10.21.2017

I hate wearing glasses. I love wearing glasses. I hate wearing glasses. But I do like to see the camera screen....

The industrial strength prescription. 

It was a day in October about 20 years ago when the whole idea that my vision might not be perfect reared its ugly head and dashed my hopes of immortality. Up until age 40 my eyes had always been perfect. 20/20. I was the only person in my family who never needed to wear glasses. A nice perk if you've chosen photography as your lifelong (a)vocation.

Here's how my vision smugness got shattered....

The mid-1990's were a heady time for commercial photographers; clients needed us and were willing to pay well for our services. I'd had a nice, long stream of jobs with Austin's Motorola divisions and I decided to reward myself with a cool, new camera (some things never change, right?). Hasselblad had just released their electronic 201F body and it worked with my 110mm f2.0 and 50mm f2.8 Zeiss lenses I'd bought for my older FCW2000 focal plane camera. The 201F had built in spot metering and was a very pricey body, for the time. 

The camera was ordered and arrived at Capitol Camera a week or so later. I spent some time getting acquainted with the camera, reading the manual over and over again while testing out every feature. About a week after getting the camera I decided to use it on a location job. We needed to shoot a group of 12 electrical engineers at Motorola's facility on West William Cannon Dr. I decided that this would be the perfect maiden job for the new H-Blad. 

I packed up a camera bag with the new body, three lenses (the 100mm f3.5 Planar, in addition to the above mentioned lenses) and some loaded film backs. My assistant and I arrived on location with our cart full of lighting gear and got to work. We set up a canvas background in one of the wide hallways and lit it with two Profoto 600 monolights with umbrellas. We had brought along a bunch of apple boxes so we would elevate a second row of people to make the group shot work better. 

I put the new camera on a tripod and chose the (well tested) 100mm f3.5 lens on it. Then I popped up the waist level finder and started to focus on the front row of people. No matter which way I turned the focusing ring I couldn't get the image to show sharply on the focusing screen. It just didn't seem to be critically sharp at any setting. Knowing that the lens was in good working order I was certain something was wrong with the new body. I zone focused and we shot at f16. I knew we were getting sharp images because the Polaroid tests looked nice and sharp. But that finder just didn't ever get critically sharp. Boy was I pissed off. I'd spent north of $5,000 for a body that seemed defective. 

I wrote an "aggressive" note to Hasselblad and

10.19.2017

Let's go for a swim. Here's my temporary swimming headquarters. Grab your goggles and swimsuit and come swim some laps.

This is a shot of the Deep Eddy Pool from up at the bathhouse. The deep side of the pool, separated by a concrete wall from the shallow end, is 33.3 meters across. The water is usually near 68 degrees because it comes from underground wells. In the top right hand corner you can see Lady Bird Lake, which runs through the middle of downtown Austin. The pool is owned by the City of Austin. 

These are the cascading steps that lead down to the pool. 


The shallow end of the pool is in the foreground and the deeper end, with lap lanes, is in the background. The pool opens at 8 a.m. and closes at 8 p.m., all week long. It's not heated but the water is changed out from a series of deep wells every other day so it doesn't have time to cool down (too much). I find 68 degrees (water temp) to be just on this side of bearable. One swims faster in cold water because you can really feel the water resistance on your hands, arms and feet. Also, it seems one recovers quicker between sets in colder water. I'm not anxious to check my lower limits of temp tolerance any time soon. 

Some lanes are designated "Circle" lanes and if you are in one you must welcome in anyone who wants to swim with you. Up on the right and back on the right. A circle. Your right side always next to the lane line. In other lanes the protocol is to ask a lap swimmer who is already in the lane if they are willing to split -- sharing the lane. If it gets crowded a non-Circle lane can be converted to a lap lane to accommodate more swimmers but one must have the consensus of each person already swimming in the lane. Seems to work fine in the Fall and Winter when attendance is lower. 

Emmett's swim toys. 

My usual swim partner, Emmett, getting in some extra laps with Julie. 
We like to get in between 2500 and 3500 yards in a typical midday workout. 

Emmett pausing between sets.

A view from the deep end.

