Where to start...?

(This is a somewhat rambling post covering a lot of thoughts about photography and equipment. I'm just warning you!)

Nikon just announced a very interesting, feature packed, quite advanced full frame camera, the D850. I still peruse the Nikon sites even though I am not a Nikon shooter anymore. No question, if I were to go back to the full frame world, it would be via Nikon. I guess its a personal preference but it is born through use, performance, quality and an understanding of how their cameras and internals work. I just never gelled with Canon digital cameras, specifically their sensors. I am not a fan of Canon "colors" and having used a lot of their glass, I did not find it as impressive as the rest of the market. I'm shooting pure Fujifilm now so obviously I don't walk with the rest of the world. But if it wasn't Fuji, it would be Nikon. Again. What about Sony? Those guys are really putting out product and the glass is coming in waves from all sorts of manufacturers, many creating only Sony E mount products. I find the Sony products to be "cold". I don't jive with their internals or controls, although I do better than with Canon, but I just find the output to be clinical and lacking. I'm not a fan. Great glass aside, I have finally learned you only need a few top pieces to do most anything you need. I find some of the optical treats made for Sony to be really interesting and if I were a full frame shooter of something else, I'd be very jealous. 

So if I found I only need a few top lenses, then why do I have 12 Fuji x lenses? I also have three for my GFX system and truly, those three cost way more than the 12 x mount lenses combined. Let me go over some of what has been rumbling through on my thoughts about this. I think that working with the medium format GFX, and it's small farm of G mount lenses, I have finally learned to use the focal lengths I have for pretty much any work related photography. I'm sort of continuing a theme developed just as I left Nikon. I'm also starting to just carry along a couple X mount lenses on jobs now too. When it comes to shooting, I am amazed at what I am using without really thinking about it. I find myself using my X100T the most, still, even with all the other X cameras I have. I've also found myself moving more to the X-Pro2 - that coupled with the 10-24mm F4 wide angle on a paparazzi style flash bracket is a really good, light weight cover pretty much anything indoors or outdoors rig for events. I use the X-T2 with my 100-400mm. And most of the time the 1.4x converter. When it comes to work I'm paid for, I use the GFX for most all people related shots - head shots, portraits, etc. I use it for product or would if I had more work there. Something I am trying hard to cultivate more of.  With the GFX medium format the lenses used are the 110mm F2 and 32-64mm zoom. Both are VERY sharp and render excellent bokeh, contrast and color. The best glass I have ever worked with. The 63mm F2.8 prime sits. As mentioned, I use the X-Pro2 and 10-24 for event work. And the 10-24 shifts to X-T2 and its tilt screen for the rare real estate or architecture work. I shoot a race or golf outing here and there and the X-T2 and wonderful 100-400 are used 100% for that. I already mentioned the X100T, so really in summary, all I use now are 2 G mount lenses (of three), and 2 X mount lens (of 12). Along with GFX, X-Pro2 and X-T2 bodies. Truthfully, in looking at my LR stats on photos taken, the X mount 16-55mm F2.8 has also been used a handful of times. But thats it for work. For personal use, I use the 14mm, 16mm, 35mm and 56mm. The 100-400mm is most used though, because I do all my wildlife photos with it. When you translate those focal lengths to full frame standards, I am still using similar focal lengths for the same sort of work I did when I used full frame cameras with one exception. In my full frame days, I used the 35mm Sigma, the 50mm Sigma and the 85mm Nikon. In fact, it was all I carried. But I did not shoot much real estate then. I did break out the 24-70 for event work and the once a year wedding I shot.

The exception is my 10-24 which is equal to 15-36mm in full frame angles of view, so how has it become my main event lens? That seems rather wide. Granted the 16-55 is like a full frame 24-83mm, so I see that matching and the G mount 110mm is like an 87mm, so ditto there. The G mount 32-64mm is like a full frame 25-50mm which matches the 35mm and 50mm full frame use. Plus gives me a bit of width for groups when needed. So I am still using the same focal lengths (angles of view) for most of my work, excepting for the 10-24. I think that one is used most for events because I had nothing available that I liked in that range in my full frame bag. I had a Nikon 14-24 but it did not work that well to be honest. The 10-24 is better. The 10-24 also has lens stabilization which with it being an F4 lens is helpful in some situations. But its well corrected, being very rectilinear, and super sharp across all lengths with no chromatic fringing issues. Rare for such a wide angle. Its a sleeper lens. No question in my mind, having used the best Nikon has, that the Fujinon lenses are far superior. No matter what mount, X or G. Its one of the reasons I switched systems. Those primes I like to use personally are also optically superior to what I used before. The 100-400 should not be left out, its a very nice well thought out lens. Its performance is stellar for something you can carry easily and it offers at least 5 stops of stabilization. 

