A Production Photo from Zach Theater's "Klook and Vinette." A few different approaches to live theatre photography this week.

 ©2019 Kirk Tuck. All Rights Reserved.

I'm back at work this week and having fun. I photographed the technical rehearsal for a play at Zach Theatre yesterday (Sunday, April 21st) and it was a nice change from doing the big production plays on the main stage. This play is a two person piece that the theater is doing on their much smaller, cozier and more intimate Kleberg Stage, a theater I've worked in since my very first assignment to shoot photographs for the theater. 

Since the crew still needed to add some finishing touches to the stage set my brief was to concentrate on the actors and to get as many close shots as possible instead of getting our usual mix of wide, medium and tight shots. I was traveling light yesterday and I just packed in two Fuji X-H1 bodies and two lenses; the 16-55mm f2.8 and the 50-140mm f2.8. Both are great lenses which, on the X-H1 bodies, focus quickly, accurately and with a bit of authority. I tried shooting with both at around f4.0 for highest sharpness but never hesitated to drop down to f2.8 if the light was just too low. My ISO's ranged from 1,000 to 6,400; also dependent on the way each scene was lit. 

For me the new "magic bullet" for my live theater work is my formula for the color profiles. I've been using the Eterna profile which is very, very flat. I also set the highlights and the shadows to -2 which gives me more detail in the highlights and also "lifts" the shadows a bit. I set the sharpening to minus one and the noise reduction to minus one as well. I'm also shooting Jpeg so I'm letting the camera blend all of these settings for me before I even get to post production in Lightroom. 

When I open the files they are uniformly just a tad dark but I like that because I'm able to preserve all the infomation I want in the highlight areas. If you looked at the files I'm pulling into Lightroom you'd think they were a bit of a mushy mess but they are filled with the potential to do battle with the high prevailing lighting contrast of most stage lighting!!! I pull a representative file and get to work building an overall template that works for the most part with all the files I've shot this way. I pull up the exposure to get just the right levels (my taste) for flesh tones. I add a bit of contrast (maybe +10%) to put initial snap back into the files. Then it's the highlight slider which hangs in the range of minus 25 to minus 45. This allows for my increase in overall exposure without jeopardizing detail in white shirts, jackets or dresses. I pull up the shadow slider by +35 to +50 to open up additional detail in the shadows. The minus 1 for noise reduction in the camera helps keep files sharper while the minus 1 for sharpening keeps what noise there is from being accentuated in the baked in files. 

I use the "clarity" slider to add contrast back into the mid-tone areas and then, if the stage crew has been extra (too) generous with the fog machines on the stage I add in a bit of help from Lightroom's "haze" filter. The final touch it to bring the flat color back up to a snappier level of saturation with the vibrance slider. This is supposed to be better for shots with people in them than using the saturation slider because the vibrance control is set up to protect flesh tones whereas the saturation controls are indiscriminate. 

I tend to find an exposure/color balance for each flurry of action I want to capture and the shooting careful, slow bursts of 10 to 50 shots until I get exactly what I want. If nothing changes, lighting wise, over the duration of this short duration of action then I can apply the same settings to every image in the group with batch assignments (Sync Selected). Sometimes I can be consistent enough so that I'm only having to do ten or fifteen episodes of fine-tuning out of a group of over a thousand shots. On other days I'm not so lucky and I'm making small (or medium sized) tweaks to every ten or so files. 

Once I like the look of everything I export all into a Smugmug.com gallery at their largest resolution and with the lowest compression. Everything goes out as an sRGB file because, well, they just work for everything with a screen as a target and if someone needs to print them I'm very confident that the production crew at the theater know how to convert to different profiles. 

What I am doing differently tomorrow: I got a bunch of great "two shots" last night and I've already covered what's needed for public relations and advertising images so I'm giving myself some leeway to experiment a bit tomorrow. Instead of sitting down and close to center I've asked the stage manager to reserve five seats in the center of the top row in the center section. This will give me room to move a bit and even if I use the mechanical shutter on the camera the audience members are far enough to be out of my "audible splash zone." I'm moving up 12 or so rows so I can break out the Fujifilm 100-400mm zoom lens and try my luck making good compositions with greater compression. I'm planning on using the big lens and an X-H1 on a heavy duty Benro monopod to give me an extra bit of stabilization for the 90 minute long performance. It should be fun to practice with a lens that's still a bit foreign to me and I'm also planning to use it mostly wide open so I'll also be giving the camera's noise handling capabilities at ISO 6400 a trial by fire. 

