10.22.2017

A Weekend Review of my photography life from the last seven days.

Looking back.

It was a busy week. Nowhere near the hectic pace we kept up in the pre-digital days but brisk nonetheless. My work weeks usually start on Sundays when I start organizing and cleaning up for the week ahead. When you do a lot of work on location, with nearly every job calling for different gear, you can generate quite a mess in the middle of the floor of the studio.

Monday: My first assignment of the week was to go on location and photograph a new partner at one of the downtown law firms. We've (me+ad agency+client) established a style for this client that is based on shooting environmental portraits. That means we use the interesting spaces in their offices as backgrounds instead of bringing a background of our own. I have generally shot portraits in their beautiful and modern styled offices with a full frame Sony camera and a fast medium format telephoto lens so I can drop the background walls, windows and interior design nicely out of focus. I've always found it easier to do a job like this with continuous lights since it's easy to use whatever range of aperture and shutter speed work best. I've found that current LEDs are a good match for the indirect daylight that floods in from floor to ceiling windows on the 27th floor.

For this engagement I was using the Panasonic GH5 so instead of shooting at f2.8 or f4.0 and being able to depend on the lesser depth of field given by a full frame camera I had to shoot lenses with wider apertures to get the same effect. I brought along the Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 as a "safety" knowing I could shoot it wide open with sharp results and then blur more of the background in post production, if needed. But the lenses I intended to shoot with were a motley collection of much less expensive prime lenses. I brought the little Panasonic 42.5mm f1.7, an ancient Olympus Pen 40mm f1.4 and a Zeiss 50mm f1.7 that was originally made for the Contax Y/C system.

We set up in a large conference room and I put the frosted wall behind my subject. The wall gets hit by all kinds of light and shadow. It's a beautiful pattern, with nice, cool color variations that look great out of focus. I used an LED light in a 50 inch diffuser as a main light and set a level that would match or slightly overpower the background. I used several smaller LED fixtures to provide backlighting and accents. But the real trick was finding just the right combination of focal length and aperture. The image that was finally chosen and finished out for the firm came from the 50mm Zeiss lens, shot at f2.2.

One part of commercial photography we gloss over is timing and logistics. I wanted to be on site at 9am so I could be lit and ready to shoot by 10am. That required me to plan backwards. Heading downtown during rush hour could take up to 30 minutes from my house, only five mile away. Austin traffic can be horrible. I would need to add 15 minutes to that in order to navigate the parking garage, find a parking space, load all the gear on a multi-cart and get up to the 27th floor. A bit more time if there was a new security guard at the front desk hell bent on saving the world from a graying, 60+ year old photographer...

Add in 15 minutes to stop by the coffee shop for necessary fuel and that puts us at one hour from leaving the front door of the studio to walking into the client's lobby. Since it's too easy to forget stuff in the morning that means that I'll want to pack everything the evening before. Two of the LED panels I wanted to use run on rechargeable batteries that need five hours to charge. I wanted to top off a couple of camera batteries. And there was a very specific shirt I wanted to wear that needed to be washed. Yikes. There goes a chunk of Sunday afternoon.

The GH5+Zeiss combination exceeded my expectations. The flesh tones from the combination were as perfect as I could ask for and easier to color correct than anything I'd ever gotten from my Sonys or Nikons.

The actual portrait session started at 10am and we were finished by 10:20am. The worst part of any shoot is breaking down a set and packing everything back up. It's annoying when the parking exit kiosk won't read the QR code on the pass you need to exit the garage but it's still Austin and someone came over, shrugged, and let me out. Good thing since the minimum charge for parking at this particularly tony building is $25 for the first hour....

I got back to the studio and ingested the files into Lightroom, making a second back-up set on a separate hard drive. Then I took a break to swim two miles and grab lunch.

Soaked, chilled, exhausted but fed I sat down to make subtle, global corrections to the 40 files I would put into a gallery and upload to my online gallery at Smugmug.com. While the files uploaded via my pokey wi-fi connection I unpacked and re-shelved the lighting equipment and put the camera battery and lighting batteries back on their chargers.

