Back Button Focusing Trials. Free onOne Software. And The Fuji X-T1.

Two photographers I very much admire gave me some feedback on yesterday’s post on what is back button focusing and how to use it. Richard Small and Kendall Reeves know photography; when they pass information on to me I pay very close attention. Both added their endorsements to the use of this technique.

Kendall added a comment to that post, saying “I use the AF back button quite often while shooting. It will focus quicker then using the shutter button. I hadn’t disabled my shutter button focus because I didn’t know I could. But I just did. I just have to remember that when using a cable release I have to prefocus from the back focus button before I shoot.” Kendall is a most accomplished photographer, a real professional. His remark that we all could focus more quickly is worth remembering and using; locking on to what you want to focus on many times means getting the shot you want or not.

And Richard Small is a remarkably talented shooter, especially when it comes to the proverbial planes, trains and automobiles. He called yesterday morning to say that he tried out the technique and discovered quickly that it works, just as shown in yesterday’s video. What excited him the most was the thought that we can so easily and quickly switch from continuous shooting to single shot and back, all with the push of that one little button. He found the button placement to be convenient (at least on his Nikon), and he is a convert. And I repeat, when Richard and Kendall find a technique to be useful, we all should pay close attention.

I have written recently of the struggles my family is experiencing in moving my mother to a care facility. Those duties took up my day yesterday, and I didn’t get a chance to play with my camera. I definitely am going to try this technique for myself and get used to the way it feels. But there is no doubt at all in my mind about its efficacy, given the endorsements of my good friends.

Many of you, probably most of you, saw an announcement Matt Kloskowski posted concerning a free software offer from onOne. Those generous (and most talented) developers are offering a copy of Perfect Effects 8 to all of us. I did hear from a good friend that she had troubles getting the download to kick in, and I saw an update later in the day from Matt that indicated the huge response to this offer had the onOne Software servers in a tizzy. There is a time limit on this offer … today (January 28th). Click here for a link to onOne and the FREE offer. But don’t delay. And, I own and use Perfect Effects Suite 7 and Perfect Effects 8. This offer is really worth taking advantage of.

And, drumroll, please! Just before midnight last night Fuji made the often-leaked-but-never-surpassed announcement of the new X-T1. It looks like one of those advances that catches the eye and makes shooting an even greater pleasure. If you are a Fuji fan you already know all the details. If you have been considering a mirrorless system at all or just are curious, click here to take a look at the latest from Fuji over on Fuji Rumors. That Japanese company has been on a real tear lately; this new camera appears to be more of that excitement. And there was a video look at the new little wonder that was released at the same time as the official press release. Take an abbreviated look below:

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Fuji Rumors And The X-T1. Back Button Focusing .

We have talked quite a bit over the past couple of years about not getting hung up on buying new equipment when your old stuff still is physically doing what you need it to do. Chasing the latest-and-greatest for the sake of having the latest-and-greatest often is an exercise in futility when it comes to improving your images. And we all know that the urge can get expensive in a hurry. My basic advice, given to me years ago by a friend at Roberts Camera, is: as long as your current equipment is capable of producing the photos you want, you don’t need new equipment! There are some amazing new pieces of gear of all kinds out there; you just don’t need them (although you may want them). That piece of advice bears repeating – repeatedly. But … as soon as I remind myself of that adage, along comes an announcement for a new camera that warrants some attention.

Fuji has for some time now been winning over loads and loads of experienced shooters, including many professionals who know photography inside and out. My dear friend Bill Fortney is the example I point to most, but you can include well-known names like Tony Sweet and Jack Graham among legions of others. And the recent announcement by Scott Kelby of his switch in cameras to Canon brought Fuji to mind, also. There were hundreds of comments posted on Scott’s website following his announcement (many of them in the not-so-nice category). But one type of comment stood out for its frequency and its intensity. That type of comment was the one that said, “Forget Canon and Nikon. I made the switch to Fuji’s mirrorless cameras and am never looking back.” The smaller, lighter, extremely capable mirrorless systems have been winning praise (and market share) for some time now, and the Fuji system of cameras and top-notch lenses is right there at the top of them all. Given all that, it is worth commenting on that there is a Fuji announcement scheduled for tonight at 11:30 PM (EST).

The announcement concerns the newest Fuji model, the X-T1. It promises a DLSR-like body, rather retro-looking, in the small X-E2 size. There are features galore being leaked right now, and if even most of them are true this promises to be Fuji’s finest camera yet. I didn’t even know there was a Fuji Rumors site (akin to the ones for Nikon and Canon), but it is abuzz with information. Folks, there are lots and lots of Fuji fans out there – this interest and switching to smaller cameras and lenses is not a fad. The big news for tonight is from Fuji, but in the past few weeks it has been similar-type announcements from Sony. If I were Nikon and Canon I would be getting my ducks in a new row, because at least some of the times they are a-changin’.

Since so many of us are aging and looking at smaller systems for the sheer convenience of weight and since so many of us always are interested in what is new and cool (no matter how much we tell ourselves not to do so) and since Fuji is gaining such a good reputation among so many talented shooters, it may be of interest to you to sneak a peek over at Fuji Rumors (here is a link to their site). I know the legendary Bill Fortney has an order in for one of the new marvels; that is enough by itself to pique my interest. Many of us may be up tonight at 11:30 PM. It might be fun to see what the real story is on this new Fuji. And if, in spite of all our protests, it might not be the piece of equipment that makes us break all those New Year resolutions.

