Photo of Ben working diligently at his computer back in 2000.

Like millions of families before us we've come to that time when we are looking at colleges and universities for Ben. He'll be graduating from high school at the end of May and we're anxious to make some final choices. I was thinking about that today when I came across a little, black and white 4x6 inch print (above).  Tempus Fugit !!!

I still have the blueberry MacBook. It still works. 


Hanging out in Austin? Go have dinner at Garrido's.

Here's my favorite current chef photo. I took David's photo for his restaurant's web site. In fact, I took all the images on the website. If you can't make it for a great Mexican style dinner at least drop by the website and look at my portrait of David:



Charles Allen Wright by Kirk Tuck for Private Clubs Magazine.

This is an image of Charles Allen Wright, a very famous Texas Lawyer. I shot it in his office at the University of Texas at Austin Law School. I used several different cameras on my editorial photo assignment but this image is from a Rolleiflex twin lens camera with a 2.8 Planar lens.

The camera could shoot twelve images on a roll. 

I used an old, manual, Vivitar 285 flash in a small white umbrella. 

I connected it with a cable because we didn't have inexpensive radio slaves at the time.

In a strange role reversal my most important mentor, Wyatt McSpadden, came along with me as my assistant. 

After we finished up we headed back to the studio to unload and I went into the darkroom and developed the ten shot rolls of 120 film from the shoot.

I made contact sheets and sent them, via Federal Express, to the magazine. 

The art director at the magazine circle one image and sent that contact sheet back.

I printed three or four variations of the image on fiber based, double weight paper and sent the resulting prints back to the art director via Federal Express. 

The image ran as a half page illustration in the magazine.

I was thrilled. 

A few years later I was showing my portfolio to someone at an outdoor cafĂ©. 
A well dressed woman walked past, saw this image in the portfolio and stopped. 
She said, "He was the greatest influence in my entire life." 

The art director I was showing the portfolio to was surprised. 

Will revisited.

Pity my dearest friends because I've subjected them to unscheduled portraits far too often. This is Will a few years ago, caught mid-statement, at lunch. The image was taken with a Pentax 645 camera and a 150mm lens. I love the way it goes out of focus. I really like the glasses. I am indifferent to the Pentax's bokeh. 

Once On This Island. With a Hasselblad....

I can hardly believe that we used to shoot show promotions in the studio with a Hasselblad. We'd shoot ten or fifteen or twenty rolls of 120mm film to get the images we wanted. If you look at the background of this image the curtain on the right side of the image had its own lighting while the three colors on the far background were made with three more flash heads covered with filter gels, firing through tight spot grids, and we had several lights on the subjects in the foreground. 

Twenty rolls of film with development would cost about $400 if you threw in the cost of Polaroid test materials. Wow. That's real skin in the game.

What did it buy us? At the time it was the only way to do the process and it bought us marketing impressions and ticket sales. But looking back and seeing the images again I can see that it (shooting medium format transparency films) brought us smooth, deep and believable skin tones, the likes of which I rarely see today. 

What have we lost? I'll leave that up to your imagination. The race to the greatest economic efficiency doesn't always have clear cut winners...

Getting comfortable with the Sony RX10.

After a stressful weekend I finally got time on Tues. evening to take a walk through downtown Austin with my Sony RX 10 and put it through its paces on a bright, sunshiny day. The camera exceeds my expectations in a number of ways. Quick reviewers complained about the speed with which the zoom operates. I find it to be just right in that you can make extremely fine adjustments without the zoom mechanism overshooting. A slow and steady turn on the zoom ring gets you from 24-200mm in just 2.5 seconds and unless you are doing zoom whips (shades of 1960's comedy movies) the pace seem appropriate. 

The real story with the RX10 is about image quality and the combination of features which makes it such a good "hybrid" camera. Hybrid seems to be the predominantly used term for video and still capabilities in the same box. And the RX10 is a low cost exemplar of that conjunction. Why do I call a $1300 camera "low cost"? Because it is. The closest competitor to the RX10 is either the Panasonic GH3 or the Olympus EM-1. But each of these cameras is roughly the same price as an RX10 without a lens!!! When you buy an RX10 you are also getting a hell of a lens included in the total price of the package. To get the same reach and the same speed with the Panasonic or the Oly you'll need to add the Panasonic 12-35mm f2.8 and the 35-100mm f2.8 which triples the price.

While the sensor is smaller in the Sony it's not that much smaller and unless you are shooting everything with very limited depth of field it hardly matters. Based on the stuff I've shot with the Sony so far, in decent light, I'd call it a pretty even playing field. Turn the lights down a bit and the bigger sensor may have some advantages but.....we might be talking low single digit percentages. 

