Happy Holidays from Austin.

I ran by Whole Foods on Sunday to grab a cup of coffee and a berry kolache for a late afternoon snack. Just outside one of the doors they had this set up for people to take photos with. I liked it plain. Nex camera with Sigma 30mm.

Every year since I moved to Austin in 1974 the city has used the giant "moon tower" in Zilker Park to create a giant tree of lights for the holidays. In the old days mostly students and hippies came down to frolic under the tree, spin around, get dizzy and fall to the ground. I still remember the many years when it used to get cold here for Christmas and you could see the lights through the condensation your breath would make as you spun around. Today is was 82 degrees fahrenheit at 5:33 pm, when the sun set. I snapped this series of images from just before sunset until about twenty minutes later. I love to watch the balance change between the ambient light and the lights on the "tree."

I brought two cameras with me to the park today. One was the Sony Nex 7 with a 50mm OSS lens on the front and the other was the Sony Nex 6 with the older kit lens on the front. The Sony Nex 6 turned out to be defective. The user had forgotten to replace the SD card into the memory card slot on the camera after his last adventure and subsequent download.  That camera became a lens holder instead.

Around 6:15pm the light turned really nice and the park started to fill up with little families from all over the place. While the base of the "tree" had always been commercial free in older days it is now "serviced" by concessions. You can get home made gorditas, nachos and other Mexican fare. You can get kettle korn. And, of course you can get funnel cakes and hot chocolate. I tried the kettle korn; you could die eating this stuff. It's sugar, popcorn, way too much salt and it's popped in some oil that doesn't exist on its own in nature. But the people seemed to enjoy it and that's what counts.

Here's my final shot from the original vantage point, of the tree. I think it's important when photographing at and around sunset to decide how you'll color manage the process. If you use AWB the camera tries to neutralize everything. If you set the camera for "sunny" you tend to get much richer blues as the sun sets completely and the color temperature shifts. That's the city skyline in the background. I blew this up and found that the image stabilization works pretty well. 

In this photograph I tried to replicate the effect of swirling under the tree but there's not enough movement in the image. Grab your monitor and spin it around really fast and you'll get a good impression of how it would have looked if you had been there enjoying the real time process.

But after a while one craves a fairly well defined horizon line and this is what the action looks like under the "tree."  Once the people have enjoyed the tree lights for a while they cross the big, blocked off street and go to the other side to walk through the quarter mile long Trail of Lights.
But we've got to save something for later in the week.....

I hope that wherever you live, and whatever your beliefs, you are enjoying the year end holidays with your favorite camera in hand. From time to time you might want to put it down and actually participate. I've heard that this can be rewarding. I might try it this year.

Peace and Love, Kirk

A reprint of a blog from a few years ago. An echo of today's post.

I've done so many things over the years.  And shot so many different kinds of photographs.  I still like the challenge of bringing tiny microprocessor dies to life and making big, industrial machines look sexy and potent.  On a good day I can even find pleasure in photographing products on white backgrounds.  There's a meditative charm to doing good clipping paths, after the fact.  I love to shoot events.  The constant flux and mixed vibrance of people hellbent on sharing ideas is alluring.  And the exchange of knowledge can be intoxicating when something totally new is broached.

But those things are not really why I got into photography, either as a hobby or as a profession.  To be absolutely truthful there are only two types of photography I wake up thinking about.  One is shooting on the streets and the other is classical portraiture.

The shot above was done on film with a Contax G2 and a 28mm Biogon.  Ben was running towards me with a joyous bluster and his mom trailed behind him.  It was a Spring day and we were at Emma Long Park, which borders Lake Austin.  The park was nearly empty because we were there on a weekday, in the early afternoon.  There's nothing planned about the shot.  I just pulled the camera up to my eye, focused and shot.  But I like so much about the shot. I love Ben's little shadow. I love his stride. I love the diagonal pattern of the boards in the dock.

I never leave the house without a camera.  There's just no way of knowing what you might miss.  I see street photography and this sort of ongoing reportage as a way of writing a visual book.  It's all part of a larger narrative that I just haven't been able to tag with a beginning, a middle and an end.  But it's writing a visual novel all the same.  That's why I love this kind of imagery.  It unfolds chapter by chapter and you work in collaboration with chance, fate and destiny to distill the images from the swirl of life around you....