And, then, a topic that demonstrates how much I have to learn about photography. Call it back button focusing (although some have referred to it as back focusing which technically and accurately refers to a lens/camera flaw). This method of focusing (when mastered with practice) promises to provide quicker, more convenient focusing on your DLSR. I will give you a short synopsis, then turn you over to a video that explains the entire topic more clearly and completely. But it is a topic that I didn’t understand or pay any attention to before now.

Most of us probably focus by half pressing the shutter button, then recomposing if necessary. We may take the time to move our focus point around with the controller on the back, but many times there just isn’t a focus point that will move exactly over the spot we want most in focus. Or we can choose continuous focus mode (no matter the make of camera) and let the camera do the thinking. But using the focus lock button on the back of the camera allows us to lock in the focus with a push of the button, then recomposing at out leisure without worrying about taking our finger off the shutter button. And we could if we wanted stay in continuous mode, going immediately to single shot mode with a push of that same button. It sounds rather complicated for some reason to wrap my mind around … I am going to have to practice with the camera to sort it all out. But the reason I mention it today is that I did some research on the web. There are lots of shooters who claim that once you become comfortable with this method you will wonder how you did without it … and that you are not likely to go back to your old practices. The method certainly holds promise.

Check out this video. It is well-produced, and it does a nice job of explaining this concept and its operation. It definitely is on my list of things-to-do this week. Maybe it will fit into your schedule as well.

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onOnePerfect Suite 8? Pay Attention, Adobe.

A couple of days ago I watched a one-hour webinar from onOne, demonstrating their new Perfect Suite 8 on a variety of wedding shots. The instructor/lecturer was noted wedding photographer Frank Salas (a photographer capable of producing some outstanding images). It was an informative hour, one that balanced the possible with the practical. And it wasn’t all pushy about using only onOne products; Frank was candid in explaining when he would use Lightroom and Photoshop in his workflow. What really caught my eye during the presentation was the number of features seemingly borrowed from Photoshop, the number of times I heard, “just like in Photoshop.” This is not your father’s Perfect Suite.

Many photographers balked at Adobe’s heavy-handed approach to the new subscription model. They are always looking about to see what else is out there, either for the future or even for today’s use. And onOne was listening and watching. They have incorporated a whole bunch of features into this new release (it became available right after Thanksgiving) that make it either an attractive alternative to Photoshop or a nice addition to it. I was impressed with what I saw. I own and use Perfect Suite 7 and have been quite happy with it. The new version is better, and I am about to make it part of my workflow. I would also point out that the new release is getting high marks from the most accomplished Matt Kloskowski (especially the tonal clarity feature). This is a product worth your attention and a bit of time in checking out whether or not it is right for you.

The webinar I viewed has been archived for viewing at your convenience. When you get a chance, it is worth a look-see. It certainly is worth an hour of your time.

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You Can’t Get The Shot If You’re Not There. Lose Those Winter Blues.

My dear friend and mentor Bill Fortney is a legendary photographer, an inspiring and amazing man. For many, many years he ran America’s most successful landscape workshop company, Great American Photography Weekends. If you ever see a photo presentation of his work you will see America in a way that impresses and soars and inspires. Bill’s photos are what you want to be when you grow up. But he also is a gentle and humble man. He will tell you that most of those incredible images are the result of patience and time.

Bill was shooting our national parks every year for a while, sometimes being in a few of them more than once each year. And he didn’t just show up at a location, snap the shot he wanted, and go on to the next park on his bucket list. To get the amazing shot of that amazing landscape in our amazingly beautiful country he showed up over and over, waiting for the confluence of light and weather that he needed to put it all together. He went back to some locations 25 times … and it wasn’t until the 26th that he finally captured the image he has been seeking for so long. And I venture to make this guess: if he hadn’t gotten the shot on that 26th attempt, he would have been back for a 27th. It takes that kind of perseverance to be the photographer you want to be.

What we all probably had a beginning expectation of (certainly the hope of) was that we would save and plan for a trip to that location-of-a-lifetime, carrying along the carefully selected gear we had so time-consumingly saved for. Then all we had to do was compose, press the shutter button, and order the over-sized print. We thought, “What else is there to worry about?” And then Mother Nature hid the sun on us – for days on end. Or brought on the rain. Or the cold. or the snow. Or the hurricane. Or the clouds. Or the fill-in-the-blank. Our trip was over before we knew it, and we were on our way home with a less-than-perfect memory. It happens. Frequently.

So, what is a shooter to do? Easy; keep going back to that perfect location. Keep trying. Keep shooting. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Well, ask Bill if you don’t trust me or your own experience. You can’t capture that shot if you’re not there. And you can rest assured – on some of those days when you are not there, the perfect conditions will be. I know, it gets expensive and time is at a premium and you live so far away and …. This small, simple truth may not be what we want to hear … but the shots will be there; you have to be, also.

