Kinda of getting paid but still asking for lots of people to work for free. Seems a bit mercenary to me.

Deep background:  Written after two assistants called me to talk about "offers" they'd received soliciting free labor.  The offers were from working photographers either doing personal projects or projects for which they would be paid or benefit from indirectly.

I keep seeing tweets and posts and other stuff wherein ostensibly working photographers are putting out the call to Attract/get free assistants.  They want people to stand around for a full day in the stinking hot sun to shoot second camera, video camera, behind the scenes camera or  to provide some other function in the service of the photographer's project.  The dodge is that they are justifying the "free" ask by claiming the process will be: fun, educational, a way to garner potential work experience/resume fodder or (the most disingenuous) a way to participate in an innovative social networking event.  The final argument might also be:  "Hey!  I'm not getting paid (directly) for this either!"

Let's break it down:  If a photographer with decades of experience is doing a project big enough that it requires multiple assistants (and even more so, anonymous assistants) he is doing it with the expectation that there will be a payoff of one kind or another, for him, down the road.  If it is true that he is not currently getting paid perhaps he will be willing to pay you by giving you a percentage of his take when, and if, the project does become profitable down the road.

For a project to be "fun" it would have to be challenging, entertaining, comfortable and leave you with good memories.  Perhaps you can't have all the things on my list but you should expect a combination of some of them.  It might be intriguing to learn how to hold a light stand in a brisk wind but I think the fun value might be more like......five minutes.  Not eight hours.  Will the volunteer opportunity be catered?  Or will you be expected to be delighted with a bottle of Ozarka water and an out of date PowerBar?

For a project to be a learning opportunity it would need to include time for you to observe the process, unencumbered by volunteer work.  And there would have to be something to learn.  Perhaps the lesson is: "How to take advantage of people who want to be in a creative occupation so badly that they'll work against their own enlightened self interest."

Ah.  The resume.  I started working as a full time professional photographer in 1988.  That's 24 solid years of good and bad experience.  In all that time I've never had a client request to see a resume.  A portfolio of my own work....yes.  A resume?  No.   I thought I might be an anomaly so I asked around.  Nope.  No other working photographer keeps a resume on tap.  Doesn't come up.

Oh goodness.  The chance to participate in a social networking experience!  I thought these only happened in Paris, Los Angeles and Tokyo (sarcasm served up piping hot...).  I heard  from a professional rep who went to a talk given by a photographer who has probably donated/thrown away/wasted/spent more time on social networking, tweeting and other forms of "Hi!  I'm here.  This is what I'm thinking about right now.  Look at this link!  Please remember me?!"  The rep asked the world famous social networker point blank:  "How many paying projects have you gotten from all the time you've spent doing this?"  The honest answer?  "TWO."

So, next time you are asked to do a job get a bit mercenary (take care of yourself first) and ask, "What's in this for me?"  If you want to ask a lofty question you could always try, "How will this project move our industry forward?"  And if you are totally pragmatic you could always ask, "What's in this for you?....and how do I get some of it."

Remember that the barriers to entry are about an inch high when it comes to technology and working with the photo gear.  Learning to do a one inch high hurdle shouldn't be a lot of leverage in exchange for a day of your valuable Spring season time.  The only other product of most creative products is the expression of creative vision.....but I can almost guarantee you that it won't be your vision in the project and few people have found a quick way to teach in depth creativity.  In other words....go into any volunteer project with your eyes open and an understanding of what everyone stands to gain.

You might find the weekend to be more enjoyable hanging with beautiful friends, taking fun images and relaxing around a pool.  I get being a volunteer for the Red Cross.  For Bob's Photo Hut Inc.?  Not so much.

85mm 1.4 Zeiss ZE Rocks for me.

It was a long, happy day yesterday.  I spent my morning and part of the early afternoon at St. Gabriel's School here in Austin taking photographs for their marketing and "look book."  I photographed young students with their older mentors, kids learning, drawing, playing, looking at Texas snakes and even playing under a giant colorful parachute.  It was a good job.  One that moved fast.  One that actually made good use of my ability to direct kids and teachers.  As soon as I wrapped that job I headed back to the world headquarters of the VisualScienceLab and headed into the top secret lab to download around 1500 raw files I'd shot.  I used three different cameras, including:  The Canon 5Dmk2, the Canon 60D and the Canon 1Dmk2N.  I used several Canon L zooms but my favorite lens of the morning was the Zeiss 85mm 1.4.  The images I shot with it seemed to have a sparkle and a snap that's more elusive to capture with the zooms.

