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Annual business realignment

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It’s time for my annual business realignment.

Each year at this time, I evaluate what I have done, what I plan to do and the equipment I use.

The photography business changes so fast you could probably do it on a monthly basis and still not keep up. The basics continue to be the same. Finding the light, framing an artistic composition and striving to push the shutter release at precisely the right moment never changes. It all comes together every now and then. As my friend Mike Wray says, “A blind squirrel finds a nut every now and then.”

Everything else, in the photography business, is kind of like jumping into a constantly revolving door.

I’ll just address equipment in this post.

I’ve been making money with my photography for the past 27 years including the newspaper business, PR jobs and my business.

Back in the day, I loved shooting film, Tri-X to be exact, in my Nikon FM2 cameras. The camera didn’t do anything for you except give you an estimate of what the exposure was suppose to be in the center of your frame. I also used Mamiya medium format cameras with a handheld light meter. It was about as basic as you could get, by today’s standards.

I jumped on digital fairly early on. The first digital camera I used, back in the mid 1990s, was made by Kodak which only did files that were about 800 pixels wide. That’s about the size of photos you see on Facebook now. I used the camera to put photos on the web. I could shoot, go to my computer and upload photos. It was great. Before long, I had a three megapixel camera and could sent photos that could actually be printed.

My first digital SLR was the Nikon D1H which I purchased the day before it became available in 2001. Don’t ask, I was just lucky.

When I started my business, in 2004, I was using Nikons and the Olympus E-1.

As things changed, and I started doing more weddings I wanted a camera that could handle shooting wedding without using a flash as much as possible.

At the time, the only cameras that would allow me to shoot quality photographs at ISO 3200 were the Canon 5D and Canon Mark II. I sold all of my Nikon equipment and most of the Olympus stuff and purchased Canon.

Then Nikon produced, what I considered, the perfect digital camera. It was the Nikon D700. It was smaller and lighter than the D3. I really hate carrying around a big camera. I purchased one with a couple of lenses and used it along with my Canon stuff. Within six months, I had sold all the Canon stuff and had Nikon equipment again.

I bought back into Olympus along the way for studio stuff and shooting outdoors.

Then, Olympus came out with the Pen series. They were small cameras with the same size sensors as their DSLRs. I dreamed of the day the Pen series would have good enough image quality I could just use the Micro Four-Thirds cameras for nearly everything I do. I purchased the E-P1, the E-P3 and Olympus gave me an E-PM1 through the Pen Ready promotion. This past spring Olympus released the OM-D. The time I have been dreaming of has finally arrived.

When I held my annual realignment, last December, I decided I wasn’t going to buy any new equipment this year. I held off until November to buy the OM-D. I received it about three days before a wedding. I never use a camera on an important shoot until I have learned its in and outs. However, the day I received the OM-D, I cranked it up to ISO 3200 and shot some photos around the house. I actually said “WOW” when I looked at the photos. I used it for a play that night at 3200 and 6400 ISO. I shot with it the following day and it was my most used camera that weekend at a wedding. Since I had been shooting with the Pens I felt comfortable with the camera.

I had already purchased the 12mm F2, 45mm F1.8 and the Panasonic 20mm F1.7 to use with my other Olympus Micro 4/3rds cameras. I could shoot an entire wedding with those focal lengths (you double the mm on 4/3rds cameras) so the view in those lenses are 24mm, 40mm and 90mm.

I made 12 x 18 prints from the OM-D at 3200, 6400 and some I shot at 12,800 ISO. They looked great. 12,800 ISO looks like Tri-X shot at 1600. I love it. Here’s a couple of photos shot at ISO 6400. One is shot with the Olympus OM-D. The other with the Nikon D700. Yea, I know, “how am I suppose to tell at 700 pixels”. I can tell you that you will not be able to tell at full resolution. One was shot with the only lights that were there at their backs and the other was shot with no lights but an outdoor heater. Different angles at different times.