Now, as proof of the above I want to pass on this time lapse video that I originally saw over on DP Review. It is a video of Wyoming’s spectacular landscape over time, a video put together from thousands of individual stills. It contains some beautiful images, but more than that, it illustrates my point today. If you hung around each of these separate locations long enough, you could have captured any one (or all) of these individual moments of time. But you had to be there when the conditions all came together. Watch as the light and weather conditions change in front of your very eyes. Nothing in nature just stands there looking the same all the time. You have to be there to capture the image in your mind and heart. This video is a beautiful way to learn a lesson. The difficult part will be in putting it consistently into action.

Wyoming Wildscapes II from Nicolaus Wegner on Vimeo.

Also today, a chance to shake off those winter blues (if only for a short time). In just a couple of weeks noted photographer David Ziser is putting on his now annual PhotoPro Expo in Covington, KY (right across the river from Cincinnati). It runs February 6th through the 10th, and it promises to be every bit the hit last year’s expo was. Click here to see all the exciting details (including a most reasonable price). There is a most impressive list of instructors, including Matt Kloskowski and our own Bill Fortney. I attended last year, and I recommend it without reserve. Great instructors and instruction, a huge vendor show with all the big names, and a package of extras that add to the fun and value. It’s cold around here … warm up the season with a trip to PhotoPro Expo.

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Match Your Camera To Your Shooting Style

Does this camera suit your shooting style?

I was pleased to hear from treasured friend Jim Begley yesterday (Jim is a partner with Bill Fortney in His Light Workshops, one of the premier training groups around). He surprised me with an announcement that he was selling his Nikon D800 (the 36 megapixel wonder) and had purchased a used Nikon D3s (the 12 megapixel flagship model prior to today’s D4). I was surprised only because he hadn’t had the D800 for very long, and because it is a very fine camera in its own right. I wasn’t surprised totally, however; I know Jim’s style of shooting, and the D800 wasn’t ideal for it. Which brings me to a point worth considering as many of us contemplate all the new gear announced at the recent Consumer Electronics Show out in Vegas. Your camera should match your shooting style.

Now, that’s not new, earth-shaking news. And it’s not rocket science. But it is a most important point that easily can be lost or glossed over amidst the accolades and hype associated with the latest-and-greatest in equipment. And a whole lot of that new gear, a whole lot of those new cameras really are amazing machines. Newer, faster, sleeker, chocked full of add-on features – there really are advances being made (and offered for sale) that make your shooting easier or more accurate or more convenient or some combination of all three. It’s no wonder we buy new stuff … the manufacturers keep giving us (at least marginally) better stuff. And we get caught up in that, and we find it easy to rationalize those purchases to ourselves. But if you are reading right now about all those advances and/or if you have been considering a purchase – take a step back and ask yourself if you really, really, really will be happy down the road?

My friend Jim is the perfect subject for this post. He is an amazing shooter, especially when it comes to HDR work (I have recommended you study with him at His Light and regularly check his website to view his work for some time now. Do the first by clicking here. Do the second by clicking here). Jim is an HDR shooter in the main, so he highly values fast frame rates and exposure bracketing. The D800 has all you want in the latter; not so much in the former. That camera produces beautiful files, but they also are large files that can really clog up your computer when doing heavy HDR and layers work. And Jim also is a master at hand-holding while taking multiple HDR shots (really a tough skill to acquire). So, marvel that it is, the D800 (with its slower frame rate and huge files) is not optimum for the work that he loves to shoot the most. And shouldn’t we be gearing our equipment to what we love to shoot the most (and, hence, probably spend most of our time doing)?

For Jim the D3s, with beautiful files of 12 megapixels, may just be the optimum combination of features that fit his style. And he is not one to be caught up in a race to show off the most recent and most expensive of gear as a fashion/ego statement. Taking a step back from the D4 (which replaced the D3s last year) didn’t hurt his ego one bit. Jim is a shooter’s shooter – one interested in producing amazing photos, not chasing equipment. He knows that his style is best suited for the older, 12 megapixel D3s no matter how many others are shooting the newer, 36 megapixel D800. What is that old saying: “Physician, heal thyself?” For us it should be: “Photographer, know thy style.” That newest camera (or lens or fill-in-the-blank) may truly be a marvel of engineering. All the claims made it for it may be true. It may even represent a breakthrough of some kind never seen before. But if it doesn’t suit your style of shooting it may not even do what you need it to. It is counterproductive to adapt your style of shooting to a new piece of equipment, rather than purchasing what you need to maximize the way you take photographs.

Let me give you another example. I follow Thom Hogan over on byThom regularly. Thom is extremely knowledgeable about all things photographic, and he is an expert on things Nikon. In fact, he is so good at the Nikon stuff that he regularly criticizes them and points out what they are doing wrong when it passes unseen by so many of the rest of us Nikon fans. Now, even though Thom knows Nikon’s weaknesses, he maintains that the best DSLR on the market, feature for feature and resolution for resolution, is the D800E. He gets mad at Nikon; he criticizes Nikon; he has his pick of all the cameras out there to shoot with. His go-to camera for landscape work on a tripod is the D800E. His style of shooting those kind of images outweighs any personal feelings he may harbor at any given time.