I always smile when people come out against smaller sensors. Many act as though there's some sort of dividing line of square millimeters that signifies a barrier between cameras that can be used professionally and cameras that can't. I thought about this yesterday as I was having coffee with a very good friend. I mentioned that the fourth book I produced for Amherst Media called, Photographic Lighting Equipment, was primarily shot with a Canon G10 point and shoot camera. 
I never mentioned it to the publisher because of the stigma that small sensor cameras seem to have but we've subsequently sold thousands and thousands of copies of that book and no one has ever complained about the technical quality of the images in it. The images I used the G10 for were all the illustrations of the gear. Not the sample images. 

That camera used a small, dense sensor with 14 million pixels. If you tried to shoot it at higher ISOs it didn't look great but if you worked on a tripod, exposed well with 80 ISO set on the dial and paid attention the camera worked great. And for still life images the live view and deeper depth of field were both convenient and positive. 

So, Tues. I walked through the city and snapped away at whatever I wanted. I wasn't doing great art. In fact most of the images will get tossed and not archived for anything. It was a therapeutic walk as much as it was a "break-in" session with the Sony. I could tell by looking at the monitor that the camera was doing what I expected it to. It locked onto subjects quickly. The exposures were all very good. I'd chosen "A" mode and vacillated between wide open and f4 for nearly everything. I dropped to f5.6 when I wanted deep focus.  I was satisfied with the ergonomic side of the camera but I generally wait on judging overall image quality until I can toss the images up on the monitor and really peek at the the fine details and the edges of the frames.  I noticed one thing that bothered me a bit. At 100% I could see a few sharpening artifacts. I went back to the camera and looked through the settings. I had increased the sharpness in the Standard profile by +1 based on someone's observation that the camera files in their test had been a bit soft. Now I see that it's not so. At "0" the sharpness is very well done in Jpeg. +1 is too much. I can only think that the person who suggested the sharpness needed to see his oculist. 

One area of performance for the Sony RX10 that I haven't seen mentioned much is the performance of the image stabilization. The camera has two levels of image stabilization. Normal and Active. In "normal" you get routine lens based image stabilization and you can see the effect in the finder. When you bump the control to "active" you combine the physical I.S. with computed I.S. and while you lose a bit of image area around the edges you gain a level of I.S. that is almost on par with the legendary I.S. of the newer Olympus OMD cameras. When you couple that with a sharp (wide open) 200mm equivalent lens you have a really powerful imaging tool.  One that preserves sharpness well.

I've learned the menu and I'm re-mapping my brain to more quickly discern which function buttons control what. There are enough external controls to make typical operation of the camera straightforward though I've come 180 degrees and wish it had a touch screen on the back like the Panasonic cameras I use...

And I guess that brings us to video. While the zooming of the lens slows down in video mode the focus doesn't. I'm pretty good about setting a focal length and sticking with it through a short sequence and the slower zoom is less obvious that a faster one but it would be best if the camera offered a variable speed zoom. One sad aspect of not having a touch screen is not having the ability to do "focus pull" by just touching a different area on the LCD screen. We never had that before the Panasonic GH3 cameras so I can live with it. 

Here's the interesting part for me. At high quality codec settings the Panasonic GH3 makes wonderful video. It's better than the Sony in most ways. When you bring down the throughput to something more manageable in editing the Sony catches up. And then, at a certain point you can compare apples and apples. Either camera is a step up from the previous generation of even much more expensive DSLRs when it comes to nearly every parameter of image quality. While a D4 gives you lower noise in a file that's just about all it gives you. It's important to remember that no matter how many pixels you have in your D800 or Sony A7r they are all still being down sampled to 1000 x 2000 pixels. That's why they call it "2K."

But the full time live view in the Panasonics and the RX10 provides much better image control and autofocus. And here's where the RX10 races ahead of the bigger DSLRs and even the Panasonic, it's got the things that make making video easier. The ability to set zebras at various levels is even better than having a live histogram because you can program the point at which the zebras manifest. The focus peaking is great and works well in video mode (hello Panasonic GH3...). That makes focusing on the fly quicker and better than all the rest (shared by the Panasonic G6). When you combine all those attributes with manual audio controls and a headphone jack and then overlay very impressive image quality I think you have a package whose feature set brings much greater value to the table than most other current cameras out in the market. 

