Crazy Day at the Visual Science Lab Headquarters. Painting, maintenance and post processing all rolled into one.

We're wrapping up Summer and I should be focusing my full attention on my commercial task at hand, creating video modules and stylized still imagery for the folks at Hahn Public. I've been in the command seat in front of the tactical imaging computer since seven this morning, hammering out extremely wide graphics to deliver into the heady swirl of commerce.

But I've also had an insurance adjuster out looking at the roof (hail storm) and a painting company power washing not only the world headquarters building, but also the family home, in anticipation of a much needed painting of all the many doors, windows and other surfaces that want, like and need paint. The scraping, caulking and painting starts in earnest tomorrow.

Seems it's time to refresh the physical plant and make right the injuries of time and weather visited upon the epicenter of the VSL compound.

I anticipate that in the next month we'll have more than our share of construction noise and craziness here but I can't see that it will effect the business too much. We'll see....

A rare image of me actually working... Thank you James Webb.

©2015 James Webb/Zilker TV.

It's a very rare thing for me to be photographed while I am actually working on a project. Usually we're all too busy to turn the cameras on each other and for months I was disappointed that I didn't have enough "behind the scenes" imagery, starring myself, with which to regale the world. 

James took this during a video shoot we were doing for a restaurant. He was shooting with an Olympus OMD EM5.2 and an older, longer Nikon manual focus lens. I'm holding an Olympus OMD EM5.2 and manually focusing an Olympus 17mm f1.8 lens (thank you focus peaking!) in anticipation of creating video of some fresh herbs. The EM5.2 is very hand holdable with its state of the art image stabilization. 

The dorky touches of the photo include the bright hair (it's normally thick and jet black but I dyed it platinum just for this shoot --- in case anyone needed something on which to white balance...), the old analog watch (worn on the right wrist as I am profoundly left-handed), and the awkward hold on the camera.

The camera in front of my face should help to preserve my anonymity. I've heard it can be stressful to be recognized everywhere one goes..... Stopped in the airport and forced to be part of endless selfies; that sort of thing...

Back to work.


A few thoughts about style in video.

The latest 6K Nikon HD video camera? Naw. Super8 film...

I had some interesting correspondence with my recent video collaborator, James W. We shot video footage together at Cantine Restaurant earlier this Summer and our other individual projects have just given us a convenient bit of a gap in schedules that allows for the final editing of the project. While I spearheaded the initial part of the video process James is doing the clip selections and the editing.

We shot the project on two different days. On the first day we discussed a laundry list of possible shots which mostly revolved around shooting food preparation with some attention paid to food presentation and the documentation of fun activities at the bar.  We both worked with Olympus OMD EM5.2 cameras, complete with the battery grip for a second battery and to provide a headphone jack if we felt we needed one. We had a case of lenses for the two cameras that included a number of modern primes and zooms from Olympus and Panasonic as well as a collection of my old, esoteric Pen FT lenses (from the days of half frame film).

If you are familiar with the world of journalism then imagine that the two of us of have been let loose on a restaurant with the assignment of enterprise. Of looking around for fun mini-stories to shoot. Like the willowy girl at the pasta making machine, pulling strands of fettucini through the grid, or the pizza chef putting together a great


The changing nature of what we all do for a living in post modern society.

I was directing a video project, making content of a well known public relations professional as he explained the "Death of Public Relations" to the camera. I paid attention to my framing and exposure but I also paid attention to the content of this business owner's speech. I tend to think that my business (photography) is different from everyone else's and that people in my business have been disproportionally effected by the overwhelming changes that mass digitalization and social media on the web. I can point to shrinking markets in some areas and expanding but less valuable markets in other areas. I can point to the effects of citizen journalists and "good enough" for the web substitutions for what used to require professional touch. But I haven't paid as much attention as I should to the disruptions in the businesses that encircle and support my enterprise; namely, the advertising agencies and public relations agencies. Their turmoils and metamorphosis were delayed, compared to those of the image slingers, but they are deep into the changes right now.

In the realm of public relations they are seeing a huge shift. In the past the primary function of P.R. agencies was to take the issues that were dear or dangerous to their clients, figure out what sort of spin would work in mainstream media to get the story out there, and then to connect with the editorial departments of newspapers, consumer magazines, trade magazines and TV new departments and radio news people to try and sell them on assigning stories to editorial writers (freelance and staff) who would re-tell the story with the cloak of objectivity and balance that was the unique selling point that the media properties enjoyed. Consumers trusted editorial media to be trustworthy. They were the objective conduit between companies and consumers. They took the "facts", did their own "research" and delivered stories that filled space and grabbed eyes. Stories were monetized by the ads that wrapped around them. And sometimes the ads came from the very people who were providing the initial story push; the companies represented by the public relations agencies.