So, after downloading the files and checking for any issues, and after recharging the batteries for all the cameras I got to packing for my next job, my service as the volunteer photographer for the mighty Rollingwood Waves swim team.  It was a hot day.  The meet started at 5pm.  I'd been trying to cover everything at previous meets and had been hauling around two 1D series cameras along with a 24-105mm L lens and a 70-200mm L lens.  I wanted to change up everything and in the process change my point of view for the rest of the afternoon.  To do that I committed to one lens and one camera body and headed to the pool.  I chose to work with the morning's winning combination:  The 1Dmk2n + Zeiss 85mm 1.4.  I have the 1Dmk2n fitted with a split image rangefinder screen that's optimized for manual focus and it works very, very well.  Especially in bright sun.

The pool area was packed.  There were 180+ swimmers on our team and over 200 swimmers on the Westwood Country Club team.  Add in three hundred or so parents and coaches and you have quite a big crowd.  Our pool has electronic timing and we tend to run a fast meet but even so it took nearly an hour and a half just to run thru the 25 and 50 yard freestyle events.  Heat after heat.  In the heat.
Instead of shooting the swimming action I spent the day photographing the kids.  And, in the process, remembered the things I love about the 85mm Zeiss lens.  It's great to work in close and to be able to drop backgrounds out with luscious, soft transitions.  When focused correctly on peoples' eyes there is a sparkle that gives images extra dimension.  The focal length on the 1D camera equals about a 113mm lens on a full frame 35mm camera so I can fill a frame with a person's head and not be right on top of them.  The Zeiss lens isn't necessarily sharper than the 85mm Canon lens I had been using but it seems cleaner and, for want of a better word, more "accurate" to the way the scenes look to my eyes.  But the snap and the sparkle is the thing.  I uploaded these files in a larger size than I usually do so you could click on them and see a much larger image. Note the detail in the boy's eyes above.  I may not be putting what I'm seeing in words very well but maybe the image will show you what I mean....

There's a distinct operational advantage to working with one lens and one body.  It's easier to get into a shooting rhythm because you start to anticipate, well before you bring the camera to your eye, what will be in the frame and how the background will most probably look.  That's a cool thing because you begin previsualizing how your shots might look instead of bringing a camera and zoom lens up to your eye and then zooming around hoping to find a workable composition.  I've always thought that the fewer choices I have to (or can) make the more powerful the photos.

 After my experiences last Sunday trying to photograph Suzan-Lori Parks in a dark rehearsal studio I was a bit nervous about my ability to quickly manually focus with autofocus based cameras.  I guess the morning's working session helped me get my focusing eye back in shape because there were very few missed in the afternoon's take.  I stayed at apertures around f2.8.  Sometimes playing with f2 and occasionally messing around with 3.5 but never stopping down past that.  If someone goes out of focus in the background then that's how the art was meant to be.  I know the Canon 5Dmk2 is supposed to have much better IQ than the three generations older 1Dmk2n but I like the way the older camera shortens the reaction time and fires with much less shutter or system lag.  And I am convinced that, for the most part, the inherent quality in both cameras still exceeds my abilities to extract it.  The 85mm lens gets me closer to my goal.

I'm happy with the images I got for the might Rollingwood Waves.  And I'm glad I was only carrying around one camera and one fixed lens.  The part of my brain that usually has to keep track of which zoom is on which body and which one would be best to shoot in a given situation got to take a rest.  And I found out just how much system resources that constant set of subroutines demands.  Freed of largely unnecessary decision making the rest of my brain could spend time analyzing the scenes in front of me and figuring out how to fit them into a fixed construct.  It was like working a with a reduced instruction set computation.  More a+b= photo than a convoluted equation with lots of variables and multiple correct answers.

