3.30.2014

A wish list for those wonderful folks at Panasonic, Olympus or some cool third party lens company.

photo: ©Alan Pogue.

I wish the systems I want to shoot with came with all the lenses I want to shoot with. But they don't. And here's what I want from the genius lens designers I know are out there somewhere. I'm tired of all the half-assed pancake lenses. I want some stuff we can sink our teeth into. And I want stuff we can use to make big money with our cameras. It's one thing to adapt lenses hither and yon but an entirely different thing to have perfect optics for the things we need. 

When I ask for lenses I am not asking for an adapter to use an existing other system lens on my micro four thirds camera, I am looking for lenses that are made for the joint system. I want the lenses to AF (where appropriate) and to meter in the automatic modes (where appropriate). And I want them all to just work...

Let's get started. 

First off I want a 10mm tilt shift lens that opens up to f4 and looks equally good at f11. Forget the laws of physics and the too often touted effects of diffraction. Use magic/science/firmware to give me what I want. This would be an all around lens for people who shoot small cameras but still want to keep doing architecture. This focal length is long enough for just about anything real and would be easier to make than a 17mm equivalent. Make this one sharp and elegant and watch the hordes of architectural shooters bail from the Canon system and rush to embrace. 

Then give me a 50mm tilt shift lens with a fast f2.0 aperture so I can do lots of fun product, table top and weirdly focused fashion stuff. Can't be that hard. Why isn't it here already?

I want a fast 10.5mm prime that starts at f 2.0 and has no rectilinear distortion whatsoever. I had an Olympus 11-22mm lens that was nearly flawless and if Olympus can do that in a zoom just think what they should be able to do with a single focal length...

Next up I want a long fast lens I can use for video projects. The 14-140 focal length is just fine but what's this chicken-poop changing (slow) aperture nonsense? Let's make this one an f2.5. I know it will be bigger and heavier but video is all about being on a tripod, being on a jib or being on some sort of support for dolly work. I don't really care if it's big and heavy as long as the focus doesn't change through the zoom range and the aperture doesn't shift either. Make this one in a PL mount and make it cover super35 in the video game and you'll have the world beating a door to your factory. Especially if it's affordable. Say.....under $5,000. 

Next up, bring back the Olympus 42mm f1.1.2 high speed optic that was made for the Pen system but upgrade it with sparkling new magic glass and make it diffraction limited (super sharp) at its wide open aperture. The PanaLeica is a good start. More like that!

I could also use a 25mm f2.0. I know this is the same focal length as the legendary 25mm Pana/Leica I already own but as a Panasonic shooter I want this one to have lots and lots of "bite" and I want it to include a new generation of in lens I.S. that's as good as the best I.S. on the market. I don't care if it's as big as the Pan/Leica or even bigger as long as it's shake free and full of aggressive sharpness. 

Moving on. Olympus went all sissy on us with the longer lens. Panasonic too for that matter. They assumed that people who were buying these smaller cameras would chaff at having to do a little lifting and straining. Screw that! Give me back my 35-100mm f2.0. I'm not interested in the milk toast version that Panasonic camera out with. I want the speed. We've seen that Olympus can to it now we need them to get their balls back and come out with an m4:3 version. Wanna make it lighter and more affordable? Make some of it out of industrial plastic instead of heavy metal. Wanna make it even more esoteric? Make most of the components out of carbon fiber. If you haven't shot with a 35-100mm f2.0 you need to borrow, rent or steal one. They are frightfully expensive (not really when compared to the lenses from Canon and Nikon) but they are wicked sharp at f2.0 and they stay at f2.0 all the way through the zoom range.  Come on boys! Suck it up and make some glass again that spanks the competition. It's not like you haven't already figured it out once.....

Along the same lines we need a really fabulous, powerhouse lens in the 12-60mm range. Something as sharp and contrasty as the Olympus 4/3rd system zoom but screw that lame shifting aperture. Get with the program and give us one that's f2.5 all the way through. Again, if the lens is sharp enough and draws beautifully enough to bring tears to your eyes I don't care if it weighs two pounds and it twice the size of the camera with a goofy grip on the bottom. I'd buy that. In fact, I did buy and use the Olympus 12-35mm f2.0 and it was an amazing lens. They can do this but Olympus is acting all skittish and cowardly because their market research shows them that delicate people want weightless lenses. Well, yes, that is one part of their market, but there are some of us who really want to rock the optics. Especially when we're using them to make videos. 

Again, lose the culottes, put on your big boy lens designer pants and get with the program. An ultra-fast, high performance, extended range normal lens that puts to rest all those stupid arguments about "equivalence" and how much light is hitting the sensor. Make the lenses faster and sharper and we'll make the full frame boys cry. Honestly.... How many fucking collapsible 14-42mm lenses will you make before you get a semblance of your pride back?

Moving on: I'd like a 90mm f1.4 for theatre work with the GH4. I don't care who makes it as long as it's good and delivers the images. Can't seem to shake the love I used to have for the 180mm lenses for my Leica R cameras. A lens like a 90mm f1.4 would go a long way toward making me forget...

One more....and it already exists in another related mount....Where the hell is the 150mm f2.0 lens from Olympus????? They made a great one for the 4:3 mount. Same sensor size!!!!! Just re-mount it and make it work with the AF in the new cameras. Use the carbon fiber idea to make it light and happy. But get the damn thing back on the market to compete with everyone else's FF 300mm 2.8's. 

Of course no one wants to shoot sports with your cameras; you haven't given them the OPTICS they need to make it all work. I don't really care if I have to manually focus the lens as long as someone keeps giving me focus peaking. It really works. 

Well, that's the list of stuff I want that isn't on the market in a non-adapter environment. If some of these camera guys want to stay in the market they'd better think of ratcheting up the excitement in the glass department. More new bodies are like farts in a hurricane. More new lenses. Real lenses. Now that would make people sit up and take notice.

3.29.2014

How good does "good" have to be?


This has been a month of contrasts and it makes me wonder at times just how good "good" has to be. What do I mean by that? We tend to carry around presumptions about professional photography that were true in the days of print delivery but may not be true in today's practice. I shot a job in the Fall that entailed shooting many interiors in a period ranch house outside of Fredericksburg, Texas for a magazine dedicated to historic homes and crafts.

When I first started working for this magazine in 1979 we aimed to make every shot a cover shot. The magazines were printed on the best paper the printers could find and no expenses were spared in the color separation stage either. In those days it would have been unthinkable to shoot the assignments with anything less than a 4x5 inch view camera. Partly for the quality of the image latent on the very large piece of film but just as importantly for the image controlled provided not only by tilts AND swings but also for the ability to do perfect double exposures (this comes in handy if you'll be doing one exposure for the interior and a second exposure for the exterior on the same piece of film---we call that smart man HDR).

Over the years the content and the production quality (not the design quality!!!) have undergone changes. Many pages in the magazine are no longer on a glossy stock. The printing has been economized in order to match budgets. The images are used smaller. And the new style is to ask for more images from a day's shoot on location which means there's no time to do the painstaking lighting set-ups we used to do as routine. The bottom line is that clients tasted the Kool Aide of no film costs and no Polaroid costs and no separation costs and they won't go back so they made a bargain with themselves that they would forgo the advantages of film and the flexible camera movements (plural) and all the other trappings that made our old way of working able to turn out such perfect images.

Once you abdicate full view camera flexibility with all focal lengths and once you bid big film goodbye you are already in no man's land. When we worked for the magazine in the early days of digital they were delighted to use the files we sent them from six megapixel Kodak DCS 760's (shot scrupulously at ISO 80) and then images from the Fuji S2 with its fake 12 megapixels and then they were happy with the 12 megapixel Nikon D2X images and finally, they were happy last fall with 16 megapixel images from a Panasonic GH3 and a 12mm lens.

But I hear from so many people that we must pursue perfection at any cost. Really? Even when we're being paid less for each working day than we were ten years ago? Even when the perfect images will end up on imperfect paper, on an imperfect press? Even when the usage size renders all files more or less equal? Interesting bargain we seem to be making. We maintain our part of the "ultimate equation" while the rest of the transaction mutates and flails to our disadvantage around us.