When  client/agency reviews came around the success or failure of a public relations campaign largely boiled down to how many stories got "sold and told." Did the local newspapers re-write that press release and get it into the hands of the business editor at the local paper? Did the billionaire who spent two hours "giving back to the community" by reading a book at a Headstart program get his story, and his photograph, in hundreds (thousands) of papers across the country through the power of syndication? How many channels of broadcast TV did a positive "breaking news" story about a company's bold expansion or paradigm shifting new product launch did they get? Those numbers were the traditional metrics of success or failure in the public relations business. (I simplify here but it's mostly accurate. There are things like media training and disaster communications that fall outside the core offerings of the P.R. agencies...).

What happened to change all this?  Online classified ads from websites like CraigsList killed revenue for newspapers and weeklies which reduced the size of each issue and made regular paid, placed display ad revenue more critical. But the need for display ad revenue hit about the time the overall ad market bloomed like a million bits of pollen and created the need to diversify ad budgets from dozens of outlets to thousands of outlets with the associated reduction of dollars allocated to each market. More channels and outlets chasing the same, or diminishing, amount of placement dollars; and the lure of "free exposure" on the web.

The bulk of people who still read traditional newspapers is over 50 years old. Young people don't (as a rule) subscribe to, or read, traditional city newspapers or magazines. Most no longer read any printed consumer magazines and revenue collection via advertising and paywalls on web magazines is not very profitable either. The demographic change was a loaded gun not just for magazines and newspapers but also for the P.R. agencies who were largely set up to partner with them for coverage.

It's conceivable now that a company will reach a wider (and more diverse) audience with a great video launched on YouTube and supported by Twitter and Facebook than would ever be reached peddling the same basic story to what's left of the legitimate broadcast news local TV stations. The media outlets are pretty much reacting not by innovating but by entering into a deadly cycle of quarterly, monthly and weekly cost reductions. Most of the cost reductions are aimed at reducing staff and replacing older, more expensive staff, with younger, less costly new staff. The $200,000 a year anchor that appealed to mom and dad is replaced with a media savvy youngster earning, literally, $40,000 per year.

With a lot fewer pages to fill and fewer good writers and researchers to fill them, newspapers and magazines are largely capitulating and picking up syndicated feeds and "stock" stories that are largely fact free, information sparse, and diffusely targeted. It's a freaking desert for traditional P.R. professionals whose previous lives consisted of meeting with smart counterparts to generate stories that the newspapers could tackle and cover with their implied objectivity. How does any company generate positive P.R. on present day broadcast television when the 24 hour news cycle is now based almost completely on shock pieces meant to keep audiences tuned in and addicted to the anxiety of fast breaking and dramatic news events. And there are millions and millions of "channels" from which to choose.

Gone are the days when two or three news crews bristling with TV cameras and microphones showed up to capture the cutting of a ribbon on a new stretch of highway, or the tossing of dirt with golden shovels at a regional mall ground breaking?

So, if traditional public relations is dying then what will take its place?  That's what remains to be seen. My video subject conjectures that companies will create their own stories and showcase them both on the websites they control and also in as many social media venues as they can effectively service. While the individual "expert" blogger might be in decline right now regular blogs from companies and associations are still seen as prime content.

The P.R. professionals will find their way for now by becoming better and better at telling the client story in videos and blogs than the ultimate client can themselves. Part of the value of an outside provider is in the emotional distance from a company they have versus an in-house writer or producer who is constantly subject to the powers and the entrenched point of view of the typical company hierarchy. Being outside means at least having the potential to tell edgier but more satisfying and stickier stories.

I asked the P.R. expert how that might change the face of his agency and he responded by saying the he'll be hiring a lot more people from the English departments and fewer from the colleges of Communication and RTF.  More people who can convincingly tell emotional and enjoyable stories and fewer people whose expertise lies in selling a story or concept to someone else's editorial committee.

I asked about art directors who worked on some of their accounts and he seemed to think that the future for graphic designers was rosy since the fastest riser in P.R. space's current field of delicious and click-rewarding content is Infographics, which have to be visually well done to be ultimately effective.

