Wrapping up the week. Some observations from mid-November.

Choreography rehearsal. Zach Theatre. Sony A7xx + Sony 50mm f1.8

Yesterday afternoon I finished reading an older Hennig Mankell novel, Firewall, sat on the back porch with Studio Dog, ate some Siggi's vanilla yogurt and relaxed for a few minutes. It's nice to put some calm time in the middle of the day. It's a chance to collect my thoughts. 

Then it's back to work. I packed up to shoot an event at the Four Seasons Hotel. For the last decade and a half I have volunteered to provide photography for Texas Appleseed's annual fundraising dinner; it's an event I always look forward to and the Appleseed foundation is a great non-profit resource for legal change in Texas, and beyond. I won't go into their mission here on the blog but if you are interested you can go here: Appleseed.

The event attracts the top attorneys, judges and politicians from all over Texas. Last night over 400 attendees packed the ballroom at the Four Seasons to honor one of their own and to raise a half million dollars or so for the organization. Since I've photographed the event each year for the past 15 years I've gotten to know the names and faces of at least half the attendees in any year. It makes my job easier because I know in advance who needs to be photographed and what small groupings will give my photography the most utility for my client. 

I packed up two different camera systems because I was indecisive, when I left the house, about which system to use for the evening. I ended up using both. On one side of the case was the Sony a6300 with its 18-105mm f4.0 lens and on the other side of the case was the Sony A7ii with the 70/200mm and the 24-70mm lenses. I brought along a Yongnuo flash and an even cheaper, Neewer flash to use through the evening. I've never bothered to buy a Sony flash or a high priced TTL flash for the Sony cameras because I've learned, through the years, that shooting events via TTL makes for a nightmare of correction in post processing. I paid $55 for the Yongnuo flash and $35 for the Neewer flash and both have been just fine for everything I've done with them. Both are fully manual. Both have built in optical slaves. Both take 4 double "A" batteries. Both have a single contact on the shoe. Both seem uncomplicated and reliable. 

I used the a6300 combo for most of the evening because for the first hour and a half there was a cocktail reception the lobby which was a great time to circulate and make photographs of couples, and small groups. This was an "all flash" situation and I selected the a6300 because it's probably the fastest and surest focusing of the current Sony family. I used to dread shooting with flash in the lobby area in front of the main ballroom at the Austin Four Seasons because the ceiling was painted with an sea foam green paint that precluded the use of ceiling bounce with flash. They recently renovated and painted the ceiling a very nice and mellow white. Perfect. I ditched my bounce card, put a small diffuser on the front of the Yongnuo and calculated the exposure for bouncing off the ceiling while being seven to ten feet from my subjects. The little diffuser directs most light to the ceiling but there's also a little bit of front light which makes a great, subtle fill. 

I was able to use the flash at 1/8th power for nearly everything. This gave me f5.6 at 1/50th of second, ISO 640 for everything. If I was standing closer I'd drop the flash power to 1/16th and if I was standing further away, perhaps for a wider group shot, I'd push the power up to 1/4. Unlike my experiences with Sony, Canon and Nikon dedicated flashes, used in TTL mode, I had NO variance in exposure or color from frame to frame. This meant no need for frame by frame exposure correction or color modifications. The light was nice, soft and the color was perfect. It's a nice way to shoot with flash and it's lovely that the Four Seasons decided to paint their foyer ceiling a delicious shade of white, just for me.... 😉

I shot about 550 exposures with the a6300 and the flash. These also included awards presentations on the main stage. I never needed to change camera or flash batteries. 

But I did pull out the Sony A7ii and the 70-200mm lens for photographs of the speakers on stage. Shooting speakers is NEVER a situation in which you want to use flash. 400 people in the audience don't want you to either --- I'm pretty sure of it...

I set the camera to ISO 3200 and the used the lens wide open at f4.0. While the stage lighting wasn't great (for profit events generally invest a bunch more money in lighting...) the images were perfectly usable and the additional reach of the lens certainly helped. 

Dinner was quite good, with nice wines and a very nice steak and salmon combination. I enjoyed dinner very much. 

The evening wrapped at 9:30 pm and I packed up my little assortment of camera tools and headed back home. It was a nice way to spend a Thursday evening. 

Observations: I don't know if it's burnout from the elections or if I've just lost my touch as a writer but comments from readers have more or less ground to a halt. I'm not taking it personally since the daily visitor numbers are steady and it's not like I'm selling a lot of product on the site that needs pushing, but it is nice to get feed back. Maybe I'll ask questions in a better way. 