Next weekend, at one of our saturday morning swim meets I'm going to bring along a 300 2.8 and shoot some video.  We'll see if that makes it into our end of the year slide show.  Big fun.  Cool water.



I read a ton of books every year.  A lot of them are like fine dinners.  You spend some real cash on them, you read them and then the experience is gone.  You're left with a memory of the way it tasted and not much more.  And then there are some books that come slamming back into your psyche without the least conscious provocation.  And they become part of your personal operating system.  Or at least the content you gleaned did.  Here are ten that I keep at hand either for reference or inspiration.  Some I keep for nostalgia and the fact that they act like time machines and give me a sense of temporal balance.

1.  The War of Art.  By Steven Pressfield.  Given the number of times I've recommended this book on this forum you would think that I was getting a percentage of the royalties but sadly that's not true.  It's just that this book is good for what ails you.  It's the kind of book that you read one time and it changes you.  You read it again because you need to move your game forward.  And this is not a photography book per se.  It's aimed at anyone who needs to start a painting, a business, a project or a process but feels paralyzed by procrastination.  It should save you about.......a year of your life.

2.  Janson's History of Art.  By various, including Dr. Penelope J.E. Davies, who teaches at UT Austin and is a work of art herself.  It's a fool who barrels on a path without looking at a map.  In art the map is Art History.  Study this book and you'll be able to speak intelligently the next time the asshole in the next cube says something like, "What a crock!  My three year old could paint that!!!"  And an understanding of 20 centuries of work that came before yours might even give you some valuable perspective.

3.  The History of Photography.  By Beaumont Newhall.  An additional book, that covers more of the last half of the 20th Century is A World History of Photography.  By Naomi Rosenblum.  Do you know about Group 64?  The Photo Secessionists?  J. Holland Day? The New Documentarians?  and all the people who did this well long before we had our sweaty hands wrapped around the fake leather skin of our favorite Nikon or Canon?  These two books and one by Helmut Gernsheim will go a long way toward filling in the gap.  It's not enough just to know who stated "Moore's Law."

4.  Any book by Elliot Erwitt.  You might start with:  Dogs.  And then work your way thru the whole catelog of books.  Along with his inspiration, Henri Cartier Bresson,  he helped create and mold what we consider to be street photography today.  His work is humorous and rich.  And he's still alive and it would be great if he got to play with some of the royalties before it's too late.  And he's so damn good.

5.  The Hemingway Reader.  Hemingway was a friend to many famous photographers and was himself the subject of many wonderful editorial portraits.  His stories are like rich photo essays and his short stories are like perfectly composed verbal snapshots.  When the world seems to weird and I want to feel something I grab my Hemingway reader and go to his classic short story, A Clean, Well Lighted Place, and I read every work.  It's inspires me to go out and try again.  It's all classic.  It's all good.  And if you don't like Hemingway I don't really want to know.

6. Speedliter's Handbook: Learning to Craft Light with Canon Speedlights.  For years Canon shooters worked with the idea hanging over their heads that Nikon's flash technology was light years ahead.  That no one could shoot decent flash images on automatic with any Canon speedlight.  We were second class rapid photonic citizens.  Then along came Syl Arena to free us.  And he taught us that TTL could work with Canon.  That we could controls those Speedlite beasts.  That we had the power to go toe to toe with Nikonians and retain our professional pride.  His book was also a wake up call to all the "fluff" books on the market.  With over 350 pages of dynamic fury he created and presented a "no holds barred" and encyclopedic tome that demystified the process of being good with flash.  I have a copy.  No, you can't borrow it.

7.  Best Business Practices for Photographers.  By John Harrington.  Harrington's no wimp when it comes to the business of doing the photography business and you shouldn't be either.  This is the go to book to understand the paperwork, and more importantly, the theory behind the paperwork.  Here's deal:  Clients want to save money but they NEED good images for their businesses.  It's their job to try to balance those two desires.  Our job, as photographers, it to get the real value of our work and not flip over like a submissive dog and just hand over the whole candy store for less than the cost of a Snickers Bar.  Don't avoid learning this stuff.  You'll damage your ability to earn a living and you'll leave a dirty campground for the next gen of campers.  If you'd like a softer intro with more focus on marketing you can always give my business book a go.  It's called, Commercial Photography Handbook, and it's a nice overview/intro to the business.  A good warm-up for John's book.  Which sits on the corner of my desk.  All the time.