One thing that helps make these lenses perform, is really the tech inside the camera bodies themselves. Believe it or not, I am still learning how the sensors work in my cameras. Oh, I know they all record light but I'm talking about understanding when I can expose for light or shadow to get the most out of it. Understanding the scene in front of me goes along way to understanding how these sensors AND the film simulations will work since I shoot JPG a lot now. By understanding the scene, I mean the nuances in shading, and in color and the range of light from washed out to dark. I'm putting that knowledge together with my new lights from Godox and the results are evident. Yeah, the Godox lights are not the same as Profoto's obviously. I am using them in more situations though because I can. Its easy to pack along a couple 200 w/s lights for use when the sun is bright or not. The Profotos required a bit more planning and lugging plus setup time. The Godox stuff is truly "run and gun". Plus I can use one remote with EVERY light and that is huge. It changes the dynamic on a location or set because you just plop a light where you want and keep going. No need to make sure it syncs or if going optical that it can "see" the driving flash. Trust me, this is cool stuff! 

The GFX 50s has taken over in my work for sure. I look forward to taking portraits or head shots because it just creates images that impress. As someone on the web pronounced, its a dynamic range monster and if you use that knowledge to expose a frame, you get a lot of creative options. Its native aspect ratio is 4:3 and I'm finding that to be so much better than the 3:2 of my current X system and full frame cameras of the past. I find myself cropping to 4:3 now in LR when I import. Since I made the change to Fuji, and switched my lights to Godox, I find myself thinking about shots more, considering more project shoots and wishing for more time in a day. I may have to make some choices about my lenses left on the shelf. I do not like to see anything on hand not being used. Its like wasting money. So I need to assess that. The problem is all the lenses on hand are tops and excellent performers. I just wish I needed them more. 

Someday, I want to write up something on the newer modifiers in use now with the Godox lights. A few are really standouts. This Cheetah Lantern from Cheetahstand is amazing. It looks like a 24" diameter ball but man, does it work well for portraits and even smaller groups. The hard reflectors are another mod worth checking out. I should put together a small seminar to cover these things. Do some shooting and exploring at the same time. Let me think about that a bit. I have a good location, just need to work on some logistics. If you are interested, let me know. 

Thats it for now, I need to get moving. I hope to try and update this blog more often. As always if you have any questions about my equipment or my rambling, send me a note. 

I'm at a Crossroads. Whats next?

As I write this, its July 3rd and my whole photography world has changed. I don't have the studio I imagined or counted on, its mid year, and while I have work its not like it was with ol' 46 West, nor does it feel anything like it. I FEEL different about my work and it makes me think out of the bounds of these past few years. 

I've done a lot these past months. I switched out camera systems. I closed my studio. I switched out location lighting. I can "move" faster I think. I'm back to being more of a one light guy more for the look than necessity. We only have one light anyway - the sun. And it does a pretty good job. I'm lighting a much smaller area than the Earth. I loved a lot about the Profoto lights I have used since near forever. I spent a lot too. But Profoto really caters to those pros that have staff, and assistants because believe me one guy and a rock n roller cart is still humping to get setup and work. I will still do those assignments where I'm shooting large but those are more rare than norm so I decided I wanted something that covered ANY work I do and I wanted support for my camera system which Profoto is and was just dragging their feet on. I have the cameras I want now too. I feel so much more comfortable shooting Fuji, and its not a technical feel good, its a creative feel good. The Fujifilm cameras match what I want to shoot. They have all the pieces that fit my style and the way I work and give me the results I want more in camera than anything I have used. 