In the effort to pursue a perfection, most dubiously "required", many are rushing to buy the highest pixel count cameras they can get their hands on. Maseratis and Aston Martins for the daily commute on the over-crowded freeways. Nikon keeps selling D800s and Sony is making progress (but less than they'd like...) with the A7r. Both generate giant files. Files that will be reduced, converted to 8 bits, rendered into CMYK and then subject to the tender mercies of digital printing. Each step tossing up a lowest common denominator filter which makes all technically proficient files equal to each other; regardless of the cameras that spawned them.

I'm heading out this month to shoot another assignment for the magazine. I'll do it again with the GH3. I'll do most of it with a Panasonic 7-14mm lens. The client will most likely have warm and fuzzy feelings about the images for several reasons: 1. The camera and lens combination is head and shoulders better than the ones from the early days of digital. 2. The 7-14mm used at 5.6 and f 8.0 will yield a remarkable depth of field which will allow readers to see whole rooms in good focus, letting them make a detailed inspection of all the fun artifacts and nuances. 3. Much of the quality of the work depends on my point of view, my composition and my lighting skills and these have not diminished since 1979 but, in fact, have improved---- a lot. And finally, the client will like the take because they will get a great selection of images for the same budget which used to yield "only" 8-10 good images a day.

If the images exceed the threshold of my client's needs (by a good margin) when using an inexpensive camera that is fun and convenient to use then it's good to remind ourselves that there won't be more budget coming along if we choose to buy and use a more expensive camera. And, you never know, we might want to shoot some video content while we're there....and what better camera could you want than the GH3 for those multiple uses?

So, how good does good have to be? Does every assignment need to be a re-painting of the Sistine Chapel ceiling? Even at house painter rates? Does every image have to have the potential to be printed 8 by 10 feet at 600 dpi to have value? Do we need to kill ourselves financially in order to assuage our egos and our need to present status to our peers?

I think not. Times have changed and it's good to know how the x/y axis of performance and return really work for our businesses. A case in point is the video project I recently completed. In my earlier career in advertising the shoot would have been done on 16mm file and necessitated a crew of six to ten people. It would have taken twice as long to produce. And the only place it could have played was in an auditorium with a projector or as a iteration on a VHS tape. And we all know it would have been disseminated on the VHS tape.... seen on a 20 inch CRT. With tinny little speakers....

Now the job was done with the assistance of one 18 year old person (with an exhaustive knowledge of film production) and an animator. Potentially viewable on millions of screens of various quality, certainly viewed by thousands on three 50 inch HD monitors at a trade show and all at much higher image quality standards. We did it with less than $10,000 worth of equipment= from camera to final edit. And we did it in less time too. Could we have done a better project with an Arriflex Alexa, a truck full of lights and crew of dozens? Maybe the production values of the final presentation on the big 50 inch screens would be marginally better but would the enormous increase in budget passed the client's assessment of the x/y axis curves of (marketing) performance versus financial spend? And if they won't pay for it we certainly won't show up and add gratuitous layers of "production quality" and complexity just for the heck of it.

Perhaps a new mantra for projects is to right size the tools to the job and not try to size the jobs for the tools. Invest in what you need to do the job. Disregard the gear's peer-to-peer blingization. 

3.28.2014

No accounting for taste.


This is one of my favorite photographs of the week...

We seem to think we just discovered "real" Art in our generation. What do we tell the really old guys?


Photographers tend to be a hardy and foolish breed who feel that technology, in part, imparts the magic in the art (if photography is even real Art...). In nearly every other artistic endeavor the participants go through a formal education that goes beyond the tremendously simplified, "Part A goes into part B and then push button C." Most of the workshops you see for photography are about a technique. It might be how to use only one light to light portraits. It might be how to process multiple files into HDR so that your images can look all screwed up and weirdly colorful. But the training is nearly always about the process.

Painters, sculptures, mosaic artists, film makers and musical composers tend to come from more formally educated backgrounds and have a certain historical grounding within their chosen fields. They study the works of current masters and they study the works that have survived through centuries of change and human drama. For them the medium is rarely separated from the idea and the style. But we hardy band of photographers seem to have come from the fast track aisle of art creation.

A quick peek at the owner's manual and a few videos on YouTube and we tumble off to make our art based on what we saw Chase Jarvis do last month or Trey Ratliff do the month before. They may have had an idea behind their shooting and they may also have had context but that seems to get lost in the race to get some stuff on the memory card.

How much more interesting photography might be if people would do some prep work before hanging out their art shingle?

Would it be that onerous to crack a few compendiums about the history of photography? To see what those old timers were doing back in the 1890's or the 1920's or even as recently as the 1960's? I sat in my car waiting for my kid to get out of school and I'd brought along a little book of Josef Koudelka's Gypsy work and was reminded just how powerful his vision was and with what rudimentary tools he worked. And yet, his work is head and shoulders above nearly all the work I've seen in the digital age from anyone, anywhere.

Would it kill the erstwhile new arrivals to take a moment out of their busy lives as programmers, administrators and help desk operators to crack open one of the many great collections of Richard Avedon's work to see what a truly masterful and forward thinking artist really does?

Would it ruin lives to prod people into museums to see how far away the cultural boundaries are from the much more narrow, self inflicted boundaries?

I was photographing for the Texas State Museum several weeks ago and I walked across the street afterwards to look at the new shows at the Blanton Museum on the UT Austin campus. Eventually I made my way to the permanent painting collection on the 2nd floor to look at some details in painting made hundreds of years ago. I was looking at the way angels were lit and represented by several painters. It soaked in and made me think more about how we light people in our day to day work. The lighting in the paintings had a purpose. The purpose was to draw attention to the action and to separate the spiritual from the earthly. What a lovely workshop.

Too many people seem happy to be blissfully ignorant of what has come before. No wonder they are disappointed when they show off their work and find that it's been done (a million times) before.

I had one moment of despair in my adult life. It was when I stood in the Borghese Gallery. The Sculpture Museum in the Borghese Gardens and I stared at the Bernini sculpture of Daphnis and Apollo. And in an instant I knew that no one would ever be able to match Bernini's incredible skill at making marble come alive. There are leafs on branches sculpted out of marble that are so delicately crafted that light comes through the marble and the statue becomes truly alive. Hundreds of years later no one has been able to match Bernini's skill and vision. Sculpture didn't change and become more modern as a result of a cultural evolution but out of shame by comparison. And the realization that, in this instance, the final word had been delivered. What else was left to say?

But I cannot imagine a sculptor plying his art today without knowing about, understanding and somehow, even if it is unconscious, striving to do something even remotely as good as what has already been done by a master like Bernini.

I'm not saying that there's no future for photographic art but I am saying that to do good work requires that we have historical benchmarks for what really constitutes good. The style without the message is pointless and the message without style is just conceptual art.


3.27.2014

I was playing around with a Samsung NX30 this afternoon and found a lens I really like.

Inside the Austin Convention Center.
©2014 Kirk Tuck

I've done so much work in the last ten days that I needed a small break. I needed to put down the cameras I've been using and also step away from the computer and just go out for a walk. To mix things up a bit I unearthed my Samsung NX30 camera and the Samsung 50-200mm f4-5.6 zoom, checked the battery and headed out the door. 

I walked along my familiar path from Whole Foods flagship store to the Austin Convention Center (home to SXSW) and back again. When I made it back to WF I did stop in to buy a lovely Proseco, but that's another story...

I haven't spent much time with this particular zoom lens but it was just what I wanted this afternoon, and, after looking at the images, I have new respect for the lens.

It's small, light and image stabilized. It's sharp, contrasty and seems to handle flare well. The combination of the NX 30 and the 50-300 is pretty cool since it gives me the equivalent of a 75-300mm zoom in a small and easy to handle package. I'll be using it to shoot some theater with next week as a test of the camera's high ISO capabilities. I'll have more samples then but I did want to include one more because I was very happy with both the sharpness and the tonal balance in the image below:

Sixth Street in Austin, Texas. 
©2014 Kirk Tuck

Disclosure: I am a member of Samsung's Imagelogger program and I am testing the NX 30 and several lenses which were sent to me by Samsung. I am not required by the nature of my relationship with Samsung to post images or articles on my blog with images from their cameras. I chose to do so because the camera returned to me images that I like and with a tonality and structure that is different from what I get from other manufacturers' cameras. The difference is more than enough to keep me intrigued. that and the fact that I really like the camera and lens combination's rendering of color. It's a rich palette. Especially when I process the best quality jpegs exactly the way I want them.
Other than the camera and two lenses I am not being given any other consideration at this time by Samsung or their marketing associates. Do I hope they will send me buckets of money and send me off again to wonderful locations? You bet. And I'll let you know straight up if they do. 