8.  Richard Avedon Autobiography.  One of the most important books about one of the most important photographers of the twentieth century, and perhaps of all time.  If you've just seen small Avedon photos on the web or in little magazine spreads you should see his work in galleries and museums.  He was amazingly bright and literate and took the glossy nostalgia off traditional photography and replaced it with insanely powerful visual energy.  This book is a chronicle from his earliest work up to the 1980's.  Once a year I grab this heavyweight volume and sit in a comfy chair and go thru it.  I walk away amazed by his energy and how much his work resonates in everything we see in this century.  And I walk away chastened that I will never have the maniacal focus it takes to excel at just one thing.  His vision was so consistent.  His intellect so pervasive.  Everything else seems like a 60 watt light bulb.  On a dimmer switch.  In a bad lampshade.   Get the book.

9.  The Elements of Style. We used to be a somewhat literate nation.  Now? Not so much.  People have a vague understanding of grammar and proper word usage.  Much the same way that the guys at the coffee shop understand circuit design.  But writing well is a powerful tool for business and an even more powerful tool for moving thru the elements of society with whom we aspire to hang.   This is a short book and easy to read.  It teaches you the proper way to use our English language.  Even the people who went to "Uni" (God, I hate that abbreviation!!!!!!) will get more out of it than they think.  Once read you'll seem brighter and more promotable. More interesting to talk to.  A joy to receive letters from.  Come on.  You read the book about how to program your own flash website, I'm sure you'd like the "About me" section to read well.  Right? Here's the manual.

10.  Still Life: Irving Penn Photographs. 1939-2000.   This is a toss up with Irving Penn Portraits.  I'm generally lukewarm about landscape photography and still life but the images in the still life book are incredible and seem to set the foundation for the next forty years of advertising still life and imagery.  The portraits are classic Penn portraits that celebrate the power of shadow and the power of light equally.  A contemporary of Penn in these kinds of portraits was Victor Skrebneski who work I also like very much.  His approach to portraits was/is unique but softer than Penn's vision.  At any rate, I always learn something when I sit down with the books.

If you are struggling to make a career of photography and can only afford one book then be sure to get John Harrington's business book.  If you are comfortable in another career and you want to go deeper with your own vision you couldn't do better than getting the Janson's History of Art book.  It all starts there.  Now I have to go.  There's short story by Salinger I wanted to read before I head off to photograph today's swim meet.  Did I mention it's 95 degrees (F) here already?  Maybe just one camera today......


As I do more and more video LED's seem more and more important.

 I've been doing more and more video projects and I've come to really appreciate the role of LED's in my lighting tool kit.  I remember the bad old days of video when sensors were barely able to scrap by at ISO equivalents of 80 and 100 without noisy gain and the solution was to bring is lights.  Big lights.  Hot lights.  And if you wanted to do something nice with the light, like pop it thru a scrim you needed even bigger (and hotter) lights.

Now the working methodology is different.  We do a bit of jujitsu with lighting.  We let available light reign and fill in around the edges and we use more efficient and much cooler LED's to fill in, add direction to the light and generally even things out to match the range of the current cameras.

The top image of Noellia Hernandez (now a famous New York theater actor) was taken in the studio as a test for my upcoming book on LED lighting for Amherst Media.  A lot of people trash talk the color quality of LED's and while I'll admit it takes a tiny bit more finesse in PhotoShop or Lightroom there's really nothing you can't do with the better LED light panels when it comes to correct color.

The next three photographs were taken at Fair Bean coffee shop here in Austin.  The second photo from the top shows the placement of a small 160 bulb LED panel on a stand adding some fill to the scene.  Directly behind the light is a big open window.  As you can see in the photo just below the set up shot, the color matching with ambient light is pretty darn good.  Just a touch of fill to make the shots work the way I wanted them to.