Looking back up at the bathhouse. The bathhouse has separate areas for men and women (duh) and they are constructed as courtyards with no roof. It's fun to take showers while being able to look up at the sky and the clouds. Less fun, I imagine, if it is sleeting or snowing....or the wind is particularly snippy. 


A nicely synchronized turn with kkckboards.






After a long, hard swim you still have to negotiate the stairs. 
A fun view. 

I don't know what your schedule is but when I am not booked for a specific job I can schedule office work or post production any way I want. I got up late this morning and met my video "mentor" James for coffee. He's just back from Bozeman, Montana, where he was shooting interviews. His stories are always pretty amazing. Today's was no exception. 

After our coffee meeting I headed to the pool to swim at 11:00 am with Emmett. The air temp was in the mid-70's and we had great sun today. The water was its usual chilly 68 degrees but four or five laps of sprinting finally gets me warmed up. We knocked out a good hour of swimming and I headed out to the car to grab a camera. I knew that VSL readers were anxious to see where I'm swimming now. 

I had a Panasonic G85 in the car, along with the 12-60mm lens, so I grabbed that and headed back down to the pool. That camera and lens is a wonderful combo to keep in the car. Small and light and, contrary to web chatter, perfect color right out in the Jpegs. 

Deep Eddy Pool cost $3 for adults who are city residents, $8 for people from out of town and $1 for people 62 and over. I have an old punch card I never used up and it now has five swims left on it. I should use it up just in time for my birthday, at which time I'll click over to 62. Four days after that we hit November 1st and pool admission will be free until sometime in March. There are lifeguards on the deck. So far it's a decent and adventurous choice of location at which to keep up my swimming skills.

Since there's less competition most days (compared to our old stomping grounds) I'm also adding in a few more longer runs each week. And, yes, you can catch the Hike and Bike trail (best running course in Austin) just outside the Deep Eddy Pool. See you there.


Four and counting...down.


There was a time when even photographers in smaller, secondary markets maintained gloriously large studio spaces. At one time Austin was one of the cheapest cities in which to live in all of Texas. Finding a centrally located, converted warehouse studio of 2500 square feet and 14 foot ceilings was relatively easy and cost far less each month than the mortgage on a mediocre house. It was also an age in which photographers could justify keeping scores of different cameras. After all, a view camera makes a lousy action camera, and a heavy duty studio view camera is a hassle to take on location when compared to a folding field camera; even though both took 4x5 inch film. 

We stocked two kinds of view cameras. When it came to medium format there were multiple Hasselblad cameras (some with built-in motors and some without) and a full complement of lenses. But we also had a Mamiya 6 system (complete with a back up body) for shooting fast, in the street. We had a free flowing supply, more or less, of SLR systems and always a Leica M system with bodies for each lens. It seemed that there was always a special niche that only a certain kind of camera would fill. But then we were jacks of all trades. We might be shooting architecture for a shelter magazine one day, food for a cookbook the next, and always the portraits and product shots which were the bread and butter. We filled in the gaps with event photography, done with 35mm cameras.

When we started buying Kodak professional digital cameras we sloughed off formats, one by one. First to go were the 35mm SLRs. They were followed by the medium format stuff while the 4x5's and the Leica hung on through the first decade of the new century. In place of the film cameras we subjected ourselves and our checkbooks to a seemingly endless flow of digital cameras, each just a hair better than the ones that came before them. 

I think, in our collective consciousness, we all were working under the presumption that the prevailing "gold standard" was always going to be the big print, the double truck spread in a printed, glossy magazine, the trade show graphic the size of a house. We chose our new range of digital cameras accordingly and, working under the "big print" presumption we stocked in a range of cameras, from fun ones to serious ones. When our history told us that 40 by 60 inch prints would always be in vogue we believed in the race for infinite megapixels. And truthfully, there's still tiny niches here and there that make use of as much resolution as a photographer and his camera can conjure. But those niches shrink daily. And they provide commerce for a few thousand skilled workers, worldwide. 

The rest of the world is coming to grips with the reality that our last century understanding of photography is quickly becoming obsolete. The precious, physical manifestation of photography; as embodied by the fine print, is quickly (very quickly) coming to a close, replaced by work shown on multiple screens. We are out of the gallery and onto the phone, and we're not likely to head back. We are looking at multiple images from a shoot instead of one "keeper."

