Fill Light

When I'm photographing people, I always look for natural lighting first. I like the way it looks.

But, as with most things in life, a little extra glow from the left or right makes the image even better. So I get out the reflector, look for the sun, then position it so I can lighten up the shadows. And just like that, the world is brighter.

I was thinking that fill light works beyond portraits too. Having someone to discuss a great movie with seems to complete the experience. And in the case of this past weekend in Pt. Reyes, listening to other photographers recap the day as we sit around the dinner table adds shine to the whole endeavor.

We don't have enough of this, do we? 

When I was kid, my parents had friends over to the house all the time. When they celebrated their 50th anniversary, there were more people in my sister's house than we had seats to accommodate.

I'm not looking to blame technology for this, but that does seem to be one of the reasons that our experiences have become more singular. We don't need others parked around the card table. We have plenty to do without them.

I'm not even sure if this is a bad thing. I'm pretty happy. And to be honest, everything seems fine.

Then I go and disrupt it all by leading a workshop. And instead of me basking in the glow of my laptop while reviewing pictures, there are eight of us at a long table recounting the day as we try to decide if an image deserves two or three stars.

I was just fine until you came along. And now you went and made things better.

I've come to the conclusion that I don't need this all of the time. But I do want it on occasion. Much in the same way that a shiny reflector adds a hint of sparkle to a woman's smile, these shared experiences make my life just a little brighter.



We had just polished off a round of burgers on a warm summer evening in downtown Santa Rosa. My wife was sitting to my left, and three boys, at the end of their teenage years, across from me. 

I had two beers that night, one more than usual. But it was a special occasion. Each of the boys had just wrapped up successful internships. That's impressive for freshmen. As I recall, I worked in a body shop as a 19-year-old, moving cars around and keeping the paint tent clean. These guys were already starting their careers.

Our car was parked in a garage across the street. Our stomachs were full, and it was time to go. I had my Pentax ZX-5 with a 50mm f/1.7 in my right hand. Of course I did, right. 

Once we crossed the street, I stopped the boys and asked for a picture. They lined up stiffly against the cool concrete wall. People were walking around us. The young men felt awkward, but they knew there was no escape.

"Look, I don't want that," I said. "You guys mean the world to each other. I want something more for this shot."

I know these moments don't come often. Max will soon leave for his second year at University of Santa Clara. Zach will head south down 101 for his sophomore year at Santa Barbara. And Jason, who has been living with us for the duration of his internship, will head back to Santa Clara with Max. 

But for this moment, we're all here, together. I wanted this shot on film. It's a film shot, meant to be captured with silver and celluloid. Forever. Brothers.

"C'mom, give me some GQ," I said.

That always makes them laugh and seems to loosen up the scene. And sure enough, it came together. They forgot about everything else except each other. Click. Light passed through the lens, through the open shutter, striking a million silver crystals that memorized 1/30th of a second of our lives.

This is a fraction of a moment that I will never get back, nor will I ever lose.


The Genius that is Pentax

During my many years of web publishing, there have been two groups of loyalists that I've had to be aware of: Mac users and Pentax shooters. Each group defends its brand and product line with great passion.

To be honest, I understood the Mac side of things more. I was part of the Apple revolution early on, hung in there during the awful 90s, and am still amazed at the company's success today.

But the Pentax folks were a bit more mysterious to me. Of all the brands that I've reviewed over the years, why were the Pentax shooters so different? What made them so dedicated?

It wasn't until I got back into film photography that the pieces began to come together. You see, in round 1 of my analog days, I didn't shoot Pentax, although I clearly remember lusting after the Spotmatic. But I was more of a Canon, Contax, and Yashica guy. 

Years later, when I was writing camera reviews for Macworld Magazine, Pentax was one of my beats. I really liked their digital cameras, and loved reviewing them. To tell you the truth, however, the only lens mount I had experience with was the Pentax DA (digital series). I knew there were older lenses, but I didn't have the big picture.

Fast forward a few years with my return to film photography. A friend gave my a Pentax ME Super with a 50mm Pentax-M lens, and I fell in love with the camera. I began exploring the lens catalog and learned about Pentax-A, Pentax-FA, and other variants.

With only a few logical exceptions, each generation of lens mount would work backwards and forward. As I began shooting with other Pentax bodies, such as the P30, ZX-M, and my current favorite, the ZX-5, I was amazed that I could put any of my Pentax optics on any of these bodies, and take great pictures.

