6.23.2019

Age and Photography. From the point of view of a commercial photographer.

The Graffiti Wall is closed. In a few months all that will remain are the photographs that many photographers took over a time span of four or five years. 

If you are like most affluent Americans you've probably spent most of your life believing in your own immortality and, as you have aged, you've probably had, nestled in the back of your mind, the idea that advances in science and medicine would extend your useful lifespan far beyond the 78.7 year average life expectancy currently calculated (average) for men in the U.S.A. If you've lived past 65 already then congratulations because your life expectancy bumps up to somewhere in the mid-80s.  As a culture, we have a dim view of getting older since most equate it with encroaching infirmity, diminished mental and physical capacities, and loss. A loss of mobility, friends, loved ones and relevance. 

I've been thinking about this from the perspective of a person still working in an industry that is well known for being a young person's occupation. There are few photographers who keep working in the field after they hit their fifties; even fewer continue plying their trade once they get to their 60's. And there are so many reasons for that. First is a general agism which has as its base the idea that society's memes, visual styles and references are lost on older generations which means that only people under a certain age can really understand and translate the new for audiences today. Each successive generation seems to believe that any important cultural trend had its genesis during their generation and any understanding of current innovations is unfathomable to an older generation. We often hear that young people are more facile with the screens on their smart phones because, "they grew up with the technology."  Never mind that smart phones were introduced, really, with the iPhone in June of 2007. Grownups bought them first. Of course, grownups had already mastered proto-smartphones from Rim (Blackberries), and primordial flip phones before that. 

I cringe when younger people presume that anyone over 60 does not really understand how to operate a personal computer. They don't seem to understand that we were buying and using the first widely available IBM PCs, and the first generations of Apple Macintosh computers, for at least a decade before most of the millienials were even gleams in their collective parent's eyes. And since there were NO web tutorials (and no web) we were also our own I.T. help desks and our own trouble shooters. 
The next big fallacy is the idea that anyone over a certain age (50?, 60?) is winding down physically, and quickly. That we'll soon be toddling along with a cane, moving slowly and blocking the sidewalk to the disdain of a faster and more mobile generation zipping along on electric scooters. The idea that at 60+ we are still able to lift stuff, run, swim and even outperform a more sedentary, more recent generation is almost unbelievable to most. But that's a prejudice based on observations of the most sedentary and infirm older Americans; the ones stereotyped on TV and in movies. 

I am not immune from some prejudices about aging in the general population; I think far too many people spent far too much time sitting in awkward office chairs instead of walking, moving, running, swimming, hiking. Spent far too much time trying to wick off the affects of long, boring days at "the office" by parking themselves in front of screens, wedged into easy chairs, eating chips, and slowly, physically killing themselves. I'm also aware that I have an almost unhealthy prejudice against bad diets and the affects of obesity on human performance (probably the number one way to ruin your knees and ankles...). So many people forgot to get in enough exercise in their middle years that many do come into their 60's with a host of health issues that fuel generational stereotypes...to the general detriment of those who were more diligent.

But as Dr. Andrew Weill says, (and I'm paraphrasing here) if you want to eat healthy, hang out with people who eat healthy. If you want to be optimistic then hang out with optimistic people. And if you want to stay in great shape then hang out with the people who are active and engaged in good, routine physical exercise. If you hang out with a bunch of guys at the local bar and eat a diet of burgers and French fries and soft drinks you have only yourself to blame for creating and pushing unhelpful stereotypes into the ongoing discussion about the capabilities of older generations. 

So, why am I writing about aging and perceptions of aging today? A couple things. I recently lost my dad; he was 91. And while the my recent observations revolve around his decline and death at age 91, I've spent a good amount of time remembering him as he was in his 70's and his 80s. He was a bike riding fanatic all through his seventies and didn't give up the sport until his right knee blew out in his early eighties. He actively played tennis into his eighties, even with a gimpy knee. He read voraciously every single day of his life. He and my mom lived in their house together until my dad was 90 and my mom passed away. Right up until he moved into memory care he was carrying bags of groceries into the house, doing yard work and walking everywhere, with his cane offsetting his bad knee. 