Image

Image

So this year in my realignment, I plan to buy more Micro 4/3rds equipment and move to using that for the coming year. I will buy another OM-D, an E-PL5 body (same sensor and image quality) and several more of their fast lenses. The camera and lenses are about 1/2 or 1/3 the size of the Nikon equipment.

There are many benefits with the OM-D and Micro 4/3rds equipment. Here are my top 10:

  1. The autofocus is the fastest I have ever used. It also has face detention with eye priority which is killer for doing portraits. I push the shutter release and it always focuses on the eyes.
  2. Because it has an EVF viewfinder rather than an optical viewfinder, I know what the photo is going to look like before I push the shutter release.
  3. The self-cleaning sensor and built-in image stabilization is outstanding. I have never had dust on an Olympus sensor in the past eight years of using them. No matter what  lens I am using, I can shoot at slow shutter speeds due to the image stabilization.
  4. The lenses are fast and so is the camera. The camera shoots up to nine frames per second.
  5. The OM-D is much better at some functions such as auto white balance. It is far more customizable than any camera I have used.
  6. If I purchase all the equipment I need, I can put it in a bag half the size that I now use and carry. That also means a reduction of at least half the weight. I can carry everything I would need on a shoot at probably less weight than two D700s and the 24-70mm and the 70-200mm. The camera is about the size of a Leica rangefinder.
  7. The camera is quiet. I mean really quiet. It’s really no louder than a Leica rangefinder. I have a Leica MP-4 so I know. A quiet camera is a huge benefit in shooting weddings.
  8. Coming from a guy that would prefer to shoot with a Leica rangefinder, the automation of this camera just makes my life easier. Photos out of this camera require less work on the post processing side than any other camera I have used. Less time working on photos means more time shooting photos.
  9. The OM-D shoots great video. I may change some of the things I do to include video.
  10. Finally, the image quality is outstanding. I did a studio shoot with the camera this week. I have never seen such sharp photos straight out of the camera.

I say all of this, to let you know I have some equipment for sale. Oh wow, your thinking I read all of this for a sales pitch? No, not really. I’m just telling you. If you want any of this and can stop by to pick it up, let me know by Wednesday, December 12, or it is going to be sold to KEH. Send me a message on Facebook or by e-mail at steve@stevesheppard.com.

Here’s what I am letting go:

Nikon D7000

Nikon D7000 battery pack

Nikon 35mm F2

Nikon 180mm F2.8

Nikon 10mm F2.8 fisheye

Nikon 24-70mm F2.8

Leica/Panasonic 25mm F1.4 for Olympus

Olympus E-3

Olympus E-P1

Olympus EP-3

By mid-year 2013, you may be able to talk me out of the rest of my Nikon gear.

I love shooting film cameras with no automation, such as a Leica or a Konica T3. I have several film cameras that don’t even have a light meter in them. However, the bottom line is if automation in a small camera gives me great image quality, I save my back a lot of pain, and I can spent more time shooting.

After all, finding great light, the right composition and pushing the shutter release at the decisive moment is what photography is all about.

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December 8, 2012 at 7:51 pm

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New Website

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After having the same website design for the past seven years, I have finally updated it. Check it out at www.stevesheppard.com.

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October 12, 2011 at 5:44 pm

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A Friday The 13th Story

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Today actually started out very nicely. Lying on my back in bed, I opened by eyes about 6:30 a.m. to see my dog Lucy staring back at me. She commenced to licking my face.

After taking all the loving I could stand, I hopped out of the bed, took a shower, put on my shorts, flip-flops, a red and white seersucker shirt and grabbed my red and white striped reading glasses. I was home long enough to read the newspaper, drink a couple of cups of coffee, give my lovely wife, Mattie, a kiss before throwing my camera bag over my shoulder and was off to the studio.

I wanted to get there early due to the flooring guys coming by to do some final touch-ups. I had planned to spend the day finishing up some decorating.

On my way, I stopped to get my usual tall Creamy Caramel coffee at Binding Time. After a nice chat with them I hopped back in the car and was on my way. It went downhill from there.

