Sunday, November 22, 2015

Friday in Fells Point

Went out with Kevin and Rob to Fell's Point last night. It's become something of a weekly ritual for us, to wander out into the sketchy night of Baltimore and photograph at random in response to the scenes we walk past. Consider it the photographer's equivalent of sketching, a practice in seeing in a casual atmosphere with no preconceived goal in mind.

Olympus OMD E-M1 with the M. Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8, 19mm at f/4, 1/2" exposure. 

Per usual, we started off the night with a stop out to eat. The venue of choice was Dinosaur BBQ, a popular chain in the northern end of New England, but new to a region as far south as Baltimore. I'd never really been to a genuine BBQ restaurant before, and the place certainly impressed. Definitely a fan of their habenero hot sauce (I'm a sucker for the ultra-spicy). And although I'm not a huge fan of deviled eggs, the presentation called for a quick snap.

Olympus OMD E-M1 with the M. Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8, 31mm at f/2.8, 1/4" exposure. 

I really do love food photography. Looking forward to one day where I can actually apply it in a working fashion and use some more deliberate lighting.

After sufficient imbibing, we took to Fells Point with a casual eye for compelling scenes. Despite being warm for a mid-November evening, the air was still frigid. Rob was kind enough to lend me (a remarkably dorky) hat and gloves, else I don't think I would've managed to stay out as long as I did (which is to also say I don't know how he dealt with it sans hat and gloves... maybe I'm just getting "soft" these days).

Olympus OMD E-M1 with the M. Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8, 12mm at f/2.8, 3/5" exposure. 
Olympus OMD E-M1 with the M. Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8, 12mm at f/11, 15" exposure. 

I was primarily trying two different techniques. The first was slow handheld exposures, adjusting ISO in aperture priority mode to to keep quality higher with as low a shutter speed I felt I could handle in the moment (shutter priority seems to underestimate my steadiness sometimes). Second was use of keystoning, a JPG function of Olympus cameras basically mimicking the function of tilt-shift lenses via digital adjustment. It's a technique I've employed in DXO for my real estate work, and though I've tooled with it in-camera a few times I never really took the time to exercise the capability. It's pretty fun to use, though tricky to level off perfectly so for deliverable product right out of JPG files some finer adjustment would ultimately be required.

Our city wandering took us to a construction site beside a fenced off cobalt yard. It was a weird locale, with random people almost drunkenly wandering around the borders of the fencing. Deep down, the mischievous rebel in me wanted to explore the site beyond (the wholly ineffective) fencing, but alas the company likely wasn't quite as up to flying in the face of static authority. Not a bad thing necessarily.

Olympus OMD E-M1 with the M. Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8, 25mm at f/4, 2.5" exposure. 
Olympus OMD E-M1 with the M. Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8, 12mm at f/4, 10" exposure. 

It felt like I was fighting ghosting and lens flare the whole night, unfortunately. Honestly, it often feels like I'm fighting ghosts in high contrast scenes all the time these days. I'm not sure if I'm just "doing it wrong" or if there is some greater fault to the coatings of my lenses (I'm not exactly gentle with my gear). After leaving the construction site we shot a few Hopkins University sites by the water, and it seemed like every shot fell victim to some blob of purple creeping in opposite a bright light in an otherwise dark scene.

Olympus OMD E-M1 with the M. Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8, 16mm at f/4, 1.3" exposure.
Olympus OMD E-M1 with the M. Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8, 20mm at f/11, 15" exposure.
Olympus OMD E-M1 with the M. Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8, 17mm at f/4, 1" exposure.
Olympus OMD E-M1 with the M. Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8, 12mm at f/4, 2" exposure.
Olympus OMD E-M1 with the M. Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8, 17mm at f/4, 3" exposure.

Moving over to the busier side of Fells Point, Kevin suddenly recalled a neat bar themed by the music of the late 90's and early 2000's, basically the music we grew up on. We all needed a bit of reprieve from the cold, so finding some temporary shelter wasn't a bad idea, but I've never had a good taste in my mouth for the more touristy parts of the city. Call it social anxiety, I'm just not a fan of the crowds and have difficulty not collapsing inward and becoming a cynical ass when surrounded by people. It's hard to keep my judgments in check, so typically I try to stay quiet.

Olympus OMD E-M1 with the M. Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8, 21mm at f/2.8, 1/5" exposure.
Olympus OMD E-M1 with the M. Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8, 30mm at f/2.8, 1/15" exposure.
Olympus OMD E-M1 with the M. Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8, 23mm at f/2.8, 1/10" exposure.
Olympus OMD E-M1 with the M. Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8, 30mm at f/2.8, 1/4" exposure.