For now the NX 30 is a nice change. Almost a busman's holiday camera for me....


17,034,000. And counting.

I was too busy to notice but several days ago the blog (Visual Science Lab: Kirk Tuck) crested the seventeen million page view mark. Much writing but even more reading. I'd love to hear you check in and tell me if I'm still doing a good job. 

I'll take some criticism too but don't cross that line.......

Seriously, thanks for reading.

Experimentation is the spice of something. Adventures in narrow depth of field with m4:3 cameras.


I've had such good luck with the Panasonic GH3 in the video realm that I am now trying out zany lenses to shoot with and I've come to like shooting with some of the same lenses for my conventional photography. On Monday this week I was making portraits of architects and while I wanted images with defocused backgrounds I just wasn't into carry around the bag of full frame Sonys and all the lenses. We weren't shooting studio style, I was shooting environmental portrait style. That means that I didn't mind supplementing the existing light but I wasn't going to set up backgrounds and soft boxes and flashes either.

I've had good luck using adapters to mine the rich vein of the manual focus Olympus Pen FT lenses such as the 60mm 1.5 and the 40mm 1.4 but I wanted something just a bit short and equally fast. My other option in the Olympus drawer was the Pen 38mm 1.8 but that lens is a bit flat and flare-y and really on gets acceptably sharp from 3.5 on down. Not what I was looking for in this instance.

I looked around the studio and decided to try the behemoth Rokinon 35mm 1.5 Cine lens. I had a Sony Alpha to m4:3 adapter just sitting there looking pretty on my (actual) desktop so I put it all together and attached it to the front of a waiting camera. Do the quick math and what you end up with is a 70mm equivalent that opens up to t-stop 1.5. Nice----if it's sharp enough.

I shot a number of wider, environmental portraits with it and I like what it does to the backgrounds and the tonalities in general. While it's sharp enough wide open it does better at f2 and better still at 2.8 where it is just about perfect.  Of course, by then you're starting to give up some of the benefit of the narrow depth of field. But overall, wide open it is sharper than the Pens.

The portraits look pretty darn cool. I also tried the Sigma 50mm 1.4 lens on the adapter and then I was really happy. The center part of the lens (the part I really care about) gets sharp really quickly and the equivalent of 100mm is just exactly in the sweet spot of my portrait lens taste profile.

Long enough to get close but not so long as to exclude all detail. It's a well done lens. Even (or especially) for micro four thirds. I can only imagine that the new version is that much better.

I am interested in hearing from m4:3 shooters about their favorite lenses for doing narrow depth of field. I presume everyone has a "go to" portrait lens but I'm especially interesting in reading about adaptations of older (and newer) lenses that are being re-purposed away from their original format targets. Whaddaya Got?

Mystified by it all.

If it's true that everyone wants everything for free and that everyone can 
do everything themselves then why do some people still pay to have 
someone else park their cars?


So. The Getty's new business model is to give the public whatever they want for free in return for creating a web site that's deemed worthy of advertising dollars. I guess that's the gist of it. They've capitulated to the larceny of the masses and they are going to put a best face on the reality of it all and drive as many eyeballs to their site as humanly possible, using photographs provided by photographers (free content for Getty no matter how you slice it) and they are going to turn around to ad agencies and clients and monetize the crap out of their site by selling consumer eyeballs to the advertising clients who can exactly target their potential markets. And buy advertising space.

No Getty photographer will make a single cent on the billions of free images that will be given away, over-used and quickly devalued for all time. Not a cent. Nothing. You can argue that the exposure will help their business but what does exposure really mean for a commodity product? Nothing at all.
Will the cream rise to the top? Sure. Maybe. Probably not. It's being crowdsourced by consumers whose overriding concern is price----or the lack of it. Understand that this is not a marketing ploy to sell more of the images that photographers are basically throwing over the transom to Getty. They (Getty) have no sustained interest in selling those images. The stream is the content in the same way that endless episodes of Honey Boo-Boo and endless re-runs of the Beverly Hillbillies exist only as  wrappers for commercials. You watch the stream. You ingest the ads. You never buy the stream. And Getty never sells the stream. They sell your eyeballs. They sell billboards next to your camera content. Content created and willingly given away.

If valet parking were free we'd never have to circle the block again.

How does all this effect real working photographers? I think it's a wash. People still need custom images of their people, their products and their processes. That's a basic. And in those markets it's always been a matter of taste intersecting the graph of cost. Some companies understand the value of really good work while others have always been in the camp of : "Good enough for government work."

The binge trough of free images does damage our ability to help clients understand usage rights and copyright but that's a whole different battle. One we're losing on our own through inertia, cowardice and ignorance.

The bottom line is that the world is awash with images and most of them are de facto free. The world of profitable commercial photography is changing and many of the niches that used to provide profitable incomes have morphed into crowd sourcing and lowest common denominator pricing.

How it will all turn out is a mystery. I think there's a huge bubble comprised of on line companies whose products attract hundreds of millions of users and their strategy is to capture the most attention and the most use by people in demographic that appeal to marketers and international suppliers of consumer goods like cellphones, cameras, cars, branded food products and techno-toys. They are delivering------AD SPACE. And they are brilliant because unlike the television networks who had to buy their content to wrap commercials around----or radio stations that have to buy the rights to air music or pay the salaries of on air entertainers---the new wave of media AD SPACE providers are crowdsourcing their content absolutely free. That's how Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and now Getty work.

But just as in the newspaper business the market can only provide revenue for a small number of providers. Think back. It's rare even in the heyday of newspaper publishing that even a major city had more than two big newspapers. The web market is much more diluted and granular. Advertisers can more effectively pick and choose markets. The markets change more fluidly and quickly now. The Facebook and Getty of today will eventually become the AOLOnlines and MySpaces of tomorrow. It's not a tech bubble, it's really an advertising inventory bubble and every tech company is racing to be part of it.

But when consumers have no real sense of community or loyalty to a site or a concept the bubble is much more fragile than before. On the other hand there's really no infrastructure to most of the companies so the downside of a bubble bursting for most of the new starts is that 20 or 30 start up specialists move on to something else and the people who held the newly created equity have their generation's own Enron stories to tell...

Photography is morphing but done correctly and used correctly it still has real power and value for clients. I'm putting on my poncho so I don't get spattered by the explosion of free images when the AD SPACE TECH BUBBLE pops and creates a mess.

The free food at the buffet for a mass market promotional event is almost as good as real food....

3.26.2014

Photographer leaps across the great chasm to produce profitable video projects.

This is an image of my friend, Suzi W. It has nothing to 
do with this particular post other than to point out 
that I love taking portraits. Whether they move or are moving. 
Or Both. 

I've been shooting video for a while but it's only in the past year that it's become more captivating for me as a part of my business. Still photography, as a business, can be a perilous undertaking (financially) and it's nice to spread out the risk by doing different, but related, types of work. I find that I love doing video projects because they speak to so many facets of my experience base. The frame work of videos for commercial clients is the marketing and branding message. All the pretty footage in the world doesn't matter if someone isn't taking time to bore down and understand what the basic selling proposition the client is trying to communicate.

My process in the video world is different from that followed by many in the industry who are, in a sense, just trying to trade their still cameras for a camera that does motion. There are legions of people who "just want to show up and shoot." In the parlance of the video production industry these people are referred to as "camera operators" and they are part of a crew that all works together to follow the orders of a director. The director may be working from a script written by someone he or she has never met.  For the camera operator the generic position is a day job. 

I recently put together and completed a job done just the way I wanted to do it. The client was a technology company with a bundled hardware/software product that has compelling features for a number of commercial and retail markets. They needed a video to show at trade shows and to put on their website that would speak about the features and benefits of the product and do so in a voice that would target a specific set of industry professionals. 

My first job was to immerse myself in the company and the product. Of course I researched on their website and read every scrap of marketing information the company had ever produced. I talked to the tech people, the salespeople and the company marketing people. I wanted to know what the product really did and I needed to understand a number of real world applications. The second most important piece of research was to find out exactly who the decision makers who trigger a purchase of the product would be. 