But even more of a change is the embrace, by consumers and the marketplace, of video. If you are already looking at a screen why wouldn't marketers use a more compelling medium, one that can hold a consumer's attention for minutes instead of seconds while delivering multiple messages, or more in-depth messages? Galleries are vanishing. Magazines devoted to singular, fine images are evaporating, while V-logging and video content across the web is proliferating. The writing isn't on the wall anymore, it's on the screens of hundreds of millions of people who are voting with their clicks.

So, after all the years of camera collecting, diversifying and niche-ing I'm in the process of finally finding a "multiverse" solution. I've sold off everything but a couple of Panasonic GH5's, a G85 and an FZ2500. All my current cameras are capable of providing files that are more than sufficient for any electronic display use and, in the case of video, a performance that shames larger and more expensive DSLRs. While they can't compete with cameras like the D850 and A7Rii in sheer resolution they are just as good (or better) for color discrimination and tonal response. 

I may be wrong. I could have misjudged the market. There could be a revival of super high quality magazines, printed on heavy, glossy paper stock. They could re-take the imaginations of new generations --- but I don't think so. Attention spans are shorter and budgets much more constrained. The future, as far as I can tell, is firmly wedded to a series of encounters between art and screens. 

The Millenial Generation has more or less invented the idea of "access instead of ownership". If the infrastructure were in place to facilitate quick and reliable rents of all the different gear I work with I would consider picking the camera I want to use for each job. But, then again, I'm trained by my own history to want to work with my own core selection of gear. But I watch young photographers order a lens from lens rental for a specific project and then happily send it back. They get the use of a specialized piece of gear without the deep investment. They dodge the risk of "opportunity costs." They can spend their money on something other than a $2,000 lens they might only use a few times a year.

A number of newly minted photographers borrow or rent their lighting as needed. And for most the idea of back up equipment is kind of silly because their experiences with most digital cameras is that they've never experienced a complete failure --- as we often did in the film days. 

So, the benefit to me in consistently shrinking my overall equipment footprint is that I now have perhaps the best video cameras under $10,000 on today's market. I have cameras that are smaller and more efficient. Files sizes that are effective but not bloated. And a family of menus that is mostly logical and consistent from model to model. 

I'm steeling myself for the online backlash of people insisting that my equipment change is just ADHD or G.A.S. or a short attention span. But what I think is important, at least to me, is that with each shift we are making our inventory smaller, more rational, and much cheaper. Might not be the pathway a gear collector would take but from a business point of view it's an approach that cuts opportunity cost. And one that leaves me largely debt free. 

If you can do satisfying work across two media with one set of cameras and you can do it with cameras and lenses that are smaller and lighter, and much cheaper, why on earth would you keep in permanent inventory what are quickly becoming niche-y specialty cameras whose full potential you might use only a few times a year until you ultimately decide that they too have become obsolete?

Of course, all of this supposes that your are using your cameras to make a living, have a need for 4K video, and have come to grips with the idea that the market is constantly shifting away from our old paradigm. If you do photography for fun you are best suited using the stuff you have right now until the parts fall off and the rubber grips turn toxic. A few more pixels won't buy you much more pleasure...

This is the first time in over 30 years that I have had only four cameras in my possession. It engenders a great feeling of freedom and lightness. There's more space. Fewer choices. Less to decide. Now I need to winnow down the lights..,.



10.16.2017

Kirk's Photography Tip of the Day. CWB. (Custom White Balance).

42.5

I was setting up to shoot in a conference room downtown this morning. I had an hour to put together the lighting and design of the shot and used myself, as a halfway willing model, to stand in. The conference room is lit with a bunch of different light sources as well as a wall of frosted, tinted glass windows. I used an LED panel, shining through a 50 inch, round diffusion panel to the left of the frame and a silver bounce reflector about ten feet back on the right. I also added some LED panels with warming filters to the back plane.