It's not possessed of the highest res but at 20 megapixels it's more than most of us will ever need. It's not the quietest camera at high ISOs but is certainly professionally usable to 800 or 1600 ISO (depending on lighting conditions).  It's not the smallest camera on the market, but I rarely try to put my Sony a850 in a trouser pocket either.  For what they've combined inside the size is perfect.

So, who is this camera targeted at? How about a whole new generation of image makers who demand both high quality stills and pro level video in one package. How about any photographer who needs to travel light but still have a great lens range, with great speed in one small package? How about videographers who need high performance and great zoom range along with the features they are used to getting on dedicated video cameras (sorry, no S-Log)?  If you understand that camera size is becoming less and less important and that small sensors can be made to be high performance imaging "film" then the camera shouldn't come as much of surprise. 

The biggest feature to my way of thinking? The absurdly low price for the bundle of capabilities. 

I need to spend a lot more time with this camera in order to really get to know it but what I'm seeing right now is pretty cool. A week or so ago I posited the question about whether or not a person could functionally run a medium to high end imaging business with this camera. I'm not ready to issue an unequivocal statement on that just yet but it is the only camera I'm taking out on assignment this afternoon to do an interior group shot around a conference room table in a downtown office building. The depth of field will certainly come in handy! 

I have three or four pocket knives that people have given me over the years. Most knife enthusiasts tease about it but the one I keep in my pocket is the Swiss Army knife. I probably couldn't do much combat with it but it does everything pretty well and when we need to open bottles of wine on remote locations the "knife experts" come to me for that service. I like having the well made scissors in the SAK as well. The Sony RX10 is an imaging Swiss Army Knife done really, really well.


Coffee seen as life giving elixir during recent Austin, Texas Cedar Fever Epidemic. The "PollenPocalypse"

It's been an especially rough week for Austin Portrait Photographers who are susceptible to allergies from the juniper and mountain cedar trees which cover the Hill Country to the west of the city. We have a scourge here called, Cedar Fever. It's named after one of the many symptoms attached to allergies from the pollen from the cedar family of trees.

While Zyrtec, Claritin and even Benedryl are our allies nothing seems to scrape the velcro-like grains of vicious pollen off the backs of our throats or the roofs of our mouths quite like a big cup of hot, steamy coffee.  In a week or two this particular pollen season will come to a close; rains will clean out the residual grains and we'll start a body count to see how many brave Austin men, women, children and photographers we've lost this time.

If you were buying into the hype about Austin being one of the best places to do business in the U.S. or you thought about joining the hipsters for a beer at Bangers, maybe take in a bit of live music at one of 16,967 live music venues, you might want to reconsider. There's very little that's worse than sneezing to death for the privilege of a few funny hat moments.

While coffee is by no means a cure (the only real cure is to have one's sinuses surgically removed...) it does temporarily relieve one of the symptoms....at least enough to almost enjoy driving or blogging for a while. Coffee sales are off the charts in Austin in the new year. Hardly a surprise since we are enjoying a record setting cedar pollen harvest.

And yes, the pollen does stick to digital camera sensors!

Just a snapshot between shots in the product studio.

Renae embraces the product.

You know how it gets when it's around 4pm and you've still got a few hours of product shooting to get through and everyone is getting punchy. Always a good time to put all the toys down and go for a walk. Or sit quietly for 20 minutes with a cup of coffee. 

Renae and I were photographing products for the annual report of a long since dead dot come start up company. We were blazing away with a Hasselblad and a 120mm Makro lens. Big soft boxes everywhere. For some reason she picked up this laptop and just started laughing hysterically.

Is it my imagination or are the skin tones on this scanned transparency richer than the ones we get from our digital cameras? Maybe it's just the scan......

Lower Back Pain? We've got a photo for that...

For an advertisement about back pain.

I spent too much time on airplanes and in cars over the past week and I've nursing some lower back pain. According to a Harvard medical specialist most lower back pain is like headache pain; there's nothing structurally wrong, it's usually a side effect of stress...

At any rate I remember coming across a few sheets of negatives from a shoot I did many years ago about back pain and I thought I'd test my ability to find that sheet of black and white negs and take a little walk down memory lane. 

This image is pretty straightforward. We found a model who was in great shape but also in the age demographic the agency was targeting and we had a make up person cover him with a toner in order to make him appear more "bronze statue-like." The art director for the shoot found a tree stump somewhere and I remember that he had the stump painted gold because in the early planning of the shot the client and agency were considering running the campaign in color. This was back in the early 1990' when color ads were more costly to insert and run in newspapers and magazines.