He had little patience for slowing down and even less patience for people who bought into the general gestalt about aging by pampering themselves and letting entropy win. I liked that. He never bought into the idea that you were required to become docile and coddled just because you were older.

But I am mostly writing this to deflect the idea that one can't pursue commercial photography in one's 60's without a minivan full of younger assistants to "help" carry stuff. To dispel the cunard that the older photographer can only work in short spurts, in between his naps and his Metamucil cocktail breaks. To negate the belief that all older photographers are frail, fragile, and slow. But most importantly to dissuade people from thinking that we are required to lose our "edge" and our grasp on modern culture and style just because we've blown out more birthday cake candles and because we have more wrinkles around our eyes. 
Healthy eating = longer, more unencumbered life.

The prejudice about aging was tossed in my face at a recent social event where several people "marveled" at the idea that I would still, at 63, be dragging a cart full of heavy gear up the ADA ramp to an office building and spend my day setting up, tearing down, moving and setting up again the gear required to do a lot of commercial photography jobs correctly. That I would have the stamina to do physical work all day long...seemed to mystify them.

While Austin has a reputation for being a "fit" city I think it's been riding on a reputation developed in the 1980's and 1990's but long ago more or less homogenized into the America median because of the enormous influx of office worker bees in high tech and information services businesses. The refuges from spots all over the U.S. brought their trailers full of stuff here and also their appetite for Philly Subs, Oyster Po'Boys, In and Out Burgers, and piled them on our own bad offerings of BBQ, chicken fried steaks and Tex Mex cuisine. Fry me a river...

The athletic cohort of the city seems to exist as a separate group, different and removed from the rank and file worker. Disciplined and different. The runner, swimmer, biker, rower, triAthlete who is competing, or at least practicing, at a high level has a different idea of discipline which requires working toward physical results. The more sedentary may be just as disciplined about their jobs but the benefit they deliver is a collective benefit to their corporation, not a benefit to their own personal longevity and physical health. 

In the field of photography it's the same. If you attend social functions for photographers you'll see a cross section that are, at 30 or 40, already overweight and under fit. They move slower. Photography is their obsession to the exclusion of other important things in a balanced life. The ones who survive their 40's and 50's are the ones who balance their focus on healthy living with their occupation. They set limits. They don't allow clients to schedule over early morning workouts. They have learned to push back when confronted with the idea that everyone should work "through" lunch and just graze on Peanut M&Ms, Snickers Bars and Trail Mix. That a Red Bull, a triple espresso or a large Coke is the secret to getting through a long day. 

Good allies are crucial if you want to stay in the game.
A partner who understands that what you do is mostly for 
the passion of it is far more likely to be supportive of things like
solo shooting trips, crazy expenditures, and a studio that's like a second home. 

The biggest two things to allow one to keep working in such a kinetic industry are, as I wrote above, being physically up for the manual labor the enterprise requires, but, even more important, it's the desire to constantly change and to understand change. And that means not only the changing importance of camera gear but also popular culture. 

I get that people in general love to keep doing things exactly the way they first learned them and are most comfortable using the tools on which they first learned the craft side of the profession. That's why people still keep doing three point portrait lighting and shooting everything with a certain kind of camera and a trio of three zoom lenses that has been popular since SLRs and DSLRs overtook medium format cameras as the preferred tool set for the majority of working professionals. The love of consistency and routine is one reason why it was so hard for photographers to get comfortable with also offering video services. Why it was so hard for so many photographers to move away from a print centric retail market. And why it is so hard to evolve new styles and new approaches to making photographs. Wouldn't it be sweet if you could spend a full day making one portrait with three big studio electronic flashes, captured with a DSLR and a 70-200mm zoom lens, delivered on a sheet of 16x20 inch photographic print paper? Even sweeter if a magazine were willing to pay you thousands of dollars to do so and thousands more to surround yourself, Ala Annie Leibovitz, with a circus of young assistants?

You could hold out for that. You can look for clients that might accommodate you. But if you don't have an international reputation, and you don't live and work in NYC, London, L.A. or Paris I'm going to conjecture that you might starve to death while you continue your search for these rare, unicorn clients. 