As I wrote earlier, this isn’t rocket science. But the consideration of what style of shooter you are should dictate (along with pocketbook, of course) the equipment you purchase. Too many of us all too often get caught up in the excitement of what is new. We are unwilling to admit that it may not be a perfect fit for us as individual shooters. We understand that intellectually, but emotionally we want to be like everyone else – to own the latest and greatest. We convince ourselves that some new feature will improve our shooting without considering how we actually shoot. A bit of self-examination and reflection could save us some dollars and sometimes a number of headaches and remorse.

I’m trying to practice what I preach this year. I am trying to look back at what I shoot and how well I shoot it while considering what it is that I want to improve on going forward. To that end, I am resisting the siren call of new cameras and new lenses. I know I already own what I need for my style of shooting. And if I discover at some point that the style or my needs change? The first thing I am going to do is look backward at the equipment others have used for a while now, instead of forward to what is being offered as the new greatest of all time. Perhaps age does bring a small bit of wisdom; this could be the beginning of something really good.

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Creative Live: Worth It In Only The Right Places

I have a few photo resolutions floating around in my head for 2014. One of them is a lot more portrait work (and getting a lot better at that genre). So when Creative Live offered me the opportunity recently to watch for free a three-day Lindsay Adler class on posing, I jumped at the chance. She is a most accomplished fashion photographer, with a knack for making images under about any conditions. She has several Kelby Training (now KelbyOne) videos that I have watched, and I never fail to learn something from her. So, I tried Creative Live … with mixed results.

First of all, Creative Live is an online training site that covers a lot of ground in terms of the topics addressed and the instructors offered. That is good, very good many times. They offer you the chance to watch their sessions for free as they are presented live. That is most appreciated (and most economical; not much beats free). The production values uniformly are quite polished. Courses can be quite detailed and informative since they range in time frame from several hours to a complete day to as much as three complete days (as was Lindsay’s). You can really get down in the weeds with that much time to use, and the courses I have seen to date relied heavily on actual shooting demonstrations. After the courses are presented in a live format (for free), they then are available for download at various prices. That’s where the value of Creative Live rubs up against other training venues, at least for me.

The longest courses seem to be priced consistently at $149. Two-day sessions go for $99, with one-day-ers priced at $49. Also offered are some hours-long courses in the $29 range (I haven’t viewed any of them). If you were to build a library of how-to courses the total price of that library could add up pretty quickly. And you have to ask yourself how often you want to re-watch an entire course, as opposed to quickly brushing up on a portion of it (such as a particular lighting setup or retouching technique). The KelbyOne sessions are uniformly shorter in length, but they tend to be very topic-specific (enabling viewing segments to be much easier and convenient). And it wouldn’t take very long for the Creative Live costs to outpace the annual subscription to Kelby’s classes (which give me a library more extensive and continually available).

Yes, Creative Live is completely FREE when presented live. But three days or two days or even one entire day is difficult to plan for sometimes (face it; most times). If Creative Live puts on a class which is convenient for you (without other obligations) you are off and running. But most of us, unfortunately, do have to deal with those other, pressing matters. Even though I am retired, I was only able to watch the first day of Lindsay’s class uninterrupted. Other matters made me miss the second day completely, and the third day was a hit-and-miss proposition. When we sign up for a workshop away from home we carve out the time to do so; we plan carefully so we can give our full attention to the course and its contents. With Kelby or other online sites we can watch and be interrupted and come back to pick up where we left off. The free part of Creative Live is much more problematic.

Obviously, KelbyOne (gee, this is beginning to sound like a ad for them; it’s not) gives me a very broad range of instructors and topics. And the ability to watch as I desire. The old subscription price, especially if you were grandfathered in on the NAPP price, is reasonable for what is offered. The new one is not as good, but it still seems affordable. Away-from-workshops can get pricey; we all have experienced that. But they typically are centered around an instructor whose work you really admire, a topic you want to learn more about, and a location you always have wanted to shoot. And it that last attraction that usually tips the balance in favor of the hands-on workshop or photo tour. Can Creative Live compete with those pluses?

If you have the time to spend with the live courses being offered, the answer is a resounding, “Yes.” If there is a special instructor or a special topic offered and it is one you have been wanting to learn about for a long time, consider a later download a capital expenditure for your reference library (but I would make sure I was going to go back and view that course more than one time). Where Creative Live struggles to compete is if you plan on a large series of downloads. That could get pretty expensive pretty quickly. I thoroughly enjoyed the day spent with Lindsay Adler, and I learned a great deal. But downloading that one course would set me back half of what I pay for a year’s worth of KelbyOne videos. And even though workshops are a lot more expensive than that one Creative Live session would be, with video there is no hands-on, immediate-feedback learning going on. And sitting alone in front of my computer screen never is a substitute for the friendship and fellowship of classmates at a workshop or tour.

I appreciate Creative Live’s efforts and their offers of free training. I just wish they could find a way to lower the cost of their downloads (maybe via a subscription service, as even Adobe has gone to). If that hurdle could be defeated, I would heartily recommend their training. As it is, click here to visit what is being offered live (and for free), and see if any of the offerings fill your needs and fit your schedule. It is worth a bit of your time.

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A Different Blogging Schedule For 2014

Photo compliments of my dear His Light friend Kent Ervin.