When I felt like I had a comfortable grasp of the product and the market, the problem the product solved and how the solution actually worked I was ready to plan and present a budget. We would use guided interviews as the framework for the story. As luck would have it one of the biggest customers for the software, in the retail space, was thrilled to go on camera and give and interview/testimonial. 

I also got lucky in that the client's product strategy director had a great voice and was a very good interview subject. Together, their interviews formed the backbone of the story we were telling. 

I created a secondary story with actors. The product is all about security and loss prevention so I hired two talented actors and secured a great retail location where we could act out some petty transaction theft. One actor was a "store clerk" the other his "customer" and accomplice. I would use their interactions, shot from six different angles and magnifications to create a visual narrative that would be like shorthand to professionals in the theft prevention business.

We started the project with our product strategist's interview. I shot the "A" camera and my assistant shot a different angle so we had visual variety to use in the edit. We shot lots of B-roll of people working with the technology and we shot B-roll of random stuff that inferred a corporate setting. 

While I was engaged in the shooting I had a graphic artist hard at work giving me variations of graphic transitions to use to accentuate primary information and also to animate both the company logo and the product logo. She was able to give me a number of options. 

After the first round of interviews and B-roll shooting I had to spend two long days in the studio reviewing the footage, marking the best takes and trying to figure out where the holes might be in my program. The back end of multi-camera shoots can be daunting. It's important to match up the footage from two camera angles on the set and to match up the sound tracks. 

We traveled to Chicago last week to film our client's customer interview and I was prepared with my list of leading questions to help guide the interviewee into filling the holes in my content. He was incredibly good and thankfully the client was flexible enough to let us rearrange the program to make more room for his interview.

I finally sat down last Saturday morning to start putting together the jigsaw puzzle from the "box" of pieces I had in front of me. I cut back and forth between my interview footage and my secondary narrative to constantly reinforce visually what the experts were delivering via spoken word. 

I spent all day Saturday and all day Sunday editing into the wee hours of the night. I had intended this round to be a "rough cut" but I had the vision in my head for exactly how I wanted everything to cut together and I just kept fine tuning and fine tuning until I had a fairly polished program.

I had to put everything aside on Monday to shoot a still job for a different client and I walked into a meeting with my video client Tues. morning with the same trepidation I always experience when delivering a creative product: Dread mixed with hope....

Worst case is the client looking silently at the three minutes you've put on the screen and then turning and saying, "Well, it's a good first start but........"  And the response you pray for is: "Rough cut? You're kidding, right?" Followed by, "We love it just the way it is. Can you give it to me right now on a memory stick?"  While the second response is rare it does happen. 

My client had one change at the approval meeting. I held my breath....  She wanted to add the company's website URL at the very end of the program. Just a quick build of white type on black.
That was it. Everything else was approved. I went back to the office to polish the project; tighten up the sound and the music bed, fix any inconsistencies and generally make it as perfect as I could. I delivered the final today. Three days ahead of schedule. 

And that was a great benefit to my client who would be taking the program to a trade show on Monday and was dreading having to approve a project right under the wire. 

I got to use my marketing skills, my 58 year old life skills, my interviewing skills, my camera operation skills, my sound engineering skills, my editing skills, my job management skills and my writing skills to put together a project that I'm proud of and with which my client is very happy. And I'll be well paid for every skill set. A much better proposition than being an interchangeable camera operator. And a wonderful adjunct to my traditional photography business. 

Tech nuts and bolts: 

Cameras: I used Panasonic GH3 cameras for all the video production. I made the most use of my Olympus Pen FT 60mm 1.5 lens and my Olympus Pen FT 40mm 1.4 lens. Wicked sharp with beautiful drawing. I also used the Olympus 12-50mm 3.5 to 5.6 zoom and it worked well in video. 

I used a Benro S6 fluid head on a Berlebach wooden tripod for my Austin work and a smaller Gitzo tripod with a Manfrotto fluid head for my work requiring travel. We used a Manfrotto micro fluid head on an Igus rail as a home made (and very effective) slider to do lateral camera moves and push ins. 

Lighting: All of the interviews in Austin were lit with multiple Fotodiox DayPro fluorescent light banks. In Chicago we used four Fotodiox 312AS LED panels which survived airline baggage handlers and worked flawlessly.

Editing: I used Final Cut Pro X (version 10.1.1) to do all of the storyline editing, sound sweetening and lower third title effects. My designer used Apple's Motion to animate titles and transition slides. 

Consulting: Ben came back from a college trip just in time to look at the project and suggest three valuable changes. Which were made. And which improved the final product. 

More video projects, please!

(project currently embargo-ed until client's first public use. Then we'll share.)

3.21.2014

Just back in town and reporting on a video business trip.

Ben.

I'm coming home and on Sunday my kid is heading out to go visit a college in Pennsylvania. My how things change. As a parent I'm scared to put my (18 year old) baby alone on a plane but at the same time I figure he's smarter and more resourceful than I've ever been and he has the full financial power and backing of his two parents behind him....

I headed out to Chicago yesterday because my client had the opportunity to add a powerful testimonial to a video we are creating for them from a huge, national client. I'm always game for a "shock and awe" endorsement. 

The idea was that I'd be shooting an interview of the big company's security V.P.  at their H.Q. and we might also be able to pick up some additional B-roll for our video. 

Here's how I packed: In my Think Tank Retrospective 30 bag I packed two Panasonic GH3's (best under $10K video cameras I know of) a couple of Panasonic Zoom lenses, the 40 and 60mm high speed Olympus Pen FT half frame lenses and the Olympus 12-50mm lens. I brought along about 100 gigabytes of fast SDXC memory too. One of the most important things I packed in the camera bag was the Sennheiser wireless microphone system. With fresh batteries. 

In the Tenba rolling Roady case I packed three Manfrotto Nano light stands, a Gitzo tripod with a Manfrotto fluid head, Four Fotodiox 312AS battery powered LED light panels, a collapsible, translucent, white umbrella, extra microphones and cables and a mixer. 

I also brought along a small backpack with a light weight monopod and a Leica ball head in case the Tenba case did not arrive and I was reduced to window light and a monopod bungied to a high backed chair...

We left Austin on a Delta flight and it may have been one of the newest jets I've ever flown on. We connected through Denver and everything was as perfect as a Swiss clock. We arrived right on time and headed to our hotel. On the way my client and I got a text which let us know that because of legal issues and corporate constraints we would not be able to do our interview on site. We arranged for a suite at the hotel and moved our interview there. 

I put three lights ( the Fotodiox lights miraculously all worked) into the translucent umbrella as my main light. I used my remaining panel, bounced off the ceiling, as a fill light and used the soft, late afternoon diffused light coming through a set of white curtained French doors as my back light. Exposure: ISO 400, 30fps, 1/60th, f2.8 as the primary exposure. Custom white balanced with a Lastolite white/gray target. 

I used one of my Panasonic GH3s as my "A-roll" camera with the 40mm 1.4 lens on it. I used the Sennheiser wireless mics as my main audio input source, placing the lavaliere mic on the placket of my interviewee's shirt.  I set up a second camera on the conference table about 75 degrees off the angle of my main camera. That GH3 had the Olympus 12-50mm lens on it and I used it just about fully zoomed to its widest angle. The shots I got from this camera show the interviewee using his hands and they also show the context of the space. 

I put a small, Azden shotgun microphone into the hot shoe of the b-roll camera to record audio which would work as a scratch track for multi-camera audio waveform matching in FCPX and also as a back up for the audio from the "A" camera. It worked very, very well and will give me 50% more editing opportunities. 

My clients are good ones. That's been a blessing in my career: good clients.  They actually (on their own accord) left the room while I conducted nearly 45 minutes of interview. And I got great, great stuff. Afterwards client entertained client while I tore down the lighting and repacked my cases. I did a quick QC check before we released the client back into the wild  and the QC check included listening to samples of all the audio as well as checking the visual footage. 

I used a Tenba Rolling Roadie case as my main lighting and tripod case, the Think Tank Retrospective 30 (which I bought last Fall to take to Berlin) and a small, leather backpack I bought in Geneva, Switzerland in 1995 to carry everything. Mostly painless. 