Once the images were uploaded I sent a link and a password to my client, along with an invoice for my services and for a license to use one resulting image for the website, for public relations and for general marketing.

I spent the rest of the afternoon trying to track down a great background for Wednesday's shoot.

Tuesday: I was up early for a run around Lady Bird Lake. I headed back home for breakfast and a shower and then I started organizing for Wednesday's shoot. This would be a day long "cattle call" shoot where, over the course of the day, I would make portraits of 24 people, all in front of the same background and with matching lighting. This would be a more traditional shoot and I decided to use electronic flash since I'd never seen the space before and didn't want to chance having big windows or uncontrollable ambient lighting that would interfere with the lighting design I had in mind.

For this assignment I wouldn't be concerned with trying for exacting depth of field so I was set on using the big Olympus Pro zoom at f5.6 and bringing along the 12-100mm Pro lens as a back up. I went through the lighting design in my head and then mapped it out on paper. This helped me figure out exactly what to bring in terms of lights, stands, reflectors, cabling and remote triggers. I changed out the batteries in the triggers and the light meter (always take the light meter...) and charged the battery for the Godox AD200 I planned on using to light the background. I laid out all the stands on the floor, along with the bigger Photogenic flashes, all the cables, speed rings and reflectors.

Then I took a break to swim a really pleasant afternoon workout with my friend, Emmett.

It was the day before the shoot and I still didn't have just the right background but I had a workable candidate. I was waiting on two different backgrounds I'd ordered from Amazon.com. One came mid-afternoon and the other came at 7:55pm. I liked them both better than my back-up so I packed up all three.

After dinner I packed up everything in appropriate cases and bags and put everything except the camera case into the car. It's a really, really safe neighborhood but I hate to tempt fate the night before a shoot by dangling the cameras to chance. The last thing I did before I left the office was to print out my correspondence with my client which had the address and all the details, plus examples. One copy for the camera bag and one copy for the passenger's seat of the car. I checked the map online. I knew exactly where I was going as the client's office is right next door to a great competition swimming pool (which I did not have time to try out...).

Wednesday: So, up at 5:45am, shower, coffee, breakfast taco and then out the door at 6:35am. I padded my time just a bit because --- if you are on time you are already running late --- and arrived at the client's parking lot with eight minutes to spare. I finished listening to something interesting on NPR and then loaded up the cart and headed to the front door.

I met my client, loaded in at 7:00am, had a quick conversation about backdrops, made our selection and then I started building the set in a large training room. A big bonus was that my client was thinking ahead and cleared everything out except for two, big chairs and a couple of tables on which I put my camera stuff.  I'd brought a pneumatic posing stool because I hate looking for a chair that might work.

I set up the background we selected and then started setting up lights. In the end I decided on just two lights and one passive reflector. With that gear we were able to hit the look and feel they were after.

I finished making the last meter reading and setting up the camera with a custom white balance at 7:45am and my client and I rewarded ourselves with a quick cup of coffee. We had people scheduled to come into the temporary studio every 20 minutes throughout the day, with an hour scheduled for lunch --- which the client catered. We finished our last portrait at 4:30pm and I went through the hated process of breaking everything down and packing it up.

As I exited the client's parking lot it dawned on me that I was halfway to Costco so I headed over there to pick up my two new pairs of eyeglasses. Nice to see the details again. The diopters on the cameras compensate well but I can't spend my days walking around holding the cameras in front of my eyes.....

Of course, the day is not over until the gear is out of the car, put back onto shelves, batteries placed on chargers, and files loaded into the system and backed up. It was my turn to do dinner. I'd picked up a couple of Asian chicken salad wraps and we sat down to eat them at 9:15 pm. A long day but very productive.