A desire to stand firm with the style that originally brought you to the table is probably the very thing that absolutely will kill your chances of moving forward in the imaging industry. It's like praying that 8 track players will come back for cars because you happen to have so many 8 track tapes in your storage unit. And, are you still wearing that "off the rack" suit you bought for that wedding you went to in 1998? Thought so.....

I get a lot of flack for changing systems too often. I get flack for buying new lenses (or unearthing older ones) but underneath the churn is a constant search to understand where the market is headed and where my vision and the markets can intersect. Profitably. And with a large dollop of fun besides. 

There is a secret for maintaining relevance that is far more important than playing with new methods, new gear and new lighting, and that is the need to be in touch and interfacing with the people who are working currently in your market. Last week I did a couple of jobs for a company whose marketing director just turned 30. She is a great client. The question of age has never entered our working relationship. I learn point of view and cultural mindset from her, she gets a vision honed by my having tried and discarded, tried and assimilated hundreds of thousands of imaging parameters. She also gets years of logistics and production experience from me at no extra charge. 

There is no real premium for experience; most jobs have a value and you can accept the value of that job and do it or hold out for more because you were a big deal in the past.....but you will lose the job to someone who better understands the value proposition of the finished work in the context of the client's needs. 

I work with Zach Theatre and several other theaters on a regular basis. Not once or twice a year but once or twice, or three times a month. The crews are young, the guest directors are currently hot properties coming in from New York, or major theaters in other big cities, to do selected productions. They bring with them current trends, looks and visual expectations. I'm always along for the ride. Sometimes I wish I had more input but I end up finding that the more friction I feel the more I can learn and the end result is that I generally have pushed back against my own reticence to change which makes me more (not less) hirable and (re)trainable. By gaining more elasticity in my vision and the way I operate I can more fluidly become part of a collaborative team instead of the boring S.O.B. that always seems to trot out, "Well, back in the good, old days we always did it like this!" Nothing is guaranteed to kill a creative collaboration with a more recent generation quicker. 

I'm about to start a three day job for WP Engine. It's a big software services company and they are constantly rated one of Austin's top companies to work for. Its offices are filled with young people banging away on keyboards and doing wonderful, mysterious stuff on the web. At the general sessions, the breakouts and the social events it's highly likely that I'll be the oldest person in the room. I'll be shooting a combination of video and photos and will, over the course of the day, alternate between shooting and uploading a constant stream of new content to a shared web gallery. The social media team on the client side will have an ample supply of just in time media at their fingertips which they will use to populate Twitter, Facebook, Medium and dozens of other platforms I haven't learned about yet. We'll all be sporting contemporary Apple MacBook Pros. We'll all be slinging around archived files on tiny SSDs. We'll all be racing to the web.

I started working for the company on the power of someone's recommendation. I feared that it would be a one shot engagement; that my age would be off-putting. But this is the third year in a row that I'll be covering their multi-day conference. And one of a dozen jobs I've done with their events team in the last two years. The secret is to blend in, work proficiently and deliver what they want and need with as little fuss and friction as possible. 

Last year we had a brief visitation to their show by a much, much younger photographer who was there to photograph just one of the speakers on stage. She was deeply embedded in old school technology and methodology. She started out blazing away with flash until one of the event staff swiftly shut that down. Didn't matter, the full frame DSLRs she was using were so loud that every one of 300 attendees turned around in their chairs every time the shutter went off to stare and scowl. She didn't get the memo that we'd all moved on from what was legit in the 1990s or just after the turn of the century. That the debate between mirrorless and traditional moving mirror cameras was not so much about the files coming out of the cameras but the whole use case. The ability to use silent shutters. Really silent shutters. Shows have changed. Pity for the photographers who can't change with them. Clients value anything that rivets the attention of their audiences to their corporate message while still delivering the photographic reportage they can use to spread the message outside of the ballroom.. You should never be the focus of anyone's attention in a main tent session.
Why mirrorless cameras? Because they are smaller, lighter, have a quicker feedback loop, usually better image stabilization and the files are just the right size. Lower noise, lower overall profile along with proficient results. Inside the acceptable envelope of performance. 
Right in the middle, not on the edge. 

