal length as well as the 35mm focal length.  I don't have anything wider than a 24mm (35 equivalent) and yet I don't feel nearly as naked as I did when I didn't have the middle of the optical range well covered. (This was written a while ago.  I'm editing:  I've added a Sigma 10-20mm lens to round out the wide end.)

All of my current photography happens between 16mm and 200mm. The lenses are used on APS-C camera bodies so the range actually covers 24mm to 300 mm, in old school speak. But no matter what I intend or what I head out the door with the images that make me happy are always in that narrow band of focal lengths that emulate what I learned on with that old Canon TX film camera and its bulky but stalwart 50mm 1.8.

When I shot everything with the Canon 5Dmk2 I ended up collecting at least five optics in the "normal" range, including:  a 50mm Zeiss f1.4, a Nikon 50mm 1.2, a Canon 50mm 1.8,  Canon 50mm 2.5 macro and a converted 60mm Leica R macro.  I guess it's a bit of an obsession.  But one that makes sense.  We're  seduced by candy and sexy super models and loud music but we spend time with nutritious food, approachable girlfriends and soft music in our ongoing lives.  We think we love the sparkle but we stay pretty firmly in the comfort zones.  It's no different with optics.

From 35mm to 85mm or even 135mm we feel safe and sound.  We're excited to play with a 15mm wide angle but we soon tire of its uncomfortable novelty effects.  We marvel at some shots taken with an 800 mm lens wide open but after a very short while we long for the context that comes from seeing more of a scene.  And seeing more of it in focus.

I've owned the high speed, high priced normals and I've owned the cheapos and I'm here to tell  you that, unless you  spring for something esoteric like a Leica 50mm 1.4 Aspheric, you're not going to notice a heck of a lot of difference between the lenses once you hit 2.8 or so.  You know, the range we mostly shot at or above.