With all this light bouncing around I knew I wanted to do a custom white balance. I set up a gray target and made a white balance while using the Panasonic 42.5mm f1.7. As I continued setting up I tried several different lenses to see what the cropping would look like with a 50mm and a 40mm focal length. When I switched from the 42.5mm to the 40mm I was surprised at the difference in color between the two lenses. Nothing else was changed and both lenses were stopped down to equal apertures, yielding exactly the same exposures, as measured by the GH5's internal waveform monitor.

The older lens, the 40mm, was much warmer and stumbled into a slight yellow cast. Using the same white balance target and re-setting the color balance brought the two lenses much closer in final color. The third lens had a slightly cool, or blue, tendency compared to the modern Panasonic. It too could be made to get close to the 42.5's color when custom white balance. Without the custom white balances the images created by each lens were quite different.

This reminded me that for precise work a custom white balance actually needs to be done between lens changes. It was a sobering reminder that some of what we do is more of an art (or craft) than a science.

While I am not a good portrait subject my client this morning was. I was delighted with what I finally came up with as a lighting design for her. I think I'll work harder at staying behind the camera.....

Working with precision? Did you know different color balances also change exposure? New rule: New lens on the scene? Custom white balance and create a channel for that particular lens. It's a good way to eliminate the need for color matching between files in post.

The lenses, used on a GH5, were: the Panasonic 42.5mm f1.7 (the nicest WB in AWB), the Pen FT 40mm f1.4 (the least accurate, color wise) and the Zeiss 50mm f1.7 (Best tonality, middle of the road color accuracy).

It's fun to experiment. Sometimes I learn stuff...

10.15.2017

The G85 is a woefully under-appreciated camera. Coupled with the right lens it can be superb.


I bought the G85 on a whim. I'd purchased the FZ2500 and had been impressed. There were older Olympus lenses in my office (the Pen half-frame lenses) that had been more or less orphaned when I sold off the last of my GH4 cameras and Olympus EM-5.2 cameras several years ago. While the lenses worked okay on the A6x00 series Sonys they just didn't feel right. I bought the G85 in part to use those lenses and then also out of curiosity. 

As someone wisely pointed out this was the "gateway" camera back into the Panasonic system, and, indeed, back into the whole m4:3 ecosphere. I used the G85 with the kit lens (12-60mm) for a while, shot some 4K video that surprised me with its quality and then, with the arrival of the twin GH5s, it got relegated to the bleachers. 

Lately I've been interested to see just how I like the essence of the camera. That would be the look, feel and personality of the files. But not in the way that seems commonplace in the mainstream appraisal; not by a measure of how much resolution the camera has or how quickly it can focus on someone rushing toward me on a turbo-charged unicycle. My measure of value for camera files is how smooth and mellow the tones can be, how accurate the color seems to me, and whether it makes photographs that look like the thing being photographed (good) or photographs that look like hyper-real photographs of the thing being photographed (bad). 

Most people doing a cursory flirtation with smaller sensor cameras get all caught up with the idea that depth of field control is somehow hampered. When I left the house today I decided to remove depth of field from the equation as much as I could so I could concentrate on how real the images seemed to me. How well did the camera and lens translate the three dimensional, color rich world we see with our eyes into files we can evaluate on screen. 

My lens of choice today was the older, Contax Y/C  Zeiss 50mm f1.7 lens, with an adapter. I shot almost everything at f2.0. Once in a while I went to f2.8 just to stay within the range of the mechanical shutter. I used the camera's auto white balance, its standard profile and its large Jpeg setting to do my fun art. The camera has in-body stabilization that works well with non-dedicated lenses. You have to enter the focal length of the lens you are using but I made it easy on myself by only using one lens. Set once and forget. 

In my opinion Panasonic has gotten their interpretation of color and tonality nailed down perfectly. The 16 megapixel sensor in this camera is mature technology and renders images with a neutral grace. If I ignore the implied benefits of the newer, higher resolution sensor of the GH5, as well as the advanced video features of the GH5 and just look at the emotional/perceived quality of the frames then I would have to say that, just by a small margin, the combination of the G85 and this particular Zeiss lens gives me an photographic file that's more pleasing. Not by a huge margin; just by a whisker. 