Frequently celebrating success with clients and friends is critical. 

Where commercial photography is most like pure commerce are the jobs where the client is in some distant location and you are being hired and dispatched to do an assignment based entirely on the strength of your reputation and your portfolio. In those situations, unless you have some weird, stylized portrait of yourself front and center on your website you are most likely being hired in a completely age blind way and you will be judged only by the work you end up making. This is where you'll get the nourishing affirmation that you are still totally relevant as far as the actual work is concerned. 

I get hired a number of times each year by clients whom I have never met and, in all probability, will never meet. None have queried me about my age, my physical ability to do their jobs, or about my willingness to work as a collaborative team member. I get sent to weird places and fun places. The understanding is that if you can't do the job you'll figure out how to turn it down instead of setting yourself up for failure. But when you pull it off you know you are able to compete, head to head, with everyone else out there. 

So, when I talk about hanging on to my career a number of people immediately presume that because of my ardor for staying in business I must have led a life with no idea of accounting or financial awareness; that I've spent every cent I've touched and am hoping to just keep working --- stumbling along on fumes until social security kicks in at which time I'll live out the rest of my life on packaged ramen, ersatz pasta and the occasional bottle of Walmart Cabernet Sauvignon. That I persevere out of the demands of abject poverty and a past life of reckless abandon. Why else would I stoop to using Fuji cameras and lenses instead of some premium brand of full frame cameras? Why else would I keep doing everything from headshots to product prototype photographs?  And why would I keep working for another "artsy" organization like a live theater? 

Well, just to assuage your concerns.... We've done a very good job of saving and investing. My wife wonders sometimes why I don't just retire and write the novels I profess to want to write. My wealth management person wonders why I didn't retire several years ago. My kid wonders why we don't sell our house in the middle of Austin's most sought after neighborhood, take the money off the table and move to Paris or Rome (mostly we don't because I don't speak fluent French or Italian). 

My silly sounding and perennial answer is that I absolutely love what I do. I feel like I did when I was 25 years old. Not just physically but mentally as well. I don't want to lose any part of that feeling. I don't want to "slow down" and I don't want to forego racing my twenty-something assistants up multiple flights of stairs with cases of gear in each hand. I don't want to let that 30-something in lane four beat me in swim set. I don't want to ever say, "I used to be a photographer." I don't want to ever hear myself say, "Well, back in the golden age of photography we used to....blah, blah, blah." It's never just about the work...it's only about the work. And everything I learn every day as I do jobs for other people is more than just which colors look pretty together or how much of the background I can drop out but also what's the coolest new restaurant? How do people speak now? What's our target for our combined work? What shoes are cool?  What kinds of portraits make younger people smile with approval? 

I haven't found the fountain of youth and I understand that aging and then dying is inevitable. But embracing old fart-ism can be optional. Sitting in a Barca Lounger with a can of beer is definitely optional. The early bird special at the local cafeteria is extremely optional in the way that a country might embrace nuclear war. I don't intend to give in to the stereotypes of aging. Not personally and not in my craft. You might want an endless retrospective but I want to constantly burn the past and create into the future. And I believe it remains possible for any one of any age able to carry his own gear and create a rapport with people who are different from themselves. Different cultures and different ages. 

The reason I won't stop is that making beautiful photographs is so damn fun!!!!

Yeah. I'm going to stop doing commercial work when someone pries that camera out of my cold, dead hands. Or at least that's today's plan. 

if you know exactly which camera you're going to be shooting with tomorrow and next week and next month then I'm here to tell you that you don't have enough cameras. Not enough choices. 

with a full tank of gas and open skies you can go anywhere. 

The secret to everything is relationships. 
Better than cameras but without obviating the need for cameras. 










Sit down when you get tired but always have a plan to get moving again. 


There will be enough time to rest in whatever afterlife the photo gods provide. 

It is a rich person who gets to do exactly what they want to do for a living.
Why doesn't anyone ask Warren Buffett when he is going to retire?

The latest research says walking is the best exercise overall. 
I'll keep swimming but it's nice to know I was never wasting time 
when I was walking around with my cameras. When I finish this I'm heading back out for a walk. 
You might consider a couple miles a day as just good photo job prep.....
And an excuse to buy fun shoes. 