My client put me in a five star suite last night and after breakfast this morning we retraced our steps back to Austin. My Graphic Designer wife greeted me with Motion Graphics samples that were perfect and now all that remains of the project is music selection, editing, a rough edit approval and then more editing and then a final edit and finally a final edit. So far the project is exceeding my expectations. 

What would I do different next time? Not a damn thing. We were fast, fluid and flexible and we got the job done with no hysteria or pretention. I have two different post processing people working on the still jobs from earlier in the week and the week before and I'm already in the process of packing for the kind of still photography project I love on Monday. Making environmental portraits of 16 people at an architecture firm.... love it. 

The rest of the week is already reserved for video editing and meetings. A wonderful stepping stone to garnering the next project.

Video and Still Imaging. Busy and billing every day. And loving it. 


3.19.2014

Lighting trumps cameras.


Too often I let myself get suckered into arguments..............................................................................................................................

...........................................hired to come in and design light. Beautiful, thoughtful light that moved the objects in front of the camera from mere subjects into visual stories.

And it dawned on me that the next big thing is the revival of beautiful light. And beautiful lighting.
That's why I love portraits. It's never about the cameras. It's always about the beautiful person in front of your face and the emotional intelligence to light them in a way that reveals the beauty and at the same time gets the "idea" of lighting out of the way.

I think lighting should be like a good samaritan. It should do good works and then disappear into anonymity....

.................that's what I learned by not focusing on the camera for the last two days. Or in the video shooting we've done. The camera is becoming transparent. A commodity. The lighting and the vision are the real stars.


3.17.2014

Post SXSW. Spring in the Air. Everyone back at Work.

Leica R8. 135 Elmarit.

When do you let go of one strut to grab the next strut if you are involved in the classic sport of bi-plane wing walking? That one is life and death. My choices in the business are much milder. Right now I'm wrestling with my own microscopic wing walking decision. I'll set the stage: Since the beginning of the year my business has changed from being photo-centric to being almost uniformly distributed along the video/photo continuum. To say that I am happy with the video performance of the Panasonic GH3 would be a big understatement. That camera does great video and it does it without the usual caveats.

At the same time I still have drawer full of quickly depreciating Sony full frame cameras and lenses, no real love for the new Sony a7 or a7r and the downsizing itch that makes me want to get rid of equipment clutter. Every time I ponder the purge I seem to get an assignment that might be better served by the bigger cameras but a week or so ago I even put that to the test. I had an event assignment that I would have done with the big cameras in the past. It was all on camera flash, generally bounced off whatever was handy (a boring proposition, aesthetically). I put the flash on one of the big Sonys and was again reminded that their flash control capability isn't one of their shining features. I put the same flash on the Sony RX10 mini-cam and it provided perfect frame after perfect frame (perfect flash exposure at least...).

For the next few days the thought of downsizing hit me more and more often but just as I got ready to pull the trigger someone would call me about a job that really would demand a more shallow focus than I can get with my current m4:3 lenses, or the client would specifically request the highest possible resolution for a monster blow-up.

In the past I have capriciously capitulated to my consumer brain and lunged for change. But as I sat here contemplating it all I decided to hold pat. I'll just linger in place until something radical changes.

Funny that I am so fickle about still cameras and yet I see the video oriented cameras as nothing more than convenient tools.

I do like the look for files I get with the Sony a99 and the 85mm 1.4. It's nice. And it reminds me a lot of the kind of photos we used to routinely pull out of the Leica SLR cameras back when.

I guess no deciding is also deciding.

Hope your Monday is a fun day.

3.15.2014

Notes from a day of video shooting...

Small LED panels, hand held by an assistant, prove very worthwhile.
And the Panasonic GH3 Rocks!

1. Tripods and motion in general. You can read about techniques and best practices but I'm here to tell you that smooth tripod pans and tilts, as well as dolly moves and slider moves, require practice. Lots and lots of practice if you want to do it right. As still photographers we have the benefit of stopping the motion in each frame which masks any sort of instability over time. I found that I needed to practice even a simple move over and over again to get it right and I can see that hand skills and even how you position your body to begin and end moves with a camera are very important. If I want to be competent at actually shooting video I can see that I'll be doing some weekly practice to become and then stay proficient.

2. Color Balance. When we shoot still images with flash we can overwhelm existing (non-daylight) sources and have a reasonable assurance that our color will fall into a good range that we can easily manage in post production. And, if we really screw up we can always take raw files and do almost supernatural saves with them. But in the kind of video I'm shooting we don't have raw (at least not convenient and usable raw within the eco-budget) and we only have 8 bit color with which to work. This means that we really need to concentrate on nailing the color and exposure, in camera, for all the crucial "A-roll" shots. 

Ben and I lit our critical shots and any shot that needed lighting. In each new lighting venue we took the time to do a custom white balance for each shooting camera. By taking that step I think I gave myself a fighting chance of being able to edit together footage from both cameras without a big visual disconnection. And I think that's critical. 

We used a Lastolite pop-up gray/white target all the way through our shooting day to ensure uniformity in each location. Looking (and logging) the material today allowed me to breathe a little sigh of relief because I could see on my monitor that the two different cameras in the same shooting scenario match up well. 

3. Shooting more is better. When I looked through our takes today I found little glitches (human error) here and there that might render a clip unusable. We shot a lot and I thought we might be overshooting until I look at the content we got and starting figuring out where it would go on the time line. Then I realized that you can never have too much content to cut to. It makes the final edit that much easier.

4. You have to compose for a moving frame. In still imaging I spend time getting one frame just right. It's almost like just considering the x and y coordinates and not taking time into consideration. In video you have to figure out where your framing will end up as you move the camera, not just what kind of framing looks good as you start the shot. An interesting (and mentally taxing) exercise in working in four dimensions. (X, Y, Depth and Time).

6. It's kind of cool to move the lights! In stills we work mostly with locked down lighting. We put lights on a stand and take the shot. In video you can actually move the lights during a shot. In fact, if the camera is moving it might be best to also move lights. This opens up lots of cool creative opportunities. I had Ben hand hold a small light panel and move it over the top of a product we were shooting. I was sliding the camera in one direction and he was moving the light in the opposite direction and it was a neat effect as the product fell into dark.

7. If you are using multiple cameras it's wise to slate each shot. Using multiple cameras for interviews gives you a lot more flexibility in editing but it does mean you have to have some way to sync up the shots. I think it's easiest to do this with a slate. I found a digital slate that works very well on the iPad and it runs time code across the top bar which means that you can sync up to the absolute frame you want. Best $10 I've spent in a while. I find an angle that both cameras can see and off we go. Neat thing about the digital slate is that one tap of the color bars at the top of the slate gives me a full screen of of MacBeth color chart and a series of black/gray/white patches. Nice.

8. Use a camera that allows you to "punch in" for magnified fine focusing and use manual lenses. I loved using the GH3 cameras and I'm glad I bought two. It meant that I had two cameras that worked the same and generated exactly the same kind of files. With the same family color. The GH3 takes manual focus legacy lenses and, with two pushes of a back of camera button,  gives me a quick magnified view to fine focus on. When I got back to the studio the files were amazingly sharp.
Have I written how much I love these cameras? It's true. The files they generate are so nice I haven't even started pining for the new GH4 (although it is available for pre-order....).

9. Finally, what the pros all say is true----monitor your sound with headphones all the time. One spot check might find everything to be hunky-dory but twenty minutes later the microphone transmitter battery might crap out or the plug on the side of the camera might have escaped its mooring. Or the interviewee's microphone might become dislodged and start rubbing against his shirt. If you have those phones on you'll hear it. And you can fix it. Not so easy after the fact.

The other thing I learned is that video is a lot like still photography; the real work is still all about hauling in the gear, cleaning up the shooting space, working with the talent, getting the tech details right and then packing it all up again and moving to a new location. Moving furniture.

Anyway---just wanted to share what I learned (again) last week.



Remembering Leisure Time.


I watched at SXSW as people quickly shot images (mostly groups and selfies) and then manically rushed to upload them to internet sharing sites. The two processes, shooting and sharing, have become so intertwined now that the relative importance or the priority of the two processes seems muddled. The operator's brains rush from one intuitive process, the making of images, to a totally different and more menial mental process (the halting gyrations of the upload interface) which represents an opposite cognitive task. In a sense the brain is stopping and starting and changing direction to complete the combined operation. Each task adds its own "friction of trade" and has its own inertia.