I took the hard turn out of the parking lot and suddenly I had creamy caramel pouring down my pants and shirt. The cup holder failed me.

Instead of going to the office, I drove back home and put on a pink and white seersucker shirt, new shorts and a pair of pink and blue reading glasses to go with my shirt. After all, I couldn’t wear the red ones with a pink shirt.

I then drove to the studio and began putting together a piece of furniture to hold my cable box, router, wireless gear, Blu-Ray player and Drobo.

Now I don’t usually buy anything that I have to put together. It’s never as simple as it looks. While putting it together I realized one of the four legs was shorter than the others. About the same time, I heard someone walking on my roof. I walked outside to look and saw nothing. I completed the table and leveled it up with a piece of felt that goes on furniture legs to protect the floor. Of course, there was one bolt left over.

Then I heard someone walking on the roof again. I opened the back door to discover a Bryant’s Heating and Air truck and just figured a neighbor’s AC wasn’t working. This row of about eight buildings are connected.

I then started trying to figure out how to hide all the wires from the TV I have mounted on the wall to all the gear on the table. That didn’t go well but it’s too long of a story.

I then decided to turn on the Blu-Ray player. Of course, you have to set it up as it connects to the internet. It asked if I wanted to go wireless or hard-wired. I choose wireless, but that naturally was an accessory I didn’t purchase.

Since I had sweated right through my pink seersucker shirt while putting the table together and crawling around on the floor making connections, and I needed the proper wire for the Blu-Ray, I decided to drive home. I left the flooring guys at the studio and told them I’d be back in about 15 minutes.

I got home, left the car running so it would stay cool on a 90 degree morning, put on a green and white seersucker shirt and grabbed my green and white reading glasses. That was three shirts and it was only 10:45 a.m. I found the correct cord in my connection graveyard and ran to the car.

It was locked with the keys in the ignition and the engine running. I don’t think I have done that in 30 years. It took about 10 seconds to realize there was no way to get in the car since I haven’t seen the back-up keys in two years.

I called Ashley Key and Lock and waited. I watched as the AC condensation began running down the driveway. Then it hit me I would need to pay them. I had no cash and haven’t written a check in years. I began searching for the checkbook. Ten minutes later I found it. I decided to fill out all the info on the check except for the amount.

That’s when it hit me. It’s Friday the 13th.

At that point, I was thinking I would rather stand toe-to-toe with Jason Voorhees than have the day I was having. Jason would be no problem for a U.S. Marine.

About that time, Mattie arrived home and I asked her to go to the studio because the flooring guys didn’t have a key to lock up if they needed to leave. Before she drove off she said, “Use the AAA card and they will pay for it.” Great idea I thought. I’ve been paying AAA for years and never used it.

I looked though my wallet. No card. I when to my home office desk and started looking. I quickly found the card and let out a big, “YES”. My elation was short lived as I discovered the card expired last year. I knew there had to be an updated card. After a couple of minutes of searching, I found it.

Ashley arrived and unlocked my car in about 20 seconds. I paid with AAA and was off to the studio.

I setup my Drobo with a couple of 2TB greenies and then attempted to hook up another hard drive that had files that I needed to move onto the new Drobo. I hooked up the Drobo via firewire and the only connection I have for the other hard drive was firewire. I only have one firewire port on the computer. I won’t repeat what I said.

I hung my head, walked back to my car, drove home, snatched a USB connector, kissed Mattie and drove back to the studio. At least this time there was no shirt change.

I decided that the best thing for me to do the rest of the afternoon was just move files onto the Drobo, play The Dark Knight movie on TV and write about my day.

But as every good story ends, there is a silver lining to my day. An upcoming bride, with whom I had spoken earlier this week, came by the studio today to confirm she wanted me to photograph her wedding in a few months. I’m a happy guy.

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August 13, 2010 at 3:52 pm

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My First Week With The iPad

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I have to admit up front that I wanted an iPad from the day it was announced. I also have to admit that I thought Steve Jobs calling it “magical” was nothing more than PR speak.

I apologize Mr. Jobs. You are correct.