(It felt a bit strange walking past this lady. I couldn't see her face or how she may have been feeling. Her attire didn't necessarily shout homeless, possibly just drunk, kicked out of the bar and passed out slumped on a bench. I've been there before, and it's not a good place to be. Didn't say anything, though, just kept on walking. Hold some regret for not saying something.)

Olympus OMD E-M1 with the M. Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8, 28mm at f/2.8, 1/5" exposure.

The dive Kevin led us into was actually pretty incredible. A mostly open floor space with really awesome projected imagery and animations cast onto broken white wall panels. Simple setup, but paired with the ambient music of the venue I felt like I could have sat there for hours quietly watching and listening. Usually I hate bars for their crowds and my ensuing inability to relax without going over the top on drinking, but this place I could genuinely see myself heading to just to sit and relax. There wasn't a show that night, but I wouldn't mind heading back some time to see who might be playing.

Olympus OMD E-M1 with the M. Zuiko 7-14mm f/2.8, 7mm at f/2.8, 1/4" exposure.
Olympus OMD E-M1 with the M. Zuiko 7-14mm f/2.8, 7mm at f/2.8, 1/5" exposure.
Olympus OMD E-M1 with the M. Zuiko 7-14mm f/2.8, 12mm at f/2.8, 1/3" exposure.
Olympus OMD E-M1 with the M. Zuiko 7-14mm f/2.8, 7mm at f/2.8, 1/5" exposure.

A pretty good night, all in all. After spending a couple weeks dipping into bars in the evenings and not actually accomplishing any photography, we got back into the groove of going out to shoot for sake of shooting. Felt incredibly good to get back on track with what our Friday night get-togethers started off as. Still, looking forward to longer days already. These frigid nights are murder.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Across the Street

Olympus OMD E-M1 with the M. Zuiko 40-150mm f/2.8, 79mm at f/4, 1/4" exposure.

I give this Pizza Boli's the stare down almost every night. It's a simple pizza shop, but there's a weird quality of the light coming off of it, alone on a dark corner just across the street from my apartment. There's often cars parked in front of it and random individuals loitering next to its rarely-used outdoor seating area. Just a neat space to watch.

Despite living here nearly 4 years, yesterday was the first time I stopped to photograph it. There are actually a lot of neat spaces on the street in front of my building that deserve to be photographed, but for some reason I've had difficulty mustering up the motivation to shoot them. Perhaps last night's shot will be enough to open those flood gates of untapped creative potential lurking just outside my front door.

Oh, and the pizza at this place is pretty stellar. A bit on the greasy side, but heavy on the cheese, and I definitely like my pizza heavy on the cheese (even if I regret it later).

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Landscapes in Fog

Olympus OMD E-M1 with the M. Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8, 16mm with a composite of a 60" f/11 shot for sharp starbursts and glassy water and  an 8" f/4 shot to blend in greater context of clouds in the sky.

Stopped by Fort Armstead this evening what with the heavy fog following a weirdly warm day of persistent light rain. Spent pretty much all of my office day anticipating gorgeously scenic views.

My partner joined me on this little outing. He's been stressed over an upcoming visit from a friend, and I was a bit stressed myself having discovered someone stole my credit card electronically and made nearly $3,000 in purchases in a 30 minute span before the bank closed off the account (not the first time this kind of thing has happened, likely not the last). We both needed a bit of an escape to comfort, and he was in the mood for tacos, so I took him out to Taco Bell (his choice) and he humored me while I shot some landscape scenes.

Watching the fog roll in and out, the landscape altering between clear and hazy, was pretty neat to witness in person. Not sure what drove motion in the fog being as the wind was all but absent. I've never seen the Key Bridge in such conditions before, and it's a scene I hope to entertain my camera with again some time. I've really been on a fog-centric binge as of late.

Olympus OMD E-M1 with the M. Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8, 16mm and 50" at f/4

Heading back I stopped once more to capture the little-used railroad in the valley between the main highway and Fort Armstead Park. The glow from the nearby chemical plant and power plants was bringing a strong glow to the fog in the distance and it made for a nice symmetry shot as a square. Didn't indulge the scene for too long, though, as the hour was drawing later and we were both getting sleepy (not sleepy enough to fail in my commitment to blogging shots as they come, clearly). I shot the same scene (without the fog) back in my Nikon D40X days, struggling to actually compose the scene, let alone focus it, with the Nikkor 35mm f/1.8. I'm reminded frequently in subtle ways as to the benefits of operating in the mirrorless world with memories of these kinds of low light scenes being an insurmountable struggle.