Watching this made me long for the days before interconnectivity. In the days (both digital and filmic) before the ability and pressure to endlessly share evolved one could spend a full day, or at least a few wonderful hours, continually immersed in one task. Taking photographs. No abrupt task changes. No changing over to the logical opex mind. No submerging of creativity in deference to delivery logistics.

While it may not have generated any greater number of wonderful images I would imagine the more continuous and uninterrupted practice of taking photographs and separating delivery from the process would be more calm, restful and emotionally beneficial. Perhaps, as the shooting/sharing process becomes more and more endemic I could create a profitable workshop that has nothing to do with aesthetics and everything to do with separating these conjoined and mismatched twins and freeing up the harried, modern photographers from their own, self-imposed timing tyranny...

Either that are I can continue shooting and sharing old school with big gaps in between.

I think it is cynical and mean to include wi-fi in a camera. Yes, I know, you love to send images of the kids at Disney World to grandmother back home as soon as you shoot them. I am equally sure that your mother is wise enough to wait until it's pleasant and convenient to open and view the images.

I pondered this because recently a client asked me to shoot an event and IMMEDIATELY send them as many images as possible. I spent the event shooting with the delivery pressing on my mind. Should I shoot the images as medium sized jpegs to speed up the process? Should I shoot less to speed up the editing? Should I take fewer risks with the images since I would have precious little time to post process? In the end I did all those things. I felt the pressure of the deadline encroach on the shooting.
I delivered by six a.m. (my deadline) but the time stamp on the shared folder informed me that my client didn't access the folder until nearly 2 in the afternoon. Could I have produced better work if the intention of delivery was separated from the shooting?

I did it because it was business and business is sometimes fraught with compromise. But as an amateur shooter or avid hobbyist why would I put my creativity (and mental wellbeing) under that kind of stress if it's not really necessary?

Immediate sharing requires a shifted focus and a bifurcated attention. Is it really worth it?
I'd say no.

(The image above was taken two weeks before being developed, a month before being printed and was only widely shared twenty years after its creation. I'm glad I was able to savor the shooting experience).

Packing for an out of town trip to shoot video. Help?

Ben with homemade fluorescent lighting fixture. 
Yes, bungies and tape. 

I've been working on a video project for a technology company. We just found out that we have the opportunity to interview one of the biggest users of the technology company's new, flagship product. But the opportunity is a small window of time and the location of the interviewee is Chicago and not Austin. We're booked to head out early on Thursday. We hit the ground and go straight to the venue in which we'll be conducting the interview. Then we set up, light and get to work. We'll have two hours with the customer company's representative and then we wrap up. We may have the opportunity to also do some b-roll...

So here's what I'm looking for from the readers of the VSL blog today: Advice on packing for a one man video crew. 

My reactive brain tells me to fit everything into two pieces of luggage. One would be my carry on camera bag with the cameras, lenses, microphones and iPad. The second would be my hulking Pelican case (checked, of course!) filled with three portable light stands, a downsized tripod with a small fluid head, four battery powered LED panels and my trusty Fiilex P360 LED light. Oh yeah, also a change of clothes and a toothbrush...maybe some floss.

I'd love to carry more but it's just me getting through the airport and into a taxi and back to the airport and all that. Adding a stand bag would give me more space in the Pelican case but it adds another carry-able component to lose, carry and drag around. 

Here's the problem: One guy. The need for good interview lighting. The need for high portability and speedy transitions (almost sounds like a triathlon..). The need to get all the gear on an off planes (one big and one commuter...). And the need to arrive with all the components intact. If you've had experience doing this (or not) chime in and let me know how you'd handle it. 


3.13.2014

The World Changes and Time Shuffles on But I am Still Sad to Hear that Calumet Photo has Closed.


It's just a wave of nostalgia. I remember when none of the local camera shops carried inexpensive 4x5 view camera equipment and most carried few specialty view camera lenses. In the hoary old days of photography if we needed something like a work a day view camera for under $500 we got out the dog eared catalog from Calumet Photo in Chicago, compared our copious notes and then picked up the phone and ordered. No Fed Ex back then. Everything came from the Brown Trucks.

I bought my first view camera from Calumet and used it for ten years before I could scrape together enough money to buy the always popular Sinar F. I bought my first Polaroid back from them and my first dark cloth and my first three view camera lenses. I bought my first professional flash system from them. And I am not being nostalgic for the store or some sales person who taught me an arcane photo secret because I never set foot in one of their physical stores. I ordered everything from the catalog.

The prices were fare, the selection (in the 1970's) was large and varied and the delivery was dependable.

My nostalgia is of the end of an era. The end of big cameras and big film. But I've been to this particular wake too many times to be maudlin about it now. I'm observing a passage that will resonate  mostly with older pros and Chicago's well heeled, but aging amateur photographers.

Good buy view camera store.

A Black and White Afternoon at SXSW in Austin,Texas. It's a video.

SXSW ON THE STREET IN AUSTIN from Kirk Tuck on Vimeo.
SXSW AFTERNOON ON SIXTH STREET: AUSTIN

After a week of shooting P.R. events and corporate video I decided to take the bus to downtown and play with a bit of video. Here's what I saw walking around the SXSW playground= Sixth Street.

I shot everything handheld with a Panasonic G6 and an Olympus 12-50mm zoom. Sorry, no image stabilization....

The originals were shot in monotone as 60fps AVCHD files. Edited in Final Cut Pro X. If you don't see the HD version logo here follow a link back to Vimeo and see it there.

Next week will be a rough one for blogging. Two days of shooting for the Bob Bullock Texas History Museum and then off to Chicago for two days of corporate video interviews. Seems like all work these days. I'm okay with that!

3.12.2014

Shooting video with a Panasonic GH3 is too much fun and too productive.


I've enjoyed using the GH3 since I first held one in my hands. For my size (five foot, eight inches tall) and the size of my hands it seems like a well proportioned and well balanced camera. I've always liked being able to use my older Olympus Pen FT lenses on it and in that set up I appreciated having a dedicated button to enlarge the frame for quick fine focusing. The finder could be better but it's fine for the stuff I do. And for a long time (relatively) I've mostly used it as a still photography camera. But not anymore. Now I'm excited to press it into service as a really good video camera.

Here's what I like about it for video: The camera has time code. That means the frame gets a time signature that stays with it and can be read by editing programs. That makes it easier to match up footage and figure out cut points. And the real plus is that when you are shooting with more than one camera you can sync up the time code of all the cameras. That means you can easily use the audio of one camera and the video from another camera and cut between them with all the motion in the frames matching each other and matching up with the sound.

At first I thought the only way to change video levels was in a menu. That would have really sucked because it would mean that you can't "ride the levels" (making ongoing adjustments to mic volume) unless you stop shooting and go into the menu to adjust. Though the thoroughly opaque owner's manual was of no help the web was and I was led to a touch menu that lives under a tab on the rear LCD. Touch the movie camera icon and four icons pop up on the right hand of the screen. Touch the bottom icon, the microphone icon, and up pops a control interface that allows little tweaks or big jumps in levels while you are shooting. And, as a bonus, you'll see the levels on the LCD screen or in the EVF (if you have that display mode enabled).  Speaking of audio I find that I like the position of the microphone input and when using one of the higher res. (dot)MOV codecs the sound from the camera is good enough to never require you to go to an external recorder. Especially if your microphones are good.

The camera allows me to change shutter speeds while shooting as well as ISO. Since I'm cutting between two or three cameras I know that if I need to make an adjustment to something I'll have something to cut away to but being able to do these two things on the fly might mean getting or not getting a key shot.

Another aspect of the camera that I like very much is the size and stamina of the battery. I shot video all morning long yesterday and we didn't need our first battery change until four hours in. That's with long video takes and a constantly on LCD panel. On for shooting. On for menu changes and on for reviews on the go. It's remarkable for a m4:3 camera and, in my opinion, makes it the only m4:3 camera I'd want to use on all day projects and long video sequences. Yes, you can buy lots of aftermarket batteries for other mirror less cameras for not much money but your job is really supposed to be imaging artist, not power management and operations crew....