I started off with a personal website as a place where I could post photos from some events at which I was shooting. Invariably people would ask why I was taking pictures, followed by a request for whichever one or ones they were in. I took that at first as a compliment. I would get names and addresses, make prints and send them off to whoever had asked. I actually did quite a bit of that at first. Do you know I never received even one acknowledgement that the images were received, let alone a thanks? Not once. One time I even made up a CD of images and set them to music, a slideshow of the event that I sent to someone who was featured at the event and had asked for images. I had to follow up with two emails just to make sure the CD arrived. So I learned that people really do like to see what they look like in what you are shooting, but it’s not a big deal to them. If they never received a photo from me it wouldn’t have bothered them (if they remembered at all). I decided I would develop a website where I could post photos and then tell anyone who asked that they could check there later to see the results. Some do; some don’t. But almost everyone who does is satisfied just to take a look and go on. A few inquired about prints, and those folks were actually interested in really having one. So a few print sales were generated, and we all were happy.

After that it became fun to write about a few experiences, especially once we met and spent time with so many of you through his Light workshops. Photography is a passion for so many of us that it was fun to write about new things we discovered or new places we visited. And whenever I would run across some esoteric photo feature buried deep in the web, it was a service to some to pass that information along. But I have (slowly, perhaps belatedly) discovered that there are a great many people doing the exact same thing (about a hundred gazillion at last count). The web has site after site passing information around, and I don’t want to be doing that if it doesn’t add much (or anything) to the discussion.

I am going to cut back on web postings this year. That doesn’t mean Sue and I won’t be trying to shoot as much and learn as much as possible about photography (and, boy, I still have lots and lots to learn). But it is time to devote less time to passing on information found in other prominent places, and more to studying and learning and improving so what I do pass on is worthwhile in some manner. Deciding to post daily becomes a scramble at times for content. Posting when there is content to put out there is more in tune with my original purpose. And time spent not posting may at times generate something more worthwhile down the road.

I hope you will still check in to see what is going on, as I so eagerly look forward to knowing what you all are up to. Photography has led Sue and me to sharing a great deal of our lives with a great number of you. That is what we cherish and look forward to this year. And that certainly will not be changing.

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CES 2014: Who’s Buying What?


The D4 … little brother of the same-size and appearance D4s.

The huge Consumer Electronics Show for 2014 just wound down out in Vegas. But what happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas when it comes to cameras, lenses and photographers. All that new equipment has a way of making it into our camera bags and living rooms. Or our dreams. If you would like a nicely-put-together roundup of what’s hot right now, click here to visit 1,001 Noisy Cameras (still a name I don’t understand). But of even greater interest to many of us is not what equipment is being touted as new and necessary, but who is buying it and what they are doing with it. This is the latest info, gathered from a variety of His Light sources.

Nikon kept the new and mysterious D4s under wraps and behind glass at CES. The smart money says there are only a few small and incremental changes tucked inside the new flagship model. But that won’t stop Kent Ervin and Chuck Barnes from pre-ordering. So far all that has been observed for sure is that the AF focus dial on the camera’s back side has a new, roughed-up texture. But both Kent and Chuck will reason that the new texture will enable them to shoot faster with mittens on in the dark during sporting events, so their old D4′s will be on the market any day.

Raymond Jabola has already pre-ordered his D4s. It will become his new if-I-could-only-own-one-camera camera. Raymond will not part of his regular D4, however. Raymond treats his cameras like family; once they come in the door, they stay.

Miles Smith is not ordering a D4s right now. He is just driving over to Nikon headquarters and picking one up.

Carl Turner is waiting to see what Bill Fortney says about the new camera. If it is good enough for Bill, then Carl says, “Wow!”

Bill Fortney will post on his blog that the D4s is really tempting, and that someday he might own one. So just in case, he is ordering a new camera bag to carry it in. The bag will be here this week.

Jim Begley would love to have a D4s, but he also is waiting to see if Bill orders one. If Bill does, Jim will immediately borrow it. In the meantime, Jim is borrowing Bill’s new camera bag.

Fuji announced what promises to be another great lens for their X-series of cameras. The new 56mm f/1.2 lens promises to be perfectly designed for top-notch portraits. Bill Fortney has one on order already. Bill’s old Nikon bag weighed a hefty 27 pounds, and it was killing his shoulders. The smaller Fuji system has lightened the load, in addition to giving him a renewed enjoyment of photography. Filled with all the Fuji bodies and lenses he owns, Bill’s camera bag has been reduced to a svelte 26 pounds, 8 ounces.

And, finally, for Richard Siggins and all the other His Light Canon shooters: Canon showed off a most impressive line of compact point-and-shoot’s. Small. light, ELF-like in appearance. Sort of like the Canon photographers in general. LOL.

It’s Monday. Enjoy the day. Enjoy the week. We truly are blessed.

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Lessons Learned: A Look Back At 2013

Try something new for 2014. Who knows what it could lead to?

“I’ve learned a lot this year and improved a little. I hope you get something from what I’ve learned.” So wrote my friend Richard Siggins on his blog recently. Richard not only is a friend, he is a fine, fine photographer. I recommended his blog to you as a regular read last year, and one of his recent posts proves why.