There's a certain adrenaline rush being a hundred or so miles from any major city, down a dirt road as a giant blizzard heads your way. But if you've already gone to all the trouble of showing up 
it behooves you to linger for a few minutes and get the shot.

The best weather in which to photograph is any weather you can get. 


If you aren't up, out of the house, and doing something fun when the sun comes up you'll have no one but yourself to blame for missing out on life. 

End. 

6.21.2019

Another long week, capped by an old fashioned, all day long, advertising photo shoot.

This image has nothing to do with the content of this particular blog post. 
I'm putting it here so I can look at it and remember what cold weather felt like.
We had heat warnings here in central Texas because the combination 
of heat and humidity gave us a "heat index" of between
110 and 112 degrees, Fahrenheit. I long to walk 
on slippery pavement again. 
Reykjavik Iceland, 2018.

I was up this morning at six a.m. and eating my bowl of 2% fat Greek Yogurt, Muesli and one cup of blueberries by 6:20, washing it down with a magnificent cup of my own coffee. Packed and on the road by 7:00 am and headed toward the city of San Marcos to meet up with two representatives of an Austin ad agency, and the owners of a techie, hardware, start-up company in their labs. 

The assignment was a day long project to develop photographic content for the company's website and collateral advertising. We spent the morning photographing in various lab environments and the afternoon photographing at two different dental practices (the use target for the newly developed product).

The ad agency and I scouted the locations last week so we hit the ground running in each spot today. I packed just enough equipment to light every interior shot with LED lights but I brought along a Godox AD 200 flash system to use as a fill light for our one exterior group shot. Everything fit on one cart and we worked off the cart and dragged it around with us from lab to lab in the morning. In the afternoon we were working in small exam rooms so I packed down well enough after our first location that our lights and three light stands fit in just one Tamrac rolling lighting case. I packed two of the Godox SL60 W monolight style LED lights, and two of the Aputure 682S spot, flat panel LED lights. Just what the doctor ordered for such small spaces. With one SL60 bouncing off a white ceiling, one SL60 in a 36 x 36 inch soft box, and an Aputure LED panel supplying adjustable back light I was pretty well set.

We photographed the client's new product being used in dental offices with a combination of extremely tight (60mm macro) shots and wider shots done with a Fuji 16-55mm f2.8 on an X-H1 body. We also photographed our hygienists (models) and our patients (also models) engaged in dental exams and using our client's new device in wide, medium and tight shots. In the small rooms I found that the combination of two SL60s, bounced off a ceiling and pushed through a soft box, allowed me to work comfortably at 1/125th of second, f4.0 and at ISOs of between 400 and 800. If there was a lot of movement in in the shot I'd push the ISO and work at 1/180th to 1/250th of a second. If we needed more depth of field for the tight product shots I'd move the aperture to between f5.6 and f7.1 and then push the sensitivity. My ISO dial got more of a workout than the two other main controls.

While the agency had the best of intentions with their scheduling they forgot to factor in the typical human task friction endemic in most shoots of this kind and we fell far enough behind schedule to cause a panicked retreat from even the general concept of lunch. Of course, this was not my first rodeo and I had packed enough Peanut Butter Cliff bars to get myself through the day without crashing or hitting the wall. It helped that there was a coffee shop close by the second location in which we photographed, and a helpful advertising intern to pick up the liquid of good life and deliver it into my ready hands.

In several shots we had big, long hallways or very large rooms and I chose to lean on the existing and ample florescent lighting while using an LED in a soft box as a main light and general fill. But, it's never that simple as the LEDs are pretty much perfectly balanced for daylight while the florescent tubes were the usual plentiful but cheap variety that makes everything a ghastly yellow green. Without filtration I could have my choice of a white balanced background combined with a main subject riddled with magenta, and way too cool, or I could do a custom balance for my foreground subject and watch the background go radioactive green. I chose neither and reached into my lighting case for a sheet of Rosco Tough Plus Green. I added it to my main light and it was more or less a perfect match for the background which allowed me to make a global, custom white balance for the whole scene; and it looked darn good.