And then there's classical portraiture.  The image above, of my friend and former assistant, Anne is my favorite portrait ever.  I know I'm supposed to like portraits of my kid and my wife better but this is the portrait I'd be happy to have define my work for my entire career.  And in a way this image sums up everything that I think is wonderful about portraiture in the studio.

Every square inch is exactly as I wanted it. The lighting is exactly what I previsualized and created.  Anne's expression is exactly what I wanted her to convey.  It's a wonderful record of a beautiful and deeply thoughtful person.

If I could customize my career I would spend the next twenty years doing portraits just like this.  All that's needed are a few lights, a few backgrounds and one camera and one lens.  That, and the time to sit quietly with each subject and get to know them as individuals.  As fellow human beings.   I would shoot sessions every day and spend the rest of the time massaging the tones and textures into prints.  Not screen fodder, but actual prints that people could hold in their hands and cherish.

In many ways these kinds of images are almost unattainable now.  People want to move too fast.  Get stuff done and get on to the next thing.  Do you remember the last time you had an hour long conversation with someone?  Did they glance at their phone every so often, reminding you of the split nature of their attention?  Were they booked so tightly that, from the minute they arrived  they were anticipating when they would have to go.  Between planning to arrive and planning to depart did they give a thought to how they would be "in the moment?".

As artists we have control.  We can set the parameters for a session.  We can ask that phones be extinguished and we can create a space and a mood that invites sitters to linger.  In exchange, we can try each time we shoot to give our sitters a very, very special image.  A portrait that defines this moment in time.  This moment in their lives.

How did this portrait come about?  I'd been experimenting with backgrounds.  I loved the look of folded drape going off into an increasingly blurry distance.  The drape on the left side of the prints is perhaps 12 feet back from Anne.  The drape on the right perhaps 20 feet back from Anne.  Each set of drapes was lit by it's own light in a small softbox.  In this way the amount of light on each drape, and even where it fell, could be individually controlled.

I put Anne in a favorite old, rickety chair and had her lean her arms against the back.  She's quiet by nature and doesn't fidget around much so she makes a wonderful model for a longer session.  I wanted a big, soft but directional light source for my main light.  Like the soft light from a cloudy day billowing through a window.  This was provided by a 50 by 72 inch softbox covered with layers and layers of white diffusion cloth, clothespinned to the front panel.

A white wall over to the shadow side of Anne's face created too much fill so I put a big, black card in between Anne and the wall.  The camera was a Hasselblad with a medium telephoto lens, used at f5.6 (almost wide open for medium format....).

We talked for a while before I started shooting film.  I wanted her to settle comfortably into the space.  When both of us stopped being diligent and trying too hard I started to shoot.  I shot three or four rolls of film and there were many frames I liked.  But as with most portraiture there is one frame that clearly stands above the rest.  In our minds, this one was that frame.

What a wonderful career it could be if I can make more and more of these.......

Back to basics.

As we get closer to the end of the year work slows down and I start spending more time reading, hanging out with the family and cleaning up the studio/office. It's also a time for reflection and soul searching. And pretty much by Dec. 31st of most years I've come to the conclusion that: 1. I'm still too judgemental. 2. I'm still trying to be an "expert" in too many things. And, 3. I still spend too much time arguing my points on stuff that really doesn't matter.

The truth is that there's really no way to do photography incorrectly if you are doing it for your own pleasure. What camera I think is really cool (in the present) should have very little influence on that with which you photograph. The kinds of subjects I like to look at and photograph are as much personal taste as whether one likes broccoli or brussel sprouts, red wine or beer.

I might decry commercial changes in the business of photography but you'll probably hear the same kind of resistance to change in any professional field. The beauty of being a photographer (as a separate thing from being a paid photographer) is that you can always return to your core and revitalize your artistic self by embracing and exploring those things that you love to  photograph.

When you explore on your own you short circuit the interference you get otherwise.

Sometimes I feel that I write too much and think too little. But I know that when I make portraits I'm in the right place.