Probably we all have some 2014 photographic resolutions floating around in our minds … what we hope to accomplish, where we want to shoot, perhaps new gear to spend our hard-earned dollars on. And that is fine; we all do better when we have at least some idea of a goal to shoot for. But more importantly, do we have an actual plan of some kind for achieving those goals? If we know where we want to go, do we have a map handy for getting there? And Richard has a good handle on the answer to that question. Take a look back at where you have come from; it will point the direction of where you want to end up. For us photographers, take a look back at 2013 and see what you can learn from how and where and what you shot. What went right? What went wrong?

Richard summed up his thoughts in an article entitled, What I Learned in 2013. But don’t be turned away by figuring you don’t really care about what Richard discovered. He has a knack for always taking his personal experiences and making them pertain to the rest of us, for passing on what he learned to all of us shooters. Now, there isn’t a shocking new, never-before-thought-of discovery to Richard’s teaching in this article. But there is an absolute wealth of information that each of us should constantly remember and be thinking about, both while planning a shoot and while out in the field. “If you try new things, you’ll learn something new” isn’t rocket science. But it is incredibly important to try new things to shake up your artistic eye and get your creative juices flowing. You also may just discover a new technique that improves all the old stuff you have been doing. But you’ll never know that unless you try, and all too often most of us never try. Richard discovered (or re-discovered) that in 2013. His experience is a goldmine of advice for the rest of us to keep in mind for 2014.

I’m not going to list all the discoveries and teaching points Richard makes (I’m not good enough to improve on what he has written). But I urge you to visit his site and read the article for yourself – now. In 2014. While you are making all those resolutions for the coming year (you can click here to visit his blog). And while you are there, look around a bit. I am betting you will find his site worthy of being bookmarked for regular reading. Thank you, Richard!

Then, another topic we talked about quite a bit last year … do you really need all that new equipment hitting the 2014 market? My advice (that I have trouble following, I admit) is that as long as your old gear allows you to make the photo you want, you don’t need anything new. It is only when your gear physically can’t accomplish a task that you need to find whatever it is that will. And here’s the kicker – almost all the recent cameras and lenses out there (the stuff you already own) will do all you ever really want it to do.

I read Kirk Tuck over on The Visual Science Lab regularly. Kirk definitely has his opinions on things, but he has been a successful pro for a lot of years now. And he wrote recently that he is divesting himself of a whole lot of gear (including some almost-new Sony DLSRs) for 2014. His take is that the minimal amount of not-necessarily-so-expensive cameras and lenses he likes to shoot with are more than adequate for what we do. It’s an interesting take on equipment in general and photography in general. But it makes a lot of sense, and it has me re-evaluating how I shoot and what I shoot with and my whole philosophy on shooting. It’s not real deep or anything; it’s just common sense talk among photographer friends. Trust me, this is an interesting article that will get you thinking about the whole equipment race and your own shooting. It may not change your mind or your style … but it will get you thinking. Click here for that article. And let me know what you think of it.

And, finally. If the above two articles don’t convince you that many times less can be more, just know that the huge CES (Consumer Electronics Show) is underway out in Vegas. Tune into any of the well-known photo sites for coverage of an absolute ton of new camera and lens releases from just about every camera company. If you just gotta have some new gear, now is the time to start checking your bank account.

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KelbyOne: Questions And Answers From A Kelby Elf


Unless you have been hibernating for the past week or so (not a bad idea, given the temperatures most of us have experienced lately), you have heard by now about KelbyOne (the merging of Kelby Training with NAPP). I read about this (sort of) new venture over on Scott’s blog yesterday. Given that I subscribe to Kelby Training, I thought I would do a bit more research on what all this may mean to us. I tried to get an interview with Scott, but he was booked solid for the day with meetings and other media commitments. The folks at Kelby are nothing if not accommodating, however, and I was switched over to a Kelby Elf (one of the temporary people that help out on busy days and events). He was glad to answer some of my questions.

Q. I am an older subscriber, so I frequently am fed Fiber One cereal for breakfast by my loving wife. I don’t care so much for that product. Is KelbyOne anything like Fiber One?
A. Well, sort of. If you continue with both we hope you will become a regular viewer.

Q. Ha ha! Do all Kelby Elves have your sense of humor?
A. You bet. Scott hires us because he is very elf-like himself. Well, more like the Keebler Elf than the rest of us, but don’t tell him I said that.

Q. I’m not sure I like the name KelbyOne. How did you decide on it?
A. Well, we reach such a wide audience all over the world that we wanted a name that was instantly recognizable to so many creative people.

Q. One?
A. Ha ha! You could work here with that sense of humor. The Kelby name was the one I actually was thinking of.

Q. And I don’t really get the new logo … where did you come up with that?
A. Scott demanded something new and fresh for this exciting concept, something bold and futuristic. Pete Collins and Corey Barker worked for months on ideas, mostly 3-D models that included animation. In the end Scott Kelby and Matt Kloskowski let it be known that they really liked the letter ‘K’. The team sort of just ran with that novel approach.

Q. As a long-time Kelby Training subscriber I appreciate the NAPP membership. But are there really new material or features that wouldn’t have shown up on one of the sites anyway this year?
A. New material is posted regularly on both sites now. That will only get better in the future..