Speaking of the election, most people I know are dead tired of hearing about it and I know I've more or less given up on opening Facebook because of the torrents of emotion being expressed there. I've stopped listening to or watching election news for now. Someone be sure to tell me if an all out ground war with Canada is imminent. My focus for the rest of the year is to meet nice, new people and make nice portraits. In addition, I'm more and more interested in making video interviews. I have a bunch of material for a video about Wyatt McSpadden and I'm looking for a big gap in the schedule so I can sit down and edit with few interruptions. I have a backlog of personal portraits to post process and deliver as well. 

I haven't pre-ordered any new gear (or computers) but I am watching the Fuji medium format camera with great interest. I'm not sure if the advantages are overwhelming, when compared to something like an A7Rii but I'd like to test it for myself when it becomes available. After shooting several nice portraits with the Rokinon 100mm f2.8 macro lens I'm not sure I need anything better....

People seem a bit unsettled about gear right now. My friends have a weird expression on their faces. They'd like to buy something new just to keep the process they've been indoctrinated in moving along but they haven't seen much that tweaks the buying impulse. The consensus is that the stuff we all have in our hands right now is just "super" and the improvements are marginal enough for most people not to be discernible. A bad kind of place for the camera makers, I think. 

The only action that seems fun was the introduction of small, but powerful, portable flash systems from Profoto and Elincrhom. I love the looks of both but find the pricing ..... adventurous. I'm negotiating to get units from both for evaluation. 

On the marketing front. What is the ROI on our latest little flurry. This is fun. I sent out 65 marketing pieces which consisted of a cover letter and a postcard with the Michael Dell image, in an envelope. The marketing message was about my event photography services. The cost of the mailing, with ink, paper, stationary and postage was about $125. The first of the mailers went out on Monday and the last batch went out yesterday. I got an e-mail yesterday requesting a bid for executive portraits from an existing client who referenced the mailing. The portrait project should net between $2,000 and $3,000 so I'll mark the self-advertising venture with a big plus even if this is the only project that results. 

Truthfully, I don't expect directly correlated results from marketing I look at it as long term brand building; but I have found in the past that getting a marketing piece reminds people of projects that need to get done and motivates them to "pull the trigger." 

The next marketing effort hits in two weeks and will showcase portraits. I'll keep you posted. 

While we are usually winding things down this time of the year I am waiting to hear back from a client about a potential job in Salt Lake City for the week of the 5th through the 9th in Salt Lake City. It's a straight up advertising project and one that I'd love to do. It would make a nice coda to an interesting year. 

Tomorrow I will be back over at Zach Theatre (after swim practice, naturally) to photograph a behind the scenes look at Martin Burke in "The Santaland Diaries." It's my favorite holiday play and one of my favorite actors. This is something I asked to do instead of it being a request from my client. Just wanted to give a few of the fast lenses a bit of a workout and get some fun stuff for myself. Of course, I will share with the theater.

Back to Lightroom. We've got work to do.


George Beinhorn said...

Be reassured, we read every shining word, even if we don't comment. (Herewith, an official comment.)

CRavsten said...

I read the blog each and every day and thoroughly enjoy it. I'm eagerly looking forward to the Wyatt McSpadden interview. Hope you soon get a window of opportunity to complete it. Keep up the good work.

TMJ said...

I like the Four Seasons Hotels and have stayed in Cairo at the Four Seasons Nile Plaza twice this year, in March and just a few weeks ago. On my most recent trip, the President of Singapore was staying and there were plenty of men in suits wearing 9mm automatics. I thought of Henry White, of course, but I only had my Ricoh GR with me, so not as effective as Henry's own armamentarium. But discreet is good in Cairo, especially when walking around.

Larry to be King said...

Do I remember that at one time you were talking about authoring a book on video, ie mirrorless cameras? Lots of work but for some of us there is a lot to learn.

Kirk Tuck said...

Larry, I've pitched that book to my publisher several times and each time (three or more years ago) he told me that books on video just don't sell. Not at all. I wonder if he's changed his mind... I'll pitch it again because I'd sure like to write it. If Amherst Media isn't interested I might do an nice e-book. Do you think there is enough demand?

Larry to be King said...

Along with politics I am not a very good judge of the public but I would sure buy it.

Rufus said...

Good evening from a cold and dark UK....

Like many, I am a daily visitor but seldom comment. I found myself reflecting on why and then it occurred to me..

Take this as a constructive critique, or just grumpy old criticism from a keyboard warrior far away. I never really know how comments on line are perceived..

Anyway, here is my take:

I think your blog is getting a bit repetitive. Corporate portraits/ Zach theatre / Austin Sunshine / Graffiti wall / some reposting of favourite portraits / musing on Sony.... and repeat.....