Tomorrow I hope to do a bit of shooting around Baltimore City proper with my friend Rob. It will also mark attempt one of shooting real estate images as JPG, lightly processed and delivered in expedient fashion. Here's to hoping the change in workflow pans out.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Why am I shooting RAW?

Going through shots today in DXO, editing them for distribution to a client from a mess of RAW files requiring cumbersome editing, I came across a few JPG images captured in tandem and had a weird sort of epiphany. Why exactly am I shooting RAW?

Perhaps it's simply a facet of DXO Optics Pro's preview rendering, RAW files are clearly sub-sampled and look like garbage next to a JPG, but even exported none of the adjustments I make with a majority of my real estate work tend to benefit much from the latitude offered in RAW. Olympus is notorious for their stellar JPG processing engine, and most of the time I end up liking the JPG images I render in-camera from RAW files better than the RAW files themselves with editing. There's a quality to the in-camera tonality that I've never been able to reproduce with so much going on behind the scenes that even a Lightroom camera profile isn't able to completely reproduce. So why am I taxing myself, spending so much time massaging RAW files to create a deliverable image when patience in the process of the capture and smart manipulation of color profiles effectively accomplishes the same thing?

Were more of my work on the higher end of real estate and interior design, I would be investing the time to work images heavily, taking advantage of the dynamic range otherwise buried deep in the shadows and highlights of RAW file data. But that is not my business model. I've built value in my business by being quick in my turnaround of images, not for sake of post-processing prowess. I'm not particularly convinced there is any recognized value perceived in the processing I run my work through. So why am I even doing it when I'm adept enough with the manipulation of the JPG engine in-camera to produce an immediate high grade product? Barring superstitious wariness associated with the remarkably unlikely "what if" scenarios wherein a RAW would be beneficial, I don't really know.

Ultimately, I've come to this dumbfounding realization that I should perhaps back away from shooting RAW for absolutely everything. Or at least I should migrate to JPG + RAW capture, but I'm pretty convinced the only function of those RAW files will be to ensure I keep the likes of Seagate and Western Digital in business buying mountain of hard drives on which to store heaps of useless data. I'm firing off hundreds of thousands of frames annually and consuming terabytes of disk space with files inevitably saved as JPG images anyway, so why am I not being smarter about my process and simply getting rid of the middle man? I have neither the time nor the interest in massaging hundreds of RAW files weekly in futile attempt to massage low-end real estate photography into passable works of art. That's just stupid, these are images for business, not art.

This next weekend I'm dedicated to this idea of getting the image effectively perfect straight out of the camera. I'm tired of this shot-by-shot editing process sucking up hours of my time to accomplish effectively the same thing before default RAW profiles rub away all the work invested in getting the shot right when taken. These are houses and apartments I'm photographing, they hold still and I have nothing but time to ensure they present in a photo the way I mean for them to present, vastly different from laborious artistic processing or needed latitude in captured data for sake of massaging the imperfections out of a candid portrait. The FOMO (fear-of-missing-out) attitude does not realistically apply here, and the benefits to my mental sanity for reduced processing time, as well as benefit to my customers in the form of even higher turnaround times in product delivery, present no downsides. It's simply a matter of confidence. Confidence that I am, in fact, skilled enough to get the image right at the very moment of the taking (which I have), and the confidence that I will not fall victim to supposed "what if" scenario considerations (which I need to build).

I want to say it's a gamble to commit to this headfirst dive into process change so sharply, but it's hard to even quantify or present rationale for what I'd supposedly be gambling. I'm reclaiming personal time for personal work, enhancing the primary benefit of my business model for my current client base, and saving hundreds on expansive backup systems by not constructing mountains of under-utilized RAW image data. This may be the most important business decision I have ever made, like a legacy company moving away from paper copy for the enormous benefits of soft-copy-only workflows. Efficiency in its most basic form.

Sharp, clear, balanced toning. What else could I have been looking for in RAW?

Monday, November 16, 2015

Baltimore City Shots of September

Going to try going in a little bit of a different direction with this blog to try and update it with content more often (and allow myself some time to digest the things that I'm doing at any given time).

I've been taking a different direction with my editing process as compared to the usual hard line processes I've followed for years. It may very well come down to dissatisfaction with how little I publish lately because the images I'm taking don't necessarily compel me once I get them onto a computer and up on the monitor. They're a joy in the process of the taking, but I often let that joy of the moment fade and thus never produce anything to share. This isn't to say I'm not beating on photos constantly. Quite the contrary, I spend nearly every evening massaging various photos shot within the recent months quite a bit, they simply never go anywhere. Ultimately, though, what is the point of photography if not to share?

