Thankful for my Dad’s Leica M3

This post was very hard for me to write, as delegated to me by Katie, for her 30 days of thanks blog theme. Sometimes it takes someone like Katie to push us to put in writing what we know in our heart. And that was why this post was so hard.

Dad's Leica M3

I am thankful for many many things. First would have to be Rachel, my wife, in our 20th year of marriage. My 3 kids are a true blessing. I am thankful for the city Houston which I moved to after college with my then young family in hopes of finding a job. I am even thankful for people that hosed me over because I learned from those experiences, and got back up. I am thankful for my extended family and friends who have supported me in my crazy journey starting a company 13 years ago. I am thankful for the US Army, spending a lot of time in my formative years on bases in the US and Germany. And I can’t even begin to say how thankful I am for the people I get to work with. But all of those blessings are more than I can handle writing about right now. Instead I want to write about a camera.

I am thankful for my Dad’s Leica M3. You see, it wasn’t always this way. For years, the six of us kids were annoyed by my Father’s camera. I come from a family of hard workers and the story I was told was that my father got a fake ID at the age of 14 to take a job as a photographer for the Bridgeport Post. Growing up my Father always had a camera. So like all children, the six of us rebelled and went the other direction. We groaned when called for a family picture at Christmas, and gave him a hard time about it.

In college I didn’t even own a camera (I can hear the Facebook generation groaning) and there were no cell phones to snap pics either (yes, I am old as dirt apparently). We did buy disposable cameras occasionally to get pictures once we had children. But the device was to record an event, and the subject matter was the little people (who I thought then, and still think are AWESOME). I wanted to remember the moment. Running around the tree in the back yard in the middle of a terrible thunder storm just for fun. Laughing uncontrollably soaked to the bone and the dog staring at us like we had finally COMPLETELY lost it. That was what cameras were for, to record the event.

Then a funny thing happened. I was at the Emerging Technologies conference in 2006 in San Diego and went to visit family just north of the city. We stopped by a winery and I took a photo of a kid kicking a football using a little Nikon Coolpix S1. This photo.

kicking a futbol in the vineyards

It’s not the most amazing photo. But it was the first time my brain said “hey, this is a cool image so try to capture it.” It was the first time I took an image for the sake of CREATING SOMETHING. And I liked it. It also helped that Flickr was talked about a lot that year at eTech and I found a community of photographers who loved to help.

Flickr, and that photo, made me finally realize why my Father enjoyed photography. Sure his snap shots were just like all the rest of our snap shots. Just that: snap shots. But occasionally he shot to create something beautiful. Then memories came back to me of helping him matt and crop (you did this with a paper cutter) images for a photography contest he had entered when I was a young man.

Because our company had a sizable American Express bill, in 2006 I got a Canon Digital Rebel XT using Amex points at no cost. Then the real photography journey began, and I found I really enjoyed it. I learned that a photographer’s job is to make people look good. Digital photography in particular is very forgiving and lets you take a few shots to be sure your subject is shown in the best possible way.

My Father didn’t talk a lot. I understand that now. When I was a young child he was enlisted and served proudly in Vietnam. We would always stop by the POW/MIA booth in DC. And his photos of  the memorial were the source of several award winning photos he took. I don’t have those photos, but I remember them. He went on to get a degree, go to Medical School, reenlist in the Army and eventually retire as an LTC. Then teach at OU and save lives as a Perinatologist. I can’t even begin to say how proud I am of my Father.

Later that year, in 2006, I took our family down to Dickens on the Strand in Galveston. After that we stopped by the beach and I took this photo of my three kids, which now has over 30,000 views on flickr.

running with the seagulls

Unfortunately I never got a chance to talk to my Father about photography. I started photography in 2006, at a time when he was teaching at a medical school in Dominica. The Islands are a long way away. He passed away suddenly a few days after the above photo was taken. He never saw it.

While in Dominica I found these photos on his last camera.

From Dominica



From Ireland

Ireland - from another's eyes


Those are his photos and I think the man had a great eye. He loved his Leica M3. And I had no idea what it was. All of those years.

What am I thankful for? I am thankful for many many wonderful people in my life. And I am very thankful for my amazing parents. And I am thankful my Mom entrusted me with my Dad’s Leica M3. Thank you Mom and Dad!

Have camera bag, will travel

As a frequent traveler, I have great respect for  the discipline that goes into traveling light. It is truly an art form. Yet on the other hand it really sucks to get to your destination and realize you need some particular item that is not readily available. Particularly if that item is light and it wouldn’t have been any trouble to bring it along. And PARTICULARLY if that item is a camera accessory that you can’t just pick up at the local store!

I’ll leave it to the OneBag site to offer the  perfect light travelers packing list. But what about your camera bag when you travel? My criteria for making the traveling camera bag list is:

  1. The camera bag must:
    1. have easy access to grab the camera out with one hand
    2. travel easily through airport security
    3. fit under the seat in front of me on an airplane
    4. have some extra room for books/magazines/iPad storage to keep them handy on a flight
    5. be slender enough that I can make my way through a crowd without bumping into people (this rule eliminates more bag options than any other, btw)
    6. have flexible pouches that if I must overpack it, at least that is an option
    7. close securely to prevent pickpockets in crowded subways

What goes in the traveling camera bag? Assuming you have a DSLR and lenses, my ideal camera travel bag selection is fairly small. Here goes:

