Ah, the family album. Temporal intermixing.

SXSW starts this Friday. I'm thinking about renting out one of our cars as an "Air BNB."

A sign of the times. Taken last year. Parking for a month? A week?
Naw, that was the rate for the day.... welcome to New Austin.

In about three days the onslaught will begin. Hordes of pale skinned people with tight legged pants will descend upon the city, finding and taking every parking space within a sixty mile radius. All 200,000 temporary visitors will walk around downtown and all will have smartphones pressed against an ear or held just in front of them as they stroll, oblivious to traffic lights, "walk" signs, other pedestrians and multi-ton chariots of steel barreling down upon them. 

I will be on a busy street corner hawking elevator passes, helicopter transport coupons, maps to the downtown houses of famous rock musicians and, of course, translation "cheat sheets" for those who do not speak Texan. 

Restaurants will languish as most of the attendees live on endless coffee until mid-afternoon, replaced by beer and more beer around prevning (pre-evening). Rounded out by donuts and breakfast tacos. And swag food at the parties for the platinum pass holders.

I very much recommend photographers in the area head downtown to document this gathering. It's the documentary equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel. Just walk out into the middle of Sixth St., spin around in a circle and keep the shutter button pressed down. The difference between a good SXSW photographer and all the rest? The quality of the captions. 

I actually do think it's all fun. I just feel sorry for people such as my wife whose advertising agency is located in one of the downtown high-rises. For about ten days in a row getting downtown and into one's parking garage is akin to one of the labors of Hercules. Messy work. 

One real benefit of the gathering is that it provides much work for many of my friends in the video field. There's always a new batch of up-and-coming start-up companies hungry to have their events shot on video. Let's give those Sonys and Canons a workout. 

And they all come with nice little labels on lanyards.

Strange Name. Nice Microphone.

Aputure Diety Shotgun Microphone. 

Lots of microphones out in the world. Picking the right one seems to be a mystery. The ultimate in subjective auditioning and shopping. In the projects that I've done in video I've found shotgun style microphones to be better solutions for most of the situations in which I've been filming. There's something about the universal lavaliere microphone that just seems acoustically "flat" to me. Used correctly I'm pretty sure that a good hyper-cardioid microphone has richer tones and better dynamic range than the tie-clip minis. 

On previous projects I've used a Rode NTG-2, an Audio Technica 835b, and, most recently, a Sennheiser MKE600, with mostly good results. If I put on the good headphones and really listen I'll have to admit that the AT has a bit of coloration that makes things sound...different. The Rode seems a bit insensitive and requires more amplification, which, in turn, adds more hiss or noise to the recordings. The Sennheiser is pretty neutral and has a lower quantity of noise in the files. It's a good, inexpensive choice. But far be it for me to leave "well enough" alone. 

I made the mistake of visiting Curtiss Judd's YouTube channel recently and watched his reviews of a number of different microphones. One that seemed particularly interesting was a microphone from an unlikely source --- the people at Aputure. 

Aputure is the same company from which I've recently sourced five great LED fixtures that I've been very happy with. Continued use has proven to me that the company's claims that the lights are in the CRI range of 96 and 98 are accurate. They are full spectrum and deliver what I need for the work I do. After working with their lights for a while I gravitated in Aputure's direction when I started looking for a replacement, 7 inch, field monitor. I've been happy with their VS-2 FineHD in every regard. I also appreciated that they came out with a firmware upgrade that allows the monitor to be used with 4k video streams now. A wonderful, after-the-sale upgrade that makes the monitor a great support tool for 4K shooters. 

When I saw the Aputure Diety microphone, watched the reviews, and saw the price ($359) I decided to try one and see if the rumors were true; would it go toe-to-toe with the standard of the industry, the Sennheiser MKH 416? Could the Diety match the quality of a $1,000 microphone? I'll probably never make the direct comparison but I keep seeing the comparison pop up on the web. Owners of the 416 usually end their reviews with a grudging approval of the Diety but with the insistence that the 416 still rules. Reviewers who own both usually find them to be very close, and reviewers who own neither seem to find them evenly matched. 

Mine came via Amazon delivery today. I unpacked it, plugged it into the Tascam 60DRii audio recorder and started listening to everything I could. The new microphone is handily better than my Rode, and my Audio Technica, and quieter and clearer than my second place contender, the MKE 600. Noise is almost non-existent and, if there is a visual analogy for  its performance, I would say that the difference between the Diety and the other microphones in my collection is similar to first looking through a dirty window or a lens with a smeared filter, then cleaning the window or filter and looking again. Everything is just...clearer. 

I tried the microphone in the Zoom H5 recorder with the same results and also with a Saramonic SmartRig+ audio pre-amp and phantom power interface, into a Sony RX10iii and loved the performance of the combination. I think we've got an audio winner!

Bizarre Coincidence: So, I usually swim in the early morning but today I decided to go to the noon swim. I can count the times I've ordered microphones from Amazon on one finger. The manager at our swim club is not in the audio visual business, nor does he make video. But all of this made a lunch time coincidence eerily strange...

The Amazon delivery guy hit my house just as I was getting ready to go to the pool. He handed me a brown box with the distinctive Amazon packing tape on it and I brought it into the studio, opened it to look for shipping damage and, finding none, headed over to the club for our masters swim. I dropped by the manager's office to ask about some paperwork. As we were chatting there was a knock on his office door and when we opened it there was an Amazon delivery person. He had a box the same size as the box I'd just received back at the studio.  He handed it to the manager who said, "Ah, good. My microphone came!" 

I was shocked and stood around while he opened the box and revealed a brand new, Shure, dynamic microphone. I backed out of the office cautiously and headed to the pool. Random coincidence? 

Not what I expected to see at swim practice. 

Alaina. A portrait in the studio.

Every once in a while you have to step back from the "business of photography" and just have fun taking portraits. It keeps you engaged in your craft in a wonderful way.

I am fortunate to have worked with a regional theater for so many years. My show images cover the walls at the rehearsal studios and in the main offices. It's rare for a week to go by without getting a call from an actor, inquiring about headshots.

When I am wrapped up in projects I tend to refer the actors to people who specialize in actor's headshots. When my schedule is clear I welcome their business. But when I want to just enjoy the process of making portraits I seek out the actors who've made it clear that they want one of my portraits, and who have a look or sensibility that I want to capture.

I ask them to exchange their time in front of my camera for portraits. We talk about the parameters of the sessions and how much time we'll spend getting images we like. I try to cover all the nuts and bolts of how I work and why so we are all on the same page and ready to work toward a common goal. A beautiful portrait.

The image above is an outtake, a shot between shots that made me smile. I love the energy and the happiness it conveys. I also like the more serious one I've included below.

The opportunity to experiment with light and lenses, and poses and expressions, is a vital element in honing our craft to do our best in commissioned engagements with other clients. Practice makes better photographs.