I took the following images in Baltimore City back in September while walking the streets with my friends Kevin and Rob around the Federal Hill area. The city can be quite beautiful at night, but I blame my jaded senses for not finding them more interesting. I was trying to capture interesting starbursts in the hard points of light, hence the use of f/11 (which on the micro four-thirds format introduces a bit of softening due to diffraction, a crux in the use of such a small format).

Olympus OMD E-M1, M. Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 at 20mm, f/11, 10".

Olympus OMD E-M1, M. Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 at 40mm, f/11, 13".

Despite the availability of over 12 stops of latitude in dynamic range, I rarely ever took advantage of it in my processing. Maybe it was the pixel-peeping realization of added noise or the severe aversion to the look of notorious "clown vomit" HDR. As a result, my images at night rarely ever seemed to capture the breadth of a scene for insistence on heightened contrast. Lately, though, finally getting over my OCD tendencies to only adjust Lightroom sliders in factors of 5 or 10 and actually using them in the fluid manner they're designed to be used, I've more comfortably tapped into the range of tones available in an image, freely experimenting with what was otherwise hidden in nearly-clipped shadows and highlights.

Frankly, there's a lot there that I just wasn't touching before. The style may be far less "artsy" with heavily lifted blacks and crushed whites in the tone curve, but for sake of a realistic image I find them appealing in much the same way I like the OOC JPG files Olympus' engine produces for my mobile uploads (which still remain my most enjoyed post-processing method to date for the immediacy and ease). And once past the +/- 50 mark on the shadows and highlights sliders, those starbursts I was hunting for took a pretty fantastic shape compared to the gross blobs of light they'd otherwise present.

For this purpose, I've been enjoying the M. Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 more and more. Odd, because I once thought the lens would be relegated to a desk cabinet for its overlap with my 17mm f/1.8 and 12mm f/2.0, but with age those primes have lost some spark and re-learning the flexibility of zoom lenses in my real estate work has made me less elitist in my attitudes toward the normal zoom range in general. I may still run to my primes for people photos or candid shooting, but anything laboriously considered (such as a landscape or architectural study) enjoys the freedom to fine-tune composition and framing in a more dynamic fashion than would otherwise be limited by where my feet can take me (alas, I have not yet learned to levitate, nor added a Little Giant ladder to my backpack).

I do find myself annoyed more and more by flare/ghosting, however. It's an unavoidable facet of photography, of course, but my patience for it has dwindled. I once took it to be a facet of the M. Zuiko 7-14mm f/2.8, but having similar experiences with other lenses I'm learning it's a direct result of how I like to include hard sources of light in my photos. Arguably this indicates that I'm simply doing it wrong, photographing a scene that is. In real estate work I've developed methods for negating the issue, but it will always persist in the form of purple blobs in night photos, sometimes treatable with deliberate post work but other times relegating shots to un-rescue-able. First world problems, I suppose... it's likely a very common struggle I've just had the luck to not encounter until recently (or perhaps I simply never noticed it before?).

Olympus OMD E-M1, M. Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 at 34mm, f/11, 10".

Anywho, I'm going to try and keep steadfast in posting images I've worked on in the evenings here on out and pontificate on whats going through my head at that moment. Probably a far more productive use of my time and any readers attention than superficially high-brow commentary on otherwise un-relate-able subject matter forced through my fingertips.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Looking to Move Toward the High-End

Really nicely designed condo space shot for Airbnb a couple weekends ago (
Shot on the Olympus OMD E-M1 with the M. Zuiko 7-14mm f/2.8, 0.4" at f/8.0 and ISO 200.

I've been working in the low end of real estate photography for a good while now. Calling my local market foothold a monopoly would be hyperbole, of course, but given my neglect of deliberate marketing (and even lack of a dedicated website for my brand) people know me by word of mouth, and I am generally agreed upon as a reliable provider of above-average real estate photos with low-overhead and high-turnaround time. Basically the dream for realtors dealing in sub-$300K and strictly rental properties (my shoot for Silo Point continues to be my one and only outlier in that equation... would love to have a client like that again).

Lately my idle hours have been spent navigating varied tutorials written on real estate photography, some featuring things I know already, others showcasing the different available styles currently big in the mainstream market. Naturally these tutorials showcase higher end listings, the kinds of spaces with lots of custom furniture and lighting to create a genuinely one-of-a-kind space. More than the information in the tutorials, I find myself focused on these cleverly designed spaces as subjects I really want to photograph. Sometimes I've been lucky enough to shoot such spaces on my current contracts, but because the nature of the work necessitates low-overhead and high-turnaround I don't get to invest the time and effort I'd really like to, so they always end up looking just above-average at best.