Thurs: I read another part of the ongoing review about the Nikon D850 on DPReview. The thought the bubbled up as I read was of the time in America when the only (popular) measure of new cars was how much raw horsepower their engines could generate. That was always the magic number. The landscape was festooned with giant cars that boasted of having 300, 400, even 600 horsepower. Of course they got less than 10 miles to a gallon of gas and were hardly good (performance wise) for anything but going in straight lines. None were adept at cornering or even stopping well. (yes, I am sure there were exceptions). It was a drag racing mentality which thankfully dissipated when gas prices spiked more or less permanently...

The D850 certainly checks the horsepower box with it's 45+ megapixels. But in many ways the analogy is apt given how archaic DSLRs are in general. Lots of horsepower, just not fun to drive anymore. But I'm digressing.

I got up and went for a self-paced swim practice. It was cold and lonely. But the yards slipped by.

I spent nearly all day in Lightroom editing down 1600+ portrait files into more manageable 600+. I color corrected every person's set to match everyone else's and then converted the selected images from Raw to Jpeg and started the time consuming process of uploading them to an online gallery. I convert to full sized, minimally compressed Jpegs for the galleries because the big files provide another layer of back-up for the images.

Once I get the upload started it's time to thoroughly clean the studio for Friday's shoot. We'll be photographing a doctor in four different ways for one of my long time medical practice clients.
The studio is a mess. The floors need swept and washed. The shelves need to be de-cluttered. The desk top needs to be excavated and all the other gear I already used during the week needs to find its happy spot --- off the floor.

Friday: I get to Deep Eddy early for a long swim and then meet one of my video mentors at the local Starbucks to hear about his latest adventure and learn from his experiences. It's always best to hear from people whose experience is a known thing than to take advice on the web from someone who rarely leaves their basement.....

After lunch I give the studio one more cleaning sweep through and airing out and I begin to set up in earnest for a shoot I've been dreading. We have four different imaging needs for advertising. The first is a family portrait of the doctor with his wife and five children who range in age from six months to about ten years old. I'm looking around the studio for anything that might be dangerous to little kids and spend time getting sharp edged things off the floor and taping down cables. We'll light this with classic "family portrait" lighting and use an innocuous muslin background. The image will be used in a community newspaper to announce to consumers that this doctor has joined the practice.

Once we get the family shot nailed down we need to re-light and put up a gray background for the doctor's solo photographs, in a suit and tie and then in a white coat. Finally, I need to change backgrounds again to a green screen and light that appropriately. We'll be taking a full length image of the doctor on green screen so I can drop it into an existing exterior group photograph of the other 14 or 15 doctors.

So, three background changes, three lighting changes and small children all in about an hour. Yes, it's definitely a case for flash. And a fast focusing camera...

The doctor and his family are out the door and we have good photos in hand, and just enough time to ingest them into the system, before Belinda and I head out the door with our dog to go to our friends' house for a wonderful dinner. We sit under the stars long into the night. On the drive home I make a mental note to start post processing the doctor and doctor+family photos right after swim practice tomorrow morning.

That's a look at the last week. Other stuff happened. I ate pizza. I scheduled other work. I did a bit of marketing. I had coffee with two other friends. It's a river of activities and we just float along from one to the next. The only consistent thing this week was using the GH5's for everything on my plate. Nice cameras. No glitches.

Looking ahead to see what I'll be packing for this coming week. The one consistent thing ahead is swimming at Deep Eddy Pool. Ah, routines.

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

If you are a decent technical photographer it's so easy to fall into the trap of loving each incremental camera improvement...

A reader assumed that this was an m4:3rd camera shot. He suggested that 
captioning it as such would further nail down the argument I am making below.
Sadly, it was not made with an m4:3rds camera.

It was made with a ONE INCH CAMERA.

...but the huge majority of lackadaisical amateurs, finnicky hobbyists and working professionals routinely, "love", "like" and gush over a multitude of photographic images they see on the internet; enjoying the bounty of the proffered work at sizes nudging up toward 1,200 pixels in a long horizontal row. Most routinely lie about making reams and reams of splendid and delicious large prints from whatever camera represents this quarter's technical miracle. At best they read someone else's lie about master print making at the size of a house and pass that lie along as their own. The adoration of that last 2.3% addition of pixels to the edge of the frame is such a "last century" affectation. The reality; the hard, fast reality is that the screen is our new medium of access and appreciation for the photographic image and the screen has the distinct advantage of being almost completely format and resolution neutral.