Q. And new features?
A. New Features would be a great name for a band. And for the new website; just keep checking regularly..

Q. And I did have some trouble getting on either the new website or the NAPP site yesterday. Is the new site built to handle all the projected new traffic?
A. Rest assured we thought of that. You all are just such loyal subscribers that we were a bit overloaded for a day. Sort of like Matt after a trip to In and Out Burgers (lol).

Q. Please tell me this is not an Adobe-type trick to get me to pay more in the future for what I am already satisfied with.
A. This is not an Adobe-type trick to get you to pay more in the future for what you already are satisfied with.

Q. Please tell me you are sending me a coupon for a reduced subscription rate next year.
A. Nice try. I am an Elf, not a robot (although my first name is Robbie).

Q. Okay, Robbie, this is off message. Why does Scott always dress in black?
A. Scott believes we are defined by our inner character, not by fancy outer trappings. (Also, he once was told that black is slimming).

Q. And does Scott still enjoy riding and photographing Shetland ponies in his spare time?
A. Wow! You really do go a long way back, don’t you? Yes, Scott still loves photographing Shetland ponies, especially out in the wild. He and Bill Fortney are shooting a class on doing just that for KelbyOne later this year.

Q. Alright, Robbie. Before I go, is Scott really as excited and as dedicated to this new project as he seems?
A. He is. He is one of the fairest, most decent men you ever will meet. When he tells you he is doing this to offer each of you something new and of value, he means it completely. So help me Keebler!

On the off chance that you haven’t visited the new site yet, click here to do so. I have been a Kelby Training subscriber for quite a while now. And my personal recommendation is that it meant time and money well-spent. The new service promises no less.

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A Gathering Of Friends And The Peace They Provide

Yesterday I wrote about the feelings of despair I was having because of my family’s decision to move my mother to a care facility. Those feelings won’t altogether disappear for some time to come, but the friendship and fellowship of so many of you have dissipated many of the dark clouds. I heard from friends and fellow photographers all over the country, many sharing stories of their own family’s struggles with this kind of decision. Thanks to all of you; Sue and I were deeply touched. Yesterday’s community of photographers became a gathering of friends, and that fellowship made the day considerably brighter. Thank you.

And my dear friend Richard Small sent along a YouTube video for me to watch. His sense of what to say and do was perfect – the video struck just the right chord. It provided a sense of proportion to this world of ours, a comforting reminder of God’s power and His purpose. The images were coupled with a song that summed up so many of our feelings at this time of year. The video actually was a New Year’s greeting, but the timing still is perfect. I received from him a sense of peace that of course God reigns and is in command. There is a renewal of life and spirit in the video, a reminder that my mother’s life has been a good and full one. I would like to share that video today. And if you have perchance seen it, it is worth seeing all over again.

Tomorrow will be time enough to get back to thinking again about things photographic and lists of things to be done. Today is a time again to reflect and give thanks for all the blessings that have come my way. And that surely includes friends like all of you.

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A Community Of Photographers: More Than Taking Photos

Mom (in the middle) and two of her sisters in better times.

I haven’t posted for a bit (those of last week were written in advance of their posted dates). The reason was we were out of town, spending the entire week with my family in Northern Indiana. Usually those are happy occasions, time spent with my mother and my brothers. This trip, however, was to move my mother into a care facility, a place where she can be watched over 24 hours a day. Mom blessedly is physically strong; it is her mental abilities that have suffered so cruelly in the recent past. Our conversations for some time have been limited to the most superficial of topics, and those are repeated over and over. My brothers and I were faced with a decision that had to be made, no matter how badly we wanted to not make it.

The move was traumatic for the family. Mom knows she is not at home, the place she and my father built some 52 years ago. And as farm folks they didn’t have it built – they and my grandfather built it. It was her refuge after my father died ten years ago, and increasingly it was the place she retreated to as her memories became more and more restricted. She had a routine that she could follow each morning and night, one that carried her through this recent past (at least minimally). But when it became clear to us that she needed more help more often than we could reliably provide, that home had to be replaced. Her safety and health became more important than her comfort zone.

Mom is unhappy in her new home, a spacious-enough apartment with all the amenities she needs. The staff is caring and supportive. She was able to take Sammy (her Papillion of many years) with her. But she cries and wants to go home, home to a house that doesn’t exist anymore for her (or for us as the place in which she and Dad raised us). It is so heartbreaking that photography is about the last thing on my mind right now, new year or not. All of us know intellectually without a doubt that we made the right and necessary decision … but each of us feel in our heart that we have somehow abandoned Mom, left her to the kindness of others. It is difficult to reconcile those feelings.

That is where my dear friend Richard Small, so far away in California, comes in. He called this morning and reassured me that what we did was right and necessary. He shared a similar story that he and his lovely wife went through with Yuriko’s mother back in Japan. He was a rock for me to lean on, a comfort this morning in reminding me that what is right is not always easy or pleasant. We talked about mothers and families and sons and daughters. He was what I needed so badly today. And then during that conversation we were able to talk a bit about photography, also … a reminder that we have to go on and that life goes on. We shared news about our photographer friends and shooting and workshops and all the comfort that things photographic have provided so many of us for so long now. He reminded me that we are a community, a community of friends that care so much for one another. We may have been brought together by a love of cameras and a zeal for the craft, but so many of us grow to be close friends that share now our lives and life with one another. I needed to be reminded of that, also, this morning. Thank you so very much, Richard.