So I have all the pieces. I have a lot of experience and I'm at a crossroads looking at what I want to do, photographically, and I think its more camera and less business/studio. I have a lot of ideas. I don't want to explore them with you right now, because they aren't all defined. And I can only accomplish so much, so some of them are just not going to make the cut. I do plan to explore more themes, work my composition more. I do plan to still do as much portraiture as I can find work, and probably some for me too as projects. I want to incorporate other subjects into portrait types of things - there I go, sharing too much already! I'm going to put my mobile lighting kit to work but its not going to be just for people pictures. 

Its not about a direction, its about directions. I will need a studio from time to time but many people have opened up to offer me use of their space, so I have restaurants, and offices, and other places I can shoot. I also have lots and lots of outdoor locations. And who knows, if a suitable studio opens up someplace, then its a maybe but its not the priority it once was. I'm eager to get started. 

Studio? We don't need no stinking Studio!

Yes, its true. No studio for moi! At the very last minute the evening before the scheduled day to sign the lease and receive my keys, I was emailed the latest lease which was to only have the proper business name as a change. Instead there was a higher rental fee incorporated. All this after several past go arounds with "change the lease" tactics by this property manager. The rent and terms for this property had been agreed to since day one. Of course it was done as handshake with many people present as honest people will do. Over the course of the next three months, this property company tried numerous times to change that number. Each time, after some stern words and me telling them I would just look elsewhere, they once again agreed to the agreed upon number and terms. In hindsight, I should have walked. I think their plan all along was to wait until the place was finished and then slam the fee hike in at the last minute. I do not think these folks had any honorable intentions of fulfilling their agreement. Funny, other developers in the area cautioned me about working with them and this property manager in particular. 

As it turned out, the property manager had never done a commercial contract or build out before. His lack of experience and general ineptness turned into eight weeks of frustration. For eight weeks he blamed the city of Aurora, the office of Buildings and Permits, and even individual inspectors. He had no idea of the requirements for proper submission of permits - he did submit for them and they were quickly denied so there was no hold up other than this guy just refusing to comply with the process. I finally contacted people in the city myself and talked to the general contractor and learned all this. When I confronted the property manager, he did finally confess that it was his fault, he screwed up so now it's eight weeks of lost time. Meanwhile, I can't book certain jobs and neither can my associate members committed to monthly studio membership. We all lost some money. Even after admitting he messed up, he tried to slam in a rent increase and new terms, this time blaming it on his "investors" who were making these demands. Yeah, I have all the emails between us covering this. I'm not making this up! I did walk this time, due to frustration and knowing this was a shadier deal now but for some unexplained reason we agreed to the original terms and it was on again. Let me be clear that this property is an older building not compliant with code in several areas. Before the space can be rented commercially, it has to meet conditions, and these conditions are part of the process for receiving grant monies for development. The floor had to be fixed since it was of old asbestos tile. It had no restroom, no water, and the electricity was of older cloth insulation. Bare wires in many places. It was shut off. No heating or air conditioning. The walls had not been tended to in a while so they needed painting. My only request was for matte white paint and I would pay for it but was told it had to be done anyway. I had no other requests. I did ask politely if when they built the restroom, could they make it a little larger so it could be a changing room too. No problem. No charge. I went out of my way to not make any requests where it could be perceived that I was pushing for any upgrade or that they were providing more than necessary on their part to appease me. Everything done was required by the grant process and city codes. 

I'm not posting this to slam any one person or company, I did not mention who or any names. Whats done is done but for those looking to open an business, any business, you have to beware of who you are dealing with if there are processes involved. I used a company the city recommended, Invest Aurora, to steer me to these developers. In fairness they have steered me to many other very honest and reliable developers and investors too. Its not them per se, but as Aurora grows, more less honest types are going to be moving in, taking advantage of the choice real estate and locations. Invest Aurora and the city need to start thinking about how to "vet" these investors to ensure they are the real deal. That they truly want to work with the businesses sent their way. That they honor agreements. Otherwise, after a bad taste, and as word gets around, potential businesses will look elsewhere. As it stands, due to lack of other suitable space its probably not in the cards to stay in Aurora. My business for this year, is toast. Its halfway over and I have no studio to work from, and have lost a fair piece of other work. Its ok, I'll figure something out. My business is usually that of an investors dream tenant. I require nothing other than basic things usually present already. I'm not a retail operation making changes with foot traffic wearing on their property. A photography studio is a quiet, non intrusive operation. I now just have to continue to look for that "dream" investor that appreciates a dream tenant.