But I really want to get out of this low-end trap I'm in. I don't want to lose momentum in the advancement of my business all because of the high-volume nature of building a successful business purely on low-end work (to a degree, it's the difference between wage slavery and salaried work). Thus I am committing to a new plan of income stream sacrifice for necessary portfolio building (which also includes actually developing a dedicated portfolio showcasing website again).

Clients straddling the line between low and high-end, or who have investments in both spheres of real estate, are plenty obvious in the scheduling process based on the content of our dialogue. They usually pay attention to little details such as when the light comes through the windows, and remark on how well their spaces are lit naturally. Because the nature of my contract demands high-turnaround, I usually book these clients amid a mess of others less attentive for sake of making big earnings for that day. Currently I'm operating on a breakneck pace that fits driving to a listing, the shoot, and driving to the next listing all within tight 1-hour blocks, ultimately leaving only 20-30 minutes for the actual photography for each space (it's insane, but I'm good at operating under such pressure). Without the time to really ingest a space and deliberately consider how it is lit, I will never create the kinds of images I want to be creating.

The change I am committing to right now is to isolate these clients with higher end considerations, take the gamble on the preparation of their spaces and allot maybe 2 or 3 hours to their listing to allow for relaxed, considered, creative investment in the photographs taken for those properties. Instead of the shotgun volume of shots (4 corners of each room and 1-2 straight on, my current autopilot standard angles), I will consider only the angles which best showcase the room (maybe 1 or 2 of the strongest angles, more if the room is just that good), and develop images with very calculated techniques using flash and compositing (the kind of editing processes that delineate high-end real estate photography from photographers I admire). In post, rather than quickly punching each image with a preset and delivering as product, I will construct pieces of art that sell a space unquestionably (and not be begrudged the time investment because they will be images I am personally invested in at the inception of their capture). Rather than a mammoth block of 40 mediocre images, I will deliver 12-15 with the highest considerations.

Or so that is the ideal of how I'm envisioning this personal time and income stream investment playing out. Suppose we'll see how well it goes in practice.

The sacrifice of 2 blocks of time for standard shoots to enable this kind of invested image capture translates to a few hundred dollars in sacrificed income. Once upon a time that would have sounded awful to me, but at current it plays rather well into maintenance of mental health and retaining passion for photography as an art form beyond the burnout of photography as business. And as a happy aside, it's a liberating thing to realize your personal considerations of health and passion can comfortably trump the capitalist freight train of business.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Seasonal GAS

Really hard to beat the infallibility of a 100K+ segment RGB light meter for night shooting.
Shot on the Nikon V1 with the 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 at 10mm, f/8.0 and 20" at ISO 100.
For the first time in a long while I've been manic over the idea of buying into a completely new camera system for reasons as yet inexplicable. I theorize that a lack of self-motivated outings to photograph for my sake instead of the sake of a client tied in with the already heavy seasonal SADs (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is driving my brain to consumerist notions that picking up a new camera in a new system and a new format will be a sort of savior to my rapidly rotting muse. Thinking historically, there seems to be a trend with the Winter months and the onset of seasonal GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome).

Specifically, and most recently, I'm thinking back to the Nikon V1, which I purchased on deep discount at Ritz Camera while the company was shuttering all of its storefronts. I remember developing a really difficult-to-navigate love/hate relationship with that camera, always regarding it as a direct competitor, and an inferior one at that, to the Olympus E-P3 that stood as my workhorse at the time. Both cameras were similar in size, my preferred kit for each was an assortment of prime lenses, and ultimately they were twin systems in which the V1 overlapped the E-P3 but with enough shortcomings to negate it in 90% of stuff-I'm-taking-with-me-to-shoot-with-tonight choices. But right now, I find myself fondly thinking back to that camera and rather wishing I still had it to wander the streets at night. For all it got wrong with nearly no buttons/dials/switches, it had solid autofocus at night and Nikon's RGB meters have always handled night exposures better than the rest. That is what my current creative panging cries for right now - a superior night photography experience.

Thus the current subject of my GAS is the Nikon D750, in great departure from my typical minimalist mindset when it comes to equipment. Next to my current workhorse Olympus E-M1, the D750 is a tank, heavy and clunky and lacking all sorts of design finesse despite being but a lowly plastic sensor housing. It goes without saying the imaging capabilities, ability to accurately acquire focus at night, and superior metering would set the tank apart from my E-M1. I've long been yearning for a prime lens kit system, and the Film Maker's package from Nikon comes with 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm f/1.8 lenses, plus spare batteries. But most importantly, and the real differentiator for me between any Olympus and Nikon camera matchup, is the difference in how files are toned. Olympus has always held some notoriety for very punchy and deeply saturated colors in their JPG output, and that ultimately translates to how their RAW files come out as well (not all RAWs are created equal). Nikon, on the other hand, takes more of a flat tone approach, which I honestly think is more of what I'm hunting for right now.