We did many different shots in the labs, two big group shots in the blisteringly hot outdoors, an hour in a dentist's office in San Marcos,  a daredevil drive up IH-35 in midday traffic (which is like most other city's Christmas season rush hour traffic-- stop and go all the way in) and finally ended up in a modern and somewhat chic dentist's office in south Austin. There we shot a never ending combination of hygienists, dentists and patients all involved, somehow, and in some design combination, with the client's product.

The only time I got to sit down and not have a camera in my hands was while I was in white knuckle transit between locations. But the beauty of spending my usual down time swimming and walking with cameras in my hands is that I still had a reserve of good energy and focus even after we crested into overtime at 6pm. There is something fun about being the oldest person on a location and the only one not on the verge of exhaustion and collapse.... (Always eat a great breakfast, always carry protein bars, always send someone for coffee and water, always be the last one to quit).

We wrapped up by 6:45 this evening and I piloted home through more evening traffic that I ever remember seeing. I didn't have sufficient motivation to unload everything but I dragged the Airport Security rolling case into the studio, put the cameras on their chargers and downloaded the memory cards. I'll do the big edit and post over the weekend and deliver on Monday morning so this job doesn't step on the feet of the next job (Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday we're doing the WP Engine Annual Summit at the Fairmont Hotel --- it's right next to the Austin Convention Center).

Happy domesticity. I drove up to my house and got to see my brand new driveway. A house re-do by the next door neighbors (since replaced by much, much better neighbors) had cement trucks traipsing across the old concrete entry way and cracking the surface. The new neighbors and my family split the cost of making a much needed driveway entry upgrade. The downside is that we can't drive on said new concrete until it cures; and that's projected to be in about two weeks. That means that loading and unloading my car requires a hundred foot journey over the driveway of the neighbor's on the other side of the property followed by an adventure dragging the carts through my front lawn. But damn! That new entry way is looking fine!

Belinda and Ben had fun advertising and public relations adventures to talk about over dinner and Belinda made a wonderful sausage and vegetable soup which ate better than it sounds; by a long shot.

The week started with a trip to San Antonio to see a probate judge in the company of my elder law attorney. I was assessed to be worthy enough to be the executor of my dad's estate and got all the paperwork done to proceed. I processed insurance forms and messed with estate accounts. Since I feel responsible for my brother and sister this fun new responsibility adds a bit of stress and friction but nothing compared to the time and energy I spent taking care of my dad in his last year and a half. Hard work but it comes with the reward of knowing you did everything you could to make a loved one's last months in this mortal coil as happy, positive and comfortable as they could be.

I'm looking forward to two solid weekend swim workouts with no bookending tasks, responsibilities, obligations or appointments after either of them.

I'm back to my long time focus on making photographs and I'm loving every minute of it.

Warning to my blog readers in the Calgary, Canada area: my current plans include visiting your area in the third week of July. Meeting for at least coffee will be nearly mandatory. Also a visit to The Camera Store and perhaps even an audience with the reigning kings of video photography gear reviews, Chris and Jordan (now plying their talented trade at DP Review).

Hope springs eternal.




6.18.2019

Two more from Immortal Longings, the play by Terence McNally.


I seem to be having a love affair with several of Fuji's lenses. Today it was all about the 56mm f1.2 APD lens. But a week or so ago it was the 50-140mm f2.8 lens. It's a great set of focal lengths with which to shoot live theater productions. It's fast, sharp wide open and the range is perfectly suited for capturing the essence of most plays. The OIS in the lens works well with the IBIS in the X-H1 and the capper, for this kind of work, is the availability of the Eterna color profile to help flatten out the contrast  during capture. If a file is too flat you can always add a bit of pop to it. It's harder to go in the other direction; once the blacks are set, and the highlights are on the verge, trying to bring down the contrast in post is almost a fool's errand. 

Please click on the images to see them larger. 


This morning the star of the photo shoot was the kids. The co-star was the new (to me) 56mm f 1.2, the only lens I brought along.


©2019 Kirk Tuck. Please do not republish. 