I'll bring along the 16-55mm for those times when I want to grab full width stage shots and when I also want to include the lighting truss overhead. And, once again, I'll get the full set of a gear into a convenient to carry backpack. By the end of Wednesday morning I should have a better understanding of just how well longer zooms can work for live theater production shots. 

It's fun when stuff is (a tiny bit) outside my technical comfort zone; it generally means I'm learning something....

  ©2019 Kirk Tuck. All Rights Reserved.
  ©2019 Kirk Tuck. All Rights Reserved.
  ©2019 Kirk Tuck. All Rights Reserved.
  ©2019 Kirk Tuck. All Rights Reserved.
  ©2019 Kirk Tuck. All Rights Reserved.
  ©2019 Kirk Tuck. All Rights Reserved.
  ©2019 Kirk Tuck. All Rights Reserved.
  ©2019 Kirk Tuck. All Rights Reserved.
  ©2019 Kirk Tuck. All Rights Reserved.
  ©2019 Kirk Tuck. All Rights Reserved.
  ©2019 Kirk Tuck. All Rights Reserved.
 ©2019 Kirk Tuck. All Rights Reserved.


My non-verbal, non-literate, review of the Fuji 60mm f2.4 macro lens as a daylight, outdoor, good light shooting tool. No conclusion beyond what you can see when you blow these up.

 ©2019 Kirk Tuck. Austin, Texas Downtown.
  ©2019 Kirk Tuck. Austin, Texas Downtown.
  ©2019 Kirk Tuck. Austin, Texas Downtown.
  ©2019 Kirk Tuck. Austin, Texas Downtown.
  ©2019 Kirk Tuck. Austin, Texas Downtown.
  ©2019 Kirk Tuck. Austin, Texas Downtown.
  ©2019 Kirk Tuck. Austin, Texas Downtown.
  ©2019 Kirk Tuck. Austin, Texas Downtown.
  ©2019 Kirk Tuck. Austin, Texas Downtown.
  ©2019 Kirk Tuck. Austin, Texas Downtown.
  ©2019 Kirk Tuck. Austin, Texas Downtown.
  ©2019 Kirk Tuck. Austin, Texas Downtown.
  ©2019 Kirk Tuck. Austin, Texas Downtown.
 ©2019 Kirk Tuck. Austin, Texas Downtown.

Sleep walking beside Fifth Street. A humorous essay on the wearisome duality of modern existence in a populous city where no one is outside.

In a more serious artery, this was my experiment in using Fuji's flat, "Eterna" color profile. It's one they suggest for video production, taking the place of an even flatter F-Log profile for people who don't have the time or inclination to learn how to grade in Premier or Final Cut Pro (or Resolve...). I also gilded the lily by using the DR +200 and +400 settings which are supposed to increase highlight retention by one or two stops. Before I color corrected them you could see so far into the shadows that it as if you painted all the interior spaces stark white. But flat is boring so I added back some needed contrast and popped up the saturation just a bit. And here we are; back where we started....

Camera: Fuji X-H1. 60mm Macro lens. Jpeg. Eterna. 
Photographer: Self-Propelled. 

Napping Near the Kitchen. An Enthrotopic Dissection of Post-Industrial, Post-Techno-dustrial, Cultural Dysphoria Mapped to Benton-esque Layerscaped Flattening Poems.

Peanut Butter and Jelly in a Post Apocalyptic Funk. Sink-Situated.
Rendered onto archival nano-acute pixels.

This one was difficult for me. To show the entire apparatus seemed too obvious
but I wanted to show enough jakondiscity to engage the sympathetic resonance of 
suburban essentialism and render it licorice. So much punctum. 

The brutalism of crushed and segmented fora pressed into
unwelcome and unethical debasement for the sybaritic pleasure of 
caffeine addicts causes the mind to reel and fabricates 
ripples in our shared cultural ethos. 

Towels for wiping mud off the dog's paws when she comes in the back door. 
"Repudiating the flatness of our two dimensional canvas of photography. And our one dimensional understanding of its potential." 

Thank you to manifesto writers everywhere. 
My application to Magnum is now in the mail.

Wake up. Swim. Photograph.

©2012 Kirk Tuck. "Noellia."

I'm still trying to get back in shape after that rotten cold and cough I lived through the last few weeks. The weather is helping by delivering beautiful mornings. I hate not feeling physically fit so I've been hitting the pool and the hike and bike trail every day. I've also cut out any trash food until I'm back to 100%. (So sad. I'd love a big plate of Tex-Mex food for lunch....).