There is a quality to night images photographed on the Nikon V1 in which shadows and highlights would only really clip at my behest with sliders in Lightroom, whereas my Olympus cameras have always tended to clip blacks in night scenes, requiring precarious exposure compensation adjustments which inevitably clip highlights for not too terribly much recovery in the blacks of the frame. Everyone pre-bakes their RAW files just a little bit, and the Sony/Aptina sensors paired with Nikon's rendering engine provides such a beautiful base canvas to work on when in pursuit of a truly high-fidelity image. Olympus' approach, on the other hand, I always tended to prefer because it coaxes the direction of image processing with variations in the arguably punchier direction of its rendering of color and contrast. All of this is to say that an Olympus camera will always be superior for everyday shooting because it can help guide an aloof muse, whereas a Nikon camera's place, to me, seems much more in tune with those with a preconceived vision of what is to be photographed, providing a base palette that is malleable to go in the direction of the photographer's choosing. Right now, I want that flat base palette.

The rational side of me of course says "You don't need to buy a damn thing, just get off your ass and go photograph what you see". And I really can't argue with that logic, because as cliche as the saying is it really is the camera with you that is the best camera. In the meantime, however, I'm going to quietly crave my old Nikon roots.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Homage to E-P3

I'm ultimately late in mentioning this, but the Olympus E-P3 has been officially retired. Of all the things that could have done it in, the battery charger shorted (yes, I'm aware I could just get a replacement, but superficially forcing this camera into retirement is actually a weird sort of necessity for reasons of quirky mental allocations of value and function... basically I'm just weird).

Purchased in August of 2011, the Olympus E-P3 was as close as I could seem to get to a true spiritual successor to the Panasonic GF1 that died tragically in The Car Accident (caps for emphasis). I was new to Olympus menus, new to the famed Olympus JPG engine, and the sensor was arguably old hat by the time the E-P3 was released, but it appealed to me in both design and image quality from first snap.

One of the my first shots with the E-P3 on August 1, 2011.
Shot with the M. Zuiko 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 RII at 35mm, 1/160" @ f/7.1 and ISO 200.
I built up an entire prime lens system around this camera body, always in love with the form factor of rangefinder styling. Not even a full year later in 2012, I started picking up my first paid photography work and kicked off my business with the E-P3, M. Zuiko 12mm f/2.0, and 45mm f/1.8 (eventually adding the 17mm f/1.8 which would become my favorite prime lens of all time). A simple, diminutive kit, which earned jeers from clients until they saw the photos and were left baffled.

The E-P3 had banged into more walls and railings than I can remember, dropped more times than fingers and toes can account for, and took a tumble off a moving train once. Never a problem for it to deal with a little abuse, it kept on shooting like nothing happened. Even after picking up the Olympus E-M1 and PRO M. Zuiko zoom lenses to build a (superficial) professional-looking front, the E-P3 still came with me in the car and was frequently my go-to for casual street shooting. Paired with the 45mm f/1.8 (itself showing a lot of wear and tear these days) I had a perfectly subtle combo which produced stellar images even 4 years later.

Olympus got a lot right with the E-P3. It was a perfect maturation of all design philosophies governing Micro Four Thirds at the time, marrying speedy menu operation with smart wheel-based controls and a touch screen that was actually useful (and totally not the gimmicky thing I thought it was until I actually used it). The sensor was older Panasonic tech, but Olympus squeezed every frothing drop of quality from it, and I still miss the use of OLEDs in the rear screen display (I'd often whine about images looking better on the back of my camera than on my computer monitor... that was an actual issue to me once upon a time... wow). With the VF-3 in the hot shoe, I discovered my love of waist-level viewfinder composition, and with the PENPAL bluetooth accessory expanded my horizons by editing and distributing images with my tablet in a completely new workflow paradigm. Mostly, though... I miss the size.

One of the last frames captured with the E-P3.
Shot with the M. Zuiko 45mm f/1.8, 1/400" @ f/3.5 and ISO 200.
Word around the rumor mill is that Olympus plans on releasing a re-envisioning of the PEN line next year. And frankly I can't wait. For all its technological advances over the PENs, the E-M1 simply isn't the camera I want to be using all the time. Even sans vertical grip, there is a lost charm that I could probably get back with an E-P5, but I wouldn't want to hamstring my budget given how much I'm already anticipating this re-imagining, this... New PEN. Coupled with the rumors of those hyper-primes Olympus has patented... Oh yes, I am absolutely prepared to rebuild the prime lens kit.