The color got vetoed early on and we continued with black and white. I did my basic lighting for a white background and then I lit the model from the right to create a darker area on the left side of his body. We wanted that so I could put a diffused edge spot of light back in on the left side of the model, right where his hand is positioned on his "sore" back. We used a big 4x6 foot soft box on the right and a flash head firing into a grid spot on the other side. 

The image was shot using black and white film in a 6 by 9 cm roll film holder on the back of a Sinar 4x5 view camera. We'd been using the 6x9 back for lots of product shots for two other clients and, at the time, it seemed like a good compromise between the economy of being able to shoot eight shots on a roll of 120 film but also getting more square footage of imaging detail than we would have gotten otherwise. 

The 6x9 holder allowed us to do many catalogs and product set up with total control of rises and falls, tilts and swings. The Sinar made doing the technical stuff pretty easy. And the Schneider lenses we used were wickedly sharp.

Once the shots were in the "can" I went into the darkroom and processed four rolls of film leaving two safety rolls aside, just in case...

At the time ad agencies worked from prints for black and white so once the exact image was selected (not the one above) I went back into the darkroom to pull a 16x20 inch black and white print. Why 16x20 inches? A bigger print is much easier to work with if you need to airbrush or retouch details.

I am quickly remediating my back pain through a regimen of swimming, excessive coffee and getting in touch with my back spirit animal----which, based on the structural integrity of my back, must be a hummingbird or some sort of shrew. Ah well. Back pain comes and goes. At least we made a paycheck out of it once upon a time....


Playing around with video in the Sony RX10 and goofing on camera.

sony rx10 from Kirk Tuck on Vimeo.

Goofing around with the video part of the Sony RX10 camera. It's me mugging to camera. Click through the link and go see it on Vimeo to see the HD version. Note the detail in my hair, etc. It should give you a small idea of what the Sony is capable of....

Please, no fan mail...

Portraits, Interviews, Faces and Stories.


Shot on Kodak Portrait 400 BW film in a Rolleiflex 6008i with a 150mm Sonnar lens. Scanned with the magical desktop scanner. 

The Visual Science Lab has done some soul searching, some market research and some number crunching and we've finally arrived at a business game plan for 2014. Our noble leader, Kirk, will be implementing our master plan of providing portraits and interviews. Or as he says, "Faces and Stories." As you probably know we've been doing portraits for years but you might not know that we've been doing interviews, PSAs, web-based video commercials and similar video production for a while now too. We've honed the skills, put a sharp edge on the tools and we're rolling forward in 2014. We're ready to help our customers and our partners tell their stories. 

Our core business will always be portraits. It's way too fun and addictive not to love. But the video stuff is crazy fun too. With so many video channels available on the web it's kind of silly not to be there with good video. 

We'll try to keep Kirk from going too far down the rabbit hole with things like the performance of microphones, or endless reviews of audio mixers but there's only so much we can do....

For those interested we're basing our new business model around cameras like the Panasonic GH3 and even the Sony RX10. We're aiming to be efficient and creative providers of programming for the web but we sure won't turn up our noises at broadcast commercials,  or even long form story telling. 

We're ready right now. Let 2014 begin. 

Theater Portrait. Square.

See the two notches on the left side of the frame? The ones in the black frame line? That means this image was shot with a Hasselblad film camera. And the notches are specific to a particular camera back. That way, if a back developed an issue, like a faulty light trap, it would be easy for the photographer to know which back was messed up. Nice.

I really like the tonality of scanned black and white negatives.... This was scanned in the little Epson flatbed scanner (perfection v500 photo) that sits on my desk.

Traveling light and with purpose. Life is a never ending series of lessons.

Early last week my sister called me from the east coast. My parents had been visiting for the holidays and needed to return home, close to me.  Both of my parents are heading toward their ninth decade and both of them need (more than) a little help getting through airports and negotiating travel. I was happy to help out so I booked a flight out of Austin and made all the necessary arrangements. I knew I wouldn't have the time or the free hands to make photographs but I couldn't bear the idea of traveling without a camera somewhere close by. I chose the Panasonic G6 and a little, silver kit lens to take along as both a talisman of good luck and a travel camera. 

Even compared to the Sony RX10 the G6 is small and very light. I took a few images while I waited for my flight east and a few images out the window on my way there but from that point on the camera stayed in the bag. There are times in life in which being totally present for the situation in hand is necessary and this long weekend was one of them. 

I guess I'm writing this for only one reason and it has very little (nothing) to do with photography. I'm writing to express how my interactions with airport security, airport Sky Caps and airline flight attendants has surprisingly brought a smile to my face and re-energized my positive feelings about people in general. 