I got up early this morning, parked the car at the pool and jogged down to the lake to run the four mile loop. I can barely claim to have run since I doubt I broke 12 minutes for any one of the four miles even though I was huffing and puffing. I finished the run back at the pool, grabbed my swim gear, showered off, and made it into the pool in time for the 8:15 workout. We did some distance this morning. The total workout was around 3200 yards; a couple of miles. The interesting two sets in the middle of the workout were: Six 100s, alternating by 100s, freestyle and individual medley. Then a set of 50s, alternating by 50s between freestyle swimming and then kicking with a kick board. Hitting the same interval for the kicks as for the freestyle swim meant really moving one's ass during the kicks. Even then it was pretty much touch and go.

I like to take my blood pressure, once a week or so, after a longer workout set so after I came home and ate breakfast and made a decent cup of coffee I sat down in my favorite chair and used the little automatic blood pressure tester. 118 over 66. I'll take it. I chalk up the decent numbers to finally getting a couple good nights sleep in a row.

Now I'm heading out the door to take some photographs for no good reason other than my own entertainment. I'm playing with the Fuji X-H1 and I'm currently fascinated with seeing just how far I can extend the dynamic range of the system in Jpeg. I'm using what is quickly becoming one of my favorite color profiles: Eterna. Today I'm using that profile but I'm also tossing in the 200% and 400% settings on the DR feature. Ostensibly, I'll be able to increase highlight retention by one or two stops but will most likely have to re-map the files in PhotoShop. Lens choice of the day? 60mm f2.4 macro.

While I'm pretty clear about how and why to get back into shape I am having, for the first time in ages, trouble getting motivated to really apply myself to the business side of life. I'm feeling a bit paralyzed. I know I should be calling on clients, doing routine promotions and working the social media smarter and harder but I'm just not feeling it. 

It may be I'm ultimately just emotionally fatigued by taking care of my dad, and by extension the rest of my family. It may be that the work just feels repetitive and some of the fun slipped out when I wasn't looking. It may mean that I'm looking for something new to challenge me. The worst thing I can think is that I've done so much stuff I've worn myself down and just want to step away from commercial work for a while. 

I guess that's not as bad as I imagine it could be. At some point, if you've followed good advice from your wealth managers and estate planners you should have enough cash flow to take long breaks. But it's foreign territory for me. I'm used to being busy, and at least marginally engaged. It feels odd to have lost motivation. I guess that's the next problem on which to work....

I'm feeling lazy hanging around the house with Studio Dog. Ben and Belinda are both working full tilt at their jobs downtown. Life is weird.


Hanging out on the ranch.

Experience tells us that some days are best spent on a quiet ranch, away from the random chaos of life and commerce. A few thousand acres of private land seems to be a nice cure for too much social media. Spend it with an interesting singer/songwriter and a camera and it's like a mini-vacation for the mind. 

I only wish the resident chef had not taken the day off...

Best lighting value of the week and then most fun light of the week. Kirk's pick.

I had two projects this week and I enjoyed them both very much. On each project I used the same two lights. One is very sensible and very economical and, if it had been on the flash market ten or fifteen years ago it would have demanded a thousand dollar price tag and been a piece of "kit" coveted by legions of working professional photographers.

The other light is by no means a lavish or silly tool to have a around but since it's battery powered it fits into a different set of production niches. Both lights come from the same company. It's called, Godox.

I've probably mentioned the first light before but I'm bringing it up again because it worked well and made the photo shoot easier for me. It's a Godox SK400 II. This is a traditional monolight, plug-in-the-wall, Bowen's mount, electronic flash. It's got a nice metal body, a 150 watt modeling light, a built-in cooling fan (not too noisy), it puts out a good amount of power and is rated at 400 watt seconds. The ad copy says it uses robust, European standard capacitors, is controllable by several different Godox 2.4 gHz wireless controllers and recycles, at max output, at around 1 second. All-in-all, unless you are a total gadget freak, it's pretty much everything one would want in a studio electronic flash; if 400 watt seconds is enough power for your needs.

I bought it a month of so ago when I was prepping to do a shoot on a dark stage and needed my two main flashes to have modeling lights so I could actually see what we would be photographing. On Tuesday I needed to put a main light in a small (2x3 foot) soft box, then drape the soft box all the way around the business end with black cloth, to form a ersatz snoot; and then I needed to hang the whole assemblage up on a boom and tall C-stand, with the face/flashtube pointing straight down. So, pretty much, I had the electronic flash totally encapsulated and I had the heat generating parts of the flash at the bottom so the heat could rise through the rest of the unit. Not the smartest way to ensure long life with flash circuits but sometimes it's what the photo demands.

With the flash up about twelve feet in the air and the control panel of the flash inches from the ceiling it's unreasonable to think that I could operate this assemblage via that rear control panel. Instead, I used a X1-F wireless flash controller to adjust the SK400 II power output from camera position. I put the big flash on group A and the secondary flashes on groups B and C.