So thank you, E-P3. Thank for your years of service, thank you for accepting my beatings with grace, and thank you for putting into perspective the kind of photographer I want to be seen as. Now please don't be jealous as I froth over your yet-unborn successor.

Mood Maintenance Methodology

My friend, Karen, shared a video with me maybe 2 years ago. A short by a photographer in which he dribbles on in a depressed monologue about the seasonal woes that are inevitably tied to Winter and the daylight ruin of turning clocks back an hour every November. It's actually a very good piece, and while perhaps not particularly inspiring in any overt, life changing way, it's reassuring in that the struggle of keeping creative drive up, keeping one's emotional health well managed, during the season is a shared hardship.

Personally, I remember Winter seasons when I'd simply retire the camera to a bag for months at a time and binge in excess on video games as my alternative escape. This was, of course, back before photography became a powerhouse hobby that largely governs major decisions and life choices for me, and today (and probably for the past 3-4 years) video games hold my attention about as well as a rattle captivates a baby. Lightroom and Photoshop are my video games now, and I'll sooner kill off evenings beating up old RAW files (and not publishing the results) than invest enough time to get past the starting area of Skyrim. But one can only batter the same RAW files for so long before they become redundant and boring, and once again evenings with nothing to do return to tax an already stir crazy brain.

So what is a creatively impassioned person to do when the daylight hours grow short and are otherwise robbed by the demands of a traditional work schedule?

I'll say right now, the working solution that has gotten me through the last 2 years with minimal cabin fever insanity seems so obvious I can't help but question my critical thinking skills. Thing is, it does require persistent dedication to an overall routine change, and it isn't something that is gently transitioned into but must happen immediately when the clocks turn back. Or, more accurately, it requires no routine change at all, but rather a willingness to ignore the arbitrary factor that humanity has agreed upon as global delusion, time. So maybe it would be more helpful to never turn your clocks back at all, because the most effective cure for seasonal downs I've yet found is simply getting up early.

I mean really early. Before the sun comes up early. Hell, before the sun comes up and with enough time to shower, eat breakfast, watch a dumb morning cartoon, drive somewhere 30 minutes away, and then hike another 15 minutes to the spot kind of early. Any successful photographer harps on those wee morning hours as this magical "other world", and their images are amazing and there is a good reason for it. I'm still not disciplined enough to pull off those 3AM mornings the Big Names manage, but holy crap, even waking up with enough time to spend an hour photographing the morning before driving into work is a thing of soul enriching magic.

Think about it. You're going to spend some block of probably more than 8 hours in a batcave of an office, and even if you rush to get in early, nobody else is on that schedule (forever governed by the arbitrary time on their clocks) so you'll still wind up staying later just to complete tasks as they gradually roll in. Coming into work early only ensures you're going to put in a few extra hours and, maybe, work a shorter Friday or something inconsequential (or if you're salaried, nothing at all). Because your peers are operating on a social clock and value a culture which eats at 7 or 8PM and drinks until 11PM and then maybe crashes out by midnight, the immediate perception is that we must conform to this late evening routine lest we relegate ourselves to the bin of social outcasts (see also: old people). And because of the overbearing influence of our peers, be they friends or coworkers, this change may not seem as easy as it actually is.

In the end we're all pretty depressed to walk out the office gates at 5PM and see that the sun dipped under the horizon 30 minutes ago with a mocking "See ya, bitches!". For the majority of people, that's the point of the social pressure to get together in the evenings, because human beings are generally social creatures and it only makes sense to surround oneself with friends during the long-cold-dark season. But for creative types, the ones who lose their minds when they slip into any dry spell in which new work is not produced nor projects pursued, that kind of socialization is about as effective in coping with the season as a nicotine patch for a pack-a-day smoker (pro tip: they're not super effective). The social atmosphere is a temporary distraction from the underlying stress of wanting to create new (and thoughtful) work. And the amazing thing is that's totally possible to do even during the Winter months, but it requires a shunning of the social circle band-aid, willingness to adopt some old man sleeping habits and the self-motivation to actually get out of bed at 4 or 5 in the morning. It's a lifestyle change, and like commitment to a healthy diet (not to be confused with fad dieting) making the choice and following through with it the first time is the hard part. After that, it's routine.