It's a file that seems less processed and at the same time more organic. And the files have an impression of depth. Very nice depth. Pretty amazing to me just how nice a file one can get with a camera and lens that together cost less than $800.  It's okay to tell me that the A7rii or the D850 is much more detailed (when enlarged past a certain size) but that really doesn't make a difference to me. This (the G85) has a look I like very much. I'll just remember not to blow it up too much. Nothing past say, 20 by 24 inches. 









10.14.2017

It's fun to look back a year and see what we were photographing at Zach Theatre.

A Marketing photo from "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert." 

I was over at Zach Theatre a week ago and I walked around the offices. In every hallway they have framed production photos which span decades. All are printed 12x18 inches and are well matted. All but a handful were made by me. There is generally only one image per production but they were carefully curated by the marketing director.

When I walked through I could "see" every camera that I used to take the photos. We started with M series Leicas and Hasselblads, worked our way through a few generations of Contax film cameras and Nikon film cameras; and then there is the long progression of digital cameras, starting with an Olympus e-10 (the first really effective digital "bridge" camera) and continuing through all the different formats and brands, and ending up, recently, with the Panasonic GH5s. 

It's interesting to see that, while there are some minor technical differences in the images between all the generations of cameras, the differences are not nearly as great as camera advertising, photographer blogs and photo-oriented websites would have one believe. The magic is never in whatever camera was used. Whether the photos work or not (aesthetically) is all tied to several decidedly non-technical factors. To wit: Did I compose the scene in an interesting and dynamic way? Did I capture the peak of action within the scene? Was I able to get on film (or "on sensor") the expressions on the actors' faces that help define and refine the story being told on the stage? Using mostly manual focus, was I able to do all of the above while getting sharp focus on constantly moving actors?

If you really think that today's photography is challenging you should step back a decade or two and try nailing focus, and shifting exposure parameters, through the dim prism of, or reversed waist level finder of, a Hasselblad 500C/M camera and a lens with a long manual focus throw. Everything else will seem like gravy on biscuits by comparison...

Part of theater photography is having an intuition for where actors will move next and what their future actions will be. You have to put yourself and camera into the place where the actors will end up next. Not where they were a few seconds ago.

There was a time when we set up, lit and meticulously styled the promotional photographs. Those are still my favorites.


Photograph of Ben on the dock at Emma Long Park. Contax G2 + 21mm Zeiss Biogon. B&W film. Deep Yellow filter.


So much of what we talk about revolves around the technical nuances of cameras but all of that seems to be secondary to grabbing up the camera quickly when you see a shot and just using it adroitly. This image was shot during an assignment. It was unplanned (to say the least) but ended up being the opener for a multi-ad advertising campaign.

Had I planned it all out, lit it and shot with a tripod mounted Hasselblad I am certain that Ben would have been way past me before I got anywhere close to pushing the shutter button.

The client was in another (geographical) state. No idea how the shot came into existence. No idea what camera I was using. No curiosity about the technique. They just recognized that this finished "spur of the moment" shot was what they wanted/needed for their advertising. And, in my 30 some years of daily experience, that's just the way things usually go... We plan and plan but the authentic, uplanned moment usually trumps all kinds of technical perfection.  And, no. You usually can't have it both ways, no matter how hard you try.

10.13.2017

I thought I would share a verbatim promotional e-mail with my VSL crowd. This is what I've been sending (with personal salutations) to my list.

Dear (lovely and coveted clients),

It’s been busy around our studio. My client, ZachTheatre.org just opened their 2017-2018 season with the musical, “Singin' in the Rain.” My company shot the production stills, advertising images, and several promotional videos about the production. One of the coolest parts of the play is when the lead actor, and then the cast, actually dance in the rain. The tech crew created a rain device that delivers the drops from the front of stage to the back, and from side to side. 



Here’s a link to the video interview with the choreographer and the director: https://vimeo.com/237315221 Complete with tap dancing in the rain! 

The video racked up over 8,000 views in its first 48 hours online! 


The musical is a lot of fun and it’s playing thru October 29th. 

Please keep me in mind if you need photography and/or video production.  Umbrellas provided, if necessary... 

All the best, Kirk 

Kirk Tuck Video and Photography 

Web: www.kirktuck.com 
E-mail: xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx 
Phone: 512-XXX-XXXX 

Industrial Strength Imaging. 

https://vimeo.com/237315221