  1. The traveling camera bag typically contains:
    1. Camera body  – I’m a Canon guy, but Nikon’s are pretty awesome too. (And just don’t even tell me if you have a  Hasselblad. I don’t want to hear it.)
    2. Fixed 50 lens  – Light and fast for low light situations. The  thrifty fifty rules.
    3. Wide angle lens.  (When I used the Rebel I *loved*  the 10-22 which took  this shot. Now I have the 16-35.)
    4. Zoom lens.  I bring one, but not both, of these depending on where I am traveling.
      1. 24-105/f4 – doesn’t sound like the best lens, but I consistently get the best results with this glass. I LOVE this lens. My all time favorite. But sometimes I leave it behind b/c of weight. It is truly a brick.
      2. 70-300/f4-5.6 – again, doesn’t sound like the best lens with f4, but very flexible and light.
    5. Lens doubler  – also called a  2X teleconverter – also called “flexibility!”  (I don’t use the Canon one, I bought a cheaper one at a shop in nyc). The bad news is teleconverters KILL your lens speed. 2X but I’d guess you lose 4 or 5 f stops. So these are for daylight use only almost. Some exceptions, but TEST before you need. You will be shooting on Manual with the doubler. Oh, and on mine, auto-focus doesn’t work either. So maybe splurge for the Canon doubler.
    6. External Flash  – I use the 580EX and I hated the 430EX. If you can’t budget the 580, buy off brand until you can. The 430 is lame – you get more light from a flashlight.
    7. Extra camera battery  – battery’s are lighter than chargers and I never fully drain 2 batteries on biz trips. Skip the charger and carry an extra battery.
    8. Extra memory card  – mainly in case the other one goes corrupt.
  2. Items I now specifically do NOT bring.
    1. No extra AA batteries.  I used to carry these. Again, rechargables in the external flash will last just fine. And you can purchase batteries if you need them. Skip carrying them. This also eliminates the AA battery charger.
    2. No charger.  If I shoot through two fully charged batteries I need to stop anyway. If it is a long trip I’ll put the charger in my carry-on, but I rarely use it.
    3. No Tripod  – yup, no tripod. I am all about balancing the camera on a rock or holding it against a tree. I no longer lug around tripods and with the new faster ISO speeds on cameras they aren’t as necessary IMHO.
    4. No Lens Filters  – hate them. What is the point of buying a nice lens and then putting a crappy piece of plastic in front of it? Just doesn’t make sense. If you are that worried about your lens, use a point and shoot. Filters are a scam IMHO. The exceptions are polarized filters for daylight long-exposure shots, or artistic colored filters. But the clear ones? Just a way for the camera store to get your 50 bucks. Gone.
    5. No Rubberized Camera Exoskeleton  – if you drop the camera this probably won’t save it. And it makes it impossible to get in and out of most camera bags. And it looks dorky. Skip it. Shoot with a naked camera body.
    6. No Laptop (OK, sometimes no laptop)  – for day trips, the CF cards are large enough that you can sometimes just skip the laptop and download when you get back. Not the end of the world.

Other tips for traveling with your camera:

  1. BUY A NEW CAMERA STRAP!  Really, both Canon and Nikon put the MODEL NUMBER on the camera strap which tells would be thieves exactly the value of your camera from 100 yards away. Sheesh. So yes, buy a generic looking camera strap.
  2. Shoot RAW only  – using JPG and RAW both fills up the card and wastes time. Install the drivers and shoot only RAW.
  3. Shoot a lot  – without a tripod you will have  occasional  camera shake. Odds are if you take three shots at 1/30 that one of those will work out. Delete the other two and move on down the road.
  4. Lightroom  – get  lightroom to handle the large number of shots. Unfortunately it is $300. I used Aperture and loved it, but Adobe is going to win this battle so move on over. Plus Lightroom handles referenced files, the ones saved directly to external drives, much faster. And it handles multiple catalogs. You can research it or trust me – just go with Lightroom.
  5. External Drive  – save directly to external drives. Moving files around on and off a laptop sucks. Just import directly to an external drive. I use the  Lacie ruggedized 500GB drives. I realize they have 1TB drives now, but I don’t recommend them since they require another power supply. The 500GB is powered by USB only, which cuts down on space/weight. Carrying two 500GB drives if needed (I don’t, but hypothetically) is still lighter than another power supply. Plus you can never find enough plugs in a hotel. Another note on the drives – I just use the USB as it is the same cable for the Canon and to recharge the blackberry. Flexibility and the speed difference with Firewire isn’t that huge a deal for me on downloads.
  6. Photoshop Elements (if you must)  –  Elements is about $80. I rarely even launch photoshop and you definitely do NOT need CS. Either skip photoshop entirely or just use the cheaper Photoshop Elements. And I still don’t “get”  Bridge. Any organization I might do in Bridge I can do with Folders and Collections in Lightroom.  Just use Lightroom and give as little money to Adobe as possible.
  7. Laptop  – you don’t actually NEED a MacBook Pro to run lightroom. With the external drive you can use any laptop or even the Macbook Air. Yes it won’t be as fast, but it isn’t the end of the world and this allows you to use a smaller laptop. That said, I use the 13inch Macbook pro. I wish they had a 10inch version.
  8. Clean your lens a lot. – much easier than removing dust spots using software. Basically do as much in-camera as possible and as little on-laptop as possible.

A few photos from my travels below. Enjoy your own vacation!

Orange Line @ eTech 2007
San Diego

wall street subway STOP
New York

Chicago Times Square
New York

running with the seagulls

Dawn Brancheau - Riders on the Storm

bold coffee

Texas State Capital Building

Fruit Loop
New Mexico

little miss risk

woman in waiting
San Diego Merchant Services Outage 7-3-2009 is DOWN. Tendenci clients that use, which is quite a few, are being affected by an outage at Goes Down, E-Commerce Vendors Left Hanging

As I type this at 12:10 PM on Friday the service is still down. is updating the status using twitter at:

What can you do? They are working to restore power so most likely we just need to wait it out. However, you can set up a PayPal account as a contingency plan in case you want to switch merchant providers.