 When I'm shooting video I'm mostly using ambient light but there's always the need to add just a little more fill.  Or to add direction to the light.  What I love about working with small and medium sized panels is how convenient they are to place (they have so little front to back depth) and how easy it is to dial up or dial down the levels to match the look I want.  Most of the time I can see the effect I want directly by eye.  Sometimes I'll roll a little test footage just to play it back and make sure that what I'm seeing translates to what the sensors sees.  Either way there's no color shift as I dial up
and down.  I can't say that about any of the strobes I own and I certainly can't say that about conventional hot lights.  I recently went on location to a medical clinic to shoot.  Most of the scene was top lit by florescents and it was okay but I really needed to fill in the shadows as the doctor leaned over a patient in an exam chair.  I did what all the guys always tell you not to do.  I put an LED light directly on the camera and used it as a direct fill.  In that case and in the case of Noellia in the very bottom image, I used the little ring light I talked about on this blog about a month ago.
 I paid $39 for mine, it takes two double "A" batteries and it worked like a charm.  The only way it would have worked better would have been to include a control to vary the output.

In the photos where Noellia is wearing a white coat, just outside the coffee shop, the top one is filled with a panel just behind camera, dialed way down and the second one is lit by a panel just to the side. You can see how the light sculpts her face.  It was good not to rely only on the flat light bouncing all over the place.
The light also tends to clean up the image by adding additional light and a bit warmer color to the scene overall.

Finally,  I included a shot that's pretty close up and filled with the small ring LED on the lens.  Two things I like are the filled shadows and the catchlights in the eyes.  When working close like this with a fixed source you set the exposure based on getting a little closer or a little further away until you get the balance between the on camera light and the ambient light.  Further away gets you less snap and less fill while getting closer makes you stop down (or increase shutter speed) to compensate for the subject to light distance and that makes the background darker.  Thank you inverse square law.

I've noticed that most people are reticent to change.  But once change starts to happen it's no longer a long graceful curve.  Now, when we get to a tipping point everyone seems to capitulate and move to the new technology simultaneously.  Witness the iPad.
Two years ago I didn't have a single LED panel or Ringlight in my
 collection of lighting tools.  Now I can't imagine not having them.  I don't use them all the time.  They aren't economically at the point where you have the power to challenge the sun for mid-Summer fill light.  But in the studio, especially for still life, and for the kinds of open aperture portraits I like to do I now find them indispensable.

I recently saw two lights from Fotodiox that I really want.  One is a variation of the 1000 LED bulb panel I already own but it has two sets of LEDs and can by using them in concert can be varied in color temperature between 3200K and 5,500K.  And the steps between the two are, for all intents and purposes, infinite.  It can also run on battery packs.  The other is a smaller, battery powered version with 312 bulbs that is portable enough to be used on camera or stuffed into a camera bag as a back up.

Kind of fun to realize that the future is here how.  Tomorrow I'll be shooting fast in a school.  That little panel might be just right......


Portraits should be about the person portrayed, not the technique.

It's hard to make an honest portrait if you are using your subject as a canvas upon which to paint some trendy technique.  Taking a cue from my friend, Don Giannatti,  I think your lighting and shooting should be "subject-centric;" meaning that the lighting and camera-work take their cues from the subject itself.

The portrait above is of Belinda and I'm sure I was shooting this for two reasons.  First,  I just adore her and I'm always trying to create a better portrait of her.  Secondly, I'm just as sure I was trying out a lighting style in anticipation of some upcoming assignment.

This is a classic "one light" portrait.  I'm not afraid of stepping on Zack Arias "One Light" trademark because this particular piece was done long before he picked up a camera.  (Hint, hint:  It's all been done before.  The content is all that counts....)  I used a very large scrim panel directly to the right of Belinda and as close in as I could get it without showing the edge of the panel frame.  When I say large I mean four feet by six feet large.  I used one big strobe head with a large, magnum reflector about eight feet behind the screen to yield an even light spread on the white diffusion cloth.  The light was set at a level equal to the top of the scrim frame and angled down.  I wanted the light to drop off from the top of the scrim to the bottom.  I used black flags to keep spill light from the flash off the background and the foreground.

I used a black panel to the opposite side for some "subtractive" fill.  A funny way of saying I was trying to keep light from bouncing off the far wall and adding to much fill light to my wonderfully dramatic shadows.