Maybe pick up your camera and go shoot a music gig in downtown Austin in the dark. Go out in some bad weather and take pictures of a tree. Push your gear. Push yourself. Shoot something that is hard, something where you cannot control the light.

I think it may challenge the limits of your gear too. And make you see your gear choices in a different light. And it would be neat to read your take on things in your usual simple, eloquent way.

I for one would be happy to read it.

Kirk Tuck said...

Rufus, Thanks for the honest and constructive feedback. Much appreciated.

Dave Jenkins said...

Pack your favorite camera(s) in your CRV and hit the road. Better, take them abroad for a few weeks to somewhere you've never been.

Craig said...


As a dedicated reader of your blog, I frequently take your past writings into consideration when making decisions regarding my photography. I now have two identical DSLRs for paying gigs after reading your experiences, your musings on portraits (along with the beautiful portraits you've shared over the years) has me taking a more thoughtful approach to lighting and the importance of connecting with my subjects.

BTW, DP Review recently had an article on portraits where they invited readers to comment on which professional photographer they would choose to shoot their own portrait, and your name appeared multiple times in the comment thread.

I don't comment often, but I do value and appreciate your writings.

Michael Matthews said...

We're all out here, reading daily. Many, however, have been rendered speechless. Give it time; they'll revive. Meanwhile, your marketing ROI is most impressive.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kirk,

Love reading your articles. I go to your site just about every day.

I know what you mean about the elections. So weary and still shell shocked at the results (I share your political views). Nuff said about that.

Keep up the great writing ...


Wax Photographic LLC said...

Greetings from SLC. I'm a first time commenter & reader for several years. I think Rufus hit the nail on the head. Every blogger develops a certain rhythm over time... but for narrowly focused blogs such as yours, that can be a trap. My favorite political blogger, Andrew Sullivan, was able to keep things fresh by exploring internet ephemera, posting reader stories & correspondences (one series was called "The Cannabis Closet") and having prolonged back & forths with journalist colleagues. Obviously most of that sort of thing is beyond the scope of this blog, but some of the most enthralling posts were about the people & interactions he experienced as a political writer of some notoriety. I see you posting about meeting and interacting with interesting people all the time, but those aren't fleshed out beyond a description of who they are, a couple flattering adjectives, and a nice portrait or two. Granted, not everything can be as entertaining as the Elton John/Rick Perry post, but I think you've got some untapped resources for blog inspiration. Cheers.


P.S. Do you know anybody who provides timelapse photography services to construction projects in Austin? I'm looking to get into that business here in SLC & I would love a brain to pick. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Think a civil war is more likely that an all out ground war with Canada.

Gary said...

I for one enjoy the older portraits you have been posting. So much soul.

Anonymous said...

Hello Kirk

Quote :
"Speaking of the election, most people I know are dead tired of hearing about it..."

Happy people of America !

You have to endure only ONE election every 4 years : yours
I don't imagine many people in your country really bother with any other country election in the world, may be UK, possibly some other contry in Europe, should I mention Mexico ...

Here in France, small old country (planet wise), lot of elections are of interest to us,
Worldwide : USA
European : Brexit
France : Presidential
Fortunately election topic in Russian or China is irrelevant (???)

All of them in the timespace of less than one year
Imagine : not a week per year of quietness

Rather go photographing


TMJ said...

+ 1 video Book/Craftsy

Лазо за Џексон :-) said...

Thanks for keeping us all the the loop of the trials and tribulations of a professional photographer doing the grind and enjoying life the best he can! IMO, much of our equipment today is good enough and better than we ever dreamed. The tech is pretty mature and now each iteration is more hype than substance. It's us who need to be "upgraded" and use the tools what we have rather than to seek the mystical holy grail.

Now that I am getting older and had enough of the grind but still participate here in the boondocks to eek out a living to pay bills. Rather than buying a new lens, body, miracle/magical photo tchotchke, I'm working a bit less for $$ and getting back to working on uncompleted personal projects and improving my craft by doing it with patience and deliberation. Rather than working harder simply to put bucks into new and slightly better lenses and bodies, I'm happy for second-hand to fill in some nooks and crannies occasionally. In the mean time I'm using what I have and putting the bucks into opportunity, putting my self out and about where the photos happen and enjoying life rather than chasing more stuff to learn, loose and repair. It's less burden on my mind and a more enjoyable to go out and see what's out in the world and shoot it!

You have a great passion and love for the craft and it is contagious to many of us, the readers in the trenches. Keep it up and keep the fire burning!