Another point in this camera's favor is that the rear LCD seems remarkably well calibrated to the image content you'll end up editing on a calibrated monitor. Could be that the EVF is more of an afterthought --- it's not quite as accurate. But the LCD is like having a perfectly calibrated monitor living on the back of your shooting camera.

The final benefit of this cheap to buy, joy to use camera is the sheer quality of the footage (antiquated term?!). It's remarkably detailed and comes out of the camera ready in most cases for direct use. Much more detailed than the content of my much more expensive and cumbersome Sony a99. On par with many of the dedicated video cameras my friends in that business tote around. When you consider the real world price point it's almost too good.  If you are struggling to generate consistently good video content with a stock, $3300 Canon 5D mk3 you might consider dropping less than a grand on a GH3 and getting some really good work done. You can always tell your client you have a Canon 5d3 but you won't have to spend time grading the footage, etc.

One of the things Ben and I did yesterday was very fun. We used a Rokinon 35mm 1.5 lens, nearly wide open on the GH2 and we marked near focus and far focus on the focusing ring with a china marker. As Ben moved the camera for the shot (transitioning from minimum close focus to a person 30 feet beyond) I rolled focus from mark to mark for perfect, narrow depth of field transitions. What fun. Beats having to do it with the camera's built in AF.... Our hand powered motif was accurate, spot on and speed controlled to our liking every single time. Magic.

Just thought I'd give the tools a bit of praise...

3.11.2014

The First Day of Shooting on the March Video Project.

Number One Son Stands in For Test Shot.
A few years back. 

I'm trying to get as much work from Ben as I can before he goes off to college in the Fall. And it's Spring Break. I got him out of bed this morning at 6:30 and we were on the road by 7:00. Our (my) goal was to spend the day shooting lots and lots of different shots/clips/scenes/exciting video that I'll be editing into a two minute video for a technology company website. We loaded the car the night before. 

While I am mercurial and compulsive Ben inherited his analytical and measured personality from his calm and rational mother. Thank goodness. Ben's been watching my recent re-immersion into film and video with a critical eye. When he heard that I'd contracted to shoot another industrial video he came into the office and said, "Dad, we have to talk." Since he is smart beyond his years, has produced well over sixty videos, taken cinematography courses and won awards for his work (and he is generally patient with me), I decided to listen to him. 

The gist of his "friendly chat" was to tell me that if I wanted to do really good work with video I could not do the "fly by the seat of my pants" routine I've been practicing in still photography for many years. It just wouldn't work. "Here's what you need to do if you don't want to embarrass yourself in the edit suite..." is the way he started out. "You have to pre-plan, then script and then story board." I was taking notes. "The camera is the least important component. Being organized is the surest path to success." He closed by telling me to make a check list for estimating the job and not to undersell the massive importance of adequate edit time. 

Okay. I went with the program. I did a project overview with goals and objectives. Then I burrowed down and did an outline of the project with a description of locations, required talent and major shots we needed to achieve. Ben looked the list over and asked me how I was going to get from one point to the next. I  looked a little perplexed and he sat me down to talk about the importance of good transitions. Both in the writing, the shooting and the editing.  I took notes and when I wrote the script I ended each segment with as good a transition line as I could figure.

When I looked at my shot list and my script and my locations and talent figures and stuck in a rough estimate for editing I thought I was finished until I presented it to Ben (preparatory to presenting to the client).  He shook his head and said with a sigh: "Are you planning to log in the footage and go through to select the best takes? I don't see a line item in here for ingesting and transcoding the video, converting it to pro-res and making a log with time code notations. Were you just planning to give that full day away for free?" ( This is the teenager who once talked me out of buying a motorcycle...).

All that prep stuff happened a while ago and we found ourselves driving to the client's location in North Austin in the gray of the morning. We set up our cart and loaded my gear on it and headed for the top floor of a chic looking office building. Our first task was to shoot an interview with the CTO about the company's new software product. Because of my recent, strict schooling in preparation I had written out several pages of leading questions and also one sentence statements I wanted to get worked into the interview. 

We set up in a lab with a background of servers and screens. I lit it with two, fluorescent fixtures pushing soft light through nice diffusion as main and fill lights and one Fiilex P360 LED light with barn doors for a back light. My "A" camera was a Panasonic GH3 with an Olympus Pen 40mm f1.4 lens on the front, stopped down to f4. I miked our CTO with a Sennheiser wireless microphone set and listened carefully to every syllable with a pair of closed back earphones. I swear my kid walked by my position just to check my sound levels....

I had the interviewee facing me and I stood just to the left of the main camera for the interview. Ben was manning a "B" camera that was also a Panasonic GH3 with a 14-45mm kit lens. His rig was mounted on a  40 inch slider equipped with a Manfrotto ball head. He was positioned about 75 degrees off to the right from my position. 

We both agreed that the GH3 is a nearly perfect camera for shooting this kind of video. The .Mov files, set to 1080P, 30fps, generating 50 megabits per second, are as detailed as I've seen even from state of the art, dedicated video cameras and, to my eye, much sharper than the Canon EOS 5D mk2 or 3. And the wide range of lenses we can adapt and use is breathtaking. 

After we shot ample footage, even a transitions shot that invites the viewer with: "Let's go see (blank product) in action!" we stopped to also shoot the CTO's hand gestures for additional cutaway shots. 
In every office and with every person we videotaped we did not only our basic shot but also tight hand shots and second camera shots from different angles with a little controlled motion via a slider or tripod move. 

Ben and I had fun with the slider. We did the usual horizontal slide from left to right but we also did slides into and away from the subject. What a movie person might call a "push in" or a "pull out."
At one point in the day we found a Metro cart with big, smooth wheels that we used as an improvised dolly for some fun, sweeping, wide shots of people working in the lab. That was fun to do and fun to watch in playback. 

We broke for lunch around one p.m. and had burgers at Mighty Fine Hamburgers. They were pretty darn good. We split the fries. They were great. 

After lunch we did as many fun "B-roll" shots as we could find. Technicians working. Super close ups, extreme wide angles and lots of gear shots. Then we headed outside for an establishing shot of their building. It was sunny and eighty degrees when we stepped outside. The building faces West so at 3pm our timing could not have been better. For the exterior we used our third video camera, the Sony RX 10. Why switch cameras from something as good as the GH3 and settle for a (slightly) less detailed file codec? Well, the RX 10 has several things going for it but the most important for me was the built in neutral density filer (3 stops) and the really well corrected 24mm equivalent zoom lens. 

Even in taking our exterior shot, which will probably be on screen for several seconds, at the most, Ben was adamant that we have a wide shot, a moving wide shot and a tighter "entrance shot." And yes, he made me wait until cars were driving by and people were entering the building before shooting. He felt that having movement and action in several planes would move the scenes forward in a more exciting way...

Before packing up and leaving our location he made sure that we spot checked all the major shots and that we watched the exterior shots to make sure we had good takes. 

The project calls for another shooting day at a second location as well as a quick turn around trip to Chicago for an interview with a client customer. 

I learned a lot today and I had a blast working with Ben. His attention to detail makes me look permanently afflicted with hyper-ADHD. 

When we got home he assisted me in unloaded the gear and headed out to meet up with friends. But he did leave me a template for efficient log in sheets. How thoughtful...

Much more to come on this video project.

3.10.2014

Is it time to cede street photography and social photography to the cellphone world?

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©2014 Kirk Tuck

I'd vote "yes." Some wag yesterday left a comment that I dismissed out of hand. He (or she) mused that the images I'd posted were 'no better than what I could get from a phone' and in retrospect I have to agree. I had a new camera in my hand and I did what most other photographers do. I went out on a gray and featureless day and snapped images, behind which there was no real thought or emotional buy in, and I put them up on the web and waved my arms around and said "look, look, more images!" As though what I'd done was special and unique. Only it wasn't.

I had a public relations assignment yesterday that started at 10pm. The event wrapped around two in the morning and I was sitting in the studio until 4 am post processing and uploading to deliver before my client got up for breakfast. And this morning I woke from a banal dream in which line of people queued up outside a series of downtown buildings, endlessly. When I woke up I was overwhelmed with the thought that, for me, street photography is over. Just over.

3.08.2014

A New Camera Showed Up On My Doorstep Friday. It's the Samsung NX30. I Took It To SXSW.