I’ve had an iPad for one week now and this is the most fun I’ve had with my … never mind.

Last week, we were at the beach and Mattie and AJ went to Charleston one day while I curled up at the Villa and read Edgar Allen Poe. They came back to Litchfield Beach with an iPad as a belated Father’s Day gift. Yes, I was doing the Snoopy dance.

After syncing it with a MacBook Pro I was off and apping (I realize that’s not a word, but it’s what I was doing). The first app I downloaded was Buzz Aldrin Portal to Science and Space Exploration. Cool stuff.

MLB At Bat 2010 came next. If you don’t know about that app, it allows you to watch or listen to MLB games via your MLB TV account. I’ve had MLB TV for years, but was forced to sit in front of my computer screen to watch or watch on the iPhone. Holding the Cardinals games in your hands and watching on the beautiful iPad screen is a joy. Now I can watch on the deck, in the living room or in bed. Mattie loves that.

The next app was iBooks. I didn’t think I would want to read on an electronic reader, but I love it. I downloaded Poe’s horror stories for free and Glenn Beck’s new book The Overton Window. I love the way you turn the page.

There have been a lot more apps to make their way onto my iPad including USA Today, The Weather Channel, NPR, Open Table, National Press Photographer’s Association and an app that alerts me about earthquakes around the world.

I can get TV shows with various apps and can watch or listen to some of my favorite photography and tech podcasts on demand. Two of my favorite podcast apps are The Candid Frame and TWiT. The folks on MacBreak Weekly are a hoot.

Last night, just for fun, I downloaded a gas-passing piano app. I played Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star for Mattie. She wasn’t amused.

So far I’ve downloaded 32 apps. I’ve wasted time playing Space Invaders, raced a Shelby Cobra on a road course, read a book, checked my e-mail, checked out world and national news each morning, surfed the web, synced the iPad with my contacts and schedule from other Macs via MobileMe, and watched the Cardinals play.

Unless I plan to shoot a lot of photos on trips there will be no need to take a laptop in the future. There’s so much you can do with the iPad. I wrote this blogpost with the Pages app while listening to Mike Shannon call the Cardinals game in the background.

Yes, Steve Jobs it is “magical”. I don’t, however, think I will play the piano again.

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July 8, 2010 at 7:17 am

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Light Bulbs

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Sometimes things just don’t go as planned.

Today was my first day back at work after a week’s beach trip with Mattie and the July 4 holiday. I was drinking coffee, had read two newspapers and checked the overnight news online with my iPad by 6:30 a.m. That’s when I cranked up a couple of Macs and started burning some DVDs. Everything was going well.

I honestly had a plan for the day. There were some specific things I wanted to get done in my home office, and I had one shoot in the afternoon. At 8 a.m., I decided to call the contractor for my new studio to find out what’s going on and see if there was anything I needed to do. We decided to meet at the studio at 9 a.m. to go over some things. That’s when my day got a little off schedule.

I was sitting at my desk in my puppy pants (pajama bottoms that have puppies and hearts on them, and I realize that may be TMI). I showered, changed clothes and then tried to make another pot of coffee. For whatever reason, the coffee maker decided to pour the coffee onto the kitchen counter and floor instead of into the pot. We have a coffee maker that pours coffee through a little hole into another little hole in the pot and when they don’t connect I’m cleaning up coffee. This morning, I was cleaning up coffee.

At the studio, the lighting company was installing the fixtures, when I realized we didn’t have light bulbs. “No problem,” I said, “I’ll run over to Lowe’s and pick them up.” That’s when things got worse.

I wanted to use General Electric Reveal bulbs in the overhead and track lighting. Reveal bulbs are a little more color neutral than soft white incandescent. I discovered that the Reveal lights are about twice the price of a regular incandescent. I’m really aware of light’s color so I didn’t care. Anyway, Lowe’s only had 27 of one bulb I needed and one of another bulb. I needed 45 of one and nine of the other. By the way, that’s about $250 of light bulbs. Yikes!