I've traveled a lot. A lot. And most of it has been solo. I stream through airports like water around rocks mostly. I always pack light and I'm always ready for the curve ball. Always anticipating the odd occurrence. Always packing a "plan B" and a "plan C." But not this time. I would be traveling with two people who would require assistance at every turn. Both parents traverse the airports in wheel chairs. My dad, with a bum leg and a cane would miss every plane at his usual walking pace. My mom has a breathing disorder that requires portable oxygen and means that walking more than a few hundred feet is taxing. I expected the worse. I haven't flown with them since we traveled together to Paris nearly twenty years ago...

We arrived at the airport for our flight back home, TSA pre-screened boarding passes in hand. The Sky Caps came in smoothly with wheel chairs and I followed along with three carry-on bags. The Sky Caps were gracious and light hearted. They joked with my dad and kept a good eye on my mom. We breezed through security in five minutes or so. The TSA people we interacted with were warm and polite. They sped us on our way without shoe removal or insertion into the machines. The gate agent at our gate went out of her way to accommodate us and defuse my nervous anticipation. She even found me a spot on her power strip to recharge an oxygen machine's batteries. She and her co-worked joked with my parents as they swept them down the ramp into the plane and made them smile. 

Once we got seated our flight attendant quickly apprised our situation; the oxygen machine and the parents who want aisles seats to assuage their claustrophobias, and she started working her plan. She reseated the passenger in my row who had the window seat into an upgraded seat so my mom and I could spread out a bit. She re-seated the person in the middle seat who had been next to my dad so he'd have a bit more space. And she did it all without making her machinations obvious. The flight went without a hitch.

Once we hit our destinations we waited for everyone else to deplane and then were met by another set of Sky Caps who wheeled the folks to the baggage claims and waited patiently for my father to identify that one checked bag. My plan was to position my parents on a bench out in front of the arrival area, get my car from the parking garage and circle around to pick them up but the Sky Caps insisted on pushing them all the way to the car and helping them in. From start to finish everyone we dealt with was patient, positive, welcoming and ready to bend over backwards to make our day work and our trip as pleasant as it could be. I wanted to write this to say a huge "Thank You!" to the folks at U.S. Airways for an amazingly stress free trip. And to all the people who helped us make the journey on the ground.

Getting older is a bitch. It's wonderful to see that the world is full of caring people who are willing; no, happy, to take a little more time to make sure our more seasoned citizens can still maneuver through life. Thank you to everyone! 

Total number of images shot over the weekend? Three... Re-learning patience and gratitude? Much.

Portrait of Suzie on the Barton Creek Greenbelt. Past.


I really love to make portraits. How much do I like the process? Well, after a hard day's work in the studio, making portraits, I love to unwind by heading out of the studio and making some more portraits. This is an image from long ago. Suzie was an Austrian make-up artist that I used to work with. While her expression in the image above is a bit severe she was a warm, happy and thoughtful work friend. The kind of person who brought you herbal tea when you came down with a cold. 

We both had some time one day to just go out and shoot, and even though it was the middle of a hot summer we trudged down some thin trails to the slow flowing water of Barton Creek. Suzie brought along a couple of outfits and I brought along a Pentax 6x7 medium format camera, a tripod and a pocket full of Kodak T-400 CN film. Interesting film. It was basically color negative film that yielded a black and white negative with a very, very long tonal range. The advantage that I saw was that my lab could process it in C-41 chemicals thereby freeing me from more time in the darkroom, swirling chemicals around in a metal tank. 

We shot until the light evaporated and then we trudged back up the trail in the semi-darkness of the sunset's afterglow. 

It's not an amazing portrait or much of a fashionable image but it reminds me of the sheer immersion with which I lived photography at the time. Hardly a day would go by without me somehow going through four or five rolls of film (on a day off) and thirty or forty rolls of film on a work day. I still shoot a lot. Mathematicians might tell us that the act of creating so many "data points" probably increases my chances of getting something decent more often than if I'd have stayed home and watched TV. 

I loved that particular time period of photography. Everything was transiting in my business from large format to medium format. The feel of the backing paper wrapped around the film. The little strips of adhesive paper with which one sealed the finished and wound off film. The quick glance at a Minolta incident meter to make sure your brain's internal meter matched reality... The cameras seemed like magic back then. And the mirror slap of the Pentax 6x7 was legendary. I used the mirror lock up for nearly every shot. Why not when you're on a good tripod?

I've been away from photography since last Friday and I feel deprived. When I finished the clerical work and accounting work I have at hand I'll head out for a stroll with a camera in my hand. But not a Pentax 6x7. Those were just too damned big.