What does this mean to me? As a photographer? It largely means that my intuition was correct and the epicenter of hiring and directing freelancers is moving from the P.R. agencies, who bundled our images with freelancer's writing into a package designed to make publication easy, to enterprise in a more direct way. While the P.R. agencies will pitch stories to the corporations and have their writers write the content the power is shifting toward in-house production and in-house supervision of content providers.The truth is that P.R. agencies rarely had people in house who really understood how to best leverage images and video footage and now we'll work more in the capacity of partners than in a top down manner.

Our focus in dealing with the change happening in public relations is to make sure we maintain relationships with the agencies but to redouble our efforts to make more clients into direct clients so we garner top of mind awareness no matter which direction or which other suppliers the lead client chooses. There is perhaps a greater overall need for visual content than ever before but the responsibility for acquiring, directing and leveraging the images we create is being spread across multiple entry points and multiple clients. It's no longer enough just to send nice mailers and e-mail blasts to the handful of P.R. people in your market. You need their client's eyes as well....


Sometimes you have to step in and be the machinist.

I was photographing at a spare parts fabricating shop in Georgetown, Texas yesterday and one of the things on my list was to get a bunch of shots of this new machine. The foreman clicked it on so the screen would be live but he was quick to add that the shop was on a tight schedule that day and he couldn't afford to pull any of his people off their other jobs to pose for me.  I had gotten a lot of images of the machine by itself already. Wide verticals, exciting forced perspective shots, shots looking straight into the machine.... but I wanted on set of shots that showed someone working at the machine.

I set the self-timer on the D750 to ten seconds, framed up the shots I wanted and went for it. I just wanted the human element. I'm glad I didn't wear cargo shorts....


Noellia from a different point of view.

©2015 Kirk Tuck

So, I went to this photo workshop today and there was only one participant and one model. We didn't have to listen to anyone pontificate or complain. We got to do everything exactly the way we wanted to. The one participant had total access to the model's time and attention. The model got to work with the very best photographer in the group. The photographer got to work with the most beautiful model in the whole workshop. No one tried to sell us DVDs or photographer branded camera bags. No one compared their camera to our camera with a sneer on their face. Oh, wait, it wasn't a workshop it was just a fun afternoon with a friend. What a great way to learn more about photography....  And it's free.

Noellia. Exterior portrait. At the house.

Slowing down and enjoying a portrait session can be nice for people on both sides of the camera. This was a casual shot on one of the back porches of our house. The lens is an 85mm shot wide open at f1.8.  

Shooting a Precision Machine Shop was a fun thing to do this morning. Photographing my Friend, Noellia, was more fun this afternoon...

Noellia on the couch.

I spent my morning in Georgetown, Texas at a precision machine shop that fabricates parts for the semi-conductor industry. It was fun. Lots of cool, mechanical looking stuff to shoot in fun ways and many CNC lathes and what-not to create a visual interesting industrial landscape.

After lunch I nestled into my cool and comfortable little office to cozy up to the computer and do the post processing that comes with every job. It was very straightforward. This morning I used one camera and three lenses; the 24-140mm f4 Nikon, the 105mm f2.5 ais Nikon, and the 14mm Rokinon. Running the D750 files through Lightroom CC and tossing in the right lens profiles worked like a charm. I made fairly liberal use of one 508 AS LED panel to keep everything on an even keel.

I edited down the files to a small enough batch that I was able to send them along to the client via my WeTransfer.com application. Everything uploaded quickly and without incident. I was just typing up my invoice when there was a knock on the studio door.

It was my old friend, Noellia Hernandez. You might recognize her as the woman on the cover of my fourth book, the one about Lighting Equipment. At any rate Noellia and I have worked together on projects as diverse as book covers, the Austin Chamber of Commerce and Zach Theatre over the last eleven years. She moved to New York about five years ago but we get together whenever I'm in NYC or  she's back in Austin visiting the family.

She stood in the doorway in a great, little black dress and some dramatic shoes and I knew that we were going to spend some time taking more photographs. I shot some stuff in the studio using the D750 and both the 85mm 1.8G lens and the 105mm f2.5, lit with one of the new Photogenic PL1250 flashes into a 72 inch umbrella with a  diffusion cover attached. Then we moved into the house so we could take a few shots on the couch. In most households I think it would seem weird for someone's 59 year old father to walk into the house with an actress in a short black dress, ask her to lay down on the couch and pose but Ben hardly looked up from his laptop.  He was sitting at the dining room table and looked up long enough to say, "Hi" to Noellia. They've know each other since Ben was eight.

We did the images on the couch with available light and the 85mm and then headed outside, after a quick costume change, to do some stuff in the open shade with some landscape out of focus in the background.

You read a lot about achieving balance. From CNC lathes to NYC actors; I like to keep my work life balanced.  More from the session to come...