I stopped by three other stores in Martinsville looking for the bulbs. No one had enough. I took what I had back to the studio, hopped in the Jeep and drove to Danville. Fortunately, Home Depot had everything else I needed, and I was able to go through the Chick-fil-A drive though. I love Chick-fil-A. By the time I arrived back home, it was 2 p.m. I spent four and a half hours buying light bulbs.

I had a shoot at 3:30 p.m. It was actually the shoot that christened the new studio. Since my studio equipment has been sitting in the guest bedroom since I left my former location, I had to pack up what I needed and take it to the studio for the shoot.

The studio is not finished. There is paper taped to the new hardwood floor for protection while the lights were being installed and the second coat of paint goes on this weekend. But since the shoot was a headshot of the contractor’s wife it wasn’t a big deal. I got home and e-mailed her a few photos to pick the one she wanted because I need to send one to someone else tomorrow. By then, it was 5 p.m.

The only thing I did today that I intended to was the headshot. Maybe tomorrow, I will get today’s work done. I’m not sure when I will do what I intended to do tomorrow.

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July 6, 2010 at 5:59 pm

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Renovations At New Studio

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Mattie and I are moving our studio to 38 Franklin Street in Uptown Martinsville on the courthouse square.

The process has taken a little longer than I had planned, but the end result is going to be outstanding. Conversations about what the inside should look like went from basically moving a wall and putting down flooring to a full renovation of the inside and exterior of the structure.

The building had a drop ceiling. We didn’t like that. We removed a ceiling tile, poked though the sub-ceiling and discovered wood rafters. There also was a wood plank ceiling that is about 18-feet high and exposed brick above the drop ceiling. So the drop ceiling and sub-ceiling had to go. That also meant a new roof, new insulation, duckwork and lighting.

There was no room that could be used as a dressing room so that has to be added. Also the building didn’t have a floor. There was only the sub-floor.

On the outside of the building, there are blocks of glass that extends the width of the building. It was built sometime in the early 1900’s. Someone along the way put up a wall on the inside of the building so that you could not see the glass from the inside. That barrier had to go also.

OK, this is what has happened.

Frith Construction has torn out the ceiling and sub-ceiling. We have exposed the rafters and brick interior walls above about 11 feet. New ductwork will also be exposed and painted black. Here’s a photo of that. As you can see, the lighting has not been installed yet. That will happen next week.

The two restrooms will be updated and a dressing room has been added as an extension of one of the bathrooms. A new hardwood floor is now in place throughout the building. A crew is applying the stain today.

Two walls were removed and replaced with one wall that will divide the building into two large rooms. One room will be the shooting room. The other room, I love this part, will be a gallery. Track lighting will line the walls for accents on the photographs. I plan to do shows from my personal projects over the years. This is what the shooting room looks like right now.

In the gallery, will be a sitting area to meet with clients, and I will have my desk there. We are also going to put in a large HD TV on the back wall of the gallery for showing photos and to have photographs playing in a slideshow via a Mac mini when the gallery is open. This is the gallery. As you can see, they are prepping to stain the floor today. It will be a very dark stain that is almost black. I’m doing the studio in my two favorite colors – black and white.

The work on the interior should be completed in about two weeks. I’m meeting with the cabinet guy today about building cabinets with a sink. The exterior will then be the next project. I’ll talk about that later.

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June 23, 2010 at 9:45 am

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Renovations at New Studio

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Renovations are underway at my new studio at 38 Franklin Street in Uptown Martinsville.

There will be a shooting room that is 20 x 24 feet, two restooms and a dressing room. The part that has me the most excited is there will be a 20 x 35 foot room that will be used as gallery space and meeting with clients. I’ve been shooting photographs for about 30 years, and this will give me an area to display my personal projects.

We have basically gutted the building. Here are some before photos and then current photographs from yesterday during the renovations. As you can see we have a long way to go. Notice that we are going to expose the block glass on the front of the building to the inside. I’ll fill you in on the extent of the renovations in a later post.

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May 20, 2010 at 9:37 am

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