Functionality was determined by the combination of lens mount and camera body. So, for example, I could put a manual focus Pentax-A on the autofocus ZX-5 body and get terrific images. But I had to manually focus, and I had to rely on center-weighted metering. The bottom line was, however, that it all worked, and the results were beautiful.

This mix and match capability protects your investment, and it really adds a lot of fun and experimentation to shooting pictures. Take a look at this lens compatibility chart for an overview of how this all works.

I finally began to understand that the Pentax approach to photography was truly unique. My favorite lens mounts are the Pentax-A and Pentax-FA. But I use anything that I can get my hands on.

I'm thrilled to finally have an understanding glimpse of the Pentax way of life.

You guys are right. This is worth defending.


Even My New Camera is Used

I bought my first digital camera in well over a year. Olympus was having a sale on refurbished models, and I snagged a Tough TG-4. That's right, I finally buy a new camera, and even it is used.

You see, I'm going to Maui in September, and I wanted to upgrade my dependable, but aging TG-1. A lot has happened since I bought that camera. The most noteworthy new features are the addition of WiFi and RAW capture. (RAW in a tough pocket camera... yeah!)

I love Tough cameras in Hawaii. My wardrobe consists of board shorts, a T-Shirt, and flip-flops. If I get hot, I fall into the pool or dash out into the ocean. The Tough camera stays in my shorts' pocket the entire time. I never have to worry about it. And I never miss a shot. 

It is my snorkeling camera, sunset companion, and drinking buddy. It has a compass, GPS, and a clock display. What else do you need?

Now that the TG-4 has been out for a while, you can get it for $349. That's a good price for a great camera. But the outlet store had a 2-day sale, and I could save over $100 more, which is a great deal. Even then, I had to think about it for a few minutes.

What's happened to me? I used to spend $230 without thinking twice. 

It's the darn film camera thing. I tell you.

Since I started spending $50-$75 for classic film SLRs, my perspective has become totally skewed. Most of the cameras I feature in TheFilmCameraShop I bought for $50 or less. Yes, they needed cleaning, and sometime repairs. (That's fun for me.) So I do that and then shoot with them for a week or two, process the film, and if everything looks OK, I put them up for sale for around $75. If they don't work out, I hang on to them for parts to fix something else.

I actually caught myself haggling with a guy the other day for a $45 camera. He wanted $48, I was willing to pay $43. We both dug in our heals and the deal never happened. Have I lost my mind? I walked away over $5. Starbucks costs that much.

Actually, I think what has happened is things have stabilized in the world of photography. Film cameras are cheap. And digital cameras have reached a level of quality where we don't have to buy a new one every year. All of this feels good.  It's been a long time since I've been off the camera buying merry go round.

I know this isn't great news for manufacturers, but that's not really my problem. I'm far more concerned about my budget. And I'm glad that I have trusty friends such as the OM-D E-M5 Mark II and 5D Mark II to depend on for my work. We're comfortable with each other.

And I guess that's why I'm so excited about TG-4. I feel like I just bought a new car. In fact, the model I purchased is racing red. And I am going to drive that baby all over the island of Maui.


Video: The Other Format

For those of us who have been still photographers our entire lives, video feels like that odd friend that comes home with your son. Intriguing, maybe. Comfortable, not so much.

Video for still shooters is a byproduct of the digital age. Prior to the new millennium, you bought a film camera or a movie camera. Now, they're rolled up into one.

And so the pressure mounts to learn frame rate, mic patterns, and an entirely new workflow. Plus those files... they're some damned big.

Yet, nearly every client I have in the corporate world wants video as well as stills. And the balance of formats is tipping in that direction. Thanks to the intelligence of our smartphone cameras, customers don't value professional still photography as they did a decade ago. But professional video, well there's still some mystery there.

"Do you shoot video as well?"

"I do, short form pieces, 3 minutes or less."


I'm thinking about this because I'm heading down to San Jose tomorrow for a job that involves frame rate and shotgun mics. I'm fine tuning the audio settings today because it's an interview piece, and I want it to sound really good, but also somewhat spontaneous and natural. In other words, no lapel mics.

I'll probably shoot only a few stills the entire day. Otherwise it's me and movie mode.

It's like my son took off for an errand and left his odd friend at the house for me to entertain. I feel a little awkward. 

I was never very good at small talk.