We shot about 250 shots over the course of one hour in this configuration, with the modeling light set to full output, and every frame was perfectly consistent. Both for color and for exposure. I've owned many Profoto (Swedish premium lighting company) and Elinchrom (Swiss premium lighting company) flashes and this Godox unit was as consistent as anything I've come across. And, after all, consistency and reliability are the top two attributes one wants in electronic flash gear. So, the cost of this unit, not on Amazon but at my local bricks and mortar camera shop, was a whopping $140. New. In the box. With a reflector, power cord, flash tube cover and various owner's manuals. Compare that to the last Profoto 300 watt second monolight I bought nearly ten years ago at over $1200 and you'll understand why I'm so impressed with this unit. You could outfit a working studio with three good, strong lights for less than $500. Amazing.

The fun light is, of course, the Godox AD200 and all the bits and pieces that you can buy for yours. I used it one day this week as part of the overall light design, in conjunction with my swaddled SK 400 II. The AD200 is battery powered, small and light. I put a grid spot on the front and put it just out of frame for our shot and used its tight beam to add just the barest amount of fill to the bottom of our frame. I've covered the AD 200 before so I won't go into all the features, benefits and specs but I will say that it's a great light to use out on location. I can carry two, with accessories, in one small Pelican case and, with the right trigger, also get them to work well in HSS mode. Add a small soft box or octobox and a couple of light stands and you can make outdoor location portraits all day long with very good results.

Having good, cheap, agile lights to play with makes the jobs go quicker and keeps the fun quotient a bit higher.

I used the same two lights the next day to do a portrait of a radiologist in the studio.  I used the SK400 II with a 48 inch octa-box and I used the AD200 as a background light. The AD200 accepts a dome modifier over its circular flash head and it provided very even exposure on

Godox AD200.

the background. A quick set up and a very consistent group of portrait images! The color between the two units is a close match as well.

The cameras did what they were supposed to do and they were connected to an Atomos monitor for quick and easy evaluation by clients. But having lights that work well and with a big degreee of flexibility is a very nice thing. Now I just need to make sure I've always got a handful of double A batteries sitting around for the wireless trigger.

We've got quite a few flashes now. I'll have to stop buying new ones or I'll run out of cabinet space and we'll have them all over the floor..... but it's always better to have a dozen too many that one too few.....


Taking a break today from having opinions about photograpy.

A friend told me today that his Instagram account had been hacked. This started us down the path of trying to understand just why we continue to post things on social media. He's been a long time user of Twitter and he's decided to close that account in August this year, it will be the tenth anniversary of his interaction with the platform. Last year I made the determination that I was wasting too much time on Facebook and I deleted that account. What my friend said to me was, I think, prescient. He said, "I've never made a cent posting all that stuff. The only place where people pay attention and where that attention is sometimes connected with someone who has the ability and willingness to write me a check is on LinkedIn. If I post something relevant to my business there I sometimes get great responses. Every other avenue of social media, at best, just delivers a parsimonious dose of dopamine, and then only if someone leaves a comment about my "contribution." 

I thought of my own Twitter account which languishes with the same follower count from month to month= 253. Why do I bother to post stuff on Twitter? Certainly it's not a practical place for clients to find photographers or videographers. And it's filled with too much politics and negative content. I hope I remember tomorrow that I want to delete that account as well. I'd eliminate my Instagram account but for the fact that a famous curator dropped by and "liked" a handful of my work, as did one of my favorite creative directors....

I know why I started this blog back in 2009 but for the life of me I don't know why I keep pounding away at it today. The books I wrote were my original impetus for starting the Visual Science Lab; I wanted to help market them, but they have all entered the "long tail" death rattle of declining sales and I don't have the energy or desire to revise any of them. At one time I thought I might market workshops but I looked around realized that the people who were doing workshops were the ones not doing the actual, real world or fine art work and I made the choice to pursue commercial clients, fees and usage instead.

I worked on a great job yesterday. It went quickly. My lighting design was exactly what the client wanted. The art director and the traffic manager of the advertising agency both wrote e-mails to me today to tell me how happy everyone is with the (singular) photograph. I am basking in the glow of a job I did well and enjoyed putting together. For today, at least, the photographic world can take care of itself. I'll start dismantling the less productive piece of my social media memberships tomorrow...

For the foreseeable future I'll keep posting to this blog. You might not like the new content but then again you've never paid me for it either.
I do know that I really like the colors in the two photographs here. I'd put them on Instagram but it's starting to feel so gratuitous.

I appreciated Andrew Molitor's take on the Notre Dame fire. Go check his writing out on PhotoThunk.