It is indeed a new year. I have my photographic resolutions floating around in the back of my mind; I have things I want to accomplish and learn and improve upon. I want to continue to share thoughts and information on these pages throughout 2014. But I have added a new resolution to the old list I had in mind. I want to be as good and as faithful a friend to so many of you as you are to me. And I consider that to be a New Year’s gift, the first of 2014.

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Happy New Year!

Wishing all of you a Happy and Joyous New Year!

What a privilege it is to know so many of you and share time and fellowship with you. May 2014 be everything you hope for, and may all your photos tell a wonderful Story.

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Adobe Photoshop CC Offer Gone Today. A Public Service Announcement?


It’s sort of fitting to end the year the way it began – with an announcement concerning Photoshop CC. That subscription program certainly has been the center of a whole lot of attention throughout 2013 (some good; most pretty bad). It’s rumored that today is the very last day you still can take advantage of the $9.99 a month offer for Photoshop and Lightroom (I write ‘rumored’ because it is increasingly difficult to take Adobe’s announcements as anything close to certain). But, as a service to all photographers everywhere, consider this fair warning: Adobe has announced that today is the very last day you can subscribe to Photoshop CC at a reduced price.

Look, at some point Adobe is going to actually mean what they say when announcing a deadline. You don’t want to be caught on the outside looking in when that happens. And as distasteful as this subscription mdel is to so many of us, it is here to stay. If you are still mulling over whether or not to sign up, decide today. Decide either way; let your personal situation be your guide. But do decide.

2014 is just around the corner. Literally. Enjoy this last day; stay safe; celebrate all the blessings we have been given.

And I’ll see you back here in 2014.

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50 Portraits: A Photographer’s Review

Mrs. Claus is owed a big debt of Christmas gratitude (as she is all year long).

Today we are following up on Friday’s post (a review of Lindsay Adler’s Creative 52 portrait guide). We are photographers. We have earned that title by studying and learning and practicing (along with a healthy dose of dreaming). When we evaluate a photography book it is not with just a critic’s outlook of how pretty the pictures are or what kind of a following the author has. We hope to discover something that will improve our skills, sharpen our artistic eye, and take us to another level. Often we long to be inspired, to be captivated by what the lens can capture (even if it is not our lens). The book can be beautiful, poetic, soaring. It also can be beat up, homely or homespun. What we look for is whatever it is between the covers that will make us better photographers. 50 Portraits, a photo book by Gregory Heisler is just that kind of resource.

Forget Santa Claus; it is Mrs. Claus who is owed a Christmas debt of gratitude. She placed Gregory’s book under the tree Christmas morning, and it has been in my hands much of the time since then. And I have to admit (to my embarrassment, I am sure) that until recently I didn’t know who Gregory Heisler was. I’m still not very conversant with his career or biography. But I am now a fan. This is a big, beautiful soaring, inspiring, informative portrait book. You could just put it out on a coffee table and let everyone (including yourself) enjoy it. But that would be a shame. This is a book made for photographers, giving you a long look at how the very best portrait photographers approach their subjects and their craft. It is inspiring; if any of us ever lacks for an I-want-to-do-that concept, open any page of 50 Portraits. Then go out and try to do the same.

The first thing you will notice and appreciate is the portraits themselves … they are big and beautiful. When we talk about learning, part of that process is deconstructing images that catch our eye. We study the work of others to see what there is that draws us into that photo (and keeps us there). What is there about the pose? The lighting? A gesture? The background? The portraits in this book offer you hours of doing that. My practice (and recommendation) is to do just that. Lesson #1; thank you, Gregory Heisler.

Next up is the backstory for each portrait. It is instructive and fascinating to get inside the mind of the photographer out in the field. Learning to improvise, to shoot on-the-fly is part of producing a product, no matter if it is for a family member or a celebrity client. This book is sort of an insider’s account of that sort of adaptation, only even more so because many of these subjects are well-known artists. It makes for an entertaining read in addition to an informative one.

Then Heisler offers up key points on the technique of each particular shoot. Now, these aren’t diagrams and lighting setups. They are not lists of equipment recommendations or Photoshop actions. These thoughts on technique are the sort of considerations you think of when deciding how to approach a particular shoot. More cerebral, if you will. But that doesn’t mean they are difficult to understand or not worth your consideration. Lindsay’s book, which we discussed Friday, is more of the hands-on advice; this one is more of the what-I-hope-to-convey-to-the-viewer kind of technique. We all will have to search elsewhere than 50 Portraits for our equipment needs. This one is more of a I’m-ready-for-dessert kind of instruction book.

We all should be building a reference library of books, books that teach and books that inspire. We all should have a collection of books that we enjoy returning to over and over. It is part of learning and growing. Theses are capital investments, money well-spent for a long time to come. 50 Portraits is such a book. It is just worth having and reading and re-reading. If you are serious about portraits (and getting better at taking portraits) buy this book. But don’t just buy it – buy it and study it and read it and re-read it. it is that good. It is that enjoyable.

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