What is it? It's a Samsung NX30. A 20 megapixel, APS-C, Mirror Free
Interchangeable lens camera. It arrived on Friday in the Fed Ex 
shipment and I've agreed to shoot with it for a while and post a few images on a regular basis. 
No other strings attached. 


When I experimented with Samsung's experimental Galaxy NX camera last year I was very happy with the sensor but less so with the paucity of physical control interfaces (buttons and knobs). I also felt that the inclusion of the Android operating system and all of the software and connectivity bells and whistles interfered with the pure photography aspect of the camera. My final criticism was about the low res and not very color accurate EVF. When I sent the camera back to Samsung I also included my notes about what I wanted to see in a future gen camera. In almost every respect that camera is the new NX 30 camera. Samsung's P.R. agency sent me one and a kit lens to use with it last Friday. Here's a report of my first 24 hours with the camera:

The box was small. The camera is small. About the size of a Panasonic G6 but with a rounder design aesthetic. The camera body itself is smoother and more rounded. The camera is a mirror less, APS-C sensor camera that uses the entire range of Samsung NX series lenses and has both a "twisty/bendy" rear LCD screen as well as a nicely done EVF. The EVF is a much higher resolution than the previous Samsung cameras and it's nice to look at. It could use a bit faster refresh rate for fast moving objects but it's a big improvement and it's at least competitive with the majority of EVF finders in it's class. The EVF does have one magic trick. You can pull the finder eyepiece out away from the camera body and angle it up to 90 degrees. Nice for low angle shots and an advantage for studio table top work. 

Like most of the new cameras I've come across lately it doesn't come with a conventional charger, the camera comes with a USB charger and cable that restricts you to charging in camera. Since I currently have only one battery I don't really mind... yet. From my point of view there's a lot to like about this camera. It's got a nice 20 megapixel sensor that seems to perform well. I shot stuff from ISO 100 to ISO 3200 yesterday and noise was not problematic. On a few frames I thought the noise reduction was a bit heavy handed but that's probably what I get for not shooting raw and not paying attention to the noise reduction settings in the menu. I've now opted for "off" because I love to go to extremes. I'll get it fine tuned as I continue to use the camera. 

The exterior control buttons give me quick access to most of the operations I want to use and pushing the FN button gets me a few more. Once the camera is set up you'll rarely have to dive into the menus but if you do you'll find them logical and well structured. The camera has all kinds of connectivity niceties but as you might guess I've turned off as many of these as I could find. There's still a little drain to the battery but I'll try to hunt that down and squash it as well. For me a camera should be ALL about taking the image. Anything that interferes with that, even if it's just a quicker battery drain, is to be avoided. 

I know that many of you feel uncomfortable if you can't upload your images immediately but until everyone gets the shooting experience of the cameras just right that fast access capability is just a distraction. Agree or disagree. But I'm speaking from my own experience. 

So, on the camera you have buttons for a quick menu call up (FN--which is programmable), WB, AF, Drive Modes, Display, Metering pattern, a big exposure Mode dial and two control dials. There's also the EV compensation button and an AEL button. If you need more controls you can enable the touch screen and customize the quick menu on the rear screen. Also, some of these controls are available by pushing the fn button on many of the Samsung lenses. The settings come up on a dial and I actually like the representation and the sound effects that go with them. This is the first camera on which I have not totally disabled sound effects. Almost forgot, there is also a movie start button on the top panel of the camera. All of these physical controls are a good thing because I don't care how good a touch screen might be there are situations like cold, dry weather that interfere with the touch interface and nothing is more frustrating to me than a camera that can't be controlled at will. My will. 

I'll confess that I didn't read the owner's manual. I felt like my experiences with the Samsung Galaxy NX would put me in the control ballpark for this camera and, so far, I have not been wrong. I charged the battery while I worked on a proposal and when the green light came on I packed up my stuff and headed out. We're in SXSW (South by Southwest Interactive, Film and Music Festivals) for two weeks. 50,000+ people from around the world descend on our town for this and the parking goes from tight to non-existent to $100 a day. I walked a half mile to our neighborhood bus stop and rode the bus to the epicenter of the excitement. It cost a buck. Chalk one up for mass transportation!

The bus ride also gave me time to go through every menu on the camera and personalize it to my shooting requirements/proclivities. S-AF, Single point AF, Auto-ISO, diopter fine tuned, Jpeg Super/turbo fine, matrix metering, etc. By the time I hit Congress Ave. I felt like I'd used the camera for weeks. Easy and straight forward. 

I walked around downtown and shot a couple hundred snap shots. I was looking for things like: How fast the focus locked in (very fast! Snapped in is more like it...must be the PD on chip), How quickly the camera shifted from LCD to EVF (quick indoors and slower in full sun. When I shoot in full sun now I just go into the menu and choose EVF all the time. Works great. 

The camera is a great size for my average hands. It's also a good size for my wife's smaller hands. 

When I started my journey to the great intellectual marketplace being held downtown there was a weak but present sunlight punching through wimpy patches of clouds but as the afternoon wore the clouds moved in and everything was over cast. I took a very small leather backpack along with me for the usual collection of modern clutter. My cellphone. A pair of reading glasses. A back up camera in the form of the Panasonic G6 (in case the sole battery for the Samsung raced to zero) and two extra batteries for it. I also dropped in my Kindle Fire so I could read Anthony Artis' book, Shut Up and Shoot. (A good but slightly dated resources for videographers who do documentaries, interviews, etc.).

At first I was a bit put off by the camera for two reasons, both associated with viewing. The EVF is about a stop hotter than the LCD in its rendering of scenes. The LCD and the histograms agrees and my computer agrees with them too. But while there is a control to change the brightness and color of the LCD I haven't found the same control for the EVF. The second point was that in bright, exterior lighting the sensor that decides when to switch between the EVF and LCD seems to see too much ambient light and is loathe to switch to the EVF unless you crush your eye socket right into the eyepiece. Well, I don't much use LCDs in bright ambient light so I found the menu item that would allow me to select my viewer manually and I set it to always be the EVF. That will come in handy when shooting theater as well. Then I set up the menu display to always show the live histogram and I was making a subconscious accommodation for the bright finder within the hour. Done. 

The rear screen is just like every other rear screen on cameras that I use. It's bright, sharp and detailed as long as you are in the studio controlling the light. If I'm are standing around in the sun shine I can't see a damn thing on the screens. And if I'm wearing something reflective like a white t-shirt I can see even less... This is why for the last few years I've railed about the need for all cameras to have some sort of eye level viewing mechanism. Even if it's the contrived, giant loupe I have for my Pentax K-01 Super Cameras. The screen on the NX 30 is no different. A pleasure in the studio or in a restaurant or bar but a freakin' nightmare in high EV settings with lots of photons bouncing around. Thank you very much, Samsung, for the EVF. 

All in all my initial reaction to this camera is different from my reaction to the Samsung Galaxy NX. That camera refused to work for me, out of the box, until I logged on  and registered it online. The new camera comes with the connectivity in the "off" mode. And in no way does the mania for wi-fi or NFC effect my ability to snap the shutter in a timely fashion.

I've used two lenses on the camera so far; both with very good results. The first is the kit lens (18-55mm) which I originally got when Samsung sent me an NX300. It's a good kit lens and it has a control button on the side that you can push and the camera ratchets through four frequently used controls, including my favorites, EV and WB. The lens seems sharp enough and the range is nice. But the one I really like a lot is the 30mm f2. It has neither the I.S. nor the function button on it but it's small, light and quite sharp. 

I was nervous about battery life so I found myself turning the camera on and off again much more so than I do when I use a camera which I have a pocketful of batteries for. But during the course of my shooting the battery indication never dropped below 70% and the battery does seem to charge pretty quickly. 

I think Samsung has made a good competitor for the rest of the mirror less systems on the market. While it's not as polished as the Olympus OMD EM-1 the bigger sensor offers some advantages. Will I switch everything, drink the KoolAide and shoot everything with the Samsung? I think you know me better than that. I would get bored to tears just shooting one model or brand of camera. But I will stick a strap on this one and squire it around for a while to see just what I can get out of it.

Below are some images I shot at SXSW yesterday. Nothing spectacular but I was looking for technical stuff on this go around...





Kirk daringly executes a selfie. 

The Cavernous "Check in and Get your Badge" area.

People of the floor.