I spent the morning photographing some of the Summer programs for kids at Zach Theatre. I left the camera bag at home and brought just one camera and one lens. It was a Fuji X-H1, and the very speedy Fuji 56mm f1.2 APD lens. I did something I've never tried before in all the years I've been photographing; I shot everything with the lens at its widest aperture ---- f1.2. 

I knew that the lens would be sharp because I've seen the MTF curves and read a fair number of reviews. I also knew it would be sharp because I shot test images in the studio before pressing the lens into service. But I was a bit apprehensive about how well it would focus; because of the anodization filter inside the lens it's only able to use contrast detect autofocus, not phase detect autofocus. I'd read stuff all over the web which presented the lens as slow and kludgy to focus. I figured that if the lens was truly dreadful at focusing I could just call it a day and come back sometime in the future to photograph. We weren't under any sort of onerous deadlines and I was willing to take a chance.

I wanted to use the lens wide open because, like almost every client's locations, there's always some clutter and junk in the backgrounds and if I can use shallow depth of field to minimize the visual chaos it's a plus for the art directors who will end up using the images.

So, how did it work out? Well, it exceeded my expectations. In decent light (areas in which I could shoot at full aperture using ISO 1600, or better) the camera and lens were quick to focus and lock in. I could even successfully use face detection in the majority of settings. If I did my part correctly and put the little green AF focusing square on the right spot I found the files to be extremely sharp. I don't care about corner sharpness and didn't look at it because in 99% of cases my main subject is in the center or in the sweet spot of the frame and my corners were part of the out of focus areas which were nicely smooth, and that's why I bought the lens in the first place. 

The kids were sweet and cute, and having fun with all the programs. I spent a couple hours shooting and knocked out about 1200 frame which I edited (selected or deleted) down to about 600 which I then post processed lightly (most just exposure tweaks) before outputting from Lightroom and sending the final files to Smugmug.com.
©2019 Kirk Tuck. Please do not republish. 

©2019 Kirk Tuck. Please do not republish. 
©2019 Kirk Tuck. Please do not republish. 



6.16.2019

My first jaunt outside with the low light monster from Fuji. The 56mm f1.2 APD.


I know that this lens is pretty much custom made for the sole purpose of shooting portraits with extremely narrow depth of field in an APS-C camera system. An attempt to match the look of those fast 85mm f1.8s and f1.4s that people grew up with when they shot film, or now, full frame cameras. But I didn't have a handy human model today, and I've been reading about the enormous health benefits of long walks, so I decided not to have any expectations but to take a Fuji X-H1 and the 56mm f1.2 APD along with me on a two hour walk through central Austin. My one nod to curiosity about the camera's "wide open" performance was the application of a variable neutral density filter to the front of the lens. Sadly, mine did not come with the .8 ND that was originally delivered along with the lens (about 3 stops). 

That's okay because I have a drawer full of variable and single neutral density filters to use on video projects. 

I shot most of these images at f1.2, compensating for bright sun with a combination of my lowest ISO (200) and my VND. Getting the right stuff in focus can be a challenge but I must say that the manual focusing ring is wonderful, with just the right tactile feedback and not too extensive a throw. If I had trouble narrowing in with AF I could switch to MF and nail every image every time. 

I love the idea of this lens and had a blast just getting to know it. 





This one amazed me. It's wide open but the building and crane are far enough away to still provide enough depth of field to cover both subject; at least in smaller displays....

Stunned by the sharpness of this machine when shot at 1.2 with the 56mm. 

f2.0 is not shabby either. 

A quick nod to the "Pixie" cameras. I've finally dialed in the right way to shoot with my Canon G15 and I'm making progress with the older G10.


Every camera seems to require its own operating procedures to ensure that you can get the best files from it, and everyone has a different idea of what "best files" look like so it stands to reason that everyone's operating procedures for each camera will come with a lot of variations. I always thought I wanted and needed an optical viewfinder but the small Canon's have such horrible OVFs that I've had to become adept at compositing and (guessing) exposure based on the rear screens. It's not that difficult for most stuff but what a pain in the butt if you are shooting in an area with high ambient light; the reflections off either screen are a major hindrance to seeing the frame correctly. 