The background was far enough behind Belinda (twelve or fifteen feet) to drop out of focus because of the limited depth of field that resulted from the use of a long, medium format lens used at f5.6.

I can't imagine trying to convey the sweet and calm aspect of Belinda with a combination of hard beauty dish lights, glancing side lights and brash hair lighting.  Nor can I imagine doing complicated things with the background when all I really want to do is focus on her beautiful eyes.  Indeed, the lighting should be used in the service of pulling your vision of your subject into existence.

When you start working on different styles it's a good idea to figure out what you want to convey and why.  Once you get those two things figured out everything else seems to fall into place.

Update on the painting show:  I have tentatively sold my first painting.  It's the one of the coffee cup with wings on a red background.  It's a lot of fun having a silly show of paintings up.  I seem to be having extra coffee just so I can see how people react to the work.  If you'd like to see the paintings in person (fly on down from New York, I'll buy you a cup of coffee....) they are on display at the local Starbucks.  Address: 3300 Bee Caves Rd. Ste 250, Austin, Texas 78746.  (implied smiley face icon).

update:  I changed a few things on my website.  Would you mind taking a look?  http://www.kirktuck.com


Performing for a crowd. Shooting tethered and presenting directly.

I gave a series of workshops at three different  colleges last month for the MAC Group, who represent Profoto in the U.S.A.  In each city and at each school I ran thru a portrait set up to show students not "the right way" to light a portrait but "my way" of lighting a portrait.  And those can be two wildly different things.  I shot all of the build up and tests tethered to a MacBook Pro so the students could gather around and see both where to lights were in relation to each other and also what effect the final assemblage created when shot and processed thru to the screen.  Kinda like working without a safety net....

The image above was part of a discussion about depth of field, fill light and shadow as well as the advantages of using continuous light for effects.  To look over the last ten years of photography one would think that portraits can only be captured with flash.  The shot above was done with an older Profoto tungsten fixture in a beauty dish with a Westcott FastFlag as an additional diffuser.  No flashes were triggered in the making of this image.

Since I was only trying to fill a computer screen with each image I chose to use the Canon 1Dmk2N as my shooting camera.  It's eight megabyte files are more easily digested and regurgitated by the tethering software and the firewire connection is faster than the more recent USB2 connections. This image was done with a Zeiss 85mm 1.4 lens nearly wide open.  It's a good example for students of the concept of limited depth of field.

My model is long time friend, Park Street III, who is both a working professional photographer and the professional sales representative at Precision Camera in Austin.  The poor guy sat thru my lecture five times in three days and must have sat in as a test subject for over 1,000 exposures.  My hat is off to Park.  He turned what could have been a few days of "hey look at these products sitting on a table" into a fun series of animated and interactive workshops.  In the end I think he'll sell a few Profoto monolights to faculty and students but, judging on how many questions we got about using modifiers, and Westcott FastFlags in particular, I'm going to bet those are the items that fly off the shelves.

The workshops were a big refresher for me and the students and faculty seemed to really enjoy them.  I just came across the image folder while I was cleaning up my laptop.  I liked this somber image of Park.

Now, I rarely use my blog to sell someone else's services but I'm going to go out on a limb and recommend that you call Park at www.Precision-Camera.com 512-467-7676 and get him to bid on your next lighting or camera purchase, and here's why!!!!!!

You probably noticed prices go up on Canon, Nikon and other top Japanese prices at all your favorite online dealers.  Some by large percentages.  It comes close to profiteering but in most senses new cameras aren't "life and death" purchases like food and heating fuel.  But it's enough to piss people off.  At the same time the staff and owners of Precision decided not to raise prices on their inventory.   As a result they now have prices that are LOWER than nearly every other big time dealer in the country.  And that's something that should be rewarded.

They are great to deal with and they even had some hot Canon products in stock last time I checked.

I am not affiliated with the store but I sometimes teach workshops thru them.  I don't receive any kickbacks or compensation from them.  They are not linked on my site as an affiliate.  I'm just saying that if you've decided to pull the trigger on something fun for the gear inventory you might save yourself some time and money if you give Park a call.  And maybe he'll return the favor by being the test subject for your next workshop.......