People who find themselves all pumped up by the "perceived" difference between a Nikon D810 and a D850 need to have their heads examined. People who denigrate the "smaller formats" as being somehow inadequate are self deluding. No strength of magic wand will make an idea better. No amount of purchase power will replace the hard won skills of seeing well and imagining better.

It's a pursuit as senseless as the pursuit of raw horsepower. The internet is like a crowded freeway at rush hour. Your Dodge Viper may have crazy amounts of horsepower but in Austin, Texas, on the Mopac "Expressway", you'll be right in line behind that 120 horsepower, 1996 Toyota Corolla (with no wheel covers) and you'll both be going the same 15 MPH for miles at a time. The only difference being that you wasted a lot of money buying and gassing up the Viper.




10.12.2017

Austin still has a quirk or two.


A prime downtown billboard without a selling message. It has "Art" instead. 


Trader Joe's downtown location pays tribute to Matthew McConaughy in his role in Richard Linklater's early (2nd) movie: "Dazed and Confused." 

"It'd be a lot cooler if you did....."

Playing around with a "bridge" camera. Getting out of the studio and away from the computer. Mid-afternoon holiday.


Most of us have the tendency to spend more time in front of the computer screen than we intend. At least our kids, who are mightily addicted to their smartphones, can take their hand held devices out the door with them. We seem anchored to our desktops. I guess it's easier to surf the web and handle hot coffee when one is sitting down....

Recently I've started pushing myself out the door when I'm finished with actual work on my computer. I like to take different cameras out with me when I'm walking and it's been a bonus to head toward an "all Panasonic" work environment since the menus are all (rationally) set up the same way. There's less and less fumble for control. 

On my short walk I saw a new restaurant downtown called, Le Politique, on Second St. Built and furnished like a classic French cafĂ©. There was the JW Marriott Hotel, just crawling with conference goers who all had the biggest lanyard-anchored badges bouncing on their chests that I've ever seen (not pictured here). As I left the hotel and was standing at a crosswalk waiting for the light change a woman standing next to me turned and asked if I could pull her water bottle out of a side pocket of her backpack; she couldn't reach it. 

I walked through the convention center where a local company called, SpiceWorks, was holding their conference. They are also celebrating 10 years of existence. It was the usual crew of software developers, etc. You can tell at a glance in Austin. 

I came across the woman in leather pants (above) holding a bouquet of flowers. She is the designated greeter for some boy band. The arrival of their tour bus is imminent. She'll guide them through the loading dock and into the safe confines of the green room complex of the ACL Theater. 

I came across a man eating through his own smallish carton of Blue Bell Vanilla ice cream. A man sleeping on a bench. A crowd of (mostly) young women waiting for the same boy band as the flower bearer above. A coffee meeting in suits. A solitary cigarette break. A woman grappling with a dog and digital parking meter. It was a brisk but lackadaisical afternoon stroll. 

I was using a Panasonic FZ2500 that had a small microphone in the hot shoe. I thought I might shoot some video but the monochrome setting on the camera created a feeling of yesteryear so endearing to me that I just got into the concept of Tri-X-ism and was off on autopilot. It's glorious to be outside when the city is alive, the temperature moderate and the sun shining but mild. 

I didn't want the buzz of the day to vanish so we headed out to dinner instead of staying home. We headed over to Asti Trattoria (see the video on my website....) and had an appetizer of calamari, then shared a tomato, mozzarella and basil pizza, covered with fresh, tossed arugula. Belinda had a prosecco while I had an IPA from a San Francisco brewery. It was so much fun being immersed in real life. Makes me wonder what I'm doing sitting here now. Oh, that's right, I'm just tying up some loose ends before a midday swim. Oh crap. I just remembered something important --- I forgot to work this week.
Yikes. I guess I'll make up for it next week..... 

What do you do when you find yourself overdosed with desk time?