Here's my routine for shooting with the G15: I set the camera to Large, Superfine Jpeg. I'm not shooting precious, once-in-a-lifetime stuff with these little gems so I don't want to spend an inordinate amount of time planted on my bottom in front of a big screen trying to duplicate the raw file alchemy that the cameras already do well as they create their own Jpegs from the raw material at the time of capture. So, no raw. Get it right in camera or just delete the offending mistakes before someone realizes that you (momentarily???) didn't have a clue as to what you were supposed to be doing. 

These cameras have small sensors so they aren't really my first choice for shooting in dungeons, in dim night clubs or out on the streets at night. They work best for shooting in bright light. The higher the EV the happier they are! And both cameras come complete with neutral density filters that can be switched on so you don't run out of shutter speed. I set the cameras for the lowest ISO possible and also switch in the ND filter when I'm shooting outside in the sun; that's because I like to use the f-stop that's just one stop down from wide open. With the G15 you'll mostly catch me working around f3.5 or f4.0. Anything smaller starts to deliver increasing doses of diffraction and anything wider doesn't seem as sharp to me. 

The meters in these cameras work pretty well but I'm loathe to depend on them, especially if it's hard in bright sun to check my work via chimping. That being the case I like to figure out the actual exposure based on the "sunny 16 rule," verify that this works by taking test shots and retreating to a shady spot or interior location to take a good look at the represented frames and the histograms and then setting my camera via the manual exposure controls. I find a setting that prevents highlight blow out and use it until the light changes or until I'm pointing the camera at something in totally different light. 

If I were to use the small cameras with a heightened sense of seriousness I would bring along a Hoodman loupe so I could "field check" the output while eliminating light contamination. But that sure messes up the ideal use of the cameras as small, light, highly portable and minimally noticeable tools...

Since manually setting exposures works so well I'm also all in on setting the WB manually. If I'm shooting in full sun, as I was in all the samples shown here it's just logical that all the color setting for the images should be exactly the same. I find that people who think older cameras have a "different look" are really responding to the reality that older automatic white balancing was not as sophisticated as it is in current cameras and they are mistaking inaccurate color metering with some color cast or rendering of images from older generation sensors. In the sample below (set at the "sun" pictogram in the WB menu) I find color that's a close match to my present generation of Fuji cameras when the Fuji cameras are set to the same WB preset. 

I use the flexizone metering which allows me to move the focusing sensor, but I never do. I keep it centered and move the camera to focus and then recompose. It's primitive and I'm sure your method of moving the AF point around until it's right over what you are interested in focusing on is much quicker more accurate but....my method works for me. Especially with a small sensor camera. 

I don't do much post production to the images. As I've written above, if I missed it I blame myself for sloppy technique and toss the shot into the virtual waste basket. Trying to apply mascara to a pig is not a pastime in which I'm interested. 

My initial interest in these G series point and shoot cameras from Canon was piqued when I got a G10 back in 2008 and subsequently read an article on Luminous Landscape in which the late Mr. Reichmann  wrote about shooting almost identically composed frames with a much larger format camera and also with the G10, made reasonably big prints and challenged pros and non-pros alike to figure out which prints camera from which camera....   Just the fact that the question was raised at all made me think that something was afoot there. I pressed my copy into service and used it for the majority of images in an illustrated book I wrote for Amherst Media. The images looked perfect as they were generally printed at less than 8.5 by 11 inches at 300 dpi. Most were half or quarter page sizes and I'd be hard pressed to tell which images came from a Canon 5D mk2 or the G10 in that context.

If I press one of the smaller cameras into service for a real job (which I do from time to time) it's probably a quick illustration of: A. Something that can be well light in the studio or is already well lit by the sun. B. Something that does not move so I can place the camera on a tripod, use exactly the right shutter speed and focus very meticulously. And, C. Something that I can shoot at the lowest ISO on the camera (80) for the best image quality. 

Done well these cameras can perform really wonderful feats of imaging. Used in a cavalier way they'll dive down to meet your lowest expectations. But really, that's on you. The more difficult a camera is to use the more you have to pay attention to technique. But you'll be rewarded by surprisingly good shots....except when you aren't.