None of this is to say you aren't going to "slip", and considering that "slipping" generally just means "hanging out with your friends late one night" that's not so bad. Personally, I still allow myself such egregious betrayal of my lauded Winter Routine Change on weekends. In my struggle, the bulk of my depression came during the week, rolling into the office before the sun came up and leaving well after it had gone down. As it applies to me, my steadfast commitment is to be awake well before sunrise on weekday mornings, run through my usual morning routine, but still have a solid chunk of time during which I can go somewhere compelling and photograph the sunrise or the morning fog. That is the nuance of the coping mechanism as it applies to me. It will apply to everyone differently.

The larger point of this jabbering thought-bomb is that there is an option available, specifically as it relates to photographers, to find a new muse and keep the good work flowing instead of enduring 6 months of persistent distractions spoiled by the nagging realization that you aren't producing anything you really care about. I have some good friends in the photography world who frequently lament the coming 6 month Long Dark. They decried it months ago with forlorn words, like an inescapable apocalypse. But now it's upon us, upon them, and I don't want to see anyone struggle to keep motivated all because of a shift in social patterns brought on by antiquated time measurement rules.

So do me a favor; if you're struggling to keep positive while the nights are extra long, try going to bed just a little bit earlier, set an alarm to jostle you awake at 5AM, get dressed and eat something delicious, then drive somewhere with an amazing view of the horizon. You'll probably hate it at first, but I promise the gold creep over the lip of the Earth from where you're standing will make it the easiest day you've ever gone through.

Bonus points if you catch the deer in the morning fog.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

What am I even doing anymore?

Couldn't have arrived in time to photograph this bit of clever street art at a better time of day.
Shot on the LG G4, 28mm, 1/600" @ f/1.8, ISO 50

I notice many of my favorite photographers and photographic projects have some sort of overarching story to tell. Their work isn't singular and disconnected as solitary pieces of exceptional work. Rather, it's a collection of above average to pretty-damn-good facilitating the narrative. Personally I'm trapped in this awkward inbetween stage of development in the craft wherein I can either specialize and go the way of the Fine Art Photographer (FAP, hehe) or chase the narrative and call it Lifestyle Photography. My muse vacillates wildly between the two depending on my mood at the time, more often than not leaning toward lifestyle work but holy crap is it hard to set aside the time to sort through photos and assemble a narrative. I don't want to upload sets to Flickr to share openly because they mean nothing without that underlying story and are thus merely above average photographs (maybe I'm too self critical, or perhaps taking my Flickr gallery too seriously).

Suppose the overarching point is I'd like to write more about the things I am doing, and I spend a lot of time lamenting my failure to share those stories. Normally I'm against permitting myself excuses, but in this case I'm going to squarely fault working constantly. All the time. 9 or 12 hour workdays in a claustrophobic office among people with whom I have nothing in common in an industry not in the slightest aligned with my personal ambitions. It's a pretty goddamn draining existence to deal with, and at all uncommon for me to be absolutely braindead by the time I get home with little interest in anything above eating dinner, playing a casual game or something equally less demanding of brainpower, and going to sleep. Motivation to do literally anything productive is just completely sapped because I've spent an entire day managing my own misery. I do this 5 days a week, and then when the weekend arrives I've saddled myself to the brim with photography work, which is infinitely more thrilling and motivating, and the struggle to make it a viable replacement for Misery Management is totally worth it, but it's also very time consuming and again I'm left with little bandwidth to express any narrative with the necessary agency to do it justice. Which is why pretty much every blog post you see from me is written while I'm at Misery Management with some down time between tasks.

And I've been up to some cool stuff lately. Took a trip to Philly, took some photos for the BGE Baltimore Before & After photo gallery and took a kid's portrait that wound up flaring up some weird emotions when casually posted to Reddit. I shot my friends on Halloween at a country bar with line dancing while they were dressed up like a donkey, a sock monkey, and Michael Vick's dog. Looking back on the last 3 weeks in such short and sweet terms reminds me that my life is awesome and totally worth sharing because there are lessons and discoveries to be made about life and people and relationships by recounting them. And damn does it seem greedy to be keeping that stuff to myself. Pretending there's some charm and appeal to being the mysterious photographer who wanders, aloof, in and out of life without any lasting imprint is bunk. I'm not mysteriously fading in and out, I'm simply working so much I don't have much time to actually exist as my own person instead of a means to someone else's end.

It's kind of early to be committing to New Year's resolutions (they're kind of dumb and arbitrary anyway...), but I suppose it's never too early to set a goal for myself to make the time to be me for more than scattered weekends at a time. I thought setting aside one weekend a month for myself was a great step forward, but in reality it's put into very clear context how much abuse I've been allowing myself to inflict upon... myself. I mean, for fuck's sake, who actually has